Campaign of the Month: January 2011

Honour Among Thieves

Nine Tenths of the Law Session Seven

Wherein Captain Johnson gets a building dropped on him.

The Mantis class ship hovered over the taller of the two hotel towers, dipping its nose down as if sniffing for prey amid the piles of rubble scattered across the courtyard. Over the drone of its engine pods, which were sending heat distortion waves down that blurred the lines of the hotel structure beneath them, Jonah, YJ and Worth could hear a high-pitched whine starting up. Their attention was drawn to the two chin-mounted autocannons slightly off set from the centre of the ship’s nose. It was the larger of the two that had begun to spin.

There was a sound like the tearing of fabric as the autocannon split the air between the ship and the ground. The Mantis was rocked back on its center of gravity as a tongue of yellow fire like dragon’s breath shot out from the spinning Gatling gun. The effect was instantaneous. Concrete was pulverized into dust that leaped into the air in a billowing cloud as round after round gouged bowling ball sized holes in the buildings adjacent to the hotel complex. Edifices and support pillars were stripped bare, revealing the rusted rebar within, and sparks began to fly as metal struck metal.

The ship’s nose lazily drifted from port to starboard, raking a line of molten death across the courtyard that cut deeply into the terrain. The stream of cannon fire struck puddles of stagnant water, which flashed instantly into steam. Jonah’s heart sank as the cannon began to savage the skeletal remains of the building he and YJ had taken cover behind.

Jonah and YJ heard an ominous groaning sound coming from their refuge as it shifted on foundations suddenly undercut by the heavy weapons fire. Support pillars twisted and there was a thunderous crash as the building’s upper floors began to pancake atop one another. As the structure surrendered to the forces of gravity it spilled its guts of masonry and plaster outwards in a grey cascade.

Jonah backpedaled down the alley as it rapidly filled with chunks of falling building, and held his breath against the unholy mixture of dust and pulverized construction materials that obscured his vision.

YJ had time to look up as a shadow fell over him. A rushing cloud of dust enveloped him and he lost his footing as he was swept up in an avalanche of concrete. He blacked out.

The barrage ceased, and over the sound of settling debris Worth could hear the spinning of the autocannon wind down, as dozens of bright brass shell casings were ejected from ports beneath the cannon, tinkling to the ground in a final flourish. A 70-foot crescent of destruction was now etched into the courtyard as a cloud of dust settled over the area.

Jonah kept his head down as he took cover behind the mound of wreckage, crawling around less stable-looking piles. He was not about to expose himself to enemy fire if he could help it.

YJ’s eyes fluttered open, but he could see nothing but darkness. He coughed out wet gobs of mud and insulation and inhaled a ragged breath as he took stock of his situation. He tried to move his legs, but they were pinned by what felt like all the weight in the world. Frowning, he tried to wiggle his toes and was relieved when he could do so. He reached out and his hands met a rough pile of concrete that shifted ever so slightly. YJ felt for his multiband and hit was he hoped was the right button. “Could I get a hand here?” he said as he grabbed double handfuls of debris and pushed them to the side.

“YJ, are you under there?” Jonah asked incredulously as he realized that there was now a fifteen foot pile of rubble where the captain had been standing only moments before.

“Really?” YJ’s static-laden voice said from Jonah’s multiband speaker. “No, I’m in Tijuana, having a couple of mojitos,” he said sarcastically. “Of course I’m under here!”

Jonah crab-scuttled over to where he thought YJ may have been buried. “I’ll treat the Shenmue right, don’t you worry, buddy,” he said into his multiband as he searched for any sign of the captain beneath the layers of building materials.

“Ouch,” Worth added. He took a quick peek out from behind cover and sent up a silent prayer as he ran against the inner wall of the last building before the hotel complex. He pulled up at the building’s edge, staying out of sight of the gunmen in the upper levels of the tower.

