Hidden 6 mos ago Post by BlondyMcHuggles
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BlondyMcHuggles The Prussian Blonde

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The snow crunched underneath the boots of a dozen men, walking as they sang. Singing is just about the only thing to distract them from the huge loads they carry on their backs and the cold that bites at them through their armour. The planet of La Messe wasn't always like this - it was originally a lush garden world if you can believe that. Now, half is frozen and the other half is molten rock and glass. A faint red glow creeps over the horizon, a tiny glimpse at the terrible suffering happening just beyond. Suffering which Elara is powerless to stop...

"Ellie." a voice came from around her, slightly drowned out but audible nevertheless. "You listening?"
Elara snapped back to reality and found herself sitting at a table in a small cafe. A small robot with a computer screen for a body hovered just to the side of her. The emote on its face showed some mild concern. "Elara apologises, Mister Peter! Mistress Elara was stuck in her daydreams again." Elara nodded. The robot had gotten good at speaking for her - something she couldn't do for herself anymore.
"Clearly." Peter said, totally deadpan. Peter was a fairly oldish man, being in his mid-fifties. He had a well-groomed beard and short grey hair, but he was still reasonably well-built despite his age. He served as the ship's executive officer, answering only to Captain Władysław Sobolewicz. Next to him were a few other crew members, mostly other officers.

"As I was saying, we are going to remain on this station for a few days while we have the ship restocked. So take the time to have a few nice meals with the money you've earned, or do whatever else strokes your fancy. I'll be in contact with all of you possibly tomorrow for when you need to report back to the ship. Understood?" He looked around the table, and was answered by nods or murmured agreement.

The pirates split up into small groups and went their separate ways - it was a habit the crew religiously followed, both for safety and for simple camaraderie. Elara joined the ship's quarermaster - a pale-skinned, pale-haired, wiry man named Anton. So unfortunately, this trip wasn't going to be for fun; the ship wasn't going to restock itself, after all.

The stations hallways, while wide, were still quite cramped - that was the price of having a station at a junction for interstellar trade. Elara was always uncomfortable being on stations like these - the busyness didn't exactly bother her, but the presence of aliens did. Unfortunately, there wasn't a lot she could do about it. Without getting arrested anyway.

It wasn't far to reach the depots but the crowded halls was certainly extending the journey.
"Ellie, what was it we needed for the med bay again?" Anton asked while weaving through the people in his way.
"We need another bed, mister Anton!" Elara's robot relied for her once again in its forever-cheerful tone. "And a cubicle curtain, as well as a heart-rate monitor, some IV bags, and needles plus-"
"Right." Anton said with a sigh. "Just send me the list." Elara quickly pulled out her phone and rapidly tapped the screen a few times; Anton's own phone pinged once she'd finished. "Thank you."

The rest of the trip passed in silence between the two pirates - it was practically impossible for Elara to have a conversation with anyone in an environment as crowded as the station. Many had trouble just reading sign language as is, and that was without having to look out for people they might bump into.

With luck, it wouldn't be a problem for much longer...
Hidden 6 mos ago 6 mos ago Post by Beany McBean
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Beany McBean An Insufferable Brit

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Mountbatten Sector, Battlefront Charlie, Albion
Imperial Standard Date: 21st December 3160

Space. Once a vast expanse of silent stillness, a cold, lightless sky that stretched further than any mind could truly comprehend, and played home to wonders scarcely imaginable. A quiet place. A peaceful place. Alas, such a tranquil state of being was seldom experienced any more, particularly along Albion’s frontier – it had not been for some centuries now. Instead, the fires of distant battles flashed and glared through the rent and riven steel of long-abandoned hulks, infested with scavengers, pirates, and a myriad other degenerates and miscreants. Space. An unceasing, uncaring battlefield. A place where human lives in their millions were dashed against the guns of the Zhi, and the relentless Zhi tide in their millions similarly met their end by the guns of Albion. Few survived for long out here. Fewer still returned with their sanity intact, unbroken by the horrors of endless war.

From amidst the shattered wreck of an ancient dreadnought, a small ship cautiously emerged. It was a distincly alien construct; built, in typical Zhi fashion, with scant regard for form or elegance and every accommodation given to ease of mass production. Little more than a steel pyramid, with an exposed thruster at the rear, a brace of lasers crudely riveted onto its hull nearer to its pointed tip, and a mass of pipes and radiator arrays snaking along its sloped sides, betraying the existence of more complex systems within the vessel. Corvettes like this were churned out in their thousands from Zhi industrial worlds, and they were utterly interminable in their raids on Albionic space. Cheap and largely ineffective, perhaps, but their virtue lay in their numbers - the Royal Navy could not be everywhere at once, and it only took a single ship to sneak past and wreak havoc. This ship, however, was not sneaking anywhere today. Cautious though it had been, it was not enough. As its thrusters burned and it shot out into open space, a second ship took note. It could not have been more different to the first. Sleek and streamlined, the long, dark vessel had the air of a predator about it, a bird of prey waiting to dive upon its hapless target. It turned, slowly, to point its slender bow in the direction of the Zhi corvette. In the light of a distant star, the White Ensign glinted upon its wings. An orange glow shone from its engines, accompanied with a low rumble that erupted into a roar as the HMS Bodkin leapt forth into the chase.

“We’re gaining, Cap’n!" A shout cut through the hectic noise of the warship's bridge as officers scrambled into action, manning their respective stations and making last-minute adjustments on their holographic displays, lights blinking all around them.

“Good. Keep us at full thrust and don’t let him out of our sight. Harris, can we get a torpedo lock?”

“Negative, Cap’n, the fucker’s all over the place. With all those wrecks in the way, we’d be lucky to get a laser on him.”

Luther Carrington grimaced, leaning forward at the bridge for a closer look. Hunting Zhi was never the easiest of tasks – they were slippery bastards at the best of times. Still, as a Knight of the Realm, a privateer ordained by His Majesty King Richard himself, it was his duty. He was not a man who shied away from duty. Luther stood straight. “Alright, bring us in closer and put a shot across his bow, as close as you can manage. How much time do we have before we’re into the Hengest Belt?”

“At full speed, maybe thirty seconds, Cap’n. Ready to fire on your command.”

The Captain nodded. “Do it.”

