Jet Black and the Impossible Forest #4
By Alan P. Ellis
© 2013 Caelin Day pty. Ltd
The planets location was the first indication of its strangeness. It
circled one of two dim red dwarves, in a highly elliptical orbit; remaining
all times, in one or both habitable zones. It was medium sized; mountainous;
and where the mining vessel KallagahnIII had crashed.
It had been what was reported as a controlled crash, and loss of life was
minimal. Within a short time the crew had been rescued, and what deemed
necessary had been recovered. In all it had been an unfortunate event, but
a common one in the dangerous environment of space.
That was where the story of the KallagahnIII should have ended and remained,
but the ship held a secret.
Jet stepped off the Silver Flyer and looked around. New Frisco was
quite a bustling place and one where he felt exposed. It was well within
the jurisdiction of the galactic militia, and there were plenty of them
around. It was the first time Jet and the crew had exposed themselves since
their flight from Culver City, and to descend into a metropolis after the
tranquility of the hideout was an unnerving experience; but they had no
choice. One could hide but not completely: not if you wanted the things
that civilization offered; and medical supplies were one. They had given
much of the reserves they had to the inhabitants of Kiriligiantiaz; even
more had passed its safe date and needed replacing. They all agreed it had
to be done and while none of them admitted the fact they needed to see new
face's, and here they could; of every conceivable shape, colour, and creed.
"Okay Rosie?" said Jet expectantly.
"I have the list, it shouldn't take long"
"Same; all the spares and stuff we should need for a while."
"And I'll settle all the credit forms. Hopefully it shouldn't be too
involved but to be sure we should give ourselves an extra bit of time: say
around..." Jet pullout his timepiece.
"Jet?" Chub said suddenly. "I can't be sure how long I'll
They both looked at him.
"You know what it's like, maybe some things are not in stock, or maybe
they can't be delivered straight away?"
"And you're suggesting what?"
"No time limit; well by dusk tomorrow, at the latest," he said
"Tomorrow," Rosie almost snapped. "You want us stuck here
Chub's reply was less uncertain. "It's hardly stuck Rosie, This is
"And that's what it's all about isn't it?" she retorted.
"It's okay Rosie," Jet said passively. "He could be right,
we've had nobody for company but ourselves, maybe a night on the town won't
be a bad thing?"
"Do I have to remind you too that we are wanted thieves?"
"Technically; yes," he said nervously.
"Just because Benedicts claimed the Flyer blew up doesn't mean were
not zooming around in the evidence."
"No, but salvaging flotsam in space is not something that concerns
the galactic militia."
"Salvaging?" she grunted. "Well do whatever you want I'm
getting my side done and I'll come back here."
They watched her storm off before Jet turned to Chub. "Work first."
"Definitely Jet," he said with a broad grin.
"And we meet where?"
Jet looked at him doubtfully. "Clancy's Bar; I have feeling I'm going
to regret this?"
"Oh I guarantee you will Jet."
As Chub had predicted Jet did regret being talked into what he desperately
tried to forget he had been His mind was still occupied as they walked back
into the spaceport and a man stepped in front of them. "Mr. Black?"
he said pleasantly.
Jet looked at Chub furtively. It seemed every person with the vicinity was
looking at them. "Who needs to know?" he said as innocently as
"James Rackham; I'm an investigator for the Three Galaxies Insurance
Jets heartbeat stopped.
"Mr. Black please don't cause a scene; the galactic militia's interest
is minimal at this point so any occurrence would be unfortunate; and not
just for yourselves."
Jet gritted his teeth. "What do you want?"
"I would have thought that obvious Mr. Black: our spaceship."
"And If I refuse?'
Rackham began to laugh. "Mr. Black please; the spaceship is already
in lockdown and your crew member is in civilian custody."
Jets body sagged; it was over: it had been good; no it had been wonderful,
but it was over. "So what happens now?"
"That depends on you."
"And only me," Jet stared at Rackham. "It was my idea entirely,"
he glanced towards Chub. "My crew is: are just that, people who I convinced
to join me. It wasn't their idea"
"He's not going to believe that Jet," Chub said to his side. "You
don't believe that do you; anyway it was my idea; Jet's just taking the
credit. I convinced him to join me."
Rackham had stopped laughing but was still smiling. "And I suppose
the young lady convinced you both. Look lets be civilized and go over to
the terminal; you can all discuss your parts together."
