***Very Important Author's Note***

This chapter is not a continuation of To the Core. It is the first chapter of a rewrite. The general plot is mostly the same but the setting has been fleshed out in my notes, developements I came up with concerning characters partway through the first version have been fully worked out, all of this is being applied from the beginning instead of a half-ass retcon job, and everything should just be better. In a few days, I am going to take down this story completely and repost it with only this chapter as a new one under the same title. I already have the next few chapters outlined, and they're actually long enough to be fairly called actual chapters (this one is a little over seven thousand words), and will be aiming to get one written about every week or so. I think that new readers will like this new version better, and those who have followed the first version will hopefully like it even more so.


It would take a while to list all of the reasons why Cecelia "Cissy" Shamus despised Verona, but the fact that the most profitable legitimate business on the planet was pandering to pompous, rich assholes was definitely one of them. People like the man she stumbled into as she exited the bar just inside of the main entrance to Capulet's Casino. He stood only a few centimeters taller than her, factoring in the uncomfortable fifteen centimeter heels she was wearing, had a medium build and black hair perhaps eight centimeters long on the top of his head and neatly trimmed around the sides framing his clean shaven, medium complected face.

She clamped her right hand onto his left shoulder as she started to fall and wrapped her left arm around his waist, prompting him to grab her and brace himself to prevent them both from collapsing. The asshole even cupped a hand over her left breast as he helped her back up, then smiled and straightened the lapels of his ugly looking dark purple suit jacket when she released him and smoothed the tight silver fabric of her own dress.

"Watch where you're going," Cissy snarled at him. He flinched back slightly, but she couldn't tell if that was because of her tone or the strong scent of whiskey on her breath. He grinned again after just a second, though.

"My most humble apologies," he said in a patronizing tone that made her want to punch him in the face. "Can I make it up to you by escorting you to your accommodations? You seem as if you could benefit from some assistance, and maybe a lie down."

"I'm fine, thank you," she growled and spun and headed straight for the exit doors, her heels clicking against the entryway's white marble floor as she reached down and uselessly attempted to pull the hem of her sleeveless dress down to cover more than half of her thighs. She wasn't trying to actively read his thoughts, but he wasn't bothering to control them either and she was certain without turning around that he was ogling her backside. Asshole, she thought back at him, focusing hard enough to make sure he couldn't miss her opinion. She sensed a bit of amusement from him as she passed the doorman on her way out, glaring at him to encourage him to pointedly look in any direction but hers.

Cissy veered left after stepping out into Verona's dry night heat, waving off the young looking man in a Capulet's uniform who politely asked if she would be needing a taxi, several of which were lined up and waiting just a few meters away, and pointedly ignored the other patrons entering or exiting the casino. She stepped off of the sidewalk and onto the road between a pair of the yellow cabs as a black stretch limousine with dark tinted windows glided up, suspended just under a meter above the pavement on its invisible grav field, and came to a stop with the rearmost door precisely in front of her. The parking fees required to have a private vehicle, particularly one nearly eleven meters long, waiting so close to the main entrance of this place were ridiculous, but they were barely even pocket change compared with the payoff this job offered, so the limo had been been positioned to see her come out. The door opened for her automatically and she slumped down into the plush rear bench and reached out to grab the handle and slam the door behind her before it could close on its own.

"Well?" the woman lounging on the long bench to Cissy's left said with a single raised blonde eyebrow. She was covered neck to toe in matte black body armor, mostly three centimeter thick composite plates with the flexible underlining only visible around the joints, even though that alone was tough enough to deflect bullets from most small arms. The woman was just under a hundred and ninety centimeters tall from the top of her head, from which her blonde hair disappeared into the back of her armor in a thick braid, down to the soles of her armored boots.

"If it's another nine years before I come back to this dirtball again," Cissy growled, "it'll still be too soon." She quickly spun a charm to tear apart the straps of her shoes so they fell off of her feet as she kicked them across the limo's spacious interior and flashed a neural command to drop the holographic projection on her right eye. She'd lost that eye in a particularly nasty fight as a child and hadn't had access to medical care to replace it for several years. Even when given the option of having a new, "natural" eye grown to replace it she had elected for the plain, solid, featureless, dull gray artificial replacement instead. It let her see a lot more and, as long as she left it's holoveil turned off, she thought it made her look more imposing. She had had to turn that on to blend in with the tourists, but she had nothing to hide here.

