Friday, January 31, 2014

Scout's Duty - Chapter 51

< Chapter 50                                                                                                   Chapter 52 >
Wounded, our hero can only sit and wait as Martin leads the marines against the pirates!

"You need a medic, sir," one of the marines said, pointing at my shoulder.

"Of course," I said.

I pushed off from the bulkhead I'd been bracing myself against and would have landed face-first on the deck if Megan and the blond hadn't caught me.  I'd lost more blood than I'd thought.

"Thank you, um-?" I said to the blond.


"Thank you, Laura.  I'm going to assign a couple of marines to guard your compartment until this is over.  Can you turn on the translator so my people can talk to you?"

A marine took her place propping me up as Laura stepped over to the communications station and flipped some switches.  "That should do it."

A second later, a translation came from the ship's intercom.

I switched to Mordanian.  "Megan, this is Laura.  I'd like you to be a liaison between my men and Laura's women."

"They're the allies who helped you?"  When I nodded, she continued, "That ought to make an interesting verse in my song!  What will Her Highness think?"

Laura smiled at the translation.  "You can assure the princess that her paramour was a perfect gentleman."

Megan frowned.  "He's her husband, not her paramour."

Laura's eyebrows shot up.  "But Caudill-"

"Jumped to an incorrect conclusion," I interrupted.  "Rupor and Callan played along so  they could get Orrons off my chest.  Literally."

We reached the hatch to the ladies' compartment.  I assigned guards and promised to send more appropriate clothing as soon as possible.  Closer to the airlock, we met more marines boarding the ship.  We directed them toward the fighting before exiting into dazzling late afternoon sunlight.

A medic rushed toward me, followed by Callan.  After a quick examination, he said, "He needs a skilled surgeon, Your Highness.  The sword nicked an artery!”

Tristan, a gifted surgeon, is in the hands of the pirates.  Can Martin and the marines free him in time to save our hero?  Find out in Chapter 52, coming Monday!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Scout's Duty - Chapter 50

< Chapter 49                                                                                                   Chapter 51 >
Just as our heroes appear to have taken control of the bridge, they hear the pounding of many feet charging down the corridor!

The three pirates grinned at the sound of what they were sure could only be reinforcements.  Confident Martin's attention was diverted, one of them reached for his sword.  One of Martin's swords changed direction.  With a howl of pain, the pirate pulled his hand back minus the tip of its middle finger.

"Help me get back up," I said to Megan, who had just helped me sit down.  "I need to be ready to fight."

"Can't you just shut the door?" she asked.

"No.  Some allies have taken over the door controls.  They'd-"  I stopped speaking as a thought struck me.

"They'd what?"

"They can see the passageway and control the door," I mused.  "Why didn't they shut the door?"

"You're asking the wrong person," Megan said.

She was right.  Raising my voice, I shouted in Mordanian, "This is Captain Rice.  Who approaches?"

The reply was clear and strong and among the most beautiful I'd ever heard.  "Marines from Her Highness's flagship, sir!"

Seconds later, a dozen Mordanian marines crowded into the bridge while several dozen more stood in the passage.  Beside the marine commander, looking woefully out of place among the heavily armed men, was the petite blond woman from the room down the passageway.

The commander saluted.  "This young woman was most adamant we follow her."

"I'm glad you did.  But now that you're here, we've got to find Rupor and his men."

"Oh hell no, David!" Martin said.  "You have to see a medic.  I will go with the marines."

"I'd have worded it differently, sir," the commander said, "but I must agree with Mr. Bane."

The commander detached four marines to help me, then he and Martin led the Marines aft in search of Rupor.  I could do nothing more but wait for news.

Will Martin and the Marines find Rupor and defeat the pirates?  Find out more in Chapter 51, coming Friday!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Scout's Duty - Chapter 49

< Chapter 48                                                                                                   Chapter 50 >
Our hero has been stabbed in the shoulder!

Pain exploded as the pirate's sword grated against my shoulder blade and my left arm dropped to my side, useless.  My balance thrown off, I swung my sword wildly across the attacks of the other two pirates.  As much by luck as skill, I beat aside both attacks with the single parry.  But I had also left myself open to attacks by all three pirates!

