Howdy gang. As regular readers of this blog know I like to do something special when holidays roll around and I’ve been wondering what I could do for Thanksgiving. I was at a bit of a loss  until recent events occurred (see previous post). And now I have a great idea. A special treat.

Since my story “Kiss Me Now, Kill Me Later,” won’t be appearing in the Raygun Revival Anthology, I’ve decided to post the story here on the blog. The story appeared in Raygun Revival Issue No 7, Oct. 1, 2006. And it appears here exactly as it ran back then. You can read it free of charge.

This story eventually became Chapter 2 of my novel, Jack Brand. It features the main character, Jack Brand of course, and introduces the female lead, Christy Jones. So if you like the story and want to read more, the novel is still currently available on Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. You can get it on Kindle and Nook and all that type of stuff. And so, without further ado:

Kiss Me Now, Kill Me Later

by

John M. Whalen

             Jack Brand stood at the doorway of the Nissan Strato-Sled, the early morning sunlight glaring in his eyes. He looked down at the lush green of the jungle stretching out to the hazy horizon. Even at a thousand feet he could smell the dank, musty odor rising from the dense vegetation.

            “We think he went down somewhere in this area,” a man standing next to him in a green uniform said. He was holding a map on a clipboard. “We intercepted a plasma signal emanating from his Air-Ski a few minutes before he crashed. Those Skis are so small— he could be anywhere in a fifty mile radius. He could be right under us and we’d never see him.”

Brand nodded and adjusted the flight goggles over his eyes, raised his arms, spreading the Glide-O-Cape out to the sides.

“Sure you want to go this alone?” the man in the uniform asked. “ I’ve got men ready to go with you.”

“No thanks, captain. I appreciate the offer, but bringing somebody along might only complicate things. I’ll send a flare up every six hours. A white flare to let you know where I am. A red one when I find him.”

“Good luck.”

Brand stood for a moment on the lip of the doorway. He was dressed in a blue tunic with no sleeves, black pants tucked into mid-calf Krylor boots. A Beretta Electro Pistol hung in a holster on his hip. A six inch Miller Teflon blade dangled in a sheath from his belt, and a machete swung on the other side. A black canvass backpack hugged his shoulder blades. A Sony Laser Rifle clung to his right shoulder. He stepped out into the air.

After a short drop the Glide-O-Cape caught the air and he floated silently below the humming Strato-Sled as it turned slowly and headed back to Transport Central. As the ship sailed away, a strange silence fell and the air became thicker and more humid as he descended toward the rain forest. He looked for an opening somewhere in the treeline. He did not want to land in a tree, if he could help it. A shadow fell over him and he heard the sound of rushing wind. Something shrieked loudly over his head and he heard the Nylor fabric of the Glide-O-Cape ripping as the shadow passed over him. A huge Strang, its big leathery wings flapping slowly, appeared ahead and began to turn back in his direction.

The Glide-O-Cape faltered now, with a tear on the right side. It would still hold the air, but Brand knew if the bird attacked again, he was going down. Unless the bird planned to carry him away in it’s claws.

Brand unslung the Laser Rifle. No time to aim, he slipped off the safety and pulled the trigger. A bright white beam blasted the creature’s left wing. It shrieked in pain, but instead of turning away, it doubled its efforts and winged toward him, fierce hatred in its eyes. Brand fired again and tried to maneuver the Glide-O-Cape away. The laser struck the bird full in the breast. The Strang screamed, and crashed head on into Brand. The impact knocked the rifle out of his hands and the weapon fell down toward the jungle. The Strang plummeted toward the ground.

Brand, knocked half-senseless by the heavy impact, struggled to stay airborne. But the Glide-O-Cape was too damaged. He descended in a rapid spiral toward the treetops. There was no controlling his fall.

In seconds branches hit him, and tree limbs broke, sharp pain searing his back and legs as he tried to grab hold of something to stop his fall. He clawed out with his hands and felt branches slip through his fingers. Finally the outer ribbing of the Glide-O-Cape caught on the broken end of a branch and he slammed hard against the tree trunk with his back.

He hung there for a moment, tried to recover his senses, then unfastened the cape’s harness and dropped to a branch directly below. Landing on his buttocks, sharp pain flared in his right leg. He held on to the branch with both hands and managed to stay seated on his arboreal perch.

