The final draft of Dick and Henry And The Temporary Detective is now finished. I'm just waiting on the final edit and cover art before I release it on Amazon. To celebrate this I'm sharing with you guys the first chapter from the new novel. Enjoy.
A NEW ASSIGNMENT
Dick sat across from Bobby Parker, the Resource Director and Product Manager of Miracle Grocer. His hands rubbed against each other nervously as Bobby reviewed the report from Dick’s last transport.
“It says here the hull was damaged.”
“Yes, that’s correct. The woman, Maggie Flinton, rigged a microwave bomb to take out the ship’s hyper drive.”
“I see that.” Bobby was staring at the screen of the report, rubbing his clean shaved chin as he did so. “And the woman escaped?”
“Yes, sir. Without a hyper drive we didn’t have a chance.”
The director’s fingers tapped against the desk; sweat ran down Dick’s back. “It looks like you did everything you could. The woman got away, but you captured her lover, that’s good. As a pilot, we can hardly hold you responsible for the escape. Without your intervention, we may not have known the identity of the hover biker thief. You can expect a pay scale increase of two percent on your next deposit. I’ll make sure it gets there.”
Relief washed over Dick, he was going to come out of this thing ahead after all. Well, hopefully he would. He still had to ask one more thing: “So the damage…since it was caused by the thief, I won’t be penalized, will I?”
Bobby set the report down on his desk; he leaned forward in his chair. “What? Dick, what are we talking about here? Of course you’ll be docked for the price of the repairs. You were the active pilot when the damage occurred.”
Dick’s body stiffened. “How much is the damage?”
“I don’t know, Claims hasn’t appraised it yet. It’s still in the dock, but we’re probably looking at somewhere around fifty, maybe a hundred thousand credits for a new drive, and then there’s the body patchwork and paint.”
One to two month’s salary. He was never going to get ahead. He might as well kiss the dream of an Earth home goodbye.
Bobby shrugged his shoulders. “Sorry, nothing I can do.”
Dick pressed his lips into a thin line. “I understand.” He stood and grabbed his jacket off of the chair, mentally preparing himself to return to the lonely life of a Transport Captain.
“Unless,” Bobby said, “you’d be interested in tracking this Flinton woman. Your record shows that you’ve had great success solving unusual cases for the company before. If you were to be interested in continuing these services, for say, a monthly rate of salary and a half, I don’t think anyone would argue against it.”
Salary and a half? That was a ridiculous deal. Dick had never heard of Miracle Grocer paying so much for a pilot, but if he were to say yes, he wouldn’t be a pilot, not in function. “A true detective would make three hundred.”
“You’re not a true detective. Seventy-five is generous.” Bobby’s eyes narrowed.
“But with the damages to the ship, I’m still not making what I need for an Earth retirement. And then there’s the danger. I couldn’t do it for less than two hundred.”
Bobby’s eyebrows raised. “You’re a little young to be thinking about retirement, Dick.” The Resource Director paused.
Dick didn’t fall for the trap, he waited Bobby out, giving him time to weigh the counter offer.
Bobby let out a breath of air and placed his hands on his desk. “But I think we can agree to two hundred credits.”
Dick grinned. “Then count me in.”
Bobby grabbed a pad-pen from his desk, inserted a credit chip into his hand display and wrote up the details of the contract. Bobby turned the hand display to Dick. “It’s pretty plain, but feel free to look over it if you like. Two hundred thousand a month for a temporary investigation into the case of the missing Kiev motor bikes.”
Dick looked over the details; it all seemed sound. There was even mention of a bonus if he captured the woman in the next six months. He pressed his thumb over the print reader and a green bar filled with acceptance.
“When do I start?”
“Immediately, if possible. Your harvest bot can pilot the ship if you need to rest, but we want to conclude this matter as soon as possible, and we’re confident that the man who discovered the problem will be able to solve it.”
Dick swallowed a lump in his throat. “Right, of course. I am part of the team that discovered the problem…Speaking of Henry, where is he? I haven’t seen him since we’ve docked.”
“My harvest bot. HN-R3.”
“It’s in the engineering bay. Its systems were due for a software update.”
