The faint hum of the stunner went unheard against a background of laser hits, screams, and the thumping sounds of hurried movement in zero G. Vorp hooked the floating guard and pulled him into the store room with out anyone noticing. The bright yellow OOO overalls were a bit large, but that was better than the reverse.
Now, to make sure these new invaders didn’t take control of the ship. One way or another, no matter who was in charge, he was going home.
Simon projected menace as best he could toward the troop of ichimps that was confronting them. "We’re getting the President out of here!"
A lone ladychimp flew up behind the group, glanced at the President and promptly kicked one ichimp in the jaw. Her spin somehow translated into a grab of an armed ichimp’s hand, with his stunner somehow ending up in her hand.
Simon shut his gaping mouth and tried to imitate her kick. The violent spin generated by his miss sent him crashing into two other ichimps, spoiling the aim of their stunners. He caught a dizzy glimpse of SpiderJohnny demonstrating the strength of his cyberarms, strangling another ichimp.
The ladychimp flew out of a knot of combatants, kicked off Simon and collided with Ace and Bussard, propelling them around the curve of the corridor and out of sight.
"Spider, let’s go! The ladychimp’s got the President!" Simon yelled. He shoved off one ichimp in order to ram the one on his back into the wall. The Spider disdained such clumsy tactics, grabbing with an organic hand, he drove his cyber arms into whatever vulnerable area presented itself. Four punching a last ichimp in the gut, He shoved away, grabbing Simon.
"Go, yourself! I haven’t had so much GOD DAMMED fun in YEARS!" Spider’s lower left cyberarm snapped out and grabbed an available ear. He yelled over the shriek of pain, "I fucking NEEDED to burn off some fucking ire! And for your GODDAMMED information, the ladychimp’s name is KIRBY!"
Oleg Ori cursed the day he’d hired a security chief with no military experience. His ‘troops’ were great at policing a wide flung space company with its frequent labor problems, graft and occasional serious threat. But they were not the disciplined soldiers he needed now. They were piss poor at working together. Fortunately the ichimps were also lacking group combat training. They also tried to avoid killing anyone, an inhibition Ori’s troops did not suffer from. If anything, they were a little too bloodthirsty, eager enough to disregard what they might be damaging. He’d had to order them to holster their lasers before they all found themselves trying to breathe vacuum.
They’d had no trouble getting out of the docking bay and down the main corridor to the ring corridor. But once around the corner, the ichimps had come pouring out of the rooms and the tram. When it became clear that they were outnumbered, the ichimps had retreated past the tram and closed the emergency airtight door across the corridor.
Even battle steel yields to lasers, if reluctantly. The hand held weapons were poorly suited to the task, guzzling energy and over heating from continuous fire. They got the job done at the cost of nearly a quarter of their lasers. Then they’d had to cut through the next door. Beyond that, outside the control room, the ichimps had braced themselves to hold the invaders off, but the attributes that made warriors had been deliberately removed from their genes. In the face of deadly combat, they yielded.
"Half go after them, half stay!" Oleg roared.
Oleg surveyed the closed and locked hatch to the control room. Heavy battle steel. Double the thickness of the emergency doors. "You, and you. Here," he drew his hand down one side of the hatch, "and here." The other side. "Two of you work at a time. If your laser starts overheating, stop." A waste of words, the lasers went from over heating to melted painfully quickly.
He cued his comm, "Woods, any chance of you turning loose of some marines now?"
Beringar bounced off the first ichimp coming off the tram, as the next ichimp reached for him, he kicked out and connected with its face. Ms. Stick snatched him back and punched the emergency door control.
"We’ve got to get to the bridge," he glared at her, "We had them outnumbered."
"Didn’t you hear the fighting?" she replied, unfazed, "I think Oleg has arrived." She grabbed Berringer’s hand and placed it on the close button, "Hold that. We can hold the AI, the power supply and lifesupport, and let them fight it out."
May Huang took in the situation at a glance and changed directions, shoving off and very nearly climbing through the people that crowded up behind them. "I’ll get the other door and see what’s coming from that direction."
