A young man in ragged clothes and a scraggly beard slammed into Marina, knocking both of them down to the floor. The young man was filthy from spending who knows how long in a cell, his eyes sunken in and tired, the look of fear in them unmistakable. He was struggling to get up, his tied hands behind his back.
The guards yelled again for Marina to detain the man in the name of the Inquisition as they made their way down the dock, shoving gawkers left and right, a nasty-looking officer in front. Marina despised him on sight. The young man was saying something in a language Marina felt she knew but couldn’t quite place, but his tone made it clear it was a plea for help.
“Tranquilo, tranquilo, te voy a ayudar,” she reassured the young man in Castilian, hoping he understood her.
“Hablais castellano!” the young man exclaimed. “Ayudadme, capitán! El Eterno vos ha puesto en mi camino como bendición!”
It all clicked suddenly for Marina—who the young man was, why he was dressed that way, why she kind of knew his language, why they were after him—and she cursed under her breath. “Get behind me,” she said, grabbing him by the arm and shoving him so she was shielding him from the approaching guards. “No digas nada. Silencio.”
“Captain?” Brick’s voice sounded in Marina’s ear. “Problem?”
“Yeah, I’m afraid so.”
“Well, what’s new? Ninety-eight percent.”
“Have her ready to shoot out of here, Brick.”
“Con quien habláis?” the young man asked, looking at Marina with a curious face.
Marina shushed him, as the guards formed a semi-circle in front of them, parting to let the officer in. He looked even nastier up close, his scowl angry and cold, his eyes devoid of emotion, his mouth a thin tight line. This was a man who enjoyed his position of power and had no problem taking advantage of it. He paused, and studied Marina and the young man, the ship next to them, the sky above. He pursed his nose, his nostrils flaring wide, his look one of disgust. He spat just shy of Marina’s feet.
“It’s a nice day, and I’m feeling benevolent this morning,” the officer said in perfect Trade English, earning a slightly raised eyebrow from Marina. “Hand over the prisoner, and you’ll be allowed to leave without any problems.” His voice was raspy, like he’d spent a lifetime screaming at people, smoking, or both.
“Or?” Marina asked.
“Or we kill you both where you stand. I really don’t care. Either way, I get what I want, and go on with my day.”
“I see. So I have, what, ten seconds to choose?”
The officer laughed and it was the most unsettling sound Marina had ever heard. “You’ve read too many adventure stories, offworlder.”
Marina’s eyes went involuntarily wide, and this time the curse that escaped her lips was not under her breath.
“Kill them,” spat the officer, a dozen guards rushing past him, swords drawn. Marina drew her own rapier, ready for a fight.
“Get on the ship!” she barked at the young man as she parried the first few thrusts from the guards. “Aborda! Aborda!”
“Pero, no hay plancha para abordar!” replied the young man, looking around in vain for a way to board the ship as Marina continued to deflect lethal thrusts meant to skewer them.
“Joder. Brick, show’s over!”
“Captain, are you sure—”
The air around the moored ship shimmered, then seemed to fold upon itself. Where the cutter known in New Madrid as The Star was seconds before, a sleek medium freight cruiser with twin atmo-engines and quad hydrofoils floated on the waters of the harbor, waters now choppy by the hot exhaust pumping out of the ship’s ventral vents.
The sudden appearance of the metal construct stopped everyone in their tracks as they gawked dumbfounded. Everyone except the officer. He gave the cruiser barely a glance before drawing a small laser blaster from inside his chestplate and firing a shot at Marina. She winced involuntarily, sure the laser bolt would hit her squarely. As she opened her eyes, she saw through the hole in the chest of the guard who had been at the wrong place, at the wrong time.
The cruiser’s door opened onto the dock, and Brick’s voice boomed loud for all to hear, “Let’s go!”
Marina shoved the dumbfounded young man forward and through the door into the ship. As she was about to board, however, she heard the officer’s blaster fire again, the laser bolt slicing clear through her right thigh, searing waves of pain exploding all through her body. Her leg gave out and she crumpled onto the dock, tears streaming down her face as she tried to crawl into the ship.
“STOP GAWKING AT THE SHIP AND KILL HER, PARTIDA DE IDIOTAS!” the officer screamed as he raised his blaster for yet another shot, guards in the way be damned.
Marina heard Brick in her earpiece yell, “Hold on to something!” She wasn’t sure what he meant, but as the cruiser hovered straight up then turned straight on its side, Marina let out a curse and held tightly to the edge of the dock as the ship’s ventral vents blew heated air upon everyone on the docks. Marina went flat against the dock just as Brick throttled the engines, sending a sudden gust of exhaust that knocked everyone down on their asses. He flipped the cruiser back upright, bringing the ship’s door next to Marina on the dock. The young man, looking somewhat green in the face after Brick’s piloting acrobatics, crawled on his belly to help pull Marina into the ship, a laser bolt slipping through as the ship doors sealed shut, leaving a dark blast mark on the wall as a reminder.
“Captain, you alright?” Marina heard Brick ask, both through her earpiece and from the cockpit ahead.
“I’ll live,” she replied through tight lips, doing her best to hold back the pain-induced blackness that threatened to swallow her. “Punch it!”
Brick wasted no time with delicate flying, kicking the twin atmo-engines to life right over the docks as he sought to get the hell out of New Madrid, the sonic boom left in their wake deafening everyone in the harbor, though all around him would swear that they could clearly hear the officer as he hurled foul insults at the flying ship.
To be continued…