He strained to hear the slightest of noises above his own laborious breathing. They were still out there in the darkness. He was sure of that now. Three times during the past hour he’d thought that he’d lost the ones who hunted him, and three times they’d turned up again at his back. He needed to rest, but the relentless pursuit wouldn’t allow it. To stop was to die, and he wasn’t ready to surrender up his life just yet!
He sensed, rather than consciously saw the movement, and immediately flung his agile five-foot eleven-inch body sideways into the blackness of the abandoned building! The old wooden frame of the doorway, where he’d been standing just a second before, exploded into hundreds of tiny pieces when the projectile from the lattice weapon struck it! Twisting as he flew through the air, Vyx tucked in his head and curled into a tight ball so he could execute a quick roll. A plume of dust and dirt erupted upwards as he landed hard on a sagging wooden floor covered with years of accumulated filth. His roll left him crouched in position to spring again, and a swift look around was all that he needed to choose his direction of flight.
As he sprinted towards the rear of the building, and the only other doorway illuminated by the soft rays of diffused moonlight outside, he strained to see the path in front of him. He couldn’t afford the time needed to pick his way slowly through the building, so he desperately hoped there were no gaps in the flooring, or accumulations of trash left by former building occupants that would trip him in the darkness.
Emerging at the rear of the deserted building, he flattened himself against the outside wall, gulping the hot, dry air of a peaceful summer night as quietly as possible. He didn’t have the luxury of standing in the doorway while he slowly scanned the street because he’d have been clearly outlined in the moonlight for any that had followed him into the building. The wall offered a modicum of protection from visual scanning, but it offered little protection from a thermal scanner. When nothing moved in response to his sudden appearance, he made a dash for the end of the street. The buildings on this block were all occupied by local citizens, so he couldn’t seek shelter here. On the Gollasko Colony, bursting into an occupied house would earn you a quick trip to the Body Disposal Depot. For that matter you might have your ticket punched early by disturbing the wrong party in an abandoned building. Like the nineteenth century American west at it’s wildest, people shot first and questioned later. Justice was dispensed from the fastest gun, and everyone here had a license to kill.
Making it to the end of the street without seeing anyone, and more importantly not drawing any fire, gave him new hope. If he could just make it back to his hotel, he might be safe. Armed guards patrolled the lobby, and sensors linked to automatic weapons safeguarded all other possible entrances to the building after dark. If only he hadn’t lost his weapon so early in the fight he might have been able to reduce the odds by now. He knew that there were at least three of them, and that they had to be using some kind of electronic tracking device. If he knew what they had, he might be able to give them the slip, but it could be thermal, infrared, auditory, or olfactory. It might even be a combination of all four. The newest ones, used by the Space Marines, did employ all four sensory systems, and the arms merchant employing these hunters usually had the latest and best for his own people.
Instead of trying to hide, which would be a waste of time, he sprinted down several streets and then ducked into a doorway to catch his breath. Nothing moved behind, but his pursuers had appeared from nowhere before, so he didn’t spend any more time there than necessary. No sense giving them a stationary target to lock on to. As soon as he was able to breathe easily, he ran on; his hotel still being at least eight more blocks away.
It took less than ten minutes to cover the distance to the hotel, but he was again breathing with difficulty when it came into sight. Rather than making an immediate dash for the front entrance, he stayed in the shadows across the street and observed the movements of pedestrians as he filled and refilled his lungs with air. He was just about to step out when he caught a glimpse of almost imperceptible movement several doorways down from the hotel entrance. Pulling back, he stared intently at the recessed entrance of the closed shop.
It was another fifteen minutes before he saw any additional movement. When you stare into a darkened area for a prolonged period, your eyes and mind begin to play tricks on you, but he was sure that there was someone there; someone who didn’t belong there; not at this hour anyway.
He backtracked a block without exposing himself to the watcher in the doorway. If he had his weapon, he’d have made a run for the hotel entrance, relying on his skill with a pistol to get him there. Without a weapon he was about as dangerous as one of the painted targets on a weapons practice range.
After dark, there weren’t any unbarred entranceways to the hotel other than the front doors, so he didn’t have a chance of getting to his room and reaching his backup weapons. The arms merchant that he had met with tonight would have been suspicious if he’d come wearing all of his hardware. They’d allowed him to enter with one laser pistol only because there were seven heavily armed bodyguards in the room during the negotiations.
Shev Rivemwilth, an Alyysian trader and arms merchant well known in the illegal arms trade, rarely left the sanctuary of the Gollasko Colony, and never ventured into Galactic Alliance regulated space where his arrest would ensure he never saw free sky overhead again. Rumored to be a front man, in the loosest sense of the word ‘man’, for the giant Raider organization that had become the scourge of the galaxy, the ugly creature neither acknowledged nor denied an association with the Raiders.
Members of a race that had migrated in non-FTL ships from many thousands of light-years across the galaxy, Alyysians claimed no home world in this Galactic Alliance space, although there were small colonies on several different worlds. Their unique physiology allowed them to be frozen solid and then thawed out and revived when they reached their destination. Typically about four-foot six-inches tall when standing upright, they looked a bit like erect versions of Terran toads. They all wore the same dark gray cloaks that covered most of their yellow skin. Being neither male nor female, the Alyysian were true hermaphrodites and could reproduce without contact with another of their species.
The meeting had started well enough. Vyx had set his translation device for Alyysian and they had gotten the pleasantries out of the way quickly. Then Vyx spelled out what he was looking to purchase, and after a bit of haggling and an examination of a merchandise sample, an agreement on price had been reached. Shev Rivemwilth had specified that payment would be required in two parts, half before, and half upon delivery. Vyx had just agreed, and stood to leave, with the promise of returning tomorrow with the first half payment, when the corridor door opened and a convicted Tsgardi killer named Recozzi, walked in.
