The instant the red ring flicked to blue, the Cassiopeia rocketed forth and the magistrate distinctly felt a strong desire to return to the protective bubble of his station’s brand new shield generators.
*Well, we didn’t smack into anything. I assume the remote override worked?* Vac asked.
“Like a charm.” Corsair confirmed.
*We didn’t blow anyone else out with us, did we?*
“Uhh…” Corsair examined his sensors, “Nope. Worked exactly like it was supposed to.”
“See?” Stiles prodded impishly, as if this event really were a routine inspection, “exactly like it was supposed to.” The magistrate angrily mumbled something beneath his make-shift gag. “Ah,” Stiles replied knowingly, “I can see you’re still on the fence,” The magistrate responded with an alarmed yelp, “fair enough; it’s your money. Corsair…”
“What’s up, skipper?”
“Let’s give the man a good show.”
“Aye, aye!” Corsair keyed his console again. “Cutting engines… hey Vac, do me a solid: make sure you raise all outport shields back up then… drop main shields.” The magistrate erupted into apoplectic sputtering. He kicked and wriggled ultimately to no avail.
*Operation Bug Zapper?* Vac asked over the clamor of the magistrate’s struggles.
“You know it!” Corsair replied eagerly.
“Heads up!” Diz announced, lifting her head from her sensor readouts. “Bandits incoming. Count is around six fighter class vessels, two corvettes, and one heavy bulk freighter.”
“Check.” Corsair confirmed. “Man, they are definitely not expecting trouble. Tight formation, engines wide open. We could probably take them out from here.”
“Hmm. If only we were being paid to fight.” Stiles remarked. The magistrate only offered a stony glare in response.
“Fighters breaking formation, looks like they’re establishing a close perimeter. They’ll be within the shield bubble in twenty seconds.” Corsair keyed his console. “Vac, standby to snap the mains back on.”
“Belay that.” Stiles interjected.
Corsair paused. “Skip?”
Stiles turned to the magistrate. “The big freighter, I’m guessing they get close enough to use their docking ports, right? You never offer resistance?” He nodded bitterly. “That’s well within the shield perimeter; we’ll snap it closed when they make their approach.” Stiles offered a side-long grin to his prisoner. “Should cut them right in half. Maybe you’d like to take their stuff for a change?”
“Uh…skip?” Diz remarked nervously. “Something’s wrong… the fighters are within the shield bubble and have locked weapons on the station.”
Suddenly, the magistrate began an insistent albeit unintelligible stream of declaratives. Stiles removed the gag, trusting that the man, for once, had some relevant insight. “I’m not there to contact them!” He shouted. “They know something’s wrong!”
“They’ve opened fire!” Diz reported. “Superficial damage to the station. That was a warning shot, but I don’t think the next one will be!”
“Have they detected us?” Stiles asked.
“They don’t act like it.” Corsair replied.
“Let’s change that. Open up the engines, let’s give them something to chase!”
“Just raise the shields!” The magistrate protested.
“How do you propose we get you back inside that shield perimeter if we’re on the wrong side of it?” Nearly all color drained from the magistrate’s face as he digested the implications.
“Engines to full!” Corsair announced as the ship accelerated.
“They’ve sure noticed us now!” Diz reported.
“What’s the plan skip? I was kidding earlier; I don’t really think we can win a straight fight against nine ships.”
“That’s why we’re not going to try. Cassie is faster than those junk Mark 15 fighters. We’ll lead ‘em out of the bubble, pull a Crazy Ivan, jet right back in and slam the shields behind us.”
“Y-You’re insane!” The magistrate sputtered.
“No sir, we’re just that good.” Diz shouted over the steadily increasing thrum of the engines.
The Cassiopeia rocketed for the mining station, juking and spinning to avoid the incoming ARC fire from the enemy fighters. The ship skimmed within several dozen meters of the station’s outer hull; confusing the opposing targeting sensors with the facility’s greater proximate mass.
“Vac, I could use more speed out of these engines.” Corsair reported.
*We’re running hot as it is!*
Shots zipped across the cockpit’s view screen. Their pursuers’ aim was off, but not by much. “They’ll get a lot hotter if one of the nacelles catches a bolt.”
*I’ll see what I can do.*
“Fifteen seconds until we clear the bubble.” Diz announced.
“I’d like to point out that this all could have been-” The Magistrate’s protest was cut short as Corsair juked the ship hard to starboard. Bolts narrowly missed the Cassiopeia, instead etching a superficial impact pattern on the mining facility’s outer hull. “…avoided.” The Magistrate finished.
*You’ve got speed!* Vac announced over the radio.
“Whooo! Yeah I do! Getting a lot of shake on the stick.”
“Oh, I’m letting that one go,” Diz retorted, “five seconds… three… and… hard turn! Now!” The crash webbing that restrained the crew was pulled taught as the centrifugal force from the sudden change in direction threatened to throw them from their seats. Luckily, the straps held fast and Corsair rocketed the Cassiopeia directly for the fighters.
Panicked, the enemy pilots flitted away before any damage could be done. By the time they recovered their pursuit, the Cassiopeia was already nearing the range of the shield perimeter.
“Vac, get ready on those shields.”
*Gimme a second.*
“You don’t have a second!”
*Stupid key won’t…turn…*
“We need those shields now!”
An sudden pulse of blue energy surrounded the facility as the shield generators kicked online. “Whew!” Diz said with relief. “Fighters pulling away, the facility is…” Her face fell as she regarded her scopes.
“Diz?” Stiles prompted.
“I… only see five fighters pulling away…”
“There were six, right?” Corsair asked.
“Uh… the last one got caught in the field. Exploded… tracking debris… telemetry says… oh no! Kousey, hard left!”
“What!?” Diz did not get the chance to repeat herself as a chunk of errant debris impacted with great force upon the Cassiopeia, shredding its starboard engine and sending it into an uncontrolled spiral.
To Be Continued
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