The Impossible Adventures of Jet Black and the Starship Crew

 


Jet Black and the Escape from Culver City #1

By Alan P. Ellis

Copyright Alan P. Ellis 2013ã

Copyright 2013. Copyright in all media and in all forms remains the property of caelin day pty ltd (aus). Any reproduction in whole or part is conditional on the written permission of caelin day pty. Ltd.

The asteroid didn’t have a name, only a number: a number four times as long as the locker code of the most security minded miner. The number wasn’t the product of some bureaucrat's finger strokes; it had a rationale, and was intended to specify a co-ordinate; but deep in space co-ordinates were just a bureaucratic fantasy, and to every single roughneck the number was superfluous: all they needed to know was that it was Culver City.

Decades before; when a young geologist named Hiram Benedict came across it; it had been a pristine planetoid composed of enough ice water to make it habitable and enough nickel, titanium, gold, diamonds, and other minerals to make it worth inhabiting. In the next three decades the asteroid was drilled and blasted until it was no more than a rock-hard, a totally exploited sponge. But Hiram didn’t abandon it, instead he filled the tunnels and voids with the excavated wealth: created living quarters; a hospital and casinos, and it became Culver City. Neither did Hiram give up mining nor prospecting; he just moved Culver City wherever the pickings were greatest.

In the following decades Benedict sought out likely asteroids; moored Culver City to them and exploited whatever he could; firstly in minerals and then from the roughnecks wages.

Hiram asked no questions and needed no history of the men and women who stepped off the shuttles; so Culver City attracted the roughest of the rough. Anyone who was prepared to work would be fed, accommodated and paid: and paid very well; those that found it too hard soon left; one way or another. To many who arrived it was simply preferable to incarceration: as long as you didn’t think about the comparisons too closely.

After their shifts, the scum of the system could drink at Hiram's grog cellars, fornicate at Hiram's brothels, and gamble in Hiram's casinos. It was as Hiram was often to say: with a big smile on his face; a circle of money: and sooner or later it all came back to him.



Jet Black was one of the pieces of human wreckage. After ten years in the special ops of the Colonial Guard he had achieved distinction. He had been awarded the Star of Penrith and the Badge of Honour; but Jet had no honour: he had made the fatal mistake of looking an enemy in the eye: literally and emotionally, and disillusionment had consumed him.

He knew the very moment; the exact second: he had been on the battlefield: cleaning up as the Colloquialism went, around him were scattered bodies and his buddies were walking along kicking each to make sure they were dead when Jet came upon a mother, she was dead but beside her was a child a young girl; still alive but barely. She had looked him in the eye, and he had looked back. He lifted his weapon to finish the job but couldn't and another soldier beside his had to step in. Her blood spattered his legs and boots. In that very moment Jet realized and hated what he had become. He realized he had been instrumental in the almost genocide of a race that simply wanted to be left alone.

Jet was court marshaled: he was stripped of the Star and the Badge and dishonorably discharged, without money, home or future. Culver City seemed his only option.



Jet stepped onto the rock of Culver City with a half full duffel bag over his shoulder that represented all his worldly possessions. He followed the other riff-raff to the processing building; was assigned a bunk in a dormitory with thirty other men, given a meal and after the briefest of instruction; and even less on safety, set to work as a rigger.

It was there several hours later that he was introduced to Culvers unions. Three men: very muscled men approached him: he stopped working and waited.

"You new?" said one; Jet scanned his tags: he was an electronics supervisor; indication he had more intelligence than his build suggested. According to the identification tag his name was Hubly.

Jet nodded.

"Welcome to the team," the man said affably. "It can be confusing; even dangerous," he said emphasizing the last word. "So we recommend new guys join the union; you know; for protection," again there was emphasis on the last word.

"And this will cost me?" said Jet suspiciously.

The man smiled. "A mere pittance, just ten percent of your wages and bonus's."

Jet didn’t think that sounded like a pittance. "Thanks, I'll think about it," he said dismissively.

"You'd be wise not to take too long," the man's smile had gone.

Jet felt a searing pain in his kidneys as one of the two others dove his clenched fist into the small of his back. Jet fell to his knees gasping for air. Before he could recover the two were hauling him up.

"Accidents can happen any time," the man said as he brought his fist hard into Jets stomach. This time Jet didn’t fall as they held him up.

