In the 23rd century . . .
The stars beamed to him across light-years of hard vacuum. He had left the star ship hours ago, and was drifting well below the speed of light toward the ellipsoidal Klingon/Federation neutral zone. With no charts or instruments to guide him, he had to steer carefully around the neutral zone by memory alone. In his mind, he envisioned a dotted line — his intended path — going around a luminescent oval.
Suddenly, his left eardrum buzzed into life. A receiver had been jammed right up next to it so that he could hear messages even though there was no air around him. He was picking up a distress signal from a ship named "Kobayashi Maru," explaining that it was powerless — and that signal was coming from the center of the Klingon neutral zone.
He had to communicate with the star ship he'd come from. He could not speak in the vacuum of space, but his mental communicator eliminated that problem. He closed his eyes, cleared his mind, and thought, 'Com channel open 1243/7A. Request status Kobayashi Maru.'
The message flashed across subspace instantly and was returned almost as quickly. "The Kobayashi Maru," droned a static-frought female voice, "Is a passenger ship currently en route from Klingon to Vulcan. It's carrying some three hundred Federation passengers."
'Damn,' he thought under his breath. He had no choice. Redirecting himself toward the Klingon border, he clicked his tiny rocket pack into action and plunged through the imaginary barrier. 'I am now in violation of interstellar treaty,' he thought.
Though the border he'd crossed was only imaginary, this area was as thick with space dust as an atmosphere. There was no metallic glint to indicate a passenger ship; the only glint that eventually resolved was the flat-gray of standard sensor reflecting material.
In fact, there were three flat-gray glints of standard sensor reflecting material moving in on him, each shaped suspiciously like a Klingon K't'inga-class warship. He figured it out instantly; he'd been had. The Kobayashi Maru was probably safe at home by now.
No matter, warships couldn't lock their weapons onto anything his size. And after all, he had his sword: the fabled three-meter-long golden scimitar with the words "PHOTON TORPEDO" stamped onto its meter-wide business end; a weapon which could do the equivalent of twenty-five sword hacks.
'Odd thing,' he puzzled, 'Their front shields are down. Why would —'
Twenty scintillations of light answered his question, as they materialized into space-suited Klingon soldiers all wearing rocket packs and armed with phasers. The ships' shields were up now. . . .
And so were their shuttle launch bay doors. Six armed shuttlecraft arced out of the rears of the ships to add their heavy firepower support.
'Commence evasive action,' he thought just as the first Klingon soldier fired at him. Fortunately, he had commenced evasive action, and had put his sword between himself and the Klingon mass. The gold surface harmlessly deflected the red phaser beam.
But the Klingons were moving to surround him. 'Aha, the old sphere maneuver. Guess it's time I took the offensive.' He headed for the top side of their sphere, ninety degrees away from the Klingon vessels, picked out the nearest soldier and let him have it. The Klingon had time to get in one good gasp before a swipe of the sword vaporized him in a fiery cloud of dust.
Oh nuts, he didn't see the phaser beam that sideswiped him from behind. It burned a gash in the left side of his studded leather armor; the Klingon soldier who did that would pay for it. He came about, holding his sword high above his head, and five more phasers streaked toward him. He projected their courses mentally, found a hole, and weaved safely into the one place the beams didn't hit.
'Now I think I'll take out a few dozen soldiers,' he thought just as one of the shuttles fired at him. The heavier "Point Defense" phaser beam struck his sword and sent it flying out of his hands all the way to the end of its nine-meter tether. The tether line was almost invisible against the stellar backdrop, but he instinctively grabbed it and yanked the sword back toward himself. That golden weapon was the only thing standing between him and —
The Klingon soldiers opened fire freely. Phaser beams tore at his leather-encased body, sending peals of shock down his nerves and battering away at his consciousness. At least, before he would die, he knew that he had served the United Planets well.
The void around him suddenly filled with air. His ears rang; the receiver on his eardrum started to irritate him. The Klingon ships and soldiers now appeared quite non-corporeal and grainy. A voice shouted, "Gravity!," and he fell right through a Klingon to an invisible floor five meters below. "Lights!" shouted the same voice, and the stars, ships, and soldiers all disappeared, replaced by a 30-meter-wide white domed arena.
A door set flush in one wall opened, and Star Fleet Commodore Quimby walked through. "I hope you know," he said with the same voice that had called for gravity and lights, "That the Klingons take no prisoners."
The man in the studded leather armor manually reeled in his sword that did the equivalent of twenty-five sword hacks by its now-quite-visible black tether line. "There didn't seem to be any way out of that situation."
"Of course not; there wasn't. The Kobayashi Maru isn't a test of skill, it's a test of character."
There was no way to sheath his sword, so the man simply held it upright; in his hands, it was practically massless anyway. It looked more like a giant falchion than a giant scimitar save for its nomenclature. "No-win situations aren't that alien to me, you know. That was how I got into the Orion Pirates."
"Yeah, I know; shanghaied. You made a pretty good pirate, I understand."
"Of course I did, I wanted to get time off for good behavior. My comrades all called me the Buccaneer, 'cause I was so good with the Orion Fast Patrol Ship of the same name. If I hadn't found this sword buried in that photon-torpedoed slag heap, I might never have made it back to the Federation. Exposure to that slag heap made me nearly as strong as a gorn, you know."
A thought surfaced in the Commodore's consciousness. "Do you have a regular name?"
The man pondered this. "I did, a long time ago, before the Orion Pirates shanghai'd me. Now I'm just that guy with the sword that does the equivalent of 25 sword hacks. I guess you can just call me . . . Buccaneer!"
Trumpets blared in the background. His blond whisp of hair settled lightly across his forehead, making his face look like a cross between Space Ace and Aquaman. The rest of his body was covered at all points in studded leather armor, which gave practically zilch protection against modern 23rd century weapons, and not much more against primitive devices. This covered up the invisible scars from the Federation's battery of operations that allowed him to breathe in space.
"You guys have done wonders to — er, for me," he said presently. "With those devices you installed, I don't need to breathe, eat, drink, sleep, or think. I don't even need to be pressurized; I can thrive in deep space. I just wish you'd upgrade me and give me a warp pack instead of these puny rockets."
