(First chapter of this space-opera is HERE.)
Level 4 Darkspace
Main Kir-Tenz/Sol Trade Route
Federated Galactic Planets Jurisdiction
Teska Jzakaneth, the tall, auburn haired, tan furred, half-Mrin defense officer of the Clydesdale-class merchant freighter Tara Lane, watched the numbers dance on the combined sensor/astrogation display for the ship and tried to ignore the fact that they were in the deepest level of darkspace. Mostly she succeeded, but the mad twitching of her tail was a dead giveaway for the stress that remained. Fortunately, it was late watch and there was only one other person around to see it.
“One might wonder,” said Garrett Harman, the bald Caucasian engineering officer and present watch officer for the other half of the ship’s systems, “why a woman who hates Darkspace so much would choose to work on a ship that spends ninety percent of its time there.”
“Because she doesn’t have a choice,” Teska said, her helmet hiding the way her long pointed ears pressed back against her head for a moment. “Ask me another, wiseass.”
“Sure. How do you define, “don’t have a choice”? Because I define it as…”
“Really?” Teska’s ears pinned back and her tail stopped moving. “Are you going to bring this up again? I thought you agreed to leave off all that.”
Teska spun her chair around and stared him in the face. Garrett met the anger in her gold eyes, used to it by now.
“Look,” Teska said, “I know you don’t like this ship…”
“It’s old and it creaks.”
“…or this captain.”
“He looks at you like you’re a piece of meat.”
“I know he does, and the creaking bothers me too. But you know we have to run the full voyage, or we won’t be able to get a different job. So leave off.”
“We could just head back to the HA. They’ll take you back anytime…”
Teska gave him a “conversation over” look and turned back to her station.
Garrett watched her for a moment, then sighed softly and focused on his own console.
The silence carried on for an hour, soft beeps from system checks the only sounds. Teska’s tail did not resume its twitching.
Finally Teska couldn’t take it anymore and spun her chair around again.
“Look. I can’t go back. Not to the families. Not… to the others. I can’t. I’ve told you that, so please leave it. I promise we’ll find another ship as soon as we get back to New Wallstreet.”
Garrett studied her face under its coating of fine hair, noting the emotional exhaustion in her expression, and caved.
He looked at his station for a minute then cursed and looked back. “I’m sorry, Tess. I’m letting captain creepy get to me. Hold it together, okay?”
Teska gave him a lopsided smile.
“You too, Gator.”
* * * * *
Outside the ship the chaos of level 4 Darkspace roiled, an impossible vista of dense purple and red nebula coiled with impenetrable shadow, shot through with flickering rivers of lightning wider than planets and flexed by shifting webs of gravity that could tear apart stars. Ten freighters, lead by two destroyers and tailed by one, powered through the unending storm in a perfect line 13,000 kilometers long, cutting a noticeable wake in the dense particles. The Tara Lane was one of them, coming back from the borders of the Kir-tenz Paradisium with holds full of nanomedicines, rare foods, bio-materials, nanotech gels, consumer technologies and single-use fabrication chips.
Most of the freighters were class D, shaped like 420 meter long cigars with sharply-pointed prows, rounded sterns, large a-drive rings and long spines wrapped in pie-slice cargo pods hidden under nadaptive skins. Their hulls were pitch black from active EM scavenging, except for the requisite identification symbols, ship registrations and corporate logos. The faint glow of plasma shielding hovered a meter above the skin of each bow, closer than the fifty-meter standoff of combat shields and rigged mainly as particle shielding to keep the sparse but continuous impact of gaseous matter in deep darkspace from wearing away the hull.
The three destroyers were from Hailey’s Comets, a small detachment of one of the largest security-focused mercenary fleets operating out of New Wallstreet, hired as guards for the journey. All three were under twenty years old and in good repair, two with long-range x-ray spinal lasers and one with a heavy missile load. They had the same shield glow as the freighters, but a little brighter, just in case they needed to switch to combat shielding without warning.
The area the convoy travelled in was calm compared to most of the surrounding chaos, a corridor of safe space roughly ten light-seconds wide and thirty-seven light hours long known as the main Zambrano Tunnel. Outside of it the gravity systems of the ships would be in a continual struggle to keep their hulls from shearing apart, a struggle they could lose in an instant if a particularly strong gravity flux wandered their way. Inside of it all that was needed was a mild stabilizer field to prevent the live passengers from suffering health effects such as nausea and disorientation.
