Chapter Forty-Five – Launch!
The weak light of predawn revealed the launch area, creating a ghostly scene in the chilly morning air, as the heavy girder construction of the launch ramp was partially exposed in the rising mist. Low cloud shrouded the end of the ramp, ten kilometres distant and six kilometres above the ground. Eugene was adamant that they go today no matter what the weather. The warmth from the rising sun quickly burned off the mist, and blue sky could be seen as the cloud cover broke, revealing the enormous ramp in its entirety.
Nearly all of Eugene’s former marines were there to see him leave, thankful that the ‘old bastard’ was finally leaving. He stood beside the open hatch of the ship and took one last look at the place that had been his prison, lit a cigar, and surveyed the crowd below.
“Ready when you are general,” McCall said, as he stood ready to seal the hatch.
Eugene snarled, “Let’s go, boy,” and entered the ship.
McCall went to the ship’s flight deck and took his place in the pilot’s seat. Odesh was seated behind him, watching the banks of gauges and dials controlling the rocket sled assembly and the ion-ram engine. Eugene and Miorr sat nervously in the small cabin behind the flight deck strapped to their launch seats—in Miorr’s case, silently praying for a miracle.
Down in the ship’s hold, the small sticky cell holding the women was uncomfortably warm, as the pre-flight systems initiated the equipment all around it. Terrified, the women gathered together, crouching in the centre of the bare cell in total darkness. Thanks to Eugene’s misogynistic attitude and complete disregard for their safety, there were no comfortable chairs or bunks in their prison, no safety harnesses to stop them being thrown about by the enormous forces about to be unleashed.
McCall spoke to Launch Control. “All system checks complete, ready to launch.”
Launch control replied, “Roger, standby for countdown and ignition in ten, nine, eight, seven—pre-ignition on—five, four— ignition—two, one—launch.” Flames and thick clouds of water vapour belched out from the giant rocket motors’ exhaust cones, temporarily boiling the reinforced concrete surface of the massive blast wall, as the launch ramp and its volatile payload began shuddering under the strain of the rapid power build-up. The whole rocket sled assembly vibrated violently as one by one, the explosive bolts of the release mechanism fired in rapid succession. With the power of the rockets speedily increasing, the sled assembly began its journey, shedding thick chunks of ice from the outer skin of the rockets along the entire length of the launch ramp. By the time the sled reached the end of it, they were exceeding Mach five and climbing at an eighty-eight degree angle.
Odesh tried to concentrate on the instrument panels in front of him, but the terrific vibration, together with the G-force, made it practically impossible, so he just closed his eyes. Eugene and Miorr’s knuckles were white inside the protection of their suits gloves as both men now prayed. The three women down in the tiny cell, screamed with terror as the vibration, G-force, and noise, steadily built to a crescendo. “Clear of the ramp,” McCall shouted into his microphone over the noise, “On course for entry into space, all systems nominal.” At the extreme outer edge of the planet’s atmosphere the rockets finally stopped and the sled assembly was jettisoned from the ship. At last, Eugene was back in space. Now all they had to do was get the damned ion-ram engine going.
Odesh removed the helmet of his suit and unbuckled himself from his restraints. “If anybody wants me I’ll be down in the engine room,” he said, climbing down the ladder to the deck below. McCall used the ships thrusters to achieve orbit around Janus Omega, while Miorr went to check on the terrified women down in the hold. Eugene took off his helmet and pulled a cigar from his shoulder pocket, lit it, and breathed a sigh of relief. Stage one of his journey home was complete.
Over the next few hours, all systems were carefully checked. Communications were established with the men below in Pranash, not that they could have done anything to help, or indeed wanted to. Miorr reported that the women had miraculously survived their ordeal in the tiny cell. All three were severely bruised and battered but otherwise alright. Then he went to the engine-room to give Odesh a hand with the complicated and unpredictable ion-ram engine system.
Eugene decided that he would not enter his stasis unit for at least two years after they were finally under way and on course for Mars, “Just in case something goes wrong.” Odesh and Miorr prepared the ion-ram engine for its initial test, carefully checking every linkage and seal around the fragile containment vessel. If it ruptured, they would be stranded and the whole ship would be flooded with charged ions.
“When you’re ready, McCall,” Odesh said over the intercom, where he stood beside the controls of the untried engine.
“A two minute burst from the boosters should give us enough speed to engage the ion drives.”
“OK, standby, here we go.”
McCall fired the booster rockets. The ship increased speed with McCall maintaining manual control during the tricky manoeuvre. “Half sub-light,” he announced over the intercom.
Odesh engaged the control to open the intake for the engine, and watched as the pressure built up. “Here goes nothing,” he said quietly to himself, releasing the ion build up into the containment vessel. The vessel rapidly consumed its unseen energy supply, converting the raw material into a source of power. Looking nervously at Miorr, he cautiously opened the release valve from the containment. The engine began humming quietly as it took over from the boosters. “Cut the boosters; it works, the damned thing works!” Odesh shouted.
McCall completed two more orbits of Janus Omega as Odesh checked and rechecked the engine’s performance, before finally placing the ship on course for Mars. Eugene smiled to himself with relief and lit another cigar. Stage two of his plan was completed.
During the first month of the voyage, life aboard quickly settled into its inevitable monotonous routine. Odesh was the busiest of them all, constantly making adjustments and alterations to the ion flow unit, as the unpredictable jerry-built engine pushed them slowly away from Janus Omega. At first, the men were too tired to take much notice of the women on board. But now as they began to relax, their thoughts turned to perverse carnal pleasure.
Miorr unlocked the door to the cell, and dragged Aisha screaming and kicking by her hair, back to where the rest of Eugene’s crew was waiting. Eventually hours later, she was thrown back inside the cell, bruised, battered, and crying uncontrollably from the brutal ordeal she had endured, being gang raped by the men.
With their sexual appetites satisfied, the men left the women alone for a few days. But before too long, the door to the cell flew open once more, and this time it was Heqet’s turn. When she was finally returned, she was inconsolable. She would never be the same again. Compared to the brutality of being continuously raped at the hands of Eugene’s crew, life as a slave in the Drana Empire was almost pleasant.
Several more days past before Dena was dragged away by Miorr. When she was returned, broken physically and mentally by the ordeal, the women made a pact to end their miserable existence.
But fate changed their plans, When Miorr was carrying out crew health checks, the three women found to their horror that they were pregnant. Eugene, of course, was delighted about the situation; three new crew members were about to be born. He had the women removed from the cell and installed in better accommodations. Life for them became somewhat easier over the long months of their pregnancies. Eventually they gained the freedom of the ship, and spent their time tending the plants, locking themselves in the hydroponics unit in the nose of the ship, safely away from the crew. Aisha was the first to go into labour, giving birth to a boy she named after her father’s brother, Naron. Heqet’s time soon followed after a difficult labour, when she gave birth to a pale white skinned, pink eyed, albino child who she named Banab. Little Banab was born androgynous, a fact the women hid from everyone aboard. Finally, Dena was blessed with a baby girl named Meral. Eugene came to inspect the new members of his crew and went away satisfied.
Someone else on board was also thrilled by the births. The results of his genetic manipulation lay feeding from their mothers’ breasts. My kin Pashtek’s large black eyes shone with satisfaction as he looked at his first three Khaz hybrids gurgling happily, from the safety of his hiding place in the ventilation shaft.
Next time – Chapter Forty-Six