Monday, March 18, 2019

Chapter 25


“You boys got here pretty fast, didn’t you?” Bhutto said with her hands up.

“We had a little help.” Jane now saw that one of the figure’s vac suits had been wrapped around the stump of an arm. “A young’n we picked up from the Toll, about this high,” he held his hand out waist level. “Kept telling us about the monster ship back there. We finally took the course in his direction, til we that camo barrier came down.”

The one-armed bounty hunter looked around the expanse of the Leviathan and whistled. “I never would have figured to see it, but here we are, along with one of the biggest bounties in the system. And you, of course, Bhutto.”

Bhutto forced a mock smile. The bounty hunter turned his attention to Jane. “Looks like you took care of most of the work for us, Miss. We appreciate it.”

“You can have the bounties,” Jane said. “But the salvage rights belong to the Freyjan Collective.

Bhutto grunted in disapproval.

One-arm laughed. “You’re cute, Red, but I don’t think you’re in any position to make any deals. We’ll take the bounties and the salvage rights. Might even get you a ride home, if you’re real nice.”

“My claim has already been registered. I did it as soon as we stopped transmitting the block.”

“Sorry to burst your bubble, but Vegacorp don’t operate all the way out here, Miss. You got to enforce your own rights.”

“That is why the Collective Fleet is on its way to collect its prize. I don’t think you want to be here when it does.”

One-arm narrowed his eyes. “You’re bluffing,” he said.

“Do you want to take that chance?” One-arm surveyed the vast antimatter containment core, thought for a moment, and said, “Yep. I think so.” He leveled his rifle at her, resting it in his shoulder.

Jane put her hands in the air. One-arm sent his men in to retrieve D’Arcangelo’s body from the lab, and they hauled the corpse through the entrance corridor. One-arm gestured with his rifle that Jane and Bhutto should follow them.

Jane pulled herself rung by rung through the tunnel behind Bhutto, with one-arm’s rifle at her back. Now that the net was back up, she sent a silent message to alert authorities in the area, if any. Any real force would take a long while to get there. Jane skimmed over her Vegacorp security policy and available upgrades. There was a shareholder meeting coming up, apparently. Not particularly interesting. Although she wondered how many shares she could get away with buying.

By that time they floated into the docking bay where the bounty hunters’ militarized shuttle rested, electromagnetically attached to the bay walls.

Alexander Invictus floated in between a couple of mercenaries who held him by the arms in front of the shuttle, directly behind the escape pods. The boy was frustrated, but unhurt.

“All right, Red. This is where you get off.”

Jane glanced wearily at the box coffin. “And if I refuse?”

“You jumped our claim. We had to defend it. We can jettison you without it, but I didn’t think you’d like that very much.”

No, she wouldn’t. That short time in the pod between the Toll and Leviathan was enough for a lifetime. But if it was between that and being sent adrift again... the residue of Cassandra’s mishap so many years ago with still with Jane, buried deep enough in her neurons to evade even the comprehensive mind wipe she must have gone through. She would choose the rocket coffin.

But just as she began floating towards the pod, there was a deep rumble. Now she was falling. slowly at first, but she quickly dropped onto one of the walls, painfully slamming into the hull. One-arm dropped, too. His rifle hit the “floor” and tumbled into the door well of the inner airlock hatch.

One-arm scrambled for his weapon, but Jane grabbed onto his neck and wrenched his head into a lock. They went weightless once more, struggling in midair. Jane wrapped her legs around one-arm’s waist as tight as she could manage so he could not shove her aside. He was stronger than her, and without power armor, he would have the advantage the longer their struggle continued. They continued tumbling, and slowly she began to lose her grip. With each slip of her fingers and each flex of the bounty hunter, she was one step closer to being adrift. She clawed and pulled in a panic, but she was fighting a losing battle.

There was a flash from the Leviathan. Its cannons had opened fire upon the adrift shuttle, cutting it to shreds, detonating its payload of rockets in a cloud of shrapnel.

Bhutto?

With One-arm panicked, Jane went for his rifle in the door well. With one hand she grabbed it and fired, sending herself sailing backwards and spinning.

Zero g recoil.

Bullets scattered erratically, one piercing One-arm’s suit. Blood and air flowed out of the hole in a mist. Jane caught herself on the hull and steadied herself. One-arm writhed silently, like an earthworm caught in the sun. His struggle went on for a horrifying minute, until he finally went limp.

She braced the kinetic rifle low against her chest, as close to her center of mass as practical, holding her aim on One-arm. He didn’t move.

There was more rumbling from the far end of the ship. Jane fell, down the corridor, now a deep shaft. Jane flailed for a couple short seconds. She never knew when she hit the hull floor.

Jane awoke to a voice in her head. “I have to admit, Red, that was very impressive.” Jane awoke sprawled across an airlock door. The door had thankfully closed by now. It then registered whose voice it was.

“D’Arcangelo?”

She must be dead. Father Ezekiel had been right.

She was surely in Hell.

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