I never knew nothin’, but I always get framed
Wolfram and Luna waited to meet the thudding fleet of footsteps approaching the corridor crossing. Carrie scurried into farther reaches of the ship.
“Holly?” Luna whispered. She was met with static.
Wolf and Luna held their breath in the brief silences between boot steps, when the thumping feet stopped to look in a side room. The group approached the intersection and stopped. Wolf and Luna’s blades hummed low. They pressed themselves against the wall holding a small mirror on a stick and poked around the corner. Wolfram’s eyes met those on the other side. A snort was heard from around the corner, the mirror withdrew. Several soldiers in riot gear entered the intersection. The one on point opened his visor.
“What are you two dropouts doing here?” the man’s flabby cheeks and chin were compressed by the visor forcing him to communicate through slightly pursed lips. His grey mustache flapped as he spoke.
“Lenny?” Wolf said.
“I see you’re still wearin’ those goofy bird masks.” Lenny laughed, “The Owl and The Raven, every bounty hunter’s got a gimmick. You’d think they were goddamn rock stars.”
Wolf and Luna retracted their blades and unfastened and removed their helmets.
“They haven’t found a uniform that fits you yet?” Luna asked Lenny.
“You miss me?” Lenny held out his arms.
“Eh,” Luna waggled her hand.
“Look Lenny,” Wolf interjected, “It looks you guys have this under control. Been fun catching up.”
“We have to go,” Luna chimed, “We actually catch criminals, not just mop up after them.”
“Stay where you are,” Raziel entered and crossed between the officers and the Joneses, his hands crossed behind his back.
“Hey, Raz,” Wolf grinned, “Like my new glider?”
“I thought I missed your old piece of shit out there,” Lenny chuckled.
“Agent Brooks,” Raziel scolded, “You are in uniform.”
“Forzen gave it to us after you blew ours up at his place,” Wolf said to Raziel, “What was it you were doing there, again?”
“Tracking you down,” Raz smirked.
“You looked surprised to see us,” said Wolf, “Waist deep in crates of stolen GA munitions.”
“I have it on good authority that, not only are you behind this attack, but have aided in the escape of Yaldabaoth. Arrest them.”
Lenny gave Wolf and Luna a pitiful glance as he walked over to cuff them. He waved off other agents who began advancing, “I got this.”
“We caught Yalda,” Luna shouted, “Why would we do that?”
“So you could affect another weighty bounty to collect.”
Wolf looked at Luna askance, “Why haven’t we ever done that?”
“Vijeda did this. With the new unregistered ships he recently bought from Forzen Kahl,” Luna said to Raziel, “But I think you know that. Or maybe this was you.”
“Enough,” Raziel bellowed, “Arrest them.”
The officers advanced.
Lenny held his arms out, “Wait. Let me handle this. No mess, okay?”
Raziel gave Lenny a sharp, shallow nod. Lenny stepped toward Wolf and beckoned Luna over.
“I got an idea,” he whispered.
“What?” Wolf whispered back.
“Take me as a hostage,” Lenny mumbled and looked sheepish.
“Christmas, my birthday and the birth of my child all in one,” Luna said as she pulled Lenny toward her. She twirled him around, switched on her wrist blade and held it to his neck.
“You didn’t hear my whole idea,” Lenny grunted.
“I got it from here,” Luna muttered. Then , loudly, “Drop the guns and turn around!” She walked backward and dragged Lenny with her. The officers complied. Raziel glowered, raised his pistol and shot Lenny in his flak vest just below his neck.
“Crissake, sir,” Lenny cried.
“My apologies, Agent Kovacs,” Raziel moaned, “This is a level six. Hostages are to be regarded as immaterial.”
“Wolfie, block the hall.” Luna called. She let Lenny go and darted for the door at the end of the corridor.
Wolf grabbed a concussion grenade from Lenny’s belt and rolled it on the floor toward the officers like a bowling ball. Raziel and the officers scrambled. The grenade exploded and tore through the grating in the floor, shredding the bundled wires below. The lights flickered and a geyser of sparks erupted from the floor.
“Christ, Wolf,” Lenny yelled.
“You can’t do anything simply, can you?” Luna shouted from down the corridor.
“I thought it was tear gas,” Wolf protested, “That’s where I keep mine.”
The spark geyser began to travel up the wall and into the ceiling. It became quiet. The ceiling behind Wolf and Lenny exploded in a shower of fire and burning debris. Wolf and Lenny were thrown to the floor.
Luna was separated by an inferno. She pulled on her helmet and went through the door. Her passage through the ship was easy enough. What GAI agents she did encounter didn’t seem to have gotten Raziel’s order. Just another bounty hunter. Galactic Administration Intelligence was the law enforcement branch of the GA. Extremely effective when it came to high crimes and misdemeanors. However, due to its policies it often finds itself neutered and ineffective when dealing with run-of-the-mill crime. To compensate, the GA ‘tolerates’ bounty hunting. And to say they tolerate it, one means, they rely on it.
