The Pirate


 
Bobby Washington was excited and could hardly wait; he hadn’t been in a fight since he had left prison, and now he had a chance.
Bobby loved to fight. Even though he couldn’t see the lightning flash that was attempting to disable electronics or the green beam that was burning a hole in the fleeing transport, he knew that this was going to be fun.
It was his first raiding party as a pirate.
He hoped the transport’s captain was a woman. Even more fun!
He was, of course, by no means a good man. Born thirty years earlier in the south side of Chicago in the ancient Mercy Hospital, he was addicted to opioids when he was born; his mother was an addicted prostitute. He had no idea who his father was, and neither did his mother.
He last saw her when he was five, when the state put him in foster care because his mother neglected him. Heroin does that to a person, and modern opioids were far worse. She was murdered when he was nine, and he didn’t hear about it for a year.
Jose Ramos, the son of immigrants to the US from Mexico, was born on the same day in the same hospital. His parents spoke Spanish at home, and Jose didn’t learn English until he started school, where he learned to speak the language. His father Esteban was a cook at a small bar and grill, and his mother Juanita was a clerk in a convenience store. As hard working as they were, they were still very poor; cooks and clerks earned little, since their jobs mostly boiled down to making sure the computers and robots didn’t go crazy, and one could easily make do without money in society. Most people had no jobs at all. Few jobs paid much unless they required higher education.
Jose dreamed of being a space Marine as he grew up. His favorite pastime was reading about historical military campaigns, even if they were dry, boring ones like the ancient and to his modern eyes, nearly unreadable We Were Soldiers, and Young. He, of course, had the same problem reading that twentieth century book as someone from the twentieth century would have had reading Shakespeare. He enjoyed fictional war stories as well, more than the nonfiction. But he could learn more from nonfiction.
When he wasn’t reading books and watching videos about war, he played laser tag with his buddies. That was one game that someone had to have money for, since you can’t print out a laser. His parents had bought one second-hand for his Christmas present one year. It was his most treasured possession.
By our twenty first century standards his family was very well off, having everything they needed and most of what they wished for. In his time, he was considered poor, as were ninety nine percent of the population.
All in all, Jose was a pretty lucky kid, even if his parents got almost all of their food from government handouts.
Bobby was certainly not a lucky kid. He bounced from foster home to foster home, often abused, often hungry, sometimes molested.
He was a terrible student in school. Barely literate and numerate, he hated to read, to do math, to learn anything but how to get away with stealing and how to win fights.
One day he was sitting in homeroom in his freshman year of high school, bored out of his mind as usual, when the teacher announced “Today we have a very special guest. Everyone in the school is to go to the gymnasium to meet him.”
The class followed her to the gym, which was seldom used for anything and never as a gym, since the floor was in such disrepair.
When all of the students were assembled, the principal announced “Meet Mister Dewey Green, one of the Green-Osbourne Transport System’s founders and the CEO of that company!”
Half of the assembly gave him half-hearted applause. Bobby sat on the bleacher, head resting on one hand and the other hand doodling as he pretended to take notes.
“Good morning, students. I’m here to talk about the value of a good education,” Mister Green started.
Bobby ignored him.
Jose was attending the same school, and also ignored him, instead talking to a disinterested girl about his love for all things military. His parents were readers, and he had inherited their love of books and education as most readers’ children do. An excellent student and very qualified candidate for a higher education, he had his mind set on the military instead. He intended to enlist in the North American Space Marine Corps as soon as he was old enough, right after graduating high school.
The shipping executive began speaking. “Now, I have no idea what it’s like to be in your shoes,” he said, looking over the poverty-stricken students in this dilapidated south side school. He couldn’t help noticing the water dripping from various places in the ceiling, the ruined hardwood floor, and wondered why society accepted such a thing. “But I can tell you this, you can escape it. But you have to study hard and stay out of trouble.
“I wasn’t born wealthy, kids. I wasn’t poor; my parents owned a grocery store and a restaurant. My mom wanted me to become a chef!”
He paused for laughter, but none was forthcoming.
“I studied hard, and went on to study electrical engineering after high school. I got a job as an engineer at Orion Transport, and while working there went on to earn my Master’s Degree.
“My partner, Charles Osbourne, was a friend since junior high, and after he got his mechanical engineering degree we went way in debt to buy two beat up, unsalvageable wrecks and used the parts from both to build a new kind of transport vessel. We thought it was the best there was, and I still think it was the best of its time.
“We weren’t poor by any means, but we lived like we were to make sure we could afford the venture, as well as taking business classes. Charles and I both now have MBAs. Eventually we’d built the best and biggest shipping company in the solar system.
“Now, I doubt any of you could manage that, there’s a thing called ‘middle class privilege’, but if you work hard, your children might!
“I’m here to announce that our company is going to actively recruit graduates from this school and schools like it, kids like you who start life without any advantages at all. We’ll be hiring and training ship’s captains, clerks, maintenance workers, and many other positions. Yes, you no longer need a college degree to pilot a ship.
“It isn’t going to be easy. You need to maintain at least a C average in your grades, with none failing and no more than two Ds. And if you get arrested, you’re out of luck as far as we’re concerned. We don’t hire criminals, and few other companies will hire you if you have a criminal record, either.
“So stay out of jail. If you ever get convicted of a felony, your life’s pretty much ruined. You’re going to be living in government housing, printing everything out, and eating from the government food pantries. I’m sure more than a few of you know about them.”
Of course, all of them were already using them.
He continued talking for quite some time. Jose wasn’t interested; he was going to be a space marine, and instead was boring the annoyed girl next to him who was trying to listen to the shipping magnate.
Bobby wasn’t interested, either. He was going to make angel tears and sell them to hookers and other addicts. Neither one heard a word of what G-O’s CEO had uttered.
Since one doesn’t learn right from wrong in school, Bobby had no one to teach him. He was in the “new” two hundred year old Joliet prison by the time he was sixteen, tried as an adult and convicted of armed robbery. It was the first place he’d ever lived that wasn’t infested with roaches. Of course he never noticed the prison’s quaint architecture, it having been built two hundred years earlier.
Jose, as expected, joined the space marines after graduation. His experience was all in low Earth orbit where Earth’s various governments and the United Nations had authority. None of its governments had much to do with anything past the moon, except to collect taxes from the spacers living in the huge habitat domes in the asteroid belt and on Mars and Titan, and pass stupid laws that made sense on Earth but no sense at all in space.
He had collected several combat medals and reached the rank of sergeant, and was just about to re-enlist after his four year hitch when he heard about deep space soldiering. The Green-Osbourne Transportation Company was recruiting for positions in a deep space security fleet. He signed the discharge papers and headed to the GOTS recruitment office, where he handed in an application and résumé.
His interview was two days later. “It says here, Mr. Ramos, that you were in the marines.”
“Yes, sir. Space duty. Earned a few medals and advanced fast.”
“Huh. Low Earth orbit.”
“That’s where the pirates were then, sir. Our military was protecting our country’s commercial interests.”
“But no interplanetary experience.”
“No, sir. Combat experience. Nobody’s done combat outside low Earth orbit. The man you’re looking for doesn’t exist.”
“Well,” the executive said with a smile, “I think he does. You’ve fought pirates for the last few years. I think you’re our man, Mister Ramos.”
“Thank you, sir,” Jose said with a big grin.
“Oh, and by the way,” the shipper said, shaking Ramos’ hand, “You’re now commander.”
“Sir?”
“You have the experience and we’ll supply the necessary leadership education and teach you about the ships and their workings. You’ve already held leadership positions, and we intend to send you to Annapolis. You’ve seen combat. You’re perfect, Commander Ramos.”
“Wow, that’s a lot higher rank than when I was in the service!” Indeed, he was an enlisted man being given a commission in GOTS’ private army, going from E-5 to O-5; GOTS used naval rankings in its fleet.
“Well, consider it a promotion, then. At any rate, you’re to go to Mars with Green-Osbourne’s new defense force, and you’re in command. Earth’s governments have pretty much stopped Earthian space piracy, but we companies shipping to distant bodies are on our own. Piracy around Mars has gotten way too far out of hand.”
 
