Brad saw indecision on the Erran trooper’s face. Was there any way to negotiate? Was the Dzuran cause lost? As he watched, the trooper’s face hardened. Slowly the weapon in the trooper’s arm began to lower toward horizontal. He did not want to die here, but he couldn’t bring himself to face-to-face murder. He pivoted slightly and fired. The trooper’s arm burst below the wrist and the weapon clattered to the floor. The trooper’s shocked face looked at where his right hand should have been and then at the smoldering cauterized stump. Brad heard more noises in the hall. A flash of green sizzled the dust just over the trooper’s head. The Erran turned and ran back to the nearly blocked entrance.

                                   * * *

  Shaand appeared in the frame of the doorway, appraising the shocked Hooman standing before him. He psi’d a welcome and a let’s go message and turned to go. “Come! Now!”

     The sizzle and crackle of firing energy weapons could be heard a short distance away. Shaand scooped up the Erran’s fallen pistol. The three had just cleared the doorway when fractured rock and debris from floors above tumbled into their room, flattening the three bunks. As the rock fall slowed, it filled their former sanctuary and the ruined passageway. Smoke mingling with dust was highlighted by flashes of burning green rays from behind. A searing pain flashed across Brad’s back and he might have faltered if Shaand hadn’t pulled him into another room a few doors down. Connie was already inside, wide-eyed with fear. Shaand attempted to shield the two humans with his body.
      “Down. Cover you wit blanket.” He tossed dust-filled bed covers from the bunks at them. Connie settled into the corner first and Brad sat in front of her.
      Wait here! Shaand ordered them silently and stepped into the hallway.
      Brad huddled back under the blanket with Connie squeezed tight behind him. Only the muzzle of his handgun stuck out from the blanket. Footsteps and shouts passed by outside. Friend or foe? He had to look. Brad’s dun-colored hair blended into the destruction and dust. His eye peering around an edge of the blanket failed to alert the soldier assigned to clear their room. The minor pop of the pistol seemed inadequate to the danger so Brad fired again, and a third time. The surprised Erran trooper fell across the bunk and died, never recognizing that the hand of his fate was, in fact, the object of his search.
      No footsteps backtracked to their room. Sounds of close order combat moved steadily further away. Connie shifted to relieve a thigh pinched by Brad’s weight. “Did you kill him?”
      “I think so.”
      “How do you know?”
      “He’s not moving.” Brad pulled back the covering blanket.
      “No! Shaand said to wait here.” She tugged the feeble shelter back over them.
     "Okay, for the sake of the only two humans in this part of the galaxy, We’ll give it a while longer.”
     He thought, I have no idea what to do next if Shaand and the rest are in trouble.
     “Con, there’s no way to know who’ll win this skirmish. There’s you, me. Do we fight it out?”
     “Or what?” She hugged him from behind. “Go back up to that city ship? For testing?” A flash of green slashed the doorway burning a diagonal slash in the metal frame. Her arms tightened around his chest from behind. Footfalls returned in the distance, growing louder. Chirping shouts of command in the Erran dialect grew more distinct. Squeezing him tightly, she continued. “We’ve just killed one of their soldiers. If you don’t see a grey jumpsuit, shoot.” She seemed to shrink even further into their corner.
     “Yeah, I kinda got that. But in this dust, everything’s the color of dirt.”
     Shouting in the hall ended abruptly in a scream of agony and a helmeted form fell across their threshold. In the dim light falling into the room from gaps in the hallway ceiling, the Erran soldier’s face stared into the room, reflecting obvious pain. Brad edged his pistol out of the blanket. He took careful aim at the face and resolved to finish him if there was any sense of understanding that they were hiding in the corner.
     More footsteps approached. An Erran, his uniform with officer piping on the cuffs, stopped at the doorway and leaned down to check for life in the fallen soldier. Down the hall, from the Dzuran side, the pop-pop-pop of projectile weapons grew louder. The officer spoke rapidly into his cuff, turned to look over his shoulder, and fled. The wounded Erran raised his head toward the doorway, aware that he was being left behind.
     Brad and Connie sighed in unison as the Errans left in the direction of their initial assault. Maybe they’d been beaten back?
     More footsteps.
    Again Brad’s pistol raised, covering a spot chest high in the doorway. The wounded soldier lying on the threshold heard the approaching steps and reached for his laser weapon. Brad fired. The Erran’s pistol sizzled and spun out of reach. More footsteps and shots from the hallway, some departing then more approaching.The running steps slowed to a stop just outside the doorway.     

Copyright Bruce Ballister. All Rights Reserved.