Tools of the Trade 4

Tools of the Trade Chapter Four

“Pleasure Dome my ass!” once corporal now Sergeant grade level 6, Audie Madry said in near shock at the condition of the chartered freighters cargo bay. Rust, grease, grime, and innumerable other signs of years, no decades, of neglect affronted her sense of how a machine, any machine, should be cared for. The orbital shuttle was sealing back up and they would need to clear out before the doors could recycle and the craft make its exit. The ships own lander off in the corner of the bay with a drive unit pulled and parts littering the deck around it were just further confirmation.

“My dear departed mother had a word for people who treated their property like the owners and crew have taken care of this here ship. She called them . . .”

But before Audie could finish, “I’m sure she did sergeant,” Melbourne interrupted, “and you may speak of it to those interested later. Right now though– -Single File And Clear The Bay! Follow the purser and tie down your gear and strap in where she tells you. The Pleasure Dome leaves orbit in ten minutes and if anyone gets injured or equipment is damaged there will be cause for unpleasantness we will all regret, but especially those responsible.”

The purser pointed towards a lock and hatch leading to the rear of the vessel. When Madry and the rest of the enlisted reached the hold set up to house the company for the voyage to Ophia, it looked and smelled like its most recent use had been hauling livestock. Not being with the rest of the company, Connie followed one of the ships officers through a hatch leading forwards.

The passenger staterooms that Captain Calvert and she had been assigned, due to their rank and status were hardly in better condition than the docking bay. Connie stowed her personal gear in the chest permanently bolted to the bulkhead and stretched out on top of the thin, threadbare cover over the equally thin mattress pad. Nothing for it. She then belted the webbing above her knees and across her rib cage. Fat lot of could that would do if this thing decided to do what by all appearances was just a matter of time. Nothing for that either and a scant few minutes later she congratulated herself on surviving another translation into hyper. After the all clear she spent a few moments freshening up and then it was time to meet the rest of the passengers.

* * *
Down in the hold Sgt Davis had his own agenda. “People, see those buckets and mops in the corner over there? Well each and every one of us is gonna grab one of each, and by the time we’re done, and we got two weeks to do it in, this place is gonna be clean enough to impress even me.” There was an awful lot of grumbling at first but as it became obvious that Sgt. Bobby Davis was going to be working right along with them. The improvement in just a few hours was nothing less than profound. Twenty four hours later they could still smell the disinfectant but that was the worst of it.

“Ain’t we gonna paint it now?” PFC. Loomis said, while looking at the improvement and wishing for more as the rest of the company held their breath in horror, imagining how Davis was going to react.

“Loomis are you inherently defective or merely a clueless simpleton.”

“Sir! Which ever you say Sir!”

“Loomis, that is just proof that you are in fact mentally defective. Call me Sir one more time and you will need an enema to find your head. So, if I can rustle up some paint the rest of us can watch you work and make our own determination. But first why don‘t you take up your mop and report to the Exec and see if she or the Captain might need some help in getting their areas in shape.” And with that the others were able to breathe again.

* * *
Rashid Mohamed Kalid watched from the bridge of the Battle Cruiser Sword of the Prophet as the drive of the tramp freighter Carpathian lit off and she rapidly became a small bright dot in the display. If not for the recognition codes along side here she would have been indistinguishable from the myriad of stars she vanished amidst.

It pained him to deal with such infidels, but the time would come when instead of stealth the Caliphate would use overwhelming force, guided by the righteousness of Allah to squash the unfaithful.

The armament of the Carpathian was woefully weak when compared to that of a Battle Cruiser or for that matter any purpose built warship, but the infidel Settles had shown much skill, or perhaps it was blind luck, in his target selection and so he would continue to be supplied and armed until he guessed wrong and bit into something he couldn‘t swallow. It was only commerce raiding but Kalid wished he were doing as much instead of merely picketing the outer reaches of the Bane system, making deliveries, and waiting for the real war to begin.

* * *
Colonel Basil Ramseyer led the largest group of mercenaries embarked on the Pleasure Dome. He commanded an honest battalion sized unit of near six hundred strong. He was from the Indie world New Britain and wasn’t about to let anyone forget it. From his thin, pencil sharp mustache, to the razor sharp creases of his uniform all was neat, orderly, proper, and well– -British. Or as it once had been if the histories were to be believed. He was sipping a gin and tonic; genuine Bombay said the label when Wes got a closer look a little later. That couldn’t be possible, or could it?

