Doc calmly finishes packing up his satchel. "No knives ladies. He's a dumb ass and has this coming, but I'm his doctor and I can't have you cutting him up, but a few new knots on his head would be okay."
"Shut your hoopdy maw, jackalack, or I'll jib you, too!" Kelley yells at him, using peculiar vernacular.
Mark has his hands in the air. "Okay, ladies. We can take this outside. I lost, fair and square, and if you wanna kick my butt, I'll let you have a fair chance. But if'n you keep that blade out, I'll have to even the odds." He pushes the door open with his ass. "After you."
Kelley puts the knife away. She and Janet head for the door. They stop where Mark is holding it open for them. "You first. We insist."
Mark respectfully obeys. The three head outside.
Thunderhorse tosses the rest of his beer down his throat. "[Daniels is going to get clobbered by women. This I cannot miss.]" He goes outside to watch.
Doc heads back to the bar to finish his round and get a six-pack to go.
As they step outside, Kelley pulls back for a sucker punch, but Mark swings around and catches her in the forehead with his elbow. Her swing goes nowhere as she's momentarily knocked off balance. She catches herself quickly, though, and responds with an upper cut from the left into his jaw. Mark throws a left hook into her eye, then follows with a right hook. Kelley steps back in time to miss the second blow, then lunges forward and jabs him right in the groin.
Mark loses his wind and goes down. Thunderhorse laughs his ass off. Kelley kicks him for good measure.
Janet hocks a loogie on him. "See you next time, cowboy." The two bikers get on their skycycles. Their engines roar with a guttural scream. They take off into the sky.
Doc comes outside with a six pack of Pabst tallboys, followed by Steve. "Help me get him in the ship, Thunderhorse," Steve asks. Thunderhorse obeys.
They chuck Mark in the backseat and climb into their own chairs.
"So why are we here in Milwaukee, Steve?" Doc asks as he gets back into his own shirt and out of the Exkorean's, which is two sizes too small.
Steve fires up the ships engines and starts lifting off. "Our primary mission is to find out why Alyss Valia does not exist on this time line. She's the only starfighter pilot in all of history who can possibly stop that warship from entering into the galactic destruction zone. Second, I want to find out what the fuck happened to my space ship. To do that, I'll have to hack into an interstellar courier's database and find out what solar system she's in, because she's sure as shit not in this one." Steve is understandably upset about this.
"So what do we do next?"
"Well, I need to go to the DataPlex supercomputing center downtown. I'd like you to try to find out anything you can about Dmitri Valia and Nadine McClaren, Alyss's parents. I only have some preliminary information on them. They're supposed to be married and living somewhere here in Milwaukee. Dmitri is a design engineer at VelociTech Stardrive Systems, and Nadine was his secretary before they were married but is now manager of a graphics design firm, Sundial Studios or something like that. Their 30th anniversary is coming up in about a month. Nadine is originally from Neorleans and Dmitri was born in Moscow."
The ship sets down on a much nicer rooftop parking lot, high in the sky. Steve opens the cabin and jumps out. "I'll call you when I'm ready to go. There's a small chance I'll have to make a quick exit, if so I'll tell you where you can find me. Just tell the ship where you want to go and the GPS navigator will guide you there. Good luck."
Doc calmly finishes packing up his satchel. "No knives ladies. He's a dumb ass and has this coming, but I'm his doctor and I can't have you cutting him up, but a few new knots on his head would be okay."
"You go right on ahead. I've got a beer to drink," Doc tells Mark. It's probably about time Mark learned some manners.
Mark returns to the pool table. "I guess it's just me against you, honey. Trust me, you'll enjoy having me against you." His smug attitude begins to wain when the butch biker lesbian smashes the balls across the table on the break.
Doc ignores the next few minutes of clacking. Mark has gone silent except for the occasional swear and frustrated remark. The ladies are laughing at him.
A buzzer signals that Doc's laundry is done. These machines work remarkably fast. He finishes off his beer and heads back to grab the clothes. He glances at the pool table. The biker has sunk everything but the eight. Mark is shooting. He has three stripes still up, all in good position, except that the cue ball is expertly trapped behind the eight.
Doc grabs the clothes. The stain on his leather jacket is miraculously removed. He folds the rest and packs them in his satchel.
There is a final clack. "Bullshit!" It appears Mark has sunk the eight, losing the game. He throws the cue on the table.
"You lose, cowboy," says the victorious biker. "Kelley, he's all yours."
"Thank you, Janet," replies the spectating biker. She stands up and tightens her studded knuckle gloves. This woman is short and heavy. It would take a truck to knock her over.
"Kelley!" shouts the bartender. "Take it outside, please! You'll set off the disturbance alarms again, and I don't want to deal with cops today."
"That's 'cause you're the one who's gonna hafta bail her out, Lance," Janet chuckles.
Kelley pulls a switchblade. "Let's dance outside, cowboy. I don't wanna shit where I eat."
"Okay fellows, let's get cleaned up. Mark, see if there are some clothes we can change into while this stuff is in the wash."
"There's a couple white shirts and some slacks in the backpacks." He produces them.
"Alright, everybody, give me your bloody clothes." Doc orders. He's got a big red splotch on his shirt and a spot or two on his jeans. As he takes his marine jacket off, he notices a small stain on the breast of the leather garment. Shit.
Mark's linen undershirt is a disaster. At least he had the foresight to remove his flannel jacket. Dr. Ritenrong throws his labcoat back to the middle seats. It has a few red speckles on it, but more noticeably it's almost grey with grease splotches, chemical burns, and unidentified filth. It's no wonder, Doc has never seen him out of it. He's wearing an ornate, Japanese styled silk t-shirt underneath it.
Thunderhorse is another story entirely. While it's nearly impossible to identify the new stains from the old on his greasy leather armor, almost all of his exposed flesh is smeared red. It's clear he's been rubbing it in, reveling in some kind of viking bloodlust.
"Thunderhorse, we're going to have to hose you off." Doc says. He grabs a canteen from one of the backpacks. He wets his own dirty shirt and hands it to the messy bastard. "Here, wipe down as good as you can. We'll just have to find you a shower."
