“The anti-Wu field has been activated, Captain. We’ll bring the net back in now.”
Raleigh said, “Thank you, Mr. Kim.”
“They’re in bad shape,” Granny said, chomping down on a fresh cigar.
Raleigh nodded, standing with Jillian on his right and Maxwell on his left. Dillon sat in the pilot’s seat, staring in awe at the holoscreen image floating before them.
The Excelsior’s outline no longer gave the sleek appearance of a warship. Instead the hull showed extensive damage, with jagged chunks of metal and ripped plates jutting out. Not a single square meter remained unmarred from what they could see. The ship looked like a sick mishmash of melted and twisted parts that used to form a vessel.
Raleigh said, “Was the suppression grid adequate, Lootie, or do they have their Wu Drives shielded like everybody else?”
“It appears our efforts met with success. Their engine room is already damaged. Apparently the shielding is cracked. That and the other damage they have already incurred means they will not be leaving, Captain.”
“Good. Demand their surrender again.”
“I have done so. StarCen tells me Captain Benson refuses.”
“Does she understand she doesn’t have much choice?”
“I do not know her cognitive reasoning, Captain.”
They watched as a transport shot out from the warship’s flight deck. It angled downward and headed for the planet’s surface below.
Dillon said, “We’ve got drones, right? Should we send the drones after them?”
Raleigh shook his head. He said, “That’s not the way we do business. Let them go. Lootie, was that all of them?”
“StarCen indicates one officer remains onboard, and he is still unwilling to surrender the ship.”
“What? Unbelievable. Okay, what are our options?”
“I am sensing considerable internal damage, Captain. It would appear life support is probably broken as well. You could wait him out.”
“Hm. The rest of his crew just left. If there’s only one person using up the air, he could last quite a while.”
“That is correct, Captain.”
“And in the meantime, the League could show up looking for them. And if that happens, the chances of us obtaining the bounty goes way down.”
“That is correct, Captain.”
“Alright. Anybody got any other ideas?”
“Let’s blast him apart,” Granny said.
“How hard is it to destroy an Eagle-class without shields, Lootie?”
“It is not impossible, Captain. However, the fastest and most efficient means of destruction remains placing a bomb onboard.”
“Like them bastards tried to do with us,” Granny said.
“What kind of defenses could they muster against a boarding party, Lootie? It doesn’t look like their guns are operable.”
“That is correct, Captain. It should be possible to enter their flight deck without resistance.”
Jillian said, “You can’t just let that man die, Chris. She said there’s one man left onboard. If you blow them up, he’ll die!”
Raleigh looked at her and sighed. He said, “He’s not leaving me with a lot of choices, darling.”
“I have an idea,” Pak said from the engine room.
On the Excelsior’s flight deck, the lights flickered as Chung palmed open panel after panel.
“The XO of the ship requires the XO panel to be opened. ‘Explosive Ordinance.’ ‘Executive Officer.’ Ever notice how they’re both referred to as XO, StarCen?”
“The Captain of the privateer requests your surrender, XO Chung.”
“The answer is still no. Now, the standard procedure is a boarding party, correct?”
“Yes, XO Chung. I am sensing a smaller ship leaving their flight deck now.”
“Ha! I knew it.”
He pulled out two egg grenades from the storage compartment, and two neural switches. Then he turned and hurried toward the red glowing portal.
He placed one grenade on the floor to the right of the portal, the other to the left. Then he quickly attached neural switches to the grenades.
“We are going to take them out right when they try to come inside, StarCen!”
“That is unwise, XO Chung. The ship is already damaged. Such an explosion will prove even more detrimental.”
“Yeah, but it’ll be worth it to kill some pirates.”
Chung approached the doorway to the corridor and turned in the flickering light back toward the portal. He focused on the two switches over the neural network and waited.
“XO Chung, causing egregious damage to a naval vessel is not allowed as per—”
“Shut up, StarCen.”
He could see the ship approaching now, through the hazy red force field. It turned, its nose pointing inward. A final burst from its engine would bring it inside.
“XO Chung, I am sensing no—”
The nose of the craft poked through the red force field. Chung activated the neural switches on the two grenades.
Both went off almost simultaneously, obliterating the smaller craft along with a chunk of the deck, the portal, and the force field.
Chung smiled in triumph. His expression changed when oxygen quickly rushed out the giant hole. Transports and spare parts and scrap metal flew out the jagged opening. Chung tumbled above the tarmac and out into space with all the other flotsam.
Everyone on the Mule’s bridge watched as the drone eased over to the stricken vessel. Pak’s suggestion was to resurrect the idea of sending over a bomb on a drone, like they tried when the Excelsior was parked at Pegasi. This time, she was not going to teleport away at the last moment.
It was safer than sending in a team to plant a bomb, Pak insisted. Who knew what damaged equipment could be floating inside around the flight deck? Who knew how psychotic the last living crewmember they left behind could be?
As the nose of the drone entered the red force field of the portal, they received an answer to the last question.
Everyone blinked as the camera snuffed out. The holoscreen shifted to an external view of the Excelsior. A huge debris cloud blew out of the landing deck portal.
“What happened, Lootie? Did our bomb go off prematurely?”
“No, Captain. It would appear somebody booby trapped their flight deck.”
His face dropped.
Maxwell said, “Good thing we sent a drone over and not a transport full of people.”
Raleigh nodded. Maxwell would likely have been on that transport, leading the team.
Granny said, “I guess they figured the ship was toast anyways.”
They watched as the Excelsior spun downward from the expulsion of air.
“Lootie, I take it her orbit is deteriorating?”
“Yes, Captain. And the ship is no longer manned. I am sensing no life aboard.”
“Anything we can do to speed things up her destruction?”
“I will fire at the appropriate spots.”
LuteNet moved the Mule closer to the stricken destroyer and began shooting her forward guns at selected points. More pieces of the ship blew off with each strike, and it tumbled further out of orbit. The Mule followed and continued shooting.
LuteNet said, “The ship is now entering the planet’s atmosphere, Captain. It will burn up within minutes.”
They watched on the holoscreen as the crippled vessel dropped lower and bumped into Halcyon’s top layer of atmosphere. The Excelsior sped down rapidly now, heat from friction making her glow. More and more pieces peeled off and burned away.
The ship became a bright red dot sluicing through the sky. LuteNet magnified the image, showing it go down, down, down.
What was left of the ship hit the planet’s ocean hundreds of kilometers from shore, sending up a geyser of water.
“Captain, I have verified that PLAIR has deposited one million credits in the company’s account on Petra Roe.”
“Good. Okay, Lootie. Get us out of here before the cavalry shows up. Let’s go home.”
The Ultima Mule ported away.