Monday, March 31, 2014

Scout's Duty - Chapter 76

< Chapter 75                                                                                                   Chapter 77 >
Chapman has been dismissed by Captain Quint, leaving no choice but for Chapman to fight the pirates!

Martin did not fall in behind Quint as the other five captains did.  He took in the scene around me, then spoke in Mordanian.  "You're involved in this fight, aren't you David?"

"He did it for Heidi," Megan said.  "After all she went through to get back to her husband, David couldn't just let the pirates kill her man in front of her."

"Bane!"  Quint and his pirate chorus had stopped about fifty feet away.  "Let's go.  We've got a treasure to find."

"I'd love to, Quint," Martin replied, switching back to gal base, "but my pilot has gotten himself involved in this fight."

"Then I'll summon my pilot," Quint said.

"Like I'm going to get into a pinnace outnumbered seven to one," Bane said.  "No, we'll just have to use one of my other pilots."

"Nist?" I asked.

"No, Milo," Martin replied, switching back to Mordanian.  "His size and age won't alarm them and, much as I like Nist, Milo will be more useful if it comes to a fight."  Turning toward the pirate captains, he added, "Try not to get yourself killed, David."

As he walked away, I turned to Megan.  "Find out the details of this challenge.  What weapons we can use, where we fight, who can watch, that sort of thing."

Moments later, we were back on our ship as the pirates made preparations for the duel.  Heidi was being consoled by Laura and some of the other women.  Chapman was sitting alone, ostracized and avoided.  Rupor watched Chapman with unconcealed disgust.

"How could a woman as courageous and intelligent as Heidi marry a cur such as him?" Rupor hissed in a low voice.

"I expect he was a fine man as long as he was living a normal life," I said.

"You're excusing him?" Rupor asked.

"No, I was answering your question, Rupor.  Adversity doesn't always bring out the best in a man, but you only find that out when adversity strikes."  I eyed Chapman.  "I suspect life on a colony would have broken Chapman, but it would have taken longer."

Callan slid in beside me.  "Everyone's here, David."

I switched to gal base so everyone could understand me.  "You all know that Chapman and I are fighting a couple of pirates.  The duel is held in a zero gee room surrounded by viewing platforms.  Most of the other pirates will be there to watch and that's when you and your men," I pointed to Laura's husband, "will disable all of the defense lasers in the docking bay.  We'll draw the fight out as long as we can, but don't waste any time.  Come back to the ship as soon as you're done.  We'll leave once Chapman and I get back.  Questions?"

There were none.

"Keep your composure, do your job, and we'll be safe on a naval base this time tomorrow."  I turned to Chapman.  "Let's get this over with.”

Will our hero survive the fight?  Find out more in Chapter 77, coming Wednesday!

Friday, March 28, 2014

Scout's Duty - Chapter 75

< Chapter 74                                                                                                   Chapter 76 >
A pirate plans to slay the turncoat, Heidi’s husband, in a duel!

Chapman paled at the pirate's words.  "B-but I'm useful to you!  Captain Quint said so!"

"You were useful, Chapman," his challenger said, "but we got those other men toeing the line right nicely.  Your tech skills are -- what was the word the captain used, boys?  Oh yeah -- redundant."

Another pirate got into Chapman's face.  "That means we can live without you, Chapman."

Raucous laugher rose from the other pirates.  Heidi turned an imploring look on me.  I sighed and nodded to her.  Relief spread across her face.

Megan looked at me.  "You're going to save Chapman's sorry hide?"

"I'm doing it for Heidi, not Chapman.  But yes, I'm going to save his sorry hide.  Or maybe we are.  See if you can find an angle that will let us save him without a fight."

Megan raised her voice and switched to gal base.  "You can't kill Chapman!"

"Just watch me!" the challenger called back.

"He's married to a member of our crew and that means he belongs to her.  You can only kill him if she gives her permission."

"Nice try, woman, but he's just married to her."  The pirate jerked a thumb at Heidi.  "That don't mean he belongs to her!"

"Tell that to my ex-wife!" one of the other pirates quipped, drawing more laughter from the pirates.

The challenger continued, "Maybe you had a point about the woman, but Chapman is ours."

"It was a good try, Megan," I said, "but they want blood."

"Callan isn't going to like this," she replied in Mordanian.  Switching back to gal base, she said, "Commander Rice is disappointed to learn what cowards you lot are."

