Ill-Gotten Gains

Nineteen hours into the twenty seven hour long slipspace jump and Karim is lying on the cot he keeps in his cramped quarters. He’s getting some much needed rest in hopes of being well rested for whatever it is he may face when he reaches whatever destination he is headed for. His lack of knowledge relating to where he is going still concerns him, but he’s in too deep now.

Suddenly the Veil is pulled violently out of slipspace. Karim fully awakened from his dozing curses as he is thrown from his cot to the hard metal decking below. His impact with the decking is painful but he pushes the thoughts aside as he quickly staggers the short distance from his quarters to the cockpit of his starship. His eyes are still bleary as his sinks into the flight seat. As soon as does though he catches sight of what he is faced with and the bleariness vanishes. Instead, his jaw drops as he finds himself face-to-face with a USSA super-carrier. In that instant he wishes he was anywhere else but here, including a USSA prison.

He doesn’t know how his luck has gotten so bad but immediately Karim breaks into a blur of motion as he tries to spool the disabled slipspace drive back into life. But he can’t. He guesses that this massive diamond shaped starship with more than nine hundred cannons has done much the same to him as the USSA corvette had done earlier. This time however, he is sure he won’t be lucky enough to chance upon a weakness, while blindly firing at a section of the starship hoping to come up with a plan, that will afford him an escape.

But as he tries and curses at his limited options he notices that the massive ship, the bow of which is pointed head on toward him, is being signalled as the source of the tracking node.

He blinks rapidly several times sure that there must be some mistake. He even runs a check to prove it, but the result indicates that this mammoth vessel really is his destination. He doesn’t know how that can be possible. In fact, it shouldn’t be. Nevertheless the scan comes back with information detailing that this vessel is the USSA Cerberus.

“No way.” Karim says aloud to no one. His words echoing in what is otherwise, bar the fully stocked cargo hold, the empty interior of the Eternal Veil.

The USSA Cerberus had been declared lost with all hands three years ago during a routine mission at the edge of known space. No details were ever given about which edge of known space, but seeing as Karim is near the edge it seems this edge is likely the one the USSA meant.

The term known space had always humoured Karim as known space had grown with the progress and expansion of the human race. At one time Orion IV had been beyond the limits of known space, but now that it was a human world that sat in a human occupied system it is now no longer considered unknown. That could be true for all corners of space if humanity dared, or more likely managed, to reach that far into the inky dark void.

Still, none of that helps to explain why the USSA would lie about one of its super-carriers fates, though it doesn’t surprise him that they would.

 It also doesn’t explain why, or how, this can be the vessel that he has to rendezvous with for the delivery of stolen USSA weaponry.

That’s why if he could make a slip right this second he would, but he can’t. However, that soon becomes the least of his problems as he is suddenly locked out of all non-essential systems on the Eternal Veil. Seconds later a transmission request comes through from the massive vessel which has more in common with his own than the last USSA starship he’d encountered.

The Cerberus, unlike the Present Resolve, is sleek and if viewed from above or below would reveal it to be diamond shaped. The engines, nine massive protrusions aligned in a triangular shape, jut from what would be viewed as a flat horizontal edge that makes up the aft of the ship. The diagonal edges on either side of the aft section appearing similar to wings as would have been found on old Earth-bound aircraft from the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Except those of the Cerberus are much stubbier and flow into the long sharp body of the warship that terminates at a sharp point.

 However, it dawns on Karim that none of the huge cannons are physically pointed directly at him. Sure many are pointed in his vessels general direction, but not in an antagonistic or prepared to fire sort of manner, as he would have expected. Instead they seem to be just pointed in what the smuggler would consider their natural resting position. Karim doesn’t know whether to take that as a positive sign or not when a request for communication suddenly begins to pulse slowly to the right of his field of view.

Karim hesitates for a few further seconds, drinking in the scale of the starship which is more than a four hundred times the length of his own vessel before thumbing acceptance of the incoming transmission.

