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Game Armada Brothers In Arms: Part One

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Writer’s Note: Brothers In Arms: Part One was published originally in Jump Point 3.5.

The heads-up display on Gavin Rhedd’s Cutlass dimmed at the edges. Green triangles representing the members of his security team distorted to form horizontal spikes of flickering static. He smacked the side of his helmet. It was a practiced move, and one that had snapped the HUD back into focus in the past. This time, the display flickered, faded and then died.

A heavy breath sent a thin veil of vapor climbing the visor of his helmet. Condensation obscured the view of black, empty space ahead.

Empty like the dead heads-up display.

Empty just like it had been for weeks.

There were brigands and marauders plaguing every planet in the ’verse and he couldn’t find one damned gang. Nothing was working out like he’d planned.

On the navsat, the other three members of Rhedd Alert Security fanned out to either side. His brother Walt was locked into position directly to port. Jazza and Boomer were painfully out of position.


Everyone was getting bored and careless.

Boomer was the first to break radio silence this time.

“Hey, guys?”

“What’s up, Boomer?” Walt was the first to respond.

“I’m cold.”

Jazza didn’t follow orders better than any of the others, and her banter had the comfortable cadence of friendly rivalry. “Then put on a sweater.”

“Hey, Jazz?” Boomer fired back at her.


“Take your helmet off for a tick.”

“Why’s that, old man? You want a kiss?”

“Nope. I’m hoping you get sucked out and die when I shoot a hole through your cockpit.”

Gavin sighed into his helmet before triggering his mic. “Come on, gang. I want comms dark. The miners on Oberon hired us to take care of their pirate problem. And the three of you chattering on an open channel won’t help us find them any faster.”

“I’m starting to hate this system,” Walt muttered.

They were all tired and strung out from weeks of long hours and no action. But Walt was killing their morale by giving voice to that frustration. This whole thing — Rhedd Alert Security, abandoning smuggling to go clean, applying for Citizenship — was something they’d agreed to do together. Gavin and Walt. Brothers. Going legit and starting a business.

It seemed a good idea when they were dodging system alerts and dumping a fortune into forged tags. But some things don’t change, and Walt was the same old Walt — all talk and no follow through. It wouldn’t be long before he came up with some excuse to move on to clearer skies.

“What’s wrong, Boomer?”

“Cold, Gavin. Think the heat’s out.”

Wonderful. Something else to fix. Maybe Walt wouldn’t be the first to quit after all. Dell would leave if Gavin let her father freeze to death over this rock.

Jazza barked a laugh, “Yep. That sounds about right for this outfit.”

“Jazza, will you shut up already? Which part are you having trouble with? Comms or dark?”

“Yes sir, Big Boss Man.”

“Jesus. I got more respect from you guys when we were criminals. Boomer, by all the Banu gods, why didn’t you tell me you were having trouble before we left the hangar?”

“I, uh . . . I figured to keep quiet until after the mission. Until we got paid, you know?”

This should have been a quick in and out job. But after weeks of fruitless hunting, even if they eventually drove off the pirates, the job would be a net loss.

“Hey, guys?” Jazza was really starting to get on his nerves. He told her as much. “Shut your hole, Gavin. I just wanted to let you know I found something.”

Gavin quickly studied the navsat console. The area looked empty other than the four of them, so whatever she’d found wasn’t showing up on any of his feeds. He smacked his helmet again in mute hope that the HUD would spring back to life.

“It’s a hull,” Jazza said. “Big one. Looks like a stripped Idris. Looks dead.”

“I’m not seeing you on . . . crap,” Walt said. “There you are. How’d you get way the hell out there?”

“Easy, folks,” Gavin said. “Boomer? You head toward Jazza. Walt and I will hold position.”

“Copy that.”

An Idris represented a fair chunk of creds as salvage. Strange that no one had claimed it. They were in Oberon to chase off pirates, but a little scrap job on the side was a welcome bonus.

“Jazza,” Gavin said, “I’ve got nothing near you on sensors. You think it’s just some floating junk?”

“I think so,” she spoke slowly, uncertain. “I thought I saw a heat trace, but I’m not seeing it now. Going in for a closer — Jesus!”

“Jazz,” Boomer’s voice was flat. The old man was all business. “Break right, I’ll pull this one off you and lead them back to the boys.”

“Can’t shake him.”

The navsat showed three new ships. A 325a with scrambled tags closed in on Jazza. Walt streaked past, already accelerating toward the fray, and Gavin turned to follow.

“Pull up hard,” Boomer said. “Bring him back around — Damn it.”

“Talk to us, Boomer,” Walt said.

“Jazza took a big hit. These guys are each sporting a Tarantula — the big one.”

“Hold tight,” Gavin said. “We’re nearly there. Walt, my HUD’s out. I need visual to fight, can you engage?”

“On it.”

“Hold on, Boomer. We’re coming.”

Walt was an incandescent streak ahead of him. The nearby space seemed deceptively empty without the visualizations that his HUD instrumentation would normally project. Only Oberon IV, looming beneath them, gave him any sense of perspective.

Walt’s voice crackled into the oppressive silence. “Boomer. I’m coming in low at your three o’clock.”

“Copy that.”

“I’m going to strafe with the repeaters to get their attention. You give that 325 a broadside he can’t resist. I’ll shove a missile somewhere the sun don’t shine.”

“Hurry, Walt. I’m too old for a three-on-one.”

“On you in five. Four. Three. Break now!”

Up ahead, razor thin beams of red slashed across space. The lasers streaked straight and then abruptly fanned out as Walt yawed around a pirate ship.

“Boomer!” Walt’s words tumbled out in a rush. “I can’t take a missile shot with you between us.”

“Can’t shake him.”

“Well that Tarantula is going to shake you plenty if you don’t.”

A missile streaked toward one of the pirate ships. Gavin saw a stuttering series of small flashes inside the cockpit, then the 325a vented a blazing ball of burning oxygen and went dark.

Gavin dropped into the swirling tangle of ships and added his own laser fire to the melee. Rippling blossoms of dispersed energy glowed against a pirate’s shields.

“That’s done it,” Walt said, “they’re gonna run.”

He was right. Realizing they were outnumbered, the remaining pirates turned together and accelerated past Jazza’s drifting ship.

And with them would go any hope of a profitable job. “Pen them in and stitch them up, guys.”

“Screw that,” Walt pulled up, quickly falling behind. “Let them run. They won’t operate here once we steal their hideout. We win, Gav.”

“This job won’t even cover our fuel costs, Walt. We need those ships.”

“I got ’em.” Boomer yawed around to pin the fleeing ships between them.

“Boomer,” Walt cried, “don’t!”

The pirate pair turned nose to nose with Boomer. Their guns sparked twice, muzzles flashing, and Boomer’s Avenger bucked from the impact. Most of the starboard wing spun away in a blaze of erupting oxygen. The pirates flew straight through the floating wreckage and streaked away at full acceleration.

Gavin cursed and slowed. Without his HUD, the fleeing pirates quickly faded from view. “Boomer? Talk to me, buddy.”

Boomer’s Avenger drifted slowly away toward the black. Then it burped, venting air and Boomer’s survival suit out into open space.

A new, flashing red icon reflected up and off the canopy of Gavin’s cockpit. He didn’t have to check the console to know it was Boomer’s recovery beacon.

