“Caw! Caw!” Esmeralda screeched in a whoosh of flapping rainbow feathers, retreating to a dark corner of the embattled shuttle.
“If that damn bird doesn’t can it I’ll…”
“You’ll what?” Lester shot a lethal glance across the bridge at Cabe.
Cabe wrenched the throttle out of a near spin. The altitude indicator flashed with red alarm.
“She’s only responding with good sense like any normal person would.”
“She’s not a person,” Cabe steadied the nose and cruised for a few peaceful seconds till they hit an air pocket and dropped 5000 meters, nearly taking Lester’s lunch with it.
“You know a better way?”
“Jesus mate!” The parrot squawked, landing on Lester’s shoulder.
Cabe pulled the nose up to cruising altitude. The shuttle floated gently in a darkening sky. Star showers twinkled in the distance, and below them the planet Nazar simmered in a hostile glow of red vapors.
“Giving up on the landing, mate?” Lester asked his friend.
“Nope. Just going around again.”
“Ah,” Lester sighed, without complaint. He knew Cabot Sondar, captain of Statekom, was one stubborn SOB. He also knew that Cabe was hopelessly in love. The cause of all this trouble: Leitilla Karvon, daughter of the Starcons, a floating planet recently usurped by Nazarus, and the most beautiful woman in five galaxies.
Still, he knew landing on Nazar was nearly impossible. “She’s only a girl, mate.” He attempted lamely.
“Shut your mouth, Lester, and look at the screen. Do you see any…” He tilted the ship starboard, narrowly missing a molten mass of rock that would crush them upon impact.
“What if I drop you, here.” Lester pointed to a coordinate close to the citadel. “I can circle around and pick you back up. You may just make it in time for the wedding.”
Cabe’s face broke into a wide smile; his eyes twinkled. “Do we have enough rope?”
Lester took over the main controls while Cabe outfitted himself in an armored suit and enough weapons for a small army.
* * *
“Did you pack your lunch?” Lester said, as he lowered Cabe into the airlock. The door closed behind him, and another one opened into a hostile world.
The steel rope ladder, with Cabe on it, lowered into a red storm. When the rope swung ten meters off the ground he jumped. The shuttle, rocking violently in the low altitude, immediately shot up.
Cabe knew Lester would be back as promised. He never doubted his loyalty. But Leitilla? You can never tell with a woman, he thought. Still, here I am, risking life and limb to save her from marriage to Nazarus’ son. It wasn’t just his male ego at stake here, he told himself. Leitilla was a tripard, a rare female hybrid with three uteri. Nazarus valued offspring almost as much as his wealth, but the Nazarus brood was a greedy bunch; they planned to impregnate Leitilla immediately, in all three wombs. How they expected to accomplish this made Cabe feel sick, but he also knew that Leitilla would die giving birth to this nefarious brood. No tripard had ever survived it. No matter what she thought of him or their rocky relationship that had commenced three months earlier, he wasn’t going to let that happen.
He entered the citadel from the south wall. Luckily, the watch was lax. Still, Cabe knew he’d never get close to the bride without resistance. As he ventured further into the walled city, his helmet alerted him that the air was safe to breath. The less encumbered the better, he thought as he released the lock on his helmet and tossed it behind a low wall. He’d picked it up on his way back to the ship, he thought.
If he made it back…
He realized he couldn’t look more conspicuous or war-ready when he spotted a line of advancing Nazarites: a squat breed of red-faced fighter patrol, born to kill.
He pulled his gun from his belt and fired, striking one Nararite in an explosion that rained red guts onto its comrades. It didn’t slow their pace a step. Another one leapt from a wall and landed on Cabe’s back with knife in teeth. Cabe flung the Nazarite forward to his feet, and stepping on his chest cut its throat till the head came loose in his hands. He tossed the still blinking head at the two advancing Nazarite, spraying them with red, acidic blood. They retreated, ostensibly to gather reinforcements. He pulled the brown cloak off the dead one and flung it over his shoulders. He returned his blood soaked blade to his belt holster and followed the sound of the wedding march: a discordant dreadful dirge.