Wes and Connie had gone directly to the ships lounge rather than wait for their personal gear in the assigned staterooms. The Colonel raised his glass in a toast inviting them to his table. “Melbourne and Calvert I do believe, and I am Ramseyer, Basil to friends when off duty. Captain Settles was kind enough to pass on your names while we watched your shuttle dock. Quite a sight don’t’cha know. Here have a seat and I’ll pour you a drop, just the thing eh?”

In stark contrast stood the other mercenary leader Rafael Zavala and all of those in his party. Equally noticeable but with a flashy presence rather than refined propriety. Whatever else could be said about stereotypes they certainly seemed to fit more often than not.

Zavala was a Private Military Contractor with nearly four hundred in his employment. He specialized in anti-guerrilla warfare the same kind of thing Calvert had signed on for but the level of experience was vastly in Zavala’s favor as was the reputation and unit size. Though in many circles, favorable wasn‘t quite the word that applied to his reputation. He seemed to always accomplish his military duties with maximum speed and minimum loss of life to his command. But on at least two occasions that Wes was aware of, civilians in his area of operation had protested his methods and the collateral damage they had incurred.

ll in all an interesting evening, the first of many.

* * *
Wesley was studying terrain maps and months old situation reports, which were the sum total of current Ophian news, when the warning blared out from the ships speaker system. “All passengers and personnel, belt in now! We will be leaving hyper in one minute! This is not a drill! There is an armed vessel within energy weapon range and we have been ordered to return to normal space or face immediate destruction. Belt in now! Forty-five seconds to translation! This is not a drill!”

Calvert was out the door and into Lt. Melbourne’s room in a flash. He threw himself next to her before she had fastened the straps, a tight fit that was, and said, “I don’t fancy being taken captive either for ransom or to spend the rest of my young life in a retraining battalion on some misbegotten Caliphate planet, so lets you and I start making plans on how to avoid that.”

Connie looked at him from scant inches away and said, “That would be my recommended course of action also Wes. Oh, and glad you could find the time to stop by.”

* * *
As they rushed through the lounge Col. Ramseyer was cursing the standard procedure used by all merchant shipping in order to prevent ‘pilferage’. His battalion’s weapons were all safely stored in the sealed cargo bays having no interior connection to the rest of the ship. Rafael Zavala was inspecting his side arm and sipping a drink and to all outward appearances unconcerned. Col Ramseyer said to him, “Blasted nuisance eh? But surely you don’t expect that pistol will be of much use Zavala?”

One never knows Colonel does one?”

elbourne continued on to the Pleasure Dome’s command deck while Wes seeing that Nevier was missing went off to find him.

* * *

When Connie got admitted to the bridge after a bit of rather extreme invective, Captain Settles was facing and talking into a blank holographic display, only voice being sent or received. “We have complied with your instructions and the crew and passenger manifest along with the bill of lading will be sent immediately.” He reached towards the transmit button.

“Captain,” Connie said, interrupting him, and grabbing hold of Settles’s wrist, “Damn systems acting up again. It won’t dump; it’ll be back on line in a couple of minutes.” Connie said that in a voice she hoped sounded like a worried member of the crew. She pointed to the volume slider and made a downward motion.

ettles’s killed the volume and then said. “What’s this,” and then turning towards her, and seeing the pistol she had pointed squarely between his eyes blanched and blurted, “Oh!” and thinking much faster than she would have given him credit for he turned the sound back up and said, “Well be snappy about it. This is certainly no time for delay.”

Just then Madry burst in and shoving the systems officer from his station began massaging the data to be sent as the Captain explained to the voice at the other end of the com link that he would send everything asked for as soon as possible. Connie figured Calvert must have sent her, how else could Madry have known?

In Russo’s room at just that moment Wesley was saying to the shaken Nevier, “Russo, that Letter of Marque you offered but we turned down due to lack of funds and no possibility of implementation, let’s take another look. We might be able to do something with it after all.”

Russo, who had obviously had been considering his options, and equally obviously had yet to find one that was even remotely satisfactory, wasted no time in pulling up a copy from his data set. Calvert signed without even rereading it and just as rapidly Nevier added his signature in acceptance, as both agent for Calvert and representative of Ophia.

