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EBFIDDLER

ENDS WITH A HORSE (12) Part (18)
Sunday, July 7, 2013

Extreme measures as more things go wrong


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2469    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

ENDS WITH A HORSE (12)

Part (18)

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Follows WHAT BEGINS WITH AN APPLE (11).

The series so far:
A LION’S MOUTH (01)
ADVENTURES IN SITTING (02)
SPARKS FLY (03)
EXPECTATIONS (04)
BREAK OUT (05)
THE TRIAL (06)
SHADOW (07)
ONE MAN’S TRASH (08)
BANDIAGARA (09)
TWO BY TWO BY TWO (10)
WHAT BEGINS WITH AN APPLE (11)

Extreme measures as more things go wrong

* * *

“247 Alpha, have you resolved your helm control issues?” the Space Traffic Controller asked.

Weren’t no gorram ‘issues’ until I tried to hand over control to y’all, was what Mal wanted to say. The petulant tone in his mind carried over into his voice as he answered out loud, “Flight bot’s still controlling our helm.”

“Switch to manual override.”

The flight bot feature of the nav software had an override in case of emergency. Mal was of the opinion that having no ruttin’ idea who was flying his gorram boat qualified as an emergency, and he was glad Control finally concurred. “Switching,” he repeated. To his crew he announced, “Everybody strap in. We’re goin’ manual, and it could be a bit rough.”

* * *

“He’s switching to manual override,” Boromiro told Anatoly.

“Ha. Well, that won’t work especially well.” They exchanged a smug look. It wouldn’t work at all: 代號 Dài Hào’s agent used the passcodes to disable the emergency override.

“Yeah. Let him try.”

* * *

It didn’t work. It should have cut out the flight bot, and restored manual control, but it didn’t do a gorram thing.

“Have you restored manual control of your helm?” the Tower asked.

“That’s a negative,” Mal replied, thoroughly disheartened. 你他媽的 天下 所有的 人都 該死 Nǐ tāmādē tiānxià suǒyǒu de rén dōu gāisǐ.

* * *

The scenic tour was, literally, scenic. Boromiro flew them over Geysir National Park, the Majestic Mountains, and the Ring of Fire. Not that they would see much detail from their altitude, but still these were some of the most scenic parts of the planet of Bernadette. Anatoly was throwing out suggestions (he thought he was issuing orders), and Boromiro was cheerfully implementing the best of them. Controlling the flight bot was far more fun than the flight simulator, because the simulator wouldn’t let you pull stunts like flying upside down, barrel rolls and loop-de-loops unless it was in aerobatics mode. It was just as much fun as playing the Special Ops: Flight School video game when he was a kid.

So he flew the ship right over Bernadette’s famous features—Fuji-san, Bancroft Meteor Crater, the Great Palisade, and into the sunset.

Anatoly interrupted his Zen flying moment. “Let’s have some more fun.” Without warning, he shoved Boromiro off the chair and sat down. He grabbed the yoke and pulled the ship into a sharp banking right turn.

“Hey, what are you doing? You’re going counter to standard air traffic patterns.”

Anatoly ignored him and kept flying.

“That’s Tanaka MOA,” Boromiro objected, as Anatoly directed the ship over a clearly marked restricted airspace. “It’s restricted. Military base. You can’t fly there.”

Anatoly shot him a look. Watch me.

Boromiro’s general policy was to let Anatoly throw his weight around, while he kept his hands on the controls. It soothed Anatoly’s ego to think that he always got his own way. It rankled him to have Anatoly grab the yoke and then proceed to get them in deep 拉屎 lāshǐ. As soon as Anatoly’s attention shifted back to the flying, he in his turn pushed him out of the seat, and grabbed the yoke.

喂 Wèi!”

There ensued a round of undignified shoving and pushing, as the two young men wrestled for dominance of the controls.

“Technical Cadets Tse and Janiewicz,” the disembodied voice spoke sharply, “what is going on?”

Instant compliance. The Hands of Blue held the power. Anatoly stood up and straightened his tie. “A little glitch,” Anatoly answered, with as much cocky assurance as he could muster. He was still a little winded from the wrestling match. Boromiro held his tongue.

“Well, Glitch Tse,” responded the all-seeing voice, “tell Glitch Janiewicz to get his 屁股 pìgu back in the chair and land the target at Secure Port already.”

Anatoly breathed in relief. No serious consequences.

“And,” the voice added, “Glitch Tse, as soon as this operation’s over, report to Internal Affairs for debriefing.”

“Yes, sir.”

There was a long silence. Then Anatoly spoke. “See what happens when you don’t listen to me, Boromiro?”

Boromiro snorted. “It’s on you to explain what you were trying to do. I’d advise pleading technical incompetence if I were you. You never were all that good at the flight simulator—they’ll believe you.”

