Goose and Niko weren't given a mission together for three weeks, and hadn't spent
much time together until they got assigned to deliver an ambassador to Boru in
sector 23. It was a quiet trip out, with Ambassador Ramos, a two meter tall
Southern Bell with a brilliant sense of humor, telling anecdotes most of the way,
and sleeping the rest. Still, Shane didn't dare even touch Niko, because he knew
if he did, the Ambassador wouldn't be asleep long, and he'd probably crash into
something like a planet when he wasn't looking. The little shuttle was pretty
different from the interceptors he usually flew, being a new design just recently
put into effect by BETA.
They would have taken Ranger I, except it was due to be serviced and Flynn
had pretty much told Walsh he had better give her enough time to do it properly,
or the old ship would probably blow his precious Rangers to hell someday just
`cause they worked her so hard. In the face of that kind of determination, what
could the Commander do but find an alternative? Flynn had hurumphed, flipped her
braid over her shoulder, and stomped out of the office, feeling very pleased with
herself, and went back to her bay to play around with poor Geebee some more.
Once the Ambassador was safely settled in at the BETA embassy in Boru's
largest city, Pekin, she offered her escort a room for the night, and a dinner
that would surpass anything they'd ever seen before as Ramos had shipped her
favorite chef over from New Orleans a month earlier.
They accepted, gladly after the ten hour trip, but protested that they
certainly didn't have their dress uniforms with them.
"Don't be silly. Pekin has one of the biggest malls in the universe, and
I wouldn't be a lady if I didn't extend y'all credit. You just pick out whatever
your heart desires." She winked at Niko. "I personally shall accompany you, my
dear. I know exactly the right store to pick out something to match those eyes."
Niko blushed, feeling silly. But Ambassador Ramos was not to be
discouraged. She was a lady through and through, and loved the chance to dress
somebody up. "I do the same thing for my grandchildren whenever I'm in New
Dallas," she confided as she swept her out the door, followed not so discreetly
by several guards, and headed for the biggest old-style limousine Niko had ever
seen. Shane watched, chuckling as the girl sent him a pleading look. Somehow
he knew visions of Gone With The Wind were running through her mind. He waved,
and went back inside to contact the Commander and tell him they'd be running a
* * *
"So how long have you and the big cowboy back there been sweet on each
other?" The ambassador led the way through a huge glass and steel shopping
arcade reminiscent of the late twentieth century to a small shop on the
"Ma'am, I really don't know what-"
"Oh, don't bother and lie to me, sweetie. They way you two were lookin'
at each other, I had it pretty much figured out before we ever left the Solar
System. Has he figured it out yet?"
"Just last month." She laughed.
"And just how long did it take?"
"Well, that's men for you. Took my husband a mite less time, 'course I was
encouraging him along the way. A well placed hint will do wonders for a
blossoming relationship. I put y'all in separate bedrooms though. I'm just an
old fashioned gal at heart. Hope you don't mind."
"You blush real easy, don't you now?" She laughed, and patted Niko's hand
affectionately. "How do you look in green?"
* * *
Goose whistled appreciatively when he met Niko at the door of her room.
She twirled around for his benefit, laughing. The ambassador had chosen a forest
green taffeta gown with a full skirt that rustled when she moved. The sleeves
were puffed, and off the shoulder, revealing a great deal of creamy white skin.
Around her neck was a green silk ribbon, and her hair was braided and tied with
a matching silk cord. Goose whistled in approval.
"I look like Scarlet O'Hara." She frowned. "I couldn't stop her, she was
out of control. It would have created an interstellar incident--"
"Green is definitely your color."
"You're just saying that because I hardly ever wear any other!" She liked
the way he filled out the dark suit, and for once, no cowboy hat.
"We're going to be late for dinner."
"It doesn't start for another quarter of an hour." She was puzzled.
"I know." He smiled, and took her in his arms.
"Oh," she murmured against his mouth. "That sounds good to me."
