I have to admit it, I did it just to annoy Sylvie. I mean, it's not nice to say that a girl is a pain in the ass, but she's been bugging me in the way only women can since we landed at Mackenzie Depot at Miphifa yesterday. I had a lot on my mind even without her attention-hungry sighing and sniffing and looking the other way when I try to make conversation - call me a wimp, but when my girl is in a bad mood, I can't not try to make her feel good. And if I don't succeed, the next thing that happens is me feeling guilty, the best manipulation material since the first caveman came from the hunt emptyhanded and, as a punishment, was carrying stoneblocks all over the cave making redecoration for the rest of the week.
Anyway, after all my communication and mood enhancing attempts, including pointing
out of the stuff that makes our lives nicer, her nose was still circling the higher
orbit, leaving me with the old well known feeling that this is one of those days
when she is deliberatly making scenes just in order to show who really is the boss
The the Imperial navy offers didn't interest me anymore. It was long gone, the adolescent passion that made me feel important while talking to stiff-faced military commanders, who made me play their paperboy, later a paparazzo, and then an assasin. Bigshots will be able to make their big plans without me, I decided years ago. Then, just for a change, I decided to look at the Federation side of the medal, only to realise that they are all the same authoritarian bastards and went off, thank you very much, my way. All that political bullshit made me leave my home after all, and it was sad that it had taken me years to figure it out.
But, some were still waging their small wars. Someone wanted a senator dead, the other didn't like his colleague the trader. Lately, I literally fell in love with people who pay unnatural amounts like 150 credits just in order to send a book to a friend. I accepted jobs like that without bartering. I'd even have lowered the price if I could. At the moment, we had all the money we needed anyway. So, even now I found such ad. Unfortunately, the friend that needed the book was in the opposite direction - Facece. Sorry, buddy, better luck next time.
And then it hapened. I noticed an ad: "Need transport on a fast ship to Arexack."
I checked the map, yup, right in my direction. (OUR direction, I corrected myself
and started to imagine Sylvie sitting on my neck, whipping me with an animal skin
whip and making me wipe the dust under the console, and under the chair, and there's
a little left there, and there, and there...)
Then I felt someone looking at me. I turned my head and met eye to eye with a small red devil sitting on my right shoulder.
He didn't say a word, but he didn't have to. I started to grin. We already had a
passenger cabin on board, we kept it for those merry moments in deep space when we
weren't using the benefits of our stardreamers. So, why not? My grin got wider. Oh,
boy, am I going to give her something to be really pissed about...
So it happens she's going on a vacation, the Imperial Populationist Movement is paying for a ten-day vacation at Arexack. Heh, the Imperial Population Movement and Debbie Swallow, what a combination! Religious and patriotic fanatics were very pragmatic when it comes to The Interest Of The Empire. And The Interest is: the more population - the more strength to the Empire. Androids and clones excluded, we need REAL people for REAL challenges. I guess industrial cannon fodder wasn't as good as the real blood, and a bioconstructor that just sold the Navy another cargo of live soon-to-be-corpses can't beat the feeling of a mother weeping for her son killed in some God-forsaken sector, trying to protect The Interest Of The Empire. I was wondering if Debbie was going to repay the IPM somehow or was it a regular sponsorship. Maybe some church officials will happen to be in the same hotel? But 'nuff said. I disconnected and started for the hotel, feeling anxious to tell my dear co-pilot that I've found a refund for the fuel. The girl was paying 600 credits, after all, which goes for 12 tonnes of fuel. Quite enough to look extremely sincere.
I kept grinning while I was approaching the apartment door, and then I forced the
grin off my face. The real joy should be from within!
When she saw Debbie at the dock I felt her freeze. Debbie had a very cute face,
but was overdeveloped elswhere. Not my type of woman at all, but she was a kind
of a well-built stereotype, and sold well, at least in the backward provinces of
the Empire. Dense, curly hair, lips abundant with plastics, as were the other parts
of her body. Rich, half-witted, limited vocabulary (so I've heard), a perfect target
for other women to gossip. Unfortunately, there were to be no other women on board
besides Sylvie, and I'm sure not going to take any sides. Remember, I'm sincere and
"You're Debbie Swallow, right?" she said and shook her hand. "Sasha didn't tell me
who it is we're carrying, I recognised you from the movies."
