Drago Barducci was not a small or particularly surreptitious man, although he could move quickly and quietly when he needed to. The current situation called more for speed than stealth, however, so he gave only the most fleeting consideration to the strategic non-optimality of being seen by their enemies. He could avoid, but there would be no hiding. Not if he wanted to get out in time.
He was lucky. He kept to corridors that corresponded to little-used ones on their own modular, relying on the similarity of design and lack of customisation, and found his way to a secondary docking area on the blister without encountering any hostiles. There was a certain amount of rearrangement, or at least clutter, throughout the vessel but he managed to cross back into Black Honey Wings proper while avoiding the major traffic areas. The smaller airlock – if you could even call it that, since all its hatches and mechanisms had long since been removed – had a similar no-man’s-land of armoured decking around it but was completely devoid of personnel. Very sloppy.
He charged out into the less-familiar terrain of the larger starship interior, got into another maintenance passageway off the main thoroughfare, and hurtled down the docking spar hidden from the eyes of running troops. And they were troops, he noted on the couple of fleeting occasions he caught a glimpse through a repair hatch or snuck across an access junction. What sort of mercenary band was this? What sort of Noro bucky swore allegiance to the Halfmoon and became Captain of a starship this specialised, and then used it to run his own personal army of bounty hunters?
And then came after them?
Well … okay, that part was understandable enough. Even if the “AstroCorps hanging them out to dry” option was a way more likely outcome than the “AstroCorps admitting to machinations against the throne and declaring war on Aquilar” one, they were something of a catch. And from there, it was easy enough to piece together the rest.
The throne wanted the traitor they’d sprung from jail. When it became clear that there would be no official manhunt, no on-the-books inquest, that AstroCorps would deny everything and the whole thing would be swept under the rug … well, the throne had to get more creative. So there’d been a private bounty called. With its own little clause for deniability, of course. This was why the Halfmoon let Dool become a Captain of a ship this size, against general Noro Metak cultural exchange regulations. A ship this size, with the accessories with which the Black Honey Wings had been equipped and the heavily-armed, if not-spectacularly-trained crew she had on board.
It was just the sort of grey-area pursuit that they should have been expecting from the outset – and indeed, that Barducci had been preparing for. It was just a little unexpected in the uncharted depths of interstellar space when you dropped out of the grey to … do whatever it was their inestimable Captain – and inestimable, on so many levels, was the right word for him – had been planning here, with this ill-fated Fergunakil clipper.
Sadly, this meant there would be no leaving this volume of space for the unfortunate Captain Nak Dool and his people. No spreading the word. It was them or the crew of the A-Mod 400, and Drago was pretty sure that meant it was going to be them.
Barducci was still moodily stirring these thoughts – and still running full-tilt through the maintenance tunnel – when Commander Choya Alapitarius W’Tan turned their ship’s big guns on the Black Honey Wings, and the docking spar erupted behind him in a whispering thunder of Godfire and rushing atmosphere.