The Corrupt Starship Captain

Michael Panush

The reputations of individuals often have a very small relationship to reality. As an example, I am a robotic being designed to fight crime and combat criminals, with advanced sleuthing, fighting and emotion-navigation programming, so my reputation is that of a mindless machine that fight crime, combats criminal and receives power transfusions. However, that description is only partially correct, as it neglects to mention my associates, who I care for a great deal.

My associates are designated as Shirley Sparks, my secretary, and Nathan Iglitz, my creator and provider of vital technical support during cases. My designation is I. Ron Ops, and I am an artificial private investigator. While I receive the physical blows, bullets and ray gun bursts – due to my steel exterior – it is Shirley's expertise in emotional matters and Nathan's expertise in technological matters that had led to too many successfully solved cases to list within a thirty-second period.

However, there was one case which placed us in opposition to an individual with a reputation that proved out greatest obstacle in confirming his guilt. This individual was designated as Captain Ramses Q. Slade, the captain of the Monitor-Class starship Justice. He had received approximately seven hundred and twenty-two awards from the Terran Federation and other galactic governing bodies. He had flown an almost infinite number of high-risk missions during his youth. The Justice was celebrated was one of the greatest Monitor-Class starships in the universe and its captain was a hero of almost legendary status.

This individual would be our enemy, and his reputation would be a weapon that could end our careers and existences.

The situation started when we arrived on Space Station Harmony, a large space station orbiting Mars, and a haven for smugglers, criminals and lowlifes of five hundred and twenty-six distinct types, due to its location between the Terran Federation and the Martian Free States. Shirley, Nathan and I gained visual information about the location as our shuttle slid into the landing bay. It consisted of several large steel gray buildings under a glass bubble, with a forest of small huts and shanty towns below them. We were bound for the largest of the steel gray buildings – the space station's penitentiary.

Nathan pushed his glasses up on his nose. His nervousness was at a high level. "This will just be a simple job, right, I. Ron?" he asked. "All we have to do is go in, pick up that Saturnalian criminal, Chip, and go back to Space Station Omega?"

"That is correct," I said. "Chip has information on one of Cosmo Carlito's underbosses, and his testimony could be vital in combating organized crime on Space Station Omega."

"There' nothing to worry about, kiddo," Shirley said, patting Nathan's shoulder. His face became a bright shade of red. "We're here with you, and we won't let anything bad happen to you. Besides, you grew up on Space Station Omega, for christ's sake! If that ain't a floating ball of sin, I don't know what it is."

"Well, the bad stuff seems kind of hidden away in Space Station Omega. At least, at the higher levels it is," Nathan explained, putting his hands in the pocket his white coat. "Here it seems to be, well, more out in the open." His words were an apt description of the crime in Space Station Harmony, but not of the corruption.

Our space shuttle flew lower, entering the loading dock of the tallest structure in Space Station Harmony. We disembarked and walked down a gunmetal gray hall to a reception area. The penitentiary clearly had security of the highest level. The receptionist, a bored human fellow in a stained shirt and bowtie, sat behind a large section of bullet proof glass, and two armored guards flanked him. Heavy steel doors covered all of the adjoining hallways. The receptionist looked up from his dirty magazine and tugged at his bowtie.

"Hello there," he said, sounding like he was talking to a brick wall. "What can I do for you?" His voice had the characteristic drawl of the Martian Free States.

I produced the needed documentation from my trench coat. "We are here to retrieve the prisoner known as Chip, a Saturnalian hired thug who has worked for Cosmo Carlito. I need to oversee his transport to the proper holding facility on Space Station Omega, where his testimony will be vital in a trial against Carlito."

The receptionist shrugged as he flipped through the papers. "Yeah," he said, drawling out the word for six long seconds. "That's gonna be a problem. See, Chip already got pulled out by none other than Captain Ramses Q. Slade. He's going down for a smuggling charge, and he's gotta be on Terra for the trial." He pushed back the paperwork through the slot in the bulletproof glass. "Maybe you can get a room and wait. Maybe take in a show." He looked up at Shirley and smiled. "I wouldn't mind taking you to see one, darling. Though it involves a Bronk, a pretty lady and a bottle of bourbon, so you might want to leave the little guy at home."

