June 6, 2020

Free Fiction Friday: Helium Party Part 5

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Here it tis… our weekly healthy serving of free science fiction for you, the discerning public. Be sure to start back on chapter 1, and you can read Helium Party and other tales of original sci-fi by yours truly.

But now, let’s join our intrepid gang The Citizens of Silliness in orbit around Jupiter:

Helium Party


David Dickinson

Chapter 5

“Lanky, Tinker, standby to deploy those catcher pods…”

I watched the console as a beacon lit up ahead. Of course, the outline of the flashing indicator was in the obligatory clown-head shape.

“You’ve got full helium bladders to pick up!” I exclaimed.

“You’re a smart one, there, Toots,” Crunchy replied. “Think we’d go home empty handed?” “We drop ‘em, and we pick em up.”

“I’ve got a full bladder over here,” Lanky joked over the comm. The even tinier Catcher Pods had deployed to our flanks. It would be their job to run the tether into our grappler and give us a margin of error of a few miles on either side.

“Ya shouldn’t have drunk that whole case of Mount Sharp Dew before we left,” Crunchy replied, “Ya can hold it ‘til we get back to the Clubhouse.”

The Laughing Stock was starting to feel the effects of the Jovian exosphere screeching against its hull. I busied myself making quick corrections to bleed off the heat, while Crunchy seemed hypnotized by the looming signal on the screen ahead.

“We’re about 100 kilometers long, Boss,” I heard Tinker’s voice call out with uncharacteristic seriousness.

“I’m bringin’ ‘er down another 2.4 degrees,” Crunchy shot back tersely, with a death grip on the wheel. Scant microseconds now existed between breathing and having our fragile bodies vaporized in the Jovian atmosphere. It would be that quick.

“Tally Ho!” Lanky called out to our port. The image on the gigantic bladder emblazoned with “Property of the Citizens of Silliness” emerged directly ahead.

“Get those scoops ready, Kid” Crunchy called back. We needed to grab the tether and accelerate with all our might. A near miss would mean going home empty-handed; a snare would mean a swift decent and burning up in the Jovian atmosphere.

“You’re still wide by a mile,” Tinker called in. Tinker and Lanky also had excellent vantage points to spot us in for the grab.

“There’s winds aloft,” Crunchy swore under his breath. “I’ll grab her manually,”

“You’re not raising the…” I called out, but it was too late. With a flick of the override switch, Crunchy opened the radiation shield. Though I couldn’t yet feel the effects, I could imagine the high speed particles zipping through my DNA, shredding it in every imaginable way.   “It’s nothing a nanobot bath won’t fix,” Crunchy called out, “Just a sec…”

The towering purple anvil clouds zipped by, each larger than a city. Up ahead, a deep violet gave way to black as the huge drifting helium bladder dwarfed the ship.

“We’re going to miss…” I heard the call as the tether zipped down the starboard side. I felt a swift lurch to the left, and I was sure we went into a spin. I thought of Earth, the Terran Times, and my cat I forgot to feed…

A large cracking noise issued through the hull, followed by a dull thump.

“Punch it!” Crunchy called out as I found myself driving the fusion accelerators with all their might. Cobalt cascades of Cerenkov radiation flashed through my vision almost blinding me, only to cease as the shielding slid back down into place.

“Great job guys,” Crunchy called out as he hit the dispenser to drop new bladders to replace the one we’d snared. “Bring it on home!”

Tinker saw it first.

We didn’t pick up the first sign that someone was pinging us until they passed out of the radar shadow of the tiny moon Amalthea as we were headed outbound.

“We’ve got a fan club inbound, Boss,” I heard Lanky’s voice crackle in over the comm. There’s always so much radio hash in the Jovian system that it’s just darned hard sometimes to pick out individual objects.

“Unidentified ship, this is the Jovian sector Terran patrol. You are in violation of Article 24 Paragraph c of the interplanetary code regarding illegal atmosphere mining…jettison your cargo and park in Jovian orbit and await boarding.”

“Space fuzz,” Crunchy called over to me. I don’t know who teaches outmoded slang to clowns on the take, but it just never seems to end.

“Our momentum can out run ‘em, but they’ll just be waitin’ for us planetside.”

Our radiation shields were shut. I resumed scanning the star fields with the ships’ navigation periscope. There. The orange potato-shaped crescent of Amalthea hung against the background of stars. Suddenly, a new star winked out from behind its shadow, moving quickly across the field of view. I kicked the magnification up a notch, to reveal a familiar shape; a shark-finned ship with a large clown face emblazoned on its hull.

“It’s the Killing Jokers!” I called out over the comm.

“Bastards, I knew the cops couldn’t have been on us so quickly, considering what we paid ‘em,” Crunchy shot back.

“Thanks for all the hard work,” a familiar woman’s voice called in over the comm, as if on cue. “We’ll be happy to take that off of your hands!”

“We’ve got your back,” I heard Tinker call out as they pulled their pods in close to the Laughing Stock. I could see that, while the Killing Jokers were now moving swiftly against the background star field, they were also headed straight at us.

“Give up that sweet He prize and we won’t disable your ship,” I heard Misti Rude’s voice call out again over the comm. line. The girl wasn’t a quitter that was for sure.

“Or perhaps that girl reporter of yours wants to become a permanent resident of the Jovian system?”

“I heard your Mom gives it up…” Tinker replied. It was indeed a sign of desperate times if one of the Citizens was now resorting to tired mom jokes. Crunchy would definitely have words with the offending party afterwards.

She was right, in a way. There wasn’t a rescue option for us; no one would come looking for an illegal helium mining party. Perhaps salvagers would find us eventually, frozen and perfectly preserved on a looping elliptical orbit about the gas giant world…

To be continued…

Read Helium Party and other original tales of science fiction by Dave Dickinson in their entirety.


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