Rad warnings wailed and her shield capacity meter turned yellow, declaring dangerous energy levels. She knuckle-balled out of the line of fire, then reversed her ship, flying tail-first while pumping fire into the outrider and cursing at herself.
Vampire called, “Your six, high! Break off!”
She hit the compensation matrix and the high-gee mode as an invisible pseudopod from the ring nearly reached her. Dropping the burn only moments later, she decompensated and flipped again, let loose a missile at its root.
Rings and outriders had killed far too many of her friends, so she’d dove in with a vengeance. Exactly as they had expected. The Gr’ts’ck had suckered her into doing something stupid. She’d seen ahead of time that they were playing her and she’d sworn it wouldn’t work and she’d let it happen anyway
She had escaped pseudopod range at last but two groups of outriders were now converging on her. They had her boxed in against the ring.
Poe, like a good winger, needed to come in and take on one of the two groups so she had an opportunity to tackle the other. With a medium dose of luck, neither of their dogfights would carry them back into pseudopod reach. Given the opponent, she wouldn’t have blamed someone as green as him if he were too intimidated to arrive in time. But she already knew deep in her heart what was really about to happen. She flipped once more, just in time to see the unimpressed rookie ignoring the outriders and heading straight at the ring itself.
He didn’t have a chance of taking it out, but he would know that. He was using his head, Vampire-style. His sole intention was to draw fire away from her. The outriders wouldn’t dare let a Banshee have open season on their mother ship. They had no choice. All eight outrider plots altered course the moment they grasped the threat.
“No!” she screamed and redlined her jet, intent on getting to the ring first, drawing them back away before his suicidal plan succeeded.
It was a classic noob mistake, the sort she’d not made since her first week in the sims three years before, before she’d ever touched a real Banshee. Nobody with her experience could even imagine screwing up this much. The Banshee’s full-cycle direct-control dual mode plasma engine had a moderate chance of going from zero thrust to full output in one swing. The action didn’t have to result in a core melt, and perhaps the alien engine makers had equipped the design with no fail-safe because of that. Or perhaps they just didn’t understand that all Humans had the capacity to transform into complete idiots without warning.
The output and field-strength meters pegged. Her couch slammed her as the gees ran up from zero up past ten, thrusting in standard gee mode. The computer phantom ‘ring’ rushed at her on her screens and then enveloped her as she kamikazed her way through the simulation. Her kill buzzer joined its squawking rhythm to the wailing alarms while, behind her, the main jet tore itself to pieces. The chunks melted and fed themselves to the collapsing skirt, becoming extra reaction mass.
At last, the pre-chargers drained off and the batteries fell dead. Her ship became a dead lump of metal hurtling on a collision path directly toward the Moon.
# # #
Tony’s hands went into action before he knew they’d moved. He worked to secure a ground channel through the keyboard. Meanwhile, data flowed through his wrist pick-ups, vectors and energy states for two ships now alone in the sky. The scenario had disappeared; control had canceled it because of the IRL emergency. He shoved aside irritating reports that told him nothing he didn’t already know to get to the only details he needed. Truly, he required only one vital piece of knowledge at this moment, and the rapid calculator buzzing in the back of his head gave it to him before the computers reported it.
Rissa was above vee-max for successful extraction. The only motive force she could call upon was the short rocket burn from her ejection seat. It could not provide even a small percentage of the delta-vee she needed. She had a thin chance to survive the impending impact in freeze-up, but otherwise Rissa would die.
Even before Tony began on the next possibility, Vampire seemed to pick it out of his skull. His Banshee began an interception burn with the stricken ship, powering straight down at the Moon. He had no intention of giving up on his lead.
Neither did Kahuna. He had the answer, but he didn’t like it.
He had already opened a channel in the ground comm using his instructor’s password. He closed his eyes so he could concentrate on sending his synthetic voice through the nerve-ware. “Control, this is Seven-seven-eight.”
“Get off the air, kid! Your ship’s on the ground! We’ve got a situation here!”
It might have been that situation, or the flight controller’s tone or maybe the word ‘Kid’. Whatever it was, Tony had no time for it. Keeping his tone as cold as he could, he ordered rapid-fire, “I am Vampire’s flight instructor and you will patch me through, now!”
The people gathered around his station stared at him. He realized he had spoken out loud. Then it dawned on him that it didn’t matter, since his synth voice had already been coming over the observation lounge speaker anyhow. They’d already been staring. He resumed the tunnel vision that had kept him from noticing.
Certain rules in the ESDF stood absolute. One of the oldest was, that a captain’s word equaled law as long as his ship flew. Whether he commanded the biggest battle cruiser in Fleet or a single-seat fighter, a captain was always a captain. And if that captain happened to be a trainee pilot, then his instructor of record came with the package, whether he was on board or not. Senior Commander Portelli, Farside’s Sky Boss, replaced the flight controller with calm professional tones. “Patching you through, Aviator… Go ahead.”
The two pilots had been arguing during his exchange with Bass Comm. Rissa’s voice come across before he could speak.
“Break off!” she was yelling.
“No.” Poe must have been watching the Moon growing like a fast-forward in his windshield, but his calm voice didn’t show a hint of adrenalin.
“You will obey a direct order!”
Tony broke in. “Kahuna to Vampire! State your intentions!”
The cadet responded in the same matter-of-fact voice that he might have used to describe what he had for lunch. “Invert, drop shields, get up under her belly, bring shields back up around her.”
“What?!” Cat Girl yelped.
Vampire kept directing his words to Tony. “I can push into her and rotate until we’re sideways, then keep my belly jets and my main jet thrusting the rest of the way down. The shield will hold her hull to mine. We’ll have good horizontal motion before we hit. If I can shallow up the angle enough, we’ll both survive.”