Chapter 5: Running from Flames
By: Brubek Coltrane
Ratchet sat in his chair, as he saw Illien rush out with René. The bridge doors shut behind them with a hiss and a thud. Silence. Ratchet hated being left all alone by himself, especially with-
“Correcting diagnostics function error 778-89A Delta 2” Said the familiar, unemotional computer voice.
The annoying voice of the computer program that ran the ship. All there was to keep him company when they all went out was Tracy.
“That’s truly fascinating.” Ratchet said, rolling his eyes.
The room was dark except for the glowing lights of the computer screens and buttons, and the moonbeams that spilled in majestically into the bridge. Ratchet suddenly remembered the task at hand.
“Tracy, how far are you through those launch sequences?” Ratchet asked.
“Approximately 45.678 percent complete through super task 5423-“
“How much time?” Ratchet quickly interrupted.
Tracy paused, for longer than Ratchet expected. “5 minutes, 32 seconds.”
Ratchet looked at the door, then back at the bridge.
“Need any help with your uh, calculations?” Ratchet asked.
“No further assistance required.” Tracy said.
Well, thought Ratchet. It doesn’t look like I’m needed here anymore. He eyed the door eagerly, then rushed to it and pressed the open button. Nothing happened. Ratchet pressed again. Still nothing. Ratchet pounded on it repeatedly, to the same result.
“Tracy, open the door!” He yelled.
“Unable to comply, due to override code 132 00 5 RCH” Tracy responded.
“What does that mean?” Ratchet asked, aggravated.
“It means.” Tracy began, pausing for a second, “You cannot leave this room until the cargo deck is secured.”
“Can’t you override it?” Ratchet asked, pressingly.
Tracy responded in that ridiculously unfeeling voice. “Unable to comply due to override code 132 0-”
“Gaaahhh!” Ratchet yelled out. “I never get to do-“
Suddenly the whole bridge shook again, knocking Ratchet over. Picking himself up, he looked out of the viewport to see the forest in flames. They ate the trees in front of him, climbing their way upwards and devouring them. The bridge was bathed in a bright orange light, and Ratchet saw the grass beneath them begin to catch on fire as well.
“What was that?” Ratchet asked.
“Cooling tank leak in engineering section 4AA 17.” Tracy responded, ignoring the question. “Hull integrity holding at 64 percent.”
“Cooling tank leak?” Ratchet burst. “There’s a fire right underneath us! We’ll all burn if the fire reaches the ship without it! We have to get out of here.”
The hum of the computers grew louder, as Tracy thought. Well, calculated. Did computers even think? Ratchet knew it was all just very complicated programming that held Tracy together. Sometimes though, Ratchet almost thought he saw an ounce of sentience in her.
“We either have to take off right now, or you let me out so I can go and fix it!” Ratchet said, as calmly as he could.
Ratchet could hear the computers whirr as Tracy considered this. He ripped his fingers on the computer console as he waited impatiently. After what seemed like eternity, Tracy’s voice came back on.
“Sequence override code 5 Delta 663 RCH” Tracy said. “Cannot launch for another 675 Seconds at least, therefore Coolant tanks must be stabilized prior to launch.”
“So, can I go?” Ratchet asked, jumping.
“Overriding code…333_Error_546TYU__RCH11001011…” Tracy said in her usual voice.
A slight panic rose over Ratchet as he listened to the sporadic voices of Tracy. Another blast shook the ship, and Ratchet barely held on.
“Come on Tracy…” He muttered nervously.
After a wrenching few moments, the computers quieted down a bit. The doors to the bridge slid open with a hiss.
“Code overridden.” Tracy’s voice said, almost, thought Ratchet, sounding a little tired.
“Thank you Tracy!” Ratchet said, running to the exit, “You’re the best!”
Unsure of how to respond, Tracy simply said “Proceed to engineering Ratchet, the cooling tanks must be repaired.”
“You can count on it!” Ratchet said, bursting through the doors, scurrying down the corridor to Engineering.
“Probability of success calculates to 3456:1 RCH repairing Coolant tanks in time.” Tracy said, the emotion in her voice seeming as though she was saying the oven was ready.
* * *
Illien lead Erik, Petra and René back towards the bridge, pacing up several flights of stairs. His rifle was held over his shoulder, Erik’s menacing assault rifle was slung across his back. Petra’s sword was sheathed in a scabbard, slung across her shoulder. René paced behind, her revolver in its holster.
