V&A Shipping 2: Hollow – Chapter 13
He threw his hat on the deck. “How could you have lost them? It’s not like you can’t tell where they’re going. And don’t tell me that a planet had some hiding spot for them.”
The officer quivered in terror just like he should. He should fear the wrath that was about to rain down upon him for making Sheriff Justice lose his quarry. “Sir, we tracked their ship as soon as it appeared. We saw it land on the planet in a crater. They’ve got to be down there.”
“Let me guess, we’re too big to fit in there.”
The officer held his hands over his head. “Yes.”
B.T. Justice slapped his riding crop on the console. “I don’t want excuses. I want answers! How are we going to go in after them?”
“Sir, they can’t go anywhere. We know where they went. It might just be a matter of waiting for them to come back out.”
“Son, as much as I’d like to sit here and wait for that rat to poke its head out of that hole so I can snap it off, I’m not going to do that. We need to go in after them!”
The officer at the console looked confused. “I don’t handle navigation.” He turned around and slouched over his console.
“Who’s in charge of navigation?” He didn’t care if his question sounded like a threat. He was going to catch the crew of the SS Acid Rat and he was going to do it today. Nothing would get in his way this time. Nothing. Not even if he had to force the ship down that tiny hole after them. He was going to pull them out of there.
“Sir, the ship is too big.”
“I didn’t ask for the dimensions of the ship, did I? I asked who’s in charge of navigation. We need to go in after them. They’re right there.” Sheriff Justice pointed at the screen. A large, red circle shrank and grew over the hole where the SS Acid Rat had disappeared. “Now who is in charge of getting us down there?”
“I’m in charge of navigation.” Finally someone intelligent.
“Son! Get us down on that planet. Right there. That hole. You see it, right. That’s where we need to be.”
The officer looked pale as he adjusted his glasses and swept his greasy, black hair out of his face. “Sir, we can’t go down there. The SS Acid Rat is a small, cargo vessel. Our ship is designed to capture ships of that size and even a little bit bigger. If we try to go down into that hole, we’ll run into any number of problems. We could get stuck. We could sink into the ground. You know that we don’t know anything about the surface of this planet. It’s a rogue that should be here.”
He hit the officer with his hat. “I didn’t ask for a lesson in planetology…”
“That’s not a real science.”
“I ordered you to move this ship into that hole so we could capture our prey. You heard him taunt me. You all heard that. He knows he’s breaking the law and he’s going to try to get away with it again.”
“We’re breaking the law by being outside the sphere of control of our parent star.”
Again Buford hit the officer with his hat. “Quit being a wise apple. Will anyone fly this ship down onto that planet? Junior! Get over here and order these men to do what I tell them.”
Didn’t these so-called officers understand the importance of capturing a criminal? There wasn’t time to just sit back and wait. They’d get away. They would sneak out of that hole and take off. He wasn’t about to allow that to happen.
“Daddy, sir. What’s wrong?”
“Junior, we’ve got them cornered, but your crew won’t do what I’m asking.” Sheriff Justice couldn’t believe he was about to ask his son to do something. “You need to explain to them the situation. I don’t know any of these people.”
“Well, most of them asked for transfers once we got home and you were arres…”
Justice clamped his hand over his son’s mouth. “Don’t you dare say another word about that in front of the crew. I just need you to get them to do what I’m telling them to do.”
Junior walked around his father and knelt to speak with each man. There were nods and smiles. He finished his conversations with the sandy-blond-haired officer and came back over.
“And? I don’t see us heading down into that hole. What’s going on? Why are we still up here?”
“I think the first thing we need to get you is a hamburger and a few minutes to calm down.”
“I do not need to calm down!”
Junior held up his hands. “Then Stan and I can take you on a smaller cruiser and we can go down there and look around.”
“Who’s Stan?” Justice didn’t like the thought of leaving the Apprehension. There was a lot to do here and men without their leader could run amok. He’d seen it before. The men needed a disciplined leader.
Junior motioned for the sandy-blond-haired office to join them. Daddy…sir. This is Stan Gumpshaw. He’s in charge of the smaller craft on board.”
“And you’re telling me that the only way I’m going to get down there and make sure my quarry hasn’t gotten away is to let this officer fly me down there?”
“I’ll come along too.” Junior shrugged.
He didn’t like being pushed off the bridge and that’s what this felt like. As if Junior was placating his old man to ease the minds of the rest of the crew. Their parents should have beat them a few times when they were kids and then maybe they’d listen to someone in a position of authority. As it was, they all just looked at him like he’d lost his mind. He didn’t need them. He didn’t need any of them. If the only way to capture the SS Acid Rat and its crew was to go down to the planet with Junior and this Stan fellow then so be it. He’d do just that.
