Yakazuma had been awake since the ship reached the Gatehouse. Her eyes burned —no, her eye, just one now, the other gouged out—but she did not blink, did not move, hardly dared to even breathe. Letting her mouth hang limp, she waited. That was all there was to do.
Weeks, she’d been like this. She couldn’t count the days anymore, couldn’t feel half of her body, like it really had died away, as though her act was becoming reality. For the last five days at least, she’d had an itch on her leg, spreading slowly up to her knee and then towards her groin. That itch was becoming her entire world, and all she wanted was to reach down and scratch it, finally. Sometimes, her body trembled with the effort of staying still, of not scratching that itch, like it was the most incredible act of willpower she’d ever managed. Of course, it was exactly that, lying still here, amongst her enemies, amongst people who needed, desperately, to die. She could hear their souls calling for final release, sometimes.
Just another sign that she was losing it. And no communications from Simon, no sign of him since arrival here. Somewhere deep down, Yakazuma wasn’t actually sure that Simon would manage to pull this off. Sure, he was a good man, his heart was in the right place, if that meant anything. But he’d botched the gun deal on Kuroishima pretty badly, and then he’d been caught by these bastards. She was sure that she’d never have been taken, if she hadn’t had to save his life. But there it was. There’d been no choice in the matter, oddly enough. Or rather, when the time came, she made the choice to save him without hesitation. That had certainly surprised her.
A man was in the room. She didn’t see him, but heard the door open, caught a glimpse of shadow as he moved about. The doc, maybe, or one of the guards. Sometimes they came down here, the sailors, and they hit her, or touched her, groped her. For some reason, all that was easier to tune out than the damn itch! Somewhere, down inside her chest, there was a scream of frustration slowly building up inside her, and eventually it was going to come out, no matter what she did. She knew that was inevitable.
It was a sailor, and here he was already, leaning over her, leering down at her. “Aren’t you a pretty,” he said. Pathetic, to be salivating over a mutilated woman lying comatose on a hospital bed. Didn’t this ship allow the crew to fraternize? Maccabee was at least smart enough about that, though the captain obviously needed a good fuck, and not from some whore either. That thought, unfortunately, had been coming to Yakazuma more and more often lately. It was too complicated to dwell on, but all she could do, lying here, was think about things, anything, all things. Sometimes she thought so much her brain hurt.
Almost, almost, she jumped in surprise when the sailor touched her leg, ran his hand upwards slightly, then back down. Nervous, apparently. All she could do was stare straight ahead. His hand slid up again, higher. . . .
Like something out of a dream, she heard the com unit in her head come to life, felt it tingle across the surface of her brain, and her heart nearly exploded with pure joy. Simon’s voice came then, inside her skull, calm, determined, probably sure he was going to die, but coming for her anyway: “Go.”
Yakazuma smiled then, letting her face move again for the first time in two weeks. It felt like she’d never smiled before, like she’d discovered something new and wonderful. “Like that, do you, bitch,” muttered the sailor. Then he realized what was happening, and stiffened, his hand jerking away from her vagina, but it was too late; her hand was already snapping up, ratcheting closed around his throat. He tried to scream, but only a gurgle came out. For just a moment, his eyes seemed to bug out of his skull, and she squeezed harder, relishing the sound of things inside his neck crushing under her iron grip. Blood seeped between her fingers. Then, he fell limp, and her arm was too weak to hold him up. The body toppled to the floor.
Stretching muscles stiff beyond belief, Yakazuma rose to her feet, tottered slightly, then moved to the door. They would be coming for her, soon; very, very soon. And she would be so happy to see them!
Waiting, she reached down and scratched her leg.
The two guards at the docking ramp died before they even knew what was happening, despite the warnings, despite the emergency alert. Simon came at them from the side, gunned them down with two well-placed slugs, and kept moving. Keeping one eye on the long, narrow corridor that connected the station to the ship beyond, Simon keyed in a sequence on the small control panel that stood at the station side of that umbilical. He’d noted the panel on his way out, had recognized it from his days at another station, far away from here. A bit of digging along the way—Craig dutifully along, but always far enough away that she couldn’t hear exactly what sort of information Simon was digging for—had revealed the code that he needed, and he overrode the lockouts on the panel, then entered the simple sequence. A moment later, alarms started howling through this part of the Gatehouse tower.
