Wild Sky could feel half-forgotten reflexes coming online, like a sudden torrent of water through an open floodgate. A tingling sensation rippled down her limbs, which now brimmed with newfound strength.
It dawned on her that although her and YJ’s situation was precarious, they were by no means in mortal danger.
Beside her, YJ figured that even though he was on his knees, he wasn’t about to take death lying down. Time to make a play, he thought.
“Mr. Singh, sir?” he said. “I really need to go to the little boy’s room.”
Singh smirked. “Boss says you’re to stay put and shut up, so stay put and shut up.”
“You don’t really want me to do my business down here,” YJ said. “It’s going to smell real bad, even if you kill me.”
“I kill you, you’re going to do your business in your pants regardless, so shut up.” Singh said, running a hand through his wavy black hair.
“All right,” YJ pursed his lips, sighed inwardly and let his bladder go.
Singh wrinkled his flattened nose in disgust.
Only a supreme effort of will kept Wild Sky from doing the same. Instead, she took advantage of Singh’s momentary distraction to put her own plan into action.
“Not again,” she moaned with her helmet comm keyed open. Then she slumped over, ‘blacking out’ much in the same way she had in the airlock just minutes before. This time, she started to convulse.
“What’s with your friend?” Singh said.
“She’s got a condition, man.” YJ said. “Do something! Call your boss or whatever.”
Singh took an uncertain half-step forward, and then reconsidered. “Check on her, do it now,” he said, aiming his shotgun at YJ. “Or you’ll end up with a bullet in the head.”
“All right,” YJ said. “Does that mean I can move now?”
Singh jabbed the shotgun at YJ for emphasis. “I told you to check on her, so check on her!”
YJ shuffled over, still on his knees. His wet pants squeaked. “Ugh, see what you made me do?” He complained.
“Okay pee-pee boy, enough lip. Now check on her.” Singh snarled.
YJ played at checking her vital signs.
Wild Sky’s convulsions were moving her ever so slowly in Singh’s direction.
“I’m going to need to make sure she doesn’t swallow her tongue,” YJ was saying. “But you’re going to have to hold her down.” He fumbled for her helmet clasp, loosening it.
“Look, pee-pee boy, I told you to take care of her, so take care of her! You don’t, and both of you are going to wind up with a bullet in your head. I don’t really care. I’m here to babysit you, not…” he gestured at Wild Sky’s twitching body.
“I can’t hold her and pull her tongue out,” YJ complained.
Singh put a finger to his vacuum suit collar’s comm unit. “Boss, we’ve got a problem down here, one of the prisoners is ill and convulsing on the floor. I need help.”
On the bridge, Logan and Cable were doing a systems check on their new prize. Logan frowned at Singh’s report. “No need to waste them yet,” she said. “I’ll send Cable down.” She shook her head disdainfully. “You know, it really shouldn’t take two of you to babysit those Wu Ming Shao Jwu.”
Cable got out of the captain’s chair and started down the transport’s foredeck towards the cargo bay.
Wild Sky stopped convulsing with one last spasm, and then lay motionless on the deck.
“Uh,” Singh said, looking at Wild Sky’s prone form.
Wild Sky suddenly “came to” with a massive gasp of air. She sat up, arms flailing. “Get this off of me!” She shrieked, grabbing at her helmet.
Pulling the helmet off, she hurled it directly at Singh. The heavy-duty visored helmet struck the pirate full in the chest. Singh stood his ground, absorbing the blow.
“Son of a-” he started to say.
YJ jumped at Singh, going for the man’s shotgun. He strained and twisted as he grappled the gun away, tearing it out of Singh’s gloved hands. YJ took half a step back, the shotgun now in his hands.
Smiling a victorious smile, he looked up to see Singh’s gloved fist making a beeline for his face. The force of the blow shattered YJ’s nose, sending a spray of bloody snot flying. YJ saw stars and almost lost his footing.
