Category Archives: V&A Shipping
Nearly six months turning big rocks into little rocks. A year of rehabilitation after his incarceration. Finally, after all that time, he was back on the Police Cruiser Apprehension. Albeit under supervision from an officer with an untarnished reputation, but he was back. The sound of his boots clacking on the metal deck was music to his ears. Only one thing was missing, what could that be?
How easily it had been to convince those fools back on Bamda to allow him to ride under the supervision of his son. Did they think he would be on a ship with anyone else? And the GCP Central Office didn’t need to know about the little arrangement. As long as they kept to their system, nothing could go wrong. He would have his position back after another twelve months of probation and everything would be right in the universe once more.
“Boy, how many times do I have to tell you? Don’t call me that. We’re not at a family picnic, are we? Do you see any potato salad anywhere? Blankets? Picnic tables?”
“Then you call me sir! Or you call me Sheriff Justice. You do not call me ‘daddy’. We’re on board an official police vehicle. I know it’s been a while son, but you’ll remember quickly enough.” To emphasize his point, B.T. Justice slapped his riding crop on the side of his freshly pressed uniform.
“Better. Next time just try not to ask like you’re confused as to why you’re even in my presence in the first place, alright?”
B.T. sighed. “Okay? Okay? Didn’t I raise you better than that, boy?”
“I have a little task for you. Do you think you can handle it?”
Finally, Junior stood up tall and looked like he was ready. “I can handle it. What can I do?”
“Junior, bring me a hamburger.”
The boy’s eyes looked up, then looked down, the gears were turning, and finally, his eyes lit up. “Yes, sir!”
“That’s a good boy.”
It impressed Sheriff Justice that his son had been able to take over on the Apprehension. It couldn’t possibly be that the kid had done something outstanding. It had to be the boy’s lineage. The Justice line went back seven generations in the Bamda system and would carry on far into the future. It made him proud that his line would continue. He just needed to find a bride for his idiot son. The boy surely couldn’t find a woman on his own. After their two-week stint around the solar system, he would take some time off with the boy. He deserved at least that.
“No, just wait here. I’ll be back.”
“Junior, who are you talking to?”
“Nobody, sir. Here’s your drink.”
An officer B.T. Justice didn’t recognize stayed in the passageway, a young officer with sandy-blond hair, a small chin, and a scowl on his face. Junior closed the door and handed a glass with clear liquid to B.T.
After a long swig, Justice swirled his finger around the glass. “I think I might need another one of these. And some time alone. I need to plan a little vacation for us. How’s that sound?”
“I…well…if I have some time off, maybe we can do that.”
“I’ve been gone for how long? Now I want to spend a little time with my boy and you’re not sure if you’ll have time off? Do I mean so little to you?” Sheriff Justice poked Junior in the chest. “Maybe you’re getting a little too big for your britches. Remember where you came from, boy. Just go make some calls to make sure you can have a week or two to spend with your old man. I’ll make some calls and set us up on a nice vacation on the Corola Shores.”
Bamda had many fine vacation spots. The Corola Shores was where B.T. had met his wife. Junior might not be so lucky, but at least it’d be a start. All work and no play would make Junior a dull boy.
“I’ll work on that. I’d better get back. I have duties to attend to.” Junior backed toward the door and left the room.
Even though he wasn’t officially the captain of the ship, he’d been given his old quarters. Junior hadn’t felt right in taking his father’s room. Everything was just as he’d left it. Perhaps now was a good time to take a bath. There was ample time and Junior had things under control for the moment.
He sat on the edge of the bed and started to take off his boots. Just as he was about to take off his socks, an alarm went off.
“Junior! What’s happening?”
The intercom crackled and Junior’s voice yelled, “Brace for impact. Collision highly possible.”
“Collision? With what? We’re in the middle of our system.” Justice started to put his boots back on.
“Junior, I want a report. What’s going on? A comet? Stray asteroid?” Without bothering to tie his boots, Sheriff Justice strode out of the room, grabbing his hat and riding crop off the table next to the door as he exited the room.
“Another ship towing something.”
B.T. Justice stomped onto the bridge. He half expected soldiers to sit up and take notice, but he needed to keep in mind that he wasn’t officially in charge. Under his current station, he was just another officer on the ship. He put his hat on his head and walked over to stand behind Junior.
“Did you say a ship towing something? It couldn’t have been moving that fast through our system. Why didn’t we notice it sooner?”
The officer with the sandy-blond hair that had been with Junior pointed at the screen. “They were jumping in spurts. They only made small jumps. It appears they’ve got a planetoid orbiting their ship. That’s what almost hit us.”
“Any idea what could possibly be traveling through our system? No one should be going through our system like that without proper approval.”
“Well, officer Justice, I’m trying to get the ship’s call sign. I should have it in a few moments.”
“Junior, did you hail the ship? Try to get them to stop?”
“Daddy, sir, there wasn’t time. I barely had time to make the announcement.”
Good enough excuse. “So why are you still standing here? Do I need to do it myself?”
“I’m on it.” Junior ran across the bridge to the communication station.
“Do you have that call sign yet? Are we in pursuit? Is anyone doing anything?”
“I’ve got the ship’s identification. Looks like it was the SS Acid Rat.”
Justice dropped his riding crop. “Tell me you didn’t just say that.”
“Looks like it, sir. Their ship has taken some minor damage. Perhaps that threw them off course.”
Junior came back over from the communication station. “There’s no response. I think they might be in trouble. We should…”
“We should catch them and arrest them. That’s what we should do.” Justice pushed past his son. “Set in a course to intercept. Follow that ship! Apprehend them!”
A couple of officers jumped, a few just looked at him blankly.
“Did I stutter? Let’s go.”
“Don’t you call me that while we’re on the bridge.”
“Sir, they’ve already left our system, we can’t go after them.”
“Don’t tell me what we can and what we can’t do. They broke the law. They almost crashed into an official police vehicle. We will take pursuit and we will arrest them. Junior, contact the home planet that we’re going to…”
He needed to play this one right. He was still under probation. If he took pursuit again, he might never be allowed to wear a badge again. If he were to provide the ship with assistance, that was a different story.
“Junior, contact the home planet. We’re going to help the ship.” Justice pointed at the communication officer. “You, contact that ship, let them know we’re en route to help them. Do not tell them who we are no matter how many times they may ask. Junior, contact GCP and let them know we’re leaving our system to assist a ship in distress. Let them know what ship we’re in pursuit of and that we do not need any assistance. We will handle it.”
Justice walked away from everyone and toward the monitor. He looked out at the stars in front of the ship. A second chance. That’s what he’d been given. Finally, he’d be able to extract justice on the crew of the SS Acid Rat. He would not have this opportunity taken away from him. It took long enough, but finally, the ship made a turn, and the stars blurred.
“Here I come.”
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With Dexter’s jump and Vic being hit by something, that left only Joey secured to the hull of the ship. The tether keeping them all attached had been cut. The object, about the size of a basketball, had hit between Joey and Vic and broken the tether before hitting Vic and knocking him off the ship. Dexter had tried to jump at the last minute and deflect the object but had only succeeded in spinning Joey around. He felt dizzy. He felt sick. He’d only done a couple of spacewalks and the loss of direction made his head swim.
“June, Vic is floating away, what do I do?”
“What do you mean floating away? I thought the three of you were tethered together.”
“We are. We were. Well, whatever hit Vic must have snapped the tether. How do I go get him?”
