Farback Blues, A Short Story

A flash and the sleek hull of the Altair Eclipse tumbled out of the hyperspace corridor in a cloud of debris. Gouts of plasma and smoke poured from the mounts where its hyperdrive shunts used to be. The ship was high above what should be Farback, but that wasn’t right.

On the command deck, Wren Traven was trying to quell the sudden panic he felt. Too close! he thought, If we survive this I’m going to kill Geeta. Murder plot aside, Wren’s zaal astrogator was busy trying to stabilize the tumbling hulk muttering, “Sorry, sorry, sorry…” as if Traven’s threat had been audible. Seconds earlier Geeta’s sensors had detected the shadow of a gravity well, a well that wasn’t supposed to be there, a well that had wrenched the Eclipse from hyperspace. The navchip that Traven had paid that gobban freighter captain a small fortune for must be wrong.

SONNI, the ship’s A.I., chimed in calmly, “Warning, horizon reactor containment failing. Hyperdrive inoperable. Unstable orbit. Estimating 25 minutes to reentry.”

From her engineering station, Harlinae Jesal said, “Wren, the impellers aren’t charging, probably the faltering containment!”

“Get down to the reactor room and do what you can, Harli,” Traven replied. “Will we need to jump ship?”

Heading for the door, the alhuri engineer paused, dread in her voice, “You’ll be the first to know.”

Time stood still. Traven felt useless. Geeta’s station was a noisy constellation of warning lights and claxons. His hands darted over the holodisplays hopelessly trying to stabilize the ship’s spin about a wobbling axis. The planet’s surface flashed across the forward viewport growing larger with every pass.

The A.I. coolly intoned, “Warning, unstable orbit. Estimating 12 minutes to reentry. Horizon reactor containment restored. Charging graviton impellers. Please stand by.”

Traven replied, “Damnit! We don’t have the luxury of standing by. Geeta, the impellers?”

“Sluggish, they barely have enough juice to stabilize the Eclipse from this spin.”

Seconds passed. Pacing the cramped command deck Traven finally said, “The drive capacitors! They have to have some charge rebuilt since the jump to hyperspace. Can we charge the impellers from that? “

Geeta shrugged, “Maybe?”

Traven tapped the intercom, “Harli, at the rate the impellers are charging we’ll be piles of slag scattered across Farback before we can stabilize this spin. Can the juice from the drive capacitors be routed to the impellers?”

As if to rub it in, SONNI’s level voice interrupted, “Warning, unstable orbit. Estimating 10 minutes to reentry.”

“Shut the hell up, SONNI!”

“My team can try, Wren,” said Jesal, “but the impeller circuits aren’t really designed to handle a power surge of that magnitude. They might – no – they will most definitely overload.”

“At this point, I’ll take it!”

Precious minutes passed as the planet loomed closer with every turn of the Eclipse. Traven’s patience was strained but he knew Jesal and he knew his crew. He was in capable hands.

Suddenly the ship lurched and half of Geeta’s holodisplays went dark, the flashing red helm display shifted to a cool blue. “We’ve got impellers!” he said and began wrestling with the tumbling mass of the ship.

“Level us out, we’ve got to get the deflector envelope facing the planet’s surface or we’re dead.”

SONNI chimed, “Warning, power overload to the graviton impeller systems. Impellers failing. Unstable orbit. Estimating 2 minutes to reentry.”

Geeta’s fingers flew across the helm controls. The ship jerked slightly, then again. Then the shallow arc of the planetary horizon leveled into view as light flames began to lick at the viewport’s edges. “It’s not going to be my best landing, but we might walk away from it.”

Traven wanted to cheer, but caught himself, tapped the intercom and said “Great work, everyone! Now, strap in and brace for impact.” He thought, When we get off this rock, I’m going to hunt down that damned gobban crook and shove his bloody navchip so far down his throat he’ll think he was a ship’s A.I.!