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Shes a bit older than he usually likes them,” the slavemaster grumbled as Canek’s mercenary, an affable man named Alverez handed Junebug through the wrought iron gate. The slavemaster was a fat man and years of drink and dissipation had left his nose red and crinkled with spider veins. The decision not to send Taya had been a tough one. The girl had been willing enough and her youth and coloration as well as her technical skill made her better suited for the deception. Taya had been more than willing but Junebug had shut her down, not because she herself was a glory hog, but because she knew in her heart of hearts, that Taya wasn’t really an operator the way she and Neil were. It wasn’t a matter of being willing in your mind, you needed to be able to do it in your gut, put the knife in without mercy. Junebug suspected it wasn’t a good comment on her mental health that she didn’t feel you could really trust someone until they could kill without compunction, but she had survived over a decade in a business that didn’t give many second chances.

“Yeah well, if his nibs doesn't go for her then you can sell her yourself right? Alverez prompted and the slave master grunted. He passed a pouch to the mercenary that jingled significantly. Junebug made a mental note to get the money off Alverez when this was over. She was dressed for the occasion in the dark grey cloth that the locals wore, the garments covering her almost completely though they hugged her figure sufficiently as to leave no doubt to her gender. Taya had spent most of the afternoon carefully concealing Junebug’s tattoos and scars with cosmetics. The effect wasn’t perfect but hopefully she wouldn’t need to pass close inspection. It was late evening now, and the business of the palace was done for the day. Canek believed that she would be stored in the harem wing tonight and presented to the Pasha in the morning. If not, well thats what Neil was across the way for.

“Fine,” the Slavemaster said looking her up and down with approval.

“Looks like she has some fight in her, the Pasha likes that sometimes,” he noted, earning himself no points in Sayeeda’s book. The Slavemaster took out a scanner from his robes and passed it over Sayeeda’s body though for what purpose she wasn’t exactly sure. Perhaps it was merely a check for weapons and other contraband. Satisfied he took her by the arm and closed the door on Alvarez, leading her back into the palace.

The Harem was a lushly appointed series of chamber arranged around a central courtyard of intricately designed mosaic tiles. Sayeeda thought it might have been meant to represent a lemon tree light by two moons but it was difficult to appreciate it from so close. Dozens of small chambers appended to the courtyard, each sectioned off by latices of artfully rendedred carved wood that had been poished till it shined. The slave master half lead half dragged her to the center where a severe looking woman with grey hair was waiting.

“You may go Haseem,” she directed the slavemaster curtly. The man growled but departed without incident. The woman stepped forward and matter of factly stripped Sayeeda naked with a couple of quick practiced jerks. She shivered in the moonlight and tried to lean forward slighty in order to conceal her abdominal muscules. Junebug had always been fit, but since her encounter with the Terran bio enhancements her musculature had become more prominent. Even leaning forward the ghost of her stomach muscles was visible. The woman sucked a breath in through her teeth.

“Well you aren’t the usual are you,” she mused, slapping Sayeeda experimentally on one dusky hip.

“Fit arent you, a bit on the heavy side” she went on, circling Sayeeda like a hawk. Junebug said nothing, uncertain of if there was an appropriate response.

“Well I suppose we will see what the Pasha think in the morning,” she said decisevely and gestured towards a room. Junebug snatched up her clothing and awkwardly made her way to it.

“Status?” Neil’s voice buzzed in her ear. Junebug sighed philisopically.

“Well I’m apparently too heavy and too old for a harem,” she responded wrly, “but so far, so good.:
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Neil didn't make a sound, but Junebug would have probably laughed when Neil's eyes widened in incredulity. If she was too old and heavy, then he would have been. Junebug looked younger and more supple than when he'd met her. "Tough crowd" was all he said into the comm, and on his earpiece he heard a door closing on her end before the transmission cut out until it would pick up her next words. He shook his head and turned the scope of his rifle to overlook the surrounding area.

The compound was located at the end of a short block, with a relatively wide open space for about 280 degrees other than its back being connected to a wall, that would in turn connect to another smaller compound. Other than that, there was a street between it and virtually every other building or hiding place. Dispensers and locals milled about across the street, but they all kept a wide berth. The building was made to look nondescript, but they all knew or felt the barrels of the guns and the weight of the wealth that inhabited the place.

"Eeeehhh, let's see...local, local, local, whore, local, Sven...wait what." He said, his retical zooming in to see Sven standing under the canopy of a tarp above the sidewalk, looking very blended in, as if he had always lived here, save for the fairer skin and blue eyes. He was eating some local cuisine that had the look of a yellow fruit that had exploded outward, and looking at the compound for a reason Neil couldn't fathom. Neil followed his eyes, and the retical moved left until it landed upon an AirV, a military aircar. One of four that moved down the street, armored plating and gauss turrets manned by hard men, wearing flak armor and leather satchels strapped horizontally over their chests.

They stopped in front of the compound.

Even in a hopeful scenario where they were allies of the Pasha, which was likely as they hadn't opened fired on the building, it would still be added security that Junebug would have to deal with. Neil patched her in. "Hey, Captain. You have...a dozen armed men heading inside where you are. I can't tell if they're customers or guards, but either way, be careful."

Neil wished he could fire on them and thin the herd. He didn't have the luxury of a suppressor. One shot they would know there was a shooter. Second shot they would ascertain his direction. Third shot, they would see the muzzle flash and know right where he was. He couldn't help at the moment and it was bothering him more than he would have liked.
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Junebugs stomach lurched the way it always did right before things really dropped in the pot. A number of possible scenarios ran through her mind at once, none of them good. She quickly finished pulling on the outfit that she found in the chambers she had been assigned. A gauzy band of gossamer silk, that wrapped around her chest, and a knee length skirt of similar material that was girdled by a belt of woven gold thread clenched with a ruby. The garments didn’t provide much in the way of modesty but they at least provided the psychological comfort that clothing of any kind affords.

“Taya can you reach Sven on any net you have set up?” she asked.

“Break. Neil better gear me up.” Across the street Neil unlimbered an awkward looking plastic tube. He hefted it to his shoulder and pushed the rude trigger switch that he had installed earlier. There was an audible chuff of compressed air as it launched its payload across the street, arcing only a little faster than a man could through to land in the courtyard where it bounced end over end before coming to rest against a decorative wall. Junebug scooped it up and tore the packing tape that secured it, inside was a towel in which had been wrapped a small pistol, a datapad and some rudimentary intrusion kit. She tucked the small pistol into the girdle bought the datapad live, adding its visual capacity.

