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Story 2

John Harper

John is a 30-year-old Mechanical Engineer from Wellington, New Zealand. He has a wife and two kids, all of whom he adores to bits.

He likes spending time with his family, running, and watching cricket and V8 supercars.

His writing career began in his first year of school when he stood up in school assembly and read out his own rendition of the movie "Short Circuit".

A previous edit of this story won an Honourable Mention in the "Writers of the Future" contest. John has had several short stories published in ezine format.


Allure of the Celestial Sea

John Harper



They'd cleared two decks within five minutes of boarding. Vasquith stormed down the smoke-filled passage, pistols in outstretched arms, firing into the guards. Bodies slumped against the papered walls, their blood soaking into the plush, red carpet. Bullets zipped past his long, black hair, thudded painfully into his vest. Screams and blood and hot brass filled the Allure's passageway.

Vasquith stopped at the next intersection, his pirates lining up behind him. He caught his breath, the first lull in the fighting since they'd boarded. His father would he in the hold, technically a POW until the transfer in a few hours. He needed the ship's captain to get access, which meant he had to capture the bridge.

He leaned out around the corner. A framed duplicate of the Mona Lisa stared back at him, a bullet hole for a left eye, but still smiling that terrific smile. Registers in the roof sucked at the blue haze of burnt propellant.

The punch of distant weapons fire sounded past the next corner, growing louder. His pirates took positions against the walls, guns up, ready. He'd trained them well.

Half a dozen guards raced around the corner, firing backwards blindly. Vasquith dropped the first one, and his men finished the rest. A moment later, another of his teams raced around the corner and stopped by the bodies. Its leader, Pig, nodded at Vasquith.

"Deck clear, sir."

"Next level then," Vasquith said. They rushed back to the last intersection and took the other passage, up the stairs to the next deck.

He checked his chrono. They were making better time than he'd expected. His preparations had been rushed; he'd had to flesh out his numbers with Yellow Slitters –- Alliance leasemen like Pig –- but they hadn't caused any problems.


The decks fell before them. His pirates had been raiding for years; the Slitters had been in over a dozen actions. Some of the guards struggled to even work their own weapons. The passengers had the good sense to hide in their rooms –- temporary protection only –- but some of the staff had delusions of heroism. Swords were bloodied, and guns run dry until the coppery stench of blood and the burnt taste of hot steel were all Vasquith could smell.

Slowing, tiring, running low on ammunition and time, Vasquith scaled the stairs to the bridge deck.

He took the spiral steps three at a time until the last deck came into view.

The corridor exploded in noise, and bullets screamed past Vasquith's ears. He dropped, yelled at his men and huddled against the steps. The storm of bullets continued overhead, thudding harmlessly into the hardened bulkheads. They all inched back behind the last turn, and Vasquith checked his men. No one was hurt, but there were a lot of pissed off faces looking back at him.

He jerked his hand out expectantly. "Mirror!"

A few of his men patted their pockets, and one dropped a small, round mirror on a rod into his hand.

Vasquith crept back up the steps, and raised the mirror into the torrent of lead.

There were three men, holed up behind a barricade of benches, bulkheads and bodies. They had a mean looking gun: big, six barrels, manually cranked, a chain of ammunition streaming from a chest.

He turned back, raised his arm (safely) like an arrow, and waved it back and forth: Enemy, stationary gun. A murmur of anxiety swept through his men.

The Allure of the Celestial Sea had sent a distress signal before his Corvette’s jammers could stop it. The Hegemony navy would have already been on their way for the POW transfer; now they'd be running before the wind to answer the SOS. He couldn't afford to get pinned down, but he wasn't going to waste his men on the gun. Scum though they were, his pirates were his family.

The steady stream of bullets deafened him; the stench of burnt gunpowder blurred his ability to think. The gun was manually cranked, so he couldn't use an EMP. Explosives would be too dangerous. The shockwaves would reflect down the hardened bulkheads. He raised the mirror back up, higher and higher, searching for inspiration.

--the mirror exploded into a thousand shards and Vasquith flinched away. He gaped at the rod in disbelief then tossed it aside. He'd seen enough.

There was a window behind the barricade.

Reinforced for sure, at least four cores, but it wasn't military grade. He called up his Specialist on the link. "Get the Corvette moving. Lock onto my signal. Concentrate all guns on the closest port window."

"Aye, Cap'n," said his Specialist. The grunt was unimaginative and boring, but he took orders without question.

