Read Queen of the Pirates Online

Authors: Blaze Ward

Tags: #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #Exploration, #Hard Science Fiction, #Space Fleet, #Space Opera, #Military, #Artificial intelligence, #Galactic Empire, #starship, #Pirates, #Space Exploration

Queen of the Pirates (26 page)

BOOK: Queen of the Pirates
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Denis fixed her with a hard, thoughtful look. A sneaky, mischief–filled look. “Got a second?”

Jessica nodded slowly, carefully. You never knew what interesting thoughts would cross this man’s mind.

He rose from the command chair and headed to the little day office he used occasionally for paperwork. She followed warily.

Inside, he waited until she closed the hatch and then smiled the most evil smile she had seen all week.

“Have you considered,” he opened strong, “recruiting out here?”

Jessica blinked. “Pirates?”

“Pilots.”

“Same thing,” she replied. “Why?”

“Two birds,” he smiled wickedly. “One stone.”

“What?”

“If we were to do some recruiting out here, boss,” he said carefully, “we would take only the best right?”

“Sure. Waste of time to do anything less.”

“Right, so we take their best pilots and turn them into
Aquitaine
. And pull them out of the recruiting and training pool of pilots out here. Pirates get worse. We get better. And they already come trained, so all we have to do is socialize them properly. You know, salad fork and wine glass kinds of things.”

“Okay, hotshot,” she shot back. “Why would they be interested?”

“The War Zone,” he said simply. “Give them the chance to go head–to–head with the best the
Fribourg Empire
has, in real combat, instead of weasels chasing chickens in the boonies.”

“Oh, hell, that might work,” she whispered. “Little miss
Furious
would probably jump at the chance to fly in a wing that was half or more female.”

“So who do we ask? And when?” Denis asked.

“Normally, a lovely topic for dinner,” Jessica replied, eyes tracking the horizon, “especially tomorrow when we have all the big shots for a formal state affair. But I think I’d rather not ask Arnulf for permission, in front of the Red Admiral. I think I’d like that to be a surprise. Let me talk to David first and see if he’ll go for it.”

“They do owe us,” Denis smiled slyly.

“That they do,” she said. “I just haven’t figured out how to collect yet.”

Ξ

Bitter Kitten
had a moment of utter panic as she watched the situation unfold.

Some fool of a pirate had seen her pull a bootlegger reverse and tried the same thing. And hadn’t the slightest clue how to do it.

You have to shut the engines down completely, dumb–shit. Zero thrust, but keep everything warm. Tweak only two of the gyroscopes, manually, so they spin you end–for–end while momentum keeps you going forward. And you have to take that moment to make sure everything is lined up before you redline the engines at the other end.

Dipshit over there had dialed them back to almost nothing.
Almost nothing
. And then started his spin. And threw in a good deal of yaw as well.

That turned into a barrel–rolling corkscrew.

And then he had panicked. And red–lined the throttle. Without looking around.

From the rear scanner, it was going to be close. Like, paint–scraping–the–hull close, if he didn’t just slam right into the side of the last way–point freighter at full power.

This was going to be messy.

At least it would be one of those Uglies: front half Imperial, back half Creator–only–knew. It would be a shame to street–pizza one of the nicer fighter craft.

And, cannonball.

There was no sound in space. That was good. Otherwise, that would have been a roomful of anvils thrown down a flight of stairs. Probably sounded exactly like that on the freighter.

Both craft seemed to have survived, although the Ugly was shedding parts and wobbling. The freighter was probably leaking at the seams in a few places, but it looked like it had been more of a bad parking job than a hit and run. Minimal debris.

The radio came alive on the private channel.


Cayenne
,”
da Vinci
said from her high orbit overwatch, “you’re on.”

“Roger that,”
Gaucho
replied. “EVA marines already suited up. Be there in seven minutes.”

“Make it four, hotshot,”
da Vinci
replied, her voice cool and almost bored. “Don’t think his frame will stay together that long.”

Bitter Kitten
smiled.

Amateur.

