The tramp freighter Bonnie Blue showed her age and her hull had been dented from years of service and had been patched multiple times. It had carried a variety of names in its over hundred standard years of service and had found its way through a succession of owners. Even high strength alloys and composites were not immune to wear and tear. Many cargo handlers were less careful than one might expect. Budgets for independent vessels were often short and like many independent merchant vessels, maintenance schedules were often ignored and the ships sensor systems had not been significantly upgraded since she had been built over a hundred standard years previously. Many of the owners simply did not want to spend money on a ship which they would soon sell to another tramp ship owner. As a result, the Bonnie Blue could be considered half blind at best. As well, the crew could not be considered observant. The bridge watch on the Bonnie Blue were barely awake. They should have been alert. The ship was traveling through an area of space near the border between Consortium Space and Trans-Galactic Empire space and pirates were common, some true pirates while others sponsored by the Kreeghor. Still, even if the ship had carried the latest sensor systems and had an alert crew, it is unlikely she would have been able to respond fast enough.

The ship was traveling at around two light years per hour on contra-grav drive. Not quite the ships maximum speed although faster than some captains would have pushed the ship. The ship sensors picked up a gravity disturbance suddenly appearing less than a half a second before running into it. The warning alarm did not even have time to go off when the Bonnie Blue got pulled from faster than light travel. The power systems spiked as the ship dropped into normal space and the lights flickered. Several circuit breakers blew although the ship systems soon stabilized. Sirens began blaring around the ship.

The Third Mate jumped out of his seat and looked at the main navigational display. The system displayed nothing like what a military tactical display would but gave the most information of any system on the ship’s bridge. Maybe there had been a small uncharted celestial body in the ships path. Sometimes an uncharted large comet would pull a ship into normal space. As he looked carefully, he saw nothing like what would pull his ship into normal space. It was not a comet!

A new contact appeared on the tramp freighter's sensors as it activated its engines and shields. It was big, the size of a heavy cruiser. He yelled to the helmsman, "Bring the shields up and get ready to run." The ship carried some light weaponry to deal with small pirate ships but nothing which would protect it against a powerful opponent. The missiles that the cargo ship carried might even give pause to a ship the size of a destroyer but nothing this big. Still, some pirate ships had heavy weaponry but had merchant engines and might be able to be outrun. The Bonnie Blue was not particulary fast but might have the speed to still escape.

Just a few moments after detecting the drive of the other ship, two heavy laser cannons crosses just a few kilometers clear of the bow of the merchant ship. These weapons were not those you would expect from most pirate ships. There is no way it could escape from the pirate ship. Surrender was the only option. As if to confirm that, a light on the communication panel lit up.

The Third Mate brought his hand to the speaker which would allow him to receive the message and brought the comm system alive. Out of the speaker came, "This is the Black Skull, surrender your vessel or be destroyed."

The Third Mate thought it still likely that the pirate ship would shoot to disable the merchant ship before destroying it but it was not worth the risk. He responded back, "This is the Bonnie Blue, we surrender." with a deflated tone.

Commander Designate Terry Cindy Mayfair and His Majesty's Ship Wolfhound were both back to work. The Wolfhound had just left the shipyard from a refit and Terry, along with her crew, were just back from leave. There had been problems with pirates in the area and the Wolfhound, along with her sister the Foxhound, were patrolling for the pirates. Waiting would actually probably be a better word due to the fact that the two ships were sitting in normal space looking for disturbances that would indicate a vessel traveling at FTL speeds. The latest ship to be lost was a freighter named the "Bonnie Blue" which was believed to have been lost about three weeks prior. The ships had been waiting for several days and there had been no traffic besides a few small merchant vessels going through the area. The merchant vessels were being tracked but nothing appears to have intercepted them Each destroyer was sitting in deep space away from any star system and would be virtually impossible to detect. The two destroyers were about eight light years apart to increase detection area. Terry had come up with the idea so that they could trace the pirates back to their base. She planned to ambush the ship.

Just before leaving New Coventry, Terry had been promoted to full Commander although it would be several months before she received pay equal to her new rank. She was permitted to wear her new rank and her promotion put her in command of both of the Hunter class destroyers. It would not really matter, the prize money from the two alien ships she had captured over the last few months would pay her bills for years. First she had captured a UFO Intruder Ship. That ship had been sold to the Consortium for three Warshield class cruisers. Just two months later she captured a second alien vessel. The ship used crystal where Consortium designs used high strength alloys and was extremely powerful. New Coventry leaders had decided to hide the vessel inside some tunnels in the planet Icarus. The ship would be very hard to detect due to the radiation from the star of the New Coventry. Terry had only received a fraction of what was owed to her by the Admiralty for the vessels but she calculate that the total amount owed to her could purchase a surplus Hunter class destroyer for herself. The only major purchase she had made was a Kitten class starfighter trainer which she considered her new toy.

