Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Bark: Elite- Dangerous - Redemption - Chapter Three



LHS-1163: Nav Beacon

The spaceframe of (...)Gravitas(...), my Imperial Courier, shuddered as it plunged back into realspace, the FSD spinning down with rhythmic thuds. I zeroed the throttle as I gained my bearings, not wanting to stray too close to the system's primary star as I accessed the navigation HUD on the holographic panel to the left of the combat scanner to select the system's largest station, Hunziker Terminal. LHS-1163 was a binary system, the secondary star orbiting an average of nearly 86,000 light seconds away from the star whose million-degree corona my ship was currently surfing. The ethereal solar wind buffeted the ship as I eased it further into the star's atmosphere at the relatively low velocity of 100km/s, topping up my main tank with the fuel scoop. Its powerful magnetic fields channelled a third of a tonne of hydrogen plasma per second into the Courier's fuel tank, so after only a few seconds, I was able to redirect my velocity vector towards my destination, the heat and radiation of the star receding quickly into the distance as I brought up the throttle to maximum, the ship's drive hurling my vessel through ten-dimensional space faster than light.

Given that the LHS-1163 government was allied to the Federation, I knew that any reception I was likely to receive here would be much less welcoming than the frosty indifference I had been given in Kappa Fornacis. While I held the Imperial Navy rank of Lord, technically I was an independent Commander, as I was not formally allied to any political faction. In theory, I ought to be able to expect free passage throughout Federation space. The practical reality was rather different. I wondered how long it would take for one of the local law enforcement officers to take note of my Empire-made ship and demand a stop-and-search inspection. To help with my cover story, I had taken on a couple of data package transport jobs from the Kappa Fornacis bulletin board. Stowed safely in my ship's computer were a pair of 3D printer designs for the newest models of autonomous mining drone. The money I was being paid to ensure that the schematics reached their intended owners without being intercepted by corporate saboteurs was considerable, nearly 200,000 credits. Money I could use to grease palms with for information on my targets. As I had little else to do other than keep an eye on the contact scanner while I made the transit of over one hundred and seventy Sol-Earth distances from LHS-1163 A to the starport, I opened a hyperwave channel to call to Laure at Adams Orbital. Much to my surprise, she answered straight away, rather than shunting my call via her adjutant to make me leave a message.

"Aemon, where are you? Is everything alright?"

"I'm fine. I'm heading for Hunziker Terminal, following up a lead on Zeta."

"Hunziker, that's in LHS-1163... watch your step there, Aemon. It's Stenberg's backyard.  He has a base there."

"Do you know where?"

"It's off the grid. You won't find it on any system maps. But if you head out to Carson Enterprise, you'll find that it has a companion station in an anti-phase orbit. It doesn't have a target beacon, you'll have to find it visually."

"Same orbital period and inclination, but on the other side of the planet? Clever. Nice way to mask obvious traffic to and from the station, as well."

"Do you think Stenberg and Zeta might be in the system?"

"It's a possibility. They definitely passed through here, according to the smuggler whose ship they trashed in Kappa Fornacis. Laure, I need a favour. I'm getting ASTRA to send you the serial number on a hatch breaker unit Zeta hit my informant with. Can you find out where it was sold? I'm going to need another lead if things run dry here."

"Receiving the data now. I'll have my people look at it right away."

"Thanks, Laure."

"Need anything else?"

"Some more info on Zeta would be nice. They seem to have an odd taste in friends."

"What do you mean?"

"You were right about Zeta knowing I was coming. What I didn't expect was that Zeta was going to have someone watching out for me."

"I trust that you put Zeta's thugs in their place."

"The thugs, yes. The pirate queen, no."

"Pirate queen? Do you mean who I think you mean?" Laure's voice rose an octave in panic.

"Suzie has remarkably good taste in Lavian Brandy." I deadpanned, letting Laure try to deduce for herself how I had come by such information. "How in the hells does a woman like that end up working as an enforcer for a rogue intelligence agent?"

"Suzie?! You're on first name terms, now? How- no, actually, I don't want to know." Laure spluttered, before answering my question, sounding increasingly frustrated. "I've no idea how. Since Zeta went AWOL I can't get any details about their service record or background, and believe me, I've tried. It's all been classified. I'd need Senator-level privileges to get anything you might find useful."

"What about Thunda Sue? Could you keep me updated with her movements?"

"I will. For the moment, her ship Kurgan is still berthed at Kappa Fornacis."

