The Missing Princess part 8: The Very Last Breath

In the last chapter Imperial Princess Taegan, Galacteer Commanders Lightyear and Jason as well as the Space Pirate Captain Woz were on board a captured Zenithian saucer racing to warn their peoples of a plot to replace commanders with Zenithian Pod People Clones when they faced the threat of a clone of the Princess on board with them! The Princesses duelled and when the clone fought underhandedly Lightyear intervened to even the odds upsetting the real Princess as Jason killed the clone. Woz then revealed he had discovered a way to see if anyone else was a pod person and this prompted the traitor to show it was not the real Commander Jason, drawing his gun on the Princess! How will this standoff end? Let’s find out…

“Nobody move a muscle” snarled the phony Commander Jason, his weapon pointed at the prone Princess, “or I alter the order of succession to the Imperial throne!”

“You forget Galacteer” sneered pirate captain Woz, “that while I have great respect for the Princess I’m not ready to die on her behalf so threatening to kill her doesn’t get my gun aimed away from your cowardly gizzard. Sorry Princess, it’s a Pirate thing.”

“Ha!” laughed the clone of Jason of Star Command, “I don’t need you to care enough to die for the Princess, just Lightyear who will take the shot you aim at me in order to save her from my dying blast.”

And proving the point remorsefully Lightyear edged between them a little more, his face showing the racing thoughts in his head as he tried to find a way out of this mess.

They all felt the gentle lurch as the saucer suddenly changed direction and accelerated to its tremendous full speed.

“You don’t have long to surrender now fools! I don’t need to touch the Soma-Pathic controls to direct this saucer; I have the latest dendritic controls implanted in that region you fools mistakenly consider your brains! The controls are locked-in this time, either you surrender your weapons or we all smash into the asteroids!”

Seemingly forgotten except as a target on the floor the Princess was gently silently building charge in her remaining mysterious ruby and gold earring made from the light-shedding rubies of the dragon-gryphon guarded caverns beneath the forest moon of Eth by rubbing it against her towel, soon it started to shed a slight luminous light telling her it had built it’s charge. She closed her eyes and flung the gem against the floor right beside her releasing a blinding light!

She felt the warmth radiating from a deadly z-ray beam rush right past her and striking the floor where she had been a moment before. Her eyes still closed she snatched up the stiletto and one of the bladed heeled boots, expertly launching them at where her trained heightened senses told her the blinded pod-person had staggered to!

She heard the sound of the gun clatter to the floor and by the time everyone opened their eyes she already had the fiend pinned, each arm stricken by a perfectly aimed weapon.

“Turn us around plant-man or I’ll be dining vegetarian tonight!” she snarled.

“Ha!” laughed the unphased pod-person copy wearing the face of the loyal commander Jason like a mask twisted into a maniacal expression the original has never worn, “I care nothing for my own life, only the mission, and you are out of time! Say hello to the asteroid that will be your forgotten and unmarked tomb!!”

They all glanced up in horror to see the bubble dome of the saucer filling up with a huge gnarled and pock-marked mountain! Each had but a moment to grab what handhold they could and then…

the saucer careened into the asteroid deflecting along its edge, struck it’s adjacent twin skidding along a rocky plain, smashing through several rock formations and the lip of a crater before the engines cut out and the saucer skidded down the crater edge to rest, held gently by the asteroids low gravity against a slab of rock whose impact millennia past had formed the crater!

Bilious green emergency lights came on throughout the saucer as emergency power was activated. Lightyear was first to recover and the Princess opened her eyes to see his dirt and blood streaked face looking down at her with concern in his eyes, he had never looked so handsome and in that moment she forgave him his intercession in her dual. He had after all just intended to cancel out the cheaters dishonourable act, something she herself might have done in the same circumstance. She stared into his beautiful kind strong eyes and was swayed by the urge to lean up and kiss him, reaching up a hand and starting to lean towards him when a sound cut through to the very core of her mind, the sound every Rocket crew dreads above all else, the high-pitched whistle of an atmosphere leak!

Leaping to their feet they rushed to find emergency breather units or exosuits. Pirate Captain Woz staggered to his feet holding his head, not yet aware of the danger. “I’m quite certain there’s a sub-clause in the Pirate Code that you’re not allowed to give someone a blow to the head after giving them a concussion without paying them half his weight in Iridium and a 3rd generation vontrian flux capacitor or a night on the town on Ceres 3”

Without talking Princess Taegan, still clad in just a towel, forcefully but a breather over his mouth. His muffled voice immediately issued a curse. “By Klono’s tungsten teeth and curving carballoy claws! We’re leaking Atmos!”

