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Spiral Arm
Nova

     "Five thousand credits just for THAT? Impossible." Jack was infuriated. "But it's just a minor part!?!"
     "Sorry. It cost us three thousand, and on something that expensive we need to make a profit." The mechanic was calm, and that really got on Jack's nerves.
     "Four thousand. That's all I'll pay." He said through clenched teeth.
     "Four fifty."
     "Four twenty"
     "Four fifty."
     "Four thirty"
     "Four fifty"
     "Ohhh, I'll take it. Four fifty." He paid the mechanic and left on a rented hovercar with the part.
     After a few hours of sweat and a minor electric shock the part was in. The freighter was complete. All ready to go. Just one more thing. Every captain needs a crew.
     He walked down the ramp like a spacer would. He had a knapsack at his side. And he had a holster on his belt. He was obviously a spaceman out of a job. And he walked to the bar and sat right next to Jack.
     Three rejections and two blank stares later, Jack admitted defeat. He would never find any crewmen. He would have to pilot and do the upkeep on the craft himself. Not the easiest of tasks.
     He paid the bartender and left. He walked out to the street and headed towards his speeder. A drunk staggered across the street and bumped right into Jack.
     "Whoa... one too many briskies..." The drunk was very unstable.
     "Hey, let go of me fella." Jack pushed at him but the drunk wouldn't let loose.
     "Gotta shack to drop at?" The man smelled worse than he looked.
     Jack looked down in disgust at the disheveled drunk, then looked closer. The drunk had a patch on his shirt. A military patch. A patch of the Kankarian massacre at Golba.
     "Hey, you must have been a pilot, huh?" Jack said to the drunk.
     "Sergn Halsey sir yessir siryy..."The drunk started to fall over and Jack helped him back up.
     "Mabey you should come with me..."
     "So, what's your name?" Jack said.
     "Sergeant Halsey yessiree." The stimulant was not strong enough to overcome the extreme alcohol level.
     "But what's your first name?"
     "Sergeant."
     "Your parents didn't give you that name, did they?"
     "No sir they did not." The drunk started to nod off, and Jack shook him a little.
     "I'm not your superior officer. Quit calling me sir."
     "Yer not? Well drop down and give me fifty!" His head lowered, then he shook himself and lifted it up again.
     "This is not a military vessel. Nobody here has rank."
     "Vessel? Since when was we in a vessel?"
     "Since I dragged your sorry ass down here thinking I could hire you as a first mate. Now I see you're not even worth getting paid to pee on a street luma."
     "Paid? What are ya talkin about?"
     "I need a first officer. Are you up to it?"
     "I can fly anything alive, drunk or not!" Halsey tried to get up, then tipped over. "And I can be a good engineer. I can keep up any ship at any place at any time. Where is it?"
     "You're inside it."
     "I knew that."
     "So what do we do now?" Halsey looked a lot better after wearing clean clothes and getting a shave.
     "Now we pick up a cargo and fly it to it's destination. We're supposed to place a request on the mainframe board for the starport."
     "Good, that means we'll be in space soon."
     "Yeah, I already put in the request. We should be getting some customers any time now."
     A week later, someone finally called.
     "So, what's the cargo?"
     "It's confidential. You will carry confidential cargo, won't you? I'm not allowed to use government transportation for this. I have to hire a freelancer." The man seemed nervous.
     "Sure, as long as the forms fit regulations, I'll carry it. When can I get it, and where do I bring it to?"
     "I can bring it over to your ship in three hours. I'd like you to leave as soon as possible. Try to be at the coordinates I will give you by this time tomorrow. Go slow if you have to, they will only wait for ten minutes, and if you are there early they might get spooked. For your own safety do not deviate from any of my instructions, got it?"
     "Sure."
     "Oh, and I have a transmit pattern for you to send them when they hail you, so they can recognize you."
     "No problem. Coordinates by this time tomorrow. Earth or Standard day?"
     "Standard."
     "OK. I'll see you in three hours then."
     Three hours and twenty two minutes later, a someone knocked on the ramp. It was the man Jack had talked to earlier.
     "You're late. And early." Jack said.
     "What?"