"Kurgan? That's an unusual name."

"It's appropriate enough. A kurgan is a burial mound."

"Great. She made it pretty clear that I was next on the list to go underground if I kept going after Zeta."

"Keep up the pressure on Stenberg." Laure advised. "If Zeta gets wind of it, they might get nervous, and that might make them call in the Thunda Crew for extra protection. Your new 'friend' Suzie might lead you directly to Zeta."

"I'll see what I can do. Thanks, Laure. I'll be in touch."

"Fly safe, Aemon. Good hunting."

I shut down the comms channel as I began to throttle down on my final approach to Hunziker Terminal. The supercruise transit had been remarkably uneventful. While there were no less than six ships from the local police force patrolling the system in my immediate vicinity, all of them appeared to be studiously ignoring me, concentrating instead on heading over to the nav beacon at the system's primary star. I eased my Courier into looping trajectory, ducking below and then back into the ecliptic plane of the system, aiming to enter into orbit between Hunziker Terminal and its parent planet. The less-direct path would slightly extend my flight time in supercruise, but would also make it harder for my ship to be interdicted by a hostile vessel. Anyone wanting to interdict my ship would need to duck further out of the ecliptic plane to achieve an intercept vector, advertising their intentions long before they were able to strike. I kept my eyes on the scanner, relaxing when I saw that no-one was obviously trying to get aft of my ship to establish an interdiction link. I dropped out of supercruise only 10km from the Ocellus starport, it's spherical docking bay glinting in the planetshine scattered from the thin atmosphere of the station's orbital parent body. The station was five kilometres long, from docking port to radiator spire. The docking bay was where all the real business was done, a metal and composite sphere just over a kilometre in diameter, which contained the station's commodities market, shipyard and recreational centres. Behind the docking bay were the habitation modules, which took up the next kilometre of its length, with the final half of the station being given over to technical functions, rather than living space. Colossal power reactors, solar arrays and radiator panels, along with recycling plants for air, water and solid waste made up the remaining half of the station's impressive bulk, but even at four kilometres in length, the Ocellus-class station paled in comparison to a fully developed Orbis starport, which could be anything up to double the size of Hunziker Terminal. Even so, it was an impressive and imposing sight compared to my home base of Adams Orbital.

I reoriented the ship to point more directly at the station, activating my afterburners to get me into the safety of the station's no fire zone as quickly as possible. "ASTRA, activate docking computer."

"Auto-dock engaged." ASTRA responded, the Courier taking on a life of its own and barrelling in towards the station at maximum velocity, once docking approval had been confirmed.

"Observe all local laws and protocols during your stay, Commander." was the cold, perfunctory message from the traffic controller as my ship entered the neutral sanctuary of the station's no-fire zone. With nothing else to do but listen to a soothing waltz by Strauss as the docking computer steered (...)Gravitas(...) unerringly to its docking pad beneath the apex of the towering control spire at the base of the docking bay, I located the twenty pulse laser turrets arrayed about the docking bay to deal with intruders and fugitive ships. As a matter of routine, they would dispatch anything up to a few dozen commanders per day in their constant vigilance against smuggling and piracy. The weapons themselves were the size of a small fighter craft; Class 10 turrets that would not have been out of place on a Federation Dreadnought. I was careful to always obey docking procedures and never linger in the docking port when exiting a station. Even my Courier's shields would not withstand more than a couple of direct hits from a station's defensive weapons grid. I jumped in my seat when I saw one turret swivel and open fire over the top of my ship's canopy. I twisted my neck back and around as far as I could and caught a glimpse of a huge Lakon Type 9 Heavy cargo transporter craft, stuck in the "toast rack" grills at the entrance to the station's dock.  Type 9 pilots looking to maximise their cargo capacity by running without shields or docking computers frequently managed to scrape their hull against it, often with catastrophic results, jamming their ships so badly in the docking port that the flight controllers had no option other than to destroy the unlucky vessel, so that other commanders were not inconvenienced or delayed on time-critical missions. This appeared to be one of the occasions where the ship was caught so badly in the grills that there was no option other than to destroy the offending ship to clear the way. The so-called Cow Catcher, it seemed, had claimed yet another victim. 

