Gas Giant Gambit: A Tale from Across the Cygnus Rift

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31: The Good, The Rob, & The Greedy

Gus’s lighter paused in the air, halfway to her pocket, still lit. The small flame’s flickering was reflected dozens of times around the gilded room.

“You can’t deny it,” Laszlo was saying, but his words were muted and far away, as if she was underwater. He was offering her everything she had come to Las Ráfagas looking for, and more. Much more. Las Ráfagas could become something of a home for her. It had been a long time since anywhere other than her cramped cot and bedroll on Tilly had been home.

Of course, it would mean staying in the company of the Leconte family. A prospect she didn’t exactly relish, especially given what she had done to Aaron and Junior. But a new mount? A place to hang her poncho? And enough spoons and Rb-87 to keep her riding. What more could she ask for? It could be worth it. All it would require was turning her back on Aurora’s people, on Moe, and on everything the Vegas and their neighbors had fought – and died - for. As Gus stared into the dancing flame, the Shenandoah released its hitching cables and floated up above the town. It ignored the driving wind and rain that continued to buffet the atmosphere around Las Ráfagas and rose high into the clouds. With a flick of her wrist, she snapped the lighter shut and studied its scratched and scuffed surface.

“And if I refuse?” she asked. Her voice was flat, uncommitted.

“That,” Laszlo said darkly, “would be unwise. You see, if I can’t tell the copperheads that the marshal has agreed to help us control the population, he’s simply going to fire on the dome. I’d rather that not happen, of course. Rebuilding would be a difficult, time consuming task. But I’ll be happy to bill the CCO for the expenses. Maybe we can even update the old place. Add a little more class. What do you think?”

Gus took a long drag from her cigar and locked eyes with Laszlo through the blue-gray haze. “You know, you’re right. When I first got here, all I wanted was to leave. Staying in one spot has never been for me. The Arm is a harsh place, and I’ve always thought sitting still for too long would be the thing got me killed. I’ve always thought the only things that matter in life are the things that keep you riding – keep you free. Everything else has always been bottle-farts to me. Family. Friends. None of it mattered. Before I got here, I would have said that nothing but a pile of spoons would keep me still for long. I might have taken this deal then.” She blew a cloud of smoke into Laszlo’s face. “But things are different now. I can’t rightly say how or why, but I know it in my bones. When it comes my time to fall, I want it to be a fight of my choosing, not my past coming to claim me. I guess what I’m saying is, Laz, I’ll die before I let help you kill this town and its people.”

Laszlo waved his hand to clear the air. “Pity.” He pulled a handheld comms unit from his suit pocket and started to bring it to his lips. Gus saw what might be her only opportunity and acted. Her hand was a blur as it dropped to draw Delilah. She fired from the hip, aiming for the comms unit and praying the point-blank range would be enough to overcome Laszlo’s shields.

It was not. The pink beam splashed harmlessly off the energy shield. But it was enough to startle Laszlo. With a shriek, he dropped the communication unit and took a shocked step backwards. A tiny voice called from the comms unit on the floor, “Please repeat. Administrator Leconte, do we have permission to fire?”

Gus dove for the comms. She was vaguely aware she was exposing her back to Laszlo. If she was wrong, and he did have a gun… But as she reached the comms unit, instead of the searing burn of a laser beam, she was pummeled with a series of kicks from Laszlo’s leather Oxfords. She rolled away from the blows and regained her footing at the same moment seven of Laszlo’s massive combat-robs raced into the room. Gus dove again, this time for cover. She only barely managed to overturn a heavy table and send expensive baubles flying before the gold-encrusted room was awash with fresh laser fire.

“Administrator Leconte?” the small voice from the comms unit said. Gus laid the unit on the floor and smashed it with Delilah’s butt end.

The laser fire suddenly ceased, and the new silence was broken by Laszlo’s voice.
“You may as well give that back, girl. If they don’t hear my voice in, oh, about 30 seconds, they’ll fire anyway.” Tunk. “Make it easy on yourself, and surrender. In deference to your determination and loyalty to your friends, I’ll be sure your execution will be qui- What the rut?

Gus chanced a peek to see what Laszlo was reacting to. Las Ráfagas’s administrator had completely turned his attention to the big picture window, where Gus caught a glimpse of a familiar blue-green shimmer bursting from the roiling storm clouds beneath the town. An enormous flock of burdles, unlike any group of beasts Gus had seen in all her drifting, rose from the storm. There must have been thousands, all moving as one. They were being driven by an armada of Deiopean skiffs. Aurora’s people had finally arrived.

