Location: CMS New Day, System 1776, United Commonwealth of Colonies
<Steady…steady. Just a little bit farther.> Noah sat in the captain’s seat gripping the armrest with white-knuckled anticipation.
Eight-digit money signs were flashing in his mind with each kilometer crossed by the Collie ship, but he couldn’t let it get to him. The military vessel was doing roughly what he anticipated it would do, but to pull this off he needed it to do exactly what he wanted.
It was like luring a mouse into a trap. They’d put out the cheese and now they just needed to wait patiently to pull the string and trap it. It was all about timing and positioning. They needed to get the Collies into a position to take them under fire from both ships. Individually, the two pirate ships were ridiculously armed for something of their size and class; but in the end they were still a mining ship and a modular cargo ship. The gunboat was a ship with military-grade armor and weapons. This would take teamwork.
Unfortunately, teamwork wasn’t something pirates excelled at.
“He’s calling again.” Able informed with an annoyed scowl on his face. He’d been stroking his pistol for the past ten minutes with a faraway expression on his face.
Noah new that expression, his large mercenary friend was imagining all the contingencies of the operation. He was running through possibilities in his mind and playing out what could happen. Damaging the Collies ship was just step one. The ship needed to be damaged enough to not flee and not fight back, but not damaged enough to kill their mark. Thankfully, they knew exactly where to hit it. Their patron had given them rough blueprints of the ship and highlighted its weak points.
Step two was boarding the vessel. Since there were undoubtedly Collie marines onboard it was going to be a close quarters, bare-knuckled brawl once they got onboard. They had parasite craft that would attach to the hull and slowly drill through it, but numbers were the key. That’s really where Full Moon came into play. They had a ton of pirates ready to pillage the gunboat.
Noah counted on losing most of them in the fight. Collie marines didn’t fuck around. New Day would provide support during that phase of the operation. Step three wasn’t going to be as tough as taking the ship, but it was still going to be rough. It involved grabbing Gold, killing the crew of the Full Moon and escaping to collect the reward.
Noah had a plan, but that was literally thinking two moves ahead. That was all well and good from a strategic point of view, but he still needed to be in the present.
“They’re decelerating.” Able’s words cut through his mind like a plasma torch.
“No.” Noah calculated the trajectories with the new data and it didn’t look good. “Why are they going to sit at stand-off range? They see we’re in distress and they can’t help us sitting all the way out there.”
The pirate captain swiveled his seat around and brought up the gunboat schematics their source had given them.
“He’s still calling.” Despite the seriousness of the situation, Able still sounded bored.
“Tell him I’ll call him back when I fucking want to. God damnit! It’s like I’m babysitting a child!” Noah screamed, picking up a nearby spare circuit and chucking it across the bridge.
“Yeah, you were on speaker.” Able replied. “He hung up.”
Noah wanted to tear his hair out at all the incompetence he was surrounded with. The carefully planned op was slowly falling apart, and tens of millions of dollars was slipping through his fingers.
<I can fix this. I will get paid.> Determination flooded through him as he started working out different vectors.
He factored in the gunboat’s new data, Full Moon’s position, and their own derelict course. It took a minute, but he got it.
“Able, I need a controlled detonation of external pod two-two.”
That shocked the mercenary. “What?”
“Did I stutter?” Noah rounded on him with rage and excitement burning behind his eyes. “Blow the shit out of pod twenty-two. It’ll spin us to port and open up firing lanes again.” He expected the big Maccabee to jump into action. “DO IT! NOW! “He roared when the big man didn’t.
For what it was worth, Able finally jumped into action and scrambled down the ladder leading from the bridge to the innards of the mining ship.
<This will work. I’m sure of it.> Noah convinced himself as he watched the gunboat continue to decelerate.
He continued to ignore more calls from the Full Moon. The overgrown child would just have to wait.
“We’re good.” Able responded three minutes later. “Ready to blow pod two-two on your command.”
Noah double and triple-checked his math. When fifty million was on the line you wanted to be sure. “Ready. Blow it in three…two…”
A loud beep and red lights started to flash around the cabin.
“No. No…no…no…NO!” Noah’s disbelief increased with each word. “Fucking imbecile!”
The pirate captain couldn’t believe what he was seeing. Full Moon had just lit up the approaching gunboat with active targeting sensors. Everyone within a light minute knew that the modular cargo ship was about to fire unknown, unauthorized weaponry at a Commonwealth flagged warship. If that didn’t scream pirate, Noah didn’t know what did.
