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The Wishbone Express - Chapter 7

 
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PostPosted: Wed Jan 14, 2015 2:15 am    Post subject: The Wishbone Express - Chapter 7 Reply with quote



Chapter 7

Bill Jenkins slept for six hours, but then his busted rib started aching and he woke up at 0300 ship’s time. He got up and stumbled his way to the galley, where he made the autochef crank out a monstrous breakfast, a three-egg cheese-and-onion omelet, two thick slices of bacon, a fat biscuit the size of a hockey puck, and a blob of white stuff called grits which Randy had often sworn he couldn’t stand the sight of. Then Bill filled a large mug with cattail coffee, an amber-colored beverage that required no cream and was naturally sweet. He carried the tray full of food to the cockpit — where he found Randy snoozing blissfully.

Bill quietly eased himself into the right-hand seat, locked the tray across the armrests, and started eating. It took about two minutes for the delicious aromas to wake Randy up. His eyes opened a tiny fraction, peeked at the jinn wave scope, then closed again. But his nostrils were twitching as they curiously tasted the air, and they sent a report to his brain, which in turn sent a command to his eyes, which lifted again and slowly panned around until they spotted the tray of food. Randy’s eyes widened a bit, then traveled slowly upward until they rested on Bill’s face. Bill smiled as best he could with a mouth full of food and a swollen multi-colored face.
“Good morning.”

Randy sat up quickly, looking guilty and rubbing his puffy eyes. “I . . . I just . . . ummm. What time is it?”

“Bed time. And you almost slept through it.”

Randy grinned sheepishly and then made a careful check of the console displays, looking for any sneaky enemy spacecraft that might have taken advantage of his shameful lack of vigilance. Fortunately the star-filled heavens appeared to be friendly and serene.

“Go to bed,” said Bill. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

“Okay.” Randy yawned wide enough to show all his fillings. “Thanks.” He glanced at the tray of food and said, “That looks pretty good. Except for that white stuff. Yuck.” He left the cockpit, but a moment later, he stuck his head back through the door and said, “I fed the wajinda about an hour ago. Now I think it’s asleep in the cargo hold. I found out that it’ll eat soy steaks, but it doesn’t seem to like them much.”

“Neither do I.”

“Who does?”

Randy left, and Bill ate his breakfast slowly, savoring each bite, consciously willing the protein to go right to his broken rib and mend it quickly. The cattail coffee was delicious, and it cleared the sleep from his head in no time, leaving him bright-eyed and alert and bored with the mundane task of staring at the unchanging displays.

The view outside was somewhat less static. Every few minutes a star would zip by at fifty thousand times the speed of light — even though that wasn’t actually too fast for the eye to see. The Wishbone rarely came within eleven billion kilometers of any star (roughly 12 light hours, twice the distance of Pluto from the sun) because of the halo of comets that surrounded almost every star system. It was far safer and easier to give each star a safety margin rather than over-tax the ship’s force shields by making them deflect those huge, dirty snowballs.

Bill watched a gigantic dust cloud pass by the portside of the ship. Even though the jinn wave scope couldn’t really see it in detail, the nav computer supplied all the data that the dome’s display needed to picture the dust cloud as a glowing nebula, studded with stars, a multi-colored mass of convoluted cosmic smoke, riddled with tunnels, covered with rolling hills and valleys. The sight was so beautiful that Bill was tempted to transmit the picture to the three pursuing ships, just to show them what the Wishbone could do, an artistic example of her superiority. The idea was suicidal, of course, because such a transmission would pinpoint the Wishbone’s location as accurately as a set of grid coordinates. But Bill was tempted anyway.



Out of pure curiosity, Bill flipped a switch that cut off all the data from the nav computer being supplied to the dome’s display. Stripped of everything but jinn wave scans, the view instantly turned drab and monochromatic, lacking both detail and aesthetic appeal. Bill switched it back to the computer-augmented version, and again the heavens around him became a breathtaking masterpiece.

It occurred to Bill that maintaining radio silence at this point might no longer be their best move. If the last three missiles had transmitted the Wishbone’s location to the ships that launched them, it would not be difficult to plot the Wishbone’s current location. Besides, there wasn’t much the three enemy ships could do to them as long as the Wishbone maintained a fair lead. And there was absolutely nothing the three ships could do if they had already used up all their hyperdrive missiles, which was entirely possible. Hyperdrive missiles were notoriously bulky. They had to carry too much weight: sublight engines, hyperdrive engines, shield generators, warheads, navigational arrays, and so forth.

What it all boiled down to was this: Why not call ahead to Philcani-tu and let the in-system police arrange a little reception for the three ships? The enemy ships would overhear the transmission, sure, but if they learned they were flying into an ambush, surely they would break off the pursuit and go attack somebody else, somebody less troublesome and uncooperative — assuming they had not already abandoned the chase.

Bill kicked the idea around in his head until he’d sold himself on it completely. Now all he had to do was sell Randy. Unfortunately Randy was in bed, sound asleep, snoring so loudly that the microphones in his cabin were picking it up like distant thunder. Bill remembered once hearing that certain cultures (both human and non-human) considered snoring to be a sign of virility. If so, Randy Henson would someday be the father of a large family.

As to the matter of whether or not to call ahead to Philcani-tu, Bill decided there was no point in bothering his partner while Randy was so busy demonstrating his virility to a skeptical universe. Donning a headset, Bill set the jinn wave transmitter for the police band.

ISY Wishbone calling the, uh . . .” He had to stop and check the name of Philcani-tu’s primary star. “Donwaxihel in-system police. Repeat: ISY Wishbone calling the Donwaxihel in-system police — ”

Beep, Beep, said the computer.

“What beep, beep?” said Bill, annoyed by the interruption. The computer was calling his attention to a brief message it had flashed on the display.

All jinn wave bands are currently being jammed by a source located 3,193,873 km aft of the Wishbone’s direct line of flight. No jinn wave transmissions can be made while this jamming is in effect.

Bill sat back slowly, his face clouded with anger. His anger was directed at himself. He felt like a moron for not thinking of such an obvious possibility. The three ships were still on their tail, and they weren’t a bit worried about the Wishbone calling anybody for help.

“What did you expect, stupid?” he whispered bitterly.

Obviously the Wishbone was on its own.
_______________________________________________

At 0900 ship's time, Randy entered the cockpit carrying a large mug of Colombian brew coffee, and incredibly rare and expensive import from Earth. He found Bill staring at the displays with uncompromising diligence, in spite of the gorgeous site of an approaching nebula a hundred light years ahead.





“Mornin’,” said Randy.

Bill remained stone-faced and silent. Without taking his eyes off the displays he raised one hand and then let it drop.

“Let me guess,” Randy said lightly. “You woke up when you heard me coming up the stairs, and now you want me to think that you’ve been sitting here eagle-eyed and vigilant all night long.”

Bill shook his head twice, in slow motion, his eyes never leaving the console. Randy took a few cautious sips of the hot coffee while he waited for Bill to say something — which Bill did not — which Randy found annoying.

“Dedicated, aren’t you?” said Randy.

Bill’s head moved slowly again, this time nodding up and down twice, his eyes still traveling across the console with reptilian patience. Randy studied the profile of his somber friend, getting more and more curious. He waited half a minute and then said, “Come on, what gives?”

