Laurie covered the thumb triggers, ready to squeeze as the ships approached. The center console chirped as they were hailed by the approaching ships. She looked at the readout in front of her- their weapons were armed, and she sincerely doubted they had peaceful intentions. She kept her right hand on a joystick as she slowly reached for the green button on the console.
“This is Captain Laurie Mack of of the Venturess.”
“Captain Mack, we have been informed of your intention to meet with Ang Yoss?”
She looked at Chip out of the corner of her eye as her left hand returned to the trigger. “I’m afraid I’m not at liberty to discuss that,” she replied.
“That is all the confirmation we need. Please follow us and we will escort you to a secure platform.”
“Why should we do that?”
“Because if you don’t, you will be disabled, boarded and relieved of your cargo. In addition, you won’t be paid. Please be reasonable, Captain.”
“Very well. Falling in.” She nodded to Chip to comply, and they assumed a formation between the two sleek fighters. Laurie kept her hands on the gun controls, ready to open fire if need be, but they landed on an open platform without incident.
The evening sky burned orange around them, with a few black clouds drifting lazily. A crowded and vibrant city was visible as far as the eye could see, and the sounds of vice reached their ears as the three member crew of the Venturess reached the bottom of the ramp.
The fighters landed in flanking positions next to the much larger Venturess, and their pilots climbed out of the cockpits. A bridge extended to the cylindrical concourse the led down to the city. A door opened at the end of it, and several armed figures crossed the bridge towards them.
“Captain, they are Bassirisk, the same species as Ang Yoss,” Scorch informed her as they drew closer. “They appear to be well armed.”
“Thanks, Scorch. Are they going to use those weapons?”
“I cannot say, Captain.”
“It was a joke, Scorch.”
“Captain Mack,” the lead Bassirisk addressed her. They were a reptilian race, with long prehensile tails and powerful limbs. “You have something meant for Ang Yoss.”
“As I told your pilots-” she regraded them on her periphery- “that is no concern of yours.”
“Ah, but it is. More than you imagine. The Toad hired you to deliver it- don’t waste your breath on denials- and there are concerned parties who want to ensure it doesn’t reach Yoss.”
“I’m afraid that puts us at cross purposes, my friend. My job is to ensure that Yoss does receive it.” Laurie was more than aware of the pistols at her side, the rifle in Chip’s hands, as well as the array of arms secreted in Scorch’s armor. Still, they were outnumbered by the Bassirisk gang, five on the bridge plus the two pilots. She was tense and ready, but if there was a peaceful solution to be had, she was well aware it was their best option.
The reptilian creature took a long moment to respond. “Cross purposes, indeed,” he said, endings of words tailing into a sinister hiss. “It appears that you leave me no choice.” the rest of the gang aimed their weapons at the Venturess crew. “Hand over the package and you may go free.”
Laurie, in turn, took her time. Chip raised his rifle, while Scorch raised his metal arms, double-barreled cannons protruding from the wrist joints.
The moment lasted a lifetime. The stiff breeze flowed across the platform, gently rustling the clothing of the prone figures occupying it, the only movement discernible. Even the breathing of the beings was still in that everlasting moment, even against the chaotic backdrop as spaceships took off and landed, transports scurried back and forth against the umber sky.
In a blur of muscle, fire and metal, the moment ended. Triggers were pulled, and brilliant red lasers traced their deadly path’s between the two groups as each dove for cover. Laurie huddled under the ramp of the Venturess, pistols held up next to her face. Chip threw himself down just in front of her, squeezing off a shot at one of the pilots, who fell, a black hole burned in his chest.
He grinned, completely unflappable. “Least I could do.”
“Let’s take care of Scorch before they turn him into scrap metal.” Chip nodded, rising to one knee. “On three. One… two… Three.”
They dove out opposite sides of the ramp. Scorch stood at the bottom of it still, slowly strafing to the right and returning fire. Most of his carapace was black from laserfire, but he stood tall and kept firing. There were only three of the gangsters still alive, and they crouched behind crates at the edge of the platform. Laurie ran to one of the fighters and pressed herself against its landing gear. She drew a bead on the reptilian head the popped up over the crate. He would pop up and duck again, and she waited a moment to work his timing out.
The next time he appeared, she was ready. He didn’t have time to aim before she burned a hole clear through his skull. She crouched and ran as fast as she could to the crate, slamming her back against it and sucking wind as she hid.
There was a loud screech and a thump, telling her Chip had taken care of the other goon. Scorch’s guns went silent. She stood and advanced to where the leader was hiding, clutching his right shoulder.
“You win this day, Mack. But you’re doing a terrible thing. Yoss is the scum of the universe.”
“Well, he hasn’t tried to kill me lately.”
He snorted. “You say that like you believe killing you is the worst someone can do.”
She shook her head and aimed her pistol down at him. “If it’s not so bad, maybe I should just kill you.”
“It doesn’t matter,” he replied, red eyes flashing. “At least I died trying to stop Yoss.”
“Then get out of here,” Laurie growled, waving him away with her pistol. “I’m not interested in ending lives unnecessarily. If you hadn’t shown up here, your men would still be alive.”
She didn’t watch him scamper away, instead she turned and walked with disgust back to the Venturess. She grabbed the case and headed back down the ramp. Chip and Scorch awaited her there.
“We’re going ahead with this, Cap?” Chip crossed his arms.
“We have a job to do.”
“Getting killed wasn’t part of the job.”
“Well, what did you think was, Chip?” her voice was rife with annoyance. “When someone hands over that much cash, they’re paying you to take some shots. What’s your alternative?”
“Give it back to the Toad. Have him make someone else do his dirty work. Whatever is in there obviously isn’t good for anyone.”
She looked at Scorch. “What do you think?”
The metal construct raised his shoulders in an odd sort of shrug. “Whatever you decide, I will abide by, Captain.”
Her glance fell on Chip. “Here’s what we’re going to do.”
(Voting is closed! Come back 11.14 for the next chapter!)