Episode105: Trapped by Mutiny

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Sheffield's fire team froze for a critical instant as their boss died in a spray of blood. Maccabee was already diving sideways, rushing to find cover. Yakazuma opened fire with her own two millimeter railpistol, putting carefully aimed bursts into target after target. Selkirk was simply standing there, his heavy, chemical-powered sidearm in both hands, covering his captain. A man turned this way, and Selkirk shot him in the face; the nine millimeter slug shattered his skull and he toppled backwards.

The rest of the team was coming from the back and sides, and as Maccabee slid behind a garbage container, he saw Samara picking off targets with a blundergun, her laser pistol left behind as too easy to pick up on scans. The blundergun fired packets of microshot linked by monofilament wire that turned any flesh it hit into ground meat, and Maccabee's XO used it with ruthless efficiency. She didn't care if she killed or not, so long as she disabled, and two men went down with shattered legs, screaming in horror and pain. Alger had a snub-nosed shotgun in his big hands--how he had hid it was beyond Maccabee--and he was firing eighteen millimeter slugs into the midst of the melee, each one throwing its victim backwards several meters. No one Alger hit kept moving.

In a moment, it was over. Maccabee stood up again, turning in a circle as Yakazuma and Selkirk converged on him. Their smiles and joking grins were gone, replaced by a hard-eyed coldness that Maccabee recognized in himself. There were only a handful of people in his crew who could not be considered professional killers, and only one of those people was with him here: Massat Sel was staying very, very close to Samara and Alger, while Ashburn was covering their backs with her own railpistol. Sel was carrying a small railpistol of his own, and he knew quite well how to fire it, but he was never quite comfortable in combat.

The group converged at the side of the street. Dead bodies littered the ground, but four of Sheffield's fire team had managed to surrender before they were gunned down, and they were now sitting, back-to-back in a circle, Alger covering them with his shotgun. No other station crew were apparent, the rest having fled for cover. Maccabee was feeling very nervous about that, however. There were definitely more weapons on this station, and they were probably being moved into place right now to use against him.

"Anyone hurt?" asked Maccabee as he stepped over to Samara's side and lowered his gun. Yakazuma and Selkirk could provide cover for the moment.

"I don't think they got off a shot," said Samara. She didn't trust the others to watch for her, and her head turned from side to side, scanning the street while she talked to her captain. "Poor bastards."

"Yeah," said Maccabee. He didn't feel very bad for them, all things considered. Presumably the station commander was dead at the hands of these people, and who knew how many others had been loyal to the commander and shared his fate or worse. Maccabee glanced around for Devverin, but there was no sign of the so-called ensign.

Sel was moving quickly, low to the ground, collecting the dropped weapons of the dead and surrendered. He brought the whole pile back to the group and passed out the three millimeter rifles. They were old designs, and poorly cared-for too, but they might provide the extra edge. Maccabee had not thought to bring enough firepower to deal with the entire station. He nodded to Sel as he took one of the proffered weapons. Sel then proceeded to spike the power cells of the remaining guns, rendering them worse than useless; they would be actively dangerous to use now, and nearly impossible to repair.

"Cap," said Ming's voice in Maccabee's ear. He nearly started in surprise but suppressed the movement just in time.

"Ming," he said.

"Got a problem here, boss," said Ming. Maccabee thought he heard something in the background. "Some uninvited guests want to get inside. They don't have anything bigger than a railpistol at the moment, but they're not shy about using ammo." The last word was nearly cut off by the sound of dozens of impacts hammering on the shuttle. The small ship was armored against micrometeor impacts, which applied much the same force as a railpistol, but repeated hits in the same location might penetrate; a plasma rifle or similar weapon could very well overwhelm the seals or blow out a window.

"Get clear, Ming," ordered Maccabee. He saw Samara nodding; she could hear the same com channel as he. "Now."

"You'll be on your own, boss," said Ming. She sounded genuinely worried.

"Go. Now. That's an order, Ming."

"On it." Maccabee could almost see an ugly smile on her face. "Those guys inside the airlock are in for a nasty day." A moment later, Maccabee heard a loud groaning noise, followed by a much louder BANG! as the seal on the airlock gave way. "I am clear, captain," said Ming. Her voice suddenly sounded more sober. Maccabee understood why: Everyone who lived and worked in space eventually saw a person die from exposure to vacuum. It was a horrible fate, and one that every spacer feared. The day you stopped being terrified of the vacuum was the day it took you.