"You know as well as I do that those warp booster pods make you more vulnerable."
"Yeah, I know, I take two points of damage for every hit point inflicted on me. Only problem is that without faster-than-light speed I have to operate locally from a mother starship, which cuts my ability in half. After all, I'm BUCCANEER!, defender of Federation planets everywhere, whose sword does the equivalent of 25 sword hacks!"
Those immortal words accompanied Buccaneer out of Earth's ionisphere several hours later. There seemed to be a little skirmish going on at one of the base stations along the Klingon border, and he was going there aboard a Constitution class starship to check it out. He reached the orbiting dock, and climbed aboard the command cruiser through its shuttle bay. He usually got warm greetings for not having to waste airlocks.
The star ship wasn't half way to the border when she needed more dilithium crystals. "These cruisers always need more dilithium crystals," commented Buccaneer. The ship parked itself in orbit about a class-M planet rich in dilithium, which was inhabited by the usual humanoid aliens. Buccaneer decided to have a little fun; he left the ship along with the shuttlecraft that was going to the surface, and raced it down through the atmosphere.
"Hooray!" shouted the inhabitants when they saw the golden gleam. "It's Buccaneer!"
Buccaneer descended near the largest crowd. "Thank you, thank you, thank you . . . Hey, you people are really something, I mean that!"
"Yaaaay!" they cheered.
He whipped his sword around through the air a bit.
'A Constitution class cruiser gets nothing compared to what I drum up!,' he thought. He figured he'd go for a little more egotism, flipped over backward in midair, and bowed.
The shuttle, meanwhile, had landed and its crew was making a deal as to how cheaply they could buy the dilithium. SUDDENLY, a tiny penumbra and the rumble of shuttlecraft engines grabbed their attention. They looked to its source, and saw the definite outline of a renegade fighter shuttle.
The crowd and Buccaneer saw it too. A pair of drone missiles was tucked neatly under its wings, and its forward point defense phaser was aimed menacingly at the ground near the shuttle crew. The studded leather armor clad swordsman hadn't an instant to waste. With a mental command, his rockets roared on and thrusted super-efficiently across his asbestos (but studded leather) pants. He leapt skyward to face his marauding adversary.
"Hooray!," the crowd repeated, "Go get 'em, Buccaneer!"
All during the flight toward the fighter, Buccaneer shouldered his sword as though he were about to swing it. The golden glint and the brown outfit caught the fighter's attention, but not enough to keep it from strafing the ground near the shuttle crew with phaser fire.
This might have been just a scare tactic, or it might have been bad aim; whichever it was, Buccaneer couldn't let it continue. He maneuvered right in front of the fighter, scimitar held menacingly ready, and shouted, "STOP!"
A hatch on the fighter opened, and the pilot poked his torso out, leading with a threatening hand phaser. The pilot was a member of one of the races subjugated under the Klingons. "Back off, buddy," he said with a thick Klingonese accent, "Or I'll blast your body apart!"
Buccaneer smiled, and repeated the line that made him a legend in his own time: "My sword does the equivalent of 25 sword hacks!"
And then he hacked — once. The fighter shuttle vaporized in a whisp of smoke. The pilot began to fall, but Buccaneer caught him on the flat of his blade. "Sorry to wreck your little vandalism raid, but you see we Federation people are sworn to protect life, not watch it get vaporized."
He set the pilot down in front of the shuttle crew. "Now," he began, lifting his sword, "I believe you have some explaining to do."
The ex-fighter-pilot swallowed hard, which was rather a feat since this particular species of sentient beings ate by osmosis. "I didn't wanna do it, honest! They made me do it, they did, they did!"
"Who made you do it?" the highest ranked person in the shuttle crew demanded.
"My Klingon bosses! They wanted me to scare the local inhabitants — by killing a few of them. When I saw the shuttle, I figured I had to take you guys out first."
"The Klingons?" the C.O. wondered. "But this planet's in Federation territory — it's a full-fledged United Planets member, as a matter of fact. Why would the Klingons want to pull a renegade attack on a little dirt-ball like this?"
"They wanted me to fire the starboard drone just before I left, but not until then. Honest, I don't know why!"
Buccaneer flew back over to where he'd annihilated the shuttle. Fragments of leaflet were gently settling out. The papers read, "Give it up to the Klingons, you don't stand a chance!".
"Propaganda bomb," Buccaneer said when he returned. "Sounds like the Klingons are ready to start a war."
"Then that outpost station skirmish might be more important than we figured. Let's go!"
"But what about the dilithium?"
"Forget it! The ship can go years without needing another recharge! I just wanted an excuse to get down here and stretch my legs!"
Buccaneer shrugged it off, and he and the shuttle lifted off back for the command cruiser. Once both entered the shuttle bay, the ship quickly broke orbit and accelerated to warp speed.
The brink of the neutral zone seemed ghostly quiet. Normally, any visits would make subspace teem with transmissions of all levels of importance to and from the nearest outpost station, but here it was dead silent. Now more anxious, the starship closed in on the asteroid to which the base was anchored.
Since the ship was down to impulse speed, Buccaneer could accompany it from the outside. Unable to see through the bridge's telescopic viewer, though, Buccaneer only sighted the asteroid when he and the ship were practically on top of it. As the asteroid rotated so that its far side was facing them, the Captain of the star ship winced an alarm to Buccaneer's eardrum receiver: "My God! The base station's been wiped out!"
Buccaneer mentally transmitted, 'Don't worry, I'll check it out and see what kinds of weapons hit it' in response. He brought himself up to flank speed, counterthrusted when the time was just right, and landed feet first in the remains of the outpost station. With the base's gravity generators out of operation, he was almost weightless.
He inspected the charred, metallic rubble for the usual signs of battle. Wiping his leather-covered finger across the soot, he picked up a few grains which tumbled down slower than terrestrial dust. The soot grains twinkled in the starship's searchlight like graphite. 'Phasers,' he transmitted in thought.
In the distance he could see weapon-produced craters that looked like they'd been heavily irradiated. 'And photon torpedoes.'
A few of the craters, though, were charred more like they'd been hit by phasers than by photon torpedoes; however, phasers didn't make craters, and these craters were smaller than photon torpedo-sized. 'And . . . disruptor bolts,' he projected across subspace, slightly agitated.
