Kartega

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Chapter 6

Sid woke to the sound of the ship’s alarm ringing through the corridors. Her back was drenched and pieces of her short, platinum hair clung to her forehead and cheeks. Why was she covered in so much sweat? She opened her mouth to speak but immediately felt her lungs constrict. Her hands clawed at her throat as she managed a few jagged breaths in.

No! Not yet!

She jolted upright, her forehead colliding with a low hanging pipe above her head that knocked her back down. She fell asleep in the engine room again. Sid was known for sleeping anywhere but her nightly quarters — her preferred spot being in the freedom of the observatory — but in the last few days, she had trouble keeping her eyes open and found herself dozing off in the most peculiar places. She wasn’t sure if it was the lack of air on the ship or simply exhaustion from trying to fix a problem that didn’t seem to have a plausible solution. After the failed attempt to contact Colton, Sid had spent every waking hour trying to repair the valve without progress.

The bruise from the collision with the pipe was already forming into a bump and she shook off the sharp pain before springing to her feet.

Her heart raced and she raced against it, climbing step after step to get to the greenroom.

Running against time she didn’t have.

Sid couldn’t remember getting to the upper deck. Couldn’t remember opening the greenroom door. Couldn’t remember when she started screaming and crying. On her knees with her hands fisted around batches of plant stems; lifeless, yellowed and stiff.

“They’re dead,” she managed to whisper in between small breaths and sobs, “they’re all dead.”

The greenroom was a shambled mess of destruction and death. The limp carcasses of her plants were strewn across the trays and floor. She didn’t understand how it happened or how long she had lost consciousness for this time. It looked as if the plants had died within the last few hours, and soon she would be dying with them. Sid found it ironic that the place that had sustained her for most of her life would be the thing that kills her. “At least we’ll all go together,” she smiled at a blank spot across the room. “Maybe we should float ourselves? A proper burial and all?”

Suddenly, her eyes brightened, the grays turning to an almost transparent white and the pupils contracted until they were nothing more than thin lines. Floating! Of course!

She was on her feet within seconds. “Rusty! Try to connect to the NSO general again! We need the activation codes for the escape pod! There’s no time to get my notes!”

Not wasting any time, Sid slid through the sliding doors and ran. Her legs hurt, and her entire body felt like it was turning to mush but she pushed forward. She shifted her stride and made a turn toward the dock bay. She could see it in the distance, just past the connecting vestibule. Sid picked up the pace and bolted forward. Halfway down the vestibule, she caught something in the corner of her eye, just on the edges of the outer layers of the ship. Feet grinding to a screeching halt, Sid pressed her face to the clear panes of the vestibule. The parts of her skin that made contact with the panes froze immediately. There was even less time left than she thought. The ship was leaking oxygen. And fast.

“Rusty! The NSO general!”

“I AM UNABLE TO ESTABLISH A LINK. THE LINE IS NOT OPERATIONAL.”

“Keep trying!”

Her hand slid across the vestibule’s pane, leaving a streak of droplets behind as she hurried to the doors. Each step was slower, heavier. Sid’s heart went from trying to burst through her rib cage to barely stirring. Squeezing two fingers behind her ear, she tried to count the beats. One, then silence. A moment later, a second beat. Too long of a moment, Sid thought. Her body was starting to shut down.

She leaned against the doors, using the last of her strength to prop herself up. “Ru–”

Her voice cut out and she heaved over her knees, a sharp pain in her lungs. Slowly, Sid raised the palm of her hand to the door, hoping she was at least in the same general area as the scanner. To her relief, the door offered several beeps of recognition and slid open. Sid collapsed through and tumbled onto the dock bay floor.

Using her arms and the last ounce of muscle strength in her upper body, Sid pulled herself across the bay to the escape pod. She wanted to call out for help but knew it was pointless. No one could help her. No one even knew she was up here except Colton. She needed to preserve whatever air the ship had left and shouting commands or panicking was only going to speed up the failure of her vital functions.

The grated floor tugged at her skin, causing red streaks to run down her forearms but she continued to crawl. Two more tugs and she was at the base of the escape pod. Her lungs felt like they were going to collapse.

Sid raised a shaking finger to the keypad. She was kicking herself for not exchanging it for a proper sensor. Running number combinations in her head she started to work the lock. Seven, four, three. Sid entered her name into the keys and waited. Nothing. Maybe her full name? Seven, four, three, two, seven, four, eight, seven. Still nothing.

She tried to enter in Colton’s name, his birthday, her own, even the ship’s date of creation. Nothing worked. The keypad blinked infuriatingly, as if mocking her errors, but remained closed.

