Spalding Short: Chapter 4
Here’s the last one we’ve got all edited up nice and pretty for you guys. I hope you like it!
Chapter: On the Hunt
“First thing that misbegotten abortion of a proper Caprian load lifting vehicle is going to need to do is get rid of its cargo,” Spalding opined, grabbing hold of a bit of his long hair and twirling it between finger and thumb.
Gants nodded slowly.
“Then it’s going to try and blend in with the rest of the grav-cart population,” he added sharply.
“Are you sure you’re not giving it too much credit? I mean it only took off after we started taking it apart and putting it back together again to find out what was wrong,” said Gants.
“It’s a wily one, that cart is,” Spalding said shaking a finger at Gants, “and don’t you forget that just because it looks all beat up and worn down — being old only makes it more dangerous!”
“No, Sir,” Gants said helplessly, “but I still don’t see how any of this helps us catch the thing.
“I’ve got a plan,” Spalding said with a smile.
Gants looks uneasy, but said nothing in response.
Fifteen minutes later they were around the corner from a maintenance shed, crouched down behind a pair of large drums with holes burnt through the sides to allow for vision.
“Why are we hiding behind these barrels and wearing thermal blankets again?” muttered Gants.
“What?” demanded Spalding in a harsh whisper as he snapped his head around. “Do you see the blasted thing?!”
“No,” Gants said sourly.
“Well, keep quiet then,” barked Spalding, trying and failing to keep his own voice down. “We don’t want to scare it off with your need to jibber jabber.”
Gants grunted and shook his head but remained silent.
“It’ll come,” Spalding muttered under his breath, “if for no other reason than there’s no other shed on this level with the tools it needs to make good an escape.”
Hearing this, Gants was unable to hold back another comment. “There’s lots of maintenance closets on this level, Sir, but even if none of the others have exactly what is needed to build a portable manipulator so it can activate the lift system, how would it know to come here?”
“Oh, it knows lad,” Spalding said a wild look entering his eyes. “You underestimate the A.U. at your own peril; just do as I say or make sure to stand as far away from me as possible!”
When Gants looked at him strangely, clearly not getting the A.U. reference Spalding growled, “The A.U. — or Automated Underground — and a blooming cart that claims allegiance to the very organization and runs away playing its anthem. Any of this ring a bell?”
Gants rolled his eyes. “Next you’ll be telling me we need to be on the lookout for Captain Moonlight and the infamous Quality Control.”
“Why would we need to watch out for them?” Spalding grumbled irritably. “We’re already doing the job.”
“They’re legends — myths, Sir,” Gants said sincerely.
“Just like grav-carts that suddenly decide to go rogue?” Spalding began in a rising tone, one that was instantly cut off when the sound of a misfiring repulsor came down the hall, alternating on and off sporadically. It seemed while the cart may have been playing up its decrepit condition, there was at least a kernel of truth to its defective motive system.
“Quiet,” he hissed at the younger man, disregarding the fact that he had been the one doing most of the talking up to this point, “we don’t want to scare the blasted thing off.”
The cart slowly nosed its day down the corridor, stopping several times before each time continuing further down the hall — closer to the two waiting System Defense Personnel and the maintenance shed they were guarding.
The sensor placed about knee level in the entrance to the maintenance shed activated and the door slid open. After another three seconds of waiting, the grav-cart started to slowly roll forward.
“Now!” hollered the old Engineer, throwing off his overly hot thermal blanket and pushing the large barrel in front of him on its side before kicking it away.
For his part, Gants just dropped the blanket he had been hiding under to disguise any stray heat emissions and stepped around from behind his barrel.
The cart spun around in place, until its front end was no longer pointed into the maintenance shed but instead back the way it had come — the very part of the corridor Gants had stepped into.
On its other side, the corridor was partially occluded by a knocked over barrel and an ancient engineering officer.
The cart seemed to hesitate in indecision, turning a complete three-hundred-sixty degree turnaround before jerking one way and then the other so it could keep its primary sensors focused on both of them sequentially. But the sight and sound of a plasma torch being activated caused it to reach an abrupt decision.
