tagSci-Fi & FantasyDevil May Care Ch. 05

Devil May Care Ch. 05

byDragonCobolt©

Kuz the Shockpod lounged in his cell, his hands laced behind his back. The aches and pains of exposure to vacuum, the bullet impacts, the lacerations, all of it paled next to the happiness of having finally met an alien race that he felt got his people. The restraints were just the right level of restricting to not insult his honor, and the United States Marine Corps Serviceperson that stood before his cell door was a nice touch. Kuz had heard of the United States Marine Corps.

He had wanted to fight them ever since.

"So," the marine said. "You're like a Klingon? Or a Kzinti or something? Or, uh, Krogan?"

Kuz considered. He had not read of human culture, beyond the most admirable ones -- the ones who had fought the largest wars per capita. The National Socialists and their blitzkrieg. The United Soviet Socialist Republics and their massed tanks. He had also been directed to reading about the Jewish Resistance in a city called Warsaw by a rather offended human -- them he liked most of all, which had mollified Mr. Goldberg for a reason that escaped him.

Human cultural mysteries aside, Kuz could respect people who fought tanks with bottles of flaming intoxicants and hand weapons. Realizing the human wanted an answer, Kuz considered his choices. He remembered an old Shockpod religious law, from before the Diaspora: Section-489 of Guideline 2b, answering affirmative to captors so long as it does not contract Corporate Law is to be encouraged.

"Yes," Kuz said.

"Shepard," the marine muttered. "Wrex. Shepard. Wrex."

Kuz frowned. "Are you praying?"

"Can I talk to some kind of established gerontocrat?" the Huntress -- who was held in the cell next door -- shouted. "Please!?"

###

The third flight briefing room of the USAF Biden was cramped. But, in the Biden's defense, there were about a hundred and fifty seven active pilots, spread between their S3s, their EAS, their DSW, their AS-SWS and their Asskickers.

[Wait, why do the marines get a nickname and not more alphabet soup?] Dey asked, her brow furrowing.

Wanted to make sure you were paying attention, Loki said -- the last part of his readout changing to STS-MCS.

[So, we've got four goddamn squadrons of X-wing pilots, a bunch of egghead electronic warfare nerds, the drone riggers, the anti-subspace warfare specialists and the jarheads. Got it.] Dey shifted in her seat. Sitting next to her was Fong. The cadet she remembered from Ceres was still there -- the fresh coat of paint and the eagerness of a new assignment still hung around him with that distinctive new officer smell. He was tapping a stylus against his desk as he looked over the heads of the other pilots that were sitting in the flight briefing room.

This was just the room for the 229th -- the Raging Bulls -- and the 321st -- Not The Bees -- to cram into the third flight room, even including Captain Moon and Dey. The Major who was giving them a briefing was using a laser pointer to aim at the screen which showed the preliminary scans that the Biden had picked up of the bad guy's station.

"All right, boys and girls and everything between," Major Desthen said, his palm slapping against the top of his laser pointer. "This is why you all signed up for the air force. We've got a Hamilton cylinder station sitting in dark space. It's about half a click long and seems to be built for as close to zero emissions as possible. Actual defenses and armor is minimal. So, we're going to let the STS boys handle it."

The pilots nodded. Fong looked like he was trying his best to chew his lip off. Dey grinned.

[Bet he wants to ask me why I'm here and not with the jarheads.]

I don't take dumbshit bets, Dey.

[And yet, you do fuck me in public. Explain that with your precious science.]

As proof of how far Loki had come from training, he didn't grope her. The byplay had taken less than a nanosecond, and Dey was able to focus on the Major's words.

"Our job is trickier. This..." He snapped his finger and the feed changed to a wireframe representation of space time. "This is the bad guy we get to fight."

Space-time was curved. Einstein knew it, and the DeVilbiss drives that were the basis of everything from modern batteries to faster than light travel took advantage of that. Dumping negative energy into space via an electrical current and some room temperature superconductors, DV Drives could bend space outwards. But natural gravity could bend space inward. The station was a tiny dimple. Barely a blip on the Biden's gravity wave detectors.

The thing next to it didn't just dip.

It went straight down and off the chart.

"According to the scans," Major Desthen said. "This is a black hole. More, it is sitting within the tidal force range -- meaning that either that station somehow has managed to counteract the gravitational forces of the black hole without using a single DV emitter -- or that's the first time we've ever laid eyes on a Perseus ship."

