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“So, the moment of decision. Do you kill me? Do I die now?” the Captain asked.

“I said I would not kill you, kid,” Timothy answered as he got inside the transporter. Then he nodded his head in Marv's direction and threw him the package they stole. "You take care of that," he said to Marv.

The young Captain froze hearing those words. “Yeah, you may not kill me, but you could let Marv do it. I bet he would not mind.”

“Wouldn’t it be the same thing?” Timothy talked as he opened his gun’s cylinder, emptied the bullets there replacing it with the one that was green-coated.

“So, I’m worth a credit after all?”

“Seems like it,” Timothy nodded his head and pointed the gun at him. “If you turn around and let me shoot you in the ass, it won’t hurt nearly as bad.”

“Please, don’t shoot!” the Captain suddenly pleaded, raising his hands, not ready to turn around.

“You’ll sleep for a few hours, and then you’ll… well, you’ll have some headache and a… well, butt-ache.”

“No, no, wait.”

“What? It’s either that or…”

“Just wait a second.”

Marv screamed at Timothy from the back of the transporter. “No time. The ship will be fully rebooted in less than a minute now. Time to go.”

“My life here is over,” the young Captain said, his head slouched down in desperation. “I’m ruined. You know that. It’s an investigation, then a trial, then a prison colony someplace. As good as if you killed me.”

“Well,” Timothy started to say but fell silent. It was hard to argue with the truth.

“After what happened, they will never let me have a uniform again. I will lose my citizenship as well. Never a chance for rejuve treatment to expand my life. My life is practically over. My life is ruined.”

“Your life is ruined. Might as well shoot you now with a real bullet.”

“No, no, don’t do that. I, I…”

“You still want to live, don’t you..”

“Yes,” he said instantly. Suddenly he raised his hand, a vigor returning to his voice. “Take me with you. I can be an asset. Use me as a hostage if you have to… if things don’t work out, I mean. I know things too. I can help. I showed you I can. Please. Take me with you, please. I saved your mission there.”

Timothy looked at Marv who just shrugged his shoulders. “Your call, body. But do it fast. A minute lasts only sixty seconds.”

“Are you sure you want to come with us? Might be a fugitive for the rest of your life.”

“I want to live free. Like you fellas, no rules-”

“What would your momma say?”

“She’d be disappointed. Very disappointed. But… Fuck the jail! And the Union. Besides, I still need to hear your story of what happened on Linux Grand.”

“Yeah, like that shit really interests you.”

“Well, not that you’re a good storyteller. You jump forward and backward and don’t follow the logic too much, and then often repeat yourself or give too much unnecessary explanation, and…”

“I think we should just shoot him,” Marv said. “Twenty seconds.”

“No, no, I’ll shut up. I’ll shut up so good you won’t even know I’m here. Please take me. I’ll be an asset.”

“All right, all right. If you beg. Just don’t ever be an asset without et. Nobody dare ever say I have a stone for a heart,”

“Time's up. I’m leaving, with or without you,” Marv screamed, his flyer’s engines screaming with eagerness.

“The cable!” Timothy screamed, seeing how the back of the transporter was already opened.

Marv threw the pulled-out cable and Timothy fastened it to his armor, then grabbed Slicky by the waist with one hand and his old helmet by the other.

There was an explosion but Slicky did not see it as Timothy shoved the helmet on his head. “Put your hands under your armpit!” he screamed at him and only then did the young captain figure out what was to happen.

“But the flyer can’t fly through space!” he screamed as he saw what they intended to do. “Neither can your boots,” he said as he saw the captain firing up the remaining juice inside his boots.

“They do not have to.”

Marv fired another rocket from his flyer toward the still closed gate, and, seeing the darkness of space emerge on the other side, instantly let the flyer loose. It catapulted out, through the back of the transporter and the hole in the gates, still being licked by the fire.

Timothy and the Captain flew with the power of his boots toward the hole but not nearly as fast as the flier, and the towing wire swiftly tensed, pulling them fiercely onward, through the hole to space outside.

Timothy’s armor held up without a glitch, and he held Slicky in a tight lover-like embrace as they continued to fly out away from the ship.

They could see the flyer’s engine coughed and died, a second later after the same thing happened to Timothy's boots. But the inertia kept on moving them forward at a rapid speed.

The first thing Slicky felt was the cold. He knew he had maybe ten seconds before the blood in his body would freeze no matter how hard Timothy was hugging him. He saw red alarms start to blink in Timothy’s old helmet and then it fogged out and he passed out a split second before something pulled him further toward the darkness of space.

 


He woke up being given a revival drug, an injection straight to his heart muscle.

He grasped for the air and stared in horror at Sornia who towered over him with a long syringed injection still in her hand. “Welcome back. We thought we might have lost you.”

He looked around. The Marv’s flyer seemed to have entered the transporter that Sornia was flying.

He saw Timothy still in the full armor, flying the transporter and Marv talking frantically.

“Open the fucken’ gate!” he seemed to scream to someone over his comm.

“They are stuck. They won’t bulge,” the frightened voice answered.

