Chapter 61

Bob awoke with a jolt. That would normally not be the cause of the level of concern that Bob had, but in this case, the jolt definitely came from somewhere outside. It was also decidedly not the normal way that a hospital room would tend to jolt. It was also significantly darker than a hospital room, and Bob acutely guessed that unless he really needed to re-examine his health plan hospitals also didn't tend to use restraining fields.

Bob didn't panic. It would have been counter productive. Instead he tried to determine where he was and what, exactly, was going on. There was a definite mechanical rhythm to his surroundings, a cycling bob that indicated the vehicle he was in either was a walker or had the worst balance job ever. Fortunately, the restraining field took the worst of the jarring hits.

A small part of him that remembered his insurance plan stated that restraining fields were not part of the standard program. Cybernetic implants, yes, but immobilization and sensory deprivation was ruled out since that one incident in the 80's.

He had no idea how long he had been in there. What's worse was that he had no idea where he was going. The rocking rhythm and his own exhaustion kept causing him to catch himself waking up again. He heard no more than a murmur from the outside world. At times, he thought he heard water, other times, there were odd voices. Eventually things settled to a stop.

Bob waited. He tensed his muscles, not certain what to expect.

He heard the something release and the door began to open.

Margie stood growling at Chris. If she had fur, it would have been standing on end. As it was, the hair on the back of Chris' neck was doing a very nice job filling in for it.

Chris stood ready. He had no idea why Bob's robot was here or why she hadn't decided to kibble him to bits.

"What's the matter girl?"

Roger stood next to Chris looking up at the metal mongrel, He had a look of concern on his face. Margie continued to growl.

"Who?" Roger asked, his voice reflecting his concern.

Chris never took his eyes off Margie to answer, "It's Bob's. I think it's name is Margie, it's dangerous..."

Roger waved a hand to silence Chris and continued to look at Margie. He walked closer.
"I'm sorry, but we really don't know. We all went to the hospital together, and that was the last time we saw him. He asked that we didn't all go in together so I didn't think to ask about him. He looked ok, I thought that he might have gone home" Roger explained in an honest tone, he held out his hand for Margie to tentatively sniff. She stopped growling.

"No, of course not. I know we're not best friends, but that was just a misunderstanding. Maybe we can help you if you want us to. Would you like that?"

"Help it?" Chris said, not certain what he had just signed up for.

Roger glanced over his shoulder at Chris, he wasn't smiling. "Not 'it', her. She's worried sick because Bob is gone."


Roger continued to watch Margie. He spoke as if he was passing along information to someone who should have been paying attention. "He's been missing from their house for a week. His wife is really concerned and Margie is a wreck trying to find out anything she can."

Chris paused, taking in the information, yet still not certain what to do with it. "And this effects us how? Bob is the bad guy, remember?"

Chris blinked, and JB stood where Roger had been. "Ok", Chris said, "That's freaky."

JB ignored the comment. "Chris, Bob isn't really who you think he is. Sure, he's done some stuff, but there are a lot of reasons. A lot that will take far too long to explain."

"And how the heck do you know that."

"Because I spent some time in his head."

Chris stared at his brother.

"JB? Is there some psychic Craig's List that I'm not aware of? I mean, you seem to be getting some pretty good rates for cranium camping..."

"Chris, I'm serious. Bob really wanted to get us all back together. What happened back at the warehouse was... I'm not sure who that was, but it wasn't Bob."

"Wasn't Bob? Are you telling me that someone.. something else was in Bob's driver's seat when he, they, whoever tried to destroy you and blow the warehouse to Pluto? Literally and figuratively?"

JB crossed his arms and looked at his brother. "Ah, good point," he said sarcastically, "never heard of that happening before."

Chris was appropriately chided. "So who was it?"

Another blink and this time Myron stared Chris down. "M." he paused, then shouted out to the alley, "Yeah, Ok, I'm back." He waved his hands in a far from joyous manner and did a little dance. "Whee... yay, big party." His face darkened back to normal. "Idiots."

JB was back.

"You know, if you're going to keep doing that, we're going to have to get you stretch to fit clothes." Chris remarked.

"Stop stealing my lines." JB grumbled.

