"Brace for impact. Brace, brace!" The gun crews all held on tightly to whatever they could and tensed as a new round of hyper-velocity rounds and guided missiles crashed through the shields and into the armour. With thick plates welded onto the ship, it could take a fearsome pounding but not for long.
With a sharp dislocating jerk, the reality of the the half dozen or so members of gun crew thirty six, forward battery; transformed into a dizzying, nerve shredding, floor-bouncing hell.
"What the feck is going on?" Cried out Jenkins to no-one in particular, clinging so hard his knuckles turned white.
"We're being fired upon you dummy!" Replied Perkins in as a matter-of-fact voice that he could muster. Everyone was bounced around viciously but it ended just as quickly as it had started. A sharp whistle signalled the ending of the current enemy exchange and now, it would be their turn once more. The slightly mechanical sounding voice of Flashfresh, the capsuleer captain of this ship, of which gun crew thirty six were a fighting component, filtered through to all sections of the ship.
[Gun batteries: switch to barrage ammunition. Switch to barrage ammunition.]
There was a flurry of action as the gun crews, all four of them, raced to switch ammunition types according to their captain's orders. Unlike Amarr and Caldari weapons, Minmatar auto canon and projectile weapons systems still relied largely on human muscle power to load its ammunition. Some even required the crew to fire the weapons.
"Move it you dogs!" Roared Stannick, the gun chief of crew thirty six. He had a small power maul in his right hand and was not at all reluctant in using it to speed things up. The ammunition hopper was manually unloaded of the deadly hail-type ammunition and the longer ranged barrage-type inserted in its place. With practised ease the ammunition hoppers were switched, jacked in and primed. The gun received with a series of satisfying thumps and a final, loud click. Gun crew thirty six were ready in seven seconds flat.
"Thirty-six ready!" Announced Stannick, his face pressed close to the wall mounted micro-phone.
They were proud holders of the 'under tenners' accolade - gun-crew members who could switch munitions under the usual ten-second limit.
A second later, crews twenty-three and seventy-two also signalled their readiness. The latter was made up of new rookies, freshly volunteered or press-ganged into The Bastards pirate corporation, while in-experienced they made up with good team work and slick coordination. As ever, crew ten were finally ready, a full four seconds behind everyone else.
With all the guns ready, Flashfresh cocooned inside his adamantium capsule, re-tasked the guns and laid in a new target.
[Primary is the caracal. Laying down barrage. Fire-pattern six-six-two.] Announced Flash, cool and calm as always.
The 200mm auto canon, named 'Debbie' by her crew, thundered out its rounds with a headache inducing recoil. Its deadly cargo streaking towards the enemy vessel. Gun crew thirty six their task completed could only hold on as the air pressure inside the claustrophobic turret was viciously displaced by the recoiling weapon, now fully-fed and angry. Gunner Pyson, designated number two, bald and completely crazy whooped with glee and in time with the gun's recoil.
Chattering away, it ate through half of the ammunition hopper, steam hissing from the loading breach.
"Make ready hopper 3-A!" Ordered Stannick, his eyes glued to the ammunition counter, its corroded dial counting down to a just-visible zero.
Jenkins and Perkins almost fell over on the slick ladder leading down to the even slippery bottom munitions floor. It was greasy with sweat, lubricant and covered with clinking spent ammunition casings. Grunting, Jenkins located and yanked on a full ammunition cart while Perkins, moved round and pushed hard.
"I didn't sign on for this!" Complained Jenkins as he heaved hard at moving the 100 kilogram ammunition-filled cart. His taller Gallente friend merely grinned back.
"Neither did I but hell, we're in The Bastards and crew thirty six were short by two." Replied Perkins cheerfully. "Besides, you always wanted to experience battle didn't you?"
Spent munition cases, almost half a metre thick in some places, parted as the heavy cart was pushed through to a waiting elevator.
"Yeah, but not like this. Not as a gunner! We can't even see anything and I am about gone deaf!"
"Quit your whining. You're in the wars now son and this sure beats unblocking soil pipes now doesn't it?"
There was a loud crump as something crashed into the outside of the ship, a small hairline fracture suddenly appeared just above Smith's head.
"Oh, that doesn't look good." Perkins said in his most understated tone as he hurried along.
"Hurry the feck up with ammo cart, we need to feed hopper 3-A! We're gonna be out in ten." Roared Stannick, his voice almost drowning out the booming auto canon.
"We're coming!" Yelled back Perkins as the cart slammed into the elevator, Jenkins applied the brakes and braced the cart. Perkins yelled back up to the gun turret. "Cart ready! Bring up the elevator."
The elevator sprang up the short distance and the door pinged open just as the alarm bell started crying.
