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The cockpit door opened, Jodhaa turned with tears brimming in her eyes, “Oh Beks...” Her voice suddenly failed her. The figure before her was not Beks! It was a black trimmed and helmeted assassin ...

In the heat of the moment, whether through fear or years of experience and instinct, Jodhaa had closed Marro’s eyes and started up the ship’s systems with her berretta in hand; and in the instant of seeing the assassin, she let loose a quick fire of shots.

Talon stepped back out of the cabin as the shots flashed across his armour. Jodhaa used this advantage and careened towards him as she fired. It was registering in her mind that her shots were ineffective as she took in the black clad armour. She was a person of instinct and her fighting style was as much a reflection of that trait as it was formed of years surviving in the gutters of Orion. Boldly then she lashed out with fists and feet as she rounded on the figure.

Talon answered each strike with deft defensive moves, seemingly playing with Jodhaa. He sent her Beretta PPP flying with a chop and hacked at her neck but Jodhaa too deftly deflected his blows, even though they rained down on her hard.

She threw her elbow back hard and repeatedly hammered the visor with it. The effect was to injure herself more than the assassin she realised and she pushed herself bodily with her feet against the frame of hatchway to the cockpit and propelled them both backwards.

They tumbled through to the galley. Knowing her surrounds Jodhaa was the first to react and grabbed for the knife drawer. The assassin reacted as quickly and slammed down on her outstretched arm. He tossed her to the other side by the oven.

Lightning cracked, thunder rattled, and the Étoile Cheval shook and rebounded with the violence of the storm. “You must die.” Thunder punctuated his distorted voice as the ship was assaulted by the raging storm and rose steadily upwards in a lazy uncontrolled spiral.

“Your voice sounds scratchy!” Jodhaa grappled to her feet and grabbed the bubbling pot on the hob. “Try some chicken soup bastard!” With hatred, she flung the heavy copper-based pot and its boiling contents at the assassin.

She whisked up a pan and a pot from the overhead rack and spun round to batter the flinching assassin. She hammered him with blows with the kitchenware and kicked savagely. He did not take the battering kindly. The assassin speedily grabbed her right arm and twisted it so it snapped, caught the other wrist in a vice like grip, and wrenched Jodhaa round.

She yelped in pain, frustration, and defiance. She braced her foot on the laid table and vaulted herself over his head, grabbing the chin of his helmet and hauling it backwards as they crashed into the cupboards. They struggled together, trading more kicks and hits before he won a purchase on Jodhaa and tossed her to the floor.

Quickly Jodhaa got to a low crouch. Placing her good hand on the floor directly behind her back on the deck, she threw her other hand over her body while jumping off with both feet so as to launch her hips straight over the head. The assassin meantime came for her but as she landed Jodhaa brought her knee forward and across her chest, swung her hip and extended her kicking leg outward to strike the assassin with the outside edge of her steel tipped boot.

The assassin spun but he used the momentum to turn the move into a spinning back heel kick that smashed into the back of Jodhaa’s head. Jodhaa crumpled forwards but the assassin had turned a full revolve again and kicked a boot into her gut, propelling her back against the cabinets hard.

Jodhaa kicked out low with her feet. Attacking the assassin’s ankles and then barrelled round with a left hook of her elbow. The assassin deflected the blow and rained down his own attack. Jodhaa dropped low onto her good hand and threw her leg out to reap the assassin of his leg as he went to stomp on her back. She stopped the attack but failed to unbalance the assassin who vaulted over her back and threw back his elbows to smash into Jodhaa’s face.

Battered she fell to her side and raised her arms to protect her head. She rolled away from him, grabbed a cupboard handle to haul herself to her feet and felt his approaching attack. She ducked just in time as his foot smashed into the cupboard door splintering it where her head had been. She struck out backwards with the heel of her foot and struck his kneecap.

The assassin went down on one knee but halted Jodhaa’s attack with a swift and brutal counter attack of his own. Jodhaa was quickly doubled over in pain from the attack to her abdomen and the assassin smashed his knee into her face before standing and grabbing a fistful of her hair. He pulled her dark hair roughly and dragged her about. His rough handling muted Jodhaa’s attack and defences. He laughed before he casually tossed her to the deck causing Jodhaa to skid under the table.

Looking back, she saw his booted feet and his hands lower to his hip and back to produce two peculiar discuses. She frowned in puzzlement before the discuses illuminated with crackling energy and realised they were chakram weapons. The two chakrams traced their eerie light through the gloom of the mess, crackling with destructive energy. Jodhaa cried out understanding the cruel fate that had scorched the slash across Rini’s chest. “You bastard!”

