(First published 03 March, 2015)
“Erik, there’s problem with the NAV computer,” Mako said with concern in her voice. Erikson, the captain and owner of the D-5 Mantis light freighter and customized gunship shifted his seat around and forward to the main flight controls. This was nothing new to him or the rest of his crew, but Mako never learned to be easy in these situations.
Mako began expressing more concern, “Honey, we have to turn around.”
“You know we can’t do that in hyperspace,” Erikson retorted with a little concern in his voice too! Hyperspace scans indicated numerous large victory class vessels in their path emitting some kind of frequency that was disrupting the hyperspace lanes. “Mako, this might be the one,” Erikson told her. She never wanted to hear that from him. He saved her from a horrible fate on Nal Hutta and joined him only to fall for him hard. Dying in the vacuum of space is not how she wanted to go.
Clicking the intercom, “Battle stations everyone. Torian fall in with Blizz. He’s gonna need your help,” Erikson relayed. Skadge, a Houk Erikson picked up during a contract that sent him to Belsavis a few years back, came stomping into the cockpit. He settled himself into a gunner’s seat and strapped in. “Oh, yeah! Dis gonna be fun!”
Moments later Gault Rennow, a Devaronian who lost a gambit and horn to Erikson on Tatooine, came hustling into the cockpit and seated himself in a gunner’s chair and strapped in. “Maybe this will prove my allegiance to you. After all, how long can you really hold a grudge?”
2V-R8, Erikson’s sliced droid, was trying to relay something on the intercom when the Mantis was ripped from hyperspace and brought to a near halt; well relatively, going still roughly 1,100 kilometers and hour which is slow in comparison to jumped light speed. All lights in the ship went to a dull red, shields boosted to maximum, and Erikson smashed a lit blue button towards the top of his console. The modified EMP started a brief charge before emitting a massive neon blue pulse that radiated all about the Mantis.
“That’s three frigates. Time started. Hit ‘em hard boys,” Erikson charged! Skadge and Gault went nearly berserk. The three republic frigates were meant to ambush the hunter and his crew but failed. Gault laid hard on the controls ripping through the exposed hull of one frigate. Turbo laser fire ignited the liquid thorium coolant in it and caused the frigate to explode. Skadge sawed off an engine of his target causing the frigate to begin an out of control spiral before self correcting. Fire from his turbo laser cannon shredded the frigate’s fuel tanks and finished it off.
Despite their initial success they were still receiving heavy fire. Blizz was in an uproar in the engine room and could be heard all the way in the cockpit barking orders, in his spazzing and chittery voice, to Torian. Jawa’s were often among the most clever of engineers but were ruffled just as easily as anyone else under pressure. Each successive blast that racked the Mantis’ hull was stronger than the last as the ship’s shields began failing. And now they were in for it.
Asteroids. “LOOK OUT,” screamed Mako! Erikson tilted the controls and thumbed a switch causing the Mantis to barrel roll to its starboard side placing an asteroid between them and the third frigate. Coming around Mako acquired three missile locks and fired. Skadge and Gault finished off the frigate with laser fire through the engine’s thrusters.
Coming up on another asteroid, Erikson steered close to its surface. As expected, six groups of two Talon fighters came screaming around, blasters wailing on full power. It was lucky Talon pilots always came in pairs, unlike Imperial fighters. Gault, Skadge, and Erikson ripped through them with their laser fire. “Over there,” Mako shouted and pointed! A Jedi fighter!
“I hate these guys,” Muttered Erikson. He may not have had Mandalorian blood in his veins but Mandalorian spirits comprised his heart. With shields back to maximum Erikson flipped a switch on his consol which boosted engine power to weapons and another to override the cooling feature of the Mantis’ missile bays. Mako acquired a lock and let loose a rapid salvo of four missiles. The Mantis’ turbo laser cannons, under Skadge’s and Gault’s control, wailed sending overcharged green laser bursts against the Jedi’s fighter. The Jedi was fast and evasive but that wasn’t enough to dodge all of the missiles or even half of the laser bursts; nor were his piloting skills a match for Erikson’s today.
“We’ve got to stop that jammer! Mako, find where it’s coming from,” Erikson order! Coming around another asteroid spinning in place, a group of heavy Ace Talon fighters were charging them. The Mantis’ shields were cut in half. The team of three heavy fighters was reduced by a third; half of their wreckage slamming into the top of the Mantis’ hull with deafening blows.
The fighters came back around and Erikson yanked the controls down pulling the Mantis nose up and figure eighting around two other asteroids in order to appear behind the two synchronized Talon fighters. Three missile blasts followed their lock onto one fighter; a flurry of dozens of over charged green blaster bolts shredded the other. Adrenaline controlled Erikson’s movements which perfectly dodge all of the larger fragments the Mantis’ shields couldn’t deflect as they bounced off two asteroids being flown through.