     "The fuel guys still aren't here. I told them to be here almost an hour ago."
     "Well, it's a busy starport. You have a crew?"
     "Yes."
     "Oh. Okay, well the cargo is in my speeder. You'll need a load lifter."
     "Yeah, I got one of those. I'll go get it."
     After some minor sprains and a few backaches Jack got it onto the ship. It was a crate about six feet tall and three feet wide on either side. Then he went to the cockpit and fed in the coordinates into the computer. The computer showed that it was a six hour journey, so he decided to take the ship up and get out of the system before he went into hyperspace. While he was doing so, the fuel guys finally came and filled it up for almost twice the price Jack had intended to pay. They settled for one and a half.
     "Halsey, you wanna watch this baby clear orbit for the first time under my command?" Jack shouted over the intercom.
     "Not really." Halsey shouted back.
     "Oh. Okay." Jack switched from the com channel to the starport channel. "This is Delta Oh Four Niner requesting permission to enter high orbit then leave system."
     "Delta Oh Four Niner, this is clearance control, permission is granted. Wait until we transmit the holding pattern, just to make sure we don't have any crashes. Is that okay with you, pilot?"
     "Roger control. Standing by"
     A moment later the computer came alive with chatter from the mainframe. It projected several courses for Jack to follow. Jack took the longest one.
     The ship was in orbit. After an hour, Jack got bored and started to spin the ship in circles for no particular reason. Halsey came up into the cockpit.
     "You know, you can leave orbit right about now." He said.
     "No I can't. They'll fine me at least a hundred credits for not waiting until they tell me to leave."
     "No they won't. They can't transfer the fine to other starports, can they? And when are you planning to come back here? They just have that rule so most suckers won't break the other rules."
     "Oh. Which way do I go?"
     "Out!"
     The ship was heading past Mars, and soon it disappeared out of view.
     "You're lucky. You got Mars and Jupiter and Uranus right in a line. You can fly within a few thousand kilometers of them and not stray off course."
     "Cool. I've never actually seen a gas giant planet. Just in the sims. I've seen solid planets in real life, though. Which way do I go?"
     "I don't know. Check the computer."
     A moment later he switched direction, and set the ship for a high speed course, meaning that he couldn't maneuver in the slightest unless he slowed to a reasonable speed. Suddenly, there was a loud bang on the top of the ship.
     "What was that?" Jack said with startled surprise
     "Oh, musta been an asteroid. We're passin through the belt."
     "What? You mean to tell me that we are flying into an asteroid field with no maneuverability and going at a speed of..." He glanced at the display. "thirty eight space units!!" The speed of most fighter craft that he had flown was only eight or ten. Jack hadn't done any high speed courses before. Not even in the sims. All of the ships in the sims used hyperdrives to get out fast. This one was too big and bulky, it had to fly through the asteroid belt before it could go anywhere.
     "Yep. We better make sure there are no big ones up ahead. If there are, we better slow down. But first turn the shields on, just in case we run into a little one."
     "We just DID run into a little one!!"
     "Oh, no. That was just a pebble. Mabey an inch diameter at most."
     Jack immediately hit the retrothrusters and turned on the shields. He looked at his scanners.
     "We got a big clump of asteroids dead ahead, a little less than five hundred kilometers!" He said.
     "Well, slow us down!"
     "I just did."
     "Good. You better hope this thing has a good deceleration unit."
     "It does. I checked it."
     "Good. Now pump all your extra power into the engines."
     "What?"
     "Pump all your power into engines. But keep your shields."
     "But the thrusters will blow! This is just a bulk freighter! It is a fast freighter, but that still doesn't mean much! Last time I checked it could only push up to a four."
     "Well, push it to five. It'll hold together. It's a bulk freighter. Bulk freighters don't just break. They either get blown up or they survive."
     "Okay, if you say so."
     "I just did."
     "I heard you!"
     The asteroids were getting closer. The ship was vibrating as the thrusters were straining to keep it from being overcome by the extra power pumped into the engines. Within a moment they were in the asteroid cluster.
     "Just keep her steady. And don't aim towards the big ones!"
     "Okay!" Jack said. "What do I do if a medium one comes at me?"
