The Iron Crab was pulling out of orbit.
Of course, as far as the federation destroyer captains were concerned, the ship was the Spicy Mary, owned and operated by Robert Mason of the Bounty Hunters Guild. But the fed captains saw what they wanted to see, so they didnt question it.
Leaving orbit on a planet is sometimes a tricky affair. You need to pick up any of the crew members that went down to the planet, of course, and pay for the use of rented shuttles to get down to the planet if you dont have your own (the Iron Crab had one small shuttle, not enough when shipping lots of people down to a planet). Then you need to get an exit vector approved, so you dont mess with the projected courses of incoming commercial freighters. And occasionally you need to bribe a few officials-customs officers, mainly.
But this was a clean departure, with no complications. And only three people had left the ship to begin with.
Goroth Obarskyr, captain of the Iron Crab, is the only one of these three people that matters to our story. Hed landed a job that would pay him 300,000 credits if he could pull it off. After expenses and crew, that left him 120,000 credits of his own. Nothing to sneeze at, surely.
But the job was risky. He was to run guns to the rebels right under the nose of the federation. And while being a space pirate and smuggler earns you a life of hard labor if you get caught, you can escape from that. Getting caught aiding the rebellion, though, that carries the death penalty.
Once were out of the gravity well, set course for Kania. Obarskyr ordered. He sat back in his char, considering and planning. Wheres Jacobson? he asked no one in particular. After a moment, the tactical officer volunteered, Capn, no ones seen him since you went down to the planet. Obarskyr didnt respond, unless of course you count getting into an even darker mood.
Capn, weve left the gravity well. the helm officer said.
Make the jump to kania. Obarskyr ordered. They knew thats what he wanted them to do, of course, so he didnt need to give the order. Still, as the captain he didnt have much to do but make plans and give orders.
The Iron Crabs maneuvering thrusters fired, slowing the awkwardly shaped vessel to a halt. Then they fired again, turning the ship to face in the general direction of the Kania star system. The helm began the acceleration to jump velocity, and as the ship came closer to the jump velocity the noise from the engines went from an all pervasive hum to an all encompassing roar. Then there was a flash of light and a throbbing crash as the ship dumped its lightspeed velocity and entered the Kania system on sublight.
Port Kane was located outside the orbit of the planet farthest from Kania. None of the planets in the system were if any use to a space age civilization. Actually, they were more like round asteroids than planets, being too small to support an atmosphere.
Port Kane is to hold an influential role in the events to come. But in this story its only purpose is to appear as the Iron Crab jumps in, and disappear as the Iron Crab jumps out.
Set course for Altia and jump. Obarskyr ordered. After a short wait the ship cycled up to jump velocity and disappeared from Kania.
Alt. A backwater world with a black market economy. There were a few ships in system, but no feds.
Capn, jump sequence complete.
Set course for alt. I want an orbital approach. Obarskyr ordered. A moment passed.
Comm, send a message to the following address. he ordered. The address was the address of the rebel operative he would need to contact to get the weapons shuttled to the Iron Crab.
They are responding. Audio only. Should I give them video?
No, dont. Obarskyr said immediately. A skilled Vell-os could reach into the rebels skull and rip out Obarskyrs face, if the rebel were captured. Obarskyr was a practical man. He didnt like taking chances. As it happened, he neednt have bothered.
Obarskyr? Rat finds lion. the rebel operative hissed.
Lion strikes, but rat tunnels under. Obarskyr replied smoothly. He had never liked all of this password nonsense, but he supposed that it helped keep the rebels alive.
Good, its you. The rebel sounded considerably relieved. I have four heavy shuttles loaded to the gills, here. Theyll ID themselves to you. Im sending the first one out now.
Why not just do it all at once? Obarskyr asked.
Too risky. the rebel said curtly. If the feds came in and saw it, theyd put two and two together and come in guns blazing. The first shuttle is away, get ready. The rebel cut off the call.
Security chief, get a team down to the landing bay ASAP. And tell them that if they scare the shuttle crews Ill have their heads! They will not ruin our reputation, understood?
