"Where do you want to go?" He asked her as he placed the breakfast try the
computer had provided between them on the bed. It was actually long past
breakfast time, but it was the first full night's sleep she'd had in days, and
Goose wanted to let her enjoy as much of it as she could. He hated seeing her
so pale, and the long sleep, among other things, had put more color back into her
"What do you mean?"
"We have three weeks. Where would you like to spend them?"
"You mean, anywhere in the universe?" Her eyes were bright, cheeks flushed
as she took a bite from a croissant. It had been wonderful, waking beside him.
She wanted every single morning to be just as wonderful. And every night...
"I'm sorry, what were you saying?" She blushed, realizing a long silence
had stretched out between them as she sat there thinking. He was smiling that
same cheshire cat smile that had not left his face since he had opened his eyes
and saw her staring at him in the faint sunlight that streamsed through the door
of the living room.
"Perhaps the best vacation in the universe would be to never have to leave
this room." He raised a brow suggestively, and she laughed. She had pulled a
pajama top on, dark blue satin, and he unbuttoned the top button now, and ran a
finger along her collarbone. He suddenly got up, moved the tray to the floor,
out of harm's way, and then settled back down beside her.
"I suppose we could go to Xanadu..." she thought aloud, as he traced the
curve of her ear with the tip of his tongue. "I know Ariel would like to meet
you..." He was unbuttoning to rest of the shirt, hands straying lower. "The
coffee's going to get cold." She murmured, eyes dancing.
"So we'll order more," he growled happily, pulling the covers back.
* * *
"This is hideous." Niko craned her neck to see what Karen was reacting so
strongly to. "Unisex dress uniforms! That's sick. The least they could have
done was give you a skirt or something."
"It's not so bad." She giggled at the affronted look on the girl's face.
"If you keep inspecting every piece of clothing in that closet, we are never
going to get me packed."
"You asked for help, you are going to get help. Of the most important
kind. I am lending you half my wardrobe. This," She gestured to the tiny pile
she had approved thus far "will simply not be adequate."
"I'll probably spend most of my time out by the pool anyway, in a suit."
"Or nothing at all." Karen grinned lecherously.
"Get your mind out of the gutter, young lady."
"I have never, in all my years, seen anyone so prone to blushing."
"I swear I never used to blush so often."
"You had nothing to bring one to your cheeks before, I'll warrant. Ah, but
I envy you. A romantic, secluded hideaway, a tall, handsome cowboy."
"And no nosy teenagers." She sighed, and Karen punched her in the arm with
a look of mock hurt.
"Still, three weeks on Rees! It's supposed to be gorgeous there, not to
"Well, we a little help in that department," Niko admitted. "Ariel has
more money than she knows what to do with, so she wastes it on me."
"She's like your mom, isn't she."
"I don't remember my parents. I was too young."
"Your file said you were five." Karen didn't mean to pry, but she was
"The first thing I remember was Ariel and the circle on Xanadu, in the
council chambers. They found me... raised me."
"Do you think you blocked the memories?"
"I must have. When they psychtested me when I joined BETA they offered to
regress me, but I declined. I decided that the memories would come back if they
were going to, and wait them out. They haven't yet." She shrugged, and zipped
up her valise.
"My mom and died three years ago." Karen tried to sound like it was no big
deal. "I was in school on the mainland when it happened. The power went down
on the offshore kelp harvesting plant mom and dad worked at, and there was a
faulty backup system. It overloaded and the whole pylon blew sky high."
"Karen, I'm sorry, I didn't know-"
"Hey, it's okay. But see, at least I got to know them for fifteen years.
And sometimes I wonder if it wouldn't have hurt as much if I hadn't known them.
I guess that's why I asked."
"I wish I had an answer, kid." She smiled, squeezing Karen's shoulder, and
set about finishing packing.
She removed her badge from her uniform, and placed it in a case which she
then tucked in the pocket of her bag.
"Think you'll be needing that?"
"You never know." The door chimed, and Niko jumped up to let Shane in.
He greeted her with a long, wet kiss.
"Whoa, I saw tongue!" Karen raised a brow.
"Naughty girl, don't you have class?" Niko laughed.
"I'm going, I'm going." Karen put up her hands in defeat, and slipped out
the door, blowing kisses.
Shane held up a garment bag, a gleam in his eyes. "This arrived this
morning, for you." Niko looked puzzled, and unzipped it, a hand going to her
mouth. It was the dress Ambassador Ramos had bought her on Boru. She ran her
hand over the taffeta, a slow smile spreading across her face.