"Who's a coward?"

"You, for challenging a man wholly incapable of defending himself.  For that reason, Commander Rice issues challenge to you.  If you defeat our commander, Chapman is yours.  If you lose, well, you won't care about anything ever again, will you?"

One of the other pirates spoke quietly to the challenger.  A grin spread across his face as he listened.

"We got us a new challenge, boys!" he called.  Putting a hand on the other pirate's shoulder, the challenger said, "Simmons and me are going to meet Chapman and Rice together.  A two-on-two challenge to the death!"

A cheer rose from the pirates.

Megan hung her head.  "I'm sorry, David."

"You did a lot better than I could have, Megan," I said.

A gruff voice cut through the commotion.  "What's all this, then?"

Martin and the other pirate captains were back.  Seeing them, a look of hope filled Chapman's face.

"Captain Quint!  These men have challenged me to a duel!" he cried.  "Me!  Your inside man."

"Why does that matter to me?" Quint asked.

That response shook Chapman, but he kept appealing to Quint.  "But what if I've learned something important?"

"Then it'll be the first time," Quint spat.  Turning away, he added, "Have fun killin' him, boys!”

Instead of getting Chapman out of trouble, our hero has joined him in trouble!  Find out what happens next in Chapter 76, coming Monday!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Scout's Duty - Chapter 74

< Chapter 73                                                                                                   Chapter 75 >
Heidi’s husband has been challenged to a duel with Heidi as the prize!

As if our situation weren't complicated enough, Heidi's husband had found a way to make things more precarious.  If it were just Chapman, I'd have left him on his own.  But I couldn't just stand by and let Heidi suffer through this.

Over the excited talk from the pirates, I called out in Mordanian, "Megan, tell them Heidi is a member of our crew and not a prize to be fought over."

The chatter around the two men died down as attention turned our way.  Megan took advantage and said in gal base, "Commander Rice says you can do what you want with the spy but the woman is ours!"

"Um, Megan, that's not exactly what I said."

"I know, David, but if I repeat what you say exactly won't that make it easier for the machines to translate our language?"

She had a good point.  “That's a smart move but it puts you in charge of these negotiations.  I'll try to offer advice and, if the situation really goes downhill, we'll need to risk direct translation."

By now the pirate arguing with Chapman had gotten over his surprise.  "How did an elsie learn gal base?"

"I speak five languages native to my planet.  Learning your soulless language wasn't much of a challenge," Megan replied.  "Now, let Heidi go and-"

The pirate suddenly remembered the original discussion.  "Wait, what do you mean the woman is yours?"

I muttered a bunch of unassociated Mordanian strung together, then Megan said, "She is a full member of our crew.  Our captain is a member of this Brotherhood.  You can challenge her, but you can't win her in a duel -- especially a duel with a hostage who's wormed his way into Quint's good graces by spying on his fellow hostages!"

The pirates exchanged glances.  "What makes you think he's a spy?"

Megan switched to Mordanian.  "Blah blather pretend to translate."

I suppressed the urge to laugh.  "Don't do that!  It wouldn't do for me to start laughing in the middle of this."

Megan turned back to the pirate.  "All of the men other than Chapman were terrified when Quint spoke.  He just smirked.  It wasn't hard to figure out the rest."

"Erwin, that's not true, is it?" Heidi asked, her eyes wide and pleading.

"It's...complicated," Chapman said.

The pirate laughed.  "Yeah, it's complicated.  But I'm going to uncomplicate it for you, honey.  Chapman, the challenge still stands, only now I'm going to kill you just for the fun of it!”

With Heidi safe, will our hero sit back and let the pirates take care of the spy?  Find out in Chapter 75, coming Friday!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Scout's Duty - Chapter 73

< Chapter 72                                                                                                   Chapter 74 >
Heidi and her possible-turncoat husband have disappeared!

"Check with the guards at the forward airlock," I said.  "Have them seal the exit if Heidi and her husband didn't go out that way."

The guard who'd reported the couple missing saluted and ran off.  I strode off toward the bridge.  Callan, Megan, and Rupor fell in behind me.

"Does anyone have any idea why Heidi's husband would even bother boarding the ship if he was only going to stay for a few minutes?" Callan asked.

