The Uncertainty Principle

The A-Team head out Jupiter way to protect miners being harassed into selling their claims. That part’s easy. The tricky part is figuring out who they can trust. Yes, that does say ‘Jupiter.’ It's the A-Team, Jim, but not as we know it.

A-Team in space AU. Because everything's better in space.

Rated: PG13

Words: 52,000

In 2072 a crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn’t commit. These men promptly escaped from a maximum-security penal colony to the Martian underground. Today, still wanted by the ruling megacorp, they survive as soldiers of fortune. If you have a problem, if no one else can help and if you can find them, maybe you can hire The A-Team

Chapter 1

“I’m here to collect Captain Murdock.”


The VA nurse smiled up at the tall, handsome, black man at the nurse’s station. He wore an immaculate army uniform that bore major’s oak leaves and an impressive array of medal ribbons. She smiled at him because there was just something about his smile. Whatever he asked her, she felt sure she’d want to say yes.


“Oh yes, Major Travis. For the tests.” She frowned. “What kind of tests are they exactly?”


“Classified, I’m afraid,” the major said. The nurse nodded, not surprised. Mr Murdock went for many classified tests according to his records. All to do with the war apparently. It made her wonder just what had happened to him back then.


“Okay. He’s in room 542, let me show you the way.”


“Thank you, nurse.”


After a pleasant stroll along the corridor, during which she gave Major Travis her contact details, they reached room 542 and she unlocked the door.


“Thank you, Crystal, I’ll take it from here.”


He went inside and she heaved a sigh. Mr Murdock always had the best-looking visitors.


-o-O-o-


Major Travis slipped into the darkened room and saw an odd glow beyond the bed. He turned on the light.


“Murdock?”


Murdock popped up from behind the bed.


“Faceman!”


Face shushed him and then pressed a button on the control strapped to his wrist. He felt the tingle of the force field against his skin as the Pseudo Suit projection collapsed, revealing his slightly shorter, and much paler, self.


“You knew I was coming,” Face said, still refusing to believe Murdock’s claim that he could see through a Pseudo Suit. If he could… well how could he? He couldn’t. He was just crazy. Unless that was why he could… Speaking of crazy. He frowned at Murdock’s odd headgear, a helmet with a flashlight strapped to it.


“What’s with the hat?”


“I’m digging the tunnel again.” Murdock took off his improvised miner’s helmet.


“Murdock, this room is on the fifth floor.”


“It is?” Murdock frowned and looked thoughtful for a while. “Okay, I’m going to have to revise my schedule.”


“Just get ready, will you?” Face looked nervously at the door. “You’re the one called me to get you out of here. This job you say you’ve got for us better be something good.”


“Of course it is.” Murdock grabbed his jacket, cap and bag. “Do you need me to gibber as we leave? I could drool too.”


“Thanks,” Face said. “But I think we can manage without either. Right, gimme a second.” He fiddled with the control again and ‘Major Travis’ reappeared.


“I don’t know why you bother with that,” Murdock said. “The nurses won’t spot you.”


“Oh yeah? What about that ‘wanted’ poster of me they have?”


“I think one of them took it home.”


Face smirked. “How many’s that now?”


Murdock rolled his eyes. “Let’s go, before your batteries run out.”


They walked out of the room, both giving Nurse Crystal big smiles. Face did feel more secure inside the suit. He could walk right past Decker himself and not be spotted with this thing switched on. Hannibal refused to use one, of course. He pointed out that none of his wigs had even had a software glitch at a crucial moment and he had never had to recharge any of his rubber noses.


They left the VA and walked into the jasmine scented air. Above them, the sunset tinged the sky soft peach and delicate wisps of clouds with silvery edges drifted slowly. Face wished they’d get some new sunset simulations, he felt sure he’d seen this exact same one only last week.


“Let’s grab a cab,” Face suggested.


“Can’t we walk?” Murdock said. “You know I don’t get out much and it’s a lovely evening.”


It was always a lovely evening of course. The controlled environment of Redmond City, the Martian capital, never bothered with rain, or cold wind. Under the domes, every day was a fine day. Not too hot, not too cold, a gentle breeze now and again, wafting the scent of blossom.


It was enough to drive a man crazy.


Face checked the battery level for his Pseudo suit generator. Enough juice for them to walk back to his current residence, without him undergoing a sudden change of identity. He glanced around at people as they strolled. How many of them might be fakes too?


Be who you want to be today.


And be someone else tomorrow.


That’s how the tag line ran on the ads for the latest top of the range suits. They’d been developed originally for the entertainment business, but like any new technology had naturally been co-opted for crime and dating.


You could go out looking as handsome or beautiful as you liked, but of course, you took the chance that the beautiful or handsome person you picked up was no more who they appeared to be than you were.


“Suit.” Murdock was saying quietly, looking at women as they passed. “Real. Suit. Suit. Real.”


Face didn’t care, not when it came to only looking. But he still didn’t believe Murdock could see through them.


-o-O-o-


Face currently lived in the penthouse of a highly exclusive boutique hotel, with discreet but tight security. The staff thought he was a famous actor. Using a Pseudo Suit to impersonate a real person had recently been made illegal, but Face just happened to know that right now this guy was in a secret rehab centre on the dark side of the moon and would be there for at least another month.


Shame he would be sober by the time he got the bill for this place, Face thought, flashing a smile at the receptionist as they walked through the lobby. She just loved his long wavy red hair and that cute gap in his front teeth.


A moment later, they entered his suite and he became himself again with a sigh with relief. Useful the suit might be, but it did make him feel hot and prickly wearing it for more than an hour at a time.


“Right, call room service, Murdock, I’m going to take a shower before the others get here and then you can play us that message.”


-o-O-o-


Retrospectively, Face thought, he’d made the right choice in picking a hell-raising movie star to impersonate, because the team had trashed the hotel room without even trying. BA could knock stuff over just by looking at it, Face felt sure.


Now Hannibal and Murdock sprawled on the king size bed with their shoes on, eating potato chips from the minibar. BA was testing the tolerance limits of the arms of a chair. Only Amy seemed to manage to sit there in an armchair without breaking anything.


“Okay, Murdock,” Face said, walking into the room fastening his shirt cuffs and feeling sharp potato chip crumbs sticking to his bare feet. “You’re up.”


“‘Kay.” Murdock sat up on the bed. “You guys remember a young fella from the war, name of Matt Warner?”


“A pilot, wasn’t he?” Hannibal said.


“Yep. Rookie, just out of flight school. I flew with him as my co-pilot a few times and he wasn’t half bad. He used to ask to be assigned to fly with me.”


“Which means he’s as crazy as you,” BA muttered.


“They sent him to Venus straight out of flight school?” Amy said, sounding shocked. Face, his shoes on now, came over and perched on the arm of the chair beside her.


“They were getting pretty desperate by that stage, the casualty rates and all.” Murdock shook his head and the team fell silent for a moment, remembering just how desperate that time had been.


Venus had been half way through a twenty year terraforming cycle, when the megacorp that owned it went bust. The other corps all tried to grab a piece of what would be the best real estate in the solar system once the terraforming cycle finished. And a hostile take-over turned into a war.


A war, Face thought. A war on a planet evolving a million times faster than normal. Only lunatics would fight in an environment that changed while you were looking at it. You could go on patrol in a temperate forest and come back out of a jungle.


And that wasn’t even the worst part.


“Did he survive the war?” Amy asked. “Warner?”


“Oh, yeah,” Murdock said, nodding. “He survived, got married. To that Irish girl from HQ, remember, guys? Got their resettlement packages. Yeah, he did fine. Till now.”


He took a small plastic square from his pocket.


“I got this in the mail from him a couple of days ago.” He tossed it to Face who caught it, stepped up to a small control panel on the wall and fitted the plastic square into a slot. A panel on the wall slid aside to reveal a screen. Face frowned.


“2D only?”


Murdock shrugged. “I guess they don’t have a 3D imager. Hey, out on the frontier you know.”


“Frontier?” Face suddenly had a bad feeling about this job. Helping out an old war buddy was great, but nobody had said anything about the frontier. “Where exactly did this message come from?”


On the screen, an image appeared of a smiling man in his early thirties with mid brown skin.


“Hello, Murdock,” Matthew Warner said. “Greetings from Ganymede.”


-o-O-o-


“Ganymede is a hell of a long way out,” Face said. They’d viewed the first few minutes of the message and Face could see Hannibal’s eyes start to sparkle. Frontier world, limited law enforcement, endless possibilities for the Jazz.


“But you heard what he said,” Hannibal pointed out. “Almost all of the miners out there are war vets and they’re getting harassed out of their claims. The claims they got as part of their war settlements. We can’t let that happen.”


“Yeah,” BA said. “It ain’t just Warner. All the others. We don’t know ’em, but all of them was out there on Venus same as us.”


“And they’re going to pay us,” Hannibal said. “They’ve grouped together to pay our fee.”


“Which will maybe, maybe cover the cost of the fuel to get the ship there.” Face pointed out. “Which will take a couple of weeks at least and –”


“Face,” Murdock said, “let me play the next bit.”


Face shrugged, not imagining he’d change his mind. The last thing he had time for right now was a month long round trip out to the moons of Jupiter. Not with all the good things he had on the burner around here, all of which needed supervision. Sighing, he waved his hand at the screen again and the playback resumed.


“…week ago the main guy behind it all showed himself. We all knew him right away.” Matthew paused, leant forward towards the camera, his face serious. “It’s Douglas Kyle.”


Face jumped to his feet, staring and not taking in anything else Matthew’s image said.


“Douglas Kyle?”


The name spoken again, by Amy this time, broke the spell it had placed on Face, and he turned to her as she went on.


“Major Douglas Kyle? The one who went rogue after he was convicted of torturing prisoners?”


“The very same.” Hannibal said, grim faced. “He pretty much disappeared after the war. A lot of people thought…” He glanced at Face. “Hoped he was dead. Looks like they were wrong.”


“Kyle.” BA shook his head. “Man, that dude’s chip fritzed out for sure.”


Face could believe that. Back on Venus, you spent your whole life in fear. Not just of the guns and the shelling and the radiation. Of course you feared those, but what you really feared was something you couldn’t see.


Nanites. Molecule sized machines, which swarmed in their trillions over the planet as part of the terraforming programme. They invaded the very cells of the animals and plants in the rapidly evolving environment and rewrote their DNA to accelerate their very unnatural selection process.


And they would happily rewrite the DNA of any humans they found too. The only thing that kept them away was a chip, embedded under the skin, which gave off a repelling signal.


But like all technology, the chips malfunctioned sometimes, especially in areas of high radiation. Every veteran knew of some poor sap whose chip had fritzed out and who had to be invalided home with more limbs than when they arrived.


Of course, that was an obvious effect. There were others. Face had read once that a quarter of a human’s genes were dedicated to building the brain. If the nanites messed with those genes… He glanced at Murdock. Even just a short glitch with the chip and… He shook himself.


“Okay, Kyle, yeah, I agree, I’d love to go pound that bastard.” He glanced at BA, who looked ready to start the pounding now. “But it is still a long way out. Let’s take a few days to put things together, gather supplies, make plans. Sound good?”


“Yeah,” Hannibal agreed. “Face is right, no sense in going off half –”


The door burst off its hinges and uniformed men piled into the room, pointing rifles. The man leading them, pointed a pistol in a two handed grip, aiming straight at Hannibal.


“Everybody freeze!” Decker ordered.

Chapter 2

“Computer, lights off!” Face shouted, plunging the room into darkness. Amy gasped and jumped up.


“Computer, lights on!” Decker yelled. It did him no good. Amy realised Face must have the computer set only to accept voice commands from himself.


She saw the shapes of men already at the window, opening it. Face always chose a room with a fire escape and the rest of the team were always ready to make a hasty exit. Decker would probably have men out there of course, but they’d deal with that problem when they got there. Although Amy had only been with the team for a few months, she’d already gone through this scenario several times.


Decker was yelling orders, yelling for flashlights. The MPs themselves blocked the light from the corridor outside and Amy could hear them falling over each other and cursing in the dark. Then someone grabbed Amy around the waist and she yelled and tried to push them away, until a familiar whiff of expensive cologne told her this wasn’t any MP.


“Just me, Amy. Hang onto your hat. Hey, fellas! Catch!” Face half pushed, half threw her at the others by the window and her feet actually left the floor for a second as she sailed across the room. Two years had passed since she moved here to take up her job at the Martian Chronicle, but the lower gravity still had the capacity to surprise her.


She landed right in BA’s arms and he scooped her up and handed her though the window to Hannibal and Murdock, then climbed out after her onto a small metal platform.


“Dump the heels,” Hannibal ordered, glancing down at her shoes. “Let’s go, Face!” Hannibal yelled back inside. Amy guessed Face must be running a little interference, knocking over furniture as he retreated to the window. She struggled with the little round button on the strap of her shoe, hopping on the platform.


“Hannibal!” Murdock yelled, pointing down the fire escape tube at the MPs waiting there.


“Face,” Hannibal roared back into the room. “We are leaving!”


A second later Face climbed out of the window. “All my stuff is back there!”


“Forget it. Move.” Hannibal grabbed Amy’s hand and stepped with her into the fire escape tube. The anti-grav force fields caught her and she resisted the urge to grab at the rungs set into the walls, not wanting to drop her shoes.


“Hannibal!” Amy cried as they began to sink slowly, towards the group of waiting MPs. She really wished she’d worn pants, instead of a skirt tonight.


“Don’t worry, kid, they won’t shoot us.” Hannibal grinned at her. “They’ve got to take us alive. How else will they ever find the rest of the bank robbery money?”


“What?” Amy gasped, panting now. “What do you mean the rest of –?”


“Now, BA!” Hannibal shouted and Amy heard a shot as BA blasted a hole in the side of the tube, right through the power conduits. Amy shrieked and grabbed the rungs as her weight came back. Her shoes fell down onto the MPs, but that was the least of their worries, as a second later the team fell down after the shoes. After a short and very cramped melee, Hannibal looked up from atop a heap of groaning men.


“Come on down, kid. This is no time to hang around.”


Decker’s voice above her, yelling at his men to climb down the tube spurred Amy on to climb quickly down the last couple of metres to the ground and the team piled out of the exit from the tube. Hannibal fired a low power plasma blast back up the tube, to discourage the pursuers and then they ran.


They ran, headed for crowds, in the streets busy with evening revellers. BA ran with hand across his chest holding down his gold to stop it knocking him out. Face carried Amy’s shoes one in each hand and groused about his soon to be confiscated possessions.


“Hannibal, I left everything back there! That damn Pseudo Suit was new! It even had the new voice altering option. Do you know how much that thing cost me?”


Hannibal looked at him.


“Okay, I mean, would have cost me if I’d, you know, paid for it.”


“Sorry, Face,” Hannibal said. “But I’ve told you before; you have to be ready to leave everything behind in an instant.”


Face sighed and glanced back over his shoulder.


“I think we lost them.”


Amy looked back too. No sign of uniforms among the crowds. The team slowed to a walk, breathing hard.


“Well, guys,” Hannibal said. “How about we blow out of this town? Seems it’s a little too small for us and Decker right now. And we’ve got an invite to Ganymede. Amy, you joining us?”


Ganymede might be a long way out, Amy thought, but if the team took down Douglas Kyle, notorious war criminal, well that would be a story good enough for a promotion. And something about the way Face in particular had reacted to his name had intrigued her.


“Sure, Hannibal. Hold on, please, let me put my shoes back on, before Face sells them.” She took them from Face and hopped on one foot, a hand on his shoulder, getting into the shoes and fastening them. When would she learn to wear sensible shoes when hanging out with the team?


“We’re just gonna rush straight off?” BA asked. “What about that stuff about not going off half-cocked?”


“Aw, why change our methods after all this time?” Hannibal took out a cigar. “Better get to the ship.”


“I’ll get us a cab,” Face said.


“Oh no,” Hannibal said. “No cabs, they’ve all got cameras in ’em, Decker would be tracking us inside of ten seconds.” He grinned. “I’ve got something faster in mind.”


“Faster?” BA scowled and stepped towards Hannibal. “You’d better not be thinking what I think you’re thinking, sucker. You can forget it. I’d rather walk.”


“BA,” Murdock said, “You know don’t you, that it’s statistically the safest form of transport?”


“Safest if you don’t use it at all.” BA insisted.


“Okay, BA.” Face slapped BA on the shoulder. “We’ll go get the ship, you can walk and we’ll meet you there in about six hours.”


“You won’t…” BA’s eyes crossed and he folded up, hitting the ground with a crash.


“Face, why didn’t you try to catch him?” Hannibal said as he and Murdock grabbed BA’s arms and heaved him to his feet.


“Hannibal, if I’d grabbed him I’d have given him a double dose.” Face held up his hand to show a small needle sticking out from between his fingers. “Not to mention putting my back out.”


“Man, how did we ever do this on Earth?” Murdock complained as he and Hannibal struggled with BA.


“Come on,” Hannibal led them across the street. Face smiled at Amy and offered her his arm. She took it, returning his smile and they followed their team-mates.


-o-O-o-


The young man working the evening shift at the matter transporter station almost fell off his chair as the team piled in. He stared at the bizarre group and spoke nervously while they heaved BA into the staging area.


“I… um, I’ll need to see your I.D. and method of payment.”


“Take care of the man, Lieutenant,” Hannibal said.


“Ah, right.” Face approached the operator with a big smile and produced an ID card.


“Murdock, you set the co-ordinates,” Hannibal ordered.


“Wait, you’re not authorised to –” the operator said, alarmed as Murdock ran over and started to mess with the console. He frowned down at the ID Face held. “But you’re not –”


“Ready,” Murdock ran to the staging area. “Come on, Face. Five seconds.” Face joined them and the panel over their head started to buzz.


“I’d stand well back from the console, kid,” Murdock advised the operator, as the transport started and the team vanished in a shimmer.


A second later the console exploded in a shower of sparks.


-o-O-o-


The team rematerialised in the cargo bay of their ship, half a metre off the floor.


“Murdock!” Face yelled in protest as they dropped, landing in a heap.


“What, you’d have preferred we landed up to our knees in the deck plating instead?”


BA had ended up on the bottom of the heap and they heard him groaning as he started to come around. A second later the heap of people erupted and BA exploded out of it. He looked around at the ship and then looked at his watch. He glared at the team and Hannibal grinned back while the rest tried to avoid BA’s eye as they scrambled up.


“Either my watch has stopped or we got here awful fast.” BA’s voice was low, full of warning.


“BA!” Murdock protested, “I’m shocked. You know that we know that you hate transporters. We would never do that to you.”


“You did it. I can feel it. I can feel my molecules is all scrambled.” He pounded one fist into the opposite hand and advanced on the others. “Now I’m gonna scramble your molecules the hard way.”


The matter transporter, perfected only two years ago, was being touted by its makers as the greatest advance in transportation since someone first said: “See that horse thing over there, I’m gonna climb on its back.” But they could count BA Baracus among the unimpressed.


The team had even bought one for the ship. For emergencies only, Hannibal insisted. The night after installation it had mysteriously broken beyond the wit of any technician to repair. Face used the now useless booth as extra wardrobe space.


“Er, talking of scrambling,” Face said, “Hadn’t we better get out of here before Decker sends a squadron of fighters after us?”


“Right,” Hannibal nodded. “BA, get to the engine room, get us as much oomph out of that engine as you can manage. Murdock, get us in the air. Let’s go people!” He ran off up the steps leading from the cargo bay to the rest of the ship. BA followed him muttering about “later.”


-o-O-o-


The ship lifted out of orbit and a pursuing squadron of fighters showed up to prove Face right. Plasma fire chased the team’s ship.


