V&A Shipping 2: Hollow – Chapter 11
If it weren’t for the pain in his side, Vic would be loving this right now. Although he dreaded the thought of getting caught, not just by B.T. Justice, but by anyone, the thrill of the chase excited him. It had been almost a year since their last big chase. Sure, that ended about as bad as it could, but they’d avoided capture. That’s really what this whole game of cat and mouse was all about. If they had time to do some fancy maneuvering he could easily outrun the Sheriff. There wasn’t time. Everything had gone cold. Now they needed a place to hide.
“Muffin, are you broadcasting?”
“Of course, Victor. That is part of my function, after all.”
“How much rock would it take to block your signal?” Vic had an idea.
“Victor, I don’t think I like what you’re proposing.”
“I haven’t proposed anything yet. How much?”
Muffin beeped a couple of times. “Not very much. Why?”
Vic had looked at the planet’s surface when they’d picked it up. After a day of orbiting and making sure everything was in place, he’d gotten a good look. It was just like any other planet; pock-marked with craters and some of those craters were pretty deep. At least looking at them in the light of the brown star the planet orbited they looked deep. He hoped they’d be able to find a good hole to tuck themselves into. Starlight was good enough for navigation, but they’d have to rely on a simplistic radar system to navigate the planet’s surface.
Vic winced as he sat in the cockpit. “We need to find that planet and fast. Have you gotten it up yet?”
Argmon chuffed, barked, and gave a little snarl.
“I don’t care if the systems just came back online. We need to find that planet. Bring up the gravity location system and let’s find it. It shouldn’t be too far behind us. We couldn’t have drifted that far.”
Again the Shathar snarled.
He didn’t have time to argue. They needed to get out of the way. Now that Muffin was back up he wasn’t about to just sit and wait for the police to pick them up. “So just fly that way! We need to move. The Police Cruiser Apprehension will be on us if we just sit and wait for all systems to be ready.”
With a spaceship like the Acid Rat, they had a small black hole on board. When you looked at a ship like the Apprehension there had to be something far larger than what was on the Acid Rat. That ship not only had a lot more power, but they could almost swallow up a small cargo ship. If they didn’t have the engines charged enough for a jump to hyperspace, they’d never escape its clutches.
“Muffin, can you help Argmon find that planet? Tell me when all systems are finally up.”
“I’m working on bringing everything up, Victor. There are a lot of systems on this ship.”
“Leave anything non-critical offline for now. We need to get powered up, find that planet, and get hidden.”
“In that order?”
“Yes, in that order. No, wait. First get us moving back to where we were when we lost power, then do those other things.”
“Victor, you make everything so complicated.”
Vic started to yell, but it felt like someone punched him in the side and he lost his breath. Stars danced in front of his eyes and he thought he might blackout for a moment. No sense in saying anything. Better to just sit back and let his chair relax him. If possible he had to stay calm. He was still injured. If he got all worked up, it might make things worse.
“Vic, you look white. Are you alright?” June put her hand on his face.
“I’m fine.” Vic tried to swat her hand away.
“He didn’t drink his beer. I think that’s a bad sign.” The kid just needed to shut up. He didn’t know what he was talking about. Vic had let a beer go unconsumed before, hadn’t he?
“Eep. Eep. Eep.”
“Look, I don’t need to take that from you either.”
“Vic, you’re pale, you can barely move. I think you’ve got some internal bleeding. Did the medical pod finish with you?”
“It beeped. It must’ve been done with me. Let’s just get this ship hidden first, then we’ll deal with my condition.”
If he passed out, they’d take him to the medical pod. As it was, he wanted just a few more moments to enjoy the getaway. Argmon steered the ship around while Muffin performed the search for the planet’s gravity signature. The voice of Sheriff Buford T. Justice hadn’t assaulted their ears again so he must not be actively looking or just hadn’t seen them yet. They needed to make it closer to the planet and either get behind it or hidden beneath its surface. The Apprehension might be able to take on a ship, but Vic doubted they’d be able to tow a planet. They weren’t designed for towing. The Acid Rat was designed for heavy cargo. Two different ships for two completely different purposes.
“Coordinates for the planet plotted, Victor.”
“Good job, Muffin. Argmon, get us to the surface and find us a place to hide.”
Argmon snorted. He’d find them a place alright. Vic knew his partner.
It took a couple of minutes, but the planet finally started filling the view ahead of the ship. In this light, it was difficult to tell where those craters they’d seen before were now located.
“Everyone keep your eyes peeled. We need to find a place to land and be covered.” Vic put his hand to his chest. He hadn’t had heartburn this bad since eating his mother’s enchiladas as a kid. His breath came in short gasps. He didn’t care. He was going to see this through to the end.
“Vic, you’re sweating.” Again June put her hand on Vic’s face and again he pawed at her hand to make her move away.
“It doesn’t matter. We’ve got to get this ship hidden. Just leave me alone. We’ll take care of me once we’ve taken care of the ship.”
The planet grew closer and once it filled their field of view, he could make out the craters. Some were large, some were small, but all had a distinctive cone in the middle.
