SPACE PIRATE CAPTAIN MACTAGGART

EPISODE 62: CAPTAIN MANDARIN'S LAST STAND

Written by Craig Black, Jake Elmer and Jordann William-Edwards

Previously on Space Pirate Captain MacTaggart:

Having discovered the Stone of Control in an ancient temple on the distant planet of Hopena, the infamous Captain Jaws MacTaggart and the crew of the Stellar Typhoon had made a beeline for the planet Libera Volo, in order to deliver it to R.L, the leader of the Galactic Liberation Front. However, on the way there, they'd had to content with the likes of Captain Darkblade, who was working on commission from Princess Midori. Secretly deploying a mechanical spider assassin onboard the Stellar Typhoon, Darkblade was then foiled when first the assassin, and then both himself and the Bloody Cutlass, were destroyed by Jaws.

After safely arriving at Libera Volo and delivering the Stone of Control, Jaws and R.L began to form a plan to use all five Stones of the Cosmos to bring about a lasting peace across the Galaxy. However, they were rudely interrupted by the sudden arrival of Commander Barratt and the Stellar Federation battlecruiser Oshan Akuma. After being lured away from Libera Volo in the Stellar Typhoon, Jaws and her crew then returned in their fighters to take on the drone carriers attacking the surface of the planet.

Luckily, R.L was able to save the day, with the help of a recently installed ion laser cannon, which had gone hitherto unused for the past few weeks. That did the trick, and the Oshan Akuma was forced to retreat, taking the drone carriers and fighters with it. In the bleak aftermath of the battle, a little bit of light relief was to be had when Alasdair unexpectedly proposed to Kyoko.

However, even this relief was short-lived, for an Imperial communication intercepted by the Front revealed Princess Midori's intentions to launch an attack on the Earth. Knowing that the planet's defences couldn't possibly hope to stand up to such an attack, R.L immediately set about rallying his own forces to take on the Princess. Meanwhile, Jaws and her crew set off in the Stellar Typhoon, to try and catch up with the Princess' flagship before it reached Earth.

Now the Stellar Typhoon is hurriedly plying its way through deep space. Forced to follow the same hyperspace trade lanes as every other spacecraft, Jaws and her crew struggling to find another way to speed up their progress, and with the threat of attack at an all-time high, tensions are running high among the crew...

And now the adventure continues...

Our story continues up on the bridge of the Stellar Typhoon, about half an hour after its sudden departure from Libera Volo. The ship was already halfway across the patch of space controlled by the Galactic Liberation Front, and it wouldn't be too long before they passed over into Stellar Federation territory. Even so, its current pace just wasn't fast enough for Jaws, and she was determined to speed things up by any means necessary.

At this moment, Jaws and the crew were crowded around the view screen, as they inspected various plans and diagrams as part of their brainstorming. Jaws in particular was keen to point out various important pieces of information.

"...So, we're currently passing through this Sector here..." Jaws pointed to a small white triangle marking their current location, "...And Princess Midori's flagship is estimated to be somewhere around here..." She then pointed to another small green triangle on another part of the map, "...Which means that, assuming they continue at their current pace, they'll be well ahead of us by the time we pass through the Edinso chokepoint...And if the Princess is already on course for the Sol System, there's no chance of us ever catching up with her!"

"We'd better think fast, then, Captain," Leslie replied, "The Earth Defence Force most likely won't be able to stand up to a major assault. Not without a ship like the Stellar Typhoon..."

"Couldn't we plot a more direct course to Earth, though?" Blackmask suggested.

"The computer's already worked that out," Jaws explained, "Our current course is the most direct route possible...But even following that route, at light-speed, we couldn't possibly begin to hope to reach Earth ahead of the Princess..." She then assumed a rather more grim expression, "Just imagine the scene if we arrived too late...!"

"Oh, I can imagine it, alright! Scorched earth! Radioactive dust! Entire cities razed to the ground!"

"Wow, th' burd sure paints a bonnie picture!" Alasdair muttered dryly.

"Well, if anyone else has any bright ideas to help speed things up," Jaws demanded, "Then I'm all ears for it!" An awkward silence followed this, "Anyone?"

"Nae bright ideas, Captain..."

"Anyone got a stupid one, then?" Another long pause, before Kyoko suddenly raised her hand.

"I've got an idea, Captain-basan. It's pretty dangerous, but it's the only way..."

"And that idea is, Kyoko...?"

"We must override the computer's safety functions, and operate the ship's controls manually. Under normal circumstances, the computer doesn't allow the Stellar Typhoon to travel through hyperspace at any speed faster than it knows is safe. Using the override function, however, we could travel at twice that speed..."

"Is that possible, though?"

"Sure, Captain-basan. And the computer's records suggest that it has been done before, when they were first testing the ship's hyperspace capabilities."

"That was just one flight under test conditions, though. Not one that can be reproduced on a whim. You said yourself, Kyoko, it's a dangerous proposition..."

"Naturally, Captain-basan. It's entirely possible that operating the ship in this manner could overload all the major power systems..." Kyoko chuckled momentarily, "We could even risk blowing the entire ship up!"

"Oh, great. That'll save Princess Midori the trouble of blowing us up herself!"

"Maybe, but if travelling at twice light-speed will help enable us to catch up and destroy Midori-Hime, then that's a risk we'll have to take...!"

"Ah call 'at flying by th' seat ay yer pants!" Alasdair remarked.

"Exactly, Alasdair-san. We'll have to rely on our own personal computers: Our brains, and our own intuition..." Kyoko then looked at Jaws, and winked, "But of course, I'm not the Captain of the Stellar Typhoon. I'm just a Chief Engineer. The decision must be yours, Captain-basan!" Jaws considered the idea long and hard: It was dangerous, but the alternative was far worse.

"Let's go for it, Captain!" Blackmask probed, "We've got nothing to lose!"

"And besides," Leslie agreed, "There's no other way...Right, Alasdair?"

"Aye, ye can count me in an' aw," Alasdair replied dryly, "Ah jist love suicide missions!"

"So that's four votes so far for overriding the computer controls," Kyoko said decidedly, "What do you think, Captain-basan?"

"Alright!" Jaws finally said, after another long pause, "If it helps us to finally defeat Princess Midori, then so be it! Just one thing, Kyoko..."

