Monday, December 3, 2018

Chapter 17


Bhutto's explosion of laughter made her sway in her harness. “BrainStream got the better of you. I love it.”

“I don’t,” D’Angelo replied. “Do you know how much faster my research would have progressed without interference? How many fewer people would have to be sacrificed?”

He was genuinely concerned at the lives he had destroyed. Or he was good at faking it. That this man might have some empathy and yet was still capable of committing the atrocities he had… Jane would be happy when she could disassociate herself from him permanently.

“I don’t see you crying a river for your victims,” Bhutto replied.

“Not true,” he replied. “I felt their suffering wholly. That it was necessary is a tragedy.”

“For the greater good,” Bhutto replied with disgust.

“Perhaps for my own greater good. I do not wish to harm anyone, but I will do what is necessary to survive.”

“There is nothing you would die for?” Jane asked. She should not engage with him, but somehow, he found a way to draw her in.

“Of course not,” D’Arcangelo replied. “My life is all I have. All anyone has. Why would I ever throw it away?”

“For the greater good?” Jane asked pointedly and without irony. She turned to Bhutto. “Because you may do more with your sacrifice than if you focused on your own petty concerns?”

D’Arcangelo laughed. “You can only care about that now because you exist, because you have awareness. The fate of the universe doesn’t matter a whit to a corpse any more than it does to a rock.”

“I’ve had enough of both of your philosophies,” Bhutto said. She struggled to unclip the strap to her harness. “What we need to know is how to get to the Leviathan without running aground D’Arcangelo’s mental block.”

“We will all need to be inoculated.”

“Inoculation an analogy for a horribly invasive and possibly deadly procedure, isn’t it?”

D’Arcangelo smiled. “I developed a strain of virus that will block the signals coming from the Leviathan. In theory, at least.”

Bhutto snorted. “Not something I would want to wager my brain on.”

“Fortunately for you, you only require the virus if you want to find the Leviathan,” D’Arcangelo replied.

“We’ll do it,” Jane said.

D’Arcangelo grinned. He turned to Bhutto. “What do you say, dear? Will you give it a go?”

Bhutto for once gave someone else the look that she so often gave to Jane - the one that makes you wonder if tentacles were growing out of your head. “I don’t think I am going to let a serial killer inject me with his own homemade virus, sorry, no.”

“Very well,” D’Arcangelo said, visibly disappointed. “Your loss.”

He produced a folded cloth envelope and turned to Jane. “Shall we?” D’Arcangelo opened the envelope to reveal a line of syringes strapped in a row, each bearing a hand-scrawled labeled. Two of the banded slots on the end were missing their syringe.

Jane would not ask about those.

D’Arcangelo slipped one of the syringes out of its holster and held it up to look at the contents.

A warning flashed in Jane’s head. An unidentified spacecraft was on an intercept course with their patrol boat’s orbit around Odin.

But who?

“Sorry to inconvenience you on your field trip,” came the voice through the patrol boat’s comms. “But we have reason to believe you are holding a fugitive on this ship.”

How had they found her so quickly? There must have been more personnel in that Vegacorp ship orbiting Loki. Not only that, but they had already anticipated a double-cross. It would have taken days for anyone from Grid or Aegir to respond to a distress call this far out. These ones had been tracking them at least since they had reached Loki.

“You’ve cost us a lot of money, Bhutto, but we’ve got a license with Vegacorp now. Your insured friend can’t help you this time. You gave us a good run, but it’s time to give it up.”

Bhutto?

“Miserable scumbags,” Bhutto sneered. “Can this boat take them?” The sneer morphed into a spiteful grin. “That’d be a nasty surprise.”

Jane had to think fast. If she allowed them to board, they were at the mercy of these bounty hunters, and could probably kiss any hope of landing on the Leviathan goodbye. If she didn’t let them board, the mercenaries might just send a couple rockets their way and call it a day.

And firing upon them could attract even more attention from the SecCorps. Jane pulled her energy pistol.

“Bhutto, there is an escape pod hatch right over there.” She gestured with the pistol. “I want you to get inside and close the hatch.”

Bhutto’s grin slowly melted away. Then she burst out laughing. “That’s a good one, Red. You had me there for a second.”

Jane shook her head. “It’s no joke, Bhutto. It’s your way out of this.”

Bhutto’s grin held up this time, but all the mirth drained from her eyes. “And what if I refuse? What’ll you do then?”

“You know what I’ll do.”

“I want to hear you say it.” Bhutto’s right hand hovered at her waist even as she steadied herself on the nearest hand rung.

D’Arcangelo had drawn his own pistol now.

“You can make your friend Charlie spend a lot of burn time changing course, maybe even lose him. The nearest settlement is a few hundred thousand kilometers away. There’s enough oxygen in that pod to last for a couple days. If you save your breath, I feel a woman like you could manage it.”

Bhutto was still baring her teeth, but there was no attempt to smile now.

“You backstabbing jackbooted bitch.”

“You’re making her go away?” came the small voice of the Warden’s son behind Bhutto.

Without looking back, Bhutto reached back and nudged the boy behind her.

“Bhutto has to leave.” Jane replied. She paused. “You can go with her, if you like.”

Bhutto narrowed her eyes. Jane could see the calculation in her head. Would she take the boy and cut her air in half? Or would she leave the boy in the hands of the jackboot and the sociopath?

“Her chances would be better alone,” D’Arcangelo said to Jane. “And the boy’s would be better with us.”

Jane did not respond.

Bhutto grimaced. She gathered the boy in her arms and held him up so they were face-to-face. “How’d you like to go for a ride ourselves, just you and me?”

The boy looked thoughtful. “Can I keep my spacesuit?”

Bhutto smiled sadly. “Sure, kid.” She gave Jane a cold glare and, still holding the boy, pushed herself gently toward the escape pod hatch.

“I won’t forget this, Red,” Bhutto growled.

Jane nodded. She would never have thought otherwise. But with any luck, Jane would not be seeing Bhutto again.

Bhutto slid open the hatch and drifted in with the child still clinging to her. Once inside, Jane gave the command to close the hatch and jettisoned the escape pod. The tiny pod retreated into the distance, maneuvering into a stable distance, and then fired its single small engine.

D’Arcangelo furrowed his brow. “She’s slowing down, relative to them. What is she thinking?

It was just as Jane thought. Bhutto was always protective of the little boy for some reason. She wouldn’t endanger him by leaving him alone with the likes of D’Arcangelo and Jane. Or by chancing death by asphyxiation.

The pod distress beacon lit up the net relay.

Jane smiled with satisfaction. “She’s turning herself in.”

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