"Excuse me." A small furred humanoid cleared his throat, and tapped Goose
on the shoulder. Niko blushed furiously, hiding her face in his shoulder, and
"Ranger Gooseman, Ranger Niko, you have a communication in the Ambassador's
office. A Commander Walsh." Then the furry embassy staff-member scurried away,
leaving the two of them muttering under their breath as they headed for the
* * *
If Walsh was curious about his rangers state of dress, he wasn't going to
waste time talking about it. He had more important things to be worried about.
"Rangers, Ryker Killbane was sighted in sector 27, heading in your
direction. He stole a class 47 miner's tug from Starbase 12, that's how we are
able to track him. Class 47's don't have Andorian drives, but they do have
cutting lasers and tractors. I want you to try to intercept and capture."
"On our way sir." Goose cut communications while Niko scrawled a note to
"Killbane owes us dinner." She sighed as they raced back up to their rooms
* * *
In orbit around Green's World in sector 27, the two rangers kept a sharp
eye out for their adversary. They didn't have to wait long.
"I have him on our scanners." Niko locked the on-board computer on to the
stolen ship's ion trail. "Broadcasting on all frequencies."
"As if he'll stop just because we asked him to," Goose muttered, arming the
"There's your answer," she snapped, bringing up the defenses as the miner
ship fired lasers at their underbelly. "Shields up at maximum. Didn't even graze
The comscreen flickered, and after a moment of chattering to itself,
Killbane's scarred face appeared.
"Think you can catch me, Runt?" He snarled.
"It's for you, dear." Niko jerked her head towards the screen.
"You're under arrest, Killbane." He fired a warning shot across the 47's
"Come and get me, Gooseman." Lasers fired again, and this time the shuttle
shook with the impact.
"Shields at 60% and dropping." Niko frowned at the tactical screen.
"Something tells me these weren't built for combat."
"So we put him out of commission before he gets another shot at us." Goose
brought the shuttle around for another pass, finger paused on the trigger.
"Killbane, this is your last warning!"
The comscreen stayed blank, and he fired. The shots grazed the side of the
ship, causing enough damage to slow him down. The miner's tug shuddered, but
righted itself and fired at the shuttle again.
"Damage to airlock two and guidance systems." Suddenly the little shuttle
lurched. "Goose, he's locked his tractor on us!"
"Firing main engines." He frowned as the shuttle shook, but did not break
free. "Tractors on that thing are strong..."
"Firing again, damage to hyperdrive and engine two." She targeted weapons
again and fired on Killbane's stolen ship. "His life support is going. We're
supposed to arrest him, not kill him."
"What are the conditions on the planet down there? Can we try to force him
"Mostly marsh with a few mining settlements, half of them empty." She
gritted her teeth as the shuttle lurched again. "His tractor is tearing us apart
at such close range."
"I'm aiming for the tractor controls." He fired, and Killbane's leering
face came back up on their screens.
"If I'm going down, you are going with me, Runt." He laughed, and fired
lasers at their underbelly. Smoke filled the cabin as circuits fused.
"Main engines off line. We're caught in the planet's gravity. Orbit
decaying." Niko grabbed an extinguisher from behind her seat to use on the
flaming control panel.
"Killbane is going down. I'm tracking him." He buckled the safety straps
of the seat.
"Shane, we're going to crash!"
"Don't worry. I do it all the time." He smiled. "Buckle your seatbelt.
This might get a little bumpy."
"That's why you love me." He called up a map of the area they were headed
for, and caught a quick glimpse before the computer's memory turned to
gobbledygook and the screen went blank. "As soon as we hit the atmosphere,
activate your implant to shield yourself."
"What about you?"
"I'll be fine. Do it!" He wrestled with the controls, keeping Killbane's
tug, now flaming in the planets atmosphere, in his sights. They cut through the
heavy cloud cover, and barely avoided crashing into the side of a mountain. Niko
sucked in air between her teeth, but the faint glimmer around her outline assured
him she was shielded. He kept his own fingers hovering over his badge, just in
case. They managed to come down in the middle of a thunderstorm, and he couldn't
see a thing. Including land. Hence, they set down in a lake.
