Geoffrey… No, Thresher had done some bad things in his life.
He admitted that freely, and he also felt a bit of pride knowing that on this World Ship he had found forgiveness. As he flew the Hammerhead across the Upper Level to face the greatest threat he’d ever seen, he felt far more at peace than he expected he would feel given the circumstances.
He let the autopilot be for a minute, checking that the airplane with Olivia on board continued on a straight line for the Lower Level. With the airplane soaring away, and the brief distraction that Ronin had earned, Geoffrey was now squarely in front of the Yunai with his plan ready to play out. He reached the weapon system and loaded the specially modified Evercrystal into an empty missile body. The second Evercrystal would stay on the Hammerhead with him, but at this range, there was no way the Yunai would be able to tell the two crystals apart, so it wouldn’t know he had one on board.
All he had to do was dangle the modified crystal in front of the creature’s nose, and it would take the bait. Once the Yunai dared to place the crystal within its protective shell, a simple command would send the creature out in a blaze of glory. It was a wonderfully simple plan.
Before he finished loading the crystal, he took a moment to hold it in his grip, taking one long look at the thing that would save their lives. “It’s a shame to say goodbye to you,” he said aloud, putting the crystal inside the launch tube. “Thanks for everything.”
Then, he heard the sensor alarms.
He finished his work and rushed to the cockpit. There he saw the Yunai approaching, looking unbothered by Ronin’s attempts to delay the monster.
“No time to waste,” he said. “Let’s end this.”
He calculated the latest trajectory, confirming when the Yunai would be passing by. Similar to how it treated Ronin, the creature seemed to ignore the Hammerhead, despite how close they were. He made the necessary adjustments, lining up the launcher he’d prepared for this moment. He held his breath, took aim, and fired the payload. The crystal and its container tumbled through the launch tube, then took flight toward the Yunai. He got a visual of it as it soared away, straight in front of the Yunai’s face. It saw the Evercrystal; Geoffrey was sure of it. The creature’s head even moved to track it, just as planned.
The brilliant glow of the Evercrystal reflected off the dark metal exoskeleton, then continued on its path, dropping down toward the water below. The Yunai watched it for a few more seconds, then turned its attention back toward the aircraft it had been chasing all this time. It just ignored the crystal that had flown right in front of it.
“What?” Geoffrey asked aloud. “Why didn’t you—”
The Yunai made a sudden turn to the left. Its heavy mechanical body diverted with a grace and speed that Geoffrey honestly hadn’t expected. It veered directly into the Hammerhead’s path, and with claws extended, the Yunai grabbed at the vehicle, swiping and scratching large gashes in the hull.
The screeching and groaning of twisted metal reverberated through the cockpit while the maintenance panel lit up with a hundred sensor alerts. Audible alarms followed, and the Hammerhead lurched as the large creature pulled and grabbed at it with a terrifying frenzy.
Geoffrey spun to his defense system controls and started triggering everything at his disposal. A barrage of metal harpoons, traditional artillery shells, and even the ship’s superheated underwater mining laser were fired at the attacking creature. The sudden assault caught the Yunai by surprise, and it released the Hammerhead for a moment. Geoffrey didn’t hesitate, pressing the throttle to full and rocketing away from the attack. The Yunai gave chase after a moment of recovery, and Geoffrey wondered again why the monster had ignored his obvious bait. He knew Yunai was intelligent but had it really deduced the trap they laid for it?
In the few moments he lost himself to contemplation, the Yunai overtook the Hammerhead and started its attack again. It flew hard into the side of the vehicle, and the wall caved in against the dark metal. More alerts from diagnostics were beeping and whirring, but Geoffrey didn’t have time to look. He was too busy trying to keep his vehicle in the air. The Yunai pulled this way and that, overworking his repulsors and threatening to pull him from the sky. They’d gained a lot of altitude before the confrontation, and new proximity alerts indicated that hitting the ceiling of the World Ship was just as likely a danger as crashing downward.
His options were limited at this point. He could try to rip away from the creature and escape to the Lower Level, or he could jettison the second Evercrystal and hope that the creature went after it instead of him… but if the Yunai—
Geoffrey was rocked when the creature struck again. This time the sharp talons of the creature’s claw ripped into the cockpit itself, shattering the strengthened glass cockpit and punching a hole through the side of the metal wall. The wind screamed through the openings, and the glass cover splintered and threatened to break away entirely.