“No… ummm I mean negative, I can’t reach him,” Taya responded a moment later.

“I cant find him anywhere,” she said a moment later.

“Oh we know where he is,” Junebug responded.

“Break. Neil, unless I’m very much mistaken Sven is about to launch a coup…” It was also possible that it was a robbery, though very much of the smash first grab later variety, that didn’t really seem like Sven’s style. It hardly mattered at the moment. An automatic weapon opened up as one of the guards Sven hadn’t managed to bribe opened fire. A moment later the gauss cannons on the air cars ripped the night with a sleet of iridium pellets, blowing apart men in the watchtowers and tearing guards of the parapet in showers of bloody gristle.

Screaming harem girls rushed from the courtyard in various states of undress. Junebug had a moment to contemplate that most of them were younger and softer than she was before a grenade bounced into the courtyard. Junebug kicked the small golf ball sized bomb into one of the empty rooms and shoved the nearest girl to the floor a second before the glass fiber shrapnel blasted from the room, though robbed of its lethal force several women screamed. A moment later a door burst open and a pair of armored mercenaries with assault rifles rushed into the mass of women. Sayeeda’s little pistol cracked twice snapping the lead gunman’s head back in a spray of blood and brains. The second man, lucky but good also, dived behind one of the carven wooden panels. Junebug spat a sulfurous oath and fired into the heavy teak but succeeded only in spraying splinters with the small calibre gun. The wood cratered inward and the man behind it flopped bonelessly to the ground as Neil took him out from his elevated position, the report of the heavy weapon lost in the din. Sayeeda blew a lock of hair out of her face.

“Taya, seal the ship,” she commanded, pressing the release stud to drop the half empty clip to the mosaic floor and replacing it with her one and only reload.

“You got it,” came back along with the sound of the Highlanders emergency hatches slamming shut. Hopefully that wasn’t necessary but taking unnecessary chances was a good way to get your people killed. She belated wondered if Saxon were on the ship and what role, if any, he was playing in all this. It was too late to worry about it and probably beyond Taya’s power to eject the Hex from the ship if it became an issue

She was alone in the courtyard now, the rest of the harem having scattered back to the dubious safety of their quarters. Blood ran down an incline not apparent to the naked eye from the merc Neil’s shot had all but decapitated. Sven’s men, if that was what was going on, weren’t necessarily their enemies, but experience taught Junebug that you shot first and asked questions only if you absolutely had to when you were writing the after action report. The fact that Sven had not tried to hire them was suggestive, as was the fact he had obviously gone to some length to be incommunicado but that could just be a determination not to let Neil fuck up his latest venture. What was important now was that she get to the library and get the data the needed before the whole place went up in proverbial, and perhaps literal, flames.

“This is going to get really messy Junebug,” Neil said, his transmission stepping on something Taya had been about to say by virtue of his seniority. Sayeeda scooped up the fallen mercenaries weapon and thrust the pistol into the girdle before taking a bandolier of reload and looping it over her shoulder.

“You are telling me,” she agreed, imagining how she appeared in the silks with the brutal looking rifle and the bandolier.

“I already look completely ridiculous.”
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Neil grabbed the rifle and his pack and stepped over the ledge, sliding down the incline of the thatched roof and making it to the clay caked storm drain that had not been in use for probably decades. His feet hit the drain, and surely enough the thing broke on its hinges, sending it whipping down like a vine. One that Neil promptly grabbed and was flung down in, letting go at the closest point to the ground, catching himself heavily on his feet.

Men and woman screamed, at least a dozen stream past him every few seconds going any which way they could to get away from the sudden carnage of the armed convoy. One man on a turret was strafing the crowd with lasbolts, and though Neil couldn't see his face behind his fabric enwrapped lower face, he had the feeling the insurgent had a sick sense of amusement ending the lives of the civilians as they scattered before him. It was on instinct, as Neil didn't have time to look down the scope of his rifle while he approached, but he didn't need to. It was a lucky shot, blowing the turret man's left shoulder clean off and leaving a hole the size of a fist. His left arm drooped, flinging helplessly as he began to scream in terror. Neil ignored him and slid over the hood of the AirV to make it to the entrance.

Inside was hardly better, as small arms of the slug and laser variety discharged among the constricting dust cloud. He knew it was crazy, even for him, but he didn't slow as he walked in. Likely the men didn't expect an enemy from behind, so figures in his peripheral vision simply didn't look at him. It made his job easier, and he waded through the smog, looking for any harem girl that might be simply killing a mercenary, because that would likely be Junebug.

The first girl he found was unfortunately dead, a hole through her neck and a large puddle of blood still pumping out of her jugular. The girl after that was more fortunate, though still very much in danger. A mercenary had her on her knees as he aimed his submachine gun at her. Neil quickly brought his rifle to bear, hip firing into him from only three paces away. The exit wound could fit Neil's head, and he fell into a heap of meat and bone. The fleshy shrapnel that covered the screaming woman would likely scar her for awhile, but at least she was alive. Neil hauled her to her feet and sent her running with a slap to her ass.

It was a maelstrom, and more than once did Neil need to duck. But as the smog cleared and the combatants lessened, he found exactly what he was looking for. In the distance, a tall silhouette stood motionless. Anyone would have thought him a statue if not for the flowing beard. That, and he did not move an inch, even in the middle of the fighting. This was why Sven frightened Neil as much as Saxon, at times. In his own way, he was even more alien than the Xenos.

The pilot felt better when he put the barrel of his 50. caliber slugthrower a meter away from Sven's chest. He cleared his throat to get the cyborg's attention. After a moment of Sven finishing whatever processing he had been attempting, he turned to Neil slowly. His facial expression still as neutral and cold as ever. As if he felt he shouldn't be surprised, Sven let out an "Ah, it's you." to the pilot, turning his whole body and looking at Neil as if he didn't have a gun trained on him. Then again, Neil even this gun could terminate Sven outright. But he wouldn't be functioning properly, at least.

"Why is it that every time I find you on a world, if you're not extorting, you're making a hostile take over?" Neil remarked tiredly. "Or do you just want in on the girls?"

"I've taken away such base desires." Sven said, a ghost of a smile appearing on his face. His eyes flicked to the right. "You on the other hand..."

