Boots frowned as he stood hunched over the pilot. “[Wait.]”
The new hand – Split, if his IFF was reading correctly, paused his piloting, holding stationary next to the much larger cargo ship. “[What’s wrong?]”
“[Just wait. Let’s see what Orange Team has to say.]”
The Dorarizin pilot shrugged, tilting her head to the side as she took her hands off of the thruster controls. The boarding craft puttered slightly as it’s AI attempted to remain geostationary to it’s target, and after doing so the craft fell silent. “[Just figured we’d get the umbilical lined up and ready to go.]”
Boots – the Green team leader – slipped his tongue between his teeth to pick out a morsel of food in thought. “[I don’t like getting in without the go-ahead from Orange. Usually gets violent if everyone doesn’t know their part.]”
“[Fair.]” Split said, her helmet cycling through various cameras and feeds as her body tugged against the straps of her cockpit seat. “[We’re lined up regardless to a midship airlock, so you’ll be in within 30 seconds once we get the go-ahead.]”
Split was rewarded with an appreciative pat on the top of her helmet. “[Good. Let us know when and we’ll tube out.]” Boots said, smiling not unkindly. “[I want this done, quick and clean.]”
= = =
Sassafras frowned as she hunched over her console, listening to her crew give status updates.
“[-and no signals are getting out of system. We’re not getting any hails.]” Licorice said, his hands still working furiously over his console as he cycled through various transmission frequencies, modes and methods aboard the good ship Perfect. “[Well. No hails save for the … what looks like a repurposed pleasure schooner. Probably command ship for this little excursion.]”
“[And the crap attached to my ship?]” Sassafras said, rubbing her now-aching neck.
Sunflower shook his head, yellow feathers splayed out. “[Not good. Looks like a mechanically-repeating EMP of some sort; all I know is that my friends in Engineering can’t safely connect diagnostic computers to our capacitors or phases matter drives without risk of overload. The pulses are timed, but overlapping – we’ll never get through a startup routine without another disabling shock.]”
Sassafras sighed. “[So what do we think?]”
“[Disruption mines.]” Lilybean the Dorarizin said, cycling through external cameras. “[Effective tactic, but you have to be close ranged to do it. In another life we’d use them to disrupt ships outside of problematic jurisdictions. Slap ‘em on, and if they’re not noticed and they warp, at some point in their journey…]” She trailed off, but the dots were already connected.
“[Well we didn’t have these things on when we left port.]” Sunflower said, musing. “[So that’s what hit our ship? I was expecting boarders.]”
“[Getting another hail, Captain.]” Licorice said. “[Should I let them through this time? I don’t know how much longer we’ll buy time with our silence before they just decide to do something.]”
Sassafras looked down in thought for a moment. “[All of the fun lockers emptied?]”
“[Very well then.]” Sassafras said, straightening out her clothing into something less pajama-party and more presentable. “[Hopefully it won’t come to that. Let them through.]”
It was incredibly disappointing when Nate first saw a ship-to-ship communication, because unlike Human ships which are built as God intended with only a single giant viewscreen that everyone can look to and make faces at, most inter-ship communications opened up on a few key people’s terminals as a small indicator window. If the communication needed to be shared to the entire bridge, then everyone got a little indicator window on their terminal screen. That’s not saying that there wasn’t a super-large viewscreen at one end of the ship’s bridge, just that when people needed to get work done it was best to pay attention to your work station and not the giant head talking at you.
The screen was still great for movie nights though.
Regardless, there were a couple dozen pings as the communication went through; an elderly Karnakian bowed his head slightly once the connection was made.
“[Good day to you and yours, friend.]”
Sassafras let out a single, mirthless laugh. “[It is neither day nor night, nor good, and we are not friends. But, I appreciate the attempt.]”
The greying Karnakian wiggled his head a bit from side to side, letting out a musical chuckle of his own. “[My, I’m sorry. I represent a group of industrious individuals who would like to assist you in delivering your cargo and spending your GRC to parts unknown.]”
“[You trying to reach a word count or something? You could just call it piracy like everyone else.]” Sassafras murmured, leaning back slightly in her seat.
“[I like making the experience memorable, madam captain; you’ll have a story to tell all your hatchlings and odds are we’ll never meet again.]” The Karnakian said, dipping his head once more. “[But, you can call me Bones – I’m reduced to them, you see. Can’t afford a good meal, and I’m hoping you can help us out with this. Groups like ours get bad… optics, but really we’re free-market capitalists – not murderers.]”
