Gayle stared out of the train window watching the high rise buildings flick by.
Milla escorted him on the train as far as New Soho before he peeled off, he told Gayle he had someone to see and gave him an encouraging wink. The station had a grim look about it when Gayle returned for the second time. He had his hood pulled tightly around his head like a cocoon. He strode purposefully, meaningfully, finding his target where he expected. The boy was predictable.
The boy who had betrayed them was joking with his friends, lounging on the stair railing. Before any of them had noticed Gayle walked right up and grabbed the boy by the throat. The boy’s friends staggered back. “Look out!” One of them cried too late.
“Tell me where the fuck they are!” Gayle growled. He could feel the blood pounding at his temples.
“Hey–” The youth gargled, clutching at Gayle’s hands wrapped around his throat. “I…can’t …breathe!”
“Don’t play fucking games with me kid.”
I don’t know nothin’!”
“Bullshit, I saw you at the Plant with Sol.” He sneered and punched the kid in the stomach who doubled over with a sickly ‘umph’. It made Gayle feel good to bury his fist in the boy’s supple flesh. He went to follow up with a kick.
“Stop, stop! Ok, what do you want?”
“What happened after the battle, where are my friends?”
“They’re still alive,” Jibber wheezed, holding his gut. “Sol took ’em back to his warehouse not far from here. They carried the skinny women, she was rambling some shit.”
“She’s alive?!” Gayle rocked back with relief. When Meron had fallen he had assumed the worst.
“Maybe now, but not for long I think. Same with all of them.”
“Why do you say that?” Gayle growled.
Jibber shrunk back defensively, fearing another blow. “Well, Sol’s got no reason to keep ’em alive, has he?”
Gayle flung the boy back against the railing, “I’m not interested in Sol, I just want my friends back and you’re going to get me into his place.”
“I ain’t nothin’ to Sol, I got no way to get in!” The boy complained but the boy was a terrible liar his eyes evading Gayle’s.
“Crap, you did it before, somehow. You’ll get me inside and I’ll take care of the rest, but if you’re thinking of double-crossing me again…” He stabbed a meaningful finger at the boy, “I can guarantee I’ll get one shot off first.” The meaning was clear enough for Jibber and he nodded.
“What do you want Jibber?” A guard standing in front of a reinforced door of the warehouse sneered at the boy.
Jibber looking sideways earned himself a jab in the back from Gayle. ”Err, mister here got a deal for Sol.” The boy stammered, thumbing over his shoulder.
The frowning guard scanned the mechanic up and down. Gayle nodded to the man with what must have been a stupid grin. “What sorta deal?”
“Don’t concern you Drubsby.”
“Alright, hang on a sec.” The guard rapped on the solid steel door and a panel Gayle hadn’t noticed slid open at eye level. Angled cheekbones and pale blue eyes appeared looking down a jutting nose at them through the slit. The owner looked with a question at the guard.
With some trepidation the guard responded, “these two wanna see the boss – they say they got something rich for the boss.”
The woman grunted and slid the panel closed. A few seconds later, after a series of bolts and locks, the pair were shoved forward into a dirty, roofless hallway lined with doors on either side, the vaulted ceiling of the warehouse towering some ten meters above. There was a salty smell of human sweat, it reminded Gayle of a gym. Behind them the door clanked closed and the woman, a punk with a nose ring the size of a credit chip and hair the colour of coolant, turned her back to them and strode off down the hallway, completely disinterested in them. Gayle was gobsmacked by her bravado, she hadn’t even searched them or asked his name. He guessed that they must have thought no one would be so brazen to just walk in. Something a basic training officer had said to him when he’d joined the service sprung to mind: ‘A team is only as strong as its weakest link’.
“Where does he keep prisoners?” Gayle hissed in Jibber’s ear as they followed behind the woman past the series of closed doors.
The teen shook his head, “You’ll see.”
The corridor turned a corner then after a few more doors came to an abrupt end and opened onto the warehouse floor. Gayle’s earlier question was answered immediately: hanging from the steel-lattice structure above his head, like something out of the dark ages, were a series of cages jammed with human cargo. Filthy arms and legs dangled through bars where possible.
