Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Scout's Duty - Chapter 89

Scout's Honor, the first book in the Scout series, is now available as an ebook from Amazon for the low price of $1.99!  Click the title to buy it.

< Chapter 88                                                                                                   Chapter 90 >
David has revealed his true identity and demanded the pirates surrender!

From Chapman's warning, Quint already knew something was amiss and the other captains were starting to figure it out.  Once we attacked the captains, the pirates around the arena would come to the same conclusion.  So my ultimatum didn't give away anything the pirates weren't going to discover in the next second or two.  It did achieve the effect I hoped for -- it gave them a second's pause.

Steel rasped against leather as Martin and Rupor drew their swords.  At the same time, Quint broke toward the arena.  With a bound, he dove between the bars, kicking off from them to launch himself toward one of the spheres.

Once he was clear of us, Quint bellowed, "Take 'em afore they git away, lads!"

That broke the spell.  With a roar, pirates surged through the bars and into the arena.  In the box with us, the pirate captains went for their swords.

With a flick of my wrist, one of my knives flew across the box and buried itself in the throat of a pirate captain.  Gurgling, blood fountaining from his neck, the man stumbled into another pirate.  Off balance, the pirate was an easy target for Rupor's flashing blade.

I could have hoped the remaining three pirate captains had been unnerved by the sudden violence and the shifting situation.  But violence and chaos were part and parcel of the life of a pirate.  Swords drawn, the pirates advanced to meet us and the box rang as steel met steel.

No one rose to the position of pirate captain without being able to handle a blade.  These men were no exceptions.  They knew they had hundreds of pirates swarming their way.  They could fight defensively, holding us off until their men arrived.  Then we'd be overwhelmed!

Martin and Rupor were pushing their pirates' defenses to the limit, but I was only armed with a knife.  Fighting at such a disadvantage, I had no chance of finishing off my opponent quickly unless I Boosted.  I didn't want to use Boost so early in this running fight, but I didn't see any other option.  Until I saw six inches of bloody steel push out of the man's chest!

The pirate fell forward, revealing Callan holding my blood-coated sword.

"The pirates only allow blades within the base," she said, reversing the sword and handing it to me.  "So I brought yours!"

"Remind me to kiss you when we have the time," I said, slashing the back of the pirate fighting Martin.

As Martin thrust his sword through the wounded pirate, I spun and did the same to the pirate facing Rupor.  The prince sketched a salute with his sword.

Megan opened the door out of the captains’ box and ran through.  The rest of us followed.  The first pirate had just reached the bars of the captains' box as I slipped out the door.  In the corridor, Mordanian and Tartegian marines fought shoulder to shoulder against more pirates.

Our escape route was blocked!

With pirates before them and pirates behind them, how can our heroes hope to escape?  Find out in Chapter 90, coming Friday!

Monday, April 28, 2014

Scout's Duty - Chapter 88

Scout's Honor, the first book in the Scout series, is now available as an ebook from Amazon for the low price of $1.99!  Click the title to buy it.
< Chapter 87                                                                                                   Chapter 89 >
Chapman tumbles toward the pirate captains, once again trying to warn them of the danger in their midst!

I wanted to grab the knife floating close by -- which would have given me three of the four in the arena -- but shutting Chapman up was far more important.  Tensing my legs beneath me, I shoved off hard toward Chapman.  I was tired of dealing with this loathsome excuse for a man and his cowardly attempts to ingratiate himself with the pirates.

With anger written on my face and a knife clutched in each hand, I must have looked like death incarnate falling toward Chapman.  His voice rose to such a shrill tone that it pierced the roar of the crowd.  But his warning cries had been reduced to shrieks of, "He's going to kill me!  Help!"

The pirate captains heard his cries, as did most of the pirates watching.  They all roared with laughter at this unexpected addition to the usual drama of the arena.

I glanced at the others in the captains' box.   Megan, remembering our script, was shouting in Mordanian about Martin's most recent bet.  Callan had stepped to the back wall of the box, out of the way if a fight broke out, and drawn Megan along with her.  Hand lightly resting on his sword hilt, Martin had moved close to Quint.  Rupor met my gaze and slowly shook his head; tacit agreement that Chapman could not be saved from himself.  Then Rupor stepped as far from Martin as the box would allow.

Turning my attention back to Chapman, I was surprised to see he'd managed to stop tumbling and was now mere feet from the captains' box.  He was still screeching in a higher pitch than a man his size should ever be able to reach but he had changed his tune again.

"They're not pirates!  They're scouts!  It's a trap!"

