Bethany Bounty Hunter

I love world-building, and so for this new sci-fi gaming setting I’m starting with a gripping narrative about surprisingly similar heroes in a surprisingly similar situation.

It gets dark at times, but on the lighter side this may be the first time that the adjective ‘ionic’ has been used for both meanings at once!

I just hope my players don’t assume it will be this easy for them to survive.

“I’m a pretty princess, Jennifer, from fairy land!”

“No you’re not. God damn it Elly, if you screw around when we’re trying to infiltrate the pirates’ asteroid base —”

“I won’t, pinky swear.”

“Then let’s go over your alias again. And act your age this time.”

“I’m a starving raped orphan, Jennifer, age sixteen, fleeing from a life of virtual slavery.”

“Better. Now that you remember your cover story —”

“But Beth, it’s just as crap as fairy land. Sex slave and starving orphan? Why are bloodthirsty pirates going to buy sob story extreme over a classic princess tale?”

“You really are from fairy land aren’t you,” sneered Bethany, “didn’t you see me preparing for this mission over the last month?”

“Of course. It takes ages to queue for a game these days, I glanced over now and then.”

“And what was I doing?”

“Computer stuff. Probably that boring game you like, space chess III was it?”

“It’s Extreme Chess III, and I actually did real work researching this contract. When you signed up to be an apprentice bounty hunter, did you expect it was all fun and games?”

“Of course not. There’s also shooting.”

“Glad to see you were paying attention when we captured this escape pod. Did you take a good look at who you were shooting?”

“No… honestly, it’s easier that way.”

“Well take a good look now.” said Bethany, as she opened the storage locker on the cramped escape pod and dragged the limp corpse from it.

The chest was a horrific mess; lasers don’t leave neat little bullet holes. The fatal burns, vaporizing skin and liquifying organs till they spurt out and resolidify in the cold air, made that chest a seared mockery of the human form. Holes burnt in the dress exposed three such spots – she only stopped screaming when one got her lungs.

Elly shuddered as Bethany waved the corpse in her face. “I get it,” said Elly, “that’s me if I mess up.”

Bethany sighed loudly, the same sigh she had been struggling to contain for the past few minutes. “No, that’s Jennifer. I was researching this petty criminal as a way to infiltrate the Myrinae. There’s a million bitcoin bounty for whoever captures the leader of that pirate clan alive. Do you now remember why we’re doing this? Your alias is Jennifer, your cover story is what probably happened to Jennifer, and it’s a story that most of the Myrinae will relate to in some way and gobble straight up.”

As Bethany shoved the corpse back in the locker, Elly shuddered again. “So if sob story extreme actually happened to her, why did I have to kill her?”

“She strangled her supervisor on the mining ship and ran. We get a standard murderer bounty for her head, and when you read between the lines you can tell she was on that ship under duress and being abused by the man. We get a few extra bitcoins and the perfect cover story for you.”

“Okay. She was the murderer. Not me.”

“Elly, you’re an apprentice bounty hunter. You’re going to kill people. If you can’t handle that —”

“I can! You saw it, I killed her. I just… need to feel I’m on the side of justice.”

Bethany scoffed. “If you want justice, be a cop.”

“I also need the money. So, I’m sad Jennifer fleeing the worst life I can imagine. I run to the Myrinae because…” Elly gestured for Bethany to complete her sentence.

“Because they are known to welcome orphans, and rape victims who fought back. Kinda sad that out here in the belt that makes them one of the biggest pirate clans, and all women at that.”

“Ah, that explains why Daniel stayed on our ship.”

“He’s plan B. Looks like we started our deceleration burn for the Myrinae base, so they’ll probably pick us up soon.”

“The burn takes over an hour, what’s the rush?”

“Cut the chatter Elly! They aren’t a hotel. Now that we’ve signaled our destination we’ll be intercepted soon. Let’s go over the plan again.” Elly nodded quietly as Bethany continued. “Plan A: We on-board as pirates, drug Myrina, and steal their fastest ship. Plan B: Daniel’s going to sneak up with a low emissions profile. If we’re compromised, I signal him with my sub-dermal implants and he can get to us in under half-an-hour.”

