The Impossible Adventures of Jet Black and the Starship Crew

 

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Jet Black and the Emperors Hand # 8

By Alan P. Ellis

Copyright 2013 Caelin Day Pty. Ltd.

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


On the four thousand and thirteen annual-am: on the planet of Thetea-Baroliam, the emperor Karr-Alle-Ecjek: emperor of all fourteen Worlds of the Yeatematite System was slain in battle. His passing was glorious and fated by both victor and vanquished: for he alone had achieved Barr-el-Amead-II: the single and highest accolade ever bestowed either in life or posthumously. He was entombed amid emotional and extended celebration and mourning, at his castle complex on Yeatamaipo: but not in his entirety.

During the fiercest part of the battle of battle of Thetea-Baroliam, the emperor had been parted from his personal guard and disarmed of all his weapons; except for the ceremonial saber: a short stabbing blade of gold; studded with gems that’s only function was to signify his authority. With a weapon that was in reality a symbol, he fought off all his attackers; spurred his troops, and overcame defeat; only to die in the very last moments of the battle when an enemy soldier: in his own dying moment, sliced the emperor’s arm between shoulder and elbow. The wound was terrible and before he could reach help the emperor’s life ended: but the death of emperor Karr-Alle-Ecjek only served to begin his myth. In the confusion and disorder of battle his arm and the saber disappeared. A fruitless search failed to find either, and the burial took place.

On the four thousand and thirty-third annual-am; on the planet of Elpha-Baroliam, the emperor Karr-Alle-Ecjek's mummified arm and the saber were found in possession of a man who tried to sell them. Law stated that the emperors body not be disinterred and it was decided to the arm be placed in the sanctuary of the castle complex and the saber become part of ceremonial royal paraphernalia. But this was not to be, as the death grip was so tight that the hand could not be removed from the haft without irreparable damage, by this time the emperor had become a divinity, so both were sent to the sanctuary.

 

"I don't like it."

Jet could tell he didn't, by the way Chub toyed with his meal. "It's quick and simple," Jet, said promisingly, "It's easy money."

"That’s entirely the reason why the regular transporters don’t want to do it?"

Jet felt snared. "Maybe they're too busy?"

"And maybe they won't because of the curse?"

Jet shrugged. "That’s just primitive superstition."

"Superstition that has believers on half the inhabited planets,"

"Come 'on Chub, think about it logically; it's just a mummified hand gripping a knife: nobody can even prove it's genuine: I mean holding its grip for at least twelve millennia; without loosening: come on?"

"Except in times of emergency?" added Rosie from behind him.

Jet hadn't heard her enter the lunchroom and he turned in his chair, "Surely not you as well: do you believe all that mystic stuff?"

"I don’t know what to believe Jet, but millions upon millions do."

"Well then we have a problem," he said firmly. "I have signed the contract."

Rosie glared at him. "We had an agreement."

"Yea," added Chum. "After the Ice planet: no discussion; no contract?"

"I know, but isn't the whole reason were doing this to break Benedicts control of what moves where?"

"No," said Rosie.

"I don’t remember that in our agreement?" agreed Chub.

"Okay well maybe that isn't the whole reason," Jet reluctantly admitted. "But it's something that needs doing."

"Maybe so Jet, but we do have a partnership and partnerships are just that," she could see he was cornered and backed off. "Anyway we're not going anywhere right now."

They both looked at her puzzled.

"Haven't you seen the Flyer?"

Jet looked at Chub mystified; and he nervously returned the puzzled look.

"You don’t know? Well your friend Jack must have got extra mad co's he's cut a hole in the side of the starship."

Jets jaw dropped in shock. "He's done what?" he stood quickly and raced from the room.

Chub was last to arrive in the hangar and came up besides Rosie as Jet was animatedly talking to Jack: who was passing the blame back.

"…No I didn’t: do what needs to be done I said; not punch holes in the hull..."

"Seems his interpretation means he can do anything." said Rosie softly to Chub.

"I don’t know; it doesn’t look that bad," said Chub guiltily.

It's a hole, Chub," Rosie pointed out. “There’s tends to be a major drawback launching a spacecraft with a hole in the side: they fall back down to the ground.”

"I see it as more a cowling than a hole," Chub countered.

"A cowling?" Jet came back and overheard.

"Well a fairing then." The strength of Chubs voice had fallen under the reproachful stares of Rosie and Jet.

"A fairing?" Jet said suspiciously.

"A fairing covering a ...hole." Chub's words faded completely.

"Okay Chub," said Jet as calmly as he could. "Why don’t you enlighten us to why you think the Silver Flyer has a ...hole in the side?"

Chub looked guiltily at them and sighed. "It was Jacks idea: well maybe not entirely," his eyes darted between them looking for support. "He said there was no other… If it was going to be fitted then there was… Okay I should have talked it over, but if we ever get caught out like we were it's going to be worth doing."

