“Mister Teirow, 60 seconds to contact.”
“Got it, Koume. Set course forward to the right. Cut the engines. Rotate front 30 degrees left. We’re going to delay our contact time.”
Tarou tilted the ship’s course to the right as he slanted its body left. From the enemy’s point of view, it would look as if the Plum was sliding diagonally.
“Plum to Stardust. How are things on your side? Any progress?”
“This is Stardust. Progress is progress, but things aren’t looking too favorable. Since we couldn’t use the bridge, I had them board directly in spacesuits, but this lot doesn’t seem too used to it.”
“This is Plum, understood. I’m sure you’ve noticed, but the enemy’s beginnin’ to swarm its way out. You should probably hurry.”
“This is Stardust. Yeah, I know. Another 15 minutes, and everyone’ll be accommodated. Good luck out there.”
At the voice leaking through the communication device, Tarou knit his brow. In daily life, 15 minutes passed before you noticed it, but in battle it felt several times its length.
“Luck, eh… I’m pretty sure this situation itself is unlucky, dammit. All turrets commence fire. We’ll reliably take them out one by one.”
From the beam diffusion by the radiation, the firing exchange commenced at a closer range than usual.8 beams let off a blue light as they raced through the void of space, eventually disappearing into nothingness.
“Damn, the flares are unstable. The dose isn’t reachin’ a constant.”
Tarou clicked his tongue at the strong light of the star Adela as he amended his aiming calculations. By the time the next breath of beams locked onto their targets, the spread out enemy crafts had begun their fire.
“Uheh!! It goes without sayin’ a date’s one on one. Like ‘ell I can take on so many at once!!”
While he escaped the first shots of the close-to-20 enemy beams, their gradually correcting shells had begun to take in the hull of the Plum.
“Maar, can you jam it?”
“I’ll have a go,” answered Maar. Bought with a portion of their proceeds, the Plum’s beam jammer started up and began to curve the trajectory of beams flying towards it.
“Oh, this is nice. Periodically raise the output so you don’t put to much stress on the equipment. We should be able to buy quite some time with it. Koume-chan, I’m leaving the shield’s control to you.”
The remaining shield value that would have run out long ago under normal circumstance continued to display a number close to 90%, causing Tarou to let out a sigh of relief. When Koume maintained the shield, she suppressed the battery consumption to its absolute minimum by invoking it only in necessary amounts.
“She sure does a good job managing those ridiculously difficult beam shields… as expected of our all-purpose AI Koume-sama.”
If the shield loaded on the ship was fully deployed and run continuously, it wouldn’t even take 30 seconds for the battery to run dry. The shield wasn’t something to constantly keep up like a barrier, it was something to activate for only the brief moment an enemy attack collided.
The intensity of the diffused beams didn’t tie in directly to the battery expenditure; whatever shield strength you specified upon activation was deducted from the battery supply. Meaning regardless of whether the beam’s output was 10 or 100, if you kept the shield strength at 100, it would use up energy all the same. 10 for 10 and 100 for 100. Deploying such a shield was the ideal. But with firing angle and placement, alongside numerous dampening factors, calculating out the adequate number was said to be exceedingly difficult..
“Thank you, Mister Teirow. But once you grow accustomed to it, it is no trouble at all.”
On Koume’s voice, “Don’t ask for the impossible,” Tarou gave a bitter smile. While it was certainly possible for him, she was keeping up a shield against the chaotic firings of over 20 crafts. The mere imagination of such work made Tarou think he would go mad.
“Mister Teirow. The foe is merely regulating fire based on the position difference between their blaster and target. Why not try moving the ship irregularly?”
“Yeah, I don’t think that’s a bad idea, but I’ll refrain for now. When the battery’s looking bad, maybe I’ll turn the beam jammer off and try it. For now, let’s prioritize the accuracy of our own shots.”
“I see. Understood, Mister Teirow. Enemies 6 and 9 have been silenced. 7 is in good health, but it can be surmised it is using some form of jamming.”
“I see. Then lets put it off to later. We’ll prioritize cuttin’ down their numbers.”
“Hey, Teirow, the number of enemy signals on the radar hasn’t changed at all. Isn’t this bad?”
On Maar’s voice, Tarou frantically checked the display. Sure enough, as he glared at the numbers, the responses went up by three. Regardless of the Plum’s attempts to shoot them down.
“Damn, they’re coming out from the other side of the station. This is why optical scans are… should we buy a stabilizer next time?”
“Our cargo hold’s narrow as it is, and you’re making it even smaller. As a delivery company, I’m not sure what to think about that.”
