Hello folks - in my introductory post I mentioned that in the Ooniverse, I am currently flying 'In Service to the Margravine of Aronar' and said I enjoy writing story posts. Since I've enjoyed reading yours, I hope you like my own offering.
I'm a poor coder and haven't figured out how to tweak the Ooniverse yet, so let me contribute with my imaginings.
What follows is the largely out-of-cockpit fiction based upon the events I encountered during game-play, and I would love to thank Ramirez for coming up with the delightful 'Feudal States' OXP upon which this story is based.
In Service to the Margravine
I don't think I need to tell you that Ishmael Dark is not my real name. I don't think I'd have gotten very far growing up if it was - for a young working-class boy from Lave it's a pretty silly-sounding moniker.
In the right circles however, it is a good
name - the kind of name one would expect of the dark, romantic stranger in the room; the dangerously elegant outsider courtiers tell wild tales about, and court Ladies whisper about behind their fluttering fans. That was exactly what the man who had given me the name had planned, and for that, I have to thank him.
In fact, I have much to thank him for. The man who named me was the one who found me, brought me into the folds of the Feudal Families. He trained me, coached me, guided me. He gave me what I'd always craved: wealth, power and women. He gave me the ability to insinuate myself into court, to maneuver the politics with a daring smile, and taught me, Pygmalion-fashion, to live this life with grace and style. He gave me everything, in fact - everything I am today. And one day, I pray, I will be able to pay him back in the best way I know how.
One day, I swear I'll pay the bastard back with an eight-hundred megawatt laser cannon right through his ship's cockpit canopy.
You've all heard about the freedom and romance that is the life of a Free Trader. The newsies and vids are full of stories of brave, independent traders. Free to roam, free to explore. It's a load of trumble-droppings; the lot of it. Oh yes - you're free. Free to be bilked, swindled and burned at every turn. Free to learn all the myriad ways businesses and bureaucracies have of nickle-and-diming honest traders to death, and free to experience the wonderful 'freedom' of paying off your inflated debts in a Worker's Glorious Mine in some backwater People's Free State. Slavery? No Comerade; it's Freedom
! And even if you avoid that fate there are still the hyenas of space out there: the pirates, the gangs, the crooked cops. Ambush, intimidation, racketeering and outright murder. Take what you can, give nothing back and never ever
give a sucker an even break - welcome to the free and romantic life of the Free Trader...sucker.
But I was doing OK. Not fantastic, but OK. I'd learned what every Free Trader learns from the outset: the slow but steady profits offered by hauling foodstuffs and computer equipment. I'd discovered that Space Dredger crews could be relied upon to pay well for wholesome fresh produce and didn't mind selling off their aluminum and duranium alloys for pennies. That boosted my bank account a bit - enough that I was able to trick out my Mk. III Cobra with some decent gear. In those days, I thought in terms of small payouts; seeing a profit of 1000 creds on a run made me chortle with satisfaction.
I'd recently just made my latest purchase and was simply cooing over it: a Williams 'Pew-Pew' fast-cycle laser on my forward weapons mount. I'd seen the write-up on the thing and was just itching
to try it out...but even still, I would never have tried it the way I did if I had had any choice at all.
I'd been doing my usual routine - some beer here, some textiles there, this
place pays well for erotica - up towards the Pulsars and was coming out of Inleus for Beor. It was a decent trip, profitable enough that my Cobra, the Big Joe Mufferaw
was empty - I hadn't bothered to load up any of the cheap mass-produced Garetan crap; not much of a margin there. I'd come out at the Witchpoint and was just starting my scan when my alerter screamed. There was a battle a few kilometers ahead. Yay - another battle. Good - the pirates could kill someone else.
Does that sound callous? YOU fly Witchspace sometime - see what you think about the pirates who lurk near Witchpoint beacons after they've jumped you a dozen times. I did what I always do: I turned until the red dots were abeam and lit the Q-charger; I'd be out of danger range in a few minutes.
