Screams came like a wave down the spaceport corridor, and riding the wave was a lone gunman dressed in SSI armor, holding his blaster pointed up at the ceiling.
As he raced toward the Sanfords and Natasha, everyone who saw him yelled and dove for cover. He continued running, ignoring the mass chaos the sight of his gun and armor brought.
Behind her, Natasha heard the heavy thunking footsteps of a guardbot, who pulled out its own blaster.
The bot said, “Halt!”
Donald Sanford pulled her by the arm toward a row of lounge chairs that offered cover. Already several people crouched there.
“Come on. That’s one of the models from our company. It’s designed to handle situations like this.”
The guard bot shot the running man in the center, knocking him down.
From the floor, Dillon aimed carefully at the bot’s head.
Thoop! Thoop! Thoopah!
One of the bolts struck the neck area, fritzing its head out. The bot collapsed.
Natasha snorted in disgust. Donald Sanford’s eyes grew wide.
He said, “I’ve . . . I’ve never seen one under fire before. I didn’t know . . .”
Dillon stood and looked around, the visor covering his face. He locked eyes with Natasha. She jumped from the chairs and ran for the fallen bot.
She zigged, then zagged, avoiding the shots, reaching down for the blaster. She grabbed it and tumbled forward, coming up in a shooting stance.
Thoop! Thoop! Thoop!
A green bolt deflected off Dillon’s armored shoulder. Another bolt sailed past him and struck down a running passenger farther down the corridor. The man yelled as he fell to the floor. Donald and Tina Sanford stared at her in shock.
Dillon kept trying to get a clear shot, but Natasha kept firing as she moved back to the inner wall, near the lounge chairs.
Dillon angled over to cover, too, trading blasts all the way. Natasha started aiming for his head.
They paused a moment, both hidden from the other’s line of sight.
Dillon heard a commotion behind him and he glanced over his shoulder at a phalanx of police and guardbots advancing down the corridor, guns aimed at him.
He carefully placed the gun down on the desk he crouched behind and turned to face them. His voice came out amplified from the helmet.
“Officers! This way! Tom Bolton, SSI. I need your assistance in apprehending this fugitive!”
Everyone in the group hesitated, quickly trying to determine if he was a threat or not.
The officer in charge said, “StarCen, identify this man.”
“I am sorry, Officer Ricardo. I cannot.”
Ricardo’s face fell. “He must be SSI, boys and girls. Lower your weapons.”
The bots and officers all pointed their blasters down.
Dillon said, “Everyone stay where you are or seek cover. The fugitive is armed and dangerous!”
Worried expressions crossed the human faces. Ricardo made a motion with his head toward the passenger seating area.
“Come on, people. That’s what the bots are for. Guardbots, advance and assist SSI in apprehending the fugitive.”
The officers moved to cover while the bots nodded, their round red eyes and metallic faces expressionless. They continued down the corridor to Dillon’s position.
Behind a row of chairs, Natasha bit back a curse. How did this happen? Who was that? I’m SSI, she thought.
Tina Sanford grabbed her arm desperately.
She said, “What’s going on? Who is that man, Natasha? Why is he shooting at you? Where did you learn to shoot? Make them stop! Donald, tell the police who you are and make this stop!”
“Shut up, bitch.”
Tina gaped at her in shock.
Natasha put the Sanfords out of her mind. The only thing they might be good for now would be to serve as hostages. First, she had to figure out how to get around the dozen or so bots and that lunatic wearing armor.
In a flash, the ship disappeared. LuteNet ported the Ultima Mule 150 million kilometers away, to another empty point in the solar system.
A few seconds passed in nervous silence.
Jillian looked at Raleigh and said, “Do you think they’ll find us again?”
As if in answer an anti-teleportation grid appeared around them and activated.
The warships popped into existence again and shot at their aft.
LuteNet ported them away again.
“No fair using our techniques against us!” Granny said, frowning.
Maxwell smiled and said, “Good thing our Wu Drives are shielded now, or that would have worked.”
“I suspect every warship’s Wu Drives are shielded now,” Raleigh said. “But they had to at least try it on us, on the off chance we were notshielded.”
The League vessels appeared again.
The Mule winked away from the threat once more.
“StarCen’s on the lookout for us!” Granny said.
“That is correct, Quartermaster Wilcox. Presently she has 28 ships in this system. Twenty are spread out to give her wider coverage, just as I feared. Four are still in orbit around Juventas, while these four are out hunting us.”
The four warships appeared again, and immediately fired into the Mule’s rear.
They popped away again.
“We can’t keep this up, Lootie,” Raleigh said. “How many more hits like that can we take?”
“Not many, Captain, before our shields begin to falter.”
“Then think up a solution. Find someplace nearby the League ships can’t find us!”
The four warships appeared again, aiming at the standard drives behind the ship.
The Mule popped away. Then LuteNet ported her three more times.
“Where’d you bring us, Lootie?”
“We are now four AU’s away from Juventas, and outside the reach of their surveillance grid.”
“Okay. Can you still use your sensor?”
“No. I am sorry, Captain, but with a miniature sensor the ship must be within at least one AU in order to gain readings.”
Raleigh turned to the others on the bridge.
He said, “Well, this doesn’t help anything.”
“How can we do anything for them if we can’t see what’s going on?” Jillian said.
Granny said, “We can’t.”