Illien lead them on, as they came to the armory. Erik went and dropped his rifle into a bin haphazardly, then walked over to a well-secured locker, and carefully laid his two tomahawk throwing axes down on a matted surface of wool. Carefully, he wrapped them up in the lining, and closed the locker, making sure the several locks were secure.
“You done?” Illien asked.
Erik threw a look at him, then walked back over. “I’ve been through a lot of trouble to get these.” He said, then paused. “All right, let’s bloody well get a move on then.”
Illien walked over to the ladder that lead to the control deck. climbing up the steel ladder, his heartbeat had only just started to revert to it’s normal frequency. His mind wandered in a sea of thoughts, processing what was going on. The Argonautss? There must be something extremely valuable for them to send that many people. Maybe Petra’s right, maybe we are in over our heads. Ilene shook these thoughts off. This was by far not the most dangerous situation he’d been in. All they had to do was get the bloody crate to Lambda Mizar, whatever the hell that even was.
Illien pulled himself up onto the control deck, where several computers and control panels glowed and hummed. He ran over to the bridge, and looked out the viewport, then froze.
“Tracy, get us out of here!” He yelled.
“Launch sequences are not yet complete, I would not advise launch at this t-”
“Tracy!” Illien yelled. “Just do it anyway!!”
Erik and Petra had climbed up by now, and looked puzzled.
“What’s going on?” Petra asked.
“The whole wood’s on fire, that’s what!” Illien shouted back. “Tracy, for the love of Mike, get us the hell out of here, now!”
“Commencing launch.” Tracy said, betraying not a single hint of panic in her voice.
The Crimson Wolf began to lift off, the ground below them blasting with fire. Petra looked in shock as the flames licked the underside of the ship.
As René emerged from the entrance, the ship shook, tilting to the left strongly. René was forced to grab onto something, as the ship began to tilt to the left. Erik was thrown over, and hit one of the control panels hard.
Petra fell right into Illien, and then they both toppled no top of Erik, who heaved out a breath at the impact.
“What’s going on?!!?” Illien shouted.
The ship was now almost at a horizontal angle, and the ceiling was becoming the floor.
“Erik, take the helm!” Illien said, regaining some of his cool, not really knowing why he’d lost it in the first place. Erik pulled himself up from on top of the side of a computer control console, and pushed a few buttons on the pilot’s control panel.
“Manual control initiated.” Tracy’s voice said.
Erik heaved hard on the steering joystick, and the ship rocked back upright. The crew pushed themselves up from the real floor.
Erik heaved himself into the pilot’s chair, then took a deep gulp.
“That’s not a normal fire there…” He said.
The crew looked out the viewport, as the Crimson wolf lifted off, with it’s two wings propelling it upwards. Below, a massive fire had engulfed the better part of half the forest already, and was now spreading through tall grass towards the road. Great fireballs erupted
below them, as the Crimson Wolf skimmed over just above them. Erik tightened his grip on the joystick, which was shaped like a T, and both his hands grasped it with whitening knuckles.
“Those are napalm bombs.” René said, grimly as if recalling a memory. “There’s no mistaking them.”
“Well, if those are napalm shells, then who the hell is dropping them?” Illien asked.
“I can’t tell…” Petra said, staring into one of the computer consoles. “This damn virus is playing with our sensors,I can’t get a clear reading. Even if I did, I don’t think it’s be all that trustworthy.”
“Gahhh…Just, get us above this mess.” An aggravated Illien said.
Erik was muttering incantations like “Calm. Calm the mind, there is no need for panic.” As if failing to do so would set off a bomb.
The Crimson Wolf pushed forwards through massive, growing clouds of fire, pressing forwards at an alarming pace. It barely dodged the rising fires. Suddenly, a massive fire cloud exploded beside them, and the Crimson Wolf barreled to the left to avoid it.
“Geez! That was close!” Illien said, shaken. “The bombs are coming from above!”
René just nodded at him, a look of sadness on her face as she watched the burning forest zip by her.
Erik kept on muttering to himself, seemingly ignorant to everyone else. “I can do this. Yes, of course I can, this is easy, easy Erik!”
Tracy’s voice suddenly flickered on, though it seemed she had a bit of a finicky voice. “Primary cooling system failure. Unable to exceed altitude of 100 meters above sea level.” Her voice showing neither empathy nor concern that this could mean death for everyone on board.
“ARE YOU BLOODY SERIOUS!!??” Erik screamed back. “HOW DO YOU EXPECT ME TO FLY THIS BECURSED TIN CAN OF JUNK IF IT ALWAYS BLOWS ITSELF TO KINGDOM COME!!!???”
