Campaign of the Month: January 2011

Honour Among Thieves

Freedom Train Session Three

The Doc gets high, literally this time. Worth puts the boot to his foes.

A pleasant chiming sound emitted from hidden speakers and a familiar voice spoke over the train’s public address system.

“If I may have your attention please, this is Chief Steward Carswell speaking. I do hope you are all enjoying your journey so far on the Beaumonde Ocean Limited. I am excited to inform you that Miss Calliope Grant will now be performing in the Casino car an hour ahead of schedule. Parental discretion is of course, advised. Miss Grant’s performance begins in five minutes. Thank you, and thank you for choosing to travel on the Oceanic. Wan shung hao.” The chimes repeated.

At the mention of Calliope Grant’s performance, the door to Ivan Matthews’ first class cabin opened, and he rushed out in the direction of the casino, Samara Salisbury and their bodyguard, Stig, hot on his heels.

Worth heard Whitaker disengage the lock on his door and nodded to Jonah, who took a step back, stun gun at the ready. Worth shouldered his way through the narrow door and immediately regretted it, as he heard the zipping sound of a firearm going off. He flinched as he felt the sharp bite of a small calibre bullet striking home.

Whitaker’s free hand was fumbling with the emergency latch on his compartment’s window, a tiny touch-sensitive control pad nearly indistinguishable from the rest of the transparent observation screen that covered the wall of his berth. The tiny instructional text for the escape hatch control was visible as a digital readout on the wallscreen, outlined in a severe shade of red that flashed on and off. His other hand was clutching a tiny holdout pistol, waving it in the general direction of the doorway. The cabin was filled with the stench of burning polymer from the one-shot pistol, which had a softening look to it.

“Don’t do anything you might regret!” Whitaker shouted unconvincingly, abandoning his effort to pop the emergency hatch and concentrating, also without success, on racking the action of his rapidly melting pistol. He cursed and dropped the holdout weapon.

Jonah stormed in behind Worth, aiming the stun gun at his quarry. “Drop the-” he managed before seeing Whitaker’s gun smoking on the floor. “Oh,” he said.

Worth looked down at the small bullet hole in his suit jacket. “Really?” he asked Whitaker. He sat down heavily on a wingback observation chair opposite the window. “Seriously, man, we’re here to rescue you.” Worth could almost taste Whitaker’s paranoia. “How many people get shot and don’t try to kill you back? Think about it.” He frowned as he patted his wound. “But I appreciate the gesture, because now I’m bleeding.”

“If we had a notion to kill you, you gotta figure we’d be done by now,” Jonah said. “That said, there are those on this train who are out to kill you,”

Whitaker blanched. “Wait, I thought you said you took care of those Feds?”

“You think the Feds are the only ones looking for you?” Jonah smirked.

“Hmmm,” Whitaker considered.

Jonah noticed that Whitaker was fiddling with his glasses while looking at him and Worth a little too long for his liking. “Now listen, I can show you the body in the compartment next to me if you want to know about who’s on the train.” He told Whitaker.

“Body? Whose body?” Whitaker asked.

“Don’t fuss about that,” Jonah said. “Take my word for it. We can get you off this train, or you can stick around and take your chances on your own.”

“What do you say?” said Worth. “It’s now or never.” The hulking mechanic got wearily to his feet and began to leave the compartment.

“We’re posing as Feds which won’t last for long.” Jonah added. “If you want a ride, grab your luggage.”

“That’s pretty convincing,” Whitaker said. He grabbed his luggage, the snakeskin valise he had been carrying earlier.

“If we’re going to do this, we need our stories straight,” said Worth. To Whitaker, he said, “Now, who are we?”

Whitaker frowned. “Uhhh,” he wavered.

Worth slapped him across the face. “Who are we?” he repeated.

“Ow!” Whitaker rubbed his cheek. “You’re the feds, gorramit!”

“That’s right,” Worth nodded. “And what are we doing?"

“You’re escorting me?” Whitaker asked hopefully, cringing.

“Okay, let’s get going,” Worth said. They moved out into the hallway.

