by VJ Miller, Sr.
An interstellar bounty hunter is lured into a deadly game of hide & seek on a desert mining moon. He must survive burning sands and intense heat to capture an assassin or die trying
Last time: Iceman took a cab to the Security Bldg. and accused the cabby of trying to swindle him…
The interior of the Security Bldg. building belies the ancient appearance of the exterior. High tech, sleek lines, polished finish. Electronic equipment rests proudly from every nook and cranny. Everywhere it is well lit and clean.
On approaching the Info Officer, Iceman is put in mind of a scrawny chicken in baggy clothes. This guy looked like he hadn’t eaten in a long while which was a paradox in itself. As a matter of fact, he was stuffing a foot long sandwich in his mouth.
“I’d like to speak to the Security Chief.”
Chewing and swallowing he answered with half a mouthful; little bits of roll, lettuce and tomato spraying freely. “I’m sorry but—”
“You just tell him Iceman wants to see him.”
The wad in the officer’s mouth hangs half in transit as he forces it down. Ashen faced, he fumbles with the intercom while Iceman stands stoically.
The harsh voice of Melvyn Janst crackles from the intercom. “What is it?”
“Someone to see you.”
“I told you—”
“It, it’s Iceman Sir.”
“Christ man. Whyn’t you say so right away. Send him in.”
“You can go right in, Sir.”
Iceman peers in silence in the direction the officer points; to a door across the room.
Janst, 45, average height, balding and overweight, flings open the door. Doughnut in hand he is all sweetness when he greets the approaching visitor. “Iceman. Glad to meetcha.”
Glancing at his hand Janst realizes the doughnut is still in it. Hesitant, he stuffs the pastry in his mouth, wipes his sugary hand on his shirt and thrusts it out again.
Iceman pauses in the doorway, hands in pockets. Caught in a faux pas Janst holds the door wider. “Cum mim,” exits around a mouthful of cream filled; reinforcing he’s an ass. Janst removes the doughnut from his mouth. “Ahum. Come in, come in please.”
Iceman steps in a few feet, obligating Janst to walk around him to his desk.
“Please, have a seat.” Iceman defers. Janst hesitates, his hand orphaned in air once again he jerkily retrieves it before he sits haltingly. “Y-know, you’re quite notorious around the galaxy. I hear you killed a number of people.”
“Pure exaggeration,” he replies, scanning the room that appears to double as the cafeteria. “I haven’t killed anyone in years. I prefer to bring them in alive.”
“Well, maybe your rep is a little overrated.”
Iceman’s annoyed eyebrow raises slightly. “Oh, I’m prepared to kill if necessary…. Especially obnoxious little fat men,” he says glaring straight at Janst.
Janst’s doughnut and jaw drop simultaneously. Chastised, he changes the subject. “Ahum. What did you want to see me about?”
Iceman produces Rourke’s holo and activates the disk. “I’m searching for this man. His trail led me here.”
Janst’s eyes widen slightly. “What can I do?”
“I need you to alert your staff that he should be arrested.”
Janst’s slow shaking head halts Iceman. “No can do.”
“He’s done nothing wrong here.”
Iceman chokes down his intensity. “He’s a hired killer man! The galaxies top assassin!”
“Look. My hands are tied in such matters.”
“This moon isn’t like other planets. It’s owned by the Corp. We’re just a security force hired to keep the peace.”
Iceman retrieves his holo; placing it in his pocket. “Then you’ll stay out of my way?”
“By galactic agreement, as a licensed Hunter, I’m obligated to give you some leeway. My office won’t interfere.”
Frozen darts shoot from Iceman’s eyes while Janst rises. Accepting the uselessness of remaining any longer, Iceman stalks off, leaving the door open. Janst hustles around the desk to make sure he’s gone.
Iceman strides past the dumbfounded Info Officer checking with a colleague. He has a final if inaudible comment, “Asshole.”
Closing his door, Janst scurries to his vid-phone, punches in rapid fire numbers and fidgets while the connection is made. Rourke’s face fills the screen. “He was here,” gurgles Janst.
“Asking about me I’ll bet…. You know what to do.”
“I should tell her…. To cover my ass that is.”
“Don’t bother. It’s a safe bet he’s on his way to her right now. He’ll tell her.”
“Whatever you say. Out”
Janst disengages; Rourke’s image fades out. Leaning back in his chair Janst places his fingertips together. His pudgy face curling into an insipid smirk.
Back On the Street:
Iceman emerges to increased foot traffic; the cab is just where he left it. Scanning all around, he boards the waiting cab. The driver, listening to head phones, feels Iceman’s firm rap on his shoulder. “Take me to the Union Offices.”
“You know, I turned away a half dozen fares waiting for you.”
“At these prices? Get real. Now drive.”
“Anything you say friend.”
The cab slowly merges into the moderate traffic.
“What do you know about the Security Force here?”
“Not much friend. They keep the peace for the most part.