Sheriff B.T. Justice put on his hat and turned. He had never been on one of the smaller ships, but he knew where they were kept. They were for the rest of the crew, not for the leaders.
“Can we take suits aboard with us so when we find the SS Acid Rat we can leave the smaller ship and go aboard?”
Stan said, “Yes, that’s possible, sir. If they have a large enough airlock, we can get the entire ship on board. It’s a small four-man shuttle.”
“And just how long will it take to get this little shuttle ready?” He emphasized shuttle to let them know how disappointed he was about this situation.
“It’s ready to go. I sent instructions down and the hangar crew will have it ready to go as soon as we’re down there.”
“Junior, I know I was away for some time.”
“When did you hire this monkey to do your talking for you?”
Both of them looked shocked.
Justice stopped, turned, and put his riding crop on Stan’s chest. “When I want an answer from you, I’ll ask you. Until then, I’d like you to shut your hole.” He moved the riding crop to Junior’s chest. “I’ll be talking to you and expecting you to answer. Am I being very clear on that?”
He patted Junior’s face. “Good boy.”
Stan got a dark stare. The boy had said too much already and Buford didn’t like it. If his son was supposed to be in charge of the Police Cruiser Apprehension, then Junior should be the one doing the talking. Not letting some wet-behind-the-ears rookie talk for him.
“Let’s go. We’ve got a rat to catch.”
“Daddy, sir, I think you’ll like the new mini-cruisers. The old ones were all blocky and clunky. These new ones look so much better.”
Justice stopped. “What was wrong with the old ones? You do know I was the one that picked out those models, right? Those were the latest models. Faster than anything else in our system. And you just let them go?”
“Well, while you were away, I did some…well, changes.” Junior and Stan exchanged a look and nodded at each other. “I think you’ll like them.”
All he could do was stare at his son. The boy had made a decision. Even if it went against everything he’d tried to put in the boy’s head over the years, he’d made a decision. These new mini-cruisers had damn well better be comfortable. The last thing he wanted to do was fly down to a planet in an uncomfortable little cruiser.
Entering the hangar, B.T. did not like the look of the new vehicles. He’d been used to the squarish ones he’d ordered. They made the place look full and they fit in just like stacking boxes. These new ones didn’t nearly fill the space like the old ones. They were rounded with sleek curves and looked more like something kids would be gallivanting around the galaxy in, not something a police officer would be chasing those criminals in. Even the big blocky lights had been replaced with a slim light bar.
B.T. Justice just shook his head.” Which one are we taking?”
“Over here.” Junior pointed to one cruiser that was slightly bigger than the rest. This brought a smile to the sheriff’s face. His boy had learned something after all.
Junior went to the driver’s side. It was his ship, his new vehicles, why not let the boy fly down to the planet. Stan went around the back of the car while Justice went to the passenger’s side. As he got to the door and reached for the handle, his hand met Stan’s as they both reached for the door handle to the front.
“I beg your pardon, where do you think you’re going?”
“Well, sir, I was going to ride up front.” Stan looked surprised as if this had been a foregone conclusion.
“Is your name on this door? Does it say ‘Stan sits here’? Do you outrank me?”
“Well then sit your little hiney in the back seat.”
Again Stan and Junior exchanged a look. Junior tilted his head to indicate that Stan should sit in the back. B.T. Justice tried not to notice Stan’s indignant sigh.
“Junior,” the sheriff said as he sat in the car, sliding down into the plush seat, and putting his hat into his lap with his riding crop. “You need to have better command of your crew. You can’t just let them walk all over you like that. Do you understand? How would it look if you were on the bridge and something like this happened? Everyone would think you were a candy-ass, push-over. Now, do you want that, son?”
“Sir in front of other crew members. How many times…”
Junior fired up the engine. This caused B.T.’s eyebrows to rise. He’d expected something silent but this had a rumble of power. He tried to keep his smile to himself. The vehicle raised. Junior radioed for the lock to be opened and they flew out into space.
It had been at least fifteen years since B.T. Justice had flown in such a small vehicle. He felt like a young officer again. The way the stars rolled along in front of the cruiser as they banked around the Apprehension and toward the rogue planet. He could feel his heart race with excitement. A laugh almost escaped his mouth.
“Let’s go get ’em, Junior.”
“We’re going to get them this time, sir.”
Stan cheered from the back seat.