December 10, 2018

Free Fiction Friday-Helium Party: Part 6

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And here’s the long anticipated conclusion to our on-going tale Helium Party. And as always, you know the drill: be sure to start back with Chapter 1, or you can just read Helium Party and other great tales of Sci-fi in their entirety.

On to the conclusion!

Helium Party

by

Dave Dickinson

Chapter 6

“Get ready with those countermeasures, kid…”

I grabbed the trigger and toggled the switch marked “E/O CHAFF”. Several inbound guided flechette rounds were already zipping by our vessels, with the intent of slicing open our thin hulls.

“Now!”

I could hear the calliope music playing over the comm system as the dispensers emptied in rapid succession. If this was Lanky’s bizarre idea of combat music, it seemed to be working. The clouds of metal fiber would temporarily confuse the rounds as they sliced away at empty space.

“They wouldn’t dare pierce the helium,” Crunchy called over to me, “Good shootin’ on the counter-measures, Kid… ya may be worthy of the Order of the Rubber Nose yet!”

I took this as a compliment from Crunchy’s “No-female-clowns-allowed” point of view. But I couldn’t imagine the image of me taking pies in the face — even in zero-g — anytime soon.

A sharp jolt rocked the ship.

“The lines! They’ve cut…” I heard Tinker call out. I looked over to the port-side viewer in time to see the helium bladder drift free, beginning to evolve a trajectory of its own as Jupiter’s newest and most absurd-looking moon. We had just lost our prize, the goal we’d fought so hard for…

“Bring yourselves home, kids; it’s time to blow this party.”

“But we’re not leaving without the helium…” I shouted over at Crunchy, suddenly finding myself surprisingly concerned for its fate.

“Relax, have a little faith in the Citizens of Silliness… they’ll trail that bladder hook, line and deadpan sinker. Besides, what happened to ‘the story comes first?’”

I knew that Crunchy was ribbing me just a bit, but I still found it hard to believe that they would leave the Jovian system empty handed…    was he willing to just walk away from the clowning business he’d built at Tycho U?

Even Lanky was uncharacteristically quiet on the way out; I don’t think that either he or Tinker even knew of Crunchy’s plan.

“Fire thrusters, .6 aft,” Crunchy called out.

“There, straight ahead!”

We were far out enough that we could run with radiation shields down again. The slim crescent bulk of Callisto hung just ahead, its night side dimly illuminated by the gibbous Jupiter that now hung behind us. Firefly specks of ice miner ports dappled the nighttime surface below. I almost felt like I could touch the smooth surface of this outer moon… were there electronic eyes down there, reaching out across the spectrum, watching our approach?

“Deez guys hold stuff for us sometimes…” Crunchy said to no one in particular, “Let’s just say they have no love of Terran rules and protocol… and ice mining doesn’t exactly pay the bills.”

Suddenly, a spark seemed to jump into existence from behind the shadow of the enormous moon. A quick toggle of the visor viewer revealed the all-too-familiar logo stating “Property of the Citizens of Silliness.”

“It’s another helium bladder,” I exclaimed. “But what did we just give up…”

“Just a little in-flight entertainment…” Crunchy flipped a switch, and a view of the Killing Jokers’ ship sprung into view. From the looks of it, the camera was broadcasting from the skin of the captured bladder.

Crunchy kicked back and lit up a cigar. I could tell that he was genuinely enjoying this. “They’ll have to hook up new tow lines, reel it in to cinch it up, then do a brief ion burn to change trajectory…”

The transmitter aboard the balloon began transmitting a stock deadpan laugh. Most of the sets monitoring the traffic in the Jovian systems probably wondered what it was, but I’m sure the Killing Jokers heard it and knew. It was only too bad for them that they couldn’t shut their ion drive down before the bladder imploded, disabling their ship.

“Basic chemistry, kids… what’s the only element lighter than helium?”

“Hydrogen,” Lanky spat out. “But we don’t use that because…”

Smiling, Crunchy nodded his head in agreement. His eye positively sparkled with delight, looking like a child at his first birthday party. He held a small balloon up to his lit cigar and it exploded with a flash.

“…it’s highly combustible!” Tinker called back after a long pause.

“That’s right, Einstein. Tell our friends over aboard the Killing Jokers ship that little basic chemistry newsflash. Maybe they shouldn’t pick up strange things that don’t belong to them. Looks like they’ll be enjoying the Jovian system for a while, or at least til a Solar Salvage team stops by to give ‘em a lift.”

And that was just another day in the line-blurring lives of the Citizens of Silliness. The second helium bladder made it back to the clubhouse, ice cream was served all ‘round, and to this day, I’ll bet that Lanky is still telling bad jokes to anyone that will listen. The Citizens also enjoyed a good run on the birthday party circuit without the competition of the Killing Jokers, although I have it on good authority that Crunchy did finally offer them a new fusion drive via the Clowning Guild at, of course, the price of a prince’s ransom in helium. My story on the Citizens did pretty well as a series of Sunday supplements in the inner world systems. I felt I gave them a pretty authentic spin as the “noble heroes working outside the law to give the masses what they want,” But from what I gathered in a brief call later with Crunchy, he was just glad to knock outlaw actress Dana Destructo out of the trend section, just for a bit. “Ya, did good, Kid,” he called back. “More good press equals more birthday parties, which equals happier kids…hey, anytime ya want to don the rubber nose…”

I laughed off Crunchy’s offer, always telling him that there’s gotta be another dimethyl mercury dump on Mars that needs exposing… until I got a call from my boss.

“Allie, have you seen the latest feeds?” I listened intently for what I knew was coming next. “The Citizens have been indicted for illegally parking manufactured ice cream asteroids in lunar orbit. Word from the Guild is they’ve gone rogue… are your bags packed?”

Long live the silliness…

- The End -

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

 

 

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