Aloha – It is National Talks Like A Pirate Day. Usually for such an auspicious occasion I’d share some sort of pirate humor or speech, but today I decided to share Chapter 24 of Haumeah instead, Pirates. Enjoy, Doc
Chapter 24 Pirates
Ryder spluttered, “Pirates? You think we’re pirates?” he demanded more than questioned.
The Haumeahan junior officer physically backed away, “Well, at first we thought you were a Perv invasion fleet because of the analytics we derived of your ship. When we reported to headquarters they asked what kind of fools we were because there was no way for a Perv invasion to approach from the far interior of the system.” The young man stuttered.
The officer in charge was slight of build as were the entire contingent of the Haumeahan guard. He was perhaps five and a half feet tall, had green eyes, and there were strands of curly brown hair escaping his cap. He continued, “Then it became apparent. You had to be part of the pirate fleet that has been harassing production and transportation in this region.”
“I see,” Ryder replied agreeably. “So how many ships are in the pirate fleet?” he inquired noticing that the squadron seemed more curious than alert. “How large is your militia defending this area? Are you the only regular defense officer on the base?”
“The pirate fleet? Intelligence reports suggest that the fleet is comprised of a dozen or more fighters, three or four freighters converted to frigates, and one light cruiser.” The officer hesitated, “I’m not sure I should be telling you this.”
“When did you realize we weren’t pirates?” Ryder smiled.
The young officer looked, then pointed at the ship, “No pirate ship would be painted like that,” then he moved forward, “Are you part of a circus?”
Ryder turned and laughed. The layer of the ship that was intact was the purple and silver bubble paint job that Debbie, Becky and Zaina Wepesi had done on the inner layer of the Sara that was intended to remain under the other layers of the fabric. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, the other layers of the fabric were gone or in tatters. He smiled, although he noticed that Barry and Joel were both turning a bright red shade of mortified. “No, this is the banner colors of the House of Ryder,” Ryder invented on the fly. “We are here to negotiate with the Haumeahan government, but got lost on the way in. I am Ambassador William Joshua Ryder, and you are?” he paused expectantly.
“Subaltern Midelka,” the young man replied.
“All right Subaltern, we need whatever repairs you can offer. We also need to open a private communications channel with the Council and Chairman,” Ryder began, but stopped when he saw the pained look on Midelka’s face.
“I’m afraid our communications network is down now. We’re the last of the Nehal frontier mining operations still holding out. We’re pretty much cut off,” Midelka frowned.
“What about reinforcements from Vodot?” Ryder posited as he started pacing with his hands behind his back.
“I am the reinforcements,” the young lieutenant seemed in pain. “I was the most junior officer of the task force sent to contain the problem. Our intelligence was inadequate. We arrived with a light cruiser and a squadron of fighters. The cruiser was destroyed in an ambush, along with all but four of the fighters. That was two weeks ago. ”
“Why don’t you evacuate to Vodot?” Ryder paused in his pacing.
“Our orders are to maintain Cius at all costs. I’m not sure what the commander would have done. He was killed aboard our cruiser. All I know is that we are to hold Cius, with four fighters and the thirty men of my engineering platoon.”
“Thirty?” Ryder looked around the chamber.
“Oh, two of these men are on my staff, the other seven are from the Nehal militia. My men have been shielding, and manning the cannon batteries we were sent here to install.” The ensign’s lips began to tremble, “I’m really not sure what to do. My father will be dishonored by my failure.”
Ryder looked at the young officer, and then felt a determined and stubborn wave sweep over him. “You haven’t failed yet. Don’t give up. How many cannon do you have?”
“We have five twin-action batteries with us. Four are fully installed, we are still working on the fifth.” the young man reported.
Ryder started pacing again. “What about the militia? Weapons? Points of attack? What infantry do the pirates have? How are they armed?” He stopped when Joel took his arm.
Lieutenant Midelka’s eyes were growing round and large and he seemed to be gasping for air, “Ryder, I think you’re sending the kid into shock,” Joel whispered. “I saw this in the caverns during the Perv invasion.”
Lieutenant Midelka was beginning to shake, and his lips had turned white.
One of the fully uniformed members of the Haumeah reception committee stepped forward, “Shamus, we’re okay. You’re doing fine.” Then looking at Ryder he explained, “Lieutenant Midelka hasn’t eaten or slept in two days sir.”
Ryder stepped forward and took Lieutenant Midelka’s other arm. “Let’s get your commander somewhere that we can sit down, eat something and work out some details then.”
The Sergeant nodded, and they moved Lieutenant Midelka toward a nearby passage. Joel and Barry followed close behind.
“Hey,” Debbie yelled as the militia began to disband. “Who’s in charge of these repair facilities?”