“We’ll just hold out until then,” muttered Elly grimly.

“No,” muttered Bethany through clenched teeth, “he’s not a deus ex machina. We’d still have to improvise something that doesn’t involve fighting hundreds of pirates head on. You’d better hope that plan A works out.”

As Bethany glared at her apprentice, the ship shook violently. With no tides or tires in space, they turned to face the escape hatch just in time to see it ripped open by the boarding-vise. Through the teeth and steel of that nakedly hostile contraption, gun nozzles were pointed at both of them.

“We surrender!” shrieked Bethany. She raised her open hands in a surrender pose. Elly followed suit, though forgetting to actually push her pistol towards the floor. In the zero-gravity environment of the life boat, it just sort of floated lazily near her open hand.

With much clanking, the jaws of the boarding vise were retracted and three women pulled themselves through the hole. The two on the sides looked like typical pirate women: Black leather jackets, colorful patterned leggings, skull and/or crossbones earrings. Don’t forget the black plastic pouch strapped to the thigh for loot, and the cutlass faintly glowing with green plasma along the edge of its blade. A demonic weapon in cramped space ships, the plasma cutlass was hard to forget. Or take your eyes off when it is leveled at your neck, as Beth and Elly both found.

But when the woman in the middle barked at them in a commanding voice, their eyes moved to take her in fully. She took the Amazon stylings of the Myrinae name to heart, complete with a resplendent bronze breast-plate. Emphasis on the breast. A feathered helm and bronze spear completed the ensemble, although in a nod towards the fact that the bronze age was long gone she also wielded a plasma pistol. Pointing at Bethany’s face, naturally. The plated amazon spoke again. “I take it from your silence that the ransom will be very large indeed.”

Bethany came to her senses. “If someone cared about our lives, we’d have something to run to. But we’re just running. Please, we have nothing.”

“Really? Not even your parents would pay a dime to save you?”

“Since you look Greek, let’s just say they gave their last coin to the ferryman.”

The woman took off her bronze helmet, revealing a bald, scarred head. She cast her helmet and her spear back to float gently through the entry hatch. She then put both hands on the plasma pistol and jammed it against Bethany’s sternum until she was pinned to the bulkhead. “Once more, in English,” she growled.

“My parents are dead,” whimpered Bethany, “we’re on the run from the consortium, no-one will pay to see us alive.”

“Perhaps they’ll pay to see you dead.” Said the pirate, as she pulled her gun back to point leisurely at Bethany’s face. “Why are you on the run?”

“We um… may have killed someone.”

“Who?”

Bethany whimpered out an answer. “Our overseer on the Cannabaum. He ordered us both to his quarters, took off his…” as she said this she burst into tears. “I can’t re-live this, I’m sorry.”

The pirate lowered her pistol slightly. “Skip to his death.”

“While he was… busy… with Jenn, I grabbed the drawstring of the bed curtains and slipped it around his neck. I just held it tight, and he clawed and clawed at the rope until…” she started choking up again, but after a few seconds continued, “he just went limp. We dressed, stole his pistol, and ran to a life boat. We had to shoot the guard, but that was over so fast…”

“I get the picture. She’s Jenn?” the pirate gestured towards Elly with her gun.

“Yes,” said Bethany, “she hasn’t spoken much since she shot the guard.”

Elly just nodded her head in assent and tried to tear up. If only she’d taken those theater classes in high school.

The pirate holstered her pistol. “So where were you running to?”

Bethany replied softly. “Just trying to find a station where we could beg for food. We haven’t eaten in days.”

This was almost true, to prepare realistic responses they hadn’t eaten for almost thirty hours. Bethany had played Mabel in her high-school performance of “The Pirates of Penzance”, but she didn’t trust Elly to act the part without help. So they were actually starving, and she assumed this was Elly’s first time killing someone. So long as they didn’t ask explicit questions about the sex acts then their story should hold up without trouble. Elly was nineteen, maybe she’d be able to handle those questions, but Bethany hadn’t inquired. After her exhaustive research for the role Bethany didn’t even want to think about those questions, let alone ask them of a subordinate.