A hologram of June appeared in his helmet. “Joey, pay attention. This is very important. Don’t lose sight of Vic. You’ll lose him quickly in the stars. Do you still see him?”
“Yeah, he’s not moving very fast. Sort of spinning a little bit.”
“Are you still tethered to Dexter?”
“Release the tether.”
“Eep! Eep! Eep!”
“It’s alright, Dex. Joey needs to do this. You be ready to catch the two of them on the way back.”
“Wait a minute, catch us?” Joey asked as he untied the tether.
“Joey! Keep an eye on Vic. Don’t look away. This is very important. I should have been out there. Anyway, lift your right arm and point at him, and put your left arm straight out in front of you. Got it?”
Joey looked at his arms. He followed his right and he was still pointing at Vic. The suit had a way of holding your position even when you relaxed. It made him feel comfortable knowing he could stay in this position as long as he needed to.
June’s hologram flickered. “Now I want you to look at your left arm. Are all the lights green?”
One of the lights blinked from green to yellow back to green.
“One of them should have just blinked.”
“Okay, you had me scared there for a minute. What happened?”
“I took control of your suit. Well, partial control. I’m going to fly you out to Vic and you’re going to catch him. Look down your right arm and make sure you can still see him.”
“I’ve got him. Now you’re going to do what?”
The ship dropped away. Not slowly, but fast. He thought he might lose his balance or veer away from pointing at Vic, but Vic came up fast.
“What do I do?”
Joey lashed out and grabbed for Vic, but missed. The tether trailing out behind him had come close and he managed to grab the end to make a loop that caught Vic’s arm. The two started spinning away from the ship. He fought with the tether as he pulled Vic in and finally grabbed onto him.
“June, I think I’ve got him.”
“Don’t think right now, Joey. Do you have him or not?” The hologram of June kept looking down and back up. “Joey!”
The stars spun around. Joey closed his eyes. “What happens if I get sick in my suit?”
“Joey! Listen. Do you have Vic? You need to secure your suit to his. Pull the black plug on your right shoulder and connect it to the matching plug on Vic’s suit.”
“But I’m on the back of him. How can I…”
“Don’t think about it.”
He started to reach for his shoulder but their rotation caused them to separate. He pulled Vic back in harder. He tried twice more and the same thing happened.
“I can’t do it.”
“You need to get this done.”
She wasn’t helping. Her yelling was making him stress out. The stars spinning by were making him sick. He tried to keep an eye on Vic. He needed to get them connected. He got a better grip with his right arm tucked under Vic’s right arm and reached for the plug with his left hand. This time they stayed together. A long cable came out with the plug. With his right hand, he tried to get a hold of the plug on Vic’s suit. It took a couple of tries, but he pulled Vic’s plug free and connected them.
“I think I’ve got it.”
“What did I tell you about thinking?”
Joey looked at the connected ends. “I’m connected!”
After a brief sensation of being pushed sideways, Joey assumed that he and Vic were moving back toward the ship. He was holding on tightly to Vic and didn’t dare look around. What if they didn’t make it back into the ship? Would that be so bad? They’d run out of oxygen, but at least they’d know how long they had. Onboard the ship with a black hole for a power source there was no telling when things would go wrong or how badly they’d go wrong.
He needed to stop thinking about that. Right now nothing was more important than getting back on board the ship. To safety. Joey hadn’t looked inside of Vic’s facemask so he didn’t even know if Vic was alive or dead. The impact of that rock that hit him, or asteroid, or comet or whatever it was had knocked him for a loop. Literally. The hard suit should have taken the brunt of the blow, but now Joey needed to make sure Vic got inside.
Something started pulling in short jerks. He tried to turn around, but could only see the edge of the ship getting closer.
“Dexter, pull harder. You need to get them inside the ship.”
“Eep. Eep. Eep.”
When had the hologram disappeared? Looking out into the stars and being pulled toward a spaceship, Joey wondered once again what would happen if he suddenly got sick. Did the suit account for that? Would it clean itself?
Dexter’s face looked in at his. Joey lowered his feet down onto the ship’s dura-plasti hull and they stuck instantly. He was safe. Now he and Dexter needed to get Vic to safety.
They tethered together and pulled Vic along with them. Joey never liked the sensation of stepping over the edge. He felt like he was going to start falling, but Dexter was moving with a purpose and it was all he could do just to keep up. As soon as they were back in the airlock, the outer door slammed closed and the inner door opened up. B.O.B. stood there tapping his robotic fingers together looking like a nervous Nancy.
“I was watching the whole time. Muffin has hooked me up to the video cameras. I couldn’t see the hull, but I could see the three of you and I was so worried when that pod hit Vic and knocked him off the surface of the ship. I thought for sure he would be flung off into space and we’d never be able to get him back again. Please, please, please tell me that you’re not going back out there for a long time.”
Joey popped off his helmet. “We’re not, now help me get Vic’s suit off. We need to get him into the medical pod.”
“Certainly. Right away. Let me just prepare the right tool.” B.O.B.’s hand retracted and a bright, blue flame shot out the end of his hand.
“No! Wrong tool.”
“So sorry, is this one better?” A whirling blade replaced the flame.
“B.O.B. just use your hands. We can undo the suit and open it up. We don’t want to do any more damage getting him out. Understand? Slow and careful.”
“I understand. Shall I hold him? Or perhaps I should be the one to…”
“Stand back, B.O.B. I’ll take over.” June allowed the bot to slide out of the way and helped Joey get Vic out of his suit. “You boys couldn’t wait a few more minutes for Muffin to finish her calculations. You had to go rushing out into space to look at the outside of the ship. I knew something like this was going to happen.”
“Less scolding, more helping?”
June was mad and she had every right to be, but right now they needed to get Vic out of his suit and into the medical pod. None of them could see what might be wrong with Vic, but the medical pod could not only check him out but keep him safe until he either healed or they got to a port to get him the medical attention he needed. Joey tried to shake off his suit’s gloves but wasn’t successful. It was almost impossible to help Vic out of his suit.
Dexter appeared at their side, already out of his suit, and put his three arms to work helping Vic. Joey sat on the floor next to B.O.B. as June and Dexter half-carried, half-dragged Vic away.
“I guess we weren’t much help, were we?” Joey asked, not wanting an answer.
“Should I go and offer my assistance? It seems that I was only getting in the way, but if you think there is something I can do for Vic I will gladly go and do that. What do you think?”
“I think you did enough already. Why don’t you just take a break?” Joey laid back on the deck as B.O.B. went in circles for a few minutes before finally tucking himself into a corner of the cargo bay.
They had been a little hasty about going out to inspect the ship. For a few minutes, it’d gotten Joey’s mind off the black hole the ship carried around. He just couldn’t wrap his mind around how something like that could power a ship safely. It defied all logic. Black holes weren’t safe, they were dangerous. They destroyed life, not aided it. Even if it was a microscopic black hole, it could obliterate the ship. And if it was large enough to capture a planet, even a small planet, and control the orbit of the planet, that meant it had to be a sizable black hole and not something insignificant.
He needed to just go to sleep and maybe when he woke up he’d be thinking clearer about the situation. Vic would be better, they’d be closer to the delivery point. Everything would be alright. That’s all. He just needed a nap. First, he’d have to try to get himself out of his suit. Getting in had been easy enough, but it was always an easier task when you had a little help. He tried to sit up, but that didn’t work. He tried rolling to his side. That also didn’t work. The suits were designed for work in zero-G, not for lying about on the deck of the ship.