Moments later he was among the crowd. The Nazarus royal family assembled on a raised stage. Besides the blinking idiot bridegroom stood Leitilla, her lovely face grim beneath a diaphanous veil.
Cabe knew these ceremonies were quick and the consummations happened immediately. There would be no wedding feast. He’d have to make his move now. He looked around, and spotted a small army of Nazarites advancing from the sloped gangways leading from the palace. He broke from the crowd and lept onto the stage. Nazarus himself stared at him blankly till Cabe flung the brown robe into the gaping crowd and pulled the flame throwing rifle from his back and shot, engulfing the astonished bridegroom in a wall of fire. Leitilla pulled the veil from her face and stared at Cabe. He cracked a smile and grabbed her by the waist. He’d come prepared for this moment, rehearsed a thousand times in his mind. The cable gun was already gripped in his free hand. He shot it into the highest point on the citadel’s north wall. He clipped the gun’s butt into his steel enforced girdle. The winch engaged and suddenly he and Leitilla were floating above Nazarus, who screamed and cursed, and beat on the heads of the Nazarites as his son rolled in agony amidst the lethal flames.
Cabe took a parting shot at Nazarus. It missed and hit his young wife, slicing her in two at the waist. The top piece hit the floor; she didn’t stop screaming till her bottom part toppled and landed next to the other, feet to head.
Cabe and Leitilla made it to the wall, and scaled down the other side. Neither wore a helmet and as they advanced to the red rocky hill the air became thin.
He slammed his gloved hand into a red rock in frustration. Leitilla’s head drooped. It wouldn’t be long till they were both unconscious and then what?
A sound pricked up his ears. He hoped it was the shuttle. He turned to see a squat army of Nazarites, kicking up red dust in their direction.
“Come on!” Cabe shouted, dragging Leitilla bare legged over sharp shards of rock. The pain awakened her and suddenly she was running ahead of him. He struggled to keep up in his cumbersome suit. He turned to see two Nazarites crawling over the rocks they’d just scaled. He aimed his flamer and fired but they ducked beneath the crags and only the tops of their heads were singed. The sound of the shuttle pounded into his ears.
“At last!” He ran towards it, trying not to breathe too deeply the caustic, oxygen-thin air. Leitilla was now below the shuttle, trying vainly to reach the steel rope ladder that dangled overhead. Cabe ran to her, grabbed her around the thighs through her flowing silver gown and hoisted her over his head. She gripped the last rung of the ladder and started climbing. The shuttle was rocking violently now. Cabe knew that Lester couldn’t hold it much longer. A thought occurred to him: if he dies so Leitilla can live then it was a worthy mission. The Nazarites were on him now. He looked up to see Leitilla crawling into the air lock, her anguished face imploring him to make it. He ran up a side of a boulder and threw himself in the air. He looped the lowest rung with his forearm as two Nazarites used the same rock to jump onto his dangling legs. The shuttle floated up. The air became ice and his ears buzzed horribly as he climbed the ladder. He shook off one Nazarite just as the killer’s knife was about to slice into him.
Cabe reached the airlock with a Nazarite still clinging to his leg. Leitilla, crammed into a corner, sucked hard on an oxygen mask. She reached for his belt and grabbed his knife just as everything went black.
* * *
Back on Stakekom and cruising beyond Narazus’ orbit, Leitilla, snuggled in Cabe’s strong arms but still trembling, told of how she stabbed the Nazarite between the eyes to save the man she loved and she’d do it again if she had to.
“Don’t you worry about that,” Cabe kissed her forehead.
Lester volunteered to man the ship and give the couple some rest and privacy. This suggestion was well-received. Esmeralda flapped her wings happily.
*This story is a Flash Fiction Challenge: The Subgenre Smash-and-Grab from Chuck Wendig’s blog Terrible Minds. My random generated category was splatterpunk/space opera.