Monday, January 7, 2019

Chapter 18


Competing Allegiances

Bhutto seethed inside the coffin-like pod. Red made a mistake, double crossing her while leaving her breathing. She would pay for that. Somehow.

Ditching the kid was low, even for Red. She looked down at the boy who lay at her lap, looking out at the stars through the canopy screen of the front pod. His head barely came to her waist, and his hair on the back of his head matted against her suit.

She made the calculations on getting to Aegir. The margin for error was razor thin, even without the boy. But that was for actually landing on the moon. She would be able to catch its orbit, and while it wasn’t a bustling world like Grid, there were plenty of shipping lanes that passed through there.

If she was lucky, she’d get picked up before their air ran out. She could put herself under to make it last a little longer, rig the distress beacon to start pinging when she got into a stable orbit.

Bhutto wasn’t sure what effect anesthesia would have on the kid, but she was sure it would be better than CO2 poisoning.

But all that meant abandoning Leviathan. Being on the run for the foreseeable future she could deal with. She had been on the run in some form or the other for her entire life.

But letting Red have the prize, after what she had done, after all the sweat and blood Bhutto had put in finding it, that, Bhutto could not abide. She took a deep breath, swiveled the pod retro to Charlie’s new ship, turned on its distress transmitter, and fired its pitiful thrusters.

Bhutto might have pursued Red’s jackboot patrol boat to save time, but the pod thrusters wouldn’t make much difference. Not only that, it could tip off Red that Bhutto didn’t have any plans to turn tail. When Charlie slowed down for Bhutto, Red could use that burn time to make it impossible for them to catch her.

No, she would let Red think that she’d rather turn herself in than risk death in orbit.

Bhutto had other plans.

Charlie’s voice echoed in her mind. “We’ll gladly incinerate that pod of yours, so don’t do anything stupid. Confirm that you are onboard that pod.”

“It’s me, you asshole.”

“Ok, you’ve convinced me, save for the fact that you’d never in a million years turn yourself in. How do I know that you haven’t rigged that pod to explode as soon as you enter our airlock?”

Not a bad idea, Bhutto thought. But I’m not the kamikaze type.

“You’re right,” she conceded. “I’m not here to turn myself in. I’m here to make you a business proposition.”



Charlie’s thugs searched Bhutto with unnecessary thoroughness before they bound her and brought her for an ugly face-to-face with the bounty hunter.

“You better fire those engines back up and trail that boat. We’re wasting time.”

“What’s the deal with the kid?”

Bhutto shrugged. “We found him.” She wondered where they had taken him.

“But why’d you bring him here, on my ship? D’ya need a babysitter?”

“I think you’re the last person I would pick for the job.”

Maybe third to last.

Charlie laughed. “Okay. We’ll figure out who he is, one way or another.” He waved to his men to take her away.

Bhutto wriggled against her restraints. “You haven’t heard my offer.”

Charlie shook his head. “I don’t need to. I have what I came for – you.”

“My bounty is chump change in comparison.”

Charlie shrugged. “I’m not greedy.”

Now Bhutto laughed. “That’s the funniest bullshit I’ve heard in a while. Ever heard of Anton D’Arcangelo?”

Charlie stared at her blankly.

“The Brain Butcher? Archangel of Death? I can get you him. You’d never have to hunt another bounty the rest of your life.”

The slightest smile turned up on Charlie’s ugly face. “I like hunting bounty. Why would I want to stop?”

Charlie made a gesture of turning away from Bhutto. The goons effortlessly passed her through the ship corridor before strapping her in to what amounted to a closet.

“I’m telling you,” Bhutto said. “If you can take down that ship, you’ll all be rich. Just-” The shutting closet door interrupted her, and the chamber went dark. And with net access blocked, she was trapped alone with her thoughts.

Bhutto sighed. There had to be something she could do, even trapped inside this storage box. She wriggled her wrists against their bindings. They were strung tight. And the harness was a perfect straightjacket. Bhutto had heard of prisoners who had dislocated shoulders or thumbs to get out of similar restraints.

She might have tried it herself, even if she found it completely idiotic. But it would just leave her trapped in a closet with a dislocated shoulder. Bhutto took a deep breath and tried to use what range of motion she did have to feel around the closet. This wasn’t a SecCorp ship, it was a repurposed cargo hauler. And this storage chamber was not designed for holding prisoners. There might be something they hadn’t thought of, something she could use.

She ran her fingers and the back of her heels along the closet wall feeling blindly for any irregularity, for any button or vent that had slipped Charlie’s notice. Then she felt it: a long thin tube laid into the inner hull. There was a coolant line running through this chamber, she was sure of it. If Bhutto could rupture it, she could maybe freeze the harness or her cuffs to the point of breaking. Hopefully without freezing her hands off in the process.

Bhutto rocked against the harness to give her momentum, kicking against the coolant line with a bang.

Nothing.

She closed her eyes and slammed against it again, harder this time. The slam against the door echoed in her ears. Her muscles burned. Bhutto ground her teeth and slammed against it again, with all the force she could muster. Her wrists contorted to the breaking point, and her ears rung with the force of her exertion slamming her body against the hull.

Bhutto opened her eyes to Charlie’s hideous frown, inches away from the closet door.

The closet door opened. With a single motion, Charlie unclipped Bhutto’s straightjacket harness, and with a snap, the shackles floated free from her wrists.

“Change of plans, Bhutto. You’re going to take us to those friends of yours.”

Bhutto rubbed at the red rings around her wrist where her shackles had been. “It’s about goddamn time. What kind of hardware do you have in your weapons locker? These assholes are dangerous, but we need them alive. Also, we need to start burning about an hour ago.” She stopped suddenly. “What made you change your mind?”

“We talked to that kid of yours. Either you trained him well, or your story isn’t as much bullshit as I would have thought. And…” Charlie blew air through his nose. “SecCorp licenses come strings attached. We just got a bulletin from VegaCorp assigning us to pick up your Brain Butcher and his girlfriend.”

Bhutto laughed. Red would have loved that description. “So you need help from your friend Bhutto to talk some sense into them?”

Charlie produced a mirthless smile. “You got yourself caught up with a real nasty crew this time, Bhutto. The net’s already got word of what happened on Loki.”

Bhutto’s own smile faded. “What’re you trying to say?”

“We have an opening on our boarding party for you. Congratulations on becoming our new point woman.”

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