The Battle of Charmelle: The Vhaen Project | 6

The remaining ships dispersed as soon as quickly as they had appeared. Obviously, the goal at hand was not about the crew, it was to capture the figurehead of their enemies…and their jump technology along with it. Cedric ran to the nearest pile of rubble. With the training he had survived he made quick work of freeing trapped workers. All the while, a crew mate was begging for a moment.

“Captain!” Attica broke in as he pulled a piece of the hangar door from a mound. “I have to tell you some-”

“What are you doing out here! go help those folks!”

“Yes, of course. But Amelia–”

“What about Amelia?” He paused only for a moment.

It took only moments to procure the map, and Katherine came bearing it and a dozen others with her.

“Captain, to me…Your charts.”

Leaving the pause and conversation on temporary hold for the moment, the captain joined his host at the table and leered over the document with narrow eyes. “Is this the closest Order port?”

“I believe so Captain.” She would nod.

The crew buzzed around the charts and maps. Audra and Seamus stood over a plan for small gliders with determination in their faces,“If we fabricate a small glider we might be able to make it to this outpost…use surpris–.”

“Captain.” Attica broke in.

He turned his eyes up from the glider plans in an annoyed manner, “I’m a bit busy, Attica.”

“Sir, the Isabella–”

“Is gone, yes.” he paused,  “Amelia!” he leaned back from the table looking for his wife.

Attica’s head slipped to one side in aggravation. “Sir–I’m trying to tell you.” A barrage of voices battered them all at once.

“I think this is the best route to get you to the Port, Captain Whittaker.” Katherine added pointing on a map.

Mr. Fox ceased his movement and looked around their gathering. “Amelia?”

The passenger, Amelia Ruth, not knowing who was calling which Amelia popped her head from behind a tent door.”Here! I’m here, Mr. Fox!”

“Ok, we have one…”

Cedric sat up a little straighter now privy to the conversation and darker tones filling his face.. “Where’s my wife?”

Attica put her hands down forcefully in front of the captain.“The Isabella was manned, Sir.”

 

~*~

 

In that moment, Amelia was focused on only one thing. The large white cast iron tub was full to the brim of steamingly hot water.

 

“He told me to wait until the sip was fixed…and I did…and now…hot bath.”

 

The newly repaired floors were unfinished, but that didn’t bother her in the least. Steam hung thickly in the air, clinging to the interior of the room. The new clean towels donated by the archeologists smelled heavenly as did the soap.

 

Sinking in up to her chin made every ache a pain disappear. The cold melted away and she smiled in genuine delight for the first time in a month. Outside the door Attica knocked and said something…but the water blocked up her ears. Besides, it was lovely in this warm little room.

After a time, and the pruning of fingers and toes, Amelia made her way from the bath into the warmth of towels and clean clothes that had been steaming with her in the bath. She had dressed in clean clothes and was just beginning to towel off her hair when something of a great commotion began outside. She turned to listen, not concerned, but curious and made her way to a room with a window.

 

The padding of her bare feet on the cold wooden floor was all she could hear for a moment as the sound seemingly stopped. She peered out breath fogging up the double paned glass. The students and scientists were running in a panic. Amelia’s eyebrows furrowed and she turned to exit the Isabella quickly to find out what was going on.

 

Then the resounding thunder of artillery shells on the hangar door began. She staggered, tripping over the parts of furniture that was now violently bouncing with the percussion. Then all at once, the ship screamed with the sound of splintering boards and curling steel. Amelia fell upon her back, and cried out in fright. The ship took it’s invasion gracelessly and lurched as the interior contents were jostled along with her sole passenger.

 

The ship moved erratically, vibrating with the skidding along the hangar floor. Amelia grappled for a handhold, seeking any shelter she could from falling tools and debris. Then the free fall. All at once she realized what was going on. They were being stolen.

 

It was only a few seconds before the free fall ended, and Amelia, and all the effects around her came crashing back to the floor. Her instincts kicked in almost immediately but she had no knowledge of whether or not they had been boarded. Her thoughts ran wild.

 

They carried her quickly to an end table that had once been in her bedroom. From the top drawer she pulled a large heavy pistol and loaded it. This she placed into her belt and crept to a gridless radio. From here, the wife of the captain swallowed hard and cleared a small space, bringing the cords and radio into the hiding place she had chosen. So much of the ship was in disarray.

 

“Again with the mess…” She thought to herself as she pulled the small black box onto her lap and shimmied debris over the hiding hole she had made.

The radio, she had built it herself with the help of Wyatt…it functioned on a short range frequency that the military had yet to acquire…and it came in handy from time to time. Gently, tentatively, she tapped her S.O.S. into the microphone hoping to all the stars in the sky that the hangar and it’s inhabitants still existed.

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The Battle of Charmelle: The Vhaen Project | 5

Outside the great complex swarmed a mass of Order fleet. They had gathered for the sole purpose of digging those wretched rebels from their hiding place, and destroy whoever thought it a good idea to hide them.

Three small ships were what Whittaker had affectionately called “sniffer ships”. Thin hulled, equipment laden vessels with the capability to scan and detect the smallest modicum of life from one hundred feet above ground. If it was there, the sniffer fleet would find it. These ships in particular however, had been outfitted with a circular shaped disk about the bows. Like a metal detector, the ships were gazing down through the stone into the hull of the hangar…They had found their prize, and Grand Air Marshall Faust would be so pleased.

