Hekate's Call, chapter 5

The operations room of the Gestalt was a truly dreary affair, but that was only because of the low light and thick cigarette smoke that gave it an undeserved film noire feel. They were illuminated solely by the light of the holo hovering above the table diagramming in excruciating, exacting detail how screwed they all were. It would have otherwise been a lovely windowless steel box with a big table in the middle of it, which at the very least would comfort her by reminding her of Carrion's many important rooms.

It had been twelve hours since the Gestalt dropped out of the in-between, and twelve and a half by the time Krystyn and Manya finally arrived reeking of sweat and sex – not that nobody else seemed to notice. It made Ilina recoil. Not out of some prudish notion of properness, but simply because she didn't want to think about Krystyn getting railed by Manya, tangled in the sheets of the bed in their shared room, begging Manya to let her come before letting out a final moan of pleasure and falling limp on the bed.

She did not want to think about it.

She didn't.

She continued not to think about it for the next five minutes, in agonizing silence, as everyone seated around the table examined the holo.

"There's a debris field," Morian finally said, without an ounce of emotion, pointing to a distant area of the holo.

"There's a debris field," Crater acknowledged with equal emotion.

Two enemy carriers following their ship. No idea what sector they were in. No way to contact for help. The debris field was made up primarily of other ships that fell into this exact trap. At the very least the enemy carriers were only gaining on them very slowly, giving them time to do things such as break for twelve hours to rest and repair and apparently fuck mindlessly.

"Field Commander Zechs," Crater sighed, "Do you have any suggestions on how to deal with this?"

"I told you not to call me by my last name!" Krystyn leaned forwards and played with the holo, zooming it in and out and rotating parts of it. "There's a debris field."

"We established that, yes."

"We can use it to escape," Krystyn offered.

It was a stupid idea. Everyone knew that. It was full of interference, unexploded ordinance, and mountains of salvage big enough to tear holes in the side of the Gestalt if they tried to gun it through there. It would slow them down and pose little issue for their pursuers because they would forge a path for them to follow. Running away through the debris field was suicide.

Crater drummed her fingers on the table, pondering.

Falke had an idea, of course, and it was a classic one. But she hadn't been asked and she was too new to offer it otherwise. So she waited quietly. Not thinking about the full implications of Manya's prehensile, extendable, shapeshifting tail.


"No ideas, ma'am," Manya stretched in her chair and slumped into her chair. "But I have another complication." Crater simply motioned for her to continue. "It's really hard to cool the reactor in space, so the rail is out. Otherwise, I'd suggest just taking potshots at them and hope they give up."

The room fell back to silence. This was Hekate's Call? Ilina caught Morian smirking in the corner of the room at her. Both of them knew exactly how this needed to play out. It was agonizing that the de facto best mercenary outfit on fucking-nowhere – primarily on account of Carrion's exit from the market – were a bunch of very pretty braindead idiots.

Crater finally caved after nearly fifty minutes of sitting in the same room as her staring at the same diagram. "Falke?"

"There's a debris field," Ilina droned loudly. Everyone groaned at it, like it was an overplayed joke.

She couldn't believe she was going to have to relay their own plan back to them. A plan they had already used before to great effect. A plan that put Ilina in this very room.

"We gun it to the debris field, drop off Scandal and the Parting Word in the debris. The ship does a 180-degree turn and cracks the first pursuer with the rail, or at least softens them up. Meanwhile, we breach the second ship and either disable it or force a surrender, which locks the first in the debris field while they're getting shot at."

A new kind of silence fell over the table while Morian snickered in her chair, a more focused kind where everyone was actually engaging the problem at hand. They weren't used to the Parting Word and didn't know how to field it effectively, they were thinking in circles. At least Falke knew her own capabilities well enough to break it.

"I can't cool the reactor on the WFH..."

"Hook the rail's power supply into the ship's reactor."

The conversation finally got kicked off properly with a real plan being formed. Manya teased Krystyn about Falke showing her up again, not that Falke actually cared about that. She got paid the same either way.

