Chapter 26
The Wages of Sin

Location: Outside Villareyes Starport, Saturnian Sphere
Date: Sun 16 Jun 121
Time: UST 0322

Jassa thought she was going crazy when they were holed up in Villareyes. She was wrong. Now she was going crazy. For over seven hours she'd been floating in this cloud of shit. For six of those hours, fighters had been buzzing around, just waiting for any sign of life.
The Deadlies' Wasps were kept at minimal power to avoid detection. They were supposed to just float away with all the garbage until they were out of range of that battle group, but then the Feds got suspicious and sent those fighters out.
Thank God for the radio silence. The truth would've gotten out and that would've been it. Jassa tried to deny it, but she knew it was her fault. That birdy was a sitting duck. It was too good to pass up. Who would've thought it could alert Mommy before it went up?
She was scared shitless that Sin One knew and would make her pay for it later. She tried to push that thought aside. Nobody knew, she struggled to convince herself. Nobody knew and if she played it cool, they could ride this out and be fine.
Why wouldn't those damned fighters go away?
"Leave me the fuck alone!" she screamed, pounding her fists on the panel.
Her displays lit up and her guts froze.
Oh, shit.
One of the fighters took notice and started to approach. Panicking, she fired off a missile. It streaked past the fighter, hitting a nearby civvie tug, blasting it apart. Half the tug smashed into the fighter, tearing right through it.
On her radar screen, she saw the other fighters fall back, putting some more distance between themselves and the cloud.
Jassa's heart pounded in her chest like a jackhammer. Her whole body was slick with cold sweat. She thought she was going to hyperventilate, but her breathing was choked off when a voice crackled over the radio.
"Who fired?"
It was Sin One.
Ohshitohshitohshitohshitohshit...
No one said anything. Who would be dumb enough to say anything at this point? If the others pleaded their innocence, they'd look just as guilty as if they had done it. Knowing Sin One, he probably knew already, but what was he going to do about it?
After a few tense moments, Sin One spoke again.
"They'll be coming. This time to capture or to kill. Do what you can. Maintain radio silence."
This was it. They were dead. There was no way they could fight off a whole air wing. Or could they? Sin One had to have a Plan B. He always had something. And weren't they the Seven Deadly Sins? Hadn't they survived where everyone else died? What was the Navy compared to the Sheolites?
They could win this yet. That's what she told herself. If she believed anything else, she really would go insane.

* * *

Location: ESS Ticonderoga, Saturnian Sphere
Date: Sun 16 Jun 121
Time: UST 0348

Lydia was lying half-asleep on her rack, staring up at the overhead. How many nights did she lie like this, trapped between waking and sleeping, half-dreaming and half-aware? She didn't know and she didn't care. This was her reality.
A beeping dragged her farther from the sleeping half and closer to the waking half. Robotically, not even thinking about it, she reached for her PersCom and held it up to her ear.
"Yeah?" she asked.
"Lieutenant Han," the voice on the other end said, "the 313 has been ordered to scramble. Your mission is to engage a group of pirates using debris and private crafts for cover. They are reported to be flying modified Koh-132s."
Modified Wasps? That could only mean...
"The Seven Deadlies..."
"How did you...?"
"Nevermind that," Lydia said quickly, her mind suddenly brought back into focus. She had to confirm her orders. "We scramble, we engage. We kill?"
"Command wants them taken alive. Disable their ships and a squadron of Pelicans will pick them up."
That wasn't what she wanted to hear.
"Goddammit..."
"Lieutenant?"
"I mean, aye-aye."
"Launch is in thirty minutes. See that your flight is ready in twenty. Out."
"Aye-aye. Out."
Lydia felt a rush of energy surge through her. A scramble. After so long, a scramble. It wasn't the Shellies, but it was the next best thing.
Springing out of her rack, she ran over to where Trifkovic was sleeping.
"Hey, Curly!" she shouted, shaking her wingmate vigorously. "Wake up, Curly!"
A dazed Trifkovic could only mumble, "Wha, wha--?"
Lydia kicked Trifkovic's rack.
"Get your ass outta bed! We got scramble orders. Shit yeah!"
Bhakta, whose rack was right next to Trifkovic, glared irately at Lydia for waking her up.
"You're a fucking psychopath."
"Fuck you, Tweety," Lydia snapped back, flipping her off. She then started shaking Trifkovic some more. "Come on, Curly! Outta bed! Get dressed! You'd better be in the locker room in five minutes or I'll fuckin' kill ya!"
With that, she sprang to her wall locker and suited up. She then bolted out of the room and made a beeline for the lifts to get to the hangar. Along the way, she sent an alert to the other members of her flight, just in case the squadron notification didn't quite do the job.
A scramble! Time for some real flying! It had to be her lucky day, but she'd see to it that it wouldn't be so lucky for those damned pirates.

