Surrounded, Tomas Ek stares at the floor of the cargo bay, refusing to make eye contact with Devlin. The pirate leader, wearing Ek’s jacket, paces back and forth in front of Ek, spinning his laser pistol on his finger like a trick shooter from distant Earth history. Two nameless pirates hold one of Ek’s arms each. The fourth just looms over his shoulder, breathing damp warmth on the collar of Ek’s shirt.
Devlin stops pacing and grips Ek’s face. He lifts the captive man’s chin and smiles at him.
“What do you think? It’s not my usual cut,” Devlin snarls, pulling at the lapel of his stolen coat. “But I think it’s an all-season look that lends me an air of professionalism.”
Ek blinks, but remains silent.
“You’re not very chatty,” Devlin continues. “That’s probably helpful with your corporate bosses. They don’t care for backtalk. But this is a situation in which telling me what you know represents the difference between leaving here in a single piece or in pieces.”
Ek shakes his head. “I told you already, we don’t know anything. Hurting me isn’t going to change that.”
Devlin chuckles. “Sure, but it will be fun. Won’t it boys?”
The other pirates smile menacingly.
“It’s my favorite part,” one pirate grunts.
Devlin catches his pistol mid-spin, grips it, and presses the barrel to Ek’s face.
“We don’t even have to kill you,” he says. “We can maim you very efficiently.”
“This ship belongs to UST,” he exclaims.
Devlin steps back and holsters his weapon.
“UST you say. Universal Space Transit is a pretty big firm,” Devlin says. “I kind of doubt they’ll miss one little ship, or one little executive for that matter.”
Ek hangs on his words, waiting for an opportunity to speak.
“That’s just it. This ship is special. It was supposed to have some very special cargo on it and when it showed up empty, the home office was very concerned,” Ek snivels. “If you just let me contact them, I’m sure they would pay any ransom to ensure that we’re unharmed.”
“Right. I’ll let you call one of the largest corporations in the System, and they’ll just deliver credits to us, while not sending their private security force after us,” he growls. “You must not think we’re very smart, Mr. Ek.”
The pirates holding Ek tighten their grips. He winces in pain.
“Not at all,” he gasps. “I merely believe that UST has priorities that would lead them to settle this situation non-violently.”
“And you think you can bribe me with an I.O.U.?” Devlin replies.
“I believe we can come to some kind of understanding?” Ek ventures.
Devlin stomps forward, draws his pistol and cracks Ek across the jaw. The businessman falls slack for a moment, caught only the by strength of his captors.
Ek whimpers, blinking hard as tears run down his face.
“Do you understand now?” Devlin asks. “I don’t feel particularly respected when you present me with such non-solutions, Mr. Ek. We aren’t in the business of accepting the promises of people who hide their cargo from us. And we definitely aren’t in the business of bartering with interplanetary organizations.”
Devlin grips Ek’s face again.
Ek tries to turn away, but lacks the strength. Blood runs from an open cut on his cheek, down the lines of his face, into the corner of his mouth.
“I thought you’d be the man to talk to, Mr. Ek, what with your fancy getup. But your failure to cooperate is starting make me feel foolish. I don’t much care for feeling foolish,” Devlin continues. “Do I, boys?”
The pirates holding Ek twist his arms behind him. Ek hears a pop as fiery, surging pain shoots through him.
He welps and drops to his knees.
“UST throws away more credits a day than you’d ever need,” Ek pleads. “If I could contact them they could transfer the money to whatever outer planetary outpost you wanted.” Devlin looms over him.
“More disrespect,” he sneers. “Desperation looks ugly on you, sir.”
Devlin draws his pistol back again and crashes it down powerfully on the back of Ek’s skull. Ek falls limp, dangling by his arms in the hands of the other pirates. A bead of blood raises through his hair.
“Throw him in with the other two,” Devlin orders. “If he survives he can die with them.”
The crew quarters door slides open, and two pirates fling Ek’s unconscious body into the room. Henry slides forward, trying to catch him, but the dead weight smashes into him with such force that he crumples to the ground.
“Tell your friends,” one of the pirates says to Ek. “That fucking with Captain Devlin is ill-advised.”
Behind him, Grist and Wyzern look on, sneering. Wyzern licks his lips suggestively at Wei, and the crew quarters door slides shut and locks.
