Treasure in the Core | Part One: METEOR | Prologue

Five years ago…

“Lana Crusoe has ten minutes to live.”

The ship’s alarm sirens filled the air so densely that she could feel the walls vibrating around her, almost making the warning impossible to hear. Granted, her sense of hearing had already been dulled by a stray shot of laserfire that grazed her ear just ten minutes before, when she’d narrowly escaped the bloodbath that had taken most of everyone else. “Lana Crusoe has ten minutes to live,” the voice echoed once more over the ship’s systems, rich with static. The woman shut her eyes, the limp body in her arms feeling unusually heavy as she struggled down the cold, blood-stained corridor of her crew’s beloved ship, Hera’s Revenge. Her back felt like it could snap at any second, especially with the Captain’s weight bearing down into her grasp. “Lana Crusoe has ten minutes to live.” The warning from her A.I. companion was one she’d requested, but as each minute came to pass, the engineer began to wish she hadn’t. Vai had a knack for being annoying in even the most desperate of situations.

“Lana Crusoe has nine minutes to live.”

The woman fell to one knee, her copper skin damp with sweat and blood. She held onto the unconscious form of her crew’s Captain with one hand and pulled a small communicator from her belt. “Vai, that’s enough,” she said. “Open every available escape pod and check to see that my path is clear. Then open the deck’s primary console, and get ready for a data transfer.”

“Yes, Lana Crusoe.”

She tucked the communicator back into her belt and continued down the hallway, passing the lifeless forms of several crewmates, all gunned down by a traitor they’d never expected. Twenty-two year old Gillon Trax had joined the crew less than five years before. In fact, Trax had been the first intended apprentice for the ship’s former Captain, Teleraan Scarow. At eighteen, Trax was well on his way toward that fate. Lana had almost directly disrupted that path when she brought Natalia Cordero on board, because the whip-smart teenage war orphan immediately fell under Scarow’s wing. Trax’s outrage at Cordero’s new promotion to Captain had bred a spy right under their noses. He had contacted the Terrajin Elite months before, when he had first heard that Scarow had been considering Cordero instead of him. By the time Lana found his messages to the Navy, its most ambitious new Commander had already brought in the warships and had them surrounded. Seconds after the fleet had popped onto their radar, Trax walked onto the main deck with two laser cannons strapped over his shoulder and opened fire on his crewmates.

In the end, Lana’s hard-fought victory against him meant almost nothing. Their fates were already sealed by then, and she knew the brutalized ship was one hit away from exploding into pieces. Her life was at the mercy of the deadly Terrajin Hex Cruiser that floated just fifty meters above. Lana had Vai’s warnings timed to the second against the vessel’s powerful cannon as it re-charged for one massive final blow against their ship.

Lana tried to keep her mind on the situation, but her thoughts betrayed her, even as her body continued the task at hand. She felt her blood run cold.

Lana continued stumbling down the hallway, making a sharp turn and heading up along a ramp that led her to the ship’s main deck. There were the bodies of the cockpit crew: Minn, the crew’s excitable battle strategist; Xydine, a cat-like Weelakan male that served as their pilot; and former legendary pirate Teleraan Scarow himself. His hulking dragon-like face and form that had intimidated every single power in the galaxy for decades now lay slumped against the ship’s controls. Scarow had been her mentor, her savior, and the best pirate she had ever known. Now, he was dead at the hands of the Navy that they’d so expertly outsmarted for the entirety of her life. Hera’s Revenge was a place that Crusoe had called home for nearly three years — the longest that the Crows had ever spent with a ship — but here she was, at her end, along with the crew that had grown to love her so dearly.

Lana steadied her walk, dizzy and losing her strength by the second. She knelt down, letting Cordero’s form rest against the console on the floor. Cordero was young for her role and they’d all known it, but she was also one of the most cunning young pirates in the galaxy under Scarow’s tutelage. Crusoe drew out her communicator again to pull a wire from inside of the casing. She plugged it into an open port on the control panel.

“Vai, how long until those cannons fire?”

“Lana Crusoe has five minutes to live.”

Lana cursed under her breath, before yelling directly at the console. “Then hurry up and transfer into the comm!”

Moments later, the console began beeping, and Lana quickly removed her communicator’s connection. “You’ll be safe in here,” she didn’t care how ridiculous she sounded for speaking so fondly to the advanced program inside of the device. Lana hauled the Captain up again, struggling to keep her balance as she made her way back down the ramp and away from the main decm. If Vai had missed any of her previous orders before she pulled him out of the ship’s core, it was game over for all three of them.

Her chest heaved with a sigh of relief when she found her path completely cleared, doors either open or half-open on her way toward the pods. Lana’s wild hair bounced uncharacteristically behind her, a puff of tight curls pushed back by a bloodied bandana. When she finally found the last available pod, she nearly collapsed, partially dropping the Captain in order to slam one hand on the portable activator for the pod’s hatch. Cordero was tough; she’d survive a little more bruising.

Lana removed her communicator and tossed her supply belt into the pod, then dragged the Captain inside, strapping the smaller woman down into the only available seat. She placed one hand on the frame of the pod’s open door, lifting her communicator to her face. She switched it on again, and almost as if the it were desperate to warn her, Vai spoke immediately:

“Lana Crusoe has two minutes to live.”

“I know. I need to leave a message.”

Lana—”

“It’s okay, Vai. Just hurry up.” Lana stepped back, her eyes examining the young woman before her. Natalia had been the crew’s Captain for all of two hours before everything came crashing down, and no matter what the young pirate might say in protest, Lana couldn’t help but blame herself for what happened. If that moment was the last time she would ever lay eyes on Captain Natalia Cordero (and Lana was certain that it would be), she was going to make it worth every ounce of pain.

Vai obliged after a tense few beats. “You may begin.”

Lana drew the communicator up and stared into the eye of its camera, forcing a warm smile.

“Hey, Nat. I guess this is goodbye.”

The floor shook beneath her as the last of their shields finally gave way and disappeared under a barrage of enemy firepower. Smaller crafts were still slowly circling them, taking concentrated pot shots at the ship for fun. Lana continued speaking, facing her communicator directly, completely still as the chaos unfolded around her. The lights cut; the air pressure began to go. Lana’s years of training helped her mentally count down the seconds, timing her every word so that nothing was wasted. When she finished, she locked Vai’s data chip into the communicator, threw it into Cordero’s lap, and used every ounce of her strength she had to smack the large button that sealed the pod’s door.

The engineer groaned, then slumped down against the wall that separated her from the pod docks, listening as the process of escape began. The releases clicked forward, loosening the small vessel from their grasps. She could feel the engines kick in from the other side of the wall, hot and suddenly exploding with life. Then the tiny craft shot away into space, carrying Lana’s Captain, her most complicated A.I. project to date, and the last words she’d ever speak.

Lana Crusoe, genius engineer, brilliant tactician and life-long space pirate, sat quietly waiting for the destruction of Hera’s Revenge. She took a deep breath in, filling her lungs with the scents of smoke and death. It felt familiar, in a way, and, perhaps a little comforting. Even as a child, Lana knew that going down with her crew and ship was a fate that had long been set in stone for her. She was a pirate; she was a Crow. Her grave was always going to be wherever her crew was buried. While she admittedly robbed Captain Cordero of that same honor, Lana’s final act of pirating was one that she did not regret.

She let her body relax and listened carefully, just barely able to hear the final shot fire from the massive cannons of the Terrajin Navy cruiser above. As the beam of light bore down from the Terrajin cruiser’s cannons and on to Hera’s Revenge, the pod spun off into space, disappearing from sight underneath the final explosion.

 

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