Blame It On The Stars

Chapter 12

In which the Indiana Jones vibe increases, and That Jackass gets to be a big damn hero.

Kraglin’s first instinct is to run. He clamps down on it, checking with A’askvarii and Udonta – you never know, perhaps this alarm means freeze or die, or perhaps the entire floorspace has become a pressure pad, or –

A’askvarii’s already halfway up the stairs. Udonta sprints past fast enough to give him whiplash. “The hell you waiting for?” he yells. Kraglin spares a wistful salute for the golden bust, and follows.

They pound towards the light. Whatever delicate, invisible structure is holding the stairway intact has started to shake, and Kraglin’s too distracted keeping his balance to remember which of the steps are booby-trapped. He leaps the first two on instinct, following Udonta and the A’askvarii. But a tremor throws him off-balance when the other two dodge the false stair. Kraglin crashes straight through it. The platform crumbles under his heel and deposits him into freefall.

The sound that comes out of his mouth is animal terror. In that second he is utterly certain that he is going to die.

Udonta’s too far away to reach him. Kraglin sees his hand falter before he even tries. A’askvari-girl has reached the top of the steps, where Horuz and the rest have crowded through, and is shoving them backwards, scrabbling at the Kronan where he’s blocking the escape. No help from there, either. The last thing Kraglin sees before he tips back below the level of the step above is Udonta’s blank black visor, his reflection shrinking out of view.

This is it, he thinks. Congratulations to Figs. He hopes, in a final and surprising burst of altruism, that the A’askvarii gets that cut.

Then there’s a whistle.

And pain. A lot of pain.

It pierces Kraglin’s chest like – well, like a radioactive arrow. The momentum’s enough to drag him that half meter to the step above, pinning his torso like a bug on a corkboard. Gravity’s still in effect though. Body steeped in agony, Kraglin can’t muster the muscle control to grab onto the white platform through which the arrowhead is pierced. His eyes rolls back as he slips down the shaft. The metal’s stopped glowing, at least, so it’s not burning through him. But there’s still not enough friction and too much weight, and the shaft puckers the surface of the suit as he slides. Sharp metal fletching digs into the scrawny meat of his pectoral, from the inside. Ow, ow, ow. Fucking hell. If Udonta’s trying to mercy-kill him, can’t he at least do it right…?

Kraglin slithers free, followed by a long string of blood. Apparently, the lack of radiation also results in a lack of cauterization. It takes him a moment longer to realise that he’s not falling. And another to realize why.

Kraglin cracks his bleary eyes and looks up into Udonta’s mask. “Hey,” he slurs. Udonta, more concerned with the effort it takes to hold a lanky Hraxian deadweight by one arm, grunts. He kneels on the step, arrowhead piercing the luminescent marble perilously close to his knee. Tossing the skull to A'askvarii, he’s grabbed Kraglin by the wrist with both hands. Now, shoulders straining, he hauls his limp ass up and over, onto solid ground.

“You better thank me for this,” he huffs. Kraglin tries, and fails. Words are becoming difficult, losing form. His tongue’s numb and, for some reason, it’s getting harder to breathe. Oh yeah. Hole in the lung. It’s funny, that he can forget that.

Anyway, there’s no way he’s thanking him just yet. So for now, Kraglin takes Udonta’s muttered words as an order not to die. His head rolls on his neck as Udonta rearranges them, maneuvering clumsily while keeping balanced on the narrow, trembling step. He loops Kraglin’s arms across one shoulder, his torso plastered to Udonta’s suit by the increasing slick of red. Around them, the mausoleum rocks as if it’s caught in a cosmic storm.

“Alright, rookie. Let’s get you outta here.”

With a grunt and a ‘hup!’ Udonta stands, hefting Kraglin over his broad back in a fireman’s lift. He runs for the exit. Kraglin wheezes, throat helplessly opening and closing. He’s breathing but there’s no air going in. A massive weight is crushing his chest, and being bounced about like a blood-filled medibag that’s sprung a leak isn’t helping. Udonta’s helmet thuds off his ribs, and Kraglin sucks in a gasp on instinct – then regrets it, as it sends him into a fit of coughs. Coughing is, if anything, worse than the initial stabbing. Kraglin’s being dissected from within, and the racking heave of his body dredges up a mouthful of blood, tasting so strongly of copper that it makes his tongue ache. It dribbles down his chin and smears over the inside of the visor, slick and warm.

“Shit!” he hears A’askvarii say. The door’s shut, Horuz and the rest already stumbling back through the maze of traps and acid-showers. The commlink is right next to his ear, but she might as well be lightyears away.