He took a survey. There were cuts and bruises but everything seemed alright, except for his leg. A six inch piece of broken wood about a half inch wide stuck out of his left pants leg at the thigh. The black fabric was wet with blood.

The leg needed tending but he was still about a hundred feet above the ground. Carefully, he lowered himself from the branch and started the climb down. Flares of pain sent messages up to his brain every inch of the way.

Dropping to the leaf-covered ground, he sat down on the trunk of a fallen tree, and shrugged  the backpack off. Pulling a few items out of the pack, he unsheathed the Miller Blade.  and cut the fabric away from the wound. He grasped the wooden shaft that had penetrated his thigh and pulled on it. Excruciating pain forced a grunt through his clamped lips. It was in deep. Grabbing the shaft tighter he pulled and tossed the bloody stick aside, panting, as blood began pouring out of the open wound. He put down the knife, and picked up one of the items he’d taken from the pack, a spray can. He took off the cap and sprayed the wound. The pain got worse but the strong disinfectant would prevent infection.

Brand took a vial out of his tunic pocket and popped out two pills, swallowing them with a swig of water from his canteen, then sat quietly and waited. In minutes the blood coagulant began working and the blood stopped flowing. He picked up another can and sprayed a fine pink mist on his leg and watched, as the mist seemed to congeal over the bloody red wound. In minutes  a nearly normal looking skin-like cover formed over the puncture. He put an elastic bandage around his leg, covering the wound and then put the gear back in his pack and stood up.

The leg hurt, but it did not bleed. Brand looked around at the gigantic trees of the Tulon jungle towering overhead. He sniffed the air, listened. It had been two years since he’d been in this part of the planet. Most of his time was spent in the desert, keeping the peace out in the oil fields and boom towns of Tulon. He wouldn’t be here at all, if Cassidy hadn’t gone crazy.

The SOB robbed one of Trans-Exxon’s banks and took off in an Air-Ski, headed for the jungle. Trans-Exxon Security Central tracked him until his mini-ship lost power and went down. They sent Brand to bring him back or the money, or both. They figured he was the man for the job. After all, Cassidy had been his partner once. Number one man on his tactical squad.

Brand had nothing concrete to go on, but his instinct told him that Cassidy was somewhere toward the east. He started moving in that direction, taking only several steps, when there was the sound of a motor overhead.

Looking skyward through the trees, Brand saw another Strato-Sled gliding above the treetops. Then someone jumped out and soared down to the jungle in a Glide-O-Cape, just as he had done. Someone else was looking for Frank Cassidy.

II

Brand hacked a path through the jungle with the machete. He had a fair idea where the newcomer might have landed. Sweat drenched his body as he swung the machete and plodded onward. The pain in his leg was something he no longer noticed it, still he could not walk without a limp.

He thought about Cassidy. It was nearly a year ago the man had been kicked out of his tactical squad. The man was good, but he had a drinking problem. He hadn’t always been a drunk, Brand recalled. The drinking started after his wife Julie left him. Brand could never understand why some men could let a woman destroy him. But after she left, Cassidy just fell apart. After he was let go, Brand heard he’d taken a job as a security man in an electronics warehouse, and got fired from that. The last he’d heard, Cassidy was working as a bouncer in one of the nudie joints along the Tulon Strip.

Brand heard a noise in the jungle up ahead, and he stopped. A branch snapped and there was a splashing sound, then a woman screamed. He hacked through the trees and tangling vines and in a moment stood looking down at a woman up to her shoulders in a pool of quicksand. Her long auburn hair was tied up in a tight bun at the back of her head. Her dark blue eyes stared straight up into the grinning face of a long green snake, that dangled from a nearby limb. It’s yellow eyes stared back at her and its tongue flicked the air.

“Why, Christy Jones, nice of you to drop in,” Brand said.

The girl didn’t move. She didn’t take her eyes off the snake.

“Brand! I heard they sent you in here.”

“Wouldn’t have been following me would you?”

“Any law against it, if I was?” She seemed suddenly a bit alarmed as she noticed the quicksand was now up to her chin

“That depends,” Brand said.

“How about shooting that thing?” she said. “I’d do it but I’m afraid if I go for my gun, he’ll strike.”

Brand drew the Beretta. A blue pulse of electricity shimmered through the air and the snake’s head was suddenly a piece of charcoal, dangling lifelessly in front of the girl.