“Well, if someone causes a lot of trouble they’re fired and kicked off the moon.”
“You see friend, most everyone works for the Corp. in some way; even myself…. They own it all.”
“Including the Union Building?”
“Uh uh. That’s the only thing they don’t own. That and the utilities.”
“Oh…. How come?”
“To keep the Corp. from gouging their employees too much. Plus it keeps ‘em from turning off service to troublemakers.”
The cab grinds to a halt before the Interstellar Federation of Labor.
“Well, here we are friend.”
Iceman steps out then sticks his head in the front window to pay the fare.
“You want I should wait friend?”
“No. I’m gonna be a while.”
“Okay friend. Have a good one.”
Iceman drinks in the building while the cab departs. Satisfied, he enters the offices.
Pausing in the lobby he mentally notes all the doors, windows and obstacles around the floor. Finding the Info Board his finger runs along the list stopping at G. Ross.
A female guard, portly, hair in a bun, wearing glasses and a tight, I’m bigger than I want to believe, Union Security uniform, sits behind a horseshoe counter amid monitors and computer terminals. She takes little notice of Iceman until he calls to her.
“Excuse me. I’d like to see the Union President but I don’t have an appointment.”
“Then you wasted a trip honey. No one gets in without one.”
“My business is urgent.”
“And I need this job. Now, give me your name and I’ll see where we can fit you in.”
“It’s Fred Sinclair.”
“And the nature of your business?”
“If you want a job you have to go to Personnel…”
“I’m not looking for a job. I’m talking about personal security and the death threats that are being given.”
She throws him a disdainful glare. “And just what do you think we’re here for?”
“To get fat asses and harass visitors.”
“I can have your tight butt hauled out of here in two seconds.”
“You can try, you mean. Now look. What I have to say is urgent. Call upstairs. The President will want to see me.”
“I’ll say one thing for you, you got balls mister. All right. I’ll do it. Then I’ll get the thrill of tossing your butt out.”
She dons her headset then speaks into the intercom. “This is the Security Desk. I got a Mr. Fred Sinclair down here who says he has urgent business with Ross…. No, he’s not on the list.” Impatience swarms over Iceman’s face while the guard listens and nods. “Okay but he ain’t gonna like it.” She looks at Iceman. “You’ll have to make an appointment for later…”
“Your Boss could be dead later!”
Taken aback, the guard speaks into the headset. “He says you could be dead later.” Listening intently, the guard nods. Finished, she hands Iceman a visitors pass. “Take the elevator up to the third floor. The receptionist will let you in.”
“Now you’re getting smart.” Pinning on the badge while he goes, Iceman boards the car to the upper floors.
The third floor is: spacious, futuristic, plush, brightly colored; paintings and plants abound. Soft music wafts from several speakers.
Emerging from the elevator, Iceman remarks at the difference in the floors. Firm steps take him to the receptionist, Amy.
Desk full of work, busily typing, Amy is a looker, dazzling in a candy apple red, knit mini dress that hugs her curves, showing off her long graceful legs. Equally long graceful blond hair frames her face, cascading down her shoulders.
“I’m here to see G. Ross,” says an impatient Iceman.
“Mr. Sinclair. You’re to go right in.”
Amy precedes him to the door, holding it open for Iceman who drinks her in appreciatively.
Ross’ office mirrors the outer office. Bookshelves line one wall. A niche in one corner houses a coffee pot, refrigerator and microwave. The outer wall is glass floor to ceiling. The scent of Chanel lies just behind the mild aroma of lilac.
Before the glass expanse sits a huge acrylic free form desk. Behind it, a high-backed black leather chair. In front of the desk, back to the door, is Gloria Ross.
Iceman strolls in, takes one last leer at Amy while she closes the door then is aware of Ross.
“I was told G. Ross was in here.”
Ross turns, looks Iceman up and down, removes her glasses and taps the arm to her bottom lip. “I am G. Ross. Gloria Ross to be exact.” Extending her hand, Iceman waxes bemused when he takes her tiny hand in his huge grasp. “What? Are you surprised to see a woman in this job?”
“Not at all. I just assumed otherwise.”
She smiles pretentiously, retrieving her hand. “Now, what is it you want of me Mr. Sinclair?”
“To prevent your early death.”
“Oh, that.” Annoyed, she swaggers behind her desk leaving Iceman to relocate in front of it. “Security did say I’d be dead later if I didn’t see you right away…. I’m so sick of these threats.”
“It’s no threat. He’s here right now.”
“Oh please. You expect me to believe the galaxies top assassin is out to get small potatoes like me?” She turns her back on Iceman to face the expanse of glass, arms folded.
“If the price is right.”
Ross turns half around at the waist. “And just who is paying him?”
“Rumor has it the Corp. is…”
Testy, she cuts him off. “Rumors. That’s all it is. Just rumors,” she bites off as if trying to convince herself more. She turns back to the glass.
