WITHOUT STOPPING, I yanked my comlink from my belt and, with it, frantically commanded Staphon to prep the Titan for launch.
“I’ve had it ready the entire time you were gone, young man” came Staphon’s response through the comlink. “After Bothawui, I’m not taking the chance of not being ready to launch with no notice.”
I clipped my comlink back to my belt and continued sprinting back to my ship. We finally reached the ship and ascended the boarding ramp. I slapped the ramp controls as I ran by, raising the ramp. I told Muehlenkha to head for the gun well while I headed to the cockpit. We had already left the starport by the time I had gotten to the cockpit. “You got him?” I demanded.
“We’re on him, but his ship is faster,” Staphon answered. “I’ll try to catch him, but I doubt we can.”
I pondered my predicament for a moment. “If we get him, great. If not, we’ve still got a homing beacon on his ship. I’m heading to the turrets just in case we’re needed.”
Staphon shook his head. “No, you can control the turret from here, young man. Not as accurately, but you can do it. I need you here in case we need to use the proton torpedoes. I can’t do that and fly the ship.”
I saw the merits of Staphon’s logic and plopped down into the copilot’s seat. I strapped in, put on a headset, and focused on the tactical screen in front of me. The Outrider had already left Ord Biniir’s atmosphere. The Titan was just now doing so. “He’s going to be far enough away to go to hyperspace soon,” I announced.
Staphon spared a quick glance at his tactical screen. “We’re going as fast as we can.”
“I know,” I acknowledged. “Bringing up shields and targeting systems just in case.”
As I was bringing up the targeting systems, a change on my tactical screen drew my attention. I looked through the viewport to confirm what it told me. It did. “Um, he’s gone into attack position. Looks like he wants to fight.”
“Yep,” Staphon agreed. “The deflectors up, young man?”
I double checked before answering. “Yes.”
“Proton torpedoes loaded?”
I again double checked. “Yup.”
“Do you know what turret you’ll be using?”
I had no idea. Before I could answer, Muehlenkha’s voice hissed through his headset, “I am in the bottom turret, Afcuyo Fraden.”
“Thanks, Muehlenkha.” I used the override in the cockpit to take control of the top turret.
This would be my first space combat, and I was feeling more than a little nervous. My adrenaline was pumping and I could feel my heartbeat throughout my body. A strange tingling sensation was radiating through my extremities.
I wasn’t sure if there was anything else I should be doing, so I asked, “What now?”
“Well, we wait ’til he’s in range. Hit him as many times as you can to weaken his shields. Once his shields get close to collapsing we need to target his engines because we want him alive. I wouldn’t use the proton torpedoes except as a last resort.” Staphon looked at me as if my doubts were being broadcast on my face, and then said, “Look, you can do this, young man. I know this is your first real action, but you know how to do all of this. Get it done, baby!”
I appreciated Staphon’s confidence in my abilities, but that didn’t quell my fears. I was violently yanked from my thoughts by the sudden turbulent shaking of the ship. Laser blasts were streaming from the Outrider’s laser turrets into my shield like water from a faucet. And we were the drain. The Outrider was at maximum range, so the hits were more annoying than damaging. That knowledge, however, did little to comfort me or my anxiety. Muehlenkha and I returned fire.
The two ships continued to close on each other. Troubled by the apparent intent of both pilots to ram the other, I asked, “You trying to see who will flinch first?”
“Something like that,” Staphon answered.
“So,” I wondered aloud, “what happens if you both flinch the same way?”
Staphon didn’t immediately respond. Then, after apparently mulling it over, he said, “Um, I don’t know.” He then altered the Titan’s course slightly to the right, just enough so that it was no longer on a direct collision course with the Outrider. Muehlenkha and I adjusted our aim and resumed our unrelenting barrage on the Outrider. “What are his shield readings?” Staphon asked.
I quickly glanced at the technical readout on the console before me. The data there did not please me. “It doesn’t look like we’re making a dent in them,” I reported. “He’s still nearly at full shield strength.”
No sooner had I finished my sentence when the targeting system let out a high-pitched howl, indicating that it had acquired a target lock on the Outrider. I had forgotten I’d activated the targeting system. Reasoning that laser cannons were, up to this point, ineffective, I decided to fire one proton torpedo at the Outrider.
“Heads away!” I loudly announced upon the successful firing of the torpedo. The torpedo quickly closed in on the Outrider. Just as the torpedo was about to collide with Rendar’s ship, however, it barrel-rolled to the left causing the proton torpedo to sail harmlessly by.