Thunderhorse grumbles. He's been getting grumpier as the day has gone on. He hasn't had a drink since this morning, and he's really starting to get cranky about it. Thunderhorse reluctantly grabs shirt and cleans his face, arms, and legs. He throws the shirt back at Doc.
Doc changes into the MiBs' slacks and shirt. He hands the other set to Thunderhorse, telling him to put them on. There's a ripping noise as Thunderhorse forces his huge form into the tiny slacks, armor and all. He tears the arms off the shirt before putting it on, leaving it unbuttoned.
"Okay, weapons. Mark, take a pistol and a stun baton."
"Fuck that baton crap. I'll keep my sword, thank you very much. But a pistol sounds just dandy," Mark replies, taking the gun from Doc.
"Steve, can you show Mark how to use that pistol?"
"Shit, son, I'll show you how to use it," Mark says, indignantly. He clicks off the safety. It whirs slightly as power coarses through it from it's battery. He shuts it back off, twirls it on his finger, and puts it in his belt.
Doc hands the baton to Thunderhorse, who straps it to his side. Doc takes the other pistols. He decides to leave the assault rifles behind for now. It doesn't fit into his satchel and is impossible to conceal, and besides, this is a Milwaukee laundromat. If he were still in DC he'd take both, no question.
Doc and Thunderhorse step out of the ship into the rooftop laundromat parking lot. The fog below the building stinks to high heaven. It smells like Swamp Thing took a gigantic shit and then killed himself a month ago. These are just the occasional wafts that are swept up from the depths by the cool breeze.
"Ugh, it smells like a bag of rotting assholes," Thunderhorse remarks, holding his arm to his nose as they cross the parking lot swiftly.
Inside Suds is everything advertised outside. Pool tables divide the room between bar and laundromat. The bulk of the patrons, middle aged, middle class, middle weight women sit at the bar drinking while the machines whir along with their chores. A couple of butch, leather clad women, the Harley owners judging by the insignia and iron crosses all over their jackets, bandannas, and chaps, are playing pool and enjoying a pitcher of beer apiece.
Everyone turns to Doc and Thunderhorse as they walk in. Thunderhorse goes straight to a bar stool. Doc goes over to an empty washing machine and starts loading it up. The washing machines are all combination washer dryers with a few automatic dry cleaning options, and they all inject their own cleaning solutions, fabric softeners, bleach, and everything. Just throw in the clothes (still have to separate them), select the appropriate options, and hit go. Doc can even clean his leather jacket. He loads up the machines and swipes his ID card. It works. The machines spring to life.
Doc joins Thunderhorse at the bar. The bartender, a heavyset blond guy. is having trouble understanding the Tutonic monster. There is a translator, but it doesn't work as well as Doc's Thunderhorse is getting irate, and the bartender is getting scared.
"[Stout! I said a pitcher of stout!]"
"Impudently! I said an impudent water jug!" the translator echoes.
"I... I'm sorry. I don't, uh..." the bartender stammers. The bar is becoming interested in the scene.
Fortunately Doc arrives in time to settle things. "Just bring us a pitcher. Whatever's on tap," he tells the bartender. The bartender nods, relieved.
It's not long before Mark and Steve decide to join them. Mark is wearing his blue jacket, unbuttoned with no undershirt. He's not carrying his sword.
"Whoo-ee. There sure are some fine fillies in here," he exclaims as he enters the place. He strides confidently towards the two ladies playing pool. "Howdy, ladies. I ain't never seen no woman play billiards before."
The two butch lesbians look at each other, confused at Mark's behavior.
"You ladies think you can handle those sticks?" Mark continues.
Their confusion turns to anger. "You want to take us on you little prick?" one says.
"Heh. You women think you can beat me at a man's game? I'll take that wager."
The speaker has to restrain her partner firmly with a stiff palm as she nearly leaps at him. She shoves her back down on the stool. "What's the bet?"
"Well, I ain't had a warm bed for a spell. I reckon I could use one for a night."
The other, angrier one speaks. "How about if you win, we won't kill him. If we win, I get to gut him right fucking here."
"Oooh, feisty. I like that." Mark continues, oblivious to the grave misunderstanding he's just blundered into.
"No, Kelley," says the first. "If he wins, we'll show him the night of his life." There's something between the lines that Mark doesn't catch, but is totally obvious to everyone else. "If we win, then you can kill him."
"Haha, whatever you say, sweetheart. So we playin' doubles or what?" He turns to Doc.
"Well, let's hope they still brew beer. I could go for a few. Mark, see if you can find some moist towelettes so I can get some of this blood of. We look like we just butchered a hog," Doc says.
"Moist towelettes? What? This ain't no brothel, brother," Mark replies, confused.
"Wet napkins. Something to clean up with."
"Oh. There ain't nothing like that back here."
"We'll stop at a laundromat or something," Steve says as he punches in the coordinates to take them to Milwaukee. The HUD tunnel changes course. Steve takes the controls and guides the ship in. Their orbit lowers through a cleared section of the junk field into a heavily trafficked space lane. They merge behind a light freight shuttle. Smaller, faster ships zip past them on an inside orbit. After a few minutes, they drop towards the Earth.
The Python burns through the Earth's atmosphere smoothly. It's quite a fireworks show watching hot plasma burn all around the tinted glass roof of the cabin. The descent is quick and not as rough as in the Pu. Within minutes they're back over North America, once again flying at hypersonic speeds towards the Great Lakes.
The North American wilderness, however, is now replaced by sprawling circuitboards of cities, reaching suburban tendrils through sparse quilts of farmland. There is plenty of traffic in the air. Several other ships came down from the space lane off ramp, each breaking off in turn as they head to their destinations across North America.
Dr. Ritenrong slows the ship and descends as they approach Lake Michigan. It's hard to tell what city is what. Chicago seems to have spread across the entire Great Lakes region, as if concrete, glass and steel were crystalizing, creating a crust around the waterways like calcium deposits around a long clogged kitchen sink. The ship's HUD seems to know where it's going, though, and leads them on a winding slolem through Milwaukee airspace.