"So, you want us to try and find Bob? The guy who tried to run us over with cats, shot us into space, and is sworn to make our lives a living hell. The guy that I agreed to stick around long enough to make sure that he's no longer a problem. Heck, this might be a chance for us to pack up and go home."

There is an art to non-verbal communication. Entire volumes of conversation can be conveyed without a single word. With nothing more than a slight furrow of a brow, Chris knew that JB disagreed with the statement and that he felt more "at home" here in Boise than he had ever felt anywhere else. A slight curl of his left lip indicated that Chris had obviously not thought about the fact that Bob was missing, not dead or incarcerated, and that made him more dangerous because he was now an unknown who could strike from anywhere. A steely glint reminded Chris that he is still a hero, and therefore it's his duty to help rescue innocent people who've need assistance. Roger had told him that Bob's dog had asked for help. Roger could read the minds of animals, and that meant that Chris had to believe that the statement was valid. Chris was screwed, he could feel the dread slowly creep up on him like an angst-ridden ax murderer.

To the rest of the world, JB simply stared at his brother.

Chris had more than enough conversation for the both of them and grew increasingly miserable with each passing second.

"All right, ALL RIGHT!" Chris half grumbled, but mostly pouted. JB was right, or at least would have been had he actually said anything. If nothing else, Bob was a known, and he was the dominant nasty. If he's gone, who knows who would show up to fill the power vacuum. Worst of all, it could be someone deciding to preemptively create a fillable power vacuum.

Chris stared angrily at his brother. "Fine. We'll go try to figure out what happened to Bob." He paused, and a disturbing smile crossed his face. "But you're telling the folks."

The color drained out of JB's face.

"Oh, you're mad, aren't you?" the creature said. His shoulders slumped in a disappointed manner.

For more times than he ever had in his life, Bob again found it impossible to flip the creature upside down and pound his head into the metal flooring using only the powers of his mind. Granted, he had never managed to do that before, but Bob was increasingly determined.

"I'm stuck at the bottom of the ocean with an unknown being cut off from civilization. I can't call anyone to let them know that I'm OK, and have been told that if I can't do something that is impossible for me to do, I'll be responsible for the deaths of billions of innocents on at least two worlds, one of which I have great personal attachment to. I've been stuck here for who knows how long, living off of who knows what, unable to move and my nose itches like you wouldn't believe. Yes, yes, I do believe that 'mad' may just cover how I'm feeling."

The creature looked at Bob in shock. "You tried to stuff my head into the photo-oven!"

Bob was still frozen in a rather angry position. One that had proved to be very uncomfortable, particularly since he could only move his eyes and his mouth.

He had no idea how the restraining field works, but it was quite apparent that they were very cheap to run.

"Look," Bob said calmly, "you have to admit that this isn't exactly the best manner for us to work out these problems. And you have to agree that even if I were able to make another faster than light engine, it's impossible for me to do it while frozen like this. I promise that I won't do anything rash and that I won't hurt you." Bob said with a smile. "Scout's honor."

The creature muddled over his thoughts for an agonizing period of time. Bob continued to smile warmly, hoping that the sincerity he was showing made up for the complete lack of it he felt.

The creature pulled a control out of his pocket again. Bob recognized it. Without comment the creature pressed the release and Bob dropped to the floor, released from the field. The creature didn't put the control away.

Bob massaged his sore legs and slid over to lean against the far wall. He straightened out his jacket slowly, pulling it free, unbunching it, activating a tracking device and smiled to his host. "Thank you. Uhm..."

"Plaskowitz. My name is Plaskowitz."

Bob presumed that it must have been a very odd translation.

"Yes. Right. Of course. As I mentioned several times earlier, I created the drive in question after being zapped by an alien... uhm... another alien device. One which was destroyed quite sometime ago. Frankly, I don't have the capacity to build a new one from scratch."

Plaskowitz slumped even more than last time. He tossed the control over his shoulder. "Well, go ahead and kill me then. At least I won't have to watch my species be exterminated."

Bob didn't feel much better, even if he did take out his anger on the alien, both of their worlds would most likely be destroyed anyway, and he was reasonably sure that he was not qualified to make it in the galaxy alone, no less try to take it over.

Again, Bob had to think fast. His depression grew as he thought about the outcome of every plan he could rationally conceive, each one generally involving not having an engine followed by not having a good many other things.

