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All Mouth, No Trousers

The Sisters

The Sisters

III


Galway Stevens knew that he was born for this. He wouldn't have been anywhere else in the Belt but buckled into his turret, on this ship, right now.

In the compartments behind the reinforced bulkhead of his ball turret he could hear the banging and crashing of the rest of the crew clearing the ship for action. The card table and chairs in the wardroom had to be overturned, the galley would be cleared, bunks and living quarters would be sealed and even the heads had to have the water tanks vacuum-locked down. Dinner plates, complete with half-eaten meals, were swept into a locker and hands of playing cards lay scattered across the floor where the crew had dropped them. Galway heard the heavy scrapping of a full ammunition canister being dragged across the grating of the magazine and manhandled into position above the automatic lift that would drop the canister into position where it could feed shells into his Skycap cannon’s breech. Soon the powder monkeys would beat on the hatch to his turret, signalling that the canister was in position and that he should activate the vacuum hopper that would transfer the first shells into the weapon.

The tiny tannoy of the ships internal com system squealed with feedback, then broadcast the Captain's voice, heavy with crackled distortion.
"All hands report as cleared for action." He commanded. The ship's stations reported back in quick, well-rehearsed time.
"Main deck cleared."
"Engine room secured."
"Magazine, online sir."
"Sensors up and nominal, fire control live."
"Lower turret, aye." That was Galway's counterpart in the ship's lower ball turret, Hyatt. A good guy, Hyatt was reliable but he showed no flair in the ball. He didn't have the instinct that Galway possessed and relied too much on the lead indicator that was provided by the ship's on-board fire control system. Still, he kept his head when things got hairy and you couldn't ask for more than that. The last thing you needed was a jumpy turret gunner.

Galway placed his feet on the omni-directional turret rudder plate and pressed left. With a hum of electro-motors the entire ball turret unit traversed left, swinging Galway with it. His gunner's seat was fixed to the ball and rotated him with it, keeping Galway aligned with the control console and the barrel of the Skycap that jutted out into space. With a smooth movement he slid the rudder plate towards him and the turret swung vertically up, tipping him upside down as the barrel described a 180 degree arc from the port side of the ship to the starboard. As he dangled upside down Galway heard banging on his turret hatch; the powder monkeys had charged his magazine. In response he flipped the vacuum hopper control to the active position. A loud series of rattles and clunks sounded behind the bulkhead and Galway watched as a row of lights on his display turned from red to green. When he was happy that everything was in order, his turret had full power and that his Skycap was loaded he hit the com button.
"Upper ball; locked, loaded and swingin' free." He called cheerily, completing the series of responses informing the Captain that the ship was ready for combat.

"Good job boys, Keymer reports in position. Be sharp while we wait." The tannoy crackled the Captain's words once more and then fell silent.

Galway swung the turret, taking in the scene before him. Lying to the ship's starboard side was a massive asteroid, beyond which was the aleph through which hostiles were expected. Four clicks away, lurking out of view of the aleph behind a similarly large rock was the Keymer. Galway smiled at the sight of her, Keymer and Tregenza were sister ships and, though they were not sleek or lovely, their brutal lines conveyed the functionality and sense of purpose that all Belters vessels possessed.

The sister ships had been built at the same yard by the same men and - supposedly - to the same design, but only someone who had been onboard both ships would ever know that. Externally they looked markedly different. Though they shared basic dimensions, equipment and weaponry, the uncertainty and random nature of raw materials available for ship construction in the Belt meant that Keymer and Tregenza looked anything but sisters. Tregenza was the younger of the two, commissioned a year after the Keymer, she benefited from tighter lines and was less bulky externally. Galway always boasted that she was the more beautiful, and few impartial observers could disagree although it was a beauty that only Belters would recognise. Keymer on the other hand benefited from having been constructed earlier, when good quality and better refined materials were not so scarce. Though Keymer looked a little bulkier on the outside, and her lines a touch more blocky, her crew argued that the better quality of her metal made her the better bet in a brawl.

The two corvettes may not have had the poise of beauty of some of their rivals from the fleets of other human factions, but they more than made up for appearances when it came to doing their job of killing small craft. A combination of speed and firepower made the ships lethal to all but the most well-coordinated of assaults by fighter or interceptor ships. In the past six months both Keymer and Tregenza had proven themselves, excelling as convoy escort, miner defence and base protection. Their crews were both well-trained, battle hardened and acknowledged amongst the free ports as the best in the Belt. Keymer and Tregenza had over sixty confirmed kills between them and were the perfect tools to accomplish the task that they had been entrusted.

