WARNING:
CONTENT IS A WORK IN PROGRESS. POSTED SECTIONS MAY UNDERGO EDITING. YE BE WARNED.

In A Starship's Wake

By Stephen Schamber

Chapter 29: Rounding Up Pirates

    Tension flowed gradually out of their situation as time wore on. Joseph returned to the cockpit after he’d helped the soldiers the shuttle had brought get set up in their cargo bay. Once the Devastator gave the all clear they set out after the drifting pirates. Everyone was a little edgy during the first half dozen retrievals, but no further attacks were forthcoming.
    Once they had their pattern down they started to relax, even joking back and forth with the soldiers via radio. The tension returned whenever they found a pirate who was still alive, since they were more risky to bring on board. As soon as the man was safely under guard in the cargo bay, it seeped away again.
    “How many to go?” the sergeant in command of the squad asked after thirty and some odd pirates had been collected.
    Tyrone glanced back at Joseph for an answer. “Sixty-two,” he supplied for the sergeant. For Tyrone he pointed out the count he’d added to the HUD while he was picking out the pirates’ positions.
    “Nuts. We’re barely a third of the way there, I thought we’d done more than that by now.”
    “Well, we’re getting faster at it, so that’s something.” Joseph had located almost a hundred drifting spacesuits once they’d gotten the Bolinscar Red Comet out of their line of sight.
    “Good. I’m already tired of spacewalking and tense examination of every drifting object we see in case it’s pointing a weapon at us.”
    Joseph laughed. “Well, next time we see pirates you’re welcome to come square off with them in a transport for four hours waiting for help.”
    “Okay, that’s fair. You two have definitely been under more stress today. You did pretty well, I’ve never seen a light freighter attack a corvette before, even one with a weak hull like that. Live one here.”
    Around one in four pirates they picked up were still alive. When they spotted one who was alive and able to move, several soldiers would keep weapons pointed at them as they touched down on the freighter. Once on the hull, another soldier secured the pirate’s arms behind his back and searched for weapons. He was then taken aboard and placed under guard in the cargo bay.
    “Have any been aggressive so far?” Joseph watched on a monitor as the pirate closed with the freighter. “Tyrone can hit them a little harder if it’ll help.”
    “Not particularly. Most have lost their weapons from bouncing off the Comet or a chunk of corvette hull. The ones that still have theirs push them over to us well ahead of hitting the hull themselves. Most of them are running low on air, if they aren’t already unconscious from oxygen deprivation.”
    “I wouldn’t be interested in doing anything that kept me out there longer either, in that case.” Many of the dead pirates had probably met their fate by suffocation rather than injuries from the fighting. Once they drifted too far to reach the ships they had no way to resupply, and the cheap pressure suits most were wearing only stored enough oxygen for a couple hours in space.
    Since he had nothing else to do, the task of keeping track of all the drifting pirates had fallen to Joseph. It wasn’t a terribly absorbing task, just continual monitoring of sensor data. He’d long since laid out an order of retrieval to get the job done efficiently. Anytime he noticed a pirate who was still alive, he updated the order. No reason to deny them a second chance at life.
    Other things were still going on in space around them, and Joseph periodically cycled through the rest of the camera angles to know what was happening. During one such scan he noticed two familiar fighters skulking up to White Onyx Devastator. They looked for all the galaxy like a pair of misbehaving schoolboys expecting a scolding. He put the feed up on the windshield where Tyrone could see it. “The other two fighters are back.”
    “They should have been here before we were, shouldn’t they?”
    “Not the one with only one working engine. The other probably wasn’t too eager to get back to start with, since they failed their assignment to take us out. After the Devastator got here, it wouldn’t be wise to come in fast enough to look like a threat.”
    Tyrone grunted an acknowledgment of those facts. “It’s to their benefit they didn’t. The Devastator wouldn’t have found them anywhere near the challenge we did. If they’d hurried they would be as dead as most of these drifters.”