There was a thunderous crack and a blinding flash of light as one of the Bodkin’s cannons fired, sending a four-inch high-explosive shell hurtling in the direction of the enemy corvette. Passing a good distance ahead of the frantically weaving ship and slamming into the side of a rotting hulk, it detonated, the blast sending a spray of shrapnel streaking outwards in all directions. Sparks flew as the steel debris glanced off the Zhi vessel, sending it veering off course and buying its pursuer a valuable chance to gain ground. On the bridge of the Bodkin, Carrington’s grimace twitched ever so slightly towards a smile as his foe drew closer, the alien pilot struggling to stabilise his craft. Another shot rang out, but without warning the spinning corvette gained a burst of speed, rocketing towards the first of the giant asteroids that made up the Hengest Belt and leaving the second shell to explode far behind it. The hunter gave chase, always edging ever closer, but its prey slipped out of sight for a split-second behind a stony outcrop. That momentary lapse in line of sight was enough for the Zhi corvette to find a hiding place amongst the rock-strewn sea. The Albionic warship slowed as it too glided past the first asteroids, crew watching intently for a sign of their quarry. Scanners beeping furiously, it edged further in.

“Reckon we’ve passed him, Sir?” Came the voice of the ship’s Navigator, a balding, bespectacled man with beads of perspiration crawling down his glossy forehead.

“I wouldn’t count on it, Mr. Seward,” Luther replied. “He’s out there somewhere, keeping pace with us. These damned Zhi don’t give up easily.” He glared out into the black sky, twitching at every shifting shadow the cloud of rocks conjured up. A faint light flashed for a split second in the distance; the glow of a rocket. The alien pilot had put some considerable distance between himself and the Bodkin. Clearly, he thought he stood a decent chance of escaping this time. Carrington focused in on his foe like a hawk, eyes narrowed and unblinking. “Thrusters full and man the guns! We’ll sink this bastard yet!”

“Aye aye, Sir!” The response came back near-instantaneously from all corners of the bridge as the warship’s officers hurried to carry out their duties, asteroids shooting past as the vessel dodged and weaved after its foe, missing certain destruction by a hair’s breadth in its relentless pursuit. Shots rang out from the Bodkin’s smaller guns, probing for the possibility of a good hit. In return, a laser streaked past, slicing off a slab of rock that would certainly have torn a great gash through the chasing ship’s hull had it not rolled out of the way at the last millisecond. On the bridge, the single red blip on the scanner array was joined by a pair more, converging from behind. The first corvette had been bait. It was an ambush.

“Fuck!” The single, ugly word, spat from the Captain’s mouth, summed up the situation rather neatly. As the Bodkin continued to swerve wildly through the asteroid field, laser pulses from the two more Zhi corvettes that had joined the chase cut through space and bit into rock all around it, a seemingly never-ending barrage of light from the tips of their ghastly pyramid constructs. The distant ship had slowed, and now fired its own weapons backward. It would not be long before one of them scored a lucky hit, no matter how erratically Carrington’s vessel flew. The privateer swore again, glancing around with rapid urgency. “Give me the helm, now!” The flight console slid swiftly over to him on its ceiling track, and he grabbed it with both hands, furiously slamming buttons and levers. The main thrusters’ bright, fiery roar faded to a whisper as he cut power to them, diverting it instead to the smaller engines on the starboard side and throwing the ship into a wide lateral spin, muttering a frantic prayer that no obstacles lay in its path. “Harris, fire both torpedo tubes on my mark!” He yelled, straining against the controls as his vessel continued to spin. A second more, and it had come to face directly backwards, reverse thrusters now engaging to send it flying directly rearwards. “Fire!” Two blinding streaks of light burst forth from beneath the Bodkin, taking a winding path across the short distance to their target. But they did not strike the pursuing aliens. Instead, each torpedo lodged itself into the centre of the closest asteroid and erupted in an explosion of fire and stone blanketing the sky. The corvettes desperately threw their engines into reverse, hoping to avoid the wall of debris, but it was too late. Steel tore and screamed in a tortured cacophony of destruction as they were ripped apart, victims of their own momentum.

The Bodkin span deftly back around, powering up its great motors once more to resume its pursuit of the final foe. This time, the xeno wretch would not be so lucky. As the rocky labyrinth of the Hengest Belt gave way to open space, cannon and laser blazed at once, a torrential barrage of shot fired now with deadly precision. Something ignited within the Zhi ship. A spark became a fireball. A fireball became a surge of scorching energy. Victory, for now, wore the White Ensign.
Hidden 6 mos ago 6 mos ago Post by Beany McBean
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Beany McBean An Insufferable Brit

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Fort Elizabeth, Bakerloo Line, Albion
Imperial Standard Date: 22nd December 3160

The thud of heavy boots echoed rhythmically along the long corridor, three pairs marching in unison past oak-panelled walls and remarkably convincing imitation leaded windows. Outside, sharp neo-gothic spires and ornamented arches rose elegantly upwards, a shining beacon of the grandeur and splendour that was Albion; a nation’s spirit given form in stone and steel. Gangways jutted out from each tower and passageway, ships constantly coming and going, their business here kept short and sweet – the forts of the Line were places few wanted to reside for long, and most civilians who ventured here had far safer and more comfortable homes to return to elsewhere. Luther Carrington cared not. His own business here would take as long as required. It was of the very highest importance. Flanked by a pair of marines from the Bodkin, clad in black armour with pith helmets perched atop their heads and rifles slung across their backs, he strode on, determined and distinctly displeased. His advance drew concerned looks from passers-by, but still they stepped hurriedly out of his path and continued, timidly, with their own affairs. The corridor opened out into a grand lobby, with spiral stairways ascending towards a great glass dome that afforded a spectacular view of the vast expanse beyond. Carrington and his men took the stairs two at a time, at a jog, without pause to admire such distractions. Their steady march began again, and this time, the end was in sight.

The upper level, a circular mezzanine from which several more wide hallways fanned out up short staircases, was smaller than the first, yet lost none of its opulence. The floors resembled marble almost perfectly – although obviously, nobody would use real marble in a deep-space fortification – and Corinthian half-columns were set at regular intervals along the walls, interspersed by tall shelves filled with leather-bound books and records; the paper backup to the station’s electronic data network. Here, tall arched doorways were set back into the walls of each corridor, and inside each one, government and military officials were hard at work. Not hard enough, Luther reflected, as he pounded with a gloved fist on the very largest door. A voice from inside bade him enter.

“Alistair Garrick,” he growled, pacing through the doorway and towards the desk beyond, behind which sat a short, stocky man clad in ill-fitting Navy uniform, with a moustache that was embarrassingly sparse. “I would say it’s a pleasure, but we both know that would be a lie. Would you care to take a guess as to why I am here?” The officer remained silent, eyes betraying a creeping hint of unease. “No? Shall I enlighten you?”

