Authors: Angela Verdenius
Yeah, lucky cut was right. Abra looked again at the horrified expression on the other warrior’s face. Her face was muted by what he now knew was ice as well as debris, but he could make out the horror.
“Some of the hunters managed to escape,” Falyon continued. “Martz lost three quarters of his hunters in the cave-in. Anyway, Martz was recently shot to shit in an outlaw hunt. Me and my pack were in the vicinity and went to the rescue but it was too late. He gave this to me right before he died, told me the story.”
“Told you to give it to the Reekas,” Creed stated.
“Shit, no. He just wanted to brag that he’d killed a Reeka.” Falyon frowned. “He always said he had but he never showed anyone this before. I don’t know why.”
“I can guess,” Abra said. “Greedy bastard couldn’t dig their bodies out himself, so he wasn’t about to let anyone else dig them out for the dinnos. Plus, he ands. Pluswas such a mad, twisted bastard that he probably kept the photo image for his own perverted pleasure.”
Falyon nodded thoughtfully. “Could be right. Wouldn’t surprise me. Man was mad as a cut snake.”
“So what’re you going to do?” Abra queried.
Abra flicked a corner of the photo image.
“That’s why I brought it to you, Abra.”
“I’m not following.”
“You know the Reekas. You can bring this to them, let them sort it out.”
“I’m not exactly on friendly terms with them, Falyon.”
“Yeah,” Creed chipped in. “Last time he and his pack met with some Reekas in a tavern there was a hell of a fight. As usual.”
“And as usual,” Abra added dryly, “we tried to avoid it. But that Senna and her little band of rogue cronies are a hot-headed bunch. They have long, very long—”
“And unforgiving,” Creed added.
“Very long, unforgiving memories.”
Falyon gave a rumble of amusement.
“One day,” Abra predicted, “Senna will pick a fight with the wrong man and then she’ll be in trouble.”
“Or he will.” Creed chortled.
“Yeah.” Abra flicked the photo image again. “So I’m not that friendly with the Reekas. In fact, me giving this to them just might kick off a revolution.”
“Hunter with a photo image of their sister warriors dying, not good.” Creed shook his head. “Dead hunter walking.”
Falyon shrugged. “Then just tear it up. No good will come of it, right?” He reached for the photo image.
Instinctively, Abra stopped him by placing one hand on it.
Falyon looked inquiringly at him.
Creed grinned slyly.
“Leave it with me,” Abra said.
“I’ve a plan.”
Falyon withdrew his hand. “Oh, really?”
“Yeah.” He pocketed the image without looking at it again. “I’ll send this to Sabra, let her do the deed.”
“I don’t suppose Martz gave you directions to finding this cave before he kicked the bucket?”
“Yeah, he did.” Pulling out the handtronic from his pocket, Falyon keyed in several commands. “I’ll have it sent to your ship’s co-ordination navigator.”
“Meanwhile...” Abra looked at Falyon. “How many know of this?”
“My pack, who won’t say a word. Creed.”
“My lips are sealed,” Creed said. “At least, until the news hits the Reekas, then we have to send out a warning to the other packs, because the fights between bounty hunter packs and the couple of rogue Reekas are going to get a little wilder.”
“Reya will rein in the rogues,” Abra stated.
“Reya and her sister, Tenia, may be the leaders,” Faly Abers,”on replied, “but there’re some real hotheads in that tribe, Abra.”
“Trust me, those hot heads will listen to Reya. I’ve seen it.”
“They don’t listen to Tenia?”
“They’ll argue with her, but they’ll knuckle under to her commands regardless. Reya just has to look at them and they fall into order.”
“I can imagine.”
~ * ~
Outlaw Sector, outskirts
Planet Ylan, The Desert
It was like a furnace in the desert. Even the carrion eaters wilted in the shade of a few scrawny trees that sprouted out of the hot sand.
The sleek, black ship was covered by a haze that wasn’t entirely natural. Shadows flitted where there was no one to cast them, and the searing blue sky held a darkish patch that wavered and moved.
Sitting on the ramp of his ship, Fredrico wasn’t interested in the sand, hazes or shadows. His gaze was focused on the cave mouth as Carto, his second-in-command, appeared and strode across the sand to the shelter of the ship.