“Can you throw me a vine or something,” the girl said. “In case you didn’t notice I’m about to go under.”

Brand hacked a vine off the side of a tree with the machete and tossed one end to her.

“Grab hold,” he said, and began pulling her out, hand over hand. The girl came out of the bubbling pool of shifting muck and soon stood on firm ground. She was wearing a dark blue skin-tight jump suit that clung to her shapely body and revealed every delicious curve.

“Thanks,” she said, wiping some of the slime off the arms and legs of her jump suit. Brand noticed the laser pistol at her side and the knife hanging at her waist.

“You come in here without any provisions?” he asked. “Where’s your pack?”

“Down there,” she said, pointing to the bubbling pool. “It was pulling me down. I had to let it go. Still got this.” She took a canteen from her belt and took a drink.

“What are you doing here, Christy?” Brand asked. “As if I didn’t know.”

“Thought maybe you could use some help.”

“From you?”

“You know I’m good.”

“Better than most men I know,” Brand said. “Except for one thing.”

“What’s that?”

“Can’t trust you.” Brand knew her. Knew her reputation. She was an adventuress. Christy Jones had been involved in several dubious escapades he knew about. They weren’t exactly legal, but not illegal enough for her to end up behind bars. He knew she’d killed a man once in self defense. “You got more twists and turns than that dead snake over there.”

“Afraid?”

“No. But let’s get it all said. There’s only one reason you came here. You heard Cassidy hit the Trans-Exxon bank for 500 thousand. You figure if he crashed in here, he’s most likely dead. You figure to get your hands on some easy money.”

“There’s a 10 percent reward for return of that money,” she said. “That’s all I want. Not the whole thing.”

“Sure, Christy. I believe you.”

“What are you going to do?”

“I’m going to find Cassidy and if he’s alive, bring him in.”

“What about the money?”

“That’ll be up to Trans-Exxon.”

“What about me?”

Brand looked at her in exasperation.

“I can’t very well leave you here alone with no provisions,” he said. “You’ll come along. But so help me, you pull anything and you’ll end up getting left here where you belong.”

The girl’s full red lips parted in a toothy smile and her right hand came up in a salute.

“Yes, sir! Whatever you say.”

Brand shook his head warily and started moving again.

III

It was noon when they took their first break. Brand sat down by the side of a small stream that wound its way past them through the trees. He took a Synth-Veg bar out of his pack, broke it in half and handed it to the girl. She sat on a tree stump next to the edge of the babbling water. In the trees above they heard the chattering of a family of monkeys.

“These Synth bars don’t taste like much, but they’ve got enough vitamins and minerals to keep you going,” he said.

“Thanks,” she said.

Brand studied her silently for a minute, while he chewed.

“Christy, how’d you come to be here on Tulon?” he asked.

“Born here,” she said. “My daddy was an oil rigger. Came with the first wave of oil workers. My ma worked in the Transport Center. Everything was fine for a while. Seem like when they found oil on this planet everybody did fine.”

“All except the Tulons,” Brand said.

“Well, they were just a bunch of freaks anyway,” she said. “What did they contribute to the world. All they wanted to do was escape the Earth because of all the trouble back there. They lived like pigs far as I can see. Wasn’t till the oil people came that the place amounted to anything.”

“It’s more complicated than that,” Brand said. “What happened to your parents?”

“Daddy got killed in an explosion in one of the fields. Mama couldn’t handle it. Fell apart. Started using that Synth-Coke. She died a year after he did. I was fourteen years old.. Not much in the way of social services up here. I had to learn how things are pretty quick. I learned that in this world there aint nobody gonna worry about you, except yourself. And anybody don’t look out for himself is a damn fool.”

“Every man for himself, eh?”

She looked around at the rotting vegetation, the bugs crawling on the trees, the vines draped from tree to tree. The call of wild birds echoed through the trees, and in the distance something far off roared ferociously.

“This here aint the only kind of jungle, Brand,” she said. “You ever find that sister of yours?”

Everyone on Tulon knew his story. His sister Theresa had been a member of his tactical squad. The Wilkerson gang robbed a payroll and he and Terry and two other team members went after them. There was an ambush. Brand was wounded, left for dead. The two other men were killed.  His sister was taken off by the Wilkersons. They took her and vanished. Five years he’d been looking for her. Tulon was a big planet with plenty of places to hide.

“No,” he said. “Not yet.”

