Lance Star: Sky Ranger Chapters 6-10

from the mind of Bobby Nash

LANCE STAR AND THE CROWN OF GENGIS KAI


A serialized novella by Bobby Nash

CHAPTER 6

Buck Tellonger was all smiles when he stepped into the alley. 

He couldn’t remember the last time he had been in a dust up like the bar fight inside The Great  and Powerful club. The three goons in their trench coats and their stormtrooper tactics put forth an  intimidating look, but Buck had been fighting the good fight for years, possibly longer than some of the  men he had put down. 

It wasn’t that he loved violence. Buck preferred to calm tensions with a good joke and a round of  beers, but not all situations worked out that way. His run in with The Overlord’s men was one such  encounter. 

A part of him wished he could have stuck around long enough to right and fully trounce his  opponents, but Buck was a tactician. Every move he made was deliberate, unless he’d had one too many  at the local pub. Then, he could be a bit careless, but never ever on the job. 

All he had to do was keep the agents busy long enough for Lance and his friend, Simon Prentiss  to slink away unnoticed. Once they made their way out of the line of fire, Buck started planning his  escape as well. Those who opposed him were often left surprised. Buck was a short, bulldog of a man who always seemed to be in need of a haircut and a shave. Not that he would ever consider losing the  handlebar mustache. He was convinced that women loved the look, especially on a war hero pilot such as  himself. To an outsider, he did not appear to be much of a threat. When the fight was over, Buck had  happily schooled them on the truth. He was a scrapper with fists that hit like a sledgehammer. A lesson the agents following them had learned all too well. 

Getting away from the agents was the easy part. They might have worked as official state police  for their boss, The Overlord, but it didn’t take Buck long to size them up. They were bullies. They  weren’t trained. When dealing with the locals, the idea of the agents was probably enough to end  whatever trouble had started. The Overlord ruled by fear and they relied on the despot’s ruthless  reputation to keep the natives in line. 

Once he had the agents off kilter, which wasn’t that hard, truth be told, Buck ducked into the  kitchen instead of heading toward the club’s front door. Only a fool would think that escape was possible  through that crowd. The kitchen was crowded, but unguarded. The club’s security was focused on the  front entrance and the areas occupied by customers, not their employees. 

Buck used that to his advantage. 

Minutes later, the air ace pushed his way through the alley door to freedom. 

The first thing he noticed was the stench. Against the wall stood two dumpsters. Two additional  dumpsters sat at the far end of the alley as well, each set used by different businesses. Buck vaguely recalled a restaurant in the building that shared the alley with The Great and Powerful. The smell told him  he was in the right place, but Buck tried not to get ahead of himself. 

One of the tenets of growing older is that wisdom accompanies age. 

When he was younger, Buck Tellonger had the unfortunate habit of leaping without looking. This  had a tendency to lead the young man astray. He often found himself in some rather hot water more times  than he cared to admit. Even his parents, God rest their souls, had all but given up on him. His father had  once told Buck that he “would be lucky to reach thirty.” 

Buck couldn’t disagree. 

After enlisting, he was all but certain his lifespan would be short. 

His reckless abandon was an asset as well as a curse. Buck turned out to be one hell of a soldier  and he came home from the war with a box full of medals and twice as many disciplinary reports. He  knew how to fight the enemy and he took it to the mat every time. The problem was, Buck didn’t know  who his friends were. To him, everyone was the enemy.

Then he met a gangly American pilot named Lance Star. 

Lance did not stand for Buck’s reckless behavior. They clashed a few times in those early days,  but eventually the two became friends. Fighting side by side against the enemy only served to strengthen  that bond and when Lance Star returned to the states at the end of the war to start up his own aviation  manufacture business, he asked Buck to join him on a new adventure. 

To his own surprise, Buck said yes. 

Years later, Lance would tell Buck that he considered the older pilot a mentor. Buck also thought  the same of his friend, though his pride rarely allowed him to speak the words out loud. Working with Lance and the other Sky Rangers was one adventure after the other and he was  having the time of his life. Since joining up with his friend, Buck had seen more of the world than he ever  believed possible. Many cases, they managed to visit exotic locales without getting shot at, though that  wasn’t always the case. The Sky Rangers had made many an enemy in their time and danger was just as  much a part of their charter as action and adventure. 

