Hanging by his wrists from magnetic cuffs, deep in the bowels of Rosie’s scrapship Ace had plenty of time to think about everything that had lead up to this point. He glowered across the rusty cell at the three misfortunes that had stepped into his life and tried to work out where he’d gone wrong. Had it been taking off at such a haring rate? Had it been being willing to take these jokers to Dyzan at all? Perhaps his mistake had been shattering the arrogant German’s teeth, after all, that had attracted their attention. Going further back perhaps his mistake had been marrying Rosie in the first place, the witch knew how to bear a grudge that was certain, just his bad luck to run into her here.
They had been dragged in by the magna-beam, spiralling in to the iron moon despite all their best attempts to break free. The ship had rattled and sang as though hit by hammers, disintegrating its stores of lead in the futile struggle to escape but it was no use. The scrapship had more mass, more power and Rosie’s smarts behind its rays and beams. They had been dragged into its rusting bulk and the power had gone out. Rosie must have rigged up that power suppressor she had always been banging on about. Girl was a genius, for all that she was a bitch.
Once they were down the robots had come trundling on their wheels, raising their laser-torches threateningly and – not wanting to see harm done to Man’s Ruin and with his Eliminator refusing to work – Ace had no choice but to go along with them, stripped of his weapons and dignity and forced to elbow Bang in the gut to stop him doing something stupid. Now here they were, all hanging alongside each other and making the old adage about hanging together or separately all too accurate. Now if Gail would just shut up they could wait until Rosie calmed down and came to talk to them. She always talked in the end, despite how little good it ever did, they just had to wait a while down here until her temper abated, perhaps a year at the most.
“Just what, the hell, did you do to this woman?” Spat Gail, dangling – rather fetchingly Ace thought, in her manacles. It was hard to stay too annoyed at a broad who seemed to be doing her level best to burst out of her jacket, though his appreciative stares only seemed to drive her to further fits of apoplexy. “Let me guess, you couldn’t stay away from other women, right?”
“More like she couldn’t stay away from machines.” Ace grudgingly answered her, for a fleeting moment Gail almost looked sympathetic, that wouldn’t do. “Also she got fat.” That did the trick.
“For God’s sake, the pair of you, we need to find a way out of this. Stop bickering with this thug darling!” Bang strained manfully against his bonds, muscles bunching, sweat breaking out on his body. Ace couldn’t help but notice a wistful and far off attraction in Gail’s eyes when she looked at Bang in such a state, as if that was the man he fell in love with.
“Aha!” Professor Quartus hadn’t been paying the blindest bit of attention to the rest of them and spoke, as if nobody was there. “I could easily reverse the polarity on these cuffs and undo them… if only I had a piece of wire.”
Ace took that in and his gaze returned to Gail’s fetching bosoms. A switch clicked in his head and he pulled hard on his own chains, dragging them through the bulkhead bit by bit, making Bang’s efforts look pathetic. He strained and pulled and yanked inch by inch, staggering forward, one foot in front of the other until with one last, massive effort he grabbed Gail’s blouse and pulled.
Fabric rent and tore, Gail screamed deafeningly and there was a triple pistol-crack of snapping elastic and the magna-cuffs yanked Ace back across the cell, slamming him into the wall with Gail’s brassiere in his mitts as she twisted and turned, trying to cover herself.
“You bastard!” Screamed Bang, his face as red as a Martian’s buttocks. He went on to swear more and more, but Ace wasn’t paying attention. He bit and tore and twisted at the bra, looking for all the world like some kind of pervert but, just as Bang was running out of breath Ace, triumphantly, raised the extracted underwiring aloft.
“This do you Prof?”
The Professor clapped his bound hands together with childish glee. “That should be more than adequate!”
Ace held the wire between his boots and suspended himself from his cuffs, grunting in pain, passing the wire across to the Professor. A little fiddling and one by one they were all free, rubbing their wrists. Gail turned into the corner and tied her torn blouse under her bosoms, a sidelong look at Bang, wondering why he wasn’t protecting her honour perhaps but the truth was, the success of the escape had taken the wind out of his sales.
Ace shouldered to the door, rusting junk like the rest the ship, it gave way pretty quickly before his efforts. “Prof, can you do the wire-trick to the magna-beam as well?”
