So today I am going to do something a little unusual. I am going to post a story from an as-yet unpublished work, and I am going to post the complete story. Not that anyone will actually read it, but nothing ever dies on the internet.
The Other Half
“Peristeronic – of or pertaining to pigeons.” – American Heritage Dictionary
“These conditions are even more deplorable than the first trip!” Dora stamped her foot and angrily.
They were currently standing on a platform atop one of the tall space-port towers on Gleskel Core, while Hunter and Jason looked over the ship they had secured to gain passage home.
“I demand first-class accommodations on one of those big luxury vessels we saw in orbit!” Dora shouted.
“Shoulda made your reservations four years ago, then,” Jason replied. “The Caucuses are a pretty major event; they’re probably already sold out for the next one.”
“Well… then…” Dora stammered, clenching her teeth.
Metanie came down the ramp that led into the ship, holding a sour look on her face.
“As much as I hate to agree with the little scamp, this isn’t exactly my cup of tea either,” she admitted. “The crew compartment has eight bunks and only one washroom.”
“This is a G.S. Corvette,” Jason replied. “A combat ship of the line. I asked for something speedy, not something roomy.”
“It’s one of the new Falcon-class, too,” Hunter grinned. “Looks like a fish, moves like a fish, steers like a cow—from what I’ve heard. Can’t wait to get her out into open space and start caressing those curves.”
“I applaud your ability to make something as simple as piloting a spacecraft sound dirty,” Metanie gave a slight bow. “But my point remains: we won’t survive crammed in here for a week. I’m not sure who will be the first to snap, but someone is going to go crazy and murder the rest of us. Of that, I am confident.”
“I wasn’t actually planning on staying overnight,” Jason replied. “There’s plenty of habitable worlds to stop at along the way.”
“Oh, joy,” Metanie rolled her eyes. “Camping.”
“In five-star hotels,” Jason shrugged. “Most of the rooms are probably large enough to set up a tent in, if you prefer.”
“You mean you’re actually springing for deluxe accommodations?” Metanie gasped.
“I’m trying to figure out where you ever got the idea that I was cheap,” Jason shrugged. “Look, there aren’t a lot of luxury liners that go out to the Bur’Ian-region. If we felt like waiting around for a month, then spending three changing ships multiple times, we could take a cruise back. But I’d rather borrow a fast ship from the local Gudersnipe Garrison and get home in a week, with a few stop-offs along the way. We’ll only be crammed in here for eight, twelve hours at a time, tops, ok?”
“Sure,” Metanie sighed and forced a weak smile. “That sounds ok.”
“In the meantime, Hunter’s had the galley stocked with a fine assortment of gourmet delicacies,” Jason continued. “All of which he will be using to show off with the entire ride home. Just remember: he’s probably pronouncing the names wrong and doesn’t know any better.”
“Hey,” Hunter snapped.
“You bring it on yourself,” Jason retorted.
The blue and white vessel was long, thin, and roughly arrow-head-shaped. It had smooth, streamlined features and a lifting body for atmospheric flight, and three big, powerful Ion-Vacuum-Drive engines for propulsion. Two gun turrets, one mounted on the top and the other on the bottom, gave the ship a slightly more sinister tone. The two torpedo tubes and six spatial charges were well camouflaged, but the vessel was undoubtedly a gunship.
“Falcon-class corvette,” Hunter wrapped on the metal hull joyfully. “Seventy-PSL-plus on the straightaway, armed to the teeth, maximum endurance of twelve weeks.”
“It does look rather sporting,” Laden admitted.
“‘Vettes are popular on the aftermarket to be re-tooled as yachts,” Hunter explained. “Fast, maneuverable, and designed for multi-venue access. It’s tough to find a ship that can handle inter-stellar travel well and still make planet-fall with relative ease. Plus, once you tear out the weapons you’ve got plenty of space for state-rooms and such. And it can run on a fairly small crew, just three at minimum. Yeah, they’re nice little ships.”
“Also nice for smuggling,” Jason put in. “Very popular for that purpose as well.”
“Well, all aboard that’s goin aboard,” Hunter called. “We launch at six-bells!”
He quickly produced a large, ornamental hand bell from under his jacket and rang it six times, before putting on a tri-cornered hat and marching up the ramp.
“Where did you even get those?” Jason snarled.
“Maritime-themed gift shop,” Hunter replied.
* * *
The corvette basically had two internal compartments: a crew compartment and what was essentially the bridge. There was also an engineering department, but neither Hunter nor Jason was about to let any of their passengers wander back there.