The alley was clear, save for heaps of trash scattered about. Once he was sure there was no need  to duck back inside The Great and Powerful’s kitchen, Buck allowed the door to close and latch behind  him, automatically locking when closed. 

“Okay, where are ya, Lance?” he muttered. 

The alley was open at both ends. To the left was another restaurant. To the right was a highway.  Both ways could be used to circle back around to the front of the club. 

Or from the club, Buck realized when one of the agents stepped around the corner to the right. Their eyes locked. 

Before the agent could sound the alarm and alert his companions to their target’s whereabouts,  Buck bit back an expletive. The fight had simply paused and changed venue. The agents were more  resourceful than he had first expected. 

Buck bolted toward the left side of the alley as fast as he could, leaving the agent shouting after  him. Without looking back, Buck ran as fast as he could, hearing the agent’s shoes slap the asphalt behind  him. The pilot was beginning to regret that last pitcher of beer. 

At the entrance to the alley, he slowed long enough to make sure there were no surprises waiting  for him around the corner of the building. 

The coast was clear. 

Buck ducked around the corner then stopped. 

Like the other streets he had seen in Magnapor’s major city, the sidewalks were filled with  vendors and hucksters hawking their goods and services on the populace. The streets were over-crowded,  which made it difficult to get anywhere in a hurry, but it was great if you needed to disappear into the  crowd. 

Buck wasn’t a man prone to running. Walking away from a fight rankled his sensibilities, but the  air ace also understood that sometimes the mission, which is what their little trek to an island paradise,  was turning into. Whatever Simon Prentiss had gotten himself into was obviously worse than he let on.  Surely the secret police had not been sic’d on him because of an ancient legend about a magical crown  worn by a man who fought lava monsters. Surely, there had to be something else. Simon had to have  uncovered something else, some long-buried secret that could hurt The Overlord. 

“Damned legends,” Buck muttered as his gave fell upon a small broken pallet leaning against the  wall. It had once held one of the many street vendor’s wares. 

Now, it was a weapon. 

Buck snapped off a board from the pallet and hefted it easily. The wood was hard, thick enough  to survive on a cargo ship at sea. It was more than up to the task the pilot had in mind for it. His back  against the brick wall, Buck settled into his best baseball stance. 

He held his breath and listened as the footfalls got closer. 

Closer. 

Buck swung for the bleachers.

The flat piece of timber caught the agent in the gut, bending him forward at the midsection in a fit  of pain. The agent held his stomach even as he crumpled to the pavement. 

“One down.” 

Buck pulled the man back into the alley and sat him next to the dumpster. He was out light a  light, but Buck decided it was best to stash him out of sight if anyone from the street looked into the alley. The longer his friend stayed out of sight, the better it was for Buck and his friends. He pulled the belt  from the trench coat and used it to tie the unconscious agent’s arms behind his back. Moments later, now wearing the agent’s fedora, Buck stepped out of the alley. 

He turned left and blended into the crowd. 

### 

Buck stuck to the plan. 

After a few disastrous visits to strange lands, like Magnapor, the Sky Rangers had developed a sure-fire system in case they ran into local trouble and had to split up. Usually, the best course of action  was to head back to the plane they arrived in. That way, whoever arrived first could protect the aircraft  and secure their flight back home. 

It was a tried and true strategy. 

There were times when adjustments were required. This struck him as one of those occasions.  Buck knew that Lance was intent on helping his friend, Simon. Escape wasn’t at the top of the professor’s  to do list, however. No matter what else he knew about Simon Prentiss, Buck recognized the man’s  single-minded pursuit of the Crown of Gengis Kai. Finding the crown was why he had called Lance and  asked him to fly to Magnapor. 

There was no way he would leave without finishing what he started. 

That meant Lance would not make a beeline for the plane after escaping the ambush at the club.  Instead, Lance would head to wherever Simon had been staying or working so they could collect his  research. From there, they would seek out the crown and try to retrieve it before escaping the island. 

Unfortunately, for Buck, he had no idea where Professor Prentiss lived or worked. In fact, he had  no idea where to start looking for the hidden treasure they sought. Simon had kept the details private,  even from his friend who had flown halfway around the world to help him. 

Simon was an archaeologist, but Buck also sensed that he was true believer. The crown’s  historical significance was valuable, but if you believed the stories that the crown bestowed untold power  onto the person who wore it atop their head, it was priceless. 