Shirley smiled back as she shook her head. "Go screw, creepshow," she replied. She looked back at me. "A smuggling charge? That's nothing compared to taking out Carlito. Who the hell is this Captain Slade guy? We ought to have words with him."

"Captain Ramses Slade?" Nathan said. I was downloading approximately five million pages and documentation on him from the Interstellarnet, but I allowed Nathan to provide the description. "He's a hero. Him and the Justice, they fly all over the galaxy, fighting evil, exploring strange worlds and saving the day." He straightened his tie. "I've collected a few newspaper clippings of him, and I would like to meet him."

"Well, now's your chance, boy." One of the metal doors had rolled back, revealing a small crowd of individuals. There were two armored guards escorting Chip, the Saturnalian with skin like Martian rocks and long muscled tentacles in the place of arms. Accompanying them were four men in the red uniforms of the Terran Federation Monitor Corps. They had epaulettes, gold braid on their shoulders and ray guns at their hips.

A woman was with them. She had a similar uniform, those hers contained a short skirt. She had dark skin and hair in long, graying braids. I identified her as Communications Lieutenant Lenora Bushwin, the coms officers aboard the Justice, and a personal friend of Captain Ramses Slade.

The speaker of the aforementioned vocalization walked behind them. He was immediately recognizable as Captain Ramses Q. Slade, but he was not the golden haired, young starship captain visible in the news photographs. Captain Slade had a large gut, which protruded before him and was used as a hand rest. His blonde hair was thinning and going gray, and he had substantial jowls. His large chest was nearly completely covered in medals, and he walked with the aid of a large ivory white cane. He stepped forward slowly, his eyes as bright as stars in his wrinkled face.

Nathan stared at him in awe. "Holy cow," he whispered. "You're Captain Slade!"

"That's right. Savior of the goddamn galaxy." Slade's voice was exceedingly deep. His words were clipped and contained impatience and anger. "Now, I hear you fellows want to take my prisoner away with you. Is that so?"

"An apt description of our motives," I said. I looked at Chip. "You've done work for Cosmo Carlito, haven't you? Answer truthfully."

Chip shrugged his muscled shoulders. "Sure I have," he muttered. "On Space Station Omega, who hasn't?" He grinned at me. "Maybe even you've done a little, you robot shamus."

I looked back at Captain Slade. "Cosmo Carlito is a powerful underworld figure. Whatever smuggling charge you have leveled against this individual, it cannot be of equal or greater importance to stopping Carlito." I took a step towards Captain Slade. "What exactly is the crime this individual is charged with?" I inquired.

"Smuggling dirty books, booze and cigarettes," Slade explained. "But that shouldn't matter. You won't cause no trouble for me, you got that? I don't know if you've heard, but this is my sector of space. I'm the law around here, and you're just some cheap hunk of junk that blew in off the space ways."

Lieutenant Bushwin attempted to stop Captain Slade rising temper. "Captain, they're just trying to get the prisoner transferred," she said, reaching out to place a hand on his shoulder. He stepped away from her. "And that smuggling charge ain't such a big deal."

"The Hell it isn't. Someone's gotta go down for it, and it's gonna be this bum, you got me? He's my arrest. I stopped him, and I'm not letting some robot detective take that away from me!" Bushwin's attempt to stop Slade's rising temper had clearly failed.

Shirley Sparks looked from Chip and Slade. "You seem real keen on getting someone busted for such a little smuggling charge, captain," she said. "You got some personal stake in the case?"

"What the Hell is that supposed to mean?" Slade asked. He took a step towards Shirley, his ivory cane clicking on the steel floor. He looked her over and licked his lips, like he was a hungry man eying a large amount of foodstuffs. "But I tell you what – you're quite a nice piece, little lady. How'd you like to come up to my starship, get a private tour of the great Justice? Maybe I'll bounce you on my knee."

"You filthy old—" Shirley raised a hand to slap Captain Slade's face.

"Captain!" Lieutenant Bushwin stepped between them. "Let's get back to the ship, all right? Maybe we can discuss later, through the holocom." She looked up at me. "I'm sorry, sir. But he is our prisoner."