"Hai, Captain-basan?"

"Once we start flying manually, is it possible to gradually throttle up to twice light-speed? Or will we have to go straight to it? It's just that I'm worried the engines won't cope with the sudden boost."

"No, the manual controls are designed to allow a gradual acceleration. Don't worry, Captain-basan. We can do everything in our power to prevent the engines melting down...Or at least, we'll be able to delay the meltdown by a couple of hours..."

"That's settled, then. Right, everyone! To your stations!"

At this, everyone cheered, before running off to prepare for the transition from automatic to manual control. Jaws went and sat back down in her command chair, and perused the view screen again. Up to that point, she hadn't had much faith in her own chances against Midori. But if the headstrong attitude of her crew was anything to go by, this mission, however difficult it was, would at least feel something like a walk in the park...

Meanwhile, several light-years back along the Stellar Typhoon's course, the Stellar Federation battlecruiser Oshan Akuma was parked in orbit around a huge purple gas giant, in an uninhabited star system. The battlecruiser had suffered severe damage during its engagement against the Stellar Typhoon above Libera Volo. Having been lulled into a false sense of security by the apparent ease with which they'd found the planet, Commander Barratt had found himself in for a nasty shock when the pirate cruiser suddenly fired its Trinity Cannon at him. He'd then had to call a hasty retreat in order to prevent further damage, and the Oshan Akuma hadn't moved from its orbit since arriving in the system the previous night.

At that moment, Barratt himself was impatiently pacing up and down the bridge of the Oshan Akuma, with only Lieutenant McMurdo for company. After their dishonourable discharge and exile from the Federation, Barratt had been offered a job by no lesser personage than Princess Midori of the Empire: She wanted him to track down the Stellar Typhoon and destroy it, while she carried on with her plan to invade the Sol System. However, before the Oshan Akuma could go anywhere, it had to have its wounds patched up, and this was what was causing Barratt much agitation right now.

"IMBECILES! The lot of them!" He snapped, "Just how does the Princess expect us to regain our honour in a crippled cruiser?! Simply drifting around in deep space, lumbered with a crew of incompetents! Lieutenant McMurdo! Haven't the repairs to the ship been completed yet?!"

"Our engineering staff are doing their best, Commander Barratt," McMurdo explained, her own patience starting to wear thin, "They'll have this cruiser fully operational again within twelve Standard hours, you see if they don't!"

"Hah! I'll believe that when I see it? Now, has Captain Mandarin recovered from her accident yet?"

"I believe Captain Clapton went down a few minutes ago to check up on her, Commander..."

Down in the Oshan Akuma's main infirmary, Captain Mandarin lay limp and forlorn on a gurney, bandaged up and in dire straits. During the Battle of Libera Volo, she'd actually managed to hold herself together reasonably well, only getting slightly overexcited at times. Her personal drone carrier, from which she'd commanded the ground battle, had only suffered superficial damage, and Mandarin herself had managed to escape with only a few scratches on her tail. This was obviously not the reason for her visit to the infirmary, where she was currently surrounded by medical personnel. Based on what was the reason, however, Mandarin thought a scratched up tail would be far more dignified.

"Well? How bad is it?" She gasped weakly to one of the medics, "I cannot suffer such a dishonourable death...I demand to know my present condition!" She attempted to turn her head to face another medic, but she had such a pain in her neck that it was impossible, "Ow! To...To be killed in battle is to die with honour...Even being shot through the head would be to be killed with integrity!" Finally, she gave up trying to move her head, and rested it back down on the gurney, "But to be struck down by a falling steel beam..."

"Her wounds are more serious than we thought," One of the medics whispered quietly to his companion at the opposite end of the gurney, "She will most likely fight no more..."

"What are you two saying?" Mandarin lifted her head up to face the two medics, "I demand to know what you two are whispering about!" Whether the medics had the nerve to answer or not, they wouldn't have gotten their chance: Before either of them could say anything, they were interrupted by the Infirmary door opening, as Captain Clapton walked into the room, holding a bunch of flowers.

"You know, Joey," He remarked as he walked over to Mandarin's gurney, "Getting all agitated won't help you recover faster. You should enjoy your rest!"

"So, you survived that accident without a scratch, huh, Dexter?" Mandarin hissed, "Or were your injuries given higher priority over mine?"

"No, I just had a lucky escape. My leg still hurts like hell, but other than that, I'm certainly in a better state than you are right now..."

"You little..." Mandarin began, only to cough wildly and collapse back onto her gurney. She looked despairingly up at Clapton, "Please, Dexter...You've had your medical training...You must tell me the truth about the seriousness of my injuries! Will I ever fight again?"

"Hmm..." Clapton motioned over to one of the medics, who whispered something to him that Mandarin couldn't hear. Judging by the serious look on his face, though, it wasn't good.

"Captain Clapton, I beg you...I await your verdict! You must tell me your answer!"

"Well, I suppose you deserve to know. According to this guy, you've suffered severe cerebral damage as a result of that accident, and that you'll soon become too incoherent to resume your position of command..."

"What?!"

"Frankly, I don't know what he's talking about. The damage isn't as bad as that. In any case, though, your position of command is in jeopardy. And however much pain you're in right now, it's only going to get worse with the passage of time."

"More pain? Oh, god...!"

"...And as an officer of the Stellar Federation, you can expect no sympathy from your superior officers..."

"Superior...Commander Barratt...Has he been made aware of this...?"

"I'm afraid so, Joey. He's completely indifferent to your suffering..." At this, Clapton noticed Mandarin's expression changing for the worst: Clearly this was the final straw for her, "I'm so sorry, Joey..."

"Ah, it's alright, Dexter..." Mandarin coughed weakly, "I shouldn't shoot the messenger...Listen, Dexter...Can I ask a favour of you?"

"Of course, Joey. Whatever you want..."

"Please...Take me to my personal drone carrier. Inform Commander Barratt that I've gone to a death befitting of a warrior...Then he'll be sorry, for all the things he's said and done to me!"

"Huh? Well, I must admit to being surprised, Joey...But if that's what you want, then it will be done. I'll take you at once, whilst the Oshan Akuma is still under repairs. You'll finally have the chance to prove your worth..."

"Oh, Dexter, thank you! I'm in your debt!"