“We’ve found her,” he said bluntly as he came to a stop in the shade.
“From what I can tell, nothing has changed since the snap freeze.”
“Good. Very good.” Standing up, Fredrico slipped the electronic book he wasn’t reading into his pocket and strode across the sand to the cave.
Sweat and dirt streaking their faces, his men stood aside waiting with that eerie stillness that was so much a part of them these last few years. That was a part of them all.
A monstrous shadow filled the mouth of the cave and slipped inside behind Fredrico. It slithered up the walls then disappeared ahead of him, streaking with assuredness down the long tunnel.
Fredrico climbed over the rubble that had still not been cleared properly. There was no point in clearing everything until he was absolutely sure, though Phemar had been certain that she would be found in perfect condition.
The tunnel went deep, the bones of long-dead bounty hunters pushed aside along with rubble, but finally the tunnel came to an end. He straightened up, Carto coming in behind him. And sure enough there she was, encased in ice.
The Reeka warrior knelt on one knee, her last movements caught in a split second, frozen for eternity. Red, almost black, hair hung over her face, obscuring her features from sight, and blood, as fresh as if it had been spilled seconds ago, coated her fingers and chest, smeared across the smooth skin above the laced vest. One arm was outstretched, her hand resting on the ground before her as she leaned forward. Her sword lay discarded where it had dropped at her booted feet. Bright blood - hunters’ blood - coated the blade.
Fredrico glanced at the woman who was partially turned to face her, seeing the horror on her beautiful face. Her blonde hair was almost white, her eyes deep violet. The sword in her hand was across her body, held at the ready, yet dipping as the realization of what had happened to her sister warrior must have diverted her attention from the fight.
One foreverr h>One fo caught in horror.
The second caught in dying.
There was only one who had Fredrico’s attention, however, and he turned away from the standing woman and laid his hand just above the ice, near the kneeling warrior’s head. Closing his eyes, he breathed out deeply and waited several seconds.
Sure enough, the familiar, loathsome presence flowed through him as though Phemar himself were laying his body over Fredrico’s. The stench of rotting flesh filled the air and darkness filled the chamber.
With the familiar backlash of Phemar using his senses, he felt beneath his fingertips a spark of life. The warrior wasn’t dead, not yet. Frozen in time, she’d neither aged nor died. Her heart had stopped but her spirit hadn’t left her body. It clung as she knelt, dying but not dead. Trapped. Mystically trapped.
The hissing words rolled through the cavern.
“Bring her now.”
Fredrico opened his eyes as the presence left and he was only himself once more. Giving his hand a shake as he drew it back from the ice to remove the lingering sensation of stringy flesh clinging to him, he said simply, “Remove her.”
The work started again, the tunnel widening only enough for their needs. Progress was fast as the space pirates worked with things that they’d learned to exist with side by side.
Fredrico oversaw the cutting of the ice as it was sliced in a wide arc around the kneeling warrior. Within seconds she was separated from her companion and a shadow slipped around the figure trapped in the ice. It rose slowly and Carto ordered the floating trolley to be put beneath the cut out section of ice. It was a simple procedure to float the ice block with its frozen occupant down the cleared tunnel and out into the sunshine.
Almost immediately a trickle of water formed and the ice started to get slippery. The men worked faster, the trolley going up the ramp and into the holding bay. A huge freezer unit stood against the far wall, and Alonz, a hulking brute with a metal hand, slid open the door. Cold air spilled out. The ice block was transferred inside and he shut the door again, sealing the warrior inside the protective freezing depths. His robotic fingers whirred as he pressed the switch to lock the door.
Standing before the clear glass door, Fredrico gazed in at the white, chilly air that ebbed around the ice block. Quickly the white air coated the clear glass, obliterating the kneeling warrior from sight. Icy claw marks dragged down the inside of the glass and for a second he caught sight of orange eyes glinting up against the glass before it all disappeared. The glass sparkled with white ice.
Turning away, he started towards the stairs. “Let’s go.”
The sleek ship took off, slicing through the hot air and up, until, within seconds, the hot desert was left behind and then the planet. Deep in space the ship wheeled and headed for the Inner Sanctum of the Outlaw Sector.
