As the Fed climbed aboard the shuttle to make his transmission, the rest of the crew discarded their rescue suits in favour of the utility suits from the nearby rack. Akane’s suit in particular was in pretty bad shape, but they all wanted to get as far away as possible from anything that Carver had issued them for the time being. The crew tried not to look too hard at the state of the shuttle’s interior as they climbed aboard.
“Here goes nothing,” Jonah said, nervously gripping the shuttle’s control yoke. With a shudder and a metallic screech, the 20-ton shuttle disengaged from the Breaker Morant and moved towards the smaller freighter nestled up against its underbelly. Jonah was far from an expert pilot, but he was able to maneuver the small craft close to the vacant shuttle docking assembly, which was partially plated over by a piece of sheet metal molded into a vague approximation of the shape of a standard shuttle. He nodded to Worth, who squeezed his considerable bulk into the utility airlock.
One hiss of escaping atmo later, Worth found himself exposed to the vastness of space. “Gorram,” he said as he struggled with vertigo for a few seconds before kicking off from the shuttle’s hatchway, lazily spinning until he landed feet-first on the hull of Shenmue. Engaging the magnetic pads on his boots, he stomped over to the thin shuttle-shaped shroud covering the docking bay. He grabbed his scrapper’s gel and began slowly applying a line of the goo around the edge of the mock shuttle. After a time, he let the sticky do its work, eating into the metal surface until the whole piece sloughed off. Giving it a slight kick to get it going, Worth watched the large piece of scrap float away into oblivion. Then he turned to the more difficult task of getting the damaged shuttle docking assembly in working order.
Back on the shuttle, the crew didn’t have much to talk about as they watched Worth work. The Fed checked and re-checked the action on the holdout pistol Jonah had loaned him, and Akane gritted her teeth as she felt droplets of blood running down her ribcage to settle in some of the more uncomfortable regions of her space suit.
“How long until your backup gets here?” Akane said almost dreamily as the painkillers she had taken started to do their work.
“They didn’t give me an ETA, but patrol boats are built for speed, so it could be a just a few hours,” the fed replied.
“Terrific,” Jonah said, handing over a glove-full of bullets to the Fed for the holdout pistol. Then they lapsed into a tense silence as they watched Worth struggle on Shenmue’s hull.
Worth had his work cut out for him. The best he was going to be able to do without more parts on hand was to bend or cut the broken portions of the docking assembly out of the way so that the shuttle could at least get a seal on the airlock inside the bay. It wouldn’t hold the shuttle in place during re-entry, but it would give them a shot at getting inside Shenmue. He disconnected the faulty attachment control connectors and hoped that would be enough. He then jumped the void separating Shenmue and the shuttle, and banged on the airlock hatch with the butt of his plasma torch.
“Okay then,” Jonah said, angling the shuttle and attempting a sideslip maneuver. He gingerly thumbed the thrusters and was rewarded with a grating sound of metal on metal for a split-second before the slight bump of impact. Then the shuttle settled in place and a red light on his console turned green – airlock seal achieved.
“Let’s go make this guy all the way crippled,” Jonah snarled as he stood up from the pilot’s chair.
Worth hauled open the hatch and the group proceeded gingerly out onto the catwalk outside the shuttle bay. Jonah stripped off his utility suit, tossing it back into the shuttle and buckling his plate vest back on. Akane and Worth removed their helmets.
“Time to trade up to some heavier artillery,” Jonah said as he headed towards his bunk.
Ying Johnson opened his eyes. All he could see was a dull grey blur, which sent him into a bit of panic before he realized that it was just the steel deckhead above him. He was laying prone on the floor of his quarters and his head hurt like hell. He got unsteadily to his feet, looking around. His hand grabbed for his holster – empty. He shook his head and turned on the lights. His last clear memory was of him working the airlock grav controls from his seat on the bridge, but after that – nothing.