Jet looked at Rosie and then back to Chub. "What is worth doing?"

"One of the control units we… I found on the KallagahnIII was for an experimental drill." Chub's eyes wandered to the fairing. "I didn't know what it was at first, other than I knew it wasn’t supposed to be there; so I figured maybe we could make a bit on the side. Then I guessed it was some sort of power generator, and after the Ice planet I thought an alternative could be very useful so I asked Jack what he thought; but he was a in the dark as me to what it was, so he did a bit of testing." Chub’s voice lifted eagerly. "He's brilliant you know," his tone fell, "… and lucky. He could have blown himself… the whole place up, but he worked out that it was a drill: well that’s probably what it was; a drill."

Jet looked at Chub completely baffled as Rosie spoke. "Whatever possessed you… or Jack to think that the Silver Flyer was missing having a mining drill, stuck through the hull?"

"I never actually said fit it to the flyer; just that it could be helpful: in some situations… and maybe it was worth thinking about?"

"Chub," began Rosie, "I'm completely lost: no it's not a secret that you have sticky fingers, but carrying what could have been the garbage crusher mechanism, while trying to run away from that... thing, doesn't fill me with confidence at any of your future judgments."

"Give me credit Rosie; I know where things go and things that are unusual; especially when they are placed where they are as good as hidden. The KallagahnIII was a test bed."

"Maybe so, but it might well as been the garbage crusher as to what use a drill is to us."

"It's not the drill; it’s the stuff that makes it all work; if it had been connected to some other paraphernalia I'd have known what it was. That’s why I thought about Jack; he's a tool man, I tell him what it can do and he works out how it can be done; but I thought that was it; he'd just tell me, I never thought he'd assemble the complete thing."

She was shaking her head, while Jet was still too dumfounded to speak.

Chub,” he said wearily, looking at Rosie. “We… accept you: and Jack, acted in the best of intentions, but for the life of me I can’t understand what either of you thought you were doing?”

"It's not just an ordinary drill," Chub said defensively. "It’s an experimental unit." Chub could see Jets anger had evolved into something less. "It wasn’t the first time I ever heard of the KallagahnIII. I knew it was operated as a mining vessel … but there were rumours."

Rosie had lost her anger too, and was looking at Chub. “The Conflict and Insurgency Bureau," she said softly.

Chub’s eyes lit up. "Yea; them."

Jet looked at her.

"It was never more than rumour and counter rumour Jet,” she explained, “And Benedict was known to put out all kinds of gossip to try and discredit his competition, but there was one rumour that the CIB used totally legit firms to test out things. It seemed plausible but there was never proof."

"Things?" stuttered Jet, his eyes looking slowly between Rosie and Chub.

Rosie looked at Chub. "The kind of things that they could use but also be accused of promoting for the wrong reasons. Things that could only be tested in real life situations; in an apparently innocent application; that could be used later in a modified way."

Jet was still unsure of why Chub had done what he had. "I still fail to see what use a rock drill is to us?"

Chub spoke with more confidence. "In its present configuration it’s not a drill.”

Not a drill?” Jet’s comprehension was totally lost.

I wasn’t involved, but I heard a few things,” Rosie interrupted. “If they were to be believed; and at the time I was tending to believe; then Benedict did some testing of his own.” She looked between them as if revealing a secret. “Instead of occupying and mining an asteroid he tried a number of ways to break them up and collect the bits: ready crushed, so to speak. But it isn't quite that easy; hit something up against something and it crushes; hit something in space and it deflects, shatters or moves as much as breaks. Look rock is hard stuff and it's not easy to break it up so you can keep and collect the debris?”

Basic mechanics.” Added Chub supportively.

Sounds a pretty messy way of getting ores,” muttered Jet.

Yea,” nodded Rosie, “That’s why Benedict still mines in the occupy, deplete and move on, way.”

Jet didn’t see where the explanation was going. “All this has something to do with the hole in the side of the Flyer?”

The fairing.” Corrected Chub.

Jet drew a deep breath. “The fairing in the side of the Flyer.”

Rosie was looking at Chub, "It's not really a drill is it Chub?"

"No," he admitted.

"It's a Homopolar Motor; isn't it Chub?"

He nodded

She turned to Jet. "What Chubs talking about Jet; is a rail gun."

At last there was an inkling of realization in Jets mind.

Chub nodded. "Traveling fast enough, a small non explosive projectile can do more damage than a missile packed with explosive."

"It’s a weapon," Jet said at last.

"Yes Jet, it’s a weapon."

Jet’s tone was lightly accusing. "Look I don’t know if I'm happy with fitting the Flyer with weapons: didn’t we agree that being unarmed gave us a measure of protection?”

