Meet Lilly del Morto. She could use a hair tie and a break.
First Mate Lilly del Morto flipped her shoulder-length purple hair out of her face. Hell of a day to be without a hair tie, she thought to herself. She was standing at the Freighter Vessel (FV) Riot’s sensor array, taking in the various alarms and alerts simultaneously sounding across the bridge.
“del Morto! Report!” The ship’s captain hobbled over to her station on his titanium peg leg and adjusted a setting on his artificial eye with his stainless steel prosthetic hand.
“Looks like a Hawkian assault ship, Cap. They’ve jammed our external comm’s and our warp drives, and they’re moving on an intercept course. I’d say we’re about to be boarded.”
“Damn! They must’ve tracked us from our hit on that mining colony.”
“How is that possible?” Lilly asked. “We’ve never been tracked before.”
“And we’d never tangled with Hawks or their op’s before either. I was a fool to think we could get away with it.
Lilly was stunned. In her years on the FV Riot, they’d always outran, outsmarted, and outlasted every pissed off gangster and murderous ideologue whose operations they’d stolen from or smuggled around. The Riot worked mostly for (or against) the galaxy’s small-time crime lords, bad guys who had no more than a solar system under their thumb.
This sprawling empire was a beast of a different caliber. Lilly knew a little bit about the Hawkian Empire, but the Hawks hadn’t gotten close enough to Earth to tangle with human interests. What she didn’t know was that the Riot’s raid on that mining colony–what had seemed like a hit on another backwoods industrial op on some metal-rich moon–had been an attack on a part of the most feared power in the galaxy.
She was a little pissed that the Captain hadn’t told her. But it wasn’t the time to interrogate him on that. Instead of the dozens of questions running through her head, she asked, “What do we do now, Cap?”
The captain fiddled with his eye again. “I’m taking as much of the crew as I can down to the cargo bay to set up a defensive position. I figure they’ll hit us there if they’ve got any sense at all. We’ll try to hold them off. I want you on the bridge trying to get that warp drive running. As soon as we’re clear to warp, do it.”
Lilly gave her captain a hard and questioning look. They both knew what would happen to anyone inside a breached cargo hold if the ship warped.
“I’m taking Jones with me,” he said, anticipating her protest. “He’ll try to get those doors closed, but if it’s not done in time, I need you to get this ship the hell out of here no matter the cost. Is that understood?” Lilly tensed up. He was asking her to sacrifice him and maybe the rest of his crew in order to save the ship. How could this flying piece of scrap be worth that? she wondered. “del Morto! I asked you if my order was understood.” Her Captain’s reproach brought her back to the bridge.
“Aye, aye, sir.” Lilly pulled her smokes from the breast pocket of her jacket. She shook a cigarette loose from the pack and lit it with what she noticed was a slightly shaky hand. “Tell Jones to get those fucking doors shut,” she said as she exhaled and turned back to the monitors.
“Roger that. Jones! You’re with me!” The Captain slammed his metallic fist on the intercom button. “All hands to the cargo hold with guns and gusto. The Hawks are coming to party and they’ll kill us all if we let ‘em.” With that, he left the bridge with Jones in tow.
Lilly dragged on her smoke as another alarm flashed across the screen. Unfriendly ship will intercept in 5 minutes, it read. Virus detected in external cargo bay doors.
“Shit,” Lilly said to herself with another flip of her violet hair. “This is going to get nasty.” She pulled up the closed circuit security relay in a corner of one monitor. As she tried to crack the code blocking their warp drive, her eyes flickered back and forth between the code, the security cam footage, and an ashtray she didn’t want to miss.
By the time the intercept countdown had reached three and a half minutes, she could see her Captain pointing out positions in the hold. Her crewmates looked so small in the grainy feed as they hustled behind cargo containers for cover. She saw them priming their energy rifles and saying prayers to whatever they held holy. Another alert popped up on her console.
“Cap,” she said over the intercom. “Incoming transmission from you-know-who.”