He scanned over the hollow faces for anyone familiar but couldn’t see any of his comrades and went to move on, his attention however was drawn by a sharp tapping. He would have missed Ty entirely had she not hissed at him, she held one of her steel-capped boots in her hand. Without a word she pointed towards a set of levers in a control box, these he wagered controlled the height of the cages. He nodded at her.
The escort, pausing with a crack of her heels, turned and glanced between them, “Mr Kieler hasn’t all day.”
“So what can I do for you mister…?” Sol Kieler didn’t look up from the pile of credits he was fidgeting with. Though seated Gayle guessed the dealer was about the same height as himself but carried less weight. His leathery skin was overly-tanned to the point that it had a yellowish tinge making him look jaundiced. Stacked next to the desk, like miniature sandbags, was the pile of dhorphine, Sol’s mercenaries had salvaged it from the ambush site. Gayle shot Jibber a warning glance to remind him of his earlier threat.
“My name…?” He curse himself for not thinking ahead, thinking quickly he tried to recall the name of a dealer he’d once dealt with on Webb station, a large mining operation on the ice moon Enceladius. What was it? Daniel, David, Darius? That was it, Darius Vargus – perhaps Sol knew him? Gayle guessed Vargus would now be in his seventies, perhaps he had a son, he thought.
“Err, my name is Vargus … Jasper Vargus.”
Sol’s expression flickered for a moment as if he were a priest and someone had just blasphemed. “Jasper Vargus? Hmm, I knew a Damien Vargus, a dealer on Webb station I think?” His tone was sharp and Gayle felt sure it was a test. The dealer shuffled a pair of chips in his fingers.
“Perhaps you mean Darius Vargus, he was my father.” Gayle corrected with a slight smile though he was panicking inside.
Sol grinned, “I’m sorry to hear of his passing.”
“Oh he’s not dead, we just don’t talk – a little family disagreement you might say.” The dealer seemed pleased at his response – another test, Gayle guessed.
“Forgive my little tests. For some reason the law here doesn’t appreciate my little venture, I’ve been forced to dispensed with several agents in the past few weeks. In our line of business you can’t be too careful right?”
Gayle gulped but nodded sagely, “You’re right about that. My sources tell me you’ve recently come into possession of a stash of interesting product. Is this it?”
Sol rocked back in his chair and folded his arms over his chest, “And what would it be to you?”
“Well as you could imagine flooding the market with this kind of thing might spark a dealer war…”
Sol looked at him with interest, folding his arms, “go on.”
“Well rather than let that happen I could take this off your hands and sell it elsewhere, I have a ship ready to fly as we speak. I have contacts on a number of stations.”
“Really, and what sort of deal are you talk about?”
Gayle had no idea what he was doing but pushed on, “60 – 40 split on the profits, you the lion’s share.”
Sol considering this, “and here I was all ganged up for a big fight with my competitors, where is the fun in that?”
Gayle smiled, “Well we’d make a lot of money – that’s kinda fun.”
Sol twisted up his face, “I suppose I could do with a new loft.” he gestured vaguely in the air above him.
Gayle started to relax, “I’m glad you agree. You won’t regret this decision.”
“But I have to be honest I much prefer a fight, seize him!”
“What? “I’m Jasper Vargus! How dare you?” he complained as two guards grabbed him by the arms.
Sol got up and walked around his desk, “You know you’re little ruse may have worked if you had been smart enough to impersonate someone else. You see I know Vargus very well, and his son, only his name’s not Jasper.” The man pointed to himself, “it’s Solomon.”
Gayle closed his eyes, what an idiot! Sol had been playing a game with him all along.
Sol patted him on the shoulders in a fatherly way, “You see I changed my surname when I came here to distance myself from the Vargus name. But don’t look so crestfallen, you did get some of my story correct – my father and I really don’t see eye to eye.”
“Alas there is only room for one Vargus on Juno so I’m afraid my boys are going to have to send you on your way.” The dealer motioned to the guards.
Send you on your way? Gayle winced, he knew that didn’t mean he was going to be escorted to his ship and allowed to leave. It was a spacers term for jettisoning someone into the vacuum of space.
He looked to the heavens to ask for divine intervention but he knew he didn’t deserve it. Then involuntarily he flinched. A flash, a roar then a sear of heat and he was spinning out of control. Somehow he stayed upright as he dodged falling debris. A flying plate of metal sliced through one of his captors, killing the man instantly. In horror the other guard release him and Gayle took full advantage, smashing his boot into the man’s guts and sending him sprawling.