"Disruptor bolts are standard Klingon weaponry," the Captain replied. "Do you think this place was attacked by a Klingon vessel?"
'Most probably a Klingon K't'inga class up-rated cruiser. They're the only ships I know of that use both photons and disruptors.'
"If Klingons attacked this place, the personell here should have seen them coming. Why didn't they transmit an S.O.S. to Star Fleet H.Q.?"
'Maybe they didn't see them coming. It could have been a surprise attack.'
"With all their sensors peering across fifty light-years of neutral zone? Not a chance. The Klingons would have to sneak around from behind or be invisible."
An idea dawned on Buccaneer. 'An idea just dawned on me. The cloaking device.'
The Captain giggled a bit. "That's the one piece of technology the Romulans'd never sell to their Klingon allies."
'Then the Klingons might have stolen it.'
The Captain was silent for a long time. When his voice returned, it sounded all the more serious even through the tinniness of Buccaneer having the speaker crystal right up against his eardrum. "The log for the base is kept about a kilometer below ground at the bottom of a shaft. See if you can find it."
'Gotcha.' Buccaneer quickly located the shaft, which was wide enough to turn around in, and dove in head first. He had to keep his sword swept back behind him where he couldn't swing it. The light from the command cruiser would never follow him down a full kilometer, so he took his flashlight from his belt and shone it ahead of him.
The bottom came into sight three minutes later. Turning himself around, his sword still pointing up because the shaft was less than three meters wide, he activated the rockets that brought him to a stop. He landed in a white steel room some four meters cube, at the center of which was a small, nearly-cubical black box that had three buttons and a speaker plug, sitting atop a tripod.
He picked up the box and fumbled for the speaker plug cord. To hold the box, the sword, the flashlight, and the cable he really needed four hands, and had to fumble with the whole mess several times before he plugged the cable into the input jack on his receiver. Now both he and the starship could hear the log being played. 'Here it is,' he thought, and pushed the first button.
"Mwewewdudulududledededow, tololodededuludulee —" The audio signal seemed to draw a picture in his mind; he and the inhabitants of the command cruiser above were watching a video of people madly rushing backwards in the command center of an outpost station.
'Oops, sorry, that was rewind.' He pushed the second button, hoping for better results. The mental image the sound effects produced this time was one of the C.O. talking.
"Commanding officer's log, stardate 2274.3. Sensors have picked up nothing in the neutral zone, as usual, but one of my crew swears he saw a couple of the stars bend, as though something were passing in front of them. I have put the station on yellow alert —"
Buccaneer interrupted at this point. 'Yellow alert means they turned on their shields at minimum strength.'
"We know what it means, Bucky. Keep playing."
"— and have turned on the stellar background analyzer just to be safe. It sounds like a cloaking device, but Romulan territory's on the other side of the Federa . . . oh, my God! It's two Klingon warships! — one D7 battlecruiser and one K't'inga. The K't'inga just fired three photon torpedoes! I can't bring the shields up to full strength in —"
The Captain spoke to Buccaneer again, now more worried than ever. "Stardate 2274.3; that was four days ago. The Klingon-Federation war should already be old news. If the Klingons have stolen the cloaking device, at least the Romulans won't be backing them in this war. Come on, let's check out some of the other outposts!"
'Right behind you,' Buccaneer thought as he rocketed up through the shaft carrying his sword and the black box. His flashlight could stay on his belt for all he cared. He emerged from inside the asteroid and headed straight for the command cruiser's shuttle bay. Once inside, they took off at a speed that was just a plain waste of energy.
Ten light-years and half an hour later, they arrived at the next base station. This was a feat in and of itself, since it meant they had to travel at over 175 000 times the speed of light, which was about warp 56.
The base glistened atop the asteroid like a shield-domed triangular city. The ship was now up to yellow alert and down to sublight speed with Buccaneer tagging close, though there didn't seem to be much need for precaution. However, the subspace communications around this base were as dead as the first.
Finally, when the ship was within a few hundred kilometers of the base, the Captain decided it was about time to break the silence. "Star ship NCC 1702 to base 1330. Please acknowledge."
The base did acknowledge, but not over subspace. A dish set into one corner of the base — a heavy base phaser — angled slightly and launched up a thick, lethal, blue beam. The heavy phaser hit the bottom-front of the starship's saucer, and without its shields up full the ship was the surprise attack's easy prey. The beam blasted a hole as wide as itself through all eleven decks of the saucer, leaving only a mangled skeleton behind.
'Oh . . . no,' thought Buccaneer, both upset and awed. 'Missed the bridge by only meters.' Then, turning slowly to the base: 'This one's mine.'
He sped off. The base had only one shuttlecraft, used for evacuation, and very few space soldiers if any, so it would be an easy target for him. 'The outpost doesn't have much shielding at the perimeter,' he thought to the ship. 'Arm whatever phasers still work. I'm going in.'
"All right," said the Captain, turning to his crew. "Up to red alert if you haven't done so already. Shields on full."
"The blast weakened the shield generators," complained the navigator. "The shields'll only work at half strength, at best."
"All right, half strength shields."
"Do you mean half their full strength or half their current strength, 'cause if you mean half their current strength we'd be putting them up at a quarter of their full strength."
The Captain had filed five years ago for a new navigator, and wished now that there was no such thing as red tape. "Half their full strength," he said with lethargic contempt. "Arm the starboard phasers, but don't fire just yet. Buccaneer's gonna go get 'em again."
"Klingon surprise attack," the Captain said to himself. "They took over one of our bases. I just hope Buccaneer can come through. . . . He's the last hope we have."
The scene switched back to Buccaneer, with the Battle Hymn of the Republic wafting through the background. He skimmed down across the surface of the asteroid right up to the corner that had fired on the ship, at the edge of the base station's deflectors. At this low angle, their strength would be cut in half. He slashed a mighty stroke with his golden scimitar, and the warhead power of a photon torpedo — the equivalent of 25 sword hacks — tore a gash clean through the shield.
He rocketed on through the rent he'd made, and hacked good and hard at the corner of the base station. The tractor beam and both heavy phaser mounts blew apart instantly, and the force of the blow sent a crack down the bulk of the space station. 'I'm going for the shield generator,' he transmitted, heading toward the center of one of the triangular base's sides.
