BLUE HORIZON 1261
— by Ted R. Blasingame
When Samantha stepped off the lift onto the Horizon's recreation deck the next morning, sunlight was streaming into the room. The polarization of the forward glassteel window was shut off, as were the near-invisible circuits within the panel that would turn it into a large vidscreen when needed. Without the light and temperature shielding, the room was nicely warm. She wore a short, powder blue cotton robe that hung to her knees, its belt tied loosely around her middle, and her fluffy tail wagged gently through the split in the back.
She took the cup of coffee she had picked up from the galley and walked toward one of the two couches secured to the floor in front of the window, intending to relax a bit before heading out on the town. When she approached the couch, she saw a leg stretched out on the floor in front of it. Suddenly afraid that one of her crewmates had collapsed, she stopped short, but Jerad only looked up at her lazily.
The raccoon was stretched out on the floor, soaking up the sun. His discarded shoes were lying nearby and he was dressed in jeans and a casual shirt. He raised a hand to shield his eyes from the bright light and smiled up at her.
"Hi, Sam," he said.
"Good morning, Pockets," the Border collie replied, stepping over him to settle on one end of the couch. "How was your date last night?"
The mechanic closed his eyes and turned over in the sunbeam to warm his other side. "We had a fantastic time," he replied, "but Rochelle had to go back to work this morning, so I came back to the ship about an hour ago."
Samantha smirked. "You spent the night at her place? You frisky little coon," she told him with a grin." Jerad only gave her a satisfied smile and then closed his eyes again. She took a sip of her coffee and relaxed into the cushions. "Why did you come back to the ship?" she asked him. "You still have two more days of shore leave."
Without opening an eye, Jerad answered in a lazy voice. "Probably the same reason you did, Sam. It's cheaper than renting a hotel room in town. I can still go see the sights at my convenience, but come back here to sleep, shower and change clothes."
"However, sometime while we're down, Jasper and I have to replace that bad heater core or we'll be relying on my makeshift repairs for the trip to Crescentis. I'm having trouble finding what I need here, and Jasper didn't have any better luck than I did, so I sincerely doubt they'll have what we need on one of the fishing boats."
Crescentis was a sister planet to Ganis and Pomen within the habitable zone in the Lia-Noa star system. It was a small world of oceans with only islands scattered about as its land masses. Although possessing abundant life in its seas, no sapient life had ever been discovered as having developed there. Over time, individuals from neighboring worlds had set up fishing fleets to harvest the abundant source of seafood to sell and distribute to the other worlds of the Planetary Alignment. Only a loose government had formed to maintain a semblance of order on the planet, primarily to hold a seat of its own in the PA legislature. Small communities had been set up on some of the larger islands, but there were no metropolitan cities.
"What kind of trouble are you having getting the replacement?" Samantha asked.
"There's only one place in town that has it in stock, and it's at a wholesale warehouse. They won't sell to individual buyers like us."
"No one else has one?"
"I located one on the other side of the planet, but it would take a week to get it. We need it installed within two days if we're going to launch on time, and it will take several hours to install it."
"So what are we going to do? I thought Okami parts were supposed to be available everywhere."
Jerad shrugged his reclining shoulders. "I don't know why there's a shortage of heater cores on Kantus," he answered. "I have even tried salvage yards for dead ships without success. I suppose we'll have to keep my thingamajig working until we get to Ganis after Crescentis. Perhaps the part will be more readily available there. At least Ganis is in the same solar system as Crescentis, so that won't be that long of a journey."
Samantha looked at him. "I'm glad you had the spare parts available to rig up something," she said, "but I doubt it will be reliable for long-term use. Our next cargo won't consist of clothing that we can us to keep warm with in case your thingamajig goes out on us."
"That's why I've been trying to find us a part."
The two of them fell silent for a while, both trying to think of alternatives. After a bit, Jerad looked up at her. "With your computer expertise, do you think you could fake a wholesaler's license?" he asked.
