Purpose: I wrote The New Crusader with the idea that cloned humans are treated like chattel in a nearby future. I carefully choose an Asian female lead because the modern day parallel was inescapable. Even today in many countries, including China, women are considered second-class citizens. Female babies are aborted by the hundreds in China because they are allowed a limited amount of children and they don’t want to waste them on females. It felt natural that this mixed-race Asian female should feel so intensely about the fight for these throw away people.

I hope this short story isn’t too short. Please enjoy The New Crusader.

Piece:

Joss signaled to go left.  He swung right, disappearing into the heart of the cargo ship.  I rounded the corner, crouched low, and gun steady in my hand. Ardengrazed my shoulder to let me know he was still tight on my six.  Good boy, thatArden, he learns quickly.  He might have a future in this business after all.   My little brother, a crusader; the idea made me smile.

I heard hard footfalls on the metal deck a few feet ahead.  We halted.  Tucked up against the bulkhead I scanned the area.  The multi-colored cargo containers chopped up my field of vision.  The steps came closer and my heart beat faster.

Sun reflected off a gun barrel as the guard came toward the edge of the container fifteen feet in front of me.  I came around the metal box and hit him from behind.  A sharp blow to the head with the butt of the gun and the guard was down.  Leaning down to secure the weapon a shot went off behind me.

Even with a silencer, I heard the odd thunk of the shot.  I whirled. Ardenstood over the second guard, gun raised, eyes wide.  I placed my hand on his arm so he knew I was coming around him.  The second guard was clutching his left shoulder, his face wrinkled up in pain.  I pushed his gun away before leaning over him.

“Where are the girls?”

He looked up at me confused.  He spouted off a hurried stream of words I couldn’t understand.  Damn, Mandarin.  I heard Joss speak it enough times to recognize it but not enough to understand.  Thanks to daddy, I may look as Asian as they come, but little brother and I were raised inLondonwith no attachment to our Chinese heritage.

I put my hands up in surrender, hoping he would calm himself.  “I don’t understand.  Night, night.”  I pistol-whipped him.

Reaching into my right, bottom pants pocket I pulled out the pressure bandage.  I wasn’t going to let him bleed to death, forArden’s sake.  After bandaging him up, I searched his pockets.

“You alright,” I askedArden, as nonchalant as possible.

“Yeah, I -” he lowered his gun but kept a weather eye out.  “-just a little startled.”

“First shooting’s like that, but he’ll live, so don’t worry about it.”

It was my turn to keep watch while Arden moved both bodies out of sight.  I kept thinking we had to be close if two guards were watching the same area.  That still left a dozen containers to search.

“Done.”

“Container by container, Arden.”

He nodded.  We walked abreast, barely squeezing down the rows.  Good thing we’re both slender.  I knocked while he watched.  Carefully I listened for any signs of life inside.

Five down, no more guards, but no girls either.

Six must be my lucky number.  I knocked and listened.  At first, there was nothing, and then I heard a faint rustling.  Maybe it was the wind kicking up.  Then it came again and with it, a greeting.

“Ni hao.”

We struck gold.  Arden and stood back to back, as I used my pocket torch to burn through the lock.  It only took a minute to cut through the steel padlock.

Joss taught me to say, we come in peace.  I hoped the girls understood.

Pulling the double doors open there was a collective gasp as daylight poured in.  Fifteen girls packed into one cargo container wasn’t a pleasant way to cross the Pacific.  None of them could have been older than twenty-five.  At least they weren’t under sixteen.

Cloning humans is illegal but smugglers don’t care.  They get caught with the girls, they get a slap on the wrist for transporting illegal contraband.  The girls get shipped back to where they came from, so smugglers can try all over again.  After all, the law doesn’t even recognize them as humans, just material.

I reached out my hand.  They shied away, completely understandable, considering.  Smiling, I tried to show them I meant no harm.  A pale, thin hand gripped mine.  The fierce determination in her emerald green eyes surprised me.

“Ok ladies, hold hands and we’ll get you to safety.”  I switched channels on the walkie, radioing the boat.  “Fifteen coming your way.”

