Episode 72: Rocket Boost

Captain Ortega shot forward, letting the floor of the ruined station’s makeshift landing bay drop away. He was moving faster than Captain Calen’s scuttler, but it had a good head start and would pick up speed quickly. After the lapse of concentration that slowed him in the hallway that led to the station’s exit, he was grateful for the extra seconds that Ensign Trell had bought him by fixing his flight suit’s systems faster than they could reboot on their own. If not for the thick, eerie mists of the Cypulchral Cloud that limited visibility, the scuttler would probably already be moving too fast to catch.

Ortega zipped through the mist, keeping his eye on it as it picked up speed. The mists began to obscure the ship, and Ortega knew that he was moments away from losing sight of it entirely.

“Keep tabs on the target,” he said. The display on the inside of his helmet drew a thin targeting outline around the scuttler, filling in the elements of it that were already too hazy. “Calculate appropriate vectors. If we can’t catch up to it before it leaves ten percent visual contact, go to maximum burn.”

After a second of calculation, a warning appeared on the display, suggesting the likelihood of both catching up to the scuttler and not crashing into it to be low.

“What about getting ahead of it, slowing down, and letting it catch up to me?”

His headset bleeped and information about the difficulty in getting ahead of it was displayed, along with information about how much trickier the local nebulaic conditions would make such a maneuver. Ortega knew that his in-suit computer wasn’t designed with emotions, but he always felt like that particular sound effect was the equivalent of a passive aggressive sigh. Ortega narrowed his eyes at the information and didn’t like what he saw.

“Let’s calculate the best trajectory for crashing into the scuttler. Figure out some way for me to collide with it that won’t leave me crippled, please. Banged up but field stable. Preferably not bleeding.”

The rocket pack burst to life, shooting forward at a speed that effectively blinded Ortega as he moved through the mist. He’d hoped to have a second to compose himself, but the calculations apparently decided that he needed to move immediately.

Suddenly he was along the side of it and rolling in its direction. The scuttler was moving faster, apparently using its scanners to avoid possible debris instead of running without unnecessary computer functions. Ortega banged into the side of it and yelped from the impact, registering even with the armor and inertial dampeners throughout his flight suit. He bounced off and forward as the rocket pack reduced its power.

He knew in his head that the scuttler was probably pushed to the side a bit by his impact as well, but from his vantage it stayed still while he bounced off and forward. With the reduced power of his jet pack, the scuttler moved forward from his point of view and he veered to the side again. This time he could brace for impact, but it didn’t help; his shoulder banged into the hull of the vessel, slid along it, and bounced off of a metallic extension causing him to not only ricochet off of the scuttler’s surface, but to spin in place. The spin caused him to lose ground as the scuttler continued, but ended with him facing the ship and rocketing into it. Having crunched into the metal more decisively, Ortega had the time to grab a metallic protrusion. The scuttler chose that moment to pick up speed.

The inertia almost knocked him off, but his computer knew the goal and helped to lock his arm into place as it held on to the side of the ship. Ortega took a moment to laugh. It wouldn’t be a comfortable climb to the nearest entrance to the ship, but he’d gotten to where he knew he needed to be.

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