Contest Submission

"New Ireland's gone, sir."

Ross Dobbs stood stoically, as if he hadn't even heard. Perhaps he hadn't. Hair graying at the temples, face a crag of defiance against time, blue eyes sharp and cutting, Dobbs struck a formidable figure. His hearing, however, was rather shoddy, and no manner of surgery had been able to correct it. As a matter of fact, no surgery had ever been attempted, because he was rather frightened of it, and refused to enter an elective surgery. No matter what figure he cut, however, nothing would change the fact that Dobbs was foremost a businessman, to the point of not even knowing how his own ship worked. The intrepid and daring Adam Fitzgerald was the pilot and jack-of-all-trades on-board the Terrapin-class freighter Serendipity , and he made a fine counterpoint to the droll and droning Dobbs.

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"Sir," repeated Fitzgerald, louder than strictly necessary (had Dobbs been privy to all his hearing faculties), "New Ireland's gone."

"What?!" exclaimed Dobbs, jumping around in the cramped control room of the freighter.

Everything about it was tight to maximize the amount of space available for cargo. As it was, there was one semi-circle console that controlled every ship function that had a need to be remotely controlled, including helms, tactical (what little there was), sensors, and various other paraphernalia. The walls were a spartan metallic gray, unpainted and, in some cases, not even paneled. A few spots where sections of the walls had been ripped off to bare naked wires and other access ports to ship systems stood untouched, as no one had bothered to replace them. Dobbs had been facing the view-screen, which showed the streaking celestial lights of hyperspace, while contemplating who-knows-what. Now he was facing the console - and, incidentally, Fitzgerald - with a look that demanded knowledge.

"We just got the news report, sir. Apparently the Wild Geese got in some war with pirates and lost. New Ireland's a radioactive asteroid." Fitzgerald wasn't happy, because he knew exactly how good Jake O'Malley would take the revelation. He himself was from New Ireland, born and raised, and why he was crewing a trade ship instead of flying for those Irish mercenaries was anyone's guess. He sure was patriotic enough for it. Dobbs, however, was upset for a different reason. Their main trade route ran from Earth to New Ireland, carrying medical supplies to New Ireland and luxury goods back to Earth. Right at this moment they were bound to New Ireland.

"Take us out of hyperspace and prepare to plot a new course. I need to think. Oh, and signal the Danu's Blessing and escort to do the same."

"Aye sir," Fitzgerald said, and the ship shuddered as he flipped a few switches and turned a knob or two, and the field of flying stars turned into a black canvas dotted with pinpricks of light. "What should I tell them?" he asked, hand hovering over the "Open Channel" button, preparing to inform their constituents as to why they had stopped. Dobbs, however, was already off in his own little world, and gone physically as well. Shrugging, Fitzgerald hailed the other ships and told them the facts.

The Serendipity was in a gaggle of three ships - another Terrapin, the Danu's Blessing , and a Viper, piloted by Ace Shocker, obviously a fictitious name. They had come out of hyperspace prematurely, which put them smack in the middle of open space. Every Terrapin had the same basic setup. Through a door in the back of the small command room was a staircase that leads to the crews quarters, mess hall, and lavatories. Below that was a tube with a ladder in it that goes all the way down to the engines and cargo bay, rather simple. The things were so shoddily made, however, that it took four crew members to manage it. Kimberly Green rounded out the team, a fiery brunette born and raised on the raucous mining station of Boral I. She was the mechanic, responsible with keeping the ship running. Jake handled security, as he came from a line of great mercenaries.

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Due to the recent change of events, all three crew members (less their captain) were gathered in the command room. Jake was close to open tears, Kimberly doing her best to comfort him, though it was obvious she was having a hard time of it. Adam was doing little besides muttering condolences and twiddling his thumbs, waiting for their "fearless leader" to return and begin issuing orders that would get them paid.

Meanwhile, Dobbs poured over the accumulated knowledge he had collected over his time as being a "hands-on" trader, flying with his ship instead of just financing it and sharing in the profits. Looking for a sell-point for luxury goods nearby, his finger slid across a tattered map and rested on the Moonrise system, not two jumps from New Ireland, one-and-a-half jumps from their current location. He exited his cabin and climbed the ladder up to the command deck. Entering the bridge, he didn't seem to notice Jake's emotional state. He simply ordered the course be changed, and for the other ships to be informed. Slowly, the Terrapin turned, and jumped.

