Connies surged out of the promenade, filling the corridor outside the door to Dhamu's bar, and Malik could see fighting going on inside.
How did they get here so damned quick? He peered down through a ceiling vent, coughing as the smoke and fumes were sucked past him by the huge vent fans. Below him spread a maelstrom of fear and confusion, as green blaster fire and red blasts from older models made crazy stained rainbows of the gray-blue smoke, and faces faded in and out of recognition as rickety circulation fans roared to keep up with the intensified flow of foul air. Screams and protests echoed up to his hidden post; he shook his head and began to wiggle slowly into a narrow passageway that led to Dhamu's storerooms.
"Hey, bov-brain! Over here! You looking for me?"
Damn, damn, damn! Tau's voice. Tau the Silent, hellfire! That boy never knew when to keep his mouth shut!
Malik slithered back, cursing softly, and crouched over the vent, one hand poised to slam down across the mesh, the other with blaster ready. His brown eyes searched, searched through the confusion below, seeking the lanky figure of the Human boy.
"Yeah, you! You void brains couldn't catch a rattie with a cage full of cheese!"
There he was! The black castoffs the boy wore faded in and out of focus in the smoke-filled gloom, but Malik could see where he was standing now.
"Can't find your own asses with four hands and a metal detector—"
What the Core was the boy doing? Was he trying to get a face full of blaster?
Malik slammed his empty hand down on the wire mesh that covered the access panel, but the rusty screws held firm for a change. He slammed again, again, and they gave way with a clatter. The mesh fell on the head of a Connie who had a blaster pointed at Tau. The blaster went off, wide, two meters away from the boy—and Tau turned and ran.
Thank the Core! At least he's got sense enough to—
Half a dozen Connies—apparently deciding that an unarmed boy's insults were a safer bet than scores of angry LowLevs with contraband weapons and rocks and fists—took off after him.
Malik dropped from the ceiling, cursing fluently, started after them…and tripped over a body. Seconds later, what felt like a steel-toed boot connected firmly with the side of his head…