We landed as before. When I got to the airlock, Aurora was already there with some empty boxes, a shovel and pruning shears.
“Where’d the red plants go? Any idea?” Aurora asked. That’s when I noticed the absence of those red-spotted plants. I looked over at Estella. That was her field.
“It’s night they probably blend in with the regular ones, we’ll see them when we head out there, if not we can make more.” Estella joined us in the airlock after turning on the electro hull plating and gave us a thumbs up. “Let’s do this.”
The airlock opened and it was quiet outside. Lines of tree could be seen in the distance.
Aurora Lieos nodded to me. “Lead the way?”
“I’ll watch our backs.”
I walked out of the ship into the open. Nothing but trees ahead but I headed towards the trees. There was something about the lower foliage, bushes and whatnot that looked a little off to me. I look back across my shoulder to find Estella and pointed at the bushes. “Something seems off with them. What do you think?”
Estella Corwin stepped closer to examine the bushes thoughtfully. “”These are the ones I mutated, I guess it only lasts a short time, so we should be good if we bleed on them.”
“You are looking at the wrong parts.” I went over, bent down next to Estella and pointed at the leaves deeper within the plant.
“Ah, I see now, thanks.” She kneeled down to take a closer look at the leaves I indicated. From this angle, I realised there was actually another plant stuffed inside. Between the two of us, we retrieved the hacked remains of two of them. One looked like the original vine creatures and another had red spots on it.
“I guess the plants had themselves a civil war in our absence.” Estella concluded with a shrug.
“This is getting more interesting by the minute.” I whistled.
“I guess the blood vines came out on the losing side of the fight.” Estella pointed at the remains. “Not surprising when the green meanies out numbered them by a few thousand to one.”
“So much for a friendly welcome. Ah well. I guess it’s hedge clippers and anti-plant spray again.” I shrugged.
“Only if we’re here when dawn comes. Let’s get some samples and back to the ship, I can morph them into blood vines once we’re in the air.” Estella called back to Aurora and Guppy. “It’s safe, come on in!”
Aurora came over with the shovel, clippers and crates to help gather samples. “Let’s do this in a secure area of the cargo hold with electric fencing around the perimeter, that way our ship doesn’t get overrun.”
“Good thinking.” Estella nodded.
We gathered some good samples. There were remains spread around the area, seemingly an even mix between green meanies and blood vines. It looked to have been quite the battle overall.
“By the way, how’s that cut on your hand doing? The one that turned greed around the edges after you bled on the plant?” Aurora asked Estella.
“Fine last I checked?” She held up her hand with a shrug, exposing a greenish scar. “No magic ability to control plants, yet, unfortunately.”
“You should get that looked at now that we have Jessica on board.” I told her.
“Just as well, you’d probably regret knowing about every plant’s seedy past.” Aurora quipped with a wink.
“Good idea,” Estella winced, I assumed at Aurora’s pun. “Keep that up and you’ll give me pundigestion.” Estella grinned and left Aurora with a parting shot before going to find Jessica.
It took several more hours as we gathered the samples and more goo for Guppy- Aurora gave her the okay since we might as well. I went straight to the gunning station when we all boarded the Xing again. En route, I went past H squared and Vines. By now, Vines was basically wrapped around Hue to the point where it’s almost like they’re fused together. The two of them were pulling some wires through a conduit in the hallway. The vines and hands of Vines and H squared were acting in complete concert. It was quite a sight so I filed it away as an amusing story to share later.
“The diner is open for business.” Estella’s voice came over the intercom. “Let’s lay out the salad bar and show them a vegan lifestyle is hazardous to their health.”
Aurora chuckled, “You know it.” A pause as she released the torpedoes, I guessed. ”Delivery placed, just waiting on them to make the pick up.”
I couldn’t see much from the gunning station. But after a while, a number of small explosions showed up on the scanner, suggesting that the mines hit. The other ship has cut power, just floating in space.
“Delivery made, let’s hope they like my extra gassy recipe.” Aurora nodded in satisfaction.
“Starting the timer now, 10 minutes should be enough, then I’ll bring us around for the torpedo and cannon strafing run!” Estella notified us.
