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Pirates Round Robin

Chapter 7 - Aftermath

By Alden Bates

The Nosferatu II spun as it entered the planet's atmosphere, metal spars cutting through the cloud layer. A mistimed retro fired, knocking it into further gyrations.

Rock spires jutted out of the mists blanketing the planet surface; jagged teeth waiting to bite into the ship's hull.

The forward pylon sheared off on an outcrop. The ship shook under the blow, then crumpled as it hit the ground. The mesa it crashed onto was more or less solid rock, peppered with spiky protrusions. The Nosferatu slid along the ground, creating a furrow in front of it.

Finally it wedged between two protrusions. The mist swirled back around it, and everything was still...

Rakaar attempted to sit up, bashed his head against the console he was under, and swore loudly.

"Is argh!" Krimda shouted indistinctly from somewhere. "Is Reklonian lowering the lofty tone again?"

"Since, at the current point in time, said lofty tone includes half the bridge being caved in, yes," said Rakaar.

"We's run aground, mateys!" Grinker was offering a hand to Mel and a hook to Chris, both of whom were just getting past the shock of having hit a solid object at some speed and were approaching the what-do-we-do-now? stage.

"Is everyone all right?" Mel asked. "What about Thella?"

Rakaar busied himself at the readouts which were working and broadcast a message across the ship for all crew members to report in. Naturally all of the Sloathes were OK. Being largely fluid anyway, a mere buffeting and impact did not concern them. A trip to the medical bay revealed that one or two of the Pakhars had sprained limbs, and a Martian had cracked her armour, but otherwise they'd been incredibly lucky.

"Which is more than I can say for the Nosferatu II!" Mel added. Eltave was fussing about the bay, pausing to apply a pressure pad to her arm.

Chris was sitting sadly beside Thella's bed. The young woman was breathing easily, obviously a lot better than when they found her.

"Is big sleep thing," interposed Eltave on hir way past. "Coma, wotchacall."

"How is she?"

"Let's see," Eltave exuded a tentacle from behind hir upper ear and swiveled the medmonitor. "Dem bones is fixing nicely. Blood stick in thing -"

"Transfusion," Chris corrected.

"- transflusion go round and round and round and round and -" Eltave caught hirself. "- round in arteries no problem. Body organs starting working and stuff. Is getting better, happy days, yes?"

"Good," Chris stood up and joined Mel, who was talking to the Martian.

"Not long," Ssele answered Mel's question, waving a bandaged arm minus its armour.

"Good, we'll need all available hands to help us repair the ship."

"Mel," Chris said. "I don't think we're going to be able to. The Nosferatu is totaled."

"'Ere!" Glitz protested. "I hope you're not intending to go down after them? Only, if you are, I demand to be let off at the nearest inhabited planet before you do so."

"There is no time to indulge your whimsies." The figure waved a claw. "We are going to land. They are exactly where we want then."

"If I had a Grotzi for every time you've said that... Look, if you're heard what I've heard about Seldric Four you wouldn't go within twelve parsecs of the place. The planet is a death trap!"

"What are you hiding? What is down there?"

"Well, I don't know, do I? No one's ever returned from -" a claw struck him, sending him reeling to the floor. The grating left a crosshatching mark on his cheek.

"Not good enough! We will land, find the pirates and take the crystal from their dead bodies!"

Krimda bent down to inspect the hull. Frergle, who currently favoured the shape of a large beach ball with the front portions of a frog imbedded in it, was surveying the view, such as it was.

"Mist! Lots of mist! Go built mist man, throw mist balls and suchlike."

"Is silence," Krimda cut in. "Silly Sloathe is thinking wrong. Is not make balls out of mist, is make balls out of ice cream!"

Frergle sat down and thought about this for a bit while Krimda carried out a solid examination of the hull. The older Sloathe formed little hands at the ends of its wings (it still looked like a pelican, though its rubber ring had deflated during the crash.) and tugged at one of the panels.

"Frabulations! Is still firmly attached!" Krimda produced a small clipboard and made a mark on it.

"Woo hoo!" shouted Frergle, bouncing off the gangway. Krimda turned in alarm, but it was only a drop of a metre or so. Frergle began bouncing parallel to the hull, whooping and bobbing in and out of the low mist.

"Is silly sausage!" Krimda shouted at hir. "Is dangerous!"

Frergle whooped all the louder and started moving away from the ship. Krimda would have suspected that the other Sloathe had been imbibing intoxicating substances, but there weren't any on board.

Frergle whooped again, vanished beneath the mist and didn't come back up.

Krimda waited. There was complete silence, far longer than Frergle was capable of sustaining.

"Frergle?" Krimda called out.

The silence rolled on.

"Frergle?" Krimda called again, slightly more frightened.

There was a disturbance. The mist began swirling, spinning in little whirlpools. Something just below the surface of the mist was moving swiftly and silently towards Krimda.

The Sloathe yelped and made best speed towards the nearest portal. Sensing the haste, the whatever began moving faster, mist churning in its wake.

Krimda reached the portal and frantically span the locking wheel. The damp atmosphere had left a film of slippery moisture, and the hir digit-analogues had to work extra hard to get the wheel turning.