"I can see why you complain about this place so much," the lounging amazon said with her lips curled up in a smirk. "I think the natives are the worst. They all seem to be either greedy sycophants trying to sell you something or haughty bitches that think they're the greatest people in the universe."

Cissy pulled her dress over her head, the silky smooth fabric sliding over her flesh easily, wadded the garment up and threw it at the other woman, who casually batted it aside with a black gauntleted hand. "Fuck you, Blitz." Cissy's most grievous complaint against Verona was that she'd lived on it for the first fifteen Terran Standard years of her life.

"No time for that now," Blitz smirked as she reached down and tossed first the pants of Cissy's armor over onto the seat next to her now nearly naked comrade, then her boots and tunic. "We've got work to do, assuming you got the transponder on the right guy."

"One-ninety centimeters tall, architect with an aura that smells like overpriced hair gel," Cissy said as she arched her back and pulled her pants on. Only about one percent of the human race possessed psychic abilities, but those that did could sense "auras" of ambient psychic waves around each other unless they were carefully restraining their minds and each individual psychic's aura had a different sensation to it. Some seemed to have a certain color about them, others a certain feel or other sensation. One normally couldn't sense their own aura but Cissy knew that hers tasted like grapes. "Bastard felt me up while I was planting it in his ugly ass suit jacket."

"Can't say I blame him," Blitz smirked again, "what with that dress you were wearing. Combined with the smell of booze on your breath you certainly look easy enough."

"That was the point," Cissy growled as she fastened her pants and reached for her boots. "I might not have minded if I was actually as drunk as I smell." Like her companions, Cissy had countless nanites within her body that could speed healing and nearly instantly eliminate almost any known pathogen or toxin from her system. A simple command to her implanted computer could tell them to ignore something, like alcohol, for instance, but missing a chance at the guy they'd been hunting down for nearly a TS week wasn't worth getting drunk. There would be plenty of time for that later.

"I'll have to remember that for when you decide to celebrate leaving this backwards hole again," Blitz teased. Cissy paused fastening her boot to glare at her friend. There was no way she could have heard her thoughts just now. Not even Jaeger could do that while masking. Blitz giggled at her expression, the laughter coming out at a slightly higher pitch than her usual deep and sultry voice, but just as smoothly. "Seriously, as if I need to read your mind to know that you'll be opening a bottle the moment we compress out of here. You've said so yourself at least a dozen times since we got here."

"Fourteen," a new voice , also feminine, said from the passenger seat as the divider behind the driver's compartment soundlessly slid down, "in my presence alone." Tendrils of smoke drifted back into the rear of the limo, coming from the lit cigarettes held by both the speaker and the man behind the wheel. Nicotine addiction, as well as the other nasty stuff caused by tobacco products, was easily countered by a full nanite compliment, but psychic endorphin withdrawal was among the few things that could not be. Singularity chose to smoke to distract himself from that withdrawal when masking and Tomo had picked it up from him along with every other questionable habit she ever displayed. They were also wearing armor with their helmets off, his bright red hair pulled into a pony tail at the nape of his neck before disappearing into his protective garments as was hers, which was would have been the same color as the armor without its lustrous shine.

"Now if you'll hurry up and get some clothes on," Singularity said around the cigarette held in his lips, "you're going to want to strap in. It looks like he's headed to the port and we're going the wrong direction. I'm going to have to do some creative driving to catch him before he gets through the gates." Their target, who's real identity was still a mystery because he had used at least three aliases since making planetfall, had the annoyingly paranoid practice of returning to his ship at the spaceport every night rather than checking into a room at one of the myriad hotels that Verona offered where grabbing him in his sleep would have been easy enough. They did know they had the right guy, however, because they had tracked and followed that private space yacht to Verona. Intercepting the unencrypted communications between the vessel and the planetary spaceport had been a simple task for Molly, and Alpha Team, consisting of the four mercenaries in the limo, had come down on a shuttle to find a way to bag their quarry.

