Don’t forget, all but chapter one will be removed from my blog when Light Tripper is released for sale, so enjoy juicy freeness while you can!
Morgan fought with the controls as Light Tripper screamed toward a cluster of mountains. At the last moment he overpowered the levers, steering the ship into a narrow chasm. The jagged walls tore at her steel, flinging her left and right as if she were made of paper. Morgan could do no more. He and Sal remained strong with fingers laced, waiting anxiously to see where this wild ride would end. Sal braced herself for a fiery demise, but all at once she could feel Light Tripper losing momentum. The deafening shriek of steel scraping stone was waning, soon replaced with eerie silence.
Sal opened her eyes to find Light Tripper rocking to rest in a crater. She squeezed Morgan’s hand and it felt like an age before he squeezed back.
They abandoned the cockpit, heading straight for the airlock and emptying Light Tripper of the engine room smoke.
Sal staggered down the ramp, pulling the oxygen mask from her face before it strangled her. She dropped to her knees and threw up everything in her stomach.
“You okay?” Morgan asked, nursing his ribs.
Sal wiped the mess from her chin and gave a nod. “You?”
“I think I broke something, I’ll live though. Not sure we should have survived that.” Morgan patted the ruptured steel of the ship. “Good ole’, Light Tripper.”
Sal agreed, it was a lucky escape and she was grateful for it, but the grimness of their situation didn’t allow her time to celebrate. They were in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by black slate as far as the eye could see. Light Tripper was completely busted, probably permanently this time. They couldn’t radio for help, who would they call? Sal could think of no one who would put their neck on the line to rescue them from the outlands, especially with the P.A. in the vicinity. Maybe she should have made more friends and cut off less hands. On top of all that, it was getting dark. That’s when the cragons liked to hunt.
A rough breeze scratched against her cheek and the silence was undone by the howl of a cold wind rolling down the mountains. Sal could taste slate on her dry lips. A storm was coming.
“Morgan,” Sal murmured. Her optimism was fragile. “I have a feeling things are going to get worse for us before they get better.”
Morgan was quick to calm her when he recognised the frailty in her tone. His eyes scanned the horizon for movement. “Let’s open the vents, pump the last of the smoke out of the ship. Then we barricade ourselves in for the night.”
Sal shirked off her fears. The captain had given an order. Good. She needed to work. She needed to not think about all the bad ways this could end if they were going to make a go at surviving. Sal emptied the last of the smoke, but soon discovered that wasn’t the only issue. She peered into the engine room and smelt the leaking thruster fluid long before she saw it seeping over the grates. Sal could do nothing but turn her back and hope the fumes didn’t kill them while they slept. Of course, they would have to make it through the night to get to that point.
Meanwhile Morgan had closed the airlock door and was stacking everything not bolted down.
“Is that necessary?”
Morgan looked over his blockade. “I wish we had more. Shut the vents, make sure everything is closed up tight. We should lock ourselves in down below.”
“Um…” Sal stammered. “I think we should stay up here.”
“No reason. Nothing to do with leaking thruster fluid, that’s for sure.”
Morgan’s shoulders slumped and he rubbed his face wearily. “Where are those oxygen masks?”
Sal had already fished them out of the debris. She presented them to Morgan, both with shattered faceplates.
He nodded. “That’s about right.” He patted Sal’s back. “Just don’t try and breath too often.”
Sal couldn’t help but laugh and Morgan gave her ear a soft tug and knowing grin.
She was starting to see hints of the old Morgan, in command of the situation, in control of himself, whose smile chased away even the darkest fears. But the notion that Morgan was going to get them through this became tainted when Sal noticed him scratching and itching at things that weren’t there. He’d only just taken dust, the withdrawals were coming quicker now.
Sal looked away, just like she had in the engine room. For now ignorance would continue to be bliss, they had cragons coming.
It had barely been dark an hour before Sal heard slow, heavy steps crunching through the slate outside. She lingered curiously near the airlock, her ear pressed to the sealed viewport. She could hear them snorting and sniffing and she was sure she could feel the sickly heat of their panting through the steel.
Morgan had told her not to lower the blaster shields, regardless of how much she wanted to get a look at a cragon. They could burst their way through viewports, even asteroid grade, and once the beasts were in, Sal and Morgan didn’t stand a chance.
Now the cragons were scratching at the sides of the ship, seeming to know which areas were weakest. As the night dragged on there was more movement, more howling as their numbers increased.
Sal’s curiosity dwindled. She moved away from the door, joining Morgan within his cargo fort.
“Do you think they know we’re in here?”
“Oh yeah,” Morgan replied nonchalantly. “They would have smelt us as soon as we landed.”