This time, Chapman was too close and his voice was too piercing for it to be ignored.  As the words got through to Quint, his laughter faded.  Concentration sharpened his features and Quint's eyes shot about the box, noting everyone's position.  The other captains were just starting to take notice of Chapman's words when I caught up with him.

Putting a knife-wielding hand on the back of his head, I drove it hard into one of the bars in front of the captains' box.  Chapman went limp as his head bounced off the bar with a dull thud.

I swung my arms up and caught a cross bar on bent wrists.  Tucking, I swung around the cross bar and between the two side bars.  Gravity returned as I landed inside the captains' box.

Knives held ready, I straightened before the startled captains.  Once again the watching pirates had fallen silent at yet another unexpected development in their entertainment.  When I spoke, my voice carried throughout the arena.

"I am David Rice, Scout First Class of the Terran Exploration Corps.  Surrender or die!”

Can our heroes win free of the pirate captains and get back to their spaceship?  Find out more in Chapter 89, coming Wednesday!

Friday, April 25, 2014

Scout's Duty - Chapter 87

< Chapter 86                                                                                                   Chapter 88 >
Welcome to the 300th post to the Cliffhanger 250!  Thanks to all of my readers — I hope you’ve enjoyed the last 100 weeks as much as I have!  And now, on to Chapter 87:

Chapman has panicked — again — and is trying get to the captains’ seats!

I lunged at Chapman, trying to catch his feet and keep him with me.  I hit the bottom of his feet but had nothing to grab onto.  Chapman began tumbling, but was still heading straight for the captains' box.  I drifted just out of reach of the sphere, leaving me stranded in midair and an easy target for the pirates!

Our two opponents grinned at our predicament and the watching pirates roared in laughter.  The two pirates exchanged a glance and they both launched themselves at me.  I'd have done the same in their situation.  Chapman was unarmed and panicking.  They could kill him at their leisure if they didn't have to worry about me.  And now I was just hanging around, inviting them to attack me.

Spinning back toward the sphere, I began swimming in its direction.  Given time, I would be able to stop my slow drift away from the sphere and begin drifting toward it.  But that was time I wouldn't have!  The pirates were arrowing in on me, one arm in front to block any attacks and one arm ready to slash or stab with the knife.  My strokes grew more frantic as I tried to get back to the safety of a solid surface.

At least, that's what I hoped it looked like!  I had very little going for me.  The illusion of panic might yield a split second of advantage when the pirates reached me.  I also prepared for the one thing I hadn't expected would be of any use to me -- Boost.  Working and fighting in zero gravity is all about finesse and control while Boost is all about strength and speed.  In almost every zero gee situation, Boost would hinder more than help.  With a bit of luck, I could create that rare situation where it helped.

When the pirates were almost upon me, I stopped thrashing and pulled my knees up.  Just before they were close enough, I kicked at them.  They laughed aloud at what they took to be mistimed kicks.  Reaching out with their free hand, each pirate grabbed one of my legs.  I flung my legs wide as if trying to throw them off.  In response, each pirate wrapped his arm around the leg he held.  That was what I'd been waiting for.


Adrenaline flooded my bloodstream and time slowed.  I had just enough time to see the pirates' grins begin to fade as I brought my legs back together with all of my Boosted strength.

Crack!  The pirates' heads slammed together.  Stunned, the two men lost their grips on my legs and one of them lost his grip on his knife.  I pulled my knees up and kicked them again.  This time they tumbled away toward the far wall and I was propelled back to my sphere.

Dropping Boost, I looked for Chapman.  He was still tumbling and had begun shouting something as he neared the captains' box.  The crowd noise was too loud for anyone to hear what he was saying, but I could read his lips.

He was shouting, "Captain Quint!  They're not pirates!  It's a trap!”

Can our hero stop Chapman before the pirate captains hear his warning?  Find out in Chapter 88, coming Monday!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Scout's Duty - Chapter 86

< Chapter 85                                                                                                   Chapter 87 >
Pirates watching the duel have grabbed our hero’s feet, immobilizing him and making him an easy target for his opponents!

Before the pirates grabbed our feet, I had thought Chapman was as panicked as it was possible for a man to be.  I was wrong.  Chapman began gyrating and flailing and kicking trying to get free.  The only thing he accomplished was to make the pirates laugh all the harder.  And he nearly slit my throat!

Straining to break myself free, I only looked at Chapman when his left arm smacked the side of my head.  I saw his right hand, knuckles white from his grip on the knife, swinging my way.  Training and instinct took over.  I blocked his swing, grabbed his wrist, and twisted the knife free.  Being disarmed by his 'partner' so surprised Chapman that he went still.