"Get back to the ship, Ming," said Maccabee firmly. He didn't want her hanging around in space in that paper-walled death trap.

"I'm not leaving you on board that heap, captain," replied Ming. He recognized her stubborn streak.

"We're going to have words when I'm back on Hornet, Ming," growled Maccabee.

"Captain," said Samara, "they're coming. We've got to move."

"I know, boss," answered Ming, nearly speaking over top of Samara. "Get moving, OK?"

"Captain," said Alger, his voice loud. "Thirty armed people. They're advancing from up-station, sir. Look heavily armed."

Maccabee turned and looked himself. The people coming on were more cautious, now that they'd seen the fate of Sheffield's team; they were using buildings as cover, moving slowly from point to point. Their movements suggested they were amateurs, but they had a rudimentary concept of the main rule of small-arms combat: Don't be caught out in the open. Unfortunately for them, Maccabee needed to gain control of the station, and to do that, he had to go through them.

"OK, we're going that way. We don't have time to wait them out. Alger, Samara, Ashburn, you take the other side of the street. The rest of you, with me. Watch out for people in the buildings; there are other ways into this street than right down the middle."

He motioned for them to move, and the three he'd detailed for the other side of the street dashed across in low crouches while Selkirk popped up and started firing down the open atrium. The big bangs of his gun and the shocking sound of the bullets hitting home around them kept the new fire team from shooting back, and Alger, Samara and Ashburn crossed safely. Maccabee turned, then, and pointed his gun at the four prisoners sitting on the ground.

"Get up and run like hell, or I shoot you now," he said to them. They didn't need more prompting; all four scrambled to their feet and took off at flat-out runs, then ducked aside into buildings. Maccabee didn't like that, but he didn't feel he had much choice-- they'd surrendered, and he wasn't in the habit of killing people in cold blood. Not yet. At least they were unarmed for the moment.

"Let's move," Maccabee said as he turned back to his team. Selkirk and Yakazuma just nodded and Sel forced a small smile.

Railpistol fire suddenly erupted from up-station, and Maccabee and the others ducked down behind the garbage container. Bullets tore into the metal box, then through it as though it was hardly there, and Maccabee felt a stinging in his leg as one round nicked him. Yakazuma rolled into the street, moving fast and firing as she went. There was a scream from up station. Maccabee jumped up and started firing from his inherited rifle as he dashed to a storefront. He saw the barrel of a pistol peeking out the doorway just in time, turned, and fired two ten-round bursts into the door. There was a gurgling gasp from inside followed by the distinctive sound of a body hitting the floor. Sel ducked down right behind Maccabee.

On the other side of the street, Samara stepped into full view, her gun held in one hand, and started shooting. A man fell into the street a hundred meters up-station, half his head torn away. Return fire came towards Maccabee's second, and she stepped aside, shifting her aim, but not to the shooter. Alger was behind her, still under cover, and he popped up and shot down the new target, the big slug from his gun going right through the woman's cover and tearing her arm off. She screamed and fell to the ground. Samara fired again and a third person fell, and then she stepped calmly into the next nearest doorway as rifle fire lashed back out at her. Maccabee saw her wince slightly as a bullet grazed her forehead.

Without warning, a plasma bolt streaked up the atrium from down-station, from the direction of the docking slips. The bolt smashed into the ceiling, blowing a crater into the overhead and shutting down the lights for two hundred meters in both directions as blue plasma fire dripped in great gobs to the floor. Suddenly the atrium was plunged into darkness. Then another bolt came up, this one lower. It sailed past Maccabee's crew and slammed into a building, sending a cascading sheet of fire another dozen meters along the facade of the structure.

"Fast advance," barked Maccabee over the com net. "Now!" The people attacking Ming at the shuttle bay had obviously decided to trap Hornet's crew in a pincer attack, and had very nearly succeeded. Only their inability to properly utilize their plasma cannon had stopped them from being successful, and Maccabee cursed himself for not being more careful. It just seemed implausible that so many people on the station would be a part of this effort, rather than just bystanders in the whole event.

Maccabee and his crew started running forwards. They were trained to function in all environments, in all situations, and they were facing untrained enemies who barely knew how to shoot their weapons. The situation was dangerous, but the advantage was with Hornet and her crew. Maccabee ran past two people in hiding in a doorway, spun, and shot them down with an even thirty bullets from the rifle. Then he ducked down as another plasma shot sailed up the atrium to explode in the center of the street fifty meters behind him. Shots rang out to left and right, and Maccabee pushed up onto one knee, found a target, and pulled the trigger. Another twenty rounds, and another body hit the pavement.

