ECHO LANCE
By Dax
Chapter one - Enter Star Storm


 

Sylver-

It was still dark and I was sleeping peacefully when the alarm on my clock radio went off. I grumbled and reached for it only to find that it wasnít in itís usual spot. I had moved it the previous night so I actually had to get my lazy tail out of bed in order to shut it off. I sighed and rubbed my eyes as the clock beeped tirelessly at me. I finally managed to get to a sitting position on the edge of the bed. From there I was able to lean over and shut off the alarm. It was hard to resist the urge to lie back down, but I was in for a busy day.

After finally getting up I went to the kitchen in the next room of my small cabin. I managed to find some eggs and bread for my breakfast. After putting a frying pan on the stove and some bread next to the toaster I went to go freshen up a bit.

I helped my father build this cabin when I was about fifteen years old. When he died four years later he left it to me and Iíve lived here ever since. I had a lot of my dadís old things. They were very important to me, he was the greatest man I ever knew.

I stood in the bathroom for a moment reminiscing. Then my ears perked up as I caught the scent of something burning in the kitchen. I rushed out to turn the eggs over, then I put the bread in the toaster. I wasnít able to find anything to put on the toast aside from butter. I ended up with a meal of partially burnt eggs with bland toast and last bit of milk I had in the refrigerator.

I was interrupted when the unicom in my room started beeping. I switched it on and was immediately greeted by a cheerful voice.

"Morniní Ace," it was Lara, a red fox vixen and only female member of the law enforcement team I was a part of.

"Good morning," I replied, still a little groggy. Lara chuckled

"Did I wake you up sweetheart?" I hated being called Ďsweetheartí and I knew she did it just to bug me. I sighed,

"No, Just tell James Iíll be there soon."

"Okay then. Weíre meeting in the usual place"

"Gotcha," was all I said before shutting off the com and getting back to my breakfast.

The team Iím a part of is called Echo Lance. James is our captain and Iím the second in command. Weíre basically law enforcers for hire. An elite group that takes care of things that a planetís own law enforcement canít do on its own. Generally our targets are mercenaries and smugglers. Both have become less of a problem since the Federation got a better handle on things. This meant less work for us, but then again thatís not necessarily a bad thing.

It was around 7:30 when I was finally groomed, dressed and headed out the door. One of the thick pine forests of northern Alberta surrounded my cabin, the scent was wonderful. The morning was warm as it was June, the sun shone into the gravel clearing around my home. I wore my fatherís old Mountie style hat. I never went anywhere without it.

I kept a rather leisurely pace as I made my way over to the large garage next to my cabin. Most of the money I earned went into the vehicles that kept in there. As I walked in the side door of the garage I quickly looked over the one I had spent the most time on. It was a three-year-old, forest green Landrover Defender. Like itís somewhat ancient predecessors it had amazing off-road capabilities. Since buying the truck Iíd upgraded it into a competitive rally vehicle without reducing itís practical uses. However I had a different mode of transportation in mind for today.

I walked around the truck to an iridescent gray two-seater speed bike. In the summer this was my favorite way to get around. It was a fairly large but very powerful machine, and I was proud of it. I carefully placed my hat in a storage case on the back of the bike. I then got my leather riding jacket and helmet off the wall before opening the garage door. The helmet I had was an interesting shape as it designed to fit over my muzzle.

When I was done getting ready, I switched on the bike and slowly rolled it out into the gravel clearing. Like most other vehicles it was electric and glided along silently at low speeds. The garage door closed automatically as I headed down the winding path from my cabin to the highway.

