Planet Janitor The Moon is not Enough

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Product Description
The Crew of Planet Janitor are contracted to survey the damage to a lunar mining facility caused by a meteor shower. When a second job proposition proves too sweet to turn down, Captain Zachary Crowe must enter the devastated base. But will the reward be enough to outweigh the consequences of taking on such a risky mission.

Submitted: February 10, 2012

A A A | A A A

Submitted: February 10, 2012








Captain Zachary Crowe reached Alpha deck and took a small foot tram to the bridge. He was last out of cryo sleep from a 26-hour bang pod jump. After entering the bridge, and much to his delight, he could see that Luna took up a full third of the front viewing portal, with Earth in the background, a swirl of blue and white. They'd come out right on target as planned – perfect telemetry.

Sitting at a horseshoe console at the forward nav station, Samantha King, navigation's officer, crouched over a pull-out counter, adjusting dials on her headset. She wore a cockeyed grin. That's all she was wearing, since she often went straight to the bridge after a jump, to check the life support and communication systems. He tossed a pair of Planet Janitor coveralls at her, averting his eyes while she donned the suit.

The men had always joked that Samantha’s wild shrub of auburn hair took up a couple of zip codes, as well as her breasts. She had plain features, except for bright, inquisitive eyes and full lips. Crunching numbers appealed to her, and after missing out on a NASA position, she contracted her astronavigation services to any takers. She answered an add for Planet Janitor and joined Zaz's team. Since then, wherever she pointed the ship, it went there with no questions asked.

When Zaz turned around, Samantha chopped her hand sideways—her call sign for ‘quiet.’ She tapped her headset, indicating she was in the middle of a message.

Samantha scribbled some notes on a pad and then unhooked her headset. She sucked in a breath. “Well, bend my eyes and eat my hair,” she said. “Checking the airwaves, I picked up some chatter ten minutes ago. It was coded and faint but I hacked through.”


“It's a job proposition—a high-tech corporation soliciting a salvage company. It's a plea for help, with a side-order of desperation.”

Zaz looked over his shoulder, making certain they were alone. “How much desperation, and give me the abstract.”

“The recovery offer is fifty thousand Imperials. Animules Incorporated, that new nanobot technology corp, tried to hire Porter Space and Salvage to touchdown at Tranquility Harbor Mining Operations and recover a data case chock full of research material. You know, zip drives, holocubes and original patents and copyrights. Seems Animules didn't have any backups stored anywhere, and all the original soft and hard copy went with a Professor Burgess, who was the inventor and CEO. Burgess had a stall in the shopping mall rotunda, and he was there to solicit investors and sponsorship. You know, set up a display booth and hock his wares to the rich miners. He's missing, presumed deceased.”

“Porter begged off?”

“No. Porter never responded, even after two attempts.”

“How did you find the conversation?”

“I was scanning the frequencies, trying to pick up any news about the Harbor tragedy when I broke into the communication. You know me, when I catch the scent of money I'm all over it.”

“Good find, Sammy.”

Tranquility Harbor Mining Operations had just suffered a meteoroid shower less than 50 hours ago. Two thirds of the complex had been breached, destroying major structures and life support, resulting in 42 lost lives, over 500 evacuated, and untold injuries. Zaz was hired to do a fly over with the Shenandoah, mapping out a photo grid to record the damage. The International Security Agency would expect him to keep that commitment, and that's exactly why he was here at the moment. The rest of his crew were setting up the aerial survey cameras as he and Samantha spoke. This newer job was an easy drop and scoop, and they could coordinate it with their main mission. It was perfect.

“Raise the solicitor and offer our services,” said Zaz. “Since you know what the offering bid is, raise it. You and Carl stay with the ship and perform the mapping survey while I'll take Galoot and Dendy down with the zip shuttle. If we get a green light, I don't see a problem.”

“Can do, although I'd prefer not to work with Carl.” She looked behind Zaz's shoulder. “Whoops.” She donned her headset and began twisting dials and punching keys.