     "Dodge it."
     "In this?"
     "Why not?"
     "I don't know, I'm just used to small ships."
     "Well this is a big ship, and it's yours so you better learn to drive it!"
     Jack dodged another asteroid and yawned. "Here, can you take over? I'm getting a little sleepy. We've been dodging asteroids for almost an hour."
     "Sure" Halsey chuckled. "Just hand her over to me!"
     Jack awoke with a slight headache. There was an insistent beeping somewhere.
     "Ack... turn off that noise!"
     "Hey boss!" a voice said over the intercom. "We should be coming out of hyperspace soon."
     "When did we go in?"
     "About an hour ago. Why?"
     "Never mind." He was going to have to talk to Halsey about the little 'permission' thing.
     Jack looked out the cockpit window at the planet below him. It was an Earth like planet, very green with a lot of blue. Demeter was beautiful on the surface, all covered with exotic plants, but now most of that was turning into cultivated farmland to feed the rest of the Earth alliance. The only other habitable planet in the system was Sarcophi, the dead planet. It was once very abundant, and had a species living there, but now all that is left is desert and archeological digs. The only native creatures are a few plants and variations of a lagamorph/rodent like creature.
     He looked away from the view as the ship pointed downwards. He looked over at Halsey to make sure he was still awake while piloting the ship, then went back to looking at his instrument board.
     A few minutes later, they landed. Jack talked port control into letting him get off for an hour, then get back on and leave. He left Halsey in charge, and went to a bar.
     After he got back, he ran through the pre-flight checkup. Halsey was snoring so loud that Jack could hear him all the way in the captain's(his) quarters. He took off and left orbit. Then he set a course for the rendezvous point, and set the computer to slow them at the end so that they would not get there early. Then he went to bed.
     He woke up to hear that annoying beeping again, and this time Halsey was already in the cockpit by the time he got there.
     "We're coming out now, captain." Said Halsey. "What're yur orders now?"
     "Where are we?" Jack asked.
     "The rendezvous point, of course."
     "Yeah, but where did he say that was?"
     "Uhhh... I dunno. You put it into the computer."
     "Oh, okay."
     "So look at the navcomputer display."
     "Oh." Jack said. "Good idea."
     He looked at the display. It was on the edge of an uninhabited system, near the asteroid belt.
     "Are we on time?"
     "No, we're about two minutes late."
     "That's good. Let's just wait here."
     "If you insist Boss."
     "I do."
     Three minutes later, a transport came towards them. It transmitted some signal, and Jack transmitted the pattern set that his employer had given him. The transport flashed a welcome signal, and then came over and docked on the top hatch. Jack left the cockpit, and pressed the button on the airlock to enable it to take commands from the other lock it was attached to. A moment later, two men came out.
     "You have the cargo?" One of them said.
     "Yeah, it's back this way." Jack replied. He led the two to the cargo bay where the case was strapped down in the middle of the hold, all by itself. He unlatched it and the two men picked it up and brought it into the airlock without a word. They set it down inside, and the second man pulled out a bank card, and handed it to Jack. Then they went back into the transport with the cargo, and cast away.
     "Funny guys." Jack said to Halsey, who had come up from the cockpit to see if he was needed. "Great conversationalists." Jack remarked wryly.
     The smaller transport rocketed off into the asteroid field, and the bulk freighter was left there. Jack was in the cockpit, and Halsey was closing down the empty cargo bay.
     Jack stared out at the bright points of light that signified other stars, many with planets. And the brightest one, which was only ten light-minutes away. Some of the asteroids could be seen by visual, the rest as light blobs on the sensor array. This was the first cockpit Jack had ever been in that didn't have any 'threat assessment' or 'weapons boards'. It was an interesting change. He wasn't sure if he liked it that way or not.
     Halsey came back into the cockpit and plopped himself down in the copilot's chair.
     "So, are we gonna leave or what?"
     "Yeah, in a minute. They told us to wait until that ship was out of short sensor range, then leave. I set our computer not to recognize their signal, so it's just a white dot on the radar right now. Just like the other asteroids." Jack pointed to it. It was moving a little faster than any of the other objects on the sensors. "It's almost out of range."