Asteroid mining was small-time until two centuries earlier when a new material was discovered on Ceres. It was a type of rare earth that was capable of being magnetized a hundred times stronger than twenty first century ferromagnetic materials. Motors made with these new materials were incredibly efficient; a one by two meter solar panel on the roof of an automobile was sufficient to run the car on a cloudy day. Of course, solar panel technology was far, far better than in solar’s twentieth century beginnings, and of course batteries were necessary at night, and especially in freezing weather. Battery technology, too, had advanced greatly.
Earth’s governments had another space race when these materials were discovered, with domed cities being built on the planet Mars, the dwarf planet Ceres, and the protoplanet Vesta, and a few of the larger asteroids that were composed of useful materials.
Mars’ gravity was perfect for manufacturing magnets, even better than the microgravity of space. The Europeans and Australians jumped on it, with Europe building mining stations on Ceres and Titan and the Australians building Martian smelting facilities, and the North Americans building robot factories and agricultural farms, all inside the gigantic Martian domes.
United Nations treaties between various governments kept armed government vessels no farther from Earth than the moon, as had existed (some said mysteriously) for centuries, and later the UN became a world government. Politics makes strange bedfellows, and as a result of history, space piracy flourished in deep space after being almost completely eliminated near Earth.
 
The GOTS warships were legal, since Green-Osbourne Transportation Systems wasn’t a government. The ships were brand new and still being delivered, and Ramos and the company’s human resource arm would have to find and train people to man the ships.
Soldiers to man the ships, even though half of the soldiers manning the ships were women. They all needed training, including Jose, who had never flown on a deep space flight before.
It took a full year for the battleships in Mars’ orbit to be finished, and crews trained to fly them. Jose alternated between teaching martial arts and learning how the interplanetary craft worked. Training was at the Annapolis Mars dome, which had originally been settled from the US state of Maryland.
The company president, Charles Osbourne, accompanied the lead ship’s shakedown cruise, taking notes. Now that the ships were operational and tested, crews would have to be trained in space combat.
“Excuse me, sir,” Commander Ramos said to President Osbourne, “I’d like to suggest that we hire more military veterans. It would save a lot of time and training.”
“Well, I’ll take that under advisement, Mr. Ramos. But I want our force to be better than any Earthian army.”
A year later it was, and Green-Osbourne already had far better ships and armament than any army on Earth, and far, far better than any other shippers.
Dewey’s army, now armed and trained, stayed in orbit around Mars when there was no inbound or outbound traffic. As of yet the defense fleet was only ten ships, protecting dozens of transports, not counting other companies’ transports. G-O protected its competitors’ ships as well, as they certainly didn’t want pirates to have more ships, but of course the priority was GOTS transports.
 
