Every captain has a story about the day they officially took the helm of their ship. Many look back onto that day as a fond memory of accomplishment. But for me, its just a reminder of why I drink so damn much. I joined the crew of the Nogas shorty after I almost got myself killed working for some shady-ass shipping company out of the Breman system. I had my suspicions about them when they kept insisting that I didn’t need to check the cargo hold after a rough re-entry. Turns out they were running illegal stims through to Vega. Thankfully I was able to go AWOL before the Advocacy dropped the proverbial hammer on em’. I ran into the captain of the Nogas in a bar on Aremis after ditching the smugglers and we hit it off. He needed a new systems engineer on his starfarer and I needed a job, so naturally we came to an agreement.
Captain Dardeau was a quietly pragmatic man. He didn’t care about where you came from or what you did on your free time, just as long as you did your job when the time came for work to be done. His right-hand, Li, was a honey badger of a human being. First thing the crazy bastard said to me during introductions was that he would cut me if I ever took any of his yogurt from the fridge. I got along fine with the rest of the crew, but they were already a tightknit group that had worked together for years by the time I showed up. The only person that went out of their way to make me feel welcome was the sensor operator, Sarah. Those first three weeks, she spent the majority of her free time showing me how to work all the systems on the Nogas.
I had never been aboard a starfarer before in my life, so I was surprised and a bit alarmed to learn just how many explosive pipes and pumps were scattered about the damn thing. I began to question my newly chosen profession, but the way I saw it; I’ve faced off with the duul and lived to tell about it, so what’s the worst that could happen? After just over a month serving on the Nogas, I unfortunately became very familiar with the worst case scenario.
It all started in the middle of the night, when bad shit always seems to go down. Mid-sleep, I was thrown from my bunk and slammed into the wall. I felt the deck lurch beneath my feet when I tried to stand, and had to grab onto my locker to avoid falling over again. I was intimately familiar with that feeling. We were under attack. I ran to the window of the crew’s quarters and saw the blue shimmer of our shields outside reacting to a hit. Dante saw me standing there as he strapped into the dorsal turret and yelled at me to go down to the bridge and see the captain. I didn’t get a chance to respond before his seat rose through the ceiling into the turret’s hatch. Shortly after it sealed closed, I heard the twin reports of the defense turret’s weapons open fire.
Our return fire was short lived, however. Soon after the turret began its rebuttal to the incoming assault, the deck beneath me bucked violently again. I lost my footing and fell on my ass just in time to see, through the galley’s skylight, the flaming wreckage of the dorsal turret as it was destroyed in a brilliant bloom of blue-white. Not good. I sprang to my feet and ran as fast as I could to the maintenance access room. I slid down the ladder that lead me through a maintenance tunnel to another ladder that brought me to the walkway above the cargo hold. The ship continued to buck beneath me as I rushed to find the captain. By the time I got to the escape pod room behind the bridge, I began to hear impacts ringing out through the hull which meant our shields had finally bit the dust.
I stepped onto the bridge just in time to hear the captain announce that our center engine had been destroyed and we would no longer be able to overpower the pull of our enemy’s tractor turret. Sarah was buried up to her elbows under her console trying to get the shields back up while the pilot struggled to maneuver the ever-increasingly sluggish craft. Li thrust a P4 rifle at me and told me I had to zip up and head out onto the external catwalk. Fuel pod #7 was damaged and could no longer vent its accumulated pressure, so it needed to be manually cut loose before it exploded and took the rest of us with it. I wasn’t too thrilled with the task, but I guess being the new guy did have its disadvantages.
I quickly shrugged into a pressure suit from the escape pod room then circled the walkway above the cargo hold to the external catwalk’s airlock. When the lock cycled and I stepped outside, the reality of the damage we had sustained really hit home. The decimated engine mount above my head was sparking wildly and gave off enough RADs to set off the alarms built into my pressure suit. At the far end of the starboard line of fuel pods sat pod #7. It was canted at an angle and was visibly dented along its side. I didn’t see any incoming fire at the moment so I figured then would be as good a time as any to rush to the end of the damaged catwalk to complete my task.
I got to the tank’s control panel and hit the command to release it then let out a sigh of relief as the potential bomb began to drift away. My respite did not last long, though. I felt ballistic rounds hit the catwalk in front of me and was forced to leap backwards. When I landed on my back, I saw who had been firing at me. Floating in the dark about 50 meters above me was a silhouette that was momentarily illuminated by another muzzle flash. The incoming rounds peppered the catwalk nearby, forcing me to retreat towards the airlock. When I got under the protective cover of the central thruster housing, I knelt and readied my rifle. As the first EVA pirate drifted into my view, I squeezed the trigger. I could tell my burst had hit home when I saw atmosphere venting from his helmet that sent the pirate spinning aimlessly off into the dark.