Yes we did,” agreed Chub, “And that’s why I’m as surprised as you that Jack took it so seriously. If things looked promising I’d have talked it over with you both.”

Jet stared at him. “Is that the truth?”

Jet I wouldn’t do anything without talking to you guys first.”

Jet didn’t know if it was a statement of fact, or a thinly veiled reference to Jet accepting the contract. “I suppose considering Benedict has tried to kill us it’s not unreasonable that we protect ourselves: Rosie?”

I don’t like the idea of being armed Jet; but when push comes to shove I can’t argue that it would be nice to have something to defend ourselves with.”

"It fits in beautifully to the flyer..." Chub faltered as Rosie and Jet looked at the less than beautiful fairing. "Look that’s just cosmetics, I can do a job that will make it all but disappear, but it’s made for the Flyer. There's enough electrical charge to power it, and there the engines charging bank to store it. It's almost as if it was designed for the starship."

Jet stared at Chub. "If we are armed we can never use the unarmed excuse."

Chub nodded, "There could very well come a situation when unarmed isn't enough excuse."

All this is theoretical,” muttered Jet, “We don’t even know if the thing works?”

Chub grinned, “Oh it will work Jet; believe me it will work a treat.”

Jet nodded. "Maybe it’s best not to jump to any instant conclusion. Maybe the best idea is to try and forget it and get back to our lunch?"

Chub was already heading to the door.


The Silver Flyer settled beside the Sanctuary, sending up a cloud of sand and dirt; obscuring everything around them from view. It was still hanging like a thick fog when a man emerged, walking towards them and apparently unconcerned with the powdery dust that was settling over his vestment.

He stood patiently waiting as the Flyers ramp extended and the crew alighted.

Sorry,” said Rosie, embarrassed at seeing how the now settling fine sand had coated his face. “We should have landed a bit further out?”

The man pulled the hood back to reveal a perfectly shaved head. “Karr-Alle-Ecjek, bids you welcome,” he said.

Thank you,” she replied. “And may the ages preserve him.”

Jet and Chub threw her puzzled glances.

And may the will of Karr-Alle-Ecjek be within and protect you,” the monk said politely in response.

And don’t let him forget to protect us from the curse as well,” muttered Chub.

Jet spoke quickly before Chub could say anything more. “We are here to complete the contract.”

The man nodded, but didn’t move or reply.

Jet waited what he thought was along enough time before he spoke again, in a questioning way. “The emperor’s h…”

The monk quickly interrupted him. “The relic is not here.”

Not here?” Said Jet in surprise. “But I thought…”

The relic is beyond mortal value; its location when not in the sanctuary must not be common knowledge.”

Jet wasn’t sure what to say. “Of course, but if we are to transfer it to…. Someplace else; then we must know where it is in the first place?”

The relic has been at the sanctuary for untold generations. It resides here in this place of safety and worship.”

Okay…” said Jet slowly, “I think we understand … you don’t want the details bandied around, but there are some legalities. We may need permissions: a route has to be planed so that we don’t caught in some bureaucratic red tape?”

Even the will of Karr-Alle-Ecjek cannot halt time and decay. The relic suffered a misfortune. A mere triviality in all respects, but one that we, the servants of Karr-Alle-Ecjek feel compelled to attend.”

Misfortune?” Jet stared at the man, “Then what is our purpose?”

A Gem…” The man looked about them as if there were people to overhear; but between the walls of the sanctuary and the horizon they were the only living souls. “Was dislodged: it was an insignificant misfortune.”

Jet was beginning to doubt there even was a contract. “Yes so you said.”

It was a triviality to the relic, but not inconsequential.”

Jet,” said Rosie softly. “There are predictions that imply events; I think what we need to know is as little as possible.”

Chub spoke up. “Look fella we run a business, anybody can tell us what they’ve got and we’ll take it from here to there; no problem; but secret cargos mean we can get ourselves into a lot of trouble; what if it was a bomb …”

Once again Jet cut him off. “We know what we’re carrying Chub, I think what… our friend here is trying to say is that a lot of people could be upset if it comes common knowledge that the… its been damaged.” Jet looked at the man. “So we don’t talk to anybody about it?”

The relic is within an orbits distance of the sanctuary. It was taken without any knowledge of the transfer to a highly skilled craftsman who is a devotee; for repair.”

An orbit?” said Jet incredulously. “You mean it’s still in the city?”

Across the city.”

You want us to hop across the city in the Flyer?” Chub began to laugh. “I think that will get you all the attention you don’t want.”

No: to do as you suggest will be too short a time.”

Too short?” Jet couldn’t understand. “Surely after what you have just said the quicker we transfer the emp… the relic, the better?”

You will not be transferring the relic.”