They brushed past us and started down the hallway. I developed several courses of action, most of them violent, but refrained from doing any of them except standing motionless and letting them pass. Their footsteps echoed down the long metal hallway and they disappeared from view.

Nathan looked at his polished shoes. "Wow," he said. "Captain Slade is, um, a real, well—"

"He's a heel," Shirley replied curtly. "This ain't over, I. Ron. What do you say we get a room in one of these flop houses and take up their offer to buzz the Justice on the holocom." She paused and put her hands in the pocket of her trousers. "And let's find ourselves a bar. I need a drink."

"I need my prisoner," I stated. "But let's answer your requests first. I am currently using my advanced Interstellarnet connection to book us a room at the Gold Dust Hotel. It is the highest rated such establishment on Space Station Harmony, but still contains warnings of an infestation of Neptunian Death Roaches."

"It located close to a bar?" Shirley asked.

"The Lucky Asteroid Saloon is located across the street."

"Then it's good enough for me." Shirley looked down at Nathan as we walked back to the loading bay, where we could rent a hovercar to take us to the hotel. "Don't worry about Captain Slade, kiddo. A lot of scumbags have good publicity. This is a tough universe, honey, and it just makes some people end up bad."

"But not you or I. Ron," Nathan pointed out.

"We are exceptions to that rule," I agreed.

We stepped into a waiting hovercar and set off to the hotel.

We arrived seven minutes and twelve seconds later. Space Station Harmony was set to enter its artificial night cycle in exactly thirty-three minutes and Nathan was fatigued from the long starship journey to Martian space. I judged he was tired enough to enter a state of slumber, which he could do without interruption as Shirley and I visited the Lucky Asteroid Saloon. Nathan changed for bed and Shirley and I said goodbye to him in his room.

"You guys won't be going far, will you?" Nathan inquired.

"That is correct," I stated. "Our destination is located exactly across the street."

Shirley looked with concern at Nathan. "You worried about something, Nathan?" she asked. "You seem a little scared, especially after meeting with Captain Slade."

"It's nothing, really," Nathan replied, leaning back and resting his head on the pillow. "It's just that he was sort of one of my heroes. And now I know he's kind of a jerk. Nothing really seems certain any more, you know?"

"Yeah," Shirley agreed. "Nothing never really is certain, not in this crazy, mixed up universe. But we're here for you, and that's what matters." She smiled at Nathan and he returned the facial expression with a smile of his own. Shirley leaned down and pulled the covers over his shoulder, then ruffled his hair. "Sweet dreams, honey," she said, and stood up. "Sleep well."

"Thank you, Miss Sparks. I will." Nathan rolled over and closed his eyes.

I switched off the lights as we departed. I judged that Shirley's words had provided comfort to the boy. I often wished that my own emotional programming was sophisticated enough to impart such comforts. But I had not been designed for that purpose. I was designed to combat crime, and currently Captain Ramses Slade was presenting an obstacle to that purpose.

Shirley Sparks and I took the elevator to the ground level and crossed the street. I identified over six hundred pieces of litter on the cracked pavement. A hovercar driven by a clearly inebriated individual sped past us, the driver laughing manically as his repulse pads blasted out dirty water from the overflowing gutter. We managed to cross the street and enter the Lucky Asteroid Saloon.

"Well, ain't this the most happening joint in town?" Shirley asked, pointing a small table near the door. We both sat there and surveyed the interior of the saloon. It was dirty and cramped, with an out of tune mariachi band on the stage, accompanied by an out-of-key piano that grated on my auditory sensors. A couple of scantily-clad saloon girls brought drinks to the various tables.

"The only thing happening here appears to be petty crime and overcharging for watered down drinks," I said, after making a quick analysis of a nearby pitcher of Martian ale. Shirley and I sat down at the table. She raised her hand, and one of the waitresses set a shot glass and bottle before her.

She had a long drink from the bottle. "I feel sorry for Nathan," she said. "Seeing his hero turn out to be such a prick." She set down the bottle and stared at me. "And I think he's a bit more than that."

"Please elucidate," I said.