Neil glanced where he was indicating, and a peculiarly dressed Sayeeda stood over the corpse of a gunman, her back turned. Sven kept talking. "Don't worry, now that you're here I will rein my men in." he continued. "I know better than to try and combat you. You're too unpredictable, even for my calculations."

"And because we're friends?" Neil asked hopefully. Sven didn't answer. Neil decided to break the silence by making a crowd whistle that drew Junebug's attention. "Well, now that we're not trying to kill each other anymore, tell me this. Did you know we were here when this all began?"

"No."

"Help us find something and we'll leave. We just need the Pasha."

"To kill?"

"To talk."

Sven grunted, and stood rigidly. He reached up with his left hand to touch a pressure point on the base of his neck, and with an audible click, Sven's left eyeball slowly exited his socket on three metal hinges. Neil stuck his tongue out in disgust as the eye suddenly grew a metal exoskeleton behind the iris, and eight metallic mandibles erupted from its base. Gingerly, Sven grabbed the eye in his hand, yanking it off the support hinges and letting it drop on the ground. It scuttled away like a spider.

"I will search every corner of the compound."
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In her military career Junebug had occasionally been credited with good tactical instincts, some pieces of work had verged on brilliant, but at core her philosophy was a very simple one. Move fast, keep shooting and hope that when the smoke cleared you were still alive. It had been an excellent MO for armored unit commander and it was equally effective in the nasty close quarters fighting in the Pasha’s palace. In the confusions and tight quarters she shot at everyone. Even if she were on a particular side there was no time to identify who was who. A figure in what might have been a uniform staggered out of a doorway trying to pull up his pants. Junebug shot him twice in the chest sending him spinning into a wall with a thud before leaping over his slumping body. Another man rounded a coner in at a blind run. Sayeeda cut him down without hesitation on realising as she passed that he had no weapon. Well worse things happened in war time. You didn’t worry about what you couldn’t change.

After a few minutes she found herself in a deserted corridor though she could still hear the screaming and gunfire at other points in the palace. She ducked into a deserted room and found it to be filled with huming banks of data storage equipment. Fumbling, she reloaded the stolen weapon with one of the box like magazines. It was unfamiliar but there were only so many ways that it made sense to assemble a gun.

“Captain,” Niel’s voice sounded in her ears.

“Sven’s told his mercenaries to hold their fire,” the pilot spoke over the comlink.

“You think they are going to listen to him?” she asked.

“I think so, these are some tough looking bastards but they are all shit scared of Sven,” Neil returned. Sayeeda thought she could hear a mirthless chuckle in the background.

“You think he is after the same thing we are?” she asked, wondering if this was Sven’s way of seizing the same document Canek was looking for.

“I don’t think so,” Neil responded with a touch of hesitation.

“Seems to be interested in a power grab.” Junebug doubted the two things were mutually exclusive but it was going to be difficult to search while under fire. She pulled her intrusion kit out and slid it into the nearest computer.

“Can you access the system Taya?” she asked.

“Can do Junebug,” Taya’s voice responde.

“Alright, tell them I’m coming out,” Junebug responded to Neil.
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"You got it." Neil said into the comm, having seen where Junebug was a moment before through a haze of the dust that still clung to the air like a fog from all the gunfire. He told Sven to tell his men to lower their weapons. Sven nodded, and with a gesture of his hands, the mercenaries dropped their guns, or at least pointed their barrels to the floor.

"Which one will she be?" one of the mercs asked.

"Probably the one armed like you." Neil replied offhandedly, then he blinked. "Whoa, wait, what does it matter? You are not shooting any of the women here."

Junebug stepped out, hefting her assault rifle and wearing next to nothing. Neil's jaw dropped at the sight. She looked like she was a model for a Stahlkrieg advertisement. He headed over to her, 50. cal sniper rifle in his right hand as if it wouldn't break his arm trying to fire it offhandedly. He wasn't stupid (all the time). He took out the firing pin after Sven had ordered his men to stand down. More because he knew how Sven worked. Anything to lower the calculations of "statistical betrayal" was a boon.

"Well that could have been less messy." Neil remarked.

"Where's the fun in that?" Junebug said with a smirk, and she reloaded her Stalhkrieg weapon as if she'd owned it for years. "But really, it was lucky you found Sven when you did. Good eye." she said. Neil shrugged, but before he could speak, Sven remarked. "Found him." with a certainty Neil was all too familiar with.

"Second floor, fourth room of the left." The cyborg said, reciting the exact information that his eye was likely feeding him through a complex code even Neil probably couldn't begin to understand. "One hundred and ninety five centimeters in height. Barred from the inside. He holds a slave girl in chains with a gun on her." Out of the dust, the eye clawed across the landscape and scrambled up Sven's tall body back into his socket.

"This one is on you." Sven said. "You have five minutes."
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Sayeeda and Neil moved through the line of mercenaries. They were a scruffy looking bunch up close. A few had the look of hardened killers, the sort of men who Andor’s Armored might have recruited to fill combat losses, but just as many seemed to be locals. These men seemed to be drawn from desert tribes rather than the more cosmopolitan inhabitants of the city. Their eyes shone with the eerie light of fanatics and they fingered their weapons as Neil and Junebug passed by. They snarled curses and growled like animals.

“Boy he sure can pick them,” Neil observed as they climbed a set of carven stone steps towards the fourth floor. Sven’s men had secured each landing of the stairs, their weapons pointed down the long corridors. Sayeeda tried to think of what she would do if she were the commander of the palace guard. Probably ascend to the room and push down the stairwell to secure the top floor then hold what she had until backup arrived. It was vanishingly unlikely there was anyone in the Pasha’s guard who would be either willing or able to execute such a tactic.

A trio of mercenaries stood before a large door on the forth floor. The doorway itself was of a desert stone with veins that ran from gold to almost purple, the slabs had been polished until they shone with a jewel like radience that was far more beautiful than anything Sayeeda had yet seen within the luxurious palace. Aiden could take lessons. Beautiful though the door was Junebug had to admit that it was somewhat marred by the nights events. A large golden door handle had been blasted aside with a shaped charge which had cracked the stone and crazed the surface leaving the door hanging open. From inside a stream of invictive issues forth in an unbroken torrent. The curses were creative but appeared to be running down to a core message of ‘fuck you’ and ‘I’ll kill her”.