The pirate’s response drew Bethany’s attention back to the moment. “We have food. You could work for us, if you don’t mind killing again.”

“I would kill for some bread right now.” chirped Elly.

Bethany blushed a little, and nodded. The pirate smiled. “Join us then, you are Myrinae now!” Elly slowly reached for the laser pistol floating nearby, but the lead pirate snatched it quickly from her. “I’ll hold onto that. You won’t have to kill anyone for your bread today.”

They didn’t deactivate their plasma cutlasses, but the pirates followed them through the hatch a little less threateningly as they all got onto the pirates’ boarding ship for the return trip to their station.

It takes a long time to get anywhere in space. First of all, space is big. I mean really big. Humanity became generally aware of this from radio broadcasts in the late 1970’s, and the solution was an engine meant for marathons not sprints. Even with the relatively high-powered engines of a pirate clipper, designed to overtake and board fleeing vessels, it still took almost half-an-hour to match the velocity of the asteroid on which the pirates had built their base. In the interim they broke out some ration kits, which Beth and Elly ravenously devoured.

They were flanked by even more pirates as they ate, instead of a mess hall the pirate ship had a wide bar encircled by thin pillars to use as hand-holds in the zero-gravity environment. They had a tradition of drinking after a successful mission (and before, even during for some of them). As they shared their names, and their stories, Bethany felt that everything was going to go as planned. She was actually quite excited when the lead pirate that boarded them had such an extravagant get-up, thinking that it might be the pirate queen herself! But when she was introduced, it turns out this was just one of her more dramatic lieutenants. No shortcuts here, they’d have to wait to get to the pirate base. But everyone on the twelve person crew could relate to their story in some way; either struggling as space orphans in the inhospitable asteroid belt, or abused by men in the employ of the mining companies that roamed it. Clarissa, the lieutenant, had led a successful mutiny on a mining cruiser where the commander burned all the women’s clothing in a juvenile prank. Perhaps the reason she now likes to wear un-burnable bronze. The rush of sympathy made their cover story unquestionable, which was far more valuable than all the free drinks.

By the time they landed, they had gained enough trust that the plasma cutlasses had been turned off. Still not enough to get the laser pistol back though. After the ship set down they were handed mag boots and vacc suits to put on over their clothes. Pressurized hangars were a luxury few stations had out here so vacc suits saw heavy, and frequently shared, use. The ship had only eight suits on-board, so Clarissa and five other armed pirates suited up to accompany them out the airlock. The airlock fit only two at a time, so Beth and Elly went in together and had a brief moment alone. They exchanged thumbs up as the air drained from the tiny chamber. Then the external hatch opened, and they stepped out into the hangar.

The base was built into a metallic asteroid, a common tactic employed by pirates to make it harder to find at long range. One side of the hangar was open to space, a vast window into the infinite starry black. A few spurs of rock from the asteroid crept into your field of view from the left, reflecting back the pulsing landing lights that ringed the outside of the portal.

Elly hadn’t travelled much in space yet, and was mesmerized by the view. Beth had to pull her away from contemplating the infinite, towards the waiting pirates inside the base airlock. Wide enough for four to walk abreast, it still looked tiny compared to the vastness of space. Space truly is big. They quickly trundled into the airlock, with the pirates flanking them this time. As soon as it had pressurized, Clarissa’s voice came over the suit radio. “Take off the suits.” They all took the vacc suits off in a hurry. “Keep the mag boots”, she added as Bethany started to take off the boots. They rushed into the base as a worker in her own vacc suit picked up all the floating, discarded suits for the next group to use.

While the exterior hangar engendered contemplation of the infinite, the interior chamber encouraged consumption of the finite. It wasn’t just another, bigger bar than the one on the boarding craft. It was the biggest, loudest, wildest bar Bethany had ever seen. Part of the bigger size was that the chamber was twice a normal room’s height, and part of the wildness was that half the people there had their mag boots locked onto the ‘ceiling’. Elly was used to the big ships and stations with their artificial gravity, where this would never gain traction. Bethany again had to drag her slack-jawed companion to follow Clarissa through the crowd.

