Chapter 9: The Not So Impressive Space Battle

Scweebuk looked somewhat like a green, eight-amred, four-eyed mummy. His entire face was bandaged with medical gauze, bar his eyes. He had also recieved some nasty lacerations on the fronts of his arms from an exploding screen when the "bomb" went off, to which the Dutchman was currently studying.

It had been an hour since the present circumstances they now found themselves in had transpired. The large planet was increasing in size rapidly, as were the tremors siezing hold of the ship. All the while, both unidentified ships were closing in on them at rapid speed, the latter seeming to be piloted by a madman or being as the case was.

"So no way to realign the intertial dampners?" Veronica asked.

"No." Scweebuk replied simply, scratching at the cloth that entombed his face. Add to this, his third lowest, left arm was twitching wildly in fits that seemed to follow no particular pattern.

An unamiable silence seemed to stretch before them. Seconds, which seemed like minutes, passed before Lester decided to break the silence.

"As soon as we make planetfall, I say we go to the sensor mask." he condluded.

"Any particular reason?" Veronica asked.

"I have a feeling that whoever is behind it doesn't want visitors and will therefore take any steps necessary to defend it." he explained. The Dutchman, being distracted by the piece of hardware in his hands, didn't answer. Neither did the other two, not verbaly anyway. "Maybe I'm not being clear." he continued. "We don't actually go to the masked area, we just...sort of make it look like we did."

"And let the other ships act as decoys..." Veronica finished. "Not bad. What do you think?" she directed to the Dutchman.

"It might not be necessary. The first ship plotted a course to intercept us." he briefly looked at all of them before again examining the device. "The second plotted a course to intercept the first."

"So it's not after us?" Lester asked.

"I wouldn't say that. It's just not in league with the first ship."

"Then their fighting over us. It looks like we're pretty popular." Veronica stated as she sauntered over to a nearby screen. Lester was pleased with the distraction her gait caused but he forced himself back to the issue at hand.

"No." Lester shook his head. "That's not Pedder's style. He wouldn't post a bounty on us, nothing public like that. He'd contract only one person or persons. He probably even talked to them face to face."

"So who are you?" Veronica questioned the second ship. "Friend of foe?"

"Either way," Lester pointed out, "the Dutchman was right. We're not going to have to deal with them both." As he was speaking, the second ship moved in on the first and rolled beneath it. The two metal beasts passed just close enough to scrape shields.

"As I had figured." The Dutchman announced. "This device was tampered with."

"Now that does not make sense." Lester commented.

"What exactly do you mean by tampered with?" Veronica asked.

"This machine was put into our ship to perform a specific task. Sometime after it was installed but before we arrived back here, it was tampered with. It's programming was changed. From what I can figure, it was originaly supposed to stun us all and take us to another system."

"So who did it?" Lester asked. "And why did it bring us here."

"Well, I believe the answer lies inside that area that someone is so intent on protecting."

"And the second ship?"

"Still unkown." he returned. "But either way, things have definitely become more interesting."

"Who the hell is this guy? He's insane!" Dweepon shouted at his second in command. Blipsan rapidly blinked all three of his eyes.

"I've run a check on his transponder codes." he yelled back. "His name's Zekk Stronfune."

"Zekk Stronfune?"

"The one and only." a voice sounding more suave than necessary called over the ship's com system. "And it looks like you poor idgets have the misfortune of being in my way."

"I've heard of him." Blipsan nodded. "A real fledge eater from what I know."

"I'm just not appreciated." Zekk retorted. "No truly great beings are in their time. Did you know that ten years ago, I..."

"Oh give it a rest!" Dweepon commanded. "You fly that close to us again, I'll frag your ship and feed you to the gerks!"

"Listen." Zekk reasoned. "You guys are working class folk and I respect that, but the reward is mine and that's that."

"Reward? Who hired you?" Dweepon demanded, then quietly to Blipsan, "Get this pile of fledge on screen. I want to see his face." A smiling brown alien appeared. He was covered entirely in fur, with four black eyes starring idiotically back at his opponents.

"Hire? Me?" he sounded surpised. "Why I'm just a good ol' targ responding to a distress call." His smile widened.

"Wipe that doofy grin off your face. You're here for the reward." Zekk promptly did as he was told, adopting a look of surprise. "Yes, we picked up their distress call too." Dweepon explained.

"Well then you understand, the spacer's code I mean." he took on a business-like tone, pausing to inspect his claws. "According to the code, any and all who respond to a distress call have unquestionable rights to..."

"Frag the code!" Dweepon scolded. "This is business! We were here first, our device pulled them into this system and we were contracted to take them into custody. So stay out of it."

"Can we come to any sort of an agreement?" Zekk took a shot at last minute negotiations.

"None." was the stern reply.

"Fine. I guess that's where it stands." he stated.

"Good. Now get out of here."

"There's just one more thing." he held up a finger.

"Oh for the love of Doujo! What?"

"We here in space have a saying that a...Blehhh!" his form disappeared from the com as the ship simotaneously shook.

"He's opened fire." Blipsan announced.

"Fire back!" Dweepon shouted as he dashed out of the bridge and down the cooridor. "Vinnie! Yeera!" he called. "Battle stations!"

Both heard the order and rushed to their assigned places. Yeera slipped into a small pod on the ship's underside, while Dweepon took up station above her. Blipsan took to another console and launced a number of attack drones. Two flight sticks rose on either side of him, which he began to manipulate with practiced skill. Vinnie, having nothing constructive to do, began counting the ceiling panels.