“Ready to send ma’am,” Madry said with a barely audible sigh of relief.

Ok, Captain, you can send it off now,” Melbourne said lowering the pistol. And with a sigh even more heartfelt then Madry’s Settles hit the transmit button and the edited manifest was on its way

* * *
“I don’t like it, not a bit!” Jakko Cairn the second in command of the Carpathian said after viewing the manifest. “They have almost a thousand mercs on board that ship and we’re gonna send what, nine or ten men over to crew her for the run to Jubilee.”

Lester Raymond, the Carp’s captain replied, “Think of the capture bounty on top of the prize money Jakko. We’ll give em food and water and lock em in the holds and then weld the doors shut. That’ll hold them for the two and a half weeks to Jubilee and with all of their weapons sealed off and the Carp sitting ready to punch holes through their drive at the slightest hint of resistance. Why they’d have to be fools to offer any kind of struggle.”

“Into the suits and out the locks,” Sgt Davis said, pointing at the dull gray vacuum suits hanging against the bulkhead. They weren’t the armored and augmented military suits he had used a time or two, and a good thing Davis thought, far less chance for someone out of practice to do something wrong and screw things up. “The Captains gonna be here in a minute and we don’t want to keep him waiting. It’s do unto them time”

Davis, Higgins, Madry, and Pilchard and the four other members of the unit that had at sometime in their previous military history undergone any type of suit training were about ready when Calvert got there and suited up himself. Calvert’s training had consisted of a few days spent in orbit while in school on Cardoman and compared to the others, except for Davis and Pilchard, who each had spent time serving onboard ships in the past; that made him an expert.

The lock they exited from was on the opposite side of the Dome from where the Carpathian lay and the hope was that even when approaching the docking hatch, and once they came into full view of the pirates sensors, the suits would blend in well enough with the ships hull that their small presence would not be noticed even if someone was watching closely.

They literally crept on hands and knees relying on the magnetic attraction between the pads on the suits and the metal of the ships hull to keep them from drifting away. With the main group still out of sight of the pirate vessel Davis stuck his head out from behind a navigation pods stanchion and watched as the Carpathian’s shuttle reached the Dome, and after pausing briefly, examining it from close range, entered the docking bay. He gave the signal and Wes along with the rest continued on to the man lock located next to the docking bays now sealed hatch.

“Open her up Madry, and if you can handle it make sure no signal shows up inside in either the docking space or at ships control,” Wes instructed.

Madry gave a thumbs up in a few seconds and had the control panel opened and was comparing the wiring inside to the schematic being shown by her helmet display. A few second more and the thick door came forwards and moved upwards propelled on its articulated track. When all were inside, Madry caused the outer lock door to close while Wes peered through the armored glass window into the docking bay. The last of those leaving the Carpathian’s boat were now exiting the compartment. One of the suited crew was left at the hatch leading into the ship and Wes had to figure one or more were still inside the shuttle. But at least the shuttle’s hatch hadn‘t been closed.

“Davis and Higgins, take the guy at the hatch leading into the ship, Pilchard, Madry, we go into the shuttle. The rest wait here till we’re done.”

Without any reason to suspect an attack from behind, or look in that direction Davis headed rapidly and silently towards the unsuspecting guard. As they reached him, Higgins using Davis as a pivot, abruptly spun in a half circle, then with the butt of his rifle sent a blow into the mans solar plexus followed immediately by another to the chest which sent him silently collapsing to the deck.

In the same period of time Wes covered the shorter distance to the 20 meter long auxiliary craft he had entered and was watching the pilot turn towards him—Rifle leveled. Wesley said with all the menace he could command, “If you so much as move a muscle or say a word it’ll be the last thing you ever do in this life.”

The pilot froze and Wes called for Pilchard and Madry. Pilchard approached, showed the man a small package, and then glued it in place on the back of his head. “One hundred grams of Octal and this is the detonator,” he said handing the device to Madry.

“If anyone even suspects there is a problem here. Make no mistake; you will be the first to know.”
Wes then added, “When anyone either from this ship or from your own says anything at all, you just respond as like we were never hear. Got it?” The pirate nodded. Calvert and Pilchard left leaving Madry to stay aboard and watch him. Sgt. Madry thought to herself that she would be mighty close to the center of destruction if 100 grams of Octal were to go off any time soon. Maybe five or ten grams would have been enough.

