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At the Edges

Less Than Three Press LLC

Heat Rating: SWEET
Word Count: 30,000
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Joan and her starship crew are in the business of slaves—specifically, rescuing as many as possible from the oppressive Empire. After dropping off their latest passengers and resupplying, Joan and her second-in-command, Luana, decide to ferry out citizens looking to escape imperial clutches. It means they risk taking on spies, but when the first meeting goes well, they decide to chance it.

But a trip that starts well soon turns sour, between problems with the ship, passengers asking uncomfortable questions, and a confession from Luana that Joan fears will only end in disappointment and destroy the friendship they've already built.

And before they have a chance to sort their problems out, the whole journey abruptly goes from bad to worse...

Excerpt

“Enemy ships attempting to close in on our negative y-axis, though they haven’t quite caught up to us yet,” Ailed said in an even voice.

Captain Joan, who was looking over information on the ship’s condition on her own console, nodded. She pinged the engineers. “Lukui, can you get us going any faster?”

“Depends,” said Lukui from the other end of the connection. His voice was crackling a bit from damage to the system. “Do you want us to end up stranded without power in Imperial territory?”

“That’s a ‘no,’ then. How are you holding up over there?”

“Everything’s running fine for the most part. We’re able to keep up with the damage so far.”

“Right. Let me know if anything changes. Captain out.” She returned the majority of her attention to the screen, which was now primarily taken up by automated damage reports. They were doing unexpectedly well—Efira’s crazy piloting had done wonders in avoiding hits. “Duvok, are you picking anything up yet?”

He shook his head, glowing antennae bouncing. “Recording everything we catch, but it’s all been run through a new encryption. Will need time to decrypt.”

“Hey,” Efira called over from her own station. “Ailed, how’s our positive-y looking?”

“Also getting full.”

“Hm. Captain, permission to set up full-view on the array?”

She typed in the command to make it happen. “There you go.”

All around the four people on the bridge, the viewscreens lining each wall went from showing data and errors to showing the view around the ship. Joan took a moment to look, trying to get a better idea of their situation and how Efira intended to steer them out. There were ships on both y axes, on their positive-z, of course—behind them, rather—and some fewer ships in front of them which were spread out pretty nicely. There was no obvious good route.

“I think I have an idea!” Efira announced, already inputting her proposed path into the pilot chair’s monitor. As a new box opened up on Joan and Ailed’s screens, showing multiple warnings, she called engineering. “Hey, Lukui. Could you get me, oh, nine ticks or so, just for three seconds?”

“Nine? What are you… oh, hold on a sec.” A few moments later, just as Ailed was warning of an incoming attack, he said, “Aditi says you can have up to five seconds, but if you go over that she’s gonna chase you down with a wrench later.”

“Thank you!” she chimed as she pulled into a spin-turn to avoid the rockets’ first pass. Joan took control of the weapons to blow them up a safe distance from their ship.

The proposed path on her screen changed slightly; now it lit with even more warnings. Joan ignored most of them, but the ones about the g-forces rated above their dampeners, those she had to take note of. “When are you going into this thing?” she called over to Efira.

“Um. Ailed, what’s our distance to those big floaty ones in the front?” On receiving her answer, she said, “Forty seconds or so till start.”

“Duvok, warning,” Joan said, reaching for the weapons controls again as Ailed reported another volley. “Everywhere but medical.” The medical bay had stronger dampeners of its own, so there was no need to interrupt their doctor’s work.

He gave the announcement as Joan blasted more of the rockets, though a couple slipped by and impacted their hull shields. It caused a small vibration in her console. She surveyed the damage; nothing too worrying yet.

“Everyone, this is the bridge. In approximately thirty seconds we will be experiencing unusual force. Please anchor yourselves in a secure fashion. Repeat: please secure yourself by any means possible. Equipment may shift and you may be flung about or injured. T is minus twenty seconds. Bridge out.”

Joan double-checked the strap anchoring her to her chair. Twenty seconds passed like nothing. Then Efira, sporting a large grin, flung them up to nine ticks and took a narrow path through the ships in their way, dodging through gaps their ship could barely fit through, spinning and twisting. Joan kept her head down, trying not to look at the wall screens; the view made her dizzy. She automatically dug her feet into the floor, doing her best to ignore the swift changes in the pull caused by their acceleration.

After several minutes, the jerking evened out, and the viewscreens stopped spinning. Ailed quietly reported that the pursuing ships had dropped speed and were now further behind.

Efira laughed as they, too, dropped down to normal speed. “Now, how was that?” she cackled, positively bouncing in her seat.

“Keep it up,” Joan said, surveying the datastreams to see if anything had been damaged by the stunt. “Duvok, anything?”

“Passengers are scared, but no-one’s hurt. Engineering is unhappy with us, but they said it wasn’t too disrupting. Efira, Aditi wants to know if you plan any other maneuvers like that.”

“Eh, not for the moment.”

Satisfied that Efira had managed not to stress the ship too much or bang it into anything, Joan glanced back up at the screens. “Ailed, do you think we can keep in straight pursuit for a while?”

“Some of our pursuers just turned back. The rest aren’t currently catching up with us, just trailing at distance.”

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