The smile was back. "Now; you had time to think about it or do you need more time?"

Jet felt at a big disadvantage, but any delay was going to hurt more so he gritted his teeth, grasped the arms that were holding him and kicked himself off the ground; his steel toe cap sinking into Hubly's groin. The man immediately folded and his astonished friends eased they grip enough for Jet to squirm and spin taking one of their arms up behind the man's back: there was a sickening snap as his elbow leveled with his shoulder. The second was recovering from his surprise and lashed out his fist. Jet deflected it and smashed the heel of his hand into the bridge of the man's nose. Blood poured out and he fell back clutching at his face.

Jet reached down and grasped Hubly by the hair and turned his face up. "Thanks for the offer, but as you see I'm not the kind of guy who has a lot of trouble with accidents."

It was the next day Jet had his second union encounter; this time there were seven. Things had started to go bad when through blood a red mist and flying fists he saw Hubly arrive. It was the last thing he was conscious of.



Jet woke in a bed, and not a bunk; there were crisp white sheets and a nurse. "How you feeling?" the man smiled in anticipation of the obvious answer.

Every part of Jets body ached. "Probably the same as I look?" he replied.

"Well the consolation is you're still alive."

Jet wasn’t sure it was a consolation.

"Finns boys generally don’t leave evidence."

Jet wasn't sure being evidence was a good thing either. "They don’t?"

"Never, if help hadn't arrived," for a moment the nurse fell ominously silent. "If I was you I'd get on down to the casino."

Jet didn’t want to move any muscle, never mind walk. "I'll think about it."

"You should, most folks who have dealings with Finn end up down the bottom of a disused mine shaft."

"Here seems a better place."

The man smiled. "Yea, but maybe you'll jump down one yourself when you get the hospital bill."

A new voice came from the side. "He's covered by the union."

The nurse looked nervously at the newcomer, and quickly left.

Jet couldn’t turn his head to see who it was: he didn’t need to as the man came in front of him. Jet felt himself stiffen, and the resulting pain made him wince: it was Hubly.

"How you feeling; as good as you look I'm guessing?"

"Yea," Jet said cautiously: feeling very vulnerable.

"I brought some fruit," Hubly said self-consciously. "Didn’t know if you prefer apples or oranges, so I brought both."

Jet looked at the man's hands; he had one piece of fruit in each hand.

Hubly saw his look, "Yea I know, but these two cost me almost an hour's wages."

Jet had no idea why he smiled but he did.

"You did well," Hubly have a look of admiration. "Still seven on one was never a win situation."

"No."

"Not really fair seven."

"But three is?"

"Three was to test you, how else can anybody get your measure?'

"That was test."

"You should realize by now this isn’t kindergarten."

Jet smiled. "I don’t know I've heard of some pretty rough finger painting."

"Maybe so, but you won't have any more problems, now the others know your with us."

"I'm with you?"

"You recon you want some more?"

"No,"

"Anyway without union insurance you gunna be paying for all this, for a long time."

"I was intending to arrange for some recompensation."

"And if you have any sense you'll forget it."

"It's not going to be easy to forgive and forget."

"Then in that case you are a dead man. Look fella let's get down to some home truths. As I said this is not kindergarten. Individuals don’t survive; you have protection or sooner or later you disappear; end of story: and don’t give me shit about being able to look after yourself: your good, I'll give you that, but nobody is unbeatable. Sometime, someplace your guard will be down and your gone; but Finn and the other unions know that take out a union member and you start a war; they don’t want that; we don’t want than, and Benedict certainly don’t want that. If he sends in his goons were all dead. They have the only firearms in Culver and they don’t ask questions. They are the judge, jury and executioners. No, Benedict likes to keep us all at each other's throats; if there was the one union we might become a threat but fragmented he keeps control. Do I make myself clear?"

"I guess so."

"Look I'm not good at the smarmy bedside stuff. Get on your feet again, and we'll have a drink sometime and make bygones become bygones."



Jet wasn’t a miner but he did have other talents. He knew how to organize men and being quick on the uptake soon knew enough about extracting materials to gain the respect of his crew; and his superior: soon he was a foreman. Jet also had another quality; he wasn’t seduced by the drink and the girls: not that he didn’t partake of both, but unlike most of his peers he knew when enough was enough.