Bill’s eyes still didn’t move, but his expression turned thoughtful, and he let out a long sigh before he answered.

“Those three ships are still on our ass. They’re not within jinn wave scope range, but they’re behind us . . . and I know exactly how far back they are.”

Randy was surprised, and it took him moment to reply. “What? How could you know that?”

Bill told him about the jamming. Randy wasn’t the least bit startled by the news.
“Is that all that’s bothering you? I discovered that last night before you relieved me, but I forgot to mention it,” said Randy.

Bill jerked his head around and speared Randy with an angry look, so Randy said hurriedly, “Hey, I just figured the resident boy genius already knew it, okay?”

Bill’s anger faded quickly. After all, Randy was right — the fact that they were being jammed shouldn’t have come as a surprise to him. Bill turned his gaze back to the displays. “I’ve got a funny feeling about those guys. They’re up to something. I can’t figure out what, but they’re up to something.”

To Randy it seemed like a pretty obvious observation at this point. And besides, Bill’s cautious pessimism grated against Randy’s compulsive optimism. “Look, pal,” Randy said as patiently as he could, “let’s not get so paranoid that we don’t recognize a little good luck when we see it. After all, what could they possibly do to us now — ”

Bill whirled around suddenly and glared at Randy with a savage look of fierce accusation. “You promised you’d try to be more paranoid,” he said in a harsh whisper.

Despite the lunatic words Bill had chosen, Randy couldn’t doubt Bill’s sincerity after seeing the look on his face. And, in fact, he had promised exactly that. He clapped his mouth shut, swallowed hard, and started squirming around like a little boy who had gotten caught in the basement with his hand under cousin Lulu’s skirt. Bill turned his gaze back to the displays, and after a few moments of silence, Randy spoke.

“Okay. Ummm . . . let’s consider the problem.” He scratched his chin and tried desperately to think of some suitably paranoid comment to make. It didn’t work. All he could think of was an optimistic comment — which wasn’t what he was looking for, but he made it anyway. “If they’ve got any more missiles, they would have fired them by now, because why would they wait any — ”

“Not true.”

“ — longer than . . . What?”

“Not true. If they’ve got any more missiles, they might be saving them for when we go sublight in the Donwaxihel system. The timing would be tricky, and it would largely be a matter of guess work, but if they guessed right — ”

“We’d never know what hit us. Right. Crap. Good point.”

Bill turned and gave Randy a silent look of accusation. Randy’s guilty feelings increased proportionately. After another brief period of embarrassed silence, Randy said, “Okay, what can we do to safeguard ourselves against that?” He meant it largely as a rhetorical question. Bill surprised him with an answer, which he delivered very calmly with academic detachment.

“When we come into the Donwaxihel system, we can dive at the star and then go sublight just before we graze the photosphere. We can make a close pass and a tight turn that takes us around behind it — ”

Randy was shaking his head. “Nope, nope, nope. A tight turn? Bill, after we terminate the hyperdrive we’ll be traveling at nearly light speed. Even with the star’s gravity to help us, it would take sixty or seventy million kilometers to get a good turn started.”

“Let me finish, please,” Bill said with elaborate formality. Again Randy closed his mouth. Patiently, Bill said, “Yes, it will be a tricky maneuver. And yes, at that speed the turn will be at least a hundred and sixty million kilometers wide — but during the first few seconds of the turn, we’ll curve around behind the star. Right?”

Randy just nodded. Bill continued.

“Okay. So the hyperdrive missiles won’t be able to cut across the arc and nail us because the star will be blocking them. And they won’t be able to match our turn at hyperdrive drive speed because they’ll be going too fast. Right?”

“Well, yeah . . . I guess. Hey, wait a second . . . you’re right.” Randy was growing enthusiastic about the idea despite himself.

“They’ll have to try to match our maneuver by going sublight, except that they can’t match it exactly, because even hyperdrive missiles need a little reaction time. If they don’t react fast enough, they’ll zip past us and go right out the other side of the Donwaxihel system — which would be fine with us, right, partner?”

“Damn right it would!” said Randy. He was beginning to look like a convert at a revival meeting.

“And if they do successfully match the maneuver, they’ll slam into our shields while travel no faster than we are — in which case we just blast ‘em and go into hyperdrive to outrun the shock wave.”

“Bravo! Brilliant!” said Randy, applauding enthusiastically. Bill maintained his dignified demeanor by dipping his head slightly while wearing a faint (though somewhat smug) smile.

Randy pounded him on the back a few times, then he said, “Hey Bill, why didn’t we think of this before?”

“Because it wouldn’t have worked before. Remember, the first three missiles weren’t programmed to follow our lead. If we’d gone sublight before we entered the nebula, they’d have just plowed into us. Bang, we’re dead. And we were just lucky that the trick with the pulsar worked with the second three missiles. Real lucky.”

“Yes, indeed,” said Randy, still looking very pleased with himself. “Real, real lucky. Being brilliant helped, too.”

“Beware of overconfidence — ” Bill began sternly.

“I know, I know. Pride goethe before a kick in the keester. Don’t worry. I’ve learned my lesson,” said Randy, although the cocky smile on his face proved otherwise. But truth to tell, Bill was pleased by his friend’s reaction, and he still wore a faint smile as Randy said, “So tell me, what other dazzling battle strategies have you formulated while I lay back there snoozing my life away?”

Bill’s faint smile melted like snow on a hot stove. He aimed a gloomy expression at the console. “None,” he said reluctantly. “I can’t think of anything else they could do, with or without missiles.”

“If they don’t have any more missiles, their only other option is to attack us with plasma cannons after we go sublight and begin our final approach to Philcani-tu. That would be pretty bad because we’re out numbered and out gunned. Three stellashuttle-sized ships probably have enough fire power between them to cut us up into a couple of thousand souvenir paperweights.”

Randy toyed with the knobs on the communications console for a moment, then said, “If we could just contact the Donwaxihel in-system police, we could count on reinforcements — ”

“Let’s not count on anybody or anything, okay?” Bill snapped. “We gotta get ourselves out of this — ”

“Hey, listen,” said Randy, suddenly fed up with all the lofty lectures. “You’re getting a little carried away with the sage words of wisdom, okay? I’m not quite as dumb as I look — ”

“Hold it,” Bill said quietly, raising his hand like a traffic cop. Randy closed his mouth and glowered at Bill. Bill kept his hand raised, a diplomatic request for a moment of silence, and he held Randy’s gaze for a long moment. Randy waited for Bill to say something, but when Bill finally opened his mouth, it kept opening wider and wider until it turned into the biggest yawn in recorded history, bar none. While Bill was exposing his tonsils to the whole galaxy, Randy just rolled his eyes toward heaven and settled back in his chair to wait it out. When Bill finished he gave Randy a bleary-eyed look and said, “I’m bushed. I know I’ve only been up for six hours, but my brain is about to clock out and go home. Why don’t I put it to bed, along with the rest of my weary organs, and you can call me if anything really nifty starts happening.”

“Okay.”

“Don’t let me sleep past 1700,” said Bill as he rose to leave. “After all, I’m the social director on this cruise, and the passengers depend on me to organize the entertainment.”

“What have you got planned for today?”

“A beauty contest.”