This was even easier. One mighty blow sent a shock wave down the whole perimeter of the base, weakening the shields almost to nothing. 'Now,' he thought to the Captain, 'Before they get a chance to fire, take out that torpedo launcher!'
"Fire starboard phaser at the northeast side of the base," commanded the Captain.
A single beam of red-orange energy pulsed from the right-hand underside of the command cruiser, poked through the faltering shields with ease, and hit the base right on target. The phaser expanded into a miniature sun right on top of the photon torpedo launcher, engulfing it and a few things next to it as well. It was a good thing the Captain knew the anatomy of his own government's base stations.
'Now their power supply.'
"Okay, sweep the other starboard phaser along the south side of the outpost station."
Another red-orange beam of pulsed, phased energy sprang from right next to where the first phaser had come from, and ripped along the south side of the base just a tad north of the edge. The nuclear reactors collapsed, darkening the surface of the asteroid. Doubtless most of the internal systems and about half the population of the base station were destroyed by now.
"Hold it!" shouted the Captain. "We're getting a signal. It's an unconditional surrender from someone with a thick Klingonese accent!"
"Hooray!" shouted the crew all at once.
'All right!' thought Buccaneer. 'I'm coming back on board.'
Buccaneer flew up inside the hole in the ship's hull (left by the base's phaser) and knocked on one of the damage control shield doors. Five seconds later, the door flew open and a man standing in as much of a hard vacuum as he was, who wasn't wearing a space suit, mouthed, "Yes, who's there?
"Oh, it's you, Buccaneer! Come on in!"
'These damage control guys had the same operation I did,' Buccaneer thought as he stepped into the corridor and through an airlock, breathing good air for the first time in a while. Despite the operation, real breathing still felt better.
Buccaneer made it over onto the bridge. The gravity was annoying, but he was used to it. The ship was down to yellow alert, as usual — it was that way about 98 percent of the time — and the Captain was telling the Klingons what they could do with their hand phasers.
"Okay, you imperial bastards, when we come on board, I want each and every one of you to be as far away from the controls as you can get, unarmed, and with your hands clasped together in back of your bony heads. Anyone not doing so will be vaporized."
"Would you really do that?" asked Buccaneer.
"Of course not," the Captain whispered, "But they don't know that."
The science officer turned to the Captain. "Something doesn't make. I'm not picking up any life forms down there on the base."
"All the Klingons on the base have surrendered," boomed an alien voice over their communications. "But you have much bigger troubles."
The Captain was quite skeptical. "What is he . . ." The stars along the top of the asteroid wavered momentarily, as if something had moved in front of them and was making a poor copy of them. ". . . talking . . ." The thing standing in front of the stars and making a poor copy of them finally showed its true colors. It was D6 battlecruiser gray. ". . . about? . . ."
The Klingon vessel unloaded all four of its disruptor bolts almost as soon as it materialized. "Ambush!" the Captain shouted. "That warship was hiding behind the asteroid and using the base against us by remote control! Raise shields to full —"
Crash! Bam! Blam! Boom!!
"No good, sir!" winced the navigator. "Those four hits completely blew down our deflectors."
"Then . . . we're sitting ducks."
The Klingon's phasers were charged and ready. "This ship's doomed," said Buccaneer. "We've got to evacuate!"
"All that hard work. All those years in Star Fleet command. . . ."
The Captain was beyond reason. Buccaneer darted into the turbo elevator and headed for the shuttle bay. In the distance, he heard the crackle of phased energy beams ionizing the command cruiser's electronic gear.
The shuttle bay was already filling up with terrified people, since the transporters were mobbed. As people piled into the operating escape shuttlecraft, Buccaneer searched the inoperable shuttles for a very necessary piece of equipment. "I need a warp pack," he said to himself. "Don't these guys have any shuttles with dash pods strapped on?"
His eye caught a metal band clamped on the end of a shuttle. He ran to the rear of the craft, and to his relief read, "'Warp Engine Booster Pod #724.' All right!"
He grabbed the top straps of the pack and began to pull. A fully equipped deck crew could divorce the pack from the shuttle in seconds, but with no tools he had to resort to more primitive methods. Peeling back the straps he wouldn't need anyway, he ripped the pod from its bolts with his brutish near-gorn strength.
His eardrum receiver was going crazy even as he clumsily held the pack to his back with his sword and dashed for the bay doors. He plugged his left ear up as best he could — the receiver worked even worse in open air than it did in a vacuum — and listened to the tin. "This is Star Fleet Headquarters. We are under attack. All warships recalled to defend the Federation at once."
"Oh boy," he said. Well, there went his job.
Whoever could fit aboard a shuttle had already been fit. The shuttle bay depressurized, the doors opened, and the first shuttle rolled out onto the turntable. Well, it wouldn't be the very first to leave. Buccaneer held the dash pod in place with his arms and carried his sword in his hands as he normally did, activated his tiny but powerful rockets, and blasted out of the shuttle bay three seconds ahead of the first shuttle.
He watched the command cruiser die over his shoulder while he accelerated. Her shields had gone down long ago, and now it seemed her weapons were useless. One of her warp engines had been ripped from its support beam, and the other probably couldn't generate half a megawatt. The Captain had probably thought of separating the saucer, which contained the bridge, but there wasn't that much left of it to separate.
He couldn't bear to watch anymore; besides, nearly all the shuttles had made it out safely so far. With the reluctance of his rank and all his countrymen, he turned his sullen eyes to his warp pack.
It had to be the most complicated thing he'd ever tried to handle; but then again, even as an Orion pirate he only had to know how to shoot a phaser straight. There had to be some instructions somewhere . . . aha, there they were! "The Galileo Warp Engine Booster Pack Owner's Manual"
He opened it and began skimming through. "Congratulations! You have just purchased the most advanced dash pod made for the Galileo class shuttlecraft! This warp pod will double the speed of your shuttle and give you hours of enjoyment. Designed by compact warp industries for your benefit, . . ."