But this time, she wasn't gritting, she was grinning. I haven't had time to contemplate my dissapointment, because we had a scheduled launch from the station, so we boarded the Asp (I thought I scored when I helped Debbie into the cabin, Sylvie narrowed her eyes with that "wait till I break your arms in several places and then see whom you'll help into the cabin" looks on her face, but it was over as soon as we were in, and Debbie secured in her part of the boat) and got underway.
Hello control, thankyou control, goodbye control, and we were out. I set for the Arexack system, we looked for the beautiful pattern of time dilatation on the screen and then we were out.
"We alright?" I asked, looking at the starfield and checking the maps. Sylvie pressed the button and starport listing appeared on the screen. "Yeah, got it," she said without hesitation. She was getting technical and so was I. When you're in deep space, you leave all that personal stuff for later. First you make sure that there WILL be later. I loved her for being able to get efficient when neccesary, you don't get many female co-pilots like that.
"Gordon and Lopez are stations, Ulrich is underground. The rest are blue skies. What shall it be?" she asked sharply. Meanwhile I was looking at the scanners. Radar is clean, no asteroids, no double arrival cloud, noone near, seems ok. "I say we take the blue skies," I replied, feeling the weight of a small red creature on my right shoulder. "We shold keep our passenger satisfied." "Absolutely. Oh, by the way, will you manage the piloting? I mean, how's your concentration? Got enough blood in your upper brains? Because if not, I could take the seat..." she grinned and checked for Kawasakitown. The ship started turning and the orange sun came into sight, counting down AUs. I streched in my seat and looked behind.
"Debbie, you alright?" I shouted.
I dreamed music. I dreamed Mozart, Bach and Tchaikovsky... I dreamed being a
dolphin, floating peacefuly through the algae, making lazy tail swings up...
down... up... down... There may be sharks nearby, I knew, the coral reef is full
of them... But the coral reef is big... and the number of sharks is limited, we may
not meet them on this voyage... When we get home, the blue skies await, and there
will be lots of... fish...
ZOOIIING, ZOOIIING, ZOOIIING code red code red get up on your feet no don't you're in liqui should stay there if you don't want to turn into an omlet adrenaline is pumping the invisible needle slowly rectracting one day it'll be a heart attack THE SHIP IS UNDER ATTACK small red letters at the corner and Sylvie is at the controls how come she's always faster than me... Oh God... I shake my head and it's clearer now. My heart is pounding as I lean over the console making a hard turn left, then right, than up, one eye on the scanner... ...nothing there... ...I release the engine button. We're clear, this time. I lean back, looking at Sylvie, but she's never sentimental at moments like this. "Three, at 250 km, red, green, orange. Coming this way," she barks. I return to controls and direct the ship 90 degrees away from the attackers. Sylvie is silent, always is when I'm at it. I'll try to make them split, different ships, different masses, different engines, different accelerations. They could be 20km apart when we make contact. If we're lucky. "Are we there yet?" a sudden shout comes from the back of the ship. Oh, the baby's awake! I completely forgot about miss Swallow. "No, we're half way," I respond trying to match direction with the incoming ships. Please, shut up, don't ...
"Why did we exit the stardreamer?" asks the persistant, inocently interested voice.
"I was just having the most beautiful dream, I was at the hair-dressers, and..." talk
about nightmares, better.
"Smart missile," she says. I shrug.
And the missile crosses the magic border at 100km while the boats are from 150 to 180 km away.
"We have eight shields, that can take two..." Sylvie starts...
We're again engulfed in a sphere of electric blue as Sylvie holds down the button,
but the dark blue swarm keeps swarming in.
"Shut up!" I shout as the first missile flies a few km behind the ship and starts turning around. Two more are approaching and the enemy is at 50 km, still in a tight formation, led by two
Preceded by four more missiles. The light blue flames are dancing all around Asp
Explorer, but missile smoke tracks are closing in.
"Tell me what's happening, please!" we hear a shout from the rear cabin and I see Sylvie, as in a slow-motion, inraged, screaming "SHADDAFUCKUP OR I'LL RIP YOUR SILICONS OUT!"