“Oh goody. Can I enter?”

“On this cruise, pal, you could easily win.”

As Bill passed through the lounge, he picked up a sandwich from the galley booth, along with a glass of lurin milk (slightly sweet tasting, thick as eggnog, a pale bluish-green with little red specks in it). Nobody else seemed to be awake except the wajinda, which Bill found in the cargo hold, pacing ‘round and ‘round like a worried new father in a hospital waiting room. Bill got the autochef to crank out a large soy steak, which he warmed in the microwave. He put the steak on a plate and laid it on the floor of the cargo hold. The wajinda strolled over to it, sniffed at it briefly, looked up at Bill for a moment, and then went back to pacing around the room. Bill shrugged and took his sandwich to his cabin.



Just to amuse himself while he ate, he asked the computer for information about the planet Philcani-tu. What he wanted was social customs, tourist attractions, and local hot spots. What he got was politics. He read a little of it anyway and found out that the planetary government on Philcani-tu tended to discourage social customs, tourist attractions, and local hot spots — especially local hot spots. The people stayed much too busy for such time-wasting nonsense.

Normally Bill Jenkins was pretty bored with politics, but because the fate of Philcani-tu’s government might be decided by the evidence that Clawron Uquay had to offer the Alliance Council of Justice, Bill developed enough interest in the subject to keep himself awake for a while. The computer was well stocked with data on the subject because the Wishbone traveled around the galaxy quite a bit, and this often created a need for detailed knowledge concerning the planet for which the ship was bound. Sometimes the most dangerous part of a trip was making a landing at their destination.

On one occasion the Wishbone had been confiscated by a certain planetary government that intended to use the ship as a light assault vehicle. Caught smack in the middle of a revolution, Randy and Bill had to steal their own ship back. Only after leaving the planet did they discover that the cargo hold was filled with fifty-two heavily drugged “soldiers” — men who had been shanghaied into service by the existing government. This so-called government was having trouble maintaining their army amid a very popular rebellion. Reluctantly, the Wishbone had to return to the planet, and the unwilling draftees were dropped off in a remote area where they would hopefully be safe from their draft board.

Bill learned that this same sort of unhealthy political climate existed on Philcani-tu. At present the government would undoubtedly be on their best behavior because they were under the close scrutiny of the Alliance Council of Justice. But even the best behavior of an iron-fisted dictatorship would be something less than saintly. They wouldn’t hesitate to do anything they thought they could get away with.

One thing they had not gotten away with was receiving illegal aid in the form of monetary aid and military equipment from out-system political and financial groups that had helped the government forcefully suppress a political movement to overthrow Philcani-tu’s dictatorship.

The Alliance of Sentient Life never interfered with the way a planet or federation of planets ruled itself, but when a government was so corrupt and unpopular with its own populace that it needed outside help just to stay in power, the Alliance was quick to step in and look things over. If an investigation uncovered outside interference, the guilty parties would be penalized, either with a fine or military action. If the existing government was found to be little more than a front for the out-system group, the Council of Justice would sometimes disband the government and help establish a new one — a government that better served the interests of the planetary population.

By doing all this, the Alliance of Sentient Life was making its member-species better customers, better consumers, better participants in the Golden Gravy Train created by an active and vibrant interstellar trade. Nothing short of the maximum in galactic prosperity was considered acceptable.

To any political idealist, the Alliance of Sentient Life might seem a blatantly materialistic organization, interested in nothing but maintaining the perpetual economic boom caused by a thriving galactic civilization. This, however, would be an unfair judgment. There were, in fact, a surprising number of political and personal fringe benefits to be enjoyed by citizens who lived in a booming interstellar economy.

Bill spent thirty minutes studying the political situation on Philcani-tu. When he finished, he discovered he was very eager to deliver Clawron Uquay and her documented evidence to the Court of Inquiry. And he would gladly stick around to offer his own testimony concerning the determined attempts that had been made to assassinate the woman. There was a lot at stake here, and Bill Jenkins had decided which side he wanted to win.

After finishing the sandwich and the lurin milk, Bill dimmed the lights and stretched out on his bed. He activated the ceiling screen and called up a scene that depicted a blue sky and a few impossibly tall mountains, slender spires of rock that reached up and up until they speared right through the drifting white clouds. It was as if the ceiling of Bill’s cabin had been peeled away so he could stare straight up at this remarkable fairy tale sky.



But this was no fairy tale. The scene had been videoed on a planet called Tason, a legendary place famous for many things, not the least of which was its spectacular geography. Tason’s immigration laws were unbelievably strict. If an applicant couldn’t boast that he or she had saved a planet or invented immortality or written a sequel to the Bible that God had co-authored, they could pretty much forget becoming a naturalized citizen of Tason.



Bill Jenkins’s long-range goal was to become a citizen of Tason someday. Helping the poor, oppressed folks of Philcani-tu might not be enough all by itself, but it was a step in the right direction.

Bill turned on the bed vibrator, but it jostled his busted rib, so he turned it off. A livid bruise had formed over the broken rib. He also had a bruise on his forehead, a sore spot high on his stomach, and swollen eyes that made him look like a raccoon suffering from a bee-sting allergy. But those little red specks in the lurin milk he’d consumed contained a natural tranquillizer, and Bill soon felt himself drifting off to dreamland. He hovered at the edge of sleep while short dreams mixed themselves seamlessly with idle thoughts and wistful fantasies. His mind swung back and forth: barely awake, barely asleep, barely awake . . .

For a while he wondered what fines and penalties the authorities would impose on Randy and him for making the illegal liftoff from Blue Marble, and for outrunning the Sangwaniki in-system police. Then Bill’s mind dipped into a dream, a distorted version of reality in which he and Randy were forced to join the Alliance Armed Forces because they had resisted arrest. Barely awake, barely asleep, barely awake . . .

Barely asleep, Bill dreamed of a girl he’d once met, somewhere on some planet at some time in the past. The name was forgotten, but the face was a vivid memory. And the body — oh, that body. And her gentle hands, massaging his muscles into putty, relaxing him and exciting him, both at the same time. There was also an odd fragrance in the air, faintly medicinal but strangely intoxicating.

Barely awake, Bill began to realize that there really was a pair of massaging hands on his body, stroking his chest and gently caressing the bruise over his broken rib. He opened his eyes and peered up at a stranger’s face, some woman he’d never seen before. She gave him a faint smile. Hesitantly, Bill asked her a question.

“Excuse me, but . . . who are you?”

Her smile expanded a tiny bit. Softly she said, “Clawron, of course. Who else would it be?” Her hands continued to move slowly on his chest. They were covered with some kind of lotion, the stuff Bill had smelled in his dream. “Well?” she said, arching one eyebrow. “Do you like me better this way?”

Bill was staring, openly amazed. He didn’t know what to say. Clawron had been transformed. It wasn’t just that she was acting flirtatious — her appearance had been dramatically changed.

Her hair — formerly a nondescript brown and cut in a shapeless semi-short style — was now a golden blond and teased into a bobbing halo that somehow stood out away from her head without being stiff. It waved around hypnotically, as if she was underwater.



Her eyes — formerly brown and as narrow as the gunnery slits on a tank — were now a pale bluish-green and they looked much larger because of the matching bluish-green eye shadow she had expertly applied. Her eyelashes were long and dark.



