Chapter 39: Spartacus

“Your attention please.  Your attention please.  Due to unforeseen circumstances it has become necessary to place this facility on High Alert.  All civilians and non-battle rated staff are to report to their domiciles or an indicated shelter area within the next kilosecond.”  The nice sounding lady on the intercom had a voice that was soothing and calm; almost drugged.

            “Failure to evacuate to a designated shelter area will be regarded as an act of treason against Lockhard Industries and the Free Trade Federation, punishable by Class “A” execution.  Death Penalty waver fees may exceed one-million Monits.  Your cooperation is greatly appreciated.  We are sorry for any inconvenience and hope you enjoy your stay.”

            “Hannibal ad portas,” Deacon said as he walked along the main promenade.  Amazing how they can get so many exotic plants to grow here in the one environment.  I wonder if they’re engineered?

            Setting the timer on his wrist-mounted portable he nodded with approval.  Fifteen minutes should be about perfect.  At that very moment four-hundred corsairs were on their way to the hanger deck where the impounded frigates were berthed.  They began arriving just over two months ago under various covers.  Friendly station personnel reprogramming the internal sensors to ignore the presence of zeros so false identities were only needed for a few.  Once in place they would signal ready; then came magic time.

 

Martin Lockhard screamed at everyone and no one.  Most were trying very hard to ignore him at the moment, as much needed doing.  Station Commander Chad Whitmore bore the brunt of the invective but had been with the “Lockhard Family” long enough to develop a proficiency in dealing with executive tantrums.

“Councilman,” he said, turning to face the man and give his full attention.  “If you value your safety, you will please let security escort you to an escape ship where you can be evacuated in the event of last necessity.”

            “So you’re not even planning to protect my property, are you coward!”  Nearly hysterical, Lockhard’s voice raised two octaves.

Never breaking eye contact, Whitmore casually wiped his master’s saliva from his cheek, giving serious consideration to having the man taken by force.  Assaulting an upper executive, let alone an F10 Councilman, would mean a death sentence not only for him but his entire family of course.  He took a deep breath and recalled the parting advice of his predecessor:  “Only the cautious survive.”

            “I’ll see to the councilman,” Commander Kijé said, appearing suddenly next to them.  Both were startled to find him there and he used this window to lead the executive away.

            “Thank you, Commander,” Whitmore said in earnest.  Kijé just smiled, nodding as he took Lockhard by the arm and made for the lift.  Once out of earshot, Whitmore turned to his executive officer, Deputy Commander Perry.  “Glad to see some people have time to stroll about.”

            “You would be surprised, Mister Whitmore,” Kijé called from the lift, “just how busy I am right now.”  The two officers exchanged glances as the doors closed.

            Lockhard started right in on the commander.  Kijé ignored him, instead answering his com.

            “Deak, we’re set.”

            “Stand-by,” he responded.

            Lockhard shut-up then, staring hard.  “Who are you?” he demanded.

            Deacon glanced over his shoulder.  “Names are for friends.”  Without time for an indignant syllable, the councilman crashed to the floor, an elbow shattering his nose.

“Cluster fuck!”  Deacon removed first his own belt then Lockhard’s.  Turning the gravity down low, the incapacitated Martin Lockhard strapped to his back, Deacon pushed up to the ceiling and opened the escape hatch.  Pulling the two of them through, he made his way up the shaft using the crawlway recessed in the wall, the lift tubes always in zero-gravity for efficiency reasons.

            Upon reaching the central level he propped himself in the doorway, pressed the emergency release and stepped through; nearly tumbling over from their combined weight and the awkward way the body hung on his back.  He released Lockhard from the makeshift harness and hauled him up over his shoulder before returning the call.

            “Ready?” he asked.

            “Yarr.”

With that he activated the command function set in the menu of his com.  Every weapon system and the station’s shields failed as one.  Not a volt made it down the lines thanks to hundreds of tiny remote saw blades set at regular intervals along them.  The main power plant suddenly went into emergency shutdown.  Two of four back-up fusion reactors did the same.  Hatches and doors all over the station sealed, passable only with an absurdly long access code that no one seemed to know.

            “What’s happening?” a security officer demanded.

            “I have to get Councilman Lockhard to safety,” Deacon explained.  “He was injured in the lift when this…”  He waved in the air, exasperated.  The officer nodded and rushed-off to be ineffectual elsewhere.  With a good-bye salute Deacon went his own way, checking the time.  So much to do. . .

 

“This is Lotophagi, requesting assistance!  Say again, this is Lotophagi, requesting assistance!”  The freighter galleon lumbering its way to the station increased to flank, trying to keep ahead of the raider fleet.

            “Lotophagi, this is Ajax, you are advised to exit the system immediately.”  The Federation battleship, its hands full, had no time for some panicked merchantmen.

            “Our tanks are dry,” the lead freighter reported.  “We were running behind schedule and skipped–”

            “Lotophagi, you are advised then to proceed to the surface facilities on HR II.  You will not be cleared to dock with Lockhard City.”

            “Acknowledged,” the freighter captain said, switching to the intercom.  “Five minutes.”  Dire Kitty and three dozen fighter craft waited below.  They had long since completed their flight preparations, but would wait until the last moment to fire their engines.  Trailing behind, the fighters aboard Siren’s Song were doing likewise.  If the heat blooms were detected before the hull panels were blown there was little chance of launching in time.