Should he call for help?
No, everyone was busy or incapacitated. Everyone except for B.O.B. Joey groaned.
“Hey, B.O.B., can you give a guy a hand?” Even as he asked, he knew they were words he would regret.
“What the hell was that?”
All he wanted to do was get a little more sleep. It was like having a party of ten-year-olds. All the banging and crashing and he’d only been asleep for a few minutes. He knew Muffin had given him something to keep him from getting a hangover because it always gave him a worse headache if it hadn’t taken full effect.
“Victor, B.O.B. was trying to clean the lounge. I’ve told him numerous times not to do that. He broke the glass on the beer dispenser. I’m afraid we’ll have to figure out how to keep your beer at the proper temperature.”
“Fine, so B.O.B. is doing his best. What else is banging around? That last one didn’t sound like it came from the lounge.”
Vic liked B.O.B. The robot tried so hard and was just so darned polite. Besides, they needed an artificial life form on board. It was almost an unwritten rule. SPX-39 had been scared of its own shadow, but still did some things they needed from time to time. B.O.B. was the same even if it proved to be the clumsiest bot in the galaxy. At least it was mostly harmless.
“The last impact was on the outside of the ship toward the aft section.”
“Okay, and what hit us?”
“I’m calculating that, Victor. Once I know I will let you know.”
Vic fought his way off his water bed, the best improvement he could have possibly asked for on this ship, and up the ladder to the navigation level. The new crew quarters that gave each person their own room was much bigger and a whole level down from the navigation, galley, and lounge. Sure it was a little more difficult if you had to get from your bed to the storage area, but everyone having their own room made life so much better on the ship.
After getting to the top of the ladder, he saw B.O.B. standing in the passageway between the galley and the lounge. “I’m so sorry, Mr. Vic. I was just trying to clean as quickly as I could and, well, you know how I get nervous sometimes when I’m in a hurry and trying to do a good job and my arms just go all wonky on me…”
Vic put a hand on the robot’s shoulder. “I understand B.O.B. Now please try to relax and just go sit down. We’ll figure everything out.”
B.O.B. started to say something, but Vic held up a hand and pointed to the lounge. The bot lowered its head and sulked into the lounge. It didn’t sit, it didn’t turn around, it didn’t even move once it had found a spot to stand. It was like scolding a child when all it wanted to do was help you do the dishes.
“June, Joey, where are you two?”
“We’re in here.”
Vic followed June’s voice into the galley. Joey still looked scared, or tired, but at least he wasn’t catatonic anymore. June stood with her hands on the table leaning down as if she were talking to Joey.
“Any idea what hit us?” Vic asked as he sat across from Joey.
“We’re still waiting for Muffin to tell us what happened.”
“It’s probably that black hole engine we’ve got. It’s sucking in debris from the planet we’re towing.”
June smacked Joey on the back of the head. “Stop that. I told you already we have that under control.”
Joey crossed his arms on the table and put his head down. “Fine.”
“Vic, why did you have to show him the drive while we’re out in the middle of space?”
“How was I supposed to know the kid was going to freak out? I mean he’s been all googly-eyed at everything else he’s seen since he got here. I thought he’d be all excited to see it. It’s not like I’ve been able to spend much time showing him things while we’re in port. The two of you keep taking off and usually take Dexter with you.”
“What, now you feel like Joey and I are abandoning you?”
This wasn’t the time or place for a discussion like this. Vic rubbed his head. Hopefully, this headache would go away soon. Why did Muffin need to keep spritzing him with that stuff?
“Okay, look. We’ll all have a nice sit-down soon enough. But right now we need to figure out what hit the ship and if there’s anything else that’s going to hit the ship. I’d like to make this delivery and have the ship still in one piece.”
Something banged loudly on the hull. The dampers on the ship kept them from feeling the vibration, but Vic could swear he felt the ship lurch sideways a little bit.
“Muffin! What’s going on?”
“I’m trying to calculate the trajectory of the objects coming in, Victor. Please be patient.”
“We don’t have time for patience. Is there any damage to the exterior?”
Muffin beeped. “To check the damage to the hull, I’ll need to spend less time calculating the trajectory of what hit us and take time to investigate the exterior of the ship. I’m already spending time talking to you which is taking away from my calculations. What would you like to do, Victor?”
What he wouldn’t do to have Tootsie back. At least that one knew how to take an order. This replacement only served to aggravate him. It was as if June had programmed it.
“Eep. Eep. Eep.”
“We’re trying to figure that out, Dexter.” June sat down next to Joey and bumped him so the kid sat up.
“Dexter, suit up. We need to go look at the outside of the ship. Muffin is busy trying to figure out what hit us and where it’s coming from. I’m not going to have anything happen to this ship while we’re out in the middle of nowhere.”
“Eep. Eep. Eep.”
“Joey, you up for a spacewalk? Maybe the fresh air will do you some good.” Vic thought the joke would go over well.
June glared at Vic. The joke hadn’t gone over well with her.
“Sure. Let’s go.” Joey looked pale and on the verge of being sick, but he was the first one to leave the room.
“Seriously? You’re going to take him on a spacewalk in this condition?”
“Hey, look. He needs to do something to get his mind off whatever his problem is with the black hole drive. This is just the thing he needs. Let’s go Dex.”
“I was about to make breakfast. At least you can wait until Muffin has analyzed whatever hit us.”
Another boom echoed throughout the ship. “We don’t have time and she’s busy enough as it is.”
“I thought we had other sensors to monitor what’s happening on the outside of the ship. Why don’t we just turn on the cameras and watch?”
“That sounds like a lovely idea, but we can get out there with blasters and shoot away whatever is hitting the ship. Whatever is hitting us, it’s too big for the standard deflectors to fend off. We need to get out there, do a little walking around, check the damage, and hopefully figure out what’s going on. We’ll be alright. Just cool your little head.”
Vic decided to leave the room before June’s glare burned a hole through his skull. It wasn’t like they’d be in that much danger anyway. The ship was pretty big and anything hitting the ship would likely miss them. Even if they did get hit by something, the hard suits would protect them. They just needed to make sure to stay tied off so they didn’t drift away. June worried too much. Maybe that’s what had gotten Joey all worked up over the black hole drive.
Dexter, Joey, and B.O.B. were all in the weapons locker. Dexter and Joey were getting suited up. B.O.B. appeared to be helping them, but Vic had told the bot to stay in the lounge.
“What’s going on?”
“Eep. Eep. Eep.”
“Not you, Dex. B.O.B., what are you doing down here? We’re about to take a walk on the hull. You need to stay inside. I thought you were going to stay in the lounge.”
“Vic, please let me go with you. I’m sure I can be of help and if anything goes wrong, well, I don’t need air. I’ve got magnetic feet so I won’t fly away. I just want to be there to help you. I’ve got great eyesight and it’s easy for me to see anything that’s moving. You can count on me to stay out of your way unless you need me…”
“Thank you, but please stay inside. I don’t know what’s going on out there yet, and we just need to assess the damage. Muffin is busy, so the three of us are going to go out there. Do you think you can stay by the airlock in case we need emergency help once we come back?”
“Oh! Certainly, I can do that, Vic. I’ll go get the medical kit and I’ll wait right next to the airlock waiting…” B.O.B. kept on talking as it exited the room in search of the medical kit that Vic doubted they would need.
