11 Jan

Barnswallow

Ship's log, 21:10, 14 March 2214
Location: 3 light-minutes from Terra Sol, Home System
Status: Sublight transit

 

I’m flying towards the heart of an explosion, and I’d be lying if I said this wasn’t fun. The explosion is done now but its remains are still spreading out in a ragged halo, pinging in energetic arcs all around me. I’m ducking and weaving around the larger bits, pulling maneouvres that would be impossible in an atmosphere. This is the kind of flying that would make Danika grin into her flight mask. If I had my avatar out, I’d be grinning, too.

The SecOffs are manning my weaponry. Short-range lasers are taking out the smaller shards of exploded ship, clearing my path and protecting my hull. Rosie started swearing as soon as we hit the debris ring; Swann went pale and tight-jawed. He’s having trouble keeping up with my changing path, but my skin is clean so far.

There are two escape pods to pick up; they were caught up in the blast wave and overtaken by the shrapnel half an hour ago. I have them pinned in my nav panels, little red lights that blink insistently. One of them is damaged; its beacon is erratic and faltering. The other one seems fine so far, though with so much noise, I can’t get a clean reading on it.

I haven’t been able to raise either escape pod on comms. I’ve been transmitting to them constantly, in case they can still receive.

I’m coming. Hold on, whoever you are, I’m coming.

My crew are all suited up, ready for an emergency situation. Elliott is fidgeting, tugging at his collar seal as he stands just outside Cargo Bay 3. We might need him to crack the pods open, or make them safe if their power systems have been damaged. Next to him, Dr Socks is much calmer, though his pulse is elevated. He’s excited, watching the nav display of our journey through the blast wave with bright eyes. I don’t think he’s ever been in a situation like this before. Welcome to the Starwalker, doctor.

The science team is on mid-deck, suited up and doing their best to ignore what’s happening. Ebling seems irritated by the necessity of wearing a suit while he’s working. Safety protocols are so inconvenient until they’re vital. Cirilli and Lang Lang hardly seem to have noticed anything going on, though the navigator keeps checking on a sensor feed with a concerned expression.

There’s a similar feed up in Med Bay, for the only unsuited person aboard; the Lieutenant is in the safest part of the ship and keeps wincing as he watches my manoeuvres. I wonder if he’s remembering how hard they had to fight to catch me.

Almost to the first pod. My heavy drones are inside the cargo bay, mag-clamped to the walls and waiting to receive it. Both sets of airlock doors are open: they are a gaping hole in my side, exposing my innards to the vacuum. There’s no time for last-minute door-opening protocols and my inner cargo bay doors are keeping the rest of my pressure and atmosphere intact.

Just need to clear a few more shards… there, I see the pod. It’s badly damaged, scarred and scorched down one side. Integrity scans show that it could be undamaged on the inside, which means there could be people alive in there.

I flip over and adjust my angle, so that I can slide towards it sideways. My mag-clamps double as lassos in this situation, snagging the escape pod and drawing it into the waiting cargo bay.

There! It’s inside, buffered by the lassos. Wide Load has hold of it and is guiding it into a safer position at the rear of the cargo bay.

I can’t waste any time. Halt my skid with a twist of my wings and hammering thruster-blasts. Now I’m weaving again, ducking under a chunk of hull, swerving aside to avoid torn-off landing gear. Who knew that a little courier could make such a mess.

Just a few seconds out from the second pod. This one… oh no. Nonono.

 

STARRY: (shipwide) Rosie! Swann! Debris on a collision course to the second pod!

ROSIE: I see it! Oh, shit.

SWANN: Arming missiles.

ROSIE: It’s too close! You’ll take the pod out with the shrapnel.

CAMERON: Starry, how soon can you get there?

STARRY: Doing my best! Twelve seconds until contact. That piece is coming in too fast; mag repellors won’t stop it.

CAMERON: The mag lassos…

STARRY: Too slow! I’m gonna barn-swallow it. Swann, get ready with that missile. Rosie…

ROSIE: On lasers, got it.

SWANN: How the hell are we going to barn-swallow it? The angle’s all wrong, and…

ROSIE: (grinning hard) Watch and learn, newbie.

 

No room for mistakes. Barely room for me between all this debris, even with Rosie blasting it into tinier pieces for me.

The shard about to collide with the pod is big and fast; it’s a chunk of internal decking, with cabin walls chewed off on both sides. It’ll crush the pod like a tin can beneath an elephant’s foot in a stampede. I wouldn’t like to be hit by it either; it could easily cause a hull breach.

I’m coming in hot. There’s no room for mistakes; have to be precise.

My crystalline matrices are alive with calculations. Velocity, angle, thrust-to-mass ratios. Compensating for laser bursts. I’m coming, I’m coming.

Five, four…

 

Proximity warning
Collision imminent

 

Three…

 

STARRY: Swann, now!

SWANN: Missile away.

 

Two…

 

Proximity warning
Proximity warning
Proximity warning

 

I spin on a wingtip, twisting up and around. I’m a gymnast doing a one-handed cartwheel. My tail sweeps down in a perfect arc. The airlock is open and ready to scoop the escape pod out of the vacuum.