Determined steps bring Iceman around the desk to a place beside her. “No matter what you think, he is here.”
“Oh, then you’ve seen him.”
“Not yet, but…”
She glares harshly into Iceman’s face. “No! Well, when you do, tell him to make an appointment and I’ll see him when it’s convenient!”
“If that’s a joke it ain’t funny.”
“I’ve got a job to do here; I’ve no time to be funny…. What you have to say I have no time for.”
“At least hire a bodyguard.”
“Certainly not!” Iceman’s rebuttal is stillborn. “I said No!” she reaffirms.
“For a smart lady you’re awful stupid.”
Ross looms nose to nose with her tormentor. “Look! Mr. Ice-man…” His eyebrow elevates at the utterance of his working title. “Are you surprised I know your alias? Your rep precedes you. How the hell do you think you got up here in the first place? Now, I’ll decide what’s best for me.” She retreats to the window; Iceman counters.
“You don’t know what Rourke is capable of. He doesn’t just kill people. He gets them alone then scares the hell out of them.” Ross attempts a reply but is cut off, mouth open. “When they’re just about to die of fright then he kills them. Taking great delight in the process. The man’s a narcissist and a sociopath!”
Ross finally breaks into Iceman’s warning. “And this from a real nutzoid who flies around playing Buck Rodgers.”
“It’s a living.”
She stomps around Iceman to the niche to pour a cup of coffee. Iceman follows half way. She gulps and is calmer. “So, if this… Rourke is on the moon already why hasn’t he been here?” She jostles past Iceman to her desk where she places the mug down.
“He may already have.”
She pulls up short. “What do you mean?”
“He’ll study your habits getting a pattern. When he’s ready, he’ll come.”
“Oh. You’re an expert on him?”
“I’ve had to clean up in his wake. He left a Duchess on Tantus sliced crotch to clavicle. You’d best believe he’s capable of anything.”
Revolted at the mental image, stomach roiling, fighting down bile, her bottom lip curls down tightly at the corners. “Yes… well I think this interview is over.”
“Mark my words, he’ll be here.”
She stalks around to her door and yanks it open. “As I said…. This interview is over.”
Iceman strides to the door, halting in front of Ross. “You’ll alert your security?”
Iceman steps out, pausing to leave a warning. “Better hope I find him before he finds you.”
Ross delivers a last stoic glare then slowly closes the door in Iceman’s face. Briefly stunned with disbelief, shaking his head he turns leisurely toward the receptionist.
“She’s one tough cookie,” says Amy to Iceman’s back.
He stalks past her leaving a stern warning. “She’ll be crumbs if she ignores me.”
Amy shakes her head slowly and resumes typing while Iceman boards the elevator to the street level.
At Rourke’s Current Apartment:
Rourke, stripped to the waist, stands before the wall mirror in his room. Face lathered up, he shaves with an old fashioned straight razor. The scrape of the cold steel close to so many vital vessels is almost cathartic to him.
A disturbing knock at the door causes Rourke to nick himself. Pissed, he sets the razor aside takes his blaster to the door and challenges the caller. “Who is it?”
“It’s me, Rourke…. Janst.”
“Damn dumbass,” he says under his breath. Rourke flings open the door, drags Janst inside and shoves him on the bed. “What kinda God damned fool are you? I told you never to come here!”
“I wanna know if I’m gonna be protected from Iceman.”
Rourke grins like a Cheshire Cat and softens somewhat. “Oh, him. Not to worry. He’ll be no problem.”
“So you say. But…”
“No buts.” Rourke holsters his blaster then resumes shaving; watching Janst in the mirror. “I’ll eliminate Ross and be off this oven before he’s aware I’ve got her pattern down.”
‘When is none of your business. She works late a lot. I’ll sneak in, blast her and be gone.”
“Fine for you but who’s gonna pay me for looking the other way?”
Finished shaving, Rourke wipes the blade on the towel about his neck. “The Corp. will take care of you. That’s the deal.”
“That’s not good enough. I want other assurances.”
A lightning move too swift to follow has Janst’s hair in Rourke’s left hand while the razor in his right sits poised lightly against Janst’s carotid. “Listen, you whiny little bastard! I work alone. But the Corp. insisted you’d be useful, so I allowed it. All you gotta do is keep your mouth shut!”
“I still want assurances.”
Amused, Rourke answers softly. “Assurances. I’ll give you assurances…. I assure you that you’re lucky I never kill anyone without being paid. But you’re close to being the exception.”
“All right… all right. We’ll play it your way for now.”
Rourke’s deadly glare changes to his Cheshire Cat grin. Yanking away the razor he nicks Janst’s puffy earlobe. Janst yowls, grabbing for his ear; blood returns on his fingertips.
“What the fuckja do that for?”
Rourke wipes his face then the razor on his towel; smiling. “Call it a prelude…. A prelude to what can happen if you annoy me again…. Now, get out.”
