Before them on the bridge screen was the Nautilus. It was a small freighter that drifted there as though it was abandoned. Burn marks could be seen around the engines, but aside from that no further damage could be seen along the length of the hull.
“So there is damage around the engines which look consistent with a missile attack. SARA do you think that damage looks extensive enough to cripple the ship’s engine systems?” Steff asked.
“Hard to tell. Maybe if the missiles hit precisely the right area they could have hit a vital system that shut the engines down.” SARA replied.
“What would be the normal crew capacity of a ship like that?” Steff wondered.
“A dozen at most, assuming it was carrying cargo.” Blake answered.
“Captain, long range scanners detect an asteroid that seems to be stationary.” A crew member informed her.
“How large is it?” she asked.
“Around 800 metres in diameter.” He answered.
“That would be large enough to hide any other ships from our scanner.” Blake commented. Steff opened the coms channel to the Nautilus.
“Nautilus, this is Captain Clarke. If we send over a shuttle, could you and your crew come over to our ship and we’ll drop you off at the nearest Communications Relay Station?” Steff asked.
“Negative. This is my ship. If I leave it now I will no longer have any form of livelihood. If you could send over a few engineers, like you suggested, maybe they can fix the engines.” Lewis replied.
“One more question: what direction did the pirates go after they took your cargo and abandoned you here?” Steff asked.
“I’m not totally sure. I do think they went off in the direction of Beta Hub station, presumably to sell off the cargo they had just stolen.” Lewis replied.
“Okay thanks Nautilus.” Steff replied. She cut the coms channel and looked at Blake. “If they went to Beta Hub we would have detected them on the way here.”
“If we send over a couple of engineers they might take them hostage.” Blake stated.
“Yes if they are pirates and we send over a couple of engineers, that’s when their trap springs into action.” Steff agreed.
“So what do we do?” Blake asked.
“We send over a couple of engineers.” Steff replied. ”Edwards, we need to talk privately.” Steff put on a headset. The Chief Security Officer looked at her and then did the same. Steff cupped her hands over her mouth as she spoke quietly to him. He nodded at her words. She then removed the headset with Edwards doing the same. He then purposefully left the bridge.
“You going to tell me what you said to him.” Blake asked.
“Not at this moment.” Steff replied. She reopened the coms channel. “Nautilus, we’re sending over two engineers to look at your ship’s engines. Can we also send over a couple of security officers?”
“No need for the security officers. There’s only seven of us over here. The pirates are long gone. All we need is someone to fix our engines.” Lewis replied.
“Okay. I’ll hold the security officers. Expect a shuttle to come over shortly.” Steff replied.
“Thanks Captain.” Lewis acknowledged. Steff cut the coms channel.
“What are you planning?” Blake asked her. Steff smiled at him.
“You’ll see.” She replied. She switched on the ship’s intercom. “Attention everyone. This is Captain Clarke. We now at alert level one.” The Oracle’s alarm sounded.
“You think they are pirates don’t you?” Blake asked.
“Then why send engineers over?”
“I want to bring them to justice.” She replied. “And I can only do that if I appear to play their game.”
“Captain, the shuttle has left the Oracle now.” Said a crew member. They watched as the shuttle slowly made its way towards the Nautilus and then dock with it.
“Captain, we have now docked with the Nautilus.” The shuttle pilot said over the coms channel.
“Okay, once the engineers enter the Nautilus, you are to immediately undock from it. Keep a distance of around 500 metres and only dock with the Nautilus again under my orders.” Steff ordered.
“Now we wait to see what they do.” Steff remarked. Everyone on the bridge waited. The minutes ticked by. Suddenly there came a voice over the coms channel.
“Captain, we have looked at the Nautilus’s engines, and there is nothing wrong with them. The ship is deliberately powered down and we suspect…” His voice was suddenly cut off.
“Are you there? Report!” Steff ordered.
“I’m sorry Captain, but your engineer can’t respond.” Said Lewis’s voice over the com.
“What have you done with my engineers?” She asked him.
“Don’t worry, they’re just restrained. They have not been harmed.” He told her.