Cissy had the rest of her armor on and sealed in ten seconds, including the sleek featureless helmet that resembled those worn by grav bikers, and buckled and tightened a seat belt around herself. Blitz sat up and did likewise, pulling her own helmet from the floor beside her as she strapped in. Cissy masked her aura, consciously restraining the waves of psychic energy that her brain normally generated, and called up the tracker she had planted on their target. Her implants obligingly projected a blinking red karat onto her retinas, both artificial and natural, along with a distance indicator as the limo swerved hard to the left as Singularity crossed oncoming traffic while accelerating.

It was after local midnight, but Verona City operated around the clock so there was quite a bit of traffic on the main streets. In the nearly sixteen hundred years since the first crude automobiles had been produced by humankind the one thing about them that had never really changed was the inclusion of horns, and quite a few of those sounded in protest to the reckless maneuver. Cissy caught a brief glance of a police cruiser flashing by, heading in the opposite direction, but the Veronese cops wouldn't even consider stopping them unless they became involved in a serious accident because the limo had a diplomatic registry. That would be almost impossible for mercenaries like themselves to acquire on nearly any other planet, but on Verona it was simply a matter of offering a large enough bribe to a customs official that they could kick enough back to their supervisors to overlook it while still appeasing the bureaucratic peon that actually did the paperwork. That wasn't exactly small change by any standard, but the bounty on their target was a full one hundred million belts, and the Orion currency was stronger than any other in known space save for the Terran dollar.

Their target's taxi was on the freeway and already halfway across the expansive city to the spaceport by the time Singularity veered up an on ramp, but taxi drivers had to at least act like they slightly respected the posted speed limits whereas a "diplomatic" limousine did not. Combined with the lack of worry about cross traffic, Singularity had the limo opened up to its maximum velocity of nearly two hundred and forty kilometers per hour in short order, weaving through traffic traveling barely half that speed with the practiced ease of a veteran fighter pilot. They caught up to the target's cab at the interchange between the main freeway and the dedicated access way to the spaceport. Singularity slowed down to about a hundred and sixty for the interchange ramp, not because he couldn't make the gentle turn at full speed but so that they didn't overtake their quarry until he was off of the ramp and once again traveling in a straight line.

As they closed within a hundred meters of their prey's taxi, both Singularity and Tomo dropped their masks. A charm composed of Tomo's super coherent mental energy, which glowed bright yellow to the senses of other psychics, flashed out to envelope the taxi for an instant, flaring on a particular point inside the grav car's engine. An instant later another charm flew out, this one from Singularity and "sounding" to the other psychics much like the controlled chaos that it truly was. Singularity's charm wasn't particularly strong, at least for him, but Tomo's scan had let him know exactly where he needed to apply his own charm and the taxi's grav field flared and died out like an overloaded light bulb and the underside of the car slammed into the ceramicrete freeway at a hundred and twenty kilometers per hour. Fine bits of the road surface flew up and scattered into the air, but the taxi's undercarriage wasn't as durable and jagged pieces of torn metal went flying as the vehicle skidded along the ground. The mercenary leader's charm hadn't affected the vehicle's inertial stabilizer, so it did not flip or roll and barely even turned as it skidded to a stop with the limo gliding to a much more graceful, and quiet, halt alongside it.

"Blitz," Singularity said calmly as he pulled his own helmet over his head with one hand and dissolved the mostly smoked cigarette in the other into dust with a quick charm, "go."

"Got it," the tall woman said, her voice now coming over their helmets' built in comm systems as she dropped her own mask. Blitz wasn't exactly the most skillful person in the universe at manipulating psychic waves, but she was quite strong and had an extremely rare ability that she could use instinctively. Just for an instant, Blitz appeared to Cissy's senses as if she were in a shadow, then there was a surge of chaotic energy around her and she disappeared, seemingly popping out of thin air outside between the two vehicles.