Jetwash from the Mantis was causing the dust cloud to rapidly dissipate. As the cloud rolled further back along the courtyard, the Doc decided to make his move. Slapping a derm of endorphin onto the inside of his forearm, he gripped his medical bag and ran through the haze in Worth’s general direction.

YJ continued to flail against the bits of rubble within arms reach. He dug a trough through a pile of shattered bricks and winced as the wound on his hand opened again.

Jonah grabbed at various pieces of debris, hurling them aside while taking care not to give his position away. “YJ!” he shouted. Then he pressed his ears to a flat expanse of concrete foundation and was rewarded by a sound of faint scratching from somewhere below. Smiling with relief, Jonah began to dig.

“How come nobody’s firing at the building?” Worth shouted into his multiband.

“I’m a little stressed out at the moment, thanks!” YJ shouted back. He was sweating from exertion and the rising heat of his small pocket of space.

Shaking his head, Worth quickly scanned the face of the tallest hotel tower. He could still see the hint of an enemy in the darkness of a fourth floor window. Steeling himself, he stepped out and cursed as his booted foot kicked a chunk of brickwork, sending it rattling against a torn scrap of corrugated metal. There was a muzzle flash from the fourth floor and bullets began striking the ground around him. Worth stumbled forward over the bricks and made it out of the line of fire. He breathed a sigh of relief as he put his back to the wall.

The Doc gaped as he watched Worth run headlong through a withering hail of rifle fire. Worth spied the Doc standing where he had been just a few moments ago, working up the courage to run after him. “Doc, don’t follow me, go around the back!”

“Okay!” The Doc turned and sprinted around the corner.

From where Jonah was hunkered down behind the pile of rubble, he had a great view of the Mantis slowly spinning about as it hovered over the hotel. It looked like it was repositioning itself for some nefarious purpose, but at least its autocannons were now pointed away from his position. He renewed his efforts to dig YJ out.

Worth sidled up to the nearest ground floor window and yanked a grenade from his webgear. Pulling the pin, he tossed it through into the dark interior of the building and ducked back out of the way. He could hear the sound of the grenade pinging off tiled flooring before it exploded, sending smoke and shrapnel blasting back out of the empty window frame.

The Doc moved down a wide alley at the side of the hotel. Faded signs hanging off the pitted wall pointed to BOAT RENTALS, RESTAURANT, CASINO and LOBBY. “Guys, this resort has all the amenities!”

Jonah looked up as he heard a loud explosion from the upper levels of the hotel. A section of masonry from the side of the tallest building fell over, ahead of a column of smoke. Bits of rubble scattered off the roof of the second building to crash onto the ground below. The Mantis shifted further, dropping to within a few feet of the lower hotel tower. Jonah shrugged and pulled out a smoke grenade, lobbing it over the pile of debris. It bounced several times before it began to belch bright red marking smoke into the humid air. Satisfied, Jonah resumed digging.

“So, where is everybody?” Worth asked.

“Digging,” Jonah replied.

“I’m doing my daily tai chi.” YJ said.

“Does anybody see anything? What’s happening?” Worth clarified, trying not to let his irritation get the better of him.

“Give me two seconds, we’ll have YJ out and we’ll get in there and shoot that thing down and kill everybody inside.” Jonah said.

“Why are we here again?” the Doc asked. “We can just run back the way we came, can’t we? Just making sure we have all the options on the table.”

YJ winced as he felt a sharp piece of rebar grate against his midsection as he shifted around.

Worth stepped through the rusted remains of a revolving door and entered the lobby of the hotel. Smoke from his grenade hung in the air. He looked up to see his reflection in a mirrored ceiling, two stories up. The walls had been originally covered in marble slabs, but some had been removed to reveal the stark fittings underneath.

The tiled floor was covered in places with a half inch of water, some of its streaming from a disused fountain in the centre of the lobby that at one time must have been impressive. Now it was just a breeding ground for mosquitoes. As for the rest of the lobby, what wasn’t damp and moldy was covered in cobwebs and a thick layer of dust.