As Luna waited for the airlock cycle to complete, she noticed a young GAI officer with his visor up, giving her a lascivious grin.
“I’m too old for you,” she said. The airlock opened and she walked out onto the gravity ferry that floated her to The Starcrossed. She entered the vessel and threw off her helmet.
“Holly?” she said in a wavering tone.
The speakers blasted out what sounded like a buzzsaw, which softened into white noise, which broke down into a robotic voice, then warmed up into Holly’s voice.
“GAI is baffling transmission,” she sighed, “Random frequency. Took a while to find a decent algorithm. Anyway, how’s your day been?”
“Your father’s been arrested,” Luna groaned.
“By whom, this time?”
“Raziel is trying to pin Yalda’s escape and the attack on the science vessel on us.”
“Is he okay?”
“I don’t know?”
“What? What happened?”
“Later. Suffice it to say…You know how your father is always one key element away from not teetering over the edge of clever into catastrophic? It’s like that. But right now we need to focus on getting him back. Also, there’s a survivor from the crew. She hid when we heard the GAI coming. I’m not leaving her here with Raziel or Vijeda’s clean up crew. I think those may have become one and the same.”
Wolfram sat, in a small room, with his hands cuffed and shackled to a metal table, hands folded and twiddling his thumbs. Lenny entered the room with a young officer carrying three cups. He set the cups down on the table and slid one to Wolf.
“Coffee?” Lenny offered Wolf.
“The punk who rolled a grenade at me doesn’t get coffee,” the officer snapped.
“Careful, son,” Lenny warned, “Treat your elders with respect.”
“This guy can’t be older than me,” the officer snorted.
“This guy is over a hundred and twenty,” Lenny said, “Him and his old lady are the first successful human candidates of the GA’s genetic enhancement program. And they broke the mold, didn’t they Wolf?”
Lenny slapped Wolf on the shoulder, “Had to tone it down after these two. Military Special Forces, GAI agents and…now. Whatever the hell they are now. What are you now, Wolf? Running around in a costume, collecting a bounty every now and then. Hmm?”
Wolf looked at Lenny expectantly, cuffed hands folded in front of his on the table.
“Okay,” said Lenny, settling into his chair. “Want me to tell you? I’ll tell you. I worked with this guy and his old lady. The best I ever seen. Until they weren’t. They didn’t have the human genetic cocktail quite right yet. But the Jones’ batch, it didn’t kill them.
That was a nice start. It did what it was supposed to- for the most part. But with the increased strength and reflexes came increased everything else…appetites, addictions, madness.”
Wolfram sat up straight and pulled a smug smile across his face.
“Enhanced certain personality quirks,” Lenny continued, “Violence, recklessness,”
“Luna keeps me in check,” Wolf waved off Lenny.
“Get this,” Lenny leaned in. “The procedure was supposed to make subjects sterile. Like I said, they still didn’t have the formula down. These two reproduced. There’s another one out there, some kind of super genius. Probably listening to us right now. Planning dad’s escape like always. Dad’s out looking for shit and he took mom with him.”
Wolf grimaced, “What the fuck are you talking about, Len? I’d still be getting stoned and listening to Alice Cooper in orbit around Sirius, right now, if it were up to me. In orbit around Sirius in my ship, which Raz and Aba blew up when we caught them at Forzen Kahl’s.”
Lenny sighed and sat down across from Wolf, “I’m sorry, I got out of line, Marty. I’m just still a little raw from you and Alice takin’ off like that.”
“Watch it with the ‘Marty’,” Wolf turned dark.
“Jesus. Marty Wolfram. We called you ‘Wolf’. You were a good agent. Alice too. Why walk away like that?”
“The government doesn’t get to rearrange our DNA and spend eight decades waving us around like a drunk with a gun then expect us to shut it off and assume a life in civil service where discharging a firearm calls for weeks of review.”
“I forget how long you’ve been at it. Humans aren’t meant to live that long. Jeeziz, I’m almost fifty and I can never remember where I put my friggin’ keys the night before. That has to take its toll.”
“We’re not crazy. We’re following the GA’s programming. Not our problem if it’s not working for them any more. You guys are worried about me and Lu, while Raziel and Abaddon are palling around with Forzen Kahl. Who, by the way, sold Vijeda the ships that attacked this one. Now, Raz wants to stick this and Yalda’s escape on us. No brainer that Vijeda helped Yalda escape. Sounds to me like Raz is covering for Vijeda. And if Raz and Aba are in with Yalda and Vijeda, who knows how far that rot goes?”
“Raziel?” Lenny bellowed in laughter. “He goes back with Raphael, Uriel, Lucifer all those guys from The War. Why would he throw in with Yalda?”
“Why don’t you let me go,” Wolf said shaking his shackles, “and interrogate him instead?”
“I think my little theory about senility is starting to hold water.”
