The ship lurched to the left suddenly, the Sakkra foot soldiers on the bridge barely able to right themselves in time before they tumbled into the navigation deck. General Katie Jiang, or more accurately the former Human Republic General, grabbed onto a handrail at the last second to keep herself from falling into the bridge crew.
“Izula, what are you doing over there?” General Jiang shouted over the sound of various alarms and the howling of the Sakkra mercenaries.
The perpetually calm Psilon pilot simply waved a dismissive hand in General Jiang’s direction. “Trust me, Leader.” The Psilon’s hands were steady and quick, carrying the weight of all lives onboard the refitted mercenary battleship named the Dreki.
The Sakkra on the bridge still insisted on being heard, even as they were trying to navigate an asteroid field in combat. General Jiang rubbed her temples with a heavy sigh and turned to address them, “Now is really not the time, guys.”
General Jiang was hired to lead a group of disparate mercenaries on behalf of the Gnolam League, one of the only empires willing to pay high mercenary fees. The Gnolam also hated combat, preferring to send others to die for their trade deals. Most of the job had been wrangling the other mercenaries the Gnolam had hired without any thought to team structure.
Keeping them all alive and working together to even get to the mission point was a minor miracle. They had reached the mission objective successfully, airlifting an exposed espionage agent from enemy territory without being detected, but somehow on their way to the jump point from the system they were identified.
Lilika, a Sakkra raider hired to be the ground support for their covert mission, had brought her squad up to the bridge. They had abandoned their posts at the secondary weapons bays as the ship was attempting to navigate out of a dicey space battle. The only hope for the mercenary crew was to hit the asteroid field to lose their attackers. Lilika, ever the opportunist, decided this was an ideal time to renegotiate their contract.
“We are expected to be the first to die, yet we get the same pay as this piece of metal?” Lilika’s hissing voice seethed with resentment while her massive fist gestured towards the navigator, a Meklar unit called RB458. The Meklar beeped automatically in response to being referred to.
The ship lurched again from a direct hit, “You’ve GOT to be kidding me.” General Jiang shouted. Izula kept her vigilant eyes on the maze of asteroids ahead of them. Smaller ships following in their wake crashed against the rocks, but seemed to be replaced quickly by more pursuers.
Bata, the Mrrshan navigator, popped up from behind a wall of consoles showing enemy blips. “We are going to need to engage incoming ships.” His voice was smooth and calm, evidently unaffected by the chaos overwhelming the crew. How the Mrrshan kept that cool veneer drove General Jiang crazy. It was probably why the Mrrshan had a reputation for being colossal jerks.
RB458 let out a series of sharp blips and plugged into the primary firing interface, his external lights blinking green. Systems were activated and primed, all General Jiang had to do was give the order to fire on the pursuing ships which would up the ante.
“You’re free to fire!”
The ship dipped fast and low while the ship’s automatic gravitational correctors barely had time to adjust and keep them all grounded. While the primary weapons could be controlled from the bridge, the faster firing and nimbler secondary weapons were controlled from the lower bays. The secondary weapons were desperately needed in this fight, yet they sat cold as the Sakkra crew put the lives of the crew behind their bluff.
Lilika growled ominously in the background, not letting the issue go. It was an intimidation tactic and General Jiang had enough. She pulled a sidearm from her waist, aiming it squarely at Lilika’s favored subordinate, a stupid and brutish male who always annoyed General Jiang anyway. The Sakkra as a group riled up just as General Jiang fired, the blood of the oafish warrior splattering against the back wall of the bridge. Lilika hissed, the flaps of her loose skin around her neck expanding in a threatening fan that framed her face and curled around rows of sharpened teeth.
Everything moved in super speed then: Izula dodged incoming fire from the pursuing ships with rapid and jarring movements, opening an opportunity for RB458 to fire. RB458 unleashed a volley into the incoming assailants, their hull lighting up dramatically from the impact. The two of them moved in a logical and efficient tandem, a perfect match of logic and focus. They remained above the petty chaos on the bridge, focused on the larger picture that was going to save them all.
