Another bolt slammed into the Mule. And another. The ship shuddered with the impact, her shields flashing orange while absorbing the energy.

Raleigh said, “Get us outta here, Lootie!”

“I cannot do that, Captain. StarCen’s warships have triggered a Wu Drive disabling screen, much like we used earlier on the Aquamarine. They ported the grid into place immediately upon arrival. The Wu Drives aboard the Ultima Mule and the Slender Sylph are now inoperable.”

The emotion-free tone of her voice made it seem worse to Raleigh, somehow. She spoke as if it were so matter of fact.

“Full attack, then. Hit ’em with everything we got! Sync the Sylph to fire at the same spot on one of them. Can you bring back any fighter drones?”

“I am sorry, Captain. Without the Wu Drives, I cannot perform any teleportation in this sector.”

“Okay. Pick one of those ships and coordinate our fire with the Sylph.”

“Affirmative, Captain. I am already on it.”

LuteNet’s inflection-free tone at least did not incite panic, any more than the panic that already existed. At least that was a small comfort, Raleigh thought.

Ultima Mule’s forward guns pivoted and shot at the vessel to her right. The Hawk-class ship’s forward guns were a set of giant, four-meter long tubes connected to her power core. Huge bolts of raw energy spewed out of them, red flashes flickering from the front of Mule’s hull with each shot. Slender Sylph’s guns fired at the same spot on the front of the warship. Red energy slammed into the destroyer’s front shields from two directions at once.

But the two Eagle-class ships controlled by StarCen had the same idea. They concentrated their much larger cannons on the Sylph. Green bolt after green bolt slammed into the pirate ship, her shields flashing orange as she absorbed the rapid-fire energy blasts.

“They can’t survive that for long,” Maxwell said.

The holoscreen showed the red and green bolts crossing one another, opposite ships taking combined two-on-one blows.

“Do something, Lootie!”

“I am on it, Captain. Our ships have better front shields. We are almost through their forward defenses.”

Indeed, the front force field on the warship closest to Sylph flickered suddenly. Then the orange barrier disappeared altogether. The red bolts from Mule and Sylph slammed home, hitting metal now. Bits and pieces flew out into space. But the warship was far more heavily armored than the Aquamarine. It had been designed to withstand multiple direct hits even without shields.

She remained in place, and continued her cannons’ horrific blitz against the Sylph along with the other ship.

The Sylph’s shields folded, finally succumbing to the onslaught. The bolts quickly blew apart her forward cannons. She stopped shooting and green explosions hit home. Flotsam sprayed out from the hits, littering space around her.

Maxwell said, “She isn’t going to last much longer!”

The Slender Sylph’s standard drives lit up from the aft. She moved forward, slowly at first, heading toward the shieldless warship nearest her, still absorbing hits to her bow as green bolt after green bolt slammed home.

“What’s going on? Lootie! What are you doing?”

In response, Po’s voice came over Raleigh’s neural net.

“Hey, Chris, we got this one! They can’t move while they’re shooting and Lootie is going to ram us into her. You get the other one, okay buddy?”

“That’s suicide, Lee! Stop!”

The Slender Sylph’s afterburners flared brighter and she picked up speed. Bolts from the warships pummeled deeper into her hull, blasting wide-open holes through her skin. Her bridge ripped off, shredded to pieces by the blasts. But her engines kept going, bringing her closer and closer to the warship.


Everyone threw up arms, shielding their eyes from the light as both ships exploded in a giant fireball. The Mule shuddered as the shockwave hit.


Chunks flew out in a huge radius, slinging off into the black night. The entire viewing screen was littered with pieces, parts, and bodies.

“Lootie, any signs of survivors?”

“No, Captain.”

Raleigh deflated. He watched in silence as parts of the Sylph and the warship floated away in all directions.

He took a deep breath, held it a moment, then let it out slowly.

The big guns of the other warship turned and aimed at the Mule.

Thup! Thup! Thup! Thup!

Green energy bolts slammed into their shields. The holovision flashed orange as bolt after bolt blasted in.

Raleigh made a decision.

“They’re not going to be able to take us from the front. Prepare for the same maneuver against this ship. Take them out!”


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