“Has there been trouble with our supply convoys again, Captain?” Garrick ventured, uncertain. “An accounting discrepancy, maybe? I can assure you, we are working very hard to ensure this station is running in sterling order in spite of Commander Atwood's... unfortunate departure.”

Carrington snorted derisively. “Nothing so petty, Garrick. You know damn well I don’t give a shit about your accounts. Yesterday I had to shoot down not one but three Zhi warships that had made it past the line. Three. Past the sector this fort is supposed to monitor and patrol. Explain yourself.”

“Perhaps there was… a fault with our scanners? A glitch? Honestly, Captain, I don’t know how this could have happened!” The officer was speaking too quickly now, abandoning his futile attempt to retain his composure. “I’ll get it seen to right away!”

The privateer took a step closer, looming over the desk. “Don’t bullshit me, you snivelling little coward. Your scanners are working fine.” He gestured out of the window that overlooked the station’s main docking facilities. “Why are there no warships here, Garrick? Where is this station’s garrison fleet?”

“It must be out on patrol this very second, I can assure you!” Alistair responded unconvincingly. “It’ll be back in a matter of hours, I’m certain!”

“I will ask you one more time, before I take this issue directly to High Command. Where. Is. Your. Garrison. Fleet?!” Luther slammed his fist on the desk, hard, to punctuate his words.

The officer looked on the verge of tears. He sighed deeply, shaking his head. “I… I don’t rightly know, Captain. We’ve had no radio contact for four days now, and no sign of them on the scanners.”

“Who was in command?” The Captain snarled. “How many have you lost?”

“It… it was Commodore Whitlock and her 615th Squadron, Sir. The Illustrious, three frigates, two destroyers, and a fighter wing.”

"Where were they last spotted?"

"Near the Anson, Sir, the prison hulk... I think."

“And you have ships looking for them as we speak? Have the Anson staff been notified?”

Garrick hesitated. “N-no, Sir.”

Fury blazed in Carrington’s eyes, his knuckles grinding into the wood of the desk to avoid lashing out at the man before him, who stumbled backwards out of his seat and raised his hands instinctively in front of him. The two marines who had accompanied their Captain took a step forward, hands edging towards their weapons. Glancing back, Luther waved them down before they could go any further. Slowly, he rounded the table, Garrick backing away from him as he advanced. “Who is your second in command?” He asked in a hushed tone that barely concealed the rage that bubbled beneath his voice. The officer said nothing, bewildered. Luther repeated his question, every word dripping with venom.

“H-Harold Linsey, Sir.”

The privateer nodded. “I suggest that you find Mr. Linsey, and that you notify him that he is acting commander of this station from this moment forth. Is that clear?”

“I beg your pardon, Sir?”

“You heard me. The enemy managed to cross the Bakerloo line without resistance from your sector. Preventing that exact occurrence was your first and foremost duty. The fact that you have so utterly failed to carry out that duty suggests that you are an incompetent buffoon not fit to command a fucking scrap barge!” Carrington screamed, as the short man before him cowered. “You are a disgrace to your uniform, and a disgrace to the King! Now find Harold Linsey, and tell him that he is in command!” Garrick opened his mouth, but no sound came out. He shuffled back, stumbling on the carpet and landing flat on the floor. The Captain towered over him. “And once that is done, if you have any shred of dignity left in you, you will take your pistol and do the greatest service to His Divine Majesty’s Navy that you possibly could.” At that, he wheeled about and marched out, disgust written across his face.

The brisk walk back to the long pier where the Bodkin lay at anchor was uneventful. Nobody said a word. Nobody needed to. The grim expressions of Luther and his marines was enough to dissuade any attempt at conversation. Arriving at their moored vessel, the trio stepped inside the airlock as it slid open with a hiss, the Captain removing his glove to place his fingerprint against the identification scanner. It bleeped, flashed green for a moment, and the doors slowly began to close. A distant, muffled gunshot sounded, a split second before the airlock was sealed from the station beyond. Carrington shook his head solmenly, and climbed on board his ship. There was work to do.
Hidden 6 mos ago Post by LooseyGoosey
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The urban cascade of the Heishi palatial district sprawled for as far as the eye could see. The neatly organized blocks of luxurious housing blanketed the landscape, falling into the misty valley and rising again with the distant mountains. From where she stood opposite the windows of a splendid hillside estate, Zhao Zemin could gaze as far as the sun could reach. It was as if the whole district was laid at her feet. Here was the home of the titans of industry and politics that dominated the continent-spanning city of Heishi. Here was the playground of the powerful, guarded against the grinding sounds of industry and the constant cacophony of the slums. Here was the land of sheep, wealthy men with soft hands and weak stomachs. It was no wonder the triad thrived here.

“Could I get you something to eat or drink?” Zemin turned her attention away from the window, facing the source of the question instead. His name was Cutter - he was some sort of foreigner who had fled his homeworld and started a business in Heishi - built an empire from nothing but some borrowed money. Recently, that empire was rumoured to be declining. “My full staff has not arrived yet,” he continued. “But I’m sure we can make do. Lobster from one of my containments in the southern sea, perhaps? I’m assured they are completely protected from the regular oceanic acidity, grown in full from my personal stock of the finest genetic material.”

Zemin eyed him carefully. Cutter didn’t look broke - he was wearing an expensive evening robe in a house filled with expensive things. Still, Zhao Wu had decided those rumours about his faltering coffers were worth investigating. “Yeah,” she said. “One of those then. You have white liquor?”

“White liquor? Which kind would you prefer?”

“Kind?” Zemin frowned at him. “It tastes the same. Just get it.”

Cutter hesitated as if he was unsure of how to respond. Finally, he nodded. “Certainly. I’ll be back with those in a moment. Make yourself at home, and we’ll discuss business when I’ve relayed our conversation with the staff.” He patted the sides of his robe, smoothing it out before leaving. Zemin watched him walk out of the room. Once he was gone, her hand instinctively drifted towards her belt and she wrapped her metal fingers around the grip of a pistol. The handle hummed as the firing-lock was disabled by the familiar signature of her mechanical hand. She moved the side of her coat over the weapon, hiding it from sight once again.

“I have returned, and bearing gifts!” Cutter exclaimed as he reentered the room, followed by a platoon of smartly dressed servants carrying their platters of lobster. He gestured to the table on the other side of the room just as the servants brushed past her to set it. “I choose some imported vodka for you to drink, I’ve been told its one of the better brands. Haven’t tried it myself - too harsh.” He pulled out one chair and then sat down in another opposite it. “Please, sit down. You can tell me why you’re here and I will see what I can do to help.”

