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 (7 page)

BOOK: Queen of the Pirates
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“Oh, I understand,” Jessica said conversationally. “I’m just playing for higher stakes than you are.
Cayenne
, you’re on.”

She watched the boy’s confusion grow. He shook his head and cocked it to the side like a dog might.

Jessica grinned politely at him.

Off her starboard beam, the night abruptly lit up with a howl as the big, red DropShip surged above the ridge and slid forward, belly turret tracking and a pair of searchlights blinding everyone.

Jessica watched the goons point their weapons up for a second before they realized that they had nothing that could even scratch the DropShip’s armor.

“I would suggest,” she called above the roar of engines, “that you all put your weapons down nicely. I will not give you a second warning.”

She waited a couple of beats for the shock to set in.

“Now!” she snapped.

She was rewarded by that special sound that metal makes when it impacts on concrete.

Jessica stepped clear of the vehicle as Marcelle and Tawfeek got out and began collecting guns from the goons.

Cayenne
balanced on her rear landing struts just long enough to off–load eight more marines and Denis Jež, before ascending back up, the twin ventral turret never once wavering from the box truck in front.

Within moments, the men in black had been disarmed, searched, and herded into a small dispirited cluster. Jessica watched the punk in the longcoat as one of the marines searched him for weapons.

Jessica walked over to Yeoman Kermode, her favorite evil engineering gnome and smiled. “Perhaps you could introduce me to your friends, Moirrey?”

Jessica watched the engineering pixie’s smile light up as Moirrey stuffed a small pistol back into her bag.

“Commander,” Moirrey chirped, “it is my great pleasure to introduce you to me cousin Dale, and me best friend from school, Dina Zhao.”

Jessica shook hands with both with a smile. She gestured the group to follow her as she walked back to the punk in the long coat.

She sized him up for several moments before speaking. He seemed a little too defiant for the situation.

Jessica turned to the other group. “Which of you is his second in command?” she asked loudly.

Most of the eyes turned to a big thug with a scarred face. Jessica addressed herself to him.

“All of you are coming with me right now, but when I leave this planet, you will behave yourselves. I don’t feel the need to hurt you today, but if anything happens to these people,” she said as she pointed to Dale and Dina, “I will hunt you down when I return, and hang you all. Then I will destroy your organization. And then I will hunt down your families and friends and destroy them as well. I will even shoot your dog. I will know all your names and your blood types before I release you. Am I clear?”

The man scowled down at her, but nodded.

“Good,” Jessica said harshly. “Make sure his boss understands that when you see him tomorrow.”

“And what do you think you’re going to do with me?” the man sneered as she turned back.

“I’m taking you with me.” Jessica smiled harshly. “I’m hunting pirates, and caught you first thing.”

“Do you know who I am?” he snarled down at her from the distance. “You can’t touch me.”

Jessica pointed up and back at
Cayenne
.

“I’m the
Republic of Aquitaine
Navy, you two–bit chiseling shit. I can do anything I want. You should be looking to find a reason why I shouldn’t hang you from the neck until dead.”

She glanced at Marcelle and Tawfeek. The tall woman nodded. Jessica pulled the comm from her outer pocket.


Cayenne
, land now so we can transport the vehicles and the prisoners.”

She turned back to Moirrey’s friends.

“Dina,” Jessica said, “you should be safe to return to your office and file a police report if you would like. Dale, if you would drive your rig aboard the DropShip, we’ll make sure you get home after a brief stop.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Ξ

Jessica watched the last of the thugs from the surface being escorted into
Auberon
’s brig by her dragoon, Navin Crncevic, Navin the Black, and his entire marine force.

All fifty–eight of them.

The marines did not seem pleased. She watched them make that unhappiness plain to their prisoners.

When the task was done, Navin returned with an entire fire team and a heavy weapons squad as well, mounting up in the DropShip and quickly settling in to bodyguard Jessica down on the surface.