Chub turned away, “Personally that’s suits me.” He said striding back to the Flyer. “Come-on guys, I need a drink to wash the sand out my throat.”

Wait Chub,” called Jet over his shoulder as he looked directly at the monk. “We’re not transferring the relic?”

The man shook his head.

And you don’t want us to; not transfer the relic, too quickly?”

Karr-Alle-Ecjek wills that it takes three orbits.”

Jet smiled. “We are a decoy?”

The man’s face remained blank. “The location of the relic must remain only known the Karr-Alle-Ecjek and his devotees.”

So while we take three days traveling in secret.” Jet emphasized the word. “And everyone thinks we have the relic; it will be somewhere else?”

The man said nothing.

Jet’s smile faded as he became serious. “Of course the price is the same as if we did have the actual relic.”

The man nodded.

Hang on a second,” Interrupted Rosie, “This secret were talking about isn’t a secret is it?”

The man looked at her. “The powers of Karr-Alle-Ecjek are matched against evil; evil has many spies who would see the power of Karr-Alle-Ecjek diminished.”

Jet smiled again. “Guy’s you were both worried about the curse; this way we get paid and there’s no curse.”

There’s no curse.” Rosie fumed. “But by the sound of it there’s going to be plenty of people who would like to have a look at what we’re carrying; probably however they can.”

Patriots, criminals, money hunters...” They hadn’t seen Chub come back until he spoke. “Insurgents, fundamentalists, and that’s not even beginning to get into any simple criminal intent.”

As Rosie and Chub thought of anybody who wanted to get their hands on the relic the man handed Jet two things: a piece of parchment, and a fragment of a medallion. He looked at each and then at the man before he nodded. The man turned away back towards the sanctuaries gate.

They all stared after him. “Where’s he going now?” said Chub.

To arrange the transfer I suppose,” Jet held up the paper. “And we’re going to an artisan’s workshop in the city of PutPut-Kalett.” He looked out towards the edge of the city. “And unless I’m seeing a mirage, that’s just over there.”


They had no idea who was watching, or: if someone was, when they had begun to be watched. Leaving the Flyer parked at the cities spaceport they joined the flow of commuters returning to the city.

It seemed fair to assume: considering the subterfuge they had become part of; that the brethren of the sanctuary were more world-wise than their devout devotions gave them credit for, and it was almost a given that they would have been exposed already. Jet decided to confound any observers by acting like tourists.

They firstly found accommodation for the night: a medium sized; adequately appointed hotel, in the zone adjacent to where they would find the artisan. Next they did a little sightseeing, visiting a parkland renowned for its colourful flower displays. A museum; and from there as dusk fell to a popular restaurant. Late in the evening they made their way back to the hotel and to the subterranean nightclub. Very late they made their way to their room; in the singular, as Jet felt it best if they stayed together; even though there had not been the slightest indication that they were being followed.

The next morning, after a lazy breakfast they again did some sightseeing, but this time it deliberately lead them to the artisan’s workshop. If anybody was watching them; and they were now sure someone was, it would be interpreted as the purchase of a memento; or the signal that they had got the relic.

Rosie and Chub, browsed: unwillingly in Chubs case, while Jet went directly to the counter; which carved in marble was more an altar than a desk.

A man emerged from behind a curtain; he was covered in dust and wore magnifying eyeglasses on his forehead. “May I be of service?” he said especially eyeing Chub.

A friend asked us to pick up an artifact; on their behalf.” Said Jet casually placing the fragment on the counter between them.

The man’s eyes fell to it and then to the door. His eyes remained fixed on Jet as he retrieved his own fragment from an unseen shelf. Still without a word he placed the two fragments together: they fitted perfectly. He stepped from behind the counter; went to the door; opened it, and looked both ways down the outside thoroughfare. He shut the door and locked it. Satisfied that they were not about to be disturbed he wordlessly returned behind the counter.

I was assured the work I was required to undertake would be done in total secrecy?” he said in an accusing manner.

I’m sure that everybody had the same wish.” Jet replied. “But our wishes don’t always come true.”

The man gave him a sour look and pointed to a pile of crates and straw to the side of the counter. Jet had noticed the stack on arriving and assumed they were from recently unpacked materials that had not been cleared away.

Chub strolled over and guided by the man’s gaze brushed some of the packing material aside. Hidden in plain site was an unopened triangular package.

As Chub was doing so the man walked quickly to the door, unlocked it and again scanned the street. “I would appreciate you leaving immediately?”

There was a knock on the room’s door. They knew no one in the city so with a slightly nervous glance at the others Jet opened it. Before him was an incredibly beautiful young woman. Her exquisite body was clothed in a modest business suit that somehow seemed increase her sexuality; and to say her face was stunning was a major understatement. She oozed sex appeal without doing or saying a single thing.

Mr. Jet Black?” She inquired.

