C B B – All versions+

Crash. Boom. Bang

***

The ship crashed and exploded. Afterwards, the base collapsed.

***

The manual controls were shot, and the boat responded only sluggishly to the autopilot. As it approached the surface more closely, even this gave out, and the boat’s glide became a steep descent. With a crunch of metal, the bow struck a crag, and crumpled. The boat fell to the rocks below.

Fuel dripped out of the crushed fuel tanks, falling across the remains of the cabin to the instrument panel. Gradually, it filled the recess that had once held a communicator. The boat settled slightly, and the fuel spilled over, draining down the panel to fall finally on the cracked cover of a flickering telltale. The resulting fireball blew the ship to pieces.

Footsteps raced within the base, and warning signals blared. The flare of yellow and orange glowed in the east, followed shortly by the sound of an explosion and a rain of fragments on the dome. A crack appeared in the duraplex and multiplied rapidly in several directions. At last, a section gave way completely and fell with a loud sound, allowing the poisonous atmosphere to flow in. The base was finished.

***

The lifeboat jerked and lurched as it followed a standard evasive action program. Occasionally, the air crackled as the path of a ground-based energy weapon passed nearby. Increasingly often, shells also passed or buffeted the boat with explosions. It was only a matter of time, he knew.

Finally, he was proven right. With a burst of sound and light, the boat was flung across the sky. The retaining straps cut into his shoulders as he was tumbled madly around. When the boat finally stabilized, it was in a lopsided glide that threatened to become a stall. He reached quickly for the manual controls, only to find that they had vanished, along with much of control panel. The fact that the boat was in the air at all was a miracle.

The autopilot still functioned, he realized. But the red lights on what remained of the control panel suggested this would not be the case much longer. Time to cut his losses, then. As the boat dipped and swayed over sharp rocks, he forced his hand past jagged metal edges to pull a release lever. With a jolt, explosive catches fired, sending his command chair up and through hull panels that failed to release, but still broke away as designed.

The reaction shoved down the nose of the boat, pushing it hard against an outcropping. Dangling now from a thin parachute, still seated in his chair, he watched the lifeboat fall. Blood flowed in a rapid stream from a badly torn hand, and he pulled it quickly against his belly, gasping with pain. The movement shifted his balance, and the chute slid over a saddle between spires as behind him a thunder of fire exploded.

Later, he trudged painfully across sharp rocks in his flight boots. His injured hand, though bandaged and treated, was swollen already. Poisoned, no doubt, by the planetoid’s toxic atmosphere. He wouldn’t hold out long without treatment, and there was little of that to be had. His air filters wouldn’t last long in any case. He steered by memory, keeping the thinning plume of black smoke behind him.

Eventually, he forced himself slowly up a final hill. Before him at last lay a flattish plain. At its center, an abstract sculpture of shattered planes fell suddenly as the remains of the base gave way to gravity. Nothing else moved within it, and with a sardonic laugh, he settled him self against a rock to await the end.

***

The boat jagged suddenly to the right, passing over the duraplex dome of the base. With a triumphant grin, he triggered the nozzles, and a specially designed compound sprayed out. A light beige in color, it settled on the dome with no evidence of effect. Soon enough, he knew, it would react with the caustic atmosphere. Victory! And he, Abed Reynik, had brought it to them! He’d be in the history books for sure, now. He did a tiny jig in his place, strapped to the command seat. Now, to get out of here.

It was almost an anti-climax when the first missile struck, taking out the bulk of the controls. That victory dance had cost him precious time, allowed the bastards to target him. They’d get their own soon enough, though. He made good his escape from the falling boat. Even as it burst into flame, he knew the reprieve was only temporary. It was worth it, he thought, to put things in their place.

Above her, a faint crackling sounded. She glanced up at the dome. Duraplex was proof against anything, the engineers said. Surely it could withstand a few fragments falling on it. It was dirty, she noticed now; perhaps the result of that one ship that had passed above them before being shot down. It had leaked something on them, she supposed. Strange, how it lingered. She supposed it must be some kind of oil, to cling like this even to the impervious dome.

She lowered her gaze back to the thin saplings in her section of the arboretum. An absurdly grandiose term for a handful of trees, she often thought. Better than ‘forest’, though, and it did give them some focus – gave the little band hope, that someday, somewhere, they might put down roots themselves. The trees were a reminder, at least, that life awaited them, that it meant more than concrete and duraplex and defense perimeters.

The trees were flourishing, she thought with no little pride. Partly it was because the dome and the filters kept out the deadly atmosphere, but at least part of it, a big part, was her devoted care. The trees were her family. A little trite but true enough. It was hard, sometimes, to keep a friendly, or even civil, attitude toward her co-… Co-what, she wondered. The conspiracy was over, the secret out. Rebels? A hundred people were hardly a rebellion, amongst the trillions of people under the Union. Whatever they were, though, they were under stress. Even Gerda… They had hardly spoken in days, Gerda busy with defensive preparations while she herself spent more time with her plants. Polishing the leaves, she thought; pretending to work.

The crackling came again, louder. There was no mistaking it this time – it came from above, and there was nothing above but the dome. She looked up, to see a dark point directly above her. As she watched, it lengthened rapidly from a small line to a lightning jag. The lightning forked, and forked again, and with a shrill cry, the dome itself began to fall.

The shard of dome pinned her down, snapping the young growth she had instinctively tried to protect. Her head bounced once, hard, against the concrete floor, before coming to rest amid a crown of twigs. Even as the glossy leaves trembled with her last breaths, they began to curl and die.

***

After the disaster of its birth, and a long struggle to return from the brink of disaster after disaster, the human race was cautious when it at last expanded from its planet of birth. It grew slowly, but it grew. And eventually it forgot. It entered a period of expansive, rapid growth, while the controls designed for a smaller, more relaxed federation, grew tighter and more rigid. Eventually, of course, they failed, and the union collapsed into smaller, looser fragments. And the cycle started again.

***

Crash. Boom. Bang

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