A moment later, the alarms died, and as Simon turned to run towards Infinite Justice, he heard a booming, female voice on the public address system behind him: “Catastrophic failure imminent at Bay Seven! Immediate evacuation is required! Please move to the nearest evacuation corridor for further instructions!” There was no way to ignore that voice. It was loud enough to be almost painful, its words immediately clear and impossible to misunderstand. Simon heard it start to repeat, and then he reached the ship’s airlock.
The doors were jammed open, though two crewmen were there, trying to override. Simon shot one of them before they noticed him, gunned down the other when he looked up from his work. There was no way for them to succeed, not so long as the umbilicals were still attached to the ship. The station thought that Infinite Justice was having a reactor failure, and was controlling her systems remotely, making sure that emergency personnel could board unimpeded. Those EM crews would be right behind Simon; when they arrived, the confusion would grow, but eventually someone at the tower’s central control would notice that the reactor in question was operating normally. That put a tight time limit on Simon’s time aboard.
He was at the bow, and knew from memory that the corridor he wanted ran down the port side, heading straight to the infirmary. Though he wanted to check with her, he couldn’t risk a call to Yakazuma, couldn’t risk pinpointing both her and him for the Commodore. Starting down the corridor, he ran right into a group of confused crew, pushed through them, and just kept on running, jumping through the airtight door ahead. It wouldn’t shut behind him, so he didn’t even try.
An alarm bell sounded on board the ship. Someone had finally noticed him, or the four dead men he’d left in his wake. Another pair of crew ducked around a corner ahead of him, hands already moving to their sidearms, but they were too slow. Simon fired two three-round bursts, hosing them from a run. Slugs cut down the woman in the lead, throwing her back against the bulkhead. Only a single round hit the man, spinning him around and tossing him to the deck. Simon didn’t stop to make sure of him.
Up ahead, the corridor took a jog to the left, and around that corner, Simon saw a pair of men maneuvering a crew-operated blaster into position. He had a split second to decide if they were ready to fire, and dodged into an open hatch before they noticed him. Scanning the compartment he’d entered, he saw it was a fire control bunker, with a second entrance. The space was empty, for now, but Simon had no way of knowing how much control the bridge had, whether they were tracking all his movements on the internal monitors, nor how long it might be before the Commodore realized what was happening and how to free her ship from the lockdown.
What he did know, however, was that he needed to keep moving, so he pressed on through the far hatch and into a smaller service corridor, turning aft. Slipping his hand into his pocket, he retrieved the magazine with the incendiary rounds and slotted it into the secondary rack on the Visiondriver, making it look like some bright, deadly insect. It wasn’t, after all, just a shiny shotgun.
The first man through the infirmary hatch tripped over Yakazuma’s suddenly outstretched leg and sprawled onto the deck; the second man was right on his heels, hopped up to avoid the leg, and got her extended forearm slammed into his throat. He flipped backwards and landed on his back, and then Yakazuma crouched and crushed his windpipe with her elbow. As that man scrabbled and kicked on the deck in the throes of death, she calmly took his weapon, turned it on the other crewman, and shot him in the face with a half dozen two millimeter rounds. He’d managed to bring his weapon up, but was just a hair too slow to get her. His head dissolved into a mass of blood and gore and he toppled back.
Moving calmly, quick but not hurried, Yakazuma stepped into the corridor, shot down another man—he’d been running away from the infirmary, but that hardly mattered, nor his lack of weapons—and started heading for the bow of the ship. An alarm sounded on board, probably some sort of general quarters alert, and she dimly heard the sound of heavier weapons firing somewhere else. Infinite Justice was not a particularly large ship, and sound carried through the metal decks and bulkheads.
A tingly thrill went up Yakazuma’s spine when she passed the open hatch to the crew’s mess. Out of the corner of her eye, she’d spotted a handful of crew, men and women, arming themselves from a weapons locker on the wall. The alert was not a normal general quarters, then, not a warning to go to battle stations, but a call to repel boarders. Like a good crew, the Commodore’s were responding quickly and efficiently. They just didn’t expect that one of the enemy would be this deep in the ship already.
That wasn’t why Yakazuma felt a reckless hatred in her heart, however. The bitch was in that mess, the one who’d done this to her, who’d taken her eye, and nearly her life. Yakazuma knew that she needed to keep moving to get off the ship, but she couldn’t let it go, couldn’t just walk away. She’d never been able to walk away.