    “Yeah. I wonder if they’ll regret that decision once they’re in our prison system.”
    “Depends on what prisons are like where they come from.”
    The fighters disappeared into the Devastator’s shuttle bay, and the conversation ended. The crew of the Comet who were still able to work were out on the hull, trying to patch together what they could of their ship. The Devastator’s crew were still occupied clearing out any pirates still aboard the corvette.
    After several hours of work they had gathered all the pirates that had slipped off into space. Tyrone was tired from focusing on the precise maneuvering by then, so Joseph took over. The sergeant came to the cockpit to direct him to the airlock on the Devastator closest to the brig so they could transfer the prisoners.
    “The Devastator wasn’t really designed for this many prisoners.” The sergeant rubbed his chin, helmet held comfortably at his side in the safety of the cockpit. “Even with the number of people they lost, our brig is going to be crowded.”
    “Do you know how many that was?”
    “Captain Meyer estimates sixty-five percent casualties for them, between the boarders, the crew killed in the attacks and the pilots. According to the crew from the Comet there was a fourth fighter they managed to destroy. We still don’t know the exact number, but it’s well over a hundred.”
    “That’s a lot.”
    “It’s as many bodies as I want to deal with. This crew crated at least that many in their other attacks. We found out they destroyed eight more freighters, two with much larger crews than the Comet. At least one other they took was a family-operated ship like yours. It’s good they aren’t floating around this part of the galaxy anymore, and the sooner the survivors are off the Devastator the happier I’ll be.
    A sober silence followed. Joseph found himself worrying about what would happen to Tyrone and Justine when he left and they put their family on this ship. There was no getting around the fact that bad things could happen to anyone.
    “There’s the one we want.” The sergeant pointed out the airlock once they were close enough to the Devastator to make it out. “Head for that and match it to the man-sized one fore of your cargo doors on the starboard side. We have them grouped around that.”
    Joseph maneuvered toward the indicated destination as the sergeant headed aft. The docking maneuver left the two ships side by side, and gave them a good view of the warship’s nose from the cockpit. An airlock on the Devastator’s bottom near the nose was linked to a ventral one on the corvette that had escaped damage. The Comet’s crew had gotten enough thrusters repaired to maneuver reliably, and they were crawling closer to the warship to make a similar link. It was going to look more like a shipmarket than the aftermath of a battle, a thought that made Joseph chuckle. Plenty of space stations had started this way.
    “How long do you think it will take them to make the transfer?” Tyrone asked.
    “They’ll have to get the living pirates locked away, and then there are a lot of bodies to move. At least an hour, I’d say.” Tyrone groaned, and Joseph raised his eyebrows at him. They’d just survived a fairly serious encounter with pirates, there was a lot to be grateful for and precious little to complain about.
    “What?” His muscular friend lifted his arms to protest the silent rebuke. “I don’t know if you’ve been watching the clock, but we’ve been up for over sixteen hours now, and it’s been far more draining than our usual day. I’m allowed to be annoyed by anything that delays us going to sleep.”
    Joseph laughed. “Fair enough. To say nothing of the travel time we’re losing, but we’re past the point where that matters anyway. If you’re so eager to get things over with, I’m sure they won’t mind if we come lend a hand. With the amount of time you spend playing with our lifting equipment you could probably speed things up quite a bit.”
    “Maybe, but I’d rather nap in my chair.”
    “Suit yourself. I’m fine with any solution that gets you to stop whining.”
    Tyrone swallowed whatever retort he might have made, since the Devastator chose that moment to call them again. Captain Meyer’s face appeared on the windshield instead of his helmet this time. He had a pointed chin and the pale complexion of someone who spent little time in direct sunlight.
    “Gentlemen,” the captain greeted them. “Still hanging in there? It’ll take us a while to get the prisoners squared away, but it shouldn’t be too long.”
    “We were just discussing what to do while we waited.”