"Look, being a starship captain doesn't pay too well," Shirley explained. "And the Justice has been stationed here on the border, a smuggler's paradise. It doesn't make sense that a bigwig like Captain Slade wants to bust some chump like Chip for running booze and cigarettes. He needs a sacrificial lamb for his own activities."

"Captain Slade is a respected member of the Terran Federation space forces," I explained.

"Jesus, you're worse than Nathan, aren't you, boss?" Shirley asked. "He's got a good rep, sure. But you didn't see the way he looked at me. You didn't see the darkness in the way he licked his lips. He's a bad guy, boss, even though he does a good job hiding it." She looked into the darkness of the bar, and pointed to the corner. "Speak of the devil," she whispered. "There, by the jukebox. He's here now."

I followed her figure. My visual sensors adjusted to the lowlight in the corner of the saloon. As Shirley said, Captain Slade was present. He was sitting at a corner table, surrounded by a pair of his crewmen. The buttons on his coat were undone, and he had a bottle of beer in one hand. One of the saloon girls, a green-skinned alien in a camouflage-print bikini, was dancing in front of him, and he laughed and slapped her rump with his gloved hand.

Shirley looked away. "It makes me sick," she muttered. "Look at that scumbag. He pulls a couple of neat missions in his youth, and now sits here, drinking away his life until the booze runs out. It'd be pathetic, if he weren't such a jerk."

"It makes me feel like I have downloaded several viruses, which are causing numerous problems with my software," I said. "Remain here." I stood up, removing my trench coat and setting it back on the chair. "I intend to discuss matters with Captain Slade."

"What the hell are you doing?" Shirley asked, setting down her drink.

I motioned for her to remain seated. "I am adding volatile material to an explosion," I replied.

I crossed the room, sliding past patrons in leather jackets and broad brimmed hats, then reached the corner of the room. I looked down at Slade. His attention was 100% occupied by the alien female in front of him. I grabbed her arm and pulled her aside. "Kindly continue your gyrations in another section of the saloon," I said. "Captain Slade and I must talk."

She looked from me to Slade and then hurried away, an expression of fear on her face. I looked down at Slade. He slowly finished his beer and wiped his mouth with the sleeve of his uniform. "The robot from the prison," he said. "You ruining my fun again?"

"My designation is I. Ron Ops," I stated. "And I will ruin more than your fun if you continue preventing Chip from entering my custody."

"Your 'designation,' metal man, is a walking, talking pile of junk," Slade explained. "You ain't getting Chip. I need him and that's that. And I don't like the way you act, thinking you can boss me around just because you got iron plates all over you and some fancy computer in your head." He stood up and took a step towards me. My olfactory sensors detected alcohol on his breath. "I spent thirty years patrolling the galaxy. Thirty years of watching good men die on cold alien planetary surfaces. Thirty years of watching alien scum slip away from my ray cannons because of some goddamn intergalactic treaty. And I ain't doing that again. You got me, boy?"

"Why do you deny my request for Chip with such vehemence?" I queried. "What significance does he have for you?"

Slade's frown deepened, tripling the amount of lines on his weathered face. "I don't know what the Hell you're talking about," he said. "You want to make an accusation, you better have evidence. I'm a hero in these parts, or hadn't you heard? Everyone knows me as the best thing in this universe since sliced bread, so they might not care to listen to your words, robot." Slade nodded to the three crewmen sharing his tables. "The boys here know that I'm right. Ain't that right, boys?"

The three sailors came to their feet and faced me. All of them carried ray guns on their belts. They regarded me like an anti-viral scan regards viruses. In the event of a conflict, I deduced that incapacitating them would be difficult.

"That's right, captain," one of them said. "This fellow looks like he's asking for it."

"Why don't you go outside, robo-boy?" another suggested. "If you know what's good for you."

While we were talking, Shirley Sparks walked through the saloon to stand by my side. She clearly could not stand to see me being verbally abused by Captain Slade. Shirley folded her hands as she looked at Slade. "What's this?" Shirley asked. "The big handsome starship hero begging for help from his goons? Come off it, Slade. You're as crooked as a three-dollar bill. You got everyone here buying your crap. But I ain't in the mood."