Around us, the pirates went still, too.  Arms still reached through the bars to grab onto us, but all attention was directed back toward the center of the arena.  Looking over my shoulder, I saw our two opponents were twenty feet away and gliding slowly toward us.  Both of them were playing up to the crowd, making flashy slashes and jabs to show how they planned to deal with us.

Through the comparative silence, Quint's voice rang out.  "Looks like yer boy be done fer, Bane!"

"Ten thousand credits says my second-in-command gets away safely and takes Chapman with him!"

Quint barked a laugh.  "Done!"

Well, that settled it.  I couldn't let Martin lose a small fortune betting on me!  Bending over, a knife gripped in each hand, I slashed hard and fast at the arms stretching through the bars to grasp Chapman and me.  Cries of pain and anger broke out from the pirates below me.  Arms were snatched back and the pirates fell back from the bars.

With our feet free, I wrapped an arm around Chapman and launched us away from the bars and just out of reach of the two pirates floating toward us.  By the time the two pirates finished their slow drift to the side of the arena, I had the two of us safely hanging onto one of the spheres in the middle of the arena.

The crowd of pirates was quiet.  They'd gotten the bloodshed they wanted, but the wrong bodies had shed the blood!

"My oh my," Martin said.  "It seems my 'boy' left quite a mess in his wake.  And, I might add, you owe me ten thousand credits, Quint."

"Yer boy were clever, Bane," Quint growled, "but them what's watchin' ain't part of the duel."

"The second they reached through the bars, they became part of the duel.  But if you're more worried about the money than the men, how about another bet?  Double or nothing."

"Name it."

"My lad and Chapman can stay alive in the arena for another five minutes without killing their opponents."

"Yer on, Bane!"

If everything was going according to plan, the docking bay lasers would be disabled in five more minutes.  Bane was setting me up to lead the two pirates on a merry chase without drawing suspicion from the captains.  It was a good idea but we'd only been in the arena for a minute and it was a miracle Chapman was still unscathed.

Of course, Chapman heard everything I'd heard and his reaction was predictable.  He panicked.  Eyes wide with terror, Chapman flung himself toward Quint and the other pirate captains!

Does Chapman hope to barter what he knows about our heroes to save his life?  Find out in Chapter 87, coming Friday!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Scout's Duty - Chapter 85

< Chapter 84                                                                                                   Chapter 86 >
Chapman has panicked and made himself an easy target for the pirates!

The grinning pirate, obviously experienced in zero G, was flying as straight as a well-aimed crossbow bolt toward Chapman.  Their paths would cross in seconds and I had no illusions as to the end result.  I could already picture spheres of Chapman's blood floating around the arena.  Would Chapman's body become some sort of macabre version of the ball sports crowds bat around for fun?

Shaking off that gruesome image, I glanced at the other pirate.  My hope that he had launched himself at me or Chapman was dashed.  The man hung onto his sphere, watching me like a hawk.  Once I committed myself, he'd be free to choose the best counter to my move.  I was tempted to leave Chapman to his fate, but I also believed Rupor was right.  Heidi could end up ruining her life wondering what she could have done to save her husband.  Painful as it might be for her, she needed to see him for the low-life he had become and make a break from him of her own accord.

Without another thought, I launched myself toward the grinning pirate.  I pushed off hard from the sphere and would overtake the pirate before he reached the panic-stricken Chapman.  The other pirate shouted a warning to his friend.  A quick glance backward showed that pirate following me.  He was moving more slowly than me, though, having put less muscle into his launch.  Was that because he felt a twinge of cowardice or a tinge of caution?  All that mattered was I'd have a few seconds to deal with the grinning pirate before he reached us.

The shout had warned the grinning pirate and he spun himself to face me and opened himself into a knife-fighter's stance.  In full gravity, it would have been a good move.  In this arena, not so much.  The grinning pirate held his knife low, for a thrust to my gut, and his other arm high, to block my knife.  Holding my arrow-straight posture, I raised my knife above my head as if preparing for an overhand slash.  The pirate's grin widened as he waited for my unprotected chest to get within knife range.

At the last second, I tucked and spun one hundred and eighty degrees and kicked out at the pirate with my feet.  The pirate's knife slashed the bottom of my boot just before my kick connected with his chest.  The pirate's knife spun away and the pirate tumbled backward toward the seats.  I, on the other hand, was now flying straight back toward the second pirate!

Caught unprepared, the trailing pirate did the same thing his fellow had done.  Had no one ever bothered to teach zero gravity martial arts to these pirates?  Everything I'd done so far had been covered in the first week of basic training at the academy!  I went for a backward spin this time, planting my feet in the pirate's groin and shoving hard away from him.  The pirate howled in pain as I shot away toward Chapman.

