Fortunate for the Ma’guul raiders, a golden ship was very easy to find.
Unfortunate for them, that ship was across from a known Giith field.
Fortunate for them, the ship was clearly stranded and powerless.
Unfortunate for them, its crew, unbeknownst to the raiders, was very much alive.
Fortunate for them, they knew how many crew there were supposed to be, and at least on foot could outnumber them ten to one.
Unfortunate for them, they knew nothing of that crew. Nothing of the danger they invited to themselves.
Rose and Olsein slithered silently down the ramp outside. They placed their steps as close to the lips as possible to make the least noise. Laura, Grace and Janeth already set themselves up behind the cover of the ring.
Laura placed herself behind the sail with a black, slender, long-muzzled, scoped rifle, clearly designed for the silent, ranged kill. Rose knew this was the same rifle she brought with her onto T’pauzi V. Rose knew it had taken hundreds of lives. Perhaps it would take hundreds more.
Grace had her sleeves rolled up and an array of vials and concoctions laid out in an open tackle box on the other side of the ramp, but not obstructing access to the ship in the event that the power returned.
Janeth wielded a monstrosity of a cannon on her shoulder, perhaps a makeshift of a fighter’s weapon. She leaned it against the ship, keeping her own profile behind it as much as possible.
“What the plug is that?” Olsein whispered.
“An anti-artillery ion beam gun,” she whispered back, from the darker side of the ship, “old technology, but there’s an elegance about it.”
“But they don’t have any artillery,” he retorted, “just a bunch of raiders on foot.”
“Olsein, dear friend, you know my philosophy when it comes to battle.”
“All too well,” he grimaced, “overkill is a sure kill.”
“Quiet!” Laura shot a raspy whisper look at the two bickering elders, “and keep down!”
Both Olsein and Janeth knew it was needless to say. Yet they complied.
“Rose, come here,” Laura beckoned her over with her hand, “can you count them?”
Rose tiptoed over next to the sail and pulled out a pair of binoculars from her belt pouch, blew the dust off them and put them up to her eyes, scanning left and right.
Olsein set up his own little gun shop around the forward tip of the sail, laying out numerous rifles, a half dozen pistols and a few crates of hand-thrown explosives, plus a single chest made of what Janeth recognized as Noregaan Black Walnut, with fine, spiralling engraving in the lid. Perhaps a Thesium weapon of some kind, she thought to herself. But knowing Olsein, it could have been anything.
“What’s in there?” she plainly asked.
“The backup,” he replied quietly.
That told her plenty.
“I count seventy-three heads,” said Rose. Moments after a quiet bird chirped out of the beak of Laura’s gun, she hummed, “oh, correction: seventy-two.”
“Maybe you should have your eyes checked,” Laura said quietly as another chirp was heard, “I only see seventy-one.”
“Oh, right you are,” Rose smirked, still looking through the binoculars, “for a second, I was sure there were two stragglers there.”
“Guess not,” Laura shrugged.
“Guess not,” Rose repeated, putting the goggles down, “suppose we have—maybe--half a minute before they come around and realize we’ve already started shooting?”
“And give them the benefit of never knowing what hit them, that whole time?” Laura shook her head, looking to the back, “I think they’re close enough for the rest of us.”
Moments later, the two peeked over the railing one more time, and then looked to each other, nodding.
“Plug ’em!!!” Laura shouted, her hand gesturing the two fingers to the temple, resembling an electrical plug. Universally, that was the symbol to open fire.
Janeth was the first to let a shot go. A white-hot beam of energy stretched out to the first three Ma’guul raiders unlucky enough to be in front of the otherwise scattered pack. Effortlessly, it tore through metal, leathers, flesh and bone. It even superheated the sand beneath their feet and turned it to glass.
Then, carefully, as the others began firing with their weapons, Janeth took the cannon off her shoulder and set it down, crouching and strafing over to grab one of Olsein’s thesium rifles, joining the makeshift front line in the sand.
Several of the Ma’guul went down during the initial barrage, before they scattered out, lowered their profile and put up reflective shields. Very quickly, Janeth stopped firing, the others still intent on bringing the raiders down.
“Stop, stop!!” Laura lowered her weapon, realizing that the shields were absorbing the combined attacks, “save your energy for when they get closer!”
Olsein and Rose stopped.
