War-Dancer (Tales of the Commonwealth Book 4) (3 page)

BOOK: War-Dancer (Tales of the Commonwealth Book 4)
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Down in the planet, amid the confusion of cinders and smoke that filled the air above the stronghold, the buccaneers on Thorn’s skiff deployed barbed snares hanging from the sides of their vehicle, and then flew over a small crowd scurrying toward the entrance to the mines. At the pass, the skimmer’s traps snatched some of their helpless adversaries from the ground, dragging them towards one of the watchtowers, so to throw them against its metal structure. The brutal manoeuvre impaled the victims against the watchtower’s crown of spikes, and had the side-effect of making the gunners on the tower tuck-tail and run.


Unfortunately for them, the gunners on the next watchtower were less impressionable. As the air-skiff slowed and came about for another pass, it was met with a devastating salvo that cut to pieces the pilot, and disabled the vessel’s repulsor-engines. In a desperate act, war-dancers and pirates bailed out, allowing the craft to crash past the bulwarks and into the frozen ground of the courtyard, rolling ruinously to a stop near the entrance of the mines, and letting up tongues of fire and an oily column of black smoke. All but Wrath, the gunner, had made it out.


This was when Razor, the midshipman, flashed past the main tower under cover from the smoke, and finally spotted the sniper hiding there. The buccaneer’s attention was focused elsewhere, and Razor seized the opportunity. Turning his skimmer with uncanny tenacity, the mad Libertatian used his skiff’s momentum to power his glide toward the sniper, who had no time to evade. He was knocked off the rooftop with Razor’s knife stuck to his back, and they both fell crashing down on a pile of fuel canisters below.


Not far distant from them, on the courtyard, Thorn unleashed his chin-mounted screamers at three of the Black Rose slavers charging him, but in the thin atmosphere, the weapon’s effectiveness was reduced. The bioroid slavers shook-off the merely disorienting effect, and responded with a disorderly salvo from their pistols, which Thorn barely managed to dodge with a series of misleading war-dancer moves. He was suddenly certain that he would not survive a new salvo.


It was the falling sniper and the mad midshipman landing on top of him that distracted the Black Rose henchmen for long enough that Thorn could counter-charge them. At close quarters, the Black Rose thugs drew their combat knives and slashed at the Scimitar’s first-mate, but Thorn nimbly voided their attacks. Once he managed to get close enough, the tide of the scuffle changed abruptly, and the potent plasma-pike flashed left and right to deliver death in the midst of the bewildered band of Black Rose brutes.


Nearly a hundred kilometres away, the Scimitar had delivered Fu’Ryah’s skiff into the atmosphere, and the skiff’s pilot steered the flimsy little vessel towards their target. “The captain’s sssssss(…)her way, Thornxxxx!” voiced Shih, boosting the Scimitar’s signal over the impeded long-range comms.


Thorn caught the scrambled message and flipped his head momentarily, so to verify the status of the entrance to the mines. As his hypermatrix display corrected for the oily smoke, he confirmed his fears: the bulkhead had been shut. “By the black harbour, woman! Who gave you the go-ahead to start the run?” But his message never got across. Even so, no-sooner was the question asked, then Thorn laid his eyes upon the figure of the rebellious midshipman – pistol and knife in hand – dealing with a bunch of defenders on his own, and he knew his answer.


Thorn called out to Zanzibar to try to regroup their men, but neither one nor the other had much success. While the intoxicated pirates of Razor’s team still rocketed time and again past the stronghold, keeping busy the remaining watchtower and the N-3s on the perimeter, the scattered survivors of Thorn’s skiff picked themselves up here and there, and engaged the nearest defenders point blank. As they were, the raiders had little hope of paving the way for Fu’Ryah’s arrival beyond bogging down the defenders on the surface.


Signalling for Zanzibar to join him, Thorn soared with a bound towards the locked-down bulkhead. Between the smoke and the scattered skirmishes that happened all about them, the two pirates made it to the reinforced gateway unscathed, and got busy with the business of attaching breach-satchels to the sturdy composite doors. “I don’t think we have enough,” remarked Zanzibar pessimistically.