"Docking successful." ASTRA reported as (...)Gravitas(...) settled onto its landing pad with a solid thunk. The HUD flashed up the station service interface, dominating my view from the cockpit. Now that we were safely docked, the ship's AI automatically repurposed the switches on my joystick to allow me to navigate and traverse the multitude of options from the station's various trading, maintenance and bulletin board services. I completed the delivery of the two data packages I had taken aboard at Kappa Fornacis, adding a not inconsiderable 192,245 credits to my bank balance. I spent some of it immediately, ensuring that my subsystems were fully maintained up to design spec and that my internal fuel tank for intra-system manoeuvring was topped off. While the teams of technicians performed diagnostics on my internal modules and refuelled my supercruise reservoir, I browsed the bullletin boards for local jobs that would take me out to Carson Enterprise, so that I would have an adequate excuse for being in the region while I searched for Stenberg's base of operations in the region.

It didn't take long for a suitable job to appear on the bulletin board; an anti-Federation propaganda mission to deliver a data package to pro-independence activists working on the outpost. The job only paid a few thousand credits, but the important thing was that the job would give me a good reason for being in the vicinity of Carson Enterprise if I was challenged by the local security force. 

Less than an hour after I had landed, the spaceport hangar crews had finished performing their maintenance duties on my ship and I was returning to the cold, hard embrace of the vacuum of space. I did not retract the ship's landing gear until I was well beyond the docking port, wary of incurring a speeding fine whilst (...)Gravitas(...) was still within the station's no fire zone. It was only just over 2000 light seconds, or 4 Astronomical Units - the standard Sol-Earth distance still used to measure interplanetary distances - between Hunziker Terminal and Carson Enterprise, a relatively short jaunt compared to that between the system primary star and its companion I was now orbiting.

I was surprised for a second time in as many hours that I had not been intercepted on my trip between Hunziker and Carson, again docking without trouble. After turning in my data transport job, this time I didn't bother accessing the local bulletin board, despite the fact the thriving industrial platform would have plenty of contracts that needed fulfilling. Instead I worked with ASTRA to plot a search pattern that would allow me to hunt for Admiral Stenberg's base, which hopefully wouldn't attract the attention of the local police force. ASTRA presented me with two options: either launch from Carson and wait for its hidden counterpart station to come to us, or actively hunt for the station by flying opposite to the orbital platform's path and hope to pick up the secret base visually as it approached.

Never the one to take the passive option, I opted to go hunting, flying a reciprocal course to Carson Enterprise's orbit, my eyes peeled for the faintest flicker of light that might betray the location of the hidden Federation outpost. After just 40 minutes of scanning the sky I detected the tell-tale glint of light that indicated that an object was in orbit where there should be nothing but empty space. As I homed in on the scintillating speck of light, rapidly approaching my trajectory around the planet, two more contacts flying in close formation appeared on my scanner, heading directly toward me on an intercept course. A quick check of my targeting computer showed me that one contact was a Cobra Mark III, whilst the other was a Federal Dropship. Eager to identify its pilot, I moved my Courier to intercept, powering up my Frame Shift Drive Interdictor module. The Federal pilots anticipated my move, pre-emptively dropping out of supercruise to realspace. I ordered ASTRA to target the FSD wake of the Dropship, bringing us out of supercruise as soon as my ship was within range. Realspace warped and collapsed around my ship as the FSD span down into standby mode, the glittering spiral arm of the galaxy reforming straight ahead of my ship. A quick glance at the scanner showed me the Cobra and Dropship flying in close formation 20 kilometres to my starboard wing.

"Activate hardpoints. Power to shields and weapons." I instructed ASTRA, who complied instantly. I was content to let the Federal ships come to me, taking a few seconds to assess what kind of threat the two ships posed. The Dropship was by far the larger of the two ships, armed exclusively with burst laser turrets, but the Cobra was arguably the more dangerous, given that it was smaller, faster and far more agile. The Cobra was armed with four multi-cannons, which would shred my hull in seconds if my shields failed. I targeted the Cobra first, selecting its power distributor as a subsystem target. The armour protecting the Cobra's power distributor was weaker than for the power plant, and disabling it would mean that once the capacitors for the shield generator, afterburners and weapons had been drained, they would no longer be able to be recharged. The catch was I needed to destroy the Cobra before the Dropship's laser turrets did too much damage to my shields. Fortunately, I had a plan for that.