Her skin — formerly so pale it gave her a bloodless look — was now so rosy and pink she looked like a sixteen-year-old after her first kiss.

Her lips — formerly so thin that her mouth looked like a knife wound — were now noticeably fuller, and they were adorned with glossy red lipstick. In fact, her whole face seemed fuller and rounder. This was no illusion created by make-up. Her face really was fuller and rounder and softer, as if she had acquired a layer of baby fat which rounded and softened her form and features.

“Quite a change,” Bill said, and he was surprised to find that his throat was dry. His head felt strange, and his thinking was slow and fuzzy. Clawron’s hands on his chest, slowly circling the dark bruise, felt surprisingly erotic. There was no pain from the bruise or the broken rib. Bill swallowed hard to moisten his throat, then he said, “You must be a master of disguise. Or is it a mistress?”

“That’s entirely up to you,” she said in a soft whisper. This was certainly a new Clawron. Bill was getting very confused. Clawron tilted her head slightly to one side and spoke in a voice like a cat’s purr, arching one eyebrow again. “Is this very sore?” Her lotion-slick hands were still making circles around the bruise.

“No. No, it doesn’t hurt at all.”

“Good. This stuff takes away the pain. And it . . . makes you feel good.”

Indeed it did. Bill’s whole nervous system seemed to be tingling. His eyes traveled downward, gazing at Clawron’s body, which was dressed only in a tight, diaphanous, sleeveless blouse that concealed little, accented all. The color was a pale iridescent blue, and the material had a satin sheen. It only came to her narrow waist, and below that was a pair of panties so small that if they’d been stuffed into a shot glass there would still be room for the drink.

Her body — formerly so lean and wiry — was noticeably more plump and round at her breast, hips, and thighs. Even her arms and legs were fuller and softer. The change in size was not extreme, but the overall effect was dramatic.

Something equally dramatic was happening to Bill’s mind. He couldn’t take his eyes off the woman. Clawron was sitting on the edge of the bed, and she shifted her body closer to Bill while her hands roamed across his stomach and slid up over his shoulders, spreading the slick lotion.

“How . . . how did you . . . ” he tried to say, but he couldn’t manage the breath to speak. He felt a weird and intensely pleasant sensation. For a moment he thought Clawron had turned on the bed vibrator, but then he realized that every nerve in his body was quivering. Again he tried to speak. “You look so different.”

“The blue-green eyes are just contact lenses.” She batted her long eyelashes like a Southern Belle and gave Bill the first real smile he’d ever seen on her. “The hair and the skin tone were both done by the mechmed. First the mechmed gave me a shot that stimulated the production of melanin, and then I laid under the sunlamp in my cabin for a while. I changed my hair color the way any woman would — common stuff you can get anywhere.”

As she spoke, her hands worked lower and lower until she pushed the sheet down to his thighs. Bill’s eyes were still glued to her body. He felt a delirious fascination — but oddly enough it wasn’t because she seemed to be the most beautiful woman in the world. It was just that he needed her so badly. And yet he couldn’t seem to bring himself to do anything but lie there and gaze at her.

“The plumpness,” she was saying, “is caused by a little pill that makes my body retain water. I’ve got another little pill that’ll make me skinny again. It just takes a few hours either way. Most men don’t like their women too lean.” She licked her glistening pink lips slowly and said, “Do you like me this way, Bill? Hmmm?” She arched her back, and Bill heard himself moan. Her hands were traveling up and down his legs. Bill was trembling from head to toe. “The lotion I’m using also came from the mechmed . . . but I added something to it.” Her voice held the tiniest trace of a suppressed chuckle. “It’s a harmless solvent with a drug mixed in with it. The solvent passes right through the cellular walls and gets into the blood stream, taking the drug with it. The drug stimulates a certain kind of nerve activity. A certain, specific kind.” She gave him a sultry smile, her eyes half-closed.

She was mocking him, Bill knew that. He wanted to push her back, to get away from her. He wanted to hate her — but he also wanted to have her. It was a need that roared and screamed at him, like something alive inside his mind, fighting to control his body.

Clawron could read the conflict on his face, and when Bill tried to sit up, she didn’t wait to see which side had won. She leaned forward and laid her body across his, wrapping her arms around him, nuzzling her face against the side of his neck. She drew her legs up on both sides of Bill’s body, pinning his hips and rib cage between her knees. To Bill, her body felt feverishly hot, velvety smooth, luxuriously soft, supernaturally exciting. Bill clutched at her so hard he probably bruised her, but Clawron didn’t resist or cry out. Bill wanted Clawron to wrap herself around him like a blanket, touching every inch of his body simultaneously. Hands and mouth were not enough. He held her body against his with all his strength, wanting to literally fuse his flesh to hers. It was an all-consuming madness, and he had no defense against it. He was trembling so violently he couldn’t coordinate his movements. Clawron’s hands and mouth were at work on him, creating sensations that seemed to fill the universe.

Bill became dimly aware of a voice speaking urgently to him, calling his name. It took him a long time to realize that the voice was Randy’s, and that it was coming from the intercom speakers.

“Bill! Wake up! Come take a look at what our friends are up to.” There was a pause while Randy waited for an answer. For reasons of privacy, Randy didn’t have the monitor cameras turned on in Bill’s room. “Hey, Bill! Roll out, will ya?” Randy shouted, clearly irritated.

Bill started struggling with Clawron, forcing himself to pry his hands loose from her body. Each time he shoved her hands away from him, she kept relocating them to new and sensitive places. She started cooing into his ear, trying to sooth him and calm his resistance. Again the intercom spoke.

“Listen, Jenkins, if I have to come get you, I’ll bring a bucket of cold water!”

Under the circumstances the suggestion was surprisingly appropriate. In a strained voice, Bill managed to say three very earnest words. The intercom mike picked them up.

“Randy . . . help me.”

There was long paused, and then, “What?”

“Randy . . . please . . .” Bill pleaded, having to yank his mouth away from Clawron’s insistent lips to say each word. The wall speakers were silent while Bill continued to struggle with both Clawron and his own insane urge to mount her and set a new world record.

Ten seconds later the cabin door slid open and Randy burst in, his pistol aimed at Clawron with a two-fisted grip.

The look on Randy’s face was pure rage. “Let him go! Now!” he barked.

Clawron sat up casually, her blond hair floating like the snakes of Medusa. She gave Randy an impish grin which made her completely unrecognizable. Her tight, sleeveless blouse was pushed well up to her shoulders, exposing quite a lot of bronze female skin. The overall look of the new, improved Clawron was enough to freeze Randy in his tracks and leave him standing there with his mouth open like a sweepstakes winner staring at the first-prize ticket.

Bill was struggling to sit up, his body shaking convulsively. His expression was that of raw determination. Randy couldn’t make sense of the scene, especially Bill’s behavior. It didn’t look much like passion — it looked more like malaria.

Bill managed to twist himself away from Clawron and sit up on the edge of his bed. His eyes were squeezed closed, his teeth were clenched, his fists were gripping two wads of the sheet. He couldn’t even look at Clawron, couldn’t move a muscle for fear of losing the fragile control he was fighting to maintain. Through his clenched teeth, he slowly said, “Get her . . . away from . . . me.”