“Are you two almost ready?” Vic asked as he started putting his suit on. He hadn’t worn the hard suit in a long time. June and Dexter were in charge of making sure the gear was always in ready condition so there was no doubt in his mind it would be safe.
“What is it we’re going to be doing out there?”
“Kid, I thought you were listening. We need to go out and check the hull for damage. If there was a hull breach, we’d be hearing all kinds of alarms, but I want to know what we’re dealing with so we’re going to go out and take a quick look around.”
“Eep. Eep. Eep.” Dexter’s eyes blinked out of unison as he cocked his head to the side.
“Yes, you can take the lead.”
They finished donning their suits and made their way to the airlock. B.O.B.’s mouth grill glowed showing he was talking and Vic just nodded as the airlock door opened. B.O.B. continued to talk even after the airlock door had been closed. Vic waved and smiled.
“June, can you hear me?”
“Got you, Vic. You guys be careful out there.”
“Let me know if you hear anything else hit the hull.”
“Hey, kid! Look up there.”
Joey turned around and followed Vic’s hand. The planet blocked out the stars allowing them to see its progress. Vic watched Joey and the kid smiled.
“Looks like fresh air was just what the doctor ordered, eh?” That got a laugh out of the kid.
It didn’t take long to get to the top of the SS Acid Rat and check out the top. The first spot they came across looked as if whatever hit them had deflected off nicely. No major damage.
“June, can you see a visual? This one doesn’t look too bad. If you grab my coordinates you can check to see if there’s any interior damage we’re not seeing from this point.”
“I’m checking, just hold that position for a minute.”
“Vic!” Joey pointed at something. Vic looked, but at first, couldn’t make out just what it was. Stars blinked on and off. Was this thing moving toward them?
“What is that?”
“Eep. Eep. Eep!” Dexter hopped, but the tether attached to Joey pulled the tri-ped to a stop. Why would Dexter be trying to…
“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.
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The beer tasted so good as Vic finished off the last bit left in his can. He stopped by the break room to grab another. Vic had asked Joey on many occasions if the beer on Earth had ever gotten any better, but apparently, the drinking age had changed and Joey wasn’t even old enough to drink.
“You sure you don’t want to grab something kid?”
Not only had the break room been completely remodeled and provided them more space to spread out and relax as a crew, but it had also been fully stocked with part of the shipment that had been intended for Almo Petrino. Almo had good taste when it came to beer. Too bad it was illegal in some parts of the galaxy.
Joey got himself a soft beverage. Someday Vic would get the kid to graduate to something stronger. If Joey wanted to avoid the good stuff, he wasn’t going to push him.
“So I’ve done some reading on the SS Acid Rat’s propulsion system, but nothing I’m reading makes any sense.”
“It’s not like your Star Trek engine kid. Those things were close to magic.”
“Actually, on subsequent versions of the show, they explained pretty well how a warp core worked with the matter and anti-matter streams…”
“Kid, I’m sure those things were well-thought-out and someone thought they would provide a lot of power. Tell me a little about what you read about this ship. This one works. The ones on TV were just that, spaceships on TV.”
Joey had done a good job learning as much as he had about the ship, but he had some big shoes to fill. Mike had been a great engineer on the ship even though in the end he’d become psychotic. Vic blamed all that on his father, not on Mike. Heck, it had been Joey that saved the crew from Mike. The kid was smart and had proved himself in a fight. What else could you ask for in a crew member?
“So what you’re saying is I should just throw all those ideas out?” Joey took a drink from his beverage. It smelled like some kind of juice.
Vic took a long swig off his beer to give him a minute to figure out how to answer that. “No, I’m not saying throw everything out. Just don’t take it as gospel. A lot of what is in those shows is based on science. What I’m saying is that you’re looking at a technology that no one back on Earth ever dreamed of.”
“That much I’ve noticed. I’m still not even sure what powers the ship.”
“Really? After a year and you haven’t even gotten that far?”
Joey shrugged. “I mean, I’ve read a lot about the systems on the ship. Things I was able to understand and piece together, but the propulsion is something way beyond me. I don’t even know where to start.”
“I’m glad you said that. Let’s see if we can educate you.”
The two took the ladder down to the storage area of the ship. This was one of the only parts of the ship that hadn’t been changed. The top of the ship, the living quarters, had been destroyed in the crash. This part of the ship had remained mostly intact. Vic often wondered why Verbiddi had decided to repair the ship rather than just scrap it and buy them a new one. Not that it mattered. Vic might have likely fought to keep the SS Acid Rat flying. It was the first ship he’d flown into space and he hoped it would be the only one.
As they made their way across the storage area, only a few crates locked down in the middle and the Iron Butterfly off in the far corner, Vic knew he had to go mess with Dexter. The tri-ped was the only one that slept down in the hangar. Sometimes the little guy would sleep standing up. It was times like that Vic would play a little joke on the fellow.
“Hey, one sec. We need to have us a little fun first.”
“Vic, my arm is still sore from the last time.”
“You just need to hold on tighter. That’s all. Come on, this’ll be fun. Trust me.”
“That’s what got me into trouble the last time. I couldn’t move my arm for a week.”
It had been funny seeing Dexter hop around with Joey in tow. The kid had let go at the wrong moment and fell about fifteen feet. The dislocated shoulder had been easy to put back, but Joey took a while to heal. That was almost two weeks ago. Surely the kid could handle another go. Vic put his arm around Joey’s shoulder and pulled him toward the weapons locker.
It was more of a weapons room. They each had gear in there, but only Dexter and June ever suited up. Joey had tried once to help with keeping a shipment secured. That hadn’t ended well and the scar on Joey’s wrist was a testament to how poorly it had gone. At least he hadn’t been as stubborn about getting an artificial hand to replace it, unlike Argmon.
When they got to the open doorway, Vic could see Dexter standing in the corner. “Maybe if we belt you to him this time…’
“No! You go mess with him. I’ll wait over here. Dexter already hates me enough as it is.” Vic set his beer down next to the weapons room doorway.
“He doesn’t hate you, kid. He likes this little game we play.”
“How do you know that if June is the only one that can talk to him?”
“I just know. If you don’t want in on this, then just wait over there. Better yet, grab that cargo net and hold it over the doorway. This will be so funny.”
Even though the kid complained, he set his drink down next to Vic’s, got the cargo net, and stood next to the doorway. Vic reached inside and turned the lights off. Dexter was a strong sleeper on trips like this. Something in his body just shut down until he needed to wake up. Vic had made sure that Dexter woke up on more than on occasion.
He nodded to Joey. The kid shrugged.
“Muffin, Fire Drill! In the weapons room!” This was how Vic had gotten Muffin to help with his plan.
There was a pause. “No Victor, there isn’t a fire in the weapons room.”
“Muffin, now! Fire Drill!”
Again a pause. “Victor, I do not detect a fire in the weapons room. The last time I didn’t detect a fire in the weapons room.”
“I can see it.” She was starting to get on his nerves. Why wouldn’t she just release a stream of water like she’d done the last time?
“I have no visual detection of a fire either.” Muffin beeped.
This wasn’t going to work. All he wanted to do was give Dexter a little wake-up shower and watch him bounce around a little bit. There was something funny and beautiful the way Dexter bounced all over like that. June said that Dexter didn’t like getting wet, but it was just too funny not to pull this joke on him again. If everything worked out right, Joey would toss the cargo net over the little tri-ped and they could ride him as he ran around the room. It wasn’t like they were hurting the little guy or anything like that. Why is everyone trying to ruin my good time?
