Privateer

Drawing of a space ship with "Raptor" written on its side, with a flag of what may be the Earth and a pirate Jolly Roger symbol painted on the side. Caption reads: "We're privateer, not just pirates."

Privateer short story by Iris Carden

“Captain Argus, sorry to wake you, but the lookout says he’s got a prime target,” the ship’s mate, a scrawny teenager with too many pimples was standing over her.

Catherine Argus groaned. She followed the mate to the helm. The other teenager was on lookout. This was not going to be good.

“OK lookout, what have we got?” she asked, not expecting anything worthwhile.

“It’s the Andromeda, less than a day away, carrying forty tonnes of mixed cargo.”

The captain pulled it up on her screen. “It’s under the Earth flag,” she said.

“I know,” the lookout said, “but it looks so easy.”

With a sigh, she replied, “I’ve explained to you before, we’re not just pirates, we’re privateers. We sail under an Earth flag, and we are accepted as a legitimate business on Earth, because we are actually helping the Earth’s war effort. We disrupt supply to Earth’s enemies, and we go back to Earth with our product to sell. If we started targeting our own, where do you think we would sell?”

The lookout and the mate looked at each other, neither appearing to understand the issue.

“Keep looking,” she commanded. “And don’t wake me up unnecessarily again. If you think you’ve found a good target, check with the first officer.”

Catherine went back to her quarters. She was too old for this nonsense. She would go back to transporting legitimate freight, but the Earth wasn’t trading legitimate freight any more. It was at war with all of its former colonies.

The only other Earth ships out here were privateers or straight up pirates. She didn’t want a war with either.

If the Andromeda had a manifest of mixed cargo, it must have been carrying stores to the front line. So why was it going in the wrong direction?

She went back to the bridge.

“Lookout, let’s have another look at the Andromeda,” she said. She pulled up the information. It looked legitimate, except the ship was in the wrong place, going in the wrong direction. It was sailing under an Earth flag, according to the records, but there was something not quite right. She couldn’t put her finger on it.

She called the intelligence officer to the bridge, and showed her the information. “What do you think, Kim? Why is an Earth freighter here?”

Kim Magnusen sat at her own station, rubbed her eyes and called the information up on her monitor. This was “night” on board. Only a skeleton crew was meant to be awake. She looked at the data, then opened a channel to get updated information directly from Earth Defence. There it was, the update they hadn’t yet received. Andromeda was listed as a traitor ship, its captain and crew were listed as having defected to Mars.

Kim smiled at her captain. “You were right. The update was there but hadn’t come through yet. It’s fair game.”

“OK, we’re on. Good call, after all, lookout,” the captain said. “Mate, go wake up the navigator and the first officer. We need to plan our attack.”

The Raptor may have initially been a freighter, but since its change of purpose, it had received significant upgrades to increase its speed. It was now an exceptionally fast ship, and it gained on the Andromeda quickly.

There was hardly a fight, the Raptor was heavily armed and the Andromeda just wasn’t.

Captain Argus led the boarding party. She would never ask anything of her crew she wasn’t willing to do herself.

“Just hand over the cargo, and we will let you, your people, and your ship go free,” she told the Andromeda’s captain.

“We don’t have cargo, not in the sense you mean,” the other captain replied.

“What are you talking about?”

“We’re carrying refugees.”

“Refugees?”

“From Earth. Do you even know what’s happening on Earth now?”

“There’s the war. I know rationing’s tight, but that’s to be expected.”

“People are dying of disease and poverty. Children are being forced to work in munitions factories. You don’t see it from space. I didn’t see it from space. I wilfully didn’t try to find out. All because Earth can’t cope with losing its empire, with other planets and space stations wanting to govern themselves. Come down to the hold, talk to them, if you don’t believe me.”

The boarding team went to the hold and saw for themselves: hundreds of children, disabled and elderly people, all underweight, all looking sick and weak.

The team spoke to refugees, heard their stories of poverty, starvation, and overwork.

“Alpha Station has agreed to take them,” the Andromeda’s captain said. “If you’re willing to look the other way and let us go.”

“We’ll accompany you until you get close to Alpha Station’s patrolled space,” Catherine Argus answered. “You clearly aren’t properly armed, and we’re not the only privateers out here.”

After the boarding party told the rest of the crew what they had witnessed, all officers and crew backed the captain’s decision.

They would be outlaws on their own planet, but perhaps if another would accept them, they could go back to simply carting freight.


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By Iris Carden

Iris Carden is an Australian indie author, mother, grandmother, and chronic illness patient. On good days, she writes. Because of the unpredictability of her health, she writes on an indie basis, not trying to meet deadlines. She lives on a disability support pension now, but her ultimate dream is to earn her own living from her writing.

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