It wasn’t just the crowded ‘bar sandwich’ layout that made it look wild. One pair of patrons was practicing their fencing with active plasma cutlasses. In the thin oxygen atmosphere, the sparks set almost everything on fire — they had to pause every few parries to spray or stamp them out. The far wall was a window into an active zeeball arena, a zero-gravity ball sport which the pirates made brutal by lack of referees; on this side of the window the action was from the many pirates soliciting bets on the outcome. The bar even had a TV screen rerunning old sitcoms in the corner. The only thing missing from a complete collection of depravity was strippers on poles. Although if she had looked behind her, Bethany would have seen some poor guy’s balls impaled on a spike above the airlock.

They were brought across the room to what could only be described as a bar-stool throne. The lack of stools in the rest of the room was hardly surprising in zero-gravity. But they apparently started with a full set, now welded and chained together into a mass that filled the corner and provided numerous hand and foot holds for one woman and her treasures. Bethany could tell that the pirate queen known as Myrina was the one who floated astride that throne.

The banner reading “Pirate Queen Myrina” was her first clue. A scattering of chests filled with coins, all spray-painted gold, was the second. But there were other treasures nailed to the throne that Bethany had read about during her research. The girdle of Hippolyta, or at least a cheap knock-off, it resembled a wide bronze belt with ‘HIPPOLYTA’ carved into it by hand. The Gladiutron 10K, an early model plasma cutlass that defined the modern designs that followed (including the one that was 3D printable and heavily pirated by the pirates). Jessie, a full size rubber ducky said to have been the personal bathing companion of the 48th president of the United States. It looked so sad with the nail in its eye. In a Homerian epic Bethany might have only needed to retrieve an ionic treasure, but bounty hunters only get paid by the head. Dead or alive.

Clarissa introduced them. “We picked up some consortium-hating orphans, my queen.”

Myrina gazed down at them over her goblet. It was real gold, studded with rubies, with a plastic sippy-cup-style attachment on top to adapt it for use in zero-gravity. She took a sip of whatever filled it before she responded. “You wish to join the Myrinae? To kneel before their queen?”
Bethany and Elly quickly kneeled. A surprisingly tricky maneuver without gravity. Myrina let her goblet hang in the air as she grabbed the Gladiutron 10K. She did not turn it on, but tapped them each once on the shoulder with it. “Rise sisters. You have a family once more.”

Clarissa hugged them both, pulling them back to their feet. After she released them, she spoke. “Your timing was great, we have a perfect first mission for you soon.”

Myrina chuckled. “Well, it’s perfect if you have a grudge against the consortium.”

Beth spoke up. “A little. I mean, at least some of them deserve to die for what they let go on in that company.”

“Then good news. In a few hours we’re launching a massive raid against the B37 installation. That installation has grown rich off palladium refining, and we’re going to grow rich off of its corpse.”

“It’s a consortium installation?”

“Yes. We’re going to swoop in, kill the men, steal everything not nailed down. Even the fluids, leaving only enough oxygen to burn what’s left to cinders. We can always use more hands on a raid like this.”

“Kill everyone you said?”

“There will be room in the escape pods for women and children. Men can be so chivalrous when they’re dead.”

Bethany kept the wavering look in her eyes. Fortunately Myrina was focused on her, trying to peer into the depths of Bethany’s troubled soul. Elly was starting to get confused about all this hesitance and deep character acting, if Myrnia had looked in her direction the jig would be up.

The pirate queen spoke again. “What did you say the men ‘let go on’ in the consortium?”

Beth’s eyes hardened. “I don’t want to talk about it. But if they were complicit through inaction they deserve to die.”

“In your heart, you know the consortium is rotten to its core. Now’s your chance for vengeance and some profit to boot. Are you in?”