Zemin sat down and drew the glass of vodka towards her. She had no intention of drinking it, nor eating any of the food she had asked for, but it made the discussion seem more amiable. “I've been told that you borrowed a great sum of money from the triad a few years ago. Eleven-million cash, that's the number I was given." She raised her eyebrows, making a show of examining the various paintings and vases that were displayed around the dining room. "We want it back. I have come to collect, with interest." The staff still stood nearby, listening to the exchange with their hands stowed behind their backs. Zemin waved at them to gain their attention. "Do you people not understand this is a private discussion? Out, and lock the door behind you."

The servants glanced nervously from Zemin to Cutter. He swallowed hard, gesturing for them to obey the command with a flick of his wrist. The group seemed to stall for a moment, but after a few seconds of heavy silence they filed out of the dining room and closed the doors behind them. Cutter looked up from the table, his face now pale and flat. “I don’t understand.”

“What don’t you understand?”

“I thought the monetary issues that I had with your organization were already solved,” Cutter furrowed his brow, speaking with a note of genuine confusion in his voice. “The meeting your organization had with me last week, does that not stand anymore?”

Zemin narrowed her eyes. “What meeting?”

“I met with another Zhao representative last week. We discussed the monetary issues that you seem to be hung up on - he said that I would be exempt from payment as long as I consented to another meeting to iron out the finer details of our deal.” Cutter frowned. “Were you not made aware of this? Seems like an internal issue. I happen to own a small augmentation company that produces in communication implants, you know. Perhaps I could, erm, sponsor you.”

“No.”

“Well, I’m sure there is something else I could sell—“

“No, just be quiet for a minute.” Zemin scanned the room, searching for any slight disturbance. Did Zhao Wu really arrange another meeting and forget to tell her? Impossible - everything the leader of the triad did, he coordinated carefully. This had to be something else, a set-up. Zemin drew her gun, causing the man sitting across from her to shrink backward in his chair. "Who did you meet? What did he look like?"

"I didn't really think to make a note of his appearance!" Came the rapid response. "I suppose he was Tianxian, with augmentations and tattoos all over his body. If you put that gun away, maybe I'll be able to remember better without the fear of..."

His voice trailed away as the sounds of crashing pots and pans became audible from the other room. Muffled voices quickly spoke in hushed tones, and soon, the air was full of silence again. Cutter looked to Zemin, finally seeming to realize the situation that they were in. Before either of them could speak, a knock came from the door separating the dining area to the kitchen. "Mr. Cutter, you have a private call. Please come and take it."

Zemin silently rose from her seat and aimed her gun towards the doors where the voice had emanated from. With her free arm, she made ready to overturn the table to act as cover. It probably wouldn't do much if the killers waiting in the kitchen were carrying long guns, but it would put something between her and the bullets that were probably ready for her. Cutter watched as she steeled herself, his panic silently rising. Zemin pointed the gun at him. "Open that door, and then get out of the way."

He knew better than to protest. Rising from his own seat, Cutter padded across the floor and placed his hand on the door handle. He waited for a moment, breathing faster and faster as he readied himself. Just as he seemed to start turning the handle, a shotgun blast tore through the wooden door and blew an enormous hole in his midsection. Cutter crumpled to the floor, instantly killed. Zemin immediately pushed the table up, sending the platters of lobster and the vodka clattering across the marbled floor. The ruined door swung outward, kicked open by a mechanical leg. The perpetrator rushed through the breach, getting two more wild rounds fired before Zemin's pistol put a hole in his neck. He staggered backward, dropping his shotgun and falling into the two other hitmen that had been following his lead. Zemin fired several more bullets at the reeling attackers, mostly hitting the first gunner but scoring a few shots on his two followers.

The assailants quickly composed themselves, pushing the tattered corpse into the doorway and retreating to the kitchen. Zemin heard more than two voices as the killers reorganized themselves, swearing at their wounds and reloading their guns. Zemin did the same, taking the half-spent magazine from her pistol and replacing it with a fresh one. "Red Pole!" One of the attackers shouted from the kitchen. "There are six of us back here! If you surrender, we'll abide by gang law and take you for ransom."

Zemin didn't respond. They wanted her to speak so they could try to pinpoint where she was behind the table, and besides, they were lying. She instead kept her eyes focused on the doorway, waiting for any sign of movement. If they were smart, they were flanking her right now. That was worrying - this dining room was a fairly open space, and if these cutthroats really numbered six they could easily surround her.

Suddenly, a flash of metal sailed through the doorway and clattered across the stone floor. Grenade. Zemin curled inwards, trying to protect her vital organs with her metallic appendages. Every window in the room shattered as the grenade exploded, sending shrapnel in all directions. Zemin felt the blast violently push the table backward, but surprisingly, nothing seemed to make it through the hardwood top. She rose instantly, knowing that any delay would mean the hitmen would be able to enter and kill her while they thought she was disorientated. She surprised a gunman walking tentatively through the doorway with a bullet to the gut, killing him shortly after with a shot that cracked his head into several pieces. She moved forwards, leaving the safety of the table and advancing across the room with her weapon raised. She killed another attacker struggling to get through the door as he tripped over the bodies lying there. Picking up the body of one gangster and holding it in front of her, Zemin pushed through the door and caught the other three hitmen taking cover behind various appliances and features. They shot at her but they lacked accuracy due to the amount of smoke still lingering in the air. Zemin ran through her magazine as she fired at them, also inaccurate due to the hazy air. When it was all said and done, however, she had managed to catch all three of them - one fatally in the top of the head, two in the midsection.

Zemin dropped the torn body she had been using as a shield and let out an exhausted breath. The dead man's blood was mixed with her own - as her adrenaline faded, she realized she had been shot in the very left portion of her abdomen. Her arms were also riddled with damage, but there she felt no pain. Using one hand to keep pressure on her wound and the other to reload her empty gun, she approached the writing body of one of the hitmen. He was shirtless, which made it rather easy to make out the tattoos that streaked across both his implants and his skin. They were Kong 49s. She shot him in the head to finish him off, doing the same for the other gangster lingering to life at the other side of the kitchen.

