Reap the Whirlwind

You are reading: The Final Bounty

Written by Antagony on 27 Jul 2017 19:21.

If Kalimantan were able to look out a window, he would have seen the ship plunge into the storm. A stone splashing into an ocean, only accelerating before it hit the surface. And the surf washed over the ship, giving way to more malevolent storm; more dust and rocks whipping and thrashing its hull. Varuni’s saving grace on impact was her aerodynamic form, and even that did little. For the prow of the ship became slightly squashed. Flattened much like the face of a dog. Once inside, the sand in the storm scratched and scraped in torrent. If Kalimantan were to open a window, his face beyond scars would have been peeled clean off. And then some. And from that point on, everything rattled. Everything shook.
All around them, bolts of lightning filled the sky, the closest of flashes turning the brown murk a pale primrose. Brilliant enough to blind the pilot for a time. Thunder meanwhile, echoed within the ship’s corridors. As if they weren’t uneasy already, the crew could feel the peal in their chests. And the electricity in the air was enough to charge the agitated silica, swirling in meandering currents and forming nearly solid daggers in the heavens. Too often, the blades would pass at them and make an incision in the hull. They would continuously be deflected, only to turn back around. For the iron in the hurricane had been magnetized.
Maida called out, “Three minutes!”
Already a minute had gone by without them being shot at by an unknown squadron of enemy ships. But in that turbulence, it was a poor consolation prize. The alarm, so penetrating before was simply background now. Tuned out. Even the deep thunder rumbling seemed faint next to overpowering sounds of the tempest washing over them. Billions of grains of sand boring into the flesh of the vessel. It was louder still since Kalimantan had removed his helm to allow for more flexibility.
The Makassar all knew Maida and Sarawak and Tarakan struggled at the controls to give their ship some direction, but they were truly at the mercy of the wind.
In the bowels of the ship, Muara toiled on the main engine. Extinguishing fires, and pulling back levers and valves or striking pipes with a heavy wrench. All efforts in a losing battle to close the steam vents randomly springing open; opening to relieve the stress of a descent through denser and denser rock clouds at hypersonic speeds. One could feel the paint on the ship stripped off. And then even the outer metal shell slowly being flayed from its rigging.
Not sure if it would come to such drastic measures, Kalimantan and Pontianak assisted Kuraman in flipping the torpedoes backward. Hurriedly, they delivered warheads.
Varuni quivered, prompting a “Fuck me,” from Kuraman. His hands cradled torpedo components after all, and he was doing delicate work quickly. He shook his head. He sweat like a sluice. The slightest shudder could have had the man accidentally detonate those missiles straight away. And then all their hard work— a bad idea albeit their only plan— would have been for nothing. Though the harrowing tempo of the grit grooving along the contour and into the beam ends of the hull was no less distressing. In his clawed hands, he was more earthquake than Samarind.
“There, that’s four,” said Kuraman. “Targeting is disengaged. Hopefully your timers are up to snuff, Pontianak.”
The engineer’s cohort replied, “Of course they are.”
Pontianak and Kalimantan lifted the rocket off the ground, and Kuraman clenched as he reminded them “not to jostle it.” With the dangers forever ingrained in their minds, they reloaded the bomb into its respective torpedo tube. Ready to take out a fifth, they felt another shot hit them from behind, rattling the four exposed weapons and it nearly knocked them back out of their sheathes had they not been locked in place.
Varuni groaned in pain, and Rusukan countered with a volley of his own. Though whatever pleasure the gunner derived from retaliation could not have been much since Varuni’s weaponry seemed ineffectual against their enemy’s advanced ballistic shielding. When comparing ægises, the Varuni had a thick hide, while her attackers had new particle fields as was de rigueur in the galaxy. Something only the wealthiest of individuals could afford in a spacecraft, or similar upgrades.
And if a fleet with those capabilities was after them, then the Makassar had wronged someone they should not otherwise have wronged. Only one person met such requirements in Kalimantan’s mind. But how Bahman Jādhōē or his men could have found the crew so quickly seemed implausible.
“I didn’t think it would come to this, but it’d better work,” Sarawak announced over his comms. “Fire when ready.”
“I hope so too.” Kalimantan prayed silently.
“Okay, are the breech doors rigged, Kuraman?”
“Aye!” Kuraman answered. “Have the timers been set, Pontianak?”
“No, not yet!” Pontianak bickered. “Rusukan!? Relative distance to target?”
“Ugh…” the armourer grumbled, trying to work out the expanse separating them and a squadron of cloaked ships, “five leagues from us! But closing!”
“Pontianak, I’m about to have us make a straight dive to the surface. No deviation.” Maida informed.
“CLOSING!” repeated Rusukan.
“NOW! FUCKING DO IT NOW!” Muara bellowed.
Pontianak set the first timer; Kalimantan closed the sheathe; and Kuraman opened the breech door.
