Jaimie sighed theatrically and rolled her eyes. “I suppose there was no … less dramatic way to lose the police than that?”
Jonathan attempted to look virtuous, but his huge grin spoiled the effect. “No ma’am. At least, not in something this slow.”
Jaimie nodded, fighting off her own matching smile. “OK, OK. Next time you can pick the fastest car you’d like for the rental. Just get us to the Drunken Mermaid before another cop finds us.”
“Not the shuttleport?” Jonathan asked as he eased out of the canyon and back into the automated traffic lanes. He flipped on the transponder again and then twisted almost completely around to look at Jaimie.
“No. We need to get out of Coventry, but I want to warn William first. He deserves to know that Lecault will be coming after him.”
“Lecault the Younger,” Jonathan corrected. “I get the feeling that if Duke Lecault wanted us dead we’d have a whole bigger set of problems. Like being dead already.”
Jaimie waved the correction away with an airy hand gesture. “Yes. Fine. Lecault the Younger then. Point remains, and that is that I’m not having an innocent young man pay the price because I threw an egg at somebody’s face.”
“Aye aye, Captain.”
It was less than a half hour later when Jonathan smoothly parked the car behind the Drunken Mermaid. It was still early afternoon, and the bar didn’t appear to be open yet. Jaimie had Tammy pound heavily on the service entrance, until a wary hand opened the door a crack. In the dim gloom beyond Jaimie could just barely make out the face of William’s mother. She swiftly stuck the toe of her boot in the door before speaking. “Good afternoon madam. Is William here? I have information that he will find most important.”
Jaimie’s maneuver with the boot proved foresighted as William’s mother moved to immediately close the door. As it wedged on the tough leather the older woman wailed melodramatically. “Leave my boy alone you hussies!”
Jaimie frowned at Tammy before returning her attention to the woman behind the door. “That’s enough of that ma’am. It was cute before when Tammy was just stirring up trouble. But this time I have something to tell your son. It’s important and I’m not going to go away until I speak to him. You can chaperone if you like, I won’t even touch William. But I am going to tell him what I need to say. Furthermore, as soon as we’re done here I promise that I’m taking the hussy here,” Jaimie pointed at Tammy as she spoke, “and we’ll be leaving the planet. Please trust me, it’s vital that I speak to William.”
William’s mother glared at Tammy as she considered Jaimie’s speech. She thought on it a moment before shaking her head and leaning again on the door, still blocked by Jaimie’s boot. “I’m sorry, but William isn’t here. He had the day off and he was going to spend it with his friends.”
“With his friends? Don’t you even follow his races?” Tammy asked.
William’s mother looked at Tammy in mute incomprehension. “Races? William doesn’t race. I’d never allow it! All sorts of bad folk are involved in those races!”
“Indeed,” Jaimie stated dryly as she waggled her eyebrows at Tammy. “The thing is, ma’am … I think William is racing on the sly. Normally I wouldn’t get involved in a domestic issue like this, but you need to know what is about to happen.”
William’s mother considered this new statement, her face falling at the implication of dishonesty from her son. Tammy started to speak but broke off as William pulled up on his crimson hoverbike.
“Hi Mom! I thought I’d…” William broke off as he recognized Tammy and Jaimie. He nodded awkwardly at them “Oh. Hello. Am I interrupting anything?”
“WILLIAM!” his mother screeched. “Have you been racing that bike?”
William shot an accusatory glare at Jaimie before attempting to recover the situation. “Mom, it’s not like that. I was only…”
Jaimie cut him off with a sharp chopping motion of her hand. “That’s not important right now. The first thing that is important as whether you were followed William. After that well, may we come in ma’am? We really need to discuss the situation.”
“Followed? I don’t think so, but I was hardly paying attention.” William said as he looked from Jaimie to Tammy to Jonathan in puzzlement. He focused on Jonathan and strode forward, extending his hand. “I don’t think we’ve met. I’m William.”
Jonathan shook the offered hand in bemusement. “I’m Jonathan. That was some nice driving earlier.”
“COME IN? You want to bring that hussy into my house?” William’s mother screeched, her face hot with apoplexy.
Jaimie winced as the woman yelled next to her ear and then frowned. “That’s quite enough of that. We haven’t been properly introduced and I can’t keep calling you ‘William’s mother’. I’m Captain Jaimie Arcolier, of the pirate ship Righteous Beauty. Earlier today I killed a man who was quite intent on murdering William. I have reason to believe that his life is still in danger and I’d like to talk about that some more. But quite frankly I’m tired of being screamed at, I’m tired of standing of here with my toe jammed in the door like an unwelcome brush salesman and if we don’t change the whole dynamic then I’m just going to go back to my ship and leave you both to the tender mercies of Lecault the Younger.” She finished by staring levelly at the woman and the door and extending her hand just as William had a moment earlier.