Sal’s stomach dropped when Light Tripper began to rock. “Are they trying to tip us over? Can they do that?”
“Let’s hope not.”
The cragons charged the ship from every side, over and over, hurling their bulk recklessly. Sal could hear their talons tearing through the outer plates. They weren’t investigating any more, it was an all out attack and soon Sal saw giant paw prints indented in the steel.
She glanced at Morgan’s barricade. It wasn’t enough. Sal checked the battery on her PEP revolver. It was fully loaded and ready to blow the head off anything that tried to get through that door.
The cragons kept pushing in relentless pursuit of their meal. Sal imagined that she and Morgan were a rare treat out here, top quality eating. She pointed her gun at the airlock. If she was going to be dinner, she would do her best to choke them to death on her way down.
Just when Sal had fired herself up for a fight, the fumes from the leaking thruster wafted through the grates and it wasn’t long before the room was spinning. Sal exhaled heavily, the last of her vigour slowly slipping away. Having to constantly fight for your life was exhausting.
Sal just hoped the fumes would knock her out before the cragons made it onto the ship.
With her senses a blur, Sal wasn’t completely sure the noises that followed were real. The cragons had been howling earlier, deep monstrous growls strung with hunger. Now the animals yelped sorrowfully, crying out in pain between slams and what Sal felt certain was blaster fire.
Perhaps it was just the fumes corroding her brain and causing hallucinations. Sal checked her mouth for foam.
“Did you hear that?” she asked Morgan.
Morgan shrugged, his shotgun wobbly in his grip.
The ramming was back, but it was more concentrated on the airlock. Sal heard a voice.
“Open the door!”
She was getting woozy, her eyelids flickering. “Do cragons talk?”
There were sparks around the frame of the airlock and the welds glowed red hot as whatever was out there tried to cut its way inside.
Sal struggled to point her revolver as the steel fell and Morgan’s barricade was demolished by powerful blaster fire.
A tall figure clad in black rushed inside. A gust of slate-drenched wind whipped at his long trench coat and only the white of his eyes could be seen behind the frayed scarf wrapped around his face.
He spied Sal and went to her quickly, taking a mask from the bag at his side and pulling it over her face. She watched the stranger disappear into the engine room just before she passed out.
Sal was awoken by loud clanging. She bolted up right, her foggy gaze darting anxiously about the cockpit. Morgan was snoring as he slumped beside her and it didn’t take long to noticed their weapons were missing. Just as she was about to hoist herself to her feet, the clanging ceased, replaced by slow footsteps approaching from behind.
Sal turned to her other weapon, the less reliable one. She clenched her fists, charging up her energy, but was barely able to muster a flicker of power.
“Don’t do that,” a man said through heaving breaths.
Sal felt a gun barrel at the back of her neck.
“I can’t miss from here.”
Sal raised an eyebrow. That sounded awfully familiar. She asked, “Can I at least take this mask off?”
“Sure. I’ve regulated the air supply. It’s safe to breath now. What about those things?” he asked, poking her hand with the gun barrel. “Have you turned it off?”
Each word from his mouth had Sal more and more intrigued. Was he talking about her energy? He had to be, but how could he know? Sal decided to play dumb.
She removed her mask. “What do you mean?”
“You know exactly what I mean. I know what you’re capable of, so don’t think for a second that I won’t empty a round into the back of your head to stop you from using it on me.”
His voice was firm and unwavering. No negotiations. Sal couldn’t help but feel roused. She was always up for a challenge.
A smile tugged at the corner of her mouth. “Are you here to kill us?”
His reply was more of the same flat tone. “You’d be dead by now if I was and I wouldn’t have bothered to save you from fume poisoning just to kill you later. You do the math.”
He spun the chair around and Sal was finally able to get a proper look at her abrasive rescuer. There they were, those dark, bottomless eyes. Sal recognised them immediately. Slowly he unwound the scarf hiding his face. Sal shivered with anticipation. His brow was heavy, his jaw strong and squared. His black hair was slicked back, long enough to sit tucked just behind his ears and his rough olive skin was a map of scars, the parts Sal could see anyway, and even he was pointing a gun at her, she wasn’t adverse to getting a look at the parts she couldn’t see.
“You’re my buddy from the bar,” Sal stated.
He gave a nod.
“Well isn’t this a coincidence?” She looked him over for clues of who he might be and what exactly he wanted. His cargo pants were made of heavy black canvas, his boots looked military issue and he stood stiff and stalwart like a good soldier would.
“Are you P.A?”
He flinched, responding with a firm shake of his head.
“A helpful mechanic then?” she asked, acknowledging the grease smears on his clothes.
He shook his head.
