BRIXIE REALIZED SHE HAD GONE FROM SCOFFLAW TO KIDNAPPER TO PUBLIC ENEMY IN THE SPACE OF ONLY A FEW MINUTES.
“This is not walk in, get Hugo and walk out!” Brixie protested, stunned at the mess of droid parts scattered about. She felt horrible for their violent demise, even if they were only machines.
Tigereye, having little to no empathy for a mechanical construct, drop-kicked the dead medical Artoo unit and sent it careening into a garage wall.
“Your complaint has been noted,” he eyed the security van about to turn down their way. “Get in.”
Brixie threw herself in one side of the ambulance speeder’s front cabin while Tigereye climbed in the other side. He helped himself to the driving controls in the center stack. Since only the droids were authorized to operate the hospital-owned vehicle and not them, the speeder locked out its controls, flashed its external lights and let loose with an alarm guaranteed to bring unwanted attention. Before Brixie could shout over the din, Sully jammed a jacker-spike into the console’s turnkey slot. The spike nullified the security lock and switched the speeder on. Problem solved.
Brixie was almost afraid to ask him her next question.
“What happened to the administrator?”
He tossed her the data cylinder containing the transferred project files.
“He’s watching the latest immersive holo-films Hugo was forced to watch, after I taped him to the chair and gagged his mouth.”
“Sully!” Brixie gasped.
“Save the lecture until after we’re all safely gone from here,” he flicked the ambulance speeder’s controls into reverse.
The speeder backed out of the space, directly perpendicular to the arriving security patrol van. Brixie cursed their luck; they were trapped.
Two human guards were seated behind the security van’s windscreen. They locked eyes with Brixie. Not knowing what else to do in this situation, she cheerfully waved to them.
“Halt!” a voice came over the van’s public-address speaker.
“Now what do we do?” she complained to Tigereye, hoping he had a plan.
He wasn’t in the seat beside her. He wasn’t even in the vehicle!
“Sully?” Brixie looked wildly around. How was it possible to lose a Trunsk? “Sully!”
“You!” the guards ordered over the van’s speaker system. “Show your hands. Remain in the vehicle.”
Brixie reluctantly raised her hands and put them on the cockpit’s forward dash panel. This was the second time in only a few hours that some authority figure wanted to hold her for questioning. She began to wish Tigereye had never darkened her stall at the Great Free Market.
“Thanks a lot, Sully Tigereye.” she gritted her teeth while the guards, still inside the protective enclosure of the van, started running security checks on her.
“We have your badge and your identity code,” the guard’s voice returned over the PA system. “Doctor Ergo, you are not authorized to operate that vehicle.”
“Tell me something I don’t know,” she muttered back.
A strange white metal reflection filled the security van’s windshield. Both guards looked up, their faces filled with surprise.
A KX medical droid’s body—sans head—slammed against the van’s windscreen and shattered the so-called “shatterproof” transparent safety polymer. The heavy droid pinned both guards to their seats, keeping the two from doing much of anything except groan in surprise and pain.
Tigereye resumed his place in the seat next to Brixie.
“You’ve done quite enough.” Unhappy, Brixie snatched the speeder’s controls away from the Trunsk. “I’m driving.”
Tigereye raised his hands in mock surrender.
“Be my guest, Doctor Ergo.”
After some back and forth maneuvering, Brixie was able to get the ambulance speeder out of its awkward position and aimed for the garage exit. Security cameras and a host of sensors were already notifying personnel as to their unauthorized departure. Reinforcements were quickly sent to stop them.
Brixie dodged another security van and she deliberately ran over a KX enforcer droid that stood in their way, waving at them to stop. Guards at the garage’s entrance/exit ramp lowered the gate arms. Brixie decided it was best to bash through those as well. The arms snapped off into so much plastic shards. First the guards, then a droid, and now property damage. Knowing how badly the hospital had mistreated Hugo, Brixie felt a sense of satisfaction wrecking their things.
“People say I have issues with my temper?” Tigereye mentioned, hanging on to the interior’s grab straps as Brixie slid the ambulance around a third security patrol vehicle trying to cut them off. The patrol speeder swerved into a permacrete barrier. Tigereye glanced in the speeder’s rear-view screens as the crushed speeder released a geyser of coolant from its hood, its occupants stumbling out. “Can’t you be a little less obvious?”
“Are you driving?”
“Then do something productive besides making silly suggestions!” she snapped.
Tigereye reached over and snatched the badge off her tunic. He plucked his own badge from his jumpsuit and tossed both comlinks from the window. Now the hospital didn’t have a mechanism to track them, unless….