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This post has been edited by zapp : 23 December 2008 - 10:20 PM

Just a suggestion: use only one tense. There's a bit where, describing the Terrapin interior, you use the present tense, when everywhere else you use the past tense ("Every Terrapin has the same basic setup").
Also, a bit later, you use an overdose of parentheses 😉

Indeed, "Every Terrapin has the same basic setup" is what I meant, I digressed from past tense on purpose to describe something that is quite technically in the present 😉

And the parentheses overdose is something I do every once in a while, it was on purpose. Umm... any other things you catch, PM me, I don't like my stories getting cluttered, eh?

This post has been edited by zapp : 19 December 2008 - 11:03 AM

Jake was in his cabin, sitting on his bed, head in his hands. Like the other three, it had a bunk attached to the wall, a small dresser to hold clothes, which doubled as a table, a toilet that came out of the wall, and a sink that did the same. He had known Eamon Flannigan, the brave man with a razor-sharp wit and sharper right hook. He had actually been a good friend of several of the Wild Rovers as well, that elite "special forces" division of the Wild Geese. They were all gone, now. Gone...

His message device blinked, then vibrated and made a rather joyful, lilting tune. Who could that be... he wondered, reluctantly rising to his feet and walking over to the dresser on which it rested. As he read the communique, his eyes widened, and the tear-flow stemmed.

**Dear Jake O'Malley,

We could use your help. Misfire, Trishka system. We'll be waiting.


Luckily for the crew, the price for luxury goods on Moonview was just as high as it was on New Ireland. However, while the commodity dealers were buying big, they didn't have much to sell. Anything, really. A run to someplace empty was bordering on insanity for the captain, so he visited the Mission BBS to see if anyone was hiring ships out to move specific cargo to specific destinations. Not terribly profitable in a Terrapin, compared to hauling freight, but it was better than nothing.

Dobbs hobbled off to the board just outside the main spaceport bar that listed all available jobs. Jake, for whatever reason, tagged along. Perhaps getting him to take a mission hauling freight there would do it. It was much like a regular cork board made for the old-fashioned pins to hold papers to it, however, it was all digitized. It simply listed off missions, and you could select them via touching it and accepting. Dobbs perused them, looking at pay primarily, while Jake frantically searched the destination. There it was! Misfire! His eyes ran from left to right, and his heart sank as he saw that it was simply a mission to ferry passengers. The captain had passed right over it, and was deciding between two large-freight missions that had a large payout.

Frantic, Jake called out. "Captain, over here!" He made sure he was loud enough the first time, and Dobbs walked over.

"Yes m'boy?" he asked, looking at the jobs in the general vicinity of where Jake was standing.

Jake took a deep breath and just dove into it. "Sir, I have a friend waiting for me on Misfire, and I know that its not the best mission, but I really need to get - "

Dobbs held up his hand. "I understand, son. Crew morale is important, and no doubt you'd give me all manner of hell if I didn't get there post-haste." He accepted the mission and met the passengers at the ship, who urged speed and secrecy. At the time it seemed so innocuous to the boisterous crew that they payed it no heed.

This post has been edited by zapp : 23 December 2008 - 10:16 PM

As the Serendipity wasn't hauling freight, the Danu's Blessing offered them good luck and parted ways. Ace Shocker decided to stick with the Serendipity , and it was as such that they set off for the Trishka system, some six jumps distant. The first four jumps, or eight days, went smoothly. Various parts of the ship broke down and had to be fixed, but luckily nothing vital to the hyperspace field. Most of that equipment was sturdily constructed and rigidly maintained, less they turn into a rapidly-expanding ball of gas as they hit a star). The passengers were on-edge the entire trip, though they were mostly confined to the cargo bay for the duration of the trip, with a few cots set up as well as curtains for privacy. It was no luxury cruise, but it would do to get a person from point A to point B in one piece.