I checked the clock on the bikeís display. I was a little late. Luckily for me I didnít have far to go to get to town. But more importantly the highway near my cabin is seldom used. This lets me have some fun without running into other drivers. After turning on to the highway I looked around to make sure no one was around. Then I disengaged autonomous control and accelerated hard. I held my body close to the bike to avoid getting thrown off by the sudden burst of speed. The bikeís tri-motor system gave a very distinctive whine at high RPMís. I loved it. Wind whipped over my body as the smooth lines of the bike cut through the air. The world around me started to blur as I continued to hold down the accelerator. These were the moments when I truly felt free from everything. Troubles and doubts couldnít catch up with me now. I finally looked down to see the speedometer creep steadily over 320kph. I eased off the accelerator as I saw the edge of the town coming up fast. I definitely wasnít late anymore.

The name of the town was Whiteriver. Itís where I was born and raised. It was a part of a group of towns in the northern-most parts of Alberta. Only furs, a little over a third of which were chakat families, populated the towns. No one really knew why this was, but we did get our fair share of human visitors in the summer.

Whiteriver was the kind of place where everybody knew everybody else. I got a few waves from people as I went through a residential area. I soon reached my destination, Roccoís Bar and Grill. I pulled in to the parking lot, shut off the bike and walked inside.

 

Everything was fairly quiet, the restaurant hadnít officially opened yet. A slightly aging black panther morph with flecks of gray in his fur wiped down the bar counter. Three fox morphs sat around a table at the back, idly chatting with one another. A huge powerfully built wolf wandered between the tables looking a little impatient.

"Why donít you have a seat Duncan?" asked the panther.

"Iíll be fine Rocco, I just hope Sylver is on time," the wolf replied with a slight Russian accent. Duncanís ears perked up as Sylver pushed open the door and walked in. Everyone got a good laugh when Sylver gave a surprised yelp as the door snapped shut quickly on his tail.

"I just got a stronger spring put in that door. It hasnít been broken in yet," chuckled Rocco.

"At least only your tail got caught in the door," grumbled a silvery coloured chakat as shi padded out of the kitchen. "I got stuck halfway through it."

"I bet that would have been interesting to see, eh Nigthwind?" Sylver chuckled as shi fwapped him in mock annoyance. Duncan then greeted him.

"Glad you made it, I thought you were going to be late."

"Iím never late," said Sylver as he smiled up at his best friend.

"Yeah, well weíve waited long enough for you anyway," called the smaller male fox.

"Aww Mark, who cares? Heís here now, so it doesnít matter," sighed Lara. The two wolves took their seats at the table,

"So, whatís up James," Sylver asked the silent fox. James sighed as he got out of his reclined position and leaned forward, resting his elbows on the table.

"Well, we just got a new job. A fairly big one," said James as he looked around at the others sitting at the table. "Chakona is our employer," he said flatly. Everyone at the table gave him skeptical looks.

"Youíre kidding right?" Lara finally asked. "Youíd be hard pressed to find a worse place to start large scale organized crime."

"Well someone is doing just that, and theyíre doing a damn good job too," said James as he leaned back again.

"So what are we dealing with anyway?" asked Sylver.

"Pirates," James replied. This information only succeeded in confusing everyone further. Pirates were very uncommon, especially within the federate systems. Maintaining ships was difficult for small groups, and the payoff was seldom worth the trouble. Sylver sighed and scratched his head,

"So, what are we supposed to do about them?"

"Find them," James replied. "Chakona law enforcement has given us their best guesses as to where they might be holding out. Weíll check these locations and hopefully knock them out before they can make another hit. Mark looked at the different systems that they had been given to investigate.

"All these places are almost three days travel apart. On top of that they're only a hunch. We could spend weeks out there for nothing," protested Mark.

"Well thatís just too bad," James grinned. "Whatís been going on has Chakona officials worried, and they want us ASAP."

"What are they so worried about?" asked Duncan.

"Whatís been stolen. It was pretty standard at first, just some supply ships with fuel and such. Recently however, some of the ships being attacked were carrying weapons, heavy weapons."

"How heavy are we talking about?" Sylver became interested. Lara looked up from the reports she had in front of her,

"Naval class from the looks of it. Seems like theyíre trying to arm ships." These were starting to sound more like terrorists instead of pirates. James then started to hand out mission profile documents as he continued.

