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Scorpius Episode III: Back in Black

April 13, 2011

by Mark E. Cotterill

Read Episode I

Read Episode II


The Firefly class ship hovered briefly like its insect namesake, gathered up her landing gear and floated skywards. She cleared the Spaceport boundary and rotated as her pilot Kurza Kitosa throttled the engines up to maximum. The Spaceport, the City and the land mass it stood on, all fell away behind them as the Scorpius returned to ‘The Black’.

When Kurza left the cockpit several minutes later everyone else on board was in one place and completely focused on one thing; the door to the Captain’s quarters.

“It’s tough alright,” said Cobb, from behind a welding mask. At his side Kaine was diligently tracing the burning torch around a seam in one of the hinges. The ceramic-metal alloy was starting to glow, but showed no signs of melting. “Kaine’s been at it for about ten-minutes now an’ aint barely made a scratch.” Scott, who would be doing this himself if he wasn’t strapped to a medi-bed, looked on. He was conscious enough to give occasional instructions, but Dr. Whiteman had forbidden him to move until he’d had more time to recover.

The newest addition to the group was Margaret Wolff. She leant back against the bulkhead and looked on passively, apparently uninterested in the scene in front of her, yet clearly not willing to wander around the ship on her own. Kitosa kept looking at her, scarcely believing his luck that she had asked to join them for this trip. She was a fine looking woman and, despite her argumentative and threatening demeanour on the planet, Kitosa could tell that she liked him. He’d lucked out with the ship too. Here he was, with his own vessel, a crew and all the Sky before him. The only thing that stood in his way now was this stubborn door, behind which was probably a safe containing a large fortune.

“Couldn’t we try a plasma torch?” Kitosa shouted above the noise. There was a sucking sound from one of Scott’s tubes and his voice croaked,

“Nah, plasma’ll be nae use here. Needs a vacuum.” Even saying that much had taken him all his strength.

“What about that security access panel?” Asked Margaret, pointing to the complicated looking key and code-pad interface.

“We tried that first, the Captain must’ve had the key on him when he was picked up. When we bought the ship all we got was the main door seal and some paperwork.”

The key and code system was a panel at about shoulder height recessed into the door. A square key slot, a number input pad and simple four digit display. It was a sophisticated system and in all the time they’d been aboard nobody had ever managed to get into the Captain’s room. As soon as they had been allowed back on-board following the sale, one of the first things they had done was investigate the section of hull around the Captain’s room trying to find a way in. It was hopeless, the whole room was one solid container slotted into the superstructure. All six sides were made of some carbon-ceramic poly-alloy, it was even tougher than the ship itself! It all just added to the mystery about Captain Eastman and the Scorpius.

“Keep at it, looks like it’s the only way in, but we got plenty of time. Come on Margaret, I’ll give you the tour.” Kitosa and Margaret walked off and left the work detail to get on with their job.

Over an hour passed and still Walter Kaine and Jake Cobb had made no progress. They swapped over at regular intervals as the heat got more intense, but so far it looked like their gas supply would give out long before the door would.

“I can charge this bottle down in the engine room and load the spare if Scott talks me through it,” said Kaine, at last turning off the torch and hauling himself up from the short ladder which was set in a little well in front of the doorway. Everyone was relieved to have some quiet for a few minutes after the deafening roar of the welding torch, and that was when they noticed the faint beeping alarm coming from the bridge.

Cobb was through the door first, he saw the red flashing light on the communications board to his right, but had no idea what it meant. Kaine knew it was some sort of message alert, but didn’t know what kind. He found the pilot in his quarters to the rear of the ship, in his bed which now had two human sized lumps concealed beneath covers instead of the usual one. He ducked back out of the doorway and heard Kurza’s voice call after him,

“What?”

“There’s something on the comms board, looks important.” Kaine heard some mumbling and a rustling sound and the muttered phrase,

“I got to do everything myself around here?” Kitosa appeared at the door in shirt and trousers and pushed Kaine out of his way as he made his way to the bridge. Kaine sneaked a glance into the room and noticed Margaret’s distinctive grey suit and boots scattered on the floor.