"We're coming up on the Procyon system, please check stations and prepare to make another jump." Adam was heard throughout the ship by the intercom system. Procyon was an uninhabited system, with two planets. One was a gaseous mess, and the other was rather inhospitable.

The ship shuddered as it exited hyperspace, and immediately the proximity alarm went off. Checking the sensor panel, Adam's heart sank. Two Pirate Vipers, coming in fast, intentions obviously hostile by the IFF.

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Dobbs was on the command deck in rather short order, fast enough to see the predicament they were in before any shots were fired. He looked to Adam for advice.

"Run?" he inquired, hopeful.

"No sir, we'd never get to hyperspace fast enough. They've got us good..."

"Well turn this heap around and show 'em we won't go down without a fight!" He was practically quivering with anticipation and adrenaline, but on the inside he was cowering in fear. This is the first time pirates had ever caught up to them!

Adam activated the intercom and started speaking, "Everyone, fasten your seat belts and hold onto something, this is gonna get a little rough."

With that, he grabbed the control stick and jammed it hard right, sending the ship into a lurching turn that seemed to defy physics, or at least the engine specs. The pirates were coming up directly behind. Getting on the comm line, he told Ace to engage. The Terrapin's armament was simple: one medium blaster. Their escort had two light blasters, while each pirate Viper had three light blasters, for a total of six. The pirates came into range, and Adam pressed down on the fire button, hearing the medium blaster sound off. Each shot simply went off into space - the Vipers were much too small and fast, the medium blaster too inaccurate and slow. Multiple impacts retorted their attempt to damage their pursuers, and sirens started sounding throughout the bridge. Dobbs was standing behind Adam, his knuckles white from the grip he had on the top of his chair. All the lights powered down.

"What just - " Dobbs started, but Adam simply put a hand to his face and said, "We've been disabled, and sensors are showing that Ace has been, too. They're probably gonna board us and try to rob us blind, eh?"

Dobbs picked up the comm-device and called Jake. "Get to the airlock and get ready to repel boarders!"

"Aye sir," came over the comm-line, which went dead. Just then, a shadow passed over the bridge as the pirate ship came into view, floating slowly towards the airlock. It would cut through and board, trying to take their valuables. The atmosphere on the bridge was full of hushed anticipation. Then, the comm crackled to life, but not with the voice they were expecting.

"Sir, the passengers got out of the cargo hold!" Kimberly's voice, not Jake's announcing that the airlock was being breached.

Dobbs looked at Adam and asked, "Could they be pirate spies, setting us up for the trap?" All the pilot could do was shrug. "Their edginess might suggest it, sir..."

The comm sang once more. It was Jake. The airlock was being breached.

This post has been edited by zapp : 23 December 2008 - 10:32 PM

People coming from the airlock had ten meters of empty corridor to cover until they reached the ship proper. It met another corridor in a perpendicular fashion, making hiding around a corner with a gun most easy. Jake stood there, back against the wall, gun raised to the ceiling, praying that he might live just one more day. In the foxhole there are no atheists, and there aren't any among those repelling pirate boarders. He could hear them cutting through the inner airlock door now, and he couldn't help but lose morale as he thought of what was about to happen.

The sound of the airlock door being breached, of the pressure equalizing, of the door opening. Several boots sounded off, an entire marine platoon most likely. Jake pulled a device out of his belt, pulled the pin, counted to two, and threw it around the corner without looking. A distant voice shouted "Grenade!", then a loud explosion punctuated the statement. Using conventional explosives during ship battles was something generally frowned upon, as the entire point was to take the ship without destroying it from the inside out. Sonic charges didn't damage the ship and were great for incapacitating goons. He shoved the gun around the corner and started squeezing the trigger, aiming low.

Blaster shots flew through thin air, aiming for him. All Jake could think was that the typical marine platoon consisted of fifteen well-armed and well-trained soldiers; most of those that weren't staying down were back on their feet and they rushing him. Jake rolled from the corner and sprinted down the hallway towards the command center, choosing another corner choke-point to retreat to. He shot over his shoulder as they reached where he had just been, at least some shots landing by the screams he heard. He wouldn't be able to hold much...

