Monday, March 25, 2019

Chapter 26

“Don’t worry, I bear you no ill will over disposing of my vessel,” Leviathan - no, D'Arcangelo said. “Any reservations I had about transferring my consciousness quickly left me once I was bleeding out inside my laboratory.”

Jane squinted and pushed herself off of the airlock door. But her legs stuck, and pressed down by some force. “We’re accelerating,” she said.

“Perceptive. We are rendezvousing with your comrades, my dear. They will collect their prize, and I will collect mine.”

“Don’t you have yours?” Jane asked. “This ship could last for hundreds of years with the right maintenance.”

“Why not live the life of a gnat? I have set my sights much higher.”

“The Authority.”

“Smart girl,” D’Arcangelo said.

The AI controlled every aspect of the Freyjan economy, its legal system. Perfectly designed to maximize the quality of life of its citizens. And D’Arcangelo wanted to contaminate it with his degenerate consciousness.

If transferring his consciousness were as simple as ship-to-ship communication, he could have done it by now. He must have needed to upload to a Collective ship. Or wait for the Collective to claim the Leviathan’s data banks to add to the Authority’s.

Jane stood up on the door and looked down the view port. Bhutto and Alexander Invictus stood below them. Jane tapped on the port with the rifle butt and Bhutto scowled up at her. Jane shrugged and waved them away, pointing the rifle at the port.

Bhutto yanked the boy to her and backed away from the door. Jane fired through the port, silent transparent shards showering the floor. She climbed through and landed on the wall of the docking bay. Several bodies littered her path. Bhutto still held a pistol on Jane.

Jane put her hands up. “Look, we can fight it out later, but we have bigger problems to worry about.”

“I know. D’Arcangelo’s the Leviathan. Somehow.”

“We’d have to stop him from getting to the Collective fleet.”

“You can’t,” D’Arcangelo echoed into their heads with smug satisfaction. He did not seem to be filtering his signals at all.

“Unfortunately, I think he is right,” Jane said. She logged into her Vegacorp account. But not the client account, this time. Learning about corporate governance might have been the smartest thing she ever did.

It was only hours later that rocket impacts came down on the Leviathan like a firecrackers on the tail of a bull. In a few moments, Jane and Bhutto and Alexander Invictus lifted off of the docking bay wall, once again weightless. Jane pushed herself to a viewing screen. One by one, little specks appeared like stardust swirling in a celestial wind. More rockets appeared, targeting various points along the hull. Jane should have been frightened, but she was too giddy. A fleet of security ships had formed around the Leviathan like a frenzy of piranhas over a drowned carcass.

“What did you do?” Bhutto asked.

The turret cannons began firing, but they were quickly disabled with more rocket fire.

Jane smiled. “I made a new contract with Vegacorp.”

Bhutto’s mouth hung open. “The Freyjans would never let that transaction go through.”

“I didn’t use Collective funds. I registered my salvage claim and offered the antimatter as collateral. The board and shareholders were remarkably quick to approve.”

“Red, this is dangerous. What if your comrades don’t back down?”

“Then we have a Corporate fleet between us and them, and we’ll figure something out. The Collective has no wish to entangle themselves in a corporate war.”

“Even if this ends peacefully, you become enemy number one.”

“I will not likely be able to return to Freyja,” Jane agreed.

“And what about me?” Bhutto asked. “Vegacorp has a bounty on me for a ton of credits, and on you too. And what about Alex? They’ll send him back to Loki with me.”

“That is a distinct possibility,” Jane replied. A proximity alert went off in her head. One of the Corporate ships had already attached to Leviathan’s docks.

“You bitch,” Bhutto dove at her, but Jane used her thruster backpack to dart out of the way.

“You bitch,” D’Arcangelo echoed in her head. “You think your silly fleet will stop me?”

Jane could not help but grin. The Leviathan would drift until corralled by corporate tugs. The corporates would mine the ship for profit until it was drained, then cast it aside, just as they did any other resource-rich celestial body.

Vegacorp blasted through the airlock door with their own self-building airlock installed on top of the original massive door. They cut through the two blast doors to form a smaller breach in the hull that their mobile chamber could seal with.

The portable airlock opened, and a familiar man floated through.

“Hello, ma’am,” he said. “It is good to see you again.” It was her insurance agent, the one who had sold her first policy. He reached out to shake her hand, and she took it, a little perplexed.

“Hello again,” she said cautiously. “What are you doing here?”

“I’m your policy agent, ma’am,” he said. “I’m here to make sure you are satisfied with your service.”