“You’re leaking from both ends, now,” Singh growled, cocking his fist for another hammer blow.
While YJ and Singh mixed it up, Wild Sky got to her feet in a fluid motion and walked to the open crate, reaching in to grasp the sword where Logan had tossed it.
She pulled it from the crate, and felt a sense of familiarity as the light from the cargo bay’s overhead floodlights. The well-balanced blade sat snugly in her grip like it was moulded to her hand.
YJ ignored the blood dripping from his nose as he turned the shotgun around on Singh. “Get on your knees!” he shouted at the hijacker.
Singh shook his head and let out a harsh chuckle. “You don’t have the stones to pull the-”
YJ pulled the trigger. The combat shotgun jumped in his hands. The point-blank blast shredded the pressure suit Singh was wearing, the buckshot puncturing the armor plate and lodging in his sternum.
Singh roared in pain, animal instinct taking over. He staggered forward, lunging at YJ in a flying tackle. As he did so, his eyes suddenly lost focus. As YJ stepped gracefully aside, Singh fell past him and sprawled to the deck with a loud crash.
From his position in the foredeck, Cable heard the familiar report of Singh’s combat shotgun from below deck. He stopped. “Singh?” he said into his headset mic. “What’s going on down there? Singh!” Cable listened for a second shot, as Singh was a fan of the double tap. He heard none.
In the cargo bay, Wild Sky and YJ heard Cable’s query through the unconscious pirate’s suit comm. YJ synced his multiband’s communicator with the spacesuit’s frequency so he could listen in on the pirates’ communications.
In the corridor, Cable turned back towards the bridge. “Boss! We’ve got gunfire!” he shouted.
Logan had already sprung into action. “I heard the shot! Do me a favour and seal the staircase down to the mid deck, and Vonn, get your ass to the aft passage and garrison the stairwell. I don’t want anyone getting upstairs." She grabbed her weapon. “I’m coming down!”
Vonn snapped to attention and moved from his position in the engine room, closing the hatch to the rear stairwell.
Wild Sky stepped over the fallen man’s body and drew her sword lightly across his exposed throat, opening the carotid artery. As Singh’s blood began to flow, she fixed YJ with a look.
“Shit’s about to get real,” she said, casually flicking Singh’s blood off the end of her sword with a snap of the wrist. “I haven’t forgotten everything.”
YJ wiped his own blood from his face and gave Singh’s gun a once-over. It was an assault shotgun, in a bullpup configuration, capable of semi-automatic or burst fire. He knelt beside Singh’s corpse. Mercifully, most of his blood had drained into his suit’s interior rather than spill onto the deck. Singh had come loaded for bear with five extra magazines, a pistol (also with extra ammo), a knife, and a pair of flashbang grenades.
“You want the gun?” YJ offered it to Wild Sky.
She shook her head. “Give me the knife.” YJ handed her the blade.
“Cover the secondary cargo hold,” Wild Sky said. “I’ll go upstairs this way.” She tapped her suit’s communicator, and YJ responded with a shake of his multiband.
YJ strapped the pistol to his belt, and moved into the secondary cargo hold, shotgun at the ready. He eyed the stairwell that led to Shenmue’s upper deck. He crept up the stairs, and took a quick peek around the corner. The doorway at the top of the stairs had been sealed shut.
Vonn backpedaled into the engine room, taking up a firing position at the hatchway that gave him some cover while allowing him to cover the rear stairway.
Wild Sky retrieved her helmet and locked it into position on a hard point located on the rear of the right shoulder pauldron. Then, despite the heavy boots and limited mobility offered by the pressure suit, she swung herself over the guardrail of the first catwalk landing and took the stairs three at a time.
Upstairs, Cable slid the hatch shut on the stairway that led downstairs amidships. He eyed the locking mechanism thoughtfully for a moment, then set his gun down and braced his hands against the door. Straining, he pushed with all his strength and was rewarded with a grinding shriek as the door derailed from its track. Now it would take serious effort from the other side to force the door. He picked up his shotgun and smiled.
