Campaign of the Month: January 2011

Honour Among Thieves

Death Ship Session Three

It's amazing how quickly a situation can go from bad to much, much worse.

Crossing through the airlock connecting the two freighters, the Doc and Jonah wheeled the mortally wounded woman into Shenmue’s secondary cargo bay where they had set up the portable surgical unit. Carver emerged from his cocoon-like command pod, wheeling his chair about to get a better look at her.

“Who is she?” Carver asked.

“Hell if I know, she’s not on the crew manifest, that’s for sure.” Jonah said as he and the Doc transferred the woman onto the operating table.

“I managed to get her stabilized, but fixing her’s going to take some doing,” The Doc said as he hooked the woman up to the infirmary’s vital signs monitor. “I’m not going to be much help on the Breaker Morant now.”

“Fair enough,” Carver said, taking the crew manifest and handing it to Akane. “It’s time to get this salvage operation underway, now that you’ve got all that shooting out of your system.”

Jonah fixed his wheelchair-bound employer with a menacing stare. “In case you weren’t watching the viewscreens, we didn’t go looking for this fight!”

“Let’s just get this job over with pronto and be on our way,” Worth said from the doorway where he was leaning against the bulkhead. “I don’t want to spend any more time on board that piece of go se any longer than I have to.”

The crew began the difficult work of transferring the heavy salvage modules through the airlocks. Each unit, including the bulky emergency generator and tank-like chemical oxygen emitter had to be rotated 180 degrees lest they come of out of Breaker Morant’s airlock upside down. It was tricky zero-g work, aided by Ying Johnson’s hand on the grav feed controls from his position on Shenmue’s bridge. Eventually they established a base camp of sorts in Breaker Morant’s cargo hold.

“Okay, let’s track down Carver’s cargo, then get this ball rolling.” Jonah said.

“Hell with that, we need to sweep the ship to make sure there aren’t any other surprises waiting for us,” Akane countered.

Worth shook his head. “You’re both daft. I’m getting this ship’s engine spinning again and then getting the hell off this boat.” He grabbed a spool of electrical cable, attached one end to the generator, and then snapped it into place on the utility belt around his waist. Then he yanked one of his hand cannons out of its holster, gave the other two a mock salute, and stomped up the nearest flight of stairs towards the engineering section.

Jonah set down his heaviest module – an oblong road case containing a remote piloting console – next to the stairs and turned up his headlamp. “Looks like it’s just you and me, Wild Sky. Let’s find that cargo, shall we?”

“I still think we need to sweep the rest of the ship.” Akane said uncertainly.

“Well look at it this way, we haven’t even swept the entire cargo hold yet, so back me up, will you?” Jonah said, making his way through the settling fog. Akane gamely followed.

“I’d just like to know what we’re bringing back to civilized space,” she said.

Jonah ignored her. “Carver, let me know when you see something familiar, okay?” he said as he looked over the scattered crates he came across.

”Will do.” Carver’s disembodied voice said.

As they made their way aft, Akane decided to fill the silence with conversation. “So tell me,” she said. “So do you do this kind of work all the time?”

Jonah smiled expansively. “Honey, I liberate things for a living.”

Akane watched Jonah rifle through an open crate with criminal efficiency and sniffed. “I’ve got to say, I prefer my workshop.”

That gave Jonah a thought, and he turned to check on the darkened recesses of the cargo bay. He could make out several cargo pallets stacked next to one another, well away from any of the more dilapidated modules amidships. These crates were pristine, Newtech. He counted twelve and noted that they were linked together with heavy-duty hoses that lead back to a cylindrical tank unit.

“I believe we may have something here,” Jonah said, stepping forward to get a better look. Akane followed, and as she took in the size and shape of the modules a flash of recognition crossed her face.

“Those are cryo-pods. Standard cryogenic transport modules connected to a control unit for long-term cold-pac storage.”

“Now what do you suppose gets transported inside a cargo pod like that?” Jonah asked, only half-rhetorically.

“Well, organic compounds, mostly.” Akane replied. “Or sensitive, unstable elements that need to be held to certain temperatures.”

“Carver, did your bosses tell you what cargo this ship was carrying?” Jonah said.

“No, only that it was very valuable and very perishable.” Carver responded. “What have you got there?”

Jonah walked the length of the line of cargo pallets. “We’ve got twelve cryo-pod units here, connected to a tank of nitrogen or something.” He put a hand on the cylindrical cryo control unit and could feel the cold through his glove.

