Location: CMS New Day, System 1776, United Commonwealth of Colonies
“He’s calling again.” Able, the large Maccabee mercenary looked across the cabin at Noah.
Noah tried very hard not to grind his teeth. Dental work out on the Rim could be very costly. Instead, he clenched his fists repeatedly around a squishy red ball. He took all of his anger at the immature, moronic, and childish nature of the Full Moon’s captain out on the ball.
It didn’t help that much. <Finding good help now-a-days is impossible.>
“What are the odds that he’ll call again if I don’t pick up?”
Able chuckled and shrugged. He didn’t get paid to coordinate their ragtag little task force. That was all Noah’s job.
“Fine,” the small pirate captain exhaled. “Put him through.”
The captain of Full Moon was a round man. He wasn’t particularly tall or large, just round. His double chin stared back at Noah through the ship-to-ship commlink and his beady black eyes looked surprised that he’d gotten through.
“Where is Captain Able?”
“The captain is busy at the moment preparing for the operation. How can I help you, Captain?”
“You can help me by putting the big putz on now!”
Noah kept the polite smile on his face while he imagined sneaking on board Full Moon and slitting the fat man’s throat in his sleep. The arrangement he and Able had was a good one. It kept Noah alive and in control of his ship, and it kept Able somewhat-rich and able to kill when he wanted to. It was a match made in hell and it worked. It just sucked at times like this when delicate operations were in motion and some ass clown started questioning things.
“He is unavailable, Captain. Can I take a message?” He tried not to keep the disdain out of his voice.
“The mark is late!” The round man smashed his fist on the station in front of him. “Our timetable is narrow and he’s late. I’m beginning to wonder if you aren’t playing me after all.”
That was the other bad part of working with pirates. They were notoriously untrustworthy.
“Alcubierre transit times are only estimates, Captain. Our window allows for another forty minutes before we have to move to Plan B. Captain Able requests that you remain calm until then.
“Don’t give me that shit you scrawny little piss-ant. Able is too busy to take my call but he knows I have legitimate worries and wants me to keep calm. I call bullshit. Put him on NOW!”
“Have a nice day, Captain.” Instead Noah cut the link. His pleasant smile transformed into a scowl and he started to furiously squeeze the ball.
<I can’t wait to kill that fat sack of shit.> Noah and Able had no intention of sharing the money with Full Moon’s fat captain and his crew.
“He does have a point.” Able threw in his two cents.
“Not you too.” Noah shot his much larger compatriot a glare. “We’re still good for Plan A as long as fatso doesn’t do something stupid.”
Currently, New Day was plodding along at the slow speeds of a typical asteroid mining ship away from Cobalt Station and toward the Cobalt Mining Corporation’s owned portion of the system’s asteroid belt.
Both pirate ships had checked in with the station several hours ago, gotten their assignments, and headed out to do their apparently legitimate work. New Day was assigned to extract the valuable minerals from a particularly large asteroid in the belt, and Full Moon was the cargo ship designated to transport that raw material to one of the Corporation’s many refineries.
They’d staggered their departure from the station. It was pretty standard protocol for a two-ship mining team. New Day actually had to have something ready by the time Full Moon arrived. Currently, Noah was about two hundred thousand kilometers ahead of Full Moon and doing a fuel-conserving burn toward the belt where they hoped to intercept the mark upon arrival in the system.
The plan’s brilliance was in its simplicity. New Day would have something vital break around the time Mr. Gold entered the system. They’d send out a distress call, which the Commonwealth Military was contractually obligated to respond to. Full Moon, while not capable of handling the issues themselves, would offer their assistance to the military ship like any good citizen. Once the mark was in range of the two pirate ships they’d attack, cripple it, and board to take their hostage. Then they’d get the hell out of dodge and collect their paycheck.
It was retirement level money. Able might very well take it and walk, but Noah couldn’t. Sitting on some tropical planet for the rest of his life would drive the small man crazy. He’d probably kill someone over something stupid and then spend the rest of his life behind bars.
There wasn’t going to be any retirement for him, but his ship was going to get some state of the art upgrades, and he’d have just about every whore on Tortuga walking bow-legged for a week.
<But I need to get this prissy little rich kid first.>
Noah had done his research and this Gold guy was worth a ton more than what they were going to ransom him for.
“I’ve got a reading.” Able was monitoring the hyper limit, and a small footprint had just appeared. It matched the rough description of what they were looking for.
“Game time.” Noah sent the quick message to Full Moon to follow their lead.
Able cranked up the engines and New Day started to rumble as their acceleration increased.
“Suit up.” Noah and Able shrugged into a pair of vacsuits. For what was about to happen they’d need them.
Their sensors updated a few minutes later. What once had been empty space was now a ship contact. CWS Argo’s unclassified information scrolled down their screen. It was exactly what their contact said it was going to be.
It was a big gunboat. Probably one of the biggest Noah had ever seen, but it shouldn’t be too big of a problem once they got them right where they wanted them. They just needed to follow the plan and everything should work out fine.
Noah let a few minutes go by before giving Able the nod to kick things off with a bang – literally. A charge on the hull exploded, blowing open a decent-sized hole and venting atmosphere and a whole lot of important other stuff into space. The damage looked worse than it was, and a lot of the debris were excess items that had been staged there to make the accident more convincing. Noah wasn’t stupid enough to actually cripple his ship with Full Moon nearby.