“Able, abort!” He screamed into the comms. “DON’T blow it.”
“Ok.” The monotone reply made Noah relax a hair.
Until his screen started to light up with missile launches and energy cannon blasts.
Location: CWS Argo, System 1776, United Commonwealth of Colonies
“Deceleration in three…two…one…mark.” Spacer Gilmore hit the maneuvering thruster like a master pianist. The sequence of bursts flipped the small gunboat around so it’s engines were pointing in the opposite direction. Physics would do the rest. When they came to a stop, or as close to a stop as you could in space, they’d would be a comfortable fifty thousand kilometers from the New Day and an even more comfortable hundred and fifty million klicks from Full Moon, with New Day between them.
“Sergeant?” Ben switched to the marines’ frequency.
“We’re locked and loaded, Sir. Ready to launch on your orders.”
The small armored shuttle Argo had wasn’t standard issue to other gunboats. It was an addition likely to be put in future models depending on how it worked here. For the most part, a gunboat was the shuttle that was launched from a larger boat and ordered to dock with another station or ship to check it out. The problem with that was it left the entire gunboat vulnerable on approach. The same was still true for Argo’s shuttle, but it was smarter to only put nine lives in danger instead of twenty.
It was a cold logic, but the Fleet ran on numbers. The mission came first.
Plus, the marines lived for this shit.
“No change, Sir.” LT Briggs replied a she studied the holo-bubble.
“New Day’s outputs remain steady.” Which meant the AI was seeing the same thing as their normal human eyes.
<Good.> Ben wanted to have all of his bases covered before launching this mission.
He still thought everything was going to be fine, but better safe than sorry.
“Sergeant, launch when we hit seventy-five thousand klicks.”
With the shuttle’s thrusters and Argo’s acceleration behind it, the shuttle would only take a few minutes to cross the distance between the gunboat and the mining ship. It minimized the danger as much as possible, and still let Argo cover the shuttle.
The distance counter shrank quickly over the next few minutes until it was time. Then suddenly the bridge lights turned red and alarms started blaring.
“Abort launch! Evas…” Ben didn’t even get to finish before he felt the jerk of the ship maneuvering.
“Missile launch!” Despite the surprise attack LT Briggs was cool as a cucumber.
“Six birds inbound… ETA twenty seconds…tracking.” Chief Yates’ fingers blurred across his station.
All Ben had to do was sit back and watch as his bridge crew went into action. <That training really paid off.>
LT Briggs was already alerting damage control teams, which were admittedly thin since the marines were tucked into their armored shuttle. Chief Yates was already directing countermissiles that were spitting out of Argo’s tubes. The Helm was turning the ship perpendicular to the enemy fire to interpose the gunboat’s thicker hull and armor between the missiles and the crew. SP2 Olvera was already broadcasting the hostilities to Cobalt Station and trying to jam the enemy’s comms.
It wasn’t a well-oiled machine yet, but it was a hell of a lot better than what Ben had been working with before. That gave him the opportunity to look at the big picture.
Full Moon was the one firing. New Day’s radio chatter made that clear. The captain was practically crying to help them get out of the line of fire. Helm was already moving horizontally across the ellipse, so the mining ship would avoid the gunboat’s counter attack.
Explosions started to dot the holo-bubble as each of Argo’s countermissiles found a target. That just left two missiles incoming, and those didn’t get much farther as point defense lasers slashed out and detonated them.
“Chief, try to wound them if possible. Go for the engines.”
“Aye, sir.” If the ship’s NCOIC was upset about the order he didn’t let it show.
Ben watched as one of the modular cargo crates jettisoned from the ship and floated into space. Full Moon had three on each side of the ship, giving her a total of thirty six missiles if all the pods were missile pods.
<We need to end this quickly.> He expected the next salvo to contain double the amount of missiles.
The missiles themselves were obsolete by decades, and were easy to pick off, but quantity was a quality all its own. Argo was only a gunboat after all.
The gunboat shook slightly as two of her tubes fired, the ship rolled, and the other two tubes fired. The cherry on top was the fifty terawatt energy cannon steadily firing on the cargo ship. With those containers and the ship’s overall design, it wasn’t built for a standoff fight.
