Author Topic: Flight of the Avenger - Fiction  (Read 897 times)

Strait Raider

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Flight of the Avenger - Fiction
« on: September 13, 2013, 03:20:20 pm »
So... it's been a while since I've written anything, but I decided it was high time I got some built up verbal phlegm out of my system.

For those of you who weren't present, I wrote a few short storied before. These are set in the Blockade Runner universe, (I guess) and highlight some of the lesser heard-from roles of crew members on larger ships; engineering, damage control, and gunnery.



This story is set in the Star Citizen universe. Knowledge of the ships and history might help with your visualization, but for all intents and purposes, it's a universal story.

So here's my first "feature-length" collection of words with vague connections to one another:

Spoiler

Bryce woke up an hour before his alarm was set to go off. Gradually increasing the transparency of his apartment's window, he let the constant light of Calypso's star, Verrilli, light up the small living compartment.

Being tidally locked in the hot end of the habitable zone, Calypso was perfect for an ag-world. Back in the Messer days the ocean planet was sewn with floating city-rigs, and the local ocean denizens subdued to allow for massive aquafarming operations. Population had been dropping on Calypso for years, but the world still supports a steady trade in foodstuffs, grown or raised in the massive floating farms that sprawled across the ocean up-current of the city's pollutant plume.

Bryce Conner had been planetside on Calypso for almost two years. With luck, that streak would end today. Showering and dressing, he poured a bowl of algae-crisps and flipped on the local news. After ten minutes staring blankly at the screen and combating a nervous tick in his leg, he switched off the set, left his congealing bowl of nutrients, and stepped outside.

Bryce wasn't due to meet his contact for another hour, and took a detour down to the port district. On most days the cool breeze and vast expanse of the sea would calm his mind when his nerves overtook him. Today his calm was shattered by the deafening sound of a Starfarer transport, thundering overhead, struggling for altitude under the weight of water tanks packed full of live produce. The sound of starship engines drove him to his feet. He could delay no longer.

As luck would have it, the proprietor of Sunrise Skydocks, a run-down refilling and loading station, was available when Bryce arrived. The sweaty, overweight man lead him down below the landing platforms and swiped his passcard at a dingy hangar door.

Grinding open through years of salt-air induced rust, the doors revealed the prize Bryce sought. Tucked in behind a late model Aurora Clipper and what looked like an engine pod off a Caterpillar, was a grime-covered Avenger.

Quivering with anticipation, Bryce listened idly to the seller ramble as they circled the craft. "Old model Avenger. Very, very reliable ship. Previous owner defaulted on storage fees. Big engine. Fast ship. For you my friend I give best price."

Bryce stopped and looked up at the unusually elongated cockpit. The seller chimed in, "Trainer version, two seats. Low hours on engine, very very nice deal."

The entire ship was covered in thick grime. Bryce squinted at a strange looking pattern below the Avenger logo. Gingerly, he smeared his hand across the hull, revealing two additional words:

Advocacy Interceptor

Bryce smiled and muttered to himself "A diamond in the rough. Maybe." His dirty hand shook uncontrollably.

"Sorry, what you say?" Asked the seller, a concerned look upon his face.

"I said what in the HELL is this?" Bryce spun, holding his hand to display the filth he'd taken off the ship. Hopefully the dealer would take his shaking as anger rather than nerves. "When you told me your price I expected a well-maintained ship! When was the last time you power-cycled it? It might cost me 10,000 creds just to get her past inspection..."

-----------

"John. It's Bryce."

A male voice answered, "How many times do I have to tell you Bruce, userID's been around for centuries, you don't have to introduce yourself."

"How many times do I have to tell you how to pronounce my name? And excuse me for exercising some archaic courtesies."

"I know how you pronounce your name, and I think it's a stupid name. I like Bruce better."

"You never did pass written comprehension, did you? I suppose that's why you're doing labor for that slimy freight captain. Whatsis name, the one you said had to have both front seats of his 'Lancer replaced with a single custom so he could fit?"

