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Evasive Maneuvers

Eva grit her teeth as she took command of the lifeboat's control deck. With a few deft movements, she deactivated the autopilot and glanced over its flight capabilities. She quickly tested the maneuvering thrusters with some light movements, but quickly shook her head in disappointment.

"Not fast enough," she exclaimed loudly. "The launch thruster already expended all its fuel, and the main thrusters on this thing are garbage! It's like flying a sausage."

Instead of sitting idly, she quickly turned the boat away from the cruisers and maxed out the main thrusters. Since only capital ships had jump drives installed on them, they had no choice but to run as fast as they could, the old fashioned way.

The lifeboat surged forward, but the acceleration was incredibly short-lived. The thing shuddered slightly, as though that was about all the abuse it could take. In a few short seconds, the boat had already hit its maximum velocity of 100 m/s.

Meanwhile, the fighters that were attacking the other lifeboats were easily going at twice that speed. Although the cruisers were much slower than the fighters, they were still faster than the lifeboat.

Considering that the fighters were currently only using their nonlethal guns, Eva's best option for survival was to put as much distance as she could from the cruisers. It didn't matter if they were disabled and stranded, as long as they were far beyond the range of the cruisers' tractor beams.

"Let me help," said Miko.

Eva looked back at her momentarily, and when she saw her determined face, nodded in agreement. She quickly activated a remote MFD and gave Miko full copilot permissions to manipulate it.

It detached itself from the wall ahead and extended over to where Miko was sitting. Although its swing arm looked frail, it was actually quite sturdy, and barely even shook when Miko started to use it.

Just like Eva, Miko was very decisive with her movements. She quickly set her control deck to display a full readout of the boat's capabilities. She had no need to tap into the lifeboat's visual sensors, and so concentrated only on the internal operations of the boat. 

She only took a few seconds to digest it all.

"No weapon systems," began Miko. "Energy shielding minimum. Armor virtually nonexistent."

"Well, it's just a lifeboat," Eva said with a sigh.

Miko continued, "Power output is overall weak, so we cannot constantly dump energy into the maneuvering thrusters. We will burn out the core if we resort to that. But I might be able to supercharge them in brief intervals."

Eva quickly asked, "What'll it cost?"

"I will have to shut down life support briefly, that should give us the power we need. But the boat's computer will never give that permission. I will need a few moments to crack the system's NetDef and adjust its priority."

"What?" yelled the frightened passenger, "Shut down life support? You're gonna get us killed!"

The woman next to him quickly snapped at him, "Who cares about life support? What do you think those pirates are gonna do to us, huh? You men, they might just kill quickly, but us women... I-I don't even..."

She then sternly told Eva and Miko, "Crack whatever the hell you need to!"

"She's the boss," said Eva.

Without a word, Miko quickly hunkered down and got to work. Her small hands flew across the display in front of her, as though she was performing magic. To the untrained eye, she was simply shuffling data around, discarding and replacing randomly. 

It couldn't have been further from the truth.

All NetDef systems in Bellum Aeterna were semi-sentient AI, and had the capability to adjust its defenses on the fly. As Miko hacked in and changed code to suit her purposes, the AI was doing its best to repair what damage it could.

It was then a race against time between the two, as they both sought to shut the other out of the system altogether. Every batch of code it replaced was more robust than before. Miko had to fool it constantly in order to stay ahead, and tricked it into replacing related, but unnecessary code. 

Her brow dripped with sweat - the AI in this universe was ten times more potent than what she toyed with in-game.

An alert suddenly resounded inside the lifeboat: "Lifeboat systems have been targeted by multiple hostiles."

Immediately afterwards, a half dozen pirate fighters swarmed the boat, their signals painted red on the huge displays in front of Eva. She kept her cool and tracked them as best she could, and paid special attention to their flight patterns.

Based on the flight data on her displays, it was easy for her to imagine the pirates' individual trajectories. She scanned their velocities and checked their firing arcs, and quickly predicted that they were setting up to ambush her with a barrage of accelerator fire at all angles.

Without hesitation, she jerked the yoke to the side and activated her portside maneuvering thrusters just as the fighters opened a salvo of accelerator fire. 

The lifeboat entered a corkscrew maneuver and just barely evaded the streams of accelerator bolts that were fired from six different directions.

Some bolts still landed, however. 

They hit the boat's outer hull, and small arcs of electricity danced outward from the point of impact. Those arcs traveled along the ships' electrical systems, and neutralized energy from nearby modules as they passed through.

Inside, the lights faded in and out as the power fluctuated slightly.

"We are at ninety-three percent energy efficiency," stated Miko.

"Shut down ancillary systems and increase energy shielding," replied Eva.

While Miko continued her hack with one hand, she quickly shut down all unnecessary systems on the lifeboat with the other. Lights, secondary instrument panels, even the door controls were deprived of power. 

The only thing necessary now was survival, and everything else was secondary.

The only sources of light were now Eva's and Miko's displays, which bathed them both in a warm orange light. She then used the excess power to temporarily boost the boat's energy shielding, which helped resist the draining effects of the accelerator fire.

