A fragile peace between the Il Ronnian Empire and humankind is about to crumble--because space pirates have made off with one of the aliens' holiest relics. Only one man can hunt down the sacred object. A man with a score to settle with the pirates: bounty hunter supreme Sam McCade.
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December 11, 2008
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Excerpt from Alien Bounty by William C. Dietz
"Prisoner McCade!" The guard's voice cut through the soft murmur like a knife. What light there was glazed the surface of things and left the rest dark.
The other prisoners drifted away leaving McCade to stand alone. They had enough trouble without borrowing any of his.
McCade was dirty, his leathers were ripped, and his black hair fell down around his shoulders in thick, greasy coils. But there was no fear in his cool gray eyes or in the set of his long, lean body.
The guard shifted his considerable weight from one foot to the other and gripped the nerve lash more tightly. "Are you McCade?"
McCade smiled. "No ... I'm Grand Admiral Keaton. Is my fleet ready?"
A wide variety of rude noises issued forth from the surrounding darkness. Behind his face shield the guard flushed. "Very funny, pit slime. Now move."
McCade obeyed. Something heavy fell into his stomach as he stepped aboard the lift disk. Bad though Pit 47 was, there'd been reason to hope. Maybe Rico would come back. Maybe he'd escape slavery in the mines. But that was gone now. Each day the guards took one or two prisoners away and now it was his turn.
McCade held out both hands, wrists touching. The guard gave a grunt of satisfaction as he locked the nerve shackles in place. Any attempt to remove them would result in unbelievable agony.
The guard was a big man with thick eyebrows, meaty lips, and an enormous jaw. "This is Duncan in Pit 47. I've got prisoner McCade on disk two."
The voice in his ear was bored. "Code."
Duncan subvocalized so McCade couldn't hear. "Mary four Mary."
The disk hummed softly as it floated them upward. It, and another just like it, were the only way in or out of Pit 47. Each disk would lift two, and only two, people. Even if the prisoners killed the pit guards and took both disks, only four of them could lift. And without the proper code they'd be killed long before they reached the reception station up above.
The anti-grav disks were expensive, but what the hell, the Molarians had credits to burn. Molaria, was the single known source of Nerlinium Crystals, and as everyone knows, Nerlinium Crystals are a very important component in hyperdrives.
Molaria was an artifact world, one of the mysterious planets once home to a long-vanished race, now part of the human empire. Having learned the secrets of hyperdrive from artifacts the aliens had left behind, humans had also discovered the value of the ancient mines that dotted the surface of Molaria. From those mines came Nerlinium Crystals, and from the crystals came untold wealth, some of which had gone into lift disks for Pit 47.
All of which did very little to comfort Sam McCade as the disk carried him upward. More than a hundred feet of smooth featureless wall went by before the disk stopped and the guard motioned for him to get off.
A muscle in his left check began to twitch as McCade stepped off the disk. He'd been in a lot of tight spots during his years as a bounty hunter, but this was one of the tightest. What had started out as a routine trip to buy some spare drive crystals had turned into a nightmare.
After a routine landing he and Rico had approached a crystal dealer with a perfectly reasonable offer. She'd countered with an attempt to rob them, and even though they managed to escape, both men were soon running for their lives.
Running out of her store, they spotted three of the local riding animals. Having climbed aboard two of the creatures, they shot the third in a futile attempt to delay pursuit and headed for the spaceport at top speed. Once aboard McCadde's ship they stood a good chance of getting off-planet alive. Pegasus was well armed and damned fast.
But they'd have to get there first and that wouldn't be easy. Like most dealers this one had her own security guards and they gave chase. Minutes later the guards were joined by a squad of Molarian mounted police and a posse of bloodthirsty citizens, all of whom were experts at riding their three legged bouncers.
Each of the sauroids has two powerful hind legs and a single foreleg located at the center of its chest. As the rear legs push off the foreleg functions as a pivot bearing the animal's weight until the hind legs hit the ground again. As a result the animals bounce up and down, which explains both their name and why it takes some practice to ride them.
McCade was thrown off time after time. The falls hurt and burned precious seconds at the same time. Seconds they desperately needed to reach the spaceport in time.
Maybe it was his childhood on a farm, or the many years spent living on primitive worlds, but whatever the reason Rico took to the bouncers naturally. He seemed glued to the plastic saddle as he shouted for people to get out of the way and led McCade through a maze of side streets.
But their pursuers were catching up and as McCade went down for the sixth time he yelled for Rico to leave him.