"Probably, but we wouldn't have a company account to link it to when they run the transaction."
Jerad let out a sigh and closed his eyes in the warm sunshine again. Neither of them spoke for a long time, but then the canine looked down at her companion.
"Pockets…" she said in a quiet voice, barely above a whisper.
"How good are your… sneaky-sneak skills?"
The raccoon opened just one eye and looked at her. A faint smile curled at the edges of his lips. "As sharp as they've ever been," he whispered in return. "What did you have in mind?"
Although they were alone on the deck, Samantha looked around to make sure no one else had come in unannounced, and then she placed her coffee cup on the floor at the end of the couch. She stretched out on the cushions so that her face was close to his, and gave him a conspiratorial smile.
"If I disarm the security alarms, do you think you can pick the lock on the door of the warehouse that has the part you need?" she asked.
Pockets narrowed his eye at her. "Why, Ms. Chase," he whispered, "are you suggesting that we steal it?"
Samantha swallowed. The daughter of a successful, Planetary Alignment-wide corporate giant had never stolen anything in her life, not even a stick of sweets as a child.
"Uhm… If we don't have that part, we may freeze to death one night if we lose the heat again," she said quietly. "We have the money for it, but if no one will sell it to us, I think we have an… obligation to… appropriate it — for safety's sake, of course!"
Pockets grinned at her. "Of course. Do we tell the captain of our plans?"
"Never!" she hissed. "After we've gotten the part and you've installed it, you can just tell him you found a small shop or a salvage yard that had one. I can fake a sales receipt for it."
The raccoon opened both eyes and studied her for a moment. "I'll have no problem with the lock, if you can disable the alarm."
Samantha smiled. "All I need is a few hours to work up an application for my slateboard," she replied. "I'm going shopping in a bit and can pick up what I need at a local electronics market for a good transmitter."
"How about I go with you?" Pockets recommended. "I'll find out where the warehouse is located and we can scope it out in advance. Then we can sneaky-sneak in after dark."
Samantha reached out and touched the mechanic on the tip of his nose. "Be ready to leave in an hour," she told him.
Jerad checked his techwatch and then tapped the Border collie at his side with a finger. The two of them huddled behind a large refuse bin half a block away from a warehouse belonging to Foxstone Wholesale, their rented car waiting in a nearby parking garage. Both were dressed in garments of black, and Samantha had applied a black fur powder to the exposed white areas of their arms and faces so they would blend in with the midnight darkness. The raccoon wondered why Sam would even have such a powder, but all she would say is that she had needed it before. This only served to strengthen his respect of her skills that seemed to compliment some of his own.
Activity at the warehouse had been practically nonexistent since the late night shift had ended an hour earlier. Patient burglars, Sam and Jerad had been quiet in their hiding spot for the past two hours. While the raccoon sat watching the warehouse grounds beyond a chain link fence with a military night-vision ParaScope that could see around corners, Samantha worked with a specialized slateboard she had modified for this occasion. Before the late shift had let out, she had been scanning the Foxstone security systems and recording the signals with an extremely sensitive sensor.
When Jerad tapped her with his finger, she started and then looked over at him with a nervous smirk. "What do you think?" she whispered softly.
"If you're up for this," he replied in a similar tone, "now is the time." The Border collie swallowed and then gave him a nod before she realized he probably couldn't see the action in the darkness.
"Let's go," she whispered.
Without further preamble, the raccoon led his companion along shadows, avoiding bits of trash from the refuse bin to the end of the alley. His eyes missed nothing as he studied the grounds and then padded lightly toward a gate on the back side of the complex. Wildflowers and untrod field grass told the mechanic that it had been a while since this gate might have been used, so he knelt down next to the fence and took out his rolled pouch of delicate instruments from a leg pocket of his black coveralls. There was no moon in the night sky, but the stars gave him just enough light to make a quick decision. Each of the PA worlds had its own plethora of cultures and technologies, but physical padlocks operated virtually the same from world to world.