Wild Sky froze as she heard the sound of metal on metal from half a deck up. She considered her options, scanning her surroundings. Her eyes were drawn to the shuttle entryway on the mid-deck. The starboard shuttle bay was empty at the moment. She reached over her shoulder for the helmet.
Logan gave Cable a supportive slap on the shoulder as she moved past him on her way to the engine room. “Vonn,” she called. “Anything comes through that back door, you shoot to kill. I’m on my way.” She turned. “Cable, you get back onto the bridge and keep it secure. I don’t want anyone sneaking in.” Cable nodded and turned on his heel. Logan made her way into the common area, heading toward the engine room.
YJ sidled up to the locked hatch, then rapped on it smartly and ran back down the stairs, taking cover in the L-shaped landing. Hearing no response, he snuck back up the stairs and unlocked the lack, sliding the door open slowly.
In Shenmue’s engine room, Vonn tensed at the sound of someone striking the portal. He thumbed the safety off his assault rifle and reached for a flashbang as he saw the door begin to open. “Say cheese,” he said, tossing the grenade at the opening door.
He knew in an instant that he had screwed up; the grenade went spinning off the bulky fingers of his suit glove in exactly the wrong way, sending it bouncing rather than rolling towards its target. Then the grenade went both flash and bang, and he was seeing stars, caught in the edge of the blast.
YJ was shielded by the blast by the sliding door, but the flash still left an afterimage in his eyes shaped like the viewport.
From her position in the common area, Logan saw the flashbang go off and jumped for cover instinctively.
Wild Sky took advantage of the commotion she heard above her to squeeze into the tiny space between the shuttle entrance on the mid-deck and the pressurized outer door that usually sealed tight against a docked shuttle. It wasn’t a proper airlock by any means, but it was still serviceable. She slid the hatch shut behind her, depressurized, and then struggled to get the heavy outer door open. Then she was standing in the empty shuttle bay, its motorized retraction assemblies lying inert at her feet like the slack jaw of a sleeping dragon. She gingerly crawled out of the shuttle-spaced alcove and, securing her safety line to the nearest EVA ring, she demagnetized her boots and took a confident step towards the bridge.
And slipped clear off Shenmue’s hull.
Wild Sky cursed and tried to grab hold of the ship’s surface, but inertia had done its dirty work and she began to float dreamily away from the freighter. About three metres out, her safety line pulled taut.
Wild Sky had to fight the overwhelming sensation of vertigo as the ‘Verse spilled out before her, innumerable stars twinkling in the darkness.
She began to hand-over-hand her way back to the ship.
Something caught her eye as she did so. One of the stars was moving. On an intercept course towards Shenmue.
Uh oh, she thought.
YJ slid the door the rest of the way open. Smoke from the flashbang still hung in the air, and he could see the blast mark just outside the entrance to the engine room. Squinting, he made out a prone figure just beyond the engine room door, holding his head and rocking from side to side on his stomach. YJ brought the shotgun to bear on the target and fired a burst, striking the hijacker with a hail of buckshot.
“Son of a bitch!” Vonn groaned as the pellets tore up the back of his vacuum suit and in the same instant tore up his back.
Logan saw YJ lean out from the doorway to take the shot, and decided to take a shot of her own. She raised her shotgun and fired.
YJ had almost no time to react as he was bracketed by a spatter of shotgun pellets from behind. He felt the impact of the shot on the rear plate of his protective vest, and he shrank behind cover as pain seared across his back.
Logan ducked back behind the bulkhead.
Wild Sky took note of the approaching ‘star’ that coalesced into a low-slung, predatory starship – a scoutship, or maybe a short-range skiff with pretensions. Adjustable tailplanes like sharp spines stuck out from its streamlined fuselage – useless in space, but probably an asset in atmo, she thought.
