Episode 221: Assault on Ngrono's World

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Relative velocity is a tricky thing. When a ship is in a star system, speed and direction are easily determined. Simply look at the system primary, or one of its satellites, and see how fast you’re moving away from or towards it, and you’re practically there. Of course, all of those planets are moving around the star, so it’s a bit trickier than that, but not something difficult for any halfway decent crewman to calculate, not to mention computers. But different parts of the galaxy are moving at different speeds, and so, when you emerge from a wormhole, you may be going faster or slower, relative to your destination, than you were going relative to your point of origin. This is why most captains prefer to transition into a star system at a dead stop.

Hornet careened into the Ngrono Star System at a thousand kilometers per second relative to the system primary, and only a few hundred thousand klicks away from the system’s second planet, Ngrono’s World. The wormhole transition was worse than usual, but after the debacle of Angstrom, Maccabee thought sure he’d never complain about transition again. The nausea passed within a few seconds; he straightened in his chair and looked into the holo.

“General quarters!” Maccabee barked, and the ship’s alarms sounded, short, sharp klaxons that let the crew know they were headed into action. Green lights started flashing up at those stations still able to function, but most of the lights, particularly those related to the ship’s weapons, remained a sullen red. That was expected, of course, but still hard to watch. “Status?” asked Maccabee.

“Range to target is six-four-five-thousand kilometers,” said Russ, his voice calm. “We are accelerating to match velocities at minimum range. Estimate orbit in eleven minutes, twenty seconds.”

“Any ships in the target area?”

“Nothing showing on our scans, sir,” replied Sel. “If anyone’s out there, they’re lying quiet.”

“Com traffic?”

“Nothing yet, Maccabee,” said Samara. Her voice was all cool professionalism, which was just as it should have been, but something still made him want to flinch when he heard her. “Give them time.”

Maccabee nodded, then activated the ship’s speakers. “Attention all hands. We will enter orbit in eleven minutes. All assault teams to the shuttles.” Of course, Pinzon already had her people at the shuttles, with a few exceptions. Only the command crew had yet to report.

“Incoming com signal,” reported Samara. Maccabee motioned towards the holo tank, and she put the signal on.

A bearded man, bleary-eyed and no longer young, stared out at them. Just a hint of fear was in his eyes. Very few ships maneuvered like Hornet was doing. “Attention unidentified vessel,” said the man. “You are ordered to stand off and identify. Repeat: decelerate to relative stop, immediately!”

“Reply?” asked Samara.

“No,” said Maccabee. “Russ?”

“Ten minutes, captain,” said the pilot. “I’m pushing the envelope.”

Maccabee was envisioning the response on the planet below. Ngrono’s World was ostensibly a mining operation, where high-grade iron ore was pulled out of the lifeless ball of rock and metal that made up the planet. The whole thing was automated, with minimal human intervention necessary, but that still meant a community of several hundred. It was rare to see such a desolate world in the Core Systems, but it was Ngrono’s very location that made it such an attractive mining location, just a handful of jumps from a dozen major manufacturing worlds.

The main settlement was called Village A, a name from a different time, Ndika had told them, when the place was intended to grow into a much larger operation. Funding had fallen through when ore extraction turned out to be more difficult than expected. Refining operations had to be added on to the mining work, so that bulk ore could be processed at least one step before being loaded onto freighters. A simple space elevator accomplished this task, connecting Village A with a small orbital facility, nothing more than a docking collar and a few storage bays. The place was as remote as it got in the Core, yet everyone knew about it. Ngrono was no secret, and that made it the perfect cover for a pirate operation.

Ndika said he had no idea where the pirates kept their base on the planet, and Maccabee believed him. That complicated matters, because Village A was not a likely spot for the base. The whole settlement was just a straggling cluster of pods and boxes, interconnected by a series of corridors and passageways. Hardly an inviting sort of place. More important, it had only the most rudimentary landing facility, barely big enough for the single shuttle that supposedly sat there. That didn’t seem like the sort of thing Maccabee was looking for. Besides, it was easier to buy off the one or two miners who operated the com and scanning gear than to silence the whole place.

“Unidentified vessel,” said the man on the holo again, “we will fire on you if you do not stop immediately.”

“What does he think we are?” muttered Ashburn. “A frigate?” There was no way a normal freighter could have stopped short of the planet with the kind of velocity Hornet was still carrying, not at this range.

