Confrontation at Pangar Nine
Captain Rudy Smith reflected on the irony of it all. He’d survived countless battles as a fighter pilot in the first three Solartine Wars - in some cases surviving when he had no business surviving – and yet now he was about to die at the helm of a commercial cargo transport making a routine intergalactic run with nothing more than a mundane shipment of industrial chemicals and communications equipment. Only his third assignment since leaving the military for the more lucrative corporate world, and he was already in a more precarious position than he’d ever found himself in before.
Smith attempted to read the vessel’s damage assessment on the screen in front of him, but after a few minutes he sighed and realized that it was pretty much a waste of time. His ship, the SS Nonix, was probably doing well to be in operational condition at all considering the massive bombardment it had endured just a few minutes ago at the hands of the Mildrenian pirates. Never mind that Smith had used almost the entire fuel reserve executing the wormhole jump that had allowed for their escape. They were probably safe for the moment, but the ship was stranded and the Mildrens don’t give up easily. The Nonix would soon be found, and Smith knew that the next time there would be no way for him to prevent the pirates from boarding the ship. And it was also generally accepted that suicide was a preferable option for his crew compared to what the Mildrens like to do with their victims.
Being a Class 78 cargo vessel, the Nonix was designed to require a very small flight team, usually just a captain and two or three more individuals depending on their capabilities. The ship primarily was operated and navigated by computer, and often times the crew did little besides tend to minor equipment problems and coordinate freight transfers with the docking planets. The 78’s were built for the sole purpose of transporting large amounts of bulk cargo cheaply and quickly, and therefore did not have the kind of defense systems one would find on the more secure XYX series transports. Due to the ship’s vulnerabilities, they were generally loaded with merchandise of little worth to pirates and shipjackers. But as Captain Smith had just found out, sometimes the vagabonds simply didn’t care.
Running his hand through his graying black hair, Smith exhaled forcefully and contemplated the proper course of action. He decided to ask his crew to meet with him on the bridge; there he would advise them that while he would continue to explore all options to get them out of this mess, the situation was looking grim. If boarded, he would tell them, he planned to flip the so-called “suicide switch” which would within seconds fill the cabin with Xulyrt gas. This would kill the crew instantly and with any luck take a couple of the Mildren bastards with them.
Ten minutes later, the crew - all three of them - had made their way to the bridge along with Captain Smith: Hanngush 33-9, Smith’s cyborg co-pilot; Nabbboq, the ship’s Tsubian engineer, and Faavrogg Mont, the freight coordinator from the lonely outpost of Qu-Grittnen.
“I know everybody is busy trying to keep this ship together, so I’ll get right to the point,” Smith told them glumly. “As you know, we have survived a vicious attack at the hands of the Mildrens. As it stands now, we have escaped them but according to the damage logs we simply do not have the capacity to withstand another assault. Nor do we have fuel reserves capable of getting us to any Federal ports.”
Smith paused, glancing at each crewmember’s face for a reaction. There were none. He wasn’t telling them anything they didn’t already know.
“Given the reputation of the Mildrens, I have decided that if they find us, and I believe they will, we will not be able to prevent them from boarding this ship,” Smith continued. “As your captain, I plan to comply with standard procedure if this happens and employ the suicide switch. As per Federal law, if any of you object to this self-terminating course of action, you may now invoke your Jowtersh rights.”
As Smith expected, there were no objections.
“At this point, however, I would like to emphasize that I am not giving up and plan to exhaust every option in order to bring the Nonix to safety. I also welcome any suggestions or ideas.”
Smith paused. “Because, frankly, I don’t have any myself.”
An awkward silence followed for the next few seconds, and then Hanngush slowly raised a mechanical arm to speak.
“Sir, while I would never suggest this otherwise, given the situation perhaps we should consider Pangar Nine? According to my charts, it is within our range and perhaps if we are allowed to dock there we could offer our cargo as a bribe in exchange for passage to a more, uh, suitable outpost?”
Smith stared straight ahead, lost in thought. The possibility of attempting to land at Pangar Nine had crossed his mind, but he had quickly dismissed it. It had been eons since Federal Starcraft were allowed anywhere near that system. The last time a cargo ship had attempted an emergency docking there, in fact, the Nyr-Roimms blasted it to bits with a beewtryl cannon.
Even so, Hanngush might be onto something with his idea to use the Nonix’s cargo as a bribe, Smith thought. The ship was carrying a pretty nice collection of Hweenblurters and several tanks full of liquid nooxofil, a chemical abundant in the inner regions but difficult to come by in this part of the galaxy. It was probably worth a try, he decided.
“Hanngush, that’s not a bad idea.” Smith said. “Illegal, of course, but under the circumstances I think our friends in Gyndonocia would understand. Set an immediate course for Pangar Nine. Have Nabbboq redirect power from the quadrothrusters to the hypo-conductor plates if needed. Mont, come with me and let’s get a quick inventory of what we have to offer the Pangarians.”
Before the crew could leave the bridge, however, a blast rocked the ship. Smith was thrown forward, catching himself on a Pyllinam monitor.
“What the hell?” Smith exclaimed. “That wasn’t from a Lnormill ray! It felt more like a quadro-helium redax beam or something!”
“Captain!” Hanngush had made his way over to the front Bulard panel. “The vorostratus scope indicates that we are under attack by a Henuliort Juy-Ast ship using twin golluck sprayers!”
Smith ran over to take a look for himself. Sure enough, readouts indicated an Irru class Tarmo fighter, carrying the markings of the Booklumghum Federation of Mo-Yu-Tyheng. The very same warship that was responsible for multiple harynings at the battle of Darnsforz. Only the Yeeefu’s anti-xos cannons could possibly stop them.
Smith knew that the Nonix was in serious trouble.
Another blast. This time, the impact ruptured a govee tube above the ship’s secondary retty, causing thick poinnooas mist to fill the bridge.
“Faavrogg!” Smith cried out, “See if you can stabilize that asternatium by vogalizing the tyricnal klinbirators!”
“Negative, captain! The third ulogginaucht basin has snapped and I can’t grott the poletination spheres without some sort of virrulaumo retractor!” Faavrogg was in a near panic, a large chunk of sharp yuloplasm embedded in his lower tranjular region.
Captain Smith stared straight ahead. The Tarmo fighter had maneuvered into attack position, its dewentar ray pointed directly at the Nonix’s outer shurt. The attacker’s beguplanktar relegnared the Nonix’s vadeenvedar at the looputanistic werttentrat!
Smith quickly reached for the suicide switch. Better to die a Kullollich’s death than to suffer as a Rylanjulanio, he thought as he flipped it.