She had more immediate problems on her mind, however. She gained her footing on Shenmue’s hull and made her way towards the airlock nearest the bridge.
From his position on the bridge, Cable heard the sound of gunfire from down the hall. Before he could respond he saw a blinking light on Shenmue’s communications board.
“Talk to me,” he said as he opened a channel, punching up a vid.
And saw his boss, Orser. The hirsute pirate was wearing his trademark leather vest over a bare, hairy chest.
“Gimme a sitrep Cable,” he growled. “We’re coming in.”
“You need to come in hot. We’re having lots of problems with the natives,” Cable admitted. “Singh is down, and-”
“What! He owed me fifty credits!” Orser barked.
“Well, you’ll have to take it off his corpse,” Cable shot back. “There’s been a bit of a debacle, to be honest.”
“I can’t trust you guys to take out two defenseless freighter bums?” Orser said, his face reddening.
“Hey, I’m just hired muscle, all right?” Cable protested.
“I know, and I’m having second thoughts about my recruiting policy,” Orser shouted. “All right, Zhang and I will be there in thirty seconds. Zhang!” He shouted offscreen. “Speed this tub up!”
Cable switched off the vid. There goes my Christmas bonus, he thought.
YJ heard groaning sounds from the engine room. Now that he knew there was another shooter out there, things were going to be a mite more complicated.
Vonn tried to aim his rifle, but his hands weren’t co-operating. With the last of his strength, he grabbed for the engine room hatch and tried to pull it shut. The gambit failed, and he fell back to the floor with a moan.
YJ lunged for the engine room and stood over Vonn, aiming the shotgun at him. “Sorry,” he said.
Vonn’s body jerked once and was still.
“Wild Sky, please come in and start saving me!” YJ hissed into his multiband as he turned and looked up the aft corridor.
Logan swore under her breath. That was two of her men down. Orser was going to be pissed. She leaned around the bulkhead and slid the hatch to the aft passageway shut, intent on falling back to the bridge and making a stand there.
“Son of a!” YJ said to himself as he heard a door clang closed. “Again!?”
Wild Sky carefully made her way to the dorsal bridge airlock, opening the exterior portal and easing into the utility airlock chamber. She sealed herself in, and equalized the pressure. Then she stripped out of her bulky suit, kicking it aside. Her close-fitting jumpsuit wouldn’t do much against bullets or buckshot, but she had a feeling she’d need all the extra maneuverability she could get.
Standing aside the entry hatch, she slowly released the sealing gasket on the interior airlock door and, as quietly as she could, slid the hatch open.
From his position on the bridge, Cable thought he heard something, like a slow sigh, from parts aft. He whirled around, gun in hand.
Wild Sky could see a narrow utility ladder leading down to the alcove next to the bridge, but she wasn’t about to take it.
“Logan, I heard something coming through the airlock here. I’m going to check it out,” Cable said into his comm unit. “What happened to Vonn?”
“Don’t ask,” Logan replied.
YJ approached the shuttered hatch and peered through the porthole. He was rewarded with a view of Logan’s rapidly retreating backside. YJ opened the hatch and followed her.
Cable took up a firing position behind the pilot’s console, waiting for the thunder to roll in.
Logan sealed the foredeck hatch behind her and pressed up against the damaged stairwell door, aiming her weapon at the doorway.
“Wild Sky, you’ve got Logan coming your way,” YJ said. He leaned up against the bulkhead, not yet ready to chance a glimpse through the porthole.
“Cable, what’s the situation?” Orser asked. On the bridge, Cable winced: he was too far form the communications console to reply. “Cable? Gorramit!” Orser’s disembodied voice echoed through the bridge.
Logan cut in on her own channel. “Cable? Radio silence.”
“You hear that?” YJ asked Wild Sky. “They’re somewhere around here.”