“Patch it through on all channels.” Lilly typed a few commands and a low and husky alien voice bearing the telltale click and warbles of translation software bellowed out of all the Riot’s speakers.
“Attention, Earthspawn! You are in violation of a no-fly zone as designated by the Hawkian Empire and under suspicion of theft, piracy, smuggling, and conspiracy. Resistance is futile. Your options are surrender or death. Choose now.”
Her Captain’s voice replied, “Fuck you, you birdy bastard! I’ll be damned of my crew ends up chained up on a godsforsaken molten rock, slaving away for you feathered fucks!”
“You have chosen death,” the alien voice intoned. “Prepare to be boarded.”
Lilly’s fingers flew across her keyboard as she tried to crash the virus jamming the warp drive. She stubbed her cigarette out, missing the ashtray by just an inch. On the monitor, the cargo bay doors opened and, through a cloud of smoke, Lilly saw them for the first time in her life: Almost seven feet tall with four arms and wings on their backs, covered head to toe in matte black armor. The Hawkian soldiers poured into the hold and opened fire.
“Fire at will!” she heard the Captain shout through the ‘com. As the firefight raged in the hold, code flew across Lilly’s screen. Through the channel she had open with her Captain, she could hear the sounds of battle; the reports of energy fire, the sizzle of melting armor, and the cries of wounded men all swirled together as she frantically coded.
“del Morto!” came her Captain’s voice. “Seal the cargo bay bulkheads!”
“That’ll trap you in there with those things!” she said, even though she knew he knew that.
“You don’t think I know that?!” Static popped and hissed, and his voice cut out for a few seconds. “–a containment defense. No one ever stops the Hawks, you just slow them down and run like hell. So, seal the damn bulkheads and hurry the fuck up with that warp drive!”
“Aye, aye, sir.” Lilly switched over to the internal command interface and input the order to seal the interior cargo bay bulkheads. She ran a hand through her hair and lit another smoke before diving back into the virus on the warp drive.
“Jones!” she heard the Captain shout. “Why is that bay door still open?!”
“I’ve never seen this override program before, Captain!” An explosion drowned out Jones’s voice for a second. “–never even seen half these fucking characters before, let alone this kind of coding.”
“What are your chances?”
“Slim to none, Cap.”
“Then pick up that rifle and kill some godsdamn Hawks.”
“Aye, aye, sir.”
On the monitor, Lilly’s eyes flitted across the feed from the hold and she could see more than half her crewmates were already dead, lying prone on the hold’s floor. Smoke wafted through the hold, clouding the camera’s feed. The Hawkians were sill coming through the external bay doors, and they outnumbered the remaining humans almost three to one. Lilly saw what had to be Jones take a beam to the face.
Shit, she thought.
Just then, the radar started beeping. “Cap!” she said into the ‘com. “We’ve got another ship inbound!”
“For fuck’s sake!” Static hissed. “–more Hawks?”
“No idea. Not reading Hawkian. Not reading any known markers.”
“Send an SOS if you can! If we’re lucky, they’ll hate the Hawks as much as we do!”
“Aye, aye!” Lilly switched her channel from internal to external. Miraculously, the communications jammer was gone. She glanced at the radar again and saw Hawkian fighters dispatching from the assault ship. They were tracking the unknown entity, but, whatever it was, this strange ship could really move.
“SOS! SOS!” she shouted. “This is the FV Riot and we are under attack. Whoever you are, please help us!”
The voice that replied sounded like the asteroid wrangler who was in all the ads for the cigarettes she smoked. “Well, howdy-doo, little lady. Having a bit of trouble with these birdbrains?”
“Yes! They’ve boarded through our cargo hold, and our crew is trying to hold them off while I break through their warp jammer!”
“Well, I reckon I can help with at least part of that.” Lilly saw an alert flash across her monitor. External Cargo Bay Doors Closing, it read. New Non-Hostile Software Detected. Lilly watched on the feed as a Hawkian only halfway through the doors was cut clean in half long-ways. Some of the other Hawkians in the bay stopped firing and turned at the sound of their comrade’s shriek. This gave the few humans left a chance rally and mount a counterattack. As the Hawkians in the bay scrambled to return to battle, a massive explosion rocked the entire Riot.