Out of the clearing smoke a hover transport appeared through a newly created hole in the roof, it was heavily armoured with a large laser canon mounted on top – it had police markings. It floated down as Gayle scrambled clear. Through the plexi-glass he saw Milla and Marla waving at him to move it – the intent was clear – they would suppress the enemy while he saved the others.
Across the warehouse floor Sol was ranting and smacked one of his henchmen over the head. He pointed at Gayle, obviously intent on revenge. Rapid laser fire from the transport however put a temporary stop to that, nailing Sol and his remaining guards down.
Gayle raced to the control panel for the cages, there were a bunch of sliders and buttons. He baulked not knowing what to do, sparing a glance behind where Sol’s people were starting to get their act together, returning fire on the armoured vehicle. In desperation he smacked down on all the sliders then looked up to see what effect it would have. With relief the cages jolted to life and began to descend.
“Look out!” Ty shouted but Gayle was too slow to react.
He was half turned when he was struck in the side of the head. He staggered back and fell, his head smashing against the concrete floor – for an instant he saw stars. His vision blurred red and when he touched his face he realised he was bleeding. He tasted blood as a trickle of blood dripped pooled in the corner of his mouth. It was Sol who moved over him, his eyes manic, teeth bared like a rabid dog.
“Come here you little shit, I’m going to eat you!” He snarled. He swung a wicked piece of metal at the mechanic, narrowly missing his legs and hitting the concrete with a sharp clunk.
Gayle scrambled backward on his hands, slipping in his own blood as the cages to his left clunked to the floor.
“Open the door!” Ty screamed shaking the bars.
He glanced to the control box, a row of red buttons below the sliders was now blinking. He would first have to go through Sol to get there however.
Sol pointed the length of metal at him, “Time for blood!” The dealer grinned pressing the end of the pipe into Gayle’s cheek, the battle behind them reached a crescendo. For a moment Gayle closed his eyes waiting for the final blow – he wanted to give up…but something inside him wouldn’t let him.
He opened his eyes.
Sol drew back the pipe to strike, and, without thinking, Gayle’s arm shot out, latching onto it. With all his strength he yanked it, swinging the man off-balance. He stumbled, right into one of the cages. A dozen vengeful hands reached through and snagged him and wracked him against the bars.
Gayle watched as the dealer tried to scream but one of the captives had his hands around the man’s windpipe and it came out as a gurgle. One girl, his face a visage of fury, had her legs slotted spider-like between the bars, using them to lock Sol’s legs in place. Others gouged into his flesh like butter hissing and spiting like savages. Even weakened as they were by starvation these wretches were fearless, possessed by hate for their captor.
Gayle sprinted to the control panel and slammed down on the buttons which released the locks on the cage doors. The captives, wild-eyed and frantic burst out like cockroaches, scattering in all directions. Most of them ran for the exit, some stood and hugged one another but a few immediately set upon the spasming body of Sol, punching and stabbing at it with bits of rubble.
Ty came running over to him, she had a massive bruise on her cheek like the great spot on Jupiter. “You took your time!”
“I’m here arn’t I?” Gayle deflected the gibe. “Where are the others?”
Ty indicated Weavel lying in one of the cages. He had a small leg wound that was crudely wrapped in a blood-soaked bandage. He whimpered as Gayle came over, “I…I think I’m going to die.”
“Maybe we should leave him here?” Ty said with a smirk.
Weavel’s eyes miraculously opened, “I…I think I can make it, if you give me a hand up.”
“What about Meron?”
Ty cocked her head towards the corridor that Gayle had entered through, “They’ve got her in the infirmary.”
They lifted Weavel together – an arm under each shoulder – he wasn’t heavy, and hobbled towards the corridor, the door of which was smashed through but cluttered with bodies of both captives and guards. Ahead they could hear a fight still going on further down the corridor. Ty indicated the first door and Gayle tried the knob but it was locked. Stepping back he gave it a few swift kicks smashing it open.
The small medical chamber was well furnishes with two beds either side of the room and a single nurse who stepped back as they entered. The patients had a mixture of severe wounds, some Gayle recognised as the results of torture – he seen it before. It took a moment to recognise Meron among them, she lay limp in the bed, bloodied bandages wrapped around her thorax and left thigh.
