Star Citizen

Walt watched the big bay doors close as the last of Gavin’s team left the hangar. His fighter and the few remaining ships looked small and awkwardly out of place in the big room. Standing alone next to Dell gave him a great appreci­ation for that awkwardness.

“I’m so sorry, Dell. If I’d been there —”

“Don’t,” she stopped him with a word, and then contin­ued with a shake of her blue-tipped hair. “Don’t do that to yourself. I’ve been over the tactical logs. He got beat one-on-one, and then they OK’d him. There was nothing you could have done.”

“I still feel rotten,” he said. “Like, maybe if I hadn’t left . . . I don’t know.”

“Gavin blames himself, too. That’s just the way you two are built. But believe me, there was never a soul alive able to keep my dad out of the cockpit. He was flying long before you Rhedd boys tumbled into our lives.”

That gave him a smile. A genuine smile. It seemed to bright­en Dell’s mood, so he did his best to hang onto it.

“Come on,” she said. “It’s been a long couple of weeks. Join me for some coffee?”

He did, and for a time they spoke softly at the tall tables in the hangar’s kitchenette. Dell caught him up on life aboard Vista Landing since he had left. She was clearly exhausted and not simply from a sleepless night and her father’s funeral. Her shoulders sagged, and dark circles under her eyes were the product of weeks of labor and worry. The constant apprehension of the Hornets’ vi­cious attacks had apparently exhausted more than just the pilots. It seemed odd that the attacks felt strangely personal.

“You know what I can’t figure out?” he mused aloud. Dell looked at him, tired eyes politely expectant. “What the hell are these guys after?”

She nodded, “Yeah. There’s been a lot of speculating on that question.”

“And?”

“Hard to say, isn’t it? Could be political wackos opposed to the research in Haven. Or maybe it’s one of the old gangs that don’t like us going legit. Could be it’s a group of Tevarin lashing out against UEE targets. Who knows?”

“Naw. If they were Tevarin, we could tell by how they fly.”

“Then you tell me, if you’re so smart. I mean, you were out there. You fought them.”

Walt shrugged and took a sip of cooling coffee. Something she said nagged at him. “Hey, you said you had navsat tac­tical logs from the fight, right?”

“Yeah.” What remained of her energy seemed to drain away with that one word. Walt cursed himself for the insensitive ass that he was. He’d just asked her about re­corded replays of her father’s murder.

“Dell. Ah, hell . . . I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have asked.”

“It’s okay,” she said. “I’ve been over and over them already. Really, I don’t mind.”

They moved to a console and the lights dimmed automat­ically when she pulled up the hangar projection. She se­lected a ship, and oriented the view so that the hologram of Boomer’s Avenger filled the display. No, Walt reminded himself, it wasn’t Boomer’s ship any more. Dell was his heir and — along with his debt — Boomer’s assets now belonged to her.

Dell bypassed the default display of the structural hard­points and dove into the ship’s systems. Something caught his eye and he stopped her. “Wait, back up.” She did, and Walt stopped the rotating display to look along the under­carriage of the ship. He let out a low whistle.

“That, Walter Rhedd, is a Tarantula GT-870 Mk3.”

“I know what it is. But where did you get it?”

“Remember those pirates that gave us so much trouble in Oberon? I pulled it before we sold the salvage.”

He certainly did remember, and the bastards had kicked the crap out of two of their ships with their Tarantulas. “How’d you get it mounted on an Avenger?”

“Hammer therapy,” she said. He gave her a confused look, and she held up one arm, curling it to make a muscle. “I beat the hell out of it until it did what I wanted.”

“Damn, girl.”

“Did you want to see the flight recorder?”

They watched the navsat replays together in silence. It looked like one hell of a fight. Chaotic. Frantic. The Rhedd Alert fighters were hard pressed.

Jazza had moments of tactical brilliance. As much as she rubbed him the wrong way, Walt had to admit that she made her Cutlass dance steps for which it wasn’t de­signed. Gavin orchestrated a coherent strategy and had committed extra fighters to drive off the attack. Some­thing was wrong, though. Something about the fight didn’t make sense.