I turn back to the screen and seven missiles and three ships now at 10km, which is a lot prettier sight. I hear some kind of frightened whisper from the back, recognise only the word "expensive" but the sound is lost in the screaming of the shields when one missile hits the target and we're at 53% shields. I glance at the scanner and try to find a path that will avoid the remaining six plus three ships. The next moment, another missile explodes far to the left, the white return for a moment made me frightened, is there an Imperial Explorer that we haven't noticed before? but then I come to my senses. And then the star spangled sky blossoms in red and orange, as three coloured laser beams dance from top to the bottom of the screen. I make a tight turn right and then up and then right again, and there is one attacker in sight. Sylvie aims but it dissapears in the top right corner of the screen. Eagle MkIII, say the red letters, and I turn again, she aims at a new one, Viper I, I try to cut it with a laser but he's gone before the beam comes anywhere near. Then I hear whoosh and our only missile is away and the red dot starts to leave the melee that has just become too crowded.
I turn left and there's a Gyr charging from two km with its gun ablazing and suddenly the shield is down to 15 percent and then WHAM, the shields scream and the siren blasts and the metal twitches and the airlocks hiss and the computer says top thurster damaged and the screen says "hull 76%" and the actress screams in the back and I abruptly turn down and there is a Gyr with his back turned on us, trying to rotate, i put the engine out for a second, press the laser button and flames flicker from the Gyr's hull and suddenly the sight is full of smoke but I'm still firing, poking with the laser for the target through the smoke cloud, feeling a pack of missiles behind my back turning in space, noticing that their target has stopped accelerating and converging to finish the 12 percent shields and 76 percent hull and there is a huge blast, the world shatters and I've gone deaf and I feel acceleration as the escape capsule throws me out as the rubbish and metal alloys and rubbish and radioactives hurl past me on the way down but no, I'm still in my cabin, pressing the engine starter like I'm gonna push it down through the console, turning left and up scooping metal alloys avoiding rubbish, I catch a glimpse of two white spots, is it the Viper? no, it's another missile far away, the other white spot is the Gyr, I turn right and down again as the Eagle MkIII hurls by and I see another missile in the distance and turn right again and down again and there are two more white spots, one gives birth to a red spot, Viper has survived, the other is probably another missile gone...
"Two missiles left," says Sylvie as I rotate the ship, the Viper passes across the screen, wounded, smoking, and 10km away and another blue spot turns white at a safe distance. I take a glance at the shields, they're 26 percent and rising, I take a shot at the Eagle, but missile is right behind it, closing in, so I have to turn. The red laser mows accross the screen and shield is down to 11 percent as I find the route between two ships and remaining missile, then turn towards the red spot. Viper is 2 klicks away, burning and firing. I turn fast right then slowly back, peeking at the target over the screen edge, he's coming through NOW I turn firing a full blast at Viper's flank and the explosion blinds the screen and again there are two spots on the radar and a few seconds later there's only one green return in the mess of dark blue.
I say "Check for the missiles," and Sylvie's fingers are flying across the console, numbers rushing all over the screen and than she says "We're clear", and I take a deep breath as I turn the aim at the green Eagle that's charging and puking red. I dodge to the right twice and then slowly return to the left, and then turn sharp and there he is. I fire, but nothing, too small, too fast, too far. I turn at 90 degrees, hold the engine and then turn again, he's coming, but not so straight. Click, click, I send short bursts of photons and the spacecraft blossoms into white and orange, filling the screen with "metal alloys" signs and then, as if the whole universe has returned to its normal mode of existence, the engine returns on-line with a noiseless *click*...
My God, when was the last time I took a breath? I sighed as the tasteful, nice-smelling air filled my lungs. I turned to Sylvie, she turned to me, and we just sat there looking at each other. This one was close. Nothing can be worse than a bunch of missiles while your ECM is having a bad day... But we're not going to argue. Nevermore.
I don't know for how long we've been silent, but the menace from the back decided
it was time to acknowlidge her presence.
As if she only waited for an invitation. She catapulted herself out of her cabin, rushed past me and stuck her face into the big screen that showed the beautiful starry sky stained with lots of metal floating around.
I returned to my seat and strapped myself back while Sylvie was checking the damage
report, pretending not to notice the guest.
What else is there to say? We didn't pick up metal alloys, who needs them? We
continued the trip and got attacked by seven more craft that fired a total of two
missiles. They never got past our shields. And all that time the doors to the
passanger cabin were tightly shut.
We got paid off, sold what we scavenged, repaired the ship and then we were free again.
© 2001 Dalibor Perkovic