They say you never forget your first plunder.
Me? I was just trying not to shit my pants in zero gee.
We waited fifty klicks out from the Waygate, invisible against the black to anyone who came through. We'd been waiting long enough that hopefully our 'dark running' ships were cool enough to be invisible to sensors too.
The Gate was dark, its ring empty. I gazed out at the other twelve ships of Shallom's fleet. Converted freighters, mostly. Shallom had lifted a container load of missiles from some place he refused to divulge, and all twelve ships had been rigged up with missile tubes.
The Gate lit up. Geoff and Stabs sitting on either side leant forward to their controls, readying the Sharpe to start. Stabs magnified the viewport. Around the inside of the Gate's ring a sequence of yellow lights flashed on. Four flat spokes of some imaginary collar worked forward in readiness. Then, nothing. At least for a moment.
I never tired of that moment. The pause, long enough to give you doubt but short enough to cut off the dread with excitement when the nothingness in the ring changes – I have no other word for it. One moment there is darkness in a halo of light, the next there is pure white, still at a moment's glance but on closer inspection a swirling singularity, gravity from some other plane pulling it down, down, down.
Then we waited.
One of Shallom's strengths was his ability to gather passionate and like-minded people to him like mechanics to a Perspehone class yacht. This was not a random pillage; rather a precise job planned down to the detail. Valhalla Trading Company ships would come through the gate, from Incorporated Space and on their way to the Terran System. At least according to the intel, and if Shallom was right then instead of useless hydrocarbons, the freighters would be loaded with INC machinery. Easy to sell, high return. A pirates dream.
If the intel was right.
The ships came. Two escort ships, the new 'Patrol Craft Killer' from Pleiades Engineering and Drive. Then a Corporate Star Yards Zephyr class freighter. No, two, then four. They were coming in pairs. I counted eight before a long spar materialised through the gate and my heart stopped. A hollow ball formed in my stomach and for a moment I struggled to breathe, all consciousness focused on that ball and that spar, which grew then widened into the bowsprit of a CSY Armstrong.
Shallom's voice was yelling over the comms, but I barely heard him, definitely didn't remember any of his words. But my hands were moving, bringing the ship back to life, firing up the prime mover, all the while staring at the ageing warship, the backbone of the Terran Confederate Navy just over a decade ago. A ship with many weaknesses, as the Pleiades defense had discovered back then, but a lot of guns and a lot of armour.
Shallom's tone calmed. As I tuned back in his yelling fell into a chant:
"The fair breeze blew, the white foam flew,
The furrow followed free;
We were the first that ever burst
Into that silent sea."
Stabs poked my shoulder and pointed to the left of the viewscreen. I shook my head clear of poetry and fear and checked Stabs and Geoff were strapped in. Apparently the TCN had developed gravity technology but my boat was a long way from that. I turned back to what he was pointing at. The two escort ships. Shallom's pirate fleet closed in, plasma spewing from their rear, dirty grey comets falling into their star. The escort ships opened fire, twin beams of red energy lancing out, ploughing into the ship next to me.
I jerked the controls sideways, hoping the flight assist would change my actual vector. Smoke streamed from the wounded ship only to snuff out in the vacuum. The wounded ship pulled away but another two filled its place, firing back with their mass drivers.
I pulled away as a laser beam tracked my ship. Another pirate vessel fired, diverting the escort's attention. I stole that split second to check the jumpgate. The spokes had wound back in; the central lights still lit. It had nearly cooled down. A quick re-start and the gate would open, allowing our prey to escape.
I remember taking a deep cleansing breath then redoubling my attack. Shallom didn't want us to use our missiles, yet. I pulled the trigger and a thousand rounds a second slammed into the escort's armour. The ship seemed to shudder as if it racked by a fit of coughing and then exploded. The remaining pirate ships – nine, but I didn't know that at the time – concentrated their fire on the second escort. Already weakened it tried to pull away, but a laser beam punched through its armour, which sent a plume of air outward. The escort cartwheeled into further streams of bullets and it broke into two and exploded.
My chest lifted, a weight rising, a success soaring. As one we turned toward the Armstrong. The freighters were diving out of the way, turning back for the jump gate – no doubt hoping it would hurry up and open. The Armstrong took deflective manoeuvres, as best as it could anyway. They were a blocky ship, literally built from sections of smaller ships, welded together and passed off as a ship-of-the-line. This was their strength – ease and speed of production – and their weakness: joints.
Shallom gave the order and I switched to missile control. It was a big target, immobile relative to my ship and the lock only took a moment. My target was a join between the bridge and the main superstructure.
Within seconds, twisting streaks of light flew toward the Armstrong from all angles, like fireflies to a lantern, or sperm to an egg, but there would be no fertilization; only destruction. Light blossomed and the viewscreen darkened. A sequence of after explosions, missiles late to the party, then the viewscreen reversed polarity and the Armstrong was gone.
I smiled. Switched targets. Engines on freighter number 3. Pulled the trigger. A flicker of light and the freighter was adrift. Two minutes later I had connected our cargo bays together. Geoff and Stabs signaled the ship was secure just as the jump gate portal flashed into existence. I inhaled sharply, a knot of fear in my throat, but it was the jump gate completing its sequence rather than engaging from elsewhere. I kept watch anyway – if anything came through the gate I wanted to sail straight away.
Space stayed clear thankfully and when the gate closed, Shallom set it for a new destination. The containers of machinery were transferred over and the fleet of nine remaining ships made their get-away.
Easy money. When we returned to base Shallom was already talking of the next job.
March, 9th, 2472. Personal diary of Richard Worth, pirate of the Shallom Clan