* * *

Date: Sun 16 Jun 121
Time: UST 0403

Doctor Kim did not keep regular hours. The Chief Medical Officer cannot afford to only see what goes on for half of the day. The Medical Department had to operate under the assumption that she was always there. If she was not in her office or making the rounds in Sickbay, she was on call.
At this particular moment, she was in her office, going through the usual mountain of paperwork, about ten DataPads spread out on her desk plus a good three dozen windows open on her terminal.
The door chime sounded.
"Enter," Doctor Kim said.
One of the nurses, Lieutenant Gondo, walked in somewhat hesitantly.
"Ma'am?" she asked, pausing an annoyingly long time before continuing. "We have a situation."
Doctor Kim could feel the vein in her forehead twitch. 'A situation,' she said. How Kim hated euphemisms like that. A miserable fig leaf on one obscene disaster or another.
"What is it?"
Nurse Gondo was surprisingly quick with the answer.
"The patient in Alpha-4 is missing."
"What?"
The explanation was not so forthcoming.
"The, ah... You see, Bajian was watching a vid and didn't notice the alert when machines went blank."
The stylus snapped in Doctor Kim's hand. Gondo noticeably flinched.
"You haven't checked the cameras?" Kim asked.
"We lost track of him."
Doctor Kim took a slow breath to soothe her rising anger.
"Well then, bring up the tracker. You should have access to it. For God's sakes, do you really need to come to me for this?"
"The patient doesn't have a tracker."
Doctor Kim hastily brought up the patient's record. The situation was worse than she thought, which made Nurse Bajian's lapse all the more severe.
"Call the MAs," Doctor Kim said. "Advise them of his condition. He is more likely to be a danger to himself than to others, but I want him found ASAP."
"Aye-aye, ma'am."
Before Gondo could leave, Doctor Kim added, "And call Bajian. I want her in here right now. I have some words for her."
"Ah, aye-aye, ma'am."
The door shut and Doctor Kim disposed of her broken stylus. Screwups like this were exactly why she kept the hours she did. Apparently she had been too soft on the staff. She was already building a list of new restrictions, to say nothing of the punishment she was brewing up for one particular disgrace to the medical profession. Nurse Bajian would make a fine example for the others.
Now if only the wayward patient could be recovered before it was too late...

* * *

Date: Sun 16 Jun 121
Time: UST 0414

Ensign Alabed cursed his rotten luck. The exercise was over and he was looking forward to some recovery time and then this pirate bullcrap had to happen. He didn't think he was going to get involved, but then the scramble order came in. Dammit, dammit, dammit.
He'd been trying to sleep when the order came in, so he wasn't too quick to roll out of his rack. Why did they need to go out at all? Just open up with the batteries. Problem solved. Why bother taking them alive?
He opened his locker and pulled out his suit. He was about to don it when something grabbed him from behind. He felt his neck being crushed, but before he could even think to struggle or fight back, everything went black.