The crew compartment consisted of little more than eight bunks built into the wall, a small alcove with a few seats and a table, another alcove with a galley, and a washroom in back. It was so cramped you could barely turn around, but there was a toilet and shower, just the barest necessities.
The bridge was, comparatively, very spacious. It had a pilot and copilot seat at the front, stations for navigation, engineering, communications, and weapons control, as well as two curious stations in the center. One was mounted high and you had to climb a small ladder to reach the seat, the other was down low in a depression. The seats were surrounded by metal cages that spun freely on all axis, and the control stations for each looked like a pair of joysticks with triggers.
“Those control the gun turrets,” Jason explained. “The guns themselves can turn three-hundred-sixty-degrees by one-hundred-eighty, but the chairs spin three-sixty-by-three-sixty to help you track targets.”
Lily was already sitting in one, playing with the controls and making explosion noises with her mouth. Unsure what to do with herself, Metanie sat at one the other stations and leaned on the console.
“Don’t do that!” Jason snapped, and Metanie practically jumped.
“That’s fire-control, you could launch a torpedo,” Jason warned, a bit less harshly. He came and stood beside her for a moment and started pointing to the various controls. “These are the safety features here, and here. This is the launch button, this section here explains the various prep stages before launch—if all the lights are green, that means the torpedo is ready to be fired.”
“What about that one?” Metanie asked, pointing to the ominous red button under a plastic guard.
“That’s the hell-box,” Jason explained. “If an armed torpedo misses it’s target, it’s going to start looking around for a new one, we call that ‘seeking’, when it doesn’t have a lock. Sometimes, it can come back around and lock onto the ship that fired it, if that happens we use the hell-box to destroy it. Basically, it sends a signal to the warhead telling it to detonate.”
“W-what happens if I push it now?” Metanie asked cautiously.
“Nothing, the warheads aren’t armed,” Jason reassured. “There’s all sorts of safety features, it’s just not wise to lean on the console.”
“Safety, on a torpedo,” Metanie shook her head. “For some reason that just doesn’t sound right.”
“You got safeties on a gun,” Jason shrugged. “Look here, see this control? These are all the torpedo safety systems, and which ones you want armed. With all safeties on, you can’t fire until the target has been ‘locked’ into the torpedo’s navigational computer, the warhead won’t arm until it’s within ten thousand feet of it’s target, and if it missies, the whole thing will just go dead. You can also set it to detonate if it misses, but that’s a little dangerous.
“Anyway, no safeties just tell it to lock on to whatever’s right in front of it, and arm as soon as it leaves the tube. This can make it more susceptible to counter-measures, but it’s also harder to shake since it just knows ‘go that way and explode’.”
“So, no missiles on a little runt-ship like this?” Metanie asked.
“Two torpedoes and six spatial-charges,” Jason replied. “Plus all the guns: four on each turret and the main cannon in the nose. These things may have a long endurance, but they really aren’t meant to spend more than a few weeks out on patrol, and come in for re-supply after every battle.”
They were already well-clear of the solar system, but the space around Gleskel Core was not without hazards. A few routes in and out of the region had been cleared for safe passage, but all of these were currently crowded with the big luxury liners. For a small ship like the Corvette, this meant a lot of careful plotting and picking their way around navigational hazards. Or, at times, dropping out of FTL all together.
Since Hunter was busy flying the ship, Jason felt he had nothing better to do than walk Metanie through the rest of the controls, and there were a lot. While fighters were smaller, the Corvette was really considered the smallest starship in the fleet. In order to meet the criteria, a ‘starship’ had to be capable of inter-stellar travel, and have an endurance long enough to not require a carrier for frequent servicing.
The Corvette was designed to approach the maneuverability and speed of a fighter, while having an extremely long endurance and a drastically extended sensor-range. This was accomplished at the cost of armament; a Falcon-class corvette could only carry two torpedoes and six charges, while a Harpy, despite being significantly smaller, could carry dozens of missiles, charges, mines, or even a large number of torpedoes.
“What’s that flashing light?” Metanie asked.
As Jason followed her pointing finger, he had just enough time to raise one eyebrow before the ship shuddered and shook.
And then the alarms began to blast.
“Master-caution alarm!” Hunter called from the forward section. “They took out the dorsal fuel-line, we are venting drive-plasma! Reading five marks coming in at all angles!”
“Take evasive action!” Jason called back. “Dora, Laden, get in the passenger compartment and lock yourselves in—do it! Lily, take the navigation seat and help Hunter track the sensor-contacts.”
