- Text Size +
Author's Chapter Notes:
assess the mess
The following morning, they all woke up feeling refreshed, already letting the weight of the past ten days slip from their shoulders.

After breakfast, Justin and Shades strolled out onto the deck to find Maximilian gazing out at the horizon.

“I get it now…” the Young Master said, apparently talking to himself. “Why Freedan was so resentful. Why he didn’t want to treat me as a worthy enemy. I suppose I wouldn’t, either… All those years, just assuming I’d be running the company. But I had no idea how… Father, would you have shown me, if you had the chance?…”

He trailed off, finally noticing that he had company, and started with a gasp as if more mindful of his survival instincts than he was before this voyage.

“Sorry,” Shades mumbled, “didn’t mean to spook you.”

“It’s okay,” Maximilian replied. “In fact, it’s just the sort of thing I’ve been thinking about. I realize now that all this time, I’ve had no real idea what I’m doing. Just as I had no clear vision of how I would run the family business, either. No wonder the Assembly wouldn’t take me seriously… Maybe it’s for the best that I’m starting out from scratch, but if I’m going to become a real captain, I need more experience. If only I had someone to learn from…”

“Yeah, it’s not gonna be easy finding a new crew after this mess,” Justin commented as he joined them.

“First thing’s first,” Maximilian told them, “we need to go over this ship from top to bottom, take stock of what we still have, and what needs to be fixed. We also need to figure out what we can do without for now, as we surely can’t afford to repair everything all at once. After that, we’ll need to start with food and supplies, then the engines…”

“Then let’s get started,” Shades proposed. “Big jobs are always easier to work through if you break them down into smaller, bite-size tasks.”

They found Max and Bandit on the upper deck, gazing out at sea, and the two quickly joined them. It took some searching, but they found Roxy down in the hold, hanging from an overhead pipe. Doing pull-ups in full body armor.

“What do you want?” she grunted as she dropped back down to the deck. Seeing the look on Maximilian’s face, she said, “Let me guess. You’re lookin’ for an extra hand around the ship, aren’t you?”

“Yes,” he answered, “if you don’t mind.”

“Very well.” Roxy shrugged. “I don’t have anything better to do until they come back with my bounty anyway, so I’ll lend you a hand for now. You’re probably going to be shorthanded for a while, the way things are going…”

“You’re welcome to join our crew,” Maximilian offered.

“No thanks,” she declined. “Once I’m paid, I’ll be on my way. My contract with the Alta Assembly’s shot, so I need to drum up some work, see what’s going on in this town. You’d do well to do the same after you’ve cleaned up the ship a bit.”

“She’s got a point,” Shades agreed. “It’s not like new crew members or clients are just going to line up on the dock for us.”

“Either way,” Maximilian repeated, “my offer still stands. I owe you at least that much.”

“You got that right. Now let’s get down to business.”

To that end, they toured the decks with some clipboards Sebastian found on the bridge, taking note of all the damage. Marking everyplace the Cyexians wrecked the electrical and communications systems. Salvaging what little was left of the food supply, and cleaning up after the impromptu ‘camp-sites’ around the ship, as well as other messes they left. Broken furniture, damaged doors, numerous acts they could already tell would take them days to clean after up all by themselves.

Later that afternoon, a representative of the Port Authority returned again with some men to confiscate Mercer’s contraband cargo, as well as open a strongbox containing the bounty for capturing smugglers.

“Five thousand credits…” Shades mused. “About the best that can be expected, all things considered…”

“Chump-change compared to what I could’ve got for Striker,” Roxy muttered as she counted out her share, “or even what the Assembly would’ve paid for Mercer and Sloan…”

“It’s more than we would’ve gotten in a lot of places,” Max pointed out.

“Still, it’ll last you longer than it’ll last us,” Justin told her. “If we weren’t fighting for our lives back there, I’d hardly think it was worth the trouble.”

“At least you get it,” she replied. “That’s why I work alone. That’s why I travel light. That’s why I seek outlaws with high bounties. That’s how you make a living when you’re a bounty hunter.”

“But it’s not just the money, is it?” Max asked. “I’ve seen you fight. You really are a hunter, and you like the challenge of dangerous prey.”

“Getting sentimental will get you killed, kid,” Roxy cautioned him as she headed for the gangplank. “There’s a good reason people are willing to pay that much to capture or kill people like Striker. If it was easy, someone would’ve done it long before she racked up a bounty that high. You oughta know better than most.”

“Where are you going?” Maximilian asked as she walked away.

“Out,” was her vague reply. “It’s almost evening. My business is with the seedy side of this town, and night is when you learn the most about what’s going on in most places’ underworld. Don’t wait up.”

She waved nonchalantly without looking back.

“Do you suppose she’ll be back?” Max wondered aloud.

“Probably not, unless she can’t find any work tonight,” Shades speculated. “Speaking of looking, I’m going to need some time off tomorrow to conduct a little search of my own.”

“Your friends, right?” Maximilian nodded.

“Yes,” he replied. If it weren’t for all the imminent threats to their lives lately, he might otherwise have thanked Mercer for keeping him too distracted to sleep deeply enough to encounter any further Zero ambushes like that morning in Alta. Yet he found that the glaring absence of his friends from his dreams of late felt even more ominous than most of his nightmares about them. Most of all because he had no idea what it was supposed to mean, if anything. “I’m glad you understand.”

“If it was my friends,” he said, “I’d be looking, too.”

“Mind if I tag along?” Justin asked.

“What for?” Shades asked back. “You never took any interest in my search before.”

“I just need to get off this ship for a while,” Justin told him. “We’ve been cooped-up for days…”

“I know how you feel,” Max told him, “but there’s still a lot of work around here.”

“Come on,” Justin pressed him, “just because I don’t have anyone to go lookin’ for…”

“How about in the afternoon?” Maximilian suggested. “By then, I imagine we’ll all need a break.”

“Sounds good to me,” Max agreed.

“Fine,” Justin muttered.

“Then I guess we’ll see what kind of welcome you get around here,” Max told his feline friend, patting him on the head as they all went inside to see what Sebastian had cobbled together for dinner before resuming the evening’s work and turning in for the night.

After all, they still had another long day ahead of them tomorrow.