Tossing the dry rifle aside, Maccabee pulled out his pistol again and turned to collect Sel. The small man was limping, and Maccabee pulled him close as they ducked behind a large planter holding a shabby-looking tree.

"Are you hurt?" asked Maccabee.

"Shot clean through the calf," said Sel, his voice tight with pain. "I slapped a bandage on it, but I think it's still bleeding."

"We'll get off this dump, Sel, don't worry. Stick close." Maccabee linked back into his com. "Selkirk."

"Captain?" came Selkirk's voice. Then there was the sound of Selkirk's gun shooting and the strangled scream of a person shot through the throat. "Can I help you?"

"Sel's hit. Drop back to him and make sure he keeps up."


A moment later, Selkirk loomed up in the half-light of the atrium. The team had nearly reached the up-station end, where the lights were still active, and they cast odd shadows amongst the buildings. Selkirk ducked down by Maccabee and Sel.

"We'll be silhouetted on our way out, captain," he said as he quickly checked Sel's bandage. "Maybe we should use a side passage." It was as close to questioning Maccabee as Selkirk would ever come.

"Samara?" asked Maccabee over the com link. "Where are you?"

"Right across from you. We're holed up in a shop ten meters down-station. It has another door; leads into the back areas. Ashburn has it covered."

"Anyone hurt over there?" asked Maccabee.

"Bullet nicked me," she answered. "Otherwise we're fine. How is Sel?" Samara heard every conversation on the com net, as did Maccabee.

"He'll be all right." Maccabee looked down-station and saw that the plasma cannon was being moved up from the module's doorway to a hastily-built revetment constructed out of some sort of ceramacrete barriers. "We need to keep moving before they figure out how to aim that cannon."

"I recommend we get out of this atrium. It's just a big fire zone." Samara's voice had the emotionless, professional inflection it always took on when she was in combat, left-over habits from her days as a mercenary soldier. Maccabee trusted her judgement in this sort of thing, especially when it matched his own.

"OK, we're coming to you." Maccabee stood in a crouch and pulled Sel to his feet. Yakazuma appeared from the shadows to his left. Maccabee switched to the general com channel "My team is converging on Samara's, across and ten meters down-station. Everyone with a rifle, lay down cover fire. On my signal." He glanced down the atrium again and saw the cannon being shifted into its final position. It was time to go. "Now!"

Yakazuma, Alger and Samara moved into the clear and started laying down a devastating hail of railgun rounds and the atrium echoed with the thunder of the hypervelocity bullets cleaving through the air at many times the speed of sound. Maccabee was on his feet and running before anyone had even started firing, and he heard Selkirk pounding along behind him with Sel in tow. A few randomly placed shots came back up the other way, but nothing came close to Maccabee's team, and a moment later he was dashing past Samara and then Alger, and then he was inside the store they'd appropriated.

It looked to be a small cafe of some sort. Ashburn was not looking towards the front at all; her attention was fully focused on the rear entrance, which was closed. Maccabee turned and watched as Yakazuma stopped firing and dashed across the atrium; Selkirk was back outside, providing more cover fire. Alger tossed aside his spent rifle and pulled out his shotgun again, but did not fire it; the range was long for that weapon. A moment later Samara ran out as well, and then Yakazuma was across and the whole team dropped back into the store.

Whether by luck or a sudden understanding of the mechanics of targeting systems, the plasma bolt hit the storefront dead on a moment later. Maccabee saw the flickering blue light of the approaching shot just in time for his enhanced reflexes to throw up an arm in front of his face and start to fall backwards, and then the shot slammed home, blasting the facade into hurtling chunks of twisted metal and plastic. Liquid fire blossomed across the ceiling, then dripped down to the floor in glimmering blobs. The heat flash washed across Maccabee, and he felt his jacket catch fire a moment later. Moving faster than a normal human could have, Maccabee whipped the jacket off himself and threw it to the ground, then staggered to his feet.