No longer hesitating, the cart zipped right directly at the young crewman’s position.
“Surrender or perish!” screamed Spalding, jumping after the cart and swinging his torch from side to side in a threatening manner.
In the face of this latest threat, a wild-eyed Space Officer with hair flaring wildly out to either side of his head where he wasn’t balding and a sparking plasma torch in hand, the cart suddenly came to a screeching halt. However, even the angry old engineer was taken by surprise when the grav-cart suddenly reversed course.
“Watch out, Sir,” yelped Gants as the cart sped forward.
“Argh!” hollered the Engineering Officer bringing his torch down like it was an axe. There was a brief flare as super-charged plasma met the duralloy frame of the cart as sparks flew, and the Cart’s emergency safety bumpers deployed with a resounding pop right as the cart slammed into the old officer at knee level.
“Oof,” Spalding gasped as he fell over the front of the cart. With an angry whipping motion the cart sped up and, still going forward full speed, turned from side to side. First one way then the other, gravity soon exerted itself and the old engineer rolled over the edge of the cart. There was a tearing sound, and his ignominious fall was brought short as his uniform jacket caught on a frayed piece of metal and dug in tight.
With a push, Spalding tried to free himself but jacket and cart were now wedged together in an unholy fusion of fiber and metal — one entirely too sturdy for his old arms to break loose.
“Let me go, you traitorous contraption,” he barked, reaching around with the hand still holding his plasma torch to try and free himself while the other hand was used to keep that part of his body — namely his face — from hitting the floor. Hind quarters in the air, face down to the floor and his dignity in shambles, it was all the old engineer could do to protect his skin from the metal grating of the floor.
The cart made an angry series of beeps followed by a grunt.
“I’m not scared of your Underground,” Spalding retorted furiously, pausing in his attempt to win freedom and awkwardly shake his torch at the thing.
The cart followed this up with an angry whistle.
“Oh, you!” yelled the Engineer turning red in the face, bringing his still active torn down he turned it on the well armored side of the cart and more sparks flew. A few of them even landing on the old engineer’s face, but he was past caring at this latest insult.
“Ha! Take that, you poorly designed excuse for a shopping conveyance,” he said furiously.
The cart shrieked angrily and suddenly swerved toward the wall.
The old engineer, seeing the rapidly approaching wall out of the corner of his eye, gave a shriek of his own and abandoned trying to drill through the side of the cart and tried to push off the floor and back onto the cart’s flat surface instead.
He was unable to get enough purchase and fell back down, his left arm dragging along the floor for a moment. Then the wall was upon them, and as it neared he used both arm and leg for purchase against the rapidly approaching duralloy wall. The auto safety features built into its programming started to kick in and slowed the cart to a crawl as it neared the wall, which was the only thing that allowed the precariously positioned engineer the opportunity to get a hand and a foot into good position, because no sooner had it slowed down than the cart managed to disengage the security features and abruptly swerved straight toward the wall.
With the wall for leverage this time, he was able to drag himself up to level with the top edge of the cart just before its metal side slammed into the side of the corridor.
The aged engineer wiggled back and forth trying to fall all the way back into the bed of the cart, but a stack of boxed environmental filters stopped him. Flopping around like some kind of one-sided fish, all he managed to do was wedge himself into the small crack between the boxes and side of the cart.
He could lean forward and fall off the cart or he could stay where he was, but with the angry grav-cart still slamming up against the wall there was no way he was going over the edge to be crushed under anti-gravity repulsors or squished against metal wall. In short, the old engineer was trapped on his side. Unable to get up because of his jacket — normally used to keep him warm, but now a restraint holding him in place, probably caught in one of the stays on the side of the cart.
“Watch out, Lieutenant,” Gants called from back down the corridor as the cart seemed to float an additional six inches off the floor before landing with a crash, deliberately cutting off power to its repulsors in an attempt to buck the old man off.
“First it tried to crush me, and now it’s taken me prisoner,” the old Engineer called, furiously jerking and wiggling on the side of the cart.
