The time talking, for planning, for plotting, is over. In the words of Cersei Lannister… “I choose violence.”
CRY HAVOC AND LET SLIP THE DOGS OF WAR
Engines off, cold as ice, the five Sabers hurtled through space at blistering speed. They were flying IFR, the canopy bubbles chroma-shifted to be a black every bit as opaque as the ship’s skin.
Lucifer looked at the dots on the HUD. A Banu Merchantman crept along the event horizon of Banshee, surrounded by a dozen smaller ships. The cleverness of the pirates continued to impress. Banshee was a pulsar, belching out far more electromagnetic energy than a normal dwarf star. It was dense, the mass adding to its powerful gravity. Hugging the edge of that gravity well cut the pirate’s exposure down by almost half. It struck him that in another life, the captain of this crew might have been SF material.
“Fallen this is Fallen One, contact in thirty.” He glanced at the RCR system, the small hex-shapd icon glowing green. Rapid Combat Restart would be critical coming out of ghost mode in the next twenty-eight seconds. A green icon on his HUD indicated that somewhere aft, small remote camera drones were ready to deploy. Eyes and ears for the fleet that was parked safely out of sight.
Grudgingly, Lucifer had to hand it to the Banu in small part. Late to the game with little to show, their intel guys broke some SIGINT traffic that tipped the move. Turned out the Leir angle was right. Comms pinpointed some little jerkwater colony in Outsider space called Brimstone. They even knew the key player. Lucifer chuckled. That end of the deal was cop business, although he doubted the Feds stood a prayer of showing up before the tidal wave of hungry bounty hunters. Regardless of who won the race, whatever scumbag was behind all this was about to have a very bad day.
“Contact in ten, hot in six.” The five Sabers were synchronized, allowing fly-by-wire links to manage precision moves in 3D space at speeds beyond human comprehension. Even with neurochems juicing his perception, this fight was gonna play out fast.
“Remember, this is a seize mission, so don’t shoot the big boat. Hot in three, two, one.”
In a flash of a network pulse, the five Fallen angels came to life. Canopies state-shifted to crystal clear, HUD data splashing over a live look into space. The RCRs cut loose, force-feeding voltage through systems that sprang to life. Engines roared, shields blazed ready, and missiles fired.
They had selected initial targets using passive sensors, taking advantage of a tiny flaw in the pirate’s plan. The pulsar’s glare could play hell with active sensors but it basically backlit the ships sneaking past it. Initial missile-lock focused on black rips in the fabric of radiant blue. The instant the Fallen uncloaked, missiles streaked off their rails, closing to targets at hypervelocity speeds. The fight became formal when a light grey Merlin vaporized into a ball of burning fragments. Another detonation ripped the wing off a Hornet.
Lucifer scanned for a specific target, active sensors now picking shapes that had overlapped in passive silhouette. His eyes narrowed – an Avenger hung low beneath the Merchantman’s belly, too close to the target to risk a missile shot.
“Fallen Two, aft. Three, suppression fire on the Merchantman Just scrape the turrets off. Four and Five, thin the herd.” From the looks of things, Three had the easy day; most of the Banu turret guns registered as powerless. The damage it received during capture by the pirates must have been irreparable.
Lucifer pinned the Avenger, watching as the HUD produced trailing-lead PIPs calibrated to his weapons. His loadout was all kinetic, four Gatling guns on fixed mounts for maximum punch. He rolled in on the Avenger and fired. The PGU-13 rounds slammed home along the twin dorsal intakes, shredding fuselage all the way up to the curved canopy. The force of the fire drove her into a port roll, belly rising up in a cloud of debris and vented gas.
Lucifer was already cycling his next target when he hurtled past the dead Avenger, a silent snarl on his lips.
Targets across the HUD were winking out as the Fallen sliced through them like wheat. Fleet was staged just out of sensor range, EMS and support ships at the ready, but this was already looking like a rout.
