The last space shuttles burst through the atmosphere, leaving the stricken Earth for the last time. Behind them, thousands of cities lay deserted as the planet veered on a collision course with the Sun. The average temperature was 40 degrees centigrade, and near the equator, people had just crumpled up and died.
Journey to Kraznir
by Harry legg
Carlos Quince loaded his Meteor-60 gun. It was a large black piece of equipment. He and his men around him knew the target! Bella Diece Seis! There was heavy rivalry between the two Spanish families. It had escalated to war in 2083, but then the meteorite hit the Earth and it had been halted, but only temporarily. But now it had started again, as Mars had been settled. The big convoy of spaceships packed with people from different countries had landed in the Slisnian Crater, as it was now known. Over 30 years had past and still the settlement had spread in all directions to the newly formed city of Kraznir. A new sort of train service had been set up using materials salvaged form the remains of the Earth and metals they had found in the crust of Mars. But now, the Earth was uninhabitable and the side facing the Sun was a layer of fire. The planet did not spin on an axis any more, it was hurtling towards the Sun. Experts estimated 4 or 5 months until it collided with the Sun, if there was anything left of it by then.
The Moon had been settled finally in 2054 by the Russians who had found a way to pump oxygen into the Moon’s atmosphere. But without a spacesuit, you could only spend up to an hour outside and by then your would be panting. In 2074 Mars had been landed on by two British astronauts, Charles Brown and Jamie Sanders. Since then missions, to and from Mars had occurred, much like the Apollo missions, resulting in preparations to settle Mars. Unfortunately, they had not foreseen the catastrophic disaster about to occur. The attempt now had to happen with 4 billion people instead of 3000. They were poorly equipped, but the main thing was; they were alive on Mars 30 years on.
The Moon had been give to the countries of Europe, while Mars was settled by the rest of the world. However, the races had mixed together, and everywhere had different races inhabiting it.
Carlos snapped out of his thoughts and concentrated on the door where Bella was meant to appear. They would stun her, kidnap her and get away and head for the boss of the Quince family in Kraznir. There, they would demand a ransom and hope they could kill Beni Diece Seis, Bella’s brother, when he inevitably came to rescue her.
“Sir, target sighted!”said Carlos’ cousin Ricardo. He nodded:
“Make sure your weapons are set on stun! We can’t afford to make a hash of this.” He glanced provocatively at Sanches his nephew, “remember, we need her alive!” Sanches glared back at him and then turned to level his gun at Bella.
“Fire!”yelled Carlos. Windows smashed; the red stone of the ground flew everywhere. Bella was out cold as Carlos jumped down to retrieve her. He could hear voices coming from inside the wrecked building. Then, Sergei Diece Seis emerged, shell-shocked. Carlos said,
“Got your sister, haha!”Sergei screamed back at him,
“Give her back you slime-ball!” Carlos fired once at his chest. He would come round in an hour or so and surely go and tell his clan. Sergei was the youngest of Bella, Beni and himself. He was the least dangerous and that was why he was left alive. Beni was seldom seen by anyone because of the death threats he received from the Quince family.
Most of the old Spanish families had been killed in the meteorite collision on Earth or the aftermath of the inpact. A few old people remained but theirs were the only two families left with a significant number of members left alive.
‘The Inter-Country Police’ as they were called had had to break up many fist-fights between the two families in the newly formed bars in the city, ‘New Worldtropolis’, situated in the Slisnian Crater.
– – –
George Papatopolous was fed up. He had been playing FIFA 99 on his X-box 1440 and had beaten ‘Worldtropolis United’ 3-2 with ‘Kraznir City’. He was 30 years old and strong. His brown hair and dark eyes were very striking and put a fearful look into most people’s faces. They imagined that his strength would mean he was a bad person. However he was the complete opposite of that. He was a nice man with a cheerful personality and had plenty of friends. One was Beni Diece Seis, possibly his best friend but he did not see it like that. All his friends were equal.
Beni had rung George up with a peculiar story about his brother Sergei getting knocked out by someone from their rival family. This, he did not care about. He knew that the rivalry between the Diece Seis family and the Quince family was great. George did not want to get involved. But the thing that had disturbed him the most was the kidnapping of Bella Diece Seis. He liked her a lot and had been told many times by Beni to go out with her. But he, George did not want to go that far. He had a special job with the MIA, Mars Intelligence Agency. He had sworn not to marry until he was fifty. By then, she would be with someone else. Beni was coming to see him about helping to find Bella. What hope was there? And besides that, he could not help. He was due to go on a mission for the MIA. He was determined to say ‘no’ to Beni. He would find it hard, but he had to do it.
1 Hour later
Beni Diece Seis opened the door. “He had changed,” thought George. There were dark lines of tiredness under his eyes. He was worried about his sister. George could tell that much.
“Hello Beni.”he said.
