A collective groan went up throughout the Mule when Excelsior ported away.
“Man, we were this close!” Maxwell said from the bridge where he, the Captain, Granny and Jillian watched on the holoscreen as the drone puttered away, nothing but empty space in front of it now.
Raleigh activated his link to the ship’s PA system. He said, “Let’s move on, people. Pak and Kim, go ahead and take out the station’s trunk line. We’ll pay them a visit and see how many credit tokens we can recover.”
The mood onboard the Mule brightened considerably with this announcement.
Two small service bots moved closer to external protrusions on the surface of the artificial moon. Each bot stood about one meter tall and carried various appendages. They clanked to the side of the external trunk lines connecting Pegasi to StarCen’s quantum communications network. Both exploded simultaneously.
“Alright,” Raleigh said. “Pegasi is cut off from StarCen. Let’s go introduce ourselves.”
The Ultima Mule popped into orbit around Pegasi Station.
LuteNet said, “I will have to adjust the orbit via teleportation on occasion, Captain, since we do not have standard drives to maintain stability.”
“Understood. Take care of us as always, Lootie.”
“Will do, Captain.”
Raleigh activated the PA system again. He said, “Bear in mind they’ll probably stash their tokens somewhere so be on the lookout for potential hiding places. We are not barbarians, so there will be no unnecessary violence. Anyone caught raping somebody will be shot. You don’t have to be polite to these people, they are the enemy after all. But remember they are quasi-neutral. They have serviced Republican ships in the past. We’re just here to liberate their tokens and maybe some other merchandise. We can’t carry much in the way of cargo, so just grab small things that are worth reselling back home.
“Okay. Away teams, prepare to port down. We’re not sticking around. StarCen will likely send somebody to check on the communications disruption soon. We want to be long gone before they get here.”
When he signed off he looked at the others on the bridge and said, “I know the Excelsior has a million credit bounty on her. But at least we might be able to profit a little from Pegasi.”
Granny nodded and said, “They’re probably loaded with credits from the Excelsior’s crew.”
Maxwell smiled, showing most of his teeth. He said, “I’ll lead the first team down.”
The Embarkation/Disembarkation Zone for Pegasi Station was similar in size to the room aboard the Mule and other spacecraft. Maxwell and Skylar appeared, popping into existence. They were automatically scanned for microorganisms, but having gone through the same procedure back on the ship, there was nothing to notice.
“Nice to see their subroutines work without StarCen,” Skylar commented as they exited the area. Behind them, Escobar and Granny popped into existence.
Maxwell nodded and said, “Let’s go exploring.”
He kept his gun out, a rifle, but he pointed it down and remained calm as the door to the chamber opened into a wide corridor.
“It looks like an indoor mall,” Skylar said.
Up and down the corridor they saw a variety of storefronts. Tables and chairs were scattered around outside a couple restaurants. A hologram projected the ancient symbol for a barber pole nearby.
Maxwell said, “Yup. Must be the commercial district. Good for us.”
Granny and Escobar stepped out, and were quickly followed by several more pairs of pirates flooding the corridor.
Maxwell said, “Everybody split up and move fast. Stay with your partner, nobody go off alone. Remember, as soon as word spreads they will hide whatever they can. So grab stuff fast. And remember what the Captain said.”
Everybody nodded and the pairs split up, heading toward different businesses.
Maxwell nodded toward the barber pole. He said to Skylar, “Come on, let’s visit this place first.”
Skylar said, “I wouldn’t think a barber would have a lot of money.”
“You’d be surprised. Navy boys love them some haircuts.”
The door to the barber swished open for them. Two men sat in chairs out front. They stood up in alarm when the pirates entered.
One of them, an overweight middle-aged man said, “Who are you? Is that a gun? Firearms are not permitted in Pegasi Station.”
Maxwell smiled at this statement and aimed the gun for the overweight man’s chest.
He said, “Is that so? Well, if you will fill up this bag with all your credit tokens, my partner and I will take our guns and go. Sound like a fair deal?”
The man broke out in a sweat at the site of the blaster aimed at his middle. The other man shifted in his chair, only to be covered by Skylar’s weapon. He looked at the muzzle, then at the beautiful woman holding the gun. Unlike Maxwell, Skylar was not smiling. He gulped and decided to remain sitting.
Shaking, the fat man moved to the cash drawer and palmed it. It slid out silently, and he removed all the credit tokens inside. When he reached to hand the bag back to Maxwell, his hands shook.
Max glanced inside the bag and said, “Hm. That’s not nearly enough. I know you boys have been giving Navy scum haircuts for weeks. Where’s the safe? If there’s enough in there maybe we won’t have to destroy this place . . .”
The fat man’s face went pale and he shared a glance with his partner.
“Don’t look at him,” Maxwell said. “You’ve been doing business with League sailors for months now. As far as the Republic is concerned, that’s an act of war. And we will have remuneration from you or you will forfeit this establishment. What’s it going to be?”
Still the man hesitated.
Maxwell turned to Skylar and said, “Shoot the place up.”
She turned her gun to one of the barber chairs.
It exploded into flames.
“No! Stop! I will open the safe.”
“That’s more like it,” Maxwell said. “See? All we’re asking for is a little cooperation.”
The barber hurried to the back of the store, past the burning chair just as fire retardant sprayed down from the ceiling. Maxwell followed, keeping his gun aimed steadily on the man while he sidestepped the spray.
In a back office, the fat man wiped away tears while he touched a hidden panel, which slid back to display a safe. He palmed the door and it swung open, revealing stacks upon stacks of credit tokens piled up like poker chips.
“Jackpot!” Maxwell said. “Don’t you people use banks? Oh, I forgot. No banking services to speak of while the war’s going on, huh?”
“Please,” the fat man said, openly crying now as he poured the tokens into the bag. “This is all I’ve got! My family will starve.”
“Oh don’t worry. We’re taking everybody else’s money, too. You’ll be fine.”