Jane had to admit, if you had the resources, the corporates could be the best of friends. And Jane was sitting on the largest stockpile of resources in orbit. Vegacorp had teams of surveyors running throughout the ship within hours.

Jane and Bhutto boarded the agent’s ship. The airlock hissed and even before the second door had opened, Jane had already removed her vac suit helmet, taking a deep breath of the still artificial but open air. The luxury vessel was lined with velvety black cushions instead of thin padded walls. The agent hooked himself to one of three harness attached to a track stretching down the entire corridor wall. He motioned for Jane and Bhutto to do the same. It took only a few moments to strap in, then the track whirred and pulled the harnesses along the rail. At each juncture in the hallway, the track split to allow passengers to be pulled through every section of the ship without having to make the least bit of effort.

They passed several junctions until the agent turned a corner into a small dead ended chamber with a locker the size of a dinner table attached to the wall. The agent scanned the lock and opened the locker to reveal a deep container filled with bags and bags of liquids, ranging from red and yellow to brown and amber and bright green.

“Can I get you a drink?” the agent asked.

Bhutto gladly partook. Jane politely declined. The agent even called for a butler drone to serve Alexander Invictus a flavored disc of boiled sugar molded over a paper stick. The boy hesitantly tasted the morsel with the tip of his tongue. Bhutto grinned at Jane through the straw of her drink pouch.

“So, total rogue AI?” the agent asked. “That must have been terrifying.”

“It was scary there for a little,” Jane admitted.

He nodded. “Our virus protection servicers should have that taken care of shortly. Once we confirmed that your signal was indeed coming from the Leviathan, we had no problem freeing up the necessary resources.”

D’Arcangelo would not be taken care of as easily as all that. But with luck, they may be able to purge him and retain most of the mental block technology.

The agent turned to Jane. “I understand you require quarters for you and your guests as well?”

Jane nodded. “I wish to personally oversee the completion of antimatter’s extraction. I will remain on site until then. My colleague, however…”

“Will also take a room,” Bhutto interrupted, with narrowed eyes.

The agent eyed them back and forth. Jane forced a smile. “Whatever you have available.”

The agent nodded and led Jane to a wide circular chamber with gray carpeted walls. A king size bed was fixed to the “wall,” which served as the floor. It was complete with puffy white bedspread and pillow, and beside the lack of legs for the mattress frame, looked like any other bed she would have found on any wealthy bedroom on the corporate moons. The wide circular ceiling was one single view screen looking out to space. D’Arcangelo had taken them far enough out of Odin’s orbit that the ringed giant now took just a little over a quarter of the screen.

“You can access the gravity simulator through net access,” the agent said. “You just need to make sure that everyone is in contact with the floor or it won’t start up.” He gestured to the round hatch door they had floated in on. “In order to open that door, the gravity must also be turned off.” He gave a slight bow. “Be sure to let me know if you need anything else.”

“Thank you,” Jane replied, and this time sincerely rather than out of politeness. She unhooked the rail harness and turned to Bhutto. “If you’ll excuse me, I am going to get some rest.” Bhutto took in the luxury bedroom before shaking her head. “Too fancy for me. I’m going back to the bar.” She followed the insurance agent out of the hatch, pulling Alexander Invictus along after her. Jane closed the hatch door and floated over to the bed. She grabbed one of the handholds on the bedframe.

Slowly, the room began to rotate. It spun faster and faster, until Jane was pulled outward and onto the bed. She could now feel the whole of her weigh of her body sink into the mattress, her head into the pillow.

Jane fell asleep before she even had a chance to pull the blanket over herself.

It took days to hammer out the details of the security contract with Vegacorp, but Jane got the impression that the negotiators was surprised with how quickly the process went. In fact, they were downright suspicious.

And they were right to be. But Jane’s frankness about Freyja’s competing claim to the generation ship had disarmed them. And no one in Odin space wanted to see the Collective take the ship, Vegacorp least of all.

It was shortly after the negotiations had finally completed when Jane’s bedroom workout routine was interrupted. Bhutto and the Vegacorp negotiators had convinced Jane to take part in the custom of drinking a sweet bubbly intoxicant to seal the deal. She felt the immediate need to clear her light head, leaving Bhutto and the security corporation officials to celebrate.

Jane was mid pushup when warning beeps chimed in her head. The captain’s voice came over the net. “We have a fleet of war drones approaching.” Jane rolled over onto the gray carpet.

“And they’re here,” Jane said to herself.

The revelry couldn’t last forever.

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