"I don't want to blow up any more than you -- oops." Seth hastily stood and pocketed his tools as the clamps opened.
"What oops?" Wehj's voice was panicky. "No oops. This is a no-oops zone!"
"It's okay," said Seth. "I accidentally triggered a backup self-destruct."
And now, the conclusion (of chapter 1)...
"This is okay?" demanded Vix.
"Oh, we've got about ten minutes before it blows. Guess it was put in so that people would turn off the other self-destruct, then try to pull the box without noticing this one, and the ship would explode while they were trying to carry it out." Seth grinned. "Plenty of time to run up to the bridge and turn the thing off."
"We're gonna die," moaned Wehj.
"Probably," said Seth, "but not in the next ten minutes, if I can help it. You stay here and watch our AMWS and the box. If we don't call you in eight minutes, head for the Isolde. Vix, come on. I'll need you to cover me. There's still at least a couple of pirates running around the ship."
"Gotcha, boss," she answered, drawing an automatic pistol from her flight suit.
Seth unslung his own blaster rifle from his back and checked its power pack. "Let's go!"
He and Vix leapfrogged up the hall, Vix covering him while he opened each bulkhead, then Seth covering her as she ran for what cover she could find in the next hall. They covered the three hundred meters to the bridge in about five minutes, encountering no one until they arrived at the final, armored door.
Seth worked quickly to open it, and was soon rewarded for his efforts by the hiss of the door opening. A moment later, a spray of bullets sent him diving behind the doorframe.
"Guess we found those couple of guys, huh?" Vix popped out from her own position on the other side of the doorframe, squeezed off a few wild shots just to keep the pirates honest, then ducked back behind cover.
"Shit!" said Seth. "They must have realized how hard removing the box was going to be, so they're going to take the whole ship!" He unslung his blaster and returned fire.
Bullets flew in both directions, and Seth's blaster spat death, but both sides were too well-covered to hit the other. Then Vix rolled in a grenade, and the guns inside fell silent.
"Cover the entrance while I turn off the self-destruct," Seth said, and rolled in through the door, just in case one of the pirates was still alive. None were, however, so he got quickly to work while Vix watched the entrance from just inside the bridge.
After a few minutes, however, she was clearly getting nervous. "Um, cap'n, shouldn't we get moving?"
"Huh?" asked Seth. "Oh, the explosion! Right. Call Wehj, tell him we'll be there in a minute."
"But, the self-destruct!"
"Oh, I took care of that ages ago."
"You... then what are you doing?"
"Done!" Seth announced. "Now let's move! Quickly!"
They ran quickly down the hall to the aft cargo bay and boarded their AMWS. The other two helped Seth get upright, and then he activated his engines and hovered while they hoisted the box.
"Okay, we've got about thirty seconds!" he said.
"Thirty seconds until what, captain?" asked Wehj.
"Until – crap!" Seth barely dodged out of the way in time as two metal ribbons shot past him. The Swordsman hovered in the entrance, its armor scratched and pitted but otherwise none the worse for the explosions Seth had subjected it to.
"Oh hell, a Swordsman?" said Vix. "Who the hell are these pirates?"
"That's what I want to know!" shouted Seth. "Open fire, and don't let those ribbons hit you. Keep moving!" He launched himself backwards, then off sideways and up, firing on the Swordsman all the while.
"That's easy for you to say!" said Vix. "Your AMWS doesn't steer like a cow!" She dove behind a crate for cover, then joined in with her own partacs.
"Yahhh!" screamed Wehj as the ribbons sliced the crate he was using for shreds. "Captain, do something!" He fled behind the box they were trying to move.
"Vix, get behind there with him! Keep the armored crate between you and the Swordsman! If that box is as valuable as we think, he won't slice through it."
Seth began backing toward the box, firing all the while. Vix was closer, and the Swordsman couldn't really hit her without exposing himself to both Seth's and Wehj's shots. It had no choice but to go after Seth. It retracted the ribbons to do so -- and Seth chased them straight up to the Swordsman.
"Don't fire," he whispered, hardly aware he was doing it. "Don't fire, don't fire, don't fire."
His luck held; the Swordsman's pilot, startled by Seth's charge, hesitated, giving Seth time to unload a salvo directly into its cockpit. He launched backwards as he did so, giving the other two a clear shot to lean around the sides of their box and open fire.
