by Joseph M. Weinberg
The whirring of the gun could be heard throughout the flagship Hunter as they locked onto the other ship, the Firebird. There was a pounding sound as the guns dislodged electric death across the empty void.
The magnetic field generated by the other ship sparkled to life as it bent the waves of electricity and sent them hurtling out into space. The large ship fired again, and was similarly deflected.
But the blasts were taking a toll on the smaller ship. The magnetic field was drained of power as each blast pulled a little more energy from the shielding. As the captain of the smaller ship pumped more and more energy into the shield, his crew began to worry if they would survive this encounter.
"Can't we strike back?" asked Tyron, the gunner.
"Even if we could, we could not penetrate their shield. They have five times the power we do," the captain, Cirus, replied calmly, an edge of fear in his normally emotionless voice.
"We have to do something! The magnetic shield won't take too many more hits from that thing!" said the engineer, Randy.
"But we can't get away!" the pilot, Tarri, countered. "They won't let up long enough for us to power up our main engines. We're stuck on thrusters, and they have more than we do. We can't go into intra-jump with the field up around us, and if we drop it long enough to make the jump, we'll be blasted into infinity!"
"Okay, people," Cirus said as the ship shook from a new blast, the field beginning to fail. "Any ideas are welcome; the floor is open."
"I have one," intoned a soft, hissing voice from the doorway.
"Squivel? What have you got for us, little one?" Cirus asked calmly, aware of the little being's temperament but also knowing its capabilities.
The little being trotted into the room. It was two and a half feet tall at the shoulder and covered with short blue fur. Six scaled arms were folded across the tiny chest, and the neck -- similarly scaled and as long as the whole body -- swayed back and forth, the five green eyes glistening in the bridge's light.
"The standard fields are all magnetic, because the magnetism deflects the weapon blasts, yes?" Squivel asked out loud, its fingers stretching out and smoothing its fur. "So energy weapons are out. We do not have the power to penetrate their field in a single blast, which is all we will get, yes?"
"What's your point, Squivel?"
Squivel's head darted at Tyron, and it hissed, its eyes blinking alternately. Tyron pointedly looked away, knowing that the creature's teeth were as sharp as its mind.
Squivel continued, "Well, the magnetic shield is conical, so that the energy flies by. A piece of metal will be sucked in by the magnetism, yes? We have a great amount of scrap metal, so if we let that go, it will be sucked into the ship and will jar their systems for a moment. The shields will remain up, but they will be disoriented for a bit, and the guns will take a while to lock on us again. It will give us enough time to jump out of here, and they will not be able to find us, yes?"
"Good!" said Cirus. "Now, supposing they can't track us, we'll be fine. But if they can track us, then where will we be? Right back where we started."
"Always you be a source of advocation, captain."
"What the hell is it talking about?"
Three eyes locked on Tyron with that comment, and another hiss escaped the slit that was a mouth on Squivel's face. "What I mean, gun human, is that Cirus is playing what humans call devil's advocate. You know of this, yes? Okay, they may be able to track us. But then, once we are out of this system, we can jump to any number of places, and they cannot track us."
A pair of tiny tongues slipped out between the saw-like teeth as they dropped the metal out of the cargo bay. "Prepare to drop shield and jump to intra-space, on my mark," said Cirus.
On the large ship, the instruments suddenly picked up a large number of unidentified objects. They headed for the Hunter, caught up in its shielding, speeding in faster and faster until they collided with the large ship's hull. The metal slammed with powerful force into the wall, and the entire craft shook. The system's electronics jumped and shorted and the instruments went crazy. The guns lost their lock on the ship, and the shield buzzed loudly throughout the ship. The crew was well trained, however, and had everything up and ready again just in time to see the target shrink and fade as it slid out of real space.
"Track it!" the admiral of the flagship, Admiral Braketson, ordered.
"Yes, admiral. Tracking commencing. They have jumped to the septa sector, and are currently heading to the third system, around the star Deneb. Sir, the system has a strong residue of jumping ships. If they get there, we will lose the trail."
"All hands, prepare for jump. Science officer, find out what the hell they did to my ship. Gunners, prepare to fire as soon as they come in range."
"Captain, we've been tagged. They've tracked us. They will be here in a few minutes. It will take us another ten minutes to reach the scramble field," said Sharise, the Firebird science officer.
"It appears you were right, yes?" Squivel said. "We are still to be caught. We have not the time to get away before they lock on to us again."
"How did we get into this, Squiv? Why are they chasing us?" the pilot's soft, feminine voice asked.
The creature's head turned full about to regard Tarri. "You know why they are after us. They want three things from us. The Viol crystal, the bounties on our heads, and me."
"You?" Sharise asked hesitantly. "Why you?"