Mayday! Mayday! Seven bogeys coming in fast!”
Commander Ramos checked his instruments. He would have a fix on the nearly invisible freighter coming in and decelerating, and radar and radio transmission fixes on the “bogeys,” the thieves who would plunder the freight carrier. The brigands were about twenty minutes from the transport, and the soonest his ten ship fleet could get there was half an hour.
“How well are you armed?” the commander asked, knowing that his fleet would show up in the middle of a fight.
“Two atomics, but the way they’re coming in an atomic would only destroy one. Ten EMP missiles, and I’m afraid I’m lousy with those things. Plenty of rail slugs and the lasers are good, but I’m not a great shot with those, either.”
Jose shook his head sadly. Captain Wallace was on his own for the next half hour, really on his own. Cargo transports seldom carried anyone but the captain unless the cargo was human.
He looked up Captain Wallace’s ship; an older model. Setting an EMP off close to his ship would disable it, so he couldn’t simply let the pirates get close and set the electromagnetic charge off.
Until he got there.
“Lock it up, Captain,” the commander said. “Every damned door. When they try to get in, set off the EMP and we’ll take care of it.”
“I’ll lose propulsion and life support!”
“We’ll be there before the air gets too thin or cold and it will slow them down. Use your atomics when the time is right.”
“Mayday! Mayday! Four bogies coming in fast!”
Damn, two at once? He sent four ships to help Captain... he looked at his computers... Reynolds. New ship, he should be okay. Especially with half of his fleet getting there in twenty minutes. He wished for more ships. He planned on asking for some when he next saw Mr. Osbourne, and also to see if the engineers could come up with something to make targeting easier for captains inexperienced in combat. Better training as well; it was apparent to Ramos that Wallace wasn’t just green, he was brand new. Experienced transport pilots had learned to fight.
Captains’ training should include a lot more combat simulation, he was sure.
Jack was terrified. It was his first encounter with pirates, and he had never actually used any of the ship’s weaponry, and had only experienced computer controlled simulations. It was only his fourth professional flight.
Four of the pirate ships were close, and the young man was shaking too badly to hit any of them with a rail gun slug, or even hold a laser on one long enough to drill a hole. In a panic, he was too full of fear to think of letting the computers do the targeting. Ramos was right; these fellows needed more training.
The other three murderous ships were holding back.
He dropped an atomic, which only destroyed one ship. The pirates were firing lasers at him, and he was glad he wasn’t running any other company’s boat, or he’d already be dead. Not a religious man, he prayed none the less.
His screen showed another flash, not nearly as bright as the atomic explosion—a lucky rail gun shot had caused one of the marauding craft to explode. There were five privateer vessels left, and he wondered how many freebooters were on each vessel. Not that it mattered, he was a dead man, he was sure.
One of them managed to get hold of his docking port, and he set off an EMP. The lights and computers and engines all stopped. It was pitch dark and deadly silent; he could hear his own heart pounding.
It was only a few minutes later when Commander Ramos arrived. It took minutes more to attach the warship to the pirate ship and drill out a hatchway. A smokeflasher was thrown in, and his crew, outfitted with night vision glasses and body armor, both physical and electronic, could see through the smoke while pirates couldn’t. Even though the EMP had knocked the lights out, the pirates could have antique-style lights with filament bulbs and carbon batteries, or even candles, that an EMP wouldn’t disable. Capturing most of them was easy. Killing the ones who fought back was even easier.
“GOTS security!” Commander Ramos yelled when his contingent entered the cargo ship after subduing the men on the pirate ship.
A green laser beam streaked through the door; pirates had gotten in. He worried about the ship’s captain, since the only communication was between his crewpeople; all other electronics had been destroyed by the electromagnetic pulse its captain had loosed. His ship and three of the five remaining ships were disabled, and the rest of Ramos’ contingent went after the pirates whose boats hadn’t been crippled. This was turning out to be a good day; eleven fewer pirate ships and nine fees for the company from the pirate transports’ rightful owners.
There were only two plunderers in the transport, and were easily taken out of action. One would need medical treatment, as did another surviving robber on one of the other boats.
Captain Wallace was locked in his pilot room, shaking in fear. The commander drilled a small hole in the door. “Captain Wallace? GOTS security, are you okay?”
“Thank God!” a voice coming dimly through the hole exclaimed before the door opened and the man emerged.
“Lets get you on the boat before it starts getting cold in here. We’ll stick around until the tow tug gets here and you can ride back to Mars on her. Oh, and Captain—you should have asked for identification,” he said, holding out his phone. “We could have been the pirates trying to trick you.”
“Damn,” he replied, “You’re right. That was stupid of me.”
As close as they were to Mars, it didn’t take long at all for the tugboat to arrive.
 
obby Washington was introduced to a life of piracy while in prison, when he met Charles Hunter. “Chuckie”, as his friends and associates called him, was head of a large pirate gang, and boasted of possessing twenty space ships. “And Bobby,” Chuckie said, “I’ll get twenty more when I get out of this place. You’re paroled next week, right?”
“Yeah. Don’t know what I’ll do. Probably be back here in two weeks!”
“No you won’t. See Ron Cheney, he’ll pick you up at the gate when they let you out. I’ve seen you fight, we could use you.”
Cheney was indeed waiting for him when he was paroled. Bobby stuck out his hand, and Cheney ignored it, saying only “get in the car.”
He got in. “Where are we going?”
“The belt.”
“The what? You mean Washington, DC?”
“Asteroid belt.”
This puzzled Washington, who had heard that all the piracy was around Mars, but he didn’t say anything. At least at first.
“What’s at the belt?” he finally asked after a long silence.
“Ores going out, supplies going in, and more ships for us.”
“I thought Mars was where the action was.”
“It was, before Green-Osbourne started their security fleet three years ago. Oh, kid, a word of advice... don’t fuck with them. Seriously. Everyone who ever has either died or went to prison when they got out of the hospital.”
“Uh, thanks.”
They stopped in the Muskie station a few miles away and parked the car. Cheney already had tube tickets.
They rode the Muskie tube half an hour, including a ten minute stop in Springfield, before reaching the spaceport at Scott, outside St. Louis on the Illinois side of the river.
The next day he rode a chemical rocket to low Earth orbit, where he transferred to a fission-powered ion drive ship headed to the asteroid belt. He had no idea what asteroid, and in fact was pretty ignorant about everything about the belt.
The first job he had was cleaning toilets, and they were the filthiest toilets he had ever seen. There weren’t enough robots, and in fact the pirates had very few, at least on this ship. He spent the rest of the trip doing similar menial chores that robots usually did.
It took months to get there; the ancient Orion ship the corsairs had stolen was an old fission model that could barely do a quarter gravity, and could only accelerate for a half hour at a time before the engines needed to cool off for twice as long. Newer fusion models could do over half a gravity for an entire trip, and a new GOTS transport could do well over a full gravity, which is why most of the piracy was on Mars—the modern transports could easily outrun pirate boats, so were attacked when they slowed down for a planetary approach.
Finally as he was mopping a floor, an order came over the intercom: “Barnes, Washington, arm yourselves and get to the docking bay. We’re getting a new boat.”
Bobby went to his room, smaller than the prison cell that had previously been home was, and collected the ancient pistol the lead pirate had supplied, grinning widely. The weapon was an antique that used a chemical propellant to fire a projectile. Obsolete, but still deadly as long as its easily manufactured ammunition was available.
This was going to be easy; they’d told him that Orion captains weren’t armed.
And fun. He’d been looking forward to this since prison.
He got to the docking bay, where a third man who Bobby didn’t know was jimmying the lock. “You’re green,” Barnes told Bobby. “I know what I’m doing. I’ll go first.”
The lockpick got the hatch open and Barnes went in, and was hit with a taser. Bobby shot at the captain with the aged weapon and missed. The noise and recoil greatly surprised him; he had never fired it before. Immediately a high pitched whistling sound filled the area—the projectile had pierced the transport’s hull.
His second shot killed the Orion captain, who lay twitching in a widening pool of blood. The taser must not have been very powerful, because Barnes was back on his feet in a couple of minutes, and showed Bobby how to repair a punctured hull. When that was finished, he looked closely at the transport captain’s shirt.
“Damn,” he said. “Not a short shirt. Come on, lets check his quarters.”
“What’s a short shirt?”
“It’s made of conductive cloth, so tasers won’t knock you down. Shorts the tasers out. Been looking for one or two short shirts, maybe some short pants, too. I sure could have used them here!”
“Sounds pretty handy.”
“They are. But hey, that’s some gun you got there, Washington. Never saw, or heard, anything like it. Man, that thing’s loud!”
“Yeah, it surprised me, too. It kind of kicks back when you shoot it, too; made me miss on the first shot.”
“Sure leaves a mess!”
“Sure does. I’ll trade it for your maser if you want.”
Barnes was smarter than Washington and realized it was an antique, probably valuable, and possibly lethal at a far longer range than a maser. They traded weapons, and Bobby was glad to get rid of the heavy, noisy, messy weapon that kicked back so violently when you fired it, and get a quiet, lightweight maser instead.
Masers were great weapons, although they were only good at close range. Any farther than four or five meters away they were pretty much worthless, and were only deadly for a couple of meters, thanks to the Inverse-square law of radio propagation.
The pirates had a new ship. Bobby was determined to get one of his own—or maybe even his own fleet. That was way easier than stealing things on Earth!
Barnes was made captain of the former Orion ship, in charge of a dozen others. Washington stayed on the ship he was on when the raid started.
He was determined to get some short clothes.
 
