Friday, June 25, 2021

Flash Fiction #464 -- Raiders/14


Being this far into a gravity well gave me more options than we usually had for maneuvers.  I could use both the local star's gravity and the station's bulk to help maneuver the fighter.

I let us stay dead a little longer.  The last craft went past — the dangerous one that could have taken a shot at us since they were late to the battle.

The station presented a far more tempting target.

"Let's do it," Lisel said.

I had made the calculations in my head since I didn't want to start any equipment.  We barely had the air circulating through life support, which was already tasting a bit stale.

Time to go.

I punched in the main engine, pushed against the gravity well, and did a lovely turn.  It was not a quick one, and we'd drawn attention — but the enemy couldn't move any better than our craft.  Besides, they would have to decide which among them would turn back.  From all I could tell with Were, they didn't like to change plans.

So we came back in range before the chosen craft had done more than start their turn.  We took that one out with a single shot to the side.  I almost felt bad about how easy it was, though I knew it would be our last easy hit.

The aliens were often slow to respond, but once they did, they were quick and deadly.  We still had four craft out there, and all of them now intent on us.  That meant they were not going after the station.

The three of us went into team mode.  Other fighters often had rotating crews, but the my team had been serving together for a long time.  It helped that we were three that no one else wanted on their fighters. We'd tried to run some teaching sims for the others since we had such good luck with aliens, but it always ended in disbelief from the others.

Sometimes realizing what we were doing, I had to agree.  It was crazy.

Two more craft went down, but we'd taken two serious hits, and even Krisin was having trouble keeping power routed to keep us moving and shooting.

"Go for the bay, Tana," he said. "Go quickly."

I could hear that whistle of sound that would have meant death for us if we hadn't been so close to safety.  I turned the fighter -- slow-moving -- and lined up.  A were ship must have sensed our problem, and it came in shooting.  He annoyed me.

So I turned and fired at him.

"Tana, honest to God, you are trying to get us killed --" Krisin snarled as he worked on the power grid again. "If we're going to die, I'm going to strangle you first --"

"Only if I don't disembowel her first -- oh, good shot!"

The were craft disintegrated.  I hadn't seen that reaction before, but I didn't have time to watch.  Instead, we turned back to the bay, and I shoved every bit of power we had to get us inside.  The outer shell was permeable -- but only if you were going fast enough.

I feared we weren't going to make it.  We bounced a little.  Lisel growled.  Krisin added the last power to our engine, killing all the controls.

We went in and basically dropped to the pad, the grapples catching us.  I was gasping.  I didn't know if that came from lack of air or too much excitement.

"Huh," I said. "We made it."

Befly had to pry the canopy up.  Lisel and Krisin jumped out before me.  I had trouble making myself let go of the controls.  By the time I climbed down, they were already helping pull out the damaged section of plating.  I looked around, but everything seemed to be in hand on the station.  Nothing for me to shoot here.  Good, since I didn't carry a weapon.

Befly had come to me with a shake of her head.  I pulled my attention back to reality and waited for the bad news.

"The shot took out half your power grid," she said, running a hand over her stubble of hair. "I've got my people scrambling for whatever we can find. We're asking for anything the ships can provide, too -- but we only have four in the dock, and you blew the hell out of one of them."

"Seemed like a good idea at the time," I said.  We moved around the fighter's side to where Lisel and Krisin were already working at a rather massive hole in the side of my craft.  I was glad that I'd already destroyed the were fighter, whatever one it had been.

"There are going to be more Were craft coming in," I said.  Lisel gave me a grim nod of agreement. "We need to find a way to stop them."

"I've got my people working as fast as they can," Befly said. "But even so --"

"The Sailfor," I said suddenly.

Lisel looked at me. "You blew a hole in it, Tana.  You are not thinking about flying it out there -- ah."

"She'll never leave the station.  But I want control of her weapons.  Krisin --"

"I heard." He ran both hands through his hair and looked off into space. "Let's see if there is enough left there for me to access."

I didn't want to leave the fighter.  I also didn't want to stand here and wait for the were to show up and kill us all.  If Krisin could find a way to access the Sailfor's system ... well, maybe we could surprise the next wave of were.

The crew of the Sailfor might have a few disagreements, but if we got control, it would hardly matter.  And there was always the 'void' option if it became too dangerous to keep them alive.  I had far too many others to consider.

The three of us started down the walkway.  People scattered...

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Flash Fiction #463 -- Raiders/13

 I did a quick calculation on the were's direction and speed.  We had a short break.  Very short -- but I knew how to make the most of it.

