This is, possibly, part on of an ongoing serialisation derived from something I’ve already written. The plan is to put a new part up every Tuesday so feel free to like it, or follow the blog, if you want to see more. You can find all parts here.
The crew were gathered in the mess hall. ‘Hall’ was, perhaps, being overly optimistic given that it only held 9, or 11 if a couple were willing to perch precariously on each others laps. Only Schneider wasn’t present as he continued his half hearted vigil in command but the cynical faces of the other 8 crew members was more than enough for Murat to face up to.
Again only Ecce seemed particularly interested in either him or the events unfolding around them, with the rest distracted by their own thoughts. Probably thoughts about desertion, better futures or maybe even mutiny, Murat mused. No matter, for now he still had at least a tenuous grip on them and if they could just somehow pull off this job then all would be forgiven. A rich, drunk pirate was a happy pirate after all – the first thing O’Shaw had taught him.
“Whatever’s on that ship it’s worth a lot. And we’re going to take it.”
Silence kept a grip on the room.
“Their captain, Kochelski, isn’t making things easy. She’s a rookie, trying to stare us down, thinks there’s nothing we can do, that we’ll just disappear if she threatens us enough. I know you and you know me, we’re not the sort to just give up are we?”
What was intended as a rousing tone came across as an earnest question. One quickly answered by an unseen voice who shouted out ‘Yes!’ in what Murat suspected was a poor impression of him.
“… no, we’re not… So we’re going to board them and take what we want, before anyone else shows up”
Again, what had seemed stirring and inspirational in his head came out as a rather limp request but at least no one shouted ‘no’ in reply, which was just about as close to a positive reaction as he’d expected. Although the voice of Murat’s inner survivalist did let out a blood curdling howl to itself, demanding to know what had happened to good old running away before he’d even gotten the vague order out of his mouth.
“so if you know how to fire a gun, get one and if you don’t learn to fast. We’re going in!”
Again silence. Murat nodded awkwardly and made a swift exit pausing briefly at the doorway as he tried to think of something better to say – although not for long as Ecce barged into the back of him and shunted him out into the hallway. Nodding again as she sped past him, her eyes full of crazed enthusiasm, he did his best to retain a look of detached cool, at least until she was out of sight and he could stumble into a cargo hold for a moment’s quiet reflection and dejection.
He’d had to say something, that much was obvious, the crew were barely there and they needed good, old fashioned leadership. Murat just wished he knew a form of leadership which didn’t rely so heavily on suicidal attacks on unknown enemies – but that was a narrow mindedness born of long and harsh experience. Back in his military days generals had routinely sent thousands of men over the top to near certain death for no better reason than the lack of any other ideas. ‘Strategy’ they’d called it and even when everyone died they’d always seemed happy enough with their efforts. Murat had hated them, the out of shape, smugly ponderous commanders who’d issued the orders before returning to HQ for a nice sit down and an evening of boozing and excess. Unfortunately he’d also paid too much attention to them and despite himself he couldn’t help but choose a pointless and ill-planned attack over endless patience or a bit of quiet reflection and a measured retreat. O’Shaw had tried to train him out of it and had gotten half way to getting the job done, if nothing else Murat now at least had the good sense to properly regret his bad decisions rather than fall back into the military mentality of half hearted grumbling and blithely accepting them.
But like those old generals he was trapped by his own need to be seen to be doing something. He could hear the crew shuffling out of the hall and heading off to grab their weapons. Their voices as they went were muffled by the steel door of the hold but it didn’t take much wild speculation to guess that they were complaining about him. Not that it would do them much good, they hadn’t argued the point and that meant they’d obey him and, if things didn’t go right, then they’d be far too dead to argue with him. And he’d be far too dead for them to blame. It wasn’t the most comforting of thoughts but he’d take whatever he could get.
It took Murat another twenty minutes to build up the will to leave the cargo hold. The crew had wandered off to prepare themselves in their own way, be it through illicit drink, checking their firearms or posing in front of mirrors trying to convince themselves that they really were mad, bad and dangerous to know. Or, in the case of the more sensible ones, writing wills and letters to loved ones in the hope that they’d find a way to their recipients if the whole thing went wrong. It was a familiar ritual to the ex-soldiers amongst them and a depressingly necessary one. Stopping at a wall panel Murat opened a channel to the command deck where Schneider was startled out of a hypnotic focus on his origami, his face sinking as he saw his Captain on the screen in front of him.