“Maybe, ma’am,” said Sel. “We don’t match any ship types he’s got in his computer, I’d guess.”

“Seven minutes to orbit,” said Russ. He glanced up at Maccabee. “Are you going, captain?”

“Right now,” answered Maccabee. He stood and looked towards Samara. “You have the ship,” he said to her. “Try not to let me kill myself.”

“I’ll keep you safe,” she said, without cracking a smile. Maybe she had her own plans for him.

Maccabee was out of the Deck in a moment, moving quickly to the lifts and then down to the lower decks. A few meters along various corridors, and he was back in the shuttle bay, a place he was starting to dread. This whole business was getting tiresome. Pinzon and Alger were already there, already suited up in heavy armor. Maccabee didn’t plan on wearing any himself, though he knew he should have. A crewman passed him a belt with two 3mm railpistols, which he strapped around his waist. Then he picked up a vest of light, ballistic armor, shrugged into that, and grabbed a standard-issue plasma rifle off the rack at the side of the shuttle bay.

“Everyone ready?” he asked his two team leaders. Pinzon nodded and Alger scowled. “Good.”

“Four minutes,” came Russ’s voice over the com. Maccabee knew he should say something, but his mind was blank. The thirty men and women in the shuttle bay—more than a third of Hornet’s remaining crew—were expecting it, needed to hear something from him. Ndika was leaning against one of the shuttles. He’d be on the mission as well, using codes he’d been given to access the pirate stronghold. The businessman’s face was blank, unreadable.

“If everything goes well,” said Maccabee, breaking the silence, “this will be the end of this mission. These pirates will be wiped out, once and for all. They’ve killed thousands of people. Some they’ve tortured, some they’ve shot. Others they just spaced.” A palpable shudder ran through the assembly. “You all signed on with me to stop that kind of thing, to make a difference, somewhere. Well, this is the place, and this is the time. I’ve dragged you through some unbelievable shit, and you’re still with me.”

Maccabee trailed off. That was it. He had nothing more to say. Their faces were eager, as though he’d made some stirring invocation, and not trotted out a dozen hackneyed lines from a thousand old movies. But he still needed to close the thing off, finish the charade. Everyone knew it was a charade, but that didn’t make it any less important. He raised his rifle in one hand and grinned. “Let’s go do it.”

There was a sort of ragged cheer from the crew, and even Alger managed a half smile, which quickly veered back to a scowl as Russ’s voice said, “Two minutes.”

“Strap in!” barked Maccabee, and everyone seemed to move at once, but in perfect harmony, like a well-oiled machine. Czerney and Pinzon counted heads at the shuttle doors, while Alger and Maccabee climbed into the pilot seats on their respective shuttles. The pre-launch check came up green in just a few seconds, showing that the engineering techs had done their jobs. Not that Maccabee had left this to chance: the shuttles had flown two test flights before this final jump into the system.

“Clear!” barked Czerney over the team circuit. As soon as they’d entered the shuttles, the ship had linked them together into a single channel. “Clear!” said Pinzon just a moment later.

“Close up!” Maccabee ordered, and a moment later, the two shuttles were sealed, all their crew strapping in. Pinzon climbed into the co-pilot jumpseat next to Maccabee and slipped the crash harness over her armor. The security chief was festooned with an array of weapons ranging from chemical pistols to a short-barreled grenade launcher, and virtually everything in between. She flashed Maccabee a tight smile.

“Sixty seconds,” said Russ. His voice was on their com circuit now.

“No change in status,” said Samara a moment later. “Ground control is still shouting, but no sign of enemy vessels or any sort of activity.” Despite herself, she sounded worried. “There’s got to be some ground defense, captain.”

“Understood,” Maccabee said. “Keep us up to date.”

“Crystal,” Samara replied.

“Thirty seconds.”

“Alger,” said Maccabee, “go with sequence Beta.” They’d worked out a series of maneuvers for the shuttles, based on possible responses from the ground. Beta was a fast approach, no danger in orbit, high probability of ground-based attack.

“Bloody straight,” replied the Scot. “Sir,” he added.

“Ten.” Maccabee powered up the shuttle’s engines—“Nine.”—then made a last check on the weapons systems. “Eight seconds,” said Russ. “Firing . . . now!”