He soon saw that accidents were very common and not just those inflicted by the unions; most were just down to fatigue and the dangerous conditions. He realized the hospital wasn’t all it was supposed to be either; certainly they did treat injuries but the cost was horrendous and he encountered many who simply bandaged wounds up and kept on working. Culver City had a veneer; below that it was every man for himself.



Jet was eating his evening meal in the cafeteria when Hubly entered and saw him; there was a moment's hesitation and then the man walked directly over and put his hand on the back of the chair. He looked at Jet and Jet nodded. Hubly pulled the chair out and sat down. "What's the fish?" he said looking at Jets plate.

"I'm told its Grunter."

"What's it like?"

"Fish."

"Can never tell with fish: frozen or not by the time it gets here it's as good as off already."

Jet nodded.

"What they, what a lot of places like this need is a reliable, regular supply."

Jet nodded again.

"It's what I'm gunna do when I get away."

Jet was intrigued, a few weeks ago the man was beating the shit out of him, and now he was talking about his aspirations as if they were old friends. "Do what?"

"Courier."

"Courier?" Jet almost spat out his food in surprise.

Hubly looked at him, "What's funny about that?"

"Nothing."

"No there aint."

"No," Jet was wondering if he should leave.

"All a man needs is a good team."

"I thought you had that?"

Hubly smiled. "Gorillas," he looked at Jet. "No not them, somebody like you."

Jet stopped eating and looked at him.

"I've been checking on you," said Hubly. "By all accounts honest: can look after yourself when it's needed, smart and ambitious."

"Well then I guess you got the wrong man; I have no ambition beyond what's for breakfast tomorrow morning?"

"So what was it a woman?"

"No I just realized that life was pointless."

"Then maybe I have got the wrong guy," Hubly stood. "I'll pass on the fish."

"Probably for the best."

"Yea well so long Jet, keep clear of accidents."

"Yea; you too...?"

"Charlie Hubly, but my friends call me Chub."



Two months later Jet was made transport supervisor. He had an office on the asteroids surface where he oversaw a fleet of automated dump trucks that brought that last of the ore to the surface and the ancient processing plant. It was shortly after that he first saw the Silver Flyer.

From gossip he knew about Hiram's yacht and how it was supposedly acquired from an alien race during one of Hiram's dubious schemes. It was certainly unusual: every spacecraft Jet had seen looked like something put together from a scrap yard; the Flyer was sleek and glossy silver; hence the name. While other spaceships thrusters seemed to grunt and wheeze the Flyer was effortless. If the talk was to be believed its technology was revolutionary, and powered by some strange process where light was refracted or split through a diamond. Gossip was that it was Hiram's interest in the gem that had given him the opportunity to get his hands on the spaceship. Once he did, he had, had it converted into a luxury personal transport while retaining its cargo carrying capacity. Whatever the true story it mesmerized Jet and only the urgent warning sound that a dump truck had rolled brought him back to reality.



It was over two years since Jet arrived that he at last felt normal; or as normal as anyone could be in a place like Culver City. He had claimed the ranks and now was division manager. For the first time in a long time he began to think of a future, and one was offered by Hiram.

Hiram shook his hand. "I've heard good things about you Mr. Black; very good things."

Jet wasn’t sure how to reply, so he just smiled.

"In fact I'd be willing to say you are potential executive material."

Jet had even less of a reply but the smile faded with surprise.

"I need men like you in positions where they can use their talents at an advantage." Hiram paused, probably Jet thought for emphasis. "This isn’t the time and place to discuss detail, but the head of customs and cargo has to attend meetings on the planet; there is a deputy but I'd like to give you the chance to show your mettle by taking over the position. I stress it isn’t long term; just while he's away, but do well and I'm sure something else will come up that will be yours."

Jet was flabbergasted, "I don’t know what to say."

"Well I expect you to say yes, but as I said it's not the time and the place; I'll see you tomorrow in my office at eleven and we can discuss it in detail. Right now you will have to excuse me I have others to meet and duties to do." Hiram shook his hand again and walked away leaving Jet stunned.



