The room for registration was packed, but at least they had managed to get in out of the cold wind. Chino rubbed at his ears, made red by the blustery force. The silver caps at the end of his tusks reflected the overhead lights as his head shook.
“Let’s get that door closed!” someone shouted from deeper within the room. “You’re letting the cold in!”
“Kiss my ass!” Harper yelled back, though the coyote was already pulling the door closed. He tugged his jacket closer around his frame and smoothed back the ragged lock of hair that kept falling over his left eye.
“Watch your language! There are cubs present!” said the first voice.
“Can’t be! Your mom told me she was fixed!” Chino replied. Laughter erupted from many of those in the processing center and the protesting voice died off.
“C’mon,” Harper urged, grinning at Chino’s comment. He jerked his head toward the registration desk. There were several Folk standing in line already.
“Hey, they’ve got pictures,” Chino said, redirecting the coyote with a gentle press of his massive hand. The pair stepped around a standing display of images. They showed a wooded land, with yellow soil and a brilliant sun overhead. There were pictures of indigenous lifeforms, mostly reptilian, with some captioned as being “large as a truck”, and others with similar descriptions to indicate size. One image showed the scout team posing beside one of the monsters. Its body dwarfed them all in the same way that Chino would dwarf a puppy.
“This is where we’re going,” Harper said, looking up at Chino’s grinning mug. “Planet of the lizard monsters.”
“Going straight the hard way, huh?”
“Yeah,” Harper said. His thoughts trailed off as a broad-shouldered jaguar bumped into him in passing. The jaguar was accompanied by a cougar with an ugly hat. Both Folk wore long coats that threatened to drag the ground.
“She stands over there,” the jaguar said, his voice low and his words clipped in a precise tone.
Harper turned to look at Chino, shaking his head. “It’s always something, ain’t it?” he said. He turned back to the display. An amplified voice echoed in the small room.
“Hello, everyone, and welcome. My name is Svetlana Krupp. I am one of the three Folk in charge of the colony on Z262.”
Harper leaned around the rack to see a squat dog in an impeccable business suit standing at the front of the room. She was holding a microphone.
“My specialty is administration. I’m the one who will be making sure everything gets done on schedule and that everything necessary takes place both before and during the trip so that all will be ready when we arrive.”
“So you’re pretty important, then?” called the cougar in the long coat.
Svetlana gobbled up the attention. “Oh, yes,” she said proudly.
“You will not see one gemstone on this planet!” shouted the jaguar. He reached beneath the folds of his jacket and a long shotgun was in his paw when he cleared the fabric. “Empire Rodentia will triumph!”
The cougar had gone into his own coat, coming out with a heavy slab-sided pistol. The hammer was coming back under one thumb.
Harper’s hand dropped to his belt and he slipped free the knife from his pocket, feeling as much as hearing the snick sound as the blade locked into place. The shotgun in the jaguar’s paws exploded with fire and sound, and Svetlana fell back, grasping at her abdomen.
Chino wasted no time at all. He stepped forward, grabbed the cougar’s head in his enormous mitts and twisted, throwing his body weight behind his prodigious strength. The neck gave way and the body slumped in his grasp, the ugly hat flying away in the face of the attack by the giant. Harper dropped his knife and snatched the big pistol as it fell. Thumb flicking at a safety that was already disconnected, he whipped the weapon up toward the jaguar.
The blade of the front sight had barely intersected the shotgun-wielding cat when Harper began stroking the trigger. The pistol roared like a cannon with each shot. Fat hollow-point rounds ripped into the jaguar, punching through his hide before expanding inside the big cat. Two of them ripped free on the other side, tearing great holes in the gunner’s flank.
Screaming in agony, the jaguar attempted to bring his own weapon to bear on Harper, but the coyote continued to deliver the close-range assault, keeping the pistol targeted on the jaguar’s chest as he fired again and again, riding the recoil and driving the weapon back onto target with every shot.
Eleven rounds thundered from the pistol before the slide locked back. Chino was at his side then, handing him a second magazine taken from the belt of the cougar. The empty mag clattered on the deck and Harper racked the slide again, chambering a fresh round.
The room was awash in gunsmoke and Harper squinted down at his target. The jaguar was down on the deck, his body twitching and quivering. Harper lashed out with a foot and kicked away the shotgun. He pointed to the colonist that had taken the original shot from the scattergun and Chino moved to assist.
