[READING] [V & A Shipping] Chapter 48 & 49 & 50
Vic’s reactions were slowed. The ship moved fast enough, but the massive police cruiser gained.
“Argmon! I need help up here.”
As the words issued from Vic’s mouth a local police cruiser popped up in front of the ship. If he could have he would have dodged it, but as fast as he was going and his body not working as well as it could he only veered slightly and sent the small cruiser spinning out of control.
“Argmon! The locals are coming! Where are you?”
Argmon chuffed and took his seat. Vic released the controls and let Argmon take over.
“Mike!” Vic shouted and cursed himself. Mike wasn’t there. “June! I need you to get to the engineering room and prep the engines. We’re going to need to make a jump. I think they’re charged, but double check.”
“I’m on it.”
Though she sounded tense, Vic felt assured that she would get it done. A shudder of pain racked his body. Argmon growled low and deep.
“I’m fine. Just watch where you’re going.” Vic pointed at another local cruiser.
A blast rocked the ship. Argmon spun the ship and started to shoot skyward.
“No! That police cruiser is waiting for us up there. We’ve got to get to the dark side of the planet and we need to stay as low as possible for as long as possible. If that sheriff wants us, he’s going to have to come and get us. Let’s not make this easy.”
Argmon barked agreement.
Vic had gotten them into a tight spot. The sheriff apparently had alerted the locals or they’d not be in on the chase. Sensors indicated twenty, no, twenty-one in pursuit. The Apprehension flew at a good ten miles up; out of tractor-beam range, but too close to get away from. They didn’t drop, but stayed just above the Acid Rat.
Think dammit! Think! There had to be a way out. Vic had been in tight spots before. He’d always gotten them out. Always. And they always got paid too. Both of those were now in jeopardy.
“The little cruiser!”
Argmon looked at Vic, confused.
“The little, black cruiser I picked up like a year ago. That’s it. I still haven’t driven it, but it’s what we need.”
Vic got up and left the cockpit. “June! Joey! Meet me in the cargo bay.”
June’s voice came over the con. “Vic, the engines are charged and ready to go.”
“Thanks June. I’ve got a plan, but I need you and Joey.”
“I’ll explain down in the cargo bay.”
Vic’s body didn’t move as fast as he would have liked. He’d only ever been incapacitated once before, but there hadn’t been police on his tail or a job on the line.
Four massive containers filled a majority of the cargo bay. The SS Acid Rat was filled to capacity. He’d have a tough time getting anything else inside the ship. Good thing Argmon knew how to operate a crane as well as fly a ship.
At the bottom of the ladder June and Joey waited. June’s expression hardened when she saw Vic. Great, she was still mad. He didn’t have time for this. He’d have to deal with her later.
“Follow me,” Vic said and led June and Joey over to the cruiser. He’d covered it with a tarp to protect it and keep it in pristine condition.
He pulled the tarp off the cruiser. Its surface, a beautiful, glossy black, reflected the three of them. The ship itself reminded Vic of a ’69 Corvette Stingray his father had owned. The cruiser had no wheels, instead sitting on a tripod landing gear. Instead of an open top, the constrained cockpit sat encased in a large bubble. The entire interior consisted of black on black seats, upholstery, and trimmings. The controls were also black until activated. God he loved black.
“He’s over there,” June said with a shrug.
Strewn out behind the cruiser was SPX-39. He’d been torn to pieces. Even his body had been split in two and exposed wires and gears lay exposed. A small pool of oil puddle under the chassis.
“That’s sad. I didn’t like that robot much, but he didn’t deserve that.”
“Where’s Mike? He wasn’t in the engineering room.”
“Tootsie said he’s not on the ship. Speaking of which.” Vic turned around. “Dexter! Bring me Tootsie!”
“Eep! Eep! Eep!”
“What are you going to do?” Joey asked.
Vic opened the cruiser and stuck his head inside. A small compartment lay between the bucket seats. He opened it, and pulled out a large, square, black box. He showed it to June and Joey.
“Space ships, even the local police cruisers, don’t use visuals. They use sensors. Those sensors translate a ship’s transponder. I’m taking this one and we’ll put Tootsie into the cruiser.”
“Hey kid, look at this ship. I never named it. Give it a name. Come on. Anything.”
“Um…” Joey shrugged. “I don’t know.”
“Sure you do, kid.”
Joey smiled an ear to ear grin only a kid could smile. “How about the Iron Butterfly? That’s what brought me here, if you take my meaning.”
Vic raised his eye brows. “Good pull, kid. I like it. You and June are going to take the Iron Butterfly…”
June held up her hands. “What? Joey doesn’t know how to fly this thing and I’ve never been in it before. What are we supposed to do? Just sit in it and get caught and wait for you to come back and save us?”
Dexter arrived carrying a silver box the same size as the one Vic held.
“Here Dex, put this into the Acid Rat. Thanks.”
“Eep. Eep. Eep.”
Vic put the box into the Iron Butterfly, closed the compartment, and looked at June and Joey again. “Look, this ship is easy to fly and it’s fast. It’ll easily outrun these local police cruisers, and get you to the checkpoint and back to Planchar. Probably even before the Acid Rat gets there. The police cruiser isn’t going to go through the check point. They’re not supposed to be following us unless they got permission from GCP Central Office and I doubt they got that over a little tonindrium shipment being transported by unregistered tonindrium transporters. So you guys will be safe. It’s also stealth so the only thing they’ll see is the transponder signal. If they start to gain on you, just turn it off and you’ll be invisible.”
“But what about you?”
“June, look. I’ll be fine. Argmon…” A blast rocked the ship. “Look, just get in and fly. We’ll meet up again on Planchar.”
June pouted. At least she didn’t look angry anymore. Anything was better than June being angry.
