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McGrath increased the magnification of his retinal implants, zooming in on the warehouse and its cluster of outbuildings. He crouched near an outcrop, his sauropod tied to a stake behind the large boulder.
Abigail’s intel had proved more than helpful. Donner had been hiding out here under the Magistrate’s protection since his arrival. The warehouse and its support structures comprised a remote outpost, about an hour outside of town. Four autoguns mounted on enormous sandstone towers protected the buildings from all angles.
A small group of ground vehicles surrounded the warehouse, and an armored antigrav transport idled near the entrance. Its rear passenger door lifted and a man in a sleek, black suit stepped out, accompanied by a pair of muscular escorts, both wearing dark shades and carrying automatic weapons strung across their shoulders. Off-worlders. Interesting.
McGrath wet his lips and let out a short breath. Three of the planet’s six suns blazed overhead. Sweat poured down his face and neck.
The escorts spread out and searched the front of the warehouse and the surrounding buildings. When they had finished, they gestured to the businessman. He raised his right wrist to his mouth and spoke into a communicator. McGrath couldn’t make out what he was saying, even on maximum magnification.
Another of the transport’s doors lifted. Out stepped a three meter tall reptilian humanoid, tapered muzzle opening to reveal rows of razor-sharp teeth. Crimson eyes scanned the horizon, and a spiked tongue tasted the air. A female, judging by her stature and bright red plumage.
“Shit,” McGrath spat. What the hell was a Rigelian doing here?
The businessman and his escorts accompanied the alien to the warehouse, large doors parting before them. They disappeared into the dark interior of the building.
McGrath canceled the zoom function, and his vision returned to normal. He tugged the brim of his hat lower to shade his face from the scorching suns. He had to get down there.
He ripped the stake from the ground and mounted his sauropod. The new saddle he’d purchased with the Magistrate’s money had made the ride out here much more comfortable than the one from the spaceport.
Getting past those autoguns shouldn’t be a problem. He still had some tricks up his sleeve. No half-decent bounty hunter took on a job without some specialized hardware, and McGrath had never been one to walk into a dangerous situation unprepared.
As he approached the perimeter of the outpost, he tugged on the reins and the sauropod skittered to a halt, hooting in protest at the sudden whiplash. He dismounted and staked its lead to the ground before tapping the cuff of his duster. Inwoven camouflage flared to life, masking his thermal signature.
Electronic jamming did the rest. Whether they tracked heat or motion, he was as good as invisible to the guns’ sensors.
He passed through the perimeter undetected, trudging along the sunbaked ground to the corrugated metal warehouse. He ducked behind one of the large vehicles, augmented senses probing out for signs of any stragglers. It appeared he was alone.
Still, he drew his weapon just in case, sweat-slick palm pressed tight against the grip. He crept around the rear of the vehicle and moved closer to the building.
He found a ladder on the side of the warehouse and climbed up to the roof. A skylight jutted from the center of the otherwise featureless surface, caked in dirt and grime. Cautiously, he approached the fixture. He crouched next to it and rubbed the filth away from one corner of the window. Peering through, he saw the shapes of several people far below, gathered around a stack of vacuformed plastic containers and a robotic forklift.
McGrath adjusted his cochlear implants, increasing auditory reception until he could clearly hear what was being said. Translation programs converted the different languages into Standard.
“Let’s see the goods first, then we’ll discuss handing over the prisoner,” one of the men said. He wasn’t with the Rigelian. From his dress and demeanor, McGrath figured he was one of the Magistrate’s goons.
The businessman exchanged a glance with the Rigelian. “Very well. I think you’ll find everything is in order.”
He tapped something into the control panel on one of the containers and the lid clicked open. Inside were black cylinders pressed neatly into cushioning foam. The man removed one and handed it over.
McGrath zoomed in. It was difficult to make out what it was, even on maximum magnification, but it looked familiar. He remembered the weapon the thug had attacked him with back in the Broken Jaw and realized it was a blaster’s ammo cartridge. Things started to click into place. The Rigelians had superior plasma tech, which they must be providing to the locals in exchange for…what? Tombstone had little of value to them.
The Magistrate’s man fitted an electronic monocle into one eye and examined the cartridge. “Looks good to me.” He turned to one of his associates. “Bring him out.”
McGrath leaned closer to the skylight to get a better view. When the associate returned, he had another man in tow. The prisoner wore magnetic cuffs on his wrists and a circular device on his temple. Nerve inhibitor. On command, it would short out his nervous system, triggering temporary paralysis. As he stepped into the light, McGrath got a good look at his ugly, weather-beaten face. Donner.
The Rigelian said something in her native tongue, which sounded like a series of hissing clicks and pops. McGrath’s chip struggled to find a proper translation program. The Rigelian language was complicated, and there were over a hundred dialects.
What came out was something like, “Take him to the ship.”
McGrath felt a surge of adrenaline. Not good. He couldn’t let Donner or whatever it was he’d stolen fall into the Rigelians’ claws. The government of Pollux III would be furious. Or worse. He could become an accomplice to war crimes, assuming Donner had made off with some kind of weapon or top secret information.
He climbed to his feet, resting one hand on the edge of the glass for support. Something snapped, and the entire pane tumbled inward.
The severity of his error hadn’t yet struck him when the glass hit the concrete far below, shattering into jagged shards. The men scattered.
McGrath stood there for what seemed like an eternity, staring down in disbelief. Then his brain caught up with his senses. His eyes made contact with the Rigelian’s, and he got a sinking feeling in his gut. “Ah, shit.”
Part 5 will be up on Saturday, May 4th.
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