Hidden Pages – Chapter 27 – Problem Solving With Bigger Explosions


Being on an exploding spaceship full of enemies lead Beth to an unexpected problem.

“We have to save the crew,” she said, pushing herself back to her feet. “And the ship.”

“It seems late to think of that now,” Lagressa said.

“It is,” Beth said. “We’re doomed and there’s no way to save ourselves, which is why it’s the only thing that makes sense.”

“Did the gravity lance clip you in the head?” Starshine asked over the comm unit.

With the gravity generator knocked offline, the shuddering thuds from the explosions which wracked the Reilian communications vessel were only things that Beth saw and heard. The walls around them flexed and buckled as each new weapons battery was consumed by the rapidly spreading fire, but since she and Lagressa were still floating in the force sphere, none of the disturbances tossed them about.

In front of them, lights sparked across the gray and ash white tiles of the reactor room’s outer wall as the crew tried to restore power to the ship’s systems. From the look of it though, they were fighting a losing battle.

“We need the ship functional to broadcast our music within the Reilian fleet’s Mind Net,” Beth said. “We need the crew for what comes afterwards.”

“It doesn’t look like there’s going to be much afterwards from here,” Starshine said. Her voice was crackly with static either from the distance or the interference of the Reilian fleet trying to jam her signal.

“There will be if we can save this ship,” Beth said. “What areas are burning now? Can you get a visual on the ship?”

“Afraid I’m a little busy,” Starshine said, her voice hoarse from the strain of acceleration maneuvers that were taxing her rockets inertial dampeners past their limits.

“Is there anywhere else we could escape to?” Lagressa asked, weaving her fingers in a pattern of sharp, short movements which drew additional layers of light into the bubble that surrounded her and Beth.

“There are escape pods,” Beth said. “The Reilians are ruthless but everyone encounters environmental issues.”

“Can we get to one of those?” Lagressa asked.

“We’re pretty deep in,” Beth said. “The main reactors are on the other side of that wall and they’re at the center of the ship. We’d need to reach the hull to find an escape pod.”

“This vessels badly damaged. There are paths through it which didn’t exist before. Can we use those to get away from it?” Lagressa asked.

Beth looked at the devastation left by the gravity lance. She could see stars through the rend it had left in the ship’s decking and walls.

“Physically yes,” Beth said. “But we can’t go.”

“I think you need to abandon your original plan,” Starshine said.

“If we do that, I’ll wind up back home,” Beth said. “I’m not ready for that yet. I don’t have the information on how to fight the Burners.”

“That sounds like a problem to worry about when the stuff that’s near you and currently exploding is instead someplace much farther away,” Starshine said.

Beth bit back a retort and played the smuggler’s words over again.

“That’s it!” she cried. “You’re a genius!”

Lagressa’s left eyebrow arched up towards her hairline but she waited for Beth to speak again.

“They broke the ship, we’re going to fix it,” Beth said. “By break it some more.”

She turned towards the ash white wall and spun the sonic destabilizer up to full power. The hexagons crumbled exploded into powder the same as the walls of the ship had when the gravity lance struck them.

On the other side, dozens of technicians were scrambling around the central reactor area with thrust packs or magneto-boots, with only the nearest ones looking up when the two new arrivals floated into view.

“Look for the communications array,” Beth said. They’d reviewed diagrams on Starshine’s ship but in the riot and clutter of the damaged reactor area picking out the proper station was like finding a single vending machine in an entire shopping mall.

“It’s there, at the far end of the chamber,” Lagressa said, pointing down the long cylinder shape of the room to a section of the ceiling which was blazing with flickering lights and a swarm of hovering drones.

Beth saw that and also caught sight of her new quarry.

“Can you make it there and get the music plugged in?” Beth asked.

“Yes, but what are you going to do?” Lagressa asked in return.

“I’m going to save the ship,” Beth said and engaged the thrusters on the space suit she’d borrowed from Starshine.

Saving the ship meant fighting a path through the technicians so that she could get to the controls for the gravity lance. Beth dialed the sonic destabilizer back to its lowest settings but found she barely needed to use it.

“Security! Alert! Alert!” the techs shouted as they fled from her. None were willing to stand against her or even attempt to block her path, which Beth decided was just sensible. They were neither armed nor armored and against a foe who was both, they wouldn’t have stood a chance. The security team that was inbound though was likely to be a different story.

“Ok, universal control matrix, I hope you live up to your name,”Beth said, as she settled into the control chair for the gravity generator.

One of the great “Galactic Advances” in the Measureless Stars setting was a widespread technique which made the controls for devices immediately intuitive for users of any species. It allowed the heroes of the novels to effortlessly pilot ships built for creatures with radically different physiognomies and was a point Beth had always thought a bit silly and implausible.

Part of her, therefor, wanted to cheer when she discovered that the controls were roughly as opaque as mud.

At least until she touched them.

Using psychic circuitry seemed like a cheating method of implementing a universal control matrix, but given the extremity of her need, Beth decided not to quibble with the result.

Setting the gravity lance to maximum power but with a much wider spread, she called up the live ship schematics and pulled the trigger, blowing the Reilian communication ship to pieces.