Well, Charles, we have Mars a lot safer than it used to be.”
“Yes, Dewey, but Orion lost two transports in the belt this week and Musk lost one last week, too. I think we may need more warships, and better training for our captains. If pirates ever get hold of a GOTS ship, everyone’s in trouble.”
“Yes, you’re right. We need more warships. The fifty we’ve produced so far aren’t enough, but we’re turning them out as fast as possible now.”
“And more weapons training for cargo and passenger captains. They probably have the most dangerous jobs in the solar system.”
 
Bobby was in the ship’s kitchen with three other men, who were talking about a bunch of their rivals ganging up together for the haul of a lifetime—they planned to kidnap Dewey Green’s daughter. The rumors were that she, an astrophysicist, was traveling to Mars on a Green-Osbourne ship to build a new kind of telescope.
“Chuckie said they’re out of their minds. Says we’ll have a lot less competition when those morons are done, and we may find a few stray ships they lose.” The pirate chuckled. “I think Chuckie’s right. They’re crazy, I don’t care how many there are, taking on GOTS is suicide.”
 
Jose was on Mars on his first vacation in two years. He’d had the biggest fight of his career six months earlier when more pirates than anyone knew existed tried to apprehend Dewey Green’s daughter on a trip from Earth to Mars. It had gotten pretty hairy, especially considering the GOTS transport’s cargo. Most of the pirates were killed by the cargo.
Commander Leonard Knapp was in charge of the fleet today, while Jose was on leave, as usual when Captain Ramos wasn’t on duty. Both men captained their own ships, and when Ramos was off-duty, Knapp’s ship was the flagship. Of course, Ramos’ first officer was in charge of Ramos’ ship when Ramos was off duty, but Commander Knapp ran the fleet when Ramos was off-duty.
Right then Jose was in the Purple Ruin waiting for the bartender to get to him.
“Can I help you, sir?”
“Yeah, what kind of beer do you have?”
The counterman waved toward the beer taps. “Schotts, Malindar...”
“No, not what brand, what kind? Lager? Pilsner?”
“Hell, I don’t know. We have...”
“Give me something in a green bottle.”
The barkeep opened the bottle and poured it into a glass, and Jose took a drink. “Hey, that’s a great lager! What brand is it?”
“Knolls’.”
“Never heard of it.”
“Brand new, they just started selling it. Some immigrant from Earth started a Martian brewery. It’s way cheaper than the Earthian imports, glad you like it. New on Mars?”
“Yeah, on vacation. I’m with GOTS security.”
“Your next beer’s on me, then. Damned pirates cost me a ton of money. You guys have things pretty quiet lately. For a while there, as soon as we started loading a shipment from the freighter to the surface, the damned pirates showed up.”
“Thanks. We work pretty hard at it.”
“Trouble in the belt, I heard, though. Pirates was in here earlier, I heard ‘em talkin’.”
“You didn’t call the authorities?”
“What authorities? Earth doesn’t give a damn abut us!”
“Green-Osbourne. And the dome authorities,”
“Huh? Green-Osbourne is just a transportation company, and the dome’s cops don’t chase pirates unless they’re wanted on another dome, or break our laws here. Ain’t no laws in space.”
“We’re authorities on piracy. We’ve been studying it for a long time. Do you have photos?” he asked, seeing the security cameras.
“Yeah,” responded the bartender, who pointed to the cameras that Jose had noticed. “See that dot over the doors, on the ceiling? Those are...”
“Cameras,” Jose interrupted. “I saw ‘em when I came in.”
The tapster’s eyes narrowed. “You saw ‘em, eh?”
“Sure, part of training. I told you I was with GOTS security, and in fact I’m its head. I was wondering, would the owner mind if you gave me copies of the video of the pirates?”
“Not if you’re really with GOTS. Show me some ID and I’ll give you the files.” Jose did something on his phone, and the bartender did something on his.
“Thanks,” Jose said. “We want to build a pirate database; we intend to get rid of piracy completely.”
The bartender snickered. “Good luck with that.
 
