"Our coreward thrusters are primed and ready, sir." A young Ensign put a white glove to his forehead in salute to his commanding officer "Shall we move to the next checkpoint?"
The Captain's face stayed static and still as he, quite literally, started into space beyond the command bridge of the massive cruiser. He stayed silent for several seconds, not reacting to his subordinate's query.
"One more area scan, Ensign." The Captain gruffly responded "And if we come up empty again, we'll fire the turbines and continue our patrol."
"Very good sir." the young officer saluted his superior once more as he turned to descend the stairway down from the helm. His dress shoes gently clicked on the grating as he walked past the long line of computer technicians. He stopped behind a decorated enlisted man who looked to be about twice his age and stood at attention.
"The Captain would like a final scan before we jump, Cheif Petty Officer." the Ensign nodded
"Of course, sir." He leaned foreward and initialized a series of scanners looking for electrical signals, thruster trace elements or any general movement. "Just drifting garbage, sir."
"Thank you. That is all." The Ensign returned to the bridge, where the Captain continued to stare out the foreward windows.
"Sir," the Ensign reported once more. "The relay officer reports nothing. Shall we power up rear thrusters?"
"There." The Captain pointed out a front window bordering the starboard side "What is that, Ensign?"
"Sir?" The young officer looked out the window, but saw nothing but stars and a planet in the distance. "I don't see anything."
"Look," He continued to point into the distance "You can barely see it by that cluster of stars, about 25 degrees starboard. What is that?"
"It..." The Ensign stared for a second, following the Captain's directions. Suddenly, a small, moderately colored object came into view from out of the corona of a star. "I... I don't know. I'm sure it's probably trash dumped from a frigate, sir."
"How confident are you in that assesment, Ensign?" The Captain's brow furrowed under his black officer's cap.
"Sir?" The Ensign grew nervous at the Captain's disagreement in his dismissal
"Run a bio-scan." The Captain seemed sure that whatever it was he saw was a ship.
"Right away sir." He scurried back down the bridge stairway, dabbing a bead of sweat on his sleeve, and traced back the path he had just taken, relieved that he had avoided being scolded by the Captain again.
"Cheif Petty Officer." The Ensign forced confidence and authority into his voice.
"Are we ready to power up the engines?"
"Run a bio-scan." The young officer snapped quickly
"A bio-scan?" the older man turned around, shuffling his headset "Are you sure? I was under the impression that command instructed us not to use..."
"Captain's orders." The Ensign continued to stare into the screen as he relayed orders "Just do it, already."
"Alright..." The relay officer initialized a red switch underneath a plastic case; the screen in front of him suddenly went dark crimson. He stared at it for a moment, nothing happening. Suddenly, a bright red glow began to appear in the upper right-hand corner: Small, but unmistakable.
"There," The Ensign touched the screen indignantly with a single outstretched finger "What in the depths of Niflheim is that?"
"I don't know, Sir." The older man said in an stern tone "Perhaps you should report it to the Captain."
"Indeed." he stood upright "As you were."
The Ensign began a grave march back up towards the bridge 'Shit,' he thought to himself 'This day just keeps getting better and better...'
"Well?" The Captain turned eagerly to the Ensign, awaiting his report
"Sir," The Ensign recited "The bio-scan detected a small... err, anomaly in the... eh, in the..."
"Dispatch a squadron of interceptors to it's location" The Captain turned back outward "I'll deal with your ineptitude later."
"Right away sir." The Ensign forced a note of urgency past the lump in his throat as he gave a sharp salute. He hurried back down the other side to the Communications Officer. He bit his lip sharply to avoid an unsightly display of emotion.
"Oh well," he muttered to himself "So much for making Junior Grade Lieutenant this year."
In the darkness, only breathing could be heard. Silence and stillness gripped the crew as they waited in fear and silence.
Well, with the exception of the new guy.
"So, explain to me again why we..."
"But I don't understand why..."
"You don't have to understand why. Now shush!"
Silence prevailed for a few seconds, but failed to carry much further than that.
"Why are all the goddamn systems powered down?" The high pitched voice spoke quickly to avoid interruption
"We're drifting because our engines leave trace elements that can be detected by Republic ships. Our internal systems are powered down because they emit electron particles that can be detected by Republic ships. We're sitting here in the dark in complete silence because your voice is so grating and fucking annoying that I'm sure it can be detected by Republic ships too. Now, shut your mouth, and keep it that way."
A short silence overtook the vessel once more, before a different voice spoke.
"Does anyone else feel light-headed?"
"Shit." the man who demanded silence spoke this time "They're doing a bio-scan."
"What?" the second voice answered him "I thought bio-scans weren't part of standard procedure!"
"So did I." the first man sounded distressed "Guess we need to read up on that. Let's do this."
The sound of switches began firing, followed shortly by cabin lights. As the navigation systems began to load, the pilot reached for the manual override, priming the engines before the navigation systems came online. He started resetting dials and sliders, the unkempt potentiometers hissing and clicking as he did.
"Man the turrets." The pilot stared down through a visor on his helmet at a control panel in front of him.
"What? Why?" one of the crew looked startled at these orders.
"Because we've got company." the pilot pointed to a green screen as he looked towards the back of the cockpit "4 One-man ships headed our way. Man the turrets and prepare for evasive maneuvers."
