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This is a short story I read about 20-25 years ago.

The plot had three mercenaries, hired to deactivate the defenses on an ancient warship found mothballed in space. The captain of the merceneries was a human woman, and her two colleagues were aliens - I vaguely remember them being cat-like.

The ship was mothballed a long time before, and its computer was left to defend it - it's using the ships weapons to stop itself being boarded. The mercenaries manage to talk to the computer and get some hints as to the code they need to turn the defenses off again, though they can't talk their way on board. So they start broadcasting every combination that it might be while trying to figure out another plan. But they've only got a week to solve the problem, or they don't get paid, and there are too many possible codes to go through them all in time.

In the end

one of them realises that the deactivation code is 'Halti', which is - apparently - the Esperanto for 'Stop'

I've tried to find it off and on for years, but with no success - I have the feeling it's part of a wider series of stories. I'm almost sure I've not dreamed it.

marked as duplicate by Otis, Bellatrix, Edlothiad, Buzz, Mat Cauthon Aug 26 '18 at 6:23

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  • 1
    I have this in a anthology somewhere, but it is in the storage unit right now. And yes, I believe is is one of a series involving the same characters. – dmckee Dec 4 '13 at 1:26
  • Ah, thanks for that; at least I'm reassured I've not made it up.... – andrewsi Dec 4 '13 at 2:31

The Mothballed Spaceship by Harry Harrison, a sequel to his Deathworld series.

from ASTOUNDING: The John W. Campbell Anthology (1973)

The Mothballed Spaceship

In "The Mothballed Spaceship", a hostile armada is heading towards Earth, and its government contracts Jason and the Pyrrans to reactivate an ancient mothballed battleship. It is cheaper to use the battleship, a relic from the First Galactic War, than it is to build a fleet from scratch. Unfortunately, when the ship was deactivated for storage, or "mothballed", it was programmed to destroy any approaching object so it could not be stolen by Earth's enemies. The only way it can be used is if it receives the correct codeword.

The armada is just weeks away, so Jason and Kerk must race against time to enter the ship. Jason approaches the problem with intelligence and guile, and is able to board it with plenty of time to spare. Kerk's Pyrran combat skills then make short work of the ship's on-board defenses. But when they reach the control center, the computer starts a self-destruct sequence—a final option to keep the ship from being "stolen".

Just in time, Jason's Pyrran lover, Meta, discovers the correct codeword, canceling the self-destruct. It turns out to have been a simple five-letter word in Esperanto—"Haltu" or, "Stop".

This was a short story featured in ASTOUNDING: The John W. Campbell Anthology which was published after the death of the famed, influential editor.

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