A young man plans revenge on a rich industrialist for the death of his father, but his plans go awry when he encounters an indigenous life form. — ed, N.E. Lilly
The Hard Deal
by John M. Whalen ©2008
Cyro Burbank wasn’t a particularly big man. Just average height. But there was an arrogant strut in the way he walked toward the church, that told you he saw himself much bigger. A mixture of gold and silver hair shone in the sunlight. Piercing blue eyes looked across the distance at Tommy Cisco, who stood outside the church ruins waiting, the Ruger Plasma Rifle cradled in his arms. Burbank carried a large black duffel bag in one hand. He stopped suddenly and looked at the blood on Tommy’s torn shirt. His eyes swept over the dead bodies of the giant insects that were scattered all around on the sand.
“Put your hands on top of your head,” Tommy said. “Don’t move.”
Burbank dropped the bag and raised his arms.
“Sarlons,” he said. “They were supposed to be exterminated. Twenty years ago. The Army—”
“They missed a few,” Tommy said, frisking him.
“What happened out here?” Burbank asked. “Where’s my daughter?” His gaze shifted from the dead insects on the ground to the younger man standing in front of him. “There’s your money. Take it.”
Tommy swung the rifle and a purple blast sent the black bag flying across the sand. Green bills flew out and floated in the air like big confetti. Burbank watched in disbelief.
“Keep your money, Burbank,” Tommy said. “That’s not what this is about.”
The older man gave him a quizzical look.
“You don’t have any idea who I am, do you?” Tommy said.
“The name’s Cisco. Tommy Cisco. That name ought to be familiar to you.”
Burbank frowned. “The only Cisco I knew was a scientist who worked for me once.”
“That’s right,” Tommy said. He relaxed his grip on the rifle’s trigger and let his fingers relax around the trigger housing. “He was the lead scientist on your little Sarlon experiment out here in Devil’s Basin. The experiment that turned this place into a ghost town.”
“That was a long time ago.”
“You had what you thought was a brilliant idea,” Tommy said. “Breed Sarlons for the silk they produce in their larva stage. It’s more flexible than nylon and stronger than steel. You’d make a fortune if you could produce enough of it. So you got a team of scientists together out here to work on it. Your plan was to screw with the insects’ genetic coding so they’d grow even bigger, multiply faster. For a while it went okay. But then everything went wrong. The Sarlons grew too big, multiplied too fast. They broke out of the lab you built inside that Blue Mountain out there and they swarmed this place.”
Burbank’s face seemed to turn to stone. “Two hundred fifty men, women, and children,” he said. “All dead.”
“Including my father,” Tommy said. “Eaten alive by those things.” Tommy felt his fingers stiffening around the Ruger’s trigger housing.
“It was an accident,” Burbank said.
“When it was all over you blamed my father for what happened,” Tommy said. “He’d been careless, you said. For twenty years he’s laid in his grave known as the man responsible for the tragedy at Devil’s Basin.”
“He was responsible,” Burbank said. “He was project manager.”
“You’re a liar,” Tommy snarled. He wrapped his index finger around the trigger. “He tried everything he could to stop it! I was only eight years old. But I know what happened. My father Vid-phoned us once a week, regular as clockwork. My mother had a bad heart, that’s why he had to leave us back on Earth. The day before he died, he told us how he tried to stop you. He said you wouldn’t listen. He said he was going to go to the media the next day. He was just a day too late.”
“Got any proof of this?” Burbank said.
“No,” Tommy said. “But we both know it’s the truth.” He held the rifle with one hand and took a small, black electronic device out the pocket of his jeans and flicked a switch. He handed the device to Burbank. “Now I want you to tell the truth about what happened out here. You’re going to record a confession.”
“You’re crazy,” Burbank said. “You think anybody’ll care after all this time?”
“I care, Burbank,” Tommy said. He tried not to let the emotion overcome him. “There’s more to the story. When my mother learned what happened out here, it killed her. Her heart couldn’t take it. But before she died, she made me promise to clear my father’s name. I swore I would. It’s taken a long time. A lot has gone down since then, but not a day has gone by I didn’t think of that promise. Now I’m finally going to keep it. Start talking, Burbank, or I swear I’ll kill you, where you stand.”
Burbank’s face was expressionless. The man’s cold eyes might have been made of glass.
“Where is my daughter?” he said. “Shoot me, if you want. I’m not saying anything until I see Carol.”