Commander Mayfair sat on her command chair tapping her long nails on the armrest reviewing all the information that had been gathered about the pirates. From the data, it appeared that the pirates had a cruiser type vessel. Damage to some of the wrecks left by the pirates indicated hits with a 20 cm or larger laser cannon. The pirates had been extremely thorough and had obliterated the computer systems of vessels that they had been unable to capture intact. The crews of the ships had also been massacred although a few were simply missing. She was not sure if they had been kidnaped or simply the bodies could not be found but none had so far been sold in any known slave markets as far as Consortium Intelligence was reporting. The whole situation seemed to indicate that the pirates were trying to hide what type of vessel they were using. If they were like most pirates, they were probably using a vessel that was a merchant vessel that was converted into a cruiser. She could also not dismiss the idea that the pirate ship was a Kreeghor Smasher class cruiser that was operating as a pirate cruiser. The Trans-Galactic Empire was famous for having their ships attack Consortium ships and then claim that they were pirates if captured. Terry figured that she could deal with either possibility with her two destroyers with the pepper box launchers augmenting the ships' internal missiles. The only concern was to make sure that the Smasher, if it was a Smasher, did not get to launch its fighters.

The Sensor panel was manned by Petty Officer Celia Robbins. While Commander Mayfair considered it her duty to remember the names of all of her crew, the tiny size of the crew of the Wolfhound made it quite easy to remember everybody. The petty officer turned to her captain and stated, "Captain, I am tracing another merchant vessel. It looks like another merchant type drive. There is something strange though, the ship appears to be traveling at her absolute maximum contra-grav speed."

Terry responded, "Thank you, Celia" and the Commander imported the sensor information into her own displays on the tiny bridge to see what the Petty Officer was tracking. The ship appeared to be going pretty fast for a merchant vessel, the captain appeared to be training the ship’s drive. She could see fluctuations in the merchant vessels drive field, there was something definitely wrong.

Suddenly a second contact appeared. The drive field was much larger and the ship was traveling at about twice the faster than light speed which the merchant vessel was. The ship was likely the size of a cruiser. As she refined her data, she saw that the drive field could very well be that of a Warshield class cruiser. As if verifying that, the sensor petty officer reported, "Drive pattern appears consistent with a Warshield class cruiser."

Perhaps the contact was a Consortium cruiser which was chasing down pirates or smugglers itself. Still, something did not feel right. There was no reports of Consortium Warshield cruisers operating in this area of space and the only independent governments which operated that class of Consortium cruisers was New Coventry and Xanadu Station. The Black Prince was assigned to a different area of space and would not in likelihood be coming from the area where this ship did. The other Warshield cruisers which New Coventry had acquired were still being refitted. The ship was definitely in Consortium space and would be a technical violation of Consortium space if it was a Xanadu vessel and Xanadu ships rarely operated this far from Xanadu space anyway.

There were various Warshield vessels which had found their hands into less than reputable hands including some which were simply pirates. There was even a few marginal star systems which had purchased Warshield class cruisers who had decide to finance their system through piracy and crews which had decided to rogue. There was even a well known case where a Warshield cruiser had attempted to rescue a merchant vessel and it turned out to be a trap where pirates had used the ruse to get their own crew onboard. It had happened around fifty standard years previously and the ship was listed officially as lost from pirates but the true story was well known. The cruiser was said to have been the "Courageous" and there were rumors over the years of encounters with the vessel.

The Warshield was on the edge of the sensor range of the Wolfhound at around 6.2 light years but a large ship would have much better sensors and lighting off the Destroyer's drives and bringing her into FTL would make her immediately detectable. The Wolfhound's sensors had been upgraded in her last refit but were still not the equal of a ship which was around twenty times larger. Still, it was possible that the vessel was paying more attention to the ship it was chasing than long range targets. She figured if she kept her drive down, she could sneak in closer, maybe into a five lightyear range. She could not even get close enough to rescue the merchant ship at full speed and would simply give her ship away. Still, it might be a good idea to get a bit closer to see if she could see anything additional. She ordered, "Helm, bring the ship up to half a lightyear in speed and keep the drive as stealthy as possible."

The Helmsman called back, "Yes, Captain." It was far too early to need to bring the Wolfhound to General Quarters. No matter what, it would be hours before the Wolfhound could engage the ships. She decided she would call her executive officer to the bridge as well.