The words rang around Jets mind as if it contained nothing to hinder them, which it didn’t. He stood transfixed and speechless.

You are Jet Black?”

Yes he is.” Rosie was beside him.

The woman gave a sweet smile; the smile women give enemies when they want to appear friendly. “My business is with Mr. Black.” She said coyishly.

Your business is with all of us; or with nobody.” Rosie went to shut the door but the woman placed an expensive shoe in the way.

I work for a legal firm in the city. We have a client who is interested in something in your possession.”

Rosie elbowed Jet out of the way and took over the conversation. “I’m sorry but I don’t think we have anything your client would be interested in.”

I think you do; the package you collected from the workshop?”

A souvenir?” Rosie smiled. “Surely you can buy one of your own?”

I’m afraid not; apparently the craftsman has had an unfortunate accident.”

Rosie’s smile faded. “I think you had better leave.”

My client is prepared to pay very well; you just have to name your price.”

I said we have no business to discuss.” Rosie snapped almost crushing the woman’s tiny foot as she forcefully closed the door. She turned her back to the door in anger.

She said name your price. Why didn’t you sell it?” Chub was trying to pull her away and get through the door. “Were the decoy; we can sell it and make a fortune.

No Chub,” said Jet at last getting his voice back. “It’s too soon, we have to give them the three orbits,”

Rosie looked at Jet, and then at Chub. “Men?” she snapped as she stormed into the bathroom.

Before Rosie had time to rejoin them there was another knock at the door. Seizing his opportunity to negotiate a price Chub was opening it in an instant, but instead of a beautiful young woman, the ugliest man he had had the misfortune to meet filled the doorway: literally as his large frame was as big as the door frame. He was covered in tattoos; down his arms and fingers; over his neck and face and Chub assumed the rest of his clothed body. Gone were the pretenses, and this time instead of the lure of money the man offered threats.

You have something I want.” He demanded.

Chub refused to be intimidated. “Sorry the shower is already in use.”

Oh, a comedian are you,” he grunted.

No, I just prefer talking to your pretty accomplice instead.”

The brute glared at him. “Her… that stuck up bitch aint with me.”

Pity,” muttered Chub seeing his chance of any price slip away.

You have two choices.”

And they would be?”

Give it over or I’ll take it.”

How about a third choice; you clear off like your pretty little lawyer.”

Lawyer?” the man said curiously, before grinning. “I don’t need no lawyer; I’m the law myself.”

Yes; I can see that: so is there anything else before you trot off and crawl under a rock or something?”

The man glared at him. “Yea I’ll trot off, but if you want some advice check all the corners before you turn and don’t go into any dark places because we’re gunna meet again before you get across town.”

Chub slammed the door and turned away avoiding Jet; he didn’t want to let Jet see the thin layer of sweat that was covering his skin.

The thug had no sooner gone that there was yet another knock. This time it was two people: two meek looking souls who declared they were ready to help get them across the city. This time Jet thanked them and declined.

He shut the door and turned to the others. “If we’re going to get any sleep tonight I think it’s time we moved?”

Chub nodded but Rosie was hesitant. “It’ll be getting dark soon; I thought we agreed it was best to travel when there were lots of people on the streets?”

We did, but sooner or later we won’t be able to put off an enquiry at the door. If we move now we can find somewhere else before dark?”

Rosie shrugged.

Anyway Rosie if we keep to the main thoroughfares we’ll be moving in amongst the early nightclub crowd and nobody will notice us.”

They did mix in, and also among the homeward workers, but they didn’t meld into either group: they were too old and casually dressed for the young night clubbers, and apart from the workers as they carried baggage. It was just a couple of changes of clothes, and bits and pieces; enough to show them as visitors, but mostly it was the triangular package that picked them out. They were barely halfway to the centre of the city when they decided to try another hotel.

 

They decided not to make themselves obvious and had a meal sent to their room. It was late when they had finished; and were preparing for bed when there was a knock at the door. Assuming it was the waiter; jet opened it to find yet another stranger facing him.

Mr. Black?” he asked politely.

Jet felt himself sag with frustration. “I’m sorry you must have the wrong room,” he said making to close the door, but the man edged his shoulder through.

But the receptionist was certain you checked in under that name?” The man insisted.

Then they had no authority to tell you that.” Again Jet tried to shut the door.

Mr. Black,” the man said again. “What you carry is too valuable to fall into the wrong hands. It will be used for terror and evil.”

And you want to save it from that fate?” Jet said sarcastically.

The delivery passed the man’s attention. “Yes and only I and my associates can. If you let us we will…”

How did you find us?” Jet demanded.

Find you?” he said in confusion.

Yes: how did you find us I’ve been in a position where I learned anti observation procedures? There was no one following us; at least unless you are exceptionally talented at not being caught?”