She turned back, walked into the mess, and shot five crew dead with five pulls of the trigger, single bullets to the head, each placed with unerring accuracy. The fifth was dead before the body of the first hit the floor. And then it was just the bitch and Yakazuma, face-to-face, the interrogator cowering back against one of the tables, the gun in her hand forgotten as Yakazuma walked up to her, the muzzle of the two-millimeter railpistol like a black maw staring her right in the eye. Her smile was gone, now.
They stared at each other in silence for a moment. Yakazuma felt her heart hammering in her chest like it was going to burst, but she didn’t pull the trigger. That was all it would take, just a little tug. The pistol dropped from the bitch’s hand and clattered to the floor. She was crying now, looking like a little girl, like a whipped puppy, like Yakazuma might have looked years ago. No, that was wrong. Yakazuma had never been a coward; she’d been bred to be something else entirely. A monster. Somehow, the bitch wasn’t screaming for it, not anymore. Her soul was quiet.
“Fuck,” muttered Yakazuma. Then she put a bullet through each of the bitch’s arms. “See you in hell,” she said, turning away and leaving the bitch behind her to bleed and die or live, she didn’t care which. She’d exercised what mercy she had left to give.
Simon was getting boxed in. More than thirty seconds had now passed since the alarm on the station, though he had nothing but his internal clock and the beating of his heart to go by at the moment. He wasn’t stopping to glance at his watch. Ducking back into the main port-side corridor, he glanced towards the bow and saw crewmen maneuvering the heavy blaster around, turning it to face him. They’d be dug in on the way out, an insurmountable obstacle for his Visiondriver. He moved left, towards the stern, now only perhaps twenty meters from the crossing corridor that would take him to the sick bay.
There was no sign of Yakazuma. Simon slowed, glanced over his shoulder, and knew it was time to move. He opened the hatch to his left and slipped into the compartment beyond, hearing the blaster open fire a moment later; a wave of heat blossomed behind him as the blaster bolt sailed down the corridor and impacted further along its length with a shattering crash. The Commodore was risking a lot, opening fire with a gun like that in a ship this size. In a ship of any size. Simon turned to seal the hatch behind him, then remembered it was useless to try, the station’s override still in place. Spinning back around, he found himself muzzle to face with the barrel of a railpistol.
“Don’t move,” growled the man holding the gun, an officer of some sort by the look of his uniform. Simon didn’t remember having met him, but he’d been on the bridge only once. “Drop the gun.”
He let the Visiondriver drop from his hands to the deck, where it landed with a loud bang. The man flinched just slightly, and Simon jerked his head sideways, his hands coming up to grab the officer’s wrists and push his weapon away from him. He felt more than heard the rounds the officer fired pass his head, rippling the air around them in supersonic flight, the almost simultaneous sound of bullets hitting the bulkheads and deckhead above echoing in the compartment.
Driving the man backwards, Simon slammed him head-first into the bulkhead, striking with his knee in the officer’s groin at the same time. The man let out a yelp of pain, and Simon twisted around, using his own hands on the officer’s gun. A crewman was coming in the hatch he’d entered through, weapon raised, but Simon was already shooting two-millimeter rounds wildly across the room. The new crewman fell backwards, spinning around and screaming as bullets tore through him. Ripping the pistol from the hands of the officer, Simon pivoted and shot him twice in the head.
He was already moving again, rushing towards the hatch, stooping slightly to retrieve the Visiondriver in one hand, and then he was in the corridor, across it, and slamming his shoulder hard into the opposite bulkhead. The fire team outside was caught off-guard, and their first rounds went wide. Simon shot one, then another, as he dropped to the deck and rolled back the other way. One man was down, and a woman was staggering, and he caught a third with a well-placed bullet to the throat. There were two more, blocking the blaster for the moment, but getting their sights fixed on him.
Then, Simon heard the distinctive whine of the blaster powering up, and he ducked his head down and covered it with his hands. There was a bang, and a flash of fire washed over his body, and then a sudden silence.
Staggering to his feet, pistol at the ready, Simon saw Yakazuma behind the portable shield on the blaster. She was grinning, a death’s-head expression that frightened him more than he’d ever admit to anyone, but she’d saved him. It was time to go.
He heard the sound of another railpistol firing a moment later, and at the same time saw Yakazuma’s torso jerk to the left. Simon started running, but he was slow, so slow, and already a second shot had hit, and then a third, all in the body, all before she even started to fall. He was screaming, he realized, no words, just blind fury, as he ran down the corridor as fast as he could. But so slowly.
The Commodore stepped into view, her pistol in her hand, swinging around to face him, and Simon knew that it was finished. There were more behind her, and others coming from behind him, the whole crew of Infinite Justice armed and gunning for him. So, there was nothing left to lose.