“It’s a distress call,” announced Kitosa as soon as he entered the cockpit door. He jabbed at the panel and suddenly the external speakers wailed with a cacophony of klaxons, shouting and loud bangs hitting the hull of some poor ship somewhere.

“Please, this is an emergency! Anyone out there who can hear this … we’re under attack. Don’t know how much longer we can hold out. Please! Help us!” The voice sounded measured and, not exactly calm, but this wasn’t the incoherent screaming of someone who’d never been attacked before.

“Pirates?” Said Kaine.

“Could be a trap!” Said Cobb as soon as the thought entered his head. Everyone else looked at Kurza.

“Maybe.”

“More importantly, we don’t have any weapons,” said Kaine. The pilot was already transposing the coordinates onto the astrogation chart.

“It’s right on our course anyway, if these pirates are real and they finish with that ship, we’ll be next. Two ships together might stand a better chance of doing something,” he sat back in the pilots chair and changed course. “Besides,” he smiled, “we do have weapons; there’s two homing missiles crated up in the cargo bay.”

It took them only a few minutes to burn into the area where the attack was taking place and it looked like they had arrived right on time. A small freighter was ducking and weaving its way around a larger frigate, which was constantly trying to achieve a target lock with its beam weapons. It was almost a stalemate, so long as the small ship kept turning in circles around the bigger pirate vessel, she stood a chance, but as soon as she tried to run away it would only take one good hit to knock out her engines or power core and then it was all over.

Kitosa clicked to an open channel and spoke,

“Now listen up, I’m giving you one chance and one chance only to break off your attack and leave this area. Otherwise, face the consequences.” It didn’t even sound convincing to Kurza, he knew they wouldn’t listen to him, but he had to say it anyway. They let him eat static for a long minute before they came back on the same channel,

“Hahahaha! You’re very funny little man. Why don’t you take your best shot, we ain’t goin’ anywhere.”

“Fine, have it your way, just don’t say I didn’t warn you.” He switched the channel over to the helmet comm of Cobb’s vac-suit. “Cobb, you got a target lock yet?” The huge missile, about 3 metres long out of its case, rested precariously on the open ramp at the front of the Scorpius. Its display blinked slowly with its horrible little ‘scanning’ icon spinning round. It had found one radiation signature already, that of the Scorpius itself. Cobb had tagged that as ‘friendly’ and double checked it.

“The ruttin’ thing ain’t working! Just keeps finding us!”

“Hold on tight,” called Kitosa.

Cobb grappled with the tether line while holding on to the missile with it’s large handle. The Scorpius swung around the pirate ship and cut her engines. She was so close that Cobb felt like he could have lent over and kicked in the windows, but the manoeuvre had done the trick. The missile got a good strong signal from the pirate’s reactor core and armed. Quickly, Cobb yanked out the wrench which was wedged into the missile’s control interface panel and gave it a push. The trigger circuit, which ordinarily would be attached to a ship’s missile housing, snapped shut and the rocket motors burst into life.

“IT’S AWAY!” Shouted Cobb, shielding his visor with his arm just in time. The blast from the exhaust knocked him back into the door and he bounced off, but the tether held him as Kitosa threw the ship into a full burn away from where there would hopefully be a huge explosion in a couple of seconds.

But it never came. The pirate frigate must’ve detected the incoming missile and they instantly pulled the same move, blasting away in an attempt to outrun it. The small freighter was left on its own, its engines overloaded and its hull leaking vital supplies of oxygen. The Scorpius quickly circled back and moved in for a hard-dock. Cobb was through the door just in time to cycle the airlock once more and shout into the smoke and sparks of the freighter’s cargo bay.

Dr. Whiteman was there just moments later as one, then two, then three men emerged from the hell beyond.

“Is there anyone else?” Asked the Doctor as the third man off flopped down on the deck.

