Posted by E.S. Wynn on Monday, August 3, 2009
It was sleek, fast, deadly. Typical Coralate semi-atmospheric fighter, but still no match for Tessa’s Seindrive 4 Blasterchild. The underslung Agere PD cannon on the nose of her rig alone could turn the Cygnan into swiss cheese from 50 meters away with a good shot, and it was a peashooter compared to the other ordinance she was carrying. They didn’t build strong ships on Cygnus, but they knew how to build an engine like nobody’s business.
The skies over Tarsis 12 were a deep afternoon purple, visceral against the rich reds and pinks pooling up from the dark aquamarine line of the horizon, and the Cygnan was a hot spot of brilliant silver in the glowing crimson reticle of her heads-up-display. 762 meters and arcing to the left at 2837 km/h. Hauling ass, but still running on conventional drive. Too risky to run the sublight stuff this far into the atmosphere.
Lips tightened, a sharp smile spreading across her face. Her fighter was cutting edge Terran technology, the best that the Commonwealth’s Galactic Naval Division had at its disposal, and tuned as tight as monowire by the best techs back on the Von der Tann IV until it pushed the envelope right to the edge in every direction and then some. The gravity couch was the only real custom piece– something to counteract the effect of the increased G’s the rig’s hyper-tuned drive kicked off at full speed, but throw it into a dive with the engines on full burn in normal atmosphere, and even the gravity couch couldn’t keep you conscious for long. “Just long enough,” a tech had told her once, “for you to black out the instant before you leave a smoking crater on a nice green patch of alien soil.” Hell of a way to go.
The Cygnan was looping and twisting near the horizon now, accelerating and decelerating in harsh bursts as he harassed the colonial gear blasting useless flak into the atmosphere from the ground. Briefly, she considered sending a volley of her wing-mounted Finsternis-XI warheads screaming after him, but the countermeasures on Cygnan vessels were as legendary as the engines that gave them their speed, and it would be about as useful as throwing rocks at flies– the Cygnan pilot would either have to be blind or real unlucky to get clocked by something as clumsy as the Finsternis-XIs. Better to save those for bigger, slower game.
“Screw it,” She cursed under her breath, gloved fingers tightening eagerly over the dual wing of the throttle control. Close-in fighting was better anyway; you got to watch the way the Cygnan’s rigs burnt as they fell, trailing hot rainbows of flame out of every hole in the hull until they nosed into the ground and imploded, caught in the short-range blast their destabilizing Singularity drives produced as they popped back into n-space along with whatever was left of the pilot, the airframe, and anything else that happened to be within five meters.
There was a flash of light from the ground– probably a hydrogen tank going up. No point in waiting around, letting the Coralate rip up the colony unchecked. She bit the inside of her lip and jammed the throttle forward.
Twin Icarus I610F conventional Deca-bypass quantum hotcoil pods, each originally rated in excess of 348 kilonewtons of thrust at their highest settings, answered immediately, Schrödinger vectoring panels dilating into nth dimensional space as the Seindrive hurtled forward and closed the distance between her and the Cygnan in a matter of seconds.
But the Coralate pilot saw her coming– in the next instant, he was looping up and out of range of the majority of her hardpoints, the Seindrive’s AI tracking him and blaring as the g-forces of sudden deceleration rolled off the rig like waves of turbulent water. Tessa bit her lip harder, eyes flicking, flying across the HUD. He was cutting in close, nosing over from a climb, forty-one meters off her seven, his plas-flechette railcannons heating up.
Reflexively, she flung the Seindrive over onto its side and pumped the throttle, just hard enough to put her ahead of the screaming cloud of blinding, superheated particles that scorched the air in her wake. 196 meters ahead of him now, the Cygnan diving square off her six. Pretty typical Coralate move; the little blue bastard was probably cussing in that weird click language of theirs.