Alongside their perceptive team, warships of considerable size, not unlike what they had faced in the ambush, hovered just out of range. When the signal went up, the smaller deft ships made haste and the rain of fire began.

 

From within the hangar, the doors rattled with the percussion of the oncoming fire. The crew came crawling from the tunnels as a wave. To Cedric Whittaker it became clear that this was not a scenario one might hope for. Bullets quickly broke through the steel doors like rodents nibbling at cheese. Holes of varying sizes made the door weak, and it buckled as the firepower increased.

“They’re going to cave in!” Katherine cried ducking for cover.

 

“Get down!” Javert bellowed covering his head.

 

The door blew in with an ear shattering explosion of fire, smoke, and debris. The haze it created cleared for only a moment as the whipping of the cold winds dispersed it into the tunnels and caverns below.

Cedric stood to his feet, watching the light burst into the dark hangar all at once. The ship, so close to being repaired,  shuddered before them. None comprehended until the second grappling hook struck the ship and pierced the hull.

“NO!” The captain and his crew came over the barricades and walls with weapons in tow. “CUT THOSE LINES!”

Before they had cleared the first one hundred yards to the ship, three additional tethers had been fired and struck their mark. A fourth had missed and claimed the lives of a group of Katherine’s men, collapsing a structure and equipment as it flew.

The Isabella was beginning to move. It creaked and groaned as its weight was shifted along the concrete floor. The captain let out an unholy yell as he leapt upon the first of the cables. He hacked away with the edge of his cutlass, but it hardly dented the wound steel.

He swung again, losing his balance and grip with each swing. It was futile. The movement of the ship was unstoppable as the three warships circling the mountain hauled the Isabella out of the dark room into the light outside the facility. The crew fell back one by one, Whittaker at the last.

As the ship rose from it’s place near the entrance and with a blast of icy cold blew up into the sky carried by the Order warships.

The crew one by one stood at the edge of the hangar doors flanking the captain who had a fury in his eyes the likes of which had not been seen before. The rage tightened in his fists and set the line of his jaw. With a single motion he spun to face the crew.

“Those dirtbags have my Isabella. I am not ok with that. Fix it.”

The group turned their eyes up to the quickly disappearing ship. It took only moments to find, however, that their temporary home and hosts were in the throes of chaos. While the few uninjured dug out survivors and treated wounds others still laid about the hangar floor crying out in wails of pain and affliction.

The crew looked from themselves to the captain.

‘Sir….Orders.”

Cedric could hardly stand the rage it caused him. His Isabella in the hands of his enemies… and the pain it had brought these people who had sacrificed for them.

“You five, get us a map and the rest of you, if you’re wearing wings you better be digging these folks out of rubble or I’ll personally have you shot!”

~*~

A short update today, just to get you thinking about what really just happened! 😀

The Battle of Charmelle: The Vhaen Project | 4

From that day, it took nearly three weeks to repair the engines onboard the Isabella. Between the crafty stitch and cobbling of parts they simply didn’t have, and the complete fabrication of new parts using what equipment they had…the Isabella wouldn’t fly far…but she would fly.

But broken ribs and pulled muscles could not heal so quickly. The captain and his crew, despite their best efforts were finding their strength wicked away more and more quickly the longer they remained in the cavern.

Those generous enough to help, along with Katherine, slowly ceased their excavation to put the higher effort into the repair of the ship. Something Cedric Whittaker could not express his gratitude for.

“We need to repay them for this…”

“How can we do that?” Kitty Livingston asked in turn, “It’s not like we can just pay them back.”

Amarante sat beside Javert huddled into her wool overcoat. “Could we help them with the excavation?”

“And look at their mass grave, slash, super computer, slash, ritual training ground? To what end…we’re a menagerie of insane mixed with volatile violent tendencies…” Suzeaux huffed sarcastically.

“Well, why not?” Luthiem looked at Suzeaux, “We have a varied mess of geniuses in the crew…not to mention the combined knowledge we bring from all the worlds we have visited… couldn’t it be possible that the artifacts here would make more sense to us than to people who haven’t left the Order protected worlds?”

“I’m willing to give it a go.”  Brother Luke smiled.

“As am I.” Kitty nodded.

Throughout the crew the heads nodded in affirmation and Cedric stood tightening his belt about his waist.

“Well, seems I don’t have much to complain about. Let’s get one of the recovery vehicles and take a look at the Vhaen Complex.”

Down into the earth they traversed. The mountain’s paths were worn smooth by what must have been centuries of use. They were wide.  Wide enough to stretch one hundred men across shoulder to shoulder; and all of them moved down from the cavern where the Isabella sat into the heart of the mountain.

As they delved deeper, lanterns and wires running over them brought needed light into the dark and still air of the complex. The shadows hung still as they progressed past rooms devoid of effect aside from their existence. As they continued down, the signs of life that had once been there became more and more apparent.

“They didn’t bring me this way before…” Vale muttered as he looked over a cache of bodies, strewn into a mass at the back of a chamber. “These bodies are old…mummified by the dry air….”

“They don’t even smell…” Amarante noted.

“They don’t appear to be injured in any way…just…sort of dead…and in a pile.”

“Check for poisons maybe?”

