EXT – night – space not far from the corp-war robo-mil-moon
The gas giant and the moon hang in the distance. Tajemnica streaks by, space glowing faintly around it. A short ways behind it, a formation of four long, lean, lethal-looking space-craft, obviously streamlined for atmospheric flight as well. The contrast is stark – a single larger, blocky, angular, dirty, old hauler, versus a pack of sleek, elegant, new and shiny hunters in bright paint. An elderly moose fleeing a pack of wolves. The interceptors are clearly moving faster, the glowing molecules excited by their drives are brighter and further out from their hulls. Not a match-up odds makers would use small numbers in.
Cockpit of the lead interceptor
A handsome young man, dashing looking in his immaculate uniform space-suit and perfect hair, visor up, sits comfortably strapped into his seat surrounded by controls and screens. He wears his sneer of superiority like an old friend.
Prince Walid: This is Prince Walid of the Cruiser Hussein to unregistered piece of shit freighter Tajemnica. You are ordered to return to port NOW, or we will use you for target practice. Respond.
There is a pause. As he looks out the windows at his wing-mates, then forward at the rapidly approaching Tajemnica.
Prince Walid: Last chance before we break you!
There is a long pause while he listens for a reply.
Prince Walid: (disdainfully) Didn’t think so. Cowards. (he thumbs a control) OK, boys, line up behind me and let’s rumble ‘em!
A view from above Tajemnica, showing the interceptors starting to stretch out into a line. They surge forward, and blaze past, close to her, one after another, glowing patches around them overlapping with the fainter glow surrounding Tajemnica, creating ripples of interference patterns in the glow where the fields interact, like ripples on a pond with two stones dropped on it.
Helton, Cooper, Kaushik, Lag, Bipasha, and Allonia are at their normal places.
On the screen a display show the line of interceptors moving by. As they do, the bridge and the people in it shake and sway a little bit.
Cooper: Not bad. Guess that’s what happens when you try to push around someone bigger than you.
Helton: Been through worse than that landing. (into mike) Stenson, drop power on a Sokolovs.
Stenson: (OC) They broke one!
Helton: Well, then, get set to kill the other one, and start getting the Harmons ready.
Lag: They’ll likely try coming around again for another pass as group. It’ll take them a while to stop and come back by us. Eight, maybe ten minutes.
On the speaker, a mechanical voice calls.
Moonlet: (OC, on cabin speaker) Challenge gallium Albert chocolate tintinnabulation
Ship AI: (OC, similar voice) Respond alpha arsenic Carthage galaxy trophy
Moonlet: (OC) Send cladistic profiler for final.
Cooper: What the HELL?! We are outside their exclusion zone! AND we CAN’T jump!
Helton: If we can’t transition, then just don’t get any closer – if they fire, we are ALL screwed.
Everyone looks at the screens and each other, nervously. Nothing to do but wait, and hope Stenson gets the drives back on line in time for the next rumble.
Cockpit of Prince Walid’s interceptor
He is bouncing all around, and outside his windows we can see the ripples and glow of the interfering drive fields. Clearly, he’s getting bounced more than Tajemnica is. A couple of waring lights flash in screens and a dedicated warning light turns red. His expression shows surprise, then anger. He looks his instruments over, then he thumbs a button, and talks to his throat mic.
Prince Walid: (contemptuously) Looks like they are down to one drive. Bastards barely moved! OK, next time around, we go by all at once – you three very close together with synced up fields. I’ll be right behind you to match and ride the interference wave you set up. That should shake them up, AND take down their remaining drive. They’ll be stuck!
Cut to engineering
Stenson and his crew are at stations, looking tired and nervous. The readouts around them are all over the place – some red, some green, a lot of yellows, a few steady, most changing every second.
Helton: (OC, on speaker) Ready or not, here they come!
Stenson: They read “on-line!” Whenever you want, hit the switch!
One of the crewmen next to him closes his eyes briefly and crosses himself in silent prayer.
Cut to Tajemnica’s bridge.
They look at screens showing the rapidly approaching quartet of ships in tight formation. They all look tense and nervous.
Helton: Spun up, get ready to kick ‘em into gear.