Right in front of him, he saw a grenade eerily similar to the one he had just thrown materialize, apparently sent by a man with a strong arm. Jake kept running, and as he passed it he kicked it with the back of his heel towards the soldiers. They spread out, but it exploded in-between them, sending Jake sprawling and causing the pirates to shield their eyes and ears while they tried to get a shot at Jake.

The shot was there. Jake was on his gut, unable to move. He was done for. Blaster shots sounded....

... and he was alive and unharmed. As the ringing in his ears gave way to noise, he heard shouting. Control of his faculties returned, so he rolled onto his back and saw something that made him blink, just to make sure he wasn't hallucinating. It was still there, though - the passengers were shooting the pirates! With the kind of gear reserved for Federation heavy troopers! Within a minute, the pirates lay on the floor, dead or groaning. Jake's comm blinked, vibrated, and rang.

"Jake, status?" Dobbs' voice was worried, to say the least.

"Sir," he replied, obviously bewildered, "I don't have the faintest clue."

While Dobbs tried to keep up a coherent dialogue with the out-of-it Jake, Adam watched the sensors like a hawk. Their escort fighter was still out there, disabled like them and had taken boarders. Even if the pirates that had stormed their ship were taken care of, there was plenty more where they came from. So obsessed was he with the sensor readout, that when he exclaimed "Sir, our escort just launched his escape pod!" Dobbs was, at first, non-responsive. It took about five seconds for it to sink in.


"Ace, he launched his escape pod. It's coming straight for us."

Dobbs simply muttered and stroked his chin, apparently (despite his lack of experience) thinking the same thing Adam was: the pirates had overwhelmed him and he was retreating. Sure enough, the pirate ship detached from their escort fighter and reduced it to slag with its guns before turning back to their freighter. This was going to be interesting.

"Jake, I think we're gonna have some company," Dobbs said slowly over the comm. A string of expletives was all the answer he got.

This post has been edited by zapp : 23 December 2008 - 10:37 PM

One of the five passengers approached Jake and offered his hand. Jake took it and was pulled to his feet. In a quiet voice the man said, "That was some impressive work. For a rookie."

"Who the hell are you to call me a - "

"That's not important right now, just know that we saved all our skins right here." Of course, without the weapons and the fact that he had just seen them decimate a group of pirate marines, they didn't look so tough. Scrawny even. Though as dangerous as they obviously were, maybe 'lithe' or 'lean' were better words.

The ship shook, much has it had when the first pirate ship had latched on.

"Just a head's up, the other pirate ship just latched on top of the first one... looks like they're gonna enter through them and come straight to us."

The leader of the group nodded back to the other four and they took up position where Jake had started his stand: two on one side and three on the other. The leader motioned Jake to join the side with two. And they waited. The toughest yet most essential part of repelling boarders is waiting for them to come to you. You plant traps, ambushes, you take them by surprise.

Five minutes passed before they streamed through the airlock in a silent wave. Jake didn't hear them, but at a signal they all edged slightly around the corner in three tiers, one person at the bottom, one shooting over his head, and one shooting at the top. The pirates shouted in surprise, then scattered. Many of the shots passed through air as one of the pirates tossed a smoke grenade between them.

Of one accord, the passengers retreated about ten steps, Jake emulating them a second slower. Hand motions passed, speaking volumes that Jake couldn't translate. The man standing next to him whispered into his ear, "When they come forward, we rush them. As this is, we're just gonna blast each other until one side gives."

As it was pointed out, Jake realized the truth of what he was saying. He steeled himself for close-quarters combat, checking the charge-cell on his blaster to find he had some twenty shots left. Looking to his side, the passengers were coolly confident and relaxed.

On silent wings, almost, the pirates came. Jake was once again slightly behind as he reacted to the passengers, not the pirates. Striking fast, quick, and light, they were devilish whirlwinds of destruction, somehow coordinating their movements without communication. Jake could do naught but flail besides them, though he did take down a couple himself by pistol-whipping one, and shoving his gun into the chest of another, squeezing the trigger. First one, then another ran, until all the surviving pirates were in retreat. Guns were hefted, and the executioners fired down the straight hallway, each blaster bolt finding its mark.

None survived.