General Jiang steadied her gun at Lilika’s face while the other raiders, weapons up, looked to their leader for a decision. “Did you forget why you’re here?” The battle around them reached a fever pitch, the rest of her crew struggling to compensate for the distraction of the captain. “If you want to get paid, you’ll step down. A dead mercenary means nothing to the Gnolam League, but it means a bigger payday for the rest of us.”
General Jiang hoped that the massive Sakkra before her would take the time and mental effort to realize she was at a disadvantage here. Maybe that was pinning too much hope on Sakkra intellect. Lilika could not complete the mission without them, but they could make it work without her now that the ground support phase of the extraction had been completed. General Jiang kept her pistol aimed squarely at the massive creature before her.
Katie’s voice was completely calm. “Either way - if you don’t shut up and get back to the secondaries, we are all dead and no one is getting paid.”
The Sakkra warrior took a few steps back, the expanded skin around her face contracting slightly. She turned to the rest of her crew and uttered in a hoarse voice, “Get to the secondary weapons bays, now.” Lilika shifted her massive frame and waddled off behind the rest of her squad while General Jiang choked down a brief sigh of relief.
Turning back to the rest of her crew, she began shouting orders to her team. There was no telling how much the distraction cost them. The secondary weapons were in the fight now, but the tides of victory were unclear. They may be too late. A series of screens just above Bata’s head flashed a bright red, an ominous warning call for the damage sections of the ship.
Whatever this Gnolam spy had done, the mercenaries were paying a heavy price. The Human Republic pursued relentlessly. General Jiang had once been on the other side of this battle, when she was naïve and thought that the backing of the noble Human Republic meant something.
That was all before she became disillusioned with the Republic and their underhanded ways. Eventually she came to realize that she was just a pawn and a number to the Republic, so she bailed and went to find her own fortune. It was mostly a life of petty crimes, but Human Republic hadn’t put a substantial bounty on her head… yet. Just a first class ticket to one of the most notorious prisons in the Sol system.
The threat to the crew was great, but she was the one in the most danger. There were only two options for her: to finish this mission and get paid, or to die on this mercenary ship. She would not be captured and held on trial for her crimes. A “trial” as it were.
“Cease all firing and redirect all power towards evasive maneuvers.” She barked the order as a plan began to occur to her. RB458 beeped obediently and the various panels and switchboards under their control began to whirr.
General Jiang raced to the central console of the ship, quickly authorizing a large transfer of credits through the Gnolam run mercenary exchange to the head of the incoming ships. It was a gamble, one that all depended on the two faced coin flip that was human nature. She was pinning her hopes that the person leading the charge was one like herself, willing to look the other way and take money that the Republic never had to know about.
Were there noble and honest souls aboard, ones that believed in the Republic’s wild chases despite the risk? Or were they like her, willing to take a paycheck and another day circling the stars. The poor scrubs they sent out on these retrieval trips were most likely the same kind of underpaid and overworked glorified customs agents she had once been.
The mercenary ship continued to race through the asteroid field as the credit transfer sat pending. Seconds ticked by, marked by the incoming fire of the pursuing Human ships ricocheting off nearby asteroids.
The panel beeped as the credits were removed from their balance. The Human ships ceased firing, slowing down and reversing course.
“Our path is clear, General Jiang!” Bata hissed from the navigational suite.
A small message blipped on the screen, a note from whoever accepted her offer. The flashing text burned into her mind for a brief moment, before automatically deleting without a trace. The mercenary crew was celebrating, halfway to opening the bubbling fermented juices the Sakkra thought they kept well hidden in the maintenance wing. General Jiang smiled and feigned excitement, but the words from the retreating Human ships shook her to the core.
Just this once for old time’s sake, Katie.