Randy didn’t know what was going on, so he just obeyed Bill’s order. “Get up,” he said to Clawron in a low and angry voice. She actually managed a demure expression, and she laid her hand on Bill’s naked thigh.

“I’ll do whatever Billy tells me to,” she purred. She licked her pink lips and said, “Anything at all.”

Bill Jenkins pitted his anger and his indignation against the artificially induced passion that raged within him. After several seconds the anger won, but it won by a narrow margin. He opened his eyes and made himself look right at Clawron. His body was still trembling, his face was bright red, his teeth were tightly clenched, and his expression was positively demonic. He spat out four words between his gasping breaths.

“Get out, you bitch!”

Randy couldn’t resist making a slight correction as he smiled and said, “According to Mr. Aganto, I believe the proper term is poisonous bitch.”

Slowly Clawron dropped the coy act and let a look of total contempt take over her face. Despite her transformed appearance, she now looked a lot more like her old self. Randy found it much easier to point his gun at her.

“Well?” said Randy. “You heard the man. Time to go.” He waved the pistol at the door. With her usual insulting slowness, Clawron rose from the bed and walked toward the door with all the indolent grace of a well-fed cat. Randy took no chances. He backed into the corridor and stayed well out of range of her lethal fists and feet, keeping his pistol aimed squarely at her newly fleshed-out chest. When she reached the door, Clawron turned and looked back at Bill.

“It’s your loss, sweetheart,” she said in a soft, mocking tone.

Bill’s trembling seemed to worsen, and he was still gasping for breath. “T — tell me s — something,” he managed to say. “Why isn’t that stuff you rubbed on me affecting you, too? You’ve got it on your hands.”

Clawron held up her glistening palms for a moment. “I coated my hands, chest, and stomach first with something that seals the skin.” There was a definite gloat in her voice.

Bill looked down at the bruise on his rib, then back at Clawron. “But it got smeared on your thighs, too. See?”

Her smile faded as she looked down at the shiny smears along the insides of her thighs. When her artificially tinted blue-green eyes came back up to Bill’s face, they were filled with hate. She turned quickly and headed for her cabin.

“She’ll wash it off,” Bill said as he stared at the door with a forlorn look. “But it might be too late. This stuff works fast.” Then he realized what he’d just said. He quickly pushed himself up from the bed and hobbled into his bathroom. Randy heard the shower come on. A long time later, Bill emerged from the bathroom, naked and wet. He was dabbing at the bruise on his chest with a towel.

“I’m confused,” said Randy. “What was that greasy stuff she smeared on you?”

“We’ll have to let the mechmed tell us both,” Bill said, wrapping the towel around his waist with clumsy hands. “Help me get to the treatment chair.”

Bill’s knees were shaking like a bridegroom’s, and his sense of balance was way out of kilter, so Randy half carried him down to the mechmed. Randy opened the panel in the corridor wall, exposing the treatment chair and the comatank. Bill slumped into it, and the analyzer pad on the left armrest enclosed his forearm. Tiny needles found the veins and drew out blood samples, which the mechmed computer went to work on, looking for anything that might be wrong with Bill Jenkins. What it found was a high concentration of a very addictive drug. On the display screen next to the treatment chair, the mechmed computer started listing the drug’s chemical composition, its effects on humans, and the treatment that would be required to counteract it.

“What does it say?” Bill asked, leaning back with his eyes closed while the treatment chair probed and poked at his body.

“Hmmm . . .” Randy said, peering at the wealth of data on the screen. “Well, it says here that you’re gonna die.”

Bill exploded angrily. “Listen, jackass! I’m in no mood for your silly — ”

“Okay, okay! Sorry. Really sorry,” Randy said quickly, embarrassed by his misguided attempt at humor. He continued to scan through the technical jargon on the display, then he summed it up for Bill. What it said was a bit alarming. “Wow,” Randy said softly. “Bill, the mechmed wants to give you a complete transfusion. Replace the whole six liters in your body.”

“Does it say anything about permanent effects from the drug? Will there be any?”

“Nothing permanent, but it will take a lot longer to recover if you don’t get the transfusion.”

“But there would have been long term effects if I’d just . . . relaxed and enjoyed it? The way she wanted me to?”

“Yes,” Randy said, reading through more data on the display.

Bill sat there for a moment, his eyes still closed, his head leaning back against the cushioned chair. Finally he spoke in a very calm and resolute tone.

“I’m going to kill her, Randy.”

The conviction in Bill’s voice produced an alarmed look on Randy’s face. “Now wait a second — ”

“Don’t try to talk me out of it. I’m going to kill her and then claim it was self-defense. Or that the drug made me crazy. Or that — ”

“Calm down, my friend. You’re not thinking too good.”

“Maybe I’ll claim it was a tragic accident. Mr. Aganto will be my defense attorney. I’ll bet he’d charge me practically nothing.”

“No, actually, he’d do it for free. He told me so. But honestly, Bill, I think your overreacting,” Randy said in soothing tone. “The long-term effect of this drug would just make you, ummm . . . quick to go into heat.”

Bill opened his eyes and glared at Randy. “What? You mean I’d go around horny all the time?”

“That’s what it says here, yeah. For about a year.”

“A year? Oh, great, that’s all I need! Now I know I’m gonna kill her. But first, tell the mechmed to give me the transfusion.”

“Okay.”

Randy gave the mechmed the go-ahead for the recommended treatment. The mechmed tapped into Bill’s right wrists, then it started drawing blood out of the vein in his left wrist. The medical display showed that ten milliliters were being withdrawn, after which ten milliliters of pre-warmed blood would be injected. This cycle would repeat every five minutes — old blood out, new blood in. The replacement blood was actually Bill’s own, donated by him to the mechmed’s blood bank a little at a time over the past two years. Randy had his own supply, too. The mechmed had a supply of all human blood types, as well as several alien varieties, although most of these were synthetics in a concentrated form for easy storage.

While Bill was letting the mechmed flush out his circulatory system, Randy continued studying the display to get more detailed information on Bill’s condition. He scanned the long flow of data, most of which was too technical for a non-physician, but he translated what he could understand into layman’s terms. What it boiled down to was that even with the complete transfusion, there would still be some lingering effects caused by residual traces of the drug that had already been absorbed by the cells in Bill’s body. Randy tried to be diplomatic when he gave Bill the news.

“Well, pal, I’ve got some good news for you. Even with the transfusion, you aren’t going to have to worry about impotence for the next few weeks.”

Bill had his eyes closed again. The tension seemed to have left his body. After a long, thoughtful silence, he said, “When we get to Philcani-tu, I’ll check into the intensive care unit of the nearest brothel.”

Randy’s smile was a combination of both amusement and sympathy. “With a broken rib?”

“Oh. Yeah.” Bill opened his eyes and gave Randy a puzzled look. “She knew I had a broken rib, and yet she gave me a drug that was supposed to turn me into a marathon sex machine. Maybe she was trying to kill me, eh?” Then Bill added quickly, “And don’t say what a way to go.”

Randy just shook his head vigorously and kept his lips pressed tightly together. Then he said, “How are you feeling?”

“Cloud nine,” said Bill, although he didn’t sound like he was enjoying it much. “But I’m coming down I think. Awfully horny, though.” Bill was still naked, but he had the towel draped across in his lap. The towel was doing its best to conceal a sizable problem.

