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Skies Unbroken – Season Two
Episode Four: New Stakes

Chapter Three

A pistol, a revolver, and a rifle clattered their way into the front workshop. Kor and Zek followed slowly, hands where anyone could see them. Zek carried the recovered receiver core in one hand, held as loose and unthreatening as a lunch pail.

Three figures backlit by pale light stood on the far side of the now overturned worktable. Kor spotted a couple more men out on the street clearing away the chains used to rip open the workshop. A heavy cutter, black with red touches, sat awkwardly outside, half on the untrustworthy landing platform, half on the street. The rear door of the residence banged open behind him. They were quite surrounded.

Bianca’s hair was shorter than before and tied back aside from a rogue curl against her temple. Her face, a natural tan from Durroan blood, was a touch thinner, her dark eyes harder from experience. She kept up the red lip color, a bloody Night Hawk red. She wore the standard black of their fleet, though her coat was devoid of rank insignia. Her figure was muted, bulkier. A flak jacket under the coat perhaps.

She still looked great, honestly.

Drexler stood on her left and Noralin on the right, marking both as her lieutenants. There was no love lost with either of them. Drexler’s grudge account was renewed recently twice over. And Noralin, a sharp-featured and exotic woman, even by the varied and mixed standards of the frontier, had never liked him. Some flavor of Ekuan, would be Kor’s guess.

Kor locked eyes with Bianca for a moment, her face unreadable beyond her brows knit into a slight, professional scowl. Kor could feel everyone else wishing they could step away.

Bianca broke the gaze and said, “Master Zekerian. It’s been a while.”

Despite having his arms out in surrender, Zek stood as if in command, as if this was years ago, way back when.

“Well ain’t this a strange sort of reunion. Drex. Nora. I assume the twins are keeping the engine running outside?” No one but Savvy Scourge veterans. Meaning Bianca didn’t have the greater Night Hawk fleet in on the Virtue job. There was no other reason for her to come here personally unless she was keeping it under wraps. This was a quick mission into the city. All for him and Zek. Well, probably just Zek.

Bianca had no doubt as to who was in command and went straight to business. “You got it. Check them.” She nodded to the man behind them and steps approached behind Kor.

Their owner murmured, “Hey, Kor. Pardon the process,” in a heavy frontier drawl.

“How’s it flyin’, Renzo?” If forced to choose a former Savvy crewmate to have a carbine pointed at his back, Kor would have picked Renzo. Call it a deeper kinship with his fellow pilots, regardless of what colors they wore.

 “You gave me quite the chase out there, credit where due.” A quick pat down for other weapons followed, finding nothing. The lifering with the hidden keystone shard went completely ignored, as it should.

“That was you?” Kor asked, casual, as if just catching up.

Renzo moved on to Zek, repeating the process. “Yeah. The slip you gave us here was a cute move. Almost got you in the canyon. But those damn local goons were worthless, let me tell you. They’re clear, Commander.”

Bianca stepped around the overturned table, Drex and Nora shadowing her, weapons still raised and readied. “Certain loose ends have their uses. The receiver core. Now, Zek.”

Zek handed over the case, shaking his head in dismay.

“You don’t know what you’re dealing with, Torrez.”

Bianca stepped back and opened the case. Her finely honed scowl softened into brief surprise before resuming its position. She hooked the case’s handle onto her belt and said, “No, I don’t. That’s why you’re coming with us. I could use a guide, unwilling or not.”

“Apologies, Master Z,” Renzo said while he drew and bound Zek’s hands together at his back.

Zek looked over to Kor and gave him a single shoulder shrug, appearing resigned but maintaining a mischievous glint in his eyes.

“Gave it a good shot, Kor,” he said.

“Sometimes the dice turn up dead,” Kor agreed.

“A matter of perspective, I’d say,” Bianca said. “Load him up but show him a reasonable amount of respect, boys. Just don’t regress into taking orders from him.”

“Never cared for it the first time around,” Drexler said. He ignored Kor through all of this save for a quick victorious smirk. Fair enough.

Zek didn’t resist being escorted out into the street by Renzo and Drexler. The rear door of the cutter was open and guarded by a pair of familiar faces from the past. Kor really was the odd man out from this particular legacy.

Bianca kept her gun trained on Kor, held low, pointed at his gut. Noralin leaned in and said in a low, whispered conference, “If the Rems know you’re here personally, they’ll risk it.” File that away for later. If there is a later.

“They won’t. We have time. Give me a moment with Kor here. Call if we have PortSec incoming.”

Noralin gave Kor an acid glare, squeezed Bianca’s arm affectionately, and left the workshop, creating another silent reunion crossed with settling dust in her wake.

Kor rolled his neck, keeping a calm affect. She had him dead to rights. A final loose end. And yet, once Noralin was out of earshot, Bianca returned her gun to her hip. She couldn’t do it. Again.

