"SEEN James yet?" Albright asked, as he walked into the now familiar Betty B's Bar.
"Nope. I've been here for a while. You're the first one to show up," said Landis, who was waiting by the bar.
Albright sat down on the barstool, next to Landis. The bartender, a different person to who had been serving just before Albright had suffered the misfortune of being captured, was serving a large group who had walked in moments before his arrival.
"Well, we better have a beer whilst we wait," said Albright, noncomittaly.
"OK, now slowly get off the table with your hands up," said the white-haired man.
He was holding a weapon - it looked like an Ingrams Model 235 hand pistol - small, compact, lightweight, and quite deadly. Winston decided with a sigh it was probably in his best interests to do as instructed. He freed himself of the ceiling's debris, his eyes never leaving the weapon. He noticed that the woman was unarmed.
"Now I think you might like to explain to me why you were crawling through the ceiling void of our police station," said the man, as Winston slid off the table.
Winston thought quickly. The woman is Elite, but she's unarmed. The man...well, I don't know about him, but he has a gun. But I'm going to be standing quite close to him...it's a good job I've been working out and keeping fit recently...
"It's like this," Winston said, quickly glancing at the partially open
door to the room, "I want to know why you captured my co-pilot with no
provocation and frankly, quite unfairly"
Winston had forgotten he was still carrying the small metal box containing the remaining five AJNIB-issued needlenosed bugs.
"Give it to me," said the man.
Winston moved closer to the man. The gun was still being pointed at him - but the woman still appeared to be unarmed. He got close enough to hand the box to the white-haired man, and began to hand it to him. The man did not observe Winston's knee hurtling towards his groin...
"Ooohyah!" yelled the man as he doubled up in pain, fumbling his gun...
He fell for that old trick! Winston quickly grabbed the gun out of the man's hand, and decided that the rat that had ridden with him on his extremely brief flight on the remains of the ceiling had the right idea. Using the element of surprise to his advantage, Winston ran for the door, and burst out into the corridor beyond. Quickly glancing down at the gun, he realised that the decision to run had been the right impulse - the gun was secured, and could only be fired by the person with the right finger and palm print. The main thing now was that his enemy was at least disarmed. He heard the woman shout, and heard the sounds of pursuit commencing...
Winston realised he was lost, but he had to try and escape somehow. He screeched around a corner in the corridor, and collided with two people in police uniforms walking the other way and fell to the floor! He didn't waste any time getting up, and began to run again. The stunned police officers quickly whirled around, and drew their firearms.
"Get him!" yelled the woman, who had now rounded the corner. "Alive!" she added, as the officers raised their weapons.
They were too late. Winston crashed through another door, and around a corner. He found a service stairwell, and decided to run down it. He would at least be on the ground level once he got to the bottom. The sounds of pursuit were still behind him, though...he quickly glanced back to see the woman, her midnight-black pony tail bobbing as she ran, in hot pursuit. He didn't know what had happened to the two officers, but they had to be back there somewhere. He ran down the stairwell, taking three steps at a time. He heard a crash behind him, and realised with satisfaction that one of the police officers had fallen and taken his colleague down with him. However, that blasted black-haired woman was still in hot pursuit!
Winston reached the bottom of the stairwell. He burst through the door, and into a corridor that had to be almost five hundred meters long. It looked like there were numerous police holding cells here, their entrances punctuating the glossy white walls at regular intervals. Winston didn't think about it much - he just started running as quickly as he could - doubly glad he had been spending his spare time keeping his fitness levels up...
The woman burst through the door seconds later, and continued running after Winston. With creeping horror, Winston realised that she was catching up, and there was a long way still to run! With dreadful realisation, he glanced back to discover she was almost on top of him. With a yell, she suddenly dived for Winston's legs and tackled him. He fell heavily, the inertia of their two bodies causing them to slide down the corridor's smooth floor. Suddenly, the woman was crawling on top of him, and had pinned him down.
"Now then, Commander James Winston, you wouldn't hit a woman, would you?" she
said, panting heavily.
Suddenly, Winston stopped struggling. His black eyes looked into her black eyes quizzically. He carefully observed how her irises were flecked with grey. There was only one place in the galaxy where people had eyes like that . . .
