:

Mirror Friend, Mirror Foe 7




Hosato was about to repeat his question, then held his silence.

Fifteen thousand with no results guaranteed. Gedge shook his head in mock admiration. I dont mind admitting, Hosato, Id be willing todo nothing for a lot less than that.

He laughed at his own joke before continuing.

So there you were, no loyalties to Ravensteel, no career to worry about, nothing to inspire you to finish the mission except more money. Now, the Mc. Crae security system is tight, maybe the best except for ours. Theres no way you could crack that system without risking your life, and with fifteen thousand in your packet, why should you?

Hosato thought of his familys generations-long record of successful missions, but kept his silence.

Now, heres where I take my hat off to you, Hosato. Gedge smiled. Ninety-nine out of a hundred space bums would have taken the money and run, but not you. You saw a way to squeeze a few more credits out of the situation. You reveal yourself to Mc. Crae, and offer to use your position with Ravensteel to get a spy through the doornot just a spy, but their own chief of security!

Hosato forced a smile. I suppose it doesnt make an impression on anyone that shes had her arm blown off.

That was a nice touch, Gedge admitted. It almost worked, until I reminded the board that Sasha would probably let you cut off both her legs to get an inside look at Ravensteel security.

I see, Hosato said thoughtfully.

So the only question left is, how much did they pay you, or, more important, how much will it cost to get you back on our side?

Hosato met his eyes and smiled. For a brief moment anger flashed in Gedges ice-blue eyes; then it was gone.

Youre a brassy bastard! He laughed, shaking his head. I think its safe to say the board will probably go along with it, especially since you brought them a present.

Hows that?

Sasha, of course. Gedge winked again. She was your ace in the hole all along. She has enough data on Mc. Crae security in her head to keep my team busy for a long time. I dont know how you got her to go along with this, but bringing her with you gives you the leverage you need to change sides again. Sheer brilliance.

Hosato shrugged modestly and stood up, extending his hand. Well, he said, I tried. Its good to be working for Ravensteel again.

Gedge ignored his hand. When will you be ready to start? he asked. As soon as we get the information out of Sasha, I assume.

Actually". Hosato smiled. I wont have to wait that long. Ive gotten most of the data I need. Just keep her here and away from Mc. Crae until Im done. Incidentally"he shot a glance around the room

what did you do with the other two. The kid and the mechanic.

Were holding them next door. Gedge gestured at the door in the wall. We werent sure if we should kick 'em off-planet or just kill them.

Keep 'em, Hosato advised. Theyll make good hostages.

Hey, thats a good idea, Gedge admitted. Say, what is that thing, anyway?

Hosato had started to pick up his gear from the desk.

This? he asked, holding up a six-inch metal rod with a sharp point.

Yeah. Is it a poison injector or a climbing spike or what?

Hosato smiled. Actually, its much simpler than that, he confided. It works like this.

As he spoke, he released the throwing spike with a sharp snap of his wrist. The spike darted across the room and embedded half its length in the forehead of the watching guard.

 

 

A surprised look spread across the guards face; then he crumpled to the floor.

Gedge blinked, then started to turn to Hosato.

An epee was in Hosatos hand, and a gleam of light from the overhead lamp shone from its needle point, hovering inches from Gedges throat.

Dont even twitch, Gedge, he said coldly. There arent many reasons for keeping you alive, and lots for killing you. All I need is an excuse to change my mind.

Gedge swallowed hard but kept his voice level. What . . . Whats your game, Hosato?

Thats the problem, Hosato retorted. Youve got it into your head Im out to destroy Ravensteel. Well, thats your prerogative. Its mine not to go along with it.

Gedge licked his lips nervously. Okay, Hosato. Put the sword away and lets talk it out.

No deal. Now we play it my way. He edged over to the fallen guard and retrieved the blaster, shifting the sword to his left hand.

How many guards on the two next door? he demanded.

Look, Hosato, we can

How many?

Two.

Hosato moved sideways until he stood against the wall beside the door into the adjoining room.

If youre lying, Gedge, youll be the first to go. Now, open the door and call to them.

