The Pursuit of Excellence by Nils Durban

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SUMMARY: Entry in the March '09 flash fiction contest, theme: the tournament

Neive discharged counter-measures from the dwindling stores at what she perceived to be the optimum moment in order for them to achieve their implosive rendezvous with the warhead that had just passed them by close enough to see with the naked eye. Already it had adjusted course into a massive arc that would bring it hurtling towards them head on. She could, and maybe should, have allowed the ship's computer to perform this normally precisely calculated task, but she had trusted computers before and now look at her. Co-pilot (aka general dogsbody) for the notorious privateer Barbeau, famed for his blunders (or 'petit faux pas' as he termed them) as much as for the swashbuckling derring-do persona that he went to extreme lengths to maintain.
She counted to herself, becoming alarmed as she reached thirty, but was suddenly rewarded by the briefest of starbursts directly ahead, signalling the missile's death.

"Ah, bon, bon," Barbeau applauded as he propelled himself through the ship's central chute into the acceleration couch beside her, "another one bites the dust, oui?"

Neive wrinkled her feline features, his proximity and his awful scent causing her hackles to rise, literally. "They will have an almost limitless supply, you know that don't you?" she questioned him in an irritated purr.

"And yet," he calmly replied, "they are only one, oui? We have outmanoeuvred all the rest."

Neive threw her hands into the air, her tail swishing alarmingly from side to side, "that was in the Rings. I'm amazed we even survived, let alone evaded them. And anyway, it only takes one."

Barbeau sighed deeply, his facade threatening to slip away, "they are still gaining on us?"

"Of course, they're hardly likely to let up are they? We're firmly in their sights," her slitted eyes were drawn back to the holography laid out before her, "two more incoming!"

He lent over her to study the situation, ignorant of the revulsion and discomfort of his co-pilot, "Can we shake them off?"

"We can't even afford to try," her green eyes looked up at him, for once with some sympathy, "even the slightest course deviations allow the Interceptor to close the gap dramatically."

He gazed around him wistfully and reached out to caress the bulkhead alongside, "The Excellence is one of a kind. Nothing could outpace her when I first.....obtained her."

Neive continued to digest the hopeless situation, "times have changed, haven't they?"

Their raid on the tanker had, admittedly, looked like being one of Barbeau's better plans. They had sat silently at the Lagrange point off the refinery moon, tracking the tanker's course as it ferried it's precious deutonium cargo between the moon and New Dubai. Upon the occasions where an escort was present it appeared no more than a token gesture, the smallest of vessels.

When Barbeau had, eventually, decided that they had seen all that there was to see, Neive had fired up their engines and they had descended gracefully upon their prey.

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