“Yeah, but what is it?” asked Jumondo.
“Wait for Crimson. If we delay just long enough, she and the others will bust Lomblurrg and the next faces we see through that door are friends.”
“What if she’s late?”
Tager shook his head. “I’ve got one trick left.” Electronic eyes were watching them. He resisted the urge to pat the side arm concealed in the small of his back. “Play along as long as we can… but don’t let them cut you.”
One by one they began undressing, piling their cloths on the bare shelves. Tager had a bit of fidgeting to shift his holster beneath his undershirt and briefs while appearing to undress normally. “This is as far as I’m going,” he announced before the others got completely naked. If Lomblurrg’s guards insisted on nakedness, they might get their surprise a little earlier. They’d put enough on the line, and seeing the brutal beating the guards were ready to administer… it might just be time for a slave revolt. He looked at the other slaves. Apprehension and doubt was carved into their weighted expressions as they tried to sit comfortably on the hard, cold chairs.
Perhaps they would help. He spoke up, loud enough for everyone. “Not sure this was such a great idea… Don’t think I’m gonna’ let them alter me.”
Several of the other looked at him, offense in their eyes at the conversational tone. Even the Waskelnec, his T shirt soaked orange from beating he’d received, only looked up for a moment before sadly returning his eyes to the floor.
The job was a scam. They all knew it by now. But they had no fight in their eyes. They were trapped. Looking at them Tager felt it; worse than the doors, worse than the airlock, worse than the hooked poles: they were trapped by the circumstances that had brought them here. Desperate already, surgical alterations and forced labor seemed like the only viable option.
Tager looked to his left where Olper, the bald tribesman, and Jumondo, the hairy Grobaxian, sat with a brooding fire behind their pensive, waiting eyes. They would fight. But could they win? Even if they had the four other slaves on their side, could they defeat the guards? Tager couldn’t promise it. He felt his first real stab of danger.
Suddenly the door at the opposite end of the room opened. Eight large Gortassa of varying shades on the blue-green spectrum, with the big purple one leading, entered with hooked poles and white surgical frocks with short sleeves. The purple leader looked them over, and Tager prepared himself for another combat of wills over their partial obedience.
Instead the guard grunted and pointed various predetermined directions. The orderlies lined up by the slave, taking each roughly under the arm. Tager was shaken into line behind the Lascan, in front of the Waskelnec. Olper was ahead of them all, and Jumondo at the front. The big furry troll looked remorsefully over his shoulder.
“Everyone, this way,” ordered the purple Gortassa.
With armed guards on each side the single file regiment of slaves shuffled barefoot through the new door, and into a short corridor. The doors closed behind them. They stopped. At the far end another set of solid doors opened. Four guards advanced, leading Jumondo with them into the room beyond. Tager nearly stepped on the Lascan’s heals, expecting to be led forward. Suddenly the other guards marched out, and the door closed behind them. Just like that they were separated.
“Hey!” Tager shouted. He broke rank and pounded into the new door. It was solid, and the control panel was unresponsive. Olper was beside him; he looked especially helpless without his turban. “No!” Tager shouted, beating the edge of his fists on the unyielding metal.
He looked back and the other slaves were watching nervously.
There was no way his pistol could do anything. There was a security camera in one corner; regardless, Tager pat down the entire, empty corridor. Olper helped, looking for anything he might’ve missed.
Exchanging the worst look of his life with his sun-paled comrade, Tager crouched down on the floor, half way from each door. He slipped into a black wait.
Eventually the lights dimmed to a dreadful orange.
Still they waited.
It would have been a comedy in a holo-dram: the chunky, stone-armored Trivven squeezing through the service chute, followed by an awkward cyborg, and a swearing mercenary. When they finally kicked through the exit hatch, and tumbled out onto the industrial level of the space station it was a straight-up child’s program. Shaak-Rom even grabbed Crimson by the foot and dragged her out. She tried to straighten her modified spine while Andross fumbled out onto the deck.
“Which way?” Shaak-Rom was asking, checking up and down the long hallway.
Crimson pretended she hadn’t just been hauled through the hatch like so many spare parts and lifted her tactical display. “There,” she pointed.
They started out at a brisk limp.
“What’s your problem?” Crimson snapped at Andross, who walked like a technologically advanced zombie.
Andross wore an expression of either annoyance, or wicked glee, “Dastards upstairs clipped me with their stun beams!”
“I thought you were swearing more than usual. Did you hide the bodies?”
“In a closet,” grunted the merc. “Stunned ‘em again for good measure.”
We’ve been lucky… was the impulse leaving her brain’s speech center, when her voicechip pinged.
“Micron to Crimson. I’ve found the black market medical facilities. The door was wired; likely it was a snare. But I have also found where Tager’s tracker disappeared. This door seems unguarded, with no apparent traps. Get here—”
“Crimson!” Shaak-Rom was jumping back, colliding with her tactical readout. He shoved her against the wall with one heavy, stone arm.
Shouts of alarm and surprise came from down the hall, and a group of Gortassa started running towards them. Shaak-Rom leapt forward as well. Crimson pulled out her mini-maser and pointed it ahead. A Gortassa was shouting, “Code 9! Code 9! Escapees!”
Crimson tried to take aim, knowing it was futile at their current distance. But the Trivven, striped horns and all, covered the distance between them almost before a single beam of energy blazed through the grated corridors.
For the moment her wits and Mindframe-interface glided together with the grace of water. She could see Andross limping forward, returning fire from his pathetic maser. She took a bead on a Gortassa that was hanging back and calling in the supposed slave-escape. Her breath was in time with her steps. Squeezing the trigger on the smooth half of her stilted gait, she pegged him in the face with a burst of stun energy. But Shaak-Rom: she had never seen like this before.
Shaak-Rom turned like a dervish: his Grip-stone baton flew like a propeller, stunning head after head in the knot of armed technicians and foremen. Helmets and armaments went spinning and clattering to the floor. Hastily fired lasers either flew harmlessly past the whirling Duka Master, or were absorbed by the curious armor, with a smell of stale, baked stone. His striped dreads scattered and whipped in opposition to the flying sword.
Emergency lighting kicked in, dropping the already grimy station into an eerie, dank orange. The smell of rust and mining soot stung Crimson’s nose again. A painful voice blared between the klaxons: “Code 9. Code 9.” Andross hopped by on one leg finally adding accurate shots to the fray. Crimson stomped after them, still unable to get another clear shot as the Duka Master cracked the laser out of the hand of the last Gortassa, and stepped inside his guard to knock him under the jaw with a sharp elbow. The coveralled foreman piled to the deck.
Crimson and Shaak-Rom exchanged glances: success and failure. Andross was carelessly pulling his mini maser’s trigger and pointing it up, down, and sideways with no emissions.
“Out!” he announced. He tossed it to the deck among the fallen bodies. Then he slapped both his gauntlets and two vicious looking concealed blasters deployed at the wrists. “Now can I use these?”
Crimson was still staring at the mini maser, “Pick it u—never—let’s go!”
She and Shaak-Rom started off at a rushed trot. “Fine!” Andross whined, swooping up the fallen equipment and stumbling after them.