The buildings are very, very tall. Doc remembers the construction boom after the Middle East crisis. Lots of large office towers were built all across North America with the intention of creating jobs in construction, architecture, and interior design. However, that plan all came apart when it turned out there was no one to rent office space except construction contracting companies, architectural firms, and interior designers. So, a lot of empty office buildings were transformed into residential apartments and people from overcrowded cities around the world moved in to take advantage of desperately low prices. This lowered the employment percentage drastically, and that is about where Doc left it.
Things seem to have picked up, though. The air is clear of smog, the temperature is in the mid 80's (practically a snow day in Doc's time), and the city looks clean, kept, and economically fertile. Glass office buildings as blue as the sky are busy with luxurious flying cars landing and leaving at many levels. Green terraces and rooftop parks are filled with fit pedestrians and energetic dogs. The upper part of the city looks well-to-do.
The lower levels don't look so good, though. Steve pilots the ship down through the mid levels, which still get some sunlight, like the streets of the New York Doc remembers. Below them is nothing but shadows and fog. Dr. Ritenrong brings the ship down on a rooftop which rises just a few floors above the darkness.
They land in the parking lot, which is on the roof of a large apartment building almost entirely obscured by thick, grey fog. There's another building on top of this building. It's like they stopped at a store in the clouds in a valley of rectangular and cylindrical mountains. The holographic sign over the door reads "Suds" sandwiched between a cartoonish beer glass frothing over and a washing machine doing the same, all underlined by a pool que and punctuated with an eight-ball.
The other vehicles in the lot are much smaller than the Python, much older, and in various states of disrepair. None of them are designed for space flight, only atmostpheric transit, and probably not very far at that. The nicest looking vehicles are a pair of well ridden Harley Davidson skycycles. A few people are coming and going, pushing wheeled carts or carrying baskets and bags full of clothes. They are mostly older, or at least worn out by life, and wearing cheap grubby garments, but that's probably why they're here anyway.
"Where and when are the other agents?" Doc demands. "I want dates, times, places; everything."
"I don't know!" Cho Sing Tsu replies.
Doc becomes solemn. He hasn't had to face this kind of decision since his time in the Wastelands. "Thunderhorse," he says, "take his thumb."
The man in black screams and struggles against his ropes. Thunderhorse laughs as only a viking can. He punches the man in the face and grabs his hand. A blood curdling scream rocks their eardrums. Red bubbles float around their heads, bouncing off the walls and ceiling, sticking to their clothes.
"Times. Dates. Places. Numbers. All of it, or your balls are next." Doc says, calmly.
The man in black is blubbering and crying. "I don't know! They only tell me enough to complete my assignment!"
"Where is your generator? When is your point of entry?" Doc demands.
"Fuck you! I will not betray the Republic!" Cho spits blood at him.
"Thunderhorse," is all Doc has to say.
The struggle only worsens the screams. Doc gives him another chance. "One more time. Where is your generator?" Doc asks firmly. Cho only whimpers. Doc turns to Thunderhorse and nods.
Thunderhorse completes the deed. The back seat becomes a grotesque lava lamp. The man in black goes into shock and passes out. Doc opens the airlock bulkhead behind the backseat and helps Thunderhorse push him in.
Fuck him, thinks Doc as he seals the bulkhead. He deserves no mercy. He signed up for a ruthless government, he gets what they would have given him. Doc lifts the black and yellow safety off the airlock release. An honorable death by airlock at most. He pulls the red lever. An alarm sounds fifteen times at one second intervals. The airlock opens. The body blows out. Farewell young traveler; and good riddance. He closes the airlock again.
"Well, that was unpleasant," Dr. Ritenrong remarks. He flips some switches, increasing the airflow through the filtration system, clearing out the bulk of the blood blobs floating around the cabin. The walls and upholstery seem to be liquid resistant; the blood simply bounces off of them. The crew's clothes, however, are not. Thunderhorse is a mess.
Doc cleans his knife off before putting it away. He digs through the MiBs' backpacks. He pulls out one of the cups from the stackable titanium cooking gear. He brings it to Steve. "Here," he says. "Make a wormhole in this and mark the time."
Steve understands. He breaks away from his computing and does so. Doc puts it back in with the cooking gear, covering up the cup and keeping it safe.
"Any luck with the search?" Doc asks Steve, taking his seat at the copilot's station.
"Nothing. I don't understand it. The long range tracking stations haven't seen the Pu or the Younger Brother Pear anywhere in the solar system. This stupid era doesn't have quantum communications yet, so the best data I can get from the rim is from a year ago. I can't find any part of the MARV-IN in any docking registry, ever. I'm now trying to dig up any data from nearby solar systems, but the best data is from Alpha Centuari and it's four years old. The next best bet is data couriers, but they're so locked down it's ridiculous."
"Yeah. In pre-FTL communications eras like this, every ship on an extrasolar route carries as much data as their hard drives can fit between stars. Then they sell that information for as much as they can get. The locations of other ships, their cargo, and routes is a fucking premium price to pirates, so the government pays even more to get it first. Needless to say, they've got that stuff secured tighter than a dolphin's virgin asshole. It's going to take me a while to even find a database."
"So what do you want to do?"
"I'm not going to get anywhere with this ship's computer. It's good, but not good enough. Even if I can locate a courier database with it, it's just not fast enough to break the encryptions within our lifetime. We've got to get to a proper computing center."
"And where would we find that?"
"It just so happens there's one in Milwaukee, Wisconsin."
"You had better start talking or you are going to take a short walk out an airlock! There is a lot of junk up here. One more piece of trash won't be noticed," Doc yells at the man in black.
"I will tell you nothing. You can't scare me," says the man in black.
"Thunderhorse," Doc says, opening his switchblade. "Cut his finger off."
Thunderhorse starts laughing maniacally as he takes the blade from Doc. He grabs the MiB's hogtied hand. The MiB starts screaming.
"No! Stop! Don't! Please!" he protests.
"Who are you? Who do you work for?" Doc demands.
"My name is Cho Sing Tsu. I am a locater for the Democratic Peoples Republic of Exkoreans."
"What is your mission?"
"I was sent to capture you and your time device. "
"How did you learn of the time device? How did you know we would be here?"