"Damn." He unbuckled his harness as they settled on the bottom of the
lake. The on-board systems began shorting out as the water got in through holes
made by Killbane's lasers, and hull breeches from where entering the planet's
atmosphere had widened the rips and tears. The lights flickered and went out,
and he heard Niko swear in the darkness.
"Temper, darlin'." He found her hand in the darkness. "Activate your
implant. We've got some swimming ahead." She became outlined in yellow fire,
and he touched his own badge as he blew the airlock. Water rushed into the cabin
as he hooked an arm around her waist and kicked towards the surface with newfound
They broke the surface, Niko gasping for breath but otherwise all right,
although she began to wonder why she bothered with her badge at all, when she was
immediately soaked through to the skin in seconds by the rain.
"We need to find shelter. Fast," he shouted above the wind. It wasn't a
thunderstorm, it was a bloody hurricane...
"Don't need to tell me twice," she shouted back. "Any idea where we are?"
"There should be some abandoned miners' cabins about half a kilometer north
"Lay on, MacDuff." She pushed wet hair back from her eyes, saw him
illuminated in a flash of lightening, and grasped his hand as they started off
in what she assumed was a northerly direction.
* * *
They stumbled into the cabin almost two hours later, slamming the door
against the wind and rain. Niko felt around until she found a lantern, and lit
it from the lighter in her supply pouch. In its glow, she surveyed the cabin.
One room, a table and chair in one corner, stripped bed in another. She set
the lantern on a shelf and rummaged around for some blankets while Goose broke
up the table to use for firewood. She clenched her teeth to keep them from
chattering, and found a rifle and the remains of a blanket under the bed.
"Home sweet home," Goose muttered as the furniture finally caught and she
crouched down next to him in front of the fire. She held up the laser rifle for
"Found a powerpack too. Never hurts to be armed." She smiled brightly,
running her fingers through her dripping mass of hair. They wrapped themselves
up in the moth-eaten blanket.
"How romantic," Niko muttered, pulling what looked like seaweed from her
hair and tossing it on the fire.
"I'm going to have to go out after him." Gooseman frowned.
"Maybe he died in the crash." She looked hopeful.
"I'd never get that lucky. Even if he did, I have to make sure." He and
Killbane had never been friends, and both knew one would have to kill the other
some day. It was a foregone conclusion, no matter what BETA and the Council of
Leaders had to say about it. It could end no other way. Goose wasn't exactly
looking forward to their final fight. However, he did just want it all to be over
someday. Well and truly over.
"My scanner isn't too waterlogged. It should be able to find the remnants
of his ship in this mess." She pulled the little device out of her belt pouch,
wiping the swamp scum from the controls with a grimace.
"I want you to stay here." His mouth was a firm line.
"Shouldn't both of us-"
"If something should happen, one of us should concentrate on getting back
to earth in one peace."
"That's stupid." She bristled, eyes flashing and he had to admit she
"Killbane is my fight."
"Of all the egoistic, machismo, bloody stupid-" She sputtered angrily. He
put a hand over her mouth.
"You are staying here if I have to tie you up. And that is the last I'll
here of it."
"Is it because I'm a woman?" She was really getting angry. "Don't you
think I can hold my own in a fight?"
"Don't be silly. I know you can. It's because you're my woman." He
smiled at her outraged expression, and cut off any protest she could have made
with a long, passionate kiss. She was still angry when they parted, but the fire
in her eyes was no longer all fury. It made him smile. When they got back to
earth, Killbane or no Killbane, he was going to put in for some vacation time.
God only knew, they'd been racking it up over the past two years. Someplace
warm, romantic, out of the way where they had never even heard of Andorian
drives, Crown troopers or even telephones...
"Just promise you'll check in every fifteen minutes, and call as soon as
you find the ship. The comms seem to be working fine..." She was still
"Yes, mother." He laughed, and opened the door. She went to hand him the
rifle, but he shook his head. "Keep it here, next to you. It never hurts to be
armed." He kissed her on the forehead, and then on the mouth. She held him
tightly, suddenly afraid, and kissed him back thoroughly before he disappeared
into the damp darkness.
