Freighter is the Key
3,352 words; about a 17 minute read
Location: Lomsebenzi, heavy freighter
Captain Praeto of the Vindarin heavy freighter ship the Lomsebenzi was a nervous man. He knew this route well, had travelled it for years, but the latest piracy had left its marks on it. His hand shook whenever he thought about it and a bead of sweat seemed to always be close to his receding hairline. His hair, now greyish and lank, was tied into a ponytail mostly to cover the bald patch he had developed on his head. He was a heavyset man, but it was mostly muscle except for a thickness at his waist that age and softer living had put upon him. His eyes, a violet hue, darted from the woman, a doctor who was seated close to him, to the male pilot, and to the other man, a fighter? Security. That was it, that had become part of his crew. Close by was the Starfleet vessel, a shadow in the waste of the stars. He swallowed, shifting his weight from foot to foot. There was not many seats and a Captain stood, to better see what his crew were doing.
"Keep the course and speed," he said, breaking the silence of people working, watching instruments, considering the meal in the mess. His stomach rumbled at the thought. It would be stew, it was usually stew on the first day out, to use up what they had picked up. By the tenth day it would be cheese and the thick flat breads they had that lasted.
Upon hearing the words of the Vindarin captain, Nate moved over the controls. He called back "Aye sir. Maintaining course and speed." His hand sliding over the manual controls and shifting a few levers just a bit to maintain certain pressures in the control surfaces on the outside of the ship.
Jesse Moriarty just studied the captain from his seat, his knowing eyes taking him in. He saw the signs of anxiety mixed with the boredom of the routine. It didn't reassure him. It could be a fatal combination. "All scans are coming up clear," he notified, almost to reassure him.
Captain Praeto wiped his brow, looking ahead before he looked over at Moriarty. "Is the Artemis still shadowing us?" he asked, demandingly, yet it was more desperation than any aggression. He didn't like this, being bait.
"The Artemis won't be taking her eyes off of us," Moriarty assured firmly, wanting to put him at ease. For all of their sakes. He understood though. He wouldn't be flattered or pleased about being put out as the bait. He paused at that, frowning. Although...he sort of had been....
Praeto nodded, taking a slow breath before he shifted. "These pirates, taking what we have worked hard for...splitting it. Last time we had to go to one of the stations...they took 30% of our cargo. Tax, they called it, for the air and water..." he was mostly talking to himself, but loudly, and there were some grunts of agreement from the others at it.
Jesse watched him with interest at the snippet of information, his eyes narrowing ever so slightly. "On the station?" he asked quietly. They were getting bolder. Which worked in their favour. Cocky bastards took bait far easier.
Nate had been listening while he maintained course and speed, watching the readouts for any sign that the pirates might be on their way. He kept quiet however, disliking how these pirates had gotten away with things for so long.
Praeto looked around again, frowning as an alarm sounded. "What's that?" he asked, loudly, clearly nervous about it.
"Friend of foe," one of the people at the sensors say. "It no friend, no signature. Warp drive signature familiar, trying to find it..."
Jesse took a look for himself but had no more luck in identifying their shadow. "Okay, Captain, remember, if it's them, lead them as far to the Artemis as possible then get the hell out of here as fast as you can," he reiterated. He got the feeling the skipper would be more than happy to get as much distance as possible, but it never hurt to be clear when there was a danger of passions running high.
Praeto let out a breath, looking over at the man at the scans. "What is it?" he demanded, his eyes dark.
"Pirates, Captain!" the man stood, looking over at him. "Pirates coming towards us!"
Nate took a breath as he heard the name called out. He normally wouldn't have been so apprehensive, but being aboard this antique of a vessel compared to Starfleet vessels, it gave him a pang of worry. He worked the console and gripped the wheel, preparing for course
Praeto paled, despite the Starfleet presence, and looked around with a moment of panic before some training kicked in. "Ring the bell, shields up and everyone at their battle station!" he called out, forcefully. "And contact the Artemis...hope by all the stars that they're with us..."