He pulled out one instrument, slid it into the key slot of the padlock on a medium sized chain, and the tumbler tripped within two heartbeats. Quickly and quietly, he returned the tool to the pouch and then back into his pocket. With a delicate touch, he opened the gate with the barest of hinge squeaks, let himself and Samantha inside, and then secured the lock and chain.
"Why did you lock it again?" Sam whispered. "Aren't we going back out this way?"
"Never leave signs of your break-in behind," the raccoon patiently explained, pulling his companion down into a crouch in the tall grass, "Even if only for a little while. It reduces the chances of discovery, and I can open it again just as quickly as if I had the key." He peeked through the grass and planned out a route to the warehouse building. "Now, we need to be extremely quiet from here on in," he told her. "Any questions before we continue? We won't want to do any talking once we get inside, even in whispers. You never know if a bored guard will have sensitive hearing."
"Okay," he whispered. "Let's go."
Both of them stood up to a crouch and then Samantha followed Jerad through the grass toward the building. Several flatbed trailers were parked at the edge of a paved lot, with either flat tires or broken anti-grav repulsors. They crept up between two of them and then Pockets surveyed the open expanse between them and the back of the warehouse. There was an ancient mercury vapor lamp mounted at each corner of the building, but the structure was large enough that the illumination didn't cover the entire back wall.
Satisfied there were no guards in the area, he tapped the Border collie on the knee and then padded out across the concrete toward the building shadows. Once up next to the wall, Pockets crept to a ladder that was permanently mounted to the side the building. Ten feet up, a metal safety cage surrounded the ladder, but there was ample room for the two of them to gain quick access to the roof.
Jerad stopped just below the lip of the roof and used his night-vision ParaScope to check out the scenery. Since the commercial warehouse was unlikely to be the target of many burglars, there was only minimal security. The roof was clear of anything but air conditioning units, vent hoods and a single doorway near the middle of the building.
Old cigarette butts and small gravel crunched beneath their feet as they darted toward the doorway. The door was a simple wood panel surrounded by a brick and mortar box, and a common key lock occupied the center of a round door knob. Pockets was about to apply his picking instrument on the lock, but Samantha stopped him with a touch, pointing out a slender black line around the door frame. She followed it to a small gray box near their feet and then pulled out her slateboard.
She keyed in a few commands to transmit a recorded signal and their ears picked up a small relay trip inside the box. Without speaking, she tapped the raccoon's instrument to indicate he could proceed. The lock and the door were open a moment later.
A stairwell descended into blackness below, and the mechanic pulled a device from another pocket; it looked similar to a common flashlight torch, although its lens was dark and the hand barrel was thick. He wound up a compact spring generator inside, and then thumbed on the torch, but there appeared to be no effect. From the same pocket, he produced a second dark-lensed flash and wound it up before handing it to Samantha. Then from another of his many pockets, Jerad pulled out two pair of eyepieces no larger than Terran tanning booth goggles. He handed one set to his partner, and they donned these quickly. Sam had to adjust the front strap for her broader nose, but when she got them in place, the stairwell suddenly stood out in eerie lavender light through the lenses.
Now able to see their surroundings without giving away their position, they crept down the stairs. At the bottom was another door and Jerad allowed his companion to disable the alarm relay before picking the lock. So far, so good.
He was about to peek out the door when Samantha stopped him with a hand on his arm. He looked back at her, but she sat down on the steps, studying the readout on her slateboard. He sat down on the stairs beside her and peered over her shoulder at the small screen.
Samantha had originally planned to find a computer terminal somewhere within the building, but her slateboard's boosted transceiver had picked up a localized connection to the mainframe. Testing a theory, the Border collie processed the signal through her handheld unit and successfully hacked into the warehouse inventory. She grunted to herself, amazed that the information was so easily accessed; there didn't appear to be even a data firewall in place, and the operating system was an outdated version of one common throughout the Planetary Alignment.
