Alex made as wide a circuit around the hover as he could, hoping the pilot was focused on what was happening in town and not looking at the scenery. Like with the previous attack, this was a plain hover, so he wasn’t worried about sensors, the pilot just had to keep looking forward until Alex was behind, where there were no windows.
Once he made it there, he ran directly at the hover and pulled out a knife. He inched his way to the opened side, crouching under the windows. A quick peek in showed him the pilot watching ahead and listening to the comms. It didn’t look like the fighting was going the way he was hoping.
A second peek showed he wore regular looking clothing, but it had extra bulk, indicating armor. He didn’t wear a helmet so that wouldn’t be a problem. Alex stepped in, grabbed the man’s head before he could react and sliced his throat open. The mono-edge blade cut the flesh and cartilage easily.
Something fell to the floor behind him and Alex spun, reaching for the dead man’s gun. The woman came into view as he pulled the gun up and already knew it would be useless. It was one of those models that came with print lock. The woman had her gun out and Alex threw himself down as she fired, trying to follow him.
The bolts passed close enough he felt their heat, and he heard electronics spark behind him. He hoped she hadn’t hit anything vital. The close space gave him the advantage, she didn’t have the time to track and lead her shots. He stabbed her gun; the blade sinking into the polycarbon material and rendering it even more ineffective. She twisted it and wrenched the knife out of his hand.
He grabbed the one at her belt and with a quick motion ran it across her throat where it slid over the armored skin. “Really?” Who carried plain edged blades anymore? She swung at him, trying to pummel him with her gun. She had mass and strength over him, He crouched to avoid it and pulled the vibro-blade from the ankle sheath.
The almost imperceptible buzz caused her to take a step back, but she was still too close. He slashed at her arms in quick succession, cutting deep without applying pressure. He had her backed against the wall and then she cut her throat open.
He turned to the pilot before she’d crumpled, holding her throat and gurgling. He pulled him out of the chair and listened to the system. If the comms were broadcasting the battle, this would become complicated really fast.
He traced the comms line to a data node. One that showed no signs of having been accessed yet. His reflex was to implode it, but that would draw attention to it. He wiped it, removing the records as well as the signs it had received anything. Then he cut the receiver and wiped the memory.
Then he looked at the damage the shooting had done. One bolt had made a hole in the control panel and burned some of the systems. Nothing vital by the looks of it, but he’d need Jacoby to look at it to be sure. The others had hit the windows and walls, both of which had survived with nothing more than some melting.
Looking at the town he guessed the fighting was still happening, but it wouldn’t be going on for long. It would be over by the time he ran there, so he went through the hover’s storage. He found two rifles, neither of which were print locked. A few knives, mono-edged, plenty of first aid packs, telling him they were expecting some resistance. And about a months worth of nutrient bars. They liked to plan ahead, or had been expecting to add a vacation to this.
What he didn’t find was a datapad.
Who, in this day and age didn’t have one? Did they just happen to not like them? Or had they realized the one for the previous attack had gone missing? Maybe one of the attackers in town would have one.
He heard the approaching steps and looked up. Jacoby, Rig’Irik, Janden and Torbim were approaching. They were all splashed with blood.
“Figured this is where you were, when I didn’t see you fighting.” Jacoby stepped in and looked around. “Had your own problems I see. You okay?”
“I’m fine. How did the fight go?”
“We won, clearly. Lost two of ours. But killed all of theirs, so I count that as a fair trade.”
“Good. Can you take a look at the damage? I need to know if it’s going to fly and be able to follow a programmed route.”
“Any chance you can just trick them into thinking it flew away?”
Alex found backpacks. “why?” he filled one with the nutrient bars.
“A lot of those anti-grav components in this model are compatible with ours, and this looked to be a more recent one. I can swap them, give us better performance.”
