Journey to a Dead Star

Chapter 2

Astro guided his pals toward a jet taxi stand beside the entrance to the hotel lobby and beckoned the hotel valet to attend to the crew.

“Yes sir, may I be of assistance?”, asked the valet.

Astro, in his most gracious form, informed the formally attired attendant of their needs. In a mock approximation of an ancient Earth aristocratic dialect, Astro expounded, “My good man, you see before you three fellows who are in great need of the finest transportation to the Solar System Championship game. We require a jet taxi with plenty of room, clean and in good repair. Several extra credits in gratuity shall be yours if you can fulfill our wishes.”

Tom, almost blushing from his association with the giant become bad actor, leaned up to Astro’s ear and whispered, “You had to get that accent from watching an old vid spool. I’ll bet you’ve seen ‘Dan and Sam’ episodes too!”.

Astro, seemingly annoyed at Tom’s suggestion, wrinkled his brow and reassumed his haughty pose, awaiting the valet’s response.

The attendant, an older man with wizened features, had dealt with all manner of humanity and some non humans for many years. From the arrogant to the intimidated, from the saintly sober to the dastardly and drunken, he had learned how to respond in a manner that was effective and, at times, entertaining. A good tip was always worth a little extra effort. After deciding to join in the game, the uniformed man touched the thumb and index finger at the brim of his white and gold shako in an ancient salute and without hesitation donned an almost perfect manner and voice of an ancient Earth coach footman with a Cockney English accent. “Right you are gov’ner. I’ll ‘ave you one spiffy coach before you can down your spats!”, came the reply. The man looked directly at Tom and gave a knowing wink.

A slightly embarrassed Astro reached into his trousers to get some credits for the tip when Roger put his hand over the Venusian’s pocket blocking the giant from gaining access.

“Oh no, you vacuum headed lug! This ride is on me! And that includes the tip!”, chimed the shorter blond. “If you keep putting on airs, we’ll be here all day.”

Roger Manning Roger reached into his pocket and suddenly got a painful look on his face. He immediately started patting himself down and came to the realization that he had left his wallet in the hotel room. “By the rings of Saturn!”, he exclaimed, “I left all my papers in my uniform tunic when I changed into my civics. I’ll have to go back after them..”

Tom was almost in hysterics. When he recomposed himself, he proclaimed, “If you guys mess up one more time, we’ll never make it to the game!”. Turning to the attendant Tom explained, “I’m sorry, it seems that were were a bit hasty. Please bear with us until my pals put their rockets in a row.”

The valet, as amused as Tom, recognized the problem and told Tom to just give him a whistle when they were ready.

Roger, taking long strides, bolted toward the hotel lobby door and almost as soon as he stepped on the door actuator, did a one hundred and eighty degree turn without missing a step. Astro, in the mocking voice of a drill instructor, yelled at Roger as he approached the pair, “Eeoow, that was the worst wheel turn I’ve ever seen cadet! You need to pound the grounds around the quad with the other green earthworms! Did you forget something ELSE?

Roger’s eyes squinted into a glare that looked like a Neptunian aero manta in attack posture. He grabbed Tom around the shoulders, turned him away from Astro’s direct view and whispered into Tom’s ear. Astro could only see Tom nod and hand something to the young blond. Again, Roger blasted off toward the hotel lobby. Roger, believing he was in the clear, relaxed too much and the object that Tom had given him fell to the walkway. It was Tom’s electronic hotel room key.

Astro, had to take advantage of the opening. “Manning, you just had to be the scanner deck crewman of this unit. You need all of those radar antennae just to keep track of your own position! Try not to forget anything else!”

Tom and Astro settled into talking about the game as they waited for Roger’s return. They were both in high spirits as they anticipated getting to the park. After ten minutes, the huge Venusian began getting antsy. “Well, Tom, I suppose Manning took a wrong turn and is drifting in the far wide and high! Let’s go find him!”

Tom agreed that it shouldn’t have taken Roger that long to recover his wallet and the two cadets went back to the hotel in search of their friend. As they approached the room, Tom noticed something that wasn’t quite the way it should be and he held his right hand up to stop Astro’s advance. Putting his finger to his lips to indicate the required silence, Tom and Astro eased along the wall to their hotel room and peered into the room though the open door. The room was a shambles. All of the bed linens and clothing were strewn about the room. There were open drawers, wardrobes and cabinets emptied of all contents.

“Roger?”, asked Tom tentatively. “Are you here?” No answer. The cadets carefully entered the room and scanned every detail with their eyes.

“He’s not in here.”, said Astro, as he exited the hallway to the great room. “You look in the bathroom, I’ll check out the veranda.”

Tom nodded nervously and inched to the bathroom even as Astro slid open the veranda door. A second later Tom shouted at the top of his lungs, “Astro! Call the hotel security and ask for medical assistance!”

In a reflex action, Astro’s huge hand engulfed the nearest communicator and pushed the emergency code into the instrument. Not giving the officer a chance to properly answer, Astro bellowed, “Quick, send a medical team to room 5021. NOW!”

The big man tossed the communicator aside and ran to the bathroom where he found Tom cradling Roger’s head in his arms. The radar deck cadet’s yellow tunic was soaked in shades of crimson. All Tom could do was look up at Astro and say, “I don’t know! I just don’t know!”.

Tears welled up in the big man’s eyes and he turned away so the his unit mate wouldn’t witness his vulnerability to emotion. He ran back to the foyer, on the way grabbing a loose cloth with which to dry his eyes. As he approached the foyer, a medic burst in and asked, “What is the problem?”.

