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Authors: Jamie McFarlane

Rookie Privateer

BOOK: Rookie Privateer
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ROOKIE PRIVATEER

JAMI
E
McFARLANE

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission.
The publication / use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages in a review.

 

Copyright © 201
4 Jamie McFarlane

All rights reserved.

 

 

 

DEDICATION

 

 

For my mother. A promise fulfilled.

 

 

 

TAG

 

 

Dock Control
, I said to the ship's always listening Artificial Intelligence (AI). A virtual, t-handled lever emerged from the translucent blue panel next to my left hand and I gave it a forward flick. A small chirp indicated the lever had reached its destination. Subtle vibrations reinforced the assumption that station clamps had released my ore sled, but a pulsing red triangle showed on the panel.

"Frak.”
I swiped my hand impatiently and waited. The panel continued to pulse red even after I felt the clamps re-engage.

Show failure
, I instructed tersely.

One of the two large vid screens in front of me displayed a single spindly leg of
the ore sled. A slight bow in the leg pulsed with a red outline indicating the point of failure. It was bent just enough to prevent the station's clamp from either releasing or re-engaging.

Vent atmo. Open cockpit
. The smudge of my irritated breath rapidly disappeared from the clear faceplate as the AI puffed dry air across it. I dismissed the display of the ore sled's leg with a sweep of my hand and the screens darkened.

Small plumes of expanding vapor billowed out of numerous ports below the cockpit. Once the plumes lost their intensity, a well hidden door levered up like a bat wing from the canopy. The minimal gravity of the station beckoned me slowly downward.
I fired the suit's arc-jets, and rushed toward the bent leg ten meters back. I communicated navigation commands to my AI through a nearly infinite series of micro-gestures. The AI, in turn, caused the bright blue cones of arc-jet propulsion to fire appropriately. My movements came easily, since I had been navigating an arc-jet suit since I could eat solid food. I took the skill for granted.

I pushed away from the sled to get a clean view of the problem leg. My AI projected a pulsing red outline directly onto the retina of my eye, highlighting the bend in the sled's leg. A quick inspection showed that the leg and the station's clamp had engaged in such a way that the simple linear movement of the clamp couldn't overcome.

The legs of the sled had an incredible amount of vertical strength but were spindly and prone to a bit of bowing when too much horizontal force occurred. My landing had probably been a little sloppy. It wasn't difficult to fix, so I strategically placed the top of my boot against the leg of the ore sled and fired the arc-jet in short, strong bursts from the heel. I felt a shudder through my gloves as the metallic alloys in the sled's leg slipped back into the correct position.

I pushed back a couple meters and called out,
Dock Control
. A familiar display lit up and I flicked a lever to release the clamps. This time the panel pulsed a pleasant green and I noticed with satisfaction that the clamps had indeed receded beneath the floor. The sled wasn't connected to anything now, but at least the low gravity of the station was sufficient to keep it in place.

From the corner of my eye, I caught the movement of a small runabout lifting off from the station about three hundred meters away. The craft belonged to Tabitha Masters and I chortled quietly at my good luck. There was no time to waste and I leaned over and engaged the arc-jets, quickly slithering to the front of the sled and into the cockpit.

Close cockpit. Engines online. Throttle control
, I spat, while scrambling to pull the restraining harness over my suit and get it buckled between my legs. Once the cockpit finished closing, atmosphere flooded the small cabin. My clear face plate retracted upward into the helmet when the pressure equalized and I worked my jaw, causing my ears to pop.

Craft tracking
. A new display popped up with flight controls and subtle icons next to the many different moving objects. It took me a moment to orient on Tabby. I jabbed my finger through her craft's floating icon and a green ring encircled the runabout. A reverse pinch motion caused the icon to enlarge many times, showing her craft’s attitude and bearing. Virtual arrows indicated velocity and acceleration relative to my own.