He climbed the ladder and attempted to swing the hatch open. It was stuck fast. A couple of quick stabs on the lock keypad had no effect. He cursed his luck and started looking around for something he could use as leverage.
Jonah, Akane, Worth and the Fed made their way as quietly as possible towards the Firefly’s gooseneck where the crew quarters were located. Jonah turned to his bunk and tried to push the ladder-hatch inwards. It was locked fast. He put his weight into it, trying again, but got no joy.
“I don’t remember buttoning up before we left,” Jonah whispered. He tried the console at the end of the hallway. It refused to co-operate. “No worries,” Jonah said, breaking out his lockpicking tools.
Meanwhile, as he crept towards the bridge, Worth tripped over his own feet and sent his 340-pound bulk crashing to the deckplates. The echo of his impact rattled throughout the ship and covered up the sound of Jonah delivering a swift kick to Worth’s hindquarters.
In his quarters, YJ heard the unmistakable sound of Worth hitting the deck, and he started yelling and banging on the hatch. Jonah switched hatches and started to work on YJ’s, with Akane covering him. He had just about done it when the Firefly’s intercom system crackled to life.
“I must say I admire your persistence,” Cutter/Carver’s voice came over the hallway speakers.
Jonah sighed. “Yeah, I can do without the admiration of a kidnapper and mass murderer.” he said bitterly. “You ever consider that your specimens had lives of their own before you messed with ‘em?”
“Such scruples you have, Mr. McGavin!” Carver’s voice said mockingly from the intercom. “I’m a scientist first, humanist second. I can’t afford to get emotional about my work.”
“Well you won’t be working much longer, I’m going to make sure of it,” Jonah snarled.
“I disagree with your assessment. You can’t stop the science, my friends,” Carver’s voice said mockingly. “My work will go on, and research will continue, regardless of what happens next.”
Jonah lapsed into silence and finished jimmying the lock. He pushed the hatch inward and saw YJ’s upturned face glaring at him.
“What the hell’s going on?” Johnson said. “My head feels like it’s been run over by a mule. What’s with this nutter?” He pointed to the intercom.
“Turns out Carver isn’t who he said he is,” Jonah said as he helped YJ through the hatch.
“Who is this?” Johnson said, noticing the fed standing nearby.
“A fed,” Akane said.
“Agent Robson,” the fed offered.
“What’s a fed doing on my ship?” YJ asked. “Not that, you know, there’s anything wrong with being a fed,” he quickly added.
Robson smiled wearily. “It’s complicated.”
Jonah picked the locks on his and Worth’s quarters and both men disappeared for a few moments, to return packing much heavier hardware. Jonah had two shotguns, one of which he traded with the fed for the holdout pistol. “I’m sure I can point out a number of hiding places for you along the way,” Jonah said to the Fed.
Agent Robson took the shotgun from Jonah’s hands. “I’d rather salvage some of my pride here, thanks.”
Worth worked the action on Katrina, his very favourite gun.
The crew split up. YJ and Akane, who was in no shape for a firefight, moved towards the bridge while Jonah, Worth and Agent Robson began to backtrack towards the Firefly’s secondary hold where they figured Carver was located.
Seating himself in his pilot’s chair, YJ tried to fire up the controls, only to discover that everything was locked down. Akane sat at the co-pilot’s console and did likewise, with similar results.
“He’s shut everything down,” YJ said. “The bridge is completely cut off.”
“How could he do that?” Akane said. “He’s not exactly nimble enough to snip all the control wiring.”
“He wouldn’t need to,” YJ explained. “When we set up his command pod he said he needed access to Shenmue’s external cameras and sensors, so we wired him in. Guess he knew how to grab a mile when given an inch.”
Akane knew how to exploit back doors as well as anyone, and was soon chewing her way through encrypted firewalls in the ship’s computer.
Carver’s voice came in once more over the intercom. “I don’t suppose you’d be interested in a deal, Mr. McGavin,” he said wryly. “I could use a man like you in my operation.”