Beringar hissed in annoyance. "Spread out and see what we’ve got to jam this door." Rather to his surprise, it had not opened again, and he realized the ichimps had more to worry about than a few unarmed humans.
Cocoa wiggled through the press of bodies, pried off the cover of the controls, and reached in with a multitool. "That will keep it closed until either we open it or they burn through from the other side." She frowned at Beringar, "I’m not at all sure who I’m working for at the moment, but I suggest we see if we can fly this ship from the AI room." She turned and shoved off down the crowded corridor.
Kirby hustled the President around the curve of the ring corridor, only to find it full of people. A woman in ridiculous black and white artificial coloration came swimming through the bunched group. Kirby vaguely placed her as OOO management.
"The other end of the corridor is blocked, are there other ichimps or OOO security back your way?" She didn’t seem to be speaking to anyone specifically.
Kirby felt the President stiffen as he saw the woman, "That’s May Huang." he hissed, "She masterminded this whole thing!"
The woman just grinned, "Oh, not the whole thing! This winner take all party is not my idea." She shoved off the wall and continued past them.
Kirby hissed in irritation, but reversed direction in any case, "We’d better try to find these OOO guys, sir."
The President just shrugged, "Whatever."
They caught up with May as she joined SpiderJohnny and the friendly ichimp still fighting enemy ichimps at the tram area. May grabbed a floating stunner and quickly ended the battle. "You’d better get the President out of here," she said, looking at the ichimp. She turned away and started shoving the unconscious ichimps further down the corridor. As they passed the tram she triggered the emergency airtight door across the corridor between them.
"Drat!" the woman with the President snapped, "There’s a woman that belongs behind bars. We should have captured her."
"We’ll just have to be satisfied with getting out of here alive," said Kirby. "Commander Marlin isn’t it? Who are you two?"
The ichimp answered, "I’m Doctor Simon von Monkenstein."
The woman pushed her hair out of her eyes, trying to straighten herself up and look dignified instead of bedraggled. "I am Dr. A. C. Eonia of the LA Underground Press." She slumped in weariness, "Call me Ace."
"They are friends." Stated the President, firmly, "They were kidnapped by Beringar and have been held prisoner with me."
Kirby knew better than to argue with that tone of voice, from the President of the United Earth, so she just nodded. "Follow me, but not too closely." She led off down the corridor, toward the noise of more fighting.
Oleg hissed in frustration as the last laser started flickering. "Catch up with Gore and bring back four more lasers!" he told the nearest man, shoving him on his way. "This is going to take forever! Why the hell don’t the Marines get here!" he switched his glare to the nearest man. "Those damned pulse lasers of theirs would take down this door in no time!"
The man replied in a flat, careful voice, "The pulse lasers are poorly suited to cutting. They would damage the instruments beyond the door."
Oleg hissed again, but turned as the security man scrambled back with four lasers in his hands. His crew grabbed them and started cutting on the last bit without being told.
"Check fire," Woods shouted, as Kirby rounded the curve toward him. The marines held fire. "Kirby? Where’s the President?"
"Chuck! God am I glad to see you!" she turned to address someone behind her, "Space Marines, sir!" and turning back to Woods, "The other four are friendlies."
President Bussard, followed by a bedraggled looking woman, an equally bedraggled man, SpiderJohnny and a male ichimp, came up behind her. The Marines stirred and half lifted their weapons toward the ichimp. "Major, I’m delighted to see you," said the President. "Will you please escort me and my friends to my shuttle? It was loaded and ready to depart six hours ago,"
"Gladly, sir! One of my pilots should be checking it as we speak." Woods felt like the weight of that shuttle had just been lifted off his shoulders. "Sgt Freeman? If you will cover our retreat, we’ll get out of your way and give you operational command."
Freeman grinned and started deploying troops down the corridor Kirby had come out of.
"There are a couple dozen unconscious ichimps on this side of an airtight door—Beringar and May Huang are on the other side, with maybe a hundred people." Kirby called to her as she politely hustled the President toward the docking bay.