The dog had taken a glancing hit from the shotgun, and multiple pellets had ripped through her suit coat. Blood leaked from her torso. Chino grabbed at his own sleeve, pulling hard until the fabric separated and tore. He peeled it down over one tattooed arm and pressed the material to Svetlana’s wounds.
Harper scanned the room, looking for other assailants but coming up dry. He fumbled in his pocket for his phone, one claw tapping the 111 code for emergency services. When he held the phone up to his head, it became apparent that there would be an issue. The entire world was a whine of sound following the gunshots inside the confined area. He could not hear the dial tone on his telephone. Around him, nothing was making noise that carried above the intense background din. He glanced at the screen in time to see it flash ‘connected’ and lifted it back to his head.
“I CANNOT HEAR!” he shouted, unaware of how much noise he was making. “I KILLED A TERRORIST AT THE Z262 COLONY SHIP. I CANNOT HEAR ANYTHING, SO I DON’T KNOW WHAT ALL YOU ARE GETTING. THERE ARE TWO FOLK DEAD HERE! I DO NOT KNOW IF THERE ARE OTHER KILLERS. SEND HELP. WE NEED MEDICS. I CANNOT HEAR. TELL THE SECURITY TEAM I AM ARMED WITH A PISTOL. I AM A BROWN COYOTE IN A TAN JACKET. THEY WILL SEE ME. I WILL BE THE MOTHERFUCKER WITH HIS PAWS IN THE AIR AS SOON AS I SEE THE SECURITY TEAM! AGAIN, I CANNOT HEAR. WE NEED MEDICS AND SECURITY TO THE Z262 COLONY SHIP SOONEST.”
He simply dropped the phone to the floor and made his way to Chino’s side. The big elephant had ripped a sleeve from his own shirt and was using it to provide pressure on the wounds of the injured colony executive. Harper patted him on the shoulder and when Chino looked up, tapped at his ears and shook his head.
“I CAN’T HEAR SHIT,” he called. Chino repeated the ear-tap and head shake gesture.
The security response was rapid, even though it seemed an eternal wait for those in the room. The first of the grey-clad security members rounded a corner, his face obscured by a helmet and his arms wrapped around an automatic carbine. Harper sighed with relief and dropped the pistol to the floor, stepping on it to secure the weapon while he raised his paws toward the ceiling. The team stepped in behind the point man, fanning out and moving quickly through the area. Folk were raising paws, whether they were crying, bleeding, or anything else, in response to the sudden influx of security officers.
One of the officers moved into position in front of Harper, kneeling to retrieve the pistol. The officer tucked it away and stood, his fingers twisting into patterns and his paws waving. Harper watched for a bit, confused as to what was occurring, and then suddenly barked a laugh.
“I’M NOT DEAF! I CAN’T SIGN. I JUST CAN’T HEAR ‘CAUSE WE HAD A FUCKING GUNFIGHT IN A TINY-ASS ROOM!”
The security officer stood still for a moment and then began to rock with laughter. Off came the helmet to reveal the grinning face of the leopard beneath. He gestured for Harper to put his paws down. A moment later and he was scribbling on a notepad pulled from his back pocket. He held the pad out.
“Are you the one who called?”
Harper nodded. He pointed to the dead cougar.
“HE HAD A –“
The leopard raised a paw, grimacing in the face of the volume. He waved gently toward the ground and Harper concentrated on modulating his volume.
“He had the pistol. That jaguar had a shotgun. We were behind a display when they shot. Chino took the cougar and I grabbed the pistol. Shot the shit out of the jag.”
“Robbery?” the officer wrote. Harper shook his head.
“Heard them talking first.” Harper paused to rub at his ears. “Rat-symp stuff. Said the fucking rats would win. They went after that dog over there because she’s some kinda muckety-muck. They wanted to take out the colony before it got started.”
“Doc will fix her up,” the officer wrote. “We’ll need a statement.”
“Yeah. I know the drill. Me and Chino both.” He waved off a medic that looked at him too closely. “We’ll be there.”
He looked at the corpses in the floor and the injured dog and slowly shook his head. When he looked up, Chino was miming the gunfight in front of the security force, a wild grin visible behind his trunk.
“This trip is gonna be interesting,” Harper muttered.