Mowerman

A Pilots Tale

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The First part to a story I wanted to write. There will be more to come, I hope you enjoy the first part.

 

 

A Pilots Tale

 

I sat relaxed in the comfortable chair in the Federation representatives’ office. The plex glass windows overlooking the main hangar for the federation mercenary fleet was impressive. Everywhere was a hive of activity ships coming and going, cargo loaders weaving their intricate dance of near death, somehow avoiding a fatal collision involving volatile ammunition. The AI’s governing their sub routines effortlessly avoiding any sort of problem. To the naked eye it looked like chaos, but it was carefully orchestrated chaos. The view was designed to impress and intimidate but I wasn’t the least bit interested, I’d seen so many like it having worked contracts for both Jericho and the Federation for some time.

 

I knew the rep and he knew me so it was a pretty easy conversation. “Usual terms apply, contracts at your discretion and given the most recent addition to your personal fleet we are prepared to offer a 15% bonus for any jobs completed.”

 

“Sounds good to me Niall, sign me back up” I replied, pleased with bonus increase, all the saving and tedious jobs had paid off. After finishing our last tour with Jericho I had managed to put together enough to purchase a “Blood Tormentor” from the elusive tech faction. It boasted a wealth of strength, versatility, and most important survivability. Those tech heads really knew how to put a ship together, having a personal ship meant I was no longer tied into using the retrofitted crap the corps dished out to pilots. Each one was so different from the next it took hours of flight time to become fully proficient in its use and to be able to get the maximum from the ship. The only advantage was the corp had an endless supply of ships. All carrying the same stink of burned electrics, sour sweat and a nauseating smell of fear. I always felt like a flying dead man in those ships, which is why I saved everything I had for my own ship.

 

“You never did tell me how you got yourself that Tormentor?” Niall asked.

 

“No I didn’t” I replied mysteriously. I knew it would drive Niall nuts, but it would also mean drinks were on him while he tried to pry the story out of me. Which I would oblige, after imbibing an obscene amount of Niall’s alcohol. Plus Niall always had a superbly stocked bar.

 

“Drinks later?” I asked

 

He laughed “2200 I’m off shift then”

 

“See you then”

 

I left Niall and made my way to the elevators, stepping inside I called for the hangar. Just as the doors were closing and very pretty manicured hand touched the edge of the door, it opened obligingly. In walked the rest of the person attached to the very attractive hand. “Ahh caught you, I’d heard you were back in town Mike” she purred.

 

“Hi Amanda, its good to see you too” I leaned in, putting my arm round her back and she arched herself into me kissing me hard in return. Then she pulled back and with a delicious smile on her face slapped me hard enough for me to see stars.

After I stopped seeing little spinning Jessica Rabbits, I love the old Terran cartoons, it doesn’t matter how often I watch them they still make me smile. “Okay” I said “I can’t remember whether I deserved that or not. I’ll make it easy for everyone and just pretend your right and I did deserve it. How are you?”

 

“Feeling so much better now” she purred again “Do you want to come and make up?”

 

My hormones enthusiastically agreed that we should go and make up, lots and lots and lots, but before all the blood could disappear in an act of mutiny from my brain I was able to conjure enough self control to explain that I had to see to the ship as we had just docked and there were a ton of diagnostics and integration tests to run before we could even think of going into a full scale fight. She pouted at first and before I could suggest another time she smiled that same delicious smile and punched me in the mouth.

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 Chapter 2

 

The doors opened silently and still cradling my jaw after it had somehow got stuck on the end of Amandas fist. The scene that greeted my took my breath away. It always did, the main hubs for the 3 main factions were colossal structures that could house hundreds of ships inside, let alone the other support facilities. It was always humbling seeing it up close. Ships coming and going, cargo loaders weaving their dance of death with the grace of the Imperial ballet, it was truly a sight to behold.

 

“Bloody Mary” or "Mary" the Blood Tormentor as we called her was docked on ledge 36 bay A69. The childish part of my brain snickering at the number. Now was not the time to indulge in infantile flights of fancy there were things to be done. Thinking of things to be done my hormones after their failed mutiny had returned to active duty and most of my higher brain functions had returned. I wasn’t completely sure, but as I wasn’t drooling and one plus one didn’t equal strawberry, I was as close to myself I as ever was.

 

Tara my crew chief was looking at holopad frowning, hoping it had nothing to with Mary I walked over. I still couldn’t get out of my head what had happened with Amanda, as far as I knew we had left on good terms. She was gorgeous, 5’8” about 50 kilos soaking wet, red hair running down her back in waves. Her face was devastating, when she smiled it brightened a room more than a fusion reactor taking a hit from a mini nuke. She was genuinely warm though, not like the doll pop outs you see propping up every mercenary bar from here to the outer reaches. We had started seeing each other on my last tour with the Federation and things had been going well, unfortunately she wanted to settle down and I was still driven to own my own ship. We argued so many times about me loving my ship more than her. Which wasn’t true, if I was going to settle down with anyone it would have been her. I just didn’t want her to be stuck with some penniless mercenary flying “Noddy” missions just make ends meet and hating it. I knew myself and I knew it would tear us apart as I began to resent her for it. We could have lived off her income which was probably more than mine as she worked as a PA to one of the senior executives of the Federation Mercenary Commission. Each faction had its own commission responsible for governing the conduct of its operatives as well as being part of the Galactic Mercenary Commission which laid down guidelines regarding terms of engagement, articles of war, mainly making up mostly sensible rules about how mercenaries got to shoot each other without everyone getting upset and declaring war on each other. Of course it didn’t stop espionage, black ops and a whole host of other activities, but it did keep it to a minimum and maintain a fair and even balance prevent some of the worst atrocities on the battle field. Which in this day and age of constant warring is necessary and vital. Of course there are those who chose not to participate, Pirates, Cybers, The Cartel to name a few.

