A red light blinked on the top edge of the helm controls. It caught Kit’s attention just long enough for her to wonder what it was trying to tell her had gone wrong. Then the Griffinscape bucked like an untamed stallion. Alarms rang out in the small room and all over the ship. More lights on the helm console flashed red as Kit’s fingers flew over the controls. Kit fought for control guided by instinct and intuition.
Quinn staggered into the room from behind Kit, grabbing at any support his hands could find to keep him upright. “What’s going on?” he yelled, over the blaring alarms.
Kit focused on the controls and keeping the Griffinscape from falling out of the sky like a meteor on a collision course with the ocean. Rex glanced over his shoulder. His jaw locked in an expression that held no confidence in Kit’s ability to pilot the ship under the circumstances. Sitting at the navigation console, his ability to save his ship from an imminent crash was limited at best.
Rex said, “The lower cargo doors opened.”
“How?” Quinn asked.
“It doesn’t matter,” Rex said. “Someone has to get down there and close them.”
“I’ll go.” Quinn twisted his body to head back out of the helm and navigation center. He half ran, half fell toward the emergency stairs that would take him to the lower decks. It wasn’t a good time to take the elevator.
Three minutes later, the ship’s intercom squawked to life and Quinn’s voice tunneled its way up to Kit from the the engineering deck. “I’m closing the cargo doors now,” he said.
The Griffinscape bucked one last time before surrendering smooth control back into Kit’s fingers. She glanced at Rex, wondering what role he played in opening the doors. The alarms and flashing red lights faded into silence. Kit pressed intercom button and said, “Any idea what happened?”
Kit felt a tension in the silence on the other end before Quinn responded. “I’ve got a pretty good idea this wasn’t an accident.”
Her eyes remained fixed on Rex. “I never thought it was.”
Quinn said, “Given the circumstances, we might not want to stick around.”
“I take it all our cargo is gone?” Kit asked.
“All of it,” Quinn said.
Kit shook her head at Rex. “Well I guess that concludes our business on Rasa.”
Rex’s eyes opened a bit wider than normal. “You can’t run away from these people,” he said. “They’ll find you and when they do they’ll kill you. Your only chance is to land and explain the situation to them.”
“With you doing the explaining?” Kit asked.
“Of course,” Rex said.
Kit laughed. “I’d be smarter to shoot myself.”
Rex chuckled. “If I’d known your aim was that bad, I’d have fought harder back in that alley on Centora.”
“We’re leaving,” Kit said.
She altered course and began an ascent. In the distance the landing dock was already visible through the forward viewports. Beyond it, a castle rose up from the surrounding greenery. The people were impossible to see, but the evidence of their existence and hard work was plain enough; Plowed fields and sprouting crops, a village worth of homes and shops spotting the land between the castle and the dock, and smoke rising up from the tiny chimneys. They were better off without Zumena.
A new red light began flashing on Kit’s console. The collision alert sounded and Kit altered course, stopping the Griffinscape’s ascent. Kit leveled off and attempted to maneuver away from the overhead vessel. It followed her every move. The ship-to-ship com unit crackled to life.
“Griffinscape, you are attempting to deviate from your authorized course. Please explain,” said a young man over the crackling speaker. His voice was gruff and clearly annoyed.
Rex looked at Kit. “Looks like we’re going to have to land after all.”
Kit punched the button to reply to the young man and ignored Rex. “We had a malfunction and need to return to orbit.”
The young man said, “Negative Griffinscape. Maintain your original course and land at the proper coordinates or you will be forced down.”
Kit said, “If our reactor explodes—
“We’re monitoring your ship’s systems. Your reactor is operating within acceptable norms for your class of ship,” the young man said. “Quit stalling and land your vessel now or I’ll be forced to fire upon you.”
Rex grinned for ear to ear. Kit glared at him. She adjusted the Griffinscape’s course back to their original heading. The castle and its village grew larger in the viewport until they were practically on top of it. Kit stopped the forward movement and carefully lowered the ship into the middle of the landing dock using vertical thrusters only. When the Griffinscape touched down on the concrete pad, she powered down the thrusters and ship’s engines. Above them, the roof to the landing slid closed, cutting out the sky from view and leaving Kit feeling trapped.