Roscoe Las Vegas was his name...and yes, it was an awful name. He was a reptilian alien in a three-piece suit, who sat in his lavish penthouse suite on the planet Venus, surrounded by other smartly dressed reptilian henchmen armed to their lizard teeth. Large floor to ceiling windows showed off a flickering Venusian twilight sky while the silky sounds of bluesy lounge music floated through the atmosphere, mingling with the rings of smoke puffed from Roscoe’s expensive cigar. He considered the man sitting across from him, studying him with beady, red lizard eyes, puffing his stogie and clapping his scaly hands together, a gesture of beckoning for one of his servants.
"And what exactly can Mr. Las Vegas do for you?" the crime boss said, stogie clenched carefully between a row of razor-like teeth.
Roscoe’s guest was dressed in a classic looking, freshly-pressed black tux. His dark hair was neatly trimmed and combed back, shoes shined to a mirror polish. He was a ruggedly handsome middle-aged human man. A grin spread across his clean-shaven face and when he spoke it was in a smooth, accented tenor. Maybe Scottish, maybe English...Roscoe didn’t care.
"You know exactly why I’m here, Roscoe," the man said, leaning back on the couch opposite Mr. Las Vegas, "Let’s talk about the cryopod."
When Roscoe laughed it sounded like broken glass through a blender. A woman in a tight-fitting, black evening gown handed Roscoe a martini glass before sliding down onto the armrest of his chair. She had long, brown hair that covered one eye and a faux fur stole wrapped around her shoulders. Roscoe placed a scaly hand on her knee and took a sip of his drink. The girl’s partially hidden face looked somewhat disinterested in the entire affair. The man with the slight accent scoffed and sipped a small glass of scotch, still affecting an air of calm detachment.
"Cryopod? Not sure I know what yer talkin’ about," Roscoe shrugged, "But if I did, it ain’t like I’m just gonna hand it over to some government man."
"What makes you think I’m a government man?"
"You suave, sophisticated G-men are all th’ same," Roscoe said, "Think ya can come in here all cool as a cucumber and intimidate me with your nice suit and your fancy talk."
The man chuckled, "Oh, I know better than to underestimate you, Roscoe. If I’m such a threat why don’t you have your lackeys work me over...or just shoot me and get it over with?"
"Cuz I don’t want to mess up my nice furniture," Roscoe scoffed.
The man laughed, "Fair enough. But, about that cryopod..."
Roscoe rolled his eyes...or maybe he was blinking. It was hard to tell. Even though he was dressed in an expensive looking suit and pumping sultry lounge music into his penthouse, he was still a lizard man with lizard eyes.
"I find it real curious how many people are interested in this thing," he said, "some broad from twentieth century Earth who was made into a popsicle suddenly gets found and now everyone wants to get their hands on her."
The man in the tux narrowed his eyes, "Who else is interested?"
Roscoe laughed again, the shrill sound making even the woman at his side cringe.
"It don’t matter," he said, "not to you anymore, pal...not after the poison we put in yer drink takes effect."
The man’s grin faded as he looked down at his glass. He blinked a few times, but he was already getting dizzy, the world was getting fuzzy. Roscoe set his drink down and pulled a small vial from his coat pocket. The woman at his side plucked it from his hand and looked it over as if it was a shiny piece of expensive jewelry.
"That there is the only antidote," Roscoe laughed his broken glass laugh, "Ya see G-man? Nobody gets the drop on Mr. Las Vegas...I ain’t that easily impressed. Now, why don’t you tell me everything about your little organization before your vocal chords stop working?"
The man blinked a few more times, the glass tumbling out of his hand onto the expensive imported carpet. He reached into his coat pocket for a pistol but then lurched forward a bit. Roscoe lit up with laughter. The tiny vial slipped out of the girl’s hand and tumbled to the ground. She whispered an "oops" and knelt down to retrieve it.
"Good job, butterfingers!" Roscoe laughed.
