…And her Crew of Dublin’s Castoffs
Paddy O’Reilly was really proud of his stomach.
“Sure, I was determined not to get sick again.” Still, his gut weathered the jump without a hiccup. He looked around at the others on the bridge of the Lucy and saw no signs of jump-sickness. “Maybe not grinning like me, but no queasiness either.”
The he noticed the jump-range buoy was not broadcasting system information. That made him really glad nobody was vomiting.
“We were warned about that,” Allison told him. The station was not yet fully operational. “Mallory wants it up and running.”
“Lonely as a nullpoint,” Alex offered. “If we didn’t have station signal…”
Which was hours old.
As Alex started the maneuver which would bring to the station, a ship appeared on intercept.
“Not broadcasting ID,” Finbar announced.
“Gotta be pirates,” Alex insisted. He ordered a cautious approach to the station at Venture. Paddy was still hoping it was military.
Not long ago, the military and the pirates were the same thing.
He knew they didn’t stand much of a chance against either the Alliance military or the Mazianni pirates. They both had carriers. With outriders that were even faster.
He decided they might need extra power. “Time for some bold engineering.,” Paddy began to monkey with the engines.
“Giving us some extra juice,” he told the others “just in case.”
They all heard the explosion somewhere in the bowels of the ship.
As Paddy tried to figure out how to fix whatever he had done, he heard Allison say, “I’m going after a sandwich. I’m coming back to the controls with it.”
Something wasn’t quite right about that. Alex whispered to him that she wasn’t used having a competent crew around her. Alex asked Allison to stay in her seat. “You’re the captain.” Not an order, just a reminder she had a crew for things like lunches.
Kieran had apparently figured it out as well. He volunteered to bring everybody sandwiches.
Alex went back to piloting their course in to Venture.
Paddy noticed something on Finbar’s screen. Finbar was on Scan 1.
“Picking up something,” Finbar said, voice calm. “Military, moving like it.”
Alex was calculating something with Engineering.
Allison said, “Wonderful.”
Also calm. As she took over Helm 1 from Alex and started lining up jump, she added, “Size. Get size on that.”
Kieran was already reckoning their chances.
Alex was watching Allison’s board. It looked like she was reckoning on their nearness to system center. Tough jump, if possible. Suddenly, Paddy felt their captain put them into an axis roll that sent drinks and sandwiches flying.
“And a tape cassette with my favorite sci-fi epic on it.”
Paddy made a leap and grabbed the tape in freefall. Their torus was not yet in rotation, so he had to make a zero-gravity landing on the wall.
Captain Allison told him and Alex and Finbar to get below.
“Into the crawlspaces.”
That was fine with Paddy. He had an engineering issue to deal with down there.
“I gotta get that fire out.”
Alex was trying to get his PADD synced with the ship’s computers.
“And having difficulty.”
When they got below, Paddy heard Allison’s crisp order over the suit comm unit, “Suit up down there.”
He got the fire suppression unit focused on the fire, but when he tried to push it the flames flared up in the engine room.
Still on the bridge, Kieran heard the sounds of Paddy putting out the fire and the rest of the crew scrambling into their spacesuits.
As he tensed, Allison warned him, “No ambush. We’re the only crew, you and I. You signed up at Pell, got thrown off Dublin.”
He watched her put some of the cabins on powersave.
“Get up there and strip down their cabins; shove everything into yours.”
When he paused to think through what she was setting up, she shoved him. “Move it, man.”
As he hurried off the bridge, she shunted all the main functions to the main board. And her Chair.
When he got back from hiding the evidence of others on the ship, she told him the gap was narrowing.
“Still no hail. No need. That ship chasing us knows. And we know.”
Alex heard Allison’s voice over the radio in his suit.
“Got all kinds of service shafts down there. Pick one. I don’t even want to know which.”
That made sense to Alex. If Allison didn’t know where they were hiding, the pirates couldn’t torture it out of her.
