“Everybody ready?” Shades asked over his headset. Though not particularly more experienced than the others at maneuvering the ship, he was easily the least experienced at fighting with energy weapons, so it only made sense for him to take the lower helm, where he would make a harder target for them.
“Yeah, let’s get this over with,” Justin responded, having mounted one of their new quadra-barrel cannons and hooked it up to the Maximum’s new power cables.
“Ready when you are,” Max replied, now hidden behind the cabin, power pistol in one hand, their trump card in the other.
Certain that his human friends were about to do something reckless, Bandit very sensibly stayed below deck.
For a moment, the ship was so quiet they could hear not only the sloshing of the waves, but also the rustle of the sea breeze, the creak of their own boots, the drumming of their own hearts.
It had been years since Max last faced Cyexian pirates, and now that he had committed himself to this battle, he silently vowed that this time he would not hesitate, would not fail to protect those he cared about. That things would end differently this time.
“This one’s for you, Dad…”
Justin stayed below the deck railing line, not wanting to get hit before he even got to fire a single shot. It felt totally unreal to crouch on the threshold of actually going on the offensive against his enemies. A long— too long— life of running and hiding, his deadly cat-and-mouse game with NK-525, being hunted by his own shadow— and possibly something more— in the Harken Building, even that most profitable medallion was gained more by fast footwork than anything else… As if perhaps this change could break whatever curse he had been living under all these years, change his luck for the better, take back what was his. And maybe make just one betrayal in his life would end differently, even if this was Kato, and not…
“Slash, this one’s for you…”
For his part, Shades sat slouched in the lower helm, having found what he hoped was the best possible balance between maximizing his field of view, while minimizing himself as a target. Of late that sense of disbelief, that none of this was actually happening, had become his constant companion from ordeal to ordeal, he reflected, and he wondered if it would ever go away. At least thought he had made up his mind, but now his own better judgment seemed to be having second thoughts. His feet turning colder by the moment, yet never in his life had generations of MacLean military heritage seemed to frown on him harder than now. Even so, the thought that if he fell here, he would never get to see John or Amy again was almost enough to make him hit the gas and scuttle the whole attack.
“No.” Shades shook his head, resolving to put his vows to the test. This was his idea, and he would follow through for the sake of his friends. “I don’t know if I’ll survive this,” and he still couldn’t shake the dread premonition that, even if he found his friends again, he wouldn’t be strong enough to help them as he was now, “but I’ll face whatever I have to to see you again. This one’s for you, guys…”
All of them on edge, nerves strung taut enough to play with a pick. One wrong word could easily provoke panic, or simply invoke common sense, to call the whole thing off and retreat. To shut up about the Triad and the Tri-Medals and forever hold their peace. After all, they were still far enough away yet to escape while their foes were burdened with a captured ship.
Yet each of them sensed that they had somehow crossed some unspoken point of no return.
Then there was no time left for doubts. Remembering that every second he hesitated increased the odds of being spotted, of losing their chief advantage, the element of surprise, Shades took the throttle in a white-knuckle grip. After letting the tension in his hand ease up a little, he punched it.
The calm before shattered as the Maximum’s engines powered up and the storm broke out in earnest. As they gained speed, the pirate ship seemed to loom closer every second, and it took a growing effort of will not to flinch, waiting for them to fire. Pouring on as much speed as he dared, reminding himself that the plan relied on precision maneuvering, while still getting in range fast enough to actually make the next move, all he could think of to do was psych himself up, rather than out.
“Maximum! Is! Go!”
Even as he shouted this into his headset mouthpiece, somehow knowing that wasn’t quite right, he found half a second to wish he could remember exactly where he picked up that strange line. Was fairly sure it was something he used to say in his dreams, often before going to battle monsters, or something like that. Either that, or something running in the doldrums of syndication when he was a kid. But he couldn’t quite figure out why it made him think of Amy…
Justin took that cryptic battlecry as his cue to start shooting. Sweeping the deck only a foot or two over everybody’s heads, forcing them to hit the deck. He nailed the hull a couple times, but mostly strafed above everyone’s heads to scatter the pirates and keep their heads down. Much as it tempted him, they needed Kato & Company alive— and preferably fighting their captors— for this plan to possibly have any chance in hell of succeeding. Not only would this limit the enemy’s return fire— a tactical goal in and of itself— but, much as silencing more targets would have been his preference, it would give the Triad an opening to make the next move.
