Black Honey Wings, Part XVI (Meanwhile)

Day 24. 93 pages, 42,400 words.

Tippy was already at the lander bay. He’d been there for about twenty minutes, waiting for the order he’d known was coming.

They were in a fight with a larger starship, and sooner or later they’d have to play the outnumber-and-outmanoeuvre card. Of course, he should also have been expecting the bad guys to launch their own sub-vessels, so ‘outnumber’ was off the table, but he was ready. He’d wanted to take initiative and just jump in a lander and take off, in anticipation of the order, but he knew W’Tan didn’t like that sort of thing. ‘Initiative’, to the XO, meant ‘making it up as I go along and forcing Commander Choya Alapitarius W’Tan to guess instead of strategise’.

And besides, the lander bays were on battle-stations lockdown, the docking blister sealed and shielded in case of enemy fire. It was still a weak spot, yes, but opening those doors and flying out into the middle of a space battle without warning was a good way to leave your ship’s interior completely exposed to enemy fire. There was no way to launch a lander during battle lockdown without command authorisation from both the primary and secondary bridges.

Well … no way that he wanted to let on he knew about. This wasn’t one of those situations.

As soon as the communication came through he was flicking open the access panel of the foremost lander, hitting the response codes and hauling himself around into her entry hatch. He should have been sitting inside already, he berated himself. How much time had he wasted by just hanging around in the lander bay? He scooted into the pilot’s seat and tapped the old acknowledge / ready commands. Ten seconds after the Commander had told him to wake up and get to the lander bay, he was warming up the electrochem burner and checking the solar battery levels.

Tippy loved flying the landers. Well, that wasn’t saying much. Tippy loved flying everything. He could strap a chem jet to the back of a janitorial and fly that around in space, and he’d love it until he suffocated and froze. But there was something about landers. Something pure. And Lander 1, which he privately called ‘Kelley’, was his favourite.

Kelley had a small but dirty nuclear cascade gun that they’d picked up from goodness-knows-where. It was mostly used for cutting and salvage work, at least that’s what it said on the manifest, but it could really take the shine off the day of any ship smaller than a modular. Admittedly there weren’t many ships smaller than a modular, but the gun was definitely worth having, because not many people expected a lander to have any sort of guns beyond the standard light gear. Kelley’s landing jets also had a directed flare feature that – again – the manifest said was for shear, storm and crosswind landings, but what it really meant was that the burners could be turned into a blowtorch. This wasn’t super-effective against bigger targets either, but it was all about what a creative pilot could do with it.

Best of all, though, Kelley had extra plates of armour – some sort of crazy experimental military stuff that Brutan had probably stolen from somewhere but Tippy wasn’t one to point fingers – wrapped around her nose and across her belly. You could fly her face-first into a modular, or land her on top of a Fleet scout pod, and come out the other side with maybe a sensor or external fitting or two broken off.

Kelley was not a lander. Kelley was a crasher.

She was designed to be flown by Tippy Ghee.

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