Last time on ACE ARCHER: Ace, now an old man dying in the hospital, recalled how he first met Professor Prospero and his true love, Anne… but also the gangster Falcone, the man behind the funding of the space-plane Tempest!
Ace Archer held Anne defensively in his arms. The Falcon had been smart enough to look for them in the Tempest after all. Now the chromatic lights of the space plane’s panels flickered across Falcone’s face, giving him the look of a malevolent St. Nicholas, caught, bag in hand, next to a Christmas tree. The art deco silver panels lining the walls of the plane’s cockpit reflected the panorama onward into infinity.
“Thought you could hide from me in here, Archer? Pah!” The Falcon spat derisively at Ace’s feet. “How hand over the skirt before I have to plug ya both!”
“You won’t get away with this, Falcone,” Ace Archer said without doubt. His grip on Anne’s arm remained strong.
“Your choice, flyboy,” Falcone said.
Ace Archer’s steely look of determination never left his face as Falcone pulled back on his pistol’s safety. Falcone smiled, sure that Archer’s courage was mere bravado. What Falcone didn’t know was that Professor Prospero, still bleeding from the gunshot to the leg, had regained consciousness.
Ace’s blue eyes remained locked with Falcone’s until the silent standoff was momentarily broken by the loud click of the pistol’s hammer locking into place.
Just as Falcone’s macho mix of pride, lust and anger reached the point of homicidal resolve, Professor Prospero pulled down the Y-shaped lever that activated the Tempest’s jet rockets.
The floor beneath the four lurched, and the Falcon toppled backwards into one of the cockpit’s gleaming chrome and silver control panels. His pistol fired, but the bullet bounced off one of the bulkheads and smashed into one of the control panels.
“Ace!” Prospero shouted from the ground. “Take the controls! We’re taking off!”
“Got it, Prof!” Ace Archer said, taking only a moment to look deep into Anne Stevens’ grateful and enamored eyes before setting her gently into one of the cockpit chairs and leaping across into the pilot’s seat.
“Ohh…” Falcone muttered, looking up from where he had fallen just in time to see Professor Prospero swinging a fire extinguisher at his head. The Falcon fell to the floor unconscious.
“Strap in, Anne!” Professor Prospero called, clambering to his feet and staggering over to a flight chair.
“Professor!” Ace called, “There’s a red light flashing here! What’s wrong?”
Professor Prospero looked over at the panel that the Falcon’s bullet had impacted. “Oh no, Ace!” he gasped. “That madman has smashed the navigational controls! We’re not going to be able to change our course!”
“Can you fix it, Prof?” Ace called over his shoulder.
“Not while we’re in fli–” Prospero started.
The space plane lurched again as rockets flared, propelling it straight up and out of the hangar.
“Where are we headed?” Anne asked, eyebrows arched with worry.
“I hadn’t set them for any place in particular,” Prospero admitted. “We’re on a one-way trip into the deepest reaches of space!”
Ace recalled the short lived battle in his heart back then between fear and excitement. Fear didn’t have a chance… not against the lure of space.
Space wasn’t a void then. It wasn’t a vacuum. It had been a frontier, just like Roddenberry had said when he stole the line for Star Trek from one of Ace’s old Life magazine interviews. God, Ace had hated that show.
Now space was empty, just random clumps of rock and gas. Prospero was gone. Anne was dead. Chip…
A stab of pain in his left side reminded Ace that he was a dying old man. He fumbled again for the pathetic hospital remote. Watching stupid kids living in unaffordable Manhattan apartments sleep with each other willy-nilly was better than remembering the past.
The dumb comedy network was in commercial. Ace was about to turn it off again when the commercial itself caught his eye. Some woman was talking about how her brand of tampon allowed her the freedom to express her creativity. Behind the woman was what Madison Avenue (or wherever it was advertising executives made their lair nowadays) thought an artist’s home must look like. A messy, paint-spattered studio apartment with half-finished canvases lying around, it was a cliché when Ace had still been young enough to get him invited up to young bohemian ladies’ places.
What had grabbed Ace’s attention, however, was the painting sitting on the easel in the commercial. There, on a dark blue background was a luminous green ball of swirling energy. The pattern of the swirls was unmistakable. It was a painting of a Gaslight.
The Gaslights were one of the few things in his space adventures that Ace had never really understood… they were some kind of energy beings, with tremendous powers to alter space around them, but they seemed to follow no pattern, no motivation… and they vanished along with everything else when Ace came home. Still… they were unmistakable, and there, on the television in front of him, was a painting of one.
Suddenly Ace wasn’t alone anymore. Someone else, somewhere, had seen a thing that was no longer supposed to exist.
For the first time in fifteen years, Ace Archer had a reason to get out of the hospital, and no one was going to stand in his way.
Ace tried to sit up, but his oxygen tube caught on the bed railing. He could hear the cardiometer beeping increase. The catheter tubing between his legs pulled uncomfortably and the PICC line tightened around his neck. After a tense moment pulling against his plastic chains, Ace slumped back into the bed.
Tomorrow, he thought. I’ll get out of here tomorrow.
© 2013 by Douglass Barre, All Rights Reserved.