Staggering out of the kitchen and into the blasted dining room, she struggled over to the overturned table and slid onto the floor, resting her back against the hardwood top. She could already hear the sirens in the distance - the military police were expected to actually arrive on the scene in the palatial district. They would find her, but the Zhao triad owned the police. Even if these MPs decided to be difficult, she would simply bribe them and be on her way. Zhao Wu needed to hear about this ambush, this declaration of war from the Kong triad. First, though, she should probably see a doctor.
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HMP Anson, Mountbatten Sector, Albion
Imperial Standard Date: 23rd December 3160

Anson control to incoming vessel, please identify yourself immediately. Repeat, identify yourself, incoming vessel.” The tinny voice crackled through the speakers on the bridge of the HMS Bodkin. A searchlight, dazzling in the darkness of space, swept across the deck, projected from some far watchtower. All around, gunboats circled, patrolling the skies with steadfast vigilance.

Luther Carrington tapped a button on his console and spoke. “Anson control, do you read me? This is Captain Sir Carrington of the Bodkin, requesting permission to put in and drop anchor.”

“Reading you loud and clear, Sir. You have the go-ahead to moor at pier 6-B. Repeat, 6 Bravo. God save the King.”

“God save the King!” Returning to the helm, Carrington took hold of the controls and slowly guided his warship in. Pier 6-B was at the far end of the prison docks, and the crew stood at the portholes to take in the impressive, if bleak, view. The Anson was a strange beast, a prison built in two halves. Originally, it was just the old dreadnought that listed to one side slightly, its innards gutted and its starboard broadside cannons removed to make space for hundreds of cramped, freezing cells for the very worst of Albion’s miscreants. Those of them who weren’t quite vile enough to face the gallows or a firing squad, at least. On the port side, the guns remained, bristling outwards in a formidable display of firepower, ready to be unleashed at a moment’s notice on attackers from outside, or any would-be escapees from within – not that there had been one of them for over twenty years. Since its establishment, the prison had had cause to grow, a considerable effort which involved hitching the lifeless hulk to a multitude of tugboats, and bringing it to rest about a hundred metres from the nearest asteroid. HMP Anson had quickly tripled in size since then, new cell blocks being painstakingly carved by the bloodied hands of hundreds of convicts, directly out of the solid rock. Watchtowers and gun emplacements jutted upwards from the surface, and a pair of cable cars linked the two halves, themselves watched with spotlights and cannons at all times. Its thrusters powering down, the Bodkin came to a gentle halt at its assigned mooring, docking tube protruding out from the pier to lock to that of the ship. A flash of green light signalled that an airtight seal had been formed, and Carrington prepared to disembark.

The atrium of the prison, repurposed from what once housed the engines of the Anson in its sailing days, was a cold, grey, cavernous space, dimly lit by fluorescent strips and with no thought given to decoration. It was fitting, then, that the governor, who shuffled impatiently as Luther emerged from the airlock, was similarly cold and grey, with grey hair, a grey overcoat, and two grey-clad guards who stood stock-still behind him. He took a step forward and stiffly extended a hand. Carrington shook it firmly, giving a polite smile in a vain attempt to lighten the mood. “Luther Carrington, at your service. I do not believe we’ve met…”

“Larkin.” The man replied bluntly. “Governor Larkin. And we have not.”

The Captain nodded. “Then it is a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Governor Larkin. If you wouldn’t mind, I have an enquiry to make; a lead I’m following up.”

“Then enquire and be done with it. I don’t have all day, Captain.”

“Very well,” Luther grumbled. Clearly, living in such a grim place had thoroughly stripped this Larkin fellow of any sense of hospitality or good manners he may once have had. “I am looking for a Commodore Verity Whitlock, captain of the HMS Illustrious. She and her squadron have not been heard from in some time, and this is apparently her last known location. You wouldn’t happen to have seen her, or know where she was heading, would you?”

The Governor grunted. “Whitlock… Whitlock… the redhead with a smug little grin glued to her face? Saw her, yes. Didn’t much care for her.”

Carrington barely managed to stop himself from letting out an exasperated sigh. “Smug grins and the absence of care aside, Governor, did she mention anything about where she might be going?”

“Don’t think so, Captain.” Larkin paused and scratched his chin. "No, I don't think I can remember that at all."

The sigh broke out. "Wait here." The privateer disappeared back into his ship for a minute, leaving the Governor with a thoroughly bemused look on his face. Still, he waited, eyes alternating between glancing at the airlock and checking his pocket watch. The door slid open again and Carrington re-emerged, with a large leather wallet and a bottle filled with a deep amber liquid tucked under his arm. He passed the bottle over, and peeled off a small bundle of banknotes from within the wallet. "Here. A small gift, to help you towards an early retirement and to make the nights pass a little easier until that day. Now, are you certain you don't remember anything?"

Something lit up in the Governor's eyes, and he nodded enthusiastically, snatching the bottle and cash with glee. “There was something after all! I was showing Whitlock around the place, at her insistence, and she had to take a call right while I was in the middle of a conversation with her – arrogant little tart that she was. Think she was chatting to a chap named Fleming, by the sound of it." He thought for a second. "Heard the name before, I think. He’s a Navy man, if my memory serves me correctly." He hesitated. "Don’t rightly know where you might find him though...” Luther tutted, sliding a few more notes from the wallet into his hand, and holding them out to the Governor. He grinned. "...although last I heard he was was serving at Fort Rhodes. Might be worth a look. Anyway, she hurried off right quick after that, and took her fleet with her, so that's all I know. Strange business, if you ask me."

Carrington nodded. "You've been a great help, Governor Larkin. Pleasure doing business with y-" A distant yet still deafening boom ripped through the air, the unmistakeable sound of an explosion deep within the heart of the prison. The privateer leapt into action, drawing a pair of heavy autorevolvers from within his coat and barking orders to the marines who raced off the Bodkin with their carbines raised. Whatever madness was happening now, his business here was not finished yet.
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Beany McBean An Insufferable Brit

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HMP Anson, Mountbatten Sector, Albion
Imperial Standard Date: 23rd December 3160

Carrington sprinted through the prison hulk’s narrow corridors, marines following close behind with weapons drawn and at the ready. Behind them, the Governor strained to keep up, a handful of guards accompanying him and watching the rear as they followed the source of the explosion. Past rows and rows of cells they ran, to the jeers and angry cries of inmates, rattling their bars and filling the air with a deafening metallic clatter. Up ahead, the sounds of fighting began to cut through the background din, shouts and gunshots and the sickening thuds of metal against flesh. Whatever had caused the explosion, it seemed it had provided a number of convicts with a chance to break free from the cramped confines of their cells and wreak vengeance upon those who had kept them there. A gunshot sounded closer by. Luther’s grip on his revolvers tightened as he drew nearer.

