Monday, March 11, 2019

Chapter 24

Jane jetted through the tube from the airlock and into the interior of the asteroid. She gasped.

The space inside was dizzyingly vast. The graded and paved walls, or floor rather, stretched past the reach of Jane’s vision, converging to a tiny round blot impossibly far away. She had to shake the impression that she was still floating in the void.

Bhutto dropped down next to Jane, and joined her to gaze upon the vast open space of the hull-encased world with awe. She took a short jet along the surface, then a slightly larger one. Then she jumped with all her might off the round floor and up towards the “ceiling,” passing through the empty center of the ship and far across to the other side like a clump of dandelion seeds falling to the ground. Jane could barely make her out from the other end of the ship, when Bhutto turned herself around and pushing off again with increased speed.

“I see it!” She called. Then she took off in the direction, back and forth off the ceiling, then the wall, back, and forth. D’Arcangelo dropped slowly to the hull surface, his visor following Bhutto’s figure bouncing back and forth from ceiling to floor, wall, to wall.

Jane took after her. Once she had passed through the center of the cylinder, Jane could understand why Bhutto was so excited. The blister structure that D’Arcangelo had fixed to the near end of the chamber could be easily seen. The momentum of the back and forth rapidly gaining on the prize, she could barely contain her exhilaration. Bhutto hadn’t even tried to.

Jane got into a rhythm of trajectories and quickly caught up with Bhutto, who had been otherwise erratically bounding back and forth across the span of the interior.

D’Arcangelo had more practice in zero g than Jane. He was already gaining on her, threatening to overtake her and reach his laboratory structure. But Jane boosted with the EVA jets and settled on the surface just outside of the lab, just as Bhutto kicked off the surface wall and directly on the “roof” of the lab sitting atop the antimatter core like the cap on a grenade.

But the grenade pin was put there by design. D’Arcangelo’s lab was a scar on the rest of the structure, like a parasitic boil that fed off of its host, its antimatter lifeblood. Bhutto stood atop and looked out over the edge at Jane triumphantly.

“We’re here, Red.” she declared. “We’ve found the Leviathan, the ship that no man could find.”

“No man but me,” D’Arcangelo replied. He had settled next to Red, still wearing his stupid smirk.

“After we broke you out of an unbreakable prison,” Jane pointed out.

“I'm very aware and grateful for your contribution.” He gestured forward. “Ladies first.”

Jane snorted and approached the laboratory hatch door. When she reached it, a light flashed, indicating the lab was scanning her brain waves. It was not until D’Arcangelo stepped next to her and had his own signature scanned that the hatch to the lab unlocked with a hiss.

Something wasn't right. Jane bounded away from the door and pulled her pistol. D’Arcangelo faced her, bounding backwards, having pulled one himself. Bhutto had drawn a weapon herself, switching her aim back and forth between D’Arcangelo and Jane.

“So that’s how you unlock that thing,” Bhutto said.

“I almost didn’t recognize you, through all of that cosmetic surgery” D’Arcangelo said to Jane. “The red hair was a nice touch, very socialist.”

“Recognize me?” Jane asked. She clutched her pistol tightly to her side, finger over the trigger.

“I wasn’t certain it was you until we were inside the airlock. I kept questioning, ‘how did the Collective plan on accessing the lab using myself alone, and not her?’”

“Her?” Jane asked.

“Cassandra,” he replied, still smirking. “My faithful partner.”

“You said Cassandra had been stranded in orbit.”

“You were, my dear. But I rescued you. Even as talented as I am, I could never have done this alone. I needed an expert such as yourself to aid me in our work. Unfortunately, when things went belly up, we had to split up.

"When we separated, I headed to Corporate Odin. I spent my life in hiding on my own personal rock, until they weren’t even satisfied with that and jetted me to Loki. The Freyjans gave you refuge, it seems.

"And they transformed you into a perfect Collectivist drone, didn’t they?”

“I suppose they have,” Jane replied. She knew immediately he was right. But she did not even feel conflicted, anxious, or in denial. It was what it was. “I hadn’t realized it until now, but honestly, I should thank them.”

“For taking away all you had?” D’Arcangelo scoffed. “You are a slave.”

“I can see why you would see it that way. But they took all of that baggage away from me, even if I would never have wanted them to at the time.”

He would interpret her feelings as more programming, but they could never understand. She liked who she was now much better than the psychotic who had joined forces with D’Arcangelo.”

“Don’t you understand, Cassandra?” D’Arcangelo asked. “We can live forever, just like we wanted. All of our dreams are through that door.”