Yes capn! The security chief turned to carry out his orders.
Obarskyr sat back in his chair. He toyed with the idea of ordering battlestations, but that would ruin his attempt at stealth. All he could do now was wait.
Zach Hechton was a simple man. He had little ambition to do anything but shuttle cargo around in his ship.
But this time, he was being paid by and unknown party, to load an unknown cargo, to ship it to an ominous looking ship. The pay he was being given was good, though, so he didnt complain too much.
He flipped through the roster. Only one more crate to load. Suddenly there was a tremendous crash as the loaders somehow fumbled a crate off of the Mag-Lev. Watch it there! Whatn blazes are you lot doin!?! he demanded. As he argued with the loaders, he didnt notice a shadowy figure stow itself in his shuttles cargo bay.
A dark figure crouched in the shadows of number three engineering deck aft, watching as Mark Jacobson and his unknown coconspirator approached a control panel. The figure glided closer to hear what they were saying.
-much to risk. Jacobson. A charge in the engine? Its too dangerous.
Its our ace in the hole. the other man retorted. And besides, I know what Im doing. Theres no man aboard who knows these engines better than me.
Maybe so, but we need to take care of Obarskyr.
And it will be easier if we threaten his ship. Trust me on that.
Fine, thought the dark figure. They conspire against the captain. They are traitors.
The dark figure stepped up. Its mind entered a higher state of being, a state of immersion with the universe. The figure could see their thoughts, their souls, their beating hearts.
Traitors must die.
Their hearts stopped beating.
Capn, a fleet of fed ships just entered the system!
Obarskyr swore. He was waiting on the last shuttle delivery, so his maneuvering options were limited. Hed have to brazen it out.
What are they doing? he demanded.
Just closing in on a general approach vector. It doesnt look like theyre on to us.
Stop being optimistic, of course theyre on to us. Stand by on battlestation, but do not charge weapons without my explicit order.
Capn, theyre hailing us.
Put them on. Obarskyr said calmly. The fourth shuttle was on its way, now all he needed to do was buy some time.
Zach smoothly piloted his shuttle into orbit around Alt. He set course for the ship he was delivering the cargo to, and was surprised to see a small federation fleet on approach. They rarely came to this system. He began to feel more concerned, but concentrated on his flying, totally unaware of his passenger.
And Ive already told you that I have no clue about any rebel plot, captain. Obarskyr said smoothly.
Then whats on that shuttle? the fed captain demanded.
Members of my crew, being shuttled back to my vessel.
And is that what I will find if I order that ship to be boarded? the fed captain said menacingly.
If you do that, then Ill need to see a warrant.
So its your shuttle!
No, but since members of my crew are aboard I extend the protection of my ship to that vessel, as per my rights in federation law. Obarskyr said strongly. The fed captain glared at the man who dared to quote the law to a federation officer, but he knew Obarskyr was within his rights.
You know what, captain? the fed captain said coldly. I think youre a filthy liar. I think you are working with those terrorist scumbags. I think you are going to ship them a load of military grade hardware, and theyll use it to kill federation personnel. And I wont let you get away with it.
Obarskyr grinned. It was a horrible grin that looked like it belonged on the skull face of a dead man. His expression was so terrible that the fed captain blanched and drew away even separated by thousands of miles of empty space.
Well, then. Obarskyr said softly. Let the best man win.
He shut down the comm system. His blood was singing, and a red haze had descended over his vision. Has the last ship docked yet? he asked, with a very precise calm.
Good. he said. Arm weapons and get ready for a fight.
Zach was grateful that the unloading was almost complete. He didnt want to stay on this ship a second longer that he had to. As they finished unloading, alert sirens flashed and howled. They were done unloading now so he ran to get to his ship cockpit to leave. His unwelcome passenger had already left.
Consider the situation. A fed carrier, two fed detroyers, and a number of launched fighters, vs a single heavily modified Pirate Enterprise and four pirate vipers.
On the other hand, Obarskyr was commanding the Iron Crab. And there are few captains as skilled as him.
Air boss, get the fighters ready to launch pronto. Helm, set us a course out of here. Break for the edge of the system ASAP.
