Battling the Space Pirates
As d'Artagnan sailed through uncertain skies, another ship pierced the blackness of outer Terra. Newly christened the Black Dragon by her crew, her scouts had spotted the last enemy standing between their new mother ship and the safety of open space. With a cortege of a half-dozen brigantines plodding along in her wake, the renegades sensed a kill in the offing. Tension built within their ranks, but it was the anticipation of hunters thrilling in the chase. They had confidence in their champion and no doubts about his ability to prevail in combat against anything the Cosmic Guard could send to stop them. His valor in battle was unsurpassed; his cruelty and cunning had made him a legend far beyond the confines of his own camp. The mere mention of his name raised a mixture of hatred and admiration across the West Terran frontier. And except for a lonely, solitary figure on the bridge of the Cozzie ship now hurling toward them, the thought of facing him even up in battle was enough to send shivers of mortality through the bravest of souls.
Slowly, the two ships closed, until they were almost within range of their close-range sensors. Then d'Artagnan hove to, near the gravitational limit of a planetary system circling a bright blue star, inviting the pirates to attack. Wilkes responded by doubling his speed, leading his brigantines toward the glory of what would be their crowning achievement—bringing down a starship of the Cosmic Guard, and laying the frontier at their feet.
* * *
The alarm buzzer echoed throughout the ship, calling all hands to battle stations. On the decks below, crewmen scurried about, preparing the ship for the ordeal ahead, releasing their tensions in a flurry of activity. The gun batteries signaled ready; engineering signaled ready. Soon, all stations signaled their battle status to the radio officer on the bridge, who reported each bit of news to the captain.
The mood on the bridge itself was tight as a metal drum. On all sides, the monitors showed the enemy starship racing toward them, ten minutes away. Jeremy felt his heart pounding furiously; looking about, he saw fear on the faces around him: Underwood was pale as death itself; Talbert's eyes were sunken like a tomb. Beads of sweat were forming on Palmer's brow. Even Janet's hands were starting to tremble and sweat over the helm control spheres, and Jeremy knew full well how important she was to their chances of surviving. A clear, firm voice ringing over the bridge brought them all back to the moment.
"Helm, increase sublight speed to one-half, prepare to engage subspace drive."
Jeremy looked to see Cook, hands clasped behind his head, leaning back in the command chair as serenely as at one of his bridge drills.
"Prepare to come about—and I hope you've all left your queasy stomachs in your cabins," Cook smiled wryly. "There's nothing more distracting than having the cleaning drones scraping vomit from the floor while I'm planning an attack."
Nervous laughter coursed through the bridge.
"Miss Palmer, half power to shields," continued the captain, his voice measured and self-confident. "Charge the forward and portside guns, and stand by to raise shields a-force.
"Helm, come about to 750 by 015 south, and increase speed to C-1—mark! Now, lift us back up to the enemy's plane of approach—slowly….that's right. And prepare for hard a-starboard at increased speed.
"Mr. Underwood, sound the clearing horn, if you would. Let's try cutting enemy ranks down to more manageable proportions."
* * *
Slowly, though still at speeds beyond the comprehension of human senses, the giant ships lumbered toward battle. As lights on a distant shore, the stars hung silently in place. The pirates approached like a dagger, in a formation the Cosmic Guard called a "battle wedge." The d'Artagnan approached alone.
At a distance of 10 astrokilometers, the ships made visual contact; like minor stars in the local heavens, the reflected light from the hot, blue star nearby glistened in the blackness. Slowly, the enemies neared each other, the pace of their progress tightening the nerves of everyone on both ships.
Suddenly, on the order of their commander, the pirates doubled their speed, charging toward the CosGuard ship like the ancient armies of Old Earth. Just as suddenly, as if reacting to a long- awaited signal, d'Artagnan swung hard to starboard at a sharply increased speed and dove, dipping far below her adversaries' directional plane and heading toward the area's dominant star. Baffled by the maneuver, the pirates held their course, watching dumbly as the Cozzie starship raced far out of position, almost inviting them to join a deadly game of hide and seek among the stellar debris of the nearby system. Then, suddenly and without warning, the d'Artagnan came about smartly and changed course, heading straight for the pirate flotilla. As the seconds passed, confusion gripped the bridge of the pirate flagship, freezing the flotilla in place for a few precious moments. But as Cozzie grew closer, the pirates cut speed and began to pivot, desperately trying not to be outflanked, their leader sensing that by the time he realized what Cozzie had in mind, it would be too late.
* * *
"Power readings, Mr. Ashton."
"Holding at 60% of capacity."
"Miss Palmer—shields a-force. Blank all guns and prepare to charge the aft batteries. Helm—slow to C-1, ease up on approach arc—that's it. Prepare for hard aport, bank even at 730—and mark! Now bring us in line with the trailing brigantine, and let's let them start sweating awhile."
"All enemy guns a-force, Captain; all enemy shields at full power. They're all at sublight, trying to come about."
"Thank you, Mr. Ashton. Miss Palmer, open fire on my order.
"Helm—increase to C-14, prepare for sublight lift due north on full stop at my command."
"Aye, aye, sir. Dead ahead at fourteen, and standing by."
* * *
As the pirates pivoted in place, d'Artagnan raced toward the corner ship in the formation. Within seconds, she would be within range of the powerful guns of the renegade starship, but Cook had timed the maneuver to shield the ship, keeping the pirates' leftmost wedge between the d'Artagnan and the pirate leader. As Wilkes fumed on his bridge, frustrated that he couldn't get a clear shot, the Cozzie ship came to full halt, training her aft guns on all brigantines within range. Soon a flash appeared in the sky, the funeral fire of the corner ship in the pirate flotilla. Cozzie had drawn first blood.
The first flash was followed almost instantly by a second; two ships were gone from their ranks and the pirates had yet to fire a shot. From his bridge, Wilkes barked orders to his wingmates, telling them to scatter to the stars and give him a clear approach. He was furious with himself for being so gullible, and it was now painfully clear that the brigantines, rather than distracting Cozzie as he'd hoped, would be a positive hindrance to him.
Suddenly, without warning, d'Artagnan burst through the dying fireball of her second kill on a dead heading for the enemy starship. With no time to react, panic seized the pirate bridge. Wilkes screamed the order to dive and the Black Dragon jerked violently downward. Barely missing the Cozzie ship as she passed overhead, they felt their mast shields shudder under the blasts of the enemy guns. And when they finally managed to compose themselves, the Cozzie ship was speeding into open space, daring them to follow.
By the time the pirates recovered enough to take up the chase, d'Artagnan had begun a leisurely starboard arc, edging ever so slightly back toward the blue star that dominated the local heavens. The Black Dragon alone dared to follow, and across her bridge eyes widened in amazement. Even their leader looked badly shaken, and fear was all but a stranger to Chadbourne Wilkes. Danger was nothing new to any of them; they were used to living on the brink of death, cheating disaster by the seat of their pants. But this was different, and the same cold chill gripped the hearts of all. They were stalking a madman.
Website ©2008 by Jeffrey Caminsky
Excepts ©2008 by Jeffrey Caminsky
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