Somewhere above them, Hornet fired her single remaining particle cannon, loaded with a stand-off nuclear round. The shot raced ahead of the ship, found the planetary atmosphere, such as it was, burrowed a few dozen kilometers into said motley collection of molecules, and detonated in a five gigaton blast. The atmospheric shockwave would probably knock out anything that was unprotected from high winds, and the EMP would destroy any unshielded electronics. Not to mention the new star that was blooming overhead, a sight that would cause the strongest soul to quiver.

“Two,” said Russ. “One. Mark. Opening bay doors.”

Maccabee looked ahead as the shuttle bay doors opened beneath him and waited for the signal light on the bulkhead to turn green, indicating that the doors were fully open. A moment later, the light came on, and he dove the shuttle out of the bay. Suddenly, they were in space, and right below them was Ngrono’s World, an ugly, dun-colored ball hardly worth noting, except for the fires that were currently racing through its atmosphere, propelled by the massive nuclear burst. Maccabee nosed his shuttle down, and headed towards that inferno, confident that it would dissipate by the time he reached it. Alger followed his lead. Hornet whipped out of sight, accelerating again and far faster than the shuttles could ever hope to match.

“Scans are coming in now,” said Samara’s voice in his head. “Village A is dark, minimal readings. Search pattern is moving outwards.” There was a pause in her narration, no more than five seconds. Then: “I’ve got a suspect, fifteen, zero, ten north, one-hundred-five, twenty, eight west. Strong EM signature.” Another pause. “Orbit is complete, captain,” reported Samara at last. “Only one suspect. You should have the vector now.”

Maccabee looked down at his screen. “Got it.” He entered the coordinates into the shuttle’s navigations system, and plotted his approach path. The suspect location was half-way around the globe, leaving him two options for approach: orbit and dive, or dive now and fly in-atmosphere. It only took him a moment to decide. “Alger, I’m going to bet on speed. Maximum acceleration orbit to this location. . . .” He transferred a new set of coordinates. “Then we’ll drop through an evasive landing pattern.”

“Aye, captain!” barked Alger over the com link.


The shuttles were nowhere near as fast as Hornet, but they were equipped with short-range slipstream drives themselves, and they started accelerating at more than two hundred gravities, skimming the surface of Ngrono’s atmosphere. There was still no response from the planet, but Maccabee was taking a big risk with his approach, betting on a slow reaction time, and against the effectiveness of the ground-based defenses. The safer path would have been a low-level, nape of the earth approach, but that would have been the work of many hours. Far too much time to contemplate. The shuttles would drop out of space, not right on top of the target, but within ten kilometers.

At this altitude, the target rose over the sharply-curving horizon within about ninety seconds, and suddenly the threat board came alive. “Missile launch!” shouted Pinzon, while Samara reported, “Launch! Tracking two . . . four missiles incoming,” at nearly the same time.

“Samara!” barked Maccabee.

“Already on it, captain,” she said, her voice calm again, in control. Hornet passed so close overhead that Maccabee had the impression of seeing something flash past, though she was going so much faster than the shuttles he barely caught a glimpse before she disappeared into the night again. The missiles were moving quickly, nearly as fast as the shuttles, and obviously slipstream-powered themselves. Already, they were entering the upper atmosphere, reversing Maccabee’s plan and heading for space where they could go to maximum acceleration and home in on their targets. “Missiles are not locking on Hornet,” reported Samara. “Firing now.”

Maccabee thought he saw a dim flash up ahead, but it had to be his imagination at this range. “One down,” said Samara. “Missile two is locking on Hornet. The others are still tracking you.”

“Should we evade?” asked Pinzon, not on the com link, her voice low.

“Samara will take care of it,” said Maccabee, sounding more confident than he felt. He didn’t need Pinzon to tell him how poorly-armed his ship had become.

“I’m closing to point-blank,” said Samara. “Activating point defense clusters.”

This time there was a definite flash, then another, then a third as the point defense lasers did their work. Her armaments might be crippled, but Hornet’s computer brains were still the match of most any combat system out there. “Missiles are destroyed,” reported Samara. “You are clear. I’ll stay above the landing site.”

“Understood,” said Maccabee, not questioning her decision. He’d handed over command to her, and as long as she kept by the rough outline of the plan, he would not second-guess her. “We’ll be there in two more minutes.”

The shuttles were decelerating now as furiously as they’d been accelerating, their slipstream drives hauling back on their momentum as they arced over the desolate wastes below. There was nothing visible down there but the glint of a few long, narrow metal lines, conveyers or trains that carried ore from mines to processing facilities.

