teaser: the HMS Beagle

Blue nodded. “Checklist four.”

John called it up in his display. “Checklist four, bullet point one. AG to three. Ramp it up slowly, please.”

Blue operated the controls. A second later their stomachs twisted and the front of the lifeboat tilted up a fraction of a centimeter. Blowing lunar dust exploding out in a sheet beneath them.

The lifeboat hung there for a several long seconds, the tail end resting on the gray lunar gravel.

Blue called out “Bullet point one – check.” Blue tried to crane his head to see over the side by the angle was wrong. “I’m ready to go to four.”

John nodded. “Checklist four, bullet point two. AG to ‘four’.”

The gut twisting sensation increased and the lifeboat tilted a bit more…then pulled free of the ground. “Bullet point two – check.” To their left the hull of the PK ship Oswaldo Aranha fell past them, then they were looking down at its deck. The wrecked ship fell below them and was soon eclipsed from view. The lifeboat’s slow acceleration continued – soon the low crater walls dropped away, lower and lower, until finally they too were lost from view.

Zhukovskiy, which had been nothing but a mountain range of crater wall to their east, slowly turned into a real three dimensional crater. The barrier wall fell, and fell and fell, and soon the interior was revealed.

John and Blue were both intent on their display screens but Max called out. “Look at Zhukovskiy.”

Duncan whistled.

John looked. As the lifeboat rose higher more and more of the devastation was revealed. The first PK ship had detonated off to one edge of Gamma’s facility, carving a deep new crater inside Zhukovskiy. It was hard to gage distances at this height, but for half a kilometer – a full kilometer ? – around the nuclear crater there was nothing but small shards of metal. Further out from that the devastation was severe, but some of the rectilinear layout of Gamma’s facility still survived, and some of the larger pieces of machinery still stood among the destruction.

The lifeboat kept climbing.

John spoke. “Blue, I’m showing five klicks. Checklist four, bullet point three -”

“Already starting rotation sequence. Aiming for 22 degrees…now.”

Small spurts of flame pulsed from rocket bells recessed into the sides of the third cargo container, the one at the rear end of the lifeboat. The boat began to spin slightly as it rose, the world turning ever so slowly beneath them. It also began to roll.

“Blue, we’ve got roll -”

“It’s ten degrees – under control.”

The roll increased. “Blue.”

“I’ve got it.”

Max and Duncan grabbed hard onto their jury rigged seat frames as the boat listed sickeningly.

“Blue!”

“Stopping rotation…now.” More spurts of flame from the bells, this time on the other side.

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