Alpha-line Q-Ship, Federation Border Station 7 Airspace, Lorialis System
“That’s the Omega-line? It doesn’t look any different than this Q-Ship,” said Lars from the copilot seat.
“That’s kind of the point,” said Eddie. “The differences are on the inside.” He pulled the controls to the side as Julianna maneuvered the other ship, the one Hatch had just created, up next to them. “Strong Arm,” he said, using Julianna’s call sign, “you wanna show Carnivore what that baby can do?”
“I thought you’d never ask,” said Julianna over the comm. The Q-Ship she was flying punched out at breakneck speed, leaving the other behind.
“Whoa, it can definitely move,” remarked Lars. “I’ll admit that’s impressive, but I thought the new line had some out-of-this-world features?” The Kezzin gave Eddie a sideways glance that showed his disappointment.
Eddie activated the thrusters to send their own Q-Ship racing after Julianna. “Just wait. There’s another feature you have to see in action.”
“Carnivore, did you just say ‘out-of-this-world’ while we’re racing through space?” asked Julianna.
Eddie snickered. “He’s been sheltered, so give him a break. We’ll teach him some fun references.”
A laugh echoed across the comm. “Don’t learn your lingo from Blackbeard.”
“Hey, I know things!” argued Eddie.
“If you three are done shooting the breeze, our target is ahead,” said Pip.
“’Shooting the breeze?’” asked Eddie, activating the second thruster to catch up with Julianna.
“Yes, it’s one of the many weird things about his new evolution,” said Julianna, a sudden edge to her voice.
Eddie shot Lars a look and raised his eyebrow but said nothing, and Lars returned the glance with a slight shrug.
“Target spotted,” said Lars, checking the radar. Julianna, as planned, had made an arc around the upcoming Black Eagle.
“That puppy is slow. It must have been kept in a rusty garage since it was decommissioned.” Eddie sent the Q-Ship toward the flying target, doubling his speed.
“Strong Arm, we are approaching and will be in position soon,” Lars informed Julianna.
“Fifteen seconds,” supplied Pip.
“Almost there,” muttered Eddie.
“Target’s fuel reserves are low. Engines have failed twice,” Pip informed them.
Lars flipped two switches overhead before adjusting his microphone. “Defiance Trading Company, we’ve determined that your spacecraft is in distress. We’re a Ronin tow craft, and we offer assistance.”
There was no answer over the static-filled comm, but the gray Black Eagle immediately spun in the opposite direction. For a moment it looked like it would stall, but the engines kicked back on and it shot forward.
“We’ve got a runner,” said Eddie, sitting up.
“Your engines are failing, Defiance. We can help you. We mean you no harm,” said Lars over the comm.
Another voice finally answered. “I don’t need any help. I’ve got a rescue craft already on the way.”
Eddie sent the Q-Ship after the Black Eagle and quickly caught up. The craft in front of them came to an automatic halt, causing Eddie had to swerve the Q-Ship around it. He overshot it by a short distance before doubling back and hovering just in front of the old craft.
“Fuel levels on Defiant ship are nearly depleted,” said Pip.
“How long could he idle?” asked Eddie.
“Three hours, roughly,” said Pip.
“I don’t have three hours to hang around here,” remarked Eddie. “This idiot needs to realize we aren’t the bad guys.”
“Unless he turns out to be an enemy, and then we’ll fuck him up,” said Julianna.
“There you are, Strong Arm. What say we end this already?” Eddie and Lars were only thirty meters from the other ship, close enough for a visual, and Eddie leaned forward to look into the Black Eagle. The murky dust covering the windows made it impossible to discern a figure, though.
“There’s a problem,” said Pip over the comm.
“Of course there is. Wouldn’t be a party without one,” said Eddie, not at all deterred.
“Fuel level is rising,” informed the AI
“How is that possible? You said it was near zero,” said Lars.
“It shouldn’t be possible,” said Eddie. “Maybe there was a malfunction with the gauge.” As soon as the last word left his mouth the rogue Black Eagle zoomed forward again in another attempt to get away. It wasn’t going to work, but the last-ditch effort was kind of cute. Eddie flew straight after it and kept pace.
“Have you guys been looking for me?” asked Julianna. Eddie couldn’t see her out the window, but a quick glance at the radar told him that she was hovering just above the Black Eagle.
“There you are!” Eddie chuckled. “Lars, tell this guy we’ve got him surrounded. You’ve got a nice voice, so I’m sure it’ll sound comforting.”
Lars shot Eddie a strange look. “’Comforting?’ Do I really?”
“Like an old grandmother,” Eddie assured him.
“If she had smoked for forty years,” added Julianna.
“Are you sure you want me to say we have him surrounded?” asked Lars. “We only have two ships.”
Keeping his hands on the controls, Eddie nodded. “Just do it.”
Without another question, Lars flipped a switch. “Defiance, we have you surrounded and we mean you no harm. Allow us to tow you from here.”
“I’m not falling for your bullshit. Just leave me alone.” The voice crackled through the staticky comm.
“Testy little tyke, isn’t he?” asked Eddie. “Strong Arm, we’re ready for you to graduate to the next phase.”
“Copy,” said Julianna. “Initiating. Be ready for next phase in three, two…and one.”
In front of the racing Black Eagle another Q-Ship appeared, and Lars’ eyes widened with shock. Eddie had wanted to tell him about this part beforehand, but he had also wanted it to be a surprise. He wagered there was no danger in that.
Lars whipped his gaze to the radar. Another ship had appeared behind the Black Eagle and almost at once the fleeing ship slowed, stalling once more before coming to a near-halt. A second later two more Q-Ships materialized on each side of the Black Eagle.
Lars flicked off the comm, disconnecting them from the Defiance ship. “I’m guessing those aren’t enemy ships, based on the smile on your face.”
“Those aren’t even ships,” said Eddie proudly.
Lars stared at the vessel just in front of the Black Eagle. “Huh? They look like ships.”
“Holograms are funny like that,” said Eddie.
“Holograms?” sputtered Lars. “Strong Arm, are you doing that?”
Julianna answered right away. “Yes, they’re projections. After the right modifications, Hatch was able to make them appear as actual ships on the radar too. Just one of many upgrades to this Omega-line Q-Ship.”
“Damn, that’s remarkable,” said Lars.
“Looks like it’s time to bring this guy in,” said Eddie. “Finally.”
“Finally?” questioned Julianna. “This took a whole five minutes—you’re so impatient. But yes, let’s bring him in and end this.”
Lars nodded, flipping the comm switch. “Defiance, we’re sending out tow cables. Cooperate, and you will not be harmed.”
There was no reply as Eddie fed out the cables and locked them securely into place. After they had been reinforced, Eddie signaled Julianna. “Strong Arm, we’re all set. Meet you back at ArchAngel.”
The Q-Ship projections disappeared from around the Black Eagle. “Copy,” responded Julianna. “I’ll be waiting with a welcome gift for our guest.”
“Freshly baked muffins?” asked Eddie, mock hope in his voice.
“With fucking crumble on top,” said Julianna.
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