* * *

“What the gorram hell—” Mal thought, as Serenity suddenly swooped into a sickening dive. Ship’s artificial gravity couldn’t keep up with maneuvers like this, especially in atmo when there was real gravity to contend with. Plastic dinosaurs went skittering off the end of the control console, to join the coffee cups and writing styluses already rolling around on the floor. Mal was grateful he’d ordered everyone to strap in. The dive leveled off, but the ship banked hard to the right, sending the litter of mugs and dinos sliding across to the starboard side of the deck. Before they leveled off, the ship lurched to port, executing a sickeningly slow barrel roll, and sending the detritus cascading over all the surfaces of the bridge.

“What the 地狱 dìyù are you doing, 247 Alpha?” the Controller exclaimed, all semblance of official calm evaporating.

“Ain’t nothin’ I’m doin’—what kind of loony 神经病 shén jīng bìng you got flyin’ my boat?” Mal countered. He didn’t have even a semblance of calm left to evaporate. Time like this, Wash woulda been exhibiting his trademark Zen-like calm, handling the crisis like the master flyer he was. Mal weren’t no Wash. He simply didn’t have it in him to sit there calmly with hand on yoke and drink a cup of tea, while some 疯了 fēngle maniac ploughed Serenity into a nice solid mountainside.

He was vaguely aware that they were violating restricted zones, military operations areas, and flying counter to traffic—mainly because every invisible line crossed triggered another gorram buzzer or alarm to sound, and the gorram cacaphony in the cockpit was driving him batty. But with the ship lurching and diving and rolling, he didn’t exactly have the leisure to look out the window and take in the scenery. Couldn’t even think straight.

“Kaylee! Is there any way in ruttin’ hell we can shut off all them gorram alarms?”

To his surprise, Kaylee answered calmly, “Think I can work an override, Cap’n.”

“On the alarm?”

“On everything. If we shut down—”

“If we shut down, we crash,” he objected.

“—Shut down the mains, go to auxiliary only. Flight computer don’t talk to the auxiliary system—had to jury-rig it that way, after the EMP fried the connection at Ferdinand. You’ll have to fly completely by hand. Won’t have the kind of power the mains provide, but it oughtta get around the flight bot.”

“How much less power?”

“About sixty-five percent.”

Trying to land with sixty-five percent power was going to be tricky. Serenity weren’t no glider, and VTOL craft required substantial power for landing. How he wished Wash were at the helm. Zoe’s stoicism, as she sat silently in the co-pilot seat, only told him that she was of the same mind. Wash’s skills would make the difference between a safe landing and gracelessly ploughing into the ground nose first. ‘Controlled flight into terrain’ was how it was termed in the fatal accident investigation reports.

“I can help,” River spoke.

He wished she could. But his hands were tied. Here in the Core, she had to be relegated to the position of observer, just when he really needed the talents of a real hotshot pilot. “Can’t do it, River. Can’t let an uncertified pilot fly the ship, here in the Core. Lose my license.”

“Can’t lose your license if you’re dead,” River countered.

It was too late to argue the point. “247 Alpha, you’ve restored control?” Tower asked hopefully. Mal noticed that Serenity’s flight was suddenly a bit more even. With a surge of sanguine feeling, he tested the yoke, but found it still unresponsive.

“Negative,” Mal responded. “Only way I see to restore control, is a complete shut down of main power and reboot.”

“Shut down in atmo? You’ll crash,” Tower replied.

“Looks like I’m crashin’ anyways,” Mal replied, “’cause whoever’s in control of the flight bot is clearly insane.” More insane than me, more insane than River. And that’s sayin’ something. “If it’s all the same to you, I’d rather crash her myself, than let some bot crash her for me.” And maybe, just maybe, I can get her on the ground in one piece.

“Now if you don’t mind, I gotta focus on flyin’ here,” Mal told the Tower. “So long.” He opened up the internal comm. “Everybody on the upper deck, and strap in good,” Mal ordered. “Gonna be a rough landing.”

* * *

“Told ya,” Jayne pronounced smugly, as Ip and Simon, strapped into the seats in the dining lounge next to him, regarded him with a look of horror. “We’re crashin’.”

* * *

Next to him, Zoe gave Mal a look as she adjusted her harness. How rough, sir?

We won’t die, he replied with his look. I think.

“Glad you’re feeling confident, sir,” Zoe said aloud. They all wished for Wash’s steady hand at the controls.

Time to take the plunge, Mal thought, then wondered at himself for his bad choice of words. To Kaylee he said, “Shut down the mains, and go to auxiliary power.”

* * *

“Gone? What do you mean, gone?”

“I mean, the connection dropped. Completely.”

“But they’re still on our screen.” Anatoly pointed to the blip.

