(Written by Griever; posted April 17, 2007)"She's dead in space, boss. Neat as clockwork and twice as punctual."
The man smirked, peering through the viewfinder and watching the amplified image.
Ugly as sin, and built purely for utility, the ship shown there was little more than cockpit, spine, and quad engine nacelles. It could also, according to the debrief, haul incredible amounts of ass while hauling a respectable amount of cargo in any manner of container that fit the mountings on all four sides of the spine. Currently, all of those were occupied, and for the maiden voyage of the prototype all the bigwigs and brains of that little budding enterprise that had worked so hard to put it together were present. Two 'containers' worth of luxury living space, one of even more luxury goods, and one a commons type area with more bling to it than you'd see in your average c-music video.
All, as the helmsman had said, neat as clockwork and twice as punctual.
A bit of a debt in the Earthside end of the enterprise, a bit of monetary lubrication here and there, a few subtle allusions in other places ...
... if there was one thing he'd learned over the years in this line of work, it was that you didn't have to build what you use yourself. It was far easier to get someone else to do it for you. And if life threw you some added benefits into the mix ... well, he was sure the crew and passengers would be put to good use.
As for the little mouse that had comitted that little act of 'God', or simply sabotage, for them ... well, they'd get suitably rewarded. Just how suitably was up to how useful they'd be, but that was just the way the world worked. No surprise there.
After all, there was a lot of potential there.
"Alright, we're going in," the man ordered. "One boarder for each segment, and keep us on overwatch. We clean?"
"As can be. Closest traffic is half an hour out at worst, and not really seeing anything since they're elbows deep in asteroid."
Well, that was as good as things were going to get, what with the recent 'initiative' of the damn overgrown brats. Off-center and ill organized, they were still starting to cut into profits, and some of them were, frankly, fucking insane from what he'd been hearing.
He went back to the viewfinder, tracing the paths of the four boarding craft - little more than smallhaulers themselves, with a cargo of the usual meat shields that you used for this sort of thing. Bit more trained, bit more fancy, but still not what he'd call 'his'.
Riding the flying mashes of parts ...
... well, that was another reason for this. The target had been built with commerce in mind, and mass-production at the forefront, with intent of sale to whatever interested parties came along with a need for such.
There was a thunk, a thump, and then silence. The hold, cramped as it was, wasn't as bad as some the men inside had been in before. It had basic amenities at least, and their ride back would be far, far more comfortable - that was one motivation they had for not damaging the merchandise any more than strictly necessary.
The converted trailer shook again as clamps secured it onto the hull, and the boarders hunkered down, knowing what came next.
The sound of shaped charges exploding was mercifully muted by the headgear - yet another sign that the outfit was more professional than the usual rent'a'thugs that seemed to populate most of this line of work.
Pressure doors hissed open, and the forefront braced themselves ... for more silence.
The inside, past the now demolished airlock, was empty.
... too empty, as some noted. And the inner bulkhead had a definitely reinforced look to it.
As well as some contraption sticking out of it.
The floor vibrated for a moment, then again and again in quick succession. Four times.
The tension could likely be cut with a knife. This was it, the crux of almost a year's worth of work. Planting the seeds, producing the suckers, manufacturing a debt here and a liability there.
I'd have to send Morden a fruit basket or something when we're done, since the misinformation went off without as much as a hitch.
"Last call, gentlebeings," I said into the quiet.
"Green across the board." was the general consensus.
"We're ready to make the grab," Viola's voice informed from the holotank with a wicked look and an eager tone.
"Time for the snake to shed his skin."
"To any ships in the vicinity, this is the freeship Roadrunner, registry number F-3389-XT, we are being boarded, I repeate, we are being boarded ..."
That was where the transmission cut off. Abruptly. And a chill made its way up his spine. One of the variety he only knew all too well.
Owlishly, he blinked into the viewfinder, as the impossible seemed to happen.
The Roadrunner exploded.
Or, he corrected himself as he saw and his people fed him what their stations were telling them, the four containers along the spine blew their top layer of alloy outwards, completely voiding atmosphere inside and on all the four boarders.
The men had some primitive maglock boots and pressure suits, but while the former were mostly donned the latter were hardly on for this milk run ...
... and space was full of flailing bodies. Where they weren't riddled with shrapnel.
As the mark sat in the middle of it all, the four boarding craft tethered to it ...
... in the midst of the debris, the ship turned, reorienting its bow to point straight at them.
He was halfway into shouting the order to withdraw when something moved, and suddenly there was the sensation of jarring impact that nearly threw him off his feet.
"We've got them!"
Behind each airlock, a heavy coilgun. A single handwaved ceramic spearhead on a ferrous shaft. A spool of handwaved metalloy cable connected to each.
The spine, a little thicker than it needed to be. 'Little' being a relative term. Two ferrous rails running the length of the extra space, bow to stern.
"And now we have all that is theirs as well."
Trigon's four eyes floated in the air of the holotank, beside Viola's own avatar.
"Does anyone have objections?" I asked.
I was met with tightly expressions and headshaking.
A former 'blank slate' slave.
A girl abducted during a trip to Venus.
A father whose family was 'taken'.
A dozen 'marines' who'd been Senshi once upon a time, in another life you could say.
The crew had been chosen carefully. I wondered for a moment if I should be upset with myself for being this cold.
Red lights were flashing, and the resident geek was cursing, praying, and crying in a repeating sequence.
"What do you mean, the engines are overheating? How is that even possible?!"
"Fuck you, Janos! It's what's happening! Those bastards are doing something, and if we don't do something about it, we're dead!"
The man ignored everything past that, and tried not to shake. Damnit, some milk run ... he hadn't signed on to die like some cheap bit of meat in a boarding coffin!
He could still do something.
He could ... he could still try to make a deal!
He could talk with the best of them after all. Hell, he'd scammed his way through the military with that and a few choice bits and pieces of blackmail.
"Roadrunner, cease and desist! We surrender and are willing to discuss terms! I repeat, we surrender!"
"What the hell are you doing?!" his helmsman hissed, eyes wide.
"I'm trying to get us out of this mess!" he hissed back. "Alive, if at all possible, so shut up!"
"No quarter." The PA squawked to life. He stared dumbly for a moment.
"Wait! You can't do this! We've surrendered. We're willing to make a deal! We could be useful to ..."
"You damn well earned your fate."
"Give Harrington our compliments. We're sorry you are late."
On the bridge's viewscreens the Greyhound hull of the 'command ship' the pirates had fielded shuddered, windowpanes ripping outwards and away from the hull as atmo systems within went rapidly haywire, turning the whole craft into one big pressure cooker equivalent.
"Status," I said, feeling strangely hollow for a moment.
"All targets are completely silent."
"Good ..." I searched for anything else to say, but given the situation. "Good. Viola, clean disconnect?"
The redhaired AI avatar nodded, grinning.
"Trigon, did they have anything immediately relevant?"
"Why, yes, oh glorious leader, now that you mention it they did seem to have something of the like."
His tone indicated it was nothing good either.
Shortly afterwards, we left the derelicts and their own little debris field, heading for Mars.
The maiden campaign of the assault frigate Kobayashi Maru was far from over.