Brand stood up and took the Plasmatic Very Pistol from his pack and fired a white holographic flare through the trees.

“There’s no radio communication from here,” he said. “The Ginjari trees emit some kind of high frequency signal that interferes with radio waves. These flares are the only way I can let Central know where I am.”

He put the flare gun away.

“Let’s go.”

“Hold on,” she said, getting to her feet. “Nature calls. You’ll spare me a little privacy, won’t you?”

“Don’t go too far.”

Christy walked off into the bushes and Brand stood impatiently waiting. He had no problem with women. He’d seen some could outshoot and outfight most men. But he had to admit that working with them was not the easiest thing to do. There were always problems inherent in the difference between the sexes.

“Hey, shake a leg,” he hollered into the bushes. “We gotta get a move on.”

There was no answer.

“Christy?”

He knew she was gone even before he got to the spot where she had walked to.

“Damn!” He looked around in all directions. She’d moved quickly. He saw where her boot had overturned some of the rotted leaves lying on the forest floor, and ahead another footprint. He ran in that direction. She’d traded stealth for speed and broken twigs and torn leaves made it easy to follow her trail.

There was a commotion up ahead. Something roared and he heard Christy scream. Brand  broke through into a tiny clearing and saw a sleek black Tulon panther, standing on its two hind legs, its forelegs wrapped around Christy’s neck from behind. The beast growled ferociously, and with a savage twist of its torso, threw the girl to the ground. Christy rolled over on her back, grabbing the short fur under the cat’s neck in a desperate effort to hold him off. The beast’s mouth opened and long top fangs sought her jugular.

Brand raced into the clearing and reached for his Beretta. Before he could pull it from the holster, a heavy weight fell on his shoulders and knocked him to the ground. Savage growls and the smell of animal hate fell on him as he rolled over and reached for his Miller blade. He should have remembered that Tulon Panthers attack in pairs. Savage fury snarled and growled over him.

With one arm against the cat’s chest to hold him off, he lunged the six inch Teflon blade into its chest. The beast snarled in anger and fury, as Brand struck several times more. Blood oozed from the cat’s sleek fur, and Brand could sense its strength was beginning to wane. Summoning every bit of energy he had, Brand pushed the cat back with his left forearm, sat up and jumped on the cat’s back. With his arm encircling the panther’s neck, cutting off its air, he lunged the blade into its breast where the heart was. With a tremendous shudder, the panther screamed and fell dead under him.

Brand jumped to his feet. He saw Christy struggling silently with the cat. She had been unable to get a weapon in her hands, it had been all she could do to merely hold the creature off and avoid its roiling claws. He felt a brief moment of admiration at the way she fought the beast. She didn’t scream or call for help. She struggled in deadly silence, knowing full well, she was staring into the face of death.

Brand drew his Beretta and fired. The blue wave of electricity hit the cat in mid-torso with a loud report. A gaping hole smoked where its ribs had been and the beast rolled on the ground dead next to the girl.

“You alright?” Brand asked, helping her to sit up.

She seemed stunned. Leaves and straw cluttered her hair, which had come loose and now fell on her slender shoulders. She sat there trying to catch her breath, trying to comprehend everything that had happened. Her deep blue eyes looked up at him with confusion.

“That’s twice now you saved my life,” she said. “I don’t get it. I ran away from you. You had every right to walk on and forget about me. Why didn’t you?”

Brand stood looking down at her.

“If you have to ask that, I don’t think I’ll be able to explain it to you,” he said.

She got up slowly, brushing the leaves out of her hair.

“What did you think?” Brand asked. “You could find Cassidy by yourself, pick up his provisions and the money and make it back out on your own?”

“I don’t know what I was thinking,” she said. “I’m sorry, Brand. I don’t understand your kind of man, but I owe you one. And if there’s one thing true, Christy Jones always pays her debts. If you think you can trust me, I promise I’ll behave.”

Brand shook his head.

“I doubt it,” he said. “Let’s go.”

IV

It was about two hours before sundown when they found Cassidy in a small clearing. Brand saw the bright yellow wreckage of the Air-Ski first. It lay in the bowl of an enormous tree, its metal body burnt and broken, its long propellers twisted like shoelaces. Below it, a man sat before the charred remains of a campfire. He was a big man with sandy hair and wide shoulders. He sat up with his back against the trunk of a Ginjari tree. One leg was stretched straight out and had a bloody bandage over the knee.  A canvas pup tent stood several feet away. The man didn’t move and at first Brand thought he was either dead or unconscious. But as they entered the clearing, his head came up. The look on his face was one of disbelief. His eyes went back and forth between Brand and the girl.