Numerous lesser corridors branched off from the main one, some large, some small, some safe, some less so. Together they formed the Zambrano Warren, one of the larger D4 corridor systems in the Terran sphere and the main corridor for the FGP/Kir-Tenz frontier. Most of them were plotted, but not all. Smaller tunnels had a tendency toward partial occlusion by shifting gravity fluxes, thus requiring patience and luck to navigate. Most didn’t bother with the smallest tunnels when surfacing to D3 or D2 would allow travel to just about anywhere far more safely, if more slowly.
Those who did bother with the smallest tunnels usually had purposes besides fast travel in mind. Thanks to the density of matter in D4, constant EM pulses caused by massive electrical discharges, and continuous gravitational shifts, detecting anything outside of the same corridor was almost impossible. Therefore, little used or unexplored side tunnels made excellent hiding places for those intending to prey on traffic going through the main ones.
Little used tunnels such as the one the convoy was set to pass in two hours.
* * * * *
Akio leaned back in the captain’s chair of the missile destroyer Nighthound, patient focus on his thin Japanese face, and stroked the head of the giant black dog sitting beside him as he watched the convoy stretch across the sensor display in front of him like a string of glowing yellow pearls laid out on black velvet. His destroyer pack had seeded the corridor with sensor drones the day before, and he had already watched two similar, better defended, convoys go by.
One-to-ten, calculated by shipmass, was the standard warship-to-freighter ratio in a convoy, so this particular convoy wasn’t under-defended, but the previous convoys had chosen to go with a slightly heavier ratio than normal. This one was running at the expected norm.
One of the basic rules for pirates was to wait for the weakest prize. This looked like the winner.
He looked at the dog and listened. His command crew very pointedly ignored the interaction. The dog did not put them at ease.
Aki smiled at the hunched shoulders and deliberate focus he sensed in the men around him. It was comforting to know they were always a little bit afraid of him. He wanted them to remember why he was captain and they were not.
Whispers filled the air around him, one voice stronger than the others.
Old. Wise. Cold.
This caravan was ripe. The defenders would not offer a problem.
“All destroyers, move for intercept on Chun drive,” he commed. “Disable defenders and capture freighters.”
He watched his display as the nine other destroyers under his command engaged their Chun drives on full and plunged into the main corridor. He nodded, sure of a good outcome.
He returned his attention to the dog.
In the next instant, the dog was not there.
* * * * *
Hours had passed since Teska and Garrett’s last conversation. Garrett was now running routine diagnostics on the power network while Teska was submerged in fine tuning the tactical programs. Neither of the jobs was absolutely necessary, but it always paid to run tight maintenance on a starship and the work killed the long hours of third watch.
Suddenly, Teska heard a whisper on the air, but not with her ears. She tensed, listening despite herself.
Memories started to surface.
“No. Dammit. No.”
Garrett stopped what he was doing and looked over.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
Teska hunched over her station, heart beating faster as images from her past flickered in her mind, rising so fast they overwhelmed her.
“Tess, what’s wrong?” Garrett repeated.
“Voices,” Teska whispered.
Garret got out of his chair and came up to put a hand on her shoulder.
Teska flinched away.
She felt dirty all over. Old scars ached. Screaming filled her mind.
“You’re not there, Tess. Stay with me.”
Teska pounded the station in front of her, groaned as a huge weight pressed in on her. She couldn’t breathe. She couldn’t think. Everything was wrong.
Garrett tried to put his hand on her shoulder again. This time she didn’t move.
He prayed, softly.
Teska gasped as the pressure released. She slumped against the station and tears dripped from her eyes.
“Check the sensors,” she whispered.
Garrett looked at the sensor display.
“Nothing there but the convoy.”
“Tell the destroyers to do a grav pulse.”
“They might not listen.”
“Do it. Grav pulse and probes.”
Garrett looked down at his friend, remembered the fine tuned intuition that had gotten them out of trouble in the past.
Lord, if there’s something out there, please protect us.
* * * * *
Akio cursed as one of the convoy destroyers hit the corridor with a set of stepped grav pulses. A moment later all three destroyers fired grav pulses at once and launched probes.
That meant they had detected his sensor platforms.
They would pick up his ships as well as soon as their probes got some distance.
A second after that they would go to full combat stance, with combat shields and gravity deflection at full and weapons charging. A large part of his assessment assumed getting the first shot in on unsuspecting targets.
He would no longer have that.
Akio studied the field.
His destroyers were halfway to the convoy and already at intercept velocity. Engagement was inevitable.