When the woman came back up, she was holding a pistol. She pointed the gun at the man in the tux, who held up his hand, a look of confusion in his eyes. She pulled the trigger and the man fell forward onto the carpet.
Roscoe jumped a bit, surprised and then continued laughing. The woman sat down next to him and laughed along with him.
"I didn’t expect that," he said, "that was hilarious!"
"You’re going to love this then," the girl replied...before elbowing the lizard man in the face. The henchmen at the bar instantly pulled their guns. The woman rolled over the back of the couch and onto the floor right in front of one, her fur stole slipping off her shoulders. She brought both fists up and into the lizard man’s crotch and then her knee into his face as he bent over from the first blow. She pushed him out of the way and dove behind the bar as gunfire erupted around her.
The gunfire stopped and one of the gun-toting lizards walked closer to the bar to peer over. The woman yanked his tie pulling his face into the bar, knocking him unconscious. The two remaining thugs began firing again. As they did their best to reload as quickly as possible, the woman vaulted over the bar. She slammed her palm into one’s face, finishing him off with a knee to the midsection. The other had finished reloading and the girl spun around with a roundhouse kick knocking the weapon out of his hand. She followed that up with a chop to the gunman’s throat, sending him to his knees gasping for air. Finally, she gave him one last punch, sending him to the ground.
The woman tossed the dart gun aside, humming to herself as she walked towards Roscoe who was crawling towards the door. She then vaulted on top of him, turned him over and pulled another pistol from some other hiding place and shoved it into his bloody, reptilian face. Gone was his deep, gravelly baritone, replaced with a higher-pitched pleading tenor.
"Why...what...who are you? What the-"
"Where is the cryopod?!" the girl demanded. Her demeanor had transformed from Roscoe’s disinterested "arm candy" into a calculated force of nature. Every movement and gesture deliberate and driven with purpose.
"What? You...how did you?"
The girl pulled the hammer back on the pistol, "I’m not going to ask again...where?!"
"Alright already!" Roscoe raised his leathery, scaled hands, "It’s in the vault in the sub-basement!"
"23, 19, 50! Just...get the hell off me!"
The girl rose, planting one foot on his chest, "Stay, lizard, STAY! You move and I’ll turn you into a suitcase, you get me?"
"Yeah, yeah, yeah! OK! Who the hell are you?"
The girl smiled, pulling her wig off to reveal a head of short red hair, "Thorne. Penny Thorne. You poisoned the wrong agent, greenie."
Before he could answer, Penny punched him square in the face, knocking him unconscious. She shook her hand and slipped the brass knuckles she had been wearing off and then tapped something in her ear.
"Ian," she said, "it’s in the basement. Also, they poisoned Dalmore. I managed to administer the antidote, but he’s out cold. I’m on my own."
"Really?" a voice came back over her earpiece, "how did you pull that off?"
"He said he knew they were going to poison his drink," Penny stretched, "he cased this place yesterday, gave me the antidote. It was my idea to use the dart gun."
"Wow," Ian’s voice sounded genuinely flabbergasted, "I don’t know what we’re going to do without an old pro like him around anymore."
"I know," Penny sighed, looking out the large windows onto the landscape beyond, "Let’s get this over with. You know I hate this planet. I don’t care how pretty you think it is."
"I get it, Penny," Ian’s voice grew solemn, "Let’s just finish the job."
"Right," she said, kicking at a panel under the bar. When it came loose she reached inside and pulled out a metal briefcase. For a moment, she caught her reflection on the shiny exterior of the case. Her hazel eyes looked tired and her usually tanned complexion appeared paler than usual. The last year had taken its toll on her and it was definitely showing. Her red hair was cut into a bob, the way she always wore it, and she brushed a stray strand away from her sleepless eyes.
"Penny?" Ian’s voice snapped her back to the present.
"Right," she said, "I’m fine. Just retrieving my gear."
After pressing her thumb to a reader next to the latches on the briefcase, she opened it revealing her dark gray tactical suit.
"Ok, patch LOLA through," she said and a holographic display momentarily lit up before her eyes before slowly fading.
