Freya's Tears

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Fueling Up

Mission: Book Two - Ginnungagap
Location: New Pacifica - Freya's Tears

Els eyeballed the shrinking distance between the shuttle and the huge scorched fuel tank on the co-pilot console. “Slow it down a bit, don’t want to come in too hot.”

“Aye, Skipper.” Austin adjusted the shuttle’s velocity. “Kasli, you ready on the grapple?”

“Ready and willing.” Kasli sat behind Els, accessing the grapple controls.

“I bet you say that to all the boys and girls,” Naya quipped over the tachcomm.

Kasli chuckled. “Not all of them, sweetie.”

Els growled. “Keep focused, people.” She received muttered affirmatives both inside the shuttle and over the comm.

The massive tank grew in her vision as the shuttle neared it, filling the screen with its deceptively slow roll. The closer they came to their target, the more pleased Els felt. Despite obvious exterior damage—blackened discolorations and a number of dents on the metal surface—the valves themselves appeared to have escaped impairment. That didn’t mean the shuttle was in the clear. If Kasli hit a weakened spot with the grapple, causing a fuel leak, they’d lose their advantage. Els didn’t even want to entertain the more perilous thought that a mistake could blow them all to hell.

The numbers flashing on Els’s console blinked red, but the audio proximity alarms remained silent. She’d shut them off. At this moment the shuttle was squeezed into an area not much bigger than Freya’s Tears itself. Though the space left decent enough room for Austin to maneuver, the slightest startled jostle on his end had the potential to send them reeling into destructive debris. “Austin, you’re within five hundred meters.”

“Adjusting trajectory and speed.” On screen it appeared that the fuel tank was slowing its spin. In reality, Austin matched the shuttle flight to the sickening roll of the tank. To everyone watching from Freya’s Tears, the tank continued spiraling with the shuttle coming into synchronous orbit, nose first. Austin fired boosters, continuing to close the distance until the tank filled Els’s entire view. When the seared metal stopped moving, he said, “We’re in place. Kasli, it’s all yours.”

Els kept an eye on her controls, paying close attention to the surrounding rubble. No matter how minuscule, every piece had been mapped down to the finest detail. While she focused on the intimate points, Naya sat on the bridge of the ship and monitored an area several hundred miles in diameter. It was always possible that smaller debris had gone into pseudo cometary orbits around the larger chunks. The sudden arrival of something they hadn’t accounted for could seriously hamper this operation.

Kasli utilized an oversized joystick, staring at the image on the main screen. “Can you get me closer to that ladder?”

Austin grunted. “Shifting.” Though motion couldn’t be felt inside the shuttle, the dented metal slid across the screen until the rungs of a ladder welded into the side of the tank came into view. “Better?”

“Much.”

Els glanced up to see a targeting icon pop into existence on the screen, a larger version of what Kasli concentrated on behind her.

Kasli took a deep even breath, letting it out unhurriedly. “Cross your fingers.” She fired the grapple.

On screen, a snake shot out from beneath the shuttle. Els held her breath as she watched its lazy progression, a cable unfurling behind the grapple hook. Speed wasn’t of the essence in space, just accuracy. It appeared that Kasli’s aim was true.

The hook reached the ladder rungs, missing the metal by a hair to bounce ineffectually away.

“Damn it.”

Tension in the shuttle ratcheted upward as Kasli reeled the grapple back in for another attempt. Els glanced over her controls, seeing nothing out of place before turning to look over her shoulder. “It’s okay. We’ve got plenty of time. We’re in the sweet spot.”

Kasli offered a slight grin. “Thanks.” She reloaded the grapple and prepared to fire another round. “Austin, can you get me a slight angle? Maybe if I come in from the side, I’ll catch it better.”

“You got it. Shifting.” The rungs remained on the screen but rather than looking at them head on, they eased into a more oblique view. “How’s that?”

“Better.” Once more Kasli took a bracing inhalation before firing the grapple gun. Again the hook and rope extended from the shuttle. The hook hit the surface of the tank, bouncing off at an angle to loop around the rung.

Els held her breath as Kasli reversed the grapple, pulling the cable taut. At the last moment it looked like the hook would disconnect, making everyone aboard gasp before it settle back into place.

“Awesome shootin’!” Tobias remarked over the tachcomm.

“Good job.” Els ran some numbers through the onboard computer. She placed a static image of the tank onscreen. “Austin, let’s maneuver around to this point,” she instructed, gesturing with one finger. “Kasli can try to hook up the second grapple here.”

Austin nodded. “No problem.”

Kasli reloaded the grapple, peering at the image. “What is that? A valve wheel?”

Ja. It’s locked in the closed position so I doubt we’ll do any damage with the grapple. Once we have two points of contact, we’ll have more control stopping this thing and pulling it out of here.” Els dropped the image, allowing Austin control of the screen.

It took Kasli three tries to attach a line to the valve wheel. Once she was successful, Austin gently tugged on the tank with the shuttle, slowing its spin and steadying its location in relation to the surrounding rubble field.

“All right, people.” Els updated the others. “Austin’s going to reverse the shuttle now. Keep your eyes peeled.” Els switched the screen view to the feed from the ship, allowing her pilot a visual reference for his task.

“Reversing thrust.”

The shuttle backed out of the debris field with excruciating slowness. Els’s console was ablaze in red lights as proximity alarms triggered with every inch they gained. After several tense minutes, the reds receded in favor of amber then green.

“You’re clear,” Naya stated, her voice triggering a slouching relief as everyone in the shuttle released pent up breaths and wiped sweat from their brows.

“Kol, Hroth? You guys in place?” Els asked after she’d sent a silent thank you to whatever gods were looking over them.

Hrothgar answered for both of them. “Suited up and already outside. Bring that beautiful baby to me.”

Els glanced at Austin who nodded. “On our way.”

Austin caressed his station. “Changing course. We’ll be there in about three minutes.”

Kasli squeezed Els’s shoulder. “That’s one worry out of the way at least.”

“You know it.” Els smiled back at her. “Once we get to Bliss I’m going to take some time off. What do you say to Boparc Beach for a week?” The heated look in Kasli’s eyes warmed Els in many ways.

“I love the way you think.”

“Hello,” Austin interrupted. “Some of us are still working here.”

Chuckling, Els felt a flush cross her cheeks. “Carry on.”

Austin rolled his eyes. “Almost there, people. Kolodka, prepare for intercept. Slowing speed.”

Els shared a mischievous look with Kasli, thinking of much more than sand and surf.

 

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