"Not working for him anymore. Couldn't abide the smell."

"You do have quite the aroma. I'm surprised he let you on in the first place."

"Har-HAR. I was barely making rent working for him. I'm slumming it planetside looking for a half decent captain who needs a quartermaster."

"Quartermaster? Is that what they're calling dumb muscle these days?" Bryce paused. "Look, I think I've got a way to get us out of atmo."

"You going up to station? Don't tease me, you know how stir-crazy I get planetbound."

"Station? Better. Ship."

"Consider my attention grabbed. Who's hiring?"

"I am."

"Remember when I said 'a half-decent captain'? Add to that 'One who can pay.' I don't think you meet either of my stringent criteria."

Bryce grinned despite himself. "Do you want off this rock or not?"

"You had me at 'ship'. When do we leave?"

"Papers cleared this morning. I want to take her out on shakedown and if it all checks out I know a guy willing to pay freelance pilots to ship local produce to Terra."

"I haven't been to Terra for years. Bruce, everything I own fits in one bag. I've still got a sol-month on this lease, but to hell with it, I can ship out today."

"Meet me in the Blue Quarter. Sunrise Skydock. Hangar AA-22. Pick up provisions on the way, would ya?"

"Provisons? I thought you said we were shipping produce?" John chuckled to himself, obviously happy at the prospect of getting off-world. "I'll swing by the trades store and update my toolkit. Knowing the budget you're on, I'll need it."

-----------------------

Why is it called 'Sunrise Skydock' if it'll never see a sunrise? Bryce mused as he waited outside at the transit station. He checked his chrono as he watched a tram hove into view. Accurate to the minute, he thought to himself. Say what you will about the old Messer regime, they made the trams run on time.

John emerged from the tram. It wasn't hard to spot him, he stood a head taller than the average Calypso male. If anything, Bryce thought, Calypso's light 0.82 G pull had let his spine stretch even taller.

Spotting Bryce, John stepped quickly across the platform. Grinning from ear to ear, he clapped Bryce one the shoulder, spinning him around towards the skydock.

"Alright," said John. "Where's this heap of bolts you're going on about and where's the swindler who convinced you it was a ship and took your money?"

Bryce rubbed his shoulder. Despite being skinny as a beanpole, John had a lot of strength in him. More than he knew, sometimes. Gesturing on they stepped off towards the skydock's elevator. Bryce eyed John's battered old UEE Marine rucksack, obviously bulging with supplies. "Feeding an army, or is that just for you?" He inquired.

"Enough hardtack for a run to Terra, plus a week on the drift for when this beater of yours conks out." John punched the elevator controls for the hangar deck. "The rest is standard kit. Diagnostic tools, manipulator set, spare compression coil, even picked up one of those fancy new micro welders. Fits in the palm of your hand, takes any coil up to 6mm. Really nice kit." The elevator stopped across from the hangar.

The hangar door opened to Bryce's temporary pass. "She's in the back there." Bryce paused. "Not the Cat engine."

John strode up to the Avenger, uncharacteristically quiet. He paused, then walked aft, reching out his hand and dragging his fingers through the dirt and grime on the hull. John paused to examine the dirt, then put it up to his nose and sniffed.

"Why don't ya lick it too?" called Bryce.

Unperturbed, John continued to the rear, then dropped his ruck and lowered himself onto the floor to examine the landing gear.

"It's ex-Advocacy." Bryce offered.

"I know," said John from underneath the fuselage, "See those bump-outs to either side of the engine compartment? That's a modification to fit the uprated engine cooler. They don't fit those to trainer craft." John emerged from underneath the craft. "But, she's got the two-seat cockpit which means, putting two and two together, long-range Advocacy ship."

"Ever flown in one?"

"Yeah, quite a bit back in the day."

"Advocacy engine. Hammer Propulsion 400-series. It's got Advocacy armor, Advocacy shields, Advocacy cooling. It's a model made before the new emissions standards, so it'll run good on any backwater swamp-mix you can fill it with. What do you say, is it our new cargo hauler or what?"

