Authors: James Wisher
on his light a moment before the tunnel sealed behind him. In the barely adequate light he found himself in a tunnel much like the one he took to reach the tower. They probably ran all over the place under the city. Another blast shook the tunnel and Marcus picked up the pace. The last thing he needed was to get buried under a city.
The tunnel ran mostly straight, sometimes curving a little to his left, but no branches presented themselves. Five minutes later he reached another set of rungs hammered to a stone wall. He flashed his light up at the ceiling, another hatched waited twenty feet up. Getting it open might be a trick if it weighed as much as the last one he had to open. Marcus clambered up the rungs, they felt sturdier than the first set he climbed down. At the top he put his shoulder into the hatch and straightened his legs. It rose easily and the rung he stood on held rock steady.
The moment he cracked the seal on the hatch the rumble of explosions reached him. He climbed clear of the tunnel and found himself in an alley between a pair of undamaged buildings. He ran to the end of the alley and turned back to face the tower, crimson streaks rained down like lightning, blasting the tower and the surrounding area. The cruiser had blown the dishes off the tower. The top half of the tower itself lay in a pile beside the base. Flames shot out openings lower in the structure. As he watched, another blast streaked down from the sky and blew a chunk out of the side of the tower. He shook his head. In a couple minutes there’d be nothing left but rubble.
“Marcus, can you hear me?” Solomon sounded frantic in his ear.
“Yeah, relax, I’m fine, and I’ve got the generator.”
“That’s great, but the three Void assassins prowling around a couple hundred yards from the ship won’t let me relax. Where have you been? There’s a cruiser pounding the city from orbit.”
“Underground, and I noticed the bombardment. It was kind of hard to miss.”
“What should I do about the assassins? I can take them easy enough with the ship’s cannons.”
“No!” Marcus had a moment of near panic. “Whatever you do don’t lower the cloak. The second you do the cruiser will spot you and then we’re screwed. Hanging tight, I’ll deal with the assassins. I’m about twenty minutes away if I hurry.”
“You’d best hurry then, because if they get much closer they’ll see the shimmer of the cloak and call it in.”
Marcus flipped off his flashlight and jogged towards the ship through silent streets. All the Scrappers must have fallen back to defend the tower and the only other people in the city were sitting catatonic in overstuffed chairs so their brainwaves could feed a bunch now most likely dead aliens. Marcus hesitated, should he try to collect the prisoners? The ones he saw didn’t look in very good shape and who knew what mental damage they’d suffered. No, he had to get back to Solomon and get the generator to Dra’kor.
A blast of green disruptor energy shot out of an alley to his left and missed him by a foot. He dove toward the alley, hoping to cut off the assassin’s angle of attack. He rolled, popped back to his feet, drew his blaster and ran on. Marcus skidded to a halt beside the left hand building and leveled his blaster. A second later a black mask appeared in his sights and he fired. As advertised the blaster penetrated the assassin’s shield and blew its head to bits. Marcus grinned. He’d have to thank the boss for such a useful toy.
“Solomon, are the three assassins still there?”
“Yes, but they’re all looking away from the ship.”
“That’s probably because I just killed one of their buddies. Are they moving my way or just looking?”
“Just looking for now.”
“Good. Tell me if they move.”
Marcus ran away from the alley and started on a long loop that would bring him to the ship from the opposite side from the assassins. The rough streets made it tricky to run without losing his footing, but he didn’t dare slow down. If he could get to them before they lost interest in their dead friend he’d have a huge advantage.
Dirt and razor ferns indicated the edge of the city. In the dim starlight the field where he landed the
was just visible. If he didn’t know he’d landed there he’d have no idea his ship sat just a few hundred away. Marcus slowed, both to catch his breath and so the assassins wouldn’t hear him coming. He set the generator down and pulled an adhesive grenade out of his satchel. He didn’t want to risk damaging the stupid thing now that he’d almost gotten away with it. Marcus pulled the pin, but held the lever down.
He eased closer, one of the razor ferns sliced his pant leg and the skin beneath. He stifled a curse and kept moving. Crouching to shrink his silhouette, Marcus peaked across the clearing. Three Void assassins milled around as though uncertain what to do next. He’d never seen the black masked killers acting uncertain. Well, he didn’t plan to complain about his good fortune. He threw the grenade which landed right in the center of the group. They looked down at it an instant before it blew, sending streams of industrial adhesive spraying over the unfortunate assassins. Stuck in place, their weapon arms immobilized, the assassins squirmed, trying to wriggle free. Marcus finished them with three well placed shots.
