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Skies Unbroken
Episode Sixteen: Derelict

Chapter Three

Silja locked the recovered power cells into the skiff’s storage crate, then knocked on the top twice for good measure. If it were only those, it would be a modest salvage haul. Worthwhile but only barely. She looked up through the isle’s towering stone spires. The weather held for now, a gray ceiling punctured by those fleeting peeks of clarity. They were seeing blue with increasing frequency as they retreated out of the Ferron Expanse. She could hear the Wink and Smile in the distance. No doubt they were making use of the steady position to take another deep listen into the skies for other nearby surprises or opportunities. Perhaps even match this rock to its pre-storm coordinates.

Eyes back down, Silja looked over the Ferozia-class lancer once more, humming and hawing at the lack of flair and identification on the exterior. Aside from the opened portside door, the ship was busted up, quiet and untouched, as if she weren’t there and never was. The anonymity gnawed at her something fierce, and there was enough time to investigate further and give this nameless ‘him’ a proper due diligence walkthrough.

After clambering back into the wreck, Silja paused in the common room, listening for a break in the clangs and muttered oaths echoing up from the engine room.

“You need any more help back there?” she shouted back.

Wilcox’s muffled reply sounded near enough to a ‘naw’ for her purposes.

Forward then.

Silja angled her lantern ahead along the ship’s central corridor. The deck was buckled or cracked here and there but otherwise passable, if persistently skewed, as if she were in a dream. Visually, it was much the same as what she’d seen so far: bland, paneled walls devoid of décor aside from the filigree along the ceiling. It led her forward to a cluster of four crew cabins.

One by one, Silja opened each cabin, the doors alternating between pliable and requiring convincing with the prybar. Pointing the lantern’s light where the cabins lacked non-standard skylights, the chambers were quick checks. The story was much the same in each of them, small spaces with one to two bunks. What sleeping pads remained were thin and eaten up by whatever opportunistic mold or creature passed through here. The port-side cabins were in better condition than starboard, less damaged from the landing. And yet nothing presented itself. One and all, the cabins were cleaned out of logs, notes, personal possessions. While she feared finding the remains of a crew member, it would, admittedly, give this place some semblance of a story. Finality instead of persistent, insufferable nothingness.

Perhaps they were rescued? Part of a convoy or wing and plucked up by their compatriots?

Mid-ship held a narrow galley, utility rooms, head, showers. Her boots crunched against heavy chunks of glass from a now-absent viewing window opposite the galley bar, another feature erased from the crash. A quick rummage through the galley drawers revealed nothing but long-rotted foodstuffs, and even that was sparse. This was looking more like an evacuation. An orderly rescue.

Some relief there, even if they left little sign of who they were or where they were going. Maybe that’s the secret. Try not to leave a trail, even if a crashed ship was one hell of a sign. So: Strip it bare of most signifiers. Wouldn’t be that hard with a mid-size lancer like this. It’d take maybe a few hours for a motivated crew to burn or drop any real clues and pack up their personal belongings and ship’s logs. The skybound traveled light by habit and necessity. Then let nature erase the rest with time, especially if the rock’s this remote. Especially if a decade-long upwell storm lent a hand.

Can’t haunt a ruin if no one died and no one considered this craft a home. The thought drew a breath of cold air around her neck. Silja shrugged her shoulders up, brushing away the feeling with her coat’s collar.

Ships were elaborate tools to some. Interchangeable, passing between owners and never quite a home to most. If a tool couldn’t be saved, you tossed it out to become another scrap score. Just another blip in the signal, one of countless thousands scattered across the skies. Silja knew her own perspective on the soul and spirit of any given ship was about as skewed as the deck below her feet. And she nurtured it, despite seeing hundreds of ships fall to pieces in war. Hell, one of her tattoos had seventeen hash marks for her combat kills and some of those were solo efforts. She was responsible for at least that many blips.

Maybe that’s was why she cared.

She was almost done, one last portside cabin before the bridge. An officer’s chamber, it was slightly larger, with a single bunk, a narrow fold-down desk, and most notably still had a storage trunk. Here we go. A puncture in the hull above allowed in winding lines of thin, fresh-smelling moss and created expanding spots of rust and discoloration.