 

I was brought back to reality by a cargo hauler carrying explosive rail rounds missed me by nano metres, I know they were the explosive rounds as the logo stamped on the box narrowly missed adding my nose to the container. Thank god for the AI control routines. Tara was still looking at the holopad, so intent she didn’t see me. I suspected she wasn’t actually looking at the pad at all. During our last tour with Jericho in my quest to obtain Mary, we did a lot of jobs for the Tech faction, mysterious doesn’t even begin to cover these guys. They are so obsessed with Tech that just about everyone you meet is massively augmented to the point they barely look human anymore. They do however offer a more discreet range of implants that are only detectable by a full bio-scan. They are perfectly legal, but humans being well humans, and despite being able to evolve to a point where we stopped beating each over the head with clubs, we just use quantum singularities and hyper accelerated explosive shells now. We still have a deep prejudice about differences, it litters our history when something is different we panic and try to squash it. In a way I can understand the deep distrust about Jericho, so outwardly I look like I’ve always done, internally I have had a few enhancements added, as a mercenary it never hurts to keep your options open. Federation Space is comparatively relaxed, but there are a lot of people who aren’t and constantly watching you back in bars whilst necessary, it still helps to give others as few reasons as possible for them to indulge their over developed sense of bigotry. A family member of Jericho no matter what level their station would know Tara and I were enhanced, but outwardly to others we just look like everyone else. Tara wasn’t even looking at the holopad although anyone looking wouldn’t think so. She was using her nano-link to interface directly with the ships central computer. Looking at dozens of different sets of data and schematics all supplied directly to her brain. As for her troubled look I had no idea, I pinged her as I approached which was probably completely unnecessary as it didn’t matter where I was our links had been perma-synced ever since we started working together. She would know where I was an AU away. It was polite anyway, she directed her data feed towards me asking me what I thought. I started the feed running looking at the schematics letting my brain go through the data she was sending me.

 

“So how are we looking” I asked, she looked at me like I was a five year old who had been caught eating crayons again.

 

“Mary, is geared up and ready to go, weapons and ammo have been loaded, we’ve switched a couple of the modules round so we will have better shield resistances which should work far better than stacking extenders. The iridium we saved during our last tour has meant we’ve been able to upgrade some of the key systems. Al integration tests have been run and everything is operating at peak. But you already knew that so why ask?” Tara said.

 

“Because I love the sound of your voice” I retorted, that made her smile. The data flow had finished and the results were just starting to filter through my brain. No wonder Tara had looked troubled. Performance levels for the ship following the integration of the new modules, although reading as peak, they were actually way off. The closest comparable ship in the data base was the Tormentor, the readings Mary was giving us were in excess of most levels of the Tormentor. What tended to happen with ships is the longer they are owned and used by pilots, the better they get. The more you can get out of the shield generators, engines, power core and module use, to name a few. There are some who call it synergy, I just think the longer you fly something and fiddle with it the better it will get, but everything has its limits. Looking at the data from Mary there was no tolerance left, she was pushing everything to the maximum, it was beautiful. All that work was worth it and best of all she was mine, Tara and I have been together for ever, she is the best mechanic I’ve ever known, even the illusive Techs respected her enormously which spoke volumes, as there were at the forefront of technological development. This could be no more apparent than the ship resting on the anti-grav docking clamps. I started grinning like an idiot. I picked up Tara and whisked her around, heads swivelled in our direction as other techs looked on in amusement. I kissed her soundly on the cheek and put her down, she looked right at me and punched me in the stomach. The breath whooshed out of me, the techs looking on laughed uproariously. I had to put a respiratory control program into primary just to get my breath back. In my giddy state I had forgotten that Tara did not like to be touched, by anyone. I was lucky she only gut punched me, the last person to touch Tara didn’t come off so well. We were in some grimy dive bar in the wrong end of a mining town waiting  for a contact to show, minding our own business and some drunken miner staggers over to Tara and asks her to be his future ex wife and groped her breast. Tara sat there smiled up at him, he thought his luck was in I knew different. I also knew that the best thing I could do was sit down and try not to get hit by anything. Still smiling Tara grabbed the miner between the legs and squeezed. The nano-link wasn’t the only upgrade Tara boasted. She was combat boosted as well. By this point the miner could do nothing except stand there with an expression of pure agony on his face, presumably as his testicles were turning to the consistency of tooth paste. Tara stood slowly, let go and then head butted him for good measure, he flew backwards amidst a spray of gore from his nose and bits of broken teeth. We were supposed to be keeping a low profile, but it was his fault. Funny enough after that not one person would even look at either of us and there was an audible sigh of relief as we left the place after meeting the contact.