He let his hands fall away from the controls, closed his eyes and let his head slump backwards. His helmet struck the headrest with an audible clunk. Colored lights sprang up to swim in front of his closed eyes.

Resigned, he cracked one heavy lid to peek out at the intruding light source. His HUD had decided to grace him with a reappearance.

“What. The hell. Was that?” Walt pronounced his words biting precision.

“Tarantula GT-870 Mk3,” Gavin recited in detail.

“I know about the damn guns, Gavin. I mean sending Boomer after them. We won. We had them on the run.”

“These ships don’t repair themselves, Walt. Maybe you haven’t done the math, but we’re broke. We need the salvage.”

“Salvage is nice, but Dell is going to kill you if Boomer is hurt again.”

“I’ll deal with Dell.” Gavin rolled his shoulders and settled his hands back on the controls. “Put a call in to Oberon. Let them know we took care of their pest problem and that we’ll tow away the clever little base the pests were hiding in to block scans. Then get Jazza patched up. Assuming the pirate survived, the two of you can drop him off before towing the salvage home.”

“Got it,” Walt’s voice was caustic, “money first. Good job keeping our priorities straight”

“Damn it, Walt. Will you stow the lip for two minutes so we can pack up and get everyone home.”


“I’ll get Boomer. Can you please go see if you can get Jazza back up and running?”

“You’re the boss, little brother.”

Gavin pushed his family troubles to the back of his mind. Prioritize. First things first, take care of the crew. Get Boomer home. Repair the ships. Pay down some debt. He rattled off a painfully long list of critical next steps and one item kept rapidly, forcefully climbing its way to the top.

They really needed to get another job.

Walt beat the others back to the hangar. He matched rotation with Goss system’s Vista Landing and drifted along its length until he reached the Rhedd Alert hangar. He slowed and then stopped at three sets of wide double doors, each painted an alarming shade of red.

Hazard beacons floated in front of the first set of doors. Short bursts from tiny thrusters kept them in place a dozen meters out while a work crew applied high-pressure, ghost-grey paint over stencils of the Rhedd Alert logo.

Walt drew in a proud breath that pressed his chest against the confines of his flight suit. It looked cool having their name up in big letters on the side of the complex.

Then the moment soured.

The hangar and support staff were dead weight around their necks. The painting crew and logo were all part of the lease agreement with the station, but they served as a pointed reminder of the permanence of the commitment. Walt gnawed at his bottom lip, uncomfortable with the weight of the obligation.

He tried to put the sense of buyer’s remorse aside, but it sat heavy and rekindled his anger at Gavin. His brother wanted this company so much. Dell did, too.

Success — legit success — meant they could leave the old routines behind, forever. No more hiding. No more flipping tags every couple weeks to stay ahead of the Advocacy. Starting a company and working toward Citizenship was a big deal, but at what price?

Employing folks and applying for Citizenship was fine, but it started to lose luster in a hurry if success meant getting someone killed. Walt had to make sure Gavin saw that. They were all tired, but this was too important to wait.

“Knock knock, Dell,” Walt said. “Open up.”

D’lilah’s voice came over the comm immediately. She’d been waiting. “Bay 3, Walt. And mind the paint crew.”

“I see ’em. Glad to be home, Dell.”

Gavin touched down last, and Walt was waiting at the foot of the ladder when his brother slid down to the deck.

“Don’t start with me,” were the first words out of Gavin’s mouth.

“Listen,” Walt said, “Maybe I was out of line to second guess you during a fight, but we need to talk about what happened out there.”

“We won, okay? Right now I need to get Boomer to the med techs, and then contact Barry about another job.”

“Barry got us this job, Gav. I’m not sure if you noticed, but it really didn’t end so well.”

“We got sucker-punched by some thugs. That’s what happens when you get sloppy.”

He was talking about procedures and performance. Two of their ships got shot up, Boomer wounded and Gavin was grumbling about tight flight formations. Walt stretched his fingers, willing them not to form fists. His brother tucked his helmet under one arm and stepped to the side to move around him.

“Damn it, Gavin,” Walt grabbed the shorter man’s shoulder and pressed him back against the ladder. “Would you slow down for two seconds?”

He’d caught Gavin by surprise, but his younger brother was fast. Gavin slapped the hand from his shoulder, threw his helmet to the hangar deck and planted a two-handed shove of his own into Walt’s chest. “What’s your problem, Walt?”

The hangar grew quiet. A quick glance to either side showed the rest of the staff looking very hard for something productive to do, as far from the brothers as possible. Walt leaned in and hissed, “I’m trying to keep you from getting someone hurt. What’s the point of Rhedd Alert if we get everyone killed for one crappy job?”

“One crappy . . . ?” Gavin’s eyes were wide, showing white all around the edges. “You need to wake up, Walt. This was our only job. I got half the ships in the squad with parts falling off. I got Boomer freezing his junk off in nothing more than his flight suit. We can’t jump systems to hijack the next ship that comes along any more. This is what we signed up for, man.”

Walt was getting hot again. He knew he should walk away, but Gavin was still missing his point. “I know what I signed up for.” He knew that they had to make good on jobs, but why die trying just to pay the bill collectors? “And I remember why I signed up, too.”

Gavin stepped in again. Closer. “Oh yeah? And why’s that?”

“You, Gavin.”

“So everything’s my fault? Because I made you join up.”

“That’s not what I mean.”

“I know I screwed up the bid on this job. I should have priced it higher. But guess what? I didn’t. And this is all we had.”

Walt lowered his voice, getting right in Gavin’s face. “That’s not what I meant and you know it. I’m here because you want this.” He jabbed a stiff finger into Gavin’s chest. “You want it for Dell. Because you’re afraid she’ll leave if you can’t pull it off.”

And then Gavin was on him.

They went down hard and Walt’s head cracked against the deck when they landed. Gavin was compact and built like a Sataball defenseman, but Walt had length and leverage. It was a dichotomy they had put to the test a hundred times since they were boys, with nearly uniform results. But Gavin just didn’t know when to give up.

The tussle was short and ugly. In seconds, Walt had one forearm jammed into the back of his brother’s neck, with the other propping himself up off the deck. Gavin’s face was pressed into the cold steel of the hangar floor.

Then the scuffed toe of a black work boot crunched down painfully on Walt’s fingers. His stranglehold on Gavin relaxed, and the smaller man started to squirm free. That was, at least, until the socketed head of a heavy wrench dropped on Gavin’s shoulder, pushing him back down, face first and flat onto the deck.


“Now, now, boys,” Dell said. “What are the neighbors gonna think?”

Walt winced, gritting his teeth as she ground his fingers against the steel deck. He craned his neck around to look at her. D’lilah’s boots were cinched tight by pink laces with a white skull-and-crossbones pattern stitched into them. She wore worn, canvas coveralls that hugged strong legs, pockets bulging with tools and spare parts. Her dark hair was pulled back into a ponytail that hung over one shoulder, and she’d dyed the last couple inches a bright, electric blue. The color was new since they’d left for Oberon. It was a playful accent that wasn’t echoed in the angry blue of her eyes.

“Oh. Hey there, Dell.” Walt struggled to keep a pinched note of pain from his voice. “Hello to you, too.”

“Unless the next words out of your mouth tell me where my dad is, you’re going to be working your stick left-handed.”