"That's a pity." Slade looked at her and rested his cane on his knees. His eyes went wide and he licked his wrinkled lips. Slade regarded Shirley like she was a downloadable add-on that would triple his productivity. "Because I am." He nodded to his men, and they leapt for me and Shirley in the same instant.

For the first six seconds, I could not help Shirley as my attention was completely consumed with Slade's crewmen. One of them crashed a bottle against my head. The glass shattered, damaging my visual sensors. Another swung a chair into my side, nearly denting the metal of my chest. The third reached for his ray gun and my complex combat software selected him as the first to be neutralized.

I swung my forehead into the crewman with the broken bottle. Our heads cracked together. His came away with a broken nose, a split lip and a severe headache. Mine came away with no visual damage. I grabbed the bottle from his hand and hurled it at the spaceman with the ray gun. The jagged edge of the glass cut his arm, causing him to drop his weapon. The final spaceman raised the chair again, intent on bringing it crashing down on my head. It took him three seconds to swing. In two seconds, I struck him under his chin and knocked him back into another table, spilling six bottles of beer and upending a bowl of thirty-eight peanuts.

But in the twelve seconds while I was occupied with Slade's crewmen, the legendary starship captain had grabbed Shirley. He wrapped a hand around her shoulder and pulled her close to him, blocking her escape with his cane. He leaned forward, whispering into her ear. "Come on, you little hussy," he snarled. "You like it like this. Admit it. You all do."

"Only in your dreams, creep," Shirley replied, ramming an elbow into his large chest. "And in my nightmares." She pulled away from him, then turned and stuck a fist into his cheek. "Explain that to the Terran Federation!" she said, and looked back at me. Her expression of victory turned into one of defeat.

I turned around and saw the reason for the change of her expression. A pair of uniformed police officers stood there, their plasma cannons in their hands. One of them stepped forward, keeping both barrels of his weapon trained on my chest. The other helped up Captain Slade. "Any problems, captain?" he asked.

"Nah," Slade replied. "Nothing worth mentioning." He stood up and looked at me. "There's a starship leaving Harmony in an hour. It's going back to Omega. You're gonna be on it. You got me boy?"

I nodded. "I have received your message."

"Good. Now get the hell out of the bar."

He turned away from us. Shirley and I departed immediately, with the policemen close behind us. They allowed us to go unescorted once we left the swinging door of the Lucky Asteroid. We headed across the street, back to our motel without uttering a single vocalization. Both of us were considering what to do.

"We have to be on that starship," I said. "You and Nathan must be present at least."

"That's it?" Shirley asked, her tone conveying anger. "We just give up? That's not how you're made, boss."

"A correct assumption," I said. "I have used my connection to the Interstellarnet to check the starship specified by Captain Slade. The Tumbleweed will leave in forty-five minutes. It maintains seven shuttles for maintenance and ship-to-ship transportation. These shuttles match the kind used by the Justice, where Captain Slade and Chip will be residing. Additionally, I need more time to conduct research on Captain Slade."

Shirley smiled. "That sounds aces. Come on. I'll wake Nathan up and we'll head over there." We entered the lobby of our hotel and headed for the elevator. "We sure know how to stir up a hornet's nest, don't we?"

"The hornet's nest presence and our presence seemed to collide quite often," I agreed.

Forty-six minutes and three seconds later, we were in our stateroom on the Tumbleweed, which was speeding away from Space Station Harmony. Nathan was bleary eyed, having been woken up from his sleep fifty-eight minutes previous to departure, but he was still willing to help. He sat up in his bed, his datapad perched on his thin knees, and he and I began our research.

Shirley went out and procured a cup of coffee for herself and a container of hot cocoa for Nathan while we worked. My visual sensors watched Nathan's face and saw the expression of anger, disgust and sadness while he worked. He shook his head 3.5 times, and finally set down his datapad and leaned back in his bed.

"He's a bad guy, I. Ron," he finally stated.

"You are referring to Captain Ramses Q. Slade?"

"That's right. For a few years, all the arrests he's made have been fishy. Evidence has disappeared or never even turned in, witnesses have reported intimidation, suspects have disappeared, and Slade always finds them guilty. His missions are pretty sketchy too, and smuggling rates have stayed the same since he became in charge of this sector." He handed me the datapad, and I interfaced directly through it and downloaded the information. Nathan's research was correct. "He's a bad guy," Nathan repeated.