“Allright.”came the grumpy reply. Then he continued,
“Look, George, I need your help. Please come with me. . .”
“No, I can’t. I would if I could but I’ve got a mission coming up!” Then Beni grabbed him by the shoulders:
“I need your help, seriously, can you imagine me on my own?”
“On your own? What the heck are you on about? What about your clan? It’s not just your war!” Beni looked at him in surprise,
“You see, that’s the thing! The clan has backed out of the war. They say it’s getting too bad, what with the kidnapping of Bella. They’ve abandoned me and Bella. I don’t care about them any more. Sergei wants to help but I have forbidden it, he’s just too young.” George sighed, surprised by the the sudden outburst.
“Ok then, I’ll come, but believe me, chasing some villains to Kraznir is not gonna be easy!” There was now a look of joy on Beni’s face.
“When do we leave?”he asked.
“Tomorrow! Be here at 6.”replied George.
– – –
The train stations on Mars were built largely of red rock. However ‘New Worldtropolis Central Station’ was different. It mainly consisted of scrap metal salvaged from Earth. It was the most Earth-like thing on the whole of Mars. However, the tracks were in the air and there was only one rail along which metal capsules ran.
This was what George and Beni boarded that morning. But, right from when George had left to meet Beni, he had known something was wrong. He would suddenly turn round and see a black cloak disappear out of view or a face peering out at him from the shadows. Cities on Mars were essentially like Earth cities, including manky filthy sub-urbs. George knew he was being followed, skilfully yes, but still too obvious. He was willing to place all his money on the fact that his shadow was from the Quince family. “What had he got himself into?” he thought as he entered the station. He found Beni and quickly explained that they were being followed. Beni merely looked annoyed, not surprised, he had evidently been expecting this. What reassured both him and George was the gun concealed in their jackets in a hidden pocket. If someone tried something they would be ready.
They boarded a capsule along with several other people. They could see their adversary jostling with the crowd, in an attempt to get on. But the attendant set the capsule going and the enemy was forced to get into the second capsule. He looked furious! The speeds were set on both capsules, so there was no way of him gaining any ground on Beni and George. They were both relatively safe, until they got to Colonia, the sort of halfway point between ‘New Worldtropolis’ and ‘Kraznir’. But they had decided the previous night to scour Colonia once they arrived. They were glad they were stopping there; they would need somewhere to lose their tail. The capsule moved on and on, still no change in distance between it and the one behind. Beni was satisfied. He knew who that man was. Cherlo Quince, an easy one to lose at Colonia.
– – –
“Sir, Carlos, it’s Cherlo calling.”The kidnappers, about five of them, were in a small deserted building in Colonia with Bella. They were due to leave for Kraznir in 3 hours.
“Pass me the phone!”said Carlos. “Yes, what is it Cherlo? Let me guess, ya lost them?”
“Ah, no Carlos, I’m in the capsule behind them. We are due to arrive in Colonia in 10 minutes. Cherlo was expecting a decent bit of praise for providing this news. However, he was to be disappointed.
“Imbecile! Why didn’t you warn me sooner? We’ll have no time to get away now!”
“But I. . .”
“Shut up! When you get to the station, blast them! I don’t care if you’re arrested!” he slammed the phone down and yelled to his men,
“Grab Bella, everyone to the station, guns loaded, we may be in for a fight! That’s assuming Cherlo messes up again. . .which is more than likely.” Within a minute the house was empty and a car and a suitcase containing Bella whizzed off to the station.
– – –
Cherlo was determined to do something to make up for his earlier failure. There were only three minutes left until their arrival. Instead of passing red rocky ground, there were occasional houses all around. He drew his Meteor 60 and set it on stun. There were shocked gasps from his fellow passengers and then silence. There were all out cold. He then set his gun back to normal. He tried to heave open the heavy windows but they held fast. He swore. Then his recklessness nearly killed him. He fired several shots at the window. The first shot bounced off with no damage to the window, the second cracked the target and the third went straight through, creating an enormous gaping hole. The big problem was the first shot. It pinged around the enclosed space and luckily for him, hit one of the passengers. However, the second shot ricocheted and pounded into Cherlo’s thigh. He screamed out in pain as his femoral artery was ruptured causing him to slump back in his seat, gasping for breath. There was blood streaming down his leg. He was loosing blood fast. He was dying and he knew it. Then he passed out. Within an hour, he would be dead unless someone got him to hospital in time.
From the other capsule, Beni and George had watched the whole scene in amusement, along with their fellow passengers. Someone had called the police and all the capsules had been shut down between ‘New Worldtropolis’ and ‘Colonia’. Heli-ambulances were milling around the scene and forensic officers had determined the man responsible for the death of one of the passengers and nearly of himself. Cherlo was rushed off to hospital, although many thought he did not deserve it, especially the victim’s family. Meanwhile the other passengers were rescued and they told the ‘Inter-country Police’ all that had happened.
