By Matt Lao
The threshold of the vacuum of space could only reach so much further within the hull. Clutching the door on the way in, Talon wrestled himself into safety and flipped the emergency-close switch right beside the doorway. Microseconds after the hull slammed shut, Talon collapsed on the floor—the Endurance’s ferro-grav systems were apparently still active. The very essence of the gunslinger’s body gained some solace in sharing its agony with the surrounding mixture of oxygen particles in the air. Talon’s gray “flesh” churned and hissed; every part of him both looked and sounded like an ill-tempered tea pot ready to blow. The gunslinger’s attire was charred and blackened; some of it had caught fire. So there Talon lay, with dancing yellow sprites racing across his hood and down his cape. Though he did not need to breathe, Talon savored the sensation of the familiar air. He would have climbed up the ladder which led to the upper deck of the Endurance, had his arms listened to him.
Without much time to relax, the hatch far above the catatonic body of the gunslinger hissed. The metal grate slowly rose, revealing a familiar face.
“By my Power, you’re alive!” Lady Demora cried. Talon’s orange eyes flickered. The beady little lights aimed high, looking up at the voice. Talon never thought he’d ever get the chance to hear his partner sound like that, like an actual human being. The gunslinger’s neck whined as he attempted to reorient his head, as the hydraulic cylinders sizzled. Unable to observe his guardian angel, all Talon could do was listen to the hurried boots rattle down the ladder. As he waited, Talon opened his mouth to utter some quick quip.
“Totally… got…” mercilessly scraped the sides of his throat.
“You’ve always got it,” spoke the storm-caller. Her voice was cool, soft. The words easily flowed from her mouth. Talon heard Demora take a knee beside him, every little movement swishing in the air and purifying it. “Let me handle it this time.” Talon’s Pyre dropped from out of the main ship cabin and stopped attentively above Demora’s left shoulder. The little Pyre studied its Knight with its one little eye. The floating machinery was slow and deliberate. Like a father inspecting a son who’d lost in a fight. Not long after, rich photons poured out of the Pyre’s face, casting the limelight on Talon.
As the gunslinger resurfaced from the depths of near-death, he took a deep breath. Talon blinked a couple of times, and finally sat up. He stared at Demora as he outstretched his arms and wriggled his fingers. Demora’s silk-blue face bore a heavy smile; it was weighed down by ash, soot, and streams of purple. The storm-caller’s once regal robes were now torn and ragged. The edges of the cloth had been singed at the ends.
“Glad Orion’s still around to pick me up,” wheezed Talon. “You’re not half bad, either.” Though still unsteady, Talon braced himself to stand. Demora held her partner by the shoulder, attempting to hold him up. Before she had the chance, Talon brushed her arm away. Demora settled her gaze upon him, killing the hopeful smile that once rested upon her visage and replacing it with something akin to unease. She didn’t get a chance to argue with Talon before he began speaking in his aloof overtone once again.
“What the hell happened to that bastard?” Talon placed his hands upon where his temples would be if he were of flesh and bone. “Please don’t tell me that he vaporized along with half of the Endurance.”
“You act like he did not just almost kill us,” Demora flustered.
“I know he did. But how else are we going to pay for my ship?”
“Certainly you mean our ship.” The sternness in Demora’s voice rang through. The storm-caller huffed as she climbed up the ladder, below her partner. “No. Vert is not dead. I’ve incapacitated him. For now.” Before Talon entered the main cabin, he paused for a moment, and looked down.
“Oh-ho. Old school, huh?” Another sound that could have been interpreted as a scoff had exited Talon’s mouth. “Why didn’t you just shoot his legs or something?”
Demora didn’t speak until after the two reached the main cabin. Her gaze fell upon Talon for a short while, as he grasped her hand and pulled her from the ladder.
“Vert’s Pyre is… dead. After the overload of your Power combined with the damaged temporal device—the Pyre was the epicenter of the explosion. It was killed instantly.” As Talon scanned the cabin, he noticed Vert. The deserter Knight was crumpled beside the metal bulkhead, his hands were neatly tied together. When she spoke again, Demora’s voice dropped to the whisper of a child.
“Another Pyre is lost. We did not even learn its name.” Still listening to his partner, Talon approached the bound Knight. “And this time, it wasn’t in combat. Its death wasn’t at the hands of the lightning-borne machines.”
“Demora, quit it.”
“It didn’t die by the endless march of star-soldiers.”
“Or those festering abominations.” Talon swiveled a full 180 to face his partner. He placed his hands upon Demora’s shoulders and for once, saw her eye-to-eye.
“We don’t have time for this Demora!” Talon pulled back a bit. “I’m sorry. If you want to mourn over some idiot’s dead Pyre, do that when we’re not hurtling through space. But right now, we’re in no position for wasting time. We have a few more immediate problems. Such as repairing the damage to the Endurance before she keels over. It’s our only hope of getting out of wherever we are.”
“Hmph,” Demora grunted, as she shrugged off her partner’s grip. “We will need all the help we can get.” She looked over at the unconscious Vert.
“You think we can trust a guy like him?” Talon had asked.
“He doesn’t have a Pyre. What kind of simpleton would challenge two desperate Knights without one?”
“The kind with nothing left to lose.”
“Regardless, he doesn’t have much of a choice. If he says no, we could toss him out the airlock for a few seconds,” the storm-caller replied coldly. Though she couldn’t see it, Demora knew Talon was grinning his devious grin.