Imago: Season 1, Episode 4 “Bounty”, Act 3

This entry is part of 12 in the series Imago

Gable rolled as he hit the ground, partly to put out his burning shirt and armor panel, partly to move himself out of the line of fire behind one of the stalls. A second plasma bolt struck the ground right where his head had been an instant before, washing the hard ground in blue flame.

“Captain!” PHOEBE exclaimed, terror in her inflection that Gable never expected the AI to be capable of.

His back struck the polymer wall of the stall just as another bolt hit the other side of it, instantly causing a section to start melting. “Do the job!” he grunted. Pulling out his weapon, he tried to sift through his memory to figure out where the shots had come from.

PHOEBE blinked and that seemed to reset her emotions back to calm. “Oh. Yes. Opening flight bay zero-four. Opening flight bay one-three. Taking uploading remote control software and taking control of the craft in one-three. ETA one minute and twenty-three seconds. Uploading flight permissions to local airspace control centers.”

More plasma bolts slammed into the stall, making the affected areas start to run. The other patrons had scattered in a panic, leaving the pair largely alone to face the withering fire. Gable drew his pistol and switched it on, thumbing the power gauge to full power and maximum range.

“I’ve performed all my assigned functions, Captain,” said PHOEBE. A plasma bolt passed through her image, temporarily scrambling it. She didn’t seem to notice, continuing on even as her image stabilized, “What should I do now?”

Gable forced himself to sitting and scuttled sideways as his cover was rapidly melting. “Track the trajectory of the bolts! Find him! Find the shooter!”

PHOEBE nodded. “Doing so now.”

***

Elsewhere in the market, Hala checked his datapad when it warbled to find a message from PHOEBE. His eyebrows drooped in dismay as he turned to Rebina. “It’s Gable. The bounty hunter’s targeting Gable!”

In response, the former Ghevet ambassador tightened the strap of her rifle and asked: “Where?”

“Your Harrul Interceptor is on its way now with the coordinates laid in,” he explained. “The AI said to get up somewhere high because the streets are too narrow to land.”

For a brief moment, Rebina considered asking how PHOEBE was circumventing the city’s air defenses, but decided that was a discussion for later. The task at hand was getting somewhere up high.

A quick look around revealed a sea of low-lying stalls extending out from the surrounding permanent buildings. Said buildings stood only two to three stories tall with balconies and other assorted decoration jutting out from their facades.

One thing was for sure: the local authorities (assuming there were any, since she hadn’t seen signs of them) weren’t going to be happy with her. Checking to make sure her new rifle was snugly secured to her back, she struck off at a run toward one of the stalls set up near the wall of one of the near buildings.

She was shorter than most of the folk who ran the stalls, so she had to jump up on a bench and then to a table in order to get enough height to leap up and grab the overhanging roof and pull herself onto it. From there, she rolled up into a crouch and launched herself at the nearest thing she could find; a lighting sconce hanging over a door.

Most people’s weight would have broken it, but she easily swung from it with both hands and used the momentum she built up to jump to and adjacent balcony, landing balanced on the railing. She paused only just long enough to center herself because the distant sound of a jet engine told her that the interceptor was enroute.

With another leap, she caught the edge of the roof above her and hauled herself up and over, coming to rest on the layered, arched tiles of the roof. She couldn’t stay still though, as the tiles started shifting under her weight, leading to a mad scramble up to the top of the house’s A-frame.

By the time she reached the top of the roof, her ship was in view, flying low over the rooftops with its hover thrusters keeping it steady. The canopy opened as it approached and dropped even lower, angling so it drew up alongside the house Rebina was standing on at a distance measured only by a few inches past the wing.

Putting all her trust in Ghevet engineering, Rebina hopped to the wing, only putting her weight on it long enough to push off it and drop into the cockpit. Her rifle dug into her back, but she ignored it, hitting the switch to close the canopy before reaching back and grabbing her helmet from the headrest of her seat.