I rolled my Courier through ninety degrees, standing the ship on its starboard nacelle, and pulled up the nose until the Cobra was between my velocity vector and the Dropship's. Another check of the scanner revealed that the Dropship's commander ID was scrambled, just as Ol had reported in Kappa Fornacis. The Cobra's pilot ID was being broadcast, however. I saw that Ensign Pedersen was combat rated as Dangerous, so we would be closely matched in terms of ability, though I was confident that I had the better ship. I eased the throttle forward, increasing our closing speed to prevent the pilots of the Cobra and the Dropship from reacting to my opening gambit.

"Under attack." ASTRA reported, less than usefully, as the first multi-cannon rounds began to ping off my shields. With the two Federal pilots initiating hostilities, at least I didn't have to worry about incurring a Wanted status. I immediately returned fire with both beam lasers, the gimballed mountings tracking the Cobra unerringly as Pedersen threw his ship into an evasive manoeuvre, rolling and jinking wildly. I countered with vertical and lateral thrusts of my own, keeping the throttle wide open, simultaneously yawing hard to the left to arc behind the Cobra as it passed just 200 metres off my port wingtip, constantly adjusting my trajectory to not only keep the Cobra within the tracking range of my weapons, but also to make sure that the Cobra obstructed the firing solution the Dropship's turrets had on my ship. For all the Dropship's size and power, it lacked speed and had all the agility of a drunk elephant on a zero-g assault course. As the Dropship wallowed ineffectually into a turn to bring the field of fire from its turrets back around towards me, I depressed the trigger on my joystick again, unleashing another sustained volley from my beam lasers, red-hot scars slashing across the Cobra's hull as its shield envelope collapsed. My laser fire herded the Cobra aft of the Dropship, again forming a shield between my ship and the turrets on the Dropship's starboard flank.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        
"No!" Pedersen finally broke the radio silence as I rolled my Courier over to expose the Manticore cannon on my belly hardpoint. I boosted in behind the Cobra and unleashed three shots from the cannon at point blank range, less than 100 metres away. The Cobra's power distributor disintegrated under the barrage, the dart-like sabot rounds crashing through the hull and tearing ragged exit wounds in the ship's composite skin. "Dammit, Admiral! I need help here!"

Too late, Pedersen disengaged his flight computer's assistance to flip his ship to face mine, just as the Dropship cleared the obstruction the Cobra was posing to its turrets. Three of the Dropship's five turrets were now clear to start tracking my ship, and Stenberg opened fire. Pedersen did likewise and the first ring of my defensive shield envelope started to flicker under the strain. Unfortunately for the Federation Ensign, he didn't have the presence of mind to alter his course, allowing me to line up my cannon directly with his cockpit. Pedersen's scream on the radio was short-lived as I emptied the remaining two rounds in my cannon's auto-loader clip directly through his canopy. Our ships were so close together that I saw his pilot's chair get ripped from the floor and be thrown by the recoil into the bulkhead at the aft of the cockpit compartment, carrying Pedersen's shredded remains with it.

"Full power to shields. Deploy chaff." With the Cobra no longer a threat, I could concentrate on Stenberg's Dropship. There was a rapid series of dull thuds as the chaff launcher spewed cascades of long, thin mylar ribbons into the space surrounding my ship. They glittered like fireworks in the starlight, but their job was not simply to look picturesque. The radar-reflective streamers hampered the tracking ability of the Dropship's turrets, giving me valuable seconds to allow my shields to recharge and try to manoeuvre into the blind spot of the Dropship's turret coverage. The scanner told me where to look through my canopy to pick up Stenberg's ship visually. My eyes told me that Stenberg was aiming his ship directly at mine, all five of his burst laser turrets blazing. Thanks to my chaff screen, hardly any of the shots were finding their mark. The Federation Admiral did have the option to lock all his turrets into a fixed firing position to counter the effect of the tracking disruptive cloud, but that would put him at an even greater disadvantage, due to the superior agility of my ship. If he did lock his weapons into a forward-firing position, I could simply dance the Courier between the fields of fire of the Dropship's hardpoints, they were so widely-spaced. Using my dorsal thrusters, I pitched my ship onto its tail, engaging my afterburners to boost towards the Dropship, practically on a collision course. I didn't even bother firing on the first pass, simply rolling my ship to pass between the two sets of stabilising fins at the top and bottom of the Dropship's tall hull. "Flight assist off."

