“UND-114-D ‘Cossack’, Sameera–”
There was always a brief pause in her mind when she was about to leave the deployment chute. No matter what was happening, whether a Leviathan was coiled around the ship, or a group of smugglers was getting away. It spanned the briefest period of time that one might acknowledge as a complete thought. Pilots always stated their designation and name as a courtesy to the Bridge crew, so the officers could confirm exactly who was going out and in which machine.
What was her name? She surely couldn’t say the whole damned thing–
“Sameera Al-Shahouh. Deploying!”
Whenever she launched off a ship, she always chose the side of her Shimii mother. It was confusing. She had never felt like either a Loup or a Shimii. Thankfully it was a short-lived anxiety. Her name ceased to matter once she was launched into the endless blue of the ocean. Her Diver pushed down into the water from the deployment chute, free of the ship, adrift in the waters. From the earbuds Sameera wore in lieu of a pilot’s headphones, she caught Dominika’s voice.
“UND-114-C, ‘Strelkannon’, Dominika Rybolovskaya– Deploying!”
Around her, in that dark, murky blue, Sameera picked up the other Divers in her cameras. She had been one of the first to deploy alongside Dominika, Murati and Sonya; Khadija and Valya would be coming out in a few moments. She fixed one camera on Dominika to try to keep her position in mind at all times. More than being a beautiful girl, she was her squad mate, after all.
“Nika, is your heartbeat rising?” She asked.
“I’m closing the audio channel too if you’re going to keep being annoying.”
Sameera smiled, but Nika pointedly kept their video channel closed. “I’m just being nice!”
Sameera’s own heartbeat was certainly quickening. Those moments just after deployment but right before the melee were excruciating. It was too surreal to be sitting around idly in a war machine. She became preoccupied with the isolation of her human body within the cold cockpit. It was only the promise of the glorious hunt that lay ahead which steeled her resolve.
“Good hunting!” She finally said. Nika did not return the sentiment.
Dominika’s “Strelkannon” was armed with a launcher for underwater rockets on one shoulder and a semi-automatic cannon in the other. In her Diver’s humanoid hands she carried a 20 mm Gepard SMG just like the one Sameera was carrying too, but that was a last resort weapon.
Sameera’s job in a squadron like this was to make sure Dominika never had to fire that type of weapon. Murati must have known this was a role she was familiar with and thinking about this fact flattered Sameera. As part of the Border Forces’ Leviathan control squadrons, she often partnered with Strelkannon pilots, acting as a bodyguard for those bigger, slower frames.
“Keep steady for a moment, until Khadija and Valya are ready.” Murati said.
After deploying from the chute, the Divers immediately engaged their engines. Because the Brigand was moving, and the enemy fleet was moving, they had to actively pursue the Brigand for a few moments in order to stick with it themselves. At full tilt, their Divers could move much faster than the Brigand, which itself was not moving too quickly at the moment. So it was not much effort for them to orbit the ship’s keel for a few seconds to maintain formation.
Khadija and Valya descended shortly thereafter. All six frames were in the water.
Over the communicator, the voice of Electronic Warfare Officer Zachikova sounded.
“Jamming munition going out!”
Something then emerged from the utility chute near the Brigand’s aft in a flurry of bubbles.
“Everyone, switch off your audio for the next minute and follow me.” Murati said.
Beneath the armrest to which her control stick was attached there were physical controls for some of the touchscreen functions. Sameera preferred these, to quickly get her hands back on the sticks if she needed. She switched off the audio from there. With the audio off, it also meant all the predictors, which used acoustic data, became useless, frozen on their last prediction of what the surroundings looked like. Sameera focused on the physical cameras.
She then engaged her accelerator, pushing the pedal into a slot in the chair to lock it in.
Her ‘Cossack’ thrust out from under the Brigand, propelling itself on jets of ocean water.