“Jack, can’t say I’m surprised to see you,” Cassidy said. “Knew they’d send you after me. But what are you doing tagging along with him, Christy?”

Brand was surprised.

“You two know each other?”

“You could say that,” Cassidy said.

“Hands in the air, Brand,” Christy said.

Brand turned and saw the Electro-Pistol in her hand. Careless, he thought to himself. Should have disarmed her.

“Toss your gun over here, Jack,” Cassidy said. He had a long range Delco plasma gun in his hand. “By the barrel. Real easy.”

Brand slipped the pistol out of the Velcro holster and tossed it to him.

“Drop that knife and machete too,” Christy said.

Brand complied, tossing the weapons toward the burnt out campfire.

“Should have figured it,” he said. “You two working together.”

“She helped me get the entry code to the bank vault. Suckered it out of one of the bank officers. She was waiting for me at the Way Station on the Tumaku River with a Strato-Sled. All I had to do was get my Air Ski to the Station and we’d have made a clean getaway. Just my luck my wings gave out on me.”

“Are you hurt bad, honey,” Christy asked.

“Leg’s busted. Been waiting for you three days, baby. Knew you wouldn’t let me lie here to rot.”

“Especially not with 500,000 Tulo-Creds waiting here with you,” Brand said.

“When did you get so cynical, Jack,” Cassidy said. “Why don’t you sit down, right there where you are.”

Brand dropped down to his knees.

“Mind if I take this pack off? It’s heavy.”

“Go ahead. No tricks.”

Brand slipped the straps off his shoulders and placed the pack down on the ground next to him and sat down.

“What happens now?” he asked.

“What about it, baby,” Cassidy asked the girl. “You plan a way to get us out of here? We sure ain’t walking, not with my leg this way.”

“Taken care of,” Christy said. “DJ’ll pick us up. All I gotta do is send up a flare. I lost the ones I brought with me, but good old Brand here has some in his pack.”

Cassidy looked at her as if he’d been shot.

“DJ? Who’s DJ?”

“A friend.”

“You brought somebody else in on our deal? Are you nuts?”

“You got an alternative? I figure’d I’d be lucky to find you alive and if you were you’d be in no condition for a long hike. I had to get help.”

“Trouble in paradise, Frank?” Brand asked Cassidy.

“Shut up, Jack, or I’ll zap you right now.”

“Now or later, what’s the difference. You’ll have to do it some time. Otherwise you know, I’ll come after you.”

“I said shut up.” Cassidy looked at the girl.

“Where’d you meet this DJ?”

“Does it matter? The important thing is to get us out of here.”

“How much did you cut him in for? A third or half?”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” the girl said. “He’s a hired hand. That’s all. He needs money and he’ll keep his mouth shut.”

“I don’t like it.”

“I wouldn’t like it either,” Brand said.

“Didn’t I tell you to shut up!” he raised the plasma gun and Brand saw his finger tighten on the trigger.

“Frank!” Christy took a step forward. “Don’t do that.”

“What!” Cassidy looked bewildered. Then his eyes narrowed and his lips twisted in a cruel smile. “What happened out there in the jungle between you two?”

“Nothing,” the girl said.

“Then what do you care if he gets his?”

“I don’t. It’s just that—  well, he saved my life. Twice.”

“Is that right?”

“We don’t have to kill him. We can leave him here. He’ll find his way back.”

“You heard him. He’ll come looking for us.”

“He can’t find us, baby. Not where we’re going.”

“You gone soft on him?”

“Maybe,” Christy said. “But not in the way you think. I tell you one thing. You kill him and things won’t be right between us after that. You understand?”

“Alright, but tie him up. He stays tied till we’re gone.”

Christy walked over to Brand and opened his pack. She found a length of Nylor repelling cord and tied Brand’s hands behind his back. She looped the cord around his arms and chest at least 10 times. That finished she rummaged through his pack.

“I need a flare,” she said. “You packing any red ones? That’s the pickup signal. If not, I guess regular white will have to— ”

She found the red flare.