Without warning, a convict burst out of a side passageway, a gaunt, rat-like, wild-eyed man – opium-addled, most likely – with crude tattoos and a length of rusted metal pipe clutched in his grazed fists. With a maddened scream, he leapt at Carrington, who stumbled back a split-second before steel split the air in front of his face. Firing from the hip, he loosed two shots at the attacker, one tearing through his groin and the second, driven upwards by the weapon’s recoil, hitting him in the stomach. Aided by a swift kick, he collapsed onto the hard floor, whimpering in pain as blood slowly pooled around him. Luther and his men marched on past the miserable sight without pause. His suffering was deserved. Rounding a blood-spattered corner, the scene that unfolded before them was nothing short of utter chaos. A great scorch mark spread across the entire corridor, scraps and shards of twisted metal bent into deadly spikes. Empty cells gaped open, and chunks of flesh and bone lay scattered across the ground. Guards and prisoners slashed and shot and swung at each other, locked in a brutal melee for as far as the eye could see. By the looks of it, the prisoners were winning, the guards quickly falling back into another distant passageway. Carrington waved his marines forward. “Section, form up two ranks deep! Present arms!” The soldiers hurried into position, battle lines stretching across the corridor so that nothing could pass through. The Captain raised his revolver. “Front rank, fire!” A volley of shots ripped through the closest convicts, hypersonic metal slugs punching through their bodies and throwing them back across the ground. “Rear rank, fire!” The next gang of escapees fell. Wisps of smoke rose from red-hot barrels. “Fix bayonets and advance!” Luther continued to discharge his pistols, marching alongside the marines as they pressed on, rifles held out in front of them like deadly spears, prompting the remaining convicts to flee. The privateer glanced back. Governor Larkin was nowhere to be found – clearly, he had retreated to safety rather than join the fight. Carrington sneered in disgust. He abhorred cowardice.

As the marines strode forth, stepping over the mangled corpses of criminal and guard alike, their captain sheathed one of his revolvers – it was empty now anyway – and drew his sabre, a gleaming steel blade sharpened to a razor’s edge that sang as it slid from the scabbard. The last convict disappeared out of sight, and the party quickened their pace, hoping to catch up before more of the prison was overrun. More shots sounded, and as Carrington’s men charged into the next corridor they quickly discovered their source. A couple of the convicts had managed to get hold of shotguns, plucked from the bodies of unfortunate guards. With their newfound weapons, they were making worryingly short work of blasting open the locks on their fellow inmates’ cells, bolstering their numbers with every second that went by. Buckshot whizzed through the air as they turned their attention to the rapidly approaching marines, pellets denting their armour and grazing exposed skin. Still the soldiers kept up their advance, a bristling wall of steel bayonets poised to skewer any foe in their path. As the shotgunners retreated, sustaining their steady yet ineffective fire, criminals leapt from their now-open cells with whatever weapons they had at hand, crude shivs and metal bars clashing against rifles and bayonets. It was a futile effort. Blades flashed, sliding into flesh and emerging with a dripping scarlet coat. Luther swung his sabre, its edge biting through the throat of a murderous escapee and spraying blood across the narrow hallway. Hardened and violent these prisoners may have been; they were no match for resolute and disciplined soldiers of Albion, the mortal vessels of the divine King's unassailable might.

The persistent shower of buckshot ceased as two well-placed bullets from Carrington’s remaining revolver bored their way into the skulls of the pair of gun-toting inmates, cries of despair ringing out from within the cells they were attempting to blast open. Little by little, the groans and screams of the wounded and dying waned, the sounds of raging combat now gone altogether. The marines relaxed a little, lowering their wall of bayonets. It was a shock, then, when a head, notably without any connection to its owner’s neck, bounced out into the hallway. Rifles were raised once more.

“Wouldn’t shoot if I was you, ya cunts.” A grim, heavily accented voice declared. Its owner stepped out into full view of Luther and his marines. A mountain of a man, broad and heavily scarred, with several teeth missing and a brass ring hanging from a boxer’s ear. In front of him, with a serrated knife held firmly at his throat, stood Governor Larkin – ‘stood’ in the loosest sense of the term, as his legs looked like they had given way entirely, relying on his captor to keep him upright. A thin trickle of blood ran down his neck as the blade’s teeth broke his skin.

Luther stepped forward, holstering his revolver. “One miscreant with a knife, against twenty battle-hardened marines with EM rifles. Tell me, prisoner: how do you plan to emerge from this little altercation victorious?”

The big man looked puzzled, then angry, his grip tightening on his weapon. “Olta-cayshun what? You fuckin’ try shit and I’ll cut ‘im, clear?”

The privateer sighed. “Do you not teach your prisoners English, Governor Larkin?” A chuckle emerged from the rear rank of marines, swiftly suppressed. “Let us make a deal, prisoner. Single combat. You against I.”

“You want me to fight ya?” Surprise flickered across the convict’s face. “What do I get when I smash yer fuckin’ face in?”

“Your freedom, of course,” Carrington replied. “You may leave this place a free man – after all, if you win, clearly it is a sign that the King has granted you his favour. What do you say?”

The prisoner thought for a moment – clearly a challenge for him – and nodded, a sinister grin forming and revealing a mouth half-full of blackened, chipped teeth. “Alright mister fancy cunt, I’ll fight ya. Come on then!” Tossing the Governor aside and brandishing his vicious knife, he took a long step forward. Luther gave a nod. As one, twenty rifles blazed with furious fire, metal slugs tearing into the prisoner’s body and taking chunks of bone and gore with them as they left the other side. The knife fell to the floor, a second before the smouldering, half-disintegrated corpse of its owner did.

A few marines rushed forward to secure the Governor, dragging the whimpering, blood-spattered man back to safety and hauling him to his feet. “Wh… what happened? Is he d-dead?”

Carrington gestured to the mangled body down the corridor. “Truly, His Majesty works in mysterious ways.”

Larkin managed a pained half-smile, as multiple sets of footsteps drew closer and a squad of prison guards rounded the corner. “Indeed he does.” He stood, slowly regaining his composure, and looked around. “I’d say we probably have it under control from here. Thank you, Captain, and good luck with your hunt. I hope Fort Rhodes has answers for you.”
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Zemin trudged through the crowded streets, awash in the inescapable neon lights of the lower mining district. The sun barely reached the bottom of these slums, penetrating the smoke and the steam and the thousands of overhanging hovels only in small quantities. The district had once been a small mining community, complete with several enormous extraction platforms built to tear up massive swaths of the ground in search of valuable minerals. As the expansion of Heishi continued to sweep across the planet and envelop other cities, the mining community became one of the cheapest places to live, attracting millions of impoverished citizens to settle there. Slums began to spring up everywhere; on the decommissioned extraction platforms, on the polluted waterfront, and even in the deep canyons and shafts left abandoned by the fading mining industry. Informal expansion continued exponentially, bringing with it waves of crime and poverty that crippled whatever shred of official governance was present in the first place. The Heishi authorities - facing mounting military police casualties and skyrocketing levels of violence - declared the mining district closed to law enforcement of all kinds. That was when the triads took over.

