Ninety Degrees of Arc
If I were the king of the world
Tell you what I'd do
I'd throw away the cars and the bars and the war
Make sweet love to you
THE SHIP’S interior was filled with song. Random Chance emerged from the shower singing:
Joy to the world
All the boys and girls
Joy to the fishes in the deep blue sea
Joy to you and me
A great song to wake up to! A true classic, fifteen hundred Earth-years old.
He trotted up the ladder-stairs to the bridge, a bath towel wrapped loosely around his waist, one with a huge peace symbol on it in red and black and surrounded with bright yellow sunflowers.
You know I love the ladies
Love to have my fun
I'm a high-life flyer and a rainbow rider
A straight-shootin' son of a gun
I said a straight-shootin' son of a gun
The bridge was a well-shielded transparent bubble forty feet in diameter that extended from the main body of the vehicle, and could be retracted for landings and emergencies. A walkway led from the stairs to its circumference. The captain's chair, propulsion, and nav/grav controls were there; below the walkway were waste disposal and atmo control systems, redundancy systems, recycling systems, and emergency power and life support overrides.
The Pompatus of Love was a recreational vehicle, a “Benito,” known by most as a “sea turtle" for its remarkable similarity to one. Benito was a defunct spaceship company, one that had been taken over by the Oligarchy when the Resistance began seven Earth-years ago. Only a handful of singleships of similar make and model had been manufactured.
Random plopped down in the captain's chair, noticing the blinking red light on the console. He quit singing.
"Hewey, cut the music."
The music cut off instantly. He called up the data that had sent up the alarm. "Can you give me a picture?"
"Tryin', man," came the frustrated voice of the ship’s computer. A moment of silence followed. "It's Oligarchy, that's for damn sure. I can't seem to get a fix on 'em. All that military-grade shielding. What I know for sure is that they've picked up our scent."
Random worked at focusing the 'scopes. Water from his hair dripped into his lap. "Why didn't you tell me?"
"Easy, Ran. They popped up just as you stepped out of the shower. I was about to blow the horn when you wrapped up in the towel. I knew you were hoofin' it here."
He gazed up. The great orange-red globe of Mars filled most of the view, casting an angry glow on everything. He looked over the data on the center screen.
He was known to the Oligarchy. Being the son of arguably its most famous traitor did that. Too, he’d had a few run-ins for what passed for their version of the law.
"Six hours to landing. Best guess, Hewson: Will they overtake us by then?"
"Crunchin' the numbers," responded the computer. "It ain't lookin' good, amigo. Best case gives us three and a half hours before the piggies overtake us."
"Something closer to two."
He cursed under his breath. "Good times, bad times, you know I had my share …"
"What's the word, El Honchorito?"
He shook his head, sighed, and sat back. "No decision to make. Shift course away from Mars—but gentle-like, so that they don't think we're makin' a run for it. Cut deceleration and retract the bridge just in case their eggs Florentine were spoiled and they aren't in the mood to talk nice."
He stood, took his towel from around his waist and wiped down the chair, then re-wound it about his hips.
"Where you off to, amigo?"
"The kitchen. I'm starving."
Even up close the UOT Adelson was hard to see. Perhaps a hundred meters away, its great bulk was obscured by its shielding, which distorted the space around it and made his eyes water.
"Piggies at the doorstep," reported Hewey. "Damn strange they haven't hailed us, doncha think?"
"They want us to run," said Random. "I know the trick. Dad warned me about it. They're lookin' for an excuse to blow us out of the sky. They want to scare us into making a rash decision. I'm guessing that the Martians have got their eyes on the action up here—and not all those peepers are Garkies. They're loathe to ruin their PR."
"What, that they're scum-sucking bastards?"
"Something like that, yeah."
"What're your orders?"
He shrugged, nodded. "Hail 'em. Send the standard info—license, proof of insurance, and registration. But make the comm beam wide, and turn it all the way up."
"How wide you talkin'?"
"Oh, ninety degrees should cover it."
It's not that the Oligarchs didn't have a sense of humor. Well, at least they'd once heard of something called humor, because it took over forty separate hails before they answered—hails that, turned up all the way and broadcast to half the universe, would be heard by every 'scope this side of the Oort Colonies and, from this distance, bounce nicely off the big warship, making it very visible.
For obvious reasons, then, it was illegal, not least because it tended to muck up the works for passing ships.
Which was precisely what Random wanted.
Hewson was still laughing.
"I gotta tell ya, Captain,” he said between chuckles, “you've got kahonies. I just hope they don’t turn The Pompatus into so much scrap after this is over and lock you up on Phobos …"
Random had eaten breakfast (scrambled eggs and sausage) and gone back to his bedroom. He lay on his bed reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X, a banned book in Garky space. Random's father, before he had been incinerated for treason, had, without Random's knowledge, uploaded his entire library to The Pompatus of Love before the Garky courts had it deleted, including Malcolm X. Random looked away from the ghost screen, which floated just above his head.
"Well, it's about time …" said Hewey.
Random looked away from the screen. "They finally decide to answer?"
Hewey didn't respond, but played the incoming message:
"Civilian recreational vehicle, you will dock in bay five. Prepare to be boarded."
The female voice was cold and unemotional.
"Can you handle it?" asked Random.
"Already on it," said Hewey. "You should probably get dressed. We'll be expectin' company within fifteen minutes."
Random touched the ghost screen, which flickered out of existence, and sat up. "What's the word on the local fuzz?"
"Three out from Phobos, headin' straight this way. Ground has ordered us to land at Olympus Southeast I-mmediately."
"Good, good," said Random, pulling on a black Whitesnake T-shirt and button-up denims.
"Like starvin' pigs to the trough," chuckled Hewey. "Funny how piggies never learn."
At least they didn't cuff him.
He wasn't sure that was a good sign.
Three armed guards led him from The Pompatus' airlock. Random greeted them with index finger and middle finger extended and splayed. "Peace, baby. Take me to your leader."
He could hear Hewey chuckle in his ear.
He was marched down austere and sterilized halls. A soothing color, taupe, he thought. Or so he had heard. To him it looked like last night's hangover.
Soldiers (sailors? He wasn't sure what to call them) uniformed in black and olive green passed without noticing him. Good ol' Garkies. Random greeted some of them as they came within earshot.
"Peace, man." "Make love not war." "Women. Can't live with 'em, can't cut 'em in half with your little ray gun." "Flyin' straight ain't no way to live, son …" "It's time to show your cards, buzz-cut."
The escorting soldiers did nothing to shut him up.
Hewey laughed the entire time—except for the comment on women, to which he said: "Random, c'mon now, man. This is serious. You gotta have your 'A' game goin'."
Another hall, this one much longer and wider than the others. Random wondered why he wasn't simply whisked to his destination on a lift.
At the end was open space. Mars glowered in the window.
This had to be the bridge.
He had never been admitted to a warship's bridge before, not even when his father was alive. It was a very large room, with soldiers or sailors or whatever you call them sitting in a wide circle around him, manning God-knows-what computer stations to God-knows-what ends.
At the other side of a catwalk stood a man inside a raised horseshoe-shaped control panel. They crossed the walk, approached him.
The guard directly behind him spoke up. "The detainee, sir." He pushed him in the back with the point of his gun.
The captain turned around. He was a medium-sized middle-aged man with a severe crewcut and grizzled countenance. His mouth looked as though it hadn't smiled since he was a boy, if ever. He regarded him as one would a rotten piece of meat, blue eyes squinting.
Random, for his part, couldn't hide his surprise.
"Uncle Bartlett," he said, blinking. "Well, rock me like a hurricane …"