Author : Julian Miles, Staff Writer

They always told me about the stately elegance of space warfare. The distances involved and the participants like battleships of old on the high seas, with all the computer aided aiming and evasion systems, and man seemingly only there to provide a human loss element to the casualty statistics.

“Nine o’clock high! Lamboda Fours! Break and run! Break and run!”

I sigh and tell my ship to run away. I have also read old stories where the battles were opposite to what I had been told, the great ships moving in dogfights on a titanic scale, the only common denominator being that man was yet again along for the ride.

“Casull Three, you’re lagging. Pick it up or you’re crispy.”

Asshole. Of course I’m lagging, you used me as a shield in the last run-in. I have holes in my holes. Should have changed my call sign to ‘Swiss Cheese’.

For all the fine rhetoric, the realities were that in a pitched battle, the computers spent too long working out the variables. When another ship entered the fray, all the participants took a moment to recalculate the optimums. There was actually a critical mass reached off Nardia where the whole battle stopped as just the right number of ships kept dropping in and out of range to keep everything doing the math instead of doing the fighting.

And computers just couldn’t do the random stuff that won wars and made legends. Like now. I told the ship it was punch-up time and I wanted to exceed all safety limits by eight percent on top of ignoring the fact I was an engine down. Then I stepped on the go button and carved an erratic loop back into our pursuers. The ship manoeuvred like a drunken duck as the missing engine made a mockery of programmed flight paths.

Which is where I took up the slack, using my love of spinning like a loon while snapping shots at moving targets and flying as the gods intended: Laughing and screaming in sheer joy. My touch on the stick overrode the computer pilot; my hand off the stick put it back in control, frantically correcting my carefully induced appearance of lack of control. Which made my manoeuvring utterly beyond any attempt by my opponents to gauge where the hell I was, let alone where I was going to be.

“What do you think you’re doing, Casull Three? Get back in formation.”

“That’s what I’m doing, asshole. By taking pre-emptive action to prevent ‘limping Bessie’ here becoming my coffin, I am removing the scary things so that you can slow your yellow ass down long enough for me to catch up. Sir.”

The laughter from the rest of the flight drowned out his threats. If he made it through another patrol without going west in a blue on blue, my middle name wasn’t ‘vindictive’. With that cheering thought, I kicked myself into a classic Immelmann, apart from the lateral twitches and the inversion I tacked on the end, to finish up looking down on my final opponent’s cockpit. The look on his face was priceless as I vectored my thrusters to place myself nose down and shot him in the head point blank. Actually I shot him in the cockpit as the quad blasters up front don’t do narrower than a metre. With a happy whoop I handed my ship back to itself, told it to return to limp mode and rejoin the flight.

‘Stately elegance’ my ass. If you’re not grinning, you’re not flying.


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