Reaching about the bed for his hat Janst locks his eyes on Rourke who holds open the door. Hat in hand, reaching for his bloody ear, Janst pauses at the door leaving an idle threat. “I won’t forget this too soon.” Jamming his hat on his head Janst stomps off while Rourke firmly closes the door.
Returning to his apartment Iceman flips on the TV. Once again, the same female interviewer relates a recorded interview with Gloria Ross. “…and you feel this will bring you and your union victory?”
“We only have one goal at this time…. To bring the Corp. to its knees.”
Mildly grimacing, Iceman shakes his head. “You got some balls lady…. And it’s gonna get you killed if I can’t find Rourke in time.”
“I am still willing to negotiate…”
Back to Rourke’s:
In Rourke’s room the same scene plays on his TV. “… It’s up to the Corp. now. The next move is theirs.”
The screen blanks out after Rourke turns off the set and stands grinning. “Enjoy it while you can Ross… ‘cause tomorrow you’ll be dead.” That said he cannot contain his mild laughter.
The Next Day:
At her office Ross pours over paperwork while lighthearted Amy pops her head in the door. “Everyone’s gone home and I’m outta here. You be okay?”
Ross answers without looking up. “I’m fine Amy. Good night.”
“Are you going to be working till all hours again?”
“You’re gonna die at that desk from working late every day.”
Ross prepares to say something snide, thinks better, and replies through lightly clenched teeth. “Good night Amy.”
“Later.” Closing the door Amy leaves Ross to reflect pensively. Shaking her head she returns to her work.
Rourke meticulously, almost ritually, checks the charge in his blaster before jamming it into his shoulder holster. Zipping his coat he checks to see that the hallway is empty then slinks past the elevator to the back stairs.
Still hard at it Ross is alerted by a slight noise from the outer office. Listening intently she dismisses it before stepping to the niche for more coffee. Something from the outer office alerts her once more. Setting her mug down she steps to the door and without hesitation opens it and pokes her head out.
The dimly lit office appears normal. Thoughtful, she returns to her mug and sips the hot brew. From there she returns to her chair to resume working.
Rourke briskly wends his way from the back exit of his apartment to his waiting car in the alley. Scanning the alley in each direction he jumps in the vehicle and speeds off.
Yawning and stretching, Ross strolls, mug in hand, and faces the glass wall; peering out at the dusty city while she sips.
Knowing the auto and pedestrian traffic would be light this time-of-day Rourke brazenly parks directly in front of the Union Building. Ever alert, he makes his way briskly into the foyer.
Checking the dim lobby he ignores the guard, having dinner while watching TV in an unlit alcove then steps cat-like to the maintenance room door.
Checking the area while assuring he’s not been spotted; he produces a pass key and quickly ducks inside the room.
Gauges, switches and circuitry panels abound. Referring to his schematics he steps quickly from panel to panel disabling the Security, Communications and Elevator systems. Satisfied he returns to the lobby where the guard is still preoccupied. It would be so easy to sneak up on him and slit his throat… but that would take the thrill out of the hunt.
Furtive steps bring him quickly to the stairwell door beside the elevator. Once through, the door closer tugs the knob from Rourke’s grasp; closing with a click. Rourke ducks.
Alerted, the guard stands to survey the room. Shrugging he returns to his TV and plate of nuked spaghetti and clam sauce.
Grinning, Rourke wends his way on tip toe up the stairs; blaster in hand.
Still at the glass sipping her coffee, Ross spies a speck on the glass. Halfheartedly, she scratches at it with a fingernail.
Rourke ascends the last few steps to the third-floor door and peeks cautiously into the dimly lit area. Spying no one he inches out into the receptionist area, around the furniture and plants to Ross’ door. His breathing heavy in his ear, his blood warming, he is almost giddy as he nears the end of the hunt.
Grasping the knob firmly he opens the door a crack. In the bright room Ross continues to gaze out the window unmindful. The light plays a vertical line along Rourke’s face. He leers appreciatively for a second then thrusts open the door and steps in.
“Good day Ms. Ross,” he says casually.
Startled, Ross whirls around. “What?… Who the hell are you…. Get out!”
“Not until I finish my business.”
“Why… to relieve you of the burden of your… life.” The last word spoken so casually it makes it seem insignificant.
Rourke waggles his blaster. “I’ve been paid to… get you out of the way.”
Ross strides briskly to the Security button on her desk. “We’ll see what Security has to say about that…”
“I wouldn’t bother Ms. Ross.” She presses the button several times. “I’m afraid you’ll find it’s… disconnected.” Ross reaches for the phone. “It’s out too.”
Shoving the phone aside, she returns her disdain to her visitor. “Looks like you hold all the cards mister?…”
“Rourke… is the name…. Yes… yes I do.”
Against the expected norm she is cocky rather than fearful. “Who’s paying you… the Corp.?”
“Since you’re going to die soon I guess it won’t hurt…. Yes… yes they did.”