That little introduction almost made him retch. He flipped through the pages, casually noting how much more fragile it made the craft that used the pack and the virtues of flying a shuttle at twelve times the speed of light instead of six. Finally, he found what he was looking for:
"This booster pack can also be used to give warp speed capability to sub-light shuttlecraft. The craft must attain a velocity of half the speed of light before the warp pack may be engaged. The pack must be strapped to the back of the craft, as despite the space warp it creates for speed, it will push the craft under newtonian acceleration."
'Since when have I ever followed Newton's laws?' thought Buccaneer. 'I'm up to half the speed of light already.'
"To engage the warp pod, push the big red button marked START."
'Yep, I was right, this is the most complicated piece of machinery I've ever used.' He turned so that he was facing what he remembered to be the center of the Federation, and pushed the big red button.
'Whoa,' he thought as the pack pushed him belly-forward. The acceleration was debilitating. Stars in his immediate vicinity began to flash past him in an eight-pointed diamond pattern. When he looked behind himself, he saw that he was growing a non-corporeal tail that looked like his picture had been spread over half a kilometer. Finally, his contrail caught up with him, and he smashed into hyperspace.
For the first time in his life, the stars — the naked stars — were moving past him, like the ghost of some unreal velocity. He'd never witnessed this breathtaking scene before without air or glass in the way. Star Fleet Headquarters, or Earth, was only a few hours away now.
'The Klingons actually launched a surprise war,' he thought, still wondering why they betrayed their Romulan allies. 'Their cloaking devices might have let them pass unnoticed this far, but they won't help them any more. Our side's too used to that old Romulan ploy; we've made systems that can lock-on to a cloaked ship almost as well as they can lock-on to an asteroid. But it's going to be a tought fight.'
He tuned into Federation subspace news, and listened intently for the length of his voyage. Several units of the Federation's Star Fleet had been deceived by exactly the same ploy his command cruiser had just answered, but most of the ships arrived at headquarters just as the Klingons were about to attack it. The battle had been quite fierce, and in the end major elements of both fleets were destroyed. Scouts sighted numerous other Klingon units at various locations, since the Klingons were pretty inept at using cloaking devices to their full effectiveness. Federation warships rushed to these locations to do all they could, but in the end most were destroyed — along with most of the Klingon vessels. With the help the cloaking device had given the Klingons, the two fleets were almost evenly matched.
Almost, but not quite.
When the Federation and Klingon fleets had wiped each other out, the Klingons sent in their last K't'inga class cruiser — the up-rated version of their own D7 battlecruiser — to finish off the job. It easily slipped through the now non-existent Star Fleet defenses, and was presently headed for the undefended home star of the United Federation: the sun. The ship would probably wipe out the Earth.
Buccaneer had no time to lose (again). He altered his course from Star Fleet Headquarters to Earth, since the two were separated by nearly a hundred light-years. He simply had to beat the K't'inga vessel there; he was the last hope of the Federation.
The dilithium trail leading to the inner Solar system confirmed his fear; he wasn't the first one there. 'The Klingons' long-range scanners will doubtlessly pick up my warp engines. I'll have to jettison this dash pod before I reach the inner Solar system.'
He swished his sword around a few times in preparation for what was to come. All that training in Admiral Xavier's Nastiness Room was about to prove — or disprove — its worth. This was sort-of like the Kobayashi Maru, what with fighting off an entire Klingon ship with only a sword that did the equivalent of 25 sword hacks. But this time, he would be the enemy force sneaking up for a surprise attack.
While he was still inside the asteroid belt, he disengaged his warp pack and let go of it, leaving it just another nameless rock in among the minor planets. Now, going only slightly faster than half the speed of light, Buccaneer headed for the Earth.
He spotted the Klingon ship while his destination was still just a blue dot. If it had a cloaking device, it was turned off since apparently they had no opposition to sneak by. The attack had not yet begun, although the ship was within full striking range. Buccaneer took out a little catalogue he always carried with him, and turned to the page for K't'inga class ships. The Blueprints covered both the left and right pages, showing approximately where all the vital organs — er, systems were located.
Memorizing this for a few seconds, he put the pamphlet away (showing its Paramount Pictures label), brandished his sword, and sped on toward the ship. 'Okay, Klingons, before you destroy Mother Terra you'll have to feel the wrath of BUCCANEER! You see, my sword does the equivalent of 25 sword hacks!'
"Heh heh heh," chortled the Klingon captain in fluent Klingonese. The only things visible were his two arms and his pet Klingoncat, and his voice was just a few octaves too low. "At last, the final annihilation of the life form known as man! Let the attack begin. . . . Goodbye, Terra!"
"Captain Claw, sir!" interrupted his first officer. The approaching glint of gold had caught his attention. "Look, out in space!"
"It's a bird!"
"It's a space dragon!"
Then, in unison, everyone on the bridge chanted, "IT'S BUCCANEER!"
'There's that fanfare again,' Buccaneer thought, surrounded by inexplicable trumpet music. 'The Klingons must have recognized me.' Undaunted, the man of studded leather closed in.
Captain Claw was not completely unprepared. "Launch the administrative shuttle and the Z1 fighter. Beam out the space marines to deal with that interfering son-of-a-primate. Our little sword-wielding friend won't stand a chance."
The K't'inga ship was well in view by now. Buccaneer could see the trademark wings-with-a-long-neck design that all Klingon ships save the bird of prey used, the heavy warp engines, the fringelike nearly invisible shields that had an open corridor in them sixty degrees wide, and fifty scintillating patches of space suit-shaped transporter light. There was also a standard armed shuttlecraft and another odd-looking craft coming at him.
'Space marines,' he thought. 'Undoubtedly not as used to this type of thing as I am. That shuttle'll never lock-on to me, and even if it does its phaser traverses too slowly to stay trained on me long enough to fire. What bugs me is that other craft; it doesn't look like a regular shuttle or fighter.'
Captain Claw pressed a button on his console which glowed the blue of underlighting. "Now!" he commanded.
'Now!' Buccaneer thought as he moved out and twenty-eight phaser beams crossed his previous position. 'Ack, those guys have good aim.'
The gap in the shields that the space marines beamed out through had long ago closed up. It didn't matter much, though, since the deflectors in the back of the craft were barely half as powerful as the deflectors in front. What concerned him the most now were those fifty marksman space marines. 'Think I'll even the odds a bit.'
