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Posts Tagged ‘Ace Slamm’

Speaking of Gumroad, here’s my test for it. Two stories (epub and mobi) in a zip file for $2.

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I have a lot more followers and attention now. So I thought it might be worth bringing my first for-sale short story to your attention again. It’s now available on Amazon for the Kindle as well as numerous other places, so you no longer lack an excuse to throw money at me.

 

 

 

The solar system is full of strange peoples from the Mercuroids to the Plutonians but none so strange as the system within a system, Dyzan, counter-spinning the Earth and unknown to humanity for so long.

That changed in the 1930s with an invasion from space which, against all odds, we won.

Veteran Ace Slamm tries to survive in the chaos after the war, though he’s not exactly your most heroic or sympathetic individual. You can’t afford to be when the whole universe is out to get you.

A stiff drink, a quick buck, a ray gun by your side and a total lack of scruples mean more than any amount of heroics.

Board Man’s Ruin and take to space with Ace Slamm – Space Bastard.

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You can now get Ace Slamm: Space Bastard at…

Smashwords

Lulu

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The solar system is full of strange peoples from the Mercuroids to the Plutonians but none so strange as the system within a system, Dyzan, counter-spinning the Earth and unknown to humanity for so long.

That changed in the 1930s with an invasion from space which, against all odds, we won.

Veteran Ace Slamm tries to survive in the chaos after the war, though he’s not exactly your most heroic or sympathetic individual. You can’t afford to be when the whole universe is out to get you.

A stiff drink, a quick buck, a ray gun by your side and a total lack of scruples mean more than any amount of heroics.

Board Man’s Ruin and take to space with Ace Slamm – Space Bastard.

You can get it HERE in epub/mobi.

Or HERE if you want it direct, in epub.

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After all their efforts they finally swung around the searing ball of atomic fire at the centre of our solar system and the great purple bruise that was Dyzan came into sight. A giant world, the lost triplet to Jupiter and Saturn, swarming with moons and asteroids, each a world in its own right and crowning them all, the imperial worldlet of Rex, now ravaged by civil war since the fall of the Emperor.

Ace’s nostrils flared as the planet came into view. This was the last place he really wanted to be, since the war had come to these moons and him along with them. It was a horrible, grim time for planet Earth, under attack from this distant world and then fighting back, only to find the place in chaos. The whole thing was a mystery that nobody had yet unravelled – why had they been attacked in the first place? Was it just the nature of Dyzan’s people to conquer? Whatever the case, it wasn’t save here now. The Dyzan princes of the scattered moons were at war, squabbling over the corpse of the once-mighty empire while the rest of the solar system fell into ruin, directionless and ungoverned.

It wasn’t safe here.

He flicked the switch to his radio, calling back to the hold where the trio were hiding since the run-in with Rosie. “We’re almost there.” his voice crackled over the tannoy. “Where – exactly – are we going?”

There was no reply, but not much later the Professor joined him in the cramped cockpit. “There.” His rough fingertip pressed against the glass of the screen.” We’re going to Rex.”

Ace rolled his eyes, hard, just his luck to be taking them to the worst spot of them all in this whole benighted zone. He grasped the controls and took them in, swooping towards the moon of Rex over the lurid and turbulent atmosphere of Dyzan itself. Soon Rex swam large in the screen, a battle-scarred world of gold and ash, the imperial city – or what remained of it – visible even at this distance, a massive structure on a scale previously unimaginable to the human mind.

Ace’s radar pinged, warningly and he turned to the little green screen, three blips, incoming. Maybe they’d leave them alone, maybe they wouldn’t. He set his jaw and flipped on the broadcast radio. “This is Man’s Ruin to incoming vessels. We are on a mission of… exploration and mean no harm. Please divert your course.”

This hiss from Dyzan’s magnetosphere almost drowned out any reply but he managed to tune it to hear their crackling missive: “Repeat… Avians – scree! – claim this sector. You are intruding. This is Matloch of the Vulcan’s Claw, turn around or be destroyed!”

