"What the hell are they doing?" Jonas shouted angrily, fighting with the helm controls to keep the Lunchbox clear of the debris. Massive plates that could have sawn the ship in half were being torn free of the Gehanon's bulk by the torpedo impacts. So far two dozen had been fired into the ship from just outside the planet's atmosphere, where a flotilla of five Colonial Navy vessels waited.
"I don't know," Redge bellowed from the sensor station. His eyes darted over the screen. "They're at the bridge and the bulkhead's closed but…"
"One of them's on the outside!" He ran his hand through his hair in confusion. "Get us closer."
"Are you nuts?"
"Just do it for God's sake!"
Gritting his teeth, Jonas complied, turning the tugboat and moving it towards the nose cone of the doomed ship. Ramming the helm controls forward he dipped under a blast that punched a hole the size of a building through the Gehanon's hull. Bringing the Lunchbox's prow back up, he cleared the worst of the debris.
"And for God's sake keep that thing between us and the navy, they're firing blind!"
"Don't you think I know that?" he yelled. "Now what the hell am I doing? What's going on at the bridge?"
"Oh my God."
Redge leapt upright and dived over to the controls of the magnetic anchor. "They blasted the bridge clear of the main ship."
"I don't have a clue, but they sealed it and there's still a life sign inside! Get us within range. It's leaking atmosphere like a sieve; we don't have a lot of time."
"Going, going." Jonas turned the ship upwards, dialling up the thrust of the furnace engines. The blue exhaust trail of a stray torpedo screamed past the bridge window as they closed in. "Don't suppose there's any point saying, there's no way we can take even one direct hit?"
"Well you're the pilot."
"No pressure." Jonas shot a glare at his companion. "Okay, you should be in range in five seconds."
"I've got it," Redge replied, punching in calculations on the anchor control system. "Coordinates locked, anchor ready at full power. Firing!" The ship lurched slightly as the magnetic anchor discharged, sending a crackling blue lasso of energy towards the drifting hulk of the bridge. A few tense seconds passed before the anchor stuck its target.
"I got ‘em," Redge shouted. "Jonas, get us the fuck out of here!"
"What do you think I'm doing?" the pilot growled, more to himself than his companion. "Give me position vectors on the bridge. This isn't going to be plain sailing."
"They're coming." Redge shunted the coordinates of the bridge to his companion's navigation screen. Adjusting his flight path to accommodate the new piece of luggage, Jonas sent the Lunchbox into an upward spiral away from the factory ship and out of the planet's atmosphere. A clang sounded worryingly as a piece of debris struck the outer hull. He ignored it and focused, keeping his eyes darting between the flight path and the proximity gauge.
"C'mon baby, gimme this one," he muttered, turning the ship through the blue-black clouds of Alsace IV. "Just a few more…" At last the prow of the tugboat breached the atmosphere, its furnace engines blazing as he added last burst of speed. The ship broke free, closely followed by the small, conical shape of the Gehanon's bridge, held on the end of the magnetic anchor. The shimmering blue beam extended a full hundred yards clear of the ship, taxed to capacity.
"We're out," Jonas exclaimed triumphantly. The crackling of the com set, however, caused his elation to evaporate. Redge took a deep breath and opened the channel, leaning heavily on the console with both hands.
"Engineering Core vessel UN-C11 0-X, you are ordered to surrender your helm and prepare to be boarded. The Colonial Navy is taking custody of any and all materials acquired on board the Gehanon. Immediately cut power to your magnetic anchor and discontinue towing."
"This is executive officer Reginald Smith, acting captain," Redge replied levelly. "I cannot comply with your request immediately. One of my crew is sealed inside the bridge of the Gehanon and needs immediate assistance."
"This is Captain O'Donovan of the Androcles. Discontinue towing and we will bring your crewman on board. This is a direct order."
Exchanging a grim look with Jonas, he sighed. "Acknowledged, Androcles, cutting power to the anchor now." Stepping across to the anchor's control system he hesitated for a moment, then cut off the power. The blue beam disappeared, leaving the bridge of the Gehanon floating in space. Out of the bridge window he saw the Androcles itself moving towards the small metal capsule. The cruiser opened its main fighter bay, and scooped up the conical chamber in a flawless motion, it's mile-long shape sliding gracefully forward.
"You will now approach the Androcles," O'Donovan continued over the com. "And dock with the port side hatch. O'Donovan out."
"Do it, Jonas."
"Just like that?" the pilot grunted.
"Just like that. We don't have a choice, just do what they say."
"Who do you think made it out?"
"I don't know." Redge hung his head and slumped down into the command chair. "But before we get on board that ship I want you to back up all the files you managed to get from that trace." Staring hard at the sleek silver mass of the Androcles, he narrowed his eyes, clenching his jaw. "This isn't over."