Murati’s Cheka, with its sleek design and dark paint job led the charge into the murky ocean ahead, Shalikova’s slightly modified Strelok keeping close behind. Sameera had tested the Cheka, so knowing its speed, she knew exactly how fast she needed to go in order to keep some kind of pace with it, while also staying near Dominika, who was definitely bringing up the rear. The Strelkannon’s armament made it a couple knots slower than everyone else in all respects.
At first the loose assemblage of Divers stuck close beneath the keel of the Brigand, but after clearing the jets on the back of the mothership and entering the open water between their ship and the enemy fleet, the group broke into their sections with practiced understanding. Even without communication, they all knew the prerogatives of a Diver pilot in a combat situation. Don’t stack up, or a flurry of torpedoes or concentrated gunfire could kill the whole squad; keep moving with your squadmate toward your objective. Always assume your squadmate is going after the objective and move together. Sameera and Dominika dropped altitude together. Fifteen meters apart from each other, and many more from Murati or Khadija, they charged directly through the center.
Without the predictor, there was nothing concrete on her cameras but Dominika. No ground below them, nothing ahead but the dark blue water and dusty traces of organic matter filtering down from the photic zone. She was suspended in water. It was sometimes hard to come to terms with. Within her metal bubble, the movements of her machine felt dream-like without an enemy in sight or any landmarks to give her any feedback. She felt airy, as if descending forward; it felt like gravity was taking her through the murky nothingness around her more than her own power.
All she had to go on was the last positions of the fleet and her own instincts.
Her heart beating fast, a cold sweat building on her chest, Sameera counted the seconds.
She hated those slow, vulnerable moments. She wanted to be in the fight– sixty seconds.
Electronic Warfare was sophisticated enough now that it was basically impossible for such a munition to jam the enemy’s acoustic computers for very long. Computers by themselves could digitally attenuate the noise with surprising speed, and a skilled Electronic Warfare officer could potentially take less than a minute to shut out the attack and restore functionality. Because the jamming munition was so disruptive to its owner too, it was set to disable itself within a minute. It was a distraction, nothing more, but blinding every acoustic data device for a minute was enough.
Like every weapon, it was not just the capabilities, but the tactical use, that mattered.
At their top speeds, the enemy fleet was well over a minute away.
Being able to cut any amount of that distance undetected was a blessing.
For those sixty nerve-wracking seconds there was nothing but the feeling of her clammy, slick skin, the sound of her heightened breathing, and the sight of the empty ocean all around her. She waited two additional seconds just in case, since the munition’s noise could have hurt her hearing; she then flipped on the audio.
She was greeted by Murati’s crackly, low quality voice.
“Stay in contact with your squadmate and keep moving! We’ll see them ahead soon!”
Her computer began collecting acoustic information again.
Though her predictor and sonar were nowhere near as sophisticated as those on the Brigand, they could cross-reference data compiled by the Brigand to keep track of objects as overlays on the cameras. Before she could see them physically, the enemy fleet appeared as red squares denoting hostile positions dead ahead.
Seeing something, anything, in her cameras stilled Sameera’s heartbeat just a bit.
Being able to hear the ocean and her squad again also calming.
It helped her ease out of the physical isolation of her body and become her machine instead.
And her machine saw four smaller squares, flanked by two larger squares, and a massive one even farther out ahead. As she got closer, the shapes became slowly more and more distinct in the dark water. She picked up speed to approach. For the next few seconds, every reaction counted.
Ignoring the massive square representing the Irmingard class flagship, she focused instead on the lighter prey. Attacking from below enabled them to get at the keels and maybe pop some of the ballast tanks. She dove several dozen meters down with Dominika before turning back up toward the fleet. Moments later she saw the first hint of metal appearing in the waters overhead.
Dozens of rounds of gas gun ammunition from the ventral guns rained down on them.
Though she could hardly see the guns, she did see the lines of bullets cutting through water.
All around her, explosions went off leaving vapor bubbles the size of an adult’s head.