Blitz's left arm came up as she crossed the remaining distance to the thoroughly disabled taxi with two long strides, and Cissy could see clearly out through the limo's window as her hand cocked back and a thirteen millimeter wide, twenty centimeter long blade with the same nonreflective black finish as their armor snapped out from the base of her wrist. The blade's monomolecular edge, backed by the soldier of fortune's augmented muscles, cut through the cab's door and latch with ease before retracting back into her arm as quickly as it had appeared and Blitz cocked that arm back, clenching her hand into a fist as she reached out with her right and yanked the door open.

Cissy dropped her own mask just in time to sense a structured charm forming inside the cab; their target had sensed the charms that disabled the taxi and the presence of the ones that spun them, as well as Blitz's approach. It was a simple charm, the most basic offensive application of structured psychic waves, but with enough power behind it to at least blow away a good bit of Blitz's helmet and quite possibly some of her face behind it, but a countercharm roared out from Singularity to meet it even as it left the man's mind, causing the waves to dissipate harmlessly. The man might have had time to blink before Blitz's left cross caught him on the jaw and knocked him out cold. Cissy sensed Blitz spin a quick charm, similar to the one she herself had used to shed her uncomfortable shoes just a few minutes earlier but directed at the man's seat belt, then she yanked the man out of the wrecked taxi and dropped to one knee, throwing him over her leg and leaning her body over his. The two were surrounded by Blitz's shadowy aura for an instant and then were suddenly crouched right in front of Cissy inside the limo's spacious interior.

Singularity didn't wait for a verbal acknowledgment from Blitz before stomping on the accelerator; he didn't need his eyes or ears to sense her return. Blitz planted one arm against the floor to brace herself against the acceleration and dumped the unconscious man off of her lap. "That did it," Tomo said in the same offhand tone that most people would use to remark on the weather, "full police alert."

Cissy mentally flicked through comm channels to the police band and confirmed it for herself. The cops hadn't tried to stop them because of their vehicle's diplomatic registry, but it only made sense for them to carefully watch any vehicle flying through the city as they had been and doing so was a simple task between automatic traffic monitoring cameras and the handful of aerial patrol units that were circling above the city at any given time. The authorities probably didn't have a clue as to exactly what was really happening, but their proximity to the crashing taxi, combined with the fact that they had stopped then began accelerating away after a few seconds was enough for even a "diplomatic" vehicle to be at least detained. If anybody had caught Blitz's smash and grab it would be all the more reason to try to stop them. Even if the local authorities knew that the man was a wanted fugitive in the Orion Alliance they wouldn't care because Verona was a neutral planet that recognized no laws but its own and wasn't party to any extradition treaties, which was the main reason that scumbags like this guy liked the place so much.

The main entrance to the spaceport was barely three klicks ahead and they could reach it in just under a minute at full speed. Cissy spun a knockout charm and threw it at their prisoner; he was already unconscious but now his synapses were scrambled well enough that he wouldn't be waking up for at least an hour, probably two. She then "flexed" her mind, focusing on producing as much psychic energy as she could, and reached out with her senses in all directions.

Psychic abilities worked by altering reality in one way or another, and doing so in any coherent fashion required being able to tell what the reality was that one wished to alter. Psychics could sense things all around them, and that "omni sense" became stronger as their brains generated and held on to more of that reality warping energy that was the manifestation of their special gifts. There were two different types of psychics, each generating and manipulating a different type of energy that acted differently from the other, and while both could usually produce similar effects they did so by different methods and each was better suited to different tasks than the other. Structured psychics, or "architects" in common vernacular, were as a rule much better at picking out and recognizing more things at once through their omni sense. Tomo and their newly acquired prisoner were architects, but Cissy was a wild psychic, what most people commonly called a "psycho." Still, she was only searching for a specific type of thing and she was quite capable of simply ignoring everything else.

There, she thought to herself. The grav field of a powered craft well above ground level and the nearest possible pursuit. About two and a half klicks west and unable to get into range to use a focused EMP cannon to disable the limo before they got to the starport, which was to the northeast. Tomo was strong enough to shield them from such a weapon at least once, probably two or three times, but it was better if she could preserve her strength for once they entered the port, the airspace over which was kept clear for traffic approaching from or departing towards orbit. Still, she thought, they could always...aw shit.

