Captain Starship VIII: Conflagration

Fiction Friday is back with the final installment of the Captain Starship series (for now). How will Lilly and the Captain get out of this? [~1,500 words.]

Download a PDF version of this episode.

Check out the other installments of this Story from Space.

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Lilly hurried into the bridge. She’d seen to it that the kid got set up into a seat–somewhere with a seatbelt was all she needed for now. They’d felt the engines kick on as the kid buckled up. That sent Lilly running toward the bridge.

“ACIS, are Rivet & Weld on board?”

The holographic administrator materialized on her terminal. She was standing near attention, the pen around her neck poised over a virtual keyboard. “Affirmative. They arrived as you were in the cargo hold.”

“Alright, good. Tell them to prepare for launch, on the double.”

“On the…double?”

“It means quickly. Tell them to hurry.”

“Run into some trouble turfside, Ms. del Morto?” asked the Captain Starship’s voice. He sounded like a cowhand setting up for some exposition in one of those ancient Westerns Lilly’s first partner had loved so much.

“Yeah,” Lilly shook a UV Light out of the pack. “Some Ursii fucks found the kid before we did. I’d say I got there just in the nick of time if I hadn’t brained one of them.”

“I’m picking up a lot of chatter about that,” ACIS cut in. “And–“

“And the kid killed one of them, yeah.” She slipped the cig into her mouth and lit it. She sighed as she exhaled. “We pissed off the wrong fuckers, didn’t we, Cap?” Lilly made her way over to the warp terminal to start looking for a destination.

“Well, when you’re pissin’ any fuckers off, gangsters are always a hard way to go. Slavers might even be worse. But the two of them together? That’s something special.” There was a moment of silence as the joke fell flat. “But, uh,” the Captain continued, “I’ve tangled with von Barr before. He’s a roughneck–not much finesse or tact to that one. And based on what I’m reading from local comm’s traffic, he’s got his whole armada watching the port for any ships leaving in a hurry.”

Lilly rubbed at her eyes. “Do you think we can make it out undetected?”

“If they were any kind of military, I might be tempted to say yes. I’ve got some pretty damn good stealth systems, and most institutional outfits view windows as a liability. But von Barr’s got little to no tech. Chances are he’ll have whatever ships he controls running good ol’ fashioned visual scans on exit trajectories.”

Lilly stopped typing on the warp controls. She turned her head to look over her shoulder, but quickly realized there was no one there to turn to except an attentive ACIS. “So…that sounds like a no.”

“I know we haven’t worked together much, Ms. del Morto, but trust me: If that kid is in danger, I’ll make sure no further injustice or harm comes her way. You told me you made a vow to protect her. I take my crew’s vows pretty damn seriously.”

Lilly stubbed out her cigarette. Is it possible, she wondered, that this…Captain…really did have a sense of what a vow meant? Could you program obligation or duty? She realized that, despite having been practically raised by an AI (like most public school kids), she knew remarkably little about how they worked.

Maybe that’s why she wasn’t sure where to look to make eye contact with the Captain. So she looked straight up and said, “Thanks, Cap.”

“Don’t mention it.” A sense of command entered his voice now. “All hands, all hands: Prepare for launch. And expect a bumpy ride.”

The ship lurched as it undocked. Lilly felt the telltale thrust of warmed-up engines kicking to life. As she resumed searching nearby systems for a safe place to warp to, the ship picked up speed and the reading on velocity and altitude went up as gravity and atmospheric pressure dropped. She felt the artificial gravity kick on as a gentle tug pulled her deeper into the seat she’d felt falling below her.

“Captain,” ACIS intoned, “we have an income transmission from an unidentified source.”

“Roger that, ACIS. Looks like on of von Barr’s lackeys running transmission sweeps. Patch ‘em through and we’ll se if we can talk our way out of this one.”

A gruff voice crackled through the ship speakers. Only the first few syllables missed translation. “Attention to the vessel receiving this transmission: The von Barr clan is investigating a kidnapping that took place on the planet’s surface. Please manifest the two organic beings on your craft to confirm their identities.”

