Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Sneak Peek at Book 2

Sneak peak at chapter 2 (first chapter is just exposition on the story so far). Editing not done yet on this part so excuse any errors, grammatical or otherwise. Enjoy!

I knew before the first shots were fired that I was in serious trouble. My fighter could only turn at so many gees before it broke apart, and even less before my consciousness was temporarily obliterated. In a dogfight, passing out was tantamount to death. My adversaries were all around me, I had misjudged their ability to coordinate their attacks and instead of breaking apart in a chaotic mess, they had simply parted neatly and allowed me to pass between them. I couldn’t get a lock on any more than one of them, while all four of them would get a clear shot at me as I passed. Even worse, if I survived the next few seconds they would be able to pivot on impossibly tight turns and attack my unprotected arse.
“Shit!” I swore, as my fighter registered several hits at once. I immediately aborted my run and focused wholly on evasion, switching power reserves to shield and propulsion. That was a new feature of the fighter interface, a modification by Cuts. We figured that if we could add a few dozen kilograms of weight to the rear in the form of extra power storage, I would be able to shunt it around as needed and give my systems a much-needed boost. Luckily for me these drones used energy weapons and not ballistic or missile ammunition, my shields would be able to deflect or absorb a few hits before being overloaded.
Sure enough, a bright flash through the canopy and a row of red indicators on my dashboard told me the shield had buckled. I gulped down air through my mask as I spun the fighter in a corkscrew manoeuvre trying to shake my pursuers. I couldn’t let them get behind me or I’d be toast in no time. A propulsion hit would mean the end of me for sure.
I figured the drones had to be on automatic, there couldn’t be a pilot or they would never be able to pull off such tight formations. That meant I could outsmart them. I hoped. Keeping my turns as random as possible, I managed to keep them focused on my upper starboard flank. I cut power to my engines, coasted for a millisecond while I pivoted on my axis, and swung around to meet them. When I was facing them, I poured on my retro-thrusters on the forward fuselage and managed to get a weapon lock on two of them. In an instant, I had my thumb pressing on the fire control trigger like crazy and couldn’t contain a whoop of victory as they both blew apart under my stream of fire.
It was short lived, however. All four drones had kept coming instead of splitting into defensive patterns and the surviving pair lined up a barrage of fire that rocked my cockpit and pitted my canopy. More red indicators flashed angrily at me and suddenly my controls were not responding.
“No!” I cried as the remaining pair split to my flanks and came at me from two angles. A staccato of hits tore my fighter apart and I died in the sudden vacuum that engulfed me as the cockpit disintegrated around me.
Simulation ended. Reported my overlay.
“Fuck. I hate drones.” I swore again.
Crege berated me, “Human was bezak! Still thinking of drones as separate calak, not a single swarm of galab.
“God damn it.” That was me, cussing. Again.
“Drones don’t care if one gets destroyed. Drones do not care if almost all are destroyed. If one left, they will kill human. Stop thinking calak thinks like human, start thinking calak thinks like machine!”
“Yeah, yeah. I get it.”
“Human does not get it. Human gets killed like fedang every time.”
“This fighter is a hunk of tinfoil with an engine attached! I can’t sustain even a fraction of the hits the Dreaming can take!”
“So don’t get hit!”
“Oh, really? I hadn’t thought of that!”
“Because human is stupid!”
“Hey! Flying is your thing! I prefer a straight up gun fight to all this fancy flying.”
“You think the calak will care what kind of death you prefer? ‘Oh, sorry human. Just let me climb out of drone and kick human’s gortug! Death will come for you, no matter your circumstances, your training or your preference for combat. A warrior knows that everywhere is battlefield. Life is a battlefield.”
I had learned a long time ago that it was best to let Crege finish his rants rather than interrupt him. He was liable to turn violent.
I climbed out of the cockpit of the Eclipse Fighter we had stored in the aft cargo hold, pulling the flight mask off my face as I did. There were several electrodes pasted to my scalp as well, feeding sensory data wirelessly to my interface overlay bio-aug. I pulled them all free as I came out of the cockpit, and handed my mask to Crege.