* * *

Date: Sun 16 Jun 121
Time: UST 0422

Lydia tapped her foot impatiently. She needed to account for everyone in the flight before they could launch. When the straggler showed up, she wasn't happy to say the very least.
"Where the hell ya been, Bedbug!?" she snapped. "Since when does 'scramble' mean 'hit the goddamned snooze button'!?"
Alabed did this stupid wave, apologetically bobbing his head. Did he think that was going to get him off the hook?
"Cat got your damned tongue?" she asked, but had no patience to wait for an answer. "You know what? Fuck it. Let's move, people! Get your asses in gear!"
The flight split and headed for their birds. From a stray glance, Lydia noticed Alabed was walking kind of gimpy. What was his problem anyway?
No time to think about it. She was about to see her first real action since that dogfight 'test' she had with that punk bitch Jassa. Maybe their paths would cross again. In a real bird, this would be a piece of cake.
"'Auntie' my ass," she grumbled to herself.
That punk would pay for making up that bullshit story about her sister. Oh, if only...

* * *

Date: Sun 16 Jun 121
Time: UST 0438

Commodore Frazier stood with Admiral Mfume while Colonel Grozny hovered over the terminal manned by the communications officer acting as the base contact for the Villareyes operation. The fighting had mostly died down and the key points of the port were now under their control. With the 313 dispatched to neutralize the ones who had tried to slip past them, it looked like everything would be settled shortly. Naturally, it couldn't be that simple.
Major Knox deployed with Echo Company so the Marines would have a field grade officer on the ground to contend with Colonel Vasquez. The Major was currently on the horn reporting the situation from his end.
"Eagle Base, this is Eagle Two. The reactor room is secure. They didn't leave us any presents here, but they had the thrusters rigged to blow. Chain reaction. They've been rendered inoperable. Our engineers and the port's techs say repair is impossible.
"Uniform Zero-One reports that the nav systems have been shot, too. I had the Whiskeys run projections on their systems and I'm not seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Please advise. Over."
"Eagle Two, this is Eagle One," Colonel Grozny said, taking the headset off the comms officer to speak directly into the mic. "Stand by. Out."
He handed the headset back to its owner and turned to the Admiral. "Sir, we need a decision."
The Admiral stood there stroking his beard thoughtfully for a moment before tapping the earpiece that connected him to the special task force he had assembled to draw up contingency plans to resolve the situation with minimal loss of life and property.
"What are our options?" he asked.
Commodore Frazier and Colonel Grozny also had earpieces that allowed them to listen in on the task force's response.
"Coordinating with local authorities and the Orbital Guard, we've managed to clear most of the traffic, but there's a research station on a collision course that hasn't responded to any hails. OG is sending a patroller to get them to change course, but there's no guarantee. We've calculated impact in 87 minutes. If that doesn't finish the job, the port will get trapped in the planet's gravity well within three hours. There's bound to be more damage along the way."
"Can we change the course with a controlled detonation?" Commodore Frazier asked.
"Negative, sir," the task force leader replied. "Due to a design flaw in the starport, passive cooling is virtually nonexistent, so they pump a coolant all throughout the place to compensate. They're using a banned coolant that's dangerously volatile. If we detonate anything, it could cause a chain reaction that'd leave a burnt-out husk. You can imagine what that would mean for all the people inside."
"Well then, we just evacuate everyone first."
"That's also a negative. Even though we have the capacity to get everyone out by combining all the battle group's aviation assets, there's no way we can get it done in time."
"Are you saying we do what we can and sacrifice the rest?"
"It's not what I want to say, sir, but the potential for damage and loss of life could be much greater if we don't act and act soon."
Commodore Frazier didn't like his options. There were six thousand civilians on that port. There had to be something more they could do. And that was when he was struck by an idea crazy enough that it might just work.
"What's the momentum on that thing?" he asked.
"By our calculation, 55.2 giganewtons."
"What do you have in mind, sir?" Colonel Grozny asked.
"This ship's maximum thrust is something like 71 giganewtons," the Commodore explained. "We've got more force, so we give it a little push."
"Sir, excuse me for saying so," the task force leader interrupted, "but that would never work. At best we'd punch right through and at worst we'd both be torn to pieces."
"I'm not finished," Commodore Frazier said. "This baby's big, but she's handles real delicate. We match velocity with the starport before making contact and we come down on her belly to distribute the force over the maximum possible surface area. We fire the engines on full after making contact and we should be able to change the course."
The line was quiet for a while. The task force was apparently running the numbers and debating over what he had just proposed. A couple minutes later, the task force leader came back on the line.
"I'll be damned, sir, but it could work. It's risky as hell, but it could work. We'll be stressing the hull to its breaking point, but it could work."
"Is that damage local or distributed?"
"Local around the point of contact. Actually, the port's hull is more likely to give first."
Commodore Frazier looked at the Admiral. "Sir?"
To the task force leader, Admiral Mfume asked, "Do you have any alternatives with less risk?"
"Less risk to us, sir, but not for the civilians in that starport."
The Admiral nodded and then told Commodore Frazier, "The ship is yours, Commodore."
Commodore Frazier grinned. "Thank you, sir." Getting serious, he quickly issued a flurry of orders. "Get on the horn with Knox and Vasquez. I want the area around the contact point clear. Evacuate all personnel from Deck 9 and everyone except mission-essential personnel from Decks 6 through 8. Get me in touch with General Pfeiffer, the Brasidas and the Laocoon. I want all transports on standby in case this doesn't work."
There were several "Aye-aye, sir" from the relevant personnel as they went to work executing the orders. If his plan didn't work, at least they would be ready to evacuate as many people as they could. The stakes couldn't get much harder and Commodore Frazier certainly hoped the Admiral was right to bet on him. Now he'd truly see if he was cut out to be the captain of this ship.

