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[Fenfic]To be king just once...
[Fenfic]To be king just once...
I rejigging of a well known story, with a Fenspace bent.

(Because I've been on holiday this last week...)

Great Justice called it the Foxhound. The Roughriders called the two they bought the Grey Lady's, but the prototype was known by one name and one name only, The Pain in the Arse.

It had all the problems you expected with a prototype and then some. That much technology packed in with powerful drives meant a lot of tweaking to get it right. It really only started to get good after months of flight testing and updates. Even then, keeping the engines in tune while flying made for very little time to look outside and ejoy the stars. Rarely, if ever, did you feel like you were ahead of the jet - it would alays spit something. But on a good day, it almost made it feel worth it. When they hit their stride, there was nothing like them. It was the polar opposite to the Talons or Blackbird series...

The 'Taylor Hebert' was the first one ordered by SHIELD and we were keen to impress because normally they went to other sources for their gear. We'd taken a hit on the margin just get it made with even tighter tolerances than required, as a golden eagle. The name came from the mod's they asked for, to make it drone compatible, and the fact that one of the bigwigs who came to visit commented that 'it really didn't look like a hero's jet'.

So, we're taking it out on its delivery flight during which we take the chance to shake-down all the systems on the ship, test its software, and finally, a high-speed run just to see if anything would fall apart. Anika had most of her tests done, so she throttled back on the main computers, just to give a little thermal margin.

No, the the RF-155 was a bit odd as fencraft go. The engines were very highly tuned, compared to the big, gutty engines the roughriders used - they were lighter with a higher power density, but much more overheat prone, and it'd burn a core in maybe half the time at full power. It'd safely cruise in space at anywhere .11 and .14, limited by engine core temperatures, but on the early ones before we switched to fuel-dump cooling, two of the belly fuel tanks were converted into straight-up coolant tanks. For a mad dash of speed, it was possible to just dump raw liquid coolant straight through the engine, which didn't just let you run hotter temperatures, but it effectively tripled your remass for about 5-10 minutes, depending on throttle settings. Then, the only limit to how fast she'd go is how close you wanted to take the engines to meltdown. The first ten built were complete rocketships.

So, approaching the bright side of Earth I nudge open the taps, working the throttles steadily up to keep the engines from surging or backfiring. It's about judging the right time to open the coolant taps - too late and you overheat, too early and you run out before getting to big numbers. It's all a bit of a dance, making sure the autosystems and engine control computers don't get out of step, but this time, the jet just took off.

Taylor Hebert flew beautifully. Once she started running, she didn't want to stop.

We passed .18 which is what we were rated for as maximum, still with half-tanks of coolant and with turbine temperatures just a squeak below normal. We still had a few cents of reactivity margin to pay before the core reached zero dollars, so I nudged it a little further, flirting with criticality.

We were ten minutes out from Cislunar and just starting to pick up traffic broadcasts, when my ears pick out one

"Stellvia Control, this is the Digamma Thunderbolt, request relative speed check"

Now that's something stations do, both for calibration of navigational systems, star trackers, for the haplessly lost or occasionally people looking for proof that YES, they had gone THAT fast. Stellvia does it for Cislunar - they have a dedicated controller to handle it. And that controller always, always talks like a steely-eyed missileer, just so you know that if you're ever in trouble, help is right there at the end of the mic.

"Digamma Thunderbolt, Stellvia, We show you proceeding at eight point zero zero three percent lightspeed, relative."

"Thank you, Stellvia."

It was the Thank You that proved it, someone was making a speed call just to know they'd hit .08 and have notarised proof.

And that would've been it, if not for the next transmission

"Stellvia Control, This is Tvoyu Mat, request relative speed check."

A Russian accent this time. The controller handled it the exact same way.

"Tvoyu Mat, Stellvia, We show you proceeding at ten point two zero three five percent lightspeed, relative."

Somebody just wanted to show the kid up. The contest had begun.

"Stellvia Control, Archangel 12, request relative speed check."

I curse inside my facemask.... anything on an Archangel callsign is probably a Roughrider in a Habu. And he just had to demonstrate that he was the fatest guy on the block, because that's what these guys love to do. And I know what he thought he was doing....I'd thought the exact same thing.

The response comes back. "Archangel 12, Stellvia, We show you proceeding at fourteen point two zero eight percent lightspeed, relative."

Definitely an early Block II model, at that speed. I sat there in the front seat aching. And having that Sled there would make it so much funnier. Because *everyone's* read *that* story. Shul's a legend, and doing it to a Sled in the Sled's Russian Rival would just be icing y'know.

But the radio's the responsibility of the back-seater on this jet and Anika's not normally one to get involved in dick-waving.

I'm back in the cockpit, watching turbine temperatures finally start to creep up to the point where I have to think about throttling back to keep the engines from melting, when I hear the hiss of an open channel in my helmet.

"Stellvia Control, Khepri 1, request relative speed check"

Calm, controlled, not a hint that she was doing anything more than another calibration. Silence. I risked a glance at our absolute speed gauge, and cursed.

"Khepri 1, Stellvia. We show you proceeding at a velocity of nineteen point six eight seven nine four percent lightspeed, relative."

I think, the sheer level of detail sold it the most - the little nine-four at the end. The same, dispassionate female voice who made all the other calls, who might've been reading out a football score for all the interest it gave her.

"Thank you Stellvia. My navigation system was only showing eight seven two."

I don't know whether Anika did it on purpose, or really was just correcting an error. She never admitted it to me. I hope she did because she gained much pilot respect for it.

Whatever the reason, no further speed calls were heard on that channel until long after we'd pulled the throttles back and started our long turn back towards the moon. One Sled Driver went home with his tail between his legs. We'd challenged the Kings of Speed in a way that begged for a Midnight flypast of Frigga, and we'd be put in our place for sure when Rhodes found out, but for one brief moment, the Mig sat on top.

Of course, then we saw who was waiting for us at Kandor City airport, but that's an entirely different story.

--m(^0^)m-- Wot, no sig?

Knowing who Awakened in the Thunderbolt and who usually files that ship, that call was definitely an honest calibration check. The others ... put them back in your pants, boys.
Rob Kelk
"Governments have no right to question the loyalty of those who oppose
them. Adversaries remain citizens of the same state, common subjects of
the same sovereign, servants of the same law."

- Michael Ignatieff, addressing Stanford University in 2012

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