Pockets watched his partner scroll through several menus until she reached the one she wanted. She tapped in a search request for the part they sought. The information came up quickly.
• PART NUMBER: 100-440-0.750-3434-A
• NOMENCLATURE: Distribution Processor Heater Core
• VESSEL CLASS: Okami
• FOR MODEL(S): E, F, G
• AMOUNT IN STOCK: 1 each
• WAREHOUSE LOCATION: Row A133, Bin 065
Without saying a word, she pointed to the bin location displayed on the screen. Jerad nodded and then Samantha secured the slateboard into an internal pocket of her black coveralls. They stood up together and then Jerad opened the door just wide enough put the end of his ParaScope. He had to slide up the dark-lamp goggles to see through the night-vision scope.
A few overhead security lamps glowed faintly, but there was no movement that he could see. The raccoon watched patiently for several moments before he put the scope away and slid the goggles back over his eyes. He opened the door to a small squeak and stopped immediately. He pulled out a small canister from a chest pocket and then sprayed a fine mist over both hinges. The door opened soundlessly then, and the burglars crept out into the warehouse. They were near the center of the building, the stairs having exited from a column that also housed restrooms and two small cubicle offices.
The column was surrounded by a large open space where freight trucks loaded and unloaded material along a wide aisle that lead to large doors, with numerous narrow rows bordering two sides. One such truck occupied the aisle, its engine quiet. Surrounding them were several storage pallets with a variety of items upon them in gray tubs.
Now that they were inside and had a location to look for, neither of them knew where to start looking; the warehouse rows were not clearly labeled. They would be unable to stay in contact if they split up, so they remained together and began checking bin rows one at a time. The raccoon was delighted with some of the things he found, and a couple of his larger pockets were soon a little heavier than they had been prior to their visit.
After twenty minutes of growing impatience from a fruitless search, Samantha pulled out her slateboard under the cover of an empty parts tub and sought some reference to the bin arrangement in the warehouse computer system. Jerad leaned back against a wooden crate recessed in a bin and kept watch for the night guard. During their search, they had seen a lone guard make a walk through, but the ferret looked bored and appeared only to be making a token effort to get out from behind his desk for a periodic look. He never came close to the burglars' location, but Pockets wanted to take no chances that the guard would happen upon them merely by coincidence.
Samantha cleared her throat gently and then looked up at the raccoon in triumph. She put away the slateboard and then gestured for her companion to follow. She led him further down the long row where they had stopped and then went over two more aisles after making sure the ferret was nowhere in sight.
Finally, she came to a halt at a bin location and then looked upward. Each bin was a meter square and they were stacked above them ten compartments high. She imagined that a warehouse carriage would stop where they stood and then extend upward to get parts from the upper bins. Fortunately, the one they wanted was only just above the level of her head. Samantha gave Jerad a leg up, and the small raccoon scrambled into an opening occupied by a wooden crate half the size of the bin.
From a long pocket along the leg of his coveralls, Jerad pulled out a short pry bar. He had the crate open within minutes and then set the lid aside quietly. Inside was a metal box with rounded corners and two latches, surrounded by shredded packing material. He was about to pop the latches when he saw Samantha's dark-lamp beam wave frantically. He peered out of the bin just in time to see the Border collie scramble into another bin at floor level and hide herself. He held perfectly still as they waited for the night watchman to amble on along their row. The ferret hummed softly to himself, but he never looked inside any of the bins he passed.
It took the weasel several minutes to make his way down the long row and then turn the corner to continue on his rounds. He heard Samantha let out a nervous breath and then he returned to his job.
With as much silence as he could muster, Jerad pulled open the latches of the insulated container and lifted the lid. Inside was a factory-new heater core. The raccoon smiled to himself, pulled a large cloth shopping bag from a back pocket, and then unfolded it beside him. He eased the mechanism out of its foam packing and then snuggled it inside the bag.