“I think they blew their wad, captain,” muttered Alger over the link.

“Or they’re waiting until we’re in closer,” Maccabee replied. “Ready for drop.”

“Ready aye, captain,” answered Alger.

Ten more seconds, and still there was no more activity from the surface. Perhaps they had fired all the missiles they possessed, jumping the gun well before their target was really in effective range. But Maccabee doubted that. He knew the person who’d trained these pirates, knew she’d never be so careless as to leave idiots in charge of one of her vital home bases. No, there’d be more fire, and it would be damn hard to avoid.

“Drop!” ordered Maccabee as his shuttle reached the designated spot. He nosed her over, pointing her straight for the ground, and initiated his dive, starting a corkscrew motion that changed directions at random and incorporated a few unexpected jinks and turns as well, even a few quick loops. Half a klick away, safely in his own drop space, Alger was performing a similar series of maneuvers, while Hornet hovered overhead like a massive incarnation of her insect namesake.

Altitude dropped from seventy kilometers down to sixty, then to fifty, and still no response from the base. They were hitting heavier atmosphere now, and the descent rate was slowing. Maccabee widened his turns, bled off a bit of speed, and then started dropping again. Then the threat board screamed to life.

“Missiles!” shouted Pinzon. Samara was silent, well aware that there was no room for distraction in the shuttle cockpits. She’d be doing whatever she could, that much Maccabee knew for certain. “Two away!” said Pinzon, tracking the incoming launch on her holo screens. “They’re both aiming at us, captain.”

Maccabee could see that too, superimposed on his navigational view. The missiles were no slower than the shuttles, and the intercept time at this range was less than ten seconds. But he waited a moment longer, watching the range close. Then, he went to full reverse acceleration, stopping almost dead in an instant, jinked the shuttle to the left, rolled her on her back, and fell again, this time with the shuttle’s nose pointed straight up at space. One missile passed him to the right, the other attempted to follow him, and ended up twenty kilometers left before it could readjust its course. Then the first missile exploded, sending a shockwave racing through the thin atmosphere. The shuttle bucked wildly, rolled over on its top, and lost control for a moment as it plummeted through another five kilometers of empty space, distant mountains on the horizon spinning wildly across the viewscreen.

The second missile was tracking in now, closing for the kill. Maccabee reached out and activated the automatic evasion mode, and the shuttle suddenly executed an incredibly fast and complicated series of maneuvers, leaving the missile’s rudimentary A.I. wondering just what they hell it was tracking. Just for a moment, though, and then Alger had shot it from the sky, bringing his shuttle’s nose cannon to bear.

They were less than twenty kilometers up, now, and Maccabee went to full acceleration, heading for the ground, Alger right behind him. No more missiles came their way for now, and suddenly Maccabee was pulling up, slowing, and then skimming along the flat, nearly featureless plain of Ngrono, grey and white and black bits of rock blending into a flat, matte color that he couldn’t quite identify, as the shuttle’s speed blurred the ground below.

“On your quarter,” reported Alger as he pulled his shuttle up beside Maccabee. They were slow, now, moving at a thousand kilometers an hour, but at an altitude of only ten or twenty meters, the shuttles were hardly attractive targets for missiles. Maccabee could see a low ridge up ahead, perhaps an ancient mountain range pushed up by a large impact event. The slope climbed up about two klicks from the plain and ended in sharp, broken peaks. On the other side was the suspected target.

“Put some space between the shuttles,” Maccabee ordered. “A kilometer or so.” Alger was already moving to the side. “Keep right on my flank, so we pass over the ridge at the same time.”

“Aye,” replied Alger. “You think they’ll be having plasma cannon?”

“Aye,” said Maccabee, imitating the Scot.

“That’s bloody well annoying, that is,” muttered Alger.

“Ridge in five seconds,” cut in Czerney, all business as usual. Usual when she was on a mission, that is. “Four. Three. Two.”

The shuttles popped up over the ridge line and immediately dove, then cut upwards. The gunners on the opposite side had expected the dive to continue, and so the first volleys of plasma fire missed just low. Maccabee was already rolling his shuttle, jerking the little ship wildly up and down, his own guns set on automatic fire to track and destroy the enemy emplacements. Thousands of blue bolts of energy filled the air, leaving burning trails of methane gas behind them and exploding when they hit rock or dirt.