As soon as I saw the glow from the Dropship's main engines in my peripheral vision, I turned the ship about, yanking into a maximum-g pitch flip that momentarily caused my vision to grey-out as the blood in my head rushed to my feet, my flight suit constricting automatically around my sternum and thighs to keep some blood circulating above my waist. I boosted again, draining nearly all the energy from my engine capacitor, to bring me back in behind the Dropship's tail, close enough to see the vapour trail from the larger ship's thrusters distort the starlight in the distance. Only the pair of medium, Class Two turrets on the Dropship's flanks were able to get anything close to a firing solution on my ship, but I was able to evade most of their fire by using short bursts of my lateral and vertical thrusters at random to confuse the tracking algorithms of the turrets. I manually redirected a pip of my power distribution setting from shields to weapons and opened fire on the Dropship. "ASTRA, target the Dropship's power plant." 

The targeting reticule on the HUD showed the location of the power plant, just above the rear set of ventral stabiliser fins. The Dropship's shields were strong, refusing to buckle, even after I had drained my weapons capacitor twice over. The Dropship deployed its own chaff screen, causing the gimbals on my beam laser mountings to drift wildly, but I was only 75 metres behind the larger vessel, so even at the extremes of the gimbals' tracking range, I was still assured to land a hit. I emptied another clip of 5 cannon rounds into the Dropship's tail as my beam lasers recharged. The Federation pilot was skilled, but not good enough to compensate for the deficiencies of his ship in a dogfight with a more nimble vessel. It was only a matter of time before the Dropship's shields failed. 

"You're a decent pilot, for an Imperial." Stenberg's voice, deep, resonant and surprisingly calm, echoed across my cockpit. "Not too bright, though."

"Admiral Stenberg, I presume... So now you want to parlay, just as I'm about to carve my way through your shields?"

"That's right. I know why you're here, assassin. I even know who you are, Lord Roche."

"That's fascinating, Admiral. If you want to talk, do it quickly. You've got about thirty seconds before your shields go down and I breach the armour plating protecting your power plant." I replied, refusing to be distracted as I matched the Dropship manoeuvre for manoeuvre, never straying out of the blind spot of my target's turrets.

"Roche, don't be a fool. Kill me and you'll never make it out of Federation space alive. I propose a ceasefire. I have information about your mission you weren't told. Your Imperial masters haven't been entirely truthful with you." Stenberg's voice began to show the first signs of stress as his shields began to crumble.

"Target shields offline." ASTRA reported. I checked the status of the Dropship's power systems. Despite the fact Stenberg was overmatched, he showed no signs of charging up his frame shift drive to try and escape either into supercruise or hyperspace. No doubt he had seen that my ship was equipped with a wake scanner and a frame shift interdictor. He could delay the inevitable, but not avert it. Unless, of course, he was simply stalling for time while reinforcements made their way here from the secret outpost only a few dozen light seconds away. 

"Get to the point, Admiral. You now only have 20 seconds." I unleashed the first cannon round of the new clip, the uranium-tipped sabot crashing into the armour over Stenberg's power plant at a velocity of 1000m/s. A small lick of yellow flame spurted out from the hole in the hull plate, a sure sign that the hull's integrity was compromised. I had to react quickly to avoid a collision when Stenberg unexpectedly brought his ship to a stop. I wrenched my joystick to the right and pulled back the throttle to reverse my engines, fully expecting a barrage of laser fire to impact my shields as I drifted out of the Dropship's blind spot. I was taken aback when I saw that instead of opening fire, Stenberg was stowing his weapon hardpoints. The HUD told me that Stenberg had even taken his shield generator offline, so he wasn't simply stalling to let his shields recharge. Intrigued, I brought my own ship to a stop, using tiny impulses from my trimming thrusters to align my weapons with the tiny hull breach over the Dropship's power plant. "Alright, Admiral. You have my attention. You just bought yourself an extra minute. Say your piece, but make it good."

"It seems that you're a reasonable man after all, Roche. I'm not surprised, given your heritage." 

"Careful, Stenberg. My family is a touchy subject." I warned, my temper flickering. My danger sense still tingled, my cautious instincts not allowing my attention to get fully dragged into the conversation over the radio. Silently, I searched the navigation console for a nearby independent system I could take refuge in, knowing that whatever the outcome of the conversation, I would be wise to steer clear of Federation space for the remaining duration of the mission. ASTRA flagged up the neighbouring system of LHS-1067, an independent corporate state, just under 15 light years away. I had the navigation computer begin preparatory hyperjump calculations, just in case Stenberg was mugging for time to allow reinforcements to come to his rescue.

"I would expect so. It can't have been easy for you, watching your parents' execution. How old were you? Ten?" Stenberg's sympathetic tone sounded sincere. "They were fine people, Roche. I knew them both well."