"They don’t have many weapons!" said the ichimp, looking worried. "They won’t attack, although I doubt they’ll surrender, either."
"Kill them all," snapped the woman, "Especially Beringar! Kill him twice!"
Oleg kicked the panel out of the door and slid through the hole despite the hot spot at the base. He had his stunner in one hand, and pulled the Whisper out of his pocket as he saw the only occupant of the room squirming out from under the pilots console. The ichimp froze, looking at him, then lunged toward the control panel.
The little .25 caliber shatter round hit him in the abdomen, curling him in agony, but not stopping him. Ori squeezed the trigger again and again, not realizing he’d done it until the hammer was clicking on an empty chamber and the ichimp was a gory sodden mass, adhered to the far wall.
"Jeeze!" the security man who’d followed him through the hole looked impressed.
Oleg waved him irritably away, "Get everyone after the rest of the chimps! I want them all unconscious or dead. I really don’t care which!" The man grinned and ducked out, calling orders.
A man in an OOO security uniform slid gracefully through the hole and floated to the opened panel beneath the pilot’s controls. "He was going to make it impossible to control the ship from here." He reported, drawing back.
Oleg frowned, "they must be retreating from the forward section. They were going to maintain control from Engineering. I’m not sure that could be done from a remote location. Maybe through the AI, although the comp stations there aren’t setup for navigation or piloting."
"The thermal charge was wired through the reset button," mentioned the man, as he leaned over and pushed it. A sizzle preceded smoke pouring out from all the seams of the console.
Oleg stared at the sizzling controls in shock. "Why did you do that?" his voice sounded perfectly calm and conversational, if rather distant, to his ears.
"Because I want out of this miserable system." Somehow his posture had changed. The long arms were held at a slightly odd angle, the shoulders hunched, feet toeing out. And now the face clicked in his memory. The Reverend Vorp.
With dawning horror, Oleg remembered the analysis of Vorp’s food cube. He looked at the empty gun in his hand. The stunner buzzed with the dropping whine of an exhausted charge. And no laser. But his special skin suit would protect him from the other . . . thing’s stunner. He reached over his shoulder and drew the battle axe.
Vorp didn’t even try to draw his stunner. His eyes lit at the sight of the axe. "Finally! A human who understands honorable combat!" A short bar he pulled from his belt telescoped out to two meters length.
Oleg pushed off, automatically relaxing his toes to turn off the electromags in his boots, an easy sweep of the axe down along his side rotated him so he landed feet first on the ceiling. He decided to stick, and clenched his toes as he touched. He’d like to see how this Vorp moved in zero g.
Vorp sprang past him giving a quick poke with his pole from a distance. Oleg swept the end of the pole away with a flick of the axe. The spin this gave Vorp bothered him not at all, he twisted like a cat, bounced off the far wall and came right back. Was it the light, or was he turning greenish? This thing was definitely NOT human. He flicked at the end of the pole again, and when it reversed and came around, he blocked it easily. He had sparred with Adele, no, with May Huang, regularly, with a variety of weapons. The axe had been his favorite in zero g. This time when Vorp bounced, he angled over to the side wall and came straight at Oleg. Oleg swayed sideways against the grip of his mags and when he had the momentum, relaxed his toes and tucked into a tight tumble, then extended with a snap as he swept the axe into Vorp’s path. The pole partly blocked, partly turned both Oleg and the axe, while also rotating Vorp. The opposite end of the pole snapped around, Oleg caught the blow on his thigh, snatched the pole long enough to pull himself around for a backhanded swing of the axe. The razor sharp edge caught Vorp’s arm at the elbow, slicing it off in an explosion of blood, as Oleg spun away.
Shutting the hatch on the Presidents shuttle, Major Woods was powerfully tempted to load up and leave Ori to his fate. "But I guess I’d better not," he muttered, "Kirby, do you know the layout of the ship?" She nodded, "Good, come with me." He eyed the other ichimp. "Please stay here, theoretically you won’t get shot." The ichimp nodded.