“I thought you said they didn’t want to shoot us?” Amy said nervously strapping herself in behind Hannibal, who sat at one of the two control panels up front. Face sat at another panel behind Murdock.


“Targeting our engines,” Face said. “BA will be mad.” A hit on their aft shield made the ship shudder.


Hannibal opened the comms channel to the engine room.


“Faster would be much, much better, Sergeant.”


“What am I, a miracle worker?” BA demanded. “You got everything.”


“We’re staying ahead of them,” Face reported. “But we’re not losing ’em.”


“Evasive manoeuvres, Captain. Face, I’ve got an idea, find us a nice big asteroid.”


“What?” Face looked up, scowling. “You’re not thinking of –”


“You recall that little game of tag we had with Lynch around Ceres back in ’78? Same plan. Get scanning, find us something.”


Face started scanning for a good sized asteroid, but he did feel obliged to point something out.


“Hannibal, this plan of yours. There’s just one thing about it that might have slipped your mind over the years.”


Hannibal looked back at him. “What?”


“It didn’t work.”


Amy groaned and Murdock chuckled.


“‘Didn’t work’ is a value judgement, Face.” A defensive tone tinged Hannibal’s voice for a moment.


“No, it’s a fact. ‘Horribly backfired’, now that would be a value judgement.”


“Relax, Face.” Hannibal turned back to his console. “I’m pretty sure I know what went wrong.”


“That’s a comfort.” Face looked at Amy, who looked genuinely scared now. He gave her a reassuring smile and then wished someone would give him one too. “Okay, got one. Sending you the co-ordinates, Murdock.”


“Muchas gracias, compadre. Hold on to your butts!”


-o-O-o-


Twenty minutes later they were hovering over the surface of an asteroid, holding position with thrusters. The flight deck emergency lights cast a bluish glow over their faces.


“I think we lost them,” Murdock said. “They lost our radiation trail once we shut down main power. Now we just have to stay out of sight for another fifteen minutes and they have to turn around and go home, or they won’t have the fuel to get back.” He grinned and leaned back in his chair. “And then we can moon them out the back window if we like, but if they want to get home they have to keep going.” He looked around. “Anybody volunteering to write ‘Up yours, Decker’ on my butt? Just, you know, not in permanent marker this time.”


Face and Amy both shuddered. Hannibal gave a nostalgic sigh.


“So I’ll just –” Murdock frowned suddenly. “Uh oh.” He hit the comms. “Warm her up, BA, we gotta move.”


“What’s wrong?” Hannibal asked. “We can’t show ourselves yet.”


“You know how the asteroid is rotating?” Murdock said, “And you know how it’s rotating faster than we’re travelling? Well a kind of pointy, sticky out bit just came over the horizon and is coming right at us.”


“Pointy sticky out bit?” Hannibal asked, with a sinking feeling.


“Okay, a mountain. It’s a mountain. And it’s heading right for us.”


“BA!” Hannibal yelled over the comm, “Get us back to full power.”


“That’ll take a couple of minutes.” BA’s voice sounded over the channel. Hannibal looked at Murdock who shook his head.


“Gotta be faster, BA.”


“Man, I can’t change the laws of –”


“Fine, you take your time, I mean, you’re at the back of the ship, so when we get rear ended by the mountain that’s chasing us, it’ll hit you first.”


BA went silent for what seemed like an hour, “Okay, stand by for full power in one minute. And don’t come crying to me if we explode.”


Hannibal closed the channel.


“Murdock, how’s it going?”


“Oh, spiffy. We can’t reach escape velocity with thrusters, but just might be able to clear the mountain. Climbing now.”


“It’s still gaining,” Face reported. Hannibal glanced back at him and found himself on the receiving end of Face’s glare. “I’m about to make a value judgement, Colonel.”


“We’ll make it,” Hannibal said, smiling at Face and the wide-eyed Amy. “We always make it.”


“Full power now!” BA’s voice broke over the comms system. Murdock’s hands flew over the controls, and sudden acceleration pinned them all in their seats.


“Climb, baby, climb!” Murdock pleaded. “Just a little bit more!”


Hannibal could see it on the aft scanners. A wall of rock coming at them, rushing past as the ship climbed. A bank to starboard wrenched him in his seat. And suddenly the rock was gone, the stars appeared and they were clear. The sight of open sky drew a full throated yell of triumph from Murdock, prompting protests from Face and Amy.


And three fighter ships rose from behind the mountain and opened fire.

Chapter 3

Only time saved them.


The ship had spun away wildly, damaged and barely under control. Inside alarms screamed, lights flashed and the team yelled. Within minutes, they would have been sitting ducks for the fighters, but the time they’d bought earlier proved decisive. The fighters simply reached the limits of their range. Two more minutes pursuing the team would have left them without enough fuel to get back to Mars. So, with a few parting shots, they broke off pursuit, turned in formation and headed home.


Hannibal had smirked as he saw it. Not only because it left them free, but also because it made him happy to know Decker didn’t engender the kind of loyalty that made pilots ignore protocol, go beyond their range to complete a mission and then wait and hope for pickup before their life-support power faded.


Now the team’s ship drifted in space. Only dim light from the view ports showed it wasn’t dead. Inside, in the blue glow of the emergency lighting the team all crammed into the flight deck.


“Nothing on sensors.” Face said. He looked up. “The fighters all left. But you know something long range is going to come out to mop us up.”


“Then we have to get moving,” Hannibal said, “BA, how long?”


“About three hours.” He looked around, a look of regret on his face. “But, gonna have to do some of the repairs from outside.”


The others groaned.


“I can do them on my own,” BA offered.


“No,” Hannibal shook his head. “No-one goes extra-vehicular alone. Anyway, it will speed things up if someone hands you your tools.” He looked at Face and Murdock, who both seemed to be trying to pretend they were someone else and had never heard of the A-Team. Hannibal smiled. “I think it’s Face’s turn.”


“Aw, Colonel, please,” Face moaned. “You know I hate going EV! The damn suit makes me claustrophobic. Anyway, if it’s just to hand BA his tools, well,” he turned the Smile on full blast. “Amy, honey, how’d you fancy your first spacewalk?”


“In what?” Amy asked, “All the spacesuits are male.”


“You wouldn’t be out there long enough to need to use the -um – ” He looked embarrassed for a second, “the plumbing.”


“Don’t know about you, Face,” Murdock said. “But when I’m out there in vacuum with just a thin layer of plastic between me and certain death, I tend to use the plumbing pretty much continually.”


“You know I could have lived the rest of my life quite happily without ever knowing that,” Face said, scowling at Murdock. He brightened suddenly. “Wait, Amy does have a space suit, that one I got her last month.”


“Face!” Amy protested. “You’d better be kidding! That’s not a real spacesuit! I wouldn’t go out in the rain in that thing!”


“What do you mean not real?”


“You got it for me to wear to that costume party.”


“It’s a spacesuit isn’t it?”


“It’s got high heels and an under wired bust. You stole it from one of Hannibal’s movie sets.”


“I did not steal it!” Face protested, and then looked shifty. “I mean, I could still return it.”


“Okay,” Hannibal said, “much as I’m enjoying the cabaret, if we don’t get moving you kids will be doing your double act for Decker. Face, BA, get suited up.”


-o-O-o-


“Aw, man, look at that.” BA moaned as he and Face floated across the side of the ship. He pointed at the scorch mark that almost obscured the ship’s name: ‘Chicago’.


“Sorry, BA, I didn’t think to bring any paint with me,” Face said. “We’ll fix it up later, when we’re not impersonating a bull’s-eye.”


BA grunted. “Yeah, I guess.” They moved on, using rungs set into the hull, and then activated their magnetic boots to walk across the underside of the ship. There they found more scorch marks and the damage that needed repairs before they could get underway. BA fixed his toolbox to the hull with a couple of magnetic clamps and set to work. Face stood beside him, handed over tools and kept a watch on the levels of their air tanks.


“Face,” BA said, after a while. “You’re real quiet.”


“Mmm?” Face said, looking away from the stars and turning to BA.


“Normally I gotta shut down the comms channel so I don’t have to listen to your jibber jabber.”


“You shut down the comm?” Face said, outraged for a moment. Then he smiled. “Guess I’ve done a lot of talking to myself out here then.”


“Yeah. I usually listen to music instead.” BA turned away again, bending over his work. “You worried ’bout meeting Kyle? You two got a history.”


Face didn’t answer right away, just looked hard at the side of BA’s helmet, at the stencilled letters ‘Baracus’ and rather more crudely hand written in marker underneath. AB—


AB negative. He’d had that painted on the side of his helmet the day Face met him back on Venus. Face asked him why, when the medics could scan all your medical data right off your I.D. chip. BA, wearing an engineer’s patch on his sleeve, had sneered at the idea and said, “Any man trusts a machine, that man’s a fool.”


BA turned his head, so Face could see his features behind his visor, thrown into deep shadow by the light on the front on his helmet.


“Face?”


“I doubt Kyle even remembers me.”


BA snorted.


“After we done with him he’ll remember you.”


-o-O-o-


Murdock lifted noodles from a serving bowl with the tongs and piled them on his plate, dropping several and leaving a trail of sauce across the table.


“Quit making a mess, fool.”


BA sounded grouchier than usual and Hannibal looked up at him. He looked tired. Face too. Doing a space walk left you drained, Hannibal knew. Not just the exertion, but also the tension of being out there, with so little protection. However, the repairs were done and the ship underway, a course plotted for Ganymede.


“What’s the final estimate on travel time?” Hannibal asked Murdock.


“Sixteen days,” Murdock said, provoking a round of groans.


“Hey, it coulda been two months, quit complaining.” He sighed. “Man wait till those new experimental drives they’re working on go into production. This trip will take two days. Three tops!”


“Gonna be ten years at least ‘fore they’re ready,” BA said.


Murdock sighed. “Yeah, I guess. But the outer solar system will really open up when they do.”


Hannibal decided to head off the looming discussion about spaceship engines, which he feared would send Amy, Face and himself into a coma.


“Well I guess we’ll all get plenty of rest.”


“Yeah, in shifts,” Face said. “Since we have four bunks and five people.” He grinned and winked at Amy. “Looking forward to sharing, kid?”


Amy shot him a dirty look, still mad at him for the spacewalk suggestion, even if he had been kidding.


“I could sleep out here on a couch if you like,” she offered.


Hannibal shook his head. “We need someone on watch all the time anyway.”


“I’ll take the first night watch,” Murdock said. He paused to suck in a long noodle. “I’ll play chess with Billy.”


BA glared at Murdock. “Don’t start that nonsense. I told ya, the computer ain’t got a name.”


“BA, it’s a B.I.L. 9000. What else am I supposed to call it?” He appeared baffled that anyone could think he had any choice in the matter.


“You don’t need to call it nothing.” BA insisted. “It’s a machine.”


“The ship’s a machine,” Murdock pointed out. “It’s got a name.”


“A ship’s gotta have a name, it’s the law.”


“And we’re such law abiding citizens,” Face muttered, winding noodles around his fork.


“Ship’s gotta have a name,” BA repeated. “That’s not the same as calling the computer ‘Billy’. Sentimental fool.”


“Oh,” Murdock countered, “Because naming the ship after the place you were born, that’s not an act of sentiment?”


“And you been messing with Bil – with the computer.” BA pointed his fork at Murdock. “You programmed it to sing some dumb song about a bicycle.”


Murdock grinned.


“Yeah,” Face said, “and are you by any chance responsible for the way it keeps on randomly asking me ‘what are you doing, Face?’ in that creepy voice?” He shivered while Murdock giggled. “It’s freaking me out.”


“Okay, I’m sorry. I’ll teach Billy to do something useful I swear.” He looked thoughtful. “Do you think we’d ever need him to be able to read lips?”


“Fool.”


Sixteen days, five people, four bunks, Hannibal thought. He wondered if he should open a book now on how many of them would still be alive by the time they got to Ganymede.

Chapter 4

“Now that’s a hell of a view,” Hannibal said, as they approached Ganymede and Jupiter dominated the sky.


“Mm,” Face agreed. “Shame they don’t really get to see it much where we’re going.”


Jupiter’s radiation forced the inhabitants of Ganymede to live under the ground, most of them in the moon’s primary settlement, Galileo City. ‘City’ showed the resident’s ambition if nothing else, since, according to the records, only about eighty people lived there. Another thousand or so lived either in small settlements, or isolated bunkers, all of them scattered around the light side, the face of Ganymede turned permanently towards Jupiter.


“There’s the landing area,” Murdock said, heading for a beacon that flashed on his scanner screens. “Ready for us. Okay, everybody sitting comfortably? Let’s do it.”


A moment later, the ship touched down gently on a platform, which began to sink into the rock. Heavy doors slid across and closed above them.


“How far down do we go?” BA asked.


“About a hundred metres,” Murdock said. “Okay, there it is. I’ll buzz Matt and let him know we’ve landed.”


“End of the road,” Hannibal said. “Everybody off the bus!”


He didn’t have to tell them twice. By now, they were all desperate to get off the ship. Galileo City had a small hotel, to cater to the other residents of the moon when they came into town for supplies and company. After more than two weeks living together on the Chicago, the team couldn’t wait to check in.


They disembarked and started heaving their gear along a well-lit passageway, passing through several bulkhead doors as they walked.


“What can I hear clinking in here, Face?” Hannibal said, unzipping and peering into a bag he carried. “Um, Face, is there anything you need to tell me?” The bag held several bottles of whisky. Hannibal rummaged in it, to find it also held bars of chocolate, bottles of perfume, fancy soap and cigars.


“BA has his tools, I have mine,” Face said.


Amy looked into the bag too. “Tools?”


Face gave a long suffering ‘why am I always misunderstood?’ sigh.


“Look, this town is too small for me to do any scamming, since everybody will know who we are. Nevertheless, we’ll likely need things from people and it always helps to offer a gift to, shall we say, open negotiations. Out here on the frontier some small luxury item is always well received.”


“Ah.” Hannibal glanced back at Amy and winked. “Bribes.”


Face spluttered in outrage at once.


“Bribes? I said gifts! To give me an ‘in’ so I can start to weave the old Faceman magic.”


BA and Murdock rolled their eyes at each other.


“Ah,” Hannibal said in a mock serious tone. “So not bribes.”


“Hannibal, I’ve told you before,” Face scowled at him. “If I ever, EVER, sink so low as to offer someone a bribe to get what I want, then you can throw me off the team right then. Right then.” He stalked off ahead of the group.


They caught up with him at the last set of doors, which didn’t open at once. As they stood waiting, Murdock glanced up suddenly.


“We’re being scanned,” he said in a singsong voice.


“How can you tell?” Amy asked. She glanced around at the walls and the ceiling, not seeing anything obvious. Murdock just shrugged.


“Just can. Like with the Pseudo Suits.”


BA snorted. Hannibal shrugged. “Oh, who can’t see through those? I definitely can.”


“No way.” Face said, frowning at him. “Murdock I could believe, maybe, but you?”


“I can, I swear.”


“So,” Murdock said, “what you’re saying is, you meant to go on that date with Gareth?”


BA and Amy both giggled. Face smirked, cheered out of his brief sulk. Hannibal scowled. Oh, right. Gareth. “Since then,” he insisted. “I’ve figured it out since then!”


“Thank god you have that ‘no sex on the first date’ policy.” Face said, still smirking. He looked sidelong at Hannibal. “Please tell us you still have that policy.”


“Face,” Hannibal began, the scowl becoming a glare. “How’d you like –”


A whoosh of air interrupted him as the doors cracked and opened. They expected to see Matthew, but a man they didn’t know stood waiting for them. A bulky, muscular man, with blonde hair, aged perhaps forty, wearing a silver star pinned to his short jacket.


“Welcome to Galileo City, Miss, gentlemen,” he said, in a British accent. “I’m the sheriff, Ted Barrett.” He held out his hand, but not for a shake. “I have to ask you to surrender your guns.”


“Our guns?” Hannibal had started to smile, but it froze on his lips. “I don’t think so, Sheriff.”


“Privately owned firearms are illegal on Ganymede, sir.”


Hannibal looked the sheriff over. Outnumbered four to one and armed with one pistol on his belt and his tin star. A big man, almost as big as BA, and, if he had training, then Hannibal wasn’t sure he could personally beat the guy in a fight. But he knew for sure the four of them together could put Ted on his back and stroll over his face. Yet he stood there, polite as you like, coolly asking them to hand over their weapons. Hannibal started to consider liking him.


“Ted!” Matthew Warner ran up to the group, looking flushed. “Ted, it’s okay it’s them, the A-Team.” He turned to the team, grinning, “Colonel Smith,” he shook Hannibal’s hand, then Face’s, Amy’s and BA’s before Murdock swept him up in a laughing, back-slapping embrace.


“Good to see you, rookie! Hey, what’s the beef, Matt? The Sheriff wants our shootin’ irons. You made guns illegal out here?”


“Yes.” Matthew looked serious, stepped back from Murdock. “Most of us have had our fill of guns now.”


“But, you’re out on the frontier.” Hannibal frowned. This did not bode well.


“Well, yes, but it’s not like there’s any bears or wolves to shoot.”


“Well, pardon me, but it sounds like you do have a wolf needs dealing with.”


Matthew sighed. “I know. Never saw that one coming.”


“Matt,” Ted said, interrupting the reunion. “I can’t let them walk around with guns until the council makes the decision.”


“Council?” Hannibal asked.


“The ruling council, we’re having an emergency meeting, in,” Matthew glanced at his watch, “uh well, now actually. You guys need to be there.” He glanced at the scowling sheriff, then back at Hannibal. “Look, how about you agree to let Ted lock the guns up in his jail till later, after the meeting?” He smiled at the colonel appealingly, but Hannibal didn’t give in to that appeal. He folded his arms and chewed on his cigar.


“You hired us. You knew what you were getting, you know how we work. If you don’t like it,” he glared at Ted, considering not liking him now. “You know what you can do.” He turned away and grabbed a handle of the rifle case. “C’mon guys, looks like we made a mistake coming here.” BA grabbed the other handle, Murdock and Face looked at each other, shrugged and turned too.


“What?” Amy gasped, “We’re just going to turn around and go back!”


“Wait!” Matthew sounded shocked and rather desperate. Hannibal turned back, Ted still wore his scowl.


“Matt, I won’t let them walk my streets carrying illegal weapons, I don’t care who they are!”


“Dammit!” Matthew snapped. “You’re all as bad as each other.” He threw up his hands and said, “Okay, just, just wait there a second, all of you, please.”


He moved away a short distance and took out a communicator and started talking into it. Meanwhile the team waited, still inside the passageway that led to the landing bay. None of them had crossed the threshold of the doors into the town.


Murdock sat down on the rifle case when Hannibal and BA put it down and took a toy plane out of his pocket. Face fished a bar of chocolate out of his bag of not bribes and handed it around. Ted just stood glaring at them, guarding the threshold, as if the team were invaders.


And they were invaders, Hannibal realised. Ted must feel like the people it was his job to protect had lost faith in him by bringing in the team. He wouldn’t back down. He’d make this guns thing a point of principle, and stick to the letter of the law, to frustrate the men he must surely see as rivals.


“Okay.” Matthew came back over to them, smiling. “Everybody just relax, it’s sorted. If you can’t go to the council, the council is coming to you.”


A few moments later, they heard a babble of querulous voices and a group of about twenty people turned a corner into the short street leading to where the team and the sheriff waited.


The ruling council did not look happy to be dragged out of whatever cosy committee room they normally used and the babble of voices went on. Matthew hurried to a blonde woman a few years older than him and spoke rapidly to her. Hannibal realised after a second who she was, his wife, Caithlin and according to Murdock’s information, the mayor.