"Shields up!" Jesse confirmed, his voice strong across the bridge that was now abuzz with anxious activity. "Moriarty to Artemis, do you read?"
The message was coming through with some inference but the Captain gave a reply “Chambers here, go ahead.”
"Captain, we have a positive hit," Jesse replied, a touch louder than usual with the interference, looking across to the skipper to make sure he was still keeping it together for the time being at least. "We're about to head your way, get ready to intercept."
“Setting course to intercept” Chambers assured her crewman. “Have they attacked you” she asked Jesse as the ship went to warp.
"Not yet, but they're coming straight for us, we'll let you know if we're in trouble," Moriarty assured before holding the comm so both ships could concentrate on what laid ahead. He glanced over to helm with dark blue eyes. "Captain Praeto, we should get moving."
Nate stood at his console, gripping the controls as he looked back to the captain "Your orders sir?"
Praeto looked worried, hesitating for a long minute with sweat dripping from his brow. He took a breath, steeling himself before he nodded. "Full speed, we are retreating. Engineering, get us everything we have. We must try and outrun them..." his voice started to shake as he saw, on the viewscreen, the ship coming into view.
Nate nodded and immediately starting moving, turning the ship and requesting full power from engineering. He spoke "Aye sir, full speed!"
On the bridge of the USS Artemis, Commander Nightingale frowned as he sat in his seat. At the helm was Lieutenant Blakeley, with Valentine at the Tactical station. He glanced at his Captain, knowing that some of the ducks had been put in row. With the two undercover teams away, hopefully infiltrating the pirates, it was going to be pure luck to see what ship was coming for the Lomsebenzi's cargo. "How long until intercept?" he asked Blakeley, even if he had a rough idea.
"Five minutes until intercept coordinates are reached," Blakeley said, frowning slightly. He could do faster, but it would be pushing to maximum warp. They had been careful enough to be far enough away not to be detected, but close enough to get there quickly. Five minutes would seem like forever though.
"The ship's closing in, Captain!" one of the crewmembers shouted on the bridge, eyes wide as he looked at the readings. "I've identified the drive signature, it's the Umbra! It's the flagship of the Pirate Fleet!"
Jesse's hands gripped the edge of his console tighter, but he didn't even realise it. His body became tense, ready and coiled for a fight, but his voice was cool as he spoke. "Good, that works perfectly for the plan," he said firmly, a reminder to those on the bridge that they had a job to do. "We just need to hold our nerve until we're a little closer to the Artemis and then we can get the hell out of here."
Nate had set a course and started for the Artemis, trying to shake the pirate vessels as he did. He looked to Jesse, a brow perked a bit "Almost there."
"They're gaining on us!" The crewmember's eyes wide as he looked over at Nate.
"Full speed!" Praeto shouted, panic clear in his voice, the way he was holding himself. The man was terrified and it rippled through his crewmembers on the bridge.
Nate slammed the control full forward for max speed. Turning the control stall a bit he swerved the ship as he spoke aloud “cmon baby. Shake your big ass for me!” Before slamming the vessel in to a near 90° turn, aiming right for the coordinates where the Artemis was to appear.
There was a flash as torpedoes flew across the space in front of the Lomsebenzi, purposefully missing. A chirp warned that they were being hailed by the gaining pirate ship. Praeto was sweating as he gripped his seat, the turn quick enough to be felt even with the inertia dampening fields inside the ship.
Jesse watched the skipper from across the compact bridge, his dark eyes narrowed at the lack of commands coming from the Captain. He made a split second decision to take charge. "We're being hailed...putting them through..." he called across the bridge, opening the hail from the pirate king.
Aetius' voice echoed on the bridge, strong and firm. "This is Captain Aetius, of the Umbra. Cut your engines and prepare to be boarded, or you will be destroyed."
Praeto's breath caught and he looked at the Starfleet personnel on his bridge. "Where is the ship? Your Captain promised! She promised!"
Jesse muted the comm, leaning on the console as he watched him with an intense gaze. "They're en route, there'll be here in...three minutes. We just need to play for time. Ask them what their terms of surrender are...you're up..." he put the comm back on.