"Your description is apt," I responded, handing him his datapad. I stood up and reached for my coat. "This information will help me arrest Captain Slade for corruption and finally receive our prisoner." I reached for my hat. "I will now make my departure from this ship and board Slade's ship."

"You don't want any help, I. Ron?" Nathan asked. "There's probably a ton of spacemen on Slade's ship who are super loyal to him. They might give you a lot of trouble. Maybe Miss Sparks and I should come too, you know, as back-up."

"Nathan's got a point, boss," Shirley agreed. "Walking into the lion's den might not be such a hot idea."

"The temperature of the idea aside, it is necessary for just one individual to sneak in. Additionally, my complex and sophisticated communications systems can send distress signals to your holocom and Nathan's personal datapad at a moment's notice." I slid my ray gun into my shoulder holster and moved to the door. "There is exactly zero need for concern. I will contact you once I have Slade in my custody. I intend to provoke him and get recorded evidence of his guilt. Even his reputation will not defend him from my accusation once he has total admission of his guilt."

"Sounds like a plan," Shirley said. She stood up and patted my shoulder. "You be careful, okay? This mug is like nothing we ever faced before. He's not some criminal loser trying not to foul up. He's the law, and that makes him even more dangerous."

"I understand your concern," I said. "I will be as careful as possible." I waved goodbye to Shirley and Nathan and walked through the sliding door into the hallway. The door slid shut behind me with a rush of air. My caution subroutines flared to life as I moved down the hall, so I disengaged them. I reached the shuttle bay in twelve minutes and seven seconds.

The shuttle bay was unattended. There was a basic security system, which I hacked and disengaged in four seconds. I selected the nearest shuttle, hopped into the cockpit and brought its engines to life while I opened the bay doors. Flying the vehicle was simple enough, and I directed it out of the bay doors and into the vastness of space.

The shuttle sped quickly through the crowded space surrounding Mars. I identified sixty-eight other starships, ranging from speedy smuggler-hunting interceptors to sluggish barges, in the void of space between my shuttle and the Justice. Navigating around them proved moderately difficult, but they also masked my approach from the Justice.

The Justice hung over the surface of Mars, resembling a sleek white sword set above the red background of the red planet. It was exceedingly large and exceedingly well armed. I could see the outlines of panels that could open at a moment's notice and project large amounts of lethal projectiles at enemy ships. I estimated my shuttle would be completely vaporized in .5 seconds if they targeted me. I kept the shuttle at a normal speed and normal level, approaching the loading bay in the rear of the Justice. I opened a comlink to the ship.

"Please open the loading bay doors," I requested. "I have routine maintenance to perform."

"That's odd." The voice of the docking officer came back, loaded with static. "We don't have any maintenance scheduled."

"That is why it is designated as routine," I explained. I waited, hoping that he would be accept my explanation. It was with some relief that I saw the doors creak open.

"What the hell?" he asked. "It's the end of my shift anyway. Good luck, pal."

"Thank you for your assistance," I replied, easing the shuttle through the doors.

I slid the vehicle between two shuttles of similar make, and then exited once the bay doors had closed. The loading bay was dark and empty. I walked to the elevator lift in the corner and stepped inside. A preliminary scan of the massive Justice told me exactly what I required to know – the location of Captain Ramses Q. Slade's quarters. I punched them in and waited as the elevator sped upwards through the seventy-eight floors of the starship.

When it finally halted, seventy-nine seconds later, I stepped outside into an immaculate hall, with a red carpet and alabaster white walls. A large door was at the end of the hall, with two uniformed crewmen posted as guards over the door. Their removal would difficult, but far from impossible.

I approached them, my hands in the pockets of my trench coat. "I require an audience with Captain Slade," I stated. Both of them stared at me through the visors of their helmets. Their medals and golden braids gleamed in the low light. "I require an audience immediately." I repeated my request.

The two guards were confused. I continued walking down the hall, approaching them with increased speed. "Maybe you ought to step back, buddy," one of the guards said, his hand falling to his pistol. "Slade don't want to see anybody right now."

