This won't make it into the real captain's log, and you'll be able to guess why, but you know how you always try to cover your ass with something at least the size of your computer screen? Well, this is it.
When we first started commercial shuttle flights to and from places like Mare Tranq on the moon, the shuttles were presumed descended somehow from ocean vessels, don't ask me why, and maritime law was applied in places where the absence of water was second only to the absence of air.
I never did understand how naval customs got up into the stratosphere and above, but I guess it made things like protocol on board the crafts much easier. I mean, there was a captain and a first officer and even if we were really just shuttle-rats who couldn't get a job anywhere else, we wore the gold braid and carried the traditional powers that ocean-going captains had wielded for thousands of years.
This didn't mean we spent a lot of time making business-class travelers walk the plank, and we didn't sit around hoisting things up yardarms or whatever, either. About the only real traditional duty we had to perform was repelling pirates.
I guess piracy conjures up visions of swashbucklers in eye patches with cutlasses between their teeth, but on the Mare run, they were sociopaths in light armored spacesuits whose converted speedcraft could overtake a passenger shuttle. They would lock on, blow a hole through the hull, and swarm aboard to rob the passengers and crew. Then they would plunder whatever cargo might be on board and make a hasty exit.
There was one really big problem with this, besides the indignity of being robbed, of course, and that was the gaping hole in the hull. When the pirates disengaged, they sealed their airlock, but did not seal the hole in the plundered craft. The air rapidly leaked out, say in a matter of seconds, causing the whole thing to nearly turn itself inside-out with sudden depressurization. Oh, and everyone on board died right away from the same phenomenon. It was messy.
This sort of thing was very bad for business. After three of these attacks, the Company decided to arm the shuttles and give the pirates a run for their money. People like me were hired on to captain the shuttles, and the maritime laws were invoked.
I touched the gold braid on my sleeve. Only the top part of it was visible because the uniform irritated me and I rolled the sleeves up as high as they would go. I left the tunic open nearly to the waist, as well. About the only part of the damned thing I could stand was the comfortable pants bloused into really nice boots. I probably would have signed on for a run just for the boots.
"Excuse me, Captain," my First Officer was a pain in the ass, "but I think you need to fasten your tunic." He stood at attention, eyes straight ahead.
"For what?" I asked. "Are we expecting company?" I just liked to see him sweat when I unbuttoned it. I wore a regulation blouse beneath it, but the fabric was very thin. I had caught him more than once ogling my breasts, which were not only very pretty, but also completely natural. I ran a hand over them. It wasn't nice to torment First Officer Ndoro.
I buttoned up and scanned the new log report Ndoro handed me. He was still at attention. Nearly five foot seven, the height limit for pilots, he was a recent graduate of the Company's shuttle pilot training program. I was a not-so-recent graduate of the school of hard knocks and had received my shuttle pilot's license the hard way, by running my father's old bucket on the early commercial runs and then, after the accident which claimed him and the craft, enlisting in the Company's service when they were having a hard time getting pilots. Later, some whiz kid had the bright idea of a Company shuttle pilot school, an academy.
I worked my way up, which wasn't hard the first couple of years. The Company would have like to rid itself of the handful of captains like myself, but there was still a shortage, and now with the piracy thing happening, fewer bright young kids wanted to risk a career as a glorified bus driver on the sudden death run.
"First Officer," I said to Ndoro after looking at the logs, boring as usual, "let's go through the drill in an hour or so." I was referring to the pirate drill the Company dreamed up for us. It was a series of defensive maneuvers in the shuttle which ended with a simulated attack and our responses to it. It was the only exciting thing we had out there on the two day run to Mare Tranq, not counting me playing with my blouse.
That particular day we were carrying a bunch of building supplies for a casino, some gourmet foods for a Company exec, and twelve passengers, five of whom were party ladies for the pleasure palaces at Mare Tranq. Ndoro and I executed the take off without any problems, put our shuttle, the 'Linda Rae,' on auto for the trip, and stayed away from the passengers and the cargo.
The Company was pretty strict about the crew staying isolated from whatever was being transported, especially since that incident with the circus troupe and the hospital supplies. The crash site became a popular tourist stop.
Ndoro and I practiced our pirate defense, being careful not to alarm the passengers. Privately, I thought that if anyone ever had a chance of survival in a pirate attack, it would be the ladies we were carrying that trip. Unless the pirates were women, too - not unknown in that sector of space, I mean, look at me.
Once we discharged the cargo and passengers, we would be safe until the next trip. No pirate had ever been stupid enough to attack an empty shuttle, and the return flights were almost always empty, although once in a while you got a couple of folks going back earthside for some reason.
Just when we had worn ourselves out going through the Company's little scenario, I heard the warning noise from the console. It was the space-borne equivalent of a curb feeler, letting you know when you were getting too close to something else. Too close was about three earth miles, and the sensor picked up anything larger than a desk - anything large enough to do serious damage in a collision.