“She’s stable but seriously injured.” The nurse said, her voice trembling. “Keeler was keeping her alive in case she might be of some use.”
Gayle was surprise when Meron turned slowly to face him, though her eyes wandered as if she couldn’t see.“Never…though…see you…again,” she croaked in a whisper.
He gave her a half-grin, “Love to chit-chat but we got to get you outta here. Ty, can you manage Weavel?”
He bent down, gingerly slotted his arms under her and lifted, she flinched from the pain and in her spasm a crumpled picture drop out of her hand. It landed face up and Gayle recognised it, despite the blood drops over it, as the one of her husband. The nurse bent down, picked it up and wiped it clean. She tucked it into his hand.
“She’ll die without medication,” The nurse said. She raced around the room collecting together bandages and medications, tossing them into a shoulder bag. “You must clean and dress the wounds and make sure she takes these pills twice a day.”
Gayle looked doubtfully at the nurse, “Why are you helping us?”
She paused to glare at him, “I’m not here willingly – Sol holds my husband.” She slotted the bag over Gayle’s shoulder and he could see her eyes were now reddened with tears.
“I think we just released him, with a bunch of other prisoners.” Gayle replied.
“Oh, thank Hesu!” She kissed him.
“Gayle, it’s getting hot out here!” Ty yelled over the roar of laser fire, she was taking cover in the doorway. A rapid series of blasts cut huge chunks out of the door-frame.
“Wait!” the nurse said. “This way!” She opened a door at the back of the room revealing a ramp leading downward. “It’ll take you to the loading dock; there are two guards.” She said, stepping aside.
“Aren’t you coming with us?” Gayle asked.
She shook her head, “Go! I’m going back for my man, I can’t leave him.” Before he could protest she pulled the door shut between them.
Although Meron wasn’t particularly heavy Gayle struggled down the ramp-way. Damn I’m out of shape, he puffed.
At the bottom of the ramp the transport dock came into view. It was a broad area with piles of crates and supplied stacked along the walls. At the far end was a closed roller door.
Two dopey-looking guards looked up at them with confusion as they appeared but before they could react Ty was in motion. She dumped Weavel and grabbing a crowbar that was resting on one of the crates she smashed one of them with an uppercut to the jaw, snatching his blaster from its holster as he fell. The other guard scrambled to draw his weapon but he was no match for Ty who shot him in the stomach sending him backward off the dock. He his the ground with a thud.
“Yeah, that’s what I’m talkin’ about!” Ty grinned blowing on the end of the blaster as if it were a six-shooter.
Gayle looked around for a way out and spotted a large red button, “There, by the door, that button!”
Ty slapped her palm on the button and the roller-door began to rise with a slow clatter. She grabbed Weavel by the arm and barked, “Get up, we gotta go!”
“Ok, ok, give me a break!” Weavel moaned.
Outside the scene was bedlam. Approaching police sirens blared across the city. In front of them lay a small open square over which the escaped prisoner were fleeing towards a police line. Gayle watched one couple make a break for it. He wanted to shout out to them but he was too late and they were cut down by a hail of fire from somewhere above them. It was a turkey-shoot. Memories of Phobos drifted though his mind.
Then he spotted the armoured transport. It appeared over a run-down dwelling behind the police line. Milla must have been watching for them to come out as it now flew straight over to them and spun side-on to provide a shield wall against the barrage.
A door slid open, and Milla’s cheery face appeared “Your chariot awaits!”
“Damn, I’m please to see you!” Gayle said as he delicately handed Meron over to him. Then taking his friend’s hand pulled himself inside.
Ty followed close behind with Weavel, dumping him on a low troop-seat.
Milla slid the door shut, “Get us out of here sweetheart!”
Marla, the pilot, turned to look back from the cockpit, she looked as though she was having a great time. “Hello Gayle, good to see you. Are you getting my husband into trouble again?”
He shrugged, “trouble seems to find me.”
The engine roared and the transport lifted into the air with a jolt. Outside he could hear the hull being peppered by blaster fire. Gayle looked with concern at Meron who lay limp on the floor of the transport. They were away but the mission was a complete failure, they had no Drive, a list of casualties and they still had to get back to The Prince then somehow get back to Critia. They would have to dodge local authorities the local crime-lords who would be keeping a close eye now, they hadn’t exactly been treading quietly.