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The Night of the Asteroid

Part 3

A door was opened and rough hands shoved Sean through. The door slammed and he took in his surroundings. The room was hexagonal, perhaps twenty feet across at its widest point and roofless with walls fifteen feet high. Looking down were impassive Apache faces and as he watched, Tezlowska came into view and sat in a chair near the edge.

Unseen by Sean or Tezlowska, AJ slipped into the room behind the spectators and ducked behind a convenient wall hanging.

"Welcome, Mr. Lincoln, to the Hexagon. It is a place of testing, where a man can show his strength and courage, something of which my Apache friends approve. You will be able to show yours against Keffuz," said Tezlowska. A concealed door on the other side of the Hexagon opened and the giant Turk stepped in, the door closing behind him.

"I never pictured you as a Caesar, Tezlowska," Sean said eyeing Keffuz while circling. "I guess that makes you the lion."

"Keffuz is more of a bear, I think you'll find," said Tezlowska. Keffuz merely smiled and flexed his enormous hands.

"Talking this out is out of the question, I presume" Sean commented before quickly stepping in and launching a couple of quick jabs to Keffuz's massive jaw. Keffuz ignored the blows and stepped in to grapple. Sean ducked under the mighty arms and skipped away. Sean bobbed his head left and took a quick step to his right to bury his fist into the man's midsection. Keffuz let out a "whoof" and took a half step back."Tezlowska said you were like a bear," Sean said shuffling to the right. "You smell more like a buffalo," he said throwing an overhand right, "and a wet one at that."

Keffuz roared in anger, more bear-like than ever, at both the insult and the punch. "I'll crush your spine!" Keffuz lunged at Sean completely missing him in his rage. Sean pivoted and buried his fist into the passing Keffuz's kidney. Sean kept up the sweet science with bobs, weaves, and a couple of jabs to set up a straight right. Keffuz's head snapped around and for an instant, Sean thought he'd put him out and relaxed just a moment. In that moment, Keffuz reached for him again and got a meaty hand on him. Keffuz leered at Sean, "Now you see what it is to fight Keffuz!" He squeezed as Sean struggled madly.

Sean struggled gamely against the giant's grip but felt the life slowly going out of him until he almost dislocated his shoulder, which gave him just a little slack, but it was enough for him to slip loose and back away gasping for breath through sore ribs.

From his hiding place, AJ couldn't see what was going on in the arena below, he could only tell that it was interesting, as the observers began to lean in as they watched. A door opened on the far wall and Count Polzosky entered, moving quickly to Tezlowska's side and whispering a few words before turning his attention to the Hexagon.

Sean winced from the crushing grip of Keffuz and cradled his left arm across his ribcage. Slowly he circled, shooting a right out as soon as he closed the distance. Slowly he circled, shooting a right out as soon as he closed the distance. The big man's head snapped back ruining his forward lunge. Sean took advantage and stepped in close with a two-handed uppercut. Keffuz staggered back and Sean's followup was a little weaker. Sean kept at him with lefts and rights until finally a roundhouse left connected solidly and the giant took a step back, hit the wall and slide to the ground.

Tezlowska applauded, "Excellent! Mr. Lincoln you show unexpected depths. The fine art of pugilism. Well done."

"So glad you enjoyed it Tezlowska," Sean said breathing hard. With a careful twist Sean tested out his rib, remarking with a smirk "I suppose this is where you surrender and we all live happily ever after?"

Tezlowska glanced to one side at something out of Sean's field of vision. AJ could see that it was Count Polzosky carefully removing his jacket and setting it aside. He also saw, as Sean could not, the face of Mary Connelly peeking in at the door through which the Count had entered a few moments earlier. "No, I'm afraid that is not what happens now, Mr. Lincoln," said Tezlowska. "This is where we discover if your skills extend to fencing."

Count Polzosky drew his sabre and leapt lightly down into the Hexagon. Drawing himself up, he saluted smartly and took an en garde position.

Sean held his hands out, palms facing the menacing Polzosky and backed away cautiously. "Easy now. Not very sporting of you Tezlowska, surely your honored guests don't think kindly of sticking an unarmed man like an apple in a barrel."

Polzosky nodded, "Professor! Mr. Lincoln will need a sword."

Tezlowska sighed, "Of course, my dear count." He turned to one of the Apache, "Fetch a sword from the salle, would you?" The Apache nodded and ran off - straight through the door that concealed Mary Connelly. "Mary!" Tezlowska looked genuinely surprised. "I wonder how long you've been there? Well, do come in, now that you're here. Carry on," he directed the Apache.

Mary straightened her clothing and walked with dignity to the Professor's side.

Sean looked to Mary. "Hello Mary, I was afraid I wouldn't get to say good-bye. Wish it were under better circumstances." Sean bowed deeply, "'twas a pleasure."

