Lee Po stood an even six feet, or 183 centimeters. Of Chinese descent, he had a Van Dyke beard and a ready smile. His First Officer was a young, petite redheaded woman who called herself Susan Cranberry. She seemed polite and very small at five foot two, or 158 centimeters. No one present had any doubt she was tough as nails, despite her size.
Finally, Po’s Quartermaster was another woman, this one in her early 40s. She went by the name of Olivia Allbright. She wore her hair in a braid, stood the same height as her Captain, and looked rather thin. Granny had called her “Beanpole” behind her back once, and the nickname stuck, at least in private among other crews.
Po and his officers stood in a conference room at Mule Tower, shaking hands with Raleigh, Granny, and Maxwell.
With the greetings concluded, Raleigh pointed toward plush leather chairs around a solid oak conference table and said, “Okay, Lee. Tell us what you’re trying to get us into.”
Po smiled while sitting down and said, “I’ll show you.”
He touched his temple and a hologram streamed out of his forehead. Three spaceships appeared, orbiting a way station.
He said, “One week ago, these were taken by a crewmember aboard the freighter Moonpebble, en route to Delta Diego. She stopped for an hour at Pegasi for a supply run.”
Maxwell said, “Pegasi is still a neutral settlement, right?”
Po nodded and said, “They are like Fomalhaut, or at least how Fomalhaut was before it got wiped out.” He pronounced it Foe-mal-hot instead of the more common Foe-mah-low, making the Mule officers smile. Po’s First Officer and Quartermaster did not seem to notice.
“The League has a tenuous claim on them, but the people of Pegasi Station don’t see it that way. They’ll take credits from any ship that stops there. They don’t see too many from our side these days, though.”
Granny stared at the images. She said, “Looks like two damaged freighters and a warship there to guard them.”
“That’s what we thought, too,” Cranberry said. “But Lootie pointed out some things we missed.”
Po nodded, and gave a mental command to zoom in on the warship’s stern.
He said, “Do you see it?”
“The panels . . .” Maxwell said. “They look different somehow. The color is slightly off.”
Granny and Raleigh leaned in and looked. Sure enough, the light on the rear of the ship reflected back in a slightly different shade than the front.
“Lootie says those are hasty external repairs,” Po said. “This is the SLS Excelsior, fresh off the recent Battle of Nocturnus. We know it’s the Excelsior because that’s the only Eagle-class destroyer anywhere near here.”
Eyebrows went up around the table on the Ultima Mule side.
Po said, “We think, based on the after-battle reports from survivors on the Republic side, the Excelsior suffered major damage and heavy casualties after taking out several Republic ships. We have witnesses reporting a serious hull breach right about where those new repairs are. The merchants were collateral damage in the same battle. They were in the wrong place at the wrong time, apparently.
“Anyhow, the bigwigs on Delta Diego want to destroy that ship in the worst way. The Republic is offering a million credits to whoever takes out Excelsior. Naturally, we can keep the merchants. And, with nothing protecting Pegasi Station, I say we raid that place, too.”
He gave them all a toothy grin, making his beard rise up on his face.
Granny said, “How do you propose we bring all the stuff on that station back home with us? I know Pegasi is not as big as Fomalhaut . . .” she deliberately pronounced it correctly, placing special emphasis on the name. Raleigh shot her a warning look, which she ignored. “. . . But I bet it still has a lot of stuff.”
“The merchant transports don’t have much in their holds, from what we understand. We’ll leave most of the people on the station. They’re not worth ransoming unless they’re VIPs. We’ll load up valuables from the station onto the transports and take everything home. Sell the stuff, sell the transports, and split a million credit bonus between our two companies. It’s an additional 5,000 credits per share, which makes for a nice sweetener.”
“An Eagle-class destroyer has a lot of fighter drones,” Maxwell said.
“That’s right, 350 of them. And Lootie estimates they lost only a few at Nocturnus. This is the primary reason why we’d like to team up with you. The Slender Sylph is a Hawk-class, same as Ultima Mule. Our ship has 200 drones, just like yours. So, we’d be bringing a combined 400 fighters up against something like 300 or 325.”
“That just leaves their main cannons,” Raleigh pointed out. These giant military weapons were more formidable than the repelling units found on merchant ships. They used considerably more energy and had far more devastating power.
Po nodded. “We try and stay out of range, and port the drones in to do the dirty work. If the battleship is there, we close in and take her out for the bounty on her. If she’s gone, we take the station and split the spoils.”
Raleigh shared a look with his officers. They both seemed receptive to the notion. He had one final consideration, though.
“Pegasi is a long way from here.”
Po nodded. “Three and a half weeks using the fastest route.”
“Even if we left now,” Raleigh said, “who’s to say they’d still be there? It will have been over a month for them, parked in one place.”
“Two things,” Po said. “First, Excelsior is very damaged, and has to be fitted out with hard to come by components during a time of war. Lootie doesn’t think they’re going anywhere within a three month window, at least. The breach she suffered during the battle opened up their engine room. We think no one can get in to service things right away through all the structural damage. She was able to make the jump to Pegasi, but it’s likely unsafe in her present condition for her to port multiple times and get back home without serious repairs.
“Second, and I’ve saved the best for last, Pegasi Station is not hooked up to the banking subroutine right now. Lootie says StarCen has diverted banking processes from minor territories toward other things. And that means Pegasi is operating entirely on tokens. We think a recent supply ship from Epsilon brought hundreds of thousands more credits in. And those should still be there, even if our prize ship and the merchants are gone by the time we arrive.”
“How many credits in tokens are we talking about?” Raleigh said.
“Including their most recent shipment, Lootie estimates about eight million.”
“That’s 40,000 a share,” Maxwell said. “Plus 5,000 a share for taking out the Excelsior if she’s there. Now we’re up to 45,000 a share for both companies.”
Po said, “If the freighters are there, and there is more lucre on Pegasi, we can easily double that amount. If not, Pegasi will be an easy run with no warships guarding it.”
Everybody around the table smiled now. Raleigh glanced at his officers again. They both nodded at him.
Raleigh said, “Let’s go to Pegasi.”