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The Wishbone Express - Chapter 8

 
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Bud Brewster
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PostPosted: Thu Jan 15, 2015 3:07 pm    Post subject: The Wishbone Express - Chapter 8 Reply with quote



Chapter 8

Two hours later Mr. Aganto entered the cockpit and then stopped dead in his tracks, staring goggle-eyed at the forward view being presented by the dome/display. To his utter amazement he discovered that the Wishbone had apparently landed on some planet while he'd been asleep. The cockpit lights were out and it was nighttime on the planet outside, but he could see a moonlit desert landscape, the boulder-strewn ground stretching back about a quarter mile to a mountain pass between sheer cliffs.

In the foreground were a dozen uniformed men, armed with hand-weapons, standing next to several pieces of heavy weaponry – brute machines operated by gunners who sat in built-in chairs. The uniformed men and their deadly weapons all had their backs to the Wishbone, facing out towards the desert. A few yards beyond the men stood a row of meter-high metal poles, each placed about three meters apart, like a row of fence posts.

Aganto was startled when bright arcs of energy suddenly leapt between two of the poles. A ghostly shape began to form, a glowing outline in pure crimson fire. A huge head with a nightmare face stood on two widely planted legs with clawed feet.

The men opened fire with every weapon they had. Bullet-like bolts of blue energy poured into the roaring monster in long steady streams, but the glowing shape absorbed them with no effect. The sounds were deafening: men shouted, the ghostly shape roared, and the blue bolts from the weapons ripped the air.



Aganto stood transfixed, and he heard himself shouting above the noise. "What the hell is that?"

The desert scene vanished a few seconds later. The Wishbone was back in deep space, and the lights came on in the cockpit. Randy and Bill turned around in their seats to face their bewildered passenger. Both men held huge bowls of popcorn in their laps as they squinted at Aganto, their eyes adjusting to the light.

"Hello, Mr. Aganto," Randy said cheerfully. "Did we disturb you? Is the sound too loud?"

With wild-eyed bewilderment, Mr. Aganto repeated his question a bit more calmly. "Gentlemen . . . what the hell . . . was that?"

Bill answered in a grave and self-important voice. "That, sir, was the monster from the Id – the elemental basis of the subconscious mind."

Aganto just stared at him for a second. Then he said, “What?"

It was Randy who finally figured out that Aganto's confusion was a bit more general than he and Randy had first realized. "Oh my God, I'm sorry, sir! Uuuuh, what you were watching was an old movie called Forbidden Planet. It was made several hundred years ago."

The explanation was beginning to sink in. Aganto had come upon the weird scene so suddenly that it had caught him completely off guard. "It was a movie?" he said.

"Right. A real classic, too. We’ve got thousands of them in the Wishbone’s lib¬rary. Just punch in the name of any movie you want, and you can watch it on any screen in the ship – the ones here in the cockpit, or the screens in your cabin, or the wall screens in the lounge."

"I see." Aganto gave a nervous laugh. "For a moment there I thought we had . . . landed somewhere. " His voice trailed off because the two men wore looks of amazement for several seconds and then they collapsed with laughter.

"Sorry, sir. Really," Bill said when he finally found enough breath to speak. "I guess it would be pretty unsettling to suddenly find yourself on Altair 4, smack in the middle of a raging battle."

Aganto smiled sheepishly, then he chuckled, amused at himself despite his embarrassment. Randy made a diplomatic effort to change the subject.

"How are you feeling this morning?"

Aganto started looking sheepish again. "I guess I should feel hung-over, but for some reason I don't. However, I do feel ashamed of myself. Did I make a fool of myself last night?"

"Not at all, sir," said Randy, telling a kindly lie. "You just allowed yourself to relax and speak candidly. In a tense situation like this, a man shouldn't keep things bottled up inside. Last night you just . . . unbottled." Then he grinned and told another lie. "No pun intended."

Aganto smiled his appreciation for what Randy was trying to do. Then he decided to diplomatically change the subject.