Gavin answered her. “Ease up, Dell.”

“Who’s got him?”

“I do.” Gavin nodded back toward his ship.

“Well then.” She lifted her foot and Walt yanked his hand back to rub at aching knuckles. He glared at her, as sour a look as he could manage while kneeling on the deck. Her smile feigned a sweetness that did nothing to thaw the frozen fury in her eyes. “I’ll fetch the buggy. If you two are done snuggling, it sounds like my dad has a date with the techs in the med center.”

Dell swung the wrench up to rest over one shoulder, spun on the balls of her feet, and strode away.

Gavin rolled over onto his back with a groan. “That woman is going to kill us one of these days.”

“Think we could outrun her?”

“You, maybe. There’s not a dark enough hole in the ’verse for me to hide.”

“Yeah, well,” Walt pushed himself to his feet with a grunt, “that’s your own damn fault for marrying her.”

Several systems away, on a station much larger and better appointed than Vista Landing, Morgan Brock scowled at a set of numbers on her mobiGlas. She lifted her eyes, shifting her gaze over the top edge of the screen to stare at Riebeld. The salesman sprawled casually in what Brock knew to be an uncomfortable chair. She made sure that it was uncomfortable, so no one felt confident when sitting opposite her desk.

Riebeld somehow pulled it off, though. It was that braggadocio that made him such a good breadwinner for her company. Irritating, yes. But good for business.

She powered down the mobiGlas. “The net profits on this estimate are based off a twelve percent commission.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“I think we both know that your negotiated commission is ten, Riebeld.”

“And I think we also both know that this job could double the size of the company within two years.” He sat forward then and leaned on her desk. “I want twelve if I bring it in.”

“And you think I’m going to just give it to you?”

“I know you will.”

It was her turn to lean forward. It put her too close to him, and he should have backed off. He didn’t. “And why,” she asked, “is that?”

“Because I know that you’re not going to let principle stand in the way of profit.” His toothy grin was bright enough to deflect lasers. She was used to predatory smiles from men, but with men like Riebeld, it only meant there was money on the line. His mobiGlas chirped beside them. Riebeld had an incoming call.

He ignored it.

She waited for the incoming alert to stop.

It did.

“You get twelve,” she said. “But anyone who helps bring it in gets paid out of your cut, not mine. And I want three options for one-year extensions. Not one. Bring it to me with three or I won’t sign it.”


“Fine. Now get out.”

He did and Brock leaned back in her chair. She was going to need more ships. Riebeld would get the extensions or he wouldn’t. They gave him something to work toward, and he’d get sloppy if he didn’t have a challenge.

Good sales guys were like racehorses, high maintenance and temperamental. Most days, they were nothing more than a pain in the ass. Come race day, though – you always wanted one in your stable.

There was a quick knock on her door. Riebeld didn’t wait for her to answer before he shoved his head in.

“I won’t budge on the options, Riebeld. I want three or no deal.”

“No,” he said. “It’s not that. Navy SysCom just put our Tyrol contract up for rebid.”


“Yeah. We’re allowed to rebid, but they’re putting it out for open competition.”

“Why the hell would they do that?” Escorting UEE scientists to the research facilities in Tyrol wasn’t their biggest job, but she’d put a lot of work into it. They’d spent years clearing the shipping lanes in the Charon system — lucrative years, admittedly — and now the missions were pure profit and promised future growth.

“I don’t have the full story yet, but apparently they are trying to push low-risk contract work out to local companies. Some brainiac in accounting identified the Tyrol run as a candidate and boom, Major Greely pulled the contract.”

“See what you can find out,” she said. “And get to work on the rebid.”

“Already got it covered.”

“And Riebeld?”


“Find me the name of that accountant.”

It was late when Gavin left the station. By way of apology, he invited Walt to join him on the short trip to Cassel to meet with Barry Lidst. Whether Walt came along as reconciliation or simply to avoid another run-in with Dell was unclear. Regardless, he didn’t seem inclined to talk about the argument as they flew, and Gavin saw no reason to bring it up.

Barry, a Navy SysCom accountant by trade and freelance rainmaker by inclination, had grown up with the brothers. He had left Goss to join the Navy while the Rhedd boys stayed to work the smuggling routes with Boomer and their father before he passed.

Officially, Barry was responsible for negotiating contracts between the UEE Navy and private vendors, but he also managed to broker a few off-the-record jobs on the side. He was, if anything, an opportunist, and Gavin trusted him about as much as he trusted any of the shady characters they’d worked with in the past. Which is to say, not at all.

The fact that Barry was involved with Dell before leaving to join the Navy didn’t factor into his opinion at all. Nope, not in the slightest. Still, Barry had come through with their first legitimate job. With luck, he’d have more.

Gavin swallowed hard, focusing on the fact that they needed work. Walt kept quiet. By the time Cassel swelled, massive, blue and inviting against the gold and turquoise bands of the Olympus Pool, Gavin could feel his brows drawing down into a scowl.

The brothers landed and made their way to a club that catered to the resort world’s local crowd. It was busy, of course, but Barry was waiting and had managed to find an open table.

“I was beginning to think you two bought it in Oberon.” Barry’s naval uniform was cut from some shiny material that was either freshly pressed or engineered to be wrinkle-free. It looked tragically uncomfortable, but did a reasonable job of hiding a rounded gut.

“Oberon took a bit longer than we thought,” Gavin forced a smile, “but we got them.”

“Everything go okay?”

“Absolutely.” He injected confidence into his words and hoped it sounded genuine. Walt looked at him sharply, but Gavin ignored him. They had to appear capable or better jobs were going to be in short supply. “Pirates are not a problem.”

Barry motioned them to sit and his voice took on a somber note. “Word is that Dell’s dad got busted up. He okay?”

“Jesus, Barry,” Walt said. “How’d you even hear about that?”

“I’m the government. We’ve got our eyes and ears everywhere.” Gavin stared at him and raised an eyebrow, waiting. “Yeah. Well,” Barry shrugged and took a sip of his drink, “those miners on Oberon might have mentioned something.”

“Boomer’s fine. Our ships took more of a beating than he did,” Gavin turned the subject away from his team getting shot up on the job. “I was surprised to hear you were in Goss system.”

“Mom retired here on Cassel,” Barry cast a sour glare around the room when he said it. “I’m just here visiting. Can’t stand it with all the tourist traffic, but she loves the shows and exhibits and stuff. Anyway, I’m glad you guys were able to help out in Oberon.”

“Happy to.”

“Stuff like this comes up from time to time,” Barry said. “It’s not like we don’t want to take care of it ourselves or anything. We do. But the Navy can’t send troops after every brigand and thug in the ’verse, you know? Particularly when they’re camped out in an unclaimed system. So, yeah. No one minds if we feed these jobs to indies like you guys.”

“Well,” Gavin said, “we’re light on work right now. Got anything for us?”

“I might have something — not UEE work, but still a decent job. And I know the client will be happy with your rates.”

Gavin’s heart sank a bit, but maybe they could increase their price without chasing Barry away. He encouraged the accountant to keep talking.

“The job is close, just a couple hops away. It’s hard work, but I can hook you up if you’re interested.”

“What’s the job?” Walt asked.