"You do sense the grav wall they just put up at the main gate," Tomo asked, a bit of amusement creeping into her otherwise unconcerned tone, "right?"

"Of course I do," Singularity answered. Cissy didn't need to see his face to know that he was grinning behind his helmet. "Get ready to shield our package with a stasis charm. Blitz, roll him up against the divider then you and Banshee give me everything you've got."

Grav walls were powered by engines nearly identical to the one that drove the limo they were riding in, except that they were generally much more powerful and pointed in a single direction. The one blocking their path wasn't as strong as the ones used by spacecraft to deflect micrometeors, let alone the ones that protected warships from kinetic weapons, but it should be more than capable of stopping a car going a relatively slow few hundred klicks per hour. Cissy leaned up against the divider behind Tomo's seat and connected a tendril of her own psychic energy to the one that Singularity extended in her direction. Then she closed her eyes and flexed her mind again, letting all of her waves flow into that conduit.

Molly was bored. Passively monitoring activity on the surface below only occupied a fraction of her attention, and using her active sensors would only serve to attract unwanted attention from the local authorities. She had been distracting herself a bit by playing poker on several casinos' planetary network sites under the aliases of her notional crew and was up by nearly the equivalent of a hundred thousand belts, but even that got boring after a few days.

Verona was an arid world with little cloud cover to speak of, so watching the city below through her telescopes was easy and she had noticed that limo traveling through the city at high speed. It wasn't the first vehicle she had observed doing that but there was something very familiar in the way this one moved, plus it was headed directly toward the spaceport, which definitely piqued her interest.

She became quite certain it was important when she watched it slam into the grav wall blocking the spaceport's main entrance and turn into a giant fireball. She supposed that it wasn't really a ball of fire so much as a hemisphere since the grav wall didn't budge a micron that she could discern and made one side of the explosion completely flat, but that was just semantics. Her suspicions of the destroyed vehicle's relevance were confirmed barely a second later when she received an order from one of her bosses.

"Molly," she said, "it's go time."

"Aye aye," Molly answered happily as she triggered the dummy charge planted on her outer hull. To any outside sensors it would appear that the "charter transport vessel" Lazy Wastrel had just suffered a sudden antimatter containment failure that blew a hole in it's side, which was exactly why that charge had been doctored up. She waited a few seconds and then cut the connections to the three poker games she'd been playing, the money in those accounts having already been set to transfer to individual private bank accounts and then be routed to Orion Prime with the next courier ship. Allowing a few more seconds for believable "human response time," she began transmitting a distress signal and dropped out of her parking orbit on an emergency landing vector that was promptly provided by Verona Orbital Control. Even a corrupt government like the one that ran this rock knew better than to cut corners on orbital traffic control, and the new course should have them low enough above the spaceport within a few minutes.

Finally, she thought, some excitement.

Cissy tucked and rolled as she bounced across the ceramicrete on the inside of the grav wall. Her armor protected her from any abrasions and her enhanced skeleton was uninjured by the impact, but she was going to have quite a few bruises soon from this tumble. Those would heal fast enough. When she finally stopped rolling a few seconds later she came up into a low crouch and took stock of the situation.

The remnants of their limo were still burning on the other side of the grav wall. There was a lot of shouting coming from over there but she didn't bother to focus on it and try to make anything out. Nobody was visible on the inside of the barrier, however, which was a good thing. She glanced up at the tower next to the gate, zooming in on the control room at its top with a neural command. One man, standing up and leaning against the window to gape at the spectacle outside the gate.

Cissy didn't need to turn her head to know that her comrades were fine. She even sensed the protective cocoon of energy around their captive before Tomo released the charm maintaining it. One thing was different. Sometime between when his disruption charm had gotten them through the grav wall and when they stopped rolling about a hundred meters later, Singularity's aura had changed. Instead of indescribable noise, she sensed an aura of incredible calm coming from him, despite the fact that he also seemed to be surrounded by violent, destructive energy. Psychic auras normally only gave off a single sensation but the leaders of the Minutemen weren't normal, even for psychics. The change in his aura also meant that the rest of the Minutemen, somewhere up in orbit, were coming to their aid.

