Last time on ACE ARCHER: Caryn Alexander, granddaughter of Ace Archer’s true love Anne, took leave from her job to pursue her newest investigation… whatever happened to Ace Archer?
The sheer metal doors to the Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center encephalopathy ward were usually guarded, monitored and locked. It wasn’t that the doctors feared their patients getting out, though many were in a severe enough state of dementia to be a danger to themselves and others. Nor was it that the doctors or hospital board feared that someone would break in, despite the electron microscopy lab and the muscular biopsy equipment which, all told, was worth upwards of twenty million dollars.
No, the encephalopathy ward security was the one condition that came with the medical center’s largest private sector grants. The Urania Group wanted privacy for a very special patient. They also wanted him contained.
For fifteen years, the man known to the doctors and nurses as Harold Brakura hadn’t bothered to try to leave the ward, so most of these security precautions seemed like a waste. Today something had changed.
Ace Archer got up at 7:10 am, when the nursing shift changed, and tied his hospital robe behind him. He disconnected his oxygen tube and unplugged the IV pump from the wall, wrapping the cord in an even loop before hanging it on the wheeled pole. Holding that metal staff in one hand, he wheeled it out into the hall, trying to look as unobtrusive as possible.
He didn’t get five feet down the hall before a nurse was next to him.
“Mister Brakura,” she smiled plastically, “I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to be up and about on your own. If you want to take a walk, I’ll call for the physical therapist, okay?”
“Not okay,” Ace barked.
“I said it’s damn well not okay. I’m not a prisoner here, and if I want to step out I can.”
“Sir, in your condition…”
“I’ll sign whatever damned liability release you want, but I’ve decided to check out.”
“Let… me… call for your doctor,” the nurse said, a worried look washing down her face.
“Do that,” Ace said, and tried to push forward down the hall. Sadly, the nurse’s grip on the pole was stronger than Ace’s. Once he had singlehandedly knocked over the golden idol of Graxor the Actuary, the vulgar god of the Order of Jeth. Now he couldn’t push past a five-foot-two Filipino teenager. In moments, two other nurses had arrived to help “escort” him back to bed.
“Please don’t get up without assistance, Mister Brakura,” the tiny nurse said. “What if you had a seizure while you were walking around… you could really hurt yourself.”
“Pain meds,” Ace asked resignedly. He didn’t want to admit that even that short a walk really had worn him out. His side was killing him.
“I’ll have your doctor bring them when she comes,” the nurse smiled.
Ace lay back. He remembered when his escape plans used to work. He remembered when his body used to work. He remembered…
“No,” he muttered, “no flashback…”
Malus Khan, emperor of the planet Cynistor and undisputed overlord of the Milky Way, stood about six feet tall, his long red kimono draped over black and gold armor. His crest, a human skull bisected by a bolt of lightning, was embossed in gold and silver in the center of his chestplate. Beneath the deep black paint that gave his face its skull-like demeanor, Malus Khan’s eyes burned with hatred.
At Khan’s feet, wrists manacled, lay Anne, her usual spacesuit replaced by silk scarves over a gold bikini. She looked up at Ace with desperation and hope in her eyes at least the equal of Khan’s malice.
“Y’see, Khan,” Falcone chuckled from his position standing next to Malus Khan’s silver and bone throne, “I told ya that the Stevens dame was the key to getting Archer.”
“You spoke the truth, Falcon,” Khan said in his deep seismic baritone. “And I am a man of my word. When the invasion is complete, Earth shall be yours.”
“And the dame?” Falcone asked, grinning triumphantly at Ace.
“I have decided that I shall keep her… for my amusement.”
The Falcon’s smile wavered, but he said nothing.
Malus Khan turned his attentions back to the shirtless Ace Archer. “You should never have put in your lot with Zelon and his band of insurrectionists, Archer. Even now, my spy within their little revolution is betraying them to Commander Deth and his torture squad.”
“You’ll never get away with this, Khan!” Ace cried, trying unsuccessfully to shake off the guards who held his arms. “Freedom can be delayed, but it can never be stopped!”
“Au contraire,” Khan smirked. “With your execution, Archer, the spirit of freedom shall be doused forever… leaving Malus Khan the undisputed overlord of the Milky Way!”
Ace hated it when Khan spoke about himself in the third person. That in and of itself was worth slugging him in the mouth.
“You’re making paper dolls, Khan,” Ace said.
Khan frowned, confused.
“He’s callin’ ya crazy,” Falcone translated the idiomatic Chicagoese.
Malus Khan took the bait.
“Crazy?” he demanded, his face turning slightly redder. “You dare to call your Master and Overlord insane?”
“No, I’m just calling you that,” Ace grinned.
With a swift, sure movement, Khan drew his sword, a curved monstrosity of silver and glass. “Defend yourself, Archer! I won’t be accused of killing an unarmed man!”
“You won’t be accused of killing anyone, Khan,” Ace quipped. “But I’ll take the sword anyway.”
Khan nodded and one of his guards handed his gladius to Ace.
“Khan, he’s baiting you!” Falcone yelled at the tyrant. “Don’t stoop to his level.”
“Malus Khan fears no man.” Weaving his blade in the air in intricate fencing patterns learned from the Warlords of Haashi, Khan stepped forward to engage Ace Archer.
That was when Anne Stevens pulled tight the scarf she had looped around his ankles.
“Have a nice trip!” she yelled, winking at Ace.
America’s greatest space pioneer grinned back at his gal.
Malus Khan fell forward, bouncing three times on the steps before landing in a pile at Ace Archer’s feet. The point of Ace’s gladius on the back of his neck was warning Khan to stay down.
“Ya damned skirt!” Falcone yelled, pulling out his space gat. “I’m gonna perforate ya… or whatever it is this thing does!”
Before he could fire, however, Ace turned, sword never leaving Malus Khan’s neck. His eyes locked with Falcone’s. “If you harm one hair on that woman’s head, I will hunt you down and feed you to the sharkasaurs. Now… Drop. The. Gun.”
Falcone dropped the gun before his brain could tell his fear not to. Anne picked it up and aimed it at the Falcon as she got to her feet.
“I think there’s going to be a few changes made around here,” Ace said to the gathered vassals and minions of Malus Khan. To punctuate his point, he poked Khan gently with the sword. The tyrant’s scream was more than enough to prove that Ace Archer was firmly in control of the situation.
The doctor still hadn’t come. Ace buzzed the nurse again and waited for his pain meds.
© 2013 by Douglass Barre, All Rights Reserved.