"Brace for impact! Brace, brace!" Still, inside the elevator, Jenkins and Perkins jammed their backs against the heavily laden cart and braced their legs to either side of the elevator's walls, bracketing the cart. More missiles slammed into the armour of the ship and with a sickening jolt, the elevator shook hard and with a screech some bearing sheared off. Then the sharp all-clear and the ammunition cart was rushed out. Pyson was jumping up and down like a monkey while the other three gunners, Perkins and Jenkins hadn't had time to learn their names, made ready to refill the gun.
Stannick, wide-eyed stared at the ammunition counter as it made its way inexorable to zero. With a loud clank, the 200mm auto canon hit empty and almost sighed when its loading breach slid open, spewing out choking fumes.
"Load her up!"
Fighting back the stench, Perkins operated the mechanical loading arm as it picked up batches of shells and laid them into the hopper. Each five shells was manually pushed in via a lever, delivering into the waiting maw of the breach. Suddenly, there was a loud crash as something hit the gun. The gun turret, plated and patched in too many numerous places buckled inwards by a few metres, right at the top where the dome was. Red-hot slivers of metal and flecks of super-heated paint from inside the turret, displaced by the collision, whistled off and showered the half dozen gun crew. The shrapnel sliced into flesh and bone. There were howls and screams. Pyson, capering like a monkey was peppered and screaming, toppled off the gun platform itself and landed with a crunch at the bottom. A second crewman, a young Sebiestor screamed as he staunched the spurt of blood from where his right thumb used to be. Perkins was shielded by the unfortunate Pyson while Jenkins was protected by the bulk of ammunition cart.
"Load her up you silly Bastards! Load her up! Debbie is hungry and she needs to be fed!" Stannick extolled, still in his vantage point on top of the gun. He was covered in blood, oozing from hundreds of what looked like paper cuts. He didn't seem to notice the wounds. "Feed Debbie! Feed her!"
Shoving aside the bleeding Sebiestor, the remaining two gun crew pushed the rest of the ammunition in, with Perkins doing the work of two, lifting and closing the hopper. With an empty cart, Jenkins pushed the cart back and took it back down.
[Gun crews: brace for more impacts. Enemy drones are ramming the gun turrets.]
There was another crunch and followed by a screeching noise, loud enough to drown out the din of the guns. Suddenly, there was a squawk as the wall mounted voice panel blared into life. It was the aft turret bay, manned by gun crew twenty three.
"- reach, drones smashed in, we're gonna-" it was cut off and the ship shook hard. There was a rush of incoming air and a blast of heat into the turret. Jenkins, on the floor vaulted over the rolling empty carts and glanced down the connecting gantry that linked all the turrets to each other. There was a wall of fire rushing towards him and inside the fire, Jenkins could see what looked like a thin mannequin dancing in the fire. It was one of the unfortunate gunners from crew twenty three, still alive but only for a few more seconds. Jenkins smashed his fist into the emergency shutters and the fire was trapped behind blast doors.
[Gun crews: red-line the guns. Take the safeties off and over-heat them.]
With a quick spin of the fawcets, the coolant flow was maximised while the heat override cut-offs were disengaged. Grinning wolfishly, Stannick confirmed that over-heating was indeed possible. All the guns could would now fire for longer, for further and with more power but with a dramatically increased chance of a catastrophic heat-induced explosion inside the turret. The temperature started to climb inside the turret coupled with cacophony of combat and the stench of propellant; it started to choke the surviving gunners. With eyes streaming, Perks squinted at the various gauges tracking the heart-beat of the gun. The smell of the propellant was thick and cloying, tasting like thick uneatable, cancerous chocolate. Jenks rejoined the remaining crew, a wet rag over his nose and mouth; tears streaming. The very air thumped and throbbed in time with the guns recoil. With the blast doors now closed, the air had little place to move and the heat was heavy and oppressive.
"Water, get some water on the ammo carousel. Otherwise the shells will cook!" Shouted Perks, alarmed at the heat shimmer radiating from the loaded ordnance, slowly rolling into the auto-loader. Stannick was impassive, staring at the capacity dial and didn't say a thing. A squat Brutor, Perks wasn't sure of his name, it sounded like, 'Mirgh' was bent over the side of the gun platform throwing up over the side. The fourth member was tending to the thumbless Sebiestor. "Jenks! Water. Water on the ammo carousel!" Perkins gesticulated towards the water then towards the gun.
Jenks cocked his head around, his hands clasped over his ears. He mouthed back 'What?"
