ALL SCI-FI Forum Index ALL SCI-FI
Nothin' but pure science fiction!
 
 FAQFAQ   SearchSearch   MemberlistMemberlist   UsergroupsUsergroups   RegisterRegister 
 ProfileProfile   Log in to check your private messagesLog in to check your private messages   Log inLog in 

The Wishbone Express - Chapter 2

 
Post new topic   Reply to topic    ALL SCI-FI Forum Index -> The Wishbone Express by Bruce Cook
View previous topic :: View next topic  
Author Message
Bud Brewster
Galactic Fleet Admiral (site admin)


Joined: 14 Dec 2013
Posts: 17237
Location: North Carolina

PostPosted: Fri Jan 09, 2015 1:40 am    Post subject: The Wishbone Express - Chapter 2 Reply with quote



Chapter 2

The ISY Wishbone (independently owned stellayacht) was parked near one corner of the large, crowded spaceport field. Sleek and beautiful, measuring one hundred and thirty feet (forty meters) from her wedge-shaped prow to her stern-mounted thrust tubes, the Wishbone was drop-dead gorgeous. Streamlined for high-speed flight in any kind of atmosphere, resting horizontally on retractable landing gear, low and lean and positively beautiful, she made every other starship on the field look misused and half-built.



For three years now, the Wishbone had been the pride and joy of her two owners. In this ship they had sailed the sea of stars — and made more money in the process than they had taken the time to spend, which meant they could now afford to pick and choose the jobs they took. As a rule they took the jobs that promised the most adventure, excitement, and miscellaneous mayhem. This, Randy and Bill agreed, made life more entertaining.

Their current job seemed to fit the bill perfectly.

“Here they come,” said Bill as he stood just inside the open doors of the air lock, gazing out across the spaceport field. In the distance he saw a vehicle approaching, winding its way around the other spacecraft that dotted the enormous blacktop.



“Wait a second. Something’s screwy here, Randy. They’re going like a bat outta’ Hoboken. It’s a wonder the port authority police aren’t chasing them.”

Randy Henson, sitting in the cockpit forty feet away, called out to Bill. “Hey, don’t stand in the doorway.”

“Why not?” said Bill, stepping back even as he asked.

“Let’s make sure it’s them first.”

“Oh, yea. Gotcha.” Bill positioned himself behind the bulkhead so that he could peek around the open air lock. His right hand felt the butt of the plasma beam pistol at his hip, remembering what Aganto had said about assassination attempts on his client. Across the blacktop the vehicle sped toward the Wishbone, and Bill began to wonder why the vehicle wasn’t slowing down. He opened his mouth to speak, but Randy beat him to it.

“I’ve got them covered with the portside guns. Be ready to close the hatch.”

As he watched the speeding vehicle, Bill thought to himself, Surely it’s not going to ram us. We don’t even have our passengers aboard, yet.

“It’s slowing down,” Randy called out. He must have been using cockpit instruments to determine this, because Bill couldn’t tell any difference from where he stood. But suddenly the vehicle locked up its six wheels and skidded toward the ship, sliding to a halt near the boarding ramp.

Out of the vehicle burst two people — and a furry something that looked roughly like an oversized otter, about eight feet long with brick-red fur. The sleek body loped along behind a thin young woman carrying a shoulder bag as she came sprinting up the ramp behind Mr. Aganto, who was toting a sizable briefcase and a shoulder bag of his own.



The three of them bolted through the open air lock, and Aganto whirled around when he saw Bill.

“We’ve got to liftoff immediately!” he said frantically. “I’m sure they’re following us!”

“Okay. Right. Who’s following you?” said Bill, closing both air lock doors.

“Two men dressed as police officers. But they couldn’t have been the police because they tried to kill us!” Aganto was visibly shaken by the incident, staring wild-eyed at Bill.

“Just for the record — exactly how did they try to kill you?”

“They pulled they’re vehicle right out in front of us! They tried to ram us! I was barely able to steer around — ”

“Wait a second, wait a second,” Bill said quickly, smelling a rat. “Try to calm down, please. Listen carefully. By some strange coincidence, was this vehicle marked Spaceport Police or Port Authority Police or — ”

Port Authority Police. You’re right! It was marked Port Authority Police — but they couldn’t have been real police officers!” Aganto said excitedly, beginning to hyperventilate. “They tried to ram us!”

Randy’s voice called out from the cockpit. “Did you have your field pass clearly displayed on your vehicle?”

“My what?” said Aganto, looking agitated.

Bill stared at Aganto in disbelief. “Oh my God,” he said slowly.

“Your field pass!” Randy shouted from the cockpit. “Your permit to drive out onto the field. Usually it’s a small flag with a magnetic disk at the base so you can stick it on the hood or the roof of your vehicle.”

“Well . . . no,” said Aganto with visible embarrassment. “But that doesn’t explain why they tried to ram us!” he added defensively.

“They were probably just trying to stop you,” said Bill. “What about the guard post, the one you had to go through to get out onto the field? Didn’t the guard stop you and ask you for your identification? ”

“No, he didn’t!” Aganto said in a shrill voice. “He just let us go right on by! As we pulled off the highway and approached the spaceport we ended up in the middle of a long line of large freight trucks who were approaching the guard station. When the guard waved the line of trucks through we just . . . uh,” Aganto looked much less certain as he finished, “ . . . followed them.”

As soon as he said it, he had the look of a deer caught in the headlights of an approaching car whose driver just loved venison.

Bill shook his head in wonder. “So, the port authority is after you for making an illegal entry. How did you get away from the port authority vehicle after they tried to make you stop?”

“I didn’t want them to follow us to the ship, so after I swerved around the big trucks, I did some zigzagging.” Aganto’s face was turning red. Everything he had done was beginning to look like the actions of a dangerous criminal, something a lawyer knows all about.

From the cockpit they heard Randy groan, “Oh, this is not good. Not good at all.”

Just to keep from meeting Aganto’s agonized gaze, Bill looked down at his own feet while he scratched his head, thinking black thoughts about paranoid lawyers. Then he called out to Randy.

“Better get Port Authority Central on the horn and see if we can apologize our way out of a fat fine — ”

“Too late,” Randy called out in an agonized voice. “Here they come now. Crack the hatch, Bill. And turn on the boyish charm.”

Bill opened the double doors of the air lock and stepped out into plain sight, flashing a big toothy grin at the approaching port authority vehicle. As it pulled up next to Aganto’s vehicle, Bill waved like a spectator at a parade. Two uniformed men made slow and cautious exits from the vehicle, both giving Bill suspicious looks.



“Are you the owner of this vehicle?” said one of them as they came up the boarding ramp.

“Uh, no sir — but he’s right inside,” said Bill, keeping his smile in place. “And man-oh-man, have we been giving him a hard time. We told the poor idiot that he was supposed to get his field pass from the port authority, but I don’t think he even knows what the port authority is.” Bill gave them an unconvincing smile and a less convincing chuckle. He wasn’t surprised when the two policemen remained steely-eyed and stone-faced. The one who had spoken to Bill had a weather-beaten face with a cold expression, an older man a few winters past middle age. The other man was considerably younger, and his face had developed a hint of sympathy as Bill spoke. The older man shouldered his way past Bill and stepped into the Wishbone’s central lounge.