Bones shook his arms in a happy display. “[Exactly! Oh, this will be a quick transaction! Now we have some auditors who would like permission to come aboard-]”
“[No.]” Sassafras said, point-blank. “[Let’s just send you some GRC, you pop these mines off my ship, and we part ways. No one comes aboard, no one gets hurt.]”
Bones chuckled. “[My, I do love to negotiate! My associates and I noticed some incredibly large transactions you’ve made into the local economy-]”
Sassafras closed her eyes, maintaining her external poker face… Internally, she was wondering if the Galactic IRS would’ve been easier to deal with.
“[-and, well. From a, what is one of your phrases – roughskin? From a roughskin to you, these kind of deposits are best made over multiple systems.]”
“[…Wait, what?]” Sassafras said, eyes snapping open.
“[Ah, I love seeing the youth be creative!]” Bones said, grinning. “[But if you’re going to be smuggling goods and laundering credits, you want to be slow about it. Personally, we still have accounts and product we haven’t moved in decades – all to make sure the trail is as cold as can be.]”
Sassafras shook her head, frowning. “[Y- We’re not smugglers!]”
Bones sighed, folding his hands on his terminal in view of the camera. “[We’re not in a court of law, sweet. I don’t know what you moved to that system, or what your contacts told you to do, but when a small crew drops millions of creds into the regional banking system, people are going to notice.]”
Sassafras let out an exasperated groan, and Bones nodded knowingly. “[Rookie mistake. But! This is a wonderful learning opportunity! Now-]”
“[No. Just clean out our bank accounts and move on – it’s not worth your time.]”
Bones smiled softly, his head tilting from side to side slightly. “[No, sweet. It’s… asking is a formality. Our boarders are in place, and we want to let you know that we’re coming in to audit your ship.]”
“[And if I tell you, again, that it’s not worth your time?]”
The Karnakian shrugged, nonplussed. “[We’ll be the judge of that.]”
= = =
There is a misnomer that there is no sound in space. This is both true, and slightly inaccurate: sure, there’s no sound-sound, but there’s still vibration, especially if you’re attaching a parasitic umbilical cord to an airlock. There’s the vibration of magnetic clamps sealing, the way the nanite-forged teeth bite into the surrounding ship skin feels like angry punctuation, and then there’s the forced-screw motors physically turning the mechanical gears against the will of the ship open.
If you floated inside the cord, you’d feel nothing. If you held onto one of the support bars, you felt everything.
Boots tightened his grip on the aluminum bar, causing minor denting. “[Guns down. Orange is saying they’re smugglers, so let’s not topple any trains here. You hear me, doorman?]”
Doorman waved his hand dismissively, his body coiled around multiple umbilical frame supports. “[Yep. Outer airlock door is open, chamber one is depressurized. Going to move to open chamber two – bar.]”
Bar moved up, the Dorarizin wedging a hydraulic bar on the “floor” of the door, keeping the airlock forced open. “[Bar’s in place. And Bar is in place.]” She said, moving into the airlock with the Jornissian. The entire crew shuffled forward in an off-putting mockery of a disembarking crew, each waiting their turn to be called off-ship.
Bar pried away part of the airlock interior, exposing the industrial machinery behind it. “[Prepare for atmo.]” Doorman said as he wedged in a second forced-screw motor, beginning to turn the gears. “[Initial flow… now.]”
The inner airlock door slowly gapped open.
There was no hiss of air. No flooding of atmosphere, of ambient sounds.
The inner airlock door widened to silence.
“[Aha!]” Boots laughed, causing a few head-turns. “[Voiding the interior of the ship! They do have something juicy on board!]”
At this, a few of his boarding team seemed to hold themselves with more energy; Boots smacked a few helmets as he made his way forward. “[Ah! No! No heroes. This is to slow us down – but don’t get trigger-happy! This ship could be made of solid gold, or hold nothing at all.]” He stopped outside the exterior airlock door, watching the interior slide fully open. Bar dropped a second bar on the “floor” of the airlock, forcing it open as Doorman peered out the side.
“[Well?]” Bar said, shoving the mess they made to the side of the airlock to make for better throughways.
“[Every bulkhead is sealed shut – on either side. They’re making this a maximum pa-]”
Doorman never got to finish that thought – or any other, as his body jerked to the side, helmet blooming open as what was left of the Jornissian’s head exited his suit, painting the airlock door and walls with his remains. Bar pushed himself backwards, and Boots-
Boots walked forward, stepping on the cooling body of his former colleague.