The sleek pirate ship made its final approach to the Firefly transport. It had fallen into their trap easily enough, but from Orser’s perspective, the prey was quickly gnawing through its own leg in an effort to make good an escape.
“Zhang, bring us in close,” Orser growled into his pirate’s ear. “We’re going to burn ‘em down.”
“Do we start carving up this bird with our own people inside?” Zhang asked.
“You want to try boarding?” Orser smirked. “Let’s put the fear of God in these bumpkins.” He tuned into the all-hail frequency and put on his most menacing tone.
“Calling Shamoo,” Orser said sarcastically. “I’m assuming since I’m not hearing anything from you guys that you’ve managed to take out my team. That was a mistake. You are to stand down and open the aft airlock and prepare to be boarded. If not, we will blast you out of the ‘Verse.”
“Hey Logan,” YJ shouted through the sealed door. “You feel like switching sides right about now?”
Logan shook her head. No way was she going to give away her position.
Wild Sky couldn’t shake the feeling that someone was waiting for her to show herself. She eased Singh’s knife out of her belt, but reconsidered.
“On three, attack your position.” Wild Sky told YJ. She prepared to do the same. Then she spied the bridge hatchway, which Cable had left open. Extending her sword, she was able to slide it shut.
As the hatch began to slide closed, Cable let go with his assault shotgun, peppering the door with buckshot. The blasts punched concentric circles of indentations into the door, which withstood the onslaught.
Logan winced as she heard the shots, but kept her gun trained on the door she was covering.
Wild Sky slid down the ladder and silently moved down the foredeck, keeping to the shadows as she crept towards Logan.
YJ edged closer to the door, and pressed his face against the porthole. He didn’t see anything.
Logan considered yanking the door open and shooting YJ, but decided against it – opening the door would give away the element of surprise. She quickly looked around, and noticed that the door of the nearest crew quarters was open. She made a snap decision and bolted across the corridor, dropping down the hatch/ladder and landing in the single-bed cabin. She dropped into a crouch and aimed her weapon at the open hatch.
YJ slid the door open as he saw Wild Sky emerge from the shadows.
“You got a flashbang?” Wild Sky asked.
YJ handed one over.
Wild Sky pulled the pin.
“Oyasuminasai,” she whispered, and tossed the grenade into the crew cabin.
Logan flinched as she saw the grenade bounce down the ladder and land on the deck in front of her. She dove for the thin mattress, throwing it over her head as the stun grenade exploded in a flash of light.
Wild Sky pulled the ladder hatch closed and YJ hit the locking controls on the wall panel. He handed her another stun grenade. Then he grabbed a radio receiver from the wall panel and answered Orser’s hail.
“Yeah, we’re going to open our hatch, but we’ve had some technical difficulties. As you can imagine, our ship has been shot up.” He hung up and moved with Wild Sky towards the bridge.
Orser frowned. He nodded to Zhang. “Fire a blast across their bow.”
The ship’s moling laser cannon, originally designed to drill core samples out of ore-heavy asteroids, spit out a bolt of light that flashed across the space between Shenmue and the space hulk.
Cable flinched as the bright light illuminated the bridge. That sight didn’t fill him with confidence. “Crap,” he muttered. He edged to the bridge door and popped it open a few centimeters. “Yeah, guys?” Cable shouted down the hallway. “This guy in the other ship, he isn’t joking around, okay? We screwed up with you guys, underestimated you, and you made us pay for it. That guy’s not going to put up with you. He’ll space the lot of you!”
“If we’re going to die on this ship, so are you,” YJ shouted back. “So why don’t you let us into the bridge and let us get the hell out of here? We’ll drop you and your lady partner off on the nearest moon.”
“You know, I’ve got a better idea!” Cable said. “Why don’t you march over onto the derelict, lock yourselves in, and then I can hop on the mic and make sure we’re not all killed?”
“And our incentive to die over there as opposed to here is what, exactly?” YJ said. He motioned to Wild Sky to get the stun grenade ready.