“Where is he?” he said gruffly. Bill motioned toward Aganto, who was standing smack in the middle of the lounge, looking nervous and guilty. The poor man couldn’t have looked more embarrassed if he’d been stark naked and surrounded by all his closest family members.

“License?” the officer said sharply, sounding as if he didn’t really expect Aganto to have one. Aganto fumbled his wallet out and presented his license, his hands trembling. The officer examined it for a moment and then glanced up to compare the three-dimensional picture on the license to Aganto’s face, turning the license to see the image from all sides. As he did, he noticed the oversized “otter” for the first time, partially hidden behind the woman who had come aboard with the other two. The police officer laid his hand on the butt of his pistol.

“Is that animal dangerous?”



In a voice that was both very quiet and very calm, the woman said, “Not . . . unless provoked.” A faint smile lifted her thin lips. As she spoke, Bill took his first close look at her. She wore a simple two-piece outfit comprised of pants and a pullover top, with soft-soled shoes. Both the top and the pants were made of a soft, charcoal-gray fabric with no patterns or adornments of any kind. The pants and top fit closely to her lean form. She wore no jewelry or makeup.

She was not, by Bill’s standards, an attractive woman. Her hair was a nondescript brown, cut in a shaggy, semi-short style. Her eyes were narrow slits, her nose was a bony blade, her lips were thin and tight. In fact, her face was like her body — wiry and tough. She was short, about five foot three, but somehow she looked anything but weak — and anything but feminine. The longer Bill looked at her, the more he became convinced; this woman was not attractive by anybody’s standards.

But her narrow eyes held a strange intensity that contrasted with the rest of her non-descript appearance. And the way she held her body gave the impression that she could move quickly in any direction the moment she needed to.

“Does that animal belong to you?” the officer said to her.

She preceded her quiet answer with an irritating pause. “Yes.”

“Keep it in hand,” he said sternly. The woman made no reply. She just nailed the police officer to the bulkhead with her flinty eyes. The man turned to his younger colleague and said, “Check the cargo hold.” The younger man nodded and headed off down the corridor.

“Actually, we’re slap empty,” said Bill, still wearing his forced smile.

“I’m sure you are,” the police officer said with lazy sarcasm. “And that’s why you won’t mind if I poke around some.”

“Be my guest,” said Bill.

“Mine, too,” Randy called out from the cockpit.

“Who’s that?” the police officer said, looking wary about this new element.

“My partner. We own this ship.”

“Uh-huh. We’ll check that with Port Authority Central in just a second.” The police officer started strolling around the lounge, opening compartments, poking into drawers, looking for something, anything, that would explain Aganto’s evasive-maneuver driving. When he circled around to where the woman and the animal were located, they both stubbornly stood their ground. The animal’s steady, watchful eyes were no less fierce than those of the woman’s, and between the two of them, they were a force to be reckoned with. But the police officer was determined to prove his mettle, so he held the woman’s icy gaze for a long moment and then spoke in a voice that was quiet but firm.

“Move it, lady.”

With insulting slowness, she complied, and the animal followed closely with it's serpentine grace, it's body seeming to flow behind it's head as it moved. They moved a few meters toward the corridor that led to the cargo hold while the police officer completed his casual search. He went up the short flight of stairs that led to the cockpit, and Bill heard him speak a few words to Randy. Then he came back down, still acting casual and tough and insufferably patient.

He’s stalling for time, Bill thought to himself. He doesn’t really know what he wants to do with us.

Aganto’s eagerness for a quick departure was beginning to overcome his guilt at having played tag with the police. He was starting to wring his hands and chew his lower lip.

“Officer?” Aganto said finally. “Uh, I’m very sorry about having caused this, uh — this unfortunate misunderstanding. I will, of course, pay any fines that the law requires, but could we please handle this matter quickly? It’s very urgent that we liftoff as soon as possible.”

The police officer looked pleased with Aganto’s uneasiness. It gave him something to ask questions about.

“Why? What’s the big hurry?”

“It concerns an investigation being conducted by the Alliance Council of Justice on — ”

Suddenly an electronic alarm sang out from the cockpit, and everyone turned toward the cockpit stairs. The alarm ceased after three seconds, and it was instantly followed by Randy Henson’s anxious voice.

“Bill! The sensors in the cargo hold have detected some kind of explosive!”

Wearing a puzzled expression, the young police officer emerged from the corridor that led back to the cargo hold. Bill locked eyes with the man for an instant and then snatched his pistol from its holster. But the other officer, standing close to Bill, saw him go for his gun. He swung his right arm in a backhanded blow that knocked the weapon out of Bill’s grasp. The police officer then threw a hard left fist at Bill’s jaw, sending him staggering backward. He stumbled over a chair and sprawled across the carpeted deck.

The instant the younger police officer saw Bill try to draw, he reached for his own pistol. As the weapon cleared the holster, the young woman took two running steps and leapt toward him with inhuman speed. She sailed completely over the fallen chair and turned her body in midair to land feet-first squarely in the middle of the young police officer’s chest. The pistol spun out of his hand as he was thrown back into the corridor, where he fell with a thud that Randy Henson could hear all the way up in the cockpit.

And just as the older police officer grabbed his pistol (while Bill was somersaulting over the furniture), a brick-red blur arced through the air and clamped its fanged mouth on the man’s wrist.



The pistol fell from his limp hand as he whirled in a half-circle, yanked off his feet by the clinging weight of the beast. He wound up lying on his stomach, his arm stretched out before him, his right wrist locked in the animal’s vice-like jaws. Neither the man nor the beast moved a muscle as they laid there glaring at each other.

Randy raced down the stairs from the cockpit and screeched to a halt as he stared at the strange scene before him. After a bewildered moment, he hurried over to help Bill up from the deck. As he was doing so, the younger police officer came marching stiff-legged out of the corridor with the woman close behind him. She had his right arm twisted behind the young man's back, gripping his hand in some sort of restraining hold. The man’s face was pale and taunt from the pain she was inflicting. She trotted him up to Bill and Randy, and then she stood him on his tiptoes with a slight twist of her wrist. Randy grabbed a wad of the man’s shirt and yanked him forward until their noses almost touched.

Through clenched teeth Randy said, “Be a good boy, now. No lies. Is the bomb set to go off if anybody touches it?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking — Eeeee!” he screamed in a shrill voice when the woman twisted his fingers into unnatural positions. He was standing on his toes again, just like a ballerina.

“Answer the question. Can I deactivate it?”

“Yes!” he squealed, his face contorted with pain. The woman eased up a bit on his hand, and the police officer’s toes uncurled accordingly. “Yes, you can,” he said in a more normal voice. “It’s a time delay. It’s set to go off in two hours.”

