Evening all, sorry for the delay, though if I’m honest I don’t think time it was as long as it normally is. Anyway, thanks again to all reviewers and readers. Just to clear up any confusion, I’m not planning on abandoning the story, I have every intention of finishing the pesky thing even if it takes me another 90 odd chapters, which it may very well do. 36 chapters in and the Victory’s only in the Lucanda system at this point. Aaanyway…
Chapter 36: Pest Control
The pirate didn’t move an inch as the Imrec missile closed in on his craft, granted there wasn’t too great a distance between our ships, but he, or she, should have been able to manage some sort of evasive manoeuvre or jettison a decoy or something before his ship was consumed by the fiery darkness of doom.
I managed to tear away a fair bit of the forward armour on a second Stiletto before it got out of my way. I was beginning to feel my uneasiness subside, if these two were any indication then this would last two minutes.
“You’ll pay for this you fuc…” This cheery epitaph you’ll be pleased to hear came from none other then the pirate’s wingleader. The same recidivist squad bitch that tried to get us to jump ship earlier. I was later to discover that Beowulf had shoved a missile of his own smack bang into her engines.
My target was trying to come around and charge at me at maximum velocity. The Stiletto, for all its other failings was a quick beast and the pirate probably thought to wear me down with a few runs at me or maybe a missile or two. What had apparently slipped his or her mind however was that we were in fact in an asteroid field. Whoops, smack bang into a pretty smallish lump of rock actually, if his frontal armour was still intact he might have survived the impact.
Not wanting to yield our successive killing streak just yet, I fired off a heat-seeker at a Stiletto that was trying unsuccessfully to stay on Gremlin’s tail. It looked like they were firing off shots just for the hell of it. The only thing they hit were innocent rocks. Unlike the first guy, this one noticed the missile. The antique chaff pod he jettisoned though was no match for the superior, present day guidance system on even the second most simple of beasts, the heat seeker. His ship abruptly disappeared under a curtain of flames and then the good Captain Gremlin was left to destroy a fourth Stiletto in peace.
To my surprise, it seemed the rest of the pirates had some brains after all, with half their wing obliterated in half a minute (God we’re good, I’ll strangle any man who says otherwise,) anyway, the rest of them decided that sticking around was not a good idea.
“Nice work guys,” Gremlin said, “Form up and let’s get going, we’ve wasted enough time for one outing.”
“Oh come on sir, tell me you don’t want to finish them off.”
“Course I do,” Came the straightforward response to Beowulf’s question, “But we’re needed elsewhere.”
I sighed and re-entered formation with Gremlin’s fighter. We started moving, but I soon noticed that we weren’t heading back to the convoy.
“Listen up guys,” He said, reappearing on the com-screen, a blinking light beneath the monitor informing me that this was a secure channel. “With any luck those pirates think we’re heading back to the convoy. I’ve signalled the Avenger and called for backup fighters and bombers to be placed on standby alert. Hopefully these guys will lead us straight to their base of operations, assuming they don’t crash first. Maintain radio silence.”
Now that’s more like it, a chance to nip this pirate problem in the bud, or one of them anyway. I always love a good strike mission, these stealth runs however tended to be a bit cumbersome and long winded, and more often then not you didn’t find anything.
An hour later
In their defence, they had gone to a dummy nav point before altering course and heading home. Not that it would do them much good though.
I’d been expecting a disused mining station or a decommissioned destroyer. I was half right, it was in fact two destroyers, and it looked like they’d both been decommissioned with the help of a torpedo or two. One was an Exeter, the other was a Ralatha. Both were joined by a series of tunnels and it looked like they’d carved a docking bay into the bow of the Ralatha and a second one stood where the Exeter’s engines should have been. Pretty clever design really.
“Oh boy,” Gremlin said, still on a secure channel and at a suitably far distance from the base. “Would you look at that? Hang tight boys, I’m calling for backup, when they arrive we move in.”
Truth be told I was a little surprised that either the Avenger or the Winterrowd had agreed to ready fighters to send our way in the first place. For all our talk of dwindling supplies and essential convoys, our first and foremost focus was on the possibility of Kilrathi attack. Their raids came more often then not, and no matter how many of them we took out, they always had reinforcements. Our own reinforcement requests to HQ, according to rumour, were typically answered with something along the lines of ‘We don’t have anything, quit pestering us.’ But that’s another story.
We waited with all non-essential systems powered down. There were at least twenty fighters in the air, at first I thought they were expecting us, but a barely remembered lecture from some briefing or other given to 2nd year cadets talked about how pirates were more often then not under no illusions of immortality. To ensure the survival of the hive or den or whatever, they overburdened themselves with ships and pilots. These twits had more ships then they had room in their docking bays, as such they had to keep some in the air at all times. Handy in some respects considering they didn’t have to scramble fighters in case of an attack, less handy in others because of fuel consumption and pilot fatigue. If I was right I’d say that some of these fighters doubled up as cabins, and sleeping in a fighter is not really something you want to make a habit of.