"It could be any number of things," Rupor said.  "Heidi could have told her husband of our plan -- that is an integral part of the plan, after all.  If he's working for the pirates, he would want to report our plan as soon as possible.  He may also simply want to show off his beautiful wife, especially if the pirates have a severe shortage of women here."

As we approached the bridge, the guard I'd sent to the forward airlock returned.

"The woman and her husband left the ship no more than a minute before I reached the airlock," he reported.  "The guards say the woman appeared reluctant but left voluntarily."

Nodding to the guard, I strode onto the bridge.  "Give me a video sweep of the docking bay.  Stop and zoom in if you see Heidi out there."

Seconds later, Heidi and her husband filled our view screen.  The pair were less than a hundred yards from our ship.  A gang of grinning pirates had them surrounded and one of their number was laughing and talking with Heidi's husband.  Heidi pressed close beside her husband, fear written on her face.  Her husband, fear building on his face, argued vehemently with the pirate.

"The man may be working with the pirates, but they sure don't seem to like him much," I said.  "I've got to get out there and defuse this situation!"

"I'll come with you!" Rupor said.

"You're our military commander, Rupor.  You need to stay here with your command," Callan said.  "Megan, do you mind going with David?  You can be his translator."

"Why would she speak gal base and not the ship’s second in command?" I asked.

"Captain Bane taught me," Megan answered.  "He would want his woman to speak his language, wouldn't he?"

"That works for me," I said.  "Let's go!"

A moment later, we approached the outer edge of the pirates surrounding Heidi and her husband.

"I'm tired of arguing with you, Chapman," the pirate said.  "If you won't share your woman, there's only one thing I can do.  Erwin Chapman, I challenge you to a duel.  If you win, you get my rights within the Brotherhood.  If I win, I get your woman!”

Can our hero stand by and allow Chapman, a probable turncoat, to duel the pirate?  Find out in Chapter 74, coming Wednesday!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Scout's Duty - Chapter 72

< Chapter 71                                                                                                   Chapter 73 >
Megan has told our hero that Heidi’s husband, unlike all the others, isn’t afraid of the pirates!

As Megan's words sank in, I nodded my head toward our ship.  "Let's go inside and discuss this further."

Switching from observant to obstinate, Megan asked, "Why?  It's not like any of the pirates can understand us."

"Is 'because I asked politely' sufficient?"

"Oh, wait!" she said, comprehension dawning.  "It's because of those 'recording' things you've told us about, right?"

A few pirates looked up at Megan's words.  Well, at one of her words.  There is no Mordanian word for 'recording,' so we'd simply used the gal base word.  Hearing a familiar word from people who aren't supposed to speak their language could make a pirate suspicious.

I looked at the men around us and didn't see any narrowing of the eyes or anyone hurrying off to report the slip to a superior.  Callan was already speaking before I turned back to Megan.

"Exactly right, Megan."  Turning toward the boarding ramp, my wife added, "Come on."

I entered the ship in time to catch the tail end of Callan's admonishment to Megan.  All I can say is that Callan took a more gentle tone than I would have -- far more gentle.  Megan was nodding and biting her lower lip, so Callan's approach appeared to be working.

"Your impetuous nature is one of your most endearing qualities," Callan wrapped up, "but for the next few hours you must keep tight rein on it!"

I put a smile on my face and was careful to keep my tone neutral as I asked, "Tell us what you observed concerning Heidi's husband?"

"When that old, scary pirate spoke, all of the men reacted like whipped dogs," Megan said.  "They looked down and tried to wipe all expression from their faces.  Heidi's husband kept his head up, gazing at the other men with a bit of a smirk on his lips."

I didn't like the sound of that one bit.  "Do you think he's working for the pirates -- sort of their inside man among their hostage tech crew?"

Megan gave my question some thought before nodding.  "There could be something else behind his expression, indomitable will or something heroic like that, but I don't think so."

"Thank you for that assessment, Megan!"  I turned to one of the guards Rupor had stationed inside the airlock.  "Please bring Heidi and her husband to me."

Moments later the guard returned.  He was alone.

He snapped off a salute and reported, "Sir, they're gone!”

Where are Heidi and her husband?  And what does the husband know or suspect?  Find out in Chapter 73, coming Monday!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Scout's Duty - Chapter 71

< Chapter 70                                                                                                   Chapter 72 >
Now that Laura and the other women have been reunited with their husbands, Martin is ready to discuss the location of Caudill’s ‘treasure.’