Carver’s voice rose in intensity. “Is the cargo intact? There’s a lot of video interference at my end.”

Jonah took a closer look, and his heart sank. “That’s a negative, boss. Eleven of these units have their lids pried off.” He stopped at the other end of the modules. “Wait. There’s one still sealed.” He put his hands on the lid, feeling around to see whether it was stuck tight or not.

“Don’t open it!” Carver said quickly. “The insurers want it intact.”

“Right,” Jonah said. “Does it matter that it’s only one-twelfth of the way intact?”

Carver was muttering to himself. “All this way…good grief…well, the insurers aren’t going to be happy, but let’s keep working. Leave the cargo modules where they are for now, and get this ship up and running again.”

”Roger that,” Jonah said, turning towards Akane. “We’ll sweep the rest of this deck and then get to work, how’s that?”

”Fine,” Akane said.

Jonah started back towards the aft section of the cargo bay, where he could see the outlines of a massive bulkhead flanked by two hatches. He started towards the one on the left. The personal display unit showing the ship’s layout labeled it as the infirmary. He tried the hatch controls and found that the door had absolutely no give to it.

He gave it a closer look and realized that the infirmary door had been welded shut from outside – a rough scar indicated where the join in the hatch had been worked over by a plasma torch. The hatch had two portholes at about face-level, and Jonah pressed his helmet up against the nearest one to take a look at what was inside.

In the dim light he could make out a number of tiny blinking lights from a bevy of medical instruments, but what made his eyes bug out was the shape of a young woman lying on the elevated operating table, half-covered by a blanket. Jonah was no surgeon, but he could read a heart monitor as well as any layman, and realized that whoever this woman was, she was still alive. He punched up the crew manifest and instantly recognized the woman as the Breaker Morant’s engineer.

“What are you looking at?” Carver said.

“Unless my eyes deceive me, a survivor!” Jonah said. “We’ve got a live one here!”

Akane peeked in through the other port hole. “Just one?” She asked. “I’ll get the prybars.” She turned, and then saw something half-hidden behind the cryo containers.

“Uh oh,” she said as she saw the soles of two work boots sticking out of the shadows.

“Let me guess,” Jonah said. “Another dead guy?”

Akane’s headlamps illuminated the sprawled corpse. “Dead guy.”

This one was another man, late twenties, with a small hole in his temple surrounded by a ring-shaped burn mark. Jonah turned away, forgetting the infirmary for a moment as he took in the body. He noticed the plasma welder clutched in one gloved fist and removed it, checking the power setting. It had been turned up full.

“Is it a member of the crew?” Carver’s voice echoed in their headsets.

Akane shook her head. “He doesn’t match any of the image captures. Of course, the passengers aren’t pictured.”

”What killed him?” Carver asked.

“Some kind of head wound,” Jonah said. Thinking it over, he pushed the plasma welder up to the dead man’s temple and thumbed it on. There was a jolt of white-hot energy and the man’s head flopped back against the deckplate.

”What the hell are you doing?” Akane asked incredulously.

“Testing a hypothesis,” Jonah said, grabbing the body and hauling it into the light. The dead man now sported a near-identical burn wound on the other temple. “Thought so,” Jonah said. “Looks like he did himself after welding the infirmary hatch shut.”

Akane shook her head in wonderment. “Listen, you need to tell me which way your ethical compass is pointing so I can walk in the opposite direction.”

Jonah took a closer look at the dead man’s outfit. Something about the shape of his suit looked familiar. He suddenly recognized it as the same model he and the rest of the salvage crew were wearing. “Carver, you notice anything about this gentleman’s suit?”

“I know he’s got good taste. That brand is a quality product,” Carver responded.

“Uh huh,” Jonah said. “Seems to have lost his helmet though, I wonder where it could be?”

Akane turned to leave. “Let’s get back to work, we can play hide and seek later.”

Then the corpse grabbed her foot.

Upstairs, Worth let the electrical cable play out behind him as he made his way carefully towards the engineering section. His precaution was no help, however – the cable snagged and he could feel it tugging at his waist. Sighing, he disconnected the spool and traced the line back to where it had caught on a loose piece of deck plating. Pulling it free, he turned to retrieve the spool, when suddenly he heard a deep humming sound from beneath his feet, and in an instant found himself surrounded by a pulsing green cone of energy.

“Whoops,” Worth blurted.

