The assault shuttle crouched in the corral like a curse, shrouded in thin, blowing snow. Smoke eddied with the snow, throat-catching with the stench of burned flesh, and the snouts of its energy cannon and slug-throwers steamed where icy flakes hissed to vapor. Mangled megabison lay about its landing feet, their genetically-engineered fifteen-hundred-kilo carcasses ripped and torn in snow churned to bloody mud by high-explosives.
The barns and stables were smoldering ruins, and the horses and mules lay heaped against the far fence, no longer screaming. They hadn't fled at first, for they had heard approaching shuttles before, and the only humans they'd ever known had treated them well. Now a line of slaughtered bodies showed their final panicked flight.
They hadn't died alone. A human body lay before the gate; a boy, perhaps fifteen-it was hard to know, after the bullet storm finished with him-who had run into the open to unbar it when the murders began.
One of the raiders stepped from the gaping door of what had been a home, fastening his belt, followed by a broken, wordless sound that had become less than human hours ago. A final pistol shot cracked. The sound stopped.
The raider adjusted his body armor, then thrust two fingers into his mouth and whistled shrilly. The rest of his team filtered out of the house or emerged from the various sheds, some already carrying armloads of valuables.
"I'll be calling the cargo flight in in another forty minutes!" The leader pumped an arm, then gestured at a clear space beside the grounded assault shuttle. "Get it together for sorting!"
"What about Yu and the rest of them?" someone asked, jerking his head at the dead raider who lay entangled with the white-haired body of his killer. Rifle fire had torn the old man apart, but Yu's face was locked in a rictus of horrified surprise, and his stiff hands clutched the gory ice where the survival knife had driven up under his armor and ripped his belly open. The leader shrugged.
"Make sure they're sanitized and leave them. The authorities'll be pleased somebody finally got some of the pirates. Why disappoint them?"
He strolled across to Yu and grimaced down.
Stupid fuck always did forget this was a job, not just a chance for sick kicks. So sure of himself, coming right in on the old bastard just to enjoy slapping him around. And now look.
The leader wondered just who the old man had been.
If it hadn't been for the kid, he'd have gotten a hell of a lot more of us, whoever the fuck he was.
The old man had been bellied down behind a water trough, completely out of sight. No one would even have suspected he was there, if he hadn't come out of cover, tried to stop the kid from running into the open. That was when Yu had spotted him and charged in to club him down with the butt of his assault rifle.
But it didn't work out that way, did it Sergeant Yu? the leader thought viciously. The old bastard gutted you like a fish … and then he used your fucking weapon to kill three more of us of us before we could gun him down.
And even that wasn't the end of it. The delay to deal with the old man had given the younger bastard in the house time to reach his own weapon. He'd killed five more of the "pirates" before he went down, and he'd have gotten still more if his pistol hadn't been a civilian model. They'd caught him reloading and finished him off before he can do any more damage.
There's going to be hell to pay when Alexsov hears about this, the leader thought. And God knows how Shu is going to react!
A shiver of something much too much like panick for his taste ran through him, despite his hard-edged words to the man who'd asked the question. He knew he really ought to have called it in already, and sooner or later he was going to have to do that.
But not yet, he told himself. Not yet. Not before I damned well have to! And at least the old fart gave this stupid fucker what he had coming. Guess I actually owe him a vote of thanks for that much.
The leader had chosen long ago to sign away his own humanity, but he would shed no tears for the likes of Yu. He turned his back and waved again, and the assault party filtered back into the smoke and ruin and agony to loot.