"All we had to do is look up your name in the history records. We found you here easily. We have sent agents to every period where your name shows up. We will find you and capture you if we haven't already. You capitalist pigs have broken the Pact for the Non-Militarization of Time. We seek only to balance your power and avoid being wiped from history!"
"What are you talking about? We haven't taken any military actions against you."
"The mere existence of your time device nullifies the treaty. You are a threat and you will be destroyed. Earth will be ours again, and you will all be slaves to the Republic!"
"This thing better have better pick-up than the Jeep or this is going to get ugly quick! Steve, whatever you are doing, do it faster! I hope all these flashing lights are just the turn signals!"
Doc throws the throttle forward. The Python's engines light hard, throwing gravity back into their seats. The ship leaps out the far side of the orbital tunnel, leaving that flight path behind.
"Fuck me!" Doc shouts as he tries to line it back up. He lets go of the throttle and it springs back to neutral, disengaging the engines. He banks the ship left to put it back in place. It continues on its course, sideways. "Damnit, Newton." He hits the throttle again and the ship begins accelerating in its new direction. They're still too fast to stay in the orbital tunnel, now above them.
"Forget the tunnel, just go. We can correct the orbit later. Just don't hit anything," Steve tells him, only briefly turning away from his computer.
Easier said than done. The heads up display lights up like a Christmas tree as small objects once moving at benign speeds glow red with dangerous relative velocities. Micro-meteors crack against the hull like gravel on a windshield. They zip into the unswept upper orbits where the husks of dead satellites fall almost endlessly back to Earth. Doc just barely misses one with a long forgotten XM Radio symbol on it.
"Cease your acceleration at once!" demand the police, chasing close behind them in their sleek, bus-like cruisers. "You are entering a restricted orbit!" They swerve far around the XM satellite.
"What the hell does that mean?" Doc yells at Dr. Ritenrong.
"We're in the junk belt. Don't listen to them, just watch where you're going. Oh, and you might lighten up on the acceleration out here."
Doc realizes he's had the throttle jammed forward the whole time, accelerating at maximum. He loosens his grip, throttling only as needed to avoid the obstacles. With this technique he's able to duck and weave through the space garbage. The police keep tight on his tail.
"Slow down and return to lower orbit," the cops demand. "You are in restricted space!"
Doc is getting testy. "Can't you get them to shut up? Wait- the MiB had government badges. Can we bullshit them into thinking we aren't the droids they are looking for?"
"It's worth a shot. I'll transmit the credentials, you talk to them." Steve replies. "Hit the blue button on the left to open the com channel."
Doc hits the button. "This is ND-121 Python to Earth Orbit Patrol. Disengage your persuit. We are on official government business. Transmitting credentials now."
"This better work," Steve says. He flicks the controls with a flourish.
The cops think about it. Doc steers through the clouds of space junk. The magnetic shields glow as energetic particles bounce off. The proximity alarm is constantly buzzing at varying volumes. Doc's hands are getting sweaty. The police are not far behind.
They slow down and break off. "Credentials acknowledged. We'll be reporting your traffic violations to the Bureau. You Feds do not own the fucking skies. Expect a citation on your next report. EOP out." A flashing light indicates the com channel is closed.
The junk is clearing out. Doc eases off the throttle completely. He relaxes a bit. "I can't believe that worked."
"It won't last long. When they contact whatever Bureau we're supposed to be associated with, they'll find out the credentials are forged. Here," Steve says as he punches the controls. A new orbital tunnel appears off the starboard bow. "Steer into this orbit for now. I'm still trying to find Veronica."
Doc adjusts the ship's throttle and attitude as directed. The ship slides neatly into the artificial tunnel. All the lights are green, which Doc hopes means everything is good.
"Hey Mark, have a look around back there. Is there anything we can use?" Doc asks.
"Already on the case. There's two light railgun assault rifles back here, two ion pulse laser pistols with four power packs, a couple stun batons, two survival backpacks with medkits, a tent, sleeping bags; the works. Looks like someone was planning a camping trip."
A long groan emerges from the back seat. The man in black is waking up.
"Thunderhorse! Hold him down!" Doc says. He unbuckles his seat and floats to the back. Steve hits the autopilot button for him.
Thunderhorse is already back there. He rolls the man in black onto his stomach. Mark goes back with a rope from the camping gear and ties up his arms and legs. The man in black protests in Korean.
[Let me go, dicks!]" the translator echoes.
The outer corridor of the Sun Tower is crowded with hover carts and scooters racing towards the docking bay. Every cart is overloaded with passengers. Doc's hover cart is over it's weight limit, but still moving along with the flow of traffic.
The man in black is still unconscious. Thunderhorse is sitting on him. Mark is keeping an eye on him. The two other passengerskeep asking about the condition of their "friend." Mark keeps shutting them up with "He's fine."
"I've got some water here, do you want to splash some water on his face? That might wake him up," suggests the goggled swimmer sitting on the back of the cart.
"No thanks. We'll take care of him," Doc shouts back.
"He's fine. Shut up."
As they pass into the marked safe zone, high enough to be clear of the rising water, the traffic lightens up. Some carts drop off their passengers and head back down to gather more. Doc stops the cart and their two extra passengers get off. Doc continues towards the docking bay.
Doc pulls out his I-Browse. "Steve? Are you there? Veronica? Anyone? Can you hear me?"
Steve finally replies. "I'm here. I thought I said keep off the air."
"We've captured one of the men in black. We're on our way to the docking bay. Where are you?"
"I'm already there. Have you seen Mark or Thunderhorse?"
"They're with me. Have you heard from Veronica?"
"No. I can't find any sign of her or the Younger Brother Pear."
"Well, we've got another problem," Doc says. "The campus detective knows who I am and knows that we've broken the time travel treaty. He's called the CIA, and they're on their way now."
"You're kidding me. Do they know about me?"
"He didn't mention you."
"Okay. Get up here fast. I'll arrange some transportation."
Doc pockets the I-Browse and floors the hover cart. Within a few moments, they're in the docking bay. Doc circles around the now empty water tower until he sees Dr. Ritenrong. He stops the cart and Dr. Ritenrong gets on. He immediately begins rifling through the man in black's pockets. He pulls out the pain gun, some ID cards, and a datapad. He puts on his sun glasses.