Tommy saw the red laser sight on Burbank’s chest and knew he had Cyro Burbank at his mercy. If he pulled the trigger, Cyro Burbank would die. Fitting punishment for what the man had done, but it wouldn’t get him what he’d come here for. He’d gone to a lot of trouble to get Burbank out here. Kidnapping the daughter of the most powerful man on the planet hadn’t been easy. She was going to be his bargaining chip
“Where is she, Cisco?” Burbank demanded.
Was it just a few hours ago, Tommy thought, that this whole thing had started? Was it only this afternoon that he had circled his Strato-Sled above the crumbling ruins of Devil’s Basin with the daughter of the planet’s richest man tied up and unconscious in the seat next to him? He remembered glancing over at the unconscious girl, thinking she was not at all what he had expected. She was small, dark haired with large, sad looking eyes. Not the spoiled little rich girl he’d thought she’d be.
He’d shifted his gaze from the girl and peered out the Strato-Sled’s windshield at what was left of Devil’s Basin down on the desert below. The roofless, sun-bleached buildings of the town were ringed by a cracked and broken adobe wall. The scanners on board his ship showed there was no life down there. Off to the west stood a large, solitary blue mountain.
Tommy pushed down on the control wheel and the sled swooped low, skittered across the sand, and landed next to the wall. The girl’s eyes shot open. When she saw where she was, she shrank back in the seat with a gasp and tried to move.
“Take it easy,” Tommy said. “Do what I tell you and nothing will happen to you.”
Her brown eyes reminded him of a deer he’d shot once on a hunting trip in the High Sierra county back on Earth. He untied her and they climbed out of the Strato-Sled and walked toward the ruins. A hot wind blew, whistling through the hollowed out, roofless buildings. An insect hidden somewhere among the buildings made a dry clicking sound. He led her to what was left of an old church. Just four brick walls, no roof, no glass in the windows.
They went inside. Some of the wooden pews still stood, bleached and dried under the merciless Tulon sun. He put a canteen down on cracked block of marble that must have been an altar once, and set a Ruger 575 Plasma Rifle, some shock grenades, and a back pack down next to it. A Beretta Electro-Pistol hung on his leg in a Velcro holster. He parked the girl on one of the pews, took a Port-Com out of the back pack and dialed Cyro Burbank’s number.
The ransom call went all right. He let the girl talk to her father. Tommy thought it odd, though, when she addressed him by his first name, Cyro. He took the phone from her and told Burbank to bring five million Earth dollars, if he wanted to see his daughter again. He told him where to bring the money and gave him six hours to deliver it.
“Six hours! I can’t—” Burbank protested.
“You’re the richest, most powerful man on Tulon, Burbank. CEO of Paramount Oil. You can get that much money with the push of a button. Quit stalling.”
“All right. But listen to me, whoever you are. I’ll say this just once. I’m known for the hard deal. I always keep my end and I expect others to live up to theirs. I’ll give you what you want. You’d better do the same. I’ll spell it out for you. If one hair . . .”
“Save the speech,” Tommy said. He reached into the pocket of his green fatigue pants and pulled out a small black object. “I’ll keep my end. And just in case you get any cute ideas, I’ve got a remote detonator in my hand. I smell anything funny, I press the red button. There’s an incendiary explosive device on board my sled. Be nothing left but ashes for miles around. It’ll take us all out. I won’t hesitate to use it. I’d have nothing to lose. You think about that. Six hours.”
Three of those hours passed. The girl hadn’t said a word since she’d spoken to her father. Just sat there quietly, looking down at the floor. She’d been so passive, Tommy hadn’t bothered to tie her up again. He walked over to the altar, got the canteen, poured some water into a tin cup, and took it over to her.
“How come you called him Cyro?” he asked. “I never heard a daughter call her father by his first name before.”
She took the cup and looked up at him with eyes that almost seemed too big for her small face. “That’s all I’ve ever called him,” she said.
“I studied up on you,” Tommy said. “Your mama died when you were little. It’s been just you and him most of your life. What’s it like being the daughter of the richest man on the planet?”
She took a slow sip from the cup. “Is this the part where the kidnapper and the victim are supposed to form some kind of bond—what do they call it— the Stockholm Syndrome?”
“Just trying to make conversation,” Tommy said. “It’ll be a couple of more hours until your father gets here.”
She set the cup down, pensively.
