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Episode 8 Part 15

By:  Wynn

Silverfang, initialize all combat systems.  Prime four launchers with EMP missiles, the other pair with concussive.  Query the Decadence for the IDs for their support craft and classify them as ‘friendly.’  Maintain an open channel scan; I want to be notified of any communication from anyone in the area.”

     As Bullet rattled off the commands to his ship’s AI, he quickly ran his fingers over the console before him, rushing through the take-off procedures with well-honed practice.  For just a moment, he was grateful for the experience he had garnered at Colony 96, his time there involving enough last-minute deployments that the routines for hasty departures had become a mechanical reflex for him.  Unfortunately, just like his current situation, those prior incidents had involved pirates coming too close to the colony’s airspace.  He and his partner had been sent to chase them off, which had several times turned instead into open combat.  Smirking slightly, Bullet yielded that, in retrospect, he should also be grateful for the combat experience, especially now.  He was about to put it to use.

     A blinking light near the console’s center warned him that he was being hailed, and he quickly stabbed at the button beside it before resuming his hurried typing. “Guardsman Riussir, this is Communications Officer Jargol aboard the Decadence.  I am sending you information on the enemy vessel, as well as data on our security crafts that will be fighting alongside you.  The Decadence will be maintaining its current course, but we will be preparing the ship’s long-distance engines for a jump, just in case the worst happens.”

     “Roger that.  Make certain to keep as far from the fighting as possible; at the least, we’ll slow them down enough for you to get everyone to safety,” Bullet promised, wincing as a holographic image of the enemy ship appeared above the console.  It wasn’t familiar to him, but the statistics scrolling along the side of the image told him enough.  It was a medium gunship, and looked to carry enough weaponry to pose a serious threat to the lighter fighters that the Decadence carried, not to speak of the unarmed cruise ship itself.  His own ship would be more durable than either of his allies, but the Silverfang still wouldn’t be able to take too many direct hits without suffering serious damage.  Bullet’s smile bared his teeth as he reached down to grasp a control lever, gently pulling it upward to engage the maneuvering lifts, which lifted the Silverfang from the docking bay’s floor and began to pivot it back towards the open bay door and the empty space beyond.  He hadn’t been in a dogfight since… since before the colony’s destruction, he noted bitterly.  Perhaps this battle would prove cathartic.

     A second later, the Guardsman’s cruiser launched into space, and Bullet grasped the twin control sticks located to either side of his seat, claiming manual control of his ship’s maneuvering.  Tapping a button at the side of one of the sticks, he paused until he saw one of the panels on the nearby console light up before speaking towards it. “Decadence support craft, this is Guardsman Bullet Riussir.  Rendezvous portside of the Decadence’s sternmost thrusters, and assume a V-formation; we’ll move from there to engage the enemy.” A series of quick affirmations followed that command, and Bullet scanned the three-dimensional radar image as he travelled alongside the cruise ship, keeping it between him and the enemy for the moment. 

     As he waited for the other ships from the Decadence to fall in behind him, he scanned over the information he had been sent on their capabilities.  For non-governmental fightercraft, they were fairly impressive; medium cannons and missile launchers, reinforced shielding, and high-powered maneuvering thrusters.  They were probably some of the best money could buy for a civilian company, and if he didn’t miss his guess the same could likely be said for their pilots.  For a second, he was glad they were on his side; then, he remembered what they were going up against.  For all their advantages, fightercraft weren’t the best choice against a ship the size of their opponent.  Neither was his, he was forced to admit; despite his cruiser’s impressive armament, it wouldn’t last long in an outright slugging match with a ship designed for overwhelming firepower.  No, they would have to rely on their maneuverability, and luck.

     A moment later, the four fighters from the Decadence had formed up behind him, and he quickly explained his plan to them: since his ship was armed with EMP missiles, weapons designed to knock out electronic systems and cripple opponents without causing excessive damage, he would be the most likely choice to target the enemy’s vital systems.  The others would help by pouring fire into the pirates’ shields, weakening them to a point that his missiles could come close enough to have some effect.  “And draw their fire?” one of the other pilots suggested with a grim laugh.

     “Yeah, that would help,” Bullet responded flatly. “Just make sure to dodge, eh?” His forced levity drew chuckles from the other pilots, but the chatter ceased as Bullet prodded his ship forward. “Let’s move out.  Stay spread out, and try to face them dead-on when possible to minimize your profile.”  With that said, the Silverfang rose up and over the Decadence and accelerated towards the pirate craft, Bullet’s allies close behind.

