That Thing That Ty Did
Zipzipzipzip dongdongdong. The bullets from the one called Warwick's autoloader clanged against the bulkhead of The Clarion, ricocheting wildly into the corridor. No discipline, thought Ty, grinding his teeth against a toothpick. Clearly not professionals at this. If they were, I wouldn't be here. They probably would have spaced a guy that even looked like me just as a precaution. Ty peeked out from around the corner and squeezed off a round from his shotgun. The pellets peppered the wall above Warwick's head, making him dive for cover. Stick your head out again, goh-se for brains. Zhiang, the captain of the Clarion, lay face-down in the corridor across from Ty, looking oddly peaceful, for a corpse. Warwick must have gotten lucky with that pelletgun shooting the priest through the stomach. Missionaries, Ty thought. Not much in a gunfight. Ty pried Zhiang's revolver from his hands, stuffed it into his waistband, and backed carefully down the corridor. Time for a break, he thought, and headed toward the storage compartment near the passenger dorm, a place where one Mr. Warwick would never find him. As if he would look, Ty smiled.
Twenty-Four Hours Earlier
Ty lay on his rack, tired. Visiting Mary-Ann, Zedekiah and the kids at the ranch on Shadow-fun as it was—, then taking care of all that business with Badger's suppliers on Beaumonde had taken a toll on the old man. I'm a-gittin too damn old for this, he thought. His eyes fell across a dispatch from the cortex, about Markus Dearborn, one of Wheeler's boys, being wanted for a series of rapes and murders out on Jezebel, some crappy out-of-the way moon not far from Triumph. Maybe he's next, thought the marshal, making a mental note. I owe it to Judah.
He had been asleep for a few hours when he was tossed from his bunk, his belongings scattering on the floor. Wha . . he thought. Inertial dampers failing? On a ship like this? He heard a tremendous, ship-vibrating clang, and knew that they were being boarded. Aww, dammit, he thought, pulling on his trousers and checking the loads in his pistols. And I was havin' such a wonderful dream about not doing this goh-se anymore. Retiring on a little farm with a nice, full-bosomed mute woman. And some cows. Definitely cows. Another clang, and some hissing. Folks are aboard. Hope it ain't Reavers. Or all these nice folks here are dead as doornails.
Ty had boarded the Clarion on Persephone. He had made it back from Beaumonde a couple days later than he wanted, and thus missed Redemption as it headed off to Higgins, loaded to the gills with weapons and med supplies. The woman could use them; she was having some trouble with the local color. Callum and Bekkah should be able to handle this without too many problems, Ty thought at the time. Nice simple delivery. Drop off the crates and stay out of trouble. The Clarion was a Jones-class hauler, a good bit smaller than Redemption, and modified a bit to carry passengers rather than a lot of freight. Clarion was captained by Li-Wei Zhiang, a Mormon convert (and shepherd) who was taking his group of about twenty missionaries to the outer rim to save them some souls. Good luck with that, Ty thought, when introduced to the captain, I seen what redemption really looks like, and it often ain't no metaphorical blood that's shed. The journey out to Vaco's Rock would take about five standard days; Higgins would be a quick detour just before that, when Ty would get off.
As Ty reached for the door of his cabin, heard its electric lock slide closed. He jiggled the handle. Nothing. Damn. Nothing's ever easy. A few seconds later, a young man's dirty face appeared on the video monitor in the cabin.
"Evenin' ladies and gents. Mah name is Cole Warwick, and this here vessel is now under mah control. You'll soon be surrenderin' yer valuables and any cargo ya have to some young men in my employ. Or we'll blast ya fulla holes and toss yer body out the airlock. An' just so yas know we's serious, take a look here." The video cut to an outside view of the Clarion, a young woman's body floating in space bloated as her interior pressure sought to escape her body. Her dress, Ty noticed, spread open like a butterfly's wings in the vacuum.
Yeah, they're gonna kill us all. An' I was hoping to get some sleep tonight. Ty looked at the door, wishing Bekkah was there. And he got an idea.
