"You might as well stop hiding. There's nowhere left to go." Colt lifted the pistol in his hand, confident enough to know the man could run, but definitely couldn't hide.
Not for long, anyway.
He kept the familiar weapon close to his chest, ready to point and shoot. Every muscle in his body tightened as he rounded the corner and stepped onto the metal bridge connecting the corridor to the maintenance side of the ship.
His booted feet vibrated as the bridge shook beneath them. In spite of not having anywhere to go, his latest captive was attempting to make a run for it.
Colt couldn't help but chuckle, a deep rumble low in his throat that spread along his body. A rush of adrenaline reminded him why he enjoyed this job so much, and he relaxed a little. The need to play hide-and-seek had been absent for much too long. All his captures were getting a little too easy.
This is my ship. Ain't no one gonna get away from me on my own damn ship.
A strike came out of nowhere, hitting him in the shoulder. Colt stumbled backward, against the metal railing. Pain shot through the small of his back and he had to clutch the handrail tight to keep from toppling over.
Damn. The cocky thoughts had opened him up for an unexpected attack.
A second strike got him in the side of the head and he fell to his knees. The tranquilizer pistol slid from his fingers and tumbled off the bridge, flying out of range as he fumbled to retrieve it.
A scurry of movement caught the corner of his eye and he used the metal railing to help him stand, but not before a foot impacted with his face. His head jerked to the side, throbbing instantly.
"I'm gonna get you for this," he whispered, spitting a mouthful of blood. Rage rolled through his body in hot spurts that gave him the strength he needed.
He lifted to his knees and pulled out the short knife he kept tucked inside the holster around his left ankle. He managed to push himself upright just as the next blow caught him below the jaw. His head snapped back with dizzying speed, but he didn't waste another moment. Reflexively, he stretched his hand out and stabbed at the culprit.
When his blade caught flesh, a whoosh of air filled the space between them.
He reached for the man but his slick skin made it easy for him to slip away. Colt tried to grab him again, noticing the gash dribbling blood over the guy's abdomen when the captive kicked him in the shin. He recoiled and swayed, but was able to stay on his feet. He didn't want to stab him a second time. The injury looked bad and on anyone else would've slowed them, but this guy kept moving.
How the hell can he still be standing? Colt attempted to grab a hold of his arm, careful to keep his knife out in front of him. He didn't want to fatally injure him but hoped the threat of the weapon was enough. Still, the guy met his eyes for a second and looked as if he was about to say something. He opened his mouth, then closed it again.
Colt glared at him. "You're not getting away from me."
A sneer escaped the man a second before he turned and ran the other way, leaving the pungent smell of sweat in his wake. By the time Colt regained his bearings, the man had already reached the end of the bridge.
This guy was quick, moved as fast as the other guys he'd had to wrangle lately. There'd been a time when he'd drop into a planet, grab the culprit with a simple point of his pistol, and set on his way for delivery and payment. Nowadays, they usually put up a fight. But so far, none had been as tough as this one. Even after being shackled, the captive had surprised him by somehow breaking out of the restraints.
What the hell is going on here?
"Come out, come out, wherever you are," he called, spitting another mouthful of blood onto the metallic floor. Even though he was slight in frame, this asshole was tough. Still, on his ship there was nowhere else to go.
The buzz of a door sealing itself filled the area between them.
Damn, not the escape pod.
Colt ran ahead, feet pumping, lungs burning, as he left the maintenance area and continued down the corridors of his ship. When he took the last step and peered through the small, round hole of his escape pod, it had already sealed off. He was too late.
The guy lay in a fetal position on the floor. Blood pooled beneath him from the stab wound on his side, just as the countdown began.
"Five, four, three--"
For a second, all Colt could do was watch the guy convulse.
"Two, one. Please clear the area," the mechanical female voice warned.
"Oh shit." Colt broke from his reverie long enough to turn around. What the hell was he thinking? Never enter the escape pod area when it's disengaging from the ship. He'd never had a reason to use it before.
The sound of pressure releasing filled the small, rounded area around him. He ran back the way he'd come, but the rush of air still caught him. If he hung out here any longer, he'd be ejected in a matter of minutes. The security door would seal shortly and he'd be cut off from the rest of the ship, without enough oxygen to survive. Or worse, be spat out into the vastness of space.
Ignoring the whirlwind of pressure trying to pull him in, Colt headed towards the doorway and grabbed it. Grateful for the metal indentations on the walls, he used them to pull himself along. For every step he took, he felt as if he was being dragged back another two. But he had to keep moving. The oxygen would soon be cut off completely.
During times like these, he missed his goddamn robot. If she hadn't taken it from him, he'd have someone onboard to help stop this disaster. The push of one blasted button situated in the cockpit was what he needed now, but there was no one else to press it for him.
The quality of the air was already changing. He had less than a minute left.
"The room will seal in sixty, fifty-nine..." The voice droned on and on, but he ignored it. Slowly, very slowly, making his way through what felt like sludge at his feet. He kept his fingers stuck to the indentations on the wall, gaining ground by the sheer strength of his white-knuckled grip.
"Thirty, twenty-nine, twenty-eight..." The soundtrack to his demise echoed inside his brain, causing him to grate his teeth.
After all the crap he'd been through in his wretched life, he couldn't believe his own ship would spell the end. Why had he chased the guy in here anyway? He hadn't been thinking, had gotten caught up in the moment. Didn't he have enough excitement in his life already, without adding to it?
No, he didn't. Lately, wrangling had started to feel more like a chore than anything else, part of a routine that secured him payment, without the thrills he enjoyed.
If you want thrills, how about what you're facing now. I'm sure your head exploding out in space will make a welcome change from the mundane.