This time it wasn't a stray piece of space trash from the satellite frenzy days or a bit of hot meteor. I saw the racing craft on the screen and my stomach lurched. Pirates.
Ndoro kept his cool and began the standard Company drill. He flipped up the communicator switch and sent a distress signal, bouncing it by way of Mare Tranq, just in case we were being scrambled by the pirates. Then he turned on the outside weapons, a couple of little beam-throwers, and turned off the radio. I dug a couple of sidearms and rifles back out of the storage locker where we had just put them and buckled my old Glock stingray around my waist. I liked the feel of a sidearm, although on a shuttle you could only fire beams of deadly particles, nothing as romantic as lead slugs.
Ndoro buckled his weapon on awkwardly. He had never quite got used to the feel of it, and had never even considered wearing a weapon for most of his sheltered life. The Company discouraged it except for piracy drills, but I was used to mine. When I was flying Daddy's old crate, there were plenty of times when a good weapon came in handy.
The pirate craft swooped in quickly. It was small and fast, about half our size and maybe six or seven times our speed. There was no way to outrun it, and by the time anyone got to us from earthside or Mare Tranq, we'd be dust floating in an uncertain orbit.
I thought fast as Ndoro checked the live ammunition in our automatic rifles. Not a whole lot was known about the past attacks because no one had survived. Only the panicky radio signals just before the blip on the screen blew into a bazillion tiny blips gave any hint of what had happened.
I hurried out to the passenger compartment and let them know the bad news. The seven business travelers went white and one of them grabbed for a sick bag. The ladies of the evening got very quiet.
"We'll do what we can to defend ourselves," I told them. "Does anyone have anything that might help?"
One of the ladies stood up. She was a big girl, tall and with a lot of weight. She pushed her masses of curly red hair back and said, "Gimme a gun, Captain. The sonsabitches aren't going to take me without a fight!"
The other ladies agreed, but Business Class shrank. One of the Company travelers managed to scream out in a higpitched little yowl that "it was no use and we were all gonna die." That's what I liked, optimism in the face of danger.
I threw Big Red my rifle and motioned for Ndoro to dig out what few remaining weapons we had in the locker. I knew there was a Company-issue sidearm in there - the one they had issued me.
"Okay, First Officer," I said as the pirate craft banged into ours. "I guess this is it." I flipped on the little beam weapons on the outside of the 'Linda Rae.' They didn't work.
The noise on the side of our hull gave away the pirate location. At least we could be ready for whatever came through the hole. The passengers, except for three armed women, hid back behind the service counter while Ndoro and I flanked the spot where we thought they might be coming through. The armed women took up covered positions like pros.
The force of the explosions knocked us all on our asses, and I struggled to regain control of the Glock. Smoke cleared a bit to reveal a jagged opening in the side of the wall as we were sprayed with beam weapons. The passengers were screaming, the pirates were screaming, the shuttle was groaning and the weapons were making a racket, too. The scream of one of the ladies was cut short by instant death as a beam weapon cut her in two.
Big Red aimed carefully and shot the first pirate who came through the crude door. The beams bounced off the light armor and merely served to attract the pirate's attention. He turned toward her with a large weapon.
I melted the side of his head off with my Glock and he crumpled, an obstacle for the others who tried to swarm through behind him.
Big Red flashed me a grin and dropped to the floor for cover. The next two who came through met similar resistance as Big Red trained her rifle on their unprotected faces. Identification was going to be a problem, I thought, unless these guys had fingerprints or something. The usual biometrics, retinal and facial structure scans, weren't going to have much to go on.
We must have made somebody pretty mad, because a fully-armored figure leaped into the shuttle with one of the biggest spray-guns I have ever seen.
You know, up until then I had discounted First Officer Ndoro's training as being of the panty-waist fire drill sort. But Ndoro saw an opportunity, and heaved himself through the opening, disappearing into the pirate craft. I couldn't tell if he survived long enough to pick off one or two of the invaders.
I tried to get a good shot at the spray-gun guy, and Big Red was trying to hit him, too, but there was no way to penetrate the armor, and this guy was wearing a full face helmet. Beams pinged off him, and I realized that very soon we would be out of ammunition.
I heard the unmistakable sound of the pirate's airlock closing and sealing. Shit, I thought, if they disconnect now, we're goners.
Spray-gun heard it, too, and whipped around with a yelp. He jumped through the hole in our ship and banged on the airlock with his gun.
I looked around. The deck was covered in blood, and there were at least two pirate bodies down, maybe three. I could see the bodies of two ladies, too, but no sign of Big Red or the business class travelers. I assumed they were all hiding behind the service counter. I hoped they were too scared to make any noise.
