46. The Prisoner

“Bet you never fought something that could match that sword.” Ty, the archer, swung the ‘fire extinguisher’. It sparked as it spun around.

“I actually have,” Orson said. “It’s a great sword, but there are a couple things it doesn’t cut, like dragon bone.”

“What?” Ty said. “Dragons aren’t real.”

“I don’t know,” Orson shrugged. “Maybe not, but those bones sure came from something.” He pointed to the ‘fire extinguisher. “That thing looks like it’s about to zap you. Why don’t you put it away before you hurt yourself?” Orson watched the rest of the archers retreat around Ty. This last group of seven backed away, their weapons outward, Ty and his weapon facing Orson.

“Okay.” Orson looked for the remaining security. They had their guns trained on the Archers. Morita stood beside some of the party guests. “I know you’re trying to buy time for your friends, but this is your last chance. You’ve got three seconds to…”

Ty rushed Orson with the ‘fire extinguisher’. He swung the odd weapon. Orson blocked it with the sword. The electricity arced out and clashed with the sword, but the weird weapon did not pass into the blade’s fire. The device was not cut. Orson pulled his sword back, with effort, and swung again. He aimed the strike for the space between two of the electrified holes, but the energy burst out and caught the sword of fire anyway. The archers cheered.

“Aww yeah!” Ty said. “I knew my boy wouldn’t let me down. I knew it. Now, you can put the sword away.”

Orson didn’t need his HUD to analyze his current opponent. He knew well that this young man had little experience at swordplay. He flailed his weapon around like a toddler with a plastic baseball bat.

Orson caught the sword of fire against the electrified weapon. The two energies clashed with a nasty buzzing sound. Then Orson twisted his sword, hooked it against the ‘fire extinguisher’ and used the clashing weapons to twist Ty’s wrist, as well. The young man lost his grip of the ‘fire extinguisher’ and, unlike the business end, its hilt could not stand against the sword of fire.

Orson cut the makeshift weapon’s hilt in two. It fell, sparking, to the floor.

The archers saw their destroyed failsafe. They backed away, keeping arrows aimed at Orson and the security. They ran when they reached the doorway.

Orson spared a glance to Morita and the security, the donors, the guests, the workers. They had begun to rise from the floor. They seemed safe. The Archers were fleeing.

Orson had his own work to do. Shut off the Archers’ broadcast, for one thing, if it really was playing outside for everyone to see. He considered turning back and planning with Morita.  

But no, he had to catch the Archers. Even more important than the broadcast, only he could catch them and do it the right way, persuade them to talk, set matters right without everything devolving into chaos and violence.

“Orson!” Enoa called from the comm. “Orson! One of the Sabres is trying to take our prisoner.”

Orson looked up toward the balcony and immediately noticed the trickles of water that leaked under the railing, dripped down into the Domicile restaurant. Our prisoner? Orson wasn’t sure whether Enoa had followed his ‘slick floor’ suggestion, but she’d successfully worked some magic and caught an archer!

Orson didn’t waste more time in wondering. He used his repulsor to leap from the floor onto the tech catwalk. He found Enoa there, crouched in front of a huddled shape. An armored man stood over her, brandishing a long blaster. Orson didn’t feel like having a confrontation with Brett Nalrik. He had energy for only so many showdowns in a single day.

“Out of the way, girl!” the man yelled. Even with the slight vocoder distortion, Orson could tell it was not Brett Nalrik’s voice. That left one possibility – Nalrik had recovered multiple suits of Strateren armor. “It was a mistake calling him. We’ll have you for aiding and abetting the…”

Orson leaped to Enoa’s side, his sword drawn. The Sabre stopped speaking, but he regained his composure and angled his weapon toward Orson.

“You won’t have her on anything,” Orson said. “She works with me, and I’m operating in direct agreement with Commodore Augustin. Clear out of here, Sabre. Go back to your clubhouse.” He looked down at Enoa. “Has he been bothering you?”

“He says the Sabres have a protection agreement with the Solar Saver!” Enoa managed to look genuinely furious, even crouched at the floor, clutching at the mostly-limp archer.

“We do,” the Sabre said. “Got that deal worked out long before you flew in.”

Before Orson could reply, he heard the sound of approaching wheels. He glanced over his shoulder, expecting more archers or space-armored Sabre members. But no, the terrified-looking tech supervisor walked toward them, pushing a tufted, wingback desk chair along the wet floor.

“Thanks,” Orson said. “But I don’t have time for a rest now.”  

