"Peacetime can be a rough adjustment for the battle-hardened Merry Band of Pirates. Especially when aliens don’t get the memo that the shooting is over."
SPOILER ALERT! The section(s) below SCHMAYBE includes Spoilers.
FULL SUMMARY COMING SOON
“Say that again, please,” Captain Uhtavio ‘Big Score’ Scorandum of the Jeraptha Home Fleet’s Ethics and Compliance Office asked, while scratching the back of his neck with a claw. The thick, leathery shell of his neck was not actually itchy, he felt a headache coming on, and rubbing the muscles there helped distract him.
Sub-lieutenant Kinsta blinked. “What part?”
“Kinsta-” Scorandum sighed.
“Forgive me, Captain,’ Kinsta waved a claw at the display in front of him. “There is a lot here that I am having trouble believing.”
“Let’s start with the apparent fact that the ghost ship is not controlled by a rogue faction of Bosphuraq, but by humans.” Scorandum’s current command, the ECO heavy cruiser Time Off For Bad Behavior, was at the planet Tohmaran to observe the RuharAlien Legion assisting one clan of Kristang to take a planet from another clan. That, by itself, was something Scorandum would never have predicted could ever happen. The fact that the human Emily Perkins not only thought up such a creative plan, but overcame the odds to make it happen, had Scorandum both admiring the plucky human, and seething with jealousy. After all, if anything sketchy was happening in the galaxy, the Ethics and Compliance Office was supposed to be involved. Unofficially, of course. Officially, ECO was shocked, yes shocked to see underhanded behavior going on.
Scorandum’s little squadron of ECO ships had been envious to see the operation proceeding smoothly, with the Ruhar successfully and surprisingly intervening in the Kristang civil war. Then the ECO group had been stunned when a pair of Maxolhx warships jumped in to chase away the Ruhar fleet, and demand surrender of the Mavericks. Scorandum had briefly considered a daring operation to jump in, pick up the dropship carrying Perkins and her team, then jump away before the Maxolhx could respond. He had wisely rejected that plan for many reasons, mostly because Perkins would very likely refuse to fly her dropship aboard an ECO ship. Perkins was not the type to fly away from a fight, even a hopeless fight. If she did manage to escape, the Maxolhx would take their rage out on the humans still on the ground.
So, Scorandum had kept his squadron in stealth, observing as his orders required, and dying inside as the Mavericks flew into orbit to meet their doom.
Then, the ghost ship had jumped in, engaged in a furious battle, and almost casually torn the Maxolhx warships apart.
The most surprising thing that day, was that the totally unexpected arrival of the much-feared ghost ship was not the most surprising event of the day.
“Humans are flying the ghost ship.” Scorandum shook his head slowly. “No one could have predicted that.”
“Er,” Kinsta glanced at his captain, then at the display, then back at his commanding officer. “That is not exactly true, Sir.”
The impending headache flared into real pain. “Shit. Sub-lieutenant, are you telling me that Fleet Intelligence predicted-”
“Ha!” Kinsta burst out laughing, interrupting his captain. “Sorry, Sir.” Scorandum snorted. “If Fleet Intelligence were right about something so unusual, that would be funny.”
“They weren’t. But, Sir, someone did place a wager that humans were flying the ghost ship.”
“No.” The Captain’s mandibles drooped open in shock. “Who the hell is the lucky bastard?” “Whanevu Ollivar,” Kinsta checked the details on the display. “According to the registry, he is a salvage equipment dealer on Bintondi.”
“Salvage equipment, huh?” They both knew that meant Ollivar actually made a living as a fence for stolen goods, and probably laundering money on the side. It was a relatively high-prestige profession, one that required having and maintaining the right connections with influential people. Also, it required knowing who to bribe, and how much really needed to be paid out. Salvage dealers could become wealthy, but most of them lived on the edge of insolvency, dodging creditors until they had cash coming in.
“How did this Ollivar know-”
“He didn’t,” Kinsta gestured at the display. “According to Central Wagering, he placed that wager as a prop bet, along with several other wagers. All of his other bets that day placed out of the money.”
“Lucky bastard. I can’t imagine the odds of a bet like that. How much will he win?”
“Sir, are you familiar with the planet ‘Jamandra’, one of our Big Five industrial worlds?”
“Yes,” Scorandum had no idea why his subordinate had mentioned that trivial fact. “The major components of our jump drives are manufactured, there I believe. It is a fabulously wealthy planet. Why?”
“From now on, Jamandra will be known as ‘Ollivar's World’.”
“Shit!” Scorandum groaned. “Lucky bastard.”
“Uh,” Kinsta looked back at his display. “Maybe. Based on his wagering history, Ollivar will probably blow through his money in a month.”
The ECO captain chuckled. “I will not wager on that. All right, Kinsta, I suppose it is time to introduce ourselves to the captain of the ghost ship. They call it ‘Valkyrie’?”
“Yes, Sir. The name is a reference to a human musical drama.”
“They named it after music?”
“Er, the name is also a myth of supernatural beings who brought fallen warriors to their eternal reward, if they were judged worthy.”
“That’s more likely the source of the name. What do we know about their commander, this Colonel Bishop?”
“Apparently, he was involved in an Alien Legion raid on the Kristang planet Rakesh Diwalen. Although,” Kinsta blushed when his captain cocked his head at him. “Er, it now appears the Alien Legion was not involved in that raid.”
“It does seem unlikely,” Scorandum stated the obvious. “Do we know anything useful about this Bishop?”
“Not much. Except, he and Perkins have a history, on Paradise. A professional history,” he added to clarify.
“They do? That is interesting.”
“Bishop was a mid-ranking infantry soldier, and she was his intelligence contact. Perkins evaluated him as inexperienced and naïve, but a fast-learner. Bishop’s earlier military records, from his service on Earth, list him as ‘overly-enthusiastic’. There was also a note in the file that his platoon leader thought Bishop was a ‘knucklehead’?” Kinsta looked up, unsure the word has translated properly.
“A knucklehead, hmm?” Scorandum looked at the distant image of Valkyrie on his ship’s main display. “Yet, he somehow obtained a Maxolhx battlecruiser.”
“The file also contains vague references to an incident on Earth involving an ice cream truck, and something called a, ‘Barney’?”
“What is ‘ice cream’?”
“It is a frozen treat enjoyed by humans,” Kinsta hoped the translation computer knew what it was doing.
Kinsta threw up his hands, the claws twitching. “Some type of ‘dinosaur’? A fierce, extinct predator from Earth’s ancient past.” He pointed to the purple image on the display.
“Hmph,” Scorandum snorted at the purple thing. “That is what humans consider to be a fierce predator? Kinsta, how the hell did humans manage to steal a senior-species warship?”
“If I had a guess about that, Sir, I would be placing a wager right now.”
“Good point. Send a signal to Valkyrie, requesting permission for a rendezvous. It would not be a good idea to jump in without an invitation.”
Kinsta looked at the jagged, tumbling pieces of debris that used to be two Maxolhx cruisers. “I think you are right about that, Sir.”