A shot glanced off the port side of Maccabee’s shuttle, taking away part of the small stabilizer wing there, and then he thought he heard the shot that impacted on Alger’s ship. “Alger?” Maccabee shouted over the com as the other shuttle spiraled towards the ground, flame exploding from its starboard side.

“Here,” came the reply, his voice tight. “Hold on.”

Maccabee looked front again, saw the pirate base, a low, camouflaged collection of fortified bunkers, clustered near a landing field big enough to accommodate Hornet, had he cared to land her. And then he saw the reinforced ceramacrete of the landing field jump into the air, a split-second before it blew itself apart in a five-hundred-meter fireball.

“I want the base intact!” he shouted over the com. All he heard in reply was Samara laughing maniacally. Not that he intended to feel bad if the pirates got themselves nuked. The mushroom cloud was billowing out now, and the shuttle rode through the shockwave, Maccabee nosing towards the ground, trying to track Alger’s damaged ship. “Alger?”

“Still in the air, cap,” said the Scot. “Lost two, but we’re in fighting shape. Bit drafty in here, though.”

Maccabee smiled, idly thinking that a similar hit would probably kill him, since he had no pressure suit. The armor the others wore would serve that purpose as well as protection, and they all had racked helmets over their heads. Not that he planned on being shot down.

He dipped lower to match Alger’s altitude, moving in close now that the incoming plasma fire had slackened. Another shot or two glanced off the shuttles’ forward armor, but the heavier cannons had apparently stopped shooting, knocked out by the nuclear blast. The base was coming up quickly, now, and Maccabee and Alger slowed, scanning for a likely landing spot.

“There!” said Pinzon, pointing to one of the clustered habitat modules. All of these units were raised up off the ground on two-meter stilts, except for one that appeared to be some sort of ground vehicle bay. Next to the main doors, Maccabee saw what Pinzon had spotted, a clearly marked airlock, its seal lights still glowing green.

“Alger, I want you on that airlock,” Maccabee ordered. “Get inside and secure a beachhead. The area might be depressurized, so you’re already prepared for that.”

“Aye,” said Alger, his voice sounding grim. His shuttle dropped while Maccabee circled the compound. Incoming fire had stopped completely now, and he was looking for the gun emplacements, trying to spot them and see if they were still moving, still tracking the shuttles. Two, he saw, were dead, heavier guns nearer the shattered landing field. The habitat modules nearest the nuclear blast were also looking worse for wear, covered in shattered bits of ceramacrete and steel, walls crumpled inwards from the force of the blast, the porthole-like exterior windows blown out or blanked by electronic kill switches that turned the transparent material into a matrix stronger than steel.

Coming back around, Maccabee saw that Alger’s shuttle was on the ground, its port side docking collar moving out to mate with the base’s airlock. “Samara?” he asked, keeping his eyes open for threats as he circled the small compound yet again. “Anything?”

“Nothing, captain,” she said, sounding almost disappointed, and more than a little surprised. “No ships, no ground defenses, no signals.”

“Good shot, then,” Maccabee replied.

“Let’s hope that’s what it is,” she agreed.

“I’m opening the airlock now, captain,” said Alger. Maccabee waited in silence, his ship hovering now above Alger’s and a few meters clear to the side, the whole compound under its guns. Nothing stirred. “No sign of activity, captain,” Alger reported. “We are moving in.”

“Careful,” said Maccabee unnecessarily. No one on his ship would be anything but careful.

“Aye,” said Alger. “Atmosphere reading green in this area.” There was another pause. “I’m keeping helmets on,” he added. Maccabee nodded. There was no telling what a desperate pirate crew might add to the atmosphere in the station.

“Captain,” said Pinzon in a low, urgent voice. He glanced over at her, saw her pointing towards the other side of the compound and started sidling the shuttle over in that direction. Then he spotted what she’d seen: base crew leaving the compound, all of them in pressure suits, of course, climbing out an emergency airlock underneath one of the modules. They were hard to spot from this angle, but they were definitely evacuating. That was not a good sign.

“Back to the shuttle, now, Alger!” ordered Maccabee. “Pinzon, I want them alive, if possible.”

“Yes, sir!” she said, already rising from her seat and racking her helmet. She tossed a breather unit to Maccabee, who slipped it over his head. The door would only be open for a moment, but there was no reason to risk him passing out. Pinzon disappeared into the back of the shuttle while Maccabee circled the base the long way around and tried to come up on the pirates by surprise.