Unfortunately, the pirate hadn’t come alone. A group of six more of his comrades drifted into view from above the damaged thruster and began to shoot. Their gunfire chewed up the catwalk surrounding me kicking up some shrapnel that pierced my suit above the knee. I sent some suppressive fire in return, scoring another hit, as I turned and high-tailed it back to the airlock just in time. As the outer door was sliding closed, a ballistic round snuck through and bit into the airlock’s window that overlooked the cargo hold. Li watched wide-eyed as the crack materialized in the glass then turned to inform the captain we had boarders. I then hurried out of the airlock and moved to take up a defensive position on the port side of the walkway surrounding the hold.
Captain Dardeau locked down all the ships external control panels and door releases, but this only slowed down the determined boarders. I sat crouched nervously on the opposite end of the hold’s walkway from the catwalk’s airlock and waited for the inevitable. It wasn’t long before I could see sparks pouring into the airlock through its wide window. The outer lock was pretty tough and took a couple minutes to cut through, which gave Li and his two security officers time to set up a defensive barrier on the starboard side of the elevated walkway. When the pirates finally broke the seal on the outer airlock and moved inside, Li had his defenses in order. Our guests decided to push through into the ship on Li’s side, but they were prepared for his defense. The airlock door opened and gunfire erupted from the small room. Vic, one of the security officers, was first to go when he was caught in the chest by a blast from a devastator shotgun. I couldn’t shoot back because none of them had actually stepped out of the airlock exchange room yet, so I decided to move to get a firing angle. I stood and started to run to Li’s side to provide support. As I was passing the door to the bridge, the pressure wave from an explosion punched me in the chest and sent me flying backwards. A grenade must have found its way behind Li’s barrier because all I could see through the haze was thick smoke that smelled of burning electrical components where Li and the other security officer had been.
Once I struggled to my feet, I tried to get to the bridge to defend it. Before I could get to the door, I began to get shot at by the pirates now crossing the starboard walkway above the cargo hold. Their suppressive fire was too much and I had to retreat down the hall behind me and up the stairs to the second floor. I knew that they would be making a B line for the bridge, so I had to loop back around behind them and re-engage. Thank god Sarah took so much time showing me all the nooks and crannies, because I had an idea. I quickly crossed to the starboard side of the second floor and ducked into a maintenance corridor. From there I could see the ladder that would lead back down to the walkway that the pirates had just conquered. Staying as quiet as possible, I crept to the hole to look down it. I saw one pirate standing in the doorway beneath me while his comrades had moved on to work at cutting through the bridge door.
I carefully took aim at the clueless man below and squeezed off a burst that bit into his faceplate. He instantly went limp and fell to the floor, so I jumped down the hole after him to press my element of surprise. I landed pretty hard and got tripped up on the pirate’s body as I tried to cut the corner to the bridge’s outer door. In my delay, I lost the element of surprise. One pirate kept cutting away at the door while his comrade turned to fire at me. I barely managed to squeeze back behind the doorframe before his rounds tore past my face. I stuck my rifle around the corner and blind fired a long burst. I must have missed, because seconds later I saw a grenade roll to clink against my foot.
I quickly kicked the device away and lept over the walkway’s railing. The explosion at my back propelled me forward while raising heat blisters across my neck and shoulders. I overshot my predicted trajectory and slammed into a shipping pod before falling to the deck of the cargo hold. I’m pretty sure that’s what broke my rib, but I didn’t have time to worry too much about my pain on account of the pirate above me moving in to finish the job. I got to my feet and dodged through a couple crates as gunfire erupted from the elevated walkway. I had nowhere to go but through the door at the front of the cargo hold that led me to the maintenance EVA ready room. I locked the door behind me then took a moment to catch my breath and make sure all my limbs were still attached.
Satisfied that I was still equipped with all my important body parts, I began to wrack my brain for a plan to get out of the situation in a similar shape. I decided that I had nowhere left to go, but outside. I grabbed an EVA suit from the rack and slipped into it. Once zipped up, I started the decompression of the room. When I was fully in vacuum and had checked to make sure my suit’s integrity was intact, I opened the porthole in the floor. It slid open to reveal the lonely backdrop of empty space and I slipped through the hole into the void. I made sure to hug the belly of the Nogas as I made my way back to the external catwalk between the fuel pods.
As I carefully floated up to the forward-most fuel pod on the craft’s starboard side, I spotted a man working on one of the other pods’ input panel. His back was turned to me so I pulled myself along the fuel pod’s mounting rail. Once I emerged from behind the massive fuel tank, I could see that a cutlass was trying to dock up to the Nogas’ refueling arm. I decided that a free fuel stop wasn’t going to happen that day, so I lined up my sights on the man working the refueling arm on the catwalk. The pirate never knew what hit him. I didn’t see any reaction from the ship floating behind the Nogas, so the pilot must not have seen what happened to his comrade.