The cafe was a broken, burning mess, and Maccabee's team was in it. He felt a horrible, empty feeling in the pit of his stomach. Selkirk was in front of him, and he was obviously dead. A torso-sized piece of the wall had landed on his head; Maccabee didn't need to see any more. Alger was pulling himself out from under a twisted piece of ceramasteel that had missed his chest by just a handful of centimeters and embedded itself a meter into the next wall. Samara was on her back, unconscious or dead, but without a visible sign of injury. Yakazuma had somehow gotten behind the counter, and she was standing up now, dusting herself off. Then her eyes fell on Selkirk's body.

Maccabee grabbed Yakazuma as she tried to leave the store, spun her, and threw her back into the counter she'd leapt over a moment before. She spun, her gun up and pointing right at Maccabee's face. He didn't move.

"Damn it," said Yakazuma in a strangled voice. "Just move!"

"Don't do it, Amathea," said Maccabee.

She stared at him across the barrel of her gun for another moment, her face twisted in agony, and then she holstered the gun and stepped around her captain. He didn't watch as she knelt beside Selkirk's body and started to shift the piece of metal that had killed her friend. Instead, he moved quickly to Samara's side. Ashburn was already there; she seemed completely unharmed, but her face was grim. She looked up as Maccabee knelt by Samara.

"She's alive," said Ashburn, her voice quiet. Sel came up behind her. He was limping from the shot he'd taken to his leg, but the blast had apparently not hurt him either. He'd been at the back of the shop with Ashburn. "I can't get her to wake up, though," continued the engineer.

"We need to move," said Alger from the front of the store. He was looking out through the wreckage. "I think they're replacin' the power cell on the cannon; maybe the last one was bad." A plasma cannon could normally fire at least two dozen rounds at the power setting the station's crew was using. "Some of them are movin' up, though." Alger ducked his head aside as a sudden fusilade of small-arms fire started pinging off the remains of the store's facade.

"Alger," said Maccabee, "help Ashburn with Samara." He stood and pulled out his gun, then yanked Yakazuma to her feet. "You're point, Amathea." She shot him a murderous stare, but she knew the realities as well as anyone present. There was nothing left to be done for Robbie Selkirk.

A moment later, Yakazuma was pushing through the back door of the cafe, her own gun in her hands, Selkirk's pistol shoved into her belt. Her face was not a pretty sight. Maccabee knew that she would shoot anyone she saw in this station who was not from her ship; it didn't matter if they were armed, and it didn't matter whose side they were on. Maccabee did not much care about the fate of anyone on this station at this point, however.

"Clear," said Yakazuma a moment later. Sel hobbled after her into the corridor that backed up on the various stores along the atrium, followed by Alger and Ashburn with Samara. Maccabee brought up the rear. As he closed the door behind them, he heard another loud CRUMP! and the deck under his feet vibrated as another plasma round smacked into the store.

"Up-station, Yakazuma," he ordered calmly. A door opened behind the group, and Maccabee spun and fired before he saw who was moving. A man toppled into the corridor, his legs still in whatever room or hall he'd come from. Maccabee saw no sign of a weapon.

They started moving. Yakazuma was in no mood to wait for stragglers, and Maccabee had to call to her twice not to get too far ahead before they'd covered the hundred meters to the end of the module. The corridor they were in intersected a cross- passage here, and they turned right to head towards the connection between this module and the next. The narrow opening between modules was likely to be heavily guarded, but they had no choice; they needed to get to the command and control module before someone up there managed to get the guns online and turn them on Hornet. In a normal fight, Maccabee's ship would have won without too much difficulty, since the supercollector was essentially a stationary target, but this was no normal fight. Hornet was not going to blow away the majority of her command staff.

As though thinking of the ship had sent some signal, Maccabee heard the voice of Damien Russ over the com a moment later. "Captain?"

"This is Maccabee," replied the captain. "What is it, Russ?"

"Captain, I'm reading another ship in the system." Russ sounded very unhappy about this development, and Maccabee felt suddenly sick again. The whole thing was turning bad, and it was his fault they were stuck here.

"What readings do you have?" Maccabee asked as his team turned the corner and Yakazuma gunned down a group of crewmen and women who were obviously playing no part in the mutiny. "Where did she come from?"

"She popped up from behind the planet, captain," said Russ, and now Maccabee understood why Russ was so worried. The other ship was only a few million kilometers away from the station. "She must have been powered down, or just too close to the planet for our sensors to pick her up."

"She's a pirate," said Maccabee, drawing the obvious conclusion. "Probably part of the mutiny here, or maybe just waiting for the right time to come in a take what she can."

"This ain't the right time, captain," said Russ. "Not with Hornet here. There's got to be a connection."