"Professor," said Mary, eyes widening as she saw the unconcscious Keffuz below, "what is going on here?"

"Mary, this man threatens to destroy all that we have created and all that we hope to create," said the Professor. He raised his hand sadly, "I have no choice but to remove him."

"Just like the people of Willistown, eh Tezlowska? You know, when we met before and you were creating an army of wolf-men to sell to highest bidder, I thought you were a strange, warped lunatic. Now I know for certain that you are far wor se," Sean said defiantly.

"It is a sad truth that to perform great works, one needs money. That was to raise money, nothing more," said Tezlowksa seemingly unruffled. "And now, now!, there is the chance to turn this little part of the world into a paradise. The US government which has forced the noble Apache back, step by step, into the least hospitable land it could find now finds the tables turned. This *is* the Apache's land, it was *all* Apache land. And when it becomes a paradise, a Happy Hunting Ground, the United States shall not come and take it away from the Apache!"

Behind Tezlowska, AJ had popped his derringer into his hand and had begun to slip, ever so quietly, toward the ranting Professor.

"And what of the Sioux, the Comanche, and tens of other tribes? Will you take the land the Apaches took from them and return it in the same way? How many Apache will die when the United States sends their army to retake the land? Or do you not care about the consequences Tezlowska?"

"Any army that comes against me will be destroyed!" shouted Tezlowska. "You have seen the power of my device!"

Tezlowska felt cold metal at the back of his head and heard a telltale click. "Earthquake devices, pit fighting...me, I prefer a nice, simple gun." AJ glanced at those around him. "One move, from any of you, I'm within mah rights to end him, so drop y' weapons and get facedown on the ground. Tezlowska, you are under arrest by authority of the FSS."

The Apache looked one to another in confusion, then Tezlowska spoke. "Ah, the elusive Mr. Strebs. What a predicament! A, what's it called? A Mexican stand-off! For assuredly, if you shoot me, things will look dire for yourself and for Mr. Lincoln. But also, we must think of poor Miss Reilly, must we not? You have two shots, I believe and we are far more than two ... what shall we do?"

"You created the machine, she knows how to run it...that's two. I'm willing to die for the safety of my country, as is Mr. Lincoln." AJ said, with steely resolve. "Or you can surrender now and live to scheme another day. Your choice."

"Oh, you misunderstand me," laughed Tezlowska. "Poor Miss Connelly knows nothing of the machine, she's very much the innocent. You may be willing to die for your country, but are you resolved that she must as well?" At this, Mary's hands flew to her mouth and a small gasp escaped her lips.

"Sean did try to tell you." AJ said to her, barrel not moving. He looked over to the pit. "Sean, what do you have to say about all this?"

"It's over Tezlowska, all these Apache know bad medicine when they see it. I'm sure the Count here is a man of honor who would rather live and fight another da y rather than disgrace his country on the whims of a madman." Sean paced about delivering an oration not unlike he did on the stage.

"As you say," Tezlowska leaned on his stick to stand, seemingly careless of the gun pointed at him. "Mary, my dear, I'm sure you know my motives were pure." He tilted his head back to A.J., "And now?"

"Even if I wasn't willing to kill you," A.J. began, "There's about a dozen different ways, maybe more, that a bullet could make you hurt the rest a' your days. Inhibit your ability to build those sick little toys a'yours. And yes, I'm that good a shot - ask the native's that you're lying to." He then looked at Mary. "People died on your watch, ma'am Whether you knew it or not, now that you know, are y'gonna let it continue?"

"Died?" Mary seemed stunned. "Do what ..." Her resolve seemed to stiffen, "What must I do?"

"Mary, only you can search your heart to come to that decision," Sean aid. "Thi s entire mountain is a weapon and only by its destruction can we come out on the right side of things." The Irishman looked to each of the people in attendance , skipping over the heartless Tezlowska, "How many of your countrymen are you wi lling to sacrifice in a bloody war?"

The Apache looked on impassively. Mary looked around, "Destroy ... how?"

Sean sighed, "Your next coordinates, are right here." Sean took a step to the side and drew and X in the dirt floor of the Hexagon.

Mary thought for a moment, "I think I can figure that out." She nodded determinedly. "I'll try." She turned to go, then turned back, "Professor, how could you!" Then she ran from the room.

"Ah, the impetuosity of youth," said Tezlowska. "And now what, young man?"

"I suggest everyone get out as fast as they can," Sean bellowed.

"Yes, yes, of course. It seems a pity that you are locked into that room down there with no way out, doesn't it?" said Tezlowska.

"He can follow the Count out." AJ yelled. "Unless, of course, you plan on leaving him to the wolves as well."

"The Count is just as locked in as Mr. Lincoln," said Tezlowska. "Someone will need to go and open the door." The Apache had, by now, decided that their cause was lost and were slipping out of the room in ones and twos. There were only four rather nervous looking Apaches left at this point.