“Greetings…” says the holographic image of a bald headed man. The man who as yet has not identified himself has a well groomed full face beard that is brown in colour and a set of haunting pale blue eyes. Karim notes that the man is dressed in nothing like a USSA uniform but instead what can best be described as a dark grey boiler suit. The arms of the boiler suit tied off around his waist while his torso is covered in a plain black vest.

“…I’m Trent Marlowe and I believe you have a shipment for me. Is it secure?” The man says as he both identifies himself and proclaims that he is the recipient of Karim’s cargo.

Karim says nothing in response at first. He’s confused, but he quickly realises that he needs to shake it off. Questions and hopefully answers will come later. First he has a job to do, he thinks as he composes himself and then answers with a dashing smile meant to convey confidence and competence, “Cargo is secure and ready for delivery.”

“Good. We’ll bring you into the main docking bay.” Trent says seconds before the communication is closed leaving Karim to wonder what he’s gotten himself into. Though, more accurately it is what Ferris has gotten him into. And that’s before he adds that his ship, Eternal Veil, is now being pulled swiftly toward the gaping maw that resides down the right flank of the massive military vessel.

Karim watches as he is pulled toward the deck plating and the army of single seater craft that line much of the deck space. The fighters are like nothing he has ever seen, much like the rest of the super-carrier. The smuggler had heard tales of the magnificent capital ships of the USSA but this is the first time he’s seen one in person. And at a distance which is much closer than he feels comfortable with.

Trent is clearly not USSA but then he doesn’t seem, at least at this present moment, to serve any immediate threat to Karim’s safety either. So Karim knows that he will have to let it pass for now. Though, Karim still doesn’t like this situation as he feels the dull thud of the Veil touching down on the matte grey deck plating of the docking bay. The vast open space filled with people who are bustling about working busily as they to and fro. Clearly none of those present are USSA personnel either.

The smuggler takes several deep breathes wondering what he’ll be faced with, though pleased he is still dressed, in the time before he departs the cockpit of the Eternal Veil, slinks through the corridor and into the stacked space of his ship’s cargo hold.

Karim gazes around at the hundreds of stacked crates and then thumbs the panel to lower his cargo bay door, which responds a split second later with a loud hydraulic noise that would alert even the most hard of hearing to the action that is unfolding.

Thankfully, the period between the closed and completed open cycle of the cargo bay ramp are not as long as the slow whirring hydraulic noise would have anyone within earshot believe. But still the time seems to drag to Karim as he stands there patiently. That is until the open cycle is complete and he is able to step off the ramp and then stride, confidently, a few paces along the docking bay deck plating. He isn’t afraid. He’s simply confused and wary. However, he keeps his confusion hidden as he is met by a party comprising of Trent Marlowe and what appears to be a security detail. It’s clear they are without a doubt awaiting his approach. The short barrelled blaster rifles of the security team members clasped warily in their wielders hands. Though, the weapons are not pointed at Karim who takes that as a good sign in the moments after he’s cast his gaze over those assembled before him.

“Welcome to my humble abode.” Trent Marlowe says throwing his arms wide, his vest rising high enough to reveal the blaster tucked into the swathe of cloth around his waist. The layers of cloth a result of the arms of the boiler suit being tied about his waist.

Karim is sure that the gesture is meant less as a welcome and more as a showcase that even the man in charge is armed, so the smuggler better not try any funny business. Still Karim isn’t about to appear weak, which is why he makes sure to keep his left hand visibly away, but not too far as to make it impossible to pull if needs be, from his own Burnblaster.

It isn’t often Karim has to use the weapon, but that doesn’t mean that it’s for show. He’s ended more than a few lives with the weapon. Still, he only draws it when necessary. Piles of bodies tend to bring unwanted attention and attention results in renown and that leads to a bounty being put on your head. As a smuggler that is the last thing Karim wants. He prefers to stay below the radar, except in the criminal circle that is. Sadly after the Perrin Run it has become clear that his name has acquired far more renown than he is comfortable with. Still, he’s sure a lot of that renown is less likely to be down to his own actions and more probably down to the spotlight being forced upon him. Perhaps the spotlight has been directed his way by the hand of Ferris, or perhaps at the behest of someone else entirely. Ferris still makes the most sense, but that doesn’t mean a competitor couldn’t be the culprit instead. Which one however, Karim can’t say as there are a lot of names that could be put upon on that list. Some rightly have a grievance or three against Karim, while others likely would just want a better candidate out of the way so they can take the runs he would get.