 

Following Tara into the ship I still marvelled what an improvement Mary was over other frigates we had run. The Federation engineering frigates whilst excellent ships sucked more than a fusion powered vacuum cleaner when it came to crew facilities and creature comforts. In fact there was an unofficial nickname for them “Pancakes”, with the command space located right at the front of the ship, mistakes placing warp gates turned the ship into a pancake. However that was probably preferable than spending a week in deep space in one. Mary however had a full sized and fully spec’d command module located in the grinning visage at the front of the ship. The pilots chair wasn’t a jump seat type arrangement common in most ships, it was a body forming couch that could double as sleeping quarters if required with built in grav units to protect the pilot from strain whilst performing high G manoeuvres. With the nano-link The command chair recognised me and changed shape to that of a high back chair. The kind that the villains in the ancient Terran movies did. To the side of my couch was Tara’s with a control console in between the holo projectors all offline whilst the ship was in power down mode. To the rear of the command module was a small walk in sonic purifier to keep clean. Through the double blast doors at the rear of the module was a small maintenance corridor that lead to the main accessible areas of the ship. Mostly these areas were managed by bots controlled by the ships core and Tara.

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Wow :O Nice work! I love the constant links to the Star Conflict universe

By the way, I would really like a fusion powered vacuum cleaner :D

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At the edge of my vision an icon appeared, my nano-link was also tied into the Federation main broadcast and news systems. Given the amount of complete and utter rubbish flooding into the data sphere my nano-link was set to filter out the rubbish. Mails from supposed Imperial princesses that needed my bank details and data sphere ID so they could give me a huge some of money, enhancements offered to certain parts of the body that quite frankly bordered on the insane. I always however kept tracer programs running for any references to friends and colleagues. The alert that had appeared was an urgent contract for extraction of a team who had gone on a supposed “milk run” and everything as usual had gone pear shaped. My link was alerting me because an old friend and colleague was reported as mission leader. Terry Roubles or Troublz as he was known to his friends was an old friend who had mentored me when I signed up for my first hitch with the Federation. We were wing mates for a long time and I had a lot of respect for him. Without his tutorage I would have probably been on my 600th clone by now. Troublz had taken a loud mouth, brash over confident idiot with a death wish and turned him into a competent solid pilot. Bringing the holo screen to life on the command console with my nano-link I messaged Niall. I didn’t have to do it from the holoscreen I could have done it directly from my nano-link, but if anything I like to maintain appearances. Niall answered almost immediately, you could see the tension in his face. As well as being the head mercenary liaison representative he also was a contract manager and oversaw the allocation of contracts, he has ties to the private corporations as well. Niall had his fingers in so many pies I honestly had no idea how he kept up with it all the time.

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Chapter 3

 

“I’ve just seen the job posting for the rescue mission, I want it.” I told Niall. He nodded “I understand, something must have gone seriously sideways if Terry had to call for backup” he said.

 

“Who else has signed on for it?” I asked, knowing who was going to be your wingman and their ship’s was vital. The last thing you needed is some green horn who thought a field generator was something you used to grow vegetables.

 

“Things have changed quite a bit since your last tour here. Terry is now vice president of Evolution, they are an up and coming private corporation, your backup will come from them” explained Niall. He sent me the break down of my wing mates and their ships and current loadouts, coming along for the ride we had another guard frigate which in my opinion you can never have too many. A mark 2 Alligator engineer which would be a real boon, especially as the pilot wasn’t the selfish sort which meant that we would be well looked after. Rounding out the party was long range frigate, I didn’t have a high opinion of long range frigates, they were powerful sure, but in my opinion useless in capturing and holding an objective. Their advantage was range and powerful long range weaponry, used properly they were great in support. Used badly they were nothing more a big isolated target.

 

Well that was a turn up for the books, I’d pestered Terry constantly when I was a rookie about setting up our own corporation. It had never interested him, things really had changed if he was vice president of a private corporation. My main priority now was getting Mary ready to go. Tara was immediately moving to her command couch, you could see from her eyes that she was using her nano-link to start the pre flight checks. I started to do the same checking the ships systems, running the pre-flight checks, Tara had her tasks to attend to and I had mine. I received the rendezvous coordinates from Niall as the thrum of the engines and generators started, displays and data feeds started flowing through my link. The link simplified so many functions, instead of having to look at different displays as well as fly the ship you could if you wanted just lay back and use the link for everything. Jericho pilots do this all the time, me I like to feel the ship, how it responds in my hands, I even have the anti grav units in the command chair wound back fractionally so I can feel the forces on the ship and its effects. The ship is an extension of me so I need to feel what she does, call me crazy but I believe it makes me a better pilot. Most other pilots particularly the newbies have their grav units cancelling all forces out. It makes flying easier but in tight spaces or tricky manoeuvres it can catch you out horribly. I’ve seen so many pilots crash their ships because they can’t feel the ship properly, they think they can make a turn or they have things under control but in reality they don’t and it shows. It also makes for spectacular pyrotechnics as their ship are consumed in a fiery ball of death.

