Beth knew she was mostly invulnerable within the Unread. She had to wonder though if “mostly” included resistance to excessive g-forces during a rushed rocket lift off.
“This is really heavy,” she managed to squeak out as the thrust from Starshine’s Dustjumper rocket mashed her into the crash chair like an overcooked potato.
“Oh, you’re still conscious?” Starshine said. “Guess I can take us up a bit faster then.”
Beth could hear Starshine’s evil smile shaping the words and she prayed the smuggler was joking.
“Prepare for primary engine engage in ten…nine…eight…”
Apparently she wasn’t.
If they were rising on the Dustjumper’s secondary engines only then Beth was reasonably sure adding the primary drive was going to squish her like a grape. She looked over at Lagressa who was strapped into the chair next to her and saw that Lagressa was pinned to the seat too, but seemed to be weathering the added force well enough. Being an extra-dimensional entity designed as a weapon and trained in a thousand of survival skills was advantageous for space travel as well it seemed.
“Don’t take us out of the system,” Beth said, straining to fill her lungs after each word.
“I don’t think we want to hang around here, kid,” Starshine said as the primary engine engaged with a deep bell-like ring.
The oppressive force that had been squeezing Beth into her seat lifted gently away as the Dustjumper’s full propulsion driive came online. The drive which included the inertial dampeners so that living bodies could survive being accelerated past light speed and into warp space.
The book geek in Beth smiled as she rubbed her sternum to clear away the ache from lift off. The original novels in the Measureless Stars had been written decades ago and were much lighter on the “science” part of the sci/fi than the more recently released stories. In the early tales, the spaceships were more in the tradition of the “rockets and rayguns” of the pulp novels, with faster-than-light travel being the product of “specially crafted chemical rockets of particularly clever design”. Later works, written after the author read more about the physics of interstellar travel in Beth’s world had changed the explanation to include hypothetical models proposed by genre enthusiasts which had a more reasonable touchstone on the physical sciences.
Beth wanted to quizz Starshine on which of the many possibilities the Dustjumper used, if for no other reason than to reply to a few discussion threads with the canonical answers to long debated arguments of how everything “really” worked.
The warning klaxon that sounded suggested that the current circumstances were not, perhaps, the best time for such questions though.
“We are under attack?” Lagressa asked.
“Seems like that,” Starshine said. “Don’t know why though. I’m transmitting a standard non-combatant signal.”
“The Reilians don’t listen for those,” Beth said. “They’re here to fight everything and everybody, and we’re part of ‘everybody’.”
“And you want to stay around here why again?” Starshine asked.
“Because there’s still a way to stop them,” Beth said.
“How do you know?” Lagressa asked.
“This wasn’t supposed to happen, but we’re still here,” Beth said.
“Those sound like the words of everyone who’s ever been caught in a bad situation,” Starshine said. “Take it from me, there’s plenty of bad situations that you can’t do anything about except get away from.”
Like my Dad being missing? Beth thought. He had years of experience on her, and maybe it was foolish of her to think that she could succeed where he hadn’t.
But she hadn’t asked for this.
She’d tried to play it smart. She’d waited patiently for her father to sort things out. She hadn’t explored what she could do in the hope that living as normal a life as she could would mean that she’d stay below the Burner’s notice. That hadn’t worked out though.
If the Burner’s had left her alone or if her father had been successful sooner, she might have squashed herself down into the narrow little box that her life had been. She would have shut out everything she could be for the promise of safety.
Playing it “smart”, hiding to be safe, was what she’d done her whole life. It wasn’t a revelation to her to notice that. Hiding worked out, to some extent, most of the time. It was a smart play. Watching the Reilians rain bolts of angry fire down on the planet below though, Beth saw that it wasn’t going to work anymore. Not for her. Not here.
The Unread may not have been “real” in the sense that her world was, but if the Burner’s could chase her into it, and set the unwritten narrative against her so strongly then there was no safety to be had there or anywhere.
Instead of being captivated by the illusion of safety, she had to look at the situation through different eyes. Eyes that saw the hidden silver lining of opportunity that lurked within the danger around her.
She couldn’t see how they would save the narrative of the Century Walk from the events that were occurring, but since there was still a chance, and she’d been given allies to meet the problem with, a silent determination filled her heart.
“Running away won’t fix this,” Beth said. “The Reilians have scanned your ship already right?”
“The moment we engaged the primary,” Starshine said. “That’s no problem though. It’s not like they can catch the Dustjumper.”
“They don’t have to catch you,” Beth said. “Once they’re done here, they’re going to spread out to every neighboring system. And if they look for it, they’re going to find the gate we talked about. No matter where they go, they’ll remember the Dustjumper too. Especially if you get away. They really hate that.”
“How do you know all this?” Starshine asked.
“I have a card for the First Galactic Library,” Beth said. “I’ve read a lot more than you might think.”
“Well has anything you’ve read mentioned how to stop an entire Reilian fleet with just one ship?” Starshine asked.
Beth thought of the various encounters protagonists of the Measureless Stars novels had with the Reilians.
“I think I might have an idea,” Beth said, smiling as she pieced together a plan. “I’ll need you to get us onboard their primary command ship though, and I’ll need to see what kind of songs you have in your ships library.”
“Songs?” Starshine asked.
“Yeah, the sappier the better!”