The marines were making the usual mistake of splitting up and trying to surround him. Oh well, he maneuvered to their perimeter, came face to face with one of them, and mouthed something meaningless to him before he vaporized him with one good scimitar stroke.
He suddenly remembered what happened at about this point in the Kobayashi Maru scenario. He turned his attention to the other Klingons, and successfully bent out of the way of a well-placed phaser shot. The Klingon who did that could wait; taking out that armed shuttlecraft was more important. He sighted the shuttle and headed for it, taking the erratic zig-zag path he'd been taught to use. The shuttle fired once, but it was a far miss.
The shuttle pilots got in one good panic before they and their vehicle disintegrated in a photonic flash. 'Well,' thought Buccaneer, 'That was easy.' A twinge of subconscious danger pecked at him to look at the Klingon warship, and then he realized what he'd done. 'I've been a fool,' he thought in anguish as the K't'inga fired its forward photon torpedo at the unarmed world below.
The red ball of light-energy burned through the atmosphere like a meteor, impacting against the main deflector shield of Gibraltar City. Red lightning bolts arked across the domed layer of force, tolling peals of thunder to the terrified inhabitants.
Commodore Quimby looked up at the Gibraltar City skyline in horror. "It's finally happening," he whimpered. "The beginning of the end."
The atmosphere and the defensive shield had saved Earth for now, but the shields wouldn't last at that rate.
"There's nothing to save you now, Terra," Captain Claw rumbled, petting Klingoncat with his steel gauntlet. "Z1 fighter, get Buccaneer!"
"Right away, boss," the fighter pilot on the viewscreen replied, conking his fist to his head. "That Aquaman imitation is as good as dead meat right now!"
Buccaneer caught it out of the corner of his eye. The other craft — whatever it was — was making an attack run on him. He took evasive action just as it fired a thick, pulsed, red-orange beam at where he used to be. 'Yeow!' he thought. 'That was a full-fledged Klingon offensive-defensive ship's phaser, more powerful than the point defense types carried by armed shuttles! I'd better take this guy out fast!'
He flew around behind the fast-moving craft — a nearly-impossible task — and hit it full swing. There was the standard pinkish-white light burst and the smoke, but the shuttle was still there. 'I don't believe it.'
Oddly enough, it was the offensive-defensive phaser built into the front of the shuttle that his sword hack had disabled. "Heh heh," gloated the pilot, "That phaser should be the least of your worries, Bucko! You should be more concerned with THIS."
The instant he said "THIS," he pressed the button atop his left control stick. Warp fuel flared up from inside a hidden weapons bay, and a small dogfight drone missile streaked out backward toward the studded leather armored warrior.
'Yikes,' he yelped, and readied his sword. The missile was headed for him at twelve times the speed of light, so he'd have to really try and make this shot count. Just when the missile was two-and-a-half meters away from him, his sword met it and sliced it neatly into nothingness.
Buccaneer was breathless, especially since he was in space. 'If my slice angle had been just a little shallower, I would've set the thing off. . . .'
"That was lucky, hero," growled the Z1 pilot, "But you won't be so lucky THIS time!"
Again, he launched just when he said the word "THIS," this time pushing the button atop his right control stick. His other (and last) dogfight drone streaked out of its housing and headed for home.
'There's no way I'm trying that sword trick again,' Buccaneer figured. 'I was lucky once. I hit that thing wrong and twenty thousand tons of warhead go off in my face. I guess I'll just have to —'
He ducked down just in time. The missile passed only centimeters above his head. '— avoid it!'
But he wasn't out of the cream yet. The dogfight drone was a seeking missile, and it curved around and headed for Buccaneer again. Buccaneer clenched his teeth and raised his eyebrows, and the missile just about reached him when it ran out of fuel. Relieved, Buccaneer easily got out of its way.
"Drat!" cursed Captain Claw, mangling Klingoncat. "Arm all four disruptor bolt launchers! Get ready to fire on Earth!"
But Claw hadn't counted on one thing: his closed circuit communications could be monitored on subspace if anyone knew the right frequency. And Buccaneer, having done this sort of thing with the Orion pirates all the time, knew the right frequency. He also knew Klingonese. 'Oh, nuts! A disruptor bolt attack on Earth! How am I going to stop it?'
To stop it, he would have to get rid of the disruptor bolt launchers. Unfortunately, those were fixed to the fronts of the two warp engines. But the warp engines were only weakly connected to the rest of the ship, held there by flimsy wingtips. . . .
Buccaneer rocketed toward the port warp engine on the K't'inga ship, coming in from behind. A few of the space marines fired at him, but the range was too great for accuracy and Buccaneer could see the beams coming. He straddled right up next to the port flank deflector shield and smashed at it with a mighty sword blow. The weak side-rear shield buckled and reluctantly peeled apart. Slipping in through the electrostatic hole, he sliced the wing holding the engine mount on. A pinkish-white fault spread down the gray wing and at last separated the engine from the ship.
"All disruptor bolt launchers loaded, sir, except for two of them."
"What?!" screamed Captain Claw. Klingoncat had gotten smart and left. "Why aren't those two disruptor bolts ready to fire?!"
"Becase they were disconnected from the ship."
"And when did this happen?"
"The same time the engine was disconnected from the ship." The damage control reporter was having quite a good time of this.
"WHAT???!? That cuts our available power in half! Sergeant Cartilage!"
"Yes sir?" responded the leader of the space marines.
"Stop that meddling Federationist!"
"Uh, sure," he signed off. He'd been trying to do just that ever since his team beamed out.
Captain Claw still had a few aces up his black sleeve. "Launch a drone at Earth!" he commanded.
Now out in the general area between the ship and Earth, Buccaneer watched in open-mouthed horror as a pair of huge doors next to the shuttle bay opened and released a full sized drone missile. He plotted its course in his mind, and put himself right were he thought it would go. 'I've got good aim,' he thought, 'But drones are faster-than-light.' He looked at his sword. 'Fortunately, so are photon torpedoes.'
The drone streaked Earthward, nearing Buccaneer each millisecond. 'Gotta time it just right . . .' he thought. He began to swing the sword just when the drone was a little over a kilometer away. It impacted exactly, and the drone flashed out of existence. 'Yahoo, did it! This antimatter warhead'll never reach Earth! That Klingon captain — ol' Claw, I think it is — sure ain't gonna appreciate that!'
