by VJ Miller Sr
The final chapter of this story. Everything really heats up.
Last time in part three, Iceman has chased Rourke’s car in a commandeered delivery van all over the city
“Do you have another rover?” he repeats firmly.
“Over there. By the wall.”
Across the garage covered by a tarp is another six wheeled, glass enclosed rover. Leaping to it Iceman attempts to clamber aboard but is cut short by a tight grasp by the man on his arm.
“You’re not going anywhere until we’ve made sure you have ample water and supplies.”
Iceman steps up. “I’ve no time.” The man catches his arm once again.
“You’ll have to make time. You can’t go out there till you’re properly outfitted. You’ll need a cooling suit just in case.”
Seeing the futility in wasting time arguing with the man, Iceman yields. “All right all right. Just get on with it.”
Tires screeching on the concrete floor of the garage, the rover fairly rockets out of the dome onto the desert surface a few minutes later as if shot from a cannon. Locating Rourke’s tracks in the sandy surface Iceman careens around rock formations avoiding ancient impact craters.
“You won’t escape me this time.”
Several miles from the dome Iceman is out on the hellish surface kneeling at a cross roads checking for the proper tracks. Climbing back into the cooler environs of the rover he resumes the chase.
“I don’t know where you think you’re going Ben… but you won’t lose me again. Not now. Not ever.”
Iceman’s digital watch shows 10:08 AM.
Later, speeding along the dunes, Iceman sips from his canteen while checking the map; projecting a mental line forward.
“You’ve been moving steadily toward those mountains Ben…. What’s there? Some other means of escape?”
His watch shows 2:48 PM.
While approaching a series of rock outcroppings someone watches; looking down the sight of a hand-held rocket launcher at Iceman’s rover.
The tracks lead through the center of the outcropping. Knowing a perfect place for ambush when he sees it Iceman skirts the rocks; hoping to pick up the trail on the other side. While he scans the rocks for any sign the rear of his rover explodes.
Jamming on the breaks Iceman thrusts open the door and leaps out; the rapidly expanding acrid smoke evoking fits of coughing.
Looking back, he sees the black smoke of the blaze change to white when the automatic extinguishers engage. The fire out, he approaches the smoldering wreck. Maniacal laughter that echoes through the outcropping snaps his head around over the wreck to the top of the rocks.
Shading his darting eyes from the glare he spies the source of the laughter silhouetted against the two suns holding a spent rocket launcher.
Jumping for seclusion behind some boulders Iceman pulls his blaster. Rourke stands haughtily atop the outcropping.
“I knew if I showed myself back there, you’d follow me anywhere. You’re too tenacious for your own good.”
“You want me to come up or are you gonna come down?”
“It’d be suicide trying to get close enough to off you.”
“Don’t tell me you’re afraid Ben.”
“Don’t matter. You’re 400 miles from any help. I’ll just let this hell hole do it for me.”
Amid Rourke’s reverberating laughter Iceman takes a peek in time to see Rourke disappear behind the outcropping. Shortly, his ears alert him to a rover starting and racing away.
Leaving his cover Iceman checks on his vehicle. Wisps of pale smoke drift aimlessly from the cab. The engine is D.O.A., the radio is dead. “Shit!”
Supplies intact he grabs his canteen and the case with the cooling suit; a silver jump suit lined with water filled flexible tubing, a battery powered refrigeration pack and a helmet with tinted visor.
After donning and activating the suit a relieved Iceman reaches into the front seat for his map.
“The nearest cities are too far away…. But here…” He taps a finger on a distant mountain range, “here in the mountains is an air-scrubber station…. Maybe.” Iceman looks to the craggy hills on the horizon. “Sixty miles…. Three days walk.”
Resolved, he plucks his helmet from the seat, tugs it over his head, snaps down the visor and begins his trek. Unknown to him his battery pack is sparking.
5:53 PM; Iceman pauses to check his map.
Soon, plodding along, tugging at his collar to let out excess heat, he realizes the suit has failed. He must get out of it now or be poached alive in his own juices. Unzipping the garment, he tosses it aside; his face exudes vast amounts of sweat, his shirt soaked. Rapid evaporation has a cooling effect but it is fleeting at best.
He drains what water he can from the cooling coils into his canteen; drinking the rest. The suit is useless now though he will keep the helmet; its insulation will keep the suns from poaching his brains inside his skull.