"Aha. Doc, go to section E-Green-17. Look for a sporty black ship."
Doc finds it easily. He saw it landing earlier. It's a sporty black thing, triangular and aerodynamic with two large engines at the back. It's passenger compartment is about the size of an SUV. Steve jumps out of the hover cart, wearing the glasses and wielding one of the ID cards. He waves it at the side of the ship. Nothing happens.
"Thunderhorse! Bring him over here!" Steve shouts.
Thundherhorse dismounts the cart, hauling the MiB's body to Steve. Steve puts the glasses on him. He puts the MiB's hand on a plate on the side of the ship with one hand and peels one of his eyelids open with the other. The cockpit window slides back, and the sides of the ship fold down into stairs.
"Okay," says Steve. "Everyone on board!" The party leaves the cart behind and get on the ship.
There's some shouting behind them as Mark helps Thunderhorse haul the MiB on board. The other MiB is running towards them.
"Steve, it's the other one!" Doc shouts, readying his pain gun. Mark and Thunderhorse throw their prisoner into the back seat.
"Don't worry about him, just get in your seats!" Steve shouts. He's in the pilots seat pushing buttons furously. The sides of the ship fold back up and the cockpit window slides shut. The engines fire up. The MiB is still running through the parking lot, shouting and waving his fists. They can't hear him.
The ship lifts off. Dr. Ritenrong shouts into an intercom. "This is ND-121 'Python' requesting clearance for emergency departure."
"You and the rest of the station," replies a rather snarky and overworked flight controller. "Request denied. Set down. Repeat, set down! Submit your passenger manifest and get in line. There's 107 in front of you."
Steve tries harder. "This is a medical emergency. ND-121 requests clearance for immediate departure!"
"Bullshit. You've got one unconscious with a minor head injury. Now put her back down and wait your turn," replies the flight controller.
"Fuck this shit," mumbles Steve. He takes a deep breath and throws the throttle forward. Steve barely misses a half dozen ships currently lifting off. He very nearly scrapes the top of the ship on the airlock portal while flying over a departing ship. The flight controller is screaming at him.
"Orbital patrol is on its way to intercept you! Your license is going to be revoked! You are in so much-" Steve shuts off the com link.
The Python blasts past a line of ships heading into a landing approach. Steve flies the ship into a higher orbit, lighting up the heads up display with navigational information.
He turns to Doc in the copilot's seat. "Doc," he says, "take the controls. I've got to check out a few things. "
"Uh, I've never..."
Steve points out the controls. "Up, down, bank right, bank left. Throttle, brakes. Don't worry about anything else right now. Just keep the nose in the box," he explains, referring to the tunnel-like series of boxes on the heads up display.
Steve turns his chair to a computer to his left and starts pounding away at the keys as fast as he can. Doc keeps the ship steady through the artificial tunnel. The computer tells him to slow down to enter a steady orbit. He does so. It's surprisingly easy.
An alarm sounds. The heads up display points out two ships approaching from behind. A message starts blinking. "Emergency com override."
"This is Earth Orbital Patrol. Remain on course and prepare to be boarded."
"Shit!" shouts Steve. "They're here fast! Floor it!"
"[Thunderhorse! It's them!]" Doc yells. Mark, ahead of them in the crowd, turns back upon hearing Doc's voice. He draws his sword.
The two men in black reach into their inside pockets, trading their pain guns for tonfas. They whip them out to their full extension. They do not expect the steel blade falling on them from behind. Mark strikes one on the arm, forcing him to drop his club.
The other man in black swings at Doc's head, not noticing his partner's peril. But Doc is ready and steps back just as the tonfa passes his head. Doc already has his pain gun out. He steps back to get a clear shot, but the main in black is too fast. He steps away just as Doc activates the emitter.
Unfortunately for him, the man in black steps right into Thunderhorse's fist. His jaw buckles sideways as the leathery viking knuckles plow through his face.
The crowd behind them stops and gasps as they watch the fight. From the sound of the voices behind them and the ever louder sound of rushing water, they wont wait long.
Doc blasts the man in black with the pain gun. Still dazed from being hit in the face, he isn't able to get away this time. He shrieks in pain and takes off running up the hallway. Thunderhorse runs up after him.
The first man in black, having been disarmed, is in a martial arts stance and strikes at Mark, landing a good chop on Mark's arm. Mark retaliates with a swipe of his blade, but the man in black jumps back away from it, right into Thunderhorse. Thunderhorse nails him with a right hook, knocking him silly.
The crowd is getting anxious as the water is still rising. A few braver souls begin to push their way out of the traffic jam and run past the combatants. The main in black, still reeling from the pain gun, disappears into the escaping crowd.
His partner, unfazed by Thunderhorse's punch, throws a roundhouse kick at Mark, hitting him in the gut. Doc tries to hit him with the pain gun, but he dodges. Thunderhorse throws another punch, the man in black blocks it. Mark swings his sword, but the man is in full out ninja kill mode and again, dodges.
The crowd is now completely fed up with this silly fight and begins rushing past them en mass. Mark sheaths his sword, unable to swing it with any effect. Instead, he lunges at the man in black, grabbing him in a bear hug. The man in black tries to break free, but can't. Doc comes up behind the man in black and whacks him with his pain gun. The man in black goes limp.
"[Thunderhorse! Help mark carry him and follow me!]" Doc shouts above the screaming crowd. Mark turns the man around so he's got his back while Thunderhorse grabs his legs. Doc runs over to the hover cart where a half dozen people are piling on.
"Sorry, folks, but we need this!" Doc shouts as he hits them with the pain gun. They all jump off, shouting while Doc gets in the drivers seat. Thunderhorse and Mark throw the body on the backseat and jump on. It doesn't take Doc long to get the thing going, it works just like a golf cart. As he turns the cart around to join the cart traffic in the outer corridor, a couple of the people he had shooed away before jump back on, shouting a variety of insults.
The hover cart goes like mad, even with the full load. Soon, they're going at least forty miles an hour up the outer corridor, following the other hover carts on their way to safety.
Everyone runs for the door. The captain's message repeats endlessly.
"Steve! Come in Steve!" Doc yells into his I-Browse.
There's no response.
