MOONJACK! End Of Act Three

Alan Cardinal fancied himself as something of an action man. Actually, if he was being totally honest, he fancied himself, period. But strewth, what was not to like? He was one of the few crewmembers who still worked out in the Moonbase gym since relativistic effects had rendered all the weights about four sizes too big. And despite muscular shrinkage in proportion with the rest of him, he could still benchpress a respectable six kilos. Many a Sheila, alien or human, allowed him to swagger up on a first encounter and place his arm around their pretty little shoulders. And those who slapped him for doing so were, he was convinced, only playing hard to get. Which he liked. So he’d usually reward them with a wink and get slapped again.

Anyway, all of this meant he was brimming with confidence as he closed in on the Defence Screen Control Room. Even the sight of the fallen guards was no deterrent. He stepped over the bodies and crept inside, of the guards, panning his gun this way and that around the darkened interior. This was one alien invader that wasn’t going to give him a slapping. Not only because he had no intention of putting the moves on it, but primarily because as soon as he saw the thing he was going to give it the full beam.

He had already set the weapon to ‘kill’ for the purpose. Blast the critter, reactivate the defence screens. Nothing could be simpler. Once it was dead, he might even throw it on a barbie.

He scanned the shadows, listening for telltale slithers.

There! A flash of silver moving between the machinery. He would have to take some care not to hit the generators. He advanced, taking aim. “I’ve got you cornered. There’s nowhere else to go. Come on out now, don’t be shy.”

He smiled to himself. Actually that wasn’t too far removed from one of his chat-up lines.

Suddenly the silver snake-thing leaped out at him and started slapping him.

Bugger.

He toppled backwards, lost hold of his gun. He heard it skittering across the floor as he grappled with the thrashing creature. It bunched its hand-like appendage into a fist-like configuration and attempted to punch him in the face. Alan held fast to its long, vigorously flexing body and laughed a brash, confident laugh. This was not really much different to wrestling crocs back home.

And if he had ever done any of that, he might have stood a chance.

***

Another blast shook through the control centre and everyone grabbed onto a console for fear of being tipped to one side of the room. It was a ridiculous response, but it was something they did at the slightest vibration. Tommy had even known crewmembers to run to the opposite side of the room, driven by some irrational urge to try to balance things out and tip the control centre in the other direction.

He decided to fall against Sandy Beige. She was securely anchored to her console and didn’t seem to mind.

Once he’d straightened himself, he clenched a fist and shook it at the main screen. The view switched from a crisped and flattened portaloo in the middle of a blackened crater to a shot of some kind of shuttle peeling away from the alien battleship and beginning a descent towards the moon’s surface. The enemy barrage continued to pound away, pulverising various facilities out on the base perimeter – mining stations, the old pig sties, tool sheds and more portaloos – none of which were currently in use, but that was besides the point. The structures were being destroyed on his watch.

“We’re not going to just sit here and take this!” he declared. “Lieutenant Maroon! Launch Fleagles Seven, Eight and Twenty Three on an intercept course!”

Maroon stared at him. “That’s all but one of our remaining Fleagles!” He reached for his comm switch. “I think we should clear that with the Commander.”

“I’m in charge here!” He blushed. The entire Command Centre crew were looking at him like he’d stamped his foot and thrown a tantrum. He hadn’t meant it to come out quite so petulantly. He endeavoured to iron out the uncomfortable silence with a calm smile. “Look, I just think that ship could be carrying hundreds of troops. We don’t want them arriving on the base, now do we?”

***

On screen Tommy watched the Fleagles soar into view, moving in on the approaching alien shuttle. The squadron of four, flying in diamond formation, was a glorious sight.

He counted them all out. And he counted them all as they blew apart in a punitive fit of enemy beams. He lost count of the bits as they rained slowly down over the lunar surface.

KADOOM.

***

Tommy kept watching long after the dust and Fleagle debris had settled. Not least because he was acutely conscious of Lieutenant Maroon’s gaze trained hotly on him.

“Oh boy,” Maroon remarked. “You are so busted.”