Rosie was at on a lounge when they walked in; she looked as glum as
they felt. They sat; Chub beside her, Jet opposite. Rackham sat beside Jet.
"You are aware Mr. Benedict has lodged an insurance claim for the Silver
Flyer in its entirety?" Rackham said in a businesslike manner.
"Are we being recorded?" demanded Chub.
"This discussion is..." Rackham shrugged a little, "Is informal;
nothing that is said will be used in any evidence, though I should point
out there isn't a court in the systems that needs any more than we already
Jet felt even glummer.
"My clients have instructed me to clarify and make sure a few points
are agreed before any civil or financial charges are presented."
Jet stood, "Where's the coffee?"
"Through that door," Rackham pointed towards an anteroom.
"As I mentioned," Rackham continued. "The galactic militia
is not at this time involved, but any number of charges from theft to embezzlement;
from deception to perjury could possibly apply."
"Just get on with it," snapped Chub.
"Ah Mr. Hubly, obviously a man with your background will agree that
a penal colony is not the place where a young woman would survive for very
"I told you," snarled Jet, "She has nothing to do with it;
it was all me."
"And half me," added Chub.
"Of course, but a court may not be so willing to accept your words,
especially after Mr. Benedict has claimed the young lady tried to kill him."
Jet heard Rosie gasp and dropped the half-filled mug back onto the bench
as he turned to face Rackham. "That's dead wrong; he wanted me to kill
Rackham seemed unfazed. "You can prove that Mr. Black?"
Jet felt his throat thicken.
"I imagine not," Rackham held his stare.
"Actually I have a recording,"
"Mr. Black digital technology is supportive and not prime evidence.
It's quite easy to replicate any audio or vision."
"Then I'll demand to give evidence under lie detector."
"Whatever you chose it is your right, but it is also the right of the
Three Galaxies Insurance Alliance to explore every avenue we can; and we
will: The value of the Silver Flyer is of nothing to us, we can spend its
value multiple times and be completely satisfied with your conviction. On
top of that there's Mr. Benedict; if what you say has even a grain of truth
he would not hesitate to use the resources at his disposal to keep you quite."
Rackham stood and stepped away from them before he looked back solemnly.
"Mr. Black; all of you; I just need to convey the seriousness of your
positions. The courts will strip you of your financial and personal possession
in compensation. You will spend extended, and I'm sure with Mr. Benedicts
influence consecutive and continuing periods in prison. Your lives won't
just be hell, they may arrive at those very gates sooner than you expect."
Jet could hardly speak but at last he did. "You're enjoying this?"
"On the contrary, but as I said you need to know the alternative."
Rackham was silent for long enough for any of them to speak but nobody did.
"Very well I think we all understand our own positions." He sat
down again. "Mr. Benedict is an extremely important and valued customer
of the Three Galaxies Insurance Alliance. His various policies bring vast
amounts in payments to the Alliance, so the last thing we want to do is
accuse him of being a crook."
Jet stared at the man dumfounded.
"Insurance companies expect corruption; it's why the policies are so
high; the fact is your just stealing back your own money. Now while that's
something we will make every effort to stop we realize it happens. In fact
the odd claim here and there is; to be honest, too trivial for us to waste
our time chasing; obviously claims like Mr. Benedicts don't fall under this
Jet shook his head, "Then if you think he is a crook why don't you
go after him?"
"I have just said he is an important customer with many connections
so we have to have a kind of acceptance. As I say he's only getting over
and above what we wanted in the first place."
"And this has to do what with us in our prison cells; make us feel
"Prison is not the only option."
Jet was suspicious. "But after what you have sad?"
"What I said was to make sure you knew your alternative."
"Alternative: then we have an alternative?"
"Yes you do: in a short while from now you could fly the spaceship
away from here."
"We can leave in the Flyer: free?" gasped Jet.
"No, we will not give up our claim to your apprehension; or the spacecraft,
what we won't do is pursue it as a priority; at least as long as we have
Jet looked at the others; their relief on their faces told him they felt
the same. "Okay; so where from here?"
"What I need to know is everything you know: every last detail; all
signed and certified so that in the event you renege on our proposition
the documents can be handed over to the galactic militia's corruption investigation
branch and you will be pursued under the full force of the law."
"You want us to sign and document our guilt?"
"Is there any doubt?"
"There's always a clever lawyer."
"Yes I know; we have them all."
