Two crews stood toe to toe at the edges of the Eavesdown Docks at midday in the shadow cast by Shenmue’s fuselage.
The Sundeen Seven, Jonah’s former associates, had somehow tracked him down after the crew had left them floundering in an asteroid field. This time it obviously wasn’t business; it was personal.
Akane broke the tension by bursting into tears.
She surged forward, a look of hopeful relief on her face. “Oh, thank you,” she sobbed, “these bad men were going to sell me to a brothel!” She fell at Sundeen’s feet.
“What the-?” Sundeen barked in confusion, looking down at the sobbing woman crouching before him.
Jonah took Akane’s cue. His gun hand slapped leather and came up with his pistol. Shifting sideways towards a nearby pile of discarded packing crates, he took a shot at Mister Basimba. The snap shot missed, kicking up reddish dust at the knife-thrower’s feet.
In response, Brade Sorgen let loose with his shotgun, and Jonah immediately regretted not strapping on his plate vest that morning. Pellets peppered his midsection, and he couldn’t help but let out a yelp of pain as his blood spattered against the crates.
Teague Bowers fired his submachine gun at Worth, who had remembered to put on his vest. Worth felt like he’d been sucker punched, but the vest did its job.
Akane took the opportunity to leap to her feet and draw her own pistol, reaching around Sundeen’s neck with her arm and sticking the barrel against his head. The feeble Phil Sundeen tried to struggle out of the grapple, but YJ’s neurotoxin had slowed his reflexes down permanently.
“Tell your friends to put their guns down, you huen dahn,” Akane hissed into Phil’s ear.
Sundeen shifted his weight slightly. “I ain’t saying a gorram thing, witch.”
YJ backpedaled up Shenmue’s cargo ramp until he was behind the cover afforded by the airlock’s bulkhead. Tulsa took off after him, but didn’t stop at the airlock – he kept running into the refuge of the cargo bay in the direction of the infirmary, torn amphetamine derm packets trailing after him.
Worth ducked towards the nearest cover – a stack of shipping containers – and yanked out both Wham and Bam, aiming them both at Sorgen, his nearest target.
The Kid, as Sundeen referred to him, saw Akane grab hold of his hero. “Phil, no!” He aimed his pistol at Akane, who was hiding behind Sundeen’s considerable bulk. The angry young man fired, but shock had thrown off his aim, and Akane could feel Sundeen flinch as a bullet slapped home against his plate vest.
Spraying spittle, Sundeen screamed, “You’re doing this boo hway-hun duh puo-foo’s work for her, you idiot!”
Mister Basimba grinned darkly and flicked one of his ceramic throwing knives at Jonah. Jonah spun out of the way, feeling wind on his face as the knife cracked past to bury itself inside one of Shenmue’s engine pod intakes with a metallic clang.
Jonah put some momentum into his spin and ended up on the other side of his cover with a clear shot at Basimba. His lips twisted in a painful grimace, he snapped off a shot that dug a bloody furrow along the man’s clenched jaw. Blood sprayed from the wound as Basimba backpedaled clumsily, knives clattering from his fingers as he grabbed his face and howled. He tripped and went down hard, writhing in the dust.
Brade Sorgen’s shotgun barked again, this time at Worth, but the pellets struck the corrugated metal of the shipping container Worth had had the sense to get behind in the meantime, sending sparks and flecks of paint flying.
Teague Bowers thumbed the fire selector to semi-automatic as he aimed at Akane. “Don’t worry, Phil,” he said to an obviously frazzled Sundeen. “Ol’ Teague will sort you out.”
“Teague, listen-” Phil stammered but was interrupted by a gunshot. Bowers cursed as his shot missed both Sundeen and Akane behind him.
“Gorramit, that’s enough!” Akane shouted in a tone that would have brought a parade ground to attention. “Nobody move, or this haijin gets it. Drop your guns now!” To further make her point, she dug the barrel of her pistol into the back of Sundeen’s head.
“Hey now, sweetmeat, we can work this out,” Phil began as his pistol dropped from his outstretched hand.
The Kid wilted visibly. “All right, all right!” he said in a high-pitched quaver. “Just…just don’t hurt him, okay?”
Akane snarled, “Then put your gorram guns down before I blow his brains out!”
The Kid carefully set both of his handguns on the dusty ground.
Walking out from behind the shipping container, Worth strolled over and aimed Wham at Sorgen, and Bam at the Kid. “This party’s over,” he said simply.
Sorgen winced. “Gorram it!” He cursed in frustration as he tossed the shotgun aside and raised his hands.
Jonah leaned against the crates, mindful of the spreading bloodstain. He aimed his pistol at Teague Bowers, his nearest target. “Best follow your friends’ example, Teague.”
