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All the Heavens - Title

Chapter 27

Jon gave Altman a questioning look. “Employed? I thought you said you had several fortunes stashed away. Why didn’t you have your own ship?”

Horace chose that moment to groan faintly and Aaren shook his head. “His wounds are severe. They’re going to take more healing than I can manage at one time. We need to get him back to the Sky Hawk where he can rest.”

Jon nodded and motioned for some of the men who’d followed them to the destroyed ship to pick up the burly fighter and carry him out. With a great deal of grunting and groaning about the Horace’ armored weight, they slung him between them and jumped overboard, floating slowly across the intervening space toward the Sky Hawk with Aaren and Katrina leading the way.

Elric said something indistinct and disappeared into the smoke.

Jon waved for Altman to follow the men back to the Sky Hawk but he put out a restraining hand. “There are a few things I’d like to collect before we go,” he said. “It’ll only take a minute.”

Jon hesitated. He wanted off this horrible ship, but the way Altman said ‘things’ seem to imply treasure. Gold lust swelled up in his breast and for a moment it warred with his urge to quit the drifting, rotating wreckage. The sounds of Elric clambering around somewhere in the ship reminded him not everyone had left yet.

“Out of the Nine Hells and into the Abyss,” he muttered to himself. “Oh, well.” He looked back at Altman. “We have to go get that idiot anyway, might as well stay a little longer. Lead on,” he said with a resigned wave of his hand.

Altman smiled briefly and scooped up his sword. “This way then.” He indicated a gaping doorway, the same one Elric had disappeared through.

Jon followed him down into the dark interior of the alien ship, ducking to avoid broken beams that hung dangerously low. There was dim, dingy light inside, filtered through drifting clouds of smoke from the fires still burning fitfully. A charred odor assaulted his nostrils and he wanted to sneeze. They had to step carefully over jagged holes in the floor and squeeze through tight passages that were almost entirely blocked by debris from the collision. From somewhere ahead they heard a faint clattering and clanging as Elric scrambled around doing who knew what.

Altman stopped and pointed at something crumpled in a doorway.

At first, Jon couldn’t figure out what he was looking at. A fallen beam had landed on a pile of dirty laundry, was his first impression. Then he saw the foot sticking out of the laundry and the scene shifted abruptly. It was a crumpled robe, and the dirt wasn’t dirt at all, it was rapidly drying blood. He followed the stain up to a bulging head, crushed by the beam, tentacles protruding from where the mouth should have been and understood that he was looking at a dead mind flayer.

He shuddered. “Let’s go,” he nodded at Altman. The navigator nodded back and pushed on. Jon edged around the body, careful not to get anything on him, feeling slightly nauseous. He couldn't stop himself from looking back several times, fearing the hideous creature might not be truly dead, but instead, lying in wait for another “meal”. He was grateful when the monster was out of sight. He turned his attention forward again and began paying attention to where Altman was taking them.

The navigator was leading them on a twisting, winding journey through the battered ship. The Sky Hawk’s ram had torn away the upper third of the ship, upsetting its gravity plane and throwing everything out of balance. The result was a radically altered interior where new stresses were being applied to joints from directions they’d never been designed for. The entire ship was creaking and groaning continuously. Every so often a timber would break with an explosive snap. The ship was breaking up faster and faster, which meant their time onboard it was strictly limited.

Altman indicated a flight of stairs going deeper into the dying ship.

There was sudden, dangerous, cracking noise from overhead. Jon grabbed Altman, yanking him back just as a heavy beam came crashing down across the doorway. The two men felt the whole ship shuddering as they tumbled to the deck. They froze, waiting for what seemed an eternity before it stopped.

“Whew! That was close,” said Jon, mopping his brow.

“Yes, and a good thing for me you were here. I’d not have had the speed to get out of the way by myself,” Altman told him gratefully, helping him up.

Jon ignored it. “Come on,” he said, “let's hurry up and collect your things, and get out of here. I don’t like this.”

“Right. This way then.”

He climbed over the beam now laying at an angle across the door and cautiously descended the stairs, Jon close behind. They’d been winding their way toward the bow of the ship and found the way blocked. They’d been forced to backtrack. “The items that I’m after are up near the bow on the slave deck,” he said, indicating the new deck they found themselves on. There were cell doors evenly spaced on both sides of the passage they were in, which reeked of blood and despair.

Altman strode confidently down the miserable passage to the last door on the right, opened it, and disappeared inside. After a moment’s hesitation, Jon followed him.

He found himself in a small guardroom of some kind. There was another door leading forward. It was standing open and Jon cautiously stuck his head through. Altman was prying at a door a short distance down a new passageway.

“The crew slept down here,” he explained. “It’s where they kept some of the property stolen from the Tamerin.” He waved Jon over. “Give me a hand with this door, it’s stuck.”

Jon’s eyes lit up and he leaped to help Altman force open the door. They put their shoulders to the wood, took a deep breath, and heaved.


“Stuck,” Jon muttered. “Come on, let’s give it a running start. Altman shrugged and they backed up across the narrow passage then flung themselves at the stubborn portal with a crash.

It held solidly.

Jon rubbed his bruised shoulder gently. “Wouldn’t you know it?” he grumbled resentfully. “The whole ship is breaking up and this one door is stuck tighter than a banker’s fist.” He windmilled his arm slowly to restore some feeling. “Why this cabin anyway Wouldn’t the good stuff be in the Captain’s quarters?”

