Dinner conversation was somewhat strained after that, as one might imagine. Still, we made it through the dinner without my having to strangle the Chancellor, so I’d call it a win.
When dinner was over, there would normally be dancing, and other such things until late in the evening. But we had orders, and so instead I led my crew out to the shuttlepad. Sanguine, knowing what was coming, ran ahead, and pulled a special package that Sanctuary captains always had on board. It was a tradition Daddy started.
Taking the package from my brother, I nodded at him as he rejoined the rest of the Family standing in two rows before me. I could see behind them more than a few of the guests from the party, who were curious about our odd behavior, and noticed the Empress, along with the Grand Duchess and Ambassador, standing on a balcony, watching us out of view of the people below. Good. An audience would only help spread the message of what was happening.
Unwrapping the package, I pulled out a horn made from bone, and engraved with the symbol of Sanctuary. On Earth, it would be seen as a hunting horn, or perhaps an old war horn. And there was a reason for that. I brought the horn to my lips, and blew. When the note faded, I gathered my breath, and began the rite we had all been taught long ago.
“VENATORI! The horns of war are now blowing! Arise, ye Hunters of Sanctuary! Fell deeds awake! The Enemy is at our gates! Too long have they tried our patience! Too long have they tested our mercy! Too long have they threatened our people!”
When Sanctuary was first founded, Daddy’s organization, the Venatori, created the customs of the world. One of those customs was the blowing of the horn and this speech, to be done by the commander whenever Sanctuary calls upon people to go to war. It reminded people that it was the Venatori that started the world, and that they were still Hunters.
“Now is the time! The blades of the Venatori shall drink the blood of our enemies, and none shall stand against us! The wrath of the Hunters shall crash down upon them like a cleansing fire, purging all who stand in its way!”
I was shouting now, wrapped up in the rhythm of my own speech, the blood of the hunters stirring in me. “We are the reapers, the bringers of Death! We are the Hunters, that track the vermin back to their barrows! We are the Venatori, and by our blades worlds shall die!”
“Rise, Hunters of Sanctuary! And let the Stars themselves quake as they witness the Wrath of the Venatori!”
As one, the Family roared a battle cry that translated well in all languages, “DEATH!” And then, as one, we entered the shuttle, and lifted off, leaving the nervous crowd behind.
On the ship, I was pleased to find that all the crew had returned as ordered. As soon as I hit the bridge, I opened a comm to everyone on board. “Listen up, boys and girls! You know that the Aprico Corporation has been pushing hard to try and get our tech, and doing things that are decidedly unfriendly to do it, too. We’ve just got word from Home. The Fleet is mobilizing, with the Harbinger of Death carrying the flag. Sanctuary is now at war with Aprico Corporation, and all those who try and hinder us in our vengeance!”
“Now, what’s that got to do with us? Well, you all know that the Void Traveler is special. You all know who the Owner is. Well, he’s calling us in, because he wants us to join the fleet, and get a piece of the action. So I want everyone checking their suits, armor, and weapons, because the Void Traveler is going to war! May all the Gods have mercy on the poor bastards, because we sure won’t!”
With a laugh, I flicked off the comm, and we set about the business of making our way back to the rendezvous point where the fleet would meet us. If we were playing at being a freighter, the trip would take us weeks. None of that this time. It would take us a few hours to get there, going FTL in system from jump point to jump point.
As we made the prep to jump to the warpgate, I got a ping from a personal comm that I was half expecting to get. I sent a brief message, telling the individual to meet me in my ready room in ten minutes.
Ten minutes on the dot later, I was in my ready room when I heard the door chime. The door opened at my command, revealing the people I fully expected to see. Miszo, Kialee, and Nita walked into the room. I raised an eyebrow that it was just the three, and said, “Adam?”
Kialee chuckled. “He’s on duty. I’ll catch him up when we’re done.”
I nodded, that made sense to me. “All right, I can pretty much guess what brings you here, since you’re all new to the crew, and most of you don’t know how Sanctuary does things. I might be a dictator on my ship, but that doesn’t mean I’m a complete asshole. Lay out your questions and concerns, and I’ll answer what I can, but don’t go whining to me or I’ll make you wish you kept quiet.”
Miszo just shook her head. She was still trying to get used to the whole ‘nonmilitary’ aspect of the command structure here, but she was coming a long way. “Guess I’ll start. What exactly is the Traveler’s role going to be in this war?”
I shrugged. “Don’t know yet. We’ll probably get some scouting duties, as well as all the other things you might put a corvette class ship to work doing.”
Nita, emboldened by my response, chimed in next, “What happens to our pay? We all signed on for a piece of the take from shipping jobs and the like, so what’s that mean for us with this war on? Not like we’re going to be running cargo to the war zone, right?”
“Ah, well, any non-Navy ship that joins the call to arms will get a stipend to help cover lost wages and the like, but the real money from this is going to be the prize money and plunder.”
Kialee frowned, not liking where this conversation was going. “So we’re pirates now?”
I made a cutting motion with my hand to silence the other two, who were about to interject. “No, pirates are scum who will take any ship they can, steal the cargo, sell the ship, and space the lucky crewmembers, raping the others and selling them as slaves. They don’t act by any nation’s laws, and the only thing they respect is force.”
