Bewildering Stories

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The Problem with Pirates

by Dennis Mahon

James Mitchell craned his head back to look out the viewport at the ship that loomed above him. Like most warships of the Republic, it had been designed for endurance and power, not aesthetics. What made the Edward Teach stand out was the emblem painted across the bow; whereas a ship-of-the-line in the Republican Navy would have the twelve stars on a field of blue, the Edward Teach had an ebon skull on a field of scarlet.

Mitchell hated pirates, and this one in particular. Had he the time, Mitchell would have found the equipment he required elsewhere. But time was a luxury neither he nor those dependent on him could afford at present. Necessity demanded action be taken, even action as foolish as this.

At least, Mitchell mused to himself as he ran a hand through his salt-and-pepper hair, I can tell my descendants that I met the infamous “Blackbeard of Tau Ceti.” Mitchell felt his weathered face twist in a wry grin at the image of himself spinning tales before a group of little ones. When his fingers brushed across the lump of scar tissue on the back of his head, he grimaced. Of course, that assumes that I’ll live that long.

As he waited for the bay to pressurize, Mitchell leaned back and dialed the combination to the security locker behind his seat. “Veronica, what’s the status of the package?”

The ship’s AI responded. “The item is in position. Status is nominal.”

“Good. Leave the Comm link open, and keep the engine hot while I’m out.” He withdrew a valise from the locker, and checked the seal to make sure it was it was still secure. Satisfied, he began to make his way to the forward airlock. “We may have to leave in a hurry.”


Once on deck, Mitchell had no problem picking out the captain. Robert Smithsson, the “Blackbeard of Tau Ceti,” stood a full two meters tall, and massed a full 150 kilos. His eyes were as black as his hair, and his beard was as full as his ancient Terran namesake. Mitchell wondered how such a giant had ever been accepted into the Service. The only way around the physical requirements was through political exemption; given that Smithsson had slaughtered his captain and half the crew when he turned mutineer, Mitchell suspected that politics had eased the psychiatric requirements as well.

“Captain Smithsson, I presume?”

The giant nodded, “Quite a beauty you’ve got there.”

Mitchell looked back at the sleek hull of the Midnight Whisper. “I like to think so. Have you the thing I require?”

Smithsson continued to look over Mitchell’s shoulder. “That’s a Blackbird-class, isn’t it?” The giant began to scratch his beard in contemplation. “Long-range reconnaissance vessel. Full stealth capabilities, right?”

Mitchell really didn’t like the way the conversation was going. “Under different circumstances, I’m sure we could spend all day talking shop, but my time is rather limited. Perhaps I’ll just take the payment and go.”

“Ah! So you were able to get the diamonds, then?”

Mitchell lifted the valise, broke the seal, and displayed the contents. “Twenty-five million credits worth, unlicensed, and in mixed carats, as you requested.”

“Good, good.” Smithsson rubbed his hands together for effect. “A fair price for an exotic matter lens, don’t you agree?” He gestured to a crate a short distance away. “It’s right over there.”

Mitchell turned to consider the cargo. “Veronica, open the forward bay doors, and send out the cargo lifter for a medium sized container.”

Mitchell turned back to face Smithsson. “Well, it’s been...” The appearance of a pistol pointed in his face silenced him.

“I think it’s time we re-negotiated our agreement, Mr. Mitchell. Your ship should fetch quite a high price on the black market; say, about the price of your life. You would agree, no?” Smithsson had the grin of the cat that ate the canary and its brother.

Mitchell sighed, and closed his eyes. “You’ve got to be kidding me. This is just too cliche’, even for you.” He fixed Smithsson with a hard stare. “I have a counter-proposal: you lower your weapon, and I’ll leave, taking the diamonds, the cargo, and my ship with me.”

The pirate looked amused. “And what reasons could you give to persuade me to do that, eh?”

“I’ve got two, actually; first off, I’ve got an ADM attached to the port nacelle of your ship. It’s set to detonate in the next, oh,” Mitchell checked his watch, “thirty minutes. I’ll only disarm it when I’m well out of range of your guns.”

“Well, that would hurt, but it’s nothing we couldn’t handle. I’d consider it a fair expense for getting my hands on that ship, and killing you real slow.”

“Perhaps so, but it wouldn’t be able to out-run a shuttle, let alone a warship, and you’d leave an ion trail strong enough for a blind man to follow. Which brings me to point number two.”

“And that would be...?”

“The Hercules is in-system. Captain Davies is very interested in discussing the fate of her brother with you. You remember him, don’t you? After all, he was your commanding officer...”

Twenty-five minutes later, Mitchell was staring out at the rapidly receding bulk of the Edward Teach. He thought about Tau Ceti, and the people who had once lived there.

As he punched the access code for the ADM into his Comm panel, Mitchell spoke aloud, “Veronica, do you know what the problem with pirates is?”

The AI was slow in responding. “Could you please rephrase the question?”

Mitchell finished entering the code. “There is only one real problem with pirates, Veronica. Only one.”

“The problem” — Mitchell pronounced as his hand hit the detonator command — “is that one pirate is always one pirate too many.”

Copyright © 2003 by Dennis Mahon