"I think this vacation is going to be just perfect." She sighed.
* * *
Shane didn't think he had ever seen anyplace that screamed money quite so
loudly. The crystal dome of the hotel lobby stretched as far as the eye could
see, and echoed with the roar of waterfalls and the cries of tropical birds. It
was as far removed from BETA as anything he could think of, he decided as he
plucked two blue and orange drinks off a passing tray and winked at the green
skinned waitress. Niko poked him in the ribs and he handed her one of the fruit
"Hey, no more harem jokes, remember?" Niko grinned, and sipped the drink
as they followed their bellboy through the maze of plants, people and vendors to
the lifts. The hotel boasted an entirely organic staff, in the style of an old
fashioned holiday resort. This far above the canopy of the Rees rainforests, the
sun shone clear and bright through the dome, but as they entered the clear
aluminum elevator they began to descend into the lush green tree cover.
The habitat ring circled a glade of the forest, and in the centre for as
far down as she could see everything was color. Birds fluttered through the
trees, and further below guests all decked out like peacocks sat around the
springs and pools, talking, taking sun, or sipping drinks. It looked like no one
had a care in the world, and that was exactly the way she wanted to feel.
"You like?" Goose prompted, giving her shoulders a squeeze.
"Oh, I like." She grinned and kissed him. The bellboy looked at the two
of them out of the corner of his eye, and smiled. Kort liked his job for a
multitude of reasons, the chief ones being the high pay, tips, and opportunity
to speak twelve intergalactic dialects. But one of the lesser perks was watching
people make out in the elevator. They may fight later on, but when they first
got here, it was always the same.
They stopped on the forty-third floor to pick up another passenger, but the
two of them just kept at it, hardly noticing. However the fellow they had picked
up leaned closer, peering at the two of them, squinting and chuckling. He was
a grizzled looking old guy in the loudest hawaiian shirt Kort had ever seen and
khaki Bermuda shorts. He continued to stare until the couple, suddenly noticing
they had an audience, broke apart, the lady with high color in her cheeks and the
big blond guy grinning. The old guys eyes went real wide as they passed the
thirty-second floor, and the lady blushed a deeper shade of pink.
"Why Miss Niko!" The old fellow's face was split with a wide grin, and the
big blond guy laughed out loud.
"Cody Wildfire Carson, you old space dog!" Goose exclaimed, and Kort shook
his head as the three of them shook hands like old friends, which, he supposed,
"What are you doing here, Wildfire? I thought you were ranching on Ozark."
Niko was recovering her color, and slipped her arm around Goose's waist, leaning
her head on his shoulder.
"Well, there's no law says a man can't take a bit of a holiday, now is
there?" Cody winked at her, and she laughed.
"What are you wearing?" Goose eyed the shirt with distaste, and Niko
collapsed against his chest with a fit of giggles at Cody's affronted expression
as they slowed to a stop at the eleventh floor.
"This is your stop, ma'am, sir." Kort began to push the luggage trolley
out into the carpeted hallway, and the three of them followed.
"Just getting dressed for the part," Cody replied. "My buckskins would
stand out a bit, dontcha think? And I see you two are out of uniform. Here on
business or pleasure, though may I say it is always a pleasure to see you, Miss
Niko, even if you are being all business like."
"We're here on vacation too. Strictly pleasure." Niko was used to the
blustery cowboy's flirtatious manner, and found it refreshing after the way her
co-workers had been treading on eggshells around her ever since Green's World.
She smiled genuinely at Cody, and the old man's eyes sparkled.
"Well now, Miss Niko, I expect it's time you had a holiday and let all us
old outlaws have one too. You work too hard. And if you ever tire of this big
fellah, well, there's always a place for you on the Buchanan."
"I appreciate the offer, Wildfire, but I think you know my answer."
"I know, this side of the law and all that. You'd make a wonderful outlaw
"Goodbye, Cody." Shane smiled broadly, dragging Niko into the suite, and
Wildfire made a lavish bow before heading back towards the lift.
