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chapter eleven
" KEEN "
Part Eleven

Joules removed the last of the shuttle triggers and pocketed it securely in the pouch she'd grabbed early on. The greatest, most immediate threat had been neutralized. Now she had to find the last six and deactivate them before she could breathe a sigh of relief, and before she could reactivate the air conditioning and cool down the interior.

“Joules?” The voice was Gilmore's and it sounded nervous bordering on panic.

“What now!” Joules snapped as she removed the explosive compound from the door and put it in the second pouch, the heavy pouch. Fatigue and stress were taking their toll, she didn't mean to snap and instantly regretted it, but before she could apologize Gilmore continued.

“Overheads are showing three figures returning back to the Starbus. And they're armed.”

The panic had just moved from him to her. Joules looked around for a place to deposit the triggers. If they didn't signal activation the other's wouldn't blow but she couldn't count on that. “How far away are they?”

“Just shy of a kilometer, but they're speeding up.”

Joules flipped channel to Bruce's Aerocar. “Get in your car and get out of here, pronto!”

Bruce had been leaning against the outside of the car while enjoying a Slimatte from the on board Beverage-Matic. He twisted at the hips and triggered the toggle to respond. “I'm not going anywhere without you, love.”

“That's sweet, but armed soldiers are returning. I can defend myself in here, the Starbus is military rated, but your Aerocar isn't. Get back to Calgary and I'll join you shortly.”

Bruce grew alert and alarmed, almost alarmed enough to dump the contents of the Slimatte on the ground, almost. “Are you sure?”

“Deadly. Get going. I'm almost ready to follow.”

The confidence in her voice said a lot. It was a stark contrast the panic earlier. Joules was in her element and she was already forming a plan of action. The tone was enough to convince him he probably didn't have to worry about her, and that meant he could worry about himself. He was a high-profile hostage if taken, his Aerocar, a proto-type, one-of-a-kind was both a vulernable and tempting target.

Without a further thought Bruce Porter set the cup in it's gyroscopically aligned cup-holder and climbed into the Grand Designs vehicle, powering up the grav-plates while preparing for a withdrawal on the same track they approached, though at a slightly faster pace.

Within seconds the canopy was sliding forward into the place and the Starbus was alone.

* * *

Joules quickly ripped the radio triggers from the starboard set of explosives from the wall and then rushed over to where Gilmore said the portside explosives were planted. She'd leave the remaining compounds in place, theoretically they were harmless without the triggers, because she didn't have time to dig them free of her bulkhead.

She immediately ran up the stairs to the cockpit and entered the reset code.

Like a slumbering grizzly the Starbus began to rumble back to life. Peak systems displayed their warm-up cycle and Joules stomach fell as she realized too many of the systems weren't going to come on-line fast enough for her to avoid this conflict.

Grav systems needs three minutes. The Driver's needed five. She could bring up the defence systems in half that time. They would at least stave off most forms of long-distance attack but without offensive systems, which had a second round of lock-downs, she was a sitting duck, safe provided they didn't try too many things, or knock down the door!

If she wanted to go on the offensive, she'd have to get creative. Joules called up the disposal system. Sure enough, the ejectors would be on-line and full powered in thirty seconds. “Gilmore, what's the range on the radio detonators?”

Gilmore stopped at that question. Range? Why would she want to know their range? “You've disabled all them haven't you?”

“Yes.” Came the terse reply.

“You're not worried about the approaching soldiers triggering something, are you?”

“No.” said Joules as she returned to the two pouches and removed one of the radio detonators from the one while picking up the pouch with the explosives in it.

She turned and while visualizing the direction the overhead feed said her opposition was Joules moved to the disposal chute and opened the feed hatch. She had to mold the mass of compound explosive into a shape that would transit the disposal tube without getting stuck and then, before putting the pouch inside Joules slid a radio detonator into the middle of the mass.

Then, after closing the feed hatch she returned to the smaller pouch and gently rifled through for a shuttle trigger.

Gilmore's voice came back over the speakers, “Up to half a kilometer, I guess.”

The lack of confidence wasn't comforting but at this point Joules didn't have much choice. She grabbed a locked down Shuttle trigger and ran back up the stairs to the console and then tried to apply ballistics theory to the garbage disposal system.

The scanners were up at least. She filtered through the brush and motion quickly isolating the three approaching combatants. A smile crossed her face when she confirmed one of them was Alex Poddington/Alexei Podarkin. She enjoyed the thought that she'd be taking out trash with the trash.

* * *

Alexei was close enough now that they could fire on the Starbus with the Stik-It Grenades. If Joules hadn't deactivated all of the explosives the concussive blast of the grenade against her cockpit window would do it.

He stopped and brought up the Cody knock-off, sliding the knib of the Stik-It in the second barrel and then brought the rifle up and aimed it for the cockpit window of the Starbus.

* * *

Joules keyed the repulsor in his general direction and then triggered the disposal system to eject the trash at the three on the ground, seemed only fitting. She then twisted the ring at the end of the trigger mechanism unlocking the shuttle and waited for the best moment to shake it and trigger detonation.

* * *

Alexei pulled the trigger and the Stik-It Grenade rocketed off the end of the Cody Rifle charging across the remaining two hundred metres for the Starbus.

* * *