“It’s a Mackensen-class battlecruiser,” said Curnow with a low whistle. “Old as hell but still pretty potent.”

“Obsolete,” said Dr. Strasser. “Sublight missiles and munitions are worthless in the face of modern naval technology.”

“Then why didn’t the Navy blow this thing to hell during the war?” Myassa said.

“Political concerns,” said Strasser with a note of contempt in his voice. “They did not have the stomach for blood and there is no guarantee even against a battlecruiser as obsolete as this that pictures of maimed ensigns won’t be all over the news.”

Curnow’s nav console blinked and squeaked. “We are being targeted,” said Taos. “5 kiloton fission warheads and 105mm mass drivers. The Fancy Rat was painted with their search-and-destroy sensors as soon as it entered the system.”

“Why am I only hearing about this now?” Jai cried.

“Apologies, captain,” said Taos in his even tone. “Our sensors are not designed for combat.”

Jai felt sweat prickle beneath his collar. “Are…are they going to fire on us?”

“Yes, brilliant deduction,” Myassa said. “They hired us to deliver cargo and passengers only to blast us out of the sky just for kicks.”

“Incoming transmission, captain,” said Taos. “I shall rely it.”

Speakers crackled and a grainy but strident voice emerged: “Attention unidentified vessel: This is the UNS Lutzow. Present your credentials and prepare for inspection and boarding. Failure to comply will result in your immediate and unconditional destruction.”

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