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Primetime

Posted by SouthPaw, May 29 2009, 10:54 AM in FanFic

Primetime




Miles C. Acanthophis glanced to his right into the area of space he expected his wingman to occupy. Instead of the sharp outline of a stealth fighter, he saw only the all too familiar flashes that denoted the light from distant stars refracting from the energy dampening field of his active cloak.

“It’s quiet.” He heard the wingman say over the commlink. Nice and clear, no static. Acanthophis couldn’t remember the guy’s name, but it really did not seem to matter at this juncture.

“Yeah… Too quiet.” Acanthophis replied. Having waited a few seconds, he leant forward and very purposefully pushed two buttons and flipped a switch on the left panel of his HUD. Almost immediately lights flashed and loud pinging noises filled the cockpit.

“Uh oh… Looks like we have company!” Acanthophis said smiling broadly, his white teeth glinting in the light of the various agitated displays in front of him. Off to his right he caught a glimpse of his wingman’s ship moving up to its position. Late to his mark, thought Acanthophis. Sloppy.

“I have two, no wait… Three interceptor class craft on my scanner.” The wingman said, just the right hint of worry in his voice.

Acanthophis looked down deliberately at his own scanner, three small triangles were arranged in a neat echelon and heading straight towards them.

“Ok, lock and load. Let’s show these guys how we take care of business.” Acanthophis announced.

“Roger, moving to engage…” his wingman replied.

Acanthophis looked at his scanner for a second time. Right on cue the three triangles representing the hostile interceptors broke into six smaller triangles. They must have been flying in close formation – fooling the scanner suites aboard the Stealth Fighters.

The maths had been simple, with three versus two, the Stealth Fighters had a good chance of winning the fight by using their hunter missiles at long range without even being seen. But now the odds had swung dramatically against them, Acanthophis realised that he and his wingman were not carrying enough missiles to take out all six interceptors and that they would have to get the job done with their anti-utility guns as well.

“Easy-up there buddy, we need to play this clever.” Acanthophis called, but another long stare at his instrument panel revealed that his wingman had both his shield and his missiles loaded.
“Drop your shields…” He muttered.
“Oh God! They see me… They see me… Tell Maria I lov…” Static crackled in Acanthophis’ helmet. Maria, he remembered, was his wingman’s girlfriend whom he had met briefly the preceding evening. He had thought at the time it was a little pointless, contrived even.

Acanthophis leant forward and plucked a faded photo of a man in a pilot’s flight suit, carrying a visored helmet under one arm whilst leaning nonchalantly with the other against a stealth fighter tethered in a docking bay. Acanthophis crumpled the photo in his gloved fist, paused for a moment before speaking, his voice heavy with emotion.
“I’ll make them pay Carter… Don’t worry buddy, I’ll make them all pay.”

Just as he finished speaking, the space outside Acanthophis’ cockpit seemed to rend itself asunder, becoming pixelated in appearance and torn in great ragged strips.

“CUT!” A voice rang out.

Acanthophis sighed. The cockpit access latches on his Stealth Fighter clicked and hissed free and the hardened canopy swung upwards above him. The top of a small ladder appeared at the edge of his cockpit and after a few seconds the balding head of the technician bobbed into view. Acanthophis was soon unclipped from the flight harness and the complicated sound recording equipment that had to be carefully hidden from the cameras mounted around the ship.

“Miles, darling…” The director called from the set floor below the stationary stealth fighter simulator. “Your wingman, your best buddy remember?, his name is Canton sweetie, not Carter…”

“Hey! Hey! Back the $#@! up here… Don’t lay this cap-crash of a project at my airlock now!” Acanthophis exploded, standing up in his cockpit and gesticulating out across the set – he was blinded by the lights and so swung his arms menacingly in the vague direction of the director’s voice.