“You ever heard of molybdenum?” Gavin’s face must have looked as blank as Walt’s. “No? It’s a rare metal used in electronics and stuff. You find it near copper deposits. You know what? Doesn’t matter. A friend of mine knows a guy who just got his hands on the mining rights to a moon.”

“Mining,” Walt muttered. “Why is it always mining?”

“I guess the whole moon is riddled with tunnels and caverns. Apparently there used to be a bunch of copper there, but now all that stuff is gone. The only thing left is the molybdenum. This guy, he’s got three weeks to start producing or he loses his lease to the next prospector in line.”

“Barry,” Gavin said, “if you’re looking for a team to wear hardhats and swing pickaxes, you’ve got the wrong guys.”

“Naw, it’s nothing like that. They’re empty now, but someone set the caves up as a fortified base. Smugglers, probably. They put auto-targeting turrets in there. My guy told me they’re all over the place. Around every corner. Anyway, it’s all Banu tech. A group of them must have hopped over from Bacchus.”

“So what’s the job?”

“They need someone to comb through the whole thing and take out the turrets. They can’t send mining equipment and operators in there until it’s clear. Those guys don’t have shields.”

“That’s it?” Gavin asked.

“Yup. That’s it.”

Walt watched Barry across the table with a bemused tilt to one eyebrow. “That’s the most boring job I’ve ever heard of.”

“Hey,” Barry said, “if you want something with a little higher chance of combat, I’ve got a UEE escort contract up for bid. We were getting absolutely fleeced by the incumbent contractor. I finally convinced the major to rebid the job.”

Now that sounded exactly like the job Rhedd Alert needed.

“Tell me more about that,” Gavin said. “About the escort job, I mean.”

“I, uh listen,” Barry said. “I wasn’t really serious about that. No offense, but that is an armed escort through some pretty rough systems.”

This was it. The chance they needed. “Our guys can do it,” Gavin said.

“It’s a small job now, but it’s scheduled to mature into something big. I don’t even know if you have enough ships to meet the contract requirements.”

“Give us a shot. If we perform, I’ll find the extra ships and pilots.”

“The outfits that sign on for gigs like this are generally ex-military. Highly trained. Lots of contacts in Navy SysCom. Most of the contractors we use are actually based right next to the Navy in Kilian System. I was joking, guys. Forget I mentioned it.”

“No, we can do this. What’s the run? How many —”

“Gav,” Walt interrupted, “we’re talking naval flight formations and tactics. Superior weapons systems. Maybe we should get more info on the turret thing in the mulberry mine.”



“Come on, Walt. This sounds perfect for us. And I’d put you or Jazza up against an ex-Navy pilot in a heartbeat. Any system, any time.”

“Fellas . . . hey, listen,” Barry said. “The UEE is trying to push local work to local contractors. The big defense companies are fighting it. If you feel like sticking your hand in the middle of that fire, I’ll forward you the RFP. Good enough? In the meantime . . . about my buddy with the moon mine?”

Gavin half-heartedly followed along while Walt and Barry discussed the turret job, but in his mind they were already escorting UEE ships through hostile space. Walt startled him out of his reverie when he hushed a surprised Barry into silence.

“Wait,” Walt said, “back up a second. These Banu weapon systems. Did you say this stuff came out of Bacchus?”

“Probably. Why?”

“This moon . . . Barry, where is it?”

“Oberon VI, why?”

Gavin’s heart sank again. A glance at Walt did nothing to reassure him. His brother’s smile looked fantastically strained.

“Ah, come on,” Barry said. “You’ve already done good work for these guys.”

“They’ll kill us,” Walt said.

“Naw,” Barry waved at them dismissively, “They love Rhedd Alert.”

“No,” Walt said, “not the miners.”

“Who?” Barry looked concerned now. “Who’ll kill you?”

Gavin answered. “Our team is going to kill us if we drag them back to Oberon.”

“Hey,” Barry relaxed, “it’s a small ’verse. You’re going to end up passing through there sooner or later. Might as well get paid for it. Am I right?”

“Yeah,” Walt said, “but Oberon?”

“I did mention it pays, didn’t I?” Barry keyed something up on his mobiGlas. He turned it so they could read the projected display. At the bottom was a number. A not-insignificant number. Gavin stared at his hands as Walt absorbed the figures.

Walt’s head made an audible clunk when it struck the table. He groaned something muffled and to the effect of, “I can’t believe we’re going back to Oberon.”


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      Friday sees a Roadmap update and the RSI Newsletter delivered right to your inbox. We also welcome a new episode of Star Citizen Live, which broadcasts LIVE on our Star Citizen Channel. Stay tuned and keep an eye on Spectrum for more information about who this week’s guest will be!
      See you in the ‘verse!
      Ulf Kuerschner
      Senior Community Manager
      *Screenshot by Angaeda

      The Weekly Community Content Schedule
      MONDAY, APRIL 29TH, 2019
      TUESDAY, APRIL 30TH, 2019
                  Lore Post – This Day in History   (
      WEDNESDAY, MAY 1ST, 2019
      THURSDAY, MAY 2ND, 2019
                  Inside Star Citizen    (
                  Vault Update   
      FRIDAY, MAY 3RD, 2019
                  Star Citizen Live   (
                  Roadmap Update   (
                  RSI Newsletter   

      Community MVP: April 29TH, 2019

      We are constantly amazed by the contributions made by the Star Citizen community. Whether it's fan art, a cinematic, a YouTube guide, or even a 3D print of your favorite ship, we love it all! Every week, we select one piece of content submitted to the Community Hub and highlight it here. The highlighted content creator will be awarded an MVP badge on Spectrum and be immortalized in our MVP section of the Hub. Don’t forget to submit your content to our Community Hub for a chance at seeing it here!

      I need a hero by RocketElf

      RocketElf’s character was stuck on a ledge when an unsung hero came to the rescue. He decided to create a FOIP tribute to honor his savior.

      Check out the video on the Community Hub.

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    • Przez Game Armada
      This week we played though the Pacheco mission with Lead Designer Luke Pressley and Senior Live Designer Gareth Bourn along with a few guests.

      To watch Reverse the Verse LIVE each and every week, tune into
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    • Przez Game Armada
      Jump Point Now Available!
      Attention development subscribers: the April 2019 issue of Jump Point is now available in your subscription area. You’ll learn all about developing the updated flight model which premiered in Alpha 3.5, track the history of flight controls in the RSI Museum and find out everything you ever wanted to know about Leyland’s Tortoise in an all-new Galactapedia. Plus a lore featuring MaxOx!
      Interested in becoming a development subscriber? You can learn more here.
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    • Przez Game Armada
      Welcome to Inside Star Citizen, the triumphant return of our weekly development update show. In this episode we learn about a new particle lighting system, public telemetry, Crusader’s city in the clouds, and upcoming improvements to a classic ship.