The seconds ticked by as he waited, each louder than the last, until he couldn’t hear the bullets over the booming in his head. His father was down below, waiting, and he was up here, stuck. He’d waited half his life for this day; the Bardagnion survivors had waited the last seven months. There were things to say before he killed him.

"In position," his Specialist said.

Vasquith reached back and waved his fist side to side: Wedge formation. He couldn't hear his men over the torrent of fire, but he sensed their closeness. "Fire."

The whole ship seemed to lurch as if the artificial gravity had inverted. Wind ripped at their clothes, tore at their hair, squealing and whistling, then just as quickly died.

Vasquith was already moving, his men right behind him. The knot in his stomach flared, the warmth of anger spreading like a shot of bourbon on a cool night. They charged up the steps, guns firing. The port window was gone, emergency bulkheads slammed in place. The barricade had collapsed, the sole remaining guard prone on the floor. A hail of bullets turned him into a bloody rag.

They kept running, Vasquith in the lead. His smile felt a little too wide, a little unhinged, but right then he didn't care. All that stood between him and his father was the bridge door. "Let's finish this, boys."


Vasquith was the last into the ballroom. The surviving guards, crew and passengers were pressed up against the stage, held in a circular perimeter by his men.

Murmurs and wails filled the room, reflecting off the dance-ready floor and ceiling panels, but the clunk and whompf of the large doors closing silenced the room.

The room felt damp with sweat and fear. Vasquith stepped forward, combat boots scraping over the polished mahogany floor. Hundreds of gazes assaulted him.

An array of chandeliers lit up the stage where a Steinway piano squatted before red velvet curtains. A distant numbness filled his gut. He’d spent half his childhood flying toy spaceships around the feet of a Steinway replica. His mother had practised all day every day, his father had sailed the Galaxy murdering in the name of the Hegemony, and Vasquith had run circles around those piano legs until there were ruts in the floor.

Now he had come full circle, standing here, in this room, hoping two wrongs would make a right.

"We're here for the Brute of Bardagnion," Vasquith boomed in the loud but controlled voice his father had used so many times. "You might have heard of him from such massacres as Villiest, Samara's Drift, New Cornwall and, of course, Bardagnion. He's a murderer."

And my father. "We're here to sentence him." That wasn't totally true: The Yellow Slitters would gladly see him dead for Bardagnion, but leasemen were leasemen and it was the plunder they truly cared about. None of them knew the personal reason for this operation. "Ten gold Fleurs to the man who takes me to him."

The crowd grumbled, but no one stepped forward or spoke up. Bruised men stared through purpuling eyes, some bent over clutching injuries, others tall in defiance. Crying children huddled between their mother's legs, but they appeared unharmed, a concept he'd had to hammer into the Yellow Slitters.

He waited another ten seconds, conscious of how precious each was, but no one was greedy or stupid enough to accept his offer.

Do they truly know nothing about him? The surviving Bardagnions had learnt that the luxury liner was transferring POWs from Alliance to Hegemony space, an under-the-table money making venture for all involved.

Vasquith’s link squawked, bringing him out of his reverie. "Cap’n we’ve got a problem."

He eyed the closest hostages. They probably hadn't heard. He affected a bored expression, turned and stepped away, and brought the link to his mouth. "What?"

"The navy. Looks like a whole fleet. Just appeared from behind the third planet."

Vasquith kept his face slack, but his insides clenched as if a fist had reached through his chest and squeezed. His father's fist, still beating him after all these years. The third planet was well within the system's shunt boundary, the limit of super-luminal travel. The fleet had been here all along, waiting in ambush, waiting for him, waiting until he’d committed himself before closing in for the kill.

He turned away from the closest pirates. "Time to intercept?"

The link went quiet. Vasquith held the link like a lifeline, knuckles white, fingernails digging in, one second stretching into another. "Well?"

"Four hours."

Vasquith cursed. His timeframe had just been halved. His cobbled-together fleet would need a three-hour head-start to reach the northward shunt boundary. One hour to find his father, deliver his comeuppance and get out. Tight, but doable. But if the intel had been wrong about the navy's movements, was it wrong about his father too?

No, his father was on board. He'd seen the stolen communiqué. Vasquith breathed deeply, clipped the link to his collar, and turned back to the crowd. He didn't have a moment to waste.