            Kitty occupied herself by fine-tuning her neuro-interface, having been down here all night hooking it up.  These new toys were proving invaluable, allowing you to bring up and manipulate visual controls on your HUD display with a thought.  It took some time getting used to but became as natural as moving your hands with practice.

The helmet and uplink gear were a gift from Ursula who had a similar set made for her own use.  Kitty’s was black with her call-sign across the front, above the Queen’s Jolly Roger.  A white air scrubber, fashioned like feline snout, sat under two golden, silted eyes in place of a traditional visor.  These were highly sensitive cameras that projected onto an internal display.  It even sported a set of size wiry whiskers, actually environmental sensors and high-gain antennas, which protruded a few centimeters from each side.  The interface antennas were housed in small pointed ears set atop the helmet.

            “Launch tubes will be clear in ten seconds.”

            The squad leader glanced up, surprised the time passed so quickly.  Smiling, she opened her com line.  “Wake up, my darling kittens!  It’s time to kill; Purrrrrrrrrrrrrr.”

 

“Spear five, form-up your fucking line!” Julian snapped over the fleet channel.  They had come too far and bled too much to get sloppy now.  Shunting-in beyond the planisphere in eleven spears, the war fleet made ready to charge their enemies, the transports waiting on the frozen outskirts of the system, hoping for the best.

            Of the two-hundred and sixteen corsairs that began it, only sixty-four survived the journey, thirty more joining them at Kappa Phoenicis.  Of the lot, only twenty massed-in at five-thousand tonnes or more.  People were sick and hungry, nearly a fifth of the quarter million who set out from Curacao were dead.  Should they fail here the rest would join them.  At least they wounded the monger enough that none would be taken for slaves.  Word was all over the news feeds:  “The menace from the Rift will be exterminated.”

            Sensor reports showed twenty-three naval warships:  A Nike battleship, a carrier, eight frigates, twelve corvettes, and a fleet tender.  Eight Lockhard frigates, fifteen corvettes, and twenty-six gunboats were also on station.  Almost two-hundred fighter drones and light assault craft between the station and carrier to the four Rapiers, twenty-six Cheetahs and the Gae Bolga which would be leading them under Nefertiti’s command.

            “Jonesy,” The Rex called.

            “Yarr, mother-fucker, can’t you see I’m busy.”

            Julian had to fight down a laugh.  “Concentrate on screening first spear.  I’m pulling ahead of the main group.”

            “Yarr.”

            “First and eleventh form a tight chevron on me,” Julian instructed.  “All other spears form loose claws at no closer than five kee.  They’ll have nukes to spare, don’t give-up any good targets.”

            “Lockhard at twenty-five percent power,” Olga reported from the EW station.

            “Way to go Killjoy,” Julian said quietly and reactivated the fleet channel.  “Spears three and five take the locals.  Two, four, and six concentrate on the feds.  One and eleven set to remote helm control.”  He deactivated the signal and addressed himself to his helmsman, “At your ready, Master Camino.”

            “Yarr, boss man,” Clem acknowledged.  He spent a minute adjusting the alignments of the sixteen ships and established the network.  Linking the formation to his consol they started to move, slowly at first.

            As he waited, Julian’s attention turned to Sisyphus Rock, a miniscule point of light orbiting the red giant far in the distance.  The colony was abandoned and operations there shut-down more than a decade ago when Lockhard City began taking shape.  Serving now as a remote weapons research lab it was a matter for afterwards.  This is where it all started, he thought.  Likely ends here as well, at least I made a nice neat circle of it.

            Soon they were topping-out at eighteen G, redline for their slowest craft.  They leapt forward, halfway into the system and fell upon their adversary.  Launch craft were released as soon as the terrible toad ended, dividing themselves between the carrier and station.  They would join interceptors just released from the Lotophagi and Siren’s Song, attempting to destroy as many enemy drones as possible while they emerged from their launch tubes.

 

“I’m so bad it should be a crime!  Oh, right!  It is.”  Dire Kitty’s cheetah pushed twenty-five G and the force of inertia began to reassert itself over the containment grid in the high range.  She and her two wingmen passed within twenty meters of the enemy carrier’s launch bay, scoring two drone kills and firing their last Hellstorm missiles down its throat.  Doubtless the carnage inside was impressive but they had no time to gawk or gloat.  The Fire Hawks and Hunters now outnumbered them and the time had come to play defense.

            They loosened their formation and moved off the navy ship, its point-defense batteries blazing away at them from behind.  The cheetahs flashed up and down and side to side using their maneuver thrusters to avoid the stream of explosive projectiles thrown at them.  Lightning-Six took three rounds, one entering an engine exhaust and destroying it.  The tiny craft spun out of control in a tight looping arch, only to be blown apart by a follow-up volley from enemy gun crews.

            Kitty cut her engines, spun about, and threw them in reverse, allowing her to continue firing as she raced tail-first from the enormous vessel.  Reversing the maneuver, she and her remaining wingman moved into the near-by fray of dueling fighters, drones, and gunships.  From a distance it resembled a flight of embers rising up from a camp fire.  As they approached, the gentle dance revealed itself to be a frenzy of angry metal and burning plasma.

