Authors: Mike Resnick
The Fortress in Orion: Dead Enders Book One
The Buntline SpecialâA Weird West Tale
The Doctor and the KidâA Weird West Tale
The Doctor and the Rough RiderâA Weird West Tale
The Doctor and the DinosaursâA Weird West Tale
Ivory: A Legend of Past and Future
New Dreams for Old
Stalking the Unicorn
Stalking the Vampire
Stalking the Dragon
Published 2015 by PyrÂ®, an imprint of Prometheus Books
The Prison in Antares
. Copyright Â© 2015 by Mike Resnick. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, digital, electronic, mechanical, photocopyÂing, recording, or otherwise, or conveyed via the Internet or a website without prior written permission of the publisher, exÂcept in the case of brief quotations emÂbodied in critical articles and reviews.
This is a work of fiction. Characters, organizations, products, locales, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously.
Cover illustration Â© Dave Seeley
Cover design by Nicole Sommer-Lecht
Inquiries should be addressed to
59 John Glenn Drive
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The Library of Congress has cataloged the printed edition as follows:
Resnick, Michael D.
The Prison in Antares / by Mike Resnick.
pages ; cm. â ([Dead Enders ; book 2])
ISBN 978-1-63388-102-0 (pbk.) â ISBN 978-1-63388-103-7 (e-book)
Printed in the United States of America
To Carol, as always,
and to Rene Sears, for skill, friendship, and patience
Nathan Pretorius stared at General Wilbur Cooper, who was standing in the doorway of his hospital room.
“How's it going?” asked Cooper.
“Your recovery, my boy,” replied Cooper. “Your recovery.”
“I'd tell you, but knowing you, you've probably spoken with every doctor I've got and know far more about it than I do.”
“That's my Nate!” said Cooper, forcing a chuckle. “This is your third prosthetic footâor is it your fourth?”
“I've lost count,” replied Pretorius sardonically. “You keep sending me out, and they keep blowing parts of me away.” He paused. “I'm stuck here, but you undoubtedly have a galaxy to run, so why not run it and leave me the hell alone?”
“You do me an injustice, my boy,” said Cooper, trying very hard to look hurt. “I'm here to give you another medal.”
“Leave it on the cabinet there,” said Pretorius, indicating the structure. “In case it's escaped your notice, I'm not wearing my uniform.”
“Not a problem. I'll hang on to it for another week or so, until you're up and around, and then we'll have a proper ceremony.”
“So you came all the way over here from headquarters to tell me you're not giving me a medal today,” said Pretorius. “Why do I have some difficulty believing that?”
“I came over to tell you that you and your Dead Enders did a first-class job in the Michkag affair.”
“Is that what we're calling them now?”
“I thought it was your term.”
“No you didn't,” said Pretorius. “I'm due for some medication in another five minutes, so maybe you'd better cut through the crap and tell me why you're really here.”
Cooper nodded his head briskly. “We've got a hell of a situation on our hands.” He paused. “It's tailor-made for you and your Dead Enders.”
“They're not mine,” replied Pretorius. “And let me remind you that they're not yours either.”
“Oh, they're yours, Nate. Can't break up a winning team.”
Pretorius stared at the general for a long moment. “Are you
going to get to the point?”
Cooper made a face. “Got a real stinker for you, my boy. A
Pretorius made no reply, and simply waited for the general to continue.
“You know anything about the Q bomb?”
“I know it's the reason we're losing the war against the Transkei Coalition in the Albion Cluster,” answered Pretorius. “Or are they coming closer with it?”
“Well, yes and no,” answered Cooper.
“Yes or no
“Yes, they're getting closer with it, and no, we're not losing the battle .Â .Â . exactly.”
Cooper paused again, and Pretorius stared at him. “Someday I hope they teach you to speak in paragraphs instead of sentences. We might save enough time to develop a defense against the Q bomb.”
“How did you know?” said Cooper, surprised.
“How did I know what?” demanded Pretorius.
“That we've developed a defense against the Q bomb?”
“Good for us,” said Pretorius. “Now that the war is won, I'm going back to sleep.”
“We've lost it,” said Cooper. “That's where you and your Dead Enders come in.”