The concierge desk to his right was deserted, the inlaid Corvue screens on the countertop dark and pitted. There was a scattering of doorknob-shaped keys on the floor in front of the counter. A sign on the wall behind the counter read “WELCOME TO PARALLAX VIEW TOWERS.”

A well-appointed waiting area was off to the side opposite the front desk, giving a great view of the fountain. Several wingback chairs sat quietly rotting in the gloom, tufts of stuffing leaking out from what look like stab wounds in the cracked leather.

There was a pair of elevators at the far end of the lobby. Each was labeled. TOWER ONE on the left, TOWER TWO on the right. Signs on the wall pointed to WINDJAMMER CASINO, HEALTH CLUB, RESTAURANT, POOL, BOAT RENTALS, and STAIRS.

Worth headed for the nearest stairwell. As he neared the elevators, his sharp eyes noticed that the control panel for the Tower Two elevator was of a newer vintage than that of Tower One. It had been inexpertly roughed in to the wall next to the elevator doors. Impulsively, he reached out and pressed the call button. He was rewarded with a soft ding, and the button lit up. He looked up at the readout over the elevator and saw that the lift was now descending from the fourth floor. He grinned and ducked into the stairwell.

Doc Tulsa approached the service entrance at the side of the hotel, keeping one eye on the windows above him. He reached into his medical bag and pulled out his pistol. The lock on the service door had been burned clean through some time ago, and he shouldered his way inside. “Worth, I’m coming in through the side entrance.”

“Good to know,” Worth replied. “Go see the concierge, he’ll tell you which way to go.”

“Do they have a bellhop on call? This bag’s getting heavy,” Tulsa replied. He was standing in a stark hallway with walls of cinder block, its surface stained with water damage. A sign listed directions for RECEIVING, LAUNDRY, OFFICE, and LOBBY. The Doc headed for the lobby. He stepped around the splintered remains of a door into the rear of the front desk area. He took note of a safe underneath the counter, its door blown off and its contents ransacked. A dozen or so doorknob keys lay on the carpeted floor, with one or two still seated in a long foam holder that would have been within easy reach of the desk clerk. Then he heard the ding of an elevator arriving on the main floor, its doors sliding open. Tulsa took cover against the nearest wall, peeking around the edge of the counter to look at the elevators at the far end of the lobby. He heard the sound of heavy feet on the tile floor, at least two sets of them, and then two figures exited the elevator car.

Worth stood at the base of the stairwell, which was a dripping mess clogged with debris, including the front facing of a Blue Sun Cola machine, several broken doors, chunks of soggy plaster, and other bits of wreckage. Water stains had darkened the faded wallpaper, some pieces of which had curled up in the dampness. Green smears of mossy growth had traveled up the walls in uneven peaks and valleys. The ever-present sub-bass hum of starship engine made the walls vibrate slightly, and there was little light filtering in from the upper floors. Behind him he heard the sound of the elevator door sliding open.

The Doc’s eyes widened. He wasn’t sure what to expect from the gunmen who had been raining death down on his crew mates, but he was not expecting robots. Humanoid in appearance, the two droids had the look of heavy labour about them, with wide stabilizing boot-like feet and strong pistons driving their limbs. The submachine guns grafted onto their forearms, on the other hand, looked like an after-market upgrade. The robots’ skull-like heads sported a wide cyclopean photo-receptor that glowed red in the semi-darkness. One of the droid swung its head in the Doc’s direction and stepped forward, shattering the tiles beneath its heavy foot.

The Doc ducked back down below the counter and unzipped his medical bag. He fished around amid the first aid kits and other medical modules and came up with the sawed-off shotgun given to him by the Shepherd in Evans City as a going-away gift. Breaking the gun’s action, he smiled as he saw two shotgun shells seated and ready to go. He snapped the sawed-off closed and slowly straightened up.