Her cockpit stirred as weak shockwaves flowed past her machine from every direction. No direct hits; just pervasive weak vibration. Gas gun bullets had proximity and flight fuzes so they would go off even without a direct impact. Their goal was for at least some of those blasts to nip at her armor, at her gear. If the ocean could stick even a finger into her cockpit, she would die.
In Sameera’s mind, the best defense against this was a rapid offense.
“Nika, I’m engaging the–!” Sameera called out.
Before Sameera could finish her sentence, a rocket sailed past her on a trail of vapor.
One of the cutter’s keels erupted with an enormous vapor bubble, disgorging metal. From the epicenter of the explosion, a shockwave shook the waters around the vessel. Gunfire from the stricken craft ceased instantly, and the conning tower tipped sideways as the ship began to sink.
Three remaining cutters began to swerve close together to put up a tighter curtain of fire.
“Jump left; I’ll release another missile!” Dominika called out.
“Got it!” Sameera replied.
From behind her, Dominika’s Strelkannon launched a second missile.
With the increasing volume of enemy flak all around them, Dominika’s missile detonated just short of the mark, struck by the errant gunfire. Vapor from the explosion created a brief screen between themselves and the fleet that the pair used to reposition. Sameera engaged her jets and solid fuel boosters and veered quickly to avoid the guns, keeping her cameras trained on both the enemy and Dominika to insure they were not separated. Dominika hit a sharp right instead.
Rising up the water table, Sameera swept up and to the left out from under the ships.
While the ventral guns shot at nothing, the dorsal guns retrained on Sameera as she rose.
All around her the water parted in white lines pushed aside by supercavitating bullets. Brief muzzle flashes indicated continuing gunfire. Bubbles and water vapor dispersed like fog around the Cutters as the disturbances from previous explosions settled and the white clouds of fresh blasts bloomed amid the dim blue ocean. A geyser of water bubbles erupted from the sinking cutter below as another section failed due to pressure. Soon it would fall out of sight and strike the sea floor.
All of this was happening in such a brief span of time, it could hardly be thought about. Seconds, moments, instants of Sameera’s life, flashes too minute to ever be memories. Punctuated with more violence than any ordinary person would ever see in a lifetime. Sameera let out a breath, her eyes were starting to tear up from the stale air in the cockpit. She was focused, steeled.
I was insane enough to stare those fucking things in the face. I can handle this.
Sameera always put her body on the line. She had to; it was the only place she belonged.
For a brief instant, on the edge of one of her cameras a new, flashing red square appeared.
Sameera noticed it and reacted immediately, darting at full speed in its direction.
“Incoming contacts, Nika.”
“Intercept them and quit calling my nickname so much.” A calm, stoic voice immediately responded.
Sameera loved that. She didn’t have any expectation that Nika would ever like her anyway.
Grinning to herself, she withdrew a weapon from behind the Cossack’s backpack.
Upon taking the gear off the magnetic strip it was attached to, this seemingly rectangular, unintelligible object sprang to life in her mech’s hand. One half released and snapped into place atop the other. A handle attached to a blade with an armored rear end protecting a rail, battery and driving gear for the saw-blade cutting surface. Called variously diamond swords or diamond cutters, depending on the size and shape, these were the Union’s simpler version of the Imperial vibrosword. A long, spinning blade made of diamond and depleted agarthicite, wielded in hand.
Sameera’s sword could have cut into a ship, but it would not be turned on them for now.
Her “Cossack” shone brightest when it came to fighting other Divers.
It was almost the same as cutting up Leviathan meat. They were prey; she was the hunter.
“Sorry fellas, but I’m the only one who has a date with this lady~!”
Swerving to avoid flak, she launched into a sudden charge toward the incoming Divers.
Within sight a pair of rotund imperial Volkers appeared from the murk with 37 mm rifles in hand. Like an egg tapering down into a waist where legs could go, and shoulders that arms could slide into, these were quite basic enemy Divers. They had traced the explosions to Dominika’s Strelkannon and were moving in the direction their predictors told them the missiles came from.
