Excerpt: Ocean Black: The Noble Exiles, Chapter Three
March 1, 2017
At the last second before contact, she slammed the controls forward, then pulled back again a half-second and punched a switch above her. There was a quick engine burn that felt like a swift kick in the ass as Min’s head almost went through his display, and then Vix stomped on one of the roll pedals and rolled the boat two hundred-seventy degrees. They sailed past the first boulder and threaded between the next three like it was nothing. Min felt like he could’ve reached through the window and sliced his hand on the icicles.
“Huh…” Min breathed quietly, afraid to break Vix’s concentration.
Every little light in the console that there was a bulb for was flashing crazily. The multi-colored show illuminated the beads of sweat on her fore-head in blues, greens, and reds.
Min felt his heart stop for a minute at how amazing she looked. Her face was a shimmering rainbow, and the colors danced on her hair, which at the moment was in a tight ponytail taped to her jacket so it didn’t fly everywhere. She was already gorgeous; the light, and her concentrated expression, made her look ethereal. He was almost too afraid to look at her, but couldn’t help himself. She was so beautiful, he thought, more than any person could possibly be.
Min had to make sure she lived, he suddenly thought, and the emotion associated with the thought seized him with fear. The inside of the ship was oddly quiet. Despite the array of warning lights, there were no sirens of any kind, most notably impact sirens. She had probably turned them all off.
Beyond the four major asteroids that had just come by, there was now a huge field of smaller ones ahead of them, and beyond that, a far greater, mini-moon size asteroid. It made the last four “big-uns” look like fragments. Min shuddered as he saw a couple smash along the horizon of the large asteroid and eject a shotgun blast of stone into space.
“You see the corridor?” Vix shouted at him.
“Look!” She took her right hand off the controls to point slightly off to starboard as quickly as she could before bringing her hand back. This was not the type of situation where one wanted to steer one-handed.
“I don’t see it!”
“Look at how the rocks are spinning, look at where they’re going,” she told him. “There’s a solar current running right through here.” She quickly let go of the controls again to make a straight-arm chopping motion. “We break starboard in front of this mega big-un, follow the current to the opposite side of the field—well, the other side, it’s not really the opposite ‘cause Meadow is more turd-shaped than anything really—”
“Eighty-seven!” Min shouted a bearing without any preface. The ship turned sideways and Vix slammed the brake thrusters out. Their view out the cockpit spun downward as a boulder went sailing in front of them by mere feet.
“How much longer do we have to stay out here?” Min was practically begging her now.
“If we do it at six hundred MPH: about three minutes.”
“Why do we have to do it at six hundred?!”
“Because anything less feels like easy mode,” Vix laughed darkly and pushed forward to accelerate.
“Wait-wait-wait-wait-wait,” Min chattered, tapping on his screens. “Your corridor is chock full of these little one- to four-hundred pounders.” He detached a display from the stand for a second and waved it close to her face but she made a point of not looking.
“Starting target acquisition,” Vix stated flatly and she pulled another lever above her. Min felt his seat vibrate even more. As it was, it already felt like he was riding a bay boat on Arcadia with the thrumming of the hull against the spray of rocks and ice of the Meadow.
“What…” Min started to ask, then he saw Vix’s hand curving around the lower part of the right handle of her controls, and the barely perceptible black trigger under her index finger. “Oh hell-no-you’re-going-to-shoot—”
“You better start lighting targets if you don’t want to die.”
“There’s no way this can print ammo fast enough—”
They were quite close to the largest asteroid now, and Min could see the individual pockmarks across the bleak surface of what might be called a moon if it were anywhere other than an asteroid field. Vix suddenly pivoted the ship to starboard and raced along the surface of the moon-asteroid, holding at most a couple hundred feet above.
“Two coming down in front of us, zero-zero!” Min cried, and the ship thundered with gunfire as Vix started shooting before the rocks were ever bracketed.
Their targets descended through the stream of cannon fire a half-second later and shattered into dust. The boat streamed through the dust and over the edge of the large asteroid, and Min sensed they were now aligning with the corridor. The rocks seemed to be moving slower now, and all in one direction…more or less.
“Look for the stuff coming at us from outside the corridor, I’ve got the stuff inside,” Vix instructed him, as if reading his mind. The boat slowly started to accelerate past these obstructions, and Min felt his breath freeze in his lungs.
He started wildly tapping on all the incoming asteroids that would be crossing through the corridor to give markers for Vix’s display. The rest of his body tensed up a second early when he saw, from the corner of his eye, Vix twist her right wrist quickly and pull the trigger all the way.
The 1.2-inch cannon spoke metal and fire to the stars, and asteroids starting exploding all in front of them. Min could hear the ammo belt clanging against the bulkhead behind his chair, and then he realized that there was only a thin wall separating him from the vacuum and the live shells streaming down the other side of said wall into the cannon. He absently wondered whether that was in building code or not to have live ammunition loading adjacent to a cockpit.
“Three coming in one-six-seven, elevate two-five—”
Brrrap-brrrap! Vix dipped the ship slightly left, rotated her wrist a half-turn towards herself, and gave the trigger a double-tap. Min saw the targets disappear off his screen, although neither he nor Vix could see it because of the angle it had been coming at.
“Oo-o-oh…the cannon’s on a swivel mount, too? You can shoot backwards?”
“I keep telling you how smart you are,” Vix gritted through her teeth as she rotated her wrist back and started blasting away in front of them again. She sailed through at least a dozen more asteroids, obliterating some and dodging others.
“Two coming in three-one—”
“I see, I see,” she replied quickly and tipped the boat on its aft slightly to point up and hosed the incoming rocks.
Another few bursts of cannon fire and they seemed to get clear of the larger rocks for a moment.
“Two-nine—” Min started to call out and then felt the boat get hit, hard, and he bit his own tongue and tasted blood. “Dammit!” His rightmost display told him they were still alive, even if his brain still doubted it for the next couple seconds.
“That’s going to leave a dent!” Vix groaned bitterly and sped up. “Goddamn breakers…”
Brrrap-brrrap-brrrap-brrrap! The cannon shook Min’s chair with every blast, even though Vix looked completely unfazed as she locked the trigger while twisting the controls left and right to steer the boat around the exploding stony chaos she was creating.
They came to another series of asteroids, much larger, slowly rotating and chocked with crescent cliff faces where they had been half blown out by collisions. A torrent of rocks was coming from below. Vix flew them through a half-pipe-esque asteroid that rotated around them as they flew down to dodge the mess.
More asteroids were bounding towards them and Min could see Vix twisting her wrist again to align the cannon with the shot. The boat snapped up slightly again to deliver another burst of destruction.
“Uh—” Min was rapidly tapping away on two different screens, trying to multiply the time per cartridge by the number of casings being cycled back into the printer. “Twenty-four, twenty-five seconds—”
“Baaaghhh! Too much!” Levers were flipped, and she spun a small dial on her front panel. “Give me everything, I’m retracting the cannon!”