Gedge hesitated, then moved to the door and opened it.

Weve got a code Delta, he announced casually.

In a flash Hosato was in the doorway, his blaster leveled at the occupants of the next room.

Freeze! he snarled.

The two guards, hands on the butts of their blasters, froze in place. Rick and James were seated on a sofa against the far wall, apparently unharmed. Hosato noted with satisfaction they had failed to relieve James of his dress swordprobably didnt consider it a serious weapon.

All right, toss your blasters into the corner, he instructed the guards. Easy!

The guards obeyed with leaden slowness.

Nice try, Gedge, Hosato commented to his captive as the blasters thudded into the corner. I dont know what a code Delta is, but I had a hunch I wouldnt like it. Okay, Rick, get their

Gedge kicked the door shut on his arm and rushed him.

Fighting the pain of his pinned arm, Hosato hammered at his assailant with the bell guard of his epee. Gedge was inside the length of the sword, negating the use of the point, and he clung to Hosato tenaciously for several precious seconds.

Finally Hosato slammed the heavy pommel against the larger mans temple, and Gedge sagged, his grip loosening. With a heave Hosato shoved the man off him and wrenched the door open.

In the corner, Rick was wrestling with one of the guards, apparently for possession of one of the blasters. Before Hosato could call out, the mechanic found the proper leverage and jerked his opponents head around sharply. There was an audible crack, and the guard went limp.

The other guard was Hosato hesitated as he focused for the first time on the prostrate form on the floor by his feet. There was a pool of blood slowly spreading from the body.

James was standing shakily nearby, his bloody dress sword hanging limply in his hand.

Their eyes met.

He . . . he was going to . . .

Its all right now, James, Hosato said quietly.

I . . . killed him.

You sure did, kid, Rick interrupted. Saved your hide, too, Hosato. What do we do now?

Hosato felt a quick surge of anger at Ricks callousness; then it subsided. Rick was right. This was a time for action.

Are you all right, James? he asked brusquely, taking the boy by the shoulder.

The youth blinked vacantly, then nodded his head in stubborn assent.

Rick, get their blasters.

Without waiting for the mechanics reply, Hosato turned and strode into Gedges office once more. The security chief was conscious but out of action. He was hunched over on his hands and knees, holding his head and moaning softly. Hosato ignored him and moved to the desk, arming himself from his own arsenal, which Gedge had so conveniently laid out for him.

As he had noted earlier, his blasters were gone. Well, no matter. Theyd gotten new ones from the guards. Throwing spikes in his belt, knife in his boot One by one he secured the deadly tools of his trade at various points on his body. Items such as clothing, he ignored. This was a combat mission.

Ive got the blasters, Hosato, Rick said, joining him. Now what?

Hosato gestured at Gedges huddled form. Ask our friend there where they took Sasha.

Rick frowned. I dont think hell tell me.

Theyve taken her off to interrogate her, Hosato informed him. Thinking about that might help you find the right way to ask him.

Right! Rick said, his face hardening.

Hosato felt a twinge of guilt as he turned his back on the inevitable scene in the corner. He shouldnt delegate such a task to someone else, but forcing information out of people, especially injured people, had never been his forte. Still, he winced at Gedges first gasp of pain.

Hosato?

He turned, to find James at his side.

I had to do it, the boy mumbled. He was going to kill you.

Hosato seized the boys shoulders in an iron grip and shook him. You said you wanted to come with me, James. Remember?

Yes, but

Well, this is what I do. I kill people. We may have to kill some more before we get out of here. If we dont, theyll kill us. Im not saying you should like it, but accept it. Accept it now, or when the next time comes, youll hesitate and well all be dead.

The boys eyes cleared. Ill be all right, he said levelly.

Youre sure?

Yes. His voice was surer now.

Good. Then fetch my throwing spike. Its in the guards forehead over there.

It was a brutal thing to do, and Hosato watched the boy covertly as he went about his assignment. The boy was a bit wooden-limbed, but his hands shoot only slightly as he withdrew the weapon from the corpses skull.

Ive got your answer, Hosato, Rick called. Sasha is in the room directly below us. The stairs are across the hall.