If he told them to hold fire the convoy destroyers would probably hold fire as well. At 10 to 3 odds against them they would never start a fight if they thought they might avoid it.
However, the convoy would surely report running into a pirate fleet when they reached the next darknet station. They might also send a warning probe back down the corridor, diverting any further traffic until after a fleet detachment had swept the area.
If Akio let them pass, his fleet would have to move on, with nothing to show for their effort.
The Captain’s Council would not appreciate that.
Continuing the engagement with ready targets still favored a win for him. Chances were his ships wouldn’t even take much damage. It did mean, however, that he wouldn’t get any warships as prizes.
Just the freighters, then.
“All ships, go to full offensive. Target the destroyers and kill them as quickly as possible.”
Command crew rushed into the operations rooms of the Tara Lane as their destroyer escorts announced unknown sensor probes detected and recommended all freighters go to combat standing.
Teska and Garrett unslaved their stations and went to full function on tactical and engineering.
“Do we have power ready for defenses?” Teska asked.
“Power ready, Tess. Fire up.”
Teska punched some commands and a combat-grade shield bubble exploded out from the projector points on the Tara Lane. Gravity projectors bent space for side deflection a moment later and point defense lasers came online.
“Jakaneth, you got our defenses up?” Captain Niklas Jørgensen asked as he slid his heavy frame into the captain’s chair.
“Combat shield at fifty percent, charging to full in sixty-one seconds. Deflection at full power, sixty-six percent effective. Point defense ready.”
Captain Jørgensen nodded.
“Good. Harman, how are we on power?”
“Power reserves are topped off, fusion one and two are approaching peak. We should be able to run engines and defenses at full for three hours before we have to start choosing.”
“Very good. Drop gravity and life support to ten percent as soon as we have confirmation of pirates. Power priority on drives, forward plasma and deflection.”
The eight members of the primary command crew quieted as soon as orders were given and waited nervously while their defenders scouted the area. Kevin Warberg, the sensor officer, put the primary sensor map on the main holo-display for everyone to watch.
For ten minutes it showed only the convoy, surrounded by the blinking green dots of friendly probes and the tiny orange dots of several unknown probes located along the edges of the corridor.
Then the first unidentified ship appeared. Their escorts quickly identified it as a destroyer running with full combat shields.
“All freighters, this is Captain Hudson. Pirate contacts confirmed ahead. Accelerate to maximum forward velocity at best thrust, plot course to avoid pirate ships with widest margin and go on ahead. We’ll drop back and keep them distracted until you make it away. All ships confirm.”
Captain Jørgensen confirmed the orders.
“Velichkov, take us to full and plot an avoidance course,” he ordered. “Engage evasion patterns as we come in range of the pirates.”
“Aye-aye, Captain,” the pilot said.
Garrett chose that moment to cut the internal gravity and life support to minimum. The waiting resumed in an even quieter ops room.
As the minutes passed more pirate destroyers appeared on the sensor plot until there were ten in all. Someone groaned. Ten pirate ships meant they had enough to run down every freighter.
The three destroyers from Hailey’s Comets slowed so that they rapidly fell behind the convoy, hopefully forcing the pirates to slow as well to properly engage them at full force. The freighters moved around them and powered forward as best they could.
Garrett bowed his head and prayed for the men and women on the escort ships. He wasn’t the only one.
Half-an-hour passed before the two groups of destroyers began exchanging vollies of missiles at extended range. A-drives had catastrophic results in any level of darkspace, so everything they threw was sublight, running on Chun-drives. Because DAP sensors still worked just fine the crew of the Tara Lane got to watch everything in almost real time. The long minutes between the launch of each volley and the impact were hellish.
“The Jarnac isn’t firing,” Teska said.
Others quickly noted the same thing.
“What the heck are they thinking?” Jack Velichkov said.
Teska shivered as she thought of what it might be, but said nothing.
Three vollies slammed into the shield of the destroyer McNaught before the Jarnac finally joined the battle with a quartet of torpedoes. She went to full-automatic after that and torpedoes streamed toward the closing pirates.
The accelerating freighters soon came parallel with the pirate destroyers, then passed them. The distraction from Hailey’s Comets had succeeded in that much.
By that point most of the freighters were moving at over 0.2 cee. It would take them another three hours to reach 0.3 cee, effectively their maximum velocity in level four darkspace.
The freighter Andrew Corrigan suddenly stopped accelerating. A moment later it appeared to lose all power, even its plasma shield.
