Sunita’s arms flailed wildly as her head was held under the water. She instinctively tried to reach back with her hands to get her assailant off her but couldn’t reach to do so. She realised that she was the only person apart from this guy in the hot tub area. If someone saw her and managed to intervene in time, then she was probably going to stay alive… but if not…
She did not exactly have this thought in that depth. It was more a case of I’ve got to him off… I need help… blub… blub… blub… fight…
At that point, her head was released and gasping for breath, she looked up into the eyes of a Banu who looked at her face and turned his head slightly to his left.
“What is your name, wet human?” he asked, “And what have you done to have someone try to drown you in a hot tub at a party?”
“I’m… I’m…” she spluttered, “Sun… Sun… Sunita Kumar…”
“You’re not Liza Santiago,” a strong male human voice behind her said, as she turned around to see the man that she had come here to meet, “She’d have put up more of a fight than that for one thing.”
She was looking at another large man, this time of African descent, with long black hair in a ponytail and just enough beard to cover his chin without causing problems putting on an oxygen mask.
“I’m Mr. Jones,” he said, “That’s my usual handle. I have a real name, but I’m going to keep it secret from the likes of you.”
“The likes of me?” Sunita asked.
“You’re just a little girl playing pirate. My colleague here may not be able to tell you apart from Santiago, but it was obvious to me. She walks differently. She also does other things differently, if you know what I mean.”
“Hang on, weren’t you trying to kill her?” Sunita said.
“It’s business. It’s nothing personal.”
“It was pretty personal,” Sunita said angrily, “When you shot me.”
“It was dark, and I was on pain meds, which is also why I managed to not kill you. I am going to deeply apologise to you and then inform Captain Brown that Liza Santiago is indeed dead.”
He was talking about this, the deliberately cold-blooded taking of human life, like he was discussing a business transaction.
“That would be appreciated.”
“Now can I buy you a drink?”
“He’s surprisingly nice for a contract killer,” Sunita said when she was back on Tuskegee Airman, “Anyway, he wouldn’t be drawn on the identity of his client, except for one slip of the tongue at the beginning. Someone called Captain Brown.”
“That’s not going to be very useful in us going after this guy.” Daniel Grant said, “You’ve got some pretty big medical bills to pay. Your insurance will cover most of it, but the lost time and earnings aren’t included…”
“Hang on, darling,” Mary said, “I severely doubt this guy is going to pay Sunita compensation.”
“He might. Some honourable thieves out there.”
“Tell you what, let’s see if I can find out some more information about this guy before we make that call.”
Mary started to do a general search through some of the shadier corners of the web and soon found out quite a bit about ‘Captain Brown.’
Luther Brown, a brown-skinned man originally from Terra, was another rather notorious pirate, who had raided a few corporate vessels, stealing their cargo and killing their crews. He was wanted across the UEE and there was a handsome reward out for him. There was also a story that he had one of his treasure caches – which was untypical for a pirate as they usually fenced their booty as soon as possible then drunk away the proceeds when they weren’t using them to purchase other vices – raided by a Liza Santiago.
Mary called the crew together in the mess and presented her findings.
“It seems that your doppelgänger rubbed this Captain Brown up the wrong way. At some point, one of his people saw you… Sunita of course… and thought that Liza was still alive, so hired Mr. Jones to kill her. He of course failed. We can’t safely get this pirate, but now that Mr. Jones is passing on the information that he got the wrong woman, you should be left a…”
There was a sudden explosion on behind them on the port side of the ship. All of them fell to the ground, including Sunita. When she got up, she saw that someone had blown a rather large hole in the side of the ship, red emergency lights were flashing, and the alert sirens were making an awful racket.
Daniel got to his feet.
“Or he could decide to kill us all to cover up his embarrassment!” he screamed, “Sunita, get out of here.”
Sunita moved towards the hole… and saw a pair of gunners taking aim at her, next to a smoking man-portable missile launcher that had clearly been the source of the projectile that had just breached their unshielded hull. Daniel yanked her back quickly.
“The other way! We’ll hold them off!”
Daniel directed her out of the mess and led her through to starboard engineering. He knelt and started to open an inspection hatch on the floor below.
“Give me a hand with this!” he called out, as he started to lift one end of the hatch. Sunita moved over and the two of them quickly lifted it up. Below her, she could see the huge starboard landing gear of their frigate, a drop of about twelve metres to the ground below. Daniel looked around and opened a case containing a safety line, which he passed to Sunita. She secured around her waist and stepped to the edge of the hatch.
