"But you're still attached to the ship. If we take off–" Suen protested.
"You let me worry about that. Do you read me?"
There was a pause and then both Suen and Deshel piped up over the commset, "Yes, ma'am."
"Good." Priyanka smiled. Their earlier quarrels forgotten, her crewmen were back to working like a team.
Below her, voices cried out for repair, repeated call signs, and buzzed incoherently. Simple repeating messages that were gibberish to her.
But what did they mean to the Metal – if indeed it were Il'on making them? Were they a signal? Did they hold some significance?
Was this mishmash rambling being broadcast? If so, why? What could it mean? To it, or anyone who might pick it up?
Priyanka had just placed her hand on the lip of the crevasse when the dusk went supernova.
Every hair on her body stood as a tingling sensation raced through her limbs. Soon her entire body was enveloped by the feeling.
Every inch of her became airy and incorporeal as if she might cease to exist at any moment.
She felt herself grow lighter. The weight of the exosuit was gone and the planet's gravity let go of her.
The phenomenon continued until she felt as if she might simply lift from the surface of Shake Hands and drift forever upon cosmic winds.
The entirety of her being felt as if it were spread across a vast, unrestricted distance, reaching well beyond the planet's solar system.
There was no heat or cold. No light or darkness. But there was speed and coherence.
She felt as one with the universe. A natural element of it. The complete opposite of the awkward existence that she normally inhabited.
Then the light was gone. Reality collapsed inward, imploding into the form her consciousness understood as Priyanaka.
Somewhere in the distance, there was an ominous rumbling.
She didn't need to be told what had happened; the other ship had fired on them – and missed, deliberately or not, she did not know.
What she did know though was that she needed to be out of the hole in the next few seconds or she was as good as dead.
Planting her feet, she scrambled over the edge just as a shockwave that ripped through the junkyard, throwing her into the air.
She came down in a controlled roll, saved by the exoskeleton's autogyro system and watched as half a side of the crevasse caved.
The ground bucked and buckled as she stood and raced to the elevator.
Deshel swore over his commset, "Pree!"
"I'm still with you!" She called back, activating the elevator.
"Suen, are they lifting to block our take off?"
"No. They're still hugging the ground pretty hard. I'm not sure if they are extremely stupid or extremely skilled," Suen replied.
"Likely afraid of taking her too high." Priyanka gritted her teeth as she flopped to the floor, still in the exosuit.
"Let's hope that last shot was an intentional warning, because if they're playing games with us, we don't stand a chance," Deshel warned.
"I'm aboard, get us out of here already!" The junk-merc all but screamed into her commset.
"Hang on!" Deshel's voice was strong and confident, like his handling of the Alley Cat.
The ship shifted from its holding-hover pattern to maneuvering thrusters.
Built for agility and speed, it quickly lifted and performed a barrel roll intended to throw off any targeting locks.
On a ship the size of the one on approach, it would only be a matter of seconds before they had a lock once more.