Suddenly, the cyclone came hurtling in through the smallest space between the hollow shaft and the bomb it contained. A second later the missile was fired through the breech door, letting in more alien atmosphere, and a taste of the weather’s wickedness. Nothing could have been more deafening than the sandstorm. Kalimantan couldn’t hear anything save the wind. Not the crew screaming in his ear, not the siren wailing. Neither could he hear his own thoughts, nor even a pulse pounding in his head. Only the howl.
Clearly one of the refitted safety valves had failed within the torpedo tube or Kuraman had skipped a step. So the wind shear flung the three men backward into the hall, and easily wrenched off the sheathe door. Its thin curved metal was blown out with tremendous force, sticking into the wall opposite the torpedo hatch. Although not before cleaving Kuraman’s body in half.
Kalimantan barely focused on what was happening to himself, let alone the two bloody halves of his comrade rolling to the floor, or Pontianak inaudibly shouting the man’s name in anguish. Were they not flailing and spinning awkwardly on the floor, naturally they’d have a hard time seeing. What with the cabin filling with a sand surprisingly darker than he imagined. That, and in Kalimantan’s case, an attack of respiratory arrest. Having forgotten to replace his helmet, his brain was deprived of sufficient oxygen so his vision began to blur. Kalimantan reached out for his helmet undulating in the breeze, but so weak was he, he couldn’t put his fingers on it. He hadn’t resigned himself to his fate, but he was floundering.
However Pontianak’s outline somehow rose to his feet. Surely he endeavored to save Kalimantan. After a couple of swipes in which Pontianak grasped only powder, he finally caught the headgear by the horn, as it floated in the air at knee height. Then he dropped again, and in two swift moves, put the helmet over Kalimantan’s face. Leaving Kalimantan to finish the job.
Kalimantan hysterically threaded the helmet on, spinning it until it clicked in place. He saw the internal computer in the visor immediately light up, as his vision was restored, and he started to breathe again when the oxygen sensor was activated. Not only that, but he could hear the crew’s piercing screams again through the comms unit. There were too many to focus on, and they were so loud he instinctively gave the helmet a tug, though couldn’t, thankfully, rip it off.
His brother’s voice shone through eventually, begging more than asking, “Kalimantan, can you hear me!?”
Kalimantan wheezed, “Aye, Captain.”
“Oh you’re alive are you? Bloody bastard!” exclaimed Tarakan. “Get up to the bridge now! We need to seal off that area!”
As Pontianak helped the first officer up, Kalimantan was learning to breathe regularly all over again. Based on Tarakan’s tone of voice, he couldn’t be sure what to feel. He didn’t know what was going on. He didn’t know what had happened; as Pontianak half shoved him along the corridor, whilst he half kept him afoot.
The wind resistance on the middle deck was so great, it felt as if they were wading against the course of a river. It was very much an uphill battle. For the hole in one of the torpedo tubes had by then allowed so much of the alien atmosphere into the cabin that the air pressure was starting to adversely affect Varuni’s flight. And Maida couldn’t do much to abate the ship from listing erratically. He couldn’t even stay level anymore.
“What happened?” asked Kalimantan.
“Don’t you have your bearings yet?” replied Pontianak.
“We hit one, Kalimantan,” said Rusukan in earnest. “You should have seen it. The torpedo detonated just abreast of one. It collapsed its particle shield like it was nothing, and obliterated the ship. Then its debris scattered to the wind. It was spectacular!”
Bitterly, Tarakan stultified, “Of course there was a casualty on our side. And if you haven’t all forgotten, there are apparently still a dozen—”
“That’s enough, Tarakan!” Sarawak ordered. “War has its costs. Kuraman—”
He was interrupted when a slash of lightning struck the wing, causing the lights to flicker, and he and Pontianak to flinch.
A moment later Varuni’s systems quickly hummed back to life, and when the men took another step the electrical charge coursing through the ship gave them both a shock. The two Samarind fought their way forward and once they stepped out of the designated area, a door shot out of the wall and slammed shut behind them. The metal clanking violently. Despite the oxygen normalizing, neither of them were tempted to remove their helmets with a dire situation worsening.
Kalimantan and Pontianak started to run now that they could, as the ship was hit by lightning again and again and again. They were firebolts less severe, but tirade far more frequent. Until they were hit a fiftieth time, possibly directly on the fin of Varuni.
The thunder reverberated alongside them, indicating they were near the heart of the storm. Though this bolt— unfortunately for the Makassar— didn’t just create a minor disturbance. But rather a massive surge, in which the lights flared before exploding and all electrical components hummed loudly to crescendo. The computers; compressors; weapons; life support systems; engines; and automatic controls, abruptly shut down.
What’s more, the ship continued to attract long threads of lightning, coming down in ceaseless fulmination.
“The gods,” muttered Kalimantan, “have brought the hammer down on us.”
However, their suits retained power so their communications units remained operational, as well as anything else built into their respective suits. Until their battery packs expired of course.