“They're not mine, and what the hell have you lost?”
“The defense, damn it!” snapped Cooper. “After a dozen years, we finally came up with a way to neutralize the Q bomb.” He grimaced. “We used it against three attacks, and it worked. It actually worked!”
“So what's the problem?”
“The bastards managed to kill most of the team that created it, and they've kidnapped the one man who was the brains of the operation, Edgar Nmumba.”
“But you still know how to neutralize the Q bomb?” said Pretorius.
“For the momentâthey're pretty easy for our instruments to spotâbut the real problem is that our solution is an incredibly complex and delicate mixture of hardware and timing, it doesn't allow substitutions, and there's every likelihood that even as we speak they're trying to pry his formulas out of him so they can change what goes into the Q bomb just enough to overcome our defenses.”
“Can they do it?”
Cooper frowned. “Nobody knows. He volunteered to let our psychiatric team insert a number of incredibly strong, complex mental blocks, and theoretically they can't be broken by any means known or even conceived by us. But if there's a chance, and of course there is, we have to stop them before he gives them what they need.” He paused, leaning against the rail of the hospital bed. “Nate, we haven't made the figures public, but they have delivered seventeen Q bombs, and we've lost an average of close to a billion people per bomb. We
let them go back to using it.”
“Why do I think I know what's coming next?”
they're holding Nmumba in a prison buried deep beneath the ground on a planet in the Antares Sector, and we think he's still alive. What we know is that we've got to get him back before they can break him. That's where you and your team come in. I want you to rescue him and return him to usâand if you can't do that, then he's got to be killed before he can tell them what they need to know.”
“I didn't enlist to kill fellow members of the Democracy,” said Pretorius coldly.
“You didn't enlist at all,” said Cooper. “You were drafted.”
“The point isâ”
“Goddammit it, Nate, the point is that if you have to kill one Man to save three or six or ten million others, let alone a billion, you'll do it and we both know it! You won't like it, and neither do we, but you'll do it.”
Pretorius glared at him silently, because he knew that the general was right.
“The doctors tell me you'll be able to hobble around with your new prosthetic foot in another couple of days. You can practice with it while you and your Dead Enders are on your way to the Antares Sector.”
“You don't want them,” said Pretorius. “They have unique talents that worked last time, on that mission in Orion, but this is clearly a differentâand in ways more difficultâsituation.”
“You brought 'em all back alive and intact, and we don't know what we're facing here, except that it's a secure facility in an enemy stronghold, just like last time, so you'll take the same team.”
“They're probably on five different worlds by now,” protested Pretorius. “They're not military, remember.”
,” said Cooper with a satisfied smile.
“You conscripted all five?” asked Pretorius, wondering why he didn't feel greater surprise or outrage.
“Last week. They're in the hotel across the street.” He frowned. “All but one, anyway.”
“Sally Kowalski,” replied Cooper.
“Snake,” confirmed Pretorius. A grim smile played around the edges of his mouth. “I know where she's likely to be.”
“This way, sir,” said the robot, walking smoothly down the prison corridor. It reached the end, turned left, walked past a row of heavy doors, each with a small viewscreen at eye level, slowed its pace as Pretorius limped after it, and stopped at the last door.
The robot looked into the room through the viewscreen, stood back as if in thought, then looked again, and finally turned to Pretorius.
“You may enter, sir.”
“Thanks,” said Pretorius, stepping into the cell as the robot ordered the lock to disengage.
The small, slender, wiry occupant sat up on her cot. “Well, look who's here,” she said.
“Do you know how tired your government is of bailing you out of prison?”
“Oh, come on, Nate. It's only been four times. Well, five, counting today. And you must need me, so the bail money's well spent.”
“What did you do this time?” asked Pretorius.
“Oh, hardly anything.”
“Buy me lunch and I'll tell you about it.” Suddenly she smiled. “Well, the heroic parts, anyway.”
“Come on,” said Pretorius, walking out into the corridor. “And try not to steal any of the robots.”
“You got a new gig, or you'd let me rot here,” she said, following him.
“Rot here?” he repeated with a chuckle. “Have you ever seen a jail you couldn't break out of in two days, tops?”