The leader of the passengers heaved a sigh, then quietly rasped, "We need to get moving as fast as possible. This changes everything."

Throughout a rather inept interrogation by Dobbs, and then a more thorough one by both Adam and Jake, the passengers remained quiet. The only thing they would divulge was that they had been trained to resist a Bureau 'interrogation' squad, so anything the crew of the Serendipity could do was useless. Eventually, they gave up and cut the Vipers off their ship by repositioning the medium blaster and blowing both off. Kimberly ran to-and-fro on the ship, mending it to the point where it would once again fly. Ace was brought on-board via the damaged airlock, which Kimberly expertly mended before the jump to hyperspace. They were on their way to Trishka now, and perhaps some answers.

"We are now jumping into the Trishka system. Please secure all stations and prepare for atmospheric entry."

The ship shuddered as it came out of hyperspace, then started the slow approach to Misfire. Jake was quivering in anticipation, and the passengers were standing quietly next to him, their belongings in hand. Dobbs was dry-washing his hands and Kimberly was playing with some power relay or another trying to get it work. The ship shook as it entered the atmosphere, which served to only antagonize Jake. Settling down on the landing pad, the leader of the passengers passed some credits into Dobbs' hand and said "for your trouble, and for closed lips". They left without a further word, leaving the crew wondering what had happened. It was a credit stick for 100,000 credits.

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Ace had been sleeping in the cabin he had been given, but emerged now that they were at their destination. Yawning and stretching his arms over his head, he inquired as to what they were doing now. Jake, of course, didn't even wait for anything. He was out the door on the passengers' heels, which made them shoot him askance glances. Kimberly left the power relay and joined the rest of the crew around the mess hall table. Dobbs stood at the head of the table, twelve o'clock, while clockwise was Adam, Kimberly, and Ace at six o'clock. Dobbs exchanged glances with everyone, then summed everything up by saying "that was weird." Nods of agreement were evident from everyone. Ace spoke up, hesitantly.

"Umm... sir? I was just wondering if you could get me another Viper... I'd be in debt and all that jazz..." It was rather obvious that displaying such humility was not his usual cup of tea.

"I suppose we owe you that much," Dobbs said, bouncing the credit chip on his hand. "And this should cover it. Kimberly, take Ace down to the shipyards and pick out a Viper." She looked at him like he had just said something stupid, snatched the credit chip out of his hand, and walked away without checking to see if Ace was following. He ran to catch up.

Dobbs and Adam were alone now. The captain looked after Kimberly until she left, making sure she was out of earshot before continuing, "I want to know who the hell those people were."

"Me too sir, but... we might not want to know, I think. If you catch my drift. It's more than likely trouble we don't wanna get into."

"I understand," Dobbs sighed, "but still... ask around a bit. Myself, I'm going to go see about some cargo. I'll be in touch." They both left the Serendipity and went their separate ways.

Upon leaving the ship, Jake surveyed the surrounding landscape, looking for any familiar faces. A figure sat in the patio of a small restaurant, garbed in a thick black cloak. The weather was mild, about 25-degrees Celsius, so it was unusual to see someone dressed so. The hood fell backwards a little, revealing a shock of red hair. Could it be? Barely containing his excitement, Jake strolled over to the patio and sat down at the same table as the figure. Eamon Flannigan's face regarded Jake with solemn eyes.

"You still crewing with that bum?" he asked, obviously not judging Dobbs as a very competent man, nor a man worthy to be in command of anything.

Jake just shook his head, they had had this discussion before. "I got your message and came running. What do you need?"

Eamon sat silently for a moment, then produced a flask from a pocket and took a sip. He proffered it to Jake, but he shook his head yet again. Eamon just took another gulp of it and stated frankly: "We've lost a lot of good people. McGowan, that rat-bastard, blind-sided us. Thing is..." he leaned forward conspiratorially, "they had help. From the Bureau."

Jake looked at him askance, as if he wasn't sure. "The Bureau... supporting pirates? But they're Fed intel, basically. Why would they...?"