June’s voice came over the intercom. “I told you to leave him alone. You’re going to make him angry one of these days and then you’ll be sorry you messed with him.”
Vic leaned down, picked up the drinks. Joey had put the cargo net away. They continued their way to the engineering room.
“Well, that went over like a lead balloon.” Vic drained his beer.
“Don’t you mean a lead zeppelin?”
“What? Like the band? They went over great. Maybe it went over like an Iron Butterfly.”
“That also went over well.” Joey sipped his drink. “Maybe it went over like an Iron Maiden?”
Joey was always saying things like this as if Vic would get the reference. “Let me guess, that’s another band from what, the nineties?”
“Actually, Iron Maiden was still pretty popular after I left. I think they got their start sometime in the eighties. Maybe June knows. I only listened to a little of their stuff.”
“Well, we’re not changing the name of the Iron Butterfly to the Iron Maiden. Butterflies can, well, fly.”
“I wasn’t suggesting that we change the name. I was… whatever. Never mind. Let’s check out the engine. How do you plan to use it to make sure we don’t lose the planet again? Do we have a tractor beam or something?”
“A tractor what? No? We’ll just use the ship’s power source. You don’t have a clue, do you?”
“No, not really.”
The kid looked as if he were about to explode, like a kid on Christmas morning waiting to open his presents. Hopefully, he wouldn’t be disappointed. Vic didn’t think the kid would be disappointed.
“So you understand that the planet we’re about to recapture is orbiting the ship, right?”
The kid nodded. “I’ve got that much down, I just don’t understand how or why. I thought maybe we caught it with some beam or laser or something.”
“Light isn’t gravity, kid. That’s the only way a planet, even a small one, is going to orbit the ship. Therefore we need to generate a huge amount of gravity to keep this thing orbiting. Got it.”
“So how do you think a ship like this is going to generate gravity?”
Joey looked at the ceiling. He did that in a cute way when thinking. “I don’t know. How can we generate gravity? I mean, if we had gravity it would hinder our ability to land on a planet not to mention make flight nearly impossible.”
“Well, not really. See, there is shielding on the ship to contain the gravity when we need to. We move the shielding just right and we can control the orbit of the planet around the ship. That’s why we need to keep a constant watch when we transport a planet like we’re doing. We don’t want it to just fly off into space. Rogue planets are dangerous.”
“Okay, so how do we keep a planet in orbit around us?”
“A black hole.”
Vic thought Joey was either going to laugh or throw up.
“There can’t be a black hole on this ship,” the kid said and started to turn white.
“We’ve got one. It’s a power source that gives off so much radiation that the ship always had power.”
“You mean we’ve got something on board that could destroy us all?” Joey dropped his drink and walked out of the room.
The kid had gone pale. Vic thought the kid would be happy to hear the news of something like that. Maybe even be impressed with the technology used to control it. Instead, the kid looked as if someone had just signed his death warrant.
“Kid, where you going? Don’t you even want to see it?”
Joey spun around. “See it? What, the harbinger of death riding on the tail of the Acid Rat? No thank you. I think I’ll spend as much time as I can far from this side of the ship, thank you.”
“Don’t you think you’re overreacting just a little bit? I mean, think of how long this technology has been around. We’re not going to get much safer than we are.”
“I don’t want to hear about this. I need to process this all. Black holes are nothing more than death in every sense of the word. They suck things in, crush them, give off massive amounts of radiation and jets of material. No, I can’t, no… I just…”
The kid walked off, not looking back. Vic tried to get a few more drops out of his beer and decided to follow the kid back up to the break room. Perhaps there’d be a chance to talk some sense into the kid.
What’s this? Jay recorded something?
After so much waiting, I have finally fired up the mic and recorded Chapter 1 of V&A Shipping 2: Hollow. I know many have waited for years for me to get off my duff and get to recording once again. I plan on dropping more than one episode per week and getting through my entire backlog of books that I’ve not recorded previously.
First and foremost, thank you for everyone who’s shown their support by buying a book, picking up a free edition, or simply commenting and asking for more content. It’s helped me keep pushing forward and getting things going. 2021 was great, 2022 should be even better.
Without further ado…
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“It’s kind of hard to lose a planet, kid.” Vic stretched and took a seat next to Joey.
Joey frantically pressed buttons to try and call up the display, but everything had gone blank. Not five minutes before he’d pinged the planet with a pulse and it came back right where he’d expected it to be. Now it was gone and he couldn’t figure out where it’d gone. He called Vic because he wasn’t sure why it had disappeared. He hated to wake him up, but this was the first time he’d been left alone in the cockpit. Even Argmon, the big Shathar, had gone off to get some sleep.
“I don’t get it. Where did it go?”
“Did you check to make sure it was still orbiting the ship?” Vic flipped a switch, turned a dial, and brought up a holographic display of the planet. “This is the planet. You didn’t touch anything, right?”
“No. I was just sitting here looking out at the stars and decided to do a check.”
Vic flipped another switch. “When was the last time you pinged it?”
“Probably five minutes ago. I know it was there.”
“June, Argmon. Hate to break the two of you from your beauty sleep, but we need to go hunting.”
“Do we need them on this as well?” Joey hated for everyone to be woken up for his mistake. They still had a couple of weeks before they’d be delivering this planet and he didn’t need them all upset with him.
“Kid, if we’re going to look for a dark planet in the blackness of space, we need all the eyes we can get on this one. In fact, Muffin, where’s the planet. I thought you had something set up to check on it automatically.”
Muffin was what Vic called the new ship’s computer. Its designation was LMSM and he laughed when he saw the little silver box it came in and named it Little Miss Silver Muffin. This got a lot of laughs from the crew, but Muffin still hadn’t taken too kindly to the name.
“If you must call me that, at least don’t expect me to do any more menial tasks. Joey was doing just fine and didn’t need my help.”
“When was the last time you checked on the planet, Muffin? We need to know everything about when you lost contact, which direction it went, all of that.”
“Really? you want me to spend time searching my records to see when the last time I looked?”
Vic took a swig of his beer and winked at Joey. “I need to know the exact moment we lost contact with the planet and what our coordinates were.”
Joey thought he heard the computer make an audible sigh.
“Vic, I’m sorry.”
“Don’t worry about it, kid. These things happen. That’s why we’re supposed to have computer backup. Muffin should be able to get us back to the right location. Then it’s just a matter of calculating when we lost it, what trajectory it went off in, and pick it back up. Piece of cake.”
He made it sound so easy. Something about towing a planet just didn’t sound like something easy. Sure, he’d been on board when they’d performed the past couple of jobs, but he wasn’t privy to what they’d done to perform the task. He’d been busying trying to study about how this ship worked. There were so many schematics and old wiring plans to go through and he hadn’t even gotten to the propulsion systems yet. Vic had given Joey the title of Ship’s Engineer, but he was still learning after nearly a year on the job. There was only so much you could read about the ship, the rest was all hands-on work.
“What are you boys doing up here? Tell me we didn’t lose another shipment.” June rubbed her eyes and sat on Joey’s lap. She put her arms around his neck and kissed him on the cheek.
“You two should get a room.” Vic looked away and out into the black in front of them.
June nudged Vic’s leg with her foot. “We have a room.”
They did have a room. They even shared a bed. They had kissed on many occasions, but that was as far as their relationship went. They’d spent some of their downtime together and that had helped them grow closer, but June just didn’t seem interested in being more than they were. Perhaps it was because of Vic, but Joey was pretty sure it was what had happened to Vic that brought them closer together in the first place.