"I don't care about his desires," I replied. I drove a fist into the chin of the first guard, knocking his head back against the door and creating immediate unconsciousness. The second guard reached for his pistol and received a strong right hook against the side of his face. Both of them went down. The red-suited guards of the Justice appeared to be as efficient at self-preservation as a black hole is at expelling the surrounding matter it has sucked in.

I opened the door and stepped inside. The room was extremely well-furnished, continuing the red and white color scheme of the hallway. There was a coffee table in the center of the room. Chip was lying on it. Chip's head had been blasted in half by a high-powered ray gun. I looked at the body and then looked up. Captain Ramses Slade sat on the couch, his ray gun smoldering in his hands. His uniform was unbuttoned, revealing an undershirt with seven stains on it.

He pointed to Chip's body. "He tried to escape. I had to kill him."

"That is an unlikely summary of the events preceding his death," I stated. I had to antagonize Captain Slade, causing him to lose his temper and reveal his guilt and corruption. "Your stupidity in this obvious murder will cause your destruction."

"Shut up. They'll believe me. They all will." I recorded every word he said. "Thirty years of patrolling and serving. Thirty years and what does it buy me? Nothing, besides the respect that I fought and bled for." He came to his feet. He lowered his head, staring up at me in an expression of distaste. "Yeah. I killed him. I killed him and many more, so that I can make a buck instead of the damn gangsters that usually do. Ain't nothing wrong about that, boy."

"Laws and courts will believe otherwise."

Slade laughed. "Heh. You're recording all of this, ain't you?" I took a step back as he grabbed his cane. "You thought I was stupid. Some brainless star jockey, speeding straight for Hell. But that's not true. That's not true at all." He swung his cane into my chest, faster than I could react. Despite his bulk, his movement was speedy and full of power. Additionally, his cane relayed 400 volts into my body.

Captain Slade stood over me. "You're probably trying to send out a distress signal to your pals, aren't you? That squirt of a kid and that dame you had watching your back. Too bad I have a counter-signal jamming yours. They're never gonna know what happened to you."

He looked up. "Lenora? Lenora, get me a shuttle ready. I'm going down to the surface!"

Lieutenant Bushwin's voice responded from a speaker in the ceiling. "What are you going to do, sir? What's this report about gunfire in your cabin? Sir, you've got to tell me these things!"

I attempted to make a vocalization, but the electrical attack prevented that. Slade grabbed one of my arms and pulled me to a private elevator in the back. "It don't concern you!" he bellowed. "I'm going down to the dump. Gotta take care of some trash." He struck me again with his cane, preventing my movement. I deduced that the trash he intended to dump was myself.

I flickered in and out of activity during the journey down to the surface of Mars. Slade took a shuttle to a large dumping ground for toxic waste and other hazardous materials, tossing me in the back of the starship as it descended through the atmosphere.

I received some visual information of the junkyard. It was a wasteland of red earth packed over with garbage and rivers of liquid waste, several large metal walkways allowing movement over the ground. The shuttle set down on a small platform over a large pool of bubbling green liquid waste, and Captain Slade leaned back in his chair and sighed.

"You're an idealist," he told me. I would have responded, but the charges from his cane still prevented movement. "I was one too," Slade continued. "Once." He looked back at me and smiled. "But it doesn't bring back your friends or make you feel any less warm at the end of a cold day."

He stepped down the shuttle's landing steps and stood on the steel platform, looking out at garbage and desolation as far as the eye can see. "This is the way the universe runs, boy!" he told me. "About time you realized that. You know, right before the end." He turned back and grabbed my arm, then pulled me out and into the dust.

I looked up at the night sky. I spotted numerous stars, and tried to redirect all remaining energy to my limbs. I started to stir, only to receive a blow from Slade's cane to my chest, which returned me to the garbage strewn dirt. Slade sighed as he leaned on his cane. His advanced age and weariness was apparent.

"So I did it," he said. "I framed Chip for my smuggling racket, and I killed him so that it'll never get to trial. I'll continue running the smuggling routes, and run barges full of contraband cargo into the Free States. All for a measly buck." He did not seem particularly happy about his victory in this matter. "I've been running it for a couple years now. And most of the time it works out fine. And when it doesn't?" He looked down at me. "I bury the bodies out here."