The sun was setting over the high ridges of Beaumonde’s coastal cliffs. As YJ made his approach, Shenmue’s terrain following sensors picked out the outline of the hover track that wound its way along the outermost edge of the tiered cliff walls. Then he could see the train, slithering like a snake along the winding track. YJ remembered to do his best to stay in the train’s blind spot, bringing the ship in at a high angle. “We’re about twenty minutes out,” he said over the comlink to Worth. Watching the train’s winding trajectory, he also realized that this was not the preferred terrain for an airborne extraction. But then again, overconfident as he was, the increased difficulty was just going to make success all the more delicious.

The Doc checked his harness in the cargo bay as he stood near the bomb bay door hatch. The plan was for him to use the winch to swing out and lower himself onto the roof of the train. He recalled his near miss with the bomb bay doors back on Beylix, and double-checked his harness, just in case. There was an extra harness attached to the end of the cable that would be worn by the passengers as they were plucked from the train. Worth had gimmicked a handheld winch control device that would allow the Doc to make a controlled descent.

In the security car, Quinn tapped his foot impatiently as the security guard worked the computer, retrieving the video data files. “We’re going to need the tape to run through our own databases,” Quinn said. The rent-a-cop snapped to and went to work on the tapes.

Carswell had departed to make his announcement, leaving Quinn, the security guard, and the undercover agents. The two Feds were slumped over, unconscious, handcuffed to the uncomfortable security bench. One of them had a broken nose that was still dripping blood on his rumpled clothes, while the other had been stunned senseless, his eyelids drooping unevenly, showing the whites of his eyes. For the security guard’s benefit, Quinn took out his notepad and made a show of taking notes as he observed the two plainclothes Feds.

One of the Feds started to stir. Moaning a bit, his head lolled about, his broken nose purple and swollen. Quinn stepped back, making sure he was out of their range. As the man slowly came to, Quinn half-turned to the guard. “Remember, we know these two. They’re a team of elite hit men. Hardened killers.” He pointed to the guy coming around. “This is the guy who will do the talking. He will try to get you to into arm’s reach. Do not. Both have a five-foot kill zone. That one will distract you, and the other will sneak up on your blind side. Do not come within ten feet, even if they’re restrained. And don’t listen to a thing they have to say.”

The security guard paled visibly as Quinn spoke. He ejected the memory tab and handed it shakily to Quinn.

“Excellent, you’ve done a great service for the Alliance,” he said graciously.

“Uh, thanks.” The guard replied.

“Now,” Quinn said. “Keep an eye on these two, don’t listen to them and I guarantee there’s going to be a team of Federal Marshals at the station who will want to talk to you.”

The security guard checked the load on his canister of pepper spray. “I’ll do my best, sir.”

Quinn turned to leave. From behind him, he heard a voice croak. “Shu muh?” There was a pause, and then the clanking sound of a man suddenly realizing that he had been handcuffed to a bench. “No, no, no, no, no, no, what’s going on? Gardner, wake up! Wake up, man. Hey, you!” the fed shouted to his back. “What the hell’s going on here?”

Quinn grinned. Over his shoulder, he said, “Pipe down Hayworth, there’s a reception waiting for you at New Dunsmuir!”

“Hayworth? Who the hell is-” – the door shut behind Quinn, cutting the fed off in mid question.

“This is an outrage! You’re impeding an Alliance investigation!” Quinn could hear the man protesting through the door. “Uncuff me immediately. Hey, get that pepper spray away from me!” Then Quinn was through the vestibule and into the dining car, which was deserted, save for the bartender. He could hear the sound of live music coming from the next car. Quinn turned to the bartender and ordered up six specials from the kitchen, to go.

Jonah took point as he led Whitaker out into the corridor, with Worth bringing up the rear. As Jonah checked to see how things look, he heard an awful noise coming from the First Class kitchen. Crashing pots and pans and battle cries echoed from the head of the car.

Jonah cautiously searched ahead, magazine in one hand, and stun gun in the other. Worth stepped past Whitaker to get a better look.

