Chapter 23: A Rescued Ship
Obiah brought his ship out of hyperspeed in the Meser Nebula that the man in the pawn shop had told them to go to. No sign of pirates. The others leaned closer to the windshield, peering out at the gold and pale pink vapors and hoping to see some signs of life.
“Can you all step back just a bit?” asked Obiah, feeling a bit claustrophobic.
“Sorry,” mumbled Tom.
He and the others took a few steps back. All of their nerves remained on edge.
“Do you think the pirates are here?” asked Brie.
“They’re here,” Rynah answered as she studied the color-laden area with its pink, green, and purple tie-dyes. A serious expression covered her face. She knew they were there. She felt it.
“When do you think they will come for us?” Brie asked.
“No doubt, when they feel like it,” replied Rynah in a low voice. “Obiah, raise the outer windows. I don’t want them to be able to see inside.”
Obiah pressed a button and tinted panels slid across the windshield, darkening the outside world.
“Cool! Tinted windows,” exclaimed Tom.
The others glanced at him and his excitement.
“What?” he said. “Man’s got to get excited about some things.”
“I suggest you keep your excitement on low for now,” Rynah’s tense voice mulled over the cockpit. “I only hope they believe our lie.”
A single ship flew over them, buzzing them. It shot off a few miles before turning and reapproaching, settling in front of them.
“Here we go,” said Rynah.
“Who are you?” came a harsh voice over the radio.
“We were sent here with supplies,” said Obiah.
“You were here yesterday, were you not?”
“Yes,” said Obiah, trying to make his voice sound as raspy as the man on the other end, “but your captain ordered two loads. We left the station this morning.”
More silence followed.
“What’s going on?” asked Tom.
“Shhh,” Rynah rounded on him.
“What supplies?” came the croaky voice over the radio.
“Freeze dried food, rum, powder, and women.” Obiah kicked himself when he clicked off the radio for saying that last part.
“Women?” Rynah hissed.
“Sorry,” whispered Obiah.
“Are they buying it?” asked Tom as silence continued over the radio.
“No doubt they are discussing it,” answered Solon.
“You know, for a geek, you know a lot,” said Tom.
“Silence,” Rynah’s voice cut them off. “They’re not buying it.”
“Just wait,” soothed Obiah.
The radio hissed to life. “Follow me.”
“Understood,” said Obiah. “See?” he turned to Rynah, “They did buy it.”
Rynah’s doubtful expression voiced her disbelief. “Brie, you and I need to make ourselves look like prostitutes.”
“What?” Brie did not like this plan.
“What kind of women do you think they are expecting?” Rynah said to her. She grabbed Brie’s arm and led her into the back of the ship.
“What is the problem sailor?” asked Jifdar, the captain of the Fragmyr Pirates.
“I’m sorry, sir,” replied the poor pirate. “We’ve tried, but she won’t let us near her.”
Jifdar eyed Solaris with a long, steady gaze. “What do you mean she won’t let you?”
“Well… uh… every time we try to board her, sir, she sends out electrical shocks. Grir tried to open up her engines yesterday and she slammed the hood down on top of him.”
“Impossible,” snapped Jifdar. “A ship may have character, but it is still just a ship, incapable of independent thought.”
“I saw it myself, sir. This ship seems to know things. It’s almost like…” his voice trailed off.
“Almost like what?” demanded the pirate captain.
“Almost like she has a mind of her own.”
“Preposterous,” hissed Jifdar.
A series of irate shouts and yells drew his attention to the far hangar. Jifdar glanced over at it, wondering what caused the commotion. One of his men attempted to open a valve on the rear hull of Solaris when a blast of black, gooey liquid shot out, smothering the pirate from head to foot. When he backed away, his foot slipped in the substance and he fell to the ground, rolling in the inky glop and covering himself in it and metal shavings, which littered the area. Jifdar shook his head, disappointed. Never had a ship given him so much trouble.
