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Colin and Mary both were on the move by the time Galileo’s knees hit the deck, but John didn’t advance to meet them.
Instead, he spun towards Eitan, swinging the axe so, by the time he was in range, it struck the nearest end of the wooden dowel to which Eitan’s wrist was bound.
“Here they come,” Eitan said, grabbing hold of the dowel. John, nodding, moved to his other side, already raising the axe again. By that time Colin was in range, so Eitan dropped into a reverse bow and swept his extending leg at the mercenary’s ankles.
Unprepared for an attack from that quarter, Colin tripped and stumbled backwards, losing his grip on Ysabel’s sword.
Mary, coming up from behind, hesitated only long enough to pick up the lightly curved nimcha blade, which she turned towards John, who finished chopping through the heavy doweling on Eitan’s left barely in time to spin and block Mary’s overhead swipe.
Eitan rolled up to his feet and Colin moved to meet him, pulling a shock stick from under his coat and thumbing it to life.
Rory, still locked to the starboard bulkhead, looked from the fallen Galileo to where Eitan engaged Colin. If, he thought, one could call the singleminded decimation occurring mid-deck as an engagement.
Like the kata Rory had witnessed the previous afternoon, Eitan’s motions were lightning-quick defiance of physics as, with one hand, he swept the unwieldy dowel in a series of arcs, spins, and jabs to drive the muscular Colin across the deck. He didn’t bother avoiding the shock stick. He didn’t have to avoid it, because try as he might, Colin never managed to connect with his target.
No blame to Colin, Rory thought. He’d no way of knowing his opponent had survived five years in the Illyrian arena.
A rattle from across the bay had him turning back to see Jinna, tugging the shackle’s chain through the D-ring to free herself.
“Brilliant!” Rory called as she sidestepped past the fallen Galileo. “Only, you wouldn’t have that lock pick, would you?”
She froze, looked up, then behind her. “I think I dropped it.”
“Pity,” Rory said as, aft, John ducked a whistling swipe from Mary’s sword and Eitan’s staff at the same time.
“Pardon,” Eitan called, reversing the swing.
“No worry,” John replied, parrying the next swipe, and the next.
“It is for me,” Mary told him. “I want you all to myself.”
Rory and Jinna shared a grimace, then both looked at the pallet of water casks which, lacking the dowel Eitan was even now spinning like a bo staff, was open on one side.
“I’ve got—” Rory began.
“I have an idea,” Jinna said, and they grinned at one another before she crossed the deck to the pallet.
“Don’t overdo, now,” he cautioned, reaching for his left hand with his right.
“Are you kidding?” she asked, crouching down and preparing to muscle the first cask over to one side.
“Right, sorry, forgot myself. Carry on.”
She carried on. Then she carried on again because, while not large—emergency stores or not, they’d have to be hauled up to the companionway to be of use—the casks were still heavy.
“But truly,” he said, “don’t…”
Her glare had him clamping his mouth shut, and the spark of metal on metal drew Rory’s attention from her efforts to where John was busy holding off Mary.
The blonde handled Ysabel’s blade competently, the lighter weapon flicking around the heavier boarding axe in John’s hands. Having observed the captain in battle before today, Rory got the impression he was holding back. Perhaps he had issues with harming women, or perhaps he wanted no blood spilled on the Errant’s deck.
A thud and the following curse from Colin told him Eitan had no such compulsions.
As Rory’s attention darted back in his direction, John caught Mary’s arcing blade in the crook of the axe and, rather than push her off, twisted on the axe’s haft, using the sword itself as a lever to pull her close. Shock and a hint of something less adversarial flashed across the blonde merc’s features just before another twisting jerk of the axe sent the sword clattering to the deck.
John slid one hand to the axe end of the handle to form a bar which he used to press Mary against the companionway where, to Rory’s eye, she appeared quite happy to be.
A blur of motion to his left had him turning to where Eitan enveloped Colin’s shock stick, twisting it out of the mercenary’s hand and sending it flying across the bay before delivering a short, sharp backswing that struck Colin across the shoulders with a meaty thunk and sent him slamming into the starboard bulkhead aft of Rory, who felt the juddering from meters away.
