“What the hell was THAT??” yelled Mehmet Tamm. He was in the cockpit of the Slice of Lime, idly musing that Mallory’s shotgun blasts seemed to weirdly in syncopation with a Bach etude Djinn had once played him. The blasts had filled the small passenger compartment of the Slice like a dense gas, and everyone was yelling over the dullness of their hearing and the periodic updates from Bishop emanating from hidden speakers throughout the shuttle. Tamm was responding to an unearthly screech, unlike anything he’d ever heard, and the crunch of something hot crisping Mallory’s ablative armor, and the slickly machined slip-CLICK of Mallory’s shotgun ejecting a casing and drawing another fat, orange shell from the thick magazine and settling it into the chamber.
Nearby, the ka-whump of a grenade exploding demanded attention.
“Kzinti!” then: “Grenade!” yelled Mallory. “We need to go UP! Bishop! Take us up out of here!”
“Got it,” said Bishop’s calm voice over the speakers. The unearthly feel of gravitons going strange passed through them like an alien breeze. The Slice displaced smoothly upward on a greased highway of tortured gravity. But it was abrupt – Mallory’s hands were full of shotgun, and while Weber had one hand on the ex-Marine’s belt, the sudden movement caused him to slip and, with a twist reminiscent of the butter-side of a dropped piece of toast wheeling about to ensure that butter hits the floor, Mallory sat down hard in the open doorway of the Slice.
Kzinti warriors are known to be tenacious, and this one, mercenary though he might be, was no exception. Having missed the opportunity to leap into the Slice through the primary door, he had come round the other way, leaping onto the starboard wing and preparing to plunge his plasma katana into the delicate circuitry that secured the door. He hissed in anger and frustration at the delays inherent of the initiative system.
A fourth rifle bullet pierced the delicate, incredibly complex skin of the Slice, preceded by a cry of pain and rage from ground, and evoking another alert on Tamm and Bishop’s screens.
As Mallory found himself suddenly on his ass, the Slice rolled hard to starboard, and the Kzinti’s claws left deep gouges on that delicate shuttle skin as over 200 kilos of kzinto-samurai went spilling off the wing and down the 35 meters to the shuttle platform. The impact shuddered the platform and the kzinti bounced a meter into the air, only to land heavily again with the sickening sound of splintered bones and bludgeoned meat. He was still alive – barely – but the right side of his body was crushed and useless, his breathing was flensed by ruined ribs, his organs were lacerated and began filling his abdomen with blood.
Is that… cheering, I hear? thought Mallory as, once the Slice had steadied itself, he took careful aim at the prone man in the bushes, who was clearing his rifle’s action in furtherance of sending another bullet Mallory’s way. Mallory’s shotgun sang it’s rough aria, and the man’s head transformed into a pinkish-gray cloud while his gun fell from nerveless fingers like those of a marionette with it’s strings suddenly cut.
Proximity alerts had doubled on Tamm’s controls, so he flipped on the landing cams to see what the ruckus was about. To starboard, one of the mercenaries had sheathed his rifle and was now bending to assist his grievously injured kzinti comrade. The broken tiger outweighed his friend by more than 100 kilos, so it was slow and painful going getting him to his feet. The other mercenary sagged under the weight of the kzinti as they made their way, with precarious slowness, toward the minishuttle. To the rear, a welcome surprise: a dozen Tewfikers had emerged running from the nearby treeline, surrounded the Ursae commander, tackled him, and were thumping him soundly their traditional weapon of choice: iron hard fists. Tamm could almost here the laughter of the Tewfikers as they elicited great boofs of breath from the Ursae with expertly delivered gut-punches.
Bishop took the shuttle back down, spun it gently to avoid putting too much pressure on the starboard maneuver engine’s internal housing (which had been damaged by a well-aimed rifle-shot) and blocked the kzinti’s path torward the minishuttle. “Lay down your weapons, then lie face down on the platform with your hands out in front of you, if you want to live,” Tamm ordered over the loudspeakers. The mercenary asked something of the kzinti and, after a moment, got a nod in return, and so after releasing his friend to slump slowly to his one undamaged knee, placed his weapons on the ground and prostrated himself, as ordered.
The kzinti, however, knew exactly what surrender would mean for him. Awkwardly using his remaining arm, the kzinti eased his plasma blade out of it’s sheath. As they watched, it activated the blade, nodded once toward the Slice, mumbled his final entreaties to the great beyond, then committed seppuku. His steaming entrails poured out onto the shuttle platform, and he died without another sound.
At this point, the fight was over, and Tamm, Mallory, Jiix and Dr. Wagner all exited the Slice. South of the platform, Mercenary Becky remained collapsed on the frozen ground, moaning in pain and semi-consciousness. Dr. Wagner examined her: she was in shock of course, her chest and shoulder were peppered with shotgun pellets, and each bled sluggishly. Worse, however, was damage down on her lower abdomen, pelvis and thighs. This was were she’d been hit by Dr. Wagner’s cryo-rifle, and the damage done was significant: the skin and epidermis was frostbit and already turning a necrotic gray color, fading into black; muscle damage on the thighs was extensive, and she’d need surgery and grafts before she’d walk again without an exoskeleton. And then there was the internal damage – rapid ice crystallization had shredded her intestines and bowel, and already her belly was beginning to distend as it filled with blood. This, more than anything, was the clock upon which her life would elapse
The other two mercenaries, the kzinti’s friend and the pummeled ursae, were comparatively uninjured (although the Tewfikers would contest that remark, and punctuate their points with jabs to the solar plexus). The crew of the G&T were quick to put them to the question.
- The kzinti’s friend put up a token resistance, but a couple of locals demonstrated for him a few lessons in the sweet science and his attitude became similar sweet. They’d been hired by Kykbandirz to investigate the star systems nearest to Cymbeline for evidence of the G&T. He estimated that perhaps six hired crews were even now jumping to various places as part of the search. But Kykbandirz suspected these ships were on something of a fool’s errand, and unlikely to turn up the G&T; instead, Kyk believes that the G&T is full steam for Mirabilis. He confirmed that Kyk’s opinion is that the crew of the G&T were agents of Spofulam conducting corporate espionage against the Ursae. Kyk firmly believes that they are after information regarding the Ursae experiments, to provide whatever they find to their employers and foil whatever Ursae plans they can.
- The ursae grudgingly confirmed the mercenary’s assertions, albeit requiring a bit of attitude adjustment from the Tewfikers. To catch up with the G&T, the Penny Dreadful was even now headed to Mirabilis is chase, hoping to catch up with the G&T and put a stop to their spying. Kykbandirz, however, was not headed to Mirabilis – instead, Kyk is headed to Kukulkan by way of Greenpernt, on business unknown. Weber was quick to point out that Bill Scaramouche had called to tell them that no less than five Ursae ships, including several warships, were going to be arriving at Greenpernt in the next week or so. Kykbandirz would be arriving soon after, according to the Ursae mercenary.
- Closer to home, the ursae said there were two more ursae warriors on the ship, plus a skeleton crew of mercenaries. The plan was to stay at the shuttle platform for 24 hours to make sure that the G&T didn’t show, then take the minishuttles back into orbit, report in (the minishuttle radios aren’t powerful enough to reach the ship) and jump back to Cymbeline to see if any of the other merc ships have found anything. Meaning, the ship is unlikely to know what’s taken place at the platform.