“Oh come on,” Joshua said, gritting his teeth to hold back his anger against the merchant. In half a day he'd acquired such a hatred for the man that the only reason he hadn't been shot was that Joshua didn't have his gun. “It's worth at least twice that,” he continued, grinding his teeth further.
The merchant, named Tariki, was a shrewd negotiator if anything else. Chan reckoned he must have been at least sixty, very old for a tribesmen. He had probably started trading from his cradle. The thought of a baby haggling made Chan smile.
Chan had stayed by Joshua's side, as she always tried to when they went ashore. She had known Joshua longer then any of the crew, and was one of the few who knew about his strange life story. She considered the captain's safety her personal business as as the self-appointed first mate (as well as moral officer, educational organizer, and a dozen other such positions).
“I suppose...” Tariki said slowly, dragging out Joshua's pain. “I could go as high as one-hundred and forty. The water is, as you said, very rare.”
“No,” Joshua said instantly. “Higher.”
“I'm afraid I just can't go higher,” Tariki responded smoothly. “It's one-forty or nothing.”
“Well,” Joshua answered back, picking up the jug of Well Well water. “I must have underestimated you Tariki. I'm going to take the nothing. I'm sure your competitors won't mind a little Well Well water to splash around. Good day.” Without another word Joshua turned to leave, heading towards the next trade stall.
“Wait!” Tariki shouted after him. He was the wealthiest merchant in the area, and possibly the whole island, but the sale of something as valuable as Well Well water to a competitor could ruin him. “I'll give you one-fifty!”
“Lovely weather isn't it Chan?” Joshua remarked, not even glancing back.
“We really need to get out more. Good for the lungs, you know?”
“Yes captain, we should see the sights sometimes,” Chan added, pretending not even to hear Tariki.
Joshua swiftly turned back around and slammed the jug onto Tariki's table. “Money now please, all in silvers,” he said concisely, although he had a sneer of victory.
Tariki, admitting defeat, took out a bag of silver coins and carefully counted out the necessary number. “You drive a hard bargain Joshua,” he said has he handed the money over. He had payed more then the normal price, but it was worth it to keep Well Well water out of the hands of his rivals. Besides, he would still make a good profit by diluting the Well Well water in normal water but still charging full price. You didn't make your money in Tagra market by being honest.
Joshua slipped the money into his jacket, and zipped it up to prevent theft.
They set out into the market to buy fresh supplies for the ship. Every now and then they glanced at a necklace or some other trinket, but didn't get distracted for too long.
“Don't look, but we're being followed,” Joshua said casually after a few minutes of wandering.
“Yes captain,” Chan replied calmly. “They've been following us since we ripped off Tariki.”
“Figured you noticed,”Joshua said, resisting the urge to glance back. “I say we split up and find out which one of us they're interested in. Meet you back here in thirty seconds.”
Chan nodded then turned sharply and quickly lost sight of Joshua in the stalls. A glance behind her revealed one of the pursuers had followed her. He was wearing a black uniform, Sphere issue, that really didn't blend in with the crowd. He was also clearly inexperienced when it came to tailing people, as his eyes widened in surprise for a moment when she first looked at him.
Although Chan figured she could take him on her own, she decided to meet up with Joshua first. He was waiting for her and casually struck up conversation. “They're after us both,” he began. “They're definitely Sphere or ex-Sphere, and unless they're pulling the wool over my eyes we can take them easy. We start rallying up the crew the moment we're done. If The Sphere is here that means we ain't. Three, two, one, now.”
Chan turned around and threw a punch at her pursuer in one motion. He brought his hand up to stop it just in time. She followed up with a kick for his groin. That forced him to bend over in pain, at which point she punched him in the face again. That made him fall onto the ground. She went for a final kick to settle the matter, but he grabbed her foot and pulled, causing her to fall flat on her back.
Now the Sphere soldier went in for the kill. He slammed his foot down on her ribcage and then stomped on her arms to prevent her from pulling his legs. She responded by working one of her legs under him and kicking. He fell backwards, and they both rushed to get up. He won the race, and went strait for her neck, knocking her down again. He was on top of her, strangling the air out.
“Help!” Chan shouted, then cut off to conserve air.
“I'm busy!” Joshua shouted back. He grabbed his opponents arm and bent the elbow at an unnatural angle before he could react. There was a grim snap and the man's arm was broken. Joshua then stomped on his toe with on foot and drove the other into his knee, producing another grim snap and a broken knee.
With his opponent thus disabled, Joshua tackled the man on Chan and grabbed his head with both arms. He twisted the man's neck, there was another snap, and suddenly Chan could breath again.
“Bout time,” Chan said.
“It took me like five seconds,” Joshua said, exasperated. It struck Chan as odd that neither of them were worried in the slightest by a fistfight in the middle of a crowded market. But then again fighting between outsiders was so common in Tagra that nobody really cared. “Anyway, we gotta find the rest of the crew, get our weapons and get outta here,” Joshua continued. “I don't know what I've done to piss of The Sphere and I really don't care. They're pissed at everyone.”
“Right,” Chan responded. “We should stick together just in case there's more troops.”
“Of course there's more troops. The Sphere never does anything subtly. Oh! I almost forgot,” he reached into the dead man's pocket and pulled out a few coins. “Sphere troops never go anywhere without some change,” he smiled.
They ran through the market, telling every crew member they met to get out and rally at the ship. Getting out of the Tagra market quickly was always a problem, as the Tagrans took forever to get your weapons back from their armored vaults. So far they hadn't seen any more Sphere troops.