Without looking, I grabbed the flight joystick with my right hand and then with my left
, I jammed throttle controls forward. It didn't take much for the ore sled to break free of the refining station. Tabitha Master's runabout had a strong lead on me, so I pushed the sled's thrusters into the red.

Since I had a good idea where Tabby was headed, I knew better than to fly directly at her. She was much too crafty for that and her AI would warn her if it picked up on my approach.

I directed my sled toward the back side of one of the large asteroids between me and the colony's habitation complex. It was a little out of the way, but I would be out of Tabby's visual range and could accelerate hard without gaining unwanted attention. Rounding the asteroid, a new, small green oval appeared on the cockpit's canopy. I knew immediately whose small craft it was.

Open comm channel, Nick James
, I instructed.

Before I could say anything, the quick, high-pitched cadence of my best friend interrupted. “Burning it pretty hard, aren't you?”

“I'm on Tabby's six and I don't think she has me yet. I’m going for a point.”

Nick's only response was a sigh. I noticed with satisfaction, however, that
he had adjusted to fall in behind me. He might not approve, but would ride along just the same.

I rocked the sled back and forth, dodging rock outcroppings as I hugged the asteroid
, hiding me from my quarry. The thrusters of the sled weren't overly sensitive, so in order to achieve the complex maneuvers, I had to change the orientation of the arc-jets along the length of the sled by rotating the entire sled and firing the right jets at the right time. It was tremendously complicated, but I was born for this.

My sled cleared the asteroid and my heart hammered loudly in my ears when Tabby's sled slid into view. She was still on the same vector as when I lost visual on the other side of the asteroid. I pushed the sled even harder on an intercept course with the runabout. Warning chirps sounded in my ears as my AI anticipated a collision.

“Frak! Hoffen! Seriously?” Tabby's startled face appeared in the upper left corner of my display.

“Tag! Point Hoffen!” I yelled in victory.

My sled bumped the side of Tabby's runabout hard enough to jolt both of us, but I fired the bottom thrusters, causing me to roll away gently.

“Dumb ass!” Tabby exclaimed, struggling to level out her own flight. Then her craft rotated abruptly, pointing directly at me.

I chuckled into the comm and aimed my sled toward another large asteroid, roughly twenty seconds away on a hard burn. Tabby's runabout was quicker and she was a good pilot, but I had chosen this particular course because I knew the asteroid had a large hole running through its center. If I could keep her from tagging until we got there, I would lose her. It was risky, but it would be epic if I could pull it off.

Tabby's approach was hotter than I anticipated and her ship closed the distance quickly. Upon reaching the asteroid, I dropped in to hug the surface. Tabby closed to twenty-five meters, but I had made it to the asteroid and didn't think she would see this move coming.

At less than five meters away, she was triumphant. “I own you, punk!”

“Too late,” I said.

I pushed the joystick and throttle forward at the same time and then pulled the joystick back a second later, leaving the throttle wide open. The shoulder straps dug in as the pressure of my own momentum tried to eject me from the cockpit. The nose of the ore sled pitched about seventy-five degrees down, pointing into an opening in the asteroid. I was forcing the top thrusters wide open and they whined while pushing against the big rock opening. Without the rock wall to thrust against, I couldn't possibly have made the turn and I basked in the moment of my brilliant maneuver. My forward momentum bled off quickly and I shot into the tunnel. Even with the jets at 120% on the top, I was going to end up closer to the wall of the tunnel than I would like, but it was working just as I had pictured it in my mind.

A microsecond later I was jarred from my reverie by a three dimensional display of my ore sled jumping to the forefront of my display, bright flashing red on the bottom aft section of the hull. The intensity of the red indicated an imminent collision underneath the craft. It didn't make sense
. I had made it, what was the AI seeing?

The AI's prediction was spot on as the sled indeed crashed into the wall of the cavern. "Frak me!" was all I could grunt. The air pushed out of my lungs and I felt and heard the screeching crash of metal on metal behind me. The top side of the sled lit up in my visor's display as a dark crimson, yet nowhere near as bright as the aft collision.