"I'm gonna kill him," she muttered as she shut the door against the chill.
* * *
Shane found the wreckage of Killbane's ship, half sunk in the mud of the
swamp. No body, so he must be still lurking about somewhere. He tried to
remember the details of the map that had flashed before they crashed, and failed.
He had no idea in what direction the nearest town was. He had never even been
to Green's World before. It was a common enough joke that Green's was the most
backwater of the backwater planets, too far from the shipping lanes to really
live there comfortably, and all the mining had petered out about a decade
earlier. In another twenty years, it would probably be abandoned.
No wonder no one wants to stay, with weather like this. He raised the
collar of his uniform as another light drizzle began. He was about to raise Niko
on the com when he suddenly caught a flurry of motion out of the corner of his
He turned too late, and the rusted shovel caught him on the forehead. He
saw Killbane in the planet's dim dusk, waving the shovel, and he jumped back,
hearing it whistle through the air where he had been standing. Blood from the
gash in his eyes, he could barely see the next strike. He reached for his badge,
but the other man slammed into him, knocking them both to the ground, knowing if
he activated his bio-defenses, who would be the victor. And Killbane was taking
The badge was ripped away first thing, though Goose got in one good punch
right after, seeing with satisfaction Killbane's head snap back from the impact.
He leapt up, ready for a fight, and ended up with the shovel jammed hard into his
stomach. Killbane had snatched it from the mud, and now laughing gleefully,
kicked Shane hard in the ribs with his booted foot. The wind knocked out of him,
he still rolled out of the way so his opponent couldn't strike again.
Gooseman got to his feet, wiping blood from his eyes, but Killbane was
armed, albeit with a shovel, and that tool had a longer reach. It whistled
through the air again, grazing his shoulder as he jumped back. Killbane laughed
as Goose went down, tripping over a tree root half buried in the muck, and took
advantage, slamming the handle of the shovel into the side of his head, knocking
Killbane wanted to kill him, but he was too intrigued by the game that was
forming in his mind. Besides, killing an unarmed man was no fun, and he wanted
to face Gooseman on equal terms, to prove he was the Runt's better. He needed
time through. This attack had given him time. And he was also curious. He had
seen the Runt leaving one of the abandoned cabin's along the river. He had also
seen the woman in the cabin, knew her to be another of the S5's, and wanted to
have a little surprise waiting for the traitor when he got "home". He snickered
again, and headed back the way he had come.
* * *
Niko began to get nervous as complete darkness descended on Green's World.
She turned up the light of the small lantern, resisting the urge to pace. Besid
es, it was getting cold. She picked up the remains of the chair, and threw it
on the fire, knowing it would go out soon, and not caring. A noise outside drew
her to the door.
"Shane?" She called out into the darkness, reluctant to leave the warmth
and light of the tiny cabin. Another snapped twig, this time closer. "Goose, is
that you?" She backed away, reaching for her rifle when someone crashed through
the window. She leapt for the gun as the intruder straightened, revealing Ryker
Killbane's leering face as he shook back his mane of black hair. He laughed,
stepping between her and the weapon, and she stepped back, eyes narrowing as she
touched her badge.
Killbane was lifted off his feet, surrounded by her mind, and she heaved
him against the far wall. He slid down, shaking his head, and she went for the
gun again. She got it, and raised it to fire, but it was a small room, and he
was too close. She couldn't squeeze off a shot in time. He leapt forward and
grabbed at long muzzle of the rifle, her shot going wild. He yanked it out of her
hands even as she went for her badge again.
Before she could activate her charge, he blew a cloud of vile green gas in
her face, and she was forced to her knees, coughing and gasping for breath. He
pinned her arms behind her with one hand and removed the badge from her belt with
"Won't be needing this, now will we?" He dragged her to her feet, and
tossed the gold badge through the air. Niko heard it strike the wall, then the
wooden planks of the floor. She struggled, trying to free her arms, but he held
them so tight, they would be torn from the sockets if she continued. She kicked
out, cursing, and he dragged her back, slamming her up against the wall. To her
horror, he had her handcuffs in his hand, having torn them from her beltpouch,
and, one hand on her throat, grasped her hands and secured them behind her.