Heres your spike, James said, passing him the weapon.

Hosato took it absently and tucked it in his belt.

Shall I kill him? Rick asked, jerking his head at Gedge.

No. Hang on to him. Hes our hostage for now.

Okay, youre the boss. Where do we go from here?

I go after Sasha, Hosato corrected. You try to find if one of these uniforms comes close to fitting you. James,". Hosato pressed a blaster into the boys hand "watch the door. If anybody but me or Sasha comes through it, kill 'em. And keep an eye on our friend there.

Their eyes met; then the boy smiled and nodded.

There was no one in sight as Hosato ghosted across the corridor and down the stairs. Likewise, there was no one in the lower corridor, not even a guard.

His suspicions aroused, he crossed the corridor in one long stride and hurtled himself against the door. It flew open with surprising ease, and he fell headlong into a dark room. As he hit the floor, he realized what a beautiful target he made silhouetted against the open door, and rolled sideways into the shadows.

Hosato? came a cautious call.

Sasha? he answered.

There was a soft shuffle of movement, and the door closed behind him. A moment later the lights came on, flooding the scene in the room with their harsh brilliance.

'. Til say one thing for you, Hosato. You never miss a chance to make a big entrance.

Sasha was standing there, a blaster gripped loosely in her left hand. Aside from her disheveled appearance, she seemed unharmed.

Are you all right? Hosato asked, rolling to his feet.

Sure, she replied easily. Nothing like the smell of truth serum to clear away the cobwebs. Luckily they didnt seem to think I was dangerous enough, to strap down. She gestured at the two crumpled and bloody forms on the floor.

Hosato whistled in silent appreciation.

It looks like they were wrong in the worst way. How did you do it?

With my trusty desk lamp, Sasha replied modestly, pointing at the implement. You know, they ought to outlaw those things. Theyre dangerous.

I meant, how did you do it at all?

Sasha shot an annoyed glance at him. By taking the one with the blaster first. After that, the other one was easy. Im surprised you didnt know that, Hosato.

As a matter of fact, I am familiar with that tactic, Hosato retorted. But when I do it, its neater.

Sasha shook her head and held up her blaster. Okay, Hosato. If were done rattling our sabers at each other, maybe we can get a few basic questions answered. For one, where the hell are we. Last thing I remember, I was fighting robots at the main corridor, then I wake up here with Dr. Frankenstein there about to shoot a load of goop into me.

Hosato' shook his head. Mc. Crae isnt anymore. The robots overran the place and killed everybody.

Everybody?

Everybody except you, me, Rick Handel, and James. We were in the sand-crawler bay when they made their big push out, or we wouldnt have gotten out either.

Sasha whistled. I guess I shouldnt gripe about losing an arm, then. How about whats-her-name Suzi. Your little robot. Did she?

Got chopped up by an ore scout on our way here.

Thats too bad. Wait a minute, Hosato'. On our way here'. Are you trying to tell me were at . . . ?

She shot another glance at the uniform on the fallen guard.

at Ravensteel, Hosato finished for her. It was our only chance. I thought they might help us.

Youre nuts, Hosato. Id rather take my chances with the robots. Ravensteel. God protect me from innocents.

Ive managed to figure it out all by myself,

Hosato commented grimly. Anyway, that brings us up to the present. Were trying to bust out of here before they have another chance to lavish some of their Ravensteel hospitality on us.

Now youre talking. Where are the others?

Upstairs in the room above this one. I suggest its time to regroup our forces and plan our next move.

You know, Hosato, Sasha said, sometimes you show a positive brilliance for tactics. Lets go. Oh, one more thing.

She wiggled her stump at him.

They gave me some kind of stimulant to counteract the shock before they went to the truth serum. Right now Im pillow-walking, and I dont know how long it will last or how Ill react to this arm once it wears off, so keep an eye on me, okay?

Hosato nodded his understanding.

Okay. Lets go.

They were halfway up the stairs when they heard the blaster fire from above.