 

All the ships systems checked out we were good to go, I pinged the flight controller asking for clearance to exit the station, which was granted immediately. Niall had obviously alerted them I was leaving as confirmation was almost instant. We passed through the energy field keeping the atmosphere in, and into space. The coordinates for the rendezvous had already been fed into the navigation computer so I let my link handle the flying whilst I reviewed the data from the operation Troublz had been sent on.

 

On the face of it, it should have been a milk run. Escort a transport ship with combat boosted mercenaries, take out any perimeter defences like drones or automated turrets get them to the drop zone. Cover them whilst they created whatever mayhem and destruction they were being paid for then escort them to the warp gate and back to federation space. The intelligence on the installation had come from the client and then verified by Federation Intelligence. The facility supposedly only boasted a compliment of a few older model combat drones as well as some pretty antique static defence gun emplacements. It was the sort of mission a crayon eating newbie could have flown in a garbage scow. The only current data was that the initial troop landing had gone fine, the mercenaries had gained entry to the facility and things were going according to plan. Then an alarm must have tripped or another faction decided to hit the place at the same time because the troop carrier was down, just another blazing ball of scrap littering the cosmos. The mercenaries had dug in and were fighting against an unknown group of assailants, Troublz realising that the brown stuff was just about to explode from the ventilation system had triggered his emergency beacon then vanished. Long range sensors couldn’t get a read on his ship and no one could raise him on coms. Either he was toast or hiding, but as he hadn’t been “re-lifed” into a clone body. I hoped for the latter fervently, since the advent of the “re-lifing” technology the human body was no longer as precious as it once was. Whereas before in conflict, combatants were aware of their mortality so did everything they could to protect that precious resource known as life. Now on the instant of death your consciousness was transferred into a new body, the number of applicants for mercenary and combat licenses had gone through the roof, each one expecting to strike it rich on the frontiers. The draw back was that the vast majority of pilots had little or no regard for their own safety, which also meant that a large number of pilots had less aptitude for flying and combat than the trained dogs that the Russians back on Terra launched into space, when man first set his sights on the stars. “Re-lifing” had an immense affect throughout known space. Suddenly people weren’t dying, you could whenever you wished jump into a new shiny version of yourself. Wanted to be a woman? That was not a problem, no more complicated medical procedures needed, you just changed the sex of your clone. Myself I’ve always been happy with who I am so I’ve never felt the need to change. I’ve known others who have and never looked back. I even have friends who every few decades change just for the hell of it. Me I’m still not convinced about “re-lifing”, there is something that feels fundamentally wrong about being able to change bodies in that way. Humans throughout history have been obsessed with the idea of a soul and having everything that makes me who I am, yanked out of one body and put into another that is a fast grown blank, then made to look like me, just doesn’t sit right. Its why I’ve always erred on the side of caution, I just don’t like being re-lifed. I’ve only had to have it happen three times. The first was a training accident, I was flying a “Pancake” and like most newbies I misplaced my warp gate. The first thing to go through my mind was “Oh Feck”, the next thing to go through my mind was in fact my backside. The last thing was the fusion drive of the ship, the others were down to bad intel on operations which were best left forgotten.

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Chapter 4

 

 I realised we were approaching the rendezvous for the rest of the crew. I opened a broad band communication channel and started scanning the ships of the party. Updating the main computers IFF system to include the ships present and all others on file as belonging to Evolution. It wouldn’t to accidentally shoot my allies due to the targeting system highlighting them in the wrong colour. As the ships computers made their digital hello’s I made mine to the pilots in the group. “I know there isn’t much time for pleasantries folks, my names Mowerman” I said giving the group my call sign “Me and Troublz go way back so I’m here to help.”

 

“Commando” said the pilot of the engineer. I couldn’t help but wonder whether his name came from the fact he was ex special forces or he just didn’t wear underwear. Tsaryu was the pilot of the other guard frigate an Anaconda M and Havoc piloted the Ira Deus.

 

We closed up into a guard formation, the guard ships taking the lead and sheltering the others in our group. Flying to the mission site we saw very little other traffic, what we did see was on the very edge of scanner range and made no move to engage us. I was thankful for the lack of attention as the last thing we needed right now was to be bogged down in a fire fight with a load of hostile Cybers or Bio-Morphs.

 

Very little was known about these factions, they refused to communicate with anyone except themselves and any communications that we did intercept appeared to be complete and utter garbage. There were numerous theories floating round that Cybers were in fact a splinter faction of Jericho, pilots who had taken their evolution “To the next level” and fully digitised. Operating without a body as a group of coherent electrons in a neural matrix. It was a popular theory and it attracted a lot of wannabe groupies thinking they could download themselves and live forever. Sectors on the outer fringes were littered with the husks of dead ships and flash frozen corpses. It seemed the Cybers weren’t actively recruiting, but it still did nothing to explain how there were so damn many of them. Bio-Morphs were a different story entirely, ever since the discovery of Sector 1337 and the gold rush that had ensued, with each faction determined to unearth the secrets that supposedly lay there. Bio-Morphs had been appearing in greater and greater numbers. Once secure sectors were now perilous due to the continuous attacks made by the Bio-Morphs, faction scientists had yet to discover anything about them. We couldn’t even speak with them, all attempts at communication had failed and anyone attempting to engage them in discourse generally ended up being rendered down to their component atoms.

