From the editor:
Infamous space pirate Captain Vendetta has orders to retrieve the most important artifact of her career. But to do it, she'll need to confront an old nemesis: her own estranged daughter.
Author S. L. Saboviec’s work has appeared in Amazing Stories, Flash Fiction Online, AE, and elsewhere. She has three novels out in her Fallen Redemption trilogy, and she's the Reprint Editor for Flash Fiction Online.
From the author: Captain Vendetta, the biggest, baddest space pirate in the Prehnite Stratum, comes face-to-face with her daughter--and her past.
I watched on my ship’s vidscreen as the one-person XG-178 popped out of the dragon’s eye anomaly. The ship maneuvered deftly around the microscopic singularity hidden at the center while orange-red particles with streaks of crackling electromagnetic radiation swirled around it.
That the pilot had survived crossing the threshold was a testament to her skill. That she’d finally emerged meant the alien artifact she’d been searching for inside the Turgianne Ruins sat in her cargo hold.
“Makena, tractor beam,” I said.
“Yes, ma’am,” my artificial intelligence MAK-3N4 responded.
The beam hummed to life, and the XG-178 twisted and turned as we tractored her in. It jerked forward once, but the blue glow surrounding its nubby wings continued to pull it toward us.
My comm blared a hail.
“Accept call,” I said.
A twenty-something, olive-skinned woman replaced the ship on my vidscreen. Her familiar brown eyes were stormy—a look I’d seen often—and she blew a chunk of hair out of her eyes.
“Hello, Arezou,” I said.
“Mother,” she replied. “What are you doing here?”
“Stay on your command deck. I’ll take the alien artifact and be on my way.”
“You will not!”
A soft clunk shook the floor as the tractor beam settled her ship against our hull. The mechanism to extend the connector between our ships whirred, and the lights on Makena’s spider-like robotic body flashed as she uploaded her tertiary consciousness into it.
I pulled my taser from its hip holster, twirled it once, and jammed it back in. “Don’t make this more difficult than it has to be.”
Arezou disconnected our call. Her face disappeared, and her ship against the backdrop of the swirling anomaly splashed across the screen in its stead.
I hopped up from my seat while Makena crawled across the floor ahead of me, thin legs a jumble. Air hissed into the connector, and when it stopped, I marched purposefully toward XG-178’s airlock to slam a fist into the door open button.
It slid back to reveal Arezou, taser pointed at my chest.
“You were always so dramatic,” I said.
“Oh, and you aren’t, Vendetta?”
“That’s Captain Vendetta to you.”
“Who do you think you’re fooling?”
“Everyone.” I gave her a toothy grin.
Makena leapt forward, appendages knocking the taser out of my daughter’s hand and throwing it to me. I caught it and stuffed it into the back pocket of my jumpsuit.
As Arezou huffed, my robot companion ran around the cargo hold, pulling open cabinets, lifting floor plates, and unhooking netting. In seconds the room was in disarray, with everything from dried food packets to deactivated motherboards strewn around our feet.
I didn’t know what the alien artifact looked like. In my imagination, it was covered in runes and glowed orange-red, just like the anomaly, but unless it was disguised as a shipment of butterfly needles marked “New Paris,” it wasn’t here.
“Do we have to do this the hard way?” I asked. Makena scurried to my side, and I pressed the button on the top of her prosoma to start a full-ship scan.
“I’m not giving it up.” Arezou side-eyed the port-side command screen. “If you had a shred of humanity, you’d realize some things are sacred.”
“Of course some things are sacred. I have a buyer who will pay quite handsomely.”
“That’s not what I mean, and you know it.”
“Look, I know your father is sick.” I kept as much emotion out of those words as I possibly could.
“My father? That’s all you see him as now?” she snarled. “You loved him once.” Her fingers twitched, and I was pretty sure it wasn’t because I’d torn apart her cargo hold.