Cooper: I sure hope you know what you are doing.
Helton: (nodding agreement, then looking defiantly at the oncoming formation in the main screen) So, you wanna dance? No problem. Let’s dance.
Helton nods to Cooper.
Cooper: Tug THIS!
He hits the “drives on-line” switch, pushes up the power levers hard, and twists and pushes the control yoke hard. At his first motion, the slight background hum of the drives suddenly changes to a wildly discordant four-tone scream as energy flows and the drives dig their claws into the very fabric of the universe. As the volume ramps up, the tones start to converge in a powerful, pulsing, deep-throated scream.
The cockpit of Prince Walid’s interceptor
He has a wolf-like grin of contempt. Suddenly, the cabin is filled with a deep, powerful, angry, metallic voice.
Ship AI: (OC) Your friends close, your enemies closer!
He looks around wildly, trying to see who or what this represents. His grin of anticipation is gone.
Space, above the rapidly closing ships.
The faint glow around Tajemnica disappears. The lead three interceptors have a large and bright envelope of glowing atoms around them, excited by their drives’ combined energy. Suddenly, a huge and growing blaze of angry light leaps from Tajemnica, much brighter than the squadron’s, as Tajemnica spins, rolls, and rotates sideways, presenting the largest possible target. The three lead ships course suddenly alters and they dive straight at Tajemnica rather than aim to pass close by, sucked in by its powerful inverted drive field backed by vastly greater mass. The last one manages to turn its nose away, but has too much velocity, and still falls towards the field’s grip. The field surrounding the three lead ship intensifies, and they rush in, crashing and getting crushed and splattered across the landing pads and lower hull of Tajemnica, one collapsing almost like a cartoon accordion, one shattering on an angled corner, one on an edge. As they hit, the interference patterns their drives made disappear, drives and pilots dead. The glowing field surrounding Tajemnica intensifies even more, extending like a great glowing arm, a blazing swarm of fireflies on a mission of doom, toward the last ship.
Cooper is working the controls frantically, everyone else is hanging on, and the drives are up to a beating roar. A faint undertone that nearly sounds like an old steam locomotive thundering out in the distance “iTHINKiCANiTHINKicaniTHINKiCAN” might be imagined in the thrashing the ship is inflicting on itself and the space around it.
The readouts are mostly in the red, WAY into the red, and Stenson and his crew are just standing back in amazement and hanging on, wondering how much further the drives and power systems can be abused flying like this, the screaming of strained power systems and mechanical stress making the ship sound like it’s in pain.
Prince Walid’s cockpit
His visor is now down, and he looks around frantically, trying to find some way out of the trap he’s stepped in. He is being shaken violently about, not always the same way as his ship. Over the cockpit com, he hears the last thing that isn’t his own terrified scream.
Ship AI: (OC, female voice, commanding, imperious) Come to me! NOW!
Space, outside Tajemnica and the interceptor
The great glowing arm of seriously pissed off atoms glow mostly reddish-yellow, but they coruscate and shimmer with interference patterns in many colors, like an Aurora Borealis, all around the smaller ship, as it shakes violently, vibrating ever faster as it get pulled in closer and closer to Tajemnica. Suddenly, the light fades considerably, the interference patterns disappear, and the shaking of the smaller craft stops. It gets pulled in close and careful to Tajemnica’s topside, seemingly cradled in the drive field. Loose debris and the crushed and flattened hulks of the first three interceptors spin away into the void. The the drive glow diffuses, extends, and then re-intensifies a bit, and Tajemnica flips back onto her original course and starts to accelerate away.
They all look around in amazement, seeing lots of readings back in the green, a few in the yellow, and only a couple of red indicators. Levels are no longer fluctuating wildly, they are mostly stable. The background hum of drives and power systems is even and quiet. Stenson shakes his head in amazement. The others there are smiling and slapping one another on the back. The background sound is now a much more pleasant level and with no violently clashing chords.
Helton: THAT was perfect! Absolutely perfect!
Cooper: Wow! That was… Not quite sure how that last bit happened though.
Lag: (looking at displays and screens) Did I see that right? The first three wrecked, the other one shaken and GRABBED, and it’s now alongside?
