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Privateering

“Good morning from GNO stage fifty-nine on Artrax Three, I’m Mon-El Furash. The long-awaited closing arguments of the trial against the Galactic Commonwealth and the Peacekeepers have begun. It’s been several months since the trial began after the incident at Harrith Prime when several member worlds of the Galactic Commonwealth filed a suit against the GC Council as well as the top levels of Peacekeeper command.” She touched her ear, listening to someone, “That’s correct, this trial has moved so slow due to the sheer number of witnesses called, and the time it has taken to assemble them. All while trying to ensure continuity of government. It’s been a long back and forth, and the outcome is far from certain, but we’ll all find out soon enough.”

***

“Ok, you know what, that was a lot of fun!” Bennie exclaims, walking onto the bridge of the Ghost. Behind him, Wil and Zephyr follow.

Wil drops into his command chair in the center of the room, “No argument there. Those idiots got in way over their heads” He taps a few commands into the control on the arm of his chair, “The bounty wasn’t bad either. At this rate, we should be able to pay off  the bounty the Consortium put on our heads.”

Bennie cackles and in a whiney voice says, “You can’t beat us. Our ships are more powerful. We’re mighty, blah blah blah.” He drops to the ground and kneels, “Don’t hurt us. Please! Mercy!” He doubles over laughing.

Zephyr takes her chair, bringing her console to life, “I’ll admit, getting a letter of marque from the Harrith government has proven to be less of a terrible idea than I first assumed. There is something satisfying in kicking pirate ass, as Wil would say.”

Wil beams, “So I was right? I’ll take it. Bennie, what’s next?” He leans back and puts his boots on the pilot station in front of him.

The small Brailack stands up and sits at his console. He swipes the screen a few times, “We’ve got a few options. There’s a mining colony that’s been harassed by pirates a few times, asking for help. There’s an agricultural settlement that’s offering a pretty credit for some livestock transfer. There’s a freighter convoy looking for some protection, and a few other things on the network.” A few more swipes, “The livestock job actually has the highest guaranteed pay-out.”

The hatch to the bridge opens, and Maxim walks in, “I’ve secured the last of the crates we took on. Where are going now?”

Before Wil can answer, Zephyr does, “Livestock.”

He turns and leaves the bridge without another word.

“I know what he means.” Zephyr says, looking from Bennie to Wil, “Livestock jobs suck.”

Wil nods, “No argument here. Maybe that mining colony?”

She nods, “Probably a good one. If it’s pirates, we get to claim the whatever is in their holds plus any bounty on them.” She smiles, “And their ship.”

Nodding, “Yeah. Ok, Bennie, take the mining colony gig.”

He nods, “Roger that.” A few taps and then, “Okay, I’m sending the nav plot to your station. The colony is about three days from here, a small system called, well it doesn’t appear to have a name just a number. ‘P3X-103’, how poetic.”

Wil nods and seconds later the Ghost is on its way. The Station they were docked at, in orbit over Harrith prime quickly receding from view on the main screen. “We can go FTL in twenty minutes.” He turns to Bennie, “Why don’t you go down and set the table? We’ll get dinner going as soon as we hit FTL, and if I recall, it’s your turn.”

“It was my turn last night!” The small Brailack protests getting up from his station and tapping a few commands to put it into standby mode.

“No, it wasn’t. It was mine, and you know it.” Zephyr says from her station, then sticks her tongue out at him. The small alien mutters something under his breath and leaves the bridge.

Nineteen minutes later the Ghost jumps to FTL. Wil and Zephyr have worked in companionable silence getting the ship ready for their next mission and filing the appropriate paperwork to close out their most recent mission. They stand to leave the bridge and join the others in the lounge. Before they reach the hatch, she turns to Wil, “You know we can’t keep this up forever. Right?”

Wil sighs, “I know, but Zarrix burned us good. The Consortium still has its members and their bounty hunters out for our heads, and the only thing keeping them at bay, even a little, is the Harrith government and our arrangement with them. We leave this region of space, and it’s a free for all. Believe me, as soon as we have enough to pay the bounty; we’ll pay it.”