Joey was just happy to have someone. On Earth, the only person he’d been close with was Carlos, his best friend, and for the most part, they were picked on to no end. It took getting off the planet to find someone special. It gave him a little comfort to be able to hold the last woman from Earth. Vic had told him several times it didn’t bother him, but June loved to goad him.
“Yes, I know. I helped the two of you decorate it. Remember? Can we just get back to work? Muffin, where’s this planet? How long does it take an advanced AI computer to look something up?”
“You also asked me to perform calculations and estimations on where it might be. This isn’t like dusting crops.”
“Speaking of dusting crops, why didn’t you alert anyone once you lost contact with it?”
Something beeped twice. “I’ve got your estimates.”
“Yeah, yeah. Now answer my question. Why didn’t any alarms go off? This is an important job.”
“You won’t like the answer, Victor.” Only LMSM could get away with calling him Victor.
“Muffin, just tell me.”
“You didn’t ask me to.”
“Oh, come on now. Are you telling me that after the first couple of times we did this and I asked you to set an alarm, you didn’t take that to mean that every time we drag a planet across the galaxy I want an alarm on it?”
“We’ve never dragged a planet across the galaxy. The furthest we’ve ever moved a planet is…”
“I don’t care.” Vic upended his beer. “Argmon, I’m empty! Grab me a fresh one on your way up here.”
Argmon must’ve read Vic’s mind and handed him a cold can of beer. He then chuffed and motioned for Vic to get out of his seat. The Shathar looked at Joey and shook his head.
“Hey, it wasn’t my fault! I was checking.”
June kissed the top of his head. “It’s alright. Calm down. No one is accusing you of anything.”
“I am,” Vic said with a smile as he popped open his beer.
Argmon took his seat. His two missing left arms had been regrown. Chancellor Verbiddi insisted that all reparations be made and that included getting Argmon his arms back. They’d spent the better part of three months planetside while the SS Acid Rat had been repaired, everyone healed, and Argmon’s arms were regrown. In that time the atmosphere had gone from difficult-to-breath to almost bearable. The tonindrium worked like magic pulling all the excess pollution out of the air. It was the job that had convinced Vic that he could stick to doing legal jobs for a while and perhaps keep the Galactic Police off their trail.
“Victor, your planet should be…”
“Could you just feed the coordinates to Argmon’s display? He’ll turn us around. To be honest, you’re just going to talk gibberish to me and you know I don’t like it when you do that.”
“Always a gentleman.” Muffin beeped twice.
Argmon looked at the display and his four arms went to work. The stars shifted giving Joey a moment to feel dizzy. He nearly dumped June off his lap.
“Easy there. If I didn’t know any better I’d say you were the one drinking, not Vic.”
“You know I can’t drink that stuff like he does.”
Joey had tried keeping up with Vic. Once. That didn’t end well and Joey wound up sleeping in their newly redesigned break room. He vowed never to have a repeat performance of that incident.
“Argmon, you got this all under control?”
“Easy, I was just asking. Hey, where’s Dexter?”
“You only called Argmon and me. I’m sure he’s probably still sleeping. I don’t think you want to wake him up. He was in a feisty mood before going to bed.”
Joey knew that was possibly the worst thing June could say. It was almost a challenge for Vic once he knew one of the crew was in a bad mood. Sure Vic had mood swings and got bored from time to time, but when it came to Dexter, Vic loved playing with fire.
“I’ll be right back.” Vic started to leave.
June fought her way off of Joey’s lap. “No, you don’t! Dexter and I have some work to do with the load we’ve got down there and I don’t want our resident Tri-Ped all worked up and mad.”
“It’s just a little fun. He likes it.”
“Fine, then next time you’re sleeping, I’ll do it to you.”
Joey never really understood the relationship between June and Dexter. For that matter, he never really understood Dexter, the squat, green, three-eyed alien. Dexter was the strangest and by far most dangerous member of the crew. He and June were in charge of the ship’s security. June he had figured out, but Dexter seemed to have his motivations for what he did.
Vic, on the other hand, seemed to derive a lot of pleasure from tormenting both Dexter and June. Sometimes it had comical results, but often Dexter and Vic would wind up in a knock-down, drag-em-out fight that usually ended with Vic bleeding and laughing and Dexter sulking and angry. Joey was just glad he’d always been left out of the fun and games.
“Victor, we have found the planet you misplaced.”
“Hey, I didn’t misplace it. It was right where I left it when the kid took over. Don’t go pointing fingers at me.”
Muffin beeped. “You’re the captain of the ship and therefore the one ultimately responsible for the shipment. Therefore, I found the planet you lost.”
Vic switched between snarling and looking confused. Finally, he said, “Fine, Joey and I are going to go down and hook it up so we don’t lose it again.”
“Wait, what do you mean by that?” Joey got up to follow Vic. June took his seat next to Argmon.
“I’ll keep the seat warm for you until you get back.”
June slapped the Shathar on the arm. “Oh, be quiet.”
“Come on, kid, I’ll show you some more about the way this ship works.”
It was about time. Vic had shown Joey a couple of things, but he didn’t fully understand it all. It would be nice to have someone point things out to him rather than trying to read books and holo-manuals that didn’t explain things in terms he could fully understand. Sure he’d taught himself how to repair a turntable and a radio back on Earth. Those had parts he could make sense of. The SS Acid Rat was literally light-years ahead of anything he’d ever dreamed of working on.
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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Vic looked at his crew; no, not his crew anymore. His friends. He didn’t know how to break it to them. How did he tell Argmon that the shipping business would close its doors? How did he tell June, a woman who would rather spend time in space to help her forget about Earth, that he didn’t want to fly any more? And Dexter, hell, he didn’t really even understand Dexter or the tri-ped’s motivations. Joey would probably take the news best. He’d only been with them for a short time.
All of them rushed, but Vic held up his hands. “No hugging! No hugging! I’m still in bad shape. I don’t need any rib crushing hugs right now.”
In all honesty, he did. Even though he wore new clothes, he noticed that June and Joey wore new clothes as well, and he looked good, he wasn’t certain as to his condition.
The smell of food, real food, not hospital food, entered his nose. All thoughts of telling them anything faded until he could eat a decent meal.
“Is there anything to eat?”
June smiled and led him to the table where the remains of breakfast sat. “I can order you something. The government is picking up the bill.”
“I don’t want to wait that long.” Vic put his hand to his stomach. It rumbled in response.
“Well, there’s plenty of left-overs.” Joey picked up a plate with a half eaten omelet.
Vic sat and ate. He only paused when he finally looked at Argmon and noticed the bandaged left side of his friend. As if feeling responsible for June and Joey being here wasn’t enough, now his father had gone and wounded Argmon. Another burden he’d have to carry thanks to his father.
“How are you doing?”
Argmon patted the bandages and shrugged.
“I’m sorry that happened.”
Argmon shook his head and chuffed.
Even though Argmon didn’t blame him, Vic still felt guilty.
But why should he? He hadn’t made his dad pull the trigger. He’d tried to stop him as best he could. No, he shouldn’t feel guilty for what his father did.
He couldn’t shake the feeling. He hadn’t gone back to see if his father had survived. He hadn’t come searching for his father sooner. He hadn’t stopped when everything his father had done to try and stop his shipping business. He had driven his father to do what he did.