I had time to watch the battle. Usually it's pirates versus whatever random sucker bursts out of the Blue Hell, but this time it was different. Long, sleek ships shot around a massive yacht; fending off pirates with superb discipline and accuracy. I have to admit I was impressed, even if it was hopeless. The slender fighters - my computer identified them as Freiherrs - were horribly outnumbered. The yacht was frantically calling for assistance, pleading for help. There were women and children aboard. Better them than me, I thought. No point getting into an unwinnable fight. On the red side I could see almost twenty Asps and Sidewinders, even a couple of Fer-de-Lances; pretty expensive hardware for pirates. There were a couple of heavies in there too: as I watched a hardened Boa Cruiser unleashed a withering blast, stripping shields and plating off the hapless yacht...
...And then blew up.
There was another
ship out there; one of a type I'd heard of but never seen before: a massive Zerstorer heavy assault ship. That was some serious
firepower. As I watched, the destroyer burst through the wreckage of the destroyed pirate and threw itself into the mass of attacking fighters, scattering them like chaff.
I have no idea why I flicked the safety off my arming toggle, nor why I rolled and pulled into the fight. I had seen the other Boa pulling towards the yacht's belly; I knew the unarmed pleasure liner was defenceless. But I've never given in to altruism. Perhaps I thought that with the Zerstorer in the fight things might be more equal, perhaps I just wanted to let my new Williams loose...I don't know.
Big Joe Mufferaw
thundered in behind the Boa, afterburners screaming. I cut loose with a barrage from the Williams at point-blank range, blowing through his shields and hitting his exhaust louvres, forcing him away from the yacht. G-meters wailing, I turned away before ramming him, roaring around in a 60G turn to nail him with my aft beam. The Boa shuddered, stabilized...then cut loose with a vicious blast of magenta fire, shredding my shields. I cursed and twisted, trying to get away from the vengeful retaliation.
Important life lesson: DO NOT take on a Boa Cruiser unless you're really, really sure you can deal with four military lasers. If a pirate can afford one of those damn things, he can afford all the nifty, nasty guns to hang off it. Duranium burst off my ship's stern as I pulled away, the Boa pounding me hard. I jinked desperately, trying to get away from those heavy lasers. Then...
The Zerstorer I'd seen damn near ripped my nose off as it flashed overhead. The big assault ship roared by, heavy lasers shrieking. It struck the Boa dead abeam, causing the armour to glow red hot. I turned, and using the Destroyer as a shield dove in on the cruiser again, cutting loose with the Williams. Chunks of slag burst off the pirate's half-melted hull, it rolled desperately to bring its portside laser to bear. But by that time, the Zerstorer had turned and unleashed its full barrage. Blinding magenta fire poured into the Boa; a small sleek object dropped from the belly and rocketed ahead. The missile took the pirate dead-center. She exploded with a thunderous shock-wave that rocked me into my seat.
My radio clicked. "Well done, lad, well done!
" the radio said. It was the pilot of the strange destroyer. "Come on - the big ones are down but my lads need help!
I could have left. My shields were only starting to recharge, warning lights from my energy banks were screaming on the control panel. My lovely mauve paintjob was ruined
. But the yacht was turning desperately, trying to avoid enemy fire and the remaining Freiherrs were too few to stop the pirates. I heard the leader of the Knights shout to 'give lives for the Tsar!' and one Freiherr did; plunging in to ram a pirate Sidewinder as it was lining up for a shot on the yacht. Both vessels disappeared in a cloud of plasma and shredded metal.
I cannot properly describe the next few minutes. A lone Cobra is, if properly equipped, a fearsome platform; but it's no match for purpose-designed fighters. Big Joe Mufferaw
was damaged from my fight with the Boa; I had no reason at all to remain.
But the strange Zerstorer flew in to hang off my port wing, matching my moves with smooth, easy precision. I knew what he was doing - he was 'Ghost-Gunning', the most effective tactic for two spacecraft who haven't trained together. The junior ship flies in attack; the other lends its firepower, matching him move for move. It's a tactic the Families use against Thargoids and it's devastating when used right.