“You should not be here slut!” one of the mercenaries, one of the desert nomads, snarled in barely understandable galactic. He took a step forward and raised his weapon. The butt of Junebug’s rifle caught him across the temple with an audible crack. It wasn’t a matter of strength, not really, merely momentum and precision. The rag clad guerrilla let out a weird mewling sound and dropped to the floor, blood running from his nose.

“Any further questions?” Junebug asked acidly. Another of the mercenaries, armored in gray ceramic and sporting an impressive mustache began to laugh. That unlooked for sound stilled the stream of cursing from beyond the shattered portal. The other mercenary, of a type with the one Junebug had just brained, looked simultaneously furious and impotent. Junebug strode past him and pointed her freehand at the man, finger extended and thumb raised like a childs impression of a pistol. She winked at the furiours looking dervish and mouthed the word ‘bang’ without actually making a noise. The mustachioed mercenary, clearly with a similar opinion of the lower class hirelings as Junebug, redoubled his laughter.

A room was a cyborgs clinical description, but the chamber beyond the portal was vast. Thirty meters atleas and easily half that wide with high ceilings that hung with intricately worked brass lanterns that housed modern illuminators. The floor was made of tiles of polished stone similar to the door save where large plush looking rugs lay over it. Expensive artworks and sculptures were scattered about along with numerous divans and couches. At the far end of the room stood a large bed that stood before a balcony which looked out over the starlight city. A slight shimmer of a static displacer danced in the portal, expensive tech on a backworld like this one even if all it did was keep dust out of your bedroom.

“If you take one more step ill kill her!” shrieked a man half crouched behind the foot of the bed. He was half dressed in silk robes though his turban hung comically from his head and his tunic had been buttoned up out of alignment. The pasha was not a impressive man, he might have been handsome once but age and dissipation had swollen his face and his fingers to the point that the many jeweled rings that bedecked them probably couldn’t be taken off. He held a modern looking pistol into the back of a weeping slave girl. As Sven had stated she was chained at wrist and ankle and around her neck. Even in the moonlight she was physically impressive, a voluptuous goddess who appeared to have stepped from an erotic holo through her eyes and face were stained with tears. Given the intricacy of the chains she had clearly been restrained when the attack started, though the reasons why weren’t something that Junebug wanted to pursue.

“Go ahead then,” Junebug invited, arching an eyebrow in contempt at the ruler of the city. The Pasha appeared momentarily nonplused. He jammed the pistol hard against the womans ribs, eliciting a pained squeal.

“What?!” he gaped.

“Shoot her then, if you are going to,” Junebug invited, hefting her rifle to indicate the woman.

“We only have a few minutes and Id rather not waste it on threats.”
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Neil stepped past a few of the mercs waiting outside, nonchalantly slipping past without notice to the looks he was getting from the hard men. He reloaded his gun, though anyone could have told him that wielding such a long rifle indoors was simple idiocy. Beggar's can't be choosers, however. He entered the room, and immediately gave a look of disgust as the Pasha's wrinkled old junk was hanging out for all the world to see.

"Ugh, put that away." Neil said. He was as impressed at the full form of the woman as he was disgusted by his flaccid equipment, but he'd had enough of the female flesh today. He simply wanted this activity done with. Of course, Junebug's casual dismissal of this woman's life drew a displeased look from him. "You're in a cranky mood, aren't you?" he joked, reaching behind her veiled pantaloons to what looked to the Pasha to be her ass, when in fact he simply took a pistol she had cleverly concealed after killing a mercenary or two.

In the hall, the mercs had begun to step aside like the ancient stories of the parting terran seas as their leader approached. Sven did not enter the room, however. He already felt confident enough of his victory. Instead he took a gun from one of his soldiers without a second thought, and realigned the structure of the weapon with a few simple twists before handing it back, to solve every imperfection of whatever machine he could find to increase his chances of being the deadliest despot in town.

"Sir," Neil said, drawing the man's attention to Neil's smiling face. "I want to apologize for my teammate. She's a little difficult to deal with. If you would just draw your attention here-" Like lightning, Neil aimed and fired, taking the Pasha in the side of the head. It left a scar cutting across his skull, and though he dropped and let the girl go, Neil grabbed her hand before she could flee. "I suggest you take a back way out." Neil told her, indicating the hungry mercenaries outside. Casually, he shot her chains, seperating her wrists with a simple motion. She didn't answer or even thank him, she just turned tail and ran the other way.

Neil looked to Junebug, and pointed his hand at her, mimicing her impersonation of using a pistol with her free hand earlier. 'Bang' he said with a wink, before making his way to the downed man who groaned audibly. "Tsk tsk tsk," Neil said, shaking his head. "We would have taken you alive if you hadn't been so dead set on being uncooperative. I guess in the next life, you can be a bit less standoffish."

Neil executed him, and took the holobook off of his person, tossing it to Junebug. "All the info should be in there, Cap."

Junebug caught it easily, turning the device on. In a moment, she smiled devilishly. "We have it. Maybe think next time before you execute someone though."

"Hey, he pissed me off."

"Now you can leave." a voice echoed, and when they both turned around, Sven stood at the door, looming over them like a guardian of legend. The mercs behind him looked ready to start killing once more, but their guns were down in obedience...for now. Neil shot him a thumbs up. "No problem. Thanks for the shit."
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Sayeeda sat at the holotable of the Highlander, her elbows propped on the ceramo-plastic surface. Taya, Neil and Canek as at their own places while the waited for Taya to find what she was looking for in the databook they had taken from the former Pasha. Sayeeda was still wearing the harem girl outfit, though she had taken a few moments to wipe the grime away from her skin with cleaning wipes and she had added a jacket to the ensemble in deference to the cooler temperature created by the environmental control system.

“I’m not finding any records pertaining to the treasure ship,” Taya said with a frown. Canek looked at her suspiciously. The mercenary captain looked considerably worse for wear. His right eyebrow and the hair on the side of his face had been singed away, and his skin was the unnervingly uniform color of a synthetic spray. Sayeeda, who had been severely burned during her time in the Armored, had some sympathy for him, but the fact that his goons had hit her over the head a few hours ago did someone dry that well.

“It won’t directly mention the treasure ship,” Canek prompted, “But there should be something, lights in the sky, unusual activity, strangers in the port.” It stood to reason, if the Pasha or his ancestors had known the location of the treasure ship, they would certainly have claimed it long ago.

“Wait…” Taya said, tapping a few keys. The holo table sprang to life in a stylized view of the night sky above Hanh. An accented voice began to speak.

