Chapter 8: The Ninth Order by Brubek Coltrane
The Crimson Wolf soared towards the heavens leaving behind ruins and ashes in it’s wake. As the ship gently glided upwards through the clouds, the crew couldn’t help but feel a little awestruck when they found themselves above the clouds. Above them, nothing but blue, and below, an endless dreamscape of puffy whiteness that formed anything the imagination could conceive. And for that brief moment, everyone’s worries left them. No debts, no enemies, no one to try to kill them. Just the tranquility and peace of this perfect land of the cloudscape. They could have stayed here forever.
As the ship transverses the boundary between the planet’s outer atmosphere and the black vacuum of space, the crew of the Crimson Wolf knew that their troubles were just beginning.
“There’s something on the radar,” Petra suddenly said, breaking the silence that had existed for quite some time, “Something…big”
This caught Illien’s attention, as he spun his head around. “Big?”
“How big are we talking here.” Ratchet asked, having found himself a seat being them all at one of the rarely used computer stations. “On a scale of atom to black hole, where would it be?”
Petra’s fingers danced furiously across the terminal, her eyes darting from screen to screen as different colored lights flashed across her face.
“Assuming the computer hasn’t bugged out again…” She stopped. “That’s impossible.”
“What??!!” Erik suddenly chirped in. “Just fracking tell us already.
The blueness of the atmosphere faded into a black canvas, with millions of stars dotted across it like speckled paint across a work of modern art. Through the viewport, this caused everyone to pause for a second. Though they had seen this many times before, every time, this sight never ceased to amaze them. That is, all but René, who watched with the same expression she wore for everything.
The uncaring voice of Tracy suddenly startled everyone but René.
“Warning. Large object approaching vectors 2.34 by 4.57”
“What the-” Erik started, jumping in his chair.
“When did you wake up?” Illien asked.
“Wake up?” Tracy asked. “I do not understand. A computer lacks the capacity-”
“Never mind.” Illien replied quickly.
“What was that about the spacial object big whatever?” Ratchet asked.
“If the coordinates are true…” Petra said, madly calculating and feeding information into the computers as their monitors whirred. “Then the object Tracy is referring to…”
She looked up. The rest of them immediately turned their heads to where they were looking. Erik swore. Illien shook his head. Petra stopped typing, and ran her fingers slowly through her hair. René just stared.
“What?” Ratchet asked. “What’s so ba…oh”
Just a few clicks ahead of the Crimson Wolf, a massive, dark starcruiser orbited the planet, the likes of which none of them had ever seen before. At its front, a massive, spiked bow plowed through the low, geostationary orbit it was in, and it’s massive hull slowly unleashed a barrage of orange-coloured bombs onto the planet’s surface. Below it, a trail of destruction in the form of orange, fiery burning crust of the planet.
“That’s one big ship.” Erik said, stunned.
“It was them!” Ratchet exclaimed excitedly. “They’re the ones setting fire to the planet!”
The rest looked at him. “You don’t say.” Illien said sarcastically.
Ratchet gave him a harsh stare back, then looked back out the viewport.
Illien scratched his head, his legs crossed and his other arm tightly gripping the arm of his swirly chair, which turned back and forth at an increasingly faster rate. “But why?” He asked.
René’s voice suddenly spoke out. “They’re the Ninth Order, they don’t need a reason, besides, no one’s going to care about this backwater world. No one will even know it’s gone.”
“Still doesn’t explain why.” Illien pressed.
“So, what?” Erik asked. “Are we just going to go over there and ask them? Cause they don’t seem to be in the best mood as of now.”
Petra looked up from her terminal. “Another ship just broke orbit.”
“What? Where?” Illien straightened up in his chair, and peered through the viewport, narrowing his eyes as he scanned the space around.
“Too far to see.” Petra said. “But it’s close to that Ninth Order ship.”
Illien quickly sat down, acutely ending his stargazing, but saving himself from mortification.
“I think it’s the same ship that was trying to escape the city.” Petra added.
The behemoth ship continued to rain fiery death down upon the poor planet’s surface. A fiery crack began to spread across the ground below the ship, but the ship showed no sign of stopping.
Suddenly, a bright green flash appeared from the ship, and then another flash followed, farther away from it.
“What was that?” Ratchet asked.
Petra shook her head, looking down. René shook her head too, though it was more of a ‘told you so’ shake than a real show of empathy.
“They don’t need a reason for anything.” René repeated.
Ratchet looked at Illien, and Illien looked back.
“Erik, get us the blazes out of here.” Illien said, very, very seriously.
“With pleasure.” Erik answered.
“Rathcet, I need you to go fix whatever you need to get this ship ready for a jump, and I need you to do it right now.” Illien sad earnestly. “Now! Go!”