Cobra and Destroyer ripped into the pirates, my Williams' chattering drowned out by the banshee shriek of the Zerstorer's heavy beams. Pirate after pirate fell to our assault; the Freiherr Knights rallied around us. Soon, the last red dot was disappearing fast into the Big Black, running away under full Injectors. There was a pause as the surviving defenders grouped around the yacht.
"You have scoops on that thing?
" my radio asked quietly. The big assault ship pulled into close formation on my wingtip. Now that I had the chance, I could see the craft was entirely unadorned; it carried neither sigil nor livery usually worn by the Feudal Families. Its only decoration was black lightning-bolt stripes down its nacelles. "Yes," I answered.
"Some of our lads managed to punch out. They don't deserve to die out here.
" Nor did they, I thought. More than half of the defenders had been destroyed; only four Knight-ships remained. I looked at my scanner and nodded. "I'll go get them." There were three white blips in range. I turned and boosted off; carefully scooping each into my cargo hold, then went down to open the hatch and allow them into the cabin.
So young, I thought - so young. None of them more than twenty years old; all of them with eyes a thousand years old. Two boys...men
...and one woman. They idly nodded thanks, then turned to one another, helping each other...tuning me out. Figures, I thought. I returned to the cockpit and strapped in.
"We're still an hour from the aegis,
" the strange assault ship said when I'd reported on the survivors, "Thank you for your help, we'll pay you. If you stay with us we'll pay you more.
"They won't be back," I replied, "Pirates never repeat a failed attack."
There was a chuckle from the other ship. "Oh yes, they will. They weren't pirates. In fact...yes. There they are now.
As I watched in horror, red dots - dozens
of red dots - appeared on my scanner. "What the hell?" I exclaimed, "What is this?"
" the Zerstorer's pilot replied, "Politics, lad. I'm afraid you have no choice now - your ship's been painted by their targeting scanners.
"Ve cannot survive another assault!
" the yacht's Captain gasped, "And ve cannot outrun zem! Vat will we do?
I scanned my radar desperately. The station's Aegis was far too far away, and the attackers were closing fast. With four Knights left...all that was left was a glorious death.
Screw that - I wasn't about to die for some inbred schmuck. I looked harder. "Yacht - do you have injector capability?"
"Ja, what of it, commoner?
I ground my teeth. "Turn to...134 mark...62 and punch it! We may have a way out of this!"
"I do not take orders from common...
"You WILL take orders from ME!
" the Destroyer pilot roared. No doubt he'd seen the shining, shimmering dot on his radar as well. "Do what he says - NOW!
" The yacht instantly rocketed forward under heavy acceleration.
At least...heavy for it. The Freiherrs pulled in under close escort and both I and the assault craft kept easy pace, our Q-drives barely ticking over. "We're not going to make it," I said. The distant asteroid field was getting closer...but the attackers were closing fast.
"Yes, you vill,
" one of the Knights replied, "I haff seen what you haff seen. I know vat you intend. Ve will delay them long enough. Come, my brothers.
" With that, the last of the Freiherr Knights flipped end-for-end, and burned for the distant attackers.
I watched them go sadly; they were outnumbered twenty to one. "Who the Hell is in that yacht?" I wondered.
"You don't know?
" the Zerstorer pilot asked quietly, "That is the personal yacht of Tsar Nikolas IX of Oreseren. His family is coming to join him after political exile in Tibecea. There are factions that seek to stop them.
"But why? They're just...well..."
"Women and children? Yes. The future of the Zarakov lineage. Best hold tight now, son. We're entering it.
Yacht and escorts plunged into the outskirts of the asteroid field. My shields flared as micrometeoroids vapourized. "Ten minutes to the center," I reported. On my scanners, I watched as the green dots of the Freiherr Knights dove into the cloud of attackers. Red dots flared and disappeared...it took longer, much longer than I could have imagined. Red dot after red dot vanished from the scope. But one by one, so did the green dots. Somewhere, hundreds of kilometers behind me, the ships of four brave Knights erupted in silent plasma. The horde rushed on, determined to destroy the yacht and its two remaining escorts.