"I assume there's still no sign of our three pursuers."

Bill and Randy began to look a trifle uncomfortable, which made Mr. Aganto feel a trifle uncomfortable. After hedging for a few seconds, Randy finally said, "One of the ships has come into jinn wave range behind us, gaining slowly."

Aganto looked as if the hangover had caught up with him after all. His face lacked color, and his voice sounded dry. "Gaining on us? But how long – "

"It will still be several hours away from us when we reach the Donwaxihel star system. So, that ship poses no immediate threat whatsoever."

Aganto didn't look reassured. Then he asked the question that Randy and Bill hoped he wouldn't. "But how did they do it? I mean, you told me those ships couldn't go any faster than we could."

The two men exchanged looks. Bill raised his eyebrows, and Randy shrugged his shoulders, and Bill shrugged his shoulders back at him. The obvious verdict was to tell Aganto the truth. "Well, sir," Randy said. "We think maybe they rigged their reactor to push itself beyond its safety limits. Then they abandoned ship after programming the autopilot to ram us."

Aganto just stared at them both for a long moment, then he spoke softly. "I guess they're pretty determined to get us, aren't they?"

"Yes, sir. They've got their hearts set on it."

Everybody was staring at everybody else with bleak expressions, so Bill decided it was his turn to change the subject. With a sleepy smile, Bill said, "So, Mr. Aganto, I . . . uh, hear you really tied one on last night."

Randy gave Bill a disapproving look, but Aganto was willing to go back to that subject rather than stay on the one they had just dropped. He nodded and displayed yet another embarrassed smile. He was beginning to feel like One of the Boys, a totally new experience for him. Randy asked him if he remembered calling Clawron a poisonous bitch. Aganto did not, and he turned beet red when he was reminded of it. This got all three of them chuckling and snickering, and then Mr. Aganto really felt like One of the Boys

"By the way," said Bill. "Has anybody seen Clawron this morning."

"Nope."

"No, me either.”

"Hmmm," said Bill. "Maybe she's sick or something. Maybe she soaked up enough of that drug to put her into a coma." Bill didn't seem very upset by the idea.

"I know she's not unconscious or anything," said Aganto. "When I passed her cabin door I heard some noises from her room. She might be delirious though."

"What makes you think so?"

"She seems to be talking to herself. At first I thought one of you was in there." Aganto began to blush. "All I could hear was the tone of her voice. It was . . .well . . . "

"Passionate?" Randy suggested. Aganto nodded, his face redder than ever. Bill and Randy looked at each other, smirking and nodding. Then Bill's eyes glazed over and his breathing grew shallow and he started glancing back towards Clawron's cabin. Randy read the signs.

"Uh-oh,” Quickly Randy said, “Hey, Bill, I’ll bet Mr. Aganto would like to watch the movie with us." He laid his hand on Bill's shoulder and shook it gently, breaking the trance. "What do you think, Bill?"

"Huh? Oh . . . yeah. Sure."

"Mr. Aganto, would you be interested in watching a true cinematic classic that’s many years ahead of its time?"

"I'd love to. Thank you very much,” said Aganto. He didn't really understand Randy's sudden nervousness or Bill's sudden stupor, but he wanted company and a chance to forget about the three pursuing ships – especially the one that was gaining on them. "How much of the movie have I missed so far?"

"Practically all of it. But don't worry, we'll just start it over again. Bill won't mind – will you, Bill?" Randy stared at Bill's transfixed face. "Yo, Bill! You okay, pal?"

Bill Jenkins was staring at the control panel, and his jaw was tightly clenched. He hauled his gaze away from the read outs and gave the two men a strained smile. In a husky voice he said, "The show must go on."

"That's the spirit!" Randy leapt up and hurried back to the galley. A minute later he returned with a tall drink – which he assured Mr. Aganto was non-alcoholic – and an empty bowl, into which he poured some of his and Bill's popcorn. Then he folded down a chair from a wall recess behind the pilot's couch, and he got Mr. Aganto comfortably seated, with popcorn and drink in hand.