The pirate to my left grinned and started to lean into his blade still sticking into my shoulder.  In a surprise move, the pirate withdrew his sword from my shoulder.  Then I realized the pirate was no less surprised than me!  He rose off the deck and flew across the bridge, crashing into the two pirates not yet in the fight but who were moving in on me.

Moving almost too fast to focus on, Martin Bane flowed past me, his mouth stretched in a feral grin.  "Megan, help David sit down before he falls down!"

The other two pirates had been bringing their swords to bear on me, looking for killing blows.  In an instant, I was forgotten as they turned to face this new threat.  But Martin was too fast, sliding in between them and slamming their heads together.  With a dull crack, both men dropped to the floor, senseless.

Scooping up their two swords, Martin advanced on the remaining pirates.  They were struggling to their feet as Martin began swinging his swords in a dizzying pattern.  The swords moved so fast you could actually hear them cutting through the air!

The pirates' eyes widened and Martin said, "I can kill or capture.  It matters not to me, but maybe it does to you three!"

Three swords clattered to the deck.

In the sudden silence, I heard many feet charging toward the bridge!

Have the pirates dealt with Rupor’s small boarding party and are now on their way to deal with our hero?  Find out in Chapter 50, coming Wednesday!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Scout's Duty - Chapter 48

< Chapter 47                                                                                                   Chapter 49 >
Our hero charges down the corridor toward the closed hatch to the bridge!

The hatch to the bridge loomed large as I sped down the passageway.  My brain began yelling for me to stop before I slammed into the hatch.  Then the hatch slid aside and I burst onto the bridge.

Half a dozen pirates were directing the defense of the ship against Rupor and his boarding party.  Across the compartment, one more pirate stood guard over Martin and Megan.  Martin's hands were bound behind him, but Megan's hands were free.  The pirates must not have considered her to be a threat.

The closest pirate looked up at the sound of the hatch sliding open.  I swung my sword, slashing his throat as I charged past.  He collapsed to the deck, gurgling.  The remaining pirates stared at me in shocked disbelief.  Their hesitation only lasted for a second, but that was all I needed to cross the compartment.

I slammed into the pirate guarding Martin, driving my sword up into his chest and out his back.  Yanking the sword free, I dropped the laser pistol in Megan's lap.

"Free Martin.  I'm going to need his help real soon!"

Shouting in rage, the pirates drew their swords and converged on me.  At least one of my gambles had paid off.  The bridge was so packed with vital instruments that the pirates weren't willing to use their lasers.  I'd have felt more confident if I could have Boosted, too, but you can't have everything.

I moved away from Martin and Megan, drawing the pirates' attention with me.  Two of them came at me simultaneously, one from the right and one from ahead of me.  My sword flashed as I parried their thrusts, but I couldn't mount an attack.  Then a third pirate joined the fight and I felt cold steel plunge into my left shoulder!

Is this the beginning of the end for our hero?  Find out in Chapter 49, coming Monday!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Scout's Duty - Chapter 47

< Chapter 46                                                                                                   Chapter 48 >
The women on the pirate ship have agreed to help our hero if he goes to the pirate base and helps them rescue their husbands!

I shook my head.  "I don't have a working spaceship.  I wish there was something I could do but..."

"You know, all you had to do was tell us you'd do it and we wouldn't have known the difference until it was too late," the blond said.

My face must have given away my opinion of that course of action.

From among the gathered women, one said, "A scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful..."

Another added, "On my honor I will do my best to do my duty..."

The blond shook her head, a smile tugging at her lips.  "Are there any more men like you at home?"

"Which home?" I responded.  "I don't know about Terra, but on this planet there are whole armies like me."

"Good, we're going to need men like that to rescue our husbands!"

"But I just told you-"

The blond reached up and patted my cheek.  "Don't worry your handsome head over that.  If you can take this spaceship, we'll make her fly again!"

There was more to their story, but I could get the rest later -- after the pirates had been dealt with.  I said, "You've got a deal!  What I need most right now is to get to the bridge unseen."

"Already got that covered," called the woman at the vid station.  "I've been overriding the cameras in that passageway since you came aboard.  All they've seen outside the bridge is an empty passageway."

