“We’re not going to look like Skedcom for long,” Shaak-Rom said. They stood in front of the airlock, waiting for the alarm to sound the all-clear. Gator’s fake docking codes had gotten them a mid-level airlock on the Irglikerrg’s HR side. It’d be all bureaucratic brown-nosers, and Optipad-traps. Crimson would have preferred a labor-level airlock, but the Boatman’s size didn’t warrant that kind of business. They’d sent over boring middle-manager Opti-work, and hopefully no one would bother to welcome them on board. But if they did, then Shaak-Rom was right: they wouldn’t pass as Skedcom foremen. The Trivven was wearing his bulky stone armor; Andross his red Missile Pilot suit; Micron was a half-pint, naked android with nowhere to stash his maser; and she was a cyborg in a tank top. She still felt chilled from frozen Qwent, but the feeling of cold was the only thing distracting her from the knot of tension clenching her insides.
She forced her teeth to separate so she could speak. “Dock workers are likely innocent. Masers only; target their inner ears for full knockout.” The mini masers weren’t much to work with, but it was better than concussing everyone, or worse….
“Head shots…” reveled Andross, lifting his mini maser with both hands.
Crimson swatted his stun gun down with her human hand, with a dark glare of knotted energy. “Wait!” she growled. At least see if there’s anyone…! her Mindframe flailed for hope.
The airlock pinged. With a hiss the rotating door rolled away.
It had been too much to ask. Crimson’s stomach constricted further as the boots of three Skedcom dock workers showed beneath the opening portal. Then the bounty hunters stood revealed to the Sedcommers in uniform blue cover-alls. They were Qualvanan, with rebreather bags. Suspicion twisted their tentacled faces.
Pwap! Pwap! Pwap!
Andross’ mini maser popped to life. At 3.5 meters the shots were clumsy. The Qualvanan’s legs, bodies, and arms spasmed as they lost muscle control from the poorly aimed shots. But the missile racer from Talconis VII hadn’t lost his reflexes in space. He crossed the airlock, and placed three shots in three faces before 2.8 seconds elapsed. Even Shaak-Rom, Legacy Duka Master, only arrived in time to catch one of the falling bodies as they crashed to the deck.
The dirty, industrial space station corridor lay momentarily open before them. A nose-stinging , pungent grime filled the air. Technically it was O2; but Qualvanan slave stations apparently didn’t bother to keep to universal specs.
The boys dragged the bodies inside their empty port-control office and restrained them.
Crimson only had half of her flesh left to crawl, but it did. The dingy air was heavy with mining grime, and rancid moisture for unknown sources. The thought of an unlicensed surgeon performing amputations, and attaching crude mining appendages made her Mindframe run a quick catalogue of infectious diseases. Visions of crusted, swollen body parts clogged her Random Access Memory. Crimson licked the bitter, tangy air on her teeth, and tried to focus. “Let’s go.”
With effort Crimson maintained the lead, just behind Micron. He was their map, having downloaded every schematic of the Irglikerrg space station they had found. The Skedcom transport carrying their crewmen was docked almost half way around the vaguely disc-shaped space station. They’d have to leg it to reach them before they could be processed. Skedcom, Gator had informed them, was a reputable mining company; they had competitive prices and allegedly good working conditions—according to standard workplace compliances. Apparently that was all a front. The dirty underbelly that kept the prices low was what they had to find. Preferably before Tager, Olper, and Jumondo were forcibly turned into mining bots. Whether trafficked victims were processed for the mines quickly or slowly was momentarily irrelevant. If they could locate their crew before they were dragged off the transport shuttle, they would have a better chance of finding Lomblurrg before anyone lost a limb.
The reconnaissance android refrained from deploying his wrist- and ankle-wheels, and instead leapt ahead like a faun. Crimson had never seen a resident of the Andromenda III Galaxy; and while she was grateful they would lose no time, she cursed their “antelopian” physique. In a matter of minutes she was flushed, sweating, and the cold, sick dread in her stomach had turned warm and asphyxiating.
Finally the android pattered to a halt and in front of a service hatchway. Opening a flap in his forearm he selected an interface and plugged into the hatchway’s code panel. Crimson clanged up roughly and steadied herself on the exposed piping running along the corridor. Depending on how long the old police android took to hack the portal, she could take out her mobile tactical computer and check the Rival’s uplink of Tager’s whereabouts. Micron could drop them down a level, away from the respectable sections of the Station where they were less likely to be stopped and questioned. Then they could make for the Vizavian’s position.
She had her small backpack off and locked in her cybernetic fist when Micron announced, “Access granted.”
“Snakespit.” Crimson unclamped her fist and yanked the backpack on.
The hatchway clicked and buzzed, then the panels separated and revealed a vertical shaft and a rusty ladder. Without a word Micron hopped across the shaft and latched onto the metal rungs.
A voice clattered down the hall behind them like a stun grenade. “Hey! What are you doing up here?”
Crimson’s, Androsss, and Shaak-Rom’s heads snapped up to see four Qualvanan Skedcom personnel. Their non-coverall uniforms put them higher up the food chain than the previous dock workers, and like many ranking Qualvanan’s they carried holsters and weapons.
They think we’re miners! Crimson froze, stuck between violence and subterfuge.
Andross wasn’t. Pwap, pwap! The mini maser spat uselessly down the long hall.
The Skedcommers dove against the wall, reaching for their weapons. Crimson remained immobile in unfamiliar paralysis. Like a security camera she watched the action: Andross charged forward, his maser yapping like a lap dog. Blue stun beams of heavier weapons responded from the Skedcom officials. Then the red, blue, and white stripes of the rock-armored Trivven raced between them all. Seconds dragged as Shaak-Rom barreled through the barrage of oncoming beams. Then, like a mongoose, he was among them. His stone baton cracked left and right, disabling firearms. A long kick sank into the chest of an official, knocking him against the wall. With another turn the sword-like baton struck another on the head. A lightning-quick elbow strike followed with another sword blow, and the distant melee was concluded.
From halfway down the hall Andross hooted, “Oh yeah!”
Crimson shook herself. Micron still clung to the ladder twisted to look back. Sensing the conflict over, his warm—strangely human—eyes invited her to follow him. Then, with simian grace, he descended into the service tube.
Clamping her robot hand on the rusted rung, Crimson pulled herself over the access void. Her foot and robot foot followed with a familiar clank. Ladders. Stairs. Curse them all.