With three ashen corpses and a melted alleyway behind them, even Ace had to admit that getting the hell off the planet was a good idea, especially with those three having been footsoldiers of the deposed Dyzan Emperor. The mysterious man in the black cloak was out there too and whether he went for more soldiers or for the police, Ace didn’t want to be around for that.
“That wasn’t very sporting.” Bang sneered as Ace rejoined them
If he hadn’t been a paying fare Ace probably would have punched him in his perfect white teeth, but that would have to wait until after they paid him – call it a surcharge. He could feel Gail’s disgusted eyes on him, clearly she didn’t think much of his tactics either, he winked at her and give her a kissy face, hearing her all but gag in response.
“War ain’t sporting.” Ace sneered, chivvying them along towards his ship. “You kill the bastard, or you get killed yourself.”
“Well that isn’t my experience.” Grumbled Bang as Ace cranked the armoured door to his spaceship berth.
The platform was little more than a rusted hulk, but Ace’s ship, Man’s Ruin, was in near perfect condition, despite his frequent abuse and rough landings. She sat perched on her landing rockets as though tensed to spring into the air, there was something hawkish, classic about her lines. Painted racing-green with a toothy grin upon her snout, an obscene and classless pin-up painted with exquisite care upon her side.
“At least you’ve got a nice ship.” Bang grunted, folding his enormous biceps across his chest. Gail buried her head into Bang’s side, blushing as the naked imagery so brazenly showing on the fuselage.
The Professor only had eyes for the ship itself. “My word, a Supermarine Spite Mk24. I haven’t seen one of those since the war! Twin Merlin Atom Thrusters, Aldermaston Projects Type Three power core, quad Vickers 500 kilowatt energy cannon, high capacity Zenith lightning field. Top of the line at the end of the war. How did you get it?”
“That’s my business.” Ace set his jaw, disliking company at the best of times, especially when they asked difficult questions.”
“Disarmed. Of course.” Smiled the Professor, folding his arms behind his back.
“Of course.” Ace took the radio control from his utility belt and thumbed the red button. The signal woke the rocket up and the gantry unfolded, clanking into place beside them. He sprang up the gantry three steps at a time while the others fell in behind, climbing into the cockpit and warming the engines.
In back they settled into the scant accommodation, military craft weren’t built with comfort in mind, it was going to be a crowded trip, even if it was going to be a short one. With Dyzan in the same orbit as Earth you really just had to blast towards it and let it come to you.
Switches clicked, the ocilloscope glowed to life, the radar hummed and filled its own little screen. Ace pulled the radio mic onto his chest and dialled into Space Traffic Control.
“Tower, this is Man’s Ruin, I’m taking off.”
“Not without clearance you’re not. There’s a…” Came the terse reply.
“That was information, not a request.” Ace cut them off before they could finish, switching off the radio and grasped the stick, pushing the power lever up. The ship sprang to life, deep in its guts the Atomic Core awoke, disintegrating the store of lead and converting its mass directly into energy. Power flowed through the ship and the lights came up, bright and powerful, the ship shuddered and in a blast of atomic fire leapt for the sky.
There was a shriek from back in the passenger cabin, someone hadn’t strapped themselves down and there was rattling as everything that wasn’t bolted down fell to the back of the ship. On a plume of glowing exhaust Man’s Ruin shot into the sky and Ace leaned back hard into the creaking leather of the seat. They were away.
Ace’s mouth dropped open and then set into a grim line, jaw muscles knotting as the side of his windscreen darkened with a massive shape. A great rocket-liner appeared, making its ponderous way on landing jets, down towards the Manhattan spaceport, and it was right in his way.
Ace grasped the handle tighter and arced the ever-accelerating ship away from the liner. He wasn’t going to make it. The nose of Man’s Ruin glowed under the relentless acceleration, wisps of cloud streamed by, almost too fast to notice. He throttled back as best he could and the anodised hull of the liner came into all too clear focus.
Man’s Ruin lurched as he wrenched her around, every bolt, every plate, screeching in protest as he swung his ship around the liner’s massive frame. Pushing it to the limit of its acceleration as a gap opened in the larger ship’s superstructure.
There was a massive clang as Man’s Ruin clipped the other vessel, a section of plating tore free of the ship and spiralled down through the atmosphere, cleaving a hapless ground-car into two halves and embedding itself in the street like some defiant metal flag. Ace hung on for dear life as Man’s Ruin spiralled dangerously, tumbling end over end, every tendon, every muscle standing out as the bile rose in his throat and he strained to bring the tumbling ship back under control. Through the thick crystal of his screen sea and sky strobed in a sickening blur until he shut his eyes and yanked back with every ounce of strength in his body, aiming her back into the sky and roaring up out of the atmosphere like a torpedo. Finally they were free of Mother Earth’s embrace and space was theirs.
“Guess I won’t be going back to New York.” he growled to himself as he unstrapped, setting the Turing Machine on course for Dyzan at a constant acceleration of one gravity and swinging back on the hand straps to check on his passengers.
“You crazy son of a bitch!” Gail thundered at him, smacking him across the face. It’d been a long time since a woman had hit him and it took Ace completely by surprise. Face stinging and eyes black with anger he caught her wrist on her second attempt and twisted it behind her back, holding her tight. She hissed and writhed in his grip as he looked at the other two thirds of this trio he’d been lumbered with.
Bang had hit his head, so it seemed, and he’d though the shriek had been Gail’s. The Professor was tending to it with the first aid kit and that gash on his head didn’t seem too bad. Keeping his grip on Gail’s writhing body despite Bang’s murderous look he glowered, and spoke.
“We had to get out of there. Whoever it is that’s after you isn’t messing around. They mean business. I got us away and I’ll get you to Dyzan within twenty-four hours. If you don’t like my methods, you’re welcome to leave.” He pointed his free hand at the airlock and then shoved Gail towards Bang with an open handed slap to her meaty rump that echoed in the tight confines of the ship with a metallic clang. “Hit me again and you’ll get more than a spanking. Hear me?”
Gail took in a breath as she recovered her equilibrium, her lip quavering on the edge of tears or a screaming fit, but Ace was spared her shrill complaints by a sudden lurch of the ship that threw them all off balance. “Jesus! Yelped Bang, smacking the other side of his head against a metal locker.”
“Perhaps the ship is more damaged than you thought?” Offered the professor, a frown deepening his heavy brow and crinkling his forehead.
“No… this is something else.”
All three of them crowded into the cockpit and looked out of the thick glass upon the black void of space, still tinged blue with the light of Earth behind them. Man’s Ruin was drifting, off course, faster and faster being turned, pulled, towards something.
“There!” Professor Quartus stabbed his finger at the glass, pointing a distant, silvery dot.
It took a moment but then Ace’s steely gaze saw it too, a spherical something, glowing in the reflected light of the Earth and growing bigger. He grasped the stick and tried to turn Man’s Ruin away, but the attraction was too strong, he couldn’t pull the course away.
“A magna-beam!” Quartus stroked his beard. “A powerful one. We’re being pulled towards that moon.”
The silvery sphere grew larger, they began to make out details. A jumble of parts, metal, wrecked ships, ore-rich asteroids, shattered space stations, clumped together in one gigantic ball of scrap. Ace’s stomach sank and while he was a man beyond fear, this was as close as it got.
“It can’t be a moon!” Gail’s anger had given way to consternation. “We’re still near Earth, Earth only has one moon.”
“That’s no moon.” Ace’s fist gripped the stick even tighter, white knuckled. “That’s my wife.”