Chapter Seven

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"Two days," Gaylen said as he took the ship out of the Other. "Two days and here's the Nearer Fringe. What do you think?"

Sat next to him in the cockpit, Herdis shrugged with a little smile on her face.

"Well, it's just more stars. I do see we're by a system."

"Yes. It even has a lifeworld."

Gaylen brought it up from the ship's databanks.

"Kor-12."

"Is there anything interesting on it?" she asked.

"Absolutely not. It's small, has little dry land, almost no minerals to speak of and no development. As far as I know it's only home to the occasional team of researches. And maybe a cult or two. The worst ones are drawn to places like this. Far from the galaxy's eyes."

"I have to admit, as first impressions go that is pretty disappointing," the woman said with a bit of a smile.

"Oh, don't worry. The Fringe has plenty of fascinating sights."

He went over the readings, and a few memories.

"You really wouldn't believe..."

He opened a line to the engine room.

"Jaquan, how's the engine?"

"Some heat, but it's still working. We could jump again, but I recommend an hour's rest."

"Then we will. There's no rush. I-"

An alarm went off. It was a heat signature. A faint one, only noticed now by the sensors because it was moving in the general direction of the Addax.

"Is that a ship?" Herdis asked.

"Ready on the cannon," he said, and she obeyed smartly.

A screen showed the weapon lowering from the ship's underbelly, and moments later an emergency broadcast came in.

"Red call, red call!" a desperate voice shouted as Gaylen opened a channel. "We are drifting without power! We need-"

Gaylen cut the transmission and closed the outer plates around the cockpit viewscreen.

"Pirates."

He hit the ship-wide alarm.

"What-"

"Jaquan, you need to give me a leap as soon as possible!"

"Will do!"

"They're now speeding for us," Herdis said, looking at the instruments.

"Pirates!" Gaylen repeated, and swerved the Addax around as fast as he dared. "They run cold to sneak up on people. Fire a warning shot."

She fired, and a large bolt of searing plasma blasted through space, passing near the incoming ship.

Keep calm and survive. Keep calm and survive.

They kept on coming, and the ship warmed up as their systems came out of standby. Gaylen accelerated and sent the ship into a wild dodging manoeuvre.

The sensors drew up the ship's silhouette. As typical it was a nimble little thing, designed for speed and likely modified for minimal heat output. And then came the first shot.

The gunner overcompensated for the dodging manoeuvre and the plasma flew harmlessly off into space. Herdis fired again, now aiming to hit. The nimble ship evaded and fired again, but the Addax was fairly nimble as well and Gaylen had already thrown it into another dodge.

"They're targeting our thrusters," Herdis said in a tense but controlled voice, focused on her shooting.

"Jaquan?" Gaylen said, keeping himself controlled as well.

"Two minutes!" the man shouted back through the comm.

"Too long," Gaylen said.

The pirates fired again and scored a minor hit on the top of the Addax, but the plating held.

Keep calm and survive.

"I'm going to try to give you a shot at their main gun," he told his gunner. "I'll hit an arc and tell you when."

"Understood."

"But keep shooting."

"Understood."

"Jaquan, never mind the leap! Divert power to thrusters! I'm turning to face them!"

Gaylen resisted his instincts as a few more shots passed between the two ships. The animal in him sensed danger and demanded wild, muscle-powered action. But he kept his piloting smooth and calculated, matching wits with the enemy pilot and weaving accordingly.

Then, right after a successfully evaded shot, he made use of that extra power Jaquan was feeding the thrusters and turned a mild arc into a sharp turn.

The pirate pilot had been expecting another shift into the opposite direction, and so the Addax now headed straight for them.

"Ready to fire!" he told Herdis, who ceased shooting at will.

The pirates were slightly more nimble than the Addax, but still couldn't turn away from the mad dash towards them in time. So they charged right back, aiming to pass them by.

"Readyyy..." Gaylen repeated, as he predicted the pirates' movements and sent the Addax into a feint.

Herdis had her finger on the trigger, and her eyes fixed on her display of the enemy ship.

He hit that arc, an instant before they shifted as he'd expected. Herdis had the perfect shot.

"Fire!"

Their bolt hit the top-mounted enemy weapon, clearly destroying it.

"Yesss," Gaylen hissed through his teeth.

A second weapon emerged from the hull, and before he could react the disruptor beam hit. The ship's systems had a collective stroke, blinking in and out of functionality. The lights flickered like strobes, and the controls went unresponsive.

"I've lost the gun," Herdis bit out through her teeth even as she fought with it as if will alone could get it back in order.

"Well, that's it," Gaylen said, pushed his chair back and sprang up. "They'll be boarding."

He took the handle of the door and opened it manually. He walked out beneath Bers's ridiculous lucky mark above the door and out into the living room. Ayna stood there with her hands clenched over the edge of one of the counters.

"What is going on?" she asked, her barely-visible eyebrows high above the dark glasses.

"They have a disruptor, and I got too damn close."

Herdis ran past him and into the women's quarters. He knelt and flung the engine room hatch open.

"We have a fight on our hands!"

He stood, and Herdis came back with her rifle in her hands. It was a simple, rugged thing, the kind of cheap mass-production weapon to be expected on a world where everyone was required to own one. But it was still a damn rifle. She then reached behind her neck and pulled up a tight hood of armour fibre, forming a helmet to go with her suit.

"To the entry!" Gaylen said, loud enough to be heard on the lower floor. "Bers!"

He hurried down the stairs and the women followed. Jaquan and Kiris were just emerging from the engine room, and Bers was already by the airlock. The lights were still flickering madly.

"They'll swing around and dock, and they'll do it quickly and efficiently!" Gaylen said. "I don't think this crew is just starting out. They'll burst in shooting, hitting fast and hard, with the best armour up front."

Jaquan had a wire spool in his hand, and Gaylen just nodded at him and pointed at the airlock. He looked over the available space, its dimensions and the people he had.

"Alright. Here is what we'll do."

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