“I guess now’d be a good time to explain a few things for you. It is against Sanctuary law for any ship belonging to Sanctuary to engage in piracy. If we did like pirates, and found some random freighter we thought we could take, and boarded her, then we’d be breaking Sanctuary law, and the penalty for pirates is death by impalement. Those aiding a pirate are sold into slavery, if they’re lucky.”
“Now, you’ve all seen us do some things since you came on board, so I’m sure there are questions. Let me lay it out. Pirates attack us, or we respond to a distress call from a ship under attack by pirates, we’re allowed by Sanctuary law to kick the everloving crap out of them. Suspicion that they’re pirates doesn’t cut it, we gotta have proof.”
“When we kill or take pirates, or anyone else that tries to attack us, we are well within our rights to space survivors, sell them as slaves, keep them as pets, or turn them over to the authorities. Any ships or cargo captured becomes ours by right of salvage.”
“The base we blew up was a pirate base. We knew that because we followed the pirate fighters into the launch bays, so at the very least they were aiding pirates that had attacked us, giving us the right to pursue and take them out. As you might expect, Sanctuary law has very wide rules for taking vengeance upon those who attack you. It is part of what keeps all our ships safe, in fact.”
I paused, and then said, “Now, all that only applies to pirates, mind you. If you’re outside Sanctuary space, you got to play by local rules as well as Sanctuary rules. You can’t get stopped by an Imperial cruiser in the Dremgil System, and expect attacking them and selling their ship to be OK. That’s going to see you on any number of people’s most wanted lists, and getting any Sanctuary protections pulled from you, for certain.”
“So, now we’re at war with Aprico Corporation. That means that is open season on all Aprico ships, personnel, and property, anywhere in the galaxy. It also means that anyone who attacks us attempting to keep us from reducing Aprico to a painful memory in the galactic consciousness is fair game, as well. Which brings us back to the bit about prize money and plunder.”
“Under Sanctuary law, any ship participating in an action with the Fleet is entitled to prize money from any ships, slaves, or salvage captured during the course of the action. And it isn’t a kill count thing, since putting corvettes against superdreadnaughts in that regard is stupid. The whole thing is totaled up and put in a single pot and then divided proportionally amongst the ships by crew size. That cut is then divided based on navy regs or the ship’s charter, depending on whether it is a navy or civvie ship. Don’t worry, we have some really smart computers that does the disbursements, and anyone caught cheating is dealt with severely.”
“But that’s just prize money. As far as plunder goes, well, Aprico’s space stations and ground facilities are going to have a wealth of material goods, intelligence, and more slaves, ripe for the picking. And when it comes to sending ground troops in, whatever a ship takes, they keep. And since Aprico controls entire worlds closer to the Core, there’s going to be plenty of plunder to be had for everyone. In fact, any freighters we capture will probably go right back to work hauling spoils back for us. For a transport fee, of course.”
Miszo looked shocked by this development. “What, just like that? You can be pirates as long as Sanctuary declares war on someone?”
“Ah, well, if Sanctuary gives us the go-ahead to loot and pillage, then we’re not pirates, but privateers. The concept is a pretty human one, I guess, but back when we were still just on Earth, sometimes two nations were fighting, and wanted to screw with the other’s shipping, but couldn’t divert Navy resources to do it. So they would hire privateers, and give them a writ to say they were acting as agents of the government. Of course, if the enemy caught them, they were still treated as pirates, and the writ only extended to enemy shipping. To give an example, if Sanctuary and Rithena were at war, we could attack Rithenalese shipping, but not Brekthal shipping. The difference between us and pirates is that we have a government backing us openly, and we have a limited choice of targets.”
Kialee shifted, still uncomfortable, but not showing the distaste she had earlier. “And the slaves thing? That’s definitely going to happen?”
I nodded, firmly. “Yes. Anyone from Aprico we capture will almost certainly be sold as a slave. Their leaders may face trial, depending on whether they manage to piss Daddy off any more between now and then, but there’s a good chance almost all of them will end up dead or enslaved, with the remainder running for their lives.”
Nita sighed. “So it really is going to be a war, then. How many has this been since first contact?”
I counted off on my fingers, “Well, there was the Contact War, of course. I don’t think we’ll count that bit with helping the Asguard, since we were just advisors. Two squabbles with the Kuprulu Alliance and there was that bit of nastiness with the Sopoigans trying to say they had rights to Sanctuary. So this will be the sixth military action in the last twenty years or so.”
“I guess it is too much to ask for a decade without war?”
“Well, we’re the new kids on the block. The Asguard kept a lot of people from causing trouble for us for years, but now we’ve stepped out from their protection, and are on our own. Some people considered our first couple wins ‘flukes’. Our neighbors have all decided it is much safer, and more profitable, to be our allies than our enemies. It is people from the Core or other arms of the galaxy that are having trouble getting the message. They’ll get it, in time, don’t worry.”
Miszo sighed. “That’s why your Father is mobilizing your fleet, isn’t it? To spread the message?”
“Almost certainly. Sure, they’ve pissed him off by attacking Sanctuary, but to bring the fleet, that means we’re going to be falling on someone like a ton of bricks, as an example to anyone else that thinks they can press their luck.”
“And what if they still don’t get the message?” Kialee looked as though she didn't really want to hear the answer.
“Then Daddy will be sending another species to keep the Kratuans company in Hell.”