Federal Dropship Impersonation
The ship in front of me looked like it had been designed by someone who had never been hugged in their life. Probably also thought that smiles were facial cramps and should be avoided at all costs. It was long, angular, and its red paint was scratched off in places. Apparently the previous pilot did not hold it in very high esteem, either.
“So, what did happen to your previous pilot?” I asked Toshiro, as I inspected the beast in front of me, dubbed FDS Cyclopean Endeavor, and we made our way to the cockpit.
Toshiro was the kind of person that would smile with his whole face, irradiating good humor and amusement with a simple gesture, without losing its hardened, weathered aspect. “The other pilot is still alive, if that is what you are wondering.” He said, making it sound innocuous and jovial. “Your concern should be whether you can fly this Federal Dropship or not.”
The controls seemed familiar enough, the standard federation setup most ships used. “Yeah, I think I can manage.” I said, trying to sound more confident than I really felt. Controls were one thing, but a ship’s mass, dimensions, speed, and a whole litany of other factors came into play.
Toshiro nodded and grunted in approval. He had the kind of non-verbal communication skills I could only dream of. Mirez and Bolo, the only other two crew members in this insane operation, busied themselves around the ship with hardly a word or glance towards me. I assumed it would make throwing me out of an airlock easier for them if they did not fraternize too much. Couldn’t blame them for that logic, really.
“Listen, Toshiro,” I said once the sociable duo had left us alone in the cockpit. “I don’t know what exactly you want me to do. What did Jezper tell you?”
“Jezper told me you are a smuggler,” he said, without the slightest hint of judgement or disdain. “And that you owe her a favour. Something about messing about in a Vulture that wasn’t yours?”
So he knows, I thought to myself. “Yeah, so then, well, the thing is…” I tried finding the right words. “This ship? It’s no good for smuggling.” I paused, self-conscious and insecure.
“Oh, don’t worry there, commander.” He sounded amused. “We’re not going to be smuggling.”
I felt relieved. Paying off a debt was much simpler if you were not under threat from the local authorities and pirates. “So, what exactly will we be doing?” I asked.
“We will be passing off as a Federation support ship.” He said, without looking up from one of the ships terminals while his fingers typed furiously. “And now, you are officially a Midshipman in the Federation Navy. Congratulations, commander Neulen.”
I stuttered. “Midshipman?”
He seemed to be enjoying my discomfort to no end. “That’s right. We will probably have to rank you up later ahead, but for now you should pass off as a federation pilot to all but extensive inspections.”
I tried to swallow the rising panic. Impersonating the Federal navy did not sound as easy as he was making it out. “Listen, I appreciate the offer, I really do, but I’m a smuggler, I’m not a con man.”
“Well, it’s about time you diversified, isn’t it?” He said. His confidence and nonchalance only made me more paranoid. “You just need to fly this ship for me to where I say, we run a few errands, it will be a breeze for you.”
“And what will you be doing?” I asked. “No one impersonates a Federation team just to run errands.”
Toshiro chuckled. “No, you are certainly right about that. But you don’t need to concern yourself with that. All you need to do is shuttle us around. Easy enough, isn’t it?”
The Federation prides itself in its armada, its massive battle cruisers and combat ships, and an intelligence network with considerable reach. It is an image they like to cultivate, and work quite hard to convince enemies, allies, and themselves of their technological and military might.
What most people don’t know, or try not to think about, is that the bulk of the federal armed forces are bureaucrats and clerks, not soldiers or combat pilots. It takes a lot of manpower to control Federal space, undermine foreign systems, and keep tabs on the Alliance and the Empire. The majority of that manpower does not carry weapons, or at least not with the intention of using them. Passing off as one of the many Fed operatives was by no means easy, but it was possible. Either way, as Toshiro said, it was none of my concern. All I had to do was fly this glorified bus.
Toshiro assured me that all of the ships credentials were in order, and the red coloring of the ship classified it as a service vessel; armed, but not designed for combat.
We loaded up on basic medicines, food, and materials out of Frey, and headed out into neighboring systems. It was a strange feeling, docking in stations without an urgency, making my approach at a slow, decent speed. Getting scanned still sent shivers down my spine, and my smuggler instincts urged me to fight or fly. But with nothing to hide, and with all the proper certifications, the scans passed and everything seemed to go back to normal. I was even greeted politely by security ships and docking officials.
