[READING] [V & A Shipping] Chapter 74
A heavy bang followed by a massive jolt of the Acid Rat tossed Vic from his rack and onto the floor. The intense pain that shot through his body forced his tired brain to activate. The smell of smoke hung in the air.
Vic rose to his hands and knees. The ship vibrated so badly he fell twice before being able to keep his balance. His entire body, down to the stem of his brain, ached. Just keeping his eyes open proved to be a struggle. But this was his ship and he was the captain. He needed to find out what was going on.
All other bunks were empty. He stepped in something on the floor and nearly slipped, but managed to keep his balance by putting his hand on the wall.
Walking along the passageway proved to be nearly impossible with all the vibration. His vision permanently blurred, Vic’s stomach leapt into his throat and he vomited. Again he collapsed to his knees. He could have been there a minute or an hour, he didn’t know.
A lurch of the ship bumped him into the wall. He sprang to his feet and began to make his way to the cockpit. Argmon needed help. Even if it was only moral support, Vic needed to be there with him. Pain be damned he would make it to the cockpit and sit in the captain’s seat until they landed back on Planchar. Nothing would move him from that chair this time.
By the time he neared the cockpit, he had to crawl; the vibration of the ship was so severe that he couldn’t remain standing. He fumbled his way into his chair and took several breaths before looking at Argmon.
Argmon’s face looked haggard. He’d been awake for what had it been? Two days now? Three? It didn’t matter, Argmon was not just a crew member, no one on the ship was just a crew member. They were his friends and he’d let them down. He needed to make things right.
“Argmon. Let’s stop.” Vic’s voice quavered with the vibration of the ship.
Argmon hadn’t moved. Vic placed his hand on the pilot’s shoulder. “Argmon?”
With the slightest gesture Argmon pointed to a small display. Vic looked at the shaky image. He noticed the blue and gold.
“They’re following us? Through two black holes?” Vic couldn’t believe it. Something so minor as to be considered petty theft to GCP Central Office, yet this Sheriff still pursued them. Never had any continued pursuit off planet and the few that had never left their own solar system. Never. The zealousness of this one couldn’t be explained by anything other than obsession.
“If we stop, they’ll catch us, won’t they?”
Argmon nodded slightly and chuffed.
“Either that or we’ll plummet into a black hole. So we’re stuck. We need to finish this course, or we’re done for.”
Again Argmon nodded.
Vic massaged his temples. Too far. This had gone way too far.
Tootsie responded with a deterring buzz.
“Is Tootsie tied up helping you pilot?” Vic asked.
Argmon nodded once.
“Is there anything I can do up here?” Argmon shook his head. Once.
“Okay, I need to check on the rest. I want to make sure everyone is strapped in. We’re almost beyond the second black hole and damn we’re moving fast. Once we’re around it, it’s a short jaunt around that neutron star and we’ll be coming in hot to Planchar. Unless I miss my guess, we’ll be there in an hour.”
Argmon didn’t respond. Vic didn’t know whether to be happy or dismayed by that.
Instead he got to his feet and set out to find the others.
The kitchen and captain’s quarters both sat empty. That didn’t surprise him. What did surprise him was the black ceiling. Smoke had billowed up and into the cockpit. A heavy fire had to have broken out, but from where? Vic followed the smoky trail, slowly, and held onto the wall to keep his footing.
The lounge also sat empty. He looked in each bunk and found those empty as well. On the floor, though, he saw what he’d stepped in.
“Joop-Nop? No! What happened to you? Who could have done this? Certainly not the vibration of the ship?”
Vic took the time to scoop up as much of Joop-Nop as he could and placed his remains into a trash bag. He gently placed the bag onto a rack and buckled it in.
Vic took a moment and tried to think of what could have happened. Joop-Nop couldn’t have just fallen apart because of the vibration of the ship. Something, or someone, must’ve torn him apart. But who?
He set out for the cargo bay. His answers had to lie there.
“God let June and Joey be safe.”
With everything else that’d gone wrong, he couldn’t bear the thought of something happening to one of them. He knew June to be tough, but he felt more responsibility for them being on the SS Acid Rat than the rest of the crew. The rest he’d offered to help and they accepted. June and Joey merely pushed a button on a machine his father built. They unwittingly found their way to this ship and it wasn’t fair for him to drag them around the galaxy. It just wasn’t and he intended to set things right as soon as they landed on…
Vic saw the charred top of the container. A huge fire had broken out indeed. Why hadn’t it been put out straight away? The computer from the Iron Butterfly had been efficient in putting them out, why had this one raged?
Unless someone disabled it? Who? Oh God! No! Could Mike somehow?
Vic looked down into the cargo bay. Joey leaned up against the fire-damaged container.
“Joey!” Vic yelled. The vibration of the ship was so loud that he knew Joey couldn’t hear him. Vic made his way slowly, painfully slowly, down the ladder. Three times he had to wrap his arms around the rungs to keep from being tossed to the floor.
He worked his way around the container to Joey.
“Kid! Wake up!”
The yellowish streak leading away from Joey didn’t look promising, but it couldn’t be blood, it had to be from Mike. Vic confirmed this thought by the broken arms laying in its wake as well as chunks of flesh that could only have come from Mike’s body.
Joey had a number of small cuts on his blackened face, but he looked alright. Vic laid Joey down and felt all over the boy’s body looking for any sign of broken bones or damp spots in his clothes that might indicate he bled.
Joey looked beat up, but nothing worse. His pulse remained steady.
“That’s one blessing, eh kid?”
Vic struggled to drag Joey and finally had to stop. The strain proved too much for Vic’s body. He’d have to find Dexter and June. He’d never be able to get Joey and himself buckled in before they arrived at Planchar.
A lurch knocked him down. He winced as he shoulder hit the floor.
Around the corner of the container Mike sat, his body broken. Yellow goo oozed from the remains of his body. Even though Mike had tried to kill him, Vic cried at the sight. Mike had been a good crewmember and friend. He’d been a little odd at times, but after a year with him, Vic felt his heart crushed by both his deception and his death.
“Why’d you have to turn out to be a bastard? Why!?”
Vic continued to work his way past Mike. Several times he stumbled. He laid on the floor and didn’t want to get up. He just wanted to stay there and die. Joey was okay, June had to be okay. It must’ve been her that put the fire out. Or Dexter. Either way, Joey would be alright. He might get a little banged up on re-entry, but he’d survive.
Hands rolled Vic over onto his back.
“Vic! Vic?” the voice sounded far away as if in a dream.
“Eep! Eep! Eep!”
“Take him to the weapons room. We need to get him buckled in. I’m going to see if Joey is alright.”
June! She was alright. June and Joey would be alright. As Dexter dragged him across the floor, Vic closed his eyes and smiled. They were going to be alright.
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