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Page 17 of 24
A short story by

Kal-El Bogdanove

Half an hour later Rin and Champlain were bombing at high speed on a transverse course past the spire. "Buzz the damn thing," Shaw had said. "Get that bucket humming and carve right by the spire. You make as much noise as you can, and you just keep going!"

Rin had argued with him. Surely Shaw's one goliath, armed to the teeth though it was, was not going to be able to destroy that massive spire.

"Stick to what you know," he'd barked back. "They're not that tough to bring down… long as the ugly bastards aren't home…"

Now as Rin accelerated, the old LAV juddered and shook, but it held. Champlain was in the back, tinkering with the bulky hunk of techno-whatsis he'd insisted on loading in with them.

"What is that thing, Doc?!" Rin yelled over the wind.

"Synthetic pheromone dispersal unit. Outside of the range of telepathic control, I believe mutas communicate through scent, with different musks. I've been collecting and tracking samples. If we get in trouble, I'll be able to deploy this and draw them off. This musk is designed to mimic the spawning effluent of a hatchery!"

Rin wrinkled her nose. Eww. "You use it often?" she hollered back.

"No!" He grinned proudly. "Just nailed the formula last week! Can't wait to see how it works!"

Swell. Rin narrowed her eyes and turned to the task at hand.

The plan was simple. Rin and Champlain would kite the bulk of the horde away from the spire with this high-speed drive-by. That would give Shaw a chance to run the Flyswatter in, plant an explosive charge in the top hole of the spire, blow it, and massacre the horde when it stacked up on the return attack.

"If you can get the bastards to stack up, you've won," Shaw had said. "Regular as clockwork."

Rin hoped to hell he knew what he was talking about, because the alternative was her dragging a giant mob of pissed-off mutas through the desert till she ran out of gas.

The spire was getting closer now as they reached the flat of the valley.

"Oh, my," said Champlain, "it really is big up close!"

That was a hell of an understatement. Rin poured on the speed, but the spire didn't seem to get any nearer, just bigger and bigger.

As the LAV pulled up level with it, Rin thought, Here goes nothing, and leaned on the horn.

The deafening honk smashed the desert air like a maul through a melon. The horde leapt into the sky with a thunderous rustling, and Rin cut away across the canyon, going hellbent for leather.

"Look! Look!" Champlain's outburst was inappropriately gleeful. "Right up front! The canny mutalisk! Look!"

Rin hazarded a glance over her shoulder. Bad idea. Really bad, she thought, staring back at the sea of flapping wings and clicking carapaces.

But Champlain was insistent. "Look, right there! See all the scarring around the mandibles? See the number of striations on the underbelly? Right up front!"

Rin snuck another glance. God, he's right. What an ugly sonuvabitch. Rin hadn't thought it was possible for a mutalisk to be much uglier than the ones she'd already seen, but the scarred bastard up front destroyed that notion. It led the enormous horde like the lead goose in a migrating vee.

Up on the ridge, Shaw launched the Flyswatter into motion and charged toward the largely unguarded spire. Rin saw him on the vidscreen, grinning like he got his hand up his prom date's skirt.

"Something's wrong! Look at the scarred one!" yelled Champlain. Rin looked back. It had suddenly looped to a higher altitude and turned, the whole horde wheeling after it like a column of smoke whirling up a chimney.

"They're not following us," muttered Rin. "Shaw! They've stopped following us!"

Champlain gasped. "He's not going to have time to plant the explosive. Look! They're going to beat him back to the spire!"

Rin heard Shaw begin to curse as the horde returned to the spire. The mutalisks reached it before the Flyswatter could, and they burst out of their stacked formation into a hovering cloud of terror.

Rin watched as Shaw had to pull a full reverse, slinging inaccurate missiles back at the few mutas that gave chase.

Well, thought Rin, that sucked.

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