Bethany nodded, and by the time Myrina’s gaze traveled to Elly she was nodding too.

“Excellent,” decreed the pirate queen, “have a drink, relax, we depart in five hours.” She waved them off as Clarissa moved to her side. As Bethany turned her face back to the chaos of the room, she saw Clarissa and Myrina begin to speak in hurried, hushed tones. But it would be suspicious if she stayed to eavesdrop, so she strode off in the other direction with Elly at her side.

“What now?” asked Elly.

Bethany replied casually. “I don’t know about you, but I really need to pee.”

“Yeah, me too,” said Elly. They both quickly followed the signs to a restroom.

Space was not meant to be peed in, but the wonders of modern technology were more than equal to the challenge. This station had added several small restrooms as it grew, so by the time they were washing their hands they were alone in the room.

Elly leaned over. “What do we do now?”

“Relax,” ordered Bethany, “all is well. During the raid try to stick together and near Myrina. Those massive raids are always chaotic, we should have ample chances to knock her out and get into an escape pod.”

“What idiot lets the escape pods escape?” cried Elly.

“They will,” sighed Beth, “weren’t you listening? They said they’ll let the women and children get to the escape pods, it’s soft for pirates but I think they’ll actually do it. They accepted us without a through background check after all. They can’t be that smart.”

“You’re the boss,” said Elly as she towelled off her hands. “Did you do a through background check on me?”

“Yes. I don’t know why it included your kindergarten dress-up contest photos,” said Bethany with a smirk, “but you do make a pretty princess.”

Elly turned beet red and they left the restroom without saying another word. When they got back to the bar Myrina and Clarissa were gone, but they still had five hours to kill. Bethany gestured over to the fencing pirates. “Come over here, you should learn about the plasma cutlass.”

“I did wonder, why not use guns? They’re boarding spaceships with swords — seems weird to me.”

“First there’s the general reason that pirates prefer plasma weapons. You’ve seen space cops before, right?”

“Yeah, they wear that stiff black armor. Laser-resistant kevlar?”

“Carbon nanotube plating. A steel sword couldn’t even scratch it, and lasers and bullets don’t get much farther.”

“But it’s vulnerable to plasma?”

“Everything’s vulnerable to plasma. It’s orders of magnitude more energy than a laser, just far less focused. A laser applies all its thermal energy to a pin-point area, while plasma ties it up in a sprawling mass of ionized gas. Even heat-dissipating armor gets overloaded by that.”

“Why are we still using lasers then? I barely saw a plasma pistol until today.”

“First off, I like to think we’re more precise than these…”, said Bethany, as she gestured towards the fencing pirates. A spark from the blades had just hit one of their leather jackets, and they were patting out the flames. When you looked closer, you could see scorch marks almost completely covered their jacket surface – and the spectators weren’t much better off. “Secondly —”

Elly was staring at the pirate jackets as she interrupted. “Wait a minute, I thought leather didn’t burn.”

“In a pure oxygen atmosphere, everything burns,” replied Bethany. “In the early days of space flight they even pumped in pure oxygen up to Earth standard pressure for some craft. Which made everything ultra-flammable, and they quickly stopped that after enough people died in fires.”

Elly grimaced. “Okay, I’m flammable. Sorry for the interruption, you were saying?”

“The other disadvantage of plasma is that it’s difficult to contain in an atmosphere. On Earth, these crappy pirate knockoffs can barely shoot three feet before losing cohesion.”

“Those swords seem to be managing it fine.”

“We’re not in Earth’s atmosphere. A partial pressure oxygen environment such as this has a fifth of the air density, so the plasma can go a lot farther.”

“Even further in the vacuum of space I guess.”

“Exactly. Some ships have a nitrogenated internal atmosphere and plasma weapons doesn’t work so well there either.”

“Except the cutlasses,” speculated Elly, “which is why they keep them around.”

“Wrong. Even the cutlasses do worse in full atmosphere. How do you think a plasma cutlass works?”

“A column of ionized gas is contained in a semi-permeable force field?”