Those who had remained in the outer lock now went over and waited while Higgins donned the unconscious mans suit. “Drag the body back into the air lock Private Jameson,” Wes commanded, “We’ll be along directly.”

Wes sent Davis out into the corridor to summon the rest of their squad waiting in concealment a hundred meter away inside of a stores locker. A ship the size of the pleasure Dome was just too large to be searched by a handful. It was ultimately the threat of irreparable damage from the Carpathians weapons and not the welding of the holds that would permit so few to take control and Wes had counted on the pirates going forwards to the control and passenger areas immediately after boarding.

“Ok Higgins when the people they sent aboard that are going to return to the pirate ship get back here, if anyone tries to com you do one of these numbers.” Wes opened and closed his gloved hand as if a puppet were trying to speak and shook it back and forth sideways in negation then pointing at the button of the helmet antenna. “Make sure you’re last back onto the shuttle and when the rest are in their seats with helmets off Madry will see it from the control cabin and pass us the word.

The whole thing had gone much more smoothly than Jakko Cairn had imagined was possible, sure everyone on the Pleasure Dome was acting nervously but that came as no surprise. The only discordant notes were the report of a neatly made up, squad sized compartment with no one inside. When asked about it one of the crew said it had been occupied by a group of NCO’s who went to be with their units.

It took near three hours total until all of the passengers and all but four members of the crew had been welded into storage for the rest of the voyage and he was ready to head back to the Carp. Plenty of time for those left on board to do a thorough search of the 80,000 ton vessel while underway. When Cairns made it back to the docking bay he was surprised to see that Blinker, the shuttles copilot and the man left guarding the docking bay’s inner hatch, still wore his helmet. The shuttle’s pilot had said the guy’s radio was out. Much better adherence to procedure than expected.

As Jakko and the other four returning crew members went back on board the small transfer vehicle he glanced over his shoulder and saw Blinker closing the hatch leading into the Pleasure Dome and then follow them to the shuttle. He did seem a little slow though as he fumbled at the control to raise and seal up the boats hatch. And then the reason was apparent as twenty some armed soldiers, some in work suits came rushing up the short ramp with weapons leveled.

Audie had briefed the pilot in detail, maybe threatened the pilot in detail was a better way of putting it, concerning his expected course of action and soon, with none onboard the pirate ship the wiser, they were outside the Dome and on their way back to the Carpathian.

“How’s it look to you now Sgt. Davis?” asked Calvert.

“Well Sir to tell you the truth when we started out I was figuring maybe one chance in fifty. By now I’d say we have moved it way up. . . Say to almost one in ten. If they get much better we might have ourselves a Poker game.”

“That’s the spirit.”

The wait while the pirates secured the Dome had seemed interminable but the 20 kilometer trip over to the Carpathian with the ships guns pointed directly at them seemed even longer and cycling inside released a lot of tension. Madry stayed with the pilot making sure he did nothing to give warning. There were of course codes of omission, if you don’t say this word I will know something is wrong, kind of thing. But Madry let him know that the package behind his head didn’t come off of his head until the Carpathian was captured.
There was no one in the Carps docking bay to offer resistance as they spread out in teams still undetected to take the ship. Ten minutes and two dead pirates later, the ones manning the only two active weapons platforms, and it had been accomplished with Wesley was on the bridge looking at a shaken Lester Raymond.

“Signal your men on the Pleasure Dome Captain and let them know she’s changed hands again.”

Along with the surprise factor the reason everything had gone so smoothly aboard was that the ship was almost deserted, or it least so it seemed. Only five had been left behind while the others went to the Dome. The ships already taken as prizes had used up most of her original compliment and after leaving a few more on the Dome the Carpathian would need to return to wherever its base was for more prize crews before it could continue its depredations. From Calvert’s position that was all to the good.

At 60,000 tons she was smaller than the Pleasure Dome though toughly the same age, late second generation, with the kind of upgrades one would expect. One of her guns was actually just that, a 125mm projectile cannon, old technology but against thin skinned merchants very cost effective. The other three were auto reloading missile launchers. Compared to a real warship insignificant but compared to an unarmed merchantman more than enough.