The Zhao clan was the law in these subterranean alleyways and everyone knew it. The peasants, addicts, metal-freaks, organ-rippers, street-cleaners, poachers, and prostitutes all stepped back to make a path for Zemin, lowering their heads to acknowledge her as she passed. Respect was given to the triad before everything else, and in return, the triad kept the population in order and the district relatively peaceful.

The streets became more sparsely populated as she neared her destination. The crowds of rowdy civilians were long gone, replaced by patrolling groups of Zhao enforcers. This part of the district had once been a commercial block, but the triad had bought out every single shop and pushed all the owners out. Only one building still had the lights on now, the decrepit barracks that had housed military police in the days before the law withdrew to safer parts of Heishi. Zemin walked up to the entrance and pushed the door open, brushing past the guards that waited in the foyer. She made her way to the pub that had been attached to the left wing of the barracks, swinging through the gateways and finally coming to a stop in front of a table seated by six men.

The person sitting at the head of the table regarded her for a moment. He was an older man; completely bald and slender in figure. His brow moved downward in a way so that it seemed like he was always frowning. Unlike the others at the table, he was devoid of any implants or visible tattoos. The man gestured to a stack of chairs as the other gangsters made room for another seat at the table. “You met with the doctor?”

Zemin sat down and took a cigarette from one of the cases laid out on the table. “Fixed me up in less than an hour,” She replied. “No problems.”

“Good. You made sure civilians saw you on your way here?”

The assassin nodded, sparking a lighter and raising it to the edge of her cigarette. She looked upwards as she inhaled, examining her adoptive father’s expression. “I went through the open street, just like you asked me.”

Zhao Wu nodded. He looked as calm as ever. “Our appearance in these coming days should be one of uniform strength. We will target the most lucrative businesses of the Kong family; the drugs, the gambling, the prostitutes. We’ll disrupt their protection rackets and make sure people know that to side with them is to dance with a bullet. We’ve been through this before; it’s not pleasant, but we’re more than prepared.” The Dragon Head intertwined his fingers and laid them on the table. “Everyone needs to exercise caution - the attack on the foremost Red Pole is far from the end of their attempts to hit our higher organization.” He paused for a moment. “That’ll be all for now. Further orders will arrive by courier.” The underbosses stood immediately, murmuring in agreement with the triad leader as they collected their things and began to file out of the pub.

Zemin blew smoke towards the ceiling and put her cigarette out, rising to leave with the rest of the gangsters. Wu raised a hand and stopped her, pouring himself another glass of liquor as he waited for the underbosses to exit. “I need to talk to you,” he said. “Have something to drink.”

The Red Pole mumbled an okay, walking over to the bar and retrieving a box of filtered water. Anything that ran through the pipes in this ares of this city (or any area for that matter) was almost certainly filthy, so buying from private treatment plants was the only way to get the good stuff. She placed a straw in her carton and sat back down across from her father.

“This war isn’t going to be good for the triad. We have our hands in many of the same pots that the Kong do. Prolonged conflict is going to destroy a lot of infrastructure on both sides, it might even force the military police to get involved. The Yan officers that are being slowly transferred into the department are unlike anyone else we’ve worked with; full of spit and ideology. They refuse be bribed.” Zhao Wu sighed. He regarded his drink for a moment before pushing it away. “Things are changing against us. We need to end this conflict so we can focus on adjusting to the new era.”

“What do you want me to do?”

“I need you to eliminate the Kong family,” Wu replied. “All of them. Cut the head off the snake and all that. They have a great many 49ers, but none of them are particularly loyal or influential. You know what Kong is like, he keeps his power close. If we kill him - and all his children - his organization should fall apart.”

Zemin raised an eyebrow. “If it were only so easy, right? How am I supposed to kill the most protected man in the mining district?”

“I taught you to be resourceful, did I not? Those are my orders, and you will find a way to carry them out.”

The Red Pole nodded begrudgingly. It seemed the matter wasn’t up for discussion. “As you say. I’ll get some men on it as soon as possible, and then attend to the matter personally. It’ll get done.”

“Good. One more thing before you go,” The Dragon Head looked down at the table, suddenly overwhelmingly interested in the wooden grain. “My son… Your brother has gotten into trouble again. With this war now started, I need him back here for his own safety. As soon as possible.”

“Your son?” Zemin began to grind her teeth. Zhao Dun was the only true child that the Zhao boss had ever fathered, his own flesh and blood. He was also an idiot, and he did not get on well with his adoptive sister. “Where is he?”

“He’s using again. I caught him with enough product to kill a horse.” Wu sighed heavily. He was the most practical person that Zemin knew - if someone wasn’t pulling their weight, they were out or they were dead. Unfortunately, that all seemed to fall away when it came to his blood. Dun was an addict, everyone knew that, but he was still one of the most powerful men in the triad. “He escaped his room shortly after, disappeared in the slums.”

Zemin furrowed her brow. “And nobody has heard from him? Is there a chance that Kong hit him?”

“If there’s one thing my son excels at, it’s staying out of sight. Unless someone has combed through every wretched drug den in the district, I doubt he’s been found by anyone except his dealers.” Wu shook his dead. “Besides, the Kong triad would’ve already sent me his head if they had it.”

“So what do you want me to do? Comb through every wretched drug den in the district?”

The Dragon Head sighed again. That was answer enough.
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23 December 3160

"Adjust bearing to 3-2-0, 0-4-0, out." The flight controller sounded as though he had spoke such instructions a million times throughout his career. Maybe he was just bored. The fighter pilots followed their instructions and continued flying through the blackness of space. Distant stars filled the blackness around the craft like a Pointillist painting, each one holding a world of possibility and adventure.

Experienced pilots got used to it after a while and saw the stars not as beautiful beacons but just another part of life. Or as mere distractions.