A cold female voice suddenly spoke up from hidden speakers. “Warning. Unauthorized firearms detected. Initiating immobilization protocols.”

“Uh oh,” Worth blurted to no one in particular.

“Warning. Unauthorized firearms detected. Initiating immobilization protocols.”

Worth pulled both pistols from their holsters and set them down on the deck in front of him. “Happy now?” he shouted at his unseen captor.

Akane Arai had been educated at the best finishing schools the Core had to offer. She had earned an engineering degree while under the supervision of some of the toughest professors in the ‘Verse. She was also a graduate of the Alliance military’s school of hard knocks, emerging from basic training and OCS as disciplined as any soldier. None of that stopped her from screaming like a little girl when the dead man whom Jonah had just shot a second time reached for her boot like a monster from the depths of her imagination.

Jonah couldn’t help but laugh. In an instant he yanked out his collapsible baton and began flogging the dead body. “Bad corpse! Bad corpse! Stop scaring my friend.”

Carver’s voice had taken an amused tone. “Ms. Wild Sky, perhaps you should check the mag settings on your boots.”

Akane collected herself. “What?”

Jonah leaned over and pulled the dead man’s arm away from Akane’s foot. He fingered the thick-banded metal seal on the man’s suit that had become attracted to the magnetic pads on her suit’s boots.

Mortified, Akane was about to toss an insult Jonah’s way when Worth’s voice broke over the com channel.

”Guys, a little help please?”

Worth was stymied. The barrier field had a bit of give to it, but even through his insulated gloves it carried enough of a charge to make the hairs on his beefy arms stand on end.

“Please input override security code to reset system,” the disembodied voice said none too pleasantly.

“I would if I could dearie!” Worth replied.

“What’s this, Mister Big Man needs help again?” Jonah said as he started for the stairs. “I hope it’s not another naked girl.” He had a flash of inspiration. “Maybe it’s a corpse that’s getting a little too touchy-feely, eh Wild Sky?”

“Please input override security code to reset system,” the female voice repeated, with a little more emphasis on ‘please.’

“Gorram thing must be running on its own juice,” Worth said.

Akane and Jonah turned the corner to find Worth ensconced in the green barrier field.

“Oh, it’s an Iveson D-20!” Akane said. “It’s not all that sophisticated, but packs quite a punch.”

“What do you mean?” Worth asked. Suddenly there was a short alarm sound and the computerized voice returned. “Neuromuscular incapacitation protocols to be initiated in sixty seconds. Fifty-nine. Fifty-eight. Fifty-seven…” The woman’s voice sounded like it was dripping with anticipation of what was to come. Worth was aware of a deep thrumming sound beneath the deck plate he was standing on.

“There should be an override console somewhere nearby,” Akane said.

“That’s what it said five seconds ago!” Worth said quickly. “Get me out of this!”

Jonah found the likely console and tapped it, getting no response. “All right then,” he said, going for his cache of electronic tools.

“Come on, come on!” Worth said as the voice continued to count down.

“Don’t get snippy or I’ll leave you in there,” Jonah said. Akane rolled her eyes at Jonah’s rough technique. “You’re going to want to run a bypass off the main AI bus.” She offered.

“Yeah, yeah.” Jonah said, angling his grounded clippers deep into the guts of the console.

“Uh, that’s the blue one.” Akane said.

“Yeah, yeah.”

There was a flash of light from inside the console, and the green barrier field faded from view. “Override accepted. Have a pleasant day,” the voice said.

Jonah turned to Worth. “My standard crew-saving fee is three platinum, plus tip.”

Worth bristled. “I’ll give you a tip all right.” Grumbling, he picked up the spool of power cabling and reattached it to his worksuit’s belt, then began trudging back towards the engine room, trailing heavy-gauge wire.

Passing into the galley, he skirted the blood-spattered corner of the common area, trying not to think about the brutal fight that had occurred just a few minutes ago. He concentrated on the work ahead – getting the boat up and running, and then getting the hell off.

Back in the upper deck corridor, Jonah regarded the hotwired security console for a moment. “Think we deactivated the system for good?”

Akane shook her head. “We probably knocked this particular trap out for the time being, but these units were designed to operate independently.”

“Guess we’ll have to watch our step then,” Jonah said. He cocked his head to one side. His sensitive ears had picked up a noise from the darkness behind them just as his words trailed off into silence. It sounded like a boot-heel scraping against metal deck plating.

