Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer

Jack Roberts, captain of the starship Royal Fortune, studied the image of a blue-green planet on the monitor that was attached to the left arm of his command chair. This planet is a real puzzle, he thought. It was surrounded by 132 heavily armed satellites that crisscrossed each other’s orbits in an intricate pattern that was clearly intended to defend the planet from every conceivable vector. “See any weaknesses, Mr. Bartholomew?”

“Narrr, Cap’n,” replied the quartermaster, who often broke into his eighteenth century pirate speak whenever he sensed an impending raid. Upholdin’ the tradition, he called it. “But it be plain to me, Cap’n, that this planet be harborin’ somethin’ mighty valuable. What do you s’pose it might be?”

Fighting back a smile, the captain replied, “Could be almost anything, Mr. Bartholomew. But one thing is for certain, you don’t deploy a grid like that unless you have something you’re trying to protect. We need to find a way in. Have the Bos´n take a gunboat and sync-up with one of the satellites. Let’s see if they can be deactivated, or destroyed.”

Fifteen minutes later, the gunboat pulled up alongside a satellite and matched its orbit. The Bosun and two crewmen exited the gunboat and approached the satellite. The captain’s monitor showed a noisy magnified image of the spacesuited crewmen using hand lasers to cut into the outer skin of the satellite. Seconds later, the satellite exploded, vaporizing the three men, and destroying the gunboat.

“Arrr, that wasn’t quite the plan,” said the quartermaster, “but it got the job done. There be a fifty kilometer wide opening in the defense grid, Cap’n. We can make it through, if we hurry.”

The captain signaled the pilot, and the Royal Fortune’s aft impulse thrusters fired. Even as the ship passed through the grid, they could see the remaining satellites alter their orbits to compensate for the destroyed satellite. “Not much of a defense system,” remarked the captain. “This may be easier than I’d thought.”

“Arrr, I’ll contact ’em by radio, Cap’n,” said the quartermaster. “Maybe they be willin’ to surrender, and save us the trouble of usin’ up all our ammo.” He depressed the comm button. “This be the Royal Fortune. Lower your shields, and surrender your valuables. If ye give up, peaceful-like, your miserable lives will be spared.” But not bloody likely, he thought to himself.

There wasn’t an immediate verbal reply, but an open channel with the planet had clearly been established. Captain Roberts listened intently to the speakers. He swore he could hear people on the planet laughing in the background. How dare they mock him! He would show these dogs no quarter.

“Begad. Cap’n, look at the sensor readings.”

The captain switched his monitor from visual to sensor mode. “What the…The power output from the satellites just increased a thousand fold (as they transitioned from standby to fully armed). Damn, now there’s a 500 terajoule force field 500 meters above the planet’s surface. We’d need a hundred battle-cruisers to fight our way out of this fortress. The lubbers have trapped us like gnats in a jar.” He knocked the monitor off its stand with a powerful sideward thrust of his left arm. “What the hell is this place?”

Finally, a person from the planet responded. “This is Corrections Officer Jeffries. You geniuses just broke into Cadeio III, a maximum security planetary penitentiary. Stand down, and prepare to be boarded.” Now, the laughing in the background was undeniable.

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