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Space Cops

The Stolen Rocket


RichardMallardpulledbackontheyoke,andpresseddownontheaccelerator.Withacoupleof bumpsandalurch,thepolicecruiserhewasdrivingclearedtheedgeofthelaunchbayand streakedawayfromtheouterperimeterofLunarPoliceheadquarters. HeadjustedhiscruiserstrajectoryuntilitwasaimeddirectlytowardsLunarCity,thecityhewas assignedtopatrol.MallardwouldspendthefirsthalfofhisshiftpatrollingtheskyaboveLunar City,andthenforthelasthalflandandpatroltheinsideonfoot. ItwaslongbeforeLunarCitysdomecameintoview.Thebarrierthrewoffaslightglintwherethe lightfromthesunbouncedoff.Evenfromthisdistance,Mallardcanmakeouttheshapesofthe citysbuildings.Someweresquatandsquare,whileothersweretalllikeskyscrapers.Therest ofthecitysatunderneaththesurfaceofthemoon. MallardsteeredhiscruiseraroundtheedgeofLunarCity,andbeganhisdescent.Therewasa craternotfarfromthecitywherehelikedtositwhilescanningforspeeders. Suddenly,thetransmitteronhisdashcrackledintolife.Allunits,allunits,pleaserespondtoa 401inprogressonthesouthernsideofLunarCity.Mallardcuttheretroenginesandpulledhis cruiserintoanascent.A401wasastolenrocket.VesselisaTypeXScienceRocketcarrying nuclearmaterial.Allofficersareadvisedtoapproachwithcaution. Mallardpressedabuttononhishelmet.ThisisMallard,Imapproachingthesouthside. Rogerthat.Backupunitsareontheirway. Mallardcouldseearocketalreadyonthelaunchpadoutsideofthecity.Smokewascurlingoutof itsenginesandeverysooftentherewastheredofburningenginesastheyheatedup.Iamin visualrangeoftherocket.Looksliketheyregettingreadytolaunch. Proceedwithcaution. Mallardflippedaswitchonhiscommunicationconsolewhichchangedhistransmittertoa generalfrequency.ThisisLunarpolicetotheTypeXRocketshipcurrentlyonthelaunchpad. Disengageyourenginesandpreparetoreturntothespaceport.Youwillnotbeallowedtoleave Lunarairspace. Almostasifitwasinresponse,thebottomoftherocketthrewoutaplumeofredflames,and begantoliftupoffofthelaunchpad.Mallardbankedlefttoavoidflyingintothepathoftherocket. Therocketisinmotion.Wheresmybackup?Mallardyelledashepulledhiscruiserupina pursuitcourse.

Space Cops
Wehaveunitsontheirway.Fifteenminutes. Thatrocketisatfullburn.Itwontbehereinfifteenminutes. Earthportandorbitalauthoritieshavealreadybeennotified.Therewontbeanywhereelseto go. AsickeningthoughtranthroughMallardmindconcerningthebombingofLunarCity.Whatif theirplandoesntinvolvegoingtoEarth?Hesaid.Whatiftheyretargetingthecity?Mallard slammedhisfootdownontheacceleratoruntilthecruiserwasgoingasfastasitcould.Hewas gaining,buttherocketwasstillseveralmetersinfrontofhim.Evenifhecouldcatchup,the cruiserwasntbigenoughtoforceittoland,andwasntequippedwithawaytodock. Mallardsheadsetcrackled,andavoicebeganspeakingintohisears.ThisisrocketshipGallant tothecopwhosfollowingus.Breakoffyourpursuit,orwewillopenfireonyou. Mallardglaredattherocket.Howwouldtheybeabletomakegoodonthatkindofthreat? Suddenly,hesawthatanairlockonthesidehadopenedup.Amaninaspacesuitleanedoutof theairlockandtookaimwithamachinegun. Mallardtookevasiveactionasplitsecondafterthemanopenedfire.Bulletsbouncedagainsthis cruiser.Whilekeepinghisvesselsteady,Mallardliftedhisspacehelmetontohispressuresuit, andthendrewhissidearmoutofhisholster.Herolleddownthesidewindowonhiscruiser, leanedoutsothathecouldaim,andreturnedfire.Hisshotsgrazedthehulloftherocket,buthe hadnthitthemanwiththemachinegun. Therocketflattenedoutitsascent,andspedacrossthemoonsorbit,withMallardstillinhot pursuit.Nowtheywereatanaltitudeinspacewheretheywereencounteringsomeotherspace traffic.Therocketveeredanddovejustintimetomisscrashingintoafreighterwhichwasonan approachforalanding.Mallardpulledupintoahigherorbit,thendovebackdownuntilhewas practicallyontopoftherocketship. Themanintheairlockwasalreadytakingaim,andsqueezedoffaroundbeforeMallardcould react.Hehurtthethunkthunkthunkofweaponsfirehittinghisvessel,followedbyachorusof warningsfromtheonboardcomputer.Warning!Pressureloss!Warning!Damagetoprimary engine!Warning!... Already,Mallardcouldfeelhisvessellosingspeed,andnavigationcontrolwasbecomingmore sluggish.Therocketshipwaspullingaheadofhim,butthisdidntstopthegunmanfromfiring again.Bulletsbouncedoffofthecanopy,butonlyacoupleoftheshotsdidanyrealdamageA crackhadbeguntoforminthecenteroftheglass. Mallardflippedontheafterburnersandgunnedtheaccelerator.Heknewthathisonlyhopewas toreachtherocketandsomehowgetonboardbeforehiscruiserdisintegrated.Slowlythegrey andredchasisoftherocketcameintoview,andheadjustedhiscruisersothatitwouldcome upalongitsportside,wherethegunmanwouldbewaiting.Ashecameintorange,Mallardfired