“Do you really want to use an alien artifact to try curing Farrokh? Who knows what will happen if you try?” I asked. “The thing’s been floating in vacuum for millennia. It’s probably just a fairy tale. I’m looking out for your best interests.”
“I highly doubt that.”
“Captain.” Makena’s legs tumbled over one another as she stepped sideways. “I have detected a large amount of data uploading to the quanten network.”
When Arezou smirked, she looked fifteen again.
“What did you do?”
“The galaxy is watching!”
“She is live-streaming your confrontation,” said Makena. “She already has two hundred forty-three connections. Another just joined. And another.”
“Are you so sure we’re not going to find it?” I asked.
“Absolutely sure. And when I escape, space pirate Vendetta will never be taken seriously again. Outsmarted by her estranged daughter. I know why you’re doing this, you dried-up old flotsam. You think it’ll create the infamy you’ve been dreaming about.”
“Well, yes, that’s exactly why I’m doing this.” My hand hovered over the taser. It wouldn’t hurt her badly, only stun her. But since I hadn’t a clue where the artifact was, tasing her would be counterproductive.
“You’re a washed up has-been! I’m embarrassed for you. You really should take up net-knitting or something.”
“My my, look who’s sassy today.”
“I have found it,” said Makena. “It is in—”
Arezou leapt to the command screen, punched two buttons, and ran toward the door to the rest of the ship. A loading arm swiveled toward me, knocking me squarely in the chest, and I flew into the connector between our ships. A second arm, this one magnetic, whirred free and hit Makena hard enough that she rolled twice before coming to a rest at my ship’s door.
“Arezou!” I shouted, but her airlock door slammed shut.
“See ya!” squawked Arezou over the comm.
A metallic shriek pierced the air. The ship was wrenching free of the connector, and we’d be tumbled into space once she broke free.
“We must get into our ship.” Makena’s feet scrabbled in the air.
I pushed myself up, grabbed one of her legs, and kicked the button to open our own airlock. The shrieking crescendoed; Arezou’s ship was seconds from breaking our connector. Inside my ship, I threw Makena onto the floor and pounded the airlock closure button. The door susurrated shut milliseconds before Arezou’s ship wrenched free with a sickening crunch.
The air from the connector vented into space in a spray of white, and beyond, the anomaly rotated slowly.
Makena’s legs flailed, and then she righted herself. “She has an experimental anti-grav device. She used it on our tractor beam.”
“What’s our status?”
“Operational. I will deploy repair nanobots to the connector.” It whined as it retracted, and Makena scuttled from the airlock.
Through the viewport, the XG-178 was fully visible. It swung top-starboard, accelerated, and disappeared.
Arezou wouldn’t make it home on her short-range warp drive. She would tuck in somewhere to wait out the recharge—but she only needed fifteen minutes before she’d be able to jump to civilization. I’d risk arrest if I pulled any more pirate tricks after that.
“We only have one chance,” I murmured.
“Orders?” Makena’s voice came through the comm system.
“I know where she went. Set course for the Roimata Asteroid Cloud.”
My ship squeak-growled to signal our jump. Within moments, the noise cut out as we arrived, and an asteroid the size of my head appeared outside the viewport. I wasn’t worried, though—Makena knew what she was doing.
I strode onto my command deck.
“I have located her heat signature.” Makena’s spider-body was back in its recharging cell. “She is hailing us.”
“Put her on.”
Arezou appeared less upset and more worried now. “How did you find me so fast?”
“I always knew you better than you knew yourself. Turn off the live-streaming.”
She pursed her lips.
“Turn it off or Makena will do it for you.”
The letters “EMP” flashed in the upper corner of my vidscreen. It was online and ready to deploy.
“She’ll disrupt her own systems!”
“But she’ll still do it,” I said. “She boots up fast.”
Arezou spread one hand on the desk and pursed her lips. “Fine.” She tapped her screen twice.
“Data upload has fallen to nominal levels,” confirmed Makena.
