Captain Oliver Jackson, Captain of the ship, H.M.S. Ulysses.
Lt. Commander Saundra McGee, First Officer, H.M.S. Ulysses.
Lt. Gina Preston, Lead Sensor Officer, H.M.S. Ulysses.
Lt. Giles Wells, Navigator, H.M.S. Ulysses.
Princess Victoria Margaret Consuela Prichard-Marquez, Heir Apparent to the American Empire.
Jacques Colon, Fiancé of Princess Victoria.
Major Dick, Commanding officer of the Imperial Frigate Appalachia.
Captain Ludwig Von Hostig, Pirate and rogue. Captain of the pirate ship, Lucifer.
Captain Vladamir Genchenko, Russian Space Navy, Captain of the ship Lenin.
Chapter 1: Search
Not for the first time in his career Captain Oliver Jackson lifted his glass in silent thanks to the stars for allowing him to be born British. Surveying the crew at work, he sipped his beer and watched the starfield as the ship passed silently through the folds of hyperspace.
H.M.S. Ulysses was a man of war on a search mission. The I.S.S. Garnet was missing. With it the American Empire's Princess Victoria and her consort to be, Jacques Colon the French Ambassador to the Emperor. Two weeks ago the Garnet had left the French colony world of Lyon for it's ten day passage back to Earth and the eager father of the bride, Emperor Daniel Rodrigo Prichard-Marquez. The Imperial decree to find the missing ship came when it was two days late in arriving.
The Royal Navy had wasted no time in diverting the Ulysses from its task of hunting pirates in the asteroid field around Clementine. Arriving on station to begin his search pattern, Captain Jackson held little hope for finding the two lovebirds alive. Pirates had managed to steal an interdiction class cruiser from the Chinese and had been playing havoc on the transit lines between the most populous planets and Earth. For ten hours the crew watched their screens looking for the telltale sign of a ship being forced out of hyperspace or even worse the shockwave of a ship exploding while traveling at supra-C.
Jackson was nodding to sleep in his chair when a sensor tech called, "Breakout, Breakout. Marker away."
Other crew members were already prepping the ship to drop into normal space before he had even fully roused himself.
"What have we got Miss Preston?" Jackson asked the lead sensor tech.
"Gravity anomaly Captain. Weak reading, may be up to two weeks old," she replied. "The Garnet was a small ship and if they knew what they were after..." she left the rest unsaid.
If the pirates knew what they were going after, they knew a small gravity well would break them out of hyperspace and they knew who was onboard. Captain Jackson decided to take no chances.
"Alert the crew. Battle Stations in ten minutes," he told the Officer of the Deck.
"Aye Captain," he replied. Keying the loudspeaker, "Now hear this. Battle Stations in ten minutes. All hands prepare for Battle Stations in ten minutes."
The slight feel of vertigo that accompanies the drop into normal space washed over the Captain and crew. Well trained, most of the bridge crew was already sitting at their stations in anticipation. Immediately after breakout the crew started moving about the cabin, while others entered in preparation for Battle Stations.
"Two micro-jumps Sir and I can plant us right on top of the marker," the navigator said.
"Plot it Mr. Wells," Jackson said, watching the normal stars slide across the view screen as the ship reversed course.
First officer Lt. Commander Saundra McGee took her place at the O.O.D.'s station just as the tones sounded, calling the crew to Battle Stations. The tones hadn't died completely when sections began calling in their readiness. In forty-two seconds all stations had reported manned and ready. Captain Jackson allowed himself a small smile, even with the warning that was impressive.
"Plot set and ready, Ma'am," the navigator said to the First Officer.
With a nod from the Captain she replied, "Initiate jump, helmsman."
Two jumps and eleven minutes later the Ulysses appeared in normal space three hundred meters from the marker. All hands with a view began searching for signs of enemies. The automated defense system found them first. White hot beams leapt from the gun batteries located forward of the bridge.
"Missiles inbound from twelve degrees left, Sir," the Gunnery Officer called out.
Without any orders needed the ship began turning to face the threat.
"Talk to me Gunny," McGee said.