Randy was trying desperately not to laugh. He made a joke just to cover himself in cause he lost the battle. “Clawron might need help even worse than you do. She’s not getting a full circulatory flush like you are. Maybe you should visit her when you’re all through here.”

“Maybe I will — but I’ll be packin’ a pistol instead of a pecker.”

That did it. Randy exploded with laughter, and it set Bill off, too. Bill kept laughing even after Randy had stopped, but he finally got himself under control. He closed his eyes again and sat there motionless for several minutes. Then he spoke quietly.

“Is this stuff addictive?”

“Yes,” said Randy.

Bill’s eyes popped opened in alarm, and he said, “Am I going to have withdrawal symptoms?”

Randy’s smiled and shook his head. “No, not from one dose. You’ll be fine.”

Bill looked relieved as he closed his eyes again. “Just horny, huh?”

“Just horny. That’s all.”

“That’s enough.” Bill squirmed in the chair and carefully adjusted the towel in his lap with his right hand, the one which wasn’t tethered by the inserted needles and the analyzer pads that clamped his left forearm. He suddenly realized that his predicament had a certain sadistic, pseudo-sexual quality about it. He was sitting there naked and bound to the chair while his blood was being sucked from his body. The thought made him nervous.

“Hey, Randy? This is going to take a while, isn’t it?”

Randy checked the display. “Ummm . . . yep. About another three hours.”

“Three hours. Damn.” Bill looked nervous. “Don’t run off anywhere, okay?”

“What’s wrong? You feel okay?”

“I’m fine, but I don’t want Clawron to come out and find me like this. She might decide to finish the job.”

“Which job?” Randy said with a sly grin. “The seduction or the assassination.”

“She may have been trying to do both.”

At first, Randy thought the idea was funny, but then he realized just how very vulnerable Bill was. And how very vulnerable Bill must feel — strapped down, doped up, and stark naked. Unfortunately there was nobody currently in the cockpit, a situation that had proven itself unwise once before. And something had happened earlier while Bill was in his cabin — something Randy wanted to keep his eye on.

Randy flipped open the panel next to Clawron’s cabin door and locked it so she couldn’t get out. “There. Feel safe now?”

“No. We already used that trick once. She might think of some way out.”

Paranoia? thought Randy. Maybe. Some drugs have that effect. Then he said, “Bill, how ‘bout if I close the mechmed panel and lock it? Would you feel safe then?”

Bill opened his eyes wide and started shaking his head no before Randy had finished the question. Being naked and locked inside a machine that was sucking out his blood was not Bill Jenkins’s idea of security. So, Randy had to stand there for several minutes and fidget while he tried to think of some way to be in two places at once. Finally the simple and obvious answer dawned on him.

“Got it! I’ll be right back,” Randy said.

“Hey, where are you going?” Bill said in a frightened, mournful voice.

“It’s okay, it’s okay,” Randy assured him hastily. “I promise I’ll be right back.”

Randy dashed off. Seconds later he was dragging poor Mr. Aganto out of bed. The anti-hangover pill Randy had given him was still working, complete with a few euphoric side effects of its own, which meant that Aganto seemed almost as looped as Bill. Half-asleep, Aganto was asking questions in a near-unintelligible mumble.

“Wuzamatta?”

“I need your help, sir. Please try to stand up. Come on, sir, please stand up.”

“Arwee there yea?

“Pardon me?”

“Arwee . . . there yet?”

“No, sir. Not quite. But a minor situation has arisen and I need some assistance.”

“Minorsitchawation? What — ”

“Bill is a bit ill,” said Randy as he towed the stumbling man toward the door. “He’s getting a little treatment from the mechmed unit and I need for you to stay with him while I check on a few things in the cockpit.”

The news that one of the two pilots was ill and nobody was currently in the cockpit did wonders toward bringing Aganto out of his stupor. As Randy led him down the corridor, Aganto said, “Wurs Miz Uquay?”

“In her cabin. Probably raping the pillows.”

This remark brought a puzzled look from Aganto, which he still wore as they arrived at the mechmed. When he saw Bill sitting there naked except for the towel in his lap, the look changed to intense embarrassment. And when he saw the clear plastic tubes with their bright red contents connected to Bill’s wrist, Aganto’s look turned to wide-eyed shock.

“My God, he’s gettin’ a transfu-shun!” he gasped.

“Don’t panic,” Bill said, wearing a sleepy smile. “It’s just kind of like an oil change.”

“What?” Aganto was desperately hoping this was all just a horrible nightmare.

Hastily, Randy said, “You two have a nice chat. I’ve gotta go mind the store.”

He hurried to the cockpit and checked the jinn wave scope. He saw just what he expected to see, but seeing it didn’t make him any happier. Something screwy was going on, and Randy needed Bill to help him figure out just what it was. But Bill was too busy having his blood drained because a wicked witch had made him her love slave .

While Randy was in the cockpit feeling lonely and overworked, Bill gave Mr. Aganto a reasonably coherent description of what had happened to him. As Aganto listened, he was at first embarrassed, then puzzled, then outraged by what Clawron had done. He told Bill he would represent him, free of charge, if Bill wanted to sue her. Bill said he did, and he thanked Aganto. Bill decided not to mention his tentative plans to kill Clawron the first chance he got. He figured Mr. Aganto was upset enough already.

Three hours later Bill was climbing out of the mechmed treatment chair. His wrists were bruised beneath the bandages where the needles that had been inserted. He still felt lightheaded and euphoric, and he was annoyed by the fact that he could not stop thinking about every attractive woman he had ever known. Other than that, he felt much closer to normal than when Randy had rescued him from Clawron.

Bill thanked Aganto for staying with him, then he went to his cabin and got dressed. He caught himself dawdling over every small decision, unable to make up his mind over which shirt to wear or which shoes to put on. It angered him to feel so fuddle-headed and indecisive. When he finally finished dressing, he went back to the mechmed and asked it to give him something to clear his head. The mechmed advised against it, so Bill didn’t persist.

Bill glanced at the closed door to Clawron’s cabin as he past it. He had some difficulty preventing himself from imagining what might be going on in there.

In the lounge Bill found Aganto fumbling with the autochef, trying to make it give him some breakfast. So far it had given him two large submarine sandwiches and six hard boiled eggs. Bill took over the task and produced a proper breakfast. He was about to stuff the unwanted sandwiches and eggs into the recycling chute when the wajinda startled him by suddenly nuzzling up under his arm and sniffing noisily at the food. Bill toted the whole banquet back to the cargo hold. He watched for a few seconds to be certain the animal would be satisfied with the meal, but the sight of the wajinda’s dexterous paws delicately peeling the shells from the eggs was just too surrealistic for Bill’s aerial mental condition. He fled to the cockpit.



Randy was sitting with his feet propped up on the control panel, gazing intently at the jinn wave scope. Bill lowered himself gingerly into the right-hand seat, still favoring the injured rib. Randy watched his friend’s careful descent, then he spoke with quiet concern.

“You’re not having much fun on this trip, are you?”

“No, Daddy. I wanna go home.”

“Have courage, m’lad. It’s all part of growing up.”

“I don’t want to grow up. Peter Pan says it’s highly overrated.”

