V&A Shipping 2: Hollow – Chapter 6
Audio Only: https://anchor.fm/jr-murdock/episodes/VA-Shipping-2-Hollow—Chapter-6-e1ebhh8
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.”
V&A Shipping 2: Hollow – Chapter 5
Audio Only: https://anchor.fm/jr-murdock/episodes/VA-Shipping-2-Hollow—Chapter-5-e1e52e7
https://smile.amazon.com/Hollow-Shipping-Book-J-R-Murdock-ebook/dp/B00GT9H4JQ – Grab a copy of your own!
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.
V&A Shipping 2: Hollow – Chapter 2
Audio Only: https://anchor.fm/jr-murdock/episodes/VA-Shipping-2-Hollow—Chapter-2-e1d0q6v
https://smile.amazon.com/Hollow-Shipping-Book-J-R-Murdock-ebook/dp/B00GT9H4JQ – Grab a copy of your own!
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.