The flock rose from beneath the Shenandoah and parted around the huge pulse-rail train. The great burdle flock surrounded it as they flowed over it like an hourglass running in reverse. Still more poured from the gyrating storm. Each flash of lightning was reflected a hundred-fold in their glittering scales. Gus hoped the Deiopeans had more up their sleeves than a stampede. Even as big as each individual burdle was, they were never going to pose much more than a nuisance to the battle-train.

But what doubt remained in Gus’s mind evaporated when a low rumbling began throughout the outpost. It started in the floor plating as a vibration, and rose quickly to a deep, guttural roar that shook every surface in Las Ráfagas. In seconds it was loud enough to rattle Gus’s teeth, and she knew was it was.

The Stormrider had come.

As soon as the thought had crossed Gus’s mind, the leviathan itself burst forth from the tumbling cloud layer below. It was immense, dwarfing even Las Ráfagas with its vast wingspan. It did indeed call to mind the great manta rays of Earth, as Junior had suggested, but that hardly did the creature justice. With unimaginable speed for something of its unprecedented size, it rose through the storm and collided with the Shenandoah, gripping the battle-train in its jaws like a puppy with a new toy. Almost on contact, explosions tore through the train’s metal hide, and soon the mighty Shenandoah was nothing more than burning wreckage falling away from the still rising behemoth.

Laszlo slammed his fists against the glass and bellowed inarticulately at the beast and the broken battle-train. With Laszlo distracted, Gus saw another opportunity. She tossed her lighter towards the combat-robs and fired Delilah from the hip. The pink beam smacked into the tumbling lighter about three feet in front of the robs. The small explosion was strong enough to knock two over and at least temporarily overloading the rest’s optical sensors. Gus ran for the lift. She couldn’t risk taking the elevator itself – Laszlo could just stop it and bring her back up. Or worse.

She stepped into the center of the lift and aimed Delilah at the floor. She pulled the trigger and spun in a tight circle, dragging the beam around her and filling the lift with a cold cloud of exhaust. But the floor didn’t give way. A shot cut through the fog, missing her head by inches. The robs were back up. Tunk! She slammed her heel down on the floor. Once. Twice. Nothing happened. More beams sizzled through the air around her. “Tunk!” she screamed, aloud this time, and brought her heel down again, focusing everything she had left into the strike.

The rough circle she had cut through the lift floor popped open like an upside-down tin can and Gus plummeted into the long, dark elevator shaft. The first couple of dozen feet of the fall were rough. Gus bounced off the black walls a few times before managing to fire her boot thrusters. They slowed her fall, but she still hit the bottom of the shaft with a crash. Coughing and wiping grime from her face, Gus pried open the ground floor doors and fell into the town square.

To her surprise, she was met with a square bathed in celebration. What remained of the townsfolk had seen the destruction of the Shenandoah – and thought the fight had been won. The survivors were dancing in the streets and firing triumphant shots into the air. But it wasn’t over. Not yet. The blinking light over the second set of lift doors proved as much: Laszlo – and his combat-robs – were coming.

Moe and Oscar appeared at her sides and pulled her to her feet with brilliant smiles on their faces. She coughed and tried to clear the dust from her throat. “No, we’ve got-” she started, but doubled over with a hacking fit instead. Oscar, that stupid smile still plastered on his face, clapped her on the back. He was too full of joy to see the desperation on her face through the hacking cough. Bernadette, with Hector at her side, joined them. Bu unlike her husband and farmhand, her smile seemed reserved and her eyes moved nervously around the faces of the rejoicing townsfolk. Gus dragged a deep breath into her lungs, gave one hard cough, and finally cleared her lungs and throat. “Get everybody off the street! Now!

“What?” Moe and Oscar said almost in unison. They looked at each other over Gus’s shoulders with matching expressions of confusion.

Bernadette, who seemed to have been waiting for the other shoe to drop, looked immediately to the blinking light above the lift doors and understood the danger in an instant. “Hector, into the Marshal’s Office, now!” she ordered. At first, he didn’t move. Hector’s eyes were fixated on his mother in a look of youthful defiance. He didn’t want to leave the party. He opened his mouth, presumably to say so, but shut it again when her face darkened with fear and fury. “Now!” Bernadette’s fear, like a virus, infected Hector and he ran for the jailhouse without further protest. No sooner had he gone than Bernadette turned her furious authority on the rest of the town square and tried to drive as many people as possible back into cover before the lift reached the esplanade.

