Death of the Regent-3

“I won’t order you to go, you did more than anyone expected you could,” Glower said softly. “But I got three-hundred people on this ship to look after. You do what you feel is right.”

Ajax nodded as his heart sank. There were no alternatives. He put on a mask of indifference and reopened communications with the Regent.

“Apologies for keeping you waiting, great Regent,” Ajax said. “I am on my way. However, our ship is running low on fuel and our tanker will not wait. Once I arrive, I must insist that our ship receive unhindered passage.”

“How will you return to it, Utbird?” The Regent said. “These last negotiations may run longer than expected.”

“The ship’s boat will suffice for transport.” Ajax said. Bonventure would do much more than suffice.

“Agreed.” The Regent said and the vid-com went blank. The compartment was silent.

“Once I reach Midgard Three, you get this ship out of here as fast,” Ajax said. “There’s no guarantee that the Regent’ll keep his word.”

“I will,” Glower said and reached out to clasp Ajax’s forearm. “What’re you gonna do?”

“I’ll keep him busy as long as I can,” Ajax said. “Then I’ll head straight for Avalon.”

“Right,” Glower said. He could see that Ajax had no idea how he was going to do it. “If you’re still at the Avalon office when we get there, we’ll have a night on the town you’ll never forget.”

“Deal.” Ajax said and could think of nothing else so he pushed off toward the open hatch and floated out. Ronnie took the news even less well than Glower had.

***

“Okay,” Ajax said as Midgard 3 grew larger outside the forward window. Ronnie sat crammed into the navigator seat next to him. “I’m going in alone. I want you to seal that hatch once I go out and fry anyone that tries to get in without identifying themselves, you got it?”

“I understand,” Ronnie said. “But I still don’t see why you insist on seeing the Regent again. Let’s just do a touch and go.”

“We can’t,” Ajax said as he entered commands into the navigation computer. “They’d shoot the Manchester Star to pieces.”

“I’m picking up the landing beacon,” Devolte said. “So what the devil are we supposed to do if you don’t come back?”

“I’ve programmed the nav computer for the quickest route to Avalon.” Ajax said. “If I’m not back in two hours, you bring the Oracle online and get out of here.”

“That’s a fine plan,” Ronnie said. He was angry with the predicament he was in. “But what happens if the navigation computer goes down?”

Ajax laughed as the RCS fired to align the ship with the landing pad. The cabin vibrated as the lift engines fired, slowing the Bonventure for landing.

“What’s so funny?” Ronnie said. “This is no time for jokes.”

“Nothing,” Ajax said as he watched the ground come rushing up, the pad was clear of obstacles and debris. Bonventure touched down right over the yellow cross marking the center of the pad, settling on its tricycle landing gear. The pad sat atop an immense, tracked crawler, which came to life with blinking warning lights as it began moving towards the nearest docking collar. In less than a minute, sealing ring met ring and the Bonventure was secured to Midgard 3. Ajax uncoupled his harness and slid out from under the instrument panel.

“Remember, seal the hatch.” Ajax said.

“And if you’re not back within two hours,” Ronnie said. “We’re gone.”

“Right,” Ajax said as he stepped over the center console. “I’ll see you soon.”

“Bonventure to Manchester Star,” Ronnie called as he dialed the proper channel into the radio. “Bonventure is down safely. Continue your egress, over.”

***

“I am here, Regent.” Ajax said as the guards released his arms. They had already confiscated his Blazer and he carried nothing else. He straightened his flight-suit and clasped his arms behind his back. The Regent, usually placid, looked angry, Patch and the Regent’s bodyguards reflected the Regent’s displeasure, and they were all looking at him.

“Explain to us why your man saw fit to disable our long-range radio,” The Regent said, resting forward on the arms of his chair and frowning over folded hands. “Such treachery while we offered you our hospitality is an insult.”

“I don’t understand,” Ajax said. “I, nor any of my crew, would do such a thing.”

“We have witnesses who saw that they saw someone leaving the communications room,” The Regent said, eyes glinting with anger like hard flint. “Someone thin. Your man Devolte meets this description and was seen leaving before the feast was concluded.”

“Only because he had to prepare our ship for departure.” Ajax said, wondering if Ronnie had been given special orders before they left Horseman Station.

“Noone in my clan has reason to disable our radio,” The Regent said. “Perhaps you can tell us who would?”

“I don’t know.” Ajax said.