Once that was done, he set it aside, latched the lid back onto the insulated container, and then eased the crate lid back into place. He had been careful not to bend any of the nails when removing the lid, so all he had to do was line them up with the previous nail holes and then mash the lid back onto the crate.
He signaled to Samantha with his dark-lamp torch and then handed the bag down to her. He scrambled down after it a moment later, and then they retraced their steps up the aisle toward the center area of the warehouse, the bag in Sam's capable hands.
It was difficult for the Border collie to keep quiet as they walked along the aisle. She was elated to have been successful acquiring the part they needed for the Blue Horizon; it was the first time she had ever pulled off such a caper, and she knew that she and the raccoon now shared a secret that neither of them could ever divulge to anyone else. However, every time she tried to say something, Jerad would reach up and put a finger to his lips. She kept her silence, but couldn't stop from grinning.
Jerad suddenly put out a hand to stop her, bumping into her stomach. He pulled her back into the aisle and then gestured ahead of them in the invisible light. Sam crept forward at his behest and peered out into the warehouse. The night-watchman was walking toward the center column where they'd come in. The stairwell door was in plain sight and it appeared the ferret was heading directly for it.
The watchman stopped at the door, fumbled in a trouser pocket for something, and then pulled out a small fob. He thumbed it toward the door, nodded to himself at something, and then inserted a key into the lock. He opened the door, but before he disappeared up the steps, Samantha saw the ferret pull a pack of cigarettes from a shirt pocket. The watchman pulled the door closed behind him and then Sam turned back toward her companion.
"What do we do now?" she whispered.
Jerad thought for a moment and then looked up at her. He pointed toward the outer wall and whispered back, "He appears to be the only guard on duty tonight. While he's up taking a smoke, we can get out through that door over there. We'll just have to be careful outside so he doesn't see us from the roof when we head back out to the gate."
At the outer door, Samantha used her slateboard to disarm the security sensor and then Jerad picked the lock. They slipped outside, but just as Pockets was about to close the door behind him, he heard a noise. He peeked back inside and saw the watchman come back in through the roof stairwell. The ferret seemed to be struggling with his keys and then the raccoon had a sudden idea.
He closed the door quietly and then motioned for his partner to re-arm the door. When she finished, he looked up and gave her a smirk. He reached up, turned the doorknob he hadn't locked again, and then pulled the door open only to close it again quickly.
Warning bells rang out immediately and the excited raccoon took off running across the concrete parking area at the back of the building. Despite the mechanic's shorter legs, Samantha was hard pressed to keep up with her partner, toting the shopping bag over her shoulder.
By the time she caught up to him at the gate, he had the padlock and chain loose. She darted through after him and continued running toward the nearby dark alley. Jerad relocked the gate and then rejoined her a moment later.
Both of them leaned against the dirty wall behind the large trash bin, their chests heaving as they gasped and panted from the frantic run.
"Why...?" Samantha asked in a forced whisper when she could finally catch her breath. "You intentionally set off the alarm. Why?" She stripped off her dark-lamp goggles, switched off her torch, and then handed them both to the raccoon.
Pockets grinned at her through his goggles. "Just as I was about to close the door behind me, I heard the watchman return. He looked like he was having trouble with his keys to relock the stairwell door, so I thought I would make him think that he set off the alarm!"
Samantha looked at him with incredulous disbelief. "You could have gotten us caught!" she scolded. "There was no need for that!"
"True," replied the raccoon, putting away the goggles and dark-lamp torches, "but it sure made things exciting! You wanna hang around to see how it takes him to shut off that alarm?" The ringing continued in the distance.
The Border collie snorted at him and gathered up the bulky shopping bag. "Let's get back to the Horizon before they decide to investigate further. If it weren't for the fact that I can't tell anyone about this little caper," she said, "I'd have to tattle on you!"
Jerad stuck his tongue out at her and then led her down the alleyway back to their rented car.
— NEXT CHAPTER —
Unless otherwise noted, all material © Ted R. Blasingame. All rights reserved.