Spray-gun turned to me and raised his weapon, then thought better of it. "You!" he said, motioning with it, "Get over by the door!"
I moved slowly to the jagged opening in the hull of my ship. A soft plastic material adhered all around it, sealing it from the vacuum outside. The airlock door to other ship was fitted out with external hardware, something airlock doors never came with. In space, who would come knocking?
Spray-gun rapped on the airlock door. Someone rapped back, but the door didn't budge. Spray-gun aimed his weapon at the door's hardware, then must have remembered that disabling the airlock would trap us all in a bizarre coupling, each ship unable to go anywhere, and when the fuel ran out, we'd be just as dead as if we stepped out into space, only it would be slower and less pleasant.
"Oh, crap," he said disgusted. "You, get over there and get your radio on." He waved the spray-gun around again, so I did as I was told. The radio console was on the bridge, the tiny cubbyhole where Ndoro and I flew the ship. I ducked into it and turned the communications center back on. Crackling static greeted me.
Spray-gun shoved me aside and began fiddling with the controls. "Answer, goddam it!" he shouted.
"Hey, Captain, you there?" Ndoro's voice came through loud and clear.
I grinned. Ndoro had made it. "I'm here," I replied.
"Open the fucking door!" Spray-gun demanded.
"Uh, I don't think so," Ndoro said. "You'd just shoot me and take off. I can't let that happen."
"I'll kill your captain," Spray-gun threatened, "and everyone on board this shit bucket!"
Ndoro seemed to think it over. "No, I don't think so," he said again. "You can kill everyone there if you want to. It doesn't matter to me. I can fly this thing away and just let you all pop like sausages." The prospect seemed to please him.
I got a little nervous and regretted all the teasing I had given Ndoro. Hell, I was only kidding. Couldn't he take a joke?
Spray-gun tried again. "Open the door or I'll kill them all one by one." He looked around. Everyone he could see, except me of course, was already dead. He might have suspected there were others, but he couldn't see them. I weighed the chances of taking him out with my little Glock and the help of whomever was still alive and functional behind the counter before he could spray me with concentrated death. The scales tipped heavily in his favor.
I could hear Ndoro laughing over the radio. "Forget it, pal," he said. "I'm takin' off!" There was an ominous noise as the engines of the speedcraft revved up. Ndoro was testing the controls.
"Wait!" I shouted, "Ndoro! You'll kill us all!"
"Tough break, Captain," he said. "I always wanted my own ship, and this little thing is a beauty."
I just stood there, stunned and enraged. The little bastard! Spray-gun wasn't too thrilled with the situation, either. He banged his weapon against the door again and shouted some obscenities.
"Hey! Wait!" Big Red came out of hiding. Spray-gun wheeled around, weapon drawn. He looked at her, all six feet of voluptuous creamy flesh and gorgeous red hair, and lowered his weapon. Did I mention she had removed her bloodstained jumpsuit?
"Jeezus," he whispered in admiration. I was admiring her too, not so much for her physical attributes as for her nerve.
"Take me with you," she implored the airwaves, her voice reaching Ndoro. "I don't want to go to Tranq, I want to go with you!" She moved toward the door. "Come on, you don't need these losers, but you could use someone like me." Ndoro seemed to hesitate.
Great, I thought. Ndoro and Big Red fly off to happy-ever-after while I get to die with a lunatic pirate, a couple of prostitutes and a bunch of Company whiners. This whole experience was shaping up badly.
"Okay," Ndoro said over the radio. He popped the lock on the door and a whoosh of stale air let me know that the little pirate craft wasn't exactly equipped for intergalactic travel. Big Red avoided the rough and sharp edges and the door closed behind her.
I turned to Spray-gun. "Now what?" I asked.
"Whaddya mean?" he said indignantly. "Why look at me? This whole operation has been one fucking disaster! How the hell do I know what to do? He's your First Officer," he pointed out. He tried to rub his face, but the helmet was in the way. He took it off and I saw that he wasn't half bad to look at.
None of this sounded very reassuring to the folks on the floor behind the counter, and I thought I could hear the gentle heave of quiet weeping back there. At least they were keeping the noise level down.
I had run out of ideas, not that I'd had any great ones lately anyway, and Spray-gun was clearly at the end of his rope, too. I wondered what led someone into a life of piracy. I think I would have asked him if the airlock door hadn't suddenly jerked open.
"Lookee here!" Big Red cried. She was propping up the inert form of Ndoro in front of the threshold. She had his sidearm buckled around her ample waist.
"Oh, no you don't!" I said as Spray-gun made a move toward the door. I had the little Glock aimed at his face. "Drop the weapon," I ordered.
He just stood there. "Does it get any worse?" he asked with resignation, then let the gun clatter to the floor.