 

The journey passed without incident with very little chatter from my comrades in arms. I wasn’t in a talkative mood and it seemed that the feeling was shared by the group. The navigation computer reported that we were closing in on our insertion point, I contacted the group via link to check their readiness. Everyone checked in, we were ready. Using the link I outlined the plan to the others, entrance to the facility was through a narrow canyon, which then opened out into the mining complex proper. The complex was sited on a massive asteroid at the very fringe of the sector. An old facility it had changed hands many times. A lot of the more valuable ores had been extracted decades ago, but there were still small seams of precious metals as well as huge deposits of more regular minerals. Remembering back I had even flown a few sorties here, both as a defender and an aggressor. Radiation from the asteroid itself blocked long range scans, the ships computer core was unable to get proper readings of the facility or any hostiles for that matter. The sensors on Mary were top notch, another reason behind my crusade to obtain one. What worried me was that despite Troublz activating his emergency distress beacon nothing had been heard from him since. Trying to tap into the facilities sensor grid yielded nothing, no link could be established. Either the system was down, the transmission dishes had been damaged or all data traffic was being blocked.

 

“Tsaryu, you’re with me, we go in guard formation, Havoc and Commando I’d like you guys just behind in our shadow. Once we have eyes on and an idea what we are dealing with, lets play this safe. Once inside the complex we should be able to get a read on Troublz. Once we have his location and status I want Commando to link with Troublz and pick him up or depending on what damage he may have taken see if you can get his bird back in the air. Havoc I want you covering our extraction route, I need you to keep the back door open. Tsaryu and I will deal with everything else drawing as much attention as we can. Any questions?” I asked.

 

There were none, a chorus of affirmatives echoed through the com system. The facility had to be approached via a narrow canyon, direct insertion from open space was out of the question the asteroid was large enough to qualify as a small planetoid and had accumulated a huge number of smaller rocks that orbited it as a result of the gravity. Well below normal gravity, it was still enough to create a dense field of debris that sheltered the asteroid like a cocoon. The initial corporation who had set up operations here had decided it was too much of a nightmare to plot a safe route through the debris and had instead opted for a gate system. Outside the debris field there was an entry gate which ported you to another gate inside the debris field. This also had the advantage that in the early days of galactic expansion and conquest anyone seeking to take control of the plant would only have a single entry point to come through which meant that the facility could be defended easily and at the time before “re-lifing” automated defences could be used rather than paying for expensive mercenaries.

 

There was still nothing on the scanners as we approached the entry gate, Tsaryu and I entered first, emerging on the other side we could see evidence of recent fighting. Automated defences were destroyed, sensor arrays turned to nothing more than scrap metal. Gouge marks on the canyon walls from lasers and other weapons. There was nothing to be seen so I signalled the others to gate in. We formed up into guard formation and proceeded through the canyon, as we proceeded through the canyon the sensors started to pick up Troublz beacon. It was faint and on an obscure frequency, I messaged Commando to see if he was getting the same reading.

 

“Confirmed, that’s Troublz beacon” said Commando

 

I asked why he was using such an obscure frequency, Commando explained that since things had escalated with Cybers and Bio-Morph attacks and The Cartel becoming bolder all the time, they had a backup emergency broadcast system that was tied solely into Evolutions network and protected by quantum encryption. It would take several planets worth of AIs running constantly for about 73 centuries to break it. That’s why after the initial signal had gone out, we hadn’t heard anything. Commando also explained that if the situation was that bad the signal couldn’t be traced back to its origin point. The corporation had spent a fortune on the system and it looked to be worth it. Most corporations tended to lease their offices, coms and data links. Depending on which faction they were involved with, the facilities available to private corporations were prodigious. Everything however was tied straight into the main AI cores that help run each faction. Evolution obviously had a healthy paranoia about security leaks, which were common. It was ridiculously easy to hack through most private companies generic firewalls, my nano-link could manage most things on its own, backed up by the main core of Mary I could easily access all sorts of information. Yet another bonus to having the implant and besides it’s not paranoia if they really are out to get you. Commando sent over the decryption protocols and also assigned me an external contractor account which would give me access to their secure communications as well as limited access to the company computer core. Once granted permission I could have hacked their network within seconds, whilst performing another task like juggling eggs in zero G. Don’t try it, its enormously  difficult to do, the mess is unbelievable and it takes weeks to get the smell of sulphur and rotten eggs out of the atmospheric systems. It wasn’t one of my better ideas but it did make Tara laugh, which happens less than Haley’s comet being visible from Terra. Also it was very bad form to hack peoples systems when you had just met them. I put some tracers programs into primary mode through my nano-link to skim through the data I had available to me via my contractor account. There wasn’t much of interest, the usual chain emails, pictures of pilots most recent conquests that sort of thing. A few items piqued my interest but I didn’t have time to review them now so I tagged them for later.

