Command-Espionage-Tactics engaged, moving to block the energy beam with its armour before the blast could strike the travel device. It had not gone to the effort of acquiring the device to lose it the Yvak. Power reserves were too low to raise shields, but the energy blast splashed harmlessly against its armour. The other Yvak trooper had already closed the distance, dropping its weapon. Footlong black claws tore into the hole the assassins had left, carving through the ballistics layer and into the Command Unit’s side. With a hiss, the creature reacted, lashing out with a tendril, barbs extended. The Yvak tore its hand free with a bellow of pain. Small white spots showed through the fur, hissing and bubbling. Rotating round to shield the injured armour segment, the Command Unit fired a single shot, vaporising the uninjured Yvak.

The remaining attacker could be discounted. Failure to remove the stung target area before the venom spread was always fatal. The Yvak were no exception: the target flailed on the floor dissolving. Scanning for other enemies indicated none near by, and the ECM systems had blocked their communications before a signal was sent. Injury assessment revealed damage to respiratory and replicative systems. Life support was compensating adequately. Combat capacity was at 0.5% of total, and rising. Repairs had been initiated. A new problem was identified: during the conflict the female humanoid had escaped. Stun energy delivered had been believed sufficient to keep the subject incapacitated for fifteen minutes. The early recovery would require investigation, once the technology was secured.

The Yvak would return, with numbers, to investigate their troops’ disappearance. In its weakened state, they were a threat. Damage to the acquired technology during combat could not be risked.

The slain execution squad were its only source of spare parts. Slaving the case systems together, it packed their limited supplies within the habitat areas, securing the dead Yvak in the external grips. The transport device would require a seperate trip. Judging that the mechanism weighed too much for the female to move, and was throughly disabled, the Command Unit elected to leave it. Accessing earlier scan records to save power, it located an uninhabited area within easy reach.

It cut an obvious access point through the door, making sure to leave signs of combat, and then retreated to the lower level, leaving through the maintenance door to the waste removal. Electro-location indicated humans ahead. It moved into a side tunnel, initiating camouflage. It would be less draining to kill them, but the Yvak would not believe their colleagues had come this way if the humanoids were intact and alive.

Once the indications showed they had moved off, the Command Unit continued on the short journey. Followed by its train of dead, the Command Unit relocated.

Sited below one of the factories, the new environment was a large space. Arched columns supported the roof, and the floor was solid rock. Traces of moisture could be detected on the walls, and the number of arthropoid inhabitants indicated it had not been visited by humanoids in some time. It was also defensible. Aside from the route it came in by, only two locations were close enough to the tunnels for access to be cut by Yvak, and the main entrance had been sealed by brick. Perfect.

It ordered the drone cases to the wall, and assessed power levels. Sufficient remained for one remaining trip to secure the humanoid’s travel device, but it would be dangerously depleted. No viable alternatives were identified. Threat level for encounters appropriately elevated, it returned to the old base.

Several streets away, Xhoshe leaned against the shop doorway, catching her breath. She could not believe it. The Cull. She thought she had left them behind, in another world, another time, and she was too old for this. Of all the things she thought she would find at the end of the journey home, getting caught in the middle of a three-way waltz between the Cull, unknown and dangerous aliens, and an unknowing primitive society of humanoids was not one of them. Unfortunately she was stuck here, and without her escape capsule she was not going to be getting off-world quickly. She would have to assist – if she could work out who to help.

Gather information, locate shelter, make allies, secure assets: the rote was so ingrained that even after all these years she could quote the steps from memory. Susan looked round the street, observing the buildings. It was dark, and the streets were quiet, but the streetlights alone told her enough: a city, well-populated and busy.

The natives were presumably humanoid and earthbound, from the steps leading up to doors. The cobbles were closely laid and gas lamps lined the street. The street sign at the end read – she stopped and blinked. It was in English. Earth, or influenced by it, which meant there was a good chance the natives weren’t humanoid, they were human. English speaking, 1910’s possibly 1920’s. Society now would still be on the paper money and gold, instead of electronic currency, and the emergency store of gold scrap onboard the capsule was out of reach. Her travel suit and coveralls would definitely not blend in.

Looking at the low tech nature of the world, she brushed the dust off her trousers, strightened her top to look presentable and folded the flap of her jacket to hide the anachronistic zip. Then she set off to find a newspaper. An alias would be necessary, if only to work with the culture. Her real name, unused for so many years, was out of the question, a total cultural mismatch. The name she had used during her years with the resistance would be unwise. If the alien identified her as an enemy, she would die on the spot. Helen, Sarah – she remembered her first cybernetics teacher –

“Susan,” she said outloud, glancing at the bookshelf in the nearest shop window for ideas. “Susan Wells.” [sc:webshort]

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