Chapter 16
Hang Together or Hang Separately

5th of Fourthmoon, Saintclair 12
E27, Elsanto Mountains, Neveland

When the Palatinians took control of the ship, they separated the civilians from the military and gathered them in the motorpool. The males were in one cluster and the females in another. Four Alpini were posted as guards. That was about all the Palatinians could spare, but the civilians were considered to be a relatively low risk. Or they would have been a relatively low risk if Root wasn't mixed in with them.
The moment Root heard Captain Romsky give the order to surrender, he knew it wasn't going to end well for them. He ducked into one of the civvy berths and took the clothes and identity of Franco Corrin, who had conveniently gotten himself killed during the Junker Jorg's skirmish with what had to be the Palatinians' ship. If he was found out, the Palatinians would shoot him as a spy or else the Blackamoors would shoot him as a coward.
The risk he was taking was worth it as far as he was concerned. He knew the civilians would be lightly guarded and it would be the best place to launch their recapture of the ship, provided he got a little cooperation from a few brave souls. It was asking a lot, but the alternatives included summary execution, being marooned on the mountainside to freeze to death, or being taken back to Palatinia as prisoners. If the people here were willing to roll the dice to come on this expedition in the first place, there was a fair bet they'd take a chance fighting for their lives and their freedom.
Fourteen of the deckhands were prior service in either the Navy or the Merchant Marine, three others had done time in the Army, and then there was Lerner Rockhart, who had served in the Vernessian military. It might just be enough to take on four of the Palatinians' elite.
Root made a point to be seated close to Rockhart, who seemed like the most dependable in a scrap. He could see Rockhart was watching the Alpini closely, looking for patterns, weaknesses, just like he was.
Without turning his head to Root, Rockhart whispered, "Ya ain't here for nothin', LT. Ya wantin' ta take these boys?"
"I was thinkin' 'bout it," Root replied.
"So who're these jokers s'pposed ta be?"
"Alpini. Palatinian mountain troops."
Ian Guin, one of the deckhands, inserted himself into the conversation, asking, "What the hell are you two talkin' 'bout?"
Root asked in turn, "Ya feel like gettin' shot now or later, Ian?"
"Neither if I can help it."
"Well, they're not gonna just send us home with a bag a' cannoli for the family, I can tell ya that."
"What's cannoli?"
"Don't worry 'bout it. Point is, they may have a mind to take a few hostages, but they're not gonna let all of us live."
Yet another deckhand, Bittorio Simones, decided to add his two centims to the conversation.
"You're gonna get us all killed, Root," he said. "Let's just do what the damn Pallies say."
Old Pops Whisky balked at this.
"Ain't ye seen what 'appened ta Ol' Berenice, boy? Damn Pallies ain't got no honor 'r mercy neither."
Pops was one of the few volunteers who was there when Berenice got its taste of the Palatinian approach to warfare. If anyone knew how far you could trust the Palatinians, it was him.
Even keeping their voices low, they managed to draw the attention of one of the Palatinians.
"No talking!" he barked.
They all went quiet until he started patrolling again. Two of them were circling around the males, one was watching the females and the fourth stayed near the door.
Once the soldier was out of earshot, Guin asked Root, "So what's your plan?"
"It's not too clever," Root replied, "but we can't afford to take a wait an' see approach."
"Well, spit it out, son," an annoyed Pops said.
"I'll create a distraction an' take down one while the rest a' ya go for the other three."
"You're right," Simones said. "That ain't too clever t'all."
"You have a better idea?"
"I ain't paid 'nough to have ideas," Simones replied.
He didn't seem willing to object any more vigorously than that, but he wasn't the only one who was bound to have doubts about the plan.
Still eyeing the enemy soldiers, Rockhart said, "Not everyone's gonna go for it. Could be a problem."
"Can't worry about that now, can I?"
"It'll be on yer ass if'n this goes pear-shaped."
"I've already got plenty on me as it is."
Root sighed. He wasn't just risking his own life, but there were no guarantees no matter what course he took.
"Spread the word," he told the people around him. "Nobody makes a move till I've got their attention. Anyone who don't wanna participate can make for cover."
"You'll feel mighty dumb if we all decide to take cover," Simones said.
"Y'all are either gonna stick with me or get stuck by yourselves," Root replied. "Get ready."
