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In A Starship's Wake

By Stephen Schamber

Chapter 28: The Clock Runs Out

    Captain Meyer was on the radio the second White Onyx Devastator reverted from FTL. “Unknown corvette, you are engaged in an attach against a Teton Sector vessel. Stand down immediately or you will be fired upon.” He was not wasting any time.
    Missiles had stopped flying toward Garden Variety Animal. Whether that was because the pirates had run out or because of the warship’s appearance, Tyrone didn’t know. He didn’t really care that much either, except that it would be better if they had run out. Joseph had done a fine job of shooting them down, but now he hoped they could relax and let the warship do the fighting.
    “Impressive-looking, isn’t she?” Joseph added an image of the new arrival to their collection of items displayed on the windshield.
    Tyrone nodded. “You’d have to be a fool to disagree.” That sentiment was partly the result of the precarious place they were in until her arrival, but it was true anyway. White Onyx Devastator had the arrowhead shape characteristic of Teton Sector assault ships. The configuration was favored for that purpose because it allowed most of a vessel’s weapons to be aimed at a single target, while making the propulsion systems housed at the rear difficult to attack.
    The exact shapes used to implement that design varied widely, and the Devastator was a classic, elegant variation. Four smooth, flat triangular planes formed the bulk of the hull, with sharp edges at the intersections. Tyrone spotted the bridge, placed in the ship’s nose just like Garden Variety Animal’s cockpit. Of course, the bridge was substantially larger. Many gun emplacements, the only breaks in the smooth hull, stood out to him as well. The warship boasted more in one of the four hull planes than the corvette had in its entirety.
    “They really did come out as close as they could,” Joseph said. “I knew they were, but that’s not the same as seeing it. I hope they didn’t miscalculate, or they could knock the corvette into the Comet.”
    Many possible reasons for that decision occurred to Tyrone, only two of them being particularly good. It left the possibility of ramming the corvette if it attacked immediately, and at such close quarters the pirates couldn’t use missiles without the detonations hurting themselves. Hopefully Captain Meyer was correct in thinking they weren’t willing to do that. The warship could weather such an attack, but the Comet would be blown away.
    The corvette didn’t attack immediately, the pirates apparently frozen with indecision. Indecision was not what the Devastator had requested. Captain Meyer was not going to accept anything less than surrender. As the warship approached the pair of damaged spacecraft, the crew made good on their initial threat.
    Shells from the multitude of guns announced their presence by exploding against the rear section of the corvette. The pirates at least had the sense to bring their shields back online, but they wouldn’t protect them for long. After a few seconds of shelling the pirates returned fire.
    The Devastator’s radio officer spoke again, using the encoded link to Garden Variety Animal instead of the captain’s general hail. “The captain recommends you take shelter behind us until the pirates are neutralized,” she said. “If you approach the fight the pirates might try to destroy you out of spite, and you’ve been shot at enough for one day. If you’re able to stick around we could use your help cleaning up.”
    “Alright, we’ll be happy to lend a hand.” Tyrone was already changing course. He didn’t need any additional prompting to stay out of the line of fire.
    “Nice of them to offer us somewhere to hide,” Joseph said once the microphone was muted again.
    “We’ve needed that for at least three hours now,” Tyrone agreed.
    “We could have stayed behind the dwarf planet. That just wouldn’t have helped the Comet or the Devastator. If it were only us, that’s probably what we would’ve done.”
    Tyrone shrugged. “True. There would be no reason to have the fight if we could escape.”
    “Luckily there’s a warship here to take care of the fighting now. They’re doing well, too.”
    True to expectations, the corvette was much too weak to resist Devestator effectively. Tyrone found himself doubting whether they would actually reach the relative safety behind the warship before the fight was over. The pirates were badly outgunned, and it showed.
    The Devastator was meticulously ripping apart the aft quarter of the corvette while shrugging off the enemy fire entirely. Tyrone watched the section he and Joseph had plotted desperately to get a few rounds into hours ago all but disintegrate as they sailed closer. If that hadn’t taken out the pirates’ FTL drive, he would eat his own helmet. 
    “They probably couldn’t land on the Comet anyway, the way their ship is jerking around from the pounding it’s taking.” Tyrone considered what options the pirates had left, thinking about what he would do. “I hope they don’t decide to start shooting at the Comet.”
    “Attacking them now would be colossally stupid. Our pirate friends are already facing a military tribunal, and probably a sentence of planetary exile. Shoot at civilians now and Captain Meyer will just blow them all to pieces and not bother with taking prisoners.”
    “Of course he would, I just hope they realize it. They don’t understand our country very well.”
    Once finished with the engine section, the Devastator turned to systematically destroying every gun emplacement they spotted on the corvette. A few shells were directed into the bridge for good measure. Just as in Garden Variety Animal’s attack, the hull was fragmenting in strange ways. Strips had peeled away or even cracked off around some of the destroyed guns, exposing the ship’s interior. The aft portion resembled a debris field more than a damaged ship.
    The exchange of fire seemed to end just as they passed behind the Devastator and could no longer see the other ships. Tyrone decelerated to keep from passing out of that shadow, and brought them to a stop relative to the warship.
    “I wish we could still see what was going on,” Joseph grumbled a moment later. “Not that the Devastator really had time to spend forwarding us their feeds. It’s just annoying to be blind.”
    “It would be nice, but it looked like the battle was pretty much over anyway. Someone on the corvette must have had the sense to throw in the towel.”
    An message from the Devastator soon confirmed that assessment. “Gentlemen, the corvette has surrendered,” the radio officer advised. “We’re boarding them now.”