“I’ll mull it over while I come down to kill you,” Jonah said.
“The Alliance wants him alive,” hissed the Fed.
“Well said, Mr. McGavin, well said.” Cutter/Carver laughed. “By all means, come downstairs and finish your job.”
On the bridge, Akane worked the controls feverishly, diving into the layers of code embedded in the quirky spam advertisements clogging the ship’s computer core in an effort to bypass Carver’s customized lockouts. One by one, YJ regained control of the ship’s systems, unfortunately starting with the least useful.
The trio of gunmen threaded through the common area to the aft stairwell, which would take them directly to the command pod and infirmary, and hopefully Carver as well. They crept down the stairs.
“You know, it just occurred to me that Carver ain’t likely to pay us now, is he?” Worth whispered.
“Don’t worry,” Jonah reassured him. “I think we can get a good price for his wheelchair.”
Then they were in the secondary cargo hold, crowded as it was with a number of modules – Akane’s workshop, the fold-out infirmary, and Carver’s command pod.
The infirmary was a bloodbath. It was obvious that Doc Tulsa’s patient hadn’t pulled through. She lay on the operating table as if abandoned right in the middle of surgery – some of Tulsa’s tools of the trade were still stuck inside her. Of the doctor, there was no sign.
Gritting his teeth, Jonah turned from the infirmary and motioned the other two to cover him as he tiptoed towards the command pod. He edged around the curved exterior of the pod towards its point of entry, shotgun at the ready. He grimaced as he saw Carver’s wheelchair.
Lying on its side.
“Oh my ai yah tien ah, he’s bipedal!” Jonah said through gritted teeth.
“What’s going on down there?” YJ said through his ship-linked handset.
“Turns out he wasn’t as paralyzed as we thought. He could be anywhere.” Jonah exclaimed.
“Anywhere?” Carver’s disembodied voice mocked him. “Are you not a fan of the process of elimination?”
“No, but I’ll bet you are, since you’re a dead man, Carver. That’s one process of elimination I’m going to see through to the end,” Jonah growled.
The Fed hissed at Jonah. “Hey, I want him alive!”
Satisfied that the door to Akane’s module hadn’t been breached, the trio moved towards the hatchway leading to Shenmue’s main cargo hold.
Worth stuck Katrina’s nose out first, swinging the assault rifle from side to side in an effort to establish a thermal target lock. Satisfied there was no enemy in front of him, he quickly sidled through, with Jonah not two steps behind.
The hold seemed empty, until they cast their eyes upward to the catwalk overlooking the deck. There their quarry stood, partially shielded by a nonplussed Doc Tulsa.
“Well, well,” Carver said triumphantly. “I must say I underestimated you, but I think it’s fair to say that you underestimated me as well.” The deranged doctor pushed the muzzle of YJ’s flechette pistol into Tulsa’s cheek.
“Oh yeah, you got us good,” Jonah smirked. “Looks like you’re the one who’s cornered.”
“You don’t know what I had to go through to get those specimens,” The doctor snarled.
“Specimens. You mean people, innocent people.” Worth said.
Carver waved his pistol irritably. “Details, details.” His snarl shifted into an ugly smile. “But just think of what we can accomplish if we can weaponize this phenomenon!”
“Well I hope your experiments were worth it, Doctor, because they are the last ones you’ll ever perform,” Jonah said icily.
“Fair enough,” Carver/Cutter smiled. “But from where I stand, my observations are not yet complete.” He reached around and pressed a button on his multiband, and with that, the airlock doors began to open.
“You see, friends, I know you’ve been very busy, but then again, so have I.”
As the cargo bay doors slid open, the hold was suddenly full of the sounds of screaming, cackling, and hissing as four crazed attackers, two male and two female, ran full tilt across the deck towards them.