"Actually..." Clapton continued, "I've had a better idea. One that'll help the lot of us..."

"Oh? And what would that be, Captain Clapton?" So Clapton whispered his plan to Mandarin. It was very long, very complicated and, she thought, very stupid, "What?" She said when Clapton had finished, "You can't be serious, Dexter? If Commander Barratt hears about this, he'll have all our necks!"

"Maybe so, but that's a risk we'll have to take. Besides, I'll make sure the Commander doesn't find out about this until it's too late!"

"And what if he does? What will you tell him then?"

"I'll just say you're going through with your original idea. Now, come on. We haven't got much time. Let's get you onboard your drone carrier!"

"Thanks, Dexter," Mandarin gasped again, leaning over to kiss Clapton, "I just hope this plan of yours works!"

"I know it'll work, Joey!" Clapton smiled, as he helped Mandarin off her gurney and out of the Infirmary. As he left, he called over to one of the bemused medics, "Tell them you checked in a Captain and checked out a hero of the Federation!"

Back on the bridge of the Oshan Akuma, Commander Barratt remained blissfully unaware of Mandarin and Clapton's little conspiracy. He had his own issues to think about, like the agonizing pace at which repairs to the ship were being carried out. The first he knew of anything untoward was when Lieutenant McMurdo burst onto the bridge in a panicked mood.

"Commander Barratt! We've got trouble!"

"We always have trouble, McMurdo! What is it this time? Has that Captain Mandarin made a swift recovery?"

"No, but that Captain Mandarin has stolen one of the drone carriers!"

"WHAT?!" Barratt stormed over to the side of the bridge, looked out, and sure enough, there was one of the drone carriers manoeuvring itself into position for a jump into hyperspace, "Mandarin's DESERTING?!" He shrieked, "STAND BY FOR ATTACK!"

"Wait, Commander!" Another voice called, and Barratt turned to see Captain Clapton running onto the bridge, "Don't attack! Let her go! Captain Mandarin's got a plan..."

"Of course she's got a plan! Deserting, no doubt!"

"No, Commander, she's decided to make one final attack against the Stellar Typhoon. Surely she must be allowed this opportunity?"

"I don't believe a coward like Mandarin would dare do anything as stupid as that! Never! She's deceiving us all, Captain Clapton!"

"Nothing of the sort, Commander Barratt! In her present weakened state, Captain Mandarin has found new courage and strength within herself. She will die, of course. That's inevitable. But she'll die as a brave warrior!"

"I'll believe that when I see it!" Barratt muttered begrudgingly, as he saw Mandarin's drone carrier jumping into hyperspace, "Very well, then! Hold your fire, McMurdo. We'll have to give her the benefit of the doubt this time!"

"Yes, Commander..." McMurdo replied, before secretly giving Clapton a wink: She was in on his plan as well...

Meanwhile, Captain Mandarin was thinking about her personal mission as well, as she plied through hyperspace in her own drone carrier. Looking at her reflection in the front window, she saw a weakened, battered, bandaged shadow of her former self. With a heavy heart, and dwindling energy, Mandarin knew she had only this one chance to carry out her part of Captain Clapton's plan.

"Commander Barratt..." She thought aloud, "I leave you now without orders. Only determination to die honourably. Farewell, Commander. I'm going now, to my fate, by your divine command...!"

With that thought, Mandarin started to concentrate on following the path the Stellar Typhoon had taken. She was determined to catch up with Jaws MacTaggart, whatever the cost...

Just over half an hour later, the Stellar Typhoon was mere minutes away from passing through the Edinso chokepoint, where they would cross over into Stellar Federation territory. Sure enough, Jaws had managed to override the computer controls, and fly the ship manually. So as not to overload the engines and risk a meltdown, she'd insisted on starting their journey at normal light-speed, and then incrementally notching up the power over an extended period of time until they were travelling at twice light-speed. It was a good system, but not without its problems, as the crew were about to find out.

"The needles are jumping off the dials, Captain-basan!" Kyoko called from the Engineering Console on the bridge, "We're climbing into the red zone!"

"Just hang in there, Kyoko!" Jaws called back, "We'll make it in once piece! We're just about to reach our target!" At that moment, however, the ship's computer (which was still able to operate most of its other functions) suddenly called out a warning.

"Kinkyū-desu, Captain-sensei!" It called, "Unidentified ship showing up on the radar! Approaching us from behind, hard astern!"

"What? Oh, that's all we need!"

"See if this is one of your jokes, computer," Blackmask snapped, "I'll have your circuits fused together!"

"No joke!" The computer repeated, "This is a Federation vessel!"

"How can that be?" Kyoko asked, "The Oshan Akuma was damaged by R.L-sama's ion cannon, wasn't it?"

"Nevertheless, I repeat!" The computer continued to insist, "Federation vessel approaching from behind! Fully armed!"

"He's right!" Leslie cried, looking at the radar, "It's matching us for speed, and coming right at us! Shall we try and make contact with it?"

"I'm on it!" Jaws called, and she grabbed the microphone on her command chair, "This is the Stellar Typhoon, calling the commander of the approaching Federation vessel! I repeat, calling the commander of the approaching Federation vessel! Do you copy?!"

By now, Captain Mandarin's drone carrier was beginning to close in on the Stellar Typhoon. Up on the flight deck, she was intently concentrating on catching up with the pirate cruiser. However, her mind was drifting towards other things.

"The record of my command must not end in failure...It'll be glorious!" Mandarin thought aloud, "Commander Barratt, you may think I'm a coward. I know that. I know that I've failed the Stellar Federation many times before...But I will make up for our mistakes with this, my ultimate encounter!"

Back on the bridge of the Stellar Typhoon, Leslie was watching the radar for any signs of the mysterious Federation vessel. Finally, a small white dot appeared at the bottom of the screen, before turning into a red dot.

"We're picking up a signal now, Captain!" She called, "It looks like a Federation drone carrier...Huh, that's strange. It's all alone."

"Is he crazy or something?" Blackmask remarked, "Does he really think one drone carrier can stand up to the might of the Stellar Typhoon?"

"Mebbe he's a deserter..." Alasdair suggested, "In which case, he shoods be answering us reit abit now..."

