A silly little story. I won’t start it with “It was a dark and stormy night”. I’ll start with:
“Pirates, possibly from space!”
The PES auto pilot was functional. It alerted the crew with a klaxon and vocal warnings, then drifted back to sleep. It was sober, but still hung-over. The noise was awful.
Leela ran out of the pantry, crumbs flying, heading towards the bridge. Fry poked his head out of the cabin. Leela turned to him and shouted something. Fry looked puzzled, then trotted after her.
The bridge was still under emergency lighting while Leela strapped herself into her chair. Fry was standing behind her, panting. Leela turned to him and screamed, for the second time, “What are you doing here? Get below and ready the torpedoes! And make sure Bender’s not sleeping in the tubes!” She looked back at the controls and muttered “We know what happened the last time he fell asleep in there.”
She kicked the auto pilot offline. It didn’t seem to mind, it was relieved to not hear the klaxon. The 3D tactical display floated in front of her, with a real time image in the front window. Their opponent was a big nasty looking thing, complete with solar wind panels and, worse, three hydrogen engine pods. Suddenly the situation was trickier than she had guessed. The exhaust from those engines were as deadly as any weapon, and they were on rotatable pinions. On cue, one pod turned and the pirate ship bore down on the PES.
“FRY! Tubes? How are the tubes?”
“Wait!” Slight pause over the intercom, clicking sounds, and grunts were heard. “They’re clear. Bender’s not inside.” More static.
“Load them, load them,” Leela kept repeating to herself. Then screamed into the mic, “Bender! Where are you? You better not be making out with the engines!”
The ship shuddered. Not the terrible rending of a hit, but the ‘pom-pom’ from the PES blaster cannon. “Come on, Big Boots! Get us out of here!” Those blasters were only designed to look nasty, occasionally a mean looking weapon was enough to cower natives. But against an experienced foe, well, they only left scuff marks.
Leela allowed herself a slight smile. Some squeals, smell of fingernail polish, and Cantonese muttering announced Amy was on the bridge, sitting in the engineering chair. That smile morphed into an evil glare, now was time to get down to business.
Leela stomped the right pedal, and spun the wheel to the left. The ship ducked, briefly exposing its upper surfaces to attack, but it wasn’t where it was a second ago. The first volley from the Pirate Ship flared. Leelas’ eye grew big. That wasn’t a large volley. Another salvo, spread wide across their path. These were mere shots across the bow. Guessing, she thought the pirates really did want their cargo. A vague plan formed, the best defense is a good offense. Leela stomped the other pedal and clicked one of the paddle shifters.
She felt a tinge of panic. That wasn’t supposed to happen. She hit the reset buttons, watched some warnings lights change, then stabbed at the pedal and the paddle again. Pause while some circuits realigned, and then a reaction this time. The PES rotated, and faced the pirate ship. They were presenting their smallest sensor profile, with the hot engines hidden in their own shadow but they were barreling towards the other ship at way too fast speeds.
The intercom crackled something, Frys’ voice finally became understandable, “Aye, (mumble-mumble) fish’re away!” The ship stuttered.
Leela jumped on both pedals and pulled the steering wheel. Their ship spun and pulled up, desperately trying to get out of their own way.
Two torpedoes were away. The pirate ship located the attack and began to swerve. Just like Leela hoped it would.
The lead torpedo was a decoy.
If Hermes had paid the radio subscription bill this month, this ruse would work.
The pirate ship let off another round, this time aimed at the torpedoes. The lead fish was spewing out a much larger infra-red signature than it needed to. Somewhere in the chaos, steering rockets were being fired, and reflective chaf was being dispersed. The salvo missed. Both torpedoes headed towards the ship, the second fish in the shadow of the first.
Leela smiled again. The penny pinching Professor actually splurged on some decent defense. She spun her ship around and accelerated.
The lead torpedo closed in on the target. Leela could imagine that captain counting the seconds. Closer, almost too close. The larger ship spun its engines and lifted itself out of the torpedoes’ path. Still radiating excessive heat and chaf the torpedo passed underneath and out of concern. The ship continued to lift itself up and swung around to pursue the small freighter.
All eyes, five organic and two robotic, watched the screens. It was now or never. The pirate finished its roll, and fired the guns again. But not at the PES. They located the second torpedo. The anti-flare screens blacked out the PES monitors, then cleared. The pirates’ last ditch salvo had detonated the torpedo.
Leela groaned, and heard a yelp from Amy. “Look! Over there!” Leela glanced, and pushed the engines harder. “No! Leela, over there!” Amys voice floated into Leelas consciousness. The explosion had damaged the pirate ship. Two of its engines were silent, and the main hull was venting some debris. The final engine shut down, and it began to drift away.
“Yes! We’re so out of here!” Leela relaxed, and felt relief drain the stress of the last few minutes from her shoulders.
Silence. Just the howl of the engines.
But there was Amy. “Leela!” Amy was frantically shaking her captain. “Look! There!” Leela stared at her. “Not at me! There!” Amy grabbed Leelas head and turned it towards a monitor.
That phosphorescent trail. What? Oh…
The pirate ship wasn’t damaged. Their captain was smart, more sly than anything the Professor or Hermes could imagine. The engines were shut down on purpose, with that last gasp of exhaust nudged their ship out of danger . Now the hottest thing was the PES. That first torpedo, their own torpedo, had a backup program. If the second missed, the lead torpedo was still vicious enough to finish the job. It had circled around, and honed in on the hottest thing. Them.
Seconds now, mere seconds.
“It’s not fair. We’re not even carrying any cargo. Not fair…” Leelas hands hovered over the switches. Beaten by their own heat trail. Maybe she could alter course then shut the engines down. No, too much residual heat. Nothing to do, nothing she could do.
No more time.
She looked at Amy, and inhaled to say good-bye, but was met with a sharp slap. Amy yelled something, and pushed Leela back from the controls. She found a release, flipped open a security cover, and snapped a toggle.
Hit! From somewhere a thump echoed through the ship.
Silence, only the sound of blood pumping through her ears.
Amy sat heavily on the floor. Leela stared at her.
“Safety range.” Leela couldn’t decide if Amy was glaring at her or smiling. “How could you not set the safety disconnect? Our own torpedo won‘t detonate if it‘s within harms distance of us.”