“Good boy,” said Randy. “Now prove it. Let’s go.”

“What about him?” said Bill, motioning toward the other man who still lay motionless on the deck, his eyes wide with fright as he waited for the eight-foot otter to bite his hand off and eat it right in front of him. Bill had regained his fallen pistol and was covering the motionless police officer.

“Mr. Aganto can keep him covered,” said Randy. Aganto stood nearby, looking terrified. He had picked up the gun the older police officer had dropped, but he was holding it carefully by the barrel.

“Don’t worry,” said the woman quietly. She nodded her head toward the prone police officer. “He won’t go anywhere.”

The man on the floor gave her a pleading look. “Please . . . ” he whispered.

“Oh, you’ll be all right,” she said lightly. “Just be careful not to move. Okay?”

The man started to nod . . . then he decided not to . . . then he didn’t know what to do.



“All right,” said Randy. “Let’s go.”

The woman seemed content to dance the young police officer around like a puppet, so Randy and Bill let her waltz him down the corridor past the four cabins. The cargo hold was twelve meters wide and twenty-two meters long. All it held at present was a few lashed-down storage units that were filled with some of Randy’s and Bill’s personal belongings, several cargo nets, a pile of straps, and a folded stack of insulation tarps and covers for hazardous waste containers. The police officer obediently led them to one of the storage units and then pointed toward the gap between it and the wall. Hesitantly Bill reached behind the container and pulled out a polished metal device about the size and shape of a shot glass. A tiny display on one end of it had a row of numbers, indicating hours, minutes, seconds. 1:58:48 . . . 47 . . . 46 . . . 45 . . . as it ticked its way down toward zero. Randy held it up an inch from the police officer’s face while he put his finger on the deactivation switch. The police officer didn’t flinch at the prospect of having his face at ground zero if the bomb exploded . . . so Randy switched the bomb off.

Back to the lounge. Randy hurried over to the open air lock door and glanced out, then he turned to Bill and said, “Yep. Here they come. A slew of port authority police vehicles with flashing lights ablaze.”

Bill swore profusely, making no apologies to anyone, then he followed it with, “What’ll we do now, partner?”

“I vote we haul our carcasses out of here. Obviously we can’t count on too many friends among the port authority police. So let’s just leave rudely and apologize later.”

“Agreed. Fire up the engines, Ace.”

Randy hurried back up the cockpit stairs. The woman had retrieved the pistol from Mr. Aganto and was using it to cover the police officer by aiming it straight at his crotch while the animal obediently let him up. The young police officer had a black look of hatred in his eyes, but the older man appeared genuinely confused and nervous.

“Hey, look . . . I don’t get any of this,” he said, rubbing the indented teeth-marks on his bruised wrist. “What’s going on?”

“See this?” said Bill, holding up the miniature bomb. “Your partner here planted this little trinket in the cargo hold. The plan was to turn us into one of those unexplained mysteries of space — a ship that vanished en route.” Bill paused while the man turned to his colleague with a puzzled look . . . then an angry look . . . then a very angry look. During this time the rising whine of the ship’s engines became audible through the open air lock. The police officer looked back at Bill and asked a one-word question.

“Why?”

“Her,” Bill said, pointing at the woman. He didn’t have time for explanations. “It’s one of those political things.” He went over to the air lock and looked outside. A half-dozen police vehicle were closing in fast on the Wishbone. Bill turned to Aganto. “Do you folks need anything from your car?”

Aganto looked over at the hefty briefcase and the shoulder bag he’d laid on the table, then he glanced over at the shoulder bag the woman had tossed onto the couch. He turned back to Bill. “Well, the rest of our luggage — ”

“Anything really essential?”

“Well . . . no. And the car is rented, so I guess the agency will — ”

“Good.” With a quick gesture of his hand, Bill motioned for the woman to throw the young police officer out the air lock. Still twisting the man’s arm behind his back, she marched him over to the air lock and shoved him through the door. As he stumbled past, Bill kicked him squarely in the seat of the pants just as hard as he could, sending the young man running headlong down the boarding ramp before he tripped and sprawled out on the blacktop. Bill turned to the older officer.

“Tell your boss that we didn’t have time to stick around and figure out which of his people had sold out.” Bill shoved the man through the air lock and hit the switch that closed the doors. The big outer door began to swing down, and the ramp retracted into the hull. “Be careful, though. Your own boss might’ve sold out, too!”

The sound of the Wishbone’s engines had turned into a throbbing noise that shook the air. The two policemen scrambled to get inside their vehicle. As the outer airlock door folded down and sealed shut, Bill shouted to his partner, “Oookay, Randy! Let’s rock ’n’ roooooll!”

As the police vehicles surrounded the Wishbone and skidded to a halt, the starship’s plasma cannons swung out of their gun ports all around the hull. A few of the policemen started getting out of their cars, but when they saw the cannons, their eyes bulged and they dove back inside. All the cannons tilted downward and fired a volley straight into the blacktop, blasting holes in the hard material, spraying the police vehicles with fragments. The policemen stayed safely inside their vehicles as the ISY Wishbone lifted off amidst the blistering heat of its maneuvering thrusters. The polarized windshields of the police vehicles darkened to protect the eyes of their occupants from the blue-white glare of the thin flames that pushed the starship up into the cloudless sky.

In the Wishbone’s cockpit, Bill lowered himself into the right-hand seat and took hold of the control yoke so that Randy could concentrate on the argument he was having on the com system with an angry air traffic controller.



“Yea, yea, I know all about your damn fine for an unauthorized liftoff. But if we hadn’t done it, we wouldn’t have lived long enough to pay the fine. A port authority policeman just tried to blow us out of the sky by planting a bomb aboard our ship!” Randy listened to a reply on his headset, then he said heatedly, “No way, pal! We are not returning to the spaceport. I’ve got a VIP passenger aboard this ship, and I’m not going to risk coming back. You’ve got some bad apples in your barrel, and we wouldn’t be very safe in your so-called protective custody.” He listened to another reply, then he said, “Okay, sure, we’ll be happy to come back and file charges . . . but not until after we’ve safely delivered our passengers to our destination, which will take several days and — What? Oh, yea? Well, you can take your criminal charges and shove ’em up your — ”

Click. Randy stopped himself when he saw Bill reach over quickly to switch off the com system. Bill gave his friend a disapproving look and wagged an admonishing finger at him like a third grade teacher scolding her reigning spitball champion.

“Naughty, naughty. You’re supposed to be talking us out of trouble.”

“Right,” Randy said sarcastically. “I’m guilt-ridden. I really am.” Randy pointed at the control yoke Bill was holding, and he growled in a barely audible voice. “Just fly the ship. I’ll handle the diplomacy.”

As the Wishbone climbed up out of the atmosphere, the sky slowly shaded from blue to indigo to black. The cockpit of the Wishbone was covered by a teardrop-shaped dome of transparent crystalsteel, designed to give its crew a fine view of what they were approaching, what they were passing, and what they were leaving behind.