Walt had Dell replay the scene so he could focus on the marauders. It didn’t look like much of a fight at all from that perspective. It looked more like a game and only one team understood how all the pieces moved. The Hornets flew to disrupt, to confuse. They knew Gavin would send a force forward to protect the transport. He’d done it every time they had met.

“See that?” he said. “They break apart there and get called immediately back into formation. They never leave a flank exposed. Our guys never get a real opening.” He pointed out one of the attacking Hornets. “That one calls the shots.”

“That’s the one that OK’d Boomer.”

Reds and greens from the navsat display sparkled in Dell’s eyes. Her voice was emotionless and flat. Walt didn’t want to see her like that, so he focused again on the display.

The marauder he’d identified as the leader broke from the melee. Gavin gave chase, but from too far behind. Boomer intercepted, was disabled, and his PRB flashed red on the display. The Hornet took a pass at the transport before turning to rejoin its squad. Then it decelerated, pausing before the overkill on Boomer.

“Why take only one pass at the transport? They’ve hit us, what? Six times? Seven? And once they finally get a shot at the target, they bug out?”

“You said, ‘us’,” Dell teased. “You back to stay?”

Walt huffed a small laugh. “We’ll see.”

“We’ve been lucky,” Dell offered in answer to his question. “So far, we’ve chased them off.”

“You really believe that? They had this fight won if they wanted it. And how do they keep finding us? It’s like they’ve taken up permanent residence in our damned flight path.”

That was it. He had it. The revelation must have shown on his face.

“What?” Dell asked. “What is it?”

“Back it up to the strafe on the Aquila.”

Dell did, and they watched it again. He felt like an ass for making her watch the murder of her father over again, but he had to be sure of what he saw.

And there it was. Strafe. Turn. Pause. A decision to com­mit. An escalating act of brutality. And then they were gone.

“She’s not after the transport at all. We were her target this whole time.”

“Wait,” Dell said, “what she? Her who?”

“Please tell me your ex hasn’t drunk himself out of a job with the Navy.”

“Barry? Of course not, why?”

“Because I just figured out who killed your father.”

Walt watched the big bay doors close as the last of Gavin’s team left the hangar. His fighter and the few remaining ships looked small and awkwardly out of place in the big room. Standing alone next to Dell gave him a great appreci­ation for that awkwardness.

“I’m so sorry, Dell. If I’d been there —”

“Don’t,” she stopped him with a word, and then contin­ued with a shake of her blue-tipped hair. “Don’t do that to yourself. I’ve been over the tactical logs. He got beat one-on-one, and then they OK’d him. There was nothing you could have done.”

“I still feel rotten,” he said. “Like, maybe if I hadn’t left . . . I don’t know.”

“Gavin blames himself, too. That’s just the way you two are built. But believe me, there was never a soul alive able to keep my dad out of the cockpit. He was flying long before you Rhedd boys tumbled into our lives.”

That gave him a smile. A genuine smile. It seemed to bright­en Dell’s mood, so he did his best to hang onto it.

“Come on,” she said. “It’s been a long couple of weeks. Join me for some coffee?”

He did, and for a time they spoke softly at the tall tables in the hangar’s kitchenette. Dell caught him up on life aboard Vista Landing since he had left. She was clearly exhausted and not simply from a sleepless night and her father’s funeral. Her shoulders sagged, and dark circles under her eyes were the product of weeks of labor and worry. The constant apprehension of the Hornets’ vi­cious attacks had apparently exhausted more than just the pilots. It seemed odd that the attacks felt strangely personal.

“You know what I can’t figure out?” he mused aloud. Dell looked at him, tired eyes politely expectant. “What the hell are these guys after?”

She nodded, “Yeah. There’s been a lot of speculating on that question.”

“And?”

“Hard to say, isn’t it? Could be political wackos opposed to the research in Haven. Or maybe it’s one of the old gangs that don’t like us going legit. Could be it’s a group of Tevarin lashing out against UEE targets. Who knows?”

“Naw. If they were Tevarin, we could tell by how they fly.”

“Then you tell me, if you’re so smart. I mean, you were out there. You fought them.”

