Hi The Relayers, special post today for fiction. We will be featuring the work of David “Duke” Lito today, an exciting multi-part submission. We hope you enjoy chapter 1.
Chapter 1 – The Ghost
The frost began to build up around the cockpit’s struts, a soothing white over the bluish diamond laminate. The cold creeping in as the ship’s hull radiated heat. In the shadow of a small chunk of rock, it was all but invisible. The Ghost painted jet black, with specks of white and ruby colored stripes inlaid in the wings and tail fins.
The young pirate opened and closed his gloved hands, trying to keep them warm and ready. He knew they wouldn’t give up. He knew this, because they hadn’t stopped looking for him for the past six hours. Looking past the frost, he could see a grey glint at 9 o’clock high. A Retaliator. No doubt loaded up with all kinds of advanced scanner tech. The trouble with these kind of jobs was that most of the target vehicles he took didn’t have jump engines.
He checked his chronometer on his mobiGlas. One hour to make the rendezvous pickup. Plenty of time. He looked up to check on the contact. It was gone. He nearly strained his neck looking around for the next couple of minutes. Then he saw it. Crossing right in front of him, only twelve hundred meters off, moving right to left across the pitch.
The young pirate immediately recognized what it was doing. The torpedo bay doors open and small metallic flecks began to pour out, catching the light like glitter falling in atmo, or snow caught in a beam of light in the dark. Seeker mines. A single one could fry him in his seat and leave the ship pristine. He checked the time. Fifty minutes. Behind the helmet glass, he grimaced. So much for his timetable.
He could see the mines as they began to disperse in all directions, streaking off randomly, searching for him. There was a good chance that several of them were close enough to the Ghost to put him in real and immediate danger. All it takes is one. Cursing, he frantically flipped switches powering systems as fast as he could, skipping unnecessary ones. Not many knew this trick, essentially a popping the clutch in the small ship.
He pushed the throttle to the limit. The engine roared to life and he was out of the shadow – it’s a TR3, designed for stealth, not performance. Once he hit the speed limit of the IFCS, he disabled his COMSTAB and went into glide mode, deftly strafing with his maneuvering thrusters around larger asteroids. With nothing to slow him down and with the main thruster off, he only needed to make fine adjustments to cleanly avoid the larger pieces by mere meters. He appreciated the responsiveness of the small fighter, after all, he didn’t have his shields up.
He knew they were coming for him. His jumpstart must have lit up their scopes, lit them up like a firework. Sure enough, he could see them on his holosphere. They weren’t coming for him directly, but flying fast in his direction. Unlike him, they disregarded their emissions, cruising at full burn.
Then their course changed. It wasn’t slow or sweeping like he expected, but fast and direct, now heading straight for him. The young pirate couldn’t believe it, somehow they’d spotted him in the darkness. ‘They’re good,’ he thought to himself and quickly considered his options. His left thumb hovered over the IFCS control hat – at least he could still outmaneuver them.
He pulled back on the control stick past vertical, stopping just forty-five degrees from a head on collision course with the Tali. He jammed the throttle into afterburner, looking up as the chase ship flew past, he swore he could see the pilot glaring at him but only for a moment. With his safeties disengaged, he’d killed his velocity and pushed the Ghost in the opposite direction too quickly and the darkness closed in around him.
Colour returned to his vision and he grinned behind his HUD and checked his instruments. The Tali was right there, in full chase, it’d made the exact same maneuver! He’d never seen a ship that large take a turn like that. A pang of worry hit him, an unnerving feeling. ‘The Tali pilot is better than me,’ he admitted freely. He knew hubris was a killer out here.
An idea popped into his head, without debating with himself he kicked the Ghost into a roll, behind one of the larger asteroids. He began weaving between each of the large asteroids, each turn distancing him from the chase ship. The young pirate’s body strained against his harness every time he changed vector. The Tali opened fire, filling the darkness of space with brightly colored bolts, almost in desperation.
Rolling behind an asteroid he knew he had five seconds before the pursuing Tali could establish a visual. Five wonderful seconds. With each turn he released the controls, frantically working on the hack job he was building on his mobiGlas. It wasn’t pretty, but it didn’t need to be. He uploaded the file packet to the Ghost’s onboard computer. The Tali almost six seconds behind, all weapons firing, it must have replaced it’s missile payload with the mines, for there were no missile lock warnings as expected. Some of the weapons fire hit the asteroids, causing small fist sized pieces to rain on the outside of the hull like hail.
He began to sway harder, feigning desperation and fear. He crossed over one more time, the Tali’s fire swinging past, a single shot piercing the rear tail. ‘Now!’ Dropping behind the asteroid, his missile racks opened – the hack job worked perfectly. All eight of the missiles fire off the racks, dumb and straight for the next asteroid. He knew he had to sell it. Increasing his speed, he rolled past the asteroid just as the missiles contacted. His wingtips impacted the surface and tore clean off, spinning back into the explosion.
The last of the hack did its work. A full shutdown of the ship’s systems. The Ghost went quiet and dark, no engine hum, no computer buzz, no HUD, no lights. Nothing to hear but the inside of his helmet, and nothing to see but the Tali, stopping to investigate the wreck. They bought it.
A dark speck drifted out of the asteroid field.
The young pirate checked his chronometer.
Plenty of time.
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