Chains – Chapter Two

Morris surveyed the dim living space with Ill disguised doubt. Euan hadn’t had time to make much in the way of extra space for his new co-pilot and was now setting about bolting back in the acceleration straps for what would now be Morris’s bunk for the next two weeks.

“There, good as new. Right, time to show you the kit used to top up Breckland’s finest.”

They both made their way down to the cargo bay. Euan had to start here, the heart of the job depended on all this stuff working.

“Most of the ship is fuel tanks, one module bay is taken up with the fuel scooping gear and this little bugger here.”

Euan gestured to a large rusty yellow cuboid with various gauges and panel lights.

“This is the HUC. Hose Utility Controller. It pumps the hydrogen out of the tanks down to your Condor.”

Euan recalled Morris’s first refueling run. He had picked up the plug on the second run. Most of the others had taken four or five stabs even after months of practice. But then he’d pulled off too fast and caused the hoses to rebound and almost ripped them out of the hold.

“Wow, looks like a really old piece of crap. And this is what we depend on for all our ops? Tell me you’ve got a spare stashed down at Launders?”

Euan bristled and took a deep breath. It was a temperamental rusty old box of junk, that was true. And without it the fighters would be forced to land after a quarter of the time in space.

“The spare is in that eagle down at the field. In any case, if we could afford actual spares for things then we’d probably have been given a gun or two.”

Morris went slightly pale.

Euan grinned and punched Morris on the shoulder.

“Putting a laser on the front of a T6 would make the average pirate a bit less guilty at shooting us. Besides, who wants to steal hydrogen anyway?”

All of a sudden there was a loud metallic ringing coming from the direction of the flight deck.

The pair pulled themselves quickly up the ladders and through the centre of the ship into the living area. To the right side there was a small area with a holofac astrogation table and comms equipment.

Euan punched a thick red button in above the comms equipment with his palm. A second later and the ship’s engines were spinning up.

“Looks like we have a shout!, get up there and engage the seals and prime the launch engine.”

Morris disappeared into the cockpit as the image if Kayla Marsh, the commander of the 3rd appeared above the astrogation table.

“Morning Fuel Banks. Incoming pair of raiders chasing a Cobra Mk1 near the nav beacon, we’re launching now, no time for orbital refuel, we’ll top up after escape.”

“Roger, we’re spooled up and outbound now. Will pass on the numbers enroute.”

The ship shuddered and tilted upwards, Euan clipped himself into the couch straps and opened the system map.

Three triangles were close to the star. One green, the others red. The green was marked with text, the name of the ship, “Narrow Horizons”, Euan recognised the name. It was a small time trader that occasionally brought in farm equipment and some nice home made beer from one of the neighbouring systems.

The intercom crackled into life.

“We’re 20km up, starting the boost phase.”

Euan shut his eyes tight as the launch booster kicked the ship hard. He could feel his lids struggling to hold his eyeballs in as the acceleration pulled against his straps towards the back of the ship.

The holofac display bleeped. As the force of the boost eased off Euan opened his eyes. Five green targets were on the chart close to them. The Lancers were leaving the atmosphere too. He thumbed his suit mic.

“Moz, time to swap over, I’ll take the refuel run”

Gravity was still in reluctant control of their feet as the ship ascended. Euan pulled hard against the 2G acceleration into the rear seat. He had just enough view over the top of Morris’s head to see the curvature of Breckland sliding away below them.

Once in space, Euan’s job wasn’t just to pump gas to hungry fighters. It was to make contact with the ship in distress. It would give them some hope, maybe stop them doing something stupid, but it would also give the bad guys a chance to rethink their field of employment.

“Narrow Horizons, this is Breckland Militia. We are inbound to assist. Continue on your current course at your best speed. What is your status?”

Euan was about to hit the resend button when a Greek accented male voice answered.

“These-a guys really want your beer mate! We taken a few hits but she’s holdin up alright.”

The scanner bleeped a double ping that told them they had accelerated past escape velocity. The condors were converging on them.

Kayla’s voice buzzed in their ears.

“Sketch and Micro, cruise and engage now. Kipper, Bluster and Pork Chop tank up.”

Euan enabled the fixed course autopilot and flipped open the cover to the HUC switches.

There were two whiplash cracks as the first condors engaged their frameshift drives. The interception pair carried slightly more fuel than the others, but at the expense of carrying lasers rather than multi cannons. The reduced weight gave them an extra few minutes but the lasers were weaker against hull armour.

“Banks, I’m formed up, give me some juice.”

Euan engaged the HUC switch. A small window opened showing the Condor holding still behind them, steadily growing in size as the probe extended towards it. Euan could make out a small orange door that had just opened on the starboard side of the fighter’s wing.

The probe made contact with the refuel port and the pumps kicked in. Euan was treated to a graph of fuel flow and various bits of diagnostics from the fighter including its current fuel load and weapons state.

“Bucko”

The first fighter had tanked enough and was pulling away, number two was close behind.

Another voice, that of Jennifer Sketcher from the intercept pair broke the background noises.

“Engaging, two Diamondback Explorers. They are packed well. Going to need you three fast”

Euan plugged the second fighter in and started pumping fuel as Kipper engaged his drive and jumped out.

Diamondbacks were tough ships. They were the newest vessel out and one-on-one would easily outclass the tiny fighters. But as a team they could fly rings around a DBX. Each Condor had about the same firepower as a sidewinder and were ultra nimble in a fight. You had no hope of hitting one with fixed weapons and even gimbals were not fast enough to track if they came in close.

“Bluster Bucko”

The second fighter pulled back and charged its jump drive.

Pork chop lined up and plugged.

“Ship, 12k”

Euan looked up from the HUC screen. Grateful for the first time of having Morris flying. He’d not have noticed the new arrival with his head in the pipes.

The scanner resolved the contact into a Condor. 9% hull and crabbing along in a diagonal line with only one thruster.

“I’ll go with what I’ve got, Bucko”

Pork chop pulled off and jumped.

It was Sketcher. Her fighter must have taken a lucky hit.

“Banks, I gotta problem. Took a face full of large pulse laser and got sideswiped. The reds are running mirror hull plates.”

“Can you get back to Launders?”

Launders was the civilian space port east of New Coltishal, the capital of Breckland. It was basic like much of the space infrastructure on the planet but did have a tiny emergency crew for bad landings.

“No, got a big lump out of my right wing.”

“Roger, we will tank you up and see if we can fix anything”

The diagnostics connection to the fuel port would really tell how sick Jennifer’s fighter was. It could also be used to rearrange energy distribution from the power plant. Maybe tweaking some settings could get her to the mining station.

“She looks pretty beat up!”

Morris spoke over his shoulder.

Through the hose scope the Condor looked even worse. He could see as well as a twisted armour plate poking out one of the wings that the front undercarriage were missing completely.

“Contact.”

The plug was in. Euan was about to flip the fuel pump on when the diagnostics display glowed red.

Each and every system was operating at the red line, the life support system was showing 12 minutes of atmosphere remaining and the FSD was offline. The jump here had been it’s last gasp.

“Jen, you packed your remlok yes?”

There was a silence.

“Sketch?”

“No. The shout was too fast.”

That was bad news. They could top up her ship’s air supply back to 90 minutes but without the FSD the trip to the mining base would be around nine days.

“Are we going to have to blob her?”

Euan nodded. The T6 carried an unusual extra module mounted on the utility hardpoint. It allowed them to spray a thick translucent grey material onto the hulls of damaged ships to seal leaks. If they could do a good job she’d be able to get to the surface. It would hold the air in and the heat out but there would be little chance of the ship flying again afterwards.

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