Writing My Butt Off

Then again, my ass was always flat so what the hey, right?

Somewhere down in those previous posts, I put up Chapter 2 of this book. Right now it’s got the characters I’m using in TU, but eventually I’ll change the names to protect the guilty.

Chapter 3

Parker stared in disbelief as the jav he’d targeted sped away from the starboard cannon pit. How the hell could I have missed him? he thought. The guy was that close.

((You couldn’t hit the side of a barn from ten feet,)) Parker’s wolf roared inside his brain. ((Gimme that thing!))

Before he knew it, Parker felt his eyes flare into his wolf’s hot, glowing green ones. The mental bonds holding his beast inside their shared mind snapped and then his human self was roughly shoved aside. In a moment, the broad-shouldered, chestnut-haired human that had been sitting at the firing board had morphed into giant man-wolf covered with a dense, dark red pelt.

The beast went into action. Parker-the-human felt Parker-the-wolf’s left paw rolling the cannon’s trackball like a pro. Its aim was stunningly accurate, nailing jav after jav, the small craft silently exploding into mini-novas. Right now his wolf was sixteen for seventeen. He’d counted.

“Dear Parker, I have to say your aim has undergone a marked improvement,” Kurt’s smooth voice filled the cramped cannon pit.

Parker’s face would have reddened if it could. So where were you when Melera was drilling us on this stuff? he thought at his wolf.

“Watching you fuck up,” his beast rumbled.

Minutes passed. Looking through his wolf’s eyes, to Parker the jav swarm seemed to have gotten denser. Then he felt an especially hard jolt and heard the sound of ripping metal. The cannon pit filled with thick smoke. The wolf squeezed its tearing eyes shut against the smoke’s sting, then erupted into fit of coughing. A moment later, the exhaust fans switched on and the smoke disappeared.

Parker and his wolf heard Melera scream his name. The wolf coughed once more. “Okay, sweetheart,” it said in a strangled growl.

Parker’s beast finally opened its eyes. Taking up where it had left off, the wolf resumed taking out every javelin unlucky enough to stray into its crosshairs. But wasn’t long before Parker and his wolf realized the cruiser must have taken some heavy damage. The vessel’s movements were sluggish, and it had a pronounced tendency to yaw. Melera was obviously having trouble maintaining control of the ship. And the javs were closing in.

“Don’t just stand there, butthead,” the wolf snarled at its human self. “Get on the tail guns.”

How’m I supposed to do that? Parker thought. You’ve got—

“Go!” his other roared, and gave another especially hard mental shove. It threw Parker’s human side clean out of their shared body. He stared incredulously at the back of his wolf’s head, and then quickly looked down at himself. He seemed solid enough. He pinched his arm. He was solid. But how could he and his wolf be in two places at the same time? Parker looked up. “What’d you—”

“Get out!” his wolf roared again.

This time Parker-the-human didn’t argue. He took a step towards the aft cannon pit and the next thing he knew, he was inside of it. He didn’t stop to wonder how he’d managed to do what he just did. That could come later. First they had to get out of here—alive.

Parker threw himself into the gunner’s seat and started firing.

* * * *

Melera was barely able to keep the ship on course. She fought the controls, sometimes having to enter a course correction two or three times before the vessel responded. It was only a matter of time before the computers failed completely. When they did, the four of them would be at the mercy of the Akkadians. She gave her head a hard shake. She was not going to think about that.

Then she thought about the jav jock responsible for turning her cruiser into a pile of space junk. The torpedo had hit the ship’s “sweet spot,” the place where the force field enveloping the ship—the shield—didn’t quite meet. The ship had been designed so the gap was small enough that the odds of being hit there were something like one to damned near impossible. “Had to be luckiest shot in the whole jakkin’ galaxy,” she muttered.

The cruiser slipped sideways. Melera drummed a short tattoo on a smallish, shiny black panel. Nothing happened. She drummed again. On her third try, the navigation program finally responded and the ship drifted back on track.

The Shen’zae and her javelin escort flew on, their erratic course edging them towards a truncated tetrahedron looming in the distance. The chase was almost over. It was still lively—Beloc must’ve loosed every spacehound in his wing, she thought—but her cruiser was too damaged in most of the right places to put up a real fight. She knew it, and so did the jav jocks herding her towards the Akkadian ship. She spared a one second glance at the familiar geometric monstrosity floating serenely against the starfield. PL86272, she thought. That was the truncate’s official designation. The prisoners it housed called it hell.

