Episode 225: Abandon Ships

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Parthenon was dying, and Simon was determined not to go with her. Dodging out of the main corridor, he headed for what he thought was one of the vehicle bays, the same one where he had been brought on board. Alarms were sounding throughout the ship, but the corridor was eerily empty. Anderson kept only a skeleton crew, trusting automatic systems, A.I.s and robot drones to care for most of Parthenon. Simon nearly ran into one of the latter at a crossing corridor, but dodged aside, half expecting the thing to come after him, pulling some weapon from a secret compartment in its trundling, cylindrical body, but it just rolled on.

Simon glanced upwards just as the ship rocked under another volley of incoming fire, and saw Anderson rounding the corner he’d passed a moment ago. “Tamil!” screamed the Boss, raising his gun as he staggered against the bulkhead. Railgun rounds ricocheted down the corridor, but Simon was already turning, starting to run again. He didn’t want to engage the man, just wanted to get the hell off this hulk.

“You’ll never get off this ship alive, Tamil!” shouted Anderson. More bullets screamed up the corridor, and now their aim was closer. Simon ducked, dodged and started weaving his way ahead. A momentary solution only, since this allowed Anderson to close the distance. He ducked into the next crossing corridor, cursing the shear size of Parthenon. More than kilometer of passageways still separated him from his goal.

Anderson was sounding shrill now, still close, closing in. “I’ll fuck her body, Tamil! You won’t stop me! I’ll violate her fucking corpse!”

There was no doubt whose corpse the Boss was talking about, and Simon felt a powerful urge to stop and turn, to blast the bastard straight to hell. But he knew what Yakazuma would have done: she would have kept moving, gotten the hell out. Every second counted. Besides, he could hear her voice. What did she care about what Anderson did? She was already dead. He could do nothing worse. Simon kept moving.

Parthenon rocked again, and this time it was another hit in the vitals, Simon could tell just from the sound of the ship around him. He’d been in battles before, had seen ships come apart, and this one wasn’t going to last much longer. Even the alarms were fading, dying away or simply shutting off as the warnings they were giving became redundant.

More gunshots spalled off the bulkhead beside him, and Simon ducked sideways into a recessed doorway. Turning to face behind him, he leaned around the corner and squeezed off two short bursts from his stolen pistol. Anderson didn’t even seem to notice the shots, but just kept charging forwards, his own weapon raised, firing at full automatic again. Simon fell back into his narrow cover, an area that was quickly becoming narrower as Anderson approached.

“Nowhere left to run, Tamil!” cackled Anderson. Simon heard him slow to a walk. “Step out here, where I can see you.”

Simon closed his eyes. Only one chance. He slid down the bulkhead, took a deep breath, and rolled into the corridor.

“She’s coming apart, captain,” said Ahanda, pointing at the image of Parthenon on the main holo screen. “They’re tearing her up.”

“Let him burn,” muttered Samara, and Maccabee had do admit she had a point. The more guns that were hitting Parthenon, the fewer were trained on Wasp. Not to mention that the other ship had done its level best to destroy him as well. Something tickled at the back of his brain, though, some reason for holding back. At least where Parthenon was concerned.

“Target the gunships,” he ordered. “Where’s Sel?”

“He’s closing, captain,” replied Ahanda. “Three of the gunships are still on him.” He looked up with a worried frown, meeting Maccabee’s gaze. “I don’t think he’s returning fire.”

Wasp bucked again under fire, but now she was firing herself, and her bite was still much worse than the little ships swarming around her. But there were a lot of a little ships. Wasp had claimed two, Parthenon two more, and Hornet one of her own, but that left seven gunships. Maccabee could see now that Hornet was heavily damaged, limping along at low acceleration; Ahanda was right. She wasn’t returning fire.