      To watch Reverse the Verse LIVE each and every week, tune into
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    • Przez Game Armada
      Writer’s Note: Brothers In Arms: Part Four was published originally in Jump Point 3.8. Read Part One here, Part Two here, and Part Three here.
      A recorded hymn played as they sent Arun “Boomer” Ains­ley into whatever great adventure awaits in the everafter. Gavin set the service in the Rhedd Alert hangar, and the recording sounded terrible. The last somber note rebounded off the room’s hard surfaces and harsh angles.
      He wished they could have had a live band. He would have paid for an orchestra, if one were to be had on the orbit­al station. Even a bugle would have been a better tribute for the man who had brought Dell into his life. For the man who taught him and Walt so much about living a free life.
      Dell’s arm felt small around his waist and Gavin pulled her in close to him, unsure if that was the right thing to do. He turned to kiss her hair and saw Walt’s lean form looming beside them. Walt’s face was fixed in a grim mask.
      Gavin knew his brother well enough to know that Walt was berating himself inside. He didn’t deal well with guilt or re­sponsibility, and Gavin suspected that was a big part of why Walt always ran.
      The gathering started to break up. Pilots and the hangar crew busied themselves with tasks around Rhedd Alert’s battered fleet of fighters. Dell didn’t move, so he stayed there with her. Walt rested a hand on his shoulder.
      “Gavin. Oh gods, Dell. I can’t tell you how sorry I am.”
      Jazza leaned in and spoke in a low tone, almost a whisper. “Landing gear up in ten, boss. Your rig is on the buggy.” She motioned with her chin to where his ship waited.
      Dell turned into him and squeezed. “Be careful.”
      “I will, babe.”
      “You come home to me, Gavin Rhedd. I’ll kill you myself if you make me run this outfit on my own.”
      He pressed his lips to the top of her head. Held them there.
      “Wait. What?” Walt’s jaw was slack, his eyes wide. “Tell me you aren’t going back out there.”
      Jazza bumped Walt with her shoulder, not so much walking past him as through him. “Damn right we are, Quitter.”
      “You know what? Screw you, Jazz. All right? You used to quit this outfit, like . . . twice a month.”
      “Not like you. Not like some chicken sh—”
      “Jazz,” Gavin said, “go make sure the team is ready to roll, would ya?” With a nod to Gavin and a parting glare at Walt, she moved away into the hangar.
      “Let it be, Walt. We really do need to go. After last time, we can’t risk being late for the pickup.”
      “Screw late!” Walt’s eyes were wide and red-rimmed around the edges. “Why the happy hells are you going at all?”
      “Walt —”
      “Don’t ‘Walt’ me, Gavin. There is a pack of psychopaths out there trying to kill you!”
      “Walt, would you shut up and listen for two seconds? We don’t have a choice, okay? We’ve got everything riding on this job. We’re months behind on this place and extended up to our necks on credit for fuel, parts, and ammo.”
      “They can damn well bill me!”
      “No,” Gavin said, “they can’t. Your shares reverted back to the company when you quit. But I’m legit now. You think we lived life on the run before? Just you watch if I try to run from this.”
      Walt turned to Dell for assistance, “Dell, come on. You gotta make him listen to reason.”
      “Boomer’s shares transferred to me when he died,” Dell said. “We’re in this together.”
      “Okay, boss,” Jazza called. The three of them looked to where she stood with a line of determined crew. “It’s time.”
      Walt watched the big bay doors close as the last of Gavin’s team left the hangar. His fighter and the few remaining ships looked small and awkwardly out of place in the big room. Standing alone next to Dell gave him a great appreci­ation for that awkwardness.
      “I’m so sorry, Dell. If I’d been there —”
      “Don’t,” she stopped him with a word, and then contin­ued with a shake of her blue-tipped hair. “Don’t do that to yourself. I’ve been over the tactical logs. He got beat one-on-one, and then they OK’d him. There was nothing you could have done.”
      “I still feel rotten,” he said. “Like, maybe if I hadn’t left . . . I don’t know.”
      “Gavin blames himself, too. That’s just the way you two are built. But believe me, there was never a soul alive able to keep my dad out of the cockpit. He was flying long before you Rhedd boys tumbled into our lives.”
      That gave him a smile. A genuine smile. It seemed to bright­en Dell’s mood, so he did his best to hang onto it.
      “Come on,” she said. “It’s been a long couple of weeks. Join me for some coffee?”
      He did, and for a time they spoke softly at the tall tables in the hangar’s kitchenette. Dell caught him up on life aboard Vista Landing since he had left. She was clearly exhausted and not simply from a sleepless night and her father’s funeral. Her shoulders sagged, and dark circles under her eyes were the product of weeks of labor and worry. The constant apprehension of the Hornets’ vi­cious attacks had apparently exhausted more than just the pilots. It seemed odd that the attacks felt strangely personal.
      “You know what I can’t figure out?” he mused aloud. Dell looked at him, tired eyes politely expectant. “What the hell are these guys after?”
      She nodded, “Yeah. There’s been a lot of speculating on that question.”
      “Hard to say, isn’t it? Could be political wackos opposed to the research in Haven. Or maybe it’s one of the old gangs that don’t like us going legit. Could be it’s a group of Tevarin lashing out against UEE targets. Who knows?”
      “Naw. If they were Tevarin, we could tell by how they fly.”
      “Then you tell me, if you’re so smart. I mean, you were out there. You fought them.”
      Walt shrugged and took a sip of cooling coffee. Something she said nagged at him. “Hey, you said you had navsat tac­tical logs from the fight, right?”
      “Yeah.” What remained of her energy seemed to drain away with that one word. Walt cursed himself for the insensitive ass that he was. He’d just asked her about re­corded replays of her father’s murder.
      “Dell. Ah, hell . . . I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have asked.”
      “It’s okay,” she said. “I’ve been over and over them already. Really, I don’t mind.”
      They moved to a console and the lights dimmed automat­ically when she pulled up the hangar projection. She se­lected a ship, and oriented the view so that the hologram of Boomer’s Avenger filled the display. No, Walt reminded himself, it wasn’t Boomer’s ship any more. Dell was his heir and — along with his debt — Boomer’s assets now belonged to her.
      Dell bypassed the default display of the structural hard­points and dove into the ship’s systems. Something caught his eye and he stopped her. “Wait, back up.” She did, and Walt stopped the rotating display to look along the under­carriage of the ship. He let out a low whistle.
      “That, Walter Rhedd, is a Tarantula GT-870 Mk3.”
      “I know what it is. But where did you get it?”
      “Remember those pirates that gave us so much trouble in Oberon? I pulled it before we sold the salvage.”
      He certainly did remember, and the bastards had kicked the crap out of two of their ships with their Tarantulas. “How’d you get it mounted on an Avenger?”
      “Hammer therapy,” she said. He gave her a confused look, and she held up one arm, curling it to make a muscle. “I beat the hell out of it until it did what I wanted.”
      “Damn, girl.”
      “Did you want to see the flight recorder?”
      They watched the navsat replays together in silence. It looked like one hell of a fight. Chaotic. Frantic. The Rhedd Alert fighters were hard pressed.
      Jazza had moments of tactical brilliance. As much as she rubbed him the wrong way, Walt had to admit that she made her Cutlass dance steps for which it wasn’t de­signed. Gavin orchestrated a coherent strategy and had committed extra fighters to drive off the attack. Some­thing was wrong, though. Something about the fight didn’t make sense.
