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Thread The Needle

When I first saw a Needle, I thought they were just screwing with me.  With the clearsteel cockpit folded down for tube loading, it looked just like some giant decorative coffin: nearly six meters long, a meter and a half high and one point twenty wide.  It fits in a standard drone magazine, and they probably could use it for a coffin.  There've been enough burials in space these last few years.

But no.  The tech geeks were serious.  It was all so ingenious.  The problem with Marauders and Fireflys is that they can't stand the line of battle because they get fried before they can get shoot their lasers.  It's all about cross-section.  So instead of something four to five meters across, they figured that an evading drone missile could close to ten, maybe five kiloklicks before a standard five-meter laser got the bead on it.  All you have to do is put in a special front-mounted 825mm laser -- good against military armor at over ten thousand kilometers -- plus a couple of high velocity 20mm cannons, insert a fission reactor and make sure the plasma engines will fire ionized lead vapor -- don't let your tanks go dry on full reactor power, now kids -- and you have a perfectly good miniature fighter.  A patrol cruiser could fire off dozens of them.  All you needed was a pilot.  Damn Machine Laws saw to that.

We ambushed Mirfak off a little rock in the Outer Belt.  Six Needles raced around the rock at thirty kps relative, close enough to see the ship -- just for an eyeblink -- as a shape and not a point of light.

Another great victory.  Three of us survived. Mirfak limped back towards Jupiter, but it was so crippled that a couple of Archons took her out the next day.  Three of us didn't survive.  The reports speaks of only three causalities.  It doesn't directly mention the fifty percent fatality rate of the Needle pilots.  And if you die in one, there's not enough left of it, or you, for a coffin.

--Lt. Jansen Lee, Asteroid Belt Confederation Guard, in a private letter to his sister Tabatha Lee. 1 May 2522.
The message cleared censors and arrived posthumously, 5 May 2522.

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