When painted into a corner, there are two ways that a proper villain can get himself out of nearly any mess. The first is, of course, kill everyone else in the room.

Bob smiled. "I didn't say that I couldn't fake it though."

The second is keep lying long enough until a better opportunity arises.

Plaskowitz cocked an eyebrow at him.

"But, I'll need your help."

Having a patsy, of course, is critical.

"Did the shoot go well, Christopher?" Mrs. Reid asked.

Chris sluffed off his jacket, "Sure, well, no, depends on your point of view, really." Point being that they spent most of the afternoon and well into the evening following Margie around before dropping her off at Bob's house. Chris had no idea why he was out on yet another Bob inspired wild goose chase, but Roger had managed to quell her down enough that she wouldn't be stopping by again. It would mean daily trips of running around but Bob could be anywhere on the planet.

His dower mood was spoiled by the sounds of an argument coming from downstairs. The voices were familiar. It was JB and Becky Sue. Chris couldn't make out what the argument was about but there was little doubt that it was heated.

A few minutes later JB stormed up the stairs.

"Mom? Dad? I'm afraid that Becky Sue won't be joining us for dinner tonight, or possibly for a while."

"What?" Liz asked in a concerned voice. "Oh, JB. What happened?"

So, Bob would learn, is having an actual plan.

They'd made pretty good progress. Far better than Bob had thought they would. Plaskowitz was good. And Bob was actually impressed by the amount of things that he managed to either remember or make up. He stood carefully examining their handiwork.

The drive looked remarkably similar to the original, with several chrome flourishes added. The various wires and extra bits were carefully fitted instead of dangling off as they were in the original. All the while, Plaskowitz recorded and annotated everything, carefully measuring and drawing diagrams.

Bob could feel the power flowing through the device and hear the sub-audible throb that seemed to send ripples through the fabric of space around them.

It was utterly magnificent.

Bob had no idea how long they had worked on the drive, with no sense of day or night, they simply slept when tired and worked the rest of the time. Bob brushed a hand against his jaw and felt the definite growth. He guessed a week or so.
Avey must have tied herself up in knots by now. He had told her that there may come times when he wouldn't be able to talk to her for a while, and while she had said she'd understand, he knew better. He wished he could have let her know that he was alright, but Plaskowitz had told him that there was no way for him to send a message. Besides, what could he say? 'Hi Honey, I'm on board a spacecraft. All life on Earth and another planet you've never heard of depends on me replicating trying to kill a couple of people, so I think I may be out for a while. Don't stay up.'

Yeah, that would go over well.

"There, that should do it." Plaskowitz said as he removed the last patch cable from the engine. "I tuned the plasma manifold so we get a nice even flow across the trilax relays."

Bob nodded. In the week of constant work, he'd grown fond of the little alien, provided he wasn't talking endlessly about some glorified faucet. "So, honestly Plaskowitz, you think this'll get off the ground?"

"Oh definitely." Plaskowitz said. "Not in one piece, of course, and the shockwave will probably destroy most of the planet, but it'll be airborne." Plaskowitz crumpled to the side of the engine sobbing. "Oh Maker, what are we going to do? We are so fastened!"

Bob laughed in a reassuring manner. "Plaskowitz, we went over this, right? There's no way that your Boss could think that this wouldn't work right?"

Plaskowitz sniffed back some tears, The Shareholder was a ruthless, cunning, savage businessman who could spot the tiniest weakness in any deal or opponent. This left absolutely no question as to his level of technical competency. "If I gave The Shareholder a toaster and told him it was a rocket, he'd believe me."

"See? All we need to do is sell him on the idea that these things actually work. He get's Captain Hook's moolah, and the universe gets one less problem once the less than good captain goes for test drive."

Plaskowitz admitted that the plan would work. It could also go horribly wrong and the world would end. Literally. Followed shortly there after by another one. Plaskowitz didn't want the world to end. He was rather fond of it. Well, most of it. There was a beach where he had gotten beat up a few times that he wouldn't mind missing, but a few well targeted de-orbiting satellites could solve that problem.

It could work, no, it had to work. Plaskowitz convinced himself that not only was this human's plan ingeniously deceptive (particularly since Plaskowitz had never really done any deceiving, but it was on his to-do list), but because it was the only plan that they had that didn't end up in them trying to learn how to live without air.