 

We had just cleared the canyon as sensors started registering targets, we had snipers, rocketeers and a plethora of other enemies arrayed against us. Using my link I brought the weapons systems online charging the magnetic coils for the coil mortars. I switched my tactical display for complete target information and asked the target management system to start prioritising threats and marking them for the rest of the team. In combat is where the nano-link excelled, instead of having to review target data on monitors or via holo projection built into a flight helmet, then designate each target in turn whilst trying to fly and keep track of the battle, the link was able to take all the targeting information from the sensors and take over weapons control for me, allowing me to solely focus on flying. It also allowed me to view the camera and drone feeds from my allies as well, giving me a much greater perception of the battlefield. I could simultaneously absorb ground data, radar, hys-radar, atmospheric analysis, if there was a sensor feed then via Mary’s computer core I was able to literally download the information directly into my brain. It is an epic experience, making you feel like a god by your expanded awareness and your ability to view things through a multitude of spectrums at the same time. With a regular ship it enabled you simulate a command view in your mind to keep track of a battlefield due to the limited sensor capacity of most ships. However backed by Mary’s impressive array of sensors and processing power you could almost hear the stars singing if you tuned yourself to the right spectrum. I hadn’t fully realised before that any of this was possible, it seemed that Mary wasn’t maxed out at all and had more surprises in store. At the same time it was also an incredibly humbling experience, when away from the stream the human body just felt so frail and blinded by the lack of senses, sight that could only see in the visible spectrum, ears that could only hear a very limited range in a spectrum so large you could virtually hear the sound of the universe. I felt startled I had never fully considered that this may be how those Jericho pilots flew without even touching a control. My fingers felt sweaty and clumsy, the delay it took my body to respond to my brain issuing a command and then my muscles responding. It felt like I was wasting an eternity of time on something that could be done so much faster, as fast as the speed of thought, backed up by the supercomputer that was Mary’s main core.

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Chapter 5

 

I relaxed back into my command couch, as I settled in I could see Tara’s face as she was registering what I had felt what seemed a lifetime ago. A small tear leaked from her eye, in all the time I had known her, I had never seen Tara cry, furious, angry and happy on occasion, but crying that was new to me.

 

The biometric sensors built into the command couch adjusted the structure to support my body perfectly, clearing my mind I delved fully into the stream, targeting icons hovered over enemy ships with their projected speeds and trajectories, the coil mortars began firing automatically, each individual shells trajectory and flight calculated perfectly to impact on the enemy, not only that the blast and splash damage radius was also factored in to maximise the damage of each shell. Targets were assigned priority and all that could be heard was the muffled rhythmic thump of the coil mortars discharging their rain of death and the pause between whilst the capacitors recharged audibly as the next shell was fed into the weapon. The same data was being broadcast to the other members of the team who added to the maelstrom of destruction. Like gods of war unleashing titanic fury of charged particle beams, disintegrator cannons, mini nukes exploding with the ferocity of a supernova, hyper accelerated magnetically launched explosive shells.

 

We tore through the vanguard of ships left to defend the entrance within seconds, it wasn’t a fight it was a slaughter. I opened a broadband channel and said “Your death is very important to us, please stay in the line of fire.” Ship to ship coms lit up with everyone chuckling. I opened a channel to Commando explaining that we would press on and act as a diversion for any further defenders and he was to find Troublz, put the wheels back on the bus and then we would fall back to Havoc and evac.

 

Tsaryu and I pushed our frigates forward at maximum thrust gaining altitude as we went. Havoc followed in our wake taking up station to cover the back door should things go south. Sensors were reading more hostiles ahead, this was more than a raid in force, it was a virtual invasion. Troublz must have come to complete his contract and the universe with its infinite sense of irony decided to drop an invasion fleet on top of him. Thank god there weren’t any capital ships. Almost without thought targets were highlighted, prioritised and trajectories plotted, the mortars began their rhythmic drumming of death. Tsaryu’s guns answered in response adding to the symphony. Searing red discharges flashed close by as Havoc placed his shots with consummate precision, missing our ships by the narrowest of margins, but each one hitting an enemy often resulting in their fiery destruction. The enemy had superior numbers, but were really slow responding, they weren’t very well trained. Their deployment was wrong, sniper ships were in the wrong positions only having limited fields of fire. The front line frigates with their “Turtle” shield were facing the wrong way. Something seemed really off.