I guess it should have been relieving in a way, the more fighters here meant the less fighters pestering our transports. Of course this was just the one gang, who knew what was happening with the others. We hadn’t received any distress calls, but that didn’t mean much.
You worry too much That’s what my Dad would probably say, We’re all gonna die son, not much that can top that, so stop worrying. A morbid man if ever there was one, but he was probably right, worrying wouldn’t serve any useful purpose, nor would it change anything. What could I do instead? I mused on the subject for a few moments and realised that the answer was in fact, nothing.
Forty Six Minutes Later
Two Thunderbolts, two hellcats and four arrows, those were our re-enforcements. It has to be said, it didn’t make for the most reassuring of strike teams. If we were up against a halfway decent Kilrathi target then I’d presumably have voided my bowels by now. We were outmatched about two to one, and that was without any more Stilettos or Talons coming out of their flight deck. Perhaps our earlier performance should have convinced me that things weren’t necessarily as unpleasant as they were starting to seem, but these pestiferous pre-flight jitters are about as easy to get rid of as Oxford spine-weevils.
“Alright people,” Came an impatient voice over the com, “Let’s make this quick. Avenger pilots, I’m Major Hurley from the Winterrowd, I’ll be assuming control of this wing. I want everyone to move in, pick a pirate and send a missile through his teeth. Hit them hard and fast, try to keep them scared and unfocused. Thunderbolts, aim for the docking bays. Everyone got it? Good, now let’s get going.”
And got going we did do. I hit my afterburners, prepped an Imrec missile, targeted a Talon, heard a few cries of ‘Oh Christ!’ and something about ‘Blue bellies’ from a few of the pirate fighters, sniggered some and fired as soon as I heard the chime.
“Fewest kills buys the next round as soon as we can drink again.” Beowulf said hurriedly before closing the channel. Interestingly, this part of our job seemed to be the only time he seemed genuinely cheery. I guess that’s what a Kilrathi upbringing does to you.
From what I saw, he launched at least three different missiles at three different targets. I decided to keep mine in the event I needed them in close quarts combat. Beowulf was a fearless soul though, more then once he’d made the cryptic comment that missiles ‘simply weren’t good enough’.
Anyway, enough about him. Most of the pirate forces moved to intercept the larger Confederate force which was coming at them from the opposite direction, four Talons were heading in our direction, three of which as I mentioned were promptly dispatched by Beowulf’s missiles. The other one was quickly taken out by Gremlin when it attempted to turn tale and run towards his surviving comrades.
“Major,” said some Winterrowd pilot or other, “I’m reading fighters launching.”
“Stick with it people,” Hurley replied, “Thunderbolts, get those torpedoes launched.”
I closed in on a Talon which looked like it was trying to find a target of its own. I cut through the shields easily enough and then I guess I scored a lucky hit because the next thing I knew I was flying through a fiery debris cloud where the Talon had been. I called up another target and in doing so discovered, or perhaps rediscovered that there were still no shortage of the things in the air.
A momentary shudder and a flash of blue from behind me, and then another. Someone who was by the looks of things an incredibly bad marksman was shooting at me. I pulled up, almost flying straight into yet another Talon as I did so, and lost my attacker in a mess of fighters and gunshots.
“Steve,” Beowulf said over the radio with an eerie calm considering we were in the midst of a battle, “Lock onto my fighter and follow me to the base, I want to try something.”
“This isn’t a good time buddy, I’m…”
“Just do it,” He said, transferring his fighter’s tactical information to my ship as he spoke, “This might be fun.”
He closed the channel and, figuring he’d only start bitching if I didn’t play along, I followed him. It soon became obvious that he was heading towards the pirate base.
Two talons which were pursuing a single Arrow were passing by in the distance, my and Beowulf both swerved to intervene, and intervene we did, though awkwardly we both ended up firing at the same fighter, his wingman broke off the chase when he saw his buddy go up in flames. Considering he didn’t take any pot shots at us I’m guessing he wasn’t too concerned about it.
“So what’s the…” I paused as my ship shuddered under sudden deceleration and downward strafe. This was a trick I’d picked up from Beowulf, he’d picked it up from someone who could possibly be called his father, though you’d probably receive a long, piercing glare if Beowulf ever heard you call him that.
Anyway, the trick worked, the Stiletto passed gracefully overhead and was promptly incinerated by a heat seeker. I never normally got this many kills on any sortie, abundance of targets or otherwise. This among other things reinforced my belief that we were shooting at en-barrelled ducks.
“So what’s the plan?” I repeated.
“The Thunderbolts are concentrating on the docking bays, but with fighters still launching and Talons pestering them, it’ll be a while before they can get a clean shot. We can throw a wrench into the pirate’s launch though if we take out their command centre.”