Wei runs over to the knotted pile that is Tomas Ek and Henry Saito.
“Hank, are you okay?”
“Yeah,” Henry grunts. “He’s both heavier and lighter than he looks.”
She carefully rolls Ek off of Saito and stretches the unconscious man out on the floor.
Henry crawls onto his stomach and pushes himself up from the floor. He dusts himself off and sits on the foot of the bed, breathing hard and holding his ribs.
“You don’t look okay,” Wei says.
“I’m fine,” Henry says, wincing. “Take care of him.”
Wei kneels over Ek, and sets his arms at his sides. She inspects the seeping gash on his cheek, then lowers her ear over his mouth. Faint puffs of air escape his mouth and strike her ear.
“He’s breathing,” she says. “If we can get to the medical kit in the cargo bay, he’ll be good as new.”
“That makes two of us,” Henry says.
Ek coughs, sending a mist of spit and blood into the air, narrowly missing Wei, then he’s quiet again.
“We’ve got to get out of here,” Wei says. “They don’t seem to be the prisoner-taking types.”
“Yeah, I don’t think we’re going talk our way out this,” Henry replies.
He rises slowly from his seat on the bed, clutching his side, and walks over to the vending robot. He swings open the small gate door to the replicator, retrieves Wei’s belt and holsters, and tosses it to her.
She wraps the belt around the hips of her jumpsuit and buckles it. She takes out each pistol, inspects them for damage, then returns them to their holster.
Henry straps on his holster, and sits back down on the bed.
“I figure that two-on-two gives us good odds,” he says. “But we have to do it right. The last thing we need is to piss them off by getting free, and then get recaptured.”
“Makes sense, Hank,” Wei says. “What do we do?”
Henry purses his lips and looks around the room for inspiration.
Basic bedframes and mattresses.
Then he looks at Tomas Ek, still and bleeding on the floor.
“Now, Wei lady Wei, you know I hate cliches, but I think this might be a good time to try the old ‘sick prisoner needs immediate attention’ trick.”
Wei smirks, “I always figured you were a fan of the classics.”
“That’s what being raised on old movies will do to a guy,” he jokes. “Give him lots of fictional ideas to apply to the real world.”
“What’s reality anyway?” Wei responds. “I’m game if you are.”
Henry removes his pistol from its holster and wraps his hand securely around the stock. He flicks off the safety switch, and then holds the weapon at his side, waist high, aimed straight ahead. Henry mimes the act of shooting, calculating his success in his head.
Wei Parker kneels down over Ek and dabs at his wound with a corner of bedsheet. She takes a deep breath and looks to Henry.
“Your move, hotshot,” she says.
“Now is when I’d remind you of the great time we’re having together,” Henry replies. “But I’ll wait until we get out of here for the real I told you so.”
Wei smirks at him.
“Just don’t get killed,” she says.
Henry Saito nods. He checks the positioning of his laser pistol, correcting the aim up a tick. Shoot for the middle and you’ll be fit as a fiddle. He walks up to the door, and with his free hand starts pounding on it with all his strength.
“Pirates,” he yells. “This guy is dying in here. We need help. Help, hear me. Help him or he’s going to die.” Henry hammers on the door again, throwing his entire weight, through his shoulder against the metal surface. The barrier hums a low baritone of vibration between each bracing strike. There’s no way anyone could ignore the clamor.
“Help,” he screams again.
This time, Wei joins in too. “Somebody,” she cries. “There’s blood everywhere. He’s dying.”
“Please help,” they yell, together, as Henry pounds rhythmically on the door like it’s some horrible staccato drum and vocal track by a Venetian Reggae band.
Finally, they hear stomping boots outside, approaching the door.
Wei’s heart races.
Henry Saito steps back and tries to steady his shaking pistol hand.
The door slowly slides open, revealing Grist and Wyzern waiting impatiently.
“If he’s dead,” Grist says. “I want his teeth. I’m making a necklace.”
When the door clears the passage, Henry lunges forward with his gun, smiling.
“I think you two should sit down and shu--”
Without warning, Grist charges at Henry, smacking the laser pistol from his hand. The pistol falls to the floor and slips under the frame of one of the beds. The pirate throws Henry back into the personnel lockers. Henry deflects off the metal doors and flops onto the floor. Grist tromps over and grabs Henry by the hair, lifting him up to his feet.