One chakram sliced down and splintered the table in half. Jodhaa scrambled backwards open mouthed. Quickly she got to her feet as he kicked the table and the spilled contents out of his way with the chakrams. He wielded the two chakrams through the air in an elaborate show of his skill. When he halted his display, he cocked his head at an odd angle as he surveyed Jodhaa.

Just as he was about to attack she wrenched the fire extinguisher off the wall mounts and tossed it at him. The extinguisher gases exploded as he sliced through it. It dazzled him for a moment and the mess was engulfed in a cloud from the extinguisher explosion. Jodhaa made good her escape from the mess, racing towards a weapons locker.

As she reached the locker above the cargo bay the assassin dove through the hatch and somersaulted across the gangway, chakrams buzzing and scorching the railing. The grating of the gangway clanged dully with his cat like gymnastics before he looked up at Jodhaa. Jodhaa however produced an ARC rifle from the weapons locker and took aim.

She blasted the ARC directly at him. The compressed air molecules walloped into him at high velocity and tossed him backwards. But he got back to his feet and shook its effects off. Jodhaa looked on appalled as she realised just how much of a bruising the armour suit could take. She thumbed the ARC up to setting nine from seven and in the moment it took her to do so, he whirled his chakrams and they sliced into the gangway. The gangway under Jodhaa gave way and she tumbled down to the floor below.

Jodhaa was now operating on instinct and as she landed on her back, she pulled the ARC up, pointed it at the gangway above and fired. The assassin jumped through the air as the gangway under him was pummelled and smashed from below. He landed atop of a bale of cargo and flung one of the chakrams at Jodhaa.

It zipped through the air and she rolled to one side with only a fraction of a second to spare. As it was, the chakram sliced through the ARC rifle and seared her arm with its murderous energy. “Agh.” She groaned as she rolled behind the cover of some barrels. The assassin’s chakram had rebounded back to his grasp and Jodhaa was disbelievingly and despaired of her match.

He teased her by shouting out, “I’m enjoying our little play time.”

Jodhaa peeked out from either side of the barrels. She could see the assassin standing atop of the cargo bale from one side and from the other she could make out Rini’s fallen body and suppressed her tears as she felt the loss and failure of protecting the genteel girl.

“However, our time together draws to an end. It’s been fun. I enjoy a challenge. You both surprised me with your fighting spirit. It was a most pleasing surprise to have sport to play with.”

In that moment, she realised that Beks was not there and the stark reality of Beks’ fate hit home. “What did you do to Beks?”

His distorted voice echoed in the cargo bay. “She died. As will you.”

He hopped down from the cargo and stalked across the cargo bay towards Jodhaa’s refuge. “And now, you die.” His chakram sliced through the barrels and Jodhaa tumbled forwards to escape.

“You are a bounty hunter. A hunter like me. You know you cannot run forever.” He burned his way through another crate forcing Jodhaa to flee to new cover. He hopped atop another crate, jumping ahead of Jodhaa’s path. He stopped her short and loomed down over her. He raised both chakrams and they crackled threateningly. “Play time’s over.”

“The fuck it is!” Both assassin and Jodhaa whipped their heads round to see a burned, wet, freezing and bloodied Beks emerge from the bomb bay doors with her Randall Special aimed. “Jodhaa!”

BOOM!

Beks hadn’t even given Jodhaa a chance before she fired but somehow Jodhaa had managed to toss herself to one side as the crate the assassin was stood on exploded in a fiery ball. It tossed the assassin into the air in a fiery inferno and he landed like a ragdoll onto the cargo bay deck. Beks fired into his body again and again and again, till her energy pack was spent.

Her eyes were incandescent fury and she was the vision of hell’s vengeance wrought to life, her armour vest scorched, her clothes burned, frayed and torn. Her flesh equally bloodied, bruised, torn, burnt and battered.

She had crawled out from under the burning wreckage having hidden under its fire to mask her vitals and burning herself horribly. She had then raced to the Étoile as it had lifted off into the sky after Talon had boarded.

As the engines fired and the ground was engulfed by the discharge of the turbos, Beks had braved the fire, jumped into the air and grasped at a landing pad strut as the ship began lifting into the sky.

She clung for dear life as the engines roared and the ship started to soar and all around the storm thundered and lightning sizzled the air. The rain lashed at her, numbing her hands and legs. The wind howled and shrieked and threatened to pull her from the strut.