“[Why can’t we all just get along?]” He sighed, tossing a flashbang out into the interior hallway.
= = = =
Toko frowned as he looked down the empty “sight” of his auto-turret.
“|That’s one for meeeee~|” Tiki trilled over the commbead, his sister singing in his ear.
Toko flicked through multiple cameras on the ship; no boarders. “|Not fair. You knew which side they were approaching us on-|”
“|Mmmm that might be two!|” Tiki crooned, letting out a very unladylike giggle. “|Oh, how I missed this part of the job! And my boy is built to spec-|”
“|That’s the only way a boy would stick with you-|”
Tiki laughed as her auto-turret moved with the tilting of her head; she thumbed through various EM frequencies to attempt to see through the smoke. “|Aww, don’t be mad that my little turret has pleased more women than you!|”
“|I wouldn’t call you a woman.|” Toko said, sighing with relief that one of his guarded airlock doors exploded inward with a shaped charge, and that he’d finally see some action. “|Demon possessed? Sure. Insane? Certified. Horrific flesh amalgamation masquerading as one of the everbright?|”
“|J e a l o u s.|” Tiki chanted, firing off another few rounds from her auto-turret. The machine was stationed a few bulkheads in front of her actual position; once they forced their way through the first set of doors (and dealt with the shrapnel and pressure wave of an exploding auto-turret) they’d have to then force their way through multiple other trap-filled rooms to eventually get to her position… if she stayed exactly where she was for the potential hours that would take.
She wouldn’t, of course; it’s fun to remotely use a weapon that can fire flechette rounds through bulkheads, but it’s more fun to do it manually.
“|T’ch. They’re deploying chaff.|”
“|Then fire wildly and with abandon into the room!|” Tiki sing-songed, doing exactly that on her side of the ship. “|All friendlies are accounted for~!|”
“|. . . |” Toko sighed. “|Exactly what did [Drongo] give you?|”
“|The good shit.|” Tiki growled, setting her autoturret to “fuck it” and turning the bulkhead before it into a screen door.
“|And how long does the good shit last?|” Toko said, letting slight concern slip into his voice. Tiki picked up on the tone change and hummed.
Tiki sang. “|Brother. I’ll be OK~|”
Tiki laughed at something happening on her side, before returning to the call. “|Anyway – Detonating! I’ll see you in engineering~|”
= = =
Bones frowned as he looked over the makeshift command terminal. His crew had nothing near actual military gear; jailbroken civilian and industrial equipment with some off-spec weapons were all he was used to working with. Sometimes the data that came in to the bridge of whatever ship they stole a few years ago was wrong, and one had to adjust to the new reality.
“[All of it. Every single last credit.]” Sassafras said, tapping her console with her knuckles. “[All of the GRC in our corporate and private accounts; just leave us alone. We are not worth it.]”
The new reality, being, that his boarding crews were being massacred. The first few deaths were unfortunate, but well within the variance of such a task; a hot-blooded security guard, or some old former vet trying to save everyone takes out one or two crewmates every once in a while. That hero is then either beaten into a coma or ‘unfortunately’ killed in the ensuing firefight, and the plan unfolds with less asking and more pistol-whipping.
But this? Actual military-grade auto-turrets. Aerosolized ionized fluroantimonic acid sprays. Hells below, there was even one point where they used atmospheric variances to cause a forced explosive decompression.
“[Bones? It’s been 4 hours. We’re not worth it. We’re offering you, what – 100M GRC? More?]” The Jornissian said, staring directly into the camera. “[Take it. Leave us alone.]”
The problem was, at some point it became less “what is the ROI” and more “what are they hiding?” Bones knew once they returned to base he’d have to pay his king with one of his wings, so to speak, but this was not an ordinary ship.
Whatever they were carrying, it could be the last and final job for everyone.
…well. Everyone who survived.
He muted his transmission, looping the past few silent seconds in repeat to Sassafras, as he turned in his seat. “[Black team. Yellow. What can you give me?]”
One of the Dorarizin Black team crew members leaned back, humming appreciatively as he picked out a loose tooth. “[Nothing. They’re locked up tight; definitely a retrofitted ship, but outside that and a physical connection to one of their unencrypted nodes, I got nothing. Still scrambling their transmissions for what it’s worth.]”