"Um, thanks."  I thought furiously for a second.  "Can you open the hatch to the bridge from here?"

Fingers danced over the makeshift control panel.  "I can now."

"Good.  Open it just before I reach it."

Opening the hatch behind, me I slipped into the passage.  Sword and laser at the ready, I charged full speed toward the bridge!

Will our hero face plant on the bridge hatch?  And, if he doesn't, what will he find on the pirate ship bridge?  Find out in Chapter 48, coming Friday!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Scout's Duty - Chapter 46

< Chapter 45                                                                                                   Chapter 47 >
Our hero is about to be discovered by the pirates!

The pounding of pirate footsteps grew louder and louder.  I raised the laser pistol I'd taken from Caudill's body and readied my sword.  So much for having the element of surprise when I reached the bridge!

With a soft sigh, the hatch behind me slid open and hands dragged me into the compartment!  I spun, sword raised to strike, as the hatch sighed shut again.  A single finger pressed against my lips.


A pretty, petite blond stood before me.  To one side of her stood a lovely brunette.  To the other, a stunning redhead.  Beyond them, a dozen more women eyed me warily.  All of them were armed with makeshift knives.

One woman, her eyes locked on a vid screen, said, "All clear!"

"You're the scout they've been talking about?" the blond asked.

"Yes," I said, looking around.  The women were all attractive and all dressed like lingerie models with no fashion sense.  Milo might like the look, but Callan had long since taught me the difference between skimpy and provocative attire.

"We didn't choose the clothes," the blond said, reading my expression.

"Of course," I nodded.  "You're all captives brought on board to entertain the crew?"

At her nod, my already considerable loathing for Caudill increased.  "If Caudill wasn't already dead, I'd kill him over this!"

"You killed Caudill?"

"No, my men killed Caudill.  I killed Orrons."

The redhead threw her arms around me and kissed my cheek.  "Thank you!"

"Orrons had a...thing...for redheads," the blond explained.  "Now, I assume you're trying to rescue your friends on the bridge?"

I nodded.

"We can help you with that, but in return you've got to help us rescue our husbands."

"Of course!" I said.  "Where are they being held?"

"Three wormhole jumps away, in Caudill's pirate base!”

Will the women still help our hero when they learn he doesn’t have a working spaceship?  Find out in Chapter 47, coming Wednesday!

Friday, January 17, 2014

Scout's Duty - Chapter 45

< Chapter 44                                                                                                   Chapter 46 >
Separated from the boarding party, our hero hopes to take the bridge of the spaceship by himself!

The sound of clashing weapons echoed from behind me as the boarding party found more pirates to engage.  The Tartegians were distracting the pirates aft, but would it affect the pirates forward?

I reached the main corridor, which ran most of the length of the ship.  Aft were crew quarters, ship's stores, and the cargo bays.  Forward was officer's territory and the bridge.  At least, that's the layout you would find on a military or merchant spaceship.  Pirate ships did things much differently.

Courses on space piracy were required for all students at the scout academy.  Scouts traveled far from the space lanes and had many more encounters with pirates than the other military branches.  A scout's survival might depend on knowing pirate tactics or recognizing the signs of a pirate lair.  I knew more about pirates than most people.

Shipboard discipline among pirates was vastly different than among law-abiding crews.  There was usually one punishment for breaking the pirate compact -- spacing.  That meant a smart pirate captain would find ways to keep his crew entertained during the long, boring hunt for prey.  Pirate ships had been known to have well stocked bars, full emersion gaming consoles, and top of the line video rigs.  Some even had live entertainment, usually provided by people captured in raids.

All of this came back to me as I started up the main corridor toward the bridge.  I moved in short dashes, slipping from one side passage to another, staying out of sight as much as possible.  I had just ducked into an aft slanting passage when I heard the bridge hatch slide open followed by the sound of footsteps pounding toward me.

I pressed up against a recessed hatch but it provided little concealment.  The approaching pirates were bound to see me!

Can our hero avoid behind discovered by the pirates?  Find out in Chapter 46, coming Monday!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Scout's Duty - Chapter 44

< Chapter 43                                                                                                   Chapter 45 >
Our hero and the Tartegian boarding party storm aboard the pirate spaceship!