Gunnery sergeant, lock three EMP torpedoes on that fleet and fire them in a spread pattern. Tactical, begin missile jamming.
If we fight on their terms, we might lose. So well fight on our terms.
Obarskyr sat stiffly in his command chair, ignoring the acknowledgments of his crew. He had to win. Or more accurately, he had to survive. That was all he needed to know for the moment.
The Iron Crab unleashed three EMP torpedoes before setting course. Essentially, the EMPs were nukes which dumped their energy directly into an ionization effect. This is why they were so illegal.
The fed ship formation split up. The first torpedo landed squarely on the carrier, blasting through the shields and frying some systems on the ship but not putting it out of the fight by any means. The second missile exploded next to one of the fed destroyers. It took no serious damage, but it was moderately ionized. The third torpedo detonated in empty space.
The Iron Crab moved. The federation warships pursued closely. They exchanged brutal volleys of blaster fire from their turrets, but the Iron Crab was still clearly outmatched. With all of that cargo in its usually empty cargo bay the Iron Crab was slower than normal.
Four minute from the exit point, capn. called the helm.
Fighters ready to launch. called the air boss.
Full power to engines. And air boss.. Obarskyr paused, weighing his options, then sighed. Launch fighters and order them to engage.
Captain, if they do that theyll be killed. the air boss said.
I do know what Im doing. Obarskyr said coldly. The air boss did a brave thing then. He looked at Obarskyr and didnt say a word. Hed decided to remind Obarskyr of the fact that the fighter pilots were the air bosss men first and Obarskyrs second. He wanted assurances that Obarskyr wasnt wasting them in a suicide attack.
After a moment that stretched far too long when counterpointed against the sounds of punishing blasterfire, Obarskyr spoke again. I need them to buy a little time so we can all escape with our lives. he said sharply, but not as harshly as they would have expected. Without a word, the air boss turned back to his console and carried out his orders.
The pirate viper pilot is a member of a unique breed. They strap themselves into a pathetic little ship, with almost no shields or armor, depending on speed and numbers to get home alive, just for money. This inspires a certain attitude in the pirate viper pilot, and a certain unity among their numbers. Many captains just flung these pilots out there to kill the enemy by weight of numbers, but not Obarskyr. He knew that the value of a pirate viper lay in its ability to distract and occupy an enemy. And he intended to use that knowledge to the fullest.
The Vipers moved out. They began pecking away at the enemy ships, trying to distract them, but they were only partially successful. Still, they gained Obarskyr some time, maybe time enough to get away.
One minute. Thanks to the vipers, they were able to pull out ahead of the fed ships. But now it was time for the vipers to take their bows and bug out.
Air boss, order the fighters back to the ship. Obarskyr ordered. The fighters had begun heading for the Iron Crab when a blaster bolt ripped one of the fighters apart. The others made it home.
Thirty seconds. Were going to make it, Obarskyr realized with surprise. I bet that fed captain is boiling.
The Iron Crab cycled up to jump velocity and was gone.
They finally stopped jumping to behold the sight of the deep space station Rebel-1 and its attendant hypergate. Obarskyr swore. The bodily residue of so many jumps through hyperspace was nasty. He needed a change of cloths and a shower, and a huge meal.
The station is hailing us, capn. said the comms officer, who sounded relieved to be alive.
Tell them the captain is going to make himself presentable. Obarskyr snapped, heading to his quarters.
As soon as he left the bridge, he was confronted by a dark figure which loomed from the shadows.
Lord allmighty! Obarskyr cried. Dont do that! He paused, then he said I suppose that you took care of Jacobson?
<and his accomplice> said a thought that was not Obarskyrs. <but now, another problem> And what is that? Obarskyr demanded, none to happy to hear that and wanting nothing more than to take a long, hot shower.
<there is a vell-os aboard> the dark figure answered him, ominous as an angel of death.
The Vell-Os sat in meditation in the lowest deck of the ship. It was a stinking, filthy hole inhabited by rats and insects. Soon. the Vell-Os said aloud, to no one at all.
To be continued...