The Menace leaped as the steering jets slammed her into her new course, as though she was unwilling to even countenance a thing which sought to avoid battle.
"Countenance" and "a thing" look kinda weird right next to each other like that. Like using 'obviate' and 'ain't' in the same sentence.
The screens of the enemy showed the action without much lag, and an instant later, the Saturn vessel was killing her speed on her old course and blasting into a new one which would again intercept the Menace.
Good, hate it when enemy ships teleport around as you're trying to hit them. If you don't got a good connection why bother joining the server, am I right? Let someone with latency under a hundred get in.
The POV hops around for a little bit. Ensign Wayton is grudgingly admitting to himself that the enemy destroyer is being handled well to intercept them so quickly, and then begins breathing quickly "as though to supercharge his body with oxygen and hurl himself rather than flame projectiles at the enemy." Lieutenant Carter is getting dangerously mellow, sinking back in his captain's chair with "a vague look in his eyes and a relaxed expression about his mouth" as he looks over all the meters and readouts on the bridge to decide what to do. And since Hubbard was secretly a dragon, of course those meters and screens "gave the small bridge the appearance of being set in diamonds and gold."
Gaudy as they may be, the meters at least have good news - all guns are prepped for combat, all "tubes" (I can only hope these are thrusters) are firing, the air pressure is even throughout the ship because I guess it'd be bad if it wasn't, and the "new tanks broached to give the men more energy and courage." Oxygen's like food, see, you ration it out and give out bigger helpings of it if you think you'll be exerting yourself.
Meanwhile Ensign Gates is on the "after bridge," where he's got a nearly-as-good screen of the action and can look through a hatch and see the crew around the "Burmingham jet of the starboard engine," but not into the port engine room oddly enough. Guess it's an off-center auxiliary bridge. Also, Gates has a subordinate of his own, "a heavyset sailor from Iowa, who still bore, after twenty years in space, the stamp of his state upon him." I had to put the story aside for a moment and ponder this - what is the author talking about? What about a person lets you look at them and immediately determine that they hail from the dark heart of Iowa? Broad shoulders, a sunburn? The way they smile, how they stand at attention? Why are we told more about the homeland of this nameless quartermaster than the 'main' characters' backgrounds?
We'll never know. The "port ninety-nines" open up, and the battle is on.
Time stood still and two vicious dots of ferocity slashed at each other in an immense black cube of vacuum. Shells burst like tiny flowers when they missed, or flashed like yellow charges of electricity when they struck. The Menace became filled with acridity. Somewhere in her a man was screaming an insane battle cry, and elsewhere blue dots of profanity hung thickly around guns and tubes and stoke ports.
Yep, shells. There are torpedoes, the Menace will fire some in a bit, but the destroyer's main weapons would seem to be cannon rather than the more conventional ray guns. Which isn't to say that - well, you'll see. At any rate, no guided missiles. How would that even work, anyway, stick a little crew on a small, explosive-filled rocket? Don't be absurd.
We learn why the compartments mentioned last time are a thing when Compartment 21 gets a hole blown in it and first 16, then 6 are filled with flame - all are promptly sealed before their conditions spread to the rest of the ship. This at least makes sense, and I think forms a core component of FTL's gameplay. Another thing that makes sense is that the ship's auxiliary bridge is located in the "exact center of the ship" (but still not within sight of the port engine room?), where it will be harder to knock out with a lucky cannonball. Of course, this means that the main bridge is elsewhere and less protected, even though there was no mention of a window or anything when Carter was looking out at the enemy at the start of the story. Might as well just have one bridge in the ship's center that's as heavily-protected as possible, but... well, you'll see.
Anyway, the Menace is taking damage, enough for a blazing gunner to crash down a ladder before an emergency team wraps him in a blanket... well, rest assured it's a space-age, fire-retardant blanket. But the ship is also dealing damage, and another interchangeable crewman keeps calling out "Hulled her!" when the shells hit home. Something happens to produce a string of hits, so that Ensign Gates "believed" that the enemy took a critical hit to the "steering jets." He's able to "believe" this even after reading his instrument panel, so I guess the Menace's sensors aren't able to tell him much or confirm his hypothesis.