In this case, the crew was leaving behind a few criminal charges, several hefty fines, and a sizable bill for the repair of the spaceport blacktop. Those accounts would have to be settled in full if Randy Henson and Bill Jenkins didn’t want to lose their business license and become fugitives. But, in view of the hostile situation on Blue Marble, they figured it would be much safer and wiser to settle accounts after they had delivered their passengers to Philcani-tu and collected their fee.

“So far, the scope is clear,” said Randy, hunched over a display screen that showed what the Wishbone’s sensors could see of space around them.

“No surprise. The continental police wouldn’t be dumb enough to try to overtake a spacecraft. They’d leave that to the in-system police.”

“Agreed. And if the in-system police know anything about the Wishbone’s armament, they’ll wait until they can round up three or four sublight cruisers before they take us on.”

“Or maybe just one Armed Forces stellavoyager, if there happens to be one in the system.”

“Or about ten percent of a galactic stellacruiser — ”

“In which case we’d never know what hit us, so why worry about it. Right?” said Bill. “Besides, all this is pointless because we’re the Good Guys and we’re not going to shoot back. We’re in enough trouble already. So let’s crank up this expensive computer and plot a few dazzling evasive maneuvers that’ll make us a very poor target.”

“You get started on that,” Randy said in a weary voice as he rose from his seat and headed down the stairs toward the lounge, his voice fading as he went. “I’ll go try to convince our passengers that all of this is part of our master plan. Nothing to worry about, folks! We’ve got ’em right where we want ’em! . . . ” Randy’s grumbling voice faded into inaudibility. Bill shook his head and then busied his hands giving the computer navigational commands.

In the lounge, Randy found Mr. Aganto pacing back and forth like an expectant father. The woman was doing just the opposite — lying on the couch, totally relaxed, her feet propped up on one of the armrests, her hands behind her head. She might have been smiling faintly, but Randy couldn’t tell for sure because her bony facial features tended to pull all expressions into horizonal lines. Randy looked around for the oversized otter — and saw it back in the galley booth, standing on its hind legs while it rummaged around in an open cabinet.

“Hey! Get that blasted beast out of my galley!”

Indignantly Randy went striding toward the pesky critter to shoo it away from the galley. He took five steps and ran smack into the woman. With surprising speed she had leapt from the couch and planted herself solidly in front of Randy. Equally surprising was the fact that she still wore the same faint smile — if it was a smile. Randy still couldn’t tell. She spoke in a low voice, her tone sounding casual, but with an underlying tension, a challenge that raised the hairs on the back of Randy’s neck.

“The wajinda must be hungry. I’ll get it something to eat.”

Randy glared down into her narrow eyes for a moment, mentally getting a good grip on his anger and pulling it over into a corner of his mind where he ordered it to stay. Then he allowed himself to reply in a casual tone that was just as insincere as her own.

“I’d be happy to show you how the autochef works.”

She raised her thin eyebrows a notch and expanded her stingy smile a tiny fraction. “No need. It looks pretty standard.”

Randy had to march his anger back into the corner again, then he tried not to grit his teeth when he said, “I’d rather do it myself. If you don’t mind.”

There was a long pause while the lady with the debatable smile tested Randy’s ability to hold her steely-eyed gaze. Finally she said, “Well, suit yourself. It’s your galley.”

Randy’s anger was hopping up and down, begging him to tell the woman she was a stone-faced bitch. But another little voice in his head reminded him that just a few minutes ago this same woman had leapt eight feet through the air and flattened an armed police officer. Randy considered the situation carefully and decided it was clearly a question of valor and discretion and whether one was the better part of the other.

With a conscious effort, Randy made himself step back and arrange his face into a reasonable smile, still holding the woman’s gaze. Then, in a strained imitation of cordiality, he said, “Actually we’re quite proud of our galley. As soon as we’re out of this star system I’ll see if I can whip up something special for you just to celebrate our spectacular get-away.”

Her answer was brief and unkind. “I prefer fixing my own meals. But thanks anyway.” She delivered it in a low and lazy voice.

So much for charm and diplomacy, Randy thought to himself. Out loud he said, “Suit yourself. It’s your stomach.”

Aganto hurried over and stood next to them, wringing his hands. “Please, please,” he said anxiously. “We’re all a bit on edge, and this isn’t helping things a bit.”

He was right, of course, and Randy knew it. Besides, the big otter had stopped foraging in the galley and was now watching the confrontation closely, its glistening eyes fixed on Randy.

That’s some bodyguard she’s got there, he said to himself.

“Let’s start all over again and do a better job of this, shall we?” said Randy, forcing another smile. “Hi there, my name is Randy Henson. That’s Bill Jenkins up there in the cockpit, currently doing all the work.” Randy stuck out his right hand. After a short pause the woman took it and demonstrated a grip that told Randy he should never ask her for a massage unless he wanted to end up black and blue all over.

“My name is Clawron Uquay,” she introduced herself without much joy. Randy decided the name suited her. It was like the sound of cracking ice. “And that — ” she motioned toward the watching animal, “ — is the wajinda.”

Randy was a bit confused. “Just the wajinda? Doesn’t it have a name of its own?”

“What’s wrong with just calling it the wajinda?”

“Oh, nothing. It’s just a little like having a dog named Dog.”

“It’s the only one aboard, isn’t it?”

“Sure, I just meant — ”

“So how could anybody get confused?” She still spoke in a slow and easy voice that should have sounded like flirtation . . . but sound like an insult.

“Okay, okay! You win!” Randy gave the animal a sarcastic wave. “Hi, wajinda!”

The animal interpreted the wave to mean it could go back to foraging in the galley. Randy heard something overturn, and he gave Clawron a pleading look as he gestured helplessly toward the animal.



Her look of mild amusement grew fractionally more intense, and she strolled over to the galley booth to gently pull the animal out of the narrow enclosure. Randy watched her go to work at the keyboard, punching a food order into the autochef. She seemed to know what she was doing, and the wajinda seemed satisfied to wait, so Randy told himself to forget the whole thing and get on with the business that had brought him back to the lounge in the first place. He started explaining what he and Bill were planning to do. Clawron didn’t seem particularly interested, but Aganto was hanging on every word. Unfortunately Randy only got about two sentences into his explanation when Bill’s voice interrupted him.

“Ooooh, Raaandy,” Bill’s voice drifted back from the cockpit like a distant mother calling her child home for dinner. “Come heeeeere, please.”

Randy drew a deep breath and huffed it out. He gave the passengers an apologetic look and opened his mouth to speak, but all he could think of to say was, “Well, no rest for the weary.”

A few seconds later, Randy dropped hard into the left-hand cockpit seat. “Party time?” he said lightly, trying to hide the tension in his voice. He failed.

“Yes, indeed. And the guests are arriving.”

“How many and how big?”

“Two. Just police sublight cruisers, thank goodness, but they’re closing fast. If we could run in a straight line, we could build up enough speed to convert to hyperdrive in a little over twenty minutes. Unfortunately, if we run in a straight line — ”

“They’ll put a plasma bolt right up our stern tubes. But if we zigzag, we can’t build up enough speed to convert to hyperdrive.”