Their rear cameras must have seen Sameera closing in.
Likely it was the inexperience of the pilots that led them not to pay attention to their flank.
Sameera raised her SMG and fired a burst of 20 mm gunfire ahead of them, mid-charge.
Five bullets exploded harmlessly in their vicinity, and in a panic, they came to a dead stop.
Sameera was on top of them in the next instant.
Bursting up above them and then suddenly shifting all her thrust downward, she smashed her sword on nearest Volker, digging into the shoulder and the helmeted head at the front of the round chassis. Her sword’s spinning teeth ripped a jagged wound right over the enemy’s cockpit.
Dead. Not even the faintest response from that unit as Sameera changed targets.
Acting fluidly in that same instant of violence, she ripped her sword from her first victim and raised her Gepard to the second, firing off a five-round burst into the side of the second Volker point blank. Fist sized blasts tore bits of armor off the arm and hip, but one bullet got deep into the arm joint before exploding under the shoulder. Bubbles and foam burst out of this tiny orifice.
Pressure ripped open the machine, spewing gore and debris from the expanding wound.
Dead. A lucky shot from Sameera and an unlucky one for this pilot.
One finger of the Ocean had gotten into the cockpits through the leg joint. One instant amid this dance of steel; enough for two lives to end so suddenly. But she was not alone, and the fighting had not stopped because a few targets were dead. As she threw herself into that melee, she was well aware that they were dancing within a storm of steel as the enemy flak trained on her.
It took seconds to score those kills, and then she had to run again.
In response to her charge a fusillade erupted from the Frigates’ own gas gun turrets ahead.
Matching the intensity of the fire from the nearby Cutters, it threatened to enfilade her.
Engaging her jets, she retreated from before the Frigates to arc back over the Cutters.
She beheld the looming, murky shadow of the flagship, the Irmingard class, moving ever closer. Tangling with the Volkers was like fighting a duel in front of a monument shrouded by fog. She was so dwarfed, that what she could see of the enemy ship occupied all of her field of vision. Even the Frigates also moving into range did not make up anywhere near as much of the space.
To that ship, Sameera and the Volkers were nothing but specks of dust dancing in the water.
For a moment, she thought of herself, a tiny thing framed before that colossal figure.
But only for a moment. Sameera’s innocence toward battle had been taken long ago.
And she hated thinking of herself as small. She had to be huge; she had to be the biggest.
All the while she thought this she sped away toward Dominika’s position. There were at least six other Divers lurking somewhere and she had made it her personal mission that none of them would touch a hair on her precious Nika’s head. It was this sort of thing that most easily motivated her to action. Fighting, not only to survive, but to excel, to prove herself, for glory.
“I’ve dealt with our rude onlookers! Nika, has my absence made your heart grow fonder?”
As if in response Sameera saw a flash from just ahead.
Nika’s remaining rockets rained down on the remaining Cutters from above.
Four missiles crashed onto the decks and towers of two cutters and detonated into bubbles broad enough they vanished the ocean directly in front of Sameera for several seconds. Ordnance that went off in the water evaporated and created a bubble. Both the volatile forces within the vapor bubble, the disturbed water around it, and the water then moving in to refill the bubble, placed massive pressures on whatever the ordnance targeted. When fleets full of heavy guns went to war, the blue expanse of the ocean filled with these deadly clouds, shearing, and pounding on the metal.
Sameera engaged rearward thrust to avoid the blasts and circled to the front of the fleet.
There was a massive hole in the flak cover as two cutters sank with heavy damage.
One remaining Cutter began to rise up the water table, dumping ballast to make an escape.
There was nothing in the fleet’s center but debris and two Streloks a hundred meters apart.
Sameera saw the door opening in front of them. That massive Irmingard, dead ahead.
“We’ve opened up the center.” Sameera said.