“No need to look so cautious smuggler. You are in equally murky company here on Terror’s Wake.” Trent assures with a half smile.

“Now how ‘bout I get you a drink while my lads unload the cargo and refuel your ship?” Trent then asks.

“Been a long slip I’m sure, and by looks of things you could do with a kip. Ferris won’t mind, I assure you.” Trent says before gesturing the direction in which they will, if he accepts, be headed. Trent’s thick lips cast in the shape of a smile. Not a sincere one, but a smile nonetheless.

“Sure, why not. I’ve got questions.” Karim replies after a time and much to the delight of Trent who nods in satisfaction as the pair depart and begin to walk side by side away from the Eternal Veil.

“Get to work boys. Time is of the essence.” Trent calls over his shoulder after a couple paces.

“So who are you exactly?” Karim asks once they are eight or nine paces from the Eternal Veil, but still a good distance from departing the docking bay. Karim paying no attention to the lines of small fighters that are resting on the deck of the docking bay, or the people as they work on whatever task they have to achieve.

“Straight to the point, I like that.” Trent says before chuckling loudly.

“I lead a group called the Ghost Dynasty.” Trent admits before asking his own question, “Know what you were haulin’?”

It is clear that the man is more than a little curious as to whether the smuggler will be honest with any answer given in response.

“USSA weaponry.” Karim replies honestly.

It dawns on Karim that this will be the first time that he has ever hauled any of the government come military organisations equipment. He wonders how many others have attempted such feats before as he assumes that it must be a rare and dangerous thing to attempt transporting.

“Good. A truthful smuggler.” Trent says with another hearty chuckle before continuing, “We plan to use those weapons to push back the tyranny of the USSA and install a new order within the frontier. Too long we have lived under the boot of the primaries and the origin.”

“Is that what happened here?” Karim queries with curiosity. Though, he’s unimpressed by the claims being made by Trent that a rebellion will be for the good of the people, especially as Trent is clearly from one of the primary systems himself. His surname, Marlowe, makes that obvious enough as none of the ancestral names are given to those born out in the frontier. Karim doesn’t know why, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is a truth.

“Whatever do you mean?” Trent responds with a coy smile.

“You referred to this ship, your ship, as Terror’s Wake, but the ID on scan declares this as the claimed to be lost USSA Cerberus.”

“Clever, aren’t you?” Trent asks rhetorically before continuing, “It is true. This was once a capital vessel in the talons of the Allegiance. But we wrenched her free, from the inside. Killed her captain, Admiral Christopher Merrick, along with the crew members that weren’t made up of my lads, which wasn’t many, I’ll tell you.”

Trent sounds proud as he recants in a greatly truncated form the events that saw the claiming of the vessel that is now known as the Terror’s Wake. But the conversation goes no further as klaxons erupt into a sudden deafening cacophony.

Karim shields his ears with his hands for the briefest of moments but stops just in time for the internal communications channel to open.

“USSA corvette just dropped out of slip. It’s delivered a message offering surprise at our survival, asks that we reply but advises that it was led here by a smuggler vessel it was pursuing. ID confirms the corvette to be the Present Resolve. Data breach of their systems confirms they were tracking the Eternal Veil. Same ship we currently have in our hold. What is our reply?” An old gruff sounding voice declares at a near babbled speed before falling silent to wait for Trent’s reply.

But the man says nothing. Instead, he simply glares at Karim who he is now stood face-to-face with. His face is clearly etched with disdain in the moments before he erupts angrily saying, “Traitor! You led them here.” Trent pulling his weapon, a simple blaster, which he immediately levels the wide flared barrel of at the smuggler.

Karim pulls his own Burnblaster in response a split second later and aims the weapon with its narrower and longer barrel right back at Trent. Somehow they are both still alone on the far side of the long docking bay. That surprises Karim who would have put money on them being immediately encircled by armed supporters of Trent.

