Authors: James Wisher
arcus got back
to the landing field and swung into his hanger. No sign of Cade bound and unconscious so he didn’t run for his ship, too bad. A command from his gauntlet lowered the loading ramp and he drove up into the hold, sealing the ship behind him. Iaka must have heard him pull in because he’d barely swung his leg over the seat when she stepped through the door.
“You didn’t get him.” It was half question and half observation.
Marcus shook his head. “Worse, I discovered someone else is looking for him and whoever it is isn’t shy about using their blaster. This job just got a lot more complicated.”
“Maybe not. While I was waiting I did some digging. Cade’s got his ship for sale.”
Marcus frowned. Why would a man on the run give up his main means of transportation? It made no sense, unless he needed money worse than an escape. “Let’s have a look.”
They went to the cockpit and Iaka pulled up the listing for Cade’s ship. Marcus stared at the listing. Only a million credits. It was worth twice that as scrap. He must be more desperate for money than Marcus first thought. That could work to their advantage. “Great work finding this. You may have solved our problems.” Marcus sent a message offering nine hundred thousand in hard credits. If Cade was as eager as Marcus thought he should jump on the offer.
The reply came four hours later. The message gave the address of the landing field, the hanger number, and an offer to meet in an hour. Marcus agreed at once. Since he was already here he’d have plenty of time to get ready. He frowned. It would be better to have back up so Cade didn’t get away not to mention keep an eye out for the mystery man. Perhaps Iaka would lend him a hand one more time.
He left the cockpit and made the short walk to her room. When he pressed the chime she opened up at once. Iaka wore his favorite snug jeans and a black shirt that hugged her figure. Focusing on the task at hand he said, “Cade’s on his way and I could use some back up. Interested?”
She chewed her lip and for a moment he feared she might say no. “What do you need me to do?”
He grinned. “If this goes okay, nothing. But to be safe I’d like to set you up with a sniper rifle in the hanger across from Cade’s ship. Don’t worry, it’s got a stun setting. We need him alive anyway. If he tries to run or pulls a blaster you take him out. If you spot someone in black sneaking around, stun first and ask questions later.”
“I’ve never used a sniper rifle, not even during basic training.”
“Don’t worry, my setup is simple. Come on, I’ll show you.”
Marcus led the way back to the hold and typed his code into the weapon storage cylinder. It spun around revealing a delightful assortment of death and destruction, blasters, pistols and rifles, grenades, his heavy laser cannon, and a dozen blades. He grabbed the longest rifle, a black beast with a carbon fiber barrel and composite stock with folding bipod. Despite its size it only weighed a couple pounds.
He snapped a power cell into the empty slot and flicked the selector switch from safe to stun. A little light beside the switch flashed green. Next he pulled open a narrow drawer. Inside, on a bed of soft cloth, both ends covered with plastic protectors, sat a shiny black scope. Marcus snapped it into place on the rails attached to the top of the rifle stock.
“There, isn’t she a beauty?” He handed the rifle to Iaka who gave it a dubious look. “Hold it to your shoulder and look through the scope.”
She popped the plastic covers off and raised the rifle to her shoulder. “What now?”
“See the little red dot?”
“Put the dot on whatever you want to hit and pull the trigger. It’s dead accurate out to three hundred yards.”
Iaka lowered the rifle. “That’s it?”
“That’s it. Let’s get you in place then I’ll head toward the office and approach from that direction in half an hour or so.”
Marcus gave her a spare mask and they left the ship. Outside he paused to seal the door and activate the external defenses with his gauntlet. The gloom beyond the hanger seemed thicker, either night had fallen or one of the factories had belched out an especially noxious wad of pollution. He adjusted his mask and led the way to hanger thirty-one.
No one had claimed it in the last four hours, thank the universe. Marcus stopped in the center of the doorway, he could barely make out the ship across the landing strip. “Why don’t you set up here? You’ll have the maximum field of fire.”
“What do you mean set up?”
“Right, lower the bipod legs and lay down on your stomach. Get the rifle in a comfortable position and keep watch.”
Iaka lay down and wriggled around, trying to get comfortable. Off to the side rested a couple empty parts crates. Marcus grabbed them and set them up to make a simple blind in front of her. He frowned, not great, but given the crappy visibility it should work fine.