Space Cops
hisentirecomplementofflares,thentookthevesselintoaroll.Heswitchedontheautopilot, repressurizedthecabin,andreloadedhisgunbeforeholsteringandsecuringitagainsthiship. Whenhecouldseetheairlock,heshiftedovertothepassengersseat,andgrippedthe emergencydoorrelease.Afteracoupleminutes,thetiminglookedrightsohehitthebutton. Mallardwasejectedoutofthepolicecruisertowardsthehulloftherocketship.Hisshoulder smashedupagainstthehull,andhebegantoslidtowardsitsengine.Quickly,Mallardliftedhis rightarmandfiredagrapplinghookwhichlatchedontoasafetybarlocatedabovetheopened airlock.Grippingittightly,hedrewhisweaponandfiredquicklytowardsthegunman.Heknewhe hadscoredahitwhenhebegantoseebloodflowingoutoftheothermansspacesuit.The criminalsbodytumbledoutoftheairlockandintothedepthsofspace. Mallardcarefullymadehiswaytowardstheairlockuntilhewasrightontopofit.Checkingfirst forasecondman,thepoliceofficerswunghisbodyinside,thenslammedtheairlockclosed.No doubtthatsomebodywouldnoticeeithertheclosedairlockorthemissingman.Mallardstepped outofviewoftheinnerairlock,andpeekedthroughthewindow.Nobodywasnearby.He releasedtheairlock,andmadehiswayintothecorridor. Suddenly,hewasknockedoffhisfeetbyalargebaldmanwearingtattoosonhisfaceanda brightbluetunic.Mallardfumbledforhissidearmasheskeeteredacrossthedeck.Theother manwasrightontopofhim,however,andgrippedhisarmassoonashetriedtoaim.Mallard broughtalegaroundandslammedhisfootintotheothermansstomachthen,takingadvantage oftherocketslowergravity,spunhisbodyaroundandcaughtthemansfacewithhisotherfoot. Whilehisassailantwasrecovering,Mallardaimedwithhisgunandfired. Mallardstrippedoutofhispressuresuitandthenmadehiswaytowardstherocketshipscockpit. Therewasnotellinghowmanypeoplehadstowedawayontheship,butfortunatelythevessels lifesupportsystemlimitedpassengerstoonlyaroundtenortwelve,andwithtwomendowntheir numbershaddwindledquiteabit. Mallardwasjustonebulkheadawayfromthecockpitwhenheheardasoftthumpingononeof thedoors.Hepeekedthroughthedoorsportalandfoundthefaceofawomanstaringbackat him.Hehitthedoorreleasebutton. OhthankGod,thewomanexclaimed.Theyreallcrazy!Everybodyhasguns! Calmdown,miss,Mallardsaid.And,pleasetrytokeepyourvoicedown. Whoareyou?Mallardhadntnoticedtheotherpersonintheroomuntilthemanspokeup. ImCaptainRichardMallard,LunarPolice,Mallardsaidquickly.Weneedtokeepthis rocketshipfromleavingorbitsothatlocalauthoritiescancatchupwiththem. Thatwillbehardtodowithoutyourcruiser,thewomansnapped. Withouthesitation,Mallarddrewhisweaponandaimeditather.Whatdidyoujustsay?