Catching him, I spun us about and prepared to use the bars in front of the crowd to propel us back toward the center of the arena.  Hands shot out and grabbed our feet!

"We got 'em, boys!" a voice called from the crowd.  "Now git over here and kill ‘em!"

How can our hero overcome the outside interference from the crowd?  Find out in Chapter 86, coming Wednesday!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Scout's Duty - Chapter 84

< Chapter 83                                                                                                   Chapter 85 >
The duel begins!

Cheering swelled from the arena, making Chapman even more frantic than had the ringing of the bell.  As Tristan had warned, he was also groggy after returning to consciousness.  I was able to grab him by the shoulders and hold him still.

"There's no time to explain my plan."  Because I didn't have a plan, not that he needed to know that.  "Do as I tell you to do and you can get out of this alive.  Do you understand?"

Chapman nodded and I reached for the handle to open the door.  Catching Chapman's eye, I let my true opinion of him shine through.  He quailed at my expression.

"But if you even think about warning the pirates of our plans, I'll kill you myself."

I felt the brief disorientation that comes from stepping through a gravity field then pulled Chapman along behind me.  We hung, weightless, in a big cube of a room measuring about a hundred feet on a side.  Half a dozen spheres moved lazily within the arena, serving as cover and a way to change direction.

All but two walls opposite each other -- I chose to call them the floor and ceiling -- held seats.  Wide-spaced bars gave the combatants something to push off from, but the pirates filling the seats were also free to reach into the arena and interfere with anyone who got too close to them.  With the exception of the pirates who might have bet on Chapman and me, I knew we had no friends in the stands.

To my left, in the center of the wall, was the captains' chamber.  Rank had its privilege, as walls separated the officers from the common pirates.  Quint and the other five captains sat with Martin, Megan, Rupor, and Callan.  The six captains leaned forward in their seats, faces lit with the same anticipation shown by their men.

The door swung shut behind us -- no retreat for those in the arena, obviously -- revealing a small weapons locker which was bolted to the back of it.  Within were two big, wicked knives.  Taking one for myself, I handed the other to Chapman.

A cheer rose from the pirates as our two opponents pushed off from their side of the room, each heading for a different sphere within the arena.  Grabbing Chapman's collar, I pushed off toward a different sphere, one closer to the pirate on my right.

"What are you doing?" wailed Chapman.

"They're planning to come at us from two sides, probably so one can keep me busy while the other deals with you.  If we're in position and closer to one than the other, it will be easier to disrupt their plan.  All you have to do is stay with me and cover my back if one of the pirates gets close.  I'll handle the rest!"

I brought us to a stop against my chosen sphere.  Seconds later, the pirates worked their way around their spheres to face us.  The pirate farther away pushed off his sphere toward us.  I turned back to the other pirate and crouched, ready to take the attack to him.  He suddenly grinned and shoved off hard toward the door Chapman and I had come through.  Looking back, I realized why the man was so happy.

Chapman had panicked and fled back the way we had come.  He was floating slowly toward the door, a sitting duck for the grinning pirate!

Can our hero save Chapman and protect Heidi from a lifetime of guilt?  Find out in Chapter 85, coming Monday!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Scout's Duty - Chapter 83

< Chapter 82                                                                                                   Chapter 84 >
Our hero, an unconscious Chapman over his shoulder, heads forth to the arena!

As the pirate led us away, Heidi dashed up.  Her eyes were red and swollen, though any tear tracks had been scrubbed from her face.

"I'm coming with you," she declared in accented Mordanian.  "Erwin is my husband and I should be there."

Laura ran out of the airlock, her face creased with concern, as we turned to face Heidi.  I expected Callan would be the first to speak, but Rupor surprised me.

Stepping in front of Heidi, he gently took her hands in his and looked her in the eye.  "No good can come of this, m'lady.  Regardless of Chapman's current deeds, he is a man you have held in your heart for many years.  The anguish you feel now will be as nothing to that which you would feel watching him fight in the arena.  I implore you to stay on the ship and draw strength from the love of your friends.  Leave this harsh business to those of us who have less gentle souls than you."

"But the princess will be watching her husband fight!"

"She accompanies us as the royal benefactor to Captain Bane.  Were she not required to play that role, she would remain with the ship, as well."

Laura placed an arm around Heidi and steered her back toward the ship.  "Prince Rupor is right, Heidi.  Come back to the ship with me."