“Get down!” Janeth tossed herself to the sand. The others reacted just in time to avoid the invisible return of laser fire that didn’t quite burn through the sails, but left numerous fine red-hot streaks.
“That’s a lot of lasers!” Laura shouted, “The hull should absorb most of it. But we can’t take them down at range. We’re better off getting closer!”
Laura knew that it was just a matter of time before the Ma’guul rushed and overwhelmed them. There were just far too many.
“Rose, Janeth, cover the ramp!” she commanded, “Grace, get inside. Olsein and I will hold them off from here! If anyone takes a hit, fall back to the cargo deck! We need to buy Darrick time!”
Without a word, Rose, Janeth and Grace made for the ramp. A few stray lasers nicked the under-side of the looming cliff they parked under, reminding them that they were still very much in danger.
“Good thinking,” Olsein said quietly, “guess you learned something in those Academy years after all.”
“Actually, I made that plan up, just now,” she smirked, not looking away from the raiders who scurried with their shields up, slowly but surely to the ship. Upon seeing one trip and fall over, she made sure he wasn’t getting up. She then ducked behind the sail and waited for the return-fire to subside.
“My meaning exactly,” Olsein grinned as he tossed a hefty grenade into the middle of the pack, chuckling a little after the low-pitched boom and the subsequent concert of screams.
Laura simply stuck her tongue out at him.
“Looks like they’re slowing to a stop,” Rose stated quietly, standing at the top of the bay ramp and peeking around the corner with her Marioch rifle fully wound up.
“So it stands to reason that they want us to come to them,” Janeth said, almost happily. She hugged the opposite side of the bay door with her thesium rifle. She held her hand over the glowing yellow crystal cartridge to avoid giving her presence away to onlookers.
“Yeah,” Rose tilted her head left and right as she thought of the matter, “wanna?”
“And walk into their trap out in the open?” Janeth retorted.
“Their trap?” Rose smirked, putting her weapon down, “Mother—it’s you they want. They probably want you alive. If you walk out there without a gun, they’ll likely think you’re surrendering.”
“Yes,” Janeth smiled widely, “they’ll think so.”
“I’ll act as Laura Vinfield in this case,” Rose said as Janeth set her rifle down, “they probably won’t know the difference.”
“Think you can pull a character like her off?”
“Of course,” Rose grinned, “all I have to do is keep my chin up and walk like I own the planet.”
“Even better,” Janeth picked her rifle back up and handed it to her daughter, “it might be more convincing if you were giving me up to them. Besides, a gun you can hide in plain sight is an extra option.”
“I like options,” Rose grabbed the gun and gestured her to walk out ahead of the muzzle, placing her hand on a small, grenade-like object on her belt, "speaking of which...."
Rose and Janeth marched out to the open sands, where the masses had their weapons trained on them, speaking among each other. They began to part as Rose approached, pressed the gun into her mother’s back and shouted in Behraanese, “Keep moving!”
Janeth quietly complied and picked up the pace.
Before long, a single, taller yet skinnier man in traditional Ma’guul battle-robes stepped in front of the two with his hand up and out to stop them.
“Here she is!” Rose bashed the butt end of her rifle into Janeth’s back to force her to her knees, “courtesy of the Behraanese Dominion!”
“The Behraanese have been much about courtesies,” said the man in Behraanese, albeit with an accent, “though I do not know why you would run away with the Queen, only to turn around again and give her up.”
“Nywan cannot defend her queen out here!” Rose grinned evilly, “I am Captain Laura Vinfield of the B.N.S.S. Skyreign. We were sent on a covert mission to deliver her into the hands of the Ma’guul in order to secure victory over Nywan.”
“We were informed you had betrayed Behraan. How do you explain that?” said the man.
“We had to make it look that way," Rose replied, "to earn the Queen’s trust, of course!"
“Such dishonour,” said the man.
“I am Behraanese. My only honour is to the Dominion!”
“I can’t believe I ever trusted you!” Janeth cried--or at least did so convincingly.
“And, what is it you wish in return for bringing her so eagerly to us?”
“Only what we have wanted from the beginning,” Rose grinned, “on behalf of the Imperator himself, I offer you an opportunity to join the Dominion, and with it, the Behraanese Destiny.”
“That is for Guillius to decide,” he replied evenly, “And, if we refuse? If we decide we shall simply take her?”
“I believe you would need working weapons for that,” Janeth muttered, standing tall and unsheathing her massive sword.