“Those dirty fucking bastards!” She stalks back to her previous spot by the window and leans with her back on the glass.
“Tch tch, Ms. Ross. Is that any way for a lady to talk?”
“If I’m the one who’s gonna die here I’ll talk any damn way I please.”
“Bravo Ms. Ross. You’re an icy bitch. I’m impressed…. I’m gonna hate to kill you.”
“What? Remorse from a cold-blooded assassin. Oh please.”
“Now, now. I must admit, my targets usually beg for mercy about now… or at least sweat heavily…. I kinda like that.”
Ross folds her arms and glares at the amused Rourke. “Well, you won’t get your jollies from me. So, if you’re done flappin’ your lip, get on with it.”
“Oh now I know I’m gonna hate doing this… but if you insist.
Dragging out the suspense, raising his blaster to arm’s length, Rourke places both hands on his weapon. Taking careful aim and a solid stance he points the implement of death right at her head.
Eyes widening in anticipation, Ross stands stoically. Rourke’s finger tightens sloth-like on the firing stud. “Good bye Ms. Ross.” Now he whispers. “Time to die.”
Ross’ high-backed chair which faced away from Rourke slowly rotates to face him. Occupying it is Iceman, his blaster leveled on Rourke.
“I think not Ben.”
Re-aiming his attention to Iceman while holding his gun on Ross, Rourke waxes amused. “Fred Sinclair…. My old buddy, the Ice-man.”
“At your service.”
“I was told you were in town… but not this close.”
“Just lucky I guess. I came to talk some sense into Gloria. When I heard you come in I sat in the chair. The rest you know.”
“You took quite a chance. Why not blast me as soon as I came in?”
Subtly, Ross inches toward the niche while Rourke fingers the stud of his weapon still pointed at her.
“Calculated risk…. You never were a hit and run artist. Your M.O. betrays you. I’d hoped if we got you talking you’d tell us who hired you. And you did.”
“But if you’re both dead… what’s it gonna matter?”
“That’s assuming you can kill us both.”
“So. Whatta, we do now?”
“Looks like a standoff to me.” They glare intently at each other. “You take your eye off me to shoot her, I get you.”
While the two adversaries are occupied, Ross has arrived at the niche. There she firmly grasps the handle of the glass coffee pot, lifting it gingerly. In spite of her stealth, she has not gone unnoticed.
“I wouldn’t do that Ms. Ross,” says Rourke, still glaring at Iceman. She freezes with the pot poised at shoulder height. “Though I’m watching your hero here… I still know where you are…. Now, if you would be so kind…. Put the pot down.”
Briefly locked in indecision, she puts the pot down, firmly. “Damn!” exits through clenched teeth.
“Very good Ben. You haven’t lost your touch.”
“You’ll never be there when I do.” Iceman shrugs. “Now, I could shoot you first…”
“But as I died I might shoot you out of reflex.”
“I know your rep too, y-know. Your blaster is always on stun…. So after I come to I’ll escape and…”
“Uh uh. Not this time…. Just for you it’s set on full; widest spread…. It’ll take out you and half the wall.”
Rourke nods knowingly. Their eyes locked in stoic silence.
Unexpectedly, the sky rapidly darkens. So rapid Iceman’s reflexes jerk his head around to the glass. Instantly aware of his mortal danger he dives for cover under the desk while a stabbing beam of red laser light takes out the top of the chair, opening a two-foot hole in the glass wall.
A second beam of light stabs over a yelping Ross who has leapt onto the floor while Rourke fires blindly in the dark.
Iceman rolls from behind the desk to fire at Rourke’s last position, but he hasn’t stayed to be shot at.
“Give it up Ben.” Barking to Ross he says, “Stay put.”
Hustling to the door he pauses to check for ambush. Rourke has hurdled the furniture, careened to the stairwell door and rockets down the stairs.
Having poked his head out her door, Iceman scrutinizes the area then moves out with rapid caution.
The elevator disabled; Iceman slams his fist on the door. Running to the stairwell he does not see the watchman alerted by the noise until it is too late to avoid a collision. Both are sent sprawling.
Separated from his weapon, Iceman jumps to his feet to retrieve it, while cursing. Finding his gun Iceman races past the woozy watchman to the elevator once more.
Jamming his weapon in his holster, Iceman sets about the task of opening the elevator doors with his leather gloved hands.
Rourke, descending the stairs in great leaps, is halfway to the street level. A female security guard alerted to the commotion draws her weapon to challenge Rourke. “HALT!”
Without hesitation or regret he blasts the guard on the fly, rendering her to ionized atoms. The air crackles; the hairs on his arms bristle as he continues through where the guard once stood.
Grimacing, muscles bulging, Iceman strains at the stubborn elevator doors. Reluctantly, the doors yield to his relentless pressure.
