THE SEARCH FOR ASTRA PALACE by Gregory KH Bryant
 
Part Thirteen
 
Ward studied the three men who had cornered him, Kharl Stoff and his two cronies. He’d been up against worse.
 
“You boys sure seem pretty cocksure of y’selves,” he said. The man standing to Ward’s left removed his laser pistol and jammed it between his ribs.
 
“Doncha worry about us,” he said. “Just get in the cage.”
 
“You heard the man,” Stoff said. “Just don’t make no trouble and do what yer tol...”
 
Kharl Stoff had not the time to finish his thought. Before he got the last word out, Ward swung his foot in a huge arc, smashing Stoff’s jaw with the heavy tip of his boot. He shattered the jaw and sent Stoff spinning hard against the third man in the group.
 
Those two went tumbling against the steely bars of the cage, and knocked loose from the floor, they grappled with themselves futilely as they tried to regain their balance in the weightless derelict.
 
There was the man with the gun to deal with before the other two found their footing. Ward turned and grabbed the hand the man used to hold his pistol. Squeezing hard, he pressed the man’s fingers against the pistol, pinching them against the trigger guards and making it impossible for him to fire the pistol.
 
With his left hand, he closed his fingers in a vice-like grip upon the man’s trachea. He cut off the man’s breath while simultaneously bashing the back of his head against the bards of the cage.
 
Kharl Stoff and his other henchman managed to disentangle themselves from each other. Instantly, the henchman let loose with a huge hollering.
 
“Here! Here! We got `him! We got `im! He’s murdering us! Come quick! Come quick!”
 
Stoff, having had his jaw shattered, said nothing, of course, but left it to his henchman to call in for reinforcements.
 
Which were quick in coming. Ward was astonished to see the darkened silhouettes of dozens of burly figures clambering over the cages and through the stacks, seeking out the cause of the clamour.
 
Ward didn’t dare use his pistol. The flash of laser would draw the hordes directly to him. But he had not time to waste either, not a second. The endless bellowing of Stoff’s henchman would bring the shadowed hordes upon him within a minute.
 
Ward jammed the head of the man his was fighting between the bars of the cage. With his elbow, he smashed the man’s nose.
 
He still moved. A gargling sound came from his shattered face.
 
Not good enough. Ward didn’t have to kill the man, only shut him up. If Ward could shut the guy up, he’d be happy for the time saved.
 
A second elbow, this one to the mouth. Teeth and blood spilled out into the almost weightless derelict.
 
Good. That one shut him up. Now on to the next thing.
 
Yeah, the shadowy figures were converging on Ward. That jackass with Stoff, his loud bellowing brought them on. The two of them, Stoff and the asshole with the mouth, were floating upside down from Ward’s point of view, a dozen feet away, in a wide hallway of cages, each of them holding one, or two or more captives.
 
No time to kill Stoff and his henchman. No point, either. They’d already alerted the shadowy crew of this derelict in space that he was there, and he was to be hunted.
 
The only thing for Ward to do was to duck out. Obviously the crew—for that is what he assumed the shadowy hordes were—knew this ship better than he did. Though Ward had memorized a map in his head, as Kharl Stoll had led him through the derelict, still there was no point in trying to be cute. Just get out of sight, then make his way back to the O8 111A.
 
He squeezed himself into the dark alley formed by two cages being placed with some space between them, and moving both swiftly and silently, he managed to wedge his way through to the next. Cautiously, he leaned his head into the next long hallway. Rows of cages stacked upon each other. Above, walkways and platforms, complicated pipes and ruined wiring.
 
Overhead, dark forms moved swiftly through the shadows. Ward heard the sounds of Stoff’s henchman pointing out, “This way. I’m sure I saw him going this way,”. Being on the opposite side of the row of cages that separated them, Ward could not see which way the henchman was pointing, so he had no way of knowing how accurate his directions may have been.
 
There was nothing for it, but to move on. He stepped out from the narrow alley into the dim hallway of cages.
 
The searchlights came out.
 
CONTINUES NEXT WEEK

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