Bethany chuckled. “Well at least you’ve been watching classic sci-fi shows. Since plasma means ‘ionized gas’ and a magnetic field could be described as a ‘force’ field, you’re pretty close. Note the curve of the cutlass, how it’s one half of a symmetrical ellipse?”

“Does plasma naturally take an elliptical shape?”

“Your first guess was better. The ellipse follows the shape of the magnetic field that’s emitted by the center of the blade. Plasma is generated by the hilt, sucking air through the pommel and emitting plasma from the guard. Because the plasma is ionized, it mostly gets dragged with the magnetic field as the blade moves around. The less atmosphere adjacent to the plasma, the more it stays in the field instead of dissipating.”

“And the heat from the plasma softens up the armor so that the blade can cut through?”

Bethany chuckled again. “The thin layer of plasma is around six k K. That’s thousands of kelvin. If that doesn’t burn through your target, the ‘blade’ isn’t going to do much either. Honestly, the pirates only sharpen it in case you use it in a vacuum. Where you probably should just use a gun, but not every pirate can afford a gun of their own.”

“Ah, so they use the plasma cutlasses because they’re cheaper.”

“Not even that. Pirates produce cheap knock-off plasma pistols of their own. There’s probably a printer somewhere on this station. It’s just that pirates are poor, and too mean-spirited to just give away weapons. I don’t even know if they’ll arm us for the raid.”

“So the cutlasses aren’t cheaper, or better, or remotely modern. Do they just use them because it looks cool?”

“For some of them, that’s the appeal. But it has other advantages, you remember when they boarded our escape pod?”

“It was pretty menacing. I could feel the intense heat from each of them.”

“Right, because the pod was only a few feet across. Many space ships and stations are really cramped, tight spaces where it’s easier to swing a melee weapon than aim a pistol. Especially when one wrong move can depressurize the entire section.”

“Wow, that makes a lot of sense,” said Elly, “I hope I get a chance to try one.” She leaned in towards the fencers. Then a spark spat out from the clashing swords straight onto her eyebrow. “Augh!” she screamed, as she smacked her hand into her forehead to extinguish the flames. The pirates laughed at her, but when she removed her hand most of her eyebrow was intact.

“You must be new,” said one of the fencing pirates jovially. “Here, give it a whirl.” She handed her cutlass to Elly.

Elly was startled, but soon reached out to take the hilt. She moved into the space they were fighting in, as the pirate gave her a few basic pointers. “Hold the hot side away from your face, and don’t swing it very hard here. The magnetic fields only repel each other a little, it’s easy to overpower it when playing. But with gentle strikes, you can really get a rally going.”

Elly slowly swung the blade until her opponent matched it, and they bounced away from each other just before the columns of plasma would touch. She tried again, and again, and was soon swinging it with aplomb. She was so into it, she just laughed when the next spark hit her shoulder and burned an inch-wide hole in her shirt.

Bethany watched her for a bit, until a commotion behind her drew her attention. “Isabella Etru!” shouted someone from the other side of the room. Bethany turned to see who they were looking for.

The pirate queen Myrina, Clarissa at heel, was heading straight towards her. Bethany suddenly realized that Isabella was her alias, and stood up straight just in time.

“Isabella,” spat Myrina in her direction.

“My queen,” was Bethany’s humble reply as she bowed her head slightly. She clasped her hands behind her back. Not the best gesture to show deference, but rubbing her wrists together allowed her to activate her signaling implant. From Myrina’s tone of voice, she’d probably need it.

“How are your parents doing?”

“Dead. Same as last time.”

Myrina punched her across the jaw. Bethany’s head snapped backwards but her neck and mag boots held firm.

“Try again.” growled Myrina, her fist still clenched.

Bethany put her hands in her pockets, feeling for her few concealed weapons. “I don’t understand, they died in a shuttle accident years ago.”

“When I looked them up, they’re listed as fine. You aren’t even listed as missing from the Cannabaum. So Isabella, if that’s your real name, what are you up to?”

