V&A Shipping 2: Hollow – chapter 12
June grabbed Joey tightly, but she’d grabbed his arms. He wasn’t holding her, he was trying to get free from her so as they fell he wouldn’t get hurt. For just a second she let go of him, then grabbed him around the waist. The ship shook and shimmied and finally came to rest. For a moment she thought for sure when she opened her eyes they’d be sitting on the ceiling. Alive, but upside down.
She pulled on Joey, but even though she’d freed his arms, he still hit his head. Leave him there or drag him along?
“Muffin, can you put a stasis on Joey so he doesn’t move around in case the ship shakes like that again?”
“I doubt the ship will shake like that ever again, but I will put a field around him.”
“Eep. Eep. Eep.”
“I know Dexter. Let’s go see what happened.”
The two made their way back up the ladder and to the cockpit. June was not prepared for what she saw. Even Argmon, someone born among the stars, sat in silence. She had trouble putting together what she saw. Joey would likely have an easy explanation, but she could barely grasp this. Perhaps she’d spent too much time on the ship and not enough time looking around at all the things the galaxy had to offer.
She could make out a bright light like a tiny star off in the distance. Vehicles of varying size orbited the star, but the majority of traffic moved around them. Directly in front of them, a small, dirty, green ship with orange, flashing light appeared to be on the same course. None of that struck her as odd. What she had trouble with was the way they seemed to be looking at a roof over their heads. Almost as if they were flying upside down and looking down on an endless city. The light from the star wasn’t very bright, but it allowed her to follow the ground until she was again looking at the start.
“Yes, June. The hole we landed on didn’t appear to be stable. At first, I thought we were sinking. I fired the thrusters to try and escape, but we were pulled down. I’m sorry if anything got broken during that time.”
“Wait a minute. Are you telling me that this city, these people, this civilization, is all on the inside of the planet we were towing?”
“It would appear so.”
It wasn’t possible. It just wasn’t possible. How could they have been towing around an alien civilization and not know about it? There hadn’t been any communication. No attempted contact. Not even an attack on their ship. Maybe when the planet had broken free, these people knew what was going on and tried to break free, but why hadn’t they just signaled? It didn’t make any sense.
They flew over a section where the buildings were smaller and covered with grassland. A large lake loomed in the distance near a tall building different from the others. Most of the buildings were square or rectangular with tiny ships coming and going. Ahead of them was a building with a large dome and pillars holding up that dome. Also, several towers around a rectangular pond extending in front of the building. The building a brilliant white that stood out in contrast to the dull grays and browns of everything else. Even the water looked a dark gray color and not crystal blue like she’d expect. If not for the waves she wouldn’t even be sure it was water.
Except for looking at the star in the middle of it all, in every direction she looked along the curve of the planet was a grid of plots, some had buildings, some had farmland, others had lakes, but nothing in a logical pattern. As things got further away it became more and more difficult to make anything out. June leaned forward to get a better look to try to take it all in. She’d never dreamed of anything like this.
The ship in front of them dipped down toward the building and the Acid Rat followed.
“Argmon! Stop following the ship. We need to get out of here.”
The Shathar held up his hands to show he wasn’t steering the ship.
“Eep. Eep. Eep.”
“June, Argmon isn’t steering the ship. It would appear that the ship in front of us has activated some sort of beam that is pulling us along behind it. I could activate the engines and try to escape from it if you like.”
That didn’t seem like a good idea. If it didn’t work to escape from them getting pulled inside a planet, then what good would it do now that they were already here?
“Let’s just see what happens.”
“You have got to be kidding me?” Joey’s voice nearly scared her out of her skin. Where had he come from?
“June, Joey started to feel better so he asked to be released from his stasis.”
“Next time give a girl a little warning.”
She had been so focused on what was going on outside the ship that she hadn’t felt Joey come up from behind her. She didn’t like that feeling. It was better when she knew what was going on. She didn’t like surprises.
“So we’re inside the planet? I didn’t think that was possible. This looks like a Dyson sphere, but that can’t be a star. It’s too small. It’s like a miniature Dyson Sphere. Is that a real thing?”
“I don’t even know what a Dyson Sphere is, but you’re looking at whatever this is. Look at all the buildings. They go on forever and I’m sure they’re huge, but they look so small. Look over there!”
A series of buildings towered over the landscape just beyond the white building the small ship towed them toward. It looked like a super-sized downtown. June had been to planets with large cities before, but this was the first time she’d been to anything like this. She didn’t have words to explain it all. It seemed that Joey could probably figure this out, and that gnawed at her a little bit. She could feel his excitement over the discovery of the inside of this planet. She just felt overwhelmed.
