MOONJACK! End Of Act Four

Ninety-three eyes were glued to the main screen in the Moonbase Command Centre. Ferret arrived at this odd-numbered estimate based on the fact that he had seen at least seven of the Kappans fall in the recent battle and that he, of course, was wearing an eyepatch. Fremengor was bored and was looking around as though wondering if anyone would notice if he just strolled off back to his shuttle.

Ostrogoyles were not built for stealth, but TV had a way of commanding everyone’s attention, even though the view at the moment was of a lot of swirling dust – which, really, was little more than brown static. It was as though everyone wanted to be the first to catch a glimpse of the ship once the dust had settled. Maybe they were all dying to be the one to say, “The Fleagle has landed.”

To be fair, the undercurrent was one of fear, dread and general doom, so Ferret doubted naff punchlines were high on the agenda. Indeed, nobody was saying anything, as though, convinced that they were already dead, they had decided to stage a three-minute silence in remembrance of themselves.

Ferret considered joining Fremengor in a bid to slip away quietly, but just as the thought occurred to him the silence was broken.

“Buggies, Commander!” blurted Inca, the allegedly alien woman, and Ferret wondered if this was some grade of profanity on her planet, reserved for the direst of situations. There was a lively glint in her eyes though that was more suggestive of a light bulb – or alien equivalent – flashing on in her head.

Schoenig wheeled about and grasped her arms. “Brilliant, Inca!” He looked on the brink of embracing her, except Elena, who had been unfortunately brushed aside to facilitate the grasping, was fixing him with a warning glare. He shot glances all around the gathered faces. “All right, everyone! We’re not beaten yet! Moonbuggies can get a small team of us there in the space of a few minutes. There can’t be many of the bad guys on board that Fleagle. We can take them out!”

Ferret debated whether to point out that, clearly, they’d never met Mr Knucks. But he figured, both he and Knucks were partial to a taste of crushed hopes. Ferret liked his rare, Knucks preferred his bloody.

“You!” Schoenig jabbed Ferret in the chest with a finger. “You’re coming with us! With you as a bargaining chip, your partner will think twice about blowing up our moon!”

No, decided Ferret, they didn’t know Knucks at all. Ferret’s unfortunate predicament as a hostage might make Knucks think, yes. But, he rather suspected, not nearly as much as twice.

***

The Fleagle settled on the dirt with a soft bump, its springy suspension initially lending the impression it had landed on a trampoline. As the engines were whining down, Knucks hopped out of the co-pilot’s seat and Frodo, like a loyal puppy, followed him back into the module where , after fighting their way through the steam they found the Goyles sitting about and sweating like Frankenstein’s lesser known hot rocks research. Four big fat porous boulders.

Knucks sighed and waved some of the vapour out of his face. “Didn’t I tell you not to touch anything?” When they’d taken the Fleagle, the range of modules available amounted to one and little Frodo Verdigris had been nervous about taking this one, babbling something about a sauna conversion and melting faces. Knucks had pointed out it was either take the module or share the cockpit with four Goyles. That said, the Goyles were under strict instructions to leave everything the hell alone – not that a molten fizzog would do a Goyle much harm, but there was no sense in taking chances with his own ruggedly handsome features.

Now he heard whimpering and he looked down at his side where he could just make out puppy-boy, clutching his face in horror. “Can you shut this thing off?”

Still wearing his hands as a mask, Frodo nodded and hunted about for the control panel. This took some time, what with his vision obscured by all the steam and his fingers.

“Right,” said Knucks, keen to make up for the delay. “We’re all going to suit up and vent this bastard.”

“Ooh yes. Great idea.” Frodo parted his fingers enough to orient himself then bounded with puppyish enthusiasm towards the airlock and the suit locker. Probably much more eager to escape the steam than to get outside, but Knucks didn’t mind as long as the little bugger was motivated.