“We don’t have the time.” He started putting first aid packs in other backpacks. “I can smooth over this quick stay, but for the time it’ll take you to do that kind of work I either have to disconnect the hover from the network which they’ll notice and send someone to find out what happened, or I have to simulate a flight path for all that time. Which will make whoever is behind this wonder what’s going on? It’ll get them to break the usual radio silence. When there isn’t any response, they’ll send someone again.” He handed two of the packs to the Samalian and said, in Samalian. “Bodies, rear.”
Torbim grinned, her sharp teeth stained with blood.
“Rear?” Rig’Irik slapped his ass. He said another word that sounded close to what Alex said and pointed at where he was standing.
“That one.” Alex practiced it a few times, noting the differences in the words as he handed the other packs to Torbim and Janden.
Jacoby was glaring at him. “Why are you wasting time with learning their language?”
“It’s never a waste of time to learn something new. You never know when it’s going to come in handy.”
Jacoby clearly wanted to say more, but he closed his eyes. “Okay, so what if you make them think the hover crashed?”
“They’ll investigate that. If there’s no wreck, they’ll come back here.”
“They’re going to come, anyway.”
“Yes, but I want us to have the time to get over this fight, morn the dead and get back to fighting form.”
“Fine, them. What do you have against them, anyway?”
“Nothing. I just don’t like the idea that we’re getting involved in something we have nothing to do with. We’re not even getting paid.”
Alex threw the three last packs out of the hover. “You think I’m doing this because I feel like I need to protect these people?”
“I’ve been watching you with them, so yes, the thought has crossed my mind.”
“This had nothing to do with them. It’s about Tristan.”
Jacoby looked dubious.
“Think about it, Jacoby. To get better Tristan needs to build the wall. What happens to that if the town gets destroyed or taken over by a corporation? You think we’re going to be able to explain what we’re doing and they’ll just let us stay?”
“I don’t know. Seems to me you don’t get any more ‘primitive belief’ to turn into a spectacle than having someone build a wall because he believes it’s going to cure him.”
“It is going to work.”
“Right, and if I ask Randon hard enough, she’ll bring my parents back to life. You think this place is the only one that’s got superstitions? Every planet out there does, the difference between us and people like this is that we know it’s just that. Superstitions. They’re not real, just leftovers from a time we weren’t enlightened.”
“Really? You’ve traveled how far when you were active as a merc? And you never saw anything that made you wonder if there’s more out there?”
“Of course I did, but I didn’t then go and hung all my hopes for a cure on that. Alex, what you’re doing here is—”
“I’m done talking about this. If you have enough, you know what to do. You can even leave with this hover. Just make sure to destroy it when you reach your destination.”
Jacoby let out a growl of exasperation. “I told you I’m not leaving.”
“Then go back to figuring out the damage.”
“Already did. The only thing that got damaged is the air recycler which isn’t even needed here. So you’re fine to do whatever you want with this piece of shit.” Jacoby shoved Alex aside as he got off the hover and stormed back toward the town, passing Rig’Irik coming back with a dozen Samalian carrying the dead humans.
Once they were piled in the hover Alex programmed it for a long flight away and then a crash, removing the stop here from the network’s records.
“Good Fight!” Partren yelled, as the hover flew away.
“Good win!” Torbim added and cheers resounded. And immediately the conversation switched to Samalian as they headed back to town.
“How about the two dead?” Alex asked Rig’Irik, following them
“Dopfaer and Certol’dam. They fight well. They will be thanked tomorrow.”
“For fighting with us.” Rig’Irik searched for words, then his ears canted in the negative. “Not know of human thing equal.”
Alex nodded. “It’s okay. I don’t need to understand everything about your people.”
The Samalian tilted his head. “Humans want to know everything. They come, they ask questions. They write and write. Sartas say they change things. Then they say those things true.”
Alex thought back on the research he’d done. How much of it he was realizing had been incorrect. “I don’t know why they did that. I’m not interested in telling the rest of the universe about what I learn here. I just want to learn what’s going to make my job easier.”
“Torpas.” Rig’Irik indicated the town.
“That’s the name of the town?”
Rig’Irik’s ears twitched.
Alex looked at the buildings. “Sure, why not? Let’s say that’s why I’m here.”
