Day 12. 54 pages, 23,969 words.
It ended up taking him a couple of minutes, and even Barducci’s lung capacity wasn’t that great. He was forced to take a few shallow, retch-inducing breaths inside the clipper before rolling out of the hole the bounty hunters had cut in its belly. He had the main computer core, a sodden cylinder like a big uncooked sausage, stuffed into the back of his belt because he was damned if he was going to face any of his team – let alone his intrepid Captain – with it stuffed into the front. Not that the back was much better.
The good thing about Fergunak technology was that a lot of it had biological components, and biotech was easy to rip out. The unfortunate thing about it, aside from the fact that there was no inoffensive way to secure it about your person, was that it was squishy, and slimy, and it stank. On top of the physical unpleasantness, Fergunak often slipped lethal – and very hard to trace – security measures into their data, so it was a delicate process getting anything out of them. It would take some work to get information off the processing tube, especially since they didn’t have access to a synthetic intelligence, but it would still be easier than trying to pry out whatever information the Black Honey Wings computer had taken from the clipper.
Next step was getting back to his cosy little modular.
Nobody had come into the main hold while he was rooting around in the Fergie ship, even with the fight he’d taken part in just outside. The A-Mod 400 was clearly doing a decent job keeping them all distracted. The question was how he was going to get back on board before she did critical damage to whatever part of the Black Honey Wings he happened to be in. The main hold, with its big cargo airlock the only thing separating him from vacuum, was probably the worst of many bad alternatives. It wasn’t necessarily a critical weakness in the starship, so it wasn’t necessarily a priority, but it could be used as a fighter launch bay by the defenders, and it was a tempting spot for attackers to fire through and attempt to hit systems deeper inside the ship. So it was a strategically viable target.
The question he had to answer to his own satisfaction – very, very quickly – was whether his crew would have reunited with the A-Mod 400 yet, in which case they’d be considering extraction options for the information they’d come aboard to retrieve. The information, and the hapless Chief Tactical Officer who had the information stuffed in his belt. Or if W’Tan was still operating on her own over there, in which case she’d know he was headed to the main hold but not that he had achieved his goal and was looking for a way out. He could only transmit so much to the bridge with his little pulser, especially once the dogfight began in earnest. Protocol required that she conclude the conflict with the compromised yet superior enemy starship without undue consideration for single crewmembers in harm’s way. And Choya Alapitarius W’Tan would stick to protocol.
Molren, he thought with a wry grimace. I told Skell it was a stupid idea to put one in the command group.
Still, if he had to bet his life on one thing other than Molren being sticklers for procedure, he’d bet it on Çrom Skelliglyph making it out of the Nope, Leftovers and back onto the bridge of the A-Mod 400. But he couldn’t make the assumption that they would risk everything on a crash-dock for him, and he knew they’d know he wouldn’t.
Indeed, they’d trust him to do the only thing he could do in this situation. Which, much as he hated to admit it, was essentially what combat protocol suggested anyway, because the protocols were ultimately designed by a sane – albeit disturbingly aggressive – person. Primary goal achieved, he had to get into the Black Honey Wings’s systems and do what he could from within to help the A-Mod 400 to win her fight.
He jogged away towards the access doors, the Fergie processing tube flapping obscenely against his lower back.