Frodo started pulling on his suit – red, with yellow boots, gloves and helmet – like a kid who’d just been told he could go to a fancy dress party as an astronaut. Like the guns the Moonbasers had been packing it was tailored to fit – basically a Large, in doll-size. Vorpal Tunnel Syndrome or no, the idea that the Kappans had all been shrinky-dinked along with selected gear and equipment stretched credibility like a Ostrogoyle’s butt in a supermodel’s panties. Knucks wasn’t about to buy either – the theory or the image. Some weird shit had happened to Moonbase Kappa, but Knucks figured, his was not to reason why, his was just to get the fuck on with the plan.

The Goyles only had to lower the visors on the space-age medieval battle armour ensembles they had going on. While Knucks just had to hit the button on his right breast pocket that activated the various seals on his leathers and unpacked the ‘helmet’ from his jacket collar. Unfolding a bit like the roof of a convertible, it soon encased his head. Soft-top and clear in front, not much protection for the bonce, but Knucks had a thick skull so that didn’t worry him any. Style and convenience, Mr Ferret had assured him when he’d first unveiled his design and Knucks had been suitably impressed. “All right, go ahead and make an outfit up for me,” he’d said, adding the very firm proviso, “only keep it masculine and if I see a speck of pink on it you’re dead.” If there was such a vehicle as a space-motorcycle, he’d’ve looked right at home on it. Course, it wasn’t quite as cool with the one empty sleeve flapping limply about, but Lefty was making good progress and would be right here with them before too long.

Meantime, down to business. When Frodo was finished suiting up, Knucks picked out one of the Goyles and jerked a thumb back towards the cockpit. “You’re manning the ship. The rest of us are out on the surface, getting everything set up.”

“Um, what are we setting up exactly?” inquired Frodo reasonably, giving his helmet comm a test run.

Knucks tapped his visor roughly in the vicinity of the side of his nose. “Well, that’s ‘need to know’. Our pals here,” he explained, gesturing at the three waiting Goyles, “will attend to the main assembly. Somewhere in the centre, lads, doesn’t have to be exact. And you and me, Frodo, we’ll plant the bombs.”

Knucks sauntered over and punched the controls for a swift depressurisation. Now that he was safely tucked away in his suit, Frodo was probably less bothered about the steam and possible facial disfigurement. Luckily Knucks’ judicious use of the word ‘bombs’ had given the munchkin’s nerves a fresh focus.

“I, uh, take it we’ll be relocating once we’re, um, finished planting?”

Knucks patted the lad’s helmeted head. He tended to think of Frodo as a lad. “Actually, we’ll stick around. Treat ourselves to a front row seat.”

“Er, is that, well, wise?”

“Relax.” Knucks cracked a grin and might have ruffled the little guy’s hair at that point. “You won’t feel a thing.”

***

Schoenig fired a brief barrage of orders around the Command Centre, then led the mad dash to the Moonbase garage. Altogether there were eight of them going, not including Ferret, who as a hostage made it plain that there was no ‘him’ in ‘team’. Commander Schoenig warned him not to try anything to derail their plans. As it was, he was leaving Fremengor under guard in the Command Centre, not as an additional bargaining chip – nobody believed a Goyle would be worth much currency ad a hostage – but because someone had pointed out that the Rear Vice War-Kahn wasn’t built for jogging let alone an all-out run for vehicles.

On the way through the base, Ferret earned a few black looks from Schoenig for slowing them up. Ferret pointed repeatedly down at his platforms, which were entirely the wrong kind of footwear for speed-dependent operations, but the Commander wasn’t buying it and he prodded Ferret to move faster. “Fine,” said Ferret, “but if I sprain an ankle, that may qualify as a Human Rights violation.”

“If you don’t shut up I’ll violate more than your rights.”

“Walter!” admonished Elena Russert, who would have looked much more schoolmarmy and disapproving if she hadn’t been fully committed to a boob-bouncing run at the time.

“I’m sorry. He just – he winds me up.” “And – and these people are trying to hijack our moon!” he reminded her.

“I know, but if we sink to their level, we’re no better than them.”

“You’d be worse,” supplied Ferret helpfully. Earning questioning looks from the two of them. “Honestly, take it from me. You’d be really really rubbish criminals.”