Helton: (into mike) Stenson, I don’t see any failure lights – how’s it look there?
Stenson: (OC) I… I don’t THINK we broke anything major, but Hindu’s hamburgers we’ve got a lot of checking to do before I’ll swear to ANYTHING.
Helton: Then before we find out we can’t, let’s get the HELL out of here. I’m pretty sure they might be just a BIT annoyed that we trashed four of their shiny new interceptors. Nice and easy, just fast enough for us to leave before they can launch anything at us.
Cooper: Aye aye!
Lag: And we deleted at least one prince from their roster. That may not go over well, either.
Helton: So, how much do you think your buyer of interceptor information might pay for a mostly whole if slightly used ship?
Lag: Now, that you mention it, if we DID just snag one, THAT’S going to be an interesting negotiation. Could be complicated – information can be hard to trace, whole late-model ships are bit harder to sterilize. But let’s get out of here before we count any profits, shall we?
INT – Day – Bridge of the cruiser HMS Hussein
The main screen shows a cockpit camera view of the last interceptor’s pilot, Walid, along with various critical systems readouts. The readouts are fluctuating wildly. Prince Walid looks desperately this way and that at the controls of his ship, flicking switches, making changes, trying to find SOMETHING that will get him out of his predicament. He starts getting crushed back into his seat, then gets shaken violently back and forth. He screams incoherently, a scream of pain and terror that echos around the bridge. Then the camera view goes blank, and the critical systems displays all flat-line, then read NO DATA. The commander of the HMS Hussein looks shocked, and the whole bridge looks at the screens in mute fear, wondering just what the hell happened, how their imminent victory became destruction, and the silence echoes.
Suddenly on the nearly blank main screen the old transponder data flickers onto the screen in the lower right.
Registered: Once upon a time, somewhere, someone knew me
Then an image appears on the main screen. A woman. She looks like she is standing on a small raised command platform on the bridge of a large starship, but no-one else can be seen. A mature woman, medium skin, sharp features, lean and beautiful and dangerous-looking, with a slightly scarred face and a patch over her left eye (a black patch with a red Possenti Cross on it), and the other eye is a vivid green. She’s wearing a simple dark blue uniform with a few red, white, and gold accents, faintly reminiscent of an 18th century Navy, and some very serviceable-looking polished dark gray medieval-esque armor with a few gilt highlights (mostly on her left side), with a sword at her left side, pistol on the right. Lots of dark-mixed-with-silver hair pulled to one side of her head into a thick, short braid. She could be Lag and Harbin’s half sister, the one with a sense of style. She has a very intense expression. She looks every inch a tough, veteran warlord, a woman who made it big in a man’s field, one you would NOT want to mess with. She leans forward, as if to address them up close and personally, and the view slowly zooms in on her.
Ship AI Avatar: (coldly, quietly, deliberately) I don’t LIKE people who try to hurt my children. I DESPISE incompetent commanders that get their men killed needlessly, because of a family name. Go tell THEIR parents the princelings died – terrified and screaming, without a shot fired, in the best ships you have – under YOUR orders. Remember my face – I will remember YOURS for a VERY long time. Next time, it won’t be JUST your interceptors I embrace.
The screen goes blank. Then, the final image of the dying pilot appears on every screen in the place, fear and pain stark and clear on his would-be handsome features. The memory of his scream is sharpened in everyone’s mind.
The Captain of the Hussein looks both angry and afraid, and comes back suddenly to life, in a rage, and at his first words, everyone on the bridge scrambles to look very busy and not meet the captains eyes.
Capt of HMS Hussein: GET THAT PICTURE OFF THE SCREEN! GET ME HER NAME! FIND OUT WHAT HAPPENED THIS INSTANT! I WANT THEM FOUND!
Fade to black.
Again, I ask all readers to whip out their grammar-Nazi Military-grade Nit-Pickers and comment on any and all errors they find. Some kind soul emailed me and said I had used “scared” (afraid) when I must have meant “scarred” (having a scar). Rather different meanings. It is corrected now, but if you see something, say something… er, I mean, if you you notice a possible error, please bring it to my attention, either in email or a comment 🙂