“Link back up with me now and stop mumbling, we’ve still got the Frigates.”
She wished Dominika would say something more emotional than that.
Not even out of a particular interest in her per se– simply to alter the mood.
Would it have hurt her to say I need you? Not that anyone ever told Sameera that.
“Right now, the way to the flagship is clear.”
“Are you nuts? It’s teeming with enemies around here still. Don’t be a hero!”
“The Lieutenant said we should take opportunities! We could end this battle right now.”
“This is an opportunity to get yourself killed. I’m coming to you, so just wait there–”
Sameera felt a growing frustration. She was not even asking Dominika to go with her.
Right in front of that Irmingard, the way had never looked more open. On the left flank, the Frigate was not moving to cover the gap. Maybe Khadija and Valya? And on the right flank, the other Frigate was starting to catch on to what was happening. Meanwhile that remaining Cutter had fully deserted its position and was no longer firing. Above them, the Destroyer’s gunfire was trailing after something Sameera could not see, likely Murati and Shalikova’s doing.
They had it right there– a breakthrough!
And the more they tarried, the more it closed! Only Sameera had this shot to secure victory. When she hunted Leviathans, every instant with the snapping predators invited death. Even the slightest twitch that allowed Sameera to attack was one she had to exploit. Squad or no squad, she was done negotiating with Dominika about this.
“I’ll take my chances with being a hero. Hang back and avoid the enemy Divers!”
“No! Absolutely not! Cossack– Stop! Sameera! SAMEERA!”
Dominika shouted at her over the comms but Sameera paid no heed as she hurtled forward.
Even though it did feel good to have a lady shout her name– her eyes were full of glory.
Sameera always went for the biggest prey. She had to. Nobody would acknowledge her otherwise. Bigger prey, a bigger fight, escalating, drawing more and more blood– it was where she belonged!
Before the second Frigate could accelerate far enough ahead of the Irmingard to cover the gap left by the broken vanguard, Sameera rushed in among the fleet with everything her machine could give her. Stray gunfire from the accelerating, maneuvering Frigate flew well past her as she hurtled toward that metallic grey beast ahead. Looming larger and larger, that thick spoon-like prow like the head of a monster, and more of the enormous body behind it taking up her vision.
Her computers ran down the numbers every microsecond, closing in–
75 meters, 67 meters, 56 meters, 42 meters, faster, faster, she almost had the trophy–
Sameera responded in an instant.
Engaging rearward thrust, she avoided an object rushing at her from below.
A vibrosword swung past her, the edge barely sliding off the skirt armor on the left hip.
“You’re no ordinary mercenaries! This’ll be fun!”
In front of her appeared an enemy Diver, a semi-triangular chassis with a flat head.
Jagd. Transmitting into the water; the acoustics picked up the voice.
Sameera had studied the second generation models like the Jagd. When she tested the Cheka, leaked design information for the Jagd was part of the project. Armed with a claw, a sword, and built-in SMGs, it could develop higher speeds than a Strelok due to its light weight, but it wasn’t all-powerful. That small performance gap that existed between the Volker and the Strelok was about how much a Jagd had on a Strelok too: in the simulations anyway.
Everything would depend on the pilot.
The Jagd had probably come out of the flagship. There was no flak coming in their direction anymore. It could have shot down the Imperial diver. For a moment, the two pilots floated on low thrust with maybe twenty meters between.
“Complying, merc? Good idea. Your jailer today is Ingrid Järveläinen Kindlysong.”
That pilot was taunting her. She had a woman’s voice, but a deep, violent register.
Judging by that name–
She was a loup, an actual Imperial loup. Sameera had heard the stories.
That was half her bloodline, the Empire’s vicious vanguard and recon troops. Attack dogs.
Sameera switched to the public frequency. Her hair was standing on end.
For a moment, she almost hesitated before speaking: “Sameera Raisanen-Morningsun.”
Giving her Loup surname– what did she even think it would do?