At least I had nothing to hide. Toshiro and crew, on the other hand, were certainly up to something. I could tell they were professionals, because I had no idea what that was. Stopping at stations and outposts, cargo was going in and out, and I just sat there while it was being loaded and unloaded. Toshiro and crew would then disappear into the station for an hour or two to carry out whatever business they were cooking.
Whatever it was, it caught someone’s attention. And that someone did not appear to be too happy about it. It was easy for me to deduct the displeasure, because halfway to Boltzmann Gateway, in LTT 7548, we were rather rudely interdicted. A wing of two Vulture combat ships knocked us out of supercruise, sending our ship spinning for a few seconds as we dropped from the hyperspeed travel.
They wasted no time and opened fire on the FDS Cyclopean Endeavor. Even if I diverted all power to engines, this ship was not going to outrun our pursuers. Toshiro scrambled to the commander’s seat in the cabin, and I could hear Mirez and Bolo arming the weapons systems.
“Don’t try to outrun them,” Toshiro said calmly, putting more trust in the ship’s shields than I would be comfortable with. “And don’t try to outmaneuver them.” Then his voice turned louder, and command emanated from him in a way I was not prepared for. He instructed his crew: “divert power to weapons and systems. Bolo,” He ordered through the comms “get my turrets and missile racks locked on target. Neulen, get this ship into shooting position.”
Without a moment’s hesitation or panic, I automatically throttled down, deployed the powerful beam laser, and angled towards the lead ship. How the hell did he do that? I would have very much liked to panic at that point, but it seemed that was not in Toshiros plans.
The FDS Cyclopean Endeavor did not fly like my smuggling ship. It was slow. It drifted. When it turned, it felt like outer space was made out of pudding. Toshiro was not kidding when he ordered to not try and outmaneuver the Vultures. This thing would hardly outmaneuver a stationary object. Toshiro did not seem the least bit concerned as he studied the attacking ships with a serene kind of fury. The smiling Toshiro was gone, replace by one who seemed to consider violence an art form.
And contrary to my smuggling ship, this glorified cargo hauler had weapons all over the place. I did not need to chase the attackers, all I had to do was keep them at a good distance and in the line of fire. If I could not do that going forward, I was going to accomplish it going the other way. I pulled back on the throttle and fired off the retroboosters, sending the ship in reverse, creating distance between us and the vultures.
“See that ship there?” Toshiro pointed at the Vulture angling for a strike run. “The one designated CMDR Bucefalo? That there is an old friend. As soon as he turns, I want you to open fire with the beam laser. Bolo! Mirez!” He shouted through the comms, “As soon as the shields drop, I want you to unleash everything you have on Bucefalo. Forget the other ship, focus all fire on the main target.”
I felt that my hands were getting so sweaty the ship systems would short circuit. I could sense Toshiro staring at the back of my neck as I angled the ship. My maneuver had worked, it had forced the Vultures to attack me head on. Under normal circumstances that would have been an indication for me to fetch a fresh pair of underpants, maybe make my peace with the gods of the void.
Instead, I squeezed the trigger, and a blinding beam of light hit Bucefalo straight on. Its attack approach ruined, it tried turning away, but with Cyclopean Endeavor flying in reverse, I managed to keep it straight in front of us. The moment its blue shields flickered and died, all hell broke loose. Missiles erupted from the underside of our ship, and heavy kinetic rounds ripped at Bucefalos hull.
The other ship, a pilot with better judgement, cut out straight away, flying full speed in our opposite direction. Bucefalo also decided towards that strategy. I was amazed. The Vulture’s hull looked like it was hanging on by a couple of bolts as it boosted away from us as fast as its damaged engine would carry it.
It was still faster than FDS Cyclopean Endeavor could run.
I realized I was shaking and breathing heavily, my knuckles white on the ships controls.
“You can stand down now, Neulen.” Toshiro said, breaking the trance I was in. “Let them run.” He paused for a second. “You know, Jezper was right about you. You are not completely incompetent.”
Chuckling, he stood from the command chair and stretched casually. “Don’t give me that look. We have work to do. Set a course for Aksyonov Orbital. I’ll explain a couple of things along the way.”