The Forge Region – Anttanen Constellation
Uitra System – Planet VI, Moon 4
State War Academy Station
1 March YC 121
Yesterday I thought that I’d start a new post by writing “Another day, another mission.” Ha, day! Optimistique-moi. I was dragged out of sleep by Tarumo’s call who wanted me to fly somewhere and shoot something immediately. I don’t know about you but my current clone lives in a time zone where 14:00 EST is the middle of the night. At such time my social graces are at the lowest level, and I was about to tell the agent to go hang himself, when he said the word which catapulted me out of the bed – Tahamar. Ten minutes later I was in Tarumo’s office.
“Good morning, Mr Korff. I am sorry for interrupting your sleep, but our intelligence office has finally detected Tahamar’s whereabouts,” said Tarumo and added with a wry smile, “without his help this time.”
I guess I was not the only one who was fragile during wee hours, as the last phrase was the closest thing to sarcasm I had ever heard from Tarumo’s lips.
He continued, “We have an opportunity to catch him unawares if you fly out now. Are you ready?”
“Just give me the coordinates,” replied I.
Tarumo tapped something on the datapad and said, “Your Aura’s got them. Good luck.”
I saluted and ran to the hangar.
“Wake up! Wake up!” shouted I immediately after boarding the capsule.
“Hey, what’s happening? Is the station under attack?” asked Aura looking around.
“Location. Have you got the location from Tarumo?”
“Let me check… Yep, got it. What’s there?”
“Not what, but who – Tahamar,” said I, still breathing heavily after the sprint.
Aura wrinkled her nose, “Oh, that despicable person again? Let’s hope he will not pollute comms with his dirty talk this time.”
“He won’t have a chance. Since he doesn’t expect us, we can catch him with his pants down.”
“I am not interested in such details,” said Aura with a haughty grimace.
“No problems, Little Miss Upright. Just warp me to the mission location and then you can close your virtuous eyes.”
“Warp drive active,” intoned Aura and switched off.
Of course, Aura appeared again as soon as we arrived – she wouldn’t miss that mission for the world.
“So, where is Tahamar?” asked she looking around.
There was nothing at this location except an acceleration gate.
“In deadspace, I assume,” replied I. “Let’s jump and make sure it’s true in more senses than one.”
Next pocket contained another acceleration gate surrounded by four square constructions which were arranged in a semblance of a cube. I couldn’t count on free passage again as the gate was guarded by two Pithi Imputors and two Pithi Arrogators. Willing Ampuhaukka into the 14-km orbit around the gate, I targeted all hostiles. Initially, I was keeping the pirates at the optimal range of my rails, 10-14 kilometres, and killed one of the Arrogators. But I was taking some damage myself, so I decided to increase my speed and activated the afterburner.
As my velocity nudged one kilometre per second, the distance to Guristas ships increased to 22-25 klicks, which showed that those pirates were dumb as a box of rocks. Even without a ballistic computer it was clear as day that I was orbiting the gate. Simply staying near the gate would easily keep them within 15 km from my ship, but no, they were chasing me along the circle as a hound following a bait on a racetrack. I watched this spectacle of extraordinary stupidity for a while, hoping that they would change the tactics. When my patience ran out, I willed the AB off so that I could get back into the railgun range and started shooting at the closest Imputor. When an explosion turned it into a pile of floating junk Aura exclaimed, “Look they’ve got reinforcements.”
Indeed, there were three more Arrogators on the grid, all following me along my circular trajectory. I finished off the second Imputor and its demise triggered the arrival of another trio of Arrogators. Now there were seven of them chasing my Merlin’s contrails. Still, even a squad of Arrogators could not inflict much damage on Ampuhaukka while I was picking them off one by one.
When the area was clear I used the acceleration gate to jump to the next and, as it appeared, the last pocket which contained only one structure – an outpost.
“That’s it, that’s it,” breathed Aura.
“How do you know?” asked I.
“Tarumo sent its description together with coordinates. Besides, it’s the only thing in the area.”
“Fair enough. You know, it looks dusty. Let’s do a bit of spring cleaning, eh?”
Aura’s eyes twinkled, “Rails or blaster?”