“I can seldom remember when the Lyre was in such opposition to the Queen of Darkness,” the voice mused self importantly.

“These are astrological readings performed by the court Astrologer during the time the treasure ship was supposedly lost,” Taya explained.

“Lonny can you do a search for any references to shooting stars or local variants of the term?” she asked.

“Aye Aye Lassie!” Lonny chirruped. There was a warbeling burst of sound which Sayeeda interpreted as the records being played at many times normal speed. The screen split into three, each recording a shooting star caught be the astrologers vid pickup. To Sayeeda’s eye they all looked the same but Taya cooed in triumph and selected the right most screen, expanding it to the full size of the display.

“What's special about that one?” Canek demanded, leaning forward in spite of himself. Taya touched a few more keys and the display marked the track across the sky as a continuous line. There was a very slight arc to it which Lonny highlighted in red.

“Breaking thrust,” Neil exclaimed, as a pilot he grasped the essentials faster than either Canek or Sayeeda did.

“Not much though, probably just the emergency systems, wouldn’t have stopped a crash,” he added, glancing down at the data scrolling past on the screen. Sayeeda frowned.

“Can we compute a vector from this information?” she asked, “A likely crash point?” Obediently the screen shifted, highlighting an area of several hundred square kilometers with a larger area around it highlighted in a lighter shade.

“Thats a big area,” she said dubiously.

“We have nae information bout thruster discharge closer to the crash site Cap’n,” Lonny explained, “We cannae be more precise than that.”

“Its better information than anyone has had in a hundred years,” Canek said with a grin.

“So we cant search this area with sensors or something?” Sayeeda asked, still dubiously. Canek shook his head.

“Unfortunately the poles are fairly heavily irradiated. There was water here once but a large uranium and soluble iron ferrite based asteroid blasted the planet some time in the distant past. Most of that radiation was sequestered in the water, which was drawn to the poles after the asteroid destroyed the original orbit. It's not dangerous in short bursts but it's enough to fox most sensors.”

“Huh,” Sayeeda said, shaking her head.

“So all we have to do is head up to a radioactive wasteland where an unknown number of psychotic treasure hunters are already scouring the landscape and hunt for a ship we can't use sensors to find in an area the size of a small country?” she asked. Canek spread his hands.

“I never said it would be easy, but if we pull this off you get your share and the parts you need to get off this rock.”
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Neil and Sayeeda were ready to go, and to Neil's distaste, Saxon insisted on going along. He flexed his clawed paws as he insisted that if he did not brutalize someone or something soon, he would break apart the Highlander out of boredom. Neil believed him, and the three, along with Canek, made their way back to Canek's base to outfit themselves best they could. "I think we have a good arsenal back at the Highlander!" Neil yelled as they sped through the desert on Canek's bulked up transport.

"Trust me, my 'friend'." Canek said, still a bit put off by Neil stealing Junebug away in the middle of a firefight, paying no thought to the fact that Neil initially aided him by self destructing a dervish raider before combat began. "You will want to check my stock! You also will need some specialized rebreathers. They're newly developed by Iodian Tech!" Saxon snorted as if that was funny, and to him it would be as his rebreather was highly advanced. Neil new Iodan though, as a company. Their usual business was mining asteroids for precious metals.

Parking at Canek's facility, the members of his 'militia' or whatever he called them were busy at work repairing the damages from the night before. Some hauled boxes and used a junker version of the hauler to move crates, while others sprayed on plascrete to the damages architecture, the goo slowly reforming and hardening as they carved it up to resemble what it once was before explosives and small arms fire marred the place.

As sparks flew onto the dirties floor, a mechanic repairing a badly damaged hover transport, Neil and Sayeeda hopped out of the aircar, the vehicle notably lurching when Saxon stepped off. "Follow me," Canek said, calling for what guards were on duty to lower their weapons, as the newcomers had lasguns trained on them from the moment they set foot within. Canek stopped, motioning for Saxon to stay. "Er, not you. You look well outfitted, and you wouldn't fit inside, I am afraid."

Saxon growled threateningly, but didn't argue. They continued on.

Past a heap of parts that were likely scavenged from the desert, an immense fan that droned out all noise in the immediate area, and a few rougher men cleaning their rifles with a dutiful precision, Canek led them into a lesser corridor. The lights within were attached via thick wires, and they flickered unreliably every few moments. Turning into another hall, he made it to the first door on the left and opened it, revealing a dark room.

With an audible clack, the pulled lever on the wall lit up the large chamber of weaponry. Neil's eyes widened, and even Sayeeda, who had no doubt seen more armaments than any here felt a swell of adrenaline blooming in her breast. There were two floors, and they would be able to step down into the main area. Up here however, were various pistols and submachine guns looted from across the galaxy, if not at least various systems. Small arms with heat signature add ons, laspistols, plasma pistols, sawed off groaner guns, sawed off shotguns, slug throwers, revolvers.

Neil already had a pistol he wouldn't trade for the world, so he stepped down the small stairway into the larger room, where one could still overlook via railing in the pistol area. Below, and along the walls, were plasma guns, rail guns, gauss rifles. More explosives than Neil had seen in awhile, and it was actually somewhat arousing. Napalm throwers, napalm grenades, ion grenades, frag grenades, krak grenades. Las weaponry and slug weaponry of various types, with assult rifles, sniper rifles, shotguns, battle rifles.

"Hey, you think we'll need this?" Neil joked, and Sayeeda could look down and see him holding a miniaturized atomic payload (it was still as large as Neil's chest) meant for destroying villages in a literal flash. Canek laughed guiltily. "That was quite a find. Do not drop it, though in theory it will only detonate with the detonator."
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Sayeeda looked around the cornucopia of death and destruction wondering for what purpose Canek had gathered such an arsenal. There must have been a couple of million credits here in small arms alone.

“Recruits have been harder to come by than weapons,” Canek explained, perhaps sensing her interest.

“Alot of men died in that ambush and well… I don’t fully trust a lot of the local talent,” he went on. Sayeeda picked up a submachine gun, not unlike the one she normally carried and was surprised to discover it was actually a plasma weapon. It was usually difficult to find a weapon smaller than a rifle, she fitted a patrol sling to it and began to gather reloads that were packaged in long slender tubes.

“I’m going to guess that finding this treasure ship is only step one?” she asked. Canek spread his hands wide in a theatrical guesture.