Ripping off his sleeves at the shoulder he opens a tube of sun block from the ration kit; smearing it on all exposed flesh.
The two suns hang high and unmoving in the sky when he approaches another outcropping. Two huge boulders lean together forming a shady space between. Steps slow and heavy he drags himself to shelter; chest heaving as he tries to breathe in the oppressive heat. Sitting back, he eats some while gazing at the distant mountains. His watch shows 12:10 AM.
“I’m gonna survive Ben…. I’ll catch up to you… and pay you back for thisss.” Exhausted from the heat he sleeps fitfully.
The motion sensors in the perimeter alarm of his watch jolt him awake. It is not Rourke come to complete the job rather it is some loose pebbles falling from above that wake him with a start. Half alert, instinct snaps his head around. Nothing is there.
“I’m gonna survive, Ben.”
Like an arthritic old man, he drags himself erect, sips a little water then staggers on toward the mountains.
In her office, Ross speaks to the new Security Chief. “…it’s been two days now and he’s not back yet.”
“He’s radioed in every day to confirm he’s okay.”
“How soon before he contacts you again?”
“Actually, I expect him any minute now—” The radio receiver calls attention to itself. “That should be him now.”
“Chief, this is Iceman. I’ve still not caught Rourke yet…” From his rover, Rourke is mimicking Iceman’s voice using a synthesizer. “Everything is okay here. I’ll call in again tomorrow. Out.” Laughing softly at his subterfuge Rourke shifts into gear and drives off.
Two days growth on his face, lips blistered, eyes half swollen shut, Iceman plods in the soft sand. Feet dragging, each step is nearly a Herculean effort just to maintain balance. His canteen drags in the sand.
Stopping in the shadow of some boulders he sips at his dwindling water supply. Peering at the distant peaks he bows his head meekly and limps on.
It’s 1:45 PM.
Rourke’s tracks, his only guide, he watches them disappear over the rim of a nearby impact crater. Bewildered, which isn’t too hard at this point, he stumbles to the edge and looks over. At the bottom of the crater lying on its side is Rourke’s rover. The slits of Iceman’s eyes widen at the realization.
Heart pounding with hope he crawls over the steep slope on stuttering legs and arms. Slipping, he rolls to the bottom in a heap; seemingly dead, he lays motionless in the broiling sun for several seconds.
Slowly, painfully, he drags himself erect to half walk half crawl to Rourke’s machine. Hope echoes despair finding the rover empty — no supplies — the radio smashed. Making his way to the rear compartment Iceman feels the electric engine, mutters.
“Cool…. Been here a while.” He slides down into the shadow of the rover half crazed. “What happened Ben? You drive too close to the edge… huh?”
Inspiration wafting over his face he makes his way to the rover’s tool compartment. Rummaging through he selects a wrench and returns to the engine compartment. With fading strength, he applies the wrench to a bolt on the bottom of the engine. An all-out effort sapping every erg of his reserve, forces off the plug to the cooling system which even an electric motor needs in this heat. A greenish liquid pours from the drain hole.
Nontoxic but still undrinkable he applies the cooling fluid to his scorched body then closes the drain. Slow to evaporate, the drenching will sustain him for a couple of hours.
Sitting in the shade he has the last of his rations and drifts off to sleep, muttering. “You’re, mine, now— Ben.”
Hours later he wakes fitfully, disoriented, struggling for comprehension. Sipping his last reserves of water, he checks his watch;
He squints at the twin furnaces in the sky then painfully drags himself erect.
“You’re on foot now too…. I’ll catch you now…. You’ll see.” Tensing every quivering muscle he jerks his head skyward, yelling, “YOU HEAR ME ROURKE!”
The echo still reverberates while he reapplies more of the cooling fluid to his body. He must get out of this crater now or risk dying. Slowly, he makes his way up to the crater rim, muttering inanely.
On shaky hands and arms that threaten to fail any second, he drags himself out of the hole. Struggling to extract himself he collapses half out of the crater. Gasping heavily, only his stubborn will drags him over the top of the rim.
On teetering legs, he scrutinizes the ground. Finding boot prints leading away from the rim toward the mountains he follows, muttering. “I’ve got you now.”