Another gunship blew apart under Alger’s expertly-trained broadsides. He wasn’t bothering with multiple targets now, not seriously. Every few seconds, at least one weapon would target each gunship, but each volley concentrated on a single one, each time a different one, seemingly at random. This left the ships’ commanders at a loss, but they were moving with unerring coordination, like a swarm of insects, rushing in, firing, splitting off and running back out of range as Wasp twisted and writhed under their fire, trying to get return shots at them.

“Get me Sel!” barked Maccabee. A moment later, the holo showed him the haggard face of Hornet’s new commander. Fires reflected in Sel’s glasses, but for all the hammering he was getting, he looked remarkably calm.

“Captain,” he said. “I’ve got no weapons, sir. Shielding is still online, but we’re holed in a dozen places.” He grimaced. “The only good news is that I have hardly any crew to lose.”

“They’re not lost yet, Sel,” replied Maccabee. “We’ve got full control.” Glancing down at his workstation, Maccabee touched a few controls. “Come about to this heading,” he went on, beaming a set of data to Hornet. “We’ll close in behind you, keep the dogs off. What’s your max accel?”

“Five hundred gees, captain,” said Sel. “I’ve lost thirty percent of the nodes.”

“Understood.” Maccabee nodded at the other man and they exchanged a long glance. He wondered what was going on behind Sel’s black glasses. “Execute,” he said.

Hornet turned, showing her tail to the gunships and running towards the Ngrono’s World again. Three of the remaining gunships turned on her, proving that Josephine was one to hold a grudge if nothing else. The others closed in on Wasp and started firing in sequence, targeting her engineering section as she accelerated through them.

“Target the ones on Hornet!” ordered Maccabee. Samara shot him a significant look, but he ignored it. He wasn’t about to watch his ship die, definitely not with Sel aboard. Wasp bucked again, but she was spinning, rolling, twisting through space on an impossibly complex course. Another gunship blew apart, and now Wasp was in amongst all five of them, jumping around between them and Hornet, drawing their fire onto her tired flanks.

“Captain!” shouted Ashburn’s voice over the com. “I’ve got a reactor failure down here on number two. Caught the edge of a laser blast!” Maccabee could tell from her voice that they weren’t about to explode, but no more than that. “I’m shutting it down!” Ashburn continued. “You’re gonna loose either ten percent accel or half the grasers!”

“Accel!” he barked, giving Nahal a pointed glance. Ten percent down would still be faster than Hornet, and he could change his mind later if necessary. Right now, he needed every gun he had.

“Clear,” said Ashburn, cutting the connection.

“Status?” asked Maccabee, looking at Samara.

“I can’t monitor everything, Maccabee,” she said, “but we’re down at least sixty percent on the port broadside, fifty to starboard. Shielding is at about forty percent, worse astern than ahead. We’ve got six sections open to space. And the drive is down ten percent.” She paused and stared at him as another shot hit the ship, shaking them where they sat. “Forty casualties,” she finally said.

Maccabee felt like he’d been punched in the gut. Forty. Nearly half of his crew. This was madness. He sat back slowly in his chair, still feeling Samara’s eyes on him. She wasn’t accusing him of anything, wasn’t angry with him; she knew that people died in battle. She was just curious how he would react. So was he.

“Sir!” shouted Ahanda. “Hornet’s hit in engineering! Her slipstream’s collapsing!”

So the decision was made for him. But at least it was made.

Simon squeezed off a single burst, and shot Anderson through the neck. Blood sprayed the bulkhead behind the man, and his eyes widened, but his hand was still up, his weapon still trained on Simon. Anderson tried to take a breath, and more blood sprayed from his shattered arteries. He clutched at his throat with his free hand, then glared at his gun hand, as though willing it to pull the trigger. Then, Simon shot him in the head, and he fell to the deck with a dull thump.

Taking in a shaking breath, Simon clambered to his feet, taking neither his eyes nor the muzzle of his gun off of Anderson. The man was dead without a doubt, however, half of his brain splattered against the deck plates.