“I think Tac might have cheated a little on that run, anyway.” I regretted saying it almost immediately.
“Explain.” commanded Crege.
“Well…I used a tactic that he saw me use when I was escaping the Xerxes.”
“I’m just saying, he knew how to counter it.”
“Why is that cheating?”
I sighed, “Look, forget it. I screwed up. I’m tired.” I held up my hand as Crege was about to launch himself into another tirade, “and before you go on about warriors not giving a shit about whether the enemy is tired or not, I’ll remind you I’m supposed to be on holidays. Max gave me the green light. I’m off duty until we get to Gossamer.”
“Human asked warrior to test him. Warrior did not pull human out of nest to train. Human is here because he wants to survive.”
“A decision I’m starting to regret.”
“Warrior is also here, because he wants human to survive.”
I sighed again, “You’re right. I’m sorry. We’ve been at it for hours and my leg is itching like a bitch. Frustration is eating at me; remember when we first started sparring?”
“Human whined like a baby garz’ak.
“I’m grateful for your help, I really am. I just need a break.”
“Okay. Warrior’s leg aches like… a bitch also.”
“Look at us, a pair of banged up actives limping about like old men. Come on, you old fart, I’ll buy you a hot chocolate in the mess deck.”
We limped out of the aft cargo and headed to the forward cargo hold and Deck 2. Crege was right. I needed to be sharp. I was no ace pilot, and I knew that eventually my mediocre skills as a pilot would be tested. Our plan counted on it. Crege was an excellent sparring partner, but not the best teacher. I constantly pitted myself against him in sword fights in the forward hold, or at least I did before he had been wounded while repelling mercenary boarders. He was the far better swordsman and although I was slowly closing that gap, forcing myself to face a more skilled opponent honed my own skills accordingly. It had saved my life many times, especially over the last few months on this job.
The problem was, I wasn’t facing off against Crege now, he was tutoring me in the arts of dog fighting. I’m not a slow learner, but Crege’s impatience tends to get the better of him and lessons end up in arguments and yelling matches more often than not. The fact that his wounded leg stops him from climbing up into the cockpit is the only reason he hasn’t whacked me around the head yet. Small mercies, I suppose.
We retired to the mess deck on Deck 2, and found Fel’negr sitting quietly by himself enjoying a bowl of Vendrul broth. Crege slid up beside him at the table as I ordered two cups of hot chocolate from the auto-chef.
“Tac killed human nine times, today.” declared Crege as I sat down with them.
“Eight. I ejected once.”
“Ha! You still dead.”
Fel slurped from his bowl, and I caught a whiff of the foul stuff. It reeked of seaweed and rotting vegetation. I knew that the taste of the Orlii delicacy wasn’t far off it. “We learn through failure, we grow through defeat.” he said. Fel was full of these truisms, a by-product of a classical education and a devoted following of The Way, an Orlii school of philosophy and thought.
“I prefer what my old platoon sergeant used to say: Train hard, fight easy.”
“Wise man, your platoon sergeant.” agreed Fel. Crege nodded his head as well.
“A brave man, too. He died in the Push, leading a charge against a Ghantri emplacement. Just one more death I hope to avenge when we get to Gossamer.”
The Push was the name given to the grand Protectorate invasion of Gossamer, to take back the system once and for all. In reality, it was a bloody disaster. Over a thousand warships were destroyed and tens of thousands of soldiers and sailors killed during the Push. I had lost my entire squad and was left behind when the withdrawal was called. I spent the better part of four months trying to get out of the system and nearly lost my life because of it. Due to injuries sustained in my escape, I had extensive cybernetic and bio-augmentation to repair the damage. Almost the entire left side of my upper body was cybernetic now. I had major spinal augs as well.