"And in return?" said Chub disdainfully.
Rackham smiled, "Yes there is a condition."
Jet looked straight at him, "And one we probably won't like?"
"Well on occasion; maybe not."
"On occasion," now Rosie spoke. "That sounds like were on
"You cost the Alliance a lot of money."
"That you just said it can afford to lose." Jet smiled.
"All things have their price, and you have already had a great credit,
and there may be times when; well time will tell."
"So what do you want doing that you don't want to be seen doing?"
"Tell me if any of you have ever heard of the KallagahnIII?"
"Well there it is." Rosie said indifferently.
"I'll take your word for that," muttered Chub.
"You should," she said without looking back at him. "At least
it's somewhere down there."
Below them the planet was hidden in darkness, the dim light from the closest
ex-sun incapable of making anything discernible.
Rosie glanced at the readout. "The coordinates put us about fifteen
thousand klicks away, but we can't trust them anymore; the planets orbital
speed and positioning change too erratically. The magnetometer is probably
better so I'm switching to sensor search."
They stared at the screen as they closed in.
"Absolute dark," said Jet. "Not a glimmer; not a reflection,
not a single solitary light. What have we got on this place?"
"Pretty average world Chemically." said Chub. "Part of a
binary system as half the planets are. No significant tectonic or volcanic
activity; too old and too large. Still warmed from beneath by high-pressure
steam: scalding, so we should make sure we don't get caught in any down
pours. Poor meteorological system and the frequent rain is mainly returning
steam. Towards the top end size of habitable planets: any much higher gravity
and you'd need an exosuit just to walk about. No oceans but plenty of surface
water in the form of streams and bogs. It probably tells enough about the
place to say that almost all we know about it was discovered in the process
of the KallagahnIII rescue."
"It sounds just the place for a holiday," grumbled Rosie.
Chub ignored her as he carried on. "The air is breathable without respirators
as long as we take oxygen capsules."
Now Rosie just grunted.
Jet ignored her. "Hopefully we won't be outside much."
"Hope your right Jet, but the planets covered in thick vegetation.
It's been a while since the clearings were cut for the rescue so it's likely
they have re-vegetated. Could be we won't be able to set down right alongside."
Jet sighed. "Hard going; bogs; poor air: not the best conditions for
"I wish it was that easy Jet." Chub smiled, in a kind of sarcastic
way. "Trek more like: it's jungle."
"You didn't mention the wild animals," Rosie said acidly.
"I though you already knew?"
Her voice rose slightly in disbelief, "You mean there are wild animals?"
"It's just one big food chain."
"And we're at the bottom?" added Jet.
"Not actually Jet: close. It's all carnivore; bacteria and maggots
at the bottom: people are still arguing which came first; the chicken and
the egg you know."
Jet smiled, "Then maybe we can solve a scientific conundrum while were
Chub shrugged, "Maybe; anyway small reptiles eat the..."
"Reptiles?" said Rosie questioningly. "No Mammalia?"
"None that anyone knows of, but research on this place has hardly scratched
"Okay," said Rosie, leaving a pause so long that Chub almost began
speaking again. "So you're suggesting its dinosaurs?"
"I'm not suggesting anything, but for every food chain there's something
big at the top."
"Okay," said Jet sharply, "None of this is very helpful,
other than an even better reason to find somewhere close by to set down:
if only we can just see somewhere."
"Could be hard Jet," began Chub again. "The vegetation is
nutrient deficient: the leaves; at least what pass as leaves, are just part
of the trunk material."
"Then how does the photosynthesis process work?"
"Rudimentary is the word used: the vegetation is black; it's all black;
every blade of grass; every leaf; every frond: everything is black."
"Hey Jet," Rosie added cheerily. "A planet designed with
you in mind."
"There's the signal," Rosie turned to them. "It's spread
out over a larger area than I expected; are you sure we will be able to
find the compartment?"
Jet shrugged. "Rackham seemed confident."
"Smug bastard," added Chub.
"Land as close as you can Rosie."
"Not easy Jet; other than landing right on to the vegetation. It's
thick for some distance all around."
"Close as its possible then."
"Radar has picked up a sand bank in the lee of the river flow; that's
"Then it will have to do."
"Right," said Jet with a cheery attitude, hiding his reluctance
to leave the safe confines of the Flyer. "We have everything?"