"That's an eight-berth carrier. How do you plan to handle that?" Krystyn asked Falke, and pointedly not Vigil.

Vigil chimed in, "Scandal breaches it and tears up the hanger, and then the Parting Word gets into the guts of the ship."

Krystyn eyed Falke, "You sure that tin can will protect you?"

"If they had that kind of firepower we would have seen it in their boarding attempt." Everyone seemed to agree to that statement. "Once I'm past the hanger we've won. There's nothing they have that can stop me."

The debris field reminded her of skeleton city, one of the places that had held out against the local imperium the longest, and where she did most of her early freelance work collecting intel on the rebellion and imperium and selling to whoever. Metal shells, unsalvageable scrap heaps, and more surrounded the tunnel that the Gestalt was carving through the field.

The Gestalt-cleared tunnel would funnel in the two pursuing ships in single file. They would catch up faster that way. They needed to move on the second ship as soon as it was close and get inside before they could deploy anyone to stop them.

The Parting Word was sub-signature, even with the compact reactor running she just looked like part of the background and the Scandal was tethered to the debris in a full shutdown so that it wouldn’t get picked up. That left it to Ilina to watch for the timing and signal Vigil via the hardline cable being run directly between their hardsuits.

Symeon Vigil didn’t seem like one for conversation, but she started one anyways. They were beyond radio communications with the Gestalt so it was just the two of them. No black box recordings with the hardline either.

“I’m glad you’re here, Hunter.” A weird and sappy thing to say. Did she imprint while moving boxes around?

“Why’s that?”

Hound breathed in a slow ragged way, like they were stressed about something. She really wasn't the type to start conversations then. “You swapped your slug thrower for a launcher.” She did, that was true. “Air-burst anti-personnel shells. The lighter shotgun too.”

“What’s your point?” Hunter chewed her lip. Why wait until they were about to breach to voice complaints? What a useless fucking group of cowards.

“I’m glad I'm not the only one getting my hands dirty anymore,” Hound said sentimentally. “Whatever happens, you have my respect, for what little that’s worth to anyone.”

Oh. So that's why they were all cowards. None of them wanted to get their hands dirty and shoved the work off on her. That's fine. It was fine. She was used to getting used that way. It didn't bother her at all. As long as they don't blame her later.

The first ship passed cautiously. The second one hovered outside the field for a while before advancing inward. Close enough to reinforce, far enough to give ample maneuvering time if something went wrong. Hound saddled back up and the two of them prepared to move.

The moment A Scandal In Heaven’s reactor finished spinning up Hound threw everything the system had into its approach. Ten seconds. Twenty seconds. The pair of them landed on the lower catapult at the thirty second mark. A timer was counting down in both of their HUDs to an estimated launch time, assuming of course that they weren’t at Level One Battlestations — which roughly translated to sitting in the mechs fully fueled and ready to launch immediately.

Hunter tried not to watch the little pumps and tanks hidden behind the shield plating on Scandal’s giant arm as it pressurized reactor exhaust and primed the various force multipliers that made its swing so deadly. In her first bout with the scandal she had cracked one of the tanks, though watching it pressurize she identified the actual thing she should have cracked if she wanted to kill it. She wouldn't fail a second time if she had to.

This time when the fist connected with the hanger’s door Hunter could hear it like one could hear an earthquake. The doors crumpled, breach resistant, but the explosive force also tore them from the frame and threw them crashing into one of the berths inside the hanger bay. Hunter clomped along with her large magnetic boots keeping her solidly on the ground in case she was needed.

There was no need for the Parting Word to do anything in the hanger. Scandal made it look effortless. Every motion part of some destructive ballet. The swing, the backswing, the short bursts of movement, the way it used anchored objects as pivots before using them as projectiles. Every single action it did caused destruction, or disrupted or blocked movement from the one or two mechs that got mounted during the initial breach.

