“Testing, testing, oro dalo treo!” Connac said loudly over Loki’s personal intercom. Loki uttered a surprised shriek, leapt off his mattress - hitting his head on the low ceiling of his quarters as he did so - and collapsed in a heap beside what passed for his bed.
Groaning he opened his eyes and pulled an arm loose to tap the comlink button on the wall. “Connac, next time you want to wake me up, come down and give me a gentle shake, won’t you?”
“Sorry Loke, but the captain must be one of the first people on the bridge, otherwise what’s the point?”
“Time?” he asked, heaving himself to his feet and rubbing the various aches and pains over his body.
“Five in the morning, I let you sleep in for a couple of hours.”
“Five?” Loki moaned. “Connac, I don’t usually get up until ten at the earliest!”
“Loke, after we’ve traced the Raptor to whatever planet it’s on, then you can sleep in as long as you want! How about that?”
“A gift from Heaven,” he muttered, kicking his bedding back into position and clicking the comlink off as he did so. Great, now his head ached, and all the Ragnarok needed now was a captain with a migraine. But once he arrived at the bridge, and saw the sunrise through the auroras, he felt much better - in fact, as the sun touched the gleaming red hull of the Ragnarok, he felt exhilarated, dizzy, as though he’d just eaten a half tonne of suger cane.
“We’re going,” he said to himself. “We’re actually leaving Limbo!” A grin spread across his face as he stood in the pooling sunlight, letting the warmth heat his scales after the particularly cold night.
“I hope it actually flies,” remarked a familiar cynical voice. “Because I don’t want to become pâté de Saurian and be smeared over the grass of Heaven.”
“Out of curiosity, Max,” Loki said without turning, “is pessimism part of the job description of a sorcerer or did it just rub off from Wraith?”
Max snorted, and walked up to him, glowering out at the sun. Loki noticed that both his clothes and his scales were sparkling - quite literally - and the strange gem-like quality of his scales was ridiculously unnatural. He fought back a grin.
“Something funny, Loki?” the sorcerer asked in a dangerously calm voice.
“You look like Canth just put you through the rinser!” Loki laughed. Max’s expression did not change. “She didn’t!”
“She said I looked like something Diablo had dragged in and dumped me in the same barrel of metal cleaner as all her favourite robotic appliances. I’m lucky my scales could take it otherwise I’d be wearing very thin by now.”
“Max, you really need to sit down and explain these little eccentricities of organical life to her.” Loki blushed suddenly as Max gave him a shocked look. “Not of THAT kind!”
“You really had me worried for a moment there, Loki.”
“Oh, come on, you don’t think I...”
“I do. I’m not blind. I’ve seen the way you look at her.”
“So this means you won’t electrocute me?”
“I never said that.”
Loki became aware that people were staring at him. He looked around to find the entire crew of the control bridge turned around in their chairs and grinning at him. He blushed again. “Uh, Max, maybe we should leave this til later, hm?” With a wicked smile Max agreed, and he headed back out the doors, pausing momentarily before they shut.
“The wind is well,” he noted, before vanishing behind the sliding doors.
Loki nodded absently as he sat - well, clambered up into - the throne; he still didn’t think of it as his throne. “Connac, how long until we can move her?”
“T minus sicci seconds, sir,” his friend said, glancing at the countdown panel.
“Only one minute?” Loki asked, blinking. “Teeth and Tails, Con..”
“Loki, everything’s gonna work as planned, don’t worry,” Connac gave a lazy grin as he sat back in his chair. “We’ve tested out the flying capabilities of this baby in simulation almost three hundred times already!”
“I’m just... nervous, and excited,” he admitted, curling up his tail to stop it swishing to and fro. T-30 seconds. He took a deep breath. “Fire engines.”
The engines fired, with a loud whirring which almost blasted his ears out but which thankfully subsided after a few moments to a bearable noise. T minus 20 seconds. Lights sprang on all over the consoles but the main overhead turned off, darkening the room considerably. T minus 11 seconds.
Tanan... nino... eyate... seyate... sic... roya... qano... treo... dalo... oro...
A ripple ran through the ship and Loki dug his claws into the arms of the throne, looking up anxiously at Connac who nodded reassuringly. Everything was going according to plan. So far. Then with a roar the engines gathered power and they shot forward.
Darthan! he yelled in his mind, almost flying backwards out of the throne as they went from zero to sixty, to one hundred miles per hour just so quick. Someone might have at least warned me...