Zaz turned to see Dendy Dollar leaning against the bridge hatch entrance, examining her fingernails. Petite, cute and an environmentalist at heart, Dendy had spent the last two years interning aboard a Blue Peace research vessel. She'd loved the work, anything having to do with the sanctity of life, but her alleged preoccupations with the male crew became legendary – one-sided accounts, mostly from the men. Instead of attaining the competent role of science technician, she became a distraction. She left her Blue Peace dreams behind to take up a position as botanist-nurse with Zaz's crew. She was his newest employee and he had never gotten to the “push” stage with her.”

Dendy cocked an eyebrow. “And just when was I going to be informed about this little drop and scoop? I thought we were booked up.”

Zaz grinned. “A little side job popped up. It could mesh right into our schedule. How about a nice fat bonus?”

“Awe, cripes,” said Dendy and stomped a foot. “I thought we were headed home. Why can’t somebody else take care of this?

“What’s our motto, Dendy?” Zaz challenged.


“Our motto? Every time some corporation, agency or company pisses, we get stuck with the mop and bucket—that’s our motto, to be blunt about it.”

“No, we’re planetary ecologists. Spills, fires, junk, toxins, all catastrophes are sworn concerns of ours. You knew that from the beginning. We owe it to ourselves, more than anyone, to at least query and makes ourselves available.”

“Negatory,” she huffed. “You want to pick up a bunch of documents for bureaucrats, and that might land you and all of us in a big bucket of stool. It's a junk mission. That's a disaster area down there, Zaz. I don't know if I want to see it.”

Push had come to shove. “I'm ordering you, Dendy, because you're a professional and I need your help. Besides, we haven't finalized anything yet.”

Dendy glanced over her shoulder. “You hear that, Carl?”

Carl Stromboli, the demolition expert, stepped into plain view from behind the bridge hatch. Zaz guessed he'd been standing there the entire time. They'd both ambushed him.

“I heard it,” said Carl, pushing back a flop of greasy black hair out of his face. “You don't want me to go because there ain't no structures to blow or mountains to move. I object.”

Zaz shook his head. “Overruled. You stay with Sammy and do the photo grid, and that's if we add this job to our roster.” Zaz knew Carl had gypsy blood, so he would agree to another drop and scoop without too much fuss. Carl hailed from a large extended family in Italy. He used to light a lot of fires as a child, which gave his parents untold misery. “They didn't understand me,” he once said. “It wasn't pyromania, it was a career move.” He'd joined Zaz's crew with the express purpose of blowing structures and moving mountains. He christened himself “doctor of pyrotechnics.”

The only other crew member aboard was their big mechanic, Galoot, and he went where the Shenandoah went. Otherwise he wouldn't know what to do with his hands, and he was the type that could fix a nuclear bang pod drive with a string and a band-aid. And Zaz's Russian ore freighter was often prone to string and band-aid repairs.

Samantha snapped her fingers for attention. She held up a finger, then the thumbs up sign. “Yes, we can provide that,” she said into the mike, “just make sure you give us the correct address. And what was that code sequence again? Got it. And you say it's second floor, south wing? Animules Incorporated. Yes, that'll be fine.” She turned to Zaz and grinned.

Zaz licked his lips. “We've got it?”

“Uh, huh. Seventy-five thousand. I got the location on the Animules shop, so I'll vector you in there. It has a security vault of some type, so have Galoot take a cutting torch, just in case you have to break and enter.”

“Now, you see,” said Carl. “I could use some explosives to blow that vault clean open.”

Samantha sighed. “Yeah, and you'd destroy the contents of the vault, leaving us nothing to retrieve.”

“We'll use gentle persuasion this time, Carl,” said Zaz. “We can't risk damaging the vault contents.”

“Suit yourself.”

They now had a second official assignment, which was an easy drop and scoop. “Take us to Luna, right over the complex—south wing,” he said. “We'll shuttle down, then you split off and take care of the mapping job. Stay on our regular frequency.”

“Aye,” said Samantha, and moved to the captain's chair, where she readied her hand on the hydrogen engine throttles. She flipped a few switches, which sent a shudder through the bulkhead. The Shenandoah began to move.

Zaz spoke into his wrist com. “Galoot, slight change of plans. Meet me in the shuttle bay and pack a plasma cutter and breaching tools. You are finished down there, correct?”

“Yeah, boss. We're ready to shoot. You got something else up?”