William’s mother returned the stare blankly, reduced to sputtering incoherently.
William broke the tableau by sighing loudly as he rolled his eyes. “Mother. Be reasonable and try to have a civil tongue. Of course you may come in. I’d also like to introduce my mother, Elena Hampton. Mother, let our guests in so they can explain what they mean.”
Without waiting for a response he walked up to the door and gestured cordially at Jaimie. Jaimie stepped back to make room and he gently took the door from his mother and opened it. Elena stepped back to let William open the door and then shook her head as if trying to clear it.
“Of course, where are my manners? Please come in. Can I offer anyone tea?” she said in a flat monotone, still struggling to catch up with events.
“Thank you but no,” Jaimie said graciously as she beckoned her crew inside. “We don’t really have time for social pleasantries. You need to start gathering your most precious belongings. You’re going to need to leave, and do so within the hour. I’ll explain, but please start working as I do.”
William looked at Jaimie in shock. “Packing? What are you talking about?”
Jaimie shrugged. “I’m the outsider here. All I know is that Lecault the Younger was willing to kill you before letting you win that race. Unfortunately for him I spoiled his plan. Unfortunately for you I did so in a way that revealed he was trying to cheat. That wasn’t my intention but things got out of hand and here we are. Now I don’t know much about Lecault the Younger but from what I hear he’s not likely to let this ride.”
“I suppose not. But where are we going?”
“The most important thing is to get moving. Later we can figure out where. And if I’m wrong then in a week you can return home and view this as an impromptu holiday. But my guess is that if you stay you’re dead.”
Tammy had taken up a station just inside the door, looking out through a small window. Now she shook her head as she interrupted Jaimie. “Captain, two black vans just pulled up outside. It’s either the Girl Scouts with those damnable cookies, or Lecault’s forces have arrived. Much as I’d love some cookies, my money is on the latter.”
“OK, we’re out of time,” Jaimie glared at William and clapped her hands. “MOVE! I’m going to call in the reinforcements and as soon as the Marines arrive we’re leaving. You’re welcome to go with us with whatever you can carry.” She didn’t waste any time waiting for William’s response but turned immediately to Jonathan.
“Jonathan, Tammy, see if you can block that door. And I’m sure there’s another entrance from this house to the bar, see if you can block that as well.”
Jaimie pulled out her phone with one hand as she drew a small energy pistol in the other. “All hands! This is an official emergency as of now. Noncombatants should get to the ship immediately. One-Eye, report back with an ETA when your people will be clear. If there are any Marine units within an hour of the Capitol, please report in. I’m going to need a hot extraction. Camera crews, I’m putting the drones on automatic, get out of the city now.”
Jonathan and Tammy carried in a large oaken table and braced it against the door as Jaimie worked. Tammy rolled her eyes at Jonathan as the table made a bass thump. “I know I was complaining about things being boring on this shore leave but this is ridiculous. Why can’t we ever just have a little bit of excitement?
Jonathan grinned in response but sprinted back into the dining room when somebody knocked on the door. He grabbed one end of a low hutch and jerked his head towards the other end. Tammy hustled into position and they lowered the hutch behind the table just as the fist smashed into the door a second time. “Captain they aren’t knocking politely and I’m sure it’s only going to get ruder from here.”
Jaimie’s phone crackled into life. “Captain Arcolier? This is Sergeant Riker. First Marines are on watch duty. We have a fix on your position and anticipate a flyover in fifteen minutes.”
She sighed and looked at the stairway William and his mother had scurried up. “William! Can you get on the roof from here?”
A muffled “What?” was the response she received, followed by William’s head peeking out from the top of the stairs. “I’m sorry, what did you ask?”
“Can we get to the roof from inside?”
“No, not really. There’s an attic, but there’s no external door.”
“The attic will be good enough. I’m sure Riker can cut us an exit. You have ten minutes. Get your mother ready to go.”
A resounding crash came from the front door. Jaimie clipped her phone to her belt and grasped the gun in both hands. “Here they come folks. Get ready.”