 

 

Hosato bounded the rest of the way up the stairs, Sasha trailing close behind. After the initial burst of fire, the sounds from above had ceased. Weapon at the ready, Hosato slowed his pace and peered ahead at the landing.

The door to Gedges office was open, and he could make out the smoldering form of a security guard lying in the doorway. He shot a quick glance up and down the corridor to be sure the coast was clear, then called ahead softly, Its Hosato and Sasha. Were coming in. Hold your fire.

All clear, Jamess voice came in reply.

Hosato beckoned to Sasha, and she darted across the corridor ahead of him into the office. He followed, pausing to stoop and catch the fallen guard by an armpit, dragging him inside.

Okay, he said, shutting the door and turning to the assembled group. Now we . . .

He stopped suddenly as another uniformed guard appeared in the door to the adjoining room. His blaster was halfway up before he realized it was Rick.

Hold it, Hosato! the mechanic called, raising his hands as if to ward off an attack. Its me.

Right, Hosato breathed, relaxing his limbs. Sorry. For a minute I forgot.

I was going to ask you if you thought I could pass inspection. His friend laughed shakily. I think youve already answered the question.

A shrill beeping from the desk-robot interrupted their tableau.

Motioning the others to silence, Hosato moved to the desk. Taking a deep breath for relaxation, he depressed the button next to the flashing light.

Yea? he said into the speaker in a brisk imitation of Gedges voice.

Everything all right there, chief? came a worried voice.

Of course, Hosato barked back. Why shouldnt it be?

We heard blaster fire and thought there might be trouble. Just checking to see if you needed a hand.

One of our guests tried to go for a walk, Hosato answered jauntily. But when the day comes I cant handle a motley bunch like this, you can have my job.

Its a deal. The voice laughed. But Sammy wont like it.

Thats Sammys problem, Hosato retorted with the same joviality. And you can tell him I said so.

There was a moments pause before the answer came. Right. Well, shout if you need help, chief. Well be here waiting.

There was a brisk click as the unseen guard shut off his transmitter.

Whew! Rick let out his breath. That was close.

We may not be out of it yet, Hosato murmured thoughtfully. Sasha, was it just me, or did our caller sound suspicious to you, too . . . there at the end?

It isnt just you, Sasha confirmed. It occurs to me '. Sammy' could be a nickname for Samantha.

Hosato was kneeling at Gedges side before she finished speaking.

Gedge! he snarled, shaking the injured security chief. I dont want to have to hurt you any more. Wheres the spaceport?

I can tell you that, Sasha supplied. Its upstairs, directly over us.

Youre sure?

Come on, Hosato. Do you think we dont track their layout and security as close as they track ours?

Okay, lets go, Hosato said, rising. Theres probably a squad on their way here already.

What about your gear? James asked suddenly.

Leave it, Hosato ordered. Ive got everything I need!

But your swords! the boy insisted.

Hosato hesitated and looked at the youths expression. For the first time he realized who had shot the guard at the door, and why.

Okay, James, he relented. Bring the epees but thats all. Well have to move fast.

Say, Hosato, Sasha interrupted. Do you still need this pig. Ive waited a long time to have him in my sights.

Her blaster was pointed levelly at Gedges head.

Yes! Hosato insisted more hastily than was necessary. Rick. Bring him along. He might be our ticket out of here.

The small party traversed the stairs to the spaceport without further incident, though Hosato felt an increasing pressure for speed. He was sure that somewhere in the complex a counterattack was being prepared.

What are you expecting to find in the spaceport? Sasha asked.

Hopefully a ship to get us away from this complex and off this planet, Hosato replied.

I mean, specifically what are we going after. Do you know if theres a ship standing by for takeoff?

No, Hosato admitted. Well just have to take pot luck.

Sasha shook her head. It doesnt work that way. They might have some company ships posted here, but it takes at least half an hour to get them ready for takeoff.

I know that! Hosato snapped. If we have to take the half-hour, well just have to take it. Im hoping theres something ready to go. Either way, we wont know until we check it out, will we?

Dont get your back up. I was just asking.

Hosato sighed. The strain of the last thirty-six hours was starting to tell on his nerves. He had catnapped in the crawler, but except for that, had had no sleep since the robot uprising.

