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Boat Incoming!

The five aggressive pirate cruisers were steadily advancing on the warship Diomedes' portside flank, their intentions quite clear. They were no doubt preparing to attack the battleship, even though they were technically outgunned.

"Time to space some Feds," snarled the lead pirate captain as he rose from his chair.

His officers looked at the MFDs before them and reviewed the battlefield that lay right ahead. Various readouts revealed critical information as they scanned for weaknesses to exploit. They all looked like they were itching for a fight, and some were even visibly trembling from the anticipation.

"Aye, sir," replied one of the officers. "The railcannon's primed for a full power shot."

A sly grin curled up from the captain's lips.

Terra Nach Mar railcannons were among the best capital ship weapons in the universe. Their ability to penetrate armor was second-to-none, and the captain was confident that a barrage of five rail shots at a hundred percent would puncture even a battleship's thick hide. If they targeted the battleship's power generator, broke through the armor, and then destroyed it, then the fight was as good as theirs.

"Fire on my mark!"

The railcannon mounted above the cruiser began to hum as it charged up to maximum. Moments later, just as the hum hit a fevered pitch, it fired a round at an astounding 5000 m/s. The round's protective sabot fragmented and broke off just as the round exited the barrel, the pieces spun out in every direction.

The slug underneath was slim and slightly conical. It also had sharp grooves that spiraled down the sides, like it was a giant drill bit. Designed to puncture through the toughest armor, it spun with dizzying speed as it was propelled toward its imposing, heavily-armored target.

In less than half a second after it was fired, the slug smashed into the Diomedes, followed by four more slugs from the other cruisers. They all precisely struck the area marked by the first pirate captain. 

Each one kicked up a cloud of metallic dust on impact, as both slug and armor ground each other into oblivion. The force of all five blows caused the Diomedes to lurch severely, but its starboard thrusters kicked in moments later and stabilized it back into position.

The pirate captain watched with bated breath as he was eager to see just how much damage they had caused.

The dust thinned out and spread, which gradually revealed the condition of the battleship's armor. The battleship's thick plating suffered major damage, and was massively dented and gouged at each point of impact. 

But not a single slug penetrated!

The severely blunted and distorted slugs spun lazily away from the Diomedes after they bounced off, their kinetic energy having been almost completely neutralized.

Everyone on the bridge was astounded, most of all the captain who fired first. His jaw practically fell on the floor. He expected the last shot to get through and hit the generator, but this...

"What the hell armor did they install?," he stammered. "Fuh… Fire another salvo!"

~

"Sir!," yelled an officer on the bridge of the Diomedes. "Five confirmed hits to forward portside, belt armor severely damaged and at thirty-nine percent effectiveness. Slight structural damage."

Those B-ranked cannons would have easily torn through, Admiral Tori thought with a grin, if I hadn't retrofitted the Diomedes with A-ranked reactive plating in preparation...

"Overcharge nanorepair operations," he ordered. "I want that plating restored to a hundred percent before their next attack!"

He then turned to one of his officers with a stern gaze.

"And make sure we return the favor in kind."

"Aye, sir!"

Outside, a great majority of the Diomedes' portside turrets suddenly swung into action, and pointed at the cruisers before them. 

Though their guns weren't nearly as large as the railcannons on the cruisers, there were simply far more of them. There were at least a dozen turrets, each one armed with four Devastator cannons. 

Their cool grey barrels gleamed amidst the starlight.

The turrets zeroed in on the first pirate cruiser that struck, and proceeded to return fire. The barrage fired in rapid succession, one turret after another. 

The cannonade was so powerful that the Diomedes would have rolled with each shot, but its starboard thrusters kept the recoil to a minimum. The Diomedes was clearly crewed by experienced combat astronauts, their mettle tested in dozens of battles prior.

Shells slammed into the cruiser and wrenched it open with a multitude of gaping holes. Every single hit tore off more armor and warped the structure further than the last. 

The kinetic energy was so powerful that the cruiser was pushed back further with each destructive hit.

After the first dozen shells mangled the cruiser into a wreck, it was clear that it was soundly beaten. Its lights and systems powered down as the core leaked energy. But the cannonade wasn't over. 

Rather, it had only just begun.

Over the next few agonizing seconds, the cruiser was repeatedly shredded and torn apart, piece by piece. Shell after shell struck it until nothing was left but an unrecognizable pile of scrap and dust.

As the barrage ended, the barrels on the turrets cooled down, which allowed their brownish-orange glow to fade slowly. 

The turrets then tracked the next cruiser, adjusted their aim, and prepared to fire their next devastating volley.

~

The yoke shook violently as the lifeboat rocketed towards the Diomedes. It's structural integrity was low enough that it felt as though it was going to tear itself apart. 

Eva and Miko were both determined to reach the safety of the domineering battleship, while the nine irate pirates were still tailing them, guns blazing.

More bullets scraped by as Eva flung the boat into another corkscrew.

"Alert!" sounded the lifeboat. "Multiple systems compromised and failing."

Eva's MFDs were now filled with various flashing notices and red warnings - the boat was on its last legs. It had been whittled away a great deal. The pirates' guns had shredded much of the hull, and even hit some of the various ship modules.