“You got a patch?” Udonta asks, breathless. “Can’t take him out there when he’s got a hole in his suit.”

The fact that Kraglin’s deflating lung isn’t the biggest of their concerns is telling. Kraglin’s vision swims over Udonta’s dirty space-boots, and he concentrates on counting the laces as his body desperately tries to tell him that he’s drowning on dry land. It… doesn’t work.

Udonta kneels and rolls him off his shoulders – Kraglin’s chest protests, and he chokes weakly on blood. There’s hands fumbling along the seams of his suit, a tentacle wrapped around his waist to hold him steady as a flap of adhesive leather is smoothed over the arrowholes front and back. But Kraglin doesn’t feel it. He doesn’t feel anything, nothing at all – nothing except the rising flood of panic, as the crush in his chest cavity increases with every breath.

“Damn it,” Udonta mutters. A steady hand grips his helmet, keeping his head tipped back. “He ain’t good.”

The A’askvarii’s peering down at him from a million miles away. “He gonna make it to Doc?” she asks. There’s a lot built into that question. It’s old Ravager code – a law system comprised of only two maxims: steal from everybody except each other; and if you fall behind, you get left. A’askvarii-girl’s under no obligation to help him. Udonta neither. Heck, Kraglin doesn’t have a name yet – the Ravagers can walk away and find another sad, desperate sack of shit to fill his bunk and wear his boots. For a moment, he’s so convinced that they’re going to leave him that he forgets to fight for breath.

But Udonta’s hand tightens on the helmet’s ribbed rear. He muscles A’askvarii aside, scooping his other arm under Kraglin’s knees and making to hoist him up once again. “He’d better fucking make it,” he growls. Then, to Kraglin – “You hearing this, rookie? I just saved your worthless hide! And I want some goddamn gratitude, so don’t you dare die on me now.”

He sounds more angry than concerned. Anyone else, Kraglin would assume it was feigned. With Udonta, who can tell?

A’askvarii-girl considers them for a long moment. Or rather, she turns her helmet to face them, while considering racing on ahead and leaving them to die surrounded by blaring sirens and the rumble of destabilizing crystal. Udonta, from behind the opaque plaque of his visor, glares back, stubborn and fierce. The A’askvarii’s tentacles curl. Then she pushes out a deep sigh and grabs him around the ankles, halving his weight between them.

“C’mon then,” she says. “Let’s roll.”

A scrap of the broken coffin and a fourth bullet clip see them through the acid trap. They take it in two shifts; the A’askvari arranges Kraglin on Udonta’s back, giving him a slap on the thigh and an order to hold on tight before bringing up the rear. The tomb is shaking properly now. Kraglin’s vision greys and his blinks get longer, but he sees the cracks snaking after them, rupturing the smooth marble bed.

“Gravitize!” Udonta yells, jumping onto the wall. He runs them up and over the pressure pad and forcefield combination, then swears at the sea of laser beams ahead loud enough to jerk Kraglin back to semi-consciousness.

“Just run straight through!” calls A’askvarii-girl. “What more can go wrong?”

That’s a shit plan, Kraglin attempts to say, but is restricted by the blood filling his airway. Udonta, on the other hand, hops on the wall like a demented puppy. “Great idea!” he bellows. Then drops his head between his shoulders like he’s aiming a headbutt, and charges.

If Kraglin wasn’t busy coughing up his lungs, he’d probably throw up.

The lasers jar and break around them. There’s another wail of alarms, more deafening than the first, and –

The wall beneath Udonta’s boots shakes.

Then again.

And again.

“Shit! Shit, shit, shit!” A’askvarii-girl streams past them in a flurry of tentacles. Kraglin raises his head, just a fraction, and makes the monumental effort of looking over his shoulder. Then regrets it. Shit indeed. All down the booby-trapped corridor, transparent gates are falling. They’re thinner than a planetbound vessel’s windscreen, but Kraglin’s not fooled – judging from the way the whole damn satellite skitters about whenever one drops, they’re landing heavy enough to slice a man in two.

“Hurry up!” The A’askvarii screams at them. The shakes are growing, like earthquakes before an eruption. Closing in. “Come on, come on, come on –“

Udonta plows forwards. The impact of his boots jars what little oxygen Kraglin can retain right back out of him again. The end of the corridor yawns, starlight unprotected by any atmosphere and prickling at his vision; from the way Udonta’s tensed, every muscle straining, that black gash has shrunk to the pinpoint focus of his world.

The second-to-last doorway clips Udonta’s heel. His yell of “Degravitize!” is swallowed by the A’askvarii’s shriek. They fling themselves forwards and tumble into the dark.

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