Bethany found her weapons. Soft gel packs that easily evade metal detectors and pat downs. She peeled off the safety seal from inside her pockets as she hurriedly tried to speak. “Okay, you got me. I’m actually a spice merchant trying to sell to the pirates in this area. Your grog could really use some nutmeg…”

Myrina and Clarissa just laughed at her pathetic lie. Which is when Bethany yanked the gel packs out of her pockets and squirted them into their open mouths.

For Myrina, a powerful contact sedative was always part of the plan. Enough got into her open mouth that she’d be out for days, if indeed she ever woke again. There’s always such a thing as an overdose. Especially for the gel that entered Clarissa, a powerful alkaline for which the only safe dose was “none”. As Clarissa clawed at her throat and Myrina went limp, Bethany yelled “Now!” to her partner.

Elly may not have combat experience, but she knew that word in that tone meant mayhem. She slammed her cutlass into her opponent’s, knocking her to the ground and fusing the two blades together. She then threw the twisted mess of metal and plasma into the central bar. They grabbed Myrina between them, pirates unsheathed weapons to stop them, and then everything was dropped as everyone covered their eyes from the blinding flash of the explosion.

Much of the bar counters and bartenders were flammable when hit with the thrown plasma cutlasses. But there was also the huge stash of alcohol next to the ventilation duct piping in fresh oxygen. That was the explosion, and it scattered flaming debris across the entire room. Suddenly they heard alarms, sirens, shouting on the PA; the chaos neutralized any concerted attempt by the pirates present to arrest their escape. Elly pulled her half of Myrina towards the airlock door. “No,” shouted Bethany, “this way!”. Elly followed her to the nearest internal door, as the flames raged and pirates ran every which way. “Venting bar compartment,” said a voice over the PA. “Hold her,” yelled Bethany. She dropped Myrina and launched herself towards the nearest door. As all the interior doors slammed shut around the room, Bethany held the last one open with her outstretched leg. She waved at Elly to hurry, as Elly tromped over with her mag boots and the pirate queen dragging along behind her. Then the airlock doors opened, and the air began to rush out into the vacuum of space. The flames jumped in the sudden wind as Elly almost lost her grip, turning and taking hold of Myrina’s arm with both hands. Then Bethany leaned over and grabbed Elly by the waist. With a great heave, she yanked both of them onto the other side of the door and leaped out of the way as it slammed shut.

As they stood up, they found themselves surrounded by pirates with their weapons drawn. One of them barked the question, “What happened?”

Bethany replied. “There was an attempt on Myrina’s life, but the assailants were sucked out the airlock. Quickly, we need to get her to the sick bay!”

“Follow me!” said the pirate. They walked quickly through the winding corridors of the base. “Here,” said the pirate finally, stepping through the door to the sick bay.

“Thanks,” said Bethany as she punched their guide in the face. In that brief moment of surprise, Bethany also grabbed the plasma cutlass with her other hand and sliced the pirate straight down the middle. It really was like a hot knife through butter, and Bethany kicked the astonished fragments of corpse out into the corridor. Blood spewing from the wounds filled the air, in thick blobs that stuck together and floated every which way. The sounds of shouting and clanking feet could only mean more pirates were on the way to the scene. “Quickly,” Bethany shouted at Elly, “the beds!” Elly was confused, but grabbed the sleeping bags that lined the sick bay wall. Extra-thick, these were intended to help the convalescence of the sick and the injured. Of course they were also flammable, and Bethany lit them with the plasma cutlass as she hurled them into the corridor.

You couldn’t see much from inside the room, but from the angry shouting that she could hear Bethany knew that the blood, fire and smoke filling the corridor was blocking the pirates from reaching them. Both Beth and Elly paused to catch their breath. “What now?” gasped Elly. “Keep feeding the fire,” said Beth, “and you’ll need this.” She grabbed oxygen masks for both of them off a shelf — the smoke was starting to uncomfortably fill the air inside the room.

As Elly ransacked the room throwing stuff into the corridor, Bethany pressed her wrists together and spoke into them, “Dan, do you read me?”