Galway knew very little about their mission; only that the Captain had seemed worried when he had briefed them all two nights ago. Scanners, the Tregenza's coms man, had told them all in hushed tones about the priority message that had come in marked for the Captain's eyes only. He swore that it had come from Scholes himself. Who knew? But it didn't take a genius to figure out that all of this had something to do with the reports over the Datanet of the massacre at Tau 6.

The outpost at Tau 6 had been reported as destroyed by unidentified attackers a week previously. It had been constructed as a staging post for expansion and Belter colonisation into a deserted and uncontested area of the belt. There was no He3 in Tau 6, nor any of the charted sectors out there so the plan had been to put domestic outposts out of harm's way. Thousands of families had been uprooted and moved away from the fighting at the front line sectors contested with the Corporation and the space regularly patrolled by the Iron Coalition. All had flocked to the Outpost at Tau 6 where they had gathered food and fuel for the push out into the wilderness.

Estimates varied, but figures on the Datanet suggested that upwards of 25,000 brave Belter pioneers had been at Tau 6. Civilians. Men, women and children looking for a better life amongst the barren rocks where no-one would bother them.

Until of course, somebody had. Who, or what, had perpetrated the massacre wasn't known. There was talk was of a secret IC or BIOS weapons development facility, some murmurings about collusion and warnings of an attack delivered to the Belters from deep space by a Gigacorp spy. Some voices swore that they had intercepted garbled transmissions out in the void that hissed and whined with static. Others claimed to have stumbled upon vast vessels and that Tau 6 had been the site of the first meeting with a vengeful alien race that was sworn to eradicate humanity. It was all the usual Datanet scuttle-butt.

Whatever it was, Galway knew two things. First, the aleph that lay concealed from his view by a large rock led directly to Tau 6. Second, with both the Tregenza and the Keymer pulled off vital miner protection duty, something was going to be coming out of that aleph and Galway knew an ambush when he saw one. Perhaps the Captain had been given a better idea of what had happened at Tau 6. If knowledge of what was on the other side had caused even the Captain's face to turn pale, then Galway hoped to hell that his Skycap would be enough.

His thoughts were washed away by a chorus of chimes from the fire control system and his sensor display lit up with contacts streaming from the aleph to Tau 6. He was thankful that Belter scouts had seeded the sector with probes, enabling Tregenza's systems to detect contacts even when they were behind by the large rocks that hid her. He span his turret so that he could see the two nan-equipped scouts that waited astern of Tregenza and waggled the barrel of the Skycap in thanks and warning. One of them performed a lazy barrel-roll reply.

"Brave little bastards." Galway said out loud as the tannoy system blared again.

"All hands, hostiles incoming, go to it boys. Fire control is live, gunners engage at will and may the Raven watch us all." Galway smiled, the Captain liked to be dramatic before the shooting started and drunk soon after it stopped.

Galway's fire control display still showed the contacts as unidentified, but more and more were appearing at the aleph, so many that the icons on the display began to overlap, obscuring each other as they moved across the sector in two distinct groups. One seemed larger than the others, but Galway could not be sure. If the Captain didn't act quickly, the hostiles would be too far across the aleph for the two corvettes to interdict them. Sure enough Tregenza coughed as her engines fired up, the ship trembling with vibration as the Captain eased her slowly out from behind the rock and into sight of the fleet of hostiles.

Galway immediately rotated his ball turret to face the closest group of hostiles and saw... nothing. Sensors said they were there but all he could see was the darkness of space. He flipped the optical zoom control to max and scanned the area. There! and again, vague swirling shapes - mottled in patches - flipped and danced over each other. Galway blinked hard and looked again. They looked like some find of fighter, but no design he had ever seen. They were sleek and thin, reminding him of curved blades slicing through the sector.

The Tregenza was out into open space now and on an intercept course for the lead group of hostile contacts, the two nan-scouts trailing a short distance behind. Across the sector Keymer had followed suit and the sisters closed the pincers of the ambush with total surprise. Galway checked his fire control display, the icons representing the hostile fighters in the lead group of contacts began to separate. The Keymer was marginally closer and the fighters had seen her first as she closed to firing range. Galway watched as the fighters span with incredible agility and coordination, speeding towards the Keymer, pin-prick lights of their boosters making individual ships easy to pick out as they flew directly away from the unseen Tregenza.

Galway swore, he could count nearly thirty sets of boosters visible. Keymer would have little chance against an onslaught by that many opponents. Even her experienced gunners could not hope to overcome the so many enemies before they breached the corvette's shields and cracked open her hull. Galway estimated that Tregenza would not even be within weapons range of the fleeing fighters in time to save her sister. He checked his fire control computer. The nearest hostile target was over 3k away from Tregenza, and the gap was opening all the time. Despite the strange fighters being well out of range of his Skycap he acted instinctively and released the safety before squeezing the trigger, firing a three-round burst.