“I don’t like it.”
“You don’t have to.”
Joey got into the Iron Butterfly. “I like it.”
“See, the kid likes it. Come on, June. We don’t have time to argue about this one. I need you to trust me.”
“I’ve been trusting you. Look where we are now.”
Vic sighed. “Just one more time, June. I can get us out of this one. This’ll be the last one. I promise.”
“You’ve said that before.” June got into the cruiser. “Keep in contact.”
“I will. We’re going to need to keep track of this sheriff. He’s a bastard and he’s gunning for us.”
June buckled herself in, Joey followed suit. She looked up at Vic. “I still don’t like this.”
“But you’re going to do it because you know it’ll save our skin. Look, once you two are out, I’m going to open the cargo bay doors, I’ll have Argmon shuffle back and forth. You do the same and circle the ship a couple of times and we’ll both head off in different directions.”
“The cruisers will get confused and take after the supposed biggest target, got it.”
“Right. Now get prepped. I’m going back to the cockpit. And June.”
June looked up. Her eyes never looked so lovely. Vic hated the fact they were starting to fill with tears.
She frowned slightly and pressed the button to close the protective bubble.
Mike trembled. He had to resist the urge to lash out and finish off Vic. That wasn’t part of the job. Hiding in the cargo hold of, what had the boy called it? The Iron Butterfly? That wasn’t part of the plan either. They were splitting up.
June and Joey weren’t integral to plan, so he’d just have to make sure that the cruiser got back to the Acid Rat. Once they were taken out, it would be a simple matter to contact the boss. No matter what it took, Mike would have to make sure that Tootsie’s transponder stayed on and got back on board the correct ship. Too much effort had gone into this series of events. Mike had to make sure they played out.
First he had to wait until they were off the ship. Vic would get suspicious if the cruiser didn’t leave. Then he could spring out of the compartment and take care of June and Joey. They would never see it coming. Once they were out of the picture he could fly back to the Acid Rat. With a stealth cruiser Vic would never see the ship. Too perfect.
Mike laughed softly to himself and settled in as the cruiser rose from the Acid Rat.
“What exactly to you mean there’s another ship?” Justice demanded.
“I mean besides all the local police down there, and there’s a lot of them, there’s another ship fleeing with the SS Acid Rat.”
Justice eyed the reporting officer suspiciously. The view screen confirmed the report. A small, black cruiser sped away from the SS Acid Rat.
“Who’s onboard the new target?”
“Looks like there are four entities on board.”
“How many are in the crew of the SS Acid Rat?”
“Checking.” The office called up a display. “At last report there were six crew members.”
“So it looks like two are making a get away.” This was a tough call. Justice wanted the captain, but having the SS Acid Rat and a few crew members would do just as well. “Keep track of the cruiser, but stay on the SS Acid Rat.
The smaller vehicle would be easy enough to capture. Nothing that small could travel alone for any great length. It’d still remain on Raado and the local authorities could pick it up at any time. Still, something wasn’t right.
“Sir, the cruiser is increasing in elevation.”
What are you doing? Justice watched the view screen showing the black cruiser heading skyward. The little ship might be able to make a short jump off planet, but it’d never leave the system. It just wasn’t possible.
“Where are they going? Are they in tractor beam range yet?”
“They’re steering away from us. We’re staying on the SS Acid Rat and that’s keeping the smaller ship out of range.”
“Can you get any identifying marks from the ship?”
“I’ve got the ship’s signature.”
“Keep it. We may need it to track them down later in case they meet up with a convoy to get out of the system.”
Justice tapped his riding crop on his leg. “Why the ruse?” he asked himself.
“Sir, the ship is reaching the atmosphere. I’m detecting a hyper-drive charging.”
“What? That ship is too small to carry a hyper-drive.”
“I’m not questioning that, sir, but sensors indicate…” the officer’s jaw dropped. “It just jumped into hyperspace.”
B.T. Justice hit the officer with his riding crop. “How did that little ship make the jump? Where was it headed? Find out! Now!”
Gasps caused B.T. Justice to turn around. “What is it?”
“The SS Acid Rat! It just disappeared.”
“It’s not nearly big enough to carry a cloaking device.”
“That may be sir, but it’s no longer on our view screens.”
“Can we get a visual on the ground?”
The SS Acid Rat was gone. All the police cruisers had slowed to a crawl.
“No, sir. It’s gone.”
“Sweep the area. Project the course of the small cruiser as well. It’s got to still be in the system. It wasn’t big enough to leave. Couldn’t have made more than a thirty second jump.”
“Sir,” the officer said and cowered away.
“What?” Justice narrowed his eyes to slits, his brow creasing with anger.
“Both ships are gone. The smaller ship’s heading shows it’s en route to the Raado blockade.”
“That’d take it out of the system.” Justice’s spine straightened and his heart sank as he turned back toward the view screen. He’d been duped. He’d been duped by the simplest of tricks. They’d swapped transponders. He had to act quickly.
“Ignore the SS Acid Rat. I want you to follow the cruiser.”
Justice smacked the man. “Don’t question me!”
The officer changed headings.
Another officer stood up. “Sir, GCP Central Office wishes to speak with you. It’s Counselor Pitrine.”
“The counselor can be damned. Hang up on him and get me Sheriff Esconso. He’s the Sheriff here on Raado and he owes me a favor.”
More than a favor, Sheriff Esconso owed Sheriff Justice his life. Finding this ship had taxed Justice’s patience and Esconso had additional police cruisers available. Although nothing that would compare to the Apprehension, but big enough to make an impression on this pesky crew. A tinge wrinkled Justice’s left eye. He had to capture this ship and he had to do so quickly. The Counselor would call back.