Praeto looked like he was almost having a heart attack. "You have no right to order us around, pirate scum!" he shouted, swallowing hard. "The Lomsebenzi is a great transport ship, we will not stand down and be boarded!"
Aetius chuckled and for a moment he genuinely sounded amused. "I respect your stance, Captain Praeto," he said in an almost gentle voice. "Unfortunately...it won't help you." The channel closed and for a moment the silence just rang out on the bridge. A void.
Until suddenly the alarms started going off. "They've locked weapons! Firing!" the person at the sensors shouted, looking with desperation over at the screen showing the torpedoes speed towards them.
"Full shields! Evasive maneuvers! Fire back!" Praeto shouted, some training from his past clearly pushing through his terror.
If they hadn't of been on the precipice of a firefight, Jesse would have thrown his hands up in disbelief at the Captain's sudden fighting talk. 'I guess we're fighting then...' he shook his head with frustration as he powered up what passed for weapons. He fired at will, hitting his target without problems, but he didn't need the computer to tell him that minimal damage had been done.
The ship shook as the Umbra fired on her, reducing the shields too quickly for comfort. Praeto was biting his lip, hard, watching the battle more than feeling he was participating in it. Reason had left, all he had were emotions. Rage. Fear. A lot of fear.
Nate had been fighting the ancient controls as he stood at the helm console. He growled out "She's fuckin fighting me over here!" practically horizontal as he tried to change their angle of approach.
Another hit and the engines lost power. Seconds later, the shields failed. There was a stillness before another alarm went off, blaring. "Intruders!" Praeto stood, swiftly, shouting the word as the air around him shimmered and a group of four beamed onboard.
Jesse pushed away from the console, pulling his phaser quickly. One of the figures had barely remateralised before he fired at them, not giving any chances before he moved for cover. He fired across the bridge, taking down a pirate that was swinging their rifle towards the Captain.
The man fell, stunned, and another figure materialised. She held her rifle ready and opened fire at Jesse and her weapon was clearly not set to stun as she managed to both fire and dive for cover.
Another man materialised, also opening fire before taking cover. "Surrender!" he shouted, to the people on the bridge. "Surrender or die!"
"Back at you!" Jesse shouted from his position, willingly pulling their attention away from the others on the bridge. He was fuming that they'd gotten to this point, so far from the plan. But he buried it deep, to focus on the chaos. He gripped the side of the console, using it as leverage as he swung his arm, head and shoulders out enough to send another blazing orange volley their way, pulling himself sharply back just in time to miss a scorching blast of return fire, and then pushing himself into a low run to slide behind a bolted chair.
Having fallen to the deck after the torpedo strike, Nate rolled on to his stomach and pushed up, drawing his phaser at the same time as he moved to a kneeling position. Using the helm console as a makeshift cover, he popped up and sent several beams of phaser fire towards the enemy while Jesse and one of the enemy shouted back and forth. Nate growled a bit and called out "bring it you sorry bastards!" as he winged one in the arm with a beam, causing the arm to catch fire and the skin to burn immediately.
"Dropping out of warp," Blakeley said and grimaced as they dropped out right between the two ships. He took a moment, his eyes widening at the damage of the freighter.
Nightingale stood suddenly, his eyes going over what was going on. "Shields up, lock onto both ships. Open the hail to both of them," he ordered, before realising he had taken control. He glanced over at the Captain, an apologetic look on his face.
“Artemis to Lomsebenzi report” she calls out from her chair on the bridge of the Federation starship.
Jesse swore as the comm alert sparked, ducking to avoid another beam of fire that burned into the bulkhead behind his head. He pushed himself up, sprinting for the console and slapping the comm open even as he dropped into cover behind the pedestal. "We've been boarded! We're under fire on the bridge!"
One of the pirates seemed to hesitate at hearing it, trying to shoot Jesse. He grimaced as he heard the alarms, touching his ear. "Captain, there's..." he stopped and seemed to receive quite an earful. "No, we've not taken the bridge yet."
