Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

The moon is a purple crescent that stretches from horizon to mid-sky. The few stars are scattered pinpricks of yellow, too far apart to make any sort of constellations. Consequently, the available light is less than ideal for people trying to engineer their continued survival from the remains of the formerly super-stealth space interceptor they just crash landed in. Emphasis on ‘crash’.

In a war reduced to slim tactical advantages that are obviated or surpassed quickly, I’d say our time as the most dangerous thing in the heavens has ended. As to what ended it, we didn’t even see it coming. We’re only alive because Mradin broke most of himself refusing to let us die. Ever since making him comfortable, I’ve been trying to wrestle weapons from the wreck.

“Teng, mate, stop trying to make swords from scrap.”

Mradin’s hissing whisper reaches me clearly in a night gone suddenly quiet.

Uh-oh.

A glittering pink energy beam passes close enough to crisp the hairs on my arm.

“They landed and came after us!”

Thanks, Mradin. Picked up on that myself.

From the bluish shadows on my left comes a four ‘armed’ triped at a fast amble. Discounting the one holding the gun, I have a six-to-one chance of hitting the ‘limb’ that’s actually the Clido’s head.

“Mradin?”

“Four.”

We survived. He’s got angels on his side. Fourth limb from the left it is.

Wrenching at the maintenance cutter, I put my weight behind the knee I slam into the obstructing panel. There’s an ominous popping sound and my knee gives out. The pain makes me scream, the shock makes me twist the control bar, and my fall means a glittering beam passes through empty air where I used to be. The bright ray I accidentally unleash incinerates limbs three through five on Clido number one. It stops moving.

In the brilliant light of the ray, I see the other Clido holding a limb in front of its optics. Which means the head is the limb diametrically opposed, as their nervous system interface requires a straight-line link. All I have to do now is persuade Clido number two to stick its head into the ray because the cutter is still wedged under the panel that busted my knee.

I roll off the interceptor and drop into thigh-deep foliage. My dodgy knee hits something harder than dirt. Crying, I move out using an inelegant elbows-and-single-leg squirm.

There’s a ‘clang’ to my left.

“Hey! Ugly!”

Timely distraction, Mradin.

As wrestling the Clido into the ray is a non-starter, I grab a leg strut and scramble up the three-metre-tall exoskeleton. Fixated on blasting Mradin, it doesn’t react fast enough. I stab its organic bit full of holes using the long screwdriver I found wedged under Mradin’s seat. Clido number two expires, leaving me spattered in frothing ichor and hanging from the uppermost limb of a stalled exoskeleton.

“Did you get it?”

“Yes! Now, remind me: which bit of their exos is the access widget for their vehicles?”

“Looks like a jade cybercarrot on the underside of one of the upper limbs.”

“Whatnow?”

“A ridged, graduated cone made of green crystal. About two decimetres long.”

Sure enough, there’s one – on a limb just out of reach. I’m going to have to swing across and grab it as I fall.

“Wait a while, then make hot drinks. I’ll be over soonish.”

“Why wait?”

“I’m expecting to pass out for a bit when I hit the ground.”

“S’fair. So, after waking and drinks, we find and take their – hopefully the newest – Clido stealthbus home?”

“Too right.”