This was bad.
Will watched as Anders stood with a stunned expression.
This was very bad.
That Anders hadn’t already shot Victor showed how surprised he was at being disobeyed in such a way.
“What the fuck did you just do?” Anders looked from the chair, now missing an armrest, to Victor.
“I’m keeping you from killing Alex,” Victor replied, far too calm for someone who’d just picked up a live anti-matter grenade. He didn’t know it, but that was what Anders was right now, and there was no telling how he was going to go off.
“That was my chair!” Anders yelled, his face turning redder. Even the two guards edged away, moving behind Anders.
Victor looked at it and shrugged. “Go and sit on it. It should still fit that ego of yours.”
Will stifled a sigh. If Victor had a death wish, he should have let himself get shot in the fights coming here. It would have been less painful.
Anders looked at the chair again. The cushion had ripped open when the armrest shattered and melted in an uneven mass.
“Kill him,” Anders ordered darkly.
“No,” Will said, putting as much of Captain Meron’s tone of command as he was able to in his voice. His eyes were fixed on the two guards, who stopped reaching for their guns. Out the corner of his eye he saw Karl put a hand on Barbara’s raising gun. Victor’s face didn’t show anything.
Anders glared at him, before stalking to him and getting in his face. “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?”
Will glanced down between them and smiled. “Knee, balls.”
With a frown, Anders looked down and took a step back. He judged the distance and took another one. “Just whose side are you on, William?”
Did Anders think he was scarier because he used his full name? “Crimson’s job.” He indicated Victor. “Crimson’s crew. Owe Crimson.”
“I don’t owe that man anything. We didn’t need him to barge his way on our ship; all he did was bring trouble. Don’t you remember how much he screwed things up? He fucking brought the Law down on us.”
As usual, Anders remembered things wrong, but Will had stop caring about that a long time ago. Crimson had saved them at least once, helped make them richer, and inadvertently showed them a way to operate that didn’t require Anders as much. The man wasn’t redundant, but just about, and that was why he was in such a pissy mood all the time.
“Crimson’s job,” Will repeated. “Crimson’s orders.”
Anders laughed. “Really? You think I care? Haven’t you figured out yet that if I had my way, I’d have thrown Crimson into the closest star by now?”
Will nodded. Of course, Anders thought he’d said that for his benefit. What he’d also figured out, and Anders clearly hadn’t, was that the fact only Barbara had taken out a gun when Anders ordered Victor dead, meant his people weren’t as confident in him as they’d once been.
Will nodded to the screen. “Murray, where?”
The man looked at the group, did his own evaluations. He was more of a coward than anything, and if given time, he’d fall on Anders’s side.
Will made his tone sharper. “Murray, where?” He looked at Anders, who was trying to figure out what he was up to.
“Seven levels below us. Stern-wise. The room takes up a good part of the deck.”
“It’s called the Arena,” Victor said, which earned him a glare from Anders and Will. Will really wished the Lawman would keep his mouth shut right now.
“What do we care what it’s called?” Anders asked. He looked at Will. “Just what are you doing?”
Will crossed his arms. “Throw him.”
Anders’s brow creased as he studied Will. “What about your talk about owing him? Are you or aren’t you on his side?”
Anders smiled. “Well, it’s good to know you’ve come to your senses. Tim, Viv, you two go kill Crimson.”
“No.” Will had a hand up to stop anyone who’d considered moving, but kept his eyes on Anders. He was the one handling the grenade now, so he had to be careful, but unlike Victor, he had experience doing it.
“You are really getting confusing, Short Stuff. This was your idea. Are you already changing your mind?”
“You go,” Will said.
“You seem to forget I’m the captain here, not you. I give the orders.”
Will raised an eyebrow. “Scared?”
“I’m not scared of anything,” Anders snarled.
With a grin, Will glanced at the man’s groin and tapped a foot. Anders took another step back.
He realized what he did and glared at Will. “Didn’t any of you hear what I said? Go and get Crimson dead!”
“I’m with Will on this one,” Karl said. “I think you’re scared of Crimson.”
Will looked at them. Karl had a knife in Barbara’s side. She was the only one who’d do anything Anders asked. Even Viv, who wanted to impress him, would think about the consequences first. Tim and Lolie looked conflicted. They’d been there through Crimson’s stay, they knew what he’d done for them.
“I…” Lolie hesitated. “I think Will’s right. Seems to me that we’ve been doing most of your dirty work recently.”
“I’m the leader, that’s how it goes. I give the order, and you obey!”
Tim looked at everyone, then shook his head. “I think you need to show you’re able to do what needs to get done, instead of just telling one of us.”
Anders pointed to the two guards. “You, get down there and kill Crimson.”
“I’m sorry, sir,” the lead guard said, still with as much respect in his voice, “but this seems to me to be an internal matter. I think it’s best if you resolve it amongst yourselves.”
Anders looked at his people. “I am not scared! I’ve led you into plenty of deadly situations, way before Crimson showed up. You’re my crew. Now do what I say.”
Viv bit her lower lip. “Seems to me you spent a lot of time hiding behind that desk, letting us take the shots.”
“I wasn’t hiding, I was waiting for the best opportunities!”
“You’ve been going after anyone you think had sympathies for Crimson ever since he left the Golly,” Tim said. “I know Zeph’s had a run of bad luck since refusing to arrange a training accident for Crimson.”
Murray cleared his throat. “Beth told me about that blowup Crimson and you had before we left Junaly. She didn’t hear you deny it when he accused you of setting him up to be killed by some crime boss.”
“We’ve all be at the receiving end of your anger,” Tim said. “Even Barb, who’s so fucking devoted to you she’s thinking of taking us on to go kill Crimson for you, has felt it.”