“Loud and clear,” came a voice only she could hear. The receiving implant was built into her ear, emitting but a few decibels right next to the ear drum. “What’s your situation?”

“We have the target, we’re barricaded in the sick bay, we need evac.”

“I’ll be there in five minutes. Which airlock?”

“We don’t have an airlock, just ram the structure as near as you can to my signal.”

“Boarding attachment or clean break?”

“Boarding attachment, we don’t have vacc suits in here!”

“Roger that. ETA 4 minutes.”

Bethany lowered her arms. “Okay,” she said to Elly, who had just finished emptying the contents of the room into the corridor blaze, “Dan gets here in 4 minutes. We exfiltrate with the target, mission accomplished.”

“Exfiltrate?”

“It means escape. But with dignity.”

“Oh, okay. The fire should hold them for 4 minutes easy.”

Bethany groaned inwardly. “You don’t have any experience with space fires, do you?”

“I’ve been setting them all day, I’m practically a pro!” grinned Elly.

“Practically, but not quite. You see that white foam around the edges of the door?”

“Yeah, is it flammable?”

“No. That’s from the fire extinguishers that even pirates keep on hand. They’re putting out the fire, and it’s only a matter of time before they claw through the foam towards us.”

“Well, you still have your cutlass. Think we can hold out long enough?”

“Oh yes,” smirked Bethany. “You’ll have the cutlass, and I’ll have this.” Bethany handed the plasma cutlass over to Elly, and pulled a plasma pistol out of the holster on Myrina’s hip. This was no cheap pirate knockoff. Smooth nano-material casing and a contoured grip belied a weapon crafted by a master, not spewed out of some printer en masse.

“Unauthorized user detected,” said the gun in a loud, synthesized voice. Cheap knock-offs may skip biometrics, but no legally produced gun in the last fifty years could. Out of Bethany’s back pocket, she pulled a thin clear film snaked with circuit patterns. Slapping it on the grip, the gun’s tone changed completely. “Safeties off,” it sighed.

Over the next few minutes the foam crept in from the edges of the door, to surrounding the few remaining flames, to totally filling the corridor. Bethany and Elly took cover, Bethany behind a storage cabinet and Elly next to the door. There they waited until the first salvo of plasma bolts pierced the fog. Three pirates in gas masks stormed in after them. The first two were taken down with smooth, precise plasma blasts from Beth and the third with Elly’s plasma cutlass slicing through her side. Globules of blood began to fill the room, vaporizing in the storm of plasma fire that followed. Half the cabinet was gone when the station lurched, and the firing suddenly halted. Steam now came from the ceiling, as a circle of the roof glowed brightly from cutting torches on the other side. A disc of roof was punched out, bouncing off the floor, and Beth shouted: “Take the target and go!” Elly threw her plasma cutlass into the corridor, not that it made it very far through the foam, and grabbed Myrina. Beth fired a few more shots into the fog before leaping up after her through the hole in the roof. Past the hole, and the open airlock, was the main compartment of their ship; Daniel at the helm.

“Get us out of here!” yelled Beth, as she activated the emergency airlock controls.

“Roger that,” came Daniel’s reply. The airlock door slammed shut just as the main engines fired. Elly started to drift back towards the rear of the vessel under the sudden acceleration.

“Smooth exit,” said Daniel lazily, “whatever you did there shook them up so bad we aren’t even being followed. Easiest million bitcoins I’ve ever made.”

“Easy for you,” spat Elly, “it was touch and go for us in there.”

“It may still be if we want the full bounty,” said Bethany. She was feeling the pulse on Myrina’s neck, and it was very weak. “Take her to the sick bay.”

Elly brought Myrina’s unconscious form into the sick bay and strapped her to the table. Bethany activated the computer console and probes began to press into her arms. Sampling, prodding, recording. The automated analysis came up on the screen soon after. The overdose of sedative had placed Myrina into a deep coma, from which she may never wake.

Elly turned around to ask Bethany: “Does this count as dead, or alive?”

Bethany just stared at the computer display. Eventually she spoke softly. “I really don’t know.”

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