[READING] [V & A Shipping] Chapter 77 & 78
Vic’s mind raced. What to do first? Check the ship? Check on Argmon? Get out and make sure the delivery is done.
“June, help me out.” Vic struggled with his seat belt. He had to get out. Panic overtook him being strapped in with so many things to do. He’d never felt so helpless.
Once June had freed him from the seat, he sprang up, as much of a spring as he could manage that is, and climbed the ladder and made his way to the cockpit. The canisters had toppled backwards and rested against the rear of the cargo hold.
Still no response. Vic passed the bunk room and lounge and started to climb the ladder to head to the cockpit, but stopped when he felt a breeze on his face and the stench of pollution assaulted his nose.
He came to the realization to what that meant quickly. “No!”
Climbing to the top of the ladder, Vic could see outside, the entire front end of the ship missing. Only the ragged fragments of metal showed where it had been torn free.
Gone. They were both gone. His first friend he’d met in space, the one he’d traveled the stars with and shared many adventures with. Gone. Argmon, in order to save the lives of the rest of the crew had remained in the pilot’s seat until the end. The ship could be repaired. They had money enough to repair the ship, but Argmon…
Vic’s lower lip trembled.
“Vic?” June called up. “Vic why can I see daylight? What’s happening?”
Vic didn’t answer. He climbed back down and looked at her, the look of confused shock on her face. Joey stood behind her and placed a hand on her shoulder.
“No. It can’t be. It just can’t be.”
She shook off Joey’s hand and bolted for the ladder. Vic caught her and hugged her. She beat on him, fighting to be free, but stopped and sobbed into Vic’s chest. Vic placed his head into her shoulder and cried.
“It’s not fair,” June wailed. “It’s just not fair. Damn you! Damn you and your stupid business!” She pushed him away violently. “To hell with you and everything you’re about!”
June turned and pushed Joey out of her way.
Vic looked at Joey. Vic wanted to say something, but the lump in his throat prevented him from doing so. He patted Joey on the shoulder and they slowly followed June.
It’s over. It’s really finally over. Vic thought. He had June and Joey and Dexter and if they really wanted to, they could certainly try again, but to what end? The Acid Rat, Argmon, Joop-Nop, Tootsie, Mike, even SPX-39. All gone. All based on a whim, a dare, a bet. Only four of them would walk off this ship. No amount of money was worth this.
Vic wiped his face before he walked down the exit ramp, followed by Joey and Dexter. June had already left and ran into the city. She had a tracking device that he’d be able to use later to find her, if it came to that. For now, though, she needed time to be alone.
A crowd gathered around the Acid Rat and fire craft extinguished the flames both on the ship and in the town. Argmon had brought the ship down on a long street and they’d nearly made it to the landing pad they had started this bet from. It felt like a million years ago.
No cheers greeted them on this arrival and no delegation came out to congratulate them. People just gawked and stared. What else could they do?
“Make way. Make way!” someone shouted.
The person happened to be Almo and his small companion. Vic didn’t even know if they’d made it back on time and frankly didn’t even care.
Almo’s face spoke of anger. Vic put his thumbs in the pockets of his pants and waited.
“It’s not possible! It’s just not possible. No one could make that run in less than twenty four hours. I refuse to accept it. You cheated somehow.”
Before Vic could respond, another man broke through the crowd. Chancellor Verbiddi pushed his way to stand next to Almo. “What is the meaning of this? There’s a mile of destruction here. Who’s responsible for this?”
Almo pointed at Vic. “It’s his fault.”
Verbiddi’s shocked expression spoke volumes. “Is this true? Please tell me you didn’t do this.”
Vic shrugged. “I’m afraid it’s true. My ship crashed. I went to Raado to pick up a shipment for Almo here and he said he needed it within twenty four hours. I did my best to comply.”
“Twenty four hours to Raado? No one could make a trip there and back in such a short time.”
Joey spoke up, “We used the gravity of a couple of black holes to speed us up.”
Almo and Verbiddi exchanged gaping looks of disbelief. Almo stomped up the ramp and looked into the ship. After several seconds of staring into the ship he spun around.
“The containers are damaged, I’m not paying.”
Verbiddi shook his head. “Are you saying that you did send them for this delivery?”
“So based on your unrealistic expectations, they tried to deliver and upon their return they destroyed part of the city as well as their ship?”
“It would appear so,” Almo said, cocking his head back and narrowing his eyes suspiciously at Chancellor Verbiddi.
The Chancellor rubbed his chin and looked from Vic, to Joey, to Dexter, to the ship, and finally at Almo. “Based on what I’ve been told, Almo Petrino, and I know your shady dealings despite your monetary contribution for the shipment of tonindrium, you are the one responsible for the damage suffered to the city. Therefore not only are you going to pay for this shipment that Vic has delivered, you are also going to pay for the repairs of his ship. Furthermore, you will also be paying for the repairs of the city and a hefty fine. I don’t know what you were thinking when you made this deal, but your irresponsibility caused all this to happen and you shall make proper restitution.”
“But…but…but,” Almo floundered for words.