He started towards one of the turret guns, but then paused and headed for the nose.
“Hunter, you’d better let me take over,” he said. “You’re a way better shot than I am.”
“Right,” Hunter nodded. He rolled out of the pilot’s chair and crossed the small cabin in a few steps, virtually hurling himself into the upper gun turret.
“Metanie, take the other one,” Jason called. “It’s a simple point-and-click interface; if it moves, shoot it!”
“I don’t even know what I’m looking at here!” Lily called, indicating the large screen in front of her.
“See the three numbers in the upper-right-hand-corner?” Jason replied. “Just read those off!”
“Uh… two, nine, and the other number is four!” Lily shouted.
For communicating direction in three-dimensional space, the ships’ radar tracking systems used a variation on the old clock-face technique, with a twist. They added a second clock face at a ninety-degree angle. Both used the ship’s nose as twelve o’clock, then counter to the right and up. So two and nine meant they were coming from slightly to the right and down.
The third number refered to a grouping of sensor contacts coming in from roughly the same direction. At this range and at high speeds, the sensors were only so accurate, but more information wasn’t necessarily vital.
“A’right, four marks coming in at two-three!” Jason translated.
“I see them,” Metanie growled.
Open space was projected in a three-dimensional display around her, and four small geometric shapes moving in a tight formation. There was a target cross-hair that indicated which direction her guns were pointed, and she focused on one and squeezed the triggers.
There was no audible sound, but the computer screen indicated four long beams of light moving out. Two of them struck the shape, and it disappeared.
“Got one!” she shouted.
“All right, we have a kill,” Jason reported. “Hunter, they should be coming by you next.”
“Come into my parlor, said the spider to the fly,” Hunter grinned.
Two more shapes disappeared.
“Two more confirmed,” Hunter said. “Any word on the big one?”
“I’ve got it on sensors,” Jason reported. “Looks like an old tramp freighter converted. Blasted pirates, I heard they were in these parts but I didn’t think they’d attack a ship with a G.S. transponder!”
“They probably think this is an older-model that’s been retrofit into somebody’s yacht,” Hunter snapped.
“Or a smuggler, carrying something valuable,” Jason rolled his eyes.
“Come around and get a lock on ‘em, then arm tube one!” Hunter ordered. “Let’s show ‘em this birdy’s wings ain’t been clipped yet!”
“The last fighter’s still out there,” Jason warned. “Lily, keep an eye on it.”
“Uhhhh… six-five?” Lily suggested.
“He’s right on our tail,” Jason growled. “In your hemisphere, Hunter, see if you get another kill.”
“Gladly,” Hunter growled. “Good night!”
“That’s it, four confirmed kills,” Jason said. “Coming in on the main ship.”
He leaned back in his chair and began flailing at the torpedo controls.
“Fire on my mark,” Hunter said.
“Hey, what do you mean ‘kills’?” Metanie asked.
“Working on it,” Jason grunted. “Ok, torpedo ready in all respects!”
“Fire one!” Hunter shouted.
“What did he mean by ‘kills’?” Metanie repeated. “Weren’t those things—just unmanned drones or something?”
Flames issued from the front of the ship as a torpedo roared forwards.
“All I could reach was the main safety-off switch,” Jason warned. “The fish was armed as soon as it hit the water.”
“We’re in space!” Metanie snapped. “And someone tell me those were just unmanned drones!”
“Nimbus fighters, according to the combat scanner,” Hunter replied. “One pilot each. Congratulations, you took a life.”
He swung down from the gun turret and landed in the fire-control chair.
“Torpedo is seeking,” he reported. “Scratch that, it’s a miss!”
“Tap the hell-box,” Jason ordered. “We don’t want that thing coming around to haunt us!”
Hunter flipped up the small guard and pushed the button, causing the blinking triangle of the torpedo to disappear off the screen. In G.S. parlance, the phrase ‘coming back to haunt’ specifically referred to a torpedo coming back and striking the ship which fired it, thus turning the crew into ghosts.
“All right, I’m arming tube number two,” Hunter said. “Bring us around for another attack run.”
“You want I should pulse the reactors to charge up the main gun?” Jason asked.
“‘You want I should’?” Hunter repeated. “Been speaking Common long?”
“Hey, they’re trying to lock onto us with a tractor beam!” Jason shouted. “I’m breaking off!”
“If we want to get a good shot at them we’re going to have to disable that,” Hunter snorted. “Arming a spatial-charge!”
