“StarCen, port us away!”
“Will do, Captain Thrakkar. Taking your ship one half AU from Thalia.”
The devastation of wrecked warships surrounded by the empty hull of a Mammoth on the holo disappeared, replaced by distant stars and the vast emptiness of space.
“It’s that pirate! StarCen, what is the status of the other ships?”
“Dauntless and Courageous are total losses. Valiant and Vantage remain intact.”
He made a new connection.
Privately, he felt a surge of relief to hear the other Captain’s voice. At least he would not have to face this alone. Veronica Serrano had a strong reputation as fearless in the face of the enemy. A surge of hope filled him, despite the loss of the Commodore and both Eagle-class ships.
“What was that, Thrakkar?” Serrano said. “Is that what you faced with the bank drone?”
“Yes, I’m almost certain. StarCen, can you get us visuals?”
“I will transport some of your drones over, Captain Thrakkar.”
A moment later, the devastation showed up on the holos of both ships. Floating in orbit, a giant hull rotated slowly, surrounded by pieces of wreckage. Two large chunks of the Eagle-class warships floated away in the distance, shedding scraps along the way. Presumably the other halves were inside the monstrosity.
Serrano said, “Yes, that appears to be the Aquamarine. She was taken by pirates some time ago, and used in your banking incident. The question is, what is she doing here at Thalia?”
“Obviously the Republicans hired pirates to watch the minor planets,” Thrakkar said. “We walked into their trap. StarCen, see if you can find the Ultima Mule in this system.”
“I will look, Captain Thrakkar. All my external components here have been destroyed by the enemy. I am limited to your ship and Captain Serrano’s at the moment.”
“Do what you can, but try to find them before—”
The Mule appeared behind the Valiant and unleashed a flurry of bolts with her big forward guns.
Thup! Thup! Thup!
StarCen popped the Valiant away, jumping half an AU across the solar system.
Thrakkar spat out a curse. Everyone on his bridge tensed.
“How did he find us so fast?”
The Mule popped in behind Valiant again.
Thup! Thup! Thup!
The Valiant ported away.
“StarCen, how is he able to see us?”
“I am uncertain, Captain Thrakkar. It appears the pirates may have a surveillance grid in this system.”
Thup! Thup! Thup!
Again, the Valiant jumped to another part of the solar system.
“You’ve got to do something, StarCen!”
“I have a plan, Captain Thrakkar.”
Ultima Mule popped into place behind Valiant once again.
Thup! Thup! Thup!
Valiant popped away, but this time Vantage appeared behind the Mule
Thrakkar smiled as the process repeated itself twice more. The Valiant appeared somewhere, followed by the Mule, followed by the Vantage.
At last, the Mule broke off, unwilling to engage in a battle of attrition.
Thrakkar said, “Status?”
“Shields are holding Captain,” one of his men said near a side holo. “But I would hate to have to keep doing that.”
Thrakkar nodded, a modicum of confidence returning to him.
Serrano hailed him, still holding her last position.
She said, “Where is that—”
But the Captain of the Vantage never finished her question.
Thrakkar’s head jerked up as he scanned the neural net in his head. Serrano’s contact info showed, but he could not reestablish a connection.
“StarCen? What happened?”
StarCen did not respond immediately. Instead, the Valiant jumped several times. Ten seconds later she stopped. Thrakkar looked at the main holo and saw nothing but stars. He glanced at the navigation panel and realized they were outside the solar system.
StarCen said, “I am sorry, Captain Thrakkar, but the pirates used Aquamarine to take out the Vantage. At this time it is too risky for your ship to remain in the vicinity.”
“Last bogey is retreating, Captain. Looks like they had enough.”
Raleigh looked at the main holo on the bridge and beheld a huge debris field. The hull of the Aquamarine certainly contributed to a large part of that. LuteNet returned her to orbit around the planet after taking out the Vantage. Bits and pieces floated everywhere, some already beginning their long downward spiral to the planet below.
It looked messy. If the hull was worth anything before, it surely was no longer worth much now after being used to destroy five League warships over time.
Quickly the Captain made his decisions, settling on a course of action.
“Lootie, if the anti-porting measures are down on the disabled ships, let’s put the survivors in the Iguana.”
“Will do, Captain. The anti-teleportation measures on the Aquamarine are inactive, and likely inoperable at this point, although the lining on the hull helps block communications. I will let you know if additional assistance is needed for any survivors in the pieces inside that craft.”
He nodded. Then another thought struck him.
He said, “Are there any other items on their ships? Any weapons we could salvage?”
LuteNet paused for a second, scanning all three wrecks.
“The Eagle-class ships have solar torpedoes, four apiece within the portions inside the Aquamarine.”
“Okay. Let’s hold onto those for now. If those can do what I think they can, we want to keep them.”
Seconds later LuteNet said, “All survivors are onboard the Bronze Iguana, Captain. It is crowded, but tolerable. I will port additional food and supplies salvaged from the wrecks over to them also.”
“Good. Let me know if there is enough food to last them until the League gets here.”
“There is, Captain.”
“Now, this new remote pod that grants you control of a ship. We have it installed on the Iguana. Can it be overrun or disabled? Is it safe to leave them parked here in orbit for a few days, or are they going to abscond with the ship?”
“There is always the possibility of escape, Captain. However, if I send one of your people over to the engine room, they could weld the door shut from the inside, increasing the chances of a positive outcome.”
“Okay, let’s do that. Kim, Pak? One of you go over to the Iguana and seal the door so they can’t retake the ship.”
“Alright, people,” Raleigh said, the stress of battle finally leaching out of him. “Once we get that door sealed, I believe our work here is done. We’ll leave the Iguana in orbit and let the Diego Fleet deal with the POWs. Then Lootie can fly the Iguana home for us.”
Maxwell said, “What happens if the Diego Fleet takes the crew of the Iguana? We won’t get any ransoms.”
Raleigh shrugged. He said, “We got enough, Max. I doubt any of the crew are VIPs anyway. If they come home with the ship, we’ll see about extracting some revenue from them. If not, no big deal.”
“You’ve gotten . . . blasé, Captain.”
“Have I? Max, we are richer than any of us ever dreamed of. We just got away with robbing a planet’s central bank. We got every ounce of gold out of that place they had. Besides, that ship is worth more than all its people combined.”
Maxwell smiled. He said, “Just don’t let Granny find out you’re willing to consider passing up additional income.”
A light lit up on Maxwell’s control holo. He turned to it and said, “Captain, we’re getting a call in on the ship’s hailing frequency.”
“That’s odd. There aren’t any ships around to hail us. Put it through.”
Max waved his hand over the controls and a man’s voice filled the bridge.
“Hello. Hello, Ultima Mule? Do you read me?”
“This is the Ultima Mule,” Raleigh said. “Who is this?”
A pause. Then, a woman’s voice: “We are representatives from the planet Halcyon. We need your help. And, we have a proposition for you . . .”