"Syncing head’s up display with optic center and bringing Long-range Operations and Logistics Assistant online," Ian’s voice said, this time sounding a bit clearer. Once synced, only Penny would be able to see the HUD.
"Good morning, Penelope!" a cheery female voice suddenly rang in her ears.
"Jeez, LOLA, lower the volume!" Penny replied, wincing.
"I’m sorry," the A.I. replied, "I’m in the middle of the most depressing series of twentieth-century books and just needed to psyche myself up."
"What books?" Penny asked as she began changing into her tactical suit.
"Encyclopedias! What an archaic concept!" the voice said, "They really started out strong, but once you get to the W’s things really take a turn for the worse."
Penny rolled her eyes, "Ok, no more reading when in standby mode, alright? Just map out the route to the sub-basement. Ian, start unlocking any doors in my way."
"Righto," Ian replied, "what about Dalmore?"
Penny looked over at the man in the tux, snoring away on the carpet, "Ehh, I don’t want to wake him. He looks so peaceful."
Ian snorted, "Funny, but seriously, how-"
"He said not to worry about it."
"You believed that?"
"When have we ever had to worry about him?"
"Good point, I’ll-uh oh, we got a problem."
"What?" Penny asked, stopping just before exiting the room.
"Roscoe’s buyers are here, I think," Ian said, "they look like Sons of Mars centurions."
"Great," Penny pinched the bridge of her nose, "How many?"
"Oh, six or seven?"
Penny shook her head and holstered her pistol. She walked over and scooped up one of the rifles the lizard men had been using, before turning back toward the door. Her HUD lit up showing her the position of the soldiers entering the building. Conveniently, they were right in the path LOLA had lit up for her to reach the sub-basement. She checked the rifle’s ammo, slung it over her shoulder and with a deep breath marched through the exit. Behind her, the Venusian landscape fell under darkness as the distant rays of the sun set beyond its horizon.
"I really hate this planet..."
Penny emerged into the hallway outside Roscoe’s lounge and was immediately assaulted with more of his gaudy taste in decor. Red velvet carpeting, gold trim around every doorway and laughable painted portraits of the lizard man gangster were just some of the highlights. There were two elevators and she jabbed at the call button, with one set of doors immediately opening. She scooted to the left of it, rifle drawn and then peered inside. Empty. She then unslung the rifle and placed it in the elevator’s doorway, preventing the door from closing and thus keeping the elevator in place. She glanced at the number dial over the second elevator and saw that it was already on its way down to the lobby. She noticed a sign indicating a stairwell and dashed over to it, pulling the door open. One glance at the narrow stairwell and she shook her head.
"Stairs are a death trap," she said aloud.
"Agreed," LOLA’s voice sighed, "We might as well just jump out the window...OH!"
"What?" Penny said, holding her finger to one ear.
"Window starts with W! It’s a sign!"
Penny rolled her eyes and looked over toward the end of the hallway. A large window, not unlike the floor to ceiling windows in Roscoe’s lounge looked out onto the Venusian sunset. She glanced at the numbers on the second elevator again as she passed it and tapped a keypad on her wrist.
"Enviro-mode," she said as the nanites in her tactical suit came alive, switching the color of the suit a dark orange.
"You’re not seriously taking LOLA’s suggestion?" Ian asked.
"Helmet," Penny said aloud, ignoring Ian for the moment. A round, glass bubble materialized over her head. There was an audible hiss as the helmet connected with her suit and her HUD was now projected onto the inside of the helmet’s glass interior. She reached into a pocket on her bodysuit and pulled out what appeared to be a pen. She clicked it a few times and a blue plume of heat appeared at one end which then shrunk into a focused plasma arc.
"You better get going," Ian said, "they’re already on their way up."
"Working on it," Penny said as she started to carve away at the glass as quickly as she could manage, the only other sound in the hallway being the constant slamming of the elevator door on the rifle. Having made a large enough circle from which to exit, Penny pressed her hand to the center of the glass. The fingertips of her gloves turned green and she pulled the glass away, a mechanism in her palm keeping it adhered to her hand.