“I suggest, Almo, that you leave my sight before I decide to include a lengthy jail sentence on top of what you’ll be paying.”
Almo tried to say something, but only squeaks and jabbering spewed from his mouth. Finally the little one, Paul Petrino, started pushing Almo off the ramp.
“Let’s get out of here. Let’s get out of here,” the little one kept saying.
Once they had left, Chancellor Verbiddi turned to Vic. “Vic, I am sincerely sorry for what has happened to your ship. I hope that is the extent of your losses.”
“I’m afraid we lost more than that.” Vic looked at the ground. “I think V&A Shipping is going to close up shop. Even if Almo pays for repairs, I don’t think the SS Acid Rat will be doing any more business.”
“I’m truly saddened to hear that. You have done so much good. In fact, in the twenty four hours you’ve been gone, the load of tonindrium you brought has been put to use clearing our air. With all the joy you have brought us, I would hope that you would reconsider. I’m sure someone somewhere in the galaxy could use your services.”
Vic smiled. “I’m sure you’re right, Chancellor. But after a trip like the one we just did, the expense has gotten too high. Far too high.”
“I understand. I shall make sure that proper compensation is made by Almo. You are welcome to stay on Planchar for as long as you and your crew wish. Every convenience will be made available to you.”
“Thank you.” Vic shook Verbiddi’s hand the Chancellor walked off into the crowd.
“So, kid, what should we do now?”
Joey stared wide-eyed out into the city. “I hadn’t gotten a good look at it before. This city is huge.”
Vic chuckled and slapped Joey on the back. “Kid, you ain’t seen the half of it.”
Screams and barking from the crowd caused Vic to look. People moved out of the way and one head rose above all others with long arms, four of them, covered in yellow fur urging people to move faster.
“Argmon!” Vic yelled and ran down the ramp to greet his friend.
June pressed her face into her hands. She wanted to cry. She wanted to scream. She wanted to hit something, or someone. The maelstrom of emotions inside her battled and raged and made her ache.
Why Vic? Why did you have to be such an ass. Why did you have to take that stupid bet? Why did I have to push that stupid button that got me here? Why did Mike have to be a murderer? Why did Joop-Nop and Argmon have to die? Why? Why? Why?
She sat in an alley, on a strange planet, in a strange, polluted city, behind strange smelling garbage, and felt her sanity slipping. This all had to be a strange dream. Just a big dream. She would wake up any minute and be fifteen once again and lying in her bed back home. Any minute. Any minute. All she had to do was escape this dream.
The tears on her face told her that wouldn’t happen. This wasn’t a dream and she would never go home again. She’d been there with Vic and that was the reality she needed to face. Here people would die. Stupid decisions could be made and bad things were bound to happen. She just needed to distance herself from the stupid decisions maker.
But that meant she would distance herself from Vic and Joey. The only other two surviving people from Earth. No matter how much she wanted to be free of them, she also needed them. Like a child with a security blanket, she needed them. A tie back to her home world. Something she could touch and feel to let her know that even though the Earth as she knew it lay destroyed, a small part of it remained.
June beat her fists on the side of her head. She wanted to hit something. She had to hit something. Nothing made sense, yet it all made perfect sense. If she returned to the ship, she had to make sure Vic knew exactly how she felt. He wouldn’t be the one making choices for everyone and putting lives in danger because of stupid decisions. Everyone on the crew would have the same voice. Everyone.
Taking a deep breath and closing her eyes, June steeled herself to go back and face the devastation of the Acid Rat. She stood, and walked out of the alley.
Sitting back in the alley, she had heard the noise, but hadn’t identified it as being voices. People, thousands of them, had sprung up out of nowhere and now surrounded the ship. She’d just run into the first alley she’d seen and the way had been clear. Now she needed to push and fight her way back to the ship. Their heads in her way made it difficult to see anything, but she guided herself by the ship and pushed her way toward its hulking wreckage.
When finally, after being pushed, prodded, elbowed, and stepped on more times than she could count, she emerged at the ramp of the Acid Rat.
Vic instantly saw her and shouted something. Over the din of the crowd she couldn’t make out anything, but his smiling face and his arm around…
She ran up the ramp and wrapped her arms around the big beast. He reciprocated by picking her up and hugging her with all four of his arms. He smelled of smoke and singed hair, but he lived. He had somehow lived.
Argmon put her down where she could hear Vic talking a thousand miles a minute. “…and I never knew the ship had an ejection pod. Apparently once the ship suffers so much damage, the pod ejects automatically keeping whoever is in the cockpit alive. Argmon is alive! Isn’t that great?”
June smiled, laughed, cried, and hugged Argmon again. He had survived the crash. All five of them had.
All of them exchanged hugs. Joey she hugged the longest. Something about holding him made her feel warm inside. Something about his innocence led her to believe that everything could still be alright.
When she’d gotten her emotions back under control she leaned in to talk to Vic. “We need to talk.”
He smiled and nodded. His smile shone differently and not just because his moustache had been burned mostly off. She could sense a turmoil of emotions from Vic. Emotions that mirrored her own confused jumble. She smiled back. They would talk. Later. Much later.
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