Euryale: Converse Landing
Three days later, Suzie and I made the exchange at Converse Landing, a remote, low population mining settlement on an airless rocky planetoid orbiting a majestic gas giant with a glittering ring system made of ice and rock. Thunda Sue's stolen Federal Corvette, re-christened Ramirez, and Fell From The Top(...) occupied the town's only two large landing pads. Suzie drove over to my ship in a Scarab SRV, loaded with just a single standard one tonne cargo pod. As I used an exoskeleton to transfer the pod from Thunda's vehicle to the open cargo hatch, Suzie invited herself aboard.
"Someone's got to show you how to arm the nukes, right?" she said, ascending the staircase underneath the fuselage of the Imperial Clipper.
I felt more than heard the whirring of the cargo autoloader process the pod, moving it automatically out of the gripping arms of my suit through the cargo scoop and into one of the empty racks, deep within the ship. I returned the exoskeleton to the maintenance shed next to the pad and jogged with long-limbed bounds back to my ship, taking advantage of the planetoid's low gravity.
"ASTRA, where is she?" I asked my AI, worried that Thunda had an ulterior motive for wanting to come aboard.
"Cargo rack #1, my lord."
I hurried aft to see what Suzie was up to, removing my helmet and leaving it on the galley table on the way. The Pirate Queen walked alongside the pod as it was shunted along the loading mechanism until it came to rest at the top end of the cargo rack. Suzie took off her own flight helmet, laying it down delicately on the floor. "Here they are, Roche. Come and see what those codes have bought you."
Suzie opened the pod's access hatch, automatically activating the internal lights. The contents within were not impressive. A single armoured case three metres long, one and a half metres wide by one metre deep was secured in the centre of the chamber with acceleration-resistant webbing. "That's it?"
"That's it." Suzie beckoned me into the pod after her. "Let me show you how it works."
Thunda directed me to the right hand end of the case, pointing out one of the two heavy latches sealing the armoured container. I needed both hands to overcome the stiffness in the mechanism as we opened both clips, needing our combined strength to lift open the lid of the case. Four plain silver spheres, each one only 40 centimetres in diameter, rested in a supportive foam tray to protect the tactical fusion warheads from shock damage. I motioned to pick one up when Suzie gave me a stern warning.
"I wouldn't do that, if I were you. The uranium primer charge is radioactive." Suzie pointed me instead to the control terminal that set next to the warheads inside the case. "Don't be fooled by the size. What you've got here are four two-stage nuclear warheads, giving you a combined yield of a fifth of a megaton."
"What kind of blast radius am I looking at?"
"If you set all four off simultaneously, anyone within two klicks is going to get a potentially fatal dose of gamma rays. And if you set it off on the ground, any building within a kilometre of the blast site will be rubble."
"That'll do." I nodded with satisfaction.
"You're going after Senator Torval's estate on Synteini A2, I take it?"
"Her station's too well protected. Calliope holds more sentimental value for her, anyway. That's where Zemina has her art collection."
"She won't be there, you know."
"I don't want to kill her, Suzie. I want to humiliate her. Make her suffer."
"Roche, stop it, you're turning me on." Suzie was only half-joking. She shifted her feet as if she was standing on burning charcoal.
"I'm serious. Zemina might be above Imperial law, but no-one should escape justice. Me destroying her home, you taking over one of her space stations... That'll ensure she never becomes Emperor."
"If you do this, you'll never be able to fly in Empire space again."
"So what? With Laure gone, there's nothing left here for me anyway."
Suzie frowned before returning my attention to the control computer for the warheads. "All four warheads are slaved to this terminal. Since you're going to be doing a bombing run, I recommend that you set the warheads to detonate on an altimeter setting, rather than a timer." Her thin fingers danced over the terminal's touchscreen, bringing up the menu to set the height I wanted the bombs to detonate at. "Do you want an airburst or ground burst?"
"That's going to create a lot of fallout." Suzie said, still frowning. The bombs worked by using a specially shaped fissile shell of uranium to compress the deuterium and tritium fusion charge in the centre of the warhead, the fission explosion creating enough temperature and pressure to initiate the runaway fusion reaction that did the real damage. Exploding the bomb on the ground meant that the radioactive remains of the fission charge would bind with dust and dirt particles, contaminating the area for hundreds of square kilometres around the blast site.
"Good. The longer I can keep Zemina from rebuilding her estate, the better."
"Roche, I underestimated you. I never pictured you as the vengeful type." Suzie told me, admiringly. "Ground burst it is. You'll be pleased to know that the warheads don't get armed until the cargo pod is ejected from the bay. Dump the pod at the right time and the altimeter will do the rest."