Astro pointed him in the direction of the bathroom and said, “In there, a man... badly injured.”. As the medic started for the room, two more emergency technicians entered with a full array of instruments. Astro followed the three men into the bath. The team leader assessed the situation and decided on his course of action. Roger’s limp body was half in and half out of the shower with his torso lying lower than his legs.. Tom had slid his leg under Roger’s back in order to raise the head to keep gravity from aiding in the loss of blood.

“Come on son.”, the team leader said softly. “We’ll take over from here.”

As Tom slowly slid his leg out from under Roger’s lifeless form, a technician replaced it with an inflatable plastic sleeve that kept the injured cadet’s body as still as possible. Fully released from the tangle of medical equipment, clothing and shower supplies, Tom stood up and watched the medics do their job. They were obviously very professional, which made both Tom and Astro feel somewhat assured. The team leader, now relieved by another technician, took the boys out of the room and told them that Roger was in a life threatening situation. “Does this room have a veranda?”, asked the medic.

“Yes!”, volunteered Astro. “Out through this door!”, he said while pointing.

The veteran medic exited through the door and sized up the situation and location of any obstacles. Pulling a miniature microphone boom down from his helmet, the yellow and orange uniformed man began giving instructions. “Atom Med Central, this is Medic four. Requesting a hover ambulance to veranda on fiftieth floor of Hotel Royal Planet. We have a two meter traverse, no vertical obstruction. Egress will be marked. Patient will be transported to cranial trauma unit. Code Blue.” Then breaking from his professional intonation, he whispered into the transmitter “For God’s sake, blast all of your jets to get here!”

Tom and Astro both heard the admonition and the medic realized that they were very concerned. He opened a small pouch on his utility belt and unfolded a tiny square of material into an enormous banner that was all white except for a large red cross in the center. Using his considerable experience he thought that trying to involve the boys in what he was doing would help take their minds off of the scene inside. “Here, big guy, hold this end and take it over to the other end of the veranda.” He handed the other end of the cloth to Tom and pointed him to the end nearest to the door. “Now hold it across the railing and pull tight.” As the boys did as instructed, the medic opened another compartment on his belt and pulled out some clear adhesive tape and applied it to the rail and cloth near Tom’s hand. Seeing that it was secure, he looked at Tom and said, “The name is Brian Jenkins, Lieutenant Brian Jenkins. I’ve been doing this for a long time.”. Then moving down to the end of the cloth that Astro was holding, he continued, “We’re going to get him out of here with as little movement as possible. This banner will tell the ambulance where to come. It won’t be long.”, he said as he taped the cloth down on Astro’s end. Satisfied, he turned away from the veranda and said, “While we are waiting, let’s clear a path for the gurney.”

Astro immediately picked up the heavy sofa and tossed it aside as if it were a feather. Within a minute the room was devoid of anything that could impede Roger’s journey. The technicians slowly and carefully brought Cadet Manning’s still body, now fully encased in a plastic bubble, out of the bathroom. Roger’s head was held rigid and a band of metal and plastic stretched from temple to temple across his red stained head. Another electronic instrument was attached to the junction of the neck and skull.

Tom became worried at the sight of the electronics and asked, “Lieutenant, what are the gadgets for?”

Lieutenant Jenkins, looking grim, said, “Those are cerebral stimulators. They keep the brain active when it can’t do it by itself.”

“You mean, he’s brain dead?”, choked Astro.

“I’m afraid that he’s suffered a great deal of neural trauma. His skull is broken in several places and there is a shard of bone pressing against the medulla. The brain functions are very weak and the sooner we can get him to good facilities, the better it will be for him.”, said the medic. Seeing the downcast look on the cadet’s faces, he added, “Of course, you know Atom City has THE BEST facilities in the Solar System!”

In another minute, the ambulance was hovering just outside of the room and a ramp was extended to the railing. The gurney was hoisted to the ramp and attached to a retrieval cable. A set of protective rails extended on either side of the ramp and the gurney was withdrawn into the ambulance. One of the attending medics slapped Brian on the back and said, “I’ll go with him Lieutenant, I’ve got a running log of the vitals.”

“Good work Stan, I’ll pick you up later. Now blast off!”, was the chief medic’s reply.

The medic disappeared into the ambulance and the ramp was withdrawn.

Before the door was closed, the hovering craft’s jets roared and the ambulance banked away from the building in a blaze of hundreds of multi colored strobe lights and jet exhaust.

The room was suddenly quiet. Lieutenant Jenkins closed the door to the veranda and propped himself on the arm of a large chair. “Boys, you are going to have to wait around for a while until the Solar Guard has a chance to begin it’s investigation. While we’re waiting, there are a few questions that I have to ask you. First your names.”

Astro, starting to shake as the shock of the situation was overtaking him, replied, “Cadets Astro and Tom Corbett of the Space Academy, Polaris unit.”

“Cadets, huh?”, stated the medic. “I’m sure that the Solar Guard will give this case special priority. Tell me, Cadet Astro, who is the victim?”

No longer able to control himself, Astro brought his hands up to his face and began sobbing. Tom put his arm around his shoulder in an attempt to comfort him.

“I’m sorry cadet, but I have to ask these questions. Can you please tell me who the victim is?”

Astro, voice shaking through a staccato of involuntary chest heaves, dropped his hands from his face exposing rivulets of tears, looked up at the thin lipped medic and forced out the only description that his heart would allow, “MY FRIEND!”
End Chapter 2 -

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Copyright 1998 by Jack McKirgan II
Image copyright by Geo. W. Proctor 6/27/98