A race more closely resembling Terran baboons than humans, Tsgardis sometimes filed their normally sharp teeth to sharper points to make their appearance even more menacing. Immediately recognizing Vyx as a Space Command undercover operative, Recozzi uttered a profanity and grabbed for his weapon. Vyx managed to draw his first and fired a shot that sliced off the top of Recozzi’s head just below his eyes. Shev Rivemwilth leaped for safety behind a sofa as Recozzi’s body, now almost lifeless, continued firing his automatic weapon as he fell. A wild shot hit Rivemwilth in one of his two hearts and putrid yellow-green blood began spurting all over the floor and furniture. Recozzi’s fire also hit two of the bodyguards, who let loose with their own weapons as they fell. By some miracle, Vyx was only grazed by a single shot from someone’s laser pistol. Diving for the door as weapons fire continued the light show inside the room, he lost his pistol as he tumbled. He decided it wouldn’t be prudent to reenter the room in order to retrieve it.
Vyx literally ran for his life, and made it safely to the street after descending the single flight of stairs in just three leaps. He was half a block away when the first shots were fired in his direction. Over the next hour, he played a game of cat and mouse with the Shev’s bodyguards. Unfortunately, he’d been cast in the role of the mouse.
* * *
The first light of dawn found Vyx still on the run. Long shadows were his only companion as he loped down deserted streets. Although no fire had come his way since the earlier shot at the abandoned building, hours ago, the hairs on the back of his neck continued to stand up, and he felt sure that the hunters weren’t far behind. It was the first time since he had come dirt-side that he appreciated the shorter day on this planet. The twenty-two-hour and forty-three-minute daily revolution meant that the sun rose that much sooner, and with the coming of the new day, the odds that he might actually survive increased dramatically. He’d be able to purchase a new weapon as stores opened in a couple of hours, and people would be moving about on streets that were mostly abandoned after dark, providing him with some welcome cover. Armed and less conspicuous, he might yet have a chance to reach his hotel room.
It cost Vyx three times what it usually fetched, but the old laser pistol was worth every penny under the situation. The shop owner generously threw in two extra power packs, both fully charged. Vyx tucked the pistol into his belt and warily exited the dilapidated pawn shop. The owner could probably take the rest of the week off on what he had made from the sale of the pistol.
Walking cautiously towards the hotel, Vyx mingled with the early morning pedestrian traffic on the sidewalk. It would seem a surreal sight to someone accustomed to life on most civilized planets, but every person on the street, except for the smallest of children, was carrying a pistol or rifle. Amazingly, there was very little violent crime in the colony. Occasionally a drunk would be rolled, but no vandals broke into homes here. The ones that had tried it, had long ago been delivered to the Body Disposal Depot, and with the entire citizenry armed, the surviving lowlifes were too smart to attempt it.
He got to within eighteen meters of the hotel before one of the hunters from the previous evening stepped out of the doorway where he had waited all night, and opened fire. Alert for any movement from that location, Vyx dove for cover behind a waiting taxi as the first shot was fired. The second went wide as well. The hunter must have only recently arrived in the colony because he apparently didn’t know that you never opened fire on a crowded street here. Before he could fire a third time towards Vyx, the local citizenry opened up on him. They weren’t trying to protect Vyx; it was just an automatic reaction to a fool firing into a crowded street.
For several seconds, lead and laser fire poured into the doorway from every direction. When the hunter fell to the ground, he had more holes in him than a brand new box of data rings. His two shots had missed Vyx, but two colony citizens were down. One was dead from a blast to the chest, while the other had received only a grazing injury to his leg. People crowded around the hunter’s body to see if they recognized him, but no one claimed any familiarity. It was further testimony that he was new here.
Vyx made it into the hotel while everyone’s attention was diverted and the before the sanitation truck arrived to pick up the two bodies. The guards in the lobby were on heightened alert as a result of the shootout in the street, but they didn’t stop Vyx from proceeding to his room after he flashed his keycard for the door.
As soon as the reinforced ferrocarbon alloy door of his room was closed and locked behind him, Vyx took a deep breath and released it slowly. He then retrieved the backup pistol from the hidden compartment in his suitcase, and slipped it into his holster. The pistol that he had just purchased was placed on the dresser and he would carry it in his belt when he left the room again, but first he had to report in.
Another pocket in the suitcase yielded a miniature radio transmitter. He stuck the three centimeter wide satellite dish against the window pane and aligned it using its audio locator capability. The RF signal from his radio would be transmitted to a tiny satellite, about the size of his fist, which he had placed in geosynchronous orbit around the planet upon his arrival. The satellite would then compress the encrypted message before re-transmitting it on his designated IDS frequency. It would take almost seventy hours to travel the two-hundred-ten light years to the Intelligence Section at Higgins Space Command Base, so it would be at least six days before he received a response.
From a subcutaneous pouch in his chest under his left arm, Vyx retrieved a tiny recording wafer. It contained a full account of his trip to the arms merchant, from the time he left his hotel room last night, until his return. A chip attached to the optic nerve of his left eye provided the image, and a chip embedded in each of the audio canals of his ears provided two audio tracks. Information delivered to the wireless recording device mounted over the ribs beneath his left arm traveled through his lymphatic system, so no transmission signal could ever be picked up by detection scanners. He delicately slid the tiny silicon wafer, not much thicker than an ordinary piece of writing paper, into his transmitter and pressed the send button.
His report sent, Vyx took a hot shower and climbed into bed to get some much-needed sleep. He should be safe as long as he stayed in the hotel, but his pistol went onto the nightstand next to the bed anyway.