"Stand down!" Jesse shouted across the bridge to the intruders, breathing hard against the adrenaline sparking through him. "You heard them! They'll be here any minute, you'll have nowhere to go!"
Nathaniel heard the shouts from Jesse and the calls from the Artemis. He called out "Do as he says! Stand down and you won't be harmed!" He stood up and shot another phaser shot above their heads.
“Commander” Carmelita looked over at her First Officer “take a team and secure the freighter and let’s get the attention of their attackers.”
"Yes Captain," Nightingale said and tapped his badge. "Aquila, Silas, Swift, join me in the transported room. Come armed and with a med kit, we're going to the Lomsebenzi.
"Yes Sir, on my way," Aquila replied quickly, and there was a briskness to his voice, as if he was energised to finally be let loose.
It only took a well placed warning shot from the phaser banks to get the pirates to stop their attack on the freighter. Their ships were no match for the Insignia-class starship and the Commander was getting things squared away on the freighter.
There was a moment where shields were lowered and the away team from the Artemis shimmered into view on the bridge. Nightingale stood with his phaser ready, flanked by the two Marines, and a nurse who also had her phaser ready. He shot his phaser from his new position, his features almost blank. "You're outnumbered!" he called out, to the pirates on the bridge. "Surrender!"
One of the pirates let out a breath, touching his ear for a moment. He swallowed suddenly before he seemed to suck in a breath for courage. "Lower the weapons, our Captain hard ordered us to stand down," he called out.
The Captain, Praeto, looked up from his position hiding between a console and a chair, watching as the pirates lowered their weapons. "Kill them!" he shouted at the Marines, standing. "Take these pirates out!
"No one fires!" Moriarty called out, standing from his place as he let out a long breath, adrenaline still thrumming through him. "They've surrendered, we don't fire on people who have laid down their weapons," his voice was loud enough to carry across the bridge, and it had enough sharpness to make it clear anyone who didn't listen would answer to him.
Nate growled as he heard the ships captain call for them to be killed. Before he could respond, he heard Moriarty. Nodding his head he stepped forward, phaser still aimed at the enemy as he got close, grabbing some binders and using them on their arms to keep them under control.
Over the communicator came the Captains voice “how we doing, Commander? Is the Lomsebenzi secure?” Carmelita was hoping for a good report from her boarding party.
"Pirates have stood down...on orders from their Captain by the looks of it," Nightingale said, weapon still held ready. "Aquila, Silas, secure the prisoners. Nurse, tend to the wounded."
"Yes Sir," Silas said, moving to the closest pirate, phaser rifle aimed at him. "On your knees."
Aquila kept his weapon levelled at the man too, moving around to get hold of his wrist to twist down and secure cuffs on him. He nodded to Silas, covering him as they moved to the next. They garnered little resistance though despite their wariness. It looked like the fight had drained out of them with the turn of events.
Nightingale took a deep breath, looking at the viewscreen of the Artemis and the pirate vessel. Out here in space, it looked...beautiful. A deadly stalemate. But what was next?
On the USS Artemis, and incoming hail sounded from the pirate vessel. It flashed on Ensign Mir'il's console, a quiet sign that could either be answered, or not.
“Incoming hail” Mir’il called out from the operations console “it’s the pirate ship, Captain.”
“On screen” Carmelita said and when the screen in front of her flashed to that of a man she spoke again. “This is Captain Carmelita Chambers of the Federation starship USS Artemis.” She took a brief second and continued “I’d recommend you stand down, Captain?”
Aetius looked oddly at ease as she watched Carmelita, before he held his hands to the side. "As you are aware, we can't take on the Federation," he said, a small chuckle escaping. "But I am willing to talk, on behalf of my people."
“Good idea” she smiled “we will be in touch shortly to arrange a meeting” Captain Chambers smiled. “I look forward to our discussions, Captain.”
Aetius held her eyes for a long moment before he nodded. "With you, yes. I do not hold my breath on the Vindarin," he admitted before he cut the connection.
Carmelita took her seat with a smile and the feeling of relief. She was glad they could get them to stand down without a fire fight, that never turned out good for anyone.