Illien replied with silence, and the rest of the crew witnessed Erik’s explosion as his incantations failed in keeping his time bomb of rage from being unleashed.
Illien turned away from the ballistic Erik to Petra, his hands in a death grip on the poor arms of his command chair. Petra shook her head.
“All I can tell you now is that, we should be passing over the…” Petra froze, looking out through the viewport. “Hadha ghyr jayid…” She muttered under her breath in her native language.
Illien looked back to the viewport, and just stared.
“Umfala…” René started to say, but stopped.
Below them, the city they had been in mere hours ago, burned. The night was illuminated with the fires of burning buildings and houses below them. The whole city was engulfed in flames, and buildings were collapsing. A small ring could just be made out, where the fire had yet to get to. A ship was departing from it, and a few dots could be made out, scrambling around.
“We should help them.” Illien began. “We can’t just leave them here.”
René looked at the scene below. “I wish we could.”
“We can!” Illien said, raising his voice. “Erik, get us down there!”
“No.” René said, those people are already dead.”
“René’s right, Illien.” Petra chimed in.
Illien looked at the people below. He wondered what was going through their minds. Fear? Were they still clinging on to life, or had they given up? Illien wondered how you could decide when it was time to stop struggling and accept the ultimate end.
Petra looked down at the storm of fire, encroaching on the people below. She hated this feeling. The feeling that you could be doing something, anything to help, but you couldn’t. You just couldn’t help even if you tried you’re hardest, because it was impossible. The feeling of helplessness that came with watching someone right in front of you slip away, while you stood by them, just shaking your head.
Suddenly, the flames broke through. The people down below were consumed buy the mass of flames that spread over them and burned the last surviving part of the once-grand city. All the crew could do was watch. Just watch. In silence. No one spoke. Even Erik had stopped yelling. The cloud of fire rose up from the spot, rising hundreds of meters into the air, right in front of them.
Erik veered the joystick to direct them away, but it wouldn’t move. They were now headed straight for the firecloud.
“I can’t get the these swag-bellied controls to work!” He yelled, slamming his fist on the controls, leaning back, defeated.
Petra was typing madly into the computer, but nothing would work. “Sayiya!” She cursed. “The computer may as well be a rock.”
The Ship careened towards the fire cloud, heading straight for it.
“I’d say we have…” Petra closed her eyes. “30 seconds till we reach that cloud.” She said grimly.
Illien looked around. Erik was leaning back in his seat, not even bothering to try the controls. René was sitting in the seat behind everyone, her eyes closed. She was cradling her blue headband in her arms. Illien looked at Petra. She was threading her hands back through her hair, looking at the coming cloud.
“I guess this is it.” Petra said abruptly
Illien looked up, at her. The whole bridge was illuminated in the orange glow of the flames.
“It can’t be.” He said slowly. “There has to be a way out of this.”
“Well, with the cooling system down…” Petra looked back at him, a look in her eyes he had never seen before.
“When I left Paveh,” Petra started, a calm in her voice Illien found hard to comprehend, situations provided. “I always thought I would ”
Illien nodded solemnly back.
“Ever since I left Paveh behind, I always wondered, why me?” She said. “Of all the people dying there, why was I the one who survived?”
Illien looked at the firecloud. It couldn’t be more than two dozen seconds away.
Petra continued. “I always felt guilty. Guilty for just being alive, when everyone else had to die. I guess, now I can be acquitted.”
Illien shook his head back. “We are going to get through this Petra.”
Petra looked back, a small on her face. “You never did learn to let things go.” She said.
Illien sighed. He couldn’t. Just couldn’t give in.
There was less than ten seconds till they reached the cloud. Illien started to feel things slip away. It was over. He closed his eyes. Silence. Blackness. Then-
“Illy! Guys! I fixed it!” A familiar voice and the trotting of footsteps came pounding down behind them. Illien opened his eyes. Ratchet was waving around something in his hand.
“I found the virus! It was a data drive hooked into the engine room!” He yelled out excitedly.
Erik turned and looked back, his eyes widened. Quickly, he turned back to the controls, and veered with all his might to upwards.
Ratchet looked through the viewport. “Wait, what the…”
The Crimson Wolf veered upwards, rocketing up to the smoke filled sky above. As it soared upwards, the bottom wing just barely skimmed the edge of the flame of clouds.
René opened her eyes and looked in surprise. The Ship buckled and shook as the vessel ascended at a break-neck speed.
“WE’RE CLEAR!” Erik yelled excitedly.
The next few minutes were spent in silence, as the Crimson Wolf left the burning, ruined city behind, and processed what just transpired, and what could have.