About ten minutes went by with the cruiser steadily gaining on the merchant ship. The Wolfhound's executive officer, Lt Commander George Hummel, stood beside her in the command chair. The merchant vessel had to slow down due to the drive overloading and the range between the two targets was decreasing more rapidly than it had previously. The range was still to long for the Wolfhound to detect missiles but the Warshield, whoever was in command, but Captain Mayfair though it likely that the cruiser would soon be launching faster than light missiles to force the merchant ship into normal space. Captain Mayfair was right, the trace of two intense gravity fields could suddenly be detected. The Warshield had launched a pair of gravity warheads to pull the merchant vessel into normal space. That was standard procedures with both pirates and real navy crews and did not tell he much on identity.

Commander Mayfair considered how she could find out for sure. She knew that she could just sent an "Faster than Light" communication signal to the cruiser but that might spook them into running and if they did not run, they would no to expect her. She could configure her engines so that the Wolfhound appeared to be a merchant vessel. The Wolfhound could easily act as bait but she wondered if a pirate would go after another ship so soon. Well, if she was to have a course which would make her an extremely easy intercept but not a direct course, she would be a very tempting target but not appear to be a trap. The problem is that there was no way that she could get the Foxhound into the engagement as well and a Hunter, even one which was as heavily upgraded as the Wolfhound, was not really considered a match for a Warshield class cruiser. Of course, if it was a true Consortium cruiser or other legitimate military vessel, they would either ignore the Wolfhound or simple send a message to tell her to stay clear.

Terry still thought it was a pirate she and considered how to actually trick the Warshield so that she could win against the cruiser's overwhelming firepower. On her console, she brought up blueprints of a standard Warshield class cruiser. It would have to be a close range fight in order for the Warshield to not have time to properly react to her missiles. She would get only one attack which would truly come as a surprise and had to negate as much of the firepower as she could. Ships operated by pirates often had only part of their weaponry operating but she could not assume that. The pirates would likely have all their shield power forward to give as much protection as possible just incase the merchant decided to react by firing back. As well, she could not define a target very well for the x-ray laser warhead missiles. Still, if fired by surprise, they should be sufficient to take down the shields of the cruiser. She was beginning to have a plan which would allow her to take out the cruiser but it was extremely rough.

Captain Mayfair turned towards her executive officer, "Well, George, what do you think?"

He had been at first highly skeptical of his royal captain but had since been converted. Still, this seemed to be an impossible task. He had never seen her put the ship into an impossible situation but he saw no way of defeating a full sized cruiser. Maybe if the Foxhound was with her, they could do it together. She never expected anything but the truth so her respond, "Captain, I see no way we could do it. If we had a few additional destroyers, we could likely defeat a cruiser but not just the Wolfhound."

The Captain looked at her numbers again and realized that her executive officer was correct. Maybe if she moved her ship into a deeper target range, inside of medium range missiles but outside that of the heavy guns except the cruiser's main guns. She did some calculations. She could likely kill all defensive weaponry on the cruiser and threaten firing a second volley of cruise missiles at the cruiser and get it to surrender. She turned back to her second in command, "Well, how about a longer range engagement, say around 40,000 kilometers which would put us outside of the vessels secondary batteries and would mean that our capital missiles would take about two seconds to reach their target and the long range and medium range missiles a couple of second more. That would mean that the enemy should not have time to react if they expect a merchant vessel. Still, the fighters would have to be launched virtually as soon as we drop into normal space in order to add their long range and medium range missiles to our firepower." Slowly, the captain of the Wolfhound began sketching out her plan and she could see that her executive officer could see the same potential in the plan. There were still many factors which would have to go right for the plan to succeed but it looked possible and maybe even probable. If nothing else, she should pull enough of the cruiser's teeth for the Foxhound to destroy it.

The Wolfhound was traveling towards a point in space about half a lightyear from where the merchant vessel had disappeared. The destroyer had faked what appeared to be a larger merchant with drive problems and was traveling at only a little over a light year per hour, less than a quarter of what the Wolfhound could actually do. At first the cruiser had not reacted but it had finally moved to a position where it could intercept what it likely thought was a lame merchant vessel. There was no way a normal merchant vessel could detect such an action but the Wolfhound's sensors were far longer ranged than most merchant systems. The cruiser had then dropped back into normal space and was invisible even on the Wolfhound's sophisticated sensors. No Consortium vessel would have done that against a merchant vessel. The Wolfhound's tactical officer had attempted to plot the position of the pirate ship but it was impossible to get an exact location. There would be a certain amount of guess work on when to start the attack. Still, while the distance was vast, the timing of the attack could been planned down to around a five second window.