Leo was in orbit around Mars, having coffee with William Nigh, the first officer on his ship. “Well, Will, what do you think?”
Nigh sipped his coffee. “I think it’s been too quiet. I know there are still pirates.”
“Yes, and even if there weren’t they could come up at any time. All it takes is a heartless bastard with dreams of riches and a little experience with operating a ship, and they’re sure easy to run these days.” An alarm went off, and both looked at their phones and hurried to the pilot room.
There was an incoming ship, and it wasn’t listed as being on any of the various shipping companies’ schedules. Leo looked at his first mate. “Done this before, Will?”
“No.”
“Well, you can take it and I’ll watch, and give you any pointers after you’re done.”
“Gotcha.” He picked up his phone and closed a contact on the console. “Unknown ship,” he said into the phone, “What is your identity, destination, and purpose of travel?”
The radio answered back, through the ship’s speakers, “Orion 487 with a load of ferromagnetics for Dome Australia Three.”
Nigh quickly keyed “orion 487” into the console, and the screen answered back: it had been missing for two weeks. He spoke into the phone again. “Okay, Captain. We need to make a routine inspection of your ship. Sorry, but it won’t take long.”
“Roger,” the apparent pirate answered, obviously thinking he had fooled Commander Nigh.
Commander Knapp said “Excellent. Well done, Will.”
 
Fooled that yokel,” the ironically named Roger Jolly said, and grabbed his phone. “Everyone get ready for hand to hand, we’re taking on GOTS security, but we have the jump on them. They think we’re legit. We’re gonna get a GOTS!”
 
Leo aligned his boat with the Orion boat, flanked by half a dozen more GOTS vessels. The pirates had about as much chance as a twentieth century drug gang being raided by a SWAT team. Of course they were fired on by the pirates, and of course Security all wore body armor for protection against projectiles, and electronic armor to neutralize the maser guns most of the privateers were armed with.
Ten men died, twenty were hospitalized, all of them pirates, and the rest went to the orbiting prison the Martian domes’ mayors had bankrolled. As usual, the dead pirates were simply jettisoned into space, or “buried at C” as they jokingly called it.
One of the security team was injured by a very loud chemical weapon, but not mortally or permanently. It was a very lucky shot, hitting him in one of the few tiny places a projectile could penetrate.
He would have had a nice scar to show his grandchildren, had he been shot like that a couple hundred years earlier.
Instead, his souvenir was an antique pistol.
 
Washington felt like he was still in prison. It felt like home. He’d felt like a prisoner as long as he could remember, especially after the first time he’d tried to run away from his initial foster home.
There were five other men on the boat, one they had just stolen from Orion. It was unladen when they got it, but it would be laden soon. Or so its captain hoped.
Its captain was Chuckie—Charles Hunter, recently released from prison, and Bobby had risen to his number two, with his own Orion boat that he didn’t really own.
Having his own ship didn’t make Bobby feel any less a prisoner.
 
Waddle ya have, buddy?” the bartender asked the patron who had just entered.
“Hello, I dunno, maybe a cardinal. Is the manager available?”
“I own the place, will I do?”
“Yes, sir. I’m John Kelly from GOTS security. Just wanted you to know that we’re offering cash for information about pirates. We’re contacting as many business owners as we can. And besides, I was thirsty.”
The bartender snickered. “Everybody’s thirsty!” he said, handing the man his Bloody Mary.
 
Things were starting to become alarmingly routine to Jose, and he didn’t like it. Neither did the higher ups who read his reports.
“This isn’t good, Dewey,” Charles said. “Ramos is right. We have a lot of ships around Mars and not much piracy there, and our competitors are losing a lot of ships in the belt. Their captains aren’t trained to fight and their ships aren’t equipped to fight.
“And the more pirate ships there are, the more dangerous it is for everyone, us included.”
Green looked at a sheet of paper, an object that was supposedly relegated to obsolescence centuries earlier, but somehow was still widely used. “We have two security ships for each of our transports and the transports are fast enough, armed enough, and the captains well trained enough that they’re almost impervious to most piracy, anyway.”
He thought a few seconds.
“We can profit from this. Sell protection to the other shippers, profit that can make up from the waning profits from returning stolen boats.”
Charles snickered. “Those profits aren’t down, they’re just not up as much as we’d planned. But you’re right, that’s exactly what we need to do. It will kill several birds with one twenty gauge. I’ll get Larry Griffins to get sales on it right away.”
 
