Joined: 12 Jul 2006
|Posted: Thu Jul 27, 2006 8:31 am Post subject: VS #7-"The Derelict" (Chapter 6)
Sheba had barely gotten to her feet, when she suddenly heard the sound of Apollo's voice from somewhere above calling down to her. But before she could find the strength to call back, she saw the entire hub plunged into total darkness.
As her eyes tried to readjust to the dark, she became aware of several pairs of eyes staring at her. The red, unfeeling eyes of the demons that inhabited this vessel that could only have been designed in Hades itself.
"Are you afraid?" she suddenly heard a chorus of voices in that hideous, low and high pitched tone, that she could only assume came from the ones in front of her.
"No!" Sheba shouted aloud. "I refuse to be afraid! I won't be afraid!"
"Sheba, hang on!" she suddenly heard Apollo's voice from above again, "We're almost out of here, but stay strong!"
The sound of his voice produced a reassurance within Sheba that she found overcoming both the sting in her leg, and the fear that had been boiling up insider her and threatening to explode in a display of emotional hysteria.
But as she saw the pairs of eyes in the darkness approaching her, and saw thin wisps of smoke coming from the floor which indicated they were secreting that acid that had touched her before, she knew that she couldn't just wait for her boyfriend to come to her rescue. More than ever, she needed to find her skills as a warrior deep inside her and apply them.
She aimed her laser pistol at one pair of eyes and fired. She saw for a brief instant the glow of a human in a med-tech uniform. But behind the figure, she could see a large bank of consoles and what she realized had to be some kind of lift apparatus that like the lifts aboard the Galactica, conceivably offered access to the circular decks both above and below.
Time for a new approach. She aimed her laser pistol not at the eyes, but this time to the right. As she hoped, her laser blasts struck one of the consoles, sending up a shower of sparks that caused the beast in front of her to stagger slightly, and more importantly give her a clear path toward the lift. She ran as fast as she could, and could smell the acid dripping from the beasts bodies as she moved past them. Finally, in the blackness she could feel the back rail of what she knew was the lift apparatus. Now all she had to do was find a way to get it to move up.
Sheba saw the menacing red-eyes moving toward her again. She fired off another shot, to give herself some illumination. When it struck one of the beasts and gave off the glow of what it's former appearance had been, she looked to her right and left in search of any kind of control panel. But she had yet to find one when the glow faded and there was blackness again.
Feeling the tension rise as the eyes drew closer and she could smell the acid again, she opened fire again. And before she could turn her head to search again, her eyes widened when she realized that the brief flash she had failed to take note of the first time was a man wearing a Colonial flight uniform. One of recent vintage.
She fired again, and got another view of the former man. And her mouth opened in horror.
"Oh my God," she whispered, "No, please tell me it isn't so."
The beast was now only several steps away, and feeling a wave of panic, Sheba flailed her arms about to try and find in the dark any kind of control switch. Finally, she felt her arm brush against a lever of some kind and suddenly the apparatus began to move downward.
"No!" she felt a wave of panic as she groped in the dark and found it again, and this time pulled it toward her, which she felt certain would send it in the opposite direction. To her relief, the momentum stopped and the lift began to move upward.
But first, it came level with the deck she had just been on and she saw again the eyes of that beast that had just sent the biggest fright of her life through her. She fired at it again, and this time there was no mistaking her earlier suspicion. The beast before her had once been a junior pilot she'd flown with aboard the Pegasus.
As the lift moved up, Sheba collapsed to the floor and felt on the verge of breaking down at last. If she had seen someone from the Pegasus then did that ultimately explain her father's fate, and that of everyone else she had once known?
"It's too late, my princess."
Sheba looked up from her sitting position, and silhouetted against the blackness was the white robed figure of the one who had beguiled her once.
"Come," he smiled warmly and extended his hand, "Let me end your suffering."
"What do we do now?" Apollo felt a wave of frustration as he held tight to the rungs in the blackness.
"Drop down to the walkway, that's what!" Delambre barked, "They're about to move right at you and give you an acid spray!"
Apollo glanced back and could see two of the creatures eyes flying towards him. For an instant, he was reluctant to let go of the rungs and trust Delambre that the walkway would be below, and that he could easily find himself falling endlessly into the chasm. But as he saw them coming nearer at increasing speed, he knew he had no choice. He let go of the rung and felt himself falling down through the dark, his legs curled up and waiting for some kind of impact.
To his relief, he felt his feet hit solid ground just four microns after letting go. He had landed on the walkway without even twisting his ankle.
"Delambre?" he called.
"Right behind you," the Callisto executive officer had a more determined edge in his voice. "The deck levels have to be in front of you. Move!"