The lovely redhead allowed herself to be guided back to the ship.  Everyone turned to follow the pirate so only I noticed Rupor's gaze linger on Heidi for a second.  He realized I was watching and gave a parade ground about-face.

Quietly, so only I could hear, he said, "If you can find some way to save her husband's worthless life, you will have my support.  She must have the opportunity to break her marriage voluntarily or I fear she will carry guilt for the rest of her life."

I regarded Rupor for a few seconds, realizing for the first time just how deeply his feelings ran for Heidi.  Considering his behavior over the previous six months from this light, I wondered that I hadn't figured it out much earlier.  I'm sure Callan and Megan would shake their heads and mutter about clueless men.  On the other hand, I expect comprehension was just dawning on Martin, too.

"I'll do my best, Rupor."

"That's all I can ask, Ri- David."  A friendly grin crossed Rupor's face.  "And in all honesty, your best is exceedingly good.  If any man can find a way to bring Chapman out of this alive and keep him from alerting the pirates to our intentions, it's you."

A busy couple of hours loomed ahead of me.  I had to find a way to draw out the duel so the control systems could be sabotaged, kill two pirates without giving away my identity as a scout, join the fighting withdrawal to our ship, and somehow keep Chapman alive in the bargain.  No pressure.  Just another typical day at the office.

I spent the next ten minutes making and rejecting plans and then the time for planning was at an end.  I was shown into a room and told to come out the other side when the bell sounded.  As soon as we were alone, I waved the smelling salts under Chapman's nose.  He awoke, looking about wildly.  He moaned as he recognized the room.


I was interrupted before I could say more.

Can our hero save Chapman and keep him from alerting the pirates?  Find out in Chapter 84, coming Friday!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Scout's Duty - Chapter 82

< Chapter 81                                                                                                   Chapter 83 >
The duel is on and the pirate captains will all be there, watching!

Quint gave us five minutes to gather Chapman and report to the dueling arena.  That didn't give us much time to modify our plans to fit the ever-changing situation.

"Our top priority is still disabling those sentry lasers in the docking bay," I told our hastily gathered command staff.  "Laura, has your husband briefed all the other men?  Are they ready to go?"

She nodded.  "They know what to do and one of the men had a suggestion for speeding up the process.  Instead of spending ten minutes disabling each laser, they're going to disable the four control clusters for the docking bay.  Each one will take about fifteen minutes, but they'll be able to work on all four simultaneously."

"Good.  Wait until the docking bay clears for the fight before sending them out.  The fewer pirates they run into, the better."  I turned to Rupor.  "Have you got squads of marines assigned to guard each of the sabotage teams?"

"Yes, Rice," Rupor replied.  "But I strongly disagree with your plan to simply 'run for the docking bay' after this duel!  That might have been acceptable when none of the pirate captains were here, but it will not work now."

"Rupor's right," Callan said.  "The captains will expect Martin and Megan to sit with them.  As Martin's royal benefactors, Rupor and I will be expected to be there, too."

I hadn't considered that.  "None of you will be able to just slip away from the captains.  Okay, Rupor, what did you have in mind?"

Rupor outlined a plan for a fighting withdrawal, with the marines bearing the brunt of the fighting.  "The plan is short on details and will require considerable initiative from the officers, but they're well-trained men.  They can handle it!"

"How will we get away from the captains?" Megan asked.

Martin answered, "For the most part, we'll make it up as we go.  We don't know enough about the arena setup to do any real planning."  He looked at Rupor.  "I suggest we wait for the first serious wound and then make our move while the pirates are distracted by the blood."

Rupor nodded agreement and I added, "That just leaves one question.  What do we do about Chapman?  He's proven we can't trust him.  If he has the chance, he's sure to try to alert the pirates from inside the arena."

Rupor said what was on everyone's mind.  "Get him killed early in the fight or, if you have to, find a way to kill him yourself."

"I'm afraid you're probably right.  We can't risk the lives of hundreds of people over the life of a man who is trying to get us killed."  I looked around the room.  "Do we all agree?”

One by one, everyone nodded.

"Then let's get this over."

Tristan gave me smelling salts to revive Chapman.  "Remember, he'll be groggy for a minute or two after he wakes up."

"I'll keep that in mind," I said.

Throwing Chapman over my shoulder, I joined Martin, Megan, Rupor, and Callan at the airlock.  A pirate waited at the foot of the ramp.

"Cap'n Quint sent me to lead the way."

Together, we set off for the arena.

How will our hero fare in the duel?  Find out in Chapter 83, coming Wednesday!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Scout's Duty - Chapter 81

< Chapter 80                                                                                                   Chapter 82 >
Taking an unconscious Chapman back to the ship, our hero discovers Martin and the other pirate captains have returned well ahead of schedule!