"I don't appreciate that!" bellowed Captain Claw. With his ship's limited ability to fire only one drone at a time, Buccaneer could take them all out. That strategy simply wouldn't work.
'Now then,' Bucky pondered, 'How can I really cripple this ship? I could take out the other engine. . . . Naah, they're probably waiting for me over there right now. I could knock out the bridge. . . . Nope, the shields are too strong at the front of the ship.'
His mind sensed it and let him dive clear of a point defense phaser beam from the still-alive strange-looking fighter. He began to engage the craft, zig-zagging erratically as usual, when the blueprints to the K't'inga flashed back in his mind momentarily. He ignored this as he closed with the fighter.
He was at point blank range, but his troubles were not over yet. The phaser mounted on top of the fighter had pivoted and was now aiming straight for him. He had to flip up and over his sword, not that up had any meaning where there was no gravity, but he made it out of the next beam's way.
And the blue prints flashed back to him again. The picture was a bit more vivid than before, and the view had zoomed a bit closer to the front half of the ship, but the idea still didn't make sense.
'All right, you've had it, Klingon scum!' He slashed his sword across the top of the figher with one hand, and it exploded into fragments. Contented, he blew the smoke from the business end of his golden scimitar.
Once more, the image of the blueprints returned to him. This time they were showing practically nothing but the boom section of the ship between the wings and the command bulb. The image lingered for nearly two seconds, and a section of the boom was flashing. 'Of course!' He clapped his hands silently, finally catching on to the subconscious suggestion. 'The boom! If I can sever the boom section, then good ol' Captain Claw will be out of contact with the bulk of his ship! I'VE GOT NO TIME TO LOSE!!'
He sped off, with no time to lose.
"Oh, no!" exclaimed Claw. "He's heading for the boom! STOP HIM!"
"Sure thing, boss," Sergeant Cartilage responded, conking his fist to his head. Then, to his troops: "Go get 'im, men!"
"And women!" demanded the only female Klingon of the outfit.
"And woman! He's going for the boom!"
Getting to the boom only involved crossing over the wing section, but Buccaneer could tell that wouldn't be a short trip. 'Oh well, here I go again!'
He met the first opposition even before he began to cross the wings. A Klingon soldier was waiting in ambush and sprang out, his phaser blazing its red trail across the void, when Buccaneer crossed his sights. Unfortunately, he was on the wrong side of Buccaneer, and his shot merely hit the sword and dwindled off. Buccaneer shook his head tut-tutting the soldier's move, skimmed the surface of the shields, came right up next to the Klingon, and reduced the space marines' ranks from 49 to 48. Then he continued merrily on his way across the top of the ship.
Nearly the full compliment of space marines was sitting atop the upper deflector shield, cuddled in the little niches built into the ship, and continually firing tiny beams of phased energy at Buccaneer. 'One direct hit and I'm done for,' he worried. 'Gonna have to make this one fast!'
The standard weave-and-twist movement technique spared him moment by moment, but it was too slow; he would have to make a mad dash for the boom section. He turned his rockets up full and accelerated forward, his zig-zag maneuvers reduced by the force of the thrust.
"Yes," said Captain Claw. "You're right where I want you, Bucko!" He pushed another underlighted blue button on his console.
One of the port waist phasers arked its pulsed red-orange beam toward Buccaneer. 'Ho-hum,' he thought, easily averting the offensive-defensive phaser. 'I've got no shields and no source of warp energy. Their sensors'll never lock on to me!'
The other offensive-defensive port waist phaser fired, with equally bad results. "Dratso!" yelled Claw, smashing his desktop with his fist. "Aha . . . why didn't I think of it before? . . ." He pushed a different blue underlit button, activating the stern tractor beam.
Buccaneer saw the ultra-wide turquoise beam coming at him from behind. 'I had a feeling they'd try that,' he thought, whipping around and trying desperately to get his sword in just the right position. The beam plunged up to him, ready to envelop him, but he was just fast enough to get behind his sword and have the blade aim head-on into the beam. The tractor beam split in two and curled back when it hit the blade, avoiding Buccaneer altogether. A few seconds later, the futile beam shut off.
Buccaneer tuned his mental transmitter to Klingon frequency, looked for the nearest camera on the surface of the ship, and mouthed his thoughts so that Captain Claw would be sure to catch them: 'What's the matter, haven't you ever heard of a shearing plane?'
The boom was in sight, but so were forty-eight phaser-firing space marines. The last few hectometers wouldn't be easy. Dauntless, Buccaneer weaved forward, desperately avoiding the phaser fire by predicting where it would be and removing himself from that locale. Duck, dash, dodge, dart — damn! A phaser blast caught him on his left side, scorching through the left side of his studded leather armor just like in Kobayashi Maru.
The pain in his side was minimal, but unlike all the simulations he'd done, this time it was real. He weaved ever closer to the boom, using his sword as a little shield whenever he needed to, and at last made it to the front edge of the wing.
The boom was mere dekameters away, but he couldn't attack it just yet. The base of the boom had an impulse engine installed in it; if he cut it off there, the boom would still have power and could get away. He had to smash the boom in half farther forward. He moved on, the phaser fire so thick he could almost walk on it.
"Heh heh heh," Claw said, "You'll never make it that far, Buccaneer! You're finished!"
'That's what you think,' thought Buccaneer, and reached the boom exactly where he'd intended to.
He looked over his shoulder. The space marine Sergeant was heading the final assault group to get rid of him. "We've got him now!" he saw the Sergeant say triumphantly.
'There's no time to cut through the shields and sever the boom in two separate blows,' he thought. 'They'll cream me in that time. I'm going to have to do both at once; and the only way I can do that is if I push my attack to its limit. Yep, that's right — I have to use my golden scimitar as an overloaded photon torpedo!'
He held the sword in both hands at arm's length, focusing his chi into his muscles and the sword itself. The blade glowed with golden radiation from the overloading of energy in it. He raised the sword high above his head, clenched his teeth, wrinkled his forehead, and opened his eyes as wide as they would go. Then, shouting a silent "Kyi!" in the vacuum of space, he forced the overloaded sword down onto the boom's shield, and did the equivalent of 50 sword hacks.
