Chapter 27: Party Crasher

“Any change?” Floyd entered the bridge, still dressing.  Just completing his first hour’s sleep in two days, his head drifted in a no man’s land between irritation and apathy.  Wolf 923, a red dwarf with a nice jovian in wide orbit, rich in helium-3, had been chosen in no small part because it received few visitors.  The dim little star had a busy day however, a procession of seven ships arriving just a few hours behind the corsairs.

            “They’ve doubled-back and they’re hauling-ass,” Kaminski said.  “They’ve definitely seen us.”

            “Begin pursuit?” Yousef asked, allowing the captain a moment to finish buttoning his shirt.

            “Why not?” Floyd sighed, accepting a bottle of coffee after strapping into his chair.  Two Fed corvettes shadowed a massive commercial galleon on her forward flanks, four small barques trailing behind.  The main vessel bore the company logo of the Malzonto Corporation but was richly decorative like an executive yacht.

“Blow them to bits?” The ship master asked.

            “No, these must be important people,” Floyd told him.  “Let’s be polite and introduce ourselves before we kill them.”

            “Their escort’s running,” Kaminski said, looking back on the captain over her shoulder and sucking a deep breath between her teeth.  Her ribs were still not fully healed from the encounter with Max, butler-bot turned cage fighter.

            “Chicken-shit, assholes,” Floyd said with disgust. “First spear launch your fighters and cattle-up those corvettes.  Put a pair of clippers on each to board them.  And space their worthless fucking crews when you’re done.”

            “Yarr.”

            “Yousef, have we got the crew to add them or do we need to lose a ship?”  The captain began pulling up a list on his monitor.

            “The Sherman’s Atlanta has been in bad shape since Prometheus,” Yousef told him.  “We can split her crew between them and strip her down for what she’s worth.  We’re almost a day ahead of schedule.”

            “Perfect,” Floyd said, looking over the Sherman’s Atlanta on his screen.  “Instruct them to join in the boarding action.”  He brought his tactical display back up and opened the fleet channel:  “Spears five and seven take the barques.  They’re likely full of servants but be on your guard.  Spear four, fan wide and keep your eyes open.  Spear one we’re going in for the galleon.”

            “The galleon is striking colors,” Yousef announced.  The barques are standing down as well.”

            “Nobody wants to play with us,” Floyd complained.  “Just as well, I’ve had my fill of surprises lately.”

            “Damn straight,” Kaminski said, rubbing her side.  “We should set that thing loose on these fuckers.”

Floyd laughed at the idea, he laughed a lot.  “Hey, Fred,” he called over the intercom.

            “Yeah, boss?”

            “How’s your boy doin’?”

            “Back in top shape.”

            “He has a camera on him, Right?” Floyd asked.

            “Yarr, sir!  We’ve got him rigged for remote too.  What’s up?”

            Floyd needed a moment to get his twisted idea of humor under control before he continued.  “Get him prepped, I’ll be right down.  Yousef, the bridge is yours.”

            “Yarr.”

 

“Captain, something must be done!”  The old executive, unaccustomed to not getting his way, did not like talk of impossibilities.  These filthy prols were always trying to get out of an honest day’s work but this was serious.

            “Sir,” Captain Bolton said, rather exasperated himself.  “If we resist they will likely take offense.  I don’t have the resources or men to hold off more than fifty armed craft.  If you wish to survive you will cooperate with them fully.  You’ll all be ransomed and sent home inside of ten megaseconds assuming you don’t provoke them.  These Rifters are animals and will open your belly just to see the look on your face otherwise!”

            The red lights above the main airlock began flashing and the good captain took a step forward, back strait and hands clasped behind him.  He glanced over his shoulder at old Mister Travis to be sure his employer was finally calm.

Wretched old bugger, he thought.  I hope they do kill you.

            “Welcome aboard the…  What the duce?”  In place of the snarling rabble of oddly dressed pirates he was expecting, there was a lone figure when the inner hatch opened.  An old domestic bot wielding a pair of boarding guns in its lower set of arms; it wore a tricorner hat, long black tailed coat and knee-high boots.