“We’re in luck.” She took the Holographic Very Pistol out of the pack with a smile and looked up through the trees. “Looks clear enough over there.” She walked to the edge of the clearing where the tree cover was a little thinner and fired the pistol. The flare tore upwards, tearing and burning through leaves as it soared to the sky.

“DJ should be here in less than half an hour,” she said, dropping the pistol by Brand. She went over to Cassidy and sat down next to him.

“I’ve been here a good fifteen minutes, Frank, and you haven’t even kissed me,” she said, letting her hair down and putting her arms around his broad shoulders.

“I don’t know whether to kiss you or kill you,” Cassidy said, looking at her in confusion.

“Kiss me now, kill me later.”

He grabbed her by the hair and pulled her to him, his lips hot on hers.

V

Fifteen minutes went by. Brand knew it would all be a matter of timing. Christy had sent up the red flare, thinking she was summoning her ride to parts unknown, not knowing she had also sent up the signal that would bring the Trans-Exxon Strato-Sled. He wondered who would show up first.

“Was it just the booze, Cassidy?” Brand asked the man, still sitting with hi back against the tree. He had one arm around Christy. “Was that what turned you bad?”

“The booze?” Cassidy said. “Maybe. Or was it the people who were supposed to be close to me? People like Julie. I worked like a dog to make that woman happy. What did it get me? She ran off with a geological engineer. A rock geek. Sure I started drinking. Who wouldn’t? Maybe I would have gotten a grip on the thing in time. Might have been able to keep my job at Trans-Exxon, if my old friend Jack Brand hadn’t turned rat on me.”

“I had to turn you in, Frank,” Brand said. “You know that. You showed up with Synth-Brew on your breath way too often. I tried to overlook it. Cover for you. But you became a danger to the whole team. You’d have gotten an innocent person killed. I couldn’t allow that.”

“No. You couldn’t allow that. So you ratted on me and I got tossed out of the Security Force. I lost my wife, my job and the man I thought was a friend. I didn’t care about anything after that. It was all down hill on greased tracks. Until the day I met Christy. She made me forget about everything. Gave me new hope. A reason to live.”

Cassidy’s eyes seemed to light up with an inner fire.

“A man needs a reason to live, Brand. A reason to get up in the morning.”

He hugged Christy with one arm.

“Here’s my reason.”

They heard a humming sound above the tree line. All three of them looked up.

Christy jumped to her feet and ran to the edge of the clearing where she could see the sky better.

“It’s DJ!”

She ran for the Very Pistol, loaded a white flare and sent it up.

“He’ll lower the cage for us in a minute,” she said. She came over to Brand, and looked at him with her dark blue eyes.  “I’ll untie you if you promise not to try anything. I know I can trust your word.”

“He stays tied,” Cassidy barked.

“We can’t do that,” she said, turning. “Might as well shoot him. He’ll be eaten by an animal.”

“That’s his problem,” Cassidy said. “Help me up.”

Christy stood next to Brand facing Cassidy with her hands behind her back. Brand looked up and saw a small laser knife in her hands. While Cassidy was busy trying to get up, she flipped the knife out of her fingers. It landed on the ground behind him.

“Alright,” Christy said. “Wait. I’ll help you.”

She went over to Cassidy and put a shoulder under one of his arms and helped him stand. There was a rustling noise  from the trees above and soon they saw a metal cage being lowered on a cable.

“Get the duffle bag inside the tent,” Cassidy said. “The money’s in it.”

Christy bounced over to the pup tent. Brand shifted his buttocks to the right a few inches and felt in the grass behind him with his fingers for the laser knife.

“Got it,” Christy said, holding a green canvass bag by its straps. “Five hundred thousand weighs enough.”

Cassidy pulled his pistol and turned toward Brand. “Still think I oughta kill him.”

Brand’s fingers touched cold metal. Without doing anything to give himself away, he picked the laser knife up carefully with his finger tips.

“You agreed,” Christy said walking over to Cassidy with the bag. “No killing.”

Cassidy looked down at Brand with the cold eyes of a hungry wolf. But he holstered the pistol.

“Okay. Okay.”

Brand found the button on the side of the knife that turned the tiny laser beam on. He heard the slight sizzling sound the beam made. He watched the man and woman make their way to the cage as it touched ground. Brand turned the beam toward his hands and the cord that bound them. He felt sharp pain and could smell his flesh burning. But he also smelled the Nylor melting.

