“You destroyed my ever-fucking ship!”
Captain Nak Dool of the Black Honey Wings was … well, as far as Drago could tell, given his lack of familiarity with Noro Metak body language, he was about as calm as he’d been since they’d made contact. The simmering verge of explosive rage seemed to be the calmest Dool got. He’d acknowledged their credentials with an official nod transmission that had somehow conspired to sound huffy, and a little while later they’d received a docking clearance for the blister opposite the add-on-encrusted modular at the far end of the damaged starship.
Barducci had had his doubts about docking and meeting with the crew that had briefly been their captors, and even more briefly been their enemies, but the Captain was serenely confident. They’d established their mandate, proven their mettle, and the immediate danger was over. Most importantly, the Noro Metak respected strength. The stupider and more demonstrative, the better. And their ramming stunt had been nothing if not stupid and demonstrative.
On the other hand, Barducci had to concede, they had wrecked up Dool’s ship pretty damn good.
“Come, Captain,” Skelliglyph said expansively. Skell, Barducci, Constable, Melvix and a small group of security officers had boarded the Black Honey Wings, leaving W’Tan and the rest of the senior officers aboard the A-Mod 400. “We barely scratched her.”
Dool, who seemed far more enormous in real life and smelled distinctly of livestock, folded arms as thick as Drago’s thighs. “My relative suppressor is totalled!”
“Your what?” Skell said with exaggerated puzzlement. “I didn’t see anything like that. If I had, I would have been obligated to report it to AstroCorps and this whole sorry mess would just tie us all up in red tape.”
Dool glowered. Nobody could glower like a Noro with a full rack of horns. “You fired stealth torpedoes at us while we were communicating,” he rumbled, “then you used trickery to mask the onset of your ramming approach, and you set off a pulse mine in the middle of our relative engine!”
The Captain, surrounded as he was on all sides by Molranoids, not to mention Dool and Barducci, somehow managed to look like he wasn’t the smallest creature in the room aside from Ital Constable.
“I went off-script,” Çrom Skelliglyph said. “I trust this isn’t a problem.”
Nak Dool stood, arms folded, his blocky armoured shape flanked by two luridly-tattooed Blaren and three enormous Bonshooni, glaring at the mildly-smiling human. The two crews had met in the broad open space around the docking doors, and Barducci had to grant it was a well-set-up area. Plenty of room, no cover … a boarding party would be pretty exposed coming through here, and the walls opposite were blast-armoured and clearly installed with small panels of one-way metaflux shielding in strategic places. Latter-day arrow slots, he thought approvingly. In fact, the whole ship seemed set up more like a corsair rig than anything else.
“You are an odlakka with teeth, Captain!” he roared, and turned slightly side-on. “Come into the Leftovers,” he continued, extending a huge hand in invitation. “It is a little more like a home, and there we can talk.”
Nope, Leftovers was the name of the modular section of Dool’s starship. Dool had no idea what the name might have meant, and had not bothered to rename her after acquiring the Black Honey Wings in as-yet unknown but doubtless questionable circumstances. The two parties crossed the docking area, Dool’s team relaxing and half of them splitting off altogether to return to their duties. Barducci was pleased to note that the A-Mod 400 group remained vigilant.
“Anyway, those weren’t stealth torpedoes,” Skell was continuing modestly as he stepped through the heavy blast door into a similarly-battle-ready corridor beyond. “They were just ablation disc warheads, what we call flounders. With all their guidance systems and running power switched off, they’re difficult to pick out even as space junk. And my supremely talented Chief Tactical Officer threw them at you using a silent propulsion method.”
“Hm,” Dool glanced back and slightly up at Barducci, a feat Drago noted the Noro could only achieve by turning his entire upper body. The vast musculature of his shoulders and back, not to mention the plated uniform, didn’t allow much mobility in the neck. Barducci had long since stopped feeling bad about making these sorts of strategic notations about people. “You are an enormous cunt.”
“On multiple levels, Captain Dool,” Barducci agreed blandly.
Dool swung back to address Skelliglyph, who was strolling along the murder-hole-lined passageway alongside him. “You are an officially licensed and authorised AstroCorps vessel,” the Noro continued loudly. “Why did you not send this proof in your first transmission?”
“Because, as you know perfectly well, you trapped us in a suppressor field and began making demands,” Skell said calmly. “I was not lying, Captain Dool – about any of it. AstroCorps as a matter of policy does not provide data under coercion or intimidation.”
“Why haven’t you given your ship a name?” Dool demanded. “It would prevent such misunderstandings.”
Barducci smiled faintly. Oh yes, they had a set of mission tags, and an official mandate. Their unconventional departure from Aquilar had been necessity, but it hadn’t been theft in any but the most officially-unavoidable way. It was, as Skell had pointed out, a matter of deniability.
Their mission was demonstrable for most levels of bureaucracy and government. But if push came to shove, AstroCorps high command was also able to say they’d busted an enemy of the throne out of prison and fled Pestoria Geo Chrysanthemum in a stolen modular, under heavy fire. That was just the way it went.
“Our modest little Modular was clean off the shelf when we set out,” the Captain said. “A starship, in my experience, lives into a name more often than up to it.”
And what does that even mean? Barducci wondered silently.
They crossed another, slightly less-spacious docking area, and entered the Nope, Leftovers.