The cart suddenly started rocking forward and back in an abrupt seesaw motion.
“It’s more like a bucking bronco than a mechanical, load-lifting vehicle,” Spalding shouted in outrage.
“I’ll rescue you, Sir!” Gants called out, and there was the sound of running feet.
Realizing its peril at the return of the other man, the cart suddenly sped up again, choosing to level off its repulsors and shoot down the hall at speed rather than continue to try ejecting the elderly engineer.
“Ah ha!” barked Spalding, crossing his arm over his body and once again blasting the side of the cart with his plasma torch. Sparks and hot metal once again started shooting off the side of the cart the elderly engineer screamed, “Take that, slacker!”
There was the sound of a grunt and the hind end of the cart rocked towards the floor before the stabilizers once again leveled the cart out. There was no indication the cart had once again returned to its engineer tossing ways, and the ornery old officer released a pent-up breath he had been unaware he was holding.
Out of the corner of his field of vision he saw a filter box fall over and topple off the side of the cart. This first box was soon followed by another pair, and then a hand reached up and a red-face Gants pulled himself all the way onto the cart, collapsing on the stack of filter boxes with a sigh.
“No laying about now, lad,” snapped Spalding, “help get me loose!”
“Just a second, Sir,” Gants panted, pushing up from his temporary resting spot and crawling over the top of filters toward the front of the cart.
“Don’t get yourself thrown off!” Spalding said with concern.
“No worries, I’m almost—” suddenly the grav-cart went into a frenzy of activity as it realized the second human had crawled onto it.
Boxes scattered and a boot struck the old engineer in the arm, jostling his plasma torch out of his hand.
“Watch what you’re—” gasped Terrence Spalding, gazing back with dismay at his rapidly retreating plasma torch. “Look what you just made me do!” he cried, genuine anger entering his voice as the torch got further and further away.
Then just as suddenly as it started doing its best imitation of an angry bovine, the grav-cart shut down, landing with and teeth rattling thump on the deck.
“What’s this squirrely cart up to now?” Spalding demanded.
Several thumps sounded as Gants jumped free from the cart, and then his beaming face appeared around the edge of the cart. “I shut it down, Sir,” Gants beamed.
“How the blazes did you do that? The manual cut-off switch is located behind the same metal screen that covers the computing core,” Spalding growled in disbelief, “more likely it’s just biding its time until…”
“I didn’t use the manual cut off, Lieutenant,” Gants said, proudly lifting up a data slate.
“You mean your slate stayed hook to the cart after being dragged around for a half hour?” Spalding said in disbelief.
Gants face fell slightly. “No, that one’s still lost, Sir,” he said with a frown, then his countenance brightened considerably, “That’s why I used my backup slate!” he explained, brandishing a slightly smaller version of his previous unit. “The slate was gone but the cords were still hooked in. I just hooked in my backup and uploaded an older version of Motzart’s Ghost into its buffer system, and wham!” he said, slamming a fist into one of the boxes to emphasis his point. “That program’s buggier than all get out. As soon as you try to delete it, total system’s crash; my parents’ home entertainment system entered an automatic reboot when I tried to play it the last time I was off on shore leave, I figured this cart would have the same trouble.”
“You dirty piker,” Spalding said disbelievingly, “you were holding out on me.”
Gants suddenly looked guilty, but then what the younger man had said penetrated his old brain.
“Quick,” he snapped, extending an arm, “get me free of this treasonous contraption and then run back for my torch. There’s not a moment to lose! We’ll have to cut our way into its CPU and engage the manual cutoff switch!”
The Deposed King
Emil - September 29, 2013 12:42 pm
Thank you for taking your time to release these small sidestories.
And having your brother edit theim, ofcourse. [Did he an option?;) ]
N.1 Euro Fan
The Deposed King - September 29, 2013 8:27 pm
No problem. I thought it was a pretty fun short-story/novellete. As for a choice of course he had a choice!
The Deposed King
Alves - October 9, 2013 10:38 pm