Her head started to spin. She looked down at her hands that had turned a very dominant shade of blue. The pain in her chest vibrated again her ribs. She tried to take another breath without success.

This is it, she thought. This is how I end.

Then, as a last resort, Sid slumped her palm against the keypad, pressing each and every number. She grit her teeth, almost breaking the canines right out of her jaw and pushed a small amount of electricity out of her body. The blue of her skin flashed a brilliant orange as her magic rushed down her arm. It hit the keys with such force that the lock shattered in her hand, blowing bits and pieces across the bay floor.

A tearful smile formed at the edges of her lips as the door of the escape pod screeched and slid open. Sid pulled herself across the threshold and used her magic to manually override the keypad on the other side, shuffling her legs out of the way just in time before the doors slid shut.

“POD AIRLOCK SECURE.” The ship’s comforting voice sang over the speakers.

Sid’s eyes widened and she filled her lungs with air until she was no longer able to contain in. She let out a loud sigh and sank against the doors.

“What now, Rusty?” She asked. “How much time do I have left in here?”

“THERE IS APPROXIMATELY FOURTEEN HUNDRED AND EIGHTY MINUTES OF AIRTIME REMAINING IN THE TANKS.”

“So two days, more or less. Where can we go in two days, Rusty?” She asked.

Without waiting for an answer, her eyes drifted to the window behind her. She straightened her back and walked over, placing her hand over the red leaf covered ball floating in front of her. Sid fell back, buckling herself into the control seat and snapping her goggles in place over her eyes.

“Set course direction, Rusty. Destination Neostar.”

* * *

By the time Sid opened her eyes again, she was surprised to find that the pod had been traveling for almost a full day. The chaos on The Arcturus drained her entirely and though she didn’t remember sleeping, she felt as if she had been out of consciousness for weeks. The ride in the pod was far from comfortable. Every slight change of course sent her rocking from side to side and she had intentionally kept the seatbelt on, only occasionally getting up to stretch her legs and inspect the remnants of her oxygen deprived ship in the window. Despite the way in which it ended; Sid wanted nothing more than to be back in its metal hold. Safe and secure in a space whose crevices she knew inside and out. She most definitely did not want to be tumbling through space in a tin can, hurtling at impressive speeds to the one place Colton told her she could not step foot on.

It’s just until I find him, she convinced herself. I’ll find Colton, get the valve and be back on the ship in no time.

The more she repeated the words, the more finite they became, as though they resonated with her blood somehow, forming a promise that she intended to keep at all costs.

Sid spent the rest of her time on the pod in a tidy state somewhere between lucid and dreaming. Each time she fluttered her dark eyelashes and opened her eyes, Neostar appeared closer in the observation window. And each time her heart sank even more. A mixture of fear and excitement. Mostly fear.

It was within this dream state that Sid felt an unbearable shake take hold of the pod. When she opened her eyes, lights flashed past the window, making her feel like she was being spun through space in a decent that was picking up speed.

Which is exactly what was happening to her.

“Rusty! We’ve broken through the atmosphere! Initiate landing thrusters!” She screeched, waiting for the creak of the thrust mechanism to take hold.

Her command fell into nothingness. “Rusty! Landing thrusters! Now!”

The pod’s silence broke her into pieces. What in the name of the stars was wrong now?

“Rusty!” She commanded, then, “Forget it! I’ll do it myself!”

She ripped off her belt and fell onto the navigation pane, her fingers frantically searching for the manual engage button. Each second it took for her to locate it was one second less she had to correct the landing. She was moving too slow.

Her eyes beaded at Neostar, its landscape coming into focus rapidly. She was so close she could almost make out each tree on the horizon.

Sid tightened her fingers, landing a fisted blow to the button. In the background, somewhere in the heart of the pod she could hear gears clanking in an odd combination. She had gained control of the engine. Without pause, she reached for the landing thrust lever and pulled. Sid pulled until her palms burnt. A grunt escaped her lips as the lever smashed down into place. The pod jerked roughly back and Sid flew forward, using her hands to block her face from colliding with the window.

The pod was slowing down. It was still spinning maniacally but it was slowing down.

She glanced up again. It wasn’t slowing down fast enough! She could see the ground clearly, lush red leaf trees and not a mass of water in sight. She was going to crash right into the stardamned jungle!

Sid pushed herself back into the seat and strapped in, snapping her goggles into place and catching a glimpse of herself in the window’s reflection.

Is this what I look like with these things on? She laughed, trying to see at least a glimpse of her eyes.

“Next time, warn a girl if she’s walking around looking like a stardamned fool, Rusty.” Was the last thing she said before the pod crashed through the trees and her world went dark.

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