Zephyr nods. This isn’t the first time the two of them; her acting in her semi-unofficial role as first officer, have had this conversation. “I know Wil, and the crew does too, but that doesn’t mean they’re not getting restless. The other day I caught Bennie hacking the voting system on Galatea for the ‘fun of it’ he said, but I suspect he’s been taking on side work.”

“That little.” Wil starts then takes a deep breath, “yeah. I can’t blame him I guess. Fucking Xarrix, it’s not our fault whatever deal he had set up for Gabe, and the data he contained fell apart.”

“It sort of is.”

“Well yeah, but it’s not like we could have just walked away. You and Max’s reputations and lives were on the line. Not to mention everyone here on Harrith.” He shrugs, “I wonder what he even had planned, it’s not like what Gabe had was that lucrative. Outside of maybe the GC and Peacekeepers paying to keep a lid on it.”

“Well, just keep this in mind. Something is going to have to change sooner rather than later if you want to keep this crew together.” She turns and opens the hatch leading off the bridge.

Dinner Interrupted

Wil and Zephyr walk into the crew lounge. The rest of the team is either lounging in one of the comfortable chairs in the center of the room or sitting at the small kitchen table set against the wall to one side.  Bennie is puttering around the kitchenette area singing something that sounds to Wil oddly like ‘Manic Monday’ by the Bangles.

“So what’s for dinner?” Wil asks, grabbing two grum from the fridge, handing one to Zephyr before she takes a seat next to Maxim, her free hand finds his.

Bennie turns around from the cooking area, a large pan with some something sizzling in it in his hands. “Fried Tahlo fish.”

Zephyr, Wil, and Maxim exchange a look. Maxim then asks, “What’s a tahlo fish?”

“I picked some up on Harrith Prime when we were there last. The merchant said it was a delicacy. Something about the lake they live in. In the northern reaches,” He shrugs, “After that, I kind of tuned him out until I paid.” He raises a hand as Wil opens his mouth, “But. I had him send me a recipe with my receipt.”

This mollifies Wil. At least with a recipe, Bennie wasn’t winging it which is usually when things went wrong in the kitchen, typically with fire involved. Followed by intestinal distress for one or more of the crew.

Since the ‘Harrith Incident’ as GNO has dubbed it, the crew has enjoyed a reasonably comfortable life as privateers for the Harrith Government. After the ‘incident’ piracy and general lawlessness became the order of the day in the Harrith system and its outlying territories. As well as several smaller systems nearby. The Harrith fleet was severely reduced in size and power fighting the Peacekeepers, and the rebels. The Quilant and Zengar fleets suffered similarly. The ‘Incident’ left several systems and governments weakened and as a result opportunists from all over the quadrant had started setting up shop; raiding small colonies, attacking shipping, and more.

The governments of the major systems in the region began offering letters of marque to any ship that could show sufficient firepower to act in that systems interests. The Ghost was more than suited for that type of work, and the work itself resonated with the crew. For the last seven standard months the Ghost has been crisscrossing the sectors of space around the Harrith system; protecting trade convoys, ore shipments, and even occasionally running freight when the load (and payout) was right.

All told there are several hundred small to mid-size ships roaming the area acting for one government or another. While law and order are not fully restored, the last seven months have seen a drastic decrease in overall crime in the area. According to the local news outlets, it’ll be several cycles before any of the major powers get back to full military strength, and despite the losses Harrith and it’s unaffiliated neighbors have flat out refused Galactic Commons aide.

All that luckily balances out the other issue facing the crew. After the ‘Harrith Incident’ Xarrix sold them out to the Consortium that owned the space station they raided (on his behalf). Somehow they’d been clued in on why their station had been robbed and had an idea who had set the job up. Xarrix had one shot and quickly took it, burning Wil and the crew of the Ghost without a second thought. Bounty hunters from all over the quadrant were looking for the Ghost, and while it was no secret where they were, the Harrith government and Navy had made it clear, the Ghost was still quite popular and quite protected while in the service to the people of Harrith Prime.

Gabe, who’s standing off to the side of the table talking to Bennie suddenly stops, “Captain, we’re receiving a distress call. Wideband.” Everyone immediately stops what they’re doing.

Wil stands and heads for the bridge, Zephyr, and Maxim on his heels. Gabe offers as they move, “I’ve instructed the ship to alter course.” The hatch out of the common space closes.