     The two waited for another few minutes. Then Jack started to spin the ship around. It was time to go.
     Three more blue dots appeared on the long range sensors. Moments later, they were already within the short range.
     "What are those?" Halsey asked, pointing at the screen.
     "Don't know. Let me check." Jack turned over to one of the other panels. The panel lit up, and the sensors focused on the first one. It was an I-wing, scout ship. Very high speed. He targeted the other two, and they were the same.
     "Hmm. I-wings." Halsey said. "Wonder what they're doing here."
     "I don't know, but they're coming at us full speed. And they have their weapons and shields up."
     "Why do they need shields? We're unarmed."
     "I don't know, but let's raise ours." Halsey turned to a board on the other side and activated shields and engines. Jack started to turn the ship slightly back the way he had been facing earlier, when he was coming in.
     Lasers lanced out at them. Two lasers hit his shields, but dispersed. The shields held.
     "Ten layers of shielding left. We had thirteen originally." Halsey reported. "No damage yet."
     "Drain some extra power from somewhere. But not speed."
     "I dunno. This thing is pretty underpowered for something this size."
     "Yeah, well work with what we have right now." Jack continued to steer the ship around, dodging various lasers. Another laser glanced off, taking away one layer of shielding and damaging the one below it. A moment later, the one below was back up.
     "Do you mind if I turn off the gravity?" Halsey said. "That is, if you don't mind free fall."
     "Go ahead. I'm strapped in."
     "Okay." He turned off the gravity. All weight left the cockpit.
     In most ships that doesn't change much, but in something with huge cargo bays like a bulk freighter, well, that just might give it the extra edge it needed.
     Jack turned the ship, and once the I-wings came in range his rear end was pointed towards them. A few blasts hit the back, and one actually burned through the shields, but did little damage. The I-wings peeled off without formation, except for one jockey who flew between the two huge cargo bays and the middle cockpit/engineering area.
     A few moments later the shields were back on. But a few more shots came, and went through.
     Halsey had only a few yellow lights on his board. The hotshot who had flown through was coming back around, pulling an intricate flip maneuver, bringing him rightside up and on exactly the same course as he was on before. At the last second he shot twice, burning the portside cargo bay slightly, but doing no structural damage. The pilot aimed towards the middle, expecting to be fine.
     He wasn't. Jack flipped the freighter sideways, at the last second. The ponderous ship took almost a full second to turn diagonal, but once it did the shields of the I-wing clipped the edge. It went spinning out of control. According to Jack's sensors, it's weapons and shields were out, and it had severe structural damage.
     That particular one stayed back a few kilometers for the rest of the fight. The other two came around again, and Jack could feel the lasers hitting his ship.
     He turned at full speed. "Our shields aren't helping. Let's just hope that those little peashooters won't hurt this behemoth all that much. All power to engines, high speed trajectory into the asteroid field."
     "Yes sir." Halsey replied. "Turning off our transponder."
     Jack felt the engines almost double in thrust. All three I-wings turned after him at full speed. One started to catch up, and flew overhead. The powerful fusion engine blast pushed down at what little shields were left, then the I-wing was left behind. They too started on high speed courses. Now they were starting to catch up.
     Small meteorites were bouncing off of the hull. Jack was starting to get worried. Then he saw a cluster of asteroids almost dead ahead. He made the necessary course corrections, and started slowing a little. Not much, just enough to maneuver.
     He weaved in and out between the large asteroids. Nothing that the smaller and more agile I-wings couldn't do, but it was worth a try. They slowed, but followed him easily.
     A small, fast moving comet appeared on Jack's sensors. He flew up behind it, and followed it. He was now inside the tail. He started charging the shields up again, and lowered his engine speed only to make up for the loss caused by the tail material hitting him. Then he shut off everything else in the ship, even life support and navigation. This one he could do just with engines and shields.
     Twice the board came to life with information, when the I-wings' sensors came by. But neither time they were noticed. Then they were gone.
     Jack waited another few minutes. Eventually, his shields were back up to full. He slowly turned everything back on and pulled out from the comet's tail. He turned his short range sensors on. If they could sense the energy emissions from his ship's systems, than they could sense his short range sensors. There was nothing.