“Well, yes, Anatoly, the planetary GPS system is still functioning.” Duh. Boromiro rolled his eyes. “But that’s not the signal from our flight bot. They’re completely powered down.”

“Powered down?”

“Yes. Engines off.”

“Are they insane? They’ll crash.”

* * *

“High in the sunlit silence—” River was reciting that damned poem, and Mal couldn’t help but recall Zoe’s follow-up: “You all know what sunlit silence means.... Engine failure in atmo.”

At least all the gorram alarms had shut off.

This is crazy. Absolutely crazy, Mal thought, as Serenity plummeted just like a downy feather wouldn’t through Bernadette’s atmo. It was the second-most terrifying planetary approach he’d ever made, but that was only because he’d survived the hell-bent spinning dive toward death on Ferdinand Moon—when Wash’s last act of flying in the ’Verse had pulled them out of the death-dive just in time to glide into a crash landing. This was ever so slightly less terrifying, but not by much.

“Kaylee, if you love me, get me some auxiliary power now!” Mal shouted.

* * *

Kaylee didn’t have time to cuss out the designers of Serenity’s engine room for putting the main switch up high where she couldn’t reach it. She used adrenaline-driven strength to shove a tool chest up under the gorram switch, reached up and flipped it. Engine room went black, because the dumb-ass designers had put the gorram light switch at the other freakin’ end of the room, but this time she had a flashlight in the pocket of her coveralls. She leapt down from the chest right about the time the ship gave a sickening lurch downward, like the floor dropping too suddenly in an elevator, and missed her footing. Caught herself before she fell over, in about as graceless a move as ever a woman made, floated and hopped and lurched her way right on over to the auxiliary switches. The emergency lighting came up, but auxiliary power took a mite longer to kick in, and for seconds that felt like hours, the ship continued in free-fall.

* * *

When the auxiliary power finally came on, Mal remembered to breathe again, only then realizing that he hadn’t been before. With only about two-thirds power, helm was sluggish as anything, but at least he had some semblance of control.

Mal jumped in startlement when the Controller’s voice broke the silence. “247 Alpha, do you read?”

“Uh, yes, Tower. We’re still flyin’.” Remember to breathe. Still flyin’.

“Got control of your helm?” Tower asked, not unkindly.

“Why, uh, yes—in a manner of speakin’. Auxiliary. Low power, manual control.” Breathe in. Breathe out. Keep flyin’.

“Firefly Serenity, descend and maintain level ten thousand,” the Controller directed, as if this were a perfectly normal controlled landing.

“We’re nearly at ten thousand feet right now, sir,” Zoe informed him calmly, snapping Mal out of his state of shock.

He looked at the altimeter. Ten thousand feet. 天啊 Tiān ā, they had plummeted a good fifty thousand feet in their free-fall. Breathe in. Breathe out. With an eye on the artificial horizon, he pulled out the yoke to level their flight.

“Traffic at one o’clock, Serenity,” the Tower said.

Traffic. Yeah. Mal looked through the window, spotted the traffic—a Blue Sun passenger ship—as it cut across their path, but it was maintaining altitude, and they weren’t, so there was no longer a chance of collision. “Traffic in sight, Tower,” he reported. As he scanned the sky, he saw that they also seemed to have acquired a military escort—a couple of Norn-class armored fighter craft, no doubt joined their company a while back, when they were cheerfully violating military airspace.

“Traffic behind you, Serenity,” Tower informed him, “overtaking.”

He didn’t have to wait long before Serenity was lapped by a fleet of Blue Sun transports—on their way up. Or maybe not, it was just that he—糟糕 zāogāo. “Unable to maintain altitude,” he reported, edging the yoke up, checking the trim. The needle on the altimeter just continued its steady dip downwards.

“Are you able to climb?” Tower asked.

“Negative.” Auxiliary power just didn’t have enough oomph. Not with a full payload in the cargo bay.

“Descend to level six thousand,” Tower ordered.

“Can do,” Mal responded. Boat won’t go up, but surely it’ll go down.

He must have spoken out loud, for River responded, “That part will happen, pretty definitely.”

They had descended to eight thousand feet by this time, and Mal watched as they continued, right on through seven thousand, six thousand, five—该死 gāisǐ. Mal’s attempts to level off were unsuccessful. Serenity’s response to his pull on the yoke was feeble at best. He’d never felt her respond so sluggishly under his hand. Molasses didn’t begin to describe it. “Unable to maintain six thousand, Tower. Request direct Shinjuku Spaceport.”

Tower directed him in a series of descending turns, and Mal had a panoramic view of the disruption he’d caused to Bernadette’s air traffic. Commercial and private spacecraft and aircraft of all descriptions were in holding patterns at higher altitudes, cleared out of Serenity’s way, so that he could blunder his way down to the ground and crash his ship in full view of an audience of thousands.