“They’ll have to do,” growled Thorn impatiently. “Spread them all at the top and sides. I’ll put some in the middle, and let’s hope the cinders and gravity do their part too.”


Then, preceded by a quick orbital bombardment, the third skimmer came screaming down from above and into view. With a watchtower’s multi-laser gun spitting bright beams at them, the crazed pilot flew straight toward the stronghold. Zigzagging slightly to evade fire, the air-skiff rocketed recklessly, in an apparent kamikaze run. Savage, the skimmer’s gunner, responded to the watchtower with a burst from their prow-mounted fusion-cannon, but the evasive manoeuvres of the skiff made him miss his target.


This was when, without warning, the war-dancers that had been ducking down inside the skiff took position on the vessel’s bulwark and, in a wild manoeuvre, the skiff came about to whip them all out, flying in freefall toward the stronghold. Daft as it may have seemed, that had been the plan all along, and the notion had been designed so that a small team of pirates could bypass the slavers’ defences to reach their stash inside the bastion.


Assisted by the thin air and the low gravity, as much as by repulsor-chutes attached to the utility clamps of their battle gorgets, the war-dancers in reactive void-suits soared madly in the general direction of the entrance to the mines, hoping chutes and suit would be enough to save them from a lethal crash. Below them, in the bastion’s courtyard, the clangour of arms now prevailed over the lightning of lasers, so that they flew overhead unharmed, just as they had planned.


“Captain!” exclaimed Spiter in an anguished tone, “the entrance: it’s sealed!” Fu’Ryah responded to the beast-master’s warning by shifting her visor’s readings to allow the hypermatrix to correct for the smoke cover, whereupon she realised they were closing-in fast on the blocked gateway. Like their captain, Fu’Ryah’s seven companions watched helplessly as they neared the lowered gates that would mean their doom, and each of them pictured themselves as they were smashed disastrously against them.


Then, quite providentially, the fulgurating breach-satchels placed by Zanzibar and Thorn began to do their work. Blinding sparkles ate away at the metal gates, making them crumble in chunks and fall, amid a cascade of cinders and hot coals. Alas the charges had only partially worked, melting away the top portion and the sides of the gates, and leaving the corroded lower half of the gates standing precariously from its anchorage on the ground. Three of Fu’Ryah’s henchmen were lost to that barrier, and though they broke through the remains of the gate, they did so at the expense of their lives.


The remnants of Fu’Ryah’s party then deployed their chutes to drastically slow their advance, and then they came to a stop rolling forward on the mine’s cavernous ground-level hall. Under fire from both automatons and surprised flesh-and-blood defenders, Fu’Ryah and her group recovered and rushed to the far end of the cavern, firing their pistols in a slapdash meant to do no more than hinder the defenders. Their furious charge culminated with a clash against the entrenched slavers, whereupon the defenders’ pistols and carbines lost their use.


Though the bioroid slavers of the Black Rose resisted to the best of their ability, their pragmatic style of combat contrasted deeply with the acrobatic feints of the Blood Bond war-dancers. The transhuman martial performers surprised their opponents with gambits and ruses, expertly voiding and riposting each and every blow, much to the defenders’ despair.


Stronger and sturdier as they were, the bioroids of the Black Rose were by and by taken down by the superior martial prowess and tirelessness of Fu’Ryah’s freed pit-fighters. Even the robust N-3 robots couldn’t stand firm against the masterful war-dancer fighters. Despite their superior mechanical might, the N-3s of the Black Rose could not survive the breach-satchels that the Blood Bond raiders attached to them, even as they side-stepped the automatons’ pneumatic punches and laser bursts.


