Wild Sky spun on her heavy boot heel and ran as fast as she could away from the ambush. No sooner had she done so than she heard a muffled shout behind her and the armored rattle of approaching attackers.
Her bulky spacesuit didn’t help matters as she turned the corner back into the main corridor. She pushed her way past hanging tangles of torn wire as she bolted down the corridor towards the airlock. Judging from the noise her pursuers were making as they ran towards her, they were all in the same boat.
She flinched as she heard the report of a shotgun. Sparks flew as buckshot scored a section of bulkhead next to her.
She stumbled and her vision blurred. Suddenly she was worlds away, running through a metal canyon as the hot sun blazed down on her. Her own shadow stretched out in front of her, jagged and distorted in the shimmering heat of Persephone’s midday.
Then she was back as the ricocheting pellets zipped around her. She looked about for cover and spied a pile of loose panels stacked waist-high. She for it and ducked behind, crouching. Her gloved hand went automatically for her sidearm.
Her first pursuer had already rounded the corner, holding a shotgun. A second was half-covered by the bulkhead door.
Wild Sky raised the pistol, which felt uncomfortable and alien in her hand, and snapped off a shot at the first attacker. The projectile struck him square in the armored space suit’s chest plate, to no visible effect.
Wild Sky cursed.
In Shenmue’s secondary cargo hold, home to the crew’s foldout surgery unit, YJ was becoming rapidly acquainted with the business end of his own flechette pistol. Logan was pointing it at him as she slid off the examination table, her paper smock threatening to tear open with the movement. Despite the danger he was in, YJ couldn’t help but wonder what that would look like, even as an ugly grin marred Logan’s attractive features.
“Maybe I should make you strip naked, just to make sure you’re not packing heat, eh?” she snarled. Logan flicked the pistol in the direction of the main hold. “Into the cargo hold with you. My partners should be taking care of your lady friend any minute now.” She dug the barrel of the pistol into the back of YJ’s head as she spun him around and gave him a shove.
“Easy now,” YJ said. “No need to press so hard.”
Logan leaned forward until her lips almost brushed YJ’s head. “One wrong move,” she said, drawing out each syllable, “and I put a bullet through your brainpan, dong ma?”
She had him dead to rights, YJ figured, and she sounded serious. After all, in a heartbeat she had gone from a dying damsel in distress to a femme fatale. Trying something could get himself shot, especially at point blank range. So he complied, mentally weighing his options.
Back in the Harriston’s corridor, Wild Sky’s target returned fire with his wide-bore combat shotgun. There was a flash of sparks and a plume of smoke, but to Wild Sky’s relief, instead of discharging its shell, the weapon had jammed.
Judging from the man’s body language conveyed by the armored vacuum suit, this was not part of the plan. As he stepped aside, furiously working the weapon’s action to unjam it, his companion shoved past, an assault rifle chattering in his gloved hands. The first three-round burst impacted against the pile of junk, ricocheting in the confined space.
She edged out from behind cover and fired a burst of her own. The three bullets hit him in the chest, driving him back several steps to rock against the bulkhead.
A third attacker entered the fray, firing wildly. The round sparked off the debris pile right next to Wild Sky’s helmet, and she jerked back behind cover.
The man with the rifle steadied himself and fired another burst at Wild Sky, but his aim was off. Wild Sky breathed a sigh of relief, which was cut short when she read the ammo counter on her pistol – 4 rounds left.
As he entered Shenmue’s main cargo hold with Logan behind him, YJ said, “You know, you’re quite an actor, pulling that seizure and coming full back on, that’s some good skills.”
“Yes, thank you,” Logan said. “I minored in theatre at hijacker academy.”
“Yes, and you excel at it,” YJ said as he put his plan into motion. He let his knees buckle, turning his drop into a fluid spinning movement and chopping at Logan’s gun hand. The flechette pistol flew from her hands to land several feet away on the deck plates near a couple of crates.
Logan’s face registered an instant of shock before fury took over and she delivered a haymaker into YJ’s midsection. YJ tried to dodge the blow, but caught a piece of it nonetheless, the force of it rattling his teeth in their sockets. He stumbled back as Logan went after the pistol.
In the airlock corridor, the first attacker cleared the jam and racked his shotgun decisively as his partner fired another burst. The rounds punched through the thin cover and nearly grazed Wild Sky’s shoulder. She tried to make herself a smaller target.
The shotgun-wielding goon made a chopping motion with his gauntlet and his companions ceased firing. His suit’s external speaker keyed open with a tinny whine.
“Give yourself up before we riddle you fulla holes!” he shouted. “There are three of us and one of you. We keep filling this hallway with lead, the conclusion’s foregone!”
Wild Sky thought this over. “Okay, I surrender,” she said. She placed her pistol atop the pile of junk and slowly got to her feet, hands raised.
The first attacker leveled his shotgun at her. “Good decision,” he said.
“Ya think?” Wild Sky said.
The three goons advanced on her. The rifle-toting goon rubbed his chest where Wild Sky’s burst had hit home and picked up her pistol.
“Turn around and head to the airlock,” the first goon said.
Wild Sky saw no reason to disobey. Conscious of the three gun muzzles tracking her, Wild Sky stepped into the airlock chamber ahead of the goons. The one holding the shotgun gave her a rude shove, and she nearly fell against the bulkhead. Her head starting to spin, and the last thing she felt was her knees weakening.
YJ sprinted after Logan, his eyes on the pistol where it had landed on the deck. He fumbled for it, accidentally kicking the gun ahead of him. It skipped loudly across the deck plates. Logan had time to laugh harshly as she launched a kick that connected painfully with YJ’s rear end.
YJ gritted his teeth and made another play for the loose pistol. His hand closed over the butt of the gun as Logan struck at him again; her bare foot as solid as any boot. YJ felt a rib creak, but he didn’t let go of the pistol, whipping it towards the half-naked woman.
Wild Sky’s right eye opened. Her left eye would have opened as well, except that it was being pressed firmly against the floor. It was not the airlock deck, however – the floor was covered in a spongy mat, like the sort one would find at a karate dojo. As her vision cleared, she saw that she was indeed in some sort of dojo, its walls made of rice paper, its slanted ceiling supported by rough-hewn posts and beams.
She felt a weight bearing down on her. A hand, or perhaps a well-placed knee, kept her head on the floor, while another gripped her arm in a worrying hold that threatened to pop it out of its socket.
Pain – lancing, pulsing, piercing – began to burn her limb as the arm lock tightened.
“My, my, your final challenge and you stumble right out of the starting gate,” a singsong voice said from somewhere above her. She felt breath hot against her upturned cheek. “And we had such high hopes for you.”
Wild Sky strained in an attempt to gain leverage, hoping to roll into a defensible position.
“Ah, she shows signs of life,” said the voice in mock surprise. “Nevertheless,” and then there was a fresh blast of pain as her arm was wrenched further into the danger zone.
Wild Sky gasped.
“Now, now, there’s no need to struggle. After all, I have claimed possession of this arm, and I can do with it as I wish,” the voice continued. Wild Sky suppressed a groan as she felt things starting to separate in her straining arm. “And so close to your prize, too. Do you not see it? All you must do is stand up and claim it.”
“Well, I have a question for you,” Wild Sky said through gritted teeth. Prize? She thought to herself.
“Please,” the voice said.
“What is it you wish?”
“Ah…” the voice said. “Well, I do not wish for this prize, but I do not wish for you to have it either, so we are at an impasse.”
“What is it you do want?”
Another wrench of the arm. Wild Sky blinked back tears.
“Honestly, for you to regain control of your faculties and claim. Your. Prize.”
Wild Sky stole a quick glance around the room. There, off to the side, was a raised dais. She craned her neck, and saw something. At the edge of the combat area was a raised platform. Atop the platform was a finely crafted wooden stand. She couldn’t however, make out what was on the stand.
Wild Sky smiled. “You’ve made a terrible mistake.”
“You’re focusing on the prize, and not the moment, and you are unaware of where your feet are.”
“What?” the voice said, suddenly uncertain.
Wild Sky rolled out of the lock. Lashing out with a free leg she swept across her opponent’s position, connecting with something solid. The hold on her arm relaxed, and Wild Sky hopped up into a combat stance.
She turned and faced her attacker.
It was like she was looking in a mirror. She was staring at a version of herself wearing a white gi and adopting a similar fighting stance. It was her very own face staring back at her, features locked in a sneer. Then the face blurred, and was replaced by that of a wizened old Asian man – but only for a moment.
Then Wild Sky was running towards the raised platform to claim her prize. She mounted the steps, her field of vision narrowing and stretching like a funhouse hallway. She reached for the lacquered stand, and -
“Hey, don’t go weak-kneed on us now, gunslinger,” the shotgun-holding goon laughed, hauling Wild Sky to her feet. “You’re not getting out of this that easy.”
Wild Sky felt like she was about to lose her lunch. She was back in the airlock.
The second man worked the airlock controls, and opened Shenmue’s entry hatch.
Wild Sky fought to clear the swimming head. She felt different somehow, as if a grid had been dropped over her field of vision, but the lines were irregular and strobing, like the aura of a migraine. Wild Sky felt like she was trying to reconcile two competing perspectives.
“What the hell?” her hostage-taker said as he peered through the airlock hatch.
“Lady, stop or I will put one through your eye,” YJ said. “Stop it with the kicking already!” With his free hand he massaged his left buttock.
“Good for you, I was starting to wonder if you had it in you.” Logan raised her hands. “Okay, okay, maybe we got off on the wrong foot here, but on the other hand-” she pointed behind him, in the direction of Shenmue’s cargo bay airlock.
YJ risked a quick look over his shoulder and saw Wild Sky behind held by three armored men, a shotgun muzzle under her chin.
“So, like I said, my friends have been taking care of your lady friend.” Logan said. “What say you put the gun down, and maybe you don’t have to die right now.”
“Yeah, I’d prefer not to die right now.” YJ said.
“Don’t do it!” Wild Sky said. “Here’s what’s going to happen. Everybody’s going to put your guns down, and we’re going to talk about this real civil-like.”
The shotgun-holder chuckled.
“What the hell is your problem?” YJ asked.
“Yes, you could shoot me, but then my friends will shoot your friend’s head off, and then shoot you,” Logan said. “So…”
“Well, shooting you sounds tempting, but…” YJ worked the pistol’s action and emptied it.
“Good boy,” Logan said, taking the pistol. “You know, this was an interesting piece. Doesn’t feel like your average handgun.” She admired it for a moment, and then nodded towards the centre of the cargo hold. “Go stand over there.” She reloaded the pistol.
“Way to drop the gun,” Wild Sky hissed.
“Now, while I get dressed—and thanks for that, by the way—Cable, you go secure the bridge.” She nodded at one of the space-suited goons, who obediently climbed the catwalk stairs.
“Lady, you’ve got some anger issues.” YJ said.
“Stow it,” Logan said. “I don’t think the two of you appreciate what we had to go through to set this hit up on such short notice. We almost ran out of time before you showed up. That said, kneel.”
YJ looked at her blankly.
“No, your name’s not Neil. Kneel.” Logan said. “You too, sweetheart,” she said to Wild Sky.
They complied as Logan walked into the airlock to collect her belongings. The shotgun-toting goon did his best to surreptitiously get a good look at Logan’s backside, which peeked out from the paper smock.
“This isn’t really how I pictured it going down,” Wild Sky said. “Then again, the other time wasn’t really how I pictured it, either.”
“Well, as much as I would like to see brains flying around here, we really don’t have the money for a cleaner,” YJ said. “Plus, I was confident in your abilities to deal with this problem.”
“Funny thing about that, I never was.” Wild Sky said. “I have no idea what I’m doing here. I’m just making it up as I go along.”
“That makes me feel great,” YJ said. “I even took a kick in the ass for you.”
“Vonn, you secure the engine room.” Logan called out from the airlock. The second man left the cargo hold.
“I like these odds,” Wild Sky said sotto voce.
The shotgun-wielding goon unhooked his helmet and set it aside. His ugly features were curled in a sneer that could peel paint.
“How long before Orser gets here?” Logan asked her companion.
“Well, they were sitting just outside sensor range,” he said. “We gave them the A-OK just before things went the way they did, so it won’t be but a minute.” He gave the pair a look. “That only leaves us with what to do with these two.”
“Well, I think they’re pretty good for the moment.” Logan stepped out from the airlock, once again clad in her spacer’s outfit, but with a gun belt cinched around her waist. “Now, the two of you are going to stay very still, unless you want my good friend Singh here to fill you full of holes. If you co-operative, you don’t have to die on your knees in the cargo bay.”
“All right, I’ll take that.” YJ said. He sighed. “Where’s Worth when we need him?”
“Seriously,” Wild Sky agreed.
“What’s your deal, people?” YJ asked Logan and Singh. “This is a flying junkyard!”
“Well, that remains to be seen,” Logan smirked. “Once we heard about your excursion we figured you’d be good for parts, if nothing else. Though I think I see some interesting things back in that cargo hold.”
“Can you fill us in a little bit?” Wild Sky said. “We’re flying blind here.”
“Umm, you’ve been hijacked?” Logan offered.
“You said you heard about us.” Wild Sky said. “How did you know we were coming?”
“Oh, well, that’s for me to know and you to find out,” Logan smiled.
“Right, right, hijackers.” YJ said.
“But you were after us? By name?” Wild Sky asked.
“Maybe,” Logan shrugged. “A true artist never reveals all of her secrets. Maybe if Orser’s feeling charitable, he’ll tell you.” She started walking around the cargo bay, examining its contents. There was little to choose from. A few crates from the Resort and some tools.
Logan’s eyes were drawn to the crates of junk. “Suddenly, I’m less enthused.” She started rummaging around the crate’s meagre contents of low-value items looted from the Sundeen Seven’s hideout on Branson’s Mark.
She reached in and pulled out an oblong object wrapped in what looked like a damp t-shirt. “That’s interesting,” she said. She removed the torn shirt to reveal a razor-sharp sword.
Wild Sky’s head started pounding. Suddenly, she had returned to the dojo, and was standing before the lacquered wooden stand. Set atop the stand was the very same sword, its matte-black blade looking sharp enough to slice a hair length-wise.
Every fiber of Wild Sky’s being began vibrating with an absolute fixation on the sword.
YJ saw Wild Sky’s head lolling out of the corner of her eye. He saw her catch herself before falling forward onto her face. He frowned.
“Well, that’s nice,” Logan said, tossing the sword back into the crate and slamming the lid. “I like your display of co-operation at this stage. It’s quite reassuring. Play your cards right and you won’t die on your knees.” She turned to her companion. “Singh, I’m going to go to the bridge and set up for the rendezvous,” she said. “If they move, blast them.”
To the crew, she said “If you want to make it easy and just tell us if you’ve got anything valuable on board, now’s your chance.”
“Do we even have anything valuable on board?” YJ asked Wild Sky.
Logan rolled her eyes and sighed. “Fine. How much gas is in the tank, then?”
Wild Sky blinked and tried to focus her thoughts as her pulse continued to race. “There is a lot of high tech gear in a box-like structure in the secondary cargo hold,” she said with a straight face. “You know that tall box by the infirmary? We haven’t quite figured out what it’s about. Have fun with it though.”
“See? You give a little, you get a little.” Logan said. “Singh, if they move, blast him first,” she said, pointing to YJ.
“With pleasure,” Singh said, racking the shotgun for effect.
Logan left the cargo bay, heading towards the bridge.
Wild Sky tried to maintain her calm. It felt like mental puzzle pieces were falling rapidly into place, cutting through the fog of amnesia like lighthouse beams. Fitting that it was the sight of the sword that had spurred the cutting. Now she began to understand why the pistol in her hand had felt so ungainly, so wrong.
She had an overwhelming certainty that if that sword was somehow placed in her hand, she’d know exactly what to do with it, and turn the tide in their favour.
From her kneeling position, Wild Sky curled her fingers on each hand with newfound strength, cracking her knuckles one by one. She was starting to get the feeling that she could kick Singh’s ass.