Platform 323 (Part Four)

Platform 323 - Space Picture - Use and Modification Licensed

This is, possibly, part on of an ongoing serialisation derived from something I’ve already written. The plan is to put a new part up every Tuesday so feel free to like it, or follow the blog, if you want to see more. You can find all parts here.

“What’re they doing?”

“Sitting there. They know we’ve locked the missiles on.”

“No weapons charging up? No other ships on the scanners?”

“Nope, we’re all alone by the looks of things.”

Murat nodded and Schneider went back to his origami. He was a good worker, Schneider, generally drunk of course and rarely to be found working but when he did do something he mostly did it right. The fact that he spent most of his space time practising re-creating pornographic scenes out of carefully folded bits of paper was a side issue at worst. Plus he was undoubtedly talented at it. Like Murat he was ex-army, a deserter from North America where he’d spent most of his time taking pot shots at South Americans with a howitzer a few miles from the frontline. And now he was a casual Pirate, interested mostly in origami, drink and not having to put too much effort into anything.

“Ecce, get them on the screen, and look serious.”

Following his own advice Murat put on his best thousand yard stare. Appearances counted for a lot out here, unless you found yourself dealing with an old hand, in which case you could do the whole thing in a pair of boxers with your feet up. The younger captains however needed the image thing for pride’s sake if nothing else. Never did to be seen surrendering to someone who was busy scratching their arse and swigging from their morning coffee.

“Link established, captain.”

Of the square cabin that constituted The Kazamov‘s command centre half of one wall was dedicated to the main screen, two to desks for whatever crew members felt inclined to do any work and one to the narrow blast door which led to the rest of the ship. Only Ecce and Scheider were present, the former standing before one of the desks, tapping commands into a touchscreen embedded into the metal of a desk, the letter focused on his own pursuits on the other side of the room. The rest of the crew would either be legitimately busy or just staying out of the way to avoid having to do anything. They’d know the ship had shown up though, that would make a difference Murat hoped. None of them were incompetent by any means and their lack of faith in him aside they were capable enough of doing the job.

A face flickered onto the screen. She was young and official looking – both bad signs Murat quickly concluded as they stared at each other, each trying to look as indifferent as they possibly good.

“This is Captain Murat of The Kazamov, our weapons are locked on and your cargo is ours.”

“Captain Kochelski. Our cargo is ours, Captain, and I’m under strict orders not to hand it over to anyone, so I suppose you’ll have to come and get it. If you can.”

It was going to be one of those sorts of jobs. Boarding wasn’t an easy option, it seldom was, after all it took a good half an hour to line up the docking bay and then the same time over again to cut through their bulkhead. And unarmed or not a corporation ship would undoubtedly have a security team on board. Murat’s crew could fight, there was enough of the veteran deserter about them for that, but fighting your way onto a squat and claustrophobic ship was no small task. Someone would die, his or theirs.

“Or we could just destroy you and write this one off as a loss. Might even be enough scrap left over to cover our costs.”

“But not enough to save you when my superiors find out. We’re black-ops, captain, not just a supply ship – we disappear, people care. Think about it.”

The screen abruptly went black. The first round was over with an anti-climax. Familiar ground for Murat. Threats, counter threats and games of chicken made up far more of a pirates work than the actual fighting and looting ever did. Earth-siders, the more backwards Platformers, they all liked to talk in excited tones about the adrenaline fuelled adventures of swaggering privateers, raiders and Captains but the truth was far more mundane. His opposite on the unnamed Neftech ship was either a Rookie with a good line in bluffing or a bona fide graduate of some black-ops training program. If it was the former then she was good, this Kochelski. She hadn’t blinked, hadn’t over done it and hadn’t hinted for even an instant at bombastic false promises. She’d just said her piece, kept the same blank look on her face and cut the link. Black-ops behaviour. And that would make a difference. Kuzumo had said it was a covert, government related shipment, but that meant nothing. The corporations, the Earth-sider authorities, they were always smuggling something to or from the Platforms, guns, drugs, people; it was a routine activity and even if they didn’t make a song and dance about it they didn’t exactly go out of their way to keep it a secret. A certain amount of wastage was even expected, that’s how the Pirates made a living, not to mention the local bosses, smugglers, raiders and corrupt pseudo-officials who skimmed off of the top. But a genuine black-ops crew was something else entirely. They were vicious, efficient and generally unpleasant people. If she really was one of them then whatever was on that ship was important and therefore worth a lot. So why send it on an unarmed, un-escorted ship?

It took a nudge from Ecce for Murat to realise that he was still staring blankly at the dead screen.

“What next Captain?”

“Get the the crew together in the mess hall, we might have to board them. Schneider, drop the paper and keep your eyes glued to the scanners – make sure we don’t have any company.”

Ecce gave another brusk click of her heels and went off to gather up the scattered assortment that made up The Kazamov’s crew. Schneider grunted, glanced briefly at the screen in front of him and then went back to his paper folding. As close to a ‘yes sir’ as he ever gave.

For his part Murat left the command room not far behind Ecce and headed back to his cabin. Among his meagre belongings was the one useful thing he owned, a gauss gun. Not something you’d want to fire around the bulk heads but an impressively high end rarity given that half of the soldiers fighting on earth had reverted to AK47s looted from museums. It had never been fired in anger but it had the right look about it and the crew would need all the encouragement they could get if he had to ask them to go in.

Plus, once back in his quarters, he had a chance to slump down on his bed, drop his head into his hands and with a moan of exasperation, think about what the hell came next. He could run. That was always a smart choice, especially if his opposite was willing to stare him down. But you could only really get away with that if your crew was with you and his were mentally half way back to 323 and a new career already. So he could wait, for a while at least. He was experienced enough to know that Kochelski wouldn’t try to just fly by him, they both knew he’d have no choice but to fire if that happened and that might be enough to save face in front of his crew. He’d been telling the truth about the scrap value too, you could never be too sure what would happen when a ship decompressed, especially one with unknown cargo, but whatever was left would be something at least. It had been nine days already though and even if Murat had seen these situations drag on for weeks patience was wearing too thin to try that now. Eventually someone else would come along anyway, even if they were a bit off of the beaten path between Earth and the Lagrange Open Zone they weren’t so far out of the way as to be left completely alone. And signal jamming might be doing the job for now but sooner or later Kochelski would find a way through it.

Finally, and least attractively, he could board them. Run the risk of walking straight into a highly trained security detail and see who was quickest on the trigger. His people were good, if they chose to fight, but hers might be better. Again he found himself wishing that he’d never mentioned the no-drink policy. Back during his time in the trenches they’d always handed out vodka before a big attack, he’d never have gone over the top otherwise, which was perhaps why he’d abstained ever since. Sobriety might be scared but sobriety was also alive.

For more from me you can check out my novel Crashed America – available in paperback and digital formats. Or you can try any of my other work here – variously available as ebooks or paperbacks. 

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