“The guy’s a $#@!ing amateur! Late to his mark, and he delivers his lines line a metal foot locker…”

“Now, Miles, let’s all calm down and go again shall we?” The director adopted what he hoped was a soothing tone of voice.

“No, I will not $#@!ing calm down. I am not even $#@!ing angry yet! And another thing… Who wrote this dialogue? ‘We’ve got company’? It’s absolute garbage…”

“Okay people, let’s take a break for lunch shall we? Two hours…” The director clapped his hands twice.

Acanthophis swung his legs out of the cockpit and slid down the ladder, his pristine flight boots hitting the set floor with a thump. Out of the glare of the lights he could see the full scene of the rapidly emptying studio; all of the camera and lighting gantries were depressed to ground level, their operators having made a beeline for the canteen. Around the walls of the cramped area hung the blue drape flexible screen that projected the computer generated effects of space and battle, making the walls and floor appear to vanish.

Acanthophis smiled, one of the few upsides to the job was that the set crew regularly succumbed to motion sickness and vertigo when the drape was active. The human brain doesn’t cope very well with walking on invisible floors and operating invisible equipment whilst seemingly being in the middle of a dogfight. Seeing the discomfort of others was one of the few things that kept Miles C. Acanthophis going from day to day.

“Miles baby… You look like you could do with a little break.” The director laid an arm across his shoulders. “Why don’t you take a little R&R?” Miles started to protest that he felt fine.

“No, no, no, don’t you worry about a thing. We can re-order the shoot and get some of the exposition and external cuts done for the next day.” The director cut Acanthophis short.

“Besides… Command has requested that you glad-hand a couple of bases out on the line. You know, keep morale up amongst our gallant boys and girls eh?”

“Oh $#@!…” Miles exclaimed.

“That’s the spirit! Your fans love you!” The director said over his shoulder as he scurried off into the darkness of the set.

“You are Box Office baby! Primetime!”

The director left Acanthophis standing alone, the heat of the lighting causing beads of perspiration to emerge on his brow. At least that is what he muttered at the young stage hand that deferentially offered a towel as he stormed off in the direction of his changing room.

*

Acanthophis hated troop transports. They stank of sweat, fuel and gun grease. He sat perched on the edge of his bucket seat, his back arched forward in the vain hope that he could avoid getting anything on his suit.

There were only two things he hated more than troop transports, and they are far-flung outposts with no bar, restaurant, laundry service or guarantee of safety and the dirty, uncouth and foul-mouthed pilots who lived in them.

His “fans”... They made him want to retch. They were all idiot nobodies who slogged it out in the middle of nowhere and who wouldn’t know a synth-gin martini from a dented mug of booster coolant. If he had his way, he would never be in the same sector as most of the low-brow jocks that cheered and whooped their way through his vids, let alone actually meeting them and shaking their hands.

Unfortunately for Acanthophis, he didn’t have his way. The studio was an adjunct of the Corporation’s Department of Information, giving them editorial control over the content. It was a running joke whispered under the breath of the set crew that Gigacorp had never lost a skirmish… on TV…

Worse from Acanthophis’ point of view, was that all aspiring actors had in their contract that they were to receive a Gigacorp military rank. It was purely nominal for ninety percent of an actor’s life, promotion was based on their box office and approval ratings. Unfortunately, the rank meant that for the other 10% of an actor’s life they were the property of Gigacorp military.

In practice this usually meant morale-raising exercises; opening stations, giving out gongs at a medal ceremony, being filmed stony-faced whilst comforting widows and so on.

So it was that Miles C. Acanthophis found himself at the mercy of his three most hated things – in a troop transport, en route to a remote front line outpost full of pilots.

Happily, these visits usually consisted of nothing more than shaking a few hands, choking down a tray of filth in the mess hall, then it was Foxtrot Oscar back to civilisation.

Sadly for Acanthophis, this time things were a little different.

