The glow of the energy balls gave off very little light as Chuck descended into the depths of the building. There was a low hum that he associated with machinery. Maybe the min-min, not able to communicate with him directly, had brought him to a computer of some kind, to attempt a link that way.
There was a sudden whine, the blobs scattered and a beam of red light lanced through the darkness and burned a line across his scalp.
Or, he thought, dropping to the ground, they couldn’t kill me using their microwaves so they decided to try a more direct approach.
The stench of burning hair filled his nostrils and he slapped at his head. The whine repeated and he rolled desperately to one side, narrowly avoiding a second deadly beam.
‘Stop shooting at me!’ he yelled, crawling to his feet and diving to safety in the darkness. Unfortunately, between his current location and safety was a steel cabinet, which he struck hard with his forehead. The third shot missed him because of the erratic movement of a semi-concussed man.
As the whine rose in tempo for the fourth time, he found the edge of the cabinet and crawled around the side. He had no idea where the beam was coming from, or whether he was still a target from this new vantage point, but his head felt exactly as if he had just dived headlong into a metal cabinet, and his thoughts were scattered.
The whine of the beam remained at a mosquito-buzz pitch for a moment and then the weapon powered down.
Chuck slumped against the cool metal of the cabinet and waited for the world to stop spinning. His brain seemed to be still rattling inside his head and to make matters worse, his skin was itching again.
All around him was the high-pitched meaningless chatter of the coloured blobs. They must be telling the shooter where he was hiding. He had to get back upstairs, to the relative safety of a world he never thought he’d call ‘alien’.
‘Scout to ship. Cait, come in. I’m in trouble!’
‘How did you manage that?’ Cait asked.
‘Ambushed. Trapped. Something shooting at me,’ Chuck said, trying to focus his thoughts. ‘My hair is on fire. The min-min sent me into a trap. I’ve got to get out!’
‘Holy hells. You’re not kidding, are you?’
‘Why would you think that I was?’ Chuck asked, incredulous.
‘Oh, I don’t know. Does “Aargh!’ ring a bell?’ Cait asked.
‘Fair enough. Look, I’m going to make a break for it. Can you do anything from up there?’
‘I don’t think so, but- wait. If I narrow the scanner beam onto your location, I think I can flood the very immediate area with radiation.’
Chuck tried to get his rattled head to process that statement.
‘You’re going to irradiate me?’ he asked. ‘And that’s what you call “helping”?’
‘It’s a slim chance, but there’s a possibility that it could disrupt those “min-mins”, which will mean you can get back to the ship without being followed.’
‘And if it gets dark, I won’t need a torch, because I will glow in the dark!’
‘Don’t be a baby. We have anti-rad treatments up here,’ Caitlin said. ‘I think – yes. There it is. Say when.’
Chuck could see the faint glow coming down from the top of the stairs. It was only a few long strides away to the first step. He was well into the room before his attacker fired the first time. He should be fine.
‘OK, go,’ he said. He pulled himself into a crouch. His skin was prickling, and then-
‘Right. Done it,’ came the voice from the ship. The prickle turned into a burn. At the edge of his range of hearing, the high-pitched chatter had turned into a squeal.
Got ‘em, he thought. He stood. The whine of the laser started up again. Chuck spun but as he readied to run, his legs buckled, and the pain in his skull doubled.
Wait, said a voice in his head. You must stop! Make it stop!