Walt shrugged and took a sip of cooling coffee. Something she said nagged at him. “Hey, you said you had navsat tac­tical logs from the fight, right?”

“Yeah.” What remained of her energy seemed to drain away with that one word. Walt cursed himself for the insensitive ass that he was. He’d just asked her about re­corded replays of her father’s murder.

“Dell. Ah, hell . . . I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have asked.”

“It’s okay,” she said. “I’ve been over and over them already. Really, I don’t mind.”

They moved to a console and the lights dimmed automat­ically when she pulled up the hangar projection. She se­lected a ship, and oriented the view so that the hologram of Boomer’s Avenger filled the display. No, Walt reminded himself, it wasn’t Boomer’s ship any more. Dell was his heir and — along with his debt — Boomer’s assets now belonged to her.

Dell bypassed the default display of the structural hard­points and dove into the ship’s systems. Something caught his eye and he stopped her. “Wait, back up.” She did, and Walt stopped the rotating display to look along the under­carriage of the ship. He let out a low whistle.

“That, Walter Rhedd, is a Tarantula GT-870 Mk3.”

“I know what it is. But where did you get it?”

“Remember those pirates that gave us so much trouble in Oberon? I pulled it before we sold the salvage.”

He certainly did remember, and the bastards had kicked the crap out of two of their ships with their Tarantulas. “How’d you get it mounted on an Avenger?”

“Hammer therapy,” she said. He gave her a confused look, and she held up one arm, curling it to make a muscle. “I beat the hell out of it until it did what I wanted.”

“Damn, girl.”

“Did you want to see the flight recorder?”

They watched the navsat replays together in silence. It looked like one hell of a fight. Chaotic. Frantic. The Rhedd Alert fighters were hard pressed.

Jazza had moments of tactical brilliance. As much as she rubbed him the wrong way, Walt had to admit that she made her Cutlass dance steps for which it wasn’t de­signed. Gavin orchestrated a coherent strategy and had committed extra fighters to drive off the attack. Some­thing was wrong, though. Something about the fight didn’t make sense.

Walt had Dell replay the scene so he could focus on the marauders. It didn’t look like much of a fight at all from that perspective. It looked more like a game and only one team understood how all the pieces moved. The Hornets flew to disrupt, to confuse. They knew Gavin would send a force forward to protect the transport. He’d done it every time they had met.

“See that?” he said. “They break apart there and get called immediately back into formation. They never leave a flank exposed. Our guys never get a real opening.” He pointed out one of the attacking Hornets. “That one calls the shots.”

“That’s the one that OK’d Boomer.”

Reds and greens from the navsat display sparkled in Dell’s eyes. Her voice was emotionless and flat. Walt didn’t want to see her like that, so he focused again on the display.

The marauder he’d identified as the leader broke from the melee. Gavin gave chase, but from too far behind. Boomer intercepted, was disabled, and his PRB flashed red on the display. The Hornet took a pass at the transport before turning to rejoin its squad. Then it decelerated, pausing before the overkill on Boomer.

“Why take only one pass at the transport? They’ve hit us, what? Six times? Seven? And once they finally get a shot at the target, they bug out?”

“You said, ‘us’,” Dell teased. “You back to stay?”

Walt huffed a small laugh. “We’ll see.”

“We’ve been lucky,” Dell offered in answer to his question. “So far, we’ve chased them off.”

“You really believe that? They had this fight won if they wanted it. And how do they keep finding us? It’s like they’ve taken up permanent residence in our damned flight path.”

That was it. He had it. The revelation must have shown on his face.

“What?” Dell asked. “What is it?”

“Back it up to the strafe on the Aquila.”

Dell did, and they watched it again. He felt like an ass for making her watch the murder of her father over again, but he had to be sure of what he saw.

And there it was. Strafe. Turn. Pause. A decision to com­mit. An escalating act of brutality. And then they were gone.

“She’s not after the transport at all. We were her target this whole time.”

“Wait,” Dell said, “what she? Her who?”

“Please tell me your ex hasn’t drunk himself out of a job with the Navy.”

“Barry? Of course not, why?”

“Because I just figured out who killed your father.”

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