    “Well, you’ve been at this longer than we have, you might as well relax for a bit. I have to ask you to stay aboard your ship for now anyway. The corridors around our lockup and they’re already too full. After the transfer is done you’re welcome to come aboard and we’ll treat you to a hot meal. The mess hall is getting set up right now to make us an early dinner, and it should be ready right around the time that’s finished. I wasn’t sure how quickly you needed to be underway again, but I thought I’d offer.”
    “Thank you,” Joseph said. He glanced at Tyrone to see what he thought. His partner gave a groggy thumbs up. “I think we’ll take you up on that. We’re already going to arrive late by about half a day, a couple more hours won’t make a difference. We aren’t carrying anything urgently needed.”
    “Alright, I’ll tell the sergeant to come by and get you when they’re finished. I’d also like to ask for a complete copy of the data you collected during the skirmish, beginning to end. We’d like to go over it for anything that might have been missed in the moment.”
    “Sure, I can put that together for you. I’ll send it over as soon as I can. Having someone besides us check it over is a good plan, we wouldn’t be around to follow up if we did find something in it.”
    “That’s expected with a freighter,” Captain Meyer laughed. “You don’t make any money if you’re not moving. We, on the other hand, will be stuck here for a few days. Might as well put the tme to use.”
    “Why will you be stuck here? It didn’t look like you took any damage.”
    “None, but we’ll be staying to stand guard. There will be a lot of coming and going here in the next week or so. Bolinscar Industries already has another freighter en-route to carry what’s still good of the Comet’s cargo, and they’ll be sending in a salvage ship as well. They have claim to the corvette’s wreckage, and the Comet will have to be towed to port. The Border Guard is sending a prison transport for the pirates and the Comet’s wounded. That one will actually be here first, they’re only hours out.”
    “Will you need us to move to a different airlock before we board?”
    Captain Meyer shook his head. “They aren’t quite that close. I’m glad we don’t have to hold them for long, we aren’t equipped for this many prisoners. Our company has another frigate out to cover our normal patrol as well. So four more ships headed to the area, three here specifically.”
    “Quite the crowd. I suppose you have a lot to coordinate then. I’ll get the data assembled and headed your way before we come over to eat.”
    “Thank you. See you in a little while.”
    “That’s a lot of ships to clean up the mess we helped make,” Joseph said once the call had ended. Tyrone didn’t respond. Joseph looked at him and realized he’d made good on his comment about napping. As nice as a little sleep sounded, Joseph thought doing it in his bunk in a couple hours sounded better than in the pilot’s chair now. Besides, one of them needed to be awake when the sergeant returned.
    Fortunately the task of assembling the data was there to keep him busy, or he’d have drifted off anyway. It wasn’t difficult to put the file together, but there was a lot of information to go in it. Garden Variety Animal, like any other starship, collected a lot of data from telescopes and various other instruments at all times, not only at an operator’s order. It was more information than anyone could focus on at the time of collection.
    One example of that was the giant file the computer had collected on the dwarf planet. While he and Tyrone were busy with fending off the fighters, their ship’s instruments had been busily analyzing the body. The rough geologic composition it had put together predicted nothing of any value there, just as expected. Still, the planet had been uncharted until Joseph and Tyrone found it, and that was an interesting feeling. Technically, they had discovered a planet. Perhaps they should land on it before they left, just to be able to say they had.
    The sergeant returned just as he was adding the last few items to the data file. “We’re finished back there. Captain Meyer said I should come get you for dinner once that was done.”
    “Alright. Are your cooks any good?” Joseph sent the data and walked over to shake Tyrone out of slumber.
    “Pretty good in my books.”
    “Tyrone, wake up, they’re ready for us.”
    “Oh.” Tyrone stood up, lurching groggily to one side as he did. “That was fast.”
    “Lead on,” Joseph motioned to the sergeant.

Published: July 29 2018

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© 2019 by Stephen Schamber