Captain Slade raised the cane, resting it on his shoulder. "So, I guess this is goodbye, ain't it?" He brought down the cane.

But as the cane swung down to shatter my metal skull and completely destroy my internal circuitry, I was aware of an approaching rush of wind. Even my depowered auditory sensors could detect it. I looked up and saw a shuttle, one I identified from the Tumbleweed, swinging low and then spinning about.

It crashed heavily into the ground, raising up a spray of litter and mud before coming to a halt. The door slammed open and Shirley stepped out, her snub-nosed ray gun in her hands. She fired at Captain Slade, striking him in the shoulder and knocking him back. I noted Nathan in the back of the shuttle, his face full of fright.

"Back off, spaceman bastard!" Shirley snarled. "Drop that cane or I'll take off your ugly face!"

Slade stepped back, dropping his cane. "All right, all right," he muttered, raising his hands. Smoke drifted up from the wound on his shoulder. "You got me. How do you know what I was doing to your boss?"

Shirley hurried to my side. My systems began to recharge and I came to my feet. I was also curious about the method she had discovered the whereabouts of Captain Slade.

"Simple," Shirley replied. "When you was reaching for me in the bar on Space Station Harmony, I slipped a tracker into her coat. It fit right in, along with all them stupid medals you carry. I had a feeling I should keep an eye on you." She kept her ray gun level. "Looks like I was right. Say goodnight, you fat piece of—"

"Drop the cannon!" Before Shirley could fire, another individual entered the junkyard, this time by the method of jetpack.

She came slowly down from the sky, her ray gun pointed at Shirley. I identified her as she sailed slowly to earth as Lieutenant Lenora Bushwin. She had followed Captain Slade as well, perhaps to stop him from destroying me. But now she was going to stop Shirley from destroying Slade. Lieutenant Bushwin came to a rest behind Shirley and pressed the muzzle of her ray gun against my secretary's back.

"Put the weapon down," she commanded.

"Don't do nothing crazy, sister," Shirley said, kneeling down and placing her snub-nosed ray gun on the litter strewn ground. "This guy's guiltier than the cat that ate the canary. Even if you didn't hear what he said, my boss recorded it all, and that will stand in any court."

Slade snorted. "I'll get off. I always do. There's nothing I can't do." He looked at Bushwin. "Isn't that right, lieutenant? Come on, honey. Lets waste these chumps and I'll let you run this godforsaken scrap of the solar system by my side."

"I don't want anything to do with anything illegal," Lenora replied.

"There's nothing wrong with what I do, darling." Slade reached into his coat. I could see he was going for his ray gun. I did not have the necessary reflexes or weaponry to stop him. "You know as well as I do that the scum are always gonna be there. Might as well be someone good in charge of them. And all the poor bastards who got in my way? They're all guilty. Every goddamn one."

"Drop your gun, captain!" Bushwin cried. "I like you, but I won't have you—"

"I'll do whatever I want," Slade said, his fingers fixing around the handle of his pistol. "And you won't stop me." He pulled it out, but Lieutenant Bushwin fired. Her shot struck Slade high in the chest and he slumped backwards, the gun falling from his hand. His mouth fell open but he made no noise. I scanned his vital functions and found that he was dead.

Lieutenant Bushwin shivered as she holstered her pistol. "I'm sorry, captain," she whispered. "Years of service, years of doing good – and it all ends here." She turns to Shirley, who was helping me up from the ground. "I'd appreciate a ride out of here," she said.

We returned to the shuttle that Shirley had arrived on. Nathan was in the back. Thankfully, he had not witnessed the gunfight. "What happened?" he asked. "I heard a shot and – where's Captain Slade?"

"Expired," I stated.

Shirley shrugged as she started up the shuttle's engines. "Maybe they'll find his body here. Maybe not. But he'll just disappear and no one will know how he went all corrupt and screwy in his old age." She looked back at Lieutenant Bushwin. "You had a thing for him, that's not hard to see. At least you can be a little happy. People will never know he's corrupt. They'll always see him as a hero."

Lieutenant Bushwin shrugged. "It doesn't matter what people think of him."

-The End -