Chuckie” sent Bobby down to Mars for supplies. “Take as much time as you need, Bobby. Here’s a phone with enough money on it.
“I’d go with you, but I can’t trust any of these other assholes. I’ll send Mouse down with you, he’s done this before—but make sure he doesn’t get hold of that phone!”
Bobby and “Mouse” took a small houseboat down to Mars. It was a four day trip, because they had to evade GOTS.
Mouse was a huge man with bright green eyes and bright red hair, and skin as dark as his hair was bright, two meters tall and weighing a hundred sixty kilograms. His real name was Randall Moore.
“This is a lot easier than it used to be,” said Mouse as they approached the red planet. “Only three security vehicles, the rest are in the belt and between here and there. Mars used to be swarming with them.”
They landed, showing their counterfeit identification at the spaceport. Counterfeiting documents was far easier than it had been centuries earlier when IDs were all physical, either paper or plastic cards.
“Let me see the phone,” Mouse adjured as they walked past the Purple Ruin. “I need to look at the map.”
“Sorry, Mouse,” Bobby rejoined. “Chuckie gave me strict orders not to. Where are we going, I’ll look for it.”
“The Purple Onion.”
“Isn’t that it?” Bobby said, pointing at the bar they had just passed.
Mouse laughed. “No, that’s the Purple Ruin, we want the Purple Onion.”
“Purple, purple, purple,” Bobby muttered. “Are all the damned bars purple?”
“No, just those two. John Purple owns this bar, his brother Harold owns the Onion.”
“What’s the difference?” Bobby asked while looking for the Purple Onion on his phone. “A bar’s a bar.”
“Harry’s one of us. Emigrated here ten years ago, had gone to school with Chuckie. We’d probably get killed in the Ruin, it’s affiliated with one of our competitors, and in fact,” he said chuckling, “We’ve even taken some of their boats and loads. They hate our guts.”
The statement that they would be killed in the Purple Ruin was nonsense; there had never been a known murder on Mars in its entire history; space was where the carnage was, not on Mars or any other body except Earth. On Earth, it was mainly pirates and other gangsters and the angel tear addicts who were violent. In space, it was just the pirates, as dropheads hated low gravity, let alone microgravity.
They got to the address the phone sent them to, but rather than the Purple Onion, the sign outside read “Captain Hooker’s”. The purple trim on the doors and windows had been painted white.
“Well, I’ll be damned,” Mouse said. “This is where it was. Maybe Harry just changed the name.”
They went in, and Mouse asked the Japanese bartender if Harry was there.
“No,” she replied with a thick accent, “He get arrested three week ago and is waiting in jail for his case to come to trial. The city confiscated the bar and sold it to a new immigrant. You want drink?”
“Yeah,” Mouse said, “shot of whiskey and a beer.”
“What kind?”
“The good stuff. How ‘bout you, Bobby?”
“Just a beer, I guess. Guinness.”
She looked doleful. “Sorry, sir, we no have right now. Supplies short until next month when new shipment come.”
“I don’t care, then,” Washington replied. “Anything. Whatever you have on draft.”
As she was pouring their beer and Mouse’s shot, Bobby said “Shit. What now?”
Mouse shook his head. “Dunno. We’ll just pick up what we can in this dome and go back, I guess.”
They each drank another beer and left. The woman picked up her phone. “GOTS,” she said.
“GOTS,” the phone replied. “How can I help you?”
“Two men in Hooker’s a minute ago I think be pirates, ask for previous owner. Here their pictures,” she said, doing something with the phone. “You should now have their identities, not just photos.”
 
Jose, with a week left on his vacation, was back in the Purple Ruin sipping his first beer when his phone went off. He was informed that the local law enforcement had been called about some pirates, both of whom were wanted on Earth for parole violations. He left his half beer on the bar with a tip equal to the beer’s cost and hurried outside, asking his phone “Location of Robert Luther Washington.”
The phone informed him where Bobby was. Jose thought that name seemed familiar, but couldn’t place where he’d heard it. Ah, just a common first and last name, he thought.
He reached the store the computer told him he’d find the pirates, but instead of pirates he found two police officers handcuffed to a rail with their own handcuffs, and gagged with cloth tape, and a sales clerk tied and gagged with the same tape; tape that was sold in the store.
 
That will be two seventy seven,” the clerk told the two pirates when they laid the goods on the counter.
“Even?”
“Yes sir,” the clerk answered.
Bobby pulled out the phone as a voice behind him sternly said “Hands up and don’t move.”
Bobby whirled around as the taser darts hit him, to no avail—he and Mouse were wearing short shirts.
Mouse lifted one of the policemen with one hand, Bobby kneed the other in the groin, and struck him hard in the face three times as the clerk reached for his phone. The huge man grabbed the clerk as Bobby handcuffed the policeman he had incapacitated, and then the other cop Mouse was holding.
They tied up the clerk with tape, taped up all three of their mouths, hurriedly bagged up what they had paid for and quite a bit more they hadn’t, and hightailed it out of there before slowing down, so as to not attract attention, fearful that they already had.
Outside the store, Mouse handed Bobby a sheet of foil. “Here,” he said, “wrap the phone up in this.”
“Why?”
“So they can’t track us.”
He wrapped up the phone as they walked swiftly to the houseboat, and took off as soon as they could ready the craft.
“Man,” Mouse said, “that was close. Chuckie was right, you’re a damned good fighter. I wouldn’t want to have to take you on.”
Bobby snorted.
 
Jose removed the tape from the three men’s mouths while calling the local police with their communications devices, and asked them as he was untaping the clerk, “where are your handcuff keys?”
“Pirates took ‘em, along with our phones and tasers,” one of the officers said with a raspy voice. His throat was bruised.
The other lawman, who if he was bruised it didn’t show because of his very dark complexion, said “Somebody ought to be here pretty quick with keys. Man, my balls hurt. I think that guy was on drops!”
“The one that got me sure didn’t need drops, he was bigger’n a elephant. I doubt the other one was on them, droppers are only dangerous when they’re withdrawing.”
“Then why didn’t my taser do anything? It must have been drops!”
“Why didn’t mine?”
“I don’t know.”
“Short clothes,” Jose said.
“Huh?” Both cops said in unison.
“Short shirts and short pants. All of our passenger vessel captains wear them in case a traveler goes nuts and gets hold of his taser. Pirates surely have them now, they’ve killed so many boat captains and stolen so many ships. You fellows dealt with those two before?”
“No. You, Bill?”
“No, but the computer says they’re both wanted on Earth; USA, Illinois. Jumped parole, disappeared as soon as they got out of prison. They’ve been looking for them for a really long time now.”
Jose replied “They should have stayed on Earth. Pirates die young.”
 
What kind of trouble?” Chuckie asked.
“All kinds. First off, Harry got busted.”
“What?”
“Yeah, his bar had a different name and a Jap chick who was tending bar said he’d been busted and was in jail, and that the dome had confiscated his bar and sold it to some new immigrant. Don’t know how they found out about him, maybe his brother snitched.
“Then we almost got busted buying supplies in a store. Martian police with tasers, we bested ‘em and got the hell off the planet. We got most of what we needed except food.”
Chuckie grinned. “Good, saved me a ton of money. We just copped an O’Riley’s freighter full of beef and frozen vegetables on its way from Earth to Ceres. Considering the trouble you had, you boys did damned good! You guys ever ate pork before?”
 
Jose couldn’t get Robert Washington’s name off his mind, and the picture seemed familiar, too, but Jose couldn’t figure it out. It ate at him, illogically, he knew, but it still did.
Oh, well. Leave was up in a week and he could stop thinking about this meaningless stuff and think about stuff that mattered.
But who the hell was this Robert Washington and why did he seem so damned familiar?
 