* * *
Kort wheeled the baggage cart into the centre of the room and opened the
closet to set the suitcases outside the sliding doors. "There's a wet bar here
in the room, all compliments of the hotel. The dining room starts serving at 6,
but room service is available until 1 am should you wish to dine in. If there's
anything else you need, fresh towels, etcetera just dial 'h' on the comm and
they'll put you through to housekeeping." He set the keycards down on a glass
table near the door and then stood there, waiting for something. Shane stared
at him. Niko sighed, and fished a credit chit out of her pocket and placed it
in the young man's palm with a smile. Kort headed back towards the lifts,
grinning. He didn't think he'd see those two till morning, if not afternoon.
"I thought you weren't supposed to tip in a fancy joint like this." Shane
circled arms around her waist, kissing the top of her head.
"Apparently not." She leaned back against him, smiling, and then began
unpacking. She stopped in the midst of hanging up Ambassador Ramos's gift to
study the suite.
The front room was huge, with a wall of windows facing the forest, sliding
doors opening up out onto a small balcony set with chairs and a table. There was
a sitting area with a vidscreen about the same size as the one in the lounge at
BETA, except this one was equipped to show holos and vids, and a peek inside the
cabinet beneath it revealed disks with just about every film ever made all the
way back to the early 20th century.
Goose had wandered into the bedroom, and she could hear his low whistle of
appreciation from there. She gasped at the sight the greeted her as she passed
through the double doors.
There were fresh flowers everywhere, overflowing from vases and baskets on
every surface. All of them were orchids. She grinned, recognizing Ariel's touch
in this. The bed was covered in brightly patterned pillows and a real honest to
gods down comforter over clean white sheets. She bounced on the bed, laughing
like a little girl.
"Damn, sure beats the quarters at home." Goose plopped down next to her,
and she rolled over on her stomach to look him in the eye.
"Oh I don't know, I have very fond memories of my quarters. Lots of good
"Oh really?" She nodded, and was glad the windows in this room were
covered by sheer white drapes, because she definitely didn't want any witnesses
to what she was fairly sure was going to happen next.
Because anyone who watched would have been treated to quite a show.
* * *
"Do you ever wonder what it would have been like to grow up with parents?"
Niko rolled over, resting her head on his chest. The suns had set hours before,
and in the dim light the orchids were bled of color, all painted in whites and
blues from the moonlight streaming through the windows.
"I don't know. I had Max, and then I was shipped off to Wolf Den. I
didn't know anything else." She sighed, and he stroked her hair.
"Did you ever think about it?"
"Sometimes, when I was growing up. I always wondered, who do I look like?
Do I have my mother's eyes? Do I have my father's hair? Was one of them psi?
Where both? Or neither? I don't know, I guess I could find out easily enough.
I'm sure BETA has it all in the files."
"What makes you think so?'
"They did a DNA work-up on me when I first came to Earth. I chose not to
"Karen started it. Then it was seeing all the orchids. I spent my life
surrounded by them until I was 16. I had no idea they were so rare on Earth."
"She really loves you, Ariel does."
"I know she keeps an eye on me, even though she swears she isn't spying.
Kind of like having a fairy godmother, except mine made me eat carrots, and
study, and go to bed early."
"None of the perks, eh?"
"Oh, I think I got to the ball. I found my Prince Charming, didn't I?"
"In slightly tarnish armor."
"My off white knight." She giggled.
"Max hated carrots. But he made me eat them anyway."
"What about Commander Walsh?"
"He didn't care if we ate our vegetables, just so long as we didn't kill
"Sometimes I wish you had." She said it without even thinking, and his
arms tightened around her reflexively. "I'm sorry... I can't believe I just said
"You have nothing to be sorry about, ever." He sounded so fierce, and
sure. "And you'll never have anything to worry about ever again."
"Killbane's dead." She sighed, pulling the blankets up closer, and
snuggling down next to him, yawning.
He could tell from her breathing that she was sleeping, but he couldn't
join her. He couldn't. He was remembering the hour in the cabin while he
tinkered with that damned comm, cannibalizing parts from the scanner. She had
been curled up on the cot, wrapped in a motheaten blanket, with cracked and
broken ribs, the bruises darkening from yellow to angry red and purple before his
And her eyes had been empty. He had tried talking, but she hadn't heard
a word. He knew it. The tears had all dried and there had been nothing left
He never wanted to see her eyes that way again.
Even if it meant searching every inch of the Universe for Killbane and
ripping his heart out himself.
* * *
Goose came up behind Niko as she was towel drying her hair and dropped a
kiss on her neck. She jumped about a mile high, and his grin vanished.
"I'm sorry, babe."
"No, it's my fault. I didn't hear you coming, I guess it's this carpet."