In turn he looked at Rosie and Chub for their indication. They each looked
at him; neither giving any indication they knew what they were in for; Jet
was sure he did. He had been on route marches in the military, sometimes
moving faster than he felt he could, and sometimes under fire. They were
brutal; agonizing and seemed to never end. He pushed the doubts aside thinking;
it's only two klick's. "Then let's do it."
As he emerged into the gloom his wrist light activated, cutting a narrow
cone into the vegetation, and immediately entered a monochrome world.
The sensors had revealed the larger trunks; either jutting up in front of
them, or tumbled across their path; but what it hadn't shown was the almost
wall of vine and fern that filled every gap. It was vastly different from
what he knew; a heavy canopy starves light to leave a lose area of ferns
below; here the penetrating sunlight had no influence, and the ferns had
In the distance there was plenty of sound, and even though there was no
noise close by he had no doubt they were being watched. "Whatever's
out here has better eyesight than us, so careful where you step; what you
rub up against, or what you touch."
Jet turned on the laser on his other wrist and sharp beam leapt out slashing
a line across a section of fern. The fronds shook and tumbled to the forest
floor. Taking a deep breath he stepped forward his arm arcing in a slow
sweep: vegetation began to shake and fall before them.
They had been moving slowly forward for only a very short time before
Chub asked what Jet was surprised nobody had asked before. "Could be
rough coming back Jet; we're sure the gurney can levitate enough?"
"If the packages weigh what their supposed to it should be; there's
plenty enough hydrogen in the inflation bags."
"And we can't use it to go over there?" Chub said hopefully.
"You mean us?"
"No the gear: tools, detectors; drinks?"
"You've only got ten-K in the pack."
"Yea, but ten-K is ten-K."
Jet smiled but deep down he was concerned; it was too soon to get thoughts
like that in their heads. They pushed on in silence.
The noise of the engines probably scared whatever had been there on landing
into silence; but almost as soon as they left the ship, and everything returned
to whatever had been normal, the creature sounds had begun. Roars, squeals
and shrieks bounced from tree to tree making it impossible to know from
where they had come, or how far they had traveled.
Beside the fern they cut through vines made up the highest percentage of
vegetation; and while there was apparently zero sunlight everything still
made some attempt to thrust or climb upward. The vines themselves sprouted
barbs, hooks, spikes, and tendrils of every description. The roots seemed
shallow and it wasn't far before they saw what apparently made up a major
source of nutrients: an unrecognizable furry creature had become entangled.
"Don't get hooked up," warned Jet
"I don't think it just got snared," said Rosie. "Look at
the litter around it; it's flattened and spread out, not scattered and torn.
However it died it was quick."
"Poisonous plants; great," muttered Chub.
"I'm not so sure Chub," she said hesitantly. "We don't have
any idea of the toxins here; the flora we're used to don't act instantly
so the creature would still have gone into spasm. I think it's more likely
a type of venom."
"Even better," grumbled Chub. "Venomous trees."
Rosie laughed a little at his discomfort as she shone her flashlight on
the ground beside the creature's body. "Then don't look at how it absorbs
its prey." All around the carcass dozens of white tendrils had emerged
from the soil and penetrated the flesh.
"Yuck," he groaned. "Let's get done and get out of this place."
The fact that animals of some sort definitely existed was still in their
minds when less than a quarter of the way they came upon another creature.
Something a short distance away took flight, crashing away into the forest.
Jet had no idea what it had been other than big and he tried to pick up
A little after that they had their first real encounter, when another broke
cover: but much closer. Rosie yelped in surprise and the glow from Chubs
plasma pistol lit up the ground underneath his feet. "Yuck," he
said in a revolted way, just in time for Jet to see a carpet of insects
in a radiated circle around the man's feet. Jet didn't look down, but he
knew that the ground around his own boots would also be covered in whatever
bug he had briefly seen.
Their disgust was short lived as immediately they saw another of the forest
victims. "Is that what I think it is?" muttered Chub.
"After what we saw back there it was going to be a given," said
Jet looking at the decomposing remains of yet another creature.
"But it's such a pretty flower?"
"Deadly beauty," said Jet. "Lured in by odor or taste; and
trapped to become dinner. Come on we can't lose sight of the job."
Creatures now seemed to everywhere: and they became bolder and closer: if
that wasn't bad enough they seemed less reluctant to run: It was as if they
were testing, and learning. The fact distracted them and it was only a matter
of time that one would get snagged; it was Chub.