“I don’t see why not, provided we can get back to the bay. Yes, that should be simple enough, provided the matrix is of a reasonably standard configuration. High school physics really.” He grinned his superior grin and rubbed his rounded temples. “If you can get us past the robots of course.”
Ace tore piping from the walls and tossed one section to Bang, who caught it out of the air. “Can you smash a robot Bang?” The sportsman nodded and the pair of them took to the corridor, charging bullishly ahead of the Professor and Gail.
The door to the hangar cranked open, bit by bit, smoke billowed through, followed by Ace and Bang, covered with oil, bent cogs and scrap rolling ahead of them. They slouched into the hangar with battered pipes in hand, bloodied, torn, piles of scrapped ‘bots behind them, fizzing and hissing, crackling and flashing with shorting power.
Ace groaned and rolled his eyes. There was one obstacle left, Rosie.
She was still an impressive woman. Amazonian in her physique, albeit a bit broader in the beam than she had been when they’d married – he’d told the truth about that. Her red hair was tied back with a polka-dotted handkerchief and she wore heavy gloves, a black-stained pair of dungarees and heavy steel-toed boots. Ace’s Eliminator was in her fist, aimed squarely at them and her eyes – set in a face where freckles and oil competed to dominate. “Hello Ace, I think that’s far enough.”
A screen flickered into life behind her, a great looming presence appearing in it, black hooded and cloaked, his face hidden behind a silver mask. Only one person ever wore a mask like that, ever, the second in command of the dead Dyzan Emperor, Commander Siltar, a man whose immobile face was etched into the nightmares of so many soldiers. “Well done Miss Stone. I trust they’ll give you no more trouble now.”
Rosie swept the eliminator back and forth across the group, covering them. “It will take a while for the robots to come up from B deck, but I’ll have them back in a cell soon enough. You’d better keep your side of the bargain though.”
“I will tell you where the imperial fleet graveyard is once the problem is dealt with.” The man with the silver face steepled his fingers before him. “By ‘dealt with’ I mean kill them. Now.”
Rosie faltered, the Eliminator swayed a fraction. “Kill them? Ace too?”
“Yes.” Siltar sighed, he was used to being obeyed instantly by lackeys. Things had gone to pot since the fall of the Empire.
“You don’t want to kill me.” Ace said, palms raised, his eyes like a hawk, trained upon the wavering barrel of the Eliminator. “You still have feelings for me… don’t you Rosie. We can make it work again, I know we can.” Step by step he paced closer, edging to striking distance.
“What?” Rosie looked at him like he’d just turned into a green hippo, eyes wide, lip curled in a sneer, her hands going to her hips like the always did when she got in a strop with him. “If I kill you, how the hell am I supposed to gloat and torture you for everything you did to me?”
Ace sprang, as much to shut her up as to escape. His ham-hock fist smashed her full in the face, crunching her nose under his knuckles and sending her sprawling to the deck with a face full of blood. The Eliminator span into the air as it fell from her grasp and Ace snatched it in his fist, blasting Siltar’s screen into a thousand shards of burning glass.
“Already way ahead of you.” Smirked the professor, worrying away at the innards of a bulkhead with the bent piece of bra-wire. There was a subtle change in the hum around them as something switched over.
“Bu doke by dobe!” Rosie gargled, spitting blood and bits of teeth.
The gantry slid down from Man’s ruin and they began to board quickly, running up the steps with a clatter of feet on metal. Ace turned at the top, levelling the Eliminator at Rosie as she struggled to sit up.
“I should vape you where you sit.” He muttered, grimacing as he stared at her bloodied face. “But I’m not that much of a bastard.”
The hatch swung shut and as Rosie crawled away on her hands and knees to get away, Man’s Ruin blasted away on a column of atomic fire, sweeping away from the iron moon and out once more into the big black.
Back at the controls Ace brooded, brow furrowed, grinding his teeth in agitation. The others had the sense to stay out of his way, but not Gail. She’d found his old engineer’s coveralls and changed into them, since he’d torn her blouse. She leaned against the cabin door and fixed Ace’s reflection in the glass with a curious look. “Just what the hell did you do to that woman besides marry her?”
Ace twisted in his seat and sucked his teeth, his fists clenched the arms of his seat as he looked up into her eyes and for once, told a woman the truth. “I got her pregnant.”