An aerial speeder angled out of the sky and took up a position behind them. Other speeders, ground and air, joined in the chase. The hospital wasn’t taking any chances. They must have discovered Administrator Trevane bound in the lab and directly contacted Ord Mantell’s Civil Law Patrol. Why send security vans when the city’s entire police force could chase them down? After all, Brixie and Sully had only kidnapped a patient and made off with valuable corporate data.
“We’re not scofflaws, Sully.” Brixie tried to be erratic, pointing the ambulance down one narrow streetway after another. Everywhere she turned, there was another civil patrol vehicle waiting for them. Officers in heavy riot control gear and blasters were setting up blockades, trying to box them in. “We’re full-on criminals!”
“Take a right,” Tigereye warned, pointing towards a ramp that led to the city’s spaceport.
“You’re taking us to a starship? We’ll never fly out of here!”
“Take a right,” the Trunsk assured her. There was more to his plan to help free Hugo than he had previously told her.
So she hoped.
She swung right, taking the ramp that descended into the lower levels of the spaceport. These roads were used by cargo haulers pulling sectional pod containers, droid-operated refueling lifts, passenger vans, taxi skiffs, minispeeders and dozens of other vehicles. With little available space overhead, the police air speeders had to abandon the chase. That left the civil law patrol no choice but to give chase with speeder bikes and ground cars.
For some crazy reason, Sully turned on the ambulance’s warning sirens. Actually, that made sense to Brixie, forcing traffic to slide out of their way or yield while she tried to coax as much out of the speeder’s engine as possible. She whipped her head behind, trying to keep an eye on Hugo back in the carrier portion, hoping she had not flung him out of his bed.
“Keep your eyes ahead!” Tigereye warned. “I’ll worry about Hugo and the rest.”
“Fine. What do we do?” she nodded towards him. “Please tell me you have a portable black hole generator or something like that because we’re never going to get away!”
“Almost as good as a black hole,” he pointed. “Turn left.”
But there was no left. There was only a median barrier and traffic headed in the opposite direction.
“There’s nowhere to go!” she exclaimed.
“Turn left now!”
Brixie found a gap in the median and crossed into the opposite lanes of traffic. A cargo hauler, its bug-eyed operator wildly waving all six of his crooked insectoid arms, barreled straight towards them. The ambulance narrowly avoided that and the one travelling in the lane right beside it.
“Go straight,” he commanded, barking orders like a drill sergeant.
“You’ve got to be mad!” she screamed.
They drove against the flow of traffic. Vehicles slid and swerved to get out of their way. A cargo hauler barely grazed them and fell over on its side, spilling the contents of its container pods—several metric tons of Mon Calamari fish stock. Taxis and flatbeds honked their air horns or ended up colliding with one another and taking civil patrol vehicles that tried to follow with them. The sickening sounds of crunching metal and reinforced plastic followed the ambulance wherever it went. Automated traffic cameras clocked hundreds of violations, ticking one after another on the ambulance speeder’s displays. Brixie realized she had gone from scofflaw to kidnapper to public enemy in the space of only a few minutes.
“Sully, I’m going to kill someone. Probably us!” Brixie begged him to take over the controls. “Maybe you should drive?”
“You’re doing fine.” The Trunsk appeared as calm as a leaf fluttering on a breeze. “What’s the first rule of being a mercenary, Field Medic Ergo?”
“The first rule?” he demanded. “What did I tell you on the first day of your training?”
Brixie thought and thought. She was too busy twisting the steering lever and tapping the brake control to avoid turning them into a pressformed slab of ambulance. So many things were happening at once. Why did the Trunsk insist on asking stupid questions in the middle of her getting them killed?
Finally, a lesson from long ago—a moment drilled over and over into her while she marched on a hot, stinking desert world—appeared on the frontal lobe of her brain.
“In the midst of chaos, there is opportunity?”
“Exactly.” He reached over and took hold of the steering lever, helping her guide the ambulance—straight towards a wall.
Brixie only saw a wall decorated in a flickering electrical advertisement for Nookie’s Bantha Oil Salve. The last words she thought she would ever see in her lifetime flashed before her eyes.
A Force for Goodness!
“Our black hole.”
They drove straight at the sign. Instinctively, Brixie threw up her hands to protect herself, as if that would be of any help at all.
Exactly as Sully promised, everything turned black.
Brixie blinked open her eyes.
They had stopped.
The ambulance speeder’s collision detection system had kicked in, applying full braking force and wrapping herself and Tigereye in a spider web of spray glue restraint. They should have been mashed to a pulp crashing against the electronic sign. Instead, the ambulance had come to a complete stop in the middle of a darkened space.
“What happened?” Brixie glanced around.
