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 (8 page)

BOOK: Queen of the Pirates
4.52Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

“I have never sailed this close to the edge of known space,” she began, “and the Gazette is remarkably thin on details about the
Sarmarsh
system. What does anybody know that might help?”

There were a lot of confused faces and shrugs around the table: Her Flag Centurion Enej Zivkovic; Denis Jež, her second in command; Tamara Strnad, his tactical officer; Command Centurions Alber’ d’Maine from
Rajput
and Tomas Kigali off of the escort
CR–264
.

“I have some very old navigation charts,” Kigali finally spoke up, “dating back a couple of centuries. Enough to be able to calculate orbits and such. Nothing new enough to say who lives there.”

“Centuries?” Jež asked incredulously.

Kigali shrugged a second time. “It’s a weird hobby, I admit,” he said, “but I was looking for places to solo a yacht through heavy hazards. Never ended up taking that vacation, but found some of the old notes.”

He called up a file and displayed it over the table.


Sarmarsh
is a young, hot, metal–poor star,” he said, highlighting things as he spoke. “Two small, uninhabitable planets close in. Then an incredibly broad asteroid belt that looks like it would have a been a nice place to live, had it coalesced into a single planet, maybe two. Instead, the belt runs almost out to the orbit of
IV
.”

Three spots lit up, buried deep in the thick asteroid belt.


Sarmarsh III
turns out to only be one of three dwarf planets tucked in there,” he continued. “The other two,
IIIb
and
IIIc
, were found later and named oddly, since
IV
and
V
were already in the navigation files.”

An orbital movement ring appeared just beyond the belt, with a single, orangish–red gas giant displayed.

“Nobody has ever bothered to study the place much,” Kigali said, “but the current theory is that the gravity from
IV
ripped the proto–planet ring at
III
apart. It is, as you can see, a navigation mess. Nice place for pirates to hide. Hard to root them out. A plethora of small moons orbiting
IV
, plus one big one, far enough out and large enough that it has its own moon in turn.”

Jessica froze the projection in place and rose. She thought better walking around it, trying to find the best place to arrive.

She stopped opposite Kigali and speared him with a look. “How thick is the belt?”

He smiled back at her. “A belt like this is a psychological hazard, sir,” he said, “rather than a physical one. There is a lot of space between the big rocks, and most of them are moving like a shoal of fish, same general direction, same speed.”

She raised one eyebrow silently at him.

“Shields up, scanners maxed, small movements. Safe to transit. The challenge in a solo is to spend several days in there, having to plot a course before napping, then not sleeping much for a week.”

She nodded and returned to her chair. The coffee was getting cool. The cookies were long since gone, although their ghosts would stay as long as the air filtration system would let them.

“So landing deeper in and sneaking out wouldn’t work?” she confirmed.

“If they are the least bit awake, they’ll be able to run before we can get clear and give chase,” he agreed.

“On the other hand,” Denis spoke up, “that thing is likely to be a wall in their minds, since nobody would run in there at speed, especially not being chased by us, unless they were extremely desperate.”

Jessica nodded and looked at
Auberon
’s tactical officer. “Tamara,” she said, “Blue Team/Gold Team exercise. You’re Blue. Alber’, you’re Gold.”

Tamara nodded and spun the projection a quarter. “I’m camped on the big moon,” she said slowly. “With an observation post on the smaller moon orbiting. Call the big one
Alpha
and the small one
Gamma
for now. The spotter crews on
Gamma
are unhappy being separated from what entertainment is available on
Alpha
. I have to have a taskmaster to keep people on track, but we’re pirates, and we’re safe in our bolthole, so discipline is a little loose and lax.”

She reached out and spun the projection again.

“I agree that the asteroids are a wall, but I’m watching in case somebody tries to sneak up, or drive us into a trap like the
Fribourg Empire
tried to do to
Auberon
last year.
IV
creates a big blind spot, but radiation is too heavy for a satellite to operate indefinitely, and would be expensive, so I rely on
Alpha
’s orbit to carry me around. I would drop probes out a ways to watch the open–space approaches, but that’s about it.”