"Hey, Captain. Let's use the rear laser cannon on him. Fire a warning shot, you know?"

"Nae, wait!" Alasdair countered, "We've nae time tae fight!"

"C'mon! We haven't got an option, Captain! He's matching us for speed, and if he catches up, we've had it! Let's fire a laser torpedo at him!"

"No, we must wait!" Jaws said at last, "We'll wait until he shows some sign of a challenge, before we open fire..." At that moment, a message came up on the view screen, informing them of an incoming communication, "Ah, this must be the bastard now..." She pressed the answer key and turned to face the screen, "This is Captain MacTaggart speaking. Go ahead." Almost immediately, she was met with the battered, bandaged face of Captain Mandarin.

"Captain MacTaggart...and crew of the Stellar Typhoon..." Mandarin said between gasps, "I am Captain Mandarin...of the Stellar Federation...You hear?"

"Yes, so I understand. We have met before," Jaws then turned and whispered to the others, "There's our challenge! Coming right for us!"

"Mandarin!" Alasdair interrupted, "Thes is a senseless challenge! Dinnae waste yer life oan us!"

"My life is my own, Alasdair, to do as I want with it..." Mandarin said firmly, "Captain MacTaggart, I challenge you...Challenge you to fight...ME!" As if on cue, her drone carrier suddenly fired a laser torpedo at the stern of the Stellar Typhoon. It wasn't a very strong shot, but it was still enough that it could be felt from the bridge.

"Captain-basan," Kyoko protested, "We have to slow down, to be in a position to fight!" Jaws was about to retort when Mandarin's voice came through again, seemingly talking to herself.

"I hope you're watching this, Commander Barratt! The moment has finally come! I'll destroy Captain MacTaggart, just for you! You'll never call me a coward again! Never!" A further barrage of laser torpedoes followed this soliloquy. Once more, everyone was shaken about the bridge.

"Whoa! Captain, slow us down!" Blackmask called from the Weapons Console, "I'm gonna try and get him!" She then proceeded to fire back at Mandarin, using the laser torpedo cannon mounted behind the superstructure that held the bridge. A series of steady beams launched out, but failed to hit their target, "Captain, we've got to slow down! I can't take aim without the scanners!"

"Well, don't rely on the scanners, Blackmask!" Jaws snapped back, "We can't slow down! There's no time! Shoot from the hip!"

"Alright, if you insist...Firing now!" A second series of beams fire out from the stern of the Stellar Typhoon, but again, they failed to hit the drone carrier. Mandarin too opened fire again, and managed to strike another direct hit, "I can't hit her! Captain, we're in a bad position! Slow down, and turn around!"

"We can't! We'll lose too much time, Blackmask! Just...Just take better aim! Go on! Try!" Before Blackmask could respond, however, the ship was subjected to a third direct hit.

"Captain, come on!" Blackmask snapped, "Turn the ship around!"

"We'll try and avoid it, then! How does that sound!" So Jaws grabbed her steering column, and pitched the Stellar Typhoon downward and to starboard. On the radar, Leslie could see the drone carrier manoeuvring to follow them.

"You won't get away from me, MacTaggart!" Mandarin goaded over the view screen. Jaws ignored her, and continued to steer the ship.

"You ready back there, Blackmask?" Jaws called.

"Just turn another twenty degrees, Captain!" Blackmask called back, and Jaws did so. Now the ship was facing the way it'd come, and they watched as Mandarin shot past in the opposite direction.

"Look at you, running away like the cowards you are!" Mandarin shouted once more, as she steered the drone carrier around to follow them. A further exchange of firepower ensued, as both vessels started firing their weapons to try and throw each other off. All the while, Blackmask was waiting intently for that perfect shot.

"Alright, Captain! Just a few degrees further! That's it! Keep going!"

"Now, don't miss this time!" Jaws called, as she continued to steer the Stellar Typhoon further and further into position. At last, it was facing the drone carrier head on, and closing in on it fast.

"That's perfect, Captain! I'm in a great position! Firing main guns...NOW!" Blackmask opened fire, and at long last, she managed to score several direct hits against the drone carrier. The carrier stopped firing, burst into flames, and started barrelling towards them. Mandarin still had her communication channel open, and so the crew all heard what they thought would be her final words.

"Commander Barratt..." Mandarin called, amid much interference, "This is your TRUE Captain Mandarin...NOW WATCH THIS!" Suddenly, the carrier pitched downwards, seemingly aiming for the superstructure underneath the bridge.

"Oh, fuck!" Jaws suddenly cried, "SHE'S COMING RIGHT FOR US! EVERYONE, GET DOWN!" Everyone ducked, covered, and waited for the end.

"LONG LIVE THE STELLAR FEDERATION!" Mandarin screamed, all of two seconds before her drone carrier crashed head-on into the Stellar Typhoon. In relation to the larger pirate cruiser, the carrier wasn't that big. Only slightly bigger than, say, the Hunter II. Even so, it was still big enough for the head-on collision to do significant damage. Communication between the two vessels was killed off in an instant. The entire bridge shook violently, before being plunged into blackness as the lights were knocked out. Then it was briefly illuminated again by the resulting white-hot fireball outside.

The silence that followed was amazing...It took a few seconds for everyone to register that they'd survived the attack, and when they did, they sprung right back into action.

"Rearward dorsal deck damaged!" Kyoko shouted amid the chaos, "Fire alarm!"

"Red alert!" The computer added, "The Stellar Typhoon is crippled!"

"So, that was it, was it? A deliberate suicide mission!" Jaws muttered to herself, before turning to the others, "Is everyone else alright?"

"We're mostly fine, Captain!" Leslie replied, "But the ship's badly damaged! It'll take time to repair it."

"Right, let's make a start! Our time is precious! Leslie, reduce our speed to normal light-speed!"

"Yes, Captain!"

"Kyoko, Alasdair, head down to that dorsal deck, and ascertain the damage! We must remove Captain Mandarin and her drone carrier...What's left of it, anyway...In order to allow the repair work to go on!"

"Hai, Captain-basan!" Kyoko called, "Come on, Alasdair-san!"

"Aam reit behind ye, Kyoko!" Alasdair replied, as he followed Kyoko out of the bridge. At that moment, the lights flickered back on, and Jaws could see the extent of the damage caused by Mandarin's suicide attack. As she sat down in her command chair, she wondered what had happened onboard the Oshan Akuma to warrant Mandarin attacking them in this manner. And for that matter, where was the Oshan Akuma?

