Isela and Theo were not far behind. The Phyrnosians had docked on the big clearing where concerts and festivals were held on the city-ship. Five of their lightcraft were arranged around a potbellied cargo ship. As they watched, gobs herded two young men into the ship, following them inside it with Voks. After a few moments, they came back outside and shut the door, waiting for new prisoners.
“Stay here,” Isela said. She threw off her cloak and went around to the other side of the ship, where two gobs sat in the cockpit, guarding it.
They shot to attention when Isela came through the door. She stood in the doorway, looking at them.
“At ease. Do you know me?”
“You’re Raptor’s countess,” one said. He stood eagerly. “Is he alive? Is he here?”
“Surrender. Raptor is dead,” she said.
“This is not-”
She whipped her tail, knocking him off balance. As he stumbled forward she slammed into his low belly and lifted, throwing him over her back. He crashed to the ground, landing on the back of his neck. She stepped on his throat, her claws ripping the skin.
It happened so quickly the other gob had time only to back up against the wall.
Isela rushed him too. He grabbed her neck as she hit him and began to crush it in his hands. She bucked her head, catching the underside of his jaw with her horns, but the gob was efficient. She felt her head swim; her throat filling with needles. She couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think. She curled her neck, hardening her muscles against his grip. She dropped her arms to the ground and kicked him hard in the face. Her tail found his neck. She leapt upright and out of the way as she pulled him down, then slammed backwards onto his body, spinning as she fell so she gashed his neck wide with her horns and claws. The gob was screaming now, looking up at her. She brought her elbow down on his jaw, crushing it apart, and choked him into silence.
Theo stood in the doorway with Peregrine behind him. “Peregrine, this is Isela, my partner.”
“A pleasure,” Peregrine said.
“Charmed,” she said. She wiped her hand and held it out to him.
He helped her up. “You all right?”
“Fine,” she said. The gob stirred and she dropkicked him, severing his head.
“No rest for the wicked,” Theo said.
“But she’s good,” Peregrine said. He was preoccupied with his wrist. “She’s very good.”
Theo went to the door. “This goes to the hold?”
Isela nodded. “Wait!” Peregrine said. “They’ve got Vince.”
He showed them the miniature screen embedded in his wrist.
“It’s in code,” Theo said.
“Oh, right, sorry.” Peregrine placed his palm over the screen, unlocking it, and then tapped on a small red dot blinking furiously in the center of the screen. The screen changed and they saw the interior of the ship, turning end over end, as if the viewer were being tossed. “We have eye-pieces,” Peregrine said. “This shows me what Vince is seeing.”
A Phyrnosian gob filled the screen, his jaws wide in a scream. His thick blue tongue slapped forward and the screen went still. It was only when the Phyrnosian stepped back, closing a gate behind him, that Vince looked down: showing them that he was tied to the posts of a container, alongside other bloodied men and women. There was a toddler running back and forth across the floor, screaming. The Gob soldier scooped it up and carried it outside. The hold went dark.
“We’ve got to go now,” Isela said, “before they come back in.”
“There isn’t time-”
But the countess had opened the door and leapt to the ground. She disappeared into the rustling darkness. The men followed.
“Untie them,” she said. She darted to a dark hallway past the hold: motionless Voks were pale in the unlit ship. If they were switched on...
She came back carrying hotguns, and tossed them to each adult as they were freed. A woman gave Isela a beautiful smile. “Well done, ma cherie,” she said.
The Knife rubbed his wrists. “All ready?” he said.
“Are you?” Peregrine smirked. The Knife was bleeding, limping, but he squared his shoulders as he swaggered to the door and kicked it down. It flopped down on its hinges, bounced once mid-air before clanging all the way down, onto the Phyrnosians gobs. People flooded over their crushed bodies, leaping off the boards in all directions.
The first dozen gobs were taken unawares and fell easily.
“Fan out!” Peregrine called. People took off into the streets in twos and threes, hiding behind corners and picking off every gob and Vok that appeared. One gob lay trapped beneath a fallen building; he was flayed alive in the sand where he lay. Vince led teams towards the other Phyrnosian crafts to secure them. As Phyrnosians appeared in the sandy street, each was gunned down. The people slipped farther and farther, hunting the last remaining soldiers. Slowly, the gunfire quieted.
Then it was over. Phyrnosians lay against polished Glaspex, their humours bleeding into the street. A Rush ship blazed away, three dead Phyrnosians piled outside its door. The Frenchwoman ran to it. “What have you done to my ship?”
Peregrine and Snopes were coming back down the street. “Sorry, baby,” Snopes said, “we had to blow it up.”
“My name is not baby. It is Martine,” she said.
Her companion rushed forward, taking her arm. “Sorry,” he said to the men. “She’s upset. She doesn’t know what she’s saying.”
“I know perfectly-” He pulled her away.
“Oops,” Snopes said. His smile did not reach his eyes. “Come on. Let’s run another pass.” Without a backward glance, he and Peregrine returned towards the smoking interior of Sand Maiden.
Isela came down into the street. “I need to speak with someone in charge here,” she said.
Men looked toward Grant Ramsey. He stepped forward.
“I have re-programmed the Voks. Should my people attack you again, you’ll be able to defend yourselves better.”
“With all due respect, lady, we did all right this time.”
She looked at him. “It would be better for you if you hadn’t. This will not be tolerated.”
She led him into the defeated ship and taught him how to operate the Voks.
“You know, you aren’t the only Phyrnosian who switched sides,” he said, admiring their armored segments. “There was another guy. Wears a hat, he’s a friend of Peregrine’s?”
“I do not know him,” she said.