      Walt had Dell replay the scene so he could focus on the marauders. It didn’t look like much of a fight at all from that perspective. It looked more like a game and only one team understood how all the pieces moved. The Hornets flew to disrupt, to confuse. They knew Gavin would send a force forward to protect the transport. He’d done it every time they had met.
      “See that?” he said. “They break apart there and get called immediately back into formation. They never leave a flank exposed. Our guys never get a real opening.” He pointed out one of the attacking Hornets. “That one calls the shots.”
      “That’s the one that OK’d Boomer.”
      Reds and greens from the navsat display sparkled in Dell’s eyes. Her voice was emotionless and flat. Walt didn’t want to see her like that, so he focused again on the display.
      The marauder he’d identified as the leader broke from the melee. Gavin gave chase, but from too far behind. Boomer intercepted, was disabled, and his PRB flashed red on the display. The Hornet took a pass at the transport before turning to rejoin its squad. Then it decelerated, pausing before the overkill on Boomer.
      “Why take only one pass at the transport? They’ve hit us, what? Six times? Seven? And once they finally get a shot at the target, they bug out?”
      “You said, ‘us’,” Dell teased. “You back to stay?”
      Walt huffed a small laugh. “We’ll see.”
      “We’ve been lucky,” Dell offered in answer to his question. “So far, we’ve chased them off.”
      “You really believe that? They had this fight won if they wanted it. And how do they keep finding us? It’s like they’ve taken up permanent residence in our damned flight path.”
      That was it. He had it. The revelation must have shown on his face.
      “What?” Dell asked. “What is it?”
      “Back it up to the strafe on the Aquila.”
      Dell did, and they watched it again. He felt like an ass for making her watch the murder of her father over again, but he had to be sure of what he saw.
      And there it was. Strafe. Turn. Pause. A decision to com­mit. An escalating act of brutality. And then they were gone.
      “She’s not after the transport at all. We were her target this whole time.”
      “Wait,” Dell said, “what she? Her who?”
      “Please tell me your ex hasn’t drunk himself out of a job with the Navy.”
      “Barry? Of course not, why?”
      “Because I just figured out who killed your father.”
      Morgan Brock called the meeting to a close and dismissed her admin team. Riebeld caught her eye and lifted one hand off the table — a request for her to stay while the others shuffled out of the conference room.
      Riebeld kept her waiting until they were alone, and then stood to close the door.
      “I take it,” Brock said, “that our Tyrol problem persists despite the escalation?”
      “I got word during the meeting” — he took a seat beside her at the table, voice pitched low — “that they should be making the jump to Nexus soon.”
      “Our discreet pilots? Are they deployed or here at the sta­tion?”
      His answer was slow in coming, his nod reluctant. “They are here.”
      Brock checked the time. Did some mental math. “Disguise the ships. We will leave at 1700 and meet them in Nexus just inside the gate from Min.”
      “Morgan,” Riebeld’s eyes roamed the room, “these guys aren’t taking the hint. I don’t know what losses we have to hand them before they back down, but . . . I don’t know. Part of doing business is losing bids, am I right?” She didn’t disagree and he continued. “Maybe . . . Maybe we ought to write this one off?”
      “A comfortable position to hold in your seat, Riebeld. Your commission is based on the contract value. I barely turned a profit on that job for years. I did it willingly, with the expected reward of windfall profits when traffic to Haven surges.”
      “I get that,” he said. “I really do. But at some point we have to call it a loss and focus on the next thing, right?”
      “Then suppose that we let the Tyrol job go, and Greely and Navy SysCom see what they want to see from bou­tique contractors. I can already imagine anti-establishment politicians pushing for more outsourced work. Hell, they will probably promise contracts to buy votes in their home systems.”
      She watched him squirm. It wasn’t like him to wrestle with his conscience. Frankly, she was disappointed to learn that he’d found one.
      “If Rhedd Alert won’t withdraw willingly,” she said, “then they will have to fail the hard way. Prep the ships, Rie­beld. We have done very well together, you and I. You should know that I won’t back away from what is mine.” He seemed to appreciate her sincerity, but Brock wanted to hear the cocksure salesman say it. “Are we clear?”
      “Yes, ma’am,” Riebeld swallowed and stood. “Perfectly clear.”
      “Any luck?” Walt pulled up Barry’s record in his mobiGlas and hit connect.
      Dell sat at the hangar console trying to reach Gavin and the team. Her brow furrowed in a grimace and she shook her head.
      “Damn. Okay, keep trying.”
      Barry connected. The accountant wore his uniform. He was on duty, wherever he was, and his projected face looked genuinely mournful. “Hey,” he said, “long time no see, man. Listen, I can’t tell you how sad I am about Boomer.”
      “Thanks.” Barry had known Dell and Boomer for most his life. He’d probably been torn between attending the service and allowing the family to grieve in privacy. Regardless, commiseration would have to wait. “We need your help, Barry. Please tell me that you have access to the propos­als for the Tyrol contract.”
      “Of course I do. And who’s we? Are you back with Dell and Gavin?”
      “I am,” he felt Dell’s eyes on him when he said it. “Anyway, we need a favor. I need to know the ship models and con­figurations proposed by the incumbent.”
      “Morgan Brock’s outfit, sure. No can do on the ship data, though. That information is all confidential. Only the price proposals are available for public review, and those only during the protest period.”
      “Come on, Barry. We’re not talking trade secrets here. I could figure this out with a fly-by of their hangar in Kilian. I just don’t have time for that. I need to know what ships those guys fly.”
      Barry breathed out a heavy sigh, “Hold on. But I can’t send you the proposals, okay? You guys are already on thin ice with this contract as is.”
      “Tell me about it. And thanks, I owe you huge for this.”
      Walt waited, throat dry. He scratched at a chipped edge on his worn mobiGlas with a fingernail.
      “All right,” Barry read from something off-screen, “it looks like they’re flying a variety of Hornets. Specifically, F7As. I can send you a list of the proposed hardpoints, and I hap­pen to know that Brock herself flies a Super Hornet.”
      The mobiGlas shook on Walt’s wrist. His face felt hot, and he forced his jaw to relax. “Barry, if you have any pull with the Navy, get some ships to Tyrol. It’s been Brock this whole time. She’s been setting us up to fail. And she’s the bitch that OK’d Boomer.”
      “I’m going, Walt. That’s final.”
      Walt rubbed at his eyes with the flat part of his fingers. How did Gavin ever win an argument her? Forbidding her involvement was a lost cause. Maybe he could reason with her. “Listen. When’s the last time you were even in a cockpit?”
      “I know this ship. I was practically born in these things.”
      “Dell —”
      She threw his helmet at him. He caught it awkwardly, and she had shed her coveralls and was wriggling into her flight suit before he could finish his thought. She stared at him with hard eyes and said, “Suit up if you don’t want to get left behind.”
      Dell was as implacable as gravity. Fine. It was her funeral, and he realized there was no way his brother had ever won an argument with her.
      They finished prepping in silence. Walt pulled the chocks on her Avenger when she climbed up into the cockpit. He gave the hulking muzzle of the Tarantula an appreciative pat. “You have ammo for this bad boy?”
      “I have a little.”
      “Good,” he smiled. “Let’s hope Brock isn’t ready to handle reinforcements.”
      Walt mulled that thought over. It was true that Gavin had split their team in each fight, but Rhedd Alert had never sent in reserves. Each engagement had been a fair and straightforward fight. Brock wasn’t likely to know anything about their resources, however limited, beyond the escort team. That could work to their advantage.