Big Red left Ndoro's body on the floor of the shuttle and stepped over the threshold panting. Spray-gun couldn't take his eyes off her.
I heard whimpers from behind the counter and realized I'd had enough of the whole thing. "You!" I said to Big Red. "Is he dead?" I asked, looking at Ndoro.
She shook her head. "Naw, I just knocked him out." She was still looking at Spray-gun. I could almost hear the violins as they locked their eyes on one another. It's always boring when you're not a participant.
"Okay, so you came back for true love," I sighed, "now let's get to work. Come on out of there," I said to the whimperers and the remaining women. They crawled out, businessmen last. The women seemed a little disoriented and the men were clearly in shock. I told the two moonstruck lovers to count and identify the dead.
"Two each," Big Red said in a dreamy voice. "Isn't that romantic?"
"Three, Beautiful," Spray-gun corrected her gently. "I had three."
I sighed again and ushered everyone onto the speedcraft, keeping a close watch on Spray-gun, not that anyone could watch him closer than Big Red. It was a very tight fit. Counting the unconscious Ndoro, there were thirteen of us on a craft designed to hold four. The ship was extremely small and the air was so bad it nauseated me to breathe through my nose, so I didn't. I closed the airlock door.
When we disengaged, my old shuttle blew like popcorn in a microwave, and I set the speedcraft controls on a course for Mare Tranq. But I didn't radio the authorities. Instead, I spent a couple of stifling hours thinking about the plastic material that had sealed the pirate craft to the 'Linda Rae.' In sufficient quantities, it could have probably sealed the whole breach in the hull and saved the shuttle. Oh, well.
I looked around at the sardines in my present tin. "What am I going to do with you all?" I asked, more to myself than to any of them.
Admiralty law would normally expect me to bring Spray-gun in on piracy charges and prosecute Ndoro for mutiny. But the way I was feeling, I just wanted to get everyone out of my hair and get some rest. Besides, I was going to have to explain the loss of the shuttle and cargo to the Company. And there was the matter of the dead, two ladies and three pirates.
Oh, and did I mention that the punishment for both piracy and mutiny was death? Is that what I wanted for Spray-gun and Ndoro? Well, Ndoro, maybe. . .
By the time we got to Mare Tranq, my nose had grown used to the stench, the whiners were all quietly unconscious thanks to Big Red and her two remaining ladies, Ndoro was begging for mercy and Spray-gun was making wedding plans.
"Can I interrupt your bridal shower for just one moment?" I asked. He looked up with a goofy grin. He had been drawing pictures of the cake. I was amazed and slightly revolted to learn that his real name was Lester Snipely. Even Spray-gun was a better name than that. "What do you propose I do with you once we land?"
"Uh, well, you could just let us go," he suggested amiably. "Red and I want to get married and start our own business. The girls will work for us and I think we can make a go of things in Mare Tranq." This from a pirate who had been responsible for five deaths a few hours ago. Somehow the thought of them running a pleasure palace wasn't too far off the wall, though. How much damage could they do there?
"And what about you?" I asked Ndoro. Ndoro was now a willing slave, begging and groveling at every cramped and smelly turn. I really wanted to execute him.
"Anything, Captain," he said, "anything."
Anything can mean a lot.
The Company authorities at Mare Tranq kept me busy. We went over my story at least a hundred times, but as there was no conflicting testimony, and as I had a dozen witnesses, they finally had to accept my version of things, which fingered the dead pirates as ringleaders, with Spray-gun as their unwilling captive and Ndoro playing a minor hero in the proceedings.
At Mare Tranq, Big Red became Mrs. Lester Snipely in a lavish ceremony. She had two beautiful young bridesmaids and Ndoro was the best man. As I remarked at the time, I guess he was the best they could do. I was the maid of honor and caught the bouquet, too. Lucky me.
They put me back on the earth to Mare Tranq run again, only in a nice, new shuttle. The Company assigned me a new First Officer, too - a handsome young woman who took her duties seriously and spied on me whenever she thought I wasn't looking. I guess the Company never really believed my version of events, but there was nothing they could do. After all, I was the captain, and by Admiralty law, I could dispose of the situation as I saw fit.
Ndoro is now captain of another shuttle, the 'Dory Hall,' on the earth to Sagan run. I see him once in a while, whenever I need a favor. Or whenever I need information and a partner. You see, I kept Lester's speedcraft and every once in a while, when Ndoro tells me there's going to be a large shipment of something tasty with little to nothing in the way of passengers, I put it to good use and the pirates strike again.
Biography: "I write in Pasadena, CA and have enjoyed several successes this year including "Just Like in the Movies" - Blue Murder; "On the Other Hand" Cozy Detective; and "The Chinese Tinker Belle" - Dream Forge; and a forthcoming story, "After the Fall Comes Winter" - Titan.
I look forward to hearing from you."
Kate can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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