Then the struts started to collapse and retract into place and Beks screamed in agony as she was squeezed by the pneumatics. But she gritted her teeth and pulled the hatch away to gain her access to the ship. It had taken a herculean effort to haul herself up and into the ship’s interior. Beks forgot about the pain, the cold, the wet, and the burning to bypass the security protocols. Then she started hauling herself through the mechanics and electronic trunking of the ship, inching ever forwards towards the bomb bay doors.

She had to reach them. Had to get to Jodhaa and the others; Rini, Letva, and Marro. They were hers to protect. They were her crew. They were her family. Their deaths were her fault. They were targets because of Beks. Because of her work. Because she had made a fatal mistake.

But Jodhaa still lived. Had to. Beks knew in her heart the others were dead but she knew Jodhaa was prepared and ready. More than that, Jodhaa was a fighter. A survivor. How else could she have grown up to be the woman she was from the girl she had been. She had survived a childhood on Orion. Had escaped the fate of so many Orion females entrapped to a life of slavery. As a teenager Jodhaa had survived from one job to another, one bite to the next, always fearful of the clutches of slavery and the cruelty of her would be masters. She had been viewed as a possession, as a potential sex thing to be dirtied, sullied, and taken advantage of. But Jodhaa had not accepted that fate. She had rebelled and fought back. Had battled the odds and won. She would battle them again this night. Beks could only pray to survive the odds one more time.

And she had!

Talon had stood over Jodhaa after toying with her like a victor; but Beks soon paid heed to that victory. With her trusted Randall rifle, Beks had fired at the explosive cargo Talon stood atop and then emptied her charge into his suit.

Jodhaa shocked and amazed wept with relief and then ran up the steps away from Beks. But not in flight but to get to the weapons locker as she saw the assassin flail under the brutal assault of Beks’ fire. At the top, she leapt the span of the broken gangway. She reached in and pulled out two photon rifles. She tossed one down to Beks as she dropped her own depleted rifle.

The assassin laid still.

“Jodhaa?”

“I’m fine Beks. He ... he killed them. Killed them all.”

“I know.” From her periphery, Beks could make out Rini but would not allow herself to focus on her. The ship pitched and lurched, and increasingly shook as it rose higher into the storm. “Get to the controls.”

“Beks?”

“The ship is spinning apart in the storm. Get it under control. I’ll sort him out.”

Jodhaa looked at her disbelievingly and only hesitantly moved towards the cockpit keeping a wary eye on the assassin and Beks. Beks who now approached the fallen assassin. As she did, Beks picked up one of his broken chakrams. It flickered with ebbing energy as she activated it.

Suddenly the assassin bolted straight up and onto his feet. Both women fired at him and his distorted voice became a distorted scream under the assault. He lashed out with the other chakram in his hand. It was still in perfect working order and he scythed through the air at Beks who ducked and sliced at his leg with the broken chakram.

He hollered as he fell to one knee and hacked downwards at Beks. His chakram spewed angry sparks as it sliced into the deck grating and Beks tumbled forwards. He turned round but Jodhaa tore shot after shot into his chest with the photon rifle.

Beks turned and raced forward and severed his foot with the chakram.

He screamed and twisted down at Beks who kicked him square in the chest and propelled him back. She was a wild cat of fury as she brandished the chakram at him, scoring his armour plating and searing a line across his visor. She kicked him again and sliced his other hand off as his chakram branded her right arm.

She fell to the deck and Jodhaa fired relentlessly making him stagger backwards and fall into the pit of the bomb bay.

Beks rolled to her right. Towards Rini. Towards the controls for the bomb bay doors. The assassin reared and flung the chakram at Jodhaa who ducked and dived and then jumped from the gangway.

“Jodhaa! The mule!”

Jodhaa fired. Her shot went high confusing the assassin who snatched his chakram back and prepared to fire it at Jodhaa or Beks again. But her shot went purposefully high to blast the mule. It exploded and in a fiery heap rained down on the assassin into the bomb bay pit.

Beks hit the release for the bomb bay doors and they opened.

The wreckage rained down into the storm and the cargo bay was assaulted by the release of pressure, sucking the air, debris violently from the cargo bay. The ship strained and groaned as Jodhaa and Beks were assaulted by the elements.

Then just as suddenly, it was over.

The doors slapped closed and the bomb bay was sealed once more.

It was over.

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