INT – Day – Main cabin of intruder’s ship.
In it are eight very violently dead men in lightly armored dark uniforms, and there is a fair bit of blood splattered around. One of them is lying on his back, showing a badge on his chest. They all had carbines. Kat, Kaminski, Harbin, Horkle, and Helton look over the carnage.
Harbin: Intra-system Customs Enforcement, trying a no-warning boarding.
Helton: Oh GOD what do we do now? We just killed a bunch of OUR guys.
Kat: Not so much OUR guys as GOVERNMENT guys.
Kaminski: They are pirates, just the kind with badges, uniforms and a formal pay-grade.
Helton: GUYS?! WHAT do we do with them? What will THEY do with US? Kat?
Kat: Not really my specialty, but I’m pretty sure killing law enforcement is a capital offense around here.
Horkle: Oh, just fuck’n GREAT!
Harbin: They acted like pirates. They get treated like pirates.
Kat: That’s not how the law works, you know.
Horkle: I didn’t even notice the uniforms until after they were dead. I popped the hatch for Ski, just like a boarding drill we practiced last week, he dove in, I followed, and a couple of seconds later it was all over. Dead man. I’m a DEAD MAN. First mission and I-
Harbin: NO. You are NOT a dead man, yet. Kat – Options?
Kaminski: If we toss ‘em all in the Carbon Recovery Unit, sterilize the weapons and the ship, it can’t be traced to us.
Helton: Destroying evidence? THAT’s gunna look good at trial.
Horkle: (sounding ill) I think I’m going to puke.
Kaminski: Why CAN’T we just CRU the bodies, strip the hardware, keep it, or sell it? It’s not like THEY need it any more.
Harbin: WE are NOT pirates.
Helton: They DID attack US first, we just won the fight.
Kat: Wait a minute. Maybe… Maybe there is a way. Are any of the injured soldiers pilots?
Helton: I wouldn’t think so, but we can check. Are you taking him seriously?
Kat: Give me a minute. I need to look at something in that word salad Lag calls orders. Don’t touch anything, don’t SAY anything – go back to our ship, guard the door, do what you need to to secure things, and find a pilot or two if you can.
INT – Day – Corner of the Cargo deck
Recruit Alvarez and Harbin a having a quick post-encounter discussion
Alvarez: I don’t understand it at all, First Sargent.
Alvarez: Why you put us out there to get killed like that. It was stupid.
Harbin: I’ll overlook the attitude for the moment. What, exactly, do you think was stupid?
Alvarez: Everything. Us just standing there. You said last week that we should never throw away a perfectly good weapon if we didn’t have to. Wearing bright, old fashioned armor when we should be hiding. Throwing AXES, fer Christ Sake, at guys we expected to be armored and carry guns. It was ALL stupid.
Harbin: If it was so stupid, why was I standing RIGHT THERE WITH YOU? Am I stupid, too?
Alvarez: NO First Sargent.
Harbin: Then, I must have had something in mind, right?
Alvarez: Uh, I suppose so. But-
Harbin: What would they be armed with?
Alvarez: Carbines, I’d guess.
Harbin: Right, carbines. Rifles can usually punch through a ship’s skin.
Alvarez: What difference does that make? They are SHOOTING at us!
Harbin: You think that particular shield will stop a carbine round?
Alvarez: Uh… yes?
Harbin: Yes. And what does the eye get attracted to – things that are big and shiny, or camouflage?
Harbin: Right. Three for three. If they are looking at us, what would they see?
Alvarez: … Us, throwing axes at them.
Harbin: Right. And if you saw someone throwing an ax at you, where would you be focusing your eyes, guns, and thoughts?
Alvarez: At them.
Harbin: Which means you would NOT be seeing… what? Remember tunnel vision?
Alvarez: I wouldn’t be seeing anyone else.
Harbin: And who else had a great view of the door they would have come in through?
Alvarez: Uh… The guys with rifles on mid-deck.