“He gave me everything I ever wanted,” she said. “I remember one birthday. I wanted a pony. I’d seen vids of children riding them back on Earth. So Cyro had a whole herd of them sent here from Texas.”
“That’s what I call a birthday present.”
“It would have been,” the girl said, “except he had his secretary give them to me. He couldn’t make it to the party. He had a meeting in the Darlan Sector. There were always meetings. He’s a busy man. He couldn’t give me any of his time. So he gave me things instead.”
She looked up and Tommy could see the swift, sudden anger in her eyes.
“Cyro Burbank has his own unique view of life, you know?” she said. “According to him, the world is nothing more than a Big Machine and we’re all just parts in it. You have a choice. You can either be a cog or a wheel. Cogs are for losers. He spent his whole life becoming the biggest wheel in the machine. Truth is, he never gave a damn about much else. Especially not me.”
“I hope he gives enough of a damn to come out here with that money,” he said.
“He’ll be here,” the girl said. “You heard him. This is just another business deal. A transaction. An exchange of funds for the purpose of redeeming one daughter. Cut and dry. No emotion. You’ll get your money.” She looked up at him. “But I guarantee you’ll never get off Tulon alive.”
Over the next hour Tommy thought about what the girl had said. He was sure Burbank would have something up his sleeve. But once he got Burbank here, he thought, it wouldn’t matter. Once he told Burbank what he really wanted, there wouldn’t be anything he could do about it.
A loud noise, like the sound of a propeller chopping the air, came from behind him. Tommy spun. Something big and grotesque had landed in the open window. It looked like an insect, but its long, black body was a good six feet in length and the heavily veined, opaque wings were five feet across. Three pairs of legs and long pincer-like arms protruded from its tube-like body, and its flat head sported a pair of red eyes and vicious-looking mandibles. It sat on the window sill studying them.
“My God!” Carol yelled. “What is it?”
Tommy unholstered the Beretta Electro Pistol strapped to his leg. A loud roar came from the sky above them. Tommy looked up and saw a dark, swirling cloud coming down toward them.
“Sarlons,” Tommy said.
The giant insects swirled above their heads. The sound of their wings filled the hollowed-out church with a deafening roar. The girl screamed and she bolted for the doorway, batting and punching at the giant insects as they tried to grab her with their pincer-like claws. One grabbed her shirt and tried to pick her up. She swung her fists at it futilely as it bore her into the air.
Tommy fired the Beretta. A blue bolt of lightning burst from the gun barrel and blazed across the church. The insect dropped the girl and crashed against a wall with an ear-piercing shriek. Tommy saw more of the creatures going for the girl. He fired at them, but then found himself under attack from all directions. Claw-like pincers tore into his back and grabbed his clothing. He heard the clacking sound of the creatures’ jaws behind his head. Heavily veined wings beat everywhere. He fired the Beretta again and again. He was lifted off the floor, but he kept pulling the trigger. The shrieks of the wound insects shattered his eardrums. Finally, the things let go of him, and he dropped.
The rest of the attack he could hardly remember. A mad swirl of wings, red eyes, and slick black and green bodies. And then it was over. He lay amidst dozens of dead Sarlons, as the swarm ascended out of the church, carrying the girl, now unconscious, with them.
“Was she alive when they took her?” Burbank asked.
Burbank turned his back to Tommy and stared out at Blue Mountain, his hands clenched into tight fists. Then he turned and glared at Tommy with eyes that were hard, chiseled stone.
“I told you I’m known for the hard deal,” he said. “I always keep my end. I brought your money. But you can’t deliver my daughter.” He moved toward Tommy with clenched fists. Tommy brought the muzzle of the plasma gun up to his chest.
“What are you gonna do?” Burbank snarled. “Shoot me? Go ahead. You lousy punk. I’ll take that pop gun away from you and make you eat it.”
Tommy kept the barrel pressed against the oil man’s chest. “I wouldn’t try it,” he said. “You think you’re tough, Burbank. So am I. I grew up the hard way, with no parents, thanks to you. I learned about life in the streets. You’re known for the hard deal. So am I. So go ahead, Mr. Big Wheel. Make your move.”
Burbank stared at Tommy in surprise, as if he had discovered something he’d never expected to find.
“I look at you, and suddenly I see myself thirty years ago,” he said. “You’re not the kind of man your father was. He was soft.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I don’t think you’d understand,” Burbank said. “But let me say this, if he had stood up to me as strongly as you just did, none of this would have happened out here.”
