[READING] [V & A Shipping] Chapter 12 & 13
It was as if the entire galaxy unrolled at his feet. The lights in the passage went out and the wall blinked from its dull gray to black. At first Joey thought he might have gone blind, but his eyes started to focus further and further away. Stars! Billions upon billions of stars.
It wasn’t only the wall that had gone transparent but the entire passageway. The ceiling, the floor beneath the metal grating, it was all a window now. Everything was so clear. No light pollution to block even the dimmest stars. Everything was here.
Joey looked around to try to find a familiar star, but everything was out of place.
“Don’t try, kid. We’re not even on the same arm of the galaxy as Earth. We’re about seventy-thousand lights years from home right now.”
Joey thought about this. “You mean you know where home is?”
Vic pointed through a dense smattering of stars. “See that? That’s Galactic Central Point. About a million stars orbiting a super-massive black hole. Those star systems make up about ninety percent of the galaxy’s population. The rest, like Earth, are so underdeveloped that no one even goes out there. Sure there’s been visits, but no one hangs around for long.”
“But if you wanted to, you could go home, right?”
Vic took a deep breath and shook his head. “I don’t want to go into it right now. Just enjoy the view. I’ll introduce you to the crew, then you and I and June can all sit down and we’ll tell you all about what’s going on. Sound like a plan?”
“Sure.” Joey returned to staring at the stars. He was in outer space. He was really away from home and further than he’d ever imagined he’d be. He had hoped that one day he might get to go to the moon, but here he was, thousands of light years away from home. Carlos was never going to believe this one.
Vic pressed the button and the walls went opaque again. “Come on, I’ll introduce you to Argmon. His bark is worse than his bite.”
“Hey Argmon! Meet the latest addition to the SS Acid Rat crew.”
There was a chuffing growling noise from the passageway. Vic led Joey into a small room with an outside view. Hundreds of lights and dials blinked in confusing patterns. Two left arms covered in yellowish hair reached around, one on the arm of the chair, the other in a handshake greeting.
The four-armed monster that stood up from the chair was about seven feet tall, Joey was too panic stricken to notice an exact height, and had the face of a dog. It curled back its lips to reveal a set of fangs and Joey was sure he was about to be eaten. Again.
“Argmon, stop that. I told you when June got here that people get scared when you smile.”
Scared wasn’t the word for it. Joey felt all the blood drain from his face and the food he’d eaten threatening to come back up. The monster lowered its lips and looked downward as if it’d just been scolded. Well, it had been, hadn’t it? Vic had scolded this monster. Joey, after catching his breath, struggled to speak and only a faint squeak came out.
“Now look what you did! You done scared the kid. Just sit back down and keep an eye on things while I show him around.”
Argmon shrugged his shoulders and shook his head. When he turned and sat back down, Joey whispered, “Nice to meet you.” Argmon waved two left hands and remained quiet.
“Sorry about that. I should have given you more warning. He can be quite a surprise when you first meet him, but he’s a teddy bear inside.”
Vic’s tone was reassuring, but Joey wasn’t reassured. “I’m sure.”
With an arm around Joey’s neck, Vic led him down the passage.
“This isn’t a big ship. I hope you’re not disappointed. June was big into Star Trek and she had expected that it’d be huge with hundreds of people on board. We’re just a small, private shipping vessel.”
“So what are you shipping?”
“We’re currently bringing a load of tonindrium to a small planet just on the outskirts of GCP called Planchar. They haven’t been able to get a good shipment in ten years, so they hired us to bring it to them. That’s what we do. We bring select shipments to select clientele.”
Joey twisted his face. “You pointed toward Galactic whatsitcalled and we’re not heading in that direction.”
Vic stopped. “You see kid, there’s something you’ll have to learn. I’ve had to teach this to everyone on the crew. Each planet has its own set of laws. Those laws don’t extend beyond that star’s sphere of influence.”
“Sphere of influence?”
“The point where the star’s gravity no longer has any measurable effect. Once we’re out of that realm of influence, we’re in the clear.”
“Wait a minute, you mean you break the law?” Joey ducked his head under Vic’s arm and backed away.
“It’s not that cut and dry. You see, like this shipment we’ve got here. Tonindrium is only found on one planet in the galaxy, Bamda. Those people have a monopoly and hold on tight to what they’ve got and only sell so much to specific distributors. My clients need some. So they hired me to exchange their money for the proper currency and I went down to the Bamda and bought it with the correct currency. Now there’s a law on Bamda that only licensed vessels can haul tonindrium away from the planet, but that’s a local law not a GCP law. Follow?”
“Since we’re not in their star’s sphere of influence anymore, we’re not breaking any laws.”