As hoped, the car is raised on old style cables rather than magnetic induction. Tugging at his gloves he barks at the watchman, “Go check on Ross!” Leaping to the center cable, Iceman descends rapidly; the cable sliding through his hands.
Racing hell bent for leather, Rourke stumbles, rolling down half a flight; he crashes into the landing wall.
Iceman continues his frantic slide to the top of the elevator car stalled on the first floor. Ripping off the access hatch he drops into the car.
Gaining his feet Rourke continues his escape attempt.
Adrenal glands locked full on Iceman pries at the doors of the elevator car; they surrender begrudgingly to his insistence.
Reaching the last landing Rourke flings open the door and races out into the lobby. He bursts from the stairwell while Iceman has succeeded in opening the elevator door.
Hurdling furniture he tackles Rourke, bone and ligaments pop. Both skid across the waxed marble floor; slamming into a tall stand of potted ferns. Covered in loose soil and foliage they drag each other up; wrestling for advantage; exchanging blows.
“Give it up Ben!”
Scuffling, pushing, shoving, they twist, turn and rumble through the chairs, tables and desks. A brief opening, a slight advantage; Rourke shoves Iceman over a desk into a filing cabinet which topples over; pinning him to the floor.
Hesitant for a heartbeat, Rourke retrieves his weapon from the floor. Iceman would have been toast if not for the sacrifice of another of the Security force. Had her hand not been shaking with trepidation she might have ended Rourke’s private reign of terror right then and there. Instead, her aim was high and outside allowing Rourke the split second needed to whirl, aim and fire; dispersing her atomic structure to the ether.
Another time, another place; this venue did not sit with Rourke; and with the entire security force alerted and possibly closing in Rourke broke off the conflict. Hurdling furniture he raced for the door; out into the strange night.
Bursting from the Union Building long strides carry him to his car; jumping behind the wheel Rourke careened along the darkened boulevard.
Inside, Iceman has managed to extricate himself from his restraints. Leaping over the clutter to the entrance he races out into the middle of the street where he is helpless to do anything save watch his sworn enemy speed away.
Grabbing and rubbing the back of his neck he kicks the ground in frustration. Cursing, he hurries back inside.
Determined, unhurried strides carry him from the lobby to the maintenance room. Studying the panels he re-engages the disabled circuits. Status quo restored he made for the elevator.
By the light of a desk lamp Ross and the watchman straighten her beleaguered office. At first startled, she is relieved to see Iceman’s return.
“Did you get him?”
“No…. He got away.”
He steps to the desk while she flips scraps into the waste basket.
“Oh great! That’s just great! Now what?”
“He’ll be back.”
Ross’ shoulders slump. Standing with her weight on one leg she is incredulous. “He’ll be back!? And what am I supposed to do? Just wait for him to return!”
“He’s relentless. He won’t stop till he’s finished a contract.”
“And what are you gonna do?”
“I’ll be here as much as I can.”
Animated, near hysteria, Ross looms in Iceman’s face. “You’ll be here!… You were here tonight; and what good did it do?… Look at my trashed office! My window has a friggin’ big hole in it! Shit…”
Frustrated from Rourke’s escape, Iceman lets loose; nose to nose with Ross, pointing to the gaping hole in the glass. “That fucking window could have been you lady!” Startled by his assault, Ross jumps reflexively; biting her lower lip. “If I hadn’t been here you wouldn’t be now.”
Struck speechless, her tough façade shows chinks. Tears try to well up; she fights them back. Sitting on the edge of the desk she dabs at her moist eyes. A deep breath brings calm relief.
“Here you’ve saved my life and all I’ve been is ungrateful.”
Seeing the need, Iceman changes the subject. “What happened out there? I thought the suns never set.”
Regaining some composure she off handedly replies. “Oh that…. This time of year, every 15 days the moon is eclipsed by Renquiste Three out there for about eight hours. You live here long enough you tend to forget about it.”
Stepping to the hole in the window, Iceman peers pensively into the gloom. Ross joins him, placing a hand on his shoulder.
“It nearly cost us our lives…. What else should I know about this moon?”
“Look. Why don’t we leave this mess to Maintenance and I’ll explain as we go.”
Ross takes Iceman’s arm; urging him from the window. “I’ve a penthouse one floor up.”
Iceman relents albeit hesitantly. When they approach the door to her office they are met by another guard.
“Everything all right Ms. Ross?”
“Fine Harry. Get Maintenance on this right away.”
The guard nods then joins the watchman to compare notes.
Ross and Iceman amble through the outer office down the hall to her private elevator.
“This moon was first exploited a hundred years ago. Domes were initially raised to keep the atmosphere in and the heat out.”
“How hot can it get out there?”
“About 145 F. You can’t go out without a cooling suit. The only respite are the eclipses. It’s so mineral rich they gave it its own atmosphere 50 years ago.”
“I thought it had its own.”
Uh uh. They did it to facilitate working and doing surveys. Since no foliage can survive out there air-scrubber stations were erected to keep it clean.”
