[READING] [V & A Shipping] Chapter 32 & 33
When the SS Acid Rat dropped out of hyperspace, Mike decided it was time to do a little reconnaissance work. Joey had gone into the weapons room where Dexter and June were getting ready. Vic must want to keep the boy busy while the ship landed. Mike was going to have to keep Joey out of the way when the challenge was issued.
Vic would be easy to handle when the time came. He wasn’t bright and was easy to coerce in awkward situations. Over the past year Mike had convinced Vic to take on several difficult assignments to see just how far he could manipulate the man. The boss had given the right information each time and hadn’t led him astray.
Argmon would do anything Vic said. Mike always thought that strange given the fact that the ship had belonged to Argmon in the first place. Argmon had lost his brother so perhaps the Shathar’s brother was the brains of the operation and Argmon was just the muscle. Either way, Mike discounted Argmon’s ability in every way.
Mike crept along the ceiling of the cargo bay. It was most comfortable to come down from the top. All the others on the ship were, after all, two dimensional movers and never seemed to look up.
Continuing the run-down of the ship’s crew, Dexter and Joop-Nop were both difficult to comprehend, but neither had exhibited even a remote thought of their own. They did what they were told, didn’t ask questions, and were even more subservient than Argmon. He would just have to make sure Vic gave the right order at the right time and they would both be out of the way.
Then there was Tootsie, the Ship’s computer. She was polite and liked to follow strict and logical laws, but Vic was able to get her to break those rules from time to time. There was something about her makeup; something that could be used and manipulated to his own end. He would have to watch for an opening.
And then there was SPX-39, the new robot Vic had bought. That paranoid pile of bolts would be easy enough to scare into submission. Mike had already scared it enough and gotten it to do certain menial tasks. A little more pressure and soon he’d have it doing anything he wanted. Perhaps even speaking to Tootsie. That was an idea, now wasn’t it?
Mike poked his head down over the top of the room’s entrance. June was already meditating. She always did that before they landed. She was more paranoid than SPX-39, but with a purpose. She took steps and this was the most dangerous thing to Mike’s plan. She didn’t dislike him, but he wasn’t sure she trusted him fully. In fact on the last job she had insisted that he stay on board. She had said “It’s for your own protection” but Mike suspected it was that she knew he was anxious to meet with someone.
He had been. He was supposed to meet with the boss. If he hadn’t sneaked off the ship, this all might be over already.
Joey looked out of place. Why wouldn’t he? He was a billion miles from home and had never been in space before. The whelp needed to be taken out. Perhaps I’ll be merciful and take you out first.
Dexter was asleep. Only Joop-Nop and SPX-39 were missing. They were insignificant anyway. They would be of use later. Much later.
They would be landing soon. There was nothing to gain by watching the lost boy Joey stand in the middle of the room and look confused. But wait.
“Joey,” Mike whispered and motioned for the boy to come outside. June didn’t move. Dexter snored.
“What?” Joey asked when he was outside. His expression was worried and he didn’t approach quickly enough. Mike wanted to reach in and pull the boy out of the room. He moved away from the door so Joey would have to come out of the room.
The boy did.
Mike narrowed his eyes, then opened them wide. He didn’t want to look devious. “Joey, isn’t it? I just wanted to apologize for earlier. I didn’t know you were going to get scared of me. I hope you’re not still frightened.”
Joey looked dubious. “No.”
“Great. I’ve grown so close to the others on the ship, I just wanted to make sure you and I got off on the right foot, so to speak.”
Talkative idiot, aren’t you? Mike sighed. “So Joey, do you have any questions? I know June and Vic have probably answered the most obvious questions about where you are and how you got here. Of course I couldn’t answer those. Do you have any questions about the galaxy or this ship or anything? I just want you to know that I’m here to help out.” Shut up, you’re rambling!
Monosyllabic moron. Can’t you even form a sentence? “Well, good. I just wanted to make sure you and I were on good terms. I’d hate to think that my appearance had somehow frightened you.”