“I don’t care how you do it, but I want that bucket of bolts stripped down to its parts by evening. If it’s not ready to be sold off piece by piece, then you will be going to the shops, understand?”
“Yes, sir,” said the low ranking pirate with a quiver in his voice.
The hum of two ships hissed above their heads. Jifdar glanced up. He recognized his own vessel, but not the one trailing behind it. “I didn’t know we were expecting company today.”
“I wouldn’t know anything about that, captain.”
“I don’t recognize that ship.”
“Probably a new driver for Cal.”
“Perhaps,” Jifdar walked away. Sometimes Cal sent more than one supply ship in a week, but such things were rare and only happened upon request. Though he trusted his first mate, he decided to keep a close eye on this new arrival.
Brie looked at her heavily mascaraed eyes and luscious, red lips in a metal plate. She detested the heavy makeup look. She never wore makeup aside from a light powder on the days she had acne breakouts. Frowning, she put the metal plate down. “I look ridiculous.”
“You look like an available woman,” countered Rynah. She had her hair pulled up in a loose bun and wore the same heavy makeup Brie did, very different from her usual attire of a security uniform. Rynah readjusted the front of her blouse, making certain it revealed the top of her breasts. “Though I know how you feel.”
“We’ve landed,” Obiah called from the cockpit.
“Showtime,” said Rynah. “Alfric, Tom, and Solon, get out here.”
They answered her summons.
“You three will hide in here with your pistols ready to fire. Brie and I will sit here trying to look like we belong.”
Tom chuckled, earning him a piercing glare from Rynah.
“We won’t have much time after the men board the ship. You all need to subdue them and, after that, we have minutes to find Solaris and get out.”
“Not much time,” said Tom.
“It’s all we’ve got.”
A hollow knock vibrated the hatch.
“Hurry,” hissed Rynah.
She strode over to the door, tossing her hair a bit, while Brie positioned herself on a chair, doing her best to look like a lady of the night. The hinges clanked as Rynah pulled the door open.
“Well, hello, sweetheart,” said the pirate with a hungry grin; the frayed sleeve of his engine-grease stained coat tickled her pointed chin as he stroked it.
“Welcome.” Rynah put her hand on her waist and swayed her hips in a suggestive manner, trying to not retreat from the sour aroma that surrounded the pirate.
Two more pirates walked inside the ship. “Where’s your captain?” demanded the second. His voice sounded familiar, and Rynah knew he had been the one talking on the radio.
“Right here,” Obiah walked down the two steps (his heavy set footsteps shaking them as he did so) from the cockpit to the storage area.
“The supplies,” said the pirate in charge.
“Okay.” Obiah rubbed his hands together. “Not one for pleasantries.”
The first pirate to greet them wandered over to Brie. He caressed her cheek with his scratchy finger. Brie clamped her mouth shut, holding back a shriek and jerking her head a bit, fear flashing through her deep brown eyes.
“Oh, feisty,” said the pirate.
“A little,” said Rynah, “but we have to have payment before you can have entertainment.”
“You’ll be paid after we get our supplies.” The pirate in charge looked around at the mess of boxes—all business, no fun.
Plop! Plop! Bang! The other two pirates had proceeded to wrestle with one another in a bid for Brie’s affections, knocking over a towering wall of wood boxes and canvas bags.
“Hey” shouted the pirate in charge, reining in the obstreperous pair, “keep your mitts to yerself. Yer’ll have yer fun once the negotiations are complete.”
The chastised pair hung their heads. Flecks of dirt fell from their clothing, sprinkling the floor around their feet, and scooted away from Brie.
“Yes, well, the supplies are over here,” said Obiah, bending down by a pile of rusted pipes, screwdrivers, and washers.
The pirate in charge followed. Alfric jumped out and tackled the man, knocking him into the far wall. They struggled a bit, but the surprised pirate had no time to react. He went for his weapon. Alfric stopped him and rammed his face into a shelf.