Neither man makes a move to fire on the other as they both continue with their stand-off, while the voice on the internal comms system asks again for an order. However, this time they call for Trent by name to reply with an order. It strikes Karim as uncomfortable to hear someone ask another for an order without a title being attached, such as captain. But Trent is no captain. He holds no rank. He is simply in-charge of this group, which Karim has to admit must be pretty large if they manage to crew this super-carrier.

“Fire upon the corvette. Leave no remains. I’ll deal with the smuggler myself.” Trent snarls as he offers his reply to the speaker that is built into the earpiece that he’s wearing. His eyes never break from their hate filled stare on Karim, who returns the look with an emotionless one of his own.

“That’s a bad idea Trent. You’ll bring the entire USSA down on you.” Karim says trying to reason with the bald headed man who just wants to shoot the smuggler where he stands for this betrayal.

“That corvette can’t do much to this capital ship.” Trent fires back before adding, “Ferris was right not to trust you. It’s clear now you’re an Allegiance lackey. But you won’t make it off this ship alive. I assure you of that.”

As soon as Trent finishes his statement both men hear a volley unleashed from some of the nine hundred cannons that sit across the entire upper and lower surface of this starship. The vibrations from the barrage are dull yet obvious and unmistakable.

Somehow the Present Resolve manages to call evasive manoeuvres in time and narrowly escape being peppered by the far superior firepower of what is now called the Terror’s Wake. That is unbeknownst to the crew of the Present Resolve, as well as its captain, Benedict Warner, who orders his own ship return fire. His crew hesitate wondering if he is mad, but he repeats the order and this time they comply. Benedict understands their hesitation but questions will have to come later. First they must survive.

But the cannon fire of the Present Resolve, while unavoidable for the Terror’s Wake, does nothing to the massive hulking vessel which simply seems to shrug off the return volley from the much smaller corvette.

However, that is not to say that there is no impact felt by those onboard the Terror’s Wake as the ship is sent swaying from side to side. The shudders that tear through the mammoth vessel cause many of those aboard to lose their balance and come off their feet as the impact energy is dissipated along the superstructure.

Trent is one of those nearly knocked off his feet as he stumbles backward desperately trying to regain his balance so he can end Karim’s life, who is also sent tumbling. Yet the smuggler goes in the opposite direction to Trent. However, Karim recovers quicker and uses the narrow opening to turn tale and burst into a sprint in the moments following his on all fours scramble that allowed him to regain his balance over a shorter period.

Trent roars angrily into his radio calling for backup from those deemed as the starships security while another volley from the Wake’s cannons are fired. Several of these plasma shells hit their mark, resulting in the Resolve spinning a hundred and thirty degrees away from the impact sources. The hull of the Resolve battered along the right side near the aft of the corvette. The impacts of the shells delay the firing solution being able to be initiated. Though, the delay is not long enough for the Wake to unleash another volley, as the target presented by the Resolve is now too narrow for the hulking super-carrier to get a sufficient solution of its own calculated.

None of that however is Karim’s concern. He just has to focus on getting back to the Veil and departing this place as fast as he can. That’s why he slides behind a series of stacked crates. He doesn’t think they’re the ones that had been in his cargo hold, but he can’t be sure. Still he doesn’t like waiting, but knows he has to. The ramp of his ship is in sight but he can’t afford to make a break for it yet. Not until…

Then the reply volley from the Resolve hits the Wake. Again the massive ship shudders, but this time several of the cannons explode, damaging them beyond use. It’s a small victory for the crew of the Present Resolve, but the shudder of the Terror’s Wake gives Karim the chance he needs to slip back aboard the Veil. Fires having broken out in the docking bay due to conduits being ruptured by the vibrations caused by the impacts upon the vessels thick armoured hull. While supply crates have toppled to leave people trapped or injured under them, which only adds to the chaos of the scene. Many of the security personnel are distracted and drawn to the aid of their fellow shipmates as a result which is what gave Karim his window of opportunity. Still the smuggler edges his way carefully forward now that he is aboard his vessel unsure as to whether he will find anyone else within its space.