"The pirates call themselves ĎStar Stormí. The reason Chakona hired us and not some other system is because only ships going to or coming from Chakona have been hit. No one really has an explanation for this either, but weíve only been hired to solve the problem, not find out why itís happening."

"This is all well and good," said Lara "but why did you want us to pack for a long trip?" James smiled a little,

"As Mark pointed out, thereís a good three days travel between some destinations. Unless we get lucky, this is going to be a very long mission." The crew gave something of a collective groan. They all knew many boring days were ahead. With that the briefing was over. Sylver and Duncan left to get ready for departure the next day.

The teamís flagship, the Echo Eagle, was docked at the spaceport that served the surrounding three towns. The Eagle was an aging D-601 drop ship that had been heavily modified. It was more than capable of holding its own in a fight with slightly newer models. However it was difficult to repair as a good number of the components nowhere near the stock configuration.

It was a little before noon when Sylver pulled into the spaceport. His truck had a considerable amount of luggage in the back. Half of it was equipment though. Sylver wasnít one to pack very much, even for a long trip. Duncan arrived a few minutes later, grumbling slightly about how small his vehicle was as he climbed out. There really wasnít anything wrong with the PTV. It was the same size as most others. It was simply the fact that Duncan stood head and shoulders above most people that made it a problem. The two of them hauled their bags to the cargo holds loading ramp.

"Hey down there," called a voice from the port side cargo bay door. The two wolves looked up to see another vulpine member of the crew. It was Ryan, the ships engineer. He had the daunting task of making sure everything was kept in working order on the ship. Fortunately he always had help from the rest of the crew, something for which he was very grateful.

"So James talked you into this long boring trip too eh?" grinned Sylver.

"Sure looks that way," replied Ryan, then went back into the cargo hold. After putting their bags on the loader Duncan and Sylver walked up the access ramp under the nose of the ship. Sylver headed to the conference room that was just behind the bridge on the deck above. Duncan went to the cargo bay to help Ryan with getting things strapped down for take off.

The cargo area was fairly big. It took up almost all of the forward lower deck. Duncan navigated around the various spare parts and equipment and found Ryan hauling luggage off the cargo loader.

"Whereís everyone else?" asked Duncan as he started to help Ryan, lifting the bags with little effort.

"Lara and Mark are locking down the mechs and James is doing a systems check. I got stuck with baggage duty," he sighed. Duncan chuckled,

"You should be in engineering. Iíll finish up here. Iím more worried about the ship getting off the ground safely than whether or not Iíve packed everything I need."

Ryan smiled gratefully,

"Thanks Duncan," he said and hurried off to the back of the ship. Duncan made quick work of what was left of the luggage. Then went to see if he could help in engineering.

 

Sylver found James in the conference room behind the bridge, he was going over a small stack of papers that were sitting on the table.

"Whatís all that?" Sylver asked as he sat down across from James.

"Just some information on what weíre up against, some sensor scans of the pirate ships."

"How does it look?"

"Not too bad. It might be a little rough but we have weapons clearance from Chakona if they donít come peacefully."

"Well at least we can fire back this time." James nodded. He looked back at the documents. Sylver decided it was best not to bother James right now and got up to go help in the hanger. James continued to look at the scanner records, then started taking a closer look, noticing something wasnít quite right. During the different attacks, the ships had slightly different weapons and shield configurations. This was probably changed while the pirates were docked, but it was still an interesting point. He made a note of it then continued to look through the readouts.

 

After everything was prepared for takeoff the crew met in the conference room. James then did a final check.

"So, I assume you all know what the mission is. Is everything in the hanger locked down?"

"Yup," Mark replied.

"Good, and the ships systems are ready for the trip?" James continued.

"All systems are green, for once" replied Ryan with a slightly sarcastic tone.