“Exactly,” said Bill with a sly look. “But . . . there is a third alternative.”

Suddenly a voice blared out from the com systems speakers. “ISY Wishbone, ISY Wishbone, this is the Sangwaniki In-System Police. You are hereby ordered to surrender and prepare to be boarded. Repeat, surrender immediately. We have you under our guns.”



“Think he’s bluffin’?” said Bill, his expression kept carefully deadpan.

Randy’s only answer was to turn toward Bill with a bug-eyed look of disbelief.

“Okay, okay,” Bill said quickly. “Maybe we should give him the benefit of the doubt.”

Again the voice came from the com systems speakers. “This is your last warning, Wishbone. Surrender or we’ll open fire.”

Bill put on his headset and spoke into the mike. “Ah, come on! You’re not really going to blast us just because we made an emergency liftoff, are you? We’re heroes! We just saved a VIP passenger from an assassination attempt.”

Randy’s jaw dropped, then he whispered, “Don’t forget to tell him what a poor, helpless woman she is.”

“Hush!” Bill hissed sharply. The com system was silent for a few seconds and then the voice spoke again, this time sounding somewhat less official and stern.

“I assume I’m speaking to one of the two owners of the Wishbone. Is this Henson or Jenkins?”

“Bill Jenkins, at your service, sir.”

“Okay, Jenkins, I’ll bite. First of all, who’s the VIP?”

“An important witness who possesses vital evidence to be presented to representatives of the Alliance Council of Justice, which is currently conducting a Court of Inquiry on the planet Philcani-tu, and their ruling will decide the fate of the entire planetary population.”

Randy was staring at Bill with an adoring look. “Wow,” he whispered. “You said all that in one breath!”

“Will you please shut up?” Bill hissed.

“What’s the name of this witness?” said the voice from the com system.

“Uh-uh! No way! “ Bill said indignantly. “You ought to know better than to ask me that! You can’t legally compel a person to divulge confidential information connected with a Court of Inquiry investigation. That’s the law, pal.”

Randy leaned over and whispered, “Is that really true?”

“Hell, I don’t know,” whispered Bill. “I just made it up,”

The voice spoke again. “Stand by, Wishbone.” Then silence.

Bill turned his mike off and chuckled softly. “I think I foxed ’em!”

“They’re still closing on us,” said Randy, studying the scope screen.

“Sure, and they can see that we’re still accelerating,” said Bill. “They can also see that we’re heading straight for Blue Marble’s primary, yon lovely multi-colored gas giant affectionately known as Colossus. Can you guess why we’re not steering clear of such an annoying source of gravity when we have such a pressing need for speed? Come on, take a guess.” Bill was grinning mightily and wiggling his eyebrows up and down. “Please, please, please! Take a guess.”

“Hell, no, I will not guess. Just tell me.”

The voice from the com system interrupted Bill, who was thoroughly enjoying Randy’s look of aggravation.

“Jenkins?” said the voice. “Have you any proof of this alleged assassination attempt?”

“We’ve got the explosive device that was planted in our cargo hold by a man dressed as a port authority police officer. A second police officer was present, and he may or may not have been in on it — which means he may or may not back up our story. But we have two passengers aboard who will definitely testify on our behalf. Do you want to speak to them? One is a prominent attorney — ”

“Not now,” the voice interrupted. “Why didn’t you turn the two men over to the authorities? Why did you liftoff without clearance? And last but not least — why are you trying to outrun us now!”

Bill matched the man’s anger as he shouted into his headset. “Because, you jackass, whoever ordered the planting of that bomb is obviously very determined not to let our passenger testify before the Court of Inquiry. The clumsy idiot that planted the bomb on our ship was obviously someone they dug up on short notice — an amateur. We were just lucky. But if we turn ourselves over to the authorities, our passenger will be a prime target for a second attempt. There’s probably an open bounty on our passenger’s head, and that guy at the spaceport was just trying to collect it.”

Bill paused a second, then he said, “Now, think a second, buddy. If you blow us out of the sky without a real good reason, the authorities back on Blue Marble are going to wonder if maybe you were just finishing the job.” Bill switched off his headset and then turned to Randy. His angry look was instantly replaced by an eager smile. “Well? How did that sound? Pretty convincing?”

“Quite a performance.” But Randy didn’t look very happy.

“Good. That might stall them long enough for us to pull off the maneuver I thought up.”

Randy had been patient as long as he could. “What maneuver!” he yelled.

“Your attention to the screen, please.” Bill punched up a computer graphic that depicted the gas giant ahead of the Wishbone, of which Blue Marble was a moon. Unusually large, even for a gas giant, the planet Colossus was the center of a complex system of moons — thirty-two total, although fifteen of them were hardly bigger than a fair-sized asteroid. Four of the larger moons were presently positioned more-or-less between the planet and the Wishbone. While Randy watched the screen, Bill began to lecture.

“The navigation system has figured out a way for us to accelerate to hyperdrive speed without going in a straight line.” Bill tapped a button on the keyboard, and a thin red line appeared on the screen, extending itself toward the randomly clustered moons. The red line represented the Wishbone’s proposed flight path. As Randy watched, the line started looping and curving around the moons, bending sharply around each one, moving faster and faster, getting closer and closer to each moon it passed until it was almost grazing the surface. Finally the line did a suicidal dive at the gas giant itself, skimming its atmosphere while the line curved around the backside of the huge planet. Then the red line turned bright green and shot off into space.

Hyperdrive. Gone.

The maneuver was made possible by the nature of hyperdrive itself. The odd thing about hyperdrive was that it wasn’t really a propulsion system. It was a kind of time machine. It altered the normal characteristics of relativity and the effect it had on any object moving at some fair percentage of light speed. Under normal circumstances, as a moving object’s velocity neared the speed of light, time slowed down and the object’s mass increased. But hyperdrive countered this effect so that a spacecraft could actually travel thousands of times the speed of light, while time within the spacecraft passed at a normal rate and its mass did not turn it into the biggest fat lady in the universe.

Unfortunately, hyperdrive could not take full effect until a spacecraft had accelerated to 0.3896 of light speed. But even at speeds less than .0001 of light speed, a working hyperdrive would dramatically improve a spacecraft’s power and maneuverability.

And that’s why the Wishbone would be able to whip around the gas giant’s moons at increasingly maniacal speeds while it received a great deal of help from the gravity of each moon it passed. After studying the maneuver on the display for a few seconds, Randy wore a sour look, and he spoke in a sarcastic tone to match it.

“Brilliant. Just brilliant. Except that it’ll kill us.”

“You are so nitpicky. I’m sure we can work out that little problem,” said Bill, his enthusiasm untouched by Randy’s lack of same. “Actually, the hard part was getting all the geography to come out just right.”

“The geog — ” Randy choked on the word and had to start over. “The geography?”

“Yep.”

“I don’t get it.”