About twenty minutes later, a knock came at the door, a gruff voice announcing that he was there to collect "onna behalf o' Mister Warwick." Ty lay face down on his bed, the back of his head covered in congealed blood. Another knock. Still Ty didn't move. Another. Ty heard the door slide open, and a voice mumble, "Aww, Cohen got here first?!! He knows how I hate ta loot dead bodies!!" As the voice came closer, Ty felt a hand on his shoulder, moving to turn him over. Dumb kid, Ty almost said aloud, pushing his .50 cal into the bandit's stomach and pulling the trigger. The gunshot was muffled more than Ty expected, but the volume of blood sprayed against his cabin wall was just about right. Ty pulled the bandit's pistol from his hand-a nice little 9mm-and collected a couple of clips of ammo from the corpse. Ty took a towel from his rack and wiped away the tomato paste he'd poured on his hair; it was a gift for Bekkah that he picked up at the ranch, but he guessed she'd be able to live without it. Opening his locker, Ty pulled out his gun-case. He'd left his long rifle back on Redemption, but in the case was a nice short barreled shotgun and a hunting rifle, a birthday gift from Zed, his oldest son. He closed the door, put the hunting rifle in the rafters of the cabin, far out of sight, and loaded the shotgun.
Ty crept around the corner in time to see another thug holding a young couple, a man and woman in their twenties, at gunpoint. Before he could react, the thug shot the young man between the eyes, the body falling lifelessly off to the side. Ty saw the thug draw his knife and say to the woman, "Now we's gonna have some fun without ol' Billy-boy there." Ty moved slowly but quickly up the hallway, shotgun in hand. Before the door to the young woman's cabin swung closed, Ty pushed Billy-boy's foot into the transom, propping the door open. Ty then hid, just outside the door. "Tien-shiao-duh!" Ty heard, "Billy, you're an obstruction even in death!" As the thug, pantless, moved to push Billy-Boy's foot from the door, he was met with the barrel of Ty's shotgun. "Mornin' peckerwood," Ty said with a smile. "We're gonna have a little talk." Ty waved the young woman out of her cabin, telling her to find a good place to hide and not come out.
After a very painful few minutes, punctuated with a softer-than-expected blast from Ty's shotgun, Ty had some information. There were five of them, including Warwick. Their plan was to loot the ship and sell it to some slicers not far from Vaco's Rock. Now there's three.
Not one to believe everything he gained from sticking knives in people's knees, Ty reconned the ship as best he could. He even found a security terminal, which was pretty easy for him, even with his limited skills, to get into. It seemed that Mr. Knife-Knees was right. Three left. One on the bridge, one making his way through the passenger dorm, and one down in the cargo hold. Ty also saw the bandit's ship: an old, retired, Alliance patrol boat, probably barely flying. He also knew that those old boats really couldn't support more than five people for any length of time. Rule one, kids. Never leave your flanks unprotected.
Ty made his way to the main airlock. Should have posted a guard, he thought, releasing the docking clamps that held the bandit's boat to the Clarion. He watched the ugly little craft slowly spin out into the black.
Passenger dorm. Ty made his way, quietly, to the aft passenger dorm, knowing that what he'd find there would not be pretty. Prolly a few dead folks over thataway, he thought. As he approached, he found he was right, as he heard gunshots. As he made his way through the dorm, he looked in some of the cabins: two bodies, three bodies. More gunshots: two different calibers though. Someone's exchanging fire. Hallelujah! Thought Ty, his happiest thought of the day.
Ty came around the corner of the dorm, into the common room, to an interesting sight: a thug armed with a pistol, trading shots with two missionaries. The thug was hiding behind an upturned sofa, which seemed to have a metal base, given the sound of small-cal rounds clanging off it. Ty decided to try something new, and stood up as he came around the corner, yelling "I just killed two a yer' men. Interested in livin' today?" As the thug turned, Ty pumped rounds from the shotgun into his direction, the double-ought buckshot catching the bandit in what looked like a dozen places. He fell face-forward over the sofa, staring blankly at the man who shot him. "Y'all okay," Ty asked the two men across the room. "As good as can be expected," Zhiang, the captain's voice returned. "They've killed nine of our people." "Ten," Ty corrected him. A young man in the fore dorm was killed-the girl's okay, but pretty damned traumatized. These guys mean business, but they ain't that smart. If we're not stupid, we can pick ‘em off one by one. Hey, ain't you a shepherd? What you doin' packin' iron?" "I'm a believer, Mr. Charles, not a fool." Said Zhiang. "And I am not perfect, just forgiven." Good, thought Ty. At least one of these bozos knows how to shoot somewhat straight. The other man with the Captain, it turns out, was his son, Xian, a shepherd just out of seminary. Ty handed him the recently-deceased thug's pistol. "Can you handle this, son?" "Hai," Xian said, "I can." "Alright," said Ty. "Let's tend to your people and get organized. I'm sure we ain't got too much time."
