the assault II
With Max distracting the sentries down in the shantytown with his pyrotechnic stunts, Justin was able to reach the first rocket-launcher position unhindered. After slicing the weapon itself with his laser staff to take it out of commission, he then fired the first flare bolt to signal his success.
By now, the sky was ablaze with a ration of Festival fireworks, the diversion in the air making it easier to sneak around on the ground, and the second rocket-launcher’s attempt to shoot them down giving away their position, as well, it didn’t take him long to skirt the mountainside in between.
Unfortunately, he arrived just in time to see the enemy finish reloading. Knowing that Sentry I and II would soon be approaching Aru, and this position offered an all-too-perfect shot at them, he knew he would have to do something about it. But now that the weapon was reloaded, there came the question of how to silence such an explosive weapon without it blowing up in his face.
Feeling time running out, all Justin could come up with was to aim his new crossbow and fire one of his specialized bolts. This one producing a cloud of smoke as it hit the ground near the marauder. Who proceeded to stumble around frantically, shouting vague threats as Justin hit the deck.
Now fearful that the bastard might fire at random.
A moment later, his enemy went silent as abruptly as he had begun. As the smoke cleared, Justin looked up to see several figures standing in the midst of the thinning haze. And, as it became clearer, one lying unconscious on the ground. Now he could see that the rest were Kona, Toma’s Island Patrol members who had spent the daylight hours sneaking up from the other side of the island in preparation for this attack.
“Good work, Mr Black,” one of them said. “That was just the opening we needed.”
“Uh, thanks,” Justin replied as the Kona guards confiscated the rocket-launcher, and he aimed one last flare to let Toma and the rest know that the rocket threat had been completely eliminated.
Seeing that the Island Patrol had a handle on things here, Justin took off for the shantytown itself, as he had become increasingly worried about Max facing so many enemies, even as poorly armed as they were, all by himself.
Following the sounds of commotion from what appeared to be an abandoned warehouse near the harbor, he found his worst fears had indeed come true, as Max was outnumbered and quickly being overwhelmed. Much as it vexed him, there were too many obstructions for a shootout, and too much chance of hitting Max, so he was as reduced to close-quarters combat to as his foes were. All the same, he realized he did have one last trick up his sleeve to even the odds as he armed one more flare bolt.
Taking several shots into the outside of the crowd to cover himself, then launched the flare.
“Hold on, Max!” he cried. “I’m comin’!”
Several of Max’s attackers looked over in varying degrees of dismay and confusion, dazzled by a blinding flash of light, the closest just in time to catch a glimpse of Justin’s boot as it nailed him in the face. As he charged into the open storeroom, brandishing his laser staff, he could see that Max, even buried in a struggle he couldn’t win, was still fighting to the finish anyway. Justin cut a wide swath through them as they backed off, cutting his friend just enough slack to claw his way back up from the depths of the maelstrom.
“Justin!” Max remarked, surprised to see his friend here so soon.
“Looks like you could use some help!” Justin wondered if he would ever get used to this. Part of him still could not believe he was doing this in the first place. Not so long ago, he would never have dared to stick his neck out for anybody, but now he wondered if this wasn’t a thing he could get used to. “Now let’s kick their asses and finish this!”
Max and Justin stood back to back.
Several enemies staggered back to their feet, one of them slinking away in unabashed retreat. The others, though, still had some fight in them, moving to encircle the two, bringing to bear knives, brass knuckles, chains, or anything close at hand. From the moment Justin first laid eyes on the shantytown, he kept expecting Triangle State soldiers to come swarming out of the woodwork, making it an unexpected relief to face enemies who finally showed themselves.
“Kick ass and take names, right?” Max took inspiration from one of Shades’ favorite sayings about the matter.
“Damn straight!” Justin agreed.
The ensuing clash was brief but brutal. Max, especially, knowing what would happen if they lose their formation. Between slashing blades, and swinging fists and feet, rotten shelves and flimsy walls giving way as enemies were slammed right through them, the two of them held their ground, back to back and side by side, quickly cutting the enemy party down to size. Too busy kicking ass to bother taking any names.
“Hell yeah!” Justin shouted after the last couple foes still standing as they fled the warehouse into the night. “You better run, assholes!”
