A Call To Arms – Snippet 21
“Right,” Merripen said. There was a short pause. “Okay, we’re up and running — ninety gees acceleration. How soon before you get that thing back together?”
“A couple of hours at least,” Grimm said, wishing now that he hadn’t been so thorough in his disassembly. “You just worry about your part of the job.”
Keying on his uni-link, Grimm punched for Bettor. “Status report.”
“It’s coming along,” Bettor said, his voice tight. “Was that a shot I just heard?”
“It was,” Grimm confirmed. “That RMN ship — the Salamander — decided they needed to get up close and cozy. Shresthra wouldn’t get us moving, so I relieved him of command.”
“And we’re moving now?” Bettor growled. “Great. That’s not going to look suspicious or anything.”
“Bottom line for you is that we may have to cut your sampling time short,” Grimm said, ignoring the dig. “Will two or three more hours be enough?”
“I guess we’ll find out. You want me to lock down here and go to the bridge?”
“Yes, at least until Merripen finishes his sweep.”
“Okay. What do I do if the Manticorans call?”
“Just pipe it down here,” Grimm said. “I’ll handle it.”
* * *
“They’re running?” Fairburn demanded, part of his brain refusing to believe the evidence of his eyes.
“Confirmed,” Tactical Officer Wanda Ravel said. “She’s up to point eight KPS squared. Seems to have leveled off, though a ship of that class ought to have another few gravities in reserve.”
“Probably waiting to see our response,” Todd murmured.
Fairburn scowled at his displays. There was no reason for Izbica to be doing this. None. She was a freighter, damn it, and freighters had only one purpose in life: to fly cargoes back and forth and make money doing it. Izbica was beyond the hyper limit and on her way to Minorca, and the next item on her checklist would be spinning up her hyperdrive and hitting the Alpha band. This extra n-space acceleration made zero sense.
Unless her new purpose in life was to get away from Salamander.
Smugglers? Ridiculous. Izbica had been in Manticoran orbit for nearly a week, with every hour bringing the possibility that Customs would suddenly decide to drop in and take a look at her cargo. Granted, the probability that anyone would do something like that was pretty small, but it was still possible. If Captain Shresthra hadn’t been worried about an examination then, why would he be worried about one now?
The Cascan mass-murderer? Same logical problem.
So why run from Salamander? And why run now? Could it be because Fairburn, unlike Manticoran Customs, was definitely talking about boarding her?
Mentally, he shrugged. He could speculate all day without coming up with anything. Sometimes the best way to an answer was just to ask.
“Increase acceleration to one point four KPS squared and recalculate zero-zero,” he ordered. “Com, get me a laser on Izbica. Let’s see if Shresthra has a logical explanation.”
“And if he doesn’t?” Todd asked.
“Then we’d best be ready, hadn’t we?” Fairburn countered. “Bring us to General Quarters, if you please.” He smiled tightly. “We’re on a training exercise, after all. Might as well run the crew all the way up.”
* * *
“Damn,” Grimm muttered.
“Yeah, I think damn pretty well covers the situation,” Bettor’s tight voice came from the intercom. “Now what?”
“Let’s not panic,” Grimm soothed as he eased the board he’d just finished back into position. Just three more to reassemble and replace, and the interface would be up and running again. “They can’t possibly catch up with us before we’re ready to get out of here.”
“They could still fire a missile.”
“They won’t,” Grimm assured him. “They have no reason to attack and nothing to gain. And missiles are damned expensive.”
“Yeah.” For a moment Bettor was silent. “Though, you knowâ€¦maybe we should give them a reason.”
Grimm blinked. “Come again?”
“I’m trying to come up with a good reason why we’re running,” Bettor said. “I mean, a reason from their point of view. We can’t be smugglers — if we weren’t worried about Manticoran Customs finding some special cargo a week ago, we shouldn’t be worried about the Salamander finding it now. We can’t be accelerating just for the fun of it — merchant ships run too close to the margin to waste energy that way. What’s left?”
Grimm pursed his lips. Unfortunately, Bettor had a point. It would take a huge leap of intuition for the Manticorans to guess that the Izbica was secretly collecting data on a wormhole junction that no one even suspected was here. But in the absence of any other reason, someone could conceivable wander off down that path.
And Grimm’s team’s job wasn’t just to collect data, but to make sure no one knew that they were collecting it.
“I guess what’s left is the most obvious one of all,” he told Bettor. “They still waiting?”
“Okay. Patch me through.”
There was a brief pause — “You’re on.”
“Hello, Captain Fairburn,” Grimm called toward the intercom. “This is Captain Stephen Grimm of the Solarian Merchantman Izbica. How can I assist you?”
There was a long silence, longer than the normal light-speed time lag for their current distance would account for. Grimm had the third-to-last board halfway reassembled by the time the Salamander finally responded. “Apparently, our records are in error,” Fairburn’s calm voice came over the speaker. “We have Stephen Grimm listed as a passenger, not the captain.”
“There’s been a slight shake-up in the chain of command,” Grimm told him. “None of your concern. What do you want?”
Silence descended as his words began their slow, speed-of-light journey to the distant RMN vessel. “What exactly are we going for here?” Bettor asked. “You hoping to convince him we’re pirates?”
“That’s the big buzz word around here these days,” Grimm reminded him. “Shouldn’t be too hard to get them to that conclusion. Once they do, they won’t look for other possibilities.”
“What are you going to do if he asks why we didn’t take the ship sooner?”
“Probably spin some nonsense about hoping Shresthra would pick up some high-tech stuff at Manticore we could add to our loot,” Grimm said. “But I doubt he’ll ask. Their focus now should be on doing whatever they can to catch us.”
“But they can’t catch us, right?” Bettor asked, his voice sounding just a little apprehensive. “You’re going to have that interface finished in time, right?”
“Don’t you worry your little head,” Grimm soothed. “A Salamander-class destroyer can pull a maximum of two hundred gees, but they’re not going to go over one-seventy. We can safely do about eighty. At our current vector differential — look, you can run the numbers yourself if you want. Bottom line: we’ll be out of here before they can get even close to a zero-zero.”
The speaker hissed with a sigh. “If you say so,” Bettor said. “You’d just better be right.”
* * *
Grimm’s — Captain Grimm’s — message ended, and for a long moment Salamander’s bridge was silent.
Not for lack of anything to say, Fairburn knew. But merely because everyone was thinking the same thing.
Izbica had been hijacked. And there was only one reason why a simple freighter with no ransom-worthy people aboard would be seized.
Grimm and his fellow passengers were pirates.
The word seemed to hang in front of Fairburn’s eyes. After all these years of sifting through flight data, listening to rumors, and traveling across interstellar space, he and Salamander finally had found real, living, breathing pirates.
And unless he did something fast, those pirates were going to get away.
He squared his shoulders. “Increase acceleration to one point eight KPS squared,” he ordered, wishing briefly that his voice was the deep, resonant type. This was history in the making. “And recalculate for zero-zero.”
There was a brief silence, and he knew what they were all thinking. Eighty percent of maximum acceleration was one point six KPS squared, and standing orders were to stay below that line unless at dire need.
But Izbica held the proof that would finally and permanently shut up Chancellor Breakwater and the rest of the doubters in Parliament. There was no way in hell that Fairburn was going to let that proof get away.
The rest of the bridge crew knew that, too. That, or they knew better than to argue with their captain. “One point eight KPS squared, aye,” the helm confirmed.
“Recalculating zero-zero,” Ravel added.
“Good,” Fairburn said. “And go to Readiness One,” he added. “Izbica appears to have taken by pirates.” History in the makingâ€¦ “We’re going to take her back.”