Losing Steam

Cerys kept nodding off, her head tipping downward and jerking back up again. It was a special kind of punishment. Three days. They’d been pursuing the sapphire class freighter for three days as it tried uselessly to lose them beyond the horizon as it fell endlessly around the incomprehensible curvature of Mu Cephei. The hypergiant was 1,000 times larger than Sol and 100,000 times brighter. And even so, Cerys couldn’t stay awake.

The freighter carried the most valuable cargo in the galaxy: drinking water. It had stopped to refuel at a small, private station, and that’s where they’d been hiding, just waiting to ambush the next freighter that happened by. It was only good luck that this one had been a water hauler. But is was bad luck on Cerys’ part that she’d used the wrong jamming suite. It could have happened to anyone. But the fact was that it was her in the chair when the squelch went out and alerted the freighter to their presence. The captain put her on watch until they caught the damn thing.

They had thousands of kilometers to cover, and they were only gaining by millimeters.

She thought about old pirates—the original pirates who sailed the oceans to steal shiny metals. Now she sat aboard a ship made entirely of metals, sailing through a bright emptiness, just trying to get a little water.

She snapped her head up. She must have dozed off. There was a wet stain on her chest and a filament of drool leading to her mouth. The freighter was still there, a tiny spec on a monitor. And then, without warning or fanfare, a tight solar prominence slapped the sky like a lash, and the freighter was there no more. Completely obliterated. All that water, boiled away like it had never been there at all.

She could cry later. Right now she didn’t have the energy. Cerys held her heavy head in her hands and slept.

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