     He turned on the long range sensors. Still nothing. Simple glimmers of white asteroids and comets.
     He set the computer to register anything unusual in it's scans, any energy sources or metals. Then he turned to Halsey.
     "Good work, Cap'n. Didn't think you had it in you." Halsey said. "Now I'm gonna go get myself something to eat."
     "No, you're not." Jack replied. "You are going to check out that battle damage while I keep watch in the cockpit. You can eat after you're done."
     "Aww, darn it cap'n. Those lasers couldn't a' done too much. Just burned through the shielding some, that's all. That's what the hull is for!"
     "I want you to check it anyway. And that I-wing probably hurt our cargo bay as much as we hurt it."
     "Okay, whatever you say." Halsey shuffled off down the corridor.
     A moment later, the computer bleeped. The computer had done a scan, and found a small amount of unused fuel and metal components in the area. Jack leaned forward, and keyed in for a closer scan of the metal fragments.
     The computer bleeped again. Three dead bodies floated outside. Three pilots. With the remains of the three I-wings. There were also some heavy plasma trails.
     Jack tried to sort out the trails from those of the I-wing's engines, but the computer had no success. It wasn't made for rigorous tracking, only simple scanning of ships and bases.
     There was a haze of plasma exhaust in one direction, presumable where the I-wings had come from. Then there was another line, thicker and blurrier. Jack turned towards it and did a quick scan.
     It led to another asteroid, farther away from the clump. The I-wings didn't go there in there search, did they?
     Jack opened up an intercom to the whole ship. "Halsey, get up here."
     A few moments later, Halsey ran in the door. "What is it, boss?"
     "Our I-wing friends got attacked. See?" He pulled Halsey down so he could see the sensor data. Halsey looked, and narrowed his eyes.
     "Check for ion cannon residue in the ships. And for evidence of missile strikes."
     "The sensors aren't all that great, but I'll try." Jack typed in a few more perameters. The computer stopped, then bleeped once more.
     "Yeah, some ion cannon residue on some of the remains. About two thirds. They were trying to take some prisoners." He looked closer, "And it looks like one of the ships got hit by a missile or a torpedo. Can't tell which."
     "Probably a C-wing." Halsey said, "They're the only ones with such wide and dispersed trails, and that have ion cannons, missiles and plasma beams."
     "How do you know it was plasma beams?"
     "Because the ships are both ruptured and melted. Has to be plasma."
     "Oh. Okay."
     The ship rocked.
     "Well, there goes our shields again." Halsey said. "Two torpedoes. Slight hull damage on the starboard cargo bay."
     A ship appeared on their short range scopes. It had been coasting silently at long range, then turned everything on at short. Jack took a look at the sensor data.
     It was a C-wing alright. Heading straight towards them at full speed. It's shields were down, but it's weapons were fully operational. Four plasma bolts splatted against the ship's hull, doing some damage. Red lights were now all over Halsey's board.
     Four ion bolts hit the hull, then four more. The whole panel shut down.



     A gun prodded in Jack's back. He and Halsey were led down a dark corridor, and then shoved into a small room. There was a dim light inside. Their captors hadn't said much. They had just grabbed them and thrown them into this dark cell.
     "So what are we going to do now?" Jack asked, for the fifth or sixth time.
     "Dunno. Let's wait and see what they have in mind."
     "I don't want to wait. I want to get out of here."
     "Easier said than done. There's no air vent, just little holes in the wall. Nothing in here to stick through, no door controls over here. There's no way out, right now."
     "Yeah, not right now. Let's just wait until later. Wait, wait, wait."
     The two sat there in the semi-darkness for a while. Then the door swished open. A dark figure stood there in the doorway. Two guards walked in and grabbed the two men.
     "Come with me." The dark figure said. The guards dragged Jack and Halsey out the doorway.
     They went through a maze of corridors. Eventually they found themselves in a small room. The room was mostly empty, except for two large lab tables. Each had an identical device laid out on them. Sitting next to each device was some kind of oversized remote control.
