Friday, 14 September 2012


So here it is, an extract from the novel, taken from about a quarter of the way in. I think it's just about the finished article, but of course it may be revised as the story develops.
As I said before our hero and his ship are guarding a surveying expedition, and pirates have just been spotted.Now read on:-

Right now we had more important things to think of. The proximity alarm had sounded, we both ran to the control room. I settled into the pilot chair and took manual control. Elana took the second chair, and set up the weapons screens.

“Pirates,” She called, after a short pause, “three of them in speeders, there must be a mother ship around somewhere, they’re too small for interplanetary work”
I was pleased now that we had upgraded the ships systems, being an ex-Federation vessel it had been easy to refit all the things that had been removed when it was decommissioned. We were now more than a match for speeders, and they wouldn’t be expecting that.

“Warn the lifters”
“We can’t, they are in re-entry, we will have no contact for a couple of minutes,” replied Elana, her eyes focused on the screen, hands flying over the holopad, hovering in mid-air in front of her.
“Looks like there are two more, following them down, these three are going to try and keep us busy.”
I smiled, “Bet they don’t know about our extra toys”

“Well they’re about to find out, I’m locking on the nearest”, as she spoke there was a succession of bleeps, rising in pitch as the targeting computer worked out ranges and relative motion, whilst on the outside of the hull, our pulse cannon rotated and tracked the nearest speeder. The bleep became a steady note; “Locked on” said Elana, “OK " I said, grimly consious of the decision to end a life,  "let them know we mean business”, she nodded, “firing.”

A beam of deep blue light shot out from our cannon, converged on the leading speeder and flashed over the small hull. It glowed cherry red, and exploded. Instantly, the other two speeders broke off from us and headed into the moons shadow. They were running back to the mother ship. It would be much better defended, probably too much for us, and anyway I needed to protect the lifters.

 “Elana, get on the comm to Urssa, tell ‘em what’s goin on, I’m following the lifters down.” She swung her chair to the comm panel, fingers busy on the holopad.

“All done”, she called as we entered atmo, “they got a cruiser on the way, they said good luck and try to salvage what you can.”

Pirates were an occupational hazard, they wouldn’t try and shoot down the lifters, just capture them: people, samples or maps were good bargaining tools, ransom was easier than digging holes. They hadn’t reckoned on us being armed, and because of the re-entry blackout the two speeders heading down would not be aware of us yet.

“Can we jam the pirate’s comms? “
“Yes but we can’t be selective, so that will mean that we can’t talk to our lifters either.” There were advantages in keeping the mother ship out of the loop, and if the lifters were following orders they would eventually spot the speeders on their displays. If they then tried to speak to each other and got static they would guess that we were on the case. The miners had instruction in procedure for attack. They would try and land in cover, under cliffs or in valleys, go silent and listen out for the call from the victors. If they were caught, they were to be passive.

We came clear of the radio blackout and started jamming. The scanner picture was confused anyway, from the violent atmosphere, so we would not have been able to see the lifters until we got close. That meant that neither could the pirates. I made a decision:
“We’ll have to get below the cloud layer to get a visual on the speeders”.
“Then we can be seen”
“They won’t be looking behind them, they will think that their friends in orbit have us cornered, and even if they did, they can’t tell anyone”

I spotted the two speeders, heading fast and low to the ground. They were clearly in pursuit of our lifters, but we couldn’t see where they were in the atmospheric soup, visibility was patchy, and we kept losing sight of them. The scanner was useless in the charged air, lightening flashed repeatedly, and the smoke and flame from numerous volcanic vents filled the sky.

We gradually closed on the speeders and could see that they had split up and were trying to block the lifters escape, marshalling them toward a piece of flat ground. There was no cover for the lifters, and no way for them to break out of the view of the circling speeders. I reduced speed and hung off, in range but hiding in the clouds.
“What are they doing?”
“They will round them up and call the mother ship. It will clamp the pods on its hull, like we do for transport, then ransom the crews and equipment. The lift bodies will just get dumped or maybe raided for spares.”
“But the mother ship won’t be coming,”
“They don’t know that yet.”

