The automatic rifle went off, the gunshots sounding like little puncture sounds as it became lost in the vastness of the desert surrounding the airbase. It was an accident, really – Pete meant to just raise his weapon at the Swordsman, but had gotten his finger stuck; and by the time the three shots went off, it was too late to stop the situation from sliding down the slippery slope.
If the sounds of the automatic rifle sounded like little puncture sounds, the Swordsman’s revolver went off like a grenade.
BLAM! The Swordsman had turned and fired before there was even time to think, and the top half of Pete’s head disappeared in a spray of blood.
‘Ah, shit,’ the Swordsman said when he realized what he had just done.
Mechanical clicking sounds came from all sides as weapons were trained on him again. He gritted his teeth – and from that point on, many things began to happen.
Eric was halfway raising his rifle when – BLAM! – a bullet punctured Derek’s skull. He had just managed to catch the Swordsman between his sights, and – BLAM! – another bullet killed Jamie. By the time Eric managed to pull his own trigger to fire at the Swordsman, a third round had escaped the Swordsman’s revolver, and far to his left, Olson spun a full 360 degrees before falling face-down onto the concrete.
POP-POP-POP! Out of the three consecutive shots that came from Eric’s rifle, two of them caught the Swordsman clean in the left shoulder, sending a trail of blood flying out of the exit wounds on his back.
BLAM! The Swordsman’s retaliatory fire put a hole into Eric’s cheek, and when the bullet exited through the other side, half of Eric’s neck disappeared in a red mist. The commander, however, was determined to put the Swordsman down even as blood was squirting out of his exposed artery.
Eric’s finger closed around the trigger, squeezing-
BLAM! The Swordsman’s last bullet went right through his eye, and Eric Lyatt was no more than a corpse on the ground. He spun with blinding speed, aiming right at Adrian-
Click. The revolver was empty.
Adrian stood, feet rooted to the ground, jaw hanging open in shock. The whole gunfight had taken all of five seconds, and the Swordsman now had the smoking barrel of his deadly revolver aimed right at him.
‘Surrender,’ he heard the Swordsman say.
Instead, he dove for Eric’s weapon, pinned underneath his corpse. The Swordsman rolled his eyes.
‘Fine, then,’ he muttered.
Adrian was all of three meters away from where Eric’s body lay. The Swordsman was about twenty. Adrian closed the distance in no time, but it was the prying of the weapon from Eric’s dead hands that took some time, and by the time Adrian managed to get the rifle pointed at the Swordsman, who was bearing down on him with the speed of a gazelle, he had barely managed to squeeze his finger around the trigger when the Swordsman’s boot came stomping down – hard – onto the barrel, pinning the rifle and Adrian’s hand to the ground.
From where he laid prone, Adrian saw the Swordsman’s foot pivot around the spot – and WHAM! The Swordsman kicked him square in the face, breaking his nose. He looked up through blurry eyes, blood gushing from his nose, and saw the heel of the Swordsman’s boot blocking out the sky.
Then darkness overcame him.
‘Stupid guns,’ the Swordsman spat, kicking the rifle away.
He examined the puncture wounds on his shoulder and saw that his blood was seeping into the material of his longcoat. He cursed, moving to remove the longcoat off his back – then a paralyzing pain came swelling out of his shoulder. Slowly this time, he shrugged the longcoat off his right arm, and removed the sleeve off his left without moving it.
He examined the coat. There were two holes out in the front, and two out the back. Good, no bullets lodged in his shoulder or anything. There was a time when he had the bullet from a handgun stuck in his calf; and he swore that he would rather die than to extract a bullet with a knife again.
The coat, however, had bloodstains on it now – two little patches, like a nosebleed out in the front, but the back looked like someone had tripped and spilled a damn cup of blood on him or something.
This day just keeps getting better and better.
The Swordsman slung the longcoat over his good shoulder, bowed his head, and made his way back up the ramp into the cargo hold of the HMS Clarent.
‘Sounds like you had fun,’ the marauder greeted him as he stepped into the pilot’s cockpit. ‘So where to, mister?’
‘New Britain,’ he said.
‘New Britain?’ she mused. ‘That’s a mighty long way. My stop’s just south of here, if my bearings haven’t failed me. After that, you can take this ship to the North Pole, for all I care.’
The Swordsman nodded. ‘Sounds fair enough.’
She flicked a few switches all around her. The Swordsman glanced down at the hundreds – perhaps thousands – of dials, buttons, and switches laid out on the console before him; and up at the ones that were installed against the roof of the cockpit.
‘Do you know how to operate this aircraft?’ he asked.
‘Not a clue.’
‘That puts me at ease.’
The girl pushed a button that lit up on the console before her – and WHUMP! The entire airship lurched backwards with an alarming speed, sending them-
The Swordsman peeled himself off the console, his shoulder wound screaming. He glanced at the girl.
‘Reversed into it,’ she nodded, nonchalant. ‘Yeah.’
‘Well,’ she said, beginning to press a few more buttons and flicking a few more dials, ‘I hope this thing isn’t too wrecked up to fly. Alright, let’s see… Does N30E125 sound right to you?’
‘As long as I get the ship once you’re done,’ the Swordsman told her.
‘Right,’ she shrugged. ‘Here goes, then.’
With a painful scraping sound, the thrusters dragged along the concrete ground as they aligned themselves into the takeoff position. A bright hum filled the air, and the thrusters began to glow blue around the edges-
WHOOM! Bright blue flames erupted from within the thrusters, lifting the HMS Clarent (and a portion of the hangar’s entrance) into the air. There came a sharp whine as the magnets that ran along the entire underbelly of the airship came to life, and the airship realigned its thrusters once more, now pointed backwards.
With surprising silence, the HMS Clarent took off into the late afternoon sky, leaving the airfield truly abandoned this time.
The girl pulled the aviators off her head, and her bright orange hair came spilling out over her face. She shook her head, loosening her wild locks, and deftly tied her hair into a ponytail.
‘It’s Rayna, by the way,’ she said. ‘From Australia. What’s your name?’
The Swordsman kept his silence, staring out through the windscreen. Giving your name to people in these dangerous times were a sure way of getting yourself killed. He prayed that this girl will never have to learn that the hard way.
‘If you don’t tell me, I’m gonna have to make one up for ya,’ Rayna said, folding her hands behind her head. ‘Stubbly. Can I call you Stubbly?’
He cast a sideways glance at her, but his lips remained sealed. She shrugged, as if to say “oh well”, and kicked up her legs, resting them on top of the complicated console.
‘So, Stubbly…’ she began, ‘Where you from? You look Asian. Korean, is it? What would a Korean such as yourself be doing wandering the East China Desert?’
The Swordsman pulled down the front of his hat in response, covering his face in shadow.