THE ASTEROID PIRATES
The first hint of trouble was when one of the passengers pointed to a small spacecraft visible through the view plate. To see another spacecraft out here in the asteroid belt was rare, but now there were two and soon three. Wonder soon changed to fear as the three ships fired on the Pegasus in unison. One combined blast shook the ship.
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Alarms sounded and the Captain of the Pegasus went on the ships intercom telling all passengers to go to their cabins and to stay there. Commander Comet and his crew assisted the Pegasus's crew in helping some of the fearful passengers into their respective cabins.
Another blast and the lights flickered then went out. Immediately the red emergency lights came on. The ship was on emergency power. This had not happened to the other ships that were attacked. The pirates were stepping up their methods.
Another blast and the Captain ordered all passengers to the ship's lifeboats. He was going to abandon ship. The crew of the Pegasus had trained for just such an event. Each person of the crew took passengers to the lifeboats. When a lifeboat was filled with four passengers, a crew member would take the lifeboat's controls and launch into space. This was repeated till all thirty lifeboats were safely off ship.
Commander Comet watched from the lifeboat as the cargo hatch was blasted open by the pirates and they started loading only certain shipping containers. There, the container with the green stripe. Omniac's shipping container was placed aboard one of the ships. At least this part of the plan was working.
Suddenly the three ships departed in great haste. What was going on? The Commander Comet saw why the other ship left in such speed. A large salvage vessel was closing in. The pirates must have though that it was the Rocket Patrol.
Each life boat has an emergency beacon as well as short range radio. The radio was turned on just in time to hear the Captain of the salvage ship claim the Pegasus as salvage! The Commander could not believe what he was hearing until he got a look at the insignia on the side of the salvage ship. The Rising Sun and Hammer of the People's Republic of Ganymede!
The salvage ship left a crew to start dismantling the Pegasus while the passengers were given passage to Mars orbit . From there several atmospheric shuttles took the passengers down to the surface. Commander Comet had a very uneasy feeling. This whole pirate attack and then salvage operation went too smoothly. The Ganymedes were behind this. No! They couldn't be. If they had the unison firing ability they would use it. There had to be another answer.
When Comet's crew landed they went to the spaceport master and rented a Hawkshaw Mk. VII spacecraft. Inside the ship, the Commander and Princess Liana attempted to contact Omniac.
"I still don't understand how Omniac can know where he is? He was shut up in that shipping container and there are no windows for him to see where he is going." exclaimed Rusty to Sparks.
"How about it, Skipper. How can Omniac know?"
"Ask Princess Liana, Sparks. She's the robot expert."
Looking a little sheepish, Sparks said "How's Omniac doing it, Princess?"
"If I was to blindfold you and moved you from room to room, would you have an idea of where you where?" Princess Liana asked.
Thinking a second, Sparks answered. "Not exactly, but I would have a good guess."
"Omniac is using the same senses that you have plus a few, including accelerometers and a miniture gyrotron. Combine that with a brain that does not forget and Omniac will give us the approximate location of the pirates' base."
"Rusty, prepare the ship for liftoff."
"Begging the Commander's pardon but we're going to need more than just the four of us to take on those pirates." said Rusty
"We will have help. Help in the form of surprise!" Comet said with a smile.
Rusty looked at Sparks who shook his head and raised his eyebrows.
Sparks looked at Princess Liana and then all three looked at the Commander.
"Surprise?" Princess Liana, Rusty and Sparks said in unison.
"I'll explain after we reach the asteroid belt." Comet replied.
"Commander, we've just cleared Mars atmosphere." Rusty announced.
"Sparks, contact Omniac and get the information on the location." Comet said.
"Princess Liana, when Sparks gets the information, see if you can cross check it with space charts of the belt."
"While I'm doing that what will you be doing?" Liana asked.
"Getting ready." Comet answered.
"Just contacted Omniac, Skipper. He says he has stopped moving and is now somewhere with an atmosphere and ... here comes the coordinates now Princess. " Sparks said as he quickly wrote down the coordinates and handed them to Princess Liana.
Princess Liana took the information and started the process that would give them an idea of where Omniac was. Using her circular slide rule, the Princess quickly reduced the raw numbers into standard coordinates.
"Omniac is about here Commander." Princess Liana said as she pointed toward the chart.
"As you can see, this area is dense with large and small asteroids. Which one Omniac is on will be anyone's guess," she said. "It will take a lot of time to search all of them."
It's been a rough trip, everyone. Let's get some rest."
* * *
Sixty hours later, they were gathered on the bridge.
"Rusty, how close to the edge of the belt are we?" Comet asked.
Rusty responded "We're less than one minute away, Sir."
"Sparks, stay on the radio. Scan all frequencies. I have a hunch."
"Okay, Skipper but ... What am I listening for?"
Commander Comet answered with one word. "Opportunity"
"Rusty," Commander Comet said, "take the ship into the Belt. Use the coordinates from Princess Liana."
"Aye aye, Sir. Setting course, dead ahead slow."
"Princess, would you help me by being a lookout?" Comet asked as he activated the port scanner."
"With pleasure, Commander." Liana said as she activated the starboard scanner.
"If you see anything unusual, Princess, or hear anything, Sparks, sing out."
Hour after hour passed as the ship slowly headed deeper into the swirling, shifting maze of rocks that is the asteroid belt. The journey was interrupted several times as one of the asteroids came too close and Rusty had to apply control jets to avoid a collision.
"What the ... !" exclaimed Sparks.
"What is it? snapped Commander Comet.
"Oh nothing really, Skipper. Just an increase in background noise in one direction. Just something odd, that's all." Sparks announced.
"Record the direction Sparks and repeat in ten minutes. The difference in readings will give us a distance to the noise source."
"I don't understand Dan? Sparks is only hearing the normal radio background noise of space," exclaimed Princess Liana.
Smiling, Commander Comet explained. "Normal background noise is of uniform strength in all directions. So, if the signal is stronger in one direction that means it's not normal but power leakage from a smaller, older spacecraft and those pirates used just such spacecraft."
"Princess," continued Comet, "whoever they are, they have invited us to pay them a visit."
"Got the distance to the noise Skipper! It's less than a hundred miles," Sparks said.
"Princess, how does that compare to the location Omniac gave as his ?" asked Comet.
Glancing quickly at the space charts, Princess Liana said, "It matches the location Omniac gave us. What do we do next?"
Giving the Princess a wink and a smile, Comet ordered Rusty to bring the ship to a dead stop when they spotted the hideout of the pirates.
A few minutes later, Rusty said, "There it is, Sir. I've never seen anything like it before!"
When their spacecraft was stopped, Comet and crew got their first look at the hideout of the pirates. A large asteroid had been hollowed out. The pirate ships were moored to the asteroid by docking tubes like those used on space stations.
"Break out the spacesuits Rusty. Princess, use the ansible link to Omniac and tell him we are here and to prepare for battle," ordered the Commander.
As Rusty, Sparks and Comet donned their spacesuits, Liana took command of their spacecraft.
"Remember Princess, when you hear from us, bring the ship in close to the asteroid." Comet said.
"I'm trusting the pirates to think themselves safe from discovery and not post any kind of lookout." explained Commander Comet. "Let's get going."
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As theY entered the airlock, the Princess gave each of them a soft pat on their space helmets for luck. The airlock hatch closed slowly and the telltale lights went from green to amber and finally red. Looking through the view plate, Princess Liana could see the three Patrolmen heading toward the asteroid.
© 2002 John Dunaj
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All text, illustrations, photographs and design are © 2001-2002 Dan Thompson, except where otherwise noted.