Martin turned to me and spoke in Mordanian.  "I'm off to discuss treasure with these lovely gentlemen.  You're in charge until I return."

Martin's lines were for the recordings the pirates were bound to be making.  In the short time we expected to be with the pirates, it wasn't likely they would get a large enough sampling of Mordanian for their computers to complete a translation.  Even so, there was no reason to take chances.

"Yes, sir, Cap'n," I replied.

Martin turned back to Quint and switched back to galactic basic.  "Lead on."

Quint cocked an eyebrow as Laura and the man I assumed was her husband strolled, arm-in-arm, toward the boarding ramp to our ship.  "And where do you think you be goin', Mister Barrages?"

Laura's husband stiffened and there was a tremor in his voice when he replied.  "To spend time with my wife, Captain Quint, as you promised I could."

Other couples, who had been following Laura and her husband, stopped and watched.  Fear was written on the faces of the men, uncertainty on the faces of their wives.

"I know what I promised and what I didn't promise," Quint growled.  "You got a nice, big room where all of you sleep.  Go there."

Martin stepped between Quint and the couple.  "I told you, Quint, I take care of my crew.  That includes a little privacy for family reunions."  Martin turned to the couple.  "You may carry on, Laura."

Laura started toward the boarding ramp, pulling on her husband's arm.

Martin looked at the other couples.  "That applies to the rest of you, as well!"

Quint and the other captains scowled, but said nothing as the couples streamed past them.

"You made a bunch o' pleasure girls part o' your crew, Bane?" Quint asked after the last couple had entered our ship.

"No, I made skilled techs my engineering staff," Martin replied.  "If I hadn't done that, I'd still be on that lost colony and you wouldn't be about to discuss the division of Caudill's treasure."  Martin motioned toward the docking bay doors.  "Shall we have that discussion, gentlemen?"

Watching Martin and the captains walk away, Megan said, "Those men are not happy with Martin!"

"Tell me something I don't know!" I replied.

Typical of Megan, she took it as a challenge.

"Those husbands are all terrified of their captors," she said.  "All of them except Heidi's husband.”

Does this development bode ill for our heroes?  Find out in Chapter 72, coming Friday!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Scout's Duty - Chapter 70

< Chapter 69                                                                                                   Chapter 71 >
Captain Quint claims Callan and Megan are to be ‘shared’ with the other pirate captains!

The other five captains muttered "Yeah" and "Tha's right" while their eyes darted back and forth between Callan and Megan.  They were almost drooling after Quint's pronouncement.  I wanted to step between the pirates and Callan in the worst way.  Callan laid a hand lightly on my arm, so I stayed put.

Martin's voice cut through the building tension.  "You don't have any kind of stupid 'sharing' rule, Quint."

"I been part o' this Brotherhood for three decades, Bane.  You been part for ten minutes.  Who do you think knows more ‘bout the Brotherhood?"

"Caudill's files had a copy of the captain's agreement for the Brotherhood.  If I'd found anything so idiotic as that in the articles, I'd never have contacted you."

One of the other captains piped up, "It's an unwritten rule."

The other four captains nodded.  Quint kept his gaze steady on Martin, watching and, I expect, evaluating him.

"Is that so?" Martin asked.  Martin pointed at Laura.  "Then perhaps one of you gentlemen could explain why Caudill had all of the wives on his ship?"

More muttering from the five, then one said, "Caudill was different.  And you ain't Caudill!"

"No, I'm not.  Caudill is dead.  His ship is my ship now."  The captains stopped nodding.  "One of your written rules provides very detailed rules for settling disagreements between captains.  Quint, the next time you or your little Greek Chorus make another ridiculous claim, I will follow those rules to the letter and deprive one of these six ships of its captain."

Martin's glare swept across the six captains.  "Are we clear, gentlemen?"

For the second time since we exited the ship, Quint burst out laughing.  "Caudill was a good captain, but I think we traded up with you!"  Quint pretended to wipe tears of laughter from ice cold eyes.  "Now, 'bout Caudill's treasure-"

"We'll talk treasure after Laura and her friends see their husbands."

"I told you we'd work that out, Bane."

"And I'm telling you we'll work it out first, Quint."

"You puttin' pleasure slaves ahead o' treasure?"

"No, I'm putting my crew ahead of a treasure that isn't going anywhere."

