Crimson cursed, and the sound of her own voice echoed in her rebreather. It was hot: humidity beaded sweat on her forehead and upper lip. She had goggles on to seal off the harmful atmosphere from her eyes and ear pieces for communicating with her crew; combined with her breathing mask, she felt like a clumsy scuba-diving enthusiast with nothing better to do than play dress up on land. Now, as Shaak-Rom’s warning popped in her ear piece, she realized again her survival could also never count on her speed. She was one step into her sprint before her robotic leg caught her, and dragged her dive-for-cover into a comical stumble-and-hobble.
Don’t be Tiberius Longus! Don’t be Tiberius Longus! warned her Mindframe. What? Crimson complained.
Hannibal. Of course.
Laser fire screamed down behind her and ruptured the landing platform with a blast of scalding air. The shove of shockwave nearly knocked Crimson to the ground. She was too far forward to return to the Boatman. Sulblorrg’s security would have to do for protection. Already the black-clad, nose-tentacled matching alien security guards were returning fire at the flying attack skiff. Their laser rifles left funny singed lines of floating algae in the murky green atmosphere which then fluttered to the ground like cheap party string. Crimson half dove, half dragged herself behind a four-wheeled supply vehicle.
Forcing her cybernetic leg into a kneel she raised her be-goggled head to see what was happening. Red laser was raining and dancing to and fro, from the platform and the skiff. A wobbly distortion from a distant maser caught one of the skiff riders in the shoulder. He toppled off and fell beyond view. Gator, looking ridiculous in his massive breathing mask, and Andross, miniscule by comparison, crouched by the ramp to the Boatman’s interior. Several more of the crew waited, armed and ready within the shuttle.
She saw another thing: grappling hooks. The space port had a high wall around its far side, it had made it tricky for Andross to negotiate the landing, but he enjoyed it (not so secretly). Now climbing hooks over the lip of the perimeter announced the arrival of more unwanted visitors.
“Gator! ‘Dross! Ground troops on the walls!” Having a Linkburst line open was expensive, but it was also the fastest way to communicate with everyone. Voice chips could link most of the crew within a certain range. But with two teams, one on the Boatman and one in the city, they’d needed an immediate solution.
“Yeehaw!” Andross shouted back through the burst-feed. Already he was running under the Boatman’s wing, headed for a better vantage point.
Another blast from the skiff’s cannon rocked the platform, this time hitting the electric cart, laden with boxes. The cart jack-knifed in half, tossing crates like a chef’s salad. Crimson winced. Here we go… She checked her breathing mask was firmly in place.
Crates rained down. Then like a cascade of jack-in-the-boxes one, two, then three crates burst open. Bizarre explosions of purple slime followed by big, fuzzy, purply bubbles floated into the bio-luminecent sky, like lazy bumble-bees of moldy death.
Everything happened at once: Sulblorrg’s security guards yelled in alarm and surged forward to protect the spoors, firing rapidly. A klaxon sounded from somewhere in the green, hazy sky. Voices erupted in cries of attack from the lip of the space port’s wall, where attacker’s suddenly appeared behind their grappling hooks. Andross opened fire, followed by Gator, blasting attackers off the wall with their masers like targets in a gallery.
Crimson lifted her head trying to figure out where to join the fracas. A laser beam from the skiff sizzled over her head, dropping a streamer of burnt algae on her humidity flattened crop of purple hair. She ducked back, for once glad that her cheap hair product never fully stood it up straight: she would have lost whatever she had.
Aloud she said, “Right.” Sulblorrg was losing security guards. Maser in hand she spun on her robotic knee and popped up to take aim. The skiff was close enough.
Wawp! The maser’s strange funnel mouth launched a blob of stun energy wiggling through the sky. It broadsided the second of the skiff’s riders: a beautiful head shot. The armored assailant went rigid as though he’d just smacked into an invisible wall—energy overriding his brain’s signals—then he went slack and toppled helplessl y to the space port pavement.
A lucky shot from Sulblorrg’s guards struck the skiff’s laser cannon’s mouth, causing an explosion. The skiff, with the driver, twisted dangerously, spinning . Crimson bit her lip, and let the casual droning of her Mindframe measure the trajectory as she followed it with her human arm. A little lead…
Wawp! The stunned skiff driver was tossed from the careening craft like a bean bag, crashing into the wall of the space port with a satisfying, armor-crunching smack. The skiff sailed like a skipping stone over the space port wall, and Crimson listened to its collaterally destructive demise. Meanwhile the driver finished his drop to the space port surface.
She pinned her maser-supporting elbow against her hip with cocky impudence and looked at Sulblorrg’s heavily armed buffoons to gloat. They were watching the steamy sky with fear in their eyes. The keening alarm from some garbled bullhorn system, sounded both electronically cheapened and underwater. Apparently it wasn’t a security alarm. Andross and Gator hadn’t fully finished the fire fight with the grappling hook operators, and Crimson was about to lurch from her place to help them, before the assailants ruined her shuttle with their terrible aim.
But the sky was darkening: hordes of the light-boned butterfly people were descending in hungry swarms.