After calling Yinche to let him know the Paladin had passed through the stop and search, Gabol told him about Kane’s plan to use urine to confuse the sniffer probes. After Yinche finished laughing, he said he would get his guys thinking about any other solutions to the problem.
“I got a call yesterday confirming that another consignment of Chlorantium will be arriving in five days. Seventeen more drums will be coming. I’ve already earmarked another nine for you, so you will have your twenty.”
“Thanks, Yinche. I’m grateful. See you soon.”
Eighteen hours later, Beck settled the Paladin down onto the landing pad at the rear of the long range of underground warehouses, the sloping entrance ramps the only sign of habitation on the moon. Once the ship was locked down safely, a camouflaged tent was sealed all over and around it, making it invisible from the air. Anyone passing overhead would see a uniform landscape of rocks and grey barren wasteland. The iron content of the moon, enhanced by a state of the art transmitter, would effectively block scanners from picking up anything noteworthy coming from the moon.
“Okay, guys, there’s no atmosphere out there so buddy up and help each other into suits,” Beck said, helping Anna into the snug all in one thermal liner. “Check seals, check airflow, then check it all again.”
An hour later, the airtight seal of the door hissed behind them and they took off the suits. A small solidly built man with jet black hair and matching bushy eyebrows approached Gabol with open arms and a wide grin. At six foot and a half inch, Gabol towered a head and shoulders over him but bent down and allowed himself to be hugged warmly.
“Gabol, my friend. We are so happy for you to be here again. It has been too long, man. Every day we give thanks for you saving us and now you honour us with the chance to repay your kindness.”
“In such a serious situation I would trust no one else,” Gabol said. “You remember everyone?” he asked as he indicated the crew.
“Of course I remember. The gorgeous Anna and Mr Beck who are like teenagers in love,” he grinned as he hugged them both. “The serious Mr Puffy and the badly behaved Mr Sleeng who broke the hearts of three of the warehouse guys, neither of you have aged a day. The clever Dr Kane who helped us to save seventy five percent of our power wastage by showing us how to rewire our generator systems and saved us hours of work by streamlining our computer manifest. Welcome all of you. Come and meet everyone, dinner will be ready soon.”
After the introductions were done, Yinche showed them to the three guest rooms, before giving them all a tour of the complex and explaining a little about how the whole place worked. Beck was especially interested and felt that this place could be a valuable contact that they should use more often. Over dinner, the problem of how to store the Chlorantium drums without the sniffer probes finding them was the hot topic. More laughter ensued when Kane explained their plan for what had come to be known as, The Great Piss Paint Off.
Yinche, red faced from laughing, indicated two young men sitting at the end of the table. “It was only when my two friends down there accidentally knocked over a large bucket full of piss we started saving for you, that we realised we must come up with an alternative plan. We have been talking about nothing else since you and I spoke, and we have a plan.”
“You do?” Beck said, his eyes wide. Yinche nodded. “A plan that doesn’t involve old piss?”
“Old, new, nor anywhere in between,” Yinche replied with a grin.
“That’s the best news I’ve heard in months,” Gabol said.
Yinche indicated to a large man sitting halfway down the long table. “Admon, tell them your idea.”
Admon nodded to Gabol. “I got the idea when my son’s model space ship fell from the top shelf and a piece of the bodywork fell off. He cried and cried, it was his favourite toy, so I mended it for him by gluing a new piece of plastic onto the outside, across the damaged section. After painting it to match the rest of the bodywork, you couldn’t tell it had been damaged and my son was happy again. It occurred to me then that we could do the same on the Paladin. Build a new false section of bodywork, just as you would do inside the cargo hold to conceal the cargo, but on the outside of the ship. We then paint it to match the bodywork and it will be invisible. The sniffer probes will not pick up the odour when it’s outside the ship.”
“But what about the safety jackets on the drums?” Kane asked. As with all dangerous and volatile substances, Chlorantium drums have safety collars that are made to explode when they experience more than twenty seconds of zero gravity. This is so that if the vessel carrying them should have a problem and be forced to crash land, they can jettison the dangerous cargo into space, where it will harmlessly explode before being able to fall onto a planet and cause global destruction.
“We’ll use an EGP as a liner within the new cavity,” Admon replied. The EGP or Emergency Gravity Pod, to give them their full name, are room sized airtight and pressure tight bags that are standard emergency kit on all space ships. If a ship suffers a hull breach that the crew cannot fix, pressure sensitive valves on the wall mounted EGP pods explode, causing the pod to be expelled from its storage cell. Air is pumped in to the pod via connectors and the pod automatically inflates. Pressure and gravity control units are connected via the standard connectors supplied. From initial hull damage to the pod being ready for passengers is twenty-eight seconds.
Kane’s jaw dropped and his eyes widened as he took in Admon’s idea. “That’s fantastic, why didn’t I think of that?