“I hope I treated your craft with respect, Ambassador,” PHOEBE’s voice came over the speakers.

“I’ll admit, I’m impressed with your flying. You did well.”

“Thank you. It means a lot. Transferring control to manual on your mark. The Captain’s coordinates are already laid in for you. Please hurry; he’s already taken a hit. His armor panel won’t be able to protect him completely against another of that magnitude.”

Rebina raised a brow at the genuine concern she was hearing, but again there were more pressing matters. “Understood. I’ll be there was soon as possible.” And with that, she took the controls in her hands and boosted the engine, sending her interceptor skyward.

***

“Target acquired,” PHOEBE announced. “Painting them now. Please extend the remote console out of cover so I can render a visual sight line.”

Gable, having relocated to a new defensive position behind a food cart gave her a dubious look. “It’s on my arm. If I put my arm out of cover, it’s going to be shot off!”

The AI gave him a wide-eyed look before replying as if to a child. “Then take the console off and then put it out of cover.”

“I… damn it.” Gable set his pistol down so he could use that hand to work the mechanism that held the command console to his arm. “This better be worth it because if he hits this thing, I’m out of communication with you and everyone else.”

“Your concerns are noted Captain, but I’m unable to provide covering fire to get you to safety. I can only aid you doing so for yourself.”

Gable gave her a sharp nod and—without another word of argument—carefully slid the device into the open past the rear wheels of the cart. Immediately, PHOEBE snapped her head up and pointed toward the tallest building surrounding a plaza; a water tower. A vibrant red line formed between her finger and a figure lying in a prone sniping position.

The line was as visible to the sniper as to anyone, so the next few plasma blasts that came passed through PHOEBE. That was all the distraction Gable needed to bolt from cover, running in a low crouch to another set of stalls. Along the way, he drew a bead on where PHOEBE was pointing.

Despite only being able to make out a vague lump on top of the tower, Gable squeezed the trigger on his pistol as quickly as he could manage. Blue masses of plasma leapt from his weapon, hissing in air, five in all before the pistol overheated and the safety mechanism engaged, locking the trigger and flooding the barrel with coolant.

Gable didn’t bother seeing if his shots hit before diving for fresh cover. The next shots he heard were too loud to be from any man-portable unit even if they were designed to be carried by Dermitites. No, they were the continuous hissing screams of ship-mounted beam weaponry. He dared peek just in time to see two searing white lances tear into the tower’s roof, forcing the sniper to scramble out of the way and make a run for the opposite end of the tower.

Then the Voidhopper roared overhead. However much it was built to fight in atmosphere, it was also built for speed and high G-force maneuverability. It was a striker, not a ship meant to sustain fire, so it shot over the water tower with even slowing, leaving a deafening sonic boom in its wake.

PHOEBE turned to grin at Gable. “Rest easy, Captain! The Calvary has arrived!” In an instant, her grin faded. “But we should leave. Now. Local authorities have been alerted to the plasma fire and are scrambling their own interceptors.”

“Every time I come here it’s the same thing,” Gable groused, getting to his feet. His free hand absently came up to pat at the place where his vest and shirt had burned away to reveal a scorched armor panel. “Suppose I should count it as a blessing if I get off with just one first degree burn this time. But yeah, let’s get the hell out of here. Do you have any kind of eyes on the bounty hunter?”

“I’m seeing him climbing down into what is likely to be a visually cloaked craft docked to the side of the water tower via the Voidhopper’s sensor array. I can see it clearly on thermals as the Remor’s thermal masking is ineffective in-atmosphere.”

Gable scooped up the remote console and clamped it back into place. “Great. Let both our pilots know his exact location at all times. Oh, and tell Hala to meet me at our favorite tavern. It’s gonna take a lot of drinking to deal with this day.” He opened the console and started tapping on the screen.

“What about the interceptors? They believe Ckliika is attacking the city.”

