Nov. 8th, 2011

I think one more piece after this.

Neutralizing the 581c raiders was straightforward. It would have been more straightforward if Zhizhi hadn't insisted on capturing one of them alive. Of course, then she left the determining of how to go about this to Korda. Korda often felt like the team janitor.

Korda decided that capturing a Gliese 581c Space Viking was a hazardous proposition. With a 1.5G surface gravity and a superabundant oxygen mix, 581c probably spawned natives who would be extremely dangerous if allowed to get up in one's grille. Added to this was the virtual certainty that the raiders were hopped up on some kind of stimulant and battle-rage, and they had already decided this was a suicide mission, so they had no reason to hold back and nothing to lose. Lovely, Korda thought.

Fortunately, the Earth mission had superior technology on their side. Korda disabled the rocket-propelled battering ram with a kinetic weapon, firing a stream of solid iron 1/2" diameter bearings at the craft at 100 km/sec speeds. This chopped the enemy craft into bits and hamburgered a number of passengers in the bargain, but the lack of a concentrated explosion simply scattered the rest of the riders helplessly into space.

Korda chose to rescue one of them on the sole basis that he had lost his poleaxe. Korda didn't like the look of those weapon/tool combinations. He cornered Matsen while prepping the shuttle.

"I need a tranquilizer," he said, zooming the opticals on the target. The suited 581c raider was doing cartwheels through space.

"How much tranquilizer?" Matsen asked.

Korda zoomed in on the helmet of the tumbling alien. He was young, with long blond braids, and his lips looked very red against his pale skin. He was shouting something, cursing with all his might, and there were flecks of froth around his mouth.

"How much you got?" Korda asked.

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"Polynesians. Vikings. Mayans. All here," said Zenia. "Why?" She and Korda walked along the estuary overlook back towards _Sagan_. This ocean world was lovely in a greenish kind of way. They had found nothing that had been inhabited for at least two hundred years. The ghost-town feel of the place only added to its charm.

"Maybe they're not just here," said Korda. "Maybe they're everywhere. Gliese is only the first star system for us to visit. Humanity may have spread in all directions."

"Been spread, you mean," Zenia corrected. "These Starwhales of Gunnar's. They just gave a colony of explorers a lift – for no reason? What price did they exact? What did they expect in return?"

The comm crackled. "Korda!" Zhizhi shouted. "He's…" The line went dead.

Korda and Zenia exchanged glances. Then they ran for _Sagan_.

Korda pulled his shockrod out of his belt as they approached the ship. There was screaming coming from deep inside _Sagan_'s belly. The screaming ended abruptly, and what was left of Gold came flying down the ramp. The bloody mess lay still on the ground. Then, with a loud CLOMP CLOMP, Gunnar came stalking down from the hold.

He still had the free weights glued to his feet and one of his hands. The other hand still held the massive steel disc, but it wasn't glued on anymore. Korda realized why: the skin of that hand was still glued to the weight. The raw red hand that held it was seeping blood, but this seemed to only make Gunnar angry.

The Viking spotted Korda and pointed with his still glued hand. The computer wasn't handy to translate the challenge he uttered, but Korda didn't feel that was really necessary, given the mass of brains dripping from the weight's edge.

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