V&A Shipping 2: Hollow – Chapter 3
“Have the boys picked up our lost shipment yet?” June picked at something under her nails. She needed to take a shower.
Muffin beeped. “The boys aren’t the ones fetching the shipment. Argmon has redirected the ship. I’m performing calculations to ensure it will stay in orbit.”
“Didn’t you already do those calculations?”
“Of course I did. Victor failed to tell me that he wanted an alarm in case we lost it.”
Why were the navigation computers always so literal? The last one had nearly gotten them all killed trying to obey an order from Vic. Hopefully, Vic learned from that mistake. She didn’t want a repeat performance with Muffin.
“So how did we lose it in the first place? You were able to trace when we lost it. Why did we lose it?”
For the first time, Muffin started making clicking noises. Usually, it had an answer or just went silent. June didn’t like the sounds it made.
“June, what are you doing to Muffin? I thought we had all agreed not to give our new computer anything difficult to do.” Vic didn’t look happy. It probably had something to do with the few beers he’d had since he woke up. Not enough sleep combined with alcohol never did him any good.
“I think you just need to go back to bed. Things are under control.”
Joey wasn’t anywhere in sight, but she could feel him. He’d gone to the break room and his mind was filled with worry. Vic had done something stupid. Hopefully, it didn’t involve Dexter. Joey always had a way of getting hurt along with Vic whenever he’d pull one of his pranks on Dex.
“What did you do to Joey this time?”
“I just explained to him about the black hole drive. That’s all. Something in his mind snapped like having a black hole on board the ship was dangerous or something. Hey, what’s an Iron Maiden anyway?”
“You can be so stupid sometimes.” June started to get up, but Muffin finally came back with an answer.
“June, Victor, I tried to determine why we lost our shipment. I am unable to come up with a solution. All I can determine from the data I have available is it changed orbit and broke free. By all calculations, it shouldn’t have changed direction.”
“Well do we have it back yet?”
“Victor, it will be back in orbit around the ship in the next few minutes. Shall I notify you as soon as we have it?”
Vic finished off his beer and let out a loud belch. “Nah, I’m going back to bed. June, can you take over for Joey?”
“What about Argmon? He’s already here. I’m sure he doesn’t mind. Do you big boy?” June stroked Argmon’s arm.
“Fine, as long as someone is up here. I don’t think Joey is right in the head at the moment. I don’t know why, but I think he needs some time to digest the whole blackhole thing. Why is that so hard for him…”
Vic kept on talking as he walked away.
“Argmon, let me know if you need anything. I’m going to go take care of the two babies.”
The Shathar gave a little growl but didn’t look away from the controls.
“June, dear. We have the planet back in orbit. I just thought someone might want to know.”
“Thank you, Muffin. I’ll let you and Argmon get us back on course.”
June needed to go back and check on Joey. The best she could tell he’d gone into a state somewhat related to shock. He’d always been so accepting of everything around him, why would this one little thing suddenly make him worry so much. It wasn’t as if it had just appeared. It’d been there the whole time. He was smart and understood a lot of things, why would the propulsion system of a spaceship scare him so much? She’d just have to get in there and talk to him.
She liked the way the lounge had been upgraded. It still had much of the same furnishings as it did before, but now it was so much bigger. They weren’t cramped in with their knees bumping the small, central table and with nothing but Vic’s beer machine on one wall. Now they had a wide variety of refreshments to choose from. They didn’t even have to hang out in the galley to eat. They could cook there, and bring it to the lounge and just sit back and relax. They even had a floor-to-ceiling entertainment screen in case there was something they wanted to watch, though it seldom got turned on.
Joey sat in a chair and turned himself in circles. It was worse than she thought.
“Hey there. How are you?”
He didn’t answer. He didn’t even look up. He would just spin, slow down, spin again. Something drastic had to be done to get his attention. She walked across the room, put her boot on the chair to stop him, and gave him a good slap.
“What did you do that for?” He almost jumped up out of the chair, but she put her boot in his chest and pushed him back down.
“Are you thinking clearly now?”
He rubbed his cheek. “Yes.”
“What’s the problem here? It’s not like you haven’t seen strange new technology before. Why is the fact that the ship is powered by a black hole so disconcerting to you?”
“Why? Because black holes destroy everything. It doesn’t matter how big or how small they are, they exist for destroying. That’s why. We’re carrying around the source of our destruction. One small failure on my part as Ship’s Engineer and we’re all dead. How could Vic put that responsibility on me? What if I did something wrong or if I pushed the wrong button. We’d all be dead. In a fraction of a second, this ship would just disappear.”
“I think you’re overreacting just a little bit.”
“Overreacting? We’re all that’s left of Earth. The three of us are the only humans in the galaxy. If we die it’s all over. Then what?”
