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The Wishbone Express - Chapter 6

 
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Bud Brewster
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PostPosted: Mon Jan 12, 2015 11:19 am    Post subject: The Wishbone Express - Chapter 6 Reply with quote



Chapter 6

Ten minutes later Bill and Randy were seated at the dinner table in the lounge, explaining the current situation to their passengers.

" – and the three ships on our tail are still out of jinn wave range, meaning they don't really know where we are any more than we know where they are."

Randy didn't mention the very real possibility that the three missiles had transmitted the Wishbone’s position before they were destroyed. He was trying to be as reassuring as possible for the sake of Mr. Aganto, who was still strapped securely into one of the lounge chairs, gripping the armrests with unconscious determination. Clawron was again reclining on the couch, looking totally unconcerned with their current situation or their future fate. The wajinda was sprawled out on the floor in front of the galley booth, licking it chops and waiting for someone to come feed it. Bill sat next to Randy, studying the animal curiously, pondering the ironic fact that the wajinda had been the least troublesome of the three passengers.

It seemed a shame that somebody hadn't trained Miss Clawron Uquay to be as tame and obedient as her savage bodyguard. Such training would, of course, have to be care¬fully done by a man who knew exactly how to treat women of her kind. Like maybe Jack the Ripper.

"The autopilot has been told to weave us back and forth a bit, so that the enemy can't line up any more blind spots on us," Randy told the passengers. Silently he added, And so we won't be exactly where they think we are.

"But surely you're not going to trust the automatic sensors again," Aganto said anxiously, still strangling the armrests. "These people might think of some other way to sneak up on us."

Randy suppressed a smile. He had a sudden bizarre mental image of himself, standing in the cockpit with a pair of binoculars, scanning the heavens like a dedicated bird watcher.

"Don't worry, sir," Randy said soothingly. "Bill and I will stick close to the cockpit." Aganto didn't look very reassured. It took Randy a second to realize that Aganto was bothered by the fact that there was nobody in the cockpit now. "Oh. Yeah, okay . . . ummm, I guess I better get back to business." He turned to Bill and added a touch of officious pomp to his voice. "I'll take the first watch, Bill."

Bill resisted the urge to salute. Randy headed for the cock¬pit, leaving Bill to figure out how to pry Aganto out of his chair. Clawron rose from the couch and headed for her cabin.

"Anybody want to join me in a nice refreshing shower?" she said casually as she walked away. Aganto looked intensely embarrassed. Bill wondered if the woman was serious. He hoped not, because it was painfully obvious that nobody was too tempted by the offer – and Hell hath no fury like a woman who can’t even give it away. Bill composed a polite refusal, but before he could open his mouth Clawron spoke without turning around.

"It was a joke."

She strolled into her cabin and closed the door. The two men let out simul¬taneous sighs of relief. Bill offered Aganto a drink, which Aganto accepted grate¬fully, and then Bill made himself a double, which he figured he had earned under the circumstances. His broken rib was starting to hurt from too much moving around, so Bill gulped down half his drink and then took Clawron's former place on the couch. Even lying down the rib hurt some, but the drink started taking effect, setting his brain adrift. Aganto seemed content to sit in silence, taking frequent gulps of the drink.

Good, thought Bill. IIf he gets drunk maybe he'll sleep through any more trouble we encounter, if there’s any more trouble, only I hope there’s no more trouble because I'm so . . . blasted . . . tired...

"Would you like me to dim the lights?" Aganto said quietly.

"Hmmm?" Bill said, already half asleep. Aganto just rose from his chair and walked over to the control panel on the wall. Through his closed eyelids Bill saw the lights go down. He knew he ought to go tell Randy he was going to take a nap, and he also knew he ought to go to his cabin where the bed vibrators and heat pads could sooth his tired muscles. Bill pried his eyes open just long enough to see that the curved ceiling had been turned into a display screen that showed the stars. Aganto had reclined his chair, and he was gazing up at the spectacular view.

The wajinda was sprawled across the dinning table, its head tilted well back as it peered up at the stars, too. Bill groaned and made a mental note to wash the table thoroughly. He hoped Aganto had remembered to feed the wajinda – otherwise the lawyer might end up lying on the table, with the wajinda sitting in the chair.

