2946-09-18 - Tales from the Inbox: Rattanai Reprisal

We continue with the story of Jaska N., veteran of Hegemony military service, and his daring breakout from a cruel fate at the hands of Rattanai raiders. If you missed the previous entries in his story, Tales from the Inbox: Rattanai Raiders and Tales from the Inbox: Rattanai Captivity, I highly suggest you read them before reading today's portion of the story. In it, we see the beginning of a change in the young settler's daughter who he claims accompanied him on this daring escape.

There will be one more entry in his tale on this text feed. As before, I caution readers that I cannot prove this story has not been embellished or touched up.

The alarm on the Rattanai raider ship was of the standard variety common to human-built civilian starships. It was, Jaska thought, a telling reminder of how even the most hard-line, anti-human fanatics among the Rattanai were dependent on human technology. For all their vaunted rhetoric about inherent superiority and the progress of cosmic history, the raiders were only able to prowl the darkness between worlds with the help of machines built by “lesser” beings.

This realization was of no help to him, however. As Rattanai, shouting into likely also human-made comm hookups, thundered past the hiding place he and Karley had found, he knew that the raiders’ inevitable failure to restore a long-dead empire wouldn’t save his life, or the life of the hapless girl who was probably the only other survivor of their colony compound. They’d escaped their cell; now he needed some way of escaping the raiders more permanently.

That was, of course, much easier considered than implemented. There were probably more than twenty towering Rattanai aboard the ship, possibly plus an unknown number of human slaves who might or might not raise the alarm for fear of being abused by their masters. The raid-ship was probably by now several hops through its interstellar journey back to its hidden base, and even if Jaska managed to launch a lifeboat or shuttle – if the ship even had such things – there would be no place to take it. All that would accomplish would be to change the mode of death he and Karley could look forward to.

Karley, wedged behind Jaska into the tiny space he’d found behind a loose bulkhead panel, made a sniffing noise. Jaska didn’t have time to attend to the once-cocky youth’s fragile emotional state. He would just have to hope she managed to keep up, whatever he decided to do. She had held together through the initial phases of the escape, and though she wasn’t much help, she was at least not a hindrance. Given that blame for the failure of the compound’s defenses might reasonably be laid at her feet, that was something on an improvement. They’d been out of their cell about three hours, and the Rattanai had been on alert for the same amount of time, combing their ship for the escapes and patrolling the corridors in full battle-harness, as if two unarmed humans had some hope of subduing a Rattanai crew.

Jaska waited until a two-Rattanai patrol had just passed, then carefully pushed the bulkhead plate aside and rolled out. Karley emerged more slowly, and Jaska herded her down the gently curving corridor, following the heavy tromping sounds of the patrol, but not closely enough that they came into sight. As soon as one presented itself, he ducked into a maintenance crawlspace, which despite the name was large enough for him to almost walk upright, courtesy of the size and low flexibility of Rattanai crew. Since there was little automated surveillance in the corridors and none in the maintenance spaces, their main threat was the crew itself. He had no maps, and couldn’t even read the Rattanai script on the terminals; all he had was the veteran spacer’s vague sense of which direction was forward, and which was aft. In a former life, Jaska had been a Hegemony combat trooper; he’d spent ten years of his life as well-trained cargo on the Hegemon’s warships, always preparing for the rare opportunities when an armed boarding or landing party was needed. In fact, he’d signed up for a chance to fight the border-region raiders, and had never gotten that chance in the service, since the raiders never stayed in one place long enough for a proper military response.

“What are we going to do?” Karley whispered, once they were deep within the crawlspace network.

“Take over the ship or die trying.” Jaska replied. Unarmed, alone, and shepherding a clumsy civilian wasn’t much of a chance, but he was going to take it. It was the only chance he and Karley had.

The young woman rubbed her temples with her fingers as if trying to force her thoughts back into order, and nodded. “What do you need me to do?”

It wasn’t the response the retired military man had expected. Karley was unproven, except that she had proven herself enthusiastically inept at anything the settlement had given her to do. Still, he would need all the help he could get. The worst she could do, he decided, was get herself killed, and that was still preferable to what the Rattanai had in store for her back at their home base. “We’re probably going to die, but we can at least do it on our terms. If you have any brilliant ideas, now’s the time for them.”

Karley straightened her shoulders and nodded. “That big, they’re probably no good in null-gee, right Jaska?” She suggested hopefully. “I did a lot of null-gee when I was a kid.” She knew, of course, Jaska’s military background, and that he was quite comfortable maneuvering without the helpful pull of gravitics.

“If they’re good warriors, they’ve probably trained for null-gee.” Jaska replied. Rattanai were, like humans, adapted to planetary gravity – they needed practice to easily operate in its absence. Still, he thought it only too probable that the spacefaring zealots had at least a few who could do more than flail uselessly if the ship’s gravitic axis were shut down.

“And if they’re not?”

Jaska sighed. She did have a point – even if half the crew were as comfortable in null-gee as himself, that was a positive shift in the balance of power. “Have you ever spiked a gravitic unit?”

The young woman smiled faintly. “Only on accident. I’ll just set out to help them tune it, and it’ll be down in no time.”

Jaska knew it was crazy to send her alone to find and sabotage such a sensitive part of the ship’s infrastructure, but he didn’t have any other options. “We’ll have to split up. Go find and knock out the a-grav. Meet me back here as soon as you’ve done it.” The possibility occurred to him that she would fail, be killed, or merely become lost in the odd deck layout of the Rattanai ship – but she was right for once, and it seemed only proper to let her weaponize her ineptitude against their captors.

“And you?”

The veteran shrugged. He didn’t want to tell her what he was going to do, in case she was captured and interrogated. “Let’s just say that if it works, there won’t be many of them around gravitics when you get there.” He replied enigmatically, then turned and went back the way he had come before she could ask any more questions.

As he left her there, Jaska tried not to think about the probability that he’d never see Karley again.