[READING] [V & A Shipping] Chapter 68
Each time the SS Acid Rat crossed a dense magnetic field the ship rocked and rolled, but not in a good way. Vic sweated both from poison fever and stress. He’d never been so on edge before. But then he’d never had this series of circumstances to deal with.
He could tell they were moving significantly faster based on the speed at which the stars moved and the size of the blackness on the side of the ship that grew with each passing minute. Nearly half the visible star field had been engulfed by the rapidly growing darkness. Vic felt the need to ask a stupid question again.
“Any sign of another probe from that police cruiser?”
Argmon growled and with good reason. Vic asked this question at least fifteen times over the past two hours and the Shathar needed to concentrate. Tootsie also failed to respond to even simple commands. Vic sat and felt useless.
June’s sweetness to make Vic feel useful hadn’t gone in vain. He did feel somewhat useful, yet he watched Argmon taxing himself to the point of exhaustion. Vic knew Argmon’s dedication could be nearly limitless, but even his yellow fur looked strained.
“You need a break? It’s been nearly three hours of this and we’re not even up on the second black hole yet.”
Again Argmon growled.
“Well, I need to get up for a minute. Can I bring you some food or something?”
Argmon didn’t even move. They’d been flying for nearly nineteen hours and all of them had been awake for most of that time. He got up and looked back at Argmon. He tried to think of something clever to say. Nothing came.
He pulled out a cigarette and lit it up as he walked back toward the kitchen. The vibration of the floor made walking difficult and he’d nearly lost his balance more than once. It was odd having to open doors on his ship, but he grabbed a food tube from the kitchen and headed down to the lounge. A smoke, a beer, and a bite to eat. That’s all he needed. Well, maybe a dose of medication too, but beer first.
He stumbled into the lounge and nervous faces greeted him.
“Hey, why the long faces? We’re about halfway there, right? We’ve held up this long.”
A massive jolt shook the ship and Vic fell into a nearby chair.
June snapped at him. “Just sit down and buckle in.”
“Hey, I’m doing the best I can.” Vic took a drag from his cigarette as he righted himself. “I just needed to get something to drink.”
“No! Not on the medication you’re on. You need rest, not beer.”
“Who said I wanted a beer?” Vic defended himself. He knew that she knew he lied, but he suddenly didn’t care. Waves of exhaustion overtook his body and he fell to the floor.
When he woke up, he found himself strapped in a seat barely able to keep his head up.
“Vic! Vic, I’ve given you more medication.”
“I need something to keep me awake.”
June leaned over him. “What you need is rest. I can see it in your eyes.”
“Where’s my cigarette? Did I drop it?”
“Yes, about half an hour ago. Now either stay in that seat and relax, or go find a bunk and lay down.”
“How long has it been since you slept?”
“Me?” June laughed an incredulous laugh. “You need to start worrying about Vic. The rest of us are in…”
A flashing light turned on and a loud blasting siren brought Vic as close to fully conscious as he could be in his medicated state.
“What’s that?” he asked.
“I was hoping you could tell us. I’ve never heard that siren before.”
“I haven’t either.”
June groaned. “Tootsie, what’s that siren?”
Tootsie didn’t respond with anything more than an abrupt buzzing noise.
“Vic, Tootsie is too busy keeping the ship together. Where’s a panel where I can look up what that siren means?”
Vic thought. He’d just been at that panel, hadn’t he. He started to get up, but June pushed on his shoulder to hold him down. The pain shooting through his upper body took him to the brink of passing out.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to hurt you.” June leaned over him and inspected the bandages.
Vic’s vision faded in and out as he struggled to keep his head up. “Passageway,” he managed to say and he pointed into the hallway.
June, Joey, Dexter, and Joop-Nop all exited the lounge. As they did, three intense bangs rocked the ship followed by an explosion. Vic groaned. It sounded like gravity finally had its way with the ship as the sounds of metal scraping against metal reverberated throughout the inside of the ship.
“Vic!” June screamed from the hallway. About that time the acrid smell of burning electronics confronted Vic’s nose.
Pain forgotten Vic got to his feet. Something bad had happened. Possibly fatal judging by June’s yell. She sounded frightened.
In the hallway Vic felt his heart sink. Joey and Dexter were on the floor, both of them bleeding as fire erupted from the control panel.
Only the buzz responded. Tootsie’s systems were all locked up keeping the ship on track. No amount of money was worth this aggravation. Vic rubbed his temples. Something had to be done quickly and he didn’t have the strength. He didn’t even have SPX-39 anymore.
There was one hope. The computer from the Iron Butterfly.
“Computer thing from the Iron Butterfly. I don’t remember your designation.”
The sound of the annoyed voice chimed up. “I’m T-11…”
“I don’t care what your designation is. Can you access Tootsie’s systems and put this fire out.”
A long pause ensued before it responded. “Tootsie is busy and I cannot ask her permission.”
“I don’t want you to ask permission, I want you to put this fire out.”
“But I cannot do so without proper authorization from the host system.”
“Put the fire out or you’ll find yourself floating back to Planchar!”
The rage in Vic’s head caused his temples to throb. He had to lean against the wall to hold himself up.
June had dragged Joey and Dexter out of harm’s way. Sparks flashed and sprayed them, but didn’t do any real damage. Smoke had filled the top of the passageway.
It seemed to take an eternity, but finally the fire system sprayed and extinguished the fire.
“Thanks, now what about this smoke?”
“It’s not bothering me.”
“No, but you’re starting to bother me. Recycle the air in the passageway.”
“But I’d require an advanced authorization…”
“You tell me one more time about an authorization and I swear I’ll rip you apart with my bare hands.”
“You haven’t the strength.”
“No, but Argmon does.”
No hesitation this time as the air evacuated from the passageway and was replaced with fresh air. Vic had finally found a way to make this computer subservient.
“Would you like me to put the other fire out?”
“The one that prompted the siren and lights to turn on.”
“Yes and turn the alarms off.”
The lights and siren halted. Vic crumpled to the floor.
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