Tammy drew a pistol of her own and then looked at Jonathan who helplessly looked from Tammy to Jaimie, his mouth hanging open. “Fish out of water much? Can you shoot this one?” She tossed him the pistol she had drawn and produced a second pistol. She nodded to the doorway. “Take what cover you can.” Suiting action to words she crouched down behind a small table that she had turned sideways.
A second crash came from the door and the wood began to visibly splinter under the impact. William’s mother appeared at the top of the stairs and fluttered her hands nervously. “What’s happening down there?”
“Nothing you can help with ma’am. Please stay out of sight. We need to buy a little more time before my men get here to help us. Just be ready to move on our word. When we go upstairs we’ll need to move fast.” Jaimie spoke without taking her eyes off the rapidly disintegrating door. She raised her voice slightly as she spoke to Riker, relying on her phone to relay the words.
“Riker do you copy? We’ll need a low-flying pass to clear hostiles, then we’ll make for the attic. The building is two stories and we’ll need you to create a roof access for us. Copy?”
“Roger Captain,” came Riker’s crisp and immediate response. “We will be coming in hot. Anticipate one pass to disperse hostile personnel, then a rooftop extraction. How many people will be leaving?”
“I have Tammy and Jonathan with me as well as two civilians. Unknown how many hostiles are outside, they arrived in two vans.”
Just then another resounding crash rang out and the door screamed in protest as it tore. Splintered door fragments rained on the entry hallway and then an armored fist appeared, brushing bits of door away from the frame. A moment later another crash sounded as a battering ram smashed the table, breaking it at the line where the hutch braced the bottom. The top portion of the table fell away revealing four men holding the shiny steel battering ram. Jaimie calmly sighted and fired her pistol. A ball of energy plasma caught the foremost ram operator in the face and he screamed as he dropped out of sight. Tammy winged the next man in the shoulder and Jonathan fired a skittish shot that went wildly above everyone’s head. The ram clattered to the ground as the last two men ducked aside. Jonathan ducked his head sheepishly as Tammy shot him a glance.
“Sorry. My first planet-side shootout.”
“No worries Jonathan,” Jaimie said smoothly as she watched the doorway, waiting for anyone to reappear. “We didn’t bring you along for your pistol skills. Which appears to be a good thing.” She took a deep breath before continuing. “I think we can probably have one more volley with these clowns before we need to leave. When I say ‘go’ I want Jonathan to break for the stairs. Tammy and I will provide covering fire. Once he’s upstairs then Tammy you go. I’ll follow, and rig the last holodrone to explode at the top of the stairs. Get the civvies up to the attic. We should have time to escape while they clear the house. They won’t know how many traps we left so they can’t just charge upstairs.”
A gun barrel poked around the doorframe and Jaimie shot the wall beside the door in two rapid pulses. The first smashed through the building and the second struck home. The gun dropped as they heard a curse from outside.
“Go!” Jaimie nodded. As Jonathan moved past her she fired a shot towards the other side of the door. Tammy fired a low shot that skimmed just above the hutch. After a tense moment she nodded at Jaimie and also broke for the stairs. Jaimie gave her another thirty seconds and then backed towards the stairwell, moving in a low hunched gait. She continually fired through the door until her boot heel clacked against the first stair, then she spun and dashed upwards. She paused at the top and pushed a complex series of commands into the holodrone that was still following her.
“It won’t be much of an explosion, but I imagine it will startle the first chump to come upstairs,” she muttered to herself as she continued onwards. She could hear Tammy and Jonathan down the hallway and she careened around the corner to see a pull-down ladder descending from the roof.
“Excellent. William and his mother are upstairs?”
“Yes Captain,” Tammy replied in a serious tone at odds with her normal manner.
Jaimie climbed the ladder swiftly and pulled the ladder up behind her. A crash dimly echoed up from the first floor and she smiled. “That will be the table, so figure they are sweeping the first floor now. Riker? You close by?”
“Only another few moments ma’am. We’ll put a hole in the south face of the roof if that is acceptable?”
“Sounds good. Jonathan you heard? Get everyone to the north side of the attic!”
They waited a couple of tense moments before hearing a muffled explosion.
“That’s the holodrone. So they’ve reached the second floor, but I expect the booby trap will give them some pause.”
Jaimie’s phone buzzed on her belt as Riker spoke again, “Captain we see the target structure. We’re coming in hot and targeting the two black vans on our initial run. Stand by.”
Jaimie heard the hypersonic crack of the approaching craft before she heard the explosions as they put ordnance in the vans. “Heads down!” she shouted before covering her own head with her arms. A moment later there was a splintery crunch and a ragged hole appeared in the roof on the far side of the attic. She cautiously raised her head and then gestured at the others. “Come on. Elena you go first, then William. After that Jonathan and Tammy. I’ll bring up the rear.”