Sorry, Sasha. Im just a bit tired is all.

Shh! came Ricks call from ahead.

Hosato hurried up the stairs to join the mechanic at the head of the formation. Rick was squatting on the stairs, a half-dozen steps short of where they terminated at a small landing. Gedge was sitting beside the mechanic, staring groggily at his shoes.

At the far side of the landing were two sets of airlocks with large glass windows in them. Through the farthest set Hosato could see a uniformed security guard apparently in casual conversation with a man in a gray jumpsuit.

Security, Sasha hissed in his ear from close behind him. The double doors are a safety precaution against a failure in the hookups with the ships. They can be opened only from the inside.

Thats what we have Gedge here for, Hosato replied grimly. Rick. Get Gedge up there and rap on the glass. Dont let them see your face!

Rick nodded his understanding. He grabbed Gedge by one arm and stood up boldly in full view of the door. Dragging his dazed charge with him, he strode to the first lock and began rapping frantically on the glass.

Surprised, the interior guard spun around and took in the scene at a glance. What he saw was one of his fellow guards supporting their chief, who was obviously in bad shape physically. Human nature took over.

The guard whirled and shoved his companion aside. He hammered two buttons in the wall panel with his fist, and the double doors opened.

Its a trick! Gedge managed, coming suddenly to life and trying to pull away from Rick.

The guard realized his errortoo late.

Rick released Gedge and was through the door in one long bound. Dont even twitch, sonny! he said darkly, leveling his blaster at the startled guard.

The others swarmed through the doors after him, Hosato roughly dragging Gedge with them. Rick relieved the guard of his blaster as Sasha turned her attention to the man in the jumpsuit.

Ill ask once, she announced. Who or what are you?

Im a . . . a taxi driver. Thats all! the man stammered. I. Ive got a ship standing by to fly some bigwigs to a conference on Theta. Im nobody important. Really!

Sasha laughed mirthlessly. Nobody important. Hey, Hosato. It looks like you win. Weve got a ship.

Its about time we got lucky, Hosato growled. Where is it?

A shrill beeping interrupted them. A communications light was flashing on the wall panel.

Answer it! Rick ordered, gesturing at the guard with his blaster.

The man licked his lips nervously, then complied. Spaceport! he said into the speaker.

Seal the spaceport, came a voice over the speaker. Possible sabotage attempt in progress. Theyve got the chief as a hostage.

The guards eyes darted to the group in front of him before replying. Code Victor acknowledged.

Rick sprang forward to shove him away from the panel, but it was too late. There wasnt a member of their party that doubted the fact the guards signal had pinpointed their location.

That tears it, Hosato snarled. Sasha. Is there any way they can stop our takeoff?

Only through the doors there, she answered briskly.

Well, well just have to see how good their security system really is. You. Where is your ship and what kind is it?

Pad Eight, the man responded. Its a Starblazer II. I Luxury Cruiser.

Youd better not be lying, Sasha snarled.

Its there. So help me God. I dont want any trouble. The man seemed genuinely terror-struck.

I can fly it, Rick volunteered.

Okay, check it out, fast! Hosato ordered.

Cover him, James, Rick snapped, indicating the guard, and was gone, sprinting down the corridor.

Gedge! Hosato said, turning to the security chief. Fm letting you go

Wait a minute! Sasha interrupted.

Shut up, Sasha. Do you hear me, Gedge. Im letting you go. The men we killed got in the way, but I dont kill people for convenience. Listen to me, Gedge. Convince those bastards about whats going on at Mc-. Crae. We werent lying. Convince them, Gedge, or on my familys honor Ill come back here and kill you, and all the guards in the galaxy wont be able to stop me!

Its here! came Ricks call from down the corridor.

All right, get him out of here, Hosato ordered, shoving Gedge into the arms of the waiting security guard. And move it, before I change my mind. You. The pilot. You too. Move it!

The pilot needed no additional urging as he hastily followed the others through the doors.

Hosato slammed his hand against the door controls, and they hissed shut, sealing the spaceport against their pursuers.