“Chef Shang!” Jonah could hear Carswell pleading with someone over the din. “I apologize for the misunderstanding, however, do not lose all hope; I believe our First Class passengers are interesting in experiencing your signature dishes.”

There was a low growl that escalated into formed words. “I could smear mi tian gong on a plate and those philistines would lap it up and ask for seconds!”

Carswell and Shang have an argument

“Be that as it may,” Carswell said soothingly. “You have a personal and professional reputation to uphold.” His voice turned to ice. “Not to mention that one wave to the right people would have you scrubbing pots and pans in a greasy spoon on St. Alban’s. Never forget who we work for, Chef Shang.”

There was more grumbling, and then they heard the sound of crockery being dashed against a wall. “My compliments on your aim,” they heard Carswell say wryly. “Just make sure you hit the mark on tonight’s dinner.”

“Uh, guys?” Whitaker had time to say before the bathroom door beside him slammed open with a bang. Out popped a severe-looking woman wearing what looked like a set of blue Tyvek coveralls over some fashionable evening wear. She held a wicked-looking blade in her hand and looked set on applying it to Whitaker’s nearest vital artery.

“Mrs. Chen!” Jonah shouted at the matronly assassin.

“Jao gao!” exclaimed Whitaker.

Jonah stretched out his arm past Worth’s broad shoulders and snapped off a shot from his stun pistol. Mrs. Chen didn’t even flinch, standing her ground against the rippling sonic discharge.

Worth balled his fists and took a step forward, intent on smashing the assassin squarely in the throat. He succeeded in getting the woman’s attention, but hitting her was like trying to take a swing at a force of nature.

Mrs. Chen’s knife whipped through the air as she slashed at Whitaker, who managed to throw his snakeskin attaché case up like a shield. Her blade cut deeply into Whitaker’s bag, and the point opened a glancing laceration across his cheek. He stumbled back under her assault, hightailing it for the rear of the car.

Jonah snapped off a second shot with his stun pistol, which Mrs. Chen hardly noticed, so intent was she on the task at hand.

Back on Shenmue, YJ matched speed with the speeding train with no difficulty. He cracked his knuckles with the anticipation of having to lock trajectories with a train moving through difficult and changing terrain. He figured that with about 150 feet of cable on the winch, he’d bring the Firefly in about 75 feet over the train before giving the Doc the signal to begin descent.

The Doc continued to ready the winch, and double-checked his five-point harness. He radioed up to YJ. “I’m good to go,” he told the pilot. “And please say ‘pilot to bomb bay doors,’ when you give me the signal.”

Quinn strolled into the casino car and immediately noticed that the Companion, Calliope Grant, had taken the small stage, playing a shamisen in an alarming state of undress. His attention was diverted momentarily from the shapely entertainer to the poker table, which was threatening to collapse under the weight of the substantial pot that represented about seven hours’ worth of gaming. Quinn caught the companion’s eye as he walked by, mouthing the word ‘ten.’ He was thrilled to get a wink and a knowing nod from the Companion, and for a moment or two regretted that he was going to have to step out before not paying the Companion for her companionship.

“What’s the buy-in?” He asked Jack Leland as he approached the poker table.

“Mr. Hine, I was wondering when you were going to show up.” Leland smiled. “Buy-in’s fifty.” Quinn checked his wallet and ponied up the money.

Leland expertly dealt the cards to Quinn and the other players around the table. Quinn ended up with a straight, while Clayborn, the other high roller, and Mr. Leland each had two pair. Quinn raked in the hundred and fifty credits. “And it’s just that easy,” he said, smiling. Leland shook his head good-naturedly. “Something about this seems awfully familiar, Mr. Hine.”

The second hand went about as well as Quinn expected. Clayborn had three of a kind, and Leland had a straight. Quinn slapped his cards down and found his straight was slightly higher. Quinn was suddenly 225 credits richer. Leland stared at him, as if he had Quinn’s number.