* * *

Location: Outside Villareyes Starport, Saturnian Sphere
Date: Sun 16 Jun 121
Time: UST 0447

Lydia was glad to be behind the stick again and gunning for something real. It was almost up there with the rush she got from going toe-to-toe with the Shellies, but not quite. Equipped with the newer Koh-141 Hornets, the Madcaps would have no trouble outmaneuvering and outgunning the Seven Deadlies in their Wasps. Still, they were supposed to take the Deadlies alive, which would prove to be a major pain in the ass.
The Wasps were mixed in with dozens of other ships and a load of debris that played hell with radar. Way for them to level the playing field. Not that Lydia was going to let that stop her. These pirates were good, but they didn't have anything on the Shellies. She'd been through worse.
The Madcaps were flying in a triple-wedge formation, so First Flight was taking the lead. That gave Lydia about an extra second to react when just about every ship in that shit cloud fired up and came straight at them.
"Break, break, break!" Madcap Two shouted over the radio.
"Wingmates, stay together!" Lydia shouted back.
No, they didn't need to be clustered together, but leaving the Madcaps open to be picked off one by one would just be playing into the pirates' hands. So long as the wingmate teams stuck together, they could beat this cluster fuck.
Hornets were killing machines. They weren't meant for disabling ships. Didn't have the right equipment for it, but they were stuck with their ROEs. Take them alive. And with other ships, there was no telling how many were being manned by or filled with civvie hostages. The Deadlies really knew how to strip away damn near every advantage they had in this fight.
"Ignore the bogies that ain't shootin'," Lydia ordered. "But keep your distance. Don't let 'em try ta ram ya."
Just then, she spotted one of the Wasps. The sooner they were taken down, the better. With them out of the way, all the civvie ships would be easy pickings. As she lined up her shot, she squeezed the trigger to open up with her pulse cannons.
Nothing happened.
A green warning flashed on what of her displays.
Friendly Fire Countermeasures Active.
"Shit!" Lydia cursed, pounding on the console. "We can't target 'em! Madcap One, disengage the friendly fire countermeasures!"
"There is no Madcap One," some wiseass responded. "Haven't you been paying attention?"
That was right. No one had been assigned to replace her as squadron leader yet.
"Madcap Two," she said, "ya better tell me ya have those codes."
"That's a negative, Madcap Five."
There's more than one way to skin a cat, Lydia told herself. She was pretty sure she remembered the override code. She punched it in and got an error message. She tried it a couple more times, all while doing her damnedest to shadow the Wasp she'd singled out.
"Dammit, the code's changed," she grumbled. She then punched the line back to the Tico. "Madcap Base, get that Takatare on the damn horn. We need that override fast!"
"Madcap Nine is down!" someone screamed, probably Andropova from First Flight. "Oh God, he's down, he's down!"
Reflexively, not even thinking to let Madcap Two run the show, Lydia ordered the whole squadron, "Evasive maneuvers! Keep 'em boxed in, but don't let 'em get a lock on you!"
She then turned her attention to HQ, which was already one pilot too late getting them what they needed.
"Madcap Base, where the fuck is the override!?"
She didn't get a response. The Wasps seemed to be figuring out that they weren't being fired on and were starting to take more aggressive maneuvers. Downing Madcap Nine was just the start of it and as if things couldn't get any worse, Lydia's eardrums almost popped from the screech of some fool engaging the public and private lines simultaneously.
"Madcap One-Nine, come back!" a panicky voice cried out, Fogel by the sound of it. "Madcap Five, Madcap One-Nine has broken off!"
Madcap One-Nine. Alabed.
