“You were the captain of the Ojijrukar,” said the tall woman with the flawless skin and broad, handsome nose of the Geremnen, “but now you’re not. Yes, I agree that you remain responsible for your crew, and that’s why you are going to order them into these lifeboats I am providing for them and you.” Her tone said that she was being eminently reasonable, regardless of anyone else’s opinion of the matter.
Captain Lisama looked around, his hands with their orange-ochre palms behind his head. His crew and passengers were all assembled here in the hold of the pirate ship that had boarded and taken control of his vessel with surprising ease. No-one was missing, so there wasn’t going to be any last minute heroic solution to get them out of this. “What happens if we don’t?”
“I shoot people until the survivors do what I tell them,” she said calmly.
“You’re insane,” interrupted one of the passengers, J’sur Gharan as he insisted on being called. The man was also one of the senior engineers in the organisation that employed Captain Lisama and the rest of the crew.
“Actually, I’m not,” returned the woman coolly. “Just very practical. I have the psych evaluations to prove it.” She paused and went on, “I can assure you all that these lifeboats are maintained and stocked to Irimar Convention standards. In thirty seven days, barring your stupidity or external misadventure, they should deliver you to safe port in either the Cetes-G-ay or the Ardes-G-zum systems.”
“Galares or Nghukuh?” Captain Lisama considered his options. Both were well developed worlds with good contacts to the rest of the Skein. They seemed like an excellent option when the alternative involved being shot.
“I can’t guarantee that any of the lifeboats won’t decide to deliver you to a secondary or tertiary facility within either system,” clarified the pirate commander, “but you will get to one or other of those systems in these boats.”
Captain Lisama made up his mind. “I accept your offer of passage in these vessels, vaznar, and with your permission we will board and be on our way.”
“Very good.” She nodded to emphasis her approval and he noted that she hadn’t objected to his choice of honorific. “Please, organise your people among the boats to their best advantage.” She made a seemingly casual gesture and two of her armed crew members, faces and other details obscured by their sealed armour, moved forward. “I’m afraid I didn’t mention that I’ve made special arrangements for J’sur Gharan.”
There was an ejaculation of, “What?!,” from the man in question as he was separated out from the others and a protesting cry of, “Vadda!,” from a young girl who’d been standing beside him and was now being held by another passenger.
Captain Lisama turned to protest too but the pirate commander forestalled him with a raised hand and added, in a conversational tone, “J’sur Gharan was the one who assured Neddan Messendel Gassadthir and J’sur Aggrivlo that the standards set out in the Irimar Convention are over-engineered, so they save money by maintaining their ship’s life craft to the standards J’sur Gharan outlined for them.” She smiled, “And so we have a lifeboat prepared to those standards just for him.”
J’sur Gharan froze. Captain Lisama looked at his own chief engineer and realised that the man was pleased. Several of the younger engineers were actually grinning.
The pirate went on, “There were people I respected on the Mijijrukar when it was lost. Its lifeboats had been maintained and stocked at your standards, not the Convention’s, J’sur Gharan, and it was those standards that killed them.” She smiled unpleasantly, “You’re getting exactly what they got.”
The two armoured pirates began to move the singled out executive towards the shadowy space at the other further side of the hold where another lifeboat sat on its own. It looked the same as the others, but there were warning markers placed around it on the decking. The markers were in the common vernacular of such things and told the world that the vessel inside their cordon was only to be used as a last resort because it was probably defective. J’sur Gharan wasn’t struggling but he looked as if he didn’t quite understand what was happening or why. The little girl who’d been beside him broke free and ran after him, shouting, “Vadda, wait for me!” She had a vaguely humanoid soft toy grasped in one hand and her close cropped yellow-white hair was exactly the same as J’sur Gharan’s.
The pirate commander intercepted the child, moving fast enough to remind everyone of the stories that the Geremnen bloodlines were gene-engineering themselves for more than just good looks. “No, njun.” Her voice was much gentler as she used the diminutive. “Your father is being punished for his misdeeds, but you have done nothing wrong. You will go with Captain Limasa, mind him and be safe.” She picked terrified child up and carried her over to the captive captain. “See, he is a good man and will see you safe to those who love you.” With that she passed the child over to the confused man. “Why are you surprised, Captain? I may be cold, but I’m not cruel. I truly expect that lifeboat to function as well as the one you’ll be in – for the thirty days that J’sur Gharan says is all that’s necessary for a lifeboat to perform well.”
“But you said it will take….”
“I did,” she agreed, “and I meant it. Everything may be fine, or he may need to do some actual engineering.” She smiled the smile of an avenging angel. “Let’s see how he does, shall we?”