One advantage of the extremely slow speed was that the four fighters could keep up with the Wolfhound and Captain Mayfair had planned around them. The fighters created part of the problems with the drive field by showing what appeared to be fluctuations. Hopefully, the fluctuations would also make the pirate cruiser not get alarmed by any sudden jumps in their target's drive field.

The destroyed had been at General Quarters for only about ten minutes. While few helmets were down, the entire crew were protected by lightweight armored spacesuits. Terry did not want the crew to lose their edge and long periods on alert would dull the crews edge. The idea was to bring the contra-grav engines to full power just before being dropped into normal space. It was time now and she brought her hand down and commanded, "Now" as the destroyer and the four fighters jumped up to two light-years per hour, the fastest that the fighters were capable. Just a couple of seconds later, the Wolfhound and the four fighters found themselves yanked into normal space.

Just thirty six thousand kilometers away from each other, the Tactical Petty Officer of the Wolfhound detected the Warshield class cruiser. It took just a few seconds although time seemed to slow down for the crew of the Wolfhound. The Captain had instructed her tactical petty officer not to wait for her command and fire as soon as she has a target. The petty officer pressed a series of key stroke to engage the missile fire plan. The captain and her had worked it out previously and required only minor modifications.

Just detached, two pepper box capitol missile launchers fired as one with a single fighter adding her pair cruise missiles to the volley and the Wolfhound herself firing an single missile. The pirate ship had been expecting a decrepit merchant ship not a destroyer and within a couple seconds, eleven X-Ray lasers warhead missiles fired as one and dropped the shields flat. The missiles did some damage to the ship but the real damage had been to the crew. It created an almost panic although there was really not time to express it.

Behind the capital missiles, sixteen multi-purpose long missiles launched from the fighters came towards their target at a significant fraction of the speed of light. Four went off course but all twelve others looked onto their targets. Two of the remaining missiles were unable to target their respective targets and simply hit the hull of the cruiser. Both capitol missile batteries were destroyed and two of the four long range missile batteries were wrecked as well. Two of the cruisers long range missile batteries and one of the cruise missile batteries were already non-operational and the old Warshield only had a single operational long range missile battery after the volley of long range missiles struck.

As a third missile volley came in behind the others, the defenses on the cruiser were just beginning to go operational, but it was far too late. Forty eight medium range multiple purpose missiles came streaking in. Sixteen of them were launched from the destroyer while the other thirty-two were launched from the two Storm Eagle fighters. While normally used against fighters or incoming missiles, they were also usable against larger vessels. Six went off target and one was actually destroyed by a point defense particle beam mount. Like the long range missiles, several medium range missiles were unable to hit their selected targeted and simply struck the hull of the pirate ship. The single remaining long range missile battery was destroyed but most of the missiles aimed at the long range missile batteries wasted themselves against already destroyed mounts. The remaining missiles struck against the pirate ship’s point defense batteries which many of the weapons were already un-operable. After the fusion fire of the medium range missiles, only one gravity rail gun mount remained operational and a pair of particle beam mounts could still be used.

Just as the Wolfhound spat her single capitol missile, she began maneuvering radically to make herself a harder target. Any gunners would have to guess the course of the destroyer to be able to target the main batteries at it. A few seconds later, the Wolfhound fired a second capitol missile. This one was programmed to mimic the destroyer and provide an additional target. The decoy missile and the destroyer would cross courses every few seconds so that it would be

The captain of the pirate ship furiously ordered the person who acted as his tactical officer to open fire but the fury was wasted. He could see that it was a single destroyer with a few fighters in support. None of the ship’s missile batteries remained operational and the secondary beam weaponry were out of range to the destroyer. The pirate captain pulled his pistol while at the same time, the tactical officer attempted to pull his. Unfortunately the tactical officer was just a bit slower and a single Naruni plasma pistol cartridge blew his skull to flaming pieces.

Some of the shock which the cruiser's gunners felt was wearing off and the two main guns were fired at the Wolfhound. While many of the weapon systems were not well maintained, these weapons were very intimidating and the crew had invested the most in keeping them operational. Although on local control, the two 20 cm lasers reached out towards the Wolfhound and not the decoy which was a few thousand miles from the destroyer. Still, the radical maneuvering prevented a solid hit. Still, the twin heavy lasers dropped the destroyer's shields by about two thirds although the ship herself took no damage. The twin 20 cm cannons fired again but this time they were targeted at the decoy. Being a fraction of the size of the Wolfhound, both lasers missed cleanly.