The cockpit of the Swordsman burst suddenly in flame, and it collapsed to the floor.
"Yes!" shouted Seth, punching the air with his AMWS' fist. "Let's move, fast!"
The ship lurched, and Wehj yelped.
"Quickly!" said Seth. "We have to go, now!"
"Is the pirate ship attacking again?" Wehj asked.
"No," said Vix, "that was the drive! That was what you did -- you hacked the navigation controls!"
"Nah, the pirates did most of the work. I just programmed it." The ship shuddered several times in rapid succession. "That would be the pirates attacking. They know they can't get out of the way in time, so they're trying to drive the ship off course. Let's move!"
A moment later, Seth's AMWS emerged from the transport. His crew's two heavy lifters were just behind him, carrying the mysterious cargo. The pirate ship and the transport were both moving, deceptively ponderous as their dance came to an end. The pirates' engines flared to move them out of the way, ribbons of red and blue light connected the two ships, and flurries of missiles danced, but it was not enough to save the pirates. They managed the killing blow, and explosions began to ripple through the transport, but it was already moving at too high a relative speed. Even as it died, it slammed into their hull just behind the midpoint.
Seth turned to watch as explosions burst through both ships. There was a brilliant flare from the transport, then a second, and both ships were gone.
"Woo!" called Vix. "That'll be a story to tell. The three of us against a pocket cruiser, and we won!"
"Sounds like somebody has some words to eat, huh?" Seth grinned as he signaled the Isolde to pick them up.
"Hey, I still think it was a crazy, stupid thing to try. I'm just glad it worked. I'd hate to have to kill you after we were both already dead. Too confusing."
Seth laughed. "All right, guys, let's pack 'er in. I want to fix up my AMWS and then find out what's in that box."
Half a galaxy away, a young woman opened slightly protuberant, dark eyes to look at the controls of her gray and gold AMWS. The mech was tall and slender and somehow feminine in its construction, which in one sense belied the short, bulky young woman at its controls, but in another sense expressed perfectly her air of abstract grace.
"Our attempt to acquire the Original has failed," she said.
A face appeared on her screen. It was likewise young, but severe and drawn, with sharp, pale features and narrow, ice-blue eyes. The hair was cut too short for its color to be readily apparent, but it might have been white or very light blonde. "They defeated our attack, Dasra? I thought Nasatya predicted they would not."
"No," Dasra answered. "My sister's perfect record remains intact, Calvin. There was... interference." She transmitted a summary of the attack to him.
"I believe it is, yes."
"They have the Original?"
"Almost certainly," answered Dasra.
"Can you watch them?"
A hint of strain appeared around Dasra's eyes. "It is... difficult to follow those not of the Chosen, but I can continue to do so for some time yet before I require rest."
Calvin permitted himself a tight smile. It did nothing to make his face less forbidding. "Find Aser. Show him what you've shown me, and tell him where to find them. He will do the rest. I will inform our master. He will wish to offer a prayer of thanksgiving for this opportunity. This is a miraculous event, Dasra. Truly, we are the Chosen of God to accomplish his work."
Dasra refrained from pointing out that a better class of miracle would not have required the death of an entire ship's crew. Calvin did not take kindly to such thoughts. "As you say," she said. "May your feet find the hidden road."
"And yours," Calvin responded, then cut the connection.
Dasra closed her eyes and relaxed. As her awareness expanded to encompass all the universe, she gave thanks for her gift. The coincidences Calvin marveled at might or might not be God's work, but she had no doubts where her own ability came from. She might doubt Calvin, might doubt their methods, but there could be no doubt about the rightness of their cause.
End Chapter One.
I plan to post something else, a bit of original fiction, next week. Chapter Two will resume the following week.
In addition, here's something hopefully fun: I have never written a plot outline for this story. I made a soundtrack instead. It serves the same function as a plot outline would, anyway--reminding me of future events, keeping me on track with characters and themes, and so on. All are taken from video game soundtracks, mostly the games you'd think, but not entirely. Anyway, I plan to post the relevant bits of soundtrack at the end of each chapter.
This chapter has four associated tracks, all from Yuki Kajiura's work on Xenosaga Episode II, which is odd because that's my least favorite soundtrack in the series:
Seth and Izzy (Code Inspection)
Scavengers vs. Pirates (Space Battle 1)
The Chosen Ones (Ominous Cryptic Observers Observe Ominously and Issue Cryptic Omens 1)