She selected a Lockhard Myrmidon, a thousand-tonner showing distinguished aggression, and closed on it.  Kitty hit weaps and set to auto-orbit, the onboard computer keeping her circling the larger craft with her guns trained upon it, allowing her to savage her prey with a continuous barrage of pulse lasers and a hail of depleted uranium from her nose-mounted chain gun.  The Myrmidon increased speed and took evasive action, hoping to break her lock on them, but she followed suit, taking a wider track.

Now, the distance between them nearly a full kee, she reasserted manual control and charged.  Bashing the gunship’s bridge with a spray of rockets from her wing pods, it lost attitude control and its momentum left it whirling.  Others moved in to make the kill as Dire Kitty set out in search of fresh game.

A corsair Rapier sped by her, bright crimson with yellow flames along its fins and the Iceni Queen’s Jolly Rodger emblazoned on its tail.  Riddled with holes and trailing blue-grey smoke, the wounded fighter managed to dodge the assaults of its robotic pursuer, only to be consumed in a fireball, struck by a missile from a second drone attacker.  Kitty howled in rage and fired her engines, the lust for vengeance filling her mouth with the bitter taste of adrenaline.

 

“You know what to do?” Deacon asked as he dropped Lockhard down on the metal table.

            “I do,” the man in the white uniform told him.  “You’re entirely certain about this?  The man’s a pig, I have no problem with that, but it’s a bit weird.”

            “I just work here,” the pirate said in departure.

            “Well, let’s get this over with,” the man in white said, rubbing his temples.

            Deacon made for the nearest working lift and took it to the command center, altering Clark to meet him there.  The salesman had done well by them and any executive found later would be in serious danger.  Armed personnel scurried about, taking no notice of him.  Loss of internal communications had the entire facility buzzing like a hornet’s nest struck by a stone.

            “The councilman is in good hands,” he told Commander Whitmore, having to raise his voice to be heard.  Parties unknown had taken control of the intercom, using it to blast some ancient-barbaric noise once called music in darker days; something about “The Bird” and its being “The Word.”

On the main viewer, two women in flight suits engaged in a strange tribal dance, wildly gyrating their hips and performing stylized pantomimes of swimming and sinking.  Commander Kijé rubbed his jaw at the strange sight, trying his best to hide the grin on his face.  A personal flourish of his own, now that he saw the reaction it provoked, it became a chore not to laugh.  The recording was of Ursula and Kitty, very stoned, at their anniversary party on Haveno Libera four years ago.  Discovering it in the file library of his portable, he couldn’t resist.

 

Iceni Queen and her escorts had a good run of it during the opening stages of battle, destroying over a dozen of the gunboats hanging back to guard the darkened station.  The surprise fighter attack from Lotophagi and Siren’s Song succeeded in reducing the enemy’s strength but it was only a matter of time before they were overwhelmed.  The swarming navy drones threw back their warm-blooded opponents and closed on the main body of the corsair advance.  Drunken Banshee was heeled by a Hunter that strafed too close, tearing her a wicked hull breach.

Moments later, four light frigates blasted their way through sealed hanger doors on the planet-facing side of the station.  They signaled their ID’s to the Queen and joined her in the fray.  The ships of first and eleventh spears were being stung badly now by the enemy fighter craft but the additional firepower, and eight more Rapiers, gave needed room to breathe.

            Now, some forty minutes into the engagement, things began to unravel.  The corsairs reduced to thirty-two vessels, including the four late additions, momentum swung to the navy.  The Lockhard force suffered badly, more interested now in escape then glory.  The killing blow could be left to the navy which seemed on its way to dealing it.

            The battle cruiser Ajax burned in space, savaged in close quarters by Iceni Queen.  Two navy frigates and twice that many corvettes were broken and dark as well, but the carrier and her escorts were mainly unscathed.  Overwhelmed by numbers, the corsair fighters returned home or scattered.  With no effective screen from enemy drones and launch craft, the corsairs were being needled to death.

            “I think they’ve got us.”  Danger Debbie’s voice remained flat, devoid of emotion.

            “T-C, status,” Julian called back, already searching his display.  None answered but he found her.  Harassing the carrier to keep it off the Queen, she succumbed to the dagger-like stings of its drones.  Her main engines destroyed, the carrier’s escorts were able to restrain and board her.

            “Clem!  Get us to T-C now!”

            “Julian!” Olga cried in alarm.  He looked instinctively at his monitor and saw the massive power spike as Thunder Child charged her stardrive.

            “Don’t,” he said weakly, knowing she would.  The unstable inertial fields of the three joined ships caused them to be ripped to pieces in an instant, seeming to turn themselves inside out as they were dragged into the carrier less than a half kee away.  One of its massive, pod-like landing bays shattering under the tremendous force and the warship reeled out of control like a mortally wounded animal.

Unfortunately, there was destruction to go around.  Much of Thunder Child’s wreckage briefly entered hyperspace then reappeared, moving in all directions at close to the speed of light.  A one-gram fragment from a broken screw struck the Queen’s tail at over two-hundred thousand kilometers a second, punching through her repulser field like wet tissue.  The tail fin exploded into thousands of pieces; though happily it broke-free before an impulse shock could form in the hull, destroying the entire ship.