"It sounds good. It sounds great, actually. Might not be the most fuel efficient, and we strictly shouldn't need that much mil-spec kit but hey, a little extra shielding never hurt anybody. But does she run?"

"Everything power cycles just fine. Engine sounds good, despite the hours on it. Bastard had the nerve to tell me she was low hours. I've got a few lights on the dash, but nothing serious. She's spaceworthy, for the time being." John had wheeled an inspection lift over to the craft, and started to remove the starboard inspection panel off the engine. Bryce checked his chrono again. "Alright John, don't take too long. I've already arranged for cargo, it should be here in about an hour."

-----------

Bryce's hands shook at the controls. Sweat rolled down his face. He looked up at his rear-view reflector and saw John watching him back. Bryce keyed the communicator and steadied his voice. "Sunrise Tower this is Avenger dash one-one-three-eight. Preflight checks complete, awaiting clearance for liftoff."

"Sunrise Tower copies, standby. Traffic is a Constellation Model G inbound for pad three."

Bryce pulled a small leather case from his thigh pocket. Inside were five small auto-injectors. CMSD-5, short for Combat Mental Stability Drug version 5, was developed under the Messer Regime for battlefield application to fight cases of Acute Stress Reaction. The drug made the user numb, detached, and utterly, utterly calm, all while retaining high-level cognitive functions and similar, or even improved reaction times. In the illegal drug market it gained the nickname "Ice". Due to its easy accessibility through medical supply chains it was popular recreational drug, and also saw use as a performance enhancer for everyone from athletes to traffic controllers to college students. Dependency came easy, which made it popular with dealers. A dependent could experience elevated adrenaline nearly constantly, and an inability to handle even moderately stressful situations.

Bryce caught John watching him as he rolled the injector between his fingers. Shivering, pulled down the collar of his spacesuit and slammed it into the side of his neck. His breathing settled as the built-up adrenaline started to drain from his system.

The communicator came back alive. "Sunrise Tower. Avenger one-one-three-eight your flight plan is approved and you are clear for immediate launch."

"Thank you Sunrise, Avenger out." Bryce brought the ship up into a low hover and switched to internal comms, "Keep an eye on reactor draw while we head out, if we're using more fuel than we should be I want to know about it."

John looked out the side as they cleared the city and headed out over the water. "She was drawing a bit too much at idle. I think there's some internal friction. Once we're out of atmo I should be able to hear where. She should be fine as long as you don't push it too hard too long." John paused. "You thought of a name yet?"

"Nah. Something will come to me. I want to get a feel for her first."

"How about 'Glacier', Iceman?"

"Fuck off."

"You know you sound like a psycho when you're on that shit. Your voice is deadpan and flat. Anyone who's seen a junkie before can tell."

Normally talk about his addiction would send Bryce through the roof, but iced up he couldn't feel angry. "Drop it." Bryce looked out over the water. "And I'm not a junkie. I'm quitting, it's just not easy. Today was tense. New ship, new life. It's a lot to deal with." Sighing, he looked up at John in the mirror. "Come on, let's have a little fun."

Bryce slowed the ship and dropped down just above the water level. Ignoring the computer warnings he killed the lift thrusters and dropped the belly of the ship into the sea. Bringing up power to the main thruster, the Avenger began to push through the water, kicking spray up over the cockpit from her downturned nose. The shape of the nose tried to pull the Avenger underwater, but he fought it with liberal amounts of lift on the nose. Looking to the side, he saw the sun glint off the ship as the last of the grime washed off into the sea. A nearby trawler crew gawked at the spectacle.

Hitting max frontal lift, Bryce pointed the ship at the sky, then punched the throttle. The Avenger shook, and leapt into the sky, leaving a boiling patch of sea and a stream of water shaken from her wings.