"Get the weapons hot, Russ," ordered Maccabee as his team drew to a stop about twenty meters from the connection to the next module. "If you have to maneuver, do so. Do not sit here, understand me? We'll be all right."

"Selkirk's dead already, sir," said Russ. "I'm monitoring all signals over the net. We need to get you out of there, now."

"Damn it," hissed Maccabee, "someone is going to follow my orders, is that clear? Do not risk my ship, under any circumstances. If they're pirates, they're not likely to start shooting at the station. Do I make myself clear?"

"Perfectly, captain." Russ didn't sound happy, but he was not a stubborn bastard like Ming. He followed orders, thanks to whatever god looked out for idiots, like Maccabee thought of himself at the moment.

Maccabee cut the link to Russ and turned to the rest of the group. "Yakazuma, what's the situation?" he asked, his voice low.

"Connection looks clear, captain," she replied. Her voice sounded mechanical, devoid of life. "The team at the other end of the atrium is moving up, with the cannon."

"Are they moving it right now?" asked Maccabee. If the cannon was in transit, the situation might represent their best chance of making it through the end of the atrium and the fire zone.

"Yes sir, they are," answered Yakazuma. She was crouched right at the corner, low to the floor, and had her head around to look into the atrium. "Their scouts have reached the store now. They'll know where we are in a moment."

"OK. Go."

Yakazuma stepped into the atrium, her gun up, covering them. Alger and Ashburn did not hesitate, but started dragging Samara across the open space to the doors that led to the connecting corridor. Sel followed a few meters behind them. Maccabee waited until he was nearly across, then started running himself. When he reached the opening, he turned and covered back down-station while Yakazuma caught up to him, obviously reluctant to miss an opportunity to kill someone, but following the team just the same. Luckily she'd had enough military training before coming to Maccabee and Hornet to drive that much into her head.

Maccabee and Yakazuma dropped back into the corridor and the captain turned, motioning for Yakazuma to cover behind him as he moved up the connecting passage. The rest of the team was at the other end, which was not sealed. Perhaps the doors had been permanently spiked open, despite the inherent danger of such a move. Beyond the opening was a small foyer with a single corridor leading out straight ahead and a pair of lifts to either side. No station crew were in evidence. It all looked a little easy, considering the resistance in the previous module.

"Too easy, captain," said Alger, echoing Maccabee's thoughts. "It's a trap."

"They haven't had more than ten minutes to set it up," argued Ashburn.

"Long enough," said Sel.

"Sir," Yakazuma said from behind them in her too-cold voice, "they're about ready to fire again. I think they've seen us. We might want to move."

"We take the lifts," said Maccabee, making the necessary decision. He moved ahead of the rest of the group and strode up to the first of the lifts on the left side of the module. The rest of his team came up behind him as he pressed the call button and the lift doors slid open. Then they heard one of the lifts behind them opening as well.

Maccabee grabbed Yakazuma's hand just in time to jerk her aim off by a few degrees, and her pistol burst put three neat little holes in the interior wall of the lift. Ensign Devverin shied away from the impacts and lifted his empty hands.

"Don't shoot!"

"The cannon, sir," growled Alger as he pulled Samara with him into the lift. Ashburn and Sel were already inside. Maccabee stepped backwards into the lift as well, dragging Yakazuma with him, but keeping his gun hand in the line of sight of the sensors, so the doors stayed open.

"Why shouldn't I kill you, Devverin?" asked Maccabee. "Give me one good reason."

"They forced me to--" he started, but Maccabee fired a single shot that nearly hit him in the head and cut off what he had been about to say.

"Not good enough."

"If you let me live, I'll give you information." Devverin winced as Maccabee shifted his aim, targeting him between the eyes.

For a moment, Maccabee stopped and considered his options. He needed to make a decision in the next five seconds or so, before the cannon fired again. Devverin couldn't be trusted, but he was obviously a part of the mutiny. He would have information, hopefully about the ship that was threatening Hornet. It was worth the risk.

"Get in," he said, stepping back into the lift and shifting his aim away from the ensign. Devverin didn't hesitate, but fairly leapt across the corridor and slipped between the doors as they slid shut. A moment later he found himself held tight by Yakazuma's iron grip, the barrel of her two millimeter railpistol pressed tightly against his forehead.

"Well?" asked Maccabee as the lift started to move upwards.

"You're not going to make it," Devverin said.