Before the Story Can Be Told,

the stage must be set, and the most expedient way to do this is to simply introduce the players: the captains, and their ships.

The most important of the Three Ships Tale is the ISS Francis Drake. The Drake was a 110 meter long former light cruiser turned rock hound ship, turned pirate ship. It was an unassuming vessel, a spindly thing with a large drive section, multiple docking rings, and a large manipulator arm. The Francis Drake was a very successful pirate ship, smuggler, and raider. The captain of the Drake was a being who went by the nickname Captain Ironbeard, and happened to be more than 70% cybernetic, no longer appearing human, but rather a cobble built machine intended to look like a pirate, and it's body was all but made of weapons, blades and guns, chemical weapons and more. The dread space pirate Ironbeard begins this tale locked away in Pewtergate Anchorage, a prison built into the hulk of a hollowed out micro-moon orbiting Saturn.

The second ship of the three is the smallest, and is an escort frigate belonging to the Intrasolar Colonization Administration, a transnational transworld organization dedicated to the bureaucratic administration of the Solar System under a neutral party. The ICAS Snow Leopard is a 35 meter long craft with a small crew, and minimal weaponry. The ship is stark white, well cared for, but almost as old as the Francis Drake, but the two could not be more different. The same applies to the captain of the Snow Leopard, Rear Admiral Amanda Ayneswaithe. Ayneswaithe is young as far as ship captains are concerned, not yet forty, but has a decorated service record and an appearance that causes many to underestimate her ability, or assume that her rank comes from her feminine wiles. Both are wrong, she a wily captain, and all of the ranks in the ICA are blown out of proportion, so that in most circumstances, a ICA ship captain will outrank anyone they encounter, at least on paper.

The last of the three ships is the largest, the most powerful, and the most dangerous, and it's captain is the most intimidating of the three. The Seylitz is a battlecruiser of the New Hanseatic League, and at forty years old, is the newest, and among Hanse ships, has been relegated to secondary patrols and international liaisons. The battlecruiser is over 650 meters long, has a squadron of aerospace fighters, and is armed with naval grade laser and plasma weapons, with a few linear guns for close in work, and has been routinely been employed in pirate hunting in the belt and outer system. It's captain is a stern man, Captain Albert Franz Steiner, of the Hanse 5th fleet, and he has seen multiple campaigns and is a veteran of a few space battles, such as the blockade of Mars, and the Belt War between the ACPS, the Five Metal Dragons, and the Belt State Alliance. He has survived being spaced, and the destruction of the Federation cruiser Vigilant.

Our Story begins

with an unexpected event. Captain Ironbeard had been captured and imprisoned at Pewtergate Anchorage after the ICA and the Federation joint task force managed to take him unaware at the Infinite Lotus, a brothel/casino/space port in the Belt Free State. While occupied with the android femme bots, the ICA managed to capture Ironbeard, but failed to impound the Francis Drake. The Drake had escaped with most of the crew and only minimal damage. After just twenty months in lock up, the Francis Drake returned to Pewtergate, and in dramatic fashion. The acting captain of the Drake docked and indicated that he was going to deliver wanted people to collect their bounties, and instead launched an invasion of Pewtergate. A handful of other ships, having docked at nearly the same time did the same. The prison turned into a riot of pirates fighting guards, and then guards fighting pirates and released prisoners.

Ironbeard reclaimed the Drake, and appointed himself as the commodore of the new pirate fleet; totaling several thousand men, women, and bots, and over a dozen ships. Pewtergate was looted, the surviving guards were locked up, and then the anchorage was vented, leaving all left aboard to die quick and painful deaths from being spaced. The ships held a brief pirate's court, and began their fresh hunt.

The pirates took ships, invaded habitats, and even captured and ransomed the massive ore ships and bulk ore carriers of the Federation, the Five Metal Dragons, and the Eurasian Alliance. Belt Free Staters launched a number of pursuit missions, but Ironbeard's flotilla proved more than a match for what ships a consortium of miners and libertarians could muster, and a call for help was issued.

Help Came...

In the form of a ICA task group, a grandiose name for three ICA ships, the Manatee, the Rhinoceros, and the Snow Leopard. The commander of the task group was Fleet Admiral Elias Thane, acting captain of the Rhinoceros. The task force shadowed Ironbeard's fleet, and when they reached a superior position, attacked. The intent had been a show of force would make the pirates stand down, or scatter. Instead, they returned fire and counterattacked. The Rhinoceros took serious damage and was captured by the Francis Drake, and the Manatee suffered a critical hit into its fuel bunker and went up like an infant star. The Snow Leopard managed to escape, only taking minimal damage, but not before scoring a few hits, including landing a couple of tracking beacons of the Francis Drake and a few other ships in the pirate flotilla.