It had taken him a moment to recognise her, even though for several months during the war he’d seen her almost every day, back at headquarters. She’d aged more than he’d have expected, but then again, he thought he shouldn’t be surprised, he’d seen it starting even back then. When she’d first arrived, she’d been something of a breath of fresh air, with a ready laugh and an Irish brogue that Murdock insisted on imitating. But, even as part of the rear echelon, never going into combat, he’d seen the war take a toll on her, dimming the sparkle she’d once had.


She looked tired now, and shot the team and the sheriff an impatient glance before she stepped forward, and called out for quiet. It took a moment and some glaring, but eventually the others quietened and stood in a rough semi circle around the doorway where the team still waited behind the threshold.


“It seems we have to hold the council meeting here.” Caithlin announced. “Is everyone here?”


“Doc said she’d be late, start without her,” Matthew said. Caithlin nodded and looked around.


“Then I call this meeting to order. We recording?”


Amy was, Hannibal noticed, her notebook in her hand now, watching the council closely.


“Councillors, there’s only one item on the agenda,” Caithlin said, “Your approval is needed to allow the sheriff to deputise the A-Team, so they can carry firearms.”


“Deputies?” Hannibal’s mouth almost dropped open. What the hell? Matthew gave him a weak smile and shrug, seeing his reaction. He mouthed something. Looked like “only way”. Hannibal scowled. Well being deputies could be interesting, but on the other hand, that made the sheriff his boss. Hannibal hadn’t had a boss for some time now, and he was getting too old to change his ways.


“Shall we vote right away, or does anyone want to say anything?” Caithlin asked.


A middle-aged man in a good suit, far more formal than the others, spoke up at once, “I want to renew my objection to your bringing these men here.” He frowned at the team. “They are, from what I understand, fugitives and mercenaries. Can you tell me how they are any different from Kyle?” Various people murmured in agreement, though all of them avoided looking at the team.


“We don’t kill innocent people,” Face said at once, his face flushing.


“He’s right, Alistair,” Matthew said. “I know they have some, um, issues with the authorities, but I know them. They are good people. We can trust them. And they can deal with Kyle, I’m certain of that.”


“And what then? Even if they get rid of Kyle, what if someone else takes his place?”


“Mr, um?” Hannibal said.


“Lambert.”


“Thanks. Mr Lambert has a good point. Kyle isn’t interested in land, or mines, not for himself. Someone hired him to attack you.”


“So what’s to stop them hiring someone else?” Lambert demanded.


“Because –” Hannibal began, but Caithlin interrupted him.


“Look, Alistair.” She sounded angry. “we all know your views, and you’ll get to make your case when we have the vote about changing the firearms law. But that’s not what this meeting is about.”


“That’s exactly what it’s about!” This time he got louder voices of assent from around the group. “It’s about protecting our homes and property. You think that bringing this A-Team in as a short term solution will sway the vote your way –”


“Can we stick to the agenda?” Matthew said.


“Could I finish?” Hannibal asked.


“Alistair, can I remind you that nobody has been shot yet,” Caithlin said, not apparently listening either to her husband or to Hannibal. “And can I also remind you that the only person who’s actually been beaten up by Kyle and his men is Ted? Who has a gun and knows how to use it.”


The team looked at the sheriff, who looked embarrassed at their scrutiny. “I was outnumbered,” he muttered.


“Can I remind you about the amount of damage that’s been done to property. And the intimidation of –”


“And you think if the people getting intimidated had owned guns then everything would have ended happily do you?” She scowled and her cheeks flushed. “Where do you get this idea that more guns leads to fewer people getting shot? If you’d been in the war you’d understand that’s not the case.”


Hannibal bit his lip. Not good, Caithlin, he thought, divisive. Don’t make it a them and us thing, vets versus civilians. He didn’t even feel very comfortable with hearing her invoking the war. She’d not seen combat after all. Lambert seemed to feel the same way about her using the war as an argument, as he spoke with a hard edge to his voice.


“Ah, of course it always comes down to that.”


This was clearly an old argument, but that didn’t mean the council wouldn’t happily rehash it. Well Hannibal decided they didn’t have that kind of time. The sun would burn out in a few billion years and they’d still be arguing then if someone didn’t stop them.


“Listen!” Hannibal shouted, making the council and the team look at him startled. He spoke more quietly as he continued, but keeping plenty of authority in his tone. Nobody could resist that voice. Even the civilians tried to stand to attention. “Look, you folks are paying me, so I can stand here all day and listen to you squabble, but I’m a little tired. What I started to say before, is that the A-Team doesn’t do half a job. We’ll not only stop Kyle we’ll find out who’s behind him and handle him too. I promise you, we won’t leave until this job is finished. Now are you gonna vote, before we all die of old age?”


Lambert looked annoyed Hannibal saw, but Caithlin looked happier, the flush draining from her face. She pushed a strand of hair behind her ear.


“Okay,” she said, seizing the moment, as Hannibal finished speaking. “Are we ready to vote? All in favour of deputising the A-Team –” She stopped and looked past Hannibal at the same moment that he heard doors open and close further back down the passageway. The sound of footsteps behind him made him turn, to see a woman walking towards them from the landing bay, a baffled look on her face at the scene. He stepped back with a nod as she passed him and she smiled at him.


“Sorry, I’m late. So we’re, ah, doing the show right here?” She asked Caithlin.


“Long story,” Caithlin said. “We’re just about to vote.” She spoke, as if to the air. “For the record, Councillor Maggie Sullivan has entered the meeting.”

Chapter 5

“Care for a coffee, Deputy Smith?”


“Thank you, Deputy Murdock. That would be great.”


Face and BA looked at each other and then gave Murdock a glare that suggested the words “Deputy Peck” and “Deputy Baracus” had better not be spoken. Murdock grinned and went to the bar of The Great Red Spot, Galileo City’s premiere, indeed only, café bar and restaurant. Hannibal turned back to the group.


Now he’d sworn in the team as deputies the sheriff’s attitude had softened a little and he was filling them in on his problems locating Kyle’s base.


“All we know is that it’s somewhere on the dark side, but I’ve not been able to pinpoint it. The background radiation makes accurate scanning impossible.” Face and BA paid close attention, but Hannibal found his mind wandering. Specifically, wandering over to where Amy sat talking to Doctor Sullivan.


Oh, pull yourself together, Colonel, he thought. We’re here to work. If I saw Face getting distracted by a woman I’d have him out running laps.


“Must mess with communications too,” BA said as Hannibal turned his attention back to the group.


“Yes.” Ted paused as Murdock came back with coffees. “Yes, communications are a big problem. We have hard lines to the other settlements, and some of the isolated mines and bunkers have boosters that can punch a signal through in an emergency, though that uses up a lot of power. We’ve got a booster here in the city, in Frosty’s workshop.”


“Frosty?” Murdock said.


“Joy Frost, our engineer, she keeps all the equipment running. That used to just be maintenance really and radiation damage repair, but with this Kyle situation and the damage he’s done, well, she’s had a lot more work lately.”


“That so?” Hannibal said, feeling cynical. “Benefits financially then?”


“She’s paid by the insurance companies to make the repairs,” Ted said, frowning. “What are you getting at?”


“Nothing,” Hannibal said, “Just thinking out loud. I think one of us should maybe have a chat with Miss Frost. Is it Miss?”


“It’s Captain,” Ted said, still scowling about Hannibal’s implication.


“Okay. Face.” Who better to talk to a lady? “You’ll pop in and chat to Captain Frost…” He glanced at his watch, getting late. “In the morning.” He looked at Ted and smiled. “Well, we’ll need some advice on communications and shielding for the ship too.”


“Right. Can you excuse me a minute.” Ted walked off, his shoulders high and tense.


“Get the feeling you just impugned the integrity of a friend of his, Colonel,” Murdock said.


Hannibal shrugged. “Maybe. But that’s a problem for a cop in a small town like this, he can be too close to people to be objective.”


Matthew joined them then, grimacing as he spoke. “Hi, guys. I’m sorry about that whole council meeting thing. The politics in this place…” He shook his head.


“That guy Lambert seems pretty set on changing that gun law,” Hannibal said. He glanced over at a corner table where Lambert sat with a fashionably dressed woman, wearing enough ice around her neck to chill the room. “He the local big shot?” Hannibal asked. “Rich?”


“Big shot, yeah, you could say that,” Matthew said, nodding. “Owns the hotel, as well as three mines and the supply store.”


“Three mines?” Hannibal frowned. “Been buying them up?” He saw Face glance at him, a look that said ‘you thinking what I’m thinking?’


“Negotiating for a couple more,” Matthew said.


“Uh huh. And the people he’s negotiating with, they had any trouble from Kyle?”


Matthew glanced around and leaned closer, spoke quietly. “Well, of course people have considered that, but really, I don’t think he can have anything to do with Kyle. I may not agree with him much, but he’s a decent man. He’s got two children.”


So a wife with expensive taste and two kids, Hannibal thought.


“Besides he wants the guns to let people defend their property,” Matthew continued.


“Which would be a good cover.”


“Whoa, Hannibal,” Murdock said. “You’re really pouncing on the conclusions tonight, aren’t you?”


“Thinking out loud,” Hannibal said again. He looked at Matthew, his sincere expression, apparently not suspicious even of a man who seemed to be his wife’s biggest rival on the council. So it’s not only the sheriff that has a problem with objectivity, then.


He glanced around the welcoming room, with its soft lighting, twinkling glass and polished wood. Music played quietly in the background and patrons chatted and laughed. An evening here with the right person would be a very pleasant thing indeed, he thought.


“Right,” Hannibal said, “I think we’re done for the night, you guys can relax. Now, I, ah, just need to go ask Amy something,” Before anyone could speak, he strode off, trying hard to think of something to ask Amy when he got there.


-o-O-o-


The hotel rooms had balconies, which, Face thought, was patently absurd. Why have balconies with no fresh air or view to enjoy? But balconies seemed to match up with the same sense of ambition that led to the residents calling this small underground settlement a city.


Leaning on the rail, Face looked out at the short streets of boxy prefab houses. Only a few of them showed lights, the time well after midnight now. Looking up he tried to imagine a star strewn sky above them and for a change missed the simulated sky of the Redmond City dome. Here there was only the roof of the cavern. A sky made of stone. He sighed and took a drag on a cigar he’d filched from Hannibal earlier. The colonel had been too pre-occupied to notice. A certain doctor keeping him busy, Face noticed.


“Hey, Face, you still up?”


Face looked to the balcony on his left to see Amy stepping onto it. She was still dressed. Face himself wore only shorts, and a T-shirt that belonged to Murdock and had the words ‘It’s a Texas thing. You wouldn’t understand’ emblazoned on the front.


Face mustered a low power version of the Smile.


“Hey, Amy. Can’t sleep. You too?”


“Oh, I was just writing up some stuff about the meeting.” She stretched, reaching her arms high over her head and standing on her tip toes. Her shirt popped out of the waistband of her skirt and Face smirked.


“I was right.”


“What?”


“You have an innie, Murdock owes me twenty bucks, he bet on an outie.”


“Face!” Amy exclaimed, smoothing her shirt back down over her stomach, covering her belly button. She shook her head, spoke more quietly. “You could have just asked me.”


“That’s no fun.”


Amy rolled her eyes. “Men! You guys actually bet on stuff like that?”


“Sure.” He grinned at her. “Confirmation of your bra size won me fifty.”


“You’d better be kidding!” She scowled and looked ready to climb over to his balcony and extract the fifty in blood. Face backtracked hastily.


“Did I say bra? I meant shoes.”


Amy made a ‘pfft’ sound, obviously not convinced. She yawned.


“You should get some sleep,” Face said. He winked. “Want me to come tuck you into bed?”


“Sure, then Hannibal will put you to bed with a shovel.” She didn’t leave the balcony though. “So, you’ll be going to bed too then?”


“In a minute.”


“Okay.” She still didn’t leave. “You mind some company?”


“I never mind female company.” An automatic response, he knew, but sincere, felt glad to have someone to talk to, to keep him from brooding too much.


“Face, what’s bothering you?” Amy said. Face sighed. Oh well, there goes the not brooding.


“What makes you think there’s anything bothering me?”


She came over and sat on the rail that separated the two balconies.


“You had a pretty strong reaction when you found out about Kyle.”


Face sighed and turned away from her. Damned observant reporter.


“Face?” Face leaned forward on his elbows, still puffing on the cigar. “Okay.” Amy said after a moment. “Well I’ll leave you to it.”


He turned to look at Amy. As she put a hand on the French door back to her room, he spoke.


“Off the record?”


She looked back at him. “Of course.” She came back to the balcony rail and he came over to lean against it.


“Back on Venus, before I hooked up with the team, I was leading a patrol through a forest. The place was insane. Full of bugs the size of your head. Rain that never stopped. Trees that grew fast enough to watch.” He shook his head. “Insane.” His cigar had burned down to its end now. He crushed the butt out in an ashtray on the balcony rail. “We ran into another patrol, but I thought there was something wrong about them. We were meant to be the only ones in the area. Anyway I was right. The guy in charge introduced himself as Major Kyle. Then he shot me.”


“Shot you?” Amy gasped.


Face nodded. “Me and the rest of my squad. He’d been arrested a month before, not that many people knew. The Corp covered up the details, about some of the things he’d done to enemy prisoners. But he’d escaped. He’d got himself a little band of buddies together, all scum like him, deserters, criminals, and they broke out of the stockade. Killed a few MPs on the way.”


Amy laid a hand gently on Face’s shoulder. “Why did they attack your squad?”


“For our weapons. They took every rifle, handgun and knife we had, and anything else they liked the look of. The worst thing though…” He shook his head. “They smashed the radio. Didn’t even take it, just smashed it. Three of us survived, and they didn’t even bother wasting ammo to finish us, just left us to die. And without the radio we couldn’t call for medevac. There was no need for him to do that.” Face’s voice rose, strained and higher than normal. “They’d have been long gone from the area by the time anybody got to us. So we had to walk out, me and the two other guys still alive.”


He stopped and went quiet, looking up at the stone sky. Amy didn’t speak. She still had a hand on his shoulder and now leant against him, her chin resting against her hand. The heat of her body against his felt good. Chased away the chill of the memories.


“One of them, Adams died on the way. We had to leave him, like we left the rest. The other one, Sergeant Card, he was carrying me by the time we got picked up. He died the next day. If we’d had the radio, all three of us would have made it.”


He turned to look at Amy and she sat back, leaning against the wall.


“So, that answer your question?”


She nodded. “Yes, but it gives me another one. Have you come here for revenge?”


Face gazed out over the town again for a moment. “Maybe.” Had he? He’d thought about it many times over the years, what he’d do with the opportunity. Now he may very well get that opportunity and realised he’d never actually made the decision. He laughed and the laugh tasted bitter in his mouth. “If he gives me the right excuse… Well, we’ll see what happens.”


He straightened up and stretched. Now he felt he could sleep. Turning to Amy, he smiled. “Thanks, Amy, goodnight now.” He moved to the door to his room.


“Face, why off the record?” She asked when he turned back to her. “If I published that in one my stories, well it would make people more sympathetic to you guys.”


“I don’t want sympathy,” Face said, his tone harsh for a moment and he bit his lip at once, regretting it. “Sorry, Amy. But sympathy is not what I’m looking for in life.”


“What are you looking for, Templeton Peck?”


He smiled back at her. Sorry, kid, he thought, you’ve had your daily ration of revelation from Templeton Peck.


“Amy, when I figure that out, I promise you’ll get the exclusive.”

Chapter 6

A sign on the door of Joy Frost’s workshop invited him to please walk in, so Face did. Inside he found himself in a small room, crammed with, at Face’s guess, a million broken things. A young man, barely more than a boy, sat at a bench dismantling a piece of machinery. Face recognised him from the hotel, as one of the Lambert’s kids. This town is too small, he thought, I already know everybody. The boy looked at him, questioningly.


“Hi, Russ isn’t it? I’m here to see Joy Frost.”


Russ gave him one of the hugely unimpressed looks teenagers specialised in and called out, “Hey, Frosty. You’ve got a visitor.” Then he went back to his dismantling, losing any apparent interest in Face.


“Who is it?” A woman said as she walked in from a back room. Aged perhaps fifty, Face guessed, she wore overalls and her greying hair was cropped short, almost still military style. Seeing Face, she stopped in the doorway and stared. “Oh my.”


“Hello, Captain Frost.” Face smiled at her. “I’m Templeton Peck, pleased to meet you.” He held out his hand and she came over. Face kept the Smile on full power as she shook his hand slowly, looking him up and down, wide-eyed. Then she looked up into his face and grinned.


“So, when do my other two wishes come true?”


Face laughed while she still hung onto his hand.


“Ooh, old people flirting. That’s really sexy.” Russ said, not looking up from his work.


Joy let go of Face’s hand and scowled at Russ. “Go and put the coffee maker on, child.” He sighed, slid off his stool and headed through to the back room. “We’ll talk later about the word ‘old’,” she called after him then turned back to Face, smiling again. “Ignore him, he’s seventeen, he thinks humans should be culled at the age of thirty.”


“He works here with you?” Face asked, sitting down as she waved him to a chair.


“Oh he’s just picking up some experience of how machines actually work, before he goes off to college and they stuff his head full of theory.” She cleared some spare parts from another chair and sat down herself. “So what can I do for you, Mr Peck?”


“Face, please.”


“Face?” She laughed. “I can buy that. Call me Joy.”


Face could buy that. She’d been joyful since the moment she’d set eyes on him.


“So you’re one of the A-Team, eh? Matt’s talked about nothing else for weeks. Says you fellas will deal with Kyle like that.” She snapped her fingers.


“We aim to please,” Face said. “That’s why I’m here actually. We need to find his base. I’m told you’re the expert around here on adapting machinery to cope with the radiation. If we’re going to be over there on the dark side trying to track him down we may need some adaptations to our ship. And the scanners.”


She nodded. “Of course, I’ll help out where I can.” She looked thoughtful. “Could be that with your ship you can get enough power to your scanners to actually find the base. All the other ships here are just dolled up shuttles basically.”


“Do many people – thanks, kid – have shuttles?” Face asked as Russ handed them coffee.


“Not many, just the people who have to get out and about. The sheriff, the doc, me.”


“For when her broomstick’s in the shop,” Russ muttered.


“His dad,” she nodded at Russ, “a few other private ones. Matt has a larger one. We call it the ‘bus’. He delivers supplies and brings people into town.” She sipped her coffee. “We’ve been over to the dark side and tried scanning of course, but Kyle must be deep underground.”


“What about tracking his ship back there?”


Joy shook her head. “Radiation obscures any trail his ship leaves. You’d need to keep it in visual range. And it’s too fast for any of ours to keep up.”


“But maybe it’s not too fast for ours.” With BA on the case, Face would put money on that in fact.


“Maybe not.” Joy nodded. “There’s something else I thought of too –”


A buzz interrupted her and Face said, “Excuse me.” He pulled his communicator from his pocket. “Go, Hannibal.”


“Face, get over to The Spot right now, Kyle’s guys just beamed in.”


“What? Okay, meet you there in five minutes.”


“They beamed in?” Joy said, following Face as he hurried for the door. “They must have a booster to punch them through all the rock.”


Face nodded, not interested in engineering talk right then. He saw Russ following too. “You stay here,” he ordered the boy. Face hit the street and ran.


-o-O-o-


Hannibal, Murdock, BA and Ted pounded up the street and skidded to a halt beside a small group of people outside The Great Red Spot. The sounds of destruction emanated from inside the bar. Ted grabbed the arm of a man with long brown hair.


“Alan! Are you okay?” Ted asked, a hectic tone to his voice, face flushed.


“Yes, yes!” Alan said, though he had a wild look. He held up what Hannibal recognised after a second as the broken off neck of a guitar. The snapped strings curled and waved. “My best one! They smashed it!”


“How many men?” Hannibal asked.