"Six, no eight missiles inbound from an asteroid, range twenty-two thousand kilometers, course now zero, even on. The automated systems destroyed them all as soon as they came within effective range. Sensor sweep shows no other activity," he replied.
"Captain, sensors have a derelict ship, right size and configuration for the Garnet. Getting the plot info now. Range one hundred ten thousand kilometers, Bering two-two-seven, down angle four degrees," Preston called out.
"Plotted," the navigator called before the Captain could even reply.
"Helm, make it so," McGee said to the helmsman.
"Aye Ma'am. Coming right to bering two-two-seven, down angle four," he replied.
The H.M.S. Ulysses moved ponderously to within three thousand meters of the derelict ship. By now the forward cameras had shown everyone on board the hole blasted in the side of the I.S.S. Garnet, its name still visible through the burn marks.
"Search and Rescue team is ready to deploy on your orders Captain," Saundra informed the Captain.
"Do it. Be careful and remember this is more likely a crime scene than a rescue operation," Captain Jackson said. Turning to the Communications Officer, "Send a report to headquarters and copy it to Buenos Aries. We may as well inform the Emperor now what we found."
"Ready Sir. Date, location and search operations beginning. Anything else?" Commo asked.
"Include a shot of the hole in it's side. Let's not raise false hopes."
"Captain can I see you here for a minute?" Preston asked.
Captain Jackson walked over to the sensor suite, "What have you got Gina?"
"Two tracks leaving the area. This one is definitely the cruiser, the Chinese never did shield their ships right. This one however," she said pointing to a different area, "looks like a fresh track and it's kinda hiding in the inbound track from the Ulysses. Weird, like they waited for us to pass then jumped on our track hoping to hide."
"That's what I'd do if I was going after the Emperor's daughter," the navigator commented.
"Explain Giles," Captain Jackson ordered.
"Imperial sensors aren't as good as ours and their crews leave something to be desired," he said. "Most likely they never would have found that second track."
"Not to mention that they would be hot to pursue the cruiser. It's track sticks out like a sore thumb," Gina said, followed by a rude noise. "In fact too much, like they haven't been taking care of the damping fields."
"Or opened them up to make it real apparent where it led," Giles replied.
"Plot the course Giles. We'll follow the second track as soon as Lt. Commander McGee is back on board."
"Aye Sir," he responded to the receding back of the Captain.
"What do you think Giles. Hostage situation?" she asked.
"Stupid any way you look at it. The Emperor is one bad man when it comes to his family," he replied.
"I met his cousin once in Havana. They're all that way. Stephen Prichard couldn't even go to the loo without a bodyguard. Made sex real interesting."
"Tell me about it, Love," he replied.
"You've had sex with a Prichard-Marquez?"
"No, No. Tell me about having sex with an Imperial family member."
"Later. After we get off duty you can give me a back rub and I'll tell you scandalous stories of Imperial debauchery," she said.
"Sounds like fun," he said, turning to his plot table and linking it to Gina's sensor feed.
An hour later Captain Jackson ordered the ship to stand down from Battle Stations. A thorough pounding of the asteroid from which the missile attack had originated had reduced it to rubble. Gina and Giles slipped out a short time later, having been relieved by their less competent counterparts.
"What first? Food or Fuck?" Giles asked as they stepped into a privacy booth.
"My God is that all you Canadians think about is sex and food?" Gina replied.
"No we also think about hockey. But it's hard to keep up with it out here and finding a spot of ice big enough to play is a trick."
Gina had to laugh, "Ha. That's good. Sex, food and fighting."
"What more is there?" he replied, pulling the buttons loose on his jump suit.
Dropping his jumper he leaned over and kissed Gina on her soft warm lips. She returned the kiss as his hands pulled the buttons of her jumper loose.
"Sex it is then big boy," Gina said, letting the material fall.
Chapter 2: Pursuit
Lt. Commander McGee returned four hours later. The S&R team had recovered nine bodies. None of which were identified as that of Princess Victoria or Jacques Colon.
"That leaves three unaccounted for, Sir," McGee reported. "The Princess, her Fiancé and one other that we haven't identified. It may be the Princess' personal maid, but we can't be sure just yet."
"What makes you think it's her maid?" Captain Jackson asked.