“All right,” I said. “It’s just you and me. And Makena, but she doesn’t gossip. Talk to me.”
“I will fight you to the death,” Arezou said. “That’s what you want, isn’t it? To prove that you’re the biggest, baddest space pirate in the Prehnite Stratum? Let me turn back on the quanten stream, so everyone can see you do it.”
“You know that’s not what I want.”
“Do I?” A familiar look of hatred twisted her face.
“You were supposed to have it in your cargo hold. I was going to come in, drag it out, and be off. No one needed to get hurt. Simply stealing a priceless artifact after my daughter risked life and limb would be enough to carry my reputation to the farthest edges of the stratum.”
“Do you really hate Dad so much that you want to see him die? Just so you can be a pirate again?”
“Do not ‘sweetheart’ me. You lost that privilege when you kicked me out last year.”
“Are we really going to have this conversation again?” I said. “You got yourself kicked out.”
This argument could go on for hours—had, on many occasions—but I had one final piece of data to reveal. “Arezou. the buyer is your father.”
She blinked. “What?”
“I’ve spent months piecing together the information he needs to activate it. Old libraries, defunct wikis…”
“You’re his source?”
“We’ve been talking a lot lately, and, well…”
She blinked again.
“I need this victory over you if I’m going to solidify my reputation,” I said. There it was, raw and bare. Even with the streaming off, she could be recording this for later, but I had to risk it. “After you moved out, I joined an old-school book club, but the shipping on paper ones was too expensive. Then I tried zero-g swimming, but I couldn’t get the hang of it. I even tried to meet someone through that app, what’s it called?”
Arezou’s eyebrows drew together. “That Flagration for old people? The one based on the Button technology?”
“Yeah, that one.”
“I found your father’s profile. I looked through his interests,” I said. “I remembered why I fell in love with him. And I realized why we fell out of love.”
“Do I even want to know?”
I knew it would hurt, but she deserved my honesty. “I gave up what made me who I was when we had you.”
“Thanks a lot!”
“Don’t ask questions you don’t want to know the answer to.”
“I love you, Arezou. I don’t regret having you. But you’re not my entire life, at least not anymore.”
“But a pirate?”
I shrugged. “I’m barely a pirate. I need to set my reputation again, and then I can scavenge substantium from the minefields in peace.” Net-knitting never soothed me the same way tractoring in bits of the midnight black rocks did. They wouldn’t build me a fortune at the rate I could gather them, but I could save up a little for Arezou after I was gone—and her family, if she ever chose to have one. She was young, not thinking about the future, but I was. I always was.
Her hand hovered over her command screen. I don’t think she even realized she was doing it. Finally, she said, “Fine,” and pressed a button. “Tell everyone whatever you want. I’m happy hauling cargo in the Galactic Hub anyway. But if I ever need to go to the peripheral stratums, you’ll be sorry when I get jumped as easy prey.”
I pressed the button to show an exterior view. The XG-178’s tractor beam glowed a darker blue than my own, and the alien artifact floated across the space between us. It was orange-red like I’d pictured, but smooth and unblemished—a perfect pyramid.
“You were keeping it inside your tractor beam?” I said.
Those brown eyes twinkled with amusement, which reminded me simultaneously of Farrokh when I first met him and her as a toddler. “You know, you’re going to need something more than just a reputation if you’re going to make it as a space pirate. If I outsmarted you…”
Buoyed by her teasing, I leaned forward. “I have an idea. You’re a pretty good pilot. Once Farrokh is feeling better, how about we head out to the dragon’s eye anomaly together? See what else we can find in the Turgianne Ruins?”
“Won’t someone find out? Ruin your reputation?”
“You’re the one who likes clandestine operations. We can keep it a secret.”
“Does that mean you’re giving back my taser?”
“Sure,” I said.
And then, for the first time in years, she smiled at me.
This story originally appeared in Nevertheless (Tesseracts Twenty-One).