He told off which sections he wanted to remain on guard at the docking bay, then shoved off and back down the main corridor with the bulk of Tsau’s squad
Sgt. Freeman met him at the cross corridor. "Sir, the airtight door at the end of this section is sealed and reporting vacuum on the other side. We locked the unconscious ichimps in store rooms along the hallway. This door," She nodded at the door the ichimps had retreated behind, "We can open, if you don’t mind never being able to use it again."
"Who the hell would have holed the ship," Woods muttered, calling up schematics on his visor display. "Oh, I see. They most likely sealed the doors on either side of the tram access and just opened the hatch there." He thought a moment, "They probably are just doing that to make it difficult to attack them from that side," he said, slowly. "But they could have sent people outside in skin suits. How and where would they get back in?" He stiffened, switching comm channels, "Sergeant Tsau? I recommend you separate from the Chamberlain immediately! Be alert for attackers in space suits!"
May Huang oozed through the side hatch of the shuttle and quickly closed it behind her. This shuttle was the furthest from Space Force One and the Marines’ and Oleg’s transports were even further away. She hadn’t been seen. Her equipment, the major part of her payment, was stowed in the cargo bay, and the shuttle was stocked and ready to depart. All she had to do was sit tight until it was safe to leave. Without showing a light, she climbed up to the pilot’s seat.
Oleg clicked back down to the deck, his pulse slowing. He kept his eyes glued to the floating figure of the . . . what ever it was. It sure wasn’t human. Was it dead? Globules of blood floated everywhere, beaded the surfaces of the gutted control room. Its severed arm floated by, Oleg pushed it nervously away with the axe. The arm looked very inhuman, greenish and slick. The rest of the . . . body was loosing the greenish tones. Returning to a more human look. Should he chop its head off? To be sure? What the HELL was he going to tell that CI Major?
How many of these things were around? What had Vorp’s relationship to SD been? How had it gotten on board? With the Marines? Was the government infiltrated, run by aliens? Or was it Beringar’s organization and the ‘Pure Humanists’ that were infiltrated? Now that was so ridiculous it could be true. Best to have as little to do with either group as possible.
"Well if you’re not dead—you can just stay here and bleed till you are," he told the body, then ducked out the ruined door.
Vorp heard the human distantly through the foggy darkness. Forcing his eyes open, he saw that he was alone with only the body of the ichimp for company. He needed a place to hide. Someplace close. He felt like his thoughts were mired in an oozing swamp, barely able to escape. His arm. Must NOT leave the arm for the humans to study. All the blood was bad enough. He managed to time pushing off the ceiling so as to intercept the arm on his way to the hatch.
How had he gotten so careless, so lazy? Why hadn’t he kept in practice? Had all those years of harvesting peons lulled him into thinking there were no warrior humans? Apparently. And this was the price. He needed to hide, to heal, just when the opportunity to leave this system was in his grasp. He scowled at the hand on the arm, then tucked it under the stump of the rest of the arm. Had been in his grasp.
A cautious glance out the hole in the hatch gave him a glimpse of ichimps. They were outside the tram, entering it. Abandoning the field? On a second glance they were gone. The other direction, the corridor curved out of sight, empty, except for the vague sounds echoing around the curve. Vorp slid awkwardly through the hole. All the rooms to the outside of the curve were important installations. Most of the inside rooms were divided into storage. He lurched across to the nearest door and thumbed the control. A frigid blast of air rolled out. But the only thing in the room was a long object untidily bundled into a tarp and strapped to the deck. He could stand the freezing temperatures without harm. In fact it would facilitate the healing trance. Was there enough room in the tarp for him to hide?
When he peeled back the tarp he was delighted to find three human bodies. Uncovering the first for a quick look, he saw that the male had been killed by a massive head injury. He vaguely recognized one of Beringar’s men. Killed by the ichimps, perhaps? Vorp was in no shape to question his good fortune. He arranged the tarp carefully, then wiggled in with the corpse. He would eat first, then sink into the trance.