If you believed in that sort of mumbo-jumbo. 

Buck wasn’t sure what he believed. 

All he knew was that he needed to find Lance and soon. 

By the time he reached the outer fence of the airfield, he could clearly see that the hangar they  had rented was dark and apparently undisturbed. There was no sign of Lance either. That all but proved  his theory. 

Three options were open to him and Buck wasn’t sure which was the best course to pursue. He  could wait until Lance and Simon showed up and hope all was well. That option did not sound appealing  at all. He could call in reinforcements and hope the Sky Rangers would arrive in time. The flight time all  but guaranteed that their friends wouldn’t be able to reach them in time. The last option was to head back  into town and look for Lance and his friend. 

None of the options were exceptionally helpful, but Buck wasn’t prone to waiting around. He  hoped the fence and headed toward the hangar. If Lance had stopped there first, he would have left word  on their next move. If not, Buck would help himself to the weapons stored in the plane’s hidden  compartments. 

Either way, Buck would be on the move soon. 

“Hang on, boys,” the air ace said as he slipped a handgun into his belt. “Your wingman’s on his  way.

***

CHAPTER 7

Lance Star found an out of the way corner and ducked inside. 

The smart course of action was to keep moving. The Overlord’s men were no doubt  dogging their trail. The only way to stay safe was to keep moving. Unfortunately, Lance’s  passenger was slowing things down. Simon Prentiss was a professor and archaeologist. He was  used to slow, intricate dats spent focused on studies or a swath of earth. 

Running for his life while being hunted by a tiny island nation’s secret police was a little  outside his field of expertise. The man had already started to struggle for breath before they  made it out of the alley. Now, his breathing was labored, heavy, so much so that Lance had  begun to fear his friend might have a heart attack. 

Lance pulled Simon into the tiny alcove at the edge of the Emerald City’s bazaar, one of  the largest outdoor markets in the entire South Pacific. 

As soon as Buck Tellonger had tossed the agent to the floor, all eyes were on him. Lance  seized the opportunity his friend had created and promptly pushed Simon Prentiss toward the kitchen. On the outside, Buck might look like a schlub, thanks to his unkempt nature, mussed  hair, and thick mangled cigar clutched in his teeth, but he was a bulldog in a fight. Dangerous, quick to anger, and tenacious. He wouldn’t stop brawling until his opponents were on the floor or  he was and that was something you could take to the bank. 

Lance knew the old warhorse could take care of himself, even with the three to one odds. Simon Prentiss, on the other hand, had never been in a fistfight his entire life, which  seemed odd considering how often Lance himself had found himself in a scrap or twelve since  they were almost always together growing up. 

Simon was a natural born scholar. He looked at the world like a giant jigsaw puzzle that  needed to be solved where all of the pieces were supposed to fit together perfectly to form a fully  realized whole. 

That was not the world Lance Star lived in. 

As a man who had been involved in two wars and more battles than he cared to count,  Lance held a more cynical view of the world. He knew there were evil men out there whose sole  purpose was to watch the world burn. There was no rhyme or reason to it. The planet was large  enough for everyone, but for some of the would-be tyrants he and the Sky Rangers had taken  down, the world was not enough. They wanted to either rule it all or watch it go up in cinders. 

As long as those people existed, Lance Star and his team would stand up and fight.,  before… 

Lance looked around. They blended in with the thick crowd congregating in the bazaar,  but it wasn’t safe to stay in one place too long. If the word hadn’t gone out about them, no doubt  with accompanying photographs, it wouldn’t be long before they started circulating them. Lance  had to get them out of the city fast before… 

That’s when he saw it and realized it was too late. 

Lance’s gaze drew skyward when he heard a loud horn sound. It reminded him of the air raid alerts back home, though not quite as urgent. On the side of the tallest buildings, the ones  controlled by The Overlord, were projection screens. The best Lance could tell was that 

projectors inside the building pushed the image outward so it could be seen from the street.  There was no sound, but the pictures told the story. 

Images of a bar fight danced across the large screens. With no sound they could not hear  the report, but a man in a tailored suit read from a sheet of yellow paper while photographs of  Lance Star, Buck Tellonger, and Simon Prentiss floated behind him with their names  emblazoned beneath each image. On an empty corner of the screen was information stating that these men were being sought for questioning by Island Police and a call for Magnapor’s citizens  to report any sightings of these dangerous men to their local authorities as quickly as possible. 

