Fiction Sanctimonious (Origin Story) Chapter One

Hi All,

As there’s not much happening at the moment, I thought I’d pull together the first two chapters of the Sanctimonious Novel I wrote a long time ago. The story was originally submitted as part of the
Elite: Chronicles Fiction Project (One of the Kickstarter projects that a lot of Elite People backed but never produced anything). When that project failed, I carried on writing it. After conversations with people at a Lavecon, I was under the impression that this story could replace the missing Chronicles Fiction project but, due to misunderstandings, it was not meant to be. Regardless, I finished the first draft a year or so back. The upshot is I’ve got a 140,000-word Elite novel (which I guess is just Fan Fiction now) that is the basis for the Sanctimonious stories that I occasionally put up to cover events that have happened in-game.

Hope you enjoy it.

C.


3300

‘This is not good!’

David ‘Davie’ Thornton had blurted the cry out without realising it, as he’d been thrown about in his seat. He was eternally thankful for his harness which held him in place. In front of him, a couple of emergency oxygen masks dropped in front of his face, obstructing his view. He pushed them out of the way with a panicked swipe of his arm.

‘Stop being such a drama queen!’ snapped his companion. ‘We’ve been in worse spots.’

‘Well, when that many ships jump in,’ replied Davie pointing at the scanner, ‘I’m allowed to get a little panicky.’

Duncan McTaggart, known universally as Mac, glared over at him and Davie knew this was the signal for him to shut up. Mac would need his full concentration if they were going to avoid any incoming fire.

This was supposed to be a milk run, Davie mused. A nice and easy escort contract to the Phenol star (KOI-3663) system. Just fly as escort for the ‘Clear Venture’, a large Anaconda class freighter, which was carrying construction materials for the terraforming operation there. He found the situation a little odd. The Venture’s cargo would fetch nothing on the black market and the appearance of four Eagle fighters and two Cobra Mk IIIs seemed a little like overkill for one Anaconda and its escort. These pirates must be either very stupid or very desperate.

The Sanctimonious was Mac’s ship, an ancient Asp explorer. Although it was adequately equipped; being outnumbered six to two was never a good situation to be in. To make matter worse, the Anaconda they were escorting only had under-powered pulse laser turrets. They were good for taking out small pieces of space junk but not much else. Davie felt it may as well be six to one.

Although his panic began to subside, reassured by who he was flying with, Davie would have felt a lot better if he’d been able to use the Asp’s own two turrets. However, since the crew couldn’t afford to have them serviced, they’d failed on the journey out here.

‘Missiles!’ Mac announced.

Davie knew those missiles would be homing in on the heat generated by their ship. He activated the heat sink launcher. The Asp shuddered as all its heat was dumped into a small projectile and dropped out the back. G-forces push him to the left as Sanctimonious slid out of the path of the incoming projectiles, which had changed course to follow the glaring heat source on the scanner. The missiles disappeared when they hit the decoy.

‘At least they’re not using military hardware,’ he said to Mac.

The Eagles seemed unfazed by their lack of success and kept on coming, firing salvos of pulse laser fire which narrowly missed the Sanctimonious. Although a much larger vessel than the Eagle, an Asp is a lot more maneuverable than it looks. The fact not lost on Davie as the star-field span past the viewport as Mac reversed his turn.

One of the Eagles, surprised the Sanctimonious’ manoeuvre, appeared in front of them. There was a click, as Davie saw Mac pull the trigger and the Eagle fragmented as the main beam lasers smashed through its weak shields and cut through the smaller ship’s hull. Looking down at the scanner, Davie saw that one of the eagles had dropped in behind them. Sanctimonious shook as it took laser strikes on their shields.

‘Under Attack!’ The ship’s computer announced.

‘Really?’ muttered Mac, sarcastically. ‘Never would have noticed.’

‘Shields are down to eighty percent,’ Davie reported.

This eagle pilot was the smartest of the bunch as it had managed to stay with the Sanctimonious while it had evaded. Normally, with the thrusters in its swept wings and its lighter frame, an Eagle would be able to stay in a larger ships blind spot, nibbling away at the shields. Thankfully, Sanctimonious had a trick up its sleeve.

‘Drop mines,’ ordered Mac.

Davie operated a control, as the ship continued to shake from the continued laser impacts. The Asp dropped a couple of high explosive mines behind it. The Eagle pilot was either blinded by his fire or was suffering ‘tunnel vision targeting’ because he didn’t appear to have noticed the mines. The eagle slammed into both of them and disappearing in violent flame.

‘We’ll make a gunner out of you yet,’ Mac said with grim satisfaction. ‘Where are the Cobra’s?’

Davie glanced at the scanner. The two remaining eagles, having realised their mistake, had split off in different directions and were returning for another run. The larger and more heavily armed Cobras were not targeting Sanctimonious at all. Davie grimaced when he realised what they were up to.