“Justin, take out that radar dish!” The words just flowing from Shades’ lips before he even digested his own commands, surprising himself with every syllable. “Or they’ll still be able to chase us even when we’re out of visual range!”
Though Justin’s shots scattered those on deck, he spotted several sentries, mostly likely posted to watch out for just this sort of thing. Yet he seemed to have caught them flat-footed; apparently, no one had ever attacked them during a raid this far out at sea before. Even so, they regained their initiative after a few seconds and started firing back.
“This is nuts!” he screamed, ducking and sweeping the quadra-barrel wildly at them. “You’re outta your fuckin’ mind!”
“Cut the chatter,” Shades said absently, his mouth spouting stock phrases on auto-pilot while he focused on the controls. Now that the enemy was shooting back, he found himself veering tightly through a hailstorm of energy beams. In the movies, this scene— with its barrage of streaks of light lancing toward the camera, occasionally jolting the screen with a glancing hit— would be exhilarating, bordering on climactic. Facing the cockpit view in real life, riding into the eye of the storm like this, though, he felt anything but heroic.
All he could do was try to stay on target, while keeping the rhythm of his weavings from becoming too predictable. It was hard enough not to flinch before all hell broke loose; since the shooting actually started, now the only thing keeping him from turning tail was the rational knowledge that this fast-break approach was screwing up their aim. The stark knowledge that retreat would expose them to more firepower than a straight attack.
The pirates’ shots became more and more frantic as the Maximum came closer to ramming into them. Hoping he brought them close enough, Shades swerved hard to port. The rest was up to his friend now, he knew, as he shouted, “Max! Throw it now!”
Braving full exposure to enemy fire, Max sprang from his hiding place to execute the next stage of the plan. Snapping off a couple shots to cover himself, he cocked back his other arm and hurled a small grenade at the Cyexian ship. Then he dove for the deck as several pirates targeted him.
Peering through the gap in the back of the upper helm, Justin was the only one who saw it land on the rear deck of the Cyexian ship as they slid back and forth away from their escalating return fire, calling, “Got it, Max!”
With the Maximum evading at full speed, they quickly moved out of their adversaries’ effective attack range, swinging wide and preparing to make a second run.
“Watch out!” Shades warned them. “They’re gonna be ready for us this time!”
Giving it as much time as they could without looking suspicious, for all three of them were beginning to doubt the wisdom of their next move, before they made the second run. If Max missed, they would have been forced to abort the attack and run like hell, as the Maximum wasn’t built to withstand the full firepower of a ship like that, but now there was no point in retreat and they followed through. The only thing on their side the first time around was that their foes were mainly using hand weapons, only a couple sentries manning any of their bigger guns.
Sure enough, the second round was as bad as they feared; now that the pirates had regrouped, they brought all of their weapons to bear on the Maximum, and they knew the damage this time would be more than just cosmetic if they sustained more than fifteen or twenty seconds of this bombardment.
Much to their relief, that was about the time the pirates’ guns went silent.
The three of them cried out in triumph as they renewed their assault, the EMP grenade they bought at Tradewinds Mercantile having worked like a charm. Even as they themselves stayed out of its range, leaving their own engines and weapons still fully operational. The one lone laser cannon that was still functional, located near the bow, didn’t last long as Justin blasted it almost as it resumed firing. Otherwise, the Cyexians scrambled about in a general panic, confounded by the inexplicable failure of their weapons.
Shades was almost beginning to wonder if another run would even be necessary, when he noticed that something was amiss. The first stage was a setup, to catch them off-guard and give Max an opening to use the EMP grenade. The second stage was disabling the pirates’ weapons and engines. The third stage was to provide cover for the Triad to make a break for it, leading to the fourth stage, “escorting” Kato & Company out of there while the pirates tried to pull themselves back together.
And that was the problem: one of the Cyexians, whom he suspected to be the captain, now held her power pistol to Kato’s head.
“Shit! Hostages!” Shades just about pounded his fist on the sideboard as he slowed their approach. Then, almost as horrifying afterthought, he told Justin, “Hold your fire! We have to get them out alive to get our stuff back!”
Much to his surprise, Justin found he already had ceased fire as they drifted up to the ship.
Over the headset, Max’s voice sounded both lost, yet still fiercely determined, at the same time, as he asked, “What do we do now?”
Shades knew he had only fast-ticking moments to come up with something, yet all he got was the frantic feeling he was overlooking it.
Author's Chapter Notes:
a little ammo and a lot of luck