He waved off PHOEBE’s concern, still working on the console. “Working on it.” There was a warble and a connection was made to which he addressed. “Yes? Hello is this the Defense Network’s main switchboard? Great, if you could connect me to Pretadiss Etrea Imbactu? Yes, I understand the Pretadiss is busy with an attack on the city—it’s why I’m calling. Just tell him Adrian Gable wants to explain.”

The warble on the other end replied in what was unmistakably a resigned tone.

“So you’ve heard of me. Perfect. Then you know why it’s important not to delay.”

***

Rebina’s hands gripped the twin controller packs for her interceptor in her hands, pushing the throttle to its highest safe atmospheric speed as she shot over the city. On her forward screen, PHOEBE had overlaid a digital image of the Remor as it invisibly detached from the from the water tower and laid in a slow cruising speed toward where the Imago was docked.

“How fitting: in real life, the thing looks like a parasitic cephelin.” It did indeed: a central pod shaped like a sharpened egg surrounded by thick articulated ‘ribbons’ of metal coils much like the pointed beak and tentacles of said creature. As she watched, however, some of the tentacles unfurled and subtly changed shape into stabilizers, wings and hover thrusters.

“That was the design philosophy at the time,” PHOEBE replied cheerfully. “Each appendage had multiple iterations, allowing it to switch maneuverability modes, flight profiles and even weapon configurations.”

Rebina hummed a little under her breath. “An impressive craft. Almost a shame to destroy it.”

All the same, she cut her forward engines and engaged her own hover thrusters, sending the interceptor into a sideways skid that brought her around with her forward-facing weapons targeting the Remor. Even before the maneuver was complete, she’d opened the covers on her trigger panels and called up the targeting Head’s Up Display.

Unlike the majority of spacefaring civilizations, the Ghevet preferred physical ordnance. So when Rebina opened fire, there were no beams or bolts, only a hail of highly accelerated tungsten shells. They ripped through shielding meant to dissipate plasma and particle beams, but miss their mark when the Remor pulled its extended appendages in and fired a retrorocket that juked it into a violent turn that made it too small a target to hit.

Then it extended a new set of appendages: swept-back wings, large, powerful thrusters, and a half missile pods, which all opened fire as one.

Rebina throttled up and flew upward, barely missing a swarm of projectiles that exploded all over the space she formerly occupied. Her shields immediately started reporting damage however, as the Remor accelerated toward her now-exposed underbelly, unleashing rapid fire plasma bolts into it. She tried to rolled out of the way, but the enemy was now inside her turn, able to match her moves while still pouring fire into her dwindling shielding.

Teeth clenched, she cut her engines and fired her hover thrusters on full, throwing her craft into a punishing backward loop with enough G-force to make it feel like her body weight over a thousand pounds. Through a swimming head and flickering eyesight, she pull out of the loop and did her level best to sight on the Remor as it flew past beneath her.

To her horror, the enemy craft extended all its appendages and the central pod flipped around, the transitioning tentacles coming into line so and firing thrusters in sequence to pull off what was effectively a perfect one hundred and eighty degree turn. It then extended its missile pods point blank, now positioned with a perfect shot at the interceptor’s now sparsely defended underside.

Rebina prepared to pull another high-G loop; one that could save her from the missiles, but also one that she, having not fully recovered from the last one, might black out during.

Her salvation came instead in the form of twin searing white particle beams that came in from her six o’clock and struck the Remor’s shield. In space, the wash of particles would have dissipated invisibly but in atmosphere they burned, exploding into a blinding flare under continual fire.

Disoriented and panicked, the Remor’s pilot tried to turn out of the oncoming Voidhopper’s line of fire, but Rebina was quick to take advantage, opening up with her guns directly into the main pod. The shells passed straight through the Remor’s shields and tore into the cockpit.

The Remor’s turn became uncontrolled, sliding sideways into the corner of a nearby building. It rebounded, a number of its appendages ripping free before it slammed into the street, rolling several times before settling in a smoking heap.