"Steve, if you can hear me, I've got Mark and Thunderhorse. Meet us in the hanger!"
Outside the OUE Campus Security station, Officer MacDougle-Kowalski is warming up a hover cart.
"Can we get a ride to the top?" Doc asks her as she mounts up.
"No can do. I'm going down to the grotto to grab as many people as I can. I need all the seats I can get!" she yells back as she takes off at full speed down the corridor.
Everyone in the corridor is going the opposite way; towards the top of the tower. Many of them are in bathing suits, escaping from the grotto. Very few are really panicing, most of them are calm and collected but moving swiftly. They must've drilled for this kind of thing before. Doc remembers all the terror attack drills he had to endure in college. With the gravity malfunctioning, the floor now feels sloped. It's going to be a long run spiraling up the half-mile high tower.
Doc, Mark, and Thunderhorse join the uphill jog. The captain's message is still repeating. Hovercarts zoom by carrying elderly and handicapped passengers. Doc can hear the sound of rushing water behind them. The crowd seems a little more anxious as they pick up the pace into a full run. OUE Security hover carts go back and forth even faster now, shuttling passengers as quickly as they can to just out of harms way, then running back for more.
It's not long before they reach ground level as they race around the spiraling hallway. More traffic is flooding in from outside as people from all over campus try to make their way to safety. A few foot guards lead the people through the arcade to the inner corridor where the rest of the crowd runs.
The three start to get seperated a little buit as more people flood into the inner corridor, but they can still see each other. Hovercarts race around the outer corridor whisking passengers to safety. A hovercart stops at an arcade in front of the team. A chunk of the crowd peels off to try to catch a ride, but they immediately run back into the corridor, screaming.
The two men in black dismount the hovercart, forcing people away with their pain guns. They step out into the crowd, forcing people aside. They stand right in Doc's way.
Doc glares across David Zorn's desk, into the eyes of the cop. The man is worried, yet excited. He's thrilled that such a mystery has fallen into his lap, glad that the boring everyday bullshit has been interrupted. But he's concerned about the safety of the station, his station. No, the fate of the human species. Doc has brought the wrath of an entire nation upon his defenseless satellite and history its self.
Doc talks to him. "Listen, you want to chat. I'm sure you have a million questions, and you seem like a nice enough guy, so we will chat. But I want a few things straight off or I have nothing to say."
"Go ahead," Zorn replies.
"First off, I want our stuff back. All of it, especially a switchblade knife that belongs to me. You'll know it when you see it. Bone handle with an onyx Chinese dragon on the side with gold trim. Second, I need to make a phone call, now. Third, if these Exkoreans want this 'time thingy' so badly and they will stop at nothing, what makes you think that I'm safe here in your jail? I don't feel safe and I won't feel safe until I'm far from here, so we need to discuss how and when I'm getting the fuck out of here. I understand you have a job to do and I respect that. I'm just some freak of nature that happened to wind up on your desk today. You really don't want the kind of headaches that would come from keeping me here. If there is a fine, I'll pay it. If there are damages, I'll cover those too, but I have got to get out of here pronto."
Detective Zorn thinks for a moment. "This matter is beyond my jurisdiction. I can arrest you and charge you with all stupid shit you pulled upstairs, sure. But you're right. I can't keep you here. The Exkoreans don't care about interstellar boundaries, and now they don't care about temporal ones. They'll send their entire Space Fleet here if they have to, and this station does not have the defenses to stop even the smallest of their fighters. Which is why I'll be turning you over to the CIA."
Doc is pissed. "Detective, do you have any guess at all why a respected historian would just disappear into history only to turn up years later for a scuffle in a bar on your turf? Any guess at all? I'll tell you. I have been working with a crack team of scientists trying to stop the end of the universe. I understand that sounds about as corny as a cheap sci-fi movie, but that is the God's honest truth. And if I don't get my team back together and the fuck out of Dodge, everything that ever was or ever will be, will be gone instantly. Now what else would you like to talk about?"
Detective Zorn thinks for a moment. He presses a button on his desk.
"Yes, sir?" replies MacDougle-Kowalski's voice over the intercom.
"Get Dr. Shaw's effects out of evidence, including his knife, and release his friends from custody."
"Just do it. Now."
Detective Zorn turns his chair back around. "Get the hell off my station."
"Wait. Where are the two Exkoreans? Do you have them in custody?"
"No. They gave fake government credentials. My officers to let them go before I could verify them. They're still on the station somewhere."
"I need a ship. My ride isn't here. I can't leave without a ship."
"The only ship I can offer you is the CIA transport when it arrives. They're already on their way. I'll be more than happy to wait for them with you."
"Then get the hell out of here."
Doc gets up from the rickety ex-hover chair and goes to the door. He turns back, briefly. "Thank you."
Detective Zorn does not reply. Doc leaves.
Officer Janet MacDougle-Kowalski is waiting in the hall with Doc's satchel. She hands it to him. Thunderhorse and Mark Daniels are waiting just behind her. Thunderhorse has his helmet. Mark is strapping on his sword.
"I knew you could come through for us, Doc," says Mark, smiling. He finishes buckling his belt. "Now if I could just find my hat."
Doc digs through his satchel. He pulls out his pocket gear and re-equips himself. "Where's my knife?"
Janet hands it to him. It's vacuum sealed in a plastic bag. His lighter is in the same condition beneath it. He tears both bags open at once. He pockets the lighter, but holds the knife for a moment. He feels whole again with the thing in his hand. He puts it away for know.
The walls suddenly shake. The entire station rumbles. The walls turn red and an alarm sounds across the entire station.
"[Earthquake!]" Thunderhorse yells.
"But we're in space!" Doc shouts above the alarms.
Detective Zorn appears from within his office. "What the fuck was that?"
Janet checks her computer. "Explosion in the waterworks! The manuseisium pumps have been disabled and the backups are not functioning!"
"The what?" Doc yells.
A voice on an intercom interrupts the alarms. "Attention! Attention! This is Captain Haldron. We've lost gravitational control of the water tower. The campus is flooding. It will reach twenty meters in ten minutes. If you cannot reach Sun Tower, get to the top floor of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, or Neptune Halls. All hover vehicles have been dispatched. Allow all children, handicapped, and elderly guests to get on first. This is not a drill. This is an emergency. Message Repeat..."