Jessica nodded. “Solid, creative. Good pirate thinking. Alber’?”

D'Maine was a dark, serious man. He scowled furiously as he thought. “We hop well short,” he growled. “Clear at the edge of the system so we can watch the orbital mechanics of the
IV
moons for a bit. Then we hop closer to confirm things, maybe a light–hour out, so we can hear near–real–time comm traffic.”

He slurped at his coffee and squinted. With one hand, he zoomed the projection until the gas giant was a giant marble taking up one whole edge.

Suddenly, he smiled. It was a feral event that seemed to take over his entire body as he started to type.

A set of red arrows appeared inside the projection.

“Depending on where the moons are, and where they are headed,” he said, “one of these vectors should drop us right on the back side of a base on
Alpha
, just below a fading horizon. Then we sneak up on them. We should have overwhelming firepower.”

“It’s still a base on a planetary surface,” Denis interjected. “That means the possibility of Primaries, and maybe even a Type–IV beam.”

Jessica considered the chances. Primaries were likely, at least a few of them. Would anyone sell pirates a beam–weapon emplacement that big? Probably. It would have been sold to a legitimate buyer as part of a planetary defense array, or stolen while in route. Probably only one, since they were so big and required so much power, but they could force a battleship to keep a respectful distance.

Even the enormous Fleet HQ at
Ladaux
had only eight of them, protecting the points of an imaginary cube. Regional bases often had only two or three. Still, best to be prepared.

“Alber’,” she said, “can you do the same thing here that you did at
Qui–Ping
? When
IFV Amsel
was chasing us?”

He stared at her blankly for a second. “While dropping into low orbit?”

“Forget the orbit at this moment,” she replied. “At full speed blasting through.”

“Absolutely, commander,” he replied with a shark smile. “We practice that maneuver regularly.”

“Perfect,” she said. “Here’s how we’ll handle the approach…”

Chapter XI

Date of the Republic October 3, 393 Sarmarsh IV

“Commander, you’re sure this isn’t a mockup someone made as a training exercise?” her first officer asked with a trace of surprise in his voice.

“No,” Jessica shook her head as the projection sharpened and revealed the base.

Auberon
and her squadron had been able to see very little from the edge of the system. Jumping to just under forty light minutes out had helped. They had been able to identify the base and listen to the traffic and the sensors the place was running.

They obviously weren’t expecting trouble, as several scanners were active. Not hostile, but sending pulses out and listening, as if they belonged here.

The last jump had dropped them close enough to fire a probe over the horizon as they closed.

The base was a monster.

Jessica’s sensor centurion, Daniel Giroux, quickly began highlighting gun emplacements, turrets, missile launchers, scanner towers, and an entire flight bay ready to send fighters up to engage them.

“I’ve seen Regional Fleet Bases less well armed,” the projection of Tomas Kigali said from his bridge.

“Somebody’s awake over there,” Giroux said. “We’re being hailed by a representative of the government of
Corynthe
.”

Giroux paused for a moment as he listened.

“And we’re apparently trespassing, Commander.”

Jessica nodded to herself. This had just gotten much bigger than a simple case of highwaymen.

“Launch the flight wing,” she said.

Ξ

Senior Flight Centurion Milos Pavlovic, callsign
Jouster
, still lived for that surge of acceleration as his little M–5
Harpoon
fighter leapt clear of
Auberon
’s bow. Across the way, Ainsley Barret,
da Vinci
, came clear as well, although her P–4
Outrider
was a scout and not a knife–fighter. And this would be a knife–fight. But he wanted eyes out here right now. Guns and missiles would come along soon enough.

Jouster
took charge as the rest of the Flight Wing launched. A Strike Carrier like
Auberon
was supposed to have three wings of fighters. On every other vessel in her class, that was nine identical fighters, usually M–5’s or M–6’s.
Auberon
was special.

Instead of three full wings, she only had two, so six
Harpoons
. Instead of the third wing, she had two big S–11
Orca
–class fighter–bombers and
da Vinci
in her little scout. They had less dog–fighting capability than an Imperial squadron, which was normally twelve fighters, but far greater overall firepower when the
Orcas
opened up.