Great, Cissy thought, now we can finally get off of this worthless ball of dirt.

She felt the air begin to tingle in a familiar way at the same time as Singularity spun the perceptnet, and she let the charm settle into her head and allowed it to draw away a trickle of her psychic strength to help power it. Just like when scanning for airborne pursuit a moment earlier, she ignored most of the information that was suddenly available to her, this time from her comrades' senses as well as her own. She actually smiled, though, when she felt a mental tug that drew her attention to the windows of the control booth atop the gate tower. Most practicing psychics found themselves more adept at producing certain types of effects and there was a very specific reason that Cissy's team name was Banshee.

She took a deep breath as she quickly spun her charm, ordering the psychic waves inside her mind to produce the desired effect, then flashed a quick neural command to narrow the focus of her helmet's external speaker and released her charm along with a loud scream. Psychic and sonic energies melded and amplified each other as they shrilled up at the tower and enveloped it, shattering the windows that were built to deflect fire from personal rail guns. She saw the guard inside the tower duck and hit the deck, probably out of reflex, and then the tingling in the air manifested into a bluish white flash that made her flinch away. Her mentor was good enough with that charm that the guard would likely suffer no serious aftereffects but every bit of electronic equipment in that booth was quite literally fried. The controls could be overridden from elsewhere in the spaceport, but the port security guards outside the gate and its grav wall were stuck there for the moment.

Another wordless tug on her attention prompted her to turn and run at a full sprint along with the others, Blitz having scooped up their unconscious prisoner and tossing him over her shoulder while Cissy and Singularity were spinning their charms and Tomo's aura glowing bright yellow with built up power ready to be released. The four armored mercenaries sprinted away from the gate and into the port, quickly reaching a speed of just over eighty kilometers per hour, their artificially enhanced muscles propelling them twice as fast as a purely natural human could run at peak physical condition. They could actually go a little bit faster if they used a few select charms, but even with cybernetic augmentation the human body could only be pushed so far without risking painful and potentially crippling injuries.

In less than a minute they were passing the first row of small personnel shuttles arrayed along the edge of the "docking" section of the spaceport. Cissy had always thought that was a needlessly pretentious way of describing a giant parking lot for space ships since they weren't actually docked to anything. She could hear emergency sirens and was dimly aware of the flashing lights off in the darkness behind them, but those were heading toward the gate. On any other planet she would suspect that port security was getting ready to ambush them from behind the next parked ship, but right then she just mumbled a silent prayer of thanks that she had gotten off this planet before the stupidity had infected her as well. Seriously, nobody had thought to look inside the gate when they took out the guard tower?

She shook those thoughts out of her head as they came up beneath the ship their prisoner had arrived on. It bore the name Medici Prince and, according to their own version of the public records which were up to date as of two standard weeks ago, it was legitimately registered out of Nock II, an Orion world. Singularity had explained the meaning behind the name and it was just pretentious enough for the bastard she'd help nab. At a hundred and forty meters long and a third as wide it wasn't quite half the size of most of the dozen or so larger transports and light freighters parked beyond it, but it was still rather large for a privately owned ship. Singularity spun a quick scanning charm up at it, then signaled all clear over the link and his aura swirled with a stronger charm. The Prince's boarding ramp fell from where it had been folded up into the ship's belly five meters off the ground and clanged loudly on the tarmac as alarms sounded from within the vessel. Actually breaking into a ship was a waste of time when one could simply trip the emergency hatch release from the outside.

Following another wordless psychic command, Cissy sprinted up the ramp as another charm flowed past her and spread through the volume of the Prince and she spun another charm, identical to the one she used to keep their prisoner unconscious but with all of her strength behind it this time. Sing's charm kicked in just as she got to the top, and when she screamed the sound and the psychic waves tied to it flooded the entire ship as if the interior bulkheads weren't even there. There should be at least a half dozen people aboard the ship, quite possibly twice that many, but no alarm in the world was going to be awaking them any time soon.