“Hmm… Blaster! This thing is not going anywhere so it should be easy to keep it in the blaster’s optimal range. Also, with blasters you get, quite literally, more bang for your buck.”
The outpost, indeed, was firmly anchored in place, but I struggled to keep the Merlin in a tight orbit around it. The ship was not agile enough to counteract the centrifugal force at full speed, so I started lowering it. It was only when I decelerated to the crawling pace of 50 m/s that I managed to keep a 500-metre orbit.
“Righteo,” muttered I and activated the blaster.
I don’t know why Tahamar chose that flimsy shed as a haven as it took just one shot to blow up the whole construction. However, just before the outpost turned into a beautiful fireball it managed to spew out two defence sentries and two Pithi Arrogators. I wasn’t too concerned about any of them and continued watching fireworks until Aura addressed me with exaggerated politeness, “Ahem, I would be very obliged if Your Captainship could spare a moment to glance at the dashboard.”
“What?” I checked the readouts. “WHAT?!”
A quarter of my shield was gone! The bloody sentry guns were much more powerful than Seekers’ missile batteries and were eating through my shields at an alarming rate. I panicked and made a mistake – instead of getting into an orbit around them I simply fled in a straight line. Of course, their turrets had no trouble tracking my frigate, and by the time I got out of their range I heard the first low shield alarm, which happens when the shield level drops below 25%.
Sitting at a safe distance I took some time to catch my breath and restore the shields. Then I noticed that the stupid Arrogators, instead of staying under sentry gun protection, chose to pursue me. They got into the fall-off range of my railguns when my shield level restored to 75%, and by the time they could have come into their weapon range they were no more. Now was the time to take care of the sentries.
“Hey, what are you doing?” cried Aura seeing that I turned Ampuhaukka toward the sentry guns. “They will chew you up!”
“Don’t worry,” said I more confidently than I felt, “I want to try a trick that I was taught during the Navy training.”
The idea was to get into a pretty tight orbit around the sentries so that we would move too fast for the turrets to track us. At the same time, the direct approach would be, as Aura correctly assumed, suicidal. The trick that the veteran capsuleers told us was to get into the desired range following a narrowing spiral trajectory with a positive and increasing angular velocity. Initially, I chose a tangential direction which touched a 50 km orbit around the guns. When I was at the closest point I turned Ampuhaukka so that it flew along the tangent to 40 km orbit. After that I commanded the ship to orbit the sentries at 30, 25, 20 and finally 15 kilometres. All that time I was taking steadily diminishing damage which became zero when the sentries were in the optimal range of my railguns. Then I allocated a personal rail to each sentry, activated them and watched the show. It took some time as the sentries were tough nuts. I even had to reload both railguns before the space was illuminated by two great balls of fire.
After all hostiles were destroyed there remained a cargo container floating between debris.
“Let’s check what’s inside,” enthused Aura. “There may be narcotics which cost a fortune.”
I approached the container and inspected its contents.
“Never thought that one could get high on milk,” I noted conversationally.
Aura’s face grew long; all we found inside was milk, water and carbon.
“And what about carbon?” asked Aura. “Could it be diamonds? They are made from carbon, you know.”
“By the look of it, it’s just coal. Good quality, though. Some poor settler on a cold planet would gladly pay, lemme see, ooh, a princely sum of 385 kredits per sack!”
The disappointment on Aura’s face was so natural, so artless that I couldn’t help laughing. Aura decided that someone should be held responsible for her chagrin and appointed Tahamar a guilty person.
“What kind of pirate is that Tahamar?” fumed she. “All he is good for is shitposting in local and hiding in shacks. Didn’t he know that every decent criminal should have a stash of narcotics? It’s just as well that we dispatched that clown!”
I laughed so hard at Aura’s sincere indignation that my belly ached. At that moment I got a call from Tarumo.
“Good job, Mr Korff, destroying the pirates and Tahamar’s hideaway. I have some unfortunate news for you, though – my sources reported that Tahamar was not in the outpost when you blew it up. He was alerted by the guards and warped away before you could stop him. Please note that this does not affect your mission reward; from my perspective you have completed it successfully.”
Aura looked at me triumphantly, “Aha! I knew – he took all the drugs with him!”