alt.human by Keith Brooke

Book: alt.human by Keith Brooke Read Free Book Online
Authors: Keith Brooke
Tags: Science-Fiction
what she had just said, a low drone smothering her words.
    Then I paused, turned, and the bulbous head of a troopship was suddenly looming around the crag that formed the back of our nest’s roof terrace.
    I remembered the troopships at Satinbower. We had just been talking about it, me painting up my experience there when I had seen the Satinals’ clan-nest being destroyed.
    Beams of light lanced down from the troopship, transfixing us.
    I felt unable even to move my muscles, but I knew that was not a real thing, just an effect of the sudden shock, the fear, a rabbit frozen by the beam of a torchlight.
    Sol moved.
    She spun, found Marek and Callo and rushed them to the back of the terrace. If she could get them into the caves they might be safe.
    But I knew immediately that we wouldn’t all be able to escape that way. The halls were narrow, the doorways few. A rush of people would block the passageway in no time.
    The troopship swung round the crag and came to hang in the air above us. Door panels dematerialised along its flanks and spat out a stream of armour-suited grunts. They dropped to the terrace, their suits decelerating them an instant before landing. They started clicking and barking orders at us to stay still, to move over there, to stay calm, to say nothing, to stop rushing around!
    A few shots from the grunts’ beam-weapons were fired into the air, then someone – Ruth, I saw – started to object and was cuffed across the jaw by an orphid grunt. She went reeling into Divine’s arms, her face a bloody mess.
    Closer to where I was standing, a grey-bearded man – Maybry, I thought – was knocked from his feet by a barging grunt and lay groaning and sobbing.
    Then a gun fired, and I realised someone, stupidly, had shot at the grunts.
    This was going to get much worse, and quickly.
    I bundled Pi over to the wall surrounding the terrace. The street below was deserted.
    “Come on,” I said, and swung a leg over the wall.
    Pi hesitated, then joined me.
    We paused partway down. Overhead, I could still hear the drone of the troopship and see its floodlights spilling out over the terrace.
    Pi was breathing hard and shaking as she clung onto the crag. “!¡ urgent | reassuring ¡! It’s okay,” I told her. “They didn’t see us. I know the way down from here. Used to climb here when I was a pup–”
    “!¡ exasperated ¡! Fuck’s sake, Dodge. It’s not that. Just... just how high up are we?”
    I hadn’t considered that she might be scared of heights.
    “!¡ reassuring ¡! It’s okay,” I said again. “Keep looking at where your hands are. We’re on a kind of ledge. Just need to follow it round to the slope, and then we’re not really climbing, it’s just a steep hill, down to Jury’s Gap.” The Gap was one of the side-entrances into the cave system that ran through the craggy hills. We were almost there.
    I started to move, but when I looked back, Pi was frozen in the same position, still shaking, muttering something under her breath.
    “Come on,” I hissed.
    I could see Jury’s Gap now, a dark slash in the crag just across and down a little from where we were.
    I reached the end of the ledge, planted my feet on the steep slope of the crag, twisted to look behind me.
    Pi hadn’t moved.
    Then a beam of light swung out and around from above, the troopship moving, searching for escapees. It locked on her almost immediately.
    I looked at the Gap, so close, but I hesitated too long and another beam swung round and locked on me. Again, I felt my muscles seizing, and that made me wonder if maybe there was something more than just the psychological impact stopping me from moving.
    A grunt on a floating pad came down and seized first Pi and then me and transported us back up to the terrace, where most of my clan had been rounded up in small groups.
    W E WERE KEPT on the terrace for most of the night, huddled into little groups, penned in by jagwire. We weren’t allowed to move around, not

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