The Stars Came Back -086- Clear for action

Fade in.

EXT – DAY – on the plain not far from the badlands

View is low angle, watching the speeding ship approach and race by, one landing gear strut still stubbornly hanging down, partially extended.

Cut to inside the cargo bay, as soldiers use tie-downs to secure the APC on the front ramp. Others are handing up more ammo to soldiers on top, getting it into the hatch, and tying gear down. Others are clearing out stuff heaped around the cargo bay, carrying it away through side hatches.

Base Soldier 3: (to BS4) I thought we were doing some crazy stuff before, but this…

Base Soldier 4: Hey, at least we have a chance to do something- (the whole ship shakes and lurches a bit, causing everyone to jump a little, hold on, and look around cautiously) as long as this thing keeps flying.

BS3: I hear this thing is older than the old man.

BS4: Hell, I heard it’s pre-blackout!

BS3: (derisively) Nah, you’re cracked! Nothing can fly that long!

Camp XO walks by briskly.

Camp XO: Get that gear secured off to the side! We’ll need lots of space so they can load fast!

Cut to bridge

Everyone is looking at displays with terrain, performance readouts, and such. Lag and Helton are looking over a graphic of the (exaggerated elevation) topography with an overlay of the known enemy positions. To the south, a couple of dots for the drones move slowly toward the abandoned base. There are badlands ahead, with several paths through them that might get them close to the enemy base without being seen until the last minute.

Lag: At this speed, it’s going to be tough. We can wiggle through there (pointing to a path) that’s a bit longer, but we’ll come out of the valley closer. But that’s only if we can zig and zag that sharp in those canyons. (His brow furrows as he weighs possibilities and outcomes in his head).

Helton: (Looking at the map, says almost absentmindedly, rubbing the control board in front of him) Come on, Taj. Show us some of what you used to have that made you famous- kick on the emergency combat full power.

Ship AI: (OC, Neutral tone, normal male voice) Is that a direct order, sir?

Helton: Huh? What?

Ship AI: (OC) Is going to emergency combat max power a direct order, even if it causes damage, sir?

Helton: Sure, yeah, HELL YES!

The background noise noise fades to barely audible hum.

Ship AI: (OC, wistful, quiet voice) Are we allowed to win, this time?

Everyone on the bridge looks around at each other, wondering what exactly THAT means.

Helton: I was just hoping we’d survive, but yes. YES. Winning is a good plan.

Suddenly, all the screens on the bridge flicker and dance, then resolve, and the whine of the engine drops an octave and then picks up, increasing to a painful yowl as if something is about to break, over a powerful, deep-throated rumble, then stabilizing in a higher-pitched, multi-toned, but not painful, powerful, pulsing, thundering roll. A few demons under the hood are waking up. The whole bridge is shaking and vibrating visibly. It sounds like God’s Harley is getting frisky with a super-charged big-block diesel.

Cut to

Engineering

Nearly all the readouts are now well into the red, and some of them are fluctuating wildly.

Stenson: (grabbing a mike) What’n hell you DO up there, Helton?!

Helton: (OC) Went to emergency combat power. How’s it look down there?

Stenson: (tensely) These numbers are NOT looking very happy.

Suddenly the displayed information he is looking at, mostly various level indicators shading from green, past yellow, and many into the red, change. The level bars are all made of fluctuating lines of smiley-faces. Stenson looks at them, does a small double-take, shakes his head.

Stenson: (mutters under his breath) Smartass AI. (more loudly into mike) Well, we’re not dead yet, so it could be worse. I’ll let you know if we blow up badly enough everyone dies. (again, under breath) Let’s see how far we can push before we really do break something critical.

Cut to

EXT – DAY – basin they are about to leave

Outside, low angle, as the ship zooms by faster and higher than before, kicking up dust and shaking some bushes as it blows by them.

Cut to bridge

Bipasha at sensors, Lag weapons, Helton command, Quiritis at helm.

Quiritis: (gently working the controls a bit, and the scenery seen on screens and out the front window move accordingly) Definitely more responsive.

Bipasha: Is that good or bad? (Helton looks non-plussed, Quiritis looks her normal calm pilot self) I mean, I know about his flying, and running into things on purpose.

Allonia walks in, heads for com.

Allonia: Quinn’ll be OK. Leg wound- shrapnel. (pointing with her chin as she passes to a screen behind them, next to the aft bulkhead, beside Lag) Who’s that?

They look. On the screen is an avatar. It looks like a well-dressed, tough, battle-scarred 17th Century pirate, complete with cutlass and pistols, big cuffs, gold braid and buttons, fancy waist-coat, eye-patch with Possenti cross, peg leg, and leather hat with a elaborate band and feather. The image from the back wall disappears and shows up on a side-screen, where everyone can see it more easily as they do their jobs.

Ship AI: (Pirate voice, with heavy piratical accent, frequently phrasing things as conspiratorial asides) Welcome t’th’ poop-deck, lass! Glad t’ hear the little powder monkey’ll be back to work soon. Now, then, Cap’n, what’s the plan?

Helton: (skeptically) You’re the AI? All of it? A pirate?

