Rotten to the Core
By Nickey Barnard and Alan Stevens
Lydon appeared, spitting blood. He grinned a death's head grin, his reddened teeth demonically matching the wild light in his eyes. Elise had nearly given up waiting; life support for the base on Molyneux was obviously breaking down, the air thickening with ozone and smoke.
"What went wrong?"
"Everything," said Lydon.
There was a sound of metal hitting metal and they turned as one, Lydon snatching the pistol from his waistband.
"It's me! It's me! Don't shoot!"
They relaxed a little.
"Kelso," said Lydon and spat again, "It had to be you."
"I wasn't going to wait around and get shot at. I'm too big a target!"
"So what took you so long to get here?"
"Got lost, didn't I?"
"And where's everyone else?"
"They're dead... I think!"
Elise looked at Kelso and drew a breath. "What do you mean, you think?"
"It's a joke," grinned Lydon, "He doesn't think!"
"Look! There's no one behind me, okay?"
"Did you go and check?"
"Of course I didn't, you stupid..."
Elise went to kick him, but Lydon pulled her back.
"What about Garrovick?" said Elise; "He's got the Devil's luck. He always make it."
"Not this time," said Lydon; "Garrovick got his head blown off. I'm still wearing bits of him. Why do you bastards always have to crowd me?"
He grinned again, but then his good humour left him as his spied the bound corpse further up the corridor.
"Elise? What have you done to my prisoner?"
Before she could answer, they were plunged into the red glow of emergency lighting. Her face was now a shadowy mask... difficult to read.
"He tried to get away," she said.
"But he was tied hand and foot."
"He was a very fast hopper."
Lydon gave up.
"What about the Pylene 72? Did you get it, Lydon?"
They both turned to look at Kelso, who took an abrupt step backwards. "I only asked! It's what we came for."
Lydon raised his pistol and hefted it thoughtfully. "It's been scattered across the moon's surface. "
Kelso looked blank.
"The lab got punctured, decompression did the rest," Lydon paused slyly, then added, "All we have to do is go out and get it."
"In hard vacuum! I can't go out there, Lydon, my back won't take it. It'll freeze up in the cold. You know vacuum plays havoc with my vertebrae. Anyway, there could still be some troopers left alive... and what about the alarm? We're..."
"All right, all right, shut up, Kelso. No-one will have to go out there, because I managed to pick some up before I left."
Lydon stared round as though looking for applause. Elise smiled a cold smile and Lydon draped an arm over her shoulder.
"I've got a plan, Elise. Are you interested?"
"Not right now, Kelso's watching."
Lydon sighed, shook his head and pretended his mind was on something else. "Tell me, Elise, you still want us to team up with Avon?"
Elise's smile dropped. "You know I do."
Lydon winked a blood-shot eye and grinned.
Lydon ducked back as a plasma charge blew sparks off the bulkhead next to him. It was all going wrong. Who could know such a small research base would have so large a defence force?
He turned his head just in time to see McLaren drop his plasma rifle and stare in horror at the cauterised blackened stumps, where his fingers had been. It wasn't for long though, another bolt took him full in the chest and he pitched forward vomiting blood.
"Good shot", bellowed Lydon.
He'd never liked McLaren. Perhaps his luck was starting to change, but then, it couldn't have got any worse. The main problem was duff information. That sneaking bastard Jeremiad was going to pay for selling on useless data. He was going to pay with his eyes and his ears.
Another control panel was blown apart and Lydon ducked. Above him the sound of plasma fire was suddenly followed by a sharp crack and then a zing, as something glanced off a nearby support column. Lydon's heart began thumping in his chest, who in their right mind would be using a projectile weapon? Rupture the outer wall and the moonlet's pressure differential would explosively decompress this base as if it were a space station.
He followed the line back, looking for muzzle flash, and saw a little man in a white coat holding what looked like an antique. Cretin! They were surrounded by half-witted cretinous bastards! He took careful aim, trying to block out the crackle of flames and the screams, but before he could fire, another blast went off, the console directly behind the lab rat shattering outwards. Lydon cursed as bits and blood spattered down on him, and the antique skittered to a halt at his feet. It was a gift. That's what it was. Stupidity's gift. It would be a shame to waste it. He picked up the pistol - collector's item of some kind - silver tracery around the barrel, very nice. And tucked it in his waistband.