Sparks flew in increasing amounts as the boat's internal damage mounted.

But everyone inside were all wound up tightly; this was no doubt the most chaotic and stressful experience they had ever gone through. From the emergency evacuation, to the pirate fleet, to the hail of bullets, to the incessant warnings issued by the lifeboat's computer. 

It was just too much for everyone, and many were on the verge of giving up and giving in.

Well, everyone but Eva and Miko.

"Fifty-nine percent!," yelled Miko. "Ten percent repair mats! Six hundred meters to the Diomedes!"

Steely determination flashed in Eva's eyes as she tightened her grip on the yoke. Just a few more seconds… They just had to keep it together for a few more seconds!

Suddenly and without warning, a Federation pilot appeared on one of Eva's screens.

"Lifeboat Tango-Tango-Alpha-Niner-Romeo. Backup has arrived. Head for FW Diomedes HB Five at forward starboard. Transmitting auth now. Over."

"You got it!" replied Eva.

From just ahead of the lifeboat, a wing of six Federation fighters swooped in while in an impressive attack formation. 

They immediately engaged the pirates that were chasing Eva, which took a great load off her back. Within seconds, they had already scored their first kill, and moved on to dismantle the rest.

A couple of the pirates were undeterred, however, and slipped through the net. They continued after Eva at full tilt. Their guns were firing almost desperately, and it seemed all their energy was focused on taking her down.

What a waste of skill and determination, Eva thought.

She then yanked the yoke to the side and avoided a stream of gunfire as she beelined for the Diomedes.

Having sustained so much damage, the lifeboat's agility had also suffered. Some of the thrusters had directly taken damage, while others were askew, thanks to the lifeboat's structure getting slightly warped. 

This caused the lifeboat to constantly drift down and to the right, which she had to manually counter by engaging the opposite thrusters.

Thanks to this, the lifeboat suffered a few more strikes to its hull, which caused all the passengers to seize up with fright - they were moments away from total annihilation.

"Fifty-four percent," said Miko.

Eva struggled to keep the lifeboat stable, and decided to weave around the Diomedes' defensive turrets. 

Her gambit paid off: they fired streams of chaingun rounds at the pirates chasing her, which caused them to back off a great deal.

One of them peeled off and retreated fully, having come to his senses and realized they were on the losing side of this fight. He would much prefer to be called a coward or a turntail rather than cease to exist altogether.

But the other remained and kept on firing.

Whoever Eva had spaced earlier must have been incredibly important to them, and never gave up the chase. Not that she cared in the slightest. The only thing on her mind was getting this boat on a landing pad ASAP!

An officer from the Diomedes suddenly appeared on display and said, "This is LZ Five. Slow your approach, Lifeboat TTA9R! You're coming in too fast!"

Eva yelled back in response, "Not an option!"

She then turned to Miko and said, "Open up the main thrusters!"

Miko nodded and quickly shut down everything else but the thrusters, controls, and displays, then cranked the thrusters' capacity wide open.

Eva speedily approached the open hangar bay and eyed the pad she was going to 'land' on. But her vector and velocity were far too high and too fast - if she tried to land now, all she'd end up doing was crash!

The frightened passenger grabbed at the seat in front of him, and ducked his head down. He didn't want things to end this way. They had run so far and so fast and yet things were going to end the same - he was going to die in a devastating wreck!

Just as Eva was a few hundred meters from the landing pad, she fired the thrusters so that the lifeboat spun around completely. They were now going 200 meters per second backwards!

She then put full power into the main thrusters to rapidly reduce their speed. She applied great amounts of thrust exactly opposite their previous velocity, which put massive pressure on everyone inside. They were down to half their speed a second later, just as she passed through the hangar bay's atmospheric shielding.

For a few torturous moments, every passenger experienced nine times earth's gravity, as Eva 'slammed on the brakes'. It didn't matter how much physical training one had - blackouts, whiteouts, and redouts were the body's natural warning that if the pressure didn't ease, then unconsciousness would be imminent. 

And then, probably death.

Eva herself fought against getting g-locked as she tried to maintain control of the lifeboat. Massive amounts of g-forces pushed at the passengers as their vision began to narrow and fade!

Some went completely limp as they lost all consciousness.

Thanks to the sudden reverse maneuver, their speed had reduced dramatically. However, the boat still held a great amount of velocity. It hit the pad with great force, and parts of its hull broke off as it bounced up a couple of feet before falling again.

It scraped along the pad with an ear-shattering squeal before it came to a dead stop. 

Wisps of steam and dust rose as the superheated metal that scraped against the landing pad cooled back down. 

Emergency crews immediately rushed the boat in a mad flurry, as they sought to crack open the boat and rescue its passengers.

Inside, everything was completely powered down, and even the displays were dead. Blades of light shone from above, through the various lacerations all over the boat's hull. Various electronics sparked as a bent wall panel fell on the floor with a loud clatter.

And despite the ruckus that surrounded them just outside, the only thing that the passengers could hear was the heavy beating of their own hearts.

CeritusOrbis

That was one persistent pirate, huh? I wonder if they’ll make a reappearance down the road…

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