“CAPTAIN, WE aren’t alone.”
Angel Taylor peered at the Raven’s viewscreen and frowned. Another starship had just exited hyperspace, heading straight toward the Vogan ship Angel was after.
Oh, no you don’t. This was her salvage. No other scavenger ship was going to beat Angel to the prize. “Raise engine speed ten percent.”
“We’re already redlining,” Petroy, her first officer, informed her, but just as she knew he would, he increased their speed.
The Raven’s engines vibrated up from engineering, pulsed through the deck of the bridge beneath Angel’s feet, reverberated through her bones. Ignoring the assorted rattles and moans of her equipment, Angel gritted her teeth and peered at the viewport where a panorama of stars served as a backdrop for the asteroid belt that had trapped the abandoned ship.
“Just once, I wish the information we purchased could be both accurate and confidential.”
Despite the competition, she had to secure the Vogan ship first. Losing the salvage to a rival wasn’t an option. Due to lack of funds, her ship’s safety inspection was five months overdue. In fact, the Raven’s engines needed a complete overhaul, and if Angel failed to procure the derelict ship, she faced the humiliation of being grounded—a fate she’d avoided for the last eight years, ever since she’d won the Raven in a gambling joint back on Earth.
When she’d first acquired the Raven, it hadn’t been safe to fly out of orbit, but Angel had patched the holes in the hull and reprogrammed the computer systems herself. She’d lucked out on her first run, finding and securing the salvage rights to a wrecked Venus-to-Earth transport ship, which she’d sold back to the mining company that had built her, earning enough profit to take on a crew and enough fuel to leave the solar system. Since then, Angel had never looked back, roaming the galaxy in search of abandoned space vessels in hopes of one day finding the mother lode, a haul so rich she could afford to buy a ship that wasn’t older than Petroy. Meanwhile, she enjoyed the hunt. The freedom of space and being her own boss suited her—even when her ship’s system was falling apart around her.
Leaning eagerly over the computer vidscreen, Angel increased the magnification. The abandoned ship ahead tumbled like a glinting piece of quartz among lumps of coal. She wasn’t the mother lode, but was still a prize all right, rotating end over end in space, her once shiny hull now pitted and partially charred at the stern. The bow appeared undamaged and perfect for salvage. Angel could scrap the hull for metal and the tonnage alone would keep the Raven in fuel for several months. If she was lucky, the hulk would still possess its old engine intact, and there would be electronics in the bow section that might bring enough to pay her small crew their back wages too.
But the other ship surged forward across the starscape in a streaming ribbon of light, making a beeline for Angel’s prize. Space laws were clear, albeit not always obeyed in the vast reaches between civilized worlds where enforcement tended to be sketchy. Yet, according to Federation law, the first salvage operator who attached their clutch beam to the hull possessed retrieval rights.
“Turn on recorders to verify the clutch and grab.” Angel was too experienced to risk arriving first on the scene, only to later lose a court battle.
The Raven had to secure the other ship—or Angel and her crew might end up dirtside slinging hash to keep their bellies full. If only she could have afforded to purchase those new hyperdrive engines she’d seen on Starbase Ten. But due to her perennial lack of funds, she’d had to settle for a retrofitting instead of a complete overhaul.
“They still have the edge, Captain.” Petroy spoke crisply. “At current speed, they’ll beat us to the Vogan ship.”
“No, they won’t. Inject the booster fuel into the engines.”
Petroy’s squat body shuddered, and his sturdy shoulders shrugged. “Captain—”
“You want to spend the next year dirtside?”
“Better to live on a planet than blast ourselves into the ever after.”
“That’s where we disagree.” She’d spent the first twenty years of life on Earth and had had enough of their perfect society to last a lifetime. Angel’s father had abandoned her mother before she’d been born, and her mother had been too sick to work, leaving them at the mercy of her mother’s family. She’d learned early that charity from her aunts and uncles came attached with strings, like obeying every societal rule. Not only had the necessity of depending on others depleted her mother’s self-esteem, it had sapped her will to live. After her death, Angel felt as though she couldn’t breathe on Earth without violating some ordinance or other. Stars, she couldn’t even listen to the music she liked without some botcop knocking on her door and handing her a ticket for a noise control violation.
“I’d prefer to live another five hundred years,” Petroy spoke dryly.
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