"They got my FUCKING knife! My one and only thing I've got left from my life, and they fucking took it! Ian gave me that knife and I want the Mother Fucker back!"
Doc is rather upset.
"Hey, hey, its okay, buddy. They've got my sword, too. It was my father's." Mark replies
"[They took my helmet, those fuckers.]" Thunderhorse says, untranslated by any technological wonders. "[I killed that goat with my bare hands when I was nine.]"
"I hope you can understand him, Doc. He's pissin' me off with all this 'grunka-ick-buck-fuck' bullshit."
"[Silence, you lowland toad!]" Thunderhorse retorts. "[Doc, may I kill him now?]"
"[Not yet,]" Doc replies. He looks around. There are four holding cells, each one the same as the last: transparent wall, toilet, bench, and bunks, and all of them are empty except this one. "Have you guys seen any men in black suits and dark glasses?" He repeats the question in German for Thunderhorse.
"Nope. Yer the first person we've seen since we woke up in here. Well, you and that cute lady guard who comes in to check on us every now and then. Why?"
Doc recounts the short version of the story, repeating each sentence for Thunderhorse. "These two men approached me in the hanger while I was trying to find the Pu. They tried to kidnap me or something. I ran into a bar to try to get away from them, but they followed me. So I held them off until the police arrived."
"[By Thor! Combat on hallowed ground. How many did you kill? Did you get any scars?]"
"[None. One of them kicked me in the gut really good, but I punched him in the face and knocked him to the ground.]" Doc exaggerates only slightly. Thunderhorse laughs and claps him on the back with honor.
Doc rests on the bunk. It's not very long before Officer MacDougle-Kowalski appears again, this time without the riot gear. She's very pretty; a green-eyed burnette, fit and athletic.
"Hey, darlin'," Mark calls to her. "Came back to see me again, eh?"
She ignores him. "Dr. Shaw? Detective Zorn will see you, now." She opens the door.
Mark moves towards the door. She hits a button on her wrist computer. Mark screams in pain and hits the floor.
"Damnit, woman! That shit hurts!" he yells at her.
"Then stop being an asshole and stay seated. Dr. Shaw, please come with me."
Doc leaves the cell. She escorts him down the sterile hallways to Detective Zorn's office. It's a stark contrast to the rest of the station; the floor is worn with pacing, his desk is cluttered with datapads and electropaper. The ambient wall lighting is dimmed by a layer of dust and grime.
Officer MacDougle-Kowalski lets Doc through the door, staying in the hallway. The door slides closed behind him.
"Have a seat, Dr. Shaw." says a voice from the other side of the swivel chair. Doc sits in one of the two broken hover chairs which are now supported by hastily welded-on aluminum legs. It is wobbly and uneven.
The owner of the voice swivels around. It's a large man in his late forties, with graying hair and traditional cop mustache. His face looks like he was on the losing side of a fight with a cinder block. He's still pouring over a datapad as he turns. He sets it down and looks up at Doc.
"Dr. Lucas Shaw. A pleasure to meet you," he says, extending a friendly hand. Doc shakes it, awkwardly. "I'm Detective David Zorn, I'll be handling your case."
"Nice to meet you," Doc replies, not sure quite what to say.
"It really is you, isn't it? Famous professor lost to history?"
Doc says nothing.
"DNA is a perfect match. I could hardly believe it when I saw the results. So I suppose you're wondering just who those men were? The ones that came after you?"
"Yes. Who were they? What did they want?"
"Exkorean agents. They want you, Dr. Shaw, and your time travel device."
"My time travel device?"
"Don't play dumb, Doc. I may be just an over decorated mall cop for some whiny goddamned rich-ass teenagers and a bunch of fucking horny dolphins, but I'm not stupid. This is huge. Do you have any idea the consequences of breaking the Causality treaty? The Exkoreans are pissed, Doc. They know you have a time device, and they'll stop at nothing to get it."
"Thank God you're here! They are trying to kill me!" Doc shouts as he drops to the ground, placing his ID at the cop's feet and putting his hands on his head. "Just ask the dolphins!"
"Please reserve all statements until formally questioned, sir. Anything you do or say may be used against you in any possibly forthcoming legal proceedings," the security officer parrots from her handbook. He scans the ID card with a laser, which intones a reassuring confirmation.
Doc looks over into the Lounge. The other patrons are all on the ground getting their IDs scanned. The two men in black are on the ground, too. They are let up. An officer takes their statements. Doc can't make out what's being said.
"Okay, sir, please stand but do not move from this position. Keep your hands on your head." orders the officer standing over Doc. Doc complies. The name MacDougle-Kawalski is crammed onto on her lapel. "Do you consent to a search? If you do not consent I will have to arrest you."
Doc nods. "Go ahead."
She disconnects his satchel straps and sets it aside. Then she frisks him, pulling out everything she can find: his pain gun, the switchblade, the I-Browse, his chew, the multi-tool, his pen, comb, and wallet, everything. Then she goes through the nylon satchel. After examining the contents, she places his effects inside it.
She extends her forearm towards him, activating a recording device in her computer-armband. "Please state your version of the events. Speak loudly and clearly."
Doc tries to look her in the eyes, but her tinted riot mask hides her face too well. He recounts the tale of the last few minutes, starting in the hanger all the way to the present. There are a few slight alterations. "Well, I decided to come out of the bathroom and face them, find out what they wanted. But I needed to calm my nerves. So I bought the strongest bottle of alcohol I could find," and, "When they hit me with the pain gun I accidentally dropped the bottle and soaked their pants in Everclear," and "I thought I was safe with the lock on, so I crouched down against the door. I needed a smoke to clear my head so I got out my lighter, but I forgot I had run out of cigarettes. When they unlocked the door and pushed it open, I was startled and I accidentally flicked the lighter. Well, the one guys pants caught fire because of the alcohol, but the other one pushed in anyway."