‘They’re hitting the Venture hard,’ he reported. ‘The turrets are holding them back but her shields are almost gone.’

‘Stupid,’ Mac muttered out loud.

‘Eh?’

‘They should have rushed us,’ explained Mac. ‘Splitting a strike force like that is a basic tactical error.’

‘Our shields are down to 50%,’ Davie said making an effort to keep tension out of his voice.

‘Don’t worry!’ Mac replied. ‘They’re not going to be able to hit us again.’

Davie noticed a slight smile on Mac’s face. He found it unnerving as that would the equivalent of savage grin on a normal person. Glancing down at the scanner again, Davie could see the two Eagles had regrouped and were streaking in from high on the left. His stomach violently lurched once again, as the Sanctimonious turned to face them.

‘Flight Assist off,’ reported the computer.

‘You’re doing that?’

‘Hold on,’ ordered Mac

The Eagles were coming in too fast and flashed past the viewport, their shots going wide. Before they were even past the Sanctimonious, the star-field shifted again as Mac flipped the Asp one hundred and eighty degrees so they were flying backwards. They could see the bright flare of both of the small fighters’s engines. Davie was breathing hard, fighting off the G-forces which threatened to make him blackout.

The ships ahead start to turn away in different directions. There was a click as Mac pulled the trigger and Sanctimonious fired its main guns then, with a quick adjustment, he fired the beam lasers again. Davie saw the lasers slice the wing off one of the Eagles. The second volley smashed through the cockpit and the Eagle tumbled away, it’s pilot probably evaporated by the hit to the canopy. Mac operated a control on the panel in front of him.

‘Flight Assist On,’ the computer reported.

The remaining Eagle turned back towards the Anaconda. Davie realised it was probably looking for support from the two Cobra’s still attacking the large freighter. The Sanctimonious began to fly forwards again and he saw Mac increased the throttle to pursue the fleeing fighter. Davie called up the targeting computer and immediately it got a locking tone.

‘Missile Lock!’ he announced.

‘I’m not going to waste our last missile on that!’ Mac snapped back.

It was at that point Davie noticed the damage displays on the Clear Venture. The larger vessel had taken a serious missile strike, it's interior was visible through a massive gash in its side. The cylindrical cargo canisters were escaping into the void, leaving a trail like breadcrumbs. Her laser turrets were still firing, which was a good sign, but if the wounded anaconda tried any sharp manoeuvers, the stress would probably rip the ship apart.

‘The Venture,’ Davie started.

‘I see it,’ Mac interrupted gruffly.

There was another click from the firing control and the Asp’s lasers smashed into the fleeing Eagle. An orange ball of light expanded where the small winged craft had been. Mac fired the ASP’s boosters and Davie was pushed further into his chair by the acceleration.

‘Use that missile.’ ordered Mac. ‘Target the nearest Cobra.’

Davie called up the targeting computer and got a ‘locked’ indicator almost immediately.

‘Lock!’ he reported.

‘Launch!’

Davie operated the relevant control and ship wobbled a little as the missile launched. The smart projectile altered course to intercept the targetted ship which hadn’t seem to have noticed it. A small indicator flashed on the control panel.

‘He’s launching a heat sink.’

‘He launched it too late,’ Mac observed. ‘He’s not even going evasive, yet!’

When it was obvious to the Cobra that the heat sink hadn’t worked, it tried to barrel roll out of the path of the missile. It was too little, too late and missile ploughed into one of the rear engine exhausts. A couple of small explosions appeared around the engine and then the whole ship blew apart, sending debris and cargo canisters into the already damaged Anaconda.

‘Hell, that wasn’t supposed to happen.’ swore Mac. ‘Where’s that last Cobra?’

Davie checked over the scanner.

‘Looks like he’s doing a runner; He managed to scoop a couple of canisters though.’

He looked up to see Mac grimacing. ‘We’ll have to let him go, we’ve got bigger fish to fry.’

Mac switched on the comlink. ‘This is Sanctimonious! Clear Venture, what’s your status?’

There was white static over the link before a voice came back.

‘This is Clear Venture, glad you stopped them when you did.’ said the voice.

Davie recognised the voice and tried not to smile.

‘Deke, is that you?’

‘Davie Baby!’ the voice turned enthusiastic.

Davie cringed a little as he saw Mac giving him a hard stare.

‘The Captain got hit on that last pass,’ Deke continued. ‘The medic is looking at him now. I think he’ll be fine.

‘You got a repair estimate?’ asked Mac, obviously trying to ignore informality.

There was a couple of seconds delay before there was a reply.

‘Yeah, we can plug that hole in about half an hour, the engines and the navigation systems are intact, so we’ll be good to go once that’s done.’

‘Did you lose anybody?’ asked Davie.