Ratchet nodded, and scampered off through the door at the back of the room, and down the ladder to the engine room.
Illien’s mind was racing. The Ninth order was not a very good government to the galaxy that it ruled over, but it wasn’t evil. The Ninth Order never attacked civilian ships or bombed their cities with fire. Not until now Illien thought. This is not good.
The Crimson Wolf rolled to the right, aiming it’s nose towards open space. Just as the Ninth order ship was passing out of view, Illien saw two flashes of green.
“Erik! Evasive maneuvers!” Illien yelled. “Hang on!”
The ship barrel-rolled, as Erik increased the speed. Two green lasers whizzed past, barely missing the ship’s hull.
Erik was tense at the controls, his grip tightening on the joystick. “They’re shooting at us.” He said as calmly as he could to himself. “That doesn’t matter, all that matters is that everything is calm, yes, calm…”
“Geez, those were high-yield torpedoes.” Petra said. “They aren’t playing around; they’re trying to smash us to space dust.”
René continued to sit in her corner, silent. Petra was typing wildly on her terminal. Erik was muttering strange phrases under his breath, which he did often when he was trying to keep calm.
“They’re firing again!” Petra called out.
Erik swore, breaking his string of strange incarnations. He looked at one of the screens, then started reciting more phrases in a desperate attempt to defuse his rage before it built up too strongly. Calmly, he steered the ship sideways, tilting it at a right angle, then all the way around again. The Torpedoes whizzed past, missing the hull by mere meters this time. Erik breathed out. Then his eyes contorted, as he peered through the window.
The torpedoes had exploded in front of the ship, and had created a minefield of green-glowing matter in front of them.
“You can’t be bloody serious!” He yelled.
Illien held his breath.
Erik yelled as he tried to steer the ship around them, but it was too late. They had to go through. Erik muttered frantically under his breath as he navigated the ship through the minefield, dodging the exploded torpedoes. For a brief moment, all that could be heard, were Erik’s muttering. René’s eyes widened a little, as the ship yawned and rolled this way and that. And then they were through.
Erik let go of the controls and cheered. Then quickly took hold of them again. Illien exhaled deeply, letting go all of the relief from somehow getting through.
“No idea how you did that.” Illien said, with a slight smile.
“Berserker fury.” Erik said back with a crazy grin.
Petra laughed a little. Illien could almost swear he saw a hint of a smile in René.
Illien stood up, then started to walk away. “Erik, get us behind a moon or something, just out of the range of that bloody cruiser!”
“Where are you going?” Petra asked.
“Ratchet.” Illien said. “If we don’t get that FTL fix-”
“FTL drives online.” Tracy said.
A black, smudgy hand grabbed the edge of the ladder, then a smiling face covered in black soot.
“What was that about the FTL drives?” Ratchet said, pulling himself over, and lying on the floor at Illien’s feet.
“Never mind.” Illien said, smiling back. “Erik, set a course for…uh, well anywhere as long as it’s far away from here.”
“Gladly.” Erik called out back.
Illien heard the FTL drives warming up, as the sound of the engines getting ready to jump slowly rose in pitch.
“C’mon ya rascal.” Illien said, ruffling Ratchet’s messy hair. “You did good today.”
“Better than you, just sitting in your chair!” Ratchet shot back.
“Ohh, careful now, or the captain might decide to maroon you on a desolate moon somewhere.” Illien said.
“I’d just escape and come back, and then maroon the captain in the middle of a sun.”
“That’s impossible!” Illien said. “You crazy cracker!”
“Jumping to FTL in 10” Tracy said.
“Shoot,” Illien said, running to his chair.
The two brothers frantically found their seats, and sank down in them.
“3, 2, 1.” Tracy’s voice droned. “Initializing jump…Finalizing calculations…Jumping now.”
The Engines rose dramatically in pitch, then exploded in noise, then leveled out, as the stars turned into streaks, and the Crimson Wolf shot into the stars, leaving the backwater system behind, in flames.
* * *
Ratchet lay in his hammock in the engineering room, hanging between two pipes on a narrow catwalk several meters from the ground. To his right, the giant engine that powered the ship hummed and droned as the ship sailed through the stars. They were going at many times the speed of light. Ratchet knew every inch of the engine room. He could tell just by listening whether there was something wrong. Right now though, everything was fine. And he slowly dozed off in his hammock, and fell into a deep sleep.
