Chapter 29: Defying Gravity
19 Foruna /687 Tinette
“The Fortuna Plummet”
During the Reef Wars, Queen Mara Sov and Paladin Abra Zire deployed the mysterious gravity weapon Carybdis, slamming asteroid 687 Tinette into asteroid 19 Fortuna in an effort to stop the Fallen fleet of Beltrik the Veiled from resupplying. The battle, as well as the resulting mass of two shattered asteroids, has since been known as The Fortuna Plummet.
Vatyr floated silently in the hard vacuum, hidden in a nook of a random rock as he reviewed his position. The two celestial bodies had indeed met catastrophically, but they were far from obliterated. In the end, they resembled two bubbles partly joined together with a cloud of debris around the molten hot contact area. Huge canyons had torn through the minor planets, giving the impression that the only thing keeping it all together was their own gravity. It was within one of these canyons on 19 Fortuna that Vatyr hid.
Indeed, the gravity in the area was perhaps the most remarkable and dangerous element. The leftover effects from the Carybdis created small, random but severe gravitonic events in the area. The result of these gravity events popping in and out of existence could potentially rip holes in the hulls of passing ships or send them careening into the Plummet itself. In addition, the constant shifting of gravitational fields in the area sent the millions of smaller objects in the Plummet careening around at railgun speeds, and from a distance, the cloud of dust and rocks more resembled an angry swarm of wasps. To a lone body with minimal attitude control and even less protection, any time spent in the Plummet was suicidal.
Vatyr had no idea where Uldren could be. The Plummet spanned hundreds of kilometers in every direction and was filled with billions of places to hide and ambush. His passive sensorium would help to some degree, but using any sort of active scan would give his position away instantly. Of course, that was the only way to track down one’s target in this environment, so both Vatyr and Uldren took to sending out sporadic active pings over the past few hours, shifting position to avoid assault and pinging the enemy before shifting again. Two sharks circling each other.
The hunter did his best to control his breathing. Breath control was core to his training. In space, your breathing was your only companion. It lived inside your suit and your head. It had a tendency to amplify things. Calm breathing meant a cool head and steady hands. Aggravated breath made you claustrophobic of your suit and agoraphobic of everything outside it. Your mind spins and your hands shake. Vatyr was having a hard time keeping things in check. Was it because of the lethality of his opponent? Was it because of what would happen if he lost? Was it because of what would happen if he won? He was not sure which he feared more, and that fear was making choices for him at the moment. Deep breath. Control. Calm. Focus, damn it.
A vibration shook his bones suddenly, like being too close to a huge sub-woofer. Vatyr tucked his legs under him and instinctively shoved off the rock he was nestled up against, only to see it reverberated to dust in seconds by a graviton eddy.
Vatyr floated towards the surface of 19 Fortuna, peeking over the crest of the canyon wall. A rock the size of a Hive seeder flew silently past Vatyr’s head, only inches away and faster than a bullet. Death came at you from all directions in this place. Normally space was not so inhospitable to a trained hunter. Vatyr had taken multiple jaunting missions where zero-g traversal and combat was called for, but the constantly and aggressively changing landscape of The Fortuna Plummet was unlike anywhere else in the system.
Ping. One of Uldren’s. Vatyr’s HUD told him his opponent was closing in fast now. If Vatyr left the canyon, he’d be spotted easily, so he took off quickly down the canyon ridge that led directly to where the two asteroids had made contact.
Ping. Uldren again. Vatyr realized that he had let himself get cornered. Nowhere to go but towards the infernal wall at the end of the trench. The hunter would love to set up an ambush at that point, but with what? No projectile weapons, no explosives, nothing. Sure, he could conjure something out of his light that could end this thing pretty quickly, but the entire point of a Batchall was to meet on equal terms. Uldren had no access to The Traveler’s power, so honour dictated that Vatyr could not use it either.
Ping. Closer. A lot closer. Uldren was in full pursuit and gaining fast. Most zero-g combat instructors would tell you that if you have the good fortune to have decent attitude control systems, it is beyond unwise to open them up completely in a straight line. You become a bullet without control. Uldren was letting his emotions take over, lusting after the kill. The Prince was normally a focused and cool Machiavellian operator, but this was as personal as personal gets. Vatyr was under Uldren’s skin and he suspected that using this propensity to blind aggression constituted his only, if slim, chance of winning. The question was, how?
The horizon curved sharply towards the Plummet’s epicenter and Vatyr decreased his speed. He’d need to be able to maneuver sharply among the dense debris.
Vatyr pinged his own active sensorium and fed all his data into a cartography matrix. The layout shifted quickly and constantly in this molten hellhole but a quick snapshot could help. His HUD sprang to life, illustrating his immediate vicinity. The hunter’s eyes danced across the data as his mind ran a thousand different scenarios instantly. A plan emerged, and as usual for Hunter S’Jet, it was reckless.