“So, how did the attack on the Seeker go?” Max asked as he scanned the floor for his fallen laser sword, spotting it at last. After all, this whole party would be for nothing if they didn’t secure the treasure.
“I bet they’re already done,” Justin told him. From what he saw on the way down, it looked as if the party would be over before it could rightly begin. So bewildered by the light show, as well as the absence of any rocket cover against this fast-break assault as Sentry I and II hemmed them in, that he saw little resistance. Caught in the midst of repairs, most of them had tools in their hands instead of weapons. Sure enough, through a gaping hole in the ceiling, they spotted a red flare, followed by a blue one, signifying that both the Seeker and the Nimrod cargo were secured. “Now all that’s left is the leader!”
“Then let’s end this,” Max replied, feeling the weight of two harsh battles in one day, with only a scant few hours’ rest in between. And still one more to go. All of their efforts would be in vain if he had nothing left to face Erix with tomorrow. Based on how well things had gone so far tonight, he felt confident Toma could handle the cleanup.
That settled, they made their way deeper into the warehouse, shooting or beating up several more enemies as the situation warranted, Justin covering Max’s advance every step of the way. At the top of a rickety stairway was a door, which Max sliced cleanly off its hinges with a swipe of his laser blade. Another thief was on the other side, just barely dodging the door as it fell in.
Giving Max an opening to jump in and pummel him, ending with Max kicking him right through the door at the next landing with a loud crack of rotten wood as the door splintered.
“Halt, or I’ll shoot!” a harsh voice commanded.
In the room beyond stood the leader of the thieves, pistol pointed right at Max’s head. Though Max already had his laser sword drawn, his opponent was too far out of reach to make a move before he could fire. Justin rushed into the room, stopping short at Max’s predicament.
“Throw down your weapons!” the leader ordered. He had suspected that door was as flimsy as it turned out to be, so as soon as the commotion began outside, he prepared himself to ambush anyone who entered without declaring themselves to his sentry outside. To think that one man and his friends— or were they his enemies?— had, in one day, completely destroyed everything all the way down to his contingency plans… “You’ve fucked up my plans for the last time, boy. Now you’re going with me to the ship. You’re going to be my insurance, Mr?…”
“Max,” he muttered bitterly, kicking himself for not thinking to use more smoke-bombs or something.
“And you drop your gun, too, little man,” the leader addressed Justin as he backed them out of the room and down the steps. Grinning viciously at him, he added, “I bet my hostage means something to you, asshole—”
As they reached the bottom of the steps, a shadow leapt out of the gloom, pouncing on the leader. The gun went off, his belated shot going wide and the bullet grazing Justin’s leg. Max wasted no time jumping in and stunning the leader with his spare laser sword as his feline friend fled the deafening noise of his firearm.
“Bandit?” Max remarked incredulously as the leader fell to the floor in a crumpled heap, staring at his companion. “I thought…”
“Dammit, I thought I left you back at the ship,” Justin muttered as he limped over to his friends. The big cat was still damp, and smelled of seawater. “Not that I’m complaining.”
“You were that worried about me, were you?” Max mussed his friend’s fur. At his feet lay the leader’s crimson beret, bearing golden wings and what was likely a military insignia from some realm he had never heard of. Kicking it aside, he asked Justin, “Are you okay?”
“I’ve been better,” he remarked, relieved that the fight was over. The blood was already starting to soak his pantleg, and it hurt to walk, making him wonder if he was going to be of any use against Erix at the next stage of the battle.
“Good,” Max sighed, reminded again of how unaccustomed he was to seeing so much blood. “So now what?”
Before his friend could answer, Chief Toma broke radio silence, the unit clipped to Justin’s belt declaring their mission a complete success, and Justin responded with a confirmation of his own.
For as little shooting as there was that night, there was somewhat less left of the shantytown in the morning, the disturbance having caused the collapse of several buildings, including part of the warehouse as the surviving thieves were led out by the Island Patrol. Even part of the dock the Seeker sat at fell in, forcing them to move the ship to a safer location.
That left just one more mission, and Max wanted to tend their injuries and get some much needed rest while there was still time before facing what he suspected was their most dangerous battle, for high noon would come all too soon.