As people started whispering to their neighbors down the line, they caught the one soldier's attention again, who once again shouted at them for talking. Root decided now was as good a time as any to kick off his distraction. Hopefully they wouldn't just shoot him on sight.
Raising his hands, Root slowly began to stand up, shouting to the soldier, "Oi! Oi, soldado!"
The soldier took aim at Root and shouted back, "No talking! Sit down!"
Root didn't sit back down, though.
"Hey, we've been here a while now an' I need ta hit the head."
Confused, the soldier asked, "What? You hit head?"
"No, man, I gotta take a leak."
The soldier looked around warily.
"Where is leak?"
Root could forgive the soldier for being so literal-minded. He was doing much better in Franca than Root would do in Palatinian. Of course, confusing him was all part of the plan. With that rifle and his training, the Palatinian should have been able to drop him at 300 meters easily, but rather than holding position some ten meters off, he was steadily closing the distance between them. For the average civilian, the closer a muzzle is to your face, the greater the intimidation factor, but getting so close carried its own risks.
The idea was to string the solider on to the point where he'd physically try to make Root sit back down and so far the plan was working. He just had to keep things going.
"You're not gettin' me, man," he said. "I gotta go ta the toilet."
"Toilet? No toilet. Sit down."
He was only a few paces away now. Just a little further...
"Aw, c'mon, man," Root whined. "This ain't decent. It's violatin' our human rights an' shit."
"Shit on floor like dog," the soldier growled. "Now sit down."
Root was dangerously pushing his luck. He could see two of the other soldiers watching the scene unfold and he was sure he had the third one's attention as well. It wouldn't take much for him to get himself shot, but he had already gone too far to turn back now.
"That's nasty, man," he said. "Why ya gonna treat us like this?"
The Alpino--who had lost all patience--now had his rifle only a few senches from Root's face and shouted, "Sit down or I will shoot!"
Root had his eye on the knife in an inverted sheath hanging off the shoulder strap of the Alpino's webbing. There was a faction of tactically minded people who preferred a shoulder mount over the regulation belt mount. It made for a quicker draw where fractions of a second make all the difference, but that was a blade that cut both ways, so to speak, especially when the retaining strap is left undone.
"Guess there's no talkin' sense ta some people."
In a single swift, smooth motion, Root batted away the Alpino's rifle with one hand while moving in, drawing out his knife and thrusting it into his neck. Root then swept the Alpino's leg while wresting the rifle from his hand. He then quickly double-checked to make sure the safety catch wasn't engaged before taking aim at the soldier down by the door. Being an unfamiliar rifle, his shot was off the mark, just winging the target in the shoulder. Root cycled the bolt and fired off another shot before the soldier could recover. That one got him in the gut.
Root was going to put one more round in him to finish the job when there was another shot. He turned to see several men overpowering the second Alpino guarding them. There was no way he was going to risk firing a shot with so many friendlies in the way, so he turned his attention to one guarding the females. He was busy struggling with Dakota Oster, who was attempting a takedown but had too much of a weight disadvantage. The Alpino brought the butt of his rifle down on her back, dropping her, but that left him wide open. Root took the shot, hitting him in the chest, then fired off another just to be safe.
He turned back to the soldier at the door. Though wounded, he was trying to line up a shot. Root put two rounds into him, but not before he managed to get off one of his own. The rifle was now empty, so Root stooped down to fish a fresh clip from the ammo pouch of the Alpino he killed first. While he was loading it, he was looking around for any further signs of struggle.
"We clear?" he asked.
"Clear!" Rockhart called back.
"Anyone hit?"
"Pablo's hit real bad!" someone cried. "Oh God... I can't stop the blood!"
"Keep pressure on it," Root said. "I'm comin'. Anyone who knows how to handle a Giulianini, get those rifles and ammo and watch the door."
"Pier's been hit too," another person said.
The person in question--Pier Uthers--growled, "I can make it, dammit."
Piers was hit in the leg. It needed attention but he wasn't nearly as bad off as Pablo Greco, who appeared to have take a bullet to the liver and didn't have long.
"Let's focus on the one who needs it most," Root said, passing off his rifle to Rockhart. "Anyone here got medical experience?"
"Some first aid," Ham Kerwin said, "but not any more'n you, Root."
Root looked over to the females in hopes of seeing Scarlet and Ella, but no luck.
"I don't see the Fiebres..." he said. "Must still be in Sickbay."
"What're we gonna do, Root?" Ian asked.