‘Yeah,’ Deke sounded downcast, ‘A couple of guys were on damage control when the cargo bay blew out. Can you do us a favour?’

‘Search and Recover?’ Mac inquired.

‘Yeah, you never know if they’re wearing Remlok masks or not.’ Deke then added as an afterthought. ‘And if you’ve got any spare space on-board, recover some of those canisters?’

‘No Problem,’ Replied Mac. ‘Let us know when you’re ready to get underway again.’

‘Will Do!’ Deke replied ‘Clear Venture Out.’

The next twenty minutes were tense as Davie kept his eyes on the scanners. Mac flew the Sanctimonious in rapid arcs, using its cargo scoop to pick up the cargo canisters. There was no sign of the missing crewmen and after ten canisters Mac brought the ship into formation with the anaconda. There were plenty of canisters left floating around.

‘That’s all we can take.’ Mac grumbled.

‘You know that last Cobra is probably still out there waiting for us to leave and then it will just fly in and scoop what’s left.’ said Davie.

‘Tell me about it, little blood-sucking parasite.’ growled Mac. ‘I should drop a mine or two so we could give him a nasty surprise.’

‘Or we would get some poor sap who thought it was his lucky day.’

‘If you come across cargo hanging around in space and just scoop it without scanning it, you get everything you deserve.’ Mac shot back.

There was an awkward silence which stretched for a couple of minutes. Mac cleared his throat.

‘Anyway,’ Mac said in an almost apologetic tone, ‘Deke?’

‘What can I say,’ Davie allowed himself a shrug. ‘It was back at Lave station. We just hooked up before we flew out.’

Mac snorted, ‘Another one? I lose track.’

‘Look, what with your fine example of celibacy, I have decided to live life to the full.’ Davie grinned at him. ‘And anyway, you limit your options.’

‘Oh, I’m not getting having this conversation again.’

Davie knew that he’d got Mac wound up again and smiled to himself.

‘Do you have anything better to do than be a pain in the ?’ Mac grumped.

‘Nope!’

‘Then go down to the cargo deck and give those cargo canisters the once over,’ Mac grumbled.

Davie unbuckled his harness and walked to the access hatch at the back of the bridge, his magnetic boots clicking with each step. He closed the hatch with a satisfying thump, leaving Mac to stew. He didn’t know why he always did that, it was like he enjoyed holding a tiger by the tail. Maybe it was boredom but he always felt a little guilty afterwards because Mac didn’t deserve it. A bit like the way he felt after a hook-up.

Mac had hired Davie as a co-pilot almost two years ago and remained a little bit of an enigma. A couple of inches shorter than Davie at six foot 1; Mac’s brown eyes and dark hair gave him a brooding look which matched his personality. In fact, in all the time Davie had known him, he’d only seen Mac smile a couple of times. The commander had the posture of a military man and certainly flew with the calm precision of one but Davie had never found out who he’d served with.

The other mystery was why he was still working as the co-pilot. Davie knew he was taller, muscular and outgoing than Mac. Descended from Indian ancestry on earth, Davie had no problems getting his brown eyes and brilliant white smile to attract the right kind of person at a space station bar for all manner of trouble. However, when things turned sour, which happened more often than Davie would like to admit, Mac was always there, paying the bail money to spring him.

He sighed and descended the stairs down to the cargo hold. As he arrived at the cargo bay doors he grabbed one of the masks next to the doors because, although the cargo bay had atmosphere in it, it wasn’t too pleasant to breathe. Putting on the mask, he grabbed a flashlight and opened the outer airlock door.

The mask was comfortable and didn’t fog up for once. The airlock door cycled and he walked into the cargo bay. It was pretty obvious which the new canisters were. He knew that Mac had brought along a few canisters of his own, probably hoping to use the profits to pay off whatever that venomous ex-wife of his, but the scooped canisters had obvious battle damage to them.

He methodically checked each one and when he got to the seventh there was a call down from the bridge.

‘We’re going to supercruise,’ Mac called down over the ship communicator, still sounding peeved.

‘Ok.’ replied Davie and braced himself against a canister.

Davie noticed the usual sensation of the frame-shift drive. The Sanctimonious was underway again, probably in formation with the Anaconda. After a minute or so the sensation subsided and he carried on looking through the canisters. It was only at the last one did he think something was wrong. Even though the breath mask he noticed the smell. He felt the hairs on the back of his neck prickle.

There was a crack in the side of the canister and Davie shone the torch in. He wished he hadn’t because throwing up can be deadly in a breath mask. Forcing down the gag reflex he looked away and staggered back from the container. Almost breathless he called into the comlink.

‘Mac.’ He called.

No reply.

‘Mac!’ he repeated more urgently.

‘What?’ came the terse reply.

