This part originally appeared in the December 2013 issue.
The Waffles had dropped out of Transition almost right on the pin, with an official Crossing of Six Days, 17 Hours and thirty nine Minutes; only a few hours difference from Astrogator Tower's projection.
Coming out at a little more than three AU Outsystem from the brightly lit red subdwarf, DM-45 5378, the Waffles was orbiting eighty-eight degrees off the System Plain at a mere one hundred million kilometers, at minimal power and thrust, and using passive sensors, when using them at all—sneaking along.
Kalifra’s information from the old sweat had been accurate. The system they saw was filled in all directions with the ruins of probably two hundrerd combat ships scattered everywhere; some remaining in almost pristine condition; others in recognizable pieces and hunks of various types and size, and some scattered in smashed pieces with origins hard to determine; all orbiting around the subdrawf accompanied by a broken field of deadly flotsam, human bodies and debris traveling from a few hundred meters to several thousand kilometers per second; and making for the possibility of a fierce rain for anyone attempting EVA in the red star’s light.
Orbiting amongst the wreckage at 1 AU, was the largest object in the system, the Imperial Navy’s Fuel Purification Station which had been hammered to shreds and which, at some point in the battle, had been rammed through and through, by the remains of a mangled Rebel Cruiser.
“Gods’ Blood!” Brodie gasped as he first looked at the carnage through the front viewport, then through the Scanners.
Most everyone on the Waffles was just plain mesmerised by the scale of the slaughter. The majority of the crew had battled with pirates before, losing a few shipmates who were plain too unlucky.
But the colossal scale of the destruction here, with tumbling hulks and shrapnel near at hand, and mangled bodies everywhere you looked, was awful and terrifying, and few there were aboard, except First Officer Milo Hertzog (who’d been a Naval Tactician) and Kalifra Donaldson (who’d lived through a number of such actions as a Marine), who could truthfully say they’d seen it before, and could suggest one stay steely in such a time of crisis.
One of the largest pieces of flotsam that kept passing nearby was a frigate; snapped in two just abaft of the bridge, and coming by within about 10 kilometers of the Waffles. Twenty eight hours later, on the frigate’s third pass. the Captain ordered ‘the Professor’ to close with it. At about half a kilometer the Captain ordered Boarding Pikes away, and in a wrenching blast, most of the dozen lined, heavy pikes struck home.
An order was given and heavy winches deployed to hoist away; pulling the Waffles closer and closer to the ruined ship, until the smaller merchant was within the shadow of the larger frigate, the Aaron Burr.
At a distance of some twenty meters, the Waffles’ airlock wormed its way forward, extending until it was in contact with the Burr, powerful magnets holding the access tube in place. A heavy laser cutter built into the docking mechanism quickly burned its way through the Burr’s hull; a solid ‘KLUNK’ attesting to the breach, and a signal on the atmosphere sensor letting the giant chimp who was manning the sensors aboard Waffles know that all was green: a positive lock and positive atmosphere.
Standing in the the airlock waiting for the word was Kalifra, in a battered patchwork of Combat Armor; the helmet of which had been replaced with an Aretiusian helmet designed to resemble an ancient, crested, Corinthian helmet. In addition to her New Texas Ironmongery automatic rifle, she carried a boarding pike with her figure eight shield.
Next to and a little behind her stood Tam in a surplus Navy combat suit. Her kit consisted of a pair of cross-draw holsters sporting a pair of Artisan 7mm needlers. In a cut-away holster low on her right thigh was a Singh-Iwane 20mm flamer. Her salmon greaves with magnetic boots were, of course, on. The suit’s helmet had been replaced with an Aretiusian combat helmet designed to resemble an ancient, Attic helmet, which Tam found pretty.
Milo Hertzog, Number One, wore a worn suit of full combat armor with a chipped finish from his days in the Navy, and carried a heavy Koenig-Herzog 8-gauge autoshotgun and a boarding axe.
The fourth in the group was Dave Trajillo. He was wearing a Combat Suit under loose-fitting robes, and carried a superdense Haligan Tool, and several breaching charges.
Last into the airlock was Kelowna Brewster, wearing the breastplate and open-faced helmet from an old set of combat armor over a new combat suit, and carrying a stun rifle, a computer repair kit, and a carpet bag full of electronic odds and ends.
When the airlock doors opened, a scrap of paper was blown into the Waffles from the Burr. “Alright, people, we have atmosphere from here over to somewhere in the Burr,” said Number One.
“Damned Ghost Ship!” Ilsa grumbled from the Big Chair over on the Waffles.
“Mmmm,” mumbled Tam, “I guess that was the Official Word, then?”
At a motion from Hertzog, Kalifra went into the Burr first; followed by Number One as they entered a ramshackle crew bunkroom; and found the large room empty, except for eleven dessicated crew; six still in their bunks.
“Number One?” Ilsa asked from the Waffles, following a bit more silence than she’d been comfortable with.
“Aye, Ilsa,” Hertzog reported. “Cleared our first room. Bunkroom. eleven corpses.”
