[READING] [V & A Shipping] Chapter 85 & Epilogue
The six months on Planchar, waiting for the Acid Rat to be fully repaired, gave Joey time to really become one with the team. He and Vic spent a great deal of time flying the Iron Butterfly. June even taught Joey how to fly it.
Joey flew it the day they all went back to Earth. He and June stood on the scorched Earth waiting for the rest to disembark.
He and June had spent a great deal of time together. During the move off their base from Munchkada to Planchar, at the request of Chancellor Pitrine, the two of them had grown closer. Much closer. He put his arm around her shoulders and she slid her arm around his waist.
He would have smiled, as her touch always made his smile, but the complete emptiness of the streets unnerved him. Nothing moved. Not even the air. Everything had a red haze in the hot, stale air. The sun burned far brighter than it should have and if it weren’t for the special sunglasses June had gotten him, he was certain he’d be blind.
Vic exited the Acid Rat first. He no longer wore his black pants, black boots, black vest with his white shirt. He now wore white pants with a red shirt.
Argmon, next off the ship, had healed. He refused to have any prosthetics to replace his missing arms. He looked lopped-sided with two arms on his right side.
Finally Dexter waddled off the ship. They’d probably all be dead if it hadn’t been for Dex. The suspicion Joey felt for the tri-ped had dissipated over the past six months and they’d had quite a number of their own little adventures.
Behind the three of them, a large cart carrying two coffins exited the ship.
“Where are we?” Joey asked.
Vic put his arm around Joey’s shoulder and pulled him away from June. “Kid, if you’d been on Earth, you wouldn’t have lived to see this place. This is San Diego in the future as you would have known it. I came back here and didn’t find anything to explain what happened on the planet when the sun went mini-nova. I don’t think I’d want to. It’s bad enough to just look at it and know that everyone is gone. It’s just you, June, and me, kid.
“I tell you what, I don’t feel as bad as I thought I would. I thought it would be hard coming back for the third time, but I think knowing that I’m not alone anymore, or even alone with June, I feel somehow better about it. You know what I mean?”
Joey guessed he knew, but seeing everything intact and no people, he didn’t like it. He felt sick looking at it.
“Kid, don’t dwell on it. Let’s get going.”
Vic led the way down the street.
“Where are we going?” June asked.
“Well,” Vic said as he turned around and started to walk backward. “I’ve got to bury my dad.”
“Who’s in the other coffin?” Joey asked.
“I figured since none of us knew where Joop-Nop came from, I’d bury him here as well. He didn’t do much on the ship, but he didn’t deserve what he got.”
Vic turned back around and kept walking. Joey sidled along side of him and matched his step. Vic held his head high as he walked. Joey did likewise.
They came up on an ancient cemetery. The headstones all bore marks of age, but because no more air moved, they had to have eroded long ago. They were ancient even before the sun went mini-nova. That put things into perspective.
Vic made his way through the headstones unerringly and stopped in front of a small, flat headstone and bowed his head. June pulled Joey back.
“Give him a minute.”
“That’s his mom’s grave. I guess he’s going to bury his dad here too.”
“Yup,” Vic said, raising his head. “They were meant to be together. Even if dad lost it in the end.”
Vic turned and picked up a shovel off the cart. Joey looked at Vic’s clean clothes.
“You’re not thinking of digging a hole, are you?”
“Oh hell no.”
Vic placed the shovel in the ground and gave it a turn. A section of dirt moved aside as easily as opening a door. He then pulled a control from his belt and pressed a button. One coffin rose off the platform and with the control, he guided the coffin into the hole, turned the shovel, and the matter was over.
“Quite impressive,” Joey said.
June hit him. Vic knelt down and pressed his closed fist to his head. He could have stayed there for a long time. Joey looked about the cemetery. Maybe his parents were buried here as well. Maybe he could find their grave site.
“Don’t,” said June. Almost all of these graves…”
“I’ve got to look.”
“Okay, if you’ve got to look, there’s a directory inside the office. That’s how Vic found his mom.”