Deep in the cave, the lone warrior continued to stare in frozen horror at the now empty space where her companion had knelt dying. Heat from outside started to seep down the tunnel and a tiny rivulet of moisture beaded at the raw edge of ice left by the laser burn. It slipped down the side of the ice block, another bead welling up...
~ * ~
“So, you really think we’ll find these two warriors?” Ricna queried as the bounty hunter ship zeroed in on the co-ordinates entered into the co-ordination navigator.="+ator.
“No harm in looking.” Abra scanned the radar for any unknown ships in the nearby areas but the screen came up blank.
“So what if they’re not there?”
“Then I send this all to Sabra and she can sort it out with the Reekas.”
“And if they are there?”
“Then I’ll send this all to Sabra and she can sort it out with the Reekas.”
“So if the plan remains the same either way, why are we doing this search?”
“Because I want to see if they’re there or not.”
Ricna looked through the space shield as the hot desert sands appeared. Jarvis concentrated on bringing the ship on line with the co-ordinates.
Abra wasn’t quite sure why he was doing this. Glancing up at the photo image which he’d stuck next to the viscomm screen, he wondered why he just didn’t send the info to Sabra now and be done with it. But deep inside, he wanted to know. Were these two Reekas really still out here in a cave in the hot desert? Frozen?
If they were, then Reya, Tenia, and their tribe would be out here as fast as they could to retrieve the bodies, to return them to the Reeka settlement, their original home on Comll in the Lawful Sector. The place they’d been driven from twenty-four long years ago, and in which most of the Reekas now dwelled once more.
“We’re almost there,” Jarvis announced.
Through the space shield Abra saw the hill rising out of the hot sand.
Bringing the hill into focus, Ricna pointed to it on the viscomm. “There’re tracks that someone has been here already.”
Instantly alert, Abra scanned the area again but no ship came onto the screen, nor were there signs of life anywhere. Reaching out, he switched on the intercom to the ship’s laser pits. “Nat, Vane, keep an eye out for any hostiles. Someone has been here but there’re no signs that they’re still here. Just watch sharply.”
“We’re locked in,” Nat’s voice came back over the intercom.
“Locked and ready to fire at will,” Vane added. “We’ll watch your backs, don’t worry.”
The mouth of the cave came into view but playing safe, Abra took an extra five minutes to guide the ship in a wide sweep of the area within a fifty mile radius. Whoever had been at the cave was now long gone. Finally satisfied that they were safe, he landed the ship near the entrance to the cave.
Nat and Vane remained on alert in the laser pits while Jarvis kept scanning the area on the radar for potential problems.
Armed with lasers and daggers, Abra and Ricna went down to the cargo hold and down the ramp. Behind them the invisible security shield locked on, denying admission to anyone who didn’t have their body pattern locked into the security system.
Adjusting the communicators in their ears, Abra and Ricna approached the cave entrance cautiously.
“Someone’s been here, all right.” Ricna stepped over a pile of rubble. “And they’ve been doing a little excavation.”
“Someone else knew about the Reekas, perhaps?” Abra peered into the dark entrance of the cave, alert for any signs of life. His computer systems might be top-notch but he still believed in trusting his own instincts. It had kept him alive this long and he wasn’t about to stop going by hi1"> going s gut feelings now.
“Creed and Falyon wouldn’t have said anything, or their packs,” Vane said through the communicators.
“Not likely,” Abra agreed, his laser whining as he aimed it into the darkness.
Slowly he and Ricna moved forward. Keeping to the sides of the cave, they moved over the rubble and deeper into the depths. The lights atop their lasers lit up the tunnel. Here and there lay scattered bones, obviously of the hunters caught in the original cave-in years ago.
Chillness enveloped them as they went yet deeper and they looked at each other. It had to be ice.
A glint came from not far off and they proceeded cautiously, watching almost in amazement as a block of ice came into view. A tall, narrow block with one figure encased in it. As they neared they saw the gaping hole where the other warrior had been and was now no longer.
“Someone’s been here.” Narrow-eyed, Ricna looked around.
Abra stepped forward and felt his boot sink in mud. Angling the light down, he saw the pool of mud surrounding the bottom of the ice block and even as he watched, he noticed the rivulets of water tracking down the side of it to melt into the mud pool.