Vale nodded, that would be an excellent idea. With a careful hand, the doctor swabbed the interior of a paper thin corpse. Removing a glove, the doctor pulled a petri dish from his coat pocket and lined it with the swab.

“You carry…Petri dishes in your jacket pockets?”

Vale looked up at her sharply, “and you don’t…?” Thaddeus closed the lid to the dish and applied pressure to the bottom, “Now…this device will run an electrical current through the jelly inside this dish. That will stir up any living bacteria…and if there is any kind of carcinogen, or poison of any type…it will turn a color…and I will know what this poor fellow died from.”

At first, as the dish began to hum, nothing happened. Vale, perturbed at this, shook the dish violently. All at once, the gel within the small glass container erupted into a brilliant orange foam, followed by an electric blue veining pattern. So violent was this reaction, that the normally placid face of the doctor twisted back in horror.

“By all that is holy!”

The dish flew from his hand and into the pile of dead bodies. The sound of shattering glass and the shutting down of the whirring machine left the orange and blue ooze sinking into the stone with sudden dispersion.

“What was that?” Amarante shouted looking from it to Vale quickly.

“That…was a bad idea…” the doctor replaced his glove and moved Amarante away from the bodies towards the door. “Orange is the sign of an arsenic based poison…and the blue…well..I’ve never seen it turn that color before…Whatever it was in their systems they were riddled with it.”

“Most likely they drank it…” Cedric interjected from the room across the hall.

In his hand laid two large bottles. “There are about three hundred more in the next two chambers.”

“They’re all the same age.”

The group turned to Luthiem who stood with a chart in her hand under a hanging light.

“The historians wrote here that there are fifty chambers containing anywhere from five to fifty bodies each all piled the same way. Like a ritual mass grave. The only difference, is that as they get closer to the central chamber the bodies get older…like they had been there longer.”

The crew around her exchanged horrified glances.

Vale entered another chamber with Mr. Fox. The bodies in this room were fewer and more ornately arranged. They laid on their backs with what appeared to be dried flowers about the heads. Their arms were crossed in an unusual position, charred and black from the finger tips to the elbows.

“The skin appears to have necronized before death…” Vale muttered examining the bodies closely.

Fox frowned slightly…flexing his forearm as he pondered it. “The cold down here is brutal. You would have thought it might be warmer away from the wind.”

“I suppose not…” the doctor mused.

~*~

Down below, in the rooms upon the threshold of the main amphitheater shaped main hub, the  ever inquisitive kitty Livingston walked the rooms ringed with weapons.

“It smells like death down here…”

“Something….isn’t right is it?” Attica replied looking around the tunnel with brows furrowed.

The main chamber opened up wide just beyond them. It was dark, blackness like a wall within it. But fixed to the wall hung a series of levers. As Kitty and her companion approached the chamber, they proceeded to throw the switches. With each connection made, the largest and brightest of lights flickered to life.

At the center of the room, large enough to house thousands of bodies in what were like stadium seats, stood a platform of stone. upon the platform was a housing of stone shaped like a box.

The pair made no waste of time in proceeding to the center to look at the strange contraption.

“Vale said it was a computer…and that it responded really badly when they tried to remove it.”

Attica’s furrowed brows continued to get deeper. The box sat upon a pedestal of stone carved with intricate designs. Two large circular indentations broke the front seam where the top and front of the box came together. The interior of the holes carved into the piece was obscured from view.

“This feels wrong…” Lighting a match Attica held the light inside the first of the carvings. There was no reflection of light. Like a pair of contained black holes, the orifices in the stone stared back at them unendingly.  Leaning close to the box, she placed her hand to the side of it. From within a series of taps made the stone vibrate.Attica stepped back quickly. “Kitty, let’s find the others…This isn’t a good place to be.”

All of a sudden the entire room shook in violent rumbles. Again, it occurred, the sounds of thunder echoing down from above shaking the theater like an earthquake.

Above at the first tier of chambers, the captain grappled with the radio on board the small vehicle.

“Mrs. Tellius what’s going on up there?! Kathrine!?”

The response was garbled and out of staticy. “Cedric!!”

“Copy!” The room shook again. “What’s going on?!”

“They found us! We’re under attack!”

 

The Battle of Charmelle: The Vhaen Project | 3

And they were true to their word. The few days that followed were quiet and filled with healing and sleep. Those that had suffered more than minor injuries received nearly too much care, and it became very apparent that the medical team along for the excavation was quite bored the majority of the time.

The excavation itself wound it’s way through a vast system of tunnels that occupied the interior of the mountain. Katherine explained in gross detail the theory of these people, how they would gather in the chambers dotting the cave system.  Beyond these at the center of the mountain a maze of tunnels lead to a central chamber capable of housing hundreds of people. This chamber contains within it a central computer in a stone housing and some sort of chipping device. The tunnels leading to the chamber had been found littered with the effects of violence. Weapons and remains of peoples, traps and pitfalls, all of it leading into the center and to that computer. The Order had once tried to excavate it, but when they had attempted to remove the technology from it’s housing, it killed a dozen workers without warning. From the redacted files, it seemed that central frame was the ultimate in pre-aether weapon systems…and it had quite the reputation.

           “Katherine said they don’t know why the machine reacted so badly to the attempted move… and they seem to think it may have something to do with why the original owners disappeared.” Vale recalled as he sat with his crew mates at a table near the makeshift tent-rooms they had been given.