 

At that moment Commando raised me on the com. He had found Troublz who was fine, a little banged up but otherwise ok. Accessing the feeds from Commandos EV suit and his ships camera feeds and sensors what I saw shocked me. Troublz had managed to fly his ship through one of the bore tunnels into the mine, as a testament to both pilots skills their ships had scant metres clearance to navigate in. Even worse Troublz ship looked like it had been through a black hole blender. Armour plates were missing everywhere, attitude jets were leaking reaction mass, coolant leaked from numerous rents in the armour slowly congealing into blobs as it slowly drifted to the floor in the low gravity. Control surfaces were simply missing seared off by a laser fire like a scalpel. It looked like a beast that had been attacked, gored and left to die by some much bigger nastier beast. The ship was a wreck, how Troublz had flown it, let alone navigated it into the bore hole left me amazed. Finally finding a working transmitter on Troublz ship I saw just how bad things were, anti grav units were functioning barely and even then they were straining to keep the ship from falling like a stone. The main power core was leaking and the emergency barriers had activated to prevent radiation leakage, it could generate power but it would be lucky if it could power a toaster let alone a single weapon system. It was a wreck, Commandos drones worked on the ship and his nano cloud shrouded the ship to repair what it could, but it was doubtful she would fly again. We might be able to tractor the ship back except it was stuck 150 metres underground in a hole barely bigger than itself. With a full recovery team we might be able to salvage it in a day maybe two. With our kill count going up like relic pinball machines scoreboard, there was no way we would be able to get the ship out.

 

I messaged Commando who tied in Troublz to the network.

 

“Hey guys hows the holiday? Terry why do you never invite me to your parties? I’d almost think you didn’t like my company.” I said amiably.

 

Troublz laughed “At least this time you arrived on time with appropriate company. You seem to be learning manners.” The unfortunate memory of his wedding day when the groom turned out to be the sober one and the best man… That story is better off left alone. He still won’t let me live it down.

 

“Its just a vicious rumour spread by my competitors. You know I’m not fully house broken.” I retorted.

 

“I know, Elly will never forgive you for what you did to the cats litter tray”

 

“All right stop spilling all my dirty secrets we were all young once, I presume from your usual level sarcasm that nothing has been knocked loose. Although you should go get checked in a med bay as you were almost funny then.”

 

Both Commando and Troublz climbed into the Alligator as my sensors picked up another wave incoming. The reason for their poor orientation was they were warp gating through. Someone must have left a locating beacon enabling them to jump straight in to the facility. Well every little helps, and watching hostile after hostile icon wink out, it seemed the battle was turning in our favour. Did I mention that the universe has a cruel and unusual sense of humour?

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Chapter 6

 

As Tsaryu, Havoc and I made short work of the remaining hostiles my sensors picked up a massive energy surge. Its quantum signature matched that of an incoming warp gate, but unlike the ones before where several smaller gates appeared simultaneously this one was immense. At times I think the universe hates me. The behemoth command cruiser was about 10 klicks out from the complex and about 5 klicks from our position. Both Tsaryu and I switched our shield configurations to maximise our defences, we would need it. Especially with Commando trying to negotiate his way back out of the tunnel, which was directly in the path of the oncoming command cruiser. If he was caught backing out the tunnel when that monster approached he wouldn’t stand a chance. The cruiser started disgorging waves of auto piloted drones designed to overload their power cores when near. “Demomen” as they were called immediately locked on to us and started flying towards us. Fortunately for us whilst spectacularly destructive these drone were also spectacularly stupid, they fly toward you in a close group as fast as they can, only when they detect they have been hit do they begin to perform any sort of evasive manoeuvring. This is where the coil mortar shines, the drums of death started again and the entire wing of demomen disappeared in a flash of fusion powered devastation.

 

I sent Havoc targeting information on the cruiser and called him in to support, his disintegrator cannon and mini nukes would be needed if we were going to be able to bring this monster down. Commando was bringing his ship online and finishing what repairs could be made to Troublz ship and waiting for his systems come back online. Tsaryu and I relentlessly pounded the turrets on the cruiser in an effort to bring them down. Beam after beam of disintegrator cannon slammed into other turrets and engines of the cruiser but it would not be brought down. The cruiser kept advancing and after obliterating yet another wing of demomen, I wasn’t sure we could win this fight. I’d had to engage my pulsar when my coil mortars from so much sustained fire had over heated. Despite us pushing our frigates to their limits, the amount of weapons the cruiser had, we couldn’t dodge all of the fire directed at us. Slowly but surely our shields were being eaten away. We had destroyed a few of the turrets but there were plenty more and with more and more wings of demomen being thrown at us at some point we were going to run out of room and luck.

 

“Commando, Troublz you guys still playing hide and seek? This fight isn’t going our way and we need a game changer” I asked over the com.

 

They explained they could come out at any time but as our shields hadn’t failed and they didn’t fancy being returned to their component atoms, they were quite happy to not be in the cross hairs of the cruiser. “I have a cunning plan” I said, Commando was silent but I could hear sigh of resignation from Troublz. “What? It’s a very good plan honestly.”

 

“Remember the last time you said that Mower?” asked Troublz. The worst thing was I did, but that plan was rubbish and Troublz hadn’t let me forget about. But this wasn’t your average run of the mill plan this was a Wile E Coyote Genius plan. I have to stop watching those damn cartoons. I explained the plan to them and what I needed them to do. By the time I had finished explaining all I could hear was the sound of Troublz doubled over in laughter. I presumed they had understood or the silence meant that Troublz had an unfortunate accident in his spacesuit.