“The mountains. There are some very high mountains on the last moon we pass. The computer had to take those into consideration when it figured the close-orbit loop.”

Randy turned his puzzled face toward the display screen, and his eyes narrowed as he scrutinized the computer graphic that illustrated the tangled orbital loops. After a moment he realized what Bill meant. With comprehension came amazement, and Randy’s eyes bulged accordingly. He saw that as the Wishbone’s speed increased, it would pass so close to the last moon that it would actually fly between some of the tall mountain peaks.

“Ummm . . . Bill? Has this ever been done before?”

“Ask me again in about twenty-five minutes.”

“Aw, crap . . . ,” Randy groaned. Then he noticed something else on the graphic. “Wait. Hold it. Look right here. How can we possibly do this, Bill?” He put his finger on the twisted line where it almost dipped into the gas giant’s atmosphere.

“Ah, yes. That’s an excellent question,” said Bill. “At that point our velocity will be just a tad less than 0.3896 of light speed — just a little shy of the speed we need for hyperdrive.”

Randy was shaking his head from side to side, a very definite no, no, no. “Uh-uh. Sorry. No way, Jose. We’ll be so close to the gas giant that the force shields will drag the upper fringes of its atmosphere. It will slow us down — ”

“Got that all figured out. Admittedly I had a little help.”

“You asked the nav computer what to do.”

“Exactly. Why pay big bucks for that lazy computer if we don’t use it? It suggested we cancel the outer four shields and divert the extra power to shield number one. We can shape the shield like a wedge so that — ”

“Whoa, whoa, wait a second! What did the computer say would happen if we encountered any meteoroids that were being pulled down to the planet? At the speed we’ll be traveling, even a pebble-sized object would go right through us if we don’t have full shield protection. One shield won’t be enough.”

Bill dismissed the danger with a wave of his hand and a casual pronouncement. “Highly unlikely. Almost impossible. Won’t happen.”

“Right. But what did the computer say?”

Bill squirmed visibly and avoided direct eye contact. Finally he mumbled, “Basically it said we’d die horribly.” Then he gave Randy a pleading look. “But hey, you can’t trust that piece of junk! It doesn’t consider the fact that you and I are the two luckiest sons of bi — ”

The voice from the com system erupted suddenly, cutting off any further discussion.

“Listen, Jenkins. I’ve been in contact with the Central Records Division, and they sent me some data on you and Henson. According to the files, you two turned in some smugglers a few years ago, even though you almost got killed in the process. And your psychological profiles indicate a high degree of stability and moral integrity — ”

Bill chuckled when he turned to Randy and whispered, “They must have gotten the wrong files."

Randy nodded gravely. “Right, That sure doesn’t sound much like you, does it?”

“ — and so,” the officer was saying, “I’m going to contact the authorities on Blue Marble and recommend they investigate your claim. But — ”

“Big of him, eh?” muttered Bill.

" — if you don’t turn back immediately and submit to interrogation," the voice concluded in a more ominous tone, "we will be forced to open fire.”

Bill and Randy gave each other a long look of inquiry. Without taking his eyes off Bill, Randy tapped his fingers on the display screen that illustrated the roller-coaster flight path through the gas giant’s moons. In a quiet but very intense voice, he said, “Give it to me straight, Jenkins. Will this idea really work?”

Bill wore a somber look as he said, “I’m absolutely, positively certain that it might work.” Then he leaned closer and whispered, “And if it doesn’t . . . thousands of women all over the galaxy will be wearing their underwear at half-mast in memory of us.”

For a long five seconds, Randy just stared at Bill the way doctors stare at madmen and the way mechanics stare at broken engines. Then Randy nodded slowly. “Oh, what the hell. As long as we’re dying for a worthy cause.”

“That’s the spirit!” Bill lunged forward and started typing at the computer keyboard. A few seconds later, the computer took over control of the Wishbone’s helm. The ship was now on full automatic. Bill leaned back comfortably and folded his arms. “Now all we have to do is sit back and enjoy the scenery.”

“Right,” said Randy, looking a bit bleak. “While it lasts.”

Bill flipped a switch to activate his headset mic. “Okay, sir, you win. We’ll do a loop around the gas giant to save time and fuel, and then we'll follow you back to Blue Marble.” Bill paused a second for dramatic effect, then he said, “But . . . you’ll have to personally guarantee the safety of our VIP passenger. Personally. Agreed?”

No answer. The police officer was thinking it over. He knew that Bill was asking for a verbal commitment. If he consented, it would be recorded in both his own ship’s log and the Wishbone’s, and it would be legally binding in a court of law. After careful consideration the officer said, “Agreed.” He then stated his name and rank for the recorded logs of both ships.

“Acknowledge agreement of verbal contract,” Bill said, carefully following the legal form. Then he switched off the com system and turned to Randy. Randy was slouched low in his chair, a glum look on his face, his arms folded tightly across his chest. His body language was sending strong messages of pessimism. Bill gave him a wise and worldly smile.

“Well, my friend, the die is cast,” said Bill. “Can you think of anything else we need to do?”

“Ummm . . . we could both buy more life insurance,” Randy grumbled.

Bill shook his head sadly. “My goodness. That doesn’t make much sense, does it? We’d both list each other as the beneficiaries — but we’d both be dead. On the other hand, think how disappointed you’ll be if we live through this!”

The Wishbone was under full acceleration, already traveling a small percentage of light speed, using the brute force of its sublight engines to challenge the laws of physics. At the high speeds the Wishbone would traveling, it would be necessary for the ship to use its main engines and maneuvering thrusters to assist the force of gravity when it started doing the tight loops and curves around the gas giant’s moons. As the ship’s speed increased, the Wishbone would be forced to loop around each moon closer and closer so that gravity would be more effective in helping to curve the ship’s flight path.

Four of the gas giant’s largest moons were clustered in a ragged line between the Wishbone and the huge planet. The nearest moon was growing visibly larger. The Wishbone’s artificial gravity was carefully counteracting the awesome force of acceleration that would otherwise have reduced the bodies of the two men to a thin coat of pink paste on the back bulkhead of the cockpit. It was a delicate balancing act. Or, to put it another way, it was a complex tug-of-war between the G-forces of acceleration and the Wishbone’s artificial gravity. The lives of everyone aboard depended on the accuracy of the Wishbone’s compensation for the G-force, just as their lives depended on the accuracy of the computer’s work in figuring their twisted flight path through the moons. And since the ship was doing all the work, Randy and Bill had nothing to do but sit in their chairs and try to act relaxed while their white-knuckled hands squeezed the stuffing out of the armrests.

The Wishbone reached the first moon and angled itself slightly so that the sublight engines were pushing in the right direction when the ship did the tight orbit. The cockpit dome was facing toward the moon, and the two men gazed up at the crater-poked sphere of rock. As the ship looped around it, the moon appeared to turn slowly while it hung in space above their heads. The partial orbit took a little under one minute to complete. Then, using the maneuvering thrusters, the Wishbone twisted itself into a new position and arced away from the moon, heading for the next one, still gaining speed.