But there just wasn’t enough time. The light above the lift doors stopped blinking and turned a bright green. The doors slid open, and a hail of laser fire exploded from the small lift. The mood in the square turned as the survivors’ cheers changed to screams s they fled back into the ruined buildings. Separated from them, Bernadette ducked into the mercantile with a group of survivors.

“Bernadette!” Oscar shouted and tried to run across the square to her. Gus grabbed him by the back of his shirt and dragged him into what remained of Daniel’s med-lab and apothecary.

Gus was disappointed to see all seven of Laszlo’s towering combat-robs step from the lift. She had hoped she got at least one of them with her lighter. No such luck. Laszlo followed them into the square with a look of unmitigated fury on his face that painted it in an ugly, orange hue. “Where are you, you little bitch?!” he thundered. “I’ll kill you for this!”

“Where’s Aurora?” Gus asked once they were hidden behind rows of herbs and drugs.

“When the Shenandoah went down, they took off to the mining levels to release the other Deiopeans. We told Aurora to wait for you – that there could still be copperheads or bulls down there - but they insisted,” Moe said.

Gus’s mind raced. She had to get Laszlo out of the square. The man had lost his rutting mind. He stood in the center of the square, surrounded by his combat-robs, screaming incoherently at the storm above while the robs fired indiscriminately into the buildings. All the remaining survivors were here, and Laszlo would wipe them out just trying to get her. Maybe she could kill two birds with one stone. She stood and made for the door but was stopped when a hand reached out and grabbed her wrist. Gloria was hiding behind a barrel of some sort of fragrant spice. “You can’t kill him,” she said. Her eyes were shiny with fear.

“Oh yes I can,” Gus said, then called over her shoulder, “Stay here until I draw him away from the square. Then get everybody the tunk out of this godforsaken town.” Without waiting for a reply, she bolted for the doorway and drew Delilah as she stepped into the square. She squeezed off a few shots and managed to take out one of the combat-robs before Laszlo saw her. “I’m right here, you foppish, yellow-bellied gas-huffer,” she called. Laszlo’s rage boiled over, and his face turned from orange to purple. “You want me? You’ll have to come and get me.” She fired twice more, directly at Laszlo. Both beams were harmlessly absorbed by the egg-shaped shield that shimmered around him, but it was more than enough of a distraction to let her take off running down the alley between the apothecary and the Administration Tower.

Gus raced along the apothecary’s outer wall with her head craned back over her shoulder. She needed the head start, but also had to make sure Laszlo was following. She only made it a few dozen feet, to the rear corner of the ruined building, when she crashed blindly into Moe. He had stepped out the back door and directly into her path. “What are you doing?” she screamed at the hapless rob as they tried to untangle themselves.

“Gloria says you can’t kill him!”

“Why the hell not?!” Gus ducked as a crimson beam struck the alley wall over their heads. “Tunk! Let’s go!” She yanked Moe to his feet and the two raced off into Las Ráfagas’s ruined residential quarter with Laszlo and his combat-robs hot on their heels.

“Where are we going?” Moe shouted.

“Away from the square,” she said. Moe shot her a confused look. “Hey, it’s all I got right now.”

They ran through the remnants of homes and took cover where they could as Gus led them deeper into the debris of homes. When they got close to what was left of Genie-town, Gus directed Moe to take cover behind an old house that had crumpled like a paper lantern beneath the gatling gun assault. “Alright, spill it. Why can’t we kill Laszlo?” She chanced a look back in the direction they had come and had to duck back quick when a beam was thrown her way. She could hear Laszlo’s unintelligible yelling as the combat-robs picked their way through the rubble. “Better make it quick.”

“Gloria says the combat-robs are on a dead man’s switch. If you kill him before shutting it off, they’ll go berserk and blow their power cores. Just one’s enough to skuttle the town.”

Tunk, Gus though. It’s always something. The bastard would have something like that. “Where is this dead man’s switch? Can we get it off him?”

“Gloria said he forced Emmitt built it and Daniel to implant it. It’s connected to his heart. Like a rutting pacemaker. We can’t shut it off.” A flash of memory flew across Gus’s mind: Laszlo’s half-naked body, and a faint but distinctive scar running over his heart. Of course. It meant they would have to pick the robs off one at a time and leave Laszlo for last. That wasn’t going to be easy. They would need Aurora. Another beam flew over their heads and left a crater in the wall. Laszlo was getting close.