The elevator opens directly into the suite which is as plush and lush as her office, only more so. She’s a plant freak.
“What’s it like in the mines.”
“The crews work six-hour shifts, eight days on, one off…. Have a seat.”
Shedding his jacket and holster on a chair he sits at the end of the sofa while Ross kicks off her heels and pads to her liquor cabinet.
“The mines are naturally cool and don’t need air-conditioning like the domes do…. Drink?” She holds up an ornate pink crystal tumbler.
“Sure. Whatever you’re having.”
Pouring an amber liquid over rocks, she turns on soft music. “I’ve been lobbying to get the miners more money and more time off. But the Corp. won’t budge…” Serving Iceman his drink she sits on the other end of the sofa. She sips appreciatively. “…so I imposed a work slowdown.”
“Why not use robots?”
“No can do.”
“The magnetic properties of the raw ore turn their positronic brains to mush in about a week.”
“Can’t they be shielded?”
“Not effectively. And the cost to rebuild them is prohibitive.”
“What about you? Why do you work here?”
Ross places her back to the arm of the sofa and sits cross-legged. “Took over after Daddy died.” She sips again. “Followed right in his footsteps. Always tried to be tough like him…. It’s hard sometimes.” She takes a deep breath, sighs and is alert. “Now. What about you and Rourke? Did I hear him call you, buddy back there?”
Iceman’s Memory Drifts Back:
Sitting forward, Iceman is thoughtful, his drink dangles from his fingertips precariously close to dropping free while his concentration shifts to the long past. Hesitant, he replies. “Yes, we were… comrades in arms…. Once.”
“You wouldn’t know it now.”
I’m afraid it’s true. We once fought for the same cause as part of a terrorist group…. He even gave me my working name.”
“I wondered why the alias.”
It was 20 years ago. I ran away as a teen, stowing away on a freighter. Eventually ending up on Tau Ceti.”
The years roll back in his mind while long dormant experiences come forward, experiences he’d just as soon delete from his memory but are indelibly etched. The first time he’d seen the young Rourke was in a dingy warehouse office.
Up to that time he’d latched onto a local street gang and was taken in; eventually becoming the leader. But it soon became old; he needed something more daring, more adventurous. That’s when he ran into Rourke.
He’d been recruited by a terrorist who answered only to the name of Eddie. Eddie knew all the street gangs; searching for just those that could suit their purpose. Young Fred salivated at the chance to experience new thrills and was impressionable enough to be suckered into something covert and unlawful.
That’s how he found himself blindfolded and standing before his destiny.
After removing the blindfold, Eddie was dismissed so Rourke could interrogate Fred alone. He had all the right answers because Rourke welcomed him with open arms and took him to meet the rest of the group; a mixed bag of 20 men and women of various ages.
After his indoctrination he was put on probation and shown the ropes. Well organized, they taught him what every good terrorist ought to know. Eddie cautioned Fred on the care of weapons. Rourke tutored him on basic fighting skills. Target practice day after day developed his aim. After six months he was ready for some action.
Passing by Rourke’s office, he listened in on the middle of a heated discussion between Rourke and Eddie.
“I don’t care what you say Eddie; I want him on the next sortie.”
“I ain’t so sure. He’s still just a punk kid.”
“Kid or not he’s got nerves of ice. No one’s been able to rattle him yet…. Let’s see how he acts under fire.”
“If you say so. Let’s do it then.”
Makron City, the Tau Ceti equivalent of Washington D.C. Here, held in a high security cell, were the most dangerous terrorists waiting for trial. Causally, several of the terrorist group file into the police station one by one. Blending in with the crowd they take up strategic positions.
Rourke, Fred and two other men enter a rear door and take up their positions. The first group creates a diversion; tossing smoke bombs and discharging their weapons indiscriminately.
Fred’s first job was to help break out two political prisoners. While Rourke and one man search the cells after nullifying the guards, Fred and the other man stand guard.
Finding the proper cell. “Get back,” he warns after he sets the charge to blow the lock.
After the charge went off all hell broke loose. Policemen arrive in several pairs and exchange fire with Fred and his partner who is gunned down in the initial exchange. Picking up the fallen weapon, Fred, eyes wide as saucers, fires two-handed.
With the police held off momentarily, Rourke and the prisoners hustle out in a hail of fire.
“C’mon Fred! Let’s go!” shouts Rourke from the exit.
“Go ahead! I’m right behind you!”
The exit door, locked down at the onset, is blown open from the inside. Rourke, the prisoners and one man hurtle out. Fred backs out slowly, exhausting his weapons into the interior. They scramble into the getaway car and careen away while the lawmen fire after them.
Bursting into their warehouse the terrorists glad handed and slapped the backs of one another; picking up the female members of the group, spinning them around.
In the next three months there were four more such escapades while Fred proved his worth.
Having summoned Fred to his office, Rourke sat waiting on the edge of his desk.