Parthenon was quiet around him. The battle had ceased, or moved on. That meant that someone—whoever was left alive on board—would be coming to look for Anderson. And for Simon. Or, even worse, that the Commodore would be boarding from one of her damned gunships. That thought alone sent chills through Simon’s body. So, it was time to go. But first he needed to collect his partner.

He started towards the cargo holds at an easy jog. The ship was truly silent now, not even the hum of atmospheric recyclers breaking the stillness. That meant anyone left on board wouldn’t last beyond a day or so, but Simon didn’t plan on being here for that long. More seriously, he got the nervous feeling that the gravity plating had failed, at least in parts of the ship. The residual charge in the plates would last several minutes, maybe an hour, but no longer. Once the gravity failed, getting around Parthenon was going to be a messy businesses, particularly considering the wreckage the battle had strewn through her corridors and holds.

Then, suddenly, the ship shuddered again, and Simon stumbled to a halt. That wasn’t the feel of combat damage, of a laser or heavy weapon shaking the vessel. It was something else, something more organic to Parthenon herself. He waited, holding still, listening, not even daring to breathe for the moment. And then he felt it. There was still no hum in the air, no sound of the ship’s air circulation systems, but he felt a breeze stirring, brushing his cheek so gently he might never have noticed if he hadn’t been on the alert for just such a sign.

Parthenon was bleeding air, and not slowly. Something very bad had just happened. Simon started to run again, putting on more speed.

“All stop!” shouted Maccabee as Hornet suddenly lost all her forward acceleration. “Match velocities, then bring us in.” He snapped open a tight-beam com channel. “Sel, I need you off the ship, right now.”

“I’m on my way to the shuttle bay now, captain,” came Sel’s hurried reply. “Give me five minutes!”

“Don’t leave anyone behind,” warned Maccabee before cutting the signal. He glanced at the navigation holo, saw that the gunships had shot past Hornet and Wasp, but were now circling back around, aiming for a kill. “Keep us moving, Nahal, around Hornet,” he ordered. “Alger, keep doing what you’re doing.”

“I’ve got a lot less to fucking work with, captain,” spat Alger, not looking up from his tactical plots.

“Do what you can!” barked Maccabee. Incoming fire rocked the ship around him, and he knew that they couldn’t stand this for long. At least the forward shielding was strongest. That thought gave him an idea. “Full reverse!” Nahal complied immediately, and suddenly Wasp was backing away from the gunships, away from Hornet, twisting out of the way of two volleys, responding with a series of carefully-timed broadsides, her forward shielding holding for the moment.

“What are you doing?” asked Samara as she watched the gunships hone in on Wasp. Most of the gunships. One was slowing, turning back towards Hornet.

“Keeping us alive for a little while longer,” muttered Maccabee, watching the plot unfold in front of him. Another gunship shuddered under Alger’s expert fire, turned to leave the fray, then blew apart as its reactors lost containment. The small sun that blossomed in its place for just a moment threw the others off guard. That was all the opening Maccabee needed.

“All ahead!” he barked, Nahal moving before he’d even finished speaking, throwing all of Wasp’s acceleration to forward movement again. The gunships shot past, weaving across each other’s tracks and suddenly reversing their own acceleration, seconds too late. “Rotate the ship!” said Maccabee, almost as an afterthought, and Nahal turned Wasp around so her bow faced the oncoming warships, her stern pointing in the direction of travel. They were catching up on Hornet again, fast, and Maccabee knew that Sel wouldn’t have had time to reach the shuttle yet, would still be on board. Only some two hundred seconds had passed since they’d spoken.

The range to the gunships was impossibly small, just hundreds of kilometers; Maccabee would have been able to see the other ships’ fire, if Wasp had had any windows. As it was, the holo display showed him the incoming particle cannon fire, and highlighted the otherwise invisible beam weapons. Empty space was crisscrossed with a thousand beams of red and purple light. Alger was throwing caution to the wind, pulling Wasp’s point defense lasers into the game. At this range, anything was fair play. These small shots seemed harmless whenever one of the gunships fired its spinal mounts, and massive purple beams cut through the sky to slam into Wasp’s flanks and nose. No matter what Nahal tried, the range was almost too close for the other ships to miss. Too close for Alger to miss, too, but the gunships were like dogs wrestling a bear to the ground, individually outclassed but together enough. Maybe.