“The Sphere is looking for something,” Joshua said, trying to interpenetrate enemy moves as he always did. “If this was a normal mission they would've annihilated the island by now. But they're coming in peacefully and following us around. That means that they're looking for something related to us and want to make sure we didn't get involved. That means they're looking for a crewmen or a passenger. All of the crew have pissed off The Sphere once or twice, but aren't actively hunted, meaning it has to be a passenger. The only passengers we have right now are Clooney, Zoey, and Derek. Derek is from The Sphere, meaning that they are most likely after him.”
They turned another corner and Joshua's deductions were proven in an instant. Giba stood around the bodies of a half-dozen Sphere soldiers, and was in the process of slamming two more into the ground. Zoey was also fighting one of them, using her small size to doge around him. Derek had been seized by two more soldiers and was being dragged away. A man with an eye patch and colonel's uniform managed the action, sending more men against Giba and glancing back at Derek to make sure he was secure.
Chan didn't waste any time, tackling the man fighting Zoey and wrestling him to the ground.
Joshua quickly got stuck in too, charging the colonel. The colonel struck him with immense strength, interrupting his charge and sending him sprawling to the ground. “Don't try it,” the colonel said arrogantly. “I've bested men far tougher then you.”
Joshua swept his legs under the man and the colonel fell flat on his back. Joshua jumped up spryly but the colonel got up just as fast. They moved around each other the way two boxers would, throwing punches when they saw an opening. Joshua was certainly more agile, jumping forward and backward while ducking the colonel's blows. The colonel was much stronger, and had an air of invincible confidence, giving Joshua the constant nagging that the colonel knew something that he didn't.
But Joshua was not a fair fighter. He slammed his foot into the colonel's groin and slammed his fists into either side of his head, and then followed through with a dozen hits to his stomach and ribcage, driving him to his knees in agony.
Joshua couldn't resist a jibe before delivering the final blow. “What is it you said about beating men better then me?” He then brought down another punch on the colonel's face. Or tried too. Suddenly, his arm wouldn't move where he told it to, and it started twitching erraticly. His other arm started too. “God dammit!” he screamed as his legs gave way and he fell to the ground, writhing and twitching.
The colonel was back on his feet, and laughing. “I can't die!” he shouted. He kicked Joshua in the ribs and then kicked him again for good measure. He glanced around and saw Derek had been taken to a safe distance. “Fall back!” he ordered.
The Sphere troops abandoned their fistfight with Giba (as any person who hoped for continued existence was eager to do) and followed their colonel towards the back gate of the market.
As Joshua twitched and rolled on the ground an unending stream of obscenities came from his mouth, which was still very much under his control. Even though the fight had barely made shoppers look up, but Joshua's attack was proving a far more interesting spectacle. They gathered around him, oohing and awing as he flipped back and forth in the dirt. A pickpocket ran forward and tried to loot him, only to be seized bodily by Giba and thrown.
“Who was that?” Chan asked, watching the soldiers as they fled.
Zoey racked her brain. “Derek told me about a Sphere colonel named Colonel Cornwell. He said he was dead, but I think that was him.” She was starting to panic. “We have to go after him, he's got Derek!”
“Look, the captain's in charge,” Chan snapped back. “He makes the decisions.”
“How can you even think this is a decision?” Zoey protested. “One of us has been captured, we have to get him back!”
“Shut her up!” Joshua ordered in the same breathy, strained voice he had during last night's attack. “Screw Derek, we need ta...” his jaw suddenly twisted at a strange angle and prevented him from talking for several seconds, “...get out. Screw everything else, we need to get our guns and get out.”
“How can you say that?” Zoey was shocked, her feud with Derek completely forgotten. “He's not off the island yet! We have a chance! If you won't help him I will.” She indignantly started after Cornwell, but Giba clutched her in an iron grip that she couldn't break out of.
“Chan, carry me,” Joshua continued with his orders. “Giba, make sure Zoey comes with us.”
“How can you leave him?” Zoey shouted, still protesting.
Joshua's temper flared. “You can't get it through your thick skull, can you? They wanted Derek alive. Now they have Derek alive. And once they get him off this island, they are going to kill every other living thing on it.”
The cold statement got Zoey to stop fighting. She knew The Sphere was evil, and wiped out whole villages and islands, but she never thought they would do it to an island that she was on. People usually don't imagine themselves on the receiving end of a mass extermination. A chill of absolute and utter fear ran down her spine. “The Sphere will kill... everything?” she asked, hoping that she was somehow confused and had misheard Joshua.
“Every living thing on this island is about to die,” Joshua said coldly.
The statement struck panic in the gathering crowd. The mention of The Sphere and mass extermination were enough to panic everyone. They rushed back to their homes, clearing out all they could, gathering up their children and making a mad dash for the coast, hoping their would be a ship who could get them off. And they told all of their friends to get out too. Who in turn told all of their friends. And so on.
Giba bashed his way through the chaos to the weapons vault, a pre-Roar bunker that was built to be tank proof. It was not, however, Giba proof. He broke the metal door like it was paper. They rushed inside, found their weapons and rushed back out. Guns were so extremely rare that they would be hard pressed to find replacements for their current ones.
The entire market was suddenly gripped in overwhelming terror. People rushed for the exits, overcrowding them. When the main exits were blocked up, they climbed the fence, less athletic ones trying simply to bash it down. Most people had no success. Giba, on the other hand, not being most people, tore it from the ground with one hand.
Suddenly they were running through the colorful woods, toward the distant Bright Side. For a moment Zoey thought they had gotten away scott free, and would be long gone before The Sphere soldiers attacked. A quick glance behind her forced her heart into her stomach.
There were no Sphere soldiers.
Instead, with demonic red tails of flame following emitting from them, the Defender Rockets flew.