Bill's eyes closed of their own accord and his mind went wherever sleeping minds go, a long soft fall into a far place that had no form or content or limits . . .

* * * * *

It was a dream he'd had many times before, based on an event in his life that held special significance. Unlike most dreams of this sort, it wasn’t merely a distorted version of the event that inspired it, although certain portions of the real event became very nightmarish in the dream. Sometimes the events were con¬densed and the gaps were closed in strange ways. Sometimes it was an intensely detailed close-up of one small part – an objective moment that stretched into a subjective infinity. Unfortunately these were usually the bad moments. Generally speaking, dreams are basically unkind. But this dream had some very bright moments.

When Bill Jenkins was sixteen years old he had run away from home. It was the fourth time he had done so. The first three times he was eight, twelve, and fourteen. Each of these times, he’d been brought back home by the authorities. The fourth time he returned on his own.

Strangely enough, Bill hadn’t run away because he was unhappy or mistreated. In fact, quite the reverse was true. Bill Jenkins wasn't driven away from home, he was lured away. In a sense it was his father's fault. A teacher at a large univer¬sity, his father actively encouraged his son to read the classics of English liter¬ature – books about adventure and romance, books that had been penned hund¬reds of years ago by fiery-eyed men who clutched ancient writing instruments and laboriously scratched out the words which had carried young Bill Jenkin's mind off to places of myth and legend. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne, The Three Musketeers by Alexander Dumas, Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe, Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. They instilled in the boy a love for certain time-honored concepts such as chivalry and honor and loyalty. They also gave him a powerful yearning for a thing called High Adventure.

____

And that's why Bill kept running away from home.

He was sixteen when he stowed away on a luxury cruise ship, a hydrofoil craft that made long wandering journey's along the twisting rivers that formed a watery web across the southeastern portion of a major continent on Bill's home world, Cajun.



Bill stole a steward's uniform from a laundry hamper and spent five days performing fetch-and-carry chores for the rich passengers. He made a surprising amount of money in tips, and he laundered the stolen uniform each night in the ship’s rest rooms. He slept in dark and remote corners of the huge and spotless engine room, curled up comfortably atop neatly folded piles of clean sheets and blankets from the ship’s large storage closets.



There were so many stewards, waiters, and busboys aboard that nobody recognized him as a stowaway -- especially since he was hiding in plain sight and working his tail off. During this time Bill saw a lot of gorgeous scenery, had a few interesting experiences, and met a few new friends.

Surprisingly one of the new friends was a wealthy man named Maximilian Nandora, who owned (among other things) a small fleet of in-system freighter spacecraft. Bill told the man about his hopes of someday owning his own starship. The man was impressed by Bill's intelligence, energy, and ambition. He told Bill to come see him about a job after getting his standard education diploma.

Bill's recurring dream rarely included any moments from this part of the experi¬ence. Instead it dealt almost exclusively with an event that happened in one of the riverside towns that catered to the tourists. Bill had put on his civilian clothes and gone ashore to see the sights. When he returned to the ship, the boarding ramp was crowded with passengers. In the crowd ahead of him, Bill saw Mr. Nandora, the wealthy man he had befriended. He also saw a ferret-faced boy who skillfully pulled a wallet from Mr. Nandora's pocket and then moved rapidly off through the crowd. Bill knew that the moment he raised the alarm the boy would be gone before anyone could stop him. So Bill silently set out after the thief, intent upon retrieving the stolen wallet. For young Bill Jenkins, it was a matter of honor.

What followed was a strange chase, long and frustrating, the stuff of which nightmares are made. It was more a battle of wits than a mere race, because Bill's quarry knew his own territory well, and he was extremely cunning.

When the boy realized he was being pursued, he ducked into a sleazy bar and tried to lose himself in the noisy crowd. The dream always transformed the bar into a nightmare realm, populated by strange and twisted denizens who gave him hostile glares as he moved among them. The smell of narcotics hung thick in the hazy air, mingling with a montage of body odors and the fragrance of unidentifiable foods. Brash music from an over-worked sound system raked at Bill's ears, and the din of a hundred conversations was punctuated by shouted arguments and occasional fights.


