“Fire!” she said.
You’re reading Celeste Rising, a SciFi pirate yarn. Find the previous chapter here.
“Ships!” cried Perry as they all froze. “We’re surrounded!”
At this moment, half a dozen men in armour materialised at the back of the bridge, guns ready, aiming at the crew.
Lea spun around, drew her own gun while still turning, and in one fluid motion fired six flashes into the intruders’ bodies before they could even blink. The laser beams went right through them and burned black scars into the panels behind them.
From the speakers around the bridge came an amused snigger.
“Holograms,” said Ayla, putting a hand on Lea’s arm. Lea let the weapon sink.
“Surrender,” the voice said. “We control the ship.”
“You control nothing,” said Ayla. “You’re not even here.”
She looked to Perry. He gestured to her, three fingers up. Three ships. In front of them, the big screen flickered into life, showing the view ahead. It was blocked by the biggest of the three ships, and the other two were waiting a little further back, flanking it.
“We are right here,” the voice said.
All at once, the bridge lights on the Sound of Silence went off and the room lay in darkness, except for the light that came off the big screen, reflecting off their pale faces.
“And we do control the ship you’re on,” the voice continued. “Shall I switch your lights back on?”
They went on again, and Ayla squinted in the sudden brightness.
“We have rigged the ship. We have full control. We could stop the oxygen flow or lower the temperature until you’re frozen where you stand. Do you need more proof?”
Ayla thought for a moment. She glanced at the comm in her hand.
“No,” she said. “We believe you. Who are you?”
“That’s none of your business. We’ll be the ones asking the questions now. Sit down, all of you.”
Ayla and the others sat down in the seats around the bridge. Instinctively each one took the place that reflected their position on their own ship: Perry at the nav controls, Carl at the officer’s post, Lea at the security screens. As Ayla sat down in the captain’s chair, she briefly touched the comm on her wrist with her fingers. They might have cameras watching them, but they didn’t know everything.
She’d have to play this right.
The holograms at the back of the room disappeared, and a new one materialised just an arm’s length away from Ayla’s chair. It was the image of a man, but a man wearing a jackal’s head. It reminded her of images she’d seen in museums, of the ancient gods of Egypt.
“So you are the pirate captain,” the figure said. Like everything on this ship, the holo projector was of exquisite quality, showing a crisp, contrast-rich 3D image, which you could, at a quick glance, take for real, as Lea had done. From so close up, Ayla could see the background shimmering through the figure.
“What do you want from us?”
“Quite an attitude,” said the figure, “from one who just tried to steal our ship. May I remind you that you have no business being on that bridge in the first place.”
“So what? You’re going to hand us over to the Feds?”
“Maybe.” The figure looked at Ayla, mild amusement in his eyes. She could see the eyes of a man behind the jackal’s mask. This wasn’t a computer-generated image. It was a live transmission, most likely from the ship that hung right in the centre of the big screen.
“Why don’t you come over in person?” Ayla said. “Afraid to meet us?”
The figure chuckled. “Be careful what you wish for. We might just do that.”
Yes, thought Ayla. Keep talking. Look at me, just a few minutes longer. She glanced at Carl, who was studying the other ships. No markings, no IDs. They might be spies from Earth, merchants from Titan, pirates from Enceladus, or anything in between.
“What do you want?” she repeated. “You didn’t lock us in here just to say hello.”
“We have a job for you. You will help us to see it done.”
Ayla hadn’t expected that, but she tried to hide her surprise. “A job?”
“We need your help.”
“Why should we help you?”
Ayla glanced at her comm. It was flashing green now. A message from her own ship. Good.
“Because we can have you arrested for piracy. In fact, you are already arrested to all intents and purposes.”
“So you’re government?”
“Again, that’s not your business. Call us the Brotherhood, if you need a name. Obviously, we can call the government forces if we want to. Where would you go? Or we can kill you on the spot and be done with it.”
“I don’t think so,” said Ayla quietly. She looked at her comm.
“Fire!” she said.
When the next chapter has been published, you will find it here.
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