“Seven, I think,” Alan said, and shook his head. “I didn’t stay to count. Just got the customers out.”


“Right.” The sheriff drew his gun, a furious scowl on his face. “Let’s go.”


“Wait a second.” Hannibal grabbed Ted’s arm as Face ran up to join them. “Sheriff, you stay out here.”


“What?” Ted, turned to Hannibal. “Colonel, Alan and I happen to be joint owners of The Spot. That’s my place they’re destroying!”


“The sheriff owns the saloon?” Murdock said with a grin.


“Okay, I understand that,” Hannibal said, “but, Ted, me and my men, we’re a team, and we work best just the four of us.” Hannibal had no doubt Ted could handle himself, but it came down to teamwork, of knowing without even looking, where each of the others was and what they were doing. A stranger, even a trained one, threw off the long rehearsed rhythm. “Anyway,” he went on. “I need a man out here.”


“To do what?” Ted asked.


Hannibal grinned.


“Catch.”


-o-O-o-


Shattered lights left the interior gloomier than before, but enough light remained to show upended tables, broken chairs and slashed upholstery. Glass crunched under Hannibal’s feet as he walked into the bar with the team at his back.


Several men turned as the team came in. Seven, as Alan outside had said. Piece of cake. One of them nudged a young dark-skinned man, who’d been too busy slashing a couch to notice the team’s entrance.


“Hey, Leto. They’re here.”


Leto turned, grinning. “Well look, fellas, more party guests.”


Hannibal saw no sign of Kyle. The one called Leto seemed to be in charge of the little wrecking crew. Hannibal had him pegged in an instant. A slick and arrogant little bastard who liked knives more than would be considered healthy.


“Time to leave, scumbags.” Hannibal glanced around, seeing them positioning themselves, ready for a fight. The team spread out too, doing the same thing.


Leto stood his ground and smirked. “Sorry, Smith, the party just started and we’re having a really smashing time.”


“Where’s your boss?” Hannibal asked. “I don’t waste my best material on peons.”


“Me neither. Deputy.” Leto sneered at the star Hannibal wore.


“Okay, well why don’t I send you out to meet the sheriff?”


Hannibal attacked. The rest of the team took their cue and charged.


Hannibal dealt with Leto quickly, disarming him and putting him in a headlock with little effort. No combat vet this one, just a minor thug Kyle had picked up some place. Smart, with a side order of sadistic, but no match for Hannibal’s Special Forces skills. He dragged the struggling man to the door and tossed him outside to land in the sheriff’s waiting arms.


Ted cuffed him fast, easily quelling his struggles. More people had gathered now, Maggie Sullivan among the small crowd, doctor’s bag in hand, waiting to pick up the pieces. Hannibal threw her a salute, then turned back into the fray. He dodged as the dartboard flew across the room like a Frisbee and smacked into the back of the head of a thug grappling with Face. Face waved his thanks to Murdock who’d thrown the board, and then he tossed the limp man to Hannibal.


Thug number two flew out of the door.


One by one, the rest of them followed. The last one took a joint effort from Face, Murdock and Hannibal. A huge man, that BA had worn himself out dealing with, before finally knocking him over the bar to lie still. While BA leaned on the bar, panting, the other three dragged his opponent up and tossed him out of the door.


Hannibal stepped outside, grinning like a maniac and dusting off his clothes. The thugs sat or lay around. Maggie checked them over.


The crowd had grown to nearly the whole population of the town. As the rest of the team followed Hannibal out, someone started to applaud and a second later most of the people joined in.


Hannibal loved it, positively basked in it. Maggie, who crouched nearby, working on one of the battered thugs, glanced up, and smiled at him. He winked at her, then strode up to Ted.


“I hope you’ve got enough room in your jail for this lot.”


“What?” Ted looked distractedly at Hannibal as he cuffed the last of the thugs. “Yes, but we have to get them there quick. The cells are shielded, so they can’t –”


Hannibal didn’t know if he felt or heard it first. The bristle against his skin and the whine of a transporter field. He reacted on pure instinct as the captured men started to shimmer. His tackle threw Maggie away from the man she’d been tending, the man she’d had her hands on. The man who vanished and who would have taken her hands right away with him if Hannibal hadn’t thrown her out of range of the field.


The two of them landed in a heap, him on top. He looked down into her wide and shocked eyes.


“You okay?”


She held her hands up and stared at them as if making sure they were still there. Perhaps they still tingled. Hannibal tingled all over, and then he shivered.


“My god,” Maggie whispered, “I could have…”


“Colonel!” Murdock and Face grabbed Hannibal’s arms and started helping him up, off Maggie.


Geez, thanks a lot, guys, he thought. A woman in overalls helped Maggie up, patted her shoulder.


“You okay, doc?”


Hannibal turned back to the sheriff who stood scowling at the empty space his prisoners had occupied only a moment ago. Then he shook himself and looked up at Hannibal.


“Their ship has to be nearby, we can try and pursue them.”


Hannibal shook his head. “Too late. Never mind, we’ll have another chance. You go check out the damage.” He nodded at where Alan and others had started to venture back into The Spot.


Ted frowned for a second, but didn’t speak, just went into the bar. Hannibal grimaced, thinking he should have tried to make that sound less like an order.


“Another chance?” Murdock prompted as Hannibal turned back to the team and Amy.


“Yeah.” Maggie and the other woman had moved away, but Hannibal still lowered his voice, glancing around at the people milling around. “Those creeps knew exactly who we were. And they had a pre-arranged escape planned. We’ve just been tested. Tried out.” He looked around again. “So what I want to know is: how did they know we were here?”

Chapter 7

Despite the visit from Kyle’s men, the Great Red Spot displayed a sign over its door that read ‘Yes, we are open’. The team arrived for dinner to find the bar tidy and some hasty repairs in place, though clearly plenty of work remained.


“Thanks for the dinner invite,” Hannibal said, as they joined Matthew and Caithlin and, to Hannibal’s surprise, Maggie. A surprise but not one he would complain about. “Place seems livelier than last night.” New faces he’d not seen yet filled the bar. Many of them cast curious glances at the team.


“Word’s getting around about you guys,” Matthew said. “I went on a supply delivery run in the bus today and I’ve brought a lot of folks back.”


“Strangers are a novelty around here,” Caithlin said. She appeared more relaxed than before, Hannibal thought, hoped the team’s actions so far had contributed to that. She smiled. “Seeing a new face is the highest form of entertainment.”


“Okay, I’ll go get the drinks,” Hannibal said. He noticed Maggie’s glass was nearly empty. “Doctor, a refill for you too?”


“Thanks, Colonel,” she said, smiling at him. “White wine please.”


“White wine. And it’s Hannibal. Or John if you prefer.” He saw Face raise his eyebrows at that. Hannibal didn’t invite many people to call him John.


At the bar Hannibal found Ted sitting on a high stool, in deep conversation with Alan behind the bar, their heads bent close. They broke off when Hannibal arrived and Alan started to fill the colonel’s drinks order. Hannibal smiled at the sheriff, trying to thaw the ice between them.


“Evening, Sheriff. You joining us for dinner?”


“I don’t think so, with this crowd I’ll probably have to lend a hand.” He smiled though, perhaps thawing a little. “Another night perhaps.”


“Well you’re very welcome.” Hannibal took out a charge card as Alan pushed a tray of drinks across the bar to him.


“You can put that away, Colonel,” Alan said. “Your money’s no good here.” Ted frowned, not apparently thawed out enough to approve of free drinks.


Hannibal approved though. “Thanks.” Add one more bar to the list of places where they never had to buy a drink again. When he got back to the table, he found Amy had gone someplace and since she just happened to have been sitting next to Maggie… Hannibal took her seat.


Joy Frost showed up a few minutes later. BA had invited her to join them after she’d helped him adapt the Chicago’s sensors and shields earlier. Matthew stared as she approached, walking rather carefully.


“Wow, Frosty, you own a skirt?”


She gave Matthew a glare, and brushed a hand over the purple skirt that ended well below her knees. “Of course I own a skirt, I’m a woman aren’t I?” She sat down, crossing her legs.


“Are those high heels?”


Caithlin elbowed her husband in the ribs. “Matthew, you’ll be shutting up and going to buy Joy a drink now.”


“Oh,” he looked confused. “Right.”


Joy toyed with one of her dangling earrings and smiled at Face, who smiled back, and fiddled with his watch. Hannibal recognised a small look of alarm in his eyes. Chuckling, he turned to go on talking to Maggie.


-o-O-o-


Ted only joined them for dinner in the sense of waiting on them. Hannibal guessed many people did two jobs in this town. Caithlin was not only the Mayor, but also the schoolteacher, travelling around to the outlying settlements and mines, to check on the children’s schoolwork.


Face and Murdock sat on either side of Joy at dinner, the three of them laughing a lot. Hannibal of course made sure to be seated next to Maggie. She looked pretty in the light from the candles that flickered in brass holders beside each place setting. He kept her glass of wine topped up.


“Oh, Ted,” Joy said, as he showed up with the coffee at the end of the meal. “I was thinking about that idea I mentioned to you the other day. I know you’re not keen, but now the team are here, I think we should follow up.”


Ted frowned, as he passed her a cup of coffee. “I don’t trust him, Joy. That’s not changed.” Matthew and Caithlin nodded their agreement.


“Don’t trust who?” Hannibal asked.


“Seth Calvin,” Joy said. “He lives on the dark side. Our main problem is getting any decent scans from the dark side, or tracking the movements of ships over there. I think Seth can do that.”


“How come?” BA asked. “Isn’t he affected by the same radiation problems as the rest of you?”


“Yes, but he’s got some really non-standard equipment over there, scanning wise. Real powerful, state of the art stuff.”


“What for?” Hannibal asked, frowning, suspicious at once. “What does he need that for?”


Joy shrugged. “He says it’s a hobby of his.” Ted snorted, obviously unconvinced.


“Is this guy a miner too?” Amy asked.


“No.” Joy shook her head. “He took cash only for his resettlement payoff after the war, no mining claim. He doesn’t mine. He paints.”


Hannibal raised his eyebrows. “Paints? An artist?” Weird place for an artist.


“So will he help?” Face said.


“Well, that’s the thing.” Joy looked awkward, looked at Face and then Hannibal. “Seth’s not very sociable. He’s pretty much a recluse and just doesn’t want to get involved in, well, anything. He never comes into town and he doesn’t like visitors.”


“Last time I tried to visit him, he wouldn’t even let me in,” Ted said. “The only people he will see are Joy and the doc.” He nodded at Maggie. “Maggie visits him every couple of weeks.”


“Why? Is he sick?”


“I’m sorry, John,” Maggie said. “You know I can’t talk about a patient’s details.”


“Ah, no, sorry.” Hannibal turned back to Joy. “He lets you in though, Joy?”


“Yeah. I take him supplies and, you know, just make sure he’s still human.”


“Still human?” Murdock perked up, distracted from trying to fold his napkin into the shape of a bird. “Why, what else would he be?”


Joy smiled weakly. “I just meant that he’s not, you know, grown a beard down to his knees and stopped cutting his fingernails.”


“Okay,” Hannibal said, “So, will you ask him for the data he can get from his scanners?”


She looked down, fiddling with her coffee cup.


“No.” She grimaced and looked back at him. “Sorry, Colonel, I mean I could ask, but I don’t want to. He doesn’t like people asking him for favours and he takes offence very easily. It took me months to get him to trust me. I don’t want to risk destroying that. I’m sorry.”


Hannibal nodded slowly. Okay, he could appreciate her candour, even if her refusal frustrated him.


“So how about if we go up there and ask him?”


“Not if you show up mob handed.” Joy shook her head. “That would just tick him off. Maybe one of you could talk his way in.” She smiled. “If you just happen to have the right incentive.”


-o-O-o-


“Murdock.” Hannibal heard panic in Face’s voice, as he helped Joy on with her jacket. “Why don’t you walk with us?” Face flashed Murdock a look that said, ‘do as I ask or die.’


“Sure, Face,” Murdock said. Joy looked somewhat disappointed, at having a chaperone, but cheered up again as they got outside and she took both their arms.


“These heels are killing me, so you boys will have to keep me on my feet.”


“That’s right,” Murdock said, grinning. “Blame the heels. Couldn’t be the gin.”


“Murdock!” Face protested, while Joy laughed. They walked off down the street.


Hannibal turned to Maggie who had stepped out with a shawl over her shoulders, followed by Amy and BA. Matthew and Caithlin came out last and waved goodbye, before walking off hand in hand.


“Walk you home, doctor?” Hannibal offered Maggie his arm.


“Thank you, John.” She smiled, taking his arm.


“See you guys back at the hotel,” Hannibal said to Amy and BA.


“Sure, Hannibal,” Amy said, a little smile on her face. BA gave a smirk and offered Amy his arm.


“Why thank you, BA,” Amy said and BA giggled as she took his arm and they followed Face, Murdock and Joy up the street.


Hannibal gave them a ‘wait till I catch up with you later’ look and set off walking with Maggie in the opposite direction.


“You guys have made a big impression around here,” Maggie said.


“Face has made a big impression on Captain Frost, that’s for sure.”


Maggie laughed. “Very big. I popped into her workshop this afternoon and she couldn’t talk about anything else.”


“I’ll have to tell him that.” Hannibal chuckled. Perhaps Face needed to learn about what an older woman had to offer. He spent too much of his time with air headed young things. A man needed a woman who could challenge him intellectually. He glanced down at Maggie. If she happened to be in great shape that was of course a bonus.


“Well us single ladies around here don’t have a lot of choice.” She sighed. “All the best men are married or otherwise spoken for. The rest… well, the local definition of having high standards is insisting the guy has all his own teeth.”


Hannibal laughed, making sure she could see he had all of his own teeth.


“Well I could see how Face would be quite an attraction then.”


She looked up at him. “Not only Face.”


Hannibal kept a cheesy grin off his face with some difficulty. They walked on for a few minutes.


“Tell me about this Calvin guy,” Hannibal said, getting his mind back on the job. “Not the medical stuff you can’t tell me about that, I know, but anything that might be useful to Murdock when he goes knocking.” They’d chosen Murdock to fly up and see Calvin, since Joy said she thought Murdock just might appeal to him.


Maggie frowned, bit her lip. “It’s hard to say, Hannibal. He doesn’t talk much.”


“What about the war? What did he do in the war?”


“He definitely doesn’t talk about that.” She shook her head. “Some people think he was in intelligence work, but no one knows for certain. He’s quite… odd, Hannibal. Murdock should be careful.”


“Think he’s got weapons?” Hannibal asked. “Could that be why he wouldn’t let the sheriff in?”


“I’ve not seen anything, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised.”


Hannibal brooded as they walked on, wondered if maybe he should send Face along too. But Murdock could handle himself, and while Calvin only might have a weapon, Murdock certainly would. Also, if the guy was as touchy as Joy implied they needed to tread carefully. He glanced at Maggie, who had a faraway look in her eyes.


“You were in the war, as a medic, right?”


She nodded, not speaking. Was that why she’d come out here? Hannibal wondered, to get as far away from Venus as she could? Many people around here had done that.


“And you’re with Caithlin and the sheriff on the gun issue?”


She looked up at him, a touch of defiance on her face.


“If I never have to deal with another gunshot wound again that suits me just fine, Colonel.”


“People can still hurt each other without guns,” Hannibal said. “Taking guns away doesn’t make people saints.”


“No. But someone can hurt a lot of people a lot faster with a gun than they can with anything else.”


Hannibal opened his mouth to argue some more, but then closed it again. An intellectually challenging woman might be good, he thought, but this wasn’t going to get him a goodnight kiss.


“So I guess you travel around a lot, seeing your patients,” Hannibal said. “You’re the only doctor?”


She nodded. “I’ve got a nurse and we had a midwife until she moved back to Earth. We’re advertising for a new one.” She smiled. “Delivering babies is the best part of my job. Just so different from… well you know what I mean. And I’d never delivered one until I came out here! Well, not as the primary, in charge I mean.”


“Did you deliver Matthew and Caithlin’s daughter?” Hannibal asked. Babies and their delivery did exactly enthral him. But the way Maggie glowed as she talked about them certainly did. He let her talk on about the babies she’d delivered in her time here. About seeing new life arriving instead of dealing with the effects of attempts to destroy life.


“I’ve got two babies due next month,” she said, turning to face him as they arrived at her door, unhooking her arm from his.


“Really,” Hannibal smiled at her turn of phrase, looking down at her. “You’re not showing yet.”


“John!” She laughed and laid a hand on his arm. “Thanks for seeing me home. I’ll see you tomorrow?”


“Difficult to avoid anybody in a place this size.” Whoops, no, he thought. Stupid answer. “How about we try and get lunch together? Depending what we end up doing tomorrow of course.” If BA had finished adapting the sensors and shields, they could head over to the dark side and start scanning. “My schedule can be unpredictable.”


“Mine too. But if I can, then thanks, John, I’ll meet you for lunch.”


She stretched up on her tiptoes and kissed him on the cheek. He wanted to pull her into his arms, but restrained himself. She was challenging, he thought, but there was something else there too. He sensed a fragility that she hid away and he didn’t want to scare her off by being too insistent. So he settled for the peck on the cheek and prepared for a long campaign.


“Goodnight, John.”


She went inside and Hannibal walked back to the hotel, his step lighter than the lower gravity alone could account for.

Chapter 8

Murdock threw his bag into the Chicago’s small shuttle and turned to Hannibal who handed him a rifle.


“Sure you wouldn’t rather take the ship?”


“Nope,” Murdock said. “Travel light, move fast.”


“Okay. Well, be careful, Murdock.”


“Hey, no worries, Colonel. I’ll be fine.”


Hannibal frowned. Murdock was altogether too blasé about this. He needed to be prepared for trouble.


“The sheriff doesn’t trust Calvin and I’ve been told he’s pretty odd.”


“That’s great. I’m odd too, so I’m sure we’ll get on like a horse on fire.”


“Er, that’s ‘house on fire’, Murdock.”


“It is? Okay, like that then.” He slapped Hannibal on the shoulder. “Look, Joy trusts him and she seems like a good judge of character to me.”


“Because she likes us?”


“Well, yeah. I mean, we are the good guys!” He frowned for a moment, looking puzzled. “We are the good guys aren’t we? Because if we’re not, can I have permission to grow a goatee beard?”


“Focus, Murdock,” Hannibal snapped, wondering if he should maybe be sending Face instead. “Yes, Captain Frost likes this guy, but liking someone doesn’t make you the best person to judge them.”


Murdock pulled a small notebook from his pocket. “I’m writing that one down, Colonel. That’s a good one.”


Hannibal rolled his eyes. “Well write this one down too. This guy keeps quiet about what he did in the war and he lives in an impenetrable bunker on the dark side of a moon, with highly sophisticated scanning equipment to warn him of anyone approaching. The word ‘hiding’ comes to mind.”


Murdock looked at him wide eyed for a moment.


“Good analysis, Hannibal.” He finally sounded as serious as Hannibal would like him to be about the situation. Slipping the notebook back into his pocket he said, “I’ll stay alert. Anything too weird and I’ll bug right out of there.”


“Okay, good luck, Captain.”


Murdock got in the shuttle and closed the door. Hannibal left the launch bay and headed back into the town. He glanced at his watch. Nearly ten a.m. So far, lunch with Maggie was still a go.


His communicator buzzed and Face’s voice came through.


“Hannibal, get over to the sheriff’s office. We have a problem.”


Damn, Hannibal thought. Jinxed it.


-o-O-o-


Face looked up as Hannibal strode into the sheriff’s office.


“What’s up, guys?” Hannibal nodded to Face, BA, Amy and Ted.


“There’s a message coming in from a power plant, down in the southern hemisphere,” Ted said. “It’s an automated station. The message is a distress signal from its mainframe, reporting damage.”