In a moment of astonishment, the man backpedalled and pointed to them, speaking in the Ma’guul tongue, “Kill them!”
They pulled their triggers. They did so numerous times and still they did so again. Nothing else happened.
“What is the meaning of this!?” the man exclaimed.
“Siphon bomb,” Rose tossed forth the pin of a missing grenade on her belt, “silent, discrete, and making fights fair everywhere.”
“I hardly call this fair,” Janeth grinned, pointing the tip of her sword at the neck of the man, her eyes glowing as an example of the power she contained, “so I will give you one warning. One. Do not fight us. Do not follow us. Do not say a word about us. Do not fuck with us.”
Moments passed by in silence. Finally, the unmistakable clicking and locking of projectile weapons. Rose didn’t need to look: more than a few of the raiders had these.
The man simply pressed the tip of the weapon away with his fingers, blood trickling down from the fresh slices the sword inflicted simply from the touch. He snorted and spit in her face.
“You didn’t think of that one, did you?” said the man, who laughed in her face. As the others laughed with him, he stepped back again, “Now, kill them!!”
Triggers were pulled. Again. Again. Nothing.
“I didn’t think of that one,” Rose brandished her rifle, “but the makers of Siphon bombs obviously did. Part of the bomb doesn’t go off. It magnetizes the area. Those bullets won’t be going anywhere.”
The man finally shouted in outrage, “I don’t care!!! Kill them anyway!”
“Try,” Rose said.
The Ma’guul rushed in from every angle, completely forgetting their shields, their weapons and their true threat.
Rose jumped high above the tallest head and let Janeth make a full, round swing of the Waylander around herself, cleaving nine raiders cleanly in half and knocking back the others who made the foolish error of charging in with reckless abandon.
On her way down, Rose planted her knees into the shoulders of another raider, clenched her legs in and switched him off. She then rode the lifeless body down onto another poor fool, bashing her rifle into his throat and spinning to whip him down before he could grab at the air that wouldn’t ever make it to his lungs again.
Janeth parried the butt-end of a rifle, and then quickly sliced through the wielder’s wrists, plucking his head before it had a chance to scream in pain. The next one approached her much more cautiously—as the rest gave her a healthy amount of space from then on—but space would not save him, as a hole appeared between his eyes and those of the man next to him.
Shortly thereafter, a barrage of bolts of energy tore into various parts of the raiders, who scattered aimlessly at the sound of the high-pitched death chirps.
There, atop a dune just paces away, were Laura and Olsein, on their bellies behind the ridge, raining death in precise packages wherever they wished.
Naturally, Rose and Janeth took great care to let the seeming leader live long enough to see his men be turned to nothing before him, because of a choice he made.
When the second-last soul left its vessel, the same man who gave the order to kill the two women, found the two women at his throat a second time.
“Now will you listen!?” said Janeth, “You fool! We’re not the enemy!”
“No,” he said weakly, “we know that Behraan is the enemy. But our survival now depends on befriending that enemy. Now—honour me and my family, Lady Sarethael. Kill me. Send me to Kabaiila.”
Sarethael. It made no sense whatsoever to either of them, and it certainly didn’t seem relevant to anything at the time.
While they hesitated, the man rushed himself onto the blade, ending his life with a smile, then falling into the sand with the rest of his men.
Rose seemed especially startled by this final movement. Then, realizing she was drenched in blood, she took a clean rag from her pocked and at least wiped her face off.
“This was the same sort of thing I encountered in worlds the Behraanese wanted to take over,” Janeth shook her head, cleaning the blood off her sword with a rag, “people hating themselves for giving into the thing they hated the most, in order to save the things they loved the most. Friends. Family. Homes. Their culture. Their religion. If only they knew, that even servitude would not save any of that.”
“These raiders didn’t have to try to kill us,” Rose argued, “Behraan can’t enforce their ways on this world. That they would just—come at us and die, for nothing.”
“They felt their deaths were more honest than their lives,” Janeth shook her head again, “Guillius--their leader--was a good man, albeit we had our differences. The Ma’guul were always raiders. And there were always rumours about the things they did. But they didn’t rape. They often didn’t kill. They took what they wanted and left. The violence was minimal for decades. And now this.”
“Yeah,” Rose took a good look around, as the sand already began to claim the blood and corpses, “and now this."