Apollo began to sprint, and as he did he could feel the walkway start to crumble beneath his feet. His heart began to pound faster as he quickened his pace and could feel the sensation of the walkway support beam buckling under.
But then, he felt the reassuring touch of more solid ground that indicated he'd found the circular deck of the central hub. He turned around and could hear a roar indicating that the walkway had fallen below.
"Delambre, where are you?"
"Still here. I wouldn't have felt a thing even if I'd fallen all the way to the bottom though," he put a hand on his shoulder for reassurance in the dark.
"How do we get close to that open hatch when there's no access from any of these decks?"
"If we can find some way of getting up to the next level, then we'd be as close as we can get to it. That's all I know."
"You'll never reach it. You can not reach it."
Apollo and Delambre both spun round and could see outlined by a red glow two of the beasts, and two walking skeletons, both wearing Colonial uniforms.
"Give in. There can only be more terror. More suffering."
"Put a sock in it, you ugly piece of daggit waste!" Apollo shouted angrily, wishing he could match Starbuck's gift for cutting insults. But right now, it was a better weapon then showing whatever fear he felt inside, especially with Sheba so close and yet so far.
The two beasts began to slouch closer, and Apollo could see from the smoke rising from the ground that the deadly acid Delambre had warned him about was now as great a threat as it had ever been.
And with the walkway behind them now gone, Apollo had at that instant, run out of ideas on what to do next.
"I don't care what you say," Sheba shook her head, "I will never follow you, no matter how much torture, no matter what you show me. You won't make me like......them!"
"Even when it could mean a chance at saving your father, and freeing those you knew and loved from bondage?" his voice remained gentle and soothing.
Sheba felt the sea of emotions inside crashing together with agonizing force. She was positive she had seen a former Pegasus warrior, and now......if what he said was true, could her mind bear the thought of her father and all the others she'd known from the Pegasus going through this kind of endless torment? And could she pass up even the most unholy of opportunities to save them?
"Think, Sheba. You are the key to saving them. Only you. Turn your back on them, and you condemn them forever with no remaining hope."
The pain in her leg was becoming unbearable, as was the impact of his words. She could feel herself start to waver, on the verge of finally giving up.
But then.....drawing from all the remaining strength inside her, she forced herself back to her feet, and then looked at him with cold, contempt.
"I think you're lying," Sheba hissed, "I don't believe my father or anyone else from the Pegasus is aboard this ship other than that one warrior. I think you're exploiting the fact that at some time in the last yahren, a lone warrior was lost on a patrol mission that you enslaved as bait for the sole purpose of trying to spring this trap on me, just to gain your sick revenge."
The smile faded from his face and he backed away from her.
"I'm right," Sheba increased the level of hate in her voice, "If you had enslaved the Pegasus, I would have seen signs of that aboard this ship. I would have seen more than just one warrior I remembered whenever I took a shot at those minions of yours. I would have seen recognizable markings like the ones I saw from the Callisto. But I didn't see them because they're not here, and because you are a liar about all things. And you can't ever trap me again or take advantage of my loneliness like you did the last time."
He glared at her and slowly nodded, "You're remarkable, Sheba. You've become much stronger-willed since we last met. But there are still ways of making you yield."
And then, with a motion of his robes, he was gone.
Sheba leaned back against the side of the lift, and exhaled in relief. And her relief increased when suddenly, the lights inside the Central Hub suddenly went back on.
Apollo was starting to feel the first sign of true panic, when suddenly his eyes were dazzled by the sight of the lights in the Hub going back on. Delambre was looking about in amazement as well, since he could never recall a time when there had been this much illumination inside the monster derelict.
The intense light had the effect of causing the beasts to back away, as well as the walking skeletons, which suddenly changed back into the shapes of the beasts before their eyes.
"Some kind of tactical change," Delambre said, "But why?"
They turned and saw the lift apparatus suddenly come to a stop on their deck level. Sheba was standing there, beckoning to them.
"Sheba!" Apollo ran toward her and when he reached her, he took her outstretched arms and passionately kissed and embraced her.
"Oh Apollo, it was horrible. It was......" she shuddered in his arms, not wanting to say the name of who she meant.
"I know," Apollo held her tenderly, feeling only gratitude and relief that they'd found each other again. He then reluctantly loosened her hold on her and motioned behind him, "Sheba, this is Colonel Delambre. He's not transformed, and that's all I can say right now."
Sheba looked at the haggard middle-aged man before her and nodded, "I know who you are," she said, "And.....I'm not surprised to see you."