Soon the cockpit lights were extinguished, and Mr. Aganto watched as a four-hundred year old movie filled the forward half of the cockpit dome/display. The movie began with a view of deep space – a view which was remarkably similar to the one outside. Then a disc-shaped starship cruised slowly towards the camera while a deep-voiced narrator started speaking.



the final decade of the 21st century, men and women in rocket ships landed on the moon. By 2200 AD they had reached the other planets of our solar system. Almost at once there followed the discovery of hyperdrive, through which the speed of light was first achieved, and later greatly surpassed. And so at last mankind began the conquest and colonization of deep space.

Randy turned around to grin at Mr. Aganto as he whispered, "Remember, Mr. Aganto, this movie was filmed before mankind orbited its first satellite. And yet they got some of those dates just about right. Pretty good, eh?"
__________________________________

Eight hours after she'd gone into seclusion, Clawron emerged from her cabin. She was dressed in the same charcoal-gray outfit she’d worn when she first arrived. Her skin was still deeply tanned, her hair was still blond, and she hadn’t bothered to remove the elaborate make-up which transformed her face into something almost-but-not-quite beautiful. But her eyes were dark brown again, and she no longer had the slight plumpness which had softened her general physique. Apparently she was no longer interested in looking soft and supple. The old Clawron was back – lean and mean.

And hungry. When she came out of her cabin she went straight to the galley booth and started punching at the keyboard on the autochef. Fifteen minutes later the autochef served up a thick T-bone steak with all the trimmings; a large baked potato, and two country-style biscuits. She added plenty of butter to the biscuits, butter and sour cream to the baked potato. Obviously the lady had an appetite. Gener¬ally speaking, this seemed to be the day for appetites.

Bill came out of the cockpit just as Clawron was sitting down to eat. He ducked back into the cockpit for a moment and then came out wearing his pistol. Bill sat down across from Clawron at the table and spoke in a very quiet, very firm voice.

"After careful consideration I have decided not to kill you and dump your body out the air lock. It would upset Mr. Aganto. However, I recommend that for the remainder of this voyage you’d be wise not to give me the slightest reason to change my mind."

Clawraon was looking down at her plate of food, busily buttering the potato and the biscuits. Bill's statement didn't seem to bother her at all. She just nodded her head a few times and kept on fiddling with her food. Bill hadn't expected her to take his words so lightly. He didn't know what else to say, so he decided to indulge his curiosity.

"Why did you do it? I’d really like to know."

Clawron looked up at him with a mixture of surprise and annoyance.

"Why?" she said, as if it was a stupid question. "Mostly for the obvious reason – we'd both have enjoyed it." She started slicing up the steak with quick, deft movements that told Bill he would be a fool to think she was unarmed. As he watched the thick steak rapidly fragment into bit-sized morsels, his mouth began to water. The drug in his system was heightening his awareness of the steak's aroma.

"But also,” she continued, “because I wanted to apologize for attacking you. I lost my head and gained an enemy, neither of which was very smart."

She speared a thick chunk of steak with her fork and then popped it into her mouth. As her jaw worked up and down, she closed her eyes and let out a long, sensuous moan, reveling in the delicious flavor. Between the aroma of the steak and the sexual symbolism, Bill was losing the better part of his objectivity.

Clawron opened her eyes slowly and noticed the look on Bill's face. She gave a soft, sultry chuckle and speared another chunk of steak. She raised her fork and sent it floating across the table towards Bill's mouth. As she did, she gazed at him with half-closed eyes and made the moaning sound again. Under normal circumstances, her performance would have been unconvincing and almost comical – but under the present circumstances, Bill felt no urge to laugh.

His breathing quickened and his mouth practically drooled. His heart sped up, and it pumped traces of the drug through his brain, making him light-headed. He had to tear his eyes away from Clawron's face and focus on the approaching steak, because if he didn’t open his mouth, she was going to plaster it against his lips. Clawron spoke in a teasing whisper.

