Anderson's breath came in panicked gulps as his hand tightened on the plasma pistol. The weapon's original owner, a Spaceport Authority guard, shook his head violently to clear his vision and gazed up at the gun, calmer than he should be.
“I didn't kill her!” Anderson insisted, desperation seeping into his voice.
“Then put down the gun so we can talk about it,” the guard urged.
Anderson adjusted his grip and leveled the weapon at the guard's forehead, but hesitated.
As his indecision dragged on, he felt the wash of air and heat as a distant freighter lifted off, taking with it one more opportunity for escape. Every second he could sense the real killer's trail getting colder; every second the possibility of continued freedom seemed more remote. His finger tensed as the need for flight and the reluctance to kill warred inside him.
Before that battle could be decided, Anderson heard quick, intent footsteps behind him, a voice shouting, “I think he came this way!”
Keeping his pistol trained, Anderson stepped behind the guard and hauled him to his feet, pressing the gun barrel firmly behind his ear. “You're gonna get me off this rock,” the fugitive rasped, “or it'll be the last thing you ever fail at!”
Just then, three more guards rounded the corner of a stack of freight containers, skidding to a halt as they absorbed the scene before them.
“Gun belts on the ground,” Anderson shouted, tightening his grip on his hostage's throat, “or he dies!”
“Now, let's not be hasty,” a chillingly familiar voice oozed from the shadows. A fourth man stepped into view, his lean frame covered by a crisp military uniform.
“Who are you?” Anderson gasped as the guards stood still, hesitating. “Why are you doing this?”
“I'm Royce Gunnerson, Military Intelligence, and you are in a dangerous position, Mr. Anderson. You need to put down that gun and come with me.”
“I didn't kill anybody,” Anderson yelled, dragging the guard backward a few feet to press himself against a wall. “You know I'm innocent!”
“Innocent men don't break into spaceports and assault peace officers. They don't hold guns to men's heads.”
Anderson's eyes darted wildly, desperately seeking an escape route, but each path was guarded.
Suddenly a klaxon sounded in the air, battering Anderson's frayed senses like a ram while a smile spread over Gunnerson's face.
“Do you hear that, Mr. Anderson?” Gunnerson had to raise his voice to be heard over the alarm. “That's an intruder alert, grounding all shipping. Every door off this planet has just closed.”
Anderson took a calming breath. “Not quite,” he shouted back, bringing the pistol to bear on Gunnerson's chest. This time he did not hesitate, and he did not miss.
Anderson shoved his hostage to safety, out of the lines of return fire.
As he watched Gunnerson crumple to the ground, illuminated by the flash of the guards' pistols, Anderson's conscience was salved to know that two murderers were dying this night. It might not be fair, he thought, but it was just, and he could live with that...even if only for a moment.