Fields Aflame, Part 3 by J.S. Holland

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The Pride burned through the atmosphere, looking like a meteor lancing down to strike a killing blow on Brantial VI's surface. Tarin braced himself in his captain's chair, feeling the turbulence knock the ship around. Hikal had been able to get the drive engines running at thirty-seven percent capacity, but that meant the gravitational compensation unit could only run at twenty-one. Usually, the gravcomp picked up all the interference, and entrance felt no different from standard space flight. To make matters worse, they didn't have their heat shield running at all.

From his station below and to the right of Tarin, Dune shook his head. "We're going to burn up. No one will even know we tried to land, save for the ash that showers down and kills the relg crop."

Tarin pursed his lips. "The armor will hold."

"You've tried this before?"

"Only once, over Narye Prime." The planet, home to most of the galaxy's smugglers and pirates, sat on the Rim almost directly opposite Brantial VI.

Cira folded her arms over her chest. "And?"

Tarin glanced down. "The ship burned up. We had to eject, and came down in the Razorwolf District. Never saw the ship again." He traced two fingers along a scar stretching from elbow to wrist on his right arm. "Had to fight our way out of Razorwolf."

Dune punched his open palm. "Great. That inspires a ton of confidence, Captain."

Tarin shrugged. "The armor will hold. If it doesn't, we won't care for long."

The bow began to burn hotter with every meter of descent. Smoke and flame billowed off the Pride's nose. The forward viewscreen turned a dull gray that darkened as the carbon scoring grew worse. Tarin squinted, peering through the holes, and wondered how in hell they would put this ship down if they even got to the surface. With the autopilot shot and the landing sequence offline, he'd have to do it by visuals and manual controls. He sighed. But it could have been worse.

Hikal coughed. "Uh, sir, Hall's ship seems to have come around."

Tarin jerked his head up. "What?"

"The Shrike, Captain--Hall's ship. It is following us down, and appears to be gaining."

"How do you know? The sensor scopes are dead."

"Not all of them, sir. I managed to get the rear one back online before coming up to the command deck. I had the feed routed to my console. The long-range targeting is gone, but I can't imagine another twin-hulled vessel having shown up in the time it took us to get here, and then happening on our trail."

"We are leaving quite a trail," Tarin quipped, eyeing the torrents of smoke now washing over the forward viewscreen. "Show me."

Hikal hit a button on his console, and Tarin's lit up. The view was wreathed in smoke, but in the center of the shot he could see a gray blip. Hikal, with his implant to advance his sight, could obviously see more that Tarin. "You're sure that's the Shrike?"

"Like I said, sir--"

"Yeah, I heard you." Tarin waved a hand. "How fast are they gaining?"

"At their current rate, they will not catch us before we reach the surface."

Dune laughed once.

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