Plodding erratically, for another hour stumbling in pursuit, Iceman stops to drink. The canteen is empty but for a few drops he sucks out greedily. Disheartened, he lets the canteen drag by its strap, then let’s go.
He stumbles, crawls, gets up again. Woozy, blurry eyed he checks the time;
Stumbling, he falls to his face unmoving. A couple of breaths later he pulls himself to his knees, drags off his helmet, allowing it to fall free at his side.
Extremely disoriented, through fuzzy vision, he spots a tall rock formation several yards away. From hands and knees his indomitable will forces him to his feet; for the relief of the shadows. Nearly there his tank runs dry and he crashes to his knees then to his face. Lifting his aching head he reaches out as if he could pull the shade to him if he tried hard enough, the world shimmers and fades.
Lying unconscious just short inches from the shadows the twin furnaces beat down unmercifully. They’d won but it hadn’t been an easy victory.
Casual footsteps approach. A shadow falls upon Iceman’s face. Water trickles from above across his cheek.
Revived by the cool moisture his swollen eyes blink open, his tongue reaches out to bring the life-giving fluid across his lips. Rolling on his back the water cools his burning face and eyes. All he can make out is a blur of someone standing over him. They’d found him; he wasn’t going to die; he was saved after all.
Shortly, the blur begins to coalesce, to take form and substance; not into a savior but death incarnate.
“R-Rourke?” comes out in a hoarse croak.
Rourke, blaster in one hand, canteen in the other, stands an arm’s length away. “Still with us…. I was afraid you died on me too soon.”
“You’d have spoiled all my well laid out plans.” Rourke drops the canteen near Iceman’s head.
“What plan?” Iceman pulls the canteen to him, gulps huge amounts then pours more over his head.
“Haven’t you figured that out yet…. I lured you out here to soften you up; to beat you slowly into the dust.”
“What’re you babbling about?” He takes another long swallow. “Now now, let’s not be hasty.” Rourke kneels, making sure to keep his distance. “All in good time. You had to be… eliminated. I knew you’d never be caught off guard…. You’re too good.”
“Gee… thanks. That’s high praise; even from you.”
“Yes, well, I had to beat you… before I killed you.” A so what else is new look forms on Iceman’s face. “I watched you since I left…. When it looked like you were giving up…. I wrecked the rover.”
Perplexed, Iceman props himself on his elbows. “You did that on purpose.”
“Had to. I thought you would have figured this all out by now…. But I guess you were too busy trying to stay alive. You needed some hope of finding me… so you’d waste whatever energy you had left… I was afraid you died when you fell.”
“If you want me dead why save me now?”
Rourke’s gleeful look turns to a sneer. “So I can kill you myself.” Iceman’s face contorts. “I know what I said when I blew up your rover…. I lied.”
“Cut to the chase Ben.”
“It’s obvious, isn’t it?” Rourke levels his blaster in Iceman’s face. “You’ve been the target all along.” Rourke eases himself erect. “I never told Janst; the blabbermouth.”
“Who hired you?”
“An old bounty you tracked down…. Truthfully… I’d just as soon avoided you like the plague.”
“So why didn’t you?”
“Greed…. I’d accepted the money, which was quite substantial, before I knew the target.”
“Gloria was just a ruse.”
“Only partly. The Corp. still wants her dead. She was the perfect smoke screen to keep you off guard to my primary plan. I just thought I’d kill two birds with one moon.”
“And that opportunistic weasel, Blinch, set me up for you.”
“Not on purpose. I just laid out the rumor once I heard you’d be on Rigel.” At least that much made Iceman at ease; knowing an old friend hadn’t collected his 30 pieces of silver. “Now. Look to your right.”
Iceman obliges cautiously. About six feet away, laying in the sand, is his blaster. “What’s that for?”
“I took it from you while you were out…. It works. I’ve not disabled it…. A man like you deserves a fighting chance.”
Iceman can’t help but be sardonic. “A fighting chance. That’s a first for you…. Whatsa matter? Getting mellow in your old age?”
Rourke feigns whimsy. “I don’t know…. Maybe I’ll do it from now on…. It’s given me quite the rush.” He grins briefly. “Now, you can just lie there and allow me to blast you into atoms… and spoil my day…. Or you can go for it.”
Pondering options, something behind his enemy catches Iceman’s attention. He is careful not to alert Rourke.
