According to the tales, you cannot kill a shadow man. Not with laser, not with plasma, not with cold iron. You cannot kill a shadow man because you simply cannot kill what’s dead already.
That was the first time Timothy stood in front of a Shadow Man, actually three of them to be exact. He knew all the stories like everyone in Union space and beyond knew it, stories to scare kids, folklore to make drama videos out of.
He cursed the old Goat for sucking him in to do this job, he cursed he ever joining the army in the first place and become a merc later, he cursed the space he was born in, and not for the last time that day.
Even if he could not kill them, he sure as hell would try. So he squeezed the trigger, and light bullets left his rifle to lighten the darkness just a bit more as he sprayed the shadows with over a hundred rounds.
The Shadow Men did not move, nor did their lighted staffs. They absorbed all the light Timothy shot at them and did not even twitch. Their ropes did not even twitch.
“Don’t you know?” one of them finally said when Timothy decided to give his finger rest, the voice coming from under the hood, hoarse voice as if it was coming from the death itself. “You cannot kill us.”
They slowly started to walk toward him as if it was some kind of a funeral procession and they needed to take their time to honor the soon-to-be buried. Or vaporized, if you believed the tales.
Instinctively, Timothy and the young Captain moved backward, one foot at a time.
You were in the worse mess before. Think. Think!!
“Really?” Timothy muttered to himself, not able to remember the instance he was ever in the worse mess before. But a little voice inside his head was known to be right. And he was in no position to dispute it now.
“You get the package,” Timothy whispered to the Captain and pushed the comm into his trembling hands.
Timothy felt his fear, doubt, indecision, and had to nudge him backward just a bit more. “The light will go green when you find it. Use the Safe Open App to unlock it, and take it with you.”
“What, what about ten meters rule?” the young Captain wanted to know.
“I lied about that,” Timothy said and nudged the Captain backward, standing suddenly in front of him. Not that the Captain needed much nudging to move backward. “I’ll see you by the door. Now… Slowly.”
It seemed the Shadow Men had all the time in the world, walking slowly toward him, one slow foot at a time. And while they made their ceremonial walk, the one in the middle talked, “Those that see us die. It’s your time to die, Timothy the Seventh of Fairline Family. And you, you who hides behind him, whoever you are."
“Go, and I’ll meet you after I take care of these fellas. I'll send them back to hell if I have to!”
One of the Shadow Men, the one in the middle, chuckled upon hearing that.
“Oh, we’ll go back to hell,” he groaned. “Together with you.”
“Well, if this does not kill you,” Timothy said and threw his rifle at him. “Then you can have it!”
The rifle never even got close to touching him. His staff moved and as it touched the flying rifle, it instantly vaporized it, sparks flying around.
The chuckling of the Shadow Man grew louder.
"You're entertaining," he announced.
Timothy pulled two ball bombs, the ones that were the size of a golf ball, out of his side container with his left hand, and activated them. His other hand tried to feel the space behind him, feeling good to feel the young Captain was not there anymore. He did not dare turn around to see and make sure.
“Lights shut,” he said, instructing the light of his helmet to go out.
Now the only lights were the lights of their staff. And… red lights that shone out of the eyes. Were those truly eyes or lasers in their places?
He dropped both balls to the floor and hit one of them with his foot, hit it so that it does not fly straight at them but at the container that was on his right side. The other, he left down on the ground, in the darkness.
Then he ran backwards as fast as he could, their lighted staffs approaching him and those red-lighted eyes fixated on him.
He could hear the metallic ball hitting the steel container, sticking to it. A split second later, it exploded violently, taring the whole container up, throwing the debris and shrapnel all around, especially in the direction of the Shadow Men.
But to no vail. Timothy could see the milky-colored light of a protective shield circle the Shadow men instantly, and the flying debris did not hurt them any.
The gloves seemed to have come off, and now they moved on him at a blazing speed.
The second explosion lifted the floor under their feet, the one on the right shrieking in pain as the explosion blew him up, his defensive shield obviously unable to absorb the energy of the bomb he stepped on.
“So, you can be killed after all,” Timothy muttered to himself, and the very next moment, his pistol was in his hand.
Not a moment too soon because their leader was less than a meter away, and his shaft was thrust forward to hit Timothy in the chest.
But then Timothy moved fast, maybe fastest he ever did, ducking down, then rolling over his right knee to the empty space there, and flipped completely around so as to move out of the shaft’s radius, yet still face the attacker.
As his eyes locked on the red ones, he did not wait to get up or for the Shadow Man to move any closer but fired two shots toward those red eyes that now stood only a few feet away now.
The light of the shaft that was ready to fall on top of his head suddenly blinked and dimmed, and those red eyes started to twitch. Timothy fired two more rounds into them, and was thinking of firing two more, his other hand already reaching to his back container for a bullet-full cylinder replacement, when a blood-freezing shriek made him turn to the right.