“Hull breach. Hull breach. Hull breach.” The Hammerhead’s safety alert system switched to audio as the diagnostic console went dark. He instinctively reached down and flipped a switch to silence the alarm.
His controls suddenly pulled in a new direction. It was a hard left like a weight had just been dropped on that side of the vehicle, but the Yunai was currently ripping open the right side. Without the diagnostic console, he couldn’t be sure, but he had a guess. If the repulsor had failed on the left side, then the vehicle would pull just like this.
His theory was confirmed a moment later when he heard a thunderous sound behind him and the pull to the left became an overwhelming weight. He tried to fight against it, but the Yunai was still slashing away at the right side of the craft, limiting his ability to roll. He pushed the thrusters, already overworked, hoping to avoid a spin, but even as it started to get away from him, the Yunai pulled back, leveling him out. In a comic twist, the Yunai didn’t seem to want to let him crash. Apparently, it wasn’t done with him yet.
Geoffrey heard one muffled explosion, then two more right behind.
The lighting, the power consoles, and even his flight controls went dark.
The engines were gone.
All he heard now was the continued twisting and ripping of metal as the Yunai shredded his beloved vessel. Feeling overwhelmingly helpless, he defaulted to his old training. He tried running through the restart protocols, but nothing was coming online. He wondered if the creature would find him here, and how it would end him, but before he got to find out, the Yunai slowed. The Hammerhead started to roll out of its grip, and the Yunai finally let go. Without power, the vehicle naturally shifted to a nose-down glide, but without proper safety systems deployed, the angle of descent was getting steeper, until it finally turned into a full tumble.
As the cockpit spun around, Geoffrey saw the Yunai. In the grips of its powerful claw, he saw the glowing object that spelled this World Ship’s doom. The Yunai had captured the Hammerhead’s Evercrystal.
He reached down and retrieved his battery-powered radio, then strapped himself into his chair so that he wouldn’t get thrown all over the place during his powerless fall. “Ronin,” he spoke over the radio. “This is Geoffrey. I am dead in the water. The Yunai has the crystal. I failed.”
There was a moment of static, then Ronin answered. “It’s not over yet.”
“I can’t detonate the crystal,” Geoffrey reminded him. “The Yunai—”
“I know how to end this,” Ronin replied. “I will end this.”
“Listen,” Geoffrey said, suddenly feeling emotional. “Just… tell Grace I tried. Tell her I wanted her to be safe.”
“You can tell her yourself,” Ronin said. “Just get to safety.”
Geoffrey looked at his altimeter, then at the increasing rate of spin. The Hammerhead wouldn’t even hold together long enough to hit the ground. He was strapped into a brick in the sky, and he knew it. He had felt his ship die around him, and soon he’d join it. He took a deep breath, then forced himself to look outside at the World Ship and its distant beauty. He could see the edge of the Upper Level Plateau not far away. Considering his drift, he might actually end up falling over the edge.
“I appreciate your optimism, Ronin,” he said at last. “Just tell her that I tried.”
There was an incredibly strong surge of wind that slammed the cockpit, rocking Geoffrey against his chair. His fingers slipped, and the radio was swept away, never to be seen again.
It was silent now, aside from the howling wind.
He could handle the tumble, but the fall was slower than he expected.
He cursed. Then, he focused. Despite the utter impossibility of it all, he reached forward and took the dead controls of the vehicle. He’d fought this creature. He knew the odds had been against him. He wasn’t going to end it in a silent reverie. He started his training again. Try to restart the engines. Control a glide and reduce speed. Prepare to crash land. He knew it was absurd. He couldn’t fix this. He chuckled to himself about that one. He never was one to listen to the rules. He’d spit in the face of authority one last time. He started the commands again, pressing a lifeless button, and pulling on a handle that would never respond.
“See you on the flip side,” he said to no one at all.
As the Hammerhead fell out of the sky, Ronin considered pursuing the dead craft. If he could get the Intrepid close enough, he might be able to slow it before it reached the ground. His mind raced through various scenarios as he tried to find a solution.
Then, he caught sight of the Yunai.
