The crack of the weapon was deafening. Aaron hadn’t blinked when he’d pulled the trigger.
Mai stood frozen, mid-step. The shot had barely missed her head, whizzing past right in front of her face. One step more and it would have gone straight through her head.
Aaron’s gaze was hard. He kept his eyes locked on Mai as he slowly stood, her pistol still in his hand, at the ready.
“Sit. Down,” said Aaron slowly, moving from the mast and gesturing to it with her weapon.
Slowly, she started to move in the direction of the mast. “You could have killed me!” she hissed at him.
He didn’t speak, but narrowed his eyes at her, emphasizing his anger.
She sat down against the mast and Aaron bent down and plucked the throwing knife from her hand. Keeping his eyes on her and her pistol steady, he called over to Jay. “There is some extra rope below deck. Would you mind getting it?”
Jay stood, holding his hat in place on his head. “My pleasure.” He vanished around the mast and down the stairs leading below deck.
Mai had a look of shock on her face, but she didn’t try to move from where she was. “You can’t do this!” she said.
Aaron didn’t reply.
Jay returned momentarily with the length of thick-fiber rope used for lashing the sails and Aaron gestured for him to secure Mai to the mast.
Nimbly Jay stepped up behind her and tied her hands behind her back and then looped the line several times around the mast and her waist and shoulders to keep her in place. Tying off several knots, he moved over to stand by Aaron.
Mai glared up at the both of them as Aaron lowered her pistol. “Stay put,” he said. “I’m not going to tell you a second time.”
He glanced toward Jay. “I’m going to man the helm. Pick up your things and stay out of my way.”
Jay nodded silently and headed across the deck to pick up the groceries that had been scattered by Mai’s shot earlier. Some had rolled over the side, but the majority of them were still on board the ship.
Aaron tucked Mai’s pistol in his belt and headed around the mast, making for the helm and the ship’s wheel. Grabbing the lines along the way, he reined in the sails and set them back to their original position. Tying off the lines, he took the wheel and checked the ship’s heading. They had blown off course slightly, but it wouldn’t effect their arrival time too much.
Staring out at the clouds, Aaron tired to take his mind off of what was happening around him. His carefully constructed life was falling apart before his eyes and he could see no way that he would be able to rebuild it fully.
Pulling the bottle from his jacket, he popped the cork on it and took a long drought. The warm liquid helped to calm him a little, but it wasn’t enough so he took another swig.
Several hours later as the sun was starting to set, Aaron set the empty bottle down above the controls to the FTL drive. He gazed up at the setting sun behind the mountains. He’d been able to make the bottle last. They were nearing their destination and soon enough he would be rid of one of his passengers.
Working the FTL controls, he brought the ship in for a landing on the lake again, guiding it to a small dock with several small fishing boats tied to it. The ship came to a stop and the sails went slack as he loosed several of the lines.
Heading from the wheel across the deck, he stopped next to Jay who was standing, leaning on the rail near the gap in the ship’s railing. What was left of his groceries sat next to him.
Aaron stopped next to him and gazed out at the dock and the road beyond leading to the town. In the twilight shadows cast by the mountains, it gave the place a peaceful feeling. No animals were moving about, nor were the people of the settlement.
“Here we are,” grunted Aaron quietly.
“Here we are indeed,” said Jay. “I dare say it’s been an interesting trip. Thank you for the ride. It was enjoyable.” Pulling out a small stack of gold coins from his pocket, he handed them over to Aaron who examined them and then pocketed the amount.
It was more than he usually charged for jobs, but he would gladly accept it since it would be enough to get repairs done on the airship.
He glanced over at Jay as the man extracted a paper wrapped box that was slightly larger than this hand and twice as high. He set one then two down on the railing between them. Aaron heard a small clinking come from inside them as Jay set them down.
He glanced at them and then at Jay with a questioning raise of an eyebrow.
“A gift,” said Jay. “It’s a special ammo that I have custom made by a friend for my own pistol back home. It should fit yours nicely as well. There’s only a limited amount, so use it wisely.”
Aaron snorted looking back out to the road. “What makes you think I’ll need it?” he said gruffly.
“Oh, just a feeling,” said Jay gathering up the rest of his groceries and stepping down from the ship onto the dock. He stopped and looked back up at Aaron.
“A word of advice. The people you used to work for, they’ve gained control of many planets since the War came to a stand-still and they are still looking to extend their reach. This planet, Vale… has always been a free world left to it’s own devices. That’s the reason so many seek refuge here and the reason some call it paradise. They will come here, looking to take it for themselves… and they will more than likely find you.”
Aaron met Jay’s gaze.
“I for one,” said Jay slowly. “Would like to stay a free man on a free planet.”
Giving Aaron a small smile, he turned and started for town. Aaron watched him go until he disappeared into the darkness.
Turning, he made his way over to the mast and pulled out the knife he’d taken from Mai. Bending down he cut the lines binding her and then buried the tip of the knife in the wood of the deck next to her. Pulling out her pistol he lay it next to the knife and then stood straight, heading for the ropes holding the sails.
Mai rubbed her wrists and collected her weapons. “Why did you let him go?” she asked. “And what were the two of you talking about?”
“He’s a dead man,” grunted Aaron in way of response as he worked to tie up the sails for the night.
“That doesn’t answer my questions,” said Mai, crossing her arms over her chest.
“It doesn’t have to. And aren’t you leaving anyway?”
“No. Now that I have a location to start with, I’m going to charter your boat to take me there.”
“No,” responded Aaron not looking up from his work.
“Well I’m not leaving,” she said.
Aaron made an annoyed sound in his throat as he finished tying off the last rope for the sails. He headed for the railing where the ammo Jay had left was sitting. The man’s feeling was right and it was infectious too. He could tell that he wasn’t going be able to get rid of Mai and her cat. He glanced over to the bow where it lay, lazily cleaning itself with it’s large tongue.
He scooped up the two packages and tucked them into his coat. “Fine. But you’re sleeping out on deck as punishment.”
“Punishment for what?” said Mai in disbelief.
Aaron gestured toward the hole in the railing and hull that had been left by her pistol. Then he headed over to the opening leading below deck just as the first few raindrops started to fall.