by Dayton Ward
LAST TIME: SPACE MARSHAL DYLAN McCADE and DEPUTY JACQUELYN BLAKE have successfully penetrated the underground lair the evil EMPRESS ENTROPIA, hidden deep inside the mountain beneath her castle on the planet PLUTO. There, they find Entropia preparing once again to fire her immensely powerful new weapon, the ICE CANNON, and this time the target is EARTH! However, before McCade and Jax can stop the Empress, they are captured by Entropia’s CYBORG OF DEATH. All too quickly, the stalwart adventurers find themselves tied to a platform that is suspended directly over the massive muzzle of the Ice Cannon, and Entropia has started the countdown to fire....
Space Marshal Dylan McCade and Deputy Jacquelyn Blake, strapped down and unable to move, looked around the massive cavern, searching for any means of escape. Above them was an immense tunnel carved through the center of the mountain, beyond which the clear Plutonian night sky beckoned. With nothing to obstruct their view, a breathtaking spectacle of stars hung above them.
Both adventurers fought valiantly against the bonds holding them securely to the metal platform. They strained and struggled, all to no avail. They halted their efforts, though, when they heard and felt a deep, resonating hum from somewhere beneath them. It reverberated through the metal grate and into their very bones, as though intent on enveloping them.
“It’s the Ice Cannon,” McCade said. “Entropia’s powering it up again, and this time she’s going to fire it at Earth!”
Jax turned her head to look beneath the steel grating that formed the platform they were bound to. Mimicking her movements, McCade saw that, underneath the platform, the massive mouth of the Ice Cannon’s barrel seemed to swallow even the light, and McCade could almost feel the massive weapon trying to draw him into its unending blackness.
“We don’t have much time,” Jax said.
Swallowing a nervous lump forming in his throat, McCade said, “Jax, there’s something I want to tell you. You know, before...well, before whatever....”
“Shut up, you idiot!” Jax snapped, renewing the struggle against her bonds. “We have to keep trying!”
Not replying, McCade turned his attention back to his own restraints.
In the control room deep in the mountain beneath her castle and far from the sun-starved surface of the planet Pluto, Empress Entropia paced the floor of her main control center, her eyes taking in everything.
All around her, servant workers bustled about, each of them doing their part to prepare the Ice Cannon for its latest and—so far as Entropia was concerned—most critical task yet. She already was growing impatient. “How much longer?” she asked the worker manning the master control console for the Ice Cannon.
“A minute, possibly two, Majesty,” the worker replied. “We are calibrating the weapon for the larger burst of energy that will be required to reach Earth.”
Zan, Entropia’s longtime friend, stepped forward. “Patience, my old friend. Final victory is within your grasp. You’ve waited so long to conquer Earth, another few seconds won’t matter.”
Entropia regarded his companion with a withering stare. “I have been denied my conquest of Earth far too long as it is. I am unwilling to wait any longer.” Entropia’s words had the desired effect, for she immediately saw that her workers began to hasten their efforts.
Beneath their platform, Dylan McCade and Jacquelyn Blake heard the menacing hum of the Ice Cannon grow even louder.
“This can’t be good,” Jax said. Like McCade, she still was working to free himself from the ropes binding him to the platform. Both adventurers knew that only a short time, possibly seconds, remained to them before Entropia fired the Ice Cannon, obliterating them before ultimately engulfing Earth in a deadly shell of solid ice.
Everyone on Earth would die!
Even as the now-thundering din of the Ice Cannon’s energy generators droned with ever-increasing power, McCade saw Jax suddenly sit up, her hands free of her ropes!
“I’ve got it!” she yelled over the deafening roar of the mighty weapon. The very air around the platform had begun to whirl and vibrate now, and McCade could feel the powerful energy coalescing around them. Jax leaned over him, reaching for the ropes holding his hands to the platform.
“No!” McCade shouted to be heard over the cacophony enveloping them. “My control band! Press the green button!”
Jax looked at him with confusion. “What good will that do?”
“Just do it!”
Reaching for his arm, Jax jerked back the sleeve of his leather jacket, exposing the control bracelet he wore on his left wrist. She jammed her thumb down onto the pulsing green button.
“Power up is complete, Majesty,” said the worker manning the Ice Cannon’s main control console. Standing behind his servant with her hands clasped behind her back, Entropia nodded in approval. The end to her long quest was almost at hand!
“Target Earth and put it on the imaging screen,” she ordered. “Stand by to fire.”
Behind her at the rear of the control center, her Cyborg of Death suddenly jerked to its full upright position. Turning away from the console it had been overseeing, it began to march slowly, inexorably toward Entropia and the forward bank of control consoles.
Entropia was just opening her mouth to give the order to fire the Ice Cannon when the Cyborg stepped past her, the mighty automaton ignoring the Empress as it instead continued to advance on the Ice Cannon’s main control console.
“Stop!” Entropia shouted. “What are you doing? I order you to return to your station!”
The Cyborg gave no sign that it had either heard or would acknowledge the command as it stopped at the control console. Reaching out with one of its powerful arms, it grasped the worker manning the console and lifted him out of the way as easily as one might pick up a child. Dropping the servant, the Cyborg then concentrated its full attention on the console itself.
