I was starting to muscle up again. My hide no longer hung on my arms so badly. This pleased me for I would now have a chance in any hand to hand fighting we might face in our efforts to get off Markab. Also, if I did manage to get off this hellhole, So'Kath would recognise me. I had not been sure that he would recognise the walking skeleton that I had been. As for little Na'Kath - if she recognised me....
We waited the day through in our various ways. I drove my body harder than I had in some time, and it responded to my demands nearly as it had before our trek. I rested happy in the knowledge that I was recovering my strength.
We set off not long before sunset. As we entered Cashino, the full dark of night descended. A distant rumbling alerted us to something happening, and then the ion trail of first one, then another cargo shuttle lit up the sky. Looked like there were scavengers here too.
Now all we had to do was figure out how to get them to take us up to the space dock. I could not afford to give up another star ruby as payment - the loss of the last one had severely cut my mission's profit and I would also need every last credit I had to have any hope of paying off Ja'Hut.
We waited some time, but they did not return. Possibly that was the last load for the day and they would return in the morning. We worked out that they were most likely landing in the plaza near the casino and drove cautiously to an area not far away.
Nar'Bon and I went on a scouting mission. What we found was very interesting, and we skittered back to the vehicle quickly.
"There's a personnel shuttle with a ramp for a ground vehicle in the plaza. Also there only seem to be two cargo shuttles from the burn marks on the plaza. We saw only one being on the personnel shuttle and there were no guards."
We looked at each other. "Do you reckon?" "Should we?" "Yup, why not?" I gave the Pak'ma'ra one of my precious PPGs and we strapped ourselves in to our vehicle. Russell drove the vehicle into the heart of Cashino with the rest of us sitting in our cramped seats with heated PPGs. If there was going to be any trouble, we wanted to make it, not be the victims again.
Our approach was from the wrong angle. A figure in the shuttle saw our approach and ran towards the nose of the craft. The Pak'ma'ra squawked with alarm as Russell pushed the vehicle hard then swung around violently as we passed the shuttle. The ground vehicle groaned, but did as he asked and we raced up the ramp into the shuttle.
Nar'Bon and I boiled out. I grabbed a fist sized lump of metal in my empty hand. There were two doors. I nodded to the closer one and took up a covering position. Nar'Bon palmed the door open and rolled through. No obvious opposition. We ran up the corridor to the bridge. Again I nodded to Nar'Bon as I hoisted my lump of metal. He opened the door as I threw in the decoy.
Nothing happened. There was no reaction. I took up the covering position again and Nar'Bon went through the open door. One PPG burst and it was over.
I entered to see Nar'Bon with his PPGs trained on what appeared to be a very frightened Gaim with its hands in the air. It jabbered at us, and I fancied that there was a desperate sound to its ratchetty voice. Behind it, something fizzled - a communications console I guessed.
"Shut up and talk some sense."
It nodded downwards. I looked at it and at Nar'Bon. "It requires its translator to talk to us, Captain. Should we allow it to adjust it?"
Of course. Gaim were one of the races that did not have the type of articulation required to enunciate Earther or Interlac. "OK, go ahead. Just don't try any funny business."
It tentatively brought its hands down to its waist and adjusted a box there. A globe lit up as it said, "Do not harm this unworthy being."
"We won't harm you as long as you cooperate. How many of you are there here? Are there any more Gaim in Cashino?"
"Yes, there is a truck with seven Gaim. Do not hurt this being."
The Pak'ma'ra stuck his head in and interrupted. "Captain, I think that we should shut the vehicle ramp."
It was not a stupid idea. "You heard the Pak'ma'ra. Close the ramp." The Gaim scuttled to obey me. The sound of more Gaim ratchettings wafted down the corridor to me. I whirled around. "I thought that there were no more Gaim on this ship!"
"There is only this unworthy being. Do not maim this unworthy being."
I turned to Nar'Bon. "Take this thing to another comm panel or something and get it to talk to its mothership. Make it speak in Earther so that we know what it is saying. We will not harm it if it does as we tell it. We only need to borrow this shuttle to get us off Markab. Then they can have it back."
Before Nar'Bon took the Gaim away, I asked it whether it could fly the shuttle. Its reply was in the negative. It seemed to only be some dumb drudge.
"Oh, and Djikiden, check to make sure that the ramp really is closed. I don't want any unexpected visitors."
Russell entered the cockpit after the others left and started fussing over the shot-out console. I stopped him from attempting to repair it - we had more important things to worry about like trying to get this stupid shuttle to speak a decent language. I was able to recognise the layout of the pilot's console, but the language of the readouts was totally incomprehensible.
As I examined the panel and started preflight checks, a vehicle bounced across the debris outside, heading for the shuttle. The ramp had been closed, however, and they could not easily gain access. They jumped up and down outside, then drove their vehicle close to where I noticed an airlock. I started cycling up the engines and they beat a hasty retreat. One fellow was left behind and ran after the others, frequently casting its eyes back at the shuttle.
The engines all came up clear. I hadn't thought it would be this easy. "Better strap yourselves in back there. We're about to take off!"
It wasn't the cleanest of all liftoffs that I had performed, but it had after all been some time since I needed to lift a shuttle out of a planet's gravity well. Also this shuttle did not have the standard readouts. I was terrified all through that take off. Any moment I expected dark fliers to swoop down on us again. I expected to be shot down. As the little shuttle shuddered and thrust itself up through the skies of Markab, I prayed in G'Quan's name.
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