Leading the war-dancers in that skirmish was Fu’Ryah herself, whose seemingly unlimited vitality inspired those of her braves fighting around her. In what looked like madness, she engaged two or more Black Rose thugs at a time, entangling them with the crooks of her twin boarding-hooks to finish them off with their talons and spikes. The brute strength and direct approach of the bioroid pirates was useless against her martial subtlety and lightning reflexes. Synthetically bolstered muscles and instinct conspired to make the transhuman woman into an unassailable opponent.


Meanwhile, the Scimitar’s remaining air-skiffs continued to blast at the working watchtower, until it had all but been reduced to smouldered metal. Out in the courtyard, the situation was grim for the Black Rose’s forces, so that they fled into the mines. Realising the thick of the fight had moved within ahead of them, the remnants of the Black Rose watchmen took shelter near the gateway as best as they could, and continued to seek out and shoot at targets of opportunity. They eventually damaged another of the air-skiffs – causing it to let loose its passengers and retreat – and were by then merely holding their ground at gunpoint.


The last of the Black Rose watchmen were led by a very brawny bioroid foreman, who wielded a wicked stun-whip and a pistol, and who managed to keep the encroaching crew of the Scimitar beyond arm’s reach. The monstrous-looking foreman had maintained this pace since they had been backed against the threshold, and it looked as if he could keep doing it until the last Blood Bond marauder succumbed to his crackling whip, just as long as his rear was guarded by his entrenched comrades.


Unnoticed, a single figure bathed in coagulated petrol-coloured blood leapt into the morning air, ricocheting on the cavern wall and landing amid the entrenched defenders. Without hesitation, he skewered one of them with his plasma-pike, and blasted at the others with his screamers, making them fall to their knees with their hands to the sides of their heads. The last of the Black Rose’s watchmen succumbed to the indefensible war-dancer weapons, just as Zanzibar and the other pirates closed-in to take prisoner the stalwart Black Rose foreman.


By the same token, Fu’Ryah’s wave of transhuman war-dancers washed over the beleaguered defenders inside their mines, allowing the survivors to retreat into the lower levels and seal themselves within. As for those of the Black Rose slavers who did not manage a retreat, the warlike Blood Bond pit-fighters ganged-up around them to land a flurry of blows that was simply impossible to block. A massacre ensued, and before long, there were none of the Black Rose left standing at the ground level of the subterranean facility.


The fierce Black Rose foreman stretched his eyes over the host of attackers that hesitated to hold him, and singled out Fu’Ryah. She was discussing something inaudible with her seconds, who rushed off to do her bidding. Standing with her was the one who had neutralised his entire gang. With his already superhuman vision amplified by the hypermatrix inbuilt to his facemask, the foreman analysed them in detail. He had recognised in Thorn the makings of a wraith-bodyguard, so he concluded the female next to him was their captain.


Blinded by the desire for vengeance, his booming voice resounded through the voice amplifiers of his headgear. “You there!” he pointed at the captain with the handle of his whip. “Why send these underlings to die in your stead? By the code of Libertatia, I challenge you to face me, if you have the guts.”


Fu’Ryah was no fool, and she knew she should not give in to such an obvious lure meant to deprive her unruly crew of leadership, and to afford the foreman’s confederates the chance to mount a counter-attack. However, by Libertatian code, the captain could not budge from a challenge to single combat without losing the captaincy. That much she knew. Thorn, who was quite fatigued, offered to fight in her stead, which would be acceptable, but the war-dancer woman would not have it. She raised her visor to smile magnificently at her first-mate and, as she adjusted it back down, she told him to call for Ma’Gwa to bring the barge’s landing module down.


“I’ll fight you, bioroid, though I don’t see in you much of a challenge,” she boasted. Immediately, the pirates surrounding the foreman backed away from him with their weapons still at the ready. Led by Razor, Spiter and Zanzibar, the surviving raiders formed a circle of about fifteen meters in diameter around him. The razor-sharp spikes of the buccaneers’ boarding-talons were imposingly pointed inward toward the improvised arena, so that anyone trying to escape the challenge would think twice.

BOOK: War-Dancer (Tales of the Commonwealth Book 4)
9.17Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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