“Woz” said Lightyear, dropping into his natural tone of command “where does this saucer have the air-retraction system?”

An air retraction system was found near universally on nearly all rockets, so that once the crew had donned some form of air supply the atmosphere still on board could be forcefully pumped into storage containers hopefully faster than the vacuum of space sucked it all out enabling a hole to be patched before air supplies went critical.

“You don’t understand!” shouted Pirate Captain Woz showing fear for the first time in their experience, “We never found one! They don’t care about their crew! They are all clones! They just discard them and make more!”

Lightyear recoiled in horror more from the callous disregard of the mysterious Saucermen toward their own troops than from the realisation of how dire their own situation was. Meanwhile the level-headed in a crisis Princess Taegan was already acting, setting off a small chemical smoke flare on low-release and tracing the swirls of smoke to the holes where the air was escaping outside.

“I’ll find repair gear, you two mark every single crack!” Called Woz as he limped at surprising speed down to the lowest level of the saucer.

Taegan snatched up her blood and green fluid spattered boot from the puddle that was the pod-person clone of Commander Jason, only now discovering that despite her attempts to take it alive it had perished in the impact.

“You captured him well, but fate marked him for death.” Lightyear said softly, Taegan nodded and started using the traitorous vegetable-clone’s green sap to mark the spots of every crack the swirling coloured smoke of the flare revealed. All too soon Woz was back.

“Here’s some plasti-welders,” Woz said tossing a device to each of them and as the three started sealing the hulls with fast-expanding sealant.

Every hole they could find sealed they checked the gauges,
“Already in the red and still dropping!” cried Lightyear, “the main air tank must be holed! It’ll need to be repaired from outside and we’ll need a big lot of ice to get oxygen from or we’ll be dead in less than a day!”

Woz responded grimly “We have a little problem, in that they must grow those clones into their suits or something. There are no exosuits! Just helmets and air supplies built to attach to the suits they are always wearing!”

Taegan stared at him in disbelief! After her years of training and fighting was it to be her fate to die a slow death after all rather than the quick one of rays, blade or explosive decompression?

“Then it’s up to me” said Lightyear with grim determination. “My uniform is rated to periods in cold space and we can plasti-weld a Zenithian bubble dome helmet sealed tight to my uniform. I’ll get us the ice we need”

Taegan swallowed down the desire to ask how short a period that suit was rated for, and tried to fight down the realisation that he might be about to die so that she might live and instead focussed on making every second count. She snatched up the gear that Woz had managed to find and together they set about the difficult task of swiftly sealing the alien equipment on to a Galacteer suit. She acted swiftly, focussed wholly on what she was doing, so by the time the reality of the situation fully hit she was already watching through the scuffed and scratched alumini-glass dome brave Commander Lightyear outside walking on the saucers hull thanks to the magnetic soles of his standard issue Galacteer boots.

“Don’t worry lass,” said Pirate Captain Woz with surprising compassion for someone who she first met in battle only a month before “I’m sure he’ll make it, he’s got Klono’s own gadolinium guts. Fate will watch over him.”

Taegan however had a living god for a father and had met and killed more than one creature worshipped as a deity. She had no faith in fate and knew that death was always an ever-present chance; even for the children of a god.

**********************************************************************

Lightyear shivered as the heating coils of his suit were slowly failing the battle against the vampiric hunger of the freezing void as he finished the last of the welds on the great tear that had vented weeks of air into space. He’d had to use a torn piece of hull plating and he could only hope that the seal would hold when it was put under pressure… if they got more air to fill it.

While he laboured outside Woz was working on the damaged engines, “You don’t get far as a pirate without being able to rewire an engine or security panel” he had said, their fate may depend on his getting power back flowing from the reactor to the rest of the ships circuits.

Lightyear also tried to stop glancing at the Princess as she sat, finally back in her now cleaned but still remarkably skimpy outfit, who kept trying to broadcast a signal for help. At this stage even capture by enemies might be better than the death from asphyxiation, cold or starvation that awaited them if they couldn’t get each survival need resolved, but without the reactor the signal would be too weak unless there were ships right near them, and there was no sign of miners or pirates in this patch of rocks.