“Step one hundred and something probably. The goal is to raise enough men and hire enough ships to get to Seylonika,” Canek said, half shouting over the roar of drive fans. Behind them the tank she had seen the night before was spinning up its engines. Large patches of tempered steel had been welded over gaps that had been blown in the skirts. A mechanic watched through a commo helmet, probably monitoring heat to make sure that the repairs could hold the pressure needed to float a thirty ton vehicle.

“What’s on Seylonika,” Taya asked. The girl was toying with a compact breaching shotgun, the kind that vacuum commandos used when storming ships in deep space. Sayeeda didn’t think Taya or anyone else, could fire the weapon without being knocked on their ass, at least without a suit to adsorb the significant recoil.

“There was a general call put out about three months ago,” Canek said.

“Seylonika is the center of the Six World League, they are looking at hiring mercenaries in a big way, there is a new Prelate I guess who has some adventure in mind.”

“Ah,” Sayeeda said in understanding and then because it was obvious Taya didn’t, explained.

“There are a couple of different grades of mercenaries,” Sayeeda said.

“There are people like us, more or less freelance guns for hire, and then there are licensed mercs, like my old outfit.” Taya looked confused.

“Licensed by who?” she asked, apparently losing interest in the shotgun in favor of a sleek looking rocket gun of alien design.

“The Office of Special Actions,” Sayeeda said, “they started out as a Terran government beaura back in the days when Terra was a bigger deal that it is now. They used to be in charge of certifying that contractors that worked for the Terrans did what they say, verified TO&E, made sure contracts were handled properly.”

Sayeeda picked out a rad suit, a thin suit of flexible polymer with ionic inlays that would protect someone from the radiation they were likely to find near the computer projected crash site. Canek’s people had a sophisticated array of sensors also, though most of them were likely to suffer some level of interference from the polar radiation.

“But they don’t work for the Terrans now?” Taya asked.

“OSA is its own outfit now, they still do the same things verify mercenary contracts, make sure that the people doing the fighting do what they say and make sure that the people doing the paying pay up, but they work independently of Earth now. It’s too big a business for the Terrans to corner the market I suppose.”

The OSA was legendarily neutral, existing only to ensure that contracts were fulfilled as agreed. The arrangement suited everyone as it prevented mercenaries from deciding they would seize power on worlds they were contracted and it prevented locals from deciding that not paying or killing the mercenaries was cheaper than honoring their deals. In the event that one or another party didn’t live up to its word, they could and would levy their own mercenaries to address the problem. Junebug hadn’t had much direct interaction with OSA agents, but she knew from reputation, and horror stories, that the OSA wasn’t fucking around.

“Ok,” Taya said, obviously still confused.

“So what does this have to do with us, or with him anyway?” she asked gesturing to Canek with the barrel of the gun in a way that made Sayeeda queasy.

“There are two ways you can get a merc company registered with the OSA,” Sayeeda explained.

“One, you can go through a lengthy legal process that costs millions of credits, or you can be part of a General Call. That is when a large enough world needs more mercenaries than are likely to be available, the OSA will certify formed units that show up on a provisional basis, which they confirm when the first contract is fulfilled.”
General Calls were rare events, largely because hiring groups didn’t usually want to give their opponents warning that they were gathering large numbers of soldiers and give them time to prepare their own defences. For an aspiring Mercenary Captain though, there was no greater opportunity. Hundreds of small timers would rush to the recruiting area to try to win a position, though even once they got there they would need to impress the hiring party enough to get the contract.

“Right,” Canek chimed in, “And they will only sign of on a unit that is company sized or larger and properly equipped. I need enough money to raise and outfit at least a hundred pros, and get them to Seylonika in time, and the treasure ship is the only way I can see to make that happen. Once I have the cash, I’ll be able to gather enough recruits."
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"Holy shit." Neil muttered, placing down the rocket launcher he was examining and maneuvering through plasma weaponry to come across the battle rifle he had seen in the distance. Eagerly, he glanced around as if he was stealing something, and then he grabbed the handle of the Reaver M45. He checked the stock and the loading dock, weighing the full weapon in his hands. They even had a dozen clips of eight rounds each near the weapon.

Taya looked over to Neil, tilting her head. "What's that?" she asked, making her way over to him to look at the curiously designed rifle. Neil grinned, something that always made her worried. "This is a Reaver Rifle. It fires old 7.62×51mm rounds. Only it's outfitted to use special rounds." He bent down to grab a single bullet, holding it up. It wasn't a small projectile by any stretch of the imagination, but it also didn't look particularly armor piercing either. "These are filled with depleted uranium. You shoot at an armored vehicle with this? Six times out of ten, if I hit a vulnerable spot, it not only penetrates but ignites and stays sharp. This thing is a killer."

He cocked the rifle. "And...I can switch fire from burst fire to semi-auto in the blink of an eye. With a nice customizable scope? Probably the most versatile and deadly weapon I could have. I wouldn't take anything else, truth be told." He said, shouldering it onto his torso with the strap and pocketing the clips. He smiled and looked around. "Whoa, is that a grenade launcher?"

Taya nearly fell over.

When Neil made it back up to the first floor with Sayeeda and Canek, he had a Reaver on his back and a Kelrillian MGL, a (fairly) lightweight 40 mm six-shot revolver grenade launcher. Grenades, both Krak and Frag, were also lined across his chest. He hadn't looked this pleased since he had landed on the planet. Taya followed behind him, muttering none-too lightly about him being insane about carrying all of that weaponry.

“Right,” Canek chimed in, “And they will only sign of on a unit that is company sized or larger and properly equipped. I need enough money to raise and outfit at least a hundred pros, and get them to Seylonika in time, and the treasure ship is the only way I can see to make that happen. Once I have the cash, I’ll be able to gather enough recruits."

"I like how this guy is acting like all of this money will be his." Neil chuckled, pointing at Canek as if to say 'you're amusing.' With Canek's next look, Neil shook his head. "Don't worry, we aren't stealing from you. You'll get plenty. But we've had a few pitfalls recently and it would be...safer for all of us if we all got a fair chunk of that prize, don't you think? I mean past ship repairs as well."

Canek gave Neil a deadly look, and Sayeeda could see the man resting his hand on his belt. No doubt a subconscious move toward his pistol, even if they all knew he wouldn't fire, least of all in a room full of explosives. "Worry not, I'm sure there will be plenty to go around."