“The young lady wanted a way to move her, er, her prisoner,” the supervisor said. “I wanted a cart, but I couldn’t find it.”

“No need.” The Sabre reached out toward the supervisor. “I’ll carry him. I’m the ranking security official in this instance.”

“Ignore him,’ Orson told the woman. “Enoa, are you well enough to transport our prisoner. I have room three marked.” Orson hoped she’d know he meant the Aesir. He didn’t want the Sabre to know where she was going. Enoa looked at him, her eyes tired, but without the limp exhaustion she’d displayed in her earlier uses of Shaping.

“I can manage that.” Her glance flickered to the Sabre.

“I don’t know what you think you’ll accomplish by ignoring me,” the Sabre said. “He’s coming with…”

“No one’s interested in your opinion, Tin Man,” Orson said. “I was impressed by your film-quality costume for about ten seconds, but that doesn’t mean I care what you have to say.” He turned back to Enoa. “Look, take a couple pair of cuffs, my Stink Set and some electro pins, in case any vigilante weirdos try to intervene. You know the fastest way there.”

“Orson?” Enoa didn’t look at the Sabre, but he could tell her focus was on the other man. “What are you going to do?”

“I’m going to do my job.” Orson slipped the cuffs to Enoa, then unclipped his stink set and magnetic charges from his belt. He handed these to her, as well. “Do you need help getting him up in the chair?” Orson looked at the tech supervisor. The woman was looking at her feet, seemingly hoping she wouldn’t be noticed if she didn’t move and didn’t speak. “Can you help her get this guy in the chair? You’ve already dealt with so much, but I’d appreciate it. And you…” He turned to the Sabre. “I’m not asking again. Get the hell out of here.”

The Sabre angled his helmet toward Orson. He expected a fight. Fine, as long as it started soon. He hadn’t gone to all of this trouble to capture only one of the archers. For all he knew, the man on the floor was the goofy tagalong they were willing to sacrifice for their noble cause.

“Well…” Orson said.

The Sabre ran, but not at Orson. He charged in the opposite direction, down the catwalk. When he reached the end of the deck, he jumped from the platform. Twin flames ignited from his back and scorched the catwalk, behind him. He had a jetpack! The Sabre flew out through the empty bazaar.

“He’s not running away from me,” Orson said. “He must’ve gotten some new orders, probably was talking to his boss through his helmet.” He looked to Enoa. “You know what, I’ll get him in the chair. Push it over when I get him up.” He took the archer under the arms and got a quick, easy boost from his boot. He deposited the archer in the desk chair.

“Thanks,” she said. “Go chase.”

“Shoot me a call when you’re back home,” Orson said. “We need to talk about the new water magic thing, but I have to run now.” He barreled down the catwalk after the Sabre, hoping the Solar Saver conflict would still be resolved without everything devolving into bloodshed.

*          *          *

“D-did it work?” The archer mumbled and peeked under the heavy lids of his eyes. He hadn’t moved as he was loaded into the chair, but now he suddenly stirred as she started to roll him away.

“What?” Enoa tried to keep her voice down. The tech supervisor jumped away when the archer stirred. “Did what work?” Enoa continued rolling the chair forward. The woman made no motion to catch up to her.

“Is there an access hallway that would take me back to the docking area elevator?” Enoa turned to the supervisor.

“There is, at the end of this catwalk, on the right.” The supervisor pointed. “But you’d need a keycard.”

“I have this.” Enoa fished in her pockets for the card Orson had lent her. She drew it out and held it up.

“That should work,” the supervisor said.

“Great! Thank you for all your help!” Enoa turned back in the other direction, the way to the access corridor.

“Return that chair when you’re done!” The supervisor called after her.

“I will.” Enoa pushed the chair down the catwalk, the archer’s limp heels sliding along the floor.

Enoa had cuffed the archer’s wrists, and she’d considered using the second pair on his ankles, but she might need him to walk or lift his feet. She hoped he could walk. She hadn’t felt bad shocking him, but he’d been so limp since then.

The young archer groaned. He had a boyish, innocent manner that reminded her of Megan’s twin brothers, a year her junior.

Enoa picked up the pace. Her shoes were still wet, and she feared squeaks. She feared speaking. She feared all noise, anything that could draw more of the Sabres. She understood why Orson had left her, but she wasn’t sure what she could do against more of the armored attackers.

That armor was another relic of the old Hierarchia’s work, another of the strange phenomena that, like her Shaping, had led to the madness in the world.

