Just after I spoke, the fiery flare of neutrons streaming from that same whorl set the shields of one of my escorts ablaze.
Kirkwood was calling out the vector and the shield damage estimate on ‘Sharktooth’ as Mo’s nose drove ‘upward’.
An astute observer with knowledge of physics and no experience in space would argue that you can’t use words like ‘high’, ‘low’, ‘up’ or ‘down’ out here in the big empty where there is neither gravity nor a planet to orient yourself to. But you have to give directions somehow, and we have a standard in the ESDF. When you are away from star systems, your default orientation is with your Bottom quadrant facing as close to Galactic South as your course allows, so we call that direction ‘Down’. North is ‘Up’. Some people do say North and South, but that’s rare. Human minds want to think in a plane, and the most obvious plane to choose is the Galactic one.
My mind clawed for targeting info as I pushed Mo around as much as I could. A Goblin can’t ‘knuckleball’ like a Banshee making use of its transverse jets, but it has decent maneuverability. Still, if you can’t see what you are trying to dodge, you’re just jumping around in the dark no matter what you’re flying.
I remembered something, and mentioned, “Daz, forget about those sails and tails.”
I needed to settle on whether I was going to call him ‘Daz’ or ‘Lewis’. I noticed I wasn’t being consistent. I shrugged and decided to stick with ‘Daz’.
“Forgotten, sir,” he answered.
At last, my display began showing a consistent plot of the thing I had been seeing ghosts of… three plots, actually, but running parallel. Kirkwood mentioned the same observation, and put an icon on it in the battle plot for Letour.
Ledford was screened from that direction, but Xiu and Vilaró began their counter-fire as Letour reported, “Battle system IDs three generic slave cruisers, but they read small. It makes them as around the mass of scout frigates. No species ID.”
“They’re still plenty bigger than us,” I muttered. Spotting the plot of a pair of missiles, I called out, “Incoming! Intercept Fire!”
Letour’s PD mounts and Xiu and Vilarós weapons all began seeking out the plot. Good, sharp work, I noted with satisfaction. But the missiles had intelligence; they were dodging the shots as they approached. One was destroyed, but I ended up dropping a spread of anti-missile mines as the other began getting too close for my comfort.
I couldn’t tell whether it was one of my mines or one of the projectors that got it, but I did feel like we were starting to put distance between us and the bandits. I called to the Road Kings, who had dropped back to go after the ships, “I’m running away from our course northward to port. They’re heavy enough we should be able to lose them.”
What I was giving wasn’t the literal direction– you can’t change the course of a something the size of Mo that fast, but the average direction in which I was adding a new vector to our current course.
“Roger,” Martins called back as I pushed the thrust upward. Mo is no fighter, but its uprated engines can manage a hefty thrust. No ship the size of the things threatening us could keep up with me, and we had hit the fold at a higher velocity than our campers appear to have been moving, but we still had several long minutes to go before we were out of range. I kept pushing randomly port, down, up and starboard, up… first rule of this fight club is, Never fly a straight line!
Then my gut grew cold as I noticed a faint plot paralleling Mo.
“Bogeys! Probable fighter size ships, unknown number, off our lower port. Ledford do you have them?”
“Negative! Where are they?”
“Four o’clock, about thirty degrees below plane!” I answered.
I didn’t hear Ledford’s answer, because alarms blared and the ship yawed hard to starboard in the exact moment he would have spoken. I pushed the control to port, looking frantically for a cause for the sudden skew. No hits, no weird hyperlight cross currents, nothing…. but then I discovered that my port side secondary thruster was suddenly at 100 percent, regardless of how I steered.
“Red! What’s happening to my controls?!”
“No hydraulics in the port side housing… it looks like a line blew out. Automatic hydro line cutoffs are engaged.”
“I should be at fifty then! Why am I at a hundred?!”
“No idea! No data!”
