Without Valentin’s body draped over my shoulders, I had more freedom of movement, but it also made me twitchy because I didn’t know exactly where he was. I found myself constantly looking over my shoulder to make sure he hadn’t wandered off.
When I nearly shot him because he got between me and a Quint mercenary, I planted his left hand on my right shoulder. “Do not move this hand. You go where I go, duck when I duck, and turn when I turn. Otherwise I’m going to shoot you and all of this will be for nothing, understand?”
We moved faster now that I didn’t have to wonder where he was. The Quint mercenaries were beginning to catch on to the fact that we were somehow listening in on their neural link. Their chatter quieted as the soldiers moved to other forms of communication.
I’d taken us on a circuitous route to the balcony so we avoided the main squads. My ship was in position. We just had to clear one more hallway and we’d be home free. Unfortunately, Commander Adams had realized we weren’t heading for the stairs and had redirected his troops this way.
And thanks to the radio silence, I had no idea how many mercs waited between us and the balcony.
I’d looted a second blast pistol from a downed soldier, but that was the extent of my firepower. I’d kill for a grenade or seven, but so far, I hadn’t found any. Maybe Commander Adams didn’t trust his grunts with things that went boom.
“Why did we stop?” Valentin asked.
Because I don’t enjoy getting shot. I hadn’t meant to send the thought through the link, but by the way his mouth compressed, he’d caught it anyway. I needed to be more careful.
I crouched down and peeked around the corner. The hallway looked clear, but between us and the balcony there was a large room off to the right. The door was open. I couldn’t see in at this angle, but I didn’t need to. With my luck, it was packed with mercs.
The glass door leading to the balcony reflected the brightly lit hallway and obscured whatever lurked outside. If Commander Adams had managed to get here first, we’d be running blind into an ambush. But with our options dwindling, I had to risk it.
I sighed. I really did not want to get shot. Been there, done that, and all I got were these lousy scars.
“We’re going to run for it,” I said. I clamped my left hand around Valentin’s right wrist. It meant I lost a gun, but I didn’t trust him to follow my lead.
“I can’t shoot left-handed,” he said.
“Do your best, even wild shots will help, but speed is most important. Whatever happens, do not slow down. Ready?”
I didn’t give him time to answer, I just pulled him into a run. Two meters before the open door, the world lit up with blaster fire.
I did not slow down. A bolt clipped my right shoulder but adrenaline blocked the pain. I shot the soldier responsible through the slice of the door I could see. He went down in a burst of bolts that gave me a tiny opening as the other mercenaries dove for cover.
I pulled Valentin into a sprint past the door. He jerked against my grip but didn’t go down. Hopefully he’d only been grazed or this escape was about to get even more dicey.
The glass door to the balcony loomed in front of me. I waited until the very last second to shoot the glass. I exploded through the door, covered in shattered safety glass. Valentin came through behind me, still tethered by my grip on his wrist.
I had the brief satisfaction of seeing Commander Adams’ surprised expression before I realized just how many mercenaries crowded the balcony. At least a dozen men and women stood in a loose semi-circle facing the door. They all had blasters trained on us.
Time slowed down as training and instinct took over. I wasn’t going down without a fight, futile though it may be. And luckily for me, Commander Adams stood directly between me and freedom. Shooting him would be no hardship. I squeezed the trigger just as he shouted, “Fire!”
Three things happened at once.
Down! roared across the mercenaries’ neural link, accompanied by a blast of mind-piercing sound. The mercs dropped like marionettes with cut strings. Several released their weapons to clutch their heads and the rest looked dazed. Only a few managed to get off shots and all went wide.
My own shot sailed over Commander Adams’ head. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d missed a shot, but with the echo of the neural link noise still ringing in my mind, I failed to compensate for his fall.
Valentin staggered and went down. His weight dragged me to a stop. One look and I knew where the mystery shout had come from—he looked like hell. Fresh blood trickled from his nose and white pain lines bracketed his mouth, clearly visible even with the limited ability of my night-vision contacts.
He’d bought us some dearly needed time, but it had cost him.
“Up, now!” I shouted at him. I pulled him up and dragged him into a stumbling jog. I shot the opposing soldiers as fast as I could squeeze the trigger, aiming for the ones recovering first.
The gun clicked empty. I threw it at the nearest soldier, then we were across their line. The balcony’s edge was less than two meters away. I pulled Valentin forward, half carrying him.
The railing that would normally protect us from a fall was lowered to allow air taxis and ships to pick up passengers. The balcony extended beyond the side of the building. Below was nothing but twenty stories of dark, empty air.
Star-bright pain blossomed in my right thigh and my knee buckled. I gritted my teeth and threw myself towards the balcony’s edge.
Valentin’s eyes widened in horror and he balked, but my grip did not loosen. Momentum pulled me over the edge and my iron grip on Emperor Kos pulled him right behind me.
Together we fell into the open air.