Worth turned around and leaned out into the lobby to see whether anyone had taken his bait. He was as shocked as the Doc to see the pair of bipedal robots stomping out into the lobby, sweeping their weaponized limbs back and forth. One of them was moving in the direction of the front desk. Worth wasted no time in switching Katrina’s fire selector to full auto and lifted the assault rifle to his shoulder. He hosed the nearest robot with a barrage of bullets, which sparked and ricocheted off the robot’s armored carapace.

Several of the rounds punched through to the robot’s vital innards, and with a metallic screech, the droid’s torso cleanly separated from its lower extremities, hydraulic fluid splashing to the floor amid bits of actuators and shattered spinal components. The droid’s upper half hit the floor with a resounding crash, its legs tottering forward for another step and a half before their joints locked up and they tipped over gracelessly. The droid let out an electronic squeal as it attempted to right itself, and from within its guts Worth could hear the sound of a warning alarm. The second droid turned in the direction of Worth’s fire and raised its weapon arm.

The first droid suddenly exploded, its remaining upper body disintegrating into shrapnel as its power core overloaded. Its partner was peppered by fragments, and sparking components bounced off the tiled floor in all directions. The remaining droid, undeterred by the sudden explosive departure of its partner, coldly examined Worth with its large single eye, which focused and refocused in a quick succession of clicks. Worth gulped as he stared down the wide bore of the firearm that had been hardwired into a forearm mount.

The Doc braced the shotgun over the countertop and pulled the trigger. The weapon boomed, knocking the droid sideways. It spun about, planting its heavy feet wide apart in an attempt to halt its stagger. Its submachine gun began to fire wildly, shattering mirrored ceiling tiles and blowing holes in granite facades and in an instant its overheating power plant gave up the ghost and the robot transformed into a rapidly-expanding sphere of circuits and shattered hardware. Smoking bits of droid now littered the floor and at Worth’s feet, an intact portion of robot skull screeched at him as the glow faded from its cracked photo-receptor. Worth grinned and kicked the robot’s head across the lobby.

There was a soft chime as the elevator doors closed and the car began to return to the fourth floor. Worth and Tulsa shared a look, then bolted for the stairwell.

“All right, YJ, we’re getting you out of there!” Jonah shouted as he pulled a large chunk of floor out of the way. He ducked instinctively as a hail of gunfire tore ineffectually through the cloud of red smoke from his grenade.

Worth stayed close to the outside wall as he mounted the stairs with the Doc on his heels. The wide stairs had a metal railing on either side, but they were otherwise open to an air shaft that gave them a bit of advance view to the landing at the level above them. Worth took note of the Doc’s shotgun. “Nice,” he said approvingly.

YJ felt himself running out of steam. The pressure on his legs was almost unbearable, it was as hot as an oven, the air was going bad, and for every handful of debris he pushed aside, another fell down from above. Suddenly, the concrete slab above him shifted slightly, and then bright sunlight spilled into his resting place, along with a rush of fresh air. A shadow momentarily blocked the sun, and YJ squinted until the outstretched hand came into focus.

“That’ll be five platinum,” Jonah said, a wide grin on his face.

“You’re still not getting the keys to the ship,” YJ managed. He coughed and pointed to his buried legs. “I’m pinned.”

“Not for long,” Jonah said, hefting a length of rebar. He began to lever the chunk of rubble, pushing down with all his might. There was a grinding sound and then a small avalanche of debris as YJ suddenly felt the weight disappear from his legs. He crawled forward with the last of his strength, as Jonah grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and pulled him free.

Worth and the Doc hit the third floor landing. Above them there was a hissing sound of compressed air, and something shiny caromed off the steel railing, bouncing down into the shaft below them. Worth had time to identify it as a grenade before it blew, expending loudly but harmlessly a floor and a half below them. He heard a muffled curse from above him and leaned out to get a view of his attacker. The man was standing on the fourth floor landing, wearing a full tactical suit, a helmet and integrated facemask accented with glowing red goggles.