"If the Captain of this ship doesn't show himself in five seconds, I'm going to shoot a hostage." He un-holstered his pistol for effect but it felt light, unbalanced. He hoped there was at least one bullet in there.

A greying man in a torn, blue Commodore's uniform pushed through the crowd, deep blue eyes locked on Vasquith. "Let me pass," he boomed at two pirates on the cordon. His Commodore's hat was ripped, his cheek slashed with dried blood, but he stood straight and tall, regal even in defeat.

"Let him pass," Vasquith said in a slightly mocking tone. Don't give him an inch of respect.

The Commodore swaggered over, stopping half a foot away. His breath stank of garlic, and his nose was wrinkled in contempt, as if Vasquith was so far below him in standing it was painful just to be in his presence.

The knot tightened in Vasquith's chest; the anger whispered seductively, how the Commodore would look better with a bullet between his eyes. Vasquith's fingers were white around the pistol grip, and he forced himself to relax.

"I know about the POW transfer," he said. "One hundred of the Hegemony's finest. Take me down to the lockup now."

The Commodore didn't move. He stood with an open stance: defiant, assured, in control, and it was pissing Vasquith off.

"You deaf, old-timer?"

"You’ll never get them," he said with a stern finality. It was probably how all his conversations ended.

But Vasquith wasn't finished. He examined the pistol in his hand, its metal grip cool against his skin, the trigger worn to his index finger. A pistol whip felt like a compelling solution, but it would have been like hitting his gramp-gramp, the man who'd taken him in after his father stopped coming home and his mother chucked him out.

Vasquith's gaze roamed the room, over the polymorphic ceiling, past the chains of recently plundered diamond chandeliers, down the stage to the piano. "Say, that’s a nice looking piano. Steinway right? I bet it’s an original too."

He waited for the implied threat to take effect, but the Commodore looked two seconds away from yawning.

"Boy, there can’t be more than fifteen of those left in the Galaxy, am I right? A true museum piece. Priceless. Irreplaceable. Your employers must have a lot of trust in you."

The Commodore stared without expression, eyes vacant, studying a point half a light year away, his lips thinner than a cosmic string. He was either supremely arrogant, or he was stalling.

Vasquith heard the screech of a link and looked over his men. They had their hands to their ears, listening. Their feet shifted; their fingers tensed on triggers; they turned slightly away from him. Word had spread and now Vasquith had two countdowns: bugging out before the Hegemony Navy arrived and bugging out before his men mutinied.

He considered calling the retreat –- they had more than enough plunder -- but he had made two promises, to himself sixteen years ago and to the Bardagnion survivors six months ago. This was his only chance to stop the murdering bastard.

He scanned the room, searching for a new angle against the Commodore, and settled upon the knot of hostages.

A little girl in a red pinafore and blonde pigtails nestled against her kneeling mother. They both had dried tears on their cheeks. Unfortunately, perfect leverage. He stepped forward, trying to think of anything else except the next few minutes. He grabbed the girl’s tiny wrist, so warm and delicate and fragile, and yanked her from her mother’s arms.

The mother shrieked, the father lunged forward. A pirate brained him with a rifle butt, then held him down to watch. His eyes were wide, as white as a childhood ghost. "Don’t you hurt her," he screamed, voice thick with a primal fear.

Vasquith nearly stopped. Only a concentrated effort kept one leg moving in front of the other. If only his father had loved him that much, then none of them would have been right here right now: two of them about to watch their lives destroyed, one about to lose her life and the other about to lose his humanity. The knot of anger had shrunk, unable to protect him from his next move, to shield his soul with rage. Cold blooded murder was cold blooded murder.

But he wasn't here just for himself. He was here for Bardagnion and New Cornwall and Samara's Drift and all the bustling planets his father might wipe out because of taxes or allegiances, or whatever excuse he could come up with.

He dragged the screaming girl back to the Commodore, in full view of everyone, and spoke loudly, articulating every word clearly. "I’m running out of time, Commodore, so I’m only going to say this once. Take me to the lockup or I’ll shoot this girl right between the eyes."

The girl sobbed and wet herself, the mother cried a mortal wail, and another pirate had to help hold down the father, but Vasquith blocked them out. He had to. If he listened, he'd relent. This wasn't raiding merchant ships for grain and textiles. This was butchery and murder. He stared at the Commodore, his furious blue eyes, rimmed with wrinkles and wisdom and anger, but his face otherwise serene. Break, damn you. Break!