“A quick drop and scoop at the Harbor. Shouldn't take any more than a few hours—nice bonus.”

“That's plum fat. I'll be there.”

Zaz walked briskly out of the hatch, with Dendy skipping to catch up. He figured Samantha would get them over Tranquility Harbor in about 20 minutes, which would leave them 10 minutes to prep the shuttle, then fly down and land on a clean tarmac, suit up and exit the shuttle—another 30 minutes. If they ran it right and tight, both missions could be finalized at about the same time.

They took the lift down to the shuttle bay. Zaz deactivated the magnalocks on the landing gear of the zip shuttle, while Dendy entered the craft and began a pre-flight check. Galoot trotted across the shuttle bay, his heavy thuds echoing in the cavernous interior. He'd brought a plasma cutter and tool kit with him. Zaz rose up from the nose wheel and gave the big man a thumbs up, for clearly Galoot had run full out to meet up with his captain.

Zaz had particular fondness for his mechanic. According to legend, Galoot's first baby rattle was a piston from an old diesel engine. As the child grew, so did his interest in anything mechanical. After working in the spaceport ship yards for twenty years, he earned a masters certificate in aerospace engineering and function. When he joined Zaz's crew, Galoot was single, lonely and almost eight-feet tall and 480 pounds. Shunned by those who feared him, rejected by women for his awkward mannerisms, he found his home in the company of true friends aboard the Shenandoah.

“Just a slight departure from the job for a few of us,” said Zaz, then filled him in on the particulars.

“I'm game, boss.

They entered the shuttle and took their seats. Zaz patched into the Shenandoah's bridge, while Dendy pressurized the cabin. “Com check. Sammy, anytime you're ready.”

“I'm ten miles out from the complex, and I'm coming in slow and easy—lots of drones out there and a few war galleons in the airspace—don't want to upset the space grunts. I guess the military is doing their own survey of some type, so don't upset them. You can launch now and save some time.”

“That's affirmative. I'll be as polite as whisper.” Zaz brought the repulsor and engines online, then opened the launch bay door. The shuttle lifted, a static corona discharge crackling beneath the ship. He swung the nose around and pulled a joystick back, lighting the aft thrusters. The shuttle passed through the bay door and out into space. Zaz saw the Harbor complex as a spec on the fringe of the Mare Tranquillitatis, and added more engine boost. He didn't want to come in too hot, attracting any unwanted attention. The military presence perplexed him for a moment. He would have suspected to see civilian contractors bringing in heavy industrial equipment.

Zaz dove the shuttle toward the outside edge of a pentagon-shaped structure, knowing that it was the shopping mall area that branched off the larger box-like mining warehouses and hangers. He looked for the south wing marker on the end of the structure, and glimpsed a small tarmac adjacent to a loading dock. He gave the aft engines a quick boost, sending them into a glide. He braked with the forward retros, simultaneously disengaging the gravity repulsor. They dropped smoothly, braking just before contact. The shuttle touched down on the tarmac, kicking up a cloud of lunar dust. He cut the engines, turned on the exterior floodlights, even though enough sunlight allowed good visual acuity of the three-story-high structure.

It took them 10 minutes to get into full pressure suits. Dendy pulled out three extra oxygen packs from a locker and bagged them up. They performed suit checks, then Zaz opened the pressure lock. Passing through the outer pressure lock door and onto the dusty soil, Zaz checked his suit gauges, noticing the daytime temperature was 190 degrees Fahrenheit. Dendy and Galoot reported full suit functions—normal readings. Zaz led the way, performing an awkward hop-step maneuver in the one-sixth gravity, heading for the nearest utility airlock entrance ten yards away. It was funny as he looked around, he expected to see some kind of outward signs of damage, like spiked craters, breached walls and torn structures. The first-floor viewing windows were dark; the second and third floor windows looked gray or slightly lighter in shade.

“Looks pretty normal, doesn't it?” said Dendy.

As Zaz stepped up to the utility hatch, he could see a small yellow strobe light blinking on and off. It meant the hatch had a fail-safe power feed mechanism. It was currently locked, but it had a touch panel for code entry. “Sammy, we're on the south side and I'm at a utility hatch to the mall area—I'll need that entrance code now.”