“Ready, sir,” said Pinzon over the com link. Maccabee nodded, dropped the shuttle to the ground, and triggered the hatch release. Air rushed out of the shuttle, tugging at his clothes, and then the hatch was closed again and Maccabee was moving the shuttle up into the air again, turning to get a view of the situation. There was no sound, just falling bodies as one of the pirates shot down someone on Pinzon’s team. That pirate was hit at least ten times with railpistol fire, trails of blood spurting from his suit as he fell to the ground. The others tried to run, and one more died before the rest stopped and raised their hands in surrender.

Letting her team cover her, Pinzon strode up to one of the pirates, and, grabbing him by the arm, pressed her helmet against his. Maccabee assumed it was a he, at any rate. A moment later, he heard Pinzon’s voice in his head. “Where’s the bomb?” she asked the pirate.

“You won’t find it in time,” he said, sounding both shocked and desperate. “You’ve only got another minute.”

Pinzon pulled a pistol from her belt—one of the heavy chem guns—and shot the pirate in the stomach, letting him fall with a gurgling scream that died away as soon as their helmets pulled apart. Then she stepped to the next pirate and repeated the process, this time with the gun pressed against the pirate’s belly. “Where’s the bomb?”

“In the command module,” said the pirate, his voice shaking. “Under the main console. The code is six-six-one.”

“We’ll figure out the code ourselves,” Pinzon said.

“I’m already moving, cap!” Alger said over the com link, and Maccabee stopped breathing as he waited to see what would happen. Almost by reflex, he pulled his shuttle further away from the base, just in case. He hated himself for doing it, but that was the only logical thing he could do. He saw that Czerney was moving Alger’s shuttle out too, and breathed again in momentary relief.

“I’m in the command module,” said Alger, his voice tight. “Found the bomb. Activating uplink now.”

“Got it,” said Samara from orbit. The uplink connected Alger’s minicomp to Hornet’s main computer; at that point, it was just a matter of time before the bomb was disarmed. No small system like that could stand up to a ship’s computer.

“Bomb is dead,” said Alger a moment later. “I’m not bloody well touching it, though.”

“Absolutely not,” agreed Maccabee. “I’m coming in. Pinzon, get the prisoners inside.”

“Yes, sir!”

Some parts of the station were depressurized, but these were easily isolated, leaving the vehicle bay, a habitat module, and the command center with breathable air. Maccabee waited for Czerney to move her team inside the base, then assigned her shuttle to overhead patrol while he docked his at the base and went inside himself. The vehicle bay had at least five new, well-maintained ground vehicles, from heavy-lift, big-wheeled trucks, to fast dune-buggy-type cars that didn’t even have a pressurized cabin. The base was over-pressurized, presumably to seal out dust and the toxic planetary atmosphere, a wise precaution with prefab modules like these, which tended to be slightly less than a hundred percent tight sealed.

The warren-like passage to the command center was guarded by two of Alger’s team, who both saluted as Maccabee walked by. He returned the salute with a casual wave of his hand, ducked through a narrow, pipe-filled opening, and clambered up a two-meter ladder to the main part of the base. There was more headroom here, and the place looked generally a lot more comfortable. A cross-passage led one way to the living quarters, while the other went to the command module. Maccabee turned that way and walked about ten meters, past two sealed modules, and then into the command center.

Pinzon and Alger were waiting here, along with eight heavily armed members of Hornet’s crew. All had racked their helmets, and were breathing the base air, as was Maccabee, of course. A single prisoner sat in a chair well removed from the control panels, covered by three crewmen with rifles up and ready to fire at the slightest provocation. The pirate looked like she was making a concerted effort not to move so much as a single muscle. Ndika was here too, lounging casually against a bulkhead, well away from anyone else, trying to avoid eye contact with anything that moved. Maybe he was afraid of these pirates coming after him, though these were not the ones he should have been worried about.

“Sir,” said Pinzon. “There are five prisoners, sir. The other four are in custody in the living section. This one claims she is the ranking officer.” Pinzon scowled. “It seems I shot her boss, sir.”

“Not without justification,” Maccabee said. He glanced around the command center. “Any sign they managed to wipe the computers?”

“Looks like not, captain,” said Alger. “Terminals are still working. Bloody well polite of ‘em.”

“Well then,” said Maccabee, turning to look at the pirate commander, “I guess it’s time to find out what there is to know about this place.”