118. NaNoWriMo Day 23

17

‘God damn.’

That was what Damien said when he descended into the secondary cargo hold, and by the illumination of the soft blue light found the dust scooters stripped of their fuel tanks. Two scooters were missing, leaving ten behind, which made sense to him.

Deciding that there was nothing left for him in the dusty space, he climbed the ladder up and out, and the place darkened as he left.

‘Damien,’ Sonny pleaded from his cage, fumbling with the lockpicks, ‘You gotta help me, man. I know jack about working this thing, look – I’m not even sure if I’m holding them properly!’

Completely ignoring him, Damien punched the button by the side of the cargo bay entrance, then with a hiss and a groan, the door came open and lowered out into the desert as a ramp. A sudden wind rushed in as the air pressure equalized between the two spaces, sending fine sand flying inside.

Calm, steady, and tranquil – he walked back into the cargo bay and began examining the crates column by column, and then row by row; and when he found what he was looking for, Damien began methodically removing the crates that were piled on top until he got to the one that he was looking for.

CRACK! The lid over the crate came open with a hard yank on the crowbar that he had found lying nearby. Damien dipped his hands in and pulled out a shiny new bullpup.

‘GAH!’ Sonny groaned from inside his cage as the lockpick came loose again. ‘Damien!’ he yelled. ‘For God’s sake, man, drop that thing and help me get the hell out of this damn thing! Damien, do you hear me?’

The bounty hunter, however, was moving on to another crate – CRACK! – and pulling out another weapon, this time a sniper rifle with a barrel that looked at least a meter long. He clicked the electronic sight on and tested it, aiming the rifle out into the open desert; and when he seemed to be satisfied, he slung the rifle over his shoulder and picked up the bullpup again, then bending down to pick up ammunition.

‘I swear to God,’ Sonny said through gritted teeth as he tried the lock again, ‘If I have to bust my way out of here myself, it’s not those two lunatics you’ll have to worry about. Do you hear me? Hey! I’m talking to you, Damien! Do you hear me?!’

Damien loaded a fresh magazine into the bullpup and turned to look at the soldier. ‘Get back,’ he said.

‘What?’ the soldier frowned – then furiously backpedaled in his cage when the bounty hunter aimed the weapon up, and-

BANG!

There was a sharp sound as the bullet lodged itself firmly into the keyhole of Sonny’s cage and broke the lock inside. He still sat trembling inside when the gate swung open lazily, and Damien lowered his weapon, still smoking at the barrel, with a lazy look of disinterest upon his face.

‘God dammit, man!’ Sonny shouted, scrambling out of the cage. ‘Christ, was using the lockpick again too much work? You could’ve taken my head off!’

‘Get your weapons,’ Damien said. ‘We’re going hunting before the trail goes cold.’

‘Not like anything’s getting colder out there,’ Sonny muttered, but got on with what Damien told him to do. As the soldier busied himself with the selection of his arsenal, the bounty hunter’s gaze wandered over to the crowbar that laid upon the floor.

That’s a handy tool right there, he thought.

18

‘Storm’s coming,’ the Swordsman said, sniffing the air.

Rayna, who was stuffing her utility vest with carefully selected jade discs, stopped to look at him. ‘The air’s dry as them Britons, Stubs,’ she said. ‘What are you talking about?’

He glanced at her and blinked several times. ‘There is a storm coming,’ he said. ‘I can smell it in the wind.’

‘Wind?’ the marauder gave him an incredulous look as she squeezed the last of the jade discs into her vest and closed the button over it. ‘If there’s a wind out here, I’m the mayor of Zimbabwe. I’ve been living out in this desert for the better half of my life; if there’s a wind, I’d feel it.’

The Swordsman felt no need to contest that, so he just nodded.

‘At any rate,’ she said, unbuttoning her vest down the middle to reveal a plain white t-shirt underneath, ‘It’s still best that we get on back to base. Y’know, the airship. Won’t wanna be caught out here when the sun goes down, do we?’

‘We still haven’t found any fuel for the airship.’

‘Relax, Stubs,’ she said, hanging the vest onto the handle of her scooter. ‘You’ve seen that basement the ship has. It’s got enough to last us what, a whole year out over here? Besides, I’ve been thinking about it: it’s an RAF ship. They’ll definitely be coming looking for it. They probably have some tracking device on it, you know how they go about these things.’

‘Do you suggest that we wait for them to come and find us?’ he asked her.

She shrugged. ‘Why not?’ she said. ‘We load these beauties up on that nice shiny airship of theirs, and we split some of our loot with them when they show up. They’ll be more than happy to give us a ride over to Hong Kong, I think.’

He thought about this and decided that it did make sense.

‘You’re right,’ he said, ‘But we should leave mid-afternoon. This weather will be the death of us.’

‘That’s the spirit,’ Rayna flashed him a smile. ‘I’ve got some more pockets left to be filled, and I won’t be able to sleep tonight if we don’t check out the main man’s ship. We go over and check it out, and we leave when you say it’s time to leave. Sounds good?’

‘I do not find fault with that,’ the Swordsman said.

‘Let’s go then,’ she said, and led the way towards Zheng He’s ship.

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