The navigator was also rubbing bruised muscles. “Normally,” he agreed, “but when the beholders hit us, the Captain’s cabin was damaged. They took everything out of there and brought it down here. I know they did because I was one of the work parties they put together. That's how I happened to be out of my cell when we found you.”

Jon stared at him. “Beholders? Where’d they come from?”

Altman shrugged. “The eye tyrants are more common in the space lanes than they are on the ground. As soon as they saw the mind flayers, they attacked.”

“So, when the flayers found us, that was by accident?”

“Of course! The brain eaters weren’t trying to do anything except get away from the beholders. You saw the shape they were in, the ship on fire, and half the crew dead.”

“Then why did they attack us?”

“Did they?” Altman shrugged. “I don’t know, I was down here when the fighting started. Maybe they wanted some fresh meat or something.” He waved it away. “What difference does it make? Let’s figure out a way to get this door open.” The deck shifted under their feet and a deep groaning sound echoed around them.

“Fast,” the navigator added nervously.

Jon nodded then a sudden thought occurred to him. He turned and surveyed the door with new eyes. Altman saw his expression and kept quiet, letting him think. Jon pondered for a minute or two, then pulled out his set of lock picks and bent over the lock.

“Ah,” the navigator breathed quietly. “A thief. Perfect.”

Jon shot him an irritated glance. “I prefer the term ‘rogue’.”

“Sorry, what’s the difference?”

“Nothing I guess. It just sounds better.”


Putting the grizzled navigator out of his mind, Jon focused on the task before him. He remembered Elric asking him about his first attempt at lock picking and redoubled his determination not to fail this time.

Inserting a slender probe he gently pushed and prodded at the mechanism, operating more by feel than anything else. There was an obstruction about halfway in that didn’t seem like a normal part of a lock. Extracting the probe he bent down and squinted into the keyhole. It was too dark to see anything though and he squatted back on his heels rummaging through his kit until he found a tiny stick of wood. “Blue on,” he said quietly and a slender beam of blue light lanced out from the tip. He grinned quietly. He’d paid a hefty sum for the little thing and it had repaid him many times over. He turned it down the keyhole and peered in.

Halfway down was a strange, coppery wedge of metal protruding out into the tiny space. He frowned and tried to wiggle the light into a better position. From the new angle there was a faint shadow at the top of the wedge; hair thin and almost invisible, but definitely there.

A tripwire.

He let out a relieved sigh he hadn’t triggered it with his earlier probing. He sat back and considered the problem. Before anyone could enter the room, they first had to disarm the trap. Which meant the switch or lever or whatever had to be readily accessible. If this were a human door, the disarming mechanism could be anywhere, but this was for mind flayers. Could their physical build limit the possible locations? He stood up and ran an experienced eye over the door and its frame.

It appeared to be disgustingly ordinary. Made of stout wood, each piece was tightly fitted to the next. Rows of nails showed where the boards interconnected and the sheer number of nails plus the thick iron bands reinforcing it made it a formidable barrier. A large brass knob, oddly shaped to accommodate the three-fingered hands of the mind flayers, was set in the usual place with the keyhole directly beneath it. The frame around the door was of similar construction, there were no obvious weaknesses. He ran light fingers quickly over the door and its frame, searching for any irregularities or unexplained bumps, knots, or depressions.


He moved away from the door to the wall beside it. Here the boards were even more tightly fitted if that were possible. The mind flayers, whatever their dietary habits, were excellent carpenters. He stepped back and contemplated the wall, door, and frame as a whole. If he had two arms and four tentacles, where would he put a disarming switch? The moment he asked himself that, he saw it.

Visible only from a distance, and only if you knew what to look for, was a short length of board that to all appearances was a normal part of the wall. But it was too short. All of the other boards in the wall were at least one to two cubits long but this one was less than half a cubit in length and was the only one in the entire wall that size. It was at exactly the right height above the floor to be readily accessible to the tentacles of a mind flayer.

He put his hands on the board, one in front of the other, and pushed gently. It slid in then away from the door with a faint click. A moment later it sprang back into position. He grinned over his shoulder at Altman, “Got it!”

He bent over the lock again. He inserted a bent piece of metal, twisted it, pushed twice, then pulled it back and turned it with an air of triumph. There was a soft ‘snick’ from the lock and the door swung gently open. He extracted his tool and waved Altman into the room with a grand, sweeping gesture.

The navigator chuckled deeply and strode in, pushing the door aside. Jon was still putting his tools away when he heard a soft exclamation. “Did you find it?” he asked eagerly, entering the room.

“I certainly did,” Altman replied, holding up a finely tooled, leather carrying case. He opened it, holding it out for Jon’s perusal. Inside were several polished, steel instruments, only one of which was recognizable as a sextant.

The gleaming metal sent highlights into Jon’s eyes, nearly blinding him. “Navigation instruments?” he gasped. “We risked our lives over a bunch of navigation instruments?

“What else did you expect?”

“What else?” Jon nearly screamed. “What else? How about some gold coins, for starters? How about some gems, or magic potions, how about a ‘luck sword’ or a cloak of elvenkind? How about some treasure!!”

Altman gave him a hurt look. “But I already told you, I have several fortunes in the bank. Why would I want more? I only fly the space lanes for fun, not profit.”

Jon slumped against the door frame, shaking his head.

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