The radio ping tells me Moria is on the way. I slowly peel myself out of the chair to stand. As the last of the mesh releases me, I double-check the auto-pilot one more time. The captain felt pretty confident this lane should be safe, but I still feel the whole deal was pretty shady. It’s not like bugs tend to trade. What in the milky way could we be delivering to bugs? Supposedly those crates are full of food stuffs and art. Like bugs want art.
I am about to leave the cockpit when I see a blue tinted with purple flash on the display. I throw myself back into my pilot’s chair, link my arm port back to the control rig and begin talking, “Class 3 shield coming up at sixteen point three reser from five o’clock. Will be alongside in three minutes and twenty seconds.”
Moria bounds into the room, her long limbs swinging and her long ears still loose around her head, flapping like wet blankets against her head. She hopped into the co-pilot seat, “Captain, we have an unregistered, unresponsive Nalitpol cruiser. Visual on your gear now. Looks like they might have a jammer on top. We may already be too late to send out a distress signal.”
“Looks like just a four man scuttle crew,” Captain Adra’s voice said.
I roll my eyes, “Oh great. Death instead of robbery.”
“You know Captain Adra will buy them off.”
“Not with bug boxes on board,” I reply, “and we’re crossing Del’ala space, they won’t exactly jump to our rescue either.”
Moira doesn’t reply to my pessimism. It doesn’t make me feel any better to be right. I push the ship to try to get a little more speed without burning out. Our maximum speed is less than ten reser. My only hope in speed is that we might catch up to other traffic. One ship might be easy pickings for pirates, but two or three can hold a rotating shield until one of the Del’ala patrols passes by. It is slim but it is the best we can hope for.
The little cruiser pulls up against the shield near our starboard hatch. There is a glaring red warning as their shield began calibrating to ours. I swear.
Moira says, “We have approximately forty-five seconds before they match our shield and enter our field. Attemping a discharge.”
She sends a discharge of energy down the shield generator. Sometimes this can overload the conflicting field. Sometimes it causes our shield to auto-recalibrate by a digit or two, buying us seconds. Nothing is showing on the forward scanners. I attempt a final manuever to break them off our shields. They have speed and manueverability we can never hope to acheive in our freighter.
Captain Adra’s voice across the speakers, “Everyone prepare for boarding. They should only have four on that cruiser, let’s assume they have six.”
The panel in front of me flicks from red to blue and I say, “They are inside our field. They’ve docked to the starboard aft hatch.”
“I’ll get down there,” I cringe to myself to hear Thela speak. She would. “They must know that’s where we’ll have the worst cover.”
“Assume they know our ship as well as we do,” Captain Adra said. “Keep on co-”
The radio system blinks as jammed on the panel in front of me. I can’t even tell Thela how I much I love her. One set of Moira’s upper ears perk up telling me the hatch has been hacked. In some ways, I am grateful for the comparatively narrow depth of sound I hear. Moira will hear every pained or dying scream. I can watch Moira though and read what must be happening. A death, but ours or theirs?
“There!” Moira said, “Two vessels in front of us! We can get help!”
I throw the ship into overdrive, it might burn out the engine, but with help we would have a chance to repair rather than… well die. I have heard horror tales of pirates who didn’t just throw you out the airlock hatch but left you equiped with your shield and then left you to watch the ship drive off. All you can do is watch and wait for your shield to fail.
I nearly throw the ship in reverse when I get the visual of the ships in front of us. The visual of a single military Ammaccare carrier is enough to make any ship pause. The sight of two sharing a field… I hear the first scream which means the pirates are getting closer to the cockpit. The double-lock should take them a few seconds to hack, it might buy us enough time to get to the Ammaccre. At this point, I might even appreciate their ruthless attitude.
Moira hisses softly. Some days you regret having a translator. She mutters darkly about jammers and then says, “At least one of them is Ukimi. They might not take kindly to a jammer in their territory.”
“We aren’t in Ukimi lanes though,” I remind her, “we are in Del’ala territory.”
“Why are Ukimi and Swepol meeting in Del’ala territory? Seems to me the fuzzies aren’t going to appreciate the competition.”
I don’t have time to answer before another field appears on the computer, massive. Another ammaccare. It swoops down over us and a voice crackles on the computer, “Synchronize your field to ours…” a number scrolls across the board. I can hear Moira typing, “or prepare to be boarded by force.”
Moira swears again and said, “They hit the engine room and they’re hacking our codes! The del’ala are going to have to crack us like a uugi nut!”
The gears on my arms shudder as the engine suddenly shuts off. I gasp in pain at the feedback loop and disengage from the controls. I look at Moira. She is already prepping her shield to flick on when the door opens. I do the same and also snap an extra battery pack to my blade.
There is a shudder throughout the ship. I glance at a panel to see the upper cargo hatch warning light blink. I feel my pulse racing. I move next to the door. The hilt of my blade is slick with sweat from my hands. My arm port stings. Moira and I wait in silence. I don’t want to look at her because I know she can hear what’s happening throughout the ship.
“Open the cockpit door,” the voice over the radio says. I now glance at Moira, her ears are all lifted like a set of frills around her head as she tries to filter the sounds and identify if it is pirate on the other side of the door. I see the panic in her face. Pirates or privates? Flicking on my field I open the door.
Three del’ala soldiers storm in, knocking me back with their shields. I immediately drop my shield and hold up both hands in surrender. The big fuzzy creatures move efficiently to make sure no one else is hiding. Moira is cowering in her seat, one points and she moves quickly to join me. I have no idea if she ever turned her shield on or not. They hustle us out of the cockpit. I involuntarily gasp when a black-garbed Swepol pilot with the octagonal patch on his chest passes us to the cockpit. Moira and I enter the hold to see several yssaiki bugs flying the boxes of cargo up into the hold of the other ship. What are bugs doing on a del’ala ship?
I race to Thela, she is alive! She is staring at the mixture of giant furry del’alan soliders, black-garbed humans, and bug drones. I’ve never heard of three of the five factions working together on anything. Oh and the Ukimi ship outside… I wrap my arms around Thela when a black-garbed human walks up. He flicks his shield on and shoves me, Thela and Moira out the hatch the pirates hacked. Moira’s screech is cut off by the sudden vaccuum. Thela’s shield flickers on for a moment and fails.
I hold her as our momentum carries us away from the ship. Thela doesn’t speak, but sobs softly. We pass out of the ship’s field, watching as the ammaccare slowly detatches. We watch as they join the other two in the far distance.
“A secret meeting… of all five factions…”
My shield crackles with battery strain and there is a warning beep from the gear on my wrist. I link the last spare battery in. It just delays the vaccuum… I look at Thela. Her lips are turning blue. I cover them with my own. I try to pull her closer. It’s like moving through mud.
The shield flickers once. Beep. I feel my lungs burning. Twice. Beep. I wish I had Moira’s ears now. I can at least hear Thela’s heart beat. Beep. Beep. Beep.