Enoa wheeled the chair to the other side of the catwalk, where she found the doorway into the access corridor. It had a simple swipe card slot. Enoa kept one hand on the desk chair and swept the keycard with the other. The light on the door lock stayed red. She swiped a second time. Still nothing. Enoa turned around. She didn’t want to call to the tech supervisor, but better she get help than strand herself on the catwalk with the archer.

Except the tech supervisor was gone. There was no one to be seen. Enoa was alone with the archer.

As she watched the other side of the catwalk, Enoa saw a light appear above the elevator. Did the light mean someone was occupying the elevator? Was someone coming up to the catwalk again? Why hadn’t she paid more attention to the details of the elevator when she’d been closer.

Enoa didn’t plan on staying on the catwalk long enough for someone else to arrive. She kept her hand steady and slowly swiped the keycard a third time.

The lock’s light turned green. Enoa released the desk chair and caught the entryway’s doorknob. It turned. She pushed the door open and then maneuvered the desk chair through the doorway. She jumped when the motion-activated corridor lights lit around her. Only part of the hallway was illuminated, about twenty feet ahead. Lights further on stayed dark.

Enoa made the mistake of risking a glance back out the doorway, toward the elevator. The doors were opening. She caught a glimpse of chrome armor, two sets.

An armored Sabre exited the elevator onto the catwalk. Then another one followed.

Enoa pushed the archer around the door and shut it behind them, turning the knob carefully so it made hardly a sound, as it closed and locked again. She got a better grip on the desk chair and kept walking.

Had they seen her? What would she do if they had? She had a horrifying mental image of the Sabres in their full-powered suits, ripping through the locked door, but they might not need to do anything so drastic. They could easily have their own keys. She sped up, almost a run.

“Did it work?” the archer said again.

“Did what work?” Enoa didn’t know whether or not to ignore him. He’d been out of it for several minutes, but she didn’t need him becoming insistent.

 He did not reply. She progressed down the passageway several feet further. The archer groaned.

“Are you still with me?” Enoa touched her captive on the shoulder. He’d fallen silent again. He didn’t answer.  

Enoa heard a slight ‘pop’ and spun around. Some of the lights behind her had shut down. She rushed along in a small bubble of illumination, which shifted as the corridor lights followed her on the walk along the top of the crawler. She heard no sign of anyone else, no motion, no speech.

When Enoa reached the end of the corridor, she saw both the promised freight elevator and a narrow stairwell, passages that accessed all levels of the crawler, including the docking area. The more she thought about it, the less she liked the elevator. It was too blind. She had no idea who’d be waiting for her when the doors opened, but with the archer on the chair, she didn’t have many options.

“Did my ‘fire extinguisher’ work?” the archer asked. “I wanted to see it.” He groaned again. “What did she use on me?”

“I don’t really know the answer to either of your questions.” Enoa summoned the elevator. She wheeled the chair into the elevator when the doors opened. “Are you okay now?” The doors shut behind her, and she turned the chair around to stare at it, as the elevator moved.

“I’m getting some feeling back,” the archer said. “Hey, where are the others? Are they okay?”

“I don’t know,” Enoa said. He again didn’t respond, and she passed the rest of the elevator ride in silence.

The lift door inched open. She held her breath. She didn’t know which of her borrowed weapons worked on the armored men. Any of them?

But no one stood outside the elevator. No attackers. No one was there, at all. Good. She could breathe again. She was almost there – about one hundred feet to the Aesir. She wheeled the chair out into the corridor – or she tried to.

The back wheels stuck. The chair jammed. The archer was jarred in his seat. He yelled. Enoa yelped.

She tried to push the chair again. It still didn’t pass over the lip. The elevator sat lower than the actual floor. She probably wouldn’t have noticed it without the archer in the chair.

“Hang on.” Enoa knew she couldn’t lift the chair, not even for a moment. She turned around and spun the chair with her.

“Woah!” the dazed archer said.

She started to back the chair out of the elevator, with both of them facing the inside of the lift. Enoa looked both ways out the elevator. She still saw no one.

The elevator began to close. Was it just closing on its own? Or was someone else calling it? Enoa hit the ‘door open’ button. She hoped that would buy her enough time that it didn’t matter.

Going backward, she pulled the chair out of the elevator.

The archer wasn’t knocked loose, but he yelled again as the chair passed free into the hallway. She waited in the hall until the archer got quiet. She still heard no sounds around her. She kept going.