He felt the shield expire with the barest hint of resistance, and then the boom section collapsed like a bullet hole in glass. A pyramid of pinkish-white radiation tore through the boom as though it didn't exist; and finally, the ship had lost a part of itself.
The space marines stopped firing and just stared, flabberghasted. 'Now's my chance to reduce their ranks,' Buccaneer thought as he closed in on them with his sword held ready to swing. He downed the first one without a hitch, then went on to the second, then the third, then took out two who were next to each other with one blow. 'Forty-three,' he counted down. 'It's not that hard bashing heads in!'
Captain Claw wasn't licked yet. The wing section of the ship still had an auxiliary control station, which he could talk to over subspace. "Captain Claw to auxiliary control," he bellowed into a communicator. "Come in, damn you, chief engineer!"
The chief engineer was away from his post, watching the battle on local TV. When he saw the picture of their ship separating, he got up and panicked, forgetting temporarily that he was supposed to be in aux con.
'I think I'll take out that other warp engine,' Buccaneer decided after having defeated most of the space marines. He moved to the starboard side of the wing section of the ship. 'No warp engines, no power. And no disruptor bolts, either.'
"Where is that lazy bum of a chief engineer?!"
"Right here, boss," said the chief engineer when he made it back to his post, conking his fist to his head.
"Power up the warp engine and let's get out of here!"
"Can't do that, Doctor — er, Captain Claw. Buccaneer just cut off the other warp engine."
The scene switched to Buccaneer standing by the warp engine. The wing tip holding it on had just been cracked open, but the engine had not completely separated. A tiny piece of the starship was still holding it in place, although all the wires had been severed. 'Oops,' Buccaneer commented in thought, rushed over to the forward side of the engine, and flicked the stubborn piece of starship with his middle finger. 'That did it,' he thought, watching the engine and its two disruptor bolt launchers drift off into space.
"Well then," commanded Captain Claw, "Use impulse power! Come over and tow me out of here!"
"Can't do that either."
"Wait, don't tell me —"
Both of them chanted, "Buccaneer just destroyed the aft tractor beam."
"But I still have tractor beams," demanded Claw. "I'll attach myself to you and then you can tow me out of here."
"No good, sir. Buccaneer just vaporized both our impulse engines."
The space marine sergeant had successfully snuk up behind Buccaneer. He was about to blast him with a phaser set on "kill," but Buccaneer was lucky enough to be watching a piece of space debris which floated on behind him, and his eyes followed it far enough to see the incoming attack. He dodged, advanced, and slashed, vaporizing the sergeant less than a second after he fired. The only pieces of Sergeant Cartilage that remained were the bits of connective tissue that held his bones together.
"I'm not licked yet," breathed Claw, desperate but still scheming. "I've got two fully operating phasers up here that I can overload with power from the batteries. Helmsman, arm the two forward phasers for overloaded fire and prepare to wipe out that stinking planet once and for all!"
"Yessir, yessir!" the helmsman replied, rotating the craft. They had no engines, but they still had retro control.
Commodore Quimby watched the scene through his 700x binoculars. "Oh no, it's turning toward us! So this is it, we're going to die."
Buccaneer turned his attention to the drifting front end. 'He's aimed for Earth,' he thought. 'The front end can't fire its photon torpedo, since the photons require warp energy to arm and fire. But its battery power could fire . . . the phasers! . . .' He sped off for the front end, but it was a long way off and phasers took hardly any time to arm. . . .
"Heh heh heh!" Claw chortled. "Goodbye again, Terra. . . ."
'Damn, I wish I had warp speed,' thought Buccaneer, closing but maybe still too far off. 'If only I hadn't left that booster pod back in the asteroid belt. . . .'
Commodore Quimby looked to the defense shield. Its blue color was still faded and flickering ever-so-slightly because of the photon torpedo. Against a pair of overloaded offensive phasers, it wouldn't stand a chance. He began writing his last will and testament on a piece of indestructable metal.
At last, Buccaneer reached the front half of the ship; but he was at the wrong end. It would take seconds to reach the bridge area — seconds he might not have. The boom flew past; he rounded the bulb; and there before him was the port forward offensive phaser node.
"Fire port phaser," Claw commanded, pushing a console button just as Buccaneer hacked at the unshielded ship.
In a soundless concussion of light and fragments, the left-front corner of the ship shattered, taking the forward phaser with it. No time to lose; ol' Claw would doubtless fire the other phaser if Buccaneer didn't destroy it first.
"Blast!" cursed Captain Claw. "Fire starboard phaser," he ordered, pressing a different console button.
Buccaneer swung up from underneath and smashed the starboard corner and the last remaining phaser bank; but not before the first phaser pulse left the housing.
Buccaneer mouthed, "Oh, no," and watched in horror as the overloaded streak of trans-light, phased red-orange energy thundered down through the terrestrial atmosphere. Quimby looked up for what he thought was the last time.
And the overloaded energy pulse struck Gibraltar City's shield.
The phaser painted the deflector dome red, bathed the cowering city in its crimson radiation, shook the landscape — and faded to nothingness as the shield dissipated it and the skyline turned blue once more. Buccaneer had done it.
The Clawmobile — a hybrid water/land/air/space craft — launched from the remains of the K't'inga ship under the shroud of the cloaking device. Captain Claw had escaped with Klingoncat, carrying the cloaking device with him since it was only a two-decimeter-diameter white sphere. In his tiny, invisible craft, he privately cursed, "I'll get you next time, Buccaneer! Next . . . time . . ."
"Rrrreow!" added Klingoncat.
Buccaneer descended into Gibraltar City accompanied by an orchestra playing the triumph march, "I've Found the New Meaning of Life." The din of the crowd was almost overwhelming. "Yaaaaay, Buccaneer!"
"Good work, Buccaneer!" said Commodore Quimby. "You've done it again!"
An NBS newsman thrust a microphone into his face. "Buccaneer, do you have anything to say to the viewers at home?"
"Yes, I do," he said, raising his golden scimitar-that-looked-like-a-falchion and taking the microphone. He cleared his throat.
"My sword does the equivalent of 25 sword hacks!"
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