Meanwhile, Gerard, Masq, Pyrite, and Ox, carrying Fishmonger, slipped through the airlock and made their way toward the bridge. The hallways seemed empty, almost inviting. As they reached the bridge door they heard a commotion from behind. A battered and burned Cy was running full-tilt toward them with a gang of twenty or so Ftharan mercenaries in pursuit.
Gerard sighed. “Light them up, Pyrite.”
“Including ‘the Hero’?”
Pyrite, free of the asbestos gloves, juggled flames around his fingers and then, with a smile, a conflagration flowed from his hands. The hallway was covered from top to bottom with flames.
“Enough!” Gerard shouted. “You’re going to burn up all the oxygen!”
Pyrite just cackled and burned harder–he still had the oxygen mask from the airlock guard.
Suddenly a red mass burst through the wall of flame. As Cy landed he punched Pyrite in the face, shattering the helmet, knocking Pyrite out and ending the flow of flame. Cy barreled past and through the bridge door, and as Gerard and the rest entered the bridge door they found Cy at one end of a nasty looking blaster. At the other end they saw the person they least expected: Colonel Kilmer.
“Good. The rest of you finally showed.” He motioned for Cy to stand back with the others. “Truth be told, I expected more of you to go the way of Mr. Fishmonger here. Might only have two heads and a set of limbs between the lot of you.”
“This was a test?” Gerard asked, getting there a few seconds before the rest and a full minute before Ox.
“I was also concerned that an extra, inept ruffian might be more than you could handle, Gerard, and he was. But you, Mr. Hero, proved that even a buffoon can be useful.”
Masq patted Ox on the back. “There’s hope for you yet, Ox.”
“So what was this?” Gerard asked.
“It was an interview. A test run. A measurement to see if you were up for the job.”
“What job?” Masq asked.
“Tut-tut, not yet. There are more hoops to jump through first. Your next assignment is the retrieval of an object on a postal carrier.”
“Aren’t they pretty heavily shielded?” Pyrite asked.
“Commander Toliver will explain the details and will oversee your operations.” Colonel Kilmer gestured to an officer behind him as he briefed them on their mission. “From this point on he will hold the kill switch. Kill him, maim him, or otherwise harm him, and all of you will feel the consequences.”
Toliver stepped forward. “That was the sloppiest operation I’ve seen since my Grandma took her bridge club to the casino. We’re going to need to cut that time in half if we’re going to be cracking this operation.”
“I’ll crack your head in half,” Ox muttered.
Gerard put her hand on Ox’s shoulder. “And just why should we do this?” she asked, addressing Kilmer.
“I thought I was very clear about the explosive nature of your situation.”
“So blow us up. Why should we risk ourselves on some suicide mission just to make you happy? We die either way. What’s in it for us?”
“You’re not in a place to make demands.”
“And you’re not in a place to make me comply, explosives or not.” Gerard crossed her arms.
“I chose well for my field commander,” Kilmer said with a disturbing smile.
“Fine, you need a carrot as well as a stick. Upon completion of your missions you will receive time off your jail sentence.”
“Commute our sentences, expunge our records, and set us each up with a long-range shuttle and ten million credits.”
Colonel Kilmer laughed. “Not even if I could.”
“Commute the sentences, expunge the records, one long-range shuttle, and one million credits each.”
“I’ll have your sentences commuted, expunge the last five years and give you one million credits to leave the solar system.”
“One million each,” Cy said.
“How about I blow you up and find a new team of criminals?”
“One million total,” Gerard said. “Done.”
“A one and six zeroes,” Pyrite said with satisfaction.
“Toliver,” Kilmer said, “take them to the ship and get them ready.”
To Be Continued…