“I do not believe this,” Teague said, grinning ruefully as he let the submachine gun slide to his feet. He kicked the gun aside and folded his arms.
“Believe it, gwai-lo,” Akane replied. “Did you think I was fragile like a leaf? Or that a girl about to be sold into slavery would be wearing a sidearm?”
She pushed Sundeen forward so he was standing near the prone form of Mister Basimba. “Now,” she said, “I’d like to tell you all a story, a proverb from my home planet.”
Despite his injuries, Jonah rolled his eyes.
“An old woman is tending her cottage when she spies a rat, who has chewed his way inside to scavenge for food. The crone catches the rat, and takes it outside.”
Phil’s face paled. “Wait a m-minute, now-” he tried to interject.
Akane drew a sharp breath and kept talking. “I’d love to tell you that the woman lets the rat go, and they become lifelong friends, but that’s not how the story goes. If she did that, the rat would return the next day, and the day after that.”
She caught Jonah’s eye, and Jonah felt his blood run a little colder as he realized where Akane was going with her oratory. Jonah nodded slowly and Akane’s eyes narrowed.
“The moral of the story is, you kill the baka rat!”
She pulled the trigger and put a bullet through Phil Sundeen’s brainpan.
The report of Akane’s pistol was muffled by the wet slapping sound of the bullet exiting the top of Sundeen’s head. A triangular piece of skull, tethered by a flap of scalp, flipped over the front of his face, obscuring his left eye as a fountain of blood and brain matter rocketed skyward. His right eye rolled back, showing white. Sundeen’s electrolarnyx issued a grinding squeal of feedback, like gravel being forced down a steel chute, as he took one final step forward, his crutch thudding to the ground, and then collapsed into a bleeding heap.
The sound of Sundeen’s blood pattering back to the dusty asphalt broke the silence.
“Phil, no!” The Kid screamed, his eyes as round as saucers. He bent over to grab his twin pistols.
Worth reflexively pulled Bam’s trigger and the Kid didn’t stop to grab his pistols as he crumpled to the ground.
Sorgen cursed and leaped sideways, but Worth was already tracking with Wham, and fired off another round, rocking the hired gun, who stumbled blindly away from the line of fire.
Akane let her pistol drop to her side, and almost as an afterthought, fired a second bullet into the unconscious Basimba’s head. Basimba’s leg kicked once, then he lay still.
Brade Sorgen was still stumbling, punch-drunk, but gained some momentum as he began to half-run, half-fall away from the landing pad. Worth let him run, then raised Bam and let him have a parting shot. Sorgen jumped like he’d been given an electric shock, and fell headlong.
Teague Bowers froze, his mouth open in shock at the casual brutality.
Akane stood astride Sundeen’s prone corpse, and looked over her shoulder at Jonah, who was standing nearest Bowers.
Jonah stared back, and then glanced at the last man standing. He reached into his jacket pocket and slowly drew a crumpled package of cigarettes. He pulled one out and shrugged, turning his gaze back to Akane.
“Hell, I ain’t no cold-blooded murderer,” he said simply and started limping towards Shenmue’s cargo ramp.
Bowers looked after him. “That’s mighty big of you Jonah, I always took you for a decent sort.” He turned back to Akane and tipped his hat. “Ma’am.” Then he spun on his heel and bolted down the narrow space between the cargo containers that bordered the landing pad.
“Ayah!” Akane hissed, and started after him. As she passed Jonah, she shouted, “gizensha!”
“Whore,” Jonah shot back in an even tone. He coughed and winced as his wounds reminded him they were there.
“Let’s get the hell out of here before the authorities show up,” YJ said, and he raced for the bridge.
“Better take the dead wood with us, and dump them out the airlock when we hit sky,” Worth said. “That way there’s nothing here that leads to us.”
“Sounds good to me,” Jonah coughed again. He flicked on his handset. “Wild Sky, you’d better get back here or you’re getting left!”
The shipping containers in Eavesdown, stacked three or four high, and were laid down with no rhyme or reason, as if the cargo crane operators had just one day just given up trying to maintain order. Akane found herself tracking her quarry through a never-ending alleyway strewn with discarded cardboard boxes, half-smashed cargo pallets, and what seemed like a recycler’s retirement stash of booze bottles. The air was thick with dust, and the hot light of the sun bled in from above, a white streak bordered by dull red containers. Akane felt as though she was at the bottom of a manmade canyon.
She heard footsteps ahead of her, and caught sight of Bowers trying to duck around a corner. She lined up the shot as though she were back on an Alliance firing range, and pegged Bowers in the back. He yelped. “Gorramit!”
Gorramit indeed, Akane said to herself. Bowers was still on his feet.