 “Have they taken you to see it?” Kitty asked him poking at a heater with a splinter of the Isabella.

      “I went down with them…” Vale nodded, “The housing on the unit is strange…like a stone box. Maybe as large as, oh, four feet wide and six feet tall…It’s covered in these grooves and markings. The crew here seems to think it’s instructions how to use it, but they are unsure.”

       “How long has this crew been here?” Cedric asked sitting back onto his seat.

          “Six months…” Vale responded dryly. “They hardly have even come up with evidence that the computer even works.”

  “What about all those weapons in the tunnels?” Kitty asked again, “I heard one of the workers say there are hundreds of bodies in the chambers just packed in.”

Vale smiled a bit, “They look somewhat like sacrifices to be honest. The weapons are all crude, nothing projectile or even close to being able to kill a man without a measure of difficulty.”

           “We believe the computer system in the main chamber to be a coming of age ritual of some kind.” Katherine interjected coming to sit in the middle of them.

The group turned to face her as she passed around a series of warm drinks from a tray. Her breath lingered in the air still. A reminder of just how cold it still was inside the hangar.

 “But that’s not what brings me out here.”

     “What is then?” Cedric inquired, “Thanks for the cider.”

      Katherine smiled with a nod, “The Order ships have moved on…so real work on your ship can begin.”

      “That’s excellent news!” Vale beamed.

      “We’ll halt the excavation partially to get started. I can’t give you everything…but there are two collection haulers we can give you for scrap.”

      “My crew and I are greatly in your debt.”

       Katherine took a drink from her steel cup and nodded. She had a far off look for a moment. “Paul…Captain Chambers would have given his life for the rebellion. Anything he felt worthy of that kind of devotion I can certainly help see through to the end.”

 “You were close to Chambers.” Vale stated.

      The archaeologist stood to her feet and nodded slightly she hesitated to answer at first, “Paul Chambers…. was my husband.”

     The eyes of those within earshot widened. Amelia opened her mouth in a moment of shock and began to say something but Katherine raised her hand to stop her quickly.

     “Paul knew all the risks…and like I said, he had a dream to see the Order tyranny fall.” Her voice wavered a moment, “I expect great things from you Cedric Whittaker, you realize, you and your crew.”

      Vale swallowed the lump that had formed in his throat as Katherine left them making her way back into the tents where her team slept.

 The captain bit his tongue tenderly weighing her words with gravity in his face.

 ~*~

The following hours were full of noise and the movement of machinery. The haulers, like massive bulldozers, were brought to the ship and forced the Isabella to stand erect. With great strength the Isabella lifted from the hangar floor and hovered high enough that a grown man could stoop beneath her belly without trouble. 

      Audra could hardly contain herself as they readied the tools to begin the rebuilding process.

         “I have some improvements to make!” she smiled at Amelia, who was less excited, but ready to be out of the cold.

“Oh you do….”

     “Oh, yes. Make the steam pipes much more streamlined, make the Aether tanks reroute much more efficiently…”

     “I’d settle for a warm shower.”

     “Sooner we get the Isabella fixed, the sooner you can have just that.” Javert interjected as he picked up a large pair of steel pylons.

 The excavation crew might not have looked like much, but they knew their way around an airship and it’s engine. 

 Four days and nights of solid work, and the Isabella’s interior was beginning to look as it had before the attack. The floor boards might have been mismatched, but it was becoming livable again. Attica explained things in what small detail she knew of them to the repair crew…but mostly she huddled in the tents about a heater with the rest of the crew, that was until Amelia had had enough.

     “That’s it.” She threw up her hands and picked up the largest bucket she had within reach. “I want warm…I can’t stand this any longer. I’m gonna have a warm bath even if it kills me.”

Luthiem looked from her to Attica and back, “But, Amelia, it’s too cold out here to bathe…”

 “Then I’m going on the Isabella and finding a room that isn’t wrecked, and I’m gonna use that!”

 The pair chuckled at the ferocity Amelia declared her intention. “Alright, Amelia.” Attica replied, “Have at it then.”

 Amelia burst from the tent with her large bucket in hand. She made her way with intent towards the Isabella, but was intercepted by her husband.

 “Where do you think you’re headed?”

 The intent of his wife had left her reduced to basic speech, “Warm! Bath! Now!”

 “Oh no you don’t.” Cedric took the bucket from her quickly. “The flooring in the Isabella isn’t stable yet…You’ll fall and hurt yourself.”

 “No, I’m gonna find a space and take a bath!”

 “NO, you aren’t, Amelia. Not until the ship is repaired. You can use the showers that the scientists have offered us until then.”

 Amelia could see the look in her tired husband’s face and shook her head. “Fine. But as soon as the ship is fixed, I get a bath.”

As she walked back towards the tent Cedric looked at the bucket and shook his head tossing it to one side. 

The Battle of Charmelle: The Vhaen Project | 2

The hangar doors closed behind them with a deep groan.

 Dust and smoke billowed from around the capsized vessel. Within, the crew again was scattered about the main deck and cabin, overturned from the hastily executed landing.

 “Everyone alive?” Cedric asked into the room. “Amelia?”

 His wife groaned in response, “Alive…”

 “I’m alright.” Wyatt said at length pulling himself from a matted wad of cables.

 Kitty helped Javert to his feet. Javert held Amarante, who was unconscious.