“This is the Captain of the Commercial Public Transmitter Starship. Just curious as to what authority it is under which you make a demand like that? Last I checked, criminals aren’t the side of the law that gets jurisdictions.”

“Under the authority of Grul von Barr, clan leader and warlord, as deputized by this system’s law enforcement.”

“No offense there, uh–who’s this I’m talking to?”

A brief silence ensued, like someone was trying to figure something out. “This is Urnt von Bar.”

“Right. Listen, so, no offense there, Urnt, but I hope you’ll excuse my skepticism about that load of bearshit you just tried to feed us.”

“What?! Who is this? Identify yourself.”

“Tell ol’ Grul that this is Captain Starship and I’ve got what he wants. Cut the feed, ACIS.”

“Wow, you’ve got a real way with words,” Lilly said. She muttered under her breath, “So much for talking our way out of it.”

“I never was one much for gabbing,” came the Captain’s reply. “Ms. del Morto, you keep looking for a safe system to jump to. The sooner the better on whatever you find, but, of course, I reckon you know that. ACIS, start running diagnostics on all essential systems and keep me updated on any fluctuations.”

“Typical watch and warn protocols, sir?” ACIS asked.

“You betcha. And put Doc on standby–hell, the bonehead brothers, too. I’m not sure how many ships they’ve got to throw at us, but if memory serves, the whole of von Barr’s fleet packs a wallop.”

“Aye, aye, Captain,” replied the VI. “And can I just add that I believe a more nuanced approach might’ve prevented a fully armed confrontation.”

“Your observation is noted. Now, keep an eye on those readings, if ya please.” The lighting on the bridge went red. “All hands, all hands: Prepare for combat.”

Lilly felt the ship lean as they banked to their left. She heard a cannon fire down in the belly of the ship. From her seat at the warp terminal, she could see the radar monitor where a red blip on the radar flickered off.

“Excellent shot, sir,” said ACIS.

“Thank ya kindly. Everyone hold on to your butts, I have a feeling that shot’s gonna catch some eyes.”

Lilly snuck a peek at the radar and what she saw confirmed the Captain’s suspicion. A formation of red dots that had been encircling the port was quickly reforming in an attack formation pointed right at them.

“All hands, all hands: Prepare for evasive maneuvering.” Lilly grabbed a hold of the side of her seat as she felt the ship begin to barrel roll. On the radar, smaller blips shot towards them at speeds higher than the larger blips they seemed to pour out of. Lilly knew what missiles looked liked on a radar when she saw them. She fumbled around at the edges of her seat and found a belt to strap in with as the spin increased.

“Launchin’ flares!” the Captain declared. The heat radar lit up in a wake behind their ship and the marks of the missile’s propulsion systems disappeared in the bloom of flares.

“All incoming missiles destroyed, sir,” ACIS reporter.

“Well, hell yeah! Alright, y’all. We’re coming back around on these honey lovers.”

“Roger that, sir. Based on our options, I suggest running offensive protocol 8A156.”

“You read my mind.”

“Captain!” Lilly shouted. “I’ve got a viable jump here.”

“Good timing, Ms. del Morto; just hold that thought for one minute. ACIS, do we have all targets locked?”

“Yes, sir!”

“Fire at will.”

At the Captain’s command, the light on the bridge flickered and flashed. Lilly heard the battery–more artillery than she’d’ve though a ship this size could hold–resonating within the hull. Everything was dark for what felt like countless stopped heartbeats. When the power kicked back on, all the radars were clear except for their central dot and the light and heat that radiated off of the planet’s surface. An old country western songs–something 20th century American by the sound of it–came on.

Holy shit, Lilly thought. He just took out an entire fucking fleet with one shot. One, massive, dozens-of-projectiles-big shot.”

“Ms. del Morto,” the Captain said. “You can go ahead and make that jump now.

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