24: Lift Off

Second Quadrant.

Planet Lenworth.

Port Gathering.


Point-Two considered it an impressive feat that he managed to keep track of Tendu in the middle of a blinding storm. The goggles helped. They weren’t just there to protect his eyes, they had sensors built into them to detect heat signatures and various deliberately signal-boosted landmarks and signposts. These small features added to the Lenworth landscape were how the population navigated through the debilitating weather conditions.

Tendu himself didn’t have that much of a heat signature, he seemed to melt into the background, more shadow than bright star, unlike the other people crazy enough to be out in these conditions who appeared as incandescent ghosts. What’s more, Tendu wasn’t wearing goggles or headgear of any kind, yet he seemed to know exactly where he was going at all times.

There were a series of hangars and docking stations up ahead for quick turnaround flights, and then entrances into the lower areas. The port was like a parking garage, everything underground and brought to the surface by a valet or, more accurately, a goggled Werther with no interest in the craft worth millions they were returning to its owner.

Large ships would slowly rise from beneath the ground and then leap into the air, wobbling precariously as the winds attacked from all sides. The noise from the engines and the noise of the wind would merge into the roar of wild beasts, and then the ships would shoot upwards until they vanished.

Tendu didn’t go down into the lower area. He headed for one of the hangars, slightly smaller than the rest. Point-Two hurried after him, his excellent balance keeping him from being blown aside. He was more comfortable having to make constant readjustments than he was when standing still indoors and feeling gravity constantly getting a tighter grip on him.

He continued into the hangar and checked his rear to see if any telltale hotspots were coming after them. He saw nothing and began to wonder if the pilot had really seen something.

He entered through the door left ajar for him with what looked like a cement block wedging it open.

“Close that door, will you?” shouted Tendu from somewhere further in the dark interior. “You’re letting in a draft.”

What he was letting in was a force three gale, but he edged the block out of the way with his foot, and the door slammed shut.

Lights came on to reveal a number of small craft, each about half the size of the shuttle he’d been dropped off in. Able to carry maybe six people, if they didn’t mind touching knees and elbows. None of the ships he could see looked ready for flight. Many of them had large sections missing — body sections and engine parts littered the floor.

“Over here, over here.”

Point-Two followed the voice towards the back of the hangar. Tendu was standing in the open doorway of a patched together shuttle, a mishmash of different coloured panels cannibalised from the other ships. At least it had a door.

“Is it safe?” Point-Two found himself asking. It felt like an impertinent thing to ask, but some reassurance would be nice.

“Of course. Perfectly. And also undetectable. We’ll get you off this dustball without anyone ever knowing it.” He grinned and snapped his fingers. “11, 10, 1, gone.”

Point-Two followed him into the cabin and looked for somewhere to store his luggage. The interior was empty, bare struts and supports, wires hanging out of crudely drilled holes.

There were two mismatched chairs up front, one for the pilot and one for his unwilling passenger, but the rest of the cabin was barren. It actually made the interior feel quite roomy.

“Stick your gear in here.” Tendu opened a hatch at the back of the cabin. It was filled with rotting insulation foam. Tendu pulled out large chunks of it and tossed them on the floor to make room for the bags.

It wasn’t the ideal place to leave his stuff, but it was better than leaving it to bounce around when they took off. He put his two bags in the space provided and Tendu closed the small door with the aid of a couple of kicks. Hitting the metal with his bare foot didn’t seem to cause him any pain.

“In case of emergencies,” said Tendu, “exits are here and here.” He pointed at the door they’d come in through and then at the back wall, where there was no door or window. There were actually no windows anywhere, not even the front.

Point-Two examined the back wall more closely. “Where’s the exit?”

“Ah,” said Tendu. “In case of emergency, pull this.” He grabbed a lever that looked like a broken piece of the ship’s frame sticking out at a funny angle, and pulled down. The back wall immediately flew up into the roof of the shuttle, leaving a gaping hole. “Instant escape.”

“But if we do that in space… Do you have spacesuits? Parachutes? I mean, where do we go once we’re out?” There was no other equipment in the ship. Bare bones didn’t even begin to describe it. Actually, it was far too detailed a description.

“Trust me, it has its uses.” He yanked the lever in the other direction, which took more effort and some change in footwork, and the back wall came slamming back down.

They took their seats up front and Tendu began flicking switches and pressing buttons. Engines whined and then screamed before settling into a dull moan.

Nothing was labelled on the console, and none of it looked familiar to Point-Two, who had spent a lot of time in various types of craft. There was no HUD, just lots and lots of buttons and knobs.

There was no window to see out of, but the front of the cockpit was a giant screen. It came to life and showed the inside of the hangar just like a window would have.

“Why not use glass?” said Point-Two.

“Too risky. You can target people through glass. You better strap in,” said Tendu. “There won’t be any gravity once we leave orbit.”

“You don’t have any grav plates?”

“Don’t believe in them,” said Tendu.