To his starboard, countermeasures sprayed from Fallen Four and Lucifer spotted a Mustang diving down from above. He worked the HOTAS and pedals in a single reflex, unencumbered by the restrictions of COMSTAB flight. Lucifer’s Saber snapped sideways to travel and fired, filling the Mustang’s flight path with four streams of high-explosive incendiaries.
Despite their adherence at selective fire, the Banu boat was suffering collateral injury. Some piece of wayward ordinance, from the Fallen or from panic-stricken pirates firing blindly, must have slammed into her midships, setting off a string of secondaries moving aft. Hull plates bowed out and peeled away, vomiting debris and cargo into space. Bodies tumbled into the void, frozen in stark attention. Frozen like statues.
A curse came across the open channel. “If I go down, we all go down.”
Before Lucifer could process the improbable threat, another voice shouted.
It was Fallen Three. “EMP cycling up!”
Lucifer blinked, unable to comprehend what appeared outside his canopy. Blue lightning crackled outward from inside the Banu ship, brilliant forked branches spilling out through the gaping hull wound. Lucifer’s eyes flashed back to the Avenger, its slow barrel roll of death bringing the un-zippered spine back into view. Between tattered sheetmetal and split bulkheads were half a dozen criminal containment units, nothing more.
Lucifer’s gut twisted as it hit him. Wrong Avenger.
Time slowed to a crawl as his gaze snapped back to the Merchantman, to the lightning pouring from her hold. His nose-cam at max zoom, Lucifer peered inside where fuselage of the Warlock Avenger, its wings, nose and tail cut away, had been shoved inside the Merchantman’s hold. Then everything went white.
Lucifer blinked his eyes, trying to clear his vision. Though the Saber’s beefy engines were knocked offline, the cockpit wasn’t quiet. System tones and alarms chimed haphazardly in every direction as systems stunned by the EMP struggled to reboot. Some displays shrugged off the hit, others wobbled in confusion. His sensor array was working but weapons were offline, the engines re-cycling.
Sumbitch! Lucifer cursed, his southern roots showing in anger. Had he just a few extra seconds warning he could have powered down, mitigated the impact of the pulse.
An alarm pinged from his sensors as dots lit up along the length of the Merchantman where turrets were powering up.
Not dead, Lucifer realized with a gut-twisting suddenness. Just held in reserve till the EMP shot off.
He looked out of his canopy and saw Fallen Three floating dead in space as half a dozen turret guns swung to bear. Lucifer banged on his comm, screaming “GET OUT!!”
The Banu guns fired, streaks of light converging on the explosion that had been Fallen Three. Fighter parts shot off in all directions, none larger than the ejection pod just a step ahead of the blast. It tumbled through space, falling, Lucifer realized, down into the star.
Falling, he realized with horror, like the rest of us.
Waging war on the edge of a star’s gravity well is one thing when you have engines, but deprived of thrust everything starts to accelerate towards the fiery blue globe. Lucifer cursed, fingers flying across controls as he barked out a Mayday. His engine sputtered for a moment, then died again. He looked at the Merchantman, a space-faring Titanic whose stone passengers floated free from her breached hull. History looked to repeat itself as the massive ship sunk into the blue —
Something exploded just above his canopy. A thundering concussion hit as something red shot by as if fired from a gun. Lucifer craned his neck to track the huge projectile when his own engines roared to life. The HUD still sputtered but he could run basic flight ops with his eyes closed. Lucifer barked across the comm: “Fallen, sound off!”
Two, Four and Five called out, each in similar states. Lucifer looked for Three, for the lifepod beacon. There was nothing. The proximity warning droned. They were on the outer edge of the star’s event horizon, in a few seconds it would be impossible to pull away.
“Fallen RTB, priority one!” He held his throttle as he watched one, two then three thrust-trails streak away from the crippled ship.
The Merchantman’s black hull tumbled silently into the sea of burning plasma, the crush of gravity already beginning to crumple her steel. Lucifer tried to imagine the Captain on board, and hoped that he was still alive for the last ride to hell.