Chapter Eight

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It truly didn't take long. There was a slight shudder as the pirates' umbilical closed up against the Addax's airlock. They were seconds away now.

Gaylen waited in his spot in the engine room, by the door nearer the airlock. Ayna waited by the further door, her stubby little pistol in hand. And from somewhere out of sight came the clinks and clanks of Jaquan frantically trying to get the power systems back in order.

The animal in Gaylen still wanted to run wild, filling him with strength and speed at the cost of thought and precision, the two thing he really needed right now.

He took a measured breath.

Keep calm and survive.

There was a strong rumble, the result of a bomb being thrown in to deal with anyone waiting in the entry area. As expected.

"Now!"

Gaylen threw the door open and peeked out of cover, leading with his pistol just as the charge came. The first one through was clad top-to-toe in cobbled-together heavy armour and fired wildly from two pistols, seeking to cause chaos and panic. He had no time to notice the near-invisible wire stretched across the opening at shin-height, and fell forward.

Gaylen fired and the searing bolt burst against the pirate's helmet. From her spot by the other door Ayna fired as well, hitting his shoulder. And then from up in the women's quarters Herdis fired her rifle through the open hatch. The next pirate came, and the third, each carrying compact rifles and wearing less heavy armour.

Plasma hissed by the doorframe and Gaylen shrank into cover. Herdis's rifle made another characteristically heavy thum noise, and there was the sound of a body hitting the metal floor.

There were angry screams and more hurried feet.

Gaylen blind-fired at the sounds, and a shot flew right back at him through the open door. He heard Kiris open the far cargo bay door and add her pistol to the plasma exchange. He made a gamble and ran through the doorway, letting off a shot as he went.

Two lay on the floor, one figure with a heavy pistol was injured but standing, and two others had made it out into the available space, seeking cover by containers and bulkheads.

Gaylen reached the outer part of the airlock and used it for cover. Plasma came his way from a bulkhead on the forward side of the room. He kept his profile as small as possible and fired back.

A shot from inside the airlock targeted Herdis. The pirate by the bulkhead ran across the room, towards better cover, and he and Gaylen shot at each other pretty much simultaneously.

The incoming shot clipped the edge of the airlock but kept on going, clipping the side of his chest as well. The outgoing one hit the man's leg and he fell out of Gaylen's immediate sight.

Bers charged out of the nearer cargo bay door. Held above his head was an axe with a long, metal handle, and he let out a shrill scream as he swung it into the nearest pirate.

The pirate was armoured against plasma, but had no hard outer layer and the blade clove right through his chest. Bers immediately turned on the next one and hooked the beard of the axe under his yellow helmet and swung the man about like a drunken dancer. The yellow-clad head smashed into a wall with a loud bang and the pirate dropped.

The heavily armoured one stirred on the floor and raised one of his guns, but Gaylen put another shot into him just before Herdis put yet another. The man slumped down with an air of finality.

Bers turned on the one Gaylen had shot in the leg and swung his axe into the man with horrid results. The other wounded man had taken cover by the other side of the airlock, and fired his heavy pistol at Bers, hitting the fringer in the back. Bers yelped and stumbled, and Gaylen took a shot at the wounded pirate. He dodged out of Gaylen's sight, only to be shot at by both Ayna and Kiris.

The last one came running out of the airlock, wielding in one hand a rifle modified into an enormous handgun, and in the other a large blade.

The pirate shot at the semi-prone Bers, who rolled over. Gaylen shot him from behind, but the plasma just sizzled against the energy field that suddenly crackled about the man. Kiris shot him too, with the same result, before ducking into cover as the man fired at her.

The bastard had a personal shield.

Gaylen sprang out of cover and kicked at the back of the man's knee. His foot made it through the field just fine and the leg buckled. The pirate turned awkwardly and swung out with the blade. Gaylen narrowly leapt back and the dark metal missed him, and he fired the pistol.

Again the shield held and the man turned the giant pistol his way. And Gaylen had no cover.

Herdis dropped down through the hatch and fired as she landed. The field crackled more harshly this time, and she extended a thirty centimetre blade from beneath the barrel. She thrust it at the pirate and punctured the armour at his shoulder. The gun fell from his hand but he still attacked her with the blade, driving her back a step.

Gaylen shot him yet again, and this time the shield gave out and the wallet-sized device on his belt sparked.

Herdis shot him, as did Gaylen again, then Kiris, then Herdis and Gaylen at the same moment.

The pirate fell.

Gaylen turned around.

The one by the airlock was dead; shot in his unprotected face. And no more pirates issued forth from the ship. The air was filled with the smell of plasma and burnt armour, flesh and metal. The bomb had done next to no damage; a simple airburst meant to stun without destroying any potential loot.

They'd won. And now the fear came, shaking his hands and knees.

"Is... is everyone alright?" he asked as Ayna, Jaquan and Kiris hesitantly came out of cover.

Bers rose with the aid of the wall, groaning as he did so. That thick old armour of his had clearly saved his life, but not his skin. But injuries were nothing new to this man.

Gaylen examined himself. A really nasty burning pain was making itself known as the adrenaline seeped out of his system. The vest he wore under his clothes was thin; he wasn't about to wear a heavy one at every waking hour. But it worked against lesser hits at the very least.

Bers rose fully and hefted that axe above his head with both hands. The bloodied head of it was the faint blue of refined keremak. No wonder it had gone right through armour like that.

The fringer roared, startling everyone. Then he relaxed up against the wall.

"W-well, we won this one," Ayna said, attempting some levity even though she was clearly as rattled as anyone.

Herdis looked from Bers to Gaylen and then at the medicine station.

"I'll patch you up," she said and moved towards it.

"No," Gaylen said. "Wait. First thing, we need to disconnect the umbilical. Then Jaquan needs get things in order. We need just a little bit of thrust back. Enough to drift apart."

"What?" Ayna said. "Hold on. Didn't we just win a lottery here? Or earn it, rather?"

She pointed to the pirate ship.

"Let's salvage! We can-"

"I think these bastards are from Scorchspace," he interrupted, taking in the mishmash nature of their weapons and armour, as well as the odd hand-made markings. "They tend to set their ships to detonate just before boarding, in case they lose. It's called the Pirate's Farewell."

"What?" Herdis said.

"We have time. Let's just get to it."

The pirate in the yellow helmet groaned in a semi-conscious fashion. Bers hefted his axe and moved on the man.

"No!" Gaylen said. "Wait! Herdis..."

He pointed to the medical station.

"Go into the drug shelf and sedate this septic tube."

He walked over to the pirate and stomped on his torso with all his strength, cutting off the groaning.

"I want to talk to him. Later."

He motioned to his crew.

"The rest of you, let's start with the separation."

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