Clowgus Arstole, “Arsehole”, to those who knew him, sped by, hunched over a hov-bike. Unfortunately he had a few mates whizzing behind him. That was an unexpected complication. I should have known 50 credits wasn’t enough to get the full story. I should have paid more and then hired some help, but then, that would have cut into my profits wouldn’t it? I had the high ground and knew he still had a click or so before he hit the hairpin and came zooming past me. Hopefully my surprise would take them all down.
I put away the binocs and quickly scampered through the brush and trees to the other side of the narrow hill. I lay on my hidey, a flat rock protruding out just a little, and looked through the scope at the approaching hov-bikes. Arsehole was in my sight; always good to have a contingency just in case the surprise didn’t work. He whipped past the tree I used as a marker and I mentally started to count, “1, 2, 3, 4, 5..”
“6, 7, 8, 9”
There was a click as my thumb flicked the switch which I had taped next to the trigger of my rifle.
Instantaneously there was a “whoomp” as blue pulse radiated from the ground beneath Arsehole’s hov. It powered down immediately causing its nose to gouge the earth and hurl Arsehole into the scrub. That was unexpected. The pulse was more powerful than it should have been. I must have added too much cellium again.
Another hov-bike copped the same but the rider fared worse, flipping and slamming into the trunk of a massive tree. Poor sod, no surviving that.
The third reflexively tried to turn, but that was his downfall (reflexes often overtake thought), and he just ploughed through the scrub for a short time before his hov slammed into something hard. I winced and looked away from the bright explosion.
The other two managed to engage their brakes until the they skidded to a halt. I recovered quickly and had the scrawny one in my sight before he got off his hov. My finger gently squeezed the trigger and a pale grey bolt of energy collected him in the chest. He slumped backward, falling in a heap to the ground.
I never understood why plasma guns were designed to have bright energy beams, it just gave away your position too easily. Of course, today it didn’t matter, because the burly bloke had spotted me anyway. He whipped his blaster from his holster and shot twice quickly from the hip whilst diving for cover in the brush.
Both red beams went wide, but it was enough to cause me to shrink back from the edge of my perch and lose sight of him. I cursed myself for the rookie cringe. No reason to duck. If they had hit me I was dead and my reflexes weren’t going to save me. Now I had lost him, and he knew where I was, time to move.
Copying him I laid down a barrage of suppressing fire and then scuttled off my rock. Clowgus was the goal, and I couldn’t get distracted by a henchman.
I was careful with how I moved. I didn’t want to be seen and I didn’t want any clouds of dust to give me away either. So I took it slow, edging my way to Arsehole’s landing spot. I hoped he was just dazed or at worst incapacitated. I didn’t really want him dead, that wasn’t the job. And whilst his nickname was well deserved, I had worked with him before and he was a good man to have by your side.
Things had gone quiet. No thrum from the hov-bikes, no blasts smashing into the landscape, and more importantly to me, no voices. All I could hear was my own soft footfalls on ground.
The lackey was still out there somewhere but either he was waiting for the right shot to nail me or he had no idea where I was.
As I neared Arsehole’s resting place I carefully slung my rifle across my back and eased my pistol from its thigh holster; much easier with pistol at close quarters.
I took a moment to calm myself, check my breathing and slow down. Too many times had I seen some rookie pounce out pistols blazing not realising their target had moved and instead copping a call from the Hooded One themselves.
I peered along my pistol’s barrel as I slid it gently through the brush. “Sharm!” I thought as I swore more loudly than I should have, Clowgus wasn’t there.
A red flash scorched the brush in front of my face even as I heard the whine of a blaster discharge..
A thin branch nicked my cheek as I dove forward into the space which I thought should have had Arsehole’s body. I tumbled into a kneeling position, blaster cocked over my left arm for stability and scanned the scrub on the other side of the track. Nothing.
I needed to move because I was a sitting target. I had two of them to worry about now, and more than likely they both knew where I was. I dropped to my stomach, making myself a smaller target. No sign of them and I still couldn’t hear them either. Good. It meant they weren’t rushing my position and that gave me time.
I began to crawl back the way I’d come, seeking higher ground again. It was then I noticed the blood, a lot of it. It covered the scrawny trunk and low broken branches of a squat shrub. Looking more closely I saw that it had splattered in the opposite direction to which I headed. I smiled to myself, Arsehole wasn’t in such great shape. I turned around, and still crawling followed the obvious trail.
After maybe 20 metres I stopped, listened and looked. Still nothing. I eased my way onto a knee and checked again. As far as I could tell I was undetected, so at a crouch I moved off as silently as I could. He couldn’t be too far, not with the amount of blood I had been following. He wasn’t.
I heard him before I saw him. Rattling, rasping breathing was never a good sign, but it just made me more cautious.
I edged forward and there he was, leaning against a boulder, legs splayed out in front of him, one broken by the look of it. Eyes closed, his face was streaked with blood, a massive gash on his forehead still oozed. His armoured vest had taken a beating. His breathing suggested a punctured lung at best, but probably broken ribs and severe internal bleeding.
The merciful thing would be to pot him, put him out of his misery. But when there was still someone gunning for me I wasn’t about to give away my position.
I took a moment to survey my surrounds, and more importantly try to discern the path the hired goon might take. By luck Arsehole had crawled away from the road which meant any approach would be trickier, but the scrub was thick and that meant poor visibility. In front of the boulder against which Clowgus leant was a very small clearing, maybe 2 metres radiating from its base. Then of course there was the boulder itself; I smiled as a simple plan formed.
First I needed to make sure Arsehole had what I had come for. I searched him as carefully as I could, no need to make him suffer any more than necessary. It didn’t take long to find it; it was embedded in his chest. He must have had it in an inside pocket of his flak vest, and the impact had caused it to shatter some ribs. With a slight grimace I plucked it out and pocketed it.
He made a gurgling sound, poor bugger, at least he was finally gone. Instinctively I glanced at his face and saw his eyes were open and staring right at me.
“Kymus,” he moaned softly. Sharm! He was still alive. “Help.”