     "Your shipment held the last parts for these devices." The man said, gesturing towards the tables. "These are some of the biggest atom bombs ever made by man. You are going to use them to destroy Demeter."
     The man waited a moment, then continued. "Don't worry. You'll live. If you do it right. And they'll never know it was you. You will escape completely unscathed. This bomb is big enough to destroy a quarter of the planet, the shock wave would destroy all life anywhere else that was untouched by the actual explosion. Demeter will then be too radioactive to set up any colonies anywhere else. Also, the atmosphere will be mostly gone, except inside the crater that this bomb will leave, but that would be FAR too radioactive to even get a ship inside for a few centuries."
     "You will bring one of these bombs to the capital city on Demeter. We will be able to track your progress. If you go any more than a light year off of your course, the bomb will detonate in space. Once it reaches Demeter, it will be set to explode in one standard day. Plenty of time for you to get out of there. If that fails to work, you can set it with the remote control. If you accidentally turn it on, you may turn it back off by pressing 4378906 on the keypad on the bomb itself. I have it written down here, in case you forget."
     The man handed Jack a set of instructions printed out on some old fashioned paper. "However," He continued, "That set of buttons will not work once you are on Demeter, so you had better get out of there pronto if you accidentally set it off. Also, there is no way to open it up, destroy it, or cut any wires without it exploding in your face, so don't even try."
     Three men came and took one of the bombs, along with the remote control that came with it. They walked out. Another door swished open, and Jack could see the front edge of his ship. The men loaded the bomb onto the ship, in the undamaged cargo bay.
     "Why are you doing this?" Jack asked.
     "That's not your concern. You don't even need to know. Perhaps we want revenge on a single person on the planet, and we are just making sure we get him. Or perhaps we are revolutionaries, trying to win back our freedom from an oppressive government. Or perhaps we are doing it for the money. You will never know, so don't bother asking." He turned, and made sure that the men had finished loading the bomb. "I will send five men with you to make sure you don't pull anything funny or heroic. Oh, and you'll be paid extra for this. Just to make up for any sudden pangs of consciousness you might have."
     Jack and Halsey were brought into their ship. Two armed men accompanied them into the cockpit. Three more were somewhere in the ship.
     The hangar doors opened, and they took the ship out. Six hours before they got to Demeter.
     "Now don't get us all killed." The guard said. "Take us into hyperspace. I'm going to make sure everything else is okay right now."
     And he left the cockpit.
     Halsey was sitting at the navigation board, programming in a course for Demeter. Jack was sitting at the pilot's seat, dodging asteroids.
     Then Halsey spoke. "I don't know what you're planning on doing, but if you're planning on going along with them, I'm going to try something on my own."
     "Like what?" Jack said, turning his head to face his co-pilot. "At the moment we're screwed. Unless we get rid of them, we can't drop the device anywhere. The only thing I can think of doing would be to lock them out of the cabin and let out all the air. But that would take almost an hour. They would burn through the door in time."
     "Not if we let it out real quickly."
     "And how would we do that?"
     "Well, it's pretty simple. We're in an asteroid field."
     "No."
     "What?"
     "No. This is my ship. I say what we do. No asteroid holes."
     "Then think of something else."
     "Okay. I will."
     Jack sat there. "We could just scrape against a big one. Let all the air out of one of the nacelles. It's easier to replace the whole side than it is to replace the whole inside of the cargo nacelle."
     "Who's been kidding you? Explosive decompression can rip out flooring and pieces of the inside just as easily as the asteroid itself can."
     "Okay. Nearest asteroid."
     He consulted the scanners, and turned towards it. Then he set a high speed trajectory.
     Once it was close, he closed his eyes. Then it hit.
     Instead of bouncing off the shields, it ripped right through the cargo bay. Now both bays were damaged.
     Oh well. Sacrifices had to be made.
     Jack heard the air whistle out of the ship in less than three seconds. Most of the inside of the middle of the ship was all right though.
     He heard banging on the door behind him.
     "Well." He said to Halsey. "I hate to waste the air, but..." A flick of a switch. All the inside doors except those to the cockpit and his and Halsey's bedrooms opened. Including those to the two ruined cargo bays.
     The air sucked out of there.