Wolf glowered. A thumping was heard in the hallway approaching the door. The door crashed to the floor and a tall, wiry humanoid ducked under the threshold. It was clad neck to toe in flowing linen robes. Its head was covered by mirrored orb. Tycho felt that the last face a person should see, before one’s comeuppance came calling, should be their own. After all, it was them that got themselves to this place. It pointed a small pistol at Lenny. The weapon discharged a pulse that knocked Lenny unconscious. Before the other officer had time to react the humanoid had done the same to him. He turned his pistol on Wolf.
“Mom,” Holly’s voice crackled in, “There’s a cloaked Phoenix class on the far side of the science vessel.”
“Has to be Tycho Hall,” Luna said.
“Adding him to the ‘to scan’ list.”
“Taking an age.”
“Sorry, you’re all the way out there. I do better when there’s lots of satellites and stations to commandeer. All I could manage where you are is an environmental sensor on a GAI corvette. Speaking of which, a squad of them is converging on the Starcrossed.”
“Guess Raz’s edict filtered down.”
Luna watched out the window as seven GAI corvettes gathered around the Starcrossed. Flashy, official looking lights were blinking and two corvettes were aiming spotlights into the window.
“Prepare to surrender yourself,” a voice boomed over the Starcrossed’s communication system, “An agent is flying out to your vessel to take you into custody. Please meet the officer outside with your hands on your head.”
“Fuck,” Luna sighed, rolling her eyes.
“Swearing mad?” asked Holly.
“No,” Luna said putting her helmet on, “Your dad didn’t put out the warrant for our arrest.”
“What’s your plan?”
“I gotta go out and pick something up. Should make your project a lot easier.”
Luna unlocked and slid open the side panel and braced herself against the gust of air rushing into space. She drifted just outside and waited.
An agent emerged from a corvette, he raced over to Luna, propelled by a pack on his back. As he reached Luna she lit her wrist blades and cut the straps on the agent’s jetpack. The pack slid up the agent’s back and off into space. Luna caught him, turned him around and wrapped her arm around his neck. With her blade she nicked the agent’s suit and tiny, vapor puffs of oxygen sprayed. She cut a tube that let up his collar and undulating, blue globules billowed into space like jellyfish. They drifted backward into the gravity of the ship. Luna shut the hatch. She pulled the helmet off the agent.
“He has no air. No heat. If any of you as much as pokes a head out I’ll kick him into space and do the same thing to you,” she spoke into the helmet. She turned to the agent, “How long do you think you’ll last?”
“I don’t know,” the agent gasped.
“You’re a GAI agent. Why don’t you know that? Don’t they teach that anymore?”
“Next time the old timers wonder aloud about why old Wolf and Alice left, you can tell them it’s stuff like that. It’s fifteen seconds fully exposed. In that suit, in its current condition, about four minutes. Why would you even spacewalk without knowing basic things like that?”
“I don’t know.”
“What do you know?”
“That you’re classed as a level six. They’re most likely just going to open fire.”
“I know. I just needed this,” she yanked the data link badge from off his uniform and connected it to the computer, “Here you go, Holly. A GAI data link. Now if I could only find the shields,” she scanned the console, “Everything is in a different place on this.”
“Shields are the panel on the upper right,” Holly chimed.
“How do you know?” Luna laughed.
“I read the manual.”
“Okay, Miss Manual. How long will our shields hold?”
“GAI corvettes are pretty weak on firepower. I’d say seven minutes from the moment they open fire. But if Raziel’s capital ship gets involved…seconds.”
“How’s the scanning coming?”
“Dozens of identical orange blobs, but the data link should help. However, there is a blob that’s been isolated from the rest. In the cargo hold.”
“That’s got to be Carrie.”
The ship filled with the sound of cracking and thumping.
“Seven minutes have begun,” Luna put her hand on her head, “Ideas, Holly?”
“Recalling the manual…” Holly began, “Okay, I got something. Normally, I would only suggest this as a nuclear option, but it seems like time for one.”
“Ty! I’d offer to shake but,” Wolf rattled his shackles.
Tycho Hall, who followed in the grand bounty hunter tradition of adopting an unusual first name followed by a dead common surname, pulled out a blue glowing energy hatchet and severed Wolf’s tether to the table. He grabbed the back of Wolf’s chair and dragged it behind him. He paused, then walked over to a chair against the wall, on which sat Wolfram’s helmet. He grabbed it, walked over to Wolf and jammed it in his lap.
“Hey, Ty,” said Wolf, “Buddy, want to hip me to your operation?”
Tycho could be heard chattering inside his helmet. An electronic voice crackled out of a small speaker under his robes, “Collecting your bounty.”
“Bounty?” Wolf griped.
“Positive. You and Luna.”
“Who put out a bounty on us?”
“That son-of-a…how much?”
“That motherfucker. You know he’s here right? That’s why I was arrested.”
“Seraph Raziel is at the other end of the vessel. I made certain.”
“Lenny and that other dick saw you.”
“Concussion pulse causes partial amnesia.”
Tycho dragged Wolf down a corridor through dark islands that laid between pools of light. From one such black patch, obscured by the dust scattered in the flood light between them, came a voice.