"See? I knew I liked this guy." the pilot replied, a smug look on his face. "Anyway, what else are we needing to get? We all set?" He asked, before his eyes fell on Junebug who still wore the harem pants. Neil couldn't help but gaze at the moment at her legs, before mentioning reluctantly. "You know, as much as I will hit myself for this, you might want to change into some combat pants before we go out. Even if that does look comfortable."

"I just need to grab a few supplies for the trip." Canek pipped up, turning to head out of the room. "I'll help you into something else." He said to Sayeeda, indicating she follow. "We'll meet you two at the front." Junebug followed with a nod, and Neil looked at Taya. They shrugged, and made it to the front. The way back was straight forward, so they found themselves in the underground hanger in no time.

"Expecting to be finding any light vehicles to destroy?" Taya asked Neil, trying to be joking but clearly believing Neil knew something she did not. Neil gave her a smile. "I just like to be prepared, I doubt it though." Taya laughed nervously, though even her facade of calm couldn't be hidden when they turned the corner to see Saxon staring into the desert, and her clever mind sorted out what Neil's "just in case" scenario with the explosives and armor piercing rounds were meant for.
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Windblown grit drifted across Sayeeda’s helmet. Even at this speed the minute static charge was enough to keep the visor clear. The LAV roared up over the dune, briefly leaping into the air as it crested the rise. Neil poured the power to the fans and set them down on the far side without loss of speed or direction, where a less careful driver might have smashed them into the ground. The LAV roared down the other side of the dune, none the worse for wear. The tank, lacking the power to weight ratio of the light attack vehicle snorted over the rise at an angle before cutting back sharply to traverse the reverse slope.

When Sayeeda had envisaged the ‘poles’ of Hahn, she had imagined it would be cold, but the lack of axial tilt and the intensity of the star the world orbited rendered the place a slightly cooler desert, that was also radioactive. The four Highlanders, if Saxon could be given an honorary place, road in a light attack vehicle. It was a boxy vehicle with four drive fans mounted in attached nacelles. The sides of the vehicle sloped away from the fighting compartment and were made of layered tungsten steel ceramic armor, proof against most small arms and anything but a direct hit by anything short of a tank shell. The vehicle was armed with three quad barreled plasma weapons, two mounted on the wings and one mounted forward. Taya had been give the forward facing weapon while Sayeeda and Saxon had the left and right guns. Taya had been very pleased with the apparently important assignment and Sayeeda hadn’t seen any point in telling her that the forward facing gun was the safest spot for a newbie. One rarely drove directly at a threat if one wanted to survive.

They had been pushing north for the better part of three days, or more accurately, three nights. They operated mostly at night for comfort and because the sophisticated sensors of the vehicles gave them an advantage in fighting in the dark. Canek’s column, two LAVs the tank and a pair of hover apcs were difficult for anyone to miss, they had spotted glimpses of other treasure hunters and the wild natives how lived in the blasted land, but so far they had kept a respectful distance. Not that it would be difficult to sneak up, true to Taya’s words the sensors were nearly useless outside visual range, which was very short in this broken landscape of dunes and rocky outcrops.

The landscape itself had an austere beauty to it. Long dunes of sand rippled across rocky plains that occasionally thrust up mesa like outcrops. Water here was even scarcer than on the rest of Hahn, with few oasis, even those they did see supported only twisted trees, warped by the unhealthy background radiation. What water the nomads used came from springs that bubbled up beneath the limestone mesas where ancient charcoal deposits provided some measure of filtration. Now and again the entrances to such cisterns could be spotted on infrared viewing, dark green swaths radiating a few feet from the mouth of small caverns and cracks in the bases of the rocky mesas. The column had stopped at a number of the larger peaks and bivouacked long enough for Canek’s people to plant sensor units on the high ground in a rough ring around the projected crash site. The sensor units were simple high powered models, designed to cut through the radiation, at least at reasonably short range. Canek calculated that the complete array would be able to sweep the wide area well enough to give them some idea of where the crashed starship might be found.

“Junebug,” Sayeeda’s helmet visor tagged the incoming transmission as gun 1, which was Taya’s station. She didn’t turn her head to look at the girl, but kept her eyes on her sector, empty and barren though it appeared. The comm channel slug was followed by an asterix, indicating it was locked and private.

“Go ahead,” Junebug replied mechanically. The long run had wrung them all out and the dull vibration of the lift fans was enervating even to veterans like Sayeeda Cyckali.

“So what happened with you and Neil back in the city?” Taya asked. Sayeeda only just resisted the urge to snap at the girl for clogging up the commo net with useless trivia but that was an old reflex and no one very pertinent to the present situation.

“I told you, I got jumped by a couple of Canek’s goons,” Sayeeda replied.

“No, I mean before that.”

“Oh…,” she did look now, not towards Taya but down to the back of Neil’s head. It was bobbing up and down as he listened to some music, doubtlessly more of that retro trash of which he was so fond. Taya’s question wasn’t unreasonable, afterall she had seen Junebug and Neil go of to a private room together.

“He told me that he had romantic feelings for me,” she said in a neutral tone. Sayeeda hadn’t had time to process the information. She had a vague notion that Neil was viewing her as some kind of rebound from Woods even though that contradicted what he himself had said.

“And?!” Taya asked, her excitement evident even over the two way link and its accompanying compression.

“Also he thinks Saxon has a thing for me,” Junebug relayed. Since that revelation she had done a little research. The data banks on the Highlander contained little information about Hex’s and their mating habits and what data nets there were in the city had little more than interspeices erotic holos, which while extremely enlightening on the subject of Hexagallion anatomy, were of limited use in determining their courtship rituals.

“What?!” Taya exclaimed so loud that she could be heard even over the roar of the fans. The helmet AI squashed the volume of the words in Sayeeda’s ears which resulted in an odd echo that Sayeeda subconsciously associated with screams of pain.

“You don’t have a thing for Saxon do you?” Taya asked. The map which covered a quarter of Junebugs display in a transperent mask pulsed to draw her attention to it, then zoomed down to a close up of the terrain ahead. The last mesa in their sensor grid loomed before them, glistening in the moonlight.

“Taya,” Junebug replied.

“What?” the girl asked eagerly.

“Watch your sector.”
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Neil imagined most mercenaries would look at the Hahn desert and feel like it's such wasted potention, or that there was very little to be gained here if it wasn't for the treasure coordinates. The kind of guys who could only appreciate hard drinking and soft women, and don't get him wrong, Neil was all for both. But he also enjoyed seeing other worlds and their biomes. The vastness of space and all it held within still amazed him. He could travel his entire life and not visit all of the habitable systems, much less all of the habitable planets.

