2950-03-15 – Tales from the Inbox: A Spacer’s Contingency

[Note from the C.B. main office on Planet at Centauri: We are receiving word that normal contact with Fifth Fleet will be restored by next week. As a result, we expect this to be the last of the pieces from the automated backlog before Nojus (as Duncan reportedly remains in sickbay) brings some news on the battle. 

Specifics on the outcome of the fleet action reported in the Håkøya system nearly two weeks ago have not been released, but since we have hard evidence that both fleets are still in system, it seems to have been another stalemate with neither fleet giving ground.]  

Looks like we didn’t get a story into the feed system before ingest time this week. That probably means our embed team aboard Saint-Lô has not been near a hypercast relay for at least eight days.    

This is an expected consequence of wartime maneuvers and operations, and as such your Cosmic Background Embed Team has prepared a number of interesting accounts to publish in advance should the vagaries of war cause a lapse in communication with the greater interstellar datasphere.    

The names used in this account are all pseudonymous, and it is a continuation of a series of stories we set aside for this eventuality. If you haven’t seen them, prior portions of this account can be found in Tales from the Inbox: A Spacer’s Ruination, Tales from the Inbox: A Spacer’s Tempest, and Tales from the Inbox: A Spacer’s Exchange. 

The Ladeonists, though caught unprepared, flashed into motion when the floodlights came on, diving for cover behind Jen Daley’s landing struts or going flat against the muddy ground. The leader’s masked face revealed no emotion, but his arm lashed out and caught Livia’s outstretched arm, yanking her towards himself and turning toward the lights with her in front of himself. 

“Drop your weapons or you will be fired upon.” The loudspeaker-amplified voice repeated, once it was clear the initial order had been utterly disregarded. “This is your final warning.” 

Ramiro, knowing that becoming a human shield wasn’t part of Livia’s plans, scowled and backed a step up the railing, blinking into the lights. If the radicals decided to have a shoot-out with the encircling authorities – or at least what they thought were the authorities – he didn’t fancy his or Livia’s chances of surviving the crossfire. Captain Boleslav and his mercenaries might not be the actual Bettendorf system authorities, but they were probably better armed than the real thing, and only too happy to shoot back if the Ladeonists started it. Suddenly, Livia’s carefully laid plans were in tatters, and she probably knew it more than anyone else. 

The cell’s leader took a step toward the floodlights, one arm around Livia’s throat and another twisting her arm behind her back. “Let us go, or the lady dies.” His voice left no doubt that he was both capable and willing to carry out this threat, if he was pressed. 

“Don’t be an idiot. We can get you out of this!” Livia wriggled against the big man’s grasp, but she couldn’t loosen his grip. “Get your men into the ship, we can-” 

Ramiro gritted his teeth. He knew Livia couldn’t talk her way out of this one. Quietly, he tapped the small button on the underside of the remote in his hand three times. He’d talked to Boleslav privately after Livia had laid out her plan, and set up the three-tap panic signal with the mercenary to indicate that the plan had gone irrevocably wrong and it was time to fall back to a far less elaborate scheme. Most likely, the con artist would have been furious had she knew her co-conspirators had conspired behind her back, but at this point, she’d either live to thank them, or she wouldn’t live to learn of it at all. 

The floodlights flickered three times, and Ramiro understood this to mean that the mercenaries had heard his signal. Quietly, he unhooked his pistol from his belt and loosened it in its holster. He’d never fired the weapon, a Dragan chemical-cartridge weapon, in anger at anyone, but he’d spent many hours target-shooting in spaceport shooting galleries and outdoor practice ranges on the various remote worlds he’d visited. Now, it was time to do a distasteful thing to prevent several more distasteful things from happening all at once. 

“You are all under arrest on the authority of the governor of Bettendorf.” The mercenaries’ loudspeaker operator continued, most likely told simply to keep the Ladeonists busy for a few seconds. “Smuggling and arms-dealing on this world is prohibited by law.” 

The insurgent leader took another step forward. “Leave us alone, or this woman’s blood will be on your hands. If-” 

He never got a chance to finish his dire threats. Ramiro drew his Dragan in one fluid motion, lined its sights up on the back of the big man’s head, and pulled the trigger. The muzzle-flash briefly overwhelmed the floodlights, and the crack of its supersonic projectile echoed back and forth between Daley’s hull and the muddy ground. The Ladeonist staggered forward, twitched once, then went limp and fell to one side, the contents of his skull thoroughly scrambled by the weapon’s self-fragmenting projectile. 

Before the other would-be revolutionaries could figure out what was happening, Ramiro leapt forward and tackled Livia flat to the muddy ground. As they splashed down, the air above them filled with the tearing sound of hypersonic railgun slugs and the hailstone clatter of the same projectiles shattering against the landing struts and underside of his ship. He’d gambled small arms couldn’t do much harm to Daley, but he’d accept a little damage to his ship if it meant getting out alive. 

The firefight, though sharp, was short. No doubt the Ladeonists had targeting implants in their heads to help them shoot accurately in the driving rain, but Boleslav’s armor-suited platoon had far more weapons, and at least as much technology helping them figure out where each of their foes was. Within a minute, the cracking of pulse-beams and the tearing of automatic railgun fire fell silent, and Ramiro rolled off Livia and began scraping the mud off his face. 

Before even wiping mud off her face, the con artist dove for the dead Ladeonist’s body and rummaged around until she found the ring of cred-chits. She counted each of the ten-thousand-credit tokens by touch alone before pocketing the ring and finally wiping her eyes clear. 

Sighing, Ramiro got to his feet, shook his pistol clear of mud, and cleared its chamber. “Pay your mercs, and let's get out of here.” He looked down at the dead Ladeonist, shivering at the thought of their widely dispersed order putting a price on his head. “And next time, we’re doing this my way.” 

Looking up at him at the mention of “next time,” Livia smiled. Ramiro didn’t like the look of that too-clever smile, but he decided that unless he was willing to lift off and leave her on Bettendorf, that he was going to have to get used to it.