“I think it’s been attacked,” BA said, “according to what the message is reporting. Looking at serious damage.”


“How come it got a message through?” Hannibal asked, frowning.


“There’s a hard line,” Ted said. “The plant serves nearly three hundred people. There’s a backup system of course, but that plant needs to be back on line fast. I’ve already called Joy to get ready to head down there.”


“I think its weapons damage,” BA insisted, tapping the data on the screen on Ted’s desk. Face glanced at the figures but they meant little to him. “And,” he went on, “it’s continuing. Whoever is doing it is still there.”


“Really?” Hannibal grinned and Face sighed. Cue the Jazz.


“Hannibal, this could be something in the way of a party invitation.” Face said. “I mean they could have just blown the plant to bits, but instead they’re damaging it a piece at a time. That say trap to anyone else?”


“Party invitation?” Hannibal grinned and Face wondered if he’d even heard the rest. “Well, I never miss a party. Let’s not be late.” He turned and headed out. Face and BA exchanged a ‘here we go’ look and followed with Amy.


“What about Joy?” Ted asked as he followed the team out of his office. “We need that plant back to working order fast.”


“I guess we could take her along,” Hannibal said. “If they’ve gone when we arrive, she can get right down to work. Amy, you stay here though.”


“Hannibal!” Amy protested at once.


“Come here a second.” He beckoned her closer, until she walked close beside him and Face.


“Someone around here is feeding info to Kyle,” Hannibal said. “Like I said yesterday, they knew we were coming. I want you to check that out. These people all know each other too well to be objective the way you can.”


She still looked annoyed at being left out of the action, but nodded.


“Right, Hannibal. I’ll see what I can dig up out of the records.”


“Follow the money,” Hannibal said. “That’s always the key.” Amy and Face both nodded in agreement this time.


They arrived at the Chicago. On the other side of the bay, Joy and Russ were prepping her small ship for launch.


“Joy,” Ted called. “Colonel Smith wants you to go with them.”


She came over, Russ following, carrying a toolbox.


“You think I need some bodyguards, eh, Ted?”


“I think it’s highly likely,” Hannibal said. “Plus Ted said it’s urgent you get that place up and running again and our ship is faster than yours.” He looked at Russ. “Sorry, kid, you’ll have to stay behind.”


“But –”


“BA can be Joy’s assistant today,” Hannibal said, with a grin, making BA bristle with outrage straight away.


“Assistant!”


“The colonel’s right,” Joy said to Russ. “Go on back to the workshop.” She took her toolbox from him. “See if you can track down that power drain we detected.”


“Okay.” He scowled at the team and walked off.


“Prep the ship, BA,” Hannibal ordered. BA stamped up the ramp to the airlock growling about the word ‘assistant.’


“Let me take that for you,” Face said, taking Joy’s toolbox.


“Thanks. I just have to grab something from my ship. One second.” She hurried over to it and went inside. Hannibal watched her go.


“You guys better get out of here,” Face said to Amy and Ted.


“I’m coming with you,” Ted said. “This is my jurisdiction.”


Hannibal turned back to him. “Sheriff, I think you need stay here. There’s always a chance that this is a distraction and they’ll actually show up here. We can’t leave the town unprotected.”


Ted scowled, looking torn, but then he nodded. “Okay, Colonel. You’re right, that’s a possibility. I’ll stay.” After a moment he added, “Good luck.”


“Be careful,” Amy said.


“Always,” Face said, smiling at her.


Ted and Amy left the landing bay and Hannibal turned to Face as they waited for Joy to return.


“Keep an eye on Joy. Don’t let her wander around the ship on her own.”


“Hannibal! You can’t be thinking she’s the spy!” Face protested. He glanced over to see Joy closing the hatch on her ship. “She’s, well, you know, she’s army, she’s one of us.”


“What was that I was saying about objectivity?” Hannibal said in a musing voice.


Face sighed. “Okay, okay. But what am I meant to do? Follow her to the bathroom?”


Hannibal grinned. “She might not mind.”


“Shut up!” Face hissed, as Joy came back over. Whatever she had collected, it must have been small. She had nothing in her hands.


“Permission to come aboard, Colonel?”


“Granted, Captain,” Hannibal said, waving her to the ramp.


Five minutes later, they cleared the landing area and Hannibal set course for the power plant. He leaned back in the pilot’s chair and stretched, then looked around at the other three seated on the flight deck.


“Okay, we got five hours to kill. I hope you brought a deck of cards, Face.”


“Hannibal,” Face said, spreading his hands. “Can you think of any times I don’t have a deck of cards. Aside from when I’m actually naked.”


“Sometimes even then,” Hannibal said. “Of course he finds it hard to get people to play when they see where he keeps them.” BA and Joy both giggled. “I hope we’ve all got something to lay down on the table.” Hannibal grinned. “Well, BA obviously has.”


BA scowled at him. “I never bet my gold, man, don’t even think about it.”


“And Frosty could always wager that pistol she picked up from her ship.”


Joy froze and stared at Hannibal. Then she frowned. “You have a weapons scanner on here then, Colonel?”


“Nope, I’m just not an idiot.”


She grimaced. “That’s pretty clear.” Leaning forward, she took a small pistol from a holster on the back of her belt, where it had been hidden by her jacket. Face tensed, but she turned the gun around in her hand at once and passed it to Hannibal.


“Cute,” Hannibal said. “Nice size for a purse. But still illegal, right?”


Joy sighed. “Look, I love Caithlin. She’s a sweetheart and a good mayor. But, she’s an idiot. About the guns anyway.”


“She know you feel that way?” BA asked.


“Of course. She knows I support Lambert’s proposition.”


“But she doesn’t know about that,” Face nodded at the gun, which looked tiny in Hannibal’s hand.


“No. Look, I never take it into town. It stays on my ship. Caithlin doesn’t know what it’s like doing my job. She visits the families, or settlements, but I go to all the mines, and some of them have only a couple of guys working the claims, maybe just one guy. I’m not saying anything’s ever happened. I’ve never even had to point that at anyone. But better safe than sorry.” She shrugged. “I’ve been taking Russ around with me a lot lately, which cramps the style of anyone who’s thinking about trying anything. But he’ll be going off to college soon.” She looked back at Hannibal, with a defiant expression. “I think I’ve got a right to defend myself.”


“Yeah,” Hannibal said, “I think you do too.” He stood up and handed the small pistol back to her. “But if there’s any trouble at this power plant you let us handle it.”


“I wasn’t even considering doing anything else,” Joy said, tucking the pistol back into its holster.


“Right, Lieutenant, where’s those cards?” Hannibal turned to Face. “I think we’ve got time for a few hands before lunch.”


-o-O-o-


Murdock made himself a coffee, and sat in his pilot’s chair with the coffee in one hand and a pack of cookies on his lap. He popped a plastic square into the computer’s reader and sat back in the chair. With the course laid in, and the ship on automatic, he had several hours before he arrived, so decided he might as well use them wisely. The evening before, after they’d decided Murdock would be the one to make contact with Seth Calvin, Murdock had spent some time chatting with Joy about the man.


“Computer, load files in reader. Play file Goya1.”


A second later a screen in front of him lit up, and Murdock sat back to learn all about Francisco Goya, Calvin’s favourite painter, according to Joy.


After a while, Murdock began to wish very hard that he hadn’t volunteered for this job.


-o-O-o-


Amy had persuaded Ted to let her have access to all his files on the Galileo City mainframe and she’d been reading them for hours now, taking notes, looking for a pattern, anything that might give her a clue and lead to a connection between Kyle and someone around here.


“You know what I’d really like,” she said, looking up at Ted, who sat at his desk doing paperwork. “Access to Kyle’s military records. I think that’s the most likely place to find a connection, between him and one of the war vets around here that he could have known back then.”


“We don’t have that info here,” Ted said. “I could try and get it, but it would take weeks to arrive.” He shook his head. “I can’t see any vets wanting anything to do with Kyle though, the things he did back then.”


“It could be someone he has some kind of hold on.” Amy suggested. “Maybe blackmailing them.” She sighed. Speculation. Hannibal would want solid facts.


“I still find it hard to –” Ted began, but a buzz from the phone on his desk interrupted him. He pressed a button and its screen lit up. Amy heard the voice of Russ Lambert.


“Sheriff, can you come over to the workshop? There’s something you need to see.”


“What is it, Russ?”


“I’d rather not talk about it over an unsecured line. You need to come over.”


Ted frowned. “Unsecured line? Okay, I’ll be right there.” He stood up with a sigh and took his jacket from the back of the chair. “Kids. God forbid they can’t be dramatic.”


Amy smiled and stood too. All her reporter’s instincts told her to tag along. She could no more ignore those instincts than she could not follow a speeding convoy of howling fire engines, ambulances and police cars.


They got to the workshop quickly and Ted pushed the door with its Please Walk In sign. The door didn’t open. He frowned and knocked hard.


“Russ? It’s the sheriff, open up.”


In a second, they heard the door being unlocked and Russ peered out. He looked at Amy for a moment, and then said. “Okay, come in.” He led them inside.


“What’s wrong, Russ?” Ted asked.


The boy looked at Amy nervously again, but Ted nodded at him to go on.


“Okay, this morning when we came in, me and Frosty I mean, we found a power drain coming off the town’s power grid. Nothing huge, but worth looking at. She had to leave before we found the source, but I kept looking.”


He brought up some data on a screen, which didn’t mean too much to Amy, and from the look on Ted’s face, she guessed he felt the same.


“The power is being directed to the communications transmitters. Like we do when we need to send out a boosted signal. That’s exactly what this was doing, sending out a signal since just after four this morning, repeated over and over. And it’s not just a transmission, it includes instructions, to reprogram each relay station on the way to divert power and boost the signal onwards. Someone really wanted to get this transmission out.”


“It’s going to the dark side, isn’t it?” Amy guessed. “To Kyle’s base?”


“I… I guess it must be. I can’t track it over there, but where else?”


“What’s the transmission?” Ted asked. “A message?”


“It’s a data burst,” Russ said. “Highly compressed data. Some of it’s encrypted, I guess that’s messages. But some of it… Well, this is what it is.” He touched a few buttons and the screen changed. Amy stared at the screen, at her own face, and those of the team and the members of the council, all standing around the doorway that left through to the launch bay. The team’s luggage lay scattered around in the ground.


“It’s the council meeting,” Ted said. He glanced at Amy. “We record them all. But this one hadn’t been released yet.”


“That’s not all,” Russ said. He touched buttons and the council meeting started going very fast indeed. After a few seconds, he resumed normal speed. It took Amy a second, but then she recognised the restaurant of The Great Red Spot. And she recognised all the people sitting around the table. Ted approached the table as he had last night and asked, “Are you ready to order?”


“What the hell?” Ted stared at the screen, at himself and at the others as the recording continued.


“Do you have cameras in The Spot?” Amy asked Ted. He shook his head.


“No.” He looked up. “Have you traced the source of the transmission?”


Russ looked away.


“Russ?” Ted said. “What’s the source?”


Amy sat poised. The boy looked anguished. Amy’s mind raced ahead. Could it be his father, she wondered. Hannibal had been suspicious of Lambert and he was the obvious place to start following the money.


“Russell?” Ted’s voice became soft. Perhaps he thought the same thing as her, Amy speculated.


Russ looked up.


“Here,” he said. “I’ve stopped it now. But the transmission was coming from this workshop.” He walked over to a bench and put his hand on a half-dismantled piece of machinery. “From this. It looks broken, but it’s not.”


Ted and Amy both came to their feet staring.


“Take you hand off it, Russ,” Ted said. “Is there a card in the reader?”


“Yes, do you want it?”


“Don’t touch it,” Ted snapped making Russ pull his hand away. “Outside.” He hustled the pair of them out onto the street. “Lock the door,” he ordered Russ. “Nobody gets back in here until I’ve scanned that machine for fingerprints and DNA. Russ, you need to surrender all the data you –”


“Sheriff,” Amy said, urgently, “Sheriff, you have to contact Hannibal.”


“Miss Allen,” Ted said turning to her, “your colonel may be able to get away with telling me what to do, but that privilege does not extend to you.”


Amy clenched her fists and resisted the urge to snap back at him, took a deep breath instead, keeping her temper in check.


“Then I’m asking you, please. The transmission came from Joy’s workshop.” She saw him scowl and knew he would protest if she let him, but she rushed on before he could speak. “I know you don’t want to believe she’s responsible, but right now, you know as well as I do what you have to do.”


“No!” Russ protested, but Ted ignored him. He glared at Amy, but she could see he knew she was right. Eventually, he nodded.


“Okay. We need to try to contact Colonel Smith, so I can,” he grimaced, looked pained. “So I can order him to arrest Joy Frost.”

Chapter 9

“Joy, you stay on the ship,” Hannibal ordered as they completed the landing at the power plant. “Once we’ve checked the place out we’ll give you the all clear. Keep her ticking over, just in case we need a quick take off.”


“Right, Colonel.”


Although sensors detected no sign of another ship close by, Hannibal wanted to secure the power plant before he allowed Joy to start her repair work. The radiation limited the sensor range and a ship could lurk just out of that range and be here in minutes.


The three men left the flight deck and made for the airlock. The power plant didn’t have an underground landing pad for a ship the size of the Chicago, so they had landed by an entrance hatch and an automated tube snaked out to attach itself to the side of the ship, covering the ship’s airlock door.


The team moved down the walkway cautiously. The skin of the tube was altogether too thin, in Face’s opinion. He knew force fields shielded it too, but with the damage to the equipment how did any of them know for sure the force field generators hadn’t been smashed?


Hannibal tapped in a code Joy had given them when they reached the door at the end of the tube. The door didn’t budge. Hannibal moved back and looked at Face, who stepped up at once, already removing a couple of probes from his pocket. He flipped the cover off the locking mechanism and smiled. A Bowman 961-47. Easy. He could bypass one of these in his sleep. Someone had messed with it, to stop the code working, but a bypass here, a rerouting there…


“Try it now.”


Hannibal did and the door slid open. He grinned at Face and nodded.


“Face, my boy, you’re worth your weight in gold.”


“No,” Face said. “I’m worth BA’s weight in gold.”


“Even when I’m wearing my gold,” BA put in and Face basked in the rare praise as they stepped into the airlock and the exterior door started to close behind them.


“You’re absolutely certain life support is on?” Hannibal asked BA.


“That’s what our sensors show, man.”


“Think that means they’re still in there?” Face asked. Since the plant was unmanned, it usually had no heat light and air. But as they approached it, the scanners had shown that the life support had been engaged several hours ago and left running.


“Soon find out,” Hannibal said. He pressed a button to open the interior door and stepped back from it. Gripping their rifles, they all waited for the interior door to open. When it did, they found a stairway leading down into the plant, lit only by dim red emergency lights.


“Night vision glasses till we get the lights on,” Hannibal said, and they all donned the goggles. “You both sure you know your routes?” Face and BA nodded. They’d learnt the layout of the plant by heart on the way. “Rendezvous in the operations room in thirty minutes.” Hannibal tapped his earpiece radio. “Joy, we’re inside. Stand by until you hear from us.”


“Roger, Colonel.” Joy’s voice sounded in their ears. “Good luck.”


“Okay,” Hannibal said to the other two. “Move out.”


They set off into the darkness.


-o-O-o-


Murdock had begun to wonder if he’d been played for a sucker, when he reached the coordinates for Seth Calvin’s underground home. The ground beneath him appeared to be bare rock with no sign of an entrance. He’d also expected a mass of antenna and detectors, after what Joy had told him about Calvin’s scanning equipment. But he saw no sign of anything like that either.


Nevertheless, his scans showed some pretty serious power sources below him, so he knew there had to be something down there. He opened a channel and started hailing on the frequency Joy had told him to use. After a few moments, his instruments told him his transmission had been received, although no answer came through.


“Mr Calvin?” Murdock said into the mic. “I know you’re monitoring this. I’m HM Murdock. You don’t know me, but I’ve come to ask for your help on behalf of Galileo City and the rest of Ganymede.”


No answer. Murdock went on.


“Joy Frost told us you have powerful scanning equipment here and can track the movements of ships. All I’m asking for is any data you have recorded about those movements.”


He waited again and still nothing. The transmission was definitely still being monitored though. He tried again.


“I know that you know about the trouble that’s been going on. The man causing all the trouble is a notorious war criminal. Wouldn’t you like to help bring him to justice?”


At last, an answer came through, a man’s voice.


“Go away.”


Murdock grinned. Okay, ‘go away’ wasn’t good, but it was still a conversation. Once you got them talking you had ’em, Face always said. Of course, he had been talking about women at the time.


“Mr Calvin, I’m not asking you to do this out of the goodness of your heart. Think of your own interests. Kyle has been attacking your neighbours. What will you do if he comes after you?”


Murdock didn’t even get a repeat of ‘go away’. Just more silence. Oh well, he thought, time for the big guns.


“I’m sending a video transmission, Mr Calvin, please watch it.” He looked into the camera and grinned. “Hi. Now, um, assuming the sight of my devastating good looks hasn’t induced you to change your mind already, let me just offer a little incentive.”


He reached over, picked up a thin package from his console, and held it up in view of the camera.


“Joy said you’ve not had any of this in months. At least I think this is what she was talking about.” He grinned and waved the packet. “It’s the hard stuff, Mr Calvin. Belgian. Ninety five percent cocoa.” Murdock sniffed the packet and said “Mmmm oh yeah!” though in truth it was too well sealed for him to smell the ridiculously expensive chocolate inside.


Silence came back and he had almost reached the point of giving up and going away as requested, when the voice came though again.


“Landing pad is to starboard.”


Murdock checked out the starboard visual scan, just in time to see what appeared to be another bit featureless rocky ground shimmer and vanish, revealing a landing pad. When he touched down it began to sink into the ground at once. Doors closed above him and Murdock guessed the holographic ground had already reappeared. Nice little set up for a man who liked to be alone. The scanner array must be camouflaged the same way.


Long way down, he thought, as he did his post flight check and got ready to leave the small ship. When the elevator finally stopped his instruments showed they had sunk almost a half a kilometre under the surface. No question, this was the home of a man who valued his privacy.


And who apparently valued really good dark chocolate, so Murdock stepped out of the shuttle with the chocolate bar in one hand and a friendly smile on his face, and no illusions about which had got him inside.


-o-O-o-


“No.” Russ folded his arms and stuck his chin out. “I won’t do it.”


Ted and Amy looked at each other. Ted had just asked Russ to attempt to boost a signal through to the Chicago. However, the boy wasn’t being cooperative.


“Frosty didn’t do anything. She wouldn’t. I don’t have to help you. I’m going home.” He turned and stamped out of the sheriff’s office.


Ted sighed, shook his head and started working on his computer terminal.


“Probably wouldn’t have worked anyway, especially if they’re still in transit. I’ll try to connect to the plant via the hard line. They may already have arrived.”


Amy watched him working at the computer for a moment, and then glanced down at her notebook, at the scrawled words there.


Access to workshop? The question has an easy answer. Anybody. The sign on the door had said it all. Please Walk In. That door was normally unlocked. Anyone could have gone in there.


Technical skills? Well Joy had those, but Russ probably had too. But he’d reported the transmission. Amy sucked on the end of her pen. Of course, if it had already served its purpose, then reporting it set Joy up and made him appear innocent.


She shook her head. No, that didn’t make sense. Why report it at all in that case? If it had served its purpose and nobody else had detected it, then just shut it off and nobody would ever know it had been sent. Anyway, he’s just a kid, how could be be involved with Kyle?


She tapped her pen a couple of times then wrote down, Father. Russ Lambert could be acting under orders from his father. But could he really pull off acting so convincingly? His anger at the sheriff, his defence of Joy, appeared sincere, his loyalty to her very apparent.


