The Triton’s kickback pounded Jeth’s arm muscles with every shot, but he held his hand steady, kept his breath even, willing the calm and focus he needed to come over him.
“What’s going on?” Celeste’s alarmed voice echoed inside Jeth’s helmet, breaking his concentration. “Is somebody shooting?”
“Hold on,” Jeth said. He knew if he didn’t answer she would keep pestering him. But he couldn’t exactly give her a blow-by-blow account with bullets flying around him. They made loud, terrifying shrieks as they passed.
Then, without warning, the incoming bullets stopped. Jeth eased his hand on the trigger, motioning toward Shady to stop, too. Shady let off a couple more rounds, then ceased.
Jeth scanned the area beyond the crate for signs of the two armored figures or the little girl. His eardrums throbbed in the silence. Sweat ran down his neck and back. But he was oddly calm. At least a gunfight was within the realm of normal, something his brain could easily process.
“What do we do now?” Shady said.
“Hell if I know.”
A single gunshot erupted from behind a line of barrels across the way. Crack-whish-bang. The shot passed so close, Jeth felt it even through the thick padding of his space suit. Sudden outrage made his muscles clench. They’d come over here to help these people, and now they were trying to kill them.
He and Shady fired back once more, taking aim at the barrels near where the shot had come from.
The next moment, a loud, piercing wail filled the cargo bay. It was worse than any siren Jeth had ever heard. For a second he wondered if there was some ferocious animal on board, a massive beast powerful enough to have torn those holes in the walls.
Then he thought no more as pain shot through his skull from the sound. He lurched back behind the crate, almost dropping his gun as he instinctively covered his ears. Never mind that he couldn’t reach them through the helmet. The noise was inside him somehow, a living, vicious thing, hellbent on ripping him apart.
To his right, Shady looked to be in the same level of agony.
Desperate for the noise to stop but powerless to make it happen, Jeth squeezed his eyes closed. He needed to get away from it. He lowered himself to the ground, determined to crawl since he didn’t think he could stand.
On and on it went, getting louder. The dim lights in the cargo bay began to flicker as if they too were affected by the sound. The floor trembled, letting out a noise like warping metal. A buzz of electricity joined the chorus.
The two shooters appeared around the corner of one of the containers in front of Jeth, both struggling to walk. They were as affected by the noise as he and Shady were. Jeth knew he should take cover, but his body was beyond his control.
The strangers dropped their guns to the floor.
As if in response, the noise began to die down and the panic in the room ended.
When silence finally came, Jeth exhaled in relief. His brain felt squishy inside his skull. He eased himself up to a standing position and faced the two strangers. It had to be some kind of trap. The sweat on his neck and back felt like flakes of ice.
“Are they surrendering?” Shady said from behind Jeth.
“Can I shoot ’em?”
Tempting. . . . “Uh, no.”
Jeth took a tentative step forward, aiming his Triton. The two didn’t react, but stood still, hands at their sides. Jeth glanced around, suspicious of booby traps. To his left he spotted a toolbox and a pile of maintenance materials. Combined with their spacesuits, Jeth guessed the two shooters had been about to attempt some kind of repair to the outside of the ship when Avalon showed up.
He retuned his gaze to the strangers. Bending his elbow, he pointed the gun toward the ceiling. “We’re not looking for a fight,” he shouted. “Nod if you can hear me.”
Both did, and Jeth lowered his gun, pointing the barrel at the floor.
The shorter one raised his hands to his helmet and pulled it off. A mound of long blonde hair spilled out. Not a guy. A girl. Jeth mentally kicked himself for not realizing it before. She looked about his age, her face pale and a little too thin. Even still, he was struck by how pretty she was, her features delicate like porcelain, yet her expression fierce, like marble.
He caught himself staring and was glad when Celeste’s voice suddenly filled his ears. “What’s going on, Jeth?”
“We’re fine. We found the survivors.”
“Who are they? Why was there shooting? There was shooting, right?”
“Not now, Celeste.” Jeth pressed the button to terminate the link.
Across from him, the other shooter was pulling off his helmet. This one was a he, a guy with dark, spiky hair, as if he usually wore it shaved but had been growing it out. He looked young, too, not much older than Jeth.
Jeth examined the two of them, deciding that neither appeared diseased. That, combined with his faith in Avalon’s scanning equipment, was enough that he holstered the Triton, then pulled off his helmet. The frigid air bit his face, the smell of it rank, like something long dead.
“You sure you want to be doing that, Boss?” Shady asked, his voice muffled inside the helmet.
Jeth waved him off. “Who are you?”
“Who are you?” the blonde replied, her eyes narrowed on his face. She might have put down her gun, but Jeth got the feeling that surrender wasn’t in this girl’s vocabulary.
“My name’s Jeth Seagrave, and this is Will Shady.”