Captain Nak Dool was sitting on the floor next to his chair, sporting a twisted neck, dislocated shoulder and broken collarbone courtesy of Commander First Class Gonon Melvix. Horns were an impressive weapon, but they did rather hinge upon sticking your head into your enemy’s body.
The armoured uniform and great slabs of muscle had done nothing whatsoever to prevent the horrifyingly strong Molran from twisting Dool’s upper body like a bundle of wires.
“Captain,” Skelliglyph said calmly. “I believe the time has come for us to level with one another. All this dancing around and smirking benefits nobody.”
“Traitors,” Dool spat.
“That’s an interesting sentiment, coming from a Noro Metak buccaneer,” Çrom said.
“Don’t mistake our kuushon with a lack of commitment,” Dool growled. “I may not have been long in the stars, but I am a loyal servant of the Halfmoon throne.”
“So this really is about the Emperor’s business,” Skell said, eyebrows raised. “What was it you said? An escaped convict?”
“I thought you said no more dancing around and smirking,” the Noro said.
“W’Tan reports they were able to kill the comms between the Leftovers and the Honey Wings,” Drago reported quietly as his whisper token gave a swift series of pulses and Nak Dool glared at Skell, “but we are completely out of time here.”
“We’re not the ship you’re after, Dool,” Skell said with a sigh. “You saw our mandate and our AstroCorps credentials. What we were here for, as I’m pretty sure you know, was to meet up with a Fergunakil fast-clipper out of Coriel. He had information for us. You got in a fight with him, and you won. Now, it’s pretty likely he started shooting at you as soon as you got close because … well, because he was a Fergie and he was charged with contacting a modular with a very specific call sign, not this big messy ship of yours. So he fired on you, and yes, you won. We have no problem with any of that. We don’t even care that you fed him to us,” Skell leaned over. “But if you got his meat, and this rendezvous location, that means you got his ship more or less intact. Where is it?”
Dool rumbled menacingly. “Oong’a fatung, odlakka,” he snarled.
“We don’t have time for this,” Skell said. “Constable, kill the Bonshoon with the laser holes.”
“Copy,” Ital said, taking the pug from Blue Persephone.
“You’re AstroCorps,” Dool growled, as Constable turned the blaster back to its maximum setting, “your regulations will not allow a bluff of this-”
Ital shot the curled Bonshoon in the head.
“Sorry to say,” Çrom said as the Noro stared, “that Fergie was also operating under an AstroCorps charter. When you killed and fried him up, you became an enemy of AstroCorps. And we don’t have time to dick around with a Fairy Mary outfit of mercenaries like you. The clipper. Do you have it?”
“Yes,” Dool mumbled. “We crippled it and brought it into the Black Honey Wings’s main hold. The shark was dead. Shock damage.”
“Ship full of water,” Skell said, “they can go fast and decelerate hard, but they do tend to be vulnerable to concussive weapons,” he turned to Drago. “Main hold,” he said.
“On it,” Drago said, “just waiting on W’Tan to send-”
“You fools,” Dool growled.
“Captain?” Skell said politely.
“You are the ship we were looking for,” Dool growled. “How did you think we found you out here?”
“I was rather hoping you’d hit the clipper at its starting point,” Çrom said, “like I said in my clever little assumption-filled summary a few seconds ago, and then used the coordinates on its navigation computer to get to this location,” he sighed. “That’s not what happened?”
“The shark gave us your location and we’ve been waiting for you ever since,” Dool said, “but your credentials confirmed that you were the ones we were hunting.”
Skell straightened, ran a hand through his hair, and sighed again. “Damn it,” he said, with feeling. “You’re really in the employment of the throne?”
“We are private contractors,” Dool said. “We are loyal to the throne. And you – dutiful, noble, righteous AstroCorps – you are harbouring an enemy of the throne, and you helped that enemy escape the throne, and when we prove this, prove that you have this person and that you acted with whispered AstroCorps sanction, it will prove once and for all that AstroCorps is an enemy of the throne. And if AstroCorps leaves you in the path of the storm, you will face that storm. Alone. Captain.”
Drago and Skell locked gazes for a moment, while Captain Nak Dool killed himself and his entire crew.
The whisper pulsed in Barducci’s hand again.
“W’Tan says they’re ready,” Drago relayed to Skelliglyph. “She also says she’s looking forward to hearing about why we weren’t told we were rendezvousing with a Fergie clipper out here, because that will be a really exciting and twist-filled story.”
“Your little buzzer says all that?” Skell asked, sounding impressed.
“No,” Barducci admitted, “I’m just reading between the lines on that last bit.”
“Alright,” Çrom said. “Okay,” he hesitated.
“Captain,” Drago prompted.
Skell looked up. “What’s kuushon?”
“Freshness,” Melvix supplied, “inexperience. The quality of being a new arrival or member of something. The Noro Metak are beginners out here, Commander.”
“I figured. And ooger fat ‘un?”
“Oong’a fatung,” Melvix corrected. “You probably don’t want to know.”
“Aw, come on,” Çrom cajoled. “I love a good insult.”
Drago stepped out of the room. He had less than five minutes, he calculated, to get off the Nope, Leftovers and down the docking spar to the Black Honey Wings proper, before W’Tan blew the spar to kingdom come. The two docked modulars would then float free, and what happened to the people in the Leftovers would very much depend on how dilapidated the ship was. The A-Mod 400’s ability to hold its own against the remains of the Black Honey Wings, likewise, would depend on Commander W’Tan and the modular’s effectiveness in breaking from dock. She was almost certainly locked to the Black Honey Wings in hostile-boarded configuration, but they had countermeasures for that. Just had to hope Dool’s people hadn’t been outfitted with better gear. Once the spar was blown, however, Barducci would be on his own on the main ship, and – with any luck – her crew would have no idea he was there.
He broke into a run.
Behind him, the gunfire and screams ended before he was out of the dome.