There was an explosion overhead. They all looked up. DJ’s Sled had fired a shot

“Cease fire, or we will blow you out of the air,” a stentorian voice boomed in the air over the jungle. “This is a Trans-Exxon Security Force Strato-Sled. Shut your weapons down—”

There was another blast from DJ’s ship, which was followed immediately by two loud reports from the Security Force airship. Brand continued melting the Nylor cord away from his wrists. He tried to pull his hands apart, but to no avail. Christy had used a lot of cord.

Smoke poured out of DJ’s ship and the Strato-Sled wobbled then started a nose dive into the trees off to the left.

“What the hell is this?” Cassidy screamed at Brand. He looked over at Christy. “How’d they know where to find us?”

“I don’t know,” the girl said, looking at the pistol in Cassidy’s hand in sudden terror.

“It was the flare,” Brand told him. “The red flare was a signal that I’d found you.”

Cassidy looked back at the girl.

“You stupid—”

“I didn’t know.”

The jungle suddenly shook as DJ’s ship crashed into the rain forest. An orange ball of fire rose up from the trees to the right.

“You didn’t know,” Cassidy said to the girl. “But he did.”

Cassidy limped toward Brand. Brand pulled hard at the binding cords but still they would not give. He kept the laser burning. Cassidy stopped a few feet away and raised his pistol.

“Now you get yours,” Cassidy snarled.

“No, Frank,” Christy said. “Don’t kill him. They’ve got us now. We can’t get away. Kill him and we go to the disintegration chamber.”

“So what? There’s nothing to live for now.”

He raised the pistol. The girl dove for it, but Cassidy swung his arm and hit her in the face with the barrel of the gun. She fell at his feet. He looked down at her with a sneer.

“Yeah,” Cassidy said. “Something definitely happened between you two out there. That’s one more score I’m going to settle, Brand.”

He lifted the gun again and his finger tightened around the trigger. The girl jumped up in front of Brand and started to run to him, just as the electric pulse crackled out of the barrel of the gun. Brand pulled his hands apart and felt the cords tear away. The girl fell at his feet. Cassidy seemed  momentarily stunned by what had happened. His hands free, Brand grabbed the pistol out of the holster on the girl’s hip, and rolled away just as Cassidy fired again. The shot tore up the ground next to the fallen girl. Brand fired. The big man’s body jerked as a black hole opened in his chest. The pistol dropped from Frank Cassidy’s lifeless hands and he tumbled to the ground, falling across the duffel bag full of money.

Brand crawled back to the girl. She was lying face down on the ground. She was still alive. Brand turned her over, took her in his arms and cradled her in his lap. She looked up at him. Her dark blue eyes seemed darker and bluer than ever.

“Why’d you do it?” Brand asked.

“Pretty stupid, huh,” she said. “Guess I forgot my number one rule. Every man for himself.”

“You never really believed that.”

“Like I said, anyone doesn’t look out for himself is a damn fool. I just didn’t want to end up getting fried in the disintegration chamber. I didn’t think he’d really shoot me.”

“It was a crazy thing to do.”

“I told you I owed you one. If there’s one thing true, Christy Jones always pays her debts”

Her eyes grew darker. Seemed further away.

“Remember what I told Cassidy?”

“What’s that?”

“Kiss me now, kill me later?” She looked up at him, her eyes filled with urgency.

Brand leaned forward and pressed his lips to hers.  The rescue team slid down through the trees on the cable dropped from the Security Force ship. He could feel Christy fighting to stay alive. He hoped there was enough time.

THE END

So there it is, gang. It’s the original version of the story as it ran in RGR. A slightly rewritten version of it, one that is a bit more polished, appears as Chapter two of the novel. The book has eleven more adventures, all part of the story of Brand’s quest to redeem himself for what he feels is his guilt over the kidnapping of his sister. His journey takes him from the jungle, to the desert, to the underwater Kingdom of Nemuria, and ends in a startling, unexpected climax. If you liked this free sample and want to find out whether Christy Jones lives or dies, and if Brand ever finds his lost sister, click on these links and get your copy of Jack Brand:

Amazon.com:

http://www.amazon.com/Jack-Brand-John-M-Whalen/dp/1617060135/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1353595601&sr=8-1&keywords=jack+brand

And from Barnes & Noble:

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/jack-brand-john-m-whalen/1023171347?ean=9781617060137

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