“Find Ling, get her to line us up with that ship and then get your stuff together for boarding.”
The look on Schneider’s face reinforced Murat’s opinion of the plan and it’s lack of merits but the eccentric American gave a nod of acceptance nonetheless.
“You got it chief, suicide mission it is.”
The screen went black before Murat could argue.
They had perhaps an hour to spare now. Ling, a former engineer from the Chinese power block who’d made good her escape after being sent on a covert transport mission not unlike the one they were about to try and ruin, would have to line them up. Nothing moved fast in space and for all the chaotic action to come the prelude was a painstaking process. Pilots in general were an irrelevance on a ship like this. Much as they tried to cultivate their own mythos and air of buccaneering cool their main job was to point and click, while the auto-pilot did the real work. It was space, after all, you could pretty much just point yourself in whatever direction you wanted to go and hit the accelerator. But when it came to the pirates and raiders the job required a different skill set. Boarding meant finding a section of the enemies hull that you could cut through. More importantly, an area that you could cut through without finding yourself walking into a fuel tank, waste processor or barracks on the other side. Going in at the wrong place could all too easily mean decompression, explosions and instant death not just for your own crew but the oppositions’ too. Salvagers called it a Lovers Death, two crews wiped out because someone had latched on an inch or two in the wrong direction. Murat had seen it, or at least the aftermatch, during his time with O’Shaw. His former captain had said nothing as they’d cut their own hole and looted both ships. Only when they’d been heading away had he aired his opinion – ‘better us than the salvagers’. Nobody liked the salvagers, or scavengers, as they were more usually known.
All of that had led him to find Ling. She was a genius, according to her. A prized asset of the Chinese state and therefore a legend in her own mind – a real pilot who could steer a cargo ship onto a penny without breaking a sweat. Murat suspected she was full of shit but she was good and even if it took a while she’d get them into the right place and then they’d cut. Ecce could do that, it’d keep her busy, plus when the rest of them went into the breech she’d have to be at least a few seconds behind dropping the cutting gear. Sentimentality on Murat’s part but the old soldiers, pirates and detritus that made up the rest of his crew would at least have some idea of what they were walking into, she was all too liable to try and be a hero. Coming last wouldn’t do her much good if things went wrong but a few seconds might save her if they could secure whatever part of the ship they found themselves on.
Another command tapped into the wall panel brought Ecce’s face onto the screen. She was in her quarters and looked at least momentarily embarrassed at the casual backdrop before snapping back into her usual enthusiastic formality. At a guess she’d been posing with her uniform and a pricey pistol she’d somehow found herself. Rookies from the quieter platforms tended to be like that, big on shiny guns, uniforms, gadgets and big on mirrors or any shiny surface they could find. Experience tended to beat that out of them, the rest of the crew by comparison would likely be sporting assault rifles more or less identical to the ones they’d had in the various armies, the de jure weapon of choice for piracy. After all you didn’t need to be flash to shoot someone but if you missed then having a weapon which could double as a hefty club was never a bad idea or, if you were lucky, the club bit could come first and any risk of hitting a bulk head and finding yourself seeing black for the few seconds before you brain shut down would be negated.
“You can quit the posing, Ecce, time to get your hands dirty – you’re on cutting duty.”
“Yes sir! I’ll get to the docking tubes now!”
She fired off a salute and sprinted out of the room before Murat could even close the channel. He let out a weary sigh, there was something continually disconcerting over someone who would get equally enthusiastic whether you told them they’d won the lottery, were going into a situation where they were liable to die or even just spending half an hour with an oxyacetylene cutter. It was youthful naivete, he assumed, but he was damned if he could remember ever being like that and the rest of the crew seemed to view her with the same nervous confusion. If they were, for the most part, jaded and grizzled veterans then she was the over-excited puppy who somehow ended up at the head of the pack. She’d learn, he dimly hoped but it was hard to see excitement like that fading into the apathy of the career pirate. If she ever did end up with her own crew they’d either get very rich very quick or die their first time out. Either way it wasn’t a thought Murat cared to consider given that it’d involve her leaving the crew and there being absolutely no one left who showed him the slightest bit of respect.