“Pirates sometimes kidnap honest spacers.” They had no other way to get trained crew.
“Snug in and stay there – whatever happens,” the voice on the suit radio told him. “If they loot us and leave us, fine. If they take us off the ship, you stay there.”
Paddy was having some luck putting out the fires.
“Two of us is the maximum risk on this” Allison explained. “And I picked my risk…. Two of us of Kieran’s type and mine looks like smugglers. You want to get everybody else killed, just come up here. You got the hard part down there, I know. But just do it and don’t louse it up.”
As he started to think about objecting, she cut that off.
“Think it through. That ship’s a Mazianni carrier. They have maybe 3,000 troops on that thing.”
“We don’t have…”
“We got a chance. They don’t hang around after a hit. Maybe you can do something; maybe there’s people left at Venture. Maybe other ships will be coming in here. If nothing else, they may leave.”
She hesitated, as if she was thinking about what she told him next.
“And, O’Reilly, are you listening to me? If you didn’t get the comp keys, they’re in top drawer of my dresser. My real name is Sandy. Sandra Kreja. Kieran was right. The ship’s real name is Le Cygne. I don’t know how he guessed.”
Finbar was signed frantically, but Alex could hear what he indicating: sounds of the Lucy being grappled.
He indicated a service shaft and started climbing it. The others followed. Finbar used a large wrench to help him climb.
Alex understood why: to keep himself from falling if the pirates decided to accelerate their ship. Or Lucy itself.
Paddy was following Finbar’s example, wedging his large wrench into small spaces to give himself an extra handhold. He almost fell but Finbar caught him.
Paddy was mumbling about the damage he had done earlier.
“I know she said not to fix anything,” the Engineer said, “but I’d better at least take a look at that power junction.”
Alex didn’t remember Allison saying anything about repairs, so he decided to let Paddy go ahead.
“Just be quiet about it.”
Kieran heard the boarding party before he actually saw them enter the bridge.
“Pointing their rifles at me.”
They didn’t ask the captain’s permission before they started searching.
Watching from the corner of his eye, he could see Captain Allison acting nonchalant.
Most of the boarders were wearing battle armor. One who was unarmored was sitting in the captain’s chair.
“Probably an officer.”
“Meddling in everything.”
He could hear the other troopers getting into the core. Soon he heard them in the cargo area as well.
“Not so easy to search down there.”
Especially with the cargo cannisters all sealed. Eventually the noise from the core disappeared.
The officer was still doing nothing when Kieran felt the unmistakable pull of acceleration.
“That’s not Lucy’s engines,” Allison told him quietly.
As the pull increased, pressing him harder and harder into his seat, he realized only a military carrier could pull that many g’s. They were being taken wherever the Mazianni carrier wanted them to go.
He hoped it was to the station.
Then he realized that such an acceleration would have turned any service shaft running fore and aft into pits that could break the bones of anyone falling down them.
He hoped Alex and the others were ready for that.
For all their preparations, Alex and Finbar fell when the acceleration ramped up to levels only a military vessel could reach.
Paddy caught them both.
“Using the wrench trick I taught him.”
Kieran saw the name of a Mazianni ship stenciled on the armor of the closest trooper: Australia.
“And the trooper saw me looking.”
Australia meant Tom Edger, Conrad Mazian’s second-in-command.
“A man of no gentle reputation.”
A military cargo, Mallory had told them. He began to suspect Mallory set them up so she could deliver military cargo to Edger and Australia.
“But that doesn’t square with what I heard about Captain Mallory at Pell.”
The officer was demanding something from Allison. He was no longer in the captain’s chair. He was in her face.
“I need the comp opened up. You want to give it to me easy?”
“No,” she said. “I trade. Maybe run a little contraband here and there. I’ve dealt with the far side of the law before this. And before I trade my best deal off, I’ll deal with Edger himself.”
