“I think that’s all of us,” Shades remarked as Justin helped Max climb aboard from the rear deck ladder.
“We’ve gotta get out of here,” Max told them, wasting no time as he made his way to the helm, “Striker’s called for backup. They’ve got another ship out here, and it’s on its way.”
“And we don’t wanna still be here when it arrives!” Justin concluded.
“Just one last loose end to tie up…” Shades said to himself as he maneuvered alongside the Triad III. Even though he knew Striker’s crew would have killed them all anyway, he found he was still relieved they would be rescued in spite of himself; murderous as they were, marooning them just seemed inhuman.
Kato looked none too pleased to be facing them all alone.
“You still have my Card, don’t you?” Shades asked point-blank.
Kato simply glared at them.
“Now this is a double-cross!” Justin told her. “You stole ’em from us, and we stole ’em back. Now the Tri-Medals are ours!”
Kato’s jaw just about hit the deck when she saw Max holding all three, stunned that he had managed to reclaim them.
“Say Max,” Justin continued, “why don’t you let me have one…”
He trailed off at the unexpectedly grave look on his partner’s face.
“Damn it all to hell…” Kato muttered, having recovered from her initial shock, fetching Shades’ Bank of New Cali card from a hidden pocket. For a moment, she had considered telling them that Striker took it, but, given that they had her at gunpoint, decided that one body search was humiliation enough for today. “I can’t believe you’d kick us when we’re down…”
“Turnabout’s fair play,” Shades replied, “last time I checked.”
“So, Kato,” Justin demanded, “how does it feel?”
“How about a deal,” Max suggested. In spite of her stealing from them first, a part of him still felt like a thief, so he proposed, “You hand over Shades’ card, and we’ll give you your Tri-Medal back. How does that sound?”
“Just one…” Kato mumbled, trying to cope with the thought of being knocked all the way back to Square One after all the trouble she went through.
“Say what!?” Justin blurted. “Are you nuts?”
“We just want what’s ours,” Max reiterated.
“Yeah,” Shades seconded, retrieving his own Tri-Medal from the tangle in Max’s hand. Thumbing back to Striker’s stranded crew. “I thought they were the pirates.”
“But what good does it do to keep them separate?” Justin argued.
All Kato could do was watch and glare sourly, having been left completely out of the discussion of the fate of her Tri-Medal.
“We just saved them from pirates,” Max countered, “and now we’re going to rob them?”
“I thought you despised the Triangle State Authority,” Shades pointed out. “Why are you in such a hurry to become like them?”
“You…” Justin began, then trailed off, folding his arms in disgust as he relented. “Do what you want.”
“We came to rescue you, not rob you,” Max told Kato again as he approached her with her Tri-Medal. “But we also came to take back what was ours in the first place…”
“…Or you can keep the Card, and Justin can have your Tri-Medal,” Shades suggested. After all, they were running out of time, and he wanted to keep her from playing that to her advantage.
“George!” she called out, trying not to shudder at the thought of parting with it, “You done with the engine yet?”
Nothing but silence answered her.
“God, I wish he could talk…” For the thousand-and-eighth time. “Fine…”
And she handed over Shades’ Card in exchange for her original medallion.
And that, of course, was when George finally came through with the engine, albeit the thing did sound weak and not entirely stable.
“A word of advice, Kato,” Shades told her, thinking of the journal from that haunted island, of its author’s likely similar contempt for archaeologists. “Obsession is not a healthy thing. It’s not my place to tell you how to live your life, but if I were you, I would be careful if you choose to—”
“You haven’t seen the last of me!”
They all turned to see Striker clinging to the side of the Brazen’s lifeboat as they slowly paddled away from the now mostly submerged ship, having dealt with one of the two responsible for sinking her ship.
And having somehow come up with her plasma rifle that was blown overboard, reaching with her free hand to aim at the Maximum.
“If you fuckers even try to escape, I’ll blow the shit out of you! Just you wait ’til my other ship gets here—”
That was as far as she got. Before she could even aim the weapon, Justin snapped off several shots at her, sacrificing accuracy for getting the first shot, and she ducked underwater with an abrupt curse. Causing her to lose her grip on the plasma rifle as one of Justin’s shots sent sparks spitting from its main chamber.
The pirates’ last viable weapon consigned to the deep.
“Looks like you spoke too soon,” Shades remarked.
“Shut up, bitch!” Justin snapped as she came up coughing and sputtering. “You’re in no position to threaten us.”
All the while wishing he could be saying that to Slash, but he would just have to settle for Striker.
“Though she does have a point about that other ship,” Shades pointed out. “Let’s wrap this up before we have another battle on our hands.”
“Agreed,” Max echoed his sentiments, turning back to Kato, saying, “Now we’re even.”
“We won’t forget this,” Kato hissed, clutching her Tri-Medal in one hand, her laser whip in the other. “If we ever meet again…”
“Yeah, yeah, and we’ll be waiting,” Shades assured her, hoping that day wouldn’t come any time soon. “In the meantime, let us go in opposite directions from here.”
“And if we catch you following us, we’ll open fire, no questions asked!” Justin warned her. Then, wanting to heap insult on injury, he added, “Oh, and by the way!” Pausing for a moment before delivering his parting shot. “I have it on good authority that there are actually four Tri-Medals! So, by all means, do keep looking!”
“Why’d you tell her that?” Shades demanded as the Maximum pulled away from them. “It would’ve been better for them to go on thinking there were only three of the damn things.”
“Serves ’em right,” Justin answered. If I can’t have one of the Tri-Medals for my troubles, I can at least have a little satisfaction. “That’ll keep her busy for a long time!…”
Then there was no time left for listening to him gloat. As she took the helm, she could tell the Triad III’s engine was by no means at full capacity. She sighed dejectedly, knowing that George had done his damnedest, given the situation. Ignoring the bitter, ashen taste of defeat this whole experience had left in her mouth, she eased as much speed out the crippled engine as she dared, knowing they would need all the head start they could get.
While George sat down next to Chase, who finally seemed to be coming around, she took off. Careful to go in the opposite direction as the Maximum, knowing that she could no more fend them off with just her laser whip than she could Striker’s reinforcements. On that note, she hoped Chase recovered soon, so she would have a reliable lookout, but for now, she tried to keep a shifting eye out in all directions, all too aware she had no idea which direction this other pirate ship was going to approach from; she could only hope they made a greater priority out of rescuing their own, this time from a real distress signal instead of a fake, rather than exacting immediate revenge. Though grateful for even a half-functional engine, she had learned from past experience that George left much to be desired as a lookout.
Of course, the subject of revenge was never far from her thoughts. While she at least got to keep her first Tri-Medal, a part of her still couldn’t wrap her head around how easily she lost them. Or that she likely owed her life— as well as her companions’— to the ones who took them back.
Continuing her retreat, she kept focused by reminding herself that escaping from the pirates was only the first of what she suspected would be many troubles awaiting them between here and solid ground.
Author's Chapter Notes:
the sinking of the Brazen