She smiled, trying to still her heart, which was beating like a hummingbird's.
"You just surprised me." She resumed toweling her hair, trying hard not to admit
that even though she had known it was Goose, could be no one else except Goose,
she had still felt that moment of panic.
"How about a swim?"
"That sounds perfect." She flashed him a genuine smile, and he returned
* * *
Walsh cut the visual on the comm, and rubbed the bridge of his nose with
two fingers, knowing that it would do little to prevent the oncoming headache.
Normally, he would be glad for any tip Geezie sent BETA, but just this once he
wished he had never heard what the nosy pedulont had to report.
However, that didn't change the facts.
He keyed up the comm, wondering what he was going to tell the man who was
like a son to him.
* * *
Goose ducked as she kicked spray in his general direction.
"You're already wet." She laughed, lazily swimming a few strokes to his
"You're going to be wetter, shortly," he growled, and she shrieked as he
lunged for her. He picked her up and threw her into the deep end of the pool.
She came up sputtering, and his face was split by a wide grin.
"You're going to get it, Shane!" Her eyes narrowed.
"Oh, am I really?" He arched a brow, treading water.
"Maybe." She cut cleanly through the water, auburn hair streaming out
"Is that they way this game is to be played?"
"You don't know where, and you don't know when..." she giggled as his hand
brushed her waist.
"You're going to get sunburned," he whispered in her ear.
"You feel like lunch?" She put her arms around his neck, kicking lazily.
"Let me do some laps, work off breakfast first."
"I'll go up and order room service."
* * *
She finished towel-drying her hair, a smile tugging at the corner of her
mouth. The message light was blinking. She figured Goose must have rung up
while she was in the shower.
Niko picked up one of the vases of orchids to put on the table, and on the
way pressed the flashing message button on the comm. She froze at Commander
"Goose, I'm sorry to disturb you and Niko on your vacation, but I'm afraid
it's important. Killbane has been sighted on Tortuna."
The vase of orchids slipped through her hands to shatter on the hard wood
floor of the breakfast area.
"I'm sorry, Shane. He's not dead. Zach and Doc have been dispatched, and
I assure you we will--" She didn't hear the rest, her heart was roaring in her
ears, and she stumbled into the bedroom, rummaging through her bag until she
found what she was looking for.
She closed her fingers around the gleaming gold badge, trying to will her
hands to stop shaking.
Killbane was alive.
Not for long.
* * *
Cody damn near had a stroke when he brought the lights up in his room and
saw her sitting on the edge of his bed.
"I need your help."
The way she was looking at him, he couldn't say no.
"Niko?" Goose trailed through the empty suite, his brow furrowing. When he had
arrived upstairs, the waiter had been at the door, about to use his master to
enter the room. He trod on something and jumped. "Ow! Wh...?" He picked a
sliver of glass out of his foot, and stared at the shattered crystal sparkling
in the afternoon sunlight and the bruised flowers.
She was gone.
"I need to put a communication through to BETA," he scowled, and the young
waiter nodded, a little frightened. This was a guy he didn't want to ever see
* * *
"Dammit!" Goose paced in front of the comm, Commander Walsh's concerned
face filling the small screen. "I was going to tell her."
"How do you think she got off planet?'
"Cody, it has to be. He even skipped out on his bill!"
"I'll tell all BETA ships en route to Tortuna to keep their eye out for
her, and have anyone who sees the Buchanan to notify us immediately."
"That's not enough, Commander! I should have been the one to tell her, she
shouldn't have had to find out by accident. I have to go. Killbane is mine, my
problem to solve."
"Commander, I'm going. With or without the blessing of BETA and the
"There will be an interceptor at the spaceport within the hour. I don't
know about BETA, but you have my blessing. Find her, bring her home."
* * *
Niko gathered her hair in one hand, the vibroblade humming in the other.
She breathed deeply, remembering how Shane had run his fingers through her hair
hours before as they had made love. But the memory of Killbane wrapping her hair
around his fist, forcing her mouth to his...
The blade cut cleanly through the heavy auburn braid.
"Miss Niko, would you mind telling me just why we high-tailed it out of
there so quick--" Cody turned as she crawled into the tiny bridge, and gasped at
the sight that greeted him. Her hair now brushed the collar of the old spacenavy
jacket she had fished out of his storage bin, and her eyes were colder than he'd
ever seen them.
"Cody, I need to get to Tortuna."