There was something familiar with the ambusher’s armor. In an instant Worth remembered where he had seen this configuration before – from the picture of the unit of Special Forces he had found in Wild Sky’s quarters.

Outside the hotel, YJ got on his hands and knees, trying to will feeling back into his legs, which were gripped by pins and needles.

“You ready?” Jonah said, hefting his shotgun. He peeked out around the pile of rubble at the nearest hotel entrance below a marquee that hung drunkenly from its support struts.

YJ crawled over and took note of the security shutter that had been pulled over the revolving door. “Think you can cut through that door faster than last time?”

Jonah scoffed. “As fast as you need.”

YJ smiled “Well you’re going to need to. I’m hurt real bad.” He pointed to his bruised legs.

Jonah nodded. “Who wants to go first?”

YJ shrugged. “Rock, paper, scissors?”

The two men threw down, with YJ’s scissors beating Jonah’s paper. He got painfully to his feet and limped towards the door through the last of the red smoke from Jonah’s grenade. No sooner had he broken cover than a burst of gunfire rained down from a window above. YJ charged through the barrage, screaming obscenities as bullets kicked up gravel around his feet, and then he was under cover, breathing hard as he leaned against the security shutter.

Jonah took off after him, easily dodging the wild spray of bullets, and pulled out his cutting torch as he ran underneath the marquee. He wasted no time in burning through the rusted lock and hauled up the shutter. YJ held it open for him as Jonah grabbed a fragmentation grenade and tossed it into the darkened interior. The grenade detonated, lighting up the room for a split second.

“Sing, Katrina, sing!” Worth growled as let loose with a blast of autofire, raking his armored ambusher, who stood his ground under the assault even as sparks flew from his armor.

The Doc aimed his shotgun and fired the last round. His target staggered against the hallway door, but he still didn’t drop.

Worth couldn’t help but notice the man’s Newtech assault rifle, which featured an over-under grenade launcher, drum magazine, and long folding stock. He quashed the momentary feeling of professional admiration.

Jonah and YJ stumbled into the gloom as the security shutter rattled shut behind them. They crossed the slick floor tiles, which soon gave way to sodden carpeting. They appeared to be in some sort of casino. Ahead of them were several banks of slot machines and pachinko games. Every single one had been forced open, their computerized guts spilled out onto the floor, wires hanging like bloodless entrails. Glass and bits of circuitry crunched into the carpet beneath their boots.

The ceiling at one time had been covered by working Corvue screens, which had probably supplied both light and distraction to the casino patrons. No such luck now; they were all dead and dark, with what looked like bullet holes peppering them. Poker chips and pachinko balls were scattered on the ground, along with broken plastic cups and the occasional drink umbrella.

At the rear of the large gambling hall was a cabaret stage, with faded lettering reading WINDJAMMER REVUE on the wall behind it. A karaoke setup gathered dust at stage left. The dance floor was uneven, as moisture had warped the polished wooden floorboards. Between the casino and the stage were several round tables, many tipped on their sides, and shattered glass coated everything, reflecting what little light there was. The long bar against the far wall had been emptied of its contents, and what seemed like every piece of glassware on the premises had been broken. The carpet and tablecloths stank of coconut rum. A sign near the cashier’s station pointed the way to HEALTH CLUB, RESTAURANT, and HOTEL LOBBY.

Jonah and YJ moved quietly through the shambles, and in the distance they could hear the muted sound of automatic gunfire. “You boys in a gunfight right now?” Jonah asked into the multiband mic.

“Uh huh,” Worth responded as the sound of small arms fire popped in the background. “We fought these totally wicked robots.”

“That a fact?” Jonah said, impressed. He motioned to YJ to follow him through the hallway leading to the hotel lobby. The two men tiptoed across the tile as they encountered the acrid smell of burnt circuitry. The lobby looked like an explosion in an appliance store; shreds of smoking electronics were scattered across the floor. Jonah’s sharp eyes were quick to pick out movement amid the hazy cloud of smoke. It was a humanoid robot with a prominent targeting scope that glowed red in the semi-darkness.