Doc finishes up his story. Officer MacDougle-Kowalski switches off her recorder. "Thank you, sir. I appreciate your cooperation. Unfortunately, I will need to escort you to OUE Security Offices to be detained until your statements can be analyzed by our detectives. Your effects will be returned to you if there are no charges filed against you. Except for your switchblade, which will be confiscated. You will be cited for carrying an unlicensed concealed weapon. Now, please turn around and place your hands behind your back." She pulls out a pair of magnetic handcuffs.
"What am I being charged with?" Doc asks.
"It has not yet been determined that you will be charged with anything. We are merely holding you under suspicion until our detectives can analyze your case."
"You can't detain me without charging me."
"Yes, we can. Section 142.A-60.1MP-Q of Article 8.932 of the Earth International Orbital Code of Regulations and Bill of Rights states that any person under suspicion of committing a violent crime must be detained until cleared of said suspicion."
"Okay, what am I under suspicion for?"
"Public brawling, attempted arson, mishandling of volatile substances, possession of an unlicensed fire-starting device, carrying a concealed weapon, and destruction of property without a permit."
"There's Everclear and broken glass all over the floor, your boot print on that chaise lounge, and you knocked over a beer glass. Now, please, turn around and put your hands behind your back or I will be forced to neuralize you. I don't want to do that, sir, you seem like a nice guy."
Doc doesn't like the sound of being neuralized, so he turns around. The cuffs go on. She leads him to the back seat of her hover scooter. Her partner joins them and they drive off down the corridor.
The OUECS office is extremely white and blue. It's hospital like in its sterility, with a waist-high streak of blue paint along the walls in a straight, robotic line broken only by white text and arrows leading one to the various sections and offices within the station. The place is brightly lit, with no discernible source. It's simply ambient.
"Do I get a phone call?" Doc asks.
"A what?" replies MacDougle-Kowalski.
"A phone call? You know, can I call my friends to bail me out?"
"Phone? Bail? Oh, wow, I haven't heard that one in a while. Haha! Good one."
"Is that a no?"
"You will have the opportunity to notify your contacts of your incarceration once you've been processed."
After a quick laser fingerprinting, mugshot, retinal scan, and cheek swabbing, Doc is placed in a holding cell. The holding cell is also white with the blue streak and cell number. The walls are thick, clear acrylic. There's two small bunks, a chrome bench, and a combination toilet-sink.
Mark and Thunderhorse are sitting on the bunk. They greet him as the door closes behind him.
"Hey, partner. They finally catch you, too?" Mark asks.
"Thank you gentlemen, but I'm enjoying myself here with my new friends..oops!"
Doc dumps the contents of the Everclear bottle at the two men in black before dropping it at their feet, with a little extra oomph. The bottle shatters on the steel-toe of the MiB's boot, soaking their pants and the surrounding floor in 190 proof alcohol. He snags the lighter from his pocket as swiftly as he can.
Before he can get down to light it, though, the two men raise their pain guns. Doc jumps to the left over the chaise lounge he was sitting on as the red light of the rightmost man's pain gun illuminates. Unfortunately, he jumps right into the line of fire of the second pain gun.
The pain is incredible. It's like a million bullet ants crawled under Doc's skin and set themselves on fire. Doc can't even think, it's completely unbearable. His body responds the only way it can; by running away.
He heads back towards the bathroom doors. "HELP! RAPE! FIRE! MURDER! POLICE! HELP!" he screams at the top of his lungs as he flees. Within moments, he's safe behind the metal door, away at last from the nerve-searing radiation.
There's no lock on the door. "LOCK!" he yells at it. Surprisingly, it clicks shut.
Doc surveys the bathroom for useful items, preferably something flammable. No paper towels, only hand dryers. No toilet paper in the stalls, all the toilets have automatic bidets and blow driers. No sanitary sheets, either. Fucking futuristic self-cleaning wipe-your-ass-for-you toilets, he thinks.
The door shakes and knocks as the two men. Doc regrets his decision to run this way, but there's really no overriding instinct. They stop banging on the door. Doc can hear one of the men saying something. It's not clear what; it does not sound like English. The translator can't pick up the sound muffled by the door. It seems to be a series of short, sharp commands.
The door unlocks its self. Doc squats behind the door, blocking it. A booted foot slides in to hold it open. He tries to light the pant leg on fire. The owner moves it back too swiftly. Doc pushes against the door again. The leg re-appears to wedge it open. Doc sets it on fire this time.
The man screams as he runs off, shaking his leg. Suddenly, the door slams Doc back as the second man shoves it hard. Doc staggers back, still on his feet but dropping his lighter. The man's pain gun lines up on him. Doc steps quickly into the man's personal space, grabs the offending arm and slams it into the wall, forcing him to drop the weapon. Doc lands a right hook on the man's jaw.
The man in black shrugs off the hit. He yanks his arm hard back out of Doc's grip and falls back into a martial arts stance. He launches a powerful jab directly at Doc's neck. Doc just barely ducks away from it.
Fuck me running! Doc thinks. He can hear the air popping from the force of the strike. This guy is not fucking around. There's no way out of this bathroom except through this guy.
Doc charges, trying to push past the man in black. The man blocks the whole door and stops his progress, shoving Doc back with a sharp jab to the chest. Doc falls back but does not fall over. He quickly regains his balance and charges again, harder this time. The man in black kicks into Doc's gut, but Doc shoves back hard with his whole, aching body. The man in black loses his balance and falls backwards onto the floor behind the bar.
Doc runs like hell. The other MiB, whose leg is still in the ice-filled beer cooler, fires his pain gun at him as he runs. The pain hits Doc once again. It's like a kidney stone in his eyes and napalm in his blood. He keeps on running, past Nigel, Frans, and Glorth who were standing by, watching the fight.
A few Dolphins are swimming in the tank in front of the bar, also observing this crazy human spectacle. Red and blue lights are flashing and a siren wails. A hover scooter carrying two OUE Security officers approaches from the right, while another two foot guards run toward the scene from the left. The hover scooter stops in front of Doc.
"Hands on your head! Down on the ground!" one of them yells as he dismounts, pointing his sonic blaster at Doc's face.
The other jumps off and runs into the Blue Lounge, reciting his practiced anthem. "This is a security control! Everyone remain calm! Please kneel, and place your hands on the ground in front of you! Have your ID cards ready for scanning!"