"I... It's Killbane."
"What do you want with that evil bastard?"
"I want to kill him," she said quietly, and RB and Cody both stared at her
"What?" Cody sputtered, confused.
"Cody," RB piped up. "We're being hailed from Earth, Cody."
"Who is it?"
"Put him through--"
"No!" Niko put her hand on Cody's, but it was too late. RB had already
made the connection.
"Niko." Walsh's face filled the tiny screen. "Niko, I've sent Doc and
Zach, you don't need to go--"
"They don't know!" Niko cried, eyes narrowing. "Killbane might get away
again because they just think they're hunting a fugitive, not the man... not the
man who... No, I'm going commander. And damn you and Shane both for telling me
he was dead."
"Niko, Shane didn't know he was alive, none of us did until he appeared on
"Don't lie to me. You let me believe you found that bastard on Green's
World. Well, I'm going to end it now."
"Shane is an hour behind you. I've put him in charge of cleanup, why don't
you go back to Rees."
"Like hell I will. I'll never feel safe again until I know Killbane is put
"Niko, go back. For your own peace of mind, let Zach and Doc handle it."
"Commander, Killbane is mine."
"Ranger Niko, I'm placing you on suspension, effective immediately. Should
you enter space protected by the League of Planets, all crafts will be ordered
to escort you back to Earth. Back home."
"I won't go back. Ranger or no ranger, I'm going after him." She
terminated the comm channel, and sat back in the co-pilot's chair, furious.
"What did he do?" Cody saw how she was shaking, and it made his blood
boil. "If he hurt you I'll tear the no good varmint limb from limb--"
"It's okay, Cody. I can take care of him. Just get me to Tortuna as
quickly as you can."
"You're not going to tell me, are you."
"You're a good friend, but this is something very personal."
"Revenge is never satisfying, Miss Niko."
"I think this time it just might be."
"Zach," Goose hailed Ranger I from his interceptor, already in hyperspace
headed towards Tortuna. "Doc, Zach, come in!" Again, just as with the last
eight tries there was no answer. They must have already docked and left the
ship. Any transmission he made to Geezie's would be traced by the crown, and the
last thing he needed was a Crown reception when he landed, so Shane fumed in
silence, and started configuring the com to send a scrambled signal to the surf
If anything happened.... anything at all, there wouldn't be enough left of
Killbane to fit on the head of a pin.
* * *
"How the hell are we gonna find this mother?" Doc whispered to Zach,
scanning the smoke filled saloon. The bartender was a Dreen, which looked to any
human like a walking, talking hippo. They were famous for hosting in bars across
the known galaxy, having pioneered the trading of exotic ales and spirits in the
early days of interstellar travel, even before the Crown empire has spread. No
planet was complete without a Dreen saloon, and for some reason most of them
seemed to be named Last Chance Bar and Grill. If it had any cultural
significance, Zach could never figure it.
"Geezie said he was laying low."
"There's no place lower than Tortuna City, Tortuna. Where'd our favorite
snitch spot him, anyway?"
"Here. That was a day ago. He could be miles from here by now. Lightyears
* * *
"Miss Niko, you sure you want to be doing this? This ain't no place for
"Cody..." She wished that he would have stayed with RB, but once Wildfire
got something into his head, wild horses couldn't drag him away from it.
Niko took a deep breath, and sought her badge beneath the heavy layers of
clothing. Cody had a veritable costume shop in the back of The Buchanan, quite
a change from the last time she had to disguise herself from his meagre
belongings. She never did ask him why he had a dancehall girl's outfit in his
storage cupboard. It probably had something to do with the real Louise and
She emptied her mind and began to feel along the edges of her
consciousness, searching for Killbane.
She hated doing it, but it was all she could do. If she talked to Geezie,
he might tell the others.
You should let them know...they're your freinds, they just want to help
you... a little voice reminded her, and she squelched it.
She brushed past something.... her mind skittered away from it, a reaction
no different than snatching a burned finger away from a hot stove. She forced
herself to probe a little deeper, and clenched her teeth. It was him, and he was
* * *
Zach started as his writscom beeped. Doc glanced around the taproom for
a corner table where they wouldn't be observed.
"Captain." Goose's face filled the tiny screen.
"Gooseman?" Zach whispered feircely, surprised. "I thought you were on
"I'm in orbit. This is a secure channel. Niko's on Tortuna with Wildfire
"If you see her, you have to stop her--"
"Explain yourself, mister."