The message ended with Your cooperation will be rewarded in white on a field of black. Seconds later, the news report repeated. 

“Simon, we’ve got to get moving,” he told his friend. “It won’t take them long to find us now. We’ve got to go!” 

“How are you not out of breath?” 

“Clean living,” Lance said with a chuckle. 

He offered a hand. 

“I gave up cigarettes and got back into the routine of a daily run like we used to do back  in the service. You’d be amazed how much it helps.” 

“You run on purpose?” 

“Of course.” 

“You ever see me running, there’s probably something chasing me,” Simon said as his  friend helped him back to his feet. 

Lance laughed. 

“So, where to?” Simon asked. 

“The way I see it, we’ve got two choices. We can make a break for the airfield and get  the hell off this island.” 

“Or?” 

“Or we go find this treasure of yours so we’ll have some leverage against The Overlord  and then we get the hell off this island.” 

“I vote plan B.” 

“I thought you might,” Lance said. “Where to?” 

“It’s on the other side of the island.” 

“Of course it is,” Lance muttered. “Okay, the hangar it is then.” 

“No. We have to go back to my hotel.” 

“Bad idea, Simon. If there’s one place we can expect to find the bad guys, it’s at your  hotel.” 

“You don’t understand,” Simon said as they moved deeper into the crowd. “All of my  research is there. I need it.” 

“Of course you do.” 

“Lance, please!” 

“If they haven’t torn your room apart yet, they will soon. What are the odds we get there  and collect your notes before they do?” 

“Pretty good, actually.” 

“How so?” 

Simon smiled. “I hid them.” 

This brought the pilot up short. 

“You hid them?”

“Of course,” Simon said, still smiling. “I’m not a complete idiot, you know.” “I guess not. Okay, so where are they?” 

“I hid a waterproof bag behind the fountain in the lobby,” Simon said, proud of himself. Lance stopped and stared at his friend. “This is one of the poorest places on Earth, but  your hotel has a lobby fountain? Where exactly are you staying, Simon?” Simon pointed to the tall green building that sat next door to the tall green skyscraper  where The Overlord lived. 

“Oh, that’s just great,” Lance said. 

“And you’re sure you can’t find this crown of yours without that research?” “Positive.” 

“Okay. Come on,” Lance said, changing course and heading straight toward the lion’s  den. “Let me state, for the record, that I think this is a horrible idea.” 

“Noted.” 

Lance Star sighed and pushed forward, disappearing into the crowd. 

### 

Buck Tellonger’s patience had neared its end. 

He had been waiting what felt like forever for Lance and his professor friend to show up  at the airfield. He had exited the club well after they had so there was no good reason for them  not to have made it back before he did. 

There were plenty of bad reasons though and each one of them danced around inside his  brain. The most likely scenario was that had gotten caught by The Overlord’s thugs. Lance could  take care of himself, Buck knew, but even the best scraper could go down when the odds were  stacked against them. 

The Overlord definitely had more men at his disposal than the three of them could easily  take on. Not that Buck wouldn’t mind trying. He liked a good fight as much as the next man. Speaking of The Overlord’s thugs… 

Buck ducked back beneath cover when the headlights from a car pulled into the airfield.  The car made a beeline for the hangar he and Lance had rented for their stay. Another car pulled  in only seconds behind the first and also parked near the hangar. 

Well, this can’t be good, he thought as he watched the four men huddle together. Two got  out of the first car. Two more exited the second. They were each dressed in the uniform of the  island’s secret police. 

Uh oh. Guess our secret’s out, Buck thought as he moved into a better position to spy on  the agents outside the hangar. 

When he heard the faint SNAP! Of a twig snap behind him, he knew he was in trouble. Buck spun hard just in time to the see the business end of a slapper hurling toward him. He tried to dodge, but it was too late. 

The pilot slumped to the ground, dazed and off balance. 

Blood poured from the gash on his forehead. 

The second hit, this one to the back of the head. 

Buck Tellonger collapsed, unconscious. 

The two agents standing over him grabbed the air ace by the arms and dragged him  across the grass to the airfield where they summarily dumped him next to one of the cars. “Any sign of his friends?” Agent Sunday asked.

“No, sir.” 

