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Drop Out

Editor’s Note: This part originally appeared in Freelance Travellers May 2011 issue.

Part 4

As the meeting continued, Brodie, still at his station on the bridge, and hoping desperately that nothing would occur during the last two hours of his watch, picked something up on the sensors.

It was an odd signature against that of the Oort Cloud. Something moving parallel to, and opposite to the rotation of the Cloud. With the plethora of objects and all the motion of the Cloud, it was a difficult anomaly to pick up, but Brodie followed its course for a few more minutes before he was absolutely sure. There it was, a slight maneuver tilting the object over and forward on what could only be identified as an intercept course. The bogey came on in a slow three-point tumble in an attempt to catch any watchers unaware.

Tricky bastards! the big ape thought as he threw various switches.

A slight crackle, and in the crew lounge the Nordic System was gone; replaced by the feed from Brodie’s sensor board; the unidentified object highlighted by the computer for all to see.

“Mr. Jim Hawkins to the bridge please. Jim Hawkins to the bridge please.” Brodie spoke coolly over the intercom; informing the crew of a likely pirate attack.

“Hmmmm. We appear to have a mysterious visitor, people. And Nordic Control made it abundantly clear they simply do not have resources to send any rescue boats!” said the Captain, as he lit up his ‘Clove & Jasmine’; a few puffs on the slight euphoric turning his stress level down a blessed notch. “Lets take this meeting up again if we survive.”

As the meeting broke up, Fyyg wished everyone good luck as he headed toward the bridge.

Thank goodness the passengers, most of whom had been boozing late, or required a sedative as the staff meeting proceeded, were already down for the night; it being 0317 Local Ship Time.

The crew waited at their battle stations, first five, then ten, then fifteen, and finally twenty minutes until the bogey, still tumbling like some innocent block of ice was within Assumed Striking Distance—a range assuming the most long ranged weapons—lasers; though the pirate might actually have any type of armament.

Down in the cargo hold, several of the ship’s Roosters—roustabouts with few specific duties besides cargo handling, readied weapons and armor to repel boarders, should it come to that. Standing there discussing it with the stevedores, the Second Officer was of the opinion that it would, as she waited for the armorer to put a sharp edge on her battered cutlass.

The leading edge of the pirate’s wings lit up in a series of bubbling flashes indicating rail gun fire, pouring a series of tungsten-coated slugs toward the unarmored merchant. at several thousands of meters per second.

“Gibraltar! We will be needing all the power you can muster!”

“Right, Captain. All the power there is!” Gibby replied; he and his black gang attempting to make Engineering Magic.

A few minutes later, with the Garabaldi-Singhs whining, the Chief Engineer yelled “Whenever you need it, Cap’n!.”

“Now! Mr. Hertzog!” Fyyg urged; the pale First Officer, who, plugged into the controls through an implant in his cerebral cortex, couldn’t see the world around him, just the feed from the nav and sensor boards, as his hands twitched at controls he didn’t really grasp; his brain doing all the work.

Suddenly the Waffles stood on her tail, rolled over onto her back, and pushed downward to evade the spray of shot, like some gigantic metal whale going under to avoid harpoons; with most missing entirely, or scraping long gouges along the heavy, cargo bay doors. A few pieces from the mass driver still managed to hit the ship; knocking ragged 20cm-wide holes through the port bulkhead with ear-splitting PTANGs as the high speed lozenges easily entered, pulling pieces of hull plating along with them to strike several of the unlucky Roosters at supersonic speeds; reducing them to mangled, red mist in a heartbeat.

The Hull Breach klaxon blared all over the ship as the massive blast door just forward of the cargo hold began to move as the atmosphere in the cargo bay roared away through the breaches. There was no keeping the passengers asleep now.

Having expended most of their energy breaching the Waffles, the rounds that did penetrate the hull lacked the power to exit, and so, the pair (with accompanying shrapnel) caromed wildly, bouncing from wall to overhead to wall to deck and back again; still quite deadly. One of the lozenges eventually slammed into a pallet of crates, while the other, ricocheting between overhead and starboard wall caught Ilsa halfway up her right thigh as she tried to leap out of the way; the slug snapping her femur and slamming her to the deck.

Within a minute or so, there was a heavy, final sound of the blast door settling in place and sealing off the cargo bay; the action silencing the Hull Breach klaxon.

Gore-spattered and stunned, but uninjured, one of the Roosters, dreadlocked and crosseyed Thom Vasquez, staggered to an emergency locker along the starboard bulkhead, noticing the now-mangled heavy brass plaque that had once been securely bolted to the port bulkhead, buried now, like some crazy discus, halfway in the starboard wall about 25cm above his head.

Thom broke out a light vacc suit for himself, and, quickly sealing it, got it going. Taking a brightly-marked first aid kit, he began working on Ilsa. Several minutes later, with a splint on her leg, it was difficult to get 2nd Officer Freilander into her suit, but persevering, Thom managed to get her squared away a full 48 seconds before the external atmosphere gauges on the suits hit zero. Relieved, Thom set the medication dispenser on Freilander’s vacc suit for every two hours and sat down, trying to figure what was what. He saw a heavy laser rifle lying a meter or so away, and like everything else nearby, it seemed to be covered in blood. Crawling a bit, he grabbed up the rifle; reassured at its weight and the feeling of diminished powerlessness it created.

The need for deception past, the pirate’s ship came out of its tumble and, like a hammer falling toward an anvil, made straight for the Chicken and Waffles at full thrust; mass drivers blazing.

Like the majority of the Auspicious Venture-class starships before her, the Waffles had a pair of dorsal turrets; one a little forward of center; referred to, not surprisingly, as the Forward Turret, and the other back a ways, toward starboard, and referred to as either the Starboard or Rear Turret. The Waffles’ forward turret was currently down for maintenance, and unmanned.

As the volley approached, every bit of excess power was again redirected by the black gang, hopefully giving the First Officer an edge as he willed the Waffles into what he imagined was a beautifully-executed and quite unexpected, right-angled nose dive.

The maneuver worked. Instead of slamming into the Waffles’ bridge, as seemed likely, the cloud of fast metal missed the hull by only a meter or two, but unfortunately still managed to catch the forward turret; scraping the weapon mount off with an explosion of capacitors, and hurling the shattered remains into space. The Hull Breach klaxon droned for a moment before the small access way leading to the turret sphinctered shut.

“Excellent maneuver, Milo! Excellent!” The Captain yelled, very happy to be alive. Taking his eyes off the tactical display for a second, Fyyg looked out the large observation port directly overhead, to watch the pirate pass right on by. The Captain laughed. “Stupid bastards couldn’t change their course in time! They need to go back to Pilot School, yes?!” he asked no one in particular as he wiped sweat from his face, repositioned his beat up Merchant Spacers’ cap, and stepped up close to Milo.

“Now we play the Big Bad Wolf, Mr. Hertzog.”

Hertzog adjusted the Waffles’ course and began trailing the pirate.