Low Prospects

Etienne groaned as he stood up and stretched out his back, hearing a few popping noises. “I must be outta my mind, crawlin’ around in the tubes after just being in a crash,” he muttered.

Vanya shrugged with his good arm. “I’d be more questioning of your willingness to crawl around in the tubes of the starship that was just in a crash.” He thumped his fist on the tablet he cradled with his bad arm. “But, you’re not sporting any major burns from leaking radiation or steam, so that seems a good enough sign.”

The corporal took the tablet and slapped its sides with his palm, nodding as the screen finally started working properly. “Bad news is, it definitely looks like Giga Cannon is kaput. Good news is, the core is at least stable, so we’re not leaking rads into the area and giving everyone cancer for the next few generations.”

The private let out a sigh of relief. “We could use good news,” he said as they made their way out of the wrecked sector of engineering. “With the engines shot and crushed, we’re stuck here, on a backwater where we can’t really get this fixed, and gods know what kinda diseases…”

Etienne shut his eyes, grimacing, and held up a hand to stop him there, then offered Vanya a hand to help him over a piece of wreckage. “Don’t remind me. But we gotta start somewhere, and if nothing else, we need to make sure stuff doesn’t blow up or collapse on top of us.” He tapped some data into the tablet, then stopped to bang it against a piece of twisted metal, finishing his notes. Looking up, he eyed up the hull. “I need to check on some of these hull ruptures. Don’t want any trouble coming in in the middle of the night.”

Vanya nodded and pointed. “I think Billy was checking up on some of that, too. I’ll go see if Länglich is stable, we want him to pull through, after all.”

“Länglich is gonna outlive us all,” Etienne chuckled. “Old bastard’s too stubborn to die. Go get your shoulder looked at, Dubov. If you’re gonna be of any use, you’ll need both arms.” He frowned at the tablet again, giving it another smack against the hull as he headed off to continue his inspection.

The Reinhardt had left quite a large furrow in the forest and its surroundings. Most of the fires from the crash had gone out, and a makeshift camp had been set up for the survivors, with the wounded being laid out in rows while surviving and able medics checked on them, assisted by the local Moogle, Kupello. Several crew had moved dislodged panels as makeshift lean-tos for these, and everywhere, people were taking stock of what they had to work with.

Once he’d been acknowledged as the new head of the engineering team, Etienne da’Kohling had roped any able-bodied crewmen he could into helping check for supplies that hadn’t been ruined and otherwise making note of things that weren’t working. This made for quite a large list that was steadily being compiled on Etienne’s semi-functional tablet.

He came around to what had become the “back side” of the survivors’ camp. A few crew were here, helping move materiel that had made it through the crash, while a couple of engineers were working to repair some exterior panels, to keep the elements out of this side of the Reinhardt. Private Wilhelm was overseeing this. “Billy,” Etienne called. “Please tell me you have some good news.”

The private turned and gave a shrug. “Some, but not much. Pretty sure we can reconnect some severed cables and restore lighting and environmental to this part of the ship.” He pointed up at a breach. “But I’m having the power shut off once we get it restored, 'cuz we need to patch that up first.”

Etienne nodded as he looked up at it. “Yeah, if it starts raining or something, that could seriously screw up stuff inside. But that’ll be a tricky one to get to. I think we have some ropes or chains we could use to rig a sling up, haul some folks up to weld a plate over the hole.”

Wilhelm, along with a few other crewmen in the area, grimaced at the thought of this. The private raised his hand. “Bagsy not me.”

Everyone looked at the rest of the crewmen, who immediately started raising their hands and echoing that sentiment: “Bagsy not it.” “Bagsy not me.” “Bagsy not it.”

This left just one private, whom Etienne recalled was Stan Hallaran. The last private hung his head. “Aw, crap. I hate working at heights.”

Etienne gave him a sympathetic look as he tried to note this into his tablet, giving it another thump with his fist. “Nobody does, Stan. But you’ll have company up there. Gonna need at least two other people up there with you to help move the plate in place.” Then he glanced downward. “Uh, Stan, how come you haven’t had that cut looked at on your leg?”

Hallaran looked down. “What? It was a minor cut, I didn’t think–” The lower half of his uniform leg was dripping scarlet. “–Shit! It must’ve split wider while I’ve been working. I hadn’t even noticed!”

