Chapter 34:


From Nowhere to Sender

"Command this C384, we've lost visual on target. Be advised the rocketeer is retreating into a huddle between shots."

"Copy that. The huddle in question has already been marked by our deck officers, they'll pass it off to C248 after the turn."

"Command, C248 is currently in the process of escorting a party of one to their table, deck officers may be unable to receive or pass targets."

"I'm well aware Reefe, officers on the bridge have already been passed the responsibility of marking targets until further notice. This channel will remain open to assist them."

"You got it."

Lowering the mic of the headset, Reefe drummed his fingers against the side of the console in contemplation before seeking out the speaking tube connecting the bridge and strong side platform. Lifting the lid and making the requisite taps, he waited for an answer. Truth was he wasn't concerned about the rocketeer, not with Leora on deck and Youn spotting her. He was however concerned with how Preece and Everage were holding up downstairs against the remnants of the previous approach.

It was well established among some of the more senior officers that Preece was still very green despite the fact his service time was approaching a year. Not that the problem was effort related, he really did try his best. It had more to do with his over reliance of others in tight situations, including a tendency to freeze up or overthink when the call was his to make. If anything Everage, who favored the engine room over the bridge, might be the more competent of the two when it came to engaging Volts or stalling boarding party's. Impressive for an engineer but undermined slightly by his refusal to operate rifles or firearms in any capacity. A common held practice among the more devote supporters of the Elixir of Life belief system. Much to the chagrin of the LCF.

For both these reasons Reefe felt compelled to check in on them at regular intervals to make sure everything was under control. Not that he'd prepared a course of action in the event things weren't under control. What would he do? Wave down Youn and tell him to go back downstairs? Doubt that would fly with Leora who was very particular about her own job and the jobs of others, more so in times of crisis. Leaving him as the only real option to provide backup and while he may come off as physically imposing at a glance, in practice he was far from dangerous. With or without a firearm.

"We're fine Reefe, I'll manage things down here."

A sense of relief flooded the comms officer upon hearing Everage's composed voice.

"But keep this up and we'll ignore the next summons, so knock it off. Shit kicks off you'll know."

Before he could voice any concerns he may have the sound of the lid closing reverberated up the speaking tube. Deep down Reefe knew Everage was right, and that at this point he was becoming more of a distraction than anything. Returning to the console, he slumped into the chair for a breather and ran a hand down the tattoo on his arm. When had he become such a bundle of nerves? It was almost as if he was growing more anxious with every passing convoy. Granted this one had unique factors that made it particularly stressful, but all the more reason he shouldn't be jumping at shadows. That's when he finally relented on a personal decision he'd been wrestling with as of late.

If the convoy reached Belveer in a one piece, he would take some time away from field service to get his head right. Any more of this and a day would soon come when the personnel downstairs would be the ones calling up to the the bridge to check up on him. Unfortunately whatever relief he felt upon coming to this decision evaporated with the transmission coming over the open channel.

"This is C248, the target has emerged from the huddle! Rocket fire inbound!"


"We got another rocket incoming!"

Leora, who'd just taken out a Hussard buzzing around in the corner of her peripheral, turned towards her spotter for clarification.

"Heading and distance?"

"I don't know...reports coming from C248."

Leora glared at the man. "Use your head, if 248 has eyes on them then that means they must be moving south along the east boundary. They'll have to make a turn west at some point, unless you think they made a u-turn for no reason outside of giving us a free shot at 'em!" A red-faced Youn didn't respond.

Leora shifted her attention to the rear of the Crusader where the rocketeer or the huddle he was tucked away in would most present themselves. Youn followed her lead, mumbling something about her attitude. If the report from C248 was in real time then she had a real chance of getting a shot off on the rocketeer before they retreated behind their escort. In the event she missed that window then her next read would be the formation leader, as taking them out could instigate a collapse in formation. At least a temporary one that would serve to expose the rocketeer. Perhaps force them into a drastic decision.

Or so she hoped. But despite being no more than an active dissenter of the religious leadership, the individual responsible for spearheading the effort had demonstrated a noteworthy degree of skill thus far as deck officers continued having a rough time both pinpointing the rocketeer's location and predicting the groups path between shots. Sure Quiet Murn was running interference, but not the intentional kind. In fact the interception of the first rocket had forced a fair number of the raiders away from the convoy, because of course it would. Why risk boarding when the job they were being paid for was being carried out for them by a more effective means. Making it all the more confusing to Leora as to why C248 and its sharpshooter was having such a difficult time a the moment. Did the raiders have another reason for prolonging their attack?

Maybe the party was led to believe eliminating two of the four cargo bays amounted to a success in the client's eyes. Or had been told as much when accepting the job. A sensible conclusion as according to the manifest the more sturdy strains of Cinnabark used for construction required a considerable amount of time to grow. And if New Kantler didn't receive enough to began construction on the institutions right away it would buy the opposing factions additional time to counter or do away with the new law.

Did this mean all the rocket strikes would be targeted at C248, or were they testing the waters to see which Crusader would be least capable of repelling recurrent attacks? Leora promptly discarded that line of thinking. Far too risky to assume where the rockets would be going.

Suddenly the sound and sight of an explosion rocked the convoy from the skies above C248's rear. From what she could gather the interception of the rocket allowed for much more breathing room this time. Implying the other sharpshooter managed to circumvent whatever restrained her beforehand. All Leora needed to do now was wait for the escort to appear and apply some pressure.

Looking down sights she found her target retreating closer to the critical distance boundary to reload in all likelihood. Just as she began the process of aligning her sights Youn's voice rang out unexpectedly.

"Which one is it !?"

Confused by his remark Leora followed his own line of sight and saw that there was indeed not one but three separate groups of huddled individuals. Two outside of the one she'd honed in on.

"Doesn't matter! You take the closest and I'll handle the furthest! If you think you've got the right one call it!"

Interesting that they'd wait until after the second rocket to whip this method out? The first rocket having involved a surprise attack. She would surmise that independent strategies had been prepared for each attempt at firing on the convoy. This most recent method, while being troublesome at the moment, had a short shelf life as it depended on numbers to execute effectively. Numbers that would only diminish with each pass around the convoy, starting now.

"We'll wipe out every last one of you if that's what it takes."

Not too far away, an involuntary smile spread itself across the face of the convoy's other sharpshooter. Almost as if she'd heard and approved of Leora's own words.