***

Braun led Henna along at a run, holding her hand. Shockwaves from the blasts occasionally threw them into accidental embraces, but so far none of their inadvertent tussling had led to a kiss. With everything else that had been going on, Braun was getting impatient for that little piece of foreshadowing to fall into place.

As they raced for the med bay, a comm screen on one of the support pillars lit up with Tommy’s face. “Er, Commander,” he said. Any report that began with ‘Er’ was not a good sign.

Braun pulled up sharply at the pillar and stabbed the respond button on the comm panel. “What is it, Tommy?”

“The alien vessel dispatched an attack shuttle of some kind. It’s on an approach to Pad Twelve.”

Braun and Henna traded worried glances. Still no kiss.

Focus, Braun commanded himself. “A landing party?”

“That would be my tactical assessment, yes, Commander.”

“Send Fleagles to intercept.”

Tommy paused conspicuously. “That’s a great idea, Commander. Brilliant. I’ll order the launch right away.” Again Tommy appeared oddly hesitant. Braun attributed it to stress. The man just couldn’t hack the responsibilities of command. “But, uh, if, say, they do happen to get through…?”

“Then we’ll meet them with everything we’ve got. Issue every firearm we have. Assemble all combat-trained personnel at the airlock to Pad Twelve.” Braun turned to face Henna, wondering what to tell her. “Henna, if it comes down to a fight, I need to be there with the men.”

“I’ll come with you,” she volunteered, one hand gripping his right arm.

Her touch threatened to cloud his decision. Braun wasn’t sure about taking her with him, into the thick of it. On the other hand, if he sent her off to the med bay and he snuffed it, he might never get that kiss. But no, the flash forwards always came true. It was destiny or something. Safe in the knowledge that he would get that snog, no matter what, he gave his orders with the kind of gentle firmness he hoped to get from her later.

“No. I need you standing by in the med bay. Sedate our guest if you have to.”

Henna’s lips hung slightly open, on the brink of saying something or perhaps…

“All right,” she said and set off at a run that set various parts of her jiggling.

Braun sighed, wishing he was watching her from the front. Much as he hated to admit it, her ass was no great shakes.

***

Ferret stood waiting by the corpse, averting his eyes and only occasionally sneaking glimpses between shielding fingers to see how the full-sized Moonbase crew were getting on with the revival process. He saw a lot of naked bodies and a lot of nipples standing prouder than genitalia on both genders. He also saw a lot of bald heads, mostly female.

Luckily, like any sensible human being in the cold, they didn’t hang about getting dressed. Hastily towelling themselves down, they kitted themselves out in whatever attire they found waiting for them in their equipment lockers. For the men, that meant ensembles of white tunic and trousers, with coloured sleeves and flares that, had they only been made of brass, would have filled out a trombone section admirably. For the women, crop tops and mini skirts.

The bald ones were some while overcoming their surprise at what seemed to be cryogenically-induced hair loss, but after further rummaging in their lockers they found that, in addition to their standard uniforms, purple wigs had been provided.

Ferret began to think that perhaps his swan headpiece wasn’t so unusual after all. “What’s with the dress code?”

“I had to borrow some fabric for my Cybermarionettes’ uniforms,” explained Burgerminge quietly. “The womens’ clothing seemed the most viable source.”

“And the wigs?”

“My creations needed hair. I tried a few synthetic substitutes but they just didn’t look the part.”

Ferret was moderately puzzled as to why he hadn’t considered the shimmery purple wigs adequate for his munchkins. Further discussion of Moonbase fashions had to be set aside, however, as the tall and imposing figure of Commander Schoenig came marching over. He wasn’t especially large, but his features had a carved look about them, as though his face had been borrowed from the side of Mount Rushmore and reduced to fit. Eyes staring from under a prominent brow, he glanced fervently about, eventually deciding to focus primarily on the corpse in the chair.

“Ewwwww,” he said.

Ferret ahemed. “He doesn’t like it when you call him that.”

The longer his gaze dwelt on the stiff, the more his eyes bulged and his stoney features demonstrated a certain rubbery quality as they formed a look of horror that evoked the Golden Age of silent-movie melodrama. “What the hell is that?!”