Eamon gave him a withering look, as if asking where his brains were vacationing. Jake promptly stopped talking. "Anyways, fact of the matter is," Eamon continued after a moment, "we could sure use you." The sobriety of Eamon's speech shocked Jake, almost to the point of accepting, but he remembered his reasons, and once again refused.

"I'm sorry Eamon... but, I can't help you. I wish I could."

Eamon nodded as if he had expected nothing less, but had to try. "At least keep an eye out for anything that might interest us, eh?"

Jake got up without a word and walked back to the ship.

It was a subdued bar, the kind of seedy establishment that would yield any amount of information - for the right price. The only problem was finding the right person to talk to. The barkeep was good for starters, so Adam walked over to him and sat at the bar, ordering a beer. The bartender had a beer gut for sure, and was balding. Lazy eyes and a slack face let off the vibe of incompetence, but deft hand movements and covert observations showed that he was a shrewd, political, and knowledgeable man. Jake risked it and asked if five men had passed through, giving thumbnail descriptions of each. The barkeep shook his head in an affirmative manner.

"Had 'em through her not a half-hour past. Ordered a few beers, asked after good lodging. I pointed 'em to the hotel across the street, good rates. I recommend it to most people."

Adam smiled, slid a credit chip across the bar, and thanked the man. Dropping from the stool, he walked out the door and, after a moment's hesitation, into the hotel. The lobby was spartan, the only thing worthy of note being the reception desk. It was a five-story building and had an elevator to each side of the reception desk. A bored-looking man in a bellhop uniform sat behind it, not bothering to acknowledge Adam until he approached. Then all he did was lazily raise his eyes to regard him with what could best be described as disinterest.

"You check in five guys recently?"

If eyes could kill, his would've, but he checked the records anyways and nodded.


"What's it to you?"

Adam flashed a credit chip, but then pocketed it before the now-hungry eyes could molest it further. The bellhop rattled off five names, then Adam tossed him the credit chip. He returned to the ship, ready to look up Daniel McKechnie, Vincent Smith, Travis Martinez, John Bender, and Allen Garrison on the Federation database.

It was a short walk to the shipyards and Ace was flirting with Kimberly the entire time. She tried her best to act coolly and just ignore it, but his attempts were rather... overt. Finally, she snubbed him by rather tactlessly informing him that she was taken. He wasn't her type, besides, as he was obviously an egotistical showman, a flyboy. After that, he was quite subdued.

The ship salesman had a plastic smile and spoke fast. A tie that was obviously a clip-on and a cheap suit ironed to perfection underlined his desire to move up the social ladder. "What can I do you folks for?" he asked, his feigned interest bugging the hell out of Kimberly. She just jerked her thumb towards Ace, indicating it was him he should be talking to.

"He needs a new ship. Viper."

The salesman's full attention was on Ace and they all walked over to the Viper lot, where the salesman indicated a rather beat-up model. "This one's used, and a steal at 40,000 credits, eh?" Kimberly crawled inside and checked the engine, then came back out and shook her head. "If by steal, you mean robbing us, then yes, you're right. Next."

The expression on the salesman's face was cross as he realized he was going to con no one today, then he led them on to the stock, fresh-from-the-factory models. They selected one in pristine condition and payed roughly 88,000 credits. Kimberly left, heading back for the ship. She felt like taking a shower. Or three.

Dobbs was rather upset as he had been forced to the Mission BBS to find a way to make honest work. One-by-one, Jake, Adam, and Kimberly filed into the ship's mess hall, each bearing stories of their own escapades on Misfire. Adam, after checking the Federation database to find that they were listed as missing Federation commandos, had the most to tell, while Jake would say nothing other than he had been meeting an old friend. Disdain ran through Kimberly's voice as she told her tale with a minimum of detail.

They lingered for a while, but it was apparent that they had to get going. Powering up the ship, it launched: destination Honor in the Bloodstone system. Everything seemed to be back to normal, for the time being, at least.

El Fin

(given this, I might just write more about the travels of the Serendipity elsewhere, but for the purposes of the short story contest, this is all for now)

This post has been edited by zapp : 30 December 2008 - 02:43 PM

I really liked reading your story. The only thing I noticed wrong with it was in the last part where you said four people but listed five names. Once again, I loved your story! I wana read more =p