“Stop him!” Entropia shouted to her servants. “He’s increasing power to the Ice Cannon beyond safety limits!” Her eyes grew wide with horror as she saw her Cyborg of Death disengage the massive weapon’s targeting system. On one of the smaller imaging screens, Entropia now could see the protective doors that normally covered the Ice Cannon’s muzzle when it wasn’t in use beginning to close. If the weapon was allowed to fire with the doors closed....
“NO!” she roared. The Cyborg was causing the Ice Cannon to overload!
All around her, servants began to flee. They knew only too well the power the Ice Cannon commanded, and exactly how much danger they were in.
“How can you be so disloyal to me?” she asked the Cyborg that continued to ignore her. “I created you!” Then she saw the pulsing red box affixed to the machine’s back. What was that? It wasn’t part of the Cyborg, Entropia knew. What could it be? From where had it come?
A voice from behind her provided the answer. “I’m afraid that’s my fault, Empress.”
Space Marshal Dylan McCade as he and Deputy Jacquelyn Blake entered the control center, both with their laser pistols in hand. McCade held up his left arm and the odd band he wore. “I’m controlling your Cyborg of Death with this, and the Electro-inverter I stuck on its back.”
“Of course,” Entropia sneered. “When you charged the Cyborg and tried to wrestle with it. I thought you were simply being reckless. Well played, McCade.”
“The reckless part still applies, you know,” Jax added.
Entropia did not even acknowledge her. “You realize that the Ice Cannon will overload in mere minutes, don’t you? The explosion will destroy everything on this planet, including you.”
“If it means bringing to an end your reign of terror, Empress,” McCade countered, “then it’s a small price to pay.”
Smiling, Entropia said, “I’m afraid you’ve paid too high a price, and you aren’t going to get your money’s worth, McCade.” Before he could react, the Empress pulled her own laser pistol from the folds of her robe and fired three quick bursts at McCade and Jax. The adventurers had no choice but to dive for cover under the new onslaught! Even as he ducked to avoid being hit, McCade saw Entropia running across the control room, disappearing through a secret panel in the wall. In seconds, it was as the Empress had never even been there at all!
“He got away!” Jax groaned. “We have to go after him!”
McCade pointed toward the control consoles, where a timer was steadily counting down to the Ice Cannon’s overload. “No time!” he shouted. “We have to get out of here!”
Using one of the escape capsules within Entropia’s fortress and with only seconds to spare, Dylan McCade and Jax made it back to the D-68E. They were barely able to take off just as the first explosions spewed forth from the Ice Cannon. Even though the mighty weapon was buried within the mountain and far beneath Pluto’s surface, the blasts were so great that the shock waves were felt by McCade and Jax as their shop rose into the Plutonian sky. But then the final cataclysmic explosion came, and light from the blast seared its way through the ship’s window ports. McCade fought to control the tumbling vessel as the shock wave engulfed it. “Hold on!” he shouted.
“Look!” Jax cried, pointing to the imaging screen, which now showed Pluto appearing to grow in size!
“It’s ice!” McCade said. “The Ice Cannon is causing a massive feedback that’s spilling out all over the planet! Pluto is being buried beneath hundreds of miles of solid ice!”
A light blinked frantically on Jax’s console. She adjusted the view on the imaging screen and pointed again. “Dylan! The shock wave from the explosion has cracked the ice shells surrounding Neptune and Jupiter! They’re free!”
A hunch bothered McCade, and he once more adjusted the imaging screen’s controls so that the display offered a new image. “Look,” he said, gesturing to the picture of another rocket ship careening away from Pluto.
“That’s got to be Entropia,” Jax said. “Looks like she slipped away yet again.”
A voice suddenly boomed in the cockpit. “You’ve beaten me again, McCade,” Empress Entropia snarled. “I will not rest until your head hangs on the wall in my fortress. You and that insufferable strumpet deputy of yours.”
“Watch who call strumpet, sister!” Jax snapped.
“Heed my words, McCade,” Entropia said. “We will meet again!” There was a loud snap as the connection was broken, leaving McCade and Jax alone in their cockpit, watching the stars streak past as the D-68E made its way toward home.
“Well, that was fun,” Jax said. “We should do that again, soon.”
McCade snorted. “Speak for yourself, Deputy. I’m tired, and I want a vacation.”
“Sounds like a great plan,” Jax retorted. “By the way, what were you going to tell me before? You know, on the platform, before...well...you know?”
A nervous knot forming in his gut, McCade felt his mouth go dry. Why was this so hard? Why could he not just tell Jax how he felt? Now was as good a time as any, he supposed. Clearing his throat, he said, “Okay, it’s like this. I’ve always....”
His words were cut off by an urgent beeping tone echoing through the cockpit, followed by another anxious voice. “Space Marshal McCade, this is the President of the League of Planets! Come in!”
McCade hit a control. “Mister President! We’ve beaten Entropia and destroyed the Ice Cannon. Earth is safe!”
“You have no time for celebration, Marshal McCade,” the President replied. “We have another emergency!”
“Already?” Jax said.
The President’s voice was almost frantic. “The shock wave from the Ice Cannon’s explosion has knocked Earth’s moon out of its orbit. It’s heading out of our solar system and into deep space. As you know, there’s a base there. Three hundred people are stranded on the runaway moon and you have to save them!”
Dylan McCade and Jacquelyn Blake looked at one another. “Looks like our work’s never done,” McCade said. With that, he changed course and the D-68E flew off toward their next perilous assignment.
THE END. . .FOR NOW!