The Queen pitched and yawed wildly.  Her inertial grid flickered from the interruption and exposed the crew to the brunt of the impact.  Dozens were incapacitated, more than a few killed, but the grid adjusted and they regained control.

 Guy called from engineering. “Jules, we’re hurt bad, there’s been major buckling at the aft end of the boom.  Push it past ten-G and you’ll snap us in two.  I shit you not, Jules.”

            “Understood,” the captain acknowledged.  It seemed unlikely they’d be going that fast regardless.  With the tail went a fifth of their heat scuppers.  The port-side fusion drive was snapped-off and thrown clear; the starboard crushed to half its normal size and quite unusable.

He took a deep breath and opened the fleet channel: “Queen to wing, open melee.  Say again, open melee.”  The remaining corsairs broke their formations and attacked as opportunity presented itself.  It was a gamble; a rude person might call it desperate.

            “Vee have large pre-entry distortion,” Olga announced.

             “This can’t be good,” Julian said blandly.

            “Iz not,” Olga said, worry filling her voice.  “Federation light cruiser: eight nauts out, baring two-five-six by zero-two-five.”  Dread cast a shadow on every soul in the corsair fleet.  They had come so close, but it was over now.

            “Vait,” Olga said.  “I get von of our transponder codes.  Iz Rattler.”

            The new arrival fired its twin spinal mounts, a pair of heavy X-ray lasers, dealing the wounded navy carrier’s death blow, as Doc Flamingo Floyd Darcy’s voice thundered over the fleet channel: “Yo ho ho, motherfuckers!  Did ya miss us?”

            “Fucking yes!”  Julian shouted as he leapt from his chair.  “Tá sin ar fheabhas!”

 

“Thank Mother Night,” Deacon said, watching from Whitmore’s office in the station command center.  He rubbed his eyes hard and let out a breath he didn’t realize he held.

            “What the hell are you talking about?” Whitmore asked with amazement, “This is a damned disaster!”

            “Not at all,” Deacon told him.  “Well, for you I guess,” he corrected himself, shooting the commander in the stomach with a body pistol he produced from his boot.  He stood, catching the dead man before he collapsed and called the security guard outside for help.

            “The Commander’s ill,” he said, taking the guard’s assault weapon so she could make use of both arms.

            “He’s been shot through the spine!” the woman said in distress, only to be shot in the face for her observant nature.  Deacon tossed the small plastic weapon to Clark who had been seated next to him and made a quick survey of the control room outside.  About twenty people including three more armed guards: two stationed by the lift and one roughly halfway between there and himself.  No one had noticed the interaction with Whitmore or the first guard thanks to the silent weapon and the chaos of battle.

            He moved past the first guard to the lift, ordering him to follow.  As he came to the two men stationed by the exit he charged his assault gun and took the safety off.  “Gentlemen, we may be boarded, check your weapons.”

            As they made to comply he put a quick round in each of their heads, switched to automatic and turned, spraying the remaining occupants with a rain of steel.  This, people noticed.  He dropped the weapon and picked up the two at his feet, going to work on the crowd.  Station rules forbid any weaponry in the command center except those carried by dedicated security personnel.  Deacon greatly approved.

            Clark, for his part, took shelter behind what seemed a sturdy consol in Whitmore’s office.  He had never been in a gun fight before and found that he detested it.  It wouldn’t be so bad if this Iriemon, or Kijé, or whoever the hell he was, didn’t go about it with such obvious delight, hooting and hollering all the while.

 

With the space around Lockhard City now free of contest, Wing Marshal Victor Kruger took his Blood Eagles out the airlocks and into the Evernight.  The hand-picked hundred men began half a mile from the floating city and it filled their sky.  A truly sublime moment; the claustrophobic grey metal walls of the prep room giving way to a sense of overwhelming exposure in a silent, explosive instant.

This would be the first time they used their new thruster rigs in open space, a whole different animal from scooting down corridors aboard a line ship.  The design a near duplicate of the gravball model but juiced up a touch because of the heavier powered armor.  At the half way point they divided into groups and made for the two large construction hangers closest the station.  Each squad consisted of forty men armed with gyrojet assault guns and ten wielding man-portable lasers.

Dire Kitty and her nine remaining fighters waited to provide support fire as they attacked.  Lockhard personnel inside the careening docks had boarded several of the berthed craft and manned their weapons.  They were successful in keeping the fighters at bay but the swarm of raiders proved impossible to target in this manner.  They darted about taking refuge amid the parked ships and access tubes, boarding the occupied vessels and dispatching those they found within.

 

“Get it together people!”  The sail master was in no mood for this.  There were problems mounting the device on the boring rig; something he and Chavez had thrown together from parts acquired in the Expanse during Guy’s stint as bosun.

Larger corsair vessels preferred an entry style known as the boring method.  A moving tube-shaped airlock surrounded by a free spinning cylinder with a cutting edge would make an opening in the victim’s hull through which the airlock would then protrude.  It being important to avoid decompressing the station, Guy came up with a solution.  An iris valve surrounded the airlock cylinder, latching to the outer hull and closing when the airlock retracted, neatly sealing the breach behind them.