Back in the First Class car, Jonah aimed at Mrs. Chen’s knife hand. The blast struck home, but she retained a grip on her blade, though she now seemed a tad unsteady on her feet, her eyes glazing over. Worth pressed his advantage, launching a haymaker at the assassin, hoping to bounce her head off the wall of the corridor. Chen tried to throw up a block, but the better part of Worth’s attack made it through, knocking her head back.

She made as if to follow Whitaker down the narrow corridor, then stopped herself and turned to face Worth full-on, a sneer marring her makeup. Mrs. Chen looked pissed. She stabbed wildly with her knife, but Worth sidestepped her attack.

Jonah could hear Chef Shang continuing his tantrum in the kitchen, drowning out the noise of the melee. He aimed at Chen’s head, but the assassin danced out of the way, right into Worth’s waiting fists.

Worth put everything he had into an uppercut that landed squarely under the woman’s chin. The force of his punch snapped her head back and lifted her into the air as Worth followed through. She fell to the ground heavily, and Worth held the pose as he stood above her, his fist nearly touching the ceiling.

Jonah safetied his pistol and stuck it in his belt, then grabbed the unconscious woman and proceeded to stuff her back into the restroom, arranging her face-down in the toilet bowl. He picked up her knife and admired it as he began to search for Whitaker.

“Whitaker, come on out, Whitaker!” he shouted, peering around for any sign of the fugitive.

Jonah and Worth search for Whitaker

Worth checked the assassin’s pockets, tearing open the Tyvek to get at her valuables. He came up with Devlin’s key pass, and a very fine strip of wire. Worth shuddered, but then found her billfold containing 20 credits. He smiled, and then hit the toilet’s flush button.

Jonah noticed Worth’s score. “I’ll sell you this knife for 20 credits.” Worth considered for a moment, then nodded. Jonah and Worth exchanged items simultaneously, neither one being the first to relinquish his prize.

Whitaker wasn’t in his cabin, so the pair continued to the observation deck. Worth spotted their man cowering behind a couch. Worth grabbed him by the collar and yanked him out. As he did so, a flickering light in the sky caught his eye and he saw the unmistakable shape of a Firefly transport closing in from behind. Worth pressed Whitaker’s face up against the glass of the observation window. “There, look, that’s our way out.”

Jonah mashed his face right next to Whitaker’s. “And my lifesaving fee is five platinum.”

“This is too easy,” YJ said to himself as he closed in. It was a simple enough task to keep Shenmue on a pace to catch the train, but the difficulty would come in keeping her steady above the speeding train so close to the tiered cliff face. Suddenly, the train swerved in a sharp turn along the track, but YJ managed to anticipate the maneuver. He opened a channel to the cargo bay. “Pilot to bomb bay doors,” he called down to the Doc.

The Doc was busy injecting himself with liquid courage. Nerves steadied, he hit the button to open the floor cargo hatch. As the clamshell bomb bay doors retracted and the airlock beneath cycled open, the Doc was buffeted by the wind. He could see the train about one hundred feet beneath him.

YJ took the opportunity to decrease altitude, although a little more sharply than he intended. The Doc suddenly found himself airborne, swinging across from one end of the bomb bay hatch to the other, legs kicking wildly. “What the hell are you doing up there?” He shouted into the rafters.

Worth and Jonah watched their ship take a sudden dive, then regain control. “So do we do the extraction from here?” Worth asked.

Jonah shook his head. “All our gear is still in our cabin.”

Whitaker put a hand to his face and stared at the blood smeared on it. “She cut me! What are you doing here? I thought you said you were here to protect me. There are crazy killer women jumping out of the bathrooms!”

“Really, Whitaker? Really?” Worth asked.

“You ain’t dead yet. If you want to stay that way, stop complaining. He’s got the knife now.” Jonah pointed to Worth.

“Let’s move,” Worth growled.

The trio started moving back up through First Class, with Worth bringing up the rear.

Jonah opened a channel to the ship. “We’re popping up on the roof on the third car from the back.” Then he switched over to Quinn. “Er, ‘Captain,’ we’ve got that thing, remember?”

Quinn looked for a polite way to extricate himself from the poker game. One more hand, he thought to himself. He eyed the pot. There were more than 300 credits on the table. He laid down two pair. Leland smiled and raked in the pot as he showed his cards – a flush.