Perkins staggered over towards the rotating carousel and with a rag touched the casing. It hissed and Perkins jerked back his hand. Jenks, finally understanding what his friend was referring to looked around for some source of water. A small hose snaked away around the bottom of the hydraulic lift and was stretched back over. Turning on the tap, jets of tepid water sputtered out and fell, hissing onto the hot ammunition carousel. Steam billowed out into the already foetid and oppressive atmosphere. The turret was hit a further three times, cracks appearing all over the inside of the armour plating, while a loose bit of machinery coshed Perkins over the head. Leaving him sprawling and senseless.
The ship was taking a battering and was shaking itself to pieces. The noise, the smoke and steam was too much for the gun crewman who was tending to Mr Thumb-less Sebiestor. He covered up his ears and started to rock back and forth, moaning as he did.
Just as Jenks thought he would be next, bending over and attempting to revive his Gallente friend, the 'all clear' bell was sounded and the shaking, rattling all over the ships ended abruptly. The guns stopped firing and the ship lurched away. Flash made a ship-wide announcement.
[Attention all crew: hostilities have ended. Salvage teams prepare to exit the ship and grab the loot.]
The auto canon was almost ruined, the rifling inside the barrel worn down to uselessness and the horizontal transversal gears flattened. Stannick, immobile until now moved and sat down. With a sigh, he pulled out a rag and cleaned his face mechanically.
Perkins came to with a groan.
"Is it over?" He moaned. Jenks looked around at the steam and rolling shells underfoot. The red-lines on the gauges stuck and the gentle pinging sound as metal started to cool and contract.
"Yup and not quick enough!" Complained Jenks half-heartedly, however the realisation that he did indeed survive his first combat operation was gradually dawning on him.
Perkins attempted to get back up. "Help me up buddy." Looking over, he saw Stannick, still wiping his face, over and over.
"Stannick? You ok?"
The gun chief stirred, looked up, starred back and then shrugged. He continued to rub the rag vigorously on the back of his neck. There was a dull thump as the ship docked up and the locking clamps were engaged. Soon, the doors were cycled open and maintenance and medical crews streamed in. Business like, they assessed the damage and started to clean up the mess. Those crew injured or dead were removed efficiently and damaged equipment unbolted or blow-torched loose before being replaced with new, gleaming versions. All this happened while the existing crew, those that could walk - shuffled out and emerged from the ship, blinking and coughing. Jenks supported Perkins as they stepped onto a crew gantry and was soon joined by other members of their ship: greasy engine room mechanics, navigators, support staff and other gunners soon jostled for space as they moved out and into the docking area.
"Hey! Hey Jenks! Perkins! Hey!"
They both looked around and saw a bunch of maintenance crew, attired like them waving at them and pushing their way through. They reached Perkins and Jenkins and after much back slapping and hand shakes they found a space. Jenks gratefully accepted a bottle of water and drank deeply.
"Goddamn it. You guys were on the Steel Rose? With Flash?" Exclaimed one of the maintenance men, a nervous looking Caldari.
"Yeah - but we didn't see him! Probably too noisy for him!" Guffawed Jenkins, his humour coming back quickly. Now that he had, indeed earned his combat stripes, it meant more pay and an increased share of any loot bonus. Being alive also helped his humour immensely.
"Man, you guys pulled some combat duty." Said another, wistfully. "Get any confirmed kills?"
"Several." Lied Perkins, already starting to enjoy himself.
"Including a battle ship I think, right Perkins?" Jenkins had to milk it. "Buy us a beer and we'll tell you all about it." There were some appreciative nods.
"What was it like Perkins? I mean combat?" Asked another, eagerly. Thinking back to the noise, the heat, the stink, the near death experiences and the blood. Oh yes, the blood spattering all over him. Perkins considered his reply.
"Interesting. Now where's the drink?"
Fleet summary: The Bastards fleet were on a roam and had pursued some ships into a nominal Militia military bunker, hastily put up in Evati. Three cruiser, two caracal-class, a bellicose-class and an assortment of frigate-class vehicles, all flying the flag of the Minmater Militia were engaged against The Bastards. The space between the two fleets filled with screaming drones, lancing lasers and whining shells as deadly broad sides were traded. The lead enemy caracal, its fuselage painted a matt black was selected as primary by Flashfresh, had its shields blasted off by the stronger Bastards fleet, made up of thorax-class cruisers, ruptures and arbitrators. Stronger coordination and sheer viciousness saw the pirates gaining the upper hand quickly. The militia frigates were quickly dealt with by drones while the bulk of the fire was concentrated on the deadlier missile boats. Bathed in fire, the shields flickered off the lead caracal and its thin armour was rapidly punctured in a dozen places.
Resulting action was fun and frantic:
The Bastards lost Ish and TheHermit to a sabre that wasn't with the main FW gang but was around in Evati.
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