He let out a grunt as a barb hooked into the web of his backpack and drew
him to a sudden halt. "Jet?" he gasped, in a far more anxious
way than he would have chosen.
Jet spun and lifted his light. He saw the problem vine, but also the others.
Hundreds, if not thousands were hanging just above their heads as if the
trees were fishing. It seemed the plants were learning too. Jet sliced Chub
free with the laser and now began to cast the flashlights beam into the
air as well as on the ground.
They were almost there when they heard the most terrifying roar. It was
deep and throaty, and it sent a shiver of terror down all their spines.
Whatever had made it wasn't happy, but that wasn't as bothering as around
them the forest floor seemed to erupt. In every direction their other hidden
followers broke cover to race away; some so close that they were almost
in touching range; as close as anything had come. Setting off Jet felt he
was now moving so fast that it was almost running.
Suddenly the ground beneath Jets boots changed and the sound became hollow
and metallic. "This is it," he said in relief. "The hull
section must be close by."
For a moment they seemed alone and he quickly ascertained their location.
Beside him chub and Rosie's flashlights probed the gloom
"It's just over there," said Chub as his light illuminated a section
of the KallagahnIII's hull plating.
They raced to and along; found the airlock and emergency mechanical mechanism
and forced it open: jamming it shut behind them.
"Let's hope they don't learn how to open doors," Rosie said in
an only half joking way.
If outside was eerie, inside was spooky. Wherever it could vegetation
had found its way into the hulk and hung from wall and roof. It also covered
the floor but starved of nutrients it just lay as a thin carpet that squelched
under their boots.
In silence and eager to leave they penetrated deeper into the crashed spaceship.
Jet couldn't help glancing around and thinking that bar some superficial
damage: likely caused by the impact, the ship was in remarkably good condition.
Another time he would have been compelled to explore a little, but this
wasn't the time and they ascended to the upper levels and the bridge deck.
The primary ships log was in the navigation section, and that was off to
the rear and back of the spacious and cluttered bridge. They located it
and Chub pulled off his pack and took out the tool kit.
"Let me get this straight; we've come all this way just to get the
ships log?" He grumbled as he opened up the data rack cupboard.
"It's more than a log Chub; it's the ships entire record, all the conversations
and discussions. I don't have a clue what makes these interesting to Rackham,
but for some reason they are..."
"Let's leave the debate till later guys," interrupted Rosie. "We
still have to find the second package and whatever's outside seems to be
getting more interested in getting inside."
They all fell quiet, and listened; she was right, down below and outside
they could hear faint scraping sounds.
Chub turned back to the rack. It took only seconds for him to speak. "It's
"It can't have," stuttered Jet.
"Well there's nothing in the rack where it should be."
Jet was feeling anxious. "Your sure you're looking in the right place?"
Chub gave an exasperated sigh. "Jet I did my traineeship on hulk ships
"If it's gone, then why would Rackham tell us to get it?"
"You're assuming Rackham knows Jet?" said Chub. "Maybe someone
else wanted it too?"
"It makes better sense if they took it during the crews rescue,"
said Rosie. "They'd need to know what happened."
"Surely Rackham would have realized that?"
Cub was still on his knees his head inside the cupboard. "Well retrieved
or stolen, it's still gone
Rosie: hand me the sensor will you
he glanced back. "No the other one
thanks. If memory serves me
right there's a couple of recorders: the primary one records everything
from takeoff to landing; but data is routed through a short-term recorder
as well. I don't know how far it goes back but maybe Rackham will be satisfied
with that how far it dies."
"He'd better be," muttered Rosie. "I don't want to come back
here anytime soon."
"Me neither," said chub shuffling backwards clutching a medium
size metal box. "And there is a consolation; this is a lot smaller
and lighter than the primary."
Jet relaxed a little as he helped place it on the gurney. "So where
is hold three-B?" he asked the question without need, as he already
held the plan.
They descended a different and shorter way to arrive on the equipment
storage deck. It was deeper inside the spaceship and had not been penetrated
by the vegetation, but it wasn't any less ghostly. Other than the odd tool,
or fitting everything had been well secured and remained as it had when
the KallagahnIII was an operational mining vessel, and it was easy to picture
the crew at work. They tried not to as they passed day quarters and stores
until they were at hold three-B. Suddenly there was a problem; three-b was
a secure room, and there was no mechanical opener.