“You have your shuttle floods on?”


“Okay, I can see you, and I'm also getting a ping off your suit tracers. The code's alphanumeric—TRANQUITY155B.”

“Affirm, I read that tranquility one-five-five-bee.” Zaz pushed the touch pad buttons with the tip of his gloved index finger. The door vibrated then popped open. Zaz took the lead down a narrow corridor and stopped before another pressure hatch. He turned up the brightness on his helmet lamp. This hatch didn't require a code entry, so he threw the lever and pulled the hatch open. They stepped through. Galoot shut the hatch after them.

They'd entered a rectangular room, which had a bank of cabinets flanking one wall and utility benches and tools taking up the opposite side. It looked like some type of a ready room. The temperature had dropped to 140 degrees. Zaz approached the end of the room and worked the lever to open the next hatch. Another corridor. At the end he found a placard over a security door that read MAIN MALL ROTUNDA. Dendy guessed out loud that the mall complex was on the other side of the door. Zaz opened it, peered around the edge then swung it wide. They stepped through into the central mall hub, a circular area that contained shops around its periphery. His helmet lamp extended for 50 yards, and he could see a blanket of dust on the walkway panels. The roof extended up nearly 25 feet. He proceeded cautiously for several yards, able to discern large objects in their path. Bits of trash, boxes and papers, littered the interior of some of the shops. Broken furniture, mostly chairs and tables clogged the 15-foot wide walkway. Strewn shards of glass and glossy plastic set off streamers of refracted light.

“Looks like a panic scene,” said Galoot. “Customers and shop owners caught in a stampede.”

Zaz nodded, a useless gesture. “Sure does. From the reports, they didn't have much warning.” Pause. “Sammy, you read?”

“Read you clear. I'm looking at an overlay right now, and you need to proceed to your right until you pick up an auto tram to the second floor. Then continue straight until you find shop 225A—That's the Anamule shop location.”


Zaz rallied them into a swift skip-trot, following the walkway, dodging bits of flotsam. He saw his first structural damage—a blast hole that pierced the ceiling and gouged out a chunk of real estate, just to the left of the walkway inside the park area. A tree leaned precariously, its branches shattered and stripped of leaves. Three park benches were upended. Plasti-cement mushroomed out from a ten-foot wide crater. The concussion wave alone would have killed anyone near its impact. The atmosphere and oxygen had left the structure quickly, uprooting objects, until the debris had fallen and settled on the ground.

Zaz found the auto-tram easily, and began to trudge up to the next level. The best way up the incline demanded an awkward kangaroo hop, holding onto the tram guardrail. When they made it to the second floor, Zaz counted shop numbers, since he could see them by some of the operational overhead and shop lighting fixtures. It meant the second floor generator was still producing some power.

He found shop 225A after trekking a quarter of a mile around the walkway circuit. The louvered shop doors sat wide open, revealing a long room with jewelry showcases on each side. Some of the overhead track lighting flickered with spasms. Nothing seemed disturbed except for some promotional banners that hung limp from the ceiling, and large glossy marketing posters that sat cockeyed on the wall. Glossy photos, within broken frames, lay on the floor and counter tops. He headed for the rear of the shop, only glancing at the contents of the showcases, which revealed a strange collection of insects, reptiles and small mammals, either pinned on construction board, freeze-dried and propped in various poses, or submerged inside alcohol-filled jars.

“What kind of a shop of horrors is this?” asked Dendy. “What's with the dead animals?”

Zaz kept focused on the rear shop door, quickening his pace. He could swear he saw a blinking LED light on the door panel. “I'll wager they're nanobot creations,” Zaz said. “You know, that DNA replication stuff, where they clone cells at super fast speeds. Hyper-linking, I think they call it.”

“So they cook up little bugs in a soup,” said Galoot. “Makes 'em feel like God to create little critters.”

“That's about the size of--” Zaz caught his breath. He read the small door panel keypad display, which said OCCUPIED. He looked through the door portal and could see an anteroom filled with plastic cases and cardboard boxes. A massive stainless steel vault door occupied the rear of the anteroom, leading to another section. Double air-lock.