Colin, growling, pushed himself off the bulkhead and spun back to face Eitan while drawing his shooter.
“I’m willing t’bet one shot won’t set anything vital off,” he said, taking aim at the Fujian, who bared his teeth and rocked on the balls of his feet, as if willing to take that bet.
“Eitan!” John’s voice snapped as he looked up from where he held Mary. And because he was focused on Eitan and the shooter, he didn’t see her left hand twitch.
But Rory did, just as he saw the spring blade he’d made for Eitan shoot from the sleeve of John’s jacket.
“Knife!” he heard himself shout the warning only a second before the cask Jinna had been shoving went tumbling across the deck, straight towards Colin.
The noise caused Mary to start, giving John time to catch her wrist before the blade could do anything worse than slice his forearm.
Colin, meanwhile, had stumbled out of the way of the cask, and was trying to recover his balance and aim, but Eitan was already sweeping forward, using the staff to knock the gun from Colin’s hand, then back to crack across his cheek, then reversing again to slam into his gut and reversing yet once more to smack him across the back of his smooth pate, dropping the mercenary to the deck, where he stayed.
And as Colin dropped and Mary held her hands out in surrender, Jinna’s cask continued to roll aft until it struck Ysabel’s sword and changed direction to starboard, and then out the open door.
“Heads!” Rory called out, even knowing how improbable it was Jagati would be able to hear the warning.
* * *
Outside, Jagati waited for Ysabel to reach the pod junction before following.
Despite years of experience on the lines, the muscles in her arms were trembling from the exertion. Dangling in the cold, holding her weight with one gloved hand long past the initial adrenaline rush was no longer a daily experience.
Still, the muscles remembered, and she soon joined Ysabel on the hull, from which point both carefully edged their way forward, towards the open bay door.
They’d gotten about halfway to their destination when a shout emerged from inside, followed by another, followed by the distinctive sounds of metal striking metal.
“Shimatta.” Ysabel’s soft curse cut through the air, then she looked at Jagati, who’d already determined that, whatever was happening up above, she’d better pitch in and even up the odds.
Since Ysabel wasn’t an idiot, she clearly held the same opinion. Any change in the status quo couldn’t be good for the turncoat, so even as their eyes met, Ysabel was shifting towards Jagati.
With an unholy grin, Jagati kicked out a boot, which Ysabel kicked aside.
Testing shot thrown and deflected, Jagati eased away, her left hand and foot still on the hull, her right hand taking the line.
A few feet away, Ysabel did likewise. Except she clung with her right hand and foot.
“Heads!” Rory’s voice split the pre-dawn quiet and, as both women watched, one of the water barrels from the pallet to which Eitan hand been bound came tumbling out of the open door—and towards the two women clinging to the hull.
Both Jagati and Ysabel dropped line and swung aft in an arc wide enough to prevent a fatal collision with the barrel. As the laden cask dropped Fortune-ward, they swung back, each clambering for a handhold.
“Feeling the urge to switch sides again?” Jagati called over as both fought their way to the hull.
“Please.” Ysabel’s teeth flashed. “I have seen your ‘ship—you have nothing to offer. Besides,” she said as her elbow pulled in to where the calculator hung at her side as she pulled herself even with the bilge deck, “I already have the prize. If one or two of the others die, it only increases my profit share.”
“That,” Jagati said, reaching for the handgrip now to her left, “is cold-blooded.”
“You say that as if it is a bad thing,” Ysabel countered before, without warning, she released her grip on the hull.
As Jagati turned to face the swing, she saw Ysabel had her knife to hand and was swiping outward—not at Jagati, but at Jagati’s line.
“Really cold,” Jagati muttered, kicking off the hull and torquing her body so she immediately swung back in, legs locked forward in a double kick that caught Ysabel in the hip, sending her against the hull with a thud.
Hissing, Ysabel spun and bunched her legs up to push off again while Jagati grabbed on to a hull grip, took a deep breath, and pushed off, meaning to arc behind her opponent.
Except that Ysabel, mid-swing, caught Jagati’s line and, as both twisted into each other, started sawing.