For her part, Captain Striker was rather surprised that her ploy had actually worked.
It was simply her natural instinct to take charge of situations, and though she naturally hit the deck at first, just like the rest of her crew, it was seeing this Cyexian girl attempt to make a break for it that gave her the idea. Her mysterious attackers’ tactics made perfect sense if this was some kind of rescue attempt, and besides, when the shooting started, it was never a bad idea to have a hostage. Or at least a human shield, if nothing else.
And when the shooting abruptly died out, she knew they had fallen victim to some dirty trick or another, still she was perplexed that her foes would stop shooting when the weapon she threatened her hostage with was likely as useless as the others’, let alone surrender.
Figuring this girl must be of some importance to them, Striker stayed on her roll, snapping at Kato’s companions, “You too! Stay where you are if you value her life!”
Kato watched her friends with quiet resentment, hating the fact that they couldn’t move for her sake. Cursing her own powerlessness in this situation, she finally turned her attention to her would-be benefactors’ ship as it coasted to a halt next to the Triad III. As the pirates regained their initiative and threw a plank boarding ramp across, she found that she could not recall having ever laid eyes on this particular vessel before, and this only piqued her curiosity as she tried to guess the nature of their supposed saviors, what this was all about.
She got her answer as Captain Striker’s newest prisoners marched up onto the deck.
“You?” Kato demanded as Max and his crew strode onboard. “What the hell are you doing here?”
“Saving your ass again, what else?” Justin grumbled, keeping both double-barrel power pistols trained on his would-be captors as he advanced on them.
The tables, it seemed, had not quite turned against the crew of the Maximum, and Striker clutched her sidearm as if it were control itself. For Max also held her crew at bay with his refurbished power rifle, and Shades brought up the rear, tentatively aiming Max’s power pistol at them. Ordinarily, the three of them would stand no chance in a firefight against so many without solid cover, but the pirates were all too aware of the uselessness of their own weapons, and backed down as their enemies’ surrender became a reverse boarding party.
Shades noted that these pirates wore lots of guns, like their old-fashioned forebears. A look and an arsenal that would have been quite intimidating earlier. But now just mocking them, as not a single one actually worked.
In the midst of this strange confrontation, Kato and her companions could only stare at the three bumbling travelers they thought they’d left behind in Centralict.
“Not one more step!” Striker snapped, retraining her gun on Kato’s head. “This is my ship, and I make the rules.”
“Do it,” Justin said flatly, “and I’ll shoot a few of your friends.”
“The girl shares the same fate as anyone you kill,” Striker shot back, “so fire away if you dare, boy.”
Max somehow managed to keep an outward façade of resolve despite the fact that he really didn’t like all this talk of hostages and killing, while Shades just hoped his mirrored lenses would conceal his growing unease.
“That’s it!” Kato thundered, no longer able to stand the suspense even one moment longer. In that same second, she swept Striker’s arm aside, and elbowed her in the ribs, sending the pirate captain staggering back as she staggered forward, blinking. Kato was quite certain Striker pulled the trigger in the midst of that attack, and the fact that nothing happened was all the proof she needed that Striker was bluffing all along. “Shit! Why didn’t you just call her bluff!”
“You know,” Shades began—
But was cut off by an energy beam streaking past his head, followed by another, straight up in the air.
“The hell…” Justin muttered.
The rest of Striker’s crew stepped aside to reveal two sentries who were previously standing at the bow. At the farthest point, they all understood, from where Max’s EMP grenade went off. Just out of range. And so the tables turned once again as the two pirates targeted Chase and George.
“Now,” Striker told them, “I will only tell you one more time to throw down your weapons and surrender. This is the last warning I intend to give.”
Shades, for his part, had already fumbled his gun at that last shot, reducing it to two gunman versus two gunwomen. Max lowered his power rifle in silent frustration, unable to think of what to do next. Justin kept both guns trained on Striker for a long moment, every instinct acquired in his outlaw life telling him he should kill her now, as she would most certainly kill them later, but something stayed his hand. All he could figure was that he somehow just couldn’t do that in front of Max.
“Fuck!” he spat as he threw down both guns. Glaring at Kato as the pirates moved to encircle them, some already heading for the now unguarded Maximum, he told her, “This is all your fault, bitch.”
“Kiss my ass,” Kato replied.
“Do you know how much all our weapons cost?” Striker demanded, striding up to Max. Though not quite as tall as he, she drew herself up to her full height as she faced him. She whipped out her own laser blade even as she spoke. A most unusual specimen, with a thicker, longer grip than most, and a hilt that looked like a wickedly curved axe blade. “Do you?”
Max answered her with defiant silence.