Two of the men, pointed at a third member of the group, who slouched defensively as the others pointed.
“I need some help getting the Sara repaired, let’s talk,” Debbie laughed.
Ryder left the hangar confident that Debbie would get whatever she needed even if Cius didn’t have it.
Five minutes later they were sitting in a well-stocked, but dingy cafeteria. The tables and chairs were metal. The table tops and floors were sticky and covered with food crumbs. Along the way, Ryder learned that the Sergeant’s name was Kresslein. The sergeant dismissed the third member of the security force to check on the progress of the installation of the fifth cannon battery.
After getting Lieutenant Midelka a warm drink and bowl of soup, Kresslein took over the conversation. “The lieutenant is doing his best sir,” the middle-aged NCO almost boasted. “He’s not really suited to sending men to their death, it’s eating at him. He lost a close friend on one of the six remaining fighters.”
“I thought he said there were four fighters,” Ryder sat on the sticky metal chair, while Joel and Barry stood nearby.
“The lieutenant ordered a counterattack to try to support the task force. Two of the six fighters he sent out didn’t make it back. Afraid he took it hard.” the sergeant finished.
“So what is this all about anyway?” Ryder asked. “I didn’t know you had any pirates in Haumeah.”
“It’s been building for the last several years sir. The Nehal mining cartel took over the Sochal cartel ten years ago. The two cartels had been doing exploration deeper into the Belt. Anyway, the Nehal cartel began laying off workers when Slick demand for some of the precious metals fell. That was inevitable. But, it seems that all the lay-offs were former Sochal workers including members of the Sochal family. That was Nehal’s biggest mistake. A brother and sister of the Sochal family hijacked two Nehal freighters and converted them to raiding vessels. Things just grew from there.” The sergeant exhaled slowly. “So here we are, trying to settle another Council squabble.”
So how many people are actually here on Cius? How many militia? What’s their training? Ryder tried to stop barraging questions that would help him analyze and strategize.
“All told, including families, about twenty thousand. The militia?” the old sergeant laughed, “Depends. When all is peaceful, and it functions like a club, about five hundred, I’m told. Right now it’s hard to turn out a hundred, not that it matters.” The sergeant laughed. “Useless group of rock suckers.”
“Weapons?” Ryder asked. “Any K-units?”
“K-units?” the sergeant snorted. “None out in the frontier. They’re all on display on Vodot. I’m not sure anyone even knows how to use them. Plenty of light weapons, and plenty of powerpaks. In fact, converting mining powerpaks to weapons powerpaks is fairly simple. We could fire light weapons without stopping and never run out of power.”
Ryder stood, although he felt his pants sticking uncomfortably to the debris on chair as he rose. In corners around the room he spotted slow moving rodent-like creatures that were nibbling on scraps from the floor. “What are those?” Ryder asked suddenly.
Sergeant Kresslein laughed. “Those, are Haumeah ndezi. They were brought to the system by our progenitors. They started out as pets, now they’re everywhere.” The sergeant put his hand down to the floor with a scrap of a vegetable from the table and cooed quietly. A long-haired furry creature about the size of the palm of Ryder’s hand approached, hopping across the floor. The creatures were covered with a thick coat of white and brown fur and created a crown on their head that half covered their eyes. It’s ears stuck upright on its head like a couple of thumbs.
As the ndezi nibbled the vegetable, Ryder decided it was a very small rabbit, or a very hairy rat. “Cynthia would love one of these,” he murmured.
“What was that sir?” Kresslein asked as he sat back up.
“Nothing,” Ryder stood and started pacing again. “What about the four fighters? What condition are they in? Training of pilots?”
“I’m not sure about the pilots. Can’t be too bad to have gotten back from the ambush, unless they just turned tail and ran away,” the sergeant stopped and his eyes grew distant for a moment, “No, I don’t think they would do that. Brave lot of youngsters. Not a lot of experience. Haven’t had much need in the last several decades.”
“What about the pirates? or Sochals?” Ryder stopped as he calculated.
“Well, same story. They aren’t that experienced. Most are civilians. They are certainly crafty though.” The sergeant spoke in a half-admiring voice.
Ryder paced back and forth for several minutes. Sergeant Kresslein followed the movement with growing concern. Joel approached the sergeant and in a low voice, “Not to worry, when Ryder is thinking all is well. It’s when he stops that you have to worry.”
As if hearing Joel’s warning Ryder stopped in front of Lieutenant Midelka. “Lieutenant.”
Midelka looked up tiredly.
“As ambassador of the Orion Spur government I offer my assistance in putting down the pirate menace. I have a plan. Get some sleep and then we’ll talk.”