***

Finally, Pontianak and Kalimantan arrived on the bridge. In time to do nothing but watch. And there wasn’t much to see either. Through the forward window was a burnt orange mist, though comprising more and more of the sand were not flecks of iron, but a larger matter. Rusty chunks of dark ore, bigger than mine tailings or gravel. It was no wonder the ship was so brutalised. Why fires erupted from one computer console to other. None of the crew tried to extinguish the flames, they just stared.
Muara and Rusukan rushed in to take refuge there as well. Their feet heavy with defeat as they came in. Muara informed them that, “the engine is lost.” While the gunner reported, “the enemy has withdrawn.”
“I imagine we’ll crash into this soon.” Maida said aloud, to acknowledge Kalimantan. Who buckled himself in the seat beside the pilot. “This wall of iron is only becoming more and more solid.”
Again, Varuni was hit by lightning. It made the hull of the ship crackle and squeal, and though it was over in a second, the crew could feel it in a swell of heat; through their suits, they felt it wherever their bodies made contact with the metal. But this gave Kalimantan an idea. “Turn us around.” he whispered.
“What?”
“Turn us around!”
Tarakan grumbled, “Very funny, Kalimantan. As if we could leave. You were right; we shouldn’t have come here.”
“Shut up, Tarakan! Unless you have a plan? Maida, turn us around. Hard to starboard. Take us back to the centre of the storm.”
Maida squinted at Kalimantan, “What? Why?”
“What difference does it make now, brother? We’re not being chased anymore. We’re slowly crashing.” Sarawak was sombre in delivery, but he seemed proud. The one-eyed captain winked at Kalimantan. “A good death.”
“Shit! You’re a genius Kalimantan!” Tarakan smiled at last, having realised the first officer’s plan. “You’re a fucking idiot too, but a genius nevertheless. We need to head into the eye of the storm, Captain! It’s the safest place for us. We can glide down to the surface.”
“Yes. The eye, Captain,” Kalimantan reiterated. “And we’re probably all fucked either way, but we still can’t give up! Can we?”
Kalimantan looked to his comrades and saw his words starting to rouse them, and already summoning a conservative whoop from Rusukan. So he continued. “We could do, but what would that make us? Cowards. And the one thing we sorry sons of bitches are not, is craven.”
The crew agreed, becoming even further wound up.
“Samarind are not cowards!”
“Aye!” the Makassar agreed.
“The Makassar are NOT cowards.”
“Aye!”
“And if we all expected to be treated to a hero’s welcome in heaven then the last fucking thing we’re going to do is give up!”
“AYE!” the men all responded by pumping their fists into the air.
“Don’t worry! We’ll take that good death, brothers!”
Now the men were rowdy again. Thoroughly reinvigorated. Even if it was a lost cause, their grins would be as big as Sarawak’s when they bit the dust.
“Okay,” Sarawak chucked, “Maida. You still have a rudder and tiller. Ailerons too. And if I’m not mistaken… you still have manual control? Since we all have our boots on let’s die the right way. Hard to starboard.”

Next Chapter: He Who Is Brave Is Free by Antagony

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