"Krisin, get your ass moving and head to the repair bay.  We'll pick you up, but we won't have much time."

"Tana --"

"Get moving!  It's one thing for the two of us to shoot at a ship docked, another to take on at least six were ships.  We're the only fighter here, Krisin.  We need to have a full crew!"

"He's already running," a timid voice said.

"Good.  Thank you."

I shut down the comm and looked at Lisel, trying to think what to say.

"We need to be together," Lisel said, glancing my way.  His ears were not back, but I saw a look of resignation in his eyes.  "We need to do this right."

I wanted to say something ... inspiring, maybe.  Something important.

"Let's grab Krisin and kick some alien ass," I said.

Lisel stared for a moment and then burst out in such laughter that he couldn't stop, and I still had to maneuver the fighter into the bay.  Befly handled our quick drop without a problem and had the base turning to shoot us back out before a panting Krisin clambered up and threw himself inside.

We were still laughing.

"No, their fine," Krisin said.  "This is normal."

"The Gods help us," Belfry said but stepped back and gave a signal.  I could see some people rushing our way, but she had others lined up to hold them off.  That would be the Sailfor crew.

We'd come back and deal with them later.

Krisin took his place with a few grunts.  We were already on the turn.  I put the vid on to the back of the craft -- yes, there was a battle back there, but the others were already retreating --

And then we were back out into the endless night.  I chose our path away from the Sailfor and out at an angle to the incoming ships.  We still didn't have visuals, and I wanted to believe we were wrong about the enemy.  

Though at least were would be something I understood.  I might even be an expert on them.  There were rumors that my team had taken out more were craft than any other.  Maybe more than multiples of other fighters.  I did not keep score.  I had a bad feeling about doing something like that.

"What have we got?" I asked.

"Trouble everywhere," Lisel answered.  His hands moved fast across the controls.  Krisin had the engine power perfect and the weapons ready.    I just watched the screens and the area in front of us.  Were could be tricky.  The obvious group coming in might be there to draw attention.

We didn't talk much.  Sometimes inane things.  Krisin's hope for a date with a certain sub-pilot on the Belgium bridge and Lisel's odds on his chances this time.

"It might go up if we survive," Lisel offered.

"You are such a help," Krisin mumbled.  Then his voice changed.  "Moving in range.  We are fully powered with a bias toward weapons.  I can switch to shields when needed. Of course, we'll sacrifice speed -- but we aren't going to be running anyway, right?

"Probably not," I agreed.  I had to give up on the idea that the ships might not be were.  "Any sign of a mother ship or any other larger craft?  These fighters aren't going to collect anything from the station."

"I doubt the were are looking for anything to take," Lisel pointed out.  "They'll leave the scavenging to their human allies.  All they want is the stations destroyed."

"I wonder why," I said.

"At a guess, I'd say they don't like us," Krisin offered.

"Ha.  But really -- why are they attacking stations suddenly?  And why in this sector?  What are we missing?"

"Something I hope we'll have time to figure out," Lisel said.  "After this problem."

This problem was six alien ships, each of them twice the size of the fighter, turning their attention on them.  I shoved my questions to the back of my mind and focused on the trouble.

I had a feeling that the were had become aware of her fighter and crew, but I counted on them associating it with the Belgium and would not expect to find them attached to the station.  I even varied my usual sweep in for the attack, too, just to get them off-center for a little longer.  The closer we got, the better this would go.

Were had never quite figured out how well human ships could maneuver.  Theirs were not as maneuverable, but they did have speed and high-powered weapons -- and a shell that was damned hard to crack.

I knew their weak points.  Taking on one or two wouldn't have worried me too much.  Six, though...

No choice.  Surprise was our only hope.

I flew straight at them, firing one of the guns and taking out two of the misshapen were craft.  I did not turn aside.

"Tana," Lisel said, a bit of worry in his voice.

We took two hits before our fighter went dead, tumbling slightly to the right.  Neither of my companions said anything.  Maybe they'd even figure out my plan.  I was sorry we hadn't had time to discuss it -- though we just would have argued and I would have won the disagreement anyway.  I had the controls.

I keyed up one of our emergency tactics, putting out a lot of electronic chaff that would look as if our system had crashed.  It also masked any close look at the fighter itself.

The aliens rarely bothered with disabled fighters, at least not until they were done with their primary objective.  I was counting on that, but I still held my breath as the remaining four swept over and around us.

"Ready?" I said.

"Note how she asks after we are committed to her plan," Krisin said.