"Sickbay's his only chance," Root replied.
"I don't know if we can get him to Sickbay in time," Ham said.
"We gotta try."
"With the damn Pallies out there?" Simones balked. "You're outta your goddamn mind."
"Doc may not even be there," Pops added.
Root understood the risks, but playing it safe wasn't an option.
"We can't just leave Pablo to bleed out. We're gonna head to Sickbay. Doc can tend to Pablo and Pier."
"Alright, Root," Ian said, "what's the plan?"
"I'll take point," Root said. "I need volunteers to take up rifles. One with me, one in the middle and one pulling up the rear. We move out in twos. Find a buddy and stick with him. There isn't gonna be much room, so be ready to hit the deck if we run into the Pallies." He pointed over to some equipment and said, "Get that tarp over there. We'll use it to make a litter for Pablo. I need two strong people to carry him without jostlin' him too much."
While a couple people went over to get the tarp, Rockhart said, "I'll take point wit' ya, LT."
"Middle," Swede Swegen said.
"I got the rear," Pops added, holding out his hand so Diek Salinger would hand over the rifle he picked up.
"You sure, Pops?" Root asked.
"I can put a hole in some damn Pally."
Again, Simones took it upon himself to give voice to the opposition and asked, "What if we don't wanna go out with you?"
"What, you wanna hole up here?"
"It's a thought."
"Whaddya think's gonna happen when the Pallies come in here and see their buddies all shot up? We don't have time to argue. Let's move out, people! Quickly an' quietly! Stay sharp!"
As people started loosely forming up into two files, Dakota hustled up to the front with Root and Rockhart.
"An' whaddya think you're doin', Miss Oster?" Root asked, eyeing meter-long wrench she was carrying.
"I sure as hell ain't gettin' stuck in the ass-end," she replied, "so I might as well be up front."
"You stay behind me now, Kota," Rockhart warned. "That wrench ain't gonna do ya much good 'gainst a damn rifle."
"Yeah, yeah," Dakota grumbled.
"You can get the door," Root said. "We'll cover you."
"On it."
Root and Rockhart took aim as Dakota opened the door. Thankfully, they weren't met by an immediate hail of gunfire, but the Palatinians had to have heard the shots earlier and someone was bound to be on the way. Root had no idea how many people were in the boarding party. It couldn't be any less than twenty and probably not more than forty. They were going to need a lot more guns and people who knew how to use them. Once they got Pablo to Sickbay, their next priority would be to find what was left of Second and get to the armory.
In many places, the ship's layout was like a maze, but because the designers wanted to make it easy to move cargo in and out of the bays, there was a long, wide passageway about thirty meters long. It meant they didn't have to worry about too many surprises, but there wasn't any cover if someone was waiting around the corner.
As they passed the doors to Cargo Bays Three and Four, Rockhart asked him in a low voice, "You ain't gonna check them bays, LT?"
"No time," Root replied. "We gotta get up ta Deck Three quick. 'Sides, I don't think they got anyone in there." Realizing a potential problem, he looked over his shoulder and said, "Pass it down. I don't want anyone tryin' ta go round the sides. Duck in a row."
"Ya heard him," Dakota told the closest person behind her. "No goin' 'round the damn water tanks. Ducks in a row."
There was too much a risk of someone popping up on the other side and getting shot for it. The odds were stacked against them enough as it was. They didn't need to add friendly fire to the mix.
Fortunately, there were no Palatinians between them and the companionway. Unfortunately, the first thing Root saw when he emerged on the next deck was two of them coming right at them.
"Ehi!" one of them shouted.
He got a bullet in the chest for his trouble. His comrade dove for cover around the nearest corner.
"Get down!" Root shouted to everyone behind him, just as the surviving Palatinian fired off a blind shot.
Root steadied his aim for the next time the Palatinian tried for a shot. He didn't get the chance, though. There was a tortured scream cut short. Root could see a spasming foot stick out past the corner and then get pulled back in.
"Who's there?" Root asked warily, keeping his rifle at the ready.
"Do not shoot, Mister Ruto," a familiar voice replied.
Azuki slowly emerged from around the corner, holding her hands up just to be safe.
"Azuki!" Root exclaimed, quickly getting up and going over to her. "You're alright! How'dya get away?"
"I was never caught," Azuki replied bluntly, lowering her arms.
Root shook his head.