Bill searched slowly, carefully, always keeping an eye on the exits. Finally the boy broke cover and fled into the street. He ran down a narrow alley and dove through the broken window of an old ware¬house.

The interior of the warehouse was a maze of boxes and crates, huge stacks that towered a hundred feet high – a cubistic landscape with a thousand places to hide.

The hunter and the quarry. Pursuit and concealment. The musty air held a thick silence that eagerly gave way to every little noise made by Bill or his prey. Ears were more useful than eyes in this angular jungle. Bill frequently glanced up at the ledges created by the stacked crates over his head. Fear was a thick taste in his mouth and a hard knot in his stomach. Somewhere in this maze was a thing that wanted to kill him. The dream would sometimes stray far from reality, making Bill's adversary a creature too terrible to look at, or a threat too vague for him to remember when he awoke from the dream.

Young Bill finally flushed the boy from the warehouse and cornered him in the adjacent alley. This was always the worst part of the dream, the part that needed no distortion to make it a total night¬mare. The trapped boy came at Bill with a long knife, his thin face twisted with savage fury. The dream would always transform and mutate the boy. Sometimes he was a huge snake with long steel fangs, some¬times a disgustingly shapeless mass of flesh which sprouted metal spikes through its wet, bleeding hide. Whatever the form of his adversary, Bill's defense was always the same. He would leap and twist and dodge from the silver horror of the spikes or the fangs or the blade.

The boy backed Bill against the wall of the warehouse and tried to sink the knife into Bill's stomach. But Bill squirmed aside, and the blade butted into the hard stone wall. The boy's hand slid forward until his fingers were grasping the naked blade. It sliced his fingers open, and he dropped the knife. Both boys dove after it. Bill got hold of it first. But he couldn't bring himself to use it on his adversary, so he threw it through the open window of the warehouse.

The boy tried to run, but Bill had him trapped. They fought each other for twenty long minutes, a grim and bloody battle with no rules to govern it and no mercy shown by either combatant. They fought until they were both so exhausted. They laid next to each other on the pave¬ment, gasping for breath. And while they rested, Bill kept one hand clamped tightly on a wad of the boy's shirt so that he couldn't escape. Finally, when they had reduced each other's faces to bloody masses, the half-conscious boy relinquished the stolen wallet.

During Bill's stumbling journey back to the ship his clothes were filthy, his body was weak, and he ached from head to toe. When he finally arrived at the dock . . . the ship was gone.

The wallet was packed with money, and Bill used one of the larger bills to hire the services of a man with a sleek hydrofoil speedboat.



It took the speedboat almost an hour to catch up with the hydrofoil cruise ship because Bill and the fisherman had to detour into every small tributaries the cruise ship might have visited. When the cruise ship was finally located in a scenic lagoon, the first officer refused to let Bill come aboard.



But Bill insisted on returning the wallet personally. He didn't try to claim that he was actually a member of the crew, because he knew this lie wouldn't stand up under close examination. Finally the first officer compromised by accom¬panying Bill to the main dining room where the wallet's owner was located. Bill was bloody and battered and stumbling from exhaustion when he stepped up to his wealthy acquain¬tance and presented the wallet.

Because he had been a stowaway, the captain turned Bill over to the authorities at the next port. But no charges were filed, thanks to the intervention of Mr. Nandora. Bill was returned home. Three years later, when Bill was nineteen, he became the youngest pilot trainee on the payroll of Nandora In-System Freight, Inc.



_______________________________________________________________

"Hey, Bill. Wake up."

Slowly the dream shifted and altered and turned into reality. Bill opened his eyes and looked at Randy's dimly lit face, his head silhouetted against the starry view afforded by the ceiling of the lounge.

"Anything wrokkk – “ Bill started to say, but his throat was so dry that he had to swallow a few times and start over. "Anything wrong?"

"Not a thing. But I think you should take a hot shower and then go to bed. You'll sleep a lot better in your cabin. And I won't have to worry about that critter over there nibbling on your hand."

"What?" Bill yanked his hand up and stared at it.

"Relax. I was kidding."

"Oh."

With some difficulty and several tortured groans, Bill strug¬gled up from the couch. His brief nap had left him groggy and stiff, the latter of which he could have avoided, if he had gone to his cabin where the bed's built-in heat pad and vibrator could

Alright, alright, Bill scolded himself. Enough with the I-told-you-so’s. Don't just lie here, get up and go to bed.