“Fucken kid. I’ll fucken kill him! You had one job to do, Rummy. Just one fucken job! Hook us up and fly us out of here! Then put your armor on and manually open the fucken gate. Do it fast or I swear, I’ve got like ten missiles in here, and I’ll burn your ass down and fly to Mornia in this transport even if it takes me the rest of my life!!!”

“No need to get angry, Marv,” came the voice of a scared guy they called Rummy.

“Don’t you fucken’ Marv me now! We’ve got a whole battleship alive not a hundred miles away!”

“No need to get upset. I’m rerouting an extra power to the gate’s pistons. It’s opening now. Just give it a moment.”

“Don’t have a moment,” Slicky said as he saw the lights of a freighter in the distance, growing bigger every passing moment.

“Start moving the fucken ship!” Timothy yelled at him. “We’re coming at you at hundred meters per second. Get the speed of the ship to the same speed. Now!”

'Warning, warning!! Impact time, twenty seconds', the AI cautioned.

“Move it, now!” Timothy yelled. “I sure as fuck don’t plan to slow down.”

'Impact time, eighteen seconds.'

“I’m going to ram your ass,” Timothy threatened.

“I’m doing it, doing it,” Rummy answered nervously, feeling the sweat moisting his forehead and getting into his eyebrows.

'Warning, warning. Impact time, seventeen seconds. Please change your rote or your speed.'

“I can shut it down,” Slicky said seeing how Marv raised his hand up, ready to slam AI’s CPU out of existence. He hustled to come at the panel between then, pressed a few keys, entered the security options, entered the code, and shut the AI down.

While he was doing that, Rummy seemed to have match their speed but then another problem emerged.

“I can’t fly with this speed with the gate open. Everything is fucken shaking as if I’m in a blender!”

“Wait a moment. It’s not open yet. We need it completely open. Five seconds…” Timothy said and then took a deep breath and slowly raised the speed of the transporter to a hundred and ten meters per second.

Then fired the positioning thrusters and cut it slowly down as they entered the back bally of the moving freighter.

“Now, seal the fucken gate and get us out of here,” Timothy said. Then he yelped in unexpected pain.

“What is it?” Marv asked him right away.

“I got hit… fighting the Shadow Man.”

“What? You fought… Wait a second, the Shadow Man? Those fuckers don’t exist. Good try.”

“Ask the kid.”

Marv suddenly lost a grin on his face, and had turned to look at Slicky, waiting till the young Captain finally said, “Yeah, yeah, we fought them.”

“They don't exist," Marv was stubborn. "And you'd be dead if you did.”

“Well, we are alive, but… I’m suddenly feeling very cold,” Timothy said, feeling the shivers traveling up from his foot, to his hip and then all the way up his body.

He unpinned his armor and threw it backward, and then took his boots off, looking at his leg.

“Sornia, what is that?” he asked looking at his leg, some greenish liquid sipping out of it instead of blood.

“Oh, shit,” she said, suddenly her voice full of fear.

“What is it?”

“That’s the shit. I don’t fucken know.”

Then lights went out inside Timothy’s head, and he dropped down to the transporter's floor as if knocked out by Marv's fist..

When the lights came on again, he saw nothing but a light blue screen blinking at him.

It said,

Health: 10/250
Decline rate: 1 per hour.
Anticipated death rate: 10 hours.

Please connect yourself to the MODE right away.

Pay the MODE connection fee of: 10,000,000 credits

If unable to pay, do you want to search for the donor?

Search fee: 10,000 credits.


A sharp memory made Timothy suddenly cramp. He saw a screen like that before. Twice. The first time was when he was a kid, about twelve. When he went to tell his parents about it, his father sent him to a mental hospital, saying it’s some kind of a disease, a hallucination, he needed to forget and be cured off. He almost did.

“Is that only inside my head?” TImothy asked, unsure if what he was seeing was just a return of the same disease. “Is that only inside my-”

“What the fuck is that?” Marv’s voice reached Timothy.

“Do you see that???” Timothy screamed suddenly. He turned his head to look at his friend, but could not see him. It was like he was completely inside the screen.

“Of course I fucken see it! It says you’re fucken going to die in ten hours! Where the fuck did that screen come from?” Marv asked in anger. Then he turned to Slicky. “Is that some shit you pulled out?”

“No, I didn’t. I promise I didn’t! First time I see a blue screen like that!”

Marv did not believe him and got up from the seat, his feasts tightening

“It’s a blue screen of death! Don’t you know?” Sornia said in an overpowering voice. Then she dropped on the seat next to where Timothy was lying down. “Don’t you know nothing of the Shadow Man?”

“Shit!” Marv cussed and set down himself. “What the fuck do we do?”

Slicky was looking at them all, then staring at the blinking screen. “Pay ten million credits. What else?”

“Yeah,” Marv said and nodded his head a few times. A lot of fear and uncertainty he packed in that little word. “So, you know someone, anyone, who has that kind of money?”

Those words floated in the air, in the stillness realization of a suddenly extremely bitter reality.

“Fucken old Goat, and all his jobs! And the army and my parents and all the space I was born in!” Timothy cussed, and not for the last time that day. “And especially, fuck them Shadow Men.”

 

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