Quiet murmuring filled the room. The Major let it ride for a moment, but coughed -- the pilots shutting up.

I noticed that he doesn't call them Mumbler Ships.

[Not dignified enough, huh?]

"We have no idea what weapon or defense capacity the Perseus ship has," Desthen said. "The eggheads are theorizing it could weaponize gravity and move by giving inertia the finger. So expect it to maneuver in ways that are impossible. More impossible than the X-wings. Expect it to fire things at us that we can't stop. But we know one thing." He slapped the screen. "We know how to kill it."

Dey leaned backwards in her seat. One of the pilots in the front row blurted out: "How, sir!?"

"Did you all fall asleep during your high school physics classes?" Major Desthen looked irritated. "DeVilbiss Drives warp space in the opposite fucking way. Right now, your fighters are being loaded with missiles with modified K9 warheads. Rather than unspooling, the flight crew are going to set these to dump negative energy into that fucker and turn it inside out. And we're going to handle that while the Motorheads and the New Kentucky Mindworms take on the conventional fighters that the research station has guarding it."

Dey nodded slowly. "And that, Fong," she whispered. "Is why the Captain and I are here."

"Sir, if we take out the black hole," Muller spoke up -- he was seated a row ahead of Dey and had given her a cheery wave when she had arrived. Now, he was all serious. "What's the SO on the conventional craft?"

"This is technically a Moo-Two," Major Desthen said

Military operation other than warfare.

[I know, Loki.]

I know you know -- I'm just saying that's a fucking stupid shortening.

Deshen continued talking over the interlude. "Go for the engines, the weapons, EMP them if you can. But these are Delta-V fighters, they're going to be hardened. So, if they don't give you a choice, take em out."

Muller nodded.

Dey frowned. [Will a bunch of corporate goons be fucking stupid enough to take on the USAF?]

I dunno. If I had a magic black hole on my side...

[...shit.] Dey thought. [This is why I always say, we never should have let corporations found their own colonies. We've got people who are more loyal to their fucking employer than their fucking country.]

Your country is your employer.

[Yeah, but...] Dey paused. [That's different.]

I know it is. I'm just being an asshole.

With questions done, the Major nodded. "All right. Lets kick some ass, arrest some corporate execs, and bag us a black hole. Dismissed. Good flying."

The pilots stood -- Fong shaking his head as he pushed his stylus into his pocket. He grinned at Dey. "Never thought I'd be flying my first mission with you, Dey, after you dropped out-"

"Dropped out? I transferred, you dillhole," Dey said as she walked out with the rest of the Raging Bulls. Two of them were her roomies -- Fong, Muller -- with the rest being more veteran pilots. She had gotten their names affixed in her memory by Loki and was looking forward to flying with them. Each of the veterans seemed to be treating the new kids, excluding her, like a kitten. They treated her like a kitten that could talk.

"So, can you show us that cool trick again?" Elyissa asked, rubbing her hands together.

"Loki would like me to tell you that he hates being called a trick," Dey said, wiggling her fingers playfully. "But, sure." She grinned and lifted up her hand. The stylus she had left beside her desk flew from the desk to her palm with a soft snap noise. Dey twirled it around her fingers and presented it to the veteran pilot. Elyissa looked like several dreams had come true at the same time. She held the stylus, her eyes bulging.

"Slash," she whispered.

"All right, kids," the flight leader, Captain Morris, looked over his shoulder. "Settle down. We're all very impressed by your Jedi tricks, but hokey religious are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid."

Dey grinned. "I got a blaster too." She patted her M2-E12. "Always said relying on just a laser sword was fucking retarded."

"Hey!" one of the veteran pilots -- Ri -- punched her shoulder. "Don't be ablest."

The pilots emerged from the corridor and into the flight deck of the Biden. The space was immense -- easily the largest single part of the carrier. This wasn't just a feature of the spaceframe, though that was taken into account. Four immense DV emitters with their own dedicated generators powered the folding it took to keep the FS-65s that made up the bulk of the Biden's compliment in place. They were backed up by rack after rack of egg-shaped MIS-2, and the support craft whose names and numbers were too mind numbing for even Loki to give a shit about them.