“One more,” he coughed, before collapsing. A muscular, heavily built man, ran at full tilt through the hatchway, slamming the release valve as he leapt forward.

“That’s it, let’s go,” he called. His voice was the one from the emergency message.

“That’s all of ‘em,” called Cobb through the ship’s intercom. The Scorpius sped away from the freighter as its reactor finally overloaded.

* * *

It took a good half an hour before Kurza was convinced that the pirate raider hadn’t followed them. He imagined that they had either got hit by the missile or evaded it and decided not to come back for more. When he stepped out of the cockpit after setting the auto-pilot back on course for Bellerophon, he knew exactly what he was going to do next; get an unopened bottle of whiskey, start drinking it, then find out who his new passengers were – in that order.

The group of four men were already seated around the table. Kaine was talking to them as Kurza took his drink and sat down.

“Kaine, you think you could get back to work on that door?” Kaine looked up, and nodded.

“Yeah, of course,” and he left.

“Always tough to lose a ship,” Kurza offered the bottle to the larger of the men, he seemed to be in charge.

“Yes, and we was so close to Muir too.”

“That’s where you’re heading?” The big man nodded.

“Yeah,” he looked at the other three as he said it. Almost like he was waiting to be corrected, but he wasn’t. “Name’s Frank Bishop,” he stood and offered his hand, which Kurza shook. “This here is my co-pilot Ritter, engineer Castillo and security chief Koenig.” Each crewman in turn mumbled some greeting, none too enthusiastically for folks who’d just been rescued.

“Well we’re headed in the opposite direction, away from Blue Sun. If that’s a problem then there’s nothing I can do for you ‘cept maybe put you back outside.”

“No, Bellerophon will do fine,” Kaine had obviously told them where they were going, “there’s a small industrial moon, Parth. That’s where we set out from. We need to go back there if you’d be obliged.” Frank looked around the room. Kitosa kept drinking. “Is there any way we could get a message to our base, tell them what’s happened?”

“No, I’m afraid not.” The air between them lay dead for a while then they heard the blast of Kaine’s burner starting up.

“What’s up with the door?” asked Castillo.

“We lost the key to our guest cabin, you any good with locks?” Castillo seemed to be looking anywhere but at his Captain. Frank fumbled with the bottle and slid it back across the table. “Never mind, we have a few passenger cabins free.” He pointed to the rear of the dining area and noticed Margaret standing in the hatchway.

“I’ll show them shall I?” She said, seeing that Kitosa was rapidly rendering himself incapable of finding his own quarters, let alone anyone else’s.

The shipboard equivalent of night rolled around and everyone took this to mean that, whatever they had been doing, it was now time to stop and get some rest. Everyone, with the exception of Kurza who was now too drunk to notice. Kaine and Cobb decided between themselves that they should take turns watching the new ‘guests’, and agreed to sleep in shifts down in the one remaining spare passenger cabin. Dr. Whiteman had rigged up a makeshift bunk in Scott’s room on the upper deck so he could keep an eye on him should he need anything. He’d much prefer an infirmary, but the Scorpius didn’t have one and doubted it was high on the list of priorities for everyone else.

About a half an hour after Jake Cobb had taken first watch, he heard some kind of argument going on inside Bishop’s room and unclosed his eyes. The disagreement had seemingly sprung from nowhere and just as Cobb was thinking of making a move towards the door, it burst open. Two of the crewmen were in the middle of a stand up fist-fight. Bishop was behind them, trying to pull them apart, but he got hit back. Cobb moved to intervene and got smacked on the jaw for his trouble. The melee was awkward in the tight space of the corridor beyond the passenger quarters and as Kaine, who hadn’t been asleep anyway, joined in it became harder and harder to tell who was hitting who.

Frank Bishop waited for his moment and slipped unnoticed away from the fight. He made his way through the dining room and up to the corridor to the Captain’s door, still firmly locked with its key-lock and number input just as had been described to him. He slid quietly down the small steps into the recess and took out the key.

To be continued …

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