Somewhere deep beneath the velvety folds of sleep, a bell tolled steadily and softly. It chimed as a reminder of so many solar phases of training and conditioning. Each meal, each excercise, each drill was bent to the will of the rich vibrating tone. It was a constant reminder of duty and purpose, an irresistable command to grow, learn, and improve. A cadet became attuned to it, after several phases, he could hum along with the first chime at the exact instant of a new series, having known with innate surety the timing of the first stroke. The bell was a symbol of the old ways as well. No failure of any system, save the atmosphere could silence the bell from tolling through the smooth echo rich corridors, it reminded the crew of the navy they served and the traditions of excellence they bore as motivation.
The bell rang now as an alarm, it was not an appointed time for the bell, and it was not ignored. The pilot climbed out from her rack and hit the cool, dew moistened deck at a sprint. Without so much as a single jostle, the entire crew of the vessel surged to their individual positions with the studied precision of a crew drilled to perfection. The crew moved wordlessly, grim but confident. A general address sounded over the onboard communicator and with a subtle shudder the entire structure began to move faster. The pilot arrived at her designated port at the designated time. Her navi-gunner behind her almost heel to toe. The navi-gunner, or "chatter" was already connected to the network of communications that the chatters shared over a neural connection. Several leads extended from the base of his skull like a ponytail to be connected to the craft they shared. The briefing was going on electronically even as she slid down the pole toward the outer edge of the circular vessel. The chatter was listening in and vocalizing with other chatters in the distinct battle speech shorthand that they used. The pilot listened in to the portion of the conversation she could capture and understood the situation was not a drill.
They had been tracking reports of a rogue carrier for two weeks, and signals indicated that they may have found her. They arrived at their interceptor and boarded it back-to-back as the chatter continued to prattle on and receive intel. Video monitors sprang to life and systems checks began to scroll in the heads up display that occupied the pilot's entire field of vision. She took a moment to stabilize her thoughts and focus on the coming tasks. The mother craft continued to accelerate in its circular motion. The support crew was showing the strain on their faces from the increased "gravity" caused by the rotation as final preflight preparations were made to the Claw interceptor, and the armature moved it to launch position. When the deck cleared of all hands, the doors to the vacuum opened and the Claws extended to the outer edge of the vessel. Like a scallop, it opened along its edge, and each interceptor poked out of the rapidly rotating craft. The chatter paused his constant babble and thumped his helmet back into the shared headrest twice to signal launch readiness. He keyed the intercommunication button and gave the situation report.
"Confirmed contact with enemy carrier. No response yet to indicate they are aware of us. No electronic radiation to indicate communication. The identity of the vessel is still unknown. Orders are to recon in force and support strikers."
With that he returned to his network of chatters communicating flight patterns, order heirarchy, sensor
readings, and launch orders with curt two and three word statements.
Rotation was very near full velocity now. Facing outward, the pilot was pulled forward into the straps on her harness painfully as her weight multiplied several times against them. The order was approaching and the ship's rotation was coming around to the targeted launch path. The pilot tuned her thoughts to the chatter's babble as he started the countdown with comical speed.
The launch arm sprang open and the Claw was released into space. As soon as it was free of the main ship's body, the primary engine fired and doubled the interceptor's velocity. The force on the pilot reversed, pushing her deeply into her seat as acceleration reversed and fired the small craft toward the alien threat in the void. The pilot followed commands etched onto the viewscreen by the computer's interpretation of the rapid verbal commands of the chatters in her squadron. They quickly assembled and formed up to support the larger attack craft moving to threaten the looming rogue ship.
A single red orb glowed on the viewscreen and moved to the corner of her field of vision. Weapons systems had come online, and the squadron was in engagement mode.
"EC one-six-one EC, bear zero mark three-five-oh," declared the chatter flatly.
One hundred and sixty-one enemy craft had been detected, and the Claw was about to get bloodied.
In her filthy hold, the shaggy men of the barbarian horde ship readied for the assault. While attempting to launch their full complement of fighters to stave off the strike as long as possible, the engineers did their best to coax the aging engine into readiness for an emergency escape.
As a retrofitted heavy bulk freighter, the RedNorm was a sweaty and uncomfortable hulk. The heavy odor of unwashed bodies and the ozone of arc welders from the near constant repairs hung like curtains in the thin artificial atmosphere. Many hands were required to keep the centuries old ship from twisting itself apart under the strain of its reclaimed superlight drive system.