"Really?" I feigned interest, trying not to let my sense of cynicism affect my voice as I kept my hands busy on the control consoles of my ship, using the lull in hostilities to reprioritise the power distribution priorities for the major power systems of (...)Gravitas(...). I wanted to have all the ship's capacitor banks fully charged, just in case any unexpected guests dropped by. "A Federation Admiral and an Imperial Noble. You must have had very stimulating dinner parties."

"Don't be facetious, Roche. Surely you suspected. Neither of your parents were who you thought they were." Stenberg scoffed.

Angry, I brushed my thumb over the secondary trigger on my flight stick, propelling a second cannon round through the hull breach over the Dropship's power plant. The yellow flame surged out of the ruptured composite more insistently. "I'm starting to get bored of this conversation. I'm going to begin making my own entertainment very soon, unless you start telling me something interesting."

 "Roche, stop! The Empire has been lying to you for decades! Your father was just as culpable as your mother! They were both leaking information out to the Federation for decades." Stenberg's voice now carried a hint of desperation, which was unsurprising, given that I had just brought his power plant to the brink of a catastrophic breach.

"I don't believe you, Admiral. I believe you're just telling me what you think I want to hear while your reinforcements make their way here." 

"Aemon, I don't make a habit of lying to family. Your father was my brother."

"You've got thirty seconds to explain before I blast your sorry hide out of the sky." I croaked, quietly furious, my hands gripping my flight stick and throttle tightly.

"Come with me to my base, Aemon. I'll explain everything." Stenberg implored.

"Twenty seconds."

"Aemon, please! I can prove it all! Why do you think I only came with one escort? How could I kill my own nephew?" Stenberg asked, on the verge of panic. 

"Ten seconds." 

"Damn you, Roche! You're just like your mother! So bloody stubborn! That's what got your father killed!" Stenberg snapped. I was about to reply when the situation escalated out of control in the space of a couple of heartbeats. 

"Target has deployed hardpoints. Under attack." ASTRA announced as the Dropship's turrets inundated my ship with a torrent of hard light. "New contacts detected."

"Fuck!" I swore, instinctively depressing both my primary and secondary triggers on the flight stick. The dual beam lasers on the wingtip nacelles of (...)Gravitas(...) lit up instantly, followed a fraction of a second later by the concussive reports of my underbelly cannon firing the three remaining rounds in its auto-loader clip in under two seconds. The Dropship exploded in a cascade of bright sparks as its power plant ruptured under the weight of fire, shrapnel ricocheting from my shields. Before I even had chance to think, I had brought my ship to full throttle, ducking beneath the glowing wreckage and driving out into free space. A quick glance at my scanner showed six contacts bearing down on my position. I looked left to the navigation board, identifying the vessels as half a dozen Viper Mark III heavy fighters. They had a slight speed advantage over my Courier, but I had a head start of almost 15 kilometres. There was no chance that they would be able to enter weapons range before I was ready to enter hyperspace, and the Vipers didn't have the range to out-jump my vessel, thanks to Laure's foresight to equip (...)Gravitas(...) with a military grade frame shift drive. Even so, given recent events, I was unwilling to take chances. "Full power to engines. Prep for frame shift."

"Acknowledged, my lord." ASTRA replied as I wheeled the ship through a sharp turn towards the vector that would take me to LHS-1067. "Weapons retracted. Frame shift online in ten seconds."

I ran (...)Gravitas(...)'s engines to maximum capacity, lighting the afterburners every few seconds to maintain maximum velocity from my pursuers. A high-pitched warning tone shrieked in my ear to alert me that the Vipers had launched a storm of dumbfire missiles in my wake, despite the fact I was on the outer edge of their effective range. The proximity alarm sounded as I wrenched the Courier through a barrel roll, watching the propellant charges of the missiles burn out as they passed scant metres above my canopy. A couple of stray rockets struck glancing blows to the swept wings of my ship, but my shields held yet again, a testament to the efficiency of the shield projectors and boosters that had been specially designed for the Courier to give it a resilience far beyond its hull class.


"Frame shift in five... four... three... two... one... engaged." ASTRA intoned calmly, my body sinking into the g-compensation gel pads of the flight seat under the pseudo-acceleration as the frame shift drive ripped a hole in the fabric of realspace to propel the ship at unimaginable velocities through higher dimensional witchspace to the neutral sanctuary of LHS-1067.
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