Jet arrived at Hiram's office early and full of information on the customs and cargo section. Much he had known was hearsay and rumour but now he knew that the section was responsible for every movement on and off the asteroid. Mainly it was to do with shipping the individual cargo wherever it was to go: the rest was incoming materials and personnel. He had records on all arrivals; though considering many didn’t reveal their true past, this work constituted placing them in work, which seemed appropriate. Besides there was the customs section checking that everything arriving was what was supposed to. From what Jet could tell Hiram knew everything from the contents of parcels from families to how much and where workers' wages were sent back home.

"Before you tell me your decision," began Hiram. "I need you to understand that the pay and privileges you will receive do not come cheaply: upper level staff need to be discreet and occasionally act independently outside their…. official duties."

Jet nodded knowing there was always a catch. "I know in many situations there are things that need doing that are best contained."

"And sometimes those things would not be approved if they became public."

Jet nodded again.

"So do you want the job?"

"I'll give it a try." Jet tried to sound blasé but Hiram's reply wasn’t what he expected.

"I don’t want you to try Mr. Black; I expect your total loyalty."

Jet felt chastised. "I'll do whatever you ask me to Mr. Benedict."

Hiram's frostiness disappeared as quickly as it had come. "Very well: what do you know of my yacht?"

The sudden change in topic threw Jet, and he wasn’t sure how much he did know or what was false. "It's beautiful."

Hiram laughed. "Indeed it is but this is business and in business it is a load of metal with a very valuable part at its center."

"A diamond."

"Yes, but not just a diamond; a very valuable diamond; in fact the gem itself is worth far more than the value of the yacht." Hiram went quite but his facial expression said all he needed to.

Jet wasn’t entirely sure what was coming next, but enough to guess. "You want to remove the diamond?"

"If the diamond was removed the yacht is useless and worth nothing: but..." he smiled conspiratorially. "The yacht is insured."

This time he understood, Jet nodded yet again. "An accident?"

"In which the yacht is totally lost…" Hiram smiled.

Jet wasn’t sure if he was meant to say the words but he did. "And you get the diamond and the insurance?"

"No," snapped Hiram. "Well not immediately: I get the insurance, and you remove the diamond to a safe place, until the time is right."

It was illegal; Jet was well aware it was illegal, and if things went wrong it would be all his fault. "How?"

"About that I need to know nothing, but you have an associate; a Mr. Hubly?"

Jet nodded.

"I am informed he is something of an electronic genius?"

Jet wasn’t sure of that, but Chub certainly knew about mechanical things. "Yes."

"I have no doubt that he could change a few settings or make a few alterations; but no explosives. If ever a trace were found explosives could be traced. It must just disappear."

Jet knew if it could be done Chub could probably do it.

"So we know what others get or lose; what do I get?"

"You have the new position."

"Insurance companies didn’t like being cheated; they will throw everything into finding the culprit; besides I may have to pay others, so it has to be worth the risk."

Hiram nodded. "So what is your price?"

Jet had no idea, but it would be a long prison term. Suddenly he remembered Hiram's own words. "The Silver Flyer," he said.

"The Flyer?" Hiram looked at him shocked and puzzled.

"You said the Flyer useless and worth nothing, but it's insured. Give me what the Flyer is insured for."

Hiram looked at him; his face serious. "Mr. Black I seem to have undervalued you. You are correct, the yacht can be replaced." A sly smile came over Hiram's face. "Very well, once the yacht is no more, the insurance valuation is yours."



Chub was shaking his head. "Jet you’re being set up."

"You mean I couldn’t get the promotion on merit?" replied Jet indignantly.

"What I'm saying is that you're given a dream job; with enough cash to set you up for life: why? Benedicts got a hundred goons who'll do whatever he says without any of that."

"And goons that can connect straight back to him."

"But you won't? Jet, he'll double cross you; us: the cash won't be there and we'll get fingered."

"Probably; but he won't do anything while we have the diamond."

"And you think he hasn't thought of that. No diamond, no money, and believe me the diamond is worthless to us. Jet you've been on the right side of the law: me; well I've known lots of people like Benedict; they weigh the odds and they don’t do anything without closing every loophole. So you have the diamond: it will be hot, nobody will fence it: it'll just burn a hole in our pockets until we hand it over for a pittance."

Jet knew Chub was right on every count, but he had been in no win situations before and come out on top: he was sure he would this time too.



Jet had been in the new position for two days when Hiram came into his office. "How's it going Jet?"