            “We think it’ll work now,” one of his engineers told him.

            “You ‘think’ it will?” Guy asked.  “Don’t ever tell me you ‘think’ something might work.  Call me a stuffy old sod but there are things I’d like to know.

            With Clem in command of the bridge, Julian made his way to the cargo rig by way of his quarters.  Most of the raiders heading that way were in full battle armor but he was still in his hardsuit, having special plans that required a lighter load.

            “We’re ready,” Guy told him as The Rex entered, closing the hatch behind him.  The sail master looked him up and down.

The captain’s face, from right eye down to the edge of his beard, painted blue; the left eye done up in mascara and thick eyeliner over a bar of lampblack.  He was clad in an astonishingly vulgar flowered shirt, a gift from Floyd whose massive collection had inspired his odd call sign, and black denim leggings tucked into mid-calf leather boots over a suit of light body armor.  A wide-brimmed hat with the front turned up, sporting his Jolly Rodger, and a pair of mirrored deadlights completed the look.

In an off-hand cross draw holster, Julian carried his one concession to modern projectile technology:  the Malice Armory Desperado 12; a twelve-millimeter, eight-shot gyrojet revolver.  An infrared box sight was linked to a thumb trigger on the grip.  When activated, a thermal snapshot of the sighted target would load into the projectile’s tracking system.  The heat seeking rocket-bullet would then hunt that unlucky fool to the bitter end.  Given room to arc the shot, he could hit a man around a wall.

A pair of thirteen-hundred year old flintlock pistols hung about his neck on a leather cord.  His harness was adorned with half a dozen grenades, six throwing knives, a hatchet, and his beloved Instant Karma holstered under his left shoulder.  Over his right he carried a prize specimen from his collection, a reproduction mid-twentieth century Kalashnikov assault rifle named Natalia.  The stock had been replaced with a length of pipe so he could wield it easily with one arm and use its long bayonet as a lance.

            “You’re a twisted bloody bastard, you know that?” Guy said.

            “I do,” Julian assured him.  “Is this thing going to work?”

            Guy laughed.  “I think so.”

 

“Is it over?  Mister . . .  ah. . .”  Clark wasn’t sure what to call him now.  A hand grabbed his collar from behind and pulled him to his feet, making him yelp with fright.

            “Deacon,” Deacon told him.  “Call me Deak.”

            “Mister Deak then,” Clark acknowledged.

            “You call everyone ‘mister’?” Deacon asked.

            “Everyone so armed, sir,” Clark explained, making the pirate laugh and slap him on the back.  Deacon handed him one of the assault guns, asking if he knew how to use it.  Clark informed him he had seen it done in many fine films and would manage as need be.  Deacon moved to seal the room.

            “The fight looks over out there,” Clark informed him from the operations consol.  He fumbled a bit through the unfamiliar menu but was getting the hang of it.  The Navy ships were all burning in great plasma fires or else lifeless and dark.  The entire system appeared a vast graveyard of ships and loose wreckage.  Channels were all down and no one had a working com on the entire station, save those working to undermine her.

            Deacon removed a computer from his omnipresent briefcase and attempted to access the station’s systems through it.  Tricky work, but most of the needed codes had been replaced and the rest he acquired from various sympathetic people on staff.

He was grateful everyone had been locked down; if too many civilians were hurt in the crossfire it could sour the whole affair.  There were a little more than two and a half million people on Lockhard and two-hundred thousand starving refugees wouldn’t last long if things became hostile.  Margaritaville could barely accommodate the few thousand living there now.  This had to be made to work.

 

Almost nothing functioned, internal communications were out and personal coms were being jammed by the station’s own equipment.  A vast conspiracy involving many well-placed inside people was the only explanation.  The sole exception to the failure motif being the security monitors, which were working perfectly.  Images from the station’s cameras were broadcast on every screen in the facility.  It seemed these pirates wanted everyone aboard to witness the assault in detail.

Searching the remote cameras from main security, of which there were hundreds of thousands on a station this size, they found Commander Whitmore: some of him at least.  The sole remaining camera in the command center was tightly focused on a severed head set atop a computer monitor.

            “It would appear you are in command, sir.”  The small female officer had a dry delivery to go with her wit.  Deputy Commander Perry nodded faintly.

            “Get some people up there right now,” Perry said, stunned for a moment.  “A full assault squad.  No, two.”  The lieutenant nodded and began putting her team together as the deputy commander stood there, transfixed by the grizzly image.  Do they intend to sack us?  He wondered.  “With all those ships, all those people. . .” he began speaking aloud without realizing it.  “Where could they go?”

            “Sir?” Lieutenant Tory asked.

            He turned and looked her dead in the eye.  “Nowhere,” he said.  “They can’t go anywhere and they don’t mean to.”

            “They’ll butcher us,” she said, realizing.

            “We all move on the central hub, now!” He grabbed his weapon and helmet, leading the way.  “Get explosives from the armory.”

            “We can’t get into the armory,” a Federation marine sergeant explained, having just returned from there; “at least not without some explosives.”  The old warrior couldn’t help but laugh.

 

“Where exactly are we going?” Clark asked, winded and a bit cross.  They had been shot at three times now and things were getting out of hand.  Deacon looted the bodies of two FDF marines he walked up to and shot at point-blank range.