The prisoners tugged and yelled, pushing forward, barely restrained by the pirates. Their screams echoed across the ballroom, filling it with an angry buzz like a wasp’s nest.

Vasquith had sensed their fear the instant he’d entered the ballroom, but now he felt something new -- hatred. He’d crossed the line from pirate to monster. Maybe now his father would be proud of him. The thought made him feel empty.

"Maybe I won't go for between the eyes," he said, pressing the gun in behind the girl's ear. "Maybe I'll make it a glancing shot so she bleeds out right in front of you, so you watch her life disappear, so..."

"Enough!" The Commodore's voice shook the ballroom, strong enough to make even Vasquith lean back. Then he whispered, "Let the girl go and I'll take you down."

Vasquith slowly released his breath. He holstered his pistol but kept his hand in place to stop it shaking. With his other hand he guided the girl back to her mother. The two hugged, bodies racked with sobs.

He stared at them a moment, remembering his last moment with his mum: sharp cutting words, a thrown lamp and the slamming of a door.

Vasquith blinked and turned to the father. The pirates released him and he sprang like a panther, snarling, but Vasquith grabbed his neck and squeezed. "You were going to let me kill your daughter in front of you? You call yourself a father? You should have died to protect her." He shoved him aside and turned to the Commodore. "Let’s go."


The lift stopped its descent and opened onto the dark Orlop deck. Stale air wafted through the doors. The passage stretched into the distance, illuminated by the odd flickering light panel. Condensation dripped from overhead pipes, echoing down the corridor. Vasquith shivered, feeling his descent was more than just physical.

"Have a nice day," chimed the lift.

Vasquith pushed the Commodore out into the darkness, just as his link crackled. "Cap’n, a navy battle group just shunted in. They're flying the Hegemony standard."

"Location?" There were only so many ways in and out of the system.

"Looks like they came from Epsilon Virginis. Octant one."

"Damn the Fates." Vasquith punched the wall. That ruined their escape plan. A sense of helplessness wormed through his gut, the same helplessness he had felt under his father's beatings for not being smart or strong enough.

He took a slow, calming breath. He wasn't that boy anymore. His father was about to find that out the hard way.

"What about Plan B?" he asked. The fourth passage was out of the ecliptic, but would the other navy fleet beat them there?

The link went silent again and the Commodore turned, a slight smile visible in the gloom.

Vasquith slapped him about the head. "Eyes forward."

His link clicked. "We can make it without being intercepted if we leave in twenty minutes."

"Get the ships ready." Vasquith killed the link and shoved the Commodore forward.

The deck vibrated from the thrum of the idling engines. Rust flaked under foot. They passed valves, grates, and silent display panels, all dark, disused.

The passageway seemed to carry on into infinity, endless girders, pipes and beams that all looked the same. He briefly wondered if the lift had opened in purgatory, dooming him to walk in circles forever. The Commodore lumbered ahead of him, silent, upright, stiff. The perfect companion for Hell.

Finally the passage ended in a hatch. The Commodore wound the handle in and pushed the hatch aside.

Muted yellow light flooded out, and they stepped through into an antechamber. The air inside was dry and less stale. The walls on either side were plain, smooth and white but a large reinforced steel door filled the opposite wall. Beside the door was a small thumb pad...

"The Kindred Blade is pulling away," his Specialist yelled over the link.

A pit opened up inside Vasquith and he was falling. The damned Yellow Slitters, as cowardly as their moniker and destroying everything he'd planned. They of all people knew what was at stake. Did they want another Bardagnion? "Tell them to stand down." He barely felt the words come out, but he knew he was yelling.

"They've shut down their link," his Specialist said, voice rising as if he'd reversed through puberty. He was as useless as a pre-teen too. "I can't get through."

Vasquith stared at the locked door, imagining what lay beyond. He had fifteen minutes left on his internal clock, but that meant nothing if all his men abandoned him. If he had any sense, any desire to retain his command, he'd yield and give the evac signal while he still could.

"Shoot it down."


"They're Alliance traitors. Order the other ships to fire on the Blade. Do it now." Hopefully that would buy him another few minutes of loyalty. Or a full blown munity.

"Aye, Cap'n," his Specialist said, his normally staccato reply drawn out in uncertainty.

The Commodore stood by the vault door, arms by his side, a smug grin on his face.