Why the hell were those captains so suicidal? Another gunship died, falling behind the others a moment before it broke apart, its guts spilling into space and tumbling along the ballistic path the wreck would follow for the next millennium, unbroken, through the empty space between the stars.

“Ahanda,” said Maccabee. “Scan for lifesigns in that wreck.”

“Sir!” he called back. Scanning the other gunships was a waste of time, their shielding blocking any active emissions as easily as they blocked incoming fire. But the dead ship had only just died. There should still be people on board, either alive or recently enough dead they’d register on the scan. It took only a moment’s time. “None!”

Samara looked sharply at Maccabee. “Drones?”

“I was wondering where Josephine hid the crews for all these ships,” Maccabee said, his face grim. “No wonder they’re so well coordinated.”

“Coordinated my bloody ass!” Alger spat. “Give me another five minutes, I’ll kill ‘em all.”

“You’ll get your chance,” said Sabli.

“Coming up on Hornet, sir!” called out Ahanda. Maccabee looked back at the holo, saw that Wasp was indeed coming up on the crippled ship, this time at a high relative velocity, too high to correct at the moment. That was OK. Maccabee intended to overshoot his old ship. Then he saw the gunship moving in on Hornet, saw it coming up underneath the crippled vessel, right where Sel was now boarding his shuttle.

“Nahal!” he shouted, pointing. “Get me a shot!” He looked over his shoulder. “Alger! Take him out!”

Wasp rolled onto her back, kept rolling, entering a controlled spin around her long axis as she dipped down suddenly, streaking past Hornet with less than ten klicks to spare, even closer to the gunship. As she rolled, both broadsides bore down on the gunship, every single gun Wasp had unloading its full fire into the little vessel. It exploded, but Alger had done his job right, and the reactor didn’t explode, didn’t wipe Hornet away in another sunburst. Wasp flew onwards, still striking out for deep space, accelerating madly away from her pursuers.

“Gotcha!” roared Alger.

Only two gunships remained, now, but they were up to something, moving to come up directly astern of Wasp. Nahal responded, twisting the ship, trying to give Alger a good shot. He couldn’t manage it, however. The gunships continued to close in, harried only by Wasp’s limited bow chasing armaments.

“Ready, captain,” said Sel’s voice, suddenly, over the speakers.

“Reverse all acceleration!” shouted Maccabee, reacting on instinct, and Nahal complied immediately, as though he were slamming on the brakes on a runaway train, hauling Wasp in with ruthless efficiency. The range was too tight, too close, and the gunships weren’t expecting that move. They had less than half a second to respond, and one managed it, veering sharply off, clear by more than a hundred kilometers. The other was just a fraction slower, its responses inhibited by battle damage, maybe, or just a slow connection somewhere. Just like in Maccabee’s brain as he saw the thing unfold and didn’t have time to shout a warning, or to change his mind.

The gunship hit Wasp at a relative speed of two thousand meters per second, glancing off her port bow, coming right through the shielding like it didn’t exist. The kinetic energy wasn’t the problem; the little gunship hardly had more KE than a heavy particle cannon shot. But Wasp wasn’t designed to withstand capital ship fire, nor were her shields meant to deflect anything other than pinpoint hits. The two hulls hammered against one another like billiard balls, ground twenty centimeters of armor to dust, then reeled apart.

Inside Wasp, chaos erupted through the ship, people flying through the air, debris slamming into bulkheads, into people. The inertial slipstream that kept the ship and its contents free from the demands of momentum and the conservation of energy, collapsed instantly, and the residual acceleration from the impact was enough to shake the interior of the ship into a stew of careening bodies and metal.