“You hear that?” He whispered sharply to Akane.

Akane grimaced. “No,” she said.

Jonah pulled his pistol out and motioned for Akane to do the same. They turned and let their headlamps illuminate the gloomy darkness of the freighter’s foredeck. Jonah took point, doing his best to step lightly. Akane followed. Skirting the edges of the cavernous cargo bay, they crept quietly towards the Breaker Morant’s sealed cockpit. The only sound was the muffled hiss of the chemical oxygen emitter as it pumped atmo into the stale air below them, and the workings of their own sealed rescue suits.

Jonah picked out the humanoid forms first as he reached a low set of stairs leading up to the bridge section of the ship. A rack of emergency space suits hung in the hallway, looking as though they had popped out when the ship’s hull had been breached as a safety measure – Jonah could see the recessed closet from which the rack extended. One of the suits, however, was hanging a little differently than the others, as if it had an extra bit of heft to it.

Jonah nodded to Akane and pointed at the suit. Keying the suit-to-suit channel, he whispered, “You go around to the other side of the corridor and box him in.”

“Got it,” Akane said, moving to the identical staircase on the port side of the corridor.

Together, they mounted the stairs slowly, keeping their pistols trained on the rack of suits.

Jonah keyed his suit’s external pickups and said, “come out, come out, wherever you are!”

The suit lunged out of the light from Jonah’s headlamps and made a stumbling dash for the darkness.

Akane fired her pistol, just missing the flailing spectre, who hit the deck, wordless shouts muffled by the helmet, its face plate completely fogged over.

“Hold on,” Jonah shouted, running up behind the prone figure. He grabbed bunches of the suit in each hand and flipped the limp body over, then deftly unfastened the helmet seal while Akane kept her pistol trained on their quarry.

As he tore the helmet from its neck ring, the shouts became unmuffled. “Don’t shoot, for God’s sake, don’t shoot!” a rasping voice coughed up the words like bits of gravel. Illuminated by their headlamps was the head of a man, whose cheekbones stood out against sallow stubble-salted skin. One eye was blacked and harsh yellow bruises covered his face.

“Who the hell are you?” Jonah said roughly.

The man’s eyes were squeezed shut as he twisted his head to get out of the light. “I’m a Federal Marshal,” he coughed. “Please don’t shoot!”

Akane and Jonah traded an astonished glance.

In the engine room, Worth began the work of attaching the booster cable to the Breaker Morant’s heart and soul to administer some much needed defibrillation. The multi-pronged cable plug needed trimming to fit the auxiliary input module nestled beneath the freighter’s sizable engine, so Worth set to work, studiously ignoring the goings-on elsewhere on the ship. He finally connected the cable and made sure it was properly grounded before dusting himself off and strolling out to meet the survivor.

He was sitting on the staircase, head in his hands, while Akane and Jonah stood uncomfortably nearby. Akane had the presence of mind to offer the Fed the water bottle from her rescue belt, which he immediately half-chugged, half-splashed over his face.

“Are you my backup?” he said between racking coughs. “Did they send you in after I missed landfall?”

“Uh, no.” Jonah said warily. “We’re a salvage crew, under license from Unified Reclamation.”

“Let’s see your badge, pal.” Worth said, hands on his hips, not too far from where Wham and Bam sat waiting in their holsters.

The Fed withdrew a wallet from a pocket and handed it to Jonah. It was indeed a Federal Marshal’s badge.

“What the hell happened here?” Akane said. “And what is a Fed doing onboard a tramp freighter like this?”

“I was undercover,” the bedraggled man said, taking another deep drink of Blue Sun water. “I’m tracking a fugitive, a rogue bioweapons researcher. Rumour has it he’s been buying kidnap victims for use in his experiments, or doing the kidnapping himself. I’d received intel that one of his agents was transferring some cargo, so I boarded this ship and passed myself off as a passenger.” He took another long pull from the water bottle.

“Keep talking or I take the water away,” Akane said, an uncomfortable twinge of urgency ripping up her spine. She had overlooked something, something obvious about this whole situation, but she couldn’t put her finger on what, exactly.

The Fed coughed. “We hoped we could trace the source of his operations…but I blew it…tried to be a hero.”

“Yeah, hiding in a space suit while the crew gets massacred is real heroic,” Jonah said.