The second pirate went for the Viking, but Tom and Solon pounced on him.
Brie snatched a pot from the table beside her and slammed it into the pirate’s head. He dropped to the floor.
“Nice one,” Tom told her.
The third pirate bolted for the open hatch. Before he took his first step, Rynah whipped out her laser pistol and fired. She rushed over to the pirates and robbed them of their weapons before Alfric hauled them off the ship, concealing them with a mud encrusted tarp.
“All right,” said Rynah, “we don’t have much time. Obiah, you stay on this ship. Fly away like a supply ship would, but stay close. We may need your help.”
“Anything you say, sweetheart.” Obiah tipped his three-pointed hat to her.
Rynah scowled; she hated being teased.
She ran out of the open hatch, pushing the others along. They hunkered low beside some crates loaded with supplies that had been delivered earlier that day by another ship. The engines of Obiah’s vessel roared to life; the downdraft caused by them ripped through their clothes and hair. He gave them a courteous wave before departing. Once he had vanished behind the clouds, Rynah moved.
They darted through the pirate base (past a slime covered fuel tank, tangled hoses, oil puddles from where ships had been parked, and discarded wrenches and hammers), trying to not be detected. Two pirates crossed their path. Rynah shuffled them behind a parked hover truck. Laughing and jabbering, the pirates never noticed them.
Rynah stepped out, swaying her hips and flaunting her breasts, attracting their full attention. Drooling, the two pirates gawked at her. Rynah punched one in the nose. He curled away, clutching his face as she rounded on the second pirate, grabbing his arm and holding it out. With a jerk, she broke it and kicked him in the back. The other charged her. Rynah swerved out of the way, snatching a broken pipe, and smacked him in the back with it.
“Come on,” she said to the others.
They jumped to their feet. Together, they ran through the compound from one pile of rubbish to another.
“Where do you think they have her?” asked Alfric.
Rynah glanced around. She wasn’t quite sure, but she knew that Solaris had to be close. Sparks spurted from a room with a raging buzz saw; the man wielding it looked like a faceless demon with his welding mask covering his head. “There.”
They dashed for the cavern, which served as a hangar and had cables stretched across the opening. More pirates walked by. Each ducked behind the first bit of cover they could find. Boots stepped in time with one another as they strolled past.
Rynah motioned for them to go. One by one, each ran to the room behind the guards’ backs. The two pirates never noticed as the sound of a saw raged even louder. A tremendous clang erupted from the chamber, followed by a series of shouts and curses.
“Stupid ship!” roared one pirate. “I’ll have you turned into scraps soon!”
A blast of fire burst from Solaris’ rockets. She had other plans.
Rynah glanced around the area. Six, she counted. She motioned for Alfric to sneak up on the nearest one that patrolled the slovenly area with a laser rifle in his arms. Nodding that he understood, he rose to his feet. Alfric snuck up behind the guard. He snatched the weapon from the pirate, whirling him around before headbutting him. The pirate fell.
Rynah and the others charged from their hiding place. She plowed into the closest pirate she found, ramming her knee into his stomach before shooting him.
Tom tackled a third. He punched. The pirate dodged. Tom countered with another swing, striking his opponent in the jaw. The pirate staggered back. He raised his laser weapon. Tom flung himself upon him. They rolled across the ground, arms and legs flailing. They stopped. Gasping, Tom stood up.
Brie and Solon attacked a pirate together, while Alfric moved on to another. Solon punched him. His weak strike did little to deter the hardened pirate. Brie kicked the man in the back of the knees, forcing him off his feet, before Solon hit him with the butt of his pistol.
Alfric subdued his opponent with ease before rounding on the sixth and final pirate. The pirate ducked out of the way, but Alfric had been ready. He brought up his sword and struck, stabbing the man through the chest.
A few cheerful bleeps escaped Solaris.