    “Roger Devastator.” Tyrone nodded as he acknowledged the information and finally allowed himself to relax. The danger was over. “What do you want us to do?”
    “Once our boarding parties have secured all the pirates’ remaining weapons emplacements, we’d like you to go around and collect the ones that are floating away. We’ll send some of our soldiers over to you to do the hull walking and stand guard over the ones that are still alive. All you’ll need to do is maneuver to intercept the drifters.
    “We can do that.” After tense hours spent running from fighters and dodging missiles, Tyrone almost found that chore relaxing.”We have an airlock above the cargo bay that should be a convenient one for them to use, as long as it wasn’t damaged.”
    “It wasn’t,” Joseph supplied. “It’s well away from our damaged thrusters too.”
    “Excellent. The Comet reports that they killed all boarders before the pirates surrendered. They have several injured crewmembers, one seriously. We’re sending our shuttle to bring them to our infirmary. Once it’s back, we’ll send it to you with some of our men aboard and let you know when the corvette is secure.”
    “We’ll be ready for them,” Tyrone promised. The connection closed. 
    “Well,” Joseph sighed, “Thank God that’s over and we’re not dead.”
    Tyrone laughed. “You said it. Let’s not do this again anytime soon.” If he’d wanted to risk death on a regular basis, he would have joined a warship like the Devastator or the Teton Sector military. He and Joseph had been doing it too much lately. With the Ventalian Mafia as enemies, they’d be dong it more.
    Justine was going to give him an earful about this adventure. At least there wouldn’t be any lingering repercussions this time; all the pirates would be dead or captured. Nobody was left to come seeking vengeance.
    Replacing ammunition and making repairs would put a dent in their finances, but a second ship still wouldn’t be more than a few months away. He and Justine had already discussed Joseph’s offer to keep flying Garden Variety Animal while they took the new ship. Justine favored that plan, and he couldn’t say she was wrong. More than any of their prior experiences, the incident with Allison had highlighted the danger in transporting to unaffiliated worlds. 
    Swapping ships still didn’t exactly sit well with him, but it might be the best option. Tyrone and Justine were getting ready to start a family, and doing it on a ship a gang was hunting seemed irresponsible. He needed less danger in his life.
    Joseph, by contrast, wanted more. Not actively maybe, but he was willing to take it on. He wanted to do trade runs even more dangerous than the unaffiliated worlds, and correspondingly more lucrative. Tyrone had never been willing to take the risks, and Joseph understood that. Garden Variety Animal wasn’t suited to those runs, so if Joseph kept flying her it wouldn’t happen.
    One middle plan existed, and Tyrone hoped he could talk them around to it. Once they had the new ship, Garden Variety Animal didn’t need to stay on the unaffiliated world routes. They had taken them first to pay off the ship, then to make the money for another. With those goals accomplished and the Animal being hunted, the safest thing to do was to take her back into Teton Sector space permanently. Joseph could take big money transport runs while he and Justine earned a comfortable living in their home turf. The Ventalians couldn’t reach them there anyway.
    “Well, it’s nice to feel like we accomplished something today.” Joseph’s comment broke Tyrone out of his contemplation of their future. He’d risen from the gunner’s seat and stood at the front of the cockpit, looking at the back of the Devastator.
    Tyrone leaned forward to examine the warship as well, unstrapping.  “We aren’t finished yet, they still have to board and there’s plenty of cleanup to do after that.”
    Joseph waved those concerns away. “I know, but that’s all a foregone conclusion at this point. The fighting is over, we won.”
    “There’s still plenty that could go wrong. I don’t want to get too comfortable before everything’s said and done. We still have to wrap it up.”
    “Yeah, I suppose you’re right. Still, it’s nice to be back to calmly waiting around. The past four hours or more have just been a long string of things to worry about.”
    “No kidding. I’m glad that’s over. I guess that counts as an accomplishment.”
    “See?” Joseph grinned. “Also, if we hadn’t stopped to locate the Comet’s distress signal, call in the cavalry and stall the pirates, their crew wouldn’t be here to talk about it anymore. Thanks to us, they get to keep being alive.”
    “Alright, alright.” Tyrone lifted his hands. “We accomplished something today. We nearly got ourselves killed and my wife is never going to let me hear the end of it, but we accomplished something.”
    “As long as it’s something worthwhile, she won’t stay too angry with you.” Joseph knew Justine well enough to predict her reaction. “It was worthwhile, no doubt about that. It just kind of happened to us too, not like last time, so I don’t have to feel guilty about dragging you into it.” He shuffled his feet, and his voice took on a sheepish tone.
    “Well, we all know you’re the hothead.” Tyrone dismissed it with a shrug. “We both knew you were going to get us in trouble sooner or later. Like you said, at least it was worthwhile.”
    “Allison’s not going to be any happier than Justine to hear about this episode, is she?”
    “No, and you get to tell her about it. I’m already going to have to calm down Justine.”
    Joseph sighed. “That’s fair. You’ve had to do this before, what should I be expecting?”
    “A call that lasts several hours,” Tyrone laughed. “You will have to justify every decision we made, and probably the ones the Devastator made. I also recommend that you never let the phrase ‘we didn’t have that much time to think about it’ pass your lips.”
    He grimaced. “That was about half of my justification for everything.”
    “Start choosing your words now,” Tyrone laughed. “I’m doing it as we speak.”
    They waited in silence for ten minutes or so, then the Devastator’s shuttle came into view over the back of the warship. It would still take a minute or two for it to reach them. Tyrone hadn’t stayed close. The shuttle was not much bigger than Garden Variety Animal’s cockpit, but inter-ship shuttles weren’t really supposed to be large. The HUD highlighted it with no prompting as it drew closer.
    “I’ll go back and meet them,” Joseph volunteered. “Stay here and mind the helm.”
    “Alright. Bring something from the kitchen on your way back, I just realized I’m starving and parched.”

Published: July 15 2018

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