 “Vale!” Kitty called, “Amarante is–”

 “She’s alright…” Javert muttered finding his footing, “I took the brunt of the blows…I think she blacked out in the free fall.”

 Across the room Vale struggled with a fallen beam which pinned him to the flooring. “Ah, a little help…”

 Rottger lifted it off his crew mate and tried to help him up. Vale tenderly winced as he put pressure on the leg as he sat up. Upon standing he found that nothing was broken, but he would certainly need to examine it later. Rottger anxiously whined and put the doctor’s arm over his shoulder.

 “Are you alright, Rottger?” Vale asked him after a moment of catching his breath.

 The fretful man shook his head yes. “hungry.”

 “Ah, yes…You’re fine.”

 Luthiem helped Cedric to his feet and brushed herself off. She had broken a few cogs…but nothing major. “Is ok.”

 “What about Seamus and Audra?” the captain muttered puffing his cheeks out with a deep breath.

 The group looked around in fright.

 The microphone was across the room in shambles. The comm tubes were bent and badly out of shape.“Seamus, Audra, Suzeaux! Fox! Attica, Report!”

 There was no response.

 “We have to get down there.” Vale muttered.

 Cedric looked at the room dismally. With the Isabella on her side, there was little way to reach a few of the doorways.

 All at once the door that lay open above them was filled with strange orange light.

 “We’ve got blood! Hello?! Vhaen rescue team, are you injured!”

 There were a flurry of hands and voices as one by one the crew was taken up with the utmost of care from the helm room.

 As Cedric was loaded into a canvas harness to be lifted from the ship he drew his pistol.

 “I have crew still inside my ship!”

 “Captain, this is hardly time for violence!” the female voice replied.”I have thirty of my best people searching your vessel for survivors. Now please…put the gun away.”

 That word. Survivors. It chilled him to his core. The pistol slipped into its holster and he cleared the door that led into the large hangar.

 When all were upon the large steel floor, the medical officers made themselves busy. Vale forced himself to help them despite their protests.

 When the rescue team pulled Seamus and Audra from the wreckage they were soaking wet. Coated in liquid Aether. Audra was white as a sheet, a cut across one cheek that let a trickle of blood run down her jaw and neck. She was held meticulously by a tall male nurse. “Get me an oxygen mask for both these crewmen!”

 Cedric pushed the hands of the medic that was attempting to treat him away and attempted to reach his crewmates.

 “Sir please-They’re being well taken care of i-“

 But Cedric would have none of it. “Let me talk to my crew!”

 With a stagger he made it to them.“Are you both alright? Are you still with me?” 

 Seamus who looked rather dazed gave the captain a thumbs up and smiled.

 Audra looked up at him and nodded, “I’m still here.” She clutched a bruised arm to her chest.

 “These are good folks…let them help you.” Cedric soothed. Audra didn’t like it, but she looked at Cedric again and allowed the nurse to inspect her arm. Suzeaux came along with Fox and little Amelia. All three in better shape than many.

 “I managed to get in a crawl space after the impact.” Suzeaux muttered rubbing her neck. “Now I know what the dynamite stick feel like.”

 “We were safe strapped into the chairs,” Fox nodded, “Pretty shaken up and lunchless…but pretty well off considering.” he held Amelia’s hand and put an arm around the shaking girl.

 The house keeper looked at Fox and Suzeaux with a colorless face and wide eyes. She rubbed the spots where the straps had held them so tightly. “The ship is gonna be an awful mess to clean up.”

 Cedric sat back on the cot they had brought for him. The blankness in his face reminisce of the shock to his system.  His ribs were bruised and broken. He had a number of small lacerations that were now bandaged as best they could be. It could have been so much worse, but that word rattled around in his brain. His wife, who was not far from him, having a cut to the forehead repaired, watched him sit there so quietly.

 “Don’t start getting fretful now, Cedric. We’ve all made it. Beat up sure, but all alive.”

 The nurse was checking over her arms and legs, “Minor damages, hairline fractured to the right ankle, get a splint from bio, concussion, laceration to the scalp. repaired.”

 “She’s right, Captain.” Vale said leaning hard on the cane he had often carried just for show. “With all that went on, it’s…well it certainly wasn’t in the odds that we all walked away.”

 The Isabella was on it’s side in the background. Crews about the hull were preparing to right her and inspect for total damages.

 “All those men on the Charmelle.” Cedric shook his head. “This is why I hate war.”

 “We all agree with you.”

 Across the room Kitty and Luthiem sat on a crate sipping from two blood bags with horror on the faces of the medical team. The whispers and drawn faces made the crew who had gathered together painfully chuckle a bit.

 “I forget that not every world is familiar with the mixed bag we keep on board.” Amelia smirked.

One of the medical officers cast a frightened glance to her.

 “No, You’re fine. They aren’t gonna mess with you. And save your supplies and don’t bother treating the tall one, and the one in the green over there. They’ll be just fine after some food.”

 “Wh-what are they?!” The poor girl asked as her voice cracked.

 Rottger smiled widely at her. “I zombie. Rottger.” he extended his hand and shook hers with a pleasant demeanor. The nurse who was flustered and apprehensive slowly started to smile.

 “Rottger? Well I’ll be..”

 “You?” The ambling fellow asked in his most pleasant voice.

 “Annette. I’m the biochemical assistant here in Vhaen.”