Bennie looks up at his mechanical friend, “Guess we’re clearing the table.”

Gabe picks up the tray with fish on it, “It would appear so. Is tahlo fish good reheated?”

Crime Doesn’t Pay

As Wil approaches the bridge, the hatch opens. The main screen is already displaying a tactical plot showing the source of the distress call and the Ghost’s relative position and speed. Taking his seat at the command/pilot station, “We’ll be there in forty-five tocks.” As Zephyr and Maxim take their seats.

Zephyr taps a few commands and is murmuring into the mic pick up at her station. Likely talking to the source of the distress call. She looks over at Wil and nods, and the overhead speaker comes to life, “Please repeat last.” She says louder than before.

“This is freighter Sartomo. We’re under attack, there are three freighters in our convoy. We’re under attack! Help us!”

Wil tilts his head up slightly. A habit he’s never been able to shake despite it being completely unnecessary. The computer will pick up his voice no matter what he does with his head. “This is Captain Wil Calder of the Ghost. We’re on our way but we’re…, “ he looks over to Zephyr who shows the count by flashing both hands four times, luckily Palorians have five fingers. More accurately three fingers and two thumbs, “forty tocks out. Can you hold them off?”

Static fills the speakers momentarily, “I think so, all three of us have defenses, but we won’t last forever. Please hurry!”

“We’re on our way. I promise. Just hang in there.” There’s a soft beep indicating that the channel is closed. Wil taps on an icon on the arm of his chair, “Gabe, I need more speed. Ramp up the reactor to one-twenty.”

“Captain, the reactor and the engines won’t be able to sustain that level of power for long.”

“They only need to last forty tocks. Do it.”

The ship shudders and even with the inertia compensators, everyone feels a slight lurch and pressure pushing them against their seats, “Acknowledged.” Another soft beep, channel closed.

Zephyr looks up from her station, “New ETA, twenty-five tocks.”

Wil nods, “Max, get ready. I’ll drop us out of FTL as close to on top of them as I can. You’ll have to lock on and open fire as fast as you can. Zee, did the Captain of the Sartomo say how many attackers there were?”

She nods, “Yes. Four.”

Wil whistles, “Tough odds. For them.” He grins at Maxim.

The next twenty-odd minutes drag on, everyone waiting tensely. About fifteen minutes out the long-range sensors are able to tell what’s going on up ahead. Two, not three icons representing freighters are clustered together with three, not four red triangles orbiting them, occasionally swooping in close then back out again. Looks like the situation has changed quite a bit. One of the freighters is out of commission, either destroyed or at least disabled enough to not register on the long range scopes. One of the attackers has also been destroyed or disabled.

From the overhead speakers, “Captain, the heat shielding on the reactor is becoming unstable. We have, at most, five more tocks before I have to bring the reactor back down below one hundred percent. Ideally closer to eighty percent. Beyond that the reactor will scram, and we’ll be on emergency power.” Gabe takes his role as engineer seriously, and Wil appreciates it.

“Acknowledged, push it as far as you can, as long as you can, then dial it back. Just remember we’re going into combat, we’re going to need more, not less power.”

What sounds like a sigh, “Very well.” Soft beep, connection closed.

Bennie, who entered the bridge during the flight toward the battle finally chimes in, “I’m picking up narrowband comms, likely the pirates talking to each other. They’re encrypted, of course.”

“Can you crack it?” Wil turns to the station Bennie has called home for almost a year.

“Of course I can, but do we care? It’ll be easier to just jam their comms.” He rubs his small hands together.

“Fine, do that, I really don’t care as long as they’re off balance.” Wil taps a few controls and the display switches to the view directly ahead of the ship. Currently, the stretched out stars of FTL travel.

“Two minutes. Z, hail the Sartomo.”

She nods and taps a few things on her console then nods again. Wil speaks loudly toward the ceiling, “Hang in there, we’re here.” He motions to her with a slashing gesture of his hand and hears the soft beep of a closed channel.

A slight lurch forward tells them that Gabe has reduced the power output of the main reactor significantly. A minute later, Wil slides the FTL control back to ‘sub-light’ and the Ghost is immediately in the middle of the fray. Directly ahead and to port are the two remaining freighters, one venting drive plasma from a wound near its main engines. Slightly further ahead and to starboard are two of the three attackers. They’re small combat craft, about half as big as the Ghost, but well armed. Likely a crew of two or three, the rest of the ship is likely cargo hold.