*

…The guy who took on the notorious Dead End Gang in his scout, the pilot who soloed a Rixian cruiser, he’s the one, the only… Miles Acanthophis!” The voice on the tannoy was drowned out by the sound of gloved hands beating together and the rhythmic ringing of flight boots on the deck grating. There were whistles and yells from the assembled pilots, flight techs and other assorted personnel who were gathered in the hangar which had been jury-rigged as an auditorium.

Acanthophis flung the grubby rag that hung as a makeshift curtain aside and strode out onto the stage. He was in his element here whilst playing the role of the great hero. He slapped shoulders and grasped hands as he toured around the front row, his face split in two by a tremendous smile.

“Here he is folks, what a guy!” The station’s Executive Officer greeted him loudly above the din, grasping Acanthophis firmly in a handshake and drawing him in close, he whispered “this is a Godsend, we have been really up against it here for the past couple of weeks. These guys were about ready to break, they are not made of as stern stuff as you are!”

Oh God, thought Miles, another one! He met so many people who thought that the vids he shot were factual reporting of his superhuman exploits. He had lost the will to keep explaining that he was an actor – even what an actor was – years ago. If the retards felt better believing that he was the most godlike pilot who ever lived, well so $#@!ing what?

“Yeah… yeah… It can get pretty rough…” Acanthophis murmured.

“You’re goddamn right…” The Executive Officer replied “…we have had miner raiders up our ass 24/7 for I don’t know how long… Lost some pretty good scout pilots too. They are all starting to question why we don’t mine at some other goddamn Outpost, you know?”

“Yeah…” Acanthophis had no idea, but kept the smile fixed to his face and took the hand mic from the officer and turned to face the room.

“Hi, how you doing? It’s great to be here…” Miles lied above raucous applause “…Thanks… Thank you all very much… No, seriously… You guys are the best outfit in the Corporation…”

Just like a comfortable shirt, Acanthophis slipped into the guise of his screen persona. He started working through his repertoire of anecdotes – mostly hashed together from scenes and plotlines in his vids, he worked the room with the same tired lines he always used at these occasions. When he was younger, Acanthophis had made an effort to alter his material regularly in case it got stale visiting the same Outposts over and over. These days he realised that the pilot ‘turnover’ was so high that he could come back next week and no one would remain to remember a word.

He had moved through his first set of anecdotes and was just about to move into some lurid tales of the leading ladies he had enjoyed when the air in the hanger was split by a piercing siren.

“What the hell is that?” Acanthophis tried to shout above the siren. He had been aboard enough frontline stations to recognise the siren used to launch the alert squadron. This was not the same noise at all, and the deck lights were dimming in unison with the whoops.

“That is general quarters!” The Executive Officer shouted back.

“Oh yeah… Acanthophis mumbled…” General quarters. He struggled to remember exactly what that meant. One look at the chaos descending on the Outpost’s flight deck should have told him that it was not good.

The Executive Officer was listening intently to a commlink welded to the bulkhead. His face was white and there where beads of sweat on his brow as he spoke into the unit. After a few moments, he replaced the commlink and shouted over the siren.

“Contact! Major contact! Scramble everything! Everyone up and out! Out!”

Acanthophis grabbed the man’s arm as he walked past. “More miner raiders?” he hissed.

“Hell no, son. This is a big old bomber and it is coming right at us.” Miles felt the blood rush from his head to his feet. A bomber… coming here… to kill him!

“We’ve got to get out… We’ve all got to get out of here!” He shouted at the Executive Officer. “We will all be killed…”

“That’s the spirit son! One of the boys will show you to a spare bird.” With that the officer was gone. Acanthophis ran through the crowded deck, barging techs and pilots aside in a state of panic. He frantically searched for the troop transport pilot who had brought him aboard – maybe there was still time to get out of this place before…

All across the deck ships were taking to the air and nudging towards the exit port - a motley mix of scouts, patrollers and a fighter or two was moving to defend the Outpost.

