Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer

There’s always warning. No matter how sneaky they are, they can’t help themselves. The urge to see our reaction means they telegraph every strike. If our side managed to spot that more often, it’d be hilarious.
“Four o’clock low.”
I flick a glance that way. That twinkling is lenses aligning. I slap the alert panel.
“Up and attem, kids. We have incoming!”
I call Jonas back: “Top spotting, that being.”
“Saw a puff of manoeuvring thruster, Arby.”
“Clumsy of them. Do a sweep the opposite way, would you? They’re not usually that careless.”
“Trish is winging a bat out there now.”
“Please tell me she’s using a REMship.”
A cheerful voice cuts in.
“Arby, you do care!”
Jonas chuckles and exits the chat.
“Trish, the stealth bat you’re piloting is worth more than a year’s budget, whereas REMship versions only cost ten grand apiece.”
“I’m flying with a rolling screen of ten REMships, Arby. We know the new Blemenase detectors can tell the difference. With me in the middle, the swarm will be considered a threat they have to respond to.”
Dammit, she’s right.
“Give you that. So, what’s it looking like?”
Her tone changes from bantering to serious: “Oh, shee-it!”
My screens flash red. Detector data starts scrolling very fast. Hold on. These scale-of-attack numbers can’t be right!
“Nothing launches, people! Trish, hightail it back here. I have three full flights of Barracudas backing a Mantis. Five o’clock low.”
A flight of Barracuda-class harassers we can take. Two flights, maybe. With a Mantis-class warbird on top? Survivable – if we’re very lucky. Add a third flight? We’re done for.
“Arby, they’re a feint.”
“You what?”
“There’s a pair of cloaked Wolverine-class, nine o’clock high. They’re coming in on residual momentum.”
Furled their sails and engaged cloaking without firing up their drives. No energy trails for us to detect. The Wolverine is what’s laughably defined as a mini-dreadnought. We couldn’t take one down, even if we rammed a drive core. Their shields are strong enough to damp a range-zero core detonation.
“Trish. Flit off towards one o’clock high like you’re still looking for threats. Be ready to abandon your REMships for a passing pickup.”
“Net me, Arby. You’ll be able to salvage a few REMships from the mess, and you won’t need to slow down for docking.”
“Okay. Shock gel yourself when we swing in, because we’re not going to be hanging about.”
A spaceship is never still, even when supposedly stationary. In our case, we’re slowly revolving. I launch chaff from the lower dispensers only. Our nose lifts.
“All hands, brace for high-speed evasion.”
I prepare all four sling nets, because I don’t know which side Trish will come up on. I tell the snatch system it’s looking to scoop stealth bats in passing. It does the impact calculations, then prepares damper fields so we won’t crush the catch.
The nose is pointing the right way.
“Three, two, one… Drive!”
Even acceleration dampers struggle with full thrust. The slight deformation of eyeballs and internal organs is brief, agonising, and the main reason we avoid using it whenever possible: beings still occasionally die.
Somewhere amidst the pain and acceleration, I feel the impact of a sling net deploying.
Moments later we hit freespace and transition to FTL.
Trish chuckles.
“Arby, did you know REMships have a long internal spar?”
Always thought they were flexible spheres full of hologram projectors and drives.
“Scramble a repair team, would you? I can’t get out. There’s a spar through my external lock control panel.”
“Will do.”
We lived to fight another day. Marvellous.