‘You’d better get down here.’ said Davie, fighting back another vomiting reflex. ‘We’ve got trouble.’
 
Part 2

Mac sighed while staring out of the cockpit viewport. Looking past the repairing Anaconda into the darkness beyond, he was trying not to brood. It was a losing battle. Davie, as usual, had managed to hit a nerve. Mac hated letting his strutting peacock of a co-pilot know he’d just got under his skin. It was always the same, anytime Davie brought up his issues with the opposite sex, or in Davie’s case, any kind of sex, it just reminded Mac of how bad his own social life was.

In an effort to distract himself from following that particular thread of thought, he cast his expert eye over the Anaconda. The longer arrow-shaped vessel was well known for being able to carry large volumes of cargo between even the most troublesome of worlds. However, the fact that the ‘Venture’ seems so lightly armed to take on this kind of run should have been some kind of warning.

Mac was finding himself taking these kinds of desperate jobs on more and more, just to keep the Sanctimonious in space. He had to get those turrets fixed and the drives would soon need an overhaul. This job would pay the bills for a while, maybe allowing the Sanctimonious to do some exploration, but owning a ship was an expansive business and it always felt these were only one bad job away from disaster. He allowed himself a small smile, he thought that was a fair trade. Better to lose at being yourself than doing mind-numbing cargo runs for some corporate. As far as Mac was concerned; the further away from the core worlds, and their complications, the better.

‘This is Clear Venture! Come in Sanctimonious,’ the communicator came alive with a different voice.

‘Go ahead Venture,’ He paused for a second. ‘That you Captain Titan?’

‘Yes. Commander McTaggert,’ He replied, ‘We’re ready to go ahead.’

‘Very well Captain. I’ll start the warming up the drive.’ Mac found himself matching the Anaconda’s Captain’s tone. ‘Are you feeling better?’

‘Yes thank you.’ came the reply, ‘I got hit by a small piece of flying dashboard. How many did you get?’

‘Five, I think,’ Mac confirmed, as he started to plot a course to the third planet in the system. ‘But one got away!’

‘Even though we got hit, you earned your pay today. Venture Out.’

Mac put a call through the ship communicator. ‘We’re going to supercruise.’

‘OK,’ came the reply from Davie.

Mac watched the clock tick down.

Travelling between the stars used to be a time-consuming process. Although Hyperspace had been available for hundreds of years which enabled a ship to flip between the stars of the galaxy in a relatively short space of time, once you had arrived in a new system, a ship would still have to fly the vast distances from their entry point to their destination. There are still vast distances involved. Ships would have to increase speed in real space and the voyage to any planet could take anything from days to weeks.

The newly introduced Frameshift drive had changed all that. It meant that there was almost instant transportation from one system to another and it allowed vessels to travel at multiple times the speed of light when traversing a star system, cutting down inflight time.

‘Jumping in…’ communications from the Venture interrupted Mac’s musings. ‘5, 4, 3, 2, 1…. Jump.’

Space around the two ships seemed to close into a narrow tunnel and both ships jumped forward, pushed forward by the Frameshift. Mac watched the speed counter increase at an alarming rate, clocking past the speed of light and steadily increasing. A small pinprick of light in the far distance soon grew into a massive blue gas giant and then quickly disappeared behind them.

A much smaller dot appeared on the scanner. The third planet, which the locals had called Perth, began to fill the viewport. About the size of earth, you could see the red of its surface through the occasional break in its cloud cover. The atmosphere had a slightly azure hew to it, the tell-tale sign of terraforming atmospheric conversion.

He pulled back on the throttle and the ship began to slow as the planet got closer. The holo display highlighted a point on the planet with an orange dot, the port of Murry. Both ships slowed and turned toward the orange marker and new information appeared on the hud as the sphere of the planet began to flatten out.

Mac could feel himself clench his teeth in anticipation. He was thrown forward in his seat as the ship hit the atmosphere. The shields began to glow red as the thickening air began to slow them down. Gripping the controls, he kept the ship steady while the Asp cut its way through the sky, leaving a trail of fire behind it.

For minutes, the Sanctimonious groaned and creaked while the buffeting threw him about in the flight chair, but as soon as noise had begun; it ended. The shields began to cool and Mac brought the ship back into line with the anaconda. The other ship’s shields were also fading from red as it also recovered from its plunge. The orange hud indicator guided them towards the small port.

Breaking through the cloud, the settlement of Murry came into view. Hundreds of small buildings, broken up with large Bio-domes, connected by tubes between them all. In turn, all dwarfed by the two massive pyramids which held the terraforming atmospheric converters. Ahead there were two landing pads, one large enough to take the Anaconda and a smaller one, next to a large tower. The two landing pads were joined together by metal gangways, joining the tower between them.