“Captain, scanners detect several large shapes breaking off from the asteroid. They are heading this way.”
“Thanks.” Steff acknowledged.
“As you can see I’m not alone.” Lewis said.
“I know pirates like targeting freighters and similar, but why go after a New Earth Spacefleet military vessel?” She asked him.
“Because you’re carrying equipment we want. Yes, we wouldn’t attack a battle cruiser or warship, but your ship is more lightly armed and smaller yet you still possess useful things such as the consumables, weapons, and energy cells we need.”
“I could just give the order and have your ship vapourised.” Steff told him. Many of the bridge crew looked at her in shock.
“With some of your crew aboard? I think not.”
“What’s two more of the vast numbers of life I’ve already taken?”
“I don’t think you would do this if there was another possibility of saving them.” Lewis replied.
“Okay, so what are your terms?” Steff asked.
“Now we’re getting somewhere. I propose a trade. That is all. I will send a list of what we require that I believe you have on board. You will load up one of your shuttles with all of these items and once the shuttle arrives here and we unload everything, then we will send back your two engineers.”
“How do we know you’ll release the engineers once you have everything?” Steff inquired.
“You’ll just have to take it on faith Captain.”
“You’re asking us to take a lot on faith here considering you haven’t been honest with us from the beginning.”
“Well yes, that was to lure you here. Once we have what we want, be assured there will be no further point in us trying to deceive you. By the way the other ships you can detect all have missiles trained on you should you try anything. I know you’ll be able to stop many of them hitting you, but some will get through and you have no idea what class of warheads we are using.” Lewis told her.
“Captain, we have been sent a file from the Nautilus. It is free of any viruses or other malicious applications.” SARA informed her.
“Thanks SARA.” Steff said. She looked at the file on the computer screen in front of her. It was a request of mostly weapons, ammunition and other ordnance, as well as power cells, and food. She guessed the food they lived on was what they mostly stole from other ships.
“Have you received the file?” Lewis asked her.
“Yes. You ask for a lot, but you can have it. I’ll get the crew to sort it out and have it sent to you, but I would like to speak to one of my engineers first to see if they’re okay.” Steff replied.
“Be assured they are fine, but okay I’ll let you speak with one of them.” They waited.
“Hello captain.” Said a voice.
“How are both of you doing?” Steff asked.
“We’re both fine captain.”
“Good to hear. Go to Case Orange.” She told him.
“Yes captain.” She sat and waited. Blake looked at her with a furrowed brow.
“What’s going on?” he asked.
“The moment of truth.” She replied enigmatically.
“Are you there Captain?” said a familiar voice on the coms.
“Yes we’ve been waiting.” She replied.
“Case Orange objective achieved.” He told her. She smiled.
“Well done soldier. How many are left alive?”
“Six including their captain. There were ten of them here originally.”
“Okay good. Shuttle pilot are you there?” Steff asked.
“Re-dock with the Nautilus. You’ll be bringing some prisoners back.” Steff told him. The crew on the bridge looked at her in amazement.
“Can you tell me what just happened?” Blake asked her.
“The engineers I sent over were actually our elite security forces, who also had a passable knowledge of starship systems. Their orders were to overpower the pirates when I gave them the code.” Steff informed him. He looked surprised.
“And you didn’t tell me because?”
“I just thought it would be prudent to keep this plan to myself and those involved. The less who knew about it the better in my opinion.” Blake nodded at her words, but looked disappointed.
“It would have been nice to have been in the loop.” Blake commented.
“Lieutenant Garcia. Tell the other ships we have captured the Nautilus crew. Tell them to stand down or face the consequences.” Steff commanded.
“Yes captain.” Garcia replied. She began talking into her headset.
“Captain, we have incoming missiles.” A crew member told her.
“I was hoping we could avoid this, obviously they don’t care for their compatriots..” Steff commented. “Pilots, take evasive measures.”
On the screen Steff saw a great number of missiles heading straight for them….
to be continued…
Index of previous chapters: The Oracle
©️2021 Joanne Fisher