"She's looking for Killbane. I'm coming down there. Have you got a line
"Still looking. Get down here, we'll meet you at Geezie's."
* * *
"Crazy hummings!" Geezie was so frazzled, Goose thought he might burst a
blood vessel. "Was only supposed to be two of you!"
"This wasn't planned, Geezie," Zach said for the third time. "Ranger Niko
is here against orders."
"The Queen is suspicious! Rangers on the Queen's world... I'm doomed."
"Shut up, Geezie." Goose lifted the mewling pedulont two feet off the
ground. "And listen to me. You're going to help me find her. And if you don't,
this place will be teaming with crown troopers, and you'll be looking at life
from the wrong side of the Queen's psychocryopt. Got it?"
"Got it," Geezie squeeked, and Goose dropped him. "Crazy hummings...."
* * *
"Cody, I wish you had stayed with RB." Niko sighed as they tried to look
inconspicuous, wandering through the streets of Sorry End.
"And leave you on your own?" Wildfire winked. "I wouldn't be no gentleman
if I did that."
"If any man calls you a gentleman, I'll spit in his eye." Niko shook her
head. "You're a good friend, Carson." She looked up at the darkened windows of
a Corellian boarding house. "He's here."
* * *
Geezie fretted, the rangers trailing behind him. "You hummings, you think
you can just come here and run everything. The Queen will have my trunk if she
finds out you're here."
"She will, if you don't shut up about it," Zach snapped. "If you don't
want us here, why do you keep tipping Beta off?"
* * *
Niko and Cody slipped inside the boarding house, glancing at each other at
the sharp smell of smoke, unwashed bodies, and all together too much liquor. The
Corellian woman at the concierge's desk didn't even look up as they started up
"It's here." Niko stopped before the last door. "He's here."
Cody checked the charge on his blaster and cocked it. Niko took a deep
breath, and turned the knob.
The room was dark. She reached to touch her badge when a hand shot out of
the darkness. She bit back a cry, and Cody squeezed off a shot before a
corellian, probably the concierge's son, locked all three arms around him.
Killbane's smile was feral in the darkness.
Dragging her into the center of the room, he turned up the lantern.
"Well well, what have we here? The little ranger-girl."
She tore her arm out of his grasp, shaking.
"Ryker Killbane, you are under arrest for attempted murder, crimes against
the League, and rape."
He laughed. It was a rasping sound, choked and above all, mad.
"What's with you, girl? You back for more?" He circled her, brushing her
cheek with a callused fingertip. "Isn't the Runt able to... satisfy you the way
I did, is that it?" His breath stank of cheap scotch, one eye raking her body
"You can't hold a candle to him." She clenched her fists, fighting back
the desire to bolt. His being so close... his hate spilling over, battering at
her defenses. She had a hard time catching her breath.
"Get away from her!" Cody exploded, straining against the restraining arms
of the Corellian.
"And you old man, what are you? Her father? You goin' to stop me?"
Killbane sneered in the outlaw's general direction.
"Stay out of this, Cody." Niko snapped before the blustering old outlaw
could let lose a string of curses that would have blistered the ears of even the
most experienced pirate in the Galaxy. She held her head up, refusing to give
into the terror that threatened to overwhelm her. "You took something from me,
and I don't mean just the violation of my body. You made me afraid of
everything, of my own shadow. Of the touch of the man I love. I'm not going to
take you in so you can be frozen in storage like so much garbage until they
decide to have a trial, if they decide. That's too good for you, Supertrooper or
"Niko." Cody started at her, eyes wide.
"You raped me." She whispered, her voice cracking. "And I'm going to kill
"I'd like to see you try, little girl." He ran his thumb along her jaw and
let it slip down her neck to the hollow of her throat where the beating of her
heart betrayed her.
"What's wrong, Killbane? Are you afraid to fight a woman," she growled,
slapping his hand away. "On equal terms?"
"Wasn't once enough?" He laughed. "I ain't afraid of no slip of a girl."
"No, of course you're not. You're very good at fighting women, aren't you?
Maybe because you know they are the only ones you can bully. You know you
couldn't beat Goose in a fair fight, so you took the cowards way, and he still
almost killed you. You hate him because you fear him."
"Lying bitch," Killbane spat out, raising his hand to strike her, but she
kneed him in the groin, kicking him in the head as he was doubled over, howling.