Randy glanced at the console displays. “We're at 0.00004 of light speed,” he said quietly.

Suddenly the com system crackled to life with the angry voice of the police officer. “Jenkins! Henson! What are you two trying to pull?”



Bill’s answer was saturated with innocence. “What? We aren’t pulling anything. We’re just lining up a trajectory for — ”

“You’re still accelerating, dammit!”

“We are?” said Bill, full of phony surprise. “Hey, you’re right! Something’s gone haywire. Stand by for a second.” He turned toward Randy and grinned maniacally. Randy, however, was not amused.

"Why not just tell him we're both morons who can't fly our own ship?"

Incredibly, the com system remained silent for several minutes, during which time the Wishbone reached the second moon and did a partial orbit. The ship was angled downward more sharply this time, its engines thrusting outward, working hard to hold the tight turn. And the rough surface of the moon was visibly closer than the first moon had been, its mountains, plains, and valleys gliding swiftly by. The moon was a bit larger than Earth’s moon, and it had a thin trace of atmosphere that the Wishbone skimmed the top of during its rapid partial orbit. Just a few seconds after the ship realigned itself and blasted away from the second moon, it was hit by a barrage of plasma bolts.

Or rather, it's shields were hit.

The Wishbone, like all starships, was protected by five invisible spheres of force, one inside the other. The smallest sphere was 500 meters out from the ship, and the largest of the five was 15,000 meters out. These shields served to deflect anything that threatened the ship: meteoroids, asteroids, missiles, plasma bolts, old satellites, lost space probes, miscellaneous space debris, and so forth.

As the plasma bolts passed through each of the five shields, the bolts were angled more and more away from their original target until finally they missed the Wishbone by several hundred meters. The shields flared white hot at the impact points as they absorbed some of their energy. The Wishbone trembled each time the shields were hit, although the artificial gravity was counteracting most of the shock that would have been felt inside the ship.



A second barrage struck the shields just as the Wishbone was about to begin its loop around the third moon, a grayish-white orb that was coated with dirty ice. The deflected plasma bolts went past the Wishbone to strike the icy moon far below, causing visible explosions of vaporized ice on the surface.

“Now passing 0.00035 of light speed,” Randy said, watching the console displays intently . . . just because it gave him something to do.

Traveling over 377,738 kilometers per hour, the Wishbone looped around the ice-encased moon in a little more than thirty seconds. The ship’s nose was angled sharply downward, the engines straining to bend the flight path against the insistent influence of inertia.



At perigee (the closest point of the pass), the Wishbone was so near the moon’s surface that the outer four shields had to be withdrawn so that the moon’s frozen mountain peaks would not hit the shields and bounce the Wishbone off into space. Just before the ship curved around behind the moon, another barrage of plasma bolts passed dangerously near, but they were off target enough to barely graze the one working shield.

“Wheeew! Those were too damned close!” Randy said nervously as the ship streaked away from the ice moon with all five shields operating again.

“The worst is yet to come,” said Bill. “We won’t have any shields when we pass the next moon. It’s the one where the computer had to figure the geography just right.”

As the Wishbone’s velocity rose higher and higher, its hyperdrive was gradually gaining a grip on the fabric of space and time, making it increasingly easier for the Wishbone to accelerate. Its speed was approaching 0.001 of light speed (1,079,252,848 kilometers per hour). The view ahead through the cockpit dome had been turned surrealistic by blue shifting. The approaching moon shone with unnatural brightness.

“I wonder why nobody’s shooting at us,” said Randy.

“We’re being shielded by two of the moons we’ve passed.”

As the seconds ticked by, the next moon grew in apparent size, its surface features gaining naked-eye details. With some dismay, Randy saw that the moon had a generous supply of mountainous regions. Bill had said the Wishbone would be passing between some of the mountain peaks. It's altitude would be less than a hundred meters above the floor of the valleys between the peaks.



This isn’t going to be a partial orbit, thought Randy. It’s going to be a cross-country tour!

The Wishbone would be forced to drop all five of her shields so they wouldn’t drag against the moon’s surface. This moon also had a faint trace of atmosphere, an atmosphere so thin that it barely registered on spectroscopic analysis. But at a velocity that was now passing 0.003 of light speed, even the most tenuous atmosphere was going to heat up the Wishbone’s hull if it didn’t have the protection of the shields.

In one dizzying rush, the ragged moon loomed up before them. The Wishbone twisted around hard until its nose pointed straight down at the moon’s surface, its engines blasting out at the stars. It would take every ounce of the ship’s thrust, combined with all the gravitational force the moon could muster, to bend the Wishbone’s flight path at a ninety-degree angle. At this point, however, the moon’s gravity actually had little to do with it. The maneuver would have been impossible if the ship’s hyperdrive had not already gotten a respectable hold on the universe and begun to change its normal laws.

The maneuvering thrusters blazed and flickered along the ship’s hull as it fought to keep its nose pointed down. The rocky surface of the moon became a blur that flashed past the eyes of the two men while they stared straight ahead as the Wishbone’s nose pointed downward at the moon's surface. For a brief instant, the ship was less than a hundred meters from the moon’s surface. Tall mountain peaks shot by on both sides of the ship, grayish blurs that represented whole mountain ranges, gone in an instant. The thin atmosphere heated the Wishbone’s hull to a cherry red.

In six seconds the Wishbone looped all the way around the moon and soared off into space at a healthy 0.003 of light speed — more than 3,237,758 kilometers an hour. As the ship realigned itself, Bill pounced on the keyboard.



"Hot tamale!" Bill exclaimed. "Did you see that?"

“No." Randy wore a blank look and blinked a few times, then he said, "Did I miss something good?”

“Yeah, you did. But that’s okay 'cause it’ll look better in slow motion anyway. Let’s watch the replay.”

Bill turned from the console to one of the display screens. It was showing a replay of what the Wishbone’s exterior cameras had seen when the ship looped around the moon. As the Wishbone had flown sideways, its nose pointed down at the moon’s surface, its belly cameras had pointed to the rear of its line-of-flight. Watching the display screen, Randy and Bill saw the moon’s surface surge up into the field of view. Tall mountains began to zoom by on both sides and vanish over the horizon.

“How much are you slowing it down?” said Randy.

“One tenth of normal speed.”

Suddenly the racing terrain behind the ship was being hammered by a hail of plasma bolts. They speared straight down out of the sky and into the stony landscape, their points of impact chasing along after the speeding Wishbone. As the ship tore along, the angle of the plasma bolts began to change, aiming more and more toward the Wishbone until they were almost parallel to the blurred ground. For a brief moment (even in slow motion), the bolts almost caught up with the Wishbone, missing the stern by a scant few meters, actually striking the surface of the moon directly beneath her. But then the Wishbone zipped around behind the moon before the plasma bolts could slam into her stern and blast her into a bright cloud of hot atoms.

“Spectacular!” exclaimed Randy.

“Yes, indeed,” Bill whispered reverently. “And judging from the intensity of that barrage, I’d say we now have at least three, maybe four police cruisers in on the chase.”