The communications opened up again with a small crackle. "Target 13 hundred K out, over." his voice was muffled slightly, a consequence of the flight helmets the pilots wore.
Aya scanned the space in front of her and saw a slightly peanut-shaped dot; it was slightly dimmed out by the bright stars far, far behind them. "Uh... is it the port or starboard-side one, over?"
"We think port-side." another pilot replied, though he sounded unsure at best. "Wouldn't surprise me if it's wrong, frankly."

Aya replied with something resembling murmured agreement. The Republic's military intelligence agencies didn't care as much about pirates as they should, what with the war going on. On top of that, fewer and fewer ships were devoted to such anti-piracy missions with each passing week resulting in the Navy just barely able to maintain law and order.

Aya took a quick glance at the Ladar screen on her dashboard; there were three blips where there should be two - the pair of asteroids. What was the third one? "I'm getting three dots, probably an error. Are your screens working?" What followed was affirmatives from everyone else in the group.
"Thinkin' it's a ship." the flight leader said. He maintained his normally calm demeanour even after such an unexpected curveball. "I'll check back with the boat, wait a few. Out."

A moment passed when the comms crackled to life again. "Victorious thinks it's a captured merchant ship, but we're ordered to engage regardless; 1 through 7 will try to hit any fighters they might deploy while 8 through 1-5 hits their defences. Clear?"

The starfighters continued on their course - the appearance of a ship was an unfortunate complication that the fighters might not be able to deal with, but what else could be done? No other warships besides their carrier were in the area, and leaving the pirates alone certainly wasn't an option.

Chatter began to come through the squadron's communications as half a dozen torpedo bombers accelerated ahead - a salvo of small missiles shot out from their internal bays - defences on the asteroids opened fire immediately in a futile attempt at stopping the tidal wave of ordnance flying at them.

The defences were silenced in short order. Pirate fighter craft exited a small hangar inside one of the asteroids, but that this point it was far too late. The craft rapidly dispersed as cannonfire came at them; the 'merchant ship' emerged from its cover guns blazing, her point-defence cannons shredding a fighter to pieces.

The ship herself looked to be in rough shape, as though she had been caught in the middle of being stripped for parts. Still, her armaments were very much intact and posed a significant threat. Lasers and tracers illuminated the dark space as both sides did battle.

Aya felt her whole fighter vibrate for barely a second as she fired its cannon, sending glowing green tracers into an unlucky pirate's craft. She saw its cockpit module detach from the fuselage - the only safe way to eject from a burning starfighter in space.

She took quick glances at the pod as the battle progressed; it was unusual for pirate pilots to eject, mostly because they are guaranteed to be captured and tried. Still, in Aya's mind it had to be better than dying in a fireball.

The blinding flash from an enormous explosion grabbed her attention.

The pirate ship that had been hammering her squadron had a gaping hole where one of its main guns used to sit; a pair of her squadron's torpedo bombers emerged from the thick smoke coming from the ship, only to turn right back around for another pass.

A rapid burst from the surviving cannons quickly put a stop to that.

The pirate ship began to tilt downwards and to starboard, her thrusters pulsing as they began to die. The ship slowly became a victim of the relatively weak gravity of one of the asteroids, slipping closer and closer to the floating rock with each passing second. Still, at that rate it'd still take several hours for them to collide.

"I think I saw an open hangar on that ship," came the voice of her flight leader over the comms. "Port side, near the centre. Over."
Aya's eyes went back and forth times between the ship's port side and what was ahead of her. Eventually, she caught sight of the hanger - it certainly didn't have a large entrance, but it looked quite deep, going about half-way into the ship's innards. The cogs in Aya's head began to spin.

"Could we get a torp' in there? Uh, over." It sounded like a big ask, but she believed it to be the best shot the squadron had for taking the ship out permanently. After all, a massive explosion inside the ship would be a lot more destructive than one outside.

Aya could imagine seeing him shrug as he replied. "I mean, probably." A relatively tiny explosion in her peripheral vision interrupted the both of them for a second. "Let's get rid of these fighters that're left and we'll talk. Out."

She and the other fighters hunted down the pirates that remained for the next few minutes, often while dodging fire from the ship's surviving CIWS. Eventually, the space was totally cleared and the small hulks of destroyed fighter craft littered the space around her. Now, only the ship remained.

"Alright people," the squadron leader began, and immediately had everyone's attention. "Our surviving torpedo bombers are going to launch an attack on the open hangar bay on the ship's port side. The rest of us will fly in with them, keep their defences busy. Form up here and await instruction. Out." Once he came off the comms, a bright blue waypoint flashed in Aya's HMD, signifying the rally-point.

Once everyone was there, the comms flared up again. "Okay, the fighters are gonna go in first, get the attention of the defences. Fly as erratically as possible so you can't be tracked easily and just hold on until the bombers have made their run. Only engage the defences if you have to; I do not want more deaths than necessary. I hope I am clear. Out."

The fighters began their approach towards the ship, and red tracers immediately began flying from the ship's guns. The fire rate of those weapons was so great that the individual tracers were impossible to make out; they looked like fluid laser beams.

Aya and her comrades ducked and weaved through the lightshow, flying without any method or grace whatsoever. 'Still,' Aya thought, 'if it keeps us alive...' The torpedo bombers closed in at a rapid pace from another angle. Aya held her breath and prayed for them to get within range...

Aya heard nothing as the glass of her cockpit shattered - what little air there was got sucked out immediately, and Aya immediately found herself in a vacuum. Although she was magnetically attached to her seat, she still felt the pressure of the vacuum trying to suck her into the void. She actually considered herself lucky - she and others wore sealed flight suits for precisely this reason.

Her fighter shuddered violently as a few more bullets flew straight through the fuselage and one of the wings. She put her fighter into a series of wild twists and turns as red streaks shot right past her. It was much harder to control than before, almost as if the fighter was fighting her the whole way. Red warning lights flashed all over what was left of the cockpit and sirens blared. Not that she could actually hear them.

Now, her full attention was on flying and surviving. She never should have made the mistake of focusing on what the bombers were doing. A few seconds of radical manoeuvres came and went, as did another few... Then another.

And then... the tracers stopped. the guns that had been firing at them were silent. Aya looked back at the ship, almost totally enveloped in a massive ball of bright white and red light. The explosive glow slowly began to fade away, revealing the ship - more a floating corpse of metal at this point - torn completely in two. Both halves of the ship floated away in opposite directions.

Aya leaned back in her seat and put her hands over her face. Despite not being prepared to face down an actual ship, she and her squadron succeeded. Even with certain death just an inch from her face, she was happy. With luck, this dangerous surprise will prompt the intelligence services to once again keep an unblinking eye on piracy. She could only hope.
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