Oh no,” the man smiled, assuming his persuasive manner was working. “Nothing so crude; you are on the security system.”

Jet looked at him not sure what he was implying.

You are new here, but you will know our city is famous for the sanctuary and the … relic. We have countless people from all over visit and stay. It would be unseemly for any problems to arise as they tend to do when there are vast numbers of strangers; after all who knows who we are welcoming into our midst.” He smiled conspiratorially. “So the authorities installed surveillance at every corner and since they did we have no unpleasant instances.”

Jet felt his hopes sag yet again. “I didn’t see anything?’

It’s all very subtle. I apologize but these systems are for the public protection and public use. I simply requested your images from immigration and asked the system to locate you.”

Facial recognition.” Jet sighed. All their attempts to remain out of view were pointless.

So Mr. Black if I could come in we could …”

I’m sorry Mr.” Jet had no idea who he was talking to and decided it was best not to ask. “You’ll have to talk to the folks at the sanctuary.”

But that would be pointless Mr. Black after all …”

And it’s pointless talking to us either; you see we don’t have the thing you are after.”

The man smiled again. “Of course you do Mr. Black.”

Well you’re mistaken.”

I don’t understand what you are implying Mr. Black?”

Jet didn’t want to reveal their part but they had probably already served their purpose. “It’s already back at the sanctuary.”

Then it is you who is mistaken Mr. Black.”

Jet didn’t wait for any further reason; he forced the door shut.

 

Jet allowed Chub to go down to reception and ask that they be moved to another room, on another floor. They all spent the night feeling a lot more comfortable after he used his talents to persuade the staff that silence was preferable to any bribe.

 

They departed well before breakfast and headed towards the centre. In the sparsely populated streets they gave up any attempt to travel without being seen; each corner they passed they scanned to see where they were being watched from, conscious to the fact that they were being recognized with every step.

It was at the third corner when three men approached. With their cocky stride and the fact they stared straight at them Jet knew this time it was past verbal bullying. Although they were all big, the two biggest were on the flanks: they pushed straight into Jet and Chub in the assumption their aggression would be enough to frighten the men. It wasn’t and as they closed the men grabbed both Chub and Jet’s clothing: they in return wrestled and pulled their opponents towards and to the side, at the same time sticking their feet out to trip them over. Jet spun with his victim, following the man’s fall with a series of well-placed punches. While his adversary was tottering off balance Chub did a quick foot change lifting his other foot into the middleman’s groin just as he was about to hit Rosie. The man wasn’t expecting the blow and crumpled giving Chub time to pummel his own assailant.

Shaking themselves down they set off again at an increased pace. At the end of the next block three more men appeared. This time they seemed oblivious to Jet and the crew: sauntering along as if on the way to work

After the first encounter Jet and the others were still being pumped with adrenalin, and when the men got close fists began to fly immediately. This time the men were weary of getting too close and the entire group came to an abrupt halt fighting. The middleman was trying to wrench the package from Rosie’s grip but she held on tight. Rosie waited only long enough to appear vulnerable, and for the man to concentrate his efforts on the parcel before she kneed him between the thighs. She was surprised that he was surprised by the move and he fell to his knees groaning. She immediately tore the package from his fingers and without thinking brought it down heavily on his head. Glancing to her sides she decided Chub was coping before swinging around and smashing the package into the side of Jets assailants’ neck. Moments later three more unconscious, or incapacitated bodies lay at their feet.

Jet this is ridiculous,” Rosie snapped. “We can’t fight them off at every corner?” They all knew she was right; the last three did seem slightly bigger and there was an awful lot of corners to go.

Across the road a group of horrified people had watched the fight. Back down the road a public transport vehicle was approaching. Quickly Jet and the crew crossed over causing several of the group to quickly walk away. Trying to not look too disheveled the crew boarded the vehicle.

Where to?” the driver said in an indifferent sort of way.

City,” said Jet, realizing that the question was more a demand for payment than of any real interest.

The driver looked at them impatiently; but out the corner of his eye he saw the other passengers huddled together at the back leaving a completely empty first half of seats. He gave a weak, nervous smile and hit a button to close the door.

Jet and the crew sat down unsure but hopeful from the direction they were going that they were actually on the way to the city centre.

Jet wiped some blood from his cut lip: Chub was grinning, and Rosie looked at the package. Some of the fastening material was torn and it had taken on a slightly different shape. She saw them looking at her in amusement and began to laugh softly. Jet grinned and spoke quietly “Looks like the emperor hasn’t smited his last blow just yet.”

 

They were almost at the centre when the bus slowed for another stop. Chub guessed there were fourteen waiting; troublingly a small group; and all the females stood to the side. More disturbing still was that he spotted a man covered in tattoos. Chub was on his feet as the vehicle slowed, and stood in the door well as the door opened. The tattooed man jumped on as Chubs foot swung up to smash into the man’s face. Behind him several of the others were pulling out knives and cudgels.