Hunter, as a rule, never fought fair. But perhaps she wasn’t even needed in all of this. Was the Scandal not unfair enough an advantage on its own? How did she last six minutes against that monster?

Her comm lit up as Hound spoke, “I’ll stay here in case they send anyone from the forward ship in.

That’s right. They had no idea if the Gestalt had engaged yet, or what the status of that fight was. It was time for Hunter to go to work. She boosted past the hanger and cracked an airlock with a shoulder charge and marched into the ship’s interior.

Two people in light hardsuits ran across the hallway after a large bulkhead slammed shut behind Hunter. The large-bored scattergun shredded both of them with one pull of the trigger, though only one of them was dead for certain.

She began the slow march through the halls of the ship, shooting anything that moved.

Plink. Plink. Plink.

Bullets plinked off her armor uselessly. The only thing that alerted her to the fact she was being shot at was a red marker on her HUD. She turned and fired once, twice. It was better not to count how many casualties there were. Morian was always right about that.

If you thought about anything long enough you could convince yourself that you were the origin of all suffering in the universe, when in reality you’ve done very little if anything.

She kicked open a door to a white room. Several barricades and a man in white pleading something. Hunter didn’t even register what he said as the launcher popped over her shoulder and fired an air-burst grenade into the middle of the room. Red room. The wipers cleared her visor as she turned down the hallway.

But she was responsible for a tremendous amount of suffering, wasn’t she?

Heavy hardsuits with heavy guns rounded a corner and started firing. The autochoke on her large scattergun narrowed. She had to shoot them one at a time instead of simply clearing the hall, but it didn’t actually matter. Their compact rail rifles could fire slugs at any speed they wanted, but without the mass behind them they couldn’t put so much as a scratch on the Parting Word. Hunter pushed a torso out of the way and the wipers cleared the visor again.

Velia was still suffering because of her. Even Morian told her that what happened to Velia was her fault.

Another room with heat signatures hiding behind boxes and makeshift barricades. Launcher one, scattergun two and three. Room cleared. The Parting Word dulled the sounds of the alarms as she worked. It was distracting, but necessary to know what was being announced. Several unarmored vacsuits attempted to cross her path and Hunter instinctively pulled the trigger on the scattergun.

Ilina really didn’t want Velia to hate her, but she probably did. She deserved to be hated. What she did to Velia was worse than anything Velia put her through after all.

Another heavy bulkhead. A woman cowered in the corner next to it. Probably got locked out. Poor thing.


The woman frantically pointed to the bulkhead and said something about an elevator. Hunter waved them away so she could ram the bulkhead. It wasn’t a clean way through, but it only took the one charge. There was a large group at the end clamoring at a closed bulkhead. Launcher one. Path clear.

If Velia wanted to kill her, that would be okay. Ilina wouldn’t go down without a fight, but she wouldn’t hold it against Velia. She missed her voice and hearing it again would be nice too. Gosh, she was such a little sap, still fawning over Velia like that after all this time.

Hunter pried open the elevator shaft and launched herself up before kicking in the elevator door to the bridge. They all stood in horror, several of them cowering under their consoles. She made it here quicker than she’d expected. She hadn’t even thought about what to say!

“Captain, issue a surrender notice to your allied ship,” she said. Oh, they didn’t know where they were in space. “Navigator?”

A man stood up shakily, and Hunter pointed to a spot next to her. He obeyed like a timid dog, which was a welcome sight. Was there anything else she needed to do? Oh!

“Who’s in charge of the CIC?”

An older man with many scars stepped out from a lower area of the bridge and scowled at her. He introduced himself, but she only listened as far as his pseudo-rank. They were pirates and not a military force. Hunter painted that side of the room red with the heavy scattergun. The autochoke set to tighten to limit collateral damage, but it looked like she nicked someone hiding under a console.

Would getting Velia get-well flowers be inappropriate? She could have them printed at the Gestalt’s flash fabricator probably. Morian would know better than she did about that.

Ilina would have to ask when she got back.