Disclaimer: I just want to say thank you for all the reviews I received for Part One. Assholes. Hope you enjoy Within the Verge Part Two. (That's sarcasm by the way. How life is going right now I couldn't give two shits if you like it or not. Happy Face.) I also reworked the timeline a bit for chapter one. Not like you assholes care. Second Happy Face.
A sudden jolt and the craft fell out of hyperspace. A red light on the Navi-bench began flashing; a high chirping sound warned twice then died off.
"Shit." Came Penny's irritated mutter as her ship stalled within space. It was quiet on the bridge for a few precious moments, before she looked over her shoulder. Between the bursts of power from the thrusters her crew's navigator had wandered up from the engine room to sit at his second post. Now, as the pair realized there was a problem, he nodded to his captain even as she issued her orders.
Ben in particular watched with absolute interest as Tick stood, and in one second went from a sandy haired youth to an adolescent Galvanic Mechamorph. Adhering to the console, he released a sequence of clicks, beeps and whistles that it seemed only Penny could understand.
"What do you mean the power cufflink is malfunctioning?"
More whistles and beeps.
"I suppose bypassing the cufflink and pumping more power into the engine could work. It'll mean skipping the converter as well, and we run the risk of overload, plus we'll have to stall to siphon up more fuel. We'd need to make repairs when we reach Sesharrim, but at least we'd get there."
Another high-pitched whistle and the alien mutated back into a human. Penny watched him for a moment, before turning her head comlink back on.
"Diggs, the power cufflink's gone out. We're going to harvest more fuel in order to bypass it, so I need to you switch on Betty." There was a pause, and Kevin watched with awareness as his little sister sighed and spun in her seat, "That's why I'll be switching off all power except for life functions and emerg lights." Her snarky reply was punctuated by the flipping off of four switches in a row and the pressing of a bright yellow button. Immediately all the lights except for the computer and backup emergency lights went black. Along with the lights, the artificial gravity kicked off, and all but the captain suddenly found themselves floating freely.
"What's Betty?" Julie asked as Ben was finally able to do what he had been itching to since the takeoff. He began with the backstroke, casually doing laps around the bridge as his companions tried to have an intelligent and adult conversation. Gwen smacked his leg when he came particularly too close to her, but otherwise he remained undaunted and free in the lack of gravity.
"Betty's our on-board particle harvester, used in emergencies when we need to refuel. I was hoping we wouldn't need to plug her in, but desperate times call for desperate measures I suppose." Pressing her own release button, Penny let herself float freely in the lack of gravity on her bridge.
"Why do you have to bounce along within hyperspace, and refuel so often? Don't you have a warp drive that can get from point A to B in no time flat?" Gwen asked while trying to keep her skirt and shirt down in the zero gravity, casting a curious eye towards the elder Levin. Sure, he may be generally calm, cool, and collected – the epitome of cold fish – but she was also his girlfriend, and thus was granted a special view. Given the chance, Kevin could be quite hot and, dare she say, wild. Since they were in the presence of a strange crew that included his sister, she didn't want to give him an unnecessary free show.
"Look around you Doll, this ship is nearly thirty years old. We have a malfunctioning hyper drive, no cryogen tubes and no warp drive. Hell, the only reason we have a particle harvester is because it's regulation now, and the physical matter transporter is on board because Diggs is a Thermian and they pioneer that technology." Any other conversation was interrupted by the sound of large machinery moving and being manipulated somewhere within the bowels of the ship. Without realizing what he was doing, Ben drifted over to the observatory glass, pressing his hands and face to it as he looked out excitedly into the abyss. Julie quickly joined him, followed by Gwen when he started squealing like the dope they always took him for.
To their left they could see a large contraption coming out of the hull, almost like a closed umbrella. It was large, four hundred feet long and one hundred across. It extended out, away from the ship about five hundred feet before unfurling like a magnificent metal butterfly. Taking the shape of a parachute or scoop, it began to glow a warm gray, and a hum filled the bridge.
"Skipper, this is the engine room; Betty has been put out to pasture." The voice of Diggs came over the intercom, hard to hear over the hum. Floating over to the helm, Penny pressed down on the communicator with a smirk on her lips.
"Commence harvesting, reserves to full capacity."
"Aye aye Skipper." Spinning like an underwater ballerina, Penny directed her next order towards her navigator.
"Tick, I want you to join Diggs in the engine room, I don't need any more hiccups." He saluted her as best he could given the zero gravity in the craft. Floating backwards, he spun and kicked his way off the bridge and down the corridor. Turning to her passengers, Penny smiled reassuringly.
