This one's in response to Chuck Wendig's Flash Fiction Challenge: Your Very Own Space Opera. This promised to be a lot of fun and it was, but man, I had to cut a ton of flavor out to get to the bones of this one and it's still too long. I have a ton of unused background for Martime and this universe, so I plan to find some way to use that in the future. I like her a lot. You don't get to know her like I do in this one, but her time will come. Trust me on this one.
The crate held in the clamps of one of her ship's cargo arms exploded directly with far too much energy to be an accident. This was the first hint Martime had of the Dragooons' presence, which was big problem. Her proximity alarms were now going berserk, but they should detected the nearby ship or ships several minutes ago.
She braced herself for the next shot, but nothing happened for several seconds. The public channel "incoming message" light was blinking, so she waved it in and looked up at her screen. Beyond the wreckage of her cargo arm and the crate it had held were two Dragoon ships: Sleek, fast heavily armed, armored, and ugly as hell. The message played:
"On the authority of [some bullshit entity she'd never heard of], freighter A2N of the Banasaic League is ordered to stop and receive a boarding party. You are suspected of carrying stolen cargo."
Somehow, in parallel, several thoughts crossed Martime's mind at once:
1) "Yep, they're right. All of these crates are stolen. The entire barge is full of them."
2) "They're faster, more maneuverable, and far better armed than I am."
3) “Why hadn't Goff, who might or might not be her boyfriend, and who was remarkably well connected with law enforcement, hinted that she might be in trouble?"
All three of these threads converged on a single point, a thought which neatly summed up each line of thought:
"I am so screwed."
The A2N was nominally a freighter, but it might better be describe as a tug. The ship, with all of the engines, life support, computers, and weapons, was a tiny half-spheroid which had all of the luxury appointments of an efficiency apartment. If Martime weren't comfortable being alone and in tight quarters most of the time, she'd have burned out at this job a long time ago.
"Shit shit shit shit shit," said Martime out loud to no one in particular. She fired the reverse engines to back away from the Dragoons, trying to buy a little time. Then something clicked in her brain. She didn't know much about Dragoons, but she knew they were dispatched in threes. “Boarding party?”
She waved through a full external hull scan of the A2N and there it was, locked on the bottom of the half-sphere: The third Dragoon. One of the cargo arms was toast, but the other seemed to be fully functionally. Martime waved it underneath the hull and swatted at the Dragoon. The Dragoon was a state-of-the-art military interceptor; the cargo arm was a design older than Martime's grandmother, but it was built to shift cargo and even barges if necessary. It was no contest. The Dragoon's grip on the A2N failed and the sleek, black, slightly rumpled ship spun away, thrusters trying to control the spin.
“Forget that one for now,” Martime thought and then, unhelpfully, “What the hell is a 'Dragoon' anyway? Across between a dragon and a goon?”
It was at this time that the entire cargo barge started to explode. The two remaining Dragoons were firing salvo after salvo, starting at the back of the barge and moving forward.
“Oh you shits. It is so on.” Martime, all five foot one of her, brushed her asymmetrical bangs from her eyes, made sure she was securely bound in her chair, and waved the release command for the barge. The A2N was still lightly armed and armored without the barge section, but the mass to thrust ratio was suddenly much, much more favorable. She whispered “floor it,” and the A2N crushed her against her chair. Under absurd G-forces, she switched to eye-movement command. She aimed her ship directly between the two Dragoons, counting on them not to fire at each other.
Her faith was misplaced. The Dragoons, or at their gunners at least, we good enough to miss each other but not good enough to hit her. She considered throwing her ship into a spinning corkscrew to evade whatever explode-y beams they were shooting at her, but she settled on a slight random wobble so she wouldn't lose as much acceleration. It must have been enough, as the flashes of light that would have meant the end of her never touched the A2N's hull.
Now that her ship was lighter and had more thrust than her pursuers, they weren't going to catch her unless they disabled her ship. Martime considered the implications of firing on what were apparently some sort of official law enforcement ships. She weighed this against the fact that they'd fired on her and blown her barge to smithereens and made the only rational decision she could make.
Previously-dormant lights suddenly began dancing down the side of a rack of four S2S missiles. When the lights went green, they emerged on an arm from what might was well have been the bottom of the half-sphere vessel, between the lower-left and lower-right thrusters. Using her eyes, Martime set two of the missiles to track each of the Dragoons. The third, the spinner, was so far away she could afford to leave it alone.
“Ok, you assholes. You either veer off your pursuit course or you eat a missile at relativistic speeds. What'll it be?” Her pursuer's velocity worked against them when they had missiles coming down their throat. The missile's vector was exactly the opposite of that of the A2N, so dodging meant losing ground in pursuit.
One of the two Dragoons had made the U-turn ahead of his counterpart and was significantly closer to the A2N. The captain wagered his ship and his crew's lives against the chance that Martime's targeting would be off.
Martime's targeting was perfect.
The Dragoon's nose sparked briefly like a match head which failed to completely light, and then the entire ship become a brilliant, white-hot globe, a near perfect sphere, expanding from where the Dragoon's fuel had been stored.
The captain of the second Dragoon brought his ship around in a wide arc which the missiles couldn't follow, leaving them to race out of the galaxy unexploded but still incredibly fast.
Martime saw her pursuers disappear, one violently and one less so, and allowed her acceleration to drop to the point where she could sigh comfortably. She decided it was time to get back home and had her computer set up a velocity which would match the Sol system when she got out of hyperspace. As the computer calculated the course, she reflected on her luck. But...was it luck? Something about the encounter bugged her.
“Think, Martime. Energy weapons, beam weapons. Those don't miss. Their computer is as good as your...it's bound to be better. Beams move at the speed of light. You don't dodge beams.”
She frowned. Now would be a good time for her brain to turn off, but it wasn't having any of it.
“The Dragoon captains aren't stupid. They had to know the barge was detachable and that damaging it wouldn't damage the ship. The A2N is one of the most popular designs in the galaxy.”
Whoever, whatever was behind this, they didn't care about her cargo and they didn't want to kill her or destroy her ship. They wanted her….or something she had.
She considered waving the command to enter hyperspace, and thought about the months in complete isolation, unable to communicate with anyone or, more specifically, get any answers. She decided to do something else.
“Contact Goff,” she said aloud.
Goff's face appeared on the screen, but it was a static image. Goff's voice read what was obviously a rehearsed message.
“Martime, honey! So glad you called. I'm sorry I can't take this live, but I can guess why you've contacted me. I can't help with bail, but I'll vouch for you. They should let you go once they've got that chip necklace of yours. You should never have taken that, honey bunch. If you just give it back, everything will be ok, I promise. I love you!”
The message ended.
“Well...apparently 'I love you' is Goff-speak for 'I fucking sold you out.'” Martime was now talking to herself, loudly, and with a level of malice most machine intelligences would have recognized. She grabbed Goff's stupid necklace from one of her storage bins, stared at it, but wasn't able to guess what made worth sending three space bastards after her to retrieve.
There was a war going on in Martime's head. The rational voice was telling her that Sol was still the right destination. She had family and friends there, not to mention resources and, if it came to it, some confidence in the local authorities. The rational voice lost.
“Cancel destination. Set new course for Goff's home system. And reload those fucking missiles while you're at it.”