Man, that guy can fly!
Having finished his adroit evasive maneuver, Dash again brought his vessel into the direct path of the Titan and again began a collision course with us. He began to close and close fast.
“Sithspit!” Staphon spat. “He’s on a collision course with us and closing fast!”
I immediately glanced at my tactical display and saw that Staphon was correct. I suddenly had an idea. “I wanna try something. Set a collision course for the Outrider.”
“What?!” Staphon screamed disbelievingly. Had he not been piloting he’d have surely been giving me a look that clearly conveyed that I was insane.
“I believe that to be, ah, tactically unwise, Afcuyo Fraden,” Muehlenkha’s voice said to me through my headset.
“He’s not suicidal,” I hypothesized. “He’s not going to ram us. So let’s call his bluff.”
“This is stupid!” Staphon declared. “A minute ago you told me not to do this. Now you are?
“Just do it!” I barked. “If he wants brinkmanship, he’s got it”
“Whatever,” Staphon surrendered. He then put the Titan on a collision course with the Outrider. He pushed the sublight engines as hard as they could go.
Both ships closed rapidly on each other. The closer they were, the more nervous Staphon seemed to become. Muehlenkha and I continued furiously pouring blaster fire into the Outrider’s shields even though it seemed a fruitless endeavor. Finally, the two vessels were upon each other. Just before impact, the Outrider dipped below the Titan, avoiding collision. Staphon breathed a huge sigh of relief while I gloated. “See I told you he wouldn’t. . .”
I was never able to finish my sentence. I was interrupted by the most vile string of obscenities I’d ever heard fly out of Staphon’s mouth while he concurrently, and violently, banked starboard. If not for my restraints, I would have been thrown from my chair.
“What the hell was that all about?” I loudly inquired.
“Moron,” Staphon muttered. “That torpedo you shot was still behind him and it almost hit us when he flew by.”
“Sorry,” I rejoined caustically. “Like I was supposed to know he could just dodge a kriffing proton torpedo.”
“Look, young man,” Staphon began, “I say we jet and track him. He’s a better pilot than all three of us combined and on stimulants.”
Before I could respond, the ship again began to shake violently as laser blasts rained down upon the Titan with brutal accuracy. I immediately checked the Titan’s shield integrity and found that they were holding, but we were outclassed, out-gunned, and being out-maneuvered by Rendar and I didn’t want anything else to do with this fight. Just when I had worked up the nerve to tell Staphon that we should get out of dodge, Rendar’s assault on the Titan suddenly ceased. We both furiously studied our consoles to find out what Rendar was up to.
I noticed it first. “I think that torpedo finally caught up to him because his shields have nearly collapsed. His shields are currently at 10% capacity.”
“You are correct, young man,” Staphon said happily as he put the Titan through a 180 degree turn. He quickly spied the Outrider and adjusted his course to pursue. “No more torpedoes. His shields are almost gone.”
“Works for me,” I acquiesced. Then, to Muehlenkha, I enjoined through the com, “Light him up, Muehlenkha!”
Both Muehlenkha and I unleashed a ferocious barrage of laser bolts upon the Outrider, which had now changed tactics and was en route to the quickest possible course to get out of Ord Biniir’s gravity well so it could jump to hyperspace. Unfortunately, I would not be catching Dash Rendar this day. Rendar’s sublight drive was considerably faster than my own, and Rendar was slowly pulling away. We kept firing anyhow, but the shots were ineffective from this distance and didn’t require much energy from Rendar’s shields to absorb the shots.
“He’s running, baby!” Staphon announced.
“Yeah, not exactly what I hoped for,” I sardonically remarked.
“Hey, we survived,” Staphon argued. “It didn’t look like we were going to for a while.”
“Yeah,” I agreed distantly. “I’m not patient enough for this. I just want it over with.”
Staphon didn’t respond for a moment. Off in the distance, the Outrider disappeared from view as it made the jump to hyperspace. Then: “Well, the homing beacon is still working. We’ll have to plan better next time we have him cornered. We’ll get ‘im next time, baby. In the meantime, I say we head back to Nar Shaddaa to get some supplies. We didn’t have many to begin with and we’ve been away from home longer than I thought we’d be. We’re running low on almost everything.”
“Sure,” I said dejectedly. I programmed the coordinates to Nar Shaddaa into the navicomputer. “Coordinates are set.”
Staphon yanked on the hyperdrive lever. Stars elongated into lines and the Titan was then entirely encapsulated in a tunnel of the intense white light of hyperspace.