Space Cops
Well,youhadtohavegottenonboardsomehow,thewomansaid.Yourehere,soyour cruiserhastohavebeenshotdownorcrashed. HowdoyouknowIhadacruiser?Icouldhavebeenonboard,Mallardsaidslowly. Thisispointless,themansaid.Ithoughtyouwereheretorescueus. Shutup,Mallardsnapped.Whoareyoutwoanyways? ImDoctorGlizzaro,Themansaid.Thisismyassistant,SarahFowler.Whenourrocketwas hijacked,wewerethrowninhere. MallardsgundriftedtowardsGlizzaro.WhydontIbelieveyou? Idontcarewhatyoubelieve,Glizzarosaid.Themenyoureafterareinthecockpit,flyingthis rockettowardsMars. Mars?Mallardsaid.Whatfor? Whydontyouaskthem,Glizzarosaidstiffly.Unlessyoureplanningonshootingthemtoo. Howdoyouknow?MallardstoppedwhenhespottedSarahabouttoswingayellowcanister towardshishead,butreactedtooslowly.Thecanisterconnectedwiththesideofhishead,and senthimflying.Thegunflewoutofhishandandclatteredontotheground. Withlittleeffort,Glizzaroleaneddownandscoopeduptheweapon,thenaimeditatMallard. Youthoughtthatyoudgetthejumponus,thedoctorsaid.Butwesawyoucoming. Sarahsneered.Didyoureallythinkyoucouldtakeoutourpointmanintheairlock,andour sentry,withoutalertingus?Howstupidcouldyoube? NotstupidenoughtotrytoflyashortrangerocketshiptoMars,Mallardsaid.Ifthatwaseven true. Thatwas,Glizzarosaid.And,yourerightthattherocketshipdoesnthaveenoughlifesupport tosustainusforthetrip,evenwithoutthetwomenthatyoukilled.But,theplanhasneverbeen aboutlandingonMars,onlyreachingitsorbit.Gravitywilltakecareoftherest. Youregoingtocrashontotheplanet? Inamatterofspeaking,yes,Glizzaroadmitted.But,youveforgottenaboutthisrockets payload.Seventyfivegallonsofnuclearwastewhich,ifignited,willincineratethreequatersof Marssurface.Thisincludesthetwosettlementsonthesurface. Mallardrubbedhisheadgingerly.Why? BecausewhenMarsrealizesthattherocketshipcamefromthemoon,theywilldemand answers,thenretribution.Soonafterthat,aMarsrocketwillcrashontothesurfaceofthemoon,

Space Cops
andthingswillescalate.Earthwillbepulledintotheconflict,andeventuallywarwillbreakout. WhobenefitsfromwarbetweenEarthandMars?Mallardsaid. ThatissomethingImnotgoingtotellyou,Glizzarosaid.Allyouneedtoknowisthatthereisa powerfulmanpullingthestrings.Heaimedthegun,andflippedoffthesafety.But,youwont livelongenoughtofindoutwho Glizzarropulledthetrigger,butinsteadoffiringthegunonlyletoutalowhumandafizzle. Mallardtookadvantageofthedoctorsmomentaryconfusion,andplungedathim.Thegun tumbledthroughtheair.GlizzaroswungatMallard,buttheofficerblockedhispunchand returnedwithahittoGlizzarosgut.But,suddenlySarahwasontopofthemboth.Mallard pushedheraway,andwhenshewasoffbalancedpunchedherintheface,thenchopped Glizzarointhearm. Mallardrolledthroughtheopenedhatch,jumpedtohisfeetandhitthelockingmechanismbefore eitherofhisassailantscouldmakeittothedoor.Thehatchclosedshutwithawhoosh. Mallardonlyhadtomoveafewfeetdownthecorridorbeforehereachedtheladderleadingupto thecockpit.