-------

"Flight plan's locked in." Said Bryce, as the Avenger burned towards the jump point. "Grab the tiller. I'm getting something to eat."

Bryce unbuckled and spun his seat aft. Slipping past John's seat and the water closet, he opened the door to the cargo bay. Rummaging through John's rucksack he pulled out a couple of energy bars. John called back from the cockpit. "Where's the autopilot disengage? I want to get a feel for how she flies."

"Just give the stick a hard break and it should auto-disengage." Bryce replied. "I thought you said you'd flown in one of these before?"

"Oh, I've flown in one, but I wasn't sitting up front." John turned and winked at him. "What's in the crates anyway? Crack one open and let's try some."

"I don't think so. They're barrel crabs, live. We got them from the Banu a while back and started farming them. They're sort of like a Lobster, but uglier and meaner."

"Forget it, I hate seafood anyway."

"Calypso must have been hell for you."

"Yup." Said John. "Hey, come on back. Jump Point departure lane's clear."

 --------

"John. John, wake up." Bryce turned in his seat to see John, his seat reclined to horizontal, give a slight stir. "JOHN!" he yelled, and brought his fist down hard on the shin of John's spacesuit.
John leaned up and rubbed the sleep from his eyes. "We're still flying." He said, "It can't be that urgent."

Bryce reached around and tapped John's sensor screen. "What does that look like to you?"

"Two dots on a screen. I was having a nice dream too." John inclined his seat. "Looks like regular traffic. In transit on opposite heading. Coming from the same jump we're headed to."

"Look closer." Bryce shook his head. "Moving too fast for regular freight. Might be urgent shipping or the like but check the velocities, they're moving together." Bryce whipped a sudden sweat from his brow and continued, "Together, but they're far too distant from each other to be moving as a convoy. Spread out to either side of us, in-plane. It's trouble."

"So why haven't you run?"

"Took me too long to realize what was happening. Besides, we're a heck of a lot closer to the next jump point. I think our best bet is to try to make traffic at the jump point. They won't risk anything there, UEE should have a presence this close to the core systems."

"Speaking of which, isn't this a bit far in for pirates?"

"They're getting bolder every year," said Bryce, "UEE patrols are less frequent now and  they know it. The outer systems are going to the dogs." Bryce watched John's hands clench into fists. "Besides, we'll know for sure in about 90 seconds." A stray bead of sweat dripped into Bryce's lap. "They won't tip their hand until they've got us bracketed, but that gives us a chance. We can burn right between them and make them chase us."

"And then?" John let the question hang as the two contacts slipped closer. "Breathe, man. Deep breaths."

Bryce tightened up on the stick as the contacts began to envelop them. Suddenly both contacts broke off their trajectory and vectored inwards towards the Avenger. His shaking hands slipped as he reached for the throttle. Gasping, he grabbed at it again but it jolted forward out of his grasp.

"I've got it!" Yelled John. "Ride it out! Deep breaths!"

Bryce buckled forward and wrapped his hands around his knees as the computer blared out contact warnings. His vision swam as he heard John fumble for unfamiliar controls.

"Weapons locks!" Yelled John.

Bryce retched. Frantically, he fumbled the case out of his thigh pocket but it tumbled out of his hands, spilling the remaining injectors across the floor. He caught one by the tips of his finger as John found the emergency power override for the engine. Bryce used the acceleration to pull himself upright and slam the autoinjector in just below his ear.

The shields flared as Bryce seized the control stick again. "Give over!" he gasped, "Give me engine readouts! How hard can I push her?"

"It sounds good, she's spun up to emergency power and isn't kicking or putting any backpressure on the system. Coolant temp is nominal."

"Good." Bryce's voice slowly flattened out as the drug took full effect. "Go back and prep the cargo for dump. Then give me what you can get on these guys from the scanners." John spun his chair and bolted through the door to the cargo bay. Bryce keyed the emergency comm channel. "Avenger dash one-one-three-eight to all local forces. We are under pirate attack, two small attackers." Bryce jabbed quickly at the communication board, "distress beacon is active and coordinates are attached to this message. I say again, pirate attack in your sector. Any available units please respond."