     Once the noise stopped, Jack waited a few seconds, and then pressed the button to close the doors and start putting air back into the ship. Then he opened up the overhead compartments with the pressure suits in them.
     "Damn." He said. "I knew I should have bough a few more just in case. This thing will only last fifteen minutes in hard space. Then it'll have to be brought in. Just to make it easy, turn off the gravity in the cargo bays."
     He crawled into the suit, then opened the door. Air quickly tried to equalize. Luckily, the corridor right outside the cockpit was almost full. Jack walked quickly down, and entered the emergency airlock. He crawled across the outside of the ship quickly, and made his way into the asteroid puncture in the cargo bay.
     There were still wisps of air. And three dead bodies.
     The other two must still be inside the ship.
     At least Halsey had the door locked from the inside.
     Jack crawled across to where the crate that held the bomb was. A quick job with the welder, and the cover was off.
     The bomb was waiting. Unarmed.
     Jack opened up his suit radio. "Halsey, there was at least two inside the ship. Do a quick scan, see if you can pick up any signatures that might have lived through that."
     "Already did one. Didn't find anything."
     "Okay. Hey, how long range do you think that the remote control for this thing has?"
     "I don't know. It looked pretty high tech."
     "Think it will reach their base from here?"
     "Why not? We're still within regular radio range. Just out of sensor range."
     "Okay. I'm going to turn it on. Then we can dump this thing manually."
     "Ouch. That's a bit harsh."
     "Hey, they threatened to blow us up. Why not repay the favor?"
     Jack took the remote control and turned it on. It was still working. He quickly activated it.
     The monitor read: Bomb activated.
     Bomb activated.
     Two. That was good. That meant both of them got the message.
     He tugged at the bomb.
     It didn't move.
     "Come on you son of a..." He pulled some more. It was stuck.
     He quickly ran the welder around the back edge of the box, and it came loose. He threw the loose package aside, and turned towards the bomb.
     It was stuck on the floor.
     And there was no gravity. That was a bad thing.
     Jack tried to use the welder on the floor around it. The welder got stuck to the bottom of the bomb. It was magnetically attached to the floor.
     Jack tugged at it. He couldn't get it up.
     Then he looked at the front.
     Eight minutes and counting.
     The man had said that it would explode within a standard day of reaching Demeter. But he hadn't said how long it would be if it was set by hand. Well, now he knew.
     "Halsey, we have a problem."
     "What?"
     "This thing was only set for ten minutes. And it's magnetically sealed to the floor."
     "The guy said there was a number to deactivate it, didn't he?"
     "Yeah, and I don't' remember what it was. I don't have the paper he gave us. It's in my room."
     "I can't get there. It isn't fully pressurized yet."
     "Damn. Open up all the doors again. I'll get into there."
     "Umm, Jack."
     "What?"
     "I took another reading. I can't get any infrared, but there's some carbon dioxide buildup in your bedroom. Somebody's in there."
     "Great. Well, I have the welder."
     "Are there any dead people in there?"
     "Yeah, I'll get one of their weapons."
     Jack grabbed a pistol from one man, and went inside. A rush of air pressed against him, but then it was gone. This was going to cost a lot in air.
     He charged inside quickly. Then he made it to his room.
     The door opened right before he got there, and a figure charged out. He was wearing a pressure suit like Jack's.
     Jack raised his pistol to shoot, but the other man kicked his gun out of his hand. The gun went flying, and so did Jack's left leg. It swept under the man, and the man fell.
     "Seargant, turn off the gravity in here, too!" Jack yelled, then jumped on the man. His fist found the man's faceplate a few times, then the guy kicked up. In the middle of his kick, gravity went off. Jack twisted around and let the man's kick push him against the wall, while the man went flying upwards.
     Jack quickly got his feet, and launched upwards. As the man bounced off the ceiling, Jack hit him again with both fists in his stomach. The man keeled over.
     Jack quickly turned and grabbed the gun that was floating a few feet away. A quick shot blew a hole in the man's suit, and partially through his stomach. Jack turned away and went opened up his room. A tornado of air came out, the man must have closed the door quick enough to let only a little bit out.