At that moment, the Oshan Akuma was still parked in orbit around the uninhabited gas giant, waiting to set off. Luckily, like Lieutenant McMurdo had promised, the engineering staff had managed to complete all the essential repairs in just a couple of hours, and now all that remained was to wait for most of the superficial damage to be repaired as well. Normally Commander Barratt wouldn't have bothered waiting, but he was so determined to destroy the Stellar Typhoon that he wasn't taking any chances this time.

Talking of Barratt, he was currently waiting on the bridge, with Lieutenant McMurdo and Captain Clapton. He was still waiting for McMurdo to give the all clear, and for Clapton to give him a report on Mandarin's unauthorized suicide attack against the Stellar Typhoon. After several minutes, McMurdo spoke first.

"Repairs are complete, Commander Barratt!"

"Good! Captain Clapton, what's the status of Mandarin's drone carrier?"

"All communication with the carrier has stopped, Commander," Clapton replied, "She must have succeeded in her attack."

"That means the Stellar Typhoon is sure to be crippled! She's at our mercy now, Clapton! McMurdo, plot a course following the ship's trace sensors, and take us into hyperspace!"

"Yes, Commander!" McMurdo replied, "Course plotted, and ready to jump!"

"Good. Make it so!" Barratt ordered, before watching grimly as the blank void of deep space gave way to the streaming stars, as the Oshan Akuma jumped into hyperspace. Right before it did so, Barratt cracked a smirk that was tinged with a hint of regret, "Captain Mandarin shall not have died in vain...!"

As it turned out, Commander Barratt was right for once, but not in the way he thought: Captain Mandarin wouldn't have been killed in vain, but only because she hadn't been killed at all. By some wild stroke of fortune, Mandarin had survived crashing head-on into the Stellar Typhoon, and about fifteen minutes later, she was asleep in the Medical Sector, even more battered and bandaged than before. Not for long, though, as she found herself slowly waking up.

"Ugh, my fucking head...What happened? Where the hell am I?" As Mandarin woke up a little more, she realized that not only was she no longer on the flight deck of her personal drone carrier, but she was also no longer wearing the uniform she'd had on, "Huh? What the shit? Whose nightie is this? I didn't pack one with me!" She then craned her neck to the side, and noticed for the first time that Alasdair was standing by her side, "Oh, it's you, is it? How long have you been standing there?!"

"Ack, only two minutes ur sae," Alasdair replied dryly, "An' afair ye ask abit th' nightie, we had tae strip an' scan ye, tae make sure ye didna hae anything untoward hidden inside ye..."

"Hmm, understandable. I mean, we have sent someone onto this bucket of bolts with something untoward hidden inside him before, so I guess it makes sense to be careful."

"Ye dinnae sound particularly disappointed tae still be alive, Joey..."

"Well, as it happens, suicide was never my plan to begin with, Alasdair. You seem like a trustworthy kid, so I'll let you in on my real plan...I'm defecting from the Stellar Federation!"

"Ye whit?"

"Yes, and I'm not the only one. There's a whole bunch of other officers onboard the Oshan Akuma, just waiting for it to reach you so they can get across somehow."

"But how dae ye think they intend tae dae 'at? There's nae chance Barratt will let them gang withit a guid reason, an' Ah cannae see th' Captain agreeing tae help ye either. Ah ken her weel enough tae realize that she willnae believe ye."

"You're right there, Alasdair...We've got to get those officers onboard on our own...But how?"

"Weel, as it happens, Ah might jist hae a plan..." Alasdair looked shiftily around, before leaning in and whispering something in Mandarin's ear. She listened intently, making sure to catch every detail. Once he'd finished, she smirked wildly.

"You crafty bastard, Alasdair! That'll work a treat! But are you sure you can manage it on your own?"

"Aye, Ah think Ah coods handle it...For a while, anyway. Ah may need yer help at some point, sae be ready tae be kidnapped at some point in th' next couple ay hours!"

"I'll be ready, Alasdair! Don't you worry!" And Mandarin leaned over and kissed Alasdair. He hugged her in return, and then left the Medical Sector to make his own arrangements.

"Ah dae wish she wouldn't keep daein' 'at!" He muttered to himself, "An' for her sake, Ah hope thes idea ay mine is crazy enaw tae work...!"

A short while later, most of the necessary repairs to the Stellar Typhoon had been completed, and both Jaws and all her Elite Crew were back up on the bridge. Alasdair had reported on Mandarin's condition to Jaws, wisely omitting a choice few facts, so now they could concentrate on other matters. After a few minutes of awkward silence, Leslie called over from the Navigations Console.

"Captain, we're picking up something else on the radar!"

"Any idea what it is, Leslie?" Jaws asked.

"I do, Captain-sensei!" The computer interrupted, "It's a Federation battlecruiser! And its transponder codes are consistent with those of the Oshan Akuma!"

"What? That's impossible! The Oshan Akuma was too badly damaged by R.L's ion cannon!"

"Nonetheless, I repeat! Oshan Akuma closing in from behind, at top speed!"

"What shall we do, Captain-basan?" Kyoko asked, "We're in no position to fight, thanks to Mandarin-san..."

"She's right," Blackmask added, "That drone carrier of hers knocked out all power to the Trinity Cannon. We won't be able to use it until the repairs to the power conduits are completed, Captain!"

"...And as long as we're out of action, we're a sitting duck!"

"Most of our main guns are still functioning, though, so we'll have to use those instead!"

"Very well, Blackmask," Jaws decided, "Prepare main guns for firing at the first sign of trouble..."

"Yes, Captain!"

"...But prioritize repairs to the Trinity Cannon as well. Keep a close eye on the progress, and let me know as soon as it's fully operational again!"

"Understood, Captain! Priming and preparing main guns for firing...!"

At that moment, the Oshan Akuma was a mere minute or so away from catching up with the Stellar Typhoon. Commander Barratt, Captain Clapton and Lieutenant McMurdo were impatiently waiting up on the bridge: Barratt was impatient to finally destroy Jaws once and for all, while Clapton and McMurdo were impatient to put Clapton's secret plan into action. Maintaining the illusion of normality for just a short while longer, Clapton called across to Barratt.