“We shall see.” The Regent said and waved his guards forward. They roughly grabbed Ajax by the arms, then the overhead lights in the compartment went out.

“Find out what is going on, now.” The Regent ordered.

“Yes, my Regent.” Patch said and shouldered his way through the crowd of guards and through the open hatch.

The guards stopped, and a few were muttering in alarm when the emergency lights snapped on, bathing them all in a harsh white light that was momentarily blinding. Ajax heard the door of something creaking as it was slowly opened and closed, then a quiet grunt. As his eyes adjusted, he could see a commotion around the Regent’s chair.

They were engaged in a scuffle with someone, Ajax could just make out who it was. The person was thin, dressed in something dark, and wore a dark hood that obscured the head and all of the face except for the eyes. A guard landed a solid punch and the figure groaned. The person was a woman, he could tell by her voice, it had to be Nova.

She spun to face her assailant and dropped gracefully into a low Wushu stance. The guard swung again but she was ready. She blocked the punch with a forearm and delivered a spear-hand strike to his solar-plexus as fast as lighting. His knees buckled and he went down clutching his chest, sucking for air. With the same momentum, Nova snapped her arm back and smashed her fist into another moving up behind her, who cried out as his nose crunched beneath her knuckles. There were only three men left between her and the Regent. They were big, but they seemed taken aback by the fury with which Nova attacked.

Nova paused, as if considering the three. When the first one moved, so did she, leaping at him and delivering a flying kick that whipped the man’s head around, dropping him to the ground with the nauseating crackle of a neck breaking. The next one in line was more lucky, when he squared off against her she snapped a kick to his groin. He bellowed in pain and crouched down as Nova struck again with a roundhouse kick that smashed into the side of his head. Only one left now.

“Aid me!” The Regent said, bellowing at the few that still held Ajax in their grips. Without hesitation they released him and rushed the diaz the Regent sat upon, drawing their weapons, but they were too late. Steel flashed as Nova drew a knife from a scabbard strapped to her thigh. She pounced on the Regent and brought the blade to his throat. The guards pulled up short.

“Get back.” Nova said, her hair spilling over her face as she pulled the mask off and the Regent to his feet. “I said get back!”

“Do as she says.” The Regent said and the guards backed away. Ajax picked up his pistol belt from where they had dropped it and closed it around his waist.

“What are you doing?” Ajax said and stepped into the open area the guards had created for her to get by.

“You blew my cover, pig,” Nova said to him as she walked the Regent towards the hatch. She was winded and sucked in air. “Now you’re getting me out of here.”

“Then let’s go.” Ajax said as he let her pass, then followed her out. The guards remained in place, as if unsure that they knew what else to do. The corridor was black, save for the emergency lights glowing at regular intervals down the length of it, and empty as far as Ajax could see. He turned right and led them off toward the landing bay.

“You disabled their radio?” Ajax said as he felt his way along. The landing bay was directly ahead, four hundred feet to freedom.

“Yes,” Nova said as she tightened her arm around the Regent’s throat. “I knew this fool would suspect you and call you back. Thank you for waiting.”

“You will both die the death of a thousand cuts,” The Regent said, croaking out words. “Or perhaps I will take a joint at a time starting with your hands, then your feet. It will not be quick.”

“Silence, toad.” Nova said, hissing in the Regent’s ear. “You are fortunate that you still live, I have much to repay you for.”

Ajax stopped as he heard sounds from behind them. The guards had decided to act and were streaming out of the command chamber in pursuit.

“Here, let me,” Ajax said as he took the Regent by the hair and forced him into a trot, he could tell Nova was getting tired. Three hundred feet and they would be safe. “What’s your real name?”

“Mila,” She said. “Mila Jagerova.”

“Thanks.”

“I owe you at least that much.”

The Regent was heavy and Ajax was getting tired of dragging him along. Two hundred feet to go. “When I count to three, I’m going to drop the Regent and we’re going to run for it. Are you ready?”

Ajax loosened his grip on the Regent just as a large shadow stepped into the corridor from a dark alcove, holding a splinter pistol aimed dead-center mass. Ajax skidded to a halt. Mila almost send him sprawling as she ran into him. It was Patch, he had been laying in wait. The Regent pulled out of his hold and started laughing.

“I will not give you a second opportunity, Utbird,” The Regent said between giggles. “Kill them.”

“Wait, wait,” Ajax said and threw out his hands, bracing for the shocking pain of needler rounds chewing into his flesh. “You don’t have to do this.”