“Too bad,” Sunday said. “Get him in the car. He has an appointment with his fate. And  The Overlord does not like to be kept waiting.

***

CHAPTER 8

“I don’t like the look of this,” Lance Star said. 

The Emerald Grand Hotel wasn’t the most heavily fortified place he had ever had to  break into, but security was impressive nonetheless. The lobby was massive and sported a large open ceiling where large chandeliers hung below a mural of a crisp, blue sky dotted with tiny,  pleasant clouds. Near the reservation and check in counter at the rear of the lobby was a rock  wall with a waterfall that trickled over layers of rock to the large pool that stretched out into the  middle of the lobby. Chairs and tables were arranged along the perimeter of the pool for guests to  eat, talk, or do business in peaceful surroundings. 

“This is where you chose to hide out?” Lance asked. 

Simon Prentiss shrugged. 

“We really need to teach you how to blend in,” Lance told his clueless friend. “What’s  your room number?” 

“Fourteen Oh One,” Simon said while pointing off to the left. “The elevator is over  there.” 

“Please tell me you have the room key on you?” 

Simon shook his head. “I always leave it with the front desk. I have a tendency to get lost  in my work and misplace things like keys. This way I’m never locked out of my room and I can  collect my messages when I return.” 

“Terrific. Who else knows you’re here?” 

“No one. Not this time. I left word with the university that I was going on sabbatical.  They’ve begun to frown on my trips in search of the crown.” 

“What a shock,” Lance said. “Maybe you should take the hint. No one but you believes  this bloody crown exists.” 

“I don’t understand why this bothers you,” Simon said. “All I have to do is ask for it and  they’ll give me the key.” 

“I…” Lance grunted, reigned in his annoyance. He understood why all of this was getting  to him. Simon’s earlier crack about Lance’s father had cut deep. 

Simon Prentiss had always been a little dense when it came to understanding the reality  of how the world worked. This was not news to the ace pilot. They had grown up together. Their  parents were friends who sometimes worked together. Landon Star was himself a pilot, a strong  man whose ideals young Lance Star had grown up to admire. Landon was the kind of man that  Lance hoped to measure up to. They were very close. 

Simon Prentiss and his father were also quite similar to one another. Professor Simon  Prentiss Sr. was also a seeker of lost treasures. Unlike his son, however, his pursuits were more  selfish in nature. The elder Professor Prentiss looked for treasures he could sell and cash in on  whereas his son donated the vast majority of his finds to universities and museums for a small  finder’s fee worth only a fraction of the items real value. 

Landon Star often teamed up with the elder Professor Prentiss on his excursions. Both  Lance and Simon would sit and listen to their father spin their tall tales of adventure, intrigue,  dangers that followed them as they sought out the world’s greatest treasures. Lance often 

assumed that the men exaggerated their stories, making them much more exciting in the eyes of  their children. 

Now that he was older and had faced his own share of adventures, Lance wondered how  many of those old tall tales were actually true. He wished more than anything that his father was  still alive so he could ask. 

When Simon had mentioned the Crown of Gengis Kai, Lance of course remembered it.  Their fathers had gone on many an excursion in search of that elusive treasure. Each time they  thought they had a lead, they would head off with the promise of new stories when they returned. 

Lance remembered the disappointment in his father’s eyes each time they came home  without the crown in their possession. 

Eventually, they gave up. 

It wasn’t long after that Professor Prentiss passed away. A heart attack took him in his  sleep. It was a peaceful end. Simon, of course, took it hard. In the days and weeks that followed,  as he poured through his father’s papers, thoughts of finding and recovering the Crown of Gengis  Kai consumed Simon Prentiss Jr. as it had his father. 

In an effort to help his friend’s son put his demons to rest, Landon Star agreed to rejoin  the search for the crown. They had both assumed that young Lance would happily leap into the  adventure with them. 

They were wrong. 

Lance watched the search for the mythic doo dad kill his friend’s father. The professor  had died of a heart attack, but it was his defeat over not finding his prize that ultimately did him  in. Lance feared that the same fate awaited his father and his friend and he decided to have no  part of it. 

It caused a rift between Lance and Simon that took many years to heal. It was another  mutual friend, Red Davis, who helped the boys bury the hatchet. 