Being more than 2000 light-years from Sol, and formally called KOI-3663, the Phenol system would appear to be a typical developing settlement on the frontier. When the explorers came here seventy years ago, they made some significant discoveries. 6 planets orbiting around a young, bright ‘F’ class star, the second and third of which were in the ‘goldilocks zone’ where water could be found in liquid form.

Settlement wasn’t possible on the second planet, as it was a blue gas giant. Being several times the size of Jupiter, it dominated the inner system. However, the third planet was about the size of earth, had an atmosphere and detectible water. It had the potential for conversion into a habitable world, much like Mars had been terraformed in the last millennium.

Approximately, fifty years ago, a corporation decided to invest the time and money, to make Phenol 3 liveable. It set up the port, the atmospheric converters and the bio-domes to start the terraforming process. People came with it and the colony began to grow. However, something happened to the corporation and the supply ships stopped coming. The colonists had to fend for themselves, forgotten by the rest of human space, probably by a small error in an inventory ledger.

Against all the odds, the colony survived. Mostly because of its people who were independently minded, determined but, most of all, stubborn. Perth became a haven for those who didn’t want to be found. People who wanted a second chance or a clean slate. However, unlike so many other frontier worlds, it had remained a stable and civilised place. New arrivals were only judged on their actions, not on their history.

‘This is Clear Venture,’ Captain Titan’s voice came over the comlink. ‘I’ve disengaged the autopilot link, if you don’t mind I’d like to head in first, the hull needs serious attention.’

‘That’s fine.’ replied Mac. ‘I might catch you in the bar.’

‘Thanks, Mac you can keep that scooped cargo!’ The transmission was cut from the Anaconda.

That struck Mac as a little odd, like a little alarm bell going off in the back of his mind. He put it down to the fact that both ships had just scraped through their little skirmish. He watched the freighter as it lumbered towards the largest pad on the port. He knew the Anaconda’s cargo would be put to good use.

Hopefully, the huge amount of cargo the freighter carried might even be enough to finish enhancing the spaceport’s defences. The port had been attacked recently and needed to replace several anti-ship gun batteries.

‘Sanctimonious to Space Traffic Control,’ Mac said into the comms. ‘Request permission to dock.’

There was a burst of Static and then the reply ‘Sorry Sanctimonious. All pads are full.’

‘Acknowledged S.T.C.,’ Mac hid his disappointment from his voice.

He’d been looking forward to setting down after this long trip.

‘Any ETA when a Pad will come available?’

‘Negative Sactimonoius,’ came the reply. ‘We really need to get the Venture’s cargo off and processed.’

‘Things that bad?’

‘You could say that. Half the defence grid is down. We’ve got a lot of worried people here.’

‘Well, as long as those pirates don’t decide to make another run at you in the next couple of weeks’ Mac reassured the STC, ‘You’ll be fine.’

The STC voice was calm and friendly. ‘You know that and I know that but when the people get scared, so does the council. I’ll let you know when the other pad is free.’

‘Look forward to it.’ Mac replied and signed off.

There was a bleep from the internal ship communicator.

‘Erm. Mac?’ Davies voice sounded more nervous than usual.

Now What? Was Mac’s exasperated through.

‘I think you’d better come down here!’

*

Mac put the ship into park mode and stomped to the back access hatch, the magnetic boots clicking loudly in complaint. There was gravity, but it was better safe than sorry when walking around the ship. It took a couple of minutes to get down to the cargo bay where Davie was standing near one of the massive cargo canisters. He gestured for him to look inside.

Grabbing hold of the flashlight, Mac looked in. His stomach kicked and he felt a little bit of vomit in his mouth. He forced it back down his throat. Strapped into a high G chair was a body. He recovered his composure and shone the flashlight into the rest of the canister. Twenty seats in the canister, with a body in each. From the state of the bodies, they had died from the vacuum exposure when the canister had been blown into space.

‘Oh God,’ Mac gagged again.

‘Budget Transport?’ asked Davie.

‘Hell No! Even Ryanspace wouldn’t pack them in like this.’

‘Slaves then?’ Davie looked horrified.

Even the Empire didn’t treat their slaves like this. Mac noticed movement at the end of the canister. One of the figures had a Remlok mask on. He threw himself in and ran down to the masked figure. A girl, between eleven and twelve he reckoned. He quickly checked the mask. It was sealed around her face and it was operating correctly. He checked her vitals.

‘Davie!’ He yelled back. ‘We’ve got a live one.’

He unbuckled the seat and gently placing the girl over his shoulder, carried her back to canister opening. Davie took the girl into his arms while Mac clambered out.

‘Did you check the other containers?’ Mac asked.

‘Yeah.’ replied Davie, ‘All construction materials.’

Mac gestured back to the bridge. As they climbed back up, Mac’s mind raced with the possibilities. Were the pirates after the slaves? It would make more sense. Once they got to the bridge and Mac closed the door. It was then the little suspicion that was in the back of his head, flared into realisation.

