Swift Fox and the Pirates of the Jackai, Part Twenty-seven
The Revenge had stopped firing her energy cannons long ago. The first wave that Snowy let loose pretty much took any fight out of the old Jackai ship. The sting of the fighter crafts did the rest to drop her dead in the water. By Captain Clarendale’s command, the squadron of fighters began criss crossing the surface of the ship, watching for any activity. In a pass made by Senia Felix and Edgewick, Senia spotted something. The doors to the Hyna’s Dread cargo bay were wide open.
“Nighthawk Leader One,” Senia announced over the comm. “I thpotted thomething. Not sure if it’th a trap, but the cargo bay doorth are open. I’m thcanning now to thee if there ith anything amith.” There was silence over the comms as Senia scanned the situation. Satisfied, she continued. “No weaponth are inthide, and no thignth of life either. Permission to invethtigate.”
“Granted, Nighthawk Leader One,” Dawkins replied quickly. “Take Edgewick with you. Billings, Taggart. Meet with Left-tenant Felix and continue the investigation there. I’ll radio the Revenge and keep her appraised of our situation.” Dawkins received acknowledgment from both pilots and the two fighter craft went off to join Felix and Edgewick. When Dawkins was satisfied that the group would be together, he contacted the Revenge. “Maverick Leader One, do you read, Captain?”
“Captain Clarendale, reading you loud and clear, Maverick Leader One,” Crena said over the comm system. “What is the situation, Colonel?”
“Felix found an open cargo bay,” Dawkins reported quickly. “She, along with Edgewick, Taggart and Billings are going to investigate.”
“Make sure they have rifles and pistols at the ready,” Crena replied and added without hesitation. “Set any phase weapons to stun. I want them alive. Maybe we’ll get a chance to grill them before turning them over to the Pantheran Central Council. After all, they fired on my ship and my crew. An action such as that makes me a tad angry.”
“Understood, Captain,” Dawkins stated, then relayed the orders onto the four fighter craft.
Senia lead the four carefully into the cargo bay. It was large enough to fit two craft at a time. The pilots took note of the emergency lighting, splashing eerie light throughout the bay. “Edgewick,” Senia called out through her comm. “Any chanthe you can hack the thythtem, clothe the doorth and vent air back into the room?”
“Working on it now, Left-tenant,” Edgewick replied. “I think I’ve got it, not a lot of power by the look of it. Seems they tried diverting everything to weapons systems, including life support. Here we go,” he called out as there was a muffled hum. The doors closed slowly, shaking slightly as the airlocks connected. Edgewick then began venting air back into the bay. “Bet you anything someone on board knows that we’re here.”
“Agreed,” Senia replied as she monitored the air content of the bay as it began to fill up again. “Weaponth at the ready, and keep a sharp pair of eyeth open. We should expect hothtile actionth.” She gave the signal and opened her cockpit, the other pilots watching for a moment before opening their own. They disembarked in pairs, Senia and Edgewick dropping down first as Taggart and Billings watched the area for any signs of movement. When they were on the ground safely, Senia and Edgewick found cover and Taggart and Billings climbed down to join them.
Wordlessly, they moved through the piles of boxes and crates that seemed strewn throughout the cargo bay. A sign the Jackai were more interested in the financial gain of plunder than the repair, maintenance and security of their own ship. The four Vulpine crept through the maze of crates, holding their rifles ready in case anything came out to surprise them. Billings had point and had his scanner mounted on his rifle, reading any life signs that might be in front of the group. He stopped quickly as they approached a doorway, holding up his hand to stop the others quietly. Pointing toward a large ventilation hatch, he said in a low whisper. “Heat signature in there. It’s big, ’bout the size of a Jackai.”
Senia nodded, then motioned for Taggart and Edgewick to flank the vent on the other side as she and Billings took the side by the door. Taggart nodded when he was ready and Billings pulled the grating off slowly, setting it aside as Taggart shone a light inside with his weapon trained. “I think it’s dead,” he reported when he saw no movement.
“Can’t be,” Billings stated as he checked his readout one more time. “I’m definitely getting’ a life sign pattern off of it. Hold up,” he said as his ears fell back on his head. “This can’t be right. Permission to drag the body out, ma’am,” he said, looking to Senia. She nodded firmly, and Billings and Taggart reached inside the dark shaft. Felix and Edgewick kept watch while the other two Vulpine dragged the body out.