“No killing,” Will told Karl, who looked ready to bury his knife in her. Lolie took her knife out and took position on the other side of Barbara. Karl wasn’t happy, but he moved his knife away.
Anders looked at Will, then the crew. “You’re taking his orders now?” The dismay in his voice would be funny, if not for the underlying rage in it.
“Will’s proven what he’s willing to do,” Karl said. He was now holding onto Barbara’s arm, knife in the other one.
Anders snorted. “I’m done tolerating your interference, Short Stuff.”
Before he’d taken the first step in Will’s direction, Tim had his rifle to his shoulder, aiming at Anders’s chest. Karl and Lolie were holding Barbara. Viv had her gun out, also pointed at Anders. Even Murray had his in-hand, although he was aiming it at the floor, looking like he was about to have a nervous breakdown.
“You’re all a bunch of traitors!”
“I’ll still follow you,” Tim said, “after you’ve shown us you’re willing to do what needs getting done too.”
“I’m not scared of any of you. I can kill you all if I have to.”
“Crimson,” Will said, and Anders whirled on him.
“I’m not scared of him either! He’s just some grounder who tells machines to do stuff for him. He’s nothing without that earpiece of his.”
“I am not scared.”
Will indicated the door.
Anders glared at him, then the others. “When I get back, you’re all going to pay for this.” He stormed off the bridge.
The silence lasted for a few seconds.
“I’m impressed,” Victor said. “I didn’t think any of you could stand up to him.”
Will turned and shoved the man away. “Stupid!”
“Hey, I didn’t—”
“Stupid!” Will pushed him again.
Victor took a few steps away. “All I did was keep him from killing Alex.”
Will wanted to tell him all the ways in which that had been the stupidest thing he’d ever seen anyone do, but the words got jumbled on their way to his mouth, so he screamed in frustration, turned, and walked away from him.
“I know why you did it,” Tim said, “but is that smart?”
Will glared at him hard enough Tim took a step back.
“Hey now, I like Crimson too.”
Will raised an eyebrow. Really? He was going to deny what the original plan was, why he’d initially volunteered to go with Crimson? Was he as stupid as Anders to think Will hadn’t work that out by now?
“I— Anders didn’t give me a choice. You know how things go on jobs like this; it’s easy to have an accident, even a fatal one. It was me or Crimson. I do like him, but I like living more.”
Will sighed and nodded. He did know how it went under Anders. The only reason he’d avoided the worst of it was because of how valuable his ability with locks was.
“You know how Anders feels about aliens. He’s going to go through that one first, and Zeph didn’t look to be in great shape before the Lawman shut the system down. I don’t know how much help he’s going to be. Anders is going to kill Crimson.”
Will shook his head.
“Will, be realistic. Crimson’s a good guy and everything, but this is Anders were talking about. He’s not going to care about that.”
“All fine.” He wasn’t worried. He hadn’t been worried about Anders killing Crimson from before they’d reached Samalia, and he’d had the chance to talk with Zeph since then and find out how good Alex was with knives. He knew Alex wouldn’t have stopped practicing.
He looked at the others. Barbara was glaring at him. She’d cause trouble if she got the chance, but Lolie and Karl would keep an eye on her.
His real worry were the two guards. “Loyalties?” he asked them.
The lead one considered it. “I think that for the time being, this is the best place to be. So that means taking your orders.”
The man smiled. “Well now, that’s the question, isn’t it? I guess we’ll just have to see later about that.”
Will nodded. It wasn’t like he could expect anything else. He looked at the bridge crew. They were all wary, which was understandable. Could he trust them? He doubted it. She’d defied Anders, but that didn’t mean she was on his side.
“Guard,” he told the guards, indicating the bridge crew. The man nodded and both of them took position. Will looked at Tim and nodded to the guards. Tim nodded back and leaned against the wall, his rifle within easy reach.
“Ah, well, about that.”
Will raised an eyebrow.
“We’re still where we were. I can’t get control of the ship; the security’s just too strong.”
Will nodded. No surprise there. This wasn’t a cargo cruiser.
“Karl.” He indicated the bridge crew. “Fix.”
Karl looked at them, then the woman he was holding. “I don’t think it’s a good idea.”
Will fixed his gaze on Barbara.
“You’re dead, Will,” she said. “You know that, right?”
“I’m going to behave while Anders is killing Crimson, but the moment he’s back, I’m breaking your neck.”
Will shrugged and looked at Karl.
Reluctantly he let go of her, and went to see to the bridge crew.
He went to the lead guard. “Security?”
The man’s brow furrowed. “It’s just the two of us here. Lemphe took a shot in the neck.” He indicated the dead guard.
“He wants to know what we can expect in the way of incoming security forces,” Murray said before Will had lined up the words.
“That I don’t know. I guess it depends on how many of the crew the residents can muster into coming up here. The captain’s orders were that if anyone made it to the bridge, it was our job to see to it they all died.”
Will raised an eyebrow.
The man smiled. “You don’t have anything to worry about from the two of us, for now.”
Will nodded and looked to Murray, who had multiple screens showing corridors with bodies in them.
“I have the cameras around the door up, and I’m looking for the others, but there isn’t much of a directory for them. I’m going to give you the best warning system I can, but I’m not making promises.”
Will nodded again.
“Viv, rations?” He had to get ready to hold out for a while.
“I’ll do a count.”
He looked at the dead in the room. “Barb, Lolie, Victor.” He motioned to the bodies. “Out.”
“Where’s the Lawman?” Lolie asked.
Will looked around. Where had Victor vanished to?
The lead guard nodded toward the door, and Will realized Victor had followed Anders out. He hung his head.
This was so very bad.