"Your sure it's the right code?" said Rosie tactfully.
Jet didn't answer the question directly. "The code isn't opening it."
"We need power Jet," said Chub.
"I gathered that; but there isn't any."
Rosie waited before she nervously said what they thought. "Well what
are we gunna do guy's?"
"Were gunna get inside." Jet said determinedly.
"I hope so," she said. "From his attitude I somehow don't
think Rackham will accept that we couldn't get inn?"
"He ain't gunna buy that?"
Jet's reply was tense. "No Chub, it's not if he buys it or not, it's
"Anybody like to race back and get some explosives?" said Rosie
with a forced smile.
"There's explosives?" Jet said as some hope returned.
Rosie's smile faded. "No I just thought
It was a stupid thing
Chub gave her a supportive smile. "Anyway it wouldn't do any good Rosie;
well not without a
" he hesitated in thought. "Come to think
of it this is a mining ship there could be some somewhere."
"That could be our next move," said Jet as he stared in frustration
at the keypad.
Chub waited as Jet entered the numbers a fourth time before the idea had
sufficient merit in his mind. "I'm not sure but I think it could be
possible to feed a short burst of power through the system: no guarantee;
but it maybe could work?"
Jet looked at him seriously. "You think you can?"
"No; but I think I can try, and maybe it's the only way: any explosives
would be in secure holds, and we'd probably have to blow the door off the
explosives hold, to get explosives to blow this."
"What do we do?" asked Jet eagerly.
"It's what I need to do; find the input, get the pistol into the circuit
"Discharge," interrupted Rosie. "You're going to use the
"It's safe; well safe enough."
"If we empty the pistols charge," said Rosie nervously. "It
will be useless when we go back outside; I don't like the thought of being
out there with an empty weapon."
"I won't empty it."
Jet wasn't sure it was possible. "But you can do it?"
"Actually thinking about it, that's the easy part; problem is as Rosie
pointed out; it'll empty the pistols charge in no time, so you have to be
ready to enter the code the instant the powers running."
"Then we'd all better make sure we don't waste time." Chub walked
back down the corridor. "I'll go back to the control deck, find the
loop and isolate it. If I can I, maybe: and I mean maybe; I'll be able to
feed the pistol into the circuit, and we're gunna be away real soon."
Jet nodded; he wasn't a systems person but it made sense.
In the silence as they waited, Jet could hear the distant noises; he was
certain the period of time between the faint scrapping sounds was getting
He was intent on the sounds that the communicator made him jump. "Got
"Ready when you are Chub," he replied. Suddenly he felt nervous;
would it work, could he enter the code and open the door before they drained
the plasma? He would soon know.
"Got the circuit; I think."
"Broke into the line."
"Stripping the insulation
the fiber optics look good."
"Better make sure I make a clean incision, don't want to have it leak
do we?" The voice was meant to carry humour, but Jet knew Chub was
"Take your time Chub; last thing we need is for you to go and hurt
There was a longer and more tension filled pause before he heard Chubs voice
"Okay; you ready there?"
Jet wasn't sure he was. "Whenever you are."
"Don't go too soon; give two sec's to feed through before you start
"Right; on the count of five: One
five, discharge, four..."
Jet saw the panel light up but couldn't press his fingertip.
"It's flowing; it's too high a charge; hit the button, it's gunna destroy
the circuit soon."
The warning galvanized Jet into action, and he began punching far slower
than he wanted; but making sure he didn't hit the wrong symbol; he didn't
and the panel glowed green. With a loud click the door opened and began
to slide away. Almost as soon as it began to open, it suddenly it stopped,
and the panel went dead. Jet stared at the gap.
There was a gasp over the communicator, "It's blown
Is it enough?"
said Chub anxiously.
"Yes; yes I think so."
"Great; I'm on my way back."
Rosie, and then Jet had squeezed through and stood looking at the cargo
shelves; Jets eyes centered on the symbol. "It's radioactive,"
he said recoiling slightly. "I hate radiation."
Immediately Rosie thrust out the detector, "It's okay Jet; it's clean."
"I still hate radiation," Jet grumbled as turned away to look
out the part opened door. Chub was coming hurriedly back down the passage
carrying something. "Chub bring the gurney closer." Jet called.
Chub waved his arm as Jet turned back to Rosie.
