Hunter’s Moon: Part 5

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One thought burned through McGrath’s brain: Run. 

He stumbled back from the skylight and made a break for the edge of the roof. Swinging over, he gripped the ladder with both hands and slid down. The rough metal ripped through his gloves and chewed into the flesh of his palms. 

When his boots hit the ground, he released the ladder and shook his stinging hands, then ran toward the front of the warehouse. Drawing his gun, he dropped into a crouch near one of the large, wheeled vehicles. 

The clomp of heavy footsteps thundered from the warehouse entrance, followed by muffled voices and the distinct clack-clack of automatic weapons. McGrath slowed his breathing and focused on the steady rhythm of his heart, shutting out all distraction. Fear. Anxiety. Doubt. It all washed away. It was a technique he’d learned back in his soldiering days, and it had served him well during the Rigelian War. 

He peered underneath the vehicle and saw three sets of boots on the other side. He had a clear shot. Without hesitation, he popped off several rounds, which struck exposed calves and sprayed gouts of blood across the sand. He didn’t wait for the screams, instead charging toward the perimeter fence at full speed. 

Gunfire exploded around him, blowing grit into his face where the bullets slammed into the ground, narrowly missing their target. He spun and fired behind him, his weapon booming as it spat armor-piercing slugs. 

He managed to take out two of the Magistrate’s men, but a third drew a bead on him with his hunting rifle. The weapon coughed, and heavy bullets tore through the air, one clipping McGrath’s shoulder. His duster’s armored fiber weave constricted, distributing the impact across the garment. It still stung like hell. McGrath returned fire, and the man dropped to the ground and rolled for cover behind one of the vehicles. 

The Rigelian stormed out of the warehouse, roaring in anger. She spat something in her language that took his chip a moment to work out. “Betrayed!” 

“No, no, he’s not one of ours,” one of the Magistrate’s men replied. “He isn’t—” 

“Lies!” The Rigelian struck the man with a wicked claw, slashing deep wounds across his face. The man staggered back, hand pressed against his damaged flesh. His lips struggled to form words, and blood spilled from his mouth. 

The Rigelian deployed a blaster from a vambrace on her right forearm. She unleashed a storm of plasma bolts that snapped through the air with an electric crackle. McGrath leapt behind the nearest gun tower, taking cover from the barrage. 

He checked his weapon’s magazine. He had a half-dozen armor-piercing rounds, eight explosive shells, and twelve standard anti-personnel rounds. No more fucking around, he thought, and switched to explosive. 

He peered around the tower and blinked his implants to one quarter magnification. The Rigelian and her escorts had gathered around the antigrav transport. No sign of Donner. Either he was still in the warehouse, or he’d already been secured in the transport. 

McGrath couldn’t afford to wait much longer. If they got away, he’d never catch them in time. They’d be off-world with his bounty before he could make it back to New Hope. He had to cripple that transport. 

The Rigelian snarled commands, and her men took positions around it, aiming their weapons at McGrath’s position. He tapped a code into his duster’s cuff controls and the garment reconfigured, sealing along the front and constricting into protective body armor around his arms and torso, expending nearly all of its power reserves to do so. 

He stepped out from behind the tower and walked slowly toward them, gun raised. “I don’t want any trouble. But I’m afraid I can’t let you take that prisoner.” 

The Rigelian hissed, narrowing her crimson eyes. Sunlight glinted on her black and red scales, and glutinous saliva dripped from the corners of her wide mouth. He could almost smell her fetid breath, which brought back unpleasant memories of the War. 

“Human,” the Rigelian said. “No quarrel with you. Don’t want to kill, but will if must.” 

McGrath glanced at the Rigelian’s escorts. What had possessed them to work for the monster? The Scalies had been brutal in their attacks on the Outer Colonies and their subsequent occupation of former Imperial planets. McGrath knew all too well. 

“That’s too bad. I guess I’m not as forgiving as you are.” He drew a bead on the Rigelian and squeezed the trigger. 

The alien’s eyes widened, and she let out a roar that shook the walls of the warehouse behind her. An explosive shell rocketed away from McGrath’s gun, riding a tail of flame toward its target. He ducked out of the line of fire as the Rigelian’s escorts unleashed a volley of bullets. 

The shell exploded a meter from impact. McGrath stared in shock as the blue corona of a force field flared to life around the Rigelian. Fragments of the shell ricocheted off the shield, tearing through two of the escorts. They collapsed, blood staining the sand around them. 

McGrath climbed to his feet and ran toward the antigrav transport. He had to know if Donner was in there. The dust settled, and his pulse pounded in his ears, throwing him off-balance. The Rigelian stepped out of the billowing smoke. The gaping mouth of her blaster drew an invisible line straight through McGrath. 

A low rumbling shook the air around them. She turned toward the perimeter fence. McGrath did the same. A suited figure riding a sleek jetcycle tore across the desert, braking just outside the autoguns’ range of fire. 

The figure tossed something into the air, which split into several smaller objects that flew under their own power toward the autogun towers. The guns were too slow to pick them off. A few heartbeats later, the objects attached themselves to the concrete pillars and detonated. The towers came down in a colossal explosion.

McGrath approached the transport and peered into the tinted windows. Unoccupied. Before the Rigelian realized what was happening, he stepped back and shot the transport’s engine housing. The explosive shell pierced the micro fusion ring, and the entire vehicle went up in a crackling column of blue flame. 

Furious, the Rigelian began firing wildly. Plasma bolts streaked through the air.

McGrath evaded most, but one struck him in arm, knocking him flat. His duster absorbed some of the energy, but its circuits overloaded. McGrath smelled burning flesh. Pain erupted from the point of impact. He gritted his teeth and struggled to sit up. 

The jetcycle screamed past the perimeter fence and swerved toward McGrath’s position. Its driver wielded a shotgun. The suited figure fired, and an air-burst shell spewed fragments of shrapnel at the Rigelian. The force field took the brunt of the impact, but it was enough to disorient the alien, and she retreated to the warehouse. 

Engines screamed as the ‘cycle settled into a hover next to McGrath. The figure raised the shotgun with one hand and extended the other toward McGrath. Without hesitation, he took it. 

He climbed onto the back of the vehicle and locked his arms around the figure’s trunk. The driver hit the thrusters, and they soared away from the warehouse. As they sped toward the perimeter fence, the figure tossed another scatter bomb, which wrecked the remaining ground vehicles.

No one was leaving that outpost now. 

McGrath collapsed against the figure’s leather suit, consciousness running out of him like blood from an open wound. 

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