The sharp nose of the less-than-graceful ship tilted up, there was a bump, and then a feeling of being pulled away from gravity as they rose up into the air. A loud whoop of triumph rose from the crew, but Loki felt they had worse things to worry about. They had to test the Gateway Generator now. Now, or never.
“Haachan, open up a Gateway.”
The nose of the Ragnarok opened out like a pair of pincers, and a line of bright electricity sparked between them, revolving around like a skipping rope before it shot out in front of them, braked like it had hit a wall and ripped open a great swirling purple and white hole in the sky. Loki sat rigid in the huge throne, gripping the metal arms as though if he let go this whole thing would become a dream and would fall away, collapse and die.
But it didn’t. Not as they flew inside.
Not as the mouth of the Gateway closed behind them.
And not as they were spat out into another universe, far, far out of the reach of Dimensional Limbo.
“Which city are we over now?” he asked in a tired voice, stifling a yawn. The night came much slower here and the night sky was unfamiliar, almost scary without the beautiful auroras that decorated the sky of Limbo.
“This is New-York.”
Loki stood up and walked over to the screen. “Full-view.”
The screen widened, and he saw then entire city of New-York, somewhat grey, dirty and smog-ridden yet one of the most beautiful mass structures that he’d ever seen. The skyscrapers reminded him sharply of the picture that had been passed down about Rhatarllian architecture. Tall, towering and graceful, although usually a deep bronze or silvery-white, befitting the marterials available there. Very little colour change was in this city.
Something went clunk, and he looked up sharply. “What was that, Hranthir?”
Connac shrugged. “Don’t know, sir, I could check with engineering.” A few moments later he frowned, his movements becoming more urgent. “I can’t get through to them, sir, their intercom’s down.”
Swearing, Loki turned and headed for the doors. “I’ll go down personally, Connac you’re in charge up here until I get back. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t,” he added, pointedly looking at the controls for the weapons array before shifting his gaze back to Connac.
The Hranthir gave him a look of theatrical dismay. “You mean I don’t get to blow things up?” he pouted, and then laughed. “No fear, Loki, I don’t really want to get into a war, myself.”
Loki paused. “How many of us do?”
The crew looked at one another. No one raised their hands.
And then a shudder ran through the ship, accompanied by a whispery noise; Loki grabbed ahold of the door and looked up when it was over. “Don’t tell me,” he said. “That was the cloaking device failing.”
Connac nodded angrily. “This shouldn’t be happening, sir! I don’t understand, it’s as though someone deliberately re-programmed things to shut down after a time! It’s been exactly three hours since lift off, Loki.”
“Strike three, you’re out,” he whispered. “Donovan.”
“Diablo’s flunkey was here last night trying to sabotage the consoles. I kicked him out but it didn’t occurr to me that he might have been here for a lot longer and done more damage. Darthan! We’ve got to land to make repairs!”
“But where, sir? And what if the landing gear malfunctions as well?” Loki caught the vibrato in Connac’s voice, and realised he was getting panicked; they all were. He wished he hadn’t been so damn caught up in his own cleverness last night that he might have thought to check the Engine Room for sabotage!
He tried to speak in a reassuring voice. “Connac, Hranthir, there’s a large park just below us, big enough to take the ship down into. We can land there. Don’t worry, I’ll be back in less than ten minutes.” As if that was reassuring.
Loki ran out the door and down the passageway; he had no robes to hamper his speed so quickly topped 30kmp/h, flashing down the many hallways and skidding around corners. He quickly found the reason for intercom being down; the wires were clipped discreetly at the corners beside the Engine Room door, and the door itself was jammed shut; he could hear the poundings from the engineers.
“Canth!” he yelled. “Are you there?”
“Loki?” her voice came back rather muffled. “Loki, Ragnarok’s badly injured and the door locked on us! We haven’t been able to contact you! It’s terrible, everything’s due to fail in less than two minutes!”
He looked around quickly and then grabbed the Saurian fire extinguisher from further up the hall, battering the door until cracks appeared the the sides and the trapped occupants were able to prise it out. Panting, Loki dropped to the floor, but Canth pulled him up again. “Loki, everything is set to fail if we try to use the landing gear, whoever sabotaged the Ragnarok wanted to make sure nothing would work!”