Ckliika’s voice came over the comm, a wordless trill of victory as the Voidhopper soared by, skimming only a few feet above Rebina’s interceptor. Then the voice of her translation device added, “She flies and fights better than she expected. Her respect.”

“My respect too. And my thanks.”

Then Gable’s voice cut in. “I’m a fan of the teamwork myself. The Pretadiss in charge of the defense network? Less so. He wants you out of his airspace in ninety seconds or he’s going to hose you with anti-aircraft fire. They’re glad we took out the guy who shot up the market, but not so happy about smashing him into the side of a government building.”

Rebina cleared her throat self consciously. “Copy that. Heading back to the ship.”

“And then back into the city. We’re at the Wentibal Tavern. Drinks are on me.”

***

“It’s Mors. Definitely Mors, right Gable?” Hala slid his bottle of dark amber liquor from hand to hand, looking to his friend for confirmation.

Gable took a swig of his own drink and set it down carefully on the table. “Saadis has the money to hire a merc—if that’s what this guy was—but he’s not the only one out there with money that wants to see me dead. Besides, he’d want to make sure I knew it was him before I died. That ship just screams X-Laws though: old tech from the war… Lots of Imperial troops took whatever they could get their hands on near the end. Self included.”

“What do you mean ‘others’?” Rebina, who was across the table from him, nursing something red in a thick tumbler, asked.

“Lots of history we don’t need to bother with tonight, Ambassador,” Gable fiddled with his bottle, turning it around so he could stare at the label.

Ckliika wasn’t drinking anything, merely looming over the table from her seat next to Rebina. Her mere presence had half-cleared the bar’s common room. She was, however, listening to everything intently. “Do we get to keep ship?”

“I’m interested in that answer too,” agreed Rebina, “I’d like to have a try at flying it if it can be repaired.”

Gable spread his hands, shaking his head. “Sorry, but we had to pay the Pretadiss with something. He wants to have his engineers take a look at it and see if the city can put it into production.” He shrugged as the two pilots grumbled over that, and took another swig.

“On the other hand,” he said, trying to lighten the mood, “we’re rid of this bounty hunter and it’ll take time for word to get back to whoever hired him. Now’s the time while no one’s around to track where we bloom: once we get everyone aboard who’s not choosing to stay, our next stop is Ceatus.” He raised his drink. “Ambassador, your people are finally getting their new home.”

The others all toasted heartily to that.

***

Later that night, back aboard the Imago, Gable sat on his bunk, back pressed against the wall. His quarters were simple; a far cry from his opulent state room when he was Commander. That room, he’d left abandoned after finding the gaudy mockery it had been transformed into at Saadis Vinto’s hand.

Alone at last, he reached into his pocket and came out with something he’d hidden from the rest of his command crew.

Etrea Imbactu, the local Pretadiss, was an old friend from that old history he’d mentioned to Rebina. After taking charge of the wreck of the Remor, he’d found something he immediately had sent to Gable—which he now held in his hand.

The Remor’s pilot had been wearing it: a steel necklace with an icon on it that Gable hadn’t seen in years: a tree growing upside down; roots reaching for the sky, branches for the ground. It was part of the that old history too: part of the very reason why Gable came back for the Imago.

Old enemies were still around, still looking for him. And they were worst than the X-Laws and Saadis Mors put together.

He carefully wrapped the chain around the icon and put it back in his pocket. The time would come to tell the crew. But tonight, they would celebrate the Ghevet finding a new home. Tomorrow they would face the coming future.

End ‘Bounty’.

Series NavigationImago – S01E01 “Pilot Part 1” – Act I >>

About Vaal

Landon Porter is the author of The Descendants and Rune Breaker. Follow him on Twitter @ParadoxOmni or sign up for his newsletter. You can also purchase his books from all major platforms from the bookstore
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One Comment

  1. Typos

    The Calvary has
    The cavalry has

    she pull out
    she pulled out

    coming into line so and firing
    coming into line and firing

    “What do you mean ‘others’?”
    (Gable doesn’t actually use the word others so quotes shouldn’t be included)

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