It. Dick hated when MG employees insisted on referring to Henry as if he weren’t sentient. Henry was the real reason Dick was able to solve any of the mysteries he’d been conned into investigating for Miracle Grocer in the past. Without him, he was just a pilot, a damn good pilot for sure, but that didn’t matter much. In this hour and eon, being a pilot didn’t offer the type of life one would call comfortable. Exciting—maybe to some, but comfortable it definitely was not.
“What about my ship?”
“Your new contract entitles you temporary access to warp units. Your print will get you access to the ship yard.”
Dick smiled and handed the display over to Bobby. “I guess that’s it.”
The floor shook below Dick’s feet. He grabbed the back of the chair in front of him; it flew into the air and was cut in half by the glass pressure shield as it closed. Dick watched through the glass wall as Bobby Parker, and the other half the office, flew out into the vast black abyss of space.
The sound of alarms blared in his eardrums, cutting off any thought. Dick covered his ears and looked through the glass for his manager. Bobby now looked like a small doll, his skin paper white and hardly visible as he drifted farther into the black.
Dick turned and pressed his thumb against the print reader, the sliding doors opened and the flashing red light spilled into the room. Dick rushed out, bumping into the sides of the hall. He ran past men and women dressed in suits panicking in the halls.
“Alert, alert,” a stern voice said over the loud speaker. “There has been a structural breech to the station. Please proceed to the nearest emergency pod.”
A woman grabbed Dick’s arm, and pulled at him. “The pod is this way!”
Dick shook his shoulder. “Let go of me!” Her face was horrified, and she released him.
The labels above the doors were clearly marked. CAFETERIA. GYMNASIUM. BOARD ROOM. He ran past them, watching people scramble from the doorways; folders with hardcopy information spilling out of their hands.
Then he saw it: ENGINEERING BAY. Dick stopped at the door, bent over heaving, he looked through the round glass window just in time to watch the room split away from the station just like Bobby Parker’s office had. Henry was motionless, his body pressed against the wall of the room, a cord coming from a docking station connected to his side.
Henry was floating away.
Dick beat his fist against the wall, screaming at him to wake up. Dick pressed his thumb against the print reader. A red glow emitted from the reader along with a low buzzing sound, denying him entry to the room that was no longer there.
The sound of the alarm now seemed louder in his ears. He couldn’t grieve, he had to escape. He dug his hands into his pocket, searching for his access card for Transport 1. He felt the card, along with something else. It was his communicator for his company assigned harvest bot, HN-R3.
Yes! That was what he needed!
He pulled out the device and inserted it into his ear. He pressed the button on the side and spoke: “Henry…Henry, this is Captain Dick Shannon, ID number 1611, requesting a response.”
Dick saw a flicker of light appear in the darkness where the engineering bay had drifted.
“Sir, this is HN-R3, reporting.”
Dick slapped his hand against the glass. “Henry, we have a big problem here. The station’s been attacked.”
“I see that, sir.”
Dick snorted. “I know you do, you’re drifting away from it. It looks like whoever did this attached explosives to the joints of the station.”
“I believe you are correct, sir. I suggest you find and enter an escape pod as soon as possible.”
“A pod? Pods are self-guiding. I need something I can pilot so I can pick you up. We’ve got a new mission.” Dick wondered if this were still true. The man who assigned the mission to him—and the contract he had signed—were currently drifting somewhere aimlessly through space, and would probably never be recovered.
“Negative, sir. Your safety is of my primary concern.”
“Henry, as long as I stay in the main corridor I’ll be fine. The explosions are just happening at the joints of the station. Give me directions to the bay and I’ll fire up a bird and come get you.”
Dick could see tiny pieces of debris flying past the light in the distant space, and then he saw a white stream of air trailing behind the robot.
“I cannot allow you to take such a risk. I calculate a 73 percent chance that the persons responsible for this attack will not stop at the removal of the outer rooms of the station, based off all known space station attacks. It is likely the perpetrator plans to continue dismantling the station after the rooms are removed, splitting the joints that connect the main halls until nothing is left of the station.”
Dick looked down at the floor. He could see one of the main joints that connected the hall. He suddenly felt off balance, like the floor was moving below his feet.
“Shit! You’re right! I have to get out of here.”
“That is correct, sir.”
His heart raced in his chest, stealing blood from his brain, weakening his thoughts. “But, Henry…how will I find you?”