 

Tsaryu, Havoc and I were still pounding away at the cruiser but the immense armour meant we weren’t really making much progress in penetrating the heart of the beast. Seeing how dangerously low our shields were getting I sent the order for us to make a tactical withdrawal and regroup behind some of the processing facilities. That way we could play ‘peek a boo’ with the cruiser whilst giving our depleted shields time to recover. Havoc went to ground behind some large rock formations near the exit portal. Rather than using his disintegrator Havoc launching mini nukes as fast as his missile bays could reload. The cruiser had taken a battering, there were ruins of weapons modules belching flame and smoke. Armour plating littered the landscape as well as spinning off on its own vectors under the lower gravity. Two of the cruisers engines had been reduced to scrap but still it came on. I checked via my link how Commando and Troublz were getting on. There wasn’t much time and they were still labouring with their end of the plan. We needed to slow the cruiser down more or the plan wouldn’t work. I asked Havoc to focus his efforts on the engines. Mary’s shields had just about regenerated so I messaged Tsaryu to enlist his help. We need to slow that cruiser I explained, “Those last few engines have to go otherwise or none of us are getting out of here. We are going to have to get behind the monster and hit those engines with our anomaly generators.” The tricky thing would be getting there, and even with two engines out of commission the thermal backwash from the remaining engines would reduce our ships to charcoal briquettes in a short space of time.

 

With no better option remaining Tsaryu and I pushed our frigates forwards with full afterburners. Weaving through the structures trying to present as smaller target profile as possible our guns firing constantly, me made our way past the belly of the beast and to its rear. Switching our shields for thermal resistance and taking continuous fire from the missile turrets on the cruiser we aligned our ships so we could fire our generators. Nicknamed “Death Rays” anomaly generators targeted a specific point in space and in a massive discharge of power from the ships power core create an unstable anomaly in the fabric of space time. As this collapses on itself it releases an incredible amount of electro magnetic energy as the anomaly implodes as reality reasserts itself. Our shots found their mark and the remaining engines of the cruiser literally ceased to exist in a massive conflagration of electro magnetic and thermal energy. The massive cruiser shuddered at losing its main propulsion, but despite losing its engines the gun turrets were still a serious threat. At first it seemed its speed was un-changed, but in the low gravity a ship of that mass would be carrying a lot of forward momentum. Taking what seemed like an eternity it finally started to lose speed. Unfortunately my shields were just about spent and so were Tsaryu’s we needed to hang on just a little longer.

 

Checking on Commando’s and Troublz progress we had given them the time they needed. Calling Tsaryu to follow me, we headed to the bore hole where Commando’s Alligator was waiting, once within range he boosted our failing shields and well as repairing some minor hull damage we had sustained when even the prodigious shielding Mary had, couldn’t keep all the thermal energy from bleeding through the shields and baking the hull. Our weapons blazing away the cruiser still advanced, but between our guard frigates and the engineer ships ability to bolster our defences the remaining weapons on the cruiser could not significantly damage our shields. Ever closer the cruiser came, with no main engines to provide thrust it only had attitude control jets and anti-grav units available, none of them were powerful enough to change the course of the cruiser. It simply carried too much forward momentum. As the cruiser lined up over the bore hole Tsaryu and I fired our last remaining charge from our anomaly generators at the belly of the beast, explosions and pyrotechnics ensued, but we had no time to admire our handiwork, Commando’s Alligator shot out the hole at maximum thrust vectoring for the rendezvous point. Tsaryu and I followed suit. “Lets make some pancakes” I said.

 

Like a phoenix rising from the ashes Troublz ship shot out the bore hole like a comet, debris and other wreckage following it on its final flight. Troublz ship impacted against the belly of the cruiser where it had been hit by the death ray’s just before. The overstressed armour buckled as the ship passed into its interior before the power core overloaded and vaporised a huge chunk from the inside of the ship. That was all the cruiser could take, venting atmosphere fire consuming it from within its guns fell silent and as the anti grav units failed the low gravity of the asteroid began to pull the cruiser into its final embrace.

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Epilogue

 

Whilst Tsaryu and I had been busy trying to slow the cruiser down, Commando and Troublz had been hard at work on the damaged ship, by jury rigging the fuel supply system directly to the engines, they were able to get the ship to move forwards. It wouldn’t have gone that far anyway not with all the damaged sustained and not without exploding violently, but it was enough. Commando had removed his acceleration jump gate from the storage bay on the ship and set it up manually behind his ship. Once we were clear the engines on Troublz’ ship were engaged at maximum and the reactor was set to overload shortly after. Troublz ship flew into the jump gate and was accelerated at incredible velocity into the belly of the cruiser. The icing on the cake was the power core overload gutting the cruiser from the inside out. The mercenary troopers who had been holed up in the facility the whole had heard a little of the battle but had no idea what had transpired, other than they couldn’t get hold of their transport ship or escort. Fortunately as the entire team was combat boosted to fight in most environments including space, we didn’t have to wait for a transport ship to pick them up. They happily climbed into the cargo bays for transport back to New Eden. Checking my chronometer I realised as we left the asteroid I would be back in time for drinks with Niall. I might also give Amanda a shout and see if she really did fancy making up.

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