Freefall is not a particularly pleasant experience when you’re not ready for it. The explosion of the levitation spheres had gutted the Star Runner’s hold and shattered her keel. Power failed simultaneously throughout the ship as overloaded reserve batteries exploded as well.
There was a reason that the most armored part of a Sky Galleon was the levitation sphere chamber. It was the one point where a hit would produce catastrophic results on any sky ship from Molly’s world. In theory the extra shielding and armor should have prevented any direct fire from reaching the levitation sphere. In practice the shielding and armor had never been meant to hold off the kind of firepower a hundred or more Oblivion Courtiers could bring to bear.
With the loss of flight capacity, the remains of the ship and the crew that survived the explosions dropped through the surface of the Lightning Road. Several of us could have taken flight on our own, but even Way wasn’t up for tangling with that many Oblivion Courtiers.
We couldn’t get to Olympus anymore. There were too many Courtiers ahead of us and I could see that they’d shattered the path ahead with their black fire. Instead, we clung to the fragmented hull as a shield against the storm of electricity that swallowed us as we made contact with the Lightning Road.
I’d cast aside my giant spider form as we started to fall. Glory of the Hidden Corners was a lot stronger than Jin but Jin flew a whole lot better than the spider lady. Also, for as awesome as Glory was, it was kind of creepy thinking like a spider.
Despite the protection the bits of hull we clung to offered, the Lightning Road would still have fried us when we hit it if not for Nell. Clinging to the far end of a piece of rope that Jessica had tossed to her, Nell flew like a kit above the plummeting ship and absorbed the Lightning Road’s energies before we hit them. She formed an teardrop shaped umbrella with her power where the lightning that rolled off it’s invisible surface funneled down to feed into her. She was glowing like a star with the accumulated energy by the time we broke through the edge of the Lightning Road.
Plummeting into the physical world below we found we had another problem though. Air.
On the plus side, it was amazing getting to see the Earth the way only an astronaut could. Pictures didn’t do it justice at all. On the minus side exposure to vacuum sucks.
Without waiting, or even thinking much, I cast a wide field out, merging the Dreamlit world and the physical one so that I could conjure up an atmosphere and some heat before we boiled or froze.
That earned me another punctured torso courtesy of one of the Oblivion Courtiers that had ridden the wreckage down with us. Even as reanimated black fire shadows, they really liked to go for heart shots when they weren’t toying with their prey it seemed. My dream self wasn’t mortal but she was close enough to the “real” Jin that being skewered still hurt like hell.
“Big mistake”, a large and growly voice behind the Oblivion Courtier said. Two enormous minotaur hands then grasped the Courtier and crushed him like a grape. Minnie probably couldn’t have caught him if he was free to dodge as he normally would but I was just enough of an anchor to prevent that. Under Minnie’s fierce grip, the Courtier burst into a shower of dark sparks that were swiftly left behind as we continue to plummet downwards
Rather than reenact the artistic death scene from the last time Minnie and I had tangled with a Courtier, I passed my hand over my chest and imagined myself whole again. I considered imagining myself immune to pain as well but that was something I definitely didn’t want to risk transferring to my real body.
“Are you ok?” Way dream spoke to me.
“Yeah, how about you?” I asked back.
“I’m beneath the ship. There are three of them down here. They’re trying to blast you all from below the decks.”
“I think we have four left up here. Can you handle those?”
“There are two left now.” there was the sense of a gleefully smug smile that came along with the words. The Courtiers were an extension of her father’s will, so this was a form of teenage rebellion that was long overdue.
“I’ll take that as a yes.” I sent back, sharing my own smile as well.
“You’re only beating the topside team two-to-one, Patches just pegged one to the mast for Jess to BBQ.”
“There’s something you should see down here. It looks like another ship.”
“Be right there.” I dream spoke.
“Can you keep Jess and Nell safe?” I asked Minnie.
“No.” she said pointing upwards. Far above us I saw dozens more Oblivion Courtiers exiting the Lightning Road and giving pursuit.
“Buy me as much time as you can then, but stay alive.” I said before launching myself into the air and swooping around to the underside of Star Runner’s remains.
The damage to the ship was horrible, not simply because of the impossibility of repair but because of what it meant for the crew members who’d been working below decks when the levitation spheres went up. Molly could name each of them, remember each of their faces, so I focused on being Jin. A pirates life wasn’t a safe one, but the dead would still be grieved in the proper time.
A moaning cry from inside the hull brought me up short. Some of the below decks crew had survived! I zipped inside the ship and saw that survival was perhaps an optimistic assessment. The crew who’d been hit by the black fire bolts were missing whatever body part had been touched. Most of them had avoided that fate but few had escaped the levitation sphere explosion unscathed. They needed medical attention immediately.
I flew out of the hold and saw the Earth again. It was closer but still much too far away for medical care to arrive in time. We were going to lose fifty or more men and women well before we landed. I prayed that the ship Way had seen was something insane like a medical frigate that NASA had developed in secret and launched just for situations like that. It didn’t seem likely but the alternative was for me to reimagine them whole and I wasn’t sure how well that would work. Worst case I’d overwrite their personalities with copies of my own, effectively killing their minds to save their bodies.