The driver had quickly vacated his seat and was racing down between the seats to the back, where the passengers were pouring out the emergency escape even faster.

Jet was standing behind Chub; he couldn’t help in the confined space and instead reached over for the door operator. Each time it closed, it immediately opened again when it came up against the tattooed man’s arm or shoulder.

Get us out of here Jet.” Chub called back to him.

How?” Jet replied having no idea how to even release the hand brake.

Chub swore. “…then take over.” Chub almost leapt into the driver’s seat leaving Jet to face the man.

Jet stared at the hulk; his face was bruised and bloodied and he was as angry as hell. Jet kicked out with his foot but this time the man was ready and ducked, grabbing Jets leg as he did. He tugged dragging Jet off his feet and halfway down the stair. Jet felt the vehicle lurch and grabbed at a stanchion, but the man hung on as the bus began to move and Jet felt he was being stretched in two. Rose half stepped over him; now smashing repeatedly at the brute with the package as the vehicle gathered speed. Suddenly the tattooed man let go and was gone.

Jet gave a sigh of relief until Chub shouted out.

Down the back?”

Another of the men was coming in from the still open rear door. Chub threw the bus into a swerve knocking both the man, Jet and Rosie off their feet. He gave another swerve in the opposite direction as the man regained his footing, and another almost straight away. The man was hanging on now and pulling a massive knife from his pocket.

Rosie stared in horror at the blade, and how the man was now almost upon the still on his knees Jet.

Jet rolled sideways to avoid a slash and backwards to avoid another as Chub stamped on the brakes sending the vehicle into a squealing skid.

Rosie hung on; snarled in anger and threw the package at the man to give Jet chance to get out of the way.

As the man fell forward he slashed out to deflect the package: cutting almost an entire corner off. Something gleaming yellow fell out to clatter onto the floor. Rosie stared at in disbelief: it was a small jewel encrusted sword.

Jet grabbed the handle and thrust it up to slice off the man’s hand at the wrist as the bus came to a standstill. The door opened and with Chubs assistance the man catapulted through the opening. Chub looked at the blade in Jets hand. “Don’t tell me that’s what I think it is?” he muttered before getting the bus going again.

It can’t be?” said Rosie in disbelief. “It’s must be just a copy.” she looked inside the package to see a desiccated hand with splayed fingers. “But we’re the decoy?”

We still are,” said Jet. “Remember the blade could never be separated from the hand?”

Rosie’s expression showed little relief. “Look guys things are getting serious; we could get killed, and for nothing?”

She’s right Jet,” added Chub. “And listen to that?”

Jet did as Chub asked. He could hear police sirens.

If we don’t end up dead were gunna spend time in a cell. I suggest we get back to the spaceport, and get off this planet while we can.”

Jet hesitated, but Chub insisted.

They wanted three days; we’ve given them enough: okay?”

Jet wasn’t so sure, “What if we haven’t?”

Then we take the replica with us, nobody said we had to stay in the city?”

Still jet hesitated.

Chub tried another way. “There’s enough people, even without the military who are gunna try and stop us; sooner or later we’re gunna get our heads kicked in; or worse.”

Jet nodded. “Getting back may be as hard as going forward?”

Chub smiled and revved the motor. “Maybe but unless they’ve got a battle tank nobody is gunna try and stop us in something like this.” He slowed the bus and turned at the next intersection before heading back out of town as fast as he could.

 

Almost immediately a military surveillance chopper was over them, undoubtedly sending their location to the pursuers. On the positive side it seemed all their opposition had placed itself between them and the sanctuary, so baring a couple of half-hearted roadblocks it took a while before they had their next incident.

They were in the suburbs of the city: halfway towards the spaceport. Behind them in the distance could be seen the flashing lights of their pursuers. Given that at least some had a higher road speed than the bus: it was unlikely they would arrive without an escort. But their first encounter wasn’t with the military. A large black utility vehicle came up beside them. The occupants didn’t seem threatening so Chub assumed they were just overtaking, but as they did the vehicle careered into the bus close to the steering axle. The bus abruptly changed direction, lurching violently: the sudden move spinning the control out of Chub’s hand. It would have broken his wrist if he had had his hands in a different grip: he assumed this was the whole point. He quickly recovered and countered five more attempts to push them off the road. When the utility came for the sixth try Chub touched the brake enough to bring the utility across the front of the bus. When the busses front corner was level with the utilities rear axle Chub turned tit into the Ute. It was lifted slightly as the bus plowed into it; then suddenly it lifted completely and spun into the air.