As Maxim unleashes the forward weapons on the two craft, Wil nods to Zephyr, “Hail them.”

The plasma cannons mounted on the main engine pods stream lethal bolts of energy at the furthest pirate. The forward weapons, mounted under the forward section of the ship, spit almost equally deadly fire at the nearer pirate.

She nods back, “Attack craft, this is your only warning. Power down your engines and weapons, or be destroyed.” The familiar soft beep telling him the channel was closed. “Bennie?”

“Their comms are jammed. If they want to talk to each other, they’ll have to do it in the open until they settle on a new frequency, that we’d hear them agree to and I could jam again.”

A pair of missiles streaks out from the launchers on Ghost’s underside. They fly from the bottom of the view screen, splitting up and heading toward two of the pirates. The two attackers directly ahead explode. Maxim is grinning ear to ear.

“Well done, Max!” Wil shouts.

You Can Run

The third attack craft, presently on the other side of the two remaining freighters immediately turns away from them and accelerates to what Wil assumes is its maximum sublight speed.

“Hail the freighters.” Wil is looking at the tactical plot on a sub monitor of his station, watching the remaining pirate flee.

“Thank you! Thank you so much. We thought you wouldn’t make it in time.”

“Are your ships intact?” The third freighter, that was no longer showing the on the long-range scans is in fact just heavily damaged and adrift, no power readings. There’s a large hole likely where the reactor used to be. The crew is lucky the reactor scrammed vs. Exploded. The other two are in slightly better shape.

“We are, yes. The Lothal is on back up power but her crew is alive. We can transfer them and their cargo to our ships. The Tarkin can be repaired on site.”

Wil nods to himself and brings the Ghost around and under the freighters on a course to pursue the last pirate. “Good, we’ll be back. We’ve got one left to engage.”

Over the speaker, the voice is clearly smiling, “Good. Destroy them. Those krebnacks deserve no less.” The channel closes.

Wil smiles, “I like that guy. Z you still have eyes on that ship? Bennie, see if you can keep tabs on his comms.”

“I’ll try, he’s got a good lead.” Zephyr replies from her station.

“Just don’t lose him, they must have a mothership or base somewhere nearby. I don’t think that little cutter can go FTL.”

Max looks up from his station, “Confirmed. I was able to scan the other two before I destroyed them. They were not FTL capable vessels nor is the remaining ship.”

Wil pushes the sublight throttle all the way forward. “Let’s go hunting then.”

A few minutes later the sensors pick up several asteroids, they must be part of this systems’ asteroid belt. Wil knows it’s nearby. He slides the throttle back letting the small ship leave them behind.

“Keep an eye on them, let’s wait until they get to their base. Maxim, Z, go get dressed.”

Wil brings the Ghost about and accelerates away from the pirates, “Bennie, engage full stealth systems. Let’s let them think we’re heading back to protect those freighters.”

Both ex-Peacekeepers stand up and leave the bridge, heading for the small armory that sits behind the bridge between the port and starboard airlocks.

The Ghost is for all intents and purposes, invisible. Not cloaked, that technology, on the scale of a starship is still next to impossible but the pirates most definitely can’t see them.

“They’re slowing down.” Bennie reports, he’s added Zephyr’s station’s capabilities to his in order to monitor the long-range scanners. The main screen zooms in on a particularly lumpy looking asteroid roughly a kilometer wide, and two long. There are a few habitat modules and other pieces of equipment visible on its surface, as well as a large bay door leading down inside the asteroid. The small attack craft has vanished down that rabbit hole. There are also several visible weapons emplacements on the surface, clearly to protect the bay doors. “It looks like they don’t close that bay door all the time. So as long as their guns don’t pick us up and shred us, we can fly right down their throat.”

Wil shudders, “Dude, that’s a really weird an off-putting mixed metaphor.” He slides the throttle forward a bit, to the max speed that the stealth system can keep them hidden, and brings the Ghost back around on her original heading.

“What? I’m trying to work in more humanisms.” The small being shrugs.

“That’s not… never mind.” Wil turns back to face the screen. Ten minutes later they’re slowing down as the Ghost slides past the sentry gun emplacements and into the entrance to the launch bay carved into the asteroid.