Pings began to spring up on Uldren’s HUD. Lots of them. The Prince surmised that the guardian (no doubt naive in the ways of zero-g combat) had gotten himself lost in the crush between Fortuna and Tinette and was desperately trying to find a way out with his active sensorium. A sneer crawled across his face as he armed his tether and readied his blade. He squeezed the handle of his knife, relishing the impeding sensation of sinking with all his might into Vatyr’s heart. It had been some time since a kill had been so raw and personal. There was no mask to wear here. The Prince of Crows wanted his honour back, and he’d carve it out of the guardian’s vacuum- frozen corpse.
Zooming into the hellish environment, Uldren brought his weapon up, expecting the disoriented hunter to be right in front of him, but all that floated there was the small, shiny active sensor module that would have normally been in Vatyr’s helmet. A trick? A trap? Uldren fired his tether towards one of the rocks floating close to where he had entered the area, intent to exit by using the environment in a swooping brake maneuver. The Prince angled his maneuvering jets and began to swing around his anchor when his comms opened.
“Gotcha, my lord.” said Vatyr, who was standing on the very rock that Uldren was rocketing towards. Even with his vast superiority in skill, Uldren had no control over his direction or angle. In comparison, Vatyr’s feet were planted firmly and could apply his blow easily, which gave him the clear advantage.
A moment before contact, reality itself seemed to quake. Uldren came to a stop just outside the reach of Vatyr’s dagger, and for an instant, their eyes met in bewilderment.
Suddenly, both of them lurched violently towards the Plummet’s core and rapidly picked up speed. “Gravity event!” yelled Uldren who engaged his thrusters in the opposite direction of the pull, ‘up’ imposing itself aggressively. His engines whined and struggled but quickly proved to be useless against the deepening gravity well. Vatyr clung with all of his strength to the rock he was perched on. Given the extremely localized nature of these events, there was a good chance he could weather it from his position. Uldren, however, was rapidly falling in. Given the intensity of the pull and the fact that it was pulling directly into the molten Plummet’s core, the Prince would not survive the crush.
His engines finally dying, Prince Uldren’s only hope was the tether. Uldren looked up at Vatyr and sneered as his arm began to strain with every enhanced fiber. “It looks like you’ll win this. You get what you’ve wanted.”
“This isn’t what I wanted, you egotistical fool! I was never your enemy or the enemy of our people, but you could never see past your pride!” screamed back Vatyr. This wasn’t right. He was a guardian, and a guardian should be able to find the right path through the darkness.
Uldren screamed as his joints popped out of their sockets, his rage-filled eyes never unlocking from the guardian. The gravity field only continued to grow in intensity and the Prince thought his thoughts of ending. He screamed defiantly at the world but knew the world would not move for him this time.
However, a guardian would, and the world would move for the guardian on this day.
Vatyr sheathed his blade and dove straight ‘down’ at him, firing his wrist-mounted tether back at a rock face that was well-clear of the event. He came to a spine-snapping stop inches from Uldren and latched on to him. Focusing all of his light through his armour, he took his maneuvering thrusters far beyond their operational limits. A column of violent white light rushed out under him, but it was not enough.
“Glitch! Get your tiny shiny ass out here!” Vatyr roared.
The ghost appeared and quickly sprang open, enveloping the two. “I’ll emit all the anti-gravitons I can but this event keeps growing!”
“The anti-gravitons should accelerate the destabilization. We just need to hang on a little while longer!” said Vatyr, trying to instill what hope he could.
Uldren was grasping on to Vatyr’s waist with his free hand, but the Prince’s hand slowly snaked towards the guardian’s sheathed blade. Vatyr noticed just as his hand reached the handle. “You kill me now, we both die. If we survive, I’ll be exhausted and defenseless. Killing me then is still within the terms of the Batchall. It is to the death, after all.” Vatyr said. There was no regret in his tone for saving the man who was intent on killing him.
“What do you want? Why did you come back? Why did you come into our lives in the first place?” Uldren challenged, his voice full of confusion, desperation and pain both physical and emotional. He was begging for answers at what he thought was his failure and his end. There was no honor in killing his opponent in this way, and he had to know the truth.
“Right now, all I want is to save a friend and brother-in-arms from a fate he never deserved. I came back for my only shot at rescuing him. As for our sordid past, all I can say is that I love her. I love her with all my being and I would never do anything to hurt her or her people. I’m sorry you got hurt in all this, but after I pull of this amazingly heroic and near-impossible rescue, I’ll explain everything.”
The world around them convulsed as if they were about to be vomited up by some gargantuan beast. As the gravity well destabilized, Vatyr cried out in effort as it yanked violently at them. Suddenly, a pressure wave smashed into them, expelling the two Awoken from the Plummet core at blinding speed and in a chaotic tumble. Both Vatyr and Uldren were knocked unconscious by the ejection.
It took Glitch some time to find them again. The little light kept both of them from careening hopelessly into the black and carried them both to a nearby Awoken cruiser. The Queen awaited.