She was reaching beside the package to pick up the documents, "These
have the same code so I guess they are what's called associated materials?"
"What about that?" Chub was as far through the opening as he could
get. "What about the other package; the smaller one?"
Jet looked again at the instruction. "It says one package and associated
materials, marked three-three-six-two, that's the code on this," Jet
said lifting it up and through the door into Chubs waiting hands.
"Maybe we should take the other just in case?"
Jet looked at the code on the smaller package; it was different. "Definitely
not what's on the here."
"Maybe; but we don't want to have to come back do we?" Chub tried
not to make his voice too pleading.
"Chub we can't empty the entire compartment," argued Rosie.
"He's got a point Rosie," Intervened Jet. "I don't think
any of us want to do this again."
"Neither do I want to take any more than we absolutely need past that
thing waiting outside."
Jet placed his package down and nodded, "Agreed."
Chub looked at them both slightly disappointed. "Guys it's not just
you; I want to be absolutely sure."
Jet sighed deeply, "Okay, but if we do have problems your gunna have
to run with it under your arm, assuming it doesn't blow you up."
"So we have everything," Rosie said looking directly at Jet.
"According to the shopping list Rackham gave me."
"Then what are we waiting
" A more frantic scraping from
the hull close by cut off Jet's words.
"I don't want to sound paranoid guys, but it seems to me those sounds
are honing in on us?"
"You are paranoid Rosie," smiled Chub. "They can't see where
"No?" she said acidly, "Ultra sound; heat; movement, what
kinds of sensitive senses do they have; we don't know?"
It was something Jet didn't want to think about. "So if were all agreed
then let's get out of here."
Chub waited until they were all back in the corridor. "Just one more
stop Jet and we can go."
Jet and Rosie stood by the door; Rosie was getting impatient, "What's
"I don't know but he said it was important."
"You realize he's off somewhere in the ship pilfering.
Jet did but he didn't want to think about it. "Like he said it's a
grey line between theft and salvage."
"As if we don't have enough problems with the law as it is: anyway
what's inside the data boxes?"
"He said upgrades for the Silver Flyer."
"Upgrades: how long has this hulk been laying here?"
"Quite a while, but I did do a bit of research before we left; apparently
the ship wasn't all it seemed, besides the mining role it was also a test
bed for control systems."
"Maybe that explains what Rackham is after"
"If he's not back soon we're gunna have to go looking for him."
"Is that a control system as well? Rosie pointed to the box Chub had
urged Jet to take.
They turned to the sound of hurrying feet. Chub was moving quickly down
the stairs from above. "Sorry guys; took longer than I expected.
"We were gunna leave you," said Rosie grumpily.
"Sorry but you'll thank me."
"I doubt that," muttered Rosie. "So: can we get off this
"Sure; I'll go first," offered Chub, pulling a narrow cylinder
from the backpack. "I should have thought of these on the way over
but better late than never. Ready with the door Jet?"
Jet nodded and pulled it open a little; immediately Chub tore off the cap.
There was a hiss as Chub tossed it through the gap. Brilliant red light
poured through the crack from outside, followed by a roar and thick orange
"Let's go," shouted Jet as he pulled the door back. Chub raced
out pulling another cylinder from the pack with one hand, and guiding the
gurney with the other. Rosie followed the gurney, and Jet her. They ran
barely daring to look to the left where towering above the doorway was a
massive creature. It was snarling and choking from the smoke and probably
blinded from the glare; they didn't know or care as they tore down the path.
In seconds the glow was behind and they were entering darkness: as the blackness
enveloped them Chub threw another flare, far in front.
It exploded into light and vegetation for some distance seemed to reel away.
Its intense burning forcing Jet to close his eyes almost completely blind
he followed Rosie and Chub into the billowing cloud of orange smoke; and
stumbled as companions disappeared into the smoke. Coughing and retching
Jet ran shoulder first into a tree trunk and fell sideways. He scrambled
to his knees and suddenly realized he didn't know which way to run.
Chub ran on blinded, but he'd been through worse; much worse, and anyway
he couldn't slow or turn in case he lost the picture in his mind: suddenly
the smoke was thinning, and at last he risked glancing back. He could see
the vague shape of Rosie: she was hanging onto the gurney desperately, but
there was no sign of Jet. Chub went a little further until he felt safe
enough to stop. Rosie fell to her knees beside him; she was coughing and
trying to vomit as he lifted her. "You'll be fine," he said reassuringly.