"Why is the pinnace back so soon?" Megan asked.

"It's probably because the wormhole was activated," I replied.  "It's the same reason the base is operating under radio silence."

I turned to the marine carrying Chapman.  "Sergeant, we're going to try to delay the pirates long enough for you to get Chapman into the ship.  Stuff him in a room with only one door and keep a guard on that door at all times."

"Yes, sir!" the marine replied.  Speaking to his second-in-command, he added, "Corporal, you and the men stay with the Prince Consort and the young lady."

As the corporal acknowledged the order, I spoke to Megan.  "Make a big show of kissing Martin when we get to him."

A devilish smile lit Megan's face.  "With all these people watching?  That does sound like fun, but why am I doing it?"

"You're the only one of us known to speak gal base.  You may have to wander the base a lot more than I'd prefer and you're an extremely attractive woman."

Megan batted her eyes.  "Why, David, I do believe you’ve been looking at women other than your wife!  What would Callan say about that?"

"She'd say I'm married, not blind.  The point is, you've got to show these pirates that you're Martin's woman.  They have to believe that messing with you will draw the ire of a pirate captain.  That belief may be your only protection away from the ship."

Megan heaved a theatrical sigh.  "Very well, David, I shall do my best to display some modicum of attraction."

When Martin exited the pinnace a few seconds later, Megan's eyes lit up, she flashed a dazzling smile, ran lightly forward and threw herself upon Martin.  Arms wrapped around his neck, she locked her lips on his, and gave him a hero's welcome.  After a startled second, Martin returned her greeting with equal fervor.  Either he was a better performer than I thought or he held deeper feelings for Megan than I'd realized!

When the two finally came up for air, Megan asked in gal base, "Did you bring me something from the treasure?  You promised me a pretty jewel!"

Martin played his part to the hilt, playfully tapping Megan on the nose with a finger.  "We didn't get to the treasure, my dear.  The wormhole opened up and the other captains insisted we return to base."

Rolling his eyes, Quint turned to me.  "I saw Chapman’s body being carried aboard your ship.  I guess the duel be over?"

Megan slipped from Martin's arms.  "I've got to go translate for your lunkhead first officer, dearest."

As I stood there with a look of incomprehension, she told Quint, “Chapman is unconscious, not dead.  We’ve taken him on board our ship to face punishment for striking a woman.  The duel will have to wait."

"Wrong, woman.  The duel be first.  The challenge was given and accepted afore Chapman hit his wife."  Quint turned to the other captains.  "Don't rightly see why hittin' yer wife is a crime, no how."

Megan's voice chilled considerably.  "What makes you think Chapman didn't hit his wife first?"

"Ain’t no way yer 'lunkhead' here woulda stepped in ta help Chapman if’n he’d already done smacked the woman.  So the fight be on — and there ain't no time like the present, I say!"  Quint raised his voice until it echoed through the docking bay.  "Stop workin' boys!  It be time fer the duel!”

Must our hero fight alongside the turncoat who has tried several times to spill our hero’s plans?  Find out in Chapter 82, coming Monday!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Scout's Duty - Chapter 80

< Chapter 79                                                                                                   Chapter 81 >
The Pirate officer of the watch has drawn his laser pistol on our hero!

Staring down the muzzle of a laser pistol, I half raised my hands.  Once the pirate understood I wasn't planning to do anything stupid, I mimed pointing the gun at Chapman.

The pirate shook his head.  "I got no idea what Chapman wanted ta tell me, but I figger you clobbered him to shut him up.  Suddenly, I'm right curious what he aimed to say."

I shrugged as if I didn't understand what the pirate had said.  Inspiration struck and I continued with my pantomime.  I pointed to Chapman then wove my hands in the curving motion which has meant "woman" to men since before recorded history.

The pirate leered.  "Yeah, Chapman's got a hot wife.  Wish I knew how that gutless wonder got himself a babe like her!"

Keeping a hand held out, as if on the shoulder of the woman, I threw a fist at what would have been the woman's head.

"Chapman punched the babe, huh?" the pirate said.  "That ain't against the rules 'round here."

"And to think you call us uncivilized!" Megan's voice sounded behind me.  She strode up beside me, five marines trailing in her wake.  The marines carried lasers but kept them pointed at the floor.

"I heard one of ya spoke gal base," the pirate said.  "That'll make this easier.  We're gonna hold yer boy here till Captain Quint gets back."

"No, I'm taking David and Chapman back to our ship.  You're going to stand aside and not interfere."