Ingrid’s crackling laughter erupted from the radio. It almost shook Sameera.
Her ears hung on that voice, that was so familiar, so like her own, like her father’s–
“You’ve got an interesting name, you stray! You ought to have stayed in your village and left the mercenary work to the Katarrans! Fitting that I’ll be the one to discipline you. I’m not unkind to my people! I have no love for the Empire. I’m only doing this for the lady in that ship. You mercenaries have no more conviction than to follow who is feeding you, so I’ll make you a deal. Come here where you belong, like a good puppy, and help us apprehend these criminals–”
No, it was nothing like her father!
It was nothing like her!
In that instant, Sameera had enough of Ingrid’s evil words.
This woman was nothing else but an enemy. Nothing else mattered.
Sameera felt her heart surge as she threw the Cossack into a sudden charge.
Her sword clashed with the Jagd’s claw and sent a finger flying into the water.
“Go fuck yourself! I’d sooner die than end up like you!” She shouted, seeing red.
She was almost angrier at herself and taking that frustration out– but she wouldn’t admit it.
Ingrid was utterly unfazed by the sudden attack.
“Happy to oblige then! I have nothing against tearing the throat off a hollering stray!”
From the shoulder, the Jagd launched into a thrust with its bladed arm.
Sameera disengaged the rotation of her blade to have a solid block to parry with.
She pounded the Jagd’s sword aside, reengaged the motor on the blade, swung–
From the moment she parried, however, that Jagd had her where she wanted.
As if fluidly playing along with the parry, Ingrid suddenly slipped past Sameera.
Those four remaining digits of her claw glowed red and gave off vapor.
Imperial claw weapons used both heat and sudden, snapping pressure to tear off metal.
Swinging right into her exposed flank, hoping to tear a chunk right out of her belly–
Sensing the danger, Sameera gave up her attack.
Using all available thrust she threw herself away from the Jagd to create space.
“Aww, the puppy is running away! After all that barking!”
Ingrid met speed with speed and charged after Sameera almost instantly. Her sword came down on the Cossack’s in a blink. This was nothing like fighting those Serrano patrolmen.
She was a Loup, a real Loup! She was vicious and had the reflexes and hardware to support it.
Sameera found herself on the defensive as a rain of blows came down.
That Jagd’s arm sword snapped back and forth through the water with punishing ease. Repeatedly the blows came, and all Sameera could do was meet each of them with the flat, armored back of her sword, watching the integrity of the wrist and arm joint on the Cossack. As soon as Sameera tried to create space that Jagd was back on top of her, the difference in power-to-weight proving horribly decisive.
With every move, Ingrid would chase her down, leaving her no chance to retaliate.
If she could even lift her gun– but Sameera hesitated– the arm might be sliced off–!
“Trying to shoot? And I thought we had a nice duel going!”
Ingrid backed off just suddenly as she once attacked.
The Jagd’s twin shoulder guns flashed. Dozens of rounds of 20 mm erupted from the barrels.
Explosions bloomed all around the Cossack and followed it as Sameera fled.
She thrust directly upward, her cockpit shaking as a few blasts pitted her chest armor.
Gaining just a bit of distance and height on the Jagd. Couldn’t shoot– couldn’t swing–
In a flash of inspiration, Sameera smashed the utility buttons on her sticks.
“What?” Ingrid shouted, confounded by what followed.
The Cossack’s shoulder hooks blasted out of their pods and slammed into the Jagd.
Sameera barely had time to check if she hooked anything on the steel line.
She engaged both forward thrust and the motors for the hooks to reel in.
One hook had slammed hard into the left shoulder gun and jammed it–
But a second hook had grabbed hold of the complicated shoulder joint on the claw arm.
Thicker and larger because of the power supply for the claw’s heating elements and motors.
There was a lot of surface area for the hook to grab tight.
As she engaged the hook motors, the Cossack hurtled forward and snapped the Jagd up.
