The Last Rocketeer 3: Into the Depths of Hell

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Walking outside with the Cirrus X-3 strapped to his back was like stepping backwards in time. He quickly recalled all the little things he hadn't thought of for years, like how tightly it had to be strapped on, the way it felt to breathe with the straps across his chest, the satisfying click of the buckle as he secured the belt, and the lingering smell of alcohol in his nose after refueling the pack.

He wasn't, however, wearing his old getup. The jacket had always been impossible to put on and take off, and while the front leather bib protected the straps holding the pack on should they come loose or unfastened, it was mitigated by how much of a pain it was to manage all the buttons, especially when it was cold outside. He hadn't bothered with the riding pants, either. He opted instead for his well-worn pair of hiking boots, a sturdy pair of cargo pants, the leather bomber jacket he often wore in the winter, and the same thin pair of gloves he'd always worn. It felt good tucking the helmet under his arm again.

Centauri whistled and shook his head when he saw the smoking remains of Cliff's car. They walked to his vehicle, which he'd parked a few blocks away.

"I didn't think Xur's agents would be on the prowl tonight, but old habits die hard. One of the downsides of having a vehicle from Rylos is that it kind of sticks out here. The Zandozan would have been able to detect the heat of its engine in no time, and it wouldn't have ended up much better than your vehicle. That's why I parked it here," Centauri said, taking Cliff into a little forested patch in the park they now stood in.

"How did you get it up there?" Cliff asked, looking at the shape of a sleek, triangular shaped vehicle parked not only amongst the trees but balanced on top of a large rock structure that kids climbed on and rock climbers used to practice bouldering.

Centauri only smiled and chuckled. "You're not the only one who can fly, Rocketeer." He pressed a button on a little box attached to his keys, and the lights in the vehicle came on. A brilliant blaze coming from where the wheels might have been lifted the craft into the air vertically. Thumbing the controls on his keyfob, Centauri brought the craft down, letting it come to rest a few feet from where they were standing. Gull wing doors popped open, revealing a glittering bays of controls and two rows of seats.

It was Cliff's turn to whistle.

Centauri reached inside the glove compartment and pulled out a map of the area.

"We're right about here. My factory is here," he said, pointing to an area on the outskirts of town, a large uninhabited tract of land that was mostly rocky, forested terrain.

"That's another park there, Centauri. How did you get permission to build something there?"

"Permission?" Centauri laughed and whistled. "No, no, no, Mr. Secord. Doing so would have created needless red tape and bureaucratic idiocy. There is enough of that on Rylos, Mr. Secord. No need to look for more here. What the authorities don't know won't hurt them. They won't think to look underground."

"Underground?"

"Of course. It's what we've had to do on Rylos. Much of the terrain there is mostly uninhabitable, but under the surface, that's a different story."

"So let me get this straight. You build a factory to make these games – underground? How?"

"Oh, I've had decades, Mr. Secord. The Rylos resistance has been fighting against the forces of Xur and his ancestors for as long as I can remember. We have the advantage of living a long time compared to the Earth-bound human. How else do you think I've learned so much about your world here? I ... ah ...suppose I forgot to mention that it wasn't just those news articles I found that confirmed who you were to me. I saw you in action not long after I first starting coming out to your planet. I guess it would have been around ...1946 or so in your years. I was scouting out this very location, to be exact, and you saved a friend of mine. You were very gracious, and we were both very appreciative. Your world wasn't technologically at a place to support a recruiting tool like Starfighter – not yet – but we figured in a few decades, it would get there. And if there were heroes like the Rocketeer in your midst, then it meant our suspicions were correct. Perhaps Rylos could find a champion here after all."

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