"Might I suggest praying; you know, for good measure? We could use all the luck we can get." Floating over to the computer display, the Captain watched the harvester status update every ten seconds. Gwen and Julie shared a look while Kevin's shoulders tightened – Ben was still blissfully unaware at the window.
"Um, should we be concerned?" Julie asked, floating over towards Penny carefully, still not fully at ease moving in zero gravity.
"Yeah, probably. Doing something like this is incredibly dangerous; in fact we've only done it once before." Her eyes never left the screen as she kept a close watch on the ship's stress levels. One bad reading and the whole thing could blow straight to hell.
"And just what are you doing?" this time it was Gwen, and Ben finally tore himself away from the scene outside to the one on the bridge. It seemed far more interesting anyway. Taking her gaze off the screen, Penny nodded to her brother before addressing the rest of them. Kevin knew what to look for, having been on a ship similar to this one once; besides a small part of him speaking softly said he owed this to her.
"The power cufflink in the engine has gone out – it's a small piece of the machinery connected to the converter that monitors the fluctuations of power. Basically it tells the engine how much of the converted fuel goes to powering the computers on board, and how much will be used to propel the ship. With it out, we have to manually push fuel into the engine.
"This would be no big deal, just shut off the extra unnecessary computers and the rest would go to propulsion. However, in bypassing the cufflink, we also have to bypass the converter. The engine we have on board is just old enough that we can pump in crude Dark Matter and it will function – but this is where the problem lies." A rapid beeping like a frantic heartbeat went off, and Penny looked at Kevin in concern. He checked a few readings before meeting her eyes and shaking his head. False alarm. Ben took this lapse in explanation as a chance to asked questions.
"I don't get it. It sounds like this just gives you a chance to pump in pure fuel; where's the problem?" Kevin raised an eyebrow while Penny slapped her forehead. Gwen and Julie had the feeling that Ben just asked a stupid question, but they didn't bother to mention they were thinking the same thing.
"Do you know what a cocktail is?" pause for the three of them to nod, "Let's say ten percent ice, thirty percent alcohol and sixty percent mixer. That cocktail is your fuel in the converter, the human body is your ship with the brain and mouth as the cufflink and the stomach as the engine. The drink goes from the glass, though your mouth and into your stomach to get you buzzed, a perfectly functioning circuit.
"What we are going to have to do is skip the converter and cufflink and pump straight into the engine, which would be the equivalent of taking one hundred percent alcohol and injecting it directly into your stomach. Now you don't have the dilution or time lapse and so get drunk at a much faster rate. The difference being that with the ship, instead of getting blitzed it has a power overload which can in fact blow us up." Ben's eyes got wide as Julie subconsciously reached for her throat. Gwen gulped, but made no other action.
"Well that's something we definitely don't want to happen." Slowly all eyes went to the brown haired young man. A few moments of silence, and Penny nodded.
"Exactly. That's why praying is not such a bad idea at the moment." Another crackle over the intercom and the voice of Diggs could be heard, breaking the heavy atmosphere.
"Skipper, fuel reserves filled to capacity. Return Betty to the barn?" Moving back towards the computer, Penny nodded to no one but her inner thoughts as she pressed down on the communicator.
"Return Betty to the barn."
Suddenly Ben was back at the observation window, watching the giant contraption reentering the hull in the same fashion it came out. The humming was back, and at least if not more intense than before, until it abruptly stopped.
"Alright boys, we're going to take this nice and slow. On my mark you'll start pumping fuel in at 10.62. Be sure to keep it steady, those reserves will give us just enough power to make it to Sesharrim. Besides, I really don't want to blow up before we see some more action." Forcing her light body down into the Captain's chair, Penny nodded towards her passengers and was pleased to note all of them returned to their seats. Everyone buckled in quietly, aware of the heavy atmosphere that was forming. This could either work brilliantly, or they'd all be incinerated.
"Aye aye Skipper."
"In 3 – 2 – 1 – Engage." Her countdown punctuated by the pressing of a small red button, the craft was propelled forward at a slow speed. The stars passed by once again, however instead of combining into one solid mass of light, they remained separate dots. A mechanical noise started up, like gears grinding against each other without any lubrication. Julie gritted her teeth to stave off the headache, although it didn't do much good. Penny was muttering things under her breath, which to her passengers sounded an awful lot like pleadings for the ship to make it.
"Come on Baby, only a parsec and a half. That's it, no more than a parsec and a half. You can make it Baby, you can make it. You've never let me down before, don't start now. Don't start now." Her words were a whispered prayer into the helm, spoken low but Kevin could still hear them. They twisted something in his heart, and the closest feeling he could connect it to – strange as it seemed – was guilt.
