“My kids want to be pirates. Why is that? They play games where they’re pirates and they go out and rob people. Do they know what I go to work every day to protect them from?”
-Commodore Jung Yeong Sung, captain of the Oriental Stellar Republic dreadnought Shennong, to his executive officer.
Kaydence Katherine MacCarrick tugged on the reins as her buckskin courser reached the top of the ridge, pulling him to a stop next to Lancelot on his great black destrier just inside the trees at the edge of the forest. Together they studied the fortress on the rise across the small valley, thick granite walls three men high with parapet walkways all the way around and thick oak doors guarding an entrance that showed the works for an iron grate portcullis. Guards walked the walls with crossbows at the ready and the deep bark of a war dog hinted at other dangers within.
“How will we get the queen out?” Kaydence asked.
Lancelot stared for a moment longer before replying.
“First I will approach to just outside crossbow range under parley and challenge Sir Meliagrance to a duel. If he will fight honorably, then I will defeat him and we will leave here with the Queen, none much the worse for wear.”
His destrier shifted slightly, moving its weight from hoof to hoof for a few seconds.
“If Meliagrance will not accept a challenge, then we will have to sneak in. The threat to the queen would be too great with a frontal assault.”
“How will you get in?”
“Tomorrow night is a new moon. I will come up to the rear of the fortress at midnight and scale the wall, taking out the guards. When I get to the front of the castle I’ll unbar the gates and block the portcullis up. Then you…”
Kaydence’s unicomm sang with an incoming call, pulling her out of the story. She put the book down on her bed and said,
The comm responded with a loud click and her mother’s voice filled the room like she was there.
“I’m off for dinner in ten minutes, Hon. Meet me at the mess for some time together?”
Kaydence let her mother’s question hang in the air, as if considering other options.
“Maybe. I was kinda hanging with a cute guy when you called.”
“Really? Where’d you find him?”
“Sixth century England.”
“Oh. I see. Well, I’m sure your knight in shining armor can wait a bit, right? Chivalry wouldn’t keep a daughter from having dinner with her mother, would it?”
Kaydence sighed. “Probably not. Okay. I’ll suit up. Be with you in ten.”
She cut the call and marked her place in the book before shoving it back on a shelf at the head of her bunk that held twenty or so other hardbound print classics, right in between the John Carter compendium and a well-read copy of the Chronicles of Narnia, all inherited from her dad. After snapping the cover down on the shelf she slid safely out of the bunk, hand on the rail, and pushed herself to standing. Terra Standard gravity didn’t require such precautions, but not all ships ran at high-grav and the Luna-dismount was reflex. Two quick steps took her across the rubber-coated floor of the cabin to her collapsible clothes locker for a quick review in front of the full-length mirror.
Her hair, space black with red and purple stripes along the right side, was mostly in good order. The classic spacer’s bob she had it in worked well with her rectangular face, so that was good, but the part had gotten messed up again while she was flopping around on her bed reading. She grabbed a brush off the sink and put the part back in place with a few swipes, wondering for a moment what she’d look like with long hair.
She’d probably never know. Spacers didn’t have long hair. Her own was only just touching her neck, which meant it was time to get it trimmed at the next port. Sad. She really liked the classic A-line look that she could get when her hair was this long.
That look helped distract from her eyebrows, which were too full, bushy really, and too much for her dull brown eyes. Her thin cheeks didn’t help either as they made her big cleft chin stand out, but that had come from her dad and it had stood out on him too, so she wasn’t going to complain much. Her full lips fixed things somewhat, at least drawing attention to her smile.
She had a decent smile.
Below her smile her neck, waist and hips were all thin and her skintight red-and-black shipsuit did nothing to hide it. She turned to the side and sighed as she saw that her chest was still flat and her butt nonexistant. Fourteen and still no curves. If she wore all black someone would probably mistake her for an antenna.
She popped the door of the closet and looked at the signed 11 by 14 holo-portrait fixed on the inside. Sara Chan and her squad of rangers.
She compared herself to the buxom, black-and-silver-haired space babe of space babes, defeater of AI’s, destroyer of space pirates, uniter of polities, best known hero in the Terran Sphere for over two centuries and always unbelievably beautiful, even here where she was captured in a particularly clunky suit of vac armor, with an extremely-battered laser rifle over one shoulder and her family’s old and out-of-place longsword on the opposite hip.
“I’m never going to look that good.”
Kaydence sighed again.