"Yer crew?" one of the Greek Chorus said.  "But Caudill-"

"For the last time, I'm not Caudill."  Martin turned back to Quint.  "Well?"

Quint raised a wrist comm to his mouth.  "Send 'em in."

The docking bay hatch slid open and a crowd of men hesitated before walking forward.  Laura gave a small gasp and went flying across the bay.  Behind us, dozens of feet rang on the boarding ramp as the rest of the women followed her.

Martin watched for a few seconds then said, "Now we can talk about treasure.”

What is Martin planning for the treasure hunt?  Find out more in Chapter 71, coming Wednesday!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Scout's Duty - Chapter 69

< Chapter 68                                                                                                   Chapter 70 >
Our heroes stand face-to-face with half a dozen pirate captains!

Footsteps rang on the ramp behind us as Rupor ran out to join Martin, Laura, Callan, and me.  The pirates didn't so much as glance at the prince.  They were much too busy leering at Callan.  It appeared women were as rare among pirates as the stories said, because the six pirates were acting like they hadn't seen a woman in ages.

Speaking his native language, Rupor said, "I have half a dozen men armed with lasers stationed just inside the airlock.  I doubt we'll need them, but I prefer to err on the side of caution."

It was a good idea, one I wish I had considered.  Rupor's military training had proven useful months ago when we captured the ship and it was proving useful again.

Quint grimaced at Rupor and growled, "What's the elsie sayin'?"

"Elsie?" Martin asked.

"El Cee.  Lost Colonist," Quint said.  "How long you been on the planet, Bane?"

"Seventeen years."

The pirates all nodded as if that explained everything.  "There's been a spate o' lost colonies being found in the last few years.  Newsies called 'em Lost Colonists but most folks just shortened it to elsie," Quint said.  "So, what's the elsie sayin'?"

"He said he stationed six men with lasers inside our airlock as a precaution against treachery."

The pirates muttered and exchanged glances before Quint scowled and said, "You don't trust us, Bane?"

"Ah, I see the error of my ways," Martin replied.  "I thought I had joined a pirate Brotherhood, not the Fractured Feelings Fraternity of Fragile Flowers."

Quint's scowl deepened and the other five pirates cast hard glares at Martin.  Martin folded his arms and met the glares with the mocking smile he does so well.  Quint barked a laugh, quickly followed by the other five captains.

"You'll do, Bane," he said.

The light patter of feet on the ramp sounded behind me.  I didn't even need to hear her speak to know who it was.

"What did I miss?" Megan asked.

Megan's arrival did draw some open stares away from Callan, at least.

"Well now, seems t' me you found yourself a secret source o' fine lookin' women, Bane."  Quint was back to growling.  "The rules of the Brotherhood say share and share alike!”

Surrounded by defense lasers and facing six pirate captains, how will our heroes respond to the threat against Callan and Megan?  Find out in Chapter 70, coming Monday!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Scout's Duty - Chapter 68

< Chapter 67                                                                                                   Chapter 69 >
The Aashla’s Hope has entered the pirate bay!

Martin and I stared through the view screen at the automated defense lasers.

"We can't leave with those in place and the navy will get sliced to ribbons if the lasers are active when they come to our rescue."  Martin turned to me.  "Got any bright ideas?"
I shrugged.  "We'll have to find a way to disable them, obviously."

Laura, who had been on the bridge observing, stepped up to Martin and me.  "Let me guess, your plan has to be scrapped?"

"Bad plans have to be scrapped at the last minute, my good woman," Martin said.  "Good plans just require a few revisions!"

"Well, my good man, when you put it that way I feel so much better!" Laura replied.

I wasn't sure if this was stress-relieving banter or if nerves were stretched to the breaking point.  Before I could think of something to say to defuse the situation, Callan stepped in.

"Laura, to protect their wives, the husbands are forced to perform maintenance for the base, right?"  When Laura nodded, Callan continued.  "You and the other ladies on this ship were in the same position with Caudill and used your positions to sabotage his ship."

Martin and Laura flashed grins at each other.

"Our husbands can disable the lasers!"

"While David and I are leading the captains on the wild treasure chase!"

"And when the two of you get back, we can just power up and leave!"

Callan frowned.  "You hadn't mentioned David going with you, Martin."