It was due to these augmentations that I was able to take advantage of an emerging technology - Nano-Proliferation. Through an implant that I gained a few months ago, I had learnt how to manipulate and create nano-scopic robots called nanites. Through these tiny devices, I can create several fantastic effects, manipulating energy and matter with the power of thought. These powers have a cost, however. The implant uses up my body’s energy reserves and affects the electrical activity in my brain. If I’m not careful in how I use my nanites, I can have seizures and blackouts. I’m still working on my charge levels, and knowing my safe limits.
“The Captain requests your presence tonight at the planning meeting in her cabin. Twenty six hundred hours.” said Fel. A ship day was thirty hours long.
“I’ll be there. What’s the agenda?” I asked.
“The usual. Going over our plan to get past the Protectorate blockade, repairs and provisioning schedules for when we dock at Eridani Station.”
“Again? What’s new?”
“Don’t know. You know Max, she likes to worry about plans and contingencies. It’s an admirable trait to have in a Captain.”
“No doubt, maybe she’s thought of something else and wants to bounce it off us. See how it washes?”
“Possibly. Tac, has the Captain been asking you for more probability ratios lately?”
The Captain has been asking me for probability ratios many times a day, since we escaped the Blade of Xerxes. This was the AI’s texted response to all our overlays. Tac was different than normal AIs. He appeared to be a sphere of electronics, roughly the size of a small bowling ball. His actual form reached into a parallel dimension and, if he was to be believed, is growing all the time. Part computer, part organic…something. Tac was a valuable member of the crew, and we thought of him not as an artificial intelligence, but as an actual crewmember. We had him ensconced in the ship’s sensor nexus, and all the external and internal sensors were his to use. In a past life, he was a deep space research vessel’s computer, but we had rescued him from a drifting hulk hours after the ship’s destruction.
“Are any of her more recent suggestions viable?”
A few have merit.
“Any we’re not aware of?”
Negative. You are conversant with the most favourable plans to date.
“So why does she want me at this one? I’m still off-duty.”
“Perhaps she misses you?” offered Fel.
“We can chat any time; I don’t need a command meeting for that. She knows that. Right?”
“Why doesn’t human just ask her?” said Crege.
“I might.”
“Then we don’t need to talk about it.” That’s Crege. Pointless banter was not his strong suit.
“How are the legs?” asked Fel, indicating us both.
“I can put my weight on it now, but the nanite patch itches like hell.” I said. During my escape from a Corporate organo-ship, I’d been attacked in the Eclipse Fighter that I stole by a swarm of drones. I nearly died when several hits penetrated my cockpit. Luckily, all I had suffered was a burnt leg when an energy beam lanced it. Burn injuries were easy to heal with nanites, but cutting wounds, like Crege’s, had to be healed the old-fashioned way.
“Still feels like broken glass in my hip.” reported Crege, “Zoe says no more bleeds, though. Bone start to heal properly now.” I had to hand it to him. Crege was a tough son of a bitch. His wound was far more serious than mine was; a sword tip had pierced his thigh and cut the top of his femur off. Zoe had performed emergency surgery on him in our med lab, and through many months of healing and therapy, he should make a full recovery. For the time being, though, he was out of action. Only recently, had Zoe allowed him to return to light duties and he had hit the bridge with gusto taking shifts on duty as often as he could.
“Seeing the both of you wounded…it shames me” started Fel, “Here I am, whole and unwounded. I’ve done little, comparatively to the pair of you, I’ve not shared the danger you two have faced on this voyage.”
“Talk like that doesn’t get us anywhere.” I explained, “You’re not an active. You’re pretty much a civilian in my books.”
“And mine” agreed Crege.
“So don’t go getting any ideas about putting yourself in danger just so you can get wounded and compare scars with the rest of us.”
“I won’t, I just wanted to tell you that if I could, I’d fight alongside you. I’m no soldier.”
“And it’s for that reason that we’d rather you stuck to doing what you do best. An untrained gunman on our side in a fight is more a liability than an asset.”
“Fel is thinker, warrior is doer.” offered Crege.

“Yeah, what he said. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to stalk my woman and pester her a bit before I get some shuteye before this command meeting tonight.”

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