The chip-chat exploded with voices, and far ahead, at the arboretum’s aft exit, weapons fire sounded. Crimson cut her connection to the chat and picked up her pace. The strange wamp of masers and the percussion of enhanced projectile weapons intermingled ahead, where the emerald bands of the Garden Panes dove in from their voluminous heights to meet at the far end of the Green House.
Keffler’s mobility chair was still ahead of her, but he pulled up to another shed, and began arranging spare wood and cargo crates to make a barricade for himself. Crimson stomped on. Ahead she could see the second Garden Pane also sported a barricade, close to the mouth of the exit, where the conflict was taking place. Mog Mog she spotted easily. Masers seemed to be keeping the pirates pinned at the mouth of the Arboretum, the defenders’ location currently circling along the ceiling, giving them a good angle to keep the interlopers back. But as the defenders moved down along the wall and dropped below the exit there was a sudden rush. Armored pirates stormed forward, one diving to the turf and fired a spray of dangerous bullets. Crimson watched as her Pane rode the ceiling and down the wall: Mog Mog took heavy fire, his rocky hide chipping and releasing plumes of sand and rock fragments. The others (Micron, Braevel, P’Xak) dove back for cover. Now they were passing up the far wall; if the Pirates kept them pinned too long they would swarm into the Green House and be impossible to corral. Crimson forced her robotic leg into a run. Her arms pumped. The conflict was half-way up the wall as Crimson surged up the path like a cybernetic rhinoceros. She felt the gravitation force of the centrifuge weaken, and she leapt!
Silently she sailed over Sky Pane2.
She leveled her maser at the closest pirate as Garden Pane 2 approached. Wamp! Wamp! Wamp! Her maser unleashed a staggering wave of stun-energy. Three direct hits sent pirates toppling in confusion. Crimson didn’t expect it to do much against combat-armored hitman, except provide valuable seconds. She dropped the turf and traction mats of Keffler’s living slope, between the assailants, and unleashed cybernetic hell. Pivoting off her heel she drove her hydraulic arm into the collarbone of a pirate and felt the brittle snap as the shoulder gave way. The devastating crush of her hand clamped around a handful of flesh and armor suit, and she lunged forward dragging the pirate body through the air and releasing it straight into another one of the boarding party. She squeezed off another furious wave of maser energy at the surprised cohorts behind, striding forwards. They fell back before her, but she caught up to them at the mouth of the Arboretum. Seizing one by his pressurized EVA clamps she mashed him left and right, crippling his compatriots. Weapons clattered to the deck from crushed hands and groaning pirates. She held her captive aloft…
The light came before the sound. Red-orange, like the sun blazing on the horizon. The buzz of raw energy sizzled around as the impact blew Crimson’s captive against her body and lifted her from the springy turf. Pain sensors registered burning on her human arm and leg, before she dropped roughly to the garden behind. She flipped heels-over-head to end face down in the dirt. The pirate body that had bruised the air out of her lungs was gone, lost somewhere in the flying tumble. Her Mindframe careened like a bumper car to find matching data to sort. She tried to pick up her head, but the electrical impulses to the servos at the base of her neck mis-fired repeatedly.
A confusion of indistinct voices shouted behind and above her. She felt muted vibrations through Keffler’s dirt, pounding, coming closer.
She struggled again to raise her head. Another sensation, grinding pebbles as wheels skidded to a halt. A cold, hard hand hooked under her pain-ridden arm.
“Get up!” Micron’s android voice demanded.
Another presence landed next to her, and a clumsy organic being took her robotic arm. The crooning voice of Braevel’s translator called, “Come, Crimson, we must go!”
The pounding rumbled passed them. Crimson, awkwardly peeling away from the turf, raised by her two crewmen saw and Mog Mog rush up the incline passed them firing his maser. His deep bellow surmounted the confusion of weapons’ discharge around them.
Mostly carried, Crimson kicked with her human leg to try and help as Braevel and Micron dragged her away. Suddenly there was another deafening crack, and a ripping explosion! Mog Mog’s voice ended suddenly, and a hail of hot rocks pelted their backs like a micro-meteor shower.