Lydia pulled up Alabed's ship and saw that he had in fact broken off from his wingman. She was already pissed at him for showing up late. This really took the cake.
"Madcap One-Nine, what the hell are you doin'!?" she snapped. "Get back here!"
She then got heard someone else report, "Madcap One-Nine is firing at the bandits. It's impossible!"
At first she thought they'd given them the override, so she lined up that one Wasp from earlier, which hadn't quite managed to shake her. Still nothing.
"I don't know how he's doing it, but I'm still locked out."
Frustrated at the continued lockout and not about to let a punk like Alabed have all the fun, it was at that moment that she decided to hell with it.
"Well, they ain't locked my damn engines."
She broke off from Trifkovic and gunned the engines, aimed right for the Wasp.
"Madcap Five, what are you doing!?" Trifkovic shouted, but Lydia wasn't listening.
The Wasp tried to get away but didn't react soon enough. It didn't stand a chance.
"Eat this!"
She swung her ship at the last possible second to sideswipe the Wasp. It was a wonder both ships weren't torn to shreds. Just about every warning imaginable flashed on the displays before everything shut down, leaving her dead in the water.
The emergency power kicked in and she was able to get sensor readings on the Wasp. It was as bad off as she was and wouldn't be causing any more trouble. She was out of the fight and a sitting duck, but at least she'd gotten something accomplished.
One down, she told herself. Just six more to go.

* * *

Date: Sun 16 Jun 121
Time: UST 0458

Reactivating the transponder on the Seven Deadlies' Wasps had been a stroke of genius. Even the older codes locked out the weapons of other Union craft trying to fire on them. Best of all, the squadron sent to engage them didn't seem to register that they needed the override. It looked like it was going to be a cakewalk, but then one lone ship broke off from the formation and opened fire.
He was good, whoever he was. Grig, Cassmac and Boz were all disabled in no time at all. Meanwhile another pilot in the same squadron was crazy enough to ram Jassa, crippling both ships in the exchange. Now that pilot with live weapons was after Karst.
Dusting pilots who couldn't defend themselves was no fun and even though his life was on the line, Karst was enjoying the challenge. No, it was precisely because his life was on the line that he was enjoying himself. The stakes had been raised and the so had the rush that came with it.
Karst was the best flyer of all the Seven Deadlies, even better than Sin One. It was more luck than skill that had kept the others alive this long, but Karst knew that he'd survived because he could whip anyone inside or outside of the cockpit.
It wasn't going to happen this time.
This pilot who had already downed half of them, he was better. Even hampered by the apparent orders to take them alive, he was simply that much better. Karst knew he was beat, but he kept up evasive maneuvers for all his worth.
Then it hit him. He'd seen this flying pattern before. It seemed impossible, but it had to be.
He hailed the ship, trying to open up a private channel. An indicator light blinked, showing the connection had been established.
"Moe, is that you?" Karst asked. "It's gotta be. Ain't no one else flies like you."
There was no answer, but Karst knew it had to be Moe.
"I don't know how ya got yourself into a bird," he continued, "but I'm glad to see ya out here, man. This is the end of the line. I'm not goin' ta jail. If someone's gonna splash me, well, I'm sure ya know what I'm getting at."
A warning flashed on his HUD. Missile lock. Karst smiled.
"Thanks, man. I owe ya one."
One missile. Direct hit. That was all it took to kill Wrath of the Seven Deadly Sins, the man who was once known as Senior Lieutenant Karl Steiner of the VF-216. History would brand him a traitor, but he died without regret.

