Pixels fell silently out of a light in the ceiling like a silver digital waterfall. Raquel formed quickly and quietly, just behind Samuel. In seconds she fully coalesced, holding the dagger.
She stabbed him in the back. Samuel screamed in pain and surprise. She stabbed him again as he fell to the floor.
Granny turned quickest and shot off three blasts at her.
Thoop! Thoop! Thoopah!
Raquel moved like a blur, a streak of silver pixels dodging the blaster bolts.
The others tracked her movements with their guns. Kim and Pak and Maxwell shot as she zigzagged around the room, dodging their bolts. Skylar flickered and disappeared.
The streak zigged closer to the elevator. Maxwell shot twice, the second time anticipating where she would be. The bolt went through her.
“Dang it! I know I hit her!”
Skylar materialized right in front of the blur and slugged the pixelated mass with a flickering fist.
An explosion of light made everyone cover their eyes. When they could see again, Raquel lay on the floor rubbing her jaw. The knife skittered away from the impact.
Raquel stood up slowly, never taking her eyes off Skylar, squinting at the other woman in hate. She spread her feet apart, one in front of the other, and brought up her fists.
Raquel said, “Have you been trained to fight, little girl?”
“Even better. I can shoot.”
She aimed her gun at Raquel’s face and shot point blank.
Raquel’s head pixelated and the bolt passed through, harmlessly. She jumped forward and slammed her fist into Skylar’s neck.
Skylar dropped her gun in surprise and flickered away. Raquel bent down and grabbed it, then came up shooting. Kim and Pak jumped behind some equipment. Granny and Maxwell dove to the floor.
Raquel looked up at the lights and started to pixelate.
Maxwell jumped up and raced toward the trap. He grunted and picked up the heavy radiation absorber. He turned it toward her just as she became fully pixelated.
Pak concentrated on his neural connection and set off the EMP. A loud Pop! sounded from the electrical panel and the lights went out.
Raquel’s pixelated self stopped flowing up and shifted toward the front of the machinery. Maxwell grunted again, holding the heavy unit level with his chest. She was sucked inside, a long stream of silver pixels pulling in within seconds.
Max set the component down on the floor and Kim ran over to check the controls. He pressed a few more buttons, looked up and nodded.
He said, “The unit is secure, Mr. Maxwell. She is trapped inside, and will stay trapped in her electronic state so long as the unit remains operative.”
Maxwell said, “Good job. Find a secure place on our ship where nothing will happen to let her out. Lootie, port these men back over to the Mule.”
The engineers and the unit disappeared. Maxwell turned and found Granny and Skylar bending over Samuel.
He headed toward them, but the droid doc popped in before he got there. The women made room for him to examine Samuel.
The droid doc turned his eyes toward Skylar and said, “I am so, so sorry . . .”
She took a step backward, covering her mouth with one hand and wiping tears with the other.
“No! That’s not possible! He can’t die! He can’t!”
The droid doc went into full compassion mode, his face emoting empathy and the tone of his voice conveying a mixture of warmth and sorrow.
“He sustained far too many injuries. The loss of blood combined with internal lacerations of critical organs . . . All these have resulted in his passing.”
Skylar turned, openly bawling now, and flickered half a dozen times before disappearing.
Pak showed up again, this time with a crew of six helpers quickly porting in behind him. They strung up battery-powered lights in the control room.
Pak said to the men, “Lootie will take you throughout the ship. We’ll need lights in all the crew quarters and passenger areas.”
They nodded at him, then disappeared one by one as LuteNet teleported them around the ship along with the lighting equipment.
Maxwell looked down at the bloody body of Samuel and sighed.
He said, “This is my fault. I should have figured she’d come out somewhere else.”
Granny holstered her pistol, pulled out her cigar case, opened it and selected one. She put it in her mouth and chewed on the end for a moment.
She said, “Nah, don’t beat yourself up too much, Max. All the footage we had from all the other times she did her thing showed her coming from the door panels. You had no way of knowing that this time she’d do something else.”
“Thanks,” Max said, looking up the dead lights in the ceiling. “But I still should have prepared better.”