“Think it’s big enough?”
Lady Grace and Friendly had only needed to travel a few hours away from the squadron to find themselves a perfect non-horse-shaped ship, and as the two corvettes loomed over that unfortunate SAU freighter, Kate Levec appeared on one of Friendly’s bridge screens.
She still didn’t seem entirely sold on this brilliant plan, but she’d gotten comfortably into the ‘oh well, let’s just do it’ phase, and her expression was slightly eager.
I should probably point out again that this was Kate’s first major cruise in command of a warship, so despite all the other implications of this whole mission, she was excited to be getting her first tastes of independent ship command.
Matt Baxter nodded in reply to her question, “Yes it’s big enough.”
“Excellent. How do you want to play it… good cop, bad cop? Or bad cop and worse cop?”
I think she was intentionally playing up her youthful eagerness at this point, but Matt was having none of it; he folded his arms and put on his ‘don’t do stupid stuff’ scowl, “Let’s ask nicely first. I’ll call, you keep an eye out for surprises.”
Kate seemed a tiny bit disappointed by that, but she nodded. Then Matt turned to his Sensors and Communications Officer, “Signal them when we’re in range.”
After receiving a nod back, he waited. Friendly and Lady Grace were running down hard on the freighter they’d found, but they would still need a little more time to overtake the long, triangular-hulled hauler in space. It was doing around 154 kps – good speed for a cargo ship – and moving on an oblique vector that pointed it at Etat Valcour, so they just needed to do a standard intercept.
“In range and signaling,” Friendly’s Sensors and Communications Officer at this time was Lieutenant Svetlana Singh, and she made that announcement as soon as my old corvette crossed the threshold into comms range.
Looking up at the ceiling, the way we all do when we’re watching the speakers in an audio-only message, Matt waited for someone to answer the hail.
It took a moment, and then this was what he heard: “The fuck do you want?”
Believe it or not, that’s not the least friendly reply Matt (or any of us) had ever received from a civilian ship when we queried them. Back during the pirate-hunting days, we’d always be pestering traders for sightings, and they got fed up with us pretty quickly… right up until the moments they needed us because they were under attack.
Anyway, this fellow hadn’t been friendly, but at least he hadn’t opened with an empty threat.
Matt appreciated that, so he decided to begin by offering him some help with his comm gear, “I’m sorry, did you say ‘The fuck do we want’, or ‘What the fuck do we want’?”
There was a pause on the line, and then the gruff master of the freighter came back: “The fuck do you mean?”
Raising an eyebrow, Matt looked across the bridge to Lieutenant Singh, then shrugged at her, “Well sir, either you don’t know much about speaking English, or the first word of every sentence you say is getting cut off because of poor communications gear.”
Another pause, then, “The fuck do you think you are?”
“Sir,” Matt decided not to waste any more time, “We are two Defense Command warships, from the Earth Empire. I’m afraid we have to commandeer your vessel for the purposes of capturing a criminal. You and your crew will be granted safe conduct aboard our ships until we put into a port that will take you.”
If you put yourself in the shoes of any skipper in the solar system, a statement like that must be more hated than any other you could imagine. We’re strong, you’re not, so we’re taking your ship and everything you’ve worked for. And we’re not even going to say ‘sorry’.
Again we were throwing our weight around, though at least this time we weren’t killing people or threatening their children. That’d come later.
For now, the master of this freighter offered a predictable answer: “The fuck do you mean? The fuck do you think you are?”
Well that settled it, he just didn’t put any of the five ‘w’s in front of his questions. And you think I’m a hack…
“Sir, we are two warships and we will board you with extreme force if necessary. If you comply with our orders, you and your crew will be safe and your ship will not suffer unnecessary damage.”
He didn’t add ‘for now’ to the end of that sentence, but he could have.
Matt waited patiently, listening to the silence on the line and wondering whether the freighter was armed, or whether it was contemplating a run. I should have mentioned this before, but both Friendly and Lady Grace were obviously at action stations – even when a ship looks as unassuming as this hauler, you have to play things safe. We didn’t have much information about the pirates that Grant was apparently concerned about (so we couldn’t make any jokes about the irony of the Syndicate’s master now getting a taste of his own medicine), but until you know for certain what’s aboard a ship, you’re better off proceeding with caution.
In this case, the caution was wise, but ultimately not essential.
“Fuck you,” said the ship’s skipper. “Cutting engines.”
The hauler stopped firing its drives, and as Lady Grace and Friendly drifted up on either of its flanks, Matt smiled towards the speakers in his bridge’s ceiling, “Thank you for your cooperation.”
“You’ll pay one day.”
Maybe we would, but for now Matt didn’t care; by threatening in an amiable manner, he’d been able to get us our Trojan horse without so much as firing a shot. And it didn’t even look like a horse…