In the moments following the gunfire the control room of the Martian aethership took on a sombre silence. Petharic had only four rounds left – nowhere near enough to protect against a potential of fourteen adversaries who now looked to Joseph for guidance. On the floor with a single shot through his head lay the royal guard tasked with shooting Kaylee and Junie. Across the room lay Dejah Thoris, eyes wide and unseeing as blood pooled beneath her body.
“Cruelty and hubris.” said Joseph breaking the silence. He glanced dispassionately at the body of Dejah Thoris. “A dangerous combination. I always sensed those flaws would be her downfall.” He nonchalantly pushed a series of buttons on the control panel near where he was standing. “You are an excellent marksman Mr. Petharic. I really am quite impressed. And I can hardly fault you for wishing to defend your wife.”
“She is not my wife.” Petharic responded.
“I know.” Joseph nodded. “But you couldn’t love her more if she were. It is so obvious. Which is why I am prepared to make you a deal.”
“What deal could I possibly make with you?” said Petharic coldly.
“I have just activated the automatic pilot on this ship. It cannot be disabled until after take-off. Which will be in roughly nineteen minutes from now.”
“I tried to deactivate the containment field.” Kaylee said to Junie. “But I couldn’t see what I was doing and they caught me before I had the chance to finish.”
Joseph smiled at Kaylee. “Try not to let the guilt weigh too heavily upon you child as you witness this magnificent ship smashing through the streets of Clockhaven.” Joseph then returned his attention to Petharic. “I will let your love go free. And the young girl as well. You see I am a compassionate man.”
“You are more monstrous than any of your children.” Junie spat.
“Perhaps.” acknowledged Joseph holding Junie’s eye for a moment before returning his gaze to Petharic. “On to more pragmatic issues. My children require fresh meat; you are a large man, Mr. Petharic, you will be sufficient to meet their nutritional needs during our voyage to Mars.”
“NO!” Junie said stepping forward before being restrained by one of the two remaining Red Guard. Petharic raised the Colt and took aim squarely between Joseph’s eyes.
“Now, now.” said Joseph. “There is no further need for violence. You know as well as I that you can only hope to shoot another four of us at most. Think carefully, Mr. Petharic: what advantage is there for you in that? Would the satisfaction of seeing me dead be worth it when my surviving children are ripping you and the young ladies apart? What you really want is life – if not for you, then for her.” The smiling doctor nodded in the direction of Junie Ginsburg. “Because if you do not agree to my terms then surely she will die.” Joseph paused. The silence hung heavy for several moments.
“Petharic.” said Junie. “You can’t let him get away with this.”
Joseph smiled at Junie and said gently, “Oh, but he will; you have kindled a little warmth in that cold killing instinct of his – as did that boy.” Joseph focused intently on Petharic. “What was his name again?” Joseph feigned the look of a man trying to recall a lost fact. “Johnny? Johnny Dawkins was it? Were you not responsible for bringing the child into this dark underworld? Come now Mr. Petharic, put your weapon down on the floor and I will let them go.”
“Let them go.” Petharic countered, his aim never wavering. “Then I will put my weapon on the floor.”
“Very well,” said Joseph calmly. “I am a reasonable man. The ladies may go. But one of my children will go with them – and if he hears just a single shot coming from this ship – he will tear them both apart.”
“Lookit!” pointed Gilhooly excitedly at the two women running across the great chamber from the base of the ship . “It’s the Miss Missus and Kaylee!”
“Lapis!” warned Emerson with alarm in his voice. “One of those creatures is with them.
Lapis narrowed his eyes, his body coiled for attack as he watched for a moment. “It does not appear to be in pursuit. As if to confirm Lapis’s observation, the creature remained at the base of the ship for a few moments, observing the women, before turning back to the ship and ascending the ladder once more.
Emerson ran across the great chamber arms outstretched. Junie ran across the great chamber arms outstretched. The moment seemed magical. In Emerson’s mind the scene played out in slow motion. Unfortunately, in his excitement, he tripped over a loose pebble and met the ground in a not so slow motion fashion, to the collective groan of all who witnessed.
“We have to go back Em.” said Junie, pinching a handkerchief to Emerson’s nose in an effort to staunch the flow of blood. “Malus and Petharic are still on board.
“Petharic!” exclaimed Emerson. I can’t think of a better place for him than Mars.”
“Hush!” said Junie. “I wouldn’t be here now if it wasn’t for him.
“Listen.” said Kaylee. “Junie’s right. We gotta go back. Malus may be a turd. But we can’t leave him in the hands of that maniac.
“What maniac?” asked Lapis
“Dr. Joe.” said Junie.
“Dr. Joe?” questioned Emerson.
“He is utterly mad.” said Junie. “He’s resposible for all those horrid white creatures. For some reason he finds it imperative to get to Mars with the cure to the common cold.”
“The cure to the cold!” exclaimed Kaylee suddenly.
“It’s true.” piped up little Johnny Dawkins. “He done stuck me with a pin ‘n says I ain’t never gettin’ no more snotty noses.” The urchin burst out crying as Gill places an arm around his shoulder in consolation.
“We do hafta stop him.” said Kaylee. “The common cold’s what saves us from a full out invasion. They have no immunity. The common cold’s our last line of defense against their killer tripods!”
“Junie, how much time do we have before that vessel takes off?” asked Lapis
“Probably only about ten minutes!” Junie replied.
“Come on!” said Emerson suddenly jumping to his feet. “Let’s destroy the cure to the common cold!”