As they reach the edge of the town Alex saw someone standing in a larger space between buildings. With a curse he ran in his direction.
Tristan was standing in the middle of blood, but there was not one drop on him. He looked lost, looking at the blood in the dirt. His ear twitched in Alex’s direction and he looked up. Anger filled his face on seeing him.
“You kept this from me!”
“Tristan, settle down.” Fortunately no one was close by. They all knew better than to hang around Tristan.
“No! I could have helped! I could have killed them! I wanted to kill them! Why wouldn’t you let me do that?” Tristan was shaking with rage, and Alex chose his words carefully.
“You wouldn’t have helped. Right now you’re not capable of doing anything to help anyone.”
Tristan’s stunned expression lasted only an instant then he took a step in Alex’s direction, putting himself in easy striking range. Alex never stopped looking at him, hoping this would be what pushed him over the edge. That Tristan would finally manage to break through whatever barrier had been erected and strike him.
Tristan stared at him, shaking ever harder and roared. Then he turned and sulked off.
Alex’s shoulders slumped. It hadn’t worked. And of course, now Tristan would take out his anger on the wall and he’d have to start all over again.
“That brave,” Rig’Irik said.
“Was it?” Alex replied.
“He strong, dangerous. Aggressor. Always brave stand up to one.”
“He was, yes.” Alex turned. “Come on, Let’s go help with the cleanup.” The Samalian tilted his head. Alex indicated the blood on the ground and the buildings. Some of the damage.
“Later. Now give thank for win. Come.”
Rig’Irik led him to the town square where people were assembling. Tables had been dragged out, food was being laid on them. Opposite that a handful of Samalian were seated, making music with instruments and their voices. The fighters were given comfortable chairs for those whose injuries kept from joining in the dancing. But they weren’t left alone. At any times there was a handful of men and women keeping them company.
Drinks were passed around and Alex was offered them. He refused anything that smelled like alcohol.
Over the following hours Alex kept to the outskirt of the celebration, and while the townspeople came in ones and twos, said a few words to him that sounded like gratitude, they didn’t seem to know what to do with him.
And then he noticed one of the town’s warriors against a wall with two other Samalians engaged in sex. Alex moved to another spot. He didn’t feel like watching them go at it. He moved about as more of the fighters found partners whose company to enjoy, and while most did little more than snuggle together, even that felt like an attack.
Rig’Irik broke from a man and woman who’d been pressing against him. “You okay?”
Alex forced his eyes to stay on the Samalian’s face. He’d caught a glimpse of his excitement and that had been enough. “I’m fine.”
Rig’Irik stepped close, and Alex became aware of how much heat he generated. “You alone. You fought, you come dance.” Rig’Irik took his hand and pulled gently.
Alex untangled his hand. “It’s okay.”
“Then I stay with you.” The Samalian ran fingers up Alex’s arms, claws barely out.
Alex’s breath caught, and he pulled his arm away.
“No, it’s not that.” Alex ran a hand over his arm, trying not to remember the feeling of Tristan raking his arms, almost hard enough to draw blood.
“You strong. Brave.” Rig’Irik’s soft tone made Alex look up. The Samalian placed a hand on Alex’s cheek and he found himself leaning into it.
He jerked away and fought every instinct that told him to throw himself At the Samalian, or shove him as far as he could. He placed both hands on Rig’Irik’s chest and pushed him away gently.
“I’m sorry, I can’t do this.”
“Not strong enough for you?”
“That isn’t it.” Alex stepped away. “It isn’t about you. It’s about me. I’m not someone who—I’m Tristan’s. I’m sorry.” He turned and walked away from the celebration, from the town. By the time he reached the House it was full dark and when he stopped he could just make out Tristan, back at the start of the wall, putting stones on top one another.
“I need you,” He whispered, and he thought he saw Tristan stiffen, but he continued stacking stones.
He headed to the hover, but stretched out on the grass. He didn’t feel like being around someone else if it wasn't Tristan right now.