"Come on," she forced her way through her fear with a lance of white hot
anger, spurred on my Cody's laughter at the bleeding and groggy Killbane. Even
with his biodefences, he was still vulnerable. "Come on, I dare you. You want
to fight me?"
"Get him, girl!" Cody whistled as Killbane tried another swing, growling
But this time she had enough room to maneuver, and easily ducked and spun
away, getting in a kidney punch.
She stayed at least three steps away from him, wary and focussed. This
time, he wasn't going to hurt her. She was going to make him pay. In pain and
blood, and fear.
"What's the matter, supertrooper? Having a little trouble?" His blind fury
was transmitted across the tenuous mental bridge she had established and not yet
closed. It telegraphed his every move before he made it, and she allowed the
anger to just wash over her as she circled him.
When he tried the gas, she was waiting for him. She jumped back, and
produced the small hand blaster Cody had given her, firing off three shots in
quick succession. He dropped like a stone, his twitching body glowing weakly red
as his biodefences tried to ward off nervous system shock.
She held the blaster aimed at his head, breathing hard. Her finger spasmed
on the trigger.
"Niko, there's a line. You told me once you'd never join me on this side
of it." Cody's voice, loud yet gentle, came from across the room. The
Corellian, aware that he had picked the losing side, was glancing nervously from
the gun in her hand to the door. She pointed it in his general direction, and
he bolted. She set the power level up one, and aimed squarely for Killbane's
"I was wrong, Wildfire. I was wrong. He deserves to die."
"Maybe." Cody placed his hand over hers. "But you're not the one to do
it, little lady. You're too good for that. Bring him in instead."
She swallowed tears, and let Cody take the blaster from her. "Call Zach and
the others. Tell them they have a prisoner to take in." She removed a pair of
handcuffs from the pocket of the jacket and set about locking them around
Cody kept the gun levelled at the unconscious supertrooper as he activated
his wrist com. "Zach, this is Wildfire. We're at Mama's, in Sorry End."
Niko got the cuffs around one wrist and was about to secure the other when
the seemingly lifeless hand snapped up to lock around her throat.
* * *
"We copy Cody, we're five minutes away." Zach reined in Brute and turned
back towards Sorry End.
"Dammit!" Cody's voice suddenly squealed from the line.
"Cody?" Goose barked, straining to see what was happening on the tiny
wrist com screen. "What's happening?" But there was the sound of blaster fire
and the line went dead.
* * *
"Dammit!" Cody yelled, firing again and again at the enraged Killbane, who
didn't even seem to notice.
"Stupid bitch, it takes a lot more to kill me," Killbane growled, putting
both hands around her throat and squeezing. Niko clawed at his arms, tears
welling up as she fought for breath. "You never learn, you just never learn."
Cody broke a chair over his back when the blaster was empty, and Killbane
just shrugged it off, throwing the old cowboy with one hand across the room to
careen into a table where he lay, silent.
"No," Niko rasped as Killbane's fingers dug into her throat, and the fear
threatened to engulf her. He pinned her arm to the floor, and the edges of her
sight began to grow dark as she shrugged to reach her badge under the jacket with
her free hand.
Everything went white.
* * *
From the street, the rangers saw a brilliant flash of light from the
upstairs window of the boarding house. Goose took the rickety wooden steps three
at a time, not caring if the entire Crown armada noticed them. He broke down the
flimsy wooden door, Zach and Doc, weapons raised, following him into the room.
In the center of the floor lay Killbane, eye wide and blank, drool creeping
from the corner of his mouth to trail down his neck. Niko was in one corner,
coughing and drawing in great gulps of air as she tried to see how badly Wildfire
"Niko!" Goose put his hands on her shoulders, and she buried her face in
his chest, still coughing with tears streaming down her face. "Are you okay?
Did he hurt you?"
She shook her head, still straining for breath. Doc waved his medical
scanner over Killbane, frowning at the results.
"I'm reading barest minimum of brain activity," he said to Zach, sotto
voce. "This guy won't be doing anything for a long time. Massive shock to the
nervous system, and brain damage. His mind is gone."
Cody moaned, and sat up, rubbing the back of his head where it had struck
the wall. "I'm gonna have a lump the size of a goose egg," he muttered, too
happy to note that Niko was whole, and breathing.
"He was trying to kill me..." Niko choked out, trying to explain. "I was
so afraid he was going to kill me..."
"It's okay." Goose glared at Zach over her head, as if challenging him to
say different, and the captain nodded.