Jane turned to Bhutto, who held her pistol at the ready. Bhutto hopped down from the lab, directly in front of the open door. There was a sympathy in her eyes, like that for a wounded animal about to be put down.

“I can’t let you go through this door,” Bhutto said. “Either of you.” D’Arcangelo bounded in an arc away, drawing his pistol in midair. Bhutto had turned her aim towards Jane. Jane bounded to the side just before Bhutto fired at her, narrowly hitting the surface of the antimatter containment cylinder instead of her heart. When she went to fire back, Bhutto had jetted up and over the lab and taken cover behind its hull. D’Arcangelo went straight for the open door of his laboratory, and Jane fired a shot right in his path, the bolt colliding with him just at the entrance of the hatch.

D’Arcangelo slid into the hatch and crumpled into the wall of the lab chamber, gasping and choking. He looked down at his vac-suit in horror, watching the gray blossom of smoke sprout from the charred flesh in his chest. He cried out and fired back at Jane aimlessly, and she easily bounded out of the way. She felt a disturbing feeling of satisfaction watching him lying there and wailing, for once not in control of his emotions.

Before she had a chance to savor the feeling, Bhutto vaulted back over the armored lab, her pistol blazing. She strafed a path straight for Jane, and Jane returned fire and leapt back and forth from wall to ceiling. Bhutto matched her movements. Neither had zero g combat training, and each fired at one another ineffectually.

Jane abandoned evasive movements and leapt straight for Bhutto after she had jumped and could not easily shift directions. Bhutto tried to twist herself to level her pistol at Jane, but they collided before she could bring it to bear. Jane grabbed the pistol and wrenched it from Bhutto’s hands, sending it spinning away from them. Bhutto cried out in alarm and they soared through the air in mid-struggle, then skidding across the wall below.

Jane put her pistol to Bhutto’s cheekbone and stepped on her forearm.

“Nothing personal, Red.” I’d ask you to do the same for me if I ever became a human robot.”

“I am pretty sure Cassandra never asked you to do that for her. And I am not a human robot.” Jane’s memories were muddled, but she still had them. Just because they never happened to this body did not make them any less real than when D’Arcangelo had put her through Dives’ gauntlet of tortures. “You’d rather have a psychopath like Cassandra?”

“Better than being a tool of the Freyjan Collective.” Bhutto muttered through gritted teeth. Even with a gun to her head, she was defiant. Jane would prefer to have Bhutto’s mind wiped, but that was not in the cards at the moment. Jane reluctantly grit her teeth and put pressure on the trigger.

A low and heavy hum in her helmet interrupted her. Vibrations, coming from the lab. It grew to whirring and then rumbling, as whatever machine D’Arcangelo had inside activated.

There was sharp pain in her wrist. Bhutto knocked the pistol from her hand with a quick strike from her free forearm. The sidearm bounced and tumbled along the surface of the sphere. Jane couldn’t care less about the pistol at the moment. She leapt for the lab, pulling Bhutto with her. Jane did not know what D’Arcangelo intended to do with whatever he had activated, but it could not be good. She bolted through the doorway without even touching the frame.

The inside of the lab was disappointing to behold. It was mostly white plastic blocks of computing power encircling an empty work space, like any office or engineering room. The only difference was that it was attached to the largest store of anti-matter anyone had ever seen in one place. That, and the pooled blob of blood clinging to the blue-eyed man nestled into the nook of the console. Jane accessed the console through her neural implant, hoping that her former criminal self still had admin control. The machine was continued to roar under her hands, under her feet, until it chattered her teeth.

Jane scrambled through various command options trying to figure out what D’Arcangelo had activated and what she needed to do to shut it off. Finally she began shutting off every active process in the lab with full knowledge that if she deactivated the vacuum field containing the antimatter, she would be annihilated - destroyed at the very atomic level, along with the entire generation ship. And yet she continued.

If she could shut it down, she did, and if she couldn’t, she tried anyway, Eventually she ended an application and the roaring machinery slowed to a whir, then to a hum, until it finally came to a halt. She had, with any luck, stopped whatever horrors D’Arcangelo’s death throes entailed.

Jane breathed a sigh of relief. She finally took some time to observe D’Arcangelo’s lifeless corpse. He seemed so pleased with himself. But now he would never get to see all of the cosmic events he longed to, and those cosmic events would never see him again.

All for the better.

Jane hopped to the doorway. She floated through the entrance to find several armed figures drifting her way. They turned their weapons on Jane.

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