“Got it Capt.,” came backTurin, master of the boat.

Cautiously we made it around the containers and toward our entry point. Ardenushered the ladies down the ladder withTurinand Zeke on the other end.  I had my eye out for intruders when I heard the three clicks.  Someone was in trouble.

“Go, we got this,”Turincalled up before I could ask.

Point was mine andArdenfell in behind me as we descended into the ship.  I heard the gunfire, automatic weaponry, not ours.  My body told me to head away from it but I ran straight for it.  The gun blasts reverberated wildly in the metal box, making it difficult to navigate.

“Joss, position?”

“Captain’s mess, section A-7,” he yelled between shots.

Looking up I saw we were at A-4.  I charged through the next intersection, slowing only at A-7.  The captain’s mess was at the end of the cross hall.  Joss was pinned down outside.  Mara was down.  My stomach flipped.  If she was…  No I couldn’t even think it.

Mara was on her stomach.  I flipped her over fearfully.  She was breathing.  Tension slid off my chest.  She had been clipped on the hip but it looked like she knocked her head on the way down, explaining her current state.

I bandaged her up.

“Joss, she’ll live.”

His usually stoic face softened momentarily.  He nodded.

Ardentook position next to Joss while I pulled Mara to a safer location.  Joss yelled something to the shooters barricaded in the mess.  They answered back with a thick burst of gunfire.  I guess surrender was out of the question.

“Sorry we’re late boss,” Malachi said approaching from the left.

“We grabbed some toys,” explainedNikko.  He signaled Joss and tossed him a couple black cylinders longer than my hand.

Joss smiled.  “Thanks.  Watch our six, get ready.”

I may be the Captain but in tactical situations, Joss ruled.  His military background and familiarity with our crew made him perfect for the job.  I’m smart enough to understand when others’ strengths outweigh my own.

Joss pulled the pins and tossed in the flash-bang grenades.  I folded myself over Mara’s prone body shielding both our faces.  The sound was earsplitting and through closed eyes I still saw the blinding white light. Arden, Joss, andNikkostormed the room, leaving Malachi and I to keep watch.

A few shots rang out, some grunting and yelling.  ThenNikkocalled all clear.  Malachi hoisted Mara onto his shoulder and we both went in. Ardenwas tying the captain to his chair.  One guy was dead, another bound on the floor.

“Where are the girls?”

“I know no girls,” the captain said in heavily accented English.

Joss backhanded him.  With two hundred pounds of solid muscle, Joss is a solid guy who can slap the cocky out of just about anyone.

“We know the girls are here just tell us where.”

“Ain’t tellin you nothin.”

I kept Joss from punching the guy’s face in.

“Listen, we’re gonna find them either way but if you make us tear the place apart you’ll be sorry,” I said sweetly, kneeling in front of him.

“Ain’t tellin you nothing,” he repeated.  “That’s why y’all soft, you take orders from this stupid bitch,” he said staring up at Joss then he spat in my face.

Deep breathe in through the nose out the mouth.  Not a surprise the human trafficker has no respect for women.  I get that treatment a lot in my line of work.   Nice to see the look on their faces though, when they’re staring down the barrel of my gun, knowing a woman helped take them down.

“Tell me where they are or I shoot you and find them myself.”

He looked at me amused, like I wouldn’t dare.

“One, two, -” he wasn’t going to budge.  “-three.”  I pulled the trigger hitting him square in the chest.  His head lolled forward blood pooling out. Ardengasped.

“Talia, how could you.  He was unarmed.”

“He was a scum sucking human trafficker that the world is better without.  Don’t like it, leave.”  I moved from the door to let him out.  He shook his head but stayed put.

I hated to see the look of disappointment and shock in my brother’s eyes, but that’s the job.  We’re not cops or military.  We’re crusaders, protecting our little piece of the world from human filth.  We save those who fall through the gaping holes in the system.  Killing him saves all his potential victims.  A hard lessen we all have to learn sometime.

“Tear this place apart guys, we have some ladies to find.”

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