“Sammy,” said Zaz, “I've got a double airlock and I'm at the first door. No keypad.”

“Just a minute...okay, that's a supply room and it takes a code card. The vault beyond takes a combination, so you might have to cut through both. I have about another hour left on the mapping job.”

Galoot opened his tool kit and moved in. Zaz stepped back to allow the big man access, then looked at his suit watch. They had one hour to retrieve the goods and extricate themselves. He felt a light pat on his shoulder, turned and looked at Dendy. She had a code card wedged between her gloved fingers.

“Where'd you find that?” he asked.

“You were standing on it.”

“Jesus.” He took it and ran it through the entry slot. The door shuddered, then popped open. Pressurized. That was a surprise. He stepped in, checked the inside door panel. Sure enough, it had a pressure breaker switch and it was in the “on” position. He motioned them inside and slammed the door. Galoot took the lead and ended up standing a few feet away from the heavy vault door at the rear of the anteroom. Zaz watched Galoot studying it, titling his head, reaching out and smoothing a hand over it.

Zaz checked his suit watch again. “Can we cut through, Galoot? Is it doable?”

“Not an industrial security vault, boss. This is a star liner walk-in safe that's been retrofitted for this complex. There's a another room-sized cavity on the other side.

“What does that mean?”

“It means it's a piece of cream cake. I know this make and model.” Galoot snapped an extension on his plasma cutter, screwed in a nozzle and turned a valve on a small tank. He pulled a trigger and lit the cutter. “It's got four rod pistons coming off the central cam—top, bottom and two sides. I cut through the seams and shear the rods.”

Zaz stepped back, pulling Dendy with him. Galoot wasted no time in searing slits in the vault door, working from the top and moving clockwise. Sparks flew, slag dropped like thick rope. When he finished, Galoot yanked hard on the vault handle twice before the door snapped free of its seams. Galoot opened the door up a crack. Zaz peered inside the interior, and indeed saw what looked like an enormous walk-in safe. He saw boxes of lab supplies, two electron microscopes, pressure tanks, demonstration kits, a large centrifuge and...

Human legs.

Zaz slammed the vault door closed. “We've got a body! Galoot, check the pressure on the other door. Make sure that pump is working at full capacity.” Zaz checked his suit gauges, finding that they had a 19/79 oxygen-nitrogen mix. The inside air temperature read 55 degrees Fahrenheit. The atmosphere was livable, but it didn't mean they didn't have a corpse in the vault.

“Zaz, repeat that last line,” said Samantha.

“I say, we have a body in the main security vault. I saw a pair legs protruding from behind a centrifuge and some pressure tanks. Vitals unknown. Alert the corp execs; they'll want to know about it.”

“Right away!”

Galoot hurried back. “We've got standard pressure and it's holding. Temp and oxygen is okay. If that person is alive, how we gonna get 'em out of here?”

Zaz hadn't prepared for a rescue. If that was a corpse he had only to report it and give the coordinates to a recovery team. But to get a body out would require some fast and innovative techniques, if said body was hanging on by a thread.

“Galoot, as quick as you can, weld a brace over this seam to reseal it. That way we won't destabilize the vault atmosphere when you open the first hatch. Then beat it back to the shuttle for one of the generic pressure suits.”

“Aye.” Galoot picked out some welding rod from his tool pack and leaned his shoulder into the vault door. He told the others to do the same, putting what weight and strength they had against it. He burned a large glob of slag in the seam, letting it coagulate. He shoved hard on the vault door, testing it. It would have to do. He dropped the kit and headed for the first hatch with a lumbering skip, which left Dendy standing next to Zaz, her eyes wide with inquiry and apprehension. She sat the extra air packs down and splayed her hands in submission. “What do we need to do? Do you think that person is alive?”

“I’m going to need your help with this. Can you function?” Her face was a pallet of anguish.

“I think so,” she said, drawing her shoulders back. “Tell me what to do.”

“I have no idea what condition this, presumably a man, might be in when we gain entry. I want you to follow me in and provide a quick diagnoses—you're trauma qualified. He might be in shock or mentally unstable. He might be near death…or deceased. If he’s alive and unconscious, I want to get him suited up and transported out—ASAP.”