Neither seemed to know what to say to that, so they ran the rest of the way in silence. Soon everyone was charging into the garage, which was a dimly lit hangar with several buggies parked two abreast, bumper to bumper. They were compact little six-wheelers, with wedge-shaped prows and square backs. Four seats to a buggy. Everyone rushed to grab a pressure suit off the rack on the near wall.

“Strewth, got a problem, Commander,” observed Carver, getting himself kitted out and nodding at the rack. “Looks like we’re going to have to leave someone behind.”

Aside from the one Carver had made sure to reserve for himself, there were only seven suits. “I don’t mind staying,” Ferret volunteered. What worried him most was that the suits would make Ferret indistinguishable from anyone else Mr Knucks might choose to shoot at if he saw them coming, which he would since the outfits were strawberry red with custard-yellow helmets.

Hands on hips, Schoenig ignored Ferret’s offer and looked unhappily around the room, clearly debating which crewmember he could most do without. “Elena, I think you should – ”

“No, Walter,” she appealed. “If there’s going to be fighting, you need a doctor out there.”

“It’s all right, Commander,” Inca chipped in with a wily smile.

Suddenly there was a sound. A piercing, warbly sort of sound that throbbed in Ferret’s brain like a high-pitched migraine as rendered on an early synthesiser. Even weirder was the way he felt his eyes being sucked out of his head and drawn deep into Inca’s gaze, as though her pupils had just turned into black holes. In their darkness, all he could see was a miniature portrait of Inca – but the image rippled and blurred and transformed.

Ferret blinked and shook his head. He stuck a finger in his ear in an attempt to put an end to the warble echoing around in there.

When he opened his eyes, instead of Inca standing before him, there was a woolly bipedal elephant with spotted pink flappy ears, large Elton John glasses and a red fireman’s helmet.

“What just happened?” he asked, entirely reasonably.

***

Knucks put another bomb to bed in the lunar soil. He figured kissing these babies goodnight or reading them a bedtime story would have been going too far, so he did like he’d done with all the others and simply stood back to admire his handiwork. Like a gardener proud of his planting. Yeah, these beauties would come up a treat.

Verdigris, or Frodo, as he had submitted to being called without complaint, was dancing from foot to foot like a little kid – in a space suit – badly in need of the toilet. His constant fidgeting was spoiling the moment. “You’re a bag of nerves. Small, but definitely not fun-size.”

“I – I’m sorry. I just – don’t share your affinity with explosive devices. It’s a flaw, I know.” The little bugger’s helmet visor was steamed up and he was probably giving Knucks a filthy look from in there.

Knucks glanced around, hoping that his Goylish labourers were doing an adequate job with the assembly job. When he’d first stepped out of the Fleagle, he’d been greeted by a broad shallow crater liberally strewn with garbage tips. Treading the paths between the trash heaps, it was readily apparent this was no ordinary scrapyard or landfill site. The mounds were all comprised of radioactive waste canisters, rusty and yellow with barely legible radiation warning labels. The place was like Hobbiton meets Chernobyl.

Now, courtesy of the Goyles’ construction efforts, it had its own Eiffel Tower smack in the middle. Well, not exactly, but the device had that open-frame, cobbled together look about it. The central drive core housed in its upper reaches added a touch of industrial don’t-fuck-with-me ugliness, but it wasn’t as if there were any local inhabitants to complain about the eyesore. And if there were, well, he’d tell them that was nothing to the noise and the fact they’d be turned into individually toasted sub-atomic particles whenever this baby was fired up. Truth be told, he rather liked the aesthetic anyway – it had the look of a small broadcast tower converted into a mighty space gun – a scheme which, even in purely theoretical form, could only qualify as a good idea in Knucks’ books.

He waved over at the Goylish workers and gave them a singular thumb up.

As they were looking at each other, trying to figure out what the gesture signified, Knucks spotted the fourth Goyle emerging from the ship – and heading this way. The low gravity invested the trooper’s lumbering movements with a degree of grace, but it was like watching one of the ballet-dancing hippos in Fantasia. Assuming they ever developed a flagrantly militaristic culture.

“What’s up now?”