“It wasn’t like that,” the Fed said sadly, staring off into space for a moment. “If I’d only waited to make my move, I could have handed this whole thing over to Allied Enforcement wrapped in a bow, but I got stupid.” He shook his head. “I cornered the agent in the cargo bay, tried to bind him by law and get him to spill the beans. But the crew took exception to my methods.”

“I’ll bet they did,” Worth said.

“Things got all messed up, all turned around,” the Fed began to babble. “Then I was trussed up like a turkey in one of the passenger dorms when…when…” his voice faltered.

“When what?” Akane asked.

The Fed looked away. “I heard shooting. I heard screaming. Sounded like a massacre. I got loose, headed for the airlock, found a space suit and hid out until my air supply was exhausted. With all these emergency suits around I figured I could just trade oxygen units until I was rescued.”

“Like I said, real heroic.” Jonah muttered.

“Who’s this rogue Alliance expert you’re tracking?” Akane said.

“Doctor Adrian Cutter,” The Fed said, head drooping with exhaustion. “Alliance pulled his tab ten years ago when the Medical Elect shut down his operation and rescinded his research grants. He’s been on the run ever since.”

Akane was suddenly reminded of an old expression from her days in Alliance military research. “Don’t get too far out of line or you’ll pull a Cutter.”

Jonah suddenly blanched. “Wait, what was his name? Cutter?”

“Adrian Cutter.” The Fed repeated weakly.

Jonah processed that information for a moment. Adrian Cutter…Aiden Carver…Adrian Cutter…Aiden Carver. “Oh, hell no,” Jonah said. “Tell me, is this Doctor Cutter confined to a wheelchair?”

“Dunno,” the Fed said. “Nobody’s seen him in public in more than a decade.”

Cursing in Chinese, Jonah flicked out his collapsing baton and bashed it against the A/V recording unit mounted on his helmet. Then he took off like a shot for the cargo bay.

“You don’t think…” Akane said, and then quickly followed Jonah down the catwalk steps.

“Carver!” Jonah was shouting as he raced across the cargo bay floor. He hit the airlock release button and stood back, waiting for the hatch to open.

It didn’t.

“Carver, open the airlock door.” Jonah said through gritted teeth as he pressed the intercom button a little too hard.

“I’m afraid I can’t do that, Mr. McGavin.” Carver’s voice said indulgently through the intercom speaker.

“Come on, open the hatch.” Jonah repeated.

“No, I think in light of recent revelations it’s for the best if you stay on your side of this airlock and I stay on mine, until this situation resolves itself.” Carver said.

Jonah changed tactics, opening a channel to Ying Johnson.

“YJ!” Jonah hissed. “Come in!”

There was nothing but static on the line.

“That figures,” Jonah snarled.

“What do we do now?” Akane asked.

Worth walked over to the generator. “First, we do this,” he said, flipping the switch.

The generator started to hum, and from the deck above them came some deep banging noises. With an almost visceral groan, the Breaker Morant’s engine began to spin, feeding power and life support to the rest of the ship. The emergency lights began flickering on, one set of floods at a time.

Jonah hit the airlock controls again for good measure, but got no response.

“What’s going on?” the Fed said as he gingerly walked down the stairs, gripping the railing tightly.

Jonah laughed coldly, pulling off his helmet. Akane did the same, tossing it aside.

“Funny story, but I think this doctor you’re after is the guy who hired us to recover this ship and its cargo. He was co-ordinating the operation from onboard our vessel.”

The Fed’s eyes widened. “You’re kidding!”

“Yeah, and he’s just sealed off this airlock. We can’t open it from this side, not with his thumb on the override controls. Plus we’ve got two of our people on that boat who don’t know what we know, but there’s some kind of interference blocking my signal. Either that or there’s no one there to pick up.”

The Fed grimaced. “If we can get this ship’s communications system back online, I can send a call for backup. Someone could be here in a few hours.”

“I’m thinking we use the shuttle,” Jonah said. “Our ship’s got two shuttle bays, but only one’s occupied. We climb aboard, get off this deathtrap and link up with Shenmue. You can send a signal from there, yeah?”

The Fed nodded.

“Shenmue’s port shuttle docking assembly’s toast, but I can probably jury-rig something to get it working again, at least long enough to dock.” Worth said.

“Shiny. Let’s do this,” Jonah said, starting back upstairs to where the dorsal shuttle bay entrance was located.

“Any of you have a shooter I could borrow?” The Fed asked meekly.

Jonah sighed, and then reached into his rescue belt where he had discarded his first aid kit for a holdout pistol. He handed the two-shot backup to the Fed.