“I can barely see anything over there.” Iaka laid in a pretty good imitation of a sniper’s sprawl, the rifle tight to her shoulder.
“Just a second.” Marcus fiddled with the controls on the scope until he got the light amplification system going. “How’s that?”
“Better. I can see everything in the hanger. Shit! Someone’s over there.”
Marcus checked the watch in his gauntlet. Twenty minutes until the meeting, Either Cade arrived early or something was wrong. “Are you good here? I need to get going.”
“I’m fine. Go.”
After a second’s hesitation Marcus jogged off toward the office. He didn’t dare go too fast or he’d get out of breath. The last thing he wanted was to take deep breaths of the corrupt air, mask or not. He reached the office without meeting another soul. One thing about the horrible place, no one went outside unless they had to.
He took a couple shallow breaths to steady himself and turned toward Cade’s hanger. He ambled along, trying to get into the role of a ship buyer looking for a deal. Someone that had never heard of Arnold Cade before today and had no idea what sort of horrible things he’d done.
When he reached the hanger Marcus forced himself not to glance across the strip and try to spot Iaka. “Hello?”
A stocky, square jawed man appeared in the hanger doorway as though materializing out of the murk. “You here about the ship?”
Marcus forced a smile. “That’s right. When I saw your ad I thought it might be a misprint so hurried over before someone else could snag it.”
Cade grunted. A real charmer this one. “I suppose you want to take a look.”
Cade turned back into the hanger and Marcus followed. The ship looked the same as he remembered, only now the back ramp was open. His host took one step up the ramp before a crimson blaster bolt streaked past his head and burned into the hull. Marcus dove under the ramp a second ahead of another blast. That wasn’t Iaka, The rifle he’d given her fired blue pulses. Worse, those shots weren’t stun blasts.
A third shot streaked through the open door and Cade shouted. Damn it! If they killed Cade he’d never find out where he took Solomon. Marcus lunged out from under the ramp, zigzagged a couple times, and ran up into the ship. He found Cade laying on the floor, clutching his right leg, a black hole burned into him just below the knee. Marcus grabbed him by the collar and dragged him deeper into the ship, hopefully out of blaster range.
“Got any weapons on board?”
Cade snarled and shook his head. “Sold’em.”
Great. Marcus tapped the weapons module on his gauntlet and fired a stun blast into Cade. He wasn’t going anywhere for a while, now he needed to figure out who was trying to kill him. Much as he hated to draw attention to Iaka, he needed to know what she saw. He activated his comm. “Iaka, can you hear me?”
“What the hell’s going on? Was that blaster fire?”
“Relax, someone shot Cade in the leg. I assume it’s whoever I jumped at the hotel, but I can’t see anything. We’ve got cover inside the ship so we’re in no danger for the moment. Can you see anything?”
A moment of silence. “There’s nothing visible from here.”
Shit! So much for that. He grinned when a new plan occurred to him. “Keep your eyes peeled. I’ll try to flush him out.”
Marcus located the control panel in the central pillar and raised the ramp. He went to the cockpit and found everything lit up. He sighed in relief, Cade had powered it all up in preparation for his buyer arriving. Marcus hopped into the pilot’s seat and studied the controls. A control stick with weapons’ control, readouts, gauges, and on the floor left and right rudder. Looked simple enough. He powered up the main cannons, activated the antigravity generator, feeding it just enough power to get the landing gear off the ground, then spun the ship so the guns faced toward where the blasts originated. Nothing on the screen or scanners. Where the hell was he?
Marcus shrugged and fired. Crimson blasts streaked out and exploded, the flames burning away the murk and revealing a figure in a close fitting black body suit, probably stealth capable, which explained why he couldn’t pick up anything on his scanners. He adjusted the ship and fired again, sending the assassin scrambling, his blaster rifle forgotten, right into Iaka’s line of fire. Sure enough a moment later a blue pulse streaked out and the assassin dropped.
Marcus set the ship down and rushed out of the cockpit. Cade was still out cold, but Marcus took the time to drag him into a cell and lock it down. Prisoner secure he lowered the ramp and ran out toward the prone assassin, gauntlet raised. When he was a couple steps away and the unconscious killed still hadn’t moved he popped the studs on his gauntlet, bent down, and jabbed the prone figure, sending a stun pulse into his back. He wouldn’t be going anywhere.