“Six of them against the two of us ain’t gonna cut it. You go find Aurora. They’ll be on the refining level.” She pointed to the mining lift maintenance access hatch, which sat in the middle of the road some fifty or so yards away. There was very little cover between it and them. “I’ll keep Laz occupied.”

“You can’t take them all on alone.”

She smiled at him. “I’m not alone, Gus. I’ve got you and Aurora. I can manage a simple game of hide and seek until you two get back.” An image of Hector climbing through El Dorado’s anti-grav foundation rose in her mind.

Moe looked conflicted but nodded. Gus turned away and got ready to give him some covering fire, but Moe stopped her and held out his hand. “One more thing from Gloria,” he said and dropped a fresh comms earpiece into her hand.

As she looked into that cracked face with its kind, smiling eyes, Gus couldn’t help but be struck by what an odd pair they made. An escaped cobbler-rob turned farmhand at the ass end of the Arm, guilty of murdering his owner. And the sorry excuse for a beamslinging void-drifter hoping to cash in on his bounty. Now Marshal and faithful Deputy - and potentially Las Ráfagas’s last hope of survival. She took the earpiece, shook Moe’s hand, and hoped it would not be the last time.

“Ready?” Gus asked. She held Delilah high. Moe’s eyes focused on the mining lift access hatch. He gripped his stolen sidearm and nodded. “Good luck,” she said.

“You too.”

Gus stood and fired three or four beams at the advancing combat-robs and Moe made a break for the hatch. He ran like a gazelle. Those long, gangly legs moved like pistons, and carried him across the distance to the hatch with extraordinary speed and grace. Gus threw a few more beams Laszlo’s way to keep him and his entourage distracted, and Moe was down the hatch in a flash.

But while her covering fire had kept the combat-robs focused on her, Laszlo had seen Moe disappear through the access hatch. “Where’s you murdering rob friend off to, I wonder?” he called to her. “Oh, I know. You’ve sent him off to free your little spider friends, haven’t you? No matter, I’ll get to them soon enough!”

Gus fired at Laszlo. It bounced off his shield harmlessly, but it was again enough to startle him and a fresh barrage from the robs forced her back into cover. “You won’t get away with this Laszlo!” she shouted over the rain of fire.

“And who’s going to stop me? You?” His laugh was maniacal. “You foolish little girl. Do you think this is the first time I’ve done this? Once I’m done with you, I’m going to wipe out all your friends, and then those rutting spiders too. I’ll take what I need and exterminate the whole lot of ’em. I’ll be doing the Arm a favor! One less planet full of primitive parasites.”

The wrecked wall Gus was hiding behind began to disintegrate under the repeated laser salvoes. She rolled out from behind it as it crumbled to dust and, screaming at the top of her lungs, fired twice from her knees. Both beams struck the lead rob square in the chest, knocking it off balance, but it wasn’t enough to penetrate its breastplate armor. Again, she scrambled for cover, this time finding refuge behind a pile of debris – a shattered crib, a once-colorful dresser, the remnants of a wall painted with clowns and balloons – all that was left of a small child’s room. Her temper flared. So many lives ruined.

Gus loaded a fresh coolant cap into Delilah and checked herself for wounds. Sure enough, in the heat of the firefight she hadn’t even noticed but she had been hit. More than once. She was bleeding from a handful of grazes, but the most serious wound was the through-and-through on her left thigh. She was pretty sure it had missed the femoral artery, but it was still bleeding like a stuck pig. She had just enough time to rip a strip from her poncho and tie a crude bandage before Laszlo’s voice drifted to her across the flattened neighborhood.

“So, you do have a soft spot for the spiders. Junior was right after all.” Gus could hear the smile on Laszlo’s face even if she couldn’t see it. “You know, I think I’ve just had a tremendous idea. Why kill you now? It would be so much better to let you watch as I raze this pathetic little town, and everyone in it, to the ground first. Maybe then you’ll see you should have just taken my deal.” The laser fire stopped. “You two,” Laszlo said to his robs, “get back to the square and see to the people there. The rest of you, to the mining lift. We’re going below. What will you do ‘Marshal?’ Will you save your new ‘family,’ or will you protect the innocent little natives?” Laszlo’s voice dripped with sarcasm as he and the remaining four combat-robs moved away, towards the lift.

Gus pressed her back against the clown printed chunk of wall and squeezed her eyes tight. She didn’t know what to do. If she ran for the square, she could kill the combat-robs before they did too much damage. But she’d never make it back to the mining levels in time. It would be a slaughter. But if she went to help Moe and Aurora, and something happened to the Vegas…

To Hector. Or Oscar.