“At first it did. I guess being out here in space will just take some getting use to. I mean, I’ve met everyone on this ship and it seems like the galaxy is filled with a pretty diverse set of life forms.”
-He can form full sentences! “That it is. If you run into any problems, you can always count on me, Joey. I just want to make sure you know that. Anyone on this ship will do anything for you, but I’d be honored if you came to me if you needed anything.”
Joey’s lips formed a nervous smile. “Thanks.”
Mike started to smile his broad, square-toothed grin, but forced his lips to stay closed.
Joey turned and disappeared back into the weapons room.
“Well that didn’t go well at all,” Mike cursed to himself. He wanted to befriend the boy. Hopefully the seed had been planted that the boy could trust him. At least some of the fear appeared to have been alleviated. That was something. He would have to spend more time with Joey to make sure that seed flourished. Joey could end up being pivotal to the outcome of the boss’ plan.
Mike scampered across the cargo bay’s ceiling. They would be landing soon. The anticipation was getting to him. A year’s worth of work with this crew and it was time for a change. How much longer was the boss’ plan going to take? Hopefully this challenge would at least be something interesting. Some sort of excitement before he finished and moved on to a new assignment.
Mike disappeared back into his control room.
June looked dangerous in her form-fitting, black-with-pink-trim outfit with the black fishbowl helmet and long-barreled guns slung low on her hips. Her look was something of a young boy’s sci-fi fantasy girl. Joey hoped she couldn’t see him staring. Suddenly realizing that she probably could, made his cheeks flush and he looked away.
The gun she’d pushed into his hand hadn’t felt right and he was embarrassed that she snatched it away so quickly. Maybe he was a puny wimp just like Brad, Chad, and Thad continued to say he was.
It wasn’t his fault though. He’d never held a gun. Heck, he never wanted to fire a gun. It wasn’t that he was scared of them. His grandfather had shot guns. Did that make him more of a man?
But then his grandfather had never been in space. No one in his family had. Even if they had, they would never be in a place like this. It was difficult to imagine that they were all gone. Not just his family, but everyone. Even his friend Carlos. He couldn’t linger on that though. He was about to set foot on his first alien planet. How exciting was that?
Dexter woke up and jumped off the bench he’d been laying on. “Eep. Eep. Eep.”
“Eh?” Joey felt like everyone else understood Dexter, why couldn’t he? Was it something that they just got used to over time?
“Eep. Eep. Eep,” Dexter said, a little more urgently this time and lunged at Joey.
Joey stumbled backwards and fell onto one of the benches. With his three hands, Dexter strapped a belt across Joey’s lap, strapped in the meditating June, and then strapped himself in. The speed at which he did this was impressive.
“Eep. Eep. Eep.”
Dexter, if he had a mouth, probably would have been smiling. Maybe it was the tone in how he said things. He did sound satisfied with what he’d done. Just how smart was the little, what was it Vic called him? tri-ped. There was something in those three eyes blinking at different times that denoted a deceiving intelligence.
The ship rattled and banged. Joey looked at June. God seeing a friendly face would make me a lot less nervous right now.
Vic’s voice boomed over the con. “I hope you’re all strapped in back there. Looks like it’ll be a little bumpy going down. This shouldn’t take long. I think I can have us on the ground in five minutes. Just sit tight. We already have a vector to the landing pad.”
Well that wasn’t very reassuring. Five minutes? Didn’t it take the space shuttle an hour or more to land? How could Vic do it in just a few minutes? They were in a ship designed to take off from a planet and fly through space. Of course it would have to be far more advanced than the space shuttle, wouldn’t it?
Joey tried to keep his thoughts on not dying as the ship jostled and shimmied though the atmosphere of Planchar. He waited for the ship’s walls to break apart at any moment, but after what felt like hours and was possibly only seconds, the vibrations stopped.
“I think we’re through the worst of it. Stay belted in just in case.”
Vic’s voice sounded confident. He’d done this many times before so the fear that the ship would break apart was unfounded. Dexter must have had some sense as to how it would be when he buckled them all in. Was it premonition that made him seem to act so quickly?