Harbin: Yes. Combat vets, some with years of practice and training. Anyone coming in the hatch would see you, and ignore them.
Alvarez: So, we were just going to stand there and get shot at.
Harbin: Yes, WE were. You are recruits with a very little bit of training, and marginal marksmanship skills. You were placed in the one spot where you could do some real good.
Alvarez: My first combat, and I’m noth’n but BAIT.
Harbin: But you stood your ground. You HELD. Yes, I was there encouraging you. Yes, you were scared. Yes, you puked your guts out when it was over. But you HELD YOUR GROUND when the unknown was beating on the door in front of you, not just in a drill. You didn’t have ANY IDEA what was about to come through the door. You followed orders exactly, even when you were not sure WHY you were doing it, because you trusted your leaders standing there with you to NOT be stupid. AND you had the guts to ask why later, so you DID understand.
Alvarez: But they never came through the door!
Harbin: But they MIGHT have, and you thought they were GOING to. We just had a better plan, and better people, than they did. Remember that. Work with good people, get a good plan, follow good leaders, get good results. Work with smooth-talking arrogant fuckups, and expect to fail spectacularly. Now, go get yourself cleaned up, and see if any of the other recruits have the same questions you did. And see if any of them had a better plan – there is always more to learn.
INT Day Kat’s cabin
Kat is reading an e-reader, and Kaushik and Helton are in the room.
Kat: Yes, I think it WILL work. Appendix L has some really odd pieces in it, and now I know why. Letters of Marque.
Kat: Letters of Marque. Legal paperwork granting the power to a private ship to act as a warship in attacking the shipping of other specified nations. It’s a very old idea- from early in the days of sail. All but forgotten, but still on the books. I think, that with the proper legal obfuscation and verbiage, we can grant you nominal Plataean warship status to carry out military actions against certain types of “enemy” shipping. In this case, a suspected pirate vessel attacking without announcement, warning, provocation, and only a veneer of legal authority. We give your ship and command a Letter of Marque, declare that ship a lawful target, buy it from you, and sterilize its origin.
Helton: You can DO that?
Kaushik: That doesn’t seem… right.
Kat: It’s technically legal, if not common. It gets us out of this situation. It gets Plataea a cheap ship. It makes you a healthy profit. It’ll only work if we can pilot it out of here to an appropriate Plataean base out-system. If you see any better options, I’m all ears.
Helton: … Now I know why Lag wanted you working for HIM.
Kaushik: Warfare operates at many levels. You and I see only the most obvious. Kat and Lag play a MUCH different and deeper game.
Helton: Glad he’s on my side.
Kat: He isn’t. YOU are on HIS. Or, rather, you both happen to be aiming in the same direction right now. There are worse places to be.
INT – night – Officer’s mess
Helton, Kat, Bipasha, Allonia, and Horkle sit around the table.
Helton: Well, you and a very one-legged Lieutenant Plumon were the only guys with ANY pilot experience that we can spare. Cooper and Kaushik we need here, and you have more experience that the Sargent, anyway.
Kat: It’ll mostly autopilot itself – you are there as much to take care of Plumon as you are to fly.
Allonia: Just think, not even a fully ranked Private, and you are off on a secret mission of your own!
Horkle: Well, uh, yeah, I guess, but…
Kat: She’s right – it WILL be a good career move.
Bipasha: You are lucky – you get to jet off among the stars, the rest of us have to stay here and clean up the mess, and plod on to the transfer station.
Cooper: (OC on intercom) Kaushik says ship’s cleaned and supplied, Plumon’s aboard and says it looks easy. Time, Horkle.
Horkle stands up, looking nervous but game. Allonia gives him a hug for luck.
Helton: Do us proud!
Kat: You’ll be fine. You can’t transition for another 18 hours or so, and we’ll have all the legal stuff beamed over to you. It’ll be fine.
Horkle: Well, better get going. Hope to see you again soon!