"We'll need a pilot and I can't trust anyone the captains would choose.  And six against one is much worse odds than six against two."  Martin gave her a smile.  "Consider it one last adventure for David.  Something he can tell your grandchildren about when he's a doddering old man."

Callan sighed and slipped her arm around my waist.  Anything she might have said was cut off when Nist spoke.

"We've docked, Cap'n!  All engines stopped."

Through the view screen, we saw men entering the docking bay.

"Time to go meet the Brotherhood," Martin said.

A moment later, the airlock cycled and we stepped off the ship.  Arrayed before us stood the six pirate captains.

Our heroes finally stand face-to-face with the pirate captains!  Find out what happens next in Chapter 69, coming Friday!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Scout's Duty - Chapter 67

< Chapter 66                                                                                                   Chapter 68 >
Our heroes enter the pirate docking bay!

A huge opening yawned in the large asteroid ahead of us.  Beyond the opening, we could see a well-lit, well-equipped docking bay.  Within, I counted six ships with a space for one more.

"It looks like all the pirates are at home right now," I said.
"Of course," Martin sighed.  "It would be too easy if half the ships were out prowling."

"Oh mighty pirate captain?" Nist sang out.  "The big hole in the bigger rock is glowing."

"Hm?  Oh, that.  Don't worry about it, Nist.  That's an atmospheric energy shield.  It keeps the air in the docking bay from leaking out.  We'll pass right through it."

I went to the communications console.  "Heidi, can you give me a ship-wide channel?"

Her fingers flew across the console.  "You're on, fearless leader!"

"All hands, this is David Rice.  We are entering the pirate base as I speak.  Everyone knows the plan and their part in it, but I want to remind you all of a few things.  All of you now speak galactic basic well enough to understand what's being said around you.  I cannot stress how important it is for us to hide that for as long as possible.  There's no telling what we can learn if the pirates believe we can't understand them.

"With that said, don't wander far from the ship, do not go out alone, and check your honor at the airlock.  Reacting to an insult will give away our language advantage and put the pirates on alert.

"Finally, all of the pirate ships using this base are docked.  The bad news is we're more heavily outnumbered than anticipated.  The good news is we can take out half a dozen of the galaxy's worst criminals all at once.  Keep a clear head, stick to the plan, and we can't fail.  Rice out."

"David?" Martin said.  "We may have to modify that plan a bit."

"What do you mean?"

Martin pointed at a dozen locations in the docking bay.  "Those are military-grade automated defense lasers.  If we take off without sending the proper pass code, the lasers will cut this ship to pieces!”

How will our heroes deal the lasers?  Find out more in Chapter 68, coming Wednesday!

Friday, March 7, 2014

Scout's Duty - Chapter 66

< Chapter 65                                                                                                   Chapter 67 >
Our heroes are on their final approach to the pirate docking bay!

Heading back to the bridge, Martin spoke quietly.  "That was a very inspiring little speech you gave at the end of the meeting, but you know it's complete bunk.  It's a big galaxy and news of our raid against the pirates -- no matter how daring -- won't hold the public's attention for more than a few hours."

"I don't know, Martin, you're the one who talked about the pervasive mythology surrounding pirates.  There's something about piracy that sparks our imagination," I said.  "Let's test it.  How many pirates can you name from Earth's ancient days of salt water sailing ships?"

Without thinking, Martin replied, "Blackbeard, Long John Silver, and Captain Jack Sparrow.  I could name a few more if I gave it some thought."

"I'm pretty sure Blackbeard wasn't real," I said, "but you've still proved my point.  It's been thousands of years since any of those men lived, but you know their names because humans find piracy fascinating.  A thousand years from now, someone will probably still tell stories of the infamous pirate Captains Caudill and Quint and how they were brought low by a bunch of Lost Colonists flying a captured pirate ship and led by a reformed air pirate."

"Well, when you put it that way, there is something rather mythical about this whole venture," Martin mused.  "If you want to take it far enough, the tale even has overtones of the Trojan Horse."

The hatch opened before us and we strode onto the bridge.

"Nist, report."

"We're just about to round the last buoy, Martin."

"Good."  Martin turned toward me.  "David, has the course through the asteroid field been uploaded into your old messenger drone?"

I'd begun verifying that right after we entered the bridge.  The old drone I'd fired off when I first exited the wormhole over Aashla was our insurance policy.  The drone had led Caudill right to our planet and had caused me some problems when Caudill's crew had cracked the encryption and figured out who I was, but now it might save our lives.