He could see three, maybe four, of his group still standing. Garrovick was nearest, and Lydon grabbed his jacket and threw him at a blast door.
"We're being massacred!"
"Shut up, you twat, and get to the rendezvous."
He stared around, grinding his teeth at the strength of the numbers they were up against. A cabinet caught his eye, glass winked balefully in the glow from yellow flame, shattered like everything else, but the vials it contained seemed whole. May as well rescue something from this sorry mess.
Lydon bent to read the labels. And then decided, did it really matter? They were drugs, weren't they? Worth something, and if the Pylene was there, worth a lot. He filled his pockets, and stuffed them down his jacket. Work out what they were later. There'd be time then.
Lydon sniffed, the scent of blood was strong. The pall of smoke was thickening, but Lydon could tell from the sporadic sound of the firing, that some of his group were still alive.
There was no point in waiting any longer. Lydon turned and headed for the blast doors. Debris crunched underfoot, then he slid on something unidentifiable and clutched the doorframe to keep his balance. The pistol in his waistband dug in painfully, and with a sudden anger, Lydon pulled it out preparing to throw it away. Then he giggled, very quietly. Why not? It was a gift, wasn't it? Gifts were meant to be appreciated. Slowly, dreamlike, he raised up the pistol and took aim.
The world hung still for a moment in his imagination, smoke curling forever, blood staining the floor in ancient mosaic patterns. And then he fired, at one window, at two. The pistol's kick bruised his wrist and the smell of cordite rose about him, strong and sour. It hid the other odours, and as Lydon pulled the trigger he laughed, loving the feel of solid metal, loving the adrenaline high, loving the power. Loving it all.
The windows starred, fractured, and disappeared outward, splintering in crystal rays. Instantly, the pressure dropped and a screaming wind came into being that competed with the blare of decompression alarms. Lydon stopped laughing and sniffed, his nose bled, and breathing was starting to hurt. But even as the blast doors lowered finally, Lydon hung on, watching with satisfaction as Federation bodies were sucked out onto the surface, their screams diminishing in the thinning air. Occasionally he noted those of his own group. It was a macabre sport.
The wind cut off, as the doors clanged shut, sealing the corridor. Lydon turned, shaking his head to clear the nosebleed, red mist flew, and he looked right into Garrovick's terrified eyes.
"I told you to get out," he snarled, furious suddenly.
None of them could follow a simple order.
"I was worried, Lydon. I thought you'd be right behind me. I came back ... I thought you might need some help."
"My heart pumps piss."
"You blew the windows, Lydon!"
"Very observant. Have a gold star."
"But you blew the windows!"
Lydon strode off down the corridor, attempting to ignore Garrovick as just one more unimportant distraction, feeling his good mood ebbing in waves.
Garrovick trotted behind, an insect with its buzzing.
"Our people were in there!"
"You know what happens when they take us alive."
Garrovick went quite, he knew very well. Though it was Lydon's fault. It was he who had taken it into his head to crucify Federation prisoners.
At the end of the corridor Lydon came to a halt. He reached out and pressed the key-pad, the blast door began to open. Garrovick hung back.
This was getting irritating, "Now what's wrong?"
"It's too easy. Shouldn't this all be locked down tight?"
"I've got nine lives."
"And the blast door back there, no way should that have opened. There's some weird shit going on here."
"What do you mean, weird shit?"
"We should never have got out like that. Our numbers were up. It's almost like they're letting us go."
Lydon touched the key-pad and the blast door stopped opening. He touched it again and the door began to close.
"What are you doing? We can't stay here!"
Lydon began to pace up and down the corridor, running fingers through his red hair.
"Oh dear, oh deary me. If you're right, you know what that means don't you?"
Garrovick looked at him blankly, "No."
"It means my old son, that one of us is a trrrr- aitor..."
Garrovick was now very frightened. "Does it?"
"Yeah," whispered Lydon, "Or..."
"Or one of us is protected by a higher power."
"A higher power? What higher power?"
"You know, God... The Devil... Or fate maybe?"
Garrovick relaxed, "Let's get out of here you freaky bastard, you're shitting me up."
"No wait," said Lydon wide-eyed, "I think we should test this theory out. Is it you, or is it me?"
"Open the door Lydon."
Lydon ignored him, removed the antique pistol from his waistband, spun the chamber, pulled back the hammer and blew Garrovick's head off.
"Must be me," he said.
At the rendezvous, Lydon appeared, spitting blood...