HEY DEY, LOKI, HOW ARE YOU DOING?

The godlike voice that boomed inside of Dey's head made her recoil as if she had walked into a physical wall. As Muller had been behind her, he caught her. "You okay?" he asked.

"Jesusfuckchrist, yes!" Dey hissed, her hands on the sides of her head. "Loki, the fuck was that?"

I believe it was the Biden's AI.

Sorry about that!

[Apology fucking accepted,] Dey said, wincing - managing to get her brain under control now that it wasn't ringing. [You used to shouting, huh?]

I don't do direct brain communication, usually, the ship's AI said. Mostly speaking over the PA. But, hi, hi, hi, it's so awesome to meet a human like you. I'll be running the Miss-Yous. That's our little nickname for the drones. They'll watch your back, promise!

[Yeah, uh, thanks,] Dey said, then switched to verbalizing. "Your AI, is, uh, kind of like a puppy."

"I wouldn't know," Muller said. "He's mostly a bridge crew kind of AI."

The squad came to their part of the bay. Dey took a moment to admire the FS-65 that had been given to her for the mission. The Biden carried enough replacements to have two full squadrons get grounded by damage and losses and launch it out again. The advantage of a bloated, runaway military budget and space bending technologies. Though unlike the 21st century, at least the United States was surrounded by hostile governments that could threaten it with more than thrown rocks and harsh language.

That's unfair, Loki said.

[Yes, but funny!] Dey reached up and ran her hand along the lower wing of the FS-65. Pilots called them one of two things. They were either X-Wings. Or they were Starfuries. Due to the cultural juggernaut that was Star Wars, even more than a hundred and fifty years after its release, most pilots called them X-wings. But Dey would always think of them as Starfuries. The legend -- possibly apocryphal -- was that a 20th century vidshow had created a fictional fighter so well designed that NASA had purchased the rights to it. The story went that, before the creator of the show died, he saw Space-X buying the rights from NASA and building the first FS-60. The 65 was a direct decedent from that fighter.

Tougher armor.

Better shields.

Bigger fluxguns.

But what had been unchanged was the X-shaped space frame. Each point of the X was mounted with eight fluxchem engines. One fore, one aft, two zenith, two nadir, two ventral. The center of the X had four larger fluxchems. The principle of the fluxchem wasn't all that different from the hydrogen rockets that had sent the first Apollo astronauts to the moon. But once more, the DV Drive changed everything. In this case, engines the size of Dey's arm could hold many times the fuel of an entire Saturn-V booster.

Add to each wing a missile pod loaded with K9 shipbusters, slap a cockpit in the exact middle of the ship -- where the pilot would experience the least inertial stress. Add DV emitters for counter-inertial fields ratcheted the maneuverability from 'insane' to 'preposterous.' And as a final touch, four coaxial GAU-9/Fgs for the capacity to shred anything that didn't have shields, and to burn out a smaller ship's shield generators. Against capital ships and ground targets, the fluxguns could work on overloading the shields -- or they could tear through tanks with alarming speed.

"She's beautiful," Dey whispered.

Should I be jealous? Loki asked, voice teasing.

"Yesssss," Dey whispered. One of the flight crew pushed the cockpit open as a drone-loader whirred up. The drone had been painted with a huge smiley face, and the K9 missiles it loaded into the pod had the words: ENJOY HELL! painted on the sides. Dey looked at the flight crew.

"The eggheads paint that?" she asked.

The flight crew -- an almost elfin slender tomboy with her hair threaded through her cap, her shoulders buried under her thick orange vest -- grinned. She had a huge gap between her front teeth. "Na'an, sirrah," she said, speaking in a thick Hamiltonian accent. "Zems on us, natch."

"Natch," Dey said back -- Loki showing her the Hamiltonian handshake. Spread the fingers, push the palm towards them. The flight crew looked surprised, but pushed back. She walked off, whistling as the drone-loader whirred after her.

Dey scrambled into the cockpit. She strapped in, then pulled the helmet on. The starfury had internal oxygen, and could refill after a few dozen holing from the stored oxygen. But to refill, you had to survive the venting. As she tapped on the controls, a voice crackled through her earpiece.

"This is RB-1," the squadron leader said. "Sys-check. Engines."

