The Adventures of Captain Arcolier, Part One

     Captain Jaimie Arcolier was having a bad hair day. In order to be a top ranked pirate captain she had to look her best at all times, but her deep auburn locks insisted on frizzing into a tangled mess. In a zero-g boarding action that would give her a crimson afro - she'd look like a Q-tip set on fire! Her intercom buzzed as she dug out another glop of styling gel with an exasperated sigh.

     "Cap'n? We're at the hold point. If Carruther's frigate is on schedule it will jump through in five minutes." Old One-Eye had been her first mate for the last two years and he was currently up in the bridge, waiting for her to arrive. She cursed her recalcitrant hair as she slicked it back with the gel. Not enough body for a world-class look but at least nobody would laugh her out of combat if it came to that. She thumbed open her quarters and vaulted into the common hallway while still muttering under her breath. She was sure that the male captains had an easier time of it. If nothing else they usually wore hats or bandannas. But the market research showed that female captains needed their hair down for maximal licensing revenue. Damn fickle public!

     Some raids she made more from the licensing than she did from the haul, but if her informant was right this pigeon would not be such a case. Carruther's and Sons were trying to sneak a fortune through the less traveled shipping lanes, hoping nobody would notice. A valid stratagem but it meant this frigate was traveling with a light guard. The informant swore they were shipping a full load of Earth spices and rare foodstuffs and they were bound straight to the Royal Palace of Cantrella. Not only were genuine Earth foods worth a fortune but Jaimie's animosity for the Cantrellan Empire was legendary. Tweaking the nose of Empress Relina by stealing food from her table meant more than the ready cash the cargo would fetch on the black market.

     She strode through the bridge hatch with her trademark swagger, exuding confidence. She knew that she was "on" - if this raid went well the video rights would be worth the hassle. Her hair might have been flatter than she liked, but she had the rest of her pirate attire set to perfection. A tight turquoise blouse emphasized her figure while leaving no excess fabric to hinder her in combat. Tight black slacks tucked into the top of her dark leather knee-high boots, which were polished to a mirror shine. At least in shoes a female pirate got to be practical, and the boots had only the lowest heel with a wide footprint and a solid stance. Velcro strips on the bottom and magnets in the sole prepared her for all sorts of zero-g maneuvers. Her slender rapier hung from her hip, a simple unadorned blade that looked unremarkable. Despite the unprepossessing appearance she made major cash every year from licensed replicas of her famous blade. In many ways her rapier was her brand and she managed it well.

     One-Eye snapped to attention and barked out the traditional call. "Cap'n on deck!"

     Captain Arcolier settled in the captains chair, nodding as she did so. "Carry on." She cast a satisfied eye over her veteran bridge crew. They were ready for battle, and One-Eye had settled them down for work before she arrived. She depressed the fingertip key that would broadcast her voice throughout the Beauteous Revenge. "Drop gravitational spin and prepare for combat maneuvers."

     One-Eye promptly said "Aye Aye Cap'n", even as he ran the macros from his station. The lighting dropped slightly and shifted to a warmer yellow tone. The omnipresent rumble of the engines dropped away as the ship stilled. Captain Arcolier snapped her restraint web in place as the false gravity faded away. She scanned the bridge again, noting with pleasure that her crew was ready for the order and no stray debris floated free in the cabin.

     The bridge of the Revenge was both gorgeous and functional. It served double duty both as the practical command center of a functioning pirate ship and as the main set for the show Captain Arcolier sold in the gray samizdat market. Bland, grey salarymen on dozens of planets lived vicariously through the somewhat-true exploits of Arcolier and her crew so the bridge had to convey a sense of dynamism, a sense of wonder and action. In this day of modernization and discreet technology the bridge straddled some line between silly anachronism and hopelessly futuristic. No line was straight where a swooping curve would do. No small display existed where a large screen would fit, and most screens were topped with klaxons and lights to draw the eye when activated. The curving forward bulkhead captured attention as it was featureless and a deep midnight black, a black that positively swallowed light. Cap'n Arcolier claimed that material had cost her a small fortune with both powdered onyx and "smart" programmed buckyball nanomachines incorporated into the structure. The machines continually optimized the surface, making sure it was as smooth and as black as molecular technologies allowed. All of this blackness served as a backdrop to the primary display - a huge holographic tank. It was only a foot or so deep but it stretched the entire width and height of the bridge - an utterly gigantic display at ten feet tall and thirty feet wide. Although it could be set for one gargantuan image it was usually tiled into a variety of displays as it was now. A large center section lay blank, awaiting the Captain's prerogative, while smaller status and communication displays quietly scrolled around the edges. As Captain Arcolier settled in her captains chair she pulled up the forward visual display, filling the screen with an unexceptional display of blank space.

     The crew settled in for a wait, but only a couple of minutes passed before Stinky Pete sang out from the conn station. "Thar she jumps!". As he touched keys a computer overlay sprang into being on the main screen, drawing in gravity waves with a false transparent green. A narrow ropy tube of emerald pulsed there, the jump line from Maxima to Pulion. This was the point where forces from the nearby black hole drew the line into nonexistence - where a ship was forced back into normal space. Indeed the line pulsed like a snake swallowing a mouse as the bulge that indicated a ship worked down the gullet.

     The green overlay faded further into translucency as a visible glow grew at the jump terminus. A bright flash of light marked the transition back into Euclidean space as the cargo ship appeared. The ship was at the dead stop jump travel required, briefly blinded by the stresses of the phase shift. Two cutters escorted the cargo ship - slaved into the Bremmer field to allow a single transit, but they were just as blind as their parent ship. With luck the Revenge would strike before the guard craft even had their bearings.

     Captain Arcolier's voice was steely and flat as she spoke. "Attack! Port banks disable my marked craft." She painted a craft on the viewscreen with her laser pointer, and sophisticated onboard computers read the light and translated the information into a tactical display for the laser batteries elsewhere in the ship. The Beauteous Revenge lunged forward as the first beams of ruby light speared outward.

(See the next installment!)