It’s been 36 hours. The hold is nearly empty, and the flood lights are back on for the second time. I know Tinoct has slept, and I went down for around six hours early this morning. I don’t think Hakho or Chinta has slept.
We’re ahead of schedule. The last of six convoys is here. The last truck is getting loaded. There are too many people to work on the last stack without getting in the way, so Hakho is supervising the last team.
I have a Mr. Coffee plugged in in the control bay, and I’m pouring myself a cup when Chinta comes over and rubs my shoulders a little bit.
My body sort of takes over and I lean in to her.
“We’re almost done,” she leaves my shoulders and picks up the coffee pot.“We have enough for 50 million women.”
I stand and rub her shoulders back, “How many women are there?”
“Around a billion and a half.”
“So you’re not even making a dent.”
She shakes her head, “Of birthing age there are only 500 million. Most are held in Pahananochkah, or Mocketca. The convoys are going there first.” She sips her coffee, grimaces, and adds some salt. “A ten percent drop in births is lot. Men will start to understand soon.”
One of the forklifts flies past. We have seven crates left.
Then a klaxon starts blaring all over the ship. Chinta looks at me, eyes wide, and before I can answer Tinoct comes barreling down the stairs, “We’re about to have company!”
I turn and patch in to the brain from here. There are four helos coming in from the city, running police signals. Oh you little mother fuckers. Twenty minutes out, I have more than enough time to open up my personal collection.
Pro tip: If you’re going to arrest a gun runner, best make sure she’s nowhere near her stash.
We have one truck left to load and three on the ground. The women use the forklifts to get two on their sides, and we have some barricades. While they do that I invite some of the others up to my room to play with my toys.
“Is any of this—”
“No,” I tell Tinoct, “none of this is legal.” I want to tell everyone about what I’m packing, but we’re pressed for time. Ask a nerd like me to tell you about their guns only if you have a day to listen to them. Chinta puts her hand on my favorite and I smack her wrist, “Don’t touch Magdalena.”
Goddamn it. I got the ammo crate in here with my man muscles, and now I can barely shift it. It weighs 200 pounds, and was difficult before. Now it’s impossible. Tinoct comes over without a word and drags it closer with one hand. I’m too adrenalized to be angry.
I’ve got the cans stacked by caliber, we just pop the lids on the top layer and everyone grabs a handful. Hakho smacks a magazine in with the rifle on her elbow. Like a dogface that grew up guns. I develop more respect for her in that moment.
We have five minutes.
We get back to the hold to see that the others have come prepared with their own collections, which is great, because I didn’t bring enough lunch for everyone. They’re hunkered behind the truckercades, wearing a mishmash of armor and gear, ready to resist some arresting. The last two forklifts scramble while I raise one of the bed gates. They’ll stop a one ton crate from sliding out of the hold, they’ll stop an assault round, or whatever the police are packing.
Then we wait.
I fidget with Magdalena.
Let me tell you about Magdalena.
She’s a 700 kW gauss rifle, sporting 50 inch, solid silver, super-cooled, double helix, rails. She can fire a one pound, 1.25 cal, depleted uranium slug, at three kilometers a second, accurate to within an eighth of an inch at one mile. She weighs twelve pounds, four ounces empty. She gets hotter than the gates of hell, and kicks like a kiss on the cheek.
The sun is going down in the East when we hear the rotors. A second later I spot their searchlights in the distance.
When the running lights appear, Magdalena has a target, but the search light hits her in the face and I have to back off the scope. They start gabbing police lingo in a language that isn’t Enoctic, and my interpreter doesn’t understand. I’ve been here before, it’s not hard to figure out what their saying. ‘Lay down your weapons,’ and whatnot. No one falls for it.
Magdalena makes counter argument to the lead cruisers left rotor. It spits blades into the air, and the right rotor doesn’t have any ballast. It flips the ship like a pog, and the helo tears into a warehouse, in a cacophony of screaming metal. It almost blocks out the cheers from the women in front, and Hakho offers me a fist pound.
The other cruisers see Magdalena’s point and scramble to ground. This means Magdalena’s second shot only clips a tail. That cruiser goes into a flat spin and grinds into the dirt, but it’s a little less impressive.
The second to the last cruiser opens up with a heavy cannon from the ground, and blows one of our trucks to slag. The shrapnel turns the women behind it into bloody scraps on the ground. I can’t tell how many, they’re just blood splatters.
But that means I know where their cannons are, and Magdalena relieves the both of them of their capacity for violence.
Under the cover, the cops are running for the barricade, and at sixty yards they open up on our operation.
I lay Magdalena down, gentle like, and switch to Lulabelle.
Let me tell you about Lulabelle.