Amy looked at the words Technical skills? again and knew that it had the same answer as Access to workshop? Anyone might have the skills, but could have kept them secret. Alternatively, they could just have very clear instructions.


So it could still be anyone. However, Joy appeared the most likely suspect on this evidence, and though Amy liked the woman, if she was the traitor then right now she could be a danger to the team. In which case Amy was all for clapping her in irons now and apologising later if they were wrong.


“Damn.”


She looked up, at Ted’s frowning face.


“What’s wrong?” Amy had a sinking feeling that she already knew the answer. She came over and stood beside him. The computer screen displayed a message and Amy stared at it in dismay.


‘Unable to connect. Target unreachable.’


“The hard line has been cut,” Ted said. “There’s no way to contact Colonel Smith.”


-o-O-o-


A blast door opened to let Murdock out of the shuttle bay. He walked through into a short hallway with metal deck plating for the floor, but with bare rock as walls and ceiling.


Another door waited at the end and as he approached, it rolled aside with a rumble that suggesting it was also blast proof.


Seth Calvin, a tall and lean man in his late fifties, perhaps early sixties, stood in the doorway. His clothes were spattered with blue paint. Murdock even saw a few specks of it in his hair, which was still mostly black, despite his age.


“Hi,” Murdock said, waving. Calvin didn’t answer, just watched him with narrowed eyes. Murdock had almost reached him when a small dark shape ran out of the door and up to Murdock, who looked down startled as a black cat began to investigate his shoes. Then he smiled and bent to tickle the cat behind the ears.


“Hey, kitty, you’re a pretty kitty aren’t you?” He cooed. Briefly, he considered picking the cat up, but decided against it, still cautious of the man that stood waiting for him, one hand raised and resting on the top of the door frame.


“Nice cat,” Murdock said, as the cat walked beside him, tail up straight like an antenna.


“Her name is Duchess.”


Murdock grinned as he walked up to Calvin and offered his hand. “Good name. Pleased to meet you, Mr Calvin.”


After a moment of scrutiny, from uncomfortably sharp grey eyes, Calvin took his hand off the doorframe and shook Murdock’s hand quickly. The cat slalomed around the two men’s legs, mewing loudly, obviously appreciating visitors more than her master.


“Come inside.” Calvin turned away from the door and led Murdock into a large room, again with rock walls. Room seemed an odd word for it, Murdock thought. More like a cave, if luxuriously furnished and decorated for a cave. Though metal underneath, the floor was covered in rugs. In the centre of the room, a large leather couch held a couple of richly embroidered throws and big plump cushions. A marble-topped table stood in front of it, filled with books, papers, and pencils and a couple of empty coffee cups.


The rock walls had hangings and pictures decorating them. Murdock recognised most of the pictures as reproductions of famous paintings, but saw no sign of Calvin’s own work. A couple of doors suggested more rooms though and Murdock hoped he might have the chance to nose around.


He turned from studying the space as Calvin cleared his throat.


“Oh, um, here’s your chocolate.” Murdock handed it over. “Enjoy.”


Calvin hesitated a second then took it from Murdock and dropped it onto the table.


“Thank you.”


His tone was abrupt, clearly no longer used to the social niceties. Murdock wished that wasn’t the case, when he rested a hand on the soft leather of the couch, and couldn’t resist caressing it. He would really love an invitation to sit on that couch. Hours in the pilot’s chair had left his spine a mass of kinks.


Duchess jumped up onto the arm of the couch beside Murdock and shoved her head under his hand. Absently he scratched her head and she purred.


“You sure live well here, Mr Calvin. I sort of expected something a bit more, I don’t know, ascetic.”


“I’m not a hermit, Mr Murdock.” Calvin frowned at the purring cat, then walked over and picked her up, making Murdock back off a couple of steps. “Kindly tell me exactly what you need.”


“Right,” Murdock glanced at his watch and found only bare wrist. Either he’d left the watch back on the shuttle, or Face had stolen it for practice. He looked around for a clock and couldn’t see one.


“Can I just ask you what time it is?” Murdock asked. He wanted to know exactly how long he spent here, so he could make Hannibal pay for every awkward minute of it afterwards.


“I have no idea.” Calvin shrugged. “Does it matter?”


“You don’t have a clock?”


“What for? Earth time doesn’t mean anything here.”


“So how do you know when it’s time for dinner?”


“I get hungry.”


“And you know it’s time to go to bed when you get tired.” Murdock grinned. “Interesting. I’ll have to try doing that for a while sometime… someday… whenever.” Living without time. No wonder the guy had gone a bit odd, Murdock thought. “Okay then.” He clapped his hands together and rubbed them. “Let’s get down to business.”


-o-O-o-


Face moved through a corridor of the power plant, pressed against the wall. Up ahead of him in the dimness he could see someone, standing at a junction. The someone held a communicator and spoke into it, Face still too far away to make out words.


The corridor beyond the junction was lit and Face had to take off his night vision goggles to look in that direction. The man with the communicator wasn’t wearing night vision goggles, so if he turned from the light and looked into the dark corridor it would be a while before his eyes adjusted to let him see Face sneaking up on him.


As he got closer, Face could make out the man’s words. Orders. Now he could see him clearly, see his face in profile.


Kyle.


Face forced his breathing to stay even, but his heart started to race and he couldn’t do anything about that. Grab Kyle and it’s over. Not just this situation, but all of it, the grudge over a decade old could be resolved at last.


For a moment, he had to fight the urge to just raise his rifle and fire. That would resolve their old grudge for sure. Nevertheless, he resisted the temptation. He’d said back at that council meeting that the team, unlike Kyle, didn’t kill innocent people, but that was only part of the truth. The team didn’t kill people. Period.


That could sometimes be a very annoying rule.


Close enough now, Face thought. Close enough. Kyle held a pistol, loosely in one hand, holding the communicator in the other. Face made a plan. He worked out the exact move he would use and he picked his time, listening for Kyle to finish a conversation and sign off. No point in warning one of the others of trouble by cutting him off in the middle of a call.


“Out.”


Face took the cue and sprang, from a position only a couple of metres away. The communicator fell to smash on the floor, as Face shoved Kyle face first into the wall, leaning his whole weight into keeping him pinned. He grabbed the pistol from Kyle’s hand and tossed it away, then jabbed his own into Kyle’s side.


“Don’t move,” Face ordered. “I will shoot you. Believe me.” Kyle apparently did. He placed his hands flat on the wall.


“Where’s your ship?” Face demanded. “And where’s your base? The exact co-ordinates will earn you the bonus prize of not getting your legs broken.”


Kyle laughed. “Oh yeah, I’ll just tell you, will I?”


“If you want to live.” Face shoved his pistol harder into Kyle’s side. “Yeah, you’ll just tell me.”


“I’m shaking,” Kyle said calmly.


Face growled, and wondered if he spent too long with BA, had started picking up his habits. On the other hand, maybe Kyle just brought out the growl in him. He took cuffs from his pocket and pulled down Kyle’s left arm, then his right, locked them into the cuffs behind his back. After double-checking the cuffs, he pulled Kyle around, shoving his back against the wall again.


He looked for recognition from Kyle, some sign that he remembered a young lieutenant he had shot and left for dead. But Face saw nothing.


“Make any trouble and you’re dead, Kyle. The army has you in a shoot on sight category, and you know I’m still technically in the army. I wouldn’t mind shooting you. In fact I’d love it.”


Kyle frowned. “Am I supposed to know who you are? Have we met someplace?”


“Let’s just say I’m a future witness at your trial.” Face lifted his communicator to speak but Kyle interrupted him.


“Drop your gun and the radio or you’re dead.”


Face snorted and scoffed at him. “Going to kill me with your hands cuffed behind your back?


“True, two of my hands are cuffed. Two of them.”


He glanced down and Face instinctively followed his gaze, to see movement under Kyle’s shirt. Then from under the hem a small pistol poked out, held by a small, pale hand, attached to a stubby and hairless arm.


Face gasped in shock and disgust and looked up into Kyle’s eyes. Kyle grinned as he poked the gun he held in his third hand into Face’s midriff.


“Clever little bastards those nanites, weren’t they?”

Chapter 10

“In my opinion, it’s vitally important to look at this picture in complete silence.”


“And why is that, Mr Murdock?”


Calvin joined Murdock, who stood in front of a reproduction of a painting of a parade. A man in black, wearing horns and a devil mask, accompanied two dancing women. They wore white dresses, and masks that made their faces doll-like and lifeless. Another man carried a banner with a huge laughing, mocking, face on it. Many of the crowd around the dancers wore masks too, some skull-like, some bird-like.


“Well,” Murdock opined, in his best art critic voice. “Goya had gone deaf by the time he painted this. So he witnessed this parade without the music and the song and laughter that we can’t help but imagine when we look at it.” He peered closer at the picture. “I can’t help thinking that without sound then the dancing, cavorting, capering, whatever you want to call it, becomes much more sinister.”


Calvin looked at him for a while.


“You have an interesting perspective.”


Murdock shrugged. “I do sometimes see things differently from other people.” He grinned. “And indeed sometimes things other people can’t see at all, which leads to some tricky explanations.”


“Ah, yes, I can imagine.” Calvin glanced over at a computer console on the wall where his scanner data was downloading into a storage chip.


“You know it seems odd for a painter to live underground,” Murdock said. “All the artists I’ve known have wanted to be out in the light.”


Calvin shrugged. “I don’t paint what’s outside. My art dealer would prefer it if I painted pretty views of Jupiter, but… I don’t.”


“So you do sell your work?” Murdock asked, surprised.


“Oh, yes. Definitely.” He smirked. “Every six months I send off the pictures to Mars and my dealer sells them. Mostly to corporate clients, apparently. They buy ones that match the colour of the carpet.” He laughed aloud now. Murdock frowned at him.


“What’s so funny?”


Calvin just laughed some more, shook his head, not explaining. Should have the room next door to me back home, Murdock thought.


“Can I see your pictures?” Murdock asked. Maybe that would tell him what was so funny. Calvin studied him for a moment, and then smiled a worrying smile.


“Why not? I’d like to see what your interesting perspective makes of them.”


-o-O-o-


Hannibal had reached the operations room, to find damaged control panels, but no sign of who had damaged them. He gave the panels a quick glance and knew they were well beyond his ability to repair. Anything more technical than changing a battery and he called BA.


He called BA now, who reported he’d secured the route he’d taken and was now close to operations. No opposition so far.


“Okay, see you in a minute. Face, report.”


No answer.


“Face?”


Still no answer. Damn.


“BA,” Hannibal said. “Head for Face’s route, meet you there.”


It could just be a broken communicator, Hannibal thought. On the other hand, it could be trouble. He scowled. When was it ever just a broken radio? He ran from the operations room.


“Hannibal!” Face’s voice erupted from the communicator as Hannibal left the room. He was yelling and panting. Hannibal could hear more noise in the background, scuffling, a fight. “Kyle’s here, he got –”


“Give me your position,” Hannibal ordered.


“Level two, section –” The sound of a blow cut him off.


“We’re coming, Face. BA?”


“On my way,” BA’s voice sounded jerky, running already.


“Hannibal!” Not Face’s voice this time, but Joy’s. “Hannibal, there’s a ship approaching!”


“Is it Kyle’s?”


“I’ll know in a second.”


Presumably when it opened fire, Hannibal thought. He pounded up some steps and spoke into his communicator.


“Sure wish our matter transporter worked about now, huh, BA?”


He got no answer.


“Joy, if you’re attacked, get the ship out of there.”


“But, Colonel –”


“That’s an order, Captain. You can come fetch us later. But if we lose the ship, we’re screwed. Get ready for take off now.”


“Hannibal!” Face’s voice again, but not over the radio this time. Hannibal spun around to look down a corridor. A hundred metres away Face struggled with a man that Hannibal recognised in a second as Kyle.


“Face!” Hannibal ran down the corridor. A plasma beam scorched the wall inches from him and he hit the floor as Kyle fired again, then pulled Face around in front of him, a pistol jammed up against Face’s head.


“Back off, Smith, or he’s dead!”


Face struggled as Kyle dragged him backwards. Kyle raised a communicator and Hannibal stared. Wait, Kyle had one arm around Face’s neck, one hand holding the gun and… another one holding the communicator? What the hell?


“Get me out of here!” Kyle shouted into the communicator. Hannibal realised at once that he intended to beam out and take Face with him.


“Drop the gun!” A yell came from the far end of the corridor behind Kyle and BA loomed out of the darkness, rifle ready. “Let him go.”


As Kyle looked around, Face’s elbow rammed into his guts. He doubled up and staggered back as Face pulled away from him and turned to attack him.


“No, stay back!” Hannibal yelled. Just in time, as Kyle shimmered and vanished in a sparkle of light.


Hannibal scrambled up and ran to Face. BA came pounding up the corridor towards them.


“Face! You okay?”


“You should have shot him!” Face shouted, his face pale, fists clenched.


Hannibal scowled. Well that would be nice and all, but he wanted Kyle alive.


“Hannibal,” Joy’s voice came over the radio again. “Kyle’s ship is leaving!”


“We’ll be there in two minutes.”


He didn’t need to tell the other two to start moving. BA ran, Face following. Hannibal brought up the rear and the three of them ran flat out in the direction of the docking port. “Keep it on sensors as long as you can, Captain. I want you to take off the second we’re inside.”


He shut up then, saved his breath for running. In a few minutes, they were pounding along the tube and diving into the airlock.


“Computer, close outer airlock door! Disengage docking tube.” Hannibal shouted then hit the intercom button to call the flight desk as the airlock door rumbled closed. “Captain. As soon as you get a green light on the airlock door, get us out of here, we’ll be on the flight deck in a second.”


Face and BA stood by the inner door, looking ready to claw it open. A second later the light on the outer door showed green and the inner door hissed open. They ran, grabbing at the walls and then at the rails of the stairways as the ship bucked under them, blasting off the surface.


“BA, engine room,” Hannibal ordered. “Give me every drop she’s got.” BA ran off to the engine room and Hannibal, with Face at his heels ran to the flight deck.


-o-O-o-


Calvin led Murdock through a door into a larger room, a studio. Several large canvases and many smaller ones were stacked against the walls. A couple, works in progress, sat on easels.


They were all rather similar abstract works. Murdock walked over to one a couple of metres wide and almost as tall held on two easels. The picture was a field of rich kingfisher blue. Subtle variations of tone and hue kept it from being simply a wall of colour, but Murdock could see why office decorators would buy this stuff by the square metre and match it to the décor. It appeared no more than decorative.


Murdock looked away at another picture, but as he did, he thought he caught something out of the corner of his eye. He looked back at the blue painting and frowned, wondering if he’d imagined it. Turning to Calvin, he found the man watching him speculatively


“Is this painted over something else?” Murdock knew artists sometimes reused canvases, painting over old pictures.


“Why do you ask?” Calvin asked.


“I don’t know. I thought I could see something else.” He shrugged. “It’s probably my eyes. They’ve been weird since the war.” He glanced at the table beside the picture. Several pots of near identical looking blue paint sat in a row. A small forest of brushes, ranging from large flats to small round ones stood in tubs behind the paint.


“Do you know about the bees and the flowers, Mr Murdock?” Calvin asked.


“Yeah, my grandfather told me about that stuff when I twelve.” Murdock grinned and Calvin clicked his tongue and folded his arms. “Sorry,” Murdock said, the grin becoming sheepish. “Go on.”


“Bees can see in the ultraviolet. When we look at a flower, we may see only a pure white petal. But the bee can see patterns, lines and dots invisible to us.”


Murdock nodded, remembering being taught that at school.


“Yeah. Because the bees and the flowers have evolved a sort of symbiosis.”


“Or perhaps a relationship of mutual exploitation?”


“Yeah, I guess that’s another way of putting it,” Murdock conceded. “And what’s this little natural history lecture got to do with art?”


Calvin opened a box that sat beside the paint and the brushes. From it, he took a set of goggles and handed them to Murdock.


“These allow you to see in the ultraviolet. You need to press that button on the side.”


Curious as hell now Murdock put the goggles on. He faced the blue painting and pressed the button Calvin had pointed out.


A second later he gasped and tore off the goggles. Oh my god, that was… He closed his eyes, not even wanting to see the blue any more, not knowing what was really there, on top, embedded, underneath, whatever. He didn’t know how it worked and didn’t care to.


“Mr Murdock?” Calvin’s voice sounded concerned. Murdock turned away from the picture and only then opened his eyes.


Murdock handed the goggles back to Calvin. “I, wow, yeah. Thing is, I’m really not supposed to see things like that. My doctors wouldn’t approve at all.”


Calvin stared at him and then looked chagrined. He put the goggles into a pocket of his tunic.


“I understand. I apologise if it upset you.”


“Upset?” Murdock said. “Yeah, that’s, ah… a word.” He shivered. And he imagined those pictures on the walls of boardrooms and executive meeting rooms back on Mars and Earth, looking all abstract and innocuous and underneath… He shivered again.


“So, um…” Murdock waved a hand at the pictures. “Stuff you saw in the war?”


“Saw?” Calvin said. “Saw. Well, that’s, as you say… a word.”


“Right,” Murdock said, unconsciously taking a step backwards, and then looking around at the other canvasses in the room.


The colours were unquestionably beautiful. One, a glowing orange, seemed to radiate heat and made you want to plunge into the one beside it, into deep sea green, to cool off. Another blue one, looked like the bluest summer sky you ever saw. The blue sky of Earth that Murdock still dreamt of flying in.


They made him feel sick.


-o-O-o-


Joy turned as Hannibal and Face ran onto the flight deck; a relieved grin replaced her anxious look.


“You’re okay?”


“Peachy,” Hannibal said. “Face, weapons station. You still got him on scanners, Captain?”


“He almost went out of range, until we took off,” she reported. “We’re just about keeping up now, but he’s at the limits of scanner range.”


“We need to get him back in visual range,” Hannibal said. “More speed, BA,” he ordered over the intercom. BA didn’t respond. Probably had his hands full. Hannibal glanced at Joy. He and Face could handle things up here and she was an engineer. “Captain, go assist BA.”


“Right, Colonel.” She jumped up and ran.


“Face, soon as Kyle’s in weapons range target his engines.”


“Right, Colonel,” Face said. Hannibal grinned.


“Is there an echo in here?”


“Huh?” Face looked up from his panel.


“Never mind, stand by to fire.” He bent over his own panel and looked ahead out of the view port. The ground, worryingly close rushed by underneath them. Rock and pointy bits of certain death reached for them. Craters and fissure waited to embrace them. For the second time Hannibal wished he’d sent Face to see Mr Calvin and brought Murdock along to fly them instead.


“There!” Face pointed. “I see him. Ready to fire.”


A second later Hannibal saw it too; Kyle’s fleeing ship a distant speck.


“Wait for it,” Hannibal ordered. Too far off to get an accurate fix. They needed to cripple the ship, but still leave it able to land, as opposed to spreading it across a hundred kilometres of rocky surface. “Faster, BA,” he said over the intercom.


“You’ve got all the juice we can spare,” BA said.


“Shut off life support to everywhere but the flight deck and engine room,” Hannibal ordered him. That extra bit of power to the engines might just make the difference.


“Man, you crazy,” BA said. But Hannibal glanced back and saw the light on the door control panel go red as the door sealed.


“We’re catching up to him,” Face said. He looked up. “One small problem with that though. He’s powering weapons.”


“Better fire first then,” Hannibal said, grinning. Face grinned back.


“You got it, Colonel.”


And Kyle got it as Face fired on Kyle’s ship, plasma beams striking out.


“Shit!” Face scowled. “He’s got good shields. Minimal effect.”


