December 7th 2012
Penny waited, arms crossed, in the cold holding cell. Her foot tapped a beat on the floor. Six hours and fifteen minutes passed since guards dumped her in this chair.
The lock on the door thudded before it screeched open. An officer entered and Penny snapped to attention. She couldn’t identify any unit or division designation among the medals and bars. His tag said Darrow. He barely acknowledged her, his attention keenly focused on the files scrolling across the Glas in his hand.
“At ease.” Darrow slid into the seat. Penny sat down. After a few more moments, he laid the Glas on the table and lifted his crystal blue eyes to look at her. “Quite a spot of trouble you’re in, Lieutenant.”
“Permission to speak freely, sir.”
“First of all, what the hell did you do to my rig? You have no idea how long it took me to put that thing together so it better be fixed by the time I get out of here. Second, the Cassandra project was decommissioned like sixty years ago, so why are you wasting your time grilling me about ancient history instead of asking yourself why a Vanduul raid was so interested in obtaining outdated tech?”
Darrow was lost for words but Penny was just getting started.
* * * * *
Cal Mason was also in a spot of trouble. Handcuffed in the cargo hold of the Phoenix, his death sentence had just been issued.
“You should’ve taken my offer, Mason.” Sasha said and headed back toward the pilot chair, “It would’ve been easier on everyone.”
Nesser looked between Sasha and Trunk, obvious a little uncomfortable about this whole cold-blooded murder thing. Instead of saying anything, he just walked away.
“Not me. I got no problem tossing people like you in the void.” Trunk hissed and shoved Cal toward the airlock. Cal saw something in a toolbox on the starboard wall that looked promising. Now he just had to get over there…
“I’ll bet you don’t. Saves you the embarrassment of losing in a fair fight.”
“You serious, little man?” Trunk chuckled. Cal turned around and got right in Trunk’s face.
“Sure. I heard the only survivors on Cathcart were the ones that hid like cowards.” Cal said, although he thought he went a little far with that one. Apparently, Trunk did too. He shoved Cal, hard.
Cal stumbled back and slammed into the starboard wall. His fingers found what they were looking for.
“You know, I think the airlock might be a little too quick.” Trunk said as he slowly approached. One hand snatched Cal’s throat and pinned him against the wall. The other drew a blade.
“Come on, man. Don’t…” Nesser popped out from the bunks, attracted by the noise.
“Yeah Trunk…” Cal snapped the cuff around Trunk’s wrist, click, “don’t.”
Trunk’s eyes went wide. He swung the knife. It was clumsy, hurried. Cal dodged the attack and swung him into the wall. The blade clattered to the deck.
Sasha sprinted from the pilot’s chair, weapon drawn. She drew up on Cal just as he came up with the knife to Trunk’s throat. She froze. A couple moments of silence let the stand-off settle in.
“What you think you’re doing there, Mason?” Sasha said, slowly advancing. Cal glanced back at Nesser who had grabbed his gun too.
“Cordially declining the airlock.” Cal divided his attention between the pair of guns on him. He wasn’t as concerned with Nesser shooting but still, a gun’s a gun.
“Think this through. You don’t really have many options. You kill him, you die a second later.” Sasha glanced at Nesser. She doubted she’d be able to count on him. “And it’s a little inhospitable outside.”
“Maybe.” Cal kicked the control panel on the floor. The housing for the P52 slid open. Sasha fumed. Trunk coughed and struggled but the knife put him back in line. The P52’s cockpit opened.
“You won’t stand a chance in that thing.”
“I do love a challenge.” Cal grinned. He moved beside the cockpit and hit the button for the housing to start closing. He leaned toward Trunk. “I’m sorry about the Cathcart thing. To be honest, I thought that campaign was disgraceful.”
Cal shoved Trunk toward Sasha, completely cutting off her shot, and dropped into the cockpit a second before the housing closed completely. He opened the outer doors and quickly powered up the ship. It hummed to life. Cal sighed, relieved that they maintained this ship too.
Sasha raced back to the cockpit to lock down the outer doors but it was too late. Massive thuds echoed through the ship as the P52 disengaged. She slid into the pilot’s seat and fixed the Phoenix into attack position. Trunk walked up behind her, rubbing his wrists.
“Get on the turret.” Trunk hesitated until Sasha glared at him.
Cal took a second to take in his position. He was in Banu territory, about a half-hour burn back to the traffic heading into the jump-point. His screens lit up as the Phoenix launched a spread of missiles.
Cal flashed his engines. He rerouted power from the guns to boost his speed. She was half correct about the P52. While it doesn’t have the firepower to hurt the Phoenix, it’s got agility. Cal weaved around the missiles. The swiftness stirred his blood. The missiles cut around and reacquired. The Phoenix’s turret unleashed a barrage of cannon shots.
Cal corkscrewed through the shots and punched straight toward the Phoenix. The missiles screamed after him. Sasha knew what he was up to, dove and cut the engine. The missiles stayed locked on Cal. Trunk tracked him with the turret. One shot blasted a missile.
Cal feverishly re-calibrated the pilot-assist. Too many features were set on auto. He liked the control. He needed it to be able to open this bird up.
The Phoenix swung up behind him. Cal looked up. He was set to go. The P52’s engines rumbled with the added power and screamed forward. The Phoenix unleashed another volley. Laser blasts streaked past Cal. He put shields back and weaved around, trying to put the rockets in the line of fire. A neutron shot clipped another missile, which tumbled off course then exploded.
Cal got some distance on the Phoenix and kept the throttle max.
* * * * *
Aboard the Phoenix, Sasha was losing patience. The P52 proved to be almost impossible to hit. Her tracking computers got tripped up as it twisted and tumbled through the air.
“He’s going to hit that traffic.” Trunk said over comms.
“It doesn’t matter. He doesn’t have a jump-drive.” She replied and rerouted the ship’s power to give the engines a boost, “and he’ll run out of fuel in ten minutes.”
“Got some company.”
Sasha looked over. Some Banu Militia circled but kept their distance. Probably there to make sure the chaos was contained.
“Check your shots, we’ll be fine.” Sasha shifted her focus back to Cal. She took a calming breath and gave herself to the controls. In her zone, she matched Cal’s wild flight moves beat for beat. Trunk snapped off shots to pen Cal in.
The two ships screamed through space. One by one, the missiles hit their range limit and exploded. Sasha kept a sustained stream of fire. More and more energy blasts connected, chipping away the shields of the small fighter. Trunk nailed the P52 with a solid hit. The shields couldn’t stop the shot, which punched into the engine.
Cal Mason zipped past the jump-point and looped up. Sasha stayed on him. The damaged engine decreased his speed enough for her targeting computers to get a lock. She kept the Phoenix on course. Her finger hovered over the trigger.
* * * * *
The P52’s cockpit was getting pretty ragged. That last shot should have cut his ship in half but somehow it held up. Cal knew he had one shot at this. He glanced at the jump-point. A Caterpillar was just about to cross.
Cal hit a retro-burn, twisted and dove back down. The Phoenix swept past him. He punched it and fell in behind the Caterpillar.
The jump-point opened and the Caterpillar disappeared inside.
“This is really dumb.” He muttered and dove into the jump-point through the wake before it closed.
* * * * *
Sasha watched the P52 disappear into the jump-point in stunned silence.
“Um…” Trunk said over the open comm.
“Yeah.” It seemed like an awful lot to go through to just kill yourself.
Finally, Sasha turned the Phoenix and burned away. They had places to be.