“I will be fine, sir. Your safety is what needs to be secured at this moment.”
Dick ran from the door of what was the Engineering Bay and continued in the direction the screaming people had been coming from.
“How far are you from the station?”
“I am currently 1,898 decimeters from the ship.”
“Decimeters? Dammit, Henry, what the hell? You know I hate metric!”
“Yes, sorry, sir. I see that in your preferences now.”
“All right. Just tell me how many football fields away you are.”
“The issue has been corrected. I am currently 622 feet and eight and seven sixteenth inches away from the ship, or approximately two and seven hundredth football fields away.”
Dick wiped sweat away from his head and hurried down the hall, passing the doors of rooms as they floated away. Dick looked behind him, hoping someone would be there who could lead him to the nearest pod. The hall was completely empty.
“Henry, can you pull up a map of Station 1?”
“Yes, sir. I have one open now.”
“I need to know where the nearest escape pod is.”
“I am currently out of reach of the station’s network. In 10.87 seconds I will be able to direct you.”
Dick stood in the hall, the floor shaking under his feet as the room to his right detached from the station. He stared at it, the thing looked like the glowing house of an Earth Christmas village, floating away into the darkness of the space to be forgotten forever. Its lights would die, and its insides would be eaten by the rocks of space, and then it would be no more. He couldn’t let that happen to him and Henry.
“The station’s sensors are indicating that the last pod on the blue side is located in the Station 1 Family Nursery. It should be close to your general location.”
Dick let out a sad laugh and pressed his palm against the glass window of the room that had just detached. The sign above it read FAMILY NURSERY. “Why do these things always happen to me?” He saw images of the broken bot on Oculus throwing itself into a pit, a bobsled crashing down toward his body off the side of a mountain. This was worse than those things. This could very well be the end.
“To what things are you referring to, sir?”
Dick shook his head. “The room, it’s gone. It just floated off.”
“Yes, I see that now. The network has updated.”
Dick looked down at his hand and wished briefly that his thumb would open the door. Might as well get it over with, he thought. Join Bobby Parker on the other side.
“Henry, where are the warp ships located?”
“They are in the orange hall, just 40 paces from the Station 1 Family Nursery.”
“All right. Meet me there.”
“Sir, you will not have access to the warp bay. As a transport pilot you can only enter the guest ship dock, which is located in the yellow hallway. I suggest you run for the yellow hallway. It is still attached, and will be for the next 10 minutes.”
“You know how long the rooms will be attached?”
“I have just calculated it. The explosives seem to be on an automated timer, each one firing 0.78 seconds after the next. There are 468 rooms—”
“Henry, I don’t need your methods! Just tell me how long until the warp bay detaches?”
“Four minutes, but it would be pointless to waste time on the warp bay, sir. You will not have access.”
“But I will, Henry. I signed a contract for the new mission, right before the station was attacked I signed it. The hand display flew away with the room, but the screen said it was accepted, so it should be fine…right?”
“That is correct, sir. If the display read ‘accepted’, and the terms of the contract indicated it, then you will have access to the warp bay.”
That made Dick’s skin shiver. Did the contract state that he had access to the warp bay? He couldn’t remember reading that. He just knew Bobby said he would have access, but with Bobby dead and everyone abandoning the station, that wouldn’t get him into the bay. He had to play it smart. He would definitely have access to the guest dock, his old ship, Transport 1, would be waiting there, it would be hyper drive less, and low on fuel, but it would be waiting there none the less. But then there was the mission he was assigned to think about. There was the bonus Bobby had written into the contract. Flinton must have had at least a two month’s lead on them, and that was just counting distance. They still had to figure out where it was she had gone, and what it was she was planning to do.
“I’m going to the warp bay.”
“I will meet you there, sir. I will enter the ship through the re-entering chamber after you’ve left the station.”
Dick slowed as he passed a room with the label DETAINEES written above it. He thought of the woman Henry and him had brought to the station: Alex Flinton. Surely someone had thought to empty the detainee room. They wouldn’t just leave her there, right?
He stood in front of the door, his knees shaking, his heart pounding. He didn’t have time to think.
He reached for the print reader and pressed his thumb to it. The screen lit green with acceptance and the doors slid open.
“Welcome, Temporary Detective Richard Shannon.”