Stuck toward the back of the pack of airmen, I could only watch as Rupor and his men slammed into the squad of space pirates.  The pirates, disorganized by the flailing of their one-handed leader, tried to regroup but Rupor had picked his boarding party well.  The airmen in front blocked the pirates' desperate attacks and slammed them into bulkheads or down onto the deck.  The men behind them stabbed, hacked, and trampled the pirates as they passed.  Lastly, those bringing up the rear finished off the wounded before rushing to rejoin the boarding party.

It was brutal and deadly.  The pirates, used to fighting poorly trained merchant spacers or terrorizing space liner passengers, weren't prepared for the efficient violence dealt by Rupor's boarding party!

Bloody sword held high, Rupor gave a savage cry of triumph.  His men joined in and the metal bulkheads amplified the din to deafening levels.  Rupor charged down a passageway, neither he nor his men able to hear my shouted instructions to go the other way, toward the bridge.

The Tartegians' tactics, skill, and enthusiasm would only carry them so far.  The pirates still outnumbered us four or five to one and they knew the ship's layout intimately.  Eventually, their numbers and knowledge would carry the day unless we controlled the heart of the spaceship.

With a sigh I could just barely hear over the fading cries and footfalls of the boarding party, I went in the opposite direction from them.  Someone had to take control of the bridge.

I had no allies.  I had no Boost.  I had no plan.  But I had a laser pistol and, more importantly, I had the sword Rob had given me as he lay dying.  It would be enough to win the day.  It had to be!

How can our hero hope to triumph over the pirates on the bridge?  Find out in Chapter 45, coming Friday!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Scout's Duty - Chapter 43

< Chapter 42                                                                                                   Chapter 44 >
Packed into the airlock with Rupor and his airmen, our hero looks in dismay at the squad of armed pirates just inside the spaceship!

I was afraid the entire squad would be armed with laser pistols.  We would be in serious trouble if they were.  Fortunately, old shipboard habits die hard.  Either the pirates never considered arming everyone with lasers or many of them had been destroyed in the crash.  Whatever the reason, only the leader held a laser while the rest were armed with swords.  The leader could still burn us all down where we stood unless he could be distracted.

Gambling that the translator was still turned off, I said, "Rupor, give them a disapproving look, then shrug and pull the head out of the bag.  Men, if the leader looks distracted, I want all of you to duck."

Rupor straightened, his back radiating royal disapproval of this breach of protocol.  The squad leader, irritated that he couldn't understand what I was saying, called out to the intercom, "Turn the translator back on!"

That's when Rupor pulled Orrons' head from the bag and thrust it toward the leader.  Every one of the pirates recoiled at the gruesome sight before them.  Rupor then added to their horror by tossing the head to the leader.  All pirate eyes locked on the head as the leader instinctively fended it off with his hands.

With the laser pistol pointed away from the airlock, I called, "Duck!"

The airmen before me dropped into a squat as I raised my laser pistol and fired.  The bright beam flashed over the airmen's heads and I burned the leader's gun hand off at the wrist!  The gun and hand dropped to the floor.  The leader screamed in pain and stumbled backward into his squad.

Scooping up the laser pistol, Rupor shouted, "Up and at them, men!"

With a roar, the Tartegian airmen charged from the airlock and into the squad of pirates!

Can a mere dozen men take an entire pirate ship by force?  Find out in Chapter 44, coming Wednesday!

Friday, January 10, 2014

Scout's Duty - Chapter 42

< Chapter 41                                                                                                   Chapter 43 >
Our hero, Prince Rupor, and Prince Rupor’s airmen have reached the pirate spaceship!

Rupor led the way into the pirate ship's airlock, his men crowding in behind him.  It was tight in the airlock, certainly tight enough I couldn't easily move forward to give observers a clear look at my face.  The men continued to be boisterous and the close confines of the airlock amplified the noise.  With a flourish, Rupor knocked on the airlock.

"Yeah, what is it?"  The voice spoke in galactic basic and could barely be heard over the din.  After a short delay, the computerized translation repeated the question in the language spoken by the men.