Maccabee flew through the holo tank, slammed into the bulkhead on the other side, bounced off the smooth metal, and collapsed behind the emitters, groaning and holding his side. He heard someone screaming, a woman, and other sounds, as stressed support members inside the forward bulkheads started to give way. Then the ship shook again, less violently, and astern, and he knew she was coming under fire again, the remaining gunship, or maybe both of them, swinging around to blow him out of the sky.

“Samara!” Maccabee called out. One or more of his ribs was broken, that much seemed plain, and the pain was dulling his mind. He needed his second, needed Samara. “Samara!”

“Here,” he heard her voice from somewhere beyond his feet, somewhere on the starboard side of the ship. “I’m pinned.”

“Captain!” called Ahanda. “Captain! Tara’s got a piece of steel the length of my arm through her chest! Jesus! I can’t stop the bleeding, captain, I can’t!”

“Shit,” growled Maccabee. Time to move or die. He hauled himself up, using the holo tank as a lever, and took in the scene. The control deck was an unbelievable mess, and he saw that the whole after section of the overhead had given way, simply collapsed, obviously weakened by previous damage. The impact had literally compacted the length of the ship, compressing the forward sections, and something had to give. “Calm down, Sam!” Maccabee shouted at Ahanda, staggering around the holo tank. “Calm down!”

Maccabee struggled over to Ahanda, dropped to his knees, and then looked at Nahal for the first time. She was dead. Her body hadn’t admitted it yet, but there was no way she was going to live, not with that wound, not unless they could get her to a sickbay in five minutes or less. And have Monteux there ahead of time, prepping for surgery. If she could even survive being moved. The hexagonal support strut had snapped off from somewhere above them, shot like a dart across the deck, and impaled Tara from behind, missing her heart by centimeters, but cutting right through all sorts of major arteries, puncturing her lung, sending shattered bits of her ribs through her chest. The only mercy was that she’d already passed out.

Maccabee looked up at Ahanda, saw the other man’s reaction at seeing his face, and reached out a hand to grab his shoulder. “There’s nothing you could do,” he said, knowing the words were useless. “It’s my fault.” Maccabee tried to smile, failed. “She just responded to my orders too well.”

The ship shook again, another hit from outside. They were coming few and far between; likely only one gunship was left, the other careening off through space like Wasp, her slipstream collapsed, massive internal damage. “Get to your station,” Maccabee ordered, pulling Ahanda to his feet, wincing as he felt his ribs grind against each other inside his chest. The pain was intense, but he had other things to do. He looked around. Sabli was getting to her feet, nursing an ugly head wound that was pouring blood down the side of her face, grabbing on to her station as though for life. He saw Samara, pinned by her chair against the forward bulkhead, looking pissed, but otherwise all right. He didn’t see Alger. The man’s station was buried under a slab of ceramasteel deck plating.

Maccabee’s heart skipped a beat and he lunged forwards. “Alger!” he shouted. “Alger!” Desperate, he climbed through the wreckage, hauling away as best he could at the debris. Ahanda was coming behind him, ignoring his order to get the ship under control again, but Maccabee didn’t care, didn’t care about anything except his friend, somewhere under that debris. “Alger! Damn it! Answer me!”

“Maccabee!” barked Samara. The ship shook again. “William!” Maccabee stopped pawing at the wreckage, which he had no hope of moving, and turned towards Samara, his stomach twisting. He tasted bile in his mouth, and the pain in his chest felt like someone was driving a spike of ceramasteel through him, instead of Nahal. “Get the ship under control,” said Samara in a cool, hard voice. “Get Sel and his people. Get those fucking gunships, and then. . . .” She took a breath and looked him in the eye. “Then, we’ll go get the bitch who did this.”

For another five seconds, they stared at each other, but there was nothing left to say. Time to move or die, Maccabee repeated to himself. He grabbed Ahanda, pushed him towards Samara, and then started for his own chair. “Go! Get her out!” he ordered, collapsing in the command chair. Ahanda stared at him like he’d never really seen his captain before, then started towards Samara.