     Bullet’s face fell as he caught his first glimpse of the enemy ship.  The data he had received earlier from the Decadences sensors had told him a considerable amount about the other craft, but he had allowed himself to make assumptions about their enemy that the scant information he had received had not covered.  Though he had been surprised at exactly how damaged Vonter’s ships had been when he had first seen them, the general disrepair he had discovered there was not all that uncommon.  Pirate ships in general tended to suffer from haphazard maintenance, largely due to laws enforced by the Council that punished those who knowingly assisted anyone wanted for piracy.  Thanks to this, pirate craft tended to look cobbled-together, and often performed accordingly.

     The ship in front of him, however, showed no such signs of disrepair.  Instead, the pale white surfaces of its two wing-structures and the bulbous command structure between them were largely only marred by red markings, much like bloody claw marks.  Not the most effective attempt at intimidation, Bullet noted, but the pristine paint job suggested that either this ship had managed to avoided open conflict, or had won its battles overwhelmingly.  He could only hope for the former.

     If the craft’s grim decoration failed to impress Bullet, its armament did not.  The pirate ship was composed of a central command structure and engines protected both sides by massive wing-structures.  These wings featured the mounting for the gunship’s cannon turrets and missile bays, as well as a shield generator on each to match the generators above and below the smaller main body of the ship. “Silverfang, prioritize both the dorsal and ventral cannons on those generators when possible.  Elsewise, just focus on the shields themselves.”  It would take a considerable amount of damage to bring the shields low enough for his missiles to have any effect, Bullet knew; he could only hope they would last that long.

     Of course, there was always the hope for a peaceful solution, right?  Bullet chuckled, reaching over to the console to hail the pirate craft. “Unidentified ship, this is Guardsman Bullet Riussir.  You are currently drawing too close to a protected vessel.  Power down your weapons and change heading immediately, or we will be forced to intervene.”

     Maybe they would be reasonable.

 

******

 

     “Cap’n?  How shall we respond?”

     Rani Courose smiled eagerly to his communications officer, shaking his head. “Sounds reasonable, right?  Run away, surrender, such tempting offers!  What do you gentlemen say?” The derisive laughter that echoed across the bridge of the Redclaw was all the answer his mocking question needed, proving that his crew felt just as he did. “Shoot them out of the sky as soon as they get in range.  That’ll teach those aboard the lump they’re trying to protect to give up the loot quick and quiet.” He grinned as he leaned back in his seat, looking forward to watching the brief combat.

     He hadn’t been the captain of his gunship for long; he had been gifted the craft by his previous commander after he led a successful raid against the military installation it had been docked at, losing his previous less-impressive ship in the process.  Commander Krle had approved of his tactics, especially since they had left no survivors behind to speak of their assault, and thus had granted him the gunship in the hopes of seeing more of the same.  So far, Captain Courose had failed to disappoint those hopes.

     Flares of light burned through empty space as the Redclaws cannon crews unleashed their weapons on the smaller craft, the shots going wide due to the distance between the crafts.  Those misses failed to discourage the gunners, who had been chosen despite of, or perhaps because of, their preference for rate of fire over accuracy.  Soon enough the space outside the Redclaws bridge was brilliantly illuminated by laser fire and missile explosions as the cruise ship’s protectors desperately dodged and scurried, a lightshow that pleased the pirate captain beyond words.

     “Captain, the Nathian is hitting our ventral shield generator pretty hard,” commented one of the bridge crew, glancing over to his commander with a nervous wince.

     “Oh?”  Roni Courose smiled darkly, nodding to another of his subordinates. “Well, then, let’s show him why that’s a bad idea, hmm?  Arm the internal launchers, and prepare to fire on my command.”  With that said, the pirate allowed himself to relax further, watching the monitors that depicted the combat against the Guardsman cruiser at the ship’s lower levels.  

     He was looking forward to this.

 

******

 

     “Ah, excuse me, but I don’t think that you should go in there-”

     “Hey, you, get back here-”

     Ignoring the timid crewman that had trailed him for most of his trip up to the Decadences bridge, and ducking under the grasping hands of the guard that had no intention of allowing him onto the ship’s command center, Derek Vonter strolled onto the heart of the Decadence with a tight smile and a nod of recognition to the enraged Diyetian that had been having a tense conversation with some of the ship’s officers. “So, how goes it?” Vonter asked nonchalantly, stepping to the side as the guard tried once to grab his shoulder. “Are we winning?”

     “Get him out of here!” Cruluxiam demanded furiously, glaring at the hapless guard.

     “Don’t be so hasty,” Vonter warned him, hurriedly ducking under the guard’s arms. “I just came up here to make a call to some friends.”

     “Wanting to get in touch with your pirate buddies?” the ship’s captain demanded, jerking a thumb in the direction of the viewscreen, and the gunship it displayed.

     “Yes, but not those,” Vonter commented. “I thought to contact my own crew and see if they could intervene… if things get too ugly, that is.” He yelped as the guard finally grasped him, the larger man easily hauling the pirate up from the ground and pulling him back towards the door.