"Hot . . . juicy . . . delicious."

Bill's primal urges made the decision for him. His mouth opened all by itself, and the steak slid inside. His eager tongue wrapped around a delicacy of mind-boggling flavor. Meanwhile a voice deep inside Bill was urging him to take Clawron to his cabin and make her ease the other hunger she had created. He looked at her face and saw that her teasing smile was being replaced by her own look of genuine yearning.

Bill remembered that Clawron was under the influence of the drug even more than he was because she had received no treatment from the mechmed after the lotion had been smeared onto her body. Whatever she had been doing in her cabin to relieve her passion during the last eight hours had apparently done a less than a thorough job.

Clawron’s mocking expression was gone, and she was gazing at Bill with hypnotic intensity. The look on her face was pure lust.

And yet – her look didn't affect Bill the way he expected. The look on her face showed too much of the woman's true personality. She was hard, selfish, and utterly cold. And because he could see her so clearly, Bill's own lust turned into an abstract thing, a need without focus, a hunger without goal or direction. His lust was still there, but it had lost its power to lead him anywhere. So he decided to lead himself.

"There is something I've just got to do," he said in a low, husky tone.

"Yes?" said Clawron, slightly breathless.

"I've just got to . . . have one of those steaks," said Bill. He stood up on wobbly legs. Clawron looked puzzled and punch-drunk. She watched Bill walk to the galley booth, and the look in her eyes hardened to a poisonous glare. Then she looked down at her steak, stared at it for a long moment, and started shoveling food into her mouth as if she was starving.

When Bill's food was ready, he took it to the cockpit. He didn't speak to Randy as he climbed into the right-hand seat and locked the tray across the armrests. He didn’t speak to Randy as he climbed into the right-hand seat and locked the tray across the armrests. Randy was watching a familiar movie from the 20th Century on the dome display, a classic about the first manned mission to Jupiter and a computer that had a nervous breakdown. The appearance of the nebula they were passing had given Randy the idea to watch it. He switched it off and studied Bill’s audacious banquet for moment.



"Eating again?" said Randy, eyeing the plate filled with food as Bill started shoveling it into his mouth with no visible shyness.

"Mm-hmmm," said Bill, his cheeks bulged round. He swallowed just enough to say, "It’s called substitute gratification."

“What is?”

“This is.”

“I thought it was a steak.” Randy watched Bill making food disappear at a furious rate. Then he said, "You're off watch now, Bill. Why didn't you eat in the lounge?"

The fork dove into the food and rose again. Munch, chomp, munch. With cheeks bulging like a greedy chipmunk, he said, "I wavva ee heeya."

Somehow Randy figured it out. "You'd rather eat here?" Bill looked over at Randy and nodded. Randy glanced back towards the lounge, thought about Bill's condition, and ventured a guess. “Clawron came out of her cabin?”

Bill nodded one time only. His mind was on the steak, and he wanted to keep it that way. After watching Bill gorge himself for several minutes, Randy got up and said, "Hey, that looks so good I think I'll get one for myself."

"Great," said Bill, slicing and stabbing at the remains of the steak, "Pick me up some desert, will ya?"

"Sure. What do you want?"

"Damn, I don't care. Anything," Bill said. "Anything at all."


_________________________________________________________


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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 12:24 pm; edited 2 times in total
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trekriffic
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PostPosted: Thu Feb 26, 2015 2:16 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Nice way to encorporate a sci-fi classic into the mix. Well two actually, the second being 2001: A Space Odyssey of course.
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Bud Brewster
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PostPosted: Fri Feb 27, 2015 10:20 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks, Steve. Very Happy

When I made the illustration shown below -- using an actually photo of a nebula -- I couldn't resist writing in the reference to 2001. That isn't in the published novel!



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~ The Space Children (1958)
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