The main holo was still active, and Maccabee’s controls seemed functional. He’d been right: only one gunship was still active, circling around Wasp as she rolled drunkenly through space. The other, the one that had hit Wasp, was a burning wreck. Something inside her had obviously not taken well to the impact, which had delivered a bigger blow to her than she’d ever been designed to withstand. Good.

First priority was propulsion. Maccabee keyed in the start-up sequence, watched the slipstream flicker to life, then die again. He tried a second time, and again the bubble didn’t form. Too many nodes were dead, and the rest were not lined up correctly, now that the ship’s spine was twisted out of alignment. It was a miracle the hull was still holding atmosphere, though who knew how long that would last. No propulsion, then. Maccabee turned to the weapons next. They were still online, ready and waiting for commands. Keying in a few simple A.I.s, Maccabee let the computers start targeting the last gunship, then got on the com.

“All stations, this is Maccabee,” he called, and his voice sounded tired, dead, even to him. “Status.”

“This is Ashburn,” came the first reply. “Reactors are nominal, except for the one we already shut down. We’ve got power.”

“I’ve got no slipstream,” Maccabee pointed out.

“Working on it,” Ashburn replied. “Please don’t fucking run into anything else for the moment.”

Maccabee didn’t bother responding to that. “Anyone else?”

“Russ here, captain.” Maccabee nodded to himself. Another one alive. “I’m working a damage control detail towards you right now. Forward sections are a mess, and some are open to space, I think. I’ve got the Doc with me.” He paused. “It’s a mess, cap.”

“I know, Russ,” said Maccabee. “Keep coming.”

“I’m here too,” said Czerney. “Cap, I’m on the port weapons run. Place is a mess, but I’m working on getting a few more of these guns up and running. Could really use Alger down here, too.”

Maccabee blinked, his mind blanked out by the mere mention of the man’s name. “OK, Czerney. Keep it up. We’re almost out of this.” He killed the connection, looked up to see Samara limping towards him. Ahanda was moving back to his station, his face a mask. Samara was the only one who looked even remotely normal. “Check on Sabli,” Maccabee ordered, and Samara only nodded, kept moving to help the other woman.

There was nothing else left for Maccabee to do, but he saw now that Wasp was swinging back towards the planet, back closer to Josephine. A quick check assured him that the slipstream drive was still down. The weapons A.I. he’d set up would do a better job than he could manage at this point, and the last gunship was starting to stand off, now that it knew Wasp could fight back. Why bother attacking? Just let her drift off into the night. Maccabee shrugged and opened a com channel to Village A, hoping that it would reach its intended recipient.

“Well, Jo,” he said, looking up into the camera feed, “this has turned out to be quite the mess. I didn’t expect you to have gunships. Should have expected something, I know.” He was dimly aware of the others watching him, listening to his words, but he couldn’t bring himself to say anything different from what he was saying. “I had to know, Jo. I had to know it was you. I had to know that you’d done this to yourself. How could you? How could you become . . . this?” Maccabee clenched his fist. “You know what they did to me, Jo. You know. . . .” Maccabee took a deep breath. “You know what they did to my parents.”

He felt suddenly cold. Josephine wouldn’t bother responding. Not now. Not after she’d done her level best to kill him.

“I’m coming down there, Jo,” Maccabee finally said, and now his voice was quieter, but layered over hard iron. “I’m coming down there to pay you back for what you’ve done. For the people you’ve killed. For my friends. For me.” He glanced over his shoulder at Samara. “For the universe, I guess.” His friend smiled at him, her face suddenly lighting up. Maccabee turned back to look into the camera. “I’m going to come down there and kill you, Jo. I’m sorry.”

He cut the recording and sent the message. Then, he heard Ashburn’s voice in his ear. “Slipstream is up, captain,” she said. “Go get ‘em.”

“Samara,” Maccabee said, “please take the helm.”