"RB-2, engines are a-go," one of the other pilots said. More affirmatives rang out. Dey fluttered her throttle, checked the readouts.

"This is RB-13," she said. "Engines are primed and ready."

As they checked it through, she heard the low whine of the Biden's shield generators going online.

"This is gonna be fun," Dey whispered.

We're going up against an unknown alien ship made out of a black hole to take down an unknown enemy who has been shooting at US personal and stealing US AIs.

"And?" Dey asked.

Nah, you're right. This is rad as fucking hell.

###

The Biden's bridge was a long, low affair. Placed directly in the center of the ship, it was long so that it could be partitioned into pieces in case it was holed. There were three backup bridges, which held the rest of the brain-trust that kept the ship running. Orders were that the CO of the ship should never be in the same bridge twice, and that the XO should never be in the same bridge.

Colonel Atty liked both rules. But he made sure that for this battle, he was on the primary bridge. His hands clasped behind his back as he looked down at the immense hologram that showed the flight-zone. Almost a hundred thousand cubic kilometers of space, more empty than anything in a solar system. The flight techs and gunners were already calculating firing routes for the primary guns of the Biden. It might have been a carrier, but that didn't mean she didn't have teeth.

"Sir," Chief Yoshi said. "Dorsal lasguns online."

"Batteries on the spinal railgun online."

"H1 torpedoes are locked and loaded."

"Drones are prepped."

"The Bees, Mindworms, Bulls and Motorheads are all checked and prepped for flight."

"Lt. Blacksad is prepped, with Captain Jesus saying the STS shuttle is a-go."

Colonel Atty smiled to himself. He nodded to the watch officer. "Bring us to Red Alert, Jim."

"We're dropping from warp in five, four, three," the conn officer, Lt. Desna, said her voice steady as ice as she let her palms rest on the conn. "Two. One."

The USAF Biden, like all ships dropping from faster than light travel to sublight did not zoom into space. Rather, one moment, the vast emptiness of intergalactic space was there. The next, as swift as a blink, the Biden appeared. Within a moment, the sides of the carrier had opened and space around her filled up. FS-65s were flung out by magnetic catapults, their fluxchems kicking on and filling space with glowing contrails. The four squadrons banked around and dove towards the Hamilton cylinder.

The enemy fighters weren't ready for them. A half dozen Delta-Vs were on patrol and they didn't change trajectory as the Mindworms shot towards them. Two lead 65s fired off bursts that could charitably called warning shots. In space, coming within a hundred meters of another ship with gunfire was a bit like firing off a gun next to someone's eardrum. The Delta-Vs flipped around, spun into a wild hairball, and engaged.

"Enemy weapons are live!"

And then the Hamilton cylinder proved an axiom about space warfare.

You never, never knew what a ship could do until it did it.

The stars around the cylinder warped. Armor plating slid aside, revealing slender barrels.

"Sir, the station has brought on shields -- it's got two P88 Lascannons on the axis. Four!"

Part of Atty was relived.

Those were Chinese surplus. It would have been embarrassing to be shot by American guns.

###

Dey's back was pressed into her seat -- lips skinning back from her teeth in something that was definitely not a smile. The black hole ship was barely visible on visual sensors -- just a ripple in space. But the HUD on her fighter gave the entire battlefield some false colors, making enemy ships pop and drawing tracing lines of bullets that shot out in every direction. She locked onto the black hole.

It just...

Sat there.

"This is RB-1. Missiles lock -- launch."

Dey flicked up a plastic cover, plunged her thumb down. Her 65 shuddered as five missiles detached and shot forward. The missiles immediately started jinking -- taking advantage of inbuilt DV emitters to cancel out their mass and let them take insane, corkscrewing paths.

The black hole pulsed with a light that the false-colors of her HUD claimed was purple. Then two dozen lines of purple light reached from it. Dey flinched, expecting to see every missile go down. But they didn't. Instead, the missiles spun around -- then shot towards the Bulls.

"Fuck!" she swore -- kicking the 65 into a twirling spin, launching decoys. Inertia tore at her -- but the missile was faster. It slammed into the cockpit and Dey's mouth opened in quiet shock. The missile looked as if it had gotten cancer. The sleek dart of its shape had grown pustules and metallic tentacles. A single baleful eye grew out of the side of the warhead, glaring at her as tentacles plunged into the side of the 65.

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