“I think she’s happy to see us,” said Tom.
Strident alarm bells sounded.
“They know we’re here,” Rynah ran to the open rear of the ship. She tripped over a coiled chain. “Damn!” Following the chain with her eyes, she realized that Solaris had been clamped to the ground to prevent theft. She checked the first lock.
“We need a key,” she yelled. “Check those cabinets over there.”
Brie ran over to the open cabinets. Her hands rummaged through them, feeling everything. Nothing resembled a key. “It’s not here!”
Solon checked one of the pirates. He didn’t find anything, but the others riffled through the grungy pockets of the other pirates.
“Found it!” Tom held up a metal object with holes punched into it.
“Release those clamps!” Rynah ordered him.
Tom saluted and darted off. He circled around Solaris, stopping by each clamp and inserting the key. A beep accompanied each release before the clamps popped open with a bang.
Rynah ran down Solaris’ corridors (pale fluorescent lights flickered on with each step) and headed straight for the command center. She took the steps three at a time, refusing to stop even when she stumbled. Finding her feet again, Rynah continued her race against time. She jumped into the pilot’s seat the moment she reached it. Jamming the helmet onto her head—Solaris, wake up!
I never slept, Solaris replied through the telepathic link.
A humongous roar filled the area as fire shot from her rockets, blackening the mildew covered wall behind her, and the engines sprang to life.
“Oh, it feels good to be free!” Solaris said.
“Come on! Get aboard!” Rynah yelled over the loudspeaker.
The others rushed aboard the ship, not caring if any of the pirates stirred. “We’re on!” Tom said into the intercom.
Liftoff, Rynah commanded Solaris, telepathically.
The engines burned bright. Flames crashed against the walls, searing them and filling the area with thick, black smoke.
“The door appears to be closing,” said Solaris.
“Oh no they don’t,” Rynah whispered at the pirates’ attempt to keep them contained. She grasped the firing stick. Aiming the crosshairs on the closing doors, Rynah squeezed, releasing two laser bursts. A fiery inferno engulfed them, obliterating them.
“Perfect aim,” Solaris congratulated.
Just get us out of here, Rynah said.
They lifted into the air, the fierce wind from the engines hurling boxes and hoses across the ground. With another burst from the engines, Solaris shot out into the open sky, ramming her way through the blackened doors. They rose into the air away from the pirate compound. Ships pursued them.
We’ve got company!
Solaris barrel-rolled away from the pursuing pirates who wanted their stolen treasure back. The pirates remained locked on them. Laser fire streaked by the window. Rynah steered the ship away, veering to the left and the right in fluid movements to avoid enemy fire.
Jifdar stood on a balcony, watching the firefight taking place in the sky. Clouded anger darkened his face, mixed with respect for their gumption and resourcefulness. After all, Rynah and her friends should have died on Ikor. “How did they get in our compound?” he roared.
“Sorry, sir. We don’t know,” answered one lowly pirate.
“Then find out!” Jifdar shoved the pirate away from him.
“The ship,” a thought had occurred to Jifdar. “Check on that supply ship.”
The pirate saluted and ran off.
Jifdar stalked over to the radio. “I want that ship destroyed!”
“Aye, sir,” came a crackly reply from one of the pirate vessels already in the air.
Half fuming and half smiling, Jifdar stared at the sky as it lit up with laser fire, admiring how Solaris dodged the cannon blasts with ease.
A deafening roar echoed through Solaris as laser fire struck the hull, rocking the ship and flinging everyone aboard around. Solon and Brie rolled across the metallic floor, reaching out for rails to grab onto.
“They are serious about not letting us go,” said Tom as he hung onto a post for dear life.
Clink! Clink! Clink!
“More hooks,” Tom breathed. He ran for the weapons array.
“Where are you going?” shouted Brie.
“To the guns,” Tom called back.