"We're picking up the Stellar Typhoon, Commander! It is badly damaged, and rapidly losing velocity!"

"Captain Clapton, this is our last chance!" Barratt replied, "Listen carefully. The Stellar Typhoon is finally at our mercy. This time, we shall destroy Captain MacTaggart! This day will go down in history as a momentous occasion for the people of the Galaxy!" Barratt then called over to McMurdo, "Red alert, Lieutenant McMurdo! Battle stations! Prepare to open fire once in range!"

"Yes, Commander!" McMurdo replied, and at that moment, the streaming stars outside suddenly receded, as the Oshan Akuma automatically came out of hyperspace. Now that the ship was back in real-space again, they could see that sure enough, the Stellar Typhoon was in a perilous condition, looking as if one final attack was all that was needed to completely destroy it, "They appear to be unable to fire back, Commander! Shall I move the ship in a little closer?"

"Be careful, Lieutenant...Approach with caution! This could be another one of Captain MacTaggart's tricks!"

"Rest assured, Commander, that we're well defended. We finally managed to fix up those shield generators, so even if they could fire back, any retaliation would be a useless gesture!"

"In that case, open fire!"

"Firing now, Commander!" McMurdo relayed the command to open fire, and the Oshan Akuma did so with gusto. Using just about every gun at its disposal, the ship deployed a barrage of laser torpedoes against the Stellar Typhoon, firing at a rate of knots.

Luckily, the Stellar Typhoon, in spite of its critical condition, was able to hold its own against the Oshan Akuma. With its rear-facing laser cannon, and the judicious use of its port and starboard mounted cannons, Blackmask was able to return Lieutenant McMurdo's fire every time she paused to reload. However, even her skill wasn't enough, for the Oshan Akuma finally managed to take out that rear-facing laser cannon.

"Shit! Captain, they've knocked out the aft laser cannon!"

"What's the status on the Trinity Cannon?" Jaws demanded.

"Only 98% ready, Captain! I don't think...Ah, no, hold on! I've just been told that the power conduits have been fully repaired, and that the Cannon itself is ready for firing again!"

"Well, that's what I call perfect timing! Get the bastard charged up, while I turn the ship around!"

"Yes, Captain!" So while Blackmask got the Trinity Cannon fully primed and ready for firing, Jaws slowly turned the Stellar Typhoon around, until it was facing the Oshan Akuma head-on. The contrast in size between the two vessels couldn't have been more drastic: It was more like a small station tug squaring off against a large cargo vessel. Such comparisons weren't on anyone's mind at that moment, of course, "She's ready to fire, Captain!"

"Good! Power concentrated to front shields, and target locked! Fire when ready!"

Blackmask just about punched the button for the Trinity Cannon into submission, and she watched with glee as the ship's three main lightning cannons activated. Then she became excited when their respective bolts of energy collided to form their usual super-bolt, and shot off towards the Oshan Akuma...Then her excitement turned to concern when, all of a sudden, the bigger battlecruiser was surrounded by a strange, glowing-red force field of sorts. Then that concern turned into a mix of disappointment and fear, when instead of dealing its usual onslaught of destruction and devastation, the super-bolt seemed to be absorbed by this force-field.

"They're protected by some kind of shield, Blackmask-sensei!" The computer shouted above the noise, "The blast of the Trinity Cannon is being deflected!"

"I might have guessed that!" Blackmask snapped, "That's just great! What are we gonna do about that?!"

"Nothing else for it!" Jaws replied, "Intensify power!"

"Okay, Captain! Intensifying power...Now!" So Blackmask opened up a control panel, and turned a large dial next to a notice specifically instructing her not to do so. Whatever would have happened in this event didn't happen, but then neither did what Blackmask wanted to happen. The Oshan Akuma's shield continued to absorb the super-bolt...And then it suddenly fired back. With one further onslaught of laser torpedoes, it managed to score a direct hit on the Trinity Cannon, disabling it completely, "Damn it! They've knocked us out cold, Captain!"

"Well, that's it, then! Without the Trinity Cannon, we've got no chance whatsoever! There's just no way of us breaking through that shield!"

That was seemingly the moment Alasdair had been waiting for. All of a sudden, he stood up.

"There's one other way!" He said determinedly, before running over to Kyoko and dragging her out of her seat, "'Main 'en, Kyoko!"

"Alasdair-san?!" Kyoko yelped, "What's going on? Where are we going?!"

"Nae time tae explain jist now! We'll explain once we're aw set up!"

"We?!" Jaws called, "Who's we? What the hell are you on about, Alasdair?! Where are you going? What in god's name are you doing!" But it was too late: Before anyone could stop him, Alasdair had already run off the bridge, with Kyoko in tow. Suddenly, Jaws felt a chill in her tail, as if she'd realized that Alasdair was about to do something very brave...and very stupid...

A couple of minutes later, Alasdair and Kyoko reached the Medical Sector. They ran over to where Captain Mandarin was still laying on her gurney, and jostled her awake. Before she could ask what was going on, Mandarin found herself being lifted off the gurney and carried out of the room. This was actually part of the plan she'd made with Alasdair earlier, but she feigned surprise nonetheless.

"Whoa! What the hell? What's going on, Alasdair?!"

"We're gonnae gang an' dae tae yon battlecruiser whit ye did to us! 'Main 'en!"

"But there's no chance in hell you could successfully cripple the Oshan Akuma, Alasdair! Not when this ship is in such terrible condition!"

"Ack, but aam nae thinking ay using th' Stellar Typhoon, am Ah?"

"Well, what are you going to use, then...?"

Mandarin soon got her answer. Within just a further few minutes, she'd been bundled onto the flight deck of the Hunter II, and found herself joining Alasdair and Kyoko as they piloted the transporter out of one of the Stellar Typhoon's auxiliary hangars, and made a beeline for the Oshan Akuma. All the while, Alasdair found himself being subjected to the borderline-abusive demands from Jaws, who'd realized what he was about to do, to turn back and forget about it.

"...It's not possible for a craft as small as the Hunter II to defeat a battlecruiser as big as the Oshan Akuma! You haven't got a chance, Alasdair! Return to the Stellar Typhoon at once! I repeat, immediately! Damn it, Alasdair, YOU'RE DISOBEYING A DIRECT ORDER!"

