Part 4 of the 8 part A Man Called Mister Brown serial by A.R. Yngve where Vaino “Green” Fingers and Mister Brown finally meet, face to face. — ed, N.E. Lilly
A Man Called Mister Brown: The Ishtar Death March
by A.R. Yngve ©2008
Venus needed water for its industries and growing population, more than it could recycle or manufacture. Mars and Earth had water but refused to sell; launching it from the ground cost too much. The Outer Planets had plenty of water in Saturn’s rings, and were willing to trade it for hardware and life-support technology.
Icebergs from the rings were packed together in clusters, coated with thin reflective foil and finally shipped by slow propulsion to Venus. It took an ice shipment up to 9 years to arrive into orbit around Venus. By then half of it had evaporated.
The return trade went by unmanned solar sails, boosted by solar-powered orbital lasers, back to the Outer Planets.
Terran industries saw themselves increasingly left out of the loop, and pushed to impose trade tariffs on Venus. And so, without official declarations, began the Second Solar War between Venus and Earth.
Any Terran who tried to visit Venus would have to pass a security check at the transit stations — or slip past transit and land directly on the unpopulated, unpoliced surface.
Mister Brown did not own a ship. He rented a small rocket, steered it toward one of the ice clusters that fell downwell, and hitched a ride.
Having attached his rocket to the outside of an iceberg, he injected himself with ParaGel and set the timer for automatic revival.
Several Earth days later, he was revived from hibernation and detached the capsule from the orbiting ice-cluster. A wrapping of CamFabric hid his small vehicle from visual detection as it parachuted down toward the surface of Venus.
On the Ishtar Highlands, in a large cave blasted out of the dry, compact rock, Green had parked his pride and joy: the stolen warship. The sleek, 90-meter vessel’s gamma-laser cannons were still functional.
Vaino “Green” Fingers had told himself many times: if he hadn’t jettisoned those crewmembers and taken off with their ship, they would have used it in the war, and probably killed thousands of people. So he had really saved lives, hadn’t he? Green considered himself a peaceful man, and it really surprised him that nobody had given him official praise for his unselfish pacifist action.
After his escape from Pamir, he drove the truck 70 kilometers across the hot surface, as fast as he dared. The cops wouldn’t follow — anyone who fled to the surface would be on his own and casually written off as dead.
Green drove into the cave opening, through eight layers of draperies that filtered out most of the corrosive atmosphere and much of the heat. The truck’s headlights hit the dark-gray, jagged outlines of the parked ship. One could barely make out the surface insignia he had painted over: MSF-HK55 BABYKILLER.
“Baby!” He climbed out of the truck in his bulky pressure-suit and hugged the ship’s landing gear “Have you missed me? I’ll take you away from this Stinker planet soon. We’ve got work to do — scum to kill. Martha can get away from Earth, she could sleep her way to Pluto. And away from Earth, I’ll find her. And as soon as Brown leaves Earth, I’ll get...”
A male voice over the shortwave frequency interrupted Green’s monologue. “See, that’s the problem with traveling alone in space, you end up talking to yourself. Bad habit. Saw your lips move.”
Green reached for the gun pouch on his chest — but froze, when he saw a red laser-dot hit his helmet visor and dance across the bridge of his wide nose.
“Drop the piece,” said the radio voice. “Real slow.”
Grinning ferociously, Green obeyed. “How did you find me, friend? Heh... I was sure nobody knew about this hideout... nobody who lived to tell. Want to share my loot? I could use a co-pilot.”
“No thanks,” said the voice, belonging to the figure who walked out of the shadows. “You people snore something fierce.”
“Brownie!” Green’s grin vanished.
Brown, wearing a pressure-suit similar to Green’s, was smiling now. His shoulder-mounted gun and laser-sight locked onto Green’s head as he moved. “Got nothing against Martha’s color,” Brown said, “but the snoring...”
“You son of a goat!” Spittle sprayed from Green’s mouth and evaporated from the hot inside of his visor. “I hope the filthy daughter of a potato gave you a disease.”
“That’s no way to talk about a lady.” Brown sauntered closer. “She was real friendly! Told me all about your stashes and secret routes. And she said you were going to Venus to meet up with someone fugitive, who knew about a big stash...”
“You better kill me now, Brownie. Nobody crosses me and lives to brag about it.”
Brown stopped behind one of the Babykiller’s big landing gears. “Get inside. We’re going to Earth, you and I. And I have a shot of ParaGel that says you’re going to play nice.”
“The treasure, yes...” Green started to grin again. “Forget the bounty on my head and the ship. You go with me, you get rich beyond your wildest dreams. One ton of weapons-grade plutonium, waiting to be picked up, and I know where it’s hidden.”
Brown frowned and looked suspiciously about himself, as if he expected an ambush. “Keep talking...”
Green talked faster, more urgently. “The last man who knew how to find the shipment, he fled to Venus. Been hiding out in the caves here ever since, couldn’t escape on his own. Until I found him. I recognized his face from the news. He begged me to smuggle him out of here, and he refuses to tell me where the treasure is, but he can’t stay here much longer. Getting old and sick, living on my generosity. Ha! Richest man in the universe, and he can’t even pay for a glass of water.”
“How far is it to —”
Then something large struck Brown from behind, and wrestled him to the ground. Clawed metal hands tore the shoulder-gun off his suit and tossed it away. Swearing, Brown tried to get up but couldn’t.
“Say hello to Mafalda,” said Green, his eyes wide and focused. He walked up to the multi-legged robot that held Brown pinned, and patted its flat, gray head. “She likes to hide in the outer shell of my ship. One word from me, and Mafalda busts your suit open like a piņata.”