     Too late now. His pillow was ruined. Oh well. He quickly grabbed the piece of paper from where he left it, and took it with him.
     By the time he got back, the timer had only two minutes left.
     Jack quickly typed in "4... 3.. 487..."
     "Damn. These gloves are getting in the way." He pulled out the pistol. It was a small tipped laser. He started pressing the keys with the tip.
     "4..3...7.8..9.0.6" Then he pressed Enter.
     Destruction halted.
     "Phew. That was close." Jack said. "A minute and a half left."
     "Okay. You might as well get back up here. Your suit will only last another three or four minutes."
     "Yeah I..."
     This was not good.
     "Halsey, are we a light-year off course yet?"
     "No."
     "Oh. Well it just popped up a little warning, it said 'Warning. Three quarters of a light-year off course. Explosion imminent'."
     "Oh, dammit. They must have programmed distance in as well. We aren't as far as we should be."
     "That's it, I'm getting inside. Fire up the engines, but don't go until I'm in the ship. And turn the gravity back on."
     "Yessir."
     A split second later, gravity was on. Jack made two quick bounds towards the doorway, and went through.
     "Okay, I'm in. Close it up and hit the accelerator. We have to get out of this asteroid field so we can get on course."
     "What are we going to do when we get there?"
     "We'll figure that out later. Right now let's get going."
     "Yessir."
     Jack ran up to the cockpit. Halsey was already in the high speed trajectory. Jack looked at the instrument panel.
     Their speed was already twenty. And gaining.
     Halsey dodged two close asteroids.
     "Full shields." Jack ordered, and grabbed the pilot's stick. Halsey let go of his and started pressing buttons.
     "Since we don't have any air going anyway, I turned all the power from life support to thrusters."
     "Good. Turn sensors on all front, maximum sensitivity."
     "Yessir."
     Jack dodged asteroids.
     Behind him there was a tremendous flash.
     "What was that?"
     "The other bomb." Halsey replied. "Good thing you told me to turn all sensors front. If the rear ones were on it would have fried a few circuits. That EMP is nothing to mess with."
     "Okay, we're clear of the asteroid field. Got a course set?"
     "Yessir. Going to hyperspace now."
     The stars stretched, then disappeared.


     Jack finished cutting the floor away from the bomb. He grabbed it, and hefted it up. They were in orbit of Demeter now. A day until it exploded.
     "Okay." He told Halsey over the intercom. They had managed to find a real space suit in the engineering section. Jack had been cutting the floor, slowly but surely the whole six hour trip over.
     "We're accelerating. I'll tell you once we're fast enough."
     The ship was pointed at the sun. All Jack had to do was hold it outside the ship, and then let go and crawl back inside while Halsey made a course correction.
     Jack pushed the bomb to the asteroid hole. He had a little trouble getting it through without it sticking magnetically, but he managed. The ship was going at a good clip now.
     "Okay," Halsey said, "If it keeps going, it'll hit the sun in less than a standard day. You can let go now."
     Jack threw it as hard as he could. It drifted away from the ship. Then it started to fall backwards, thanks to the magnetic field on the underside of the bomb.
     "Turn on the shields now." Jack said. "It's trying to come back."
     "Yessir."
     The device floated away. Jack went back inside, as the ship slowed and turned back to Demeter.
     Twenty hours later, it exploded. Far away from any humans, or any spacecraft. All that could be seen from Demeter was a bright blue spot on the sun.
     "Well, at least the government is picking up the tab for the repair bill." Jack said as he slumped down in the pilot's chair. He was just back from his meeting with some government officials about the incident.
     "Repair bill? Well, you know, I seem to recall having this ship completely overhauled RIGHT BEFORE we took that job...."
     "You scoundrel. Good idea though. I think they'll fall for it. Of course, it will have to meet Demeter's government standards, otherwise we'll get fined a whole bunch and they'll take off any extras, and all that."
     "No problem. I can think of plenty of things to upgrade this sucker without going past their regulations."

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Spiral Arm and Nova are Copyrighted. Please do not use without permission.

Any resemblance to any other characters, fictional or otherwise is purely coincidental. I am innocent. Please don't sue.