The something was almost at the edge of the gangway.

Krimda gave the wheel a final turn and began swinging the door open.

Something reared out of the mist, towering over the decking.

Krimda gave an almighty scream, darted in and swung the door shut, spinning the locking wheel frantically.

There was huge hollow banging noise that knocked a great dent in the door and almost deafened Krimda. The Sloathe huddled in the nearest corner and moaned softly.

"Is shock!" Krimda was screaming from the stretcher. "Is horror! Is greebly things with multiple legs going 'Meep!'"

"Pull yerself together man," Grinker spluttered, teetering on his peg-leg. "Is calling yerself a pirate? Gibbering and heartily flobbiling."

"Squarck!" Grinker's parrot said. "Pieces of seven!"

"Cheapskate!" Grinker shot back.

"Is silence!" shouted the stretcher, getting heartily sick of the carry on. Grinker promptly shut up.

"Thank you." Chris was accompanying the stretcher party down one of the corridors to the medical bay. So far Krimda's team was the only one to experience any difficulties, and Mel was on the bridge coordinating the rest in an effort to assess the extent of the damage.

Chris recalled his basic Adjudicator skills for questioning a victim. "OK, Krimda. In your own time, what happened to Frergle?"

Krimda lay there blinking for a time. "Was looking at nice hull piece and Frergle go bouncy into mist."

"OK, then what?"

"Frergle argh monster big foop radish werblewerble ftang!" gibbered Krimda and, breaking free of the restraining straps, flapped off down the corridor.

"Thar she blows!" Grinker shouted as it set off in pursuit together with Chris and the stretcher, who was looking put upon.

"My ship!" Glitz looked dismayed at the orbital picture. "They've broken her! I paid... well, it's the principle of the thing, innit?"

"Cease your prattling," the alien leader snapped. "I am pondering."

"Leader!" piped up one of the technicians at a console.

"Didn't you hear me? I'm thinking."

"What your subordinate is trying to tell you," put in Glitz. "is that we are being pulled down towards yonder planet."

The leader looked at him grumpily, facial proboscis twitching. "We were going that way anyway."

"Ah, just so long as you know what you're doing."

The entire Nosferatu crew assembled on the bridge. The only crew members absent were Thella, who was still sick; Frergle, who was missing presumed eaten; Krimda, who was still slightly batty and kept turning into a complete set of golf clubs and singing about giant paper clips; and Eltave, who was in the medical bay tending to Thella and Krimda.

As Mel explained, the situation was grim. They had crashed on a hostile world, destroying most of the starflight induction panels in the process. The panels would have to be replaced, but anyone doing so ran the risk of encountering one or more of the creatures which lurked outside.

Plus they had no idea what Glitz and his allies were up to.

"And even if we do replace the panels," Mel added with uncharacteristic pessimism. "we don't know if the ship is structurally sound enough to take off."

She paused, collecting her thoughts and over-viewing the daunting task ahead in her mind.

Chris stood up. "I'm volunteering to replace the panels. I'll need someone to help me."

Rakaar waved from where he was sitting on a lump of metal plating which had crushed his best chair. "This is, of course, a deadly dangerous and life threatening task from which we're unlikely to return. You can count me in."

"Me too!" waved Ssele.

"Want to help!" Lathra shouted, dangling from a loose railing.

There was a general murmuring from the rest of the crew; They wanted to know what they would get to do while Chris and his team were out having fun.

"Good," said Mel. "We need to repair pretty much most of the bridge..."

Chris glanced around the store room and selected the biggest gun he could see. It had a barrel which was wider than it was long, and a bunch of flashing red lights.

Rakaar snorted and slung a plasma rifle over his shoulder before locating a trolley for the panels.

Chris lifted the first panel - three thin metal squares, a metre long on each side and fixed together through the middle with a thick cylinder - and Ssele helped him lift it onto the trolley.

"It's times like this," said Rakaar. "That I really wonder why I became a pirate."

"Why did you become a pirate?" Chris assisted Ssele in lifting another panel.

Rakaar shook his head. "I don't know; that's why I keep wondering."

Ssele hissed with laughter.

The alien ship bucked as it was dragged down.

It pulled hungrily at the warship, giving a sneer-analogue at the futile efforts of the creatures within to halt their descent.

Its servants were already surrounding the other ship, waiting for Its signal.

Stretching out Its consciousness, It could see the ants scurrying inside.

The leader clung to the command chair with all four claws.

"You see!" Glitz was shouting over the noise of the straining photon drives. "If you'd listened to me, we'd still be safe!"

The leader pointed at claw at him. "This germ offends me. Kill it."

Glitz gulped as those on the bridge with free hands sung their blasters around to aim at him.

Chris looked nervously around at the mist swirling about the ship. Rakaar was holding the other end of the damaged panel while Chris removed the screws with a sonic screwdriver. The big gun lay at his feet. Ssele was positioned in the middle of the panel, holding it so the screws would be easier to extract.

"Right," he said. "On the count of three, lift."

The mist behind Chris began to churn unseen.

"One, two, three!"

They all lifted together and the panel popped off its supports.

At that point, a huge mouth of razor-sharp teeth reared up from the mist, speeding straight towards Chris.

Part 8

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