On the bridge of the pirate ship, the communication panel beeped. The individual standing by the panel knew what it was and activated it without the captain's orders. She could not be considered a true communication officer but that was her role onboard. It was possible that the other ship might let them live. On the speaker could be heard,"This is Captain Mayfair of His Majesties Ship Wolfhound. Surrender now or I will open fire with a second volley of anti-ship missiles. You have no point defense and you will not survive. If I see a power spike which indicates your FTL drives going online, I will fire." Terry had pushed her voice as imperiously as she could. The communication operator had decide to push the signal all over the ship instead of just on the bridge.

The captain of the pirate vessel looked at his bridge crew and saw their reaction. He was wanted in dozens of systems, several which had the death penalty. As well, the ship had huge numbers of slaves packed in cages in the cargo hold. He was a dead man no matter what. He went to fire at the communication operator but was gunned down by four of his lieutenants. Several shots missed and blew addition panels and displays. It had become a patchwork of systems as the crew had replaced old systems which had broken down.

The communication operator turned back towards her panel, "We surrender, Damn it, we surrender."At the same time, the being who survived the tactical officer dropped all power to weapon systems and shields. Drives shut down just a few moments later with main engineering bringing power to standby levels only.

Terry did not initially know how successful her missile strikes had been although the output from the target ship’s fusion reactors and anti-matter reactor had dropped down to standby levels. The neutrino signature clearly showed this. There was no activity which would indicate that fighters were getting ready for launch. She had parked the Wolfhound about sixty thousand kilometers from the pirate ship while she waited for the Foxhound to join her. It would take almost two hours for the other destroyer to reach her. The time was well spend with getting the fired pepper-box launchers reloaded. That way she could send about twenty missiles down range towards the cruiser instead of fifteen.

Once she had rearmed them as well, Commander Mayfair had sent two of her fighters to check on the merchant ship which had been captured by the pirates. It would take just a little more than a quarter hour for the fighter to reach where the first ambush had taken place. She had sent one of her Black Eagles and one of her Storm Eagles. Each could carry two passengers in addition to the pilot and each carried two marines. The New Coventry captain caught herself wishing that there was a single fighter which could replace both. She had heard rumors of a new medium fighter to fill that role. With two of her fighters gone, she did not want to send her remaining fighters to scout out the pirate vessel.

Instead, she had fired one of her probe missiles towards the enemy ship to examine it. The probe missile had closed in slowly and the tactical petty officer had brought in within ten kilometers of the cruiser. She wanted to see what kind of condition it was in. It appeared that all of the ship’s missile launchers were destroyed or at least damaged to the point of being non-operational. It looked like a few of them had already been useless before the Wolfhound had wrecked the ship. Actually wrecked might not be the right term. The hull had a few breaches but otherwise looked intact and the engineering section looked undamaged. Half burned way, the name "Courageous" could still be seen although just under it was scrawled "Black Skull." Terry wondered what the fate of the cruiser would be. After all those years in the hands of pirates, the ship deserved a chance to cleanse her name. If the Consortium Navy took back possession of the cruiser, they would scrap or more likely expend her as a target. She hoped that New Coventry could claim the ship for their forces but right of salvage. The prize money would also do her pocket well as if she needed any money. For some reason she felt something additional, maybe get the change to take command of the ship herself. It was like the ship itself was calling to her to take command.

As the captain mused about the pirate ship, the communication petty officer reported, "I just got a message from Lieutenant King. He has arrive at the position of where the merchant ship was last tracked on gravity sensors. He stated that the ship has surrender without incident."

Terry turned towards the petty officer, "Karen, tell him to drop off his four marines and have them take control of the ship. If the crew is intact, have the ship brought to the Wolfhound. I plan to create a large task force which heads together towards New Coventry. If the crew is dead or injured, I want the fighters to come back and ferry four more troops to the ship."

It took a while before the marines got onboard the freighter. When they got onboard, the marines had no real resistance. The crew was mostly alive although most had been abused. While most had been physically or mentally abused, a few had been sexually abused as well. Terry regretted the time it had taken to pull the trap on the pirates but could not come up with any better plan. A total of about twenty pirates were onboard the merchant ship. The Wolfhound's marines had locked them in the main cargo hold with their hands and feet tied togtehre to prevent any resistance.

Piracy already carried the Death Penalty on New Coventry along with several other capital charges, a fact which caused other planets in the Consortium to protest periodically so the charges of Rape would not add much to the punishment. The captain of a New Coventry could try them at her own digression but she though it better to bring them back to New Coventry space. As the system was the nearest major power, it would be the most logical place to try them. They would be shot as they deserved but the trial would be fair.