She blew a foggy sigh against her faceplate. “If he needs aid I’ll know what to do. If he’s beyond hope and gone…I’ll let you know that too.”

“That’s fine.” He patted her helmet.

Twenty minutes later Galoot appeared with an extra suit in the crook of his arm and another air pack. Zaz took the suit and stood poised at the vault door. Galoot checked the other panel and offered a thumbs up when the pressure stabilized to Earth-normal. Zaz backed off and let Galoot cut the brace out. He pulled on the vault handle, swinging it wide. He took Dendy's hand and pulled her through. As a precaution, Galoot slammed the vault door shut.

Zaz and Dendy performed three bunny hops to get to the rear of the vault, where a man lay in a fetal position with a lab smock pulled over his head. Zaz knelt and pulled back the smock, then made room for Dendy to squeeze next to him. She pulled back on the man's forehead, propping his eyes open, then brought her helmet light to his face. Next she lowered her face shield near his nose and watched for exhalation.

“Eyes responsive and he’s breathing,” she said quickly.

Zaz pulled on the man's ankles to get him clear of the wall. Dendy laid the suit down and opened up the quick-release torso seam. She twisted the helmet off, setting it aside. Zaz removed the man's shoes, and with a coordinated effort with Dendy, lifted the body up and onto the suit. They tucked the legs and arms into the openings, pulling, shifting. Zaz flipped a lapel back. The man wore a lab smock; the breast patch read Albert Cunningham.

“Samantha, here,” came the voice. “We've got a major problem, Zaz.”

“You can say that again,” said Zaz. “But he's alive and we're getting him suited up. You don't have to tell me that we might be a little late. Did you inform corporate headquarters?”

“I just got royally chewed out by a Commander Ellison, 12th fleet space marines. I had to verify that we had permission to conduct a photo survey. They're not through with me, either. I'll get right back to you on the other. Be safe.”

“Will do. I don't know who I have here. Could be the professor, could be an assistant. Want my helmet cam visual?”

“No. I'm running three visual-audio feeds right now, and I'm all thumbs.”

“What's Carl doing?”

“He's asleep on an accelerator couch.”

“That dumb, lazy bastard.”

“Give me a physical description, so I have something to go on.”

“Uh, Caucasian of average height, about 170 pounds with a fair complexion. Looks to be about sixty or so. He's wearing a smock with the name Albert Cunningham.”

“Got it. One second...okay, according to corporate there were two assistants: a Reese Daily and an Albert Cunningham. You have an assistant there. Any sign of the others?”

“Not a peep. The shop, in fact the whole mall, looks deserted. We're going to evac this man out, hoping that he hangs on.”

“Core temperature is down and his pulse is weak,” Dandy threw in.

“Understood,” said Samantha. “I'm still on the survey shoot. I'll give you a ding when I'm finished. Commander Ellison's back on—gotta go!”

Zaz had nearly forgotten their prime directive when he happened to glance at the vault corner and see a large stainless steel case. He retrieved it and read a small placard embossed on its side. ANAMULES INCORPORTED—TOP SECRET—EYES ONLY. Zaz grabbed the case, noticing that Dendy had the man suited up and his helmet on. She dialed in the oxygen and thermal life support controls on the suit. They pulled the man to his feet and dragged him to the center of the vault. They used the extra air packs to charge their suits. Before Zaz could agonize over how they would transport Albert Cunningham back to the shuttle, Galoot picked up the semi-comatose man and slung him over a wide shoulder, then headed out of the vault with a low stoop. Zaz and Dendy followed in the wake of Galoot's long, skipping strides. Zaz grabbed the torch-tool kit on the way out.

“I'm sorry I put up such a fuss,” said Dendy. “I had no idea.”

“We're not out of this yet,” said Zaz, trying to keep his footing without going down.

“Zaz, priority, come in,” said Samantha.

“Read you.”

“Zaz, I've just been rudely informed that the Tranquility Harbor Mining complex is under martial law, declared a disaster area. I'm cleared to finished up my survey. But no one is supposed to be down there. I'm going to try and smooth this over somehow. I haven't admitted to anything yet. I'm so sorry. I should have gotten status on this from the beginning. It's my fault.”