Ace turned questioning to the Professor whose thick brow was now set in determination. “We’re paying you well, punch on through man.”

Ace nodded and his own brow furrowed. “Strap yourself down.” He muttered and turned Man’s Ruin towards the oncoming vessels.

This close to Rex’s atmosphere the atomic turbines couldn’t blast full speed, they’d burn up like meteors in the wisps of atmosphere but, at this terrific speed, the flaps and rudder on the ship could get a little bite and that gave Ace the edge. He swooped in lower, biting deeper into Rex’s atmosphere, the ship glowing at the nose as it picked up heat. Distantly he could see the silvery cigar shapes of the Avian vessels with their distinctive back-swept wings barely visible. He flipped up the catch on his control stick and the battle-joy came over him. This was what he was good at.

He thumbed the stud as he roared up out of the atmosphere in a corona of burning plasma, the atmosphere clinging to the ship like a shroud. The vickers opened up with ravening beams of atomic fire, lancing out across the void towards the ‘V’ formation of the Avian rocket ships. Classic formation, the bird-brains never learned. Great scars opened up along the side of one of the vessels and its wing melted away like butter in a hot pan. Venting atmosphere and the distant, doll-like bodies of Avian soldiers it began its death-spin down towards the planet.

The remaining vessels peeled away, one going high, one going low. The higher vessel swept up, then down, barrelling towards Ace’s ship in a hawk’s dive, blazing away with its own cannons, hot ions slapping into the plasma shroud and impacting the crackling lightning shield, but they weren’t going to get through, not in time.

Ace pushed the thruster control forward and headed for the ship dead on. At this speed there were no earthly reflexes that could avoid a collision and both vessels blazed away with their energy beams, gun against gun, field against field in a battle of competing technology that would result in the death of one, or the other.

The Avian’s vessels had been kept weak by the Emperor, not wanting to risk an uprising that could not be crushed by the Imperial fleet and Ace was hoping they hadn’t been retrofitted. His luck held. There was an explosion as the Avian lightning field collapsed and as it did the coruscating beams from the Vickers blew it into a cloud of vapour. Ace’s own field was dangerously low though now and as he dove back towards the planet his lightning field began to register hits from the one remaining ship.

“Hold tight!” Ace shouted, holding on for dear life as he pushed Man’s Ruin to its absolute limit, every bolt and plate rattling as he dove towards the planet’s surface, down towards the rocky outcroppings of the Plain of Misery and it’s ashen wastes. The Avian ship dived after him, following in his wake, but it’s beams couldn’t penetrate the corona of hot gas that plumed behind Man’s Ruin, her hull vapourising from the heat and the ship baking like an oven.

At the last possible moment Ace pulled up, the planet spinning sickeningly beneath him and the controls cutting the air as we drove Man’s Ruin into a desperate set of jinking manoeuvres through the rocky outcroppings of the surface. The Avian was hot on his tail, explosions of melting rock going off like firecrackers beneath them as the Avian ship stuck to them like glue, intent upon their tail and that, that was what Ace was counting on.

Man’s Ruin turned, desperately, and swept towards a rocky arch, sliding through by the barest of margins at dangerous speed. So intent on the hunt were the Avians that they followed, but the great, swept back wings of their ship would not fit where the sleek, penial design of the Spite could more easily go. There was a terrific crash behind them and the Avian ship’s wreckage blasted out of the collapsing arch like the pellets of a shotgun blast. They were safe, for now.

The Professor clapped Ace on the shoulder. “Well done that man, well done! Bang himself couldn’t have done better.” Ace didn’t doubt that and wasn’t about to argue with the man.

“Where to then Professor?” The reward they’d promised him would be half gone just fixing Man’s Ruin, he wanted this job done, now.

