The Trilogy Concludes
“Closing, sir,” said Stirling. “Slowly but surely.”
McTiernan clenched at the armrests of his command chair, staring at the main wallscreen that showed the computer generated image of their course. The icon for the Marcinko was inexorably drawing closer to the icon representing the out of control skyhook station. The computer superimposed their courses, showing intersection in less than five minutes.
At this distance, they still were not able to visually see the cable itself. Being only sixteen inches in diameter, and matte black, they’d have to be right on top of it before even the long range visual sensors would catch a sniff of it. But the asteroid on the far end was in sight. And still moving.
“Lieutenant Commander, time to flipover,” he called out.
Vaillancourt answered without taking her eyes from her screen. “Ninety seconds, Captain.”
The ensign held up a hand. “Captain, I’ve got…” He tapped at a few icons on his screen. “Four tugs. Three are projected to be where we need them to be, the fourth is going to be a bit behind. I’m having the computer redirect that one further up the trajectory. I’ve got calls into two more, but I don’t think they’ll make it in time.”
McTiernan looked at the main screen, where the computer had added the mining ship icons. He grimaced as he saw the tight window of opportunity. He felt the Marcinko straining at the max accel run, her engines’ thrum more of a roar. A distant corner of his mind played out the situation on two different paths. One where they caught the station, and one…
“Ensign, any word from the station itself?” he asked.
Giroux turned around, and McTiernan saw the sadness in the young man’s eyes. He knew the answer before Giroux even opened his mouth.
“Nothing, sir. No answer to comm, all channels. I don’t even know if it’s worth…”
“We have to try, Mister Giroux,” McTiernan said. “Even if the possibility is remote.”
“Aye sir,” Giroux replied and turned back to his screen.
“Five seconds to flipover. Engine cut off,” called Vaillancourt. The sound of the engines faded, and the bridge was left in silence as the Marcinko performed her end over end turn to begin the deceleration. McTiernan took a deep breath as the pressure in his chest ceased and the bridge went back into weightlessness.
McTiernan looked away from the main screen towards LaFuente, who was excitedly signaling from his Sensor station. He waved for him to continue.
“Sir, I picked up one of the skyhook cars. It appears intact!”
He squeezed his armrest hard enough to feel the plastic underneath buckle. Maybe…
“Put it up on the screen, max resolution.”
The wallscreen changed from the course trajectory plot to a grainy video image. Mars’s shadowy outline appeared on the left third of the screen, just a sliver of red showing as the sun set across the planet. The computer outlined the skyhook car location in blue. The car wasn’t visible.
“Mister LaFuente, can’t you get it any closer?”
“Trying, sir,” the young man said, tapping furiously at his screen.
McTiernan squinted, trying in vain to make the image clear up. Suddenly the screen flickered and the skyhook car came into view.
“Got it, sir! I messed with the algorithms, and…”
The seaman’s voice trailed off as he looked up to the screen. McTiernan’s heart caught in his throat as he stared at the image.
The skyhook car, a boxy structure slightly larger than a standard ship-to-surface shuttle, was tumbling, and to the bridge crew’s horror, was entering Mars’s thin upper atmosphere. Pieces of the car were breaking off and bursting into pinpoints of light. Now that the image had cleared up, it showed the car itself starting to glow around its edges as it rolled slowly.
“Sir, can we…” Giroux began.
“No,” McTiernan said. He surprised himself with the sadness and resignation in his voice. “It’s too late. God rest the souls of anyone in that car.”
Several moments of silence passed as the crew watched the skyhook car tumble and break apart. With one last burst of light, the car disappeared from the image.
Vaillancourt cleared her throat. “Sir,” she said in a low voice.
McTiernan gritted his teeth. He knew those cars could hold a hundred people or more. People with families, children, people heading off planet on vacation. A hundred people…
He pulled his eyes away from the screen. “Yes, Karlyn.”
“Sir, ten seconds to decel.”
He nodded. “Very well. Mister Stirling, have the battlecomp shut down all active jammers and stealth systems. No need to sneak up at this point.”
Stirling acknowledged the order, and Vaillancourt began her countdown. The main screen switched back to the trajectory plot and McTiernan unconsciously cinched his belt tighter. He fought to push the image of the tumbling skyhook car from his mind. It was replaced by thoughts of what it must be like on the station as it headed away from Mars.
He squeezed his eyes shut as the Marcinko lit her main engines for the decel, and the pressure returned.
Enjoy the genre, like the scene? Gabriel’s Revenge is now available for all e-book platforms. Get into the trilogy with book 1, Gabriel’s Redemption, and book 2, Gabriel’s Return. Thanks for stopping by!