“Jerrik, get Captain Hendricks on the comm,” Captain Jørgensen said.
Jerrik Kohler, the comm officer, quickly opened a channel to the powerless freighter.
“No response,” Jerrik said.
There was a long minute of silence in the ops room as everyone watched the powerless freighter fall behind the rest of the convoy. Long range sensors showed moderate heating beginning on her forward armor. Without plasma shields or gravity deflection, there was a distinct chance she would burn up in the particle dense environment before she had a chance to slow down.
The forward plasma shields and gravity deflectors were designed with multiple failsafes and even backup power for just that reason.
“It’s the Lost,” Teska said.
No one disagreed. Every spacer in the Terran Sphere had heard about the Lost, pirates that not only preyed on spacers, but seemingly lived in darkspace. Many also said they had strange powers.
Teska knew more about that than most.
“It probably is the Lost,” Captain Jørgensen said after another pause. “Any other pirates would have sent a toll request before they risked fighting our escorts.” He cursed quietly and studied his console. “Harman, how much more speed can we get out of the drives?”
“If I disable the safeties we’ll get a few extra gees,” Garrett said, “but if we keep it up for more than an hour we’ll risk drive damage. This ship is old and she won’t put up with too much. We could also jettison heavy cargo. That might get us a little more.”
“Disable the safeties and jettison the metals. Insurance will cover the loss,” Captain Jørgensen said. After a pause he added, “Blow the hull tanks too. We have enough radiation shielding to get us to the next station just fine. No fixing things if we end up dead or sold as slaves.”
Garrett nodded. The Tara Lane shuddered as thousands of tons of water sprayed from her outer hull into space and several large cargo pods containing rare metals ejected from along her spine.
“Looks like that got us eight gees,” Garrett said.
Behind them the other freighters were doing the same, blowing out great clouds of water and ejecting giant cargo containers through windows that opened in their nadaptic skins. One freighter ejected all her cargo pods and started to move up the convoy line.
Suddenly her drive power went out too, though the plasma shield stayed up.
“Jerrik, see if you can raise the Midas’ Touch.”
The comm officer tapped in commands.
“Hail is connecting, Captain. Looks like they still have comm power.”
“Captain Engel?” Jørgensen said. “This is Jørgensen, of the Tara Lane. Are you there?”
The sound of people yelling in the background came from the open comm, then a female voice responded.
“This is first officer Nejem Kader. Captain Engel… had to be restrained.”
“What happened to your drives?”
“We had a critical failure in the main assembly. Pushed them too hard.”
“Was that on Captain Engel’s orders?”
There was a long silence from the comm before Najem responded.
“He panicked. Jettisoned everything, turned off all the drive safeties, shut down life support. Then he started screaming about how that wasn’t enough and tried to disable the safeties on the fusion plants.”
Every crewmember in the Tara Lane’s ops room shuddered. Nobody disabled the safeties on a fusion plant unless the only other option was instantaneous death.
“We had to drag him out of his chair. The main drives burned out while we were doing that.”
Jørgensen grunted. “Do you still have some drive power?”
“Auxiliaries are still going. We might be able to get the mains back up partway. Don’t slow down for us, though. If we can’t get the mains back up in ten minutes we’ll transfer the crew to another freighter with the shuttle. Captain Arany already made the offer.”
Jørgensen nodded and someone sighed in relief. A cargo shuttle wouldn’t be able to last long in D4 at over 0.2 cee, but it would last more than long enough for its high acceleration to get it to another freighter.
“God be with you,” Captain Jørgensen said and cut the channel.
Garrett groaned and rested his helmet on his console. Several other crewmembers massaged tense muscles, cursed, or sucked at the food tubes built into their helmets. Teska just watched the sensor display, perfectly still except for a slight twitch at the tip of her tail.
The McNaught was the first destroyer to blow up.
* * * * *
Akio hissed in satisfaction as the first destroyer exploded in a colossal flash.
“All beam destroyers, concentrate fire on the missile boat and close to beam weapon range,” he ordered.
He had his own destroyer stand off, as the Nighthound was a pure missile ship. Most of his others were spinal focused or had a standard tactical mix, so they could do more damage close in. He watched the beam exchange begin as nine pirate destroyers closed on the remaining two escort destroyers.
The fight was short.
* * * * *
Twenty minutes after the McNaught died, the Kowalski and the Jarnac blew up almost simultaneously.