Plaskowitz closed the engine cover and screwed down the access panel. The human smiled and held out his hand. Plaskowitz licked it firmly in agreement. They were a team, but gum, and they were going to make this work.
Uhm, not work.

Well, not let anyone else know it doesn't work.

I wanted to say that was a brilliant ploy.
What was?

The argument thing you had with Becky Sue.






That.. that was just a ploy, right?

Uhm, sure.



JB? What happened.


Bull. Look, if you're going to be on the team, I need to know what's going on. I don't want you distracted, dangerous and dead. Tell me or you all are grounded.

Chris, I know you're trying to--

You have less than a minute to tell me. No jokes.

Fine. Look, Becky Sue came up with the idea of us having an argument while we were out with Margie. The problem was that we couldn't come up with a believable topic.

Yeah, I can believe that. Although the two of you are good at swapping stories. Why didn't you just fake one?

I thought it would be more convincing. There are lots of little details that Mom would ask about and she'd be able to tell if I was making it up. I figured we needed something more concrete.

Looks like you did manage to come up with something.

Yeah. wonderful.

So, what did you pick?

Whether or not to tell them about the engagement.

"I really wish that it worked." Plaskowitz noted worriedly.

Bob didn't respond. Instead he simply sat quietly staring through the windshield. He presumed it was a windshield, although he knew better than to presume that there was any actual gases outside of his view. Other than the ones currently eveloping Jupiter.

It was rather spectacular and oddly calming. Provided he didn't think about the fact that he was in the exactly worst possible location to enjoy it.

"There now, that's perfect," the dappled green face leered from the comlink. Bob had not been previously introduced to the being called The Stockholder, but at long last could understand the nervous tick that Plaskowitz had whenever the name came up. "Now I know that this must seem awfully rude, but I'm certain that you're just as excited to show off that engine as we are to see it." The face grinned in a patently false sense of cheer.

"It actually was the suggestion of my new bestest friend, Captain K'laul. Well, actually it was his second idea. His first idea was to gut you two where you stood and feast on your innards. Tempting though that may be, I told him, it would mean having a very hard time working out how to use your engine and that just seemed like no fun at all. So he came up with this. Isn't he quite the clever chap?"

Oh, quite clever in deed, Bob reasoned as he continued to wait for the flash of brilliance as the plan came to him. The darkness was really getting depressing.

"That's him right now." The Stockholder pointed off screen. "I told him about the quantum disruptor and he's just started giggling like a little kid. Uh-oh, looks like he's figured out how to turn it on."

Bob looked to the forward point of the ship. A decidedly wrong part was slowly turning toward them, trailing a cloud of blue vapor followed the point.

"How long?"Bob asked.

"About thirty seconds or so. Plus or minus an itchy trigger finger."

They both looked to the monitor of the grinning vision. Bob turned off the audio portion. It was getting old.

"So, we've got around 25 seconds or so to get the drive working, activate it and leave?"

"You mean that drive that we couldn't get working and were hoping that those two would take out for a spin because there was a very good chance it would blow them to smithereens?"

"Yeah." Bob said casually, "That's the one."

"Ah." Plaskowitz said. "So should we try it?"

"The drive?"

"We got anything to lose?"

Bob thought about it. There was something about suicide he just didn't like. "Well, yes."

"Well, I suppose we could always just hope they... go... aw--." Plaskowitz' voice trailed off as he stared out the window toward the Stockholder's ship. Bob didn't really want to look for the same reason that they never put people on their backs when they put them in guillotines.

Still Plaskowitz kept staring. Bob could feel his curiosity itching at him. The monitor was blank. He knew that this was probably not the best idea. The Universe had a sadistic twist to it that he often found less than appealing.

Still, it would be a once in a lifetime opportunity. Bob leaned forward and looked toward the Stockholder's ship for the very last time.

You know, there's a word
for people like this.

Folks who take forever to come up with stuff like this,
then take even longer to resolve it all.

It's not a very nice name.

Ok, fine, fine.

Is this the end of Bob?

Is this the end of JB?

Is the Author just and end-hole.

Tune in next time for:

Eight Balls in Corner Rocket
For Astro Steering

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