The plan is simple; acquire, follow and hassle the target T9, causing as much chaos as possible then, when on the edge of the system, crack his hatch and steal the booty.
We know the T9 had to take 7 days to replace his ID and ship credentials and, from deftly hacking the port's data point, we have learned that Asshole will be leaving the station shortly after I pick up my shiny new ride. Piracy will be her maiden voyage, and I crack open a new bottle as I take up my position, directly opposite (but outside of the no-fire range of) the station's envelope.
Perfectly on schedule, the mouth of the station fills with the ridiculous hull of Asshole's space-cow. "The stallion's on the run," I say into my comlink.
"That's what we're going with?" crackles Al, "I thought we were doing a cow thing."
"No..." replies Dawg, "That was for the other thing. Remember, we decided to go with horses for this."
"But it's a space-cow. Stallion makes no sense here."
"It's all about context, my good man," replies Dawg cheerily.
"Focus, Asshats," growls Lori, "There's a year of free booze floating into space."
Free booze sharpens our minds fairly quickly, and I lock my targeting onto the T9 and gently ease my Cobra into a pursuit course. "Acquired. Lock onto my target."
T9's, for the uninitiated, are slow, hefty and have the acceleration of a fat dog running up a hill (or the deceleration of a fat dog running down one). Their hulls are made of paper and their pilots - unless uncommonly smart - run them light on shields, install no weapons and haven't invested in thrusters so that they can maximise the amount they can carry. These monsters aren't built for defence but for evasion - as long as they're not running E-rated thrusters. They're designed to carry, jump and keep jumping, with acceleration and stopping distances that would make us fighter jocks wince and weep.
We already know what this T9 is packing; the only thing we're anxious about is the ludicrously over-engineered FSD; once that thing spins up into SC, it'll be away to the next system in a blink, and with a range easily more then double any of ours, once it's gone, it'll be gone . We need to chase it to the edge of the system and pull that hatch off before its thrusters can get it up to SC-engage speed. This is the gambit.
I slip easily into Asshole's wake, staying a cool 500 or so kms behind him, broadcasting my position to the rest of the A-Team via my wing beacon. My scanner shows Al to my left, Dawg to my right and Tor behind me with an interdictor ready to fire. Lori, meanwhile, has the task to trying to guess where Asshole will run to, scoot ahead and prepare to intercept; his engine wake drops beneath us, his SC fires and he shoots ahead of us.
So far, so good.
My coms crackles.
"You're the bitch from the bar..."
"Hello, Sunshine," I say brightly, switching channels to observe to the others, "I've been made."
"Charm and disarm, Socks," says Dawg.
"Knew you wanted some," replies Asshole.
"Didn't realise you had such a big one, Sunshine," I croon into the coms, keeping it on open broadcast so the rest of the team can hear us.
"Fuck you. What are you after?"
"Just wanted to apologise. Realise I spilled your drink and blew your date. That's all."
"Yeah? And cost me 250 credits in medical."
"250 medical?! I'm so sorry, babe," I reply. "Lemme make it up to you."
"Yeah, right... like those dickbags you fly with would ever let that happen."
"Hey, don't be mean, they're my buddies. They're not so bad once you get to know them..."
By now, the T9's course has been laid in; he's pointing his nose out of the system and his FSD has just come online. But he's got only 60% of the thrust he needs to make the jump so we have about 15 seconds before things get exciting. Al, Tor and Dawg are all discussing this as I keep the Asshole chatting.
"So where you off to, Cowboy?" I ask, already able to guess it's likely to be either Umbila or Zvaiti.
"Fuck you," he replies tersely. "And your friends."
I'm guessing he's just made Al and Dawg on his scanner and move closer to him. Al and Dawg make similar conclusions and take the same action. We're now in tight, tidy formation, our fingers on our throttles as the space cow makes its inevitable boost forward, hoping to cheat its way to its minimum jump velocity. We surge forward with it, a single, focused pack of hunters, our minds sharp and our reactions fast.
"Oh, it's on, Bitch," he says, but he boosted too soon and now his thrusters are refusing to give him any more, eventhough he's asking them for it. He's pulling what little power he has in his shields out to plunge it all into his engines, but to no avail; that cow will run whenever that cow is ready to, and there's nothing he can do to get anything more out of her.
Our scanners show that Lori is in good position to intercept and locked onto our target. As the T9 closes on his position, he twitches his nose round to face it, and then - checking we're out of range of any sort of law enforcement - opens fire just enough to let the T9 know he's there.
Asshole swears unintelligibly over the coms as he realises our ploy. Tor now takes up my position as I surge forward and drop beneath the T9. Flanked on both sides, rear and front and only able to raise his nose to escape (and, thus, drop velocity), Asshole knows he's in a pickle and swears some more. He knows words and phrases that almost make me blush, but is a better pilot than any of us gave him credit for as he surges, twists and weaves in an attempt to break free of us without pulling his nose off course.