Jonah took the robot in stride and raised his combat shotgun, firing a round that severed its left arm, sending a shower of sparks bouncing across the floor tiles. The droid stumbled, its heavy feet crunching tiles into powder as it fought to remain upright. The robot swung about to face the two men, raising its remaining arm and extending the submachine gun. YJ stood shoulder to shoulder with Jonah and snapped off a shot with his flechette pistol. The armor-piercing dart shattered the droid’s photo-receptor. The droid’s head snapped back, its optics gone. Slumping against a pillar, the robot began bleating an alarm before smoke began to belch from beneath its armor plates. It burst into flames seconds before an explosion from inside its main trunk blew the droid apart, adding more charred wreckage to the bits of dismembered robot scattered across the floor.

In the stairwell, the armored mercenary unceremoniously withdrew, dodging back into the hallway and running out of sight. Worth breathed a sigh of relief and mounted the stairs two at a time in an attempt to catch up. He swapped out Katrina’s nearly-expended magazine for a fresh clip and worked the action on his favourite gun. “Don’t take the elevator!” he shouted into the multiband.

“We’re coming up the stairs now!” Jonah yelled back.

“Don’t shoot us, okay?” YJ added.

Worth took cover next to the hallway door and peeked around the corner. The hallway was long and relatively free of debris, and Worth had to squint at the bright light that was visible at the opposite end of the hall. He could see at list six doorways leading into hotel suites.

Worth grabbed a second grenade and tossed it down the hall. To his immediate dismay the grenade bounced off the ceiling and landed well short of its intended target, squelching against the wet carpet. He ducked back behind the doorway in time to avoid the hail of shrapnel and smoke that blew into the stairwell. A length of wet carpet slapped across Worth’s face, drenching him with foul-smelling water. Worth heard a derisive snort from behind him; the Doc was not impressed.

“You’ve got to be kidding!” Tulsa said suddenly. He started rummaging through his medical bag and came up with a fresh derm. “I’m coming down already!” he said as he applied it to his wrist. Then he reloaded his shotgun, stepped out into the doorframe, and fired, sending buckshot scattering down the hall. His shot took out an illuminated exit sign. There was no returning fire, but they could hear the sounds of starship engines, very close, pitching up in intensity.

“Clear,” Tulsa said. “Cover me,” he said over his shoulder to Worth.

“Kinda hard to do since you’re standing in the middle of the hall,” Worth said.

“Right.” Tulsa said. The first door on the left was open and light was spilling into the hallway. Tulsa stepped in. The window was bare and glassless, and on either side of the window frame were several holes in the concrete wall, punched clean through by heavy caliber rounds fired from outside. The Doctor’s eyes were immediately drawn to an ugly splash of blood on the floor and wall opposite the shattered window. He also noticed that the interior wall of the empty hotel suite had been knocked down to create a larger space. The window afforded him a terrific view of the hotel courtyard and the length of the island down to the water’s edge. At the far end, the upper portion of Shenmue’s fuselage was visible over the blast shield wall. He turned from the window and took note of a communications console, half-slagged by the heavy weapons fire that had damaged the rest of the room, a bar fridge, and other signs of recent habitation, including a wastebasket filled with several days’ worth of empty ration packs.

There were streaks of dried blood on the floor as if something had been dragged through the rooms out of sight.

YJ and Jonah joined Worth at the fourth floor landing. Worth regarded them with amusement; both men were covered in grey cement dust from head to toe, save for areas darkened by blood, sweat and tears. They looked like living statues.

“Where’s the Doc?” Jonah asked, out of breath. Worth indicated the hall, as the Doc emerged from the second hotel suite, crossing the hallway, his attention focused on the floor.

From outside the hotel, the crew could hear the sounds of the starship engines spinning up to an ungodly howl.