Worth aimed his rifle up at the catwalk and shot the Doctor’s arm. “See how much work you do with one less arm, Cutter!” The bullet slapped home, ripping muscle and rending flesh. Carver/Cutter shrieked and dropped to the catwalk, as Tulsa stumbled out of the line of fire. The flechette pistol skittered across the walkway to land at the foot of the stairs leading to the gooseneck.
At the sound of firing, YJ ran from the bridge and soon spied his pistol sitting at the bottom of the stairs. Akane too abandoned the co-pilot’s chair and raced to her quarters as she heard the screaming and shooting from the cargo bay. Rummaging under her bunk, she uncovered a nondescript looking case and began assembling the complex machinery held inside.
Jonah gave the approaching assailant both barrels at point blank range, and was astonished when the crazy danced out of the way with a perverse sort of grace.
The Fed triggered his shotgun, winging his assailant, who was on him in a second, stabbing and slashing.
Worth sprayed a stream of bullets from Katrina at the two attackers closest to him, hitting them both but not slowing them down in the slightest.
Wielding a jagged piece of metal, the female attacker slashed at Jonah, whose plate vest absorbed most of the damage. He fired again; hitting his opponent squarely with a double blast of buckshot, and rocking her back a few steps.
Akane slapped the last component home and began climbing out of her quarters towards the sound of the melee.
YJ picked up his pistol and delivered a swift kick to Cutter/Carver’s lolling head before taking aim over the handrail at the mayhem below. He snapped off a shot with his pistol that neatly severed the spinal column of the berserker savaging the Fed, in an instant turning the whirling dervish into a listless pile of meat.
Worth let loose with another spray of automatic fire, peppering his attackers with injuries that would floor a normal human being, but onward they came, stabbing and slashing, opening deep wounds on his chest and forearms. Worth hollered with rage and pain as he struggled to stay on his feet.
“Konnichiwa, bitches!” Akane shouted as she lifted her pride and joy – a custom Newtech sniper rifle, and aimed it downward at one of Worth’s assailants. She pressed the trigger, letting loose an invisible laser bolt that opened a burning wound on the back of the nearest lunatic, not slowing him down in the least.
Tulsa turned to Akane. “You did actually fire that thing, didn’t you?”
“Why must I be surrounded by such amateurs?” Akane muttered under her breath as she lined up another shot.
The grievous injuries suffered by one of Worth’s attackers suddenly caught up with her as she died in mid-stab, her bullet-riddled body falling soundlessly to the deck.
Jonah stepped back and let loose with both barrels yet again, erasing the head from the shoulders of his opponent. The rest of the body danced spasmodically for a second or two then collapsed.
The roar of the remaining attacker was cut short by a round from the Fed’s shotgun, and silence descended upon the cargo bay.
The Fed dusted himself off, took the catwalk steps two at a time, and stood over the prone fugitive who lay cradling his ruined arm, mumbling incoherently to himself.
“Adrian Cutter, aka Aiden Carver, by the order of the Union of Allied Planets you are hereby bound by law on charges of illegal trafficking in human beings, use of outlawed chemical agents and for violating experimentation restrictions on live subjects.” The Fed sneered at the prone Doctor. “You’re a rabid dog who needs to be brought to heel.”
Carver/Cutter seemingly came to his senses and spat in defiance. “I’m nothing of the kind. I’m a loyal servant to the Alliance cause. Look at the results! The Medical Elect can’t ignore me now.”
“Tell it to the judge,” the Fed said as he reached for his handcuffs.
“Could I have my shotgun back, please?” Jonah asked a little too innocently. The Fed gave him a look, then racked the shotgun again and again until it was empty, shells clattering to the catwalk, before handing it over, making sure he was standing between his quarry and the rest of the crew.
Jonah smiled as he shouldered the empty gun and then hefted his own weapon one-handed. “I say we shoot him once in the chest and then once in the leg, to make it look like we tried to wing him first,” Jonah said, pointing his shotgun at the doctor.