 Rottger pointed at her quickly and leaned back, “Science!”

 The apprehension in the nurse’s face had eased and she chuckled.

 Cedric shook his head, “remind me to make Rottger head of PR.”

 The team of rescuers came hurriedly up the ramps to the floor.“Hey we’ve got one more!” The group of three carried the last unaccounted for crew member. She muttered under her breath absently as they set her down.

 “I said, I’m fine…”

 “Miss, you’re bleeding.”

 She glared at them a moment before letting them continue.

 “Where were you?” Cedric asked her.

 “In the ballast room, reading under the sky light.” Attica replied making a face as they cleaned glass from her hands and arms.

 “The ballast room blew open with the balloon.” Cedric blinked.

 The alchemist shook her head and held up her hands. Raw rope burns wrapped around the palms of both hands and up her forearms. “I found a hand hold. Got blown around a bit…But don’t look much better than anybody else…”

 “I think something is wrong with her eyes…” the male officer muttered to his assistant.

 “No, that’s normal.” She replied.

 “Captain Whittaker.” A tall female in a jumpsuit and boots approached him.

 Cedric turned to look up at her and stood to his feet wavering, “Yes?”

 “Katherine Tellius. I’m chief of staff and founder of the Vhaen expedition. Please be seated, you’ve taken quite the beating. Sorry about your ship.”

He made a displeased face and looked over at the wreckage.

 “We’ll do our best to repair her, I assure you.” The woman soothed.

 “That’s mighty kind of you, taking us in on such short notice as this.” He found his seat again and the woman held a clipboard out in front of her.

 “Really, Captain Whittaker, it was our duty. We’re all on the same side here. The Order fleet that was after you has circled around to the far side of the mountain range…Right now I doubt they know we’re here…but with any good scanning equipment it won’t be long before we’re discovered.”

 “The war birds don’t usually carry scanners…but, yes, I agree.”

 “You…ah, you were scheduled to meet captain Chambers aboard the Charmelle?” the woman hesitated to bring it up.

 Cedric looked up quickly, “Yes…”

 “Chambers, and the Charmelle, was stationed here as our personal guard.”

 “Must have been some party…The Charmelle wasn’t a lightly armed ship.”

 “We are an archaeological team, captain. The Charmelle and her captain…they were our ride in and out of the camp.”

 “Archaeologists?” Cedric’s brow shot up in disbelief. “This is quite the spread for a bunch of…”

Katherine eyed him sarcastically.

 “Of archaeologists…”

 She smiled coldly. “We are an independent group. The Order forbade the excavation of the world, despite the widely known origins of the planet and the well preserved ruins that exist here. This is one such spot.”

 “This world is uninhabited?”

 Katherine nodded again. “Quite. Hasn’t been for a few centuries. Our research shows that the population was a M class world. Had electricity, transportation, government…and overnight it just..disappeared.This particular spot is the Vhaen. A series of buildings and chambers built into the mountain side that housed possibly thousands of individuals every year. It was ritualistic…” The woman trailed off. “Ah, listen to me rambling. I’ll go get your crew some proper places to rest up, we’ll keep a really low profile the next few days and see about fixing up your ship.”

 “Thank you, Miss Tellius.”

 

The Battle of Charmelle: The Vhaen Project | 1

Captain Cedric Whittaker stood at the bow resting his weight upon his hands. It was cold in the upper atmosphere of this small world. Snow was beginning to fall and the already grey skies were beginning to fill with a haze of white.

Flakes dropped into his eyes and melted on his clothes. He shivered to himself despite his coat and looked at his cuff with impatience growing in his eyes. The ship of soldiers that he had been hired to meet was late…and that seemingly never turned out well.

They had been called to meet Captain Chambers, a man of fair reputation as a goods runner and smuggler for the rebellion. He had brought weapons and food supplies to small and damaged ships under the nose of the Order vessels in his sector for months. His ship, the Charmelle, was a small single engined skiff capable of housing a twenty man crew. He and his men had requested an alliance, with the promise of a larger loot if they were to help them with an issue. But the ship was beginning to look as though it would not show…and Cedric was not about to be ambushed in a strange little uninhabitded world like this.

From around the bow, Amelia came towards him. Her head was covered in a large fur hat. The stole about her shoulders was made of a similar material and framed up her face in an off white mane of warmth.

“Any sign of them?”

“No.”

Seeing the apprehension in her husband’s face she began again, “Well, Maybe they’re just late.”

Cedric would only shake his head, “I don’t like it. Call down to Wyatt and get the engines running.”

She felt the quiet of the air and nodded, “You got it.”

Amelia made her way as quickly as she had come back down into the hold. She shook herself free of the fallen snow and grabbed up the comm just inside her jacket.

“Wyatt, Seamus, Lets make tracks, Captain wants to move.” There was a moment of static and the hum of the aether engines started up in the background.

“Heard, Amelia.” Seamus replied.

“Anywhere in particular?” Wyatt chimed in only a moment later.

“Just somewhere hidden. Captain seems to think the meeting was fishy.”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

The ship began to move slowly at first but turned quite quickly. Whittaker, then satisfied that they were making the safe choice turned inside himself. The entry was empty, but he didn’t stop to shake the snow from his coat. With a few strides he walked onto the main deck and looked about at the instruments.

“Where are we headed, Wyatt?”