Point-Two was flabbergasted. “But your world is the biggest producer of grav plates in the quadrant. How can you not believe in them?”

“Oh, I believe they work, but it’s the side-effects I don’t like. You won’t find this out through official channels, but prolonged exposure to grav plates, or any form of refined gerrum, will increase your likelihood of contracting cancer, heart disease, atrophy of the brain leading to dementia, and syphilis. They’ve done the research. And then they’ve buried it, for the obvious reasons.” He rubbed his thumb and fingers together in a gesture Point-Two had never seen before.

“How do grav plates give you syphilis?”

Tendu looked at him like he was asking a remarkably dumb question. “Do I look like a doctor?”

Point-two strapped himself into the seat. At least the harness seemed to be secure and in good condition.

Tendu pushed a stick on the floor forward and the ship jumped into the air, hovering a couple of metres above the ground. The smaller objects in the hangar fell over and blew away.

“Remember, there’s no bathroom. If you need to go, go now.”

“Where?” said Point-Two.

“No time,” said Tendu. “You can just use the emergency exit. Now, which way is the wind blowing?” Tendu raised his small nose like he was sniffing the air. Then he turned the ship, tilting sharply and then lurching around like someone had grabbed it by the collar, until they faced the wall on the left and pressed a button. The entire side of the building slid open.

Point-Two could tell the wind was blowing away from them. For a completely mad bastard, he seemed to know what he was doing.

“You’ll like this next part,” said Tendu, and they shot out of the hangar.

Being so close to the ground made it feel incredibly fast, an impression greatly aided by the fact they were going incredibly fast. And still along the ground.

You didn’t normally require a run-up before taking off. But then, you would normally have grav plates to assist you.

“I put in an engine from a racing sloop. Fun, huh?” shouted Tendu. Then he pulled back on the stick by his side and the nose went up, to vertical.

Point-Two was pushed into his seat. He heard a click and turned his head against a lot of pressure. Tendu’s hair was standing on end, even more than before. His eyes were shooting sparks.

“Gonna punch it in 11, 10… wait, what the…”

“What is it?” said Point-Two, fearing the ship was about to disintegrate and they would be left flying in their chairs.

“What did you pack? In those bags,” shouted Tendu.

“Just clothes,” Point-Two shouted back. “Why?”

“No explosives?”


“You must have left your bags unattended. Well, if we’re going out, we’re taking them with us.”

The ship leaned back and then flipped over so they were facing straight down.

“What are you doing?” screamed Point-Two.

“They’ll be around here somewhere, waiting to see if their plan works. I’ll make them sorry, you’ll see.”

They plummeted and Point-Two felt his body grow lighter.

It was hard to process what Tendu was telling him. Explosives, in his bag? Put there by who? How? And now Tendu was turning around to make sure the explosion that would kill them would also take the lives of the people who had placed it on the ship. How was he going to find them?

“I see them, the sneaky bastards. I SEE YOU,” he shouted, leaning forward, presumably so they could hear him better.

Point-Two snapped the buckle of his harness open grabbed the headrest behind him and fell upwards out of his seat. He curled into a ball and continued tumbling until he neared the door. He kicked off the wall and shot towards the rear, his body extended. The ship wasn’t as big as a training room on the Garu, but it had the same sort of dimensions. His hands landed on the lever and the hatch at the same time. He pulled on both.

The back wall rolled into the roof. There was a lot more noise but other than that the difference was nominal, the air wasn’t coming inside. He pulled out his bags. “Turn us around,” he shouted.

Tendu checked once over his shoulder, his eyes glowing, then flipped the craft again. The ship seemed to cry out in pain. As they turned over to point up again, gravity returned with a vengeance. Point-Two tensed his muscles in the way he had been trained and ignored gravity’s invitation to fall to his death. He threw the bags out.

He watched them fall as the ship climbed, clinging to the lever, feet dangling.

Nothing happened, other than Point-Two now having no clean underwear. He had a feeling he’d need some.

And then there was a silent explosion. A ball of fire, followed by several more, each seeming to be boosted upwards by the previous one.

Point-Two had to invert into a handstand to get the lever back up. It was an extremely difficult manoeuvre under this much pressure, but Point-Two had been practising it at twice as many Gs since he was a kid. He never thought it would have any practical applications.

The back wall came sliding back and he dropped onto it, his body pressed against the metal. He felt it buckle beneath him and then the ship shook.

“Woo hoo,” yelled Tendu. “Ride the wave!”

“This is Port Gathering security,” shouted a voice over the speaker system, the sound quality slightly distorted. “Alright, you son of a bitch, slow right down and reverse your heading. Port security to rogue craft, I said cease ascent immediately. You are in violation—”

“Suck it,” screamed Tendu. “You think I don’t know you were paid off by those killers? You want me, you got to catch me.”

This was the person Hollet One had hand-picked to get Point-Two safely away. At this rate, the person who would take credit for his death was his own brother.

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