“Will it work?” Gabol asked.
Kane nodded. “Absolutely, if we can find the right sized pod. EGP’s are usually room sized, and they must be inflated fully before they’ll work. We can’t use one that’s too big for the new compartment or it just won’t function.”
“What size do you need?” Yinche asked.
Kane scratched his head while he worked out the numbers in his head. “About the length and width of this table, and about this high,” he stood and held his hand against his hip.
“About ass height,” Beck said.
Kane nodded. “Yeah, about ass height. A few inches higher than the size B drums. We need a little wiggle room but not too much.”
“We have several that size, maybe a little shorter than this table, will that do?”
“If it’s not too much shorter.”
“They use them to house comatose patients if there’s a hull breach on a hospital ship or in ships’ medical bays.”
“Awesome,” Beck said. “And is there anywhere here where we can dispose of several gallons of old piss?”
The room echoed with raucous laughter.
“Gabol Raimes, I am shocked and disappointed at this blatant disregard for our business arrangement. I thought I could trust you, man. I was even planning to do more business with you and you repay my trust like this?”
“I’m unable to do business with any man who can so easily commit murder on such a massive scale.”
“But you did do business with me, didn’t you? Why the change of heart now? Is it just because my daughter offered to fuck you?”
Gabol closed his eyes as he felt the anger rise within. After several seconds, he opened them again to see Kletus still grinning. “I didn’t know what you were planning to do with the Chlorantium until after I’d done business with you. Take it from me, if I knew before, I would’ve told you where to get off with your business deal.”
Kletus laughed, a loud guffaw that filled the small room. The guards with him grinned dutifully and Gabol wondered how many of them hated their boss. “Why the sudden attack of conscience, Captain Raimes? You never used to be such a milksop. There was a time when you had no problem with taking life, what’s changed?”
“I’ve never killed anyone,” Gabol frowned. “Sure, I’ve fought my way out of situations on occasion and I can handle myself, but I have always avoided taking life.”
“Ahh but you used to be in the military didn’t you? Back home on Kylhari 6 all those years ago.”
Gabol blushed as he felt the weight of his crews’ stares on him. “So what? I joined the military at seventeen and went through until I left without taking a life.”
“Oh come on, Captain, you’re amongst friends here. You can tell the truth. You see, I’ve done my own research on you and I know all about your military career, such as it was. Three years wasn’t it? Not a great length of service on a world where the law requires five years minimum. Tell us, Gabol, why did you only do three hmm? Oh come now, don’t be shy.”
“Shut the fuck up, asshole,” Beck snapped. “That’s got nothing to do with anything. Just tell us what you want and we’ll be out of here.”
“Oh but it matters to me, Mr Beck,” Kletus replied. “Your Captain has made a judgement about my character and I believe I have the right to defend myself. In doing so, I feel it pertinent to point out that my accuser’s character is not exactly snow white itself. Even murderers are allowed a defence. Isn’t that true Dr Berkshire?”
Kane blushed to the roots of his white hair. Kletus grinned. “Right then, so you were about to tell us why you only did three years in the Kylhari military instead of the statutory five, weren’t you, Captain?”
Gabol’s face darkened with embarrassment and anger. “No, I was not. Now either spin us a deal, kill us, or let us out.”
“Well since your Captain is too shy, I’ll tell you,” Kletus said as his eyes swept the room. “You see, Captain Raimes committed murder whilst on duty as a serving soldier, didn’t you, Gabol?”
Gabol heard Sleeng and Puffy inhale sharply behind him. He closed his eyes, both in shame and to stem the flow of memories that flooded into his mind. As he was swept eight years back in time, he stumbled back and sat down heavily on the bunk. The pain, fresh and sharp as if it were just yesterday that he was there on Kylhari 6 on a military training exercise with units from many different worlds. Trying desperately to avoid facing the crushing misery those memories brought with them, Gabol fixed his attention onto Kletus. He stood and faced him.
“No, I didn’t murder anyone. If I wanted to kill someone, I would hardly have chosen my own twin would I?”
Kletus shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe you hated each other. Maybe he stole your girl. Maybe you stole his. Just because you’re related doesn’t mean you automatically get along, just ask my daughter.”
“I can understand why she hates you,” Beck said. “If you ask me, she is an excellent judge of character. I was there that day and I know Gabol didn’t kill Hanno. He didn’t fire his weapon at all because the fucking piece of shit jammed and wouldn’t fire. Those rifles were brand new and we were the lucky ones who got to try them out on that training exercise, but you know what? They were shit. In fact, they were so shit their production was stopped less than a year later and the company that produced them lost millions on the deal. What was that company’s name again? Oh yeah I remember, The Potentiaflow Corporation.”
