He rolled over quickly to the sound of a quiet, yet insistent two-toned alarm.
"Sorry to wake you, Neal, but we have what I think is a pirate inbound," the room’s speakers said just a little louder than the alarm had been.
"Come on, Tess, they might be honest merchants," Neal teased as he got dressed.
"Honest merchants don’t run silent and come at you from dead astern," Tess countered.
"True," he allowed. "They must think that’s our blind side. Don’t do anything to make them think otherwise."
"Maintaining course and speed, another six hours before they would expect us to make a course change."
"That’s what makes this such a good place for them to hunt," Neal chuckled, "The refinery station is deep in the star’s gravity well, so you can’t get anywhere near it at warp."
"And the dust and debris fields are so thick we have to crawl through them," Tess added.
"So we get an all day approach or exit," Neal finished as he slipped on his shoes and left his bedroom. "I take it I have plenty of time for breakfast?"
"And maybe lunch. The dust isn’t compromising my sensors that much," Tess replied. "In fact, they might be planning on hitting us just as we make the course change."
"Makes sense to hit us while we might be busy," Neal agreed. "Make sure the easy to ‘bypass’ controls are at the aft port, lock the rest of it down."
"Aye, boss, and I’ll open the purge ports before they’re in range."
Neal chuckled. "If we use those, they’ll think we’re breathing fire on them."
"I don’t think the dust density is high enough to get a good flame ball when we pump out the antimatter," Tess mused.
"We can always mix it with escaping air if they don’t fully close the access port. Leave it as an option, but I won’t waste fuel on them if I don’t have to. Since you got me up, I might as well get some ‘work’ done. Foxtrot’s almost due for a maintenance once-over."
"I was prepping Foxtrot for the deliveries on Conway Station."
Waving in the direction of the oncoming pirate, Neal said, "If things are this loose out here, I’ll take Baker. More power and more options that way. Speaking of options, drop the internal pressure of the shaft to a quarter. Let them think I don’t bother with full pressure for the cargo areas."
"Understood, boss. I’ll alert you in five hours – or if our friends do anything worthy of mention. Any requests on your music selections for today?"
"Something old with a little beat to it."
Call me a joker, call me a fool
Right at this moment I'm totally cool
Clear as a crystal, sharp as a knife
I feel like I'm in the prime of my life
Sometimes it feels like I'm going too fast
I don't know how long this feeling will last
Maybe it's only tonight
Darling I don't know why I go to extremes
Too high or too low there ain't no in-betweens…
(Billy Joel’s ‘I go to Extremes’)
"Cleanup for lunch, boss. Our ‘friends’ are just sixty minutes out."
"Good timing, this is the last access panel. Any ID on our guests?"
"Looks a bit like an older Voxxan frigate, but those never used the engines my passive sensors are picking up. Passive scans are now complete. No one over there is ‘locked in’, and they’re all armed so I don’t think we have to worry this time about them having slaves or prisoners."
"Single phaser bank and two torpedo tubes. I’ll have the range to disable them in another fifteen minutes."
"Do it. Make it look like aging parts if you can."
"Can do, boss. Lunch, boss…"
"Took ‘em long enough. I told you to make it ‘easy’ …"
"I did. It’s not my fault they’re clueless, boss. Those armored suits must be hard to move around in. First two are standing guard as the third accesses the data panel. With the pressure so low, they seem to be more than happy to trust the atmosphere shields as they’re leaving my aft cargo doors open."
"Whatever they’re after is all the way forward, Tess."
"Aye, boss … looks like they’re interested in certain drugs and of course any Boronike we might be carrying. They now know both can only be found in the forward most internal storage."
‘Is the ‘lane’ clear?"
"Of course, boss. We are ready to ‘unload’ cargo out the aft port at your discretion. All six of them are moving forward now."
"No reason to guard their escape route."
"Their ship has turned, an open cargo bay is now in line with my aft port to make the transfer easier."
"Wait until the first one just reaches the forward carriers, then I want as much G force aft you can give them without damaging our cargo or systems."
"I can manage a localized hundred gravities over the entire two kilometers; more if you don’t mind a couple of things getting bent."
"A hundred is fine; that’s what? Three seconds to down and out?"
"Closer to two, boss. Ten seconds."
"Open a channel to the other ship right about … now."
"Boarding party rejected. Returning to sender. Now, Tess."
The forward armored suit had been just reaching for a handhold as the last in line seemed to be yanked aft. The others quickly followed, racing for the same aft port they had used to gain access. They shot out of the port like bullets out of a gun, said armored bullets then speeding into the open port of the other ship – which seemed to stagger under the impacts.
"I think the last two made it all the way through their ship, boss. Glancing blows from the spins they seem to have picked up, and the ship’s trying to get out from behind us … I think we might have broken something over there, none of their aft thrusters seem to be responding. Force fields are coming up, but underpowered and the forward elements only."
"So they won’t be matching our course change in what, five minutes from now?"
"Doesn’t look that way. Their current course will take them within a light minute of the star before whipping them into deep space – if the ship survives the sand blasting that long."
"Any signs anyone else noticed anything?"
"Then let the main logs show an uneventful trip. Save the data we gathered to see if it matches up with any future finds."
"Yes, boss. Two minutes until course change, then another seventeen hours to Conway Station."
"Steady as she goes, you have the con."
"Aye, boss, I have the con."
Neal went back to his chores; only stopping to grin when he realized the tune Tess was currently playing throughout the ship:
… Return to sender, address unknown.
No such number, no such zone. …
(Elvis Presley’s ‘Return To Sender’)
Copyright © 2010 Allen Fesler Redbear1158@hotmail.com
Chakat universe is copyright of Bernard Doove and used with his permission.
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