"Then I guess weíre set. Ryan and Sylver, I want you in engineering. Make sure nothing explodes during takeoff. Duncan and Mark, youíll be in the hanger keeping an eye on the equipment. Lara youíre coming with me to the bridge. We need to plot our course." There was a collective compliant to Jamesí orders, then everyone went to their places for takeoff. Everything went smoothly. After clearing the traffic around earth James activated the FTL drive and they began their search.

 

The course took them to the outermost reaches of federated space, along the border of the non-allied systems. There really wasnít anything to see out there, and after only a few days travel boredom started to set in a little.

 

Lara-

I made my way around the ship, casually dressed in shorts and a tank top. We didnít have uniforms, nor did we really need any. We werenít registered with Star Fleet and we all knew who was in charge.

James was the captain of this ship, he was also probably one of the best pilots that the academy had ever seen. He figured that he could do a better job on his own rather than under the command of a captain. If I remember the story correctly, he simply left the academy and started to search for a crew of his own. After a lot of looking around, James eventually found each of us.

We all had a lot in common. We were highly skilled and all wanted more than what we thought Star Fleet could give us. I guess that was the start of Echo Lance.

My mother didnít approve of my decision at all. She wanted me to have a more reliable occupation. She still doesnít like it much, even though we ended up being very successful. She says it was just a lucky break, and chances are she was right.

The best example of how right she was would probably be this ship. We were able to get it dirt cheep and in pristine condition. It was and still is a little outdated but with the modifications weíve added its one of the best ships in its class. Sure it is a little difficult to maintain, as Ryan has often pointed out, but itís saved our lives more than once.

My reminiscing was interrupted as I walked by Sylverís quarters and heard him playing on his trumpet. I swear, he could be a jazz musician if he wanted to, he played almost constantly. It probably would have been incredibly annoying if he werenít good at it. I stood in the corridor listening for a while, my tail swaying in time with the music. At least one of us had something to do on this boring trip. There really wasnít much on this ship that interested me. I liked doing things that actually involved moving around. Iím not very good at sitting still.

I started heading towards engineering to see if Ryan needed any help. I needed something to do, and Ryan was always busy, making sure that Eagle ran smoothly was a full time job. For once in his life Ryan actually looked relaxed as I walked in. He was usually in a semi-panic as he hurried about and adjusted the shipís systems. Right now however, he was reclining slightly in his chair in front of the main engineering console. His tail seemed to sway contentedly as he listened to the low hum of the shipís reactor. I slowly walked up beside him,

"What are you so happy about?" I asked with a grin.

"Not a single thing has broken today. Itís amazing," he smiled.

"I have to agree. That is pretty amazing. So, enjoying your free time?"

"Yes, yes I am, and you?"

"I was actually hoping that there might be something to do in here. Looks like that ideaís no good."

"Sorry about that, but it looks like Iíve nothing to fix for once."

"Itís all right. Iím sure thereís other things to do," I said as I left.

 

That had been a complete failure. I walked through the hanger bay, looking at the battle mechs that were kept there. They were huge war machines, and the biggest part of the teams ground forces. James was insistent on all of us learning how to pilot mechs. Seeing recordings of us in the training simulators always made me laugh. None of us besides James had piloted a battlemech before then. I always thought there was something very humorous about seeing a 40-ton machine trip over its own feet. We soon became quite good however, after many long hours of practice.

Once I got to the other side of the massive hanger. I got in the lift and went to the bridge. There most likely wasnít much happening there either, but at least there would be someone to talk to.

 

James was sitting quietly at the helm and Duncan at the tactical console when Lara walked in. She sat down in one of the chairs on the bridge, staring at the large forward view port.

"So, how are you holding out?" asked James as he turned in his chair to face her.

"I never want to be on another mission like this for as long as I live," she sighed as she half hung off the chair. Duncan chuckled,

"I have to agree, it has been a very uneventful trip." The three of them remained quiet for a while longer until Lara tried to start a conversation again.