"She's the only other woman unaccounted for. The Captain of the Garnet was Jane Seabrook and we're sure her body is one of the ones recovered." Saundra paused before continuing, "Captain Seabrook and crew were executed, arms and legs bound together."
"I see," Captain Jackson replied. Turning to the helmsman, "Move us into position to follow the course Lt. Wells plotted."
"Aye Aye Sir," the young Midshipman replied. "Five minutes to jump coordinates."
As the Ulysses turned a shimmer in the starfield announced the arrival of a second ship. Battle Stations once more sounded throughout the ship. Captain Jackson pulled up a viddiscreen of the new ship. An Imperial Frigate turning to head for the Ulysses.
"Commo send greetings and all information to the Imperial ship as soon as communications are established," he ordered.
"Aye Sir. Incoming message arriving now," he replied. "Sir. They're ordering us to power down engines and arms. They intend to board us, Sir."
"On screen Commo."
The viddi showed an unshaven man in an rumpled Imperial Marine uniform, "H.M.S. Ulysses, this is Major Frank Dick, Imperial Marines, on board the Frigate Appalachia. You will stand down and prepare to be boarded."
"Major Dick. I am Captain Jackson, Royal Navy. You have no authority to order my ship to stand down, nor to board it. My Communications tech has sent all the information we've gathered to you and we intend to pursue the escaping ship," Jackson replied, looking at the telltale on his console. Two minutes to jump, the Appalachia was still well out of weapons range.
"Our Beloved Princess is missing and I will search your ship. Now stand down or I will order you fired on. Do you understand Captain?" he said harshly.
"Perfectly Major. As I said I intend to lead the pursuit. We lose even more time if you waste it by searching a friendly ship," Jackson tried to sound reasonable.
"That track is a ghost trail. My sensors show the obvious trail leading the other direction," Major Dick replied.
"You can choose to follow us or not. You may also follow the track of the Interdictor if that's what you want to do." Ten seconds, Transition Warnings sounded throughout the ship. "Goodbye Major Dick," Captain Jackson said as the stars shimmered and streaked.
"He was aptly named," McGee said, shaking off the unusually strong vertigo that had accompanied transition. Captain Jackson didn't even laugh, "You're exhausted Olli, go get some shut eye," the equally exhausted First Mate told her Captain.
"Yeah sure. Wake me if anything happens," Jackson replied, heading for his small office cabin located off the bridge.
Saundra watched Captain Jackson's body as he left the bridge. With the helm slaved to the sensors, if they found a breakout anomaly the ship would immediately drop from Supra-C. Nobody had ever slept through an emergency breakout to normal space. Three hours into the pursuit she began rotating the bridge crew through rest breaks, ordering other departments to do the same and letting the damage control crews stand down from alert. Cooks and stewards returned to their tasks. Six long hours later a much refreshed Captain Jackson returned to the bridge and relieved her.
Laying on her bunk Lt. Commander Saundra McGee found herself exhausted and unable to sleep. The niggling feel of something wrong keeping her on edge. Finally exhaustion overcame her worries and she faded to sleep.
"Son of a Bitch!" Saundra said out loud, finding herself sitting upright in her bunk. She hit the button to call the O.O.D.
"Yes Ma'am?" the junior officer asked.
"Is Wells on duty?"
"No Ma'am. He and Lt. Preston were relieved. I believe they have a privacy booth scheduled," she replied.
"Page him as soon as he's available I wish to see him in my cabin,." she instructed the young Midshipman.
"Aye Ma'am," was the response. "Of course he'll probably be to exhausted to perform," the girl thought to herself, clicking off the communicator.
Saundra had pulled up the navigational track from the time they had discovered the Garnet to present. There was something wrong that she just couldn't make out, hopefully Wells would be able to make something of the mess before her.
Her door buzzed and she opened it to a fresh looking Lt. Wells.
"Come in Giles," she said.
"What's up Sandi? You don't usually invite me to your cabin anymore," he replied.
"Look at this track. Tell me what's wrong here."
Giles began working the track back and forth. Fast forwarding then reversing the display, for ten minutes he watched the star trails as they moved.