"Because they have never seen my kind before. You humans are mostly the same, yes? Well, when a thing never has been seen, humans are interested in it; they want to take it apart and see how it works."
"We never took you apart."
"You are different. And you know a bit of what I can do. But for now, they are almost upon us."
As if on cue, the larger ship came out suddenly, its guns already scanning and starting to lock onto the Firebird.
"Fire out the escape pods," the engineer said suddenly as he raised the shield and converted all the power he could into the engines while still being able to take a few hits.
"Why? Are you suggesting we leave the ship?" Tyron demanded, receiving another angry hiss and mumbling on the part of Squivel.
"No, we just make them think we are. Or that we've jettisoned the crystal, or at least knowledge of its location. Or maybe they'll think we're trying the same attack again. Whatever it is, they will lock their guns on that, figure out what it is, and destroy it. While they do that, we draw ever closer to the scramble field. That will not work by itself. We must further confuse them. They have many guns, yes? Maybe not all of them will track the pod. We need a separate defense."
"Like what? A blade-shield?" Tarri asked.
"Almost. A blade-shield works by deflecting a powerful laser, by mirrors, all around the ship, yes? What if we take away one of their mirrors, one of the ones that would stop a laser from hitting their ship?"
"It would be like striking at them with a focused blast. But the strain will be enormous. We have to do it soon, and it had better work. We don't have the power to keep up two shields, or even one for very long," Tarri said.
They launched the pod and fired the laser.
The commander of the bigger ship, in his arrogance, had only minimal shields up, thinking continued blasts from his guns would stop any ship from fighting back. The laser was deflected from the main bridge, but it cut through the shield and went on into the hull.
"Damage report!" the admiral screamed at his crew.
"The hull is compromised on both the shielding deck and the main gun batteries. Casualties now coming in: five dead, thirty wounded. We are at their mercy, sir. We still have firepower, but not nearly what we should have, and less than they do."
The communication systems lit up as the admiral called on the smaller ship. Squivel hit the button for receive only, and the main screen went from the view of space ahead to the picture of the admiral. His chiseled features were in a perpetual scowl, his gray hair cropped short. His black uniform contrasted with the many patches and ribbons, as well as the symbols of rank.
"Starship Firebird, this is the Flagship Hunter. Surrender your vessel now. You are outgunned, and we currently have all our guns locked onto you," the message continued.
Cirus's brow furrowed. He turned toward Squivel, a questioning look in his eyes.
Squivel was watching a screen depicting the Hunter, staring intently with four eyes at the damage caused by the brief laser blast. He suddenly came to a conclusion and looked at Cirus. "He lies. The damage was severe enough that they have no shields and few guns. If we stop and turn about, we can destroy them with ease. He is desperate and has fallen to the bluff."
Cirus nodded, and pressed the two-way button. "We are aware of your situation, and have decided to refuse your demand, and to demand your surrender."
The admiral's features reddened with rage, and he screamed, "How dare you, you little ..."
"Pilot, turn us about," Cirus said, ignoring the continued insults coming from the admiral. "Gunner, prepare to fire at will. Lock on target. Admiral, you have ten seconds to comply. The surrender is unconditional. You will disarm your weapons and power down your engines. We will come aboard and arrest you all. If you or your crew resist us in any way, my gunner will destroy your ship."
The admiral continued to redden, but a whisper from behind made him calm down, and just as the firing countdown was ending, he said with great reluctance, "We surrender."
A sigh of relief came from the entire crew of the Firebird, and Cirus smiled in Squivel's direction. Squivel smiled back, the sawteeth shining white like a predator's. The claws on its hands twitched, and Squivel prepared to board the larger ship, its head swinging back and forth in amusement.
Squivel found it quite humorous that such a small ship had overcome a flagship with a strategy wrought of desperation. What had never been done with direct attacks had been done with a flaw in leadership and a bit of luck.
They let the flagship go the next day, once they had extracted a few heavy weapons, a pair of shield generators, the complete computer library, and a few other minor electronics. Squivel carefully dissected the engine controls, making sure the Hunter could not follow the Firebird for a long enough time to be far enough away to hide safely in the stars again.
As they departed, Squivel imagined the anger on the admiral's face as it looked around the ship it was on. Humans had so many faces they could wear. It was amusing. They could change the features on their faces, and they could replace lost limbs, but they could not focus on more than one thing at a time. So amusing, these humans!
Squivel decided to let them think they had control of the Viol crystal for a while longer. They enjoyed it, and the longer it could watch them and all their amusing ways, the better. They were a never-ending source of amusement.
Story copyright © 1998 Joseph M. Weinberg <email@example.com>
Illustration copyright © 1998 Romeo Esparrago <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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