Speaking of…

She recognized the craft, a late–model Imperial off of
Kali–ma
. Probably an
A–6
, although she hadn’t really paid that much attention earlier. The pilot was running in last right now. What did he matter?

Except that he was lined up nose–to–nose with her.

Bitter Kitten
grumbled at poor manners and blipped her nose up a notch. She could blast right over the top of him at full speed.

Too bad there wasn’t an atmosphere to slipstream him when she did.

She watched the other craft shift up as well, again dead–on to a collision course.

You son of a…

There was no chance that was accidental.
Bitter Kitten
shifted her path a shade to her left.

Sure enough, he shifted as well.

Little punk wants to play chicken, does he?

She cursed the lack of guns right now. In the real world, he would be a puff of flaming wreckage slowly de–orbiting right about now.

Stupid lame–ass pirate.

Bitter Kitten
red–lined her engines briefly. And then he did too.

She smiled. It was kinda like dancing, although she had never done a dance fight at this rate of closure. You did that stuff in a club, not orbit. Usually.

Or you did it with guns.

If I’d have known it was that kind of party, bucko, I’d have brought the little black dress…

She smiled wickedly. Targeting scanners didn’t register a lock on her, so punk–boy over there was flying purely on visuals.

Time to go weasel.

Bitter Kitten
rolled her craft ninety degrees to the right, standing it on one ear if the planet had been closer. Sure enough, dancer–boy did the same.

They would pass belly–to–belly if they didn’t slam into each other.

No reverse cowgirl for me, bad–boy. Not that kind of girl. At least not on the first date with some lame pirate punk I barely know.

She eased the throttle slowly back. Not so fast he would notice, but enough to throw his timing off.

Now the fun part.

Slowly, she eased the primary gyroscope out of alignment. The nose of her little craft began to drift up, out of the line of flight.

And the engines went down.

It was like dropping her foot in the snow on a sled as a kid blasting down the street. Still going like hell, but now starting to wobble off that straight–line that was going to slam you into a mailbox.

And dumbshit over there wouldn’t pick up on the drift until it was too late.

She could feel inertia driving her up instead of back. For fun, and to play with the kid over there, she rolled half over, so she would be looking up at him as they passed.

Again, assuming he wasn’t trying to kill her.

These people weren’t that crazy, were they? No terrible samurai bad–ass warrior code that requires suicide over failure? Right?

She took a deep breath.

There we are. Past the last check–point.

Bitter Kitten red–lined her engines and blipped her nose back up, like she was pointed at the boy and going to ram him. Except now there was an S in her flight path. She was aimed right at him, but still drifting up and away even as she closed the distance.

He panicked anyway and flinched his yoke away from her, diving straight down relative as fast as his engines could take him.

Too bad there was no atmosphere this high, bucko. Would have been nice to watch you start tumbling and then shatter.

Bitter Kitten
looked around. Clear skies in every direction.

Hànchén
and the girl–pilot were still a ways back, redlining engines and dancing their own dance fight. If she wasn’t careful, they might even catch her.

I don’t think so.

Chapter XXXIV

Date of the Republic February 7, 394 Above Callumnia

Jessica was there to greet David as he stepped down onto the deck from the ugly little gunship made of parts someone had stolen from the Imperials before she had even been born. She hoped he recognized the honor she did him, the trust, to let him land his own craft, his own armed shuttle, onto
Auberon
’s flight deck instead of relying on
Gaucho
and
Cayenne
.

Nobody else got that. Hell, Ian Zhao got transported with a small cadre of armed marines when he came aboard. At least until he started to act nicer.

David stepped onto the deck and smiled at her. “Permission to come aboard, Admiral?”

“That’s Command Centurion, Captain Rodriguez,” she said lightly.

“According to the King of the Pirates, m’lady” he said with a smile down at her and a slight bow, “you’re Admiral Keller. Far be it for me to gainsay the man.”

Jessica smiled back and shook his hand. “Welcome aboard.”

She led him back to the hatch and suffered to be escorted on his arm, as if he were a proper
Aquitaine
gentleman, rather than a blood–thirsty pirate. She could see Desianna’s touch in everything about the man.

