by Deborah J. Ross, writing as Deborah Wheeler
Kithri stood at the entrance to the dome and scanned the surrounding brush for any signs of discovery. Behind her, Brianna alternated between cursing under her breath and choking back sobs as she and Lennart sorted through the wreckage. Kithri kept her eyes away from the interior of the laboratory. The waste--the vicious, wanton waste--was more than she could bear. The central room, once filled with marvels of technology, was little better than a junkyard. Some equipment had been carried off, but what had not had been systematically rendered useless. Splintered glass and twisted metal housings lay everywhere, mingled with record books in sodden reagent-soaked lumps. Acids still smoked from the rubble that had been the main computer.
Kithri could understand disabling the communications gear, but to deliberately destroy scientific instruments... She remembered when her father would have given all he had for such treasure, now smashed past any hope of salvage.
The pirates hadn't overlooked much of value, although Brianna's sonic tuner was still functional and Lennart had found some short lengths of monofilament rope. The emergency medical kit was gone, along with the water purification supplies and the best of the survival clothing. They'd also taken the tangle, Brianna's only effective weapon, and irreparably disabled her surface transport. There was no way Brianna could have gone searching for Kithri across the forest-covered Plain.
Kithri's fingers ached from gripping the handle of her stungun. The camp and the surrounding bushes still looked peaceful, but it was only a matter of time before the escape was discovered, and every passing moment increased the chances of their being tracked here. She took a deep breath, hoping she wouldn't jump out of her skin at the first sign of trouble.
Lennart emerged from the laboratory and finished packing the rope lengths, along with some clothes and empty water containers. Brianna rummaged in a disorderly heap of papers.
"What are you bothering with those for?" Kithri scowled. "I said to take only what we need--"
"Ah!" Brianna slid a thin sheaf into her pack along with the other gear. "My field maps!"
Kithri held her breath practically the whole distance to the city. As they darted from one clump of brush to the next, she felt entirely too exposed. She wanted solid walls around her while they planned their strategy.
Too damned much time spent down jaydium tunnels. It's better to see the enemy coming.