Narve Vanderacken didn’t say anything but moved his hand away from the autopistol lying on the plate metal floor only a few centimetres from his fingertips. He could feel cold sweat beading on his brow and trickling into his greying beard. How had it all come to this? What had started off as a straightforward hunt for a piece of tech, stolen by those Emperor-cursed Escher gangers the Hive Tigers, and a bike chase along Thunder Road, one of the few remaining stretches of navigable highway in the Underhive, had ended up with half his gang killed in a flash-flood of industrial waste, no doubt caused be a discharge from the manufactories of Hive City far above, and Vanderacken himself being pursued across half the Rust Sand Desert by one of the most ruthless and notorious hired guns in the sector, with a reputation that reached from Toxic Sump to Steel Canyon.
Vanderacken looked up at the bounty hunter, the brim of his hat hiding his eyes, silhouetted against the fitfully flickering, red-glowing hazard beacon, that also cast its ruddy light over the scuffed and scored yellow and black diagonals of the factory barn’s loading berths. Nathan Creed, gunslinger, bounty hunter and downhive desperado, took a long drag on the smouldering cheroot and reached into the folds of his coat again. This time he pulled out a black metal sphere, bisected into two hemispheres by a knurled ring. Vanderacken swallowed hard. It was the Inferno device: the stolen piece of tech that had got them all into this mess in the first place.
‘I found this in the smoking ruins of what used to be the gambling hole of Lucky Break,’ the bounty hunter’s voice was a distinctive downhive drawl, ‘thanks to a tip-off from a half-breed, who bought his freedom with the information he gave me, and something the good Doc Haze knocked up for me in his workshop.’
Creed tossed the sphere into the air, making the Van Saar wince, and then caught it deftly in his gloved hand. Vanderacken gulped audibly. In a split second he made his decision: it was now or never. The Van Saar made a lunge for the autopistol and rolled sideways as his hand closed around it. The last of the twelve-shooter’s dum-dum bullets impacted against the floor with a metallic ringing. ‘Damn!’ he cursed.
The bounty hunter dived for cover as a chattering hail of autopistol rounds tore apart the fungus wood crates that he had been standing in front of only moments before. He landed heavily, sliding to a halt behind a crane gantry.
‘Now what you should be asking yourself,’ Vanderacken declared, barely able to contain his new-found mirth at this reversal of fortunes, ‘is how you’re going to get out of here alive now that you’re effectively unarmed and I’m the one holding the loaded gun.’
‘Is that so?’ came Creed’s retort from behind the loading assembly. ‘You know what?’ he went on. ‘What you don’t realise is that I was never after you or this infernal Inferno Device to begin with. I only got involved when you and your boys started using me for target practice.’
‘Okay. So I guess we were both just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.’ Vanderacken’s tone was deadly serious now, as serious as a hivequake. ‘Now give me the device.’
‘I don’t have it,’ came the husky drawl.
‘What do you mean, you don’t –’ It was then that sudden, harsh realisation struck the Van Saar ganger, like a speeding motorbike. ‘Oh shi –’
The sub-sonic explosion shook the factory to its very foundations. What glass remained in its high, gothic-arched windows was blown out in a hail of diamond splinters. Crane pylons came crashing down in a cacophonous clattering crash, while the shockwave buckled the steel plates of the floor, sending barrels and drums bouncing away along the length of the building.
As Narve Vanderacken clawed his way out of the pile of twisted wreckage where he had landed, his body below the waist a bloody mess of pulped bone and tissue, Nathan Creed calmly strode towards him.
‘I told you,’ the bounty hunter said crouching down next to the dying ganger, his voice barely more than a whisper, ‘you shouldn’t have got me involved. I’m bad news. The worst. But seeing as I’ve got your undivided attention perhaps you can help me after all. You wouldn’t happen to know the whereabouts of one outlaw pit slave, arsonist and Guild caravan hijacker, who goes by the name of Crusher Harlon, would you?’