The Captain and Xian gathered up the survivors of the initial assault, ten of the original twenty, and then went about fortifying the passenger dorm area. Pulled bunks, footlockers, and everything else they could, turning the common room into a cul-de-sac, and the corridor into a possible kill-zone. Ty gave them his hunting rifle and said that if anyone came down this hall, they should shoot. They set up watches, and got some rest.
After a couple hours, Ty heard gunshots. Someone was trying to move into the passenger dorm, but they seemed to be hindered by the defenses the passengers had set up. Alright, I guess its time to end this. After the firing ended, Ty gave more instructions-mainly to watch the back entrances to the dorm-and headed off to find the other two bad guys. As he tried to get into the security feed, he saw that they'd finally disabled it. Okay, getting a bit smarter. But that will only make you dead a few minutes later.
They have to know about their ship now, Ty thought. They know they're stuck here, and they know they're stuck with us. I'd be making sure I didn't lose the bridge or the engine room right about now, outnumbered like they are. Though not outgunned, I'm sure. Ty decided to try the engine room first. As he climbed down to the subdeck that led to the engine room, he heard voices. "Dammit Cohen! A familiar voice echoed over a comm. Ah'm sorry he was yer brother-in-law, but he knowed what the plan was and what the risks was when he signed on ta this job! Deal wit it!!" Cohen slammed the comm down on the cradle. Cohen was tall, bald, and dressed in bloodied and stained denim and a leather jacket. Over his shoulder he had an Alliance-issue assault rifle. Nice hardware, thought Ty. A bit out of this crew's league, I bet. Does this joker know how to use it? He watched Cohen for while, looking for his opportunity The man drank coffee at an amazing rate, downing what looked like a pot and a half in the span of less than half an hour. There it was.
After a while, Ty saw the hatch to the engine-room slowly swing open, a gray-black rifle barrel soon after. Ty, from his vantage point down the corridor, saw exactly where Cohen was headed. The Head. The weakness of all coffee-lovers who won't soil their duty station with piss. Should have stayed where he was, Ty thought, kicking in the door to the latrine. Cohen never saw the man who killed him, the shotgun blast showering the wall in front of the urinal with essence d'Cohen. Ty imagined dying that quickly might have been a surprise.
As he exited the head-and the bloody mess within-he heard the familiar ring of gunshots. Some small cal, some larger. Dammit, Ty thought. All these holyrollers needed to do was not try to be heroes. And they're trying to take back the Bridge. Ty made his way toward the gunfire. As he approached, bullets clanged off the bulkheads all around him. Autofire. Not good. The captain lay dead in the corridor, and Xian was trading shots with someone-Ty assumed it was Warwick-in the bridge hatch. "Kid," Ty said, "Your father is gone. I'll handle this now. You go and protect the people you have left, ‘n case I don't finish what I started." Tearfully, Xian turned back toward the passenger dorm. Ty settled in his position, trying to get a shot off.
Ty realized that this tit-for-tat could not go on forever: and moreover, if Warwick wanted to do something stupid, like steer the boat into a star or into an asteroid, he could. So Ty went down to the cargo hold to see what he could find. No grenades, he thought, kicking himself for leaving his on Redemption. So what can clear out a room? In one of the crates, Ty found just the thing: cleaning supplies. Missionaries like it clean¸ he thought with a wicked grin. He found a bottle, a rag, some ammonia-based cleaner, and some bleach, and went to work. He mixed up a noxious cocktail in the bottle, and stuffed a rag into it: when the fire hit the mixture, there should be enough fumes and smoke to enable him to rush the bridge.
Ty approached his normal cover spot-where he had traded shots with Warwick for hours-and took a deep breath. In front of him was a large common room that he had to cross without getting shot. By a desperate man with an auto-loader. Nice, Ty thought. Why isn't anything easy? Without warning, Ty zig-zagged across the common room, drawing fire about halfway across-panicked fire, not aimed-and took cover next to the bridge hatch door. Ty shook up the mixture, lit it, and threw it onto the bridge: the whole area filled with noxious gas and smoke. As he charged in, he made out the ghostly frame of Warwick. His eyes stinging, Ty pulled the trigger of his shotgun, catching the figure in the chest. As the figure went down, though, the rifle he was carrying exploded into life, spraying much of the room with 5.56mm cartridges. Ty felt one enter in the meat of his arm and exit. The pain was exquisite, but familiar. Worse than Ty's wound, though, was the damage to the ship's controls: little fires and cracked screens seemed to populate every console.
Kicking Warwick's corpse out of the way, Ty found the exhaust fan and evacuated the fumes from the bridge. He slumped into the pilot's chair, and tried to figure out how to get this boat to Higgins Moon. Without killing everyone aboard, that is.