"Your captain has brought us to your ship to cement our alliance with you!" Rupor yelled over the ruckus.  "Open this door and let us in!"

There was a pause as the computer translated back to galactic basic then came the reply.  "The captain can open the door."

Time to see if the noise would help.  Without waiting for the translation, I deepened my voice and rasped, "Did you even bother to look at your view screen?  If I could reach the airlock, I would open it!"

The next few seconds felt like hours.  Then the voice replied, "Sorry, Captain!  Didn't see you back there.  I've sent someone to open the airlock!"  There was another brief pause, then the voice added, "Uh, what's in the bag?"

"The scout's head.  Turn off the translation for a minute," I said, sticking to the deep, rasping voice.

"It's off."

"Taking the head is some kind of local ritual.  Tell everyone to just smile and nod when the savages show it off."

"Will do, sir!"

Machinery hummed to life and the airlock door began slowly sliding open.  I thought our ruse was working, right up until I saw a squad of armed pirates waiting for us!

With Rupor’s men all around him, what can our hero do about the squad of pirates?  Find out in Chapter 43, coming Monday!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Scout's Duty - Chapter 41

< Chapter 40                                                                                                   Chapter 42 >
Led by Prince Rupor, our hero and Rupor’s airmen cross the open field toward the pirate spaceship!

My plan hinged on the airmen's ability to convince the pirates the airmen were celebrating, not invading.

"Laugh and joke, men," I said quietly.  "Keep your hands away from your weapons and act as if your prince has won a great victory over that princess-stealing ne'er-do-well, David Rice."

As I'd hoped, that brought a laugh from the men and even Rupor chuckled.

"That's the spirit, lads!" I said.  "Rupor, try swinging that sack in a jaunty manner, as if it held a treasured trophy.  These pirates probably think you're all a bunch of savage barbarians, anyway.  Have some fun and live down to their expectations!"

That did the trick.  The airmen began to strut and caper, laughing all the while.  One man bowed low to Rupor and requested the honor of carrying the sack.  Rupor presented the sack to him as if awarding him a medal for valor.  Each man stepped forward for his turn; some hoisting the sack like a trophy, others swinging it in time to a few dance steps, and one peeked inside and cackled.  Through it all, we drew closer to the spaceship.

Grinning, one of the airmen spun past me and asked, "Won't these pirates just cut us down with weapons like the one their captain used?"

"No.  Every bulkhead in a spaceship is crammed with vital machinery or conduits for the machinery.  No spaceman uses a laser inside the ship if it can be avoided!"

"What weapons will the pirates use?" he asked.

"Most likely swords."  I changed the subject.  "When we get to the hatch, keep making noise.  It'll help cover the difference between my voice and Caudill's."

Seconds later, we entered the airlock.  The ruse had gotten us this far.  Would it get us inside the spaceship?

Will our hero, Rupor, and the airmen get past the closed airlock hatch?  Find out in Chapter 42, coming Friday!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Scout's Duty - Chapter 40

< Chapter 39                                                                                                   Chapter 41 >
Our hero plans how to get inside the pirate spaceship!

Of course there was more to the plan than I'd stated, but not much more.  We got a canvas sack from the Pauline and put Orrons' head inside the sack.  I pulled on Caudill's bloody shirt and donned his hat, pulling the brim as low as possible.  Mixed in among Rupor's men, I hoped to pass myself off as Caudill long enough for us to get inside the spaceship.

"How do I look?" I asked Callan, spreading my arms wide.

"Like a dead man walking."

"I meant the hat."

"Is that hat fashionable out in the wider galaxy?"

"I've been away from galactic civilization for a couple of years," I answered, "but it was when I left."

"Then there's hope galactic fashion has come to its senses," Callan said, shaking her head.

"You don't think it gives me a rakish look?"

"Um, no.  But if you keep your head down it will hide your face.  That is what you were going for, isn't it, darling?"

"Of course."

Perhaps my face displayed disappointment, because Callan rose on her toes and kissed me lightly.  "You don't need a hat to look rakish to me, David."

I became aware of laughter from behind me.  Rupor and a dozen of his men were regarding Callan and me with amusement.