“Let’s get to the torpedo bay, you’ll get to launch the first one.” Aurora told Guppy, hurrying to the bay and loading the first salvo of torpedoes into the tubes.The other ship threw on its shields so the torpedoes didn’t actually hit. They fired at us in retaliation but were too far away. Guppy squealed in delight, jumping up and down.
We stood off for about 10 minutes with the other ship. It decided to just be still and do nothing.
“Sam, ready to knock out their shields on the starboard side for our strafing run?” Aurora asked me over the intercom. “Guppy and me will force feed them the main course as soon as you make a hole.”
“Ready when you are.” I grinned and fired.
“Bringing us about!” Estella announced. The Xing spun over and ran along the starboard of the other ship at optimal plasma cannon range. I took out the starboard shields with my shot.
“Fire!” Aurora came onto the intercom, I assumed that was for Guppy. Two torpedoes were released, one missed but the other one was right on the mark. The other ship fired their own plasma cannons but Estella maneuvered the Xing around and behind them so their engines were exposed to me.
“You could say our ship has a meaty edge over the competition.” Estella said.
I launched one of the spore activated mines towards the merc ship, crippling it.
“It occurs to me I could keep us out of their firing arc and let Sam take pot shots at the ship until they jump into life pods and then pick one of those up, or we can proceed with the boarding action in 10 or so minutes? Up to all of you.” Estella suggested.
“The ship might blow before they take the hint and evac, or the vines and spores might have disabled the escape pods.” Aurora pointed out. “So boarding is probably the best bet, Sam? Jess? Guppy? Any thoughts?”
“I was going to vote for the easier approach but you have a point.” I said.
A light came on in Guppy’s eye. “I wanna see you kick their butts, Sam.”
“Well, if you want you can try a few shots, see if anything jumps ship, then board if it doesn’t?” Aurora said.
“I trust Sam’s gunnery, if she wants to give it a go I’ll put her at a solid angle.”
“Okay, try the easier route first and then go back to plan A if it doesn’t work.” I decided.
“Moving into position, make’em count!”
“Whether barbecuing a rack of ribs on a grill or a warship’s flank with plasma, Sam knows her stuff.” Aurora was telling Guppy.
My shots tore up a good chunk of the ship. They shot back but Estella dodged most of it. “Now we wait and see what kicks loose.” She said and took us away from the firing range. We got hit one more time that showed up on the shields side but otherwise we made it through clean.
“We’re clear!” Estella announced, pulling the Xing slowly to a stop and swinging it around.
“Ten minutes, then we board.” Aurora announced. We waited. Nothing happened.
“Looks like we do this the hard way.” Aurora said and then signed off. I presumed she had gone to her quarters for bordering prep.
“I think that torpedo hit their bridge, that and the mines probably messed up their chain of command, mercs like that evac without orders they probably get a firing squad for desertion. Let’s go introduce ourselves as the salad chefs of their nightmares.” Estella was moving the Xing towards the rear of the merc ship for bordering.
All of us met up at the bordering port at around the same time. “We’ll follow your lead Sam, let us know how you want to proceed.” Estella nodded at me.
“You think a call for surrender would work? We can do a divide and conquer that way.” You never know how large a merc crew is.
Aurora nodded. “Sounds like a good idea, want to do the honors?”
“Yeah, if we can get some of them to just lay down arms this will go much faster.” Estella patched the ship’s intercom into the radio. “You can transmit when ready, Sam.”
I thanked her and spoke over the intercom. “The crew on the other ship, surrender and we won’t harm you. Those willing to surrender, wave your arms where we can see you.”
Aurora told Estella to angle the ship so the enemy top deck was visible from the view ports and airlock. Some static and gargled speech arrived from the other ship, then screams and gunfire.
“Good idea.” Estella replied as she adjusted the Xing. Over the radio was just more static.
“I think they’re busy choking on the salad,” Aurora shrugged. “Was worth a try at least.”
“Let’s go introduce ourselves.” Estella joined us at the airlock with a confident nod. “How do you want to proceed, Sam?”
“Well, looks like they reduce their own advantage of numbers. Guess the rest is muscle work.”
“Right, do you want to take the lead then?” Aurora passed me a glow light. I took it and jumped over to a blasted hole on the other ship. There was a substantial pile of debris. Some bodies, bits of plant from the torpedoes.