SLOW TRAIN TO ARCTURUS – snippet 5:
Internal confidential e-vox. Inward laser transmission.
From: Field Agent P. Firston, deep-space sector 3.
To: Agent Supervisor FJ Lu-Hellens
re: Weapons seizure.
Habitat unit 36 (Free Federation of Aryan Survivalists).
Illegal weapons detected with remote sensors in the personal effects of the attached list of embarkees. Will require at least four full enforcement units, and heavy ordinance and armor for confiscation before departure. Permission to schedule raid for 3.30 CMT, 11/1/2153
Internal confidential e-vox. Outward laser transmission.
From: Agent Supervisor FJ Lu-Hellens
To: Field Agent P. Firston, deep-space sector 3.
re: Weapons seizure.
Attached vox: private
From: Fenella Lu-Hellens
To: Paul Firston.
Word from on high, Paul. Ignore it. Ignore anything smaller than tactical nukes. We've been tracking most of the stuff for months. Most of it is twentieth century, obsolete, but better out of the solar system than in it. The boss says: So long as they're taking it outsystem on a one-way trip, who cares? Maybe the stupid bastards will find something to shoot at out there. If not, they can always shoot each other.
The platter-table was stacked with… things. The scientist part of Kretz wanted to categorize them more precisely but… he really wasn’t sure what they were. They steamed. The blackened bits looked… almost animal like. As if someone had dismembered and charred some creature. A large creature, about the size of a small alien. They oozed red liquid. The aliens waved them forward.
“Zawn. What is going on here?” asked Borch.
The archeologist smiled. “I think that we are being invited to a feast. A gesture of hospitality.”
“It looks like a burned alien hatchling,” said Selna.
“Hush,” said Zawn, sternly. “They’re bound to be offended by that, if their transcomp picks it up.”
“So what do we do?” asked someone. Most of the ship’s crew was here now, and several of them were still very wary of the aliens.
Kretz didn’t care what Zawn did. He wasn’t getting too close to the things first. He noticed that Selna too had thought this out and was at the very back of the Miran crew. The aliens had stepped back to give them a wide berth, a clear passage to the feast.
Zawn turned and smiled. “We go through the motions. Pretend. We can’t really eat of course. But it is a primitive gesture of welcome common to most soc—”
Whatever Zawn had been about to say was cut off by the roar of flame, leaping from the nozzle of a device held by two of the aliens. The fiery blast engulfed the Miran party.
The fire died back and Kretz, still stunned with shock, saw how the bare handful of stripe-faced aliens that had welcomed them forward to the feast had somehow multiplied. Now they were a mob, swarming forwards, screaming, teeth exposed, knives and other strange objects brandished. Kretz had little time to think about it, though. The aliens were onto them, attacking, attempting to pull them down.
The suits had withstood the fire easily enough. They were made to survive vacuum and the temperature variations of deep space. The fabric was tough, self-healing. It would take more than some primitive knife to cut it, with one slash. But the aliens were gleeful about giving the Miran a death of a thousand cuts. And there were just so many of them. Even setting fire to their own environment with the flame-thrower had not stopped them.
As he struggled with the aliens in this mad place of fire and smoke, Kretz heard Zawn desperately yelling over the radio for help from those still on the ship.
Knocked off his feet, pinned down with an alien stabbing repeatedly at his chest, Kretz hoped they’d come fast.
And then from somewhere closer at hand came other intervention. Selna had not obeyed Zawn’s instructions about the laser pistols being left behind. And somehow he’d managed to get it out and pull the trigger.
Selna hadn’t been aiming. His laser-bolt burned through several of their attackers—and navigator Bortch.
The aliens should have fled. But instead the mob turned on Selna like a pack of blood-crazed feral animals.
Kretz staggered to his feet as the aliens charged at Selna. He was still firing as they struck him. The laser pistol discharged most of its charge into the now exposed stanchions as Selna and an alien fought for it, while others pulled him to the ground. Kretz, struggling with the shock, reacted like any Miran male in danger. He tried to run. The best he managed was to retreat into a fallen fold of vegetation- clad wall. He saw that Zawn too was miraculously still on his feet, trying to flee with Pelta clinging to him.
And then came the sound of Guul—one of the drive technicians who had been left on the ship—yelling down the radio.
“Some kind of projectile weapon…” And then the sound of a mighty explosion echoed down the earphones.
Nutrient splashed out of tubes severed by Selna’s laser-pistol and hissed on the fires, as the alien mob pulled Selna down.
For a few seconds Kretz watched in horror.
The air was hazy with smoke. The little 'bots were trying to quench the flames. The crazy aliens didn't seem to care that they were destroying their own home. Warily, Kretz moved from behind the cover of the vegetation, heading across the gap. If he was to get back to his ship he'd have to get past them. They were dancing around Selna's body, kicking him and spitting on him. Making strange wild caterwauling noises. The sight was enough to make him want to rush in, to try and protect his companion.
But he knew that it was too late for that now. Instead he had to try and survive himself.
With relief he reached the next segment of luxuriant greenery. Nutrient fluid still dribbled from the pipes high up the flexible plastic wall, where Selna's last desperate laser-bolt had cut into it. The plants further across were burned by the aliens crude flame-thrower, but in this area still provided him with cover.
The piece of passage tore free of its stanchion under his weight. As he fell with it Kretz realized that cover did not equate with safety. That last bolt from Selna's weapon had not just cut nutrient tubes. And, worse still, the fall had drawn the aliens’ attention.
Even through the helmet, Kretz could hear the yammering and baying of the stripe-faced aliens. Transcomp was beginning to cope with some of the words, adding to the vocabulary that they'd already established, and applying inductive logic to try and deduce meanings and words. It coped with this particular input. It appeared that they were all screaming "Kill it!"
The entire pack of aliens surged after him as he staggered and clambered into the next passageway full of greenery. All he could do was run. So he did. His legs were longer than theirs, but they knew their way around in these labyrinthine passages and he had barely an idea of which direction he was going in. There was no thought now about making his way back towards the ship. The only direction open to him was further in, towards the core of the space habitat. He ran on down the endless coiled passages.
The baying hunters seemed almost frantic now.
Then an explosion knocked him flying.