Oneofthemenpilotingtherocketwasstandingnexttotheladderadjustingcontrolswhen Mallardemergedontheflightdeck.Heleapedontothedeck,swepthislegaroundandknocked thepilotover.Hegrabbedthemansgunoutofhisholsterbeforethesecondpilotcouldrespond. Listentomeverycarefully,Mallardsaidslowly.Youneedtoturnthisrocketaround.Theman atthecontrolsdidntrespond.Didyouhearme?Oncehewascloseenough,heplacedahand ontheothermansshoulderandgaveitanudge.ToMallardssurprise,thepilottoppledover, dead.Nowthathecouldseethecontrolsclearlyenough,Mallardrealizedthateverythinghad beenautomated.Thesemenmightnotevenhavebeentheoriginalpilots. Mallardsensedmovement,andturnedaroundjustintimetoavoidgettingclockedintheheadby apipe.Goingoninstinctalone,thepoliceofficeropenedfirewiththegun.Theassailantfell backwards,dead. Doyourealizehowhopelessyoursituationis?Glizzarostoodinthebackofthecockpit,near theladder,withaguntrainedonMallard.Thiswasalwaysgoingtobeaonewaytrip.The rocketsautopilotisprogrammedtotakeittoMars.Wevedisabledthelandingthrusters,sothat whenthecomputerattemptstosetdownitwillcrashinstead.Glizzarosteppedbackwards, towardsthehatch.SaraandIwillbedepartingsoon,onboardthisvesselsonlylifepod.Youwill betrappedonboardthisvessel,anddoomtodiewhenitcrashesonMars.Farewell!Glizzarro disappeared.Thehatchswungshutandsealedwithaclick. Mallardsettledintothepilotsseatandstudiedthecockpitcontrols.Hewasntqualifiedtopilota rocket,butevenifhewasitseemeddoubtfulthathewouldevenbeabletochangecourseifthe

Space Cops
computerwaspreprogrammed. Heranthroughotheroptions.Hetriedejectingtherocketscargointospace,butthebaydoors didntrespondremotely.Theenginesdidntrespondwhenhetriedshuttingthemdown.Alight blinkedwhilehewastryingdifferentthings,aglanceconfirmedthatthiswasanindicatorforthe escapepod.Forafewminutes,ablipappearedontherocketsradarscreen,thendisappeared offtheedgeasthelargervesselstreakedaway. Hisoptionsalmostentirelyexhausted,Mallardturnedhisattentiontowardsthecomputer. Glizzarohadnotbeenlyingwhenhehadsaidthatthecomputerwaslockedontoabeaconon thesurfaceofMars.Thatwasreallytheonlythingguidingtherockettowardsitstarget.But,what Glizzarohadntconsideredwasthattherocketwaspassingbydozensofotherbeaconsonits waytoMars.Mallarddialeduptheforwardsensorsandsawwithreliefthattheywerepassing withinrangeofalargeasteroidwhichhadbeenminedandthenabandoned.Mallarddisplayed thecodeforthenavigation,andmadechangestothelinewhichidentifiedthebeaconsname. AfterdoublecheckinghischangesMallardpushedthecodetothemaincomputerandwaitedfor therockettochangeitstrajectory.Thethrustersbegantofire,andtherocketgraduallyaimed itselftowardstheasteroid.Withanyluck,itwoulddisableitselfwhenitcrashedordetonateon impact.Eitherway,itwouldntcauseanylossoflife. Well,withoneexception. Mallardturnedtowardsthehatchthatleadoutofthecockpit.Asheexpected,ithadbeen jammedshut. But,anotherdooroutofthecockpitleadstraightintothecargobay.Mallardopenedit,and steppedthrough.Hisonlychanceforsurvivalwouldbetoejecthimselfoutintospacethrough thecargobaydoors,andhopethatsomebodywouldfindhim.Hequicklyslippedintoa spacesuit. Proximityalarmsbegantosound.Theasteroidloomedlargerandlargeraheadoftherocket. Mallardwaitedforaslongashecould,thenafterdoublecheckingthesealsonhishelmet returnedpowertothecargobayandpulleduponthemanualrelease.Thecargobaydoors poppedopen,expellingeverythingthathadbeeninside.Mallardtumbledoutintospaceamongst acollectionofstoragecontainers,someofwhichhebelievedcontainedthenuclearmaterials. Beneathhim,therocketstreakedlikeanarrowtowardstheasteroid,andafterawhileitwas barelymorethanagreyandreddotagainsttheblackbackdropofdeepspace.Then,suddenly, Mallardspottedwhatappearedtobeabrightfieryplume.Therockethadcrashed,butwithoutits cargohaddoneminimaldamage. Suddenly,Mallardwashitwithtwobeamsoflight.Hetracedthelightsuntilhefoundthesource: adeepspacepolicerocket.Itwaseasingclosertohim.Whenitwascloseenough,anairlock openedandtwopoliceofficersinpressuresuitsclimbedout.Theyusedthrusterstofloatto whereMallardwas,grippedhimbyhisshoulders,andthenguidedhimintothesafetyofthe

Space Cops
rocket.