"Sae whit if Ah am, Captain!?" Alasdair snapped back, "Ah still ken whit aam daein', an' sae does yon Kyoko!" And with that, he abruptly shut off the communication before Jaws could reply.

"Er...What are we even doing, Alasdair-san?" Kyoko asked, having been very much thrown into the deep end.

"Isnae it obvious? We're gonnae try an' break through yon shield by plunging reit intae it!"

"What?! You mean we're going to try and plunge right into the Oshan Akuma?! Are suicide missions catching recently, or something?"

"Well, if you have another plan," Mandarin snapped, "Then I'll take it any time!" With that, Kyoko said no more, as the vast, glowing-red shape of the Oshan Akuma loomed closer and closer outside...

Meanwhile, back on the bridge of the Oshan Akuma, Commander Barratt had been blissfully unaware of either Mandarin's treachery or Alasdair's plan. He didn't notice the Hunter II, instead having his eyes set squarely on the Stellar Typhoon.

"Captain MacTaggart's totally defenceless!" He cried triumphantly, "Captain Clapton, finish them off!"

"Commander!" Lieutenant McMurdo interrupted, "We're picking up another craft approaching us on the radar, two o'clock!"

"Well, what is it?"

"It's one of the Stellar Typhoon's support craft, in a manner of speaking," Clapton explained, "I'm not quite sure what it is myself...But whatever it is...It's heading right for us!"

"Don't just stand there, Clapton! Do something! Target it, try and make contact, anything!" Before Clapton could respond, they were interrupted by the bridge suddenly shaking violently, and the red glow from outside disappearing, "What's happening, Clapton?!"

"The craft has plunged through our shield, Commander!" McMurdo shrieked, and she motioned to Clapton.

"What?!" Clapton cried, feigning shock, "I've got to get out of here! Come on, Lieutenant!" And he led her out of the bridge, much to Barratt's mounting fury.

"What the hell are you doing?!" He screeched, "CLAPTON! MCMURDO! WHERE ARE YOU GOING?!" Barratt tried to follow them, but he was too late to stop Clapton shutting the bulkhead door in his face. Then, to add salt to the wound, he found himself unable to unlock the door, let alone open it again, "CAPTAIN CLAPTON! OPEN THIS DOOR! I'LL HAVE YOU EXECUTED ON THE SPOT FOR THIS! WHAT'S GOING ON OUT THERE?!"

Of course, Commander Barratt's words fell on deaf ears, and he could only listen in horror as Alasdair used the Hunter II to tear apart the Oshan Akuma from the inside out. If hearing the destruction had been bad enough, though, then seeing it would have been much worse. For the better part of seventy years, the battlecruiser had been subjected to much abuse and neglect, as far as maintenance and repairs were concerned. A normal Michiko-class battlecruiser, such as the Oshan Akuma, wouldn't have even buckled under the abuse it was suffering right now, but years of disrepair and abuse had weakened it to the point where the Hunter II could just slice through it like paper.

Onboard the Hunter II, Alasdair was channelling years of pent-up rage into this, his ultimate attack against the Stellar Federation. As he ploughed through every unfortunate officer and soldier in his path, guns a-blazing, his unbridled anger marked each shot out as retribution for some crime the Federation had committed against either himself or his friends.

"...Thes is for Winston, thes is for Argyll, an' thes is for Oliver, an' thes is for the Dragon's Triangle, an' Amesoko..."

"Fucking hell...!" Mandarin remarked, from the rear of the flight deck, "Is he always this volatile, Mori?"

"Only in bed, Mandarin-san!" Kyoko yelped from her own seat, "But at least then he gives me a bit of warning! I didn't even know about this plan of yours until a couple of minutes ago! One thing's for sure, though, if he gets himself killed doing this, then I'm going down with him!"

"Well, there's no chance of that happening, is there?!" It was then that Mandarin recognized the particular area of the battlecruiser they were ploughing through, "Ah, we're almost there! Better make a stop after this wall, Alasdair! Remember, we've got some passengers to pick up!"

"Aye, Ah hear ye!" Alasdair snapped, and it was with some reluctance that, for a few brief moments, he managed to bring the Hunter II to a stop...Right inside what had previously been recognisable as the Mess Hall of the Oshan Akuma...And there were the passengers in question: A large group of Federation officers, led by Captain Clapton and Lieutenant McMurdo, who'd decided to defect to the Stellar Typhoon. This had been the plan that Clapton and Mandarin had come up with, and which Alasdair had been made privy to.

Two or three agonising Standard minutes passed by, while the group of officers, most carrying luggage, were led onboard the Hunter II by Mandarin. In all, about twenty officers had chosen to defect, and within a couple of minutes, they were all onboard and as safe as they could be made. Mandarin quickly returned to the flight deck with Clapton and McMurdo in tow.

"Weel? Whaur next?"

"Through these next two walls, and then straight up!" Mandarin ordered, as Alasdair got the Hunter II moving again, "I've got a score I want to settle before we leave...And it sounds like you do, too!"

"Yer commain, Joey!" Alasdair shouted, as he ploughed through the first wall, then the second. Then he adjusted the ventral controls, to get the Hunter II flying straight upwards...

Up above, Commander Barratt had given up trying to escape the bridge, and was instead concentrating his efforts on trying to order his men to take down the Hunter II. However, even this was a futile effort, for in its path of destruction, the Hunter II had destroyed many of the Oshan Akuma's internal communications links, along with most of the soldiers who would have responded to them. Barratt didn't realize this, of course, and by now, he was practically screaming for his life.

"YOU IDIOTS! CAN YOU NOT EVEN CATCH A TINY SHIP LIKE THAT?! FIRE ON THEM! DESTROY THE MOTHERFUCKERS! OUR VERY LIVES DEPEND ON IT! BOMB THE SHIT OUT OF THEM!"

Needless to say, such violent screaming fell on deaf ears. And worse was to come for Barratt. Without warning, the whole bridge began to shake violently once more, and Barratt suddenly felt the floor caving in right beneath his feet. He tried desperately to hold himself up, but to no avail. With nothing to grab onto, Barratt fell right through the floor, and suddenly came face to face with the Hunter II itself. His very presence seemed to scare the ship into submission, as it stopped quite suddenly...