Working quickly, Tessa swung the nose of her rig up and over, pumping the throttle lightly and putting the Cygnan roaring past her at ten o’clock. Two seconds to prime the argon-ion L-web emitters and jam the caps off a line of Rapier A5 rockets, half a second to nudge the rig sixty degrees to the left...
She mashed the thumb trigger, and the Coralate fighter dove.
Reflexively, she yanked the Seindrive to the right, swearing, peeling away from her payload of explosives and hot blue light in a sharp turn as they passed harmlessly over the diving Cygnan. Rising, the rockets tried to reorient themselves to follow the Coralate fighter, but the rig’s countermeasures kicked in at the top of their climb and scrambled their sensitive tracking systems, sending the warheads twisting aimlessly off into the heavens.
She swore again, fingers working the two halves of the throttle control wing as she jerked the rig around and dove after the Cygnan, the colony a sprawling mass of blue-green and pavecrete grey smeared across the ground beneath them.
This guy was a hotshot, no question about it, but it wasn’t like she hadn’t dealt with Coralate aces before; during a four-week campaign in the skies of a modest green gas giant called Erinye, she’d lost both wingmen to the indirect fire of a Cygnan warship and had been limping back to the Von der Tann IV in her old Seindrive 2 Ignus when she’d run across a squadron of four wicked little Coralate fighters out for Terran blood. They’d already taken down eleven other Terran rigs using hit and run tactics and a few flashy dive-and-roll maneuvers that weren’t covered in the holobooks, and seeing Tessa’s beat up Ignus powering hard for home, they made the mistake of taking her for an easy mark.
By the time she’d finished with them, leaving two spinning listlessly toward the planet’s core, one taken down by a lucky shot to his drive and the last desperately trying to escape on one engine, they’d shot her rig all full of holes. She hadn’t made it out of that fight much better off than they had– her ordinance racks were empty, the old model L-web emitters had overheated and turned themselves to slag, and three of the four barrels in the little auto-fire rail-lance that had been replaced by the Agere PD cannon in later Seindrive rigs were jammed and totally nonfunctional. Add to that the fact that only half of the S-vectoring panels were still live and capable of dilation, the reactor was leaking dangerous amounts of radiation, and both overworked 02 recyclers sounded like antique washing machines, clanking with the effort of replenishing oxygen that was draining out of a dozen tiny pinholes and fractures at an alarming rate– Tessa had to admit that she’d been lucky to make it back to the Von der Tann IV alive.
Quick corrections by the Cygnan she was after brought her mind back to the chase; spinning and darting, he yanked himself out of the dive and leveled out, Tessa coming up hot behind him. Her finger tightened across the trigger for the Agere reflexively, but before she could squeeze off a line of fire, he threw his fighter into another spin and went hurtling off to the right. 1742 km/h and rising. The plasmatic tracers carved an arc of hot lines through the sky in his wake.
This time it was reflexive– Tessa’s fingers went tight around the throttle control as she rolled the Seindrive over and went after the Cygnan again. He was darting left and right like crazy, trying to shake her off his tail and get her in his sights again, but she kept up with him, matching his every move, ready to send another line of tracers his way the instant she had a good shot. The Coralate fighter spun suddenly left, then jammed the retros and went spinning back right for a half second before the pilot cut the thrusters and dropped the thing a hundred meters instantly. Keeping his rig straight and level until she was practically right on top of him, he flipped the fighter over its blunt, silvery nose and hit full acceleration, jamming out of there inverted, another line of Agere tracers scorching the air behind him.
Tessa’s fingers tightened across the throttle; the Agere wasn’t going to be enough. She primed the L-web emitters again and pumped the throttle.
“Yeeeeeeeeeeee haaaaaaaw!” Static lanced through the radio. Something shot overhead with a buffeting shockwave and went blazing after the Coralate fighter, something covered in peeling red paint, plates of shiny new aluminum, and wide swathes of oily rust. “Move over sweetheart, this Ciggy’s all mine! Hah-HA!”
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