Ryard Vancing paused beneath the harborage of the Kiflin Line and looked to his dimly glowing affin module. A new message alert blinked on the wrist-wrapped screen. Sender: Casja Fawnell. He clicked the message open on the device. “Need to talk.” He typed, “Free right now,” and joined Sirin who had advanced several feet down the narrow pass, courier drone close behind. He waited a few moments before glancing to his device once more. No response.
“HQ?” The woman asked brusquely.
He shook his head. “Fawnell.”
“What does she want?”
“Didn’t say. Probably just someone to talk to. Poor woman has been through a lot recently.” He slouched despondently, sighing quietly, face falling with exhaustion and derision, “And I’m putting her through even more.”
“Permission to advise, Sir?”
“You should practice more emotional restraint. Else your sentimentalism will obstruct our objective.”
“Good to know I’ve someone I can really open up to.”
“This is what I was making reference to, Sir.”
Ryard screwed his face up in annoyance. “Permission rescinded.”
The woman straightened and quieted. After several minutes of awkward silence broken only by the rhythmic hum of the dutiful machine trailing the duo, Ryard gestured to the woman’s helm.
“How can you see in the dark with that thing on?”
“Quite easily, Sir. Without it, I’d not be able to observe the man following us.”
Ryard glanced quickly and warily over his left shoulder, only a tar-pitched abyss yawned. The alley was piled with thin, mineral loading planks, fitted with four foot by four foot cubes of compacted garbage, unfit for residential reprocessing.
“Unsure. Just noticed him.” She placed her left hand upon the cutter holstered at her side and stopped Ryard with her plated right arm, throwing it out before his chest with alarm. “There are two men waiting for us at the end of the alley.”
“I can’t see anything.”
“They’re hiding in the shadows. Around the corners up ahead. Its the men from before.”
“The reavers from the market?”
She nodded. “They’re waiting until we attempt to pass before jumping us.”
“One in front has a windlass. One behind has a pipe. Third is unequipped. Orders, Sir?”
“One behind, two in front. We’re boxed in. Can’t evade them. Need another way out.”
Ryard tensed and looked to the upper reaches of the ill-kept buildings surrounding, first right, then left. To the left, a metal folding ladder hung ten feet from the ground, a multi-tiered fire-escape.
“Only way is up.”
“Can’t make it in my armor. Can you?”
“Easily. But I’m not leaving you.”
“I’m replaceable, you’re not. They’re moving in. Hurry.”
Ryard hesitated, then turned abruptly, ran left up the wall, kicked off it, throwing his body up to the bottom rung, grabbed it with both hands and, using his heels to garner stability, pulled himself to a standing position on the retracted metallic step. The next instant a high-pitched thrumming filled the passage. A great whirring sounded, preceding a jet of pressurized air, which blanketed Sirin, and threw her back like a leaf in a high gale. She rolled to her side, drew her cutter, aimed out into the dark. Before she could fire, a bald man ran from the aphotic pall and struck her fiercely across the upper back with a thin metal rod. She grunted and whirled as he attempted another blow, rising and catching the pipe with one hand. Before Sirin could retaliate another man, large and musclebound, lurched forth and caught the woman about her left arm, as the rod wielder seized her right limb. The two men pinned the woman to the wall as a third man emerged from the darkness, face adorned with thin, jagged, red tattooes. The red marked intruder pointed a long, quietly humming device at the woman’s head and sneered.
“Told you I’d be back.”
“Pity your manners are not as immaculate as your word-keeping.”
The man glowered. Sirin’s masked gaze centered on the trio leader’s device.
“Windlasses are forbidden to unaccredited civilians.”
The tattooed man laughed and lowered his makeshift weapon. “Guess you’d better arrest me then.”
“I intend to.”
The moment the woman finished speaking, the fishmonger’s transport drone dashed forth and crashed into the left reaver’s legs with such force he howled and fell clear of his would-be prey, who turned upon her rightward restrainer, pulling him in front of her body as the tattooed reaver reactively raised and fired his windlass, striking the musclebound assailant in the back, peeling a moan of agony from his contorted maw. The air blast forced the large reaver and Sirin into the wall and kicked a cloud of detritus from the ill-kept ground. Before the dust cleared, Sirin shoved the big reaver aside, who slumped limply to the ground and kicked the windlass from the tattooed mugger’s hands. The two combatants faced off a moment, the man shocked, the woman silent, as the remaining, hairless reaver huffed and strained on the ground under the eel-laden weight of the courier drone. The tattooed reaver drew a strange blade from his belt, brandishing it threateningly, taking a step forward, trembling with rage.
“At least I’m not oblivious.”
The man grimaced and prepared to lunge, snarling with surprise as Ryard Vancing dropped from the adjacent fire escape and brought the reaver to the ground. The curious blade tumbled to the earth. Vancing fastened his arms about the waylayer’s throat and hooked his legs around the mugger’s own, securing the hold. Sirin retrieved her cutter from the middle of the alley and leveled it at the grunting, immobilized reaver as Ryard applied incremental pressure to the branded crook’s throat until the detainee pawed at the mechanic’s coat and meekly gasped defeat. Ryard swiftly released the man, who rolled to his side, gasping for air, eyes warily regarding the KSRU cutter trained upon his left patella.
“If you enjoy the continued use of your legs, I suggest you remain still.”
The reaver sat up and looked to his downed companions, his face falling to tragedy. Sirin looked over her shoulder at Vancing and tossed him a interlinked pair of scandium restraints.
“You were supposed to escape, Sir.”
Ryard grinned as he secured the restraints around the inked man’s hands.
“No one’s replaceable. Not me, you.” He turned to the bound man, who glared up at his captor. “Not even him.”