“There it is,” Mako blurted out! “The signal is coming from the bridge of that command ship!”
There was no way they would make it to that ship in a straight line. Through the asteroid field they went. Seconds they had to regroup before three squadrons of Talon regulars were on them again. “There’s only one way through and it’s straight ahead,” Erikson growled!
“Is dat all you got,” Skadge grumbled! He leaned heavy on his controls as Erikson barrel rolled and generally owned the flight controls. Laser bursts glanced off the Mantis’ shields along with Talon fighter wreckage. To the left of one asteroid, above and down and around a another, beneath and steering portside past three more, ducking beneath a set of spinning and pothole marked iced mountains on the starboard side and smoothly along the surface of a small moon sized asteroid the Mantis was piloted; all the while dodging laser fire and using laser fire to chew up everything coming at it!
Then a burst of blue fire struck the asteroid before them throwing up rock and debris knocking the Mantis away from the surface. Inertial stabilizers aided in course correction. “This is gonna be tight,” Erikson blurted out. Maximum power was relocated to the shields and missile overrides were reinstated after launch tubes cooled sufficiently. Mako began locking targets on every gun she could on the G.R.S.S. Duma. One missile after another found its target allowing Erikson to hold the Mantis steady on approach to target lock the main bridge.
Six seconds and released from the prototype Czerka Industries Ray shielded proton tube exploded a neon blue light that burn brighter than the one that knocked the Mantis back from the surface of that asteroid moments before. The torpedo found the bridge and shattered the shields, glass, and communications array.
Erikson, pulling the Mantis up, flew around to make a second pass when a squadron of six heavy Talon fighters and a Jedi fighter began blasting them. The Mantis’ shields were dead, armoring was being shredded, and hull integrity was becoming an issue!
Another flip of a switch on the flight controls in Erikson hands began jamming targeting computers and equipment. The overwhelming red laser blasts ceased and started spraying wildly around the Mantis. Blizz was howling at Torian but managed to build up the shields strength again. Mako pummeled one, two, three, and a fourth fighter with double tapped missile salvos. Skadge and Gault finished off the remaining before focusing on the Jedi fighter. “Now we’ve got their attention,” Erikson pointed out with a bit of arrogant confidence as the Jedi flew head on into several pairs of Talon regulars. Half of them were shredded to pieces and Mako impatiently acquired missile lock after missile lock on the Jedi fighter waiting for the missile tubes to cool and be readied again.
“WHOOO! That got ‘em,” cheered Mako, as turbo laser fire from the Mantis finished the Jedi in unison with Mako’s skilled targeting and Erikson’s legendary piloting skills. Erikson pulled hard on the controls whipping the Mantis around and down passed another asteroid to focus attention on two other frigates. The Mantis opened fire.
The frigates were beginning to move again after the initial EMP blast Erikson set off. That EMP was recharged and ready for use again. Erikson pushed the throttle on the Mantis and charged the two frigates. They attempted to return fire but missed completely. Mako had locked on to each firing two salvos at each with four missiles. Shields were wiped out, engines, stunned again, and lights darkened. As Erikson flew between both frigates he pressed that button again.
The second EMP caused minor explosions on board both frigates. He circled the Mantis around to finish them off. Skadge was laughing with demonic delight as he commanded his turbo laser to shred through the first frigate and into the second. Gault followed suit without a sound.
Smaller explosions could be seen throughout the rest of the vicinity of the asteroid belt around the two frigates just obliterated. The EMP destroyed the system controls of many other fighters leaving an opening for Erikson to make another pass at the G.R.S.S. Duma.
Mako finished off the remaining guns directed at the Mantis while Erikson squeezed off two more torpedoes. The bridge wasn’t just destroyed but complete abolished from the remainder of the Duma; and hopefully Captain Duma with it. That command ship was now on a collision course with the icy pothole marked asteroid they skimmed earlier. With shields up and at maximum, Erikson pulled starboard and out of the asteroid field to ready a return to hyperspace.
If Republic forces were smart enough to know he was on his way through here then a secondary destination would be best. Mako set the proper cords in the NAV computer. In seconds the stars streaked to long blue-white lines and then into swirling messes as the Hunter and his crew survived yet another ambush by the warring governments of the galaxy.
The lives he took that day didn’t lay heavy on his heart at all. They didn’t even cross his mind. To him they were just ships. He didn’t know any of them. All he knew is that they were dead and behind him; that he was among the greatest hunters and pilots in the galaxy.
And if he was going to keep that title he’d have to ensure he walked that fine line without any stuttering. But for now, the Empire was going to hear word of this so he needed to get his recordings of the encounter to Imperial intelligence for a payday.
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