Sunday, June 5, 2016

The Lost Calling - Chapter 3

Chapter 3

Waste Disposal Collection Port
Gavriel System, Inner Bellus Arm

Captain Calrose gritted her teeth as she maneuvered the ship around waypoint beacons as she got closer to the traffic of ships surrounding the port.
"Bel," she called over her shoulder to the redhead. "I have an idea, but it's a really stupid one."
Arabel seemed to brighten at the comment, a smirk breaking across her thin purple lips. Any fear she was feeling was quickly being replaced with excitement. This is the action she was hoping for. And she knew she could put their lives in the hands of her capable captain. She looked back at Calrose, admiring the dark-skinned woman with those piercing eyes. Arabel wasn't usually one to be attracted to women, or humans for that matter, but there was certainly something alluring about the sense of strength the captain possessed.
"What do you have in mind, Cap?" the teenager asked.
"Something that might just get us killed," Calrose grimmaced, her full lips becoming tight. "But I think I have an idea of how we can actually outrun this thing."
"How? Even after dumping all that mass, we don't have a peak drive anywhere near as powerful as whatever that thing is packing. That ship certainly isn't human tech."
"It looks like the hate-filled lovechild of a Predator-class assault ship and a trade frigate from the Dagon Empire," Jett observed. "A bad ass piece of 'rat-tech if I ever saw one."