"Firing..." murmurs Tor, in as focused a voice as I've ever heard from him. He's right on the T9's ass now, moving in as close as he can while keeping the target in visual range. His plan - if not interdicting - is to pull the hatch doors off the back and spill that sweet, sweet cargo into space for us to collect later. Seconds later, Tor confirms that the hatch crackers are in place and doing their work. Al cheers.
"Socks," says Dawg brightly, "See if you can tickle his tummy. Slow him down a bit, or we'll be collecting that haul for weeks."
"Right-o," I reply, flipping over and letting my gimballed weapons trace over the T9's hull. There is more swearing over the coms while his shields - weak from his power redist - tremble and then give out. Now my weapons fire is measured and specific; I want to compromise his hull integrity to cause his auto-slow to kick in without tearing him apart.
"You got it, Kid," murmurs Lori, dropping to a closer, more personal range and laying down fire ahead of the T9's nose. Between what's ahead and what's beneath, the huge vessel shudders and begins to slacken its pace. It's all but over now.
"I reckon," says Al, "Socks could park that Cobra right on his deck.
"Not a chance," replies Tor, "On her first trip out? It's too tight a fit."
"How you doing with those doors, Tor?" asks Dawg thoughtfully.
"Would save time with the collecting of the swag," says Al.
"Go on, Socks," urges Dawg, "Show 'em what you're made of!"
"More fire, I'll slow him down. And do not try to board him with your ship..." order Lori, but my mind is already in this new game.
"Challenge accepted!" I cry gleefully, dropping back from my position beneath the T9, flipping and coming about to lie just off Tor's 'Vette's left wing. "Aaah, look at that thing," I murmur, sizing up my vessel against the vast bay doors on the back of the T9. "I could make that..."
"Stick to the plan," growls Lori, "Do NOT try to board..."
"I just need to..." I do not realise that I am no longer speaking. I sort of reach toward the Cobra with my mind, let my hands and my instincts take over. I must match vector and velocity, line up perfectly, get my approach angle spot-on... but all of this happens almost unconsciously, and by the time the hatch doors pop out and over my head, I am perfectly in line and ready to go.
Tor drops back, I slowly accelerate towards the T9's now-open rear. It's just me and my machine. I breathe; I am alive and dead. There is no time, there is no tomorrow, there is just this moment, right now. I ease the Cobra forward, my nose almost over the threshold now, I am aware of the power of the bird I am in, of harnessing it, of owning it with my body and with my mind. Half my bird is now aboard, the T9's loading doors just wide enough to accommodate me. I am in control; this moment is mine...
And then I am not in control. Some kind of invisible blast knocks me just enough to tip my left wing a little and it kisses the inner edge of the door. The friction of the gentle collision slows my wing further, threatening to pull me into a twist. I try to adjust, but I over-steer by just a hair and now the other wing is scraping harder. A heartbeat later and I am no longer in control of my ride. Metal screams against metal and now I am careering and spinning, my vision a blur of sparks as I tumble backwards, bouncing off Tor's 'Vette and rolling into space. The familiar scream of alarms fills my ears and then I am popping the canopy and being pressed into my chair again.
In the distance, there is the brief bloom of an explosion; the T9, I presume, and then my coms splutter into life. Dawg is laughing hysterically, Al is crooning "Come Fly With Me" and Lori's voice is - with fatherly patience - explaining what I did wrong when I tried to board the T9. It turns out - he explains - that I hadn't prepared for the "atmo bubble" to pop and it's what knocked me sideways and ultimately killed my bird. I'd been flying her less than 4 hours.
Tor's lights blind me briefly and as they clear, that fucking space-funnel is reaching for me again. I'm angry and somewhat humiliated and swearing with every word I can think of when my coms crackles again.
"Oi, you poofters," booms a male old-London accent, "Stop horsing about. What's this I 'ear about you taking on some bird? You all need a good slappin' you do..."
"Aah," says Dawg, "Commander Kharma - good morning, sir!"
"Alright, Dawg," replies Kharma, "Where's this female, then?"
A menacingly green Asp X bounces off Tor's hull,briefly shimmering purple as Tor's shields repel the vessel. The Asp comes about, its lights fixed upon me. "'Ello, darling, what you doing there, then?"
I flick the Asp a wave as the 'Vette sucks me in for a second time. After several long moments of bouncing, rolling, swearing and being thoroughly bruised, I roll to a stop and am - once again - handed a bottle of booze. I swig, wipe my lips on my arm and force my hoarse voice to reply, "Crime, you fucking layabout."
There is laughter over the coms. "You sound a bit worse for wear, love!"
"Commander Kharma, I presume?" I growl
"You presume rightly, Darling. Now tell me more about what these fucking clowns have had you doing..."
"Drink fast, die young"
"You may ask who was wearing the bow tie; me or the shark. The answer is: YES."