Even a desert like this, he could appreciate. Good music, the hot sun, the promise of wealth, and a nice engine revving beneath him. He'd donned his shades for this particular mission, and he still had an attitude that screamed 'I'm stylish' after three days of travel. Of course, he was a bit wary of Saxon. Though most would say he was simply...saner now. Usually Saxon's moods that could easily turn violent didn't bother him unless he had nothing else to preoccupy his time with.

He reoriented the rearview mirror, and the plume of dust in the far distance behind him told him that the caravan was on schedule and keeping a good track on their movements. Not that Neil minded. As long as he and his crew got their fair share. Well, it was Sayeeda's crew, but still. In the way back, Saxon sat unmoving, gazing into the open desert as if he were a crocodile basking. All he needed was the open mouth.

A red ping went off on the display system of the transport, and Neil smacked the side of the vehicle to let everyone know they were slowing down. They were now within the sector of the treasure, though that still meant there was a hundred square miles to sift through, and nothing in the immediately landscape screamed 'significant.' They had decided before they left that they would plant beacons once they entered, to gradually send signals through the sand and rock to see what exactly dwelled beneath.

The vehicle juttered to a halt, and Neil gave the girls in the back a grin before unneccesarily vaulting over his doorside and stretching, making his way to one of the side compartments where most of the supplies were stored. Reaching in, he found purchase on what looked to be a long pole. A subtle shift of his grip and three prongs shot out like knives from the bottom of the contraption, and a red beacon flittered to life for but a moment to indicate it was on.

"Neil, hand me some water?" Taya asked, holding her hand out feebly as if she was dehydrating before the crew's very eyes. It was an obvious exaggeration. Junebug wiped her forehead and asked for one two. He tossed them both bottles. "What about you, big guy. Want some?" Neil asked. Saxon didn't turn or answer him, though the rise and fall of his massive chest spoke he was still awake and alive. He shrugged, and grabbed himself one.

"You know, this'd make a good beach. If there was water here." Neil remarked, and took a swig of the bottle. The water had an iron taste to it once the projectile punched through the plastic. He almost didn't notice it at first, but the distant sound of gunfire and the water now spilling onto his hands sobered him up. "Oh SHIT!" Neil dived low as the sand dunes to the east revealed dozens of hidden dervish raiders, all with slug weaponry as they began to unload on the less than armored transport.

As if to prove again he was awake, Saxon gave a warbling cry and launched out of the transport with a massive leap, bullets ricocheting off his armor as he began to fire at the northern section of the enemy lines, a rocket flying out of a wrist launcher to engulf two men in flame and shrapnel.
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Tracerfire sparkled of the hull of the LAV as Sayeeda dived for cover. As she rolled her helmet visor came alive with carrots that pinpointed the position of hostile muzzle flash. Taya screamed and threw herself to the ground covering her head in panic. That wasn’t a great reaction in a crisis but it wasn’t an uncommon one in ones first exposure to a firefight.

A pair of rockets leaped from concealed positions among the rocks toward the tank. They were too close for the tanks plasma guns to swat, even if they had been set to air defense but a section of the massive vehicles hull exploded outwards in a sleet of steel pellets. The missile defense system essentially detonated one of dozens of integral claymores, which sprayed ball bearings outwards in a cone the computer calculated as an intercept for incoming warheads. One of the missiles exploded in the air and the other one vereed wildly as a section of its steering fin was cut away, mushrooming against the side of the mesa and raining down rocks on the combatants below. A flash of blue bright enough that it would have burned Sayeeda’s eyes slashed across the sky touching one of the APCs and converting it into a fireball of burning metal, fuel and men. A second lance stabbed towards the tank a second later, but the user must have been using a targeting laser because the tanks sand caster fired, spraying a sheet of debris into the air. The lance struck the cloud of gravel and liberated its energy in an explosive cyan fireball that showered the tank with flecks of burning rock but did no real damage.

The ambushers had probably expected the rockets to take out the tank and the second lance had been meant for the other APC but luck had been with Canek. The surviving APC cut its fans and hammered to the dirt like the thirty ton anvil it was. The side panels sprang open and Canek’s mercenaries unassed in record time, opening fire at where they saw, or thought they saw enemies. Sayeeda belatedly realised that the fact they were placing a net of sensors in a particular pattern meant that the enemy was able to predict where they be and lay an ambush. Still an ambush had to work to be effective.

“AID,” she called, queuing the low level artificial intelligence in her helmet.

“Slave vehicle guns to my threat indicator.” The mounted guns on the lvl slewed and began to rip out short two or three round bursts into the mesas, targeting the carroted threats on her visual display. Men tumbled down the slope missing heads or limb from the stabbing plasma discharges. Another LAV exploded in a shower of shrapnel as a rocket arced into its hull, blasting the ammunition and combustibles inside to flaming showers of debris in a fraction of an instant. Bullets wicked the dirt around her lifting puffs of dirt like geysers. Staying next to a vehicle that would draw heavy weapons fire was a bad move and there was no way they could get the LAV back into the air. Even now its hull sparkled with bullet impacts even as the heavy weapons continued to deal automated death. Leaping to her feet she grabbed the cowering Taya and half dragged her the ten meters to where a cluster of boulders provided cover. A ragged man in desert garb rosed from concealment swinging a rifle to bear. Sayeeda cut him down with a three round burst that sent his head and arms flying in separate arc. With a world ending crash the tank fired its main gun. The twenty five centimeter plasma cannon hit the mesa with the force of a thousand freight trains, converting a divot twice the tanks own mass to gaseous rock. If the LAV hadn’t already been grounded the concussion would have flipped the vehicle like a tiddlywink.

Men were screaming and burned as the bullets and plasma bolts howled back and forth. One of Canek’s infantry feel to the ground, his arm shorn away at the shoulder by enemy fire. The plasma lance stabbed again, this time the gunner had taken the targeting laser offline and it carved a glittering scar across the tanks bowslow. All three of the LAVs guns converged on the shooter who had just made himself the biggest threat on the battlefield in the computers silicon brained opinion.

“Neil!” Sayeeda yelled, standing up and riping another burst uphill.

“We have to get some…” the tanks gun crashed again and the concussion dropped her on her ass behind the rocks before cooling drops of magma reigned from the sky.

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