"I'll be damned. That Imperial Frigate showed up on a reciprocal course from the fleeing interdictor," he said with a grin, "It can't be. I need the full sensor suite for this. Let's go."
Without a look back to see if Saundra was following he headed out the door. Along the way he called Gina and asked her to meet him on the bridge. Arriving on the bridge he unceremoniously evicted Petty Officer Prewet from his post. The PO was about to complain loudly when McGee placed her hand on his shoulder. One look at the First Mate dressed only in her short robe silenced him.
"What's up Giles?" Gina asked, evicting her own subordinate from his post.
"I need a full sensor log from the moment that Imperial frigate appeared. Something weird is going on."
"What exactly, Mr. Wells?" Captain Jackson asked.
"In a minute Sir," he replied, lost in thought.
"No way. It can't have one. They're too small," Gina said loudly.
"You see what I think?" Giles asked.
"Fuck Me to Hell!" Gina replied. "I thought I was just too tired when we transitioned and that was why it was so rough."
"WILL SOMEONE EXPLAIN TO THE CAPTAIN OF THIS VESSEL WHAT IS GOING ON!!" Captain Jackson said in a voice that couldn't be ignored.
"Sorry Sir," McGee replied. "Our friend Major Dick was on a reciprocal course from that of the interdictor."
"And he was powering up a gravity well generator as he broke into normal space," Gina picked up the story. "If we had waited another thirty seconds before jumping we would still be back there."
"You mean..." Jackson started to ask one question then changed his mind, "Commo was that transmission from the Appalachia authenticated?"
"Yes Sir. I'm verifying it now," the communications rating said. "Sir it verifies, if it wasn't the Appalachia it was a very good imposter. Right down to the cipher anomalies." A little know quirk that all radios have very specific transmission properties.
"McGee, Preston, Wells lets take this to the conference room and discuss the implications. Lt. Dougherty you have the Com," Captain Jackson said.
"Aye Sir," the young nugget Lt. replied.
Chapter 3: Breakout
"Okay, it doesn't take a mental genius to figure out where this is heading," Captain Jackson said as soon as the door closed. "The question is why?" he asked as Gina and Giles started to once more pour over the tracks and sensor readings.
"Why is the question indeed," Giles said. "The how is interesting though. It looks like the Appalachia dropped out of hyperspace by powering up the gravity well. See how their track twists just as they breakout. That's why it wasn't obvious at first."
"Fascinating Giles. You're Canadian. Why would a ship from the American Empire attack their Princess' ship?" Jackson asked.
"Hey I'm not a member of the America First Party. Why should I know. Except that most Americans don't like Europeans much and the French head the list." he replied, "Maybe some faction decided that a dead Princess is better that one married to a Frog."
"So why not kill them both outright?" Gina asked.
"Who knows? There's some piece of the puzzle we still don't have," Saundra replied. "Gina are you sure that the Appalachia is the same ship that trapped the Garnet?"
"Yes. Now that we suspect it, the signature is the same," she answered. "They just had their drive so whacked when they left that it covered their signature."
"Most likely they dropped out a few light-years distant and waited for the first ship to arrive, before popping back in and trapping whoever showed up," Giles put in.
"Probably intent to distract and delay the departure of the first ship. Remember they were expecting Imps and their sensors aren't as good. One or two more ships and the true trail would have been covered," Gina added.
"Good point. Any idea what kind of vessel we're chasing?" Saundra asked, leaning over Gina's shoulder to look at the incomprehensible graph on her display.
"Moderate sized with an efficient power plant," was the response. "Beyond that, nothing."
"Bloody wonderful. Any chance of catching the fleeing vessel while still in hyperspace?" Jackson asked.
"Doubtful. The track is one degree off from our original course, so we're getting a better picture," Gina replied. "Looks now like they may have had some indication of where we were coming from, or they had a good guess that the first search vessel would be following their track from Lyon instead of backtracking from Earth."
"Ok, all of you get some shut eye. I need to send off a report to the Admiralty," Captain Jackson said in dismissal.
"One last question Captain?" Gina asked. "How did the Appalachia know we arrived on scene? Was our report made in the clear?"