“All right, you’ve made your point.” Cable said, moving to the communications board. “I’ll call my boss and tell him what’s going on.”
YJ gave Wild Sky a “can you believe this guy?” look and shouted: “Drop the gun and come out with your hands up!” He was almost at the bridge door now, with Wild Sky holding the primed stun grenade at the ready.
“Either I keep the gun and tell my boss not to blow us up, or we all die right now!” Cable shot back.
“All right, you only live once!” YJ turned to Wild Sky. “Let’s take him out.” He pulled the bridge door open and Wild Sky hurled the grenade onto the bridge.
Cable fired a burst at the half-open hatch as the grenade exploded. The blast knocked him backwards over the co-pilot’s chair.
YJ and Wild Sky stormed the bridge. Even before the smoke cleared, YJ lunged for Cable, grabbing his gun away and hauling him to his feet.
“Hey, hey, hey,” Cable groaned in protest as YJ shoved him away from the controls towards Wild Sky.
“Wild Sky, take care of this guy,” YJ said. He jumped into the pilot’s chair, intent on detaching Shenmue from the derelict ship.
Wild Sky grabbed Cable and threw him against the bulkhead. Cable slid to his knees.
“Dispatch him if you want,” YJ said over his shoulder. “I have no strong feelings about it.”
“From a tactical standpoint, it might be better to keep him alive. We can negotiate.” Wild Sky said.
“You think his boss is going to negotiate for that clown?” YJ said.
“Alive good, alive.” Cable mumbled.
YJ opened the communications channel as he began to disengage from the hulk. “How much do you value Logan and Cable’s life?”
“I’m sorry, we haven’t been introduced, who are you?” Orser asked, though he already knew.
“I’m nobody,” YJ said. “Again, how much do you value Logan and Cable’s lives?”
“So, Captain Johnson, I assume?” Orser cut the mic for a second and said to Zhang, “get into position so we can target their engines. I don’t want them rabbiting on us.”
Zhang moved the ship into position.
Orser turned back to the commo board. “You got my crew. I don’t know how many you killed. I do know that I have your engines targeted and I will let go and vaporize the lot of you,” he said. “You stand down, release my people and put my guys back on the com. Disarm yourselves or be eliminated.”
“Does this guy think we were born yesterday?” YJ said as he muted Orser’s signal. “Yeah, I’m going to give myself up to the guys who were just shooting at me? That will buy us what, 30 seconds?”
Orser got behind the laser controls. “Let’s give them a bolt through their cargo hold, see if that gets their attention.”
Zhang sideslipped and brought the Undercutter into a position aft of Shenmue.
“As soon as we’re undocked we’re going to hard burn,” YJ said to Wild Sky.
Orser grinned as he pulled the trigger. The moling laser blasted home, burning into Shenmue’s superstructure just below the pulse drive.
Shenmue shuddered and angry red lights blossomed across her control console as the laser bit deep into the ship’s underbelly. YJ cursed he heard a wrenching sound from below decks. One more hit like that and they would be looking for new transportation.
YJ activated the ship’s exterior cameras and caught a glimpse of the starship as it sat menacingly off his stern. He could tell just by looking that it was probably faster and more agile than Shenmue. There would be no outrunning it. He could possibly outfly it, but it had already blasted them once, and Shenmue wasn’t going to be at her best.
“Good thing you have that EVA suit handy,” he said to Wild Sky. “Kill the guy and suit up.”
“Sorry, Cable.” Wild Sky shrugged. Her sword flashed.
“Where’s my crew?” Orser repeated.
“They’re dead!” YJ shouted. “Aside from Logan, who we locked up.”
Orser growled. He knew it was useless to carve up a ship so far from a chop-shop, but he wanted to keep firing at Shenmue until there was nothing left but scrap.
“All right, we get the message,” YJ said. “Powering down now.” He turned to Wild Sky. “Get into the EVA suit. You’re going outside.”