Lets get out of here, he said, starting down the corridor after Rick.

Hosato, Sasha said, overtaking him. Sometime were going to have a few words about letting Gedge go.

Its the only chance we have of convincing Raven-steel

They both spun at the sound of blasters behind them. The hounds were trying to burn their way through the airlocks.

Come on, James! Hosato urged, and the three of them sprinted for the ship.

 

 

You cant count on Ravensteel to do anything, Sasha insisted. Even if they believe Gedge, which is doubtful, they wont lift a finger. Why should they?

Hosato sighed. This argument had been going nonstop since they lifted off from Grunbeckers Planet. He thought it was getting circular, but couldnt be sure. Lack of sleep was making his mind fuzzy.

Look, Sasha he began wearily.

Say, I hate to interrupt, Rick interrupted through the open door to the pilots compartment, but where are we going?

What was that, Rick? Hosato blinked.

I said, where are we going. I want to get this baby on autopilot and join the brawl. Ive got a couple thoughts on the subject myself.

Hosato hadnt really given any thought to their destination. His main concern had been getting away from Griinbeckers. Still, everyone seemed to be looking at him for a decision.

I dont know, he said, running a hand through his hair. Pick the nearest free spaceport. We can go our separate ways from there.

Just like that! Sasha shouted. Go our separate ways. Just turn our backs on the whole mess and pretend it never happened.

What do you want us to do? Hosato exploded. We barely got out of there alive. If your whole security setup and guard force cant stop 'em, we sure cant.

If we dont, who will? She glared back.

Hold your fire. Im coming in! Rick popped in from the pilots compartment and stood grinning at them.

Now that Ive successfully set foot in no-mans land, there are a few observations Id like to make. He began to pace up and down the lounge, adopting the mock characteristics of a lecturer.

First of all, Sashas right when she says we have to do something. The robots that massacred everybody at Mc. Crae have to be stopped, and we cant rely on anyone else to do the job. Remember, we didnt believe what was happening ourselves until it was too late and we were in the middle of it. I dont see any way anyone else is going to be convinced of the danger until it threatens them directly, and then again it will be too late.

The mechanic paused and pointed a dramatic finger at Hosato.

On the other hand, our ace superspy here is right, too. There isnt much we can do.

Then were at an impasse, Hosato observed. We have to do something, but we cant do anything. The odds are against us.

I thought you were supposed to be some kind of expert at beating long odds, Sasha probed. Hell, a while back you were all set to take on that same airtight security system single-handed.

And now, between Sasha and me, youve got a ready pool of information as to what the security layout is and what makes the machines tick, Rick added.

Hosato stared at the floor. The others remained silent, letting him turn the facts over in his mind. Finally he sighed and shook his head.

No. It still wont work. he announced. Theres one big problem no one seems ready to face. We dont know what happened back there. Until we know what went wrong, we dont know for sure what were up against. Without that little piece of information, any plan for a counterattack would be suicidal.

The trio sat silently, each lost in their own thoughts.

Wait a minute! Rick exclaimed.

What is it? Sasha asked, but the mechanic was gone, disappearing through the door of the pilots compartment.

He was back in a moment, brandishing a sheaf of papers in his hand.

Do either of you speak computer? he asked eagerly.

He dumped the papers in Hosatos lap, who bent to examine them. The papers were covered with what appeared to be typed mathematical notations interspersed with word fragments.

What are they? he asked.

You should know, Rick replied smugly. You gave 'em to me, back at the crawler bay, when you carried Sasha in.

And youve been carrying them all this time?

Hosato vaguely remembered the incident, but was astounded the mechanic still had the documents in his possession after all they had been through.

Yep, Rick announced proudly. Had 'em stashed inside my shirt. The guards who searched me at Ravensteel looked at 'em but didnt figure they were important enough to take away from me.

For the benefit of the unenlightened, Sasha interrupted sarcastically, what is it youve got there?

Its a copy of the most recent entries to the computer-monitor file, Rick informed her. The guys were going over it at the end there, trying to figure out what went wrong and how to fix it.







: 2015-09-06; : 119.

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