Blitz flickered into existence a couple strides in front of Cissy and dropped their unconscious prisoner to the deck, and Cissy stepped back against the bulkhead to let Tomo rush past to follow. They would make sure that any crew currently aboard weren't going to be going anywhere once they did wake up. Cissy stood guard at the ramp as Singularity ran past her to get to the bridge, where a quick hookup with Molly, who should be in low orbit by now, would get them access to the ship's controls and let them shut off the alarms, close the ramp, and get out of there.


By the time the Medici Prince was ascending, ignoring the frantic transmissions from the spaceport's control tower, Molly was well within the atmosphere directly above city of Fair Verona. She ignored the warnings from Orbital Control about the hijacked vessel, feigning ignorance by garbling her transmissions back to them. The Prince slowed to come to a halt, hovering just over twenty-five thousand meters above the city and Molly eased to a halt just above the yacht as its transponder went active, altered from its original state to announce it to be under the command of the mercenaries. When that happened, Molly switched off her fake transponder and activated her real one.

She also stopped acting like she was something she wasn't in other ways. She cut power to her decoy systems, and dropped the holoveil that had been visually disguising her hull. She cranked up her main reactor from the ten percent it had been holding at to full power and then brought her secondary one out of standby and to full strength as well, increasing her total energy production fifteen fold. Nothing that wasn't a warship would be capable of such power output, but just to make sure nobody thought she was faking again she started charging her weapons and brought up her grav walls and energy shields for a couple seconds before switching on her ECM and scrambling the sensors of anything scanning her. The damaged private charter yacht "Lazy Wastrel" had transformed into a fully operational destroyer in the skies of Fair Verona over the course of a few seconds. And people noticed.

"Hey, boss," Molly said over a channel to Quantum, "we're being hailed by the Octolynx." The flagship of the Verona System Defense Force was an old cruiser named after the planet's apex predator, a desert arachnid that grew to about twenty kilos. Given that the ship was nearly two centuries old and hadn't been refitted in at least half that time Molly idly wondered if its namesake wasn't actually more dangerous than the ship itself. "You want to talk to them?"

"Nope," came Quantum's calm reply. "Tell them to get out of our way. We're ready to launch if they don't."

"Aye, Aye." Molly's hull was an eighty year old Dirk class destroyer that had been decommissioned and sold to the Minutemen rather than being refitted by the Orion Alliance Armed Space Forces. The mercenaries had performed their own modifications, the largest, aside from Molly herself, being the removal of the vessel's missile bays in favor of a secondary matter-antimatter reactor and a hangar bay.

Molly projected a holographic avatar of herself onto the empty bridge. The image that represented the AI was an auburn haired young woman of average height and medium build. Pretty, but not exceptionally so, she wore a simple pale blue dress and extremely old fashioned leather shoes. Image in place, she brought up the main screen to show a young man in the uniform of a Verona SDF ensign. Before he finished blinking at the simple looking woman standing on an otherwise vacant bridge, she spoke.

"I'm not going to waste words on a flunky, so listen carefully. I am Molly Pitcher of the Minutemen mercenary company, fully licensed by the Orion Alliance. The Medici Prince and its crew are wanted on multiple charges of kidnapping, extortion, and murder. Because everyone in your government is either too corrupt or too incompetent to care about things like that, we're taking care of the situation ourselves. Now get that oversized piece of space junk out of our way before I blow it into a lot of very small pieces of space junk and fly out through the debris field!"

Molly cut the transmission as the ensign was trying to find words and laughed to herself. She guessed about six seconds, but the next hail came in five. She put it back on the main screen, this time seeing a skinny, middle aged looking man with a lot more ribbons and insignia on his uniform seated in a command chair. She wasn't sure what any of the ribbons were for since there hadn't been any real military action in this system since it was first settled.

"This is Commodore Jericho Alston of the Verona System Defense Force," the man said in a demanding tone that sounded too deep to be the way a man than thin normally spoke. "Stand down your weapons and defensive systems and prepare to be boarded, or you will be destroyed."