"Yes. We sent out a general hyperwave broadcast as soon as we verified it was the Garnet," he replied. "By now there are probably thirty ships there cluttering up the scene. Go, no more questions."
While Captain Jackson formulated his report to the Admiralty, Gina Preston and Giles Wells found themselves once more locked in a privacy booth. Their earlier tryst interrupted by the need for food and sleep. Gina straddled Giles with his member snuggled deep within her body. The contour couch giving her much needed leverage for fucking the handsome navigator. Giles had already eaten Gina to one orgasm and could tell she was approaching a second more powerful one, when dizziness and nausea washed over them.
"Breakout," Giles said unnecessarily as Battle Stations once more rang throughout the ship.
The lovers threw on their jumpers and raced to the bridge. The ship was already turning to find the exact breakout point when they arrived on deck to take their stations.
"Contact Bearing one-five-one, range nine-thousand meters," the sensor operator called out. "Shit he's close."
"Sir, we're being hailed," the communications tech called out. "The ship Lucifer."
"On screen," Jackson called out. As the viddi lit up he could see a dark complected man in a white shirt with ruffles down the front.
"Good day. I am Captain Ludwig Von Hostig, aboard the ship Lucifer," he said in a heavy Germanic accent. "To whom do I have the pleasure of speaking?"
"This is Captain Oliver Jackson of the Royal Navy, on board the Auxiliary Carrier H.M.S. Ulysses. Surrender your vessel and prepare to be boarded," Jackson replied, knowing that the fighter craft were ready to launch on his orders.
"I think not Captain. I don't think you want to be responsible if any harm should come to the Emperor's precious little brat."
"Be reasonable Captain Von Hostig. If you turn the hostages over to my custody I will allow your ship to leave. I couldn't care less if the Imperial Navy tracks you down. My concern is with the return of Her Royal Highness and her companions."
"Companions? Captain, the Princess is only accompanied by her domestic. Who I will turn over to you if she wishes as a sign of good will. Who else do you think I hold?" Von Hostig asked.
"Jacques Colon is unaccounted for. Are you saying he is not a hostage?"
Von Hostig laughed before continuing, "That coward fled in the only lifeboat. Leaving his lovely bride to be to fend for herself." Von Hostig paused, "Are you prepared to negotiate for the Princess' freedom?"
"What did you have in mind? I have only limited powers to negotiate."
"I think you may have what I desire. Please join me for dinner, Captain," Von Hostig said. "Alone. I'm sure you can fly yourself over."
The image faded from the screen and Captain Jackson turned to his senior officers. Jackson walked over to the plot table and looked at their location.
"Well?" he asked, "We found them, now what?"
"Two well aimed shots from the bow lasers and he's not taking that ship anywhere," the senior weapons officer said.
"Hold that thought. What do we have that he might want? He couldn't have been expecting a Royal Navy ship.
"The only thing we might have that he wants is a means of escape," Giles commented. "That's a fairly small ship, doesn't need more than a half-dozen crew. What if he wants a Royal Navy launch to escape in?"
"That makes sense. He could head for any number of Allied Planets and not be questioned. Launches are flitting in and out of systems all the time. There's no way every one could be searched," Saundra put in.
"Then we give it to him after he's proven that the Princess is alive and well. Giles can a launch be rigged to drop out of hyperspace at a specific distance?" Captain Jackson asked.
"Sure, an easy re-write of some simple codes and I can have a breakout anytime you want. Or program it to only let him make one jump. Or have the system overwrite his course and send him to Earth or any other planet."
"Ok, I get the picture. Surely he knows that."
"You didn't Captain," Giles replied. "So many things just work on these ships. If they break you can fix them. But if they are reprogrammed they can do whatever you want and all the self-checks in the world won't show a problem."
"Giles if you're the one that programmed the wardroom tea dispenser to produce coffee I'll cut you off for the rest of the tour," Gina said quietly.
"Not me. Sullivan, he loves that stuff."
"Focus people. Giles how long to re-write it to only go five light- years?" Captain Jackson asked, a smile finally on his face.
"Thirty minutes tops, Sir," he replied.
"Do it. Commo get me the Lucifer."
Von Hostig's face appeared on the viddi screen, "Ah Captain Jackson, can I expect you for dinner?"
