Monday, October 8, 2018

Chapter 13

The Man Who Lost a World

“D’Arco, you psycho!” Bhutto cried. They’ll find out their man got jettisoned. Where do you think that will put us? They’ll just blow us to pieces.”

“It will take them some time to figure out what happened. I think in that time we can figure something out, no?”

“They’ll have wanted signals every place you can think, along with a big fat reward. Do you know what happens with that? Every yahoo and his brother will be out searching for us.”

“I assume you would rather stay on that prison?” D’Arcangelo asked.

“D’Arcangelo,” Jane said. “Can you contact anyone in the neural net?”

“It depends,” he replied. “If they have any security or privacy measures in place.” He thought a moment. “The answer is yes. Eventually.”

“I want you to contact a Collective vessel that should be somewhere near here.”

Bhutto scoffed. “You brought your jackboot buddies with you?”

“Did you think Regulators worked without backup?”

“Just call them and let’s get it over with.”

“You’re off-course, Bravo Shuttle,” a voice said over the tight beam network said. “Is there a problem?”

Vegacorp knew. Jane was sure they’d blow their ship out of the sky save for the fact that they were flying in a million-credit shuttle.

“We have a breach in the interior airlock that let in some of the atmosphere,” D’Arcangelo replied. We’ll need to jettison it before we can dock.”

“Who are you talking to?” The Warden’s son asked. Without an implant, he could not hear any of it.

“Just a spaceship, kid,” Bhutto said.

The child had already lost interest. He was floating around in the safety harness that would have been loose on a man twice his size. He giggled and pushed himself around in an oscillating motion, completely unaware of the danger that lie just over the horizon.

“Shuttle, jettison your air and bring yourself in to dock. We need to check your cargo for convicts. If you do not comply, we will be forced to fire on you.”

They would try to disable them, rather than destroy them, but that was no guarantee that they would succeed.

“Tell him that the breach damaged the door as well,” Jane said to D’Arcangelo.

“That doesn’t make any sense. If there was a breach in the inner door, then we don’t need to open that one, just the outer door.”

“Tell him that the outer door was damaged by the same thing that breached the inner door. Do I have to think of everything?”

“That seems unlikely, but I’ll tell them.”

He was right. They wouldn’t buy it. Maybe it would confuse them, give them more precious time to find a way out of this situation.

“Cease your maneuvers. We will send maintenance over.”

“So, is this it?” Bhutto asked.

Jane did not want to accept that. There had to be something they could do. What, she was not sure, but they had gotten so far that she would not accept anything less than victory. The perpetual spinning of the hull served as a distraction, however, and she could not think of anything to get them out of it. So she waited.

Bhutto struggled to reach down and unholster her pistol. “Do we fight?” She asked.

That was Jane’s inclination, but it was incredibly stupid. Jane had received some Zero-G training, but she was never stationed in orbit. Those that were rarely saw any action, anyway. That was all down on the planet, ferreting out criminals and detaining them to be mind-wiped. Even then, action was far between. Repeat offenders were non-existent, and from what she understood, that was where most of the violence in the corporate worlds came from.

From people like Bhutto and D’Arcangelo.

“Heh,” D’Arcangelo chuckled. “Got it. They’re going to have a hard time boarding us with their airlocks jammed.”

“Are you serious?” Jane asked.

“I am very familiar with the Vegacorp network.”

Jane would have liked to believe that he could not do that to the Collective. That was far too much power for any one man to possess, much less a sociopath like D’Arcangelo.

A flash of light and spark erupted from outside the hull, carving a line straight through. They had somehow sent boarders without opening the airlocks.

Or else D’Arcangelo was full of shit.

Jane reached for her pistol, but she had little confidence in her aim while free falling towards Loki. She would have to rely on luck.

Jane hated doing that.

The sparks continued in a line until a small porthole carved into the hull. The piece of hull floated away once its last bonds had been severed. Jane raised her pistol and waited.

“Don’t shoot.” D’Arcangelo said. “These aren’t Vegacorp.”

A robotic drone floating through the porthole, bearing a familiar emblem. They were moving swiftly but Jane knew what it was without having to see. A serene-faced woman wearing a feathered cape and winged helmet, riding a chariot in front of a rising red sun. Two rampant black cats supported the either side of the chariot.

“I believe they are friends of yours.”

The Collective drone floated deftly through the spinning wreckage of a shuttle and grabbed the first human it found: Bhutto fired at the drone, sending a bullet through the already-vented hull. The drone grabbed onto her with its spider arms. Bhutto convulsed before dropping limp.

Jane smiled. “Don’t worry,” she said to the still-crying child, clinging to his oversized harness. “These are friendly robots. They are going to take you to somewhere safe.”

“Why did they hurt her?” He asked.

“She’s just sleeping. If you want, I’ll go with you.”

The drone slipped through the shuttle’s porthole and into empty space with Bhutto.

Jane’s muscles tensed. Heart raced. She did not want to go with Bhutto, or this child. She never wanted to leave solid land or hull again.

The next drone came through the port hole. It would try to grab her and drag her out into the void. Into the Abyss.

Not again. Never again. Jane frantically unharnessed herself.

“Where are you going?” They boy asked, concern in his voice. The drone scooped him up and floated out into the open. The child did not struggle. He did not understand. He did not realize what could happen at any moment. If one single thing went wrong. He could be sent adrift, forever. To breathe away all of his precious life until the filter hit capacity.

Jane pushed herself toward the cockpit, but the drone was quicker. It rushed to collect her in its grasping metallic claws on its underside, which encircled her waist. She reached out and clung for the nearest object, a hand rung on the interior of the hull. She would not let them take her.

“No!” She cried. She felt a numbing jolt, then nothing.

Jane awoke to a feeling of falling. She opened her eyes to a penlight flashing into her eyes, attached to one of the several braided metal serpentine arm of a Collective drone. Its orb-like body blinked with several lights in concert with its thrusters. The gas exhaust fired every so often to maintain its position directly in front of Jane’s face.

Jane quickly turned her attention to her immediate surroundings. D’Arcangelo, Bhutto, now conscious and annoyed, and the boy, now asleep, were all strapped into the same small tomb-like chamber. The cramped quarters told Jane that she was aboard a Freyjan Collective patrol boat.

The ship was designed for resource efficiency, and not much more than a mobile weapons platform with energy shields. There were enough amenities to accommodate several human beings, including life support, food and water supplies, and even escape pods in the case of the necessity to abandon ship.

“Oh good, you’re up,” D’Arcangelo said. “I set a course for the Leviathan’s orbit. I’ve sent you its coordinates to my best estimation.”

“If that is true, we don’t need him anymore,” Bhutto said privately.

Bhutto was right. Jane’s mind went back to the “help” D’Arcangelo gave on Loki. It was another of his games.

“You can’t think we’d believe that you would give us the right coordinates,” Jane said to his face. “What would stop us from throwing you out the airlock right now?”

“I could never fathom that you would be so treacherous,” D’Arcangelo said, feigning shock. His face returned to its usual smug expression. “Kidding aside, if you kill me, you won’t see an ounce of that antimatter.

“Truthfully, I gave you the correct coordinates. But anyone who comes near the ship will not see it. They will not go near it. In fact, they will actively avoid it. If you had even boarded the ship, you would not remember it. Even the information directed to you from robotic or AI scans would be skewed.

“You’ve hacked into the neural network,” Jane said. “Mind wiped the salvagers, used their implants against them.”

It was a terrifying proposition.

“It’s much more brilliant than that, my dear.” D’Arcangelo licked his lips. “Let me tell you a story…”

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