"And why would I do that?"

"Because David didn't break any of your rules but Chapman broke one of our rules."

"Okay, we don't got rules against a bit of fightin' as long as the work gets done.  So you can take yer boy, but yer rules don't count on the base.  Chapman stays here."

"Chapman hit Heidi while aboard our ship," Megan countered.  "Our ship, our rules."

The pirate shrugged.  "Seems like a lotta trouble just 'cause he punched his wife."

"Oh, it does?  Let me tell you something about our planet."  Megan's voice dropped an octave and she leaned forward.  "One of our great heroes is a man who spent his life challenging abusive men to duels.  When he left a town, he left behind a fresh grave and a more polite population.  We uncivilized lost colonists take this kind of behavior very seriously!"

Megan ordered one of the marines to carry Chapman, spun on her heel, and led us out of the room.  The pirates in the hallway gave us a wide berth as we marched back toward the ship.

Keeping my voice low, I said, "Nice timing, Megan.  How did you come up with that story about the duelist so quickly?"

Megan gave me a look.

"Wait, you didn't make that up?" I asked.

"I'll sing the song for you when you've got a couple of hours to spare," she smiled.  "The full version has eighty-six verses."

Moments later, we returned to the docking bay -- just in time to see Milo landing our pinnace next to the ship!

Why are the pirate captains back so soon and will they question why Chapman is unconscious?  Find out what happens next in Chapter 81, coming Friday!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Scout's Duty - Chapter 79

< Chapter 78                                                                                                   Chapter 80 >
Chapman is heading for the base’s communication center.  But who does he want to call?

What was Chapman planning to do in the base's communications facility?  He didn't need a radio to reveal who we were and what we were planning.  But it dawned on me that Chapman wasn't simply planning to alert the pirates and get out of the duel.  He hoped to gain some prestige at the same time.  That would be far less likely to happen if he spilled everything to any old pirate.  No, he'd have to get the attention of people with rank -- such as a pinnace full of pirate captains!

Twenty feet ahead of me, Chapman ducked into the communications room.  When I entered, he was standing before the pirate officer on watch.

"No, Chapman, I ain't callin' the captains fer ya," the officer said.

"Why not?" Chapman whined.

The officer gave Chapman a nasty grin.  "I got a hundred credits bet on you dyin' in the first minute in that duel!  You ain't gonna talk yer way out of fightin' them two fine lads o' the Brotherhood."

"But I won't even mention the duel!  Please, just thirty seconds!"

"Even if'n I wanted to let ya speak to the captains, ya know we gotta go silent right after one of the wormholes opens up."

The pirates must have detected the wormhole opening for the messenger drone we launched before docking.  That explained the alarm which didn't seem to alarm anyone.  I could see the sense in the pirates' approach, too.  They shut down communications until they knew what triggered the wormhole.  I expected the communication blackout was extended if they detected ships traversing the system.  Those ships might be easy pickings, but the one place where the pirates would not want ships disappearing was the system where their base was hidden.

Chapman's shoulders sagged.  "Yeah, okay, I'll tell-"

I grabbed Chapman's shoulder and spun him around to face me.  Alarm registered on his face as I drove my fist into his gut as hard as I could.  He doubled over, the wind knocked out of him.  I stepped into my next blow, putting all of my weight and the strength into driving an uppercut to Chapman's chin.  He lifted a foot off the floor and flew back four or five feet to sprawl, unconscious, at the feet of one of the other pirates.

The officer of the watch stared at me, his mouth hanging open.  I grinned and made a show of dusting my hands off.  The pirate officer laughed at my little act.  Still grinning, he drew his laser pistol and leveled it at me!

Will the pirate officer shoot our hero?  Find out in Chapter 80, coming Wednesday!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Scout's Duty - Chapter 78

< Chapter 77                                                                                                   Chapter 79 >
The turncoat, Chapman, has gotten away from our hero and could be trying to warn the pirates of our hero’s plan!

I crashed up to the hatch out of the docking bay.  Since the docking bay wasn't in vacuum nor was there any immanent threat of decompression, I should have just been able to yank the hatch open and move on.  Instead, the hatch held firm.  Two blinking lights caught my eye -- a green light showing the airlock was cycling and a red one showing the airlock had been manually switched to assume vacuum conditions.  Chapman would have plenty of time to get lost in the base while I waited for the airlock to recycle!

I looked back toward Megan.  Rupor and the marines had safely removed her from the clutching pirates.  Rupor's face was contorted in righteous rage while Megan's displayed offended anger.  The pirates were muttering to themselves and eying the marines arrayed between them and Megan.  The situation looked volatile, to say the least, but it would become explosive if Chapman found anyone to listen to him.

