“The exhibition is over.” Billyboy stepped forwards.
Mr Kibbles backed away.
“But we thank you for our arms. Boys?”
Barrel raised his assault rifle, Martini his laser knife.
Billyboy drew two pistols. “Sorry Kibbles, but you know Guthrie. You’ve known him a long time. And he thinks that head of yours has got a bit overinflated.” He twirled the pistols in his fingers and began shooting into the air.
Amid the confusion of terrified onlookers Mr Kibbles ran to the dark corner, past Marley, behind his beloved V13.
“What are you doing? You’re the head of Kibbles Industries. You’re meant to show leadership.” A stray bullet rebounded off the missile chassis and whizzed by Marley’s ear.
“Precisely. I am the head of Kibbles Industries. To show leadership I need to stay alive.”
The intensifying gunfire indicated more people had joined the fight.
“Yeehah!” Someone indiscriminately fired a bevy of bullets into the air.
Mr Kibbles crouched on his haunches and put his hands to his ears.
“Free for all!” Rico obtained a plasma crossbow and joyfully fired at anything that moved and some things that had stopped moving, if they had ever moved.
The black partition dividing rocketry and general weapons of assault took three shots before toppling with a crash that shook the floor.
Mr Kibbles’ representative spotted Marley and his superior. “Here take this.” He threw a classic sub-machine gun in their direction.
“The venerable AK-47,” said Kibbles. “Still a mainstay of any mercenary force. With over 1,000 years of service.” He checked the clip, flicked the fire selector to the centre position and pulled back the charging bolt. “She’s all yours.”
He handed the weapon to Marley.
“What? Are you giving it to me?”
“I swore an oath never to fire a gun again.”
“I shot my pet Borsk, accidently.”
Marley rolled his eyes. “And I suppose the name of your Borsk was… let me guess: Fluffy?”
Mr Kibbles looked at Marley wide-eyed. “How did you–”
“Forget it. Mr Kibbles, the only gun I’ve fired was at the fun-fair. And I won, ahem, a fluffy toy.”
“That’s a start. I’ve readied her. You just need to point and shoot.”
Marley’s first target backed away. Barrel was under heavy fire from the one of the security guards. He retreated, knees bent, firing in short bursts.
“Take him down!” Kibbles pointed.
A million thoughts flashed through Marley’s mind. Barrel didn’t know he was in his sights. He aimed for the legs.
Marley pressed the trigger once. And missed. Barrel turned to him surprised, then angry.
“Hold it down dammit,” growled Mr Kibbles.
Marley needed no more persuading. He kept his finger firmly pressed and let rip a flurry of bullets. One of them ensconced itself in Barrel’s flabby thigh. He went down like a wobbly flan, firing into the air.
Marley was satisfied that he had only neutralised, and not killed a man.
His satisfaction lasted two seconds.
Six bullets from the guard peppered Barrel as he lay, grimly clutching his leg. He released his grip from thigh, and gun.
The guard noticed where the other bullet had come from. He gestured for Mr Kibbles to move aside and pointed his weapon at Marley. It was a fully automated machine gun, so heavy only someone his size could carry it.
“Don’t worry,” shouted Mr Kibbles to the guard. “He’s with us.”
As soon as Mr Kibbles opened his mouth Billyboy rounded the V14 SE1000 and saw Barrel’s attackers. He opened fire with his quadruple-barrelled shotgun. The first two shots missed. The third lodged itself below the left side of Kibbles’ ribcage as he scurried behind the V13.
Marley pulled him completely within cover just as the fourth bullet left a hole in the steel wall behind them.
“Armour-piercing bullets,” said Kibbles. “He could only have got them from one source. Guthrie!”
A trickle of blood seeped between the fingers he pressed to his side. “He is more than a hairdresser,” Mr Kibbles coughed, “He owns the Bad Ends, so he thinks. He wants me out of the game. The Bad Ends aren’t bad enough for the two of us.”
“Are you sure? You sure you didn’t just steal his lunch at school and now he wants revenge?”
Mr Kibbles thought for a moment. His eyes widened. Then he fainted.
“Never mind.” Marley climbed onto a crate behind the V13 and slowly inched upwards. Was this going to be it? He had just fired a gun for the first time in his life and had almost killed someone who had ended up dead anyway. With that last thought he rested the gun on the V13’s fuselage.
His timing was impeccable. Billyboy was under heavy fire from the guards and was scurrying for cover, the same cover protecting himself and Mr Kibbles.
Marley let loose a volley of bullets, two of which found their mark in Billyboy’s buttocks.
Once again the guards showed no mercy and finished the job. They turned their attention to Rico and her cohorts who were on nobody’s side, fleeing with as much loot as they could carry.
Rico set off a smoke grenade and her gang escaped. To discourage any chase they fired a rocket launcher that went through one end of the pavilion and out the other. As it journeyed over the Sea of Talenia it eventually surprised an oil-rig worker on a cigarette break.
Martini allowed himself to be subdued and the brief firefight was over. It had lasted minutes, but to Marley it seemed hours.
A hovervan cruised through the gap made by the ejected absorption chamber.
“He’s over here.” The guard lowered his heavy machine gun to the floor and trotted over to Mr Kibbles.
The hovervan backed towards the niche where Mr Kibbles lay wounded and unconscious. Four nurses wearing skintight outfits traipsed down the ramp with a stretcher.
Marley thought their outfits were almost identical to the white bodysuits worn by the cheerleaders of Real Centauri… until he realised they were the cheerleaders of Real Centauri.
The guard who had previously thrown Marley out escorted Mr Kibbles as he was stretchered to his private ambulance.
Kibbles slowly turned his head to Marley walking beside the stretcher. “Your assistance,” he coughed, “has been a lifesaver. If only I had the means to repay you.”
“Sir,” said Marley, glancing in the direction of the V13.
“Take her,” said Mr Kibbles. “She’s all yours. But take good care of her.”
Marley didn’t think the V13 really looked like a ‘she’. It was a pointy rocket thing after all. But he’d take her anyway, regardless of gender.
Mr Kibbles closed his eyes and allowed himself to be stretchered into the hover-van.
The security guard turned around and clicked his tongue. The doors of the hover-van slid shut and it cruised off merrily through the skies.