Friday, June 11, 2021

Flash Fiction # 462 -- Raiders/12


We knew that there would be more trouble heading our way before this was done, but their appearance already annoyed the hell out of me.  I had hoped we'd have a chance to deal with Sailfor first.

I fired at Sailfor just out of annoyance, even though it would not help our situation.  I caught sight of the blips on the sensor screen, but then I turned away.  They were still out of range.  I had more weapons to take care of on this stupid little ship and one fired before I had even located it --

The blast hit the rear right side of the fighter like a flash of lightning.  The controls went dead for a moment.  We kept moving, and I held my breath, listening for the sound that would mean our deaths -- a leak we couldn't fix.

I didn't hear one.  I didn't hear anything else, though, either.  We were still dead in space, and that was not good since the Sailfor was preparing to shoot again.  I glanced at Lisel, who had already spun to handle some of Krisin's controls.  I watched Lisel's boards for him, though I knew he remained fully aware of what was happening there.  There was just nothing for me to do at the moment. I couldn't fly, and I couldn't shoot.  That left me with too much time to think, which was never one of my better pastimes.  

I wanted to be back in the Belgium.  I wanted to rest in my room, wait for the enemy ... I did not want to be responsible for this entire station full of people.

The captain had to be crazy to send us out on this mission.  We weren't trained for it.  She must have been --

Desperate with no clear idea of what was going on and how to save these people.

The time stretched on, even though it couldn't have been more than a minute and a half.  Lisel was working quickly, half-turned in his seat and jabbing at the controls that were usually Krisin's position.  He mumbled.  He growled.  He yelped -- and we had power.

"Good work!"

He sucked on the fingers of his left hand, but he nodded.  I was already moving us fast in an upward direction, then to the right again.  We were going over the top of the ship, and more weapons were popping up --

I had not counted on Krisin working in the station and helping us in his own way.

"Count of three, Tana," Krisin said.

"Hey.  What?"

"One, Two -- Three!"

A surge of electrical power -- braids of lightning -- flashed along the side of the Sailfor where it was tied to the station.  The braids spread out over the ship in flashes of bright and deadly power.  Now there was a neat trick.  I imagined it fried many of the ship's controls and might have killed a few of the crew.  It also gave Lisel and me the chance to spin around again and locate the engine signature.

"Don't get too close," Lisel warned.  "Any of that power could go for us and fry the fighter."

"Got it."  I was already turning our ship, and Lisel prepared the weapons.  I took the front lasers, and he took the back canon.  We had them angled, so we were not going to fly headfirst into the ship.  That would stop them, of course.  Stop us, stop the station ... might be a bit of overkill --

I got the first hit and scored a shot right at the plates, burning through with a quick flash of power.  Lisel took the second shot right through my opening and hit the core.

We'd done it often enough before with were ships.

The Sailfor wasn't going anywhere now.  I read the scanners and saw that they'd dropped bulkheads into place, so the ship didn't wholly decompress.  That was fine.  I thought someone in authority would want to talk to some of them later.

Lisel and I had other problems.  I could see the line of six ships moving steadily station-ward.  Given the timing, I believed that they were the rest of the raiders, but it might be wise to do our best to make sure of it before we went in shooting.

"Hear me?" Krisin said, his voice breaking up.

"Not clearly," Lisel answered while he worked some of the power nodes.  We must have lost some of the commlinks.  "How is it going in there?"


"Yeah, I can believe that," I said.  "What have we got on the new ships?"

"Too far yet," Krisin answered.  Lisel had mostly cleared up the comm problem.  "But coming in fast."

"How does the puddle jumper look?  Do we need to take that engine out, too?"  I looked over the scanners, locating that craft.  The engines hadn't powered up yet.

"Brick and some of his trusted people are guarding it.  There was an attempt to take the ship, but he and his people fought them off.  The other ships are locked down. I fear one or two might try to cut and run.  We're trying to work with them to at least not do damage to the station if they leave."

"Might warn them of other ships coming in -- Not the time to try and get clear.  You're right.  These guys are fast."

"It might be better to clear everyone that we can out of the station," Krisin replied.  "I can't say it is safe."

Lisel grunted something and frowned.

"What?" Krisin and I chorused.

"Doesn't that pattern look familiar?" Lisel asked.

I stared at the screen and then cursed.  Several times.

"They can't be were ships," I said.  I shook my head in denial as my rage grew.  "They can't be were because that would mean it was either a coincidence that they are here, or else they're working with the Sailfor.  And I don't believe in coincidence."

Friday, June 04, 2021

Flash Fiction # 461 -- Raiders/11


I wasn't apprehensive about the fighter until we were seconds from launching.