Incidentally though, this had been good for the Quince family after all. Carlos, his men and Bella had boarded the train to Kraznir five minutes after the train with George and Beni was scheduled to arrive. But the train line had been stopped and restarted half an hour behind time. Carlos was almost in Kraznir. “It was a lucky escape” he thought as they zoomed towards their destination. Then he laughed an evil laugh. Everything was going his and his boss’s way.
– – –
George and Beni were greatly annoyed to hear that certain members of the Quince family had got on the train to Kraznir with a large ‘suitcase’. Beni was furious at the way they were treating Bella; carrying her round in a suitcase like a useless item. He was determined to get her back. He and George were going to have a look around the whole city of Kraznir for Carlos. Kraznir was the largest city on Mars and the most ruthless and criminalised as well. It was the perfect place for the Quince family to hide someone. The moment they got off the train they would be followed and probably on camera. That was why they enlisted Sergei and another Diece Seis member to disguise themselves and make sure the real George and Beni could search in peace. They would also be disguised as no one in particular. With luck they would find Bella or the Diece Seis family would have to pay the ransom, a huge sum.
The train was too quiet for Beni’s liking. It was a normal train, one of the few left on Mars. His carriage was empty and there was a man who kept looking through the adjacent carriage door. However, they arrived at Kraznir without an unfortunate event.
As they walked into the high street the first things they saw were astounding. There were shops to each side with cars in the middle of the road. The problem was that all the cars were honking at each other and drivers were out arguing. Everywhere you looked there were pickpockets stealing, occasionally getting caught, and punched in the face by the angry victim. The shops were largely betting shops or drug shops. Beni and George had been expecting bad things, but this was shocking. There were fist-fights breaking out all over the place and dogs snarling at each other. It was the picture of the opposite of law and order.
Carlos Quince smiled as he watched George and Beni’s progress through the city. Their disguises had not fooled him. He was perfectly happy to let the doubles wander around. Pitiful attempts to conceal themselves! Bella looked horrified as she saw the trap her brother and his friends were walking into.
“You know what to do guys, don’t you?”Carlos questioned his men tentatively. The others nodded.
“When he comes into this barn,”said Carlos, “everything and everyone will be up on the balcony except Bella. She will be tied up and gagged in that corner.”
– – –
George and Beni were at a lost as to where to look until a small boy came up to them saying,
“Ahh, senore Carlos, es muy er. . .horrible!”George and Beni stopped suddenly, halted in their tracks. They looked at the boy, who was dressed in tatters and whistling noisily, and nodded to each other,
“Hey. . . er, boy, you there. . .”The boy turned to them,
“Si?”He had big round innocent eyes. The two men did not notice that he was Spanish.
“This Carlos, what is his name?” The boy replied over enthusiastically:
“Quince! He pay me lots money for his dirty work. . .no no no, to. . .day he give me dollar, pero. . .er. . .but Casa De Cuernos I go, luego, tomorrow and he pay me! Must go now! Adios!” The boy had been speaking hesitantly and with a heavy Spanish accent. He ran off, money jingling in his pocket as Beni and George headed for ‘Casa De Cuernos’. Little did they know, that within the ‘House of Horns’ was a trap.
– – –
It was now night time on Mars. Kraznir was not however, a city to be shut up for the night. Bars would be open, their light flooding the darkened streets. Few would try to sleep. Even fewer would suceed because of the noise. However the ‘Monte Carlo’ district was the only place where it was silent. Rich people would pay to live in this area, about as much money, as you would use in your whole life, to stay for only a month. But for Carlos Quince and his men, it was the perfect place for his ‘business’. He had bribed, or maybe threatened, the manager of the ‘Monte Carlo’ district and he had ‘agreed’ to let them stay for a month free of charge. No one was allowed in that district without the permission of the tenants and therefore there was less chance of being discovered by some ‘nosey-parker’.
Beni and George had to get into the district somehow. There was an electrified, ornately disguised, fence and a crash barrier with a guard box by it. Each guard had an old-fashioned rifle, but it was still a weapon and it could kill, so Beni and his friend would have to be very careful indeed. They were also aware that the guard’s gun had no stun setting. Whereas, theirs had.
They approached the guard box cautiously. They could see the guard leaning back in a chair, smoking a cigarette and reading a newspaper. He obviously did not expect any trouble. The wind rustled the leaves of a nearby tree causing a shiver to tingle down the two friends’ spines. There were no stars in the sky. It was a sort of eerie night. They could see houses looming up on either side as they reached the door. Beni loaded his gun, set on stun. George kicked the door open. Beowwww! The guard rocketed backwards and hit the window. It smashed and sent glass fragments flying everywhere. Silence. George and Beni stopped. Had anyone heard them? It did not seem like it.