"Ten, nine, eight..."
"Come on, come on," he said through gritted teeth. His fingers ached as much as his legs, but he was so close. He couldn't give up now. Excitement was one thing, but dying was another. He wasn't ready to throw his life away just yet.
Colt reached out and managed to curve his right hand around the doorway, using it as leverage to propel him forward.
"Five, four, three..."
He cried out and shoved himself forward.
Colt plunged into the corridor a split second before the white door slid across the doorway and sealed itself off, barely missing his foot.
"The pod room has been completely sealed," the mechanical voice said without emotion.
"Yeah, thanks." The blasted, efficient computer system had almost killed him.
Colt turned onto his back and stared up at the silver ceiling, sucking in as much oxygen as he could. His blood pumped through his veins, surging into his heart as he realized how close he'd come to being screwed over by one of his captures.
What the hell was he going to tell Jenks? He'd never lost one before. He slammed both palms against the floor and cursed. There was no way in hell he'd let some guy force him to forfeit payment.
He pushed upward and got to his feet, racing down the corridor and turning left, continuing until he reached the pilot seat. He collapsed onto it and activated the ship's controls. He needed to follow as close on the heels of his target as he could.
I'll follow the bastard and he won't know what hit him. It would be the easiest thing in the world to follow the escape pod. After all, it was part of his ship. Everything he owned had a locator attached to it.
He pressed the locator button on the dash and a tiny green dot appeared on screen. The pod would automatically head towards the closest habitable planet. There were a few of those around here. It was just a matter of staying close enough to see which one.
"I've gotcha now, you son of a bitch." Colt sat forward, watching as the steady movements of the green dot inside its tiny round screen suddenly stopped. The flashing signaled that the escape pod had landed. The son of a gun had already landed. Luck seemed to be on this guy's side today. All Colt had to do was find out which one of the nearby desert planets had become his destination.
Colt punched the coordinates into his electronic map and another, bigger screen popped up. Harrow. His target was waiting for him in the small planet of Harrow. He'd never been there, but knew someone who'd been born there, someone who made him angry and crazy every time he remembered her. Even now, his pulse quickened at the thought of Brynn.
The same ache she'd left behind five years before now stabbed into his chest. Almost as if he'd woken up this morning to find her gone from his bed.
Colt exhaled, focusing on the escape pod's location.
He may have lost the only escape pod on his ship, but at least the pursuit gave him something else to focus on.
Harrow, here I come.
The beep from the terminal to his left interrupted his thoughts.
"What the hell?" This had better not be Jenks wanting an update. His employer never checked up on him, never even gave him due dates because Colt always came through in the end.
He clicked on the message.
"You have one incoming communication," the female voice said. Her mechanical drone grated on his nerves. Maybe it was time to switch it. "It's a one-way transmission. Would you like me to relay it for you?"
"The origin of this message is Wither."
"Where's Wither?" He looked at the map. A blue circle closed around the green dot signaling where the pod had landed and magnified the section in front of him.
"Wither is situated on the planet of Harrow." The inside of the blue circle flashed with images of the desert planet--the large expanse of sand, a small frontier settlement in the distance and a blazing orange orb so huge in the sky that it made his skin itch.
I'll be damned. The guy who'd stolen his pod wouldn't attempt to contact him now, would he? Then again, during their confrontation, for a second it had looked like the man wanted to say something.
Otherwise, who the hell would try to contact him from that planet? He didn't have any clients on that blazing rock.
"Play the message."
The terminal's flashing message screen was replaced by static. The black and white dots were fuzzy as an image slowly materialized. Even grainy, he recognized her instantly.
He leaned forward, turning the square screen so he could glare at it, ignoring the flashes of Wither still playing on the opposite viewer. "What the hell?" It may have been years since they'd last been together, but he would know her anywhere. Her long blonde hair was tied in two matching braids that hung over her shoulders and disappeared from view where the screen ended. Her face seemed a little more hardened than when they'd been together, but any other details were stilted by the bad reception.
"Clean up the audio," he called. "It's not coming through."
"Colt," she said in her familiar soft voice. "It's Brynn. I know it's been a long time, and you're probably still pissed, but I need your help."
His immediate reaction was to switch her off. He didn't want to hear anything she had to say, and didn't want to help her after the crap she'd put him through. He'd spent over two goddamn years looking for her, never thinking she'd be stupid enough to return to her birthplace.
"I know you're probably itching to delete this message but please, hear me out." She stared into the camera. Was that desperation in her eyes? "I'm sorry, okay? I know that doesn't make up for what I did, but there was no other way to deal with it. I couldn't involve you in my problems any more than I already had." Her eyes were shiny. He looked away, couldn't bear to see her right now. "I know you won't turn your back from helping others...especially when they're willing to pay with as much gold as you can load onto your rust bucket."
He chuckled. She was in for a big surprise. The rust bucket had been dumped in a junkyard years ago.
"Anyway, I embedded my coordinates within this message. It's probably not the smartest thing to do, considering." Brynn paused to sigh. "But I can't let these people suffer anymore. Please, if you're willing to put what happened between us aside, come as soon as you can. Help us, Colt, before we all die. You're the only one who can get us out of this mess."
The message faded into static.
"Replay it for me," he called.
"I'm sorry. The transmission destroyed itself after viewing. It is gone now," the mechanical voice answered.
"What the hell are you up to now, Brynn?"
Whatever it was, Colt had to admit that he was curious enough to head right over there. She was lucky he intended to head that way anyway. Now he could scoop up his target, make a little extra while he was there, and finally get some answers from the woman who'd crushed his heart. And, of course, find out why the hell people dying on her planet had anything to do with him.