"I shoulda figured," he said. Getting back to business, he told her, "We need ta get ta Sickbay quick. Are there any others close?"
"Four down there," she said, pointing to the crew berthing compartments, "guarding men in green and black-face men." She then pointed past him and added, "Eight or nine in Engine Room. More up in prison room."
"Ya mean the brig?"
Azuki shrugged. He couldn't very well expect her to know all the Navy jargon. He didn't know that much himself. But now wasn't the the time to be bothering with any of that.
He looked back and said, "Rockhart, you an' Swede watch the Engine Room. Tell Pops ta watch the way ta the enlisted berths back aft. I'm goin' on ahead with Pablo ta make sure the way ta Sickbay's clear."
"Copy, LT," Rockhart replied.
Root noticed glared being exchanged between Azuki and Dakota, but thankfully they had sense enough not to let their animosity get in the way of what they needed to do.
There wasn't much room to move around, but they had to make way for Pablo's litter. While they were doing that, Root pointed to the dead Palatinian and said, "Have someone get that guy's rifle and his buddy's too. I want one of 'em backin' up Pops and another pointed fore in case those boys from the brig come this way. Everyone else can stay down on Deck Four till we clear things out."
Sickbay was right on the other side of the Engine Room. Unlike the watertight doors on most compartments, the doors to Sickbay were like those of a hospital that swung open easily. It was less secure, but you didn't want to be fumbling with the wheel during a medical emergency.
Upon entering Sickbay, Root promptly lowered his rifle when he saw Doctor Melanc.
"Doc!"
"Lieutenant Maartens!" a surprised Doctor Melanc exclaimed. "What are you doing here?"
"No time ta talk," Root said hastily. "I got a wounded man here." He then called back to the people carrying the litter, "Hurry up! Get him in here!"
Doctor Melanc quickly assessed the situation as Pablo was being carried in and said, "Take him to the operating room. I have to begin surgery immediately if there's going to be any chance of saving him."
"I have another one who's wounded," Root added.
Already heading to the scrub room, Doctor Melanc asked, "How bad is he?"
"Took one in the leg."
"Arterial bleeding?"
"No."
"Miss Ella can tend to him then. Miss Scarlet, Mr. Gallo! I need you to scrub in."
"I'm comin', Doc," Scarlet said.
Root stopped her as she was going by and asked her, "You alright, Scarlet?"
"Yeah, I'm fine, Rootie," Scarlet replied. "Gotta go."
Root let her go and went to Ella as Pier was being helped in.
"Ella, whaddya know 'bout what's been goin' on here?"
"Not any more'n ye, I reckon," she replied. "After Cap'n surrennered, the Pallies come an' they tells us we gotta stay here. Then they brin' in one a' theirs. Got 'urt, ye see. Doc gave 'im somethin' ta keep 'im asleep. One less a' 'em ta worry 'bout."
"We're takin' back the ship," Root said. "You, Doc an' Scarlet may get pretty busy before this is done."
"Don' give us too much work now, Rootie."
"I'll see what I can do."
It was brawny Ersta Burtt who Pier was using as a human crutch, so Root told her, "I need to go back. You stay here with Pier. Tell Diek and Tens to stick around too. Doc an' the girls might need a hand."
"Don't get yer ass shot off, Root," Ersta said.
"I'll try not to."
As Root left Sickbay, he decided to check the starboard passageway to make sure there weren't any surprises moving in. There weren't any. Azuki said there were men in the brig, the Engine Room and at least one of the enlisted berths. Other than that, they probably had men on the bridge at the very least. He really needed to know how many of them there were. Maybe they could catch one alive for a change.
He headed back to the port side and just as he was peeking around the corner, a shot rang out. Root would have jumped back on his own, but the much faster Azuki yanked him back by his collar. The bullet struck the opposite corner, showering the two of them with fragments. It was a good thing Root reflexively shielded his face, because one of the larger chunks burrowed into his arm and another got him in the stomach.
"Goddammit!" he shouted angrily. "Hold fire! Hold fire!"
"Aw, shit," a voice replied. "Sorry, Root."
It was Ham Kerwin. An Army vet should've had more sense than that.
"Dammit, Ham, watch your fire."
Without the slightest hint of remorse, Ham shot back, "Well, dammit, Root, maybe ya should announce yer damn self when yer comin' 'round the damn corner."
There was no point in getting into a big argument when the enemy was about, so Root let it lie.