Worth ran up and grabbed Brade Sorgen’s considerable bulk, dragging the bleeding man back towards Shenmue, whose engines were starting to spin up. Jonah had gingerly hauled himself into the hover mule’s driver seat, and had maneuvered it out into the open space in front of the ship. Worth heaved Sorgen aboard, then grabbed for what was left of Basimba. Jonah eased himself down and helped Worth manhandle Phil Sundeen and the Kid into the mule’s cargo bed.
“Plenty of blood left behind,” Jonah observed.
“Don’t matter none,” Worth muttered as the faint sounds of approaching sirens could be heard warbling in the distance.
The cargo ramp closed up behind them as they drove the mule back on board. Shenmue shuddered; it was obvious to Worth that YJ was skimping on the pre-flight warmup.
“Landing pad 228, this is Eavesdown Dock Control. You have not received clearance for liftoff. I repeat-” the harried traffic controller was cut off midstream as YJ hit the mute button with one hand while hauling back on the control stick with the other. Shenmue staggered skyward, and YJ fed as much power as he thought he could get away with into her engines.
“Wild Sky, you just got left!” Jonah said into his multiband as he fairly fell out of the hover mule’s driver seat. He half-crawled over to where he had stashed the articulated wheelchair left behind by Dr. Cutter some time ago. Sitting comfortably, he smiled at Worth. “Gonna visit the Doc,” he said, and toggled the seat into motion.
As Jonah wheeled out of the cargo bay, Worth rolled up his sleeves to unload the corpses. He figured it was going to take a whole lot of bleaching to get the stains out, but it was worth it. He tried not to look at the sorry states of Phil Sundeen’s and Basimba’s heads as he rolled them to the deck, and then bent over to grab Sorgen by the lapels of his heavy jacket.
Sorgen suddenly coughed, then hitched in a couple of ragged breaths.
“Jao gao!” Worth exclaimed. He looked over at the last body in the mule bed, belonging to the Kid. It was obvious the young man was still breathing as well, albeit shallowly.
Worth gulped. Shooting a man in a fight, that was one thing, but this…
He called after Jonah. “Hey, Mr. ‘I ain’t a cold-blooded murderer,’ we’ve got a problem here!”
“What kind of problem?” Jonah called back weakly.
“Two of these guys are still ticking,” Worth said bleakly.
There was silence for a few seconds. Then Jonah’s weary voice drifted back from the hallway.
“I’ll call the Doc.”
Worth nodded grimly. “Should’ve gone after Wild Sky,” he muttered.
YJ keyed open a channel to Akane. “Okay Wild Sky, you just sit tight. We’ll send a shuttle back to pick you up after I find a little scrap of nowhere to park the ship.”
Akane turned off her handset, and YJ’s voice faded into silence. The only sound now was the ambient noise of the Docks – the roar of ships both approaching and departing, and the dull drone of the market crowd, the barkers and hawkers and whores and street performers, all trying to earn some coin in the middle of a mass of humanity.
For a moment Akane considered turning back. She’d lost sight of Bowers in this rat’s maze, and the thought of all her goods resting back on Shenmue without her gave her pause. Then she shook her head. “Finish what you start,” she said to herself.
She checked the dust ahead for boot prints, and found them. Pistol out, she crept after Teague Bowers. She edged along the side of the shipping container as she followed the man’s tracks. There were two likely directions she could move – forward, or into a branching alley. She chose the alley.
Pausing, she listened for any telltale signs of her quarry. Gripping her pistol, she stepped into the branching corridor.
The quiet buzz of a pistol cocking was confirmation of her decision. Teague Bowers stood behind a waist-high stack of wooden pallets in a classic shooter’s firing stance, both arms extended like ramrods. A pistol Bowers must have been keeping in a hidden holster was aimed directly at Akane’s head.
“Now listen, miss,” Bowers said. “I’m a reasonable man.”
“Really,” Akane replied.
“Hell, you just did me a huge favour, popping Sundeen and Basimba like that,” Bowers spoke rapidly, almost stumbling over the syllables like a man eager to get the truth off his chest. “Kind of leaves me in charge, you see? So thanks. I’m of a mind to just let bygones be bygones and part ways here, you know?”
Akane was silent.
Bowers gulped hopefully. “I mean, I didn’t have a real beef with Jonah and the rest of your crew. Hell, I kind of respect him for being able to get one over on the boss, you know? But that’s air through the engine. We can both walk away from this, see?”
Akane readied herself. “Are you finished?”
Bowers blinked in surprise. “Well, uh, yeah, I guess I am.”
“That’s good,” she said. Then Akane Arai put everything she had into her right arm, pulling it up as fast as she’d ever done so in her life, the pistol leveling at Bowers.
Teague Bowers’ eyes widened.
Two shots, one quiet, and one very loud, rang out in unison.