“Which we can do easily because that base is a couple of derelict shit holes with extra bits.”
I’m kind of surprised Hurley hadn’t thought of that. Maybe he figured it was unnecessary. In any case, I think some of the pirates figured out what we were up to, four red dots were moving our way, I think these were guys who’d just launched. Pretty soon my ‘lock’ alarm was sounding, I had to jettison a lot of decoys before it finally cut out, and even then two of the three missiles fired at me passed unnervingly close to my cockpit.
Beowulf took out one of the fighters, a Talon, with a few good hits from his cannons. I saw the enemy fighter explode in the corner of my eye as I pulled my ship around to face the Stiletto that had just passed me. I fired too early and my first shots went far too wide, my next volley however removed the pirate’s rear shields and I think caused some engine damage. The pilot decided not to head back my way.
Beowulf was busy ripping apart a third fighter while the other one was making a run at me. My dorsal shields took a bit of damage, but not enough to show up on my left hand monitor. I was about to turn and engage this fighter when I noticed a thin trail of smoke slam into it, in other words, I thought as the pirate expired, a missile.
“Looks like you guys had the same idea we did.” Said an unfamiliar female voice belonging to a Winterrowd Arrow pilot, one of a wing of two it seemed, “You were heading to the command centre right?”
“We were indeed milady,” I replied, “Care to join us?”
“No but you can follow our engine exhaust and watch professions at work if you’d like burn-out boy.”
Burn-out was a term we'd been hearing more often then we should lately. It was something of a stereotype for pilots assigned to ancient Ranger class carriers. In the eyes of some we were second rate pilots. Just goes to show that some people are peerless morons.
Anyhoo, I bit back a snarl of sorts, a bad habit I’d kind of picked up from Beowulf. (Yes the man actually growls). Anyway, I know I shouldn’t take things like this too seriously but what can I say? I guess I’m just too sensitive.
“You hear that buddy?” I asked Beowulf, though considering he was charging towards the command centre as quickly as I was I’d guess that he had.
“Yes,” He responded, “Let’s show these pampered fleet carrier whelps where to shove it shall we?”
“We shall.” I responded.
The Arrow as you know is a faster ship then the Hellcat, and they already had something of a lead on us. I checked the radar and it didn’t look like there were any more enemy fighters around, in fact it looked like their numbers were beginning to get a bit thin.
“Torpedo away.” Uttered one of the Thunderbolt pilots over the com.
“So much for our idea.” I said to Beowulf over the com, “Let’s get clear.”
We were getting pretty close to the base, almost within flak turret range I’d guess, assuming that thing had any turrets. Still, we weren’t nearly close enough to have to worry about getting caught in any large, torpedo related explosions.
“Damn it,” The bothersome Arrow wench chortled over the com, “We’ll feed your egos another time.”
“Yeah,” uttered her wingman, “What she sa…”
An explosion cut off the man’s transmission. Instinctively I checked the radar for any fighters which might have gotten a missile in but found nothing. It must have been down to flak fire.
“Ranger?” Came a worried cry from his wing leader “Ranger!?”
“I’m alright,” Came the reply from Ranger, much to all our relief, “Flak hit took out my ship but I got out in time.”
“Thank God.” Knife (according to her flight helmet) said.
“Hold that thought,” Beowulf said, “Your ejection pod is too close to the base, if…”
As he spoke, the first torpedo detonated in the Ralatha’s launch bay. One large explosion gave way to another large explosion and the before long the nose cone of the former destroyer was no more.
“Second torpedo away,” The second Thunderbolt pilot said, “Get clear people, I’m reading what looks like fuel canisters near the launch bay. This blast’s gonna be big.”
“Just how close is he?” I asked.
“Too close,” Came the grim response.
“I think I have an idea,” Beowulf said, for one sounding kind of rattled. “I’m going to get him.”
“What, you don’t have a tractor beam, how are you…?”
“Just trust me.” I hate it when he says that, but not as much as I hate myself when I reply with:
“I’m on your wing.”
“No, keep clear, no offence Steve but I don’t need you for this.”
“Right, I’m on your wing.”
He shook his head and his face vanished from the screen, only to reappear a few seconds later when he opened a com to the pod.
“Ranger, listen closely. We need to do this quickly. I want you to disconnect yourself from your chair, hold your breath and get ready to leap for my cockpit.”
“What are you nuts?” Came the understandable response, “That’s insane, that’s fucking suicide is what it is.”
“Either do it or stay there and get caught in the blast, your choice.”
“Impact in ten seconds.” I said.
“Last chance Ranger, you do this now or I turn round.”
We both came to a stop near his fighter. Beowulf’s cockpit opened steadily. The pirate base suddenly looked a lot bigger.
“Ok,” Ranger said with a voice that sounded anything but happy, “Standby.”
He started fumbling with his safety harness.
“Four, Three, Two”
“Here goes nothing.”
To be continued