"Alright, alright," he said. "I'm headin' your way."
He turned to Azuki and asked her, "Are you hit?"
Azuki glanced down at her torn sleeve and replied, "Nothing serious. Hold still."
She then plucked out the fragment lodged in Root's arm and then pulled out the piece in his stomach. The latter hurt like hell.
"Sonuvabitch!" Root cursed, muffling it as best he could while giving the bulkhead a good thump with his fist.
"It is not deep," Azuki said. "You will be fine."
He'd have Doc or one of the Fiebres clean it out later. He motioned for Azuki to follow him and met up with others holding the companionway. Ham gave him a bit of a guilty look as he went by.
"Any action?" Root asked.
"Naw," Pops replied. "They're either deaf as bats 'r all buttoned up."
"Blind as bats, Pops," Root corrected. "Bats actually have really good ears."
"What the hell ever, Mr. Smartass Naturist. How're Pablo an' Pier?"
Root was pretty sure Pops meant 'naturalist', but another correction might get him shot.
"Pablo's in surgery an' Ella's takin' care a' Pier."
"What's the plan now, LT?" Rockhart asked.
"We need ta get Second an' the damn Blackamoors. Swede an' Lew, come with me. Rock, keep watchin' the Engine Room. Ham, eyes fore. Pops, watch our back."
"Copy that," Rockhart said.
Root took point and Azuki was right behind him with Swede and Lew following a few paces back.
"Which berth are they being held in?" Root asked.
"Hi, fu, mi..." Azuki muttered to herself before replying, "Third room."
"Alright. Let's check the others first just to be safe."
The first berth was right there, so Root went there first.
"Azuki, get the door. I'll cover you. Ham, Swede, stay out here."
Azuki opened the door and Root went in. In the big crew berths, there were four rows of racks with two aisles between them. Azuki went left and Root went right. This was the berths the civilians used. There wasn't anything there earlier when Root raided Franco Corrin's footlocker and there was still nothing. He and Azuki finished their sweep and went on to the next one.
The second berth was for the Blackamoor grunts. Three of their corpses were laid out in the shower room, but that was it. If it was anyone other than Blackamoors, he might have been concerned.
Then he remembered. Tofels' threat. What would happen if anything happened to him.
He hastily went back to the bodies to check them.
God, I hope that son of a bitch isn't here.
It was strange to feel relieved that the three corpses were all low-level thugs, but he'd take what he could get. Once he and Azuki were out the door, he told Swede and Lew, "Get ready, boys. This time it's the real deal. Swede, with me. We go right. Lew, with Azuki. Go left. Watch your fire in there."
"We're wit' ya, Root," Swede said.
Root took a deep breath.
"Alright, here we go. Azuki."
Azuki opened the door and Root burst in, only to be met with shots from the left and right. Neither hit Root, but going from the pained cries, someone took those bullets on Root's behalf. He whipped around to the aisle, but the enemy soldier was taking cover between the racks. They had the racks filled with people, both to limit their movement and to use them for meat shields in case something like this happened. Anyone who couldn't fit in the racks was lying face-down on the deck. Taking the room without collateral damage was impossible, but it was too late to stop now.
Root crouched down and motioned for Swede to do the same. The second the Palatinian tried to take another shot, he was dead. Before that could happen, there was a big ruckus on the other side of the room. It was hard for Root to see, but it looked like some Blackamoors were mobbing him. The Alpino Root was targeting jumped out to come to his aid. Root fired off a shot and got him in the stomach. He turned to shoot back and Root winged him in the shoulder. That was enough for him to change his mind about engaging Root and went back to his comrade's aid.
Root couldn't really tell through the racks what was going on, but it looked like Root's second shot rendered the Alpino's left arm useless, so he abandoned his rifle, drew his knife and started stabbing the Blackamoors. Then something dropped him. There was no sound of a shot, so it must have been Azuki. The Alpino being mobbed was using his own knife to cut his way free, but as soon as he did, Azuki was there to slash open his neck. By then, Root had advanced forward. The Alpino he shot had been finished off by some sort of throwing knife. The three Blackamoors who mobbed the other were either dead or in their death throes. There was no helping them.
Root checked the lav and shower room just in case there was another one. Thankfully, that was it, so when he emerged, he called out, "All clear! Any wounded?"
"Malthus is hit!"
"We can still save Burkavac! Get a medic in here!"