The Carp did carry one electronic system normally found only on war ships, a wake detector. It was a clumsy inelegant device. One needed to be in hyper to use it and its range was limited. But if the destination of a vessel was known and an expected time of departure or arrival, a ship could station itself in the proper position, at either the beginning or ending of a voyage. If it got everything right and entered hyper itself at the right time it could detect and track the other ship and if it had the speed advantage adjust course to overtake it.

The easiest point for detection was always at the beginning of a trip, especially if the tracking ship could stay out system and watch the prey depart. Then luck kicked in. The attacking ship would generally need to be some distance away so that the targets sensors didn’t detect it. No captain was foolish enough to enter hyper with an unknown and possibly hostile ship in tracking range. And if you waited till the target was detected by your normal space sensors, which only acted at the speed of light, entering hyper, the time lag was so great as to permit any ship to move well beyond the detection limit of a wake sensor. So one needed to guess to within a couple of minutes or so of when the ship was going to enter hyper. This time the Carp thought she had hit the jackpot.

Leaving most of his men onboard the Carp to do as much of a search as time would let them, Wes had Captain Raymond and the other two survivors from the ships crew accompany him back to the Pleasure Dome.

* * *
Russo was counting up the change when they returned from the capture of the Carpathian. “A splendid piece of work, and to think the letter of marque makes me the prize agent. Captain Settles was apoplectic when I told him you were the new owner of the Pleasure Dome. But when he calmed down he could see that it wasn‘t how long the pirates were in control of his ship but the mere fact they had been in control that would guide a prize court. Two ships taken in less than half an hour; that must be some kind of a record. When we sell you are going to be a rich man Captain Calvert!”

“I’m not so sure we want to sell,” was Wesley’s reply.

“What do you mean? We gotta sell it! Only governments or corporations holding charters from planetary governments are allowed to own interstellar craft, no one owns their own and especially if it’s armed. You would be a target for the Confederation and any Indie warship as well as the Caliphate if you don’t sell. We can all be rich here. I am sure there would be no problem in buying out your contract from Ophia, and imagine the waste of not being able to experience your new found wealth.” His expression still showed disbelief that anyone might even entertain an alternative plan.

“We’ll deal with it later,” was all that Wes would commit to. “In any case I want to give Cardoman the first shot at purchase of the Carpathian. My planet doesn’t own one ship of her own and it’s high time she did.”

“But really Calvert, this needs to go to the highest bidder in a regular prize court.”

“Check the contract again Russo, you are indeed the agent and you’ll get your percentage no matter what, but I, so long as the company approves, I get to select the ultimate purchaser for both ships.”

* * *
“So as you can see Captain Raymond your options are severely limited,” Wes concluded after explaining what he had in mind. “I need help in crewing both ships and you need help in staying alive. And it‘s only the fact that we were able to determine from the Carp’s database that no lives were lost on the other three ships you captured during the two years you‘ve been conducting operations that let‘s me make any offer at all. We could after all just put the Carp into an out-system parking orbit with a caretaker crew on board and then send up a crew from Ophia if we can get one. If not we will be able to send one back from Llanfairn when the Pleasure Dome gets finally gets there.”

And so the deal was done. The Dome’s first officer and a few of that ships crew would take command of the Carp and Raymond and his entire crew but for one or two would transfer over to the Pleasure Dome; those judged most reliable taking over for the Dome’s missing crewmen and the rest kept in lock down. There they would pose no danger whatsoever unarmed and on a ship carrying a thousand mercenary soldiers. Madry, Pilchard and most of the rest of Calvert’s people would transfer into the captured ship to learn as much about its systems as they could and of course to insure that those few of the Carp’s original crew did not try anything rash.

“When we reach Ophia we’ll see what happens next and since I have been acting under my authority under the Ophian letter of marque rather than my military commission I am free to dispose of you as I see fit. But at a minimum you and your officers will be provided with passage off planet providing that they each choose a different ship and destination. The rest will have to make do but as I am sure you’re aware of there’s a lot of hiring being done by the Ophian military right now.”

“Of course I accept your offer,“ Raymond said in resignation, “but what makes you so sure that you can claim you were acting under the authority of the letter of marque instead your commission? And that doesn’t the commission require you to turn everything over to the Ophian government?”

“That is one interpretation of what might meet with appropriate legal strictures, however after a bit of research I have come to a different appreciation of the controlling authorities. And after all, if the subject isn’t broached, and it certainly wouldn’t be in your interest to do so, I think possession will remain nine tenths of the law.”