The Goyle landed, like a meteor on legs, thankfully not too close. “Sir, we’ve lost Rear Vice War-Kahn Fremengor’s signal.”

“Hmm,” thought Knucks aloud. He searched the horizon beyond the crater rim, principally back in the direction of the base. No ships on the way, at least – yet. Of course, he had taken the last Fleagle, but he wouldn’t put it past some surviving munchkins trying to fly the Goyle shuttle out here. “And you didn’t think to tell me that over the comm?”

It seemed an especially wasted trip since they were speaking over their helmet comms right now.

The Goyle blinked. “Rear Vice War-Kahn Fremengor always has us report bad news in person, sir.”

Oh yeah, right. So he could shoot the messenger there and then and not have to go chasing him up later. “Fair enough. Me, I’d prefer a more up to the second update. Quicker response time. As it is, I think we’re okay. But, tell you what, why don’t you get back and fire up the ship’s guns. Anything comes our way, you blast it, all right?”

The Goyle’s features arranged themselves unusually expressively, as though ‘all right’ didn’t even begin to cover it. “Be my pleasure, sir.”

Executing a quick about-turn, he launched himself into a hop, skip and jump back towards the waiting Fleagle. Any grace he demonstrated was entirely owing to the low gravity, Knucks had no doubts on that score, but he had to hand it to that particular Goyle, he was a polite one.

***

“Inca is a Pi-sonic,” explained Schoenig.

He was clearly impatient, in a hurry to get moving, so Ferret forgave him for what he assumed to be a slip of the tongue. “Psionic, you mean?” He regarded the elephant warily, thinking that if his captors hadn’t in fact drugged him while he wasn’t paying attention, then some sort of psionic influence at work was probably the next best explanation. Yes, some kind of telepathically maintained illusion, he figured. Although Inca’s choice of alien guise was evidence of drug-use on her part – or that she was mental.

“No, no,” said the elephant, shaking its – her? – woolly barrel-like body from side to side and making her trunk bounce in the process. “Everyone thinks I’m psionic but it’s all to do with soundwaves.”

“Exactly. Pi-sonic,” repeated Schoenig irritably. “She does something clever related to pi to sonic wavelengths. Transforms her physical shape at a molecular level. Now can we please get a move on?”

“And, um, are the shapes she changes into always this insane?”

“Actually… yes,” admitted the elephant. “My home planet of Sonicon was located in one of the more outlandish arms of the galaxy. You wouldn’t believe some of the alien creatures we used to get dropping by.”

Schoenig sighed and gestured at everyone else to carry on suiting up.

“But if you look beyond their strange appearances, their forms all had their practical applications,” Inca the elephant carried on, throwing in an illustrative little waggle of her trunk. “Right now I’m hoovering in a lot of air and storing it up so that I can breathe out there in the vacuum.”

Schoenig stomped over and thrust a suit and helmet into Ferret’s hands. “Right. Now that we’re done with Shape-shifting 101, put this on, or I’m driving you out there and seeing how you breathe through a fresh hole in your head.”

Ferret felt that the elephant really warranted more explanation. Much more. But Schoenig looked like he meant his threats and anyway he was keen to rejoin Mr Knucks and hopefully see their carefully laid plans reach fruition.

***

Once the airlock had cycled, the door opened and Lefty was free to trade in its rather monotonous passage along smooth corridor floors for the rugged terrain of the great outdoors. Actually, it wasn’t that great, but the pocked and pitted landscape was much more the stuff of epic journeys home.

Still no rivers to cross on this airless dirtball, but there were a few mountains to climb. Not to mention a number of crater walls.

The arm could have made its life easier by negotiating a path around these natural obstacles, but it preferred the direct route. Its information on its owner’s plans gave a high probability that he would remain in the same approximate area for some time, but plans were fluid and there were no guarantees. And if said owner decided to move again, for whatever reason, then Lefty wasn’t sure it would be up for another trek, no matter how much he felt he belonged on that shoulder.

‘As the crow flies’ and ‘as the arm crawled’ essentially amounted to the same thing, but one of the reasons the former had passed into common usage was that the latter involved a lot more hard work.