Marcelle awaited them in her office, water boiled and beans just ground and ready for coffee.

David took the seat with a soft whistle.

“So,” he said as Jessica sat, “to what do I own this honor? You didn’t ask me to come early for a purely social visit.”

Jessica smiled as Marcelle brewed and poured.

“I’m not sure,” she began, “how much your mother has told you about the purpose of this grand Promenade.”

He had an easy smile. In fact, there was a very relaxed manner about him that was so different from most of the pirates. Only Daneel…

Jessica could tell he would make a good king someday. He was already a good prince. Not that the Captains would ever allow it. Too much of a threat to their own power base, especially if they allowed Arnulf to change the laws of succession to something less bloody.

“Ian Zhao and Jing Du are up to no good,” he replied after a beat. “Father thinks he can control them, rebuff them. You and my mother don’t agree. She suggested this to throw off their timing, because the Imperials are probably involved as well and they have so far to come to get out here and cause mischief. Having the Red Admiral in your hands also throws things off. Close?”

Jessica blinked.

Apparently, Desianna had told him everything. Or she hadn’t and he had done the math himself.

It was so rare to run into someone else capable of seeing so many moves ahead. If not for Daneel, and her promise to Desianna, she might find this young man extremely interesting.

Really? Her type were pirates? Who knew?

She took a breath as Marcelle served the coffee and departed.

“Close enough,” she said. “
Aquitaine
has a vested interest in the stability of
Lincolnshire
. Desianna has convinced me that keeping Arnulf in power as long as possible serves those ends. And when his time comes, to have a peaceful transition of power to you as a dynast, hopefully turning
Corynthe
into a peace–abiding galactic citizen.”

“And you want me to swear fealty in return for your support?” David asked with the barest hint of sarcasm.

“You wouldn’t mean it,” she shot back lightly. “No, I want to help.”

She watched his eyebrows climb.

“And you don’t think this convoy helps?” he asked.

“Not enough. I want to suggest something really radical and get your opinion, quietly. It serves both our ends.”

He leaned forward now, sipping on the coffee. “Go on.”

“Would
Corynthe
acquiesce to
Aquitaine
recruiting pilots out here for our fleet?”

David had that same trick to his eyes that Desianna had. Or Moirrey. He picked out a spot on the horizon and flickered his eyes back and forth, like an abacus calculating.

“Which ones?” he said a moment later. He had a smile like a great cat hunting.

“Good, but potentially–politically–unpalatable ones,” she replied.

“Thereby removing trouble–makers from the pool, now and in the future,” he concluded. “What would you offer them?”

“The war,” she said simply. “Flying with the best
Aquitaine
has, against the best the
Fribourg Empire
can field. Pilots are pilots.”

He leaned back with a laugh. “That they are,” he said. “Five years ago, I would have leapt at the chance.”

“Would it work here?”

“Let me ask Arnulf privately. Jing Du would never go for it, but he can be maneuvered out of position on this one,” David said seriously. “Having never been a pilot himself, he won’t understand the allure. And yes, I can see why you wouldn’t want to discuss this over dinner with the Red Admiral.”

“Exactly,” Jessica replied. “That would be the war out here I’m trying to prevent.”

Chapter XXXV

Date of the Republic February 7, 394 Above Callumnia

She had done this twice before. Hosted the major players in a formal dinner aboard
Auberon
. Let Chef Aoiki go completely over the top with several days planning, and a whole new planet below to gather ingredients.

It would be easy. Right?

The first had been a tactical success, using Jessica’s elaborate personal scoring procedures. Total strangers, many of them mortal enemies and back–stabbing gunsels, forced to dress nicely, behave nicely, and eat a formal meal in nine courses with a dead minimum of wine to keep them sharp.

There had been no duels as a result. The Red Admiral had even complimented her afterwards for being such a pleasant and gracious host. Hopefully, he would continue to believe this mirage. Certainly, most of the
Corynthe
contingent seemed to.

BOOK: Queen of the Pirates
9.44Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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