He backed away from Tommy pointed a finger at him. “I’ll tell you what. You want to know the truth about your father. And I want my daughter. Maybe we can still make a deal. There’s a chance Carol could be rescued. Help me get her out of Blue Mountain, and I’ll tell you what you want to know. I’ll record my statement and you can do whatever you want with it.”
Tommy’s finger tightened on the trigger.
“Every second we stand here is one second less Carol has to live,” the oil magnate said. “The Sarlons took her to their nest to feed their larvae. They only feed at sundown. We still have time to go in there and bring her out. There’s no time to argue. I’m going to my ship. You got two choices. Either shoot me in the back, or come along. What’ll it be?”
Tommy could see that Burbank wasn’t bluffing. He could shoot him, but he wanted the confession. And there was the girl. He never meant to do her any harm. She’d only been a pawn. It was his fault she was in danger now. Burbank was giving him no choice. He had to go along with him.
“All right,” Tommy said, deactivating the plasma gun. “Let’s go. But we’ll take my sled. Just one thing. You try a double cross, if it’s the last thing I do, I’ll kill you.”
Tommy sat in the passenger seat and let Burbank pilot. He kept his Beretta on him. Burbank lifted the Sled off the desert floor. And on the sand below, the blast of the ship’s rockets scattered the money they’d left behind to the four winds.
Burbank glanced over at Tommy. “Your father didn’t understand the real world.”
“What do you mean?”
“He was just a little cog in a little wheel,” Burbank said. “Like most people. But he thought he could stop the wheels of progress from moving ahead. He was wrong. You can’t stop the Big Machine. Anyone who tries is crushed. The wheels keep on turning. I learned that early on. You’ve got to become part of it. Figure out how to run it, if you can. It’s the only way, if you want to do more than just survive.”
“You’re daughter gave me a short course on the philosophy of Cyro Burbank,” Tommy said. “And I’ll tell you what, Mr. CEO. I think it stinks.”
Burbank glanced over at him. “You’ve got a lot to learn, son,” he said. He banked the Strato-Sled’s altitude slightly and Tommy saw the dark blue mountain below them, and the black mouth of a tunnel cut into its side. The oil magnate brought the Strato-Sled down slowly and the ship glided into the tunnel. Burbank switched on the headlights. He brought the ship to a stop before a pair of giant-sized metal doors that had stood open the last twenty years. Through the windshield Tommy could see into the huge cavern that lay beyond.
A pale blue glow lit the interior and Tommy guessed that there was some phosphorescent element in the walls. The light revealed the remnants of a huge scientific laboratory. Big generators and cyclotrons stood silent around the perimeter of the cavern. Long ramps ran around the cavern floor and iron cat walks and steel beams laced the ceiling overhead. A concrete walkway encircled a large sand pit.
“Give me a weapon,” Burbank said. “You’ve got my word I won’t try anything.”
Tommy grabbed an AR 220 Laser Rifle from a rack on the Strato-Sled’s wall and handed it to him.
“Stay in front of me,” he said.
They climbed out of the ship and walked through the two gigantic metal doors. They followed a concrete walkway that ran entirely around a large sand pit. As they crept along, Tommy heard a faint, weird whispering sound that seemed to be everywhere and nowhere at the same time. It rose and fell with a regular rhythm. Then he realized it was coming from above. He looked up and saw hundreds of Sarlons hanging from the hundred-foot high ceiling, their gauzy wings reflecting the blue light of the cavern’s walls. They were asleep.
The two men crept carefully along the walkway that circumvented the sand pit. Tommy saw dozens of larvae-holes, each about four feet in diameter, scattered promiscuously about the pit. They opened and closed, like hungry mouths waiting to be fed. Burbank kept moving, heading in the direction of the generators and other heavy machinery that once powered the place. Something made Tommy look up again and the hair on the back of his neck tingled.
“Burbank!” he whispered. “Look!” He pointed at dozens of cocoons suspended from the ceiling. Burbank gasped in astonishment. The cocoons contained bodies, both animal and human. The two men crept forward, their eyes searching the cocoons.
“There she is,” Burbank said.
Carol Burbank, wrapped in a cocoon of silk thread, her arms folded across her chest, hung upside down from a wrought iron beam eighty feet above the cavern floor.
“She’s just unconscious,” Burbank whispered. “They like their food alive. The adults sting their prey with a sedative that makes them sleep until it’s feeding time. Once out of the cocoon fresh air revives them.”
