Pinball

Characters: Terry Hale

It wasn’t the fall that killed you, it was the sudden stop at the bottom.

Captain Terry Hale wasn’t thrilled to remember the line. She was looking at that sudden stop just twenty minutes away on their present path and velocity; a large asteroid that she needed no mathematics to be certain they wouldn’t survive the impact.

Hale bent her head to survey the ship’s remaining resources, cursing silently and creatively. Too much was holding on by its proverbial teeth and nails and the only thing she could think of was going to give her ship’s drive that last kick in the–

“Arienn… would you come here a moment?” Hale called across the bridge.

The Minbari was currently attempting to get the thrusters back in full order at one of the other workstations, but at her captain’s tone, rushed over in a swirl of robes. Even the usually placid Minbari was moved to haste with the approaching disaster.

“Captain?”

“I am testing a theory… do you think the drive still have enough left to grapple on to an asteroid?”

Arienn frowned, certain she was not going to like the line of questioning, but she answered honestly, regardless. “Of a moderate size, yes… for all of a few moments before it is thrown offline.”

“And the thrusters… could we also work them briefly?”

“In theory, but Captain–“

“I propose…” Hale’s voice was louder for a moment, overriding, then lowered again to normal levels when she had silence, “that we bounce ourselves off that asteroid then swing out into clear space.”

“Captain,” Arienn hissed. “That asteroid is not a planet. There is no gravity well to make use of–“

“We’ll not be doing that. What I propose is more of a push really. Grapple and hold the asteroid and at the same time that we are repelled, fire thrusters to swing us around and up out of the field–“

“Captain.” Arienn was almost frantic. “We are spinning uncontrollably, with multiple asteroids moving about us. If we get the drive to push, if we get the thrusters to work –the right ones at the right time in this spin of ours!– there is still the very good chance that we will avoid one asteroid just to fling ourselves into another just as deadly.”

“And you have a better alternative?”

Arienn opened and then promptly closed her mouth.

“That’s what I thought,” Hale said quietly. “It’s either this or prepare to become one with the Universe a little sooner than we’d all like.”


Engineering was, of course, thrilled with the idea. Hale smiled wryly. Well, that’s what XOs were for. Arienn was busy down in engineering helping get everything and everyone prepared. Hale almost wished she were inclined toward prayer. It would have been a good time for a little supplication to whatever gods were out there.

A couple more asteroids had served to slow them a little, but now they were fighting a hull breech on one of the decks as well. But it was slowing them enough.

The bridge was silent but for the protest of stressed machinery. Everyone was focused on their tasks with the attention due of a person’s last chance at survival.

A spin. There it was, plain in the forward viewports. Damn, it was big.

Another. They could begin to see the cloud of debris that wreathed it as individual particles, the broken rocks of multiple collisions.

Again. Detail leapt to focus. It looked like it had crater hole just big enough bury them in… Hale squashed that though. It was a common one, though. She thought she heard a whispered prayer.

“Brace for impact,” Hale murmured, but the intercom picked it up and echoed it through the ship.

The last spin took on the surreal slowness of a dream. Lazily the ship spun, and like the cycle of a sun, the asteroid dawned into view again. So close…

“Now!”

With a surge of power that put out the bridge lights, the magneto-drive sent out a wave of force and pushed. The desperate hand that a person will put out to stop a fall.

And then they hit the “wall”.

Hale wheezed as she was thrown against the panel she was manning. Tortured metal screamed, echoed by a few born of flesh and blood. Hale just wanted to collapse, but survival instinct had her reaching for the controls. There was no one to do it for her. She fired the starboard thrusters at full power.

The crumpling repulsion of their magneto-drives gave them the force and the thrusters gave them the swing. With new speed they vaulted sideways over the giant asteroid like a gymnast over a boxhorse, and then they kept on sailing, at an angle that would take them “up”out of the asteroid field. It had worked. Now they only had to pray that nothing was in the way, for at that instant both the thrusters and the drive died.

Suddenly Hale was holding on to her station for a wholly new reason. The White Star 21, for the first time since it’s commissioning, was without gravity. Hale had only a moment to ponder that before they started hitting new asteroids.


What many people didn’t realize, was that it was rarely the big asteroids that killed you. Those could be seen and avoided or destroyed before they could do harm. It was the little ones that ripped holes in hulls where energy beams would have just left a temporary blemish.

One the size of a golf ball opened a hole to deck 3 and cored through 4 crew quarters before being stopped and disintegrated by an internal bulkhead.

Another about the size of an apple took a bite out of one of the ship’s fins.

And then they saw the one Arienn had prophetically dreaded. It was no larger than a basketball, but that was quite enough to send them to the Hereafter. The rock by it’s looks would come right through the forward viewports into the bridge.

A choked moan pierced the silence of the bridge, and Hale couldn’t be sure who’s voice it was. Maybe her own, or many in collective horror. Everyone stared as it filled the view. The ship was just turning too slow to avoid it. Hale wanted to close her eyes, but they remained locked open. It was fortunate, for then she would have missed the miracle.

Suddenly the ship shuddered as another asteroid hit somewhere else on the ship. With a lurch, the nose of the ship dipped and the angle of their tumble changed yet again. Hale watched in amazement as the “basketball” drew close, and then with a grinding she would forever remember, it scraped down one of the viewports too fast to properly see, sheered off part of the trim and sailed on. In that last minute the white star had managed to level out from the perpendicular to the parallel with the oncoming asteroid.


It took a while for their survival really to sink in. Hands shifted their grips on the panels and crewmembers looked at each other then back to the scraped viewport. Then one by one, the laughter began. If it was a little hysterical at moments, it could be forgiven. They were ALIVE!

Hale wiped a shaky hand across her face and winced as sweat aggravated a cut across her cheek. She couldn’t recall just when she got it. No matter.

“Everyone all right?” Hale called around the bridge. “Ok… Are we out of it?”

“Yes, Captain. Nothing in our way for days! We’re out of the asteroid field,” cheered her tactical officer, wearing one of the hugest grins she’d ever seen on him.

Hale allowed herself a grin of her own, then duty asserted itself. “Good, good. All right everyone. Comms are down. Really, everything but Life support, I’d wager. We aren’t going to do any good up here. Lets split up. Time to get our wounded down to Medlab and see what it’s going to take to put Humpty Dumpty back together again.”