“Surely you must have known you were no match for us,” she told them.
“The thought had occurred to us…” Shades surprised himself by actually answering her. With a casual audacity that was uncharacteristic of him.
“Hey! Do you know who you’re talking to!?” the mousy one demanded, staring sharply at Shade’s impassive lenses. “That’s Captain Striker to you, so you better show some respect!”
“Mousy,” Shades said, coining the name the exact same moment Justin did, trying not to giggle as he said it. Couldn’t believe he was cracking wise at a time like this.
In the midst of all this, Justin found a moment to wonder, Does every Cyexian pirate captain have one of those? Though she looked different from Slash’s Mouse, her personality and manner were nearly identical.
“What’s so funny!?” Mousy screeched. “Nobody laughs at Captain Striker in front of me!”
Striker. Justin had heard the name before, and now realized they were in even more trouble than he could have imagined. Though Cyexian, Striker and her crew were not of any of the clans he was familiar with. Unlike Slash and the clans that operated on the islands beyond the Triangle State, the Ocean itself harbored its share of free-roaming pirates and marauders. And it looked as if they had finally run afoul of one.
Though Slash was infamous in Cyexian and Triangle State waters, Striker’s name was feared on the high seas at large. Had overheard accounts of her exploits among travelers in the port town of Benton. To be honest with himself, if he had had even the slightest inkling of what he was really up against, he would have just dropped the whole business and left the Triad to their own fate, Tri-Medals or no Tri-Medals.
“It just sounds so ‘butch’.” Shades found it hard not to laugh at names like “Striker” and “Slash” for some reason. The more nervous he got, the more smart remarks seemed to fly from his lips. Before, he wasn’t caught in the midst of this dangerous crowd; now, though, he feared he might slit his throat with his own tongue, yet found it the only weapon he had left to wield. Though he found his confidence was in short supply, still he would stand tall.
Something inside of him just refused to back down.
“Shades,” Justin hissed, elbowing him, “what the hell are you doing?”
“Why don’t you speak for yourself, pipsqueak?” Shades quipped.
“Why are you pissing her off?” Justin demanded. “They’re already gonna beat the crap out of us!”
“It’s obvious you’re only Striker’s bitch,” Shades continued.
“Nobody messes with Striker!”
Meanwhile, another battle of wills was playing out nearby as Striker stared down Max. Or at least tried to. Thus far, this mysterious young man returned her gaze with a defiance she had never seen in one so young.
“You won’t act so tough when I’m through with you, boy,” Striker informed him.
“I’m not going to beg for mercy…” Max told her. Even as he feared for his friends’ lives, Max found he couldn’t keep his eyes off Striker’s weapon. Was increasingly certain he had seen that exotic design before. Not merely heard descriptions of it, but having actually seen what might have been its like before…
As Max and Striker stared each other down, Justin turned to Kato, her eyes still wide, and shrugged, muttering, “Bet you didn’t think you’d ever see us again, did you?”
“Some rescue, shorty,” Kato hissed. “But you just came here for…” thinking quickly, “for revenge, didn’t you?”
“Damn straight, bitch!” Justin shot back. “After you stole our Tri-Medals when we helped…”
Kato grimaced as Justin blustered on.
Shades smacked his forehead in spite of all the enemies who were probably just looking for an excuse to beat his ass.
Justin’s tongue finally stumbled to a halt, but the damage was already done. Pausing for a moment in mid staring match, Striker wheeled on Kato and Justin, firing up her energy blade in a gesture that cut right between the two of them. Revealing a pair of red laser blades running parallel to each other, the leading edge slightly shorter than the other, giving the combined blade the illusion of curvature, its massive hilt finally making sense to its hapless observers.
“You were saying?…” As Striker’s gaze shifted between the two of them, she held up the three Tri-Medals in her other hand. When neither of them spoke, she said, “Please don’t stop on my account. You were having such an intriguing conversation, and we have all the time in the world out here.”
“I don’t know what he’s talking about,” Kato said brusquely. “Ask him.”
“Bullshit!” Justin shot back. “You’re the one who told us all about it in the first place!”
“Not very talkative now, are you?” Striker mused, looking over both of their travel companions. “Maybe they can convince you to pick up where you left off…”
“Ha! You wouldn’t talk so tough without your crew!” Justin found he actually resented Max, and even Shades, being used to leverage him. “Without them, Max would kick your ass!”
“You talk too much, little man.”
“Fine. I’ll tell you.” After making such bold promises to himself before the battle, Max had to force out every word as he spoke. “All I ask in return is that you let my friends go. Take what you wish, but let—”
the tables turn
For her part, Captain Striker was rather surprised that her ploy had actually worked.