Behind the Mule, three dozen enemy fighter drones popped into existence. They swarmed toward the pirate ship, concentrating fire on her afterburners.
“We are being hit from behind, Captain. I cannot hold the aft shields.”
Mule’s orange forcefield flickered out in the rear from the combined blasts, and the drones’ cannons struck her engine cones. Explosions rocked the ship as chunks from the stern flew off into space.
“We’re stranded, Captain. Forward momentum has stalled. We have no more propulsion power.”
“Fire everything you’ve got on that ship, Lootie. We can still take out her front shield!”
Thup! Thup! Thup!
Three more red bolts from Mule slammed into the warship’s bow. She popped out of sight.
“Where’d she go?”
The holoscreen shifted. It showed the warship now behind Mule, along with the fighter drones.
“She is behind us, Captain. I cannot maneuver the large front guns to get a clear shot at her. Repulsion cannons can keep the fighters busy, but we are otherwise at her mercy.”
“They’ve got a shot right up our butts,” Granny said, her voice full of anger.
Indeed, the warship’s forward guns pointed ominously at their rear, where the damaged drive cones barely covered their exposed hull.
LuteNet said, “Captain, I calculate it would take several minutes to completely destroy us. It would involve multiple sustained hits.”
Raleigh looked at Roddy, Maxwell, and Granny. Everyone held their breath, waiting for those giant guns to fire. The huge tubes aimed right toward them, threatening . . . threatening . . . yet they remained silent.
“What are they waiting for?” Roddy said.
As if in response, Lootie said, “Captain, StarCen demands you surrender to the SLS Polaris. What is your response?”
“Ignore the request. What are my options?”
“You are helpless. You are without propulsion or teleportation. I recommend surrender.”
“How about anti-boarding measures?”
“Those remain active. They will have to fly over a boarding party if you refuse to surrender. They have ample Marines onboard if you successfully thwart the first wave.”
“Yeah, but we’ve got Skylar. Why haven’t they taken us out yet? We are completely at their mercy. Our side just destroyed one of their ships in a Samson maneuver. Why are they holding back?”
“It is possible they are aware the Tetrarch’s daughter is onboard, and do not wish to harm her.”
“How could they have figured that out?” Granny said. “Nobody is supposed to know she’s with us.”
“Spies,” Raleigh said. “Port Ryan is filled with spies. Somehow they got word out to the League that she’d be on this ship. It’s the only thing that makes sense. I wonder if they know about Raquel, too?”
He glanced meaningfully at Roddy.
Roddy said, “I dunno. But if I can’t fly this thing, I want to support the repelling party.”
Raleigh nodded in assent, and the pilot headed for the elevator. The doors opened and a pod whisked him away.
LuteNet said, “Captain, a transport is leaving Polaris now. I am not going to be able to shoot them down, nor prevent the transport from landing on our flight deck. The drones just took out the last of our small cannons.”
Raleigh touched the implant under his ear and shifted over to the ship’s PA system.
“Everybody listen up, this is Captain Raleigh. We’re crippled, and they’re behind us where our big guns can’t reach them. They’re sending over a boarding party as I speak. We suspect they’re after Jillian Thrall.
“Jillian, please retire to my quarters and lock the door. Everyone else, prepare to repel the boarders. Let’s give them a welcome party they won’t forget. Skylar, go down and help them feel welcome.”
Lights flashed red as the elevator door to the flight deck corridor opened. Half a dozen crewmembers ran out and scrambled into position behind hallway barricades, protrusions jutting from the walls on either side designed for this very purpose. They aimed rifles at the entrance to the tarmac, providing a solid line of defense that would prove difficult to pass.
The Polaris’s transport flew through the red hexagonal opening on Mule’s port side and onto the landing deck.
LuteNet’s voice echoed throughout the Mule. She said, “Intruder alert. An enemy transport is inside the ship.”
Jeter remained at the rear of the repelling party. The short, thick-necked man had a well-deserved reputation to be handy in a fight. No one was surprised to see him joining their first line of defense.
The elevator opened and Roddy stepped out. He nodded at everybody before palming the armory panel. It opened and he selected a gun, then took up position behind the last barricade opposite Jeter.
The elevator opened again and Skylar came out. She grabbed a pistol and walked confidently down the center of the corridor past the men behind the barricades, and stood facing the doorway to the flight deck.
“Let them come through,” she said, “and I’ll take care of it.”
The men smiled with relief, their thoughts evident by their expressions. Skylar served as their own angel of death, and with her pulling for them they just might make it through this alive.
Outside on the landing deck they heard the rails of the enemy transport thunk down on metal.
Skylar lifted her pistol and flickered once.
Jeter pulled out an egg grenade and tossed it underhand down the corridor in one smooth motion before she disappeared.
Skylar flew forward in the blast, hitting the wall face-first. She crumpled to the floor. The two men nearest her were blown apart, their bodies mauled in the explosion. The two in the middle and the two in back survived, the metal barricades providing some protection from the grenade’s blast, but their eardrums were blown and they fell to the floor stunned, covering their heads.
Jeter stepped out from behind his barricade and shot Roddy in the chest. Then he quickly walked down the hall shooting the other survivors in the head.
Thoop! Thoop! Thoop! Thoop!
The doorway to the flight deck blew open before he got there, and League Marines streamed through with guns out front. They stopped, confused at all the bodies in the corridor.
Jeter dropped his gun and raised his hands. They pointed their weapons at him and advanced quickly down the hall.
A Sergeant said, “On your knees!”
“I’m the infiltrator, you idiot. Agent Avery Jeter. StarCen will confirm.”
The man listened to StarCen’s voice over his neural connection and nodded. He aimed his gun at the floor and his men followed suit.
The Sergeant said, “Is Jillian Thrall onboard?”
“Is she unharmed?”
“Take us to her.”
“Follow me, boys.”
He turned and headed toward the elevator.
When he came to Roddy’s body he said, “Just a minute, fellas. This one has something I need to retrieve.”
He reached down and pulled Raquel’s electronic trap out of the pilot’s pocket.
“Thanks, Roddy. Saves me from having to hunt you down.”