‘Oh! You Fluxing Idiot!’ He cursed himself.

‘What?’ asked Davie.

‘That wasn’t Captain Titan I talked to,’ explained Mac. ‘That was one of the crew, probably your friend Deke.’

‘Deke?’ said Davie.

The two of them secured their guest in the spare seat next to the engineering station. Davie eased off the remlock mask and the girl, still unconscious, breathed easy.

‘He let us keep the cargo which should have been his. He was under contract to carry that cargo which means …’ Mac trailed off.

‘He shouldn’t have given it away.’ said Davie, nodding in understanding.

‘That the attack was aimed to remove us and then have the Anaconda ransom some cargo for safe passage,’ Mac continued.

‘And instead of canisters of metals, the anaconda would eject the slave canisters, which the pirates take away,’ finished Davie.

‘The Anaconda would crew claim on the insurance for the cargo lost due to piracy,’ Mac carried on.

‘And the pirates would have paid them to smuggle the slaves out here,’ continued Davie.

‘The pirates get the slaves. The anaconda crew pockets the extra cash. Win-win for everyone.’ Mac concluded.

‘Not really,’ observed Davie. ‘We’d be dead.’

‘If it wasn’t for the fact they sent incompetent pilots after us; it would have worked too.’

Sitting down in the pilot seat, Mac could feel the tightness in his chest as the anger began to take hold. He didn’t like being played. He didn’t like slavery. But most of all, he hated the way those poor people had died.

‘You’d better take your hands off the arm-rest,’ observed Davie. ‘It looks as if you’re going to rip them off.’

Mac hadn’t realised he was gripping the seat so tight. He held Davie’s look for a second and then leant forward and activated the communicator.

‘Sanctimonious to Murry Station.’ He called.

‘I’m sorry Sanctimonious.’ came the imitate reply, ‘But the pattern is still full.’

‘I’m not asking for docking clearance, put me through to Security.’

‘Oh! Sure…’ The Traffic controller was flustered by the request. ‘Patching you in now.’

There was a pause and click from the communicator.

‘This is Constable Greenhall here,’ came a new voice out of the speaker.

‘Constable, this Commander McTaggert of the Sanctimonious. I wish to report a smuggling operation.’

‘Really,’ The voice sounded bored and uninterested.

‘We’ve been escorting the Clean Venture, the Anaconda which has just docked. We were attacked by pirates and had to recover some cargo for the freighter when it was damaged.’

‘We know about the pirate gangs,’ the voice continued in a ‘heard it all before’ type of manner. ‘Chances are you scooped cargo from one of the pirates.’

‘Negative Constable,’ replied Mac, trying to control his anger. ‘The only cargo we scooped was from the Venture.’

Mac let himself take a breath.

‘It had slaves on board.’

There was an awkward pause and then the voice came back. ‘Had?’

‘The majority died on decompression,’ explained Mac, his voice quivering slightly. ‘We’ve got a single survivor but she’s yet to regain consciousness.’

‘I see,’ replied the constable

Even over the communicator, the shock was evident in his voice.

‘Hold your position while we investigate this.’

The speakers went dead.

‘Whoa! They don’t like the idea of slaves here,’ observed Davie.

‘Well, It’s on the list of their banned goods,’ Mac reasoned. ‘How’s our guest?’

‘I’ve checked over vitals.’ Said Davie. ‘She’s stable. She’ll be fine.’

She was a girl dressed in a plain white jumpsuit which complimented with her fair skin and platinum blonde hair. Thin but not malnourished, you could tell that she was tall for her age. She looked like an advert for Imperial Genetic manipulation and Mac briefly wondered what kind of life she would have destined for. Either groomed for the pleasure bars or left to rot in some sweatshop. He considered the fact that she might have been better off if she’d died with the others. That familiar knot of anger in his stomach came back. He understood how the constable felt.

Suddenly the comlink burst into life.

‘Greenhall to Sanctimonious,’ the voice was urgent and out of breath.

‘Go ahead Constable!’ replied Mac.

‘The Captain of the Clean Venture is dead. He was killed by his first mate who’s done a runner to his accomplices. They’d just finished transferring some containers to a waiting ship when we got there.’

‘Let me guess, a Cobra Mk III?’

‘How did you… never mind,’ continued the constable. ‘They’ve just ripped out the fuel lines here and should be launching now. I’ve put a bounty on them for ten grand. We’re tied down here. You up for it?’

‘With pleasure!’ snarled Mac. ‘Sanctimonious out.’

He nodded to Davie and they sat at their stations and strapped in. Mac aligned the ship with the smaller landing pad and opened the throttle. They were twenty seconds away from the port but it wouldn’t take that long for the Cobra to get clear enough to make the jump to hyperspace. A new blip appeared on the scanner as the opposing ship emerged from landing bay.