Across the bay, the GunShip
Necromancer
had already launched and was waiting to escort them back down to the surface, to a very late dinner date at the Kermode farm.

It was overkill, but she needed to make it clear to people around here that she wasn’t going to play by the old rules. She had cracked harder heads than these together.

Anyone giving her a reason now was going to be very, very sorry.

Chapter IX

Date of the Republic September 26, 393 Ramsey System

Denis took a deep breath and knocked on the door to Commander Keller’s office. It opened immediately.

Inside, he found her deep in paperwork and probably her third cup of coffee this morning.

“What’s our status, Denis?” she asked as she set down a report and rubbed her eyes.

He moved to the open chair and sat as the door closed behind him. She wasn’t a stickler for protocol, and it looked like she needed a break.

“Last shuttle is back from the surface and docked, sir,” he said simply.

He waited for her to nod.

“All of the prisoners, except the one we are keeping, were dropped off at the edge of Landing, fully clothed and unharmed.
Auberon
has been topped off with fresh food and water from the surface, plus general supplies for a long sail. Mrs. Kermode sent along a triple batch of chocolate chip cookie dough that your chief chef is preparing for dinner.”

“Did she now?” Jessica asked with wonder.

“She did.” He grinned at her.

Denis didn’t ask, but suspected, from things Moirrey had said, that the two women had accidentally turned into sisters. Not necessarily a bad thing. Keller didn’t seem to have any home life besides the fleet.

“I have also gotten everything prepped to break orbit in about forty–five minutes and head out–system for
9621 Jordani III
.”

“Course laid in and ready to go?” she asked with a strange look on her face.

Denis hesitated before answering. “Yes, sir.”

“Good, Denis,” she said simply. “The more people who believe that, the better. We’re headed to the
Sarmarsh
system first, and I’d like to catch them cold.”

Denis felt his eyes blinking rapidly as he fought to recall the Astrogation Gazette.

“Farther out?” he asked. “Republic side of the gulf, just inside the
Lincolnshire
systems, but not far from several trade routes between
Lincolnshire
,
Corynthe
, and
Salonnia
?”

“Very good, Denis,” she said with an even broader smile. “Worthless place to live. Metal–poor star. Wide asteroid belt. Couple of boring gas giants. Couple of boiling–hot rocks too close to the star for life.”

“Just exactly the sort of place pirates could hide if they wanted to be missed,” he said.

“That’s my expectation,” she replied. “Rumor suggests that they’re too big for
Lincolnshire
to handle, so I want to see who’s funding them.”

“And thus, our little canary down in the brig.”

“Correct,” she said. “Has Mr. Bedrosian started to talk yet?”

“Only to complain, sir.”

He watched her lean back in her chair and stretch by turning her shoulders nearly sideways each direction. He’d probably dislocate something trying that.

She fixed him with a tight stare, as if reading his mind. Maybe she did that, too.

“Have Navin assign somebody to play good cop,” she said with a feral purr. “We have time to get through to that punk. And I won’t know what questions to ask until we find out what’s at
Sarmarsh
.”

“Roger that. Anything else you need before we head out?”

“No, Denis,” she said. “We’re probably six day’s sail to
Sarmarsh
, so we’ve got time to think. Let’s set up a way–point halfway, drop out, and spend a few hours meeting with the commanders and planning.”

“Will do,” he said, standing and nodding.

Denis smiled as he left Keller’s office. Time to go hunt pirates.

Ξ

Jessica watched her executive officer depart and realized how tired she felt.

It wasn’t just the daily grind of paperwork. That had become second nature after so many years. It was the people.

Moirrey’s parents were lovely people. They did remind her, in a way, of her own. She could see why Marcelle had suggested she introduce the engineering gnome to her family.

No, it was what had originally started out as a small welcome home dinner for Moirrey and had morphed into an Event, where Jessica had brought a GunShip and a DropShip, plus twenty heavily armed marines.

That was how you crashed a party.

