“According to sensors if we continue at this speed we should have no problems the rest of the way to Critainia,” Clarfax announced from his station. “We’ll dock at Critainian planetary space dock in 32 hours.”
“Good to hear,” Senia said as she flipped a few switches on her console. “Dropping the Nighthawk into autopilot.” Once the ship had taken over navigation, Senia sat back and stretched. “I jutht hope that thith new ship doethn’t make uth complathent at all.”
“That’s why I think we need to do our own drills,” Hardy spoke up. She’d been monitoring the hyper drive as they flew to their destination, and had no anomalies to report. “If we have the opportunity to test out the ‘Hawk’s capabilities, then we’ll keep ourselves sharp as well.”
“Um…” Clarfax said as he looked to his sensor screens. “We may have an opportunity, actually.” He began flipping switches and pressing commands into the computer as Senia and Hardy joined him at the station, watching the screens. “I’m reading weapons fire. One thousand kilometers aft.” He looked to Senia and Hardy. “Some of it is coming from the Pride, but there are other signatures. They are sporadic, but they also point to what we know about Jackai ships.”
Senia stood up straight as her ears lay back on her head. She looked out the window to the space in front of the Nighthawk, she knew a decision had to be made quickly. “Clarfax, contact the Critainian authoritieth and inform them we will be late. When you have confirmation they have the methage, take your thtationth in the other cockpit’th. We’ll theparate the Nighthawk and invethtigate and athitht in whatever way we can.”
Without another word, Hardy and Clarfax moved to their individual cockpits, closing off the outer hatches to the main control area. Senia moved to her own pilot’s seat and strapped in, receiving confirmation from both that they were preparing.
“Internal atmosphere is stable,” Clarfax reported.
“Engines are prepared for separation sequence,” Hardy called out over the comm.
“Keep communication channelth open,” Senia instructed them both as she prepped her own ship. “Clarfax, ath thoon ath we are within range of the Pride, contact them.”
“Understood,” he replied quickly.
“Beginning theparation on my mark,” Senia said as she flipped a few switches on her control panel. Red light indicators came to life, letting her know that Hardy and Clarfax were ready. “Mark, begin theparation.”
The ship shuddered and groaned as metal plating retracted. Indicators showed the progress and let each pilot know just how much fuel would be available for each ship. Communications went from wired comm devices to wireless frequencies. The engines of the secondary ships flashed for a moment, then powered up and matched the speed of the main fighter. Senia’s craft began retracting the wings, just as the other two fighters began extending their own wings.
“Perfect,” Senia said with a smile, then flipped a few switches to initiate the auto targeting system. “Clarfax, are we within range of the Pride?”
“Almost, Senia,” he replied quickly. “Another minute and we should have a comm lock.”
“Engines are working fine,” Hardy said over the comm. There was a smile in her voice, pride beaming through that the procedure worked flawlessly.
They could see the Pride in the distance, as a larger, much more menacing ship attacked it. In usual Jackai design, the ship was cobbled together from various other vessels. Hull plating from a Vulpine vessel, the hyper drive from an old Lionid cruiser, weapoins from a Pantheran destroyer. All of it acquired through means of scavenging. But most impressive was the piece of work the Jackai had done themselves. Reclamation arms at the front of the ship, making it look like some menacing spider hungry for prey. At the base of the arms there was a tractor beam device, which presently had the Pride locked on target.
On the bridge of the Pride, Urial and Nadia were working furiously to free their ship from the clutches of these predators. “Trying to scramble sensors,” Nadia reported as she worked tirelessly at a control console. “Not working.”
“Thrusters are down,” Urial roared as he slammed his fist onto the flat surface of his console. He could see out of the corner of his eye, his children huddled together next to Snowy’s console. He knew the Jackai would board the ship and take whatever they could. They’d have to hold here on the bridge and be prepared to fight hand to hand if need be. At least their passenger was helping to protect his children.
“We’re receiving a transmission,” Snowy called out as a photon blast rocked the vessel.
“The pirate wish to talk?” Urial snarled.
“No! It’s a Vulpine signature,” Snowy said as she looked back to Urial.
Both he and Nadia looked to Snowy for a moment before he spoke. “On speakers, quickly.”
“Lionid’th Pride, thith ith Left-tenant Felix. We thee your thituation and are on our way to athitht. Hold tight ath betht you can,” the transmission said, then began to repeat.
“We hear you, Lieutenant,” Urial said with a triumphant roar. “What is your plan?”
“We’re going to come up your belly,” Senia replied. “Uthe your hyper drive thignature to hide our approach. Our firtht target ith going to be that tractor beam.”
“Understood, Lieutenant,” Urial replied. “We’ll be waiting and ready.” He looked between Nadia and Snowy. “When they come around, give them as much support as you can. How many photons do we have left?”
“Ten,” Nadia reported as she gripped the edge of her console, trying to keep herself upright after another blast from the Jackai slammed into the ship.