Vasquith shut the link and raised a half clenched fist at the Fates. The Commodore was harder to move than a tonne of boulders. "That kid upstairs must have been what, seven? eight? She could have been your granddaughter. You got grandkids, old-timer? You ever want to see them again?"

The Commodore's top lip curled slightly as if to snarl but his eyes betrayed nothing. He just stood there, still and silent, milking out every second he could.

"I have contacts," Vasquith said. "I found out about your special cargo. I can find out about your family. Maybe I'd let them enjoy themselves, turn your grandkids into abstract art. You ever heard of Salvador Dali, old-timer?"

He said the words but his lips felt thick, the thoughts foreign and his stomach cramped. He'd been waiting half his life for this day but now he just wished it was over and done with -– every step, every moment made him more like the Brute.

The Commodore said nothing, and another five seconds were gone.

Vasquith had already trimmed his speech to his father, culling the bits he’d like to say and leaving only what had to be said. "You know I have some real sadists in my crew here. They'd probably make the mum and dad watch and then do the same to them. One big happy family."

"I'll kill you if you touch them," snapped the Commodore, his serene expression smashed into angles and wrinkles and venom.

"Open the door and no one has to kill anyone."

Vasquith watched the Commodore's internal battle rage between duty and family, his eyes flickering, his jaw tensing and relaxing. Surely at his age the Commodore would value family over career.


The Commodore's expression swung from one extreme to the other, chewing through precious seconds.

Vasquith reached for his bowie knife. He leaned in real close and whispered, "Put your damn thumb on the pad or I'll cut off your hand and do it myself."

"It needs voice activation."

"I’ll take my chances."

The Commodore sagged and pressed his thumb to the door's security pad. A thin green line scrolled slowly up the pad, beeped, scrolled down, beeped, then rolled across the pad before finally going dark.

Vasquith stepped forward expectantly, only for the process on the pad to start again, even slower than before. It was like watching a holovid in slo-mo. He bit his lip, flinching with each passing second, his world shrinking to him, the Commodore and the pad.

His internal countdown raced by as the green line inched from one side of the pad to the other. He yanked on his collar to relieve the growing heat.

"Another ship’s pulling away," his Specialist squawked. "It's the Uberfaust."

"Get them back, get them back," Vasquith yelled, knowing he was wasting his breath.

Voices burst over the link. "We've lost the ballroom," yelled one of his men.

"We're falling back to the ship," another pirate screamed.

Vasquith stumbled backward as if punched in the gut. Blackness encroached on his vision and he waved his hands about for support like a drunk.

He'd lost. His men were fleeing; he was trapped in the bowels of this evil ship. There'd be an angry mob down here any moment seeking revenge for the ballroom.

The door before him looked thick and strong, brand new, as if installed yesterday. If shine could deflect bombs, the door would have been impregnable.

Vasquith shivered. The Bardagnion war shelter's door had also been shiny. But it had been punched in by an orbital missile, leaving a hole the size of an elephant, the remnants twisted and black. There hadn't been much left inside: a shard of bone here, some congealed blood there, a food tin that had been superheated and cooled.

Fifty thousand people had crammed into that shelter.

It was then that Vasquith had understood. That wasn't a father beating his child for getting a B minus. That was a psychopath bereft of humanity. Vasquith had moments to live but he hadn't lost his humanity.


He wasn't going to waste those last seconds.

The Commodore stepped away from the blank security pad, and Vasquith swung his pistol up. "What’s wrong?"

"It’s a time-delay lock," the Commodore said, almost apologetically. "It won’t unlock for another twenty-four hours."

Vasquith's stomach clenched. His throat seized as if caught in a vice and his breath rasped. Everything was falling apart. Ambush, betrayal and bad luck. It beat the best of men. At least the Commodore wasn't smirking.

Vasquith straightened, his throat clearing. The Commodore's face was slack, relaxed, his crow's feet smoothed, eyes glazed.

He was too relaxed.

Vasquith crushed his pistol into the Commodore's ear. "Save me the heroics. You've tried and failed. Now open the door or I'll send you home to your grandkids in chunks."

The Commodore muttered something under his breath, but put his thumb back to the scanner. It ran through its sequence for a third time, even slower than before.

Gears and servos whined inside the door, security pins pulled out with a boom and the door retracted into the deck.

The vault beyond the door was a small steel compartment. Two overhead light panels, what looked like a security camera overhead and two doors with thumb pads. One to the right, one to the left.