No sympathy appeared in Patch’s single eye and the shredder he carried remained level.

“The Regent has ordered your death, Utbird.” Patch said, his gravely voice echoing off of the metal grating and flush-riveted plates the corridor was constructed of, like in a mausoleum.

“That’s because the Regent has lost face,” Ajax said. He had only seconds left with which to work magic. “I saw how you reacted when we closed the deal. You never approved of it, did you?”

“No,” Patch said and his lips twisted into a snarl. “The Regent approved it over my objections.”

“Then perhaps it is time for a new Regent.” Ajax said, watching Patch for the slightest reaction. His face grew even darker.

“You are a devil,” Patch said and spat. “And you offer something that is not yours to give.”

“Not mine to give,” Ajax said slowly. “But yours to take. It is your way, the old Regent knows this, why else would he have made you his right hand?”

Patch said nothing, but did not squeeze the trigger on the shredder. His snarl had relaxed into a frown and Ajax could see thinking going on behind his eye.

“You don’t need me, it would only allow the old Regent to save face and put off the inevitable,” Ajax said. “You may not get another opportunity like this for some time. Use this to take your rightful place.”

Patch glowered down at him and Ajax was suddenly aware of the loud thump of his pounding heart.

“Enough of this,” The Regent said, suddenly serious. “I ordered you to kill them.”

Patch held his fire, still thinking.

“Who is this fat, old man that speaks to me?” Patch said. The Regent looked shocked, then furious.

“Kill them now and perhaps I will forgive your disobedience.” The Regent said. Without a word, Patch swung the splinter-gun around and drew a bead on the Regent, who had time to gasp.

Patch pulled the trigger at the same time Ajax felt a hand on his shoulder and Mila pulled his Blazer from its holster. The shredder buzzed and the front of the Regent’s shirt erupted in blood, gibbets of flesh, and shredded cloth as a thousand shards of ballistic plastic tore into his chest at Mach One. Ajax could see the barrel of the Blazer in his peripheral vision, steadied on his shoulder and pointed straight at Patch, who snorted and half-grinned when he saw it.

“Leave here and never return,” Patch said. “Should we meet again, there will be no talking.”

The hulking pirate dropped the shredder to his side and turned on his heel. He stopped before he had taken ten steps.

“And take this, thing, with you,” Patch said over his shoulder. “She no longer has a place here.”

“Let’s go,” Ajax said quietly once Patch had resumed walking. “Follow me and stay close, watch our backs, it’s not much further.”

He moved rapidly to the docking hatch and pressed his thumb down on the green switch beside it. The locking mechanism was old, older than he was, and it took nearly a minute of grinding and screeching for the hatch to roll into the wall. When he laid his hand on the cold alloy skin of the Bonventure, his heart stopped thumping quite so hard. He punched in his command code and the outer hatch on the ship slid open. Ajax led Nova into the airlock and keyed the inner hatch.

“Let ’em have it!” Ajax heard someone cry from the inside and his instincts took immediate control. He dove to the deck, pulling Mila down with him. The sound of Blazers being triggered followed the shout, but the beams from them passed harmlessly over his head.

“Ronald!” Ajax shouted as Mila growled and struggled to roll away. “What the hell is going on here?”

“Cease fire, cease fire,” Devolte said and poked his head up over the makeshift barricades that they had erected in front of the hatch. He adjusted his heavy glasses and smiled down at him. “Sorry, old man, we though you were one of them.”

Three more of the engineering team had been taking cover behind the storage crates they had tied down and stacked into something resembling a modular wall. Each wore corrective lenses as thick or thicker than the ones Ronnie wore and most held the Blazers in untrained, two-handed grips. Ajax stood and scanned behind him at the still open hatch for threats, then brought his fist down on the red button beside the airlock and the inner hatch hummed to a close.

“It’s good to see that the crew loves their captain so.” Mila said as she picked herself up.

“What’s she doing here?” Ronnie said and frowned, waving at Mila with the barrel of the pistol.

“I’ll explain later,” Ajax said and maneuvered past the barricade towards the flight deck. “Get this krudge stowed and man departure stations, we’re getting out of here.”

“It’s about feking time,” Ronnie said, giving Ajax pause in his travel. The Chief Engineer was not usually one for profanity.

“You’re plan was good.” He heard Mila coo as brushed by Ronnie. “Next time, aim lower.”

***

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