It seemed to take forever but the Foxhound was finally alongside. The tramp freighter had already been siting on station over an hour and the corpsman had been checking on injuries and casualties on the merchant vessel. As well, a couple of the Wolfhound's engineers were onboard to see if they could get the engines in better condition. Otherwise the voyage to New Coventry would be extremely long with a top speed of just a bit over one light year per hour. She had transferred some of her crew with combat skills over to the merchant ship so that he marines could assist with boarding the cruiser. The ship was the "Star Pearl" and had been on route to the Calimer system, about eight hundred light years away, when it had detected the pirate ship pursuing.

Captain Mayfair greeted Captain Rice as soon as the other destroyer dropped into normal space, "Captain, I am curious if you have ever heard about the Courageous. It was one of the early Warshield class cruisers and stories tell that it was captured by pirates. The official CAF report is that the ship was destroyed in battle and the wreckage was unsalvageable. That is what we have just fifty thousand kilometers from us. Interesting bit of unsalvageable wreckage."

The other Captain, also a female although had never served in the CAF herself, nodded her head, "I have heard various rumors and stories about the ship but the stories seem to place her all over the Three Galaxies except around here. The Trans-Galactic Empire is likely to take pot shots at the ship as a Consortium ship if they think they could get away with it." The commanding officer of the Foxhound was fairly new to her command and a Lieutenant Commander.

Terry nodded back at her counterpart on the Foxhound. In reply, she stated, "I think that in the Consortium does not want to claim her, we should claim her for New Coventry. If you could launch your fighters, we can have them go in first so that the pirates cannot trick us.

The four fighters from the Foxhound launched and quickly formed up with the Wolfhound's fighters. Once all eight fighters were together, they began slowly approaching the disabled cruiser, accelerating at a fraction of their normal acceleration. They would engage anything which the pirate ship fired while the two destroyers approached. The pirates did not seem willing to provoke the fighters although they had a small number of point defense mounts which appeared to have survived. Still, power was only at minimal levels.

As soon as they took position on the sides of the cruiser, the Wolfhound and her sister began cautiously approaching what had once been the Courageous. Due to the short range, it took less than a minute even with the cautious acceleration. The two destroyers can to stop at just four thousand kilometers from the cruisers with the main particle beams pointed at the main 20 cm laser mounts on the cruiser. Disabling them would vastly reduce the firepower of the cruise if this was some type of trick.

Terry's plan was very simple. Her plan was to have the Wolfhound approach to within about ten miles, drop her load of troops in combat power armors, and would back off. Once she was back in position, the other destroyer would do the same thing. Even so, with only twenty troops they could find themselves vastly outnumbered. They had the advantage of being in power armor and having protective force fields. Their orders were to shoot at anyone who was actively resisting. The normal crew of a Warshield was a crew of around two hundred and sixty with an addition sixty to eighty troops onboard but Terry hoped that the crew would be smaller than what full of the ship was in Consortium service. Often pirates would run their ships on skeleton crews.

Nothing fired as the Wolfhound approached and the first group of troops disembarked. Their contra-grav thrusters slowly pushed them towards the cruiser as their mother ship began backing off. They were headed for the airlock closest to a Warshield's bridge. A few minutes later, the Foxhound dropped her load of troops off and they joined the Wolfhound's troops. Twenty troops entered through the airlock. Terry wondered if any would come back out again.

It had taken hours to clear out the cruiser but none of the troops had been killed. A good forty of the pirates had been killed when the Wolfhound's missiles had struck the cruiser. Most had not been in space suits and had died due to decompression. Another twenty had been killed in fighting between the pirates while the Wolfhound had been waiting for her sistership include the pirate ship’s captain. The surviving pirate crew had told the Wolfhound's marines that the captain had been unwilling to surrender. When the troops, the crew of the cruiser had only been around one hundred and about fifty troops and about twenty pilots were onboard. Most had not resisted but a couple of dozen had. The fighting had been bloody and one of the combat environment power armors had been disabled in the fighting although the armor had not been penetrated. An pirate had resisted and fired a heavy multi-shot missile launcher at the marines. The pirate was now blown all over the passage and would no longer be any kind of a problem. The ship was now in the complete control of the New Coventry marines.

