Enoa could see almost nothing. But the wailing sirens, Orson’s muttering, and the gut-wrenching turns from the Aesir let her know in no uncertain terms that the sky chase was not going well.
The same creaking noise echoed down from the ship’s roof. The sound had an uncomfortable fingernails-on-blackboard quality, and Enoa winced.
“What is that?” She looked up at the cabin’s ceiling, still unable to see anything but the vague glow from the consoles and the blue light from Orson’s mask.
“I’m firing up the tri-cannon.” He rested his hand on a round lever, on the center dashboard, a control yoke, like a vintage arcade joystick. “I’m about to return fire, but I haven’t needed the roof gun in over a year, so it’s not cooperating.” The metallic creaking continued.
Another noise joined the Aesir’s complaints, a drumming on the shield. But this wasn’t the hollow pings of deflected bullets. These repeated strikes were longer and louder, loud enough that Enoa missed something Orson tried to tell her. She didn’t need the pilot’s view of the dashboard to know this was something much more serious.
Orson pushed the wheel and sent the ship careening toward the ground, forcing Enoa’s stomach through an uncomfortable tumble, like the floor had dropped out from under her. She yelled.
“Sorry, had to line up the roof cannon.” He moved his right hand to the joystick and squeezed a button on its side.
A sharp, staccato boom called down from the roof. Then another. And another. Orson sent bolt after bolt of energy back at the pursuing ship. Clearly dissatisfied, Orson turned the wheel with his left hand, sending the Aesir through a turn. He looked ridiculous, arms stretched, one on the wheel, one on the joystick.
“This was set up to be a pilot and copilot type deal,” he said. “It hasn’t been a problem. Not many people have serious aircraft these days.” Another series of laser hits from the Liberty Corps slapped the Aesir’s rear shield, sending out the same ominous, hollow drumming sound.
Orson yelled and wrenched the wheel to the left, sending the ship slamming to the side. Creaks and bumps came from the interior of the locked cabinets. Enoa feared Orson was actually going to flip the Aesir upside-down in his awkward attempt to evade the enemy ship and also return fire.
“Did you used to have a copilot?” She asked. “Could I do something to make it easier?”
“It’s just been me,” he said. “At least during these last few years when I’ve been the only crewmember. Five or so years ago we had a whole crew, but I didn’t do much flying then.”
“Five or so?” Enoa said. “But your big battle with Thunderworks was just five years ago and you flew for that.”
“What?” Orson let the ship fly steady and fired off a stream from the roof cannon. “Yes! HA! Got him! Look at them fall.”
“Did they blow up?” She tried to get a better look at the dash.
“I hit them full on with the cannon, and they fell down toward the trees there.” He removed his hand from the joystick. “No, I didn’t fly during the Norlenheim battle, only when it was over.”
“But you’re Wayfarer One, right?” Enoa never learned all of the complicated interwoven facts of the Thunderworks situation, and she’d forgotten most of what she’d heard. She knew that there currently were no massive flying death machines blowing up population centers. That’s all she had to know. But Orson had been hyped as Wayfarer One since she’d met him, almost two weeks earlier. Now, she was confused. She didn’t like being confused in her current situation.
“That part of the story gets really messed up,” he said. “I got the Wayfarer One name during the Hand Island incident, a while before Thunderworks. But I actually drove to Norlenheim in my car and did most of my fighting with the sword.”
The hollow drumming sound resumed, full force, now so loud Enoa couldn’t hear herself think, much less whatever convoluted explanation Orson was trying to give her. She yelled, and he yelled. He swerved the wheel, pressed buttons, turned knobs, sent the Aesir on such a sudden swerve that she was truly afraid she’d lose her couple slices of pizza.
Orson yelled and took the Aesir through another desperate maneuver. Enoa felt the bags slipping from her hands, tired from the exertion of gripping them. A pop-up message appeared across the windshield.
“Would you like to see a scan of the attacking craft?” The Warning Lady Voice asked the room at large.
“Yeah, sure, please,” Orson said. “Show me.”
An image appeared along the bottom of the windshield. It showed a small craft placed next to a generic bipedal silhouette, for scale. The craft looked fit for two passengers. It had three rear jets and five wings that jutted far forward of the cockpit and rotated as the ship flew.
“Where did they get a Sun Talon?” Orson stretched out his right arm and grabbed for the roof tri-cannon joystick. “That thing’s shielded. No wonder my blast didn’t take it out.” He fired more shots from the roof cannon. “They have major sensors, so here’s a little silver lining, we can raise the lights a little bit for you.” He hit a switch, and dim lights lit beside her seat and along her side of the dashboard.
“Give me something to do!” Enoa sat forward. “I’m sorry, but you can’t manage everything, here. Are there more guns? Let me shoot something.” Orson was probably a better shot while multitasking than she would be even when focused, but she had to do something. She needed to take an active role. She couldn’t bear sitting helpless, not while Orson struggled. “I used to be a crack shot in Starfighters Ultimate Alliance.”
“All I have is the roof cannon and some close range guns hidden in the front grill and above the side doors, but you know what? Try out the big one. You better find a way to get all that stuff secured, first, though.” Orson glanced at her. “We don’t need to get beaned in the head, by your aunt’s magic stick, while we’re trying to fight.” Enoa slid the bags and her staff under her seat and tried to jam it all in place. She tested the mass of supplies. Nothing moved. She hoped none of the food packages broke open and let their contents ooze over the floor. Of course, she’d rather lose the food and live long enough to miss it.
