Authors: G.P. Hudson
Book 2 of The Pike Chronicles
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This is a work of fiction. All characters and events portrayed in the book are fictional and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental.
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Cover art by Justin Adams
To Eve for getting me started
To John, Tara and Tracy for keeping me going
And most of all to Corynn for keeping me honest
“He’s a bit of a mystery, our passenger, don’t you think?” said Milo, Captain Seiben’s nephew. “He just sits in that life pod of his all day long, never saying more than two words to anyone. What do you think he’s up to?”
“I don’t know and I don’t care,” said Captain Seiben, tiring of his nephews questions. “His affairs are his own business. Soon as we get to the station he’ll be off this ship and it’ll be the last we’ll hear from him. Mr. Jansen can figure it out.”
“What do you think he’ll do?”
“Not sure. I don’t involve myself in his affairs, and I suggest you don’t either. I’ll tell you what, he’s always got a plan that man.”
“What do you think his plan will be for our passenger?”
“Not my concern.”
“What do you think he’s hiding in that life pod?”
“You sure ask a lot of damn questions.”
“He won’t let anybody go in there. Must be something important. Maybe something valuable.” Milo’s eyes were full of urgency, like he saw some master plan unfolding before him.
“Maybe you need to concentrate more on your duties and less on the stranger.”
Captain Seiben brought both hands to his face and rubbed his eyes. He just wanted to focus on his job and forget the stranger, but his nephew was making it impossible. What would Mr. Jansen say about the whole thing anyway? He was only supposed to carry freight, not pick up passengers. If this angered Mr. Jansen he might give the long hauls to someone else.
“And he eats a lot. He’s always taking extra food. Do you think he’s got someone else in there?”
“Can you just focus on your job? When was the last time you checked your scans?”
Milo nodded and looked at his console, focusing on one of the displays.
“That’s Captain to you.”
“Sorry, Captain, I am picking something up on my scans.”
“I don’t care about any more space garbage. We’re not picking anything else up.”
“It isn’t space garbage. It’s a ship and it’s on an intercept course with us.”
“Goddammit. Can you identify them?”
“They’re raiders, uncle. Raiders!”
“Raiders? How far are they? Can we outrun them?”
“No, Sir. They’re too fast. Even if we try to run at our top speed, they’ll still catch us.”
“Contact picked up through freighter’s scans, Captain,” said the AI.
“Can you identify?” said Jon Pike, studying the screen.
When Jon first came on board the freighter, he had the AI hack into its systems so that there wouldn’t be any surprises. That gave him access to all the ship’s data. The AI could monitor their scans and sensors, as well as communications.
“Yes, Captain. They are being referred to as raiders, and are considered hostile.”
“Do these people have any hope of escaping?”
“Unlikely, Captain. The contact is a much faster design and will eventually catch the freighter, even if they run. Extrapolating from this information, they will likely board and seize the freighter along with its cargo.”
“Does the crew have any means of defending themselves?”
“No, Captain. This is a merchant vessel with limited defense capabilities.”
Jon sighed. He couldn’t allow these raiders to take control of the ship. He had to get involved. He just didn’t want to.
“Thank you AI. Please feed updates on the situation to my comm.”
Jon stood from his pilot’s chair, holstered his rail gun, and left the lifeboat.
A loud clanging sound echoed throughout the freighter as the raider ship attempted to dock. Captain Seiben clenched his armrests, his anxiety increasing with every sound. With any luck they would get through this unharmed. He hoped Mr. Jansen would pay the ransom. That’s all these raiders wanted anyway. A quick score and then they’d be on their way. Sure they could take the freighter, but they would need to find a way to move its cargo. It could be done, but a ransom is always the easier, less bloody option.
His nephew looked at him with nervous eyes. He could tell the kid was trying to hold it together. It was his first long haul run, and he had never had to deal with raiders before.
“It’s okay,” said Seiben. “Just don’t cause any trouble and we’ll be okay.”
“Are you sure?”
“All they’re interested in is profit.” He tried to sound reassuring. “Do you think there is any profit in killing us?
“But I’ve heard stories of them slaughtering entire freighter crews.” Milo looked like he would fall apart at any moment.
“Look,” said Seiben, his voice stern. “Those people tried to be heroes and that’s what got them killed. If you just stand aside and don’t challenge them they’ll leave us alone. Once Mr. Jansen pays their ransom they’ll leave.”
“What if he doesn’t pay?”
“He’ll pay. The cargo and the freighter are worth more than the ransom. The raiders don’t want to take the ship. They just want to be paid to leave us alone. That’s all. Mr. Jansen knows this. It’s just a cost of doing business.”
The kid didn’t look convinced, but he hoped he would hold on long enough for them to get through this.
The clanging stopped and he knew they were through. It wouldn’t be long until they reached the bridge. He wished his ship had more sophisticated internal sensors so that he could monitor their movements, but he knew it wouldn’t change the outcome either way. The rest of the crew was experienced enough that they should know how to behave. Still, he had to be sure. He tapped his console a few times and a grizzled face appeared.
“Rutger,” said Seiben. “The raiders are on board.”
“Yeah, that’s what it sounds like.”
“You and the twins know not to cause any trouble?”
“I’m not ready to leave this life just yet, Captain.”
“I’ll bust their heads open if they try anything.”
Seiben smiled. He believed the old engineer could do it too. “Good. We’ll get past this in no time.”