“Well, Billings was right,” Taggart said from inside the shaft. “Bloke’s breathin’ alright.” He and Billings grunted and struggled a bit to drag the body out, pausing only when the four got a good look at whoever it was. “He also ain’t Jackai,” Taggart said with a sigh.
Taggart was right. They had pulled out a wounded Pantheran from the shaft. A muscular one at that, with black and orange fur markings, and groaning lightly as though at the edge of sleep. Billings brushed away some of the debris from the shaft away from the Pantheran’s tunic and stopped. He looked up to Senia and pointed out the familiar insignia on the tunic. “He’s also Pantheran Central Council. By the Great Mother, what’s a Pantheran Council Agent doin’ on a Jackai ship?”
“Couldn’t've been workin’ for the Jackai,” Edgewick offered. “Council Agents would never stoop that low. But the Jackai would haveta be dim as dirt not ta detect this one on board.”
“They are dim as dirt,” the Pantheran said with a groan. The four Vulpine came to attention, weapons drawn and aimed on the Agent. “And no, we wouldn’t stoop that low.” The Pantheran slowly sat up, rubbed his head and looked to each face through squinting eyes. “I don’t recall smelling any Vulpine on this ship, so I’ll assume…” He paused as he looked over the uniforms for a moment. “Since when did the Barrow’s Revenge have Royal Vulpine Authority bounty hunters detailed to their vessel?”
“A better quethtion might be why ith a Pantheran Central Counthil agent on board a Jackai pirate ship,” Senia said in her best authoritative voice as she stepped closer to the Agent.
“Easy, Lieutenant,” the Pantheran said as he raised a hand to signal he meant no harm. “I’m not about to want to start an intergalactic war, and I doubt you are either. You’ve got questions, so ask them. But let me answer the first question you probably have.” He motioned back to the ventilation duct. “How did I survive in there when the cargo bay was open.”
“The thought had crothed my mind, yeth,” Senia replied, then moved back to allow the Agent to answer. She looked to the others and they lowered their weapons, but didn’t holster them. Billings listened, but kept a trained eye on his scanner.
“The cargo bay opened just when the attack came,” he said as he looked to the four Vulpine. “I assume you had something to do with that.”
“Captain Clarendale was protecting her ship,” Taggart answered, a tug of pride in his voice. “The Jackai tried to ambush us.”
“They’ve gotten very good at that,” the Pantheran replied with a shrug. “When combat began, the cargo bay doors blew open. I had just enough time to crawl into there and seal it behind me. The rush of air was enough to jar me, though. I passed out. Obviously not for long, though. Before I went under, I put a portable shield up, to block any air from going out. Not only saved me, but most likely everyone else on board.”
“Quick thinking, that,” Senia replied. “What ith your name?”
“Agent Renna Townes,” he said with a nod. “I was dispatched to help the border patrols look into Jackai raids.” He looked to Senia and perked an eyebrow as he studied her. “You know, I don’t talk to many Vulpine but the way you talk…”
“Yeth, I am fully aware of my thpeech impediment, Agent. That ith not the issue at prethent, however.” She cleared her throat and steered the line of questioning back on course. “And jutht how did you get here on board thith ship.”
“I was on board the Tiger’s Claw, a standard class scout ship,” he explained as he sat back against the wall. “We were patrolling the borders, as I said. We were surprised by two ships, this one and another lead by Ring Tail.” The four Vulpine looked to each other for a moment, then back to Renna. He chuckled lightly, groaning a bit and held a hand to his chest. Senia motioned to Edgewick to scan him for injuries. “You know that’s not necessary,” he said, but never stopped Edgewick. “And I’ll assume by your looks that you already dealt with Ring Tail.” Senia only nodded to confirm this, motioning for Renna to continue. “Anyway, they hit us hard and fast. As is usual with Jackai, they don’t destroy a ship outright. They knocked out all our weapons systems, scanners, engine drive… everything. Though, our helmsman thought she saw another ship. I couldn’t confirm it, because by the time I would have check we were fighting hand to hand.”
He winced a bit as Edgewick found a small fracture in his arm and began to put a splint on it. “Hold still,” he warned. “We can get you fixed up proper on board the Revenge.”
“Okay… ow! Maybe there was some wounds needing attention,” he hissed and winced as a shot of pain went through his arm, but he continued his explanation. “The commander of the Tiger’s Claw ordered me onto the Jackai ship. He knew why I was there, and he felt my mission was more important than his own survival. He and the crew died so I could get on board. And I found out a few things.”
“There’s a traitor in the ranks of the Pantheran Central Council.”