“Vic, stop,” June snapped at him.
“Stop what?” Vic looked at her, confused.
“Feeling sorry for yourself. Like all this is your fault. We’re all big enough to make choices for ourselves.”
“I’m sorry, Vic. I just don’t want you to take the blame for everything that happened. You weren’t there when I pushed the button in your father’s machine.”
“But it was my father’s machine that sent you here.”
“Vic,” Joey said. “I did the same thing. I went in there and pushed that button.”
“Yeah, but my mom put you up to it. How do I not take blame for that?”
“Because you’re not your mom,” said June.
“I understand that. I should have never come after my dad. I should have stayed home and torn that machine apart.”
Joey sat up. “The hell you say. I mean, I didn’t have a bad life, but I always dreamed of something better. I never thought I’d end up in outer space. Granted this isn’t anything like what I had expected it to be like, but I’m here. I’m alive. I didn’t die a nobody back on Earth like everyone else.”
“But you didn’t get to live out your life either. You’re here instead.”
“And maybe I’m supposed to be here.”
“You two calm down,” interceded June. “Now this isn’t getting us anywhere. We’re not going to talk about who’s at fault. Vic, I wanted to talk to you about the business.”
Finally it was out. Vic put the fork back on the plate, wiped his cleanly shaven face with his napkin and looked up. He looked from one to the next. Argmon, Dexter, Joey, and finally June. He had to word this carefully.
“I’m getting out of the shipping business.”
June gasped. Joey wrinkled his brow as if he hadn’t heard right. Dexter blinked his eyes out of synch. Argmon barked and yowled.
“Stop! Stop. Stop. I’ve had a lot of time to think about this. After what my dad said and after he stuck a knife into me, I did a lot of thinking about what he said.”
June held her hands up. “He’s wrong.”
“Just give me a minute to explain. I don’t think he was wrong. I mean, he’d built his machine to search the galaxy, to answer the mysteries of life, and to discover the unexplored. What did I do when I got here? I went to work. I didn’t go seeking any greater good. I didn’t do anything my father would have. I’ve wasted time I could have spent doing things for the benefit of people, not just for myself.”
“But Vic, you have.” June shook her head. “Look at the people here on Planchar. They worship you. You’ve brought them a shipment of something that could save their people and their planet from possible destruction. When no one else would help them out, you took a risk and you did.”
“I nearly got us all arrested.”
“But you didn’t.”
“Then I took us on a bet. A dare. And I nearly got us all killed. I acted irresponsibly.”
“If I even knew what that meant…”
“You make snap decisions. That doesn’t mean you should stop the shipping business. It just means maybe you need to take some time before making a choice and maybe even a little input on those decisions. That’s what I wanted to talk to you about.”
“Huh?” Vic sat up in his chair. “What do you mean?”
“What I mean is I wanted out. I almost left. On Munchkada I had an appointment to buy my own ship. I thought I could do this job better than you. I don’t need to do this job better than you. What I need is for you to listen to me. And not just me, but all of us. I need you to stop being so headstrong and listen to us. Your crew. Your friends.”
Vic looked at the food on the table, not really seeing anything. He had to process all that. Was she right? Did he just need to listen? Had he really been doing what his dad would have been doing? No, but then he wasn’t his father, was he? He’d grown into his own man. He’d started a business with Argmon and they’d done quite well for themselves. They’d done quite well for everyone on the crew.
He looked up. June crossed her arms. She didn’t look stern as if she’d intended to be mean, but she looked ready to counter anything he could say against not staying in the shipping business.
Joey, his innocent face still bruised from his battle with Mike, looked more grown up somehow. As if the week he’d spent in space had somehow brought him into manhood. He had an edge now and didn’t look like the soft creampuff Vic met.
Dexter, well, he was still Dexter.
Argmon narrowed his eyes at Vic, waiting for an answer.
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Joey tried to scream, but the gag prevented him from doing so. He twisted and fought his bonds to no avail. June also thrashed in her seat trying to get free and get to Vic. He could feel her trying to break free.
Dexter, after the first blindingly fast kick, kicked Hector a second time. Joey had taken one of those kicks and it had knocked him out. Hector looked to be affected, but he didn’t go down. He took blow after blow from Dexter.
Dexter kicked and knocked Hector through the balcony doors. A final kick and Hector flew over the railing. No scream ever came. Hector just slipped over the railing and disappeared.
Vic groaned. This prompted June to begin her thrashing once again. Dexter darted over to June and untied her hands. She stood up and promptly fell back down into her seat. Dexter next untied her legs. She untied her gag as she hurried over to Vic.
Joey felt his bonds slacken and he pulled at his gag. Once his feet were free, he rushed to June’s side.
“Check on Argmon. He was shot.”
Joey didn’t question, he just reacted. Even when he heard June say, “Hold on Vic. I’m going to call a doctor. Hold on, oh God please hold on.”
A wash of sorrow erupted from June and flooded onto Joey, nearly knocking him to the floor next to Argmon.
The big dog-thing had taken a hit, that much Joey could make out, but with all the blood, it was difficult to tell where. Argmon still breathed, but lay in a massive pool of his own blood.
Joey finally figured out what wasn’t right about Argmon. The shot from the blaster had taken his two left arms. They had been blown away in an explosion of blood. Joey gagged, then vomited behind the door.
“Joey! How’s Argmon? A medical crew is on its way. They’ll be arriving at the balcony any minute. Joey?”
Joey felt much better after throwing up. He looked over Argmon’s wounds. As best he could tell, the blaster had cauterized the destroyed limbs. The only blood must have been from the destruction of the limbs.
“Argmon? Argmon?” Joey nudged the Shathar. “Argmon, wake up.”
Argmon’s throat rattled, but he didn’t move. The big guy would live, Joey felt certain of that.
“He’s going to be okay, but he lost two arms.”
“What?” she screamed and ran into the room. “Dammit, where’s that medical car?”
She disappeared. Joey didn’t know what to do next. He couldn’t lift Argmon. He had no medical training at all. He felt helpless.
Sirens filled the air and bright green and yellow lights flashed about the room. Joey backed out of the way as four heavily muscled men entered the room and in a matter of two minutes, strapped both Vic and Argmon onto stretchers and disappeared back out the balcony, leaving June, Dexter, and he alone in the wrecked rooms.
“What happened?” Joey asked, still staring out the broken balcony doors.
“I heard them say they need to pick up one more down below. That must be Hector. Dex, I think we all owe you our lives.”
“Eep. Eep. Eep.”
“Don’t be modest.”
“Eep? Eep? Eep?”
“I’m sure Vic and Argmon will be fine. They’re in good hands now. Vic lost a lot of blood…”
“Argmon too. Look at it all.”
Joey wrapped his arms around June and hugged her, fighting back tears as he did. No matter how strong June sounded, her fear radiated out from her. When she started crying, he did too.
When they broke apart, June called the front desk. New rooms were found and all three went to the same room. Dexter took the couch while June and Joey took the bed. They’d exchanged their robes for pajamas, but that didn’t matter. Sleep didn’t return.
When the sun did finally peek up, all three got up without a word and got ready. June phoned and found out where Vic and Argmon had been taken, so they left the hotel and took a cab to the hospital.
Vic had been put into intensive care for a severed artery and punctured lung, but Argmon was released. His left side where the two arms were missing had been bandaged. Argmon not only looked tired, he looked downright beat. They returned to the hotel with him, not being able to get in to see Vic.
