[READING] [V & A Shipping] Chapter 60 & 61
Once the Iron Butterfly’s hull dipped through the Acid Rat’s magnetic seal over the cargo bay, June let Tootsie land the ship and breathed a sigh of relief.
“We’re back. We’re safe now.”
Joey obviously didn’t share the sentiment. He eyed Mike’s limp body warily. “Can we put him in stasis now?”
June gave him half a smile. Her body ached. She had anticipated Mike would attack her first, but she had no idea he would do so with such ferocity. It had taken every ounce of her strength to keep him off and when Joey had climbed on top, Mike’s fangs dipped within inches of her chest. She would have been dead long before the venom had a chance to do its evil work.
“Tootsie, do you have access to the stasis field?”
Tootsie let out a small beep. “Yes.”
“Please suspend Mike until further notice.”
A grinding noise emitted from Tootsie. “Done.”
Joey visibly relaxed and the Iron Butterfly settled down in the same location where it had taken off from. June waited. She had thought the doors would be closed right away, but that wasn’t happening.
“Tootsie, why are the cargo bay doors still open?” she asked. “Is something wrong?”
“My sensors detect that Vic has accessed my control panel. He is not conscious.”
June wanted to get out of the ship, but couldn’t. Not until the doors were closed. “Can you close the doors and deactivate the magnetic seal?”
“I have access to those functions. It appears that T-11 XR34 Q14 WMN912…”
“Who is that?”
“That’s the computer from the Iron Butterfly.”
“What about it?”
“It cannot close the doors.”
“But you can?”
“And I am.”
June looked up. Indeed the doors were closing. Slowly. June would relax when she was certain that Vic wasn’t hurt. Joey suddenly looked ready to leave the ship. She’d told him that nothing existed between her and Vic, that she looked to him like a big brother, but Joey only wanted to sulk, but with a little less aggressiveness to his sulking. June found his jealousy cute, but she would have to deal with him later.
Once the doors were closed and the cockpit cover opened, June bounded out. Her arm and ribs screamed at her for doing so. Mike had punched her several times. She’d need to get checked out once this was all over.
A flash of green escaped from the weapons room and flew up the ladder from the cargo bay. Dexter must have known something. June rushed up the ladder as quickly as she could, her arm protesting all the way. At the top Dexter had Vic over his shoulder as he escorted the incapacitated captain into the lounge.
Argmon barked something from the cockpit.
“What?” June had never really learned enough about Argmon’s nuances of speech. She listened more intently the second time. He said something about police and approaching.
“They’re back! They followed you back?”
Argmon chuffed agreement.
“Dexter, charge the engines. I’ll get Vic and Joey strapped in. Argmon! Get ready to go to hyperspace.”
Joey helped June strap in Vic. “Um…this may sound like a stupid question, but doesn’t this ship have something to, I don’t know, make the police think we went in a different direction? Defensive counter-measures or something like that?”
“You know what, I think I know just what to use. Argmon! Ready the beacons. We’ve got to throw this ship off our tail and now!”
“Glad…to…see…you’re…back,” something said. June didn’t recognize the voice and instinctively reached for a blaster that wasn’t there.
Joop-Nop, or she had to assume it was Joop-Nop, walked out from behind the couch on four stick legs. Several other branches projected from its back. “Joop-Nop?”
“You look, different.”
“Yes, he attacked us.” June strapped Vic in and then strapped herself in. She heard Dexter notify Argmon that the ship was ready. “Argmon! Use the hyperspace beacons. Set them for all different locations.”
Argmon barked back something. June assumed it meant agreement.
Joey buckled himself in as did Joop-Nop. His body no longer slime, he must require the dampening field now.
“The boss? About what?”
“I wonder if he was supposed to kill us all?”
“Hey June, I don’t know much about what’s going on here, but how long do we have to get back to Planchar? Aren’t we running way behind on the time?”
“Hold on, Joey. One thing at a time. So Joop-Nop, Mike was in communication with someone outside the ship? How?”
“So you found this box?”
The Iron Butterfly. If Mike had stowed away on the cruiser, it must be there. June grabbed at her seat belt, but Joey reached for her.
“Don’t! We’re about to go into hyperspace. Can you answer my question now?”
Too much was happening at the same time. June wanted to deal with one thing, be it Vic, or Mike, or Mike’s boss, or getting away from the police. Just one thing. But since she couldn’t deal with any of those, she may as deal with Joey. She smiled at him.
“Can you tell me your question again?”
“How long do we have to get back?”
“Tootsie, countdown until we need to arrive back on Planchar?”
“Eight Hours, forty-four minutes, forty-seven seconds.”
“Thank you.” June looked back at Joey. “And?”
“I think we can make it back in time.”
“Joey, we took the fastest way here and had to take a detour. Vic lost time coming back for us. We don’t have enough time to make it back. May as well accept it. We lost this one.”
“No, I think we can get back in time. I just need to talk to Argmon. We can do it. I tried to explain it to Vic, but he didn’t think we could do it.”
“What makes you think we can?”
“Well, we’ve got nothing else to lose. It’s worth a shot, isn’t it?”
He was right. She’d just given up as soon as she heard Tootsie give the time. What did they have to lose? “Okay, once we’re in hyperspace, get up there with Argmon and see if you can give him directions.”
Joey’s boyish grin was infections. June smiled back, but resisted the urge to kiss him again.
“I don’t want to hear excuses. I want the tractor beam locked on them and I want it now!” B.T. Justice fumed.
“Sir, we’re not in range.”
“Range, schmange! If the range is a problem, move faster.” Justice swatted the officer with the riding crop. “Move! Move! We’re not losing them again!”
They had lost the SS Acid Rat, or its decoy, and found it again, then lost it again. But they had the other ship. The one that Justice was certain hid the SS Acid Rat’s identity.
“Sir, that ship doesn’t have hyper…”
“Just move! Get me that ship or I’ll have your badge. Do I make myself…”
Justice heard the collective gasp from those on board the renegade ship as it slipped into hyperspace. Gone. Just like that the crew of the SS Acid Rat slid through his fingers again.
“Plot their course and follow. I want all the drones set up to intercept them and pursue.”
Justice’s scowl darkened the longer he glared at the star field on the screen, now absent of the ship they were looking for. How could he have such an incompetent crew?
“Sir, they’re headed for the Noir system. Isn’t that…”
“Yes, it’s a black hole system. It’s also near another black hole and a neutron star that’s nearly a black hole in its own right. What are they thinking? What?”
The Munchkada system sat near a black hole system. Could it be that the captain of the SS Acid Rat felt so confident in his ability to navigate near such an anomaly that he fearlessly headed into the face of danger?
B.T. Justice gripped his riding crop with both hands and snapped it in half.
“Set course to follow. We’re going after them.”
“Set course!” Justice’s veins protruded from his reddened face.
The officer turned back to his console and plotted the course that would take the Apprehension dangerously close to the two black holes. The gravitational forces between the two stars could easily tear apart a planet. What would it do to a ship?
It didn’t matter. Whatever would occur would happen to the SS Acid Rat first. B.T. Justice snorted a small laugh. He wanted to be there when the ship was torn apart. He had to be there.
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