This is stupid, Will thought as he opened the cover to the door’s locks. The numbers hadn’t wanted to settle anywhere. In fact they’d been particularly mocking, which was just his imagination, since the numbers didn’t have personality, they just were.
“Hurry up, will you?” Anders said again.
Anders growled in annoyance. He knew Will couldn’t work any faster than the numbers allowed. This wasn’t the first time he’d opened doors for Anders, but the man just liked reminding Will of who was in charge, although he did sound worried right now.
There were a lot of numbers in there, a lot of wires and chips. He followed a wire until he saw a number over a chip, waiting for him to reach it. He took out the cutters and as he got ready, the number vanished.
“What now?” Anders asked.
“Cycling.” The lock had a cycling system, which meant that if he didn’t do all the work before it cycled again, he’d have to start from the beginning. If it happened too often, he could end up cutting so many of the wires the lock wouldn’t respond anymore.
He followed the numbers along the wire, cut the right one, located the match and soldered it there, already looking for the next one. These were the locks he preferred leaving to Asyr and Golly. They couldn’t damage them from the inside, and Asyr had explained that with each cycle it became easier for them, since her program could figure out how everything worked.
“Will,” Anders said, his tone clear he wanted to hurry.
He had three more in place, but the numbers still floated around. How many more to go? That was something he never knew. He’d be done when all that was left were the relevant numbers.
He could hear the fighting, but ignored it. The lock was his job. The others handled the fighting.
Four more in place, and still numbers floating about. Someone didn’t want them to get in, which made sense, since this was the only door to the bridge.
“Will, if you don’t hurry up, I’m blowing the fucking door. How come it’s taking you so long to do your magic thing?”
“Not magic,” Will answered, putting another wire in place. He’d thought it was magic, when he was younger, before Captain Meron rescued him, but he’d gotten to read when they were in transit, and he’d learned about science. Magic was simply superstition, and even things not yet understood were part of science.
“One of these fucking days, you’re going to explain exactly how you do this thing so I can have someone else to it.”
Good luck with that. Another number in place, and still the others didn’t fall away. He had to be getting close to the cycling. The fighting sounded like it was getting closer. Two more numbers in place, and the fighting ended. He was still alive, so Anders had won this fight. Another number and the rest fell away.
Finally. “Done!” Will said, slapping the button to open the door.
Victor helped him up and they entered to the sound of screams and the sight of dead and damaged controls. As usual, Anders’s people were more interested in doing damage than getting what they were after. The only one not firing indiscriminately was Tim, who had his rifle to his shoulder and scanned the room.
“That is enough!” the alien in the captain’s chair ordered, and even Anders’s people stopped moving. Will was impressed; not many people could command more authority than Anders, especially when the man was present.
He looked a lot like Crimson’s man. Not as muscular, from the holo at least. His fur looked a little lighter, but it had the same white speckling. Samalian, was what Crimson had called the species. He wore a gray suit, and when he stood, he had a commanding presence that matched his voice.
“I’m going to guess you’re the…” Anders seemed to search for a word. “Thing in charge.”
“I am the captain and owner of the Sayatoga corporation,” the Samalian said. “I really don’t have the time to deal with this distraction. I have important family matters to deal with.”
“Is that so? Well, I have important business matters to take care of. Guess which one’s more important to me?”
“Fine,” the alien sighed and took a step forward. Every gun was pointed at him. The rest of the bridge crew was staying as far away as possible. Their expression went from fear to eagerness, but no one was armed.
That was dumb, Will thought. The ship’s under attack and no one armed themselves?
“Lower your weapons,” the Samalian ordered. “Do I look armed to you?”
Will looked at who was still there—Karl, Murray, Tim, Lolie, Viv, and Barbara. Anders really expected to hold the bridge with only them? He didn’t think Victor would take part in this; he was still too much of a Lawman to become a pirate.
“I think we’re going to keep them pointed where they are,” Anders said. “You might not be armed, but there’s no telling what the others here might have on them. I wouldn’t want anyone to get ideas that might get you killed.” Anders smiled. “Actually, I can’t say I care if you live or die. Things like you don’t belong in space.”
The Samalian’s ears tilted. “You boarded my ship, kill my employees, broke through my door, just to tell me I should have stayed groundside?”
