“You did what?” Crimson growled. Even through the voice chip Tager could feel her hard glare.
“We’re pretty sure this is the guy,” Tager replied, keeping his voice level, “And we don’t have a lot of time. It was our best bet of catching him.”
“Fine,” she grunted, “I’ll ‘chip the others. Meet back at the Boatman, pronto.”
They didn’t have everyone. It was supposed to be a recon mission; now it was a rescue mission. Olper and Jumondo had put their tails on the line to catch the mad-surgeon. Now they had to make it count. Crimson counted ground troops: Gator, Tager, Clidjitt, Andross, Micron and Shaak-Rom.
She was with Gator when they got the ‘chip from Tager. The Megladyte, contrary to reptilian creatures, didn’t seem phased by the cold. Gator’s predator eyes crouched on top of his head and stared at her down his long snout. She turned to face him, and opened her eyes sarcastically. “They handed themselves over to slavers to get themselves a meet-and-greet.”
“But I thought you said we were meeting at the Boatman?”
She jerked a thumb vaguely towards the city. “Tager’s still free. Supposed to bring back their credentials for the ‘work recruiter.’”
“Beautiful,” Gator hiked his meaty fists up to his hips. They were waiting under a short aluminum storefront, and the Megladyte was crouching to fit. Cold wind whipped snow around them.
“Start thinking up a master plan to get them back,” Crimson growled.
“Yeah, right, that should be easy.”
She didn’t have time to stay for the show of rolling eyes. Spinning on her robotic foot she clumped out into the storm, pulling her winter hood tight at her throat.
Shaak-Rom closed the hatch to the Boatman and the swirling wind abated. The recon crew was assembled in the hold, looking the part of arctic explorers, heavily muffed and hooded—except for Tager. He seemed bluer than usual, and had neither his hat nor his scarf. The Vizavian shivered in his signature leather coat, but his eyes were focused and deadly.
Crimson looked around and took stock. Herself, Shaak-Rom, Gator, Clidjitt, Andross, Micron. The list wasn’t getting longer. A highly concentrated ball of nausea sat in the small of her stomach. It made her back molars tingle. She squelched the feeling with a hydraulic will. She hadn’t felt nervous in a long time. Wasn’t about to start.
“What’s going on?” asked Clidjitt’s high-voiced translator. Crimson had never seen an ant in a snow storm; he looked a bit like six-legged sheep, or perhaps an aged chia pet.
“Tager,” Crimson barked, “Spill it.”
The Vizavian rubbed his hands together and announced. “We think we found the guy, in the Gwolporb Projects. We had to pose as broke gamblers looking to work off some debt. Found a recruiter for the Skeddium trade, and told him we heard they paid by the kilo; people could give us enhancements to mine better. They agreed to take us, and said the transport for the Umdatsia Cluster leaves soon. They kept Olper and Jumondo as insurance that I would bring them our credentials. Of course we all had our credentials, but we weren’t going to tell them that. I managed to get theirs and escape without the slavers suspecting. I came back to get everyone.”
Crimson picked up there, “Now we have to hope they lead us to this crazy bastard Lomblurrg, and bust them out before her chops off any appendages we can’t put back!” She fought the shiver in her voice, and told herself it was the cold was creeping into her body through her metal pelvis and shoulder. She was fairly sure that was accurate. Her lips felt blue.
“Do we have any masers with us?” Shaak-Rom asked. His red eyes were keen. The Trivven had wrapped an endless scarf around his dreads and horns. His head looked like Crimson’s Minlink’s pictures of an Earth II Rastafarian, but from the frozen pits of Dante’s inferno.
She answered his question: “Only the Boatman’s emergency locker.” Crimson’s teeth didn’t separate as she thought about the three, smaller masers. They would be lucky to numb an adrenaline-pumped assailant. “I hope you’re all packing heat…”
Tager nodded, and Andross. Crimson found herself suddenly wondering if Andross had a GP carry-permit. It would have to wait if he didn’t.
“I don’t need one,” Gator volunteered.
“Me neither!” chirped Clidjitt.
“I have my Gripstone,” Shaak-Rom nodded.
Crimson considered the long stone baton the Duka Master wielded like a sword. “You can have a maser,” she grunted. “But what about a plan?”
“Can we track their location?” Micron asked. The android was half anyone’s height, and had changed his skin white for this mission.
Gator shook his enormous head, “Not without their credentials on them. If they’ve moved them anywhere, we don’t know where.”
“What about your magical new machine?” Andross asked. He was wearing his red Mipie armor, but swathed in an unflattering puffy jacket. “Can’t you hack into a security feed or something?”
Crimson wondered how much the crew knew about the Ballerrg machine. “Doesn’t work like that. It decodes transmissions. Unless they’re linkbursting a video log of all their travels, we won’t know about it.”
“You can track me,” Tager said sharply. “They’re expecting me back, with everybody’s credentials. You can follow the signal.”
Gator piped up, “I’ve been thinkin’ the same. Just to be safe we can slap a homing beacon on you too, in case they frisk you down or take your creds.”
“Fine,” said Crimson. “Do it. We don’t have a lot of time. Tager will go in first, and his job is to locate the others. Then we follow him, and bust Lomblurrg. I want all this info ‘burst up to the Rival and have her watching everything. We don’t have our tactical gear, and we can use any backup they can give.” She looked around at her squad of snowmen and monsters. They had the solid, serious look of ready soldiers. “Go!”