June got up from the seat and allowed Joey to sit down. She sat on his lap. If he could feel excited, perhaps physical contact could help her feel a little less overwhelmed and a little more excited. They all rode in silence as the little ship towed them into the large, white building. After seeing what looked like a massive room with countless buildings and so many ships flying around, the hangar they landed in felt constricting.
The tow ship landed in the center of the hangar. Ships of similar make, but differing sizes lined the sides of the hangar. Each ship looking like a lumpy mass with a glass dome on top. It was impossible to tell which end was the front or the rear or the side for that matter. Short, squat guards with dark yellow skin stood waiting for them to land. They wore nothing but pointed green helmets and held long spears.
“What happens now?” Joey asked.
June had no idea what to expect. There had been no communication, no warnings, nothing. She hoped they would say something to let them know what they wanted, but even as the ship landed, Muffin remained silent.
“Muffin, what’s going on outside?” June asked.
“We’ve landed. No one is moving toward the ship. The vehicle that towed us here is leaving.”
Outside the ship’s flashing lights turned off and the vehicle disappeared.
“I guess we go outside and see what they want. Muffin, what’s the air like?”
Muffin beeped. “The air appears to pose no threat to anyone on this ship. It’s a little heavier than you might prefer, but should pose no threat.”
“Do we need our suits?” June got up from Joey’s lap and tickled his arm so he’d get up.
Again Muffin beeped. “From my calculations and my awareness of your physical needs, no, you will not need suits. The air is quite clean of contaminants.”
Joey cocked his head to the side. He looked so cute when he was about to ask a curious question. “By clean of contaminants, do you mean there’s no pollution?”
“The air is quite pure.”
June hooked her hand in Joey’s arm. “Should we go out and see what they want?”
“I don’t think we have much of a choice. They looked short. I hope we don’t scare them.”
“I hope Argmon doesn’t scare them. Dexter will probably feel right at home though.”
“Eep. Eep. Eep!”
“What about Vic?”
B.O.B. poked his head out of the lounge. “I will keep an eye on Vic. Please don’t make me go out there. I was watching from the ship’s cameras and I don’t think I want to go out there. Hopefully when they do a sweep of the ship they won’t notice that Vic and I are still on board.”
“What do you mean when? Have you seen them with scanning equipment?” Other than the ships, June hadn’t seen any other devices outside. If B.O.B. had been tied into the ship’s cameras, then he could have seen things she would have missed. Perhaps little bells should have gone off in her head warning her that something was wrong, but she just couldn’t see it.
“Perhaps I shouldn’t have said anything. They’re out there. They’ve moved closer to the ship. You might want to get out there.” B.O.B. came out of the lounge and disappeared down the stairs to the crew’s quarters.
“I guess we don’t have anything else to do but go see what they want.” June had hoped that one of them would go first, but Argmon, Dexter, and even Joey all just stood and looked at her. She didn’t know if she should be angry or disappointed. She took the first steps and the other three followed.
She stood at the airlock and prepared the ramp. “Muffin, is it safe to lower the ramp?”
“All clear, June.”
She turned the knobs and opened the airlock doors. A breeze hit them all. June and Joey nearly fell while Argmon just steadied himself and Dexter crouched as if getting ready to spring to attack. None of them had weapons or suits. She wondered if they should have something to protect themselves. She wished she’d put on her suit. The large, round helmet would give her a better ability to see what was happening around them through the ship’s cameras.
“We don’t have our communicators. Don’t let them split us up!”
Something so simple. Vic wouldn’t have forgotten. Somehow he always kept his cool in a situation and always followed the rules he’d established for running the ship. June had just forgotten the most basic thing. If they got split up, anything could happen to them. At least Vic was safe on the ship. He might wake up and try to figure out what had happened to them, but he was safe for now.
There was only one thing left to do. Walk down the ramp and try not to scare the natives. They could do this. June, again, took the first step down the ramp. She almost turned to run back up the ramp.
The short, squat guards with their little, green, pointy helmets, cute spears, and dark yellow skin weren’t so short and squat. They were, in fact, twice as tall as Argmon and the diameter of a sizable tree. The spears came down and one with a small star on his chest shouted at them.
“You are to come with us for crimes against the people,” it said.
This wasn’t going to go nearly as well as she’d hoped. Not by a long shot.