Okay, Me, Bobby and Jack hold back while John and Winkie attack.”
“Why?”
Chuckie’s eyes narrowed. “Who the hell are you? You work for me?”
“Yeah, I’m running John’s boat ‘cause he has the bottle flu. You want it back, it’s yours.”
“So what’s your problem?”
“Why you holding back?” His eyes narrowed, obviously distrustful and cautious.
“Two waves. We want to win. Got a problem with that?
“I guess not. But what’s your plan?”
“Some of those supplies Bobby and Mouse got were for making an EMP. Your boat shoots at him with rockets and lasers and Winkie will get close to him and set off the EMP. Then you dock with Winkie, let him in your boat, and ready Winkie’s boat for towing to our yards when we’re done. I’ll tow the Musk boat.”
The man grinned. “Chuckie, you’re a God damned genius!”
“Yeah? Maybe not if it’s a decoy and there ain’t no ore. I got a buyer for that ore. The ship is junk, Musk ships ain’t worth shit.”
 
Jose briefed his troops about their upcoming mission, protecting a Musk Enterprises transport carrying Cererian ore to Mars. Musk was paying quite a bit for GOTS protection, as the previous three attempted shipments had all been hijacked and their insurance company had dropped their theft coverage. The GOTS contract put all liability on Green-Osbourne.
They would follow a thousand kilometers behind the Musk vessel. Green-Osbourne ships were almost invisible, and in fact were invisible to all but another GOTS boat; GOTS captains knew there were ions being released in the exhaust.
The Musk ship was slow, and ten days into the trip Jose saw the “bogeys” coming in. He lessened the distance between his and the Musk transport.
Security vehicles carried no atomics; they didn’t want to destroy vessels unless necessary. But GOTS transports carried them.
And in this case, as with others, they couldn’t use an EMP close to the Musk vessel unless it was in danger of being destroyed.
The pirate fleet wasn’t close enough for its lasers to do any harm to the Musk transport, but they were firing them anyway. Lasers aren’t like high speed projectiles. In space, projectiles keep their kinetic energy until hitting a target, while a laser is victim of the inverse square law and loses energy with distance.
Ramos fired rail slugs at the ship that was firing on the Musk vessel. It’s hard to hit anything at the distances between space ships with a rail gun, although if it has enough power to do damage a laser seldom misses, but it was too far for a laser blast to do any damage.
The slug missed, and Jose fired again.
A different vessel was coming from a different direction, and Jose targeted it with lasers and put them under computer control.
There was a flash outside the Musk ship, and the lights went out on the Musk ship and the two pirate craft.
 
obby! Holy shit, It’s GOTS security! Get us the hell out of here!”
“You don’t have to tell me twice,” he replied, as he was indeed already “getting the hell” out of there, as were the other two boats.
“Damn,” Chuckie swore. “Dam damn DAMN IT! Those were two shitty boats but a boat’s a boat!!”
“What about their crews?”
“So what about them? That’s the breaks, son. Head for Vesta, we need supplies and I don’t think GOTS is guarding it right now; no shipments scheduled for three weeks.”
“How do you know?”
Chuckie smiled. “We got our spies. We got spies in every dome!”
 
Jose rescued the Musk captain and his crew made Musk’s crippled craft ready for towing, and waited, drifting at a high rate of speed, for three tow tugs to show up and take the vessels to Mars for repairs, and for the two stolen craft to be returned to the companies who owned them—for a hefty fee, of course.
His ship accompanied the tugs to Mars. They supplied life support equipment in the two stolen transports after the pirates would have been unconscious. They would eventually wind up in the orbiting Martian prison, or in prison on Earth if they were wanted there.
 
odamnit!! Billy, Jack, grab that son of a bitch!”
Chuckie was frantic. One of his less distrusted captains was trying to steal one of his stolen boats.
“Kill his boat?”
“Hell, no! Latch on, get in, and kill the dickweed!”
The pirate who tried to steal the pirate’s stolen boat died.
The ship’s electronics died as well, which was unfortunate, but could be repaired.
Unlike the dead pirate, which was only unfortunate for the dead pirate.
 
So, Mouse, been on Vesta before? We affiliated with this bar?
“No, we got no bars on Vesta, but the drinks are cheap and a lot of the boys we deal with come here. Just don’t let the barkeep get wise.”
 
George Armstrong was captain of a Musk transport carrying Vestan nickle and iron ores to Mars’ smelting plants. Jose’s GOTS security ship would escort Armstrong’s craft to Mars, protecting it from pirates. Jose was on Vesta, in the Rotgut Saloon.
Yes, that was its name, a sort of Vestan joke. Vestans had an unearned reputation of being drunken brawlers, probably because the original settlers in its dome were Irish immigrants from Earth. The other two bars had similar offensively humorous names.
He’d been in this bar before, as GOTS was covering asteroids and Vesta and Ceres now, as well as Mars. Jose, now a captain, was leader of the six hundred craft security fleet. It was over three times as large as Green-Osbourne’s shipping and traveling fleet, as GOTS revenues from protecting other shippers was now larger than profits from their own shipping vessels.
“Waddle it be, mighty?” the obviously Australian... British? ...bartender asked.
“You have Knolls’ Lager?”
“Sure, on tap.”
“Okay, a pint of Knolls Lager.”
Just then George walked in. “You again!” he exclaimed, grinning.
“Hi, George,” Jose replied, standing up and extending his hand, which George shook. “Yep, me again. We leave orbit at noon tomorrow?”
“Yeah, and I have to tell you, I’m sure glad it’s your boat that’s guarding us!”
Jose poo-poohed the idea. “Nah, any of our boats would have been fine.”
“Yeah,” George said with a grin, “But...”
“Son of a bitch!” Jose interrupted. “Randall Moore. God damned pirate” he exclaimed, pulling his taser from his pocket. “You! You’re under arrest!”
Mouse tried to reach in a pocket; Bobby was in the rest room, having drank half a six pack. Jose hit Mouse with a taser, to no effect. Mouse pulled his maser, to no more effect except that the Musk transport captain and the bartender screamed. Luckily for them, they were close enough for pain but not long term damage. Jose had his electronic shield turned on.
The very large man pulled a very large knife that looked strangely small in his huge hand, with the blade swinging out before he lunged.
Mouse was big, but Jose was well trained and it took little time to subdue him. During the ruckus, Bobby slipped out the back door, remembering Chickie’s admonition: “Don’t fuck with GOTS security.” Anybody who could take a guy like Mouse must be GOTS security.
The dome police came in and took Moore into custody. Jose sat back down next to George. “You okay, buddy? My shield should have covered everybody!”
The bartender said “Masers are highly directional, like a laser, only microwave frequencies instead of optical frequencies. The guy was just a piss-poor shot.”
“Speaking of shots,” Jose said, still panting, “give me a shot of rum, I don’t care what brand.”
 