To top all that off, someone, somewhere along the way, had removed the three administrative shuttles that the ship was originally issued and replaced them with a GunShip and a DropShip. Nose–on, the Flight had enough firepower to take on a heavy cruiser.

Today, they lined up in what
Jouster
called a Scorpion formation. His wing on the left, three fighters stacked up and back like stairs, with his second in command,
Southbound,
and her two wingmates on the right. In the middle, the GunShip
Necromancer
, flanked by the two
Orcas
, with
da Vinci
over the top keeping watch.

It was finally time to fly. No more briefings. No more simulators. It had been
seven
months since the last time he had flown into combat, against the Imperial Battleship
Amsel
at
Qui–Ping
. He was ready. His team was ready. Even the newbie, fresh out of flight school, was ready.

They had been very lucky during the last campaign. The only casualty had been Gustav Papp,
Ironside
. Considering what they had done, and the odds, a lesser wing wouldn’t have held up so well. And the new kid,
Hànchén
, aka Flight Coronet Murali Ma, seemed to be fitting in with
Southbound
and
Bitter Kitten
.. Still wet behind the ears, but a serious student of military history. Today, he was very likely to discover military history first hand.

Time to act like a commander.


Da Vinci
, this is
Jouster
,” he said as the fighters all settled into place, “what’s the enemy status?”

“Zero encryption,
Jouster
,” Ainsley Barrett,
da Vinci
, replied quickly, “but some seriously strange code words going back and forth. And not nearly enough panic in their voices to suit me.”

“Roger that,” he said.

Pirates were always expecting the law to show up. When it did, they would fight like cornered rats. It was his job to be the weasel. Behind and above him, the hunters.

“Flag, this is
Jouster
,” he said, keying the message to Commander Keller and her staff. “Flight wing is ready to make our run.”

“Confirmed,
Jouster
,” he heard Keller reply immediately. “Assume we did not surprise them as much as we hope and that they will start shooting as soon as you come over the horizon. Stand by to redline your engines for the final approach. Missile impact is set to time–on–target in thirty seconds.”

Milos smiled. Standard Republic tactics called for them to come in low on the horizon, fast, but slow enough to maneuver. Bad guys over there would be ready to fire as soon they came into sight, guided by passive scanners using directed beam communication to relay telemetry data.

Right now, two stealth missiles were sneaking in ahead of the wing. One was aimed right at a big cluster of towers on
Gamma
’s moon. Another had been fired blind at the back–side of
Alpha
, set to home in on anything broadcasting. Since there were no friendlies and no civilians around here, any loud signal was probably another sensor base, trying to hide.

“Flight wing, this is
Jouster
,” he said as the countdown clock reached fifteen seconds. “Redline everything now. Go go go!”

He put words to deeds and slammed the throttle forward to the last stop. The surge of power drove him backwards into the seat in an embrace he found almost carnal. Over there, everything should be blue–shifting something fierce as they picked up his jump in speed.

And then, the surprise.

Da Vinci
had the best sensors, and was relaying her boards to everyone else on a tight beam. The back side of
Alpha
and the base on
Gamma
both lit up within a second of each other as
Auberon
’s two stealth missiles, launched during the noisy chaos of the wing coming out, impacted.

Hopefully, that blinded them right at the moment his force had jumped forward. He agreed with Ainsley, those people really needed more panic. Time to go to work.

Ξ

Denis sat at the center of his bridge and watched everything flow together. Technically, it was her bridge. Keller was the command centurion in charge, according to Fleet, but she had made good her promise to let him fight
Auberon
while she commanded the entire squadron down on the flag bridge.

BOOK: Queen of the Pirates
4.52Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

A Strong Hand by Catt Ford
The Green Ticket by March, Samantha
The Biology of Luck by Jacob M. Appel
Mirrors by Ted Dekker
Love Inspired May 2015 #1 by Brenda Minton, Felicia Mason, Lorraine Beatty
King's Blood by Judith Tarr
What Lies Between Us by Nayomi Munaweera