"Yes, I'll be over in one hour. I need to clean up and dress appropriately," he replied.
"Very good. I look forward to meeting you in person," Von Hostig said as his face once more faded from the screen.
"Weps, if that ship so much as maneuvers I want his engines disabled."
"Aye Sir," the weapons officer said to the Captain's back.
Chapter 4: Negotiation
One hour later Captain Jackson, clothed in his finest dress uniform, found himself being welcomed aboard the vessel Lucifer. The swarthy crewman who met him searched him for weapons before leading him down the corridor to a small wardroom.
"Captain, your guest," the man said as they entered the room.
"Ah Captain Jackson what a pleasure to meet you in person," Von Hostig said, his German accent no less heavy in person. "I would like to present Her Royal Highness, Princess Victoria Margaret Consuela Prichard-Marquez, and her servant Nadia."
Captain Jackson looked over the Princess, her dress while soiled appeared to be in good shape. Bowing low he said, "A pleasure your Highness. With luck you should be on your way home in a few hours."
"Charmed Captain," the Princess replied somewhat haughtily. "Only why is a British Royal Navy Captain negotiating for my freedom instead of an Imperial Officer?"
"It would appear that we are the first ship on scene and Captain Von Hostig insists on negotiating with us," Jackson replied.
Princess Victoria turned to Von Hostig raising herself up to her most regal height, "I will not be bartered like some trinket at a bazaar Captain."
"Your Highness, it is my intention to have you safely on your way before too many other ships arrive, making life dangerous for all concerned," Von Hostig replied. "Captain Jackson would you care for a drink. I have some of the finest wine available?"
Without waiting for a reply, Princess Victoria's servant brought over a wineglass for Captain Jackson. The slight smile on her face looking somewhat conspiratorial. Jackson took one small sip of the excellent wine and turned to Captain Von Hostig.
"Captain as you say time is of the essence. What exactly do you think my ship may have that you are interested in as a ransom for the Princess?"
"Dinner first my friend. I have some real beef prepared in honor of the Princess' freedom," Von Hostig replied. "Then we can discuss the price I demand."
Captain Von Hostig showed his guests to the small dining table, seating Captain Jackson between himself and the Princess. Nadia took on the roll of serving dinner and clearing the dishes. So far the only crew Captain Jackson had seen was the first crewman and was starting to wonder how many were actually on board.
"Captain Jackson, how long have you been in the Space Navy?" Von Hostig asked, as Nadia brought desert.
"Just over ten years," he answered. "I've been moved along rather quickly thanks to my father's influence. He's rather high up in the Admiralty."
"I see. Were you involved in the New St. Petersburg conflict?" he asked.
"I was a fighter pilot assigned to the Adjutant's office back then. Acting as escort to the General Assembly's Representative to Earth," Jackson replied.
"Ah, so you were grounded safe and sound on Earth then," Von Hostig said matter of factly.
"It wasn't exactly safe. There were several assassination attempts. As well as the fact that the population of Earth had no idea how close to a terrestrial shooting war it came."
"Baah. The Ruskis would never have started an open conflict on Earth. The other Empires would band together just to destroy them," Von Hostig replied. "Still they are slowly losing planets to other Empires and alliances, such as the British Commonwealth."
"True. However New St. Petersburg only recognizes the Royal Family as leaders and not Parliament," Captain Jackson stated. "If a few more planets do that, Parliament will have no choice but to recognize Queen Mary VI as the true Head of State for Great Britain."
Setting down his fork and signaling Nadia to clear the dishes, Captain Von Hostig looked between Captain Jackson and the Princess. He smiled at them and asked if either would care for an after dinner brandy or cigar. When they both declined the offer he got down to business.
"Captain do have any extra Tritium on board? Say around ten pounds?" he asked.
"Ten pounds of Tritium is available. I could siphon that much off my fighter craft easily enough. Surely that's not all you demand?" Jackson replied, somewhat incredulous. Ten pounds of Tritium wasn't worth more than a few million Star Credits at best.
"Ah yes. I will also need use of your launch," Von Hostig continued, "How long before your crew could deliver the Tritium to the launch?"