Iaka ran up, rifle clutched in her arms. “Are you okay?”
The concern in her voice warmed Marcus’s heart. Maybe there was still hope for them. “Fine. Cade’s singed, but breathing and locked in one of his own cells. Great shot.”
She offered a hesitant smile. “When you fired those cannons I about jumped out of my skin.”
Marcus grinned. “Worked though. Let’s see who we have here.”
He pulled the assassin’s mask off and a mass of blond hair tumbled out. Marcus brushed it aside revealing, a small upturned nose, full lips, and closed eyes. She had a small scar on her cheek, but no other markings. She was kind of cute if you were into killers.
“Who is she?” Iaka asked like he and the assassin were old friends.
“Beats me, but she’s definitely a pro. That stealth suit probably cost a quarter million credits. Let’s get her in a cell before she wakes up. Can you get her rifle?”
in the hold of Cade’s transport and watched his unconscious prisoners. Cade’s wound was ugly, but not fatal. Iaka had stripped the woman of her stealth suit along with several knives, a stun grenade, and a holdout blaster. She lay on the cold steel floor wearing nothing but lacy, red underwear. Surprisingly girly for a contract killer. The moment they finished securing the assassin he’d gone to the office and explained to the owner that everything was under control and he didn’t need to call the authorities. The bald man had grunted once in a combined acknowledgement and dismissal and turned his attention back to whatever he was working on.
“So what do we do now?” Iaka sat on a crate she brought in from the hanger, both blaster rifles on the floor beside her.
“Now we wake him up and find out where he took Solomon.” Marcus went to the ship’s small bathroom and fetched two cups of water.
“What if he won’t talk?” Iaka locked gazes with him.
He knew what she wanted him to say, that he wouldn’t beat the information out of Cade. He wanted to say it too, but he refused to lie to her. If he had to beat the man within an inch of his life to find Solomon he’d do it without a second thought. “He’ll talk.”
Marcus tossed a cup of water in Cade’s face and he sputtered awake. “What, where?” He groaned when the pain of his leg hit him.
“Morning, sunshine, enjoy your nap?”
Cade oriented on him. “You, you don’t want to buy my ship, do you?”
Marcus shook his head. This guy was clearly not the brightest bulb. “You don’t miss a trick, do you? Seems you took a friend of mine off Pleasure Planet four a little while ago. I need you tell me where you took him.”
Cade’s eyes narrowed. “In exchange for what?”
Marcus shifted his gaze to the unconscious woman. “See that girl? She’s the one who shot you. You are what’s called a loose end. Whoever you delivered my friend to probably hired her to keep you from talking to me. Now if you don’t tell me what I want to know I’ll wake her up, open the cage door, and give her a knife.”
Cade’s throat worked as he tried to swallow. “And if I tell you?”
“You tell me and she stays locked up and unarmed. I send you home to face a trial and probably prison.”
“That’s a hell of a choice.”
Marcus shrugged. If this asshole was looking for sympathy he was looking in the wrong place. He tossed the second cup of water on the assassin “You should have thought of that earlier.”
She sputtered awake, spun to her feet and lunged through the bars of the cell to try to get to Cade. That she was almost naked didn’t faze her in the least. You had to respect that sort of focus. “You need to calm down. Those cells were designed to stop neighbors from strangling each other.”
She speared him with a penetrating glare. “Who are you, another hunter? He’s my mark and it’s a closed contract. You can’t poach him, guild rules.”
Marcus smiled at her anger. “Lucky for me I’m not a member of your guild, or any other for that matter. My interest in this turd is personal.” He shifted his focus back to Cade. “So what about it? Want to answer my questions or do I turn you over to the young lady?”
“Alright, you win. I took them to a ship, a big one, looked like some kind of bulk hauler converted into a personal transport. Never seen anything like it.”
Marcus ground his teeth. If Solomon was on a ship he could be anywhere. “Who took delivery?”
“Don’t know his name. Old guy, horns, white chin whiskers. He was a jerk, arrogant like, still, half a million in hard credits makes up for a lot.”