There were no more announcements on the way down until after a thunderous “thud” announced their arrival on the ground.
“This load is heavy. Sorry about that landing. Let’s get up and get out there. We’ve got a greeting party so I need everyone on their best behavior.”
June unbuckled her belt and stood. When she spoke her voice was electronic and harsh. “Dexter, get outside and do a check outside the ship. Joey, stand guard at the base of the ramp.” She grabbed a rifle from out of a cabinet. “This doesn’t work. Don’t let anyone know that. I don’t expect anything will happen, but at least you’ll look important.”
She shoved it into his hands and strode out of the room. Dexter was already gone. Dang he was quick. It took Joey several seconds of fiddling with the buckle just to get it unlatched. By the time he got out of the weapons room and into the cargo bay, Vic and Argmon were coming down the main ladder.
“Hold up kid!”
Joey stopped and waited as Vic and Argmon caught up. Vic put his arm around Joey’s shoulder.
“Okay kid. I want you to try and contain the excitement I’m sure you’re feeling. You know, those butterflies in the pit of your stomach? This feeling will pass. We need to keep a professional image here. So just lay back and don’t go far from the ramp. Okay?”
“Got it.” Now Joey felt those butterflies. They were angry and doing loops inside him.
“Great. Just leave the negotiations to me. We’ll get out of this in one piece and be on our way. There’s going to be a celebration, but I don’t think we’ll be going to that. I don’t want you to get overwhelmed so if there is a celebration, I may have you stay on the ship.”
“That’s not fair.”
“Kid, do you really think you can handle this?”
“Of course I can.” Joey was offended.
“Well, if you can’t handle it, just hang out near the ramp. It’s not a big deal if you don’t come out any further.”
That made sense, but at least now he had a choice. He didn’t want to stay back just because he was told to. “Thanks.”
“June on the con.” Vic put his hand to his ear. “She wants you at the bottom of the ramp now. Better get going kid.”
Joey ran on ahead. The ship’s exit lay just on the side of the weapons room. Mike was poised at the top of the ramp and looking down. Joey slowed, but didn’t intend to. He wanted to get past Mike as quickly as he could. Even though Mike had tried to make it clear that he was a nice guy he was still a giant spider. And creepy.
Mike smiled and patted Joey on the back as he strode down the ramp. He could hear Mike say, “That’s some crowd, Vic. I think it’s a record turn out for you.”
“Isn’t it always?”
Joey’s steps faltered as he walked down the steps. He’d been on a stage before. When he was six and at the church Christmas play. He’d gotten nervous and wet himself in front of the entire congregation. That was only about two hundred people. This was a flood of people. All of them cheering and applauding. Music played with loud crashes and bangs of drums, trumpets, all in a cacophony of noise. The din was deafening.
Behind the waves of people were buildings that extended into the sky. Living in Southern California Joey hadn’t seen many skyscrapers. He knew that the buildings in downtown San Diego were comparatively small when you considered those in New York, but he was certain that these he was seeing would dwarf even the tallest on Earth.
The sky was a dark, dingy yellow in color and littered with black smoke. Once he was able to breath again, he’d been holding his breath since he saw the crowd, he realized that the air burned. Involuntarily he coughed and gagged. His eyes burned. It was pollution. Pollution worse than anything he’d ever faced. It was like the entire Earth’s pollution was condensed to this one spot and assaulting him violently.
Vic put his hand on Joey’s back and yelled over the din. “Quite some reception, eh? Tonindrium is used to clean pollution from a planet’s atmosphere. As you can tell, these guys need it. They haven’t been able to buy any because the guys on Bamda have imposed a trade embargo against Planchar for some reason or another. That’s where we came in.”
Now it made sense. But suddenly Joey didn’t care. He was getting dizzy. He had this feeling once when he was fourteen and he and Carlos had smoked a pack of cigarettes in about an hour. His eyes watered. His mind recoiled. Breathing became difficult. And just like that time when he was fourteen, he passed out.
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