"If you will allow me to contact my ship, I'll get them started. Maybe one or two hours at most."
Captain Von Hostig nodded his consent. As Captain Jackson pulled out his communicator the Lucifer shuddered with the unmistakable impact of an energy weapon. Jackson touched the studs to contact his ship as a male voice said over the ships speakers, "We're under attack."
"Captain Jackson to Ulysses. What the devil is going on?" Jackson said into the commo unit.
"Captain, two ships appeared and opened fire immediately. We're returning fire and moving to block the Lucifer from their weapons," Saundra replied.
"What do you mean blocking the Lucifer?" he asked.
"Sir, they are concentrating their weapons on Lucifer. Hold one Sir," Saundra stated. She was off the air for less than a minute before returning. "Sir, they are Imperial ships and a Russian ship just appeared, same vector and has begun firing on the two bandits. This is one fucking bloody mess and I don't know who's who."
Saundra was busy issuing orders and it took her a few seconds to realize that the Lucifer was getting underway. With three unknown ships exchanging fire she concentrated on defending her ship and the small Lucifer from attack.
"Captain the Lucifer just jumped," Gina called out. With Captain Jackson no longer in contact that made her responsible for the ship.
Slowly the fighting ships maneuvered, the Russian ship moving to take up a flanking position with one of the Imperial ships. Saundra moved the Ulysses in an arc trying to cover the escape vector of the fleeing Lucifer with her own exhaust trail. Finally the Imperials broke off their attack and fled to hyperspace. Saundra ordered the fighter craft to maintain a defensive posture while she decided what to do next.
"Captain we're being hailed by the Russians, a Captain Genchenko," the commo tech announced.
"Good day. I am Captain Vladamir Genchenko on board the vessel Lenin," he said. "I have been tracking these ships from the planet Gorky where they have attacked our outpost. Has your small vessel been destroyed or has it escaped? It no longer shows on my sensors."
"I am Lt. Commander Saundra McGee, Commanding the ship H.M.S. Ulysses. Thank you for your assistance. The small ship escaped while we were being fired on by the two Imperial ships."
"Not Imperial Captain McGee. Pirates, they have painted over their Imperial markings with the skull and crossbones. If you do not need any further assistance I will be pursuing my prey. They always jump together did you notice?" he asked.
"We will be fine Captain. I will commend you in my report to Her Majesty," Saundra concluded as the screen faded.
The Russian ship jumped less than an hour later. Saundra McGee sat in the Captain's chair reviewing damage reports and trying to get her ship ready to follow the Lucifer.
Chapter 5: Lost
Captain Von Hostig pulled a blaster from his tunic. Using the Princess as a shield from Captain Jackson he forced them down to the docking port and into the Ulysses' launch. As the hatch closed behind them Jackson made his way to the control station. He had just enough time to discover the docking clamps were disabled before the Lucifer made it's jump to hyperspace. He punched up a full diagnostic on the computer then leaned back in the control chair and placed his boots on the console.
"Well don't just sit there. Do something!" Princess Victoria demanded.
"I am doing something Your Highness," Jackson replied, without opening his eyes. "I'm resting."
"This is no time to take a nap Captain. I demand you work on freeing this boat from the Lucifer!" Princess Victoria, said in her most regal and officious voice.
"Relax Princess, we are not going anywhere while in hyperspace and as soon as the diagnostic is completed I'll have a better idea of what controls I have," Jackson replied. He didn't bother to explain that the launch was rigged and he hoped that they would breakout near an inhabited planet.
Princess Victoria sat in the other seat located in the control suite and demanded of Captain Jackson, "Get me something to drink then."
Jackson opened one eye to look at the haughty bitch and didn't say a word or make a move. The thought that this brat was next in line to rule fully one third the Earth's population and nearly a quarter of the planets was incredible. Closing his eye he thought back to a hologram of his grandmother standing next to the newly coronated King, surrounded by throngs of loyal subjects who waited patiently for hours to meet the Ruler. He couldn't even imagine Princess Victoria allowing her subjects to touch her, let alone spend hours greeting them graciously. For generations now the British Royals had made themselves over as a Court of the People, while the American Empire moved in the other direction.