“Stupid window!”whispered Beni to George as they lugged the heavy guard onto the floor.
“Shh, someone might. . . !”George grabbed Beni frantically.
“Not likely. . .” retorted Beni. He was surprised to hear George say in a fierce whisper,
“Listen! These are real gunmen we’re dealing with! This is not a game!”
“I know, sorry George.” came Beni’s meek reply. They moved past the barrier and walked through the blocks of houses. Finally at a corner they saw a sign:
Casa De Cuernos
It was the start of a huge complex. Once they reached the corner they could see a main house with two barns on either side.
“A farm?”queried George.
“Yeah, ‘Casa De Cuernos’ means ‘House of Horns’, it used to be a training ground for bull fighting.”came Beni’s knowledgeable reply.
There was a separate fence around the complex but it was easy to climb over as Beni and George noticed when they scaled it. There was no noise coming from the house. Surely they had not missed them? They walked up to the main house. Oddly, it was open. They stepped in. The light was on, but that did not worry the two men as that was normal in Spanish culture. It was a sort of entrance hall they were in. There was a wide flight of stairs in the centre, leading up to the first floor. The carpet was red and expensive paintings hung on the aromatic wooden panels of the wall.
George motioned to Beni to be absolutely silent. There was one room adjoining the hall. They tiptoed towards it. Beni listened intently at the door. No noise. They opened the door and found themselves in a small study. Still, no sounds could be heard from the house. There was a desk in the centre of the room. Beni read the papers which were strewn all over the desk. It was mostly bills. The walls were packed with bookshelves which in turn were full of books. There was nothing interesting in the room. Onwards they weaved, out of the study and up the stairs. There were 6 doors, none of them had windows, completely opaque. They prised open the first door. Empty. The second door. Empty. The third. Empty. All the rest were completely empty.
“Well, they must have gone!” said George rather flatly. Beni, also looking despondent moaned,
“Wasted! All that time wasted. We’ll never get Bella back!” he had expected some sympathy from George. He, however was staring wide eyed into space at nothing in particular. Beni was furious,
“Well, I suppose you don’t care!” he said angrily, knowing perfectly well that George did care. “You don’t care that. . .”
“I’ve got it!”suddenly shouted George. “The barns! Bella’s in the barns!”
“Why on Mars would she be in the barns?” asked Beni incredulously.
“Don’t you see?” Beni obviously did not, so George continued,
“The boy we met was a set up. Why else do you think this house is deserted? The barn is trap and we were so nearly fooled!”
“Ahhhhhh!”realised Beni. “We now have the element of surprise. I’m guessing we’ll just walk in the front and have guns turned on us!”
“So we’ll have to go in the back.”concluded George.
– – –
“We have to find out which barn they’ve got Bella in! And we need to see the layout of the barns. Also, I wonder if there is a back entrance?”said George Papatopolous.
“Agreed!”replied Beni Diece Seis.
They walked up to the first barn door, guns drawn. Ears to the wood, they listened! Nothing. They kicked at the door. Crack!. And again. It swung open as a wooden bolt clattered to the floor. The outside of the other barn was the same as this one, so they assumed the inside would be too. There was a balcony above an open straw covered floor and that was it. No machinery, no nothing. They walked up the flight of stairs leading to the balcony. Nothing there either, apart from a small back door.
“Bingo!” exclaimed Beni. “Our way in. We’ll surprise them and Bella will be ours!” He looked overjoyed at that thought.
Carlos was restless. He and his boss Rodriguez had been waiting for Beni and George to arrive. They had watched them explore the other barn. They had taken longer than expected. But finally they were coming. And then they disappeared from view.
“Where are they, Carlos!”said Rodriguez, impatiently.
“I think they’ve gone round the back. . .!” Suddenly realisation hit Rodriguez like a mallet.
“Quick, they must have found the back door!”yelled Rodriquez pulling out his gun. Crash! The back door smashed open. Shots rang out all around them as several of the Quince family were shot dead. However, the battle was far from over. Rodriquez’ men dived for cover and returned fire. Beni was hit in the leg and passed out. George fired at a beam above them all sending a huge chunk of wood flying at Carlos’ head. Carlos jumped to the side but to no avail. There was a ominous cracking sound as his neck snapped. Rodriquez winced at this and fired more vehemently at George. It was heading for a sort of stalemate when there was a shout from Rodriguez’ only companion left standing:
“Stop this! I’ve had enough. Already my two brothers are dead!” Rodriguez looked astonished at this and then turned to shoot his man. But his companion was too quick, setting his gun to stun, he shot Rodriguez in the head and then threw his gun to the floor. George seeing it was safe to come out, walked out from behind his cover and said,
“I think we have an ambulance to call!” Then looking at Bella he said, “Beni will have some good news when he comes round!”