"You're Phekdan, aren't you?" he asked, all of a sudden.
She looked back at Winston balefully. She hadn't been particularly listening to his voice. She noticed Winston's eyes for the first time. She listened carefully to his voice.
"What's your name?" asked Winston.
There was no mistaking it. She hadn't realised as she listened to Winston earlier, but he didn't have an accent. She was so used to everyone else around her having that Eta Cassiopeian accent - most of the officers in Andceeth were from there - that she ignored how people spoke.
"In fact, I wager you are from Newtown. Nirvana," added Winston, breaking into
a grin. "It's those charcoal black eyes. For some reason, everyone in
Newtown has charcoal black irises. Something to do with a chemical in the
soil, so I'm told - it affects you when you're a child,"
said Winston, conversationally.
Suddenly, the two officers who had fallen down the stairwell finally emerged in the corridor. They looked battered and out of breath.
"Ma'am, are you OK there?" one of them shouted.
The officers turned around and disappeared back up the stairway. "Incompetent fools," Wyatt muttered acidly.
"Who do you work for?" asked Winston, penetratingly.
Backstab, what's Backstab? thought Winston, urgently... He decided to try and continue bluffing...
"I know it's about to land all of you in some very hot water very soon.
Especially if you try and capture me. The government will get suspicious."
Winston turned around, and began walking calmly away towards the exit. She watched his retreating back in confusion. Damn! she thought.
"Stop!" she shouted, as Winston got about ten meters away from her.
Wyatt started to walk quickly towards Winston, trying to catch him up. She broke into a jog, and pulled up beside him.
"But the government sanctioned it! Why would it cause a problem? They could - "
Winston drew level with the exit. Outside the glass doors was the snowy whiteness of the world outside, a parked autoshuttle, and freedom...he swung right and walked through the exit.
Wyatt suddenly pounced and grabbed him by the back of his collar.
"Not so fast, young man! You're not getting away that easily!" she shouted as she dragged Winston towards her by his jacket's collar.
Winston found himself once again surprised at the petite woman's strength. She grabbed his shoulder and spun him around. Winston remembered his mother doing the very same thing to him after getting in trouble one day. He half expected to get spanked.
"Look, let me go I told you!" Winston ordered.
Suddenly, Winston brought the side of his free hand down in a swinging arc, harshly striking Wyatt's wrist. Wyatt yelled, and Winston jerked his hand free! Seizing the initiative, he ran back towards the exit, and burst through without waiting for the automatic doors to open. Wyatt yelled a curse and began to chase him. It was too late. Winston leaped into the autoshuttle and slammed the door down. He grinned at her through the shuttle's window, and waved at her patronizingly. Wyatt kicked the shuttle in frustration as it began to lift off into the cool, evening air...
"I think we need to go back to the ship, see if Jas can figure out what's
wrong," said Albright.
The pair sat in a quiet corner of Betty B's bar, which was now beginning to get quite full as the evening began. A rowdy crowd of traders stood around several pitchers of beer. Three of them were having a drinking contest. Two policemen walked towards the group and tried to boss one of the traders about, who had become drunk and disorderly. There was a brief scuffle, and the police lead the man away. A group of local youths playing darts nearby cheered and made obscene gestures as the police dragged the unfortunate drunk out of the bar. It was an altogether typical Friday night at Betty B's bar.
Neither Albright nor Landis noticed the autoshuttle touch down just outside the bar. Its lone occupant climbed out, and looked around furtively, and then began to walk quickly towards the bar. The figure then came through the door, and walked quickly to Albright and Landis's table.
Landis finally looked up, just in time to see who it was.
"Glad you could make it," he said nonchalantly.
Winston didn't seem to be in a mood for talking.
"Look, we've got to get out of this hole right now. No time to talk," he said
Winston began to leave. Albright quickly got up, and pulled his jacket on, almost tripping as he tried to keep up with Winston's urgent pace.
"What about the bugs?" he asked, trying to keep up with his comrade.
The autoshuttle was still waiting. The pair jumped in and strapped down, and the shuttle sped off into the night towards the repair depot...
© 2000 Dylan Smith.