Hannibal frowned too, watching another shot sizzle on Kyle’s shields. They flared but held.


“Incoming!” Face called, as beams spat from the back of Kyle’s ship.


Without his seatbelt, Hannibal would have been thrown to the floor by the impact. Only the force shields kept them from being destroyed.


“We’ve got damage,” Face reported. “And shield power is down fifty percent.”


“BA, get us more power to the shields. Face, hit him again!”


Face fired again, but so did Kyle. This time Hannibal evaded one of the beams, but the other caught them a glancing blow on the underside of the ship and Hannibal groaned as the lights went out and all of the panels flicked to black for a moment. They came back a second later as the power automatically rerouted.


“We’re falling behind,” Face reported.


“BA, give me more engine power!” Hannibal demanded.


“Listen, man, you can have more engine power, or you can have more shield power, you can’t have both.”


“Hannibal,” Face said. “We’re faster, but he outguns us and he’s got stronger shields.”


Hannibal muttered under his breath in disgust. They could catch up, but they’d be shot out of the sky if they did. They could stay back out of weapons range, but Kyle wouldn’t just lead them back his base. He’d turn around and come after them. Damn, Hannibal hated being outmuscled.


“He’s firing again,” Face called.


“BA, extra power to shields now.” He made another evasive manoeuvre and the shots passed over them harmlessly. Kyle’s ship pulled ahead as the extra power to the Chicago’s shields drained power from her engines. Hannibal’s console fretted over the nearness of the ground, flashing a “proximity warning” alarm at him, so he climbed high enough to make that go away. Kyle’s ship vanished from sight. Hannibal sighed and called the engine room.


“BA, chase is over. How bad is the damage?”


“I’d prefer to set down for repairs,” BA said. “Be tricky to do ’em in flight. Won’t take us longer than a couple of hours.”


“Okay,” Hannibal said, his voice subdued. “I’ll find us some place to land.”


“Colonel,” Joy said over the connection. “Once that’s done we should go back to the power plant. Those repairs are still needed.”


“No,” Hannibal said. “Kyle and his creeps could come back anytime.”


“But, Colonel –”


“No. We’ll pick up more people and come back later.” Hannibal had made his choice. She stopped arguing and Hannibal closed the intercom, started looking for some flat ground to set down.


“Kyle’s vanished from sensors now,” Face said. He looked up when Hannibal didn’t answer.


“Sorry, Face. Thanks. Good shooting there.”


Face shrugged. “Didn’t help us much.”


“We’ll do better next time,” Hannibal said. Kyle may outmuscle them, but Hannibal knew for sure he couldn’t outwit them. He remembered something suddenly that he’d not had time to ask about.


“Face, was I seeing things back at the power plant, or did Kyle have three arms?”


Face shuddered. “You weren’t seeing things. Freakish, Hannibal, freakish.”


“I guess his chip really did fritz out.” He shook his head and sighed. “And to think I missed lunch with Maggie for this.”


Face looked at him. “Lunch with Maggie, huh?” He grinned and glanced at his watch. “Well, maybe we’ll get home in time for dinner.”


“You think so?” Hannibal heard the hopeful tone in his own voice and wanted to laugh at it himself.


Face did laugh at him, more a chuckle. “A little smitten, eh, Hannibal?”


“Smitten?” Hannibal laughed too, liked the word. Yeah, he was a little smitten. “I walked her home last night, and well, maybe she’s smitten too.”


“Oh yeah?” Face’s eyebrows went up. “Some, ah, action, Colonel?”


“Face!” Hannibal said, in mock outrage. “I would never talk about such things. I mean if for example, purely hypothetically you understand, I got a kiss I would never blab about it.”


Face laughed. “Right, of course not.”


“Glad that’s understood.” The red light on the door changed to green as life support was restored to the rest of the ship. “Okay, go help out BA. I can see a nice garden spot for us to land. Touchdown, two minutes.”

Chapter 11

Hannibal walked into the tiny recreation area to find BA and Joy resting on the sofas looking wiped out.


“Finished the repairs?” Hannibal asked. Though they had been in flight for several hours now, there’d still been plenty to fix and the two engineers had been slaving away the whole time.


“All done,” BA said. “We nearly home?”


“Twenty minutes out.” Hannibal looking at his watch. Almost midnight. Unless Maggie wanted a very late supper, it looked like today would be a washout on that score.


“Where’s Face?” BA asked.


“Sleeping.” Hannibal sat down beside Joy who handed him a cup of coffee. “In his cabin anyway.”


BA nodded. “He okay?”


Hannibal shook his head. “I think he’s a bit freaked out, getting so close to Kyle.” He glanced at Joy for a second. Maybe said too much there. Not her business.


“They’ve got a history,” Hannibal explained. “Can’t say anything else.”


She nodded and he knew she understood. Anyone who’d been through combat knew some things stayed only between friends. He knew she wouldn’t mention it.


“Okay,” Joy stood up. “I’m going to get cleaned up before we land.”


Hannibal watched her go. He thought about his earlier instruction to Face not to let her wander about alone, but he dismissed that now. A man could change his mind, couldn’t he? He trusted his judgement and he trusted her. Face had been right. She’s Army, she’s ‘one of us’.


He turned to BA, who was examining a piece of burnt out machinery and grumbling.


“You know how much a replacement for this part costs?”


Hannibal smiled. “You sound like Face.”


“Yeah, well when it comes to you getting my ship blown up, I’m gonna complain as much as he does.”


“I didn’t get her blown up,” Hannibal protested. “Just slightly bruised.”


“You gonna be slightly bruised if you do it again,” BA warned.


“Aw, c’mon, BA, it was fun. Just like the old days.” He grinned, but BA didn’t crack a smile as he stood up.


“Not quite, man.” He tucked the broken part under his arm and headed out of the door. Hannibal heard him speak quietly as he left. “When we repaired ’em in the old days we had to clean the blood off first.”


-o-O-o-


Face emerged from the bunkroom in time for the landing, taking his place on the flight deck. He stayed quiet and Hannibal didn’t press the matter. Couldn’t anyway, with Joy there. He’d try to get some time later to talk to Face.


The ship touched down on the landing pad, which started to descend as they closed the systems down.


“Anybody up for grabbing a late supper at The Spot?” Joy offered as they walked down the ramp off the ship. “I’m starving.”


“Me too,” BA said.


“Okay, well, hang on while I, um –” She winked at Hannibal, “While I just go put something away on my ship.”


“Wonder if Murdock is back yet?” Hannibal said as they waited. “That data he’s bringing, well, I just have a good feeling that will be the thing that gives us the edge.”


Joy rejoined them a moment later and they walked through the long corridor to the door into the town. It opened before they reached it and Hannibal was surprised to see Ted and Amy there. Ted strode forward and Amy hurried after him.


“Hey, Sheriff,” Hannibal called. “We had a little encounter with Kyle. And we still need to regroup and go back out to complete the repairs and –” he stopped, since Ted was clearly ignoring him. The sheriff walked right up to Joy, his face stern, yet anguished.


“Captain Frost, I’m sorry, you’re under arrest.”


-o-O-o-


Calvin handed Murdock three data chips.


“There’s a year’s worth of data on each one. It will take you hours to process.”


“Then I’d better get moving. It was, ah, nice meeting you.” If nice meant slightly disturbing. He offered his hand and Calvin shook it. Murdock looked around. “Where’s Duchess got to?”


“Probably sleeping.”


“She’s a nice cat,” Murdock said. “But even I can’t imagine living with only a cat for company.”


“Oh she’s practically human,” Calvin said. “She sleeps all day, is expensive to keep and tries to claw my face off when she gets angry.” He grimaced. “It’s like living with my second wife all over again.”


Murdock laughed. “Okay, the colonel’s waiting for the data. I’ll say ‘hi’ to Joy from…” he trailed off and looked up. “You hear something?”


“No, I – wait. Yes. A rumbling sound.” Calvin looked up too, frowning. “Can you feel…?”


Duchess hurtled into the room like a missile and ran straight up Calvin’s back onto his shoulder. Murdock saw him wince and guessed she’s dug her claws in deep. She hissed madly, all her fur puffed up. A second later, the men felt what the cat already could. The room shook. A slight vibration at first, but quickly growing in intensity. The lights began to flicker.


“It’s an earthquake!” Murdock yelled, suddenly very aware of the tons of rock over their heads. “A moonquake! Whatever the hell you call it!”


“No,” Calvin stared around. “It can’t be. This area is seismically stable.”


“Listen.” Murdock suddenly heard something besides the vibration. “Can you hear it? It’s a drill. Damn! They’re drilling down to you! Come on!” He grabbed Calvin’s arm and dragged him away as the shaking got so strong that lights and furniture began to fall.


“No! My pictures!”


“Move! Or you’ll be painting commissions for the boardroom in hell.” Murdock pushed him into the short corridor to the landing pad. Duchess still clung to his shoulder. He didn’t have to carry her; he’d probably have to have her surgically removed. Murdock pressed the button to seal the door and as it closed, he saw the tip of a huge drill bit burst through the roof. The door sealed and he ran, pulling Calvin with him.


-o-O-o-


Ted closed and locked the cell door behind Joy. She turned to glare at him through the bars.


“Ted, this is ridiculous! You can’t possibly believe I’m working for Kyle!”


“Is this recording the best evidence you’ve got, Sheriff?” Hannibal said, looking up from the desk, where Amy had shown him the recording they had found. He gave the sheriff a scowl as fierce as Joy’s.


“I’ve got fingerprint evidence from the transmitter,” Ted said. “And the data chip.”


“That’s my workshop. My fingerprints are on everything in there!”


“Does the lady get a lawyer?” Face asked. Hannibal glanced up at him. Always the realist.


“We don’t actually have any lawyers living on Ganymede,” Ted said.


“No lawyers?” Hannibal’s eyes widened and he grinned.


“Think I’ll move here,” Face said, taking the words out of Hannibal’s mouth.


“I’ve sent out a message. One will arrive as soon as possible.” Ted looked at Joy. “Meanwhile you can nominate a person of your choice to act as your representative. Dr Sullivan has already said she’d be happy to do that for you.”


“Maggie’s a doctor, not a lawyer,” Hannibal pointed out.


“I know that,” Ted said. “It’s just an emergency provision; the representative can’t give legal advice. They are just an observer, a witness.”


“So he can’t beat me up or anything,” Joy put in scowling at the sheriff. Then she stopped scowling and started to look more worried. She looked at the floor and bit her lip. “Actually,” she said, looking up after a moment. “Much as I appreciate Maggie’s volunteering, maybe it’s better if it’s someone more neutral. Miss Allen?”


Amy looked startled. She had been sitting on the side of the desk, beside Hannibal, but slid off it and stood up.


“Me? Um, Joy,” she flushed. “You should know that I’m the one who first said that the sheriff should arrest you.”


“Ah.” Joy looked thoughtful for a moment, and then said, “Be that as it may, I’d still like you to do it. If these guys,” she nodded at the team, “if they trust you I think I can too.”


Amy blushed, Hannibal saw, just a little. He smiled. Yeah, Joy could trust her. Smart choice, he thought. Like she’d said, a neutral party. And a journalist, so naturally suspicious of the police and determined to know the truth. Very smart choice.


“Thank you, Captain,” Amy said. “I’d be honoured.”


Hannibal went back to watching the message. He shook his head.


“I don’t get it. Why the hell send all this footage? Why not just write a message saying, ‘this is what they said and this is what they decided’?”


The council meeting he could almost understand. But what was the point of recording and sending off their dinner? The only bit of planning that had come out of that had been Murdock’s visit to Calvin and he’d already figured the traitor in their midst had told Kyle about that.


The rest was just standard dinner conversation. Why the hell would Kyle need to hear Hannibal’s film business anecdotes? Or Face spinning a line to anything vaguely female in the vicinity? Made no sense.


He sighed. This whole situation made less sense all the time. Now Joy was locked up and Hannibal didn’t believe in her guilt for a moment. He’d made his assessment. He considered his ability to judge people as one of his most valuable abilities and he’d judged her trustworthy. Of course, he could just be too stubborn to accept the possibility that he could be wrong. That had been – he grimaced – pointed out to him before as a tendency of his.


He sighed again and pinched the bridge of his nose. His head had begun to pound. He needed sleep. BA too. Face had slept through most of the journey back, so he could take the watch.


“You won’t be questioning the Captain until the morning, will you, Sheriff?” Hannibal glared, making it clear this wasn’t a question. “She’s entitled to rest.”


Ted frowned and bristled. “Thank you, Colonel. You don’t need to tell me how to do my job. I will, as you say, question her in the morning.”


“Okay,” Amy said, brightly, heading off an argument. “Let’s all get some rest, shall we?”


“Face will take the watch,” Hannibal said. “Face, I want to know the second Murdock comes back.”


“Right, Colonel.” Face nodded. “You want me to stay here in the office?”


“With Ted’s permission,” Hannibal said, diplomatically.


“Fine. I’ll be sleeping here anyway,” Ted said. “Since I have…” He grimaced, obviously not liking the idea, “a prisoner.” He sighed. “Oh, god, when people hear about this in the morning, all hell is going to break loose.”


“Then better get some rest ready for it,” Hannibal advised. “Joy, can we bring you anything? Change of clothes?”


“Maggie’s going to fetch her some stuff from home in the morning,” Amy said. “Joy, I’ll be here first thing, before the sheriff questions you.”


“Thanks, Amy.” Joy sat down on the bunk in the cell; her hands clasped together, head down. She looked smaller and older than before and Hannibal had to resist the urge to stay here himself. There’s no need, he told himself. Face is on guard. Everything will be fine.


-o-O-o-


Murdock and Calvin piled into the shuttle.


“Get the doors open while you still can,” Murdock said, knowing if they couldn’t open the doors at the top of the landing bay, they’d be trapped down here. Calvin started tapping fast at a console, contacting the computer controlling the doors. Murdock prepped the ship for a fast take off. He smiled grimly. Wasn’t it always a fast take off?


“Mr Murdock, I can open the doors, but I can’t initiate the landing platform elevator.”


“Then open those doors and hang on to your, um, cat.”


“Doors open in five seconds. Five… Four… Three…”


Murdock blasted all the power he could into the engines and hoped it took them at least three seconds to rise through the shaft of rock. They rose, and cleared the doors just as Calvin said, “One.”


The shuttle burst out of the shaft like a cork from a champagne bottle. Murdock glanced over to see Calvin had his eyes closed.


“We’re clear!” Murdock called. “And we’ve got company.”


One large ship and a couple of shuttles hung close over the ground and over a new hole in the ground that led down into Calvin’s bunker.


“Let’s get the blue hell out of here,” Murdock said as the two shuttles turned towards Murdock’s. The larger ship started to move too, coming around more slowly. “Full power.”


Murdock blasted his souped up engines and the tiny ship sped off. Kyle’s ships began to pursue.


“Ah, this ship is remarkably fast for its class,” Calvin said, hanging onto his seat, looking alarmed.


“I know a really good mechanic,” Murdock said, with his best maniacal grin. Calvin had been making him nervous for the last few hours. It must be Murdock’s turn now.


The two shuttles soon fell behind, not able to match Murdock’s speed. The big ship kept up though and when it got close enough the inevitable happened.


“Powering weapons,” Calvin reported. He looked at Murdock with a hopeful expression. “Have you got anything else none standard on here? Like better shields?”


“The shields would barely survive a bird strike,” Murdock said. He aimed for something interesting he could see on his navigation screens. “The trick is not to get hit.”


“Oh, that’s okay then.”


Murdock swerved to port as Kyle’s ship fired and suddenly rock rushed past on either side as they dipped down into and hurtled along a canyon.


“Oh my god!” Calvin gasped gripping the arms of his chair as tight as Duchess still gripped his shoulder.


Murdock didn’t waste any breath on reassuring him. Either they made it or they didn’t and if they didn’t and the last thing he’d said had been: ‘we’ll be fine’ then he’d die a liar.


Kyle’s ship was too big to drop down into the canyon. It followed them with plasma beams blasting instead. But Murdock kept his course so erratic, dodging and weaving and hurtling around bends, that nothing even grazed them.


Then they burst from the end of the canyon onto the wide-open floor of a crater. No cover. Kyle’s ship bore down. Murdock took the shuttle lower, so low the dust on the crater floor blew up behind them in a wake. He zigzagged to avoid the weapons fire.


“Come on Kyle, you bastard, lower, lower. Better chance of hitting me if you get closer. Where are your guts?” He flipped open a cover on a switch and hovered a finger over it. Kyle’s ship came lower still, almost as low as Murdock’s.


“Now!” Murdock snapped and pressed the button. “Bombs away!” He accelerated and counted “one two three”. Timing was all. Kyle had to be right over it when…


The mine Murdock had released exploded. Kyle’s ship was barely two hundred metres directly above it and the explosion threw a storm of rock at it. Murdock and Calvin saw the ship thrown from its course and spun around. Breathless, they waited. Would it recover and follow?


No. Murdock grinned as the ship sank down slowly to land, unable to go on. He pulled back on their own speed a bit, no sense in draining their power now they weren’t being pursued. But he kept it above what those other two standard shuttles could manage, in case they caught up. He set course for Galileo City.


Job done, he leaned back in his chair and grinned at the pale and wide-eyed Calvin.


“Coffee? Tea? A large sedative?”


“Mr Murdock, you are…” Calvin shook his head, sounded short of breath. “You are a remarkable pilot.”


Murdock winked. “You should have seen me when I was in practice.”

Chapter 12

Hannibal didn’t sleep much and when he woke from a doze at five-fifteen, he decided the night was now over. He’d woken because he thought he heard his communicator buzzing, but he must have dreamt it as the device showed no sign of a message.


Damn. He sat up and stretched then hurried to the shower. Okay, he thought, okay. Maybe Murdock decided to spend the night at Calvin’s, not wanting to fly while too tired. Maybe it had taken a while to find the bunker in the first place. And just maybe he was in trouble.


He dressed and went downstairs, walking softly through the corridors of bedrooms. Downstairs was deserted. Breakfast didn’t start until seven, and so far even the kitchen staff had not arrived. No problem for Hannibal, quite used to foraging. He found the kitchen and a tray and loaded it with Danish pastries, bread, butter and other bits and pieces for a picnic breakfast, then left by the back door.


When he stepped outside, he found he was not the only one awake at such an ungodly hour. Mr Lambert sat on a low wall drinking a mug of coffee and gazing out across the town.


“Morning,” Hannibal said. “I didn’t realise anyone else was up.” He nodded at the tray. “Sorry, I helped myself. I’m going down to the sheriff’s office. I thought I’d take some breakfast down for them.”


Lambert shrugged, not apparently bothered. “That’s fine. Um, is Captain Frost all right?”


“So far.”


“Good. Good. I hope this is all sorted out quickly. I’m sure she must be innocent of these charges.” He grimaced. “I’m afraid my wife doesn’t agree.”


Hannibal nodded, recalling hearing some raised voices from the family’s quarters the night before.


“Your son thinks she’s innocent too though.”


“Yes.” Lambert nodded. “And he knows her well, so I’m more inclined to trust his instincts.” He sighed. “My wife thinks it’s all an insurance scam. That Kyle does the damage and Captain Frost inflates her repair costs to the insurance companies.”


An insurance scam? Hannibal would be very… disappointed if that’s what lay behind all of this. Severely disappointed. Disappointed with extreme prejudice.


“I don’t think that’s very likely,” Hannibal said. “Not enough profit in it.”


“That’s what I said. Then she said that she finds it suspicious that Captain Frost visits that Mr Calvin so much. She says the doctor visits him too, so he must be ill and that Joy is influencing him to change his will to her benefit.


Hannibal opened his mouth and closed it again, before he said something rude. Eventually he managed a diplomatic response.