"No," Molly calmly responded, her avatar smiling politely and clasping her hands behind her back, "I don't think I'm going to do any of that. Even if your outdated sensors had the slightest chance of getting through my ECM, you can't even try firing on me because I have your capital city directly below me. That orbit of yours is a great place to block people from getting into the city beneath you but not so much for keeping them out. There is nothing behind you except empty space, however, and you are well within range of all of my weapons right now. Tell me, Commodore, how well do you think your grav walls on that heap can stand up to a class five mass driver? Because I can put three shots into you in less than four seconds and I'm not going to miss inside of fifty thousand kilometers."

"You are threatening an act of war!" Alston was looking nervous and had actually winced a little when she named her primary weapon. She could probably offer him a bribe and he'd let them past with a slap on the wrist in the form of a citation for failure to properly declare armament or some crap like that, but there was no way they were going to pay off an idiot like this.

"We are mercenaries executing a private bounty, Commodore," Molly responded cheerily. "Wars are things that happen between governments, and we represent no government right now. Therefor, it is impossible for us to threaten or perform any acts of war."

"How about terrorism then?" the man snarled back at her.

"How about you get out of our way in the next thirty seconds before I start punching holes in your ship?"

"You don't have the guts to open fire on us! Even if you did get past us, there are other ships that would-"

Molly slewed her hull to bring the pair of heavy lasers on her port side to bear on the Octolynx in its orbit above her and fired a single shot from both. They were her only heavy beam weapons, but they were individually larger than any of the four that the cruiser mounted on either of its broadsides and she had enough power to fire them faster. The commodore stopped mid-threat as alarms sounded on his bridge around him and his crew shouted panicked reports and requests for orders.

"Wow, that tub's in worse shape than I thought," Molly said. "I'm getting readings that your energy screens are down to seventy-six percent. They should be better than that. But now that you should be able to figure out that I'm not afraid to actually shoot at you, you should also know that the only ships you have in this system that could even catch our prize ship are a couple of corvettes half my size and a dozen multipurpose fighters based on a space station in high orbit on the other side of this planet. I'm carrying fighters of my own, Commodore, and while only six of them actually have pilots in them right now they are state of the art interceptors flown by blooded aces. Assuming all of your birds can even take off, your green pilots won't be able to do anything but hurry up and die if you send them after us. Do yourself and your people a favor and get the hell out of our way. If you're not on your way out of my weapons range in fifteen seconds, I'm opening fire again and I'm not stopping until your poorly maintained excuse for a cruiser is burning on reentry!"

Molly cut the signal and lined up a shot from her main rail gun on the Octolynx's center of mass. To her disappointment, the ship began moving away after only ten seconds. She reopened her channel with Quantum. "They're moving, boss."

"You're disappointed."

Molly's avatar on the empty bridge snorted to herself. "Well, it's been over a year since I've actually had a chance to really shoot something and I am a warship, after all. Besides, anybody that doesn't keep a ship in good condition doesn't deserve to have it. To me, destroying that thing would be like euthanasia. It just shouldn't have to suffer like that."

"Other ships aren't self aware, Molly."

"Maybe not, but it's still just offensive."

"We're not going to argue with you there," Quantum sighed, "but we did get the job done and we couldn't have done it without you. As soon as the Octolynx is out of weapons range, head out of the system and chart a course home. Couple with the Prince before we compress; it'll slow us down by a full day on its own power. As to your lack of action lately, we've got a feeling that that's going to change soon."

"Don't tease me, boss."

"We promise," Quantum said in a soothing tone. "We aren't sure yet exactly what it is, but we can feel something. We'll find out more when we get home, we think."

"Works for me."

A minute later the Octolynx got to the edge of what should be its broadside weaponry's maximum effective range. Molly's larger beams could still score moderately solid hits, but it was their weapons that needed to be out of range, not hers. After this I don't think we'll exactly be welcome back here any time soon, she thought as she lit her engines and escorted the Medici Prince out of orbit. Banshee and Frisbee will love that.