What had been truly disturbing was that the cargo hold had been converted into a prison cell. The pirate ship would periodically join up with a group of slavers who purchase the prisoners. It sounded like the slavers had connections with the Splugorth. There had been over a thousand prisoners when the Wolfhound's marines had found them although there were over one hundred dead bodies. Food and water was virtually non-existent for the prisoners. The troops were trying to find supplies for the prisoners and Terry had communicated back to New Coventry and they were sending a Baldwin class troop transport to pick up the distressed prisoners and get them back to New Coventry as soon as possible. While some of the prisoners were spacers which the pirates had captured, others had been passengers on liners and some were captured in raids on small colonies. Like the crew of the Star Pearl, the prisoners had been brutalized. She had to order her troops to protect the pirates from the prisoners. She would have them tried and executed in New Coventry. Terry was trying to get a large enough crew to get the cruiser underway and was hoping that she could find enough spacers in the prisoners who were willing to crew the captured cruiser which had been their prison. She had found a number which had been the crew of a small patrol ship in one of the systems which the pirate ship had raided.

Against the protests of her executive officer, Commander Mayfair had decided that she wanted to see the ship for itself. She had argued against it but he had prevailed on her to at least take a body guard while onboard. The majority of the Wolfhound's crew were human but there were handful of other races on the tiny vessel. The gunners mate, a female Wolfen, was part of this handful. Like most Wolfen, she was taller than most humans and her appearance often made others nervous. As well, Gunners Mate Arnelle Velorne was incredible capable and considered an expert with an HA-80 Combat Rifle.

Terry decided to go ahead and take a Black Eagle starfighter to the captured cruiser and the medium fighter was slowly approaching the hanger back of the cruiser. Far more spacious than anywhere on the Wolfhound, there was a mix of fighters sitting in the hanger. As the fighter entered the hanger, Terry could see a pair of Naruni light fighters, a pair of Kreeghor Flying Fangs, and a Bushido Industries Katana fighter. If the Katana fighter was reasonably good shape, it might be retained but the other fighters would likely be sold or decommissioned. Terry had decided to have the normal pilot bring the fighter in even though she was fully capable herself. The pilot seemed to be making virtually a perfect landing.

Almost as soon as the landing skids touched down, the engines were being brought to standby. The pilot waited a a few more moments to make sure the fighter was fully settled. He then opened the fighter’s hatch for the Captain and her body guard to step out. When the hatch opened, a ladder automatically deployed. Inside of the hanger was a group of four marines wait for the captain. One of them was the Wolfhound's Master Sergeant. Terry could see that the ship’s Showing off just a little bit, Commander Mayfair slid down the ladder like when she had been a fighter pilot herself. Terry looked around the hanger again, this time at the conditions of the hanger itself. Along the wall were score marks which appeared to have been created by hand weapons not by fighter weaponry. Some appeared to be fresh but others appeared to be old, years, maybe even decades old. Some of them might have even come from when the pirates first captured the vessel but it was likely some also came from fighting among themselves. Looking at the deck, the signs of blood were still evident. It appeared to be fairly recent and Terry wondering if one of the prisoners or if one of the pirates had resisted. Even without the damage to the walls, it was apparent that little maintenance had been done to the ship over the years and there was trash all over the deck.

Captain Mayfair walked over to her Master Sergeant and stated, "I need you to take me to the bridge."

Terry could see a grim expression through the helmet of the marine's power armor but she responded, "Yes, Milady," and turned of her heels. The Master Sergeant took the front while the other three marines surrounded their captain from the sides and rear. The corridors of the cruiser showed signs of abuse and neglect just like the hanger. Occasionally, a marine dragging a shackled pirate could be seen. Like the Wolfhound, it appeared that the crew of the pirate ship was a mixture of different races with Humans and Wolfen predominating. Most of pirates had been locked in the ship’s galley after having been stripped of weapons and armor. Any attempt by them to rush the guards would result in slaughter and the former pirates knew that.

Captain Mayfair's Wolfen body guard glared at anyone who seemed to look at her captain the wrong way as Commander Mayfair walked towards the bridge of the cruiser. She had been the Gunnery Officer on the Warshield class cruiser, the Fury for many years in her previous service in the Consortium Armed Forces and could find her way to the bridge with her eyes closed. Still, there were small differences between the two ships. The Fury was a much newer ship after all and no ships of the same class are truly identical.

The Wolfhound's Captain found herself in front of the hatchway to the main bridge. The hatchway was forced open and a large hole had been blown through the door itself. To Terry, the damage looked extremely old and it looked like it had likely not operated since the ship was captured. The bridge of the Courageous might have been where the Consortium crew had made their last stand. The filth continued to the bridge of the cruiser and Terry wondered if the Captain's cabin was as bad as the bridge. She could see smashed panels and signs of fighting on the bridge including where a couple of bodies had likely been. She walked over the Captain's chair and stood beside it for just a moment. In her own mind, she superimposed the bridge of the Black Prince, the single operational Warshield cruiser in the New Coventry Navy, and smiled faintly. Terry had visited the Black Prince a few times and carried a number of improvements over a normal Warshield bridge. She stated to herself, "Lets Go Home," and turned to go back to the hanger bay.