      In fact, “Hey, Dell. Hop out for a tick, will you?”
      “Like hell I will.” The look she shot down at him was pure challenge. “I said I’m going and that’s that.”
      “Oh, no. I’ve already lost that fight. But you and your cannon here got me thinking about those pirates in Oberon. Tell me, did we ever find a buyer for that old Idris hull?”
      “No. It’s buoyed in storage outside the station, why?”
      Dell looked at him skeptically and he grinned. “We’re going to introduce these military-types to
      some ol’ smugglers’ tricks.”
      Gavin held the team at the edge of the jump gate between Min and Nexus. “All right gang, listen up. You know the drill and what might be waiting for us on the other side. Jazza, I want you and Rahul up on point for this jump. I’ll bring Cassiopeia over after you and the rest of the team are in. Anyone not ready to jump?”
      His team was silent as they arranged themselves into position with professional precision. The pilot aboard Cassiopeia sounded the ready and Gavin sent Jazza through. The others were hard on her heels, and Gavin felt the always-peculiar drop through the mouth of the jump gate.
      Light and sound stretched, dragging him across the inter­space. Another drop, a moment’s disorientation, and then Nexus resolved around him.
      Without warning, Mei’s fighter flashed past his forward screen. Incandescent laser fire slashed along the ghost grey and fire-alarm red ship, crippling Mei’s shields and shearing away sections of armored hull. Mei fired back at a trio of maddeningly familiar Hornets in a tight triangular formation.
      Jazza barked orders. “Mei. Rahul. Flank Gavin and get Cassiopeia out of here. Gavin, you copy that? You have the package.”
      He shook his head, willing the post-jump disorientation away. He didn’t remember bringing up his shields, but they flashed on his HUD and his weapon systems were armed.
      “Copy that.” Gavin switched to the transport channel, “Cassiopeia. Let’s get you folks out of here.”
      The crew onboard the UEE transport didn’t need any more encouragement. Gavin accelerated to keep pace with the larger ship as two Rhedd Alert fighters dropped into posi­tion above and below him. Together, they raced toward the jump gate to Tyrol.
      The Hornets wheeled and dropped toward them from one side. Gavin’s HUD lit up with alerts as Jazza sent a pair of rockets dangerously close over his head to blast into one of the attacking ships. Her ship screamed by overhead, but the Hornets stayed in pursuit of the fleeing transport.
      Alarms sounded. They needed more firepower on the Hornets to give Cassiopeia time to get clear. He yelled a course heading, and Cassiopeia dove with Mei and Rahul on either flank.
      Gavin pulled up, turned and fired to pull the attention of the attackers. He spun, taking the brunt of their return fire on his stronger starboard shields.
      The impact shook the Cutlass violently, and his shield integ­rity bar sagged into the red. Gavin turned, took another wild shot with his lasers, and accelerated away from Cassiopeia with the Hornets in close pursuit.
      Navsat data for the jump into Nexus crept onto the edge of Walt’s HUD. Several seconds and thousands of kilometers later, the first of the embattled starships winked onto the display. His brother and the Rhedd Alert team were hard-pressed.
      Walt watched Brock and her crew circle and strike, corralling the Rhedd Alert ships. Gavin tried to lead the attackers away, but Brock wouldn’t bite. By keeping the fight centered on the UEE transport, she essentially held the transport hostage.
      Time to even the odds.
      Jazza tore into one of the Hornets. Walt saw the enemy fighter’s superior shields absorb the impact. He marked that Hornet as his target, preparing to strike before its defenses recharged.
      He killed his primary drive and spun end to end, slash­ing backward through the melee like a blazing comet. His targeting system locked onto the enemy Hornet, and his heavy Broadsword blasted bullets into it.
      Mei’s battered fighter dove through the streaming wreck­age, but the Super Hornet, presumably Brock, waited for her on the other side. A blast from her neutron cannon tore through the Rhedd Alert ship. Mei ejected safely, but their team was down a ship.
      “Gods,” Gavin’s voice was frantic. “Get the hell out of here, Walt. Form up with the transport and get them away from the fight.”
      Walt ignored him. He came around for another pass and triggered his mic to an open-area channel. “The game’s up, Brock.”
      His words cut across the thrust and wheel of close com­bat, and for a moment the fighters on all sides flew in quiet patterns above the fleeing Cassiopeia.
      “You know,” Walt said, “if you wanted us to believe you were after the transport, you should have saved your big guns for Cassiopeia instead of overkilling our friend.”
      “I suppose I should be disappointed that you have found me out,” Brock’s voice was a pinched sneer, and every bit as cold and hard as Gavin had described. “On the other hand, I’m glad you’ve shared this with me. I might have been content disabling the majority of your so-called fleet. Now, it seems that I will have to be more thorough.”
      She fired, he dodged, and the fight was on again in earnest. Walt switched his comms to Rhedd Alert’s squad channel. “Brock was never after Cassiopeia, Gav. She’s been after us.”
      “Maybe I’m a little distracted by all the missiles and the neutron cannon, but I’m failing to see how that is at all relevant right now.”
      “We’re no match for the tech in her ships. If she goes after the transport, they’re toast.” He rolled into position next to Gavin. Together, they nosed down to strafe at a Hornet from above.
      “Great,” Gavin said, “then why did you tip her off?”
      Walt suppressed a wicked grin. “Because,” he said, “she can’t afford to let any of us get away, either.”
      “If you have any brilliant ideas, spit ’em out. I’m all ears.”
      “Run with me.” For all Walt knew, Brock could hear every word they were saying. She would tear them apart if they stayed. He had to get Gavin to follow him. “Run with me, Gavin.”
      “Damn it, Walt! If you came to help, then help. I’ve got a pilot down, and I’m not leaving her here to get OK’d like Boom­er.”
      “This ain’t about doing the easy thing, Gav. Someone I truly admire once told me that this game is all about trust. So ask yourself . . . do you trust me?”
      Gavin growled his name then, dragging out the word in a bitter, internal struggle. The weight of it made Walt’s throat constrict. Despite all of their arguments, Boomer’s death and his own desertion when things got hard — in spite of all of that — his brother still wanted to trust him.
      “Trust me, Gavin.”
      Brock and her wingman swept low, diving to corral Cassiopeia and its escorts. Jazza redirected them with a blazing torrent of laser fire and got rocked by the neutron cannon in return. The shields around her battered Cutlass flashed, dimmed and then failed.
      Walt gritted his teeth. It was now or never.
      “Jazz,” Gavin’s voice sounded hard and sharp, “rally with Cassiopeia and make a break for it.”
      Walt pumped his fist and accelerated back the way he’d come in.
      “Walt,” Gavin sounded angry enough to eat nails, but he followed, “I’m on your six. Let’s go, people! Move like you’ve got a purpose.”
      Walt pulled up a set of coordinate presets and streaked away with Gavin close behind him. The two remaining Hor­nets split, with Brock falling in behind Gavin to give pursuit. Even together he and Gavin didn’t have much chance of getting past her superior shields. Instead, he set a straight course for the waypoint marked at the edge of his display. When incoming fire from Brock drove them off course, he corrected to put them directly back in line with the mark.
      Brock was gaining. Gavin’s icon flashed on his display. She was close enough to hit reliably with her repeaters. As they approached the preset coordinates, Walt spotted a rippling distortion of winking starlight. Correcting his course slightly, he headed straight for it. Gavin and Brock were hard behind him.
      “Come on,” Walt whispered, “stay close.”
