“Catlike Tread” Part Two

Monday morning sneaks up on us yet again, and I’m not ready!  Oh, let’s face it; who’s ever ready for Monday to come around again?  The weekend was quiet for here in the Clarkson treetop lair.  Just  writing, reading, plotting world domination.   You know, the usual stuff.

Okay, I owe you the next installment of the adventures of the crew of the pirate spaceship Fortuna.  When last we left them, Fortuna was in hyperspace being chased by the ICC Burana, when they see another pair of Alliance cruisers in front of them:  caught between a rock and a hard place is Helen and Company.  What will happen?  What will they do?  Well, let’s go find out!

Catlike Tread Part Two

Helen was out of breath as she arrived back on the bridge, where her brother Mac still sat in the special chair he had rigged up himself when he took over pilot’s duties on Fortuna.  As Helen stepped onto the deck, Mac used his hands to push off from the main console.  The chair ratcheted along a little track set into the floor, rolling to a station beside the co-pilot’s console, affording a full view of the second console.  He consulted the console display and punched a couple buttons.

“Well?” said Helen, watching as Mac rolled back over to his own station again; the chair clacked softly as it slid back into position and locked in place.

“Definitely two ships ahead of us and closing.  The Burana has slowed pace.  It’s matching our speed now, instead of trying to overtake us,” said Mac.

“Great.  Just great,” said Helen.  “And here I was hoping it was just coincidence we’re meeting three Alliance cruisers.”

“Hello, welcome to Fortuna, owner of the worst luck in the known galaxy,” said Mac.  “But the MacKenzie luck comes through once, just for a change of pace.  There’s a relay ahead of us.”

“Yeah, you mentioned that earlier.  So?” said Helen.

“So it’s between us and the two cruisers,” said Mac.

“Again, so?”

“So it’s not just a relay.  According to the computer readings, it used to be a branching relay.  It pointed off in this direction,” said Mac, tapping the display on his console.  Helen came up behind Mac’s chair and looked.  The display was simply colored lights against a green background.  Fortuna was a red dot dead center of the screen, slowly sliding along a red line, the hyperspace beacon.  Three more glowing yellow dots, one behind, two ahead, marked the Alliance cruisers.  A white triangle just above the red Fortuna dot marked the location of the relay.  Mac traced a line from the beacon, leading at about a fifty degree angle away from the beacon’s line.

“It used to be a branching,” said Helen. “It’s not anymore?”


“So how does that help us?” said Helen.

“So it’s been turned off, probably; no point expending energy to mark a beacon to a location nobody goes to, right?” said Mac.  “I can send a signal to the relay from here, and it will reactivate the branching beacon.”

“Okay, and then what?  Where’s it going to lead to?  And how does that help?  The cruisers will just follow the same beacon and we’re in the same mess as before, only going who knows where.”

“In order:  I don’t know.  I don’t know.  It can’t hurt.  And leave that to me,” said Mac.  “Come on, Helen, make a decision; I have to start the turn in less than a minute, or we’ll be past the point I can safely turn onto the new heading.  Five more minutes and we’ll be in range of Alliance rail guns.”

Helen threw her hands up in the air.  “Great.  No pressure,” she said.  She stared at the console display, hoping idly that an answer would suddenly appear.  But no answer scrolled across the screen.  Instead the little colored dots blinked as they moved closer together, millimeter by millimeter.

“Thirty seconds,” said Mac.  His voice was tight.

“What if it leads nowhere?  Can you follow it back?”

“Fifteen seconds, Helen!”

Helen growled.  “Do it!”

“You got it,” said Mac.  He sat forward in his chair; his hands flew over the console, flipping levers and tapping madly at a bewildering sequence of buttons.  Suddenly another line appeared on the tiny console screen, springing out from the beacon’s white triangle in the same direction Mac had pointed out only a moment before.  It was dimmer than the primary beacon display.

“Hang on, Helen!” Mac snapped.  “This turn ain’t gonna be pretty.”  No sooner had he said it than he hit a sequence of buttons.  She could hear the engine constant rumble turn into a whine.  Other rumbles joined the first as attitudinal thrusters kicked on.  Normally, inertia compensators kept the crew of Fortuna from feeling the effects of the immense speeds the ship traveled at.  But even they could not mask the pull as the ship turned sharply, until they were sailing sideways along the beacon.  Helen stumbled and nearly fell, only just managing to clamber into the co-pilot’s chair before she was thrown to the floor.