Then I caught a glimpse of the aft camera's view. Another sled flew past the opening of the tunnel with its own nose starting to cartwheel away as it reacted to a collision. Tabby had run into the bottom of my sled, and in turn, caused my sled to careen into the cavern's wall. The all-seeing AI had put it together, but not in time to do anything but warn me.

"Jerk
bait! Point Masters," Tabby yelled.

I didn't have time to respond. A split second later the top side of my sled slammed into the tunnel wall, bringing my relative speed directly into line with the asteroid. The sled slid along for about two hundred meters while I worked frantically to stop its forward progress. If there was critical damage, I didn't want to shoot out the other side of the asteroid.

"Frak Tab, you could have killed him. What the frak!" Nick demanded.

I considered it a good sign that I could hear Nick's voice. I checked the visor's display for signs of atmo leaks in both the cockpit and my vac-suit. The cockpit's integrity was definitely blown. There was no remaining atmosphere in the sled, but my faceplate had slid down upon impact and my suit's readouts were all green.

"Frak off, Nick! How was I supposed to know he was gonna pull a jerkbait move." Tabitha’s voice was husky with adrenaline.

My sled slid slowly along the wall and rolled onto one side. Sliding my finger along an interior panel, I found the button to manually release the cockpit. The remaining puffs of compressed nitrogen and oxygen escaped through small ports below the transparent shield of the cockpit's canopy and expanded into the vacuum of space. I was grateful the cockpit door opened successfully.

"Liam, you okay?" Nick's voice cut through my concentration.

"Yeah. I think so, but I really messed up the sled. Dad's gonna be pissed."

The asteroid wasn't large enough to have noticeable gravity, so I didn't have any trouble pulling myself out of the cockpit. I oriented myself to inspect the topside of the sled. The cockpit was connected to a seven meter square hull that extended twenty meters back. Directional thrusters were just behind the cockpit, ten meters back and at the stern. A large matter reactor engine, located a few meters behind me, provided the massive thrust required to move the many tons of ore the sled was designed to haul.

Bright lights swept across the wrecked sled as Nick's smaller vehicle approached.

“How bad?” Nick's voice was noticeably less intense. He eased his craft into a position about twenty meters above the wreck, providing maximum light.

“Can't be good, it was a hard hit. The cockpit isn't holding atmo.”

Small puffs of vapor escaped as Nick depressurized the cabin of his passenger vehicle. Before he could exit, however, Tabitha's runabout pulled up to the crash site with lights blazing.

“K. Lemme look.” Thrusters on Nick's suit fired small blue cones and he zipped over to the wreck. A second, much taller shape, exited Nick's vehicle and the bright red hair of
his younger brother, Jack, showed through his visor.

Nick bumped my shoulder slightly with his own as he joined me in surveying the worst damage on top of the sled.

“You pretty much obliterated the top thrusters,” he said. Nick leaned in and pulled a couple of twisted panels off, laying them to the side. A couple of moments later he turned back to me, “I hate to say it, but you were doomed either way. These guys are burned through, how much matter did you run through them?”

“One sixty at the end
,” I said, as straight as I could manage.

“Whaa? That's crazy. You know that's a percent, right? As in one hundred is the max ... not just a number?” Nick's voice was calm and unperturbed. This wasn't
our first time through this conversation. “How did you get them to one sixty? I thought they cut out at one ten or so?”

Another figure stepped in front of the lights. Even after everything that had just happened, it was hard not to be distracted by the shape of my other best friend, Tabitha Masters. Over the last couple of years
, she had gone from being just another one of us to causing me a great deal of confusion.

She approached with a wide grin on her face. “I guess that's my point then
,” punctuating her words by slapping the top of my helmet, her body slowly rotating to vertically orient with my own.

The slap pulled me from the stupor she sometimes caused in me and the excitement of the moment returned, “Frak, you didn't have to wreck me.”

BOOK: Rookie Privateer
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