To Bernadette.

She tapped the earpiece. “Moe, I’m sorry. Laszlo’s coming your way with murder and mayhem on his mind. He sent two robs back for the families in the square. Hold him off as long as you can! I’ll get down there-”

An incoming transmission crackled in her ear and cut her off. “Don’t you dare leave those people down there to die while you rescue us, Marshal!” Bernadette scolded. “This is our town too, and we can defend her.”

“But I-”

“Marshal, you made a promise to Aurora and to those people down there. Ray would want you to keep it. We can handle Laszlo’s thugs. Go.”

Tunk it. She was right. But that didn’t mean Gus had to like it. “Moe, Laszlo’s coming for you. I’m right on his heels but keep an eye out. He wants blood. Moe?” He didn’t answer. “Moe! Tunk!” Gus gritted her teeth against the pain that ripped through her leg, up her side, and into her left armpit where it mingled with the misery that was her arm and shoulder. She pushed through the pain and ran for the access hatch, only hoping she could get ahead of Laszlo.

#

Gus slid to the bottom of the access hatch ladder, careful to land on her uninjured leg. The mining levels were dark, cold, and silent. “Moe? Can you hear me?” she whispered. Static. “Laszlo’s coming, Moe. I hope you and Aurora are at the holding cells on the refining level, ’cause that’s where I’m going. I’ll try to head him off at the pass before he gets to you.” Still no response. Dammit Moe. She limped as quickly as she could through the labyrinth of tunnels and corridors. You better not be dead.

Gus tried to retrace her steps from before, praying she was ahead of Laszlo and his robs. The access hatch ladder was much faster than the lift, but this was Laszlo’s outpost. He undoubtedly knew these corridors like the back of his hand. She came to a wide intersection that she didn’t recognize and realized she was lost. With little time to spare arguing with herself over which way to go, she was just about to pick a direction and hope for the best when the sizzle of laser fire echoed towards her. She ran towards it, hobbling along as quickly she could until she found herself on a high platform overlooking the refinery level.

Laid out below her were the giant, twin vats of unrefined rubidium and the catwalk that passed between them. On one side, Laszlo stood, surrounded by his four remaining combat-robs and his twinkling shield. Through the pass and hiding among the machinery was Moe, Aurora, and about three or four dozen cowering Deiopeans. The flashing lights from the multitude of eyes was dazzling. They were terrified and pinned down. Moe’s sidearm and Aurora’s Hammer were no match for the military-grade firepower raining down on them.

Laszlo pointed the robs towards the narrow pass between the gigantic vats. Two stepped forward at once and advanced towards the cowering natives. Their barrage never slowed. If Gus didn’t do something, Moe and Aurora would be overrun in seconds. But Delilah only had three or four shots left in her coolant cap, and Gus had only one full cap left. Oh well, she thought. At least I’ll be going out with friends. She brought her last cigar to her lips and bit down on it uneasily. Now or never. Gus yanked on the bandage tied around her thigh and grunted through the fresh jabs of pain as it tightened. With Delilah in one hand and her last coolant cap in the other, she climbed over the platform’s guardrail and leapt to the refining level catwalk below.

Gus realized too late that her boot thrusters were empty and landed hard on her bad leg. The pain, like acid in her veins, shot up her side and into her armpit again. She collapsed to the catwalk grating and dropped Delilah. The big gun bounced along the grated floor towards the vats and landed well out of reach. “Ah. There you are, Marshal,” Laszlo said. That snake-tooth smile spread across his tanned features. “Kill her.” Caught in the open and defenseless, Gus could only watch as the lead rob lowered the barrel of his laser rifle towards her.

The was a deafening crack! and a deep dent appeared in the rob’s bucket-like head. It rocked back on its heels but stayed on its feet. Another crack! rang out and the dent become a crater. Still the rob did not fall. Next, a familiar pink beam lit up the dim refining level and punched through the crater. It took the back of the big rob’s head clean off. The combat-rob tumbled backwards like a log. A stunned hush fell over the refining level. Gus looked back to find both Moe and Aurora standing in the gap between the raw rubidium vats, Aurora with the complicated rifle held high, Moe clutching Delilah in his elegant hands.