Vasquith pushed the Commodore into the vault and waved his pistol between the two doors. "Which one?"

The Commodore shrugged. "Take your pick. They're all back there."

"I want the Brute."

The Commodore shrugged again as if he'd suddenly stopped caring. Perhaps he knew he was in no danger, perhaps he was still playing the stalling game or perhaps he knew something Vasquith didn't. The Commodore stepped to the left door and put his thumb to the pad.

Vasquith's heart raced, a little dynamo running faster and faster, pressurising his chest. His head felt light, his fingers tingled.

This was the moment, the moment he'd dreamt of for so long, the moment where he had the power over his father. Even he has to admire what I've accomplished. And if he doesn't, I'll shoot him in the face.

The door retracted.

A still darkness hung within like a cloak of death and he knew something was wrong. He smelt dust, not sweat. He heard silence, not breathing. He stepped forward carefully, as if broken glass covered the deck. As his eyes adjusted he made out the far wall, curved with the hull, ribs and stiffeners forming a criss-cross pattern across it. Drums and coiled rope thicker than his wrist sat in one corner of the compartment, part of the anchor winch in the other.

And then he saw them sitting in the centre of the room: white military coffins, each arranged perfectly in line with the others in a grid pattern, the Hegemony flag draped across each of them.

Vasquith’s pistol thumped to the ground and the steel deck slammed into his knees. The world swam around him. He distantly sensed the Commodore behind him, the hull before him, the pressure of the floor on his knees, but they were in another place and another time, racing past him like the swirling lights of shuntspace, Vasquith and the coffins and his whole world sailing into oblivion.

He was too late. He’d had this one last chance to prove himself to his father, and now it was too late. He had failed.


"Which one?" Vasquith croaked, thinking back to the Bardagnion intel, how it had been so wrong, why he'd risked everything for nothing.

The Commodore stammered, his smugness gone. "The Admiral? I thought you knew, you..."

"Which one?" Stronger this time, but still blurred by memories, thoughts, and the crushing failure in his chest.

"Front and centre."

Vasquith shuffled on his knees to his father’s coffin. He wiped an arm past his wet face. He'd never made his father proud, never shown him how good he could be. His father had died knowing his son was a failure.

The anger Vasquith had been carrying around all those years, the anger that had balled into a thick knot in his stomach, the anger that had driven him to this point, had evaporated, its wake filled by guilt and despair. He rested his hand on the coffin. "I'm sorry, dad."

His pistol cocked behind him.

Vasquith wiped the snot from his nose. He didn't need to turn around. He knew what he'd see: the Commodore, pistol in hand, aiming at the back of Vasquith's head.

"Do it," he said, his voice hoarse, barely above a whisper.

"Slowly turn," the Commodore said, the authority and regality returned to his voice.

Vasquith obeyed. "I don't have eyes in the back of my head. It would have been easier." He thought of the pain he'd caused the man, his crew and his passengers. Not to mention the dead. All of that pain, for nothing. Perhaps he did deserve to die.

The Commodore studied him, pistol unwavering. His eyes seemed almost to glow, their blue as bright and light and pure as the oceans near Vasquith's old home. Those blue eyes stared through his own, straight to his brain, probing, examining, deciding. "You weren't going to kill that girl."

"Of course not." He briefly felt insulted before remembering what he had done. "I'm not a monster. I'm not my father."

"You're just a blustery little bastard. All talk. A scared little boy playing an adult's game."

"You going to shoot me or what?"

Neither of them moved. The Commodore as solid as granite, the rifling visible down the pistol's dark barrel, distant gun fire audible over Vasquith's link. The whole world was in chaos, but here in the vault time itself had stopped.

The Commodore lowered the pistol. "I was a son once too. I'm not going to shoot you, but if any of my crew find you, they will."

Vasquith stared back at the Commodore, unsure if it was a trick or if he even wanted the mercy.

The Commodore held the pistol tight but his shoulders weren't tense, his body half turned away as if he'd already moved onto some other problem. He no longer cared about Vasquith.

The link had gone quiet: most of his men were off the ship. He had three minutes left on his clock.

He stood, slowly. He turned for the door, took one step, took another and exited the vault. Behind him stood the Commodore. Ahead of him lay darkness and people baying for his blood. He'd probably never reach his ship in time, or alive. But there were other crimes to revenge, his own crimes to repent. Things he couldn't do if he were dead.

He ran.



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