Dick smirked at the door’s greeting. He hadn’t looked at the contract’s new label for his position, apparently he was now Captain Temporary Detective, Dick Shannon. He couldn’t wait to run that one by Henry.
Dick ran past the empty cells. He stopped at the Fs, and looked through the glass shield to see Alex Flinton, lying on the floor with her hands over her eyes. Her cell was a mess. She had torn the frame of the metal bed apart and tried breaking the shield with a piece of it. The glass was pressure resistant, but there were scratch marks where she had beat it.
Dick pressed his thumb over the keypad to the door and entered his employee ID number. The glass shield raised. “We have to go.”
Alex lowered her hands from her face and looked up at Dick, her opened mouth slapped shut when she saw who he was. She stood and hurried out of the room.
“Henry, I have the prisoner, Alex Flinton.” She was speeding ahead of him. Already trying to escape again, he thought. Well not this time, lady. He increased his pace, catching her. “No one grabbed her from her cell. We’re headed to the warp bay.”
“Negative, sir. The warp bay will detach in approximately 89.32 seconds. You will not make it from your current location.”
Dick was at Alex’s side now, he grabbed her hand and pulled her along, running as fast as he could.
“That will not be enough, sir. Running at your top speed, you will not beat the explosives detonation. You will be 37.67 seconds too late.”
“Dammit, Henry. Round up!” Death was beating down on his door, but the damn numbers still drove him crazy. He wanted to laugh from the absurdity. Laugh that he would die on this station with a woman who’d once tried to kill him who he was now trying to save, and with the voice of a harvest bot in his ear, describing to him exactly how it would happen.
“Sorry, sir. You will be 38 seconds late.”
“Dammit! Damn! It!” Dick’s brain ached from the adrenalin rushing through him. He needed access to those warp ships to catch Flinton, to fulfill his contract, make his pay, and then retire to a quiet Earth life. But right now he just needed to survive. “The guest dock. Henry, how long do we have before it detaches?
“Approximately 6 minutes.”
Alex tried to pull her hand from Dick’s, but he gripped it harder. “What are we doing?” she said, her voice angry and full of fear.
“Trying to stay alive. Run faster!”
* * *
The doors to the guest dock slid open. The wing was filled with abandon ships of all varieties, but there was only one Dick was interested in.
“This is crazy,” Alex said, her breaths hard and labored. “What the hell is happening? Why is the building falling apart?”
Dick’s face contorted. “I don’t know, but it’s not an accident.” He kept his pace up, hurrying down the entrance runway, looking for his damaged ship. Dick found it. The words TRANSPORT 1 were printed on the side of it in large block letters.
Dick inserted his access card into the door and pressed his thumb to the print reader. He turned back to Alex who was still in the runway. “Are you coming?”
She was dressed in a yellow jumpsuit—detainee number 67 written on the breast pocket—her arms were crossed over her chest. “I’m not getting on that thing. Not again.”
“This place is going to be floating away in a matter of minutes. If you want to go with it, that’s your choice.”
Dick walked inside the familiar quarters of his ship—he left the door open. Dick took a seat behind the helm. “Henry, how are we doing on time?”
“You have less than two minutes, sir.”
Cutting it close, he thought, as always. He checked the pressure gauges of the ship, tapping their digital screens awake.
He smiled at the sound of stomping feet echoing behind him. Alex took a seat in the back cabin, her arms still folded across her chest, her face locked in a scowl.
Dick closed the door. “All right,” he said to Henry. “Are you in place for pickup?”
“I am 60 feet outside of the exterior doors, awaiting your exit. I will latch onto the re-entering chamber door as you pass by.”
“Got it.” Dick inserted his card into the ship’s ignition and flipped on the display.
“Good evening, Captain.”
“Evening, Computer. Activate hover pads and unlock breaks.”
The ship shook as the landing magnets came off of the station’s guest bay and folded back into the ship.
“Computer, open communications with Station 1’s automated systems. We need the guest bay airlock opened.”
Lights on the dashboard display lit as the computer opened communications.
“Your request has been denied. Miracle Grocer Product Stations require an attendant present for all arrivals and departures from any docking bay. Currently there is no one present on the station.”
“No shit.” Dick looked out at the empty docking bay, his heart sinking.
