Since January I’ve been working on my first full novel titled Life In The Fastlane. The first part was completed several months ago and has been out to Beta readers and come back with some great feedback. Part two was finished about a month ago and is at present fermenting on my hard drive whilst I work on part three. As the whole process seems to be going so well I thought I’d let a little taste of what I’ve been working on out of the bag for all to see, and comment on.

What follows is from the beginning of part two, the chapter is called Canon To The Left Of Me, Canon To The Right. I’d be grateful if anyone can give me some feedback, let me know what they think, let me know if they’d want to know more?

So without further ado fly you monkeys, fly….

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Bennett’s knuckles were white as he gripped the armrests of his chair, all around him the bridge shook, annoying rattles and squeaks that he made a mental note of to tell the maintenance crew about when they returned to Los Alamos. Apart from that the bridge was quiet, the crew tense, to his left Patterson stood behind the navigator, his eyes locked on the readouts.

“Range?”

Lieutenant Kelso partly turned; her eyes still on her station. “We’re still at least fifteen minutes out sir.”

“Too long, increase speed.”

Patterson turned to look at him. “She can’t take the stress sir, she’ll shake apart.”

Bennett glared at him as he slammed his hand on the hand rest. “Then shake her apart damn it.”

He saw the look that passed between Patterson and Kelso. Bennett had seen the two of them together during R&R, he was glad his young First Officer had found something of interest other than his career, but he’d have to keep an eye out incase this blossoming relationship threatened the smooth running of his bridge. Patterson turned back to watching the navigators station, the intensity of the shaking seemed to increase. Bennett looked round, he knew his ship. She could take it.

The minutes crawled by, no-one on the bridge spoke, they all knew what they were heading into, all knew the seriousness of the situation. Bennett was about to ask what their position was when the speaker overhead crackled.

“I’ve managed to bounce a signal off an outlying drone.” Callum was a new addition to the crew, a communications expert who had proved his worth in upgrading the ships internal and external systems.

…there’s too many the skies full…”

“…the Mark Twain is going down, she’s on fire…”

“…tighten up the left flank, plug the gaps…”

Bennett recognized the last voice, Captain James Moorson of the Alexander M Palmer.

“Range?” Bennett barked.

“We’ve reached the outlying ships.”

Patterson looked across at the Tactical Station. “Lower the shields, launch our drones, reduce speed…”

“Belay that, take us in flank speed.” Bennett saw Patterson turn to look questioningly at him but chose to ignore him.

The shutters that protected the bridge windows snapped shut, the lights brightened and everyone looked to their stations. They now relied on radar and the drones to be their eyes. Bennett swung a screen across in front of him and watched as the Vegas headed into the battle.

“They’ve launched airmines.” Patterson looked at Bennett, his eyes imploring, they both knew the danger the mines meant. He nodded at his First Officer.

“Reduce speed; let the drones to clear a path.”

They were still a long way out, when most people think of an aerial battle they have images of ships tightly packed together, daring maneuvers, one-on-one dog fights. In reality a battle can cover several dozens of square miles. Ships like the Vegas need a lot of room to move, she could take a mile just to turn and face the way she’d come. Real airships were not designed to behave the way the ships in the movies did.

The outlying ships were those that were damaged and were trying to return to base. Below, plumes of smoke rose from less fortunate ships, black smears on the landscape, debris scattered over hundreds of yards.

“I’m picking up a UFS transponder signal.” Callum adjusted some dials. “It’s the Palmer, she’s taking a pounding.”

Bennett looked to his screen calling up Callum’s station feed. The image was blurry, being bounced across miles of debris strewn sky and via several booster drones. The Palmer was smaller than the Las Vegas. Smoke was pouring from the rear section of her single gondola and her envelope looked to be deflating. Several smaller ships surrounded her, taking pot shots. Standing off was a larger shape, nearly equal to the Vegas.

“We have a lock on that ship yet?”

Patterson looked at him concern on his face.

“Transponder identifies it as the Luigi Galleani.”

Despite the situation Bennett smiled, the Galleani was the most powerful ship the Soviets had this side of the Rockies; a dangerous opponent but a great prize.

“Zero in on the Palmer, deploy the rest of our drones give then some cover. Bring the main batteries to bear on that ship.”

Around him his crew carried out his orders, they knew what to do; they were the best to come out of the academy in the recent draft. They had to be to get a berth on the Vegas, Bennett was very picky about who he would trust with the safety of his ship.

The Ship lurched, a loud clang reverberated overhead. They were taking fire, the enemy knew where he was going and were trying to slow him up to give the Galleani a chance to move to face him. But the Vegas was the most technologically advanced ship in the air, no matter which flag was painted on the side, and she was built to take a lot of punishment.

The images of the Palmer and Galleani grew on his screen, Bennett could make out the damage the smaller ship had suffered, yards long rents in her envelope, gaping hole in the aft of the gondola. He could imagine the damage inside, the casualties.

“What’s the state of the rest of the battle group?”

“Six ships down, the Denver and Mississippi have withdrawn with heavy damage. The remaining three are holding their own trying to keep the worst off the Palmer.”

“Time we evened the odds.” Bennett looked across at Patterson. “Deploy the hammer.” Patterson nodded and turned to the vacant station at the rear of the bridge. Callum got up from his station and joined him.

The station was a new addition, something that hadn’t been there a few months ago. The wood frame was bright, polished. The metal gleamed. Central on the wall above was the screen of a Difference Engine, Callum slid into the chair and typed in a command into the keyboard below. The screen came to life, a confusing muddle of symbols and formula. Patterson sat at the second chair and accessed what looked like a basic navigation station.

“Coordinates locked.” A set of numbers appeared on the screen in front of Callum. “Power levels at maximum, target acquired, Fastlane formed.” He punched a command; Bennett looked back at his screen in time to see the side of the Galleani’s envelope bulge outward then rupture as something big and lethal shot skywards.

Callum cheered behind him, Bennett suppressed his excitement. He watched as the missile – that was little more than half a ton of solid metal with one of the new diesel engines bolted on the side – arc round and ploughed back into the top of the envelope. The Soviet ship sloughed sideways as the envelope lost its integrity. The hammer shot out the bottom of the rear gondola, flame and debris following it out. Fires raged within the ship, she began to lean over, turning on her axis, before beginning the slow, graceful fall earthward.

Bennett looked round at Callum’s beaming face.

“It would seem Professor Sykes isn’t full of hot air after all.”

All Rights Reserved © Philip James Norris 11th June 2013

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