“Nah, I didn’t know this bunch was too weak to keep something like you to be in charge. I’ll take care of that.”
“Look, let’s hurry this along. How much is it going to take for you to go away? I’ll pay you double what my brother’s paying you.”
“Your brother? That would be Crimson’s man?”
“Who do you think? He’s the guy who arranged all this… Well, the break out. The rest is all me.”
“Fine, I’ll pay you twice what that human is paying you.”
Will pulled Victor aside. He didn’t like how confident the Samalian was, considering that as far as he could tell, he had no guards here.
“What so difficult about the concept of twice the money you’re currently making? You mercs get paid part of it upfront, right? So that would be on top of that.”
“I’m not a merc.”
The Samalian shrugged. “Whatever you call yourself isn’t all that important to me.”
“I call myself Captain Anders. In fact, I’m the new captain of the Sayatoga prison ship.”
“That’s my ship,” the Samalian stated.
“I can offer you enough money to buy yourself your own ship.”
“That’s nice, but this is the one I want. I like the way it looks.”
The alien let out a sigh. “This is stupid. There are much better ships out there.”
“Yeah, but I’m already here.”
“Fine,” the Samalian said. “Just kill them then.”
Will pulled Victor down as shots came from the far wall. Three doors were opening and a bunch of nasty looking guards poured out. By their terrified reactions, the crew hadn’t expected them either.
Will returned fire as Tim went down with a moan; his armor had a hole in its side. Viv covered him and pulled him to the wall. Victor didn’t hesitate this time, and he fired dead center at them, instead of the limbs. Will didn’t know what had triggered his Law sense and made him go on full offensive, but it meant this would go faster.
“Kill the fucking alien!” Anders yelled, and let out a series of shots after him. Guards moved to protect their captain, taking the shots in his stead and going down. Anders had his rifle set high enough to go through the hull. Will hoped the bridge was nowhere near that.
“We give up!” someone yelled after a minute of constant firing. “Stop firing!”
Lolie and Viv were leaning against the wall, panting. Lolie had a hole in her leg, Viv multiple burns, but nothing that looked like it had gone through her armor. Barbara was fine, as usual. She and Anders had a way of avoiding getting hit, and with her it didn’t mean throwing someone in front to take it in her place.
Tim was seated against the wall, rifle to his shoulder and firing at one of the guards. Karl had multiple holes in him, and Murray was firing from the cover of one of the consoles.
“That’s enough,” Anders said. “Hand me the alien and I’ll be happy to keep everyone employed. That’s what you call it, right? Being employed?”
One of the guards stood, her hands up. “The captain fle—”
“I’m the captain,” Anders stated.
She sighed and shook her head. “The previous captain escaped through there.” She pointed to the wall where one of the doors had appeared. It now looked like a uniform wall, except for the holes and burns in it.
“He ran?” Anders sounded pleased. “You hear that? Your fearless leader just ran and left you in my care. Where does that lead?”
Will looked at the door. Now would be a good time to leave, but it was locked again, and he didn’t think he’d get through that without Anders noticing.
“Come on people, he abandoned you. It isn’t worth your loyalty anymore.”
“No one talk,” the woman ordered. “The cap—” Her head exploded.
“Now,” Anders said, lowering his rifle. “Anyone else want to try?” He pointed the rifle at a man dressed in gold and gray. He looked more like a server in those vids Aliana liked, than someone working on a ship like this. “How about you? You look like a smart fellow. You know where that goes?”
The man looked at the dead guards, as well as the bridge crew that died in the crossfire. There were eight of them left, and Will thought there were four guards still alive. Will had to agree with Anders on this: better weapons and armor did make a difference.
The man straightened and shook his head. His body dropped.
Anders grabbed a woman and put the rifle to her head. “How about—”
Will shoved the rifle aside and put himself between the two of them. This was beyond stupid, but if he let Anders continue, he’d kill everyone. He was obsessed with finding and having the alien killed, and he wouldn’t care who else had to die in the process. Anders was always short-sighted.
“You know, Short Stuff, I thought your survival instincts were better than that. Your girl isn’t here to protect you.”
Victor was next to them, his rifle still pointed at the floor, but the look in his eyes told Will whose side he was on.