“You’re not leaving now, are you?” Leland asked as Quinn picked up his winnings and bowed to the other players.

“Sorry, prior commitment.” Quinn smiled.

Leland shook his head. “What is it with you and prior commitments?”

“Until next time, and I’m certain there will be a next time,” Quinn said.

“Indeed,” Leland said.

Quinn made his way towards the sleeper car.

Johnson anticipated the train’s next sharp curve and kept Shenmue above the sleeper car. The Doc hit the switch on his handheld and began descending at a steady three feet per second. The winch played out the cable cleanly and soon the Doc was about fifteen feet beneath Shenmue’s belly, or about thirty-five feet above the narrow rectangular shapes of the train cars. Despite his altered state, he bit his lip as he contemplated his landing.

The trio continued to run through the car, through the vestibule from First Class into the passenger car, which was still vacant after the altercation they had with the Feds.

Quinn stepped into the sleeper car and immediately noticed Chief Steward Carswell standing patiently outside his berth, along with an armload of take-out containers. Quinn picked up his pace slightly, hoping to dispense with the steward as quickly as possible.

YJ scanned ahead and noticed more difficult terrain ahead. The track began to run up an uneven incline. “Hang on, Doc!” he said, gripping the controls tightly.

The Doc stayed focused on the rooftop of the train below him. Suddenly the train disappeared from beneath his feet, and he realized he was hanging over a thousand-foot drop to the ocean below. He fought both vertigo and the urge to scream, and managed to keep from spinning wildly.

“Who built these tracks?!” YJ shouted as the train jinked sideways and he overshot his target. He pulled back on the throttle and Shenmue bucked underneath him as he reoriented the ship’s nose back towards the train’s new path.

Jonah, Whitaker, and Worth hustled through the empty passenger car.

Quinn briskly walked up to Carswell. “Ah yes, er, Sergeant, Lieutenant…”

“Captain,” Quinn corrected.

“Yes,” Carswell said uncomfortably. “I believe you ordered these meals to your cabin?”

“Excellent,” Quinn replied. “I believe in order to ensure no further complications we’ll be taking the subject into proper protective custody for the rest of the voyage.”

“Yes, of course, we’ve already discussed this,” Carswell said.

“There’s still the possibility of further hostiles on the train,” Quinn continued. “So to minimize any chance of further incidents we’ll be keeping him in our cabin for the duration. Thanks for your cooperation and assistance and we’ll see you at New Dunsmuir.” He took the takeout from the steward.

Carswell nodded curtly. “Yes of course, shall we radio ahead to your compatriots at the station?”

“Already been taken care of, my good fellow,” Quinn laid it on thickly.

“Ah yes.” Carswell said, unconvinced.

“I’ve already spoken to your security man and assured him federal marshals will be meeting the train in New Dunsmuir.” Quinn explained.

Carswell’s eyes narrowed. “Really, you seem sort of cavalier about this entire engagement.” His frown deepened. “Trusting our onboard security personnel to guard two hardened killers rather than ensconcing your charge in our secured area? I don’t mean to question your work, but…”

“I definitely understand your concerns,” Quinn said quickly. “That said, any potential assailants who have done their homework would know of your secure holding facility and that would be the first place they’d check for the target. This is a very involved misdirection. The very fact that it seems not to make sense to you is exactly the effect we’re attempting to achieve.”

Carswell readjusted the fez on his head.

“But I’m sure a man as yourself understands,” Quinn said ingratiatingly. “We both work in professions that involve dealing with a great number of variables at all times.”

At that, Carswell straightened and beamed. “Yes, well we all do what we can, don’t we?”

“Absolutely. It’s been a pleasure working with you, Carswell.” He shook hands.

“Indeed,” Carswell replied. “Shall I have a guard posted at your door?”

“Perhaps at the end of the car,” Quinn said.

“Fair enough,” Carswell said. “Please excuse me, as I have other things to attend to.”

Quinn entered the cabin and set down the takeout, exhaling with relief.