“Henry, we’ve got a problem. The doors won’t open without someone physically present at the station. Can you override it somehow?”
Dick couldn’t hear the robot over the shaking and rattling of the ship. The docking bay tore away from the station, leaving a gaping black hole in the bay where the door just was. Everything in the bay was moving in slow motion, drifting weightlessly. And then the glass shield closed over the opening. The ship hurtled toward the roof of the room as the velocity of the explosion combined with the room’s sudden gravity propelled them.
“Activate landing magnets! Computer, activate magnets!”
The ship’s magnetic arms scraped against the walls of the bay, the squeal of metal on metal echoing through the chamber. The ship jerked to a stop as the magnets latched onto a side wall. The transport swayed side to side, as the room spun through space. Dick watched the landing gears bending and buckling on the ships in front of them.
He turned to look behind him, all of the important equipment was attached to the ship, the only things strewn around were his clothes and a few checkers pieces.
“Computer, increase the linear gravity by 100 percent.”
Dick unbuckled himself and moved toward the back cabin.
Alex Flinton was sprawled on the floor, her blonde hair twisted in a mess that resembled the same twisting of the bone in her leg. Dick looked away, holding back vomit. “You need strapped in.”
Dick pulled her to a cushioned bench in the cabin and wrapped the straps around her shoulders and stomach.
Her pupils were enlarged, the light in them gone. He put a hand over her chest, checking her heartbeat. It was fast, but still there.
“Henry, we need to get out of here.” Dick sat back down in the pilot’s seat and strapped himself in. “I don’t know how long the landing gears are going to hold. The ship is swaying pretty hard.” Dick looked at the ships in front of him. It was their landing gears he was more worried about, not Transport 1’s. If the other ships’ gears were to snap they would roll around in the spinning bay until they came crashing into his.
“Sir, I am currently on the outside of the guest docking bay.”
“On the glass?” Dick squinted his eyes. “I don’t see you.”
“No, the glass is not penetrable. I am on one of the exterior walls. It is unmarked, so I cannot give you an exact location. But if you use the ship cameras you should be able to see my torch. I’m making several cuts in the wall along the joints.”
“Computer, split screen on all cameras.”
Dick scanned the screen as eight different boxes filled the display. “There. Computer split screen with cameras A and CB.”
A bright red light sprayed through one of the metal walls on camera CB. “I see you, Henry!”
“Excellent, sir. I will finish making the necessary cuts in the wall’s joints, and then I will mark where you’ll need to impact the wall.”
“Impact? You want me to ram the wall with the ship?”
Dick looked down the runway. It was short, and filled with at least three other ships that he could see. “How fast do I need to be going?”
“For the impact to successfully breach the wall, the ship will need to be going at least 230-miles-per-hour.”
Dick choked on his own laugh. “Henry, that’s not possible in this space. I can get to 150, maybe, but not 230. Can’t we rig it with explosives or something? There has to be something we can use in the bay.”
“Creating an explosive that would form the appropriate sized breach with the resources available in the guest docking bay would take between 20 and 45 minutes, depending on the availability of certain common compounds. I do not believe we will have enough time to attempt that.”
Dick beat his fist against the control console. “Then what the hell do we do? If I can’t get the speed we need to ram it, and if we can’t make a bomb to blow it open, what else is there?”
“Sir, you can get the necessary speed from inside the bay.”
“I can’t, Henry, it’s too small.”
“That is why you will have to circle the bay. One complete loop, without slowing the ship or coming into contact with any foreign objects, would result in a speed exceeding the necessary 230-miles-per-hour.”
“You want me to circle a spinning rectangular box?”
“It is the surest way to escape this scenario.”
Dick straightened up in his seat. He contemplated asking the robot what the success rate of this could be, but he didn’t bother, he knew it was low. And with his head aching, and body drained from stress, the chances would be even lower than what Henry would say. Might as well say goodbye.
“Goodbye,” Dick said.
“Nothing,” Dick cleared his throat. “Computer, warm thrusters.” The ship shook as the engines’ ignited their fuel. “Lock camera CB on current location and minimize screen to sandbox.”
Dick turned to the rear cabin. “Alex, we’re getting ready to fly. Hold on. It might be a little bumpy.”
She said nothing. She lay there against her seat straps, incapacitated.