“Don’t get any ideas, Lawman. You’ll be full of holes before you can even raise that thing. And Will doesn’t go for your type.” Anders looked back at him and opened his mouth to give another order.
“Dead don’t talk,” Will said.
Anders was acting calm, but Will saw the anger in his eyes, wanting to explode. Anders liked to think himself smart, so there was nothing he hated more than having his mistakes pointed out to him, especially in front of other people. If Will had suspected Anders would kill him before this was all over, now he knew for sure.
Anders plastered a smile on his face that promised Will pain, and cradled his rifle. “Sorry about that, folks. Short Stuff’s right, I really shouldn’t have done that. I have no idea what came over me.” He indicated the wrong two bodies. “There’s been enough death already, don’t you think?”
Anders shot the woman in the knee, obliterating it, and she fell, screaming.
“I mean, it’s so much more satisfying when you express just how much my dissatisfaction hurts you.”
There was a shot and a guard fell back, his gun clattering to the floor.
“Thank you, Tim.” Anders looked at the woman’s knee, and the hole in the floor, then lowered the power on his rifle. “Here’s how it’s going to go. I ask a question, you don’t answer, I inflict pain. Simple equation, right? Alright, so where—” He stopped and looked at them. “You know what? Stand up, you look like a bunch of cry-babies, huddled on the floor like that.”
Will motioned for Karl to look after the woman. Of all of them, he was the only one with anything close to medical training. He’d joined the crew to be Doc’s assistant, but the two of them kept butting heads. Karl wanted to be in charge, and Doc didn’t deal well with people who didn’t follow her directions. Once she was done treating him for the beating she gave him, she told him that if he ever returned to her medical bay as anything other than a patient, she would kill him.
Karl went to the woman, and had her sit on a chair.
The rest were standing now—the three guards on one side of the room, the six crew members on the other.
“Isn’t that better?” Anders asked. He stopped by a crewman and planted his rifle against the man’s knee. “Now, now, don’t cry, it’s going to be alright. Just tell me where that door leads.”
He closed his eyes and shook his head.
“The hangar,” a woman said, stepping forward. “There’s a lift, and it leads to the hangar deck.” She was on the small side. She wore the same gold and gray uniform, had brown hair tied back in a ponytail. Anders studied her too. “Please don’t hurt him, I told you where it leads.”
Anders prodded the man’s knee. “But I asked him the question. I’d have gotten to you eventually.”
Anders couldn’t be that much of an idiot. Will started lining up the words, because that wasn’t going to be a one- or two-word explanation.
The woman spoke before he was done. “Isn’t the application of pain so you’ll get an answer? Does it really matter who gives you the answer? If all you do is inflict pain, people are going to start thinking the questions are just excuses so you can hurt us.”
Anders looked at the sniffling man, then shouldered his rifle. “I get the sense you’ve been through this before.”
The woman glanced toward the wall the guard had indicated. “You’re not the first to use these kinds of tactics.” She looked like she might say more, but didn’t. Considering how hard the people here were protecting someone who’d abandoned them, Will thought Anders might not be all that good at making people fear him.
“So, he’s going to the hangar? How about you show me?” Anders motioned to the consoles. The woman didn’t move. “Come on, you’ve seen what I can do. You already stepped forward to keep me from hurting this nice man, so you care what happens to him. Is he your man? Or will you protect everyone on the bridge?”
Anders walked in front of the bridge crew. He stopped by another man. “Maybe I should start with something smaller?” He placed the rifle against the man’s wrist. "How about a hand? That way I can move up the arm until you decide to cooperate.”
With a sigh, the woman went to the console and brought a screen to life. With a few keys, the image changed to show the hangar. Will saw their ship, which stood out by being so much larger than the others there.
“Where is he?”
More keys, the views of the hangar changed until it showed the alien in the gray suit walking between ships. Anyone who noticed him detoured away.
“Where is he going?”
“His ship. He’s going to call in the Law and wait outside until you’ve been dealt with.”
Anders nodded. “Vent it.”
She stared at him. “Excuse me?”
“What was so hard about that? Turn off whatever you have that keeps the air from rushing out. Oh, and turn the gravity off too. I don’t want him to just grab onto a ship and wait it out.”
“I can’t do that. There’s people working there. The venting system is set to force everything out, not just deactivate the forcefield.”
“Perfect, then he and everything he might grab on will be sent to the void. Do it.”