That is, until Barratt suddenly found himself being targeted by several large Gatling turrets. Out of nowhere, the familiar voice of Alasdair echoed across the large cavern the Hunter II had created for itself.

"Commander Barratt...It's GOODBYE!"

The guns aimed to Barratt's left, and fired a single shot each.

"Thes is for Hunter..."

The guns aimed to Barratt's right, and fired a single shot each.

"...Thes is for Morag..."

The guns all aimed squarely at Barratt himself...

"...AND THES IS FOR CULLODEN!"

The guns all fired directly at Barratt.

Whether Commander Barratt would have said anything in response to Alasdair or not, he wouldn't have gotten his chance to say it. In fact, he didn't manage to let another sound out of his mouth, save for the beginnings of a piercing scream, before he was obliterated in an instant by the guns of the Hunter II. When the smoke cleared, there wasn't a single sign that Barratt had been there. There wasn't even any blood, shreds of clothing, or any other viscera to indicate that mere seconds ago, anyone had been standing there.

The silence that followed, for a brief second, was amazing...

Silence was not to be found back on the bridge of the Stellar Typhoon, however. Word had managed to get around about what Alasdair had planned, and so the bridge was packed with crew members watching the Oshan Akuma outside. The damage it was sustaining was like nothing they'd ever seen or inflicted on it before. Whole sections of the battlecruiser were being destroyed in whole fireballs, and it seemed like only a miracle could allow it to survive the Hunter II's attack.

"I've never seen anything like it, Captain!" Taihō cried, "The Oshan Akuma's exploding!"

"I can see that, Taihō!" Jaws snapped, "There's no chance that Alasdair could survive something like that!"

"Yeah, we've come pretty close to the knuckle whenever something like this happens to us!" Fulton remarked.

"Is there any sign of the Hunter II anywhere in that thing, computer?" Norton asked.

"I've not picked up any trace of the Hunter II since it plunged through that shield, Norton-sensei!" The computer replied, "I doubt Alasdair-sensei is still alive..."

"If he isn't," Leslie mused, "Then at least he took Kyoko down with him..."

"Wouldn't be the first time he'd done that...!" Blackmask remarked.

"What the hell's wrong with you, Blackmask?! There's a chance Alasdair's just gotten himself and Kyoko killed, and you're standing their making jokes?!"

"Hey, anything to lighten the mood!"

"Shut up, you guys!" Jaws ordered, "I can see something emerging from the bridge!" So everyone stopped, looked outside, and saw it...Sure enough, something had just burst out of the exploding hulk of the Oshan Akuma, and it looked strangely familiar, "I don't believe it...I don't fucking believe it...!"

"He's only gone and escaped, the bastard!"

And he had, too. Just as the Hunter II had gotten clear, the Oshan Akuma started to explode a few more times. Each explosion was bigger than the previous, until at last, with one final blast, the huge Federation battlecruiser exploded in one final gigantic fireball...and was no more...

"Ah tauld ye I'd make it, didna Ah?" Alasdair's voice suddenly called through the view screen. Almost at once, everyone was clamouring around the screen, their relief at his survival almost palpable. Jaws pushed her way to the front of the crowd, determined to give Alasdair a piece of his mind.

"What the fuck do you think you were doing out there, Alasdair Geddes?!" Jaws almost shrieked, "You could have gotten yourself killed, never mind the rest of us! And besides, you might have let me have the honour of destroying the Oshan Akuma!"

"Ah did whit Ah had tae dae, Captain!" Alasdair shot back, "An' now, nae only hae Ah managed whit you've always wanted, but I've managed tae pick up a crowd ay yon deserters an aw!"

"I don't care what you think you've accomplished!" Jaws snapped, "But there's no time for us to celebrate! Thanks to Commander Barratt, and that stunt you've just pulled against him, Princess Midori's bound to be closer to the Earth than we are by now!"

"'En we'll jist hae tae catch up wi' 'er...Willnae we?!" Before Jaws could retort again, Alasdair shut off the communication, slapping her in the face with her own test card. As she spotted the Hunter II heading back towards the Stellar Typhoon, Jaws knew that Alasdair was right...and she knew exactly what to do at that moment.

"Computer, open up the auxiliary hangar for the Hunter II, and resume our original course as soon as its onboard! Double light-speed!"

"Hai, Captain-sensei!" The computer replied, "Opening up starboard auxiliary hangar, and preparing to jump into hyperspace..."

Meanwhile, several light-years along Jaws' intended course, the Midori flagship was making good headway. It was just about to come out of hyperspace, on the outskirts of the Sheridan System, where it would then prepare to travel along the next leg of its course towards the Sol System. Inside, Princess Midori was relaxing in her opulent private quarters, intently observing their progress on the huge view screen above her bed. To one side stood Numbers 1 and 2, the most elite of her Elite Numbers. 1 was a red vixen like herself, while 2 was a male border collie. Both were dressed in a more ornate version of the Numbers' outfits, and both were constantly feeding the Princess updates on their current situation.

"We're about to pass through the Sheridan choke point, Your Majesty!" Number 1 reported, "At our current speed and trajectory, we shall reach the Earth very soon!"

"All battle stations are fully manned and operational, Your Majesty!" Number 2 added, "We shall have no problems with any...enemy combatants..."

"Ah, the Earth, at last...!" The Princess gasped, almost seductively, "Just you wait, people of the Earth!" She muttered to herself, gradually getting louder and louder, "And of the universe as a whole! You shall feel my vengeance! You shall feel my power! YOU SHALL FEEL THE MIGHT OF MY EMPIRE! THE UNIVERSE SHALL BE MINE! MINE! ALL MINE!" And Midori started laughing maniacally, fully confident that in just a few short hours, the entire Galaxy would soon be bending to her every whim, and that nobody would be there to stop her this time...

Not even Captain Jaws MacTaggart of the Stellar Typhoon...

Will the Stellar Typhoon manage to catch up with Princess Midori? What will happen to the Earth? And what lengths will the Princess go to prevent Jaws from causing her undue harm? The answer, as always, is to wait until the next thrilling instalment of Space Pirate Captain MacTaggart!

TO BE CONTINUED...