“Increase thrust.” Dick held his thumb over the manual release switch for the landing gears. “On my mark, increase thrust by 30 percent.”
Dick wiped the sweat from his forehead. “Let’s give it everything.” Dick pressed the switch and the ship shot forward, grating the side of the bay wall as they flew toward the glass shield.
Dick pulled up on the control wheel, passing over the swaying ships. He turned the ship with the room, almost like he were dancing underwater inside of a submarine. He looked at his speed display, 80-miles-per-hour, and the shield was getting close. He needed to pull away from the wall, but without slowing down that would be impossible. The tail of the ship would smack against the shield if he tried turning without slowing, possibly ripping the ship in half. He couldn’t risk it…but he had to escape while there was still time.
The glass was yards away when Dick pushed the wheel forward and increased the thrust, flipping the ship in the narrow bay.
“Increase thrust 85 percent. No, 90! 90 percent!”
The ship cracked through the air, spinning like an energy-ray. Dick dug his feet into the floor, his teeth smashing in on themselves as they lifted.
The sound of crashing metallic thunder filled the bay, shaking the walls around the ship.
One of the abandoned ships ricocheted across the room in front of Transport 1. Pieces of it ground off like sawdust as it bounced off the walls. Shards of glass and metal sprayed across the front facing cameras of the ship, tapping the screen with titanium hail. Dick pushed the wheel forward, steering the spinning ship under the lifeless wreck crashing above.
Dick could hear Alex getting sick in the back of the ship. He held back his own vomit.
They were getting close to where Transport 1 had been latched. Close to where Henry was cutting through the ship’s joints.
“Henry, we’re coming in hot. We’re reading at 215 and rising. Where’s your damn mark?”
“I’m sorry, sir. My fuselage was not meant to withstand prolong stints in the vacuum of space. The fuel for my torch has frozen. I’m rerouteing all non-essential circuits to power internal heaters.”
“We’re about to pass where the ship was parked, Henry. We don’t have time for this, reroute all circuits to power the heaters!”
Henry went silent for seconds that felt like hours; the sweat trickling down Dick’s face stung the corner of his eyes. “Come on…Please…”
“Yes!” Dick screamed as red sparks shot out of the wall.
Dick turned the wheel and increased the thrust to full power. He closed his eyes tight as Transport 1 shot through the wall. The carbon-steel gave way, tearing like tissue paper as the ship jerked its way through.
“Haha! It worked, Henry!”
Dick slowed the ship, steering it clear of the docking bay still hurtling through space.
“Computer split screen on all cameras.
“Henry, you out there buddy? I’m not seeing you.” Dick scanned the screen, looking for any sign of the robot. “Henry?”
Dick turned to the sound of the re-entering chamber doors opening. The robot walked through them, his body beaten from the debris.
“Henry!” Dick jumped from his seat and ran for the robot. He stopped himself from throwing his arms around him. Instead, he grunted and slapped the harvest bot on the side of his cold steel-arm. “Why didn’t you answer me? I was worried I was going to have to turn on the ship’s electrical detection.”
Henry pulled back his index finger and an electronic screw driver twirled. He inserted it into a bolt on his chest and removed a small plate. Beneath it he pulled out a small transistor card. The copper wiring was charred black. He threw it on a workbench, and rummaged through a drawer until he found a replacement and inserted it into his chest.
“I’m sorry, sir, but the rerouting of my primary circuits resulted in the overheating of my language card. Otherwise I would have informed you of my successful attachment to the ship’s hull.”
Dick looked at the robot. His bronze paint chipped in places, his voice card sitting on the counter, fried. “No problem, Henry…I’m just glad the whole thing worked. Craziest thing we’ve ever done.” He laughed, but it felt hollow.
“It is not crazy to follow a strategy of relative statistical safety. It has been argued by some humans that is the exact opposite of crazy.”
“Right, right, right. You can pull up a quote of anyone arguing anything, but that doesn’t change that we’re lucky to be alive.” Dick grinned. “That I’m lucky to be alive.”
“You and the female captive, sir. She is still alive as well.”
Dick’s eyes widened. “Shit. Grab a med kit. And pull open a medical file on setting a broken leg.”
“I will open multiple files.”
Dick hurried to the back of the ship, stepping over the checkers pieces strewn across the floor.