"Great; taking a little while to master all the detail; but Frank outside is making sure everything is right."

"He would," said Hiram. "He's been here forever." He hesitated. "Jet I want that little matter we discussed doing tomorrow."

"Tomorrow?" gasped Jet, "But it's too early."

Hiram was adamant. "Early; I don’t remember discussing advance notice. It has to be tomorrow."

Jet looked towards the door making sure it was closed. "Hiram I have meetings tomorrow, if I have to take the Flyer it's going to create suspicion?"

Hiram looked at him puzzled. "You take it?"

"Yes who else can I ask to steal it?"

"Steal it? No I don’t want it stolen, I want it destroyed. Tomorrow its cargo bay will be loaded with fuel. Hubly modifies the wiring so that half way to its destination it explodes."

Jet was shocked. "Half way; there will be a crew?"

"Of course there will be crew; it can't fly itself can it?"

"But they will be..."

"Yes; surely you realized that?"

"No; we were going to take it."

"I've just said that isn’t how I wanted it done."

"But killing people; I didn’t want to."

"Jet you were a soldier; you have killed many people."

"That was different."

"No it wasn’t, the bureaucracy you worked for were directed by industry; were just cutting out the middle men. Tomorrow Jet; see it is done.



Chub seemed less concerned than Jet had been. He listened; his face serious until Jet had finished. "It can't be a complete surprise Jet," he said. "It's puzzled me for a while what he was up to." Chub smiled. "At first I thought he was after you; maybe there's something in your past that he wanted revenge for or something?"

Jet thought on how Benedict was right; he had killed, and killed a lot of people; maybe his squad had thwarted some scheme Benedict had had, but it seemed pointless to target the tool instead of the men who had sent him on the mission. "Or you?'

"Me... Nah," Chub dismissed the idea. "We were on the same side, though when businesses the size of his do things they aren't considered illegal activities."

Jet nodded; big business and governments are never considered criminals even though they often use criminal methods.

"So what was his plan?" Chub continued. "An insurance scam?" Chub shook his head. "Benedicts got more cash stashed away than he can ever hope to spend: the insurance of the Flyer is pocket money. I doubt he's even that bothered about the diamond. Nothing made sense, until I found out who was the pilot. It's clear now his target is Rosie."

Jet had heard the name mentioned; or more correctly sniggered. Hiram called her his niece, and most of the workers assumed she was one of his toys; and probably that was what Hiram intended; but others said Rosie wasn’t that kind of girl, and it was a more complicated relationship. The story varied a bit but it seemed Rosie had been the child of one of the concubines that Hiram had cast off. Pregnant with Rosie, her mother had returned to the planet, and had been forgotten by Hiram, and as far as he had been concerned that was the end of it; but after Rosie's mother had died she had come looking for her father with DNA proof, and legal documents. For all his ruthlessness Hiram was not a fool and realized she had grounds to make a claim against the company. To keep litigation at a minimum he had convinced her to join the company and she would quickly work her way up; but jobs for females were non-existent, so she had been sent back to college to study business: that gave Hiram breathing space.

"I found out that recently she graduated and returned," said Chub. "When she did Hiram made her the Silver Flyers pilot; apparently he told her that meeting and forming relationships with the companies contacts would set her up to enter senior management; but she began to suspect he was never going to keep his word. Apparently her lawyers are ready to serve documents."

Jet nodded meekly; at last it all made sense. Chub had been right all along, they had been set up; they would never get the money or the diamond; instead they would be blamed with murder.

"We can't go through with it Chub."

"If we don’t where do we go, we're stuck here on this piece of rock waiting for Hiram to come and get us."

Jet was at a loss, but Chub didn’t seem disheartened; in fact he smiled.



Jet sat nervously looking at the clock: conscious and strangely reassured by the bulge under his suit jacket. Suddenly the phone rang; so loud that he inadvertently jumped in the chair: he picked it up. "Done," said the voice before the phone went dead. He recognized it as Chub's.

Jet dialed the number Hiram had given him. "Done," he said just as secretively.

Jet stood and walked to his reception area and paused in front of Frank. He wondered if the man was in on everything. "I'm at the meeting if anyone calls," he said.

"Okay Mr. Black," he replied pleasantly.