Loki stared at her, a feeling of nausea dropping into his gut. “Connac’s going to land,” he whispered. Punctuating his words, the ship gave a shudder that threw them all to the floor; as he law on the metal ground Loki could hear the agonised grindings of the gears below as they tried to work but were obviously jammed. He felt the slight tilting of the ship as it began the descent. They would crash, he knew; not even Connac with all his skills could land a ship in unfamiliar territory with no landing gear.
“I’ve gotta try get him to land somewhere else, that strip isn’t big enough for a crash landing!” He clambered to his feet, using the wall as a lever, and then began running again, but already he was tiring and his pace was a lot slower; far too slow for his liking. The ship was quickly picking up speed but Loki had to pause once he reached the doors, to catch his breath. “Connac, pull up!” he yelled as the doors slid open.
“I’m trying, Loki, but the controls are going haywire!”
“Then get out of here!” he ordered. “Everyone. When this ship crashes the bridge will be mashed!”
“No way,” Connac shouted. “I can land her!”
“Get the Hell out of that chair!” Connac stubbornly sat at the controls, and Loki noticed a lack of movement amoung the others too. “Aarhu!” he screamed desperately. “Is no one going to listen to me?! You’ll all be killed!”
“Loki,” his friend said quietly, “if we don’t make an effort to land, everyone on this ship will die. Now we may be killed, but the captain of this ship isn’t going to go down as well.”
The doors slammed shut and locked in his face. “Connac? Connac! OPEN THESE GODSDAMN DOORS!” He pounded on the metal, but then tumbled onto his back as the nosedive deepened and then suddenly pulled up.
Afterwards Loki remembered very little detail about the crash. The impact was massive, and he snatched at the nearest handhold and hung on tightly as the ship bounced and grated along the ground. Then there was a feeling of hitting a solid wall, intense heat, a blinding whiteness during which he lost his grip and flew up to hit the ceiling. Then everything went dark. He could have easily broken his neck, but miraculously he survived with just some bad bruising.
What he remembered most of all was the silence after the crash. The only sound he could hear as he drifted in an out of consciousness was the steady thudding of his heart. Finally his eyes cracked open and as they did so more sounds came out of the silence; a low hissing, sparking of broken electrical wires and alarms beeping fantically. But still, the very air carried a deathly silence about it. He gave a soft moan and lolled onto his side, getting his arms underneath his chest and pushing himself up onto his knees, and then to stand.
The hallway had buckled; it sloped upwards and then dropped sheerly down the other side. Panels had been ripped from the walls and little lights flickered once or twice before dying. The doors were open, hanging loosely on the frame; they dropped to the ground with a loud clatter - and as splash. Loki looked down to find himself standing in about four inches of water; it came in through the shattered forward screen. The throne was gone, probably the reason for the broken window. His crew lay about the place with various degrees of burns and ragged glass cuts across their faces and chests. No one was moving. The water was red. Nausea welled up inside him again and he almost began vomitting, but jerked his head up when an almost inaudible gasp came from the front of the bridge.
Connac had sustained such wounds that it was amazing he should even be breathing, though Loki doubted he would be for much longer. Glass had gouged out one eye and sliced gaping wounds across his chest, on top of which his console had exploded and the flesh on his hands and face was horrifically burnt.
“Oh Gods,” Loki whispered. “Con. Aarhu Masaiah...”
“Hey, Loke,” Connac said in a dry, harshly crackled voice. “Good to see... the captain didn’t go down with his ship. Wait...” he interrupted before Loki could give a reply, “Loki, we made it.. we made it out of Limbo. I think... that’s all anyone.. ever really wanted.” He closed his one remaining eye. “Don’t cry, Loki,” he warned.
“Why the bloody Hell not?” the young Saurian demanded, choking on the words as he spoke. “I’m the captain, I can cry whenever I damn well choose to... Connac? Connac?” His friend could not hear him. The tortured rising and falling of his chest had stopped. He was dead.
Loki sat back on his haunches, wiping the blood from his hands onto his shorts, and quickly wiped away a tear. Don’t cry, Loki.... some last words. With a choking gasp he stood up, and then hesitated. Outside, apart from the lapping of water, he could hear screaming, of voices and of sirens. Scrambling over bodies he tried to find something that might still be working, and found that amoung the weapons array there was something simply labelled: Stun Gun. That would have to do. He wouldn’t let the humans come inside here; if they did, the efforts of the team, and the crew’s sacrifice, would be entirely for nothing. Any survivors would probably be killed.
