Writer’s Note: Brothers In Arms: Part One was published originally in Jump Point 3.5.
The heads-up display on Gavin Rhedd’s Cutlass dimmed at the edges. Green triangles representing the members of his security team distorted to form horizontal spikes of flickering static. He smacked the side of his helmet. It was a practiced move, and one that had snapped the HUD back into focus in the past. This time, the display flickered, faded and then died.
A heavy breath sent a thin veil of vapor climbing the visor of his helmet. Condensation obscured the view of black, empty space ahead.
Empty like the dead heads-up display.
Empty just like it had been for weeks.
There were brigands and marauders plaguing every planet in the ’verse and he couldn’t find one damned gang. Nothing was working out like he’d planned.
On the navsat, the other three members of Rhedd Alert Security fanned out to either side. His brother Walt was locked into position directly to port. Jazza and Boomer were painfully out of position.
Everyone was getting bored and careless.
Boomer was the first to break radio silence this time.
“What’s up, Boomer?” Walt was the first to respond.
Jazza didn’t follow orders better than any of the others, and her banter had the comfortable cadence of friendly rivalry. “Then put on a sweater.”
“Hey, Jazz?” Boomer fired back at her.
“Take your helmet off for a tick.”
“Why’s that, old man? You want a kiss?”
“Nope. I’m hoping you get sucked out and die when I shoot a hole through your cockpit.”
Gavin sighed into his helmet before triggering his mic. “Come on, gang. I want comms dark. The miners on Oberon hired us to take care of their pirate problem. And the three of you chattering on an open channel won’t help us find them any faster.”
“I’m starting to hate this system,” Walt muttered.
They were all tired and strung out from weeks of long hours and no action. But Walt was killing their morale by giving voice to that frustration. This whole thing — Rhedd Alert Security, abandoning smuggling to go clean, applying for Citizenship — was something they’d agreed to do together. Gavin and Walt. Brothers. Going legit and starting a business.
It seemed a good idea when they were dodging system alerts and dumping a fortune into forged tags. But some things don’t change, and Walt was the same old Walt — all talk and no follow through. It wouldn’t be long before he came up with some excuse to move on to clearer skies.
“What’s wrong, Boomer?”
“Cold, Gavin. Think the heat’s out.”
Wonderful. Something else to fix. Maybe Walt wouldn’t be the first to quit after all. Dell would leave if Gavin let her father freeze to death over this rock.
Jazza barked a laugh, “Yep. That sounds about right for this outfit.”
“Jazza, will you shut up already? Which part are you having trouble with? Comms or dark?”
“Yes sir, Big Boss Man.”
“Jesus. I got more respect from you guys when we were criminals. Boomer, by all the Banu gods, why didn’t you tell me you were having trouble before we left the hangar?”
“I, uh . . . I figured to keep quiet until after the mission. Until we got paid, you know?”
This should have been a quick in and out job. But after weeks of fruitless hunting, even if they eventually drove off the pirates, the job would be a net loss.
“Hey, guys?” Jazza was really starting to get on his nerves. He told her as much. “Shut your hole, Gavin. I just wanted to let you know I found something.”
Gavin quickly studied the navsat console. The area looked empty other than the four of them, so whatever she’d found wasn’t showing up on any of his feeds. He smacked his helmet again in mute hope that the HUD would spring back to life.
“It’s a hull,” Jazza said. “Big one. Looks like a stripped Idris. Looks dead.”
“I’m not seeing you on . . . crap,” Walt said. “There you are. How’d you get way the hell out there?”
“Easy, folks,” Gavin said. “Boomer? You head toward Jazza. Walt and I will hold position.”
An Idris represented a fair chunk of creds as salvage. Strange that no one had claimed it. They were in Oberon to chase off pirates, but a little scrap job on the side was a welcome bonus.
“Jazza,” Gavin said, “I’ve got nothing near you on sensors. You think it’s just some floating junk?”
“I think so,” she spoke slowly, uncertain. “I thought I saw a heat trace, but I’m not seeing it now. Going in for a closer — Jesus!”
“Jazz,” Boomer’s voice was flat. The old man was all business. “Break right, I’ll pull this one off you and lead them back to the boys.”
“Can’t shake him.”
The navsat showed three new ships. A 325a with scrambled tags closed in on Jazza. Walt streaked past, already accelerating toward the fray, and Gavin turned to follow.
“Pull up hard,” Boomer said. “Bring him back around — Damn it.”