Drunken pirates scrambled about to don mismatched vacuum suits to begin the defense of the pirate ship. Her miles long cargo holds teemed with life and chaos. Pillaged booty, abandoned military hardware, and repurposed scientific equipment shared the space with the human cargo of enslaved crew members. The last of the mottled fleet of interceptors, yachts, tugs, and shuttles were powering up in an empty hold in the bow with gaping holes cut into the structure that allowed for immediate access to the vacuum.
On the patched and scarred surface of the ship, crewmen in magnetized boots manned defensive positions and loaded weapons won from generations of scavenging and raiding as the last of the crude fleet of defenders flew out to meet the attack from the HRMS Weasel.
Closing to within good kill range, the pilot of the lead Claw fighter identified particularly vulnerable targets with a series of facial gestures that the computer relayed to the chatter's viewscreen. The force arrayed against them was undeniably a pirate force, which many had suspected during the weeks' long hunt that led to this encounter.
"FS pack. Int and break. Pross PT," muttered the chatter. The pilot processed the statement without a moment’s contemplation. "Fast strike package. Intercept and breakthough. Proceed to primary target."
The flight of fifteen fighting Claws moved to carry out the command as it spread simultaneously through the group. The chatters all worked in harmony and set up the first weapon salvo of the engagement. Computers designated targets and the chatters massaged the controls to account for evasive enemy pilot maneuvers. Instantly, fifteen precise beams converged on three points on the lead pirate craft. Metals began to boil under the focused light and deep glowing furrows were burned into the enemy hulls. Forced to turn their craft to avoid full penetration, the pirates began a clumsy evasive maneuver. As ships turned aside, the Claws worked in harmony to blast other targets spreading the damage and confusion around. Still, the sheer numbers of clap trap warcraft allowed some to take cover behind others and respond with weapons fire of their own.
Several pirate craft were already decompressing brilliantly, spewing those who had abandoned their vacuum suits as dry misty powder into the void of open space. The spinning ships soon collided with each other allowing the rear elements to duck and hide behind their chaotic death throes.
The senior scavenger pilot, Big Red, was soon communicating with his weapon handlers over the radio. This engagement would be over far too soon, and the majority of his fleet of converted warships would be unable to protect his home ship without a change in the tide.
“These rodents are trying to push through us, lads. If you love the RedNorm or your own arses, you’ll have something to say about that,” he bellowed into his communicator.
He turned his tug toward one of his own foundering ships as the attack craft from the Weasel began to pass by it. Punching a console welded to the controls of his civilian craft, a small communications relay probe leapt out of its tube toward the doomed ship. Seconds later, its atomic reactor malfunctioned as planned utterly eradicating the rear of the crippled hulk taking its reactor with it. The resulting chain reaction created a sudden shocking burst of light and an expanding cloud of metal bulkheads that were rendered into superheated gas and expanded at deadly speed.
The lead Claw pilot noted the tactic with grim recognition. Two attack craft were swallowed in the deadly storm of radioactive devastation and added to the concussion, but the remainder of the element continued to scream away toward the RedNorm.
She keyed her communicator and a tiny click instantly silenced the chatters for her emergency interruption, “All craft proceed to primary target. I’m going after the manthing pirate.”
Her Claw came about instantly as she vectored her thrust for her hasty turnabout. Her chatter immediately processed the new tactical situation and designated targets in the clumsy cloud of pirates. As each target was designated, she processed them into her evasive dance, spiraling in and allowing the laser system to get long steady burns on the nearer ships, and then suddenly breaking to surprise more distant ships with a quick shot on exposed surfaces. As she closed in on the main body, the pirates got some of their more deadly weapons into the fight.
Manually focused lasers began to trace out toward her. Thin lines of deadly energy made visible by the fighter’s sophisticated visual enhancements were waving menacingly all about the Claw. She weaved and bobbed in closer as she tried to let the chatter do his work with the laser. As she got closer in to some of the larger ships, she could make out the hail of mass driver fire. The magnetically accelerated metallic slugs bored in as she curled away and over the lasers. Some nearer ships presented vulnerable areas to her own mass drivers, but she held her fire, hoping to conserve ammunition for her quarry. Deep inside the writhing ball of pirate craft, Big Red ducked behind comrades and casualties.
The chatter was able to pick out individual pirates, strapped to their weapon systems on the hulls of haulers and yachts. Even the briefest of moments under the focused energy of the ship’s laser systems was enough to spell instant death to the vulnerable pirate gunners. The dance got tighter, and the pilot was hard pressed to keep the lasers and streams of metallic shot from connecting. Many times she tricked gunners into lancing their own shipmates in their zeal. She squeezed off a pulse of mass driver toward Big Red’s cockpit, but only ripped a gaping hole in a freight container strapped to her bow for armor.
Additional data to follow: Recorded pirate data signals take over from here.