Chapter Twenty




I went into the pilot room, still haunted by the horrible, awful, terrible sight of a faceless woman, and strapped in. As I always do, I warned the cargo and passenger that we were going to zero gravity for a couple of minutes in a while and to strap down. The computers can give you a better idea of the maneuvers so I won't go into detail about that.
However, there was one thing that wasn’t right: one of the computers disagreed with the other three about a reading. I never saw that happen before. I dropped to point zero nine gravity and trudged... bounded grudgingly might be a better way to put it, since we were at point zero nine gravity, to the remaining generator, which is what the computers disagreed about. At that low gravity I could just jump down there, but I didn't.
In all my years of driving these boats I've never seen the computers disagree about anything, so I was pretty worried. Especially since we only had one generator left; we could make it to Mars on batteries, but if we had to we'd be like Wild Bill and in danger from the pirates when we got close to Mars. That's where the pirates usually are, because that's when shipping is most vulnerable to them. We'd be later than we were already going to be, too, but compared to pirates late doesn't matter at all. Better late than dead.
But what was worse was if the computers died, we probably would, too. It ain't like I know calculus, and it would take a long time to get to us and the droppers would probably run out of drops.
The disagreeing computer was right, there was a tenth of a volt overvoltage occasionally going to engine seventeen, but a tenth of a volt wouldn't hurt anything. Hell, there are how many hundreds of thousands of volts going through each of those things? At how many amps? I shut number seventeen down anyway, and then went back to the pilot room, strapped in, got ready to maneuver and dropped the thrust to zero G.
The fone beeped. “John, Bill here. I got some bad news for you, old buddy. I picked up some radio traffic from pirates, and one of the boats you rained on had survivors. They're really, really pissed off at you, John. Be careful when you get close to Mars. Have all your weapons armed, not just as many as the book says but all of 'em. And if I was you I'd even have atomics ready. You should have heard them talking about you. There's a price on your head, John. Sorry to bring bad news, hope I see you on Mars, I'll buy you a beer. Kelly out.”
Shit. God damn them pirates, I wish the company would build a few warships to rid the solar system of those God damned mother fucking sons of bitches. God damned bastards!
I got the boat turned around and went back to my apartment... sorry, “quarters”. We had “normal” gravity again.
Destiny looked up from her tablet as I came in. “What's wrong, Johnnie?”
“Bill called,” I said. “One of those damned pirate boats had survivors and now the pirates want my head. We're sure to be attacked when we get close to Mars.”
Her eyes got wide. “Oh, my,” she said, “Are we going to be okay?”
“Don't worry,” I reassured her, worried myself. “Bill called the company when we tangled with them before. They're sending a huge armed convoy to escort us on the last leg where the pirates are, and escort Bill, too. Meanwhile we can still outrun and outmaneuver them with one generator. And we have arms ourselves. In fact, I'm getting a cup of coffee and then checking out our weapons and setting them up for arming so I can do it from the pilot room.
“Look, hon, don't mention pirates to anybody, okay? I'll get in trouble if you do. Strictly speaking I shouldn't even let you know.”
“Don't worry, John, I won't.”
“That generator itself is a weapon, even,” I said. “I can make it spew gamma rays behind the boat and they'll be too sick to fight in minutes and dead in days. Honey, we're armed to the teeth. We have rail guns, lasers, EMP mines and rockets, other atomics...”
I got a cup of coffee. “Ugh,” I said after taking a drink.
“Sorry,” she said, “the robot made it.”
“Nasty damned robots,” I replied. “I'll make a fresh pot.”
“What do you mean by ‘other atomics’?”
“We have hydrogen bombs. Lots of 'em. You don't think the company would leave their property defenseless, do you? Once the weapons are armed they're automatic. Mark your targets and press a button and the computer does the shooting, and it never misses.”
Damn, I didn't want to wait for a cup of coffee. Oh well. As the coffeepot gurgled I said “And please, remember, don't say anything about pirates to anybody, you don't know anything about it, okay? The company is strict about that, passengers and cargo aren't supposed to know about danger unless necessary. It's a gray area with you, captains are allowed to confide in spouses and we're a couple.
“I especially want the whores kept in the dark, they're the last ones I want to upset. I'm a lot more worried about them than I am about pirates.”
She laughed. “you finished Tammy's book.”
“Yeah,” I said, “I did. Scariest book I ever read.”
“You've read a lot of scary books?” she asked, grinning.
“No,” I admitted, “I don't really like reading.”
“That's too bad,” she said. “Look how much help Tammy's book is to you.”
“That damned book gives me nightmares! It's about monsters!” I exclaimed, finally pouring my coffee.
“It might save your life,” she said sternly.
“Yeah,” I agreed. “I wish I'd read it before that first rock rain. I'd have known a little about the effect of lowered gravity on dropheads, although the book hardly said anything at all about that. I'm worried, they don't even like the half gee and as we gradually lower to Mars gravity... I need to talk to Tammy, I guess.”
“You've been calling them dropheads lately.”
“Got it from the dropheads themselves. Seems that a ‘drophead’ is an angel tear addict and a ‘dropper’ is anybody who uses them but isn't necessarily addicted to them. One of them said ‘I ain't no drophead, bitch’ to another one, but they're all dropheads. Some get addicted the first time they try it, according to Tammy's book.”
“I know,” she said, “I read it.”
“Why didn't you tell me?”
“I thought you read the book.”
“I should have. I should read more.”
“Yeah, you should.”
I finished my coffee. “I gotta get back to work.”
She asked “want to watch a movie when you get back?”
“Sure,” I said, “make it a funny one. One without any damned droppers.”
“Old one then,” she said. “Today's comedies all have droppers.”
“Nothing funny about droppers,” I growled. Damned whores... I was sure going to be glad when this trip was over. At least, if I lived through it. I mean, pirates were after me and I was hauling monsters.


Chapter 19
Chapter 21

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