Chapter 24:


From Nowhere to Sender

Having regained some semblance of composure, Youn collected Preece and headed for the strong side platform. Word from the speaking tube was that C217 had pulled forward for assistance with their Demen problem. An act that would invite raiders to test the security of the other Crusader's strong sides. Something they couldn't allow under any circumstances, lest they be picked apart from two fronts. To accommodate the weak side in the meantime, Youn had tasked Everage, the lower level engineer of C384, to keep watch over the opposing platform and warn them if anything came up.

Emerging on the strong side platform the two security officers watched as a pair of raiders, one of which was exceptionally large, exited the bowels of C217 onto the platform across from them. Scratch that, three raiders. One was acting as dead weight at the moment. As they both raised their rifles for what should be easy shots, the raider closest to the doorway saw them and reacted by grabbing a canister from behind her person. Youn had to credit the woman's training, despite the lack space afforded to her she'd launched the canister quick enough that he couldn't intercept her at the point of release. Instinctively his rifle followed his eyes to the lobbed canister. It'd been thrown high in a large arc and with its current trajectory would land somewhere behind them if undisturbed. In that moment some part of his psyche reminded Youn that he, and likely Preece, had both taken their eyes off the threats in front of them and urged him to ignore the canister. But he couldn't. Because he had no idea what type of canister it was.

The threat of the stun grenades remained fresh in his mind. After all, Laud had just recently fallen victim to its effects in this very spot. Sustaining enough external and internal damage to officially rule him out for the remainder of the convoy. And they couldn't afford to lose another member of their ranks at this pivotal moment along the route. Alternatively it could be a simple bluff intended to buy time in an otherwise hopeless situation, as neither of the other canisters employed so far would justify holding their fire.

Youn grabbed Preece by his uniform and tore his eyes away from the airborne canister, his mind continuing to weigh the risks of staying put. As he ran lower and lower on time he cast a momentary glance in the direction of the raiders across the way. His eyes landed on the large one who had turned away from them and gotten into a position conducive to limiting damage to the senses during a detonation. That settled it. If he was wrong so be it, but the risks outweighed the rewards.

Using the hold he had on Preece's uniform, he pushed his junior towards the doorway with conviction. Following after him once Preece took the hint. They covered their ears, opened their mouths and sheltered behind the walls of the corridor in anticipation of the detonation. Even through his gloved hands Youn could hear the sound of a canister bouncing along the platform and into the doorway of the Crusader. Not a sound he wanted to hear. He debated moving them further into the corridor, possibly the junction or even the engine room, but recalled from the first round of stun grenade detonations they wouldn't have that kind of time. And it wasn't like he could check visually to see how close it had ended up to them. Leaving the officers no choice but to stay dug in and wait a few more seconds.


Nothing. There had been no detonation, and Youn couldn't smell any smoke. Leaving only one option. Opening his eyes and turning around, Youn could hear the faint sound of gas escaping the canister and an even fainter nutty scent began to spread around the corridor. Everage cast an inquisitive look from the other side of the corridor and attempted to ask the two what had happened, only to find he couldn't. Preece similarly failed to express his words as Youn pounded a fist against the wall in frustration. Both that woman and the large man had fooled him completely. Confirming the throw had been a last ditch effort to buy time for their retrieval.

Shooting back up, he rushed back onto the platform just in time to see C217 assume its prior position in the formation. But what really caught his attention was the physical feat achieved by the large raider, as he leapt from the platform all the way to one of the spikes planted on the rear of the Crusader. Clearing the distance with room to spare thanks to his incredible reach. Realizing the raiders intent, Youn took aim and made to fire when a call from above went out to clear the platform. The call allowed him to dive out of the way of incoming cover fire, provided by the approaching retrieval squad.

In his place, the deck officers tried their damndest to stop the raider, but couldn't get a clear shot due to the continued interference from other party members. Youn had no choice but to silently watch as the large man, with only a single spike to offer him support, reached a hand back and pulled a hatchet from his belt. And with a roar of exertion brought the hatchet down on the first remaining lock, cleaving it in two. The force of the blow sounding so great, it wouldn't surprise Youn if the swing had left a deep mark on the edge of the door.

Rather than wait around for the last lock's destruction, Youn changed his target to the woman from before who was now in the process of transferring her incapacitated comrade onto a bike with assistance from its driver. Might as well thin the herd while the officers with an actual shot handled the lock debacle. He fired a shot that found it mark in the woman's right shoulder, provoking a strangled cry of pain as she used what little strength she had left to heave her associate fully onto one of the bike's passenger seats. All before slumping over the platform's railing for support.

Just then a cry even more impressive than the one before sounded over the rear of the convoy as the last remaining lock was absolutely annihilated by the beast of a raider and his now battered hatchet. The man’s attention then turned sharply in Youn's direction. And with it, the hatchet. Flung end over end without warning towards his person.

Youn wanted to roll his eyes. No way could he throw the hatchet with enough force or accuracy to deal him damage from this distance. Not to mention all while moving. Or so he thought, but the hatchet itself came dangerously close to carving into one of his forearms if not for gravity influencing its path enough to send it into the railing.

Still in awe of the throw, the sounds of clapping behind him drew his attention to Preece who was pointing frantically in the direction of C217's platform and raising his rifle. His way of relaying to Youn the injured raiders from before we're getting away. Sure enough he saw that the woman had used the distraction to jump on another bike which was already peeling away from the convoy. Meanwhile the deck officers resumed raining shots down on the raiders threatening the rear once more, not wanting them to gain access to the cargo bay now that it was primed for entry.

Youn tossed an empty magazine from his pouch at Preece to get his attention and signaled for him to hold his fire. Silently relaying the message, they got away, save your ammo. Preece looked frustrated but abided, understanding the futility of wasting shots on an enemy leaving the battlefield. Youn turned his attention back to the bay door and looked for what had become of the beast of a raider responsible for the party's minor victory. He couldn't find him. But what he did find was a remarkably large blood stain on the rear of C217, right next to the location of the embedded spike. In all likelihood one of the deck officers had finally hit home.

Youn would have probably said the following words out loud if not for the continued effects of the gas, regardless of how Preece or anyone else chose to interpret it. Rest easy big guy, your pals made it. All through your efforts no less. And that was one hell of a throw, had me just about shitting myself.

Lot of close calls today, and things were just getting started.