June and Joey talked about Earth and the differences between their times. They didn’t laugh or joke, but spoke in somber tones about Earth.
It wasn’t until the following day that they were allowed to see Vic, and only then for a brief time. And even then, only June had been allowed to go inside. All the while Argmon stood with his head pressed against the door as if he’d be able to commune with Vic through the door somehow.
“So when do you get out of here?” June fought to keep her emotions in check. She could feel Vic’s pain deep in his gut. She didn’t want to make him talk a lot, but she needed to know a few things.
“Soon.” Vic coughed.
“Can I bring you anything? Anything special you want when you get out?”
His voice came out low and strained as he spoke. “A beer…and a smoke.”
“That’s so like you.” She didn’t want to beat around the bush any longer. “Vic, your dad, he’s dead.”
Vic closed his eyes and nodded. “I kind of figured that must’ve happened if all of you were still alive. How’s Argmon?”
“Well, your dad shot off two of his arms.” Vic winced at this news as if he’d lost the arms. “The Chancellor said there may be hope for prosthetics being that they were sheared off cleanly and if he would accept them, the city would present them as a gift.”
“Argmon’s not one to take charity.” Vic coughed again. “You don’t have a smoke on you, do you?”
“Vic, we need to talk about the business. About the shipping.”
“Yes, we do, but here isn’t the place and this isn’t the time. We all need to talk together when I’m doing better. The doc said my lung is nearly healed, just some excess fluid or some such thing. I’ll be out of here tomorrow.”
“I think that’s a great idea. Tomorrow. With everyone. We can have dinner and talk. As a team, not a crew.”
“Miss, I’m afraid your time is up,” a mechanized voice said.
“I’m going to miss Tootsie,” replied Vic and he closed his eyes.
June took his hand and gave it a quick kiss before leaving.
Back in the waiting area she let the others know Vic would be out the next day. They adjourned to the hotel, dined, and slept. During breakfast, Vic arrived.
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The old man’s eyes, beady and black like death, bore into Vic’s face. His face, wrinkled and covered with a thin beard and moustache, frowned.
“What are you doing here? I thought you were dead.”
Vic’s dad, Hector, stepped to the side of Joey, releasing his grip and allowing Joey to gasp for breath. He wore long, pale-red robes tied off at the waist with a thin, black belt.
“That was your first problem. You thought. Never did you think properly, did you? Always you thought you knew better. Always you thought you were right. You haven’t changed. Not one little bit.”
“Dad, you don’t look so good.”
“Don’t I? I waited for seventy years for you or your mother to come and save me.”
“Dad, I didn’t know. You even said yourself that time moves differently…”
“Don’t talk back to me. I wanted you to suffer as you made me suffer when you left me to rot back on that planet. A prisoner. That’s all I’ve been since I got here. A prisoner. I wanted to roam the galaxy and make it give up its secrets. I wanted to see everything. I should have been allowed at least that. But no, I was captured and jailed and because I wasn’t a telepath, I couldn’t defend myself. Each word I spoke just lengthened my sentence.”
“I didn’t know…”
Hector pounded his chest as if to free his voice. “Do you know how difficult it was to see you arrive? My boy. I wanted to hold you and tell you how glad I was to see you, but I couldn’t. I wanted out. And you showing up, nearly helping me to escape. When the escape pod ejected from the exploding ship, I waited, and waited. I waited to see you come back and save me. To save Bakcha.”
Argmon growled at this name. The name of his brother.
“Bakcha tried everything to signal to you, but your ship just kept pulling away. Bakcha fought and resisted, but they killed him. Do you understand? I had to see him die. I had to see you leave.”
“Dad, I saw the ship explode. Argmon saw the ship explode. We didn’t think anyone could have survived.”
“Even if you hadn’t come back for me, I could have forgiven that. I could have understood. I escaped from there three years ago. I came to find you. My only son. The fruit of my loins. The one to carry on my legacy. And what do I find? My son, a common criminal, gallivanting about the galaxy doing petty jobs for petty people and squandering his time with a petty business.
“I didn’t build my machine to come into space so I or you could use it to become a crook.”
“So you tried to kill me?”
“Not at first. I tried small things to deter you from your path of crime. I made things difficult for you. I reported you several times to GCP Central Office so they could start a case against you. But that did no good. Your crimes, they said, were so small that they couldn’t be bothered with trying to collect you.
“Two years ago I put a plan into action. Two years I’ve been trying to bring you down, boy. I couldn’t see you continue to run our family name into the ground. I hired Mike and we started to watch you from afar, then I saw how you picked up miscreants and outcasts. Mike fit into you crew quite well, don’t you think?”
Vic’s mouth fell open. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing.
“I didn’t know Mike had a screw loose or I would never have used him. I didn’t want you dead, not at first. I had him try everything to get you to stop. Damn you’re a stubborn one. Even with your ship on fire and on the verge of breaking apart and being pursued by the authorities, you still didn’t stop. Even after your ship crashed, you still didn’t stop. I’m convinced now that nothing will ever stop you. Ever. Except this.”
Hector pulled a dagger from his belt. Vic, even in his weakened state, knew his father, old beyond belief, couldn’t fight.
“Dad, what are you thinking? I’m your son. I don’t want to fight you.”
“Then you make this all that much easier.” Hector swung his arm back and swiped the dagger across Joey’s face. Joey winced back.
“Hey! They’ve got nothing to do with this. You leave them alone!”
“Oh, so you’ll stick up for this lot, will you? Where were you when I needed you? You never tried to help me. You left me, your own father, to rot on that hell hole of a planet. Do you know what being locked up that long can do to a person? Do you!”
Spittle flew from Hector’s mouth as he raged. He gnashed his teeth and lunged at Vic. He stopped when Argmon growled, pausing for a moment to pull a gun from the folds of his robes. He raised the gun and fired it at Argmon. With a howl Argmon fell to the ground.
“No! Stop this. These are my friends.”
“And you’ll all die soon enough.” Hector tossed the gun to the ground and rushed Vic with the dagger.
Vic sidestepped and tried to grab his father’s wrist. He was rewarded with the blade puncturing his hand. A sharp intake of breath and he pulled his hand back and gritted his teeth. Hector look frenzied by the blood and pressed his advantage. With a scream he leapt at Vic.
Vic did manage to catch Hector’s wrist, but the weight of the old man pushed him backwards. The back of his legs caught on the bed and he fell over backwards.
“Yeeeeooooowwww!” Hector screamed.
With the weight of Hector behind the point of the blade, Vic couldn’t stop its advance. The pain wasn’t as bad as he thought it would be as the blade entered his stomach. He closed his eyes and coughed up blood. It couldn’t end like this. After all they’d been through. It couldn’t.
Hector leaned down and whispered into Vic’s ear, all of the insanity gone from his eyes. His voice sounded like that of a priest. “I couldn’t let you disgrace me, Victor. This is the way it has to be.”
Vic couldn’t move even if he wanted to. The blade in his abdomen felt like it sucked his life out.
“Be still now, Victor. It’ll all be over in a moment.”
Vic tried to raise his arms, but he couldn’t move. No! It couldn’t end like this. After all they’d been through only to die at the hands of a crazy old man. It just couldn’t end. Not now. Not like this.
“Dad. No. Please.”
As his vision faded, Vic heard something hit the door and crash it inward. A green blur crossed his fading sight and he his father’s weight disappeared. Vic laid his head back and heaved a struggled breath.
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