I floated over and pulled myself up onto the catwalk then made my way forward. The airlock door was mangled and slagged shut from the inside, so I opted to take the starboard elevator up to the Refueling ready-room. Once inside, I removed my helmet and checked my remaining ammunition. My heart sank when I removed the magazine to find it empty. I always did think Li was crazy for carrying around four assault rifle mags strapped to his thigh at all times, but at this point I really wished I had developed that habit as well. Since I didn’t have a gun with ammo, I decided I needed to find one that did.
This line of thinking reminded me of the defense turrets mounted at the rear of the ship on either side. The cutlass that was refueling would make an easy target because in order to link with the fueling arm, you had to disengage your shields. Deciding on a plan, I left the ready-room and passed through the gravity generator room. I took the starboard-side door forward and was alarmed to see the sheer volume of smoke and flame roiling in the engine room through its observation window. I decided that was something for future me to worry about, so looped around a corner and sprinted down the long hallway that led to the rear turret. I then jumped into the gunner’s seat and hit the command to descend into firing position.
I grabbed the control stick and the turret lurched to life. I then spun to center my reticle on the cockpit of the unshielded pirate cutlass. With a satisfied grin, I thumbed the firing studs and watched the criminal craft erupt into a sphere of glowing death. I didn’t stick around to celebrate, because I was certain they would send someone up after me. I backed out of the turret and sprinted down the hallway for the front of the ship. As I exited the narrow corridor, I ran headlong into a pirate that had come up to investigate. I lowered my shoulder and plowed through him. I wrapped up his legs in a tackle and he went to the deck, dropping his weapon on the way down.
I was able to deliver some hard elbow shots to his head before he tried to stab me in the side with a knife that he pulled from his combat harness. I grabbed his wrist to stop the blow which gave him the opportunity to catch me on the jaw with a punch from his other hand. The shot buckled me a bit and he was able to scoot out from under me. The pirate stood and we squared off; His knife versus my fists. The small junction we found ourselves in did not leave much space to maneuver with a wall of escape pods on one side and closed hatches all around. The glow of the engine room’s fire added an odd primal hue to the ship’s artificial lighting that set a fitting mood for the primitive face-off.
He lunged first, attempting a reaching jab at my stomach with his knife. I jumped back to avoid the blade, but the pirate pressed his attack with frantic follow-up slashes. When I felt that my heel had found the wall behind me, I knew I was running out of space to move. That realization put me on the offensive. I lashed out with a front kick that tagged the pirate in the gut and sent him stumbling backwards. He attempted to retaliate with a slash of his weapon, but I blocked the attack and redirected the blade into the man’s own ribs. The knife bit deep causing the pirate to let out an inhuman howl. I used the man’s painful distraction to my advantage and kicked the sonofabitch into the escape pod behind him. I quickly closed the inner door and made sure to flip him the bird through the pod’s tiny window before shooting him off into the dark to bleed out in a pre-made coffin. An appropriate death for a scumbag like that if you ask me.
I seized the deceased pirate’s weapon and checked its ammo counter. Satisfied, I started for the stairs. I cautiously descended the stairwell then made my way for the bridge. The junction outside the bridges outer doors was empty, which meant I was too late. When I rounded the corner into the escape pod room, my worst fears were realized. Captain Dardeau, the pilot Dez, and Sarah were lying dead in the walkway. It appeared that they had all been executed with a single bullet to the head. Now that got me angry. I thought I was done seeing this kind of shit when I traded in my UEE flight-suit for civvies. I had to force myself to calm down, lest I make an emotionally charged mistake and get myself killed. The door to the bridge itself was closed, so I pressed my ear against it. I couldn’t hear what they were saying but I heard two distinct voices inside. It was time to take back my ship.
I hugged myself to the right side of the door and keyed it open. There was a man standing just inside that spun to investigate as the door began to slide away. His eyes widened in surprise, but I had the drop on him. I sent a short burst into his stomach and moved as fast as I could to seize the man as he slumped to fall. I threw my arm around his neck and wrenched him upright to use as a human shield. The final man on the bridge and I exchanged frantic gunfire. His rounds did nothing but tear into his comrade, finishing off what I had started seconds before. My return fire, however, was much more effective. I stitched him up the chest and caught him on the cheek before he fell, lifeless, to the deck.
So there I was; Alone on a damaged ship full of corpses in the middle of nowhere. It took me three days to get the ship repaired enough to limp to the nearest outpost. It turned out that the pirate gang I vaped had a pretty hefty price on their heads. The unexpected windfall was accompanied by the fact that the Captain did not have an established next of kin to transfer the Nogas to. The law of the cosmos is clear; Unless otherwise specified, the Highest ranking officer aboard a vessel acquires ownership of said vessel upon the death of the captain. I used the bounty money to refit and repair the Nogas for its return to duty and have been running fuel with her ever since. To this day, every time I plant my ass in that captain’s chair, I can still almost hear Sarah humming away happily at her console behind me.