            “Ahoy there, meat bags!” it exclaimed, dancing a little jig.  “Hey!  Who’s that?”  It pointed at Travis with one free arm and turned the captain’s head with the other.  A loud snap was heard as Captain Bolton fell in a twitching heap.  The bot paused a moment, putting a finger to its chin.  “Oh. . .  Right, neck bone.  My bad.”

Panic ensued, the crew and passengers of the galleon fleeing in every direction to avoid an equally horrid, and frankly silly, fate.  The menacing bot stood there, laughing with sadistic delight.  At its controls aboard Sidewinder, Floyd Darcy was having a grand old time with his brand new toy.

“Okay, how do I get him to use to guns?” he asked.

Fred took another hit off the bottle and called up a menu on Floyd’s HUD.  “You can take manual control of the lower arms here, or just set him to target and blast any biologic in range with this.  To activate any system just look at the icon and think of its color changing from green to blue.”

“Bristol fashion,” the wing captain said with enthusiasm.  “I’m so glad we went back for this thing.”  Floyd began to experiment with the VR interface.  Fred, Bob, and Ray dressed him in a body suit with sensors at each of his joints that translated his movements into commands then preformed by Max.  A visor allowed him to see through the bot’s cameras and utilize its sensors.  The surface of the platform he stood on moved to keep him directly at its center so he could concentrate on the bot’s surroundings and not his own.

He got Max underway, cruising down the wide white corridors of the massive corporate vessel and butchering those he met along the way.  He sang a happy tune which was broadcast over the bot’s voder:  “Sixteen men on a dead man’s chest!  Yo ho ho and eat some fuckin’ lead!”

A squad of elite Blackledge bodyguards opened fire on Max from behind a makeshift barricade as the bot entered a long passageway through a pressure junction.  The five millimeter LAM rounds were deflected or shattered when they hit the bot’s repulser field.  They were all stunned, only huge war bots of a tonne or more ever mounted such devices.

 

Bob and Ray were ecstatic like little boys who’d just won the science fair, hugging each other as they jumped up and down exclaiming “It worked, it worked!”

 

The bot stood tall against the hail of armor-piercing rounds.  It tossed the boarding guns spinning into the air, catching them with its upper arms and holding them skyward.  Its left lower hand on its hip, the right aimed menacingly at its foes as he challenged in a booming, metallic voice:  “Your kung-fu is no good and your master is a pussy!”  With that, weapons leveled and began to fire.  The bot strutted casually down the hall, now drenched in blood and gore.

 

“Beautiful vessel,” Floyd remarked as he and Kaminski entered the great domed ballroom set at the ship’s bow.

            “Looks like we broke up a party,” Kaminski said.  “I hope it wasn’t someone’s birthday that would make me sad.”

            Floyd tilted his head, not convinced.  “I don’t know there’s something to be said for going out on a good round number.”

            “When’s your birthday?” she asked.

            “Like I’d tell you.”

            “Hey, boss!”  Yousef came trotting up.  He wasn’t the type to rush without need so Floyd took the datapad handed to him and examined it straight away.  The news was not good; Floyd held the pad against his chest as he peered through the clear dome waiting for a solution.  When it came he liked it less then the problem.

            “How many class-five ships do we have in the wing?” he asked the ship master.

            Yousef thought, counting on his fingers and knuckles.  “Including Sidewinder, seventeen.”

            “We’re breaking wing,” Floyd said.  “Malzonto’s forty fucking lee from here…”

            Kaminski’s head spun in confusion and alarm.  “Wait!  What the hell is going on?”

            Floyd was deep in calculation so Yousef answered.  “This ship is out of Malzonto, according to the logs on the two corvettes they were taken as escorts from a full task force that’s going to be on station there through the year.”

            “Third wing is going to be there in less than a month,” Floyd said.  “We have to get there ahead of them.  I’ll lead the class five ships from Sidewinder.  Yousef, you’re taking command of second talon from Ghost Dancer.  Head for the rendezvous, we’ll catch up when we can.”

 

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