The Star’s cockpit was fairly large for a freighter its size, having been expanded into a miniature version of a capital ship’s bridge. Marina’s captain console was right in the middle, a spot from which she could watch out the viewing panels in front, and monitor the piloting and navigation stations to her fore and starboard respectively. Her own console had been spliced together from a number of systems both relocated from their original location in the ship’s standard model, or salvaged from other ships, allowing Marina to operate the Star or any of its support systems all by herself as needed.
Marina hobbled into the cockpit and took her place at her station, rerouting all control over the Star to herself. The mainframe was already busy making calculations for hyperspeed, but it still needed some time. The main display showed the enemy cruiser and corvette right on their tail and gaining fast, the cruiser’s lock holding the Star practically right in place. Marina rerouted all available power to the ship’s shields and she felt the Star lurch forward; not much, but enough to give her hope.
“They’re not using a true tractor beam,” she said, almost thinking out loud, but knowing that Brick was nearby at the navigation station. “It’s almost as if it’s locked onto our outer hull. Magnetic, maybe?”
“The corvette is powering weapons as well,” Brick reported. “I’m helping the mainframe with computations, but we still need a minute.”
Yehoshua sat at one of the unmanned stations to Marina’s right, a glass panel with lots of numbers flying by showing a blue blinking dot in the center and two red dots approaching it. He had no idea what it all meant, but instinctively he knew that the red dots were not good news.
“Let’s buy ourselves some time, Brick. Open a channel,” Marina ordered. “Let’s see who we’re dealing with.”
Brick pressed a few buttons at his station, and a couple seconds later the forward viewscreens displayed a snarling face that both Marina and Yehoshua knew well by now: the nasty-looking officer from the dock.
“Hello, Captain Estrella. You have something that belongs to me and I want it back,” he said in a calm but menacing tone.
“I’m sorry,” Marina said shaking her head, “but I had these vambraces custom-made in Aldebaran Prime from the finest Pyridian leather and you can’t have them. I might be persuaded to give you the name of my nanotech tailor so you can get a pair of your own, if you ask nicely enough.”
“You definitely watch too many adventure holovids, with your banter meant to show off your wit and hopefully get a rise out of me, while buying you time until your ship’s computer finishes calculations for a jump to hyperspace,” the officer said, rolling his eyes, almost disappointed. “I won’t fault you for trying. It’s not a bad tactic if—”
“Joder!” Marina shut the channel off, the viewscreen reverting to a view of the New Madrid system. “This guy loves to hear his own voice!”
“Calculations complete, Captain,” Brick said.
“Punch the engines, Brick. Full power.”
The Star gave a sudden lurch as the twin engines kicked into full power, although it only moved a few meters before coming to a halt again, the ship now shaking under the strain of the engines.
“We’re not moving,” Yehoshua commented from his seat at the back of the cockpit.
“I noticed!” Marina retorted in frustration as she pressed different combinations of buttons and switches, trying anything and everything to shake free of the beam holding them in place. It was all useless, though. The Star wasn’t going anywhere, even with its engines at full power threatening to tear the ship apart.
The officer’s face came on the viewscreen one more time. “I take it you’ve realized your ship’s not going anywhere. Maybe you’re ready to talk now?”
“¿Que puñeta es lo que quieres?” Marina spat.
“I want the young rabbi, Captain Estrella. That much should be obvious to you by now,” the officer said as his eyes turned towards Yehoshua where he sat on the bridge. “I don’t care about your second-class ship, your borderline illegal shipping business, or about you for that matter. Hand over the young rabbi, and you can go on your merry way to whatever job you have lined up next.”
“That’s so generous of you, Mr…”
“You can call me Montalvo,” the officer said with a sneer, “As in, ‘Yes, Montalvo, I will hand over the rabbi to you.’”
“¡Mira que’ste hombre es engreído!” Marina muttered.
“I’m not un engreído , Capitan Estrella,” Montalvo said. “I’m a man who’s good at what he does, and knows when he has the winning hand. And right now, I have the winning hand. Your ship is all but disabled, and your only chance of making it out of this alive is for you to do as I’ve asked. So one last time, Captain, hand over the young rabbi.”
Marina sighed. She didn’t feel like capitulating to this conceited son of a perra, but he had a point: he had the winning hand. The structural integrity meter was flashing red, and she could feel the ship straining to its limits. The Star was a tough ship, but it wouldn’t be able to hold it together for much longer. Que mierda, she thought.
“Captain,” Yehoshua said.
Marina turned on her console to face the young man who was the cause of her current predicament. “Yes?”
“Captain, you’re bleeding. A lot.” Yehoshua pointed at the hole in Marina’s leg. Whatever she had done to patch it earlier had stopped working, and the wound was oozing blood at a disconcerting rate.
Marina looked at her leg, studied it for a few seconds, realized that she would bleed out way before they’d be able to get to any medical facility, and sighed once more. She looked at Montalvo’s smug face on the viewscreen, then looked at Yehoshua again. “So you’re really a rabbi?”
Yehoshua smiled timidly and nodded. Marina studied the young face hiding behind the short, scraggly beard. She wondered how old he was, and what his life had been like before ending up in a prison cell, and then in a starship. What could they want this young man for? What could this young rabbi from a podunk system, who up until today had no idea that his world was just one of many, and that space travel was possible, have that this Montalvo was willing to kill them for?
“Time’s up, Captain,” Montalvo said, turning to speak to someone off-screen. “Fire—”
“WAIT!” Yehoshua screamed at the screen. “Bevakasha… I’ll go. ”
Montalvo motioned to someone off-screen again before fixing the crew of the Star with the smuggest look any of them had ever seen on a living being. “Good choice, young rabbi.”
“We need some medical help for the Captain,” Yehoshua said, walking over to stand next to Marina, his hand pointing at her bleeding leg. “Por favor, tened misericordia con ella.”
Montalvo pursed his lips and rolled his eyes in annoyance, but acquiesced. “Fine, I’m not a heartless man.”
Marina tried to argue, but Yehoshua shook his head. “Captain, I thank you for all you’ve done, but I can’t let you die because of me. Hashem wouldn’t want that to happen, either.”
“Who?” Brick interjected.
“God, Brick. Hashem is a name for God,” Marina answered, drawing a raised eyebrow from Yehoshua. “You’re not the only one with secrets, rabbi.”
“This is all very touching,” Montalvo interrupted, “but let’s be done. Shut off your engines and we’ll tow you back planet-side. After the rabbi is in my possession, you’ll be allowed to leave. Are we clear, Capitan Estrella?”
To be continued…