As Hertzog talked, a sudden slamming, hammering shocked the First Officer into firing off his K&H Heavy on full-auto; boiling away five rounds in a second and a half of three-round bursts as he sought cover behind a very large, broken, Refusebot.
Kalifra was down on one knee, behind a wide column; rifle ready to fire.
“Its nothing!” she cried. “Hold your fire!”
After a few minutes of waiting, a sudden slamming, which turned into a long hammering, could be heard pounding against the plasteel viewport and hull wall in the bunk room.
“Damn! It’s a swarm of fragments! Shrapnel from Outside!” Hertzog said over the comm, feeling like the Dumbest Monkey on Monkey Mountain.
“Brother, do I hate salvage,” Tam said from the bottom rack in which she had jammed herself, belly down; flamer in hand.
“Room Clear,” Milo announced over the comm.
“Roger that, Hertzog: Room Clear,” Number Two repeated back.
For awhile, the metal slamming into the plasteel interested everyone, until Hertzog picked up his rifle and asked Kalifra, “Ready?” as they made ready to clear the second room; the others holding back until they received the word everything was alright.
The second room was a long Mess Hall, with food storage and preparation along the port wall behind the serving line; the rest of the room being made up of a now jumbled mass of short and long tables with scores of chairs scattered about.
Once identified as Clear, the Waffles’ group gave the Mess the once over; checking the pantry over to find the rations that were still viable, ancient cans of Major Strong’s Iron Rations and crates of Everfresh sandwiches among a plethora of other items. And, of course, the best find in the Mess: the spirits, both brewed and distilled.
Once found, everyone but Dave took a slug of something.
As Number One coughed after taking a second pull of some bottle, he said, “This stuff is very fine, no doubt. But the best, like on all ships,” he laughed, “will be found, like the safe, in the Captain’s Quarters.”.
As the gang went about listing and talking about assorted goods, both with each other and the others back on the Waffles, Captain Fyyg and Frielander checked through the 5600’s newly upgraded database. Not very long later, deckplans common with their treasure trove, the ancient frigate, as well as the frigate that was somewhere out there patrolling, were found.
Ilsa read over the plans and directed the group to where Fyyg wanted them to go.
Sucking it up, Kalistra went first up the ladder that lead to the forward starboard quarter of the Fuel & Quarters Deck—Officer Country.
Securing the hatch, the others were called up into a wide passageway that ran between a wall of fuel tanks with access hatches, and the warren that was the Officers’ area.
Lying at the warren’s entrance was a burnt body in a burnt pressure suit; seeming not as old as the dessicated bodies found earlier. Dave was of the opinion that this one was a more recent addition to the ship. Probably a scavenger bent on salvage until…something.
They switched up and Hertzog went first, followed up by Donaldson as they moved around corners and down halls indicated by Ilsa’s directions. Milo stealthfully took a right corner; ‘slicing the pie’ and finding a wide shouldered, neckless Warbot, bristling with hardware and hovering about a half-meter off the deck.
Milo squeezed off several bursts at the ancient robot—the heavy slugs mainly producing dents and slight damage to the thing’s carapace, though the sudden impacts had managed to knock the Warbot back—as the menacing thing fired a white-hot, jagged stream of boiling energy toward Hertzog.
“DOWN!” Milo screamed as he dove for the deck; the spattering plasma blowing through the corner Milo had just come around and the one behind him where Kalifra squatted holding her high-powered rifle; the molten slag splashing them, and continuing along the robot’s line of fire, burning through wall panels and corners to finally hit the Port hull with a sizzling, sun-bright explosion.
As the explosion of plasma flashed, Tam grabbed Kelowna and turned her toward the opened hatch behind them—their access to this deck—and yelled, “RUN!” Punching Dave Trajillo in the shoulder, she pointed toward the hatch and yelled, “RUN!” again.
Watching Dave and Kelowna run, Tam thought, was like watching statues run. Or cows, like on Olde Earth. Or statues of cows. God! How could they be so slow? she wondered.
Then it came to her that she didn't know what to do. Should she run or should she stay, she wondered. Run?…Stay?…Run?…Stay?…
Kalifra, in her smoldering armor had already unloaded the heavy autorifle’s load of Heavy Uranium slugs into the oncoming robot once—the rounds knocking holes through even the Warbot’s heavy armor—and was loading a fresh magazine into the weapon when, only a few meters from Milo, the Warbot swung a double saw-arm.
Hertzog, in his suit of smoldering armor, parried with his firearm, blocking the robot’s strikes but destroying his own weapon in the process; the dual saws filling the air with shrapnel before they themselves ceased to operate.
Swinging its damaged double-arm in a fierce uppercut, the Warbot connected with Hertzog; folding him in half over its large forearm, and easily hurling him up over its left shoulder, to be slammed senseless against a wall before falling to the deck; boarding axe still slung over his shoulder.
Kalifra fired from a squatting position, rapidly emptying the second magazine into the thing and then jamming a third magazine into the weapon.