“No.” She stepped away from the board.
Anders sighed. “I’m not going to hurt you over this. I’m going to kill you. Stop testing my patience.”
She hesitated before, and while entering commands. “Confirm void order” appeared on the screen next to the one showing the alien striding through the hangar. Under the words was a flashing red button.
“Press it,” Anders ordered.
Her fingers hovered before the screen, then she lowered her hand. “You do it.”
“I ordered you to press it.”
She stepped away. “You might be a cold-blooded killer, but I’m not. I’m not going to condemn innocent people to death just because you want that bastard dead.”
Anders shoved his rifle in her face. “If you don’t do what I tell you, you are going to be a dead woman.”
With a curse, Will pushed them aside and pressed the confirm button.
“Short Stuff, I was asserting my authority here.”
Will looked at Anders. There were times when the man was just too stubborn and stupid for anyone’s good. He rewound the footage and restarted it a few seconds before he voided the hangar. The alien was only a few steps from a ship.
He motioned to Anders and the woman. “Argue.” He pointed to the screen. “Escape.”
Anders’s eyes blazed. “That was your plan, wasn’t it? Keep me distracted until he’d escaped.”
“No. If the hangar had been empty, I’d have been happy to send him to his death.”
Anders took a step back and pointed his rifle at her face. “Somehow I don’t believe you.”
“Don’t,” Will told Victor, who’d been getting ready to take a shot at Anders.
Anders sighed. “You know, Short Stuff, this assumption you can tell me what to do is really getting annoying. You don’t have any protection here, so maybe you should remember that?”
Will looked around, and what he saw told him it was a good thing Anders hadn’t taken the shot. “Look.” He motioned to the rest of the crew, whose faces were now sent in a mask of determination.
Anders moved the rifle closer to her head.
“You do that,” one of the guards said, “and I’ll personally kill you.”
“No one’s asking you,” Anders replied.
“Yeah? Then take a bit of free advice. She’s the only one here who ever took the bullshit the guy you’re replacing dished out. She took it so no one else had to. You hurt her and they’re going to do their best to tear you apart. Me too.”
Anders considered the situation, and for once Will hoped the man would be sensible about something. His need to be in charge could get them all killed right now.
“You tell them to stand down,” he told the woman, “and I’ll stand down too.”
“It’s all good,” she said. “The captain is a reasonable man.”
Anders smiled. “I do like the sound of that. Now, get on comms and tell the—my security forces to stand down. I’ll give them orders soon enough.”
“She can’t do that, sir.” The guard put more respect in that “sir” than Will had ever heard anyone give Anders. Even “captain” hadn’t had that level of respect in it.
Anders heard it too, so all he did was turn and ask, “Why is that?” instead of shooting the man.
“Only the security chief can give that order. Not even the captain can. It was setup that way in case the bridge crew was compromised during a breakout.”
“Alright, then get in contact with him and explain that everything’s okay.”
“That’s going to be difficult.” The man pointed to a woman on the floor. “You killed her.”
“Fine,” Anders said, getting annoyed. “Then who gets her job?”
The man thought about it. “It’d be me, sir, but no one in security is going to listen to what I say.”
“And why’s that?” Anders’s patience was getting frayed, Will could tell.
“I was a resident here.”
“And what does that even mean?”
“He means he’s a prisoner,” Victor said.
“Was, sir. I’m an employee now, on the roster and all.”
“Anders,” Murray called, “we have incoming.” He was at another console and indicated the screen. A group was heading along the corridor, twenty men and women wearing badly fitting armor with four black-clad guards, guns raised, walking behind them.
“So if you’re an employee, that means you work for me now, right?” Anders asked.
The woman standing behind him shook her head, but the guard said, “Yes, sir.”
“How armored is that door?”
“Not enough to keep them out.”
“We can get out the same way that alien did,” Barbara said, which earned her a glare and an eye-roll.
“This is my ship. Unlike that coward, I don’t abandon it just because someone wants my chair. If those idiots think they can barge in here and take it from me, we are going to show them how wrong they are.” Anders motioned for his people and the guards to get into position.
Will caught the woman’s attention and motioned to the rest of the bridge crew, and for her to get them as far back as she could. Then he and Victor joined the rest of the people in building the barricade.