He realized only a marginer like Allison would have a plan ready. A plan to negotiate with pirates.
“You know,” the officer smiled lazily, “I wouldn’t recommend that.”
“I’m not stupid. I don’t plan to die over a cargo. I figure we’re going to offload it at Venture.”
Now that they were decelerating for a rendezvous, Kieran was figuring they were already at Venture. Allison was still negotiating with the pirate in her face.
“Figure you’ve got that sewed up tight,” she told the Mazianni officer. “Fine. You want the cargo. Fine. I’m not anyone’s hero. Neither is my partner. I’ll talk to Edger, and I’m minded to deal, you can figure that. Might work out something.”
Kieran O’Reilly was studying the pirate’s face. And the Mazianni was studying Allison’s.
For a long time.
A seam-faced pale man, the intruder onto Lucy, of indefinite age. Kieran could tell he was on Rejuv. With eyes as dead as his face, even as he nodded.
“We’ll go with that.” The Mazianni walked back to the controls.
Kieran heard the ungrapple. And watched the pirate dock them at a station.
After the grapple was released and docked, Alex heard the sounds of comings and goings.
“For a while.”
And then nothing. For a long time.
“Not nothing,” he told the others. “Machinery sounds.” Like the noise of unloading.
And then even the sounds of canisters being unloaded ended. More silence. For another long time.
It was time to put his command training to some use. They were all shifting in their shaft.
“As if everybody’s muscles are getting as cramped as mine.”
Thinking about Sandy’s orders to stay put, Alex realized that the marginer – whom he still thought of as “Allison,” even though he now knew her name was Sandy – never anticipated that they would hauled to a space station. So he had to consider their alternatives.
Paddy suggested hacking the external cameras. He gave his permission and soon they were looking at grainy images on Paddy’s PADD.
Kieran looked around at the tight gathering in a cold dockside office. A dozen Mazianni, mostly officers, in a dingy, aged facility heated by a portable unit.
“With some lights burned out.”
He saw burn scars on the walls.
“That speaks of violence here at some point,” he told himself. Heavy weapons.
Allison was standing across the disk from Edger himself. Kieran himself was back among the guns and troopers.
“I told you,” Allison said to Edger, “I’ve got no inclination to heroics. You want to deal, I’ll deal.”
Kieran was trying to read the pirate captain’s face. He got nothing.
“What do you have to deal with?” Edger wanted to know.
“Look,” Allison pleaded. “I don’t want any trouble. You keep your hands of my ship and my crewman.”
When Edger seemed to relax, she motioned as if she wanted to sit in a chair.
“You mind? Captain to captain, as it were.”
Edger didn’t smile as he nodded to a trooper who gave her a chair to sit in. Across the table from Edger.
“Do I figure right?” Allison pushed it. “You’ve got your sights on Pell? Maybe Mallory’s playing your game out there; maybe you’re going to pull it off.”
When she mentioned Mallory, Kieran could see the hate in Edger’s eyes.
“Mortal hatred,” Kieran noted to himself. “He really doesn’t like Mallory.”
Allison seemed to have noticed as well. She switched tactics, acting as if she intended to betray Captain Mallory all along.
“Her cargo aboard. She hauled me in before undock. Said she was watching. And she’s out there. Overjumped us. Just watching. That’s all I know. I’m not particular. You want Mallory’s cargo, welcome to it. And if you want trade done somewhere across the Line, I’m willing. But not Pell. Not and answer questions back there.”
Kieran thought about everything he knew about Mazian’s second in command: a mass murderer.
“So is Mallory, for that matter,” he reminded himself. “Back in her Company Fleet days. Her Privateer days.” Never a pirate, though.
There was a fixation in Edger’s eyes, however, that tightened the hairs on Kieran’s nape. No dockside justice ever promised Edger’s kind of dealing.
Then the pirate captain brought Kieran himself into the conversation: “Suppose we discuss it with your man back there.”