The corporal pointed around the curve of the wreckage. “Go find the medics right now. It’s probably looks worse than it is, but I don’t wanna take any risks on this backwater, especially not out here with gods know what wild animals–”

Sometimes, Fate knows an opening when It hears one. A series of low growls sprang up in the surrounding undergrowth, and every crewman present went still, turning toward the forest, just in time to see a pack of greatwolves come bounding out of the woods. Hallaran yelled as one massive maw clamped around his injured leg, yanking him off his feet and dragging him away, even as the crew grabbed for their tools and tried to keep the big animals at bay.

Etienne jumped back from a lunging greatwolf, dropping his tablet in his haste, then tripping over a fallen cable. He scrambled backward as the beast prowled forward, until his hand felt the tablet under his fingers. He grabbed it and swung, heedless of what his impromptu weapon was, smacking the creature across the snout, causing it to yelp.

The tablet chimed in Etienne’s hand, and the scrambled screen finally cleared. He looked down and flashed a grin, then brought his legs up and kicked the greatwolf away. The creature yelped again, then growled at him. Etienne kicked once more, catching it in the snout, and it yelped, backing away. He started to get to his feet, then looked around as he heard Wilhelm scream his distinctive scream.

The private had been tackled by another greatwolf, and was rolling to try to avoid its snapping jaws. “Hang on, Bill!” Etienne shouted, but then the air was split by the crack of a rifle. The greatwolf trying to savage Wilhelm went over on its side, its head a mangled mess of gore, and the rest of the pack turned to regard the man standing atop a rise, the smoking weapon in hand.

The ranger swung the lever on his rifle, then fired again. Another one of the creatures was knocked over by the shot, but it limped to its feet as its fellows howled in fury, then turned and fled into the woods again. The ranger cocked his rifle again, aimed, and took down the injured wolf as it retreated, then slung his weapon over his shoulder as he leaped down from the rise.

Etienne helped Wilhelm to his feet. “You all right?” The private nodded shakily, and the corporal pointed. “Go check on the others, and Crest?” Another private turned around. “Go back to the camp and get a couple of guys with guns to help stand guard over here.” Pvt. Crest nodded and ran off as Etienne turned back to the ranger, who was crouching beside Hallaran. “Thanks, ranger. That could have been a lot worse.”

The ranger, bearded and with traces of silver in his hair, gave a brief nod. “Yes,” he agreed. “It could have been. I’ve been doing my best to keep the forest’s wildlife from taking an interest, but I’m only one man.” He glanced at Hallaran, whose face was pale, and whose leg was now in much worse shape. “Your man here will need his leg looked at.”

Etienne tucked the tablet into his uniform front. “Right.” He cupped his hands and called to the crew. “Change of plans, folks! Back to camp! We’ll patch that breach once we’ve got proper lookouts in place!” While the crew grabbed their gear, Etienne turned to the ranger. “Can you help me move him, sir? Also, I didn’t catch your name.”

The ranger gave his name as Grimaldi, and they quickly tied a tourniquet around Hallaran’s savaged leg before they put his arms around their shoulders and carried him back to the camp, just as Casterian’s Seraphim landed nearby. Some medics came to help Hallaran over to their area, while Etienne and Grimaldi watched as the Seraphim’s passengers disembarked. One of them was a young man in a ranger’s outfit as well, but he staggered to a nearby bush and was noisily sick.

“Told you you’d be fine,” Meri remarked as she clapped him on the back. She turned and nodded to Etienne. “Corporal. Where’s Länglich? Might be something we can use in an old ruin near town.”

Etienne sighed, and filled her in on events since the crash. Oberleutnant Länglich was incapacitated, barely holding on, Leutnant Ferris was dead, as well Sergeant Lorton, leaving him, Cpl. Etienne da’Kohling, as the acting head of engineering. The Seraphim pilot grimaced. “Ouch. So how are things with the Reinhardt?”

“She’s not gonna fly again, that much is sure,” Etienne sighed again. “But we’re not in immediate danger of blowing a crater into this planet. I’ve got as many of our people as I can get running checks to see what’s working and what isn’t, but it’ll take time.”

“Well, there’s this wreck near town, might have some junk you could use,” she told him.

Grimaldi looked up from where he was checking on the younger ranger. “The Aldressor? That place is a tomb. Has been since we colonized here.”

Etienne shook his head. “A wreck? Left exposed to the elements for thirty-plus years? I’m not hopeful about our prospects.”

Meri spread her hands. “Let’s check in with the brass. It’s late enough I don’t think we’re gonna set out right now. But the sooner we see what the ruin has, the sooner we can get to work.”