In the chaos of battle, he would never know for sure who hit him, or why as he was thrown from his damaged craft while passing near Sentry I in an attempt to let them know he was on their side.
Not wanting to get caught treading water in the middle of a firefight, Justin paddled over to the nearest ship, Sentry I, trying to keep a low profile. So focused on not getting shot by the raiders that he was initially surprised to find one of the Island Patrol guards training a power rifle on him as he swam up to the side of the ship. He just floated there for an awkward moment before the realization that he was still a sitting duck, and right in the line of fire out here, got him moving again.
“Don’t shoot!” Justin called out, reaching for a helping hand. “I’m on your side!”
“I can’t let you onboard…” the guard began.
“Let him on,” Chief Toma ordered, “or didn’t you see him fighting those pirates?” After the guard hauled him aboard, he asked Justin, “Can you tell me what happened?”
“Well, there’s not much to tell,” Justin admitted. “One moment, they were raising the treasure, the next those guys came outta nowhere and attacked. We were just trying to defend ourselves.”
“So that distress call was a diversion…” Toma muttered, more to himself than anyone else.
While Sentry I held the rest of the raiders at bay, Sentry II pulled up next to the commandeered Seeker and the sinking platform. Under heavy cover fire, Harper and the other surviving Seeker crew members were taken aboard. Many of them were in serious need of medical attention, so for now it was Sentry I’s main purpose to cover them during the rescue. Only then would they turn their full attention to the hijackers and their assault.
“I see,” Toma nodded, grasping the true nature of the thieves’ plot. Taking in the battle, he contemplated their next move. He was hoping for more info, but while he wasn’t sure he could fully trust this Justin Black, he was at least satisfied that he wasn’t in on the attack on the Seeker. “Do you know what happened to your friend, the observer?”
“You mean Max?” Justin asked, realizing with a start that in his desperate struggle to survive, he had completely lost track of him. Shades, too, he noted, no longer seeing him anywhere near his disabled watercraft, and surprised himself by being worried about him. “Last I saw, he was swimming toward the…”
That was when Justin caught the telltale flash and flicker of energy blades aboard the Seeker. Even as the Sentry I crew continued to keep the gradually diminishing swarm of enemy craft at bay, people on both sides of the conflict were starting to take notice of Max and Erix as they dueled across the deck of the captured ship. Like most of them, Justin wasn’t quite sure what to make of the situation, but he had already concluded that this wildcard wasn’t on their side.
“I’ve gotta help him…” Justin reached for one of the spare power rifles on the patrol ship’s gun rack, instinctively relieved just to have a weapon again. His gut feeling about this dark-clad stranger, after seeing him in action for but a few moments, was that he was bad news. And he didn’t like the idea of Max taking him on all on his own.
“Stay out of it,” Toma warned him, stopping his hand. He had already ordered his men not to fire on the Seeker, seeing as how no one there seemed to be able to shoot back for now, and instead focus on covering the marauders who still could. That, and to him the risk seemed too great; Max was their best bet on that front as long as he was still in action. “That’s Max’s fight!”
“No, I can hit him,” Justin said, aiming at Max’s opponent. “Eat shit, motherfucker!”
Much to his vexation, the Sentry was rocked by a round of enemy fire right then, and his shots went wide.
“Dammit! I missed!” Justin hissed, scanning the deck of the Seeker. At first, all he saw was Max stumble back to his feet, but no sign of his adversary. Relieved that he at least hadn’t shot his friend; without him to keep this mysterious meddler busy, they could lose any chance of reclaiming the ship.
And he could lose a good friend.
Then Justin fired again as he spotted a by-now familiar helmet pop up from behind the cover of some supply crates. This time his shot was a clean hit. But his jaw dropped in shock and dismay as that helmet sailed through the air and plunged out of sight into the sea below.
“No way…” Justin gasped, knowing right off that couldn’t be right. Even without a helmet, he had never heard of a mere power rifle decapitating someone, let alone at this range. “If I…”
“Look out!” Toma cried, lunging at Justin as he still tried to piece together what just happened back there, knocking him to the deck as a salvo of energy blasts swept past.
“The hell…” Justin muttered as he got up.
But Toma didn’t.
It only took Justin a moment to figure out that the guy just took a hit for him. The burn streak across his back was all too visible as he rolled over and struggled to his feet.
“You okay?” Justin demanded, still trying to catch up with this most unexpected turn of events.
“I will be…” Toma assured him as one of his crew turned to render aid. “I’ve taken worse than this, kid.”
Taking him at his word, and deciding that it would be best to hold his fire until he had a cleaner shot, Justin turned back to watch the duel unfolding before him, hoping Max was faring better than he had so far.