“Mayday! Mayday! This is Captain Megan Hurley of the trade-ship Horizon Chaser. Pirates are attacking my vessel. Any Stellar Navy vessels, please respond!”
Erin hit the starboard thrusters and the ship jolted as the inertial dampers struggled to keep up with her maneuvering. A beam of azure coherent light flit briefly through the view screen.
“Sammy, broadcast that distress call on a continuous loop,” Captain Hurley told the navigator. “Not that it’ll do us a damn bit of good.”
Beads of sweat dripped down Erin’s face. She had kept the pirates at a distance for a good twenty minutes now, but they steadily crept closer into point-blank range. Soon she wouldn’t be able to dodge the laser blasts aimed at their engines.
She was good, but nobody was that good.
A voice crackled over the comm. “Trade vessel, this is the free-ship Nebula Shark. Stop maneuvers, disengage engines and weapons, and prepare to be boarded. This doesn’t have to be…nasty.”
Captain Hurley swore at the name Nebula Shark. Erin looked at her. “What should I do, Captain?”
Hurley rubbed her face in frustration and moaned. “Better do what they say. We can’t outrun them, and if they cripple us, we’re dead. I just wish it wasn’t these guys.”
Erin felt confused. “What does it matter who is robbing us?”
“I’ve heard about these guys. They take cargo and any women they find. The lucky women are sold into slavery. The unlucky ones they…use. There are twenty crew on this ship, all women. They probably have a minimum of fifty. Understand?”
Erin’s face paled, but she complied with her Captain’s orders.
Hurley opened up the ship’s channel. “Attention, crew, this is the Captain. We are about to be boarded by hostile forces. I want all personnel not on duty to lock themselves in their bunks. I’m going to try to negotiate the situation to where they only take the cargo. Hurley out.”
Erin swiveled her pilot’s chair. “Captain, how many EVA suits do we have?”
“One per crewperson,” Hurley answered without thinking. “Why?”
“I have an idea, but I’ll need MA Gillian. And everyone needs to be armed.”
Captain Hurley listened and a predatory grin grew.
Five women floated through the distance between the two ships, an occasional burst from a thruster pack the only sign of their passing. They were too small to show up on the enemy’s sensors as anything other than minor space debris.
Erin followed Gillian’s lead. Two of Gillian’s best students and the first shift engineer floated along with them. Erin could see the docking tube extend from the Nebula Shark and connect with her ship.
One of the women, Alice, broke off and thrustered underneath the tube. She attached a cylindrical device to the tube and made haste back to the group.
Erin could see the aft airlock loom nearby. Gillian reached it and motioned for the engineer, Hayley. Hayley pulled out her torch and cut through the lock, opening the Nebula Shark up to them. Gillian climbed inside the lock and readied her rifle that she kept from her days as a Stellar Ranger. Alice and Kendra readied plasma rifles, while Erin and Hayley gripped their pistols.
The women burst through the door into the corridor. A pirate gaped in surprise until Gillian stroked her trigger. Surprise turned to confusion then blankness.
Alice and Kendra took the lead and headed aft toward engineering, Gillian and Erin covering the rear. Twice more shots echoed and pirates died.
The quintet reached engineering. Several men sat around a table playing cards. The stakes were who would get the first turn with their new plaything. Alice and Kendra settled the bet and their charred bodies smoked in the sanitized air.
Hayley moved around engineering, pressing some buttons and disconnecting systems, while the other four women watched. Erin found herself glad for her EVA helmet. The sight of the bodies sickened her. If she had to smell them, she thought she would lose it.
The ship’s alarm triggered just as Hayley gave the “all done” signal. Gillian activated her comm and said one word. “Now.”
An explosion rocked the Nebula Shark as Alice activated the bomb on the docking tube. Captain Hurley and the other women on the ship would be exiting their bunks and taking the fight to the boarding party.
“Contact!” Gillian yelled. She sighted and unleashed her full fury down the hallway. Alice and Kendra joined her at the entrance and added their fire to hers.
“Get to the airlock,” Gillian ordered.
She suited action to words and moved as she fired. Erin and Hayley crouched and followed behind Alice and Kendra.
Most of the pirates hadn’t expected any resistance and weren’t mentally prepared for the ferocity they faced. More and more of them retreated as they watched their fellows fall.
The five crew-mates made the airlock. Hayley went out first, propelling herself back to Horizon Chaser. Erin started to exit when she heard a scream. She whipped around to see Kendra on the ground, a blade in her back. A pirate playing possum had waited until their backs were to him.
He dove for Kendra’s rifle and Erin’s finger reflexively tightened. Her plasma blast caught him in the skull, making his death real.
She paled as nausea surged through her. Gillian grabbed her shoulder and pulled her out of her stupor. “MOVE!” Gillian shouted at her.
Erin jumped out of the airlock.
“Three casualties,” Captain Hurley said at the debriefing. “Ten captives and salvage claim on the Nebula Shark.”
Erin sat quiet as the Captain spoke. Kendra’s face vied with the man Erin had killed for a place in her mind.
Gillian noticed Erin’s face and chucked her under the chin. “You did good, kid. You did good. Meet me later for a good drink.”
Erin nodded as her eyes moistened.
“Only fools believe tears are for the weak,” Gillian said.
Erin let them fall.