"Tick give me a reading." The young Captain commanded into the comlink, and Kevin couldn't fight off the realization of just how grown up she had become.
"She's getting hot but is still stable. We should be able to make it to Sesharrim without any problems."
Amid all the white and blue stars in the continual empty blackness, a single red dot formed in the distance. Slowly, like approaching an island from the sea – and that's what they were, castaways drifting towards some undiscovered shore. Well, undiscovered for the Earth-bound creatures on board; for Penny and her crew it was like pulling down the street of your in-laws. Skirting through an asteroid belt, the red planet grew larger as they advanced until it took up nearly the entire observation window. All the passengers looked on in awe as the atmosphere loomed, its own swirling sea of deep reds and sensual oranges. Another jolt, and a few lights went off as a warning siren blared.
"We're caught in her gravity. Nothing to do now but let it take her down and try not to crash." Penny called lightheartedly over her shoulder as she gripped the controls in her hands. A scaly-like metal cocoon had emerged, encasing her arms to just past her elbows. Of its own accord her head piece unfolded and rested by her mouth.
"Hang tight boys, I'm beginning the landing procedure now."
"You're not going to crash us again, are you Skipper?"
"Strap in. Reversing thrusters now. Atmosphere regulators up at maximum."
Apparently the Captain hadn't bothered to let them know that the landing would get bumpy, because that's exactly what happened. The ship broke through the atmospheric gas and clouds at a speed just fast enough to cause those aboard headaches with the jolts and shakes. Through the window they could see the outer metal heating up and turning a warm yellow due to the force of entry. Beyond that, the planet itself, made up of mostly liquid and a few land masses. The bodies of fluid were a dark scarlet, the land a rocky composition that at first glance looked like sulfur.
"Activating amphibian landing gear."
"Captain she's going red hot."
"If we don't land soon we'll be blown to steaming bits."
"Amphibian landing gear deployed. Contact in 3 – 2 – 1 – and – touchdown." The massive metal ship skidded across the liquid, a beautiful display of red and engine exhaust. The splash from the less than graceful landing reacted with the overheating metal, instantaneously billowing in a plume of steam from their impromptu runway. Breathing a sigh of relief she was reluctant to admit, Penny waited for the casing on her arms to retract, then pushed a few buttons and switches before leaning back in her chair. Moments later Tick and Diggs were coming through the corridor while Kevin and his friends unbuckled from their seats. As the ship's outside casing contracted with the fading heat, Penny exhaled again and unstrapped her belt. Spinning in her chair, her eyes narrowed at her crew, who at least had the decency to look scolded.
"Crash again?" she smirked, standing to pop the kinks out of her body. Diggs had the sense to blush as Tick slapped his comrade on the back then moved to stand at attention by his Captain. She looked at her crew briefly, smiling with a thought she wouldn't voice before clapping her hands together and rising to her feet.
"Alright boys, let's check the damage."
The damage, Kevin gathered, wasn't any of the carbon scoring done to the ship's hull, but rather something internal in the starboard engine. Adjusting the mask on his face, his gaze moved to his friends and team, each coping with their own oxygen masks and thermal suits. Ben was trying to be as close to the crew as possible as they worked without being in the way, while Gwen and Julie were off to one side pointing at the sky. Penny stood next to him, hands on her hips as she watched Diggs disappear into the man-access door for the thruster.
"Diggs, you've got five minutes to tell me what's wrong – Tick, come with me. I want to patch a call." Ben looked up from his crouched position over the man-hole, an amused smile on his face.
"E.T. phone home?" he quipped, and the captain of Tidewater laughed, but did nothing else other than slide down the main hatch, Tick following close behind. Kevin felt the sway of the planet's ocean as the tides brushed against the steel. His sister's movements, along with those of everyone else, weren't enough to make a noticeable difference. Looking over his shoulder, he could see Gwen and Julie still debating whatever it was they were observing in the sky, their voices muffled by the oxygen masks; making his way over to them he smiled as his girlfriend took his hand.
"Is that the moon?" pointing up, she gestured towards the grey planet orbiting the world they were moored on. The rock had been fractured at some moment in time, split nearly in half with small asteroids caught in its gravitational pull. Light from a nearby star broken through the chasm and spilled out onto the planet below.
"Yeah, what's left of it anyway." Those above deck turned to see Diggs haul his body out of the manhole, a few oil spots to match his dark hair striking against his pale skin. Bending down Ben offered the teen a hand, grunting with the added weight as the mechanic was pulled free. The Thermian wiped at a grease spot on his cheek, only to succeed in making it larger; Ben held in a snicker.
"Hey, Diggs, what exactly am I needed for?" all eyes looked to him in surprise and disappointment. Diggs simply shook his head, making his way back into the living quarters of the ship.