“Firefly Serenity, proceed direct to Shinjuku,” Tower ordered. Mal exhaled. Weren’t much choice—Shinjuku Spaceport, a nice solid mountainside, or hell—wherever they were going, they were gonna get there directly. “Do you have the spaceport in sight?”

“Yes, I do,” Mal reported, surprised to find himself nearly above the spaceport. Neatly lined up for a landing, he would say, if this were normal circumstances. Which it wasn’t.

“Land at the Emergency Berth, if you are able,” Tower directed, and Mal knew that all other traffic at the spaceport was being held up for him. He saw the clearly marked square perimeter of the berth, with the white cross and the character “急 jí” painted in red in the center. “Do you require a firetruck, foam, emergency services?”

“Uh, negative,” Mal responded, hoping like hell he was correct. The Firefly shuddered, the engine clearly taking strain as Mal attempted a fully-laden VTOL landing with two-thirds power. Angle, airspeed, alignment…Mal abandoned the dials and tried to judge by feel, trying to factor in the delay in response to his touch that the low-power situation seemed to warrant. The ship descended by uneven lurches, with whining noises from the engine room and a massive shudder that rocked the entire frame of the vessel from stern to stem. Lurch at the wrong moment could still plough them straight into the tarmac. He took a chance, anticipated the touch-down, engaged the thrusters just a mite ahead of schedule, and Serenity settled lightly onto the landing pad with no more than a slight bump.

Mal breathed a sigh of relief, shutting his eyes. Ship was intact, all in one piece. They were alive. He breathed with it a moment, until Jayne’s voice sounded in the comm, interrupting his thoughts.

“Cap, we still crashin’?”

“We’ve been on the ground for a full minute, Jayne,” Zoe answered.

“Good. So we can unstrap ourselves then.”

Mal felt River’s shining, inquisitive eyes on him, and turned to her. He spoke as if continuing a routine flight-education speech. “And that there,” he told her, “was a perfect example of how not to fly in controlled airspace.”

* * *

*

*

*

glossary

代號 Dài Hào [code name]

你他媽的 天下 所有的 人都 該死 Nǐ tāmādē tiānxià suǒyǒu de rén dōu gāisǐ [F-- everyone in the universe to death (F-- the whole damn ’Verse)]

拉屎 lāshǐ [shit]

喂 Wèi [Hello! Hey]

屁股 pìgu [ass]

地狱 dìyù [hell]

神经病 shén jīng bìng [insane person]

疯了 fēngle [insane]

天啊 tiān ā [God]

糟糕 zāogāo [crap]

该死 gāisǐ [damn]

急 jí [emergency]

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A/N: This is the last chapter. There might be another chapter to this story, but I probably won't know until I have the next one written, or at least partly written. And sorry to say, I haven't even started writing the next story, although I do know what happens in it. It will be some months before it's ready, assuming the writing goes okay. Thanks to Nutluck, Amdobell, and Bytemite for reviewing this story regularly. It's nice to know that someone is reading, and interested enough to let me know.

COMMENTS

Sunday, July 7, 2013 7:15 PM

NUTLUCK


NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I can't wait months....

Monday, July 8, 2013 1:29 AM

EBFIDDLER


Sorry. Wish I could just pull it out of a hat and post tomorrow. At least I got them on the ground. I'll probably post a few more chapters of Light and Shadow in the interval while writing the next story in this series.

Monday, July 8, 2013 11:43 AM

BYTEMITE


Love this. Foiled the plans of the bad guys (albeit unwittingly), all arrived safe after a harrowing near crash landing.

But safe for how long?

Monday, July 8, 2013 4:56 PM

EBFIDDLER


Thanks. Safe landing, but how safe are they? We know that they just barely avoided being landed at a Blue Hands secret facility, but they don't know this. I don't think the Blue Hands are going to give up all that easily.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013 1:47 PM

AMDOBELL


Oooh, very exciting amid the worrying about whether those *tamade hundan* hijacking Serenity would win the day. I know, day's not over yet, but a girl can hope! Great writing, Ebfiddler! Ali D :~)
"You can't take the sky from me!"

Wednesday, July 10, 2013 5:25 PM

EBFIDDLER


:-) I was hoping the flying scenes would be exciting. The Blue Hands' immediate plans are foiled, but let's not forget that Space Traffic Control is not too happy about this incident, either. Thanks again for your comments, y'all.

Sunday, July 28, 2013 6:54 AM

JANE0904


Wash would be proud of him! Very exciting - well done!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013 1:17 PM

EBFIDDLER


Thanks, ZM and Jane! Glad you enjoyed the wild ride and landing.
Good news -- I've made some progress on the next story, and it's helping me figure out the re-write on the ending for this one. There will be one or maybe two more chapters to this one, I think. When I get back from vacation I will try to get it in shape for posting.


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