Let him die.
“He did not just say that,” said Arekan. He knew the first mate was a hard man, but he didn’t think Grokin would be cold hearted enough to let a member of his crew die.
“I’m afraid so,” said Egren. He had pressed a button at his neck on his spacesuit, and Arekan could not hear Grokin. “Our first mate has a ‘let ‘em take prisoners’ policy. It deters those that try to use extortion to get our goods.”
“Creator,” muttered Arekan. He peered out over the edge of the hatch to see Obon clutching the swaying tether. “We need to get him up here.”
“That’s exactly what those pirates want. They’ll be right in back of him to board this ship with us too afraid of killing our own man to do anything about it.”
“Well, I’m not going to leave him to his death.”
Arekan started the wench that held Obon’s tether and oxygen supply.
He didn’t listen. Leaning out of the hatch he pulled in the oxygen supply as the winch hauled Obon and several pirates up to the ship.
Egren propelled himself into Arekan and tried to yank him away from the hatch. Arekan swayed at the impact, but he pushed Egren back refusing to let go to the line. If it tangled, and choked off the air, Obon was just as dead as leaving him with the pirates.
But Egren was just as determined to stop Arekan as the young man was to help Obon.
Again, Egren launched himself at Arekan, though in the low gravity atmosphere, his movements were slow. Arekan picked up his left leg and kicked Egan as hard as he could while he clutched the oxygen line.
Arekan flew into the bulkhead when he made contact with Egren, dropping the lines in his hands. They snaked back out in the black with Egren hit the winch.
“What the hell is going on down there,” said Grokin. “Shut the hatch!”
“Yes, sir,” said Egren. He moved toward the controls. Since he was closer to the panel than Arekan the hatch was going to close despite Arekan’s best intentions. And Arekan didn’t see anyway to save their crewman in their present circumstances.
All the horrible events of the past few days crowded Arekan’s thoughts, and anger rose in him at the utter unfairness of it all. He shouldn’t have lost his home, his father, or the life he was born to. Arekan shouldn’t have to tear his ideals into tatters or blacken his soul just to survive. And in one split second he decided that he wasn’t going to let that happen. He wouldn’t watch the careless murder of his crewmate even if he hated him.
It was an impulsive move, but all it took was one good push off with his arms and legs and he was outside the ship clutching to Obon’s lifeline. He wasn’t tethered, and the he only had the emergency oxygen in the spacesuit. But he worked his way, hand under hand, pulling himself down by the strength of his muscles toward the brigands that restrained Obon.
“What in the seven hells!” yelled Egren. “Get back in here you idiot. I have to close this hatch.”
Arekan ignored Egren and looked down below his legs to see the three men clustered at the further end of the tether.
Every opponent has a vulnerability. These were his teacher’s words in his head and Arekan scanned for what he could use against his newest enemy. There was one, endemic to all spacesuits with an external oxygen supply and that had to be his target. If he could add the element of surprise he might have a chance. Arekan palmed the controls of the hand jets, and mentally reviewed his spacesuit training from his home ship. These jets were meant for steering, not long jaunts through the black, and their use had to be conserved.
What he had in mind was going to test the capacity of the hand jets.
He took a couple deep breaths, and then let go, simultaneously flipping his feet over his head and firing the hand jets.
He shot toward the three men, and just as he expected, surprised them with his reckless move. Arekan collided with one of the pirates, who thankfully clung to the tether. Otherwise, they both would float into the black. He yanked at the man’s air supply, severing it and the pirate panicked. His shipmate saw his distress, and reached to help him. This provided the opportunity Obon didn’t waste the opportunity to resume his frantic climb of the tether and Arekan flipped again and reached for the tether so he could follow Obon.
But he overshot, and suddenly he was tumbling away from the tether. With his heart beating furiously in his chest, he watched his rotations, just as he was taught, and then at the critical moment as he came to point to the tether again fired his jets.
But in his inexperience he missed his target again, and in one last desperate time he fired the jets they didn’t respond. Used and spent, they could not save him now. The black stretched in front of him, stars of unimaginable distance piercing pinpricks of light in the velvet canvass. For a few seconds Arekan contemplated the vastness of his grave.
Then his body was jerked back, and he twisted to find Obon clutching his boot.
“Get over here, you moke, and grab this line. We don’t have all day to get back to the ship.”
Blowing a sigh of relief, he stretched his arm and grabbed the tether. At the further end, the pirate whose oxygen line was ripped struggled against his fellow giving Arekan and Obon precious time to make their escape.