Akane tossed the Fed her plasma torch. “Here’s a backup for the backup.”

They then made their way to the ladder that led to the shuttle bay.

“I can get inside and call for help,” the Fed said. “I’ll leave you guys out of my report for now.”

“That sounds perfectly reasonable.” Akane said. Jonah nodded in assent.

As the Fed started to climb the ladder, Worth muttered to Jonah, “This is a bad idea. Where else do you think is the best place on board a dying ship to have access to heat and atmo?”

Jonah shook his head. “If the rest of those crazies are as cunning as that first one, I don’t think they thought of that.”

“Bet you three platinum you’re wrong,” Worth said.

“Deal,” Jonah said.

There was a tapping sound as the Fed worked the controls for the shuttle entrance. Only his legs, standing on the topmost ladder rung, were visible from the deck. There was the hiss of a gasket unsealing.

Suddenly, the Fed fell off the ladder, hitting the deck with a bone-jarring crunch as he crab-scrabbled backwards. “No, God, no!” he shouted as he backed away from the hatchway.

From the narrow passageway above came an animal snarling sound.

Jonah handed Worth three plats, then pulled out his pistol.

The source of the primal snarling dropped from the ceiling hatch to land on the deck, a metal bar clutched in his hand. His skin was burned in several places, peeling and cracked, but his physical appearance was the last thing on the crew’s mind as he lunged forward, swinging the pipe down at the Fed.

Worth, Akane, and Jonah all opened fire on the target, their bullets hitting home in a meaty staccato. The man jerked as entry wounds blossomed across his chest, but momentum sent the heavy bar swinging down onto the Fed’s arm, which was raised in an attempt to block. Then the ragged attacker fell headlong, dead.

“That wasn’t so-“ Akane had time to say before two more jumped down from the shuttle bay, screaming and hollering. She snapped off two quick shots almost out of reflex, winging one of the crazies. The one nearest her held a jagged piece of scrap metal in his hands, and slashed her violently before she had a chance to dodge. The makeshift blade cut through the thin fabric of the rescue suit and grated on her collarbone, ripping a deep wound diagonally across her upper chest. Akane screamed in pain.

The other was barehanded, but that didn’t stop him from lunging at Worth, who backpedaled, trying to keep some room between him and his crazed opponent.

The Fed fumbled from beneath the corpse of the first attacker, snapping off a shot with the holdout pistol that missed by a mile. Cursing, he heaved the dead body off, ignoring the blast of pain from his bludgeoned arm.

Jonah snapped off two shots, hitting Worth’s assailant square in the torso. The man flinched and screamed bloody murder, blood running down his chin. Then the Fed’s second shot hit home, sending the attacker sprawling sideways.

Bleeding profusely, Akane shrank back from her assailant, trying to get her gun up in time. She was sure the psychotic gleam she saw in the man’s eye would stay with her for the rest of her life. Worth calmly took aim and fired a round from his hand cannon into the attacker’s skull, shattering it and spraying Akane’s face and hair with gore. “Arigato,” Akane managed to gasp, clapping her free hand to her torn suit as she slumped down to the deck.

“Nice shot,” Jonah said before his attacker bounced back, his face frozen in a bloody rictus of animal delight. He punched Jonah, doubling him over, and forced him back up against the bulkhead. The two men grappled for Jonah’s pistol.

Jonah blinked as he got a good look at his attacker up close. Though he had the general physique of an emaciated male, the face was that of a beautiful woman. Suddenly there was a hiss of gas from outside Jonah’s field of vision and the Fed’s plasma torch wreathed the face in a ring of blazing fire. Jonah shrank back from the wave of heat involuntarily but couldn’t take his eyes off the writhing crazy. As it burned away, the face revealed itself to be nothing more than a mask for something much more horrible underneath. As the burning man’s screams grew louder, Jonah got the pistol under his chin, sending a bullet crashing through his skull. The human torch fell to his knees, and then slowly toppled over, smouldering on the deck.

The Fed dropped the torch and immediately moved to Akane’s side, grabbing for her first aid kit. “Looks like your suit’s neck collar kept you from getting decapitated,” he said as he cleaned the wound and applied a bandage.

Akane managed a weak smile. “It’s my policy never to lose my head in a confrontation.”

Jonah holstered his pistol. “Better make that call quick, Fed. Something tells me we’re going to need all the backup we can get.”

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