Tommy looked over and saw sudden agitation in the sand pit. The larvae holes were opening and closing more rapidly than before. There was a stirring overhead. The Sarlons were beginning to move. Wings fluttered and Sarlons began dropping down from the ceiling. They fell only a few feet, and then began to fly around in circles high above the cavern floor.
“Come on,” Burbank whispered. They took cover behind one of the metal cabinets that housed the long unused power equipment. They watched as the giant insects began to grab the cocoons by the threads from which they hung. They tore them off the iron beams they were attached to and carried them down to the sand pits. The larvae holes snapped open wide and then shut tightly as the animals inside the cocoons were shaken out and dropped into the hungry mouths. A cocoon holding a fully grown Jack-yena hovered over one large larva and with a few shakes, the animal dropped barking and growling into the larva’s maw. Tommy heard the animal’s terrified squeals as the larva’s mouth closed and disappeared under the sand with its meal.
“Look!” Burbank shouted.
A large green Sarlon held the cocoon bearing Burbank’s daughter in its grasp. The insect flew it down in wide circles toward the sand pit. Its heavily veined wings beat with the sound of a machine, as it brought the girl closer to the gaping mouth of the larva waiting in the sand below.
“No!” Burbank shouted.
He broke cover, ran out across the concrete walkway and jumped into the sand pit. He fired the AR 220 at the Sarlon. One of its wings flew off and the thing spun crazily, just as the girl dropped from the cocoon. Burbank fired again and the Sarlon broke into pieces. Tommy ran past him as the girl fell into the larva’s mouth. She was only half-conscious but awake enough to let out a terrified scream as she began to slide down in the four foot wide sand hole.
Tommy tossed the plasma rifle aside and dove onto the sand, landing next to the hole. In a daze she looked up at him, as he reached down with both hands and grabbed one of her wrists. He tried to pull her up.
“My foot,” she shouted. “Something’s got my foot!”
Burbank stood above them. “Get her out!” he shouted. “They’re coming.”
Tommy could hear the infernal roaring of a hundred wings above them. The girl’s wrist was beginning to slip from his grasp. The thing down in the pit was pulling her down. Tommy slid closer to the larva mouth and tightened his grip.
“Don’t let go of me!” the girl screamed.
Tommy had only the Beretta Electro-pistol that was holstered to his leg. With his free hand he reached down and grabbed it. He began shooting electric pulses down into the hole around the girl’s body. The ground under him shuddered and then he felt the girl come loose. He dropped the pistol and grabbed the girl with both hands. He tugged and pulled as she clambered and clawed her way up out of the hole.
The stood up together, holding each other, their backs to Burbank, who fired the laser rifle in a constant barrage of fire. Hundreds of Sarlons flew around them in a black cyclone, their beating of their opaque wings was like the roar of a locomotive. Claws grabbed and tore. Mandibles clacked and bit. Burbank kept shooting. Sarlon bodies disintegrated and fell to the ground, but still more came.
“We’re done for,” Burbank shouted.
“Not yet,” Tommy said. He turned and picked up the discarded plasma rifle and fired several shots down into the larva hole he’d just pulled the girl from. There was a screech and a big, round thing covered in slime, jumped up out of the sand and skittered away. Tommy looked down inside the hole. He could see the silk threads of the cocoon.
“Go on in there,” he shouted at the girl. She looked at him in horror.
“Are you crazy?” she screamed. She looked over at Burbank, who had fallen to the ground on his back with a dozen Sarlons all over him. Mandibles tore at his face and throat. “Cyro!” the girl screamed in terror and started to go to him.
Tommy swung a fist and clipped her on the chin. He grabbed her as she fell and dropped her down into the hole. He fired his plasma gun at the things feeding on Burbank and they scattered. Tommy dragged the man to the larva hole, dropped him in beside the girl. He took the remote detonator from his pocket and jumped in after them.
The hole was about twelve feet deep and just barely wide enough to hold the three of them. The walls were covered in slime and thick layers of the spun steel that Burbank had been so anxious to harvest. He pulled the steely fibers tightly around them and the sand above fell in over them, covering up the opening.