The two wounded in question were Blackamoors. Root would've been content to let them die, but he needed the Blackamoors' help to retake the ship. He couldn't make a show of how much he hated them.
"Get them to Sickbay," Root said. "Lew, go with them."
"Alright, Root," Lew said.
While the wounded Blackamoors' comrades were carrying them out, Root called out to everyone in the room, "Alright, people, outta them racks an' on your feet! We're takin' back this ship! Crabbe, you here?"
"Yo!"
"You got your key?"
"Got it here, LT!"
"Blackamoors, who's your armorer?"
"I am," one of the Blackamoors replied.
Root recognized the Blackamoor in question as the little ogre who gut-punched him back at the airbase. Now wasn't the time to hold on to grudges, though.
"How 'bout you?" Root asked. "You got your key?"
"In my quarters," the Blackamoor replied. "Next deck up."
That was going to take extra time, but there was no helping it. Before Root could come up with a plan. The was a shot outside the room.
Root hurried to the where one of the Blackamoors carrying the wounded was writhing on the deck howling about a wound of his own. Root popped outside the door ready to take the shot, but all he caught was a glimpse of an Alpino going around the corner, dragging along a sailor as a human shield.
"Shit, there are more of 'em," Root grumbled. Yes, he expected more Palatinians, but Azuki didn't tell him about sailors being held in the fourth berth. He'd have to sort it out later.
"Blackamoors, if any of your men can handle Giulianinis, take those two rifles and cover the starboard companionways. Don't let that guy get to the bridge."
"We don't take orders from you," some Blackamoor subofficer said.
"Ya do now," Root told him.
He pointed to the ogre, who realized Root was fishing for his name and said, "Squad Chief Follet."
"Follet, take a few men and get that damn key. I need you boys armed up. Second, with me."
One of the few airmen in the crowd asked him, "What about the rest of us, sir?"
"Go with Swede," Root told him, "check the next berth. You alright with that, Swede?"
"It'll cost more'n any eighteen croners a day," Swede replied.
"Azuki, go with him. Back him up."
"If there are no enemies, I come back to you," Azuki said.
"Deal."
With that out of the way, Root shouted, "Come on, people! Let's move!"
There was only one door, so getting everyone out was easier said than done. Root let the Blackamoors moving to intercept the Alpino go first, then he and the remnants of Second followed. He led them to the chokepoint the civilians were holding. He only had time to give them a heads-up in passing.
"Good news, guys. We got the men. Now we just gotta get the firepower. Keep watchin' that damn door."
"Yeah, yeah, LT," Rockhart said. "We got this. Any more traffic comin' this way?"
"Maybe," Root said. "Just watch your fire."
He then led the charge up the companionway to the next deck, emerging at the subofficer quarters. No sign of the enemy aftward.
"Watch our rear," Root told the others as he made his way around the companionway.
The next intersection led to the second level entrance to the Engine Room. He'd like to post a few men there, but unarmed it'd be suicide. Then an opportunity presented itself.
Two Palatinians were turning the corner over on the starboard side and caught sight of Root. Before he could put a bullet in either one of them, they both dropped their rifles and held up their hands.
"Do not shoot!"
Root would've taken it for a trick, but looking at the two, he realized they weren't Alpini. Probably just ordinary sailors 'volunteered' into the boarding party.
"Pruitt, Moran, take these assholes' rifles," Root said. "Check 'em for any extra ammo or anything else we can use. Salmon, Timofev, keep an eye on 'em."
"On it, sir," Sergeant Pruitt said.
While Pruitt and Moran were taking the Palatinians' weapons, Corporal Salmon asked, "They comin' with or somethin'?"
That was a terrible idea, of course, but Root had to do something about them. Realizing the nearest door was to a one-man head, he opened it up and motioned with his rifle.
"In here."
It was a tight fit for two people, but Root didn't want them moving around much anyway.
"Sergeant Pruitt, you an' Moran stay here an' guard the prisoners. Make sure they keep quiet. The Blackamoors should be comin' through here. I need one a' ya keepin' an eye on the door to the Engine Room while you're at it. More a' 'em are in there an' I don't want them catchin' us by surprise. Once we're armed up, we can start doin' somethin' 'bout it."
"Don't hurry too much now, sir," Sergeant Pruitt said sarcastically.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah. Keep it up an' I'll have LaGrange put Salmon in charge."