Jet looked out the side as the utility crashed over the adjacent drain and down an embankment. He didn’t have time to say anything as the next of the followers was right behind, but this driver was more cautious.

Up ahead they could see a continual line of flashing lights. To the side the spaceports perimeter fence appeared.

Chub looked ahead and behind. “Hold tight,” he suddenly shouted. Moments later he swerved off the highway and took to the desert. The vehicle shook and jarred. Bangs and screeches echoed along and back through the bus.

Jet was looking anxiously out the rear. He saw their pursuers barely hesitated before they too followed.

Seconds later Chub called out another warning as they smashed through the fence. A couple of major bumps: that almost threw them all to the decking, and then the sounds stopped and the driving was smooth once more: they were on the spaceports outer perimeter road. With less clearance the two large ruts slowed the pursuers giving Chub valuable distance.

They were still ahead when they entered an area of hangars. Chub turned into a lane between two and brought the bus to a screaming halt.

Get to the Flyer.” He shouted. “I’ll draw them off.”

Jet looked back as they got off, “See you soon.”

Sure you will,” Chub’s voice didn’t carry the certainty that Jet’s had.

Ducking into the nearest building Jet and Rosie watched a whole convoy of vehicles, of every type and description race past after Chub. The sight horrified them: Chub had almost no chance.

What do we do Jet?” said Rosie as they looked out onto the apron. The flyer was still there alongside the same spacecraft that they had left it parked between, but close by there were a number of armed militiamen. “We’d have to run at the speed of light to get past them without being seen?”

Jet looked behind them and smiled. “Or we could go real slow.”

The building was one of a number of workshop hangars where various maintenance was done on spacecraft. Jet had been in exactly the same kind of buildings uncountable times. He quickly scanned the huge area. At last he saw what he was looking for. “Over there; that’s what we need.”

 

Jet sat in the tugs seat as Rosie crouched behind, still clutching the package. “Hold tight and keep your head down; these things don’t carry passengers.”

There was no sound but after a slight resistance the heavy tug began moving smoothly. Jet drove out of the hangar and across the apron. Several of the guards eyed him suspiciously as he approached but seemed to lose interest as they realized he was heading towards a cargo ship next to the Flyer. By the time he had positioned the tug, and prepared to hook it up to the cargo ship they had completely lost interest.

Jet fiddled with the fittings, waiting until Rosie was out of the cramped position. “Okay?” he said softly.

She clutched the package and nodded.

Then run for your life.”

They sprinted the across to the Flyer, alerting the guards at the last minute. The militiamen began to shout as Jet got to the ramp. It was retracted and he hit the extend button.

Suddenly the ground exploded close to his feet as the demands that they stop and surrender became almost continual. A second, third and fourth projectile was aimed in their direction, but thankfully as Jet saw, not directly at them. The authorities wanted them stopped, but thankfully nobody had given the order for lethal force. As he was thinking the Flyers door opened.

 

Chub was running out of options. There were four choppers above; a whole mob of vehicles behind and now some were coming down the road towards him as well. He looked over to the apron area to see, depressingly, that the Flyer was still on the ground. For a moment he thought of driving over, but between was a large drainage pond: he was trapped.

It had worked once; maybe it would give him a little more time he thought as he gritted his teeth and swerved once more towards the fence. Two massive bangs again as he went over more dry water channels and smashed through the fence; but this time he hit the brakes so that the bus penetrated only enough that it plugged the breach.

A cloud of dust was billowing up and around the bus as he exited the front door. Hopefully the dust storm would hide him from the choppers. There had been a plantation of sugarcane looking plants close to the fence, if he could get there without being see; of course if they had infra-red…”

Scores of militia were piling out of a fleet of vehicles and running to the bus. Shouting threats the first climbed in through the back as the dust began to settle. Moments later they were out the front and looking for clues where the driver had gone.

At the side of the bus others were trying to tear open the fence, behind it had amassed a mob, waiting in line as they were forced to run down the walkway between the seats and out the front.

As those who had got through began to spread out word came through from the choppers. The infrared had detected a target.

 

Chub could hear them approach. They weren’t quiet, but they were cautious. Obviously they didn’t know if their quarry was armed and nobody wanted to be the one to find out.

Chub lay back in the vegetation; he could surrender, he’d been in jail: more than once, but he’d never given up willingly before. Anyway if he suddenly popped up out of the grass some trigger-happy recruit might misunderstand and give it a shot. Instead he relaxed and waited, drawing a deep breath of the dry air; savoring the sweet smell of the plants on the freshening air: It would be nice to have the memory in the air-con of some brig.

A shadow blanked out the sun and he realized the shouts had eased. Opening his eyes he saw gleaming silver only metres above. A doorway was open and Jet was beckoning to him. He could just hear the words on the breeze.

Time to go home Chub, to our home amoung the stars.”

END TABLE

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