Got it! The swallow doesn’t dent my manoeuvre, doesn’t even touch my sides. Inside the cargo bay, my drones leap to work, catching the new pod before it collides with the other one. I slam the airlock doors shut and trust the inertial dampeners to protect them now.

I’m still cartwheeling, my nose spinning into the spot where the pod was, and where that big shard of decking is coming in. There’s no room to thrust away; I’m hemmed in by other debris. The only way out is down, where my momentum is taking me.

 

Proximity warning
Proximity warning
Collision imminent
Missile triggered
Detonation detected

 

The missile is early! Swann, that stupid bastard, he triggered it too early – it didn’t even reach the debris! I’m not clear yet.

The shockwave from the explosion is tipping me over backwards, towards the jagged nosecone of the courier ship. Roaring thrusters make my hull shiver, superheating themselves as they try to keep me on course. Almost there, almost clear enough to twist away. There’s no room here.

 

Proximity warning
Proximity warning
Collision imminent
Collision...
Alert cancelled

 

What? The decking should be piling into me, but… the missile. The blast was enough to knock it off course. Gave me time to slip my nose out of its path. The gap is still closing; the shard so close I can see my thruster flares reflecting off its surface. Another second and I’ll be clear. Just one more second…

There! I can spin and dart out from under the colliding shards, tuck my wings in close and dive for the edge of this debris field. Above and behind me, the chunk of decking is ploughing through the courier’s nosecone, crumpling it up like a paper cup.

We’re not free yet. Still a lot of clutter to avoid, and both Rosie and Swann are manning the lasers to try to keep it off my hull. The pieces of courier are bouncing off each other, and my simulators are scrambling to keep up with the permutations. Still, I’ve barely been touched yet.

Swann. Bastard could have told me what he was going to do. I’d be furious, but I think he just saved me from being peppered by shrapnel.

 

CAPTAIN: (from his position near Cargo Bay 3, watching the sensor feeds projected around him) Starry, report.

STARRY: (shipwide, voice only) Both escape pods collected, captain. Secured in Cargo Bay 3. Atmosphere is equalising now. I’m on my way out of the debris field.

CAPT: Any problems?

STARRY: (testily) Only SecOffs who don’t bother to tell me what they’re doing. Other than that, no, we’re good.

CAPT: How long until we’re clear?

STARRY: Another minute at most. I’m riding the shockwave out; we should be past the worst of it now.

CAPT: Let me know as soon as you reach clear space.

STARRY: Aye aye, captain.

 

ELLIOTT: (outside the cargo bay’s inner doors, watching the readouts of the situation) What’s your damage like?

STARRY: A few scratches in the paintwork; that’s all so far.

ELLIOTT: Good girl. Readings on the pods?

STARRY: I’m a little busy trying not to fly into anything right now. (She hesitates, checking.) No dangerous emissions or imminent explosions that I can tell. You should be good to enter the bay in a few seconds.

 

I won’t tell him about the strained thrusters just yet. It’s possible that my right wing is a little out of shape, too. He’ll find those out soon enough, and we’ve got plenty of parts to repair the damage. I’ll just let him stay focussed on the job at hand for now.

The atmosphere is equalised in the cargo bay now and the inner doors are opening. Elliott is the first one in there, his favourite scanner in his gloved hand. He’s checking for breaches and dangers to the ship, starting with the damaged pod.

So much to do; thank goodness I’m an AI with multitasking capabilities. Flying is taking most of my attention – I wasn’t lying to Elliott when I said that – but I can spare some processing power for important things. Like monitoring the pods.

Can’t see what’s inside of them. The beacons are still bleating and the plating on the pods is blocking any clear readings of life signs. That’s the radiation shielding; it’s supposed to do that. We’ll have to crack them open to see what’s inside.

Oh, shit. My escape corridor is closing. I can see clear space ahead of me but a fuel cell just collided with a chunk of hull and bounced into my path. This is going to be a squeeze.

 

SWANN: Oh, shit.

ROSIE: Don’t stop firing!

SWANN: Right, right. How the hell does she do that? That last shard should have…

ROSIE: She’s got a pilot’s brain in there.

STARRY: Best sticktwister in the galaxy. Swann! Get back on the missiles.

ROSIE: (grinning without taking her attention off the holographic projection of the debris field around her. Her hands are busy directing the lasers.) You really shouldn’t call pilots that, Starry. Sounds wrong coming from you.

SWANN: Missiles? What for?

STARRY: That trick you just dumped on me? I need you to do it again. Forward angle.

SWANN: (watching his display switch from a belly-down view to the forward angle, his eyes widen. The closing shards choking off their escape route is unmistakable.) Right, on it.

STARRY: (highlighting one of the shards for him) Try not to blow the fuel cell up, okay?

SWANN: (nodding shortly) Noted. Concussive blasts only.

 

He did it once; let’s see if he can do it again.

 

Proximity warning
Missile fired
Missile fired
Missile fired

 

In the cargo bay, Elliott is finishing up his scanning sweeps. The heavy drones are mirroring his movements, performing their own scans. Wide Load is exchanging a look with the engineer; they nod at each other and flip their respective scanners away. It seems that they’re satisfied that the pods probably aren’t going to kill us.