“Ready,” she said.
“Here it comes.” Orson hit a button beside the tri-cannon’s control yoke, and the joystick slid aside, toward her. Then a blank space of dashboard slid aside, revealing a small radar screen. The screen lit up – a retro arcade-esque monitor. It displayed a small topographical map of their surroundings, the layered circles showing hills around them. There was a bright green arrow showing the Aesir itself. “You can’t do worse than I’m doing, one hit in about five minutes? We’re both practicing if we live, okay? Knock yourself out.”
Now properly focused, Orson sent the ship gliding low in a fast but controlled maneuver. Enoa watched the green arrow speed along the topographical background. The whole screen was very 1980s science-fiction movie.
She reached out and took the joystick. “Just press the trigger?”
“There’s a little wheel, a knob thing, lower on the yoke,” he said. “Spin that to rotate the cannon. There should be a little line on the display to show where you’re aimed.” His flying remained smooth and controlled, but from their right, there came a terrible crash, like a thunderclap. The Sun Talon had made some permanent mark on the landscape in its attempt to shoot them.
Enoa found the little wheel and turned it. She saw the small line. She turned the wheel until the line aimed straight back, right at the glowing, ominous, red dot that appeared on her screen behind their green arrow.
Not red dot. Dots. Two of them – one well behind them, another approaching from the left side of the screen.
“Uh, Orson.” She didn’t divert her attention from the console. The second red dot flew quicker than the first, gaining on them, crawling closer and closer and closer to their green arrow. She turned the wheel and angled the top gun toward the new dot. “Is there any benign reason I see two red dots in two totally different places?”
“Two?” Orson looked at his own screen. “Oh…” Whatever he intended to say, reassurance or vulgarity, was interrupted by another drumming of laser on shield, except this came from their left.
Then another sound came, a shrill mechanical wail, as the second Sun Talon flew over top of them. Enoa watched that second red dot briefly overlap their green arrow. She angled the joystick to follow this second ship.
“Can I point the cannon straight up?” She couldn’t feel any other buttons on the weapon control. “Or does it not do that?”
“Press in the wheel to point up and press again to make it sideways, uh, horizontal again.” He turned the Aesir down sharply. She followed the maneuver on the screen and saw that he had flown them into some kind of valley. “I’m bringing us down above a river, trees and tight hills. If they’re standard Sun Talons, they can only shoot straight forward so we can fight them one at a time.”
“And if they aren’t standard and they have bombs?” Enoa made the cannon horizontal as the first Sun Talon followed them into the river valley.
“Then I made a bad decision.” He laughed. “I…”
Another new sound emanated from above them. It sounded almost like an old fashioned ringing phone.
“I think those pricks are calling us!” Orson said. “Y’know what… I’m going to answer them. You can get acclimated with your controls that way.”
“I don’t see why we should hear what they have to say,” she said. “But it’s your ship.”
“It can be a good way to gain more time to figure things out, but be aware, that if I unmute us to speak to these people, they will be able to hear you too.”
“Okay.” She returned to the controls and kept the roof cannon aimed back at the pursuing ship that she could see. Orson answered the hail. The ringing stopped.
“Good evening, Captain Gregory.” The voice of Liberty Corps Captain Maros spoke out of a speaker in the dashboard. “Good evening, Miss Cloud. I thought I was perfectly clear that any attempt to pursue the Dreamside Road would be met with a harsh response. I was disappointed, to say the least, when I learned you kept the stolen IHSA films.”
Orson unmuted his dashboard receiver. “Don’t you have better things to do than chase after us? Seriously? We’re…
“They’re my films!” Enoa interrupted. “Mine. Learn it. I thought I beat that into you last time, but maybe blowing up your ship will teach you.”
“Yeah, what she said.” Orson laughed. “You were fine for a one-off villain, but twice in a row? Get the hell out. We’re done going easy on you and your Corps freaks. Leave now or all bets are off.”
“For all your threats, your defensive efforts haven’t been very effective.” Maros laughed too. “I expected better piloting from the legendary Wayfarer One. I respected your integrity for working alongside the armed forces in the past, and I respected your noted combat prowess. Now, I’m not so sure.”
“Oh, how will my pride ever recover?!” Orson said. “Are you even flying that little gnat back there, or are you just tagging along to deliver mediocre trash talk? Let’s be clear, our disagreement goes way deeper than the films. The Liberty Corps is heir to nothing. Most of what the Hierarchia had was stolen. They had no right to what they took, and you have none now. We will find the Dreamside Road, and we’re not going to be scared off by anyone in the Liberty Corps, not the Grand Poobahs you threatened us with before, and certainly not you.”
“Small words from a desperate man,” Maros said.
“I’ll give you some options,” Orson said. “And this is the very last time, because now you’ve destroyed my friend Enoa’s home, and you’re trying to destroy mine. I didn’t want to hurt you, Man Bun, but the next time you come after me, I will attack your people. We will shoot down your ships and whatever happens to you, happens. Aesir out.” He shut off the comm.
“How much of that was bluff?” Enoa kept the roof cannon aimed back at the Sun Talon that still pursued them through the valley. “Because I’d love to think we’re actually about to shoot him down.”
“No bluff,” he said. “I know exactly what we’re about to do.”