Joey didn’t even wait for June to stop talking before he sprinted to the office. The glass had been smashed out, presumably by Vic. The map on the wall had faded in many areas and the writing, tiny writing, was barely legible. None of the plots were in any kind of order. So many graves. So many dead people. How could anyone…
“Provoski,” he muttered to himself. “Joey Provoski…Senior.”
Tears welled up in his eyes. The next plot he saw Alice Provoski. The writing had nearly faded away, but he could see their names. He had to see their grave. He just had to.
He ran from the office. He barely noticed June, Dexter, and Argmon sitting on the cart with the second coffin. He ran through the cemetery. Their plot sat at the far end. He ran the entire way. By the time he arrived in front of two crumbled head stones, he had to gasp for breath. The hot air made it extremely difficult to breath.
Please have lived a long life. Please. Please.
He looked first at his mom’s. The writing on the stone was all but worn away. 1966-2056. She’d lived to be ninety. Ninety years old. At the base of the stone only partial words could be made out. Joey’s imagination filled in the blanks. “I will never forget my baby boy, Joey.”
He wiped the tears away with his sleeve.
On his father’s it read “I go now, to be with my boy, for I’m sure he has gone ahead of us.” And the date, Joey had to read it twice. 1963-2097. he’d lived to be one hundred-thirty-four. Joey sat looking at the dates, amazed his dad hung on so long and right up until the end he thought about…
Joey crumbled to the ground and cried. If only he could have been there. Somehow the finality of his parents being dead brought the reality of what he’d gone through to heart. He could have easily continued living in ignorance, but he had to know. He had to see for himself. That didn’t make it easy. He pounded the ground with his fist.
He could have been there five minutes, or five hours. The sun hadn’t moved in the sky, and his friends waited, patiently. All four waited for Joey to return on his own. The second coffin was no longer on the cart.
June hugged him as soon as he returned and Vic slapped him on the shoulder.
“That’s as tough as it gets. Trust me on that one.”
And Joey did. He trusted Vic. He would trust Vic with his life for as long as they both lived.
Vic smiled and adjusted his sunglasses. “Should we go see who needs something shipped?”
B.T. Justice scratched at the wall with a rock he’d procured from the yards. Yards where big rocks were made into small rocks. Yards where he had to toil in the sun for hours a day and he’d lost nearly all of the paunch he’d once carried around. If nothing else, the six months he’d spent on the prison planet, Brakthanian, had gotten him into the best shape he’d been in since attending the academy.
He wanted out. He needed out. He needed a hamburger. None of that would happen though, and he knew it. Today, just like every other day, he’d go out to the yard and hear the warden shouting over the P.A. system “All you criminals need to think about why you’re here toiling under the hot sun making big rocks into little rocks.”
The pain of sore muscles he’d gotten used to. The annoying and constant prattle of the warden he hadn’t. He doubted he ever would.
Only one thing kept him going: getting out. Getting out of the prison and tracking down Vic and Argmon of the SS Acid Rat. The crew that had eluded him and defamed him and gotten him thrown into prison. It was their heads he saw each time he brought him hammer to bear on a rock. It was their skin he scratched, not the wall, to mark off the days he’d served.
The six months were nearly up. Soon, very soon, he’d be out. He wouldn’t be a Sheriff anymore, but that didn’t matter. Only one thing mattered. He had to find the SS Acid Rat. He had to put an end to them.
“Buford T. Justice! Get up. Time to go to work.”
Justice eyed the guard. He stashed the rock back under his mattress and rolled out of bed. The guard led him to the yard.
The sun hadn’t crested over the peak of Lifesaver Mountain, the name given to the mountain because it saved the prisoners from the first three hours of direct sunlight. They’d work a couple hours more before lunch, then sweat away the afternoon under the blazing sun. If it hadn’t been for that mountain, many a man would have died.
B.T. Justice looked up at the peak of the mountain. A ship, a large blue and gold ship, crested the mountain and descended down toward the prison. A blue and gold ship that Justice recognized as the Apprehension. A smile crossed his lips.
“Junior,” he said under his breath. “Bring me a hamburger.”
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