"He's in a model eight six." Yeera observed. "It's manuverable, but lightly armed."

"I'm guessing he's had some work done." Dweepon returned. "Looks like class six shields. He won't be that easy." He pressed a button on his computer, unleashing a volley of ion blasts. They cut through the ship's shields easily but dispersed when they met the hull. "And he has ion protection. This guy might be a pro after all."

Yeera took her shot at him, hitting every single time. The shields buckled but still refused to give out entirely.

"They take a lickin' and keep on..." she sighed. "How you doin' Blipsan?"

"I'm set up for a sensor net, you guys keep him occupied."

They both obeyed him, making sure that Zekk was too overwhelmed to go after Blipsan's drones. All the while the auto pilot flew the ship around it's target, not allowing it to engage them.

Zekk sat back in his seat, letting the four posimetric mainframes handle the action. He brought a glass full of warm, white liquid to his mouth, relishing the flavor. He was, over all, completely unaffected by the fact he was engaged in combat with a much larger vessel. In fact, he was thinking of taking a sponge bath and putting on some light jazz. Until, that is, his sensors went completely blank.

"The hell?" he shouted, nervously running his hands over his console. Dweepon's cool voice interrupted him.

"Well, it seems you've been defeated...friend." he was obviously gloating. "How about you stand down, let us board and take what we like. Hell, we might let you keep a few things but that's just cause we're good ol' targs."

"Ah damn." Zekk burried his face in his hands. "Wait!" a thought came to him. "Maybe I lost, yeah, but I've got a proposition for you."

"You're bargining with us?" Dweepon laughed. "Try your best."

"How about I save them, get the reward and split it with you. Then you can turn them in to who ever it is that hired you and still get your money. Do we have a deal?"

Dweepon stroked his chin, looking down at Yeera in the opposite seat. She nodded slowly.

"Alright, you've got a deal. But I warn you..." Dweepon...well...warned.

"Hey, Zekk's word is his bond. You guy's get 50%." he agreed. "Just release the sensor net and I'll do my part."

"Blipsan! Let this joker go." The other complied, ordering the drones to take up defensive positions around the ship. "Okay Zekk, got get 'em." He cut communications and pulled himself out of his pod. Yeera had done the same and was waiting for him, leaned against a wall.

"He's gonna try and screw us." she told him.

"Well of course he is. Which is why we'll get him before he gets us." She laughed evily in response. "Blipsan." he called over a wrist com. "What's he doing?"

"He's moving toward them at a high velocity."

"Excellent, keep those drones in position. Let's do this thing."

"That's interesting." Veronica observed. She had been the only one watching the space battle, and until now, completely quiet. "They fought, stopped and now the second ship is moving towards us."

"Did it disable the first?" Lester asked.

"It doesn't seem like it, but there's more than one way to do it."

"This whole thing is beyond our reckoning." the Dutchman told them. "Forces more powerful than we can contemplate are at work here and those two ships are pawns just like ourselves."

"And it all originates with that sensor mask on the moon." Lester finished.

"It seems the proper conclusion, but..." a beep sounded throughout the ship before he could complete his sentence.

"Space vessel Tramier to merchant ship Gorb. Heard the call, how ya doin' buddy?"

"Space vessel Tramier, this is merchant ship Gorb. Thanks for comming. We're in somewhat bad shape." Veronica answered back. "We're headed for the planet's largest moon and we don't have a way to stop."

"Well that's why God created magnetic grapples." Zekk responded. "You just hang tight little lady and I'll have you stopped in no time. Zekk out."

The com flipped off, leaving a relieved Veronica to relax against the nearest wall. The ship shuddered and shook as the grapples dug into it's hull, slightly throwning them off balance. Lester braced himself as best he could but ended up next to Veronica. The two landed in a heap in the forward cabin.

He was at once up and apologizing, saying how sorry he was and proffering a hand to assist her. She donned an affectionate smile and nodded in acknowledgement. He barely had time to get her up before another shock hit the ship, resulting in a repeat of the prior few seconds. This time, however, she was thrown into him. He caught her readily and pulled her over to a seat, wence he took one himself.

"That's not right." he commented. The Dutchman seemed to agree.

"That one was laser fire."

"Dammit!" Lester cursed, trying his best to remain upright. "I wish they'd make up their minds."

Zekk targeted his grapples and fired. They easily caught the Gorb, pulling it from it's destined flight into the planet's moon.

"Now for the bounty hunters..." he smiled greedily, bringing another computer online to vaporise his temporary allies. It seemed they had predicted his move and before he could execute the intended action, they opened fire on him. A few bolts missed, hitting the defenseless Gorb and knocking it free of his hold where upon it resumed it's previous course.

"Okay, if that's how you want it." he said to himself. His ship lashed out with all weapons, not missing once. The shields of the opposing ship failed, exposing the shiny black hull. Another barrage of fire and it began listing.

"Ha!" he shouted in triumph. A moment later, his screen blanked out again, along with all of his other controls. Frantically working his computer, all he got was visual display. The last view he had of the mercenary ship, showed it firing it's grapples at him. The ship hit it's mark head on, tugging his inactive hulk along with it's own.

He burried his face in his hands and began to silently curse as all three ships hurtled along the same course for the jungle moon.

That's it for now, but I promise they get to the moon in the next chapter and it'll get a little more...interesting. I just wanna thank everyone who's reviewing this story, I am so glad to hear you're enjoying it. And even if you don't review, thanks for reading. I promise to have the next chapter up within a week, or two. Possibly three, if I'm not busy, but no more than a month at the latest.

Thanks again,

Soichiro