“Here goes nothing,” he said. He couldn’t see anything in the darkness of the premature grave but he felt for the ignition button on the detonator and pressed it. He held his breath and then felt the earth around them shake. Even under the sand he could hear the explosion, as the incendiary bomb he’d brought on board the Strato-Sled detonated. He imagined fire pouring from the tunnel where they’d parked the ship and prayed that hundreds of giant Sarlons were being fried to a crisp. The walls of the larva hole crushed in on him, and then everything went black.
He opened his eyes but saw only darkness. He could feel the weight of two other bodies pressing against his. He was hot, sweating, and he couldn’t breathe. Tommy Cisco began clawing at the threads of the cocoon that surrounded them. He tore through them and dug through the hot sand above his head. At last he got one hand free, and then the other. Exhausted he lay there a moment, taking in air that was filled with an acrid smell. He climbed out of the larva hole and hand-shoveled sand away from the opening, making it wider. He grabbed the girl by the arm and pulled her up.
“Cyro,” she panted. “Where is he?”
“Help me,” Tommy said, as he pulled the oil man up by his arm pits. Cyro Burbank was covered in blood. Tommy knew he wouldn’t live much longer.
Tommy looked around the cavern. As he’d hoped, the Sarlons were all dead. Their charred remains covered the floor of the cavern like a black carpet. The interior of the cavern had not been too badly damaged by the explosion, which had mainly been contained in the tunnel. But the two big doors at the entrance to the cavern were now twisted metal, totally blocked by fallen rock. They’d never get out. Tommy turned at the sound of Burbank’s voice.
“I won’t make it,” Cyro Burbank said. He lay on the ground with his head in his daughter’s lap. “But as long as you’re all right—.”
“Don’t talk,” the girl said. “Save your strength.”
“I have to talk,” Burbank said. “I have so much to say before it’s too late. I’ve lived with one purpose in mind. To be number one. To be the biggest wheel in the machine. I made it but I had to do a lot of terrible things to get there. I made a lot of unnecessary sacrifices. I realized on the way over here to deliver your ransom, that the biggest thing I’d sacrificed was you.”
“Please, Cyro,” the girl said, stroking his forehead.
“Today a phone call came,” Burbank continued. “My daughter was in danger. She’d been kidnapped and I was the only one who could save her. I realized for the first time, all my life I lived only for myself. And I thought, this is the time I could finally make it up to you, Carol. Do something that a father should do.” He smiled. “I’m sorry I didn’t do better.”
“You came for me,” Carol said. Tears streaked her cheeks. “You didn’t send someone else. That’s what important.”
Burbank smiled weakly, then looked over at Tommy. “You got that recorder on you?” he asked.
“Forget it,” Tommy said. Somehow it all seemed pointless now.
“Give it to me. I told you I’m known for the hard deal. You kept your end. Now it’s my turn.”
Tommy took the recorder out of his pocket. Burbank took it in a shaky hand and pressed the record button.
“This is Cyro Burbank,” he said. “There are two witnesses to this statement. My daughter and Tom Cisco. I state here and now, and of my own free will, that Thomas Cisco, senior manager of Project Sarlon, was in no way responsible for the disaster at Devil’s Basin. He tried to stop the project, and warned me there could be serious problems. I didn’t listen and when disaster happened I blamed him for everything. I take full responsibility. There’s a file named TC-Sarlon-9 buried in the archives that contains confidential memos Tom Cisco wrote. It will clear his name.”
He turned off the Port-Com and handed it back. “If he had pulled a gun on me the way you did, instead of memos,” he told Tommy, “maybe things would have been different. But he just wasn’t that kind of man.”
“There’ll be help arriving,” Burbank said. He glanced up at Tommy. “A part of the deal I didn’t tell you about. I had the police standing by. I told them where we were meeting. They were to wait an hour and if I didn’t come back, they were to come and get me. They should be here soon. They’ll dig you two out of here.”
“Two?” Carol said fearfully. “You mean the three of us. Don’t you… father?”
He looked up at her, with surprise.
“Yeah,” he said. His eyes came suddenly alive for a moment. “That’s right. They’ll dig us out of here. The three of us. We’re going home!”
He fell back into her lap and a long sigh escaped through the smile frozen on his lips.
John M. Whalen grew up in Philadelphia watching Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers serials on his mom and dad’s old black and white Stromberg-Carlson TV. It had a big round picture tube like a goldfish bowl and there was a button you could push that made the picture bigger. It also had a big 10-inch loudspeaker, and he will never get over hearing Franz Lizt’s Les Preludes on it at the opening of every chapter of Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe. It explains everything.