“One more second,” Andi whispered.
“Andi, we should shoot.” Lira’s blue eyes looked black in the shadows.
Andi hissed in a breath.
“Now?” Gilly asked.
Andi could imagine her, tiny and fire-headed, seated in her gunner’s chair several decks below, the whole crew’s fate at her fingertips.
“Now,” Andi commanded.
A breath of a second. Andi stared at the Explorer ships on the rear-cam, thinking of the men and women inside. Knowing that here and now, they were facing their final moments. She felt a flash of pity for them, the pang of regret Andi always felt before she took a life.
Then came the hiss of Gilly’s Big Bang sliding loose from its chamber, a death rocket that Andi knew would fly true.
She watched as it struck the Explorer on the left first, the blast taking out both ships. The explosion was a work of art. Two ships in one shot, bits of metal and blood and bodies. Carnage stained the skies.
The Marauder whined as the blast knocked it off course, as if the dying ships had laid bleeding hands on them and shoved.
Then there was a strange, still silence. Even the song had stopped playing.
“Explorers are down,” Breck said. “Nice one, Gil.”
Andi loosed a breath, her fingertips releasing their hold on the armrests. But it wasn’t over yet. She glanced sideways at Lira. “Take us to the center of the belt. Bigger asteroids.”
Lira caught on. “We can lose them there and fly out the backside, hide somewhere on Solera.”
Lira spat a wad of Chew into her mug. “Low. But we can make it. We just lost a lot of weight from that ammo.”
Andi felt the swell of victory like a star exploding in her chest. But beside it, eating away at the feeling of triumph, was the knowledge of what she’d just done. How many lives had she stolen? How many families back on Arcardius would don shades of gray in mourning for weeks to come?
She loosened her harness, allowing herself to breathe a little deeper, and was just leaning back against the headrest when Lira cursed.
Breck’s and Gilly’s voices shouted into the com, and somewhere, down in the pit of Andi’s dark soul, she knew she’d missed something.
“There are more of them,” Lira said breathlessly. “Andi, they’re everywhere. It’s not possible. Where did they come from?”
Andi’s heart rocketed into her throat as the bleating prox alarms went off again.
Seven ships waited for them, uncloaking themselves, materializing before her eyes.
“Turn around, Lira! Get us the hell out of here!”
“I can’t!” Lira shouted. “The Tracker is still behind us.”
She furiously typed in codes, her fingers flying across the screen. Then Lira yelped as the holo sparked, and a strange hiss fizzled out of the dash. The ship itself seemed to release a deep, rumbling sigh.
The only light came from Lira’s scales, glowing a bluish-purple in the dark.
They’d been hit by an EMP. Andi watched as Lira tried to repower the ship with the backup system but to no avail.
Everything went still and silent, as if the Marauder itself had lost all life.
“They shut us down,” Lira whispered, her features turning to stone. Smoke streamed from her scales, but even they had gone dark now. As if shock had paralyzed her emotions. Her voice cracked as she tried to bring the dash back to life, tried to restart the emergency engines. “Oh, Andi. They shut everything down.”
Andi shook her head. “That’s not possible. We have shields against that, nothing could... No one knows how to get past them and stop this ship!” Andi had the special defensive shields installed shortly after taking possession of the Marauder. They were meant to prevent EMPs and other such attacks from affecting the ship’s internal systems.
Lira’s blue eyes were haunted, her fingers still as stone on the throttle. “He could, Andi.”
Andi’s heart turned to ice.
It wasn’t possible.
He was supposed to be dead, cast away into some deep, dark hell where he’d never be able to claw his way back out.
This wasn’t happening. This couldn’t be happening. She leaped to her feet, tuning into the crew’s audio channels. “Escape pods. Now. Move.”
Andi grabbed her swords from the back of her captain’s chair, where she stowed them during flight, and strapped the harness around her back, clicking it into place.
Lira sat frozen in her chair.
“Lira! I said move!”
Lira’s voice was as dead as the Marauder. “We can’t leave, Andi. When the ship goes dark, the pods go dark, too.”
Footsteps rang out, boots clacking on metal. Breck and Gilly appeared in the doorway.
“What do we do?” Breck asked. “They’ll kill us all.”
“Not if we kill them first,” Andi hissed.
“We could hide,” Breck suggested.
“We don’t hide,” Lira said hotly.
Andi felt torn in two. This was her crew, broken and battered though it was, criminals from all sides of the galaxy waiting for her to save them. But with a dead ship, what could she do?