Randy smiled sympathetically, then he said, “I was just about to get myself a cup of coffee. Want one?”

“Yeah, that might help clear my — whoa. Wait a second. What’s that?” He was pointing at the jinn wave scope. A lone blip proclaimed the presence of some object at the fringe of the jinn wave scope’s effective range, directly behind the Wishbone.



Randy answered casually. “That? Oh, that’s just one of those three ships, closing in on us at a little over one hundred twelve thousand kilometers an hour.”

Bill looked a bit wild-eyed and panic-stricken as he mentally fought to make sense out of what he was hearing. He mumbled something unintelligible.

“Pardon me?” said Randy.

“I said, it’s not fair,” Bill moaned indignantly. “Those guys aren’t supposed to be able to catch up with us.”

“Infuriatin’, ain’t it?” Randy was grinning at some joke Bill wasn’t quite getting. “These bozos keep changing the rules.”

Bill wasn’t taking this very well, and Randy was suddenly afraid he wouldn’t be much help for the rest of the trip.

“Hey, don’t panic, okay?” Randy said quietly. “It will take that ship more than fourteen hours to catch up with us, and we’ll be arriving at Philcani-tu in less than ten. But I’ll feel a lot better when I know how they managed to increase their speed. If those ships were capable of greater speed, why did they wait till now to use it? And why only one of the three?”

“When did it first come into jinn wave range?”

“About three hours ago, right before I called you on the intercom.”

Bill had his right elbow propped on the armrest, and he put his fingertips against his forehead, massaging a small circle of skin directly above the bridge of his nose. The muscles in Bill’s jaw were flexing as he rhythmically clenched his teeth, a side product of his determined efforts to think clearly. Staring at the blip on the jinn wave scope, Bill said, “Go get our coffee while I think about this.”

“Right.” Randy hurried back to the galley. He returned several minutes later with two steaming cups of a certain incredibly rare and outrageously expensive coffee from a planet whose name had far too many consonants and far too few vowels, making it impossible to pronounce. But the coffee was so hot Bill had to blow into his cup for several minutes before he could take the first sip. Randy told him to savor the beverage because the Wishbone’s supply of it was running low. While the two men slurped noisily at the dark, rich liquid, Bill shared a few ideas he had managed to coax from his sluggish brain.

“First of all, I figure the reason there is only one ship is because the three of them spread out to try and pick up our trail after we ditched the last three missiles.”

“Makes sense,” said Randy. “We should have plotted a less direct route to Philcani-tu.”

“Yeah, I suppose, but we’d have all ended up at the same final destination anyway, and that’s the place where we thought we’d really need the evasive maneuvers. So, we . . . uh . . . ” Bill looked confused for a moment. “What was I saying before that?”

“They spread out. Search pattern.”

“Oh, yeah.” Bill rubbed his forehead again. “We still don’t know how they managed to increase their top speed. They could have transferred fuel from one ship to another, but I don’t see how that would increase the ship’s speed. Neither would stripping the ship of everything nonessential just to make it lighter. That wouldn’t help much because of the way hyperdrive works. Other than minor fluctuations like the ones we’ve seen, the velocity tends to increase exponentially, in multiples of light speed. To increase a ship’s velocity to a higher multiple, you need a much bigger hyperdrive engine, not just a slightly lighter ship.”

“Agreed,” said Randy, taking a sip of his coffee to cover the fact that he didn’t have anything else to contribute. He knew Bill had to verbalize the problem just to keep it straight in his head.

“On the other hand, the mass of a ship does have some effect on a ship’s potential velocity under hyperdrive. That’s why the little old Wishbone can go as fast as those bigger ships, even though our hyperdrive engine is smaller. Admittedly, an increase of a hundred and twelve thousand kilometers an hour is microscopic compared to that ship’s total velocity, but I think they’d have to reduce their mass pretty drastically just to get that small amount of increase.”

“How drastically?” said Randy.

“Oh, I’d say . . . strip out everything but the essential electronics, cut away all the bulkheads, peel off the hull plates — ”

“That doesn’t sound very likely, does it? Especially when you consider the fact that they’d have to do the outside work when the ship was still traveling at hyperdrive speed while they were wearing space suits. And if they had reduced speed at any time during these alterations, they’d be too far behind to catch us now.”

“Good point. Hmmm. Maybe they were carrying something extremely heavy, and they decided to dump it.”

“Right.” Randy looked extremely skeptical. “They just happened to be carrying a cargo hold full of lead bars — ”

“I didn’t mean lead bars,” Bill said irritably. “Don’t be silly.”

“Well what then?”

“I don’t know,” Bill said, looking highly annoyed. “Some kind of heavy equipment — ”

“They couldn’t pack enough into the whole ship,” Randy said firmly.

And Bill responded in kind. “Okay, smart-ass, how about a little tiny ball of degenerate matter.” He held his thumb and forefinger up a hair’s breadth apart, squinted at the near-invisible gap between them. He spoke in a squeaky voice. “Just an itty-bitty thing about this big — ”

Randy missed all the clues and took Bill’s comment seriously. “You can’t move degenerate matter at hyperdrive speeds. Something about the size-mass ratio — ”

“I was joking, you idiot!” Bill exploded.

“Well get serious, dammit! We’ve got to figure this out!”

Bill answered in a pathetic wail. “I can’t be serious! I’m too horny![]/i]”

Randy instantly understood his friend’s problem and regretted not being more compassionate. Meanwhile Bill buried his face in his hands and pretended to sob pathetically. It was a comic performance which expressed Bill’s true feelings. His hands muffled his voice when he spoke.

“I keep thinking about that bitch back in her cabin . . . all alone and doing God knows what to herself while she enjoys every minute of it!” Suddenly he raised his head, his face aglow with a fresh revelation. “Hey, I can find out exactly what she’s doing!” He stabbed the switch that activated the monitor camera in Clawron’s cabin, but the display remained dark. Bill thumped on the switch a few times with savage impatience. “What’s wrong with this damn thing?”

“Take it easy, will ya?” said Randy, pulling Bill’s hand away from the switch. “Nothing’s wrong with it. Calm down. She’s deactivated the camera. I tried to keep an eye on her while you were in the mechmed.” Randy realized that he had to get Bill’s mind off of Clawron, so he tried a little slapstick. He leaned over, grabbed Bill’s shoulders, and shook to him vigorously. “Snap out of it, man!” Randy commanded in a Shakespearean voice. “The fate of millions of innocent people rests on your shoulders — and all you can think about is doing biological acts with a woman who kicked your ass!”

Randy released Bill’s shoulders, and Bill pretended to slump back in his chair, a broken man, down for the count. With his chin resting on his chest, he mumbled something unintelligible. “Mumbrain woan wuck.”

It sounded like gibberish, so Randy said, “What?”

Bill lifted his head and gave Randy the sleepy, slack-lipped look of a moron. He spoke slowly, enunciating each word carefully.

“My . . . brain . . . won’t . . . work.” He swung his somnambulistic gaze over to the control panel. “I keep wanting to just stare at the pretty lights.”

“Drink some more coffee,” Randy suggested.

“Okay. Where’s my cup?”

“Right in front of you.”

