Chapter 18 We've Gotta Leave This Hole
"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.
"Bad idea," said Landis, "we might have to leave in a hurry. It'll only dull our reactions."
"What's that you're drinking, then?" asked Albright, suspiciously.

"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'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"
"I think you know why we did that," replied the man in a curt manner.
"I don't. Really. I wouldn't be here if I knew," said Winston, edging a bit closer to the man.
"Well, what's that in your hand?" asked the man.

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.
"Don't bet on it," he snarled, He began the struggle to throw the woman off. To his horror, she appeared to be every bit as strong as he was, and trained in hand-to-hand combat as well!
"You won't escape me," she said, grinning nastily.

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.
She was momentarily taken aback. "Commander Elyssia Wyatt," she answered.

   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.
"Look, I don't care about that," Wyatt said suddenly. "You're a prisoner now and we want answers. I'm sure my friend Jack Bradley will not take kindly to getting a knee in the groin, either"

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.
"Yes, the situation's under control!" Wyatt shouted back.

The officers turned around and disappeared back up the stairway. "Incompetent fools," Wyatt muttered acidly.

"Who do you work for?" asked Winston, penetratingly.
Wyatt looked back at her captive. "None of your business," she replied.
"Not for the Police, I gather then."
"You know, the Federation looks sourly on tax fiddles," said Winston, going for the shot-in-the-dark. He remembered about Nova Rodstein Associates, the owner of all those ships on the Zearla registry...
"Tax fiddles...what are you going on about?" she asked, frowning. Backstab was nothing to do with taxes...
"I think you know exactly what I mean. Now you can let me go and it won't get out..."
"I don't know what you're talking about, and if you think that trick will work you are sorely mistaken," she snapped back at him.
"Now as one fine upstanding Phekdan to another, why don't you just let me go and we'll say no more of it, eh?" asked Winston. It was another stab in the dark, but it might just work. "I mean, what if the government were to get wind of it? Think of the scandal it would cause. All those ships...and you being so close to it, you'd be one of the first to fall. The abuse of Zearla's registry, contrary to interstellar treaty. It would reflect very badly. Heads would roll..."
"Look, Commander - " she spat out the word 'commander' as if it were an insult " - Winston, the only head that's going to be rolling around here is yours!"
"Is that what you think, indeed? How's the Federal penitentiary these days?" he asked casually, his dark eyes radiating insolence despite his being pinned to the floor.
"Tell me now! What do you know about Backstab?" she snarled.

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."
"I see, go on," she said. She took her weight of Winston's body and began to stand up. Winston brushed himself off, and stood up, examining his wrists where she had pinned him.
"I would advise you to get as far away from here and anywhere else to do with it as quickly as possible," Winston continued. He serruptitiously eyed up what looked like an exit about a hundred metres down the long corridor.
"But why - " she began, but Winston spoke over her.
"The whole operation is very unethical, and the people who shouldn't be finding out in the government are about to find out. Take my advice and leave. You deserve better than to spend the rest of your life in jail"
"Jail?" she asked, biting her lower lip.
"Yes, jail. As I was saying, heads are gonna roll," he finished, satisfied that he made his point, even though he wasn't sure what the point was to begin with. Especially since he was just bluffing, off the cuff...

  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.
"No," snapped Winston disobediently, without even turning his head. He continued walking calmly towards the exit.

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 - " she began.
"Is that what they told you?" asked Winston with a mirthless smile.
"But - "
"The whole thing is extremely deceptive," continued Winston, even though he didn't have the foggiest idea about what he was talking about, "and they have just been stringing you along in their sordid little plans, I'm afraid. This will cause a huge scandal when it gets out."
"If it gets out," said Wyatt.
"No, when. Do you think I'm the only one they hired to investigate this?"
"You're a private investigator? For the government?"
"In a manner of speaking," answered Winston, carefully. Nearly at the exit, now... Winston was not lying either. He just hadn't specified whose government he was investigating for.
"How did the Federal government catch wind of it if they weren't told in the first place, then?" she asked.
"Don't ask me, ask them. I'm just confirming some facts for them." Five meters to go...

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.
"Do you really think I'm that stupid?" she asked, snarling.
"Well, can I have notice of that question?" he asked insolently.
"I've had enough of you James Winston, fine upstanding Phekdan indeed! You're going to pay for this. Wait until Bradley gets hold of you," she snarled, grabbing Winston's wrist and jerking him harshly towards a nearby open cell door.

   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.
"Not yet, we have an hour more before our time runs out," Landis answered.
"He's two hours late...he's been caught for sure, and if he's been caught, it's not long before they come for us," said Albright, worry evident in his voice.
"We should stay here until the bar closes. I know Jim quite well, and he can usually get himself out of a squeeze. He's a sneaky little bugger. Give him time and he'll show up," Landis predicted, with a great deal more accuracy than he realised.

  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.
"Bloody hell, where were you?" asked Albright, finally noticing it was James Winston standing in front of them.

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 urgently.
"What happened?" demanded Albright.
"I'll tell you later. Come on. Phil, are you coming with us?"
"No, I better stay here. I've got a job to do," said Landis.
"Well, Phil, thanks for helping out. If you need our help in the future, just call," replied Winston.

  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.
"We don't need them. I found out what we need to know. We should have gone straight to Enedlia in the first place," replied Winston, hastily.
"I sure hope the ship's in good order," replied Albright worriedly.
"So do I," Winston replied in a deadpan voice that hid his anxiety.

  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.

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