The fire now contained and the resupply now complete, the Damask Rose moved out of orbit and on to her next mission. ODF Intel had given them a "most likely" report for the pirate ship, now identified as the Bonney. Like the Rose she was a civilian ship reconfigured for military action. Unlike the Rose she was a major ore freighter with a massive cargo capacity, which gave her ample room to hold fighter bays and stolen drones amidst her cargo. She was also armed. Though laughable by military standards she did have two major weapons batteries fore and aft, energy cannons on turret mounts that would shred the D R in a head on engagement. She also had enough close in defense weapons to make a direct assault by mecha dicey at best. She'd have to be de-clawed before the assault proper could begin. Even before that, she had to be found.
The report placed her in a roughly 500 kilometer cubed area of the densely littered asteroid belt in system. Given the rather large area that needed to be covered the Damask Rose would move under the umbrella of the Nightmares flown in pairs. Natalya would take the port side escort, while Rod would take low cover to the rear. Rallye would fly starboard and high relative to the Rose. Eric would fly forward under cover of all four of the drones, extending eyes into the field and hopefully giving early warning of their target. Olga, Quola, Kes, and Dwer, mounted in Rheas, would remain on the D R in launch position in order to catch any pirates unaware. Likewise, the shuttle would remain on stand by till a path could be cleared to the Bonney. Tommy would command with Jo as his gunner/navigator, though Nick would lead the combined boarding party of himself, Tiff, and Dr. Niven. The Bonney was large, but the actual crew compartments were all along a narrow corridor running the spine of the ship forward to the bridge. Between Nick's rather impressive combat skills and Tiff's inordinate supply of explosives, there was little threat of them being stopped by untrained raiders. Niven was along to make sure someone was around to be interrogated afterwards.
Three hours found the strike force moving to the edge of the search grid. The asteroids, though fairly dense, were spaced out far enough and relatively stable enough that at worst they would be annoyances for any high speed maneuvers. They did provide cover for anything mecha sized. Eric plunged ahead as the drones fanned out in a search pattern. The Rose and her escorts followed into the belt several minutes later. It was a full ten minutes before Eric's sensors beeped a faint contact ahead and down to the left some 20 km into the field. And then a second 50 km diagonally "up" and "east" of the first. And then a third along the same plane as the Damask Rose but 150 km back and off to the left again. Their unifying feature were dense clumps of asteroids easily blocking visual confirmation.
"I've got faint readings at each of these" Eric called over the line. "Metallic in nature, power emissions difficult to tell from the background clutter. Most likely candidate is the second contact out. I don't think the big bitch is here, but there are definitely hostiles out there. Volunteers for armed recon?"