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“The Freyjan Collective has laid claim to this vessel,” a pleasant voice said. “Evacuate our resources and disperse, or we will be forced to engage.” The Corporates scrambled their ships and their crews. The two fleets amassed around the one giant asteroid ship, circling it, vultures competing for an orphaned calf.
Jane rushed out of the luxury yacht bedroom and towards its command center.
“We read you Freyjan Collective. You are mistaken. This salvage is the property of a Vegacorp, Limited, client. The register is in order. If you trespass, you will be fired upon.”
Bhutto appeared from the bar chamber. She squinted, already intoxicated from the free liquor. “Red, did you just start the first interplanetary war? That’s… badass.”
“I wouldn’t get your hopes up, I still intend to pull this one out without blowing us up.”
Bhutto gave a thumbs up, and sucked another drink pouch dry from a thin straw. She crumpled it up and left it floating for one of the butler drones to clean up.
The warships were circling each other now, daring each other to make a move. Opposing ideologies, little understanding or respect for the other culture. One slipup would ignite an O2 canister of itchy trigger fingers of two fleets.
“Look,” Jane said to the agent huddling in the command center. He barely paid notice to her, despite her new position of privilege within the security firm. She had to flag him down before he turned to her with wide uncomprehending eyes.
“The Collective doesn’t even want the antimatter, not primarily. Let them have the rights to the convict’s lab. Vegacorp can disassemble it, pack it up, and deliver it to a Freyjan courier. Just don’t let the Collective near the Leviathan or its data drives, whatever you do.”
The agent shrugged. “You’re the client.”
But even as she had said it, Jane knew that the Collective would never settle for whatever scraps an Odinian security firm deigned to allow them to keep. And the security firm would never see it coming.
They saw everything as profits and losses. They would never consider an extended campaign against a distant enemy, not when they were the ones expending resources. The Freyjans considered resources, to be sure, but they would not bow to contracts, and they would fight well beyond what the Corporates would find reasonable. The Corporates had no soul, no belief; that was why they were so void of purpose. The Collective, on the other hand, fully concentrated on the betterment of humanity, would not be stopped by a fleet of glorified security guards.
And that is how they would fall to the Brain Butcher, if she couldn’t figure out a way to save them.
Bhutto bobbed drunkenly into the control room after Jane. She dimly looked toward the behemoth that dominated the viewport and smiled. She must have seen the concentrated and organized chaos of the survey crews fleeing the Leviathan.
“They’re sure worked up over something.”
Moments later, the alarms went off once more. The fleets that were threatening each other in a careful waltz of saber rattling now split up, some reacting quicker than others. The particles that made up the fleet rippled organically and randomly apart. It took Jane a while to realize that they were not attacking, but in a mutual retreat - as quickly as they could muster.
A crewman skidded by on a rail. Young, and a little chubby. Jane grabbed him by the arm and was pulled alongside him. “What is going on?” she demanded.
“The plant is in self-destruct,” the baby-faced man said. “There’s been a leak in the containment field. She’ll blow any minute.” He then shrugged her off, continuing on her way.
There was a brief jolt from Jane’s heart that sent pinpricks down her spine before she understood. Jane smiled and shook her head. “Halt your retreat,” she ordered over the net.
No response. Bhutto floated over from down the hall, now pulling Alexander along by the hand. She met Jane with a curious expression.
“Did you hear me?” Jane asked. “I said stop running away. It’s a trick.”
Bhutto’s eyes widened. “Just like when you and D’Arco bailed?”
“Her and D’Arcangelo.” Jane said. She would not identify with that woman. It was damaged software, in need of replacement. Namely Jane. She pulled herself up by one of the hand rungs and blocked one of the crew. “Stop the ship. Revert course. It’s a trick. D’Arcangelo would never knowingly destroy himself.”
“Red, even if I think you’re right, it’s not worth the risk that you’re wrong.”
The crewman had turned back, carrying a container of some kind. Jane pulled her pistol. “Turn this thing around,” she said.
His harness stopped abruptly in front of them, making him bob back and forth. His eyes darted from Jane to Bhutto and back. “I can’t do that. We’ll die.”
“You’ll die either way, if you don’t,” Jane replied. “Now do it.”
If they gained too much speed, it would take forever to turn around, and give D’Arcangelo plenty of time for whatever he was planning.
“We have him, Bhutto. We’re not going to let him escape.”
“Escape? He’s a ship. With his engines disabled. And the Collectives are bailing with the rest of us. Where is he going to go?”
“I won’t let him get away with it.”
Alexander clung tighter to Bhutto. “Is it going to blow up? I want to leave.” He buried her head into her shoulder.
“I’m not going to let you put us in danger like that, Red.” Bhutto slurred. “Not even if I think it’s a trick. I’d rather let him go.”
She produced a pistol. “Put it away.”
Incensed, Jane swiveled to face Bhutto. In an instant the crewman she held hostage pulled out a wand of crackling energy and pressed it into her back. An intense numbness ran through Jane’s body, then she went limp. Bhutto nudged Alexander aside and seized her by the forearm. Jane cried out, she tried flexing her back and shoulders and triceps with all of her will, feeling the blood pounding in her head. It did no good, she had no control over her body. She watched the Leviathan retreat into the view screen, shrinking until it was nothing more than a blot against the black.
He had won.
The Leviathan had completely disappeared from sight when another star appeared in its place. The dot of light quickly bubbled into an orb of bright light, so bright that Jane cringed. Even with her eyes shut, it painted the inside of her eyelids a painful white.
The light dissipated just as quickly as it had appeared. Jane opened her eyes only to have a pulsing purple blotch follow her gaze wherever she went, marring everything she looked upon.
That residue was the last vestige of the Leviathan, and it slowly faded as well. Jane finally, slowly, began to regain feeling in her limbs.
Jane bit her lip. “I never would have believed it.”
“Just be glad that we did.” Bhutto said, rubbing her eyes. “Such a damn waste, everything we’ve been through.”
It was, but it could have been worse. Much worse.
“I have to go back to the Collective,” Jane said.
“Why the Hell would you want to those power-hungry maniacs?” Bhutto asked.
“I can still go with you, right?” Alexander Invictus asked. “Red? I can go?”
“You can live with me,” Bhutto said.