Three days aboard the tramp freighter left Liishi ready to scream, and she had, in fact, once or twice at the weasels who were always underfoot whenever she left the confines of her cabin and made her way back to the cargo hold for her daily “centering routine” as W.B. called it. He always smiled when he said it, but she wanted to slam his smiling face into the bulkhead. Repeatedly. Fortunately, her partner had kept himself busy for most of the duration. He had found a kindred spirit inHobbs and spent hours comparing war stories when he wasn’t reading or doodling.
Liishi was in the middle of a stretching routine when a klaxon sounded, followed by the call, “Captain to the bridge.” She quickly finished and rushed down the central corridor, rushed being a relative term. The space was too narrow, the ceiling too low, but she’d managed over the last few days to focus on where she was going, thus avoid thinking about her surroundings. It worked as long as she thought, cargo hold, or cabin, or bridge, in this case. She held that image in mind while she navigated her way through the ship. It worked fine as long as the image held. The moment it slipped, she tended to lash out.
About that time, the weasel in the broad-brimmed hat poked his head into the corridor. “What was the distress signal for?”
“How should I know?” Liishi snapped, then took a deep breath and muttered, “Bridge.” Then she pushed herself passed the rodent, refusing to be dragged into whatever pitch he threw at her this time. The first time she’d encountered him in the hallway, he’d tried selling her an array of sun accessories: hats, visors, glasses, lotions, and sprays. She had cooperatively listened for awhile hoping that the distraction would take her mind off her surroundings. When she realized half an hour into his sale pitch that she wanted to take the needle he kept chewing on and ram it down his throat, she decided it was time to go elsewhere.
When Liishi arrived at the command center, she found Tariq leaning over Moe’s shoulder. Both the captain and pilot stared at a view screen which showed a ship dead in space. Lots of stars. And black emptiness between. She felt her pulse rise. She’d never been to the bridge. The seats for crew and the various boards and screens seemed crammed into the area.
Then there was all that space on the other side of the hull.
Tariq glanced up at her, the flickering lights from the boards throwing shadows across his features. “Did you need anything?”
Liishi blinked, nodded toward the screen. “That our contact ship?”
“No. We shouldn’t arrive until sometime tomorrow,” Tariq replied. “I’m more concerned about the Pantera ship off our starboard side.”
“Excuse me, ma’am,”Hobbssaid as he squeezed past Liishi before dropping into a seat on the opposite side of Moe. “What’s that about a Pantera?” His gaze flicked to the view screen.
“Pantera navy guard my homeworld,” Liishi said. “What’s wrong with them?”
Tariq shrugged. “Nothing. Normally. But one particular Pantera captain and I have had problems going back several years.”
“Boss,”Hobbsgrowled, eyes still locked on the screens, “sorry to interrupt, but do we have registration info on that ship?”
Tariq paused a moment then turned to Moe who cleared his throat and flipped a few switches while scanning the boards before him. “It isn’t sending any signals. Running under minimal power. Recent damage. I can boost the vid and maybe we can get an angle on its nose, sir.”
“This extremely important?” Tariq glanced back at his second then pointedly stared at the red dot getting closer to the center of the display on the plotting board beneath Moe’s paw.
Liishi didn’t know the distances marked on that screen but did know the Pantera ship was closing fast. Whatever problems the Knoz captain had with Fayeed Alliance navy was about to be dumped in her lap.
That response yanked Tariq’s attention as well as Moe’s who made a course adjustment even as the captain gave him the go ahead.
“Any idea who that Pantera is yet?” Liishi asked of no one in particular.
Moe shook his head, Tariq grunted some reply, and Hobbssilently eyed the view screen as the Iron Hide II slowly shifted position toward the derelict ship’s prow.
What he found so captivating in the blocky shape hanging out there, Liishi couldn’t tell. The bulkiness of the ship said it was Bov ship. The number of extraneous cargo pods told her it was a freighter of some sort, likely one of the slow ships that ferried goods within a planetary system and not designed for flight between systems.
As the prow of the ship slid into view, its name became apparent—as well as the scorch marks of laser fire—Majestic.
Hobbs groaned, “That’s my cousin’s ship.”