“Captain Striker!” one of the other Cyexians interrupted, “We’ve got trouble!”
Sighing with exasperation, Striker turned to see what was wrong now. Clearly surprised as everyone else to see the boarding party for the Maximum backing all the way up onto the deck of their own ship. Every step they backpedaled matched by a black-and-white panther.
And Striker again silently cursed her enemies for taking out most of their weapons. This was about the last thing her virtually unarmed boarding party would ever have expected to find onboard. That such a bizarre but perfectly killable thing could bring their ransacking to a grinding halt.
“Hey, shrimp,” Kato hissed, “didn’t you dumbasses have some kind of plan, or what?” Surely, she thought, even Max must know that Striker couldn’t be trusted to honor any bargains made with her. “Please tell me he’s got something up his sleeve.”
“ ’Fraid he’s got nothin’,” Justin muttered. “That was the plan.”
Kato had to admit, this was a hell of gamble.
“Kill it!” One of the boarders in particular seemed to be terrified of Bandit, all but hiding behind the two with working power pistols as she continued to retreat. “Somebody kill the damn thing!”
“No,” Striker belayed that order, raising her blade for emphasis. “Stun it and toss it in the hold. After all, exotic animals always fetch a good price in some places… And if it does die, there’s always a market for furs, you know. No point in letting it go to waste…”
Little realizing as she spoke that Max was becoming angrier with every word, slowly reaching for where his laser sword was concealed.
“Yeah,” one of the other Cyexians laughed, clearly poking fun at her crewmate’s mysterious phobia, “they say wildcat tastes like—”
Before anyone could act, though, Max leapt right past Striker— taking advantage of the fact that her blade was pointed in entirely the wrong direction, so her belated backswing missed him by a mile— taking down the two pirates with power pistols with one broad sweep of his stun blade.
Shouting, “Don’t touch him!”
Max’s surprise attack split their captors into three abrupt reactions. Most of the unarmed ones staggered back. Meanwhile, at least half a dozen of Striker’s posse fired up energy blades, proving the Mercantile shopkeep’s bit about pulse weapons being immune to EMP to apparently be true. While close-range weapons against guns would have been one thing, now that their enemies were stripped of that advantage, the use of these weapons actually made good tactical sense, as they advanced on him. And lastly, as the two working energy weapons clattered to the deck, several pirates scrambled for them in spite of Max.
Justin would have joined them, if not for the fact that several of those with blades immediately turned on him, forcing him to reveal his concealed laser staff. Shades, as well, as he reached into his jacket pockets and whipped out his stun-sticks. Both of them thankful that this long chain of interruptions prevented the enemy from getting around to actually looting them yet before Max made his improvised move.
Striker, furious at having been out-maneuvered by just a boy, wheeled on Max, and even those who initially tried to jump him backed off the second they saw her fury; even those scrambling for power pistols gave way, one of them accidentally kicking one of the guns and sending it spinning across the deck. But Max instinctively expected as much, already turning to face her. As their blades clashed, Max could tell already that this Striker was a cut above the others, and he silently hoped his skills would be enough.
“No more surprises,” Striker told him. “You’ve got more tricks up your sleeve than I expected, but it ends here. No man has ever beaten me, and neither will you!”
“You won’t hurt my friends,” Max shot back. A quick glance over his shoulder revealed that the aforementioned friends were still alive, and he at least took heart from this as he turned back to his opponent. “I don’t let my friends die, so you’ll have to kill me first!”
“As you wish,” Striker replied, then resumed her attack against him. “You don’t have time to look around, boy. Not against me.”
Max quickly discovered that Striker wasn’t bluffing. After a short exchange, it became apparent that her swordsmanship was nothing to take lightly. Though his own form and technique were much more refined, it was obvious she had a good deal more combat experience than he. Whatever she lacked in the way of formal training, she made up for with keen instincts and familiarity with her chosen weapon. It made him wish he had been able to train longer before challenging her.
The only thing he had to hang on to being his father’s advice. Concentrate, not on winning or losing, but on the fight itself. Defeat was not an option. A lapse would prove fatal, and not just for himself. All of their lives hung in the balance.
He just hoped his friends were faring better than he was; though fighting with everything he had, Max quickly found himself being pushed back by a most formidable foe.
Author's Chapter Notes:
the tables turn again