She’s a 200 kW plasma carbine with a 600 round banana magazine. She fires 50 rounds a second of burning hot fire, and wieghs… something light. I rebuilt her chassis around an antique Kalashnikov, so she looks bad ass.
Lalabelle lays down a hail of suppressing fire over the barricade, while the ladies cut loose, and I see the cops scramble for cover. For a second there’s a wave of heat coming from our side.
The cops catch wise and start returning fire. We’ve got the last truck behind the barricade, but it’s taller than it is wide, and La Policia tear the roof straight off the thing.
That’s pretty useless, but it’s sends the message that they’re serious. There’s some more language over the loud speaker, and then they start firing at the forklift as it gets the second to last crate onto the truck. The driver isn’t so smart, and she’s backing the lift out. She takes a couple of shots to the back of the head, and sprays the windshield with her blood.
Tinoct taps me on the shoulder, and gestures to the lift. I know what he’s thinking. Lulabelle lays down some impressive covering fire, glazing the air, while I lean out from the side of the ramp. 12 seconds and she’s out of juice. Empty the clip. No time for tactical.
Two crates left, “Can’t we leave them?” I ask Hakho.
“Those crates can serve < fucking > twenty < fucking > thousand women goddamn it, we need that shit!”
Decision made, Tinoct runs to the forklift and grabs the wheel, swinging the thing around and hoisting himself inside in one smooth motion, like he’s mounting a horse. He cranks the crate above the level of the—gore coated—windshield, and takes off down the ramp blind.
The authorities are taking cover behind some concrete dividers laying around. I pick up Magdalena and kneecap a motherfucker who thinks that a couple of inches of cement can stop my baby. He goes down to the side and peaks his head out. I nail it to the concrete.
Then my position starts getting sprayed, like a viscous weed, with suppressing fire, and I have to get low. I’m gonna stay out of the way for a little bit, I guess.
Second to last crate loaded. Tinoct kicks out the windshield of the forklift, stands on the tines, and brings it up backwards, using the chassis for cover. The cops decide they’ve taught me a lesson, and focus their fire on the forklift. It looses a mag but keeps on running, while Tinoct gets the tines under the last crate. He gets off to swing it around, under cover the whole time. Damn does he know what he’s doing. Damn is that sexy. This is not the time for that 11.
There were twenty women when we started, there are nine now. The cops aren’t doing so hot either, I count 11 bodies on the asphalt. This being what it is, most of them will probably survive.
Then Tinoct has the last crate loaded. He and the girls jump behind the freight on the truck, and lay down more fire, while the truck tears out of here.
I watch Tinoct take a round to the shoulder and spin off the bed. He bleeds out in seconds on the concrete. There goes the only man I’ve ever fisted. No time to feel.
The truck is barreling through the industrial park, the same way Bertha is pointed. One of the helos starts making noises like it’s getting off the ground, and the police discourage Magdalena’s position from trying to stop it, with burning hot plasma. Doesn’t matter. Magdalena is all tuckered out.
But, scrambling, that cruiser has two minutes to catch some air.
I toss Maggy over my shoulder and haul ass for the flight deck. No time for checks. I yell for everyone in the bay to hang on, as I climb up to a hundred feet. With the cruiser still behind me, I open up the engines. I watch on the monitor as Bertha’s exhaust hits the cruiser and melts it into the ground.
We’re off and away, I’m closing the hold, and finally starting to feel the effects of shock.
Chinta comes to see me on the flight deck, while I’m putting some distance between myself and the last events. I’m trying to get some emotional perspective, and nothing is working. My hands are shaking on the sticks so bad I have to point Bertha in a direction and snap the auto pilot on.
I stand and can’t fight it any more, and I run into her arms for a hug. This is a consequence of womanhood I did not expect and am not enjoying.
She holds me tight. We both cry a little.
Hakho is here now, telling me where to put down. I swing the course around from the computer, rather than trust my hands. By the time we put down in a wide empty field, they feel like they’re trembling, but I can’t see them shake.
They have a car waiting. I want a long goodbye, but I don’t have the time. Chinta and Hakho pile out and I wish them all the luck I’m able to.
I set most of the field on fire taking off, and then punch Bertha straight through the atmosphere without waiting for a window. She shakes like a stripper on a meth detox, but there’s too much planet for them to cover all at once. The nearest patrol is 150 miles below me when I punch through hyperspace.
Two weeks, and then I’ll get into a shipping lane and pretend I’m legitimate.
I go back to the hold and clean some things up, while the ship starts sneaking out of the system. The bed is covered in scorch marks I’ll have a lot of trouble explaining to people. I put the straps away, I close down the locks, and I cry.
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