Back in the Shady Lady

Vin had been sleeping, eating and flying for weeks, living shipboard, and he was glad to finally dock at Chango for some much needed R and R.

Since moving to the new test area and helping welcome in a raft of new testing commanders at the various flight briefings, he had hopped back into a Sidewinder (complete with Shady Lady stencil) and slipped back into his shipboard routine with ease.

The Sidewinder had been a little more cramped than he was used to. Battered and patched from months of testing it had a variety of what could only be called “dank” smells from the cockpit. More than one previous commander had spilled all sorts of fluids on the pilot’s chair, giving it a patina that wouldn’t be out of place in atmospheric G simulators.

Not even the regular hiss of the white auto fragrance strapped to the cockpit interior in front of his left knee was sufficient to keep the smell of disinfectant at bay.

The engineering team at Chango had reassured him that the ship only had 3 previous “owners” and the smell was from a flask of coffee that had ended up all over the console, bathed in an orange glow from the displays.

The remlock, as of yet, didn’t include a “nasty niff” filter – he was hoping that one would arrive in time for the next significant update to their testing regime.

Skimming through the station trading logs, a notepad in the breast pocket of his flight suit, he steadily built up the knowledge on what was in demand where in the testing areas.

For the first week, trading had been profitable – even with a 4 tonne capacity, he was able to rake in 1200 credits on a good run – 200 on a bad one.

Interdictions had been his first surprise…. Lots of them. The federal police were testing out the new stop and search equipment fairly indiscriminately and he was pulled 4 times in a single run for a “routine” scan for contraband or legal status.

The police hadn’t bothered letting him know when they were done with their scans, instead just hanging in space 500m from his position.

Vin had tried throttling up gently and flying up to the cockpit of one of the police vessels for a wave at the pilot…. Lights on, as he approached, the ship backed off by another 100m.

Automated collision avoidance. How dull. With a little practice, he was able to make the two shield bubbles interact and a blue glow took over the cockpit, drowning out the usual orange.

Finally able to kit the ship out with a pair of gimballed pulse lasers – lazycannons, Vin had headed for the nearest “extraction zone” for some combat training.

Probably 1/4 of the ships there were legitimately testing out the mining capabilities – nothing that the test crews had been allowed to pay with yet, but he could see chunks being carved off the many asteroids in the belt.

Ship systems were not coping well with the tracking of so many celestial bodies and ships around him – regularly, the entire ship system needed an old fashioned 3 fingered salute – occasionally he had to call for a pickup from a recovery team.

He’d spotted a federal fighter weaving in and out of the rocks – bringing it into focus, the ident panel marked it as “wanted”.

Too easy – a quick burst from the lazycannon and he was 500cr richer.

Every few minutes, a new computer controlled vessel dropped into the area, giving him anything from 50cr to 1500.

Target. Wait for sub 3000m. Open with a single lazycannon until you got their attention. 4 pips to shields when they charged.

Soak up the damage. Don’t dare hit reverse in an asteroid field.

Drop to 50% thrust, bank hard and power to the vertical thrusters.

Bring it into focus.

Shields down.

Hull to 50.

Take a few shots to the face – the shield can absorb them

Boom. Richer.

Rinse and repeat.

The credits racked up – 10k, 50k, 55k. Then it all went pear shaped. The vessels appearing had clearly had their weetabix and were beginning to chew through hull plates at a higher rate. The ship systems were stuttering and stopping at the wrong moments, leaving him dead in space and as a result, a dead target.

Dropping back into the nearest station (damn, those things were hard to see at 20k), he had called up the trading screens again.

Not a penny to be had. Maybe 50.

He could see Lakons and Anacondas dropping in to the station (and sometimes all over the outside of it), laden to the brim with Alloys, Gold, Industrial Machines and agricultural equipment. Not a hope for the puny Sidewinder to make a decent profit.

So – bounty hunting pays and pays well.

Looking for an alternative, Vin had hopped system to system…. Arriving at Dahan he could see two blips on the long range system information. “Conflict Zone – High Intensity”.

He checked – the fireproof underwear was on, the remlock was working. Sod it. Have a go.

Dropping out near the rings, an old hulk was doing its usual impression of a smouldering log and ten, then twenty ships dropped onto his radar. Damn the lag – a full 10 seconds after he’d arrived and he was already in the middle of a furball.

Lakons, armed to the teeth and supported by Sidewinders and Cobras were taking on a full fleet of Imperial vessels. Anacondas were unloading turret loads of pulse fire at anything bearing Eranin markings…. Eagles swooping in and out of combat at speed, taking triple pot shots in much the same direction.

Glancing at his right hand panel, Vin spotted the “factions” option….

“Underdogs it is then…”

Click. Anacondas go red. Shields start falling.

Vin dropped all power to the systems and boosted in a wide turn, heading away from the nearest Anaconda at speed. It duly dropped its fire on a beefier target – the nearest Lakon.

Back to balanced systems, glad the hull had only taken a single digit hit, Vin skipped through the available targets. Flick. Eranin Defence. Flick. Eranin Defence. BONG Federal Fighter.

The virtual ship display turned red, the tone indicating that it was an enemy vessel.

He counted down the hits…. listened to the artificial hull damage thumps and the fighter turned to dust.

Then the next, and then the final one.

Flick through the radar again…. One Cobra in red.

OK – this had been mroe of a challenge – the cobra had unloaded against his shields, blasted past the canopy and unloaded again into the rear sections of the hull.

The usual “turning war” ensued, chasing the tail of the Cobra until, finally, he got a bead on it accelerating away. It shot poast the 3k mark and turned to engage.

Thunk thunk thunk – Vin’s shields dropped and his hull started taking a beating – he was dishing it out as fast as it came in, but even lateral thrusters and judicious use of stick waggling (a technical term) and he wasn’t going to make it.

Finally, the Cobra broke off and Vin tagged onto it’s tail.

“Mine…..”

It blew – but Vin’s hull was showing only 12% remaining.

Time to return to dock – £2000 richer. The repairs were going to cost most of that, but it was worth it.

For the rest of the week, he had only returned to the station for repairs – the engineering team were busy with the Sidewinder equivalent of sticking plasters at every landing.

Slowly but surely, Vin and the Temporary Shady Lady worked through combat sequences.

Power balancing, switching the flight assist off for tighter turns, careful use of reverse thrusters and he was finally able to take on an Anaconda.

Constant spiralling around the barge at 750m, targeting subsystems, reducing the shield generators to scrap then surgically removing system after system. Help from the Eranin defence forces was much appreciated – they provided alternative targets for the Anaconda that kept him from having to test the remlock.

The credits started rolling in – he jumped from 50k to a ton in a couple of hours flight training. Only 50k off his target for getting the original Shady Lady back in the void….

Days more and the balance looked healthy – Vin dropped back into Chango Dock and had the engineers pull the covers off the Lady. New paint job, new hull plates and a reasonable load out.

He patted the Lady as he hopped into the cockpit.

“Luxury – a little bit of space” as he threw his flight bag in the back and strapped in.

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