The Fed shook his head, “No, the Alliance wants him alive.”
“Wait a minute, the Alliance wants him so they can pick up where he left off,” Akane said. “If we stop him now, he won’t be able to harm anyone else.”
The Fed shook his head. “No, just look at him, he’s not about to harm anyone ever again. I have my orders. I believe in justice.”
“So do we,” YJ said. “Justice would be putting another bullet in him right now.”
“No. He must be called to account for his actions.” The Fed said, wary of the number of gun barrels suddenly pointing in his general direction. “But I don’t particularly care if all the data he recorded during his little escapade out here were to be erased.”
Jonah was thinking. If he killed the mad doctor, it was highly likely that he was also going to have to kill the Fed as well, and that kind of heat had a tendency to keep a guy sweating.
The Fed looked the rest of the crew over. “Tell you what,” he coughed. “Why don’t I leave all mention of your activities here out of my after-action report? I wouldn’t want my superiors to misunderstand your intentions, having unknowingly aided an abetted an Alliance fugitive and all.”
“That’s mighty generous of you,” YJ said. “I didn’t want any more gunplay on my ship, anyway.”
“What about the girl in the Breaker Morant’s infirmary? You gonna charge her instead?” Jonah asked.
The Fed pondered for a few seconds. “You’re right, I’d hate for her to get dragged into the investigation, especially after what she’s been through. You get her to a safe harbour, and you won’t have to worry about Cutter or me ever again.”
“Sounds fair,” Jonah said, as he and Tulsa headed over to cut her out of the infirmary.
The next few hours were spent patching wounds, clearing corpses from Shenmue and grabbing whatever goods could be grabbed from the Breaker Morant. The Fed insisted that they leave some of the bigger modules, like the generator behind, as well as the remote piloting unit, so the Alliance wouldn’t have to tow the derelict back to civilized space.
Finally, the two ships parted ways. “You boys have done a fine service to the Alliance,” The Fed said as YJ detached Shenmue from the Breaker Morant and headed back into the black. “You have my thanks.”
“Don’t do us any favours,” Jonah said as he cut the transmission.
It was several more hours into their trip when the young woman came out of her coma.
“Where am I?” she asked Tulsa.
“You’re safe, miss.” Tulsa said. “You’re onboard a ship called Shenmue, and we’re ready to take you home,” He leaned over and switched on the intercom. “Guys, our passenger has awakened.” Soon everyone had crowded into the infirmary.
“Where’s my crew?” she asked.
Jonah sighed. “I’m afraid they didn’t make it,” he said plainly.
“We didn’t kill them, if that’s what you’re wondering,” Worth said.
Tears welled up in the girl’s eyes. “What do you mean? Where is everyone?”
“What’s the last thing you remember?” YJ asked.
“Everybody was so mad,” the engineer said shakily. “The doctor… we had a Fed on board that my Captain didn’t know about, and then he, well…” she put her hand on her bandaged stomach wound. “The doctor, he was a passenger, he fixed me up real nice. He was sweet. ‘Course the Captain had a gun to his head the whole time.”
“Doctor?” Jonah asked. He consulted the passenger listing.
She smiled dreamily. “The Fed, he was nice too. Came to visit me later and apologize, at least I think that’s what he was trying to do. It was real noisy and I had this terrific headache.”
Akane noticed something held tightly in the woman’s hand. Gently taking it from her, she inspected it. It was a photo ID, the kind that usually accompanied an official Alliance law enforcement badge. “Oh, looks like he left me his card,” the engineer says. “He was real nice, even if he did shoot me by accident.”
Wordlessly, Akane passed the ID over to Jonah. Jonah took it and gasped. The image capture on the ID did not match the face of the man who had been calling himself Agent Robson. Not in the least.
Jonah recognized the face though – it was that of the dead man he and Akane had found outside of the Breaker Morant’s infirmary with a hole in his head.
“Jao gao,” They said in unison.