Jet walked out of the building. Further down the tunnel he could see a small group of men casually talking. He turned the other direction, towards the spaceport instead of towards the meeting. As casually as he could he glanced back and saw the men had begun following him. Without obviously hurrying he turned a bend and now broke into a sprint: seconds after they turned too. The sound of rapid heavy footfall echoed around the tunnel as the first shot ricocheted off the wall close by. His hopes were justified as he quickly realized they weren’t trained soldiers: if they had been one would have stopped and taken proper aim. It was time to slow them down and Jet fell behind some machinery; and pulled out the pistol. He looked at it and hoped it would work. It was what he had once called a Saturday night special; an improvised firearm made of pretty much whatever was to hand. Specials were often heavy, always unrifled, and especially dangerous; whichever side of the gun you were, but with weapons unavailable to workers, it was the best Chubs friends could do. It was pointless taking good aim so Jet just pointed it and fired. The noise was ear shattering and the recoil was immense: he remembered the lecturer telling how specials killed more users than victims, but it had the desired effect and the men dived for cover as Jet began running again. All he needed was a few more minutes.



Chub was pacing agitatedly when jet arrived. "Your late," he said sharply. "It's passed departure time; it could have left."

Jet padded his pocket, "Not without customs clear…."

Shots rang out and they both automatically crouched.

"Brought a goodbye party did you," Chub said.

"Seems Hiram is keen for me not to go."

Chub pulled a small box from his pocket and glanced back down the tunnel, waiting until the men were passing a parked small dump truck. He pressed the button and the truck exploded: the men disappeared into a thick cloud of dust and debris.

Jet followed Chub through into the hangar and immediately stopped. He had seen the Starship from a great distance but never so close, and he was dazed. It's sleek and stunning lines filled his senses with pleasure. He couldn’t imagine how Hiram could even think of destroying such a beautiful thing. Its silver fuselage seemed to shimmer in the heat from the idling engines. He was so awed that it took a round of fire from a machine gun to make him move and he raced after Chub up the ramp. Chub was smiling as he entered the Flyer, and hit to close button. "I thought for a moment that you had changed your mind?" he said.

Jet was still awed as he followed Chub onto the flight deck. A young and very attractive woman was stood waiting and apparently annoyed.

"What are you doing back?" she looked at Chub then at Jet, "And who are you?"

Jet calmly offered the customs clearance papers to her. "Enter the number in to top right hand corner."

"I know how to do that, what I don’t know is why you are both still here?"

"We're here to save your life," said Jet.

She was obviously angry at the delay. "What are you talking about?" she snapped.

Jet pulled the Dictaphone from his pocket and pressed play. Hiram's voice filed the cabin. "Steal it? No I don’t want it stolen, I want it destroyed. Tomorrow its cargo bay will be loaded with fuel. Hubly modifies the wiring so that half way to its destination it explodes."

"Half way; there will be a crew?"

"Of course there will be crew; it can't fly itself can it?"

Jet pressed pause. "There's more; I can play it all if you want but those guys outside will already be calling up reinforcements and bigger weapons; so I suggest we leave the rest till when we are less pressed?"

Rosie's anger had been replaced by shock, as she looked out of the windows and the engaged the main engine.

They flew straight down the access tunnel as the code was opening the outer doors. The Silver flyer leapt off the asteroid and in moments: under Rosie's expert command it was weaving through the field.



Rosie looked at them both as the recording ended. "He wanted me dead?"

"All of us," said Jet. "Once Chub had set the Flyer for destruction both he and I would have been killed; they tried on my way here but I was ready."

Rosie looked at them. "I'll set course for the planet."

"No," said Jet firmly. "Hiram is no doubt at this moment calling all his contacts. No one will believe us, or probably ever hear of us. If we go anywhere where his influence stretches Chub and I will end up dead and you will just as probably disappear."

"You expect me to let Hiram get away with trying to kill me?"

"No: just leave your revenge for another time: I'm sure ours and his lives are going to cross again."

"Then what do you suggest?"

Jet smiled, "Well Chub has always had this dream; and I kind of like it too. We go into business; the three of us as the Silver Flyer Express,"

Chub interrupted. "That’s the Sci-fi Express; courier service."

Rosie looked at them in total disbelief, "Couriers?"

"Yes," Jet looked out of the window. "That’s our future, and our home is out there; home amoung the stars."

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