Still charging forwards, Simon brought up the Visiondriver, his thumb catching the switch on the side that controlled the fire settings. The gun had one unique feature that—above its exceptional quality and workmanship—stood it above other shotguns, above other personal weapons: the Lotus Flower. It activated now as Simon pulled the trigger and the magazines started spinning around the central barrel as the gun went to fully automatic mode. But the Lotus was more than just a fancy name for an auto-fire setting.
Rounds showered out in a spiraling cone as the barrel made tiny adjustments to its centerline with each shot; incendiary bullets burst into fire as soon as they left the weapon, creating an expanding circle of flames that rocketed down the corridor, while at the throat of that deadly cone a hail of regular slugs were sent right at the Commodore and her crew. In three seconds, the magazines were empty, ejecting smoothly to either side, and Simon leapt into a haze of smoke and fire as alarms started erupting around him.
Knowing that Yakazuma was down and out of the way, Simon flipped the fire selector on the pistol in his other hand and sprayed the rest of its magazine into the carnage in front of him, dropping two more crew who were staggering in confusion. A single shot came back his way, hitting the bulkhead, and then he was passing the prone form of the Commodore, dropping the pistol and grabbing the last reload for the Visiondriver, slotting it home into the main magazine mount and letting the weapon ratchet it into the body of the gun, ready for another explosion of the Lotus Flower. Of course, he didn’t have any more incendiary rounds.
He slid to a stop by Yakazuma’s prone form, checked her neck, and found a dim pulse. Picking her up posed as much risk as shooting her again for kicks, but she was dead for sure if he left her, so he hauled her surprisingly light form up onto his shoulder, carrying the Visiondriver in one hand, and started moving again. Confusion reigned on board for the moment, the Commodore down, no one quite knowing what had happened in that corridor, and fire alarms sounding throughout the ship. Two crew suddenly appeared in Simon’s path, and he shot one, then pistol whipped the other with the Visiondriver’s heavy muzzle, clubbing the man down with a vicious blow and then starting to run again.
As he’d expected, the airlock was held against him, and he had barely enough time to duck behind the hatch cover before the men and women there opened fire, and a hail of railpistol and shotgun rounds hurtled through the hatchway, coming very close to hitting him and bouncing off the bulkheads to cleave down the corridor, their high velocity giving them enough KE to travel the length of the ship. Simon heard a muffled scream behind him, as some pursuer got a face full of friendly fire. That told him he was trapped, and there would be no more last minute rescues from Yakazuma or his gun.
Tapping into his com link once more, trusting to luck and knowing that he had no choice anyway, Simon piggybacked onto the station’s com system and transmitted a high-gain emergency signal to the entire station. “This is Infinite Justice! Shut down all ship systems, NOW! We can’t contain the reactor, we’ve got no control. Shut them down now!”
The crew in the airlock receiving area heard nothing, because Simon was shouting only in his head, the implanted com interpreting his brain signals and translating them into a very real shout on every com in the station, and on several docked ships as well. He was on board the ship, and the routing of the signal would point in the right direction. Anyone paying close attention would realize that his shout didn’t have the correct key code to link it to Infinite Justice, but that would require someone who was paying close attention, the kind of person who could think clearly when someone was shouting at them that they were about to die.
That person wasn’t scheduled to work today.
Infinite Justice shut down with a sharp bang!, her breakers shutting down as power suddenly stopped flowing through the ship. It was the sort of override that a well-designed firewall—like that on Hornet—should have prevented, but the Commodore had been more lax than Simon expected. He had about ten seconds before the crew realized what was happening and overrode the override.
As the lights died, Simon was already moving, through the hatchway and across the bulkhead, leaving the crew’s line of fire behind him. Then he turned, catching sight of the glow of the station ramp, and barreled forwards. A shadow loomed ahead of him, and he gunned it down, the bright muzzle-flash of the Visiondriver illuminating the compartment with a momentary glare, freezing everyone in place. And then he was in the ramp, pounding down towards the station—right towards station security and the responding emergency team.
Dropping the gun behind him, Simon screamed, “Help! I’ve got wounded! Help!” and immediately men and women swarmed towards him, hands grabbing at Yakazuma, reaching for him as well. “More coming, more coming!” he shouted, pushing past the emergency staff. The crew of the Infinite Justice was coming up behind him, and there was more shouting, pushing and shoving in the narrow confines of the docking ramp. Simon bounced between two emergency techs, ducked a collar from one of the security types, and suddenly was out in the empty, evacuated concourse. He started to run, Yakazuma still on his shoulder, both his hands free now to hold her. Shouts followed him as he went, but he didn’t turn back.