"How fast can you dial in a jump at the nearest gate?" the captain interrupted.
"You know I am damn fast at what I do, Cap. And I'd love to say I would, but those ships are still jamming all signals in the region. That includes dialing into the Nexus."
"But," Arabel interjected, the smile on her fast audible in her voice, "I might be able to get through the noise if you could get us closer to the gate."
"How much closer?"
"A lot closer."
"Okay," the Captain nodded, reassuring herself that this ludicrus idea was still possible, even though it just got a lot more suicidal. "I'll do what I can. I might be able to buy us a little distraction on the way."
She looked out the forward viewports. The massive structure of WDCP-5 was clearly visible against the blackness of space. The light of the nearby sun made it shine. Hundreds of ships surrounded it. Caught in the surprise of the attack, many were trying their best to get away from the station, while those caught in the middle of docking procedures quickly tried to find safety within the enormous port.
"If I can get us close enough to those other ships," Calrose spoke as if she were thinking aloud, formulating her plan, "then we might just lose these guys in the fray."
She dipped the nose down then leftward, deftly guiding the bulky freighter between the orbiting ships and structures. Twisting the controls, the ship rolled, narrowly missing a navigation pylon.
"Or I get us all killed in the process."
The engines flared, finding a balance point between the standard maneuvering thrusters and the need to fully engage the peak drive. The moves Calrose was pushing the ship into couldn't be done with the peak drives engaged, it was too much acceleration for tight and winding curves. They were trading speed for agility. A gamble that Calrose was hoping would pay off.
The chasing craft was sleek in design, a long narrow hull with its engines and thrusters offset on massive stalks angling outward from the main body. It was a ship built for speed. Made to outrun other ships. Calrose had never seen a ship like it. She had no idea what kind of species piloted it or what they wanted with the port. But she knew enough about ship design to know that her little hauler couldn't outrun it in a straight chase.
She dipped the controls again, twisting at the last minute to avoid more lasfire as it blasted across her bow. Stray shots were hitting the fortified hull, but so far she had managed to avoid a direct hit to any vulnerable systems.
The Gravy broke from a cluster of ships of similar design.
"Oh drek," the captain swore under her breath.
The open clearing between ships left them wide open. Calrose gunned it, turning the ship in a tight arc, but it was too late. The pursuing ship saw the opportunity and took it. The entire hull shook violently as heavy lasers blasted the aft section of the ship.
Arabel swiped her hand across the wall mounted displays. A detailed schematic of the ship appeared with section pulsing in red.
"We lost hull paneling on the starboard engine coolers," Arabel reported. "A direct hit to that same section and we will lose engines."
Calrose's ebony brow furrowed, her brilliant eyes hyper-focusing out the viewport. Without breaking her gaze she began flipping switches and pressing controls, knowing by heart where everything was on her panel.
The attacking vessel was gaining on them in the open space between the clusters of ships. What little lead they had gained in their twisting escape was quickly disappearing. Calrose spun the ship in another barrel roll. Letting the ship turn wildly as if out of control. She was once again glad that the gravity nets were functioning, the spinning view out of the viewport was almost enough to make her sick.
The wild movements of the Gravy left them dancing in a small area of space, the enemy ship getting uncomfortably close, but unable to calculate their acceleration vector. The long angry looking attack ship emerged in the viewport as Calrose loosened on the controls, pulling out of the wild spin to face down the metal beast bearing down on them.
The captain's hands shook with her nerves. This was it. This either worked, or they would end up like the waste canister, splattered across the bow of the oncoming ship. The angular assault ship came barreling down and just as they were about to collide into the GRV, Calrose fired the nose thrusters with as much force as possible without burning them out. The little hauler dipped downward quickly and the captain slammed her hand on the panel in front of her. The peak drive roared to life and pushed ship forward. The maneuver jetted them at a ninety degree angle to the oncoming ship, narrowly missing its gnarled and damaged bow as it careened through the space that they occupied only seconds before.
Now was her chance. At the speed the enemy was moving, it would take a large amount of space to turn the ship back toward them. She rocketed the hauler in a straight line through the open space and back toward the port. She wouldn't have long to fire the peak drive before she would need to decelerate again. She could put as much space between them and their attacker, but the closer she got to the port and the fray of ships, the more she would need her agility back.
As the port centered back into the viewport, the blackness of space lit up with activity. The clusters of ships were breaking apart, scattering like swarms of insects suddenly caught in the light. Red beams of energy streaked across the viewport. The hidden ships Arabel had found were now beginning their attack runs on the small haulers around the station. The view looked like flies buzzing around the carcass of a metal beast as the tiny ships chaotically tried to avoid the laser fire. Some were lucky, but many were not. The long lines of hateful light occasionally terminated in space, ending in a bright explosion of fire and planysteel.
There was no avoiding it though. Her plan was in motion and Calrose took the Gravy straight into the fray. As port began to envelope the whole of the viewport windows, the captain hesitantly decelerated the ship. She hated to lose any speed.
A blinding flash of energy tore across space, ripping the view in half. Calrose winced. How could that big thing be back on her tail already?
"Captain?" Arabel stammered, the worry was apparent in her young voice. "We now have two new friends."
"The ship that first attacked us has managed to turn and nearly catch up with us," Arabel began, "but not before one of his buddies snuck in to join him. Now they are both closing in on us."
As if to reiterate the point, two separate barrages of laser fire streaked past them. Stray shots cut into their hull as the enemy ships tried to lock in their target. The cockpit shook with the next assault. Warnings flashed across every panel bathing the small space in pulsating blood tinged light.
The Gravy still charged toward the port, the distance shrinking with every second. But the space between the hauler and its pursuers was shortening as well. The laser fire was getting more accurate with every passing moment.
Once again Calrose's hands moved gracefully across her panel, tapping out controls with an intense precision. She roared the engines. The weakening inertial dampeners allowing some of the vibration through the hull as they sped towards the port.
Their pursuers accelerated as well. The two sinister craft now neck and neck as they rushed in. But their blind angry pursuit came with one flaw. A mistake Calrose was hoping they would make. She suddenly dropped the accelerators and arced the ship under the port. The enormous structure was less than kilometer away as she expertly piloted the hauler between the docked transports, curling around the station. But the chasing craft noticed how close they had come far too late. Their dogged determination to catch the elusive craft set them plowing into the port. They were travelling too quickly to make the maneuver that the Gravy had.
The Gravy made its orbit around the station before twisting off into space. Calrose looked into her rear monitors, expecting to see the angered pursuers stalled by their dead end. But she had cut it too close. Not realizing just how intent they had been to catch her. They had forgotten that the looming station was there at all and she watched in horror as the two enemy craft smashed into the station's hull.
The attack craft penetrated into the port's outer shell then erupted into two massive explosions. The torrent of fire and debris rippled across the surface. Ejected sections of hull and ship sliced into docked transports, setting them alight.
Calrose's eyes widened as the entire port split in half.
"No." she muttered in disbelief. "No, no, no."
Calrose's hands went limp and slipped off the controls. Her full bottom lip trembled.
"Shit," she cursed in one of the human languages.
Arabel didn't know many human languages, but she knew that word, and she knew that any time Calrose slipped into the language something was really bad. She had never seen the captain so visibly shaken.  It was enough to get her out of her chair.
A delicate purple hued hand touched Calrose's shoulder. The captain blinked rapidly, shaking away her own chaotic thoughts. She looked up at the teenager standing next to her, touching her out of sympathy. She tried desperately to steel her resolve, but she could feel tears welling in her eyes.
"That," she stammered, a rarity for the captain to have such difficulty with words. "That was not supposed to happen."
"It was an accident, Captain." Arabel said calmly, her hand squeezing Calrose's shoulder softly. "You were just doing what you had to do to get us out of harm's way."
"But all those people."
"It isn't your fault, Rebecca."
Calrose looked up at the girl, nearly half her age, it had been a long time since she heard someone use her given name. She tried to smile, but knew it showed as little more than a smirk. Smiling wasn't exactly something she had much practice in.
"This isn't the military." Jett stated, once again leaning over the back of the co-pilot seat. Calrose knew that. Her military days were behind her,  but the reminder hurt.
"Yeah," Arabel  chimed in. "Your job isn't to protect everyone. We didn't ask to be frething attacked by whoever these assholes are."
Calrose stifled a chuckle at Arabel's profanity.
"Did I use that right?" Arabel giggled, rolling her eyes as if trying to mentally look up the word.
"You used it just fine, but you should really learn more of the human languages than just the expletives." The usual calm demeanor returned to Calrose's face. She pushed her painful thoughts out of her mind. Grabbing the controls she turned the ship away from demolished station and from the memories of her past.
Arabel returned to her seat and tapped on her displays. "Now how about that gate idea?"

Calrose nodded silently.

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