She slammed the closet door and opened the reinforced suit locker next to it, revealing her personal vac-suit hanging at the ready. She grabbed the pull-up bar high inside the locker, swung herself up, and then dropped herself legs first through the split in the back of the suit, driving her feet all the way down to the integrated socks. As soon as her toes touched the locker floor she grabbed the door and shut it behind her, closing herself in darkness. There was a click as the door locked, a hiss as the human-sized chamber pressurized, and then a diffuse light banished the darkness so she could see while she finished putting her suit on.
Three strong pulls and a mighty zip later she had the back closed and was able to seal the nadaptive collar tight around her neck. A few tugs made sure all the compression zones were in the right place and then a tap on a control and a very uncomfortable wiggle seated the plumbing connections. After that she reached up and pulled down backpack, breastplate and helmet, locking the lightweight, formfitting clamshell arrangement around her torso. The helmet merged with her collar and sealed, the systems ran an atmosphere and cooling check, and a series of green lights appeared in the upper right of the helmet’s visor.
The necessaries done, she quickly pulled on her gauntlets and EVA-boots. They weren’t really needed, but her mother would shred her thoroughly if she left them behind. Before exiting she checked a small display on the left side of the locker. It read 64 seconds, one tick better than her best previous time.
She stepped out into her cabin with a whoosh of air, took her helmet off and hooked it to her hip, and checked herself over again in the mirror again.
Despite an artistic design, candy-apple red with black reinforcements and bold, flame-shaped white safety patches, the suit did nothing to hide how skinny she was. Kaydence knew only so much could be expected of mindless hot-fit elastic and could hardly wait until she stopped growing and was able to get a set of custom-tailored vac armor like her mother. A good set of that could do a lot to enhance a boring figure.
No help for it until then, however.
Maybe she could get some growth hormones.
Her unicomm dinged with a text.
Yeah mom. I’m coming.
She picked the comm up without checking the message and slid it into its pouch on her suit, then headed through the sliding hatch into the passageway outside her cabin.
She had made it ten steps down the pale gray and blue passage when the combat conditions alarm shrieked and emergency lighting turned everything red.
Kaydence immediately unhooked her helmet and put it on, waiting for the atmosphere lights to go green before pulling up the list of shipwide messages with a thought. The list appeared on the built-in visor and she saw an order for everyone to report to combat stations.
At fourteen she was too young to have a combat station, so she ran back to her room, sealed the hatch, and called her mother.
“Are you alright, hon? You at your station?”
“I’m in the cabin, mom. I’m fine. What’s happening?”
Just then Kaydence felt the gravity cut from Terra Standard to Luna Gee. Her heart sped up. Low gravity meant the ship was pouring energy into drives and defenses.
“Looks like pirates. They just went after the convoy escorts. I can’t talk right now, but I’ll unlock the sensor feed for you. Stay safe, hon.”
The line closed and Kaydence pulled up the ship’s external sensor feed on her visor. It appeared in front of her in an x,y,z plot with the Collis Huntington a large green dot at the center, preceded by elven smaller green dots and followed by three, all marked as common class D’s. Three blue dots, distorted to show speed and heading relative to the Huntington, signified the cruiser Vaisala and the destroyers Brooks and Stonehouse.
A stream of tiny red dots, missiles, connected the Vaisala to a closing formation of seven ship-sized red dots.
Kaydence checked the shipclass estimates on those dots.
Four destroyers, two cruisers and a battlecruiser.
What kind of pirates fielded battlecruisers? There were whole mercenary companies that didn’t have anything larger than cruisers.
Kaydence moved to her bunk and sat down.
Acceleration rates showed the cruisers and battlecruisers slowing down to match the freighters, while the destroyers seemed set to tear right past.
A stream of tiny blue dots emerged from the Vaisala and her escorts. They were shooting back with their own missiles.
The stream thinned by half as the Vaisala exploded.
Kaydence bit her lip.
Captain Seghers… oh no.
She pressed further into her bunk until she was squeezed in the corner. She felt the vibration through the bulkheads as the Huntington jettisoned her cargo pods and a storm of tiny yellow dots appeared on the plot. The other freighters were doing the same.
When the Brooks disappeared the all-suffusing chords of transition song began their spiral toward crescendo and she braced herself even more.
The chords peaked.
For a moment she felt like her entire existence was folding through her belly button as the Huntington moved one layer closer to realspace, and then the Huntington was in darkspace three.
Other freighters appeared, all accelerating in separate directions. Several immediately disappeared, transitioning layers again.