The division between father and son was less deep, but they eventually got past it and the  Star boys had many adventures of their own seeking the lost treasures of the world. It was on one  of those trips where Landon, Lance, Simon, and Red met Buck Tellonger. They had come to  Bangladesh following a lead on a major artifact. Though they all almost died at least once on this  caper, they returned home with a valuable treasure and a new friend in Buck Tellonger. They  became fast friends and shared several other adventures over the years. 

Then war broke out and the world fell into chaos. 

With what would later come to be called World War I heating up, Buck returned to  military service for his country while Landon and his son, now a teenager, returned home to the  United States. It would be a few years before Buck would meet up with Lance again, but sadly  he never saw his friend, Landon again. 

Once again on the trail of the Crown of Gengis Kai, the latest information he had  collected pointed toward Cairo. Landon loaded the plane and flew off in search of his greatest  find alone. 

He did not return. 

Learning of his friend’s disappearance, Buck Telonger returned to the United States  where he became Lance’s guardian, as stipulated in Landon’s will. He never tried to replace his  father, but Buck Tellonger was the closest thing to a parent Lance had in this world. Once he was  of legal age, Lance started Lance Star, Inc. and started construction of Star Field. Buck accepted  a generous offer from him to join the family business as Vice President and second in command  of the Sky Rangers.

And now, once again, the Crown of Gengis Kai had put Lance and his friends in danger. Lance pulled his friend over to a less traveled section of the lobby and they each took a  seat. Lance then pulled a large potted plant that sported a plant with big leaves closer to block  them from full view. 

“Why are we waiting?” Simon asked, breaking Lance’s trip down memory lane. “We are probably the two most wanted people in this country right now,” Lance said  softly. “You do understand that, right? If they aren’t here already, and if they aren’t, then I’ve  really underestimated The Overlord, then they will be here shortly.” 

“How would they know to look here?” 

“Did you sign in under your own name? Did you pay in cash and use an alias or did you  put it under the university’s name?” 

“Well, I…” 

“Doesn’t matter,” Lance said. “Your hotel room isn’t going to be hard to find.” “I don’t understand,” Simon started to protest. 

A lifelong student, Simon had never had to live in the real world as it existed outside of  his safe, university-controlled bubble. The only time he was off campus was when he went on a  dig, but even there he was surrounded by university personnel and security. He had no real  understanding of how things worked. 

“We’ll take the stairs. Come on.” 

“But we need the key,” Simon said. 

“We’ll manage,” Lance said and ushered his friend into the stairwell. 

### 

The fourteenth floor was empty. 

Lance eased open the stairwell door and looked for any sign of guards or agents on the prowl. So far, they had managed to remain a few steps ahead of the agents after them. It was only  the narrowest of leads and Lance did not want to hang around any longer than necessary. “Let’s go,” he whispered. 

They walked to Simon’s room. 

“Fourteen Oh One,” Simon said as he pointed to the closed door. “If we only had a key.” Lance tried the door handle. 

It was locked. 

He pulled a small leather pouch from his back pocket and removed two small black  pieces of metal. 

“What are those?” Simon asked. 

Lance smiled. “They’re for unlocking locked doors without a key. A friend of mine  taught me how to use these a while back. I’ve been looking forward to trying it out in the wild.” “Interesting,” Simon said, leaning in close to watch. 

“You’re in my light,” Lance said. 

“Sorry.” 

It only took a minute or two, but eventually there was a soft click and the door unlocked. Smiling, Lance turned the knob and pushed the door open slowly. 

“Impressive,” Simon said. 

“You’d be amazed how often I find myself needing to get inside a locked room,” Lance  joked as they went inside. “Now, where are your notes?”

“In the closet. Over there.” He pointed. 

“Okay. Good. Grab them and let’s get moving.” 

“You really think they’re going to come after us here?” 

“Oh, I’m quite sure of it,” Lance said as soon as he saw the room’s primary entrance  open again. Unlike Lance and Simon, the new arrival had a key. 

The man charged into the room the moment he saw Lance standing there. From his trench coat covered suit and tie and the sunglasses and hat he wore, the man was obviously an agent of  The Overlord. The three men they had squared off against inside the Great and Powerful club  wore similar outfits. 

This man was bulkier than the other three Lance and company had encountered. He was a fighter. 

Lance barely had time to move before the big man slammed into him. He pivoted, trying  his best to dodge and attack simultaneously. It was a move he had employed before. Sometimes  it worked. 

Then there were times like this one. 