“Send the message.”
The SOS went out with an accompanying data burst about eight minutes after the gunboat made entry into System 1776. Any sooner and it would have looked conspicuous. But the data was all real and if the gunboat’s crew studied New Day’s information since they made transit they’d see that they were burning hard for the belt. That type of burn could lead to the cascading failure that was being transmitted in the SOS.
To even the most trained eye this looked like a legitimate call for help from a vessel registered to the corporation legally allowed to be in the system. No trap or plan was perfect, but Noah was pretty proud of the job he’d done.
<The Collies won’t even know what hit them.>
Location: CWS Argo, System 1776, United Commonwealth of Colonies
“Three…two…one…transition.” There was a shudder and customary flood of nausea as Argo exited its Alcubierre Bubble and appeared on the edges of System 1776.
“Systems Check.” Ben sat in his command chair studying the holo-bubble as it steadily began to expand over the next minute.
“All clear, Captain.” LT Briggs confirmed after the departments had reported to her. “One contact moving at a high rate of speed toward the asteroid belt. Confirmed as a mining vessel for Cobalt Mining Corporation.”
“Good work everyone.” Ben got to his feet and looked over the bridge. “Keep an eye on that contact and plot a course to Cobalt Station. We’ll start there with a cursory inspection before moving on to patrol the system.”
“Aye, Sir. Plotting course for Cobalt Station.”
“Roger that, Sir. Keeping an eye on the contact.”
The crew of Argo had done a few drills on their trip out to the backwater system, and it had helped. If they ran into anything like what had happened in System 1552 they’d be able to do something about it instead of running for help.
“Lieutenant, you have the bridge.”
“I have the bridge.” Briggs stepped up to the command chair as Ben stepped down.
He’d been on duty for nearly the whole trip. It would be almost eight hours before they docked with Cobalt Station and he was determined to get at least a little shuteye before having to go aboard. Not only was he a representative of the Commonwealth Armed Forces, but he was also a major stockholder, and son of the CEO of Cobalt’s parent company. That alone was enough to put whoever was in charge over there on edge.
<I will keep it short and sweet. A simple inspection and then we are out. We can have this whole mission done in a few days and then I can get back to the real action in New Lancashire. If they plan a diplomatic mission I might be able to go along.> The last thought was a reach, but a man could only hope.
“Sir, LT Briggs requests your presence back on the bridge.” Geoffrey announced. “Sensors registered an explosion onboard the mining ship we were tracking. They are requesting immediate assistance.”
“Analysis?” Ben would get another recap from his XO when he got back to the bridge, but this was an excellent opportunity to measure the Semi-Intelligent Ship’s Interface’s report against what human minds would come up with.
“The ship was accelerating at the high end of its classification’s specifications. A blow out is entirely reasonable if the ship was not well maintained. Historically, Cobalt Mining Corporation has only met the minimum standard for maintenance. A passive analysis of the debris jettisoned from the explosion shows fuel, water, air, and parts of machinery. Measurements show that the amount of debris monitored would not necessarily lead to the seriousness of the SOS the crew is broadcasting. But I understand humans have a tendency to overreact, and broadcasting something more serious than the actual nature of the accident is a good way to ensure immediate assistance from nearby vessels. I believe the term for it is ‘better to ask forgiveness than permission’.”
“You got all of that from their data burst and a passive sweep?” Ben couldn’t hide how impressed he was.
“Yes, Commander Gold.”
“Good job, Geoffrey. Now let’s go hear what Lieutenant Briggs has to say.”
The XO said basically the same thing. She was still calculating the measurements of debris as they related to the seriousness of the alleged accident, but she came to the same conclusion.
CMS New Day was crying for help. She was hurt, but not seriously wounded. Either way Ben and his crew would render assistance as was their duty. He’d just need have a strongly worded conversation with the captain about how to remain calm in the face of danger.
“Plot a course.” Keep maximum safe distance and prep the shuttle.
Argo had one armored shuttle for ship to ship transfers when deployed. Its offensive abilities were zilch, and its cluster of point defense lasers couldn’t stand up too much, but it wasn’t designed for battle. It was designed to move cargo or people in situations exactly like this one.
“Sergeant O’Neil, get your squad prepared. We are going to be assisting this vessel.”
“Yes, Sir.” The marine looked happy to be doing something other than VR training.
“Sir, we’ve got another vessel approaching to the stern of the in-distress vessel.” There was a beep of an incoming message. “Sir, they are offering their assistance in any way we deem appropriate.”
“The new vessel, CMS Full Moon is one hundred and eighty five thousand kilometers from New Day.”
“Order them to proceed here and await further instructions.” Ben pointed to a space on the holo-bubble.
Ben was going to put the stricken New Day in between Argo and Full Moon. He’d keep Full Moon as a reserve in case he needed them, but he wasn’t stupid enough to get himself sandwiched between the two unknown vessels.
“Geoffrey, keep an eye on Full Moon.”
“Yes, Commander Gold.”
<Better to ask forgiveness than permission.> He repeated what Geoffrey had said earlier.
He could deal with a freighter captain’s complaints about being treated suspiciously by his own military. An apology and a bottle of booze went a long way with the people who made the Rim their home. What Ben couldn’t allow was his command to be put in danger, and while he didn’t think that was the case he’d rather be prepared than suckered into a dangerous situation. His crew’s safety and the safety of his ship were his first priority.