Chapter 32:


From Nowhere to Sender

The plan was simple, after helping boost Esma on top of the bridge, Lux would remain on standby with the standard issue from Cade in case things went south. Meanwhile Cade would remain on the front deck and catch whatever came his way. Be it Lux's rifle, Esma or both at the same time. Either way they'd need to move fast as the convoy was actively being raided. Not to mention having three of the seven crew members onboard preoccupied with something outside of defense was a great way to lose more cargo.

For her part Esma remained calm as Lux lifted her by the hips and instructed her to grab the edge. She did and briefly questioned whether she possessed the upper body strength necessary to pull herself up the rest of the way. But it became a moot point when she felt Lux continuing her assistance by way of pushing on the soles of her boots. Not wanting to be dead weight, Esma summoned whatever strength her arms did have to move things along, and once it fell into the range of her flexibility, raised her right leg to lift herself up sideways. It then occurred to her as she lie there vulnerable that she forgot to look before leaping, so much of her attention having been refocused on her physical shortcomings. What Esma should have done is verified what the mysterious presence was doing first, along with the location of the rifle she was meant to retrieve. But there was no point in going back now, she already announced her presence in the most clumsy and obvious way possible. Although that might work in her favor in the sense it showed how little a threat she truly was.

Having procrastinated long enough, Esma steeled her resolve and from her side laying position, turned her head towards the man's last known location. And just as Lux had conveyed the towering figure remained at the center of the bridge sat facing forward, seemingly unbothered by her presence. Much to her surprise the man did indeed have a bucket beside him, something she'd heard Lux make mention of from the other side of the headset. But the bucket didn't grab her attention as much as what sat inside of it. Lux's feronectic rifle. What's more it seemed to be in good condition, with no obvious missing parts or damage from what her untrained eye could gather.

Ok Esma, there it is. Just have to go over there and grab it without antagonizing the man strong enough to throw a human several feet into the air. Simple enough.

She started by dropping onto all fours and turning in the direction of the seated man and his bucket. As much as Esma wanted her explain away this choice in posture as another attempt at appearing benign, in actuality she just wasn't confident enough to stand up or walk on top of the bridge of a moving Crusader. So instead she opted to shuffle over on all fours, pausing once she was halfway between the edge and her waiting objective. She rejoiced internally at the lack of response her steady progress was having on the man and resumed her forward progress in small increments.

The closer she got to him, the more uneasy she felt at his complete and utter disregard of her presence. Would that change if she came into contact with the rifle? What about the bucket? It would probably be wiser to leave the latter alone. From what she could glean from her current distance it already had at least two bullet holes in it, something that would normally render any bucket useless. The fact he kept it by his side in its current state rather than throwing it away implied some form of attachment to the object. An attachment she wasn't keen on testing the value of.

Closing the distance by another foot, Esma decided it was high time she made a move on the rifle itself. Taking a couple of steady deep breaths in an attempt to calm her nerves, Esma realized part of her actually wanted the man to react in some way. Nothing substantial or violent of course. But any minute shift or movement on their part would serve as an ideal excuse to delay what she was about to do. Thankfully the rational part of her mind opposed this route due to the limited time frame they had to recover the rifle. Choosing to ignore the conflicting voices in her head, Esma reached her arm out for the barrel of the rifle. She'd very briefly played around with the idea of grabbing closer to the receiver, but didn't want the statue beside her mistaking her actions as an attempt at reaching for the trigger or touching the bucket.

It was as her hand closed around the barrel of Lux's rifle that the man finally stirred. He didn't do anything as extreme as reaching out to stop her or standing up, but Esma somehow managed to sense the shift of the man's gaze in her direction. Accompanied by the subtlest of head tilts. She couldn't say how she pulled the following observation off, her best guess being a product of her current hyper-awareness, but even through the his goggles she could make out the pupils of the man's eyes dilating in response to something. And Esma did not think she was the cause.

"Clear the deck! Esma go prone!"

Esma did as instructed and slid down onto her stomach, covering her ears on instinct even though that hadn't been part of the instructions. Time seemed to slow down subsequent to the warning call and in the moments before her hands arrived to shield her ears, Esma thought she could make out more voices. These ones further away.


"I see it, I see it!"

Sounds conducive to rifle fire rang out overhead, but were promptly drowned out by the deafening noise of what sounded like an immense thunder clap. But the thunderclap served as a minor hinderance compared to the unfamiliar sensation that rocked the back of her body an instant before. Nearly causing her to cry out.

Once the sensation subsided and the world stopped ringing Esma pried open her eyes and saw that the man was now stood up, staring defiantly up at the sky. The origin of the blast she'd guess. Dropping her gaze she found that the bucket was gone, likely knocked from the bridge by the force that could have only been a shockwave. Or perhaps by one of them in the chaos of the moment. But if the bucket was gone, what of its contents? It was then Esma realized the weapon was tucked underneath her form. In her panic rather than release the barrel it'd come along with her when transitioning into a prone position. Awfully dangerous now that she thought about it, but also impressive considering the weight of feronectic rifles. Adrenaline was a hell of a drug apparently.

It took taking full advantage of the adrenaline kick for her to work out the objective was complete. Now all she needed to do is get the rifle into the hands of the person most qualified to use it. Shimmying backwards towards the edge of the bridge she called out for Lux who was hopefully still on standby beneath her.

"I've got it!"

Though not a direct response to her, she did hear the voice of said officer calling out.

"Cade, remind me to buy that other sharpshooter a beer when this all over."

Esma wondered whether she'd be able to get in on this action. A beer, or something stronger, sounded lovely right about now. But not as lovely as the sound of the rifle dropping into Lux's outstretched arms.