Karim checks the small living spaces on the Eternal Veil as he goes but by the time he reaches the flight seat he can safely say that he really is the only one aboard. And that is when he fires up the engines. Karim doesn’t care that the slip drive isn’t up to speed yet. That can be a concern for once he is free of this catastrophe and in control of his own destiny once again.

It takes only a few moments for the engines to spool up ready for takeoff. Karim just hopes the Wake can’t, or won’t, lock his systems access out again like they did shortly after his arrival. Nevertheless it’s a chance he has to take which is why he slams the controls for his ship into overdrive allowing the Veil to lift clear of the deck of the docking bay and toward the gaping maw beyond which is the black void of space.

His actions don’t go unnoticed however, as Trent and several of his security personnel open fire with their personal weapons. But the blaster bolts are ineffective against the skin of the smugglers ship and simply leave surface level burn marks that with some scrubbing would be able to be wiped clear.

Trent is spitting with rage as another query comes through from the large bridge of the super-carrier that is occupied by fourteen of his followers. None of them hold ranks either, but they all know their places as they sit behind the consoles that serve as their individual stations on chairs that are welded to the decking below their feet, which is covered in thick dark carpet.

“Fire everything! I want that corvette dead! Then obliterate that smuggler!” Trent roars, his face red with anger as the veins in his neck pop visibly.

And with the order the Wake unleashes everything in a single nine hundred cannon volley. The super-carrier doesn’t have a firing solution for the attack that it unleashes, but those on the bridge of the Wake worked on the basis that the Present Resolve will be unable to evade the wall of plasma that has been flung in the direction of the USSA corvette and they’re right. However, only partially as the much smaller corvette is battered and many of its defensive and offensive systems are crippled by the wall of plasma. Though, somehow it manages to avoid the obliteration that it should have been assured.

Trent orders for his crew to fire again, but before they have the chance to an entire battle group of ninety two USSA ships drops out of slipspace. There isn’t a super-carrier present, bar the Terror’s Wake, seeing as this is one of the sub-battle groups, meaning that it is smaller than a full battle-group. Still the fleet of ship has more than enough firepower to take the renegade super-carrier down. Might that the small fleet shows as the more than ninety ships collate firing data and then unleash a unified yet staggered discharge, three waves worth, of firepower from their combined weaponry.

Trent screams for evasive manoeuvres, which are already in progress, but it’s too late. The Terror’s Wake is broadsided by the bulk of the plasma shells which blast along its flank cutting deep holes into the armour plating of the massive vessel. The offensive systems of the super-carrier fail as the detonations caused by the next wave of the staggered assault cause explosive ruptures throughout the superstructure which sags in reply. Then the last wave of the plasma shells slam into the Terror’s Wake. The plasma balls which upon impact and detonation cause a complete failure of the superstructure of the capital ship that sees the hulking starship shatter like glass dropped onto an unrelenting stone floor.

Chunks of the mammoth ship balloon outward from the origin point of the detonation. The trajectories of the debris will continue onward, unless met by other objects or debris that change the course of the now space junk, forever. And Karim has watched it all. He held no ill-will toward those on the Terror’s Wake, but he doesn’t feel any sadness for their loss of life either. If he said he did he would have been lying.

Still he’d rather not still be in-system, and wouldn’t have been if one of the plasma shells from the Terror’s Wake hadn’t glanced his own ship and fried his propulsion systems, including the slipspace drive that would have allowed him to leave this carnage far behind.

Instead, Karim had been a passenger sure that he would be obliterated by another stray plasma shell. Somehow he’d avoided that fate, though Trent had still managed to send out a broadcast swearing that Karim would regret his betrayal. Seconds later the channel had become overwhelmed by static. That meant Trent was dead. There was no way the man could have gotten off the super-carrier in time. Karim takes a positive from that as it means the smuggler hasn’t got to worry about some retribution later down the line. However, that does nothing to change the fact that Karim will still be taken into custody sooner rather than later, as there is no way he is lucky enough to have the USSA battle group simply pass him by without noticing his presence.

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