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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.