The Kermodes had, in turn, invited all the cousins and neighbors to a massive, spur–of–the–moment potluck that had ended up turning into a dance in the middle of a recently–harvested wheat field, entertained by a random seven–piece band that changed membership every other song.

It had been a rousing success, as parties go.

Gods
, but she hated parties.

They just drained the energy out of her, like a fuel cell on full discharge. She had spent nearly an entire day hiding in her office, sending Marcelle for coffee and food occasionally, just so she didn’t have to deal with anyone.

Jessica stretched again, working out kinks in her thighs and butt. Right now, she needed a hot shower to loosen everything thing up, and then maybe forty minutes with the fighting robot.

The damned paperwork could wait.

Ξ

Jessica held both blades loosely and let her muscles flow. In her left hand, she held a long, straight, single–edged sword, what the combatants called a saber. Instead of something more exotic, it was made of simple steel. Tradition. In her right hand was a much shorter blade, also steel, but heavier, and with a reinforced cross–guard instead of the saber’s basket protecting her fingers, the
main–gauche
.

Valse d’Glaive.

The Sword Dance.

The robot across the mat from her fought as her mirror today. Normally, it was right–handed, since most people were as well. Being left–handed gave her an advantage. But she had learned over the years not to be predictable, a lesson brought home by one of her own pilots during the Long Raid on the Empire last year.

That was what the news media had taking to calling it.
The Long Raid
. Which was much better than
Keller’s Raid
, although she suspected that historians would gravitate toward the latter, eventually.

She shrugged and dropped into a fast squat once, bouncing back up to make sure everything was still flexible.

“Fighting Robot activate,” she called across the space. “Challenge Rating Four.”

The bipedal machine came to life. Its swords were the same length as hers, but made of a blunt plastic that would leave welts and bruises. And did.

“Combat Mode initiated,” a soothing woman’s voice replied. “Challenge Rating Four confirmed.”

Jessica’s bodysuit was already beginning to wick sweat from her skin. The deck boots would maintain traction, even if she did sweat too much, although her hair was back and a long piece of cloth had been tied around her forehead to keep everything out of her eyes.

Challenge Rating Four was enough today. On her best days, she could take the machine nine falls in fifteen on Rating Six. Five was when she had slept well and was relaxed. Four was when she had spent two days on her ass, moping and recovering.

She shifted to her right quickly. Humans were mostly right–handed, so to track her was to pivot against the grain of their own body. Today, it brought her closer to the saber.

The robot’s long blade flickered out, almost a kiss as the smaller blade came at her low.

Jessica let thought drain out of her.

Thinking slowed you down when blade dancing.

She rolled with the attack, letting her saber block the other blade, both points towards the floor, and turned an aerial cartwheel over the other sword.

Jessica landed lightly and slashed backwards with the
main–gauche
at shoulder height.

Her blade thumped loudly off the machine’s chest.

“Contact: Keller. Score 1 to 0,” the woman’s voice announced.

Jessica watched the robot step back and reset.

Yes. This was what she needed. To beat the living hell out of the fighting robot for a while.

It would be a good warm–up.

SARMARSH IV

Chapter X

Date of the Republic September 30, 393 1829 Bharani System

It felt odd having everyone present on her flag bridge, rather than talking to each of the commanders on their own bridges, wired in and displayed on the big hologram projector. It was less efficient this way, but more personal.

Jessica was trying to bring this group to the same level of team functionality she had with her old destroyer squadron, but she had only been with them for a year so far, rather than the three she’d on
Brightoak
. Still, they were getting close.

Marcelle had outdone herself. There was fresh coffee for everyone, and Chef Aoiki had come very close to replicating Mrs. Kermode’s recipe for chocolate chip cookies. The smell on the flag bridge was amazing. She might yet develop a taste for freshly–baked cookies. There were smiles on all sides, even normally–dour Command Centurion d’Maine of
Rajput
.

Jessica rapped her coffee mug on the table top to get everyone’s attention.

BOOK: Queen of the Pirates
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