Vladimir Hernández
(Translation: Daniel W. Koon)

        I’d gotten myself into trouble again.
        It seems that I attract trouble, and my father already knew that when I was just a kid. Luckily for me, he was a veteran of the famous War of the Seven Stars and had trained me in the use of energy weapons since I was little. He used to say there was nothing like a good blaster -- and, to be sure, there is some truth in that --, but I do think there is something better than a blaster: two blasters. That’s why I always keep two of them handy on every mission, on every errand that PapaSpider sends me on.
        But today I wasn’t on some errand, I was just out carousing. And the carousing – actually, the psychotropic chemical I had been consuming throughout the evening -- had brought me down to one of the most dangerous slums in one on the city-tunnels of Nueva América, 3000 meters underground.
        I never do that. As a rule I usually keep my distance from the tunnel slums, since I find enough kicks in the peaks of Santa Ana City. But apparently, this time the pyschotropic made me lose my head in a terrible way. I had hooked up with a fiery red head with blue skin dye, with a highly attractive angelic face who knew this bar in the West End, and the tramp had arranged to drag me along to said underground neighborhood.
        In one of the twisted and ill-lit alleys of that beehive, the girl disappeared from my sight, leaving me abandoned, and suddenly I realized that the whole idea had been a setup.
        I had fallen in one of the oldest tricks in the book. My stupidity had just proven that the age-old line of “Hey big boy, wanna party? Come with me, I live right nearby, I’ll show you all the pleasures of the universe” still worked on the idiots, the druggies and the drunks; three categories for which I had just passed the entrance exam.
        They had tossed me a juicy bait this time. Hopefully PapaSpider was still connected to my sensor.
        In the midst of the silence of the alley, with ominous shadows swirling around me, I remembered that I hadn’t brought my blasters. Second mistake of the night and even more hazardous to my health.
        Suddenly, the hunters appeared: two in the back reaches of the alley and two in front. All were pure plastex muscle, two of them NuevaAmericano mestizo types, just like me; Hispanos with vague Euro features. None of them were wearing armor, but they had implants and the Hispanos came armed with triloxes. One of the ones who blocked my retreat was the leader; he had black skin, a high Afro phenotype, and wore a pair of metallic hoops with artificial emerald beads in his earlobes. In his belt he had an energy gun. The last one was a huge Anglo acromegalic who appeared to be unarmed. And I could only count on my cobra to get me out of this alley.
        Okay, I had just turned into a lovely biomass sandwich between these subterranean beasts; recycled meat for the food synthesizers.
        I had never thought my life would end this way.
        I was scared shitless.
        As a result, my crystalographic analog injected a generous dose of antitropes into my bloodstream, and my sunny disposition vanished in a flash.
        Fear fell like a gigantic glass hammer over my head, adrenaline kicked in like the roaring expansive front of a shockwave, burning my arteries. I experienced a momentary tremor and remained tense, waiting as my assailants drew near.
        Out of the corners of my eyes, I assessed the field of battle. The walls of the narrow alleyway gave me only four meters of wiggle room; there were no windows in the tenement walls. The squeaking oxygen-intake system was too high to reach and behind my enemies was the plastic guardrail surrounding the mesh maintenance well which led to the lower levels. The bottom of the well could be some 400 meters below. What a jam.
        The thugs didn’t give me enough time to think about it. The Hispanos came at me with grim smiles and their triloxes aimed. It was going to be a jolly little butchering. My nostrils caught the smell of exhilaration wafting off these creeps.
        I activated the cobra interface under my right arm and waited till they got close enough, putting on the most convincing terrified expression I could muster. I guess that wasn’t too hard for me. The closest Hispano brandished his trilox over his head, and the weapon emitted a sharp whistle that made me grind my teeth. Behind him was the gigantic unarmed acromegalic. His eyes were enormous exotic implants; their pupils two long vertical slits surrounded by amber.
        I decided to try my luck with these two.
        The guy with the loaded trilox closed in confidently, expecting to trap me like an animal paralyzed by fear. I focused on my target and the cobra flew from my arm like an arrow, destroying his weapon. I didn’t pause to study the creep’s look of surprise and I kicked him in the balls before he could react. He collapsed and I rushed at the giant, praying to the Virgin that the leader didn’t drill a hole in my back with his energy weapon. I trusted that he didn’t want to endanger the Anglo.
        His body was too large, of the DNA type Rhino, a mutant discarded by the genomodifying troops the Shan’Malor settlers had used against the Phoenix shock troops in the last interstellar war, so there was no way I could knock him over. I pulled the cobra back in and the Anglo moved with a speed I would never have expected from such a large body. Of course, I wasn’t going to wait for him either. If I got tangled up with him, the other two were going to shoot me full of holes. As he approached, I noticed three blades emerging from the back of each of his hands, almost as long as his forearm.