Before Tigereye could answer, their doors were opened. Hands and appendages equipped with vibroblades carefully cut away the glue straps, helping them out of the ambulance. A flurry of noise, metal banging against metal and voices yelling in a dozen different languages, bounced off the dark’s cavernous interior.
Brixie, barely able to stand on wobbly legs, twirled around. Droids and other beings were disassembling the ambulance, panel by panel, component by component. Looking back the way they had come, she saw two massive energy poles directing a deflector shield across the space—the flickering electronic sign still spinning its message of soothing bantha oil, except in reverse. They had driven through the holographic sign and inside this space. The deflector shield was now back on, putting up a solid wall of energy when there had not been one moments before. To the civil law patrol vehicles and their sensors, the sign wall appeared as solid as a Wookiee.
She watched Tigereye and a grungy, pot-bellied human exchanging a bag of scrip and a handshake.
“Meet Wexell,” Tigereye gestured to Brixie. “Proprietor of this fine establishment.”
“What is this place?”
“You could say we’re a parts distribution center,” Wexell laughed. His was a much fancier way of saying he ran a chop-shop. He and his gang took stolen vehicles, tore them apart and sold the parts—probably right back to vehicle dealers and maintenance yards.
“You requested a black hole,” Tigereye noted. “This is the best I could arrange.”
“Sometimes I wish you would tell me these things before they happened,” she peeled off the remaining spray glue from the silly hospital uniform she wore. She rushed over to the hospital bed, parked on its gravs close by while the ambulance was quickly turned into a carcass of plastic and metal framework. At least the choppers didn’t try to take Hugo apart.
“How is he?” Tigereye stood by her side.
Brixie read the bed’s medical scanners in disbelief. Despite the chase and the surrounding bedlam, he was still asleep. Was this a result of the mysterious Beta Gamma project? Effortless, uninterrupted sleep? She had read about this kind of mental reprogramming before, a process for patients suffering from sleep deprivation.
“We need to get him under wraps.” Tiger moved to the head of the bed to operate the grav controls. “There’s a place we can put him until we can slip off this planet.”
“No.” Brixie shook her head, holding the grav bed in place. “He needs to be outside Sully, not underground.”
She gestured to the bed’s readouts. “Hugo’s asleep, but this isn’t a normal sleep pattern. It must be part of this horrible program my mother created.”
“We don’t know how your mother was involved,” Tigereye noted.
“You saw how Trevane cowered around me. My mother and this Agent Zult, they’re the ones who did this to him and the others. Until I can study the data we took, all I can do is assume what they did to put Hugo in this state. The program involves a cycle and I think I know how to break it.” Brixie pointed towards a turbovator off to the side of the chop shop. “He needs to feel the sun and the wind on his face.”
Over an hour passed as they waited in a niche atop a communications tower over Ord Mantell City. Air speeders, freighters and other space transports descended and climbed into the sky. A patrol of First Order TIE fighters, with their distinctive ion engines howling, whizzed past.
It was more than a little strange, parking a hospital bed all the way up here. Brixie kept her gaze on the patient and the bed’s readouts. Nothing about Hugo changed. Tigererye grew pensive and irritable. He didn’t like being out in the open like this.
“Any other bright ideas?” he growled over the wind and the noise.
“It’s not like flipping a switch,” she countered. “Just a little more time.”
“We don’t have a little more time. All it’s going to take is one Civil Law Patrol ship to ruin our day.”
“Did I complain when you said, ‘Wear this hospital outfit, pretend to act like my mother, stroll into a heavily-guarded hospital, steal a patient and an ambulance, get chased by practically everyone, and so on and so on…’?”
The Trunsk tilted his head, trying to understand her sarcasm.
“As a matter of fact,” he started to say. “You did.”
“Never mind.” Brixie turned away. Arguing with Trunsks was almost as pointless as predicting the exact moment of a solar flare.
“You changed your hair.”
That wasn’t Sully’s voice.
Brixie looked down. The patient’s eyes were wide and alert.
She couldn’t stop herself from smiling. Relieved, she ran her hand over her head, trying to rearrange the strands of her flaxen hair flying around in the wind. The last time she and Hugo had seen each other, she used to wear her hair in a different style. The man didn’t miss a single detail.
Tigereye hovered over the bed, nodding at his old friend.
“What about me? Have I changed?”
Hugo couldn’t help but laugh. A giddy, familiar chuckle.
“You’re as ugly as ever.”
Tigereye gently shook his friend’s shoulder, appreciating his return to the world. The three reunited friends, even the grumpy Trunsk, shared a moment of relief with one another.
“Now that sounds like the Hugo Cutter I know.”