Che planets’ and asteroids’ orbits at the time were such that Hebe was on the way to Mars. Hebe’s dome wasn’t even finished yet, and as well as rare earths for Mars, George and Jose were to drop a load of food on Hebe for the workers there. They encountered no pirates on the voyage.
Hebe’s extremely low gravity made it possible for George to land the giant transport for offloading; even Ceres was light enough. Jose and his crew orbited the asteroid, on the lookout for buccaneers. Leo was captain of his own ship elsewhere, and Lieutenant Commander Ken Johnson, a dark skinned man with short, tightly curled hair was Jose’s second in command.
“Ever been on the surface of Hebe, Ken?”
“No, why?”
“I know how it got its name.”
“How?”
“It has less than one percent of Earth’s gravity, but there’s still a small pull. Gives you the heebie-jeebies.”
Jose was completely wrong about this. Hebe was named two hundred years before people ever visited space, let alone before visiting the asteroids, which like other bodies orbiting the sun was named from ancient Greek and Roman mythology. In this case it was the “bartender to the gods”.
However, in the early twenty first century they seemed to have found that Hebe had a satellite, which they jokingly named “Jebe”.
Johnson started chuckling, and stopped suddenly. “Uh, oh. We have an ‘unannounced,’ Jose.” Ken closed a contact on the panel and spoke into his phone. “Craft en-route to Hebe, who are you and what is your business here?”
The answer came a couple of minutes later; there’s a bit of radio lag with the distances. “Picking up supplies. Who are you and why do you care?”
Ken looked at Jose, who said “get rid of him. With George down there on Hebe he’s vulnerable, and we can’t go chasing pirates.”
Johnson spoke to the obvious picaroons. “We’re Green-Osbourne Transportation Systems Security and there are no supplies for you at Hebe. Leave now or die!”
Jose laughed. “Think it’ll work?”
“If they don’t think I’m lying. We’re too close to the asteroid for an EMP.” It would disable George and the equipment used for building the new dome.
 
Chuckie swore a string of incredibly loud and foul obscenities, followed by “what a shitty, shitty week. We lost fifteen ships and their crews, we lost Mouse, and damn but that big guy was valuable to us.
“Damn! I wouldn’t think GOTS would be guarding a facility with no boats and no production yet, and we need tools and food. We’re going to have to risk Mars.”
“We are?”
“Sure thing, Bobby, you and me.”
“Who’s going to guard the ship?”
“I’ll land on Phobos. Nobody will find it there.”
“How do we know that was really GOTS?”
“We don’t, but we don’t know they’re not and we can’t afford to take any chances. I’ve sent my captains after new boats. We need to recruit, somehow. I’ll think of something.”
“How are you going to keep those assholes from stealing their boats while we’re on Mars?”
Chuckie grinned. “I had a guy rattle around in the engine rooms. Told the captains that the ships were rigged to blow up in three weeks if they’re not stopped by a gizmo I have.”
“Are they?”
“I wish they were, but the threat is enough.”
 
George was waiting in Captain Hooker’s for his old friend from the rival company. Jose was in his houseboat on his way down; his ship was at the dockyards in orbit for routine maintenance.
“You not from Mars, are you?” the bartender said as she handed George his beer.
“No, I’m from Kansas City. How can you tell?
“Martians seem to be, I don’t know, not skinnier but less muscle. Vacation?”
“No, I captain a Musk transport ship. My buddy Jose’s meeting me here, he’s on his way now. My company hired his company to protect my shipment, and I’m sure glad they did.
“Hey, didn’t I see you last year at the Purple Ruin?”
She grinned. “Yeah, he not good. John pay better.”
Bobby and Chuckie came in as George sipped his beer, checking the time on his phone. Not knowing that the bartender had pegged them as pirates earlier, and in fact didn’t recognize her, they ordered beers. Chuckie asked the bartender where she was from.
“Tsushima.”
“Huh? Where’s that?”
“It a small city in Japan. Hate crowds in Japan so I be here now. No crowds on Mars.”
“Small city and crowded?”
“Tiny, not much more than a million people. No have farms any more, all industry. Farms all be inside buildings now in Japan.”
Just then Jose finally walked in. “There you are, you old rascal, you!” George exclaimed.
“Hey, George, you old rapscallion you!”
Down the bar, Bobby recognized Jose. “Oh, shit,” he swore softly, “That guy that just came in is the guy that got Mouse!”
“Oh, hell,” Chuckie said, pulling out he maser.
“He’s got a shield. We need to get the hell out of here!”
They got up silently and tried to sneak past the captains. They were unsuccessful.
“Shit!” Jose exclaimed, and pulled out two tasers. The pirates started to run, but Jose hit them both in the back of the head with taser darts.
They should have been wearing short hats.
 
“So you’re a free man tomorrow, Rick. What are your plans?”
“Hell, Bobby, I don’t know. Robin’ folks, I guess. I sure ain’t gonna settle for bein’ poor. No jobs after a place like this. I’ll probably be back in two weeks.”
“No you won’t,” Bobby replied. “I got a job for you. See Ron Cheney, he’ll pick you up at the gate when they let you out. I’ve seen you fight, we could use you.”

 

 

 


 
First Contact
Index
We still haven't found extraforgostnic life

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