Ship AI: (with some hand-waving to emphasize points) Ships’n ‘puters is neither fish ‘ner fowl, man ‘ner wo. Figured ye’d like this ugly ol’ mug head’n ‘ta battle more’n a little girl in’a lace frock. An’ we’s a privateer, if’n ya’ recollects. Ain’t been whole fer’ centuries, but most’a the pieces that’r present are accn’ted fer. So- th’plan?

Helton: Well, with only one gun-

Ship AI: (piratically) Ah, that’d be two. Picked up a used personal side-arm a short while ago.

Lag: -and a couple of missiles-

Ship AI: (piratically) -about that – seems the broadside we took shook loose a few odds ‘n ends in the magazine, so’s it’s a bit more useful now. Permission to direct load’n some loose rounds a’fore we hit rough water?

Helton: (looking like he’s only half understanding what’s said, but getting enough of the gist to agree) YES, by all mean, a full magazine is better than an empty one!

Lag: And if you could tell us what you HAVE, we can plan better, Taj.

Ship AI: (piratically) Indeed, yer strategicalness. Look away.

On the screens in front of Lag a bunch of information pops up. He scans them quickly, alternately nodding and frowning at what he sees.

Cut to

Cargo bay

It’s crowded with hastily boarded soldiers and piles of gear. A screen next to a cluster of them lights up with the ship’s Privateer avatar.

Ship AI: (pirate voice) ‘Scuze me, sergeant, an urgent mission for you from the Captain.

A diagram pops up on the screen showing missile transport tubes getting picked up from the deck nearby, and handed up from the cargo deck through the mid-deck window at the aft port, then going in through a small hatch (the same one that Kaminski had tried to blow open earlier), then repeated quickly.

Ship AI: If’n you’d be so kind as to git your squid t’ hand ‘em up.

Cut to

Elsewhere on the cargo bay

A screen being used just for light switches to the privateer avatar next to a grizzled old veteran. The avatar nods a greeting, and has an expression of no-nonsense competence.

Ship AI: Chief, get your blast’n kit ‘n make for the aft mid-deck on the double. Got quick job for y’t’do, Capn’s orders.

Cut to

Cargo deck, near a soldier tying down a stack of ammo crates. A screen comes on nearby, with the Pirate on it, next to a diagram of belts of ammo being fed into a hopper on the side of the forward ramp.

Ship AI avatar: Sergeant, get yer squid ‘n grab some crates! Lively, now!

Cut to

Mid-deck, port aft.

The old veteran is carefully affixing just a bit of explosives along the edge of the welded hatch.

Cut to

Bridge

On the screens, the hills are fast approaching

Ship AI: Ya might be want’n t’plug yer ears, gents. Fire in’a’hole!

A moment later a sharp BANG! Comes in though the open bridge door.

Helton: WHAT The HELL!?

Ship AI: Open’n the magazine. Didn’t let th’good corporal do it earlier on’a account o’ things just t’other side o’ th’hatch not react’n well t’ things go’s BOOM. Could’a been messy. Finally got ‘em moved. Load’n’m’up presently.

Lag: Looks like we’ll have at least six good mid-sized short range missiles, and a pair I don’t recognize-

Ship AI: (quite seriously) I’d be avoid’n th’ M38J, if’n I’z you.

Lag and Helton exchange looks as they don’t quite recognize the reference.

Lag: Agreed. Now seven mid-size.

Ship AI: Any plan, yet?

Helton: Any jamming?

Ship AI: A wee bit. Nutt’n to worry ‘bout.

Lag: Maintain radio silence. Less warning.

Quiritis: Killing the a-grav will lower our sensor profile if they are breaking tech levels.

Helton: Do it!

Quiritis: Switching to the Sokolovs will do they same.

Lag: Damn inefficient this close to a planet though.

Quiritis: Which is why it’d not be expected.

Helton nods an answer, and Quiritis’s hand work the console. The pitch of the engines coughs, stutters, the ship jerks a bit (more), then stabilizes. Helton looks at the map critically.

Helton: Ohooo-kay, then.

Cut to

EXT – DAY – Near a canyon, overlooking tough terrain between the plain and the hills and mesas.

The angular shape of Tajemnica streaks toward the gap in the hills, low to the ground and moving fast for its altitude, the wind of its passing kicking up a barely visible trail of dust. It rolls partially sideways and streaks through the gap, nearly grazing one side and almost immediately rolling the other way to make another turn, and it’s lost from view as it disappears into the twists and turns of the canyon.

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8 thoughts on “The Stars Came Back -086- Clear for action

    • Sort of. An old variable-yield warhead design that was dropped because it tended to behave unpredictably in high-gravity-field environments, i.e., near planetary surfaces. Sketchy details later.

  1. After they strafe/blow up the enemy base, the AI definitely needs to do a Victory roll and buzz the tower!

  2. “Ship AI: If’n you’d be so kind as to git your squid t’ hand ‘em up.” Squad or squid? I’m confused, as a squid is what I was.

    “moving fast for it’s altitude, the wind of it’s passing ” its and its, please.

    I think my pulse went up a bit imagining the terrain-following-flying. Good stuff.

    • IT’S changed to its. Thanks for the correction. A squad with a heavy piratical accent is a squid. At least, it is in this case.
      Glad you like it, typos aside.

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