“You wanted to see me Ben?”
“Yes Iceman. I’ve got a new job for you.”
“You keep calling me that it’s gonna stick.”
“Why not. It suits you…. Now, I’ve got this special job for you that—”
Rourke never got the chance to finish that thought because they were interrupted by the unmistakable resounding of carnage on the main floor. Grabbing their weapons, the two hurry to aid their comrades.
Waves of SWAT teams poured in. Rourke and Fred entered the fray, but the forces were too many and better equipped. They tried to escape out the back to no avail. Cut off, they were subdued easily, shackled and led out with the rest of the group.
Sentencing day saw an animated, vengeful Rourke dragged away to prison for the start of 50 years but not before he threatened to even the score; no matter how long it took.
Being a minor, under Tau Ceti law, Fred could not be convicted of anything. On another world his fate would have mirrored Rourke’s. Brought before the Judge, Fred shrugs off the Bailiff’s hand. He is disassociated while the Judge remands him to the orphan’s home. But destiny played its hand.
Stepping forward, Detective Charlie Hacker, 45, rugged, trench-coated, hat in hand asked to speak. He’d been a key figure in breaking up Rourke’s group. In the time leading up to sentencing he’d taken a liking to Fred. Seeing some good in there that was unknown to everyone else, including Fred, he asked to be the boy’s sponsor. He would take custody of Fred and be responsible for his education and rehabilitation.
The formalities aside, Hacker took the boy home to his modest, no frills, clean apartment.
Hacker had never married, though he filled the gap by being the mentor to several young people. He was not unfamiliar with the attitude of teenage boys or how to handle them.
Following the young Fred in, Hacker hangs his hat and coat on the tree by the door.
Schlepping to the living room, Fred fingers a few things on the end table then flops on the sofa, feet on the coffee table. In the galley kitchen, one step above the living room, Hacker took something from the fridge and popped it into the microwave. The placement of Fred’s feet engaged Hacker’s annoyance. Determined steps carry him to the boy’s side. Slumped, Fred stares ahead at the wall.
“I’ll have dinner ready in a few seconds.”
The hostile boy shuns Hacker’s glance. “Whatever makes you ecstatic.”
Oblivious to Hacker’s tight-lipped glare he isn’t aware of Hacker’s foot on a line to kick his feet off the table until the deed is done.
“First lesson: we do things my way. Now. In order to be a good citizen, you’ll have to return to school…”
“Uh uh. No fucking way, pops.”
Reaching over, Hacker slaps the boy firmly on the face. Attempting to retaliate the boy is short circuited by Hacker’s strong-willed voice. “Don’t even think about it. You’ll go down faster than you got up…. Second lesson; you open your mouth out of turn and I’ll shut it for you.” The microwave calls attention to itself. “Now. Let’s go to dinner.”
Indifferent but cautious, the boy drags himself to the table, giving Hacker a wide berth.
“Hacker was a tough nut,” says Iceman. “The strong father figure I’d needed. He refused to crack no matter how I tried.”
“Must’ve been a hella-va guy.” says Ross.
“He never let me down and I grew to trust him. I got to know other policemen. We even thought I might join the Academy.”
“But, what of Rourke? He obviously didn’t stay in jail long.”
“It took three years, but with outside help he escaped, unknown to me. Charlie spent two years trying to find him…”
One warm sultry night in Makron City Rourke made known his second coming as a terrorist. For two years he slowly rebuilt his group while in his self-imposed exile; acquiring arms and support. Then one night he struck.
The Governor’s mansion stood pristine white up on that grassy, shrub laden knoll; lit by floodlights one second it was flames and rubble the next. Blown into a billion pieces in a heartbeat. The flames licked the clouds casting an amber glow for miles.
Charlie knew Rourke’s M.O. better than anyone. He was left to repeat his earlier capture. I never knew till six months later.
Approaching his 21st birthday, Fred was fully grown; a head taller, his frame bulked from five years of training in the police gym. His reading was paused from the phone ringing.
“Fred? It’s Sgt. Owens.”
“Yeah, Greg. What’s up?”
“You better get down here to 52nd and Juniper.”
“Why? There a problem?”
“Not on the phone. Just get here in a hurry. Okay?”
Struck pensive, Fred lays the phone gently in its cradle. Grabbing his leather jacket and helmet he hurries out the door to the parking garage where he kept his Harley.
While he pulls on his helmet long strides carry him from the elevator to his cycle. The 20th century style ride roars loudly while he steers it up the ramp to the street.
Wet streets and distant lightning greet Fred when he pauses at the sidewalk. Angling left, he speeds off into the gloom.
Amid trash and overflowing dumpsters in a downtown alley, Det. Sgt. Greg Owens and another Detective stand beside oily puddles watching over a shrouded body.
End of Part Two
In Part Three you will learn:
How Fred and Ben became bitter enemies
A betrayal and new arrangements are made
Another attack is made on Ross