Ratchet! He heard his name being yelled. Ratchet! He heard crying and shouting. Blurred shapes rushed past him, as a hand grabbed out and tried to reach him. He dodged it and searched for the sound of his name. A group of people reaching out for him. Uncle Rodrick! Father! Mother! He reached out to grab their hands. But the hand that was grabbing him was too fast. It grabbed at his short and pulled him back into the crowd, as Ratchet desperately kicked and punched at the air, shouting out at them. The blurred figures turned into nothing, as Ratchet was pulled back into the rush of moving figures by the hand, and his cries were drowned out by the constant cries and shouting and screaming.
Ratchet woke up with a jolt. A coldness had come across the engine room. Ratchet was chilled.
“Who turned down the heat?” He said to himself.
Searching for an answer, he got out of his hammock, and leaned over the edge of the catwalk railing. Below him, more catwalks were laid out around the engine in the narrow, but tall engine room. At each level, an assortment of tools lay around haphazardly, looking as though the user of them had only half-finished the job. Saving them for later Ratchet told himself. Behind him, pipes were vibrating, making a clacking sound behind him that almost made him jump. Almost. Ratchet turned and gave them a kick. They stopped.
But that still didn’t solve the question of why things had gotten so cold. He searched the engine room, even stuck his hand on the FTL drives for a second, before pulling it away and cursing himself for being so stupid. Well, He thought. It’s definitely not coming from the engine room.
Cradling his hand, he scurried down some steep stairs and landed hard on the catwalk. Ahead of him, the door to the rest of the ship. He walked over, his once-brown boots now turned black with the strange matter that blanketed the bottom of the floor as it was ejected from the FTL drives.
He pushed a button, and the doors parted with a hiss, which sent some of the black matter sailing away from the door from it’s place on the catwalk.
The doors opened to a corridor, with doors on either side. It was silent. Ratchet suddenly remembered that the rest of the crew had gone to sleep, and tiptoed past furtively so as not to wake them up. He wasn’t all keen to face the wrath of an angry Erik right at this moment. This deck was slightly warmer than the engine room, Ratchet gathered, but still a bit colder than usual.
Ratchet reached the end of the corridor, and descend the stairs. Not in the armory, not in the galley, not in the navigation room, bridge, washrooms. Ratchet had looked everywhere. There was no real source. Ratchet was puzzled. Then realized there was one place she hadn’t yet searched. He scampered down the stairs and ladders, and finally reached the cargo bay. It must be here. He thought, shivering with both excitement and cold.
Geez, the heating here must be fried or something. Ratchet thought as he saw white bits of frost beginning to form on the ground. He checked the temperature controls, but found they were working fine. Hmmmm… Ratchet thought, considering what strange thing was causing all this. He took out a breadstick from his pocket that he found, and started crunching on it.
If it’s not anywhere on the ship, it’s not the engine room, it can’t be anything to do with the FTL drives, I just fixed that, can’t be the oxygen coolant tanks either, fixed that too. What is is then!??! He thought, considering the possibilities. His breadstick was now reduced to half, as he scanned over the cargo bay. His gaze passed a crate that had a crack in it, as he looked over the other things.
“Wait.” He said out loud. “Isn’t that…”
He ran over to the crate.
“It is!” He said excitedly.
He ran his fingers over the crack. It was cold as ice, and cold air was seeping out from the crack. This had to be it! What on earth was in there that could turn the whole ship so cold. Illien never told him what was in it. If only he could look inside, just take one look! Just a quick one!
But Illien said not to. Ratchet’s small rational side of his mind told him. Do you want your fingers around Hashan’s neck?
But, it would just be a quick look, then I’d patch it up and make it look like it was never opened. Ratchet’s curiosity winning him over by the second. It can’t be that bad!
Ratchet smiled. “What will one look do?” He said to himself.
Quietly, he took a crowbar, and began to force the top of the crate open. With each tug, it gave way a little, and cold air spilled out into the cargo bay. Each tug increased his feverish curiosity about what could possibly lie inside the crate. With one last tug, it gave way, and Ratchet pulled off the crate’s lid.
He peered over, to see what was inside. He was confused when he saw a cylindrical device or thing of some sort encrusted with ice. How could this cause so much trouble? Ratchet thought to himself. He brushed away some of the ice with his sleeve. When he looked away, he immediately recoiled, and threw himself back across the floor away from the crate.
“What the hell?!!?” He said out loud.
The cargo bay answered with silence.
Ratchet was as frozen as what he’d just seen. His hands trembling with something in between excitement, curiosity, and fear. There was no way I saw what I just saw Ratchet told himself. I..I’m just imagining things. Slowly, he picked himself up, and walked carefully back towards the crate, trembling slightly as he peered in one last time.
He wasn’t imagining things. When he looked into the crate, and into the cylindrical object. He rubbed away more ice, and just stared. A young girl’s pale-white face stared back, frozen in time. This was no ordinary cargo Ratchet thought. He couldn’t believe what he was seeing.