Suddenly she was free, thrown aside as her attacker released her abruptly. Lorelea gasped, still choking, and threw out her good arm to save herself as the ground came up hard. She skidded and tried to roll, hurting her hip in the process, gasping for breath desperately. Then a hand scooped under her elbow, lifting her back to her feet.
“We need to move. He’s down, but I think he might have called in back-up.”
The voice was male and familiar, though in the moment she couldn’t place it, but she didn’t fight as the man helped her rise and locked an arm under her shoulder so she was half lifted and half running away from the bay, but further into the more dilapidated area of the spaceport.
Her breath had come back now and, willing to fight again if needed, Lorelea resisted being pulled along. The moment she did, the man released her, spinning them both behind a high-sided industrial storage bin as he did so. He was tall and had to crouch down to keep his head below the level of the rim where Lorelea could stand beside it.
Now she knew him.
This was the man she had last seen on Hell’s Breath. The same ruffled dark red-brown hair, the same direct gaze. It was the CSF man who had interrogated her daughter and told Lorelea his name was Grim. He had been looking for Jaz too. The last time she had seen him it had been along the length of an old-style energy weapon she was holding, but presumably he wasn’t carrying a grudge about that. She could think of no reason why he would be here, but in that moment it didn’t matter. He might not be her first choice of ally, but he was one she could at least trust to get her out of the present mess she had walked into.
“Your place or mine?” he asked. “Mine is right round the corner.”
Lorelea saw the figure even as Grim reacted and started to turn, but too slow. She had been gripping the snub in her pocket and now, with no conscious thought, fired without pulling it free. The shot took her target in the gut and the woman who had come into view around the industrial bin, fired high before folding forward sharply and clutching at her abdomen. Then a second burst from the Grim made the woman’s body jerk once then go still. Lorelea felt nothing. She knew she should be appalled. She had never killed anyone before, never fired a shot in anger, never…
“I’ll run,” Grim was saying. “Cover me as much as you can.”
She blinked and felt his hand grip her arm. She wanted to say she was not that good of a shot, that this was not any kind of situation she had been in before. But something in his expression told her he had figured that already. It was just either she or he had to go out there and he was the one volunteering. She pulled the snub out of her ruined pocket and nodded.
A thump on the industrial bin was all the warning they had. A dull thump and the rapid mist rising. They had been lucky. Whoever had thrown it, the grenade had fallen short and it landed in the industrial bin, leaving them protected for a few moments from whatever gas or irritant the grenade had contained.
But Lorelea knew that whatever it was it could rise, disperse and affect them if they remained in place. And if they left the cover of the industrial bin together, without the other to provide some kind of cover, they would be easy targets. There was no other way to go, beside them was a solid wall.
Except for the slight depression in the panel at hand height.
Lorelea did not waste – or risk – a breath to explain. Instead she tagged Grim hard on one arm and pushed her hand onto the panel, feeling the mechanism give. The panel shifted slightly but not enough. Like everything else here, it was old and poorly maintained. Then Grim was behind her adding his strength to hers and the panel opened up. They were inside the dark service space and Grim heaved the panel back to seal them in and ran his snub’s energy field over the mechanism to fuse it shut. Unless whoever was after them knew the local service tunnel network well, they should have a chance.
The last service tunnel Lorelea had been in was well signposted by augmented labelling from the starport’s AI. This place had none. She had no idea which way would take them further into the dilapidated area and which would lead them out of it. Maybe Grim had a better sense of direction, or just had figured before she did that keeping still was the worst of the three options available. He had produced a narrow beamed flashlight and, putting a hand on Lorelea’s shoulder briefly, led the way along the narrow tunnel.
The air in the tunnel was dry and had an acrid tang to it. Their footsteps stirred a slight miasma of dust and Lorelea wondered where it had come from if these tunnels were so closed off and unused, hoping it didn’t betray their passage. The next exit along, Grim paused long enough to fuse the opening mechanism. Then shone the beam of his flashlight up so the darkness around them was banished.
“You alright?” He looked and sounded genuinely concerned.
“Yeah. But can’t you just call in some back up or something? You’re CSF, right?”
His expression blanked abruptly.
“Was. Long story and it’ll have to wait, we need to keep moving.” He turned away taking the light with him.
There was one thing Lorelea needed to know, but Grim was already moving.
“We can talk later – when we’re safe.”
“I just want to know why you were there? How did you know, I was -?”
He turned back towards her and his face was wearing the impersonal mask again.
“I didn’t,” he told her. “I was just passing by. Now we need to move. Please.”
Grim fused the next exit panel shut too and soon after they reached a point where they could either continue on or take a ramp down. He shone the flashlight down the ramp into the dark.
“That goes to the automated freight level,” Lorelea said. “It’s fully automated. No place for humans.”
Grim looked across at her, his face distorted by shadows.
“You seem to know a lot about this.”
She shrugged. “Long story. But believe me, we don’t want to go that way.”
He nodded and shone the light along the tunnel ahead.
“Alright. I guess we keep on this way. At least with this all being AI dead they can’t track us in here. But depending who your friends were, they might have the exits covered.”
There was a slight interrogation in his tone.
“I don’t know who they are,” she said aware she was sounding defensive. “I was slipped the address for that Bay in Voltz. I’d just said I wanted to speak with someone who could help me find someone.”
“Who were you-?” Grim broke off and the light vanished. They could both hear the footsteps in the dark ahead. Lorelea felt an arm loop her waist and she was hurried down the ramp. The arm released her with a firm pressure indicating she should continue her descent and she obliged for a couple more paces then pressed herself against the wall and snub in one hand.
The light played over the top of the ramp and finding nothing in its beam a figure appeared,silhouetted briefly, one arm extended with a snub ready. A moment later it fell away with a grunt. But the light remained hovering. Lorelea was almost bowled over when Grim spun and started running. He swept her with him and they were running down the ramp, the flashlight casting odd shadows as the ramp doubled back.
If she had been in any doubt as to why, the muffled splut of a gas grenade exploding was all the explanation needed. Grim hit the door at the bottom and opened it in almost the same movement and then they were in the brilliant light. Blinded, Lorelea blinked and was still trying to adjust when her arm was grasped and she was steered at speed to one side.
The freight area was as she remembered it.
“The vehicles here -” she started to explain, but then broke off as right in front of them two trains of trailers appeared from either side, danced tightly round each other and shot off at right angles to where they had emerged. Lorelea was forced back, Grim beside her, pressed hard against the walls to avoid the one that spun towards them. Following its path, two figures had just emerged from the service door. One fired a quick snap of energy which burned the side of a container right beside her, then they had to retreat to avoid the freight themselves.
Her whole body shaking at the near miss, Lorelea barely felt a brief tug on her hand and Grim was already vanishing at speed around the sharp corner as she pushed herself away from the wall to follow. He waited for her to catch up and Lorelea felt a wash of fury at herself, banishing all other emotion. She wasn’t going to let herself be any kind of a problem here. She had this.
From Iconoclast: Not To Be a Fortune’s Fools book by E.M. Swift-Hook
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