Prequel: viewtopic.php?t=4945Chapter 3 - Between a Rock and a Hard Place
I honed my fighting skills in the Eagle and soon I was eager for more action than the Nav points were offering. Back dockside you could hear other Commanders tell of the endless supply of bounties they could rack up at "resource extraction sites". I listened eagerly and decided to give it a go.
Finding a RES isn't really that difficult. Just look for a ringed planet. Where there's rings, there's rocks. And where there's rocks, there's miners. They go there to extract the metals and other minerals locked inside those rocks. It's slow work, but it's almost pure profit.
The problem for miners is that they become cargo collection points - they funnel all those scattered minerals and metals into one easy-to-find location. They usually have just enough shielding to act as a bumper against the rocks and only a mining laser for a weapon. That makes them a juicy target for pirates, and pirates is what you go to RES to hunt.
Now there are two big differences between Nav points and RES. There's a lot more action at a RES, and there's a lot more rocks. Hunting at Nav points all I had to do was watch out for the other hunters and keep the target in my crosshairs. The biggest problem I had was closing the distance because they always seemed to drop in about 10 klicks away. Nav points are open and spacious and very forgiving.
Not so with RES. I knew there'd be stuff to fly around, but until you've been there you just don't know what to expect. There's nothing but densely packed asteroids as far as you can see. Those rocks are big and nasty and constantly moving. When ship meets rock, rock wins. I didn't look forward to dodging and weaving my way through almost certain death just to try and get a kill. If I had my way, I would much prefer fighting above, or below, the asteroid field. Luckily for me, that's what pirates prefer too!
Dropping into the RES the first ship I ran across was a lone miner. I saw the tell-tale short solid beam of light from the mining laser long before my scanners picked him up. There he was, about a ship's length back from the rock blasting chunks off. I scanned him just to be sure, but he was clean (and I'm no pirate) so I let him be.
I continued to make my way along the edge of the ring, trying to stay just above the plane of rocks. I was starting to run into the shadow field - that area of the ring where the sunlight gets blocked by the planet. It was hard to make out the asteroids - sometimes the only way I knew I was coming up on one was when I noticed a growing hole in the star field in front of me. I had a very bad feeling about hunting here, so I turned and headed back toward the sunlit side of the ring.
That's when I noticed the unmistakable streaks of laser fire in the distance. There were several bursts of light that kept playing about a center point, like spokes in a wheel. I knew where they intersected there would be a ship in trouble. Whether that ship was wanted or not, I couldn't tell, but either way this was what I was looking for! I switched full pips to engines and boosted towards the distant flashes.
As I closed on my target I formulated a plan. If the ship being attacked was wanted, I would lock on and go for the kill with everyone else. If not, I would make sure the attacking ships were wanted and target the smallest ship in the group and work my way through them. My brief time with combat had taught me that it was best to go after multiple bad guys when they are picking on someone else. Sure, they might break off their initial target and go after you, but I was betting they' d stick with a whittled-down target over a fresh one.
When I finally got close enough for the scanners to get a read I found it was just as I suspected. The lone ship was clean, so I followed Plan B and cycled through the other ships until I found the smallest one. It was a Sidewinder. I quickly targeted him and came around behind. I closed the gap between us easily enough (keep it in the blue!) and fired my pulse lasers into his ass. Suddenly, the hunter had become the hunted, and he broke off his attack, rolled left and boosted away.
Did I mention Sidewinders are agile?
Well, he might have stood a chance against a lesser ship, but the Eagle can stick to it's target like glue. I matched speed and rolled after him, careful to keep my orientation the same as his. As he came back into the center of my view I held the trigger down and let the pulses fly. Each stab of energy struck home, and soon I heard the computer say that comforting message: "Target shields - offline".
The Sidewinder pilot popped chaff and my gimbaled pulses lost their lock (for the moment). I used the time to let my weapons cool down and the capacitor recharge. As soon as I got weapons lock on him again I fired off what turned out to be the final volley. A few small explosions escaped from the Sidewinder, and then it exploded into a scattering ring of debris. The computer confirmed the kill with an audible "Target destroyed" and then showed me the bounty I was able to claim. 900 credits wasn't much, but there were still two more targets.
I turned back to the ongoing battle. What had been three-on-one had now become two-on-two. I quickly scanned the miner's ship - his shields were down and he was taking hull damage. I knew I'd have to work fast to have any chance of saving him (and, if I'm being totally honest, saving myself from being on the wrong end of a two-on-one attack). Of the attackers, there was a Cobra Mk III and an Adder left. I quickly selected the Adder and closed in.
The Adder took a little more time to dispatch, and before I could the Cobra pilot broke off from the miner and locked onto me. As he starting ripping into my shields, I realized I didn't have any time to waste getting rid of the Adder. I needed him gone so I could dance with the Cobra one-on-one. Even then, I wasn't sure if I had what it took to avoid an insurance payment and unscheduled space walk.
I finished the Adder, but didn't have time to enjoy the kill or notice the bounty payoff. I reverse trusted hard and looped in an effort to get the Cobra off my tail. It worked! He flew by and with a little effort I was able to drop on his tail. Of the three ships, his was definitely the fastest, but I was more agile. I struggled to match his speed and keep him from turning into me.
About three minutes into the fight I was beginning to wonder if I'd bit off more than I could chew. Even though I could out turn the Cobra, he had an annoying habit of blasting away and coming right back into me head on. As he flew by I would get on his tail and shoot until he blasted away again. Lather, rinse, repeat. I kept hoping I wouldn't be the one that got washed up at the end of this.
As he turned head on to me once more, I noticed that my shields were down (again) and my hull was at 6%. I bit my lip and hoped I would survive the onslaught. Returning fire, I noticed that his ship was weaker than mine - he was at 4% hull and his shields were a few cycles from going back online. It was now or never, so I turned on him one last time and sprayed laser fire furiously!
I watched anxiously as his hull percentage dropped slowly. My weapons started cycling one at a time, which I knew meant the capacitor had run dry. The Cobra started to pull away again as I heard the computer warn "Frame shift charge detected". I screamed "Nooooooo!!!" I'd risked too much to have that bastard wake out on me! I rested my trigger finger for a few perilous seconds to allow the capacitor to charge just a little. I hoped that one more good burst would end it. Clenching my teeth, I squeezed the trigger and gave the Cobra everything my Eagle could muster. 3%... 2%... 1%... 0%! Then after what seemed an eternity, the Cobra exploded and I let out a sigh of relief!
The bounty was a good one - 54,000 credits just for the Cobra! I relaxed back into my seat and wiped my brow. Glancing around at my panels I could see that I was in sore need of repair. So, I stowed my weapons, reset my pips, and headed for the relative safety of the nearest space port.
Thinking back on it now, I don't recall if the miner even said "thank you". The last time I saw him he was happily blasting rocks.