Enoa was glad the archer had fallen silent. She didn’t need him yelling or doing something to get the attention of the whole crawler, when they were only feet from the Aesir. She could see the door into the ship’s docking berth.

Enoa didn’t remember if there were any uneven floor spaces between the passage and the docking area. It had never been an issue before. She really hoped not. She was so close.

“Did you say where the others were?” the archer asked. He leaned up and began to glance around the corridor. He looked at Enoa. “Wait! You’re the magic girl!” He wrenched away, rocking the chair.

“Listen to me,” Enoa pressed the door control to the docking berth. The door opened. “We’re trying to help you. Orson and me. Captain Gregory. Please be quiet. They could still be out there – the Sabres. We just escaped them on the catwalk. I think they might have tried to use the elevator. We have to hurry.”

“You can’t take me,” the archer yelled and tried to push himself away from her, but found that his hands were bound. He got his feet under him and tried to stand, but fell back into the chair. “You can’t…”

“Up at the docking bay – stop now!” A voice shouted from the stairwell. The voice echoed. She couldn’t tell if it came from above or below, but it wasn’t right on them. “Official Security.”

“Pull up your feet!” Enoa ran. She didn’t wait to see who had shouted. She doubted they were actual security personnel. She charged through the open docking bay doorway. The door cycled shut and hopefully locked behind her. She ran across the mercifully smooth floor, going as fast as her legs would carry them.

“You can’t let them have me,” the archer fidgeted in his seat. “They’re killers. I’m dead. I’m really dead if they get me. I’m dead.”

The desk chair had made this trip possible. But running, Enoa felt the resistance of the archer’s real weight, as she pushed the chair, pushed the archer.

Enoa wished she could transmute fast enough to fight back. But there was no way. She ran right up to the Aesir and grabbed the key to the camper.

“I need you to stand.” Enoa opened the Aesir’s side door. “I can’t carry you.” She jumped inside and knelt at the doorway.

“I don’t know if I can.” The archer got his legs under him, but he wobbled on his feet. He had no strength. He gripped the chair and fell back. “I don’t think I can get up there.”

“Just push toward me.” Enoa wheeled him closer, close enough to lean forward and take him under the arms. “Now push!”

Sparks blasted from the docking bay door. The ‘security’ was trying to force their way through.

“Ruby!” Enoa yelled over her shoulder. “Shields now! We’re under attack.”

“There is a door ajar,” Ruby replied. “Please shut the door before shield activation.”

“Ruby, override!” Enoa watched the sparks slowly trace their way around the edge of the door. She tried to pull the archer from the chair. “Push. Come on! Push! If I die because you wouldn’t push…” He found his strength. They toppled together, back into the Aesir.

“Would you like the particle shield or the rad shield?” Ruby asked. “Would you like my defensive recommendations?”

“Get off of me!” Enoa shoved the archer away. The Aesir’s door hadn’t closed. Why hadn’t it closed? There, she saw the chair had slid forward with the archer. It was tipped forward, partially rolled under the Aesir.

“Would you like the particle shield or the rad shield?” Ruby asked again. “I recommend avoiding the particle shield. It can cause a severe…”

The docking bay door fell inward with a massive thud. Two Sabres ran inside, their blasters ready, already aimed at her and the archer.

“Ruby, I don’t know!” Enoa yelled. “Both! Just do it. Ruby, shields now!”

One of the Sabres ran at her, bounding across the deck in armor-boosted strides. He closed half the distance from the door to the Aesir in two steps. Enoa braced herself. Her staff waited less than ten feet away. If she had that, maybe she’d manage another explosion.

The man slammed bodily into the Aesir’s particle shield like a fly against a window. The particle shield flashed a bright red and sizzled. It flung the armored man away. He fell back to the deck, motionless.

Enoa kicked the chair out of the doorway. The door slid shut and locked. She stood and looked down at the archer. He lay on the floor breathing deeply. His mask was now askew, and she saw his face. He looked even younger than she’d imagined. He was almost hyperventilating.

“Captain Gregory and I are going to make sure things work out,” she said. “But I need you to stay right there. If you fight me, I’ll have to zap you again so we don’t get killed by those Sabres.” Enoa didn’t wait for a reply. She ran to the Aesir’s dashboard, in time to find the other Sabre with his blaster aimed right at the windshield, right at her.

“Come out,” the Sabre said. “Or I start firing until we overload your shield. It won’t last long inside.”

Enoa activated the dash microphone. “Do anything and I’ll shoot.” Enoa placed her hands on the firing controls for the Aesir’s front Incursion Cannons.

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