Silja eased open the trunk, the lock missing, discarded in the haste of the evacuation. Inside lay a ruffled pile of clothes. She picked up a pale blue shirt and smirked. It was a woman’s corsair-style top, with flared wrist cuffs and a plunging neckline. Wholly out of fashion for about twenty-five years. Either this dated the wreck, or the owner was stubborn and simply didn’t care.

She rummaged through the rest of the clothes, feeling like a proper scummy scav digging through someone’s underwear. Nothing but old cloth, mildew eaten in places thanks to the puncture above. Again, no journals or weather-eaten logs. Whoever cleaned this out, if partially, would have taken those.

“A charm or a commission patch or…something,” Silja muttered as she piled everything back into the trunk. It was only polite, despite the contents being a damned tease.

Back to the corridor. The final starboard cabin was the captain’s by process of elimination. The door gave her no trouble and revealed that they were extra thorough here, as expected. The place was stripped clean, the desk drawers open and empty, the anchor points for storage trunks conspicuously empty. Then it was all made filthy from a hull breach above and the inflow of unknown years of rainwater. They even went so far as to burn something off the wall above the desk. Perhaps a sigil or equivalent? Regardless, it was too far gone to bother pondering over shadows and smudges.

Silja went back to the corridor and leaned against the slanted walls. She thumped a fist against the metal and tried to talk and think all this over.

“Who were you folks? What colors did you wear, what flag did you fly? Imperial? ‘Lition? Whichever suited you at the time?” Or maybe this all happened before the grand choosing of sides.

There had to be a plan here. Some hope or objective driving them, even if it was dashed against an anonymous rock and stripped out in a hurry. What it was Silja couldn’t imagine. This far out? Where could they possibly be going? The ship was too small for an ultra-long haul. They had a destination in mind and had to be part of a fleet. There was no other way they would be rescued and evacuated, with the presence of mind to methodically erase every trace of who they were.

The door to the bridge was a bastard to get open, but Silja own fuel cells possessed frustration aplenty for her efforts. Within was a compact control deck. Two consoles flanked the narrow path to the helm, both recessed a step down into the deck. Nav/Comm to port, Conditions to starboard. A quick glance revealed the Nav/Comm banks to be emptied of all recording slots. At this point she knew better than to bother checking for log books or maps in their typical spots.

Ahead, the nose of the ship was gone, the forward windows replaced by a wall of stone and gnarled metal, all smashed inward. The fuselage was buckled up under the pilot’s seat and down from the ceiling. Silja’s heart sank as she approached what remained of the helm, knowing well those stains weren’t entirely water damage. The control console was, of course, a total loss. Yet from among all the dirt and gnarled metal the flight stick stuck out, still mostly intact. It was wheeled style with an open top, leather grips, buttons along the inner edge. And…

A pair a bent emblem wings were pinned into the leather. The placement was so intentional, it could be nothing but a memento and memorial. At least one crew member didn’t make it out.

A semblance of a tale clicked together for her. One cabin with items left in it, undisturbed but for information that might give away who these people were. A controlled crash. An orderly evacuation.

Silja gently plucked the emblem from its perch and brushed away a layer of grime (and perhaps blood) from the center. Give the Durro eagle and serpent some clarity in their entwined duel. She herself had earned and owned a couple of these emblems. And she no longer needed a name, either for the ship or the pilot. Their story was clear enough.

“Sorry for digging through your stuff, sister. If you were the only one to fall here, you carried them through. They got out, somehow.”

Silja always swore she’d prefer to die on her ship, controls and fate in her own hands. To die at home, perhaps while fighting for it. So long as it was the right ship, the right home. Like this, though? With no one to remember save for some scavenger, years later? A blip in the signal?

Suppose that’s just the way for all but the greatest and grandest of us.

She wasn’t totally convinced by the thought.

Silja pressed the emblem back into the ship’s controls, a single spot of color shining amongst the nameless ruins.

(End of Episode Sixteen)

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Copyright © Michael L. Watson 2018