The agent hit lance with all the severity of a bull plowing into a matador. The impact  pushed Lance off balance and he and the agent fell over the bed in the center of the room,  crashing to the floor on the far side, tangled together in a mess of arms and legs. Both men kept  fighting, punching and kicking at their opponent. 

Lance was able to land a punch to the big man’s nose, snapping the thick plastic frames  of his dark glasses and breaking the man’s nose. 

The agent tried to stand with the bed serving to steady him. 

Lance had no plans to offer him time to recover. 

Still on the floor, Lance brought his knees close to his chest then kicked out hard, pushing  the agent backward over the corner of the bed, blood splattering across the wall. Lance was on his feet in a shot. 

Before the injured agent could recover, the pilot grabbed a fistful of the man’s coat and  lifted him bodily from the floor. 

The agent spat blood. 

Lance punched him in the face. 

Now unconscious, Lance lowered the agent back to the floor. 

“Are you okay?” Simon said from near the closet door. He held a satchel filled with his  notes. 

“I’ll live,” Lance said. “Time to move, Simon! There are most likely more on the way!” Simon started toward the door that led to the hallway. 

“Not that way,” his friend shouted. 

Lance pointed toward the double doors that lead out onto the balcony overlooking the  city and the mountains beyond. 

“This way.” 

After throwing open the doors, the American adventurer stepped out cautiously. He  wanted to make certain there were no snipers lying in wait to take either of them out. So far, as  best he could tell, they wanted Simon alive. Lance wasn’t sure what his status was with The  Overlord. 

He had run afoul of men like the one who ruled this tiny island nation before. They were  also slick talkers, bullies with a little money and influence to keep them in power. To defeat men 

like The Overlord, all you had to do was remove their influence and they could be taken down  easily enough. Bullies were only effective until the one being bullied fought back. Lance and the Sky Rangers were known for standing against bullies. They usually did so  on a global stage, but Lance Star was no fan of bullies wherever they resided. “How do you plan to get us out of here?” Simon asked. 

“Remember that time you, me, and Red got into a scrape in Cairo?” 

“Ah, yes,” Simon said. “Jasmine.” 

“Right. Jasmine.” 

Lance chuckled at the memory. 

“Remember how we got out of her room in the palace?” 

“I’m too old to jump off a balcony,” Simon said. “And we’re fourteen stories up.  Jasmine’s room was on the fourth floor. There’s a big difference there!” 

“Yeah. A bit. Trust me, okay?” 

“Why stop now,” Simon said. 

Lance pointed to the balcony for the neighboring room. 

“It’s an easy step over. Then we go to the next. From there, it’s an easy drop to the next building over.” 

“For a pilot, you know a lot about getting out of tight spots on the ground,” Simon joked  as he climbed over to the next balcony. 

“You’d be amazed how often this sort of thing happens,” Lance quipped as he followed. ### 

“Did you see which way they went?” 

“I’m sorry, sir. I did not.” 

When Agent Sunday had arrived at the hotel room rented to archaeologist Simon  Prentiss, he had expected to find the good professor and take him into custody. Barring that, the  hope had been to collect the man’s research and return it to The Overlord as ordered. 

Walking in to find one of his agents unconscious did not leave the best impression. “What happened, Agent Monday?” he asked, his exasperation with the man’s  performance shining through. 

“When I came to check out the room, as instructed, I found a man in the room already.” “Simon Prentiss?” 

“No,” the agent said, pinching his nose to stop the blood flow. “It was the other man. The  one who fled the club with the professor.” 

“Lance Star?” 

“I believe that is his name, yes, sir.” 

“And he did this to you?” 

“He got lucky, sir,” Monday said. “Caught me off guard, but I gave as good as I got.” “No doubt,” Sunday said with disdain. “Not enough to stop him, but perhaps enough to  slow him down.” 

“Maybe.” 

“Maybes are for the uninitiated, Agent Monday. As a member of The Overlord’s police  force, you should always know. Maybe is not acceptable. You should know this by now.” “I apologize,” Monday said. 

“You still have a chance to redeem yourself,” Sunday said.

“Sir?” 

“I have been recalled to The Overlord’s office. I am leaving a small detachment of  soldiers here, under your command. Your only concern right now is to find Simon Prentiss and  bring him to The Overlord.” 

“And if Lance Star intervenes again?” 

“Kill him.”