“I picked up their signatures,” Snowy called out. “By the Great Mother,” she whispered. “The Nighthawk is three ships.” She looked to the view screen and watched the menacing ship and wondered if the Jackai would be prepared.
On board the bridge of the Pirate’s Victory, Silent Stalker watched with glee as the ship’s weapons did their damage. “Don’t focus on the cargo bays,” he informed his tactical officer. “I want what they’ve got. Just hit their weapons and propulsion.” He grabbed his chair as the Pride fired a volley back at the Jackai ship. “Oh oh!” Stalker laughed. “The pretty kitties are getting feisty! They want a fight, they’re gonna get one.” He turned his chair to his naviagtion officer. “Begin the reclamation, put the arms in place and lock the Pride in, we’ll tow it if we have.”
“Right away…” The navigation officer stopped mid sentence, causing Stalker to look at him directly, a look on his face as though he was filled with great disappointment. “Sir. I’m reading something. Something’s coming up hard and fast from underneath the Pride.”
In answer to the question not yet voiced, the Victory rocked violently as a volley of photon torpedoes slammed into the vessel. The bridge crew tumbled and scrambled as the ship was tossed about. The navigator scurried into his seat and checked his readings carefully. “Sir. The tractor beam has been disabled.”
“The pretty kitties couldn’t have done that,” Stalker howled. “They’ve got torpedoes ten years out dated.”
“It wasn’t the Pride, sir,” the officer reported, then hung onto his console as another attack rocked the vessel. “Three Vulpine attack fighters, coming in from starboard. I’ve never seen this class of Vulppie fighter before.”
“Great Wolf, blasted Vulpine,” Stalker growled. “There has to be a ship somewhere around here. Fighter craft can’t just appear without transport.”
“There isn’t one, sir,” the officer cried out. “Just the three fighters…” He was tossed from his console as a shower of sparks rained out from the work station and the bridge rocked violently. Another attack by the Vulpine. He managed to scramble to his feet, holding his now injured left arm by his side, and began checking his readings once more. “Sir, all six reclamation arms have been destroyed.”
Stalker looked out the view screen for a moment as the debris from the arms floated by, the Pride now free from their grasp. “Tactical!” he finally shouted. “Target the fighters.”
“Having trouble, sir,” the tactical officer reported. “They’re scrambling out sensor lock and playing havoc with our targeting systems.”
“Target them manually if you have,” Stalker shouted out with rage. “Don’t just sit there, do it!” He fell back into his seat as another volley hit the ship. Just how much damage were the doing.
“That’s the last of the reclamation arms,” Clarfax called out over the comm system as the fighters hugged the hull of the Pirate’s Victory.
“Good,” Senia quickly replied. “Hardy, begin a thtraffing run and take out their hyper drive. Leave them only with impulthe power. Clarfax, take the port thide and target their weaponth thythtemth. I’ll take thtarboard. Leave them in jutht enough of a piethe tho they can limp back to the Belt.” Senia gripped her controls as she heard the confirmation from both Hardy and Clarfax. The three fighters began to make their run.
Hardy dodged weapons fire easily as she neared the back of the ship, firing when she needed to and taking out lower weapons arrays. Both Senia and Clarfax made their respective runs, taking out weapons turrets as they went. The Pirate’s Victory was about to become a hollow one. An explosion rocked the larger vessel and Senia’s comm lit up. “Hyper drive destroyed,” Hardy called out. “Minimal damage to the ship’s hull, but she won’t be making any hyper jumps in the next little while.”
“Well done!” Senia called out. “Rendezvous with me back at the Pride. Clarfax, open a channel to the Jackai.”
“Channel open, Senia,” Clarfax replied.
“Jackai vethel,” Senia called out as soon as she was informed by her comm that connection had been made. “I urge you to retreat. Try to make it back to your hole in the Belt. We’ve already contacted Main Authority, who will undoubtedly contact a ship of the fleet. Maybe the Tritan or even the Thunderchild. Do not come into thith area of thpathe again.” She closed out the channel before receiving a reply, taking note that the Jackai ship was beginning to retreat slowly. The three fighters positioned themselves in a defensive pattern near the front of the Lionid’s Pride and watched as the Jackai began to shrink slowly from view.
“We have a small problem, Senia,” Hardy called out over the comm. “Fuel reserves are low. We’ll need to dock soon.”
“Maybe the commander of the Pride will help uth out,” Senia suggested. “Clarfax, open a channel to the Pride and then contact the Critainians again. We’ll be much more late than originally anticipated.”
“Aye, Senia,” Clarfax called out. “Urial is on the channel from the Pride.”
“Urial,” Senia said as she began to relax a bit now that the Jackai were gone from view. “Are you alright?”
“Yes, Lieutenant,” he said. “Thank you for your assistance. It was much appreciated. If there is anything we can do to repay you, just name it.”
“There might be thomething,” Senia said as she tapped in the order for the three fighters to regroup and reform into one ship. “We’re running low on fuel. Perhapth you could give uth tranthport to the Critainian ship yardth.”