     “Don’t worry about it,” the captain informed Vonter with a cold smile. “At the worst, we’ll be able to escape.  The Guardsman and the others know that they’re just buying us time.  Your precious skin will be safe… at least until we get you to the nearest Council base, and drop you off for your eventual execution.”

     “Ah, but you’re forgetting something!” Vonter shouted as the door leading out of the bridge opened.  The guard glanced back to the captain, who, after a moment of dour consideration, nodded.  Lowering the pirate back to the floor but not releasing him, the guard waited for Vonter to speak, and the pirate offered him a mockingly-grateful grin. “Remember all that I said about returning the loot?” Vonter asked casually.

     “Yes, and the Nathian confirmed he had it on his ship…” the captain paused, his face taking on a mask of horror.  Cruluxiam, still not grasping the problem, glanced to Vonter for explanation.

     “Well, I don’t assume your people had time to get it off Guardsman Riussir’s ship, did they?” Panicked expressions spread across the bridge, and most of the heads turned to face the viewing monitor, striving desperately to catch a view of the Nathian craft amidst the explosions and laserfire.  Vonter, meanwhile, shrugged off the heavy hand of the guard and stepped forward towards the communications console.  “If he goes down, you all will have quite a bit of explaining to do.  So, for both of our sakes, why don’t I call in my crew for a little last-minute odds-evening, eh?”

     Paling, the captain nodded his approval to the communications officer, who backed away from his console to offer it to the pirate.  “Ah… feel free.” Stepping up to it, Vonter began typing in the commands that would allow him to contact the Fickle Fate.  He could only hope that his crew had followed his suggestion to move closer to the Decadence without drawing close enough to register on the cruise ship’s wide scan.  If not… they would be much too far away to be of any use, and then things could get… complicated.

     With a grim smile, Vonter grinned to himself. “It seems we need all the help we can get,” he commented quietly, feeling fear gnaw at his hopes.  Even if his ships could arrive in time, in their current state… would they be enough?

 

******

 

     “I’m hit!  I’m-”

     Bullet winced as static erupted from the speakers in front of him before the ship automatically closed the channel.  He glanced down at his scanners, checking on the status of the Decadences defenders.  One of them had been destroyed soon after the fight had started, and now the lack of a third friendly blip on his screen told him that another had fallen.  They wouldn’t last long like this, he knew; he had to bring the gunship’s shield generators down now, or they stood to lose the battle entirely.

     Not that he was having much luck to that end.  Thanks to his quick reflexes and the Silverfangs anti-missile countermeasures, his own shields had not taken much damage, but the constant weaving and dodging kept him from focusing the fire from his primary cannons on his target, and the AI-controlled turrets weren’t nearly as powerful.  Something had to change, or he would never manage to bring down their shields enough for his EMP missiles to knock out their systems.

     ‘Their cannons are almost entirely located on the outside of the wing structures,’ Bullet mused, twitching out of the way of another barrage. ‘The lasers on the rim of the wings can target me if I stay a safe distance away, but if I get between the wings and under the command structure, I should be safe… It’ll be risky, but it’s worth the shot.’ Clenching the command sticks tightly, Bullet nodded to himself before putting his plan into action, swooping towards and under the nearest wing and towards the gunship’s belly.

     He grinned as he sighted the dome-like shield generator, stabbing down on his firing buttons to send his lasers and a pair of concussive missiles lancing out towards the target.  He slowed as he neared the edge of the enemy’s shields, hoping to prolong the run for as long as possible.  So far, it looked like his guess had been correct; the lasers from the rim of the wings couldn’t target him as well, and his countermeasures could take care of any homing missiles that-

     The beeping that served as his computer’s warning against missile locks had been sounding throughout the battle, but now it rose into a piercing shriek.  Panicked, Bullet looked around him for the source of the missiles.  His eyes widened as he noticed the launchers that had emerged from the insides of the wing structures, most of them pointed directly at him.  From those weapon emplacements, dozens of the explosives darted towards him.  He had slowed down too much, he wouldn’t be able to dodge; he desperately toggled extra energy to his shields as they came, but it wouldn’t be enough.  As his ship shook violently from the collisions, he aimed himself as best he could at the shield generator and squeezed another pair of triggers.  He might go down, but maybe his own missiles would be enough to-

     Another series of explosions ripped into the Silverfang, and a moment later the Guardsman Cruiser, its previously-pristine surface coated in craters and burns, drifted past the gunship, slowly spiraling out of control towards the emptiness of space.  Blue-white energy arced over the pirates’ shield generator, but no one was nearby to take advantage of the gunship’s weakness as the Decadences fighters retreated, their radars informing them of the Nathian’s defeat.  They had lost, and now they could only hope to escape the impending slaughter. 

     And, from Bullet Riussir, there was only silence.

 

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