The third Shadow Man was already in the air, flying toward Timothy. Timothy emptied two bullets at him and… had no time to replace the emptied cylinder because the shaft was on top of him, and he only had a split second to throw himself to the right.
Now understanding how Timothy moved, the Shadow Man jumped toward Timothy again, and this time Timothy could do nothing but fire up his armor thrusters at the full blast and flew away as if catapulted out of cannon.
The Shadow Man growled and followed.
As he flew, he dropped the emptied cylinder and put the full one in, then locked his gun. And when he turned around and shut his thrusters down, he pressed his armored right knee against the floor to act as a brake, slowing his inertia down with sparks flying around. He did not wait to stop, his right hand extended with a gun in it, firing.
One, two, all the way to six. He saw the third Shadow Man twitch, but then he made his staff in his hand dance so fast around, the light lighting all the space around. It spun like a propeller.
“I’ve got it!” the Captain came at him running, but Timothy did not even see him till he was almost there on top of him, putting himself between Timothy and the Shadow Man.
Timothy grabbed him by the waist, fired his thrusters, and, not for the first time, hugged him hard and flew with him. The Shadow Man followed.
“Roll!” Timothy told the Captain as they approached the small opening in the gate they came through, just a second before he threw him to the floor.
The Captain understood what was expected and rolled his whole body sideways, moving swiftly under the gate.
At the same time, Timothy turned around and pointed his gun at the coming Shadow Man, emptying the whole cylinder at him again.
The Shadow Man seemed to have twitched one way and then the other as if ducking the bullets or being grazed by them. But whatever it was, he was still on top of Timothy in another second, his lighted shaft rising above his head, ready to come down on top of Timothy’s head.
Timothy threw himself out of the way, and spread against the floor, then tried to roll through the gate opening. But going sideways, there was just no space to pass, and as he figured that out and spread on his stomach to make it through, the Shadow Man was there.
Timothy moved as fast as he could out of the reach of the flying shaft, but he felt it scratch his thigh and he shrieked in shock, expecting to get vaporized straight away.
“Warning, your armor has been compromised,” the armor's AI announced.
But Timothy had other things on his mind. He finally pulled himself to the other side and yelled at the Captain even before his foot made it through. “Bring it down!”
Another hit. He was sure. it felt like ice piercing him deep inside his foot. But no pain.
The Captain jumped at the gate's controls and pressed the release bottom to lower the gates down, sealing the Shadow Man off.
Timothy did not feel any pain and joyfully thought that, with the Shadow Man on the other side of the gate, they made it. But then the light rod came like a red-hot iron knife through the gate, sparks flying around, and started to move up to cut the opening for the Shadow Man.
Timothy got up and ran to the Captain and then turned around to scream “Intruder, Intruder!” There were a bunch of soldiers attracted to the gate, wondering what kind of shooting was happening in there.
“Shoot him! Shoot him” he told them, and those that had arms in their hands turned them toward where the Shadow Man was making his opening.
They did not wait to see how that will work out as Timothy grabbed the Captain again.
“That won’t stop him,” the Captain said while they flew down the corridor.
“As long as it slows him down, as long as we get to leave,” Timothy replied.
Suddenly, the corridor was not dark anymore. The secondary lights had come on and chased the darkness away.
“Hey, you can’t use your booths here,” he heard someone say from behind.
“Flying the wounded!” Timothy screamed back.
Then another voice suddenly popped inside his helmet. “You’ve got one minute to get here!” Marv suddenly spoke.
“Their backup power is being turned on,” he explained.
“So, throw the last bomb at them. You still have one in reserve. Knock them out again. One should do it now!”
They made it to the stairs and Timothy fired up his thrusters again to make the climb in a blink of an eye.
“Can’t do it. It’s not operational. Must have been damaged when I landed the flyer inside the transporter,” Marv said.
“You don’t need to worry,” the young Captain said. “We ran the drills like this a month ago. They will first power up all the external shields, expecting that the enemy from the outside posses the biggest threat.”
“How long till they can power it up then?”
“Two minutes min.”
“Yeah, but they will look for where the trouble started as soon as their AI gets the juice to work,” Timothy said. "And they will track us down easy then."
“Yeah, but with all the security checkups on the system reboot, checking if it was infected with some viruses, that should give you guys another minute,” the Captain added.
They made it swiftly to the gate they came through, and Timothy let the Captain go.
“Is this what you were after?” he asked, extending the dark metallic box, about a foot wide and twice as that tall and deep, he previously held under his armpit.
Timothy looked at his comm blinking green. “It should be.”
“I did good, didn’t I?” the young Captain said as they made it through the gate and entered the landing pad, their transporter still waiting for them there.
“Yes. Yes, you did,” Timothy answered, finally able to catch his breath.
“So, then, can you then take this explosive off me now?”