Rutger nodded and his face disappeared from the console.
“What if our passenger makes trouble?” said Milo.
“Our passenger. He doesn’t look like the type that stands by and lets things happen.”
Seiben glared at his nephew. He hadn’t considered their mysterious passenger in all this. For once, he was afraid his nephew was right. He was obviously a military man, and he was armed.
“Do you think he’ll make trouble, uncle?”
Seiben looked back at Milo, trying to keep the worry off his face. “I don’t think so, nephew,” he lied.
Seiben heard the door slide open behind him and swiveled his chair around to see several weapons pointed at him. He counted five disheveled looking men. They all wore pieces of body armor, some on their torsos, some on their arms, others on their legs. Only one had what looked like full body armor on, including helmet and visor. Seiben assumed he must be the leader. The man stood his ground while the rest of his men fanned out, flanking Seiben and Milo on both sides.
Seiben didn’t want there to be any misunderstanding and slowly raised his hands. Milo followed his uncle’s lead.
The leader stepped up to Seiben, his weapon still pointed at him.
“Are you the Captain of this vessel?” said the leader.
“Y-yes,” said Seiben.
“Not anymore. This is my ship now.”
Seiben nodded in agreement, trying to keep himself from trembling. Looking into that black visor he could see his reflection, and the fear on his face. Fear was good, he thought. It wasn’t a challenge. The worst thing he could do right now was challenge this man.
“You will communicate with your employer and tell him that this ship has been taken. You will then instruct him to transfer one million credits to a designated account. If your employer does so, you will have your ship, and your lives. Fail and you forfeit both. Understood?”
Despite its massive proportions, there wasn’t much usable space inside the freighter, as cargo took up most of the ship’s capacity. Jon knew the bandits would search the ship, so he decided to wait in the hangar bay until the first ones showed up. He sat perched on an upper level catwalk, giving him a clear view of everything below, including the lifeboat.
He didn’t have to wait long. Two bandits appeared on the lower level, walking through the doors with their weapons ready. They scanned the large room, pointing their weapons left and right, then looked up at the catwalks. They scanned slowly and carefully, but didn’t see Jon.
He sat and waited for them to become confident enough to enter the cavernous room. Soon they let their guards down and started to explore, walking around more freely, inspecting everything to see if there was anything of use or value.
Jon continued to watch from above. They were undisciplined. Simple criminals with no military training. They probably didn’t need much training to prey on these merchant freighters. What made it worse was that they were also human. It disgusted Jon to think of humans preying on each other like this. Still, he felt a pang of regret about what he knew he had to do. When one of the bandits approached the lifeboat, any second thoughts were gone.
Jon fired one shot. The bandit’s head blew apart, his blood speckling the side of the lifeboat. The second bandit wheeled around in response, but had no chance. Before he could pull the trigger on his weapon Jon let loose a second shot, which pierced the top of his head. The force of the bullet drove the man into the ground. He lay there on his back, eyes open, and for a moment Jon almost swore the man looked right at him.
He knew he didn’t have long so he rushed down to the main level. The men seemed relatively young, probably in their mid-twenties. They looked like they hadn’t changed their clothes in weeks. They also didn’t seem to care for personal grooming. Each had a full beard and long matted hair.
He picked up one of the weapons and examined it. He hadn’t seen the design before but could tell that it was an energy weapon. He checked their clothes for anything useful, but found nothing.
He took each bandit and moved their bodies away from the lifeboat and behind some heavy machinery. Walking back he eyed the pool of blood on the floor. There wasn’t much he could do about it. He had to move. He knew that most of the activity would be on the bridge, so he needed to head in that direction.
Jon had downloaded and studied the ship’s schematics, and committed its plans to memory. Accessing that knowledge, he walked down the corridor looking for an access panel. He found one quickly, opened the metal door, and climbed into an engineering conduit. A maze of conduits crisscrossed the ship, but Jon knew the direction to the bridge. The confines of the conduit, however, forced him down onto the cold hard floor. He had to crawl on his forearms and knees to make any progress.
It was clear the freighter was an aging ship by the state of disrepair. He kept ducking his head and twisting sideways to avoid hanging wires. Electrocution wasn’t part of the plan. A rancid chemical smell filled the conduit. Stale dusty air clung to his throat. He held back the urge to cough, afraid that an echo might alert the bandits. It was warmer than the rest of the ship. Beads of sweat dripped off his brow into his eyes. He ignored the annoyance and steadily pulled himself through the tunnel.
He would exit just outside the entrance to the bridge. How many more raiders were there? He hoped the element of surprise would give him enough of an edge to take all the raiders out before they killed any of the crew. The last thing he wanted was more innocent blood on his hands.
When Jon reached the exit he listened first, trying to determine if anyone stood in the corridor before opening the panel. When he didn’t hear anything, he opened the panel and quietly dropped to the floor of the corridor. The bridge was just around the corner directly in front of him.
Jon inched closer, careful not to make a sound, one foot stepping carefully after another. He brought his forearm up to his head and wiped the sweat off his brow onto his sleeve. He had nearly made it to the corner, when a bandit came around and almost bumped into him. The bandit’s eyes widened and his hands moved fast, raising his weapon to fire point blank at Jon.
Jon was faster. He let off a single round which made a hole the size of a pebble going into the man’s forehead, and the size of a fist coming out the back. The gunshot might as well have been an explosion, breaking the silence and any hope Jon had of surprise.