The Huntington began to follow suit, but the two pirate cruisers appeared and the transition song cut off in mid-spiral. Signs on the plot showed that the freighter was being hit with a pair of transition jammers.
Why were they doing this?
They had the cargo.
Why hadn’t they asked for ransom?
Pirates were supposed to ask for ransom.
The Huntington flashed red, indicating physical attacks, and Kaydence heard the hull thunder from laser strikes as the two cruisers shot out the freighter’s defenses.
She pulled up the integrity display for the ship and watched the Huntington’s point-defense lasers and counter-missile tubes disappear one-by-one.
They were going to board.
Her visor dinged and displayed another text message from her mom.
She opened it.
“HIDE! Don’t let them find you!”
Kaydence’s mind went blank. She had never thought to hide in the ship before. She looked around her cabin but there were precious few places that she would fit, all of them obvious.
The sensor feed showed a forty-meter assault shuttle emerge from one of the cruisers and approach the Huntington. The Huntington’s bay didn’t open to receive it.
A continuous-beam laser lashed out from the shuttle’s cruiser. The integrity display showed it cutting into the Huntington’s shuttle-bay door. The entire ship shuddered and groaned, alarms blared, and the door went red on the display and appeared as a yellow dot floating in space on the plot.
The shuttle entered the bay.
Kaydence looked around her cabin again. The suit locker? No. They’d find her immediately. Same for the closet. Same for the head. She couldn’t fit in the air vents. A child couldn’t fit in the air vents.
The core would have plenty of places to hide, with all the access panels the engineers were always opening during maintenance.
She tried to move but couldn’t.
She was scared. So scared.
The sensor feed cut out. All her ship connections cut out.
Kaydence tried to reconnect with the ship computer but she had been locked out and it didn’t recognize her.
Someone had deleted her from the system. Her mother.
She tried calling her mother but the call just bounced off.
She switched off her comm and her suit transponder. The transponder took time. It wasn’t supposed to be switched off. Ever. The emergency shutdown function took three confirmations.
Boots thudded in the passageway. Heavy, hard steps.
Laughter. Male laughter.
The storage drawer.
Kaydence rolled off the cot, pulled out the full-length roll-out drawer under it. She didn’t have much in there. She could fit.
She lay down in the drawer and slid it and herself back under the cot.
The steps reached the hatch to her cabin.
The hatch slid open.
“Nobody in here.”
“Check it better, vac-head.”
Boots came into the cabin. The door to the head opened. The door to the closet. The door to the suit locker.
“Nobody in here.”
Look under the bed.
It wasn’t a voice, but Kaydence was sure she had heard it.
A shiver ran up her spine, along with the sensation of something else, like a large spider crawling up her back… while she lay on her back.
Hello Kaydence. This will be fun.
Something laughed without laughing.
“There’s someone in here, Lance.”
Another pair of boots came in.
Hands grabbed the bed, pulled it out.
Two men in light powered armor, visors up, looked down at her.
One of them smiled.
“Look at this. Guess someone knocked her off the roster. Think the rest of the crew’ll mind us having a little fun here while they’re goofing off with the others up front?”
“They’ll get over it. Just make sure you’re recording.”
The smiling man reached for Kaydence.
* * * * * * *
When they were done with her they left her on her bunk, naked, bruised, aching, covered in their sweat and worse. Her throat was ragged from screaming, her eyes puffy from crying, her limbs leaden from struggling.
They had cut her vac-suit off and it lay in ruins on the floor, her torn shipsuit beside it. She wanted to cover herself with something, but couldn’t find the will to move.
At some point the cover to her bookshelf had come loose and the hardbacks had scattered. Kaydence stared at the colorful covers of Ivanhoe and Narnia laid out in front of her face.
Was there a knight somewhere who would come and rescue her? Even if she was only a Rebecca?
She longed for it. For John Carter to battle the hordes of Mars and bring her safely home, or Robin Hood to ransom her from those who held her captive.
Or Sara Chan. She had been real. She would know what to do and wouldn’t hesitate to rescue Kaydence. Surely there was someone like her still.
She lay on the bed roaming the remembered stories, sifting shattered pieces for one that still reflected hope.
If Aslan would just open a door in front of her she would take it, without question.
She asked, just to be sure, but there was no response.
Heavy footsteps at the hatch announced another man. Kaydence waited as he approached, too exhausted to fight anymore.
When he took hold of her she knew the truth.
There were no heroes.