“Aye, captain,” she replied, moving to Nahal’s station and sitting. “I have the helm. Navigation at your command.”

“Let’s go get Sel.”

“Aye,” said Samara. Maccabee watched as she swung Wasp around and started back for Hornet; Maccabee’s old ship was still drifting, her drive down, a scattering of wreckage around her from the gunships that had died near her. The last of those ships was not closing on Wasp, apparently realizing that it was outclassed if she was able to move under her own power. Rather, Josephine had realized that, had called off her automated attack dogs. For the moment. Maccabee had the sinking feeling that she’d left something in reserve.

“Captain, this is Russ,” said the navigator over the com. “I’m within five meters of the command deck, but the corridor is depressurized. I can’t get you out from here.” Russ sounded tired, tired and angry. “I’ll have to try another way.”

“There’s an emergency hatch at the front of the deck,” said Samara, obviously monitoring the command channel. “I have no idea if the crawl space is still intact.”

“I’ll try it,” replied Russ. “It’ll be a while.”

Maccabee looked over his shoulder, at Sabli, and saw her smile weakly back at him. Samara had ripped off part of the other woman’s shirt and used it to tie a bandage around her head, slowing the bleeding. “It’s not deep,” said Samara, catching on to Maccabee’s thought.

“Negative, Russ,” said Maccabee, his gaze shifting to the pile of rubble that had entombed Alger. “There’s no one left here who needs your help. Get Lillie where she’s needed.”

The silence that followed his command made Maccabee uneasy. Then, Russ said, “OK, captain. OK. We’re on our way. But we’ll be coming for you soon.”

“Understood,” said Maccabee, turning to look back at the holo display, feeling empty of everything except sadness. “Thank you.”

Opening a tight-beam transmission to Hornet, Maccabee hailed Sel. “This is Wasp. We are five minutes out from your location, and closing.”

“Understood captain,” said Sel, replying immediately, his cool voice reassuring. “Sir. . . .” Sel paused, uncertain. “Is everything all right?”

“No, Sel,” said Maccabee. “But we’re coming for you. Just hold tight.”

“We’re fine here, captain,” replied the other man. “Not that it won’t be good to see you.”

The minutes passed in silence. Samara brought Wasp in right beside Hornet, and Maccabee studied his old ship as Samara handled the docking procedure. It was a routine transfer, and there was plenty of room in Wasp’s shuttle bay. Only for a moment did Maccabee wonder what had happened to the various shuttles that had been attached to the outer hull at the beginning of the combat. No doubt wiped away by enemy fire by now. That hardly mattered though as he looked at his ship, his beautiful ship. She was battered, but not broken. No doubt her drive was repairable. He’d get to it as soon as this matter was settled. There was no way he’d be able to fix her hull, her weapons, her other damaged systems, no way he could afford that kind of work. He’d have to limp back to some friendly port, pay off the crew, find some other way to get money. Maybe he could start by selling Wasp. Even in her damaged condition, she’d be worth a few pennies for parts.

“Sel’s aboard, Maccabee,” reported Samara. Maccabee started, dimly aware that he’d heard that report from Sel, but hadn’t even noticed the other man’s voice. He was just so damn tired. His chest was filled with pain, sharp jabs that hit him with each breath and a dull ache that was steadily growing worse. Who knew what sort of internal damage there was?

“Very well,” he finally said, pushing himself up in his chair. “Change course. We’ll take out that last gunship, then head for the planet.”

“Yes, sir!” said Samara, grinning viciously. Wasp swung her nose around again, and accelerated into the night, away from Hornet. Maccabee watched her go for another moment, then killed the visual feed. Hornet returned to being just a green dot on the navigational display. There were only two other dots, the gunship, now running from Wasp, circling the planet again; and the broken hulk of Parthenon, slowly drifting out of the system, her reactor signature slowly fading out as her systems died away.

Then, that little dot flashed. “Sir!” said Ahanda, sounding as startled as Maccabee felt. “Signal from Parthenon!”

“Put it on.”