‘Attention STC,’ Mac called. ‘This is Sanctimonious, do we have permission to fire?’

‘Weapons Free Sanctimonious.’ came the reply. ‘Fry the Fluxer!’

Davie smiled, ‘You are such a stick in the mud with the rules y’know!’

‘Sod that,’ Mac replied, enjoying this feeling of righteous indignation. ‘I just didn’t need a fine on top of all this.’

He could see the Cobra, just the other side of the docking pad, which was burning bright orange as the split fuel ignited in the atmosphere. The Cobra knew it was hunted from the second it was clear of the docking pad. There was an exhaust flare as it lit it’s afterburners and immediately banked away from the Asp, powering for deep space.

Mac made a couple of small course adjustments to make sure Sanctimonious ploughed straight after it. The Cobra did not attempt to evade. The hairs on the back of Mac’s neck stood up as he realisation of his situation hit him and then he threw the Sanctimonious into a right role.

‘What the…’ cried Davie, obviously surprised by the manoeuvre.

A millisecond later the rear of the Cobra lit up with outgoing laser fire, narrowly missing the Asp. Mac let loose a couple of optimistic shots, getting in a couple of glancing blows. The Cobra’s shields flared violently in response.

‘Turrets?’ exclaimed Davie. ‘On that thing?’

Mac did a quick calculation in his head. He knew the power requirements and potential damage these weapons could do. He twitched the control column and Sanctimonious responded by barrel rolling, to keep the Cobra ahead of it. The enemy turrets spat fire again.

‘What’s it’s shield strength?’ Mac asked.

He saw Davie call up the detail scan on the control console.

‘Whoa!’ He sounded surprised. ‘I think that’s ship mostly taken up with shield upgrades.’

‘He’s just a tougher nut to crack than normal then.’ Mac said. ‘Put extra power into the weapons.’

Davie made the necessary adjustments while Mac lined the Asp up and fired. The Cobra did the same. The shields on both ships flared as the lasers lit up the sky above the Murry. The Sanctimonious’ stronger weapons were knocking down the other ships shields faster than the Cobra could maintain them.

‘Keep this up and we’ll have him in a couple of seconds.’ commented Davie.

The cobra pilot must have realised this as well, as he broke off the exchange to go full evasive. Mac grunted in irritation and pressed on in pursuit.

‘Mine!’ called Davie.

The cobra had dropped this small projectile right in front of them. Mac wrenched the flight controls, throwing the Asp into a desperate roll. It wasn’t enough. Sanctimonious was clipped by the explosion, throwing it into a spin while the Cobra powered away. Mac fought the controls to stabilise the spinning stars in front of them. He switching off the flight assist, manually firing the thrusters until the star-field returned to its steady pattern. He used the lateral thrusters to line up on the Cobra and shot again. The Cobra used the same trick with its lateral thrusters, jinking out of the way at the last second. Mac fired the boosters, bringing the Asp so close to the fleeing vessel it almost touched.

‘Energy Spike,’ Davie reported his voice a little high.

‘Mines?’

‘Hyperspace!’

‘Oh no, you don’t!’ Mac Snarled and fired the main beam lasers again.

‘Jump point forming.’

Mac ignored him while trying to pour more fire into the enemy ship. It was easy to make out the silhouette of the Cobra against the wormhole of hyperspace.

‘We’re going to get caught in the backwash.’ Davie’s voice had an edge of panic.

Mac ignored him, all he could see was this Cobra. His ship gave a violent shudder as the smaller ship disappeared in a flash of pseudo-motion.

‘Oh! Fluxstains!’ yelled Mac!

He quickly, altered the ships weapons configuration.

‘What are you doing?’ asked Davie.

‘Scanning his jump wake,’ replied Mac. ‘We’re not letting that toerag get away!’

Both men watched the hologram displaying the wake scanner’s progress as it slowly updated its findings.

‘C’mon, c’mon,’ Mac muttered, through gritted teeth.

Eventually, the display beeped and showed a system name.

‘Well, within jump range,’ reported Davie.

Mac selected the jump wake and engaged the hyperdrive. Outside, the familiar tube of hyperspace flashed past the cockpit viewport. The ship emerged back into real space, a huge alien sun filling the viewport. They could see the Cobra powering away from them. It had a good ten light second start on the Sanctimonious. There was a little voice in the back of Mac’s head, warning him that a good pilot is cold, calculating and doesn’t let his emotions rule him during a fight. He ignored it and pushed the throttle open to full. The whine of the engines increased to a roar as the supercruise mode of the frameshift moved to full power. It wouldn’t take long to catch up with the fleeing vessel.

‘Looks like he’s heading to the second planet in-system,’ reported Davie who’d been scanning since they’d arrived.