I swore as I began working out an alternate way to control my ship. With the port side blasting as hard as it could, the best the starboard could do was match it. The main has a very rudimentary gimbaling mechanism in the skirt generator, but it is only used for general trimming; you can’t make quick adjustments to it. Other than literally turning the entire ship with attitude thrusters, which is problematic at these speeds thanks to hyperlight pressure, I had no means to steer to port.
The solution is to spin the ship to make port a different direction. If I need to go that way and that way equals port, then I have to flip the ship over so that that way would now be starboard. But continually spinning the ship to steer is a guaranteed way to screw up your own gunners.
Another set of missiles, three of them this time, were headed our direction from the bigger ships to the rear. I called them out and released two more anti-missile mine spreads and Letour’s point defense began working again.
Xiu reported “I got the bandit!” and began firing. Shortly after that, two glancing blows struck our shields; probably alien neutron projectors, from the way my shields reacted. Her fire kept streaming out, joined by Ledford, but with me twisting this way and that, they were having a hard time putting the crosshairs on the bad guy. Fortunately the same could be said for the bad guys and their targeting.
Each of Mo’s mounts was shooting close to double the fire power of a standard Goblin bomber’s mounts, and that was roughly what my old freighter specs packed… in total, not per mount. To put it another way, I had added roughly six times the ion projector firepower I started with. Oh, and if anything ever got in front of me, I still had my original guns that could stuck out to shoot around the cargo. This was the reason I no longer had internal cargo space; it had been taken up by an additional mater conversion core to power the overload of guns.
So what was returning to the four… no, five fighters incoming
With Ledford now fighting and Vilaró now occasionally joining, whenever my spinning brought him into play, I ordered him and Xiu to switch to the missiles. I wanted to add my own battery to the fight, but I had my hands full. I ordered Kirkwood to take them from the auxiliary control at her station.
Finally Letour had the plot on the fighters as well, and launched a spread of missiles outward. All but one flew off erratically; they lost lock before they cleared the launcher thanks to my flying. The one good shot did catch a fighter, and it showed signs of damage.
By this time, Letour had a read on the enemy as well. “Panda parasite fighters. The other are consistent with Panda scout ships.”
It was a slave race, as I already had figured out, since the plots looked nothing like the Enemy themselves. And no, the aliens themselves don’t look like panda bears. They got the name from their predilection for painting their ships in stark white and black, unlike the matte grey you see most races using.
With another cuss word, I ordered, “Red, cut the portside secondary. Emergency cutoff now!”
“But you’ll have to cut starboard too! You’ll have no yaw control!”
Red, what the hell?!! I wailed privately while I continued to horse the thing around the sky with spin control only. Do it and ask questions later, like you always do!
She wasn’t cutting the jet, but a Goblin has a lot of dual control systems. In cases where one crew member is down, the same work can often by multitasked by another crew. Through my nerveware, I flipped through menus until I found the relevant engineering controls, then called out “Emergency Shutdown Port Side Secondary!” and hit the icon.
The skirt on the trim cut and the thrust ceased as the emergency shutdown circuits went to work. I could stabilize again. Contrary to what Red said, I could put the ship into sideslip with the nose jets and use the starboard-side trim alone. That probably is difficult to imagine. Most Goblin Drivers wouldn’t even try it. Just think of it as, I was not longer thrusting quite the direction that I was pointing my ship.
With stability returned, both Xiu and Ledford could now find their targets, and they did. Xiu picked off an oncoming missile as I rolled to put Vilaró into the game as well. It looked like the anti-missile mines had taken out the other two. Or Xiu managed to hit them while I was still checking for the fighters. I would have to review the tapes.
Vilaró and Kirkwood kept laying down fire where they could while Letour launched another missile spread. By the time the Road Kings had found returned from attacking the scouts, only two Panda fighters remained. My gunners held their fire to avoid hitting the good guys. I relaxed, because the enemy in question stood no chance against Luna Moths, and scanned the rest of the sky for any signs of further enemy.
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