Hunter’s Moon: Part 7

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Night only lasted a couple of hours on Tombstone, and it provided little cover. The second moon loomed over the horizon like a glowing holiday ornament, comically large in the otherwise empty sky, casting its reflected light across the valley below.

“Hunter’s moon,” McGrath said under his breath, as he and Abigail watched the train snake its way through the ravine toward the distant towers of Prosperity. 

“What?” She shifted on the jetcycle’s seat in front of him. 

“Old Earth term. Pre-Industrial societies called a satellite as big and bright as that a ‘hunter’s moon.’ It helped hunters find their prey in the dark.” 

“That’s appropriate, I guess.” 

“It’s not doing us any favors. They’ll see us coming. That whole valley’s lit up like a shooting gallery. We’ll never make it through undetected.” He checked his sidearm for what seemed like the hundredth time. Despite being a product of cutting edge Solarian manufacturing, it was practically useless against the Rigelian’s force field. He might as well have been carrying a sling shot. 

“At least we have the element of surprise.” Abigail glanced at her bandits. Flora and Vernon had helped her recruit four others, and they’d armed themselves with a small arsenal of explosives and projectile weapons. 

“It’s not much, but I’ll take it.” McGrath settled into the seat behind her. “How long until they reach the spaceport?” 

She examined a holomap projected on the inside of her right forearm. “At their present speed, about twenty minutes.” 

“Let’s make this quick folks. Just like we discussed. Once Flora blows the tracks, Vernon, Cyrus— you cover the rest of us while we board the train. The goal is to capture Donner alive. Everyone else is expendable.” 

“What about the Scaly?” asked Edgar, a world-weary ex-merc who’d found himself trapped on this planet many moons ago after a scuffle with pirates. 

“As far as I’m concerned, she’s collateral damage.” Memories of the War still haunted McGrath. The only good Rigelian was a dead one. Short of starting a major diplomatic incident, he’d do anything in his power to keep them from getting their claws on whatever Donner had stolen. 

“All right. Let’s do this.” McGrath tugged on his helmet and reconfigured his duster into body armor. He locked his arms around Abigail’s trunk as she throttled the jetcycle’s engine to life. Stabilizers released, and the ’cycle shot off at high speed, propelled by an antigrav field down the slope toward the valley. 

The other bandits took off behind them. Flora zipped by, afterburners spitting white fire. She gunned past the train and toward the tracks up ahead, repulsors ripping up a tail of dust in her wake. Soon she was nothing but a speck in the distance, receding toward the horizon like a desert mirage. 

Abigail fell in behind the train. She matched its speed and slipped into its shadow. The other bandits fanned out behind her. McGrath checked his internal chronometer, which appeared in his peripheral vision. He hoped Flora was as good as Abigail claimed she was. 

Watching the tracks ahead and waiting for the inevitable explosion, he ran through the plan of attack in his head. Cripple the train, neutralize the Rigelian’s human body guards, separate the passenger section from the other cars, and isolate Donner. Simple enough. Only, it most certainly wouldn’t go that way. No plan ever did. 

A deep rumble shook the jetcycle. Abigail course corrected, keeping them aligned with their target. Gouts of flame erupted in the distance, spewing chunks of debris into the air. She let up on the accelerator and matched speed with the train as it began to slow. 

“See, I told you.” 

McGrath imagined her wry smile behind her helmet’s dark visor. 

She nudged the ’cycle up to the back of the train, and he leapt from the seat onto the rear car. He grasped a handrail and placed an explosive charge against the armored door. Red lights flashed. 

Abigail swerved to the right, and McGrath covered his face as the explosive detonated, blowing a gaping hole in the door. 

He drew his weapon and ducked through the opening. Smoke clouded his vision. Shuffling movement caught his attention from across the compartment. He popped off two rapid shots, and a figure slumped against the wall and fell over, collapsing on a stack of cargo containers. 

When he’d finished scanning the car and found no signs of other guards, he signaled the bandits to come aboard. Like a swarm of angry hornets, they surrounded the rapidly decelerating train. Vernon and Cyrus held position to either side, weapons directed at the rear car. 

Abigail brought her jetcycle back up to the train and deployed magnetic clamps, then dismounted and joined McGrath. She opened her right hand and flexed her wrist. A derringer snapped from a spring-loaded wrist holster. Its targeting laser drew a scribble of light through the dissipating smoke. 

The others arrived shortly after: rugged Edgar, stealthy Zephyra, and brutish Kelley. Abigail’s Angels. Armed to the teeth and itching to do some damage. 

Abigail checked her forearm display. “We’re about to have company.” 

“How many?” 

“Hard to say. Looks like three, maybe four headed our way. All humans by the looks of ’em.”

“Good. Humans we can handle.” McGrath knelt by the guard he’d killed and examined the body. The man—boy, really, judging by the scruff of beard on his chin—wore flimsy body armor and carried a submachine gun. McGrath’s guts knotted. Just some fucking kid. “This isn’t one of the Magistrate’s. Probably a local rent-a-cop.” 

“The others will be more heavily armed,” Zephyra said, nimble fingers adjusting the digital controls of her rifle.  

“Good thing we came prepared.” Abigail slapped her on the shoulder and took cover behind a stack of crates secured by cargo netting. 

McGrath steeled himself, anger burning in his veins. He joined the others behind the crates and aimed his weapon at the door. The clomp of heavy footsteps and shouting echoed through the passageway beyond. A bead of sweat rolled down his face and dripped from his jawline to stain the inside of his helmet. 

The door whisked open, and without waiting for an ultimatum, McGrath and the Angels unleashed their fury. 

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