Jonah encountered the guard in the vestibule between the passenger and sleeper car. The guard briskly saluted, and Jonah returned it sloppily.

Above the train, YJ brought Shenmue back up to speed above the train. The train track rose in an incline again, and the surface of the planet filled up his viewports.

The Doc continued to play out the cable as the train suddenly leapt towards him. He managed to slow the winch down with the control unit, and stopped about five feet from the surface of the train. He searched his pockets for another shot, but came up empty.

Quinn was counting his winnings and eating a sandwich when Jonah, Worth and Whitaker arrived. “Hey guys, I brought dinner.” Quinn looked at Worth. “Hey, what happened to you?”

Worth flicked some droplets of blood at Quinn.

Disgusted, Quinn brushed at his lapel. “That was for the crust, earlier, wasn’t it?”

“Who is this?” shouted Whitaker. Quinn noticed that Whitaker was staring intently at him, adjusting his thick glasses.

“Never mind,” Jonah said, rifling through his belongings. He pulled out his cutting torch, lock picks and cigarettes, and then shouldered his duffel bag. “Okay, we’re moving next door.” Popping the lock on the Chens’ cabin, he entered the room as Worth, Quinn, and Whitaker filed in behind.

“I’ve got the Companion coming at ten,” Quinn warned his friends. He checked his multiband “And it’s closing in on eight.”

“No worries, we’re out of here before 8:30,” Jonah said, sparking up his torch. He intended to cut a circular hole in the ceiling, slanting the cut out so the hull wouldn’t fall in. Worth pulled out a torch of his own and started from the other side. The hissing of torches was quite loud in the small chamber.

Quinn stepped out into the hallway to act as a lookout, as casually as possible.

YJ held the transport ship steady and maintained altitude even as the train hit another incline.

The Doc felt his feet land firmly on the top of the train car. He crouched, steadying himself, and noticed a circle of light in the roof about fifteen feet in front of him. The train rolled beneath his feet, and the Doc played out some extra slack on the line, just in case. A shadow fell over him and the Doc looked up just in time to see Shenmue dropping towards him. The Doc fell over and felt himself being dragged towards the edge of the train roof, but caught himself at the last second. YJ cursed. The Doc got to his feet, cursing. Shenmue was now only twenty feet off the top of the train. The sound of Shenmue’s engines were deafeningly loud, competing with the whistling of the wind.

Jonah and Worth finished the cutting job. They pushed on the circular piece of hull plating and pushed it outward, enough for it to be caught by the wind.

“Shǐ dàn,” The Doc said as he saw an oval-shaped piece of steel suddenly leap into the air and whizzed towards him. He rolled sideways and heard it slice the air above his head, as it whipsawed over him, clanging and sparks flying before disappearing over the rear of the train. Doc checked the cable – still intact.

“It’s go time!” Worth shouted.

Jonah opened the closet and unzipped the garment bag, letting Devlin’s body sprawl out onto the floor.

Whitaker went white. “Who the hell is this?”

“That nasty shén jīng bìng grandmother did it to him.” Jonah said as he pulled himself through the hole, carrying his duffel.

“Fancy meeting you boys here,” The Doc said as Jonah crawled out of the hole. Jonah started strapping himself into the second harness.

Jonah and the Doc link up on the roof

“Shouldn’t we get our lunch money out first?” The Doc asked.

“I’ll take it from here.” Jonah said.

Worth boosted Whitaker through the hole. “Oh, Jesus,” Whitaker shrieked, holding on to the roof for dear life.

The Doc saw the wiry, bespectacled gentleman come up through the hole. Worth popped his head up behind him and shouted, “He goes first!”

Inside the car, Worth ducked his head back in and shouted to Quinn. “Get in here and close the door!”

Quinn opened the hatch and was about to step in when he saw the door at the head of the car slam open. There stood the two Feds, handcuffs dangling from their wrists. The one with the broken nose scanned the car. Standing beside him with the other one, who looked a little groggy.

“You! Stop right there!” Broken Nose shouted, pointing.