Also Responding to the Call...

The Hanse 5th Fleet received notification of the break out at Pewtergate, and the subsequent launch of the ICA task force. In a similar show, the 5th deployed a single ship to answer, the HRS Seydlitz. Captain Steiner took the Seydlitz out at flank speed, meeting the HRS Gerhard Schroder to top off its fuel tanks, and accept Sternwaffe Squadron 45. The ship and its fresh compliment of fighters, space marines, and fuel ran a hard burn for the Belt.

"It's always exciting meeting you like this, Steiner," Ayneswaithe smiled at the viewer, "I never know if you're going to try to blow up my ship, or offer me a shower and a state dinner."

"My dearest Read Admiral, is it still Rear Admiral, not Grand Marshall, or Space Marshall now? I see your ship is damaged, and you have need of an ally, or are you going to attempt to commandeer my ship again. I'm afraid i couldn't let you try to take my old destroyer, i certainly cannot let you have a battlecruiser, but I do extend all hospitality. 

The Chase...

With the Snow Leopard pulled to the hull of the Seydlitz and maglocked, the larger ship powered on, now tracking the pirate fleet. The fleet was scattered, and still engaged in the activities of piracy, looting ships and leaving havoc in their wake. The Seydlitz was faster and was making up distance, but the pursuit took more than a week's time. During that period, the bridge of the Seydlitz was often a tense place. The two captains were locked in their own personal struggles.

Rear Admiral Ayneswaithe had every intention of commandeering the Seylitz. Even as a second tier Hanseatic battlecruiser, the ship was superior to almost anything in the ICA fleet. It was large, spacious, had things like showers, and several recreation areas, sports complex, even and entertainment center where the crew could watch movies. In comparison, the Snow Leopard had minimal facilities, the crew often had to hot rack, two or more people sharing a bed, but on rotating schedules so fewer beds were needed.

Meanwhile Captain Steiner defended claim of his own ship, but also danced a game to seduce Ayneswaithe. This was no powerful man sees an attractive woman and decides to have her, no it was something deeper. The two very much knew each other, and they had shared beds before, before Ayneswaithe left the Federation fleet to join the seemingly humanitarian ICA fleet. Steiner gave her the position of XO of the joint operation, and heeded her advice and requests, and in exchange did things like invite her dinners on the observation deck, or offering bottles of wine and music, watching the progress of the chase on a holo-projection table that was easily the size of her own ship's entire command cockpit.

The Next Stage of the Chase...

began when the last of the pirate flotilla came within range of the Seydlitz. Prior, the only chase was a man and a woman, and the command of a battlecruiser. Three ships of Ironbeard's flotilla had broken off to engage in a petty action, raiding an asteroid mining camp for supplies and entertainment. Steiner ordered the fighter squadron to launch, armed with anti-ship torpedoes, and to ask no questions, take no prisoners. Ayneswaithe countered, wanting the ship to drive off the pirates, capture them if possible, and dock with the station and render aid.

"Your motives are true, Amanda, but I wont let Seydlitz lose that much Delta V, the fighters will destroy the pirates, and the miners will do as miners do, they will endure and survive, or they wont. If I dock, we lose the Drake. It it is that important to you, you can take your own ship and dock with the camp, offer what aid you can, and I will continue the chase, regretfully, without you."
"You know if the Snow Leopard docks, I wont be able to catch this ship, let alone the Drake."
"The answer seems simple then, doesn't it."
"You bastard."
"If I am such a bastard, you are welcome to return to your own ship, you and all of your crew."
"Are all Hanse captains like this, or am I blessed that this is just how you are?"

The Fighters Struck...

torpedoes tore into pirate junk frigates and corvettes, tearing the ships into clouds of debris. The fighters returned, burning hard to catch Seydlitz, their tanks almost dry when they were caught by magnetic grapnels. The ship didn't leave the camp empty-handed. The Captain's Yacht was loaded with supplies and medical equipment, and launched via drone to dock with the mining camp, with messages fired to ICA fleet command noting the details, and what would have to be worked out between the Hanse 5th Fleet and the ICA high command.

This changed the nature of the chase, as the destruction of three junk ships at the hands of a Hanse fighter group did not go unnoticed. Ironbeard was made aware of the chase, and how close, of all things, a Hanse battlecruiser, was on his tail.

"Do not be unworried, lads. There is likely nothing worse than what be chasing us now, a Space Nazi battlecruiser."