Bones tipped his head. “[Good. Yellow?]”
Another Karnakian scanned their external cameras for a few moments before inhaling… then pausing.
“[Yellow?]” Bones prodded, turning to face the older female fully.
“[I think… they’re playing a dangerous game.]” Yellow team lead said, poking her head forward and flipping through more images. “[And I don’t mean that with the actual combat – I mean… I think they’re dealing appreciable structural damage to their ship.]”
Bones raised a claw in thought, scratching the underside of his chin. “[That… that I can work with.]” With a thought he unpaused the communication, staring at the unblinking Jornissian captain with a slight frown.
“[Take the GRC and go.]” She repeated, and Bones sighed.
“[Sassafras. We’re not leaving until we audit your ship-]”
The Jornissian Captain finally lost her cool, slamming her fists onto her terminal. “[For pity’s sake, why? You can’t have more bodies to throw at us-]”
“[That’s exactly why!]” Bones roared, finally happy to get some emotion from the frigid bitch he’d been negotiating with for the last few hours. “[Look at you! A cargo ship with this much military equipment? With fighters? And you’re not giving us an inch – our engineers see that you’re even damaging your own ship to stop us. What are you carrying that’s so precious?!]”
There was a beat, a pause of silence, before Bones leaned forward. “[We’re more than happy to scuttle your ship and leave a jammer in orbit for a few days – come back when you’re more reasonable to a deal. You can’t have too many rations stashed away, and a little hunger would do well to clear your mind.]”
Sassafras leaned back in her seat, silent, as Bones pressed his advantage. “[We are hitting a point of no return here; I can’t go back empty handed-]”
“[NO.]” Bones growled, pointing an accusing finger forward at Sassafras. “[No. No, I will know what my crew died for, and it’s not for some fucking GRC! Now your ship is still serviceable, but we start detonating some of those mines and you’re not getting out of interplanetary space in the next few millenia!]”
There was another pause as Bones inhaled deeply, cooling the internal fire that had burst forth. “[We don’t want to kill, but we will. The … math has changed on this deal, unfortunately, and we’ve reached an inflection point.]”
He opened his eyes, meeting Sassafras’ cool stare with his own. “[The choice is yours, but you will make it now. Relent, and we will be merciful, or don’t – and we’ll take what we want from the expanding wreckage of your ship.]”
Sassafras looked down for a moment, before coming to a conclusion.
“[Alright. No retaliation, and we stand down.]”
“[FINALLY.]” Bones cheered, raising his arms to the heavens. “[Was that so hard?!]”
= = =
There was screaming. This, in and of itself, was nothing new on The Perfect, but the person who was screaming was very new to the ship and really didn’t know how things were done around the place.
The visitor was disheveled; his combat suit was broken, ripped in a dozen places. This would be a death sentence if not for the fact that he survived the explosive decompression trap – the atmosphere was now low but livable. He was lightheaded from the lack of oxygen – or maybe it was all the bleeding; his tuned-up civilian auto-doc was doing it’s best to keep him alive, and his adrenaline was keeping him conscious, so… it was working out.
It wasn’t working out well, but it was working out nonetheless. Half of his helmet was gone, the victim of some damned booby trap. Half of the weapon he held clenched in his fist was charred to uselessness – the other half was somewhere a few hundred meters behind him. He wasn’t necessarily missing a boot so much as the boot had turned into a plastic slug and was now permanently bonded to his foot. He was using said boot-nub to kick open the gears of the bulkhead before him to very little effect. He would be using a forced-screw gear turner, but his team ran out of those and had to do it the manual way.
Then he started to run out of his team.
But to top it all off? To add insult to incredibly severe injury was the fact that at some point one of the shrapnel explosions contained glitter.
He held dying crew-mates in his arms as they glittered into the afterlife.
Suddenly the bulkhead door lowered into the floor, fluidly, on working hydraulics. Boots stared incredulously at the now-cooperative mechanics, before unsteadily looking up and down the hallway to an entirely non-plussed suited Dorarizin.
“[Sir, this is a medbay, and I’m going to have to ask you to be silent.]”
“[A-ah?]” Boots whined, lowering his arms. “[Aaa.]”
The Dorarizin doctor turned and opened the doors to his medbay, a pair of what looked like some form of Karnakian monks holding each other gently.
The door slid shut, and Boots spent the next few minutes in silenced – and stunned, reflection, before unceremoniously passing out.