“But you broke the law in that system.”
“You’re looking at this from the wrong angle. We’re doing what’s right so the people on Planchar can have a shipment of tonindrium.”
“Are you trying to tell me that you’re out here breaking local laws like Robin Hood?”
“See, now you get it.”
Once again Vic put his arm around Joey’s shoulders and pulled him along. If Vic was Robin Hood, what did that make the rest of the crew? His Merry Men? And was June his Maid Marion? This was crazy? Joey pulled free of Vic. He had to put an end to this. This wasn’t where he belonged and certainly wasn’t what he was supposed to be doing. He was supposed to be on Earth.
“Vic, do you know your mother is at home waiting for you and your father to return? I talked to her and she misses you desperately.”
Vic deflated and he shook his head. “Look, kid. Do you want the truth now or do you want to wait until we talk with June?”
“I think I’d like it now.”
“You’re not going to like it.”
“I don’t care. I don’t belong here. I belong back on Earth. I’m supposed to be home right now doing my homework and getting ready for school tomorrow. I shouldn’t even be here. If I hadn’t crashed my bike and gotten all banged up I would never have met your mom and I wouldn’t be here.”
Joey cupped his hands over his face and cried. He felt like such an idiot.
“Joey, if I could have gone home, don’t you think I’d be there right now? Don’t you think I miss my mom? Don’t you think June misses her parents?”
Actually, Joey hadn’t thought of that. There were a lot of things Joey hadn’t thought about and now that his mind was clearer…
“Why are you so young?”
Vic’s eyes lit up. “Now you’re asking the right questions. Let’s go find June and she can tell you her story and then we’ll talk about what’s going on. All this will make a lot more sense then.”
“Junior! Where’s that hamburger?” The Police Cruiser Apprehension had just come out of light speed and once again there was no ship. They hadn’t sent their coordinates back to Bamda so no one would know where they were. Worst case scenario they’d think he was on silent patrol. The GCP Central Office review was going to take far too long. Those criminals would be long gone.
Junior huffed and puffed as he stopped with the glass wobbling in his hands. This was his forth trip. Four would be enough. B.T. Justice took his seat in the center of the bridge for the first time since this chase began. He placed the glass in a holder on the arm rest.
“Sir, remotes are returning to the ship. We’re processing the data now.”
He knew what it would reveal. They’d come to a point where seven different ship signatures went in seven different directions. This was a crafty one he was, but he’d landed on Bamda with a valid ship number. Sheriff Justice was ready for the news.
“Sir, all remotes report that all trails end with no trace of the ship. In fact, all end in the middle of space with no stars anywhere in sight.”
This was a crafty captain indeed.
“Did they use radar at the end of each trail?”
“Yes sir. Radar detected nothing and no further sign of any ships jumping to light speed. I’m think we’ve lost them.”
“What did I tell you about thinking?”
“Sorry, sir.” The dejected officer turned his chair around to face his console.
“I want the home port coordinates of each ship signature we’ve been following. I want descriptions of each ship and its present whereabouts.”
The clattering of fingers on keyboards filled the bridge. That’s what he wanted. His crew working frantically to solve the problem he already knew the answer to. He knew it was the first ship’s signature they were following. The SS Acid Rat. What a pathetic name for a ship. No longer did he want to just sit by and see the crew in shackles and the computer’s memory wiped. No. Now he wanted to see that ship blown out of the sky.
But he wasn’t going to do that. If he blasted the ship it would also set off the highly unstable shipment of tonindrium. There was a reason that only select ships carried the cargo off Bamda. It was a safety precaution. The load of tonindrium they were carrying, nearly seventy-five thousand tons, was enough to blow a star apart. As Sheriff he wasn’t about to let that happen. He was going to find that ship and demand that the GCP Central Office adjust its standards to allow him to pursue anyone taking tonindrium off planet in an unauthorized ship.
He just had to catch the ship first.
“Sir, the only valid ship number is designation 694-alpha-eplison-92-zeta. The ship is the SS Acid Rat and is home ported out of Munchkada System.” The officer paused in his report. “Sir, isn’t that dangerously close to the…”
B.T. Justice stood and turned around quickly. “Yes it’s dangerously close to the black hole. To the Eye of God as so many like to call it. That is precisely why a ship like the SS Acid Rat would choose it as a home port. No one in their right mind would dare go near it in fear of losing their ship. That is exactly why we are going to go there.”
He let Junior get away with that one. There was more he had to say. “Gentlemen. We are going to lay a trap for this culprit. As soon as he gets home, we’ll be there. Waiting for him. Set course for the Munchkada!”
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