He let her go, giving her a push towards the wall, laughing as she
struggled to maintain her balance. She growled, and then tried another
roundhouse kick at his head, but he ducked with ease, and, getting under the arc
of her kick, backhanded her, sending her reeling to fall against the wall. Then
he kicked the legs out from under her, and she slid down to sit half against the
wall, half crouched on the floor. He had the rifle now, muzzle under her chin,
raised her face to look at him.
"Series Five Ranger. You're not so hot." He sneered down at her, prodding
her throat with the gun. "You think the runt is coming after you? Think he'll
come for you? Think again." He laughed, kneeling down, pinning her legs at the
knees beneath his hand, held them still so she couldn't kick him by putting his
full weight on her kneecaps. She flinched, and then spit in his good eye.
He wiped the spittle from his cheek, then got a handful of her hair,
pulling her off the floor, level with his eye. She did not cry out, but glared
"So you're the runt's woman." He leered, and her expression faltered.
"Maybe I'll just take you along for the ride then, even the score." He ignored
her renewed struggles, and forced her mouth to his. She turned her head, feeling
sick as he painfully grabbed her jaw, nails scoring her cheek, turning her face
back to him. He only laughed, and sudden grabbed the neck of her uniform in both
hands, ripping it down to her belt. She heard the cloth give, felt the cold
draft against her skin, but couldn't believe it was happening. She squeezed her
eyes shut, swallowing painfully as he pulled her closer.
"It's no fun if you're not looking." He slapped her, making her face him.
She only glared. He suddenly snarled, and slammed her against the wall. This
time she slid down unconscious, his laughter echoing in her ears.
* * *
Goose felt the world rushing back painfully, every heartbeat accented by
his throbbing head. He did not move at first, but felt the cold mud and muck
beneath his hands, water seeping through his uniform, chilling him to the very
bone. It was raining again. He sat up, head swimming. All the wetness on his
face was not rain, but blood as well. There was an ugly gash at his hairline,
where Killbane's shovel had struck its mark. He could taste it, metallic and
salty on his lips and tongue. He spat once, then rose. His badge was nowhere
in sight. Probably taken as a souvenir, if he knew Killbane....
He stumbled back to the abandoned cabin, knowing from the pain of each
breath that his ribs were likely bruised, maybe broken.
As soon as he saw the open door, he knew something was not right. Dread
clutched at his chest as he near fell inside, and saw the objects scattered about
the room, the table overturned, the fire out and shards of window glass catching
the light from lamp still burning on its shelf, casting odd shadows around the
empty room. Empty.
He began swearing inbetween labored breaths, kicking the fallen cups and
bowls across the floor, needing to vent his anger somehow, and regretting it
immediately as he was answered by a stab of pain in his side. He eye was caught
by something gleaming on the far wall.
Her badge, a hunting knife shoved through the delicate circuitry, pinning
it to the scorched wood of the wall. Blood on the blade. A challenge then.
Damn him. Shane's fist slammed into the wall and he tore the knife from the
wood, a dangerous gleam in his eye.
* * *
Niko came awake slowly, dreading it. She was in another abandoned miner's
cabin, not too unlike the first one. Rope had been knotted around her ankle, and
then strung through a iron hoop embedded deep in the wall, probably meant to hold
a hammock once. It cut into her skin when she tried to move, but she managed to
tuck her legs under her, to regain some balance, though she could not get far.
Her arms were still shackled, the cuffs threaded through the other hoop on the
other wall that made up the corner where he had tied her, so that they were
suspended above her. She was sore all over, and the right side of her face was
stiff, her lip swelling. Her hair, streaming again from the rain, was plastered
to her head.
She shivered, and realized for the first time that her uniform was in rags,
little of it left at all. It only served to remind her why she was still alive.