Horkle goes out the door. It closes behind him
Kat: And, as long as nothing happens to them between now and then, it WILL be fine.
Helton: So, how much are we really talking?
Bipasha: It’s a newer craft, must cost at LEAST a hundred mil new, eighty for current resale.
Kat: Twenty, split between the Lag’s command as the sponsoring agent, and the ships’ corporation, which is traditionally split up on a percentage basis, but-
Bipasha: TWENTY! IS THAT ALL?
Kat: Yes. Do you know anyone else assuming all risks and contingent legal liabilities of hacking government encrypted computers and sterilizing them, certifying that this was all legal so YOU don’t hang for piracy, deals in ships, and has the cash to buy in the next 72 hours?
Helton: Well, no – but, TWENTY!?
Kat: It has to be low enough that no-one back home wants to object and push back.
Allonia: So, what SORT of a split, exactly?
Kat: Half for Lag and his company. Half to be split among the Ship’s company. Normally, about half of that would go to the ship for operational costs, the remaining quarter-
Bipasha: Five mil-
Kat: would be split among the crew.
Helton: So, hypothetically, how is that normally split among the captain and crew?
Kat: Half to the captain and-
Kat: … but considering the fact that Lag has extended a substantial amount of credit to you under the table to get this old beast flying-
Allonia: Would that come out of HIS half or OUR half? Or Helton’s half of our half?
Kat: That would be at his discretion. I think. Because there is no formal PRIOR agreement, you either come to one now, unanimously, or it goes to binding arbitration, which could be… problematic. I’d advise you GET a formal agreement soon for any future actions, too.
Allonia: … would the injured soldiers and recruits be considered crew?
Helton: Huh? What?
Allonia: We DID arm them to repel boarders, and Plumon and Horkle ARE flying the ship back as prize crew.
Everyone looks at her with surprise and consternation on their faces, then look at each other.
Allonia: And would the recruits share come from Lag’s company portion, or Ship’s company portion, or…?
Helton: Oh good lord.
Bipasha: That would be all but impossible to get a unanimous…
Kat: I suggest you come to an agreement NOW, here and quickly, and present it to everyone as a done deal, ask for any major objections, and declare it unanimous.
Helton: Ohhhh Kay, then…
Helton, Kat, Bipasha, Kwon, Cooper, Harbin, and Kat are sitting around the mess room table, looking tired.
Kat: Any further objections-
Cooper: I STILL think-
Kat: (continued)- that haven’t been covered already? No? OK, then. All we need is five seconds of silence when we ask everyone if there any objections, and it’s official.
Bipasha: So much money, so many ways.
Kwon: It puts me ahead of where I was yesterday, and it keeps us flying for a while. We need that much for the ship.
Helton: Enough excitement and decisions for the day?
Bipasha: … I don’t know if you are the luckiest man in the universe, or the UNluckiest.
Kwon: Yes. Yes he is.
Fade to black
Fade back in
INT – day – Payton’s cabin
Payton looks tired, but not unhappy. Neatly dressed. Packing her few things back into her suitcase. There is a chime from the door. She closes her eyes and slumps a bit, like she’s not sure she wants to know what’s about to happen.
The door swings open, and Harbin steps in. His expression is blank, inscrutable. He nods a small greeting to her. He hands her an envelope.
Harbin: The men were very grateful for your service, and thought you were both professional and kind. They know you were nearly destitute when you came aboard, and wished to express their gratitude, so they passed the hat. I received no word on any specifics, but the impression I got was that you stepped up, and lived up to your contract admirably. Thank you. Corporal Kaminski will be along shortly to escort you to the Transfer Station. Best of luck.
Payton: So – why didn’t YOU come to visit me?
Harbin: I’m married.
Payton: The men like you, respect you. They’d never say anything. She’d never know.
Harbin: I would.
He nods a curt goodbye, turns, leaves. Payton looks at his back, then the envelope, with a mixed look of surprised and curiosity. The door closes behind Harbin.
Fade to black.