"If you can't even hazard a guess you're a bigger idiot than I am."
Looking around at those left, Ben tried to make eye contact, but the only one that would meet his stare was Kevin, who didn't have the decency to clue the teen in. Instead he just smirked and slid down the hatch to see what his sister was up to. Gwen, seeing the look in her cousin's face, laughed clapped him on the shoulder.
"Oh come on Ben, you really have no idea?" she paused, and when met with a semi-blank stare and a shrug she tapped the Omnitrix on his wrist. Julie laughed at his blush as they all moved to follow Diggs back into the bowels of the ship, no one noticing the flock of winged creatures approaching over the far-off Hydrogen trees.
The laughter faded in their throats as the approached the bridge; Kevin stood by the open hatch, quietly watching as the Captain saluted her Admiral, Tick a few steps behind her at the Navi-Bench.
"Captain Levin, we expected to hear from you sooner." His voice was smooth as he set her at ease. Sending a quick look to Tick, she nodded briefly before beginning.
"Sorry Sir, we ran into mechanical difficulties. A few repairs on Sesharrim and we should be at the Command Station by 0800. I'm only able to relay this to you because a nearby Destroyer also wanted to make a collect call – we're patched through on their frequency to mask our own transmission." Tick snickered behind her, pleased that he was able to hijack the communications like he did.
"Clever if not risky. Do you have the Weapon?"
"Aye Sir, those bastards won't know what hit them."
The hologram of the Admiral chuckled, and Penny chanced a smile. It was like being in basic flight all over again.
"I'll let the G.A. know they're in good hands. Keep flying." His own salute was graceful and well-practiced, hand at his forehead, brought down just a fraction and then up and over his head. Penny returned the compliment with a single sweep across her own forehead and down to her shoulder.
The transmission ended.
Turning, she did not expect to see four addition pairs of eyes watching her – two was quite enough – but she hid her surprise well.
"Right. Mom says E.T. needs to get her butt home A.S.A.P.P.F.Q. so let's get a move on. Diggs, what's the damage with the starboard engine?" Rubbing her hands together both for comfort and as a sign of impatience Penny looked for her mechanic and found him leaning on the hatch next to her brother.
"A bit worse for wear but I think with the patches I've done it should get us to Tibris without blowing up – I'll know more when I have a full arsenal of tools at my disposal." She nodded again before turning to Tick.
"Got the coordinates to get us to the GACS quickly?" the navigator also nodded, pressing a few green buttons before pulling up a holographic map where the Admiral had been seconds before. There was a pulsing dot in one corner, and a steady yellow one up near the projector.
"Aye, we've only got another seven and a half parsecs to go, we should make it with plenty of time to see the last bit of action before Command calls it quits for the day."
Penny laughed, popping her fingers in a habit she's had all her life; she observed the map for only a moment before signaling it off and moving to the helm.
"Alright kids, strap in – I want to get out of here before the Gaoul show up."
As her crew and passengers buckled themselves in, the Captain began the take-off sequence. Remembering what happened last time they left a planets Atmo, Gwen closed her eyes and gritted her teeth and Julie gripped the seat so hard her knuckles turned white. Ben was still geekily oblivious to it all.
"What are the Gaoul?" he asked as the craft started to shake and a loud thundering began. A roar, similar to the sounds of NASA rockets taking off in youtube videos, filled the cabin. This was new – last time they were boarded when the ship was already running. Now they were taking off from a dead stop.
"NICE ENOUGH CIVILIZATION. DON'T TALK MUCH." Diggs shouted before his voice was once again drown out by the thunder of the engines.
The ship lifted from the ocean and hovered for a minute or two before slowly making its way up into the sky. For the stoic Gaoul below, it was a sight they would remember as the Ship That Saved All. And although they were desperate to believe otherwise, they knew they would pass the memory of the little ship, listing in friendly recognition back and forth, down the annals to the future. They were the Keepers of the Universe's history. They would remember the image when no one else would.
Until the action was repeated some thousand years later, when the Universe needed to be saved again.
As one body and without a word, they lifted their hands palm out to the ship in reply, knowing the Captain could see. Knowing, even if those aboard didn't, the grave destiny that awaited them.
The old ship paused a moment, as if in reflection of this fact, before disappearing into the inky blackness of the sky, as if it had never been.
I know it's not even close to Star Wars Day, and that it's been over two years since I posted for this. But it's been in my head all the while, and I decided that instead of sticking to just Star Wars and Ben 10, I was going to include all the science fiction I could think of. Prepare for a reference-saturated tale of epic space battles and stuff! If you even bother to read it. Assholes. .