I found Way by the blast of golden light that incinerated the last of the Oblivion Courtiers she was pursuing. The blast was roughly as wide as a football field, probably to ensure the dodgy little Courtier couldn’t avoid it.
“Where’s the other ship?” I asked her.
“There. Just above the auroras.” she said pointing at a dot far below us.
I repeated the trick I’d used with the Star Runner’s firing squad and imagined a viewing circle into existence in front of me. With the added magnification I was able to make out the dot in greater detail. It was a large hexagonal ring around a smaller cone in the center. The tip of the cone was pointing down towards the Earth with the ring rotating around it clockwise.
With the help of superhuman inventors, humanity had developed a number of functional spaceships. Many were driven by the powers of the various superhumans who used them. None, that I knew of, looked like the one I saw below us. As I looked over the writing on the side of the ship, meta-awareness confirmed it. The text belonged to no human culture and none of the friendly alien species that I knew of.
“This is the VoidBreacher ‘Persephone’ to all personnel on incoming dimensionally displaced craft, sensors indicate your ship has suffered catastrophic failure. Please standby for evacuation via containment portal.” The voice that spoke in my mind was clearly dream speaking to me but I got no emotional content with the words. Even the sound of the words had a perfectly crisp quality to them that seemed at odds with their originating from any natural source.
Before I had the chance to question what a ‘containment portal’ was I fell through one. At the speed we were falling towards the Earth, I expected slam into something when I arrived but instead I simply passed through a shimmering rainbow disk that appeared in front me and arrived in an amber tube suspended and motionless.
“Jin?” a familiar voice said.
I looked over to see one of the girls from my science class sitting at a control console beside Agent Lynn Haffrun. I couldn’t move so answering verbally was out but I could still dream speak.
“Becky? What are you doing…” I started to dream speak to her when a whole bunch of things became clear thanks to intuition and meta-awareness teaming up.
Agent Haffrun was an alien, I knew that from before. She was here to judge Earth and yet she’d also been pretty nice to me. Why? Because she already had a sense of who I was.
She’d been working with the pre-cogs of the FBMA. Pre-cogs don’t see the future in exact detail but they could probably see that someone from my school would wind up gaining powers. Agent Haffrun had also needed a place to send one of her newest charges. So she’d sent the heroine Heartbeat to school with the usual kids. With me.
Becky looked nothing like Heartbeat, but then Heartbeat could shapeshift so why should her secret identity look anything like her heroic one?
In a sense Becky had been spying on me for Haffrun. I probably should have been upset by that but given what I could sense was coming next I found myself feeling fairly grateful.
“Oh!” Becky’s eyes flew open in shock. I could see her frantically trying to think up a cover story.
“It’s ok, Jin’s figured things out already I believe.” Agent Haffrun said.
“Disengaging containment field. Commencing emergency care procedures on designated subjects.” the robotic voice that had spoken before the first portal appeared said. The amber tube I was in faded away, gently depositing me on the deck of the ship. To my left and right I saw Way, Minnie and the others who’d escaped injury being similarly released.
“Thank you Persephone. Please keep me appraised of their condition.” Agent Haffrun said.
“You’re patching up our injured?” I asked, already knowing the answer but wanting the others to hear it.
“Yes. Any that were alive we will be able to save, though some may need a while in the regrowth tanks.”
“Thank you.” I said.
“Jin, my god, it is you. How did you wind up in space?” Becky asked. She’d shapeshifted to look like Heartbeat once more but I still heard her voice as Becky’s.
“It’s a long story. Are we safe here? There are some seriously powerful bad guys after us.” I said, looking at Agent Haffrun.
“I’ve adjusted our position. I believe we’re outside their effective range.” she confirmed.
“Where did you take us?” I asked.
“Take a look.” she said and gestured to the central view screen. A planet hung outside the simulated window but it wasn’t the Earth. My breath stuck in my throat. I hadn’t expected to ever see the Earth from an astronaut’s point of view but it had been at least a vague possibility as technology progressed. Seeing Saturn’s Rings up close and personal was a whole different story.
The Persephone was a faster than light ship. The more powerful supergroups had FTL ships but none of them could transit from Earth to Saturn as quickly as the Persephone had. Some part of me was terrified at being so ridiculously far from humanity’s cradle. The rest of me knew that we were safe though.
The Oblivion Knight was unimaginably powerful but at his core he had once been human and that limited the scope he worked on. He hated the world that had failed him, but he didn’t see the universe beyond it. We hadn’t made it to Olympus but we’d found a refuge. Neither the Knight nor the Courtiers nor the Oblivion Queen had a reach that extended this far.
“Can someone tell us what’s going on here?” Minnie asked.
“Your world is ending.” Agent Haffrun replied. She was looking right at me, a gentle smile on her lips while the judgment of humanity’s future lurked behind her eyes.