A sudden gust of escaping atmosphere knocked her off her feet and the rifle flew from its place in the elevator doorway and right through the circular opening in the window. Penny shook her hand, the fingertips of her glove turning red and the glass cut-out plopped down onto the red velvet carpet. She waited for the remaining air in the corridor to be sucked out and then stuck her head through the opening. She looked out just in time to see the rifle tumbling to the base of Roscoe’s building.
"Great," she said and quickly climbed outside, the tips of her boots lighting up green as well as the fingertips on her gloves, "No time to go grab another one, I’m sure somebody heard that."
"That’s a certainty," LOLA chimed in.
"Scan for hostiles," Penny said, grunting as she carefully positioned herself on the glass exterior of Roscoe’s tower of excess.
"One outside. Here he comes now."
Penny managed to look down and could see a soldier clad in black centurion armor investigating the sound of the rifle hitting the ground. She gave a loud sigh and then pushed herself onto her feet, now standing on the side of the sloping glass exterior of the building, her boots keeping her in place as they manipulated the slightly less powerful Venusian gravity. She steadied herself and then starting sprinting down the steep downward slope.
"Penny!" LOLA cried, "You’re going to fall!"
"I’m fine!" Penny said through clenched teeth, but even as she said so, she could feel her weight shifting too far forward or rather downward. The centurion looked up and tilted his head to one side, trying to process what he was seeing. Windows cracked under each of Penny’s steps as she started to tumble forward, losing her balance.
"Ok, not fine!" she said. When she was far enough down, she pushed herself off the side of the building, the glass beneath her boots shattering. She was propelled like a bullet through the weak gravity toward the soldier, holding her arms up, shielding herself from the inevitable impact. The centurion lifted his rifle just as Penny connected, diving right into him and slamming him to the ground. She got to her knees, rubbing her shoulder with a pained groan. The centurion started to stir and she grabbed his rifle forcing it sideways into his face, knocking him out cold.
"Wow!" Ian exclaimed, the sound making Penny flinch, "That was amazing!"
"No, that was painful," Penny said and looked over both the rifle that had fallen from the penthouse hallway and the rifle she had just used to knock the soldier out. One was in pieces, the other was bent outward. She shook her head, tossing the rifle aside as she stood.
"Cheap Martian crap," she remarked and turned her attention to the lobby doors. The Sons of Mars thugs had apparently scared off the reception staff since it now appeared empty. She walked through the automatic outer double doors and waited in the outer corridor that adjusted the atmosphere. A green light over the door indicated it was safe for her to take her helmet off and she tapped her wrist making the "bubble" dematerialize. She then walked through another set of double doors into the lobby proper. Not quite as lavish or gaudy as the penthouse level, the lobby was cast in muted gold and tan colors with a large wooden reception desk. There was a fountain in the center with stone statues that appeared to be dancing female crocodiles in showgirl attire spitting out streams of water. Roscoe seemed to have a mixed sense of what was classy and what was just plain trashy.
"LOLA," she said, grabbing a brass bowl from the reception desk as she passed, "light up the most direct path to the sub-basement"
"You got it," the AI replied, "conveniently clandestine elevator around the corner."
"Of course," Penny took a few steps forward and two centurions came around the aforementioned corner. Before they could react, Penny tossed the bowl into the face of the one on the right, knocking him off balance. She then stepped into the one on the left, spinning around and grabbing his rifle in one fluid motion and bringing it back around into the side of his head. The first centurion started to stand and Penny picked up the brass bowl slamming it upward into his jaw, throwing him backward. She let out an exasperated breath, dropping the bowl which bounced against the marble floor.
"I said scan for hostiles," she tapped her ear.
"Sorry!" LOLA replied, "I should probably get my other processors focused on the mission and not the Y’s!"
"Good idea. Ian, is Dalmore still out?" she asked as she entered the service elevator to the basement, "I don’t want those thugs doing anything to him."
"He’s fine," Ian said, "although, I haven’t the faintest clue how he got out of there."