        I did what none of them expected. I reached the edge of the railing and jumped into the void of 400 meters of well. As I jumped, the mitts of the Rhino managed to rip open three nice grooves in my shoulder, but the pain wasn´t my primary concern just then.
        I opened my arms and began to fall in the graviational field of 0.7 of Nueva América. The world swirled around for a couple seconds while the air of the well howled in my ears as though I were falling in a supersonic reactor tunnel. A couple of levels lower, before the tug of gravity would prevent me, I shot the cobra line again, and it came to rest in the lines of the mesh. The implant mechanism was designed to resist the tension, and my arm could handle it as well, and so I swung elegantly until I was dashed against the black ceramic walls of the well, just centimeters from the railing to that level. I handled the crash as well as I could, but the impact sent some kind of electrical pain down my spine which fortunately did not disturb my cobra’s protocols.
        With luck the hunters would not yet have braved the well; hopefully the leader’s pistol was still in its owner’s belt. I made a supreme effort as the cerebral analog administered me a dose of delta endorphins, and I reached the rail of this level. The retractable cobra returned to its compartment in my arm while I rested for ten precious seconds. My head buzzed and I had blurred vision, but I couldn’t afford to lose any more time; I had to hurry before they could locate me, which they would surely be able to do, being on their home turf.
        I pulled myself together and ran through one of the staircases, which descended further still into the labyrinth of gloomy alleyways. There wasn’t a soul visible in the tiny plazas. The leaks from the rickety heaters filled the alleyways with an annoying bluish haze, as if it were all part of a dream. I searched desperately for some sort of hatchway which would lead me upward, but the only ones in sight were a horizontal one and a sky-blue recess full of insulating polymers, rusted metals and columns of heavy alloys. Thanks to the sturdy gel lining of my jacket the injury to my shoulder hardly bled at all.
        I lowered my speed and hid myself in a tunnel which interconnected with various pathways, my steps provoking loud echoes in the pavement of dirty tiles. I heard steps through a corridor and decided to hide myself behind a recess in the passageway. The walls seemed to breathe humidity and industrial soot, and the heat bursting out of the halogens of the well made me sweat bullets. The steps approached me, and I nearly transformed into a part of the grubby wall. My head was buzzing. I pleaded with the Virgin to grant me another chance and I prepared myself.
        The hunter who was approaching stopped at the recess, invisible behind the wall. If it were the giant acromegalic and its optical implant included a thermal scanner, I was about to burst onto his system like a nova.
        Ten meters from my precarious hideout, an elevator compartment door began to open. My assailants’ reinforcements might be about to arrive. I didn’t want to wait for them to increase their numerical superiority over me. I flew out and shot my fist against the hunter who was behind the wall. I found the solid mandible of the other hombre carrying the trilox, and although I didn’t knock him over I did knock the gun loose; I punched him with all the force of my right arm in the solar plexus and launched him against the railing. From the other side of the well I recognized the armor of the Rhino.
        I turned around in time to duck the assailant attack that came from the elevator. It was the damn tramp who had led me into this trap. She came at me with bare hands, and I foresaw a quick lesson in the martial arts. I stopped the edge of her hand at the height of my face, but she managed to sweep me aside with a powerful blow from her legs. I landed on the ground, but since I’m not a good loser I shot the cobra at her throat. The voltage shook her senseless and she fell backwards, her igneous hair briefly transformed into quills. The bulk of Rhino followed from the other side; bad luck, hunters, this prey is getting out. I pulled myself together and ran toward the open elevator, but something told me that one variable was missing. Something didn’t fit.
        The dagger of energy that slit my leg reminded me that the variable was the leader. The beam of his blaster hit me on the side of my thigh and knocked me down onto the gray tiles. The gripping heat that rose upward from the leg was infernal. The pain gnawed at my nerve endings as though I had a side full of burning needles.
        I sunk to the ground and saw the leader approach. It did not look like a good day for me. Maybe, with luck, he would shoot me in the head. Phosphorescent emerald beads glittered next to his imposing jaw. His eyes were silver edged with green; hard and cold.
        I locked my gaze on him while he smiled fiercely at me. He raised the blaster to my head.
        And disappeared from the waist up under the energetic impact of a beam of plasma. Suddenly the passageways filled with the noise of shots, and I managed to hear other shouts. All around me there appeared dozens of bodies sheathed in armored shells, with no visible logo.
        But I knew where these troops came from. The Virgin had heard my prayers, and PapaSpider had been connected to my sensor. Thanks little Virgin.
        Just then I had the splendid idea of fainting.

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