Moments later, Miko put her full concentration on hacking the boat again, her face filled with grim determination. Eva was also incredibly focused on evading their fire, and was doing rather well considering that she was outgunned and outmaneuvered at nearly every turn. 

She wove around the other lifeboats and did what she could to shake off her assailants.

Had it been any other pilot, they would have been disabled long ago. But no matter how good she was at predicting the pirates' attacks, and no matter how well shielded its electronics were, the boat itself was severely lacking. 

It was still outclassed by the fighters and was getting worn down faster than Eva was comfortable with. The boat's energy efficiency dropped with every hit, which slowed them down more and more.

There was only so much she could do but hit the turns harder, and squeeze every ounce of performance out of the boat. 

Just as the core hit less than three-quarters efficiency, Miko broke through the system's software defenses.

Although the power fluctuations made it harder for Eva to pilot the boat, it made things much easier for Miko to hack in. The fluctuations slowed the computer's logical processes, which took a significant toll on its defensive capabilities.

After Miko shut out the AI completely, she halted the boat's life support system without hesitation and removed the safety limits from the thrusters. The ship's power system started regenerating its lost power very quickly and was back up to 80% before Miko's grin finished spreading.

"Life support is now down," she stated. "We have five minutes of oxygen left, so please breathe sparingly. I am now rerouting the excess power to the thrusters."

Eva grinned as she heard that, and immediately throttled up the main thrusters. In unison, Miko opened up their valves, so to speak, and allowed more power to be poured into them. This shot the lifeboat forward very rapidly, which surprised the fighters - it had accelerated to 200 m/s!

They quickly regrouped and slammed their throttles to maximum in an effort to chase the lifeboat. They realized that whoever was in that lifeboat was clearly capable, and needed to be captured. 

Their ransom was undoubtedly going to be high, and the more high-quality pilots they could kidnap, the higher the eventual payday was going to be.

Unfortunately they no longer held the speed advantage and could no longer employ their circle ambush tactics. It quickly became a high-speed chase through the cloud of lifeboats, with the pirates trying to keep a bead on Eva. 

They continued firing at her every time an opening presented itself. They hoped to tag her enough to slow the boat back down.

"Persistent fuckers," she cursed.

She wanted to shave off a few of these fighters, and couldn't do much without any weaponry. But that didn't stop her from plotting. In fact, she got a devious idea when she spotted another group of fighters harassing another lifeboat.

She quickly adjusted her flight path and set her trajectory towards them. The pirates behind her followed suit at full speed. They were fully committed to capturing her and suspected nothing.

Once again, Eva scanned the data on her displays and predicted the flight paths that her pursuers were likely to take. She then maneuvered her lifeboat to ensure those trajectories. And then, she did the same for the pirates that she was headed towards. 

In her mind, she calculated and predicted the flight paths of the fighters in both groups, and looked for just the right opportunity...

She suddenly turned the yoke, which set the lifeboat into a high-velocity, high angled evasive turn. In order not to lose her, the fighters who followed immediately entered their own pursuit maneuvers. 

The blood rushed to their heads as the g-forces of that hard turn pushed on their bodies.

However, they were all focused on the chase, and lost all sense of spatial awareness in that adrenaline-induced moment. Eva quickly changed directions in the middle of the group yet again, which threw everyone completely off balance as they turned to keep suit.

One of her pursuers was blinded by the chase and didn't even realize that he was on a collision course with one of his fellow pirates. His mouth gaped open as his ship blared with collision warnings, but there was nothing he could do! 

His velocity was too fast to perform any sort of evasive action. The other pirate didn't even see him coming and had no chance to get out of the way.

The two of them crashed into each other at incredibly high speeds, which resulted in a beautifully chaotic spectacle. Metal twisted and collapsed into each other as pieces flew in every direction. One of the pilots was thrown around violently in his own core, his spine twisted and stretched and snapped by the sudden impact.

His fighter's power plant had also cracked in that collision, which quickly resulted in a reactor explosion that left nothing but burning debris. Meanwhile, the other fighter spun out and accidentally struck yet another pirate with great force. 

The impact sheared off entire sections of armor and ripped open both their cores. Both were rendered inoperable as they spun out uselessly.

Eva cackled gleefully in the pilot's seat, having spaced three enemy fighters while flying a clumsy space sausage, and all without a single weapon. Cheers erupted from around her as everyone celebrated their small victory.

But her smile and their celebrations faded quickly, as the second group of pirates quickly regrouped. They abandoned the lifeboat they were attacking and instead set their sights on Eva's boat instead!

Eva grumbled as she found herself now being chased by nine fighters rather than six. She outright cursed when they started firing their ballistic weapons at them.

To hell with capture operations! After being humiliated by a lifeboat, the pirates became furious and wanted blood!

CeritusOrbis

The novel is also inspired by various space opera and sci fi movies and TV shows, such as Star Wars, Star Trek, The Matrix, Doctor Who, The Mandalorian… The list goes on.

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