Wei reaches back and grabs one of her pistols from her belt. As she’s about to aim at Grist, Wyzern slams into her, gripping her arm and forcing her hand over her head. The pirate pins her other arm to her side and then lofts Wei into the shower where he presses her up against its back wall, activating the water. Wei struggles against the man, but her shoulder aches as Wyzern twists her arm back, and she can’t free her other hand.
“I think I like you like this,” Wyzern snarls. “Wet and helpless.”
Across the room, Grist punishes Henry with meaty, wild punches.
“You want to try to kill me,” he says. “You want to try to fuck with me?’
Henry can only gasp for air.
He manages to duck an incoming punch, as Grist’s fist collides with a locker door. Then Henry throws a punch of his own, mustering strength through exhaustion, that connects with Grist’s jaw. The pirate stumbles back, but catches himself quickly and bears down on Henry again.
Wei’s stomach churns and her pulse throttles in her ears. Wyzern presses her harder against the shower wall. They are both drenched. Her hair lays damp on her face like a wig of Ionian slugworms. Her shoulder aches, but she’s managed to hold onto her pistol. Wyzern pulls his face close to hers, extends his rotten tongue and drags it up the side of her face.
“What?” Wyzern says. “You’re not into it?”
The pirate slams her harder against the shower wall. Her head rings with a shrill tone.
“I think you’ll be into by the time it’s over,” the pirate says.
Wyzern extends his tongue again and moves in close.
Right as his tongue reaches her cheek, Wei thrusts her knee into his crotch. Wyzern gulps, eyes bulging and bites down, tearing through his tongue and sending a spray of blood into the air. Wei knees him again, and he stumbles back, slipping on the wet shower floor, and losing his grip on her arms.
The pirate holds his mouth, a beard of blood growing all around it, and tries to catch his breath.
Wei aims her pistol between his eyes.
She sees the realization cross his mind.
She knows that if she doesn’t now, she won’t have another chance.
She pulls the trigger.
A bolt of red glows and flies from the barrel of the pistol. It enters Wyzern’s forehead almost imperceptibly, creating a small burn mark. As the blast passes through the pirate’s head, it vaporizes his brain, his eyes, and the delicate balance that keeps a human being’s skull in one piece. On exit, the laser shot sends tiny, superheated, melting remains of Wyzern’s head into the air, leaving a perfectly cauterized, steaming stump atop his shoulders. The pirate’s body tips and falls onto the crew quarters floor, releasing a small portion of viscera the way one might by squeezing too hard on an open ration paste tube.
Grist turns toward his downed comrade in shock, and Henry Saito takes advantage by pummeling the other pirate on the back of the neck, knocking him unconscious onto one of the beds.
Using a bedsheet, Wei and Henry tie one of Grist’s arms behind his back. They loop the sheet twice around his neck, and tie the other end around his other arm. Then they wrap the sheet tight around his wrists, knitting them together, and ensuring that if he struggles, he will strangle himself.
With waning strength, Henry slaps Grist’s face repeatedly until the pirate comes to.
The man wrestles with his bondage, gasping, and eyes bulging.
“Now, now,” Wei scolds. “Don’t fight it.”
Grist bares his teeth.
“I will kill you both,” he snarls.
Henry Saito cracks him across the face his with pistol.
“Then we should have our fun now,” Henry says.
Each holding pressure on one of Grist’s twisted elbows, Wei and Henry guide the pirate through the doorway into the main corridor of the Aurelius. In their free hands, they clutch their laser pistols.
Grist winces as they nudge him along. Every time he stops, they twist at his pressure points, shooting blades of pain up his arms. Every time he twists and writhes, the sheet around his neck clamps down.
“I think it’s time we had a word with your boss,” Wei says.
They march down the hall, leaving an injured, but breathing Tomas Ek to rest on the floor beside the headless corpse of Wyzern.
The corridor is quiet.
The ship is quiet.
Henry and Wei march Grist back to the cargo bay.
“Where is they? Where’s Devlin?” Henry demands.
“He’s a busy man,” Grist huffs. “Probably took the boys back to the ship, where they have all that firepower, and no need for me.”
Grist laughs. Chokes on his laughter. Coughs. And then laughs again.
Henry twists the pirate’s arm, and Grist whines.
“What do we do now?” Wei asks.
“We have to find another way to open up negotiations,” Henry replies.