      On the squad display, he saw Gavin’s shield integrity dropped yet again. Brock was scoring more frequent hits.
      “A little farther.”
      Walt focused on the rippling of starlight ahead, a dark patch of space that swallowed Nexus’ star. He made a slight course correction and Gavin matched it. Together, they continued their breakneck flight from Brock’s deadly onslaught.
      The small patch of dark space grew as the three ships streaked forward. Walt opened the squad channel on his mic and shouted, “Now!”
      On his HUD, a new ship flared onto the display. It appeared to materialize nearly on top of them as Dell’s Avenger dropped from her hiding place inside the blackened hull of the derelict Idris.
      Walt punched his thrusters. The lift pressed him into his seat as he pushed up and over their trap. He heard Dell shouting over the squad channel, and he turned, straining to see behind him. Bright flashes from Brock’s muzzles accompanied a horrible pounding thunder. Dell had left her mic open and it sounded like the massive gun was threat­ening to tear her ship apart.
      “Heads up, Gav!”
      Dell’s voice hit Gavin like a physical blow.
      He saw his brother climb and suddenly disappear behind an empty, starless expanse. Then Boomer’s Avenger materi­alized from within that blackness, and Gavin knew that his wife was inside the cockpit. She was with him, out in the black where veteran pilots outgunned them.
      His body reacted where his mind could not. He shoved down, hard. Thrusters strained as he instinctively tried to avoid colliding with her. A brilliant pulse like flashes of light­ning accompanied a jarring thunder of sound.
      Gavin forced his battered ship to turn. The Cutlass shud­dered from the stress, and Gavin was pressed into the side of the cockpit as the nose of his ship came around.
      He saw the first heavy round strike Brock. The combined force of the shell and her momentum shredded her for­ward shields. Then round after round tore through the nose of Brock’s ship until the air ignited inside.
      “Dell” — the flaming Hornet tumbled toward his wife like an enormous hatchet — “look out!”
      Brock ejected.
      Dell thrust to one side, but the Hornet chopped into the hull where she had hidden. The explosion sent ships and debris spinning apart in all directions.
      He swept around to intercept her spinning ship. Walt beat him there. Thrusters firing in tightly controlled move­ments, Walt caught her Avenger, slowed it and stopped the spin.
      Gavin rolled to put himself cockpit to cockpit with his wife.
      She sat in stillness at the controls, her head down and turned to one side.
      “Come on, baby. Talk to me.”
      She moved.
      With the slow deliberateness of depressurized space, she rolled her head on her shoulders. When she looked up, their eyes met. Dell gave him a slow smile and a thumbs-up. He swallowed hard, and with one hand pressed to his heart, he shut his eyes silently in thanks.
      Gavin spun his Cutlass and thrust over to where Brock floated nearby, his weapons systems still hot. He paused then, looming above her as she had hesitated over Boomer.
      Her comms were still active. “What now, Rhedd?”
      He remembered her from the meeting with Greely. Tall, lean, and crisp. She seemed small now, drifting not more than a meter away from the battle-scarred nose of his Cutlass.
      “Gavin?” Dell’s voice sounded small after the ruckus of the fight.
      Walt eased into view alongside him. His voice was low and calm, “Easy, buddy. We weren’t raised to OK pilots.”
      “She’s not worth it,” Dell said.
      Brock snarled, “Do it already.”
      He had studied Brock’s reports for months. She had more ships and more pilots than he could ever imagine employing. What drove her to harass them and kill one of his crew for this job?
      “I just want to know why,” he asked. “You’ve got other contracts. You’ve probably made more money than any of us will see in our lives. Why come after us?”
      He held Brock’s eye, the lights from the Cutlass reflecting from her visor.
      “Why?” she repeated. “Look around you, Rhedd. There’s no law in these systems. All that matters here is courage to take what you want, and a willingness to sacrifice to keep it.”
      “You want to talk sacrifice?” he said. “That pilot you killed was family.”
      “You put him in harm’s way,” she said, “not me. What little order exists in these systems is what I brought with me. I carved my success from nothing. You independents are thieves. You’re like rodents, nibbling at the edges of others’ success.”
      “I was a thief,” he said, “and a smuggler. But we’re building our own success, and next time you and I meet with the Navy,” Gavin fired his thrusters just enough to punch Brock with the nose of his ship, “it’ll be in a court­room.”
      She spun and tumbled as she flew, growing smaller and smaller until the PRB on his HUD was all he could see.
      A pair of Retaliators with naval designations were moored outside the Rhedd Alert hangar when Gavin and the crew finally limped back to Vista Landing.
      Crew aboard Cassiopeia had insisted on helping with medical care and recovery after the fight. The team scheduled for pick-up at Haven was similarly adamant that Rhedd Alert take care of their own before continuing. Technically, no one had checked with Navy SysCom.
      Did the Navy fire contractors face to face? For all he knew, they did.
      Gavin saw to the staging of their damaged ships while the others hurried the wounded deeper into Vista Landing. When he’d finished, he exchanged a quick nod with Barry Lidst who stood at ease behind Major Greely.
      “Major,” Gavin held out his hand, “I assume someone would have told me already if I was fired.”
      His hand disappeared in the major’s massive paw. “I sup­pose they would have, at that.”
      “Then to what do we owe the honor?” Dell and Walt joined them, and Gavin made introductions.
      “‘I’ first, then ‘we,’ ” Greely repeated, “I like that, Rhedd. I appreciate a man who accepts consequence personally but insists on sharing accolades with his team. Tell me, son. How’d you get Brock?”
      Gavin nudged his wife. With a roguish grin, Dell pulled her arm from around Gavin’s waist and stepped over to pat the Tarantula on her battered Avenger.
      “Nice shooting, miss.”
      Dell shrugged, “Walt pulled my tags, nav beacon and flight recorder before we left. I was sitting dark inside a decoy when the boys flew her right down the barrel.”
      Barry leaned toward Greely and in a completely audible whisper said, “It might be best if we ignore the illegal parts of that.”
      Greely waved him off. “This is what the ’verse needs. Men and women with the courage to slap their name up on the side of a hangar. A chance for responsible civilians to create good, honest jobs with real pay for locals. That an ex-military contractor tried to muck that up . . .”
      Gavin and the team got a good, close look at what angry looked like on a Navy officer. It was the kind of scowl that left an impression.
      “Anyway,” Greely composed himself, “not a soul in the ’verse would blame you for writing us off as a bit of bad business. I’m here to ask that you stick with it.”
      Gavin was reluctant to bring their financial situation up in front of their one paying client, but they were tapped out. Rhedd Alert didn’t have the cred to buy ammo, much less repair their downed fighters. “Actually, sir. I think we may need to find something a little more lucrative than getting shot up by disgruntled incumbents.”
      “About that,” Greely rested his hand on Gavin’s shoulder. He led him to look out one of the large hangar windows at the Retaliators buoyed outside. “My accountant tells me there may be some room to renegotiate certain parts of the Tyrol contract. But that job won’t be enough to keep your team busy now that Brock’s out of the way.”
      Gavin laughed. “On that point, I most certainly hope you are right.”
      “Well . . . I’ve got more work for an outfit like yours. I hope you’ll accept, because you folks have surely earned it. Tell me, Rhedd, are you familiar with the Oberon system?”
      Behind them, Walt dropped his helmet.
      The End
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