By that point all of the freighters were well out of beam range, but not missile. Long range torpedoes could travel several light hours looking for a target and could lock onto and track ship wakes an hour or more after they were made. The only solution was to get beyond direct detection range then surface to a higher level and fire off decoys. A few decoyed course changes outside detection range could make a freighter almost impossible to find.
Another ten minutes would have the convoy beyond the pirate destroyers’ probable detection range for Chun drives in level four darkspace. The destroyers were already struggling to catch up, but it would take them at least a half hour just to match velocity with the freighters.
Hours to overtake.
Assuming no more freighters lost power.
The Midas’ Touch had resumed almost-full acceleration a minute before the destroyers died, but her crew had abandoned her anyway, rigging her to run as a wake disruptor for the rest of the convoy and setting her point and intrusion defenses to automatic. That gave the surviving ships a considerable advantage in the missile department, as any torpedoes would have to pass through those defenses to catch up with the rest of the convoy, and an automated ship could not be threatened into giving up.
Still, there was the possibility it wouldn’t be enough.
“Seventeen minutes to transition point,” Jack announced.
“Are the wakemakers ready?” Jørgensen asked.
“Charging now,” Teska replied. “First set should be ready three minutes before transition.”
Jørgensen nodded to himself. “Move us to the back of the convoy.”
Jack punched in the commands and the Tara Lane slid out of the line and dropped back to the rearmost position.
Jørgensen opened a channel on the laser-relay network running between the freighters.
“This is the Tara Lane. We will be dropping a replacement wake and surfacing to D3 in eleven minutes. Sending a synchro-mark now.” He hit a command and the Tara Lane sent a time mark to the other freighters so they could all surface at the same time. The other captains confirmed the scheduled transition.
Five minutes before the transition time, two torpedoes came around the Midas Touch and locked onto the freighter ahead of the Tara Lane.
“Jakaneth, countermissiles!” Jørgensen said.
Teska queued up the Tara Lane’s limited defensive arsenal, targeted the torpedoes and launched a salvo of ten kinetic countermissiles, five per torpedo. The missiles sped away, accelerating toward the trailing torpedoes at over two-thousand gees.
When the countermissiles were within one light-second the torpedoes started firing point-defense lasers, but targeting the smaller countermissiles with their extreme mobility and high stealth was difficult. Each torpedo only managed to take out two in the ten seconds it took them to close.
When the countermissiles were within range they exploded into swarms of guided darts.
Protected by glowing plasma shields the torpedoes were easy for the swarms to home in on.
“Torpedoes eliminated,” Teska said. “We might want to transit now.”
Jørgensen thought about it, then adjusted the transit time and posted the new schedule to the other freighters.
“Drop the wakemaker,” he said. “We transit as soon as it’s settled in.”
Teska hit the commands. On the outside of the ship a huge panel flipped open revealing one of the containers in the rearmost cargo ring. The giant pie-shaped container launched out to the side, dropped back and took up station trailing the Tara Lane, narrow end forward. A few seconds later it lit up with a plasma shield that matched the front and back of the Tara Lane’s.
“Wakemaker is active,” Teska said. “Convoy signature is matched, nineteen minutes of run time at current settings.”
“Good,” Jørgensen said. “Starting transit countdown.”
A timer counting down from twenty seconds appeared on the main display as well as in a red notification on everyone’s internal helmet display.
When it hit zero, the Tara Lane was suffused with a vibrant hum, cycling up from bone deep bass to soaring treble, gaining in chords and complexity until the entire ship rang with interlacing, unabating tones. Outside, the hull danced with light and electricity, a scintillating storm of purple and red like the depths of darkspace around that matched the sound thrumming through the ship from within.
The intensity rose, grew to a crescendo…
The Tara Lane went elseways, through the fabric of space to the layer above.
The rest of the convoy followed in the same instant.
* * * * *
Akio knew roughly where the freighters’ transition point was long before his ships reached it. When they arrived, all his ships were ready and they made the transition almost as one.
Level three darkspace opened up around them, calmer than level four. There was marginally less light, the purples and reds were darker and dimmer, the shadows made less of a contrast and the lightning was thinner and less abundant.
It was also safer to travel. Where before they had been in the Zambrano corridor, a mere ten light-seconds wide, now they were in the Sokolsky way, well over a light-minute across. Darkpace was dangerous beyond its bounds, but there was something of a slope to that danger, rather than the immediate disaster straying from a tunnel in level four meant.