William’s mother was sobbing openly by now and clutched a large soft-sided suitcase. She shuffled forward, William holding her elbow and helping her step from rafter to rafter.
Jaimie’s phone crackled into life again. “Egress is clear Captain. We don’t see any hostile presence outside.”
William helped his mother through the jagged hole and then stooped to step through himself. He paused for a moment and looked at Jaimie. “Thank you ma’am for rescuing my family. Not many would think to risk everything for strangers like this.”
Jaimie shrugged and gestured towards the hole with her pistol barrel. “Time enough for thanks when we reach my ship. For now I’ll be happy once we’re all aboard.”
William grabbed a large duffel bag and stepped through. The Marine’s large assault craft hovered a short bit overhead with a ladder dangling down. His mother struggled up the ladder, her suitcase slung awkwardly over one shoulder. William began to climb up behind her as the others emerged onto the rooftop. Jonathan grabbed the bottom of the ladder and steadied it as the Hamptons continued to climb.
A few tense moments passed and William’s mother got high enough on the ladder for Riker to lean out and help her up and into the hold. William followed close on her heels and Jaimie gestured for Jonathan to begin climbing. A loud thumping below indicated that men inside the house had reached the attic ladder. Tammy went to hold the ladder as Jonathan swarmed up.
Riker paged Jaimie’s phone, “Captain we’re reading two hostiles inside the attic. Infrared profiles indicate they are carrying energy rifles.”
Just as the sergeant spoke a plasma pulse burst through the gap and smashed into Jonathan’s back. Jonathan spun away from the ladder and pinwheeled to the ground, blood streaming from his back.
“WE HAVE HOSTILE FIRE! ENGAGING!”
Tammy released the ladder as the assault craft spun in place, bringing the powerful nose gun to bear on the hole. Jaimie tugged at Tammy’s arm as she dove away from the gap. Tammy gaped in astonishment for a split second and then followed suit. The marine inside the transparent gunnery dome flashed Jaimie a quick thumbs-up gesture before he lined up his shots and began firing the powerful chain gun into the attic. The thunderous chatter of the guns was deafening and Jaimie and Tammy clung to the roof.
After a moment that seemed like an eternity the gunner stopped firing and the barrels spun to a stop. The shuttle turned and dropped lower, bringing the ladder down to ground level. As the vehicle lowered a marine sprung out of the still-open hold door and swiftly rappelled downthe flapping ladder, trailing a line that paid out from the craft. He ran over to Jonathan, slapped a pressure patch on the plasma wound and quickly tied Jonathan into a medical sling attached to his line. The line slowly winched upwards as the marine returned to the ladder. As soon as he grabbed hold the shuttle ascended to a hover above Jaimie and Tammy. The Marine climbed as the assault craft moved and was halfway up by the time the vehicle stabilized.
Jaimie pointed at Tammy and then at the ladder. “GO!” she screamed at full volume, which she barely heard over the white noise buzzing in her ears from the chain gun’s outburst. Tammy nodded without speaking and began climbing. The marine paused at the top and waited until the line carrying Jonathan caught up. Hands reached out and grasped the sling as the marine helped guide Jonathan’s body gently around the lip of the doorway and into the hold. As soon as there was space below Tammy, Jaimie began to climb as well. The marine scrambled in as Tammy climbed and the craft accelerated towards the shuttleport, Jaimie dangling at the bottom of the ladder.
A few moments later Jaimie finally reached the doorway and struggled inside, looking towards the center where Riker knelt beside Jonathan’s body.
“How is he?” Jaimie asked, wincing as she struggled to hear over the noise of the flight. A marine behind her closed the door, cutting off the shrieking airflow.
Riker shook his head sadly. “I’m sorry Captain. Too much blood lost and the trauma of the fall. Nothing I could do.”
Jaimie slumped into a fold-out chair built into the wall of the shuttle. “Damnit.”
William looked at Jaimie in wide-eyed shock. “I’m sorry. This is all because of me.”
“No,” Jaimie said flatly. “This is because Lecault the Younger is a pig, not a man. You just wanted to race. You have nothing to apologize for.”
William gulped and nodded, “I suppose so. What will we do now?”
Jaimie looked at William, feeling the first adrenalin aftershock as she realized the fight was over. “Well, I appear to need a new pilot. Ever flown anything bigger than that hoverbike?”