At this rate, Mac estimated there were only a few minutes before he’d be in range. It was then he realised how close the second planet was. The planet was about the size of venus, and similarly, covered in a murky yellow atmosphere.

‘Should have saved that last missile,’ Mac muttered to himself

‘Well, this system has got three planets.’ reported Davie, sounding relieved. ‘One of which is a gas giant.’

The Sanctimonious began to close. Even though they were close to the yellow planet, the Cobra showed no sign of slowing down. Mac knew the fight would become a lot more difficult when they hit atmosphere but he suspected that the enemy pilot knew that too. He quickly did the maths in his head and grimaced as he realised it wasn’t going to be possible to get in range in time.

Davie continued to work the navigation computer when Mac noticed the fuel gauge. There was only 20% left. He quickly scanned the cargo bay and found nothing there to refill the tanks with. It was just another extra annoyance to this situation. He could break off now and make it back to the star to refuel without a problem but the chances were the Cobra would escape.

‘Davie?’ asked Mac. ‘Fuel or fight?’

Davie looked over the readings and gave Mac a wink.

‘No Problem. Fry Him!’

‘It’s probably Deke!’

‘Don’t care,’ replied Davie. ‘He was good but He wasn’t that good.’

‘You do pick ‘em.’

‘At least I try to pick them!’

‘We’re about to hit the atmosphere and you’re having a go about THAT?’

If Davie had a reply it was lost as the ship vibrated loudly as it hit the upper atmosphere, dragging it out of Supercruise. The Cobra ahead glowed as its atmospheric shields absorbed the friction and energy of the descent. The Sanctimonious’ scanner reduced in range as the atmosphere began it interfere with it. Mac made a small course adjustment and Davie looked over quizzically at him. The projected course came nowhere near intercepting the Cobra. The Asp began to shake violently as it dived in at a steeper angle.

The Cobra held its course, not that it had any choice in the matter when performing re-entry. It plummeted through the thick clouds, leaving a trail of fire behind it and began to fire its braking thrusters in an attempt to slow itself. The enemy levelled out about 1km from the planet’s surface and began a slow turn, looking to evade its pursuer.

Mac lost sight of it as they flew into the think yellow cloud layer. The turbulence buffering the ship so hard, the seat belts dug painfully into his shoulders. He watched the scanner intently; there was no sign of the Cobra. He tried to place himself in the Cobra’s cockpit. What would he do if the situation was reversed? He reckoned there were three options, circle and hope to reengage, land and hide or try to escape.

He knew what he would do but this pilot would run at every opportunity. He pitched the ASP straight up, standing the ship on its engines. The cloud layer ripped apart as the Sanctimonious powered through and straight ahead was the Cobra, giving Mac the perfect shot.

The beam lasers roared, raking the Cobra’s underside, its shields flaring blue against the incoming fire and then they collapsed. Small explosions appeared where the hull was cut into by the unrelenting beams. The enemy vessel began to smoke and turned over into a lateral spin as if it had been thrown like a Frisbee. The gravity of the planet began to take hold of the damaged craft and it began to fall towards the planet.

Mac brought the Sanctimonious round to follow the ship down. The smoking Cobra tried to fire its thrusters in an attempt to regain control but they weren’t strong enough. It hit the ground and bounced like a skipping stone. It was airborne again for almost a kilometre. Wreckage falling off it as it went. Then, as it crashed back into the ground, it skidded on its belly for about five hundred metres.

As the Sanctimonious overflew the dead ship, cracks in the planet’s surface appeared. The surface gave way, swallowing the Cobra into the depths. There was silence on the bridge. Mac looked over at Davie, who grinned back at him like an idiot. Without speaking, they started the course corrections which would bring the Sanctimonious out of the atmosphere and on course back to the Star. The console in front of him pinged as an alert appeared on the console displays. It was a message from the Pilots Federation.

Commander McTaggert,

We have reviewed your latest kill and are pleased to inform you that your rating has been raised to Deadly. This is effective immediately.

Right on Commander


Mac read it twice, trying to take it in. He allowed himself a small smile at the sign-off. That had been the official sign-off line for centuries; it just sounded corny these days. Mac never thought that he’d rank the rank of Deadly. It was a rank to be respected and feared. Heck, he might even join Davie in the bar tonight. His train of thought was interrupted by a groan behind him.

‘Momma?’ the girl groaned, slowly coming around.

‘You’re going to be OK,’ said Davie, in a soothing voice.

She snapped awake, eyes wide and darting quickly from Davie to Mac and back again. She began to breathe hard and struggled against the restraints. Davie looked at Mac helplessly.

‘Where’s Momma?’ The girl shrieked. ‘Where’s Momma?’.

‘Please, We’ll try and find your momma,’ pleaded Mac. ‘Don’t panic!’
 
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