***

“Oh my God! Henna!”

After all his hard slog to get to the Med Bay, the sight of Dr Russeau stopped him in the doorway. It would have stopped him for quite some time, except the door biffed him repeatedly in the side, reminding him that it would like to slide closed. Annoyed as well as horrified, he dragged himself into the room and across to the Iso Lab door where poor Henna lay.

Sprawled, squished, crushed, mangled – this wasn’t at all how he’d imagined finding her. Worse, she looked to have been pinned in place, like a beautiful dead butterfly in a collection of one. The pin, in this case, was a dirty great hypodermic syringe. Well, probably not dirty – she was always fastidious about hygiene, was Henna. But the cleanliness of the needle didn’t enter into it, since her eyes appeared to have rolled back into her head, adding the probable insult of a massive overdose to the rest of her injuries.

“Fuck,” said Braun. “Fuck!” He bunched a fist and brought it slamming down on her chest.

It was a kind of CPR that was more for him than her.

He looked at her lips, slightly parted, no trace of breath escaping them. He could go ahead and kiss her anyway, of course. But as well as feeling bad for the thought, it also made him mad that, no, that wasn’t what he’d seen in the flashforward. Sure, it had been shown from the waist up and in terms of the event taking place legs were optional. But Henna had definitely, no way, no how, by any stretch of the imagination, been dead in that scene. There had been clear indications of a snog returned in full, with gusto and tongues.

“Damn it!”

Teeth grinding, he glanced away. And saw the Iso Lab door looming like a cliff face.

Burgerminge, he thought. That bastard. He was the one who’d first identified the flashforwards as images of the future. And that was exactly what they had turned out to be, every time. And they’d always, always come true.

Braun wanted answers. He’d beat them out of Burgerminge, if necessary. He didn’t need legs for that either.

***

Four buggies sped out from the Moonbase garage, rocking and bobbing along on their suspensions and churning up their own little dustclouds in what seemed a determined effort on the part of the vehicles to inject some added drama into what amounted to a 30mph hurtle.

Schoenig had insisted on taking at least four vehicles, to spread their numbers a bit and improve their chances. Also, Inca, now bulked out as the weird-ass elephant creature, required a buggy all to herself.

Ferret, meanwhile, was blessed with Schoenig as his chauffeur and a guy named Tony Vespucci to sit with him in the back seat and keep a gun trained on him. As well as being the spitting image of Tommy Verdigris, this man had lodged the strongest protest when Schoenig had initially proposed to leave him in charge of the Command Centre. So at the very least, Vespucci seemed a determined sort with something to prove. And as long as he was the one holding the gun, well, Ferret would deem whatever it was sufficiently proven.

Besides, he was suffering a touch of motion sickness from the joggy, bouncing progress of the buggy. Either that or he was nervous about the coming meeting with Mr Knucks. Poor Knucks probably still had no idea there were these life-sized versions of the Kappan crew going around, let alone on a mission to put a stop to him. He wasn’t going to be overjoyed to see Ferret in this kind of company. There was a chance the sight of the elephant would offer some distraction, but in his experience, Knucks was not usually fazed by anything.

Of course, all those worries could be set aside if they never actually made it to the site.

And when the laser blasts started chewing up the landscape around them, that eventuality became a distinct possibility.

***

The Fleagle was in sight when a burning spear of light stabbed at Inca’s buggy. She pulled the wheel hard right and the laser beam blew chunks of moondirt out of the low ridge to her left.

She slammed her elephant foot on the accelerator, squeezing every last drop of power out of the buggy. Break-neck speed was beyond its humble capabilities, but she might manage fractured-ulna. The bruised-coccix speed she’d been maintaining up to this point just wasn’t going to cut it when it came to evading heavy weapons fire.

A trio of shots lanced out in quick succession, violently turfing up more lunar soil either side of her vehicle. The buggy made a furious grrrrrr sound, as though frustrated at its feeble efforts to keep up anything nippier than a high-speed trundle. Inca spun the wheel this way and that, forcing the vehicle into drunken swerves.