“Go on. Try for it. Maybe my first shot will miss.”
“Not today, Ben. I’m kinda tired and I’d just as soon not.”
“I’m disappointed in you.”
Laying back slowly, stalling for time, Iceman clasps his hands behind his head, crossing his feet; unemotional.
“You’ve had as much fun as you’ll get from me…. Now. If you’re through yappin’… get on with it. You’re turning my stomach.”
“Well, if you insist.” Dismayed, Rourke takes steady aim at Iceman’s head. “It would have been so much more fun if you had tried…”
Without warning, both men are rapidly engulfed in utter blackness; the twice monthly eclipse Iceman saw coming had begun. Caught off guard, Rourke is blind until his eyes can adjust to the gloom. Assuming Iceman’s intent he fires blindly where he’d left Iceman’s weapon.
Intuitively, Iceman has rolled the other way. Unaware, Rourke knows nothing of Iceman’s bio-mech eye and his night vision. Forcing himself to get up Iceman circles behind his adversary, mustering up a feeble if effective roundhouse kick to Rourke’s back. Sent sprawling, Rourke loses his weapon.
Iceman dives for his own blaster in the sand. From a kneeling position he discovers the weapon doesn’t work. “You lying bastard!” comes out through clenched teeth.
Groping in the dark Rourke has found his own gun. Knowing he hasn’t the stamina to commit to hand-to-hand combat Iceman opts to scramble for the relative safety of the rocks. Climbing for all he’s worth.
On his knees Rourke fires blindly at the retreating footsteps in the soft soil while groping for the light switch on the side of his helmet. Activated, the beam flicks about where Rourke searches.
Caught in the powerful light beam Iceman scrambles about; dodging random shots from Rourke that explode the rocks beside him. Climbing higher he disappears in the shadows. Rourke cursing while he races after.
Finding a huge rock for cover Iceman waits in ambush. When Rourke passes Iceman grabs him from behind in a deathly struggle. A fatal error perhaps when Rourke gains the upper hand, shoving Iceman back between two boulders.”
“Die, mother fucker!”
“Not today, Ben,” he says in desperation while he kicks out with his foot sending the gun free of Rourke’s grasp deep into a tiny crevice. Another kick to the chest launches Rourke backwards. Momentarily free, Iceman scrambles higher up the rock face.
Searching for his gun Rourke curses when he cannot retrieve it from the tiny confines. Crazed, he leaps after his quarry.
Higher, ever higher the adversaries scramble up the rocks.
Reaching the top, a small plateau, Iceman runs and stumbles at the edge of a 300-foot drop. Pulling back, he spies Rourke climbing rapidly after him.
His mind scratching for ideas his hand comes to rest on a head sized rock. Hefting it quickly he hurls it at Rourke; just missing.
“Where’s your blaster Ben? You lose it?”
“I don’t need it to finish you,” Rourke yells while ducking more projectiles.
“So come and get me if you can.”
Rourke climbs ever faster amid a salvo of loose rock. One grazes his helmet, smashing the light.
His sole advantage, his ability to see in the dark, Iceman changes his tactics; allowing Rourke to make the summit, tripping him when he passes. He is content to stick and move, never staying close to Rourke; hoping to disorient him and wear him down. But depleted as he is Iceman’s blows are feeble.
Unsteady, Iceman stumbles into his enemies grasp. Refusing to lose contact Rourke holds on to Iceman’s shirt while raining blows upon him with his free hand, feet, knees, whatever, unmercifully: Iceman can only roll with the punches. Bloody, battered and bruised, Iceman is about to go down for the count. His years long war with Rourke about to be lost because he could not outthink him this one time.
Sensing victory, in a euphoric episode, Rourke flips Iceman over his back; a fatal mistake.
Iceman bounces to the edge of the precipice, stopped only by his heels digging into a rock projecting up from the rim. Breathing heavily, Rourke, having lost sight of Iceman, frantically searches for him in the ebony gloom.
Dazed and exhausted he has been given one last chance; he must not squander it. Iceman forces himself to his feet. Hearing the rustling in the sandy soil Rourke moves in that direction; never realizing he has passed Iceman in the dark. Nearly stepping off the cliff he senses where he is and pulls back from the edge.