“Oh. Yeah.” Bill raised the cup to his lips and took a long, ridiculously loud slurp. Then he closed his eyes and leaned back. After a few seconds, a blissful smile crept over his face and he said, “I’ll say one thing for that drug, it makes coffee taste delicious.”

Randy had a sour look on his face as he watched his friend wallowing in sensuous pleasures, a pastime just as non-productive as self-pity. Finally Randy said, “Okay, wake up. Coffee break is over. We’ve got a problem to solve. How did that ship increase its speed?”

With his eyes still closed and his head leaning back, Bill said slowly, “I’ve got a better question. [i]Why
did it increase its speed?”

Randy stared at his Bill for a few seconds, then he said, “What?”

“Why did they bother? Okay, sure, they can catch up with us in fourteen hours. But we’ll be entering the Donwaxihil system in just ten hours, at which time all three ships will catch up with us in a fraction of a second. So...why did they bother?”

The answer seemed obvious, so Randy was afraid to say it because it might be the wrong answer. Hesitantly he said, “They did it to pick up our trail before we reached the Donwaxihil system. Right?”

Bill smiled as he shook his head. “Nope, sorry. Wrong. Hyperdrive missiles would be fast enough to catch us before we get to Philcani-tu, but the ship on our tail hasn’t launched any missiles. If they don’t have any missiles left, they can’t do anything to us until we go sublight, right? So, why go to all the trouble of dogging our tracks this way if the only thing it accomplishes is to put us on the alert?”

Randy didn’t answer. Giving dumb answers was what got him in trouble the last time, and he was determined to learn from his mistakes. Absently he started gnawing at a thumbnail while he wrestled with the problem. Silently he vowed to come up with an answer or die trying, because so far Bill had been doing all the best thinking, even though he was zonked. It was embarrassing.

After forty-five seconds of intense nail biting, Randy came up with something.

“Aha. Got it. They want to get inside our shields so that when the shooting starts they’ll have a better chance to nail us.”

Bill thought it over. He squeezed his eyes closed and mentally ran computer simulations of the battle. Finally he said, “Hmmm. Yeah, maybe. After all, they’re bigger than us, and undoubtedly better armed. But if they’re too close when we go sublight, even their autopilot won’t be able to react quickly enough to match the maneuver. At best they would pass us.”

“And at worst they would ram us.” Randy was losing confidence in his suggestion. Then he suddenly regained it. “Hey, maybe they don’t care about that! Maybe they’re a bunch of suicide pilots who want — ” Randy stopped. His eyes went out of focus and he stared off at nothing in general. Then he spoke in a barely audible whisper. “Hey, Bill . . . I think we missed the point.”

“What point? What are you talking about?”

Randy didn’t answer. He just leaned forward slowly and started typing at the computer console. Bill read the question on the screen.

Speculate: Is there a way to modify a hyperdrive engine or any part of the power systems that will cause a significant increase in velocity?

_________________
____________
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 Sat Jan 12, 2019 12:29 pm; edited 22 times in total
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Bud Brewster
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Joined: 14 Dec 2013
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PostPosted: Thu Jan 22, 2015 10:45 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Chapter 7 — conclusion

Restrictions: None. Do not consider the safety of the ship, the crew, or any cargo to be a limiting factor.

Bill gave Randy a puzzled look. “So you think maybe the crew is willing to die just so that — ”

“No. You’re still missing the point.”

“I am? How?”

“Watch,” said Randy, pointing at the screen, which his eyes had never left. The computer was giving its reply.

Answer: A velocity gain of 0.010215 can be achieved if all reactor safety protocols are manually overridden and the reactor’s operating level is accelerated to within 0.02 of meltdown.

Warning: This procedure will produce a radiation level higher than the safe limits of the ship’s radiation shielding. Crew quarters and all ship’s compartments will become uninhabitable in less than 44 minutes.

Additional: This procedure will cause eventual reactor instability, with a high risk of reactor meltdown.

Additional: The high radiation level will cause a deterioration of the ship’s electronic systems. This will reduce the power and reliability of the hyperdrive engines, sublight engines, weapons systems, force shields, life support systems, and all other ship’s functions.

Randy was nodding as if the data had come as no surprise, but Bill still looked puzzled. “You said I missed the point. If the crew of that ship rigs the reactor to boost the power, they’ll die — right?”

Randy was smiling like Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. Quietly he said, “Wrong.”

“Wrong?” Bill looked like his feelings were hurt. “Why wrong?”

“Because the crew is no longer on that ship.”

It was a bold and shocking statement. Bill was squeezing his eyes closed again, trying to force his foggy brain to be active and analytical and occupied with something besides sex. It was an uphill climb — but he made it. He spoke slowly, thinking it through. “You mean . . . they got off? They docked with one of the other two ships and boarded it? That ship behind us has no crew aboard?”

“Bingo. You got it,” Randy turned a happy face towards his friend. “But first they programmed their autopilot to ram us. Then they hauled their worthless butts off the ship before the runaway reactor could toast their buns.”

Bill was silent. He felt foolish. The answer to the problem was so simple he wondered why he and Randy hadn’t thought of it sooner. The enemy had turned one of their ships into a gigantic hyperdrive missile.

“Remember what you said earlier — about why they would bother increasing their speed such a small fraction?” said Randy. “I guess they don’t want us to just keep running at hyperdrive speed indefinitely. If we did, we could eventually duck through another dust cloud and lose them.”

Bill was staring straight ahead, pondering this new and disturbing revelation. “It makes perfect sense. After all, they know we can’t be sure they don’t have any more hyperdrive missiles, and we don’t dare go sublight if there’s a chance they could nail us.”

“What about that maneuver you suggested?”

“What maneuver?”

“You know – diving at the star? Making that tight turn?”

Bill’s thoughts continued to be cloudy and slow and constantly veering off toward things erotic. It was maddening. Apparently the effects of the drug peaked every few minutes, giving Bill periods of euphoria between periods of relative lucidness. Right now he was on the upswing, and he couldn’t even remember the plan he himself had proposed a few minutes earlier. Finally Randy had to help him.

“We dive at Donwaxihil and make a close pass. Then, just before we start a tight turn — ”

“We go sublight!” said Bill, suddenly grinning like an eager pupil. “Oh, yeah. That plan.”

“If the unmanned ship doesn’t match the maneuver exactly, it will rip right on by us so fast it’ll go clean through the system in nothing flat.”

“Yeah. But . . . what if it does match the maneuver?”

Randy looked at his poor friend for a moment and then decided to lighten the mood. “Well,” said Randy, looking sage and philosophical. “In that case . . . women all over the galaxy will be wearing their panties at half-mast in memory of us.”

“Oh, good lord, Randy!” Bill wailed unhappily, covering his ears with his hands. “Please don’t say things like that!”

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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 Sun May 06, 2018 12:52 pm; edited 2 times in total
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trekriffic
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Joined: 19 Feb 2015
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PostPosted: Thu Feb 26, 2015 1:59 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Poor Bill. All sexed up and nowhere to go with it. What Clawron did was wrong but... now that is was done... why not?
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Bud Brewster
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Joined: 14 Dec 2013
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PostPosted: Fri Feb 27, 2015 10:15 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

When a bitch beats the hell out of you and then drugs you, it tends to kill the mood, I figure!

Even a drug-induced mood!
Shocked
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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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