At any rate, the crippled enemy destroyer is stuck on a straight course going right by the three remaining US convoy ships. The narration assumes that it's spitefully trying to finish off the helpless freighters before the Menace destroys it, but it's not made clear exactly what happens - "Just as the Menace flashed by a halted supply vessel, it bloomed into a sphere of scarlet death, the ammunition and highly explosive fuel igniting all at once." Since there's no explicit mention of the damaged Saturnian destroyer shooting at it, for all we know some previous damage finally went critical, or maybe a stray shot from the Menace hit a friendly target.
Lieutenant Carter gazed calmly at the fleeing enemy, but the calmness was an official sort of thing, for there was sorrow for the supply ships and anger for the Saturnian snarled into a lump behind his gray eyes.
Yep, the captain got so mad it gave him brain cancer... hey, wait a minute, Hubbard started using the proper adjective all of a sudden. Huh. Well it looks like it's a "Saturn vessel" when he's referring to the boat and a "Saturnian" when referring to its commander.
Each time the Menace got a salvo home the captain twitched forward and a concentration of muscles above his mouth made him grin a split second at a time.
This is phrased prosily and poorly, but I actually like this little scene: a coldly furious captain gaining a feral grin by degrees with each hit his crew lands on the hated enemy.
In the end, one final solid blow makes the Saturnian ship fold up "like a smashed tin can." Hip-hip, hooray. Lieutenant Carter congratulates Ensign Wayton, now sporting "glowing eyes and battle-reddened cheeks," but there's no time to soak in their victory, the second enemy destroyer is still out there...
Hey, why did the enemy come at them one at a time? Why couldn't they gang up on the Menace and take it out quickly and cleanly, then go back to slaughtering the last of the hapless convoy?
Must've underestimated our little space can. The Menace, bloodied but "bristling and sure of herself," takes up a new course and powers towards the remaining Saturnian destroyer.
Telepathically, Lieutenant Carter was aware of his enemy's abrupt distaste for combat with him, now that the Saturnian had been blasted from the action, but there was nothing in the action of the second vessel to indicate dislike, for it turned now away from the supply vessel it had intended to spear, and streaked in a wide bank to bring her into a broadside parallel with the Menace.
Urgh, too many commas. And seriously, "telepathically?" That's worse than "believing" that an enemy ship had taken a bad blow when you're staring at a sensor screen. Or "computator" as the case may be.
The Menace opens up with its six port guns, jerking back and forth as the recoil from the battery knocks it one ways and the "adjusters" fire to compensate, the sort of problem you don't get from lasers or missiles, just sayin'. The Saturnian destroyer does a sicknasty sideways power slide as it closes and opens fire, because hey, it's space and that's physics. And the ship has a "flame wake" that trails into "white powdery smoke, curved and feathered," because... it apparently has to fire its engines the whole time... even though it's space, and that's physics... well, Hubbard wanted some kind of wake, alright? He like ships.
This battle goes a lot worse for the scrappy lil' space can. Compartments 26 through 30 are quickly knocked off the bridge's boards, and the starboard magazine goes up in flames that start spreading into adjacent areas. The Menace fires three "space torpedoes" ...sigh. Well, maybe it's justified, maybe we shouldn't get these missiles confused with the "sea torpedoes" the destroyer carries on the oft-chance it needs to drop something into the water from orbit to sink a tugboat.
Anyway, the Menace fires space torpedoes and rolls to bring its undamaged guns to bear on the enemy. One space torpedo hits the enemy right in the aft, taking out the "stern balance jets" that keep the destroyer from tipping over I guess, but its main engines are still working. The Menace, meanwhile, has lost three more compartments, and worse its air supply is no longer safe to breathe. We're not told the specifics, so I've decided that someone in Compartment 17 had tacos for lunch.
Captain-Lieutenant Carter gives the order to don spacesuits into the "annunciator," just before the Menace takes a big wallop and the light representing the auxiliary bridge goes dark on the monitor board. Carter is sufficiently rattled for there to be "the smallest hint of concern" when he tries to raise the after bridge crew. And if you can remember the name of the ensign commanding the reserve bridge, well done! You're a better reader than I.
Another interchangeable ensign is white with alarm as he looks to his commander for reassurance and orders.
Lieutenant Carter did not look at his executive officer. In a flat, official voice he said, "Grapple the enemy."
Aww yeah, no party like a boarding party! And this isn't some desperate, back-against-the-wall strategy Carter pulled out from under his chair, as we'll see next time the Menace is designed for such close combat. But as I said, next time.
Back to Part 1