Ingrid’s gunfire went nowhere as the two mechs careened toward each other.
Sameera’s gambit had paid off.
Unable to think or plan ahead, relying on the pure feral instinct of hunter and prey.
She sped to the Jagd, barely swung her sword, and smashed right into the enemy mech with the blade between them. Her blade bit furiously into the central chassis for a second, chewing metal and kicking up fragments, before the Jagd rocketed back with every lick of thrust it could afford. Kicking up a brief cloud of vapor between itself and Sameera’s Cossack, snapping off the hook with the force of its flight, the Jagd retreated over thirty meters out of the melee.
In the surrounding waters, parts of the shoulder and one of the gun barrels floated as debris.
For a brief moment, a pinprick of agarrthic energy licked the water surrounding it. Some of the Jagd’s battery cells must have shorted out. Like the Cheka, they were distributed throughout the body: a second generation trait. Less weight overall, but the arrangement had some drawbacks.
Ingrid’s furious breathing was all that was coming through. No more taunts.
Sameera’s nervous eyes turned briefly to the diagnostics display.
Her sword was going. Ingrid’s attacks had deformed the motor housing. It was seizing.
Hull integrity was starting to dip right in the center of the chest, but still ocean-worthy.
And the left leg intake was partially compromised. That would affect her speed–
That was not Ingrid’s voice–
Shit. Sameera thought. Shit, shit, SHIT.
She had been so stupid. She had let herself get separated; diverted to fight one measly unit!
“Sameera, I need backup, now!”
There was not even an instant of thought or hesitation in Sameera’s mind.
If Nika was killed due to her stupidity, Sameera’s soul would have died with her.
Her body was put into the world to protect others– how could she have forgotten?
“Sameera! I need you!”
Without another pointless word exchanged with Ingrid, Sameera took off at full thrust.
“I’m coming! Hold on!” She shouted.
One of her cameras and monitors had always been set to track Nika.
Her attention had been drawn off it for her brief skirmish with Ingrid, but it had always been doing its best to track her. Each Strelok had a unique acoustic signature — slightly different hydrodynamic structures would create unique wakes. Dive computers were able to keep track of team members this way.
On this camera, a green square overlayed in the distance represented Nika’s general area.
Two red squares overlapped with hers.
Sameera saw a yellow warning on the diagnostic screen.
She was losing thrust on the left leg.
Would she make it? It was a matter of seconds she didn’t have–
As she got away from Ingrid, gunfire from the Irmingard class intensified.
Long lines of gas gun bullets flew past her and burst, a constellation of dangerous blasts.
Sameera swerved, losing even more speed as she evaded the fire.
At the head of the fleet, the Frigate had advanced to close the gap in the flagship’s defenses just as Sameera had predicted. There was a red square around it as well, overlayed on the camera, but Sameera did not need it to see the clear danger it presented. Gunfire from this Frigate framed the melee between Nika and the enemy Divers, preventing her from escaping. She was completely surrounded. Sameera rammed her pedals, trying to get the left leg to push more water through, but it did nothing but physically vent her frustration. She could not go any faster than she was.
“They’ll kill her.” Sameera’s eyes drew wide, cold sweat streaking down her face.
Her sword was useless; her SMG didn’t have the range to respond; and she was losing thrust.
Murati or Khadija would not make it in time. It had to be her; only she could do anything!
She wracked her brain thinking about all the weapons and systems she had at her disposal.
Her mind flashed back to her fight with Ingrid. She had one hook that hadn’t broken.
One hook– and a bomb. She still had the bomb!
Sameera mumbled to herself, her mind stumbling over possibility.
“Murati, I’m so sorry. If we survive, I’ll accept any punishment.”
Beneath the backpack jets on her Diver’s chassis, there was a magnetic strip. Her sword attached to it when it folded, but her bomb was also there. She withdrew the pipe-shaped demolition charge. It was a pure chunk of explosive without any lining or penetrators, fixed with a simple detonator connected by wire and triggered with a switch in her cockpit. Sameera popped out her one remaining hook from its shoulder pod and affixed the bomb to the hook.