“del Morto! Report!” It was the Captain. “What the fuck was that boom?!”
“Sir, whoever is out there just blew that Hawkian ship to bits.”
“Hell yeah! Alright, you spacesick dogs!” the Captain addressed what was left of his crew–about four and a half people by the looks of it. “By the grace of some stranger, we just got our asses saved. The only Hawks we have left to kill are the ones in this bay. Time to give these pollies their crackers!” A very human roar came followed the speech as Lilly’s crewmates, still outnumbered but not as badly, rallied and gave the remaining enemies everything they had.
Lilly was still trying to crack the code on the warp jammer when another explosion rocked the ship. The power flickered off and on as the back-up generators kicked in. When her monitors sparked back to life, the words critical, failure, destruction, and imminent jumped out at her.
“del Morto! Report!”
Lilly pulled up an external video feed and saw that some of the Hawkian fighters had bombed the Riot. The warp drive was gone, and the engines were falling apart.
“We just got bombed all to hell!” Lilly shouted through the ‘com.
“Fuck! I’m all alone down here!” The audio cut out completely for a few seconds. “–daughter back turfside. I put the address in your mobile’s storage. She can’t make rent on her own. She’s only 11 and without me, she’s liable to fall pray to slavers or worse. Someone’s gotta go get her and I guess it has to be you.”
“Aye, aye, sir.”
“Take good care of her, del Morto. And take good care of yourself.”
“Alright, you pigeonshits! Suck on this!” On the security feed, the Captain pulled something small and metallic out of his coat. Lilly thought it might be a nuclear grenade. There was a flash of brilliant white light and then nothing. A third explosion shook the Riot. The bridge rocked with the shockwave and the tremor shook a tear trickling down Lilly’s cheek onto the station in front of her.
Major hull breach, read a new alert. All systems failing. Ship structure compromised. Evacuation recommended.
Lilly took one last look around the bridge before hustling over to the escape pod. She climbed inside, conscious of how much extra room there was. She deployed it and strapped in as the pod shot out of the Riot and into space. For the first time since the alarms sounded, there was quiet except for the burn of thrusters. Through a small porthole in the bottom of the pod, Lilly could see the Riot shrinking, imploding, and falling apart.
“Dammit,” Lilly said to herself. She began to weep silently.
The pod’s comm system crackled to life. The asteroid wrangler’s voice came over it. “This is Captain Starship attempting to establish contact with that escape pod I just saw shoot out. That was a quit a bang yer ship went out with there. Don’t s’pose there’s anyone actually alive, is there?”
Lilly took a deep breath, regained her composure. She found the pod’s comm interface. “This is First Mate Lilly del Morto, reporting.”
“Well, hell yeah!” said the rustic voice. “I was hopin’ somebody made it out. Listen here, Matey: I’m gonna tractor beam you in. We’ll get you some food, some rest, and then maybe we can chat a bit before I warp you to wherever it is you feel like going–I might recommend a nice garden world with lots of beaches. How’s that sound?”
Lilly returned her gaze to the Riot through the porthole. “Better than the alternatives.” Her hair was I her face again.
“Yer damn right about that. And listen, I knew yer probably feelin’ pretty low right about now, but buck up. Yer Capatain and his crew went out like some real damn heroes, every last one of ‘em. And you must be Lady Luck herself, surviving a Hawkian assault and all.”
“I don’t feel too lucky,” Lilly answered.
“Well…if it’s any consolation, that’s something you ‘n’ I got in common.”
Lilly didn’t know if the voice was talking about the survival or the unluckiness, but it was what she pondered as the pull of the stranger’s tractor beam sent all the blood rushing to her head and she passed out.
Who is this mysterious space cowboy? Will Lilly keep her promise to her Captain? Find out next time in Captain Starship: Stories from Space!!!
Copyright Lucy Diavolo.