As we closed the range, we saw the lifters land, on a flat plateau, one speeder touched down beside them, the other stayed hovering above, to prevent escape.
“Elana, can we hit either one?”  I needed to take out one speeder quickly, the one in the sky would be easiest, but I didn’t want to risk damage to the lifters. Added to this smoke from the volcanic eruptions was billowing around the plateau, obscuring our view of the scene below.
“No, they are too close to the lifters.” with the buffeting we were taking and the static interference from the storms the targeting couldn’t get a lock.

“How about if you take manual control of the cannon?” for all I knew she was a lousy shot, but based on the way she did everything else I was ready to give her the benefit of the doubt.
“If you can move it I might be able to risk a shot, but I don’t want it to fall on the lifters”, that would be ironic, but her comment had given me an idea. 
 “I’m going to try and push the hovering one away, keep it in your sight and wait for my signal.”

 I piled on the power and aimed for a spot just above the hovering speeder. The collision alarm sounded as the speed built up and I raised the nose slightly. The pilot of the speeder must have wondered, in his last seconds of life, what had hit him. I passed about a metre over his craft, and as I did, I hit the reburn. This caused a large displacement of atmosphere right where he was. The shockwave hit his craft and swung it sideways, clear of the lifters below. “Now”, I shouted and Elana fired, as I had suspected she wasn’t a bad shot, and hit one of the speeders stub wings, tearing it from the frame. The remains of the craft went into a spin and drove into the ground at high speed, well clear of the lifters, but close to the second speeder, showering it with wreckage as the remaining engine exploded.

 Elana cheered, “Stop the jamming” I said “and open the lifters frequency”,
“Lifter one” I called, “standby”
“What took you Dave” came the voice of Danja, the pilot on one
“Are you all OK and ready to fly?”
“Yes Dave we’re all fine here, I haven’t closed down, and the ground feels unstable”
“Nor me”, I recognised Olya, the pilot of lifter two; “we are ready also”.
Now I only had one enemy to deal with and they were on the ground and a sitting target.
“Calling the speeder, this is Urssa mining guard ship. Do not operate your craft”.

Silence, just the hiss of static, and the crackle of interference from the lightening.
I tried again, “Speeder, we will not hesitate to fire if you obstruct us, I turned the transmitter off, “Elana, keep your cannon on them”. I had been flying by instinct, keeping the sprite level and concentrating on the lifters, Elena’s voice made me glance sideways.
“Dave, you should see this, by the wreck”, I looked down, the crashed speeder had broken the thin crust of a magma vent, which was widening quickly, and molten rock was flowing slowly toward the three craft. It would reach the silent speeder first. Now we needed to get everyone out of there.

“Both Lifters take off now” I called, “and stay in formation with me. We’re not going into orbit until I check for the mother ship”. I was pleased to see them both leave the ground and hover, thrusters angling to hold position in the turbulent air. The magma was causing updrafts, and the speeder on the ground was tilting as the plateau collapsed.
“Speeder, take off now, I will not fire unless you make a hostile move”. But it didn’t. “Speeder, are you disabled?”

A small voice, seeming to come from miles away answered, “I have no computer controls, and my fuel lines are broken”. The speeder started sliding across the ground toward the open vent.

“Stand by”, I swung the ship around and triggered the belly cameras. Flipping switches I lowered the lift magnet and swung it to land on the speeders hull with a clang. Elana looked worried as the sprite tilted and the engine noise rose as I put the power on. Slowly we took the weight of the speeder. All the alarms were sounding as we inched into the air; the cable and the magnet were not designed for this sort of weight, but I just wanted to reduce the friction between the speeder and the surface. As I tilted the controls, the speeder stopped its slide toward the vent, and slowly started moving away, I was dragging it across the ground away from the vent and the spreading magma. I moved the speeder sideways to a piece of clear ground and lowered it.
“Speeder, you will be safe there until your mother ship can get you.” The comm crackled,
“They won’t bother with me, you should have left me there to die, I’m expendable to them.”  There was a calm resignation in the voice.  Elana and I exchanged a glance; surely the pirate’s wouldn’t just leave her there. And even if they would, I couldn’t. I pressed the transmit:
“Are you suited?”
“Well get out then, I’m coming back for you.” Elana shot me a look that said, are you crazy, well maybe I was, but I couldn’t leave them there, I know they had tried to kidnap my customers, but it was different to killing in the heat of the moment.

I hope you enjoyed that, and that it made sense. Any comments welcomed. (I have a thick skin)

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