2948-11-03 - Tales from the Service: A Tight Spot Over Judicael

In this third installment of the tale submitted by Adana Beckett, we rejoin her four-mercenary prototype-weapon rescue team shortly after takeoff from Outpost Judicael in the last hours before Incarnation troops moved in.

In their attempt to save an expensive prototype weapon from being slagged or captured by the enemy, the quartet took off in a damaged Yeren strike gunship only to be pursued by Incarnation ground-attack aircraft. The matchup would have been favorable for a functioning Yeren, but Ms. Beckett had instructed her compatriots to remove all their guns. With unresponsive controls and no firepower, she still managed to evade these opportunists - if she were a Navy pilot, this would doubtless be behavior worthy of merit award. Though she freely admits to being only an acceptable pilot, Adana Beckett performed well under pressure - we can only hope Vardanian Security gives her more than bragging rights to compensate this action.

“Do you think they saw us take off?” 

Adana Beckett ignored Zdrakov’s inane question, knowing that it would be a miracle deserving of recognition by the Pope if the Nate aircraft hadn’t seen them.  

Had she not been so busy, she might have silenced the nervous chatter with an acid remark, but it was taking all of her concentration just to keep their ride in the air. Without aerial stabilizers, the Yeren gunship they had launched out of Outpost Judicael yawed fiercely as if it was a ground vehicle fishtailing on ice, and it was all she could do to keep it from entering a fatal flat spin. Adana had expected that flying the craft when even its own crew had found other transportation would be a challenge, but she hadn’t expected the vehicle to manifest a fresh determination to hurl itself in a random new direction every half-second. 

“They saw us.” Hierro, using the cameras of the craft’s two remote turrets, to keep track of the enemy intruders, answered his nervous compatriot in an equally uncertain tone of voice. Even though the inertial dampening system was keeping gee forces from crushing their bodies into gritty paste, everyone on the tiny flight deck could see how often ground and sky chased each other across and around the transparent canopy. “Two Nate birds headed our way.” 

“Sure would be great if this gunship was carrying guns.” Shepherd, whose disdain for the situation seemed to be deepening with every moment the Yeren remained airborne, remained clearly more angry than afraid. “But some idiot removed them before we took off.” 

Adana again had no time to reply to the remark, and the other two didn’t seem interested in tangling with the caustic infantry trooper. Strapped as he was in the munitions bay with the payload they were risking their lives to recover and disoriented by the dampeners, he couldn’t possibly see the drunken dance of the craft or realize that with such erratic flying, even fast-tracking turrets remotely operated from Hierro’s console couldn’t shoot accurately. She knew she had made the right call to order the guns pulled out, and Shepherd would just have to figure things out on his own. 

“Beckett, if they get those beams on us, the bad stabilizer will be the least of our problems.”  

“Kill the chatter, boys.” Adana snapped back. Hierro probably meant well by the reminder, but she knew the stakes well enough and had plenty to deal with. Under normal circumstances, the big, broad-winged Incarnation ground-attack aircraft would be prey for Confederated gunships, even Vardanian Security’s old Yerens, but they could see hers was badly wounded. Fortunately, she could outrun them as well, if she could manage to fly in a straight line for longer than two seconds at a time. 

In addition to the substantial collection of warning indicators related directly or indirectly to the stabilizer outage and the rushed removal of the weapon systems, Adana suddenly noticed a new blinking red light on her console. The wild maneuvers were threatening to overwhelm the inertial dampening system. Given that the Yeren was at that instant pulling thirteen gees and probably had been doing so erratically since takeoff, this did not surprise her. 

Fortunately, Adana was beginning to get a feel for the sorts of instability to expect out of the Hyadean strike rig without its stabilizer. It tended toward yaw wobbling and violent rolls, but its pitch seemed to remain rather stable and controllable, and with two big graviticthrusters, there was no lack of thrust. So far, she’d only managed the wobble by flying tight S-bend curves whenever it got bad, and had not gotten a handle on the roll, but she hadn’t plunged the Yeren into the craggy Causey terrain yet, and that might be enough control to outfly enemy rigs designed mainly to strafe ground forces and survive whatever those same forces threw back at them. 

“Hierro, query the Judicael datanets. Find if any of the auto-turrets are still online.” 

Though he didn’t acknowledge verbally, Hierro got to work – Adana saw the comms antenna come online and make contact withwhatever computer systems still lived at Judicael. The main nodes of the local datasphere had been slagged hours before, but there were probably enough secondary nodes still active to keep the network running in ad-hoc mode. 

As he worked, Adana managed to pull the controls until the craft leveled off into a wide, arcing turn back toward their point of origin. In the first minute of the flight, they had wandered more than sixty ground klicks in a direction generally away from her intended point of hard landing. Through the turn, the roll briefly halted, and the Yeren flew almost normally. 

“Whew!” Zdrakov, not used to combat flying, seemed to think the instability was solved. “Quite a ride, Beckett. Why don’t we get-” 

Hierro placed a waypoint over a likely cluster of auto-turret installations, and the marker appeared in the smart-display in front of Adana. “Hold on!” She wrenched the controls out of their temporarily stable state and the Yeren tumbled down toward the ground. Perhaps the reprieve had allowed the dampeners to cool off, perhaps not – given that the pursuing Nate aircraft had almost made good their interception, she didn’t have time to wait longer. 

“Those turrets are set to kill everything.” Hierro, his voice tense as the ground spun ever closer, seemed to be taking his mind off the possibility of a crash by considering the possibility of being shot down by friendly air defenses. “They won’t challenge our IFF.” 

“Good.” Adana did not elaborate. The spiraling dive had quickly passed beyond her control, and it was taking a worryingly long time to convince the gunship to level off. By the time she managed it, the turrets were coming up, and she didn’t have time to explain.  

More warning lights – these target-lock indicators – lit up the board. Despite the violence of her maneuvers, she noticed that at least one of the locks came from the Incarnation assault craft pursuing her, which she had hoped would not be able to keep up.  

The turrets and the pursuing aircraft opened fire at about the same time. Though the laser pulses which scattered in the Yeren’s shear-screen defenses and melted chunks of its armored hull were invisible and instantaneous, white-hot beams of light passed in the opposite direction with the vaguest sense of motion. These she knew to be railgun-fired projectiles moving at a not-inconsiderable fraction of the speed of light and superheating the air they pushed aside.  

As the turrets tracked the weaving, barely-controlled gunship across the sky, a few slugs began to shatter in the shear screens. As soon as she saw them, Adana let the Yeren have its head. The yaw wobble turned into a wild flat spin in the span of a second, and just as quickly, the two boomerang-shaped enemy aircraft appeared ahead of her. 

Before they could vanish once more, Adana firewalled the thruster controls and heaved against the controls to fight out of the spin. This time the dampeners really did fail, if only for an instant, and the Yeren’s aging frame groaned under the momentary load.  

Adana didn’t see the two aircraft flash past into the teeth of the turret cluster. She blacked out momentarily with the loss of the dampeners. When she came to a moment later, the only thing ahead was Margaux’s clear, slate-gray sky. 

“What in all creative hells did you just do up there?” 

Adana saw the drunken roll starting again just as Shepherd’s complaint reached her ringing ears, and grabbed the controls to fight it all over again.