Randy took hold of Bill's arm to help him to his cabin, but Bill pulled away and mumbled something about Mother Henson, so Randy let him stumble down the corridor alone. As he disappeared through the door, Randy called out to him.

"I'll wake you up if anything interesting happens. Like, we all die."

Bill didn't bother to answer. He hobbled into his cabin and closed the door. Randy shook his head, a sympathetic look on his face. Mr. Aganto was still sitting at the table, and Randy turned around to speak to him, but he was so surprised by what he saw that the words froze in his throat. Then, with his eyebrows climbing slowly up his forehead, Randy said softly, “Mr. Aganto?"

"Yesh, Misher Heh-s-son?" the lawyer slurred drunkenly, with a small belch dividing Randy's name. A large glass sat in front of him, and it was conspicuously empty.

"Are you . . . all right, sir?"

"Ooooh, not too bad,” Aganto said amiably. His eyes were just a bit less than half open. Randy suppressed a smile and then spoke in a sympathetic tone. "All this has been something of a strain on you, hasn't it, sir?"

Aganto's face slowly acquired a tragic look, a caricature of a tortured soul. The expression developed slowly, and when it finally reached its zenith Mr. Aganto made an agonized confession.

"I've tried not to let it show, Mr. Hesh-son, but on several occasions I've been . . . scared." He looked at Randy as if he expected the confession to come as a surprise. So, Randy faked it a little. He furrowed his brow and cocked his head to one side.

"Really, Mr. Aganto?"

"Yesh indeed. Very scared. Miss U-cla . . . U-quay noticed it right off," Aganto said with visible indignation. "She thought is was funny!" His eyes narrowed and his face darkened with anger. He leaned towards Randy and spoke in a loud whisper. "She sure is a poisonous bit-ssh, inent she?"

Randy grinned from ear to ear as he said, "Positively lethal, sir!"

"Posh-atively leafal!" Aganto hooted, matching Randy's grin. He slapped his hand down on the table for emphasis. "Posi-tilly leafal!" he repeated, vastly amused by the whole thing. He soon had Randy in stitches, too. Aganto leaned forward and propped his elbows on the table, hunching over the empty glass, his shoulders shaking up and down as he laughed. Randy sat down at the table and waited patiently for the man's mirth to subside. Finally Aganto settled down to an occa¬sional chuckle.

With a diplomacy that was probably unnecessary, Randy said, “You've, uh . . . had quite a few drinks, haven't you, sir?"

Aganto shook his head slowly, turning it so far to each side that his chin almost touched his shoulders. "Nope . . . nope . . . nope,” he said with each shake, then he studied the empty glass for a moment and said, “Only one."

"Only one?" said Randy in amazement.

"Only one. Admittedly I had it three times – but they were all alike."

Randy was giggling again. Then he managed to say, “That's what I meant. You've had three of that kind of drink."

_______________________

"Oh, sure, sure, tha' swhat I meant, too,” said Aganto, vaguely embarrassed even though he wasn't sure why. He stirred the ice in the glass with his finger, then he lifted the finger, stuck it in his mouth, and withdrew it slowly like a kid licking cake frosting out of a bowl. When the finger popped noisily out of his mouth Mr. Aganto looked at Randy and made an earnest attempt to focus his eyes. He arranged his face carefully into a look of inquiry, jacked his eyebrows up halfway to his hairline, and waved at his empty glass. "Ummm . . . Join me, Mr. Jenson?"

Randy smiled politely. "It's Henson, sir. And no, thanks, I'm on watch. My partner is resting in his cabin."

Aganto's face became a portrait of pity. "Ooooh, poor Mr. Hinkens. He should sue that poisonous bissh. And I'll be his lawyer. For free!"

"I'll tell him you made the offer, sir. He'll appreciate it, I'm sure."

"Good. Good. You do that,” Aganto said, nodding gravely. Then he looked startled and gazed at Randy intently. "But don't tell her I said that!” he whispered urgently. "Don't tell her."

"Of course not. I understand perfectly."