That's why, when the airlock finished recycling, I switched off the vacuum conditions override and left Rupor and Megan to handle the situation on their own.  With a last glance back to the docking bay, I saw Callan descending from our ship.  Perhaps she could ensure cooler heads prevailed.

Beyond the airlock, I found corridors leading left, right, and straight ahead.  I couldn't see Chapman anywhere.  A couple of pirates lounged against the wall, grinning at me.

"I bet you wish you could speak civilized, elsie," one said.

I looked at him and shrugged then peered down the corridor straight ahead as if looking for something.

"Chapman didn't go that way, moron," the other pirate said.

I whipped my head back to the pirate.  Maybe I could get them to tell where he went.  Speaking slowly, I said, "Chapman?"

"Send him the wrong way!" the first pirate said.

The other pirate pointed down the corridor to my right.  Was there any chance he was telling the truth?  Not likely.

Swinging my head to the left, I pretended to spot something and yelled, "Chapman!"  Then I dashed down the corridor to my left.

I dodged around pirates who mostly ignored me.  A few tried to trip me up or get in my way.  After I 'accidentally' knocked a couple of pirates down, the rest stayed out of my way.  Seconds later, I rounded a bend in the passage and saw Chapman.  He was fifty or sixty feet ahead of me, sauntering as if he hadn't a care.  I slid in behind a pirate just as Chapman looked over his shoulder.  Somehow, he didn't notice me.  I trailed behind him for close to a minute, managing to avoid being spotted.  The pirates went about their business, ignoring both of us.

Chapman turned a corner and I took the chance to sprint closer.  I looked around the corner and spied Chapman just twenty feet ahead.  I felt a chill as I spotted his destination.

Chapman was headed to the base's communications array!

Will Chapman send a warning to Quint and the other pirate captains?  Find out in Chapter 79, coming Monday!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Scout's Duty - Chapter 77

< Chapter 76                                                                                                   Chapter 78 >
Our hero and Chapman head out to face the pirates in the duel.

Chapman and I had just stepped out of the ship when red lights began flashing around the docking bay.  The pirates all took note of the flashing lights and returned to their tasks.  Was it some kind of test or minor warning?  I wanted to stop one of the nearby pirates and ask what was going on, but I wasn't supposed to understand gal base.  I couldn't ask Chapman for the same reason.

Looking back to the airlock, I called, "Could someone please send Megan out here?"

As the marine on duty at the hatch headed into the ship, I turned back to the docking bay.  Chapman was twenty feet away, running for the hatch out of the docking bay and into the main base!  Cursing, I took off after him.  If Chapman got into the base proper, he was as good as gone.

The pirates watched him dash past, laughing.  One or two tried to trip him, but most just settled in to watch the fun.

"Twenty credits says the elsie catches him," one pirate called.

"Done!" called another.  "But the bet is off if someone trips Chapman!"

More bets were called and accepted and, within seconds, all attention in the docking bay was on Chapman and me.

Behind me, I heard Megan call, "David, what are you doing?"

"Chapman's running away!"

Megan used language quite fitting for a pirate base and, based on the catcalls from the pirates, joined the chase.

"Go back to the ship, Megan!" I yelled without turning.  

"I won't," she yelled back.  "You can't run around the base without having a translator!"

There had been good reasons behind the decision to pretend ignorance of gal base, but I was really regretting that decision now!  If I could catch him before he got out of the airlock, though, it wouldn't matter.  And that looked to be the likely result before Megan cried out behind me.

"Get your hands off me!"

That was followed by a cry of pain from a pirate and more laughter from the other pirates.

"That ain't no way for a pretty plaything to act!" a pirate said.

"Let go!" Megan shouted.

I risked a look over my shoulder.  A handful of pirates were clutching at Megan and trying to pull her into a rough embrace.  I was torn between my desire to help Megan and the absolute necessity of catching Chapman.

"Unhand that woman, you miserable pirates!" demanded a strong voice.

The pirates didn't understand the command since it was in Mordanian -- or Tartegian, from the speaker's point of view -- but the meaning was clear.  The pirates backed away as Rupor charged across the bay, two squads of marines backing him up.

Relieved of a difficult decision, I turned back to the chase just in time to see a cargo boom swinging toward my head!  I dropped and rolled under the boom but lost precious time.  As I regained my feet, Chapman ducked through the hatch and into the main base!

Can our hero find Chapman before he finds a pirate to listen to him?  Find out in Chapter 78, coming Friday!