“Uh, about thirty miles north of here there will be a series of mountains. I picked a spot between a few peaks where the wind won’t move us around too much.”

“Fantastic. Just keep us nice a steady…nothing out of the ordinary.”

“Yes, Sir.”

The ship sailed on in the aether rich air for nearly twenty miles before the equipment in the warm room began to blip unexpectedly. Wyatt stopped his game momentarily and tilted his head making a sort of squeaking sound.

“Well, that’s odd.”

“What is?” Amelia looked up.

“Well, it seems my internal directional facilitator-”

“The compass?”

“Yes, the compass…has stopped functioning…it can’t find a polarity.”

Amelia turned quickly to the panel and screen before her. The computer blipped loudly as she flipped and toggled a handful of switches.

“Don’t yell at me!” she smacked the side of the console enthusiastically, “Work!”

It took no time at all before the captain became aware of what was going on. Joining his wife they scrambled to get back on track.

“Just keep us right here, Wyatt. Seamus! All engines stop!”

“Aye, Sir!” A pair of voices echoed up.

Audra jumped from her sitting position to help Seamus bring the ship to a stop. Gears and pipes ground against one another as the levers that allowed the anti-gravity drives to spin came screeching to a halt. The ship lurched suddenly as they spun, the back end of the Isabella still carried by momentum.

“What the dickens is going on up there…” Audra wondered aloud.

No sooner had she spoken than the door to the engine deck flew open. Suzeaux Reyette stood huffing and puffing with a large pair of binoculars in her hand.

“Would it kill you to give those of us with explosives strapped to our bodies a warning when you stop?!”

“Cap’s orders…” Seamus replied pulling a fresh candy from a bag.

Suzeaux came down the steps and past her crew mates quickly not bothering to respond. She climbed a pair of crates and peered out the small window with the glasses.

“What are you looking at, Suzeaux? That window is horrible…” Audra watched her with mouth open slightly, waiting for an answer.

“I  thought I saw something…and I didn’t have a clear view from the side deck and…Oh, we are in so much trouble!”

The Explosives expert rolled backwards nearly falling off the crate.

“CAPTAIN WHITTAKER!”

~*~

High above still dealing with the loss of direction the captain reeled with the volume his cuff produced.

“Five Order warbirds at six o’clock, Vertical descent. Repeat, Five war birds coming in hot!”

There was a moment of registration between the three in the main deck and the three in the engine room.

Amelia wasted no time in flipping the automated system attached to Wyatt to manual.

“We’ll get you sorted later, Wyatt. Seamus, give me everything!”

The engine room whirred higher and hotter than it had in several hours. The ship suddenly straining at the air for movement. It took off, and Amelia banked hard.

Whittaker, still dressed in his coat, set his jaw and stripped the scarf from around his neck. With precision the captain position the rotary lense towards their oncoming enemy. And just as Suzeaux had said, five large dark masses floated high above them. Beneath one such ship, floated a craft of rebellion make and design. No…it was being drug. The ship in tow was the Alliance ship Charmelle.

As the captain watched he reached across the desk to a switch on the wall. He pressed it firmly never taking his eyes off the the suspended ship.

The alarm sounded loud in the speakers that ran across the ship. Like a spark in a nervous system the sound brought the crew of the Isabella to its feet and all at once from their places of refuge and work like bees disturbed within a hive.

Fox looked up calmly from a book he was reading and applied his thumb to a keypad near him. The kitchen cabinets locked themselves in place, and those who were passengers aboard found shelter with the cook as the doors slid shut with a resounding thud. From rooms far below the sounds of metal on leather could be heard, as armor slid over bodies and boots as they rushed from their places. The tip tip tap of leather soles on rafters high above sent a pair of agile runners to their places beside the captain before anyone else had even cleared their doors. Kitty stood at the ready beside Whittaker grinning. The captain would look at her with a touch of melodrama.

“Don’t look so happy about it.”

She would rock back and forth on her heels and shake her head grinning all the wider.Luthiem on the other hand,

who had landed only a moment after Kitty was quite unhappy at the prospect of being on deck.

“Wasn’t this supposed to be an easy sort of mission?”

“Have we ever had one of those?” Kitty asked less sarcastically as actually curious.

A number of faces appeared on deck as the moments passed. The tall couple dressed in dark attire, sporting the scent of incense arrived. Javert cocked his rifle in anticipation.

“Five Order war ships?”

“They have our rendezvous.” the captain nodded.

“Dragging a ship at that velocity must mean the engines are dead.” A thin southern accent interrupted.

Vale walked onto the deck followed by Rottger. The ambling fellow was nervously watching the viewing windows as the ships leered ever closer.

“That…can’t be good…” He muttered pointing up.

The mass of eyes turned back to the windows to see the largest of the ships stretch the cables that held their suspended captives in place.

The radio before them snapped and buzzed.

“This is Order warship 13B, the Argon. This is General Rush speaking; By the authority of the Father you are commanded to stand down.”

The captain picked up the microphone with haste. “And this is Captain Cedric Whitaker of the Isabella. I request the immediate release of our contact ship. Or are these not neutral skies?”

“All skies are Order skies, Captain. You should be well aware of that.”

“Here is what I have to say about that…” Cedric looked up and called over the comm, “Suzeaux!!””

As was her wont, Suzeaux made a made dash at the aether cannon, sending a blast of iron and energy hurtling up towards the war bird farthest from the Charmelle. Upon contact the Order ships began to fan out.