            “Shit, no fifteen millimeter,” he complained.  “Come on.”

            “Now just a damned minute!” Clark shouted.  Deacon reached to grab his arm, quite astonished to be hit squarely in the nose, and with respectable force.  His head snapped back and he felt a slight trickle of blood touch his lips.  Clark looked even more surprised than he.  The humor of it stopped Deacon from killing the man outright in those first critical seconds.

            “You’re going to kill me now, aren’t you?” Clark asked, sighing.

            “No,” Deacon said reassuringly.  “You have a right to be upset.”

            “Well, I’m glad–” Clark never saw it coming. He seemed to just hover there for a split second then found himself on his ass, his broken nose bleeding freely.  Deacon picked him up by the scruff of the neck for the second time and held him a moment while he steadied himself.

            “We do need to get going though,” the pirate explained.  Clark nodded in acquiescence, holding his tie to his face to soak up the blood.

 

Perry and his people reached the command center and found it not only undefended but abandoned.  They spread-out, searching every corner of the large control bay then its adjoining offices and conference rooms.  There was no one here, no one left alive.  Twenty-five bodies littered the room, including Commander Whitmore, whose head still rested atop the monitor.  Perry knocked it off with his weapon, not liking to be stared at and detesting the man in life.

            “Get everything back on line,” he told his people once the sweep was finished.  “I want communications, then door access, then environmental control.”

            “For all the shooting there doesn’t seem to be that much damage,” Lieutenant Tory reported, “there just isn’t any power getting through.”

            “Then pull out every panel, the walls, the floor, the ceiling, find out what’s wrong and fix it,” Perry ordered.  Just then everything went dark but the monitors.  Emergency bolt-locks could be heard rumbling and crashing into place, door panels going dark as the grave.  People were shouting, fumbling for lights and bouncing off one-another.  A crackling noise then filled the air, the intercom being accessed from somewhere.  A bugle calling reveille sounded all over the station.  Security personnel and FDF marines braced to repel the imminent attack.

            “Your attention please, your attention please.”  The voice sounded familiar to Perry.  “By authority of the new management of our fair city in the sky, I bid thee all welcome to Nova Royale!”

            “That’s Commander Kijé!” Tory said, bewildered.

            Perry thought for a moment that his head had exploded, like an overripe melon dropped from on high.  In point of fact, the explosion was very real and felt by everyone.  There were more that followed, on every deck.  What few defensive systems remained online now crippled and the monitors all showing a single view, manually controlled from elsewhere.

            Everywhere bedlam reigned.  Without communications, Perry could only stand impotent and watch from the station’s paralyzed nerve center.  The attackers drilled into the outer hull from a dozen locations, pouring through and catching those ready to defend the airlocks unaware, slaughtering them in front of everyone.

Power went out in a wave before them and returned as they secured each new location.  The FDF marines stood their ground before falling upon it, but most of the company people ran straight away, all agreeing twelve-fifty an hour quite insufficient for this sort of thing.

            That’s gratitude, Perry thought.  And they wonder why they get paid next to nothing.  Worse yet, groups of workers, hundreds of them in small bands, began meeting-up with the invaders who proceeded to arm them.  No one seems surprised, no negotiating.  This was all arranged in advance, incredible.

            A mixed group of station security and FDF marines gathered in the main promenade; pushed back from the outer rings.  Less than fifty in number, they were the final remnants of a dozen groups scattered by the invaders and now surrounded by them.

            It was an immense chamber, two-hundred meters across with an arboretum, scores of small shops and even an eight story indoor waterfall.  Four passages led from the central hub, each twenty meters wide.  With far fewer making it here then hoped, and the location impossible to defend, the group made its way to the upper deck with a single exit leading to the administration areas.  If they could reach the command center it would provide a defensible position.

            “We make our way to them,” Perry ordered, watching their progress on the monitors.  He grabbed his weapon and started leading them from the control room, ordering the doors blown off their mountings with the emergency charges built into them.

            “Where do we go then?” Tory asked.

            “To the shuttle port on thirty-two,” Perry said as they began moving out.  “The station’s lost.  With some luck we’ll be able to slip by in the confusion out there, they still need to secure HR II and Sisyphus Rock.”

            They narrowly avoided engagement with an angry horde of dock workers, running wild through the corridors and killing what men and women in suits they could lay hands on.  They’re on their own, Perry thought, pushing his people forward to meet up with the marines and guards that should be headed right for them.  They were, crashing through Perry’s group in a panic not two minutes later, most having dropped their weapons to gain speed.

            Perry had no time to wonder what happened before seeing it himself.  He would never have guessed in any case.  Two dozen men on horseback were running them down, shooting some in the back as they fled and crushing others beneath their hooves.  Horses snarled and foamed at the mouth, kicking and baying as they killed with all the delight of those on their backs.  One came to a stop, going up on its forelegs and crushing a fallen marine with a powerful stomp.  Perry had seen the like of it before, Martin Lockhard was fond of the prol hunts, all the rage with the upper classes.