“Joey, why do the craters look like that?”
“Um, well there are two possible reasons. One would be those impacts are from when the planet was newly forming and the crust very thin. The impact would cause that peak in the middle.”
That made sense. “Okay, and the other reason?”
“It’s kind of stupid.” Joey shrugged.
“Kid, we’ve got a minute, maybe two. What’s the other possibility?”
“Well, some people suggested that planets, like Earth, were hollow and the peak in the middle of a crater like that was because of the hollow interior pushing back out.”
“You’re right, that’s stupid. We’ve seen the miners tearing rocks like this apart. Hollow planet. There!” Vic finally saw what he was looking for. A crater that had a bottom that appeared to fall away. There had to be a cave down there. They could get inside and be well hidden in just a couple of minutes. B.T. Justice would get bored. Vic would get into the medical pod and get better. Then they would all be on their way. It was a perfect plan. Hiding inside their cargo. Who’d expect that?
“S.S. Acid Rat. This is Sheriff Buford T. Justice. Now that our little game of cat and mouse is coming to an end, you will shut down your engines. You will stop where you are. I will be boarding your vessel.”
The general com went silent.
“I’m afraid I can’t do that.” Vic laughed. “Muffin, send that message.”
“Message sent, Victor. Was that wise to taunt the local authorities?”
“He can’t stay out here chasing us forever. Just like last time, the GCP Galactic Patrol will send him packing with his tail between his legs.” Vic gripped his chest. It was so hard to breathe. Like someone had put a huge weight on his chest. “In there. Put us down right in there.”
Argmon guided the ship down into the hole. Vic had been in space for a long time. He’d been in darkness before. He had fully expected to disappear into the hole and all light to disappear. That he’d been prepared for. What he wasn’t prepared for was after Argmon landed the ship at the bottom of the hole.
“We’re down, Victor. What should I do now? Would you like me to power down some systems to just the critical systems available?”
“No, Muffin. Let’s just sit for a little while and see what happens. We’ve got time.”
“Yes,” June said as she pulled on Vic’s arm. “We’ve got time to get you to the medical pod. Let’s go, you look terrible.”
And he felt terrible. Now he could feel the cold sweat on his head and his back. He felt cold all over. It was as if someone had shoved him into the deep cold of space. June pulling on his arm hurt. Not just a little bit, but like she was trying to pull his arm off. He tried to pull away, but that hurt even more.
“Just a second. Let me catch my breath. We just landed.” Vic clutched his chest.
Joey put his arms around Vic’s chest from behind and pull him up. “Let’s go. You’ve got another date with the medical pod.”
“Can I get a beer first, it’s pretty boring in that place.”
“Ha ha ha. Very funny. I think I’ll start calling you Victor when you act like that.”
“Don’t make me compare you to Muffin, June. She’ll start to get angry.”
Vic lost control of his legs and he started to fall. Joey did his best to keep them both upright and Dexter assisted. He shouldn’t have waited to go, but he had to make sure the ship got to the ground safely. They were below ground and now they would be able to stay hidden from the Apprehension long enough that Sheriff Justice would turn tail and go home. After a good rest, they’d send out some probes to look for any ships and then be on their way. It was so simple.
The ground shook. It had to be the ground because the ship had never shaken that badly. He tried to fight Joey so he could go back to the cockpit, but his body didn’t want to cooperate.
“Vic, you need to worry less about what’s happening and let us get you to the medical pod.”
Had he been fighting them? He hadn’t even felt his body move when he thought he was fighting them. All he could tell was his body was quivering and shaking like he’d started to have a seizure or something. He couldn’t talk any more. Why couldn’t he talk? He needed to tell them he was alright. He needed to know why the ship was shaking. The ground they’d landed on must not be safe. If they got buried they’d never be able to get out.
They dragged him down the ladder and put him inside the medical pod. He didn’t want to be inside of it. He needed to be helping them. He needed to show them how to get out of this situation. He’d been on unstable ground before. They needed to move the ship, even just a little bit. Then they’d need to get suits out, go outside and make sure there were no native animals trying to eat the ship. There was so much to do and if he was inside the medical pod he couldn’t help with any of it.
The clear lid of the pod closed, but Vic had a hard time focusing on it. What had happened to him? Everything was just fine a few minutes ago. He’d already been inside the medical pod. It should have fixed him up just fine. When Joey had lost his hand, it had helped keep the kid safe until he got his new hand. Why hadn’t it worked on him?
Violent tremors shook the ship. June and Joey grabbed each other. She kissed Joey on the cheek. She was always kissing Joey. Sometimes Vic was even glad the two had each other, but who did he have? What did it matter anymore? He was about to die and the ship was about to be covered over in a landslide. They were all going to die and there wasn’t anything he could do about it. He couldn’t scream, he couldn’t cry, he couldn’t say goodbye.
“Administering anesthesia,” a mechanical voice said.
He was going to die, but this stupid machine was going to do whatever it could to save him. Stupid, stupid machine. Just let him die. As his vision faded, the world turned sideways.