No sooner had Mulligan agreed to be a good boy and let me finish my story than he changed his mind. Just like a man.
"Uh, Sanders," he said. "Yes, George?"
"How about we do it a little differently this time? I'll ask questions and you answer 'em. How's that?" "Is that your first question?" I asked the master gun.
"Arlene," Fly addressed me with his I'm-not- worried-yet tone of voice, the one he uses right before he tells me that I've gone over the line. He has a big advantage in these situations: he seems to know where the line is.
Mulligan just sat there grinning, waiting for a better response from a mere PFC. "Okay," I said. "What do you want to know?"
"Looks like I should've brought more beer," he admitted. Fly still had some Jack Daniel's left, so he'd be feeling no pain. All I had to get me through was truth, justice, and the American way.
"When you reached ground level, you didn't have any wheels waiting for you," Mulligan said. There's no way you could've outrun a mob of those things."
"No problem," I told him. "I hot-wired a car." He grimaced. "Now I suppose Corporal Taggart will tell the story of how he was the one who--" "No," Fly happily interrupted. "Arlene hot-wired the car all by herself. Can't imagine where a nice girl like her ever picked up such a specialized skill." I gave Fly the finger and didn't even wait for Mulligan to ask what happened next. "I drove like crazy for the airport with Fly riding shotgun. I had the crazy idea I could hot-wire a plane and fly Fly out of there."
"Thanks," said Fly. "Let me get this straight," Mulligan returned to the fray. "At that time you didn't realize the teenager was still waiting for you."
"Jill," said Fly. "Jill," Mulligan repeated.
I enjoyed this next bit. "We'd told her in no uncertain terms that she was not to wait for us. We'd risked our lives taking down the force field so Jill could fly Albert and Ken to safety."
"So naturally she disobeyed orders," said Fly. "You've got quite a kid there," observed the master gun with true respect for Jill. Fly and I exchanged looks.
"Jill is loyal." Fly spoke those words with dignity. Mulligan steered the discussion back to my mono- logue: "So you only had to drive to the airport . . ." "Except we didn't make it in the first car. No great loss, as it was an unexploded Pinto. Until it exploded! A hell-prince stepped right out into the middle of the street and you know what happens when they fire those green energy pulses from their wrist-launchers." "You trade in the old model you're driving for a new one." Mulligan grinned; he was into the spirit of the thing now.
"Thanks to my superb driving skills--" "You were weaving all over the road like a drunk on New Year's Eve," Fly interjected.
"Exactly," I agreed without missing a beat. "So we survived the surprise attack. I slammed the car into a row of garbage cans, and we wasted no time exiting the vehicle and returning fire."
"I wondered what Corporal Taggart was doing all this time," said Mulligan.
"Watching the rear," said Fly. "Perhaps you've forgotten we were being chased."
"So then what?" "Good luck was what," I told the master gun. "An abandoned UPS truck was parked on the side of the street. We made our way over to it, simply hoping it was in working order. Well, we hit the jackpot. Inside was a gun nut's paradise, a whole shipment addressed to Ahern Enterprises."
"The bazooka," said Fly. "Don't forget to tell him about the bazooka."
Poor Mulligan ran out of beer. He was on his own now. "The hell-prince, as you call him, didn't fry your butts before you could use all this stuff?"
"Nope," I said. "His second shot missed us by a country klick."
"Then what happened?" "We fried his butt," I recounted.
"But . . ." Mulligan started a thought and came to a dead stop. He tried again. "We all know how freakin' stupid these things are, but I'm surprised that in all your encounters the enemy never has any luck." "I wonder about that myself sometimes," Fly ad- mitted. "I wouldn't bet on my survival in most of these situations, but Arlene and I seem very hard to kill. That's why we're certain to be put back on a strike team."
"What helped us that time," I continued, "was that a bunch of pumpkins were in the vanguard of our pursuers."
"Oh, yeah," said Mulligan. "Your name for those crazy flying things. I remember your stories about how the pumpkins and hell-princes hate each other." "We learned that on Deimos," Fly contributed. "While the pumpkins and hell-prince wasted each other's time, we prepared the bazooka for the hell- prince. Between the pumpkins and us, we took him down. Which only left us with the problem of being surrounded by half a dozen deadly spheres. Fly and I used another trick that worked on Deimos: we stood back-to-back, and each of us laid down fire in a 270- degree sweep. That created the ingredients for a very large pie."
"So then you checked out the contents of the truck."
"Like I said, it was gun nut heaven. We did a quick inventory and took what was easiest to get at." Fly remembered a grim moment. "I opened one
box expecting to find ammo, but it was a case of books defending the Second Amendment. I even remember the title, Stopping Power by J. Neil Schulman. The stopping power I needed right then could not be provided by book pages."
"I had a moment of frustration, too," I said. "I found the shipping form. It showed that the most inaccessible box contained a number of specialized handguns, including one I'd always wanted. There simply wasn't enough time to unload the truck." "What was the specialized gun?" asked Mulligan. "Watch out," Fly warned him, but it was too late. The master gun had asked the question.
"It's a Super Blackhawk .357 Magnum caliber sidearm. Looks like an old western six-gun, but there the resemblance ends. The only drawback used to be that it didn't conceal well, with its nine inch barrel. But in today's world that's no problem! Who needs to conceal weapons any longer? Anyway, you can knock something over at a hundred yards with this gun, but it helps to have a scope. Best of all, the Blackhawk has a transfer bar mechanism. If you have a live round under the hammer and strike it with a heavy object, it won't discharge. Isn't that cool? But that's not all--" "Arlene." Distantly I heard Fly's voice. "That's probably enough,"
"But I haven't told him about the cylinder. It doesn't swing out so as to empty the spent shells. All you have to do is flip open the loading gate, push the ejection rod--"
"Arlene." Fly was using one of his very special tones of voice.
"Okay, okay," I surrendered. "Where was I? Well, we were checking out our little candy store, but we didn't have much time."
"So you hot-wired the truck?" Mulligan guessed. "Hey, who's telling this story? The same good luck that provided us with a UPS weapons shipment left the key in the ignition and enough gas in the tank to get us to the airport. Who knows what happened to the driver? His ID was still on the dashboard--some poor bastard named Tymon. Maybe he was zombified and went looking for work at the post office. Anyway, we hauled ass and made it to the airport in record time."
Fly jumped back in. "Where I would have paddled Jill on her posterior, except that Arlene thought that might be misunderstood. Besides, I could only be so angry with someone who had probably saved our lives."
"The force field was still down," I continued. "I was surprised. Enough time had passed for them to put it up again, but we were not fighting the greatest brains in the universe. Ken seemed relieved that half his work was done."
"Half?" asked my burly audience. "Sure. Ken had been busy while he waited for us to show up. He'd tapped into the system with an idea that turned out to be very helpful."
"So what was Jill doing all this time?" he asked. "We took off. She didn't want to wait any longer, especially now that we could see imps and zombies piling into other planes so they could pursue us." "Jesus," said Mulligan. "According to what you told me before, Jill had done okay; but it takes a lot more than not cracking up a plane to survive a dogfight."
"Jill was thinking along those lines herself," I said. "I tried to cheer her up by reminding her of the skill levels of the typical imp and zombie. As it turned out, it didn't matter. No sooner was Jill out past the shore than Ken solved the problem he'd been working on. He raised the force field just in time to swat the enemy planes out of the air like flies."
"Hey," said my best buddy. "As a bonus, Ken hosed the password file so they wouldn't be able to lower the field and follow us. We realized we could actually relax for a while. Good practice for our time with you, George."
"Now, that part I believe," said the master gun.

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