Before he could board his ship and run for his life he jogged back to where he left the generator and collected it. He used his gauntlet to lower the ramp, it looked like it appeared from nowhere. Marcus raced up the ramp, and closed it behind him. The generator fit snugly in one of his storage bins. He snapped the lid shut and ran up to the cockpit.
“You got it?” Solomon turned toward him when the door slid open.
Marcus nodded. “Locked down and ready to go.”
“Great. How are we going to get out of here?”
Marcus activated the antigravity generator and retracted the landing gear. “Very carefully.”
He turned the ship away from the burning city and flew toward the opposite side of the planet. With minimal thrust and staying as close to the ground as he dared, Marcus did everything he could to avoid attracting the attention of the huge back Void ship raining death down on the planet. When the curve of the planet blocked them from the enemy ship’s scanners Marcus shoved the throttle forward and shot into orbit.
“Course laid in,” Solomon said.
Marcus pulled the lever and they shot into the swirling vortex of hyperspace.
ere it is
.” Marcus handed the generator to Dra’kor. They stood in the first councilor’s personal lab, surrounded by enough technology to make Solomon drool and Marcus’s headache. They’d made it back to the council asteroid without trouble, thank the universe. He’d had enough trouble for a few days at least. “I thought it would be bigger.”
Dra’kor hefted the box then held it up to examine the connections on the underside. “It connects to a ship’s hyperdrive and modifies its function. The ship provides the power and most of the hardware.”
“So it’s like adding a sound suppressor to your blaster.”
Dra’kor nodded. “Something like that. You’ve done a great thing retrieving this. Once we determine how it works we’ll be able to mass produce a countermeasure and deprive the Void of a potent weapon.”
“Do you think you’ll make your hyperwave engines work with this?” Solomon asked. “It’d be cool to see what’s in the next galaxy over.”
“It may help, but the technology works on two different principles.” He shook his head. “This isn’t my area of expertise.”
Solomon nodded, a little frown curling his lips.
“What about this?” Marcus dug the data chip out of his pocket. “Should we warn them or let the Void clean them up?”
Dra’kor took the chip. “You promised the Scrapper leader you’d warn the others.”
“Yeah, but at the time I’d have promised him just about anything if it got me out of there in one piece. This might be one of those occasions where letting the Void do what they want may work out for us. Of course, I don’t know if all the Scrappers are violent. Some may live peaceful lives out in the middle of nowhere.”
Dra’kor nodded. “We will warn them. I wouldn’t wish the Void’s revenge on anyone. What will you do now?”
“Iaka needs a lift to Alpha. We’ll hang out there for a few days. I haven’t visited the little guys in a while so I’ll probably play deity for an afternoon. After that…” Marcus shrugged.
They shook hands. “Take your time and as always excellent work.”
Marcus led the way out of the lab. The door closed behind him and Iaka came running around the corner. He grinned. Man, she was a sight for sore eyes. She hugged him and he sighed. Iaka still cared, he could feel it in the way she trembled in his arms.
“I was so worried,” she whispered in his ear.
“I’ll meet you two on the ship.” Solomon fled back to the hanger.
Marcus kissed her. “It’ll take more than a few Scrappers, Void assassins, and a cruiser to keep me from coming back to you.”
She slapped his chest. “Don’t joke. You could have gotten killed.”
He took a step back and held her at arm’s length. “That’s the job, and I’m good at. I think everything I’ve done has led to this job, working for Dra’kor, dealing with some of the big problems out there. I can’t tell you how satisfying it is.”
“That won’t keep me from worrying.”
Marcus slipped an arm around her waist and they started down the hall toward the hanger. “I know, and I love you.”
She stopped and spun to face him her eyes wide and shining.
He nodded. “I love you.”
She hugged him again. “I love you too.”
away from Marcus and Iaka. It wasn’t that he wasn’t happy they were happy, but he didn’t need to watch. He took the back passages to the hanger, meeting no one. The door slid open and he found the techs still refueling the ship. Solomon waved to them and went up the ramp.
He probably had a little while, maybe a long while if Marcus found an empty closet on his way back. Solomon went to his room and fired up his slate. When it had connected to the net he tapped his messages and a new note popped up. His breath caught in his throat when he saw the signature. The Queen of Hacks. Emily made it off the ship in one piece. Solomon sighed, not sure why he cared, but glad she’d made all the same. He started to tap the message then stopped. He didn’t want to know what she had to say, not yet. It was enough that she was still alive. Perhaps he wouldn’t send that virus after all.
ames E. Wisher
is a writer of science fiction and fantasy novels. He’s been writing since high school and reading everything he could get his hands on for as long as he can remember. This is his sixth novel.