Callan crossed her arms and glared at Rupor.  "Shall I tell them what you wore when we met for the first time, Rupor?"

Rupor's men laughed all the more as their prince's face reddened.

"All right, men," I called, "time to get serious!"

Rupor's men gathered around me.  Rupor assumed a prideful look and, the bloody sack held before him, struck out toward the spaceship a quarter of a mile away.  I prayed the flash of laser fire would not be the last thing we saw!

Will the pirates cut down our hero, Rupor, and Rupor’s men before they can get close to the spaceship?  Find out in Chapter 41, coming Wednesday!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Scout's Duty - Chapter 39

< Chapter 38                                                                                                   Chapter 40 >
Our hero has slain the pirate captain Caudill, but now he must find a way to rescue his friends still on board the pirate spaceship!

"Do you think a rescue is possible?" Callan asked.  "Won't the pirates on the spaceship already know their captain is dead and be preparing for an attack or a siege?"

"Neither, I think.  Caudill turned off his radio so he could threaten me without you and Rupor hearing and he didn't turn it on again.  And the wreck of the Pauline blocked the line of sight from the spaceship.  Caudill's men won't know he's dead yet, but they'll get suspicious if they don't hear from him soon!"

"What about the powered armor?  With the helmet on, couldn’t you just march into the spaceship unrecognized and then smash anyone who refused to surrender?" Callan asked.

"I'm afraid not," I replied.  "Only Orrons could control the armor."

Rupor's airship glided into position above us and began venting gas.  And I realized he was onboard a Tartegian warship.

Looking at the descending ship, I asked, "Callan, do you think your ex-betrothed would let me lead his airmen into battle?"

Callan sighed.  "You're the only one of us who's been inside the spaceship.  And you're probably the only one of us who'll know how to open the doors.  I don't like it, but you have to lead.  Rupor won't like it, either, but he'll agree."

Callan was right about Rupor on both counts.

Then Rupor added, "Of course, I'll be there as your second-in-command."

I took one look at his determined face and said, "I'll be honored to have you at my side, Your Highness."

Callan gave me a smile and a nod.  It seems I'd made the correct response.

"The plan is simple," I said to the airmen, "capture or kill everyone who doesn't speak your language!"

I gave a tight smile.  "Let's go capture a pirate ship!”

Can our hero and the Tartegian airmen successfully storm the pirate ship?  Find out in Chapter 40, coming Monday!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Scout's Duty - Chapter 38

< Chapter 37                                                                                                   Chapter 39 >
The pirate Caudill is dead, but our hero’s Boost failed and they still have friends held hostage by the pirates!

Callan, Nist, and the guards rose to their feet as I approached.  Before I could sweep Callan into my arms, she turned to her guards and Nist, thanking them for their quick action in dire circumstances.  It was the proper thing for a princess to do.

I smiled and nodded and offered words of my own, all the while querying my implant to find out why Boost had failed.

"What does your implant have to say for itself?" Callan asked a moment later.  I must have looked surprised, because she added, "You get an introspective look when you're talking to that machine in your head.  I assume you were asking why Boost didn't work?"

"You knew I tried to Boost?" I asked.

"Of course."

"Another look of mine?"  Callan nodded and I continued, "The implant has a safety override I didn't know about.  Apparently, Boosting several times close together -- even for just a few seconds -- can be as dangerous as one long Boost.  That would have been my third Boost in just a few minutes, so the implant blocked it.  I'm pretty sure I can turn the override off."

"Don't you dare, David Rice!"  Callan's green eyes flashed with anger and...fear?  "Boosting is dangerous!  Why else would those overrides be there?"

"But Boosting has saved our-"

"No, David, you have saved our lives!  Boosting is like your sword -- it's not the blade but the man who wields it that truly matters.  Tristan can heal most wounds, but Boost burnout is beyond him."  Callan flashed her sweet, dangerous, husband-pay-attention smile.  "So leave those safety overrides alone or you'll spend the next month sleeping in the guardhouse."

"As you wish," I said.  "But now we've got to figure out how to rescue our friends from the remaining pirates!”

How can our hero hope to rescue Megan, Tristan, and Martin from pirates armed with high tech weapons?  Find out in Chapter 39, coming Friday!