He checked the suit-gauge, less than 10% oxygen left in this tank. Not good. But cold would take him before the next was emptied if he stayed out here without giving the heating coils time to recover. He cast his eyes around again for an Ice-teroid. Only if they could get ice close enough to run a molta-cable from the hatch to it would they have any chance of replenishing even enough air to live through a night’s sleep, but maybe that would be a mercy.. There! There was a great big hunk of ice! Their only chance and it might not even be frozen water if they got it. But so far away! It was all down to the engines, if Woz could get the saucer moving they lived, if not surely they died!

**********************************************************************

“Then we’re sunk” sighed Woz as the hyper-spanner clattered from his exhausted oil-stained grip. “Two days, I need at least two days to fix all these breaks or it’ll blow up the moment I pull that lever” he gestured with an arm made weak by screaming muscles. “I can run power to one or two systems at most but not the motive systems, they are the worst mess and take different sized power feeds than the cables that are intact.”

“How far away is the ice-teroid?” asked Taegan softly.

“If I jumped for it, it might be 20 minutes before I drifted to it. And then there’s the trouble of getting it back here, no cable in the saucer is even a tenth the length we’d need.” responded the topless Lightyear as he rubbed warmth back into his body though even the saucer was losing heat fast.

“Then I have a reckless plan with a low chance of success, if you’re willing to spend your last breaths on It.” said the Princess.

“Any chance is better than none; I’m in to the very last breath!” Lightyear uttered determinedly, his words punctuated with his fist smacking into his palm.

********************************************************************

Lightyear turned off the magnets in his boots and sprang from a crouch with all his might! He used bursts of air from an air tank under his arm to accelerate, then drifted till reaching his best estimate of the halfway point between the saucer and the ice-teroid and started using more bursts of air to decelerate. His life hung on mathematical formulae he hadn’t needed to use since the final exams at the academy and his ability to estimate distance, time and acceleration. He landed on the asteroid with more force than he had hoped, pain shooting up his legs, but thankfully not enough to break bone or dislocate joints. The impact sent the iceteroid moving away from both him and the saucer! Another burst of air and he moved around it and started placing the first improvised rockets and explosives. The most reliable of them were the rest of the air tanks: drained and filled with extra carbon gasses from the extractor and reprocessor tank, if that wasn’t enough it would be down to the grenades and then overloaded firearms. He kicked the ice-teroid to get it steady and stop it tumbling from his first impact. He’d start with the grenades in their shaped-charge shells of plasti-weld material first to overcome the inertia, then it would be the difficulty of steering. He hammered in the piton and lashed himself to the ice-teroid, time to do or die.

He pressed the detonator and all he heard of the explosions in the vacuum was a twang of vibration sent through the cable that held his suit to the ice as it lurched into motion! Frantically he scrambled about the air tanks he’d pinned to the ice surface as he struggled to adjust the aim and give it the momentum it needed. Then underway he had to move all the equipment to the other side in time to decelerate the giant hailstone or it would crush the small saucer on impact!

The air tanks dry, the shaped charge grenades all gone and still the ice-teroid was moving too fast! He plasti-welded a weapon to the ice-teroid and set it to overload and rushed for shelter, but the strange alien tech explosion was far weaker than he imagined! Again and again he did so till he was all out of options… unless he decelerated further the ice-teroid would bounce away and all hope was lost. “Well,” he muttered to himself shivering from the icy cold, “I did say to the very last breath.” And he took a deep breath and unplugged one of the air tanks that was keeping him alive and started using it to slow the ice-teroid down!

Princess Taegan watched, her heart in her mouth for so long and the thinning air she was becoming quite dizzy, as courageous Lightyear secured the iceteroid to the cables and started the magna-cable on its little and twitchy damaged mechanical arm melting the ice and splitting it into hydrogen and the air they all needed to breathe. Despite all her poise and inner strength when she saw him slump and go still as soon as the magna cable started operating she couldn’t stifle a small shriek of dismay as she realised what must have happened! He’d used all his air so that they might breathe!

Is this the end for Commander Lightyear? Will this be the breaking of the Princesses heart? Is there any escape from the asteroid for any of them? You cannot allow yourself to miss the next instalment of the Hydra Serial Waaar Rooockeeet The Missing Princess chapter 9: Marooned in the Night Sky! Brought to you by Mawson and Scott Antarctic tours and by the Church of Klono; the Spaceman’s church!

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