“I really should just shoot you now.”

“You should,” Kor agreed. Cold-blooded, but it would certainly add a few points to her growing reputation. Deposed the greatest pirate in the frontier. An unbelievable ascent through the ranks of the Night Hawks. Stealing a destroyer from a core nation. She’s been busy.

“And I still can’t. It feels wrong, for all my talk and posturing.”

“I was counting on that. And I appreciate it. You know I’d return the favor if our places were reversed.” He meant every word. Damn him, he did. Kor knew Bianca wasn’t the jilted type. There wasn’t much value in offing him. After all, she’s got everything she wanted. Then and now.

A short laugh, a sound Kor was surprised to find could still cut through him clean and easy. “Well,” she said, “Call this two. The third time might be the charm, Kor.”

“We’ll see.”

Bianca shook her head with a sad smile. “I’m gonna see you in Ferron, aren’t I? Even though I have almost everything on this, you won’t give up.”

“It’s a safe bet. I even have a ship ready, unlike the last time you left me behind with nothing but the gun in my hand and the clothes on my back.”

“Maybe one day you’ll tell me how you got off that rock.”

Same way I’m leaving this one, love. Kor simply grinned in reply.

Bianca read his canned answer about ‘luck’ and said, “Even so. You should stick to freelancing up in Ferron, Kor. Look for other treasures. Leave this fight to meaner birds.”

“You dancing with the Remnants?”

A barely perceivable glance to her left, toward the opening and the street. A delicate calculation of risk in the furrow of her brows. Kor could still read her after a couple years apart. She was on a tight timeline, too. ‘They should be here by now’, she didn’t say.

“Among others. But I will shoot you down if you keep chasing the Virtue.”

“Ferron’s a big place. I’ll take my chances.”

“You always do.”

An exchange of shouts and calls followed by a whirl of black cloth as Nora rushed into the workshop.

“Commander, we’ve got—” her warning was severed by a controlled burst of gunfire. She cried out and staggered into the broken workshop, one leg stiff and awkward. She stumbled to the floor. Bianca turned in place and pulled her crewwoman into the shadows. Kor snatched up his pistol and pushed the overturned worktable to provide better cover. Outside, shots were exchanged between the still-open Hawk cutter and their unseen assailants.

“Rems?” Bianca asked once she pulled Noralin behind the table. She prodded at Nora’s wound, calm and collected. Kor joined them, crouching low. Old combat reflexes kept him steady, even if he’d prefer to be flying in any real fight. The past few days were pulling every scrap of value out of those training camps days.

Noralin nodded. “Ground squad on the street. Through the fog. Six,” a grimace while putting on a brave face, “Maybe eight.”

Kor glanced around the table. The Hawks in the cutter were in a defensive position against the assailants on the street to Kor’s left. They traded a few potshots. In a lull in gunfire, Kor picked out the high-intensity hum of nearby engines.

“A wing of interceptors out there,” he said.

 Bianca cocked her head to listen, gloved hands pressed to Nora’s hip, staunching the blood. “Three or four,” she agreed.

“You got back-up coming?”

“They should be. Assuming they see us in this fog.”

“Yeah, and make it an even worse stand-off.”

It was too far across the street for Bianca to get there with Nora in tow, two women with only three legs between them. Kor holstered his pistol for now and grabbed his pack, fortunately fallen on the inner side of the table. Then he reached into the light and dragged Zek’s rifle to him. It had three shots loaded. Bianca’s eyes narrowed at him, but she said nothing and remained focused on Noralin.

“No freebies,” Kor said. “If I get you a distraction or two, what do I get in return?” There was always time to deal.

“I won’t shoot you on sight in Ferron. Only if you really piss me off, so don’t get too ambitious.”

That worked just fine for Kor. “Yeah, that’s your territory. See ya in the blue, B.”

Bianca looked skeptical, as if she knew the agreement was too quick and easy. But she nodded, somehow looking imperious in dust spattered clothes, crouching behind an overturned table with bloody gloves.

Kor darted into the residence, stooping low. Another exchange of gunfire outside covered the sound of him fishing out the second half of the receiver core from the pile of junk in the corner and stuffing it into his pack. The rear entrance stood open, revealing an alleyway so narrow it felt like a rounding error in the hodgepodge construction of Fourth Terrace.

He had no idea what form his distraction would take, and didn’t care too much for who he was benefiting. At least, that’s what he told himself, trying to rebury those old feelings of kinship and more with the two women behind him and the men on the ship outside. The enemy of my enemy, and all that.

The key difference being: The Remnants shot at him once. Well, so did Drexler during the Seeder payload job. But that was just business. Another key difference: Having the keystone and half of the receiver core. Let Bianca think she got it all again. He’ll scrape by with more than she knew.

Wouldn’t be the first time.

(Continues Next Week!)

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Copyright © Michael L. Watson 2017