The shells hurtled across the sector before detonating harmlessly at their maximum range, well behind the swarm of hostile fighters.
"Galway, hold your fire! We are well out of range!" Hyatt in the lower turret shouted over the ships com system. But Galway had realised that if Keymer was to have any chance then something had to be done to split the hostile fighters up. He hoped that firing his weapon would attract some attention.

Sure enough, half of the twinkling booster lights died in unison. The fighters swung around to face the Tregenza as she continued to bear down upon them. Galway smiled but could not subdue the knot of apprehension that grew in his stomach. By splitting the group he had given Keymer a chance, but he had also brought half of the enemies down upon Tregenza. Fifteen plus fighters was still a lot to handle and the odds were that neither sister would get out this confrontation intact.
"Good job boy!" bellowed the Captain over the tannoy. "Now make those alien bastards fear the Belt and all those who fly free!" Aliens? Galway had no time to consider the outburst as a chime from his fire control indicated a target had entered extreme range. He swivelled the turret, bringing the Skycap to bear, then squeezed the trigger.

* * *

The fighters swarmed around Tregenza like flies on a carcass. Sweat poured from Galway's brow as he swung the ball turret, desperately trying to track the agile attackers as they made swooping passes on the corvette, their triple gun mounts spewing tracer. He had lost track of time, though it could only have been a matter of minutes since he had first opened fire. He had lost track of the number of enemies that had engaged the Tregenza, and how many he had dispatched. All that mattered was the swirling mass of targets and the stream of shells he was sending towards them. His situational awareness had gone and he was completely focused on swinging the ball turret and staying alive. Tregenza's shield had gone, the hull had been severely damaged and Galway was vaguely aware of the smell of smoke and the crashing sounds and desperate cries of Tregenza's damage control party on the other side of the bulkhead. At these close quarters, the hunter missiles and mini autocannons operated by the Captain were of limited use as the corvette could not manoeuvre fast enough to keep the weapons to bear on a target. Up-close and dirty like this, it was Hyatt and Galway's job to engage targets.

"Get them off me!" The cry came from the single nan-scout that remained, his partner having been destroyed in the first pass. Hyatt had been providing him cover, taking out enemies that attacked the nan whilst Galway engaged more distant hostiles that were targeting Tregenza directly. But now Hyatt had stopped firing, and the last nan was in trouble.
"Hyatt? You out of ammo?" Galway called over the com system, he had not heard Hyatt call the powder monkeys for a reload. There was no answer from the bottom turret.
"Come topside little buddy." Galway watched the bulky scout flip around from the under side of Tregenza where Hyatt had been covering him, Belter scouts were sturdy and build for speed not agility but the pilot handled the little ship deftly. A stream of tracer followed the scout, clipping his boosters and shearing off a chunk of metal. Galway switched targets and trained his Skycap perpendicular to the hull, at the source of the tracer projectiles. A dark shape flashed past the hull and Galway pulled the trigger instinctively, nailing the fighter with a shell straight through the central cockpit dome. The fighter span out of control into space but Galway had little time to cheer as the next hostile swept in.

Galway had to feverishly switch targets, trying to keep the nan alive as it patched up Tregenza's battered hull, whilst fending off the remaining fighters from doing more damage. Abruptly, the fighter he was tracking broke off, and attempted to flee. Galway led him slightly and fired. The proximity-fused shells from his Skycap burst around the ship, splinters of metal ripping into it causing it to break apart violently. Galway began to scan for the next target then paused. His fire control indicated the closest target to be two clicks away. The system must have taken a hit and was malfunctioning; he swung the ball turret to perform a visual scan for targets and saw that the space around Tregenza was clear. He had done it.

Across the sector the Keymer battled on, Galway could see the triple streams of tracer and the puffs of Skycap rounds detonating. He willed the Tregenza to gain speed and bring his gun into range so he could help clear those fighters off her. But Tregenza veered away from the embattled Keymer and her attackers moving instead towards the second group of hostiles that bore down on the aleph out of the sector and into Belter space.