Bryce had barely stopped transmitting when an authoritative female voice came back at him. "UEE Outpost Vesuvius. We read you Avenger, a patrol has been redirected to your location. Estimated time of intercept is six minutes. Say again, six minutes." The voice paused. "Ride like hell, Avenger. Vesuvius out."

John vaulted back into his seat and buckled in. "Cargo unstowed and interior doors sealed. Ready to vent on your order."

"Copy, vent now." The ship shuddered as eight tones of water and crab shot out the back. "Get me scanners, tell me what I'm up against."

John whistled. "Advocacy scanners. Wow. No wonder I could never... Do you want to know what they're carrying, or how many pimples they have on their arse?"

"Just tell me what they're flying, and give me rate of closure. Did they stop for the cargo?"

"Negative. Not seafood lovers. Looks like they want the ship. Count one Cutlass, one Origin 300. We're outpacing the Cutlass, Origin in range in..." the Avenger's shields flared with a laser strike. "Now?"

"Keep talking. Can you boost the engine?"

"Not without taking her apart," said John, "but I've got good news. That 300 is warming up. With the oversized cooling system on this Avenger we should be able to outlast him. It's the same way they use them to take down faster ships, they run em into the ground." The Avenger's shields flared again. "If you can avoid getting scrapped, that is."

Bryce jinked out of the path of a laser burst and checked the chrono. At the current rate of closure they'd be dead in sights long before the UEE got there. They'd probably be there in time to stop the pirates making off with the ship, but they'd still be left with a damaged ship, and some pirates had been known to shoot at lifepods when they were denied their prize...

"Don't jink too much," cautioned John, "It closes the distance faster. We can take a few hits on the shield. Cycling the weapons will cost him more than us in the long run. Trust me." John was glued to the sensor screen. "I heard we've got backup coming, but it doesn't look like he knows that. He's confident in the take. Sticking to guns while he closes the distance. I'll bet he thinks between engine power and shield regen that we're the ones heating up."

"That's not that comforting." Bryce tried to resist the urge to acrobatically dodge fire, and counted the shield splashes and missed shots as he counted down the time. Four minutes to intercept.

Bryce heard John muttering over his shoulder. "Come on you bastard, shoot!" The shields flared from another burst of fire, setting off the low shield warning. "One more! Gimmie one more good burst!" Another burst of fire obligingly ripped from the 300, smashing the Avenger's shields and leaving a deep furrow in the Avenger's armor.

John slapped the back of Bryce's seat. "She's flagging! The damn thing's lit up a supernova. He's backing off the power and venting coolant. Hot damn!" John grinned up at Bryce just as the missile warning light flashed on. "Four missiles! Full salvo!"

"Somebody's a sore loser." Said Bryce, and threw the Avenger into a violent corkscrew, faking high then diving low. Three missiles streaked through the Avenger's hot backwash. The fourth punched through the weakened shield and tore the port armor off the engine compartment.

Bryce straightened out. "Well that wasn-" Bryce was cut off as a missile struck the rear cargo hatch, rocking the entire ship. Bryce hurriedly double-checked the sensors.
"Just one from the same salvo," said John, "Thought it'd have another go at us. That 300's in the dust. Take us home, Bruce."

Bryce cut back throttle to 60% of cruising power and poured over the engineering readouts, searching for anomalies caused by a high stress run after a long period of storage.
John looked up as a flight of three UEE Navy Hornets came up on the Avenger, searing through the darkness under combat power. "Typical Navy," he railed, "Always late to the fight!"

Bryce waggled the wings of the Avenger anyway as the military craft streaked by.

"So," joked John, "You picked out a name for her yet?"

"Actually," said Bryce as he looked up from the engineering displays, "I think I might have one."
« Last Edit: September 13, 2013, 04:10:08 pm by Strait Raider »