"Thanks, Suzie." I said as we resealed the weapons case and exited the cargo pod.
As I re-sealed the pod, the Pirate Queen eased against my side, caressing the back of my neck seductively. "You're not planning on doing something stupid, are you, Roche?"
"Like what?" I backed away from her, only to find myself pinned against the rail of the nearest cargo rack.
"A suicide run." Suzie's arms slipped around me, gripping my hips and pulling me against her. "It'd be such a tragic waste of talent."
Suzie kissed me before I had a chance to reply, her tongue snaking past my lips, probing hesitantly into my mouth. Unexpectedly strong hands pressed my hips against hers firmly, her long, taut fingers gripping my buttocks hard. Her breath tasted sweet, complimenting the vanilla and jasmine scent of her perfume. For a moment, I lost myself in her embrace, my hands encircling her shoulders unthinkingly and sliding down the curve of her back, enjoying the sensation of feeling a willing body against mine again. Eventually our lips parted, both of us needing air.
"Are you sure I can't persuade you to join my crew? I have a very generous employee incentive scheme." Suzie asked, kissing me again, biting my lower lip and giving it a short, hard tug between her teeth.
I drew breath nervously, sensing that she was a moment away from taking the decision into her own hands, peeling off our flight suits and going for it on one of the cargo racks. Unwilling to offend the deadliest pirate in the sector, I temporised. "Suzie, don't think that I'm not flattered..."
"And so you should be." Suzie said, nibbling my right ear lobe. "I like a challenge, Roche, but you can't keep a lady waiting forever. You'll find that I'm very diverting. Even if it's just for the one night."
"I don't think that'd be a good idea." I replied, trying to extricate myself from her embrace as gently and diplomatically as I could.
"Your loss, Roche." Suzie lamented with a lopsided smile, taking a step back. "One day I'm going to stop asking, and you'll regret it."
"Speaking of diversions..."
"Yes, the command codes. And I think you owe me a drink while we discuss how my takeover of Adams Orbital fits in with your assault on Calliope."
I directed the Pirate Queen to the galley, inviting her to take a seat while I selected the most expensive bottle of Lavian Brandy from my supply, a fifty year old vintage from 3256.
"Oh my, Roche. Someone might think you were trying to get me drunk." Suzie said, approving of my choice.
"Surely not." I smiled, retrieving two heavy-bottomed crystal tumblers from the dishwasher unit and pouring us each a generous double measure of the heady amber liquid. "As if I could compromise your judgement..."
"I'd rather you compromised something else..." Suzie muttered, her eyes closed as she savoured the aroma of the brandy.
I let the comment pass, instead starting negotiations to agree how best to coordinate Suzie's takeover of the Coriolis station with my attack on Zemina's estate, so that we would both get what we wanted. It took over an hour of discussion and three quarters of the bottle of brandy, but we finally reached an agreement. Suzie's crew would spend the next four days gradually infiltrating the station, getting into a position where they could quickly seize control of the commodities market, defence grid, the traffic control tower and the shipyard facility, as soon as Suzie used the backdoor codes. She would also have ships in place at Lagerkvist Station to monitor the activity of Synteini's System Security force and alert Suzie when the Interdictor cruiser usually stationed there got redeployed to Beta-1 Tucanae. As soon as Suzie's people took over Adams Orbital, Zemina would send everything she had in the region to take the station back, giving me the opportunity to slip into Synteini and nuke her Calliope estate. The complete and utter destruction of the Senator's estate happening so soon after the loss of one of the space stations under her control would be a devastating blow to her image and political ambitions in the Empire.
"That'll work. It's a good plan." I emptied the bottle of brandy, topping off our glasses.
"You're forgetting one thing, Roche."
"I do actually need the codes." Suzie reminded me, chuckling.
"Yes, of course. The code key." I stood, wavering tipsily as I went to retrieve it from the terminal in my quarters. "I'll go get it."
I didn't hear Suzie follow me into my stateroom and almost had a heart attack when I turned around from my desk to find her standing only a few centimetres behind me. Her hand closed over mine, teasing the chip from my fingers delicately.
"Thanks for this." Suzie whispered, keeping hold of my hand and slipping her other arm around my waist to stand with me, chest to chest. Unsure what to do with my free hand, I placed it in the small of her back, feeling rather unnerved by her broad, hazy smile. "Last chance, Roche."
Suzie's lips found mine, hot, sweetly moist and hungry. This time I didn't resist.