A maintenance door stood open across the concourse, a few hundred yards down from the slip where Infinite Justice was docked, and Simon aimed for it now. No one was standing guard there, and he ducked inside and started down a flight of stairs. Corridors turned and twisted, and in moments he was lost, deep in the warren of support systems and service accesses that kept the Gatehouse running behind the scenes. The surge of adrenaline that had powered him this far was fading fast, and he heard no sign of pursuit.
Slowing to a walk, Simon turned into a small compartment, more of a cage really, where some long-disused maintenance robots were in storage, gathering dust. The light fixtures had failed, and the place was suitably gloomy for a hide. Gently placing Yakazuma on the floor, Simon moved to the door and shut it, leaving it open just a few centimeters so that it wouldn’t lock. Of course, it was easy to glance through the cage from the outside, but he hoped the shadows would suffice to keep him and Yakazuma safe.
Turning, he moved back to her and felt along her side for the wounds. It was hard to tell where the bullets had entered her, and her body was slick with blood. His hands shaking, Simon ripped off the shirt she’d been wearing, trying to ignore the twitching of her body as he bumped the bullet wounds. At least that meant she was still alive. But there was too much blood, far too much. Vital minutes had passed since her injury, and there was no way for him to replace those fluids. Pressing the rags of her shirt against her side, Simon tried to staunch the flow of blood. In the gloom, he couldn’t tell if there were any exit wounds. His choice of hide seemed suddenly incredibly stupid.
Yakazuma jerked again, and then gasped. “Simon!”
“I’m here, Yakazuma, it’s me.”
“I can’t see you,” she said. “It’s dark. Simon, it’s dark.”
“We’re hiding, Amathea,” he said, and he heard the same thing in his voice that she did.
“Oh shit.” She gasped again. “Shit, shit, shit. I should have killed her.”
‘The bitch,” spat Yakazuma. She coughed, and Simon could tell from the sound that she was bleeding inside, her lungs filling up with blood, drowning her in her own fluids. “I left her alive, and now I’m going to die.”
“You are not going to die,” he said, and he sounded desperate even in his own ears.
“I can feel it, Simon.” He thought he saw her smile. “Maybe if we were in a hospital right now, I’d think different, but. . . .” She coughed again, then fell silent, concentrating on breathing.
Simon realized he was crying, but she couldn’t see him; at least he was being quiet about it, just tears streaming freely from his eyes, dripping from his cheeks. “Damn it, Amathea. You can’t die. Maccabee’s going to be pissed at me.”
She laughed, then caught her breath with the pain. Another cough, this one sounding more . . . wet. It wouldn’t be long now. “You are in trouble,” she managed, gasping.
“I’ll go and get the emergency team,” he said, suddenly remembering them. “I should have left you with them.” He started to rise, remembered too that he was completely lost, and sank again to his knees, hope dying in him.
“They would have come for me, Simon,” she said, sounding suddenly calm. He knew what that meant. “They would have come, and sat on me, until you came again, and this time they’d make sure of both of us. Give us back to the bitch.” She inhaled sharply, then let out a long, shuddering breath. “Shit, Simon.”
“I think I love you, Amathea,” he said to her. Why not? It was true.
“Of course you do,” she said. “And I love you. Fucking shitty time to talk about it now, though.”
He grinned in spite of everything. Then she grabbed his arm, her grip so tight he thought she might break the skin. Slowly, excruciatingly, panting with each centimeter, she hauled herself upwards. He reached down to help her into a sitting position, so that her face was just a few centimeters from his. Her ragged breathing sounded loud in the silence of the maintenance cage. Reaching up with her other hand, she touched his face, then kissed him. He didn’t understand how she could still be alive, much less still moving, but she held on, and he could see the gleam of distant lights in her eye.
“The voices are quiet, now,” she whispered to him, her mouth right by his ear. “Is there anyone left to kill, Simon?” Another breath tickled his ear, and then he heard nothing. Yakazuma slumped in his arms and was still.
For a long time—he didn’t know how long—Simon sat there, crying, holding on to Amathea’s body. Then, when he had no more tears to shed, he laid her back on the cold floor.
“There’re plenty left to kill, Amathea,” he answered her. “But you don’t have to worry. I’ll take care of it.”