Crouched in the dark Iceman musters a supreme effort. If he fails now, if he misses his target, it is all over; he’ll never get another chance. Uncoiling his depleted physique, leaping as high as chattering legs will allow, spinning, thrusting out in a perfect arc, employing every last erg, leaving nothing behind in reserve, Iceman plants a heavy boot squarely in the middle of Rourke’s spine launching the killer of countless untold men over the edge into nothingness. Rourke screams all the way down; punctuated by a dull thud when he hits bottom.
Rolling over, crawling to the edge, Iceman peers over the cliff. Rourke lays broken, silenced forever in the sand.
Bright lights and stars invade Iceman’s vision. He collapses at the brink of doom; one arm hanging limply over the edge. His bio-mech eye glows softly in the inky gloom as he blacks out.
The first dim, low angle rays of the suns returning from eclipse play across the unconscious form of Iceman. The temperature having dropped some 60 degrees, wafts a cool breeze across his face. He stirs, blinks, struggles to comprehend his inside out world. Slowly he is aware of his peril, dangling precariously close to his own mortality; a bitter irony should he fall after surviving his ordeal. Super-human effort coupled with his stubborn will push him away from the precipice to a kneeling position.
Throwing his head back he gasps for air. Gingerly, he brings himself to creep to the edge once more and look over. Rourke remains on his face in the sand below.
He knows he must get down quickly. In minutes the temperature will rise sharply and begin to suck what life is left out of him. Standing on painful, stuttering legs he takes another deep breath then makes his way down.
Descending gingerly, a tight grip on each boulder as he makes his way ever downward, never stopping to rest.
Arriving at the bottom of the cliff the air is already approaching one hundred degrees. He staggers and stumbles to Rourke’s broken body.
He kneels and pulls Rourke’s limp body toward him. Dried blood cakes the nostrils and mouth. The body moans; Rourke is still alive. Barely.
“Still with us Ben?”
Iceman cradles Rourke’s head in his hand after he removes his helmet. Rourke coughs and whispers hoarsely.
“Not for long…. Looks like you win— after all.” Short coughs punctuate his words. “I shoulda—” He succumbs to a major coughing spasm. “I shoulda killed you— when I— when I had the— chance.”
“Ben… BEN! Who hired you?”
Rourke feebly motions Iceman close. When he nears, Rourke launches a bloody saliva projectile that splatters off Iceman’s chin and erupts across his neck and cheek. Jerking back in disgust, Iceman wipes the gooey mess from his face with the back of his hand. He sneers.
Rourke bursts into giddy laughter only a lunatic can muster. Then amidst much coughing and spasms the Grim Reaper claims his instrument of death.
Leaning in close to Rourke a placid face Iceman avers softly, “You never had a chance,” then pulls back to a kneeling position.
“I’m going to find who hired you…. And when I do…. And since I need this more than you…” Iceman begins to remove Rourke’s still intact cooling suit.
Minutes later, Iceman has finished zipping himself into Rourke’s suit. “Ahhhh. That’s much better. Thanks pal.” He pauses to have a few last words over the body. “Only one bounty I ever brought in would have the money for your fee. I’m sure he’ll be eager to see me.” Iceman pulls on the helmet and snaps down the visor. “So long, Buddy.”
Turning his back Iceman treads off toward the mountains.
Three hours later he finds and proceeds up the pass to the automated air-scrubber station.
In the galley Iceman helps himself to stored food and drinks lots and lots of water. Afterward, he takes a long invigorating shower and shave.
Finding fresh clothes in the locker room, he dresses and lies on a bench for a much needed and well-deserved sleep.
Recharged, he finds an extra rover in the garage; the station has kept the batteries fully charged. He goes to the radio to call in to the Security Office.
“This is Iceman calling.” There is a pause of several seconds then the Chief returns the call.
“We were getting worried. You haven’t checked in for days.”
“Radio was smashed when Rourke blew up my rover.”
“Are you alright?”
“I’m at the station and found the extra rover.”
“What about, Rourke?”
“Dead. I’ll tell you all about it when I get back.”
Iceman stocks the rover with supplies then speeds out the door and down the pass.
It will take most of two days and half of the next to get to Boom Town after retrieving Rourke’s body. Once there he’ll be on a transport as soon as possible. His goodbyes will be quite short. He’s anxious to reacquaint himself with an old bounty; one who’s going to have to look down the steely glare of… ICEMAN.