"Hey James, isnít your birthday coming up soon?" she asked. James looked up, a little surprised that she had remembered.

"Yup, Iíll be 32, but with the way this missionís going Iím not sure Iíll be home for it." Duncan tuned away from the console,

"What were your plans for it anyway?" asked the big wolf.

"I thought that I might go back to Roccoís. Heís got a really nice place there." Lara nodded,

"Nightwind really does know how to cook doesnít shi?" James and Duncan agreed completely. Roccoís Bar and Grill was somewhat famous for its more gourmet style meals. Nightwind took great pride in making them.

"Well, if I do miss it, a quiet night at home will be just fine," James said as he looked back out at the stars. More silence followed, this was going to me a long mission.

 

The search continued to drag on. It was unfortunate that most of the stops were in areas where there was little chance of meeting another ship. Just seeing that there was someone else out there would have helped everyone deal with the length of the mission. Lara, who was normally a fairly up-beat and energetic person, had become tired and unmotivated. Mark had begun to go over the sensor logs countless times, trying to find any indication of another ship. The rest of the crew was fairly good at keeping themselves occupied without being particularly active.

 

There was a great deal of excitement when it was announced that the team would be going back to Chakona soon. There was also a bit of disappointment, as they had not truly completed the job. There was little to be done about it now, they were finishing up the sweep of their last stop.

"Sure is quiet out there James," commented Lara from the tactical console. The other fox nodded.

"There are morgues more lively than this part of space. Iím not entirely sure why weíre searching it."

"Well, I guess it doesnít really matter now, weíre almost done. Why is it that weíre going to Chakona again?"

"They still wanted us on guard duty for a little while if we didnít find anything."

"Fair enough. At least thereíll be a little more to do," Lara said and went back to staring at the blank scanner display.

 

Ryan was looking over the new cooling system for the pulse cannons when Sylver walked into engineering.

"So, how are things going down here?" asked the wolf.

"Not too bad," Ryan replied from halfway inside the cooling unit. "We only managed to blow out two conduits so far. If we do find the pirates, try not to strain the cooling system too much. Iím not sure how reliable it is yet." Sylver nodded,

"Iíll let Duncan know as well," he said as the small fox slipped out of the cooling system. "So, were you up to anything on our last break or did you just hang around the Eagle?"

"I went a saw some of the city for a bit,"

"And how long were you gone for?" Sylver asked skeptically.

"Two daysÖ" Ryan replied sheepishly. "I just donít like the thought of something happening to the Eagle while Iím gone." Sylver chuckled and put an arm around Ryanís shoulders,

"You worry too much. Nothingís going to happen to the Eagle. It stays docked in a secure spaceport. Besides, it doesnít look like a ship youíd want to steal or anything anyway. It isnít exactly a looker as ships go." Ryan smiled at that comment,

"I guess youíre right. Iíll try and get some relaxation over the next break." Sylver patted his back,

"Good luck with that," he said, then headed off to see what his other shipmates were doing. Everyone was getting ready for the return trip home, which hopefully wouldnít be too far off now. Sylver perked his ears as an announcement came over the PA.

"Hang on everyone, activating FTL," said James from the bridge. Sylver braced himself and the ship jolted slightly with the sudden acceleration. The inertial dampeners on this ship really needed a little work.

 

Duncan and Mark sat quietly in the conference room, across the table from each other. Their chess game sat between them, not much coming of it as neither of them were particularly skilled players. Mark seemed to want to talk more than pay attention to the game,

"This has been about the most terrible weeks of my life. Remind me to never come along for a recon mission ever again." Duncan made his move,

"I have to agree that is was a fairly uneventful mission, but I donít think it was terrible."

"I canít think straight anymore. This is the most mind numbingly boring thing Iíve ever done. When we get to Chakona, the first thing Iím doing is finding the biggest pub I can."