Cameron and the captain have come in now, with the doctor hovering near the inner doors. He’ll wait to be called in, in case some idiot causes trouble when the pods are opened. Best out of harm’s way. He’s jiggling about and leaning around the doorway to peer in, hoping for a glimpse of something exciting.

 

Missile triggered
Missile triggered
Missile triggered

 

The missiles are detonating! They’re a neat cannon rippling through the debris field ahead of me, pushing the pieces out of my path. The way starts to open, but the fuel cell is heading for a bump with something still sparking with power. That’s not a good sign.

No choice: punching to full sublight. It’s time I was out of this damn debris! The cannon has fired and I am the ball, shooting out of the opening while it’s still widening. I almost clip a wing on a floating airlock door, but I twist at the last nanosecond and I’m free! I’m out of the broken courier’s clutches.

 

STARRY: (shipwide) We are free of the debris field!

CAPT: (inside Cargo Bay 3, watching his chief engineer work) Set course for the nearest safe zone.

STARRY: Dark side of Venus it is.

ELLIOTT: (turns and gives the captain a thumbs-up) Pods are good to open.

CAPT: Brasco, Swann, get in here.

ROSIE: On our way, captain.

 

Venus will catch any of the remaining debris from the explosion, shielding us while we sort out our unexpected guests.

Rescue achieved. We have the escape pods on board and minimal damage.

That went well, even if I say so myself. I could get used to days like this.

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11 Responses to “Barnswallow”

  1. Blik Says:

    I love that Elliot acknowledges Starry with “Good girl.” That’s so cute to me!

    Problem: I don’t know what a barn-swallow manoeuver is.

    Larger problem: What does Starry look like? Pointed nose? Flat belly? Short or long wings? Do the wings adjust, as this post seems to indicate? Do we have any pics? All I can recall is she’s painted gold….

  2. mjkj Says:

    Wow, that was quite intense 😀

    Thank you for sharing 🙂

    I am glad they made it out and that Starry had fun…

    …she needed it 😀 *hugs Starry*

    mjkj

    .
    PS: Typos suspected: lassoos (several cases thereof) => lassos – or are lassoos a special type of lassos?

  3. Targetdrone Says:

    hehe.. finally some fun manouvering through an advanced obstacle course …. it was high time our girl was able to let out her wild side 😛 *hugs Starry*

    now to see what pops out of that pods :p

    oh, and if there’ll be artwork detailing stuff from the story, that would be highly appreciated, even though it isnt at all necessary 😛

  4. daymon34 Says:

    Well only a good scare for Swann, poor guy probably never had been on a ship even close to that level of speed or crazy flying. Then again having a true pilot for an AI isn’t on most ships either.

  5. daymon34 Says:

    Wow all caught up, darn it now I have to wait again…

  6. Melanie Says:

    Blik – ‘barn-swallow’ is a manoeuvre from the movie Serenity (I looked it up, and apparently they invented it for the movie). It’s basically scooping up a vehicle in flight with a bigger vehicle, rather like a big fish swallowing a little fish.

    I’m having some concept art done of Starry! I’ll hopefully be able to show you all soon. Pointed nose, yes; rounded middle; wings that fold and pivot; fins around her tail. And yes, gold-coloured paint. 😀

    mjkj – doh! That was a spelling failure on my part (I hate my spellchecker so much). Fixed now! (to ‘lassos’)

    Targetdrone – it is great fun when Starry gets to stretch her pilot’s legs, so to speak. 😀
    Artwork coming! Promise!

    daymon34 – heee, poor Swann. I enjoy how much Rosie was making fun of him.
    More next week! 😀

  7. Retsof Says:

    Starry, you’re awesome…

    Crap, I’ve been reading Mass Vexations, and now I’m imagining Starry and crew showing up there…

  8. Melanie Says:

    Heee, Retsof. With the attitude towards AI in the Mass Effect universe, I fear what they’d do to poor Starry! (I love the Mass Effect games; haven’t read Mass Vexations, though.)

  9. Retsof Says:

    Heh, well, with how Shepard tends to attract misfits, it think it’d get sorted out.
    And my mind went on another tangent. Since Starry should be technically immortal, I can see her becoming something of a legend. The “ghost ship” that swoops in, saves your butt, and swoops back out with out a word. (well, maybe she would ask for a spare drone or some fuel) May occasional pick up a “stray”… like the Doctor with his companions… Augh! and there’s another crossover! Dang my brain!

  10. mjkj Says:

    *lol*

    That would be great 😀 Ghost Starry to the rescue 😉

    It is great seeing how Starry is enjoying herself – even though all of that seems to be a big set-up to get her killed (if she were a human pilot she already would be hit…)

    But for now there are other things to worry…

    Well, what will happen next? Are they running directly into the pirates hiding place? What were those others doing so far away from the traffic lanes in the first place?

    I just hope that Starry will be fine and gets no scratches that prevent her from stepping…

    mjkj

  11. Blik Says:

    Thanks, Retsof. Now I feel even MORE like I need to go watch Dr. Who.