P’Xak was yelling, “Fall back! Fall back! They’ve broken through!”
Keffler watched the drama unfold from the corner of his toolshed. It had taken him a moment to toss some pallets together and pile a couple a crates on it to create a vantage point with enough leverage to lift the nose of his Earth I Model 70 Alaskan Winchester to look across the curving horizon lines Garden Pane 1, Sky Pane 2, and Garden Pane 2 to where the others had erected their barricade. His leathery old hands had settled onto the checkered Monte Carlo stock and hand rest, as Crimson sailed through the air in the low gravity of the Green House’s tail-end. He watched her tossing pirates like bean bags, driving them back—only to be knocked on her robotic ass as the intergalactic assassins brought up their heavy artillery: some kind of plasma cannon. Keffler swore as the crew broke cover to try and rescue Crimson. The dundering rock slide of a crew-monster, Mog Mog, blazed a trail like a linebacker, firing his maser.
“Get back you fool,” growled Keffler looking over his hooded front sight. The plasma cannon burned again, moments later the scream of its fury reaching Keffler through the oxygen rich air. Mog Mog exploded like a pent-up volcano.
Keffler hated humanoids. He hated them in his Green House.
Today he could shoot them.
He chambered a round. Borealis J. Compton had hunted mule deer with it, as had his father. And the .270 caliber bullets could stop most mammals. The heirloom was likely over a thousand years old, and possibly the only thing on this—or many other human ships—that had actually seen Earth I. Here, 30 million light years from its manufacturing factory, the simple, effective design was about to down a new kind of predator.
Chewing the inside of his cheek Keffler took peered down the flip up back sight and through the hood. Sighted at about 500 yards, he aimed a little low, of the first advancing pirate. Gravity-schmavity. He squeezed the trigger.
A solid kick. Alaska’s love tap rocked Keffler back slightly. A plume of dirt behind his advancing target told him he’d killed the floor. P’Xak was firing frenetically over his should as her and the others rushed away from the hit squad.
Keffler yanked the bolt-action rapidly and tucked Alaska deeper into his wiry shoulder.
“Little to the right…”
Blam! The pirate twisted sharply and staggered, staggered and fell.
“Space armor, my swiveling chair!” Keffler snorted. He cranked the bolt again.
His jubilation was cut short as another spout of plasma scorched across Garden Pane 2. He looked back and saw the pirate in some advanced space suit, and lumbered with a heavy backpack fuel cell and hand cannon.
Keffler shook his head and took a bead. “You’re burning my plants you back-bred, sphere hugger.”
“Take cover in the trees!” Micron ordered. The pint-sized android dropped back to fire of a maser round.
Braevel ran on with the grace of a child in a sleeper-suit too long for his own feet. The Duklagan’s water suit squished and flapped with dead weight, but somehow the medic managed to keep Crimson upright as he ran. Her systems were rebooting, and she managed to pump her legs into action. One of Keffler’s orchard groves were in front of them, but a good 50 meters. Before that was the fish pond. And they were now in the open.
The dirt at their feet popped and tossed as bullets struck around them.
The roar of the plasma cannon and a blast of hot air struck their backs.
“Crimson, get down!”
Braevel skidded down the bank and towards Keffler’s fish pond. Crimson dove to her robotic knee and slid down the short bank as well, as plasma energy screamed over their heads. Her maser was gone.
“Braevel, hand me your—where’s your maser?!?”
The medic was on his belly, both hands in the dirt, his reflective face mask a blank tilt of indifference. “I dropped it to get you!”
Weapons continued to fire. Crimson heard Micron buzz away to their left, clearly in reconnaissance mode. Away to their right P’Xak was yelling and firing, but the sound of the pirates’ weapons was growing more profuse, and louder.
“At the risk of sounding selfish,” Braevel said, his visor darting a wistful glance behind them, “I think we should hide in the pond.”
“I’m a diablos cyborg!” Crimson snapped.
Braevel’s translator worked quickly: “A diablos cyborg, with no weapons, on a ship overrun by pirates,” he corrected.