Stein steered his own vessel, a simple one-manned craft, in line with the pirates that chased after Solaris. None of the pirates paid any attention to him, mistaking him for one of their own. Having a vast array of ships from all over the 12 systems, none of them looked the same, allowing Stein to blend in with the chaotic melee; the pirates never looked for the mark of their clan.
He clicked a button on his console, opening the firing mechanism for the tracking device. Smiling at his victory, Stein aimed. The crosshairs lined up with Solaris, turning green. Stein fired.
A trail of gray smoke left his ship stretching out to Solaris. It hit. A familiar beeping sound with a blinking dot on his radar told him all he needed to know. Pleased, Stein left the pirate formation and disappeared into the upper atmosphere.
If the pirates destroyed Solaris, he, and maybe Klanor, would be disappointed, though it wouldn’t be a total loss. But, if they managed to escape, he hoped to have a little surprise for them.
Back in the command center, Rynah did her best to steer clear of the pirates’ weapons. More laser bursts exploded around her, filling the sky with suffocating smoke. She flew as best she could. A pirate ship appeared in front of her, having gotten disoriented in all of the smoke. Rynah jerked the controls back, forcing Solaris to go straight up into the sky.
A red warning light flashed in the console. Rynah ignored it. They needed to get into space. More red lights flashed on the console with annoying bleeping sounds.
“We are going to stall,” said Solaris.
“No we won’t,” said Rynah, though she knew they would if she didn’t straighten out soon. Solaris was never meant to fly vertical.
“You must straighten out or we’ll crash!”
Rynah wished Solaris would shut up. She couldn’t concentrate on her talking and flying, while evading being shot down all at the same time. Pirates closed in. Rynah tried to dodge away from them, but her vertical movements made it impossible.
“We could really use some help,” she said aloud.
As though hearing her plea, laser shots struck the pirate ships that had gotten too close. Rynah looked around, but saw nothing.
“They don’t seem happy,” came Obiah’s voice over the radio.
Relieved, Rynah relaxed. “Obiah, where are you?”
“But I can’t see you,” said Rynah, still looking around.
“That’s because I’m behind the clouds.”
“We need a plan,” said Rynah. “We need to outsmart these pirates before we all get killed.”
“Head to starboard,” said Obiah.
Not liking when she didn’t know the full plan, Rynah had little choice but to trust the old man. She veered to the right, passing through a white cloud and cursed. She hated flying blind.
“Obiah, I can’t see a thing in this cloud!”
“Just trust me. Keep heading straight. Pretty soon, you should see a fueling station.”
Pirates with their own fueling station? Rynah hadn’t thought of that. Though it made sense, considering all the raids they performed. She kept her eyes peeled, but all she saw were thick clouds.
A piece of black metal materialized in front of her. Rynah pushed the controls downward, just missing the fueling station, before leveling out.
“I found it,” she said.
“Now engage your boosters and get out of here,” Obiah ordered.
Rynah obeyed. The moment she engaged her booster rockets, Solaris shot out of the atmosphere and into the blackness of space.
Obiah steered his ship toward the fueling station. Taking careful aim, he waited for the pirates to arrive. They did. With one shot, Obiah struck the station, sending a series of sparks and explosions that riddled through the tanks of fuel. Fire erupted from the fueling station, engulfing the entire thing in flames, along with any ships that strayed too near.
Satisfied that his plan worked, Obiah turned around, setting a course for Rynah. He gunned his engines, accelerating so as to catch up. Once he had entered space, he spotted Solaris.
“Rynah,” he said over the radio.
“You made it,” came Rynah’s relieved reply.
“Yes, listen, we need to find a place to hang low for a while.”
“I’m not sure if there is a place.”
“I might know of one,” answered Obiah. “Can you make the jump into hyperspeed?”
“Head for the coordinates I’m sending you. See you then.”
Both ships vanished as they jumped into hyperspeed, heading for a place they hoped would provide safety.