“Yes, we did lose on that deal but not as much as we could’ve lost if anyone found out just how faulty those rifles were. We never did work out why they kept misfiring. It was lucky that in the whole seven months of their production, Hanno Tyttenwey was the only one to die from his faulty rifle and the fact that we were able to make sure his twin brother got the blame for killing him meant we came out of it blameless.”
Beck frowned. “What? You’re honestly saying that your faulty rifle killed Gabol’s twin brother, you knew about it, and you made sure Gabol got the blame?” Kletus shrugged and nodded. “You knowingly ruined his career and got him ostracised from his family for life just to save your fucking business deal?” Kletus hesitated for just long enough to heighten the drama, then shrugged and nodded again. “You fucking psycho. I hope you die in agony and rot in hell.”
Gabol heard the words but could not react immediately. His vision was the first to go and he was aware only that the room seemed to disappear down a long dark tunnel. Voices echoed but the words were indistinct and fading away as the room disappeared further down the long dark tunnel. He stumbled to the left and fell, his body arching as the first convulsions gripped him.
The crowd scattered in every direction, shouts and screams echoing as several more rifle shots rang out. Gabol urged his crew to head for the shelter of the nearest stand of trees, and led them at a run into the lengthening shadows that helped hide the direction of their flight. Halfway there, Beck suddenly turned sharp left and headed towards a different stand of trees.
“Just in case they intend to follow us,” he puffed as he leapt into the cover of the trees and waited for his eyes to adjust to the gloom.
“Good thinking,” Gabol said. The shots seemed to come from the west didn’t they?” Everyone nodded. “Okay, so what’s it to be? Go take a look at what we’re up against or run for it?”
“I vote we go take a look and see if we can’t steal their shuttle and leave them here for the locals to play with,” Beck said.
“I’m with ugly,” Puffy said, jabbing a thumb towards Beck.
“Me too,” Kane said.
“You’re gorgeous to me, honey,” Anna said, “and I’m always with you.”
“Okay, we have a majority verdict,” Gabol said. “Let’s go.”
The moon was high as Gabol gingerly stepped out from the safety of the trees and looked around. The moonlight would guide their way but at a cost.
“We’re going to be easy to spot in this bright moonlight,” Beck said.
Gabol nodded. “Right, so our first priority is to be careful rather than quick. Steady now and keep as low as you can.” Taking a circuitous route, Gabol led his crew eastward and it was many hours later that they encountered the first signs of anyone having been in the area. The bodies of several of the indigenous people lay together behind an outcrop of rock, the familiar signs of laser rifle fire decorating their remains. The black central spot containing the small but deep wounds cut by the laser, the black tracery of veins burned to carbon by the intense heat and the faint smell of burning flesh that told Gabol these people died no more than an hour or so ago. Nearby, the body of one of Kletus Vanroy’s guards, a long spear embedded into his chest impaling him to the ground beneath.
“That must’ve hurt,” Beck said as he took hold of the spear, put his weight on it and smiled as he felt it sink an inch or two further into the earth.
“Come on, guys, careful now,” Gabol whispered. “We may be getting close to where Vanroy and his men are.”
“Shame that guy’s rifle is gone,” Puffy said, eyeing the body of the guard. “Do you think the locals took it or Kletus?”
“I hope it was Kletus,” Gabol said. “I hope and pray it was him. The locals don’t need such things as laser rifles and all the problems they bring with them. Not yet anyway. Let them evolve for a few more thousand years first.”
“Even if it was the locals,” Beck said, “it would be no use once the power cell died. Once they stopped working they would discard them and forget them.”
“How much damage could a primitive humanoid do with a powerful laser rifle before a full fuel cell dies I wonder?” Anna said.
“Far too much,” Beck replied.
They continued on in silence, stopping from time to time to get their breath and take stock of their surroundings. Over the next two hours they passed more bodies of the local people and three more of Kletus Vanroy’s guards, all missing their weapons and all with spears through their chests impaling them to the ground. Traversing the valley in the dark was dangerous without night goggles and they tried to stick to the edges of trees as much as possible. When the environment forced them to run across open ground between stands of trees, the bright moonlight gave them good visibility but made them vulnerable. The trees afforded them valuable cover but it was too dark to see much and they found traversing the thick undergrowth slow and tiring. The knowledge that Kletus and his guards could be nearby but invisible due to the darkness, was a worry that bore heavily down upon all their shoulders. During yet another stop to rest their aching legs from the constant clambering over vegetation, Beck suggested they wait until nearer dawn.
“I’m too old for this shit. Can we wait until the light’s better?” Beck massaged his aching knees and winced.
“I would appreciate better light too,” Kane said. “I’m no gymnast and having to climb over all the vegetation is exhausting. I’m a scientist not an athlete.”
“You’re right,” Gabol said. “Okay, let’s go back to those rocks and find ourselves a dry niche for a few hours.”