The Professor leant of the scope and read out coordinates, it wasn’t far. Man’s Ruin, scarred and battle worn, swept through the smoking skies and landed on her struts, the grey sand sinking beneath her weight as, pinging and crackling, the vessel began to cool.

They descended, Ace first, onto the grim surface of this ruined world. Ace’s hand was on his Eliminator, ready to draw at the first sign of trouble. The trio seemed, oddly, almost at home here. Gail was even smiling as she looked out across the wastes. Bang looked pantherish and confident, in stark contrast to his bullish overcompensation at other times. Even the Professor stood straight backed and confident, all too at home in this alien landscape.

They walked, perhaps ten score yards over the rough terrain until they found a great scar in the surface of the planet, melted rock and sand turned to glass, fragments of wreckage. A rocket ship had smashed down here and as they followed the scar to its end Ace began to feel more and more uneasy.

At the very end were the skeletal remnants of a rocket ship, oddly primitive in design, unlike any other vessel Ace had ever seen but to the trio, it seemed familiar.

“You SEE!” Roared the Quartus triumphantly. “It’s still here! Proof! Evidence that we were here first! That we discovered them! That our story, OUR story is true!” He scrambled a camera from his backpack and began to take shots as Bang clambered over the wreckage and hauled out a metal plate, inscribed, in English.

Ace’s mind reeled and he literally swayed at this news, dizzy with all its implications. He didn’t have enough time to organise his thoughts however, a rock tumbled behind him and he swung around hard, Eliminator at the ready.

“HOLD!” Roared the sneering voice of the man in the silver mask, a plasma pistol grasped in his gauntlet. “I mean you no harm Captain Slamm. I wish to talk a moment and, if you still wish to kill me, we can have it out after that.”

“Kill him!” Roared Bang, tensed to jump, but there was no way he could reach Siltar without being cut down. Ace kept his hand tight on the Eliminator and nodded to Siltar, accepting his proposal with a taciturn gesture.

“Predictable bloody Earthlings.” Muttered Siltar, stepping with distaste down the slope of the scar, as though the ground were not worthy to sully his feet. “This trio came here in the thirties, by your primitive measure. Barely had they been here a day when they began to foment revolt against the Emperor. This brainless lump even turned the eye of the Emperor’s daughter.” He gestured to Bang and, judging by the way Gail reacted, that was a sore point.

“Go on.” Ace growled roughly, without taking his eyes off Siltar, though he could sense the unease of the trio at what was being said.

“It’s because of them that the Emperor launched his war against your Earth, thinking them the vanguard of some invasion, some rebellion. Your armies beat us, but not because of your might, but rather because of what these bumbling fools accomplished against all odds here. The Empire is ruined, but at least we were beaten – so people think – in honest contest of arms. If this… crank…” Siltar pointed with the barrel of his gun at Quartus “…has his way that legend, for both our peoples, will be shattered.”

“Is this true?” Ace and Siltar shared a nod of understanding and he allowed his attention to drift to Quartus.

“Yes!” Proclaimed the man of science. “I invented space travel for our people! I discovered this place! Bang freed her people and Gail infiltrated the palace! We liberated the solar system from Dyzan’s rule!”

Ace lowered his gun and holstered it. “Millions of people died and all because you couldn’t stay out of it. All because you had to interfere. They didn’t care about Earth until you made them care.” He turned and began to trudge back towards Man’s Ruin.

Gail darted after him, recoiling as Siltar blasted a rock to atoms beside her, calling out to him. “Ace! Please! No! People have to hear the truth!”

“No, they don’t need to hear it’s our fault.” He kept on trudging.

“We had a deal! What about your reward? What about me? I’ve seen you looking at me, you’re twice the man Bang ever was!”

“Hey!” the sportsman bristled at the slight, clenching his fists.

“You can stick the reward where the sun don’t shine love.” Ace growled, without turning around. Grinding the ashen soil of Rex beneath his boots as plasma flared, three times, behind him.

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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.

“Professor?”

“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.”

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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.”

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