10. GK Intercept
Date: 144-993 Imperial.
Location: Liar's Oath system (1021), approaching Honora, aboard the free trader Avarice Rewarded.
Sir David tore open the door to the ship's locker. He grabbed a duffel bag containing a soft emergency vac suit, cursing the fact that he hadn't bought a fitted suit of his own after leaving the scouts.
He headed aft, running through the options in his head. The doctor couldn't use a suit, and she might be needed for treatment. Silea had to fly the ship. That left him and the Fish. If Silea flew the ship within normal parameters, Fish could leave his station unattended. If he was willing, of course.
Sir David ran through the cargo bays and into engineering. "Fish, will you..."
"Way ahead of you" said the Fish, who was half way into his vac suit. He sighted the duffel bag and made a face that could only be described as a sympathetic scowl. Sir David shrugged in a "What can you do?" sort of way and continued.
"You pick out emergency gear from the locker, then meet me on the bridge. I'll talk to Luan then suit up."
Fish nodded and continued with his suit. Sir David headed for Luan's cabin, where he found her selecting medical supplies from a locker. "We're trying a rescue?" she asked, turning away from the locker to talk. He nodded. "Any idea what medical conditions I can expect?"
He briefed Luan, and spoke to the passengers, then suited up and went to the bridge.
Fish was most of the way through assembling a wheeled stretcher. He paused to give Sir David a toolbelt. Then he stood up and looked at his boss. "Silea has a spectrograph on the atmosphere", he said, "and it'll go through that soft suit in five or ten minutes. Hydrogen, ammonia, gas narcosis ahoy. I'm going to have to search the ship on my own and call you in if there's anything that needs two people."
They nodded to each other. Fish turned to Silea. "How's the flying?"
"We're getting buffeted by the upper atmosphere. Internal grav is compensating. This will get worse. We'll make intercept in a wind around nine thousand clicks/hour. That's thin gas, though. If the gusts catch both ships the same then they won't affect docking. Depends how Malfeasant's streamlining compares to ours."
"Type S. It should be more slippery than us." Sir David pulled a face as he spoke.
"Unless there are holes in it."
"Five minutes. Check suit comms then you two get to the airlock."
They did. On their way they felt the first jolts big enough to come through the ship's contragravity. Two minutes later they were sat on the floor by the airlock, feet spread and backs against the wall. The passengers had been instructed to lie on their beds. "No danger unless you fall over", Luan told them in her best confidence-inducing manner.
The ride eased off a little as they got inside the atmosphere and the pressure evened out. With about two minutes to go, Silea spoke over the suit voice network "I have response to aerodynamic surfaces, controlling a glide. Retro burn for velocity match 25 seconds."
Fish swallowed inside his suit, and felt his digestive system lose its sense of timing. They didn't feel the final retro burn kick in though contragravity, perhaps because it was only 0.1g or perhaps because they were desensitised by the thumping from the atmosphere. Time went very slowly for the boarding party.
Alone on the bridge, Silea wanted to scream through her forced calm as she juggled tasks and seconds. The Avarice Rewarded hove up 525 meters behind Malfeasant, 17 meters below track, 85 meters left, and closing at 22 meters per second. About 10% off the numbers she wanted. Fine. Now for the hard part.
"Final manoeuvre. Closing by phased array radar. I have radar visibility through the gas. Malfeasant is not tumbling. She has extensive hull modifications... some sort of stabilising fins. There is either extensive modification or severe damage to the engine area. Closing... Closing... Coming side on... Waist airlock looks normal. Trying for dock."
She handed over to the software. She'd given it every advantage, now it was over to tolerances and luck. Wire frame projections sprang to life on the screen before her. She clenched everything she had as they wobbled and resumed their glide to alignment.
An impressive "thunk" played through the ship.