After several minutes of silence Princess Victoria finally asked, "Will you at least talk to me?" in a much subdued voice.
"Sure. What do your family and friends call you?" Jackson replied.
"What ever do you mean?" the Princess replied, once more arrogance entering her voice.
"Family and friends. Surely they don't call you Your Highness," he responded. "I'm Olli or Jack to my fellow officers. Take your pick."
"May I remind you Captain Jackson that I am a Princess. Not some commoner like you."
"Very well Princess," Jackson replied. He smiled as he once more closed his eyes and moved to get more comfortable in the chair.
He let his minds eye wander back to holo's of his family. A view of his mother and father on their wedding day, Royals and common blessing the union. A barely remembered memory of his father holding him, tears streaming down his face as they laid the King to rest. A scene of young Oliver sitting on the throne, pretending to be king and the spanking he had received for doing so. His memory progressed to more recent images, his sister's wedding, holding his nephew for the first time and the honor of being made Captain of his own vessel.
"Vicki," the Princess said, after the silence had gone on for some time. "My friends and family call me Vicki."
Jackson stood up and bowed low, "It's a pleasure to make your acquaintance Vicki," he said politely. "Was it that difficult?"
"Yes. I don't normally associate with commoners, except the servants. I don't know how to deal with someone who cannot be ordered about?"
"It's simple really. Treat everyone with kind words and respect. I'm sure you get dressed much the same as my sister and your father puts his pants on one leg at a time, just like me," he replied.
"Olli you must think poorly of me. Some stuck up little brat," she said, not realizing she was mimicking his own earlier thoughts. "How is it that you can treat me kindly after I treated you with such disdain?"
"Vicki, Princess, I've been dealing with the stuck up and pompous all my life. It comes naturally to me to let them have their temper tantrums and get on with life," he replied. "Have you really been waited on hand and foot your whole life?"
"Of course. I am a Princess," she responded somewhat stiffly. "I never was given much opportunity to do things on my own," she continued more softly.
"You should try it," he replied, "Queen Mary was a nurse before she became queen. Her father served in the Navy before he was king. It's expected of the Royal family to serve the Crown in some way."
"What about the heir to the British throne? You don't hear much of him. I suppose he is tucked away in some safe job serving the Crown?" she asked.
"I wouldn't be surprised to find him in harm's way somewhere," Jackson replied. "Never ask your subjects to do what you will not and all that."
"Really I find that hard to believe. My father would never risk his life or mine in such a way. Who would lead the Empire if something were to happen?"
"The British Throne has a line of succession going back generations," Jackson answered, slipping into teacher mode. "If both the children of the Queen were to die before she, there are cousins and nieces and nephews all of which can be named heir. It would take a concerted effort for someone to eliminate the entire Royal family."
"Not so with the American Empire, if my father, brother and I were all killed there would be a civil war to determine who takes control," Vicki replied. "The Prichard family thinks they have Devine right to the Empire as does the Marquez clan. Both sides and others would fight to see their choice of heir placed on the Imperial throne."
"Your empire isn't old enough to have a clear dynasty yet. It's like China in the second century, the strongest warlord will be the next Emperor," he stated, still in teacher mode. "Something your father and ancestors fail to do is build a strong sense of loyalty to the Empire. Your attitude reflects that to a degree. Love me because I'm the Princess. In my case it's love the Royal family and it's heritage, regardless of who the next King will be."
"You make it sound so simple."
"Simple? No. There has been a King or Queen ruling all of Britain and it's empire for more than two millennia. The American Empire is less than a century old in it's current state. You're empire is a youth, even the French have more experience at empire than you. I would imagine that is why your father was so eager to marry you off to Jacques Colon."
"Baa!! Don't get me started on that coward. It was an arranged marriage. He's a simpering fool that couldn't rule a bordello." Fury streaked across the Princess' face as she spoke.
"My apology for bringing up such a sore subject. However, do you know why Von Hostig kidnaped you?" he asked.
"Not exactly. We were forced out of hyperspace by some unknown vessel and holed before we could even react," she answered. "Von Hostig held myself and Nadia on his ship while we waited for something. I gathered that your passage panicked him in some way, by how quickly he made the jump after your ship passed."