"I suggest you not do that until we get back to Earth," said Duncan as the game continued. The two of them then became silent, concentrating on the game to pass the time.

 

There was a general relief of tension as the Eagle continued towards Chakona. The trip was finally going to end. Mission completed or not it was going to be a welcome rest. James was headed for the bridge when he met up with Sylver in one of the corridors.

"So, weíre finally headed for our last stop?" asked the wolf.

"Yup, this things finally over. Iím just not sure how Iím going to tell them that we didnít find the pirates."

"Donít worry, if all else fails, I hear that Chakona is a nice place to visit."

"I doubt weíll be doing much visiting. We still have to find the pirates. That was the point of the mission."

"I know, but itís just a thought," said Sylver as they neared the bridge. They entered to find the rest of the crew already there, eagerly awaiting their arrival at Chakona. None of them had ever been to Chakona before, and though they had seen some pictures it was going to be their first time seeing it for real. The ships FTL drive disengaged, but Chakona was barely visible.

"Why is it so far away?" asked Mark.

"There are too many transports in the area. We canít get any closer with the FTL drive. We still have a bit further to go," Lara replied. She was right, transport and commercial ships of all shapes and sizes were buzzing around the system. James set the engines at half power then activated the autopilot. Everyone left the bridge in a bit of disappointment. They still had about five hours of travel left before reaching their destination.

While they waited they could at least watch as other ships flew by. The sight of civilization was enough to keep boredom tension fairly low. The crew soon returned to the bridge when they had almost arrived at Chakona.

"It looks a lot different than Earth, thatís for sure," commented Lara. The whole planet looked like an ocean covered with small islands.

"Well enjoy it while you can. I donít think weíll be staying for very long," said James as he put the Eagle into a high orbit. The crew simply looked out at the planet, then eventually went to busy themselves with other things.

 

Lara was sitting by the tactical console staring out at the planet when the incoming transmission indicator started blinking. Lara opened the message, then quickly sat up in her chair. She looked up at James who was sitting at the helm,

"Weíve got a distress signal James. Itís coming from near the edge of Chakona air space. Law enforcement is still getting their ships off the ground and they want us to assist." James immediately snapped to attention and turned the ship around in the direction of the signal.

"I hope that these are the pirates weíre looking for," said James as he switched on the PA. "Alright everyone, we just got a distress signal, I want everyone in their battle stations and ready for a fight. I doubt that these guys are willing to negotiate." James put the engines to full power and the Eagle rocketed towards the transport in distress. Sylver and Duncan scrambled into the Eagles upper and lower pulse cannon turrets. Mark manned the four guided missile bays from a central control panel. Ryan was busy starting up the Eagle's combat systems, and making sure that they didnít overload. Lara started scanning the area,

"Iíve got two C-25ís and a medium transport. We may have a problem- C-25ís are pretty tough ships, Star," she reported, using Jamesís call sign. James nodded,

"Weíll be fine Lark. Weíll hit the guard ship first then go for the cargo carrier. There arenít many other ships about right now, but if they show up we need to try and keep them out of the fight. But first we have to try and talk things out with them."

"And we all know how well thatís going to work," Mark commented sarcastically.

"All weapons systems are charged and ready Captain," reported Ryan.

"Okay Lark, lets get this over with, hail them," James ordered and Lara gave him the ready signal. "This is captain James Miller of the SS Echo Eagle. Release the cargo vessel and stand down at once or we will be forced to take action against you."

"Theyíre responding, audio only," said Lara as she patched it through.

"This is the captain of the Vengeance. Iím afraid I canít do that. These supplies are needed badly for our operations. I doubt there is anything a group of hired flunkies can do to stop us," came the reply before the transmission was cut.

"Have it your way then," said James before switching off the com. "I say we show them what Ďhired flunkiesí can do. All right everyone, open fire on the Vengeance! I want nothing left of if but scrap metal. Duke, Ace, Seeker- give Ďem hell!" James growled.