In unison, Keiran and Allison blurted: “Discuss what?”
“I’ll discuss Mallory.” Allison had recovered her composure, even if he had not. “I’ve got no percentage in it.” Last time I saw her, she was off Olympus."
“Waiting for something. Norway’s working with Union. That’s the rumor. They’ve got all the nullpoints sewed up, and Mallory’s working with Union. So they say.”
“You know what was in your cargo?”
“Military cargo. I got hazard rates.”
“Junk,” Edger told her. “Station recycling.”
“She set me up!” Allison yelled. “That bastard bitch set me up! She knew what was here and sent me into it.”
Kieran was trying to figure out what was going on. But he wasn’t getting anything.
“Look, I don’t know anything,” Allison was saying. “I swear to you, I’m a marginer with legal troubles. And Mallory offered me hazard rate for a haul … offered me a way out and a profit. And she set me up. She bloody well set me up.”
Alex told Finbar to lead the way once they decided to sneak into the bridge to seize control of Lucy.
He was able to surprise the officer they had left at the controls.
“Unfortunately, my first shot went wild. Setbacks are opportunities for greatness, however, and my second shot took his head right off.
He saw Paddy was already working on the engines.
Alex headed for Allison’s quarters and found the note she had left them.
In addition to the comp codes, it read: “Alex, if you are reading this, one of two things has happened. In either case, take care of her.”
They weren’t sure what that meant.
“Probably written before she agreed to give us the codes,” he told Alex.
“And before we agreed not to use the codes if she wasn’t around to do whatever it was she did with the audio.”
When they keyed in the code, a young man’s voice resounded through the bridge.
“Hello, Sandy. How are you?”
“Hunh?” was all he could think of to say.
The soldiers were suddenly reacting. Kieran found himself being manhandled out of the makeshift office.
Didn’t take much to figure out they were pulling out. The Mazianni could not afford to sit at rest if Mallory was on the loose.
“And that’s what those alarms must mean.”
A warship out of jump not shedding its velocity. Norway could be down their throats scant minutes behind their lightspeed bow wave of ID and interference. Could blow them out of this fragile, antique of a station.
“The alarms and the explosions must mean that’s what’s happening.” Although the explosions seemed a little distant. “Maybe she’s not shooting at the station.” He seemed to remember that Mallory wanted Venture station operational.
If he could just remember if that was part of one the theories he had just tossed out the airlock.
Out on the dock, the soldier boys tried to split them up, taking Allison to the Lucy and Kieran to the Australia. She objected, so they shot her.
“Then they shot me.” And left them both to bleed out on the docks.
Alex tried to get the computer to show him Lucy’s armaments.
“Sandy, is there a problem?” the voice asked. “I can instruct in security procedures if you ask me. In any case, secure the bridge. This is always your last retreat. Stay calm. Always keep food and water on the bridge in case. Keep a gun by you and power down the rest of the sectors if it comes to that.”
Finbar was thinking more clearly than he was. About security, anyway.
“The voice is right,” Finbar said. “You have to put the locks on.”
“But Kieran and Sandy are gone. The pirates have them out there somewhere.
“You have to make sure there is no one left on the ship,” Finbar insisted. “Especially the holds. Putting the locks on and powering down the life support should take care of that.”
Alex was doing something with the ship’s computer.
“How may I help you?” the voice repeated.
Kieran saw a menu on the screen: Security Finance Plumbing Navigation Customs Law Banks Exchange In Case.
Paddy threw the output from the external cameras up on the main screen.
They saw a desolate image of a primitive torus, vacant except for the vast bulk of a carrier berthed near them and another object that might be another freighter docked further on, indistinct in the dark and curve of the station.
Kieran ability to diagnose himself was limited.
“I can see Allison needs first aid.”
So he applied his first aid, staunching her bleeding.
Then he passed out.
Finbar got a freight trolley over to their wounded crewmembers. But Paddy had to lift Allison to the cart.