We dove into the asteroid field, rock pinging and thudding off our shields. Alarms screamed as my shield drained from the impacts. I looked up - the yacht shuddered under the impacts but while the Captain might have been an arrogant git, he knew what he was doing. The heavy vessel steered around the worst of the debris, its shields flaring blue at each strike. Behind us, the horde caught up fast under Torus drive. "It's going to be close,
" the Destroyer pilot said, his voice tense. "You have to be careful, lad - choose your timing well!
"Well, why don't YOU do it?" I snarled.
The Zerstorer pilot chuckled. "Because I won't be with you. They're closing too fast - someone has to hold them off. Any takers?
" The big Destroyer banked away. "Good luck lad - it only takes one shot. Make it count.
So it was only me - guarding a yacht I'd never seen before twenty minutes ago. I watched on my scanner as the strange assault craft leaped towards the attacking horde, lasers blasting. Brave or stupid? Fool either way. I shook my head. The horde had slowed slightly to deal with the new threat; a forty-to-one dogfight that could only have one possible outcome. "Hold tight, yacht," I ordered, "Aim for the far side and give it all you've got!"
"Ve haff sustained sixty per cent armour loss!
" the Captain complained, "Ve MUST slow down!
"Keep going or you're going to find out what a baked potato feels like!" I shouted back desperately, "If you've got anything left, USE IT NOW!!
Big Joe Mufferaw
staggered and heaved under the onslaught of the asteroid field. With a bright flash, my shields collapsed. Rock smashed into my naked hull and still I pushed the throttle forward; desperately trying for a bit more speed. "Almost there," I gasped, shoving the joystick down to evade a boulder the size of a shopping mall. The horde were entering the asteroid field, spreading out to blanket the yacht. We thrust through the very heart of the asteroid field, where a male Star-Jelly was placidly, mindlessly grazing the rock. That was the shimmer we'd seen on our scanners. A beautiful sight...a brief sight.
"Ve haff cleared mass-lock!
" the Captain crowed, "Ve are going to torus now
"No!" I roared, "Hang on! They're converging on you - let them! Bring them in!"
"Are you crazed, peasant? Ze Tsarina is more important zen your silly ideas!
"Any one of 'em gets out of this asteroid field, you're dead meat!" I roared, "We're still half an hour from the aegis! I have ONE shot, help me make it count!"
" The Captain agreed reluctantly, "You had better be right, stranger.
I gasped as a rock I hadn't seen smashed into my wingtip, throwing Big Joe Mufferaw
into an uncontrolled lurch. I didn't dare glance at my alarm panel; so many red lights were blaring I couldn't count them. I kicked the rudders, bringing the Cobra into line. "A bit more..." I murmured, "Just a bit more." Five kilometers from my target...six...eight..."Just a bit more," I pleaded as a flying stone sent crazed cracks across my canopy.
The horde was pulling into the center of the field now, ignoring their own safety and barrelling through the field. Whoever was paying them must have paid them a lot
. "Almost there..." I looked up: the yacht had cleared the heaviest parts of the field and was pulling into clear space. I looked back: the center of the asteroid field was exactly behind me. I looked at my scanners: forty enemy combatants were firing lasers. Hot plasma sliced into what remained of my armour.
I screamed. I lined up my aft beam and pulled the trigger.
The Star-Jelly was dead in the center of the cross-hairs.
The fragile Quirmium creature erupted, sending a vast blue blast-wave out, vapourizing everything in its path. And whatever the quirmium blast hit, it exploded.
And the horde was right in the center of the asteroid field.
I rocketed out of the asteroids with a shuddering, shaking wreck of a Cobra and fell into line with the pristine yacht. Behind us, red dots disappeared as they were engulfed in a massive quirmium chain reaction.
I was dealing with my own chain reaction. My hands shaking so badly I could barely take my guns offline, I fell into formation with the yacht and escorted it into Coriolis Station. Upon arrival, I was met by the Royal Guard who escorted me onto a shuttle down to the surface, for an audience with Tsar Nikolas himself.
I didn't want to go. At that moment, I wouldn't have given two figs for the entire Feudal Families. But the guards had guns...and were very insistent.
So I went.
(To be continued.)