No countermissles flew out to meet Argo’s incoming salvo. Point defense started to light the space up with flares of energy, but it only took out one of the incoming missiles. Two missiles were moving faster than the third. Both were can openers. They detonated within a few kilometers of Full Moon. The remaining missile pods on the side of the ship were shredded by the hypervelocity rounds.
Nothing exploded because the pods protected the hull for the most part. Argo’s sensors could still pick up air and fluids leaking through the main hull, but Full Moon was still under control and executing evasive maneuvers. The ship was rolling to protect its damage when the third missile detonated. The cone of the anti-matter blast was a glancing blow, just what Chief Yates intended, but it was enough to wreck the aft portion of the ship where the engines were.
Full Moon spun like a top and then coasted dead in space.
“Go, Sergeant, Launch!” Ben ordered, and Argo vibrated from the armored shuttle’s ejection.
“Shuttle ETA eleven minutes, Captain.” Geoffrey informed him.
“Cover the shuttle, Chief. Do not let the pirates seize victory from the jaws of defeat.”
With Full Moon’s lack of maneuverability it was an easy target for the energy cannons. The shuttle’s biggest problem would be getting through the growing debris cloud as the ship rotated aimlessly on its axis.
“Patch me into STRATNET when their boots hit the ground,” Ben ordered. “I want to see what they see.”
Sergeant Cassius O’Neil
Location: CMS Full Moon, System 1776, United Commonwealth of Colonies
Smoke filled the corridors of the pirate ship. O’Neil and his men couldn’t see anything with the naked eye, and were relying almost entirely on millimeter wave radar as they cleared the ship cabin by cabin.
“Watch your corners.” He reminded a PVT for the third time.
For a few of his men this was their first time in a real combat situation, and they were anxious.
“Corporal, make sure…”
“Contact!” The PVT that O’Neil had just reprimanded charged into a cabin alone.
“For the love of the Almighty.” The SGT posted up against the door as the PVT stumbled back out of the door, rounds ricocheting off the scales of his chest piece.
O’Neil grabbed the PVT with one hand and yanked him out of the way before one of the rounds punched through. With the other hand he grabbed a grenade, pressed the button, tossed it in the room, and manually pushed the door closed.
“Frag out!” Three seconds later the ship shook. “Move!” He yanked open the door and stepped aside to cover the hallway while a CPL, another PVT, and the overeager PVT rushed into the room.
There were a couple short bursts from an M3 and then it was silent.
“Clear!” The call came over TACCOM.
O’Neil stepped in to see the carnage. Four men were dead. Two were torn to bits by the grenade while the others had less grenade damage and more gunshot holes in them. The SGT crossed himself and said a quick prayer for the dead. They might have been trying to kill him, but every human in the cosmos was a child of God. He had to always remember that.
“Next room,” he ordered, and they pushed forward.
The moved methodically through the cargo ship and only faced light resistance. The men weren’t ready for a fight. Most were already injured by the crippling of the ship, but they weren’t going to be taken alive. The punishment for piracy was severe, especially here out on the Rim. No one wanted to be sent to some moon to mine ice for decades.
The whole operation took less than twenty minutes before they reached the bridge. It was sealed off with an old-fashioned automaton guarding the entrance. The machine didn’t last more than a few seconds and barely got any shots off.
O’Neil fashioned a breaching charge to the door and triggered it. It was a two-step device. The first tried to override the doors electronic commands. That only worked about half the time. If it did, it didn’t trigger the second step, which was the more direct of the two approaches. This door failed to open with step one, but step two blew it right off the wall and into the bridge. The shockwave killed the two guys standing beside the door ready to ambush the marines.
The nine marines flooded in and made short work of the remaining pirates. There wasn’t any talk of surrender, just a quick firefight that left one of O’Neil’s marines with an injured forearm. That marine was more pissed than hurt by the injury.
“Clear!” The SGT toggled TACCOM to beam the transmission back to Argo.
“Good work, Sergeant. We’re coming in. Stand bye to inventory, process, and retrieve any stolen good aboard.
“Yes, Sir.” The connection terminated, and the SGT turned to his men. “Corporal,” he called over his team leader and established a helmet-to-helmet private connection by patting the man on the shoulder. “I want you to take your team and wait by the entrance hatch. I’ll take mine to check out the undamaged pods. Make sure no one gets sticky fingers.”
They split up and went to work.