Crimson stood on one side of the hammered steel doors, with ironically creamy designs carved out of the handles. Andross, seemingly back to full functionality, stood on the other side in his stylish, brick-red MiPie armor. Clidjitt waited nearby, no maser in his claws. As Shaak-Rom ran up he heard Crimson order, “Clidjitt!”
The Brev clattered in front of the doors, and with two spiny front legs took hold of the right door handle. In two violent tugs the insectoid yanked the handle back and broke the locking mechanism. Inside an electronic chime sounded a piercing alarm. Like a swarm of carnivorous eels the Brev’s six arms and legs clattered in and out of the opening, selecting a position. Then, with a sudden strain, the heavy door squeezed open. Clidjitt dropped to the ground and pranced aside.
Andross stuck his maser in the door and scanned for guards. There was a no resistance; the human entered, checking left and right. Shaak-Rom still feeling a sharp pain from the tendrils of his dreads, followed into the clean white interior. Fluted walls and pillars of soft white material he didn’t recognize lined the hallways. Ahead of them three steps dropped to a beautifully mosaic floor, and many lush potted plants in a naturally lit ballroom with a fountain. Shaak-Rom and Andross took corners of the arched door frame. It looked clear.
Crimson’s metallic stomp followed them. An electronic crunch turned Shaak-Rom’s attention back long enough to see the human female smash the alarm panel with her cybernetic fist. The whining alarm glitched and sputtered. It continued to shriek in garbled bursts. Crimson rolled her eyes and shoved her robotic hand up into the wall paneling. She yanked down, plucking out a handful of wires like water lotuses from Tulperion’s spice baths. She dropped the bundle as the alarm fizzled out, and with her other hand threw off her heavy poncho. “Find him!” she barked.
Clidjitt scurried around them, and said, “I’ll check the halls.”
Shaak-Rom turned back to Andross, “Go!”
A cocky smile was his reply; the MiPIe rushed into the ballroom looking like a professional Special Forces unit carrying a woman’s hair dryer for a weapon. Shaak-Rom followed with his equally bulky maser. Besides the pleasant sound of trickling water there was nothing of note in the ballroom. Clidjitt joined them from a side entrance and scuttled across the room to an opposite egress and check the opposite hall. Shaak-Rom followed the eager pilot, and could hear Crimson’s one-legged pursuit lagging behind. Despite the danger, Shaak-Rom felt his red lips part as dry climate controlled air touched his sharp teeth; the team was swift.
Andross slammed into the next door frame covering a shallow angle. After his nod, Shaak-Rom slid past him and broached the doorway. The subsequent hallway was short and ornate, opening to a brighter interior beyond.
“Clear!” he hurried on, and halted at the next doorframe. Half of a sitting room with comfortable couches and low tables was visible to him. Andross was just behind him, Crimson coming. His voice chip sounded in his ear with Gator’s voice:
“Guards down. Secure out here.”
“Alright, check the rest—,” Crimson replied, but Shaak-Rom wasn’t listening.
His eye caught a fleeing movement as he slowly peered further around the corner. “Target!” he shouted. He burst around the corner, and saw a dark-clad, running figure. Wamp! The maser rifle reached out, but missed, striking an expensive looking vase from its stand and dropping it to the floor where it shattered.
Shaak-Rom repeatedly depressed the trigger, sending a wall of shimmering blasts through the air. He felt the presence of his team, and calm hunter-spirit slid through his veins. He moved out further into the room. Instinctively he dodged the attack:
A blink of a form not in retreat, and Shaak-Rom bent instantly backwards. Laser fire scorched the air where his chest had been. He rolled to the ground and onto his stomach behind a furniture piece. He grinned again. Popping up he fired back. It was too quick to see, and more rapid fire laser tore through the sofa, ripping holes in the soft white leather and igniting bits of stuffing as they flew through the air. Shaak-Rom stuck his maser around a corner and fired again. As predicted the laser rifle replied incinerating the couch where the maser had been. Shaak-Rom rolled fiercely the opposite way as the sofa exploded in a puff and flames. He scrambled behind a pillar, and shimmied to his feet. He looked across at Andross and Crimson, concealed in the opposite doorway.
He heard the laser rifle again and the marble column chipped. He senses registered burning stone. He might lose a hand, but it was the hunt. Switching his maser to the useless pepper-bursts function—small, quick bursts that only brought local numbness—he nodded across the smoldering sofa to his team mates. Switching his maser to his non-dominant hand, he stuck it around the column, holding the trigger down, releasing a storm of impressive sounding energy bubbles.
The laser-fire hesitated. Now that he had their attention, Shaak-Rom darted away from the column firing generally in his opponent’s direction. He slid further into the room behind another column, inducing another round of punishing fire against the pillar. It was enough.
Andross stepped around the corner and narrated: “B-ow! B-ow!” the maser blasts did the rest. The lasers fell silent. “Mm! How do you like your gangsta’?” Andross crowed.
Crimson clomped into the room, followed by Clidjitt, and Shaak-Rom rolled out to continue their search for the missing drug lord. They didn’t have far to go. Beyond the stunned and fallen bodies of the two enforcers was a secure door. Clidjitt relieved one guard of his key peg and inserted it into the control panel for the vault.
“Is it all clear?” came the voice from within. A well-dressed Pincho man, crazy head-coral leaning to the left, stepped cautiously forward. He froze when he saw Crimson.
The cyborg female toted her maser, “Clear as my criminal record.”
“You!” snarled the drug lord, reached for a concealed weapon.
“Oh no,” warned Shaak-Rom, taking a bead.
“Oh, please, do,” rejoined Andross, also pointing his maser at the drug lord.
Grula froze and then slowly withdrew his hands, empty and open. Clidjitt scurried forward, likely impervious to most damage a small side arm could do, and with his four free legs patted the criminal down and relieved him of two small weapons. Grula’s face soured like a lemon. “I knew it. You and your pathetic crew could not have smuggled anything past the Police scanners. Damaged goods, carrying dirty goods.” He spat on the floor.
Crimson snorted, her voice dripping contempt, “Damaged, huh?”
She hobbled forward. Up shot her robotic leg, and then down came the steel and titanium casing of her foot on Grula’s knee. The drug lord crumpled with a cry. In an instant she had his arm in her cybernetic hand. Another crack and sharp cry from the drug lord, and he collapsed in a heap. She glowered over him, “We all have to make due with what we have.” She turned and stalked out, “Take him.”
Shaak-Rom hesitated, disgruntled. Grula had already passed out. Shaak-Rom took out his restraints . He could tell instantly that the man’s arm was snapped, as he cuffed him. Taking a field kit from his belt, he injected pain killers and immune-boosters into the drug lord.
Andross watched with a weird grimace. Then he piped up, “Rom, what happened to your dreds?”
Shaak-Rom looked down. His armor was still scorched where the first encounter with the gate guard had caught him in laser fire. Three of his head tendrils were severed, cauterized at his collar bone. Suddenly the pain flared back to his consciousness. “I’m fine,” he growled.