"Count," Sean called out, "if you don't want this rock to be your tomb, let's find that door and get out of here."

"That would seem the wisest course. Over here," the Count moved toward where Keffuz had entered.

Above, AJ considered the angle and then brought his hand and derringer down smartly above Tezlowska's left ear. The Professor made a whoofing sound, took a step back and slumped to the floor.

AJ looked around at the remaining four Apache, still holding the gun. "This place is about to blow up pretty soon. I'd run." He then looked for an exit to reunite him with Sean.

Sean examined the wall where Keffuz entered and looked for a seam. "If you wish to speak with someone in our government, we can arrange that. I'm no diplomat, but any concerns can be passed up the ladder," he added as the two men sought an escape.

"Indeed. Hello up there!" called the Count. "If you go out the door next to the red tapestry there should be a left turn a hundred feet or so along which leads to some stairs down. That might be faster than what we're doing here." He joined Sean at the wall.

"On my way." AJ said ... after a minute or so, he followed the Count's instructions, which were accurate and went down the steps and around to a small staging room with a door in the wall. On the other side he head the voices of Sean and the Count. A moment's work found the latch and the door swung open.

"You go with our guest and get out of here. I need to go collect Mary and get her out of here too." AJ said.

Sean nodded to AJ and turned to lift Keffuz across his shoulders. With a groan he said, "Count, lead the way."

The Count turned to AJ, "The fastest way to the lab is to take the first right past the stairway, it slopes up toward the lab. We shall take the second left, that is the quickest way out. When you have the girl retrace your steps and so depart." He took one of Keffuz' arms over his shoulder and he and Sean began to move the big man down the hall.

AJ set off at a run down the hall, following the Count's directions. Behind him, Sean and the Count lugged the semi-conscious Keffuz toward the exit. AJ found the turn-off and took it at speed, moving rapidly up the slope. A few moments later he burst into the lab to find a fetchingly smudged Mary Connelly thumping a spanner into a shiny brass apparatus. As he skidded to a stop, something in the equipment broke with a satisfying crunch.

"Well done, Ms. Connelly. I think it's time to go now, ma'am." AJ said, nodding his head.

She brushed her hair back, "Yes, I think so."

AJ led her at a trot back the way he had come. Just as they made the turn toward the exit, they ran into Sean who told them that Keffuz and Polzosky were outside and he was heading back to get Tezlowska.

At that moment a distant boom sounded from behind them. "That will be the first impact," said Mary. "The smaller pieces strike first. They're easier to move, I think."

Sean paused looking into the tunnel and then back to Mary, considering what she said. "Tezlowska is still in there," he said taking a step back into the mountain. A deep rumble swept its way up the path causing Sean to steady himself, "we need to get out now, rest in peace my worthy opponent," he said with a tug on his hat brim.

The three hurried back as another rumble shook the mountain, AJ suddenly leapt back pushing Mary ahead of him as the tunnel ahead of them crumbled. "There's another exit!" cried Mary, now taking the lead. The next few moments were a nightmare of noise and sound and rapidly diminishing light. Mary guided them unerringly down and out to a door far enough below that the sounds of collapse were only a distant bass rumble. "Here, no!" She pushed against the door. "It's locked!"

"Excuse me, ma'am." AJ moved towards his boot to retrieve his tools. A few moments work and the lock popped open, the three ran into the open air and sun and looked back. Bolt of fire were falling from the sky and smashing into the mountain top, as they watched a particularly large one slammed into the side and caused a small avalanche.

After taking a deep breath (or five), AJ looked at the others. "I reckon that's what you call makin' a molehill out of a mountain."

back at the train ...

Sean and AJ hovered above Mary who sat on the couch in their private rail car. "Thank you so much for the ride back to Washington, gentlemen," she said. "I hope I won't be a nuisance."

"Believe me, ma'am, you're as far from a nuisance as can be." AJ said. "With as much time as Agent Lincoln and I spend in this rail car, it sure kin use a woman's touch."

"That's so kind of you," said Mary. "The man from the State Department said they'd send someone to escort me." A knock sounded at the door.

"Yes?" AJ said, in the direction of the door.

The door opened and a square-built matron of perhaps fifty years came through, with a cowed porter behind her lugging a steamer trunk. "Lincoln, Strebs? I'm Mrs. Pryn, with State. I'm here to chaperone Miss Connelley to her appointment. Just put that over there," she directed the porter. "I've arranged for you two to share a sleeping compartment in the car just ahead of us." She moved through the room like an ironclad. "You are welcome to join us for luncheon and dinner, but not before ten in the morning and not after eight at night. Unless we arrange a card party or somesuch. Questions?" She spun to face the bemused agents, who shook their heads, as Mary stifled a laugh.

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