"A little bit of this, a little bit of that," Penny smiled to herself.
"Well, regardless, he’s on his way to the evac point. I’ve got the cleanup crew going over all of Roscoe’s systems as we speak."
"Good," she said and looked the elevator’s keypad over. Her HUD lit up a smaller keypad below the main one and Penny pulled a wire from her sleeve. She attached a contact to the edge of the keypad and then tapped a button on her wrist. The buttons on the elevator keypad lit up as the decryption sequence went through every possible combination. Finally, five buttons lit up and Penny, in turn, pressed them. The doors to the elevator slid closed and she was immediately on her way down.
"Y-chromosomes," LOLA said in her ear, "human genetics are so weird."
"Can you knock it off with the encyclopedia and focus on the task at hand?" Penny pulled her sidearm, checking her ammo. She stepped to one side of the doors of the elevator as they slid open, glancing around the corner. The sub-basement was dark and cold with a pale blue light flickering at the opposite end of the corridor.
"Night vision," Penny said and her HUD lit up the room in green tones, revealing shelves of boxes and scattered papers. She advanced toward the pale blue light, her sidearm held out ahead of her. The light was illuminating a heavy looking door with no door knob or handle. There was also no keypad or discernible lock. Penny cursed under her breath.
"That sneaky reptile," she said, "there’s no place to input that combination he gave me. LOLA, how do I open this?"
"Lemme see," the A.I. replied. A short moment later she said, "there seems to be some kind of remote locking mechanism. I’ll try hacking the frequency now."
"Probably should have checked Roscoe’s pockets," Penny said as she glanced around the immediate area. Her eyes focused on a bookcase to her right with several books lined up on a solitary shelf.
After another tense handful of seconds, LOLA exclaimed, "Wow, this is some serious encryption! They really don’t want anyone to get inside here!"
Penny took a step toward the bookcase and could now see that every book had a large label on its spine with a number on it. She smiled to herself.
"Encyclopedias," she whispered.
"I’m not looking at them, I swear!" LOLA exclaimed.
"No," Penny said, running her finger along the numbered volumes, "these are encyclopedias."
She looked at the next shelf down and saw three book shaped slots and nodded to herself before locating and pulling three of the books from the row of encyclopedias. She then slid each of them into their corresponding spots on the shelf below.
"Volume twenty-three, then nineteen," each book clicked into place as Penny placed them in the slots, "Volume fifty."
Finally, the door slid upward and a series of lights flickered to life in the room beyond. Cold air escaped into the corridor and Penny stepped into the room, her sidearm still drawn. It was a makeshift lab of some kind and Penny didn’t want to imagine what kind of things went on in there during Roscoe’s day to day operations. A fleeting image of some poor sap strapped to a table while a maniacal dentist threatened to rip his molars out without anesthetic entered her head and she shook it away. She decided to let Roscoe’s "persuasion" methods remain a mystery.
At the far end of the room was what at first appeared to be a dull, gray coffin. As Penny drew near she could see flickering status lights along the side of it and immediately, she knew she had found her objective.
"I got it," she said, "but, there only seems to be one way out of here-"
"-and that’s about to fill up with centurions," LOLA blurted.
"Hold on!" Ian said, the signal crackling, "bringing the ship to you, I’m scanning the walls for structural weaknesses so I can blast out an escape route with the mining laser."
"No," Penny shook her head, "not going to work, I’m below the planet’s surface, you’ll probably collapse the building on top of me. Unless..."
"No!" LOLA suddenly burst out, "no, no, no!"
"Think you can grab the elevator cables with the cargo winch, Ian?" Penny ignored the protesting AI.
"Seriously?" Ian shot back, "does that elevator even go up to the roof?"
"It goes to a service platform," LOLA’s voice sounded shaky, "like a private landing pad...but, I’m totally against this!"
"What are you worried about?" Penny shrugged, "it’s not like you have a body to worry about losing."
"Well, excuse me for not wanting to see yours get tossed around like a piñata!"
