They broke the shell of the unknown world at exactly three minutes past five in the evening, finding themselves within a land of storm and ice.
“Oi, wake up,” he said, reaching over to pat the shoulder of the figure slumped in the seat next to his. “We’re here, Horus.”
Horus Hawkeye sat upright with a startled jerk. He blinked his large, owlish amber eyes at the bank of controls and readout displays before him, confused for a moment. Then abruptly he reached out to grab the flight joystick in front of him. “We…we’ve arrived?” He asked, staring at the world of pale blue-white snow that existed beyond the flexiglass windscreen of the cockpit.
“Sometime like that, yeah.”
At that moment, the normal quiet thrum of the Shetra’s Devotion complex machinery was interrupted by the sound of a muted explosion from somewhere below deck. Almost immediately, the display screens lit up with multiple red warning dialogs.
Declan Proudclad keyed on the intercom. “Shiprat, what in the name of all that’s holy did you just do to my ship?”
“Nothing! Nothing!” came the vehement, decidedly female response from the other end of the line. In the background he could hear a hissing sound and the sizzling of unchecked power. “In fact, I should be blaming you for letting the number three engine go bust right now, you dumbass!”
“Me? What did I do?”
Again, there was that hissing sound, which he assumed was Shiprat using the fire suppressant. “That night at the casino on Deep Dive. The money for the new engine parts. Remember?” She growled.
Horus clucked at that, and Declan winced at the memory. “Yeah, I remember.” He hurriedly punched in a sequence on the keypad beside the intercom, and spoke, “Declan here. We’re having some slight technical difficulties at the moment, but it’s nothing to worry about, my dear crewmen and passengers. At best, we’ll…probably just crash and explode.”
A gruff, thickly accented voice responded to the news after a brief four-second silence. “We’re going to die again, skipper?”
“Er…possible though improbable.” He keyed the intercom off and glanced over at his pilot. “Think we can land this rustbucket?”
Horus clicked his beak, his eyes glazing over for a moment as he considered the problem at hand. “Well, for starters, the steering’s gone a bit stiff and we’re running out of fuel,” he said slowly. “But that’s manageable…to a point. What worries me is that we’ll have to fly slower to avoid overworking the remaining three engines, and that’ll put us at the mercy of turbulence.”
Declan sighed. “So we’re screwed?”
“Unless we find the landing pad in the next fifteen minutes or so, then yes.”
“Guess I better call up the Doc then.” Just before he could activate the com again though, the door to the cockpit silently whooshed open, and Dr. Spectra Lunos of the Academicia herself marched in, looking like she had just convinced herself to get out of bed. She wore a plain, nondescript pair of overalls on top of an old t-shirt bearing the name of some long-forgotten band. Her long and curly strawberry blonde hair was tied up in a one-sided pigtail, framing a face that was at once, almost vulpine and pretty, with lovely storm-grey eyes.
“I heard something about a crash?” She rubbed the sleep out of her enchanting eyes, yawning.
“Oh hey Doc. Nice to see you up and early.” Declan gestured at the windscreen, specifically at the surface of the world known on a select few maps only as X7171. “Well we’ve got you here. Now show us the way.”
“Right. Mind if I sit down?”
The young skipper of the Shetra’s Devotion got up from his spot in the co-pilot seat, dipping in an exaggerated bow as he gestured at the chair. “Be my guest, Doc.”
She took up on his offer, and sat down. Another yawn escaped her as she got to work, her fingers flying so fast over the keypad that they were virtually a blur to anyone who was not born a hirudo. In a minute she was done, and a final but brief sequence, she called up a three-dimensional holographic model of the world that was their destination.
“This is where we are now.” An orange colored blip appeared at a point just above the planet’s equator. The map rotated through the slightest of degrees, revealing a larger, reddish blip that softly pulsated against the neon blue of the hologram, located somewhere on the verge of the harsher polar regions. A path of pale dotted lines materialized between the two points. “That red spot is where I have to be.”
Horus hooted, blinking rapidly at the map. Declan couldn’t blame him. The readouts from the map gave the distance and time estimates as he looked, and at the rate they were going, they really would burn up all their last dregs of fuel and crash long before they got there.
“Think we can make it, buddy?” He asked, though he knew the answer.
“Not at this rate, no.”
Spectra flashed a charming smile at them. “I’ll raise the reward money if you could work out a miracle.”
The skipper and his pilot exchanged looks at that, and for a moment, it seemed as if they were having some sort of silent telepathic conversation that eventually ended with the hirudo flyboy sighing out loud. “As you wish, milady Lunos.”
“But assuming we don’t end up being a fireball in the sky,” Declan said. “That will be a thirty percent raise, with tax.”
Half an hour later, the air over a lofty range of frozen rocky range of mountains began to hum and glow. A split second after, an inaudible yet strangely tangible crack resonated through the atmosphere, and a bigger craft than the Shetra’s Devotion materialized into existence in a flurry of glowing energy fractals.
Inside the Hunter of the Skies, a raven-haired, uniformed officer on the bridge of the craft looked up briefly from a computer screen. “Ma’am, we’ve broken the shell and hit atmo at 22,000 feet. All systems normal.”
The news was directed at a young woman who stood a little further back from the wide arc of consoles and their operators. She was tall, beautiful in a big-boned sort of way, with blood-red hair and silk-green eyes. A smattering of freckles peppered her pale-skinned face, and there were old claw marks visible on the left side. Her yosei heritage was clearly unmistakable due to the long and pointy right ear but, the other ear was shorter and ragged, as if it had been bitten off. She wore a grey-and-silver set of armor, emblazoned with a stylized representation of a lunar eclipse on the back. Around her neck was a metallic collar, intricately filigreed with fine, cursive glyphs which pulsed with a faint green glow.
“And what about the shellbreakers?” She asked.
Another officer answered her. “They got here alright, and they’re on their way to Jura Station right now.”
She nodded, then turned to the lone figure that rested in the command seat in the center of the bridge with her arms folded under her ample bosom. “My liege, everything is going according to plan.”
“So it would seem, my dear Natsu.” Lord Lyrule Vantiss, commander of the Hunter of the Skies and thane of the infamous Holofernes, sat forward in his seat. The scale-skinned humanoid folded his hands underneath his chin, and flashed a brief grin that was all fangs. “For now.”