Author : Desmond Hussey
We’re cutting it damn close. The three Gyth gliders are closing quickly as we jink in and out of the towering rock spires attempting to stay out of their line of fire. We’re gaining altitude quickly enough, but Kharla’s running low on water to convert to hydrogen for lift. She isn’t used to this pace. If we don’t make it to the event horizon we were done for.
I turn to my helmsman. “How’s she doing?”
K’li’ilk swivels two eye stalks toward me while the other two keep close watch on the jagged wall of rock, foliage and jutting stone terraces flashing past our portside. He answers rapidly in his clicking insectoid language. He’s morbidly pessimistic, as usual.
“I was afraid you’d say that”, I reply. “Just keep her going up.”
Another barrage of angry clicks.
“I don’t know! Tell her she can have all the water and sunshine she wants when she gets us to the other side.”
K’li’ilk scowls with his eyes, then closes them all as he concentrates on making empathic contact with Kharla, our ship.
Kharla’s a Palori, a pseudo-sentient plant. She uses photosynthesis to convert water into hydrogen for mobility through the vast airspace of this uncanny, improbable hollow planet. The H2 is stored in the one-hundred-forty thousand cubic foot, translucent gas membrane looming eighty feet above our gondola. Below the two crew decks, her four enormous, leathery leaves are currently making critical course changes, acting like rudders and/or sails when necessary. Dangling forty feet lower, her water sac and other organs are contained within a smaller, thicker, venous membrane. Trailing nearly a thousand feet, her many hollow, prehensile roots whip about in the gusting winds. She is a thing of beauty.
Jarku, my centipaur engineer, scuttles over on eighty spindly legs. “Ballistas are loaded. CO2, H2, O2 tanks fully charged, sir.”
“Let’s hope we don’t need them.”
We clear the highest spire and make a mad dash for the Event Horizon, a spectacular band thirty miles thick of low to nil gravity which divides the upper and lower hemispheres. Vague, amorphous shapes float within, likely large water bubbles filled with the strange algae that grows up here. If we’re lucky, that’s all they are.
Kharla’s gas membrane has become significantly smaller. We’re losing momentum fast and air pressure has decreased significantly, further slowing our assent.
The leather winged Gyth open fire, raining stone bullets across the hull, tearing chunks out of my ship. The twins, Torrah and Neb return fire with CO2 ballistas, but the fast moving, acrobatic Gyth are difficult to hit.
“Three thousand feet to EH.” Jarku reports. Too damned far.
K’li’ilk informs me that Kharla is nearly out of water.
Time for evasive action. My girl needs help.
“Jarku, fire up the thrusters. K’li’ilk, let Kharla know.”
Kharla’s gas membrane begins deflating, shriveling into a tight, organic ball above us. My stomach lurches as our upward momentum ceases and we begin to plummet.
One Gyth gets too close. Kharla lashes out with her roots snaring the bird-beast in their sinewy grip. She rips off a wing then drops the howling Gyth tumbling to the ocean one hundred miles below. One down.
“Jarku. Now! Make it count.”
Another Gyth swoops up from below as Jarku ignites the short-range pulse-jets mounted below the gondola, catching the avian in its searing blue flame and rocketing us straight up. The remaining Gyth retreats.
We’re going to make it, but our troubles aren’t over yet. We still have to cross the Event Horizon. I hope our cargo is worth it.
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