“If I throw it, and then start up the hook’s hydrojet–”
Sameera faced her mecha toward the overlapping red boxes of the Frigate and Volkers.
And the green box, Nika.
“Nika! Pull away from them now!”
She pulled back her arm, engaged one of the solid fuel boosters and made a snap throw.
Smashing the utility button on her trigger, she engaged the hook’s jet.
At once, the hook sped away fully unimpeded.
Farther and faster than Sameera’s Cossack could ever go in this instant.
It was so fast it was hard to track.
She had about 80 meters of cable, and she could also cut the cable loose–
“Shit, with the explosion–!”
Realizing she had no idea how wide the blast would be, she did release the tow cable.
“Nika, please get away!”
As soon as the green square of the bomb overlapped the red squares of the enemy, all outside of Sameera’s direct field of vision, she took a deep breath and pressed the second of her utility triggers. Through the enormous length of thin electric wire to which the bomb was attached, a digital detonation command was sent from the Diver to the pipe, and the detonator engaged.
With a second press, Sameera overrode the detonator and set the bomb off immediately.
In the next instant, the murky shadows ahead of her lit up for less than a second.
Sameera heard the muffled booming sound of the explosion through her hydrophone.
Then there was a shockwave that reached all the way to her and rattled her cockpit.
Water instantly evaporated and collapsed around the bomb’s blast radius. An enormous bubble formed in the sea as the heat from the explosives evaporated the water around it and pushed away the rest. Extreme heat and pressures in and around the bubble sheared and crushed metal, and there was no more gas gun fire coming from that general area. All of the red squares vanished, her predictor telling her that the hostile objects had ceased moving or were unavailable to track.
From afar, there was only murky ocean and a rapidly collapsing cloud of vapor.
As Sameera approached, she witnessed the devastation for herself.
Parts of the Frigate’s underside had been disgorged by the explosion, the ship listing on its side and sinking slowly amid a cloud of its own debris. There was nothing of the enemy Divers to be seen, just a cloud of drifting, falling metal chunks robbed of any semblance of form. There was a sudden, intense calm upon the ocean as all the gunfire forward of the Irmingard was silenced.
“Nika! Nika, respond!”
Sameera looked through each of her cameras on the separate monitors, hoping to find any trace of Dominika. That explosion had disturbed the acoustic predictors enough that everything being tracked in that area was momentarily lost. She adjusted and readjusted the cameras, feeling a dawning realization that her desperate attempt to save her could have just as easily killed her too.
She swept through the area, as the debris drifted slowly down to the ocean floor.
One hand moved thoughtlessly to the communications equipment, fingers trembling.
Could she switch to the squadron channel? Call for help?
What would she even say to Murati about all of this? Everything had spiraled out of control.
Sameera grit her teeth. She had been so stupid, so completely, impossibly stupid.
Her desperation to be the hero, to be the one acknowledged, the one sang about–
“Where the fuck do you belong now? You stupid, useless mutt.” She berated herself.
Tears started to well up in her eyes.
Nothing in the cameras, nothing anywhere around.
Her hand retreated from the communicator.
She could not face Murati like this.
“Nika, I’m so sorry.” She mumbled into her microphone.
“If you weren’t I’d make you be sorry.”
One of the top cameras placed a green box several meters above.
Sameera’s eyes drew wide. She lifted her head, staring at the ceiling of her mecha.
Her lips drew wide in a trembling smile.
From the murk above, the Strelkannon slowly descended to join the Cossack’s side.
Armor pockmarked with gunshot wounds, the head battered; but functional, with its owner very much alive.
She had escaped in time. Sameera had managed to save her.
“When we get back, I’m slapping you across the fucking face, hero.” Dominika growled.
Sameera felt a mixture of relief and apprehension at those words.