Dendy exhaled a small shriek. “I just knew it! Right from the start. Now we're in a bucket of crap.”

Zaz felt his heart drop into his stomach. If the military caught him on the premises, he could be prosecuted for criminal trespass and looting, or even fired upon. Tranquility Harbor was a disaster area. The last thing the International Space Administration wanted was a bunch of privateers rooting around a catastrophe site. His next decision determined the fate of his crew. Have Samantha lie or admit to nothing, or tell the truth and take their swats. There was time when wearing the captain's bars provoked a feeling of respect, pride and accomplishment, where, seemingly, nothing could go wrong and all the stars in the universe were gloriously aligned. Now, because of a trivial oversight, he'd put his crew in danger by neglecting to cover his ass. He knew what he had to do.

“Sammy, admit to the truth. Which is total ignorance of the situation. Tell them we have a live rescue in progress and we're on our way out with the patient. Offer them my head if it'll gain us any leniency.”

“I'm on it, Zaz!”

They ran into a snoop drone on the second floor walkway. The turkey-sized flier pulled in front of them, hovering and adjusting its optic eye. It flew backwards, keeping pace with them. Zaz used one hand to support Albert Cunningham's legs on the way down the auto-tram. Galoot nearly pitched forward and lost his load. The military drone circled their heads, opting for the best angles to view the four civilians. Zaz would have liked nothing better than to swat it out of air, but right now it had more authority to be where it was than he. At least they would see the confirmation of a bona fide rescue.

They stopped after entering their first service corridor. Dendy checked the man's vitals and confirmed that he still looked weak but was beginning to stabilize. They continued on, passing through the hatches until they emerged outside. The snoop drone had disappeared momentarily, reluctant to follow them through the confines of the service corridors. It appeared again outside the complex, but kept its distance.

When they reached the shuttle, Zaz pressurized the airlock, and ushered them inside. They wiggled out of their suits, then freed their patient. Dendy pulled down a wall bunk and opened up a first aid kit. They soon had Albert Cunningham strapped in and resting under blankets, with an IV drip taped to his arm.

Zaz hurried to the pilot's station and prepped for lift-off. Galoot strapped in, wiped his face on his shirt sleeve. Galoot was hot and soaked from the trek, but right now a change-out was not possible.

Galoot blew a whirlwind sigh. “Well, they're ain't anybody big enough in prison to beat me up. Just one of the little blessings, I guess.”

Zaz raised Samantha. “Precious cargo aboard. What's your coordinates?”

“North end of the Harbor complex at the moment,” replied Samantha, “coming your way. Don't grav-lift until you see the whites of my eyes. I'm flanked by two war galleons, and they're watching my every move. I think we get to live, but we're headed for a royal ass-chewing—full investigation style.

“That's affirmative, chick waiting for mother hen. Good job, Sam. If we make it out of this alive, tell Carl he's fired.”

“You mean for the sixth or seventh time? By the way, expect a little bonus for your passenger. Corp's paying an extra fifty thousand for his safe return.”

Zaz mimicked Galoot, “Well that's plum fat. That might just cover our trespass fine. Too bad we didn't get the professor; that reward would have gotten us some great lawyers.”

“Yeah we'll need 'em to get out of this pickle,” said Samantha, “They had a standing reward of a half a million for the professor's safe rescue. Would have been a political feather in our cap, too.”

Zaz looked up through the roof portal and could see the bulk of the Shenandoah braking under hydrogen engines just above them. It blacked out a wide section of the star field. Missions accomplished. Maybe the last ones.

Zaz poised his hand over the repulsor toggle. Before he could grav lift, he felt a pat on his shoulder and turned. Dendy stood behind him, wearing a jaw-stretching grin.

“What's up, little cakes?” he asked. He gave her hand a squeeze.

“Our patient has come around—he's responsive and talking. He says thank you profusely for his rescue. He didn't think he was going to make it. By he, I mean Burgess. We have the professor on board! Seems he grabbed an assistant's smock to cover up.”

Zaz's hand slipped from the toggle. He tried to speak but the words wouldn't come. He could only see Galoot's and Dendy faces, two of the most incredulous expressions he'd ever seen.

© Copyright 2020 Chris Stevenson. All rights reserved.

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