"Yes, this course is recorded, another course is set for the nearest naval base,  and our cry for help is intact.  The thruster burn timer is set to thirty minutes," I said.

"Good.  Release the drone."

The drone drifted free, then we rounded the last buoy and entered the pirates' docking bay!

Our heroes are inside the pirate docking bay!  Find out what happens next in Chapter 67, coming Monday.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Scout's Duty - Chapter 65

< Chapter 64                                                                                                   Chapter 66 >
Our heroes are on course to the pirate base!

As Nist wove the ship through the asteroids, following the course laid out by the buoys, Martin and I called a final meeting of our command staff.  Callan and Rupor, along with their respective marine commanders, represented the Aashlans.  Laura and Heidi represented the women whose husbands were held in the base.

Tristan invited himself.  "Someone has to be around to speak common sense and rein in you impetuous young people!"

"In a few minutes, we'll be docking at the pirate base," Martin said.  "We've had to work around a lot of unknowns formulating our plan.  We don't know how many pirate ships are docked at the base nor the crew compliment carried by the ships."

"One of those unknowns turned out to be your story of buried treasure!" Rupor said.

"An inspired bit of improvisation, don't you think?" Martin grinned.

"Perhaps you could explain why that is so, Martin?" Tristan asked.

"First, it got us access to the base.  Quint looked more like he was ready to have the base defenses open fire than allow us to dock," Martin said.  "But the story will also sow discord among the captains.  They'll debate and argue and discuss who will come with me to fetch the treasure.  In the end, all of the captains will come with me.  That will create a power vacuum at the top, hampering the pirates' response when you make your move."

"What if they return in time to lead their men?" Laura asked.

"I'm not planning on bringing any of them back with me," Martin replied.

Laura gasped and Heidi's hand flew to her mouth.  In contrast, the Aashlans just nodded.

The intercom buzzed and Nist reported, "We're on our final approach to the base."

I looked around the table.  "Everything we've done for the last six months has led to this point.  Our success will not only free those held by the pirates, it will save countless thousands of lives which, in the future, would have been lost to these pirates.  Today, Aashla emerges from galactic obscurity.  Today, we write her name into galactic history!”

Will our heroes go down in history or will they die in obscurity?  Find out what happens next in Chapter 66, coming Friday!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Scout's Duty - Chapter 64

< Chapter 63                                                                                                   Chapter 65 >
Our heroes have been accepted into the pirate Brotherhood!

"I'm looking forward to a profitable relationship," Martin replied.  "Now that I'm one of you, perhaps you'd care to introduce yourself?"

"You may call me Captain Quint."

Martin's eyebrows rose.  "I am honored to meet a living legend!"

"Scorch the honor, Bane.  I'll be satisfied if you take us to Caudill's treasure and do your part to support the Brotherhood."

Martin smiled.  "I foresee exciting times ahead for us, Quint."

"Buoy channel eight one three has today's safe course to the base.  The other captains and I will meet you in the docking bay."

"I'll look forward to it," Martin said.  "Oh, I do have one other request.  In order to repair the ship, I required the cooperation of the women Caudill had on board.  I offered time with their husbands in return for their help."

"You got their cooperation or you wouldn't be here.  You're a pirate, Bane.  You don't have to keep your end of the bargain."

"And you'd accept that explanation if I chose to keep Caudill's treasure to myself?"

Quint's eyes narrowed.  "It's not the same thing, Bane.  We're your partners.  Those women are just useful playthings."

"I've been a pirate for a long time, Quint, and having a reputation for keeping my word was very profitable."  Martin's face hardened, transforming from my genial friend into a ruthless pirate in the blink of an eye.  "Do not presume to tell me how to run my ship.  We will work within your current repair schedules, but my women will have time with their husbands."

Quint glared at Martin before giving an abrupt nod.  "I'll alert the repair bay manager."

Martin's face relaxed and my friend was back.

"Transmission terminated," Heidi said.  "And thank you.  I haven't seen my husband in over a year."

"Soon you'll be able to spend all the time with him you want," Martin replied.  "Nist, we have families to reunite.  Take us in!”

Having gotten access to the pirate base, how will our heroes succeed in rescuing the husbands?  Find out what happens next in Chapter 65, coming Wednesday!