“Bennie, find me an airlock or something. Gabe to the bridge.” Wil stands up. The computer picks up that the last part of the sentence was directed at Gabe and routes the request to engineering.

Two minutes later Gabe enters, “Take the conn, and dock us where Bennie says. I’m going to change. You’re in command” He heads off the bridge to join Zephyr and Maxim.

Wil sheds his basic flight suit for his more form-fitting armor suit. He adds armor plates to hard points on his torso and limbs. Once connected, each signals the suit that they’re active. He grabs his long brown coat that he had specially made a few years ago. It hangs just like a trench coat but can absorb several direct hits from energy weapons and even stiffens on contact with projectiles. Once done with that, he grabs two blasters and adds them to hip holsters built into his armor, and grabs two armored gauntlets. One has space where his wrist comm integrates.

The ship bumps against something. Gabe announces over the intercom, “We are docked. We have attached to a service airlock. It’ on our port side. Bennie is attempting to hack the computer so that they do not see our connection.”

Wil finishes attaching a few last shield emitters and other pieces of equipment to his armor and trench coat, then activates the helmet that retracts into his armor when not in use. His armor isn’t as advanced or as powerful as the Peacekeeper combat armor Zephyr and Maxim wear, even being outdated as it is, but it’s served him well over the years, and the lighter modular design allows him to upgrade and replace pieces as needed. It’s the armor he wore, always under his long brown duster, when he rescued his two friends from the Partherians after they were set up by the Peacekeepers.

The Past

“Well as jobs go, this one sucked,” Wil says plopping down into the command chair on the bridge. From the hold comes a screeching moo type sound. Wil Winces, “Computer, is there a way to dampen the sound from the hold?”

“Negative.”

“Shit.” He pulls up the pre-flight checklist and starts getting ready to leave whatever this planet is called.

“Computer, open a channel to Xarrix.”

A soft beep announces the channel is open. A few seconds later. “You have them?”

“Yeah, I got ‘em. Whatever the hell ‘they’ are.”

“They’re expensive, that’s what they are. You don’t need to know more. How soon can you be here?”

Wil looks at his console, “Eight hours, er, uh long tocks? No. Eighty centocks. Yeah centocks.”

There’s a loud hissing sigh, “Fine.”

The soft beep announced the closed connection.

“Asshole.”

The Ghost lifts off the planet and accelerates out of the atmosphere. It’s powerful atmospheric engines roaring, pushing it away from the planet. The smuggler that met Wil with the creatures, covers his face and swears.

Once the ship is underway Wil heads back to the hold. As soon as the personnel hatch opens he’s assaulted by a smell so bad he makes a gagging sound and almost pukes. The creatures below look up and let out a screeching moo sound. He shudders and walks down to the hold. Whatever these things are called, they’re ugly; six stubby legs sprouting from a tubby tube-shaped body, covered in slightly sticky leathery skin. Three tails swish back and forth lazily. The worst thing about them to Wil is their faces; four beady eyes set wide on a big flat skull with a wide toothless mouth.

Wil pushes through the shuffling animals to the port side of the hold and grabs some of the feed Xarrix’s henchman gave Wil. He scoops it up and tosses it to the floor. The salamander-cows as Wil calls them, shuffle and long prehensile tongues loll out and writhe on the floor looking for the pellets.

“That’s disgusting!” Wil shouts, edging back to the hatch trying to avoid salamander-cow saliva. He shuts the hatch and heads back to the bridge.

Wil drops into one of the large chairs in the crew lounge, a grum in one hand, something like beef jerky in the other. “Computer, update on search routine, ‘find Wil friends’?” He looks to the ceiling, waiting.

“No results.”

“Really?”

“No humans have been reported within the sphere of the Galactic Commons.”

“Man! Why hasn’t someone kidnapped anyone else from Earth? How can I be the only one?”

“Unable to answer.”

“Shut up!”

With six hours to go he looks around the lounge. “Mr. Sulu are we on still on course?” He nods slowly a few times, “Good, good.” He looks over to the couch-thing, also empty. “Commander Worf, weapons status?” More nodding, “Good, hope we won’t need weapons to transport salamander-cows.”

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

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