YJ stepped into the first room as a shadow darkened the window. The room shook. He peered out as the Mantis passed overhead, its angular engine pods pointed back as it began to accelerate. YJ could make out the ship’s docking tackle and a cargo door that was still in the process of cycling closed. It soared over the length of the island just above the ruined buildings, and then rocketed skyward as it passed out into open water.

YJ blinked in surprise as there was a sudden flash of light from the rear of the Mantis’s superstructure. An angry yellow flare trailing white smoke streaked downwards. Missile! YJ had time to think in the second before impact. The target of the projectile, however, wasn’t the hotel tower; it was the landing pad at the foot of the island.

There was a thunderous boom of an explosion. Fingers of white-hot debris flashed out in all directions, like spider’s silk streaming downwards, as the impact cloud billowed up in varying shades of grey. YJ couldn’t see how badly Shenmue had been hit, or if it had been hit at all, but the expanding mushroom cloud at the far end of the island was bad news of the worst kind. YJ felt the heat from the blast on his face an instant later.

There was an echoing boom as the Mantis broke the sound barrier, climbing rapidly through the air at a steep attitude of incline. Then there was another crashing sound, an echo that didn’t exactly resemble the cacophony of destruction and escape. It was a sound of thunder.

YJ’s eyes widened as his attention swung up from the fire at the landing pad to the towering edge of the hurricane’s eye wall that had been approaching inexorably the whole time they had been on the island. He could feel the humid air now being stirred by a growing wind, and could taste ozone from the lightning playing through the dark swirling clouds. YJ realized that very soon, the island was going to be swallowed up by the endless storms of Branson’s Mark. He put a hand against the window sill and leaned on it for strength.

Worth bolted down the hallway to the bright light at the end and peered out at the hole that had been blasted out. He could see the roof of the shorter of the two towers a few feet below him, with scattered chunks of masonry across it. He could make out a number of boot prints in the soot and dust left behind by the explosion. He scratched his head, lost in thought.

Jonah followed the Doc into the hotel room and recoiled from the stench of death within. The dried blood trail led to a blue tarp that had been unfolded and laid out to cover up one corner of the room. The Doc grabbed it and pulled it off to reveal what had been hidden beneath. It was a pile of bodies stacked like cordwood. The humid climate had not been kind to the corpses. Putrefaction had begun to set in; the Doc estimated they had been dead for five days, give or take. Jonah involuntarily lit a cigar to cover the smell.

The first corpse belonged to a man with an expression of surprise frozen on his face, his clouded wide unseeing eyes staring upwards. His torso had been torn apart by several large caliber rounds, similar to those spit out by the Mantis’s autocannon. Jonah scratched his head; there was something naggingly familiar to him about the man’s features, as if he’d seen him somewhere before.

The second body was more immediately familiar. It was The Kid, the youngest member of the Sundeen Seven, who they had last seen weeks ago when they had dumped him on one of Persephone’s moon. The expression on his face was one of fury. His body had been peppered with small arms fire and he held an empty pistol in a death grip. The gun had been fired many times.

The third corpse belonged to Brade Sorgen, who still wore a thick bloodstained bandage on his head. The Doc recognized his own handiwork. Sorgen now sported a more final head injury on the other side of his skull, a wound no mere bandage could have helped.

The fourth body was that of a woman, her skin smeared with blood and her features distorted by purple bruises. Her right arm was obviously broken and she had been shot at least once, the bloody wound congealed and obviously infected. The Doc crouched down as Jonah moved the other corpses aside and dropped to one knee beside her. The Doc elbowed Jonah aside and checked the injured woman’s vitals. His eyes widened. “She’s alive!”

“What, the massage therapist survived?” Worth said from the doorway, staring at the body on the floor.

Jonah stared at the woman’s face as the Doc began to go to work. Her Asian features were recognizable even through the swelling and dried blood.

“Mei Yong Ma Duh Tse Gu Yong,” Jonah intoned. He looked up at the mechanic. “I think this is Wild Sky.”

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