52 Pickup

“What do you think, Spaulderski? Still feeling lucky?”

“Oh yeah. There’s money in the river. I can already feel those coins weighing down my pockets.”

“Nah, you’re just feeling the double portion of dessert you had last night.”

Specialist Spaulderski rolled his eyes and smiled sheepishly.

“That’s right; I saw that shit.”

“Just deal it, Sarge.”

“Alright, alright.” Sergeant Ng flipped a Velcro covered playing card onto the small collapsible table between their flight seats.

“Nine, baby!”

“You’re intolerable. Un-fucking-believable.”

“Believe it! Straight beats three of a kind. You can take your pocket nines and—”

Spaulderski was interrupted by a ping from the control panel. The two soldiers sat upright at their consoles, and playing cards flew away behind them like lazy birds in the zero-g.

“What is it?” asked the specialist.

Ng waved his hands through the holo-projections—only visible from his seat. “Scouting party. Piranha class interceptors, looks like six of them. 100k out. We’re still in recon mode right? Controlled output?”

“Yes. Do you think they’ve seen us?” Spaulderski started to fidget.

“Hold tight, Specialist.” They watched their monitors tensely. There was nothing to see out the window but the same points of light they’d been staring at for hours; couldn’t see an interceptor with the naked eye until it got within 10k, at least. Spaulderski started to fidget again, so Ng distracted him by telling him to suit up. It worked for a minute, until the targeting alarm went off. “Specialist?”

“Inbound missile, two-minutes. They’re locked on, Sarge.”

“Alright, don’t panic, kid. We’ve got time. Deploy the countermeasures.”

Spaulderski swiped at holograms. “Fuck. Fuck!”

“Use your words. What’s the problem?”

“It won’t launch; the can’s stuck. Pressurization fault. Fuck! What are we going to do?”

That was when Ng pulled out his sidearm. “Your suit is sealed, right?”

“I’m not going to like this, am I?”

“It’s coming in too fast for fine maneuvering. If we put ourselves on an unpredictable flight path, it could miscalculate and miss. In theory.”

“In theory?”

“I call this move 52 pickup. Hold on.” Ng fired off three rounds through the window before they were moving too erratically to safely continue to fire. Their air escaped like a shaken beer can, along with everything else in the cabin that wasn’t bolted down, including four royal families, two jokers, and the rules to blackjack. They tumbled in their ship, their venting as good as any thruster, and indeed the missile couldn’t stay targeted. It sailed away into the black.

Ng kept his thoughts to himself, but he was already working out what to do about the inevitable next missile.

“Shit, that was close, huh Sarge?”

“Hang on, Spaulderski, this might get a little rough.”

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