The freighters would be using that breadth and safety to put distance between them, possibly running a few light seconds beyond the edge of the Sokolsky way before transitioning to level two, hoping a few extra light minutes of distance would keep them safe.
It didn’t matter. He already knew the direction they had gone.
* * * * *
Three course changes and another transition later, Teska thought she might be able to relax. It had been six hours since the pirates first showed up, three hours since the last sighting.
Ten hours since she came on duty.
If the Tara Lane had been a military ship Teska would have already been sent off duty, but merchant freighters carried a limited number of crew trained in tactical systems. All of those were currently manning their stations and had no replacements of equal skill.
“We should be able to say we’re clear in another two hours,” Teska said. “I’d keep a wakemaker charged until then.”
Captain Jørgensen nodded.
“Do it. Harman, how are we on power?”
Garrett glanced at his overview. “Reserves back up to fifteen percent. We can run again for a little if we have to, but we shouldn’t stress the drives again until we give them a full maintenance.”
“We may not have a choice,” Jørgensen said. “But keep the safeties on unless I say otherwise.”
Garrett nodded and adjusted some settings.
“Jerrik, get our engineers to the back and have them make sure nothing obvious wore out during our run. I want to know we can risk another hot run if we need to.”
Jerrik contacted the engineers and sent them to look over the drives.
“Transition ripples, right on top of us,” Lainey Medina, the sensor officer, said.
A moment later all ten pirate destroyers surfaced less than two-hundred-thousand kilometers behind the convoy.
Jørgensen cursed openly.
“Jakaneth, shields back up to full and put armor on full heat dump. Gravity deflection on standby. Harman, drop all remaining cargo and keep an eye on those engineers. If the drives check out, take us to emergency again. Velichkov, split us off from the convoy. Set a heading of two-four-five mark zero-seven-zero and go to full evasive.”
The pilot brought the Tara Lane past perpendicular to the convoy line. Her acceleration quickly brought her away from the rest and she fled while shedding cargo modules. The other freighters did the same, heading off in wildly divergent directions.
“Pirate destroyers are engaging the Fancy Free and the Wherry,” Lainey said. “Lasers only, no missiles.”
The crew of the Tara Lane watched the pirate destroyers pair off, bracket the freighters nearest to them, and begin stripping plasma shielding with their lasers. Optical views showed the whiskers of light connecting the destroyers to their prey as the intense ultraviolet beams caused the thin gasses and plasma of level two darkspace to incandesce.
Garrett turned from the main sensor display to watch Teska. She sat in her chair, eyes focused on her console, hands carefully running the defenses and doing whatever might keep the ship safe. The only sign of her terror was the way her tail had wrapped around one thigh.
“Lord, please don’t let her go back there,” Garrett whispered. “Please, take her home before that.”
* * * * *
Akio smiled as his destroyers moved in on the freighters and finally brought the long chase to an end. Five of them would be ready for boarding parties in minutes, just as soon as their shields were gone and their point defenses destroyed. The other three would have time to launch more decoys and transit to level one. Wake tracking was much harder in level one, especially if a ship went cold, but all of his captains had the same advantage as himself.
None of the ships would escape.
Unless he let them.
Akio pondered the freighter marked as the “Tara Lane” on his tactical display.
“Ignore the Tara Lane,” he commed to his destroyers. “Track the other two runners.”
* * * * *
When the Tara Lane reached one light-minute of distance from the attack site she surfaced to level one, fired off a wakemaker and made a course correction for five minutes, then fired off another wakemaker and went dark, her armor switching to heat containment and almost matching her heat signature to the relatively hot background of level one darkspace.
An hour later, when no pirates had followed, the crew mostly breathed a sigh of relief.
Teska watched the empty plot and wondered.
“Gator,” she said on a private comm line, “Something isn’t right. Copy your event log. I want to have a look at it later.”
“What do you mean? We got away. Thank God.”
“We shouldn’t have got away. They were able to find us the first time. They should have been able to find us this time too if they’re that good, but they didn’t.”
“Also, their torpedoes didn’t target us. Torpedoes usually go after the last in line, not the second to last, so they take less point defense fire. But these didn’t.”
“Maybe we didn’t get away because we lost them. Maybe they let us go.”
“They might still find us.”
“They might. But could you pull your log anyway? The full log, before anyone has a chance to edit anything.”
“Okay. You getting yours too?”
“Okay. I’ll help you go over it. After I sleep.”
“Heh, yeah. I won’t be able to analyze anything until I get some rest.”
(Continue to Chapter 7)