“Hello, Walt,” said the corpse.

“Burgerminge!” Schoenig’s face went through a range of rubbery fluctuations that probably added up to surprise. He turned rather violently on Ferret and grabbed him by the lapels. “What the hell did you do to him?!”

Ferret didn’t especially appreciate being pulled so close to the man’s face. Not least because, despite the cold conditions of his slumber, his breath had the exact level of minty freshness you would expect from a centuries-long sleep. “Nothing! Time did that. It’s hardly my fault if your Professor chum can’t just decompose gracefully!”

“It’s true, Walt,” confirmed Burgerminge gently.

Schoenig held onto Ferret and did some more staring, frankly looking like he still had plenty more waking up to do. He gave Ferret a vigorous shake. “Just who the hell are you anyway?!”

“I’m – I’m a Guardian,” Ferret offered weakly.

“He’s a human. That’s what the scans tell me.” Ferret groaned. As well as decomposing, most corpses had the decency to shut up.

At that point the whole room shook as another explosion rumbled through the base. Schoenig’s eyes rolled about, searching the ceiling and walls.

“And I think he has something to do with that,” supplied Burgerminge, still in aggravatingly helpful mode.

Snarl-faced, Commander Schoenig yanked Ferret in for an intimate close-up of his teeth. “What the hell is going on?!”

“I couldn’t possibly say.” Ferret tried on a winning smile. “I only just got here myself.”

***

Commander Braun knelt behind a potted plant. A rather droopy peace lily that nobody had thought to water in an age. The fact was, whoever had designed the Moonbase had furnished it with far too many launch pads and Pad Twelve – along with its associated vestibule – was rarely used. Braun would have preferred something less flimsy in the way of cover, but all the best bulkheads had been taken by his subordinates. He could have pulled rank, he supposed, but that might not have gone down too well among a crew already nervous about what might be about to come storming through the airlock door.

Braun masked his own fears fairly well, aided by the wilting leaves of the plant, and clutched his sidearm tightly, thumb over the trigger and prepared for action.

Every one of his men had a weapon trained on the airlock as the light above it turned green, signalled a completed pressurisation cycle.

Ping! BLAKOOOOOOOOM!

Amid the thunder and a rolling cloud of smoke, the airlock door blew in and sailed clear past Braun. It slammed into a couple of guards at the rear of the room, pancaking them against the wall. The first casualties.

“Fire!” yelled Braun, about a second after everyone started pumping energy beams into the smoke-filled airlock doorway. Bulky shadows forced their way through the opening, letting rip with rifles the size of cannons. The air was hot with plasma pulses as big as Braun’s forearm that packed a heftier punch. To Braun’s right a security guard flew backwards, his chest largely replaced by a sizzling hole, while to his left another man fell, with a molten glob where his head used to be.

Beams lanced furiously into the invading monsters and Braun saw one, then another crash to the floor. But the impact-tremors had barely subsided before the enormous bodies flared and vanished.

Steadily, against the hail of beams, the enemy advanced, emerging through the smokey veil and Braun realised that Tommy – who was somewhere here in the thick of things – hadn’t exaggerated their ugliness in the slightest. They were the same troll-like soldiers he had seen in the flashforwards, even more hideous in the flesh. They looked like armour-clad demons, raised on warfare and a diet of fast food.

Stepping through their front lines came another dark figure, quite different. Close-cropped military haircut, features all brute-force and stubble, one sleeve of his black leather jacket dangling empty while he wielded some sort of plasma shotgun in one hand.

Braun gasped. It was the one-armed giant he had seen in the relativistic video forecast. The one he had seen grappling with Tommy Verdigris.

From out of the thinning cloud on the other side of the room, he heard a brave battle cry. And saw Tommy leaping at the giant’s neck.

Whether it was the gun battle with the trolls or the wrestling match with the giant, Braun was conscious that the flashforwards had been decidedly sketchy about the outcome.

But right now, it didn’t look good.

[To Be Continued…]

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