“No, really. You’re overreacting. There are so many safety precautions in place that you’d have to make about a hundred mistakes before anything bad could happen to this ship.”
“But we just lost a planet. Not that many things needed to go wrong for that.”
June shook her head. “Muffin is trying to figure out how we lost that planet. From all her calculations and monitoring of the situation, it shouldn’t have veered off like it did.”
Joey sat up and ran his hands through his hair. “But it did! And while I was supposed to be watching it. How can I take that knowledge and go back to the engineering room and know it’s not going to happen with the engine.”
Joey started to cry. June got up and hugged him. He was still having a hard time adjusting to being in space. Most of the time there wasn’t anything to do and even though he’d taken to studying the ship, he still didn’t know a lot about it. Perhaps it was just all the pressure of the situation. Maybe it was because he was still so young for everything he’d been through in such a short time, and for the most part, he’d held up well. It was just this one little thing he couldn’t get past.
She took a deep breath and pushed relaxation into Joey’s mind. With each breath, she could feel his anxiety flowing away. His crying stopped. His heartbeat returned to normal.
She kissed him on the head. “I know it’s still early, but I think we should get some breakfast.”
“June, I thought you would like to know that we’re back on course.”
“Thank you, Muffin. Please let Vic know.”
“He’s already asleep. I’ve administered a gas that will ease the effects of the alcohol he drank.”
June laughed. Muffin was good at doing things like that. Vic would probably be upset, but at least he wouldn’t wake up with a hangover.
The two made their way from the lounge to the galley. The galley was one of the only places that remained similar in construction. It still had the same benches with the long table down the middle. The food storage had been greatly improved and they had more means to cook food. Argmon still did a lot of the cooking, but June had started to get the cooking bug. She figured now would be a great time to cook some breakfast.
For the most part, they could find foods similar to what could be found on Earth. As long as June had spent in space it didn’t matter much anymore. As long there was food to eat, she was happy enough.
The hardest thing to do was to fight off the boredom and that was never a small task. Even though it was trying at times, she liked it when things went wrong. The last couple of shipments had been so routine that they were downright dull. She’d hoped they could take a few weeks off to regain their sanity, but Vic insisted they do one more run before taking some time off. It wasn’t like the supply of undeveloped planets from the star cluster was going to slow down any time soon. They couldn’t even get up to full speed with a planet in tow which meant it would take that much longer for the trip back.
“What do you feel like eating?” She asked.
“I don’t know.”
“Well, we’re fresh out of that so you’ll have to pick from what we do have.” June pulled in Joey and kissed him on the cheek. She’d hoped this would break him out of this weird funk because of the black hole issue.
He sighed. Seemed like that didn’t help very much.
“Fine, sit, and be quiet. I’m going to make some food.”
“I’d love to help!” A golden robot with bright-blue accents popped up from the corner of the galley and nearly scared June out of her skin. Joey let out a squeal as well.
“B.O.B! What are you doing hiding over there?”
B.O.B. stood for Binary Obedient Butler, but for June the robot was just a pain in the rear. If it heard you in the same room it would pop up like it just had and try to be helpful. More often than not that just ended in disaster. Vic and his hopeless causes.
“Ms. June, I only want to help. Vic said I should be earning my keep and if there’s anything I can do, anything at all, please just let me know and I’ll take care of it.”
Its friendly voice only grated on June’s nerves. More than once she’d tried to eject the thing out of the airlock, but Muffin wouldn’t allow opening the exterior doors to purge the robot off the ship. She didn’t know if they stuck together because they were both artificial life forms or if Muffin really would keep any crew member from being ejected into space.
Beyond just being annoying, June didn’t like that a presence was in the room and moved about the ship and she couldn’t keep track of it. She liked to be able to walk into any compartment on the ship and have a good idea of who was there and not be surprised. Even though this bothered Vic as he couldn’t surprise her, she liked knowing where everyone was.
“B.O.B. why don’t you go clean the lounge while I prepare some breakfast for Joey and me?”
“Absolutely Ms. June. I would love to do that for you. Is there anyone in there? Should I go right away? Will Vic be pleased if I do a good job? I think he will. I should take care of that straight away. Thank you ever so much for the suggestion. I know exactly where all the cleaning supplies are…”
“B.O.B! Go now or Vic will be most displeased!”
B.O.B. scurried out of the galley. Clangs and clatters came from the lounge and something crashed on the floor.
Muffin beeped. “B.O.B. stop whatever you’re doing! I will need to get the cleaner bots to clean that up now.”
“You could try being nice to him you know.” Joey’s muffled voice came from his head being wrapped in his arms and resting on the table.
“I don’t have to…”
Something banged loudly on the outside of the ship.