The robodog’s forelegs locked around Brown’s arms, and its tail coiled up against his visor. On the tip of the tail spun a small drill. Brown gritted his teeth and struggled, in vain.
“Now, where’s Martha?” asked Green.
“How should I know?”
“Come, Mafalda. Bring him here.” Green guided the robodog and its captive to the back of the truck, where he tied Brown’s wrists by a wire to the rear bumper. “We’re going to visit this man, and you’re coming along. It’s only a two-hour drive. Eight hours actually... I’m going to take it real slow with you in tow. You wait here, Mafalda, watch my baby. Be back tomorrow.”
Brown stood silent as the NeoMartian climbed back into his truck and started up the motor. The large, wide wheels began to roll, and Brown was forced to walk along or be dragged.
They passed the layers of draperies, and entered the hot, hot night on the Venus highlands.
A slow, heavy wind pushed against the truck and the man in tow. They moved southwest, across a plain dotted with small, flattened rocks.
The temperature inside Brown’s suit was high enough to make him sweat already, and slowly inched higher. The suit gathered the sweat, filtered it and served it back to him through a drip-feed pipe in his helmet.
But even so, the suit would grow hotter and his fatigue increase, until he collapsed and got cooked inside it.
Brown focused on keeping pace with the truck as it slowly rolled forward. The wire between him and the truck stretched only seven meters.
Only an hour later, Brown could just barely walk upright. The temperature in his suit had risen by five degrees. The drip-feed was almost too hot to drink — but if he stopped drinking, he would die for certain. The view of the gloomy, yellow-brown landscape wavered and shifted as if he were underwater.
And they were still seven hours from the goal.
“Enjoying the scenic route, are you, Brownie?” asked Green’s voice, cheerful, over the shortwave. “It’s nothing like the view back home. Nothing beats Mars. And this smell, don’t get me started. But Venus has its merits. Great place to bury people. The acid dissolves all DNA, all traces of your identity. Your corpse will fit right in here, in this stinking, acidic environment.
“People call me a thief and a killer, but actually I’m a philosopher. I believe in karma. Everybody do what they’re supposed to do. I’m supposed to get mine, and you’re supposed to get yours. Once you accept your karma, life becomes easy. And death, too. Don’t you agree, Brownie?”
Brown fought to catch his breath, and took a deep enough gulp of hot air to reply.
“Is there anything... that’d... make you... spare my... life?”
“Let me think.” Green focused on the map display in front of him, making sure the truck was on the right pre-programmed path. He took a sip of the cool bottled drink in his suit: Perkele Valley Salted Cider, his favorite brand. “Umm... no. But thanks for asking.”
Brown’s muscles trembled with exhaustion. If he was fully conscious, he knew he would not live another hour.
Green peered into the blurred terrain ahead of the truck, tried to make out a movement on his path. “Sap me sideways... no! The son of a goat!”
He shut off the autopilot and stepped on the gas pedal. Brown groaned and lost his foothold as the truck suddenly accelerated. He fell on his back and was dragged. The outer skin of his suit scraped against the hard ground. Still, Brown refused to completely pass out.
Sixty meters further, Green stopped the truck and climbed out. He had passed by the man he was chasing; the figure he had spotted lay just behind the truck’s rear.
A few meters from Brown, who was lying down on the ground with his arms still chained to the truck, an old man sat in the driver’s seat of a small six-wheeled car. A cable ran from his suit to the back of the vehicle.
Green rushed up to the man and pointed a flashlight on his face. The thin, balding Old Terran inside the helmet was breathing in short gulps, and sweat drenched his face. His cheeks had an unhealthy blueish color.
“Answer me! Is your radio working? Answer!”
No reply came; the man’s helmet radio wasn’t working. Green grabbed the man’s helmet and pressed the visor against his own, so the sound could be carried across. “Why did you try to run, you stupid Pink?” he shouted. “I was going to take you away from here! I had to make some cash first to pay my expenses! What’s wrong with you?”
A weak moan passed from the man’s helmet into Green’s.
“Are you sick? Don’t die on me, friend. Want water? Drugs? Wait, I got it all in my truck. Be right back!”
The NeoMartian, who absorbed his own sweat faster than it could appear on his chlorophyll-rich skin, hurried back to the truck for supplies. He wasn’t strong enough to carry the man in the heavy suit back inside, but he could feed him an emergency-pack through the suit valves...
When he returned to the back of his truck, carrying the emergency-pack in both hands, Green stopped and gasped.
Brownie was lying on top of the driver’s suit, his visor leaning against the driver’s.
Green pulled Brown away from the car and shook the driver’s body. The man had stopped breathing; his glassy eyes stared at nothing.
Snarling, Green pulled his gun and took aim at Brown’s helmet. Brown’s breathing sounded faintly in Green’s radio... and then his voice. “Kill me and you’ll never know... what he said before he died.”
“Fark!” Green tucked away his gun. “Speak to me, Brownie! Where’s the treasure?”
“Too hot...” Brown passed out.
“Wait! You can’t die and leave me poor! I’ll save you, son of a goat friend, my best friend in the universe...”
Green dragged Brown into the truck, and connected the emergency pack to a valve in the Terran’s suit. Then he started up the truck and turned it around.
Under Green’s care and nursing, Brown regained consciousness before they reached the hideout cave. Green had Mafalda carry Brown into the Babykiller’s sick bay, where the Terran slept for twelve hours.
Never before had Green sincerely cared more for another human being.
A.R. Yngve started out as a cartoonist, but soon turned to writing. Published works include the Swedish TERRA HEXA book trilogy and short stories in Swedish, British and Chinese magazines. He has recently written a script for Scandinavian radio. Dislikes: Cats, fan fiction. Likes: Philip K. Dick, MST3K.