“If I don’t see you again,” she said, “It’s been fun.”
She jumped down into the hatch as David let the line run out.
One metre, two metres, three metres…
She could see the gunmen exchanging fire with the Tuskegee crew… A third one had just joined them. Hopefully they would be too pinned down to notice her.
Four metres, five metres, six metres…
One of them fell to the ground as two bullets struck him in the chest.
Seven metres, eight, metres, nine metres…
Then she felt the ship shudder again as another missile hit the landing leg opposite her. She didn’t hear the explosion, just the force of the blast smacking her against the nearest landing leg, knocking the wind out of her. Then there was a second explosion that she did hear.
The line had stopped moving.
“David, what’s happening?” she called out once she had got her breath back. There was no answer. She looked up and saw that the compartment she had just come out of was now pitch black.
Power failure… oh…
Sunita didn’t even have time to mentally swear as she saw one of the remaining gunmen see her, take aim and let loose an entire magazine of automatic fire in her direction…
She closed her eyes and felt several bullets whistling past her body as the hanger reverberated with automatic fire. Then it stopped.
She opened her eyes and realised he had missed with every shot. He was moving to reload when she instinctively moved to release the safety harness.
She landed hard on her ankle, rolling onto her side, with yet more bullets being exchanged between the two sides. She got to her feet, concluded she’d merely sprained her ankle instead of something worse then started to hobble out of the hangar at a fast walking pace. Adrenaline was acting as a painkiller, but she knew that wouldn’t last.
In four minutes, she was back in her own hangar. Her MobiGlas allowed her to open the hatch to the Aurora remotely and she climbed up the steps to get on board as the man with bad fire discipline arrived in the entrance. She pressed the button to close the hatch and darted clear as he fired another magazine at the inside.
Then she was in the cockpit, starting the power up sequence. She wasn’t wearing a space suit, but that was the least of her concerns right now.
At that point, a man with a large assault rifle moved out in front of the ship, aiming his weapon at the cockpit.
“Stop right there, girlie!” he cried out, “If you come out now, we’ll be nice and gentle with you! Muck around, it’s going to go very badly for you.”
He’s standing right in front of my right cannon…
Sunita’s hand moved towards the trigger of her weapon and she flicked open the safety. Had she been in a normal station, the Armistice Zone controls would have prevented her from firing the weapons at all.
Instead, she found herself pulling the trigger. Bright energy shot out of the cannons, ripping small holes in the wall to reveal metal panels underneath.
And standing in front of the starboard cannon was two legs and a smoking skeleton that made up the rest of the former body.
Sunita threw up onto the floor.
It was time to get out of here. She started the engines of the Aurora.
“Spider Control, this is Robert Holmes in Hangar Delta One-Six. Requesting permission for immediate take-off. Also, please send a cleaning crew there, because I just killed a guy. In self-defence.”
The voice on the other side responded as if fatal weapons discharge in a hangar was a weekly occurrence.
“Robert Holmes, we are depressurising the hangar now. Thank you for visiting us…”
In two minutes, Sunita was lifting away from the floor and was soon out into vacuum. She needed to get clear of this station. Clear of this system. She had a look at her Quantum Drive fuel status…
Just enough to get to the jump point for Davien. Home of Aegis Dynamics, she’d be safe there.
She turned her ship towards the Davien jump point and started to spool her drive up. It reached full power and activated, space whizzing past her as she sped towards her destination, the distance dropping rapidly.
She felt the engine power down as she reached the end of her run. Only 100 kilometres to go before she could leave this sorry…
The computerised voice in her cockpit gave her some unwelcome news. This wasn’t what she needed now. She looked around for the orange contact on her helmet… then remembered she wasn’t wearing one. Her fighting ability had just dropped considerably.
She turned her ship to point at the contact.
An F7C Hornet fighter. She’s agile, but I could probably take her with my missiles.
“New contact. New contact.”
She turned again. Two more ships. A P5G Gladius… and a Constellation.
Well, if I just fly casual like…
“Robert Holmes, this is the one and only warning that you are going to get. Power down your engines, weapons and shields… and prepare to be boarded”, came a voice over the radio. It sounded treacly and snake-like, as if it was enjoying just the first stage of whatever this was.
Sunita knew that she was in deep trouble. There was no way that the Idris corvette could reach her in time, even if it had been working. Any serious attack would result in a hull breach and her quick death from a lack of air.
She had no choice.
“Robert Holmes will comply,” she said and started to surrender.