"We're going to fire on Republic ships?" the co-pilot looked worried "Have you lost your mind?"
"We're not going to fire on them, we're going to fire at them." the pilot caught his companion's disbelief as he turned to look at him "I find that pilots become a great deal less swift and capable when they're weaving through a barrage of covering fire."
"You have lost your mind." the copilot shook his head warily as he activated the rear gun turret and brought up the targeting reticule on the screen in front of him. As the small interceptors began to take shape, he began to carve circles around them with the rear turret.
"Just keep shooting." the pilot gripped the flight controls steadily "I have a plan."
"Kilo leader to white bishop," the pilot was clad in a dark blue and black flight suit "The target has opened fire. We are preparing to return fire."
"Roger that, Kilo leader." the crackling voice echoed through his helmet "Try and push them back towards the cruiser."
"Will do. Out." The pilot nodded quietly to himself. He began to flash some hand signals out the side of the cockpit, and the 4 small spacecraft broke formation. 2 broke left, and 1 broke right; the squad leader dove and set his thrusters to maximum, attempting to rocket underneath the enemy craft.
The main attack group forced the ship into a curve, giving the diversion enough clearance to open fire on the port side. The white bolts glinted only breifly as they rocketed into space, missing the small freighter narrowly. The squad leader found it strange that a cargo ship would have several gun turrets outfitted on it.
As the ship banked hard left, the squad leader skillfully followed him, steadily gaining ground; he was directly under the ship. He watched the avionics of the craft above him, anticipating it's next move: The starboard side began to gently sink, as it appeared to be attempting a slip in that direction. Just as the pilot turned further starboard and kicked his thrusters to maximum, rocketing off into space. In a blink, he saw the ship above him vanish... but something seemed wrong. It was off his short range radar entirely.
It had banked left again.
It wove upwards in a tight three-quarter helix that pointed it once more towards the planet below. The main attack group gunner was caught off-guard, and failed to turn in time, as his wingman plowed into him, tearing his airspoils from the fuselage, and decopmressing the cockpit. Neither pilot had time to deploy his ejection pod before their interceptors were turned inside-out.
In a single moment, the 4-man squadron was down to 2, jettisoning off in opposite directions.
"Kilo leader, this is white bishop. What is your status?" the point pilot stared in disbeleif as he circled around in pursuit "Kilo leader, this is white bishop. Do you copy?"
"Roger that." he nervously coughed into his reciever "We are down 2 men, but have regained sight of the hostile craft... Shall we pursue?"
"Shall we pursue?" came the reply. The Comms Officer waited nervously, both the Ensign and the Captain standing directly behind him.
"Sir?" he lowered his headseat as he looked up at the Captain.
"No," the Captain closed his eyes and shook his head in weary resignation "Those interceptors are short range. They'll never be able to down that thing in an atmospheric pursuit."
"No, Lieutenant." the Comms Officer parroted the Captain's dejected order "Return to the hangar bay immediately."
"Sir," the Ensign paused before he spoke again "Shall I dispatch long range fighters to pursue the craft?"
"No, Ensign." the Captain shook his head "We've lost too much ground as it is. Not worth the effort to pursue whoever that was. They've bested us, I suppose."
"You don't think they were terrorists do you?"
"I don't check under my bed every night for terrorists, like some people in this fleet." the Captain growled as he turned to walk up towards the bridge "I'm sure they were just smugglers. Those scum aren't worth our time and manpower to track down... The halls of Valhalla, what are we Law Enforcement now? Let them flee."
"Do you concur, Ensign?" the Captain looked menacingly into the Ensign's eyes
"They, err... Yes... Captain, sir." the Ensign sputtered nervously
"Good." the Captain looked down into the navigation trench "Then fire up the engines. We're running behind schedule."
The pilot took off his helmet as his ship hutled toward the planet below. A smug grin formed beneath the stubble on his chin at his masterful piloting skills. He let out a short sigh as his fingers ran through his feathered light-brown hair, airing out his scalp, now beaded with sweat from the helmet and intensity of the chase.
"We'll be on Midgard in about a half an hour." The pilot looked over at his companion "Be a sport and go draw up a list of our cargo for our client."
"When did I become your errand boy?" the young blonde man snorted indignantly as he rose to complete his task regardless.
"When I became captain of this ship, that's when." the pilot snapped back "And don't give me that 'I never voted for you for captain' bullshit, either."
"Why do I need to take inventory, anyway?"
"Because Baern likes to have a list of what he's getting... You know how he is." the pilot shrugged "And he's one of our higher paying patrons, so I'd rather not upset him."
"Oh you," he flipped his wrist sarcastically "Always willing to suck a customer's carbon rod for a few credits."
"If this was a military vessel, I could have you court marshalled for that."
"You? An Admiral?" the young man looked like he was going to follow the preceding statement up with something glib and biting, but he burst out into somewhat forced laughter as he turned and walked back towards the cargo hold.
"Ivan, you peice of shit!" the pilot shook his head and shouted back behind him "If you weren't my brother, I'd have cracked your skull into the bulkhead ages ago!"
"Get real, Darron." came the reply "Like that's ever stopped you before!"
"I could've joined the Navy and been a reputable starfighter, but noooo..." Darron sighed as he put his feet up next to the instrument panel. "...Not me..."