Aganto raised the empty glass and tried to take a drink, but all he got was an avalanche of ice cubes against his nose. He sat the glass down a trifle harder than he intended, then he studied it for a moment, squinting as if he was trying to remember something. Finally it came to him.

"Join me, Missher Jenkins?"

"It's Henson, sir."

Aganto gave him a puzzled look, then he said, “Are you sure?"

Deep sigh. "Just call me Randy."

"Ooo-kay, Randy!" Aganto said, brimming with good fellowship. "My name's Alphonse. But my friends call me Al."

"Thank goodness,” Randy with a grin.

"You're quite welcome,” said Aganto. He sat there for a long moment, intent upon watching the ice melt in his glass. Then he drew a tremendously deep breath and blew it out through his mouth, letting his lips flap comically. Randy was sure that Mr. Alphonse Aganto, attorney at law, had never done such an undignified thing in his life. Randy got up and went down the corridor to the mechmed console. At Randy's request, the mechmed dispensed a small blue-and-yellow capsule – an anti-hangover drug which he took back to the table where Aganto sat.

"Here, sir. Take this."

"Wha' izzit?"

"It's for . . . space fatigue. Pressure adjustments, gravity compensations, life support changes – you know, stuff like that." He handed Aganto the capsule.

"Oh." Aganto studied the capsule gravely for a moment. Then he said, "Good." Whatever that meant. He put the capsule in his mouth and then lifted the empty glass and let the ice cubes rattle uselessly against his nose again.

Randy was afraid the poor man might choke on the capsule, so he said, “Let me get you something to wash that down."

Aganto lowered the glass, his Adam's Apple bobbing up and down in vain. "No thank you, sir. One is my limit."

There was no point in arguing with the logic of that, so Randy just said, “I'll get you some water, then."

"Oooo-kay." Aganto sat the glass down, but he kept his hand wrapped around it, so Randy got an empty one from the galley and filled it with water. Aganto washed the capsule down and kept right on drinking until the glass was empty. When he handed it back to Randy his eyelids were beginning to droop. Randy made a big show of looking at his watch.

"Well Al, it’s 21:15 ship's time, so why don't you turn in for the night."

"Thasa good idea. Beena busy day." He yawned hugely, then he grinned at Randy. "Hey, I don' eva know where my cabin is!"

"Allow me, councilor." Randy took Aganto's arm and helped him stand up. "I wouldn't want you to get lost."

Aganto had a little trouble walking, so he leaned heavily on Randy as they made they're way back to the cabin across from Clawron's. At the door to his cabin Aganto turned to Randy and said, "Good night, Mr. Handsome."

For Randy it had become a kind of game. Dutifully he said, “It's Henson."

"Hey, if the shoe fits . . . " mumbled Aganto as he stumbled into his cabin. Randy watched him make fumbling attempts to undress him¬self. In an effort to be tactful Randy asked him if he knew how to operate the toilet facilities on a space¬craft – which, of course were not essentially different from the toilet facilities anywhere else, but Randy figured that if Aganto didn't go to the toilet before he fell asleep he would probably wet his bed.

Ten minutes later, when Randy peeked in at Aganto, he found the man sprawled across the bed (except for one leg, which was draped down to the floor) and still dressed (except for one shoe, which lay on the pillow next to his head). Randy put the leg up on the bed and the shoe on the floor. Then he took the other shoe off, covered the snoring man up, and dimmed the lights.

With a weary sigh, Mother Henson crept quietly out.


______________________________________________


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Is there no man on Earth who has the wisdom and innocence of a child?
~ The Space Children (1958)


Last edited by Bud Brewster on Thu May 03, 2018 11:55 am; edited 2 times in total
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trekriffic
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Joined: 19 Feb 2015
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PostPosted: Tue Feb 24, 2015 2:08 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Nice to get a little backstory on Bill's youth. Gave us a little break from all the excitement of dodging missiles.
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Bud Brewster
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PostPosted: Fri Feb 27, 2015 10:09 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Yep, I figured the story could use the variety. I had a ball creating the pictures. That yacht I found those pictures of and used in the illustrations is amazing!

It's described as a hydrofoil cruise ship in the novel, but I figured it might looked like the pictures when at rest.

Glad you're enjoying it.

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Is there no man on Earth who has the wisdom and innocence of a child?
~ The Space Children (1958)
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