"What’s a piñata?" Ian cut in.
"Nevermind that," Penny huffed, "get to that platform, cut open the top of the elevator shaft with the mining laser and get ready to haul us out of here."
"This is insane. I should just try to beam you up with the cargo transporter."
"I’ll take my chances with the elevator," Penny gritted her teeth, "I don’t need my molecules turned into soup, thank you very much."
"Nope just banged around like a piñata," LOLA deadpanned.
Penny took a breath and looked over the pod’s controls. She tapped a button on the control panel and the pod lifted up off the ground just enough to hover in place. She rounded it and then pushed the pod toward the doorway as it slid from side to side a bit like a log floating in a river. One corner bounced up against the doorframe and she corrected the pod’s path until it slid through the doorway. Just as she did so, the elevator doors opened and three centurions poured out, rifles aimed ahead of them. Penny stopped in place, hoping it was too dark for them to get a clear shot at her. Unfortunately, the dark didn’t seem to deter them and they opened fire.
Penny ducked behind the pod. She returned fire as a laser bolt sparked off a corner of the pod. She rolled to the ground and fired underneath the hovering pod hitting one centurion in the chest who fell to the side of the still open elevator. More shots exploded around her and Penny rolled back into the lab doorway and around the corner.
"Two left," she nodded to herself before spinning out of the doorway again. She jammed her shoulder into the floating pod with a grunt sending it sliding toward the elevator. The doors started to slide shut and Penny’s eyes widened in terror.
"Hold the door!" she yelled.
"I got it!" and the doors froze in place, just as LOLA remotely hacked the elevator controls. A shot glanced off of Penny’s shoulder, her protective tactical suit absorbing most of the blast. She winced and rolled behind the shelf of encyclopedias. She then looked up and pressed her back into the shelf. It tipped over, hitting the next behind it, the shelves falling over like dominoes toward the last two centurions. She took in a breath and ran toward the open elevator door, the pod sliding inside. She dove toward it, blind-firing toward the centurions scrambling out of the way of the tumbling shelves. The doors instantly shut behind her as she slammed into the far wall of the elevator.
"Hold on!" Ian’s voice boomed.
The sudden jolt of inertia as the elevator shot up and out of the open shaft slammed Penny to the ground. A moment later the elevator was rocked about and she flew up off the ground and hit the light in the ceiling shattering it. After another series of violent jolts, the elevator came to a sudden halt, the force throwing Penny up off the ground again and down into the cryopod with a painful slam.
"My ribs..." she croaked.
"Are not broken," LOLA’s voice was strangely calm, "bruised maybe."
"You sound a bit condescending."
"It’s my ’told-you-so’ voice. Part of my programming."
"No, it’s not."
"It is now."
The elevator doors slid open and Penny could see they were now in the cargo bay of her ship. A blue-skinned, noseless humanoid alien was rushing over to her. Penny took a relieved breath and staggered out of the displaced elevator.
"Are you alright?" the alien asked, looking her over.
"That," Penny said, still catching her breath, "was the very definition of ’in the nick of time’, Ian."
Ian ran a hand through what appeared to be a shock of blond hair, but was really tiny gold tentacles on his head, "Hey, you’re alive, right?"
Sparks suddenly shot off from the cryopod and both Penny and Ian recoiled. Ian reached into one of the pockets of his mechanic’s coveralls and pulled out a small, cylindrical device. He looked the pod over and pointed out a smoking hole where a laser blast had destroyed the control panel, scanning it with the device.
"This is not good," he said, "The cryogenic process has been interrupted. We’re gonna have to thaw her out...or she’ll die."
Penny put her hands on her hips and looked over the damaged pod. The exterior glass was frosted, partially concealing the individual inside. For a moment, she considered this strange woman from a different era. Did she know she was going to be put into cryostasis? Who would do that? And why did she suddenly pop up now?
"Do it," Penny said, walking out of the cargo hold, "Any minute now we’re going to have Sons ships all over us. At least, she can be awake if we got shot out of the sky."