Immediately the comm began bleating.  Mac snarled at it, but didn’t bother answering; he was too busy at the console.  Helen spun in her chair and flipped the lever on the co-pilot’s console.  “Bridge here.”

“What the hell’s going on up there? Are we under attack?” said Kitty’s voice, made tinny by the tiny speaker.

“Not yet.  Brace yourself and warn Andi and Casey.  It’s about to get worse,” said Helen.  She flipped the lever again, killing Kitty’s next question mid-syllable.

Mac tapped another lever on his console, and suddenly Helen’s console lit up.  “Helen, I’m transferring control over to your station.  When I say go, activate the thruster sequence I’ve programmed into the computer.  Can you do that?”  He didn’t look up; his hands were still flying over the console.

Helen stared at the console.  She knew how to fly a fighter craft, and she could even operate the Fortuna in most normal situations.  But this was way out of her league; that’s why she had Mac, to handle the wild flying their piratical life demanded.  “Uhh…” she said.

“Come on, Helen,” said Mac. “They’re already primed and programmed.  When I say go, just hit ‘activate thrusters 1-5” and then “execute.  Can you do that?

“What are you going to be doing?” said Helen.

“I’m dealing with the rail gun!   Ten seconds, Helen, ready?”

“The rail gun?  What for?  You aren’t going to shoot at the Alliance ships, are you?”

“Five seconds, Helen, can you do it?”

“Yes, yes!”

“Okay, GO!”  Mac shouted.

Helen immediately hit the dark buttons under her right hand.  Each one lit up blue as she touched them.  When all five were lit, she hit the red “execute” lever.  The whole ship lurched as the thrusters came online and began firing.  Helen held onto her chair; her stomach roiled inside her and she thought for a moment that she was going to be sick right there.  She clenched her teeth against the threatened exodus, closed her eyes and held on tight.

As she waited for the inertial compensators to catch up to the movement of the ship, she heard a familiar “whine-whump!” of the ship’s rail guns.  Mac was shooting at something.  Surely not at the Alliance cruisers.  They weren’t even beginning to be close enough to hit with the meteors that Fortuna used as payloads.   Besides, their set up was tiny compared to the ordnance and weapons on an Alliance war ship; it would be like shooing an elephant with a potato gun.  She wanted to ask Mac what he was doing, but she was pretty sure if she opened her mouth, the remains of this morning’s oatmeal breakfast would come spewing out.

But finally the terrible pull of inertia began to lessen, and Helen was able to sit up normally in her chair again.  She breathed deliberately, noisy gusts in through her nose, until the nausea passed, in favor of a pulsing throb at her left temple.  Damn those bootlegger turns sucked.

“Did we do it?” she said.  “Or are we careening off into hyperspace, never to be heard from again?”

“We did it,” said Mac.  His voice had gone sickly; he tolerated the nausea of inertial overload even less well than she did.  Which begged the question, Helen thought, of why he’d gone into piloting in the first place.  She was afraid to ask, though; he might throw something at her.   Instead, she stood up on unsteady legs and went to look over his shoulder.

Sure enough, the little red blob that indicated the Fortuna was no longer on the main red line of the beacon.  It was moving off at the same angle the branching line had been. But the second line was no longer there.  “Where’s the secondary beacon?” she said.

“Gone,” said Mac.  “Don’t worry, I have it under control.”

“What?  What did you do?”

“I shot out the relay,” said Mac.

“What?  Why?  How are we going to find our way in hyperspace?  How are we going to get back? Helen shouted.

“Quit yelling!” Mac bellowed.  He could shout much louder than her; Helen backed off a step.  Mac took a deep breath, and when he spoke again, it was in a quieter, if not calmer, voice.  “Don’t worry, I programmed our course beforehand.  But shooting out the beacon is going to slow down those Alliance goons.  They don’t dare follow us without that beacon to guide the way.”

“And you’re sure you know where we’re going?  We’re not going to be lost forever in hyperspace?” said Helen.

“Pretty sure,” said Mac.

“How sure is pretty sure?”

“It’s as sure as you’re going to get right now.  Now shut up and let me do my job.”


To part one:

To part two:


And that’s it for Helen and company today.  Next Monday, we’ll find out where Mac’s wild decision has brought our heroes.  Wednesday, I’ll be talking about World War II on the home front.  In the meantime, don’t forget to share, tweet, comment, and if you have any suggestions for Fun Friday, email me at the addy listed on my About AJ page.

Talk to you later!


Categories: Pulp, Science Fiction, short fiction | Leave a comment

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