The Eagleís pulse cannon turrets extended fully, the duel barrels of each turret pounding the first ship with a hail of bright red orbs of energy. Mark then got a lock on the still fairly immobile ship and launched a quintet of guided high explosive missiles in their direction. The Vengeance retaliated with its own pulse cannon turrets, and turned to face directly at the Eagle. Both ships ran at each other in a celestial jousting match. Neither captain was ready to blink as the ships unloaded as much fire upon each other as they could. The Eagle had a definite edge in this situation. It was the bigger ship, and had superior firepower. The Vengeance on the other hand, despite the Eagle being very fast for its size, was the more nimble ship, but it wasnít using this to its advantage. However, James was still aware of this edge,

"Shoot for their engines as they go past. If we slow them down this fight will be over quickly."

"Iím on it," said Sylver as he rotated the upper turret into position. He shifted a little in his seat. There was no hole in the back of the chair for his tail, so it had to press uncomfortably up against his back. Luckily this didnít affect his aim. Lara started to line up shots with the Eagles forward phaser. Red-hot beams firing from under the Eagle's bridge, chipping away at the enemyís shields. Right before the point of no return, both ships tried to veer off and avoid each other. Unfortunately they both dove. The Vengeance dropped faster, but it wasnít enough to avoid the other ship. The upper portion of the pirate ships matter shields collided with the ventral shields of the Eagle.

"OH SHIT!" exclaimed Duncan, the big wolf cringing in his seat as the bridge of the Vengeance rushed up at him. Huge arcs of energy crackled outside Duncanís view port, accompanied by the structure around him groaning in protest to the abuse. Ryan darted frantically around engineering, conduits blowing out one by one as the ships systems were strained nearly to their limit. But the smaller shipís defenses fell first, causing the Eagles matter shields to cave a section out of the hull of the Vengeance. Duncan then looked back to see that the other shipís upper turret had been cleaved off.

"Are you alright Duke?" he asked through his head set.

"Yes, I am fine, but donít EVER do that again,"

"Sorry about that. Do you think they want to go another round?"

"If they do, theyíll be fighting with one less gun," Duncan grinned.

"And so will we," reported Ryan, who currently sounded very unhappy. "That stunt you pulled turned the phaser firing control to scrap. Thereís no way I can fix it right now. Our matter shields are almost gone too. You better hope those ships donít carry a heavy missile payload." This was not good news. James quickly tried to think of a way to get rid of two ships quickly but nothing was really coming to mind. His thoughts were interrupted by Lara,

"Weíve got an incoming message from the transport."

"Patch it through to the helm," James ordered.

"This is the CSS Stardust. The pirates have disabled our engines and are preparing to attack. Stay on your guard Echo Eagle."

"Thanks for the heads-up Stardust. Eagle out," James replied then turned off the com. "Now weíre in trouble," he said, baring his teeth in a snarl. The Vengeance was momentarily incapacitated as the Eagle sped towards the second ship as it detached from the transport.

"Hit them hard before they get up to speed," the captain ordered as he maneuvered the ship into a firing position.

"Consider it done," replied Sylver. "Howís the cooling holding out Ryan?"

"Itís doing just fine for now. Iíll let you know when thereís a problem." The Eagle pounded the pirate ship Lara identified as the Darkstar. It pulled away from the transport and opened fire, then turned to face the Eagle head on. The Vengeance had regained mobility and was now starting to give chase. However it was having problems getting weapons online.