"Damn it Chub," her words came in gasps. "Did you
it so far in
He smiled guiltily, "Sorry."
Slowly Rosie began to look around, "Where's Jet?" more in curiosity
than alarm. She followed Chubs eyes back to the dissipating smoke.
Before she could say anymore Chub pushed the pistol into her hand. "Take
the pistol: get back to the Flyer; were gunna need to leave in a real hurry."
"We ain't gunna leave him, you just get back safe and wait." She
was reluctant so he snapped threateningly. "Go: now."
Rosie looked at him, and then glanced back into the smoke with a look that
Chub instantly understood. "Rosie," he said a softer tone. "Go;
I'll get him."
She looked back at chub with a slightly embarrassed look, "Don't get
"I won't; now get the ship ready to get us off this place." Chub
turned back as she left. "Okay Jet where the hell have you got to?"
The brilliant light was barely more than a glow now, and the smoke was
thinning fast. Jet wanted it gone, but wanted it to stay. Only a tiny spot
of red indicated where the first flare had been; in moments his would be
no better, Whatever had towered over them would have recovered and was probably
already on its way; as if to answer his fear he heard a grunting snarl.
Jet was on his feet and moving, far slower than he wanted but he didn't
want to run into another tree either. Suddenly the ground beneath his feet
began to rumble and for a second time Jet was off his feet. Between him
and the creature: but off to the right there was a sharp cracking explosion
and an ear-shattering whoosh. The glow from dying flare seemed to leap from
the ground and shoot upward in a pink geyser: it would have been a beautiful
sight if he could only have had the chance to see it. Moments later the
water was on its way back, hot and wet, and settling the remnants of the
smoke. Jet began to run.
Chub felt the ground shake; he made to reach for a tree for support
but instead dropped to his knees. Not far ahead he could see a column of
water reaching up through the canopy. He could see something else glistening
with wetness was a large shape, and it was coming directly towards him,
and he knew Jet was somewhere between. The ground had barely stopped trembling
but Chub was up and running. The reflected glow had gone and so had the
creature. "Jet," he screamed out the effort tearing at his raw
throat. "Jet; where are you?"
Then he saw him jet was getting to his feet, but beyond the monster was
closing in. Then he was grabbing Jets tunic. "Come on," was all
Chub could utter.
They didn't need to look back, the vibrations in the ground told them it
was close behind, and if it hadn't they could hear the snorts of air sucked
into its nostrils.
The gurney was just ahead. "Grab what you can Jet," said Chub
as they slid to a stop. Jet stuffed the documents inside his jacket and
took a package in each hand. He hesitated; waiting anxiously for Chub to
do the same but chub was pulling off his backpack and getting out the last
flare. Chub looked up. "Go; take the stuff she's waiting for you."
"Don't worry about me," Chub smiled. "I got to teach this
thing a lesson or two about manners."
Jet looked down at the gurney. Chub was opening the exhaust vales for the
hydrogen. Suddenly he realized what was going to happen and began to run
for the starship.
Chub could hear the gas escaping as he tore off the top of the last flare.
He looked up and saw the creature's features for the first; and he hoped
the last time. He tossed the flare into the gas, swept up the remaining
packages and started after Jet.
Jet couldn't help looking back; he could see Chubs stout shadow against
the flare as it grew in intensity and almost immediately behind the creature.
Then the flare leapt to the side as the creature barged past the gurney.
The brilliant light was part obscured as it dropped into the ferns, and
a spray of flame curved into the air as the gurney spun away. It was just
then than the Hydrogen erupted.
Jet cringed at the fireball, and saw Chub thrown forward before he threw
himself to the ground as the hot shockwave swept over him.
Jet was sure that if he did get off the planet he'd take enough of the soil
in the back of his throat to start a garden. His thoughts were scattered
as Chub grabbed his shoulder pulling him up.
"Chub your safe
"It's still here Jet.
Jet glanced back to see the creature almost upon them: a roar filled their
ears, but it wasn't an animal roar; and the whole area was brilliantly lit
as the Silver Flyers landing lights bathed them in light. Again they grabbed
the packages and ran the last short distance to the ramp and safety.
Jet staggered; dirty, disheveled and highly relieved into the control cabin.
Rosie stared back at him warmly, and past her he could see the stars of
"Okay Rosie," he said, "Home to our home amoung the stars."