“Um, does your wife particularly enjoy mystery novels, Mr Lambert?”


Lambert laughed then, shaking his head. He looked at Hannibal.


“Well, we have enough mysteries around here, Colonel; I hope you can shed some light on them soon. Good luck to you.”


With that, he went inside and Hannibal sighed and headed for the sheriff’s office. Ted had said all hell would break loose, Hannibal recalled, and it would. The town would split right down the middle and perhaps never recover from such a division.


But even that wasn’t the worst of it. It would not only be the town itself that would be divided. Families, friends, loved ones would be split over it.


Perhaps the only good thing likely to come out of it would be that Joy would find out who her real friends were.


“Hello, John.”


Hannibal smiled. Ah, now that was a welcome voice for the early morning. Maggie walked up the street towards him, carrying her doctor’s bag.


“Hi. Up and about early too, eh?”


“I couldn’t sleep.”


She did look tired, Hannibal thought, dark circles under her eyes. “Worried about Joy?”


Maggie nodded and grimaced. “Yes, I… well since I’m up I might as well go and open up my clinic. There’s still quite a few extra people in town.” She smiled. “That crowd you attracted. Some of them will likely pop in to see me.”


Hannibal nodded. “I’m sorry I couldn’t make it to lunch yesterday. But when this thing is over, we could have dinner.”


“That would be nice.”


“And…” He hesitated for a moment. Would she think him too pushy? But he would be gone soon. No time to take things slow. “Maggie, I wanted to say that, I’d like to stay in touch, after this is over.”


She looked up at him, her face hard to read.


“John, that’s very flattering –”


“Look, I’m not saying I’d be expecting anything besides, well, keeping in touch. But if I ever came back here, or you visited Mars, well it could be fun to spend some time together. No expectations, just spending some time.”


“John, I’ve done the long distance thing before, it didn’t really work for me. And then there’s your, well your life. The danger. I’ve done that before too.” She said the last part quietly.


“In the war?” Hannibal asked. She nodded. “You had a man who didn’t come back?”


Maggie sighed, looked away, shaking her head.


“He came back, he just wasn’t… wasn’t who he had been before.”


Hannibal nodded. Nobody who went into combat come out the same person. He could understand Maggie not wanting to go through that again.


“Well,” he said, seeing she didn’t look like she wanted to continue this subject. “I’d better get over to the jail and relieve Face. I’ll see you around.”


“Okay,” she said. “See you later, John.”


She walked on. Hannibal watched her for a moment and then went on his way. Well, she had just shot him out of the saddle, but nil desperandum. Plenty of time left. He didn’t give up after one attempt at anything after all. What was he, a quitter? Plenty of time.


In the office, he found Face sitting at the sheriff’s desk playing a desultory game of solitaire. And probably betting against himself.


“Morning, Hannibal,” Face said. “Sleep well?”


“Like a log.” One that’s on fire. “Any word from Murdock?”


“No.” He looked at Hannibal, some worry visible in his eyes.


“Okay, you get out of here and get freshened up and have some breakfast. Get BA and Amy up. Then we’ll go look for Murdock.”


Face nodded, a relieved look on his face, and at once gathered the cards up and stacked them neatly.


“See you soon, Hannibal.” Hannibal watched him leave then walked over to the cell.


“Morning, Joy. You okay?”


“Not really.” She slumped on the bunk looking tired. Well sleeping in a jail cell didn’t usually mean a good night’s rest, Hannibal knew from experience. And he’d bet she and Face had talked half the night away too.


“I brought you some breakfast.” He showed her the tray of food.


“Thanks, Colonel.” She managed a weak smile.


Ted came out of a back room then, carrying a coffee cup, his hair damp.


“Oh morning, Colonel. How are –” His computer console buzzed and he sat in front of it, and then looked up at Hannibal.


“Colonel, it’s an incoming transmission for you. It’s Murdock.”


-o-O-o-


Murdock kept his voice low, but it still woke Calvin, who’d been asleep in the co-pilot’s chair, Duchess curled on his lap.


“Hannibal? Oh, man, I’m glad to hear your voice.”


“Murdock, how far away are you?” Hannibal’s voice came over the speaker with a lot of crackling and buzzing.


“About thirty minutes out. Boosting this transmission as hard as I can. Listen, Colonel, I had some trouble. Kyle really doesn’t want us seeing this data. He tried to kill me and Mr Calvin to stop me getting it back here.” Static almost drowned his last few words.


“What?” Hannibal replied. “Okay, never mind, tell me when you get here. Just get back as fast as you can. Things have changed here. A transmission to Kyle’s base was found in Joy Frost’s workshop. She’s been arrested.”


“What?” Murdock and Calvin said at the same time.


“I’ll explain when you get here.” Another burst of static overwhelmed his voice. “Hurry up, Murdock.”


“Wait!” Calvin shouted, but the channel was closed. “This is outrageous! Joy would never – ow!” Duchess, disturbed by his agitation and still nervous, shot back up to his shoulder.


“Take it easy.” Murdock soothed. “Both of you. I’m sure it’ll all get straightened out.”


“Joy is an honourable woman!”


“I know,” Murdock said. “Don’t worry, we’ll be there soon, and I hope this data,” he patted his pocket, “will help us get everything worked out.”


Thirty minutes later Murdock brought the shuttle in to land and closed down the systems. They disembarked and Murdock almost had to run to keep up with Calvin in the passageway into the town, as the older man strode ahead, a deep frown on his face.


But Murdock did catch up at the door, as when it opened, Calvin stopped dead, staring around at the huge cavern that held the town. He moved to the side of the door and grabbed the frame.


The space, Murdock thought. He’s lived in a small space for so long he’s given himself agoraphobia.


“It’s okay,” Murdock said, stepping up, his voice gentle. “Come on, this way.” He reached across Calvin’s back and nudged the man’s elbow, making him take his hand off the doorframe. Calvin took a deep breath and nodded at Murdock, then walked out onto the street.


A few people were on the street now, heading to work. Most of them stared at Calvin curiously. Strangers were a novelty here, Murdock recalled. Calvin looked back at them, just as curious. New faces, Murdock thought. Reclusive he may be, but the mind can’t help being drawn to faces, when it’s been deprived of the sight of them for so long.


He spotted a face he knew Calvin was already familiar with. Maggie Sullivan, standing at the door of a small building, a steaming cup in her hand.


“Maggie,” Murdock called to her and waved. She looked back and then stared in apparent amazement. Calvin nodded to her.


“I think the whole town’s a bit shocked to see you,” Murdock said.


“I can promise you that they are not as shocked as I am to be here.”


-o-O-o-


“Oh, Danish, my favourite,” Joy said as Hannibal passed her a pastry through the bars of the cell. “And a coffee would be…” She trailed off and stared past him. “Good god!”


Hannibal heard the door open and turned to see Murdock and another man walk in. So, that other voice he’d thought he heard on Murdock’s transmission had not just been an echo after all.


“Seth?” Joy sounded astonished. Calvin walked straight up to the cell and reached through the bars to take her hand.


Ted came out of the back room and stared at Calvin. Hannibal moved away from the cell, stood beside Murdock.


“This is Calvin?”


“Yes,” Murdock confirmed.


“Right. And why exactly does he have a cat on his shoulder?”


Murdock frowned. “Because parrots are extinct?”


“Murdock.” Hannibal scowled at him, not in the mood.


“Long story short. Kyle drilled his way into Calvin’s little bunker, nearly killed all of us. Only my genius piloting skills saved the lives of myself, Mr Calvin and Duchess. That’s the cat. She’s a tad upset. She might relax enough to be pried off in a couple of days.”


“Kyle drilled in?” Hannibal actually smiled. “Creative.”


“Did I mention the part where I almost died?”


“Sorry, Murdock. You’re both okay? You need the doc?”


“No, we’re fine.” He held up the data chips. “Colonel, Sheriff, we should get to work on these as soon as possible.”


“Agreed. Let’s get them over to –” Hannibal began. He stopped and frowned as Murdock’s face changed, going pale, and his jaw dropping. Puzzled, Hannibal turned to see Face, BA and Amy coming through the door. “Oh, hey, guys, Murdock just got back.”


Murdock flew past Hannibal in a blur and crashed into Face as Face raised his hands defensively, staring in shock.


“Murdock!” Hannibal yelled. He gaped as Murdock and Face grappled. Murdock had grabbed one of Face’s wrists, seemed to be clawing at it. “Murdock! What the hell are you doing?”


“Get him off me!” Face yelled.


“Give it to me!” Murdock shouted. “BA, grab him!”


Face tried to jerk away from Murdock and lost his footing, sending the two of them crashing into a desk. Ted jumped forward and pulled Amy out of the way, as the two men fell to the floor, still struggling.


Hannibal’s wits came back at last. “BA!” he shouted, stirring BA from also staring in disbelief at their fighting team-mates. The two of them leapt in and dragged Face and Murdock apart, BA hauling Murdock off, Hannibal pulling Face away.


“He dropped it!” Murdock yelled. “There! There!” Managing to pull an arm free Murdock pointed at the floor. “Smash it!”


Face struggled to get away from Hannibal and failed, but Murdock succeeded, with a huge effort, in ripping free of BA’s grip. He ran to where he and Face had fallen against the desk a moment before.


“No!” Face yelled, too late, as Murdock raised his foot and for a second, before Murdock’s heel shattered it, Hannibal saw something on the floor, something small, something that he thought looked like a watch.


And then he felt a tingling, saw the air shimmer and instinctively pushed Face away from him, fearing a transporter field. A second later he realised the tingle against his skin was in fact the collapse of a force field, a projection.


What he pushed away wasn’t Face.


Where Face had stood a second before, Kyle’s man Leto now stood in his place, pointing his gun straight at Hannibal.

Chapter 13

It shouldn’t hurt as much to be thrown to the floor on Ganymede as it did on Earth, because of Ganymede’s lower gravity. However, the huge man that slammed Face to the ground at Kyle’s feet put in the extra effort to compensate.


Face moaned as his already battered body hit the deck, then he curled up quickly, knowing what came next. A boot smashed into his side, once, twice, three times.


“That’s enough.” Kyle’s voice came from above and the kicking stopped. Face sighed with relief, then groaned at the pain of his bruised ribs and scraped skin. “How far did he get this time?”


“He was right outside the shuttle bay, boss.”


Kyle sighed and crouched down, shaking his head. Face glared up at him. He’d made it to the shuttle bay, but then his escape plan had hit a snag. No ships. Even as he lay in cover wondering what the hell he did now, the ships arrived back. The largest looked badly battered and Face smiled, wondering what the team had done to cause that.


But he’d stopped smiling when the alarm started ringing; telling him someone had finally discovered his escape. His third escape, that is. Twenty minutes later, he’d been recaptured. Inevitable, he knew, since there really wasn’t anywhere to go, but that small issue didn’t stop him trying.


“What’s your problem?” Kyle asked. “Why can’t you just stay in your cell?”


“I think the answer’s in the question there,” Face said, his voice hoarse.


“Even if you got to one of the ships you’d never get the bay doors open.”


“We’ll see.”


Kyle shook his head. “You’re wasting your time, Peck.” He stood up straight. “Bring him, Jenko.”


Face tensed as the big man reached down. He grabbed Face’s left arm in his meaty hand and jerked him upright. Face scrambled to get his feet under him, before Jenko wrenched the arm right out of its socket. Kyle pointed at a corner of the room and Jenko dragged Face over there. Kyle followed a moment later carrying a length of chain with manacles on each end.


“If you won’t stay in your cell you can stay here where I can watch you.”


“Well, whatever turns you on.”


Face got a punch in the mouth for that remark and slumped down, dizzy. He felt a manacle secured to one wrist and looking up, he saw Kyle thread the other end of the chain through a bracket bolted into the stone wall, pull on it a couple of times, then appearing satisfied it would hold, he fastened the empty manacle around Face’s other wrist. Kyle and Jenko men stepped back and Face straightened up. He looked down at himself, at his now shredded and torn open shirt, at the manacles on his wrists. Then he sneered at Kyle.


“You know if this bondage thing does turn you on there’s plenty of clubs back on Mars that cater to that kink.” He flinched back as Jenko stepped forward to punch him again, but Kyle raised a hand to stop him.


“Don’t bother. He’s not worth the effort.” He looked at Face and smirked. “All talk this one. Just an empty vessel. Weak link.”


Face put his head down to hide a smirk from Kyle. Let them think that. So many people made the mistake of underestimating Face and they all regretted it later. For now though he had to try to restrain the urge to snarl at Kyle, to bite him, because it gave Kyle too much advantage to let him know he could get to Face. How much he… Scares me? Face thought. Angers me? Whichever it might be, he couldn’t let Kyle see it and use it against him.


Kyle turned away and walked to a console, where he frowned at a screen.


“What’s this?”


“Message came in for you while you was away, boss.” Jenko said. “From…”


“Yeah, I see who it’s from!” Kyle read the message and looked more unhappy with every word, which made Face very happy.


“Well that’s just great,” Kyle growled. “Why now? Why does he have to come now?”


“If you mean my Colonel, then he’s coming to get me,” Face said, voice smug. “And boy will you be sorry when he gets here.”


Kyle looked over and smirked at him. His next words left Face both baffled and worried.


“Now why would your colonel come looking for you when you’re not even missing?”


-o-O-o-


Hannibal’s mind raced, brakes failing. It’s not Face. Leto. Leto, in a goddamn Pseudo Suit! When the hell did this happen? How long ago?


Where the hell is Face?


“Stay back!” Leto yelled, aggressive, but panicky. The gun pointed at BA now, as he started to edge forward. When BA stopped moving, Hannibal inched forward. Ted had pushed Amy down behind the desk and took a step towards Leto, a hand on his sidearm.


“I’ll fire!” Leto yelled, sweeping the gun back and forth at the men advancing slowly on him. As he spoke, he backed up, but he had no escape route. The cells lay behind him. Calvin outside the cell, Joy inside it. Hannibal looked at Calvin at the same second Leto also glanced back at the man. Did Calvin have a weapon? Right now, he held the best position. Leto couldn’t cover him, unless he made him come out in front. And that just put one more person between Leto and the door.


“You can’t get out,” Hannibal said. “There’s nowhere to go. Just put the weapon down.” He saw Calvin moving, but he forced himself not to react. Whatever you’re going to do, he thought, do it fast, because this joker is going to start firing.


Then Hannibal almost wanted to laugh as he saw Calvin lift the black cat from his shoulder, and guessed the man’s plan at once. A second later Calvin threw the cat the short distance to land on the back of Leto’s neck.


Leto yelled in shock and leapt about six inches into the air as the already agitated cat dug its claws in instantly. He had no idea what it was, Hannibal guessed, as he twisted around grabbing at it with a terrified look on his face. Of course, this just made the cat angrier and she yowled and hissed her fury as Leto flailed wildly at her. In his panic, he lost his grip on his gun and dropped it. At once, BA, Murdock and Hannibal charged. They piled onto Leto, bearing him to the floor. The cat shot out of the scrum and ran up a high bookcase, stood on top hissing and bristling.


“Get him in the cell!” Ted yelled at the team as they dragged the struggling Leto to his feet. He stood by the door of an empty cell, Leto’s dropped pistol already in his hand.


The team quite literally threw Leto inside and he landed in a heap on the floor and slid into the back wall. Ted slammed the door and locked it. Hannibal leaned on it panting.


“Okay… Okay. Wait, Sheriff, can he beam out?”


“No. The cells are too heavily shielded.”


Hannibal sighed and nodded his head. They stared at the prisoner in shocked silence.


Calvin’s voice broke that silence with a sharp cry of pain. Hannibal turned to see him standing by the bookcase sucking the back of his hand. Duchess still prowled back and forth on top of it.


“Right,” he said, “I think I’ll leave her there for a few, em, weeks.”


“This… This means Kyle has got Face?” Amy said, her voice shaking making Hannibal turn to her. “When? When did he take him?”


Hannibal frowned, thinking it through. He looked at Murdock.


“You really can see through those things?”


“I… I guess I really can,” Murdock said, looking shaken.


“Then it had to be after you left for…” He stopped and looked around. “Um, Murdock, you’d ah, you’d mention if anyone else was using a Pseudo Suit, right?”


Murdock nodded, but looked around anyway, even glanced up at the cat.


“Everyone seems to be who they say they are,” he confirmed.


“Okay,” Hannibal tried to grasp the train of thought he’d been on. “Had to be at the power plant. That fight we saw him having with Kyle was just an act. Murdock would have spotted him if he’d been replaced before that. So he replaces him at the plant, we bring Leto back here and Kyle takes the real Face back with him.”


“Unless…” Murdock stared at Hannibal. “Hannibal, Kyle could have killed him when that one took his place.”


Hannibal shook his head, vehement, put absolute certainty into his voice, even if he couldn’t put it into his mind.


“No, he’s too valuable as a hostage to kill. Kyle would keep him alive in case he needed to exchange him for Fake Face here.” He nodded at Leto, who had struggled up to his feet now started pacing the cell, agitated. Hannibal liked that. It suggested the man had no backup nearby, no expectation of immediate rescue.


“This is what those recordings were for,” Amy said, coming up behind Hannibal. “They wanted to see Face, study him, so he could take Face’s place.”


Hannibal nodded. And Leto had been smart, Hannibal thought, retiring to his room on the ship, taking the nightshift guard here. Staying away from Hannibal and BA so they wouldn’t notice anything wrong. The more time he spent with them the better chance he’d do or say something suspicious, so he’d kept away as much as he could.


“Oh man!” BA said, his eyes suddenly wide, voice hushed. “Oh man, if you’re right that’s where it happened, then we was firing on a ship with Face on board. Oh man, I think I feel sick.”


Hannibal wanted to shudder as he thought of it, of their guns lashing out at the ship. An unlucky shot and they could have killed Face themselves. And he’d been enjoying the damn chase, been grinning, while right there on the flight deck sat this – Hannibal’s thoughts screeched to a halt as he abruptly remembered the conversation he’d had with ‘Face’ about Maggie. Bile rose in his throat at the memory of discussing something so personal with this… this fraud, with this enemy wearing his friend’s smile.


The sickness gave way to rage after a second and he stepped up to the cell, grabbed the bars in a grip so tight he felt like they would crush under his hands.


“Okay, pal, you have ten seconds to tell me where the real Face is. Or we send you back to Kyle in a wooden box.”


At once, Ted stepped up to the bars of Leto’s cell, beside Hannibal.


“Colonel, I know you’re upset, but I can’t let you threaten this man. He’s my prisoner.”


Hannibal glared. “We’re the ones took him down, Sheriff. That makes him my prisoner.”


“You’re my deputies and he’s in my jail,” The sheriff countered.


“Those things can change.”


“Hey,” Joy called. “Hey, Ted, isn’t it time you questioned me?”


“What?” Ted looked at her, distracted.


“You said you’d question me in the morning. It’s the morning, let’s get to it.”


“Joy, not now, I have to –”


“I want to make a confession!” They all turned to stare at her. She looked back, deadpan. “I want to confess. You have to let me make a confession, don’t you?”


Hannibal smiled, though changed his face instantly as Ted looked back at him, frowning. Hannibal shrugged.


“Sounds like you really need to go talk to the lady, Sheriff.” He nodded at a door through to the back. “You’ve got a room back there for questioning suspects, haven’t you?”


“Yes,” Ted said. He shook his head. “Dammit. Okay, Miss Allen, you’d better come too.” He went to the door of Joy’s cell and unlocked it.


“Hey,” Leto called, looking nervous. “You can’t leave me alone with these guys.” He looked at Hannibal, who was grinning at him. He swallowed. “You do this then I’ll make you pay, Sheriff! When my boss comes and finishes your hired guns, I’ll burn this damn jail to the ground. Then that lousy bar of yours after! You hear me?”