* * *

Location: ESS Ticonderoga, Saturnian Sphere
Date: Sun 16 Jun 121
Time: UST 0510

"I hope you know what you're doing, Commodore," Admiral Mfume said.
"I know she can handle it, sir," Commodore Frazier replied confidently. "You just gotta believe in her."
He cracked that photogenic grin of his, but it was noticeably less effective on the Admiral than all the hero-worshiping fans who would melt the moment he looked their way. Still, Admiral Mfume did agree to go along with it, putting the Union's newest and most advanced ship on the line for a plan that could go disastrously wrong in the blink of an eye. Both the ship's computers and the high foreheads in the task force backed him up on the calculations he made on the fly. It could work, but would it?
"Captain, the ship is in position," the helmsman reported.
"Good," Commodore Frazier replied. "Decelerate to match the port's velocity."
"Decelerating. Contact in eighteen seconds."
Collision alarms sounded as they came closer to the port, but they ignored it. After all, that was the idea. The helmsman started the countdown.
"Ten."
"Nine."
"Eight."
"Seven."
"Six."
"Five."
"Four."
"Three."
"Two."
"One."
"Contact."
The ship rocked violently and all new alarms sounded. Red lights flashed. A few less disciplined sailors in the orchestra pit let out cries of fright.
The Commodore shouted out to the tech at the engineering station, "Status report!"
"Hull stress is within tolerances," the engineering tech replied. "She's holding together, sir."
"Alright, full power to engines, nice and easy. Continue to monitor hull integrity."
"Full power to engines," the helmsman repeated.
It would take about fifteen minutes for the engines to hit their max, but they would see results before then. The only question was if the hull would hold out, not just the Ticonderoga's but also that of Villareyes.
Several tense minutes followed.
"Hull stress entering the red zone," the engineering tech reported.
"Keep going," Commodore Frazier insisted. "How's the port holding up?"
As soon as he asked, the ship rocked again and it felt like they were in an elevator whose brakes had given out, followed by another massive shaking of the whole ship. Instead of just a few flashing lights, now the whole bridge was cast in red as sirens blared.
"The port's hull has buckled!" the engineering tech shouted over the sirens. "The ship has penetrated eight meters in! We have hull breaches in seven places on Deck 9! Shutters deployed successfully, affected areas sealed!"
"Kill the engines!" Commodore Frazier shouted back.
"Engines full stop!"
If they were eight meters in, then the main thrusters were actually inside the port. Even with the hasty shutdown, the Commodore could only wonder what a few seconds of a Six-Echo's fire could do. His blood chilled as he remembered what he was told about the coolant that was being pumped through the place. If the engine exhaust didn't set it off, nothing would, but before he could ask about the situation inside, he had something bigger he had to confirm first.
He asked the navigator, "What the course?"
"We're clear, sir," the navigator replied. "That burn put us in an orbit that should hold for another six days and I've got no collisions with registered satellites."
"What about the port? The coolant? Did the engines set off a chain reaction in there?"
"We detect no abnormalities, sir," the sensor tech replied. "The ports shutters have deployed to seal off the hull breach. There are incomplete seals in three locations, but teams are en route to fix them."
Commodore Frazier allowed himself a deep sigh of relief. The coolant didn't ignite and the hull breach was more or less sealed off. More importantly, they had bought Villareyes six days. Six days would be enough time to get some sort of fix together for course correction. They did it.
Admiral Mfume looked at Commodore Frazier and simply nodded. It must have been hard for an experienced ship captain like him to stand back and leave everything in the hands of a career fighter jock, but it all worked out. The Seven Deadlies wouldn't be getting their grand show after all. Now all that was left was to reel those bastards in.

