They took the pickup.
“I’ll drive,” Astra said as Rory was about to take the left hand seat.
“Excuse you?” Rory said.
“Skipper, you’re the best captain I’ve served under and almost as hot a pilot as me, but you drive like shit,” she replied.
Rory looked at Colin.
“Let Astra drive,” he said simply, sitting in one of the front passenger seats.
“Et tu Brute,” she said, sighing. She sat in the right-hand seat and called up the nav tracker.
“OK, I’ve got the location of the distress call entered. Follow the pipper.”
Astra called up the HUD (heads up display) and started the pickup. Luke and Dr Livingston sat on one side and Lee the other, next to Colin.
“Lowering ramp now Captain,” the Rock said through the speakers.
“Have you made contact with the target?” Rory asked.
“Affirmative, Captain, Two individuals, no injuries. They’re Federale Navy as anticipated.”
“Keep your eyes open,” Luke said. “They were our escort. It’s beyond probability that they would suffer a malfunction at the same time as we did.”
“3,237.3 to 1 probability,” Rock chimed in.
“Good to know,” said Rory. She turned to Astra, “Roll it,”
“Rolling,” Astra confirmed.
The pickup rolled down the ramp and off towards the stranded spacers. Dee grabbed her tools and climbed the access corridors to the upper works of the ship and exited the airlock, making her way to the access panel and set to work replacing the bad modulator.
The trip took close to a half hour through broken terrain, which was the reason the Dragonstone couldn’t land closer. As they climbed a ridge their radio suddenly crackled.
“Dragonstone, we have you in sight,” the voice on the radio said.
“There, Two O’Clock,” Rory pointed.
Astra made a slight course correction. The figures grew nearer. Two humans, male and female, in Navy battledress. Astra brought the pickup to a stop and dropped the ramp.
“Are we glad to see you!” The woman said as they clambered up the ramp.
“What happened,” Luke barked, pre-empting Rory. She let it go this time.
“Massive systems failure in warp,” the male said. He wore his helmet unlike the woman. “We were barely able to drop out without the engines completely blowing. We tried for orbit around this planet but weren’t able to achieve a stable one. We made an uncontrolled re-entry and the ship broke up. We ejected. No injuries. The ship is a complete write-off. I doubt there’s anything left of it aside from the ejection capsule.”
“Astra, get us back to The Rock,” Rory said. “Fastest time. I want to get off this planet. Dee,” Rory said to the comm, “Repair status.”
“Just finishing up Skip,” Dee reported, breathing hard. “The mod was slagged and I had to cut it out. Replacement is good to go and I’m just sealing it up now but we’re gonna need that refit sooner than anticipated. We’ll be ready to lift by the time you get back.”
“Excellent news, Dee,” Rory said, cutting the connection. “Thanks.”
“So who are you?” Rory asked the new comers.
“Lieutenant Everly Mains,” the woman introduced herself. She was slightly shorter than average with a brightly dyed mohawk haircut. Colin would describe her as ‘Moto’ as in ‘motivated’.
“Greene,” the male said. “Forest Greene.”
Astra did a double take. “You’re an Arty,” she said.
“We prefer Non-Corporeal Individual or NCI if you must shorten it. Arty, or Artificial Person is a bit demeaning. I’d much rather be called Forrest.”
“Of course,” Astra said blushing. “No offense intended. I was just surprised. I’ve heard of you.”
Rory had never seen Astra blush before. “Interesting,” she thought.
“Forest has been working with me on this project,” Dr Livingston piped up. “I was unaware that you had downloaded into a body.”
“At times having one is convenient, so I keep one available,” Forest said. “I’m concerned about the interest your work has been generating in some quarters and wanted to be closer than several hundred light-years away from you in the event I was needed. Even with hyperspatial transmission the time-delay is significant. It seems that I have been more a hinderance than a help.”
“No,” said Rory. “We would have had to land anyway. We had our own issues.”
Rory updated Everly and Forest as to the Dragonstone’s situation.
“Disturbing,” Forest opined. “Highly unlikely this is coincidental. I agree, we should leave as soon as possible.”
The trip back to the ship took significantly less time but was significantly bouncier as Astra pushed the pickup to it’s limits given the terrain. They made directly for the ramp, debarking the pickup at it’s base.
“Rock, stow the pickup and we’ll follow,” Rory said.
The vehicle drove up the ramp into it’s stowage space.
“OK all, lets…” Rory began.
“Captain, I’m picking up a massive energy spike…”
The Rock’s voice was drowned in static as, with a blinding flash, a circle of blackness appeared beside The Dragonstone. Almost immediately two meter long arachnid looking creatures poured from the opening.
“Everly, look out!” Astra shouted.
The lieutenant was the closest to the opening and the spiders rushed her, the first one grabbing her and stabbing her with a large stinger on the end of its abdomen over and over. The spike cut through her body armor as if it wasn’t there. This broke the others from their shock and Forest, Colin and Lee started firing at the creatures. Luke grabbed Dr Livingston and pushed her towards the ship, firing one-handed at the spiders.
“GO!” He commanded. “Get inside!”
Livingston was unarmed and paused for a second before realizing there was nothing she could do to help and fled up the ramp. Spiders were dying but not fast enough. They were tough creatures and, absent a head-shot, it took several blaster bolts to bring one down.
Rory felt a crushing blow to the back of her head and fell sprawling to the sand. Her last image as consciousness faded was of a screaming Dee, having run down the ramp and picked up Everly’s dropped blaster, standing over her firing at the creatures.
“Get the fuck away from her you motherfuckers!” Dee screamed as Rory’s consciousness fled.