"Youíre going to try this again?" James seemed to ask the oncoming ship. The duel began again between the Echo Eagle and the pirate ship. However this time was different. A lone transport that was most likely on autopilot managed to fly right between the two charging ships. James reacted quickly and pulled up sharply. Unfortunately this allowed the Darkstar to slip in behind the Eagle along with the semi functional Vengeance. James growled through bared teeth, fighting with the controls to avoid as much of the pirateís fire as he could. Laraís fingers skipped rapidly over the tactical console, rerouting power through the ship to try and give the Eagle as much protection as possible. Things went from bad to worse as the trio of combatants flew right into a convoy of ships that was being directed away from the fight. The Eagle weaved through the civilian ships with incredible agility for its size, but the more maneuverable ships easily followed it. Mark, Duncan and Sylver were hard pressed to get off any shots on the enemy ships without hitting innocents. The pirates however, fired upon everything with reckless abandon, not caring in the slightest for the safety of anybody. Ryan started to become frantic as the Eagleís shields began to fail,

"Star, weíre in trouble! The pirates are tearing our shields apart. Iím not sure how long the physical armor will hold out. Engine three is failing. One and two arenít far behind. Weíve gotta do something now!"

"Iím afraid our weapons are also starting to run hot," added Duncan as he shook some of the perspiration out of his fur. "If we donít find a way to land solid hits before they overheat weíll be in trouble."

Jamesí head was racing. They had to somehow concentrate what they had left into one attack. They finally cleared the convoy, James felt a little more relieved. They finally had some breathing room. Suddenly James got an idea.

"Lark, get ready to put whatever we have left into the forward shield array."

"What? But theyíre behind us."

"Not for long. Listen up everybody. Get things ready for a port side blitz. The Vengeance still has a soft spot, and weíre going to take advantage of it."

"Yes! Blast it to hell! I like that plan," cheered Mark.

"Computer," James ordered, "initiate maneuver Blitz-3 on my mark." James then pulled the Eagle into as tight a turn as it could manage, causing the pursuing ships to move closer together as they turned to follow. "Now!"

The engines cut. The Eagleís maneuvering thrusters spun the ship a full 180 degrees. The engines roared back to life and went to full power. The Eagle hurtled towards the pirates, who were caught completely off guard. Laraís hands flew skillfully across the console again. Ryan ran a coolant flush through the pulse cannon system. The crippled Vengeance was hit with full force by the Echo Eagleís powerful arsenal. The shields of the Vengeance quickly failed, letting numerous missiles and pulse cannon blasts score critical hits. Explosions broke out all over the doomed ship before its generator core ruptured. It was enveloped in massive eruption of plasma. The Eagle avoided the blast as it flew in the opposite direction.

"YEEHAA!" cheered Sylver.

"Nice move Star!" said Lara as she hugged him.

"There is still one ship left," Duncan reminded them. They all turned their attention to the Darkstar. It had not done as well as the Eagle in avoiding the explosion. It had been left completely disabled by the wave of plasma, but was still intact. James was turning back towards the crippled ship when an escape shuttle launched from it. With pre set coordinates it quickly engaged its FTL drive and disappeared from view or sensors.

"Dammit! We lost them." James gave a frustrated growl. Lara patted him on the shoulder.

"Donít worry about it. At least we can still recover the cargo." Just then the transport hailed them,

"Many thanks for your assistance Echo Eagle. Our engines will be back online shortly and weíll come to pick up the cargo. Iíll arrange for repairs for your ship as well."

"Glad we could help Stardust, and thank you for the repair offer," replied James.

"You have no idea how thankful we are," added an exhausted Ryan. The two wolf gunners climbed out of their turrets. The small turret compartments had become almost unbearably hot from firing for long periods of time during the battle. Lara started a battle systems shut down, while Ryan continued to patch things up so the ship would at least make it back to Chakona.

The crew breathed a sigh of relief, that was probably the closest theyíd come to losing a battle. No one was more relieved than James. As the captain he felt it was his duty to make sure his crew got home safely. They almost hadnít. Despite having pulled a victory out of this, the escaped shuttle still gave him an uneasy feeling. Whoever those pirates were, they would be back, and after this, they would be gunning for Echo Lance.

 


 

Continued in chapter two.

 

Chakats and the Chakat Universe are the creations of Bernard Doove and are used with permission.

All else is copyright © 2004 to Dax.

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