As the ship made a sharp turn, a small cylinder dropped out the bottom. It was only about twice the size of a fifty-gallon oil drum and clearly had nothing onboard for attitude control.
“Proximity fuse, five-thousand-feet,” Hunter reported.
“They grabbed it, probably think it’s cargo,” Jason grinned. “They are reeling it in…”
“Marlins are a bit safer,” Hunter snorted.
The charge exploded before the pirate ship realized what they had. A ‘spatial charge’ was nothing more sophisticated than a 5 kiloton N1 warhead wrapped in about three tones of basalt. The nuclear explosion vaporized the rock, sending out a powerful shockwave of energized plasma, which in this case struck the old converted vessel right in the proverbial face.
“All right, I’m coming around again,” Jason said. “The engines are red-lining; we better get ‘em on this pass.”
“Torpedo ready in all respects,” Hunter growled. “Five… four… read… steady… firing two!”
The second torpedo launched and struck the ship dead ahead, cracking it in half before engulfing the hull in a huge fireball.
“It’s a hit!” Hunter shouted. “Solid strike amidships! We have a kill!”
“I’m not liking this constant use of the word ‘kill’,” Metanie quivered. Tears had begun streaming down her face.
“Eh, just standard army-talk,” Hunter replied. “When you confirm destruction of an enemy ship or fighter, it’s reported as a ‘kill’, and you’re going to need quite a few more of them if you ever want to be a combat-ace.”
“I don’t want to be a combat ace,” Metanie shook her head and began to cry quietly. “I don’t want to kill people!”
“Not only was it obviously self defense,” Jason rolled his eyes. “But we’ll probably get some kind of reward for killing those pirates. Foundation may not have a particularly strong presence in the region, but not a lot of folk stand for piracy.”
Hunter moved over to the station beside Jason and started running diagnostics on the ship.
“Limping along on two engines, we should be able to make it to our next stop,” he said. “There’s a port there we can put into for repairs.”
“They got us pretty bad, didn’t they?” Jason growled. “Why were you running with no shields?”
“Because sometimes that’s how I roll,” Hunter gestured.
“Given the obvious dangers of the region, the real possibility of attack, rogue meteor showers, plasma storms, and other astronomical phenomena plagueing the area,” Jason scolded. “You should not have—”
“That’s how I roll!” Hunter snapped.
* * *
“No, no, no! Look, take the thingy, and use it to twist the thingy that’s next to the other thingy! This is not complicated!”
Hunter heaved his tri-corner hat like a boomerang at the incompetent tech who was struggling to get the damaged engines back online. They’d apparently been working all night, and managed only to break the other two engines in the process.
“Well, it looks like we won’t be taking off as soon as I thought,” Jason sighed as he turned to Metanie. “Listen, you aren’t G.S., so you really can’t be expected to get through a battle like that and just shrug it off.”
Metanie sniffled and nodded. She’d been up all night, tossing and turning, trying to keep from thinking about the event. Who was the man in the cockpit of the fighter she’d destroyed? Did he have a family? Did they miss him? Had he only turned to piracy to feed his children?
“Anyway,” Jason continued. “Big difference between G.S. and C.B. is C.B. does a lot more citations. Now it wasn’t exactly a big thing—enemy fighters got shot down all the time—but it is worth recognizing.”
Metanie gulped as she watched Jason fish a small felt-covered box out of his pocket. He opened it to reveal a five-pointed black star, almost tiny enough to be worn as an earring.
“This citation is to certify that Metanie Bur’I did shoot down one hostile contact in combat,” Jason told her. “I know technically you’re a civilian, but there are no civilians in battle.”
He took the metal and carefully pinned it to the collar of Metanie’s blouse, then raised his right arm in salute. He held it there for a moment, then lowered it, and offered the box to Metanie.
“They don’t carry those in the airport gift shop, you know,” Jason told her. “I pulled a few strings to get it for you.”
Quivering with fear, Metanie looked down at the small black star sitting on the pink collar of her shirt. Hunter had taken out three of them, two on a single pass; and it hadn’t even phased him. How many lives had he or Jason ended without even a second thought? How could he expect her to have the same resolve?
“All right, let’s go find something to do for a few hours,” Hunter grimaced as he headed back towards the elevator. He had retrieved his hat and was now reaching for that stupid bell, clearly ready to repeat his juvenile ‘all aboard that’s going aboard’ routine on the moving car.
Well, if they could shoot down fighters, apparently so could she.
Started and Finished Tuesday, September 28, 2010, 3:42 P.M.
Edited Wednesday, April 13, 2011 2:57 P.M.