The moment didn’t last long. Laszlo screamed incoherently. “I said kill th-” Another crack! shattered the air and Laszlo’s head whipped back as though he had been slapped. A cut had appeared, like magic, across his temple, and a fresh furrow had cut through the hair on the side of his head. Laszlo brought his hand to his bloodied head. His rage bubbled over at the sight of his red fingertips. “Kill them all!

Gus scrambled against the searing pain that engulfed the entire left side of her body and scooted backwards on her butt towards her friends. Aurora and Moe stood their ground in the pass, firing slugs and beams into the looming robs, but their advance would not stop. At nearly the same moment Gus reached the gap, Aurora was hit. The Deiopean’s eyes flashed in surprise and pain as the Hammer, along with a pair of Aurora’s insect-like arms, fell to the catwalk. Gus grabbed the rifle and dragged herself to her feet. Moe grabbed Aurora by the back of their robe, and the trio dropped back through the pass and into cover behind the vats.

Gus pressed her back against one vat and looked across the catwalk to Moe. He had managed to drag Aurora behind the other one. “Where’s your sidearm?” she yelled.

“It’s out of caps. You got any?”

“Just one,” Gus said. She looked back, down into the complicated mess of tubes and machinery that made up the refining level. Dozens of Deiopeans huddled there together, hiding where they could. Their flashing eyes threw complicated and ominous shadows in every direction. Aurora sat at Moe’s feet. The hunter’s eyes flashed dimly, but Gus didn’t understand.

“What do we do?” Moe’s eyes pleaded with Gus to tell him she had a plan.

Gus looked at the complicated rifle in her hand. “Can you shoot this?”

“Normally, yes, but-”

“Can you, or can’t you?”

“Not with the damage to my tool changer!” He held up his right arm. The rifle needed four arms. The hydraulics that blew controlled Moe’s ability to split his forearm in two as he had done on the day Gus had met him. Tunk!

Aurora’s eyes flashed weakly from Moe’s feet. Moe’s face flashed in return. The robs continued to fire and move advance.

“What is it?” Gus shouted.

Without a word, Moe stooped, and Aurora climbed up into the crook of his right arm. They clung to Moe’s metal body with their small, third arm – the only one Aurora had left on their left side. Together, they had the proper number of limbs in the right places. Gus nodded. Now they just needed an opening.

The stream of laser fire abruptly stopped, like someone had turned off a faucet.

“What’s going on, Laz? You ready to give up?” Gus called out.

“I thought I would give you one last chance, Marshal. Give yourselves up now.”

“And what? You’ll let us live while you get fatter and richer off these backs of these people?” Then low, nearly under her breath, she said to Moe, “The belt buckle.” Moe took a moment to process, but then a smile broke on his simulated face. He nodded. Good. As usual, they would only get one shot.

Despite his rage, Laszlo actually chuckled. “Oh, no. I’m not letting anybody leave this town alive. I told you, this isn’t my first rodeo. And now that I know how the spiders’ refining tech works, all I need to start somewhere else is enough of ’em to breed my own.

“No. I was going to say, give yourselves up now, and maybe I won’t have a little fun with Bernadette Vega and that snot-nosed brat of hers before I burn this place to its foundations,” he snarled.

“Now!” Gus roared. She tossed the Hammer across the gap between vats. Moe, in turn, tossed Delilah across to her. As the weapons passed each other, Moe’s long left hand divided between his middle fingers. The mechanics in his forearms split apart from hand to elbow and he caught the rifle in his now two left hands. He brought the stock to Aurora’s right shoulder, spun into the gap, and crouched into a firing position. At the same time, Gus caught Delilah, slapped her last cap into place, and stepped into the pass behind the farmhand and the hunter. With Moe holding the Hammer steady, Aurora fired the Deiopean rifle once and the boom echoed across the refining level. Like lighting in reverse, Delilah’s pink flash followed on the heels of the slug’s thunderclap.

Sparks flew from Laszlo’s belt buckle. Aurora’s slug proved slow enough to pass through Laszlo’s shield and had embedded itself in the buckle’s shield control mechanism, destroying it on impact. Laszlo fell to his knees, gurgling incoherently. There was a gaping hole through his chest where his heart should have been. Gus’s aim had also been true, and with his shields down her beam had made it through and vaporized his heart - and the dead man’s switch along with it. The combat-robs, no longer receiving a signal, switched to standby and snapped at attention with their rifles slung up over one shoulder. Laszlo found Gus’s eyes. His face contorted into a look of pained confusion. “You can’t… I can’t… I’m too…”

He fell face-first onto the catwalk grating before finishing his final thought.

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