by Walt Staples -
“Ears” Seelowe jerked upright and tilted his head in a listening attitude. After a moment, he spoke into his mic, “Mr. Harris, I got a Bow Tie 23 area search sensor.”
The Officer of the Deck killed his reader and asked. “Where away?”
The electronics countermeasures tech made a minute adjustment. “I make it at twenty-three-point-two degrees, azimuth forty-six-point-four.”
“Is he painting us yet?”
“Ears” shook his head even though the watch officer could not see the movement through the back of the environment suit’s helmet. “No, sir. I’m pretty sure we’re just out of range. Looking at the Doppler shift though, he’s burning reaction mass like Santa left it for him.”
Lieutenant (junior grade) Toco Harris grinned to himself. “Chief, please sound ‘general quarters.’” He looked to his right as Muguto Roberts, the cutter’s Chief of Boat, sounded the klaxon. “Sparks, stand by for their hail. And remember, we’re just a fat, dumb, and happy peace-abiding merchantman with lots of goodies in our barge tow.”
The signal floosie’s grin was that of a wolf as he replied, “Aye, sir, I’m ready. I’m piping a bit of music through so they’ll hear it in the background.”
“Out of idle curiosity, Sparks, what is it?”
The grin became innocent, “Gregorian chant, sir. I didn’t want to make them think ‘military.’”
Harris chuckled. “Works for me.”
The cutter’s captain chose this moment to nonchalantly make an appearance on deck, or as nonchalant as a man in an environment suit can appear while carrying an assault weapon and load-bearing equipment. The A.I. obligingly sang out, “Captain on the bridge.” He stopped, ran an experienced eye over the various readouts, then turned to Harris. “XO, I relieve you. The deck is mine.”
Harris stood. “Aye aye, sir. You have the deck.” He reached for the load-bearing equipment and slung it about his person, then reached for the assault weapon.
Lieutenant (senior grade) Ryku Gomez grinned at his executive officer. “There now, XO, don’t say I never give you nothing.”
The younger man brought his weapon to a reasonable salute. “Aye, sir, I shan’t. But I really don’t remember any of this on my Christmas list.”
“Maybe next time.” Gomez tried to keep it light as did his friend. He tried hard not to think about everything that might happen to his XO in the next hour. “Off with you, now.”
Harris flashed him a grin and departed for the portside airlock.
Exiting the portside airlock, Harris joined the seven environment suited members of the boarding party standing on the cutter’s exterior skin on the side opposite the approaching ship. He continued to monitor the situation via the cutter’s open communication channel. He heard “Ears” report, “Captain, another sensor’s just joined the Bow Tie. I make it a Square Box 5 ranging sensor. And...they’ve spotted us.” A lisping voice suddenly sounded, “Ahoy, Quartermain Tow! Heath to and prepare for boarding!”
“Boats” Halsey snickered over the laser line-of-sight, “Oh, we be preparin’ all right, darlin’.”
Sparks’ voice was that of a man jerked totally awake as he rapped out, “Who be hailing us? Identify, mun, yes?” The chant provided a nice counterpoint in the background.
“Thith ith the Devil’th Tea Party. Now heath to!”
The flare on the drive unit promptly flickered out. A few moments later, they felt a tremor run through the cutter and the barges attached to her starboard side as the pirate matched course and grappled. There was a second tremor as the “panic party” launched a lifeboat in an apparent escape attempt. Pieces of the blown lifeboat cover fluttered in a cloud. At this, Harris called, “Boarders away!” and the boarding party triggered their reaction packs, flying outward until they reached the ends of their tethers. Their impetus carried them out and around the cutter’s starboard side, hidden among the debris from the lifeboat cover. He looked down to see the pirate boarding party enter the cutter’s starboard airlock and the outer hatch close. They touched down lightly on the hull of the Devil’s Tea Party. Halsey led his two boarders aft to the engineering spaces, “Guns” Morgan and one other covered the pirates’ airlock hatch., while Harris led his two forward to the bridge. The two crewmen with him set their burdens on the hull and stepped back.
One of the pirates in the cutter’s airlock shouted, “Open, blast you!”
The captain’s voice rang out, “This is the Revenue Cutter Rattler. Devil’s Tea Party, surrender, cut your drive, and open your lock.”
There came the dull sound of a shot and a projectile ricocheting in an enclosed space mixed with screams. Gomez said three words, “Boarding party, execute!”
Both demolition men at the bridge and the two at engineering triggered their igniters and the four shaped charges burned through the pirate hull. As the charges disappeared in a flash, a column of water vapor, dust, and debris, exploded outward from the breaches they made. A human body was blown from one of the holes over the bridge. Harris felt a chill queasiness as he watched the body cartwheel out of sight.
Captain Gomez’s voice was conversational. “You in the airlock. You have a choice. You may surrender and show this by unloading your weapons, field stripping them, and removing all clothing. Or, you may wait there in the lock until your suits’ consumables are exhausted. As I say, your choice.”
The six pirates in the airlock, including the one wounded by his own ricochet, began surrendering when their suits’ water gave out. The last held out until his O2 was used up and his compatriots stripped his unconscious form. The two survivors still aboard the Devil’s Tea Party made it known that they also would like to surrender.
Harris gazed at the light playing through his glass of near-beer as he asked, “So, how long can we use this wheeze before they get wise to it?”
On the other side of the Wardroom table, Captain Gomez blew on his tea like a proper ash-eater, then took a sip. “Don’t know, Toco. It’s going to get out eventually. If nothing else, when the mutts come up for trial.”
The Rattler’s CO tilted his head and raised his eyebrows. “Council’s sitting on it as long as they can in good conscience. They badly want this section of the Oort Cloud cleared of ice pirates.”
“How long do you think that will take?”
Gomez thought for a moment, then answered, “Probably not all that long. We’re making it pretty hot for them. According to intelligence, they’re not moving in to fill the niches we open nearly as fast as they were. Tells me they’re getting spooked about this area.” He took a sip, and half smiled. “Near as I can figure, when it gets scary enough, they’ll move their hunting somewhere else.”
The XO took a sip of his drink. “And we’ll go chase them there, until they move on again.”
The Captain broke into a grin. “You got to admit, the Revenue Service does foster job security.”