"Captain, the Keymer sir!" Galway asked over the com system
"We can't help her boy, that big bastard is a bomber and he looks to have plenty of scouts. Reckon he's the one that hit Tau 6 and he goes no further!" The Captain replied. "brace yourself lad, the AC's are jammed and I'm out of hunters. I don't think Hyatt is still with us. You need to take the scouts then finish the bomber."
Galway scanned his fire control display and his heart sank.
"Negative sir. I have less than a third of a rack of ammo." There was silence before Galway felt the Tregenza alter her course slightly. Across the sector a blinding flash engulfed the Keymer and swallowed her attackers, the corvette was blown apart by the force of an internal explosion sending a cloud of debris pirouetting across space.
"...sir?" Galway waited for orders. "Captain!"
The silence was finally broken by the Captain, his voice tinged with sadness.
"We will ram her boy. That will drop the bombers shields and put a fair dent in it I'd say. We will knock it clear of those scouts for a few seconds. You put the last of your rounds into it and finish the bastard before those scouts can recover."
"Yes...Yes sir" Galway took a deep breath and, leaning forward he switched off the fire control system in front of him. Without the light of its display, his turret fell dark and he watched as the ominous shape of the bomber grew larger and larger in his gunsight. It would be quite a piece of flying if the Captain could manage to ram the bomber from this oblique angle before it got the aleph. It would be more amazing if Galway could do enough damage to it to kill it with his remaining ammo before the scouts could recover.

Still, he thought as the gap between the two vessels closed at an alarming rate, miracles do happen.

by: SouthPaw on Jan 18 2008, 12:02 PM

Enjoy, and let me know what you think.

smile.gif

~S

by: Death3D on Jan 18 2008, 12:50 PM

QUOTE(SouthPaw @ Jan 18 2008, 12:02 PM)
Tregenza was the younger of the two, commissioned a year after the Keymer, she benefited from tighter lines and was less bulky externally. Galway always boasted that she was the more beautiful, and few impartial observers could disagree although it was a beauty that only Belters would recognise. Keymer on the other hand benefited from having been constructed earlier, when good quality and better refined materials were not so scarce. Though Keymer looked a little bulkier on the outside, and her lines a touch more blocky, her crew argued that the better quality of her metal made her the better bet in a brawl.


QUOTE(SouthPaw @ Jan 18 2008, 12:02 PM)
He span his turret so that he could see the two nan-equipped scouts that waited astern of Tregenza and waggled the barrel of the Skycap in thanks and warning. One of them performed a lazy barrel-roll reply.

β€œBrave little bastards.” Galway said out loud as the tannoy system blared again.


My favorite passages. Also, thank you. You're giving the game a level of detail and personalization that's a breath of fresh air after the waves of dull generics that limit it. Generic scout, Generic Corvette, Generic Turret, Generic pilot are no longer the case, and I'm satisfied.

by: Aaron Moore on Jan 23 2008, 09:21 AM

I agree, you are doing a great job describing these situations and making them more realistic.


These micro stories are a good read!

by: Lt_Duong_ on Jan 23 2008, 05:47 PM

I like the way you explained how those turrets can track in every direction. And more so for the way skycap ammo was loaded, mmm vaccum mags.

Query if possible, in your fiction are ammo racks made up of modular ammo?

by: SouthPaw on Jan 24 2008, 08:14 AM

Wow, SF en masse!

@voob if by modular you mean generic between weapons (the way it is in game) then no. It's a tough line to balance game mechanics with realism*.

In my mind, I take game situations, politics or whatever interests me and add some human angle and realism*. The Skycap would probably have a larger calibre than an AC and definitely larger than Gat and Mini and so would require different projectile ammo.


*We are talking about fiction, in space, with aliens - there's only so far "realism" applies but I hope it feels real.

by: gr4vity on Jan 25 2008, 03:26 PM

Damn, why haven't I discovered those story's earlier? mrgreen.gif

Great stuff man!


Regards
grav@RT cool.gif

by: blackrob on Feb 4 2008, 02:54 AM

Love it, your stories are quite entertaining smile.gif

QUOTE
They looked like some find of fighter

However, a little typo, I think. Some *kind* of fighter tongue.gif

by: Sgt.Pepper on Feb 7 2008, 04:46 PM

Very nice indeed, as already stated. This was a good exercise in getting some proper fiction out of game mechanics. smile.gif

About "realism", I think the word you're looking for is "believable". If what you put in "sounds Alleg" and "sounds SciFi", then we're rolling.

As for my favourite passage, it's the one where Galway signals to the nans with is turret and they signal back. These small details are what sells the whole deal as "sounding Alleg".

I notice you've gone again for the same structure, although the explicative part isn't quite as long as in previous texts. In this case, I think explaining about Tau6 sort of puts the story on pause: once the corvette has checked it's systems, we're expecting it to roll into action, instead of which we embark into a "why we fight" that, as I said previously, is a valid technique but is used once too often in this third text. Perhaps you could have experimented with a proper briefing right at the start that would have given us both context and, most importantly, some feeling of the relations between the crew. After all, this was the first time we've had to deal with a crewed ship rather than just individuals. I would have liked to read more on the different guys.

by: Death3D on Feb 14 2008, 08:50 PM

Please sir, could I have some MOAR?!

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