The Spark – Snippet 34

“I’m staying here for the view,” Baga said. “And I don’t need a woman to keep me from running out on a mate. You women can get in the boat.”

I didn’t have time to see how that would play out. I switched on my equipment and stepped toward the other boat just as its hatch started to open.


The first thing out through the hatch was a dog: stocky, furry, black and tan. It was a chow or a chow mix.

I’ll admit that my first thought was to take its head off before the warrior was out of the boat to protect it. That would’ve been my safest move, but if I had to kill a dog that way to stay alive, well… I didn’t want to wake up every morning with the guy who’d done that thing.

I wasn’t going to cut my own arm off to be fair, though. The tall warrior I’d seen with Camm on Marielles stepped through the hatchway, and I went straight for him.

I knew that Baga hadn’t been able to see outside the boat until he’d opened the hatch, so I was pretty sure that Camm couldn’t either. The warrior was ready for trouble, sure, but he wasn’t expecting it. He sure wasn’t expecting me to come at him before his foot hit the ground outside.

He got his shield up and took my first cut, but the shower of sparks at the contact meant that circuits in the shield were burning out. He jumped left, getting clear of the hatch and giving whoever was inside a chance to join him.

I had to ignore the reinforcements for now. This guy was the most dangerous man I’d seen on Marielles. If I didn’t take him out quick, I might as well hand Lady Eloise over to Camm right now.

I tried to get on his right, but he turned inside me and thrust for my chest. I think my new shield would’ve stopped it, but I reacted the way I’d trained on Guntram’s machine and slid his stroke to the side with my own weapon.

What Guntram said was true: I could use Buck’s mind to predict the warrior’s movement the same as I had with the machine images. I didn’t think about it, it just happened the way I’d practiced every day for a month.

Camm came out of the hatch, his shield and weapon live but without a dog of his own. He could use the chow, but it wouldn’t react to him the way it did its own master.

But the chow’s master was the present problem. Camm wasn’t rushing straight in the way he should have.

The warrior thrust again, this time at my head. I ducked behind my shield and slashed at his leading leg. His weapon glanced off; mine sheared through the lower edge of his shield and deep into his leg bones.

The warrior toppled forward. I turned to Camm. I was breathing hard and wondering how good he was. He screamed and ran at me, holding his weapon high. I thrust, bursting his shield and tearing a hole in his chest.

I faced the hatch. “Come on out!” I shouted. I didn’t know what was inside. The boat’s structure was a black silhouette cut from the view through my weapon. “Come out or I’ll come in for you and you won’t have a chance to give up if I do!”

Buck was ready to charge in with me, but we’d be taking a chance. I’d have to shut down my shield, and that’d leave me open to anybody waiting inside with a bow. I was about to do it anyway–my blood was up–when Frances walked in front of me and stepped into Camm’s boat.

After a moment Frances came back. She stood in the doorway and raised her hands straight up in the air. I probably could’ve heard her if she’d shouted, but I read her as the sort of person who didn’t raise her voice except when she was really angry. I’d seen that–heard it–when she was talking to Lady Hellea.

I shut off my shield and weapon, then kneeled down. Frances walked over close enough that I could see her feet without raising my head. She said, “I opened the pods that were closed. There’s no one in the boat.”

“Thanks,” I said. I kept filling my lungs and breathing out. In a bit I’d stand up, but I wasn’t ready to do that yet. “That was a crazy risk, though.”

“Walters said it was just him and Camm in the boat,” Frances said. “And Ajax, his dog. I wasn’t sure the dog was going to let me put a tourniquet on Walters’ leg, but Walters calmed him down and I did before he bled out completely. We should get him to a surgeon. Unless you plan to leave him here.”

I lurched to my feet and put my weapon and shield away. Boy, I sure hoped the dragon didn’t decide this’d be a good time to come back, because it truly would be–from the dragon’s point of view.

“We’ll get him to a surgeon,” I said. “On Marielles, I guess, unless you’ve changed your mind?”

“Eloise hasn’t,” Frances said. “I think this–”

She gestured in the direction of Camm’s body without taking her eyes off mine.

“–makes our job easier, mine at least.”

She cleared her throat and went on, “Master Pal, I was angry when Master Guntram fobbed me off with you instead of a real Champion. I was wrong and I apologize.”

“Thank you, ma’am,” I said. I was feeling dizzy. I wanted to sit down, but I didn’t want to do that until we were away from here. “And it’s both our job, getting Eloise safe to Marielles. That’s what I signed on for.”

I looked around. The others were all watching me, except for Walters who seemed to be unconscious. The chow lay down beside Walters, then got up and walked in a circle around him before lying down again.

“Load up our boat and we’ll leave for Marielles as quick as we can,” I said. “We’ll talk on the way about how we handle things there.”

“That mean the dog too?” Baga said. “That guy’s dog, I mean?”

“Yeah, our boat’ll handle the load fine,” I said. I expected more discussion, but everybody just nodded and got on with the job. Even Eloise.

I walked over to the other boat and put my hand on the hull. “Boat,” I said, “I’ll be back and fix you up. If I can, I mean. Things may get tricky at Marielles, but I figure they’ll work out.”

The boat said, “Your boat told me that you would. Your boat says that in a hundred thousand years, it never had such a master as you.”

That made me feel funny, to be honest. I’d been decent to the boat, sure, but no more than I’d been to Buck or my neighbors. If that made me special, then the world was a worse place than it ought to ‘ve been.

“Well, wish me luck,” I said.

I also wondered about that “hundred thousand years.” I knew the Ancients were, well, ancient… But a hundred thousand years?

I went back to the others and helped Baga lift Walters into the boat. Ajax walked along with us stiff-legged and growling, but he curled up beside Walters in the room where we laid him down.