As she retreated, the Warbot raised its arm again—the one that’d fired the plasma bolt at them a lifetime before. For a brief second, Kalifra looked into the bore of the ancient robot’s plasma gun, expectantly. Then nothing happened. Maybe the robot's age, or one of the Uranium rounds had shorted something; making it impossible for the thing to generate any more high energy plasma.
The next second, the robotic killer altered its aim slightly, and poured a stream of liquid fire at Donaldson; enveloping her in flames.
Kalifra’s combat armor, however, was proof against flames, and she continued to concentrate heavy rifle fire on the robot.
The Warbot closed, and with one of its heavy arms, made a wide-jawed grasp for the human with one of its large, smashing hands; barely missing snipping off the Aretuisian’s head as the woman threw herself back; rifle dropping.
A tentacle slithered from the bot and quickly snatched up Kalifra’s heavy rifle, aiming it at her and firing. Unfortunately finding the weapon empty.
As the big blond scrambled to get out of the robot’s way, the tentacle swung and brought the rifle down across the woman’s shoulder blades; sending her forward to slam into a corner; shaken, as the robot closed to bludgeon her to death.
Suddenly from behind the Warbot was a flash of energy as First Officer Hertzog buried the boarding axe he’d carried deep into the robot’s back, right at the junction where its head and wide shoulders met. The robot lurched sideways, wrenching the axe handle from Milo’s grip as the device tottered forward and dropped to the deck.
Pulling the axe free with a great effort, Hertzog chopped the thing’s tentacle off with a single stroke. Dropping the axe, he picked up Donaldson’s heavy rifle, then stepping over to Kalifra herself, he pulled a magazine of the heavy ammo from her equipment belt and loaded the weapon.
Hertzog emptied the entire clip into the damaged robot’s head at point-blank range; the rounds blowing its brains to mangled, ruined bits of metal and silica.
And then the half minute—or minute—long firefight was over just like that, the combatants now only really able to communicate at length with the Waffles.
Kalifra had been reduced to her cutlass, and the last magazine of her combat load for the heavy rifle, while Milo was in possession of the empty 15mm autorifle. Their combat armor was no longer smoldering when Tam finally reached them.
Sitting on the chassis of the ruined robot, Kalifra handed her last mag over to Hertzog, then, looking up at Tam, asked, “Loan me one of your 7mms, Little Sister?”
Tam pulled the right handed needler and handed it over to the big blond. Then, digging free three magazines for the needler, she passed them over to Kalifra as well.
“Good,” the blond said to the other two. “Now I feel less naked.”
On the comm, Donaldson asked the Second Officer, “So, which way to get to the Captain’s Quarters from here, Ilsa?”
“It’s like a maze, hon’!” interrupted Tam. “Stick to the right hand wall going in. So we do that!” the little brunette offered. “I don’t know if it’s true, but that’s what I’ve always heard.”
“Sorry to burst your bubble, love…” Hertzog began, only to be interrupted by Ilsa with proper directions to the Captain’s Quarters.
“Lets get it done,” Kalistra said.
Maneuvering down T halls, and slicing tight corners, the trio finally made it to their objective; several quick butt strokes of the rifle laying open the Captain’s desk to them.
Clearing out the desk, everything went into Kalifra’s backpack, from Ship’s Papers, down to paperclips. At the bottom drawer, Tam pulled out a thick-cut, old bottle of Newton & McCenna single-malt Scotch. When the others saw it they smiled.
“Captain Fyyg,” Tam called over the comm, “you can pour that bottle of Old Newshound down the fresher, sweetie. We’ve found you the white whale.”
“From which you’re more than welcome to have a shot, providing you are able to crack the ship’s safe!” Fyyg replied.
Checking the cabin wall behind the desk with the augmented sensors of his combat armor, Milo stared close at the panel; seeing the lock and hinge-placement for the safe’s door. Pulling a piece of chalk from his kit, Hertzog marked the wall at the safe’s outer edges, as well as hinge and locking mechanism locations before passing the rifle over to Kalifra.
“You’re the marksman, I’ve been told,” Number One said, taking the needle pistol.
They all retreated into the hall, and Kalifra quietly aimed around the corner at the marked spots; smoothly firing in turn at hinges and lock with the heavy Uranium rounds. As the sound of the rounds echoed, the heavy door teetered, then fell forward, smashing the desk to pieces.
Checking the walk-in safe, a dozen crates of pharmaceuticals were found stored, half of which were likely well-past their indicated shelf life.
In addition was collected more than eighteen and a half million Ducats in Principality currency. Which today might be worth as much as seven hundred thousand in Imperial Credits.
But the safe’s content, really, was just the icing on the cake when compared to the raw salvage value associated with the wrecked Principality ship—the drives, the trio of powerplants, turret and barbette weapons, missiles, Ship's Vehicles, even the vessel's wiring could be sold off, as free and clear profit.
Not a bad haul for a few minutes of being shot at, they figured.