Too late, thought Acanthophis. He might only play at being a space ace, but he knew that launching to defend against a bomber when it was in the same sector was a world of late. Once the bomber was in range it was all over, the Corporation didn’t exactly spend a fortune on armour plating for its Outposts.

Acanthophis was halted in his frantic search by a baby-faced flight tech who saluted stiffly and ushered him towards a scout.

“Here sir! She is ready to roll… we only had time to strap on some dumbs and load one pack of prox…” There was a hint of desperation in the young tech’s voice “but… you’ve been through much worse… right sir?” The young man was obviously seeking for confirmation that Miles would ride to save the day in this worthless piece of @#(! scout.

Acanthophis only stared at him whilst he weighed his options. The scout was under-armed and had paper-thin hull. But unlike the troop transport it was at least armed. He snatched a flight helmet from the tech and leapt up the ladder into the cockpit. Before he had time to fully strap himself in, the scout was in a hover and responding to deck thrusters.

*

“Oh my God…”

It wasn’t like the vids.

Acanthophis stared at the battle to save the station that was unfolding in front of him. There was debris littered across the sector from a dozen destroyed ships that ranged from burnt and twisted metal to fuel and ammo racks. Here and there an escape pod hung in space, those that were not moving had been – Acanthophis knew – penetrated by something, lethally for the pilot inside.

Fully three kilometres away, Acanthophis saw the bomber and the trail of nanite equipped scouts that escorted it. It was bearing down on the Outpost with arrow-like certainty. A handful of friendly ships buzzed around it like flies, trying to pick off the nans before the bomber itself could be stopped. They were plainly fighting a losing battle as the bomber’s turrets worked together to destroy the defenders one by one.

Acanthophis snapped out of his horror, and took hold of the scout’s control column. His inertia was carrying him straight at the bomber. In a few seconds he would be in range of the turrets and they would tear through his shield and hull as if it were smoke. Seconds after that the bomber would be in range of the station and everyone on board it would be dead.

He knew what he should do. He had, after all stopped an entire bomb run in his second vid Prox Prince. If he maxed out the throttle and flew right at the bomber, he could drop his pack of prox mines in its path. If he hit it with both of his dumbfires as well, there was a chance that the bomber and the nans would not see the mines until it was too late. If they all plowed through the prox full speed it would finish them all.

The station would be saved. Miles would be a hero for real…

Acanthophis’ gloved hand flirted with the throttle for a split second before a tiny blinking light caught his eye. It was the ripchord emitter. There was a small rip receiver within its range.

Two more friendlies from the Outpost flew past Acanthophis and hurled themselves at the bomber in the face of its turrets.

“Suicide.” Thought Acanthophis. This was crazy, everyone should just get the hell out of here… He flinched, then pushed the ripchord. The power dropped out of the scout’s engines and it began to gently roll in space.

“They have enough to save this base without me…” Acanthophis told himself as the first anti-base missile dropped from the bomber and accelerated past his cockpit.

“I am too important to the Corporation to die out here like this!” He said aloud in answer to a challenge that had not been made. Arguing with the ghosts-to-be on the Outpost.

The second missile left the bomber and tore through the Outpost’s hull just as the glittering sparks of the scout’s ripchord engine enveloped Acanthophis’ ship.



Comments

  SouthPaw, May 29 2009, 10:55 AM

6 months eh?

Tempus fugit bitches.

Enjoy!

  HSharp, May 30 2009, 01:37 PM

Pah, Ripcord, last resort for the desperate...

still canis canem edit

More!

  Fever, May 31 2009, 11:19 PM

i cant believe it took me this long to find this. makes for awesome reading...so much so i should really stop tongue.gif

itll make flying scouts with southpaw@pk a much more wholesome experience!

  Mordechaj, Dec 4 2009, 01:42 PM

it's always a pleasure to read your fanfic. it's even better to see the improvement of your storytelling!* smile.gif

*which was not bad to start with.

 
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