What if Bafly was part of the trouble?

"Lisel," I said, glancing at him.  "Bafly --"

"I don't want to consider it," he replied, which made me realize he'd already thought about the problem.

"You could have said something."

"Tana, my friend--"  His fingers played across the controls, and he did not look at me.  "I only trust three humans -- you, Krisin, and the Captain.  My mistrust of Bafly started before we came to the station and has nothing to do with whether we can trust her or not.  The readings are good."

I had watched the power come up as well and nodded.  The fighter felt right, which might not have been precisely logical, but it was the best sign I had at the moment.

"Let's do it."

The transition from station to space went far easier than from the ship where we were often launching with a dozen other fighters around us.  I automatically made a check, both visual and scanner, before I got my head back into the current problem.

"I'd rather be facing weres," I mumbled.

"I agree."

We had launched close to our target, but I didn't head straight there.  I expected the crew to be a little worried about us, no matter how much of a show we'd put on.  I was right.  The sensors showed a build-up of power in the Sailfor's grid.  The ship didn't have much for weapons, but they wouldn't need anything very powerful with us this close.

I turned us in the opposite direction.  "We're getting out of visual sight of the Sailfor.  See if Krisin is back at Admin yet.  I want info on what is going on -- and maybe a bit of help.  Use our own codes.  Let's keep this off the main lines.

It took a moment before Krisin came online, breathless and sounding more panicked than usual.

"How does it look there?" I asked.

"Things are heating up.  We have reports of some stores raided.  If you don't want this getting worse, you had better convince the Sailfor that they aren't going to just cut and run."

"We're almost ready for our run.  I need you to play games with the station scanners and show us still going the long way around the station."

"Ah."  A pause, and I could imagine his hands already moving over the computer keys.  "Yes.  Not hard.  Set to go in thirty seconds from now."

"Excellent.  See you soon."

He grunted an answer.

"Yeah, I wish you were here, too," I said.  Lisel made a sound of agreement.  "But we can do this."

"I am cutting you out of the sensors in twenty seconds and replacing you with a blip.  You'll have one minute to get into position and take care of that bastard ship."

"We're sure it's the enemy?" Lisel asked.

"Crew is shooting people now," he warned.  "If they are the raiders, they're helping them out anyway.  Go."

"Stay safe."

"And you two."

Lisel tapped the screen where we suddenly were moving in a slightly different direction.  Krisin had done an excellent job.  I fired the right-side engine, used the station as a board, and spun us so that we ducked down under it.

Lisel said nothing.  He did watch the screens, though.  It occurred to me that Sailfour wasn't a huge ship to have taken on all the stations and all the loot they must have gathered.  Lisel knew it too.  He was watching for another ship or two that was likely holding off just out of range.

Nothing we couldn't handle, I told myself.  Bring them on.

One at a time.

I was used to maneuvering near larger craft, and in some ways, the station was more manageable than anything else.  It was not going to suddenly sweep around and move off in an odd direction.  My main concern was that the Sailfour would be above us as I dipped under the station --

"Sailfour's weapons just came online," Lisel warned.

"How about any of the other ships?"

"None so far," he said.  "So they might not have allies."

"Well, not here yet, at least."

Lisel grunted in agreement.  I could tell that he was keeping an eye on anything moving out beyond the station.  I suspected Krisin did the same.  That was how we worked, and I didn't have to ask Krisin what he was doing right now.

That left me free to concentrate on doing this right.  If we simply swept around from either side of the bays, the Sailfour would have us in their sights.  Being a small fighter craft gave me far more maneuverability.  Since ships like Sailfor didn't have room -- or need -- for a fighter, they were unlikely to consider how easily we could move.

That was my main hope.

I thought Lisel mumbled something under his breath as we came up under the bottom of the craft.  I hadn't known him to be religious at all, but that sure sounded like a prayer to me.

I sure wished we had time for that conversation, but ... no.  The damned Sailfor had laser canons.  They even had them on the underside of the craft, and the moment we appeared in range.

"Damn," I mumbled.

But Lisel was already on it.  The canon was slow to power up.  Clearly, it was a late addition to the system and not well-integrated into the system.  I suspect those bulges didn't show up as weapons on a station scan.

My first shot hit just to the right of the canon.  Close, and caused a bit of a glitch, but not good enough.

"We have a problem," Lisel said.  He even said it very calmly, which sent a chill straight through me.


"Reading six ships, just dropped off slide and far too close.  I can't read anything definite on them, but ..."

"Yeah.  We have a problem."