The Ballad of Jamie Stewart
By Vanessa Wells
“…Years later, on late night shifts on boring runs, the crews of ships would whisper tales of Jamie Stewart – and sometimes, when all hope was gone, the ghostly figure of the Siren’s Embrace would appear.” – The Ballad of Jamie Stewart circa GD 5914
James ‘Jamie’ Stewart, Captain of the Siren’s Embrace, looked down, teeth grinding. Seven ships, armed to the teeth were minutes away from his ERV 454 scout ship. He knew as soon as they started closing in that this was it – there was no escaping this one with clever tricks.
Their current mission was to escort a beautiful, mysterious guest of the Council to her home planet – and to return with three ships full of rations one could only get dirtside. Her name was something incomprehensible, and he’d never even heard of the planet – not in twenty years on every type of ship known to man or mechanical.
She’d boarded his tiny recon vessel on the arm of high command and had kept her own company during the flight.
The rest of the crew was as tried and true as any in the fleet; men and women he’d nearly died with dozens of times, and the finest in the galaxy to his way of mind. If someone had betrayed them, she was his first bet.
He turned to her as she entered the cabin as the proximity alarms blared. “They were waiting for us.”
“If they were, it was none of my doing, and there is nothing you can do about it, Captain.”
His hand circled her arm. “I could kill you.”
“I very much doubt that.” Her eyes took on a strange glow.
The captain released her, hand going to the weapon at his hip. “What are you? Some kind of new assassin?”
She snorted delicately as the hailing light blinked on the console. “New? Hardly. I am old. And I was never an assassin, though I was considered something of a patron of them for a time. Goes with the territory, I think.”
“What are you? And why go to all this trouble to capture one vessel.”
“You are mistaken Captain. This is no plan of mine. In fact, I would assume that someone in your high command sold you out.”
She stilled. “Perhaps because I chose you. You reminded me of someone I knew long ago. Jealousy is a powerful motivation.”
“Look, I need whatever information you have, and I don’t have time for riddles. We have approximately three minutes before they blow us to smithereens, or worse, board us. I don’t have to tell you what they do to prisoners.”
“No, you do not. I cannot die, but neither can I, in this form, whisk you and your people away. I am a mere memory of what I was once, but by my nature I am unending, and so, here I sit – endless.”
He took a breath. “You are an alien.”
She shrugged, unconcerned; her voice was like broken glass in the sun – beautiful, sharp. “I am alien to you, human, though I lived on your homeworld before your kind crawled out of the mud.”
He shivered. “Well, unless you have some kind of mojo that can help, prepare to end here. I don’t care what kind of alien physiology you have, it’s not going to survive a blaster hole through the hull and depressurization. If we surrender, we’ll be tortured and then slaughtered to a man, and I don’t plan to go out that way. As soon as my crew gets into position, we’ll – “
She looked pleased for some reason he couldn’t fathom. “Go out in a blaze of glory?”
He swallowed, anger and pain flooding him, then looked up defiantly. “Yes. We might be no match for them, but I’ll be damned if I go down without a fight.”
She smiled, and it was terrifying. “Then, perhaps, you and I can come to an agreement.”
It was madness.
Utter madness, and he called himself a fool a dozen times as he opened the hailing frequency, cursing himself for clinging to something like hope on the word of some mad alien.
The worst that could happen is that he and his crew would die without getting a shot off. In the end, they’d be dead in a few minutes in any scenario he could logically expect – well, unless they surrendered, and then they’d be tortured for information before they were tossed into space like yesterday’s rations.
He pasted a smirk on his face as the faces of the commanders of the seven cruisers appeared on screen. “Sorry it took so long – I was, well, occupied.” He nodded toward the woman who claimed to be an ancient goddess as she lounged in his chair, like a gorgeous cat.
The commander of the largest dreadnought glared from behind a truly impressive mustache that made him look like an Old Earth walrus. “How dare you…”
Stewart grinned. “Oh, I dare quite a bit, as often as I can get away with it. But enough of that. I assume you had some reason for intercepting a diplomatic mission?”
A tall, skinny commander that looked like the weight of his medals and gold braid might overbalance him at any moment adjusted his glasses and intoned, “The subjects of High Queen Ramase do not recognize the sovereignty of your pathetic little planet; therefore you cannot have diplomatic arrangements with other systems. Furthermore, your class and marking have been identified as belonging to a ship that was sited in several insurrection – “
Jamie felt his eyes blazing. “It’s not insurrection if you are invading our planet and claiming it for your own – that’s called defense, or didn’t they teach the definitions of Basic language to you at that subpar brainwashing system you call an academy?”
The skinny commander’s eyes opened in surprise – and then obvious rage. “You insolent porcine byproduct!”
He walked over to the console and flipped his shields off, and then forced his body into a casual leaning pose he didn’t feel in the slightest. “Please. If you lot were any dumber, they’d have to hire Wenverian Crustaceans to help you cheat on your exams.”
Even if this didn’t work, it was almost worth dying to see the Ramsae commanders turning purple with rage. The skinny commander gave him a deadly smirk. “Fire all weapons.”
Stewart gave him a shark-like grin. “Go to hell.”
Minutes, or maybe hours later – he took in a deep breath, as if waking from a deep sleep. The woman (goddess?) sat on the floor with his head in her lap in the cockpit of the Siren while the wreckage of seven ruined ships floated serenely in the darkness of space.
Her voice was thick. “You are awake.”
He blinked. “And even more surprising, I am alive.”
She dimpled. “Hmm. This was nothing. You should have seen the things I could do when I was worshiped properly. Your desperation and faith allowed me more power than I’ve had in eons.”
He shuddered. He had made a devil’s deal to win an unwinnable situation. “My crew?”
“Teleported to their homeworlds, with a vague memory of you sending each of them off before this fight. Each of them has enough credit to make a good life for themselves, just as you requested.”
He nodded and tried to sit up. She held him down, smiling with teeth slightly too pointed and eyes that were never human. “Will you keep your word Captain?”
“I will. If you help me free my homeworld, protect my people, then I will Captain this vessel and live as a ghost – bearing your symbol in battle and dedicating my kills to you. No man will know that I live, until the war is over, and then my life will be forfeit.”
She patted his cheek and slid gracefully into the Captain’s chair. “Don’t look so glum. A forfeit isn’t an end Captain. You are about to win unwinnable war – and when you time is done, you will find that eternity spent with a goddess is not a fate worse than death.”
He stood at the console, turning his ship to the homeworld of the empire had oppressed his people.
He’d trade his own life for the people he loved a hundred times with no regrets. If that meant dying he was fine with it.
If it meant living, he could do that too.
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