            The deputy station commander began shouting at his people, ordering them to brace and repel the attackers.  The poorly armored riders would be easy pickings for men who stood their ground with automatic weapons.  Sadly, they were in no mood to listen.  Without clear shoots until the fleeing men were on top of them, the rout proved contagious.  Many of the defenders were seasoned veterans, accustomed to facing rebels and fanatics, but these homeless corsairs from the Rift were a new order of magnitude in crazy.

            To his credit, Perry held his ground, taking one of the horsemen down with his sidearm before a mounted corsair rushed by him in a blur.  Perry didn’t know what happened.  He knew he couldn’t breathe, blood flowing from his mouth as he coughed.  He staggered forward and fell to his knees, then nothing.

            Julian reined in his mount; the powerful beast could still smell blood and had a time of calming itself.  Wiping his bayonet clean and replacing its sheath he made a quick survey of the carnage.  “Good boy, Spartacus.”  He patted the horse’s neck then answered his beeping com, “I told you never to call me at the office.  Wait, hold on…”

            The sound was muffled but Deacon could hear his brother’s voice:  “I saw your chest move!”  It lacked malice of any kind, sounding more like a child who just caught a friend at hide and seek.  It was followed by a gunshot however.

            “Are you done yet?”

            “Killjoy!” Julian said with cheer, “Yeah, we’re just tidying-up a bit.”

 

Late that day the deed was done.  Most of the remaining cons were rounded up and spaced, or else torn apart by mobs of low-level workers who began to emerge with the station now secure.  By then the corsairs had cherry-picked a few good captives and the technical personnel they wanted to hold on to.

Preliminary negotiations would begin tomorrow with the various departments on the station.  Those who wished to leave would be allowed passage to any nearby world of the Democratic Stellar League as the PDF now called itself.  The newly established government agreed to provide transport for any who requested it, happy to take in any skilled workers that might come their way.

The majority of the population seemed determined to stay however.  Certainly the financial arrangement offered by the corsairs was leaps beyond anything they might receive in the core worlds, and the undeniable fact was, anyone returning there from Hades Rising likely faced arrest and would never be heard from again.  This McAllister had made everyone’s minds up for them, but people were sufficiently impressed, and frightened, by what they saw on the security monitors to agree they should stick with the new guys for the time being.

Julian’s media image didn’t hurt either.  The news feeds tried so hard to vilify him they managed instead to turn him into a cult figure.  The Grand Corsair stood atop the high balcony over the main promenade with Deacon and his fleet commanders.  Olga stood at his side, their daughter Hypatia, wrapped in a blanket, in her arms.  She had been brought to her mother under heavy guard to be present for the ceremony; and to be seen.

            Julian noticed Clerk hovering near-by Deacon, looking nervous but resigned.  He clapped the former Lockhard salesman on the arm and introduced himself properly.  Next to him was a man in a chef’s uniform, holding an object wrapped in white cloth.

            “Is that for me?” Julian asked.  The man nodded and eagerly moved to surrender it but Julian held a hand up.  “In a moment,” he told him.  “Stay behind me until I signal for it.”  The cook looked disappointed, wanting to be rid of the thing, but nodded in assent.  Julian took his discomfort for a good sign and walked to the railing, looking down on the large crowd gathered below.  Applause rose up from the Rifters, abating with a gesture from their war chief.

            “Greetings all!” he said in a loud clear voice.  “Welcome home!”  The Rifters went wild, cheering and hollering with elation.  They had waited long for this day; many had their doubts it would ever come. The locals smiled and held their tongues, nerves on edge.

“It doesn’t matter what happens now,” he told them.  “We have done what seemed impossible.  We have shed the blood of those who have abused us, who presumed to own us.  Those who took our homes and butchered our families.  Those who did this…”

            Scenes of the carnage at Nova Antigua were displayed on the big screens in the promenade and monitors all over the station.  Silence fell on the crowd as people watched in horror.  No one believed the propaganda that the news feeds was pushing, how the Federation was on a mission of liberation in the Rift; feeding the starving and clothing the naked.  People watched and saw what had once been a place unlike the great urban sprawls they knew, one where people could be alone when they wished, and go where they pleased.  A place they scarcely imagined before and they saw it burning and ruined.  The forest of bodies skewered on stakes to die together in agony; the young and old, men and women.  No one believed the propaganda, but none had imagined this.

“We are the enemies of no one still breathing here,” Julian told the assemblage once he thought they had seen enough.  “We’ve not come to replace your masters, only kill them.  Any who wish to leave may do so, with what compensation we can afford for the trouble we’ve brought you.  I ask that you stay however, as a free people.  Think on that; a free people.

Together we have everything we need to prosper: food, resources, ships and the finest mariners in the spur.  A home of our own for the making, one where everyone has a say.  Where everyone will have food and shelter and medicine and employment and the dignity that is due every living thing in this universe: Not the inherent property of a lucky few born to the right family, not a reward for those they deem to favor in exchange for submitting to and enforcing their will.

Unshackle your hearts a moment and let them beat fierce, defiant and unafraid.  Lose your minds from their fetters, from all assumption of how things are, have always been, and will always be.  Take a moment, conjure in your minds something better.  A place where all come and go as they please, where the profits of all ventures are shared in by the community that supports and makes them possible, where heart, skill and opportunity lead men where they will.