“Agreed.”

“What I can’t figure out is why the barrage missed us so neatly. Obviously it was gauged to hit a precise spot at a precise time — but why did it hit too late and just chase along behind us? The targeting calculations for a shot like that should have been fairly simple for any good tactical system.”

“I think I know where they went wrong,” Randy said with a grin. “Their computers must have underestimated the Wishbone’s thrust potential. They low-rated our acceleration curve, so their estimation of our speed was too slow and our orbit was too high.”

“Hmmm . . . yeah, that makes sense.” Bill looked pleased with the idea. “Not many ships this size could have pulled off a stunt like that.”

“We haven’t really pulled it off, yet. When we cancel our outer four shields for the close orbit of the gas giant, we’ll be exposing our vulnerable backsides to several boat loads of very angry policemen.”

“Hey, trust me,” said Bill in a lazy voice. “I got us this far, didn’t I?”

The gas giant was rapidly monopolizing the forward view. The Wishbone was flying at a marked angle, its engines bending the flight path into a curve that would take it around the planet. The nav computer had again aligned the ship so the cockpit dome was facing the planet. For Bill and Randy, the gas giant appeared to hang above their heads, its turbulent and multi-colored atmosphere looking like abstract art.



The outer surface of the atmosphere came closer and closer until finally the Wishbone was skimming along beneath it. The ship’s nose was tilted slightly upward toward the planet so that the engines could bend the ship’s flight path. Unlike the feeble gravity of the moons, the gas giant had a considerable amount of gravitational force to bring to bear on the Wishbone. With its help, the ship was able to follow the curve of the planet in spite of the fact that the Wishbone was now traveling at —

“Almost 0.004 of light speed,” Randy intoned softly.

The outer four shields were withdrawn and the inner shield was strengthened and reshaped to guide any trace of the planet’s atmosphere away from the Wishbone, like an invisible surfboard that the ship rode across the outer surface of the dense atmosphere of the gas giant. The ship actually trembled a few times as the shield struck thick traces of the upper atmosphere. The maneuvering thrusters blazed along the Wishbone’s belly, fighting to counteract the ship’s tendency to be pushed outward as the shield skimmed across the layer of gas.

Behind the Wishbone, only 138,403 kilometers away, four police cruisers began their own close orbit of the gas giant. The curvature of the planet was just enough to prevent them from getting the one clear shot they needed at the fleeing ship.
\
_________________
____________
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 Aug 04, 2022 10:19 pm; edited 22 times in total
Back to top
View user's profile Send private message
Bud Brewster
Galactic Fleet Admiral (site admin)


Joined: 14 Dec 2013
Posts: 17237
Location: North Carolina

PostPosted: Tue Feb 03, 2015 2:11 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Chapter 2 — concludes

“We're close to 0.05,” said Randy. The magic number was 0.3896, the velocity at which hyperdrive became fully effective at twisting the fabric of space and time into a shape that made travelling faster than light speed possible . . . if the Wishbone could reach that speed without first being gunned down.

Suddenly the Wishbone angled itself outward from the planet and let its flight path straighten out as it pulled away from the outer fringe of the gas giant’s atmosphere. All five of the Wishbone’s shields came back into full play.

Randy was hunched over the console, anxiously calling out the Wishbone’s velocity, which was now increasing rapidly.

“Passing 0.15 . . . 0.25 . . . 0.27 . . . 0.29 . . . Come on, sweetheart! It’s now or never!” Randy pleaded.

Behind the Wishbone, the protective curve of the gas giant had dropped away, exposing the ship to the combined firepower of the four police cruisers.

“Passing 0.33 . . . 0.35 . . . “

The police cruisers sighted the Wishbone, rising above the gas giant’s horizon ahead of them. All four of the cruisers fired a hefty barrage of plasma bolts — a barrage which the Wishbone’s shields would not be entirely able to deflect.

“Almost there — 0.360 . . . 0.370 . . . 0.3896! Bingo!” screamed Randy as the hyperdrive took hold of the universe and had its impossible way with it.

As the Wishbone surged forward, a flurry of bright lances chased after it for an instant. But the Wishbone’s velocity passed the speed of light, and the plasma bolts were quickly left behind — along with the four police cruisers, the gas giant, and the entire Sangwaniki star system. In a matter of seconds, Randy Henson and Bill Jenkins were leaving their troubles behind at a speed fifty thousand times faster than light itself.

Now all they had to worry about were the troubles still ahead.

____________________________________________


_________________
____________
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 Aug 04, 2022 10:11 pm; edited 3 times in total
Back to top
View user's profile Send private message
trekriffic
Starship Navigator


Joined: 19 Feb 2015
Posts: 593

PostPosted: Fri Feb 20, 2015 4:30 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Wow! I could really feel the tension in this installment. And the excitement the pilots must've felt in the cockpit as they went on that crazy ride around the moons! Great stuff!
Back to top
View user's profile Send private message
Robert (Butch) Day
Galactic Ambassador


Joined: 19 Sep 2014
Posts: 1437
Location: Arlington, WA USA

PostPosted: Fri Feb 20, 2015 6:31 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

If I remember correctly, Bud was an Air Policeman in the USAF.
_________________
Common Sense ISN'T Common
Back to top
View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail
Bud Brewster
Galactic Fleet Admiral (site admin)


Joined: 14 Dec 2013
Posts: 17237
Location: North Carolina

PostPosted: Sat Feb 21, 2015 12:44 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

trekriffic wrote:
Wow! I could really feel the tension in this installment. And the excitement the pilots must've felt in the cockpit as they went on that crazy ride around the moons! Great stuff![

Well, hot damn, that is SO good to hear! Thanks, Steve.

I spent months researching the science behind this book before I started writing it, and the entire story is based on what can happen if two smart guys with an amazing spacecraft put their brains to work and outwit the villains -- which show up in the next chapter. Very Happy

A key concept in the novel is that space is anything but empty when you're traveling at the incredible speeds the Wishbone is capable of. It's sort of like the difference between strolling through a forest and racing through it on a stormtrooper's speeder bike!

Please send me a PM if you find any jpegs that aren't displaying correctly. Photobucket isn't as reliable as it should be.

Enjoy!

PS: Yes, Butch, I was and Air Force Security Policeman. Unfortunately they didn't let me guard the captured alien spaceships in Area 51, so everything in the novel is pure imagination. Very Happy

_________________
____________
Is there no man on Earth who has the wisdom and innocence of a child?
~ The Space Children (1958)
Back to top
View user's profile Send private message
Display posts from previous:   
Post new topic   Reply to topic    ALL SCI-FI Forum Index -> The Wishbone Express by Bruce Cook All times are GMT - 5 Hours
Page 1 of 1

 
Jump to:  
You cannot post new topics in this forum
You cannot reply to topics in this forum
You cannot edit your posts in this forum
You cannot delete your posts in this forum
You cannot vote in polls in this forum


Powered by phpBB © 2001, 2005 phpBB Group