51: Goblin Driver 17 – Pursuit

The Slave species called “Rednose” had nothing to do with reindeer. Like Pandas, they were named for a predilection to color their craft a certain way. In their case, without fail, the front ends of all their ships, large and small, are red.

They can be much more effective fighters than Pandas, too. Fortunately, we were facing their interceptors, not their main battle fighters like our Banshees.

Unfortunately, we were facing interceptors, which could catch up to us.

“Found him!” Kirkwood crowed. “He’s… he appears to be trying to dress, Captain.”

Her tone had gone rapidly from exultation to befuddlement.

The hell? Sweating like mad and keeping one eye on the approaching Slaves, I flipped to the camera Kirkwood designated and opened the audio.

“Armsman! You’re way late to the couch! I called out belt-in four minutes ago! I’ll have to call out take-holds on the PA and maneuver, do you understand? Take hold immediately when you hear it!”

“Yes, sir! Sorry sir!” Gereben yelled as he struggled with his flight suit. He was sopping wet, which wasn’t helping matters. “I was in the shower and didn’t hear it!”

The shower? I flipped over to the private channel to Joss and growled, “PTO, tell your people that when we are at Battle Warning, stay dressed and the hell away from places like the shower!”

“Noted, Captain,” came back the tight reply.

I ramped up farther, but the Slaves were coming on seriously fast. They were using something like the compensation that our fighter pilots use. You can’t do things like that for an entire starship, just in small spaces like fighter cockpits. That was why Mo and other vessels big enough to call starships didn’t have the dual range engines of Banshees and other fighters, that could produce two wildly different modes of thrust. One mode is for regular acceleration without compensation, and one is for insane accelerations that would kill uncompensated passengers in an instant.

Big ships use the same reaction mass to thrust only at regular acceleration, but with far better efficiency and over much greater time. It takes me longer to reach velocity, but I still get up to speeds that aren’t that much slower than the top speeds of the best fighters.

The only saving grace to my current situation was, my acceleration was all negative delta vee. I might have been speaking about thrust, but I was using it to go slower, not faster, to decelerate from interstellar speeds to the speeds that were safe as I got closer to the star. The Rednoses were trying to change position across the system, and that was giving them positive Delta Vee. My predators would either reach me doing a massively greater speed than me, making them unable to stand and fight me, or they would have to slow down very soon on an intercept burn, giving me plenty of time to get my errant passenger to his couch.

Which I desperately needed to do, because I was getting into territory where I was way too fast for the oncoming headwind. Flying in Meta-Space near a star bears a lot more in common with atmospheric flying than Normal Space flying because of that. The hyperlight that was simply the wind in my sails out in the Big Empty was becoming a threat to the hull of my ship.

Our course was still largely unaltered, since I was keeping the thrust to one gee. That one gee has many times more effect in Meta-Space than Normal Space, but over such a short time it was still only a small percentage of the high velocity we still had. I was still largely where I was going to have been, when the Rednoses chose their course to intercept me.

I had to get down out of this range where I was chewing up AUs. The slower I was in relation to them the better. I also had to stop pushing so hard starward, because I was going to get into denser wind soon and start burning up my shields.

Stick your right thumb in the air and point your right index finger straight out. Now curl your other fingers. Your thumb is pointing in the direction of positive declination. Your index finger is pointing outward, which some call ‘outbound’. And the direction your other fingers are curling is spinward.

Now picture yourself big enough to wrap that hand around a star with your index finger pointing at the axis of the galaxy and your other fingers curling the direction that the primaries orbit around the star. Positive and Negative is the angle up or down, which we call declination, Spinward and Antispinward is the angle backward or forward in orbit, which we call azimuth, and outward or starward is the distance from the star, the altitude. Your index finger is pointing away from the star along its equatorial plane at zero degrees azimuth, zero degrees declination.

Got it? Good. You’ve just finished your first ESDF in-system navigation lesson.

So the issue was, I was still travelling mostly starward, and I wasn’t thrusting hard enough to slow down against the oncoming hyperlight. My shield streamlines things for me somewhat , but I’m still a big fat stumpy thing trying to ram its way through resistance hard enough to make those shields flare up like the heat shield on an old Apollo spacecraft.

“Incoming missiles!”

I looked at the track Letour had highlighted. They were clearly changing course to match me, so they were locked on. No choice. Fortunately the thrust meant my stray passenger was on his feet and could get in position easily. “Armsman! Lie flat on the floor, arms and legs spread out, head against the floor!”

He would have already drilled the emergency high gee position on the ground. As he took the position, in the middle of a corridor one deck below his couch, I barked, “Lastunen! Main jet to full! Daz! Haul back on the portside sails, hard as they’ll go!

I simultaneously ramped the topside secondary and pulled the controls for a bottom by port turn, (read that as down and to the left), while the jetman worked to bring up the thrust far faster than I could safely do it from the helm. It’s a hands-on job, which is why we had him manning the main rather than Red running it from the flight engineer’s board.

I could hear my ship protesting, its ancient bones creaking under the shifting loads.

Mind you, Red could do it– a top-flight plugger knew tricks they didn’t teach in jet training–  but we had discussed and agreed before the trip that we would keep that option off the table. Having the jetman working during battle stations was less risky. We did agree to go back to the old way if she decided Lastunen wasn’t good enough, but as it turned out…

Well, it turned out he was the only new crewman who was accustomed to flying a Goblin our way. Erno Lastunen had spent the last ten years flying in Battle Fleet, crewing their anti-shipping heavy bombers. Those guys don’t loaf along in big groups like normal heavy bombers. They fly individually, floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee, like the man said. Similar to the way we do things on Mo.

I was a little amazed at how soon I had eight gees. Unfortunately it was bad news for Gereben. He had slid across the floor into the wall with the hard turn and was now enduring the crushing torture of weighing almost three quarters of a tonne with a broken shoulder.

“Captain!” Joss’s voice came, “I am unstrapping to assist my troop!”

“Are you out of your mind?” I sent back. By the way, I was using synth voice through my nerveware. There is no way in Hades that I can speak intelligibly with my real voice at eight gees. I assumed Joss was doing something similar; I didn’t know how Zindavoor or their mannequins work, but perhaps they had something.

“My body simulacrum can work at this gravity!”

It isn’t gravity, the picky part of my pilot brain whined, but I didn’t say that out loud. Not the time.

I did some rapid calcs while working my controls for two more turns. I still had that drag from the sail doing most of the work, but I was skewing back and forth with my attitude jets and working my secondaries, to throw the approaching missiles off.

“Fir… ing… point… de… fense,” came Kirkwood’s very clumsy synthetic voice. It’s sampled from one’s real voice, but a computer is doing the talking. It can sound like a really crude robocall instead of your natural voice if you don’t have enough dexterity with your nerveware.

We were flying tail first, of course, since we were primarily still concerned about arriving at a safe speed. That meant my forward guns, that stuck out the sides to fire around the cargo, were pointed the right direction. Through my nerveware, I also began firing at the missiles. Xie and Vilaró also opened up.

“Daz, collapse the sail!” I called while ramping up the topside secondary. “Lastunen, come down to five gees!”

None of them had nerveware advanced enough to do synth-voice, and talking at five gees sounds like you’re trying to carry an elephant, so their confirmations came in by text. The hard skew to the side that had been pressing Gereben to the wall decreased.

“Okay, Joss, go!”

- my thoughts:

Writing space battles is challenging as heck, but a lot of fun.

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