“Talk to us, Boomer,” Walt said.
“Jazza took a big hit. These guys are each sporting a Tarantula — the big one.”
“Hold tight,” Gavin said. “We’re nearly there. Walt, my HUD’s out. I need visual to fight, can you engage?”
“Hold on, Boomer. We’re coming.”
Walt was an incandescent streak ahead of him. The nearby space seemed deceptively empty without the visualizations that his HUD instrumentation would normally project. Only Oberon IV, looming beneath them, gave him any sense of perspective.
Walt’s voice crackled into the oppressive silence. “Boomer. I’m coming in low at your three o’clock.”
“I’m going to strafe with the repeaters to get their attention. You give that 325 a broadside he can’t resist. I’ll shove a missile somewhere the sun don’t shine.”
“Hurry, Walt. I’m too old for a three-on-one.”
“On you in five. Four. Three. Break now!”
Up ahead, razor thin beams of red slashed across space. The lasers streaked straight and then abruptly fanned out as Walt yawed around a pirate ship.
“Boomer!” Walt’s words tumbled out in a rush. “I can’t take a missile shot with you between us.”
“Can’t shake him.”
“Well that Tarantula is going to shake you plenty if you don’t.”
A missile streaked toward one of the pirate ships. Gavin saw a stuttering series of small flashes inside the cockpit, then the 325a vented a blazing ball of burning oxygen and went dark.
Gavin dropped into the swirling tangle of ships and added his own laser fire to the melee. Rippling blossoms of dispersed energy glowed against a pirate’s shields.
“That’s done it,” Walt said, “they’re gonna run.”
He was right. Realizing they were outnumbered, the remaining pirates turned together and accelerated past Jazza’s drifting ship.
And with them would go any hope of a profitable job. “Pen them in and stitch them up, guys.”
“Screw that,” Walt pulled up, quickly falling behind. “Let them run. They won’t operate here once we steal their hideout. We win, Gav.”
“This job won’t even cover our fuel costs, Walt. We need those ships.”
“I got ’em.” Boomer yawed around to pin the fleeing ships between them.
“Boomer,” Walt cried, “don’t!”
The pirate pair turned nose to nose with Boomer. Their guns sparked twice, muzzles flashing, and Boomer’s Avenger bucked from the impact. Most of the starboard wing spun away in a blaze of erupting oxygen. The pirates flew straight through the floating wreckage and streaked away at full acceleration.
Gavin cursed and slowed. Without his HUD, the fleeing pirates quickly faded from view. “Boomer? Talk to me, buddy.”
Boomer’s Avenger drifted slowly away toward the black. Then it burped, venting air and Boomer’s survival suit out into open space.
A new, flashing red icon reflected up and off the canopy of Gavin’s cockpit. He didn’t have to check the console to know it was Boomer’s recovery beacon.
He let his hands fall away from the controls, closed his eyes and let his head slump backwards. His helmet struck the headrest with an audible clunk. Colored lights sprang up to swim in front of his closed eyes.
Resigned, he cracked one heavy lid to peek out at the intruding light source. His HUD had decided to grace him with a reappearance.
“What. The hell. Was that?” Walt pronounced his words biting precision.
“Tarantula GT-870 Mk3,” Gavin recited in detail.
“I know about the damn guns, Gavin. I mean sending Boomer after them. We won. We had them on the run.”
“These ships don’t repair themselves, Walt. Maybe you haven’t done the math, but we’re broke. We need the salvage.”
“Salvage is nice, but Dell is going to kill you if Boomer is hurt again.”
“I’ll deal with Dell.” Gavin rolled his shoulders and settled his hands back on the controls. “Put a call in to Oberon. Let them know we took care of their pest problem and that we’ll tow away the clever little base the pests were hiding in to block scans. Then get Jazza patched up. Assuming the pirate survived, the two of you can drop him off before towing the salvage home.”
“Got it,” Walt’s voice was caustic, “money first. Good job keeping our priorities straight”
“Damn it, Walt. Will you stow the lip for two minutes so we can pack up and get everyone home.”
“I’ll get Boomer. Can you please go see if you can get Jazza back up and running?”
“You’re the boss, little brother.”
Gavin pushed his family troubles to the back of his mind. Prioritize. First things first, take care of the crew. Get Boomer home. Repair the ships. Pay down some debt. He rattled off a painfully long list of critical next steps and one item kept rapidly, forcefully climbing its way to the top.
They really needed to get another job.