She looked up.
He was in the opposite corner, watching her from his chair. A lantern hung
on a hook next to him, turned low, and his face was in shadow. Suddenly he leaned
forward, and in the half light she caught the wolfish smile and gleam in his
remaining seeing eye. He got out of the chair, and she shivered again, but not
from the cold, as he approached, her laser rifle still in his hands.
"He's not dead, you know." He smiled down at her. "It wouldn't be any fun
unless there is some risk. I left him bleeding, but he still might make it in
time for the party. After all I didn't hit him that hard." She noticed for the
first time Goose's badge pinned to his shirt, put there, no doubt, to prove to
her that he had beaten Shane. To prove it was not just an idle threat.
She thought of using the shackles to lift herself up, strike out with her
free leg. But he was expecting it, and prodded her ribs with the gun. She knew
it was loaded. She had loaded it herself that afternoon. She did not strike,
uncoiled her legs. He smiled again, and she turned away, feeling angry tears
forming behind her eyes. And she would not let him see her cry.
She screamed when he forced her legs apart. Screamed Shane's name, one
last attempt. The cry was cut off by his fist, and she lay there, stunned, as
he began laughing, tearing at the remains of her uniform, and his own clothes.
She opened her mouth to cry out again, but was stopped by the knife he suddenly
pressed to her throat. Helpless tears of rage coursed down her cheeks, and she
wondered if she shouldn't let him kill her. Anything was better than this.....
He laughed when he took her. Laughed as she cried. She was Gooseman's
woman, and he had stolen her. He thought it a grand joke, laughing as she curled
into a ball, shaking with her silent weeping. He even laughed when the door was
broken into splinters, and a bloody Gooseman stumbled inside, rage burning in his
"Told you he'd make it in time for the party." Killbane was still
laughing, the rifle pointed at her head, the muzzle at her temple. Shane stopped
in mid-lunge, green eyes burning with hatred and fury. Killbane started to laugh
again, that insane mad sound rising over Niko's quiet sobs. The loudest sound in
the cabin, louder even than the rain outside, hitting the tin roof. Suddenly it
stopped, and the gun fell away from her temple
She did not look up. She couldn't look up. Had she, she would have seen
Shane throw the knife, seen it bury itself deep in Killbane's chest. Wide-eyed,
he stumbled past Goose and out the door, where he collapsed in the mud and was
still. She knew only that hands were touching her again, and she screamed. But
there was no answering blow. Only someone holding her as she screamed and
screamed, someone whispering to her until the cries died in her throat. She
opened her eyes, knowing that the arms that held her now were familiar, caring,
gentle. She buried her face in Shane's shoulder as he rocked her back and forth,
still murmuring It's okay. He can't hurt you any more. It's okay... Soon her
sobs quieted, and she clung to him for warmth. He had cut the rope, tore the
handcuffs from the wall. Destroyed them with his own hands. He took a moth-eaten
blanket from the tiny bed in the corner, wrapped it around her. Held her still.
He looked outside the open door as the rain started again. Killbane was
gone. The bloody knife lay in the muck where he had fallen. The door banged
against the wall, caught in the wind, but Shane didn't move to close it yet. He
just sat in the corner, holding Niko till her tears dried.
* * *
There was an old transmitter in the cabin. It worked, after a few
adjustments and jury rigging, and he called for help from the nearest town. Men
in flitters arrived quickly, the doctor informing Gooseman that ships from Earth
were on the way, having been searching for the past seven hours for the missing
Rangers. He insisted on checking Shane out, seeing how badly beat up the two of
them were. Niko was quiet, still shaking, and the doctor couldn't give her a
sedative for fear she would go from shock to a coma. He wished he could erase
the next five hours. Let her not wake until they were safe in a hospital
somewhere far from the cabin. *The blood on the floor? Not ours. The man who
did this. He should be dead. Chest wound. Tell me when you find the body*.
And then Shane turned his back on the doctor and his questions, and moved to
Niko's side in the back of the ambulance.