* * *

Location: Outside Villareyes Starport, Saturnian Sphere
Date: Sun 16 Jun 121
Time: UST 0529

While dodging a couple pursuing fighters, Pride scanned through his readouts. The other Deadlies were all down and someone had apparently wised up to his remote control of the other ships jettisoned from Villareyes because his signal was being jammed. To top it all off, they were crazy enough to smash that fancy new carrier into the port to divert it from the collision course he had set for it. It really was the end of the line.
It was a miserable way to end his quest to spite the Union that had betrayed him, but he expected nothing more for himself. He had been waiting for his turn to die like a dog for longer than he could remember and now his time was up.
No, he told himself, I'm not finished yet.
He had used up all his missiles, but he still had his Wasp. What was a fighter but a missile with a joystick?
He eyed that fancy new carrier, no doubt the up-and-coming pride of the Navy. He might not be able to kill her, but he could scar that pretty face of hers real nice. So long as he hit her at full-tilt, he could punch through the hull. If he could hit the bridge, he might even take out that Admiral Mfume. What a pathetic way for the Union to lose one of its top flag officers.
He kicked in the thrusters and made a beeline for the carrier. He kept his path erratic enough to throw off the ship's batteries for the most part and diverted all the power he could spare to the forward shields to cover the rest. The two fighters pursuing him couldn't keep up. They still hadn't managed to beat the friendly fire countermeasures, so there wasn't much they could do but watch him fly right to their ship.
Pride's radar screen picked up a new blip, but he ignored it. What could it do?
He found out the hard way when a pair of laser arrays raked his craft and forced the shutdown of his powerplant.
Although his main thrusters were out of commission, he could still use his directional thrusters to stay on course. Without his shields, though, the carrier's batteries would probably do him in, unless whatever it was that hit him finished the job first.
There was still a chance that at least part of the Wasp would make impact, but even that was taken from him when something impacted with him first. Did he just get rammed?
Whatever it was, it knocked him well clear of his target. It seemed that none of his plans were set to work out today, but who could have overridden the friendly fire protocol and been crazy enough to risk getting dusted in a collision?
"Did you think I was going to let you get off that easy?" a voice rasped over the radio.
Pride knew that voice, but from where?
Then it came to him and it all made sense.
The man in the box.
Somehow he must have been rescued from the Malebolge before it was destroyed. After all Pride had put him through, he was able to put his raggedy carcass in the cockpit and thwart his tormentor's final stab at the government he suffered so much to defend. It would take someone with the sort of insane resolve that could drive a man to endure damn near a month of non-stop torture without saying a word. Yes, the man in the box was the only one who could have made this defeat possible. The hand of Fate guided their duel and this was where it led. At least that was what Pride told himself.
Pride pulled out his sidearm. The thought crossed his mind to blow his brains out then and there, but he thought better of it. The man in the box had earned the right to capture him alive. Whatever the government planned to do with him, it couldn't possibly be any worse than the sixteen years he spent fighting this war.
Let the government's dogs enjoy their little victory for all its worth. It wouldn't change the hell they'd have to live with so long as the war continued. They would bleed. They would suffer. And they would die. It was a small comfort to him as his Wasp shook from the tractor beam taking hold.
He looked down at his sidearm. He had decided to let them take him alive, but he still had a good ten rounds of spite left in him.