"The Hanse are soft, they wont risk damage to their pretty ships."

"You be a fool, that Nazi battlewagon is a second tier ship, her captain care not for taking damage, only in scoring kills. The Hanse will smear a ship across their own hull if it gets them a registered kill. He'll come for us straight and hard."

"We can outrun him,"

"Outrun, sure, for a time. That beast has more fuel than we have ship. How long do you think we can run, how many weeks before we need fuel, before we need fresh food, or need to vent to waste tanks?"

"Then we turn and fight."

"We turn and we die. Francis Drake be no match for a battlewagon, and those Nazi captains make us honest pirates seem like we be church charity."

The Eleventh Hour...

began as the Seylitz came within range of Ironbeard's remaining flotilla. Most would consider nine against one unfavorable odds, but this was not the case. After twelve days of repair and rest, the crew of the Snow Leopard and her captain were ready for action. Rear Admiral Ayneswaithe took the Snow Leopard directly into the flotilla with intent to take the Francis Drake. Meanwhile Steiner and the Seydlitz launched fighters, and instead of 9 against one, it was 9 against 20. Several fighters were lost, but the pirate flotilla only lasted a few minutes under Seydlitz's lasers and fighters.

The struggle between the Snow Leopard and the Francis Drake was slow and ugly. Neither ship was a warship, one had been a passenger ship that had been armed and armored, the other an industrial mining and salvage ship that relied on ambush and surprise. Both were venting atmosphere, severely damaged. The proximity of the two ships, grappled together by Drake's scavenger arm, and Snow Leopard's magnetic grapnles, made engaging one ship all but impossible, at such ranges, hitting one and not damaging the other was impossible.

Both ships were lost.

Francis Drake, in much worse condition, brewed up as its reactor went critical. A few seconds later, Snow Leopard broke amidships, the spine sheared by the salvage claw. Before going super-critical, Drake caught several hypersonic gauss slugs from Seydlitz, spinning the hulk away from the Snow Leopard before it went up like a star.

"I don't care about regulations and protocol, immediate rescue operations. I want you to bring Seydlitz as close to the wreckage as possible. I'm going to give you the conn, because I'm going to suit up for rescue ops."

"Sir, that is insane, the rescue crews are trained for this, and you aren't."

"I don't fucking care, you have the conn, I'm going to rescue the captain of that ship if I can, if you have a problem with that, you can go fuck yourself."

The Rescue Operations...

went as well as could be hoped. More than half of the Snow Leopard's crew was lost. Some had been killed in the ship to ship approach, and more were injured or slain when boarding actions were attempted. One of the things that saved many lives was that one consideration given to Snow Leopard's age was that when All Stations was sounded, almost all crewmen were suited up, and those who weren't in full gear were a quick helmet seal away from it. When the hull ruptured, few were lost to vented atmosphere, and even those with damaged suits were able to quick tape everything back together, at least long enough for the rapid response from the Hanse battlecruiser.

"I can't see, Albert, I'm scared."

"You're safe now,"

"Why can't I see?"

"I'm taking you to the infirmary, you're going to be fine."

"My ship, my crew?"

"We've rescued everyone we can find, way more than we expected to find?"

"The pirates?"

"Drake is ash, and Ironbeard is custody, or at least what is left of it is, they fought to the last."

"Fuck, Albert, I'm cold..."

The End of the Story

is not a sad tale.

Ironbeard survived the destruction of the Francis Drake, and after transport back to Earth, was placed in the Tarn-Voss detention facility, a prison intended for AI and synthetic intelligence. By this point Ironbeard was little more than a brain and a few endocrine glands, so plugging him into the prison matrix was easy enough.

While aboard Seydlitz, Ayneswaithe started her recovery, the ships' doctor treating her for radiation exposure, ruptured eyeballs, and burnt lungs. This was superior medical treatment to what the ICA would clear for her. After her health was cleared, Ayneswaithe was promoted to a 'desk job' and no longer had to serve on a ship. Rather than staying with the ICA, she retired early, took her pension, and moved to New Dresden, on the the Moon.

Captain Steiner was given a number of medals and national recognition, as much for rescuing the crew of the ICAS Snow Leopard as for splattering 11 pirate ships with only superficial losses. Granted promotion, the new Vice Admiral of the 5th Fleet requested a transfer to the 2nd Fleet, part of the Near Earth Space Supremacy Force (NESS Fleet), very conveniently based out of New Dresden, on the Moon.

A year and a half later, Vice Admiral Albert Franz Steiner wed retired Fleet Admiral Amanda Ayneswaithe.

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