“Is that conversation not one you can put off to a later date, Mister Teirow. Miss Maar. The remaining shield will soon reach half capacity, but our expected battle time has yet to reach its halfway point. This is not a very favorable situation.”
On Koume’s level voice, “So it really is rough,” muttered Tarou. A number of beam-spewing foes were inflicting their attacks to surround the Plum, and at point blank range, they continued displaying a high level of accuracy. The battleship had already shot down over 10 enemies, but it didn’t seem their numbers were decreasing at all.
“This is Plum. Allan, how are things going? We’re in a bit of a pickle over here.”
“This is Stardust. Sorry, but we’re behind schedule. At present, around 30% have boarded. It’s becoming quite a pain because we don’t have any child-sized spacesuits.”
“Child-sized… wait, they left children behind?”
“Yeah, let’s see. They’re not all kids, but they’re all little ones. According to their words, they were given priority evacuation to the control tower, but an accident sealed off the exits. When trying to save the kids first backfires, it’s the sort of tale that makes you curse god.”
On Allan’s report, a silence descended upon the Plum.
“… Hey, Koume. After the Shield reaches zero, how long will the Plum be able to fight?”
Tarou muttered his words as he conducted the necessary calculations for battle. Koume looked up at Tarou and opened her mouth.
“Unknown, Mister Teirow. Once the Shield is gone, we will have to rely on the armor plating, but it is not as if the entire ship is protected by it. If you want to know the amount of time we can remain floating here, then that is a considerable amount, but if you want to preserve fighting strength for another battle, it is a different story. I believe it will largely depend on luck.”
“Got it,” said Tarou. After turning an eye to the continually decreasing shield levels he steadied his resolve.
“Seal off all the blocks besides the ship’s center. There’ll be explosions if there’s any air left in them. Put all our remaining shields towards protecting the engine.”
Did she feel the intent behind Tarou’s words? Maar gave a quiet, “Got it.” After some time, a silence descended upon the ship, giving rise to the sounds of heavy doors slamming shut in the distance.
“Hah… I’m sure all the uncushioned packages will be ruined. Even if there’s no helpin’ it, this is a huge loss.”
“Right… but money’s something you can always earn again. Life is irreplaceable. Enemy 20’s destruction confirmed. But our foe’s idiocy really saved us this time. If they all attack at once, wouldn’t it be the end?”
“That it would. But they’re only taking a simple action of approach and shoot. If they got around to taking coordinated action, then that really would shake up the empire.”
“If it came to that, we would enter quite an unwelcomed era, Mister Teirow. Now the shield is about to run dry. Do your best, the two of you.”
Tarou and Maar sent a grin. Without them taking any particular actions, the shield levels reached zero, bringing a strong tremor across the ship.
“Erk!! Just not havin’s shields rattles us up this much!!?”
Feeling as if he had been smacked in the face, Tarou strongly gripped his seat. The display went haywire for a moment before returning to normal.
“Damage to top armor plating, damage level 4. Turret 3 damaged. It looks like one of the barrels was burnt up, but it can still fire.”
“Got it. Koume, if one of them uses a warp jammer, let me know at once. We’ll have to take it out first or we’ll be space refuse.”
“Yes, understood Mister Teirow. Enemy 25 shot down, 12 remains silent. Remaining backup shield: 85%.”
Tarou grit his teeth at the repeated impacts. Maar raised a small scream. The three of them awaited Allan’s report as they simply fought on in earnest. Firing and using jamming, they took evasive maneuvers. The points on the radar showed a jumbled mess surrounding the Plum, giving the impression of a pitiful man who poked the hornet nest.
… Hull Damage: 30% Yellow Alert…
A warning flashed across BISHOP. From somewhere, a painful explosive sound reached Tarou’s ear.
“Mister Teirow, the wall around block 4 has been damaged. Cargo 3 has been lost. Enemies 34 and 28 remain silent. Enemy number has increased to 42 crafts. Abnormality found in regulating mechanism of backup shield. Changing to manual operation.”
Koume’s eyes restlessly scanned over the screen as her hands began operating the device at a speed nigh impossible for any human. From there, a conspicuously large vibration. And the sound of an explosion.
“Turret two was blown off, barrels and all. The entire area around it’s all red (unable to function)! Teirow, we’re at our limit!!”
“Dammit, Allan!! You there yet!!? We can’t hold out over here!!”
Tarou screamed across the communication line.
At that point, 13 minutes and 30 seconds had passed since the battle had initiated. Yet the remaining minute and a half to his goal felt an eternity away.