It was hovering in place now, having completely stopped its pursuit of the aircraft. In its claw was the Evercrystal that it had freshly ripped from the bowels of the Hammerhead. Ronin was forced to focus on this moment, silently thanking Geoffrey for his work. He turned his attention to the Yunai. If his plan was going to work, he’d need to know…”
The creature’s exoskeleton moved, then pulled away to reveal a small opening underneath the start of where the creature’s breastbone would be. There was a power crystal housing unit in its chest, and it reached in with a free claw to pull out a red power crystal, then quickly replaced it with the Evercrystal. The dark metal plating slid back over the opening, and the Yunai seemed to go incredibly still as if it wasn’t awake. It must have been some kind of reboot process.
He took a moment to pick up his own radio.
“Captain Knight, are you still in audio range?”
The radio crackled for a minute, then the Captain acknowledged..
“Can I speak to Olivia?”
“Roger that,” Knight replied.
There was some more crackling, then he heard shuffling and grumbles from the Captain before the radio hummed a bit and opened up again with Olivia’s voice.
“I’m here, Ronin,” she said, her voice sounding strained. “What’s the plan?”
He had so many questions for her. He wanted to know about her life, about her mother, about every waking moment they’d been apart, but there simply was no time.
“Olivia,” he said, pressing a few commands to override the Intrepid’s safety protocols. “I left our Worldship before you were born. I left to protect you. I was so confident that I could save everyone. I failed them, and I failed you. I couldn’t save everyone then. I came to terms with it. I accepted that truth, but here I stand with another chance. Fate gave me this. Right now, I can save you all.”
“Ronin, just come with us,” Olivia pleaded with him. “Please, we’ll figure—”
“I am so proud of you, my daughter. I am so happy that I got to see the woman you would become. I am so incredibly thankful for that. I am thankful for this one last chance to give my daughter a future.”
“Ronin… dad… please.”
“I am proud, Olivia,” Ronin repeated. “I love you. I know it’s awkward to hear it from me now, but it’s true. I will always love you. I wish I hadn’t waited so long to tell you that. I wish I had held you close the moment I realized the truth. I am… will… miss you.”
“Dad?” Olivia asked as his voice disappeared into static. “I… hear… can’t…”
The energy from the Yunai was messing up the radio signals. The Intrepid’s proximity alerts started sounding, but Ronin ignored them. He pushed the vehicle forward, building speed, heading straight for the Yunai.
The Yunai moved ever so slightly, tilting its head to look at his approach.
He didn’t adjust the course. He knew what he had to do.
The creature didn’t try to move. It didn’t see him as a threat at all. It knew the Intrepid’s composition, the thickness of the glass, and the fuel that powered the engines. It knew full well it could take a direct collision with Ronin’s vehicle and survive without so much as a scratch.
It calculated Ronin’s action as desperate.
It mocked him by not moving.
Ronin smiled, then activated a pair of magnetic boots that would hold him in place for the final ride. He stood, positioned perfectly for his plan. He reached down and put one hand on the cockpit emergency release, and in his other hand, he took the hilt of the amethyst crystal blade.
He pulled the release, and the cockpit blasted open with air sweeping against his body. The boots held, and the metal braces he’d rushed to attach to his hips prevented his legs from snapping like twigs from the force.
He thrust the blade upward so that it stuck high above his head. The Intrepid wasn’t coming straight at the Yunai. The path was on a one-degree decline, which would put it just under the creature.
The Yunai must have seen the blade. It must have finally understood his plan.
It attempted to get away from Ronin’s attack, but it had waited too long, even for its impressive navigation system. The Intrepid slid under the creature in a blur, and the crystal blade made contact with the Yunai’s lower jaw, cutting through the dark metal with ease as the ship rocketed by.
It erupted with purple light as the energy within allowed it to slice through the creature’s jaw, neck, and breastplate, and right through the small chamber where the Evercrystal had been stored.
For a brief moment, the blade met resistance, and then it continued on, and Ronin felt the Evercrystal shattering against the blade’s powerful edge.
“Gotcha,” Ronin said with a grin. “Goodnight, Yunai.”
The sky turned white. Ronin felt no pain. He felt nothing.
He and the Intrepid were gone in an instant, swallowed by the explosive energy that was released from the Evercrystal, expanding at an exponential rate, spreading all across the Upper Level.