Sal narrowed her eyes. “So you just happen to be strolling through cragon territory during a slate storm the day after manhandling me in a bar?”
He frowned. “There was no handling. As I recall you were pointing a gun at my head.”
Sal wasn’t buying anything he was selling. “I’m not an idiot.”
“Never said you were.”
Sal wasn’t finished and grunted at his interruption. “Why are you following me?”
He tucked his gun into his belt and leaned against the wall with his arms folded against his chest. “Hai. I was on Enos. I saw you having trouble with some Denians and thought I would offer my help. You obviously didn’t need it. Then I got in a little trouble for blowing Denian guts all over the dance floor and needed a quick exit. So maybe I borrowed a cruiser. Then I needed to lie low. Everyone knows that Lotus is the best place for that. Who would want to risk charred lung for no good reason? Then the P.A show up. I decide to high tail it out of here, when I see your ship go down and thought I could be of assistance. Looks like I was right.”
“So that’s it? Just helping us out of the kindness of your heart?”
He sniggered. “Fighting off a dozen cragons and risking fume poisoning? No ones heart is that big.”
Sal grinned. That she believed.
“I wrecked that cruiser in the slate storm. I need to get off Lotus 5, the less people that know the better. I figured when I saw you burning your way through the sky with flaming thrusters that you were in a similar situation.”
Sal laughed, throwing her arms up in the air. “Have you seen the state of this thing? We aren’t going anywhere, pal.”
He gave a nod towards the engine room. “She’s fixed. I just need to do a few patches outside and we’re good to go.”
Sal glared at him with weighty scepticism. “But you’re not a mechanic?”
He shrugged. “I have an aptitude. Look, I’ve heard about this ship. It’s a sprint-class right?… A really old one…” He glanced unimpressed about the cockpit with his nose high in the air.
“What’s your point?” Sal snapped defensively.
“This thing is fast, faster than that cruiser I jacked, so I fixed it. All I ask is that you get me as far away from here as you can and we’ll call it even.”
Sal’s sigh was thick with doubt. If what he said was true, if the ship was truly repaired than the safest thing to do would be to march him out the airlock and wave goodbye from the rear viewport. She nibbled her lip while casually scanning the cockpit for any weapons he might have missed.
As if recognising her incoming deception, he flung a small silver disc into her lap.
“That’s half of what I’m willing to pay for passage. I have to say, this is a great deal.” He pushed aside his dark trench coat, reminding Sal of the gun in his belt. “A really great deal.”
This guy was good. He was playing Sal like her favourite song and hitting all the right notes. Sal couldn’t shake the feeling that she’d known him for years, there was a familiar comfort that kept her relaxed irrespective of the chaos. But that was impossible. Sal had never met him before and his bearing was not something that could be easily forgotten.
Still, she rolled the silver credit disc between her fingers. Two hundred. Not a bad pay off. Plus another two hundred to come. Sounded like Light Tripper had just picked up a passenger.
“I’ll need to talk to the captain.” Sal said coolly, tucking the disc into her pocket. She nudged Morgan who didn’t stir. “He must still be recovering from the effects of the fumes.”
“No, he’s just drunk and sleeping,” he replied quickly. “And my bargain isn’t with him, it’s with you. You’re the one in charge, aren’t you?”
If didn’t even feel like a question, more a firm statement of his opinion.
Sal admitted to herself that it did feel that way much of the time, but Morgan was captain, she never denied that, even so, he sat there, fast asleep, when a decision had to be made.
Sal turned her bitch mode down a notch, offering her hand. “I appreciate your help. You’ve got a deal. I’m Sal Tripp.”
Suddenly this assured non-mechanic looked nervous. He stared at Sal’s hand as if it were a ticking bomb.
Sal cocked an eyebrow. “And you are?”
At last he lunged forward awkwardly, shaking her hand for less than a second before stumbling backwards. “Raijin.”
“Well, Raijin. You have a deal.”
He bowed sharply.
“A bow. How… strange.” She thought on his words, the distinct way he spoke. “I’ve never heard that dialect. What is that? Butanion?”
“Japanese. You know, Japan? Earth?”
Sal’s eyes widened. “You’re from Earth?”
“Sure. Aren’t you?”
“So I’ve been told,” she muttered from the corner of her mouth. “I don’t remember much before Morpheus.”
“This is a bad place,” Raijin said bluntly, that cold edge returning to his voice. “Full of bad people.”
Sal noticed him shoot a scornful glare in Morgan’s direction. She shrugged it off. What could he possibly know about Morgan?
“I’ll get started on those patches,” he said. “Shouldn’t take me longer than an hour. Hopefully the captain will be ready by then.”
“I’ll take care of him,” Sal replied.