Four days later, the Wolfhound, Foxhound, and their acquisitions were sitting in New Coventry orbit. The cruiser was waiting for a shipyard berth to open up. Rumor was that the Consortium Armed Forces would allow New Coventry to keep the cruise as long as the story was kept quiet. The story being stated officially by the Consortium Consulate was that the Courageous was not the ship lost to the pirates about fifty years previously but instead a ship which had been sold to an Independent Defense Force who had later sold the ship to pirates. The true story was even worse that what stories had told previously. Apparently a few crew members had gone over to the side of pirates and had enabled them to take the ship. The information had been pieced together by careful examination of the ship and a secret file had been found in the ship’s computer which had never been discovered by the pirates. The ship had also been surveyed and found to be worth repair and refit. The main energy battery was intact and most of the internal systems of the missile system had been intact. It would take months but the ship would fight again. The name "Courageous" was decided to be kept for the ship.

Commander Mayfair had been requested to see the Lord of the Admiralty to discuss the capture of the pirate vessel. She had yet to even have a chance to see her family with all that had gone on although she had talked to them over scrambled communication since the Wolfhound had settled down into orbit. Instead of taking a shuttle, she had decided to pilot one of the Black Eagle strike fighters herself. At least this time she had done nothing to anger a senior officer of an allied government. Trials were being prepared for the pirates and the evidence was overwhelming. Still, some of their execution might be years away and a few might manage to get off with lighter sentences. Still, even the luckiest should spend the rest of their lives in prison. While she loved the Wolfhound, Terry hoped that she could get command of the Courageous and was truly nervous about her meeting with Lady Jane Fox. She had known the Lord of the Admiralty as a child but the relationship had changed since Terry joining the New Coventry Navy.

Her fighter was instructed to land in the main shuttle landing port for the Admiralty building. She enjoyed flying a fighter although rarely had many chances to practice her skills. Still, she though she made an excellent landing as the fighter touched down within a couple of centimeters of the center of the pad. A crew was bringing a full stairway over to the fighter but she decided not to wait. She stood up and slid down the lowered ladder rail. She had a uniform case so she could change into her dress uniform before seeing the Lord of the Admiralty.

It took a few minutes to slide off her fighter jumpsuit and get into her dress uniform. She had been afraid that her dress uniform would get wrinkled if she had worn it under her jumpsuit. It was her full uniform with a skirt instead of dress pants to make a greater impression.

Terry knew the directions to Lady Fox’s office quite well although she was surprised when she was told by the secretary to go straight into the Lady's office. The lady was standing and motions towards one of the chairs and stated, "Please have a seat, we have much to talk about." Terry saw a strange expression on her commander's face but could not understand what it meant. She sat down slowly, carefully watching the Lord. There is no way that Terry could know that the Lord of the admiralty was envious of the commander. Even though Commander Mayfair had stepped out of a fighter cockpit just minutes before, her uniform looked absolutely perfect and she was the few officers who Lady Fox had seen who had the grace to wear the uniform skirt. As well, no ship in the New Coventry fleet had the record of the Wolfhound and Commander Mayfair. Commander Mayfair had more awards than many Admirals and they were all earned. She had a natural flair and her appearance was a big draw as well. Few realize how much of a boon Terry Cindy Mayfair was to the New Coventry Navy and how much her exploits helped recruiting. While a perfect Captain, Lady Fox did not know how good an admiral Terry would make. She seemed to be too interested in being on the front lines herself.

Once the young commander had sat, Lady Fox spoke out, "Well, I remember you telling me just a few months ago that you would simply have to capture your own ship! I did not think you were so serious about it. Still, you realize that there are many officers over you in seniority."

Terry considered best to just nod in response hoping her nervousness did not show and Lady Fox continued after a moment, "I have discussed it with Admiral Underwood and he thinks I should give you a chance to see if your command of the cruiser and I have to agree. Therefore, we are giving you the Courageous. You realize that it will be months before she is ready for combat and you have to get your executive officer ready to take command of the Wolfhound. Also, your folks, meaning the King and Queen of New Coventry, wish you to come and visit them while you are here."

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By Kitsune (E-Mail Kitsune).

Copyright © 2005, Kitsune. All rights reserved.