The Vessel: Chapter 4

While Travis didn't like the idea of directly engaging the Hiopchete, he also had to agree with Marle's resolve: if this band didn't follow the rules set by the Hiopchete themselves... whatever you call the federation of them is lost to me as it is to them... there was no way to tell if this group of rogue Hiopchete weren't above murder. Course, when sensors detected the charging of weapons from the lead ship, Travis didn't have time to compute Marle's state: he was too busy piloting the ship.

Now, being a ship AI... sorry, Nigh, he was proficient at flying a ship. Having your mind directly connected to helm and navigation would do that. So, he was able to dodge the first few volleys before the port side took a hit.

Marle raced for the engine room in the meanwhile. The lucky shot rumbled the ship, as a Hiopchete disruptor thing was designed to shake ships... to throw the crew off balance during an assault. Marle was almost taken off her feet, but she kept on moving.

She found herself standing next to the conduit where the service droids went there way. As she ran she took note of the readings from the terminals as they noted the happenings of the ship itself, including the fact that weapons weren't doing any damage and the ship was spastically zipping around Hiopchete ships as they closed in.

"Travis, are you firing weapons?" She screamed in panic, "maybe if they thought we could take them they would retreat."

"I AM," an exasperated Travis replied vocally but without image, "The plasma beams haven't been fired in a while... they could barely make a dent in their shields."

Marle looked at the service entrance, watching a few droids race through to repair damage from the last hit. She closed her eyes to hear the pirate captain make his threats to Bile and his ship.

"Weapons maintenance in there?" she asked quickly.

"Yes, oww," Travis shrieked before the ship rumbled again.

"Evasive maneuvers, go for as long as you can," Marle replied before stepping a leg into the crawlway.

"Marle... what are you...?" Travis' words hung as she wedged her body inside the crawlway and started travelling, "Marle, those crawlthroughs were not designed for people... it'll get cold in there... you could get radiation..."

"Just fly the ship Travis," Marle snapped as she crawled deeper inside, brushing against repair droids as they made their way to various parts of the ship.

She didn't have the schematics of the ship memorized, but she has an understanding of where things tend to be placed. Weapon arrays tend to be placed either at the nose of a ship or at its rear, and as these where plasma beams... while not being the most powerful weapon you could have, they also had the advantage of the fact that the beams appear to ooze out of the haul of the ship. That also meant the array could be positioned deeper in the ship! Also made it impossible to knock them out in a space dog-fight!

Oh Travis, you lucky bastard, Marle thought.

As she wriggled about she could feel the rumbling of three hits, two starboard, and a third to the top of the ship. It would have been more if not for the maneuvering of the Phoenix-Belle by the skilled hand... circuits of Travis as the ship danced around what gradually became four warships: four ship readied for an ambush.

At the third hit she found what she was looking for: the plasma beam array. The glowing tubes each with wires that connect them to conduits that channeled the power to the ship hail. The soft yellow stream fluctuated in a rhythmic pulse that carried through the ship.

Marle didn't have much time: Travis could only fly the ship so fast and steer it so far. Even with his skills piloting it would take a few lucky shots to destroy or disable the Phoenix-Belle. Whatever she was going to do she had to act fast.

The weapons where so flimsy that they weren't worth firing? Nothing a bit of jury-rigging couldn't fix... and Marle was an engineer.

Alas, she got to work. Inside the dimly lit shaft that she could barely stand upright in, she opened up a hatch along the plasma array and took a peek. She knew what power-supplies looked like, she knew what wires went to the plasma chargers and what went to the hail. She knew what the tubes that carried the plasma itself looked like. She knew that she could overload the array and get the weapons charged at more power.

Course, she needed an external source of power. She looked at the surrounding area for where that would come from. As she looked she noticed a tube of wires running to the main reactor that wasn't directly connected to the array. As she worked to unravel the tube she noticed a maintenance droid roaming by. She would need to connect everything somehow, and the setup was temporary anyways, so she jumped on the machinist-class droid and wedge her hand into the fail-safe* of the droid. With the thing deactivated, she used a bit of bend metal - likely from the damage the ship was taking, and began to dismantle the droid. Marle bundled the wires and used them to join the plasma array to the wire complex running from the main reactor. With that, she then started to fiddle with the plasma array's power supply, where the thing had a limit on how much power it could drag into the array: a safety factor that one couldn't afford at given time as she forced it to let more power into the array**. She then ridged the broken droid's power supply up to further assist in this.

Rushing through her mind, she remembered standing in a small engine room, and listening through the intercom Bile's negotiations with the pirate captain. She remembered the pirate captain telling them they would be spared. She remembered the space pirates killing everyone onboard once they stole the cargo. She remembered the lie.

"Travis, you have weapons!" Marle screamed, "start shooting!"

With a loud crackle a giant beam of fractured light danced into the haul. That beam then zapped out of the ship's haul and struck one of the Hiopchete ships.

"Holy what the..." Travis exclaimed via intercom, "what did you do down there?"

"Destroy them if you can't outrun them," Marle replied, an air of insane anger about her, "I remember what they did, I remember their lie. They lie, they always lie... its them or us Travis."

A few good blasts like that later (as the Hiopchete helmsmen aren't as skilled as Travis was) and the ships collectively disengaged their pursuit.

Marle undid some of the 'damage' that she had done, as the ship and the weapons were not designed like that and was worried of depriving another system of power. After that, leaving the wires and the damaged droid for another day, she crawled her way down and back into the hallway, then into her now room. She sat on the cot and uttered "Why didn't I think of that before? Why? I could have saved them."

In this moment Travis materialized on one of the panels. "Marle?" he said meekly, "Can we talk?"

*By Protocol 2 of the Terran Machine Constitution, all automatized robots, droids, AI etc. are to have fail-saves... also known as kill-switches or manual override in the event one went berserk
**Plasma Weapon Arrays work by super-charging plasmatic material and releasing it through tubes that lead to the ship haul. The array has a power supply that is used to gather the energy and use it to charge the material into a plasmatic state, and therefore becomes energy where its explosion is weaponized. If it is too charged up it runs the risk of damaging the array it is in and at best short-circuit the array and at worst ooze out of the tubes and damage the ship interior. There is a safety on the power-supply, that can be lifted with some skill, that stops the plasma from getting to that point.