"Aw, don't be sayin' nothin' like that, sir," Corporal Salmon quipped.
Fun as this banter was, there were still an unknown number of enemy soldiers onboard and a severe lack of armaments that needed to be rectified.
"Let's get movin'," Root said.
He doubled back and they continued on their way to the armory. Before you could get to the armory, though, you had to go past the brig. Azuki said there were more in there, but they didn't have a guard posted outside the door. Then again, access to the brig was restricted, so if they had the keys, no one was going to be getting in too easily.
That was a problem for later. Crabbe unlocked the door to the armory and was about to go in before Root realized something was wrong.
"Wait!"
Root caught Crabbe before he could go in and not a moment too soon. Apparently the Palatinians got their hands on another armory key than the one Crabbe had on him because they rigged the place with a tripwire that'd set off a trio of grenades. Chances are, the explosion would set off the ammo stored in the armory as well and make a nice hole in the ship.
"Tricky bastards," Root mumbled to himself. He handed his rifle to the nearest person, saying, "Hold this."
He crouched down and surveyed the area for any other layers to the trap. It was nothing too elaborate. The grenade were a weird design. No visible safety pin. They had to be impact detonation rather than a time fuse.
He waved the others off, saying, "Get back. 'Round the corner. I'll take care a' this."
Thankfully, the men obeyed without a fuss. They didn't have time to argue. He didn't have anything to cut the wire with and without anything like a safety pin to prevent detonation, his options were severely limited. Looking at the design of the grenades, though, he had an idea. It was a crazy risk, but they needed their weapons if they were going to retake the ship.
Gingerly taking hold of one of the grenades, careful not to upset the other two, he slowly twisted it. There was a bit of resistance at first, but with a steady application of force, he was able to unscrew the top. Just as he was counting on, the detonator was in the top half and separated from the explosive, it was effectively inert. He repeated the process for the other two, then checked around the cage for any other traps. Because you could see through the cage, Root saw that the door was rigged with a rifle set to fire when you opened it.
Root stepped out of the armory and said, "Crabbe, gimme your keys."
Crabbe tossed him the keys and he went back in. He unlocked the door to the cage, cracking it open just enough to see if there was anything else waiting for him inside. It seem that the rifle was it, so he got down low and squeezed through, opening the door as little as he could. It wasn't enough to pull the trigger, so once he was in, he was able to take the rifle, unchamber the round, then break the wire. One more quick sweep and when he was satisfied that the coast was clear, he invited the others in to get their weapons.
Root armed himself with his Barkley, but opted to leave Martinique behind. He wasn't going to be sniping anything at the moment. As they were gearing up, Root realized that the second armory was bound to be booby-trapped as well.
Without saying anything, he darted out. Rounding the corner, he could already see the Blackamoors lining up on the other side.
"Don't go in--!"
The ship shuddered from the explosion, but it wasn't anywhere near as strong as you'd expect from three grenades. Also, any secondary explosions from the stored ammo would've been almost instantaneous, but there was none of that.
The Blackamoors were just standing there. Root pushed his way through to see the ogre Follet up against the bulkhead. Only when Root got closer did he realize what had happened. Lying there where the grenades were supposed to be was another Blackamoor. He must have seen the grenades, pulled Follet away and used his body to absorb the explosion. Root had seen something like that once before in the Legion. You'd think a single human body would be torn to pieces and not do much of anything to stop an explosion like that, but you'd be surprised what the human body can take.
"Marlo..." was all a stunned Follet could say.
The rare sign of actual human sentiment was short-lived, as Follet promptly went back to being a Blackamoor. Straightening himself up, he clacked his heels together and delivered the Blackamoor stiff-armed salute, declaring, "Squad Vice-Chief Marlo Uvall, your sacrifice will not be forgotten! Your most noble death will be remembered! Hail!"
The other Blackamoors delivered the same salute--nevermind the close quarters--and shouted, "Hail!"
"Hell..." Root muttered under his breath.
He continued to push his way forward, putting a hand on Follet's shoulder before he could go in.
"They've probably got the cage trapped too," he said. "Let me take care of it or else your buddy just died in vain."
Follet scowled at him but didn't object. Sure enough, they did the same trick with the cage and Root took care of it the same way as before. Once their weapons were distributed, they had nearly forty men total armed and ready. Now they just needed a plan to finish retaking the ship. Easier said than done.