Arekan’s arms were straining against working hard in the weightless atmosphere, and every movement seemed unbearably slow. But finally both he and Obon were at the hatch, and an exasperated Egren pulled first Arekan, then Obon in.
“Do you think you can reel in that tether now?” said Egren sarcastically to Arekan.
“Sure,” said Arekan with a smile, and he started the winch to pull up the line.
“Not that way,” said Egren impatiently. “Pull the damn thing in so we can get the hatch shut.”
Arekan did as he was told, pulling the line in by hand. The tubing snaked floating through the airlock, getting in the three mens’ way, but then it went taut.
“Oh hells,” swore Egren.
Arekan didn’t know what was going on, but the looks on both Egren and Obon’s faces something very bad was happening.
“Shut the hatch,” yelled Egren.
Arekan, closest to the control panels, hit the door to close and moved achingly slow.
“It’s not going to seal,” screamed Obon. “We won’t be able to open the inner hatch.”
“Aye, we’re dead men, for sure,” said Egren.
“What the hells are you talking about?” said Arekan.
“We won’t be able to open the inner hatch,” growled Egren.
“Yes, we will,” said Arekan. Immediately he went to the controls for the inner hatch and pried the panel open.
“What are you doing?” asked Obon.
“My father called it mischief,” said Arekan. “Today, I’m calling it survival.” It was tough working with his gloves on but he remembered the hard lesson of his induction into the Heavenly Court. He pulled at the control filiments, and pulled hard enough to cut them in half.
“Aye, I see what you are doing, boy,” said Egren. “Captain, seal the inner doors of the cargo bay.”
“What the hells is going on down there?” growled Etharin.
“We’re about to be boarded,” said Egren, “And Thad is blowing the inner hatch so we can get inside the ship. So, unless you want all our oxygen out in the black, close the damn inner seals!”
“He’ll get Grokin’s whip for this,” snarled Etharin.
Arekan was only half listening as he worked to twist critical filiments together to make his plan work. He was down to the last four, twisted two together, then held the last two.
“Is the outer hatch closed yet.”
“As much as it’s going to.”
“Then hang on, because when the inner hatch opens, we’ll be fighting the air rushing out.”
The hatch blew open and a sudden whoosh of escaping atmosphere pushed them back. Arekan was first through, since he was closest and he pulled Obon and Egren in. Together, the three of them manually pulled the hatch closed.
Arekan was breathing hard and he realized his air in the suit was nearly spent. He unlatched his helmet and threw it aside and continued to help yank the door into place. Finally the seal popped closed.
“Okay, Blade,” said Egren. “Now your work really begins. In about ten minutes those pirates will pry open both outer and inner hatches and gain the ship. You damn well better be as good as you think you are, because you’ve pissed them off good and they won’t be handing out mercy. You take that door, and hold them back, while I get the others here to help.”
Arekan stripped his bulky spacesuit and retrieved his sword from where he left it on a crate. Both Egren and Ogren left him alone in the hold,holding his sword at the ready crouching behind a crate.
He didn’t have to wait long. His jacked opening of the inner hatch worked against him this time, and the hatch opened with three spacesuited men spilling into the deck. Seeing past them, Arekan saw they had pulled in the offending tether, so they didn’t suffer the same problems of being pushed away from the door by the atmosphere rushing to the vacuum of space.
They stripped their suits and let them drop to the floor.
“Tell the captain that he can dock here, and we’ll load the good directly to the ship.”
Another relayed this information through a communications device while the other two began to spread out to examine the cargo.
Three against one was not good odds and Arekan was beginning to think that Egren wasn’t going to return soon enough to do any good.
He had to get these three separated.
Stealthily he moved through the stack of crates to the furthest end of the cargo bay to where some of the lighter cargo sat. With a hard shove he unseated the crates sending them crashing to the deck. Quickly rushed footsteps came toward Arekan and he readied himself by planting his feet firmly.
A pirate entered the row where the boxes crashed, and Arekan scooted around the stack to the man’s back.
“Hey,” said Arekan. The man turned and Arekan turned the hilt of his sword and butted the man in square in the chin. He stumbled back, slipped on some spilt oil on the decking and hit his head on another crate.
Arekan never thought he’d be grateful for the filth of the ship.
Then he turned and stared in the face of another pirate.
“You the blade?” the man said with disbelief in his voice.
“I have a sword, so yeah, I’m the blade.”
“Good,” he laughed. “That’s going to make our job easier.”