Quinn stepped back into the berth and shut the door, locking it. Worth reached out and grabbed hold of Quinn’s arm. “The Feds are loose, we’ve got to get out of here!” Quinn said. Worth pushed him up through the hole onto the top of the train car.

“It’s been great knowing you Worth, we’ll never forget your sacrifice.” Quinn shouted down to Worth.

Worth grimaced and climbed up after him as he heard the sound of fists pounding on the door.

Whitaker was still prone, his fingers dug in to the seam of the roof panels, moaning. “No, no, no, I did not sign up for this!”

Jonah grabbed the handheld and hit the button, reeling in the cable. The pair got to within five feet below the hull of Shenmue.

“Doc, everything shiny down there?” YJ asked from the bridge.

The Doc shouted into his handset. “Climb up about another ten feet!”

As the shouting continued, Worth noticed movement at the other end of the car. As if rising from an invisible elevator in the vestibule, Ewan Chen stepped out onto the top of the train car. He looked every part the touring grandfatherly retiree, that is, except for the razor-sharp ceramic blade clasped in his hands. His eyes shone sadistically as he started forward.

Worth dropped his knife to his side, letting the orange light of the setting sun flicker off the blade, and snarled at him.

Chen raced toward Whitaker, limbs pumping mechanically. Quinn took an involuntary step backward. Assassin, speeding spaceship, this isn’t my style at all. Then he realized he had no place to go.

The Doc shouted into Jonah’s ear. “Dammit, what are you doing?” He flailed at him ineffectually, trying to regain control of the handheld.

“Worth, what’s the situation down there? Time for drastic measures?” YJ asked over the comm.

“Not yet,” Worth said, looking up at the starship’s underside, which was much too close for comfort.

Taking advantage of Worth’s momentary distraction, the assassin sped past him and rushed right up to Whitaker and slashed down with his ceramic blade. The blade cut deeply into the fugitive’s back. Shouting in pain, he tried to crab-scuttle backward back towards the hole.

Worth bellowed and rushed the assassin, who was preparing for a killing strike as he stood over the writhing Whitaker. He launched a swift kick and planted his size 16 boot on Mr. Chen’s backside.

The surprised hit man went sailing over the side of the train, arms and legs pinwheeling, dying as much from professional embarrassment as he did from the eight-hundred foot fall to the watery base of the cliff below, his body striking the cliff side repeatedly before disappearing beneath the waves.

Worth puts the boot to Mr. Chen

The Doc and Jonah made it into the cargo bay. Jonah detached the Doc from his harness. “Prep the infirmary!” he shouted as he began to descend again. Worth hauled the injured Whitaker to his feet and helped strap him in to the harness, and Jonah reeled him in, helping the Doc get him on a stretcher before descending again.

As soon as Jonah’s boots were planted on the roof of the train, Worth strapped Quinn into the harness, then hung off Jonah’s harness straps. “Get us out of here!” He shouted into Jonah’s ear. Jonah pressed a button and the trio was hauled back into the cargo bay.

“YJ, hit sky, now!” Worth yelled.

“Roger that,” YJ said and hauled back on the controls, sending Shenmue into the night sky as the train continued to snake its way along the coastline, fading into the distance.

In the cargo bay, Jonah waited until the bomb bay doors closed beneath them, then hit the cable release, sending them crashing down to the deck.

“Remember the deal we were going to do?” Worth said to Jonah as he extricated himself from the tangle of limbs. “We were going to get a kickback off this guy!”

“Yeah,” Quinn added, brushing himself off. “We rescued Whitaker so we could rob him!”

“We’ve got to play it honest with Fanty and Mingo and give them their 40 percent,” Jonah replied, propping himself up on one elbow. “Because after Badger, they’re the only guys willing to give us work.”

“Fine,” Worth said. He and Quinn departed for the infirmary to check on the condition of their payday.

Alone, Jonah lay on the deck. The magazine that he had been holding the whole time unfurled beside him, and he noticed that the front-page feature was an interview with none other than Ivan Matthews. Jonah lit a cigarette and began to chuckle.

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