Setting the stun to fire close to anything that moved within a radias of twenty metres of the ship, Loki moved his attention to the Intercom. It wasn’t too mangled, although a couple rooms would be shut out, including the Engine Room. When he turned it on, he stood in silence for a while. There wasn’t much else to say but:
“Is anyone still alive?”
Minutes passed like hours, and as they slid by Loki fell deeper and deeper into despair. He couldn’t be the only one left alive! He just couldn’t! Sitting down with his back against the wall Loki listened as the first shots of stun laser were fired, and in response came another burst of screaming.
The Intercom crackled. “--oki?”
“Hello?” he said, pressing the button down. “Hello? Who’s there?”
“--’s Max.” Loki sank back to the floor in relief. “I’m in the mess hall. A table fell on m--” The link crackled. “--othing’s broken.”
Licking his lips, Loki said, “Max, are there any more survivors?”
“--o one. No one. They’re all dead here. I can’t get through to Canth.” Max’s voice cracked, but it wasn’t the Intercom this time. “Not even Canth. She always keeps her com on.”
“Max, I’m going to look for survivors. Can you make it to the infirmary?”
“-es. Yes, I can make it. I--” The link went dead, and Loki sighed, switching the console off. He sat for a while on the floor, the water lapping against his legs as the ship rocked to and fro. Then he stood up, and headed out the doors.
“Stalker,” he said softly, limping over to help the tracker to his feet. He was not badly wounded, saved from a broken neck by the fact that he didn’t have much of a neck to begin with. “Are you okay?”
“Always the master of the useless question,” Stalker said gruffly, glaring around at the room.
“And you are master of politeness, or rather the lack thereof.” Max tapped his foot impatiently. “Obviously you’re in tip-top shape for being thrown around the room like a pinball, so I’ll just be heading down to the infirmary. Ta-ta.”
He left the room and continued slowly and painfully down the hall, but looked back as heavy footsteps followed him.
“You’re not leaving me behind, Max,” Stalker grinned. No one could grin like him; his face was built for grinning, usually somewhat evilly. “Are there any other survivors?”
“That’s what we’re trying to find out,” he answered dully. “Loki is alive. He’s gone down to the Engine Room to see if anyone is alive there.” He looked down at the floor, and then angrily swished his tail. “Oh bother with walking! Give me your hand.”
Bewildered, Stalker held out a huge ham-fisted hand. and Max grabbed one finger, concentrating on the “purple puff” spell, and they appeared in the infirmary. The doctor, among others, was also dead; he had obviously been standing too close to the consoles when they exploded. Max collapsed onto the nearest bed, determined to go to sleep but with not enough willpower left to even try. Teleportation had always taken it out of him but dragging someone else along for the ride...
“Oh what I wouldn’t give for a nice hot cup of maclar.”
“It’ll have to wait, Max.” Loki came in, and he noticed with a pang of fear the he was carrying the limp form of Canth. “She’s alive, but the ceiling was breached and the whole section of corridor was underwater.”
Forgetting his own pains Max leapt off the bed and let Loki put the still form of Canth down in his place. “The others?”
“The other four engineers were killed on impact or were wounded and drowned, same with about three other corridors I found. They were just... floating in the water.” The youth shuddered. “About thirty dead in those corridors. Eight on the bridge.”
“Fourteen in the mess hall and nine in their rooms.” Max added gloomily, hugging his cape around himself. “That’s sixty-one dead so far. Take away us four survivors and that leaves us with thirty five unaccounted for. Who knows how many were trapped in their quarters down there underwater?”
“I don’t think I want to speculate.” Loki’s voice was emotionless, but his eyes carried more pain, sorrow and guilt he could have ever shown in his voice. He was too young to have had the burden of captainship put on him, far too young for this to happen to him; Max gave him a pitying look, which the youth frowned at. “I don’t want pity, Max, I’m only alive because of the bridge crew. Not that I had much choice in the matter.”
He opened his mouth to reply when Canth gave a moan of anguish. “Stopped functioning, terminated, dead, they’re dead, everyone’s dead!”
Max spun around and took her hand. “Canthrina. Canth, it’s Max.”
“Max!” she screamed, grabbing his arm. “Everyone’s dead! Everyone’s dead!”
He stroked her crest comfortingly as she sobbed, looking up at the others feeling a little helpless. Loki sat down beside Canth and put a hand on her shoulder.
“We’re not all dead, Canth.” She looked up at him hopefully. “Not all dead.”
Not all dead, Max agreed in his mind. But for how long will that hold out?