She glanced around, searching for the others. They needed no warning from her and were already fanning out, weaving their separate courses as they continued to close on the Fleagle.

One of the buggies – thanks to the traditional shades worn by this particular elephantine species, she couldn’t tell which – rode up a rugged incline and met a stray beam. It disappeared in a flare of white – sparks, molten debris and other bits she didn’t care to think about spraying every which way. The shades spared her eyes from the glare, she’d say that for them at least.

There was no time to mourn. She just hoped it wasn’t the Commander’s buggy: she was pretty sure Tony fancied her and there was quite a lot about interspecies shapeshifter sex she was keen to try out. But there wasn’t time to think about that either. She had to focus. On her driving and her form.

Blast after blast punched hot craters in the dirt, sometimes chasing her buggy, sometimes the others. The rumbling explosions shook her vehicle and threatened to disrupt her shape. She routinely took more trouble to maintain her shape than most women, but it was even more important when you were dependent on that shape for breathing in a vacuum.

The way explosions rumbled in a vacuum was frankly annoying and an affront to a rational mind like Inca’s, but this moon travelled in some sort of physics-free zone and there was nothing anyone could do about that. The sonic shockwaves – not to mention the piercing whistle of the laser beams – were hard unscientific facts, messing with her metamorphic ability and she had to deal with them. What she needed was some alternative sound, something more pleasant, to clear her mind of the disruptive assault on her senses.

In mid-veer, she reached for the dashboard and punched a switch with a pudgy digit, activating the buggy’s radio.

Na na na, Na nanana. Na na na, na nanana…!”

Some puerile tune pumped out into space in some long-forgotten transmission, its composer probably long-since dead.

One banana, two banana, three banana, four…!”

It was a cheerfully trite sort of ditty and the lyrics struck Inca as faintly silly. But it was more than sufficiently catchy and for her purposes, it was perfect.

She even started to hum along and nod her big elephantine head in time with the music as she continued her frantic, dodge-and-weave drive through the barrage of laser fire.

***

The Fleagle was still blasting away with abandon when three Moonbase buggies rolled up from different directions, zipping about a bit before zeroing in on the centre of the crater. Where Mr Knucks, the three Goyles and Tommy Verdigris had all but completed preparations and Mr Knucks was just running through a few final checks on the recently finished structure.

As to what exactly the Goyles had assembled, Tommy couldn’t say. Transmitter? Engine? Weapon? Decorative feature? With the vehicles closing in, he couldn’t much care.

His first fear was that Commander Braun was leading the attack. But it was worse than that. The spacesuited figures in the vehicles were big. If they were Moonbase crew, then they had found some way to reverse the relativistic effects and restore themselves to full size. And if Braun discovered his part in aiding the enemy, well, he would be in for a full-size ass-kicking.

The Goyles pulled their weapons and Knucks sighed as he unslung his plasma shotgun, wondering, “Who the hell are these guys?”

Tommy settled for yelping and diving for cover in one of the garbage tips.

He tried not to think how like a frightened puppy he must have looked. Ironically, self-preservation also obliterated all realisation that he was hiding in a mound of radioactive waste – at least until he had burrowed in a couple of canisters deep. By which time, he just shrugged and thought, what the hell, he’d rather grow twelve extra fingers, an eye in his navel and a nose on each testicle than be out there in the thick of the fighting. Giants were about to do battle out there. Even if the radiation accidentally imbued him with superpowers he decided he wasn’t coming out until it was all over.

***

“Frodo! Get back here!” Knucks had seen his little helper disappear down his hastily made rabbit hole. Alice wouldn’t be going in after him without a full NBC suit. “Fine. I hope you glow a nice yellow!”

He shook his head, then picked an approaching vehicle and sent it a warm energetic greeting by shotgun. The firearm gave its usual comforting kick and the plasma bolt blew the front off the target buggy. Stopped dead, the buggy tipped forward, catapulting driver and passengers out of their seats. All three of them came flying at Knucks in a slow-motion arc through the explosion that would have filled most action movie directors with pride.