For much of our kind’s history, you were the property of the man on whose land you were born.  We like to think that progress is made, however slowly; that things get better and improve over time, but do they?  Does anything, ever, really change?  What is capitalism but feudalism by another name?  A philosophy built upon a single intent, to divide us into greater and lesser; superior and inferior.  The owners and the owned.

There are those, back in the civilized world, who would counsel patience.  But let me ask you, what else have you shown; for century, after century; age, upon age?  They would have you believe that violence can solve nothing, but who are they to champion peace, to lay such outrageous claim?

Self-styled philanthropist social engineers, obtuse celebrity narcissists, apologetic charity hobbyists who fancy themselves magnanimous for smiling and saying thank you to the help …  Their timid, sneering lips ooze with noxious platitudes about violence being ‘the last resort of limited minds…’  Let me assure you, as a professional, it’s the second or third option of someone who can butcher on a whim you and knows it.

Those who own everything, everyone, do so through violence and the threat of it.  To lecture a whipped man on etiquette is rude to my thinking.  To council pacifism to the oppressed is delusional at best, but likely far less benign in objective.  Under no threat, they risk nothing.  What is justice to them but vaporous abstraction?  Hypocrites, who call one man degenerate for crimping bread to feed his family, then praise another for murdering nations in the name of profit, dismissing the carnage of their greed as the cost of progress.

Floating in smug comfort high above the sound of screams, the stench of death, the blood we drown in. The poor and cast-off can starve and die by the untold; they shrug it off with glib platitudes.  If one of theirs falls of course, the whole of Mother Night needs to stop and bear witness.  Tribute owed our self-appointed masters.

Upright and righteous folk might urge us to dialogue:  but what would they have us say?  Should we beg for what is ours?  Should we beg for the pity of men with none?  They would have us hold hands and sing songs of a better day, but hope without cause is idiocy.  There is no opiate so malignant to the spirit.

Are you not weary of pedantic, effete, scum telling you they ‘feel your pain’?  What do they know of pain, or hunger?  When have they been beaten like dogs, or watched their children murdered?  Cut-down by treacherous pigs who whore themselves to the rich, assuring their property and privilege in exchange for the right to bully and butcher with impunity.  When have they been cast into the gutter, left to wither and die?  Who are they, to appeal for patience, to talk of peace?

No more!  The time for patience has ended.  The hour of vengeance has struck.  Our enemy’s greatest vice, their most repugnant crime: is the earnest belief they share in their own native supremacy, spoken aloud or no.  They take all you labor for and say it is theirs by birthright.  They throw you scraps to fight and spill your brother’s blood for, expecting gratitude in the bargain.

All resentment they dismiss as envy, the petty jealousies of little people.  Any question of their moral clarity, their natural imperative: treasonous, blasphemous, wretched in contempt.  They are utterly sincere in the belief that they are owed obedience, that they are your natural superiors; but they are mistaken.

A society, like a forest, requires from time to time the purging catharsis of fire to endure.  We are the burning, lashing tongues of that flame.  We will teach them to distinguish abhorrence from jealousy; the appalled from the envious; the deadly from the meek.”

Julian turned and extended his hand to the chef who gleefully surrendered the wrapped object.  Olga then stepped close and filled it from a pitcher, Nefertiti taking charge of the young child.  The commanders all chuckled morbidly at what they saw while the pirates below passed-out every drop of liquor they could loot from the stores and supply rooms.

            Turning his attention back to the crowd, he raised high the upside-down skull in his right hand, some of the liquor splashing from the eye sockets as he did.  “I give you the lord of the manor, Trade Councilman Martin Lockhard!”

With that he downed the large volume of alcohol inside.  It burned his throat but he didn’t care, gulping it down and letting go a mighty belch before throwing the remains to the crowd which exploded in approval and excitement.  He put his arms around Olga and Deacon, alternating between laughing and choking.  Once the fit had passed he took a bottle of rum from Floyd, held it skyward and began to sing:

 

“T’was on the good ship Venus, by Christ you should have seen us,

The figure head was a whore in bed, the mast a rampant penis!”

 

Miss Kitty, newly reunited with Ursula among those on the promenade floor, joined in next, pointing to Julian above them:

 

“The captain of this lugger, he was a dirty bugger,

He wasn’t fit to shovel shit from one place to another!”

 

Much cheering followed as the assembled Rifters joined in what would forever-after be regarded as the unofficial anthem of Nova Royale:

 

“Friggin in the riggin, friggin in the riggin,

Friggin in the riggin ‘cos there’s fuck all else to do!

 

Then there was first mate Walter, at love he’d never falter,

The bloody stiff had given syph to all the girls in Malta!

 

The ship’s dog’s name was Rover, on board he was a clover,

We ground and ground that faithful hound from Singapore to Dover!

 

Friggin in the riggin, friggin in the riggin,

Friggin in the riggin ‘cos there’s fuck all else to do!

 

The captain’s wife was Mabel, to fuck she wasn’t able,

The dirty shit spilled out her tits across the galley table!

 

The captain had a daughter, who fell in deep seawater,

Delighted squeals revealed that eels had found her sexual quarters!

 

Friggin in the riggin, friggin in the riggin,

Friggin in the riggin ‘cos there’s fuck all else to do!”

 

<back          next>

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: