Set Adrift, pt. 4


“1. Too bad.”

A series of events occurred over the next two seconds. Robert lurched forward, trying desperately to reach Genie before the ghostly pirate could pull the trigger. He knew he couldn’t make it, but he had to try. Putting as much weight as possible on his good foot, he surged forward, arm stretched out in front of him.

It wasn’t enough. Before he could get halfway, his ankle gave out completely. As he fell, he looked to Genie, hoping to give her some sort of comfort in the last moments she had.

As he hit the floor, he saw something drop from above behind the pirate, a quick shadow that he recognized instantly.

All this happened in about two seconds. The pirate simply didn’t have enough time.

Jax deftly slipped an arm between Genie and the hand the pirate was using to hold the gun. Grabbing the wrist, Genie yanked down, causing the pistol to fire into the floor. Continuing the downward motion of the arm she had grabbed, she planted her foot into the side of the pirate’s knee. With an ugly pop, the knee broke and the pirate collapsed. Still holding the pirates wrist, Jax brought the arm around in a full circle, up behind the pirate. As he fell, she jerked up, breaking the arm and dislocating the shoulder in one fluid movement. The pistol dropped from the limp hand to the deck.

Once the pirate was disarmed and immobilized, Jax swung around and planted a knee into his chest, satisfied with the crunch of a breaking rib. Her other leg stepped firmly on the undamaged arm, holding it in place. Her hand shot out, knife already gripped tight, and stopped with firm pressure against the pirate’s throat.

Genie had broken away as soon as she felt the pirates grip slacken. She had rolled towards the others and drew her pistol. By the time she had turned around to aim, it was over.

Jax tore the mask off the pirate, revealing a scarred visage with a nose that had been broken many times. He had seen a lot of combat in his day and taken a lot of beatings. He had learned how to fight back with cruelty, clawing his way up until he was captain of a pirate ship. Ruthless, clever, and strong, the man was a murderer, but Jax had just kicked his ass and wasn’t even breathing hard.

“That was my brother you ugly son of a bitch,” she whispered, her quiet fury more frightening than if she had screamed the words. Then she punched him right in the face, fingers still clenched around her knife.

*

As Spark interrogated the pirate captain, Robert and Genie consoled Jax in the flight deck. After her initial ferocity had been exhausted on the pirate, Jax had run over to her brother. Max hadn’t made it.

Jax cried silently for her brother, tears leaving clean trails through the grime of engine work left on her cheeks. She couldn’t allow herself to collapse. The immediate danger had been suppressed, but the attacking ship was still attached, filled with many more would-be killers. She would mourn Max properly when she could afford to.

“You don’t need me to tell you that Max was a good man,” Robert began. “We know he was.  He always had a joking complaint or a good story for days when we needed it. A hard worker, when he had to be. He was loyal to his crew, but even more so to his friends. We had the privilege of being both.” He put a hand on Jax’s shoulder. “He loved you very much, and would be so damn proud of what you did to that coward.”

A simple nod was all he got in return.

“Of course,” Robert continued, “He would have claimed he could have done it better.”

That got a smile. Jax blinked her eyes a few times and replied, quietly: “He’d have been wrong, and I’d have smacked him one for it.”

A few moments later, Spark climbed up the ladder. He looked grim.

“Our unwelcome passenger informs me that there are another twenty pirates in his ship, waiting for orders,” Spark wiped his brow and leaned against the wall with the others. “That means there’s probably only ten or fifteen. He’s in a bad position and he knows it, wants to scare us. Still, even ten would be hard to take on their ground.”

“Did you secure him down there?” Robert asked, eyeing the ladder hole. “He’s tricky.”

“He’s not going anywhere. Tore off his shirt, his weird grey clothing is what helped him disappear. Some sort of advanced cloaking, camouflage stuff. If he moves, we’ll see him. Plus, I stepped on his knee until he passed out from the pain.”

Robert grimaced. Spark was a very effective interrogator.

“So what’s the plan, Captain?” asked Genie. “Life support is up, but we’re still floating here.”

“We need to ditch the pirate ship. It’s unlikely the pirates will detach if we ask them nicely, and if we try to barter their captain for our release, he’ll just order us shot from a distance. That’s assuming they accept the trade at all, pirates are always looking to advance themselves and this crippled captain of theirs won’t inspire much confidence in his men.”

Robert had already planned having to deal with the other ship. He hadn’t planned on losing Max. The guy didn’t take orders well, but he was damn handy in a fight.

Robert started handing out the orders. “Genie, you get back to the engine room and get us at least some measure of maneuverability. I need enough power to get us a good distance from their ship. Spark and I will get in the repair suits and go cut those cables they’ve tied to us with. Jax…you get to deliver the package.”

Jax straightened her back and opened her eyes. “Aye Captain.”

“What package, Robert?” Spark asked.

“This package,” replied Jax, pulling an object about the size of a basketball from behind her seat. “This was my task while y’all secured the ship. I went to the engine room and partially rebuilt the EMP probe. It isn’t real fancy, just a timer and the pulse.” She paused, closing her eyes and thinking of Max. “I also attached one of our torpedo heads.”

The torpedoes onboard the Starfish were mostly for decoration, seeing as it was a merchant ship. However, unlike the back-up generators, Robert had insisted that the ones they did buy were the best. Nothing like a few good weapons to keep potential problems away. The missiles were a combination of energy pulse and shrapnel, the energy burning through most of what it hits and the shrapnel cutting through everything else. Everyone took a healthy step back from the orb.

“Jax, won’t the EMP disable the missile?” asked Spark.

“I thought of that. I already armed the head.” Everyone took another step back. “Its explosion sequence is being kept in check by a small electrical inhibitor. When the EMP goes off, it will burn the inhibitor, releasing the explosion.”

Genie spoke up. “Why not just use the torpedo head then?”

“Because I don’t know where I’ll be able to hide it in the ship. There’s a chance that even with the explosion they will be able to survive and come after us, or at least shoot at us in a last-ditch effort at killing us.  With the EMP, they’ll be unable to pursue or fire at us regardless of the damage caused by the explosion. Plus,” she added with a faint grin, “it’s only fair we hit them back with the same weapon they tried to get us with.”

“Excellent work Jax,” said Robert, “Double whammy with style.”

Robert turned to look at the remainder of his crew. They were all tired. The life of a traveling merchant is one that allows a lot of empty time between jobs, but often doesn’t let you rest. There’s always something to do. Fixing the ship, finding new contracts, learning the trade routes or habits of new worlds: it doesn’t leave much personal time.

Your crew is your family. It wastes energy and time to fly back to individual home worlds, find your blood relatives for a holiday. When you sign to a life of space travel, you sign your goodbye card to everyone you knew before you left. It wasn’t a life many could handle.

When one of your crew is lost, especially in as brutal a way as Max was, it hurts beyond the loss of a friend or a brother. One of the few friendly faces in the whole galaxy has stopped smiling for you. There’s one less soul on board when you stare through the thick glass at a whole lot of emptiness. One of your tethers, one of your lines holding you steady and calm has been cut, leaving you to sway just a little bit more in the wind.

Max, thought Robert, head bowed, despite being an insubordinate upstart, slow at your orders, and sometimes a pain in the ass, you were a great friend and I loved you. I’ll take care of Jax, I promise. Try to keep an eye on us, ok? This plan is kinda half-baked, but it’s the only one I’ve got.

“OK,” Robert said suddenly. “Let’s do this. We’ve made it this far, we’re not going to choke at the end. Genie, work as fast as you can.  It should take the rest of us no more than ten minutes to finish our task and we need power ASAP. If we plant this bomb and we can’t get away…”

Genie nodded. “Understood, Captain.”

“Good. When you’re done down there, hustle up to the flight deck and prep for flight. You’ll be the one piloting us out of here. Spark and I will use the cutting torches to burn through the cables outside. Once we’re done, we’ll attach to the ship using the safety lines. You fly out of here.”

“But…Captain, you…we don’t know if those cables will hold in flight! They could break! You’d both be left-“

“Genie, it’s an order. We may not have time to get back inside the ship before you need to get us away from the pirates. The safety lines will hold, trust me. We’re both coming back. Fly us to a safe distance and then worry about us.”

She stared at him hard for a second, but reluctantly agreed. “…Aye, Captain.” She slowly got up from her chair and paused for a moment. She seemed to forcibly make up her mind and left the deck, headed for the engine rooms.

“Good. Spark, Start prepping the repair suits for outside work.”

“Aye.” Spark replied, and started down the ladder.

Last but definitely not least…

“Jax.” Robert knelt down, eye level with the girl. Eye level with the bomb, too, but he tried to ignore that part. “Get as far into their ship as you can without being seen. Set the timer for twelve minutes, and get out. I know how badly you want to pay them back,” he paused, Jax’s eyes locked on his but not seeing him at all. “But do NOT engage unless you have to. The priority is the package and escape. It’s best if they have no idea we were ever there.”

Jax nodded, slightly.

Robert continued. “Once Spark and I cut the cables, I need you back in this ship to detach the portal locks around the door. The cables are holding us, but the doors are still hooked. We need an airlock before we take off or we’ll suck the air right out.”

“I got it, Captain.” Jax’s voice was focused, even if her eyes were not.

“Alright. Good luck.”

*

Robert arrived in the air lock just as Spark finished getting into his suit. They were ugly sacks of grey and blue, simply plastic air bubbles surrounding the men.

As Robert dressed, Spark looked over the safety lines. They were 20-ft cables that ended in a clasp that could snap on to about a 2-inch thick pipe, if they could find one steady enough to hold them.

Spark eyed Robert. “You sounded pretty confident back there, that these things would hold us. Was that sincere or a show?”

Robert stared back. Spark wasn’t the type to dodge the issue. He also knew what lies sounded like, so there was no point trying it.

“It was about 50-50. I think they’re strong enough to hold, but I don’t know how they’ll handle the sustained stress of acceleration. Unfortunately, we need Genie to fly fast, and the faster she flies, the more likely we’ll be left behind.”

Spark nodded. “I figured as much. Well, even should the worst happen, we’ll have a nice view of the action.”

“Spark, you got brass balls, man.” Robert laughed.

Spark grinned back. “Steel.”

Check out next week’s thrilling conclusion to “Set Adrift”!

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