"You found the data tapes," Delambre smiled thinly. "Captain, Lieutenant. I'm glad you've found each other, but I think we'd better take advantage of this sudden light quickly before they spring their next move. As soon as the light goes out or dims, you can be sure they'll start moving again," he motioned his thumb toward the cluster of demons some twenty paces away who seemed frozen and immobile.
"You're right," Apollo nodded and looked up, "Sheba, the way out is up there," he pointed.
She looked up and her eyes focused on the circular opening in the wall that was just below the next level walkway but had no access path or even rungs on the chasm side to reach it.
"It's out of reach," Sheba said, "How do we get to it?"
"What about this lift you took to get up here?" Apollo asked, "Maybe we can stop it at the point where we could be close enough to get into it."
"Easier said than done, Captain," Delambre stepped up to them and pointed at the back of the lift, "You'd have to break that wall to get it aligned with the hatch and make a jump of about three metrones across the open shaft. And from this narrow interior, that's not easy for even an expert jumper."
"True," Apollo said, "What if we were to ride on the top of the lift and not have to break the wall and jump through the wall opening?"
"An easier jump," Sheba admitted, "But....still risky."
"We have no other choice. Sheba, you and Delambre climb on top and brace yourselves. I'll need to stay in here to throw the switch and stop it at the right point."
"Captain," Delambre said gently, "You get on top, and I'll handle the switch. It's more important for you to be in position already than it is for me."
"He's right, Apollo," Sheba said.
For the first time in a very long while, Apollo found himself smiling, "Okay, you win. Let's get ourselves ready."
Apollo gave Sheba a boost and she managed to climb on top of the lift apparatus. To her relief, it was level rather than sloped in shape which meant that more than one person would be able to keep their footing while it was in motion.
Delambre then helped boost Apollo up, and the black-haired captain took his place next to her. He wrapped his arm around her in support, and she instinctively rested her head on his shoulder.
"Okay, I'm going inside and throwing the switch."
Before the Callisto warrior was inside though, the lights had already begun to dim slightly, and Apollo and Sheba could both see the immobile demons start to show signs of movement.
"Hurry, Colonel," Apollo said, feeling the unease start to return.
Finally, they heard the sound of the lift's gears start and felt the apparatus start to rise. Apollo and Sheba both had their eyes on the hole that led to their escape route, waiting for it to become level with the top of the lift.
"Okay, stop!" Apollo called out. "It's level!"
Abruptly, the vehicle came to a stop, and they could now look across some ten feet and see the hole beckoning. But in that space between them was a plunge that led straight to the invisible bottom of the Central Hub and if this weren't timed just right, they ran the risk of suffering one of the worst childhood dreams come to life.
Apollo got to his stomach and reached down as far as his arm could extend, "Delambre, try and grab my hand and I'll pull you up!"
He could see Delambre's hands emerge and planting them on the edge of the roof. Then, letting out a grunt he could see the aged man swing out, his legs dangling in the open space. Apollo grabbed Delambre's right wrist and with all his strength, pulled him up until finally the Callisto officer collapsed on his stomach to the roof.
"Okay," Delambre tried to catch his breath. "Now comes the final phase. Get in there, and it's all over."
"Apollo, we shouldn't be carrying a lot of deadweight on us when we make that jump," Sheba said. "We don't need any of this felgercarb we've been carrying any longer."
"Agreed," Apollo nodded as he detached his laser pistol and the remaining items from his pack. They clattered to the ground, and his mini-scanner actually bounced up and then fell down the shaft. It was over fifteen microns before they finally heard the dim sound of it striking the invisible bottom far below.
As soon as they had shed their gear, they noticed the lights growing dimmer.
"We're running out of time," Sheba felt the uneasiness returning, "Which of us makes the jump first?"
"I'm still the Squadron Leader, Sheba," Apollo said, "That means this is my call. I take the risk first. Besides, I want to be able to pull you in if I have to."
The dimness of the shaft began to increase, causing them to look up and down uneasily and see that the beasts were now moving forward, albeit at a slow rate.
"All right, here goes," Apollo tried to blot out all the fear and apprehension going through him, and instead tried to send his mind back to the days of basic training at the Academy when these kinds of physical exercises were part of the curriculum. The ability to leap quickly in the event one had to jump through a rapidly closing door. The ability to jump behind a barricade if someone threw a hand detonator that couldn't be thrown back in time. He needed to think of this as no different from that kind of exercise that he'd been able to do so many times back then.
He positioned himself at the back end of the roof, crouched
himself and broke into the running start he needed to give him maximum forward momentum when he finally made the leap.
He felt the sensation of flying across the open air and had his hands extended to grab hold of the opening to safety, when in mid-flight the lights suddenly went out and the Hub was again completely dark.