Her jaw set. Damned if I’m going back there.

((Agreed,)) her cz’ado’s—shadow—cold, four-toned voice echoed in her mind.

Melera glanced at a glowing red triangle pulsating gently on the console’s far left side. One tap from her finger would set off an unstoppable sequence that would ultimately scuttle her cruiser. Her plan was to start the countdown just before entering the prison ship’s docking bay. By the time they were fully inside, the program’s count would have finished, and the resulting explosion would shred the bay and everyone in it to confetti.

PL86272 would survive, she knew. That monster had as much square footage as a good-sized interstellar trading port. For prison operations, the bay’s destruction and subsequent repairs would be a minor inconvenience. But for Beloc, her fiery death would be a constant reminder that their personal war was over—and he had lost.

((What about the other three?)) her cz’ado said.

The ship drifted to starboard. It took two different command variations before she could get it back on course. She let out a light snort. If they knew, they’d thank me.

On the heads up display, a green circle flashed twice, then shone steadily. She raised her brows. Somebody was working the tail cannons. She glanced to her right. She hadn’t noticed Garrett leave the bridge but she wasn’t surprised to see the empty chair. So much for her Cree-do. But even a skratz will fight when cornered.

From the corner of her eye, she noticed the soft orange glow surrounding the holographic ship brighten considerably. She glanced at it. Her jaw dropped. What? she thought, her eyes darting back and forth between the viscreens and the holo. The starboard thrusters are holding at eighty-five percent. And the shield is holding at—she looked again to be sure—seventy percent?

“Kyle?” she said softly.

The AI didn’t answer.

Melera bit her lip. Better maneuverability and shield protection were more than she could have hoped for, but without Kyle she couldn’t skip them through the Void. That had been their real advantage against the javs. It made them harder to track. Even if she couldn’t nervejack with Kyle, the AI could have still fed her enough information so they wouldn’t emerge from the Void with a jav jammed into the commons.

A lavender streak from the ship’s starboard side destroyed a jav almost directly in front of them. Melera turned to port to avoid the debris. She heard Kurt’s smooth voice over the audios, complimenting Parker on his improved marksmanship. She raised her brow. She’d been too busy to notice.

Then, relative to her position, she spotted below her a large, passenger-type spaceship with a round, wart-like protuberance on one end. Her eyes widened in shock. The last time she’d seen it, an Akkadian destroyer had been using it for target practice. “My starliner,” she yelled in Xia’saan, her quintuple voices sounding like an angry choral quintet on steroids. “Beloc—I can’t—that jakkin’ jakker stole Warrior’s Shadow!”

“Melera, was there something you wanted to say to us?” Kurt said.

The vampire’s smooth voice jolted her back into the present. “Keep shooting,” she answered in Toro. It was all she could think of to say.

((I have an idea,)) her cz’ado said a few moments later.

I’m listening.

Her cz’ado explained its strategy. ((I can tell you when to go through the Void, but I do not have Kyle’s range. It will be very close.))

It’s our only chance.

A picture of a star cluster she recognized appeared in her mind’s eye. She nodded. “Pawkher, Khurt,” she said. “Redirect fire to the fore. We’re going for that ship below us. Gharrett, keep the javs off our ass.” Without waiting for the trio’s acknowledgment, she turned sharply to port, and aimed the cruiser’s nose at her old starliner’s observation deck. Then, redlining her ship’s four drives, she dove for Warrior’s Shadow.

The distance between the two spacecraft closed rapidly. The other ship’s observation deck grew larger and larger in the cruiser’s viscreens until it was the only thing she could see in its electronic windows. Parker and Kurt’s excited voices clamored for her attention, both men wanting to know what the hell she thought she was doing. She didn’t answer.

By now she was close enough to see the o-deck’s cameras, the small, round discolorations marching in orderly rows around the deck’s circumference. Trying not to let her fear get the better of her, she kept her mind’s eye focused on the star cluster her cz’ado had shown her. But her body wasn’t paying attention. It braced for impact.

((Now!)) her cz’ado’s cold, four-toned voice boomed in her mind.

Melera blinked.

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