“If that’s how you feel, captain, here is my rebutle.”

The large Order vessels separated farther allowing for a clear view of the ship they had captured.

The radio buzzed only once more. “Release the Charmelle.”

All at once the radio danced about the channels, a male voice boomed in over the speakers, “Isabella This is captain Chambers! Retreat! For god’s sake retreat!”

The ties that bound the small craft to the larger birds snapped in timed precision.

All at once in as graceful a maneuver as they had witnessed the dead craft slingshoted from the bows of their enemies and hurtling towards them in a perfect arc. The disbelief in the faces of the crew was palpable in the small room.

“Oh god!” Amelia exclaimed.

“Fly!” The radio screamed out as the falling ship’s engines whined as the air ripped her apart.

“Get us out of here!!” Amarante cried.

Amelia was frozen for only a moment. She hit the console as she forced her body to respond and yanked hard on the controls. The ship lurched to the starboard side nearly capsizing the Isabella they spun in place unable to gain the thrust needed to clear the site. The Charmelle careened towards them as fast as any bullet, and the Isabella groaned as it attempted to press hard enough to avoid her.

 The falling ship collided with the Isabella. With something that sounded like thunder, the badly damaged hull of the Charmelle exploded against the wood and metal surface of the Isabella. Screams of crew and passenger alike echoed over the Isabella as the Charmelle exploded into a fiery mass.The bodies aboard the Isabella floated upon impact for a mere second, battered by the intensity of the blow they flew like pool balls struck by the cue.

They careened downward, but they did not break apart. The ship’s engine on the side where they had been struck fell away in mass as did a portion of the keel. They were dead on one side, and the Isabella began to spin.

Whittaker blinked his eyes heavily groaning as he peeled himself off of a destroyed console. His back and side pained him sharply, but he would not stop. The ship would surely go down if he didn’t.

Gaining his footing, the captain pressed a series of levers upwards as they spiraled, and the hatch before them on the deck began to open. With a stretch he pulled a large brass lever. It strained, the metal bent from the impact. He could not move it, even with all of his strength. The large and thin hand of Javert closed over his captain’s own. WIth a glance to him the first mate and the captain pulled the misaligned switch into place sending a shower of sparks across the room. Cedric watched in anxiety as the balloon housing groaned and began to open slowly. His heart leapt into his throat as the seconds ticked by and the ship spun wildly. The housing refused to move. All at once, the glass and metal cage that were  the doors flew off their hinges and the cream colored thing lept from it’s bed. The balloon began to inflate and the aether engines began to quiet. As the canvas orb cleared it’s housing and expanded the deck creaked in protest. The lines that held it in place were poorly arranged from the impact and only held a portion of the monstrous balloon. The descent began to slow as the Isabella hit the cloud line.

All at once the peaks of mountains were all around them. The spinning was slowing as they slowly began to stabilize.

Amelia, finding herself overturned in her chair, could feel the sting of blood in her eyes. She brushed the hat from her head and attempted to stand as they began to level out. The doctor, seeing her need, helped her to her feet and to the console.The glass across the front was badly shattered and the view out into the white air was nearly impossible.

Bullets and cannon fire began to rain down from above as the navigation officer found it hard to focus on anything for more than a moment. Her head was spinning and the fog in the room was making her sick. Vale held her in place.

“I can’t…” She scrubbed her eyes furiously, “I can’t see the controls!”

“Tell me what to do!” Vale yelled back.

“Turn the dystic converter to five and the block cell subset to auto!”

Vale searched for a moment and did as she asked. “I’m rebuilding these controls to make sense as soon as we aren’t in mortal peril!”

“Yeah, you do that!!” Amelia agreed as she gripped the helm. The Isabella narrowly missed a cliff face as they continued to descend.

“Are you sure you can do this?!” Vale asked her gripping the console.

“It’s fine! I see big light shapes and big dark shapes! I’m not gonna hit the big dark shapes!”

“Good idea, honey!” Cedric added.

The crew had found their feet again, and most were beaten and battered. The broken glass in the room had filled the air with the scent of blood and sweat. As the large war ships over head continued to rain down fire the Isabella was just managing to avoid falling to her death. The white fog that hung about them provided enough cover to keep the ships from gunning her down easily. The balloon was losing air quickly as it was being riddled with holes. The fog grew so thick they could no longer see the mountains or the Order fleet behind them.

The radio snapped to life as a voice pierced through to them.

“This is Research base Vhaen: Airship what is your destination?”

Vale snatched the comm, “Mayday. Mayday. This is the Airship Isabella requesting emergency landing! We have injured men and women aboard!” he cast his eyes to the captain and Amelia.

The static jumped heavily as the sound of many voices could be heard.

“Landing request permitted, Isabella, By all means!”

“Copy, but where are you?!”

Cedric lifted himself to look. In the side of the dark peak a large gap formed. Black and gaping a fissure seemingly opened out of the rock. As they approached the mountain side that black shape clearly became a cleverly disguised hangar door. There was little time to debate it.

“Amelia! take us in!”

The Isabella slid within the dark mouth and beached herself with forceful impact upon the hangar floor.Sparks shot out in all directions as the momentum carried the ship forward. As she ground to a halt the ship turned over onto it’s side and rocked as it finally ceased its run.