The Goyles welcomed the opportunity for a spot of skeet shooting and started blamming away at the flying bodies as by far the more interesting targets on offer. Knucks hoped they wouldn’t completely overlook the other vehicles moving up on their flanks, including the one containing what at a glance had seemed to be some sort of woolly alien elephant-thing. For his part, Knucks raised his shotgun, confident he could take out three-for-one with a close-range blast.

“Don’t shoot don’t shoot don’t shoot!” yammered one of them over the helmet comm. “It’s me!”

Ferret, damn it. Knucks couldn’t be sure which of the three was his partner in crime, but at a guess it was the one doing the most panicky flapping and flailing as he sailed through the absence of air with a distinct shortage of grace.

The real bastard thing to do would be to fire anyway and watch his partner rain down in deep-fried pieces that a popular fast food chain could sell as Ferret McNuggets. And Knucks counted himself as a real bastard.

By the time he’d thought about it though, one of the bodies had crashed into him and sent them both sprawling on the ground.

Through the man’s visor, Knucks got a snapshot of a face that was the spit of Frodo’s. Enlarged. Whatever that meant, he figured he could solve that mystery later.

After he shoved the guy off and biffed him in the gut with the butt of his shotgun. Leaving the guy to squirm and writhe satisfactorily, Knucks got to work picking himself up.

With Lefty yet to join the party, it took him a second or two longer, that was all. Aggravatingly, they were the kind of seconds that made all the difference.

***

Despite his sometimes sensitive disposition, Mr Ferret had no fear of flying but he did prefer first class with a comfy seat, plenty of leg room and complimentary cocktails. Experiencing it as a clay pigeon in low gravity was not doing his stomach any favours.

So although he belly-flopped hard into the dirt, he welcomed the ground with open arms. Less welcome was the heavy body that slammed down on top of him and low grav or no he felt compelled to roll over and tell whoever it was that he needed to lose some weight.

Unfortunately, this was interpreted as a hostile move by the other party and Ferret ended up tussling with him for a while before he ended up pinned – visor to visor with Commander Schoenig. As though Schoenig’s gritted-teeth weren’t intimidating enough, the fellow felt a need to shove his gun in Ferret’s – thankfully shielded – face.

“Hold it right there!” Schoenig growled.

“I am!” Ferret protested.

“I’m talking to the other guy!”

Ferret couldn’t tip his head back to see where Schoenig was looking. But Schoenig obliged him by standing and hauling him onto his feet, turning him around in a fairly traditional hostage hold – firm grasp on the shoulder, gun at the side of the head – to face Mr Knucks.

“Um, hello, Mr Knucks,” said Ferret.

Looking at the scene optimistically, it was a stand-off. On one side, Knucks and the three Goyles lined up with the tower in the background, as though posing for a particularly aggressive holiday snap. And arrayed against them, Commander Schoenig, three Moonbasers – including Elena Russert and the brash Aussie, Carver – on the right, Inca the elephant shambling up on the left and one hostage. Oh and not forgetting Tony Vespucci who, although currently still rolling on the ground clutching at a winded stomach, might leap into action at any moment. That or throw up. He could go either way.

Knucks was taking it all with his customary philosophical calm, but Ferret suspected he wasn’t overly happy with the situation.

“Hullo yourself, Mr Ferret. Managed to get yourself taken prisoner, I see.”

“It does look that way.”

“How they treating you?”

“Up to this point, not too badly.”

“Maybe they’d best keep you, then.”

“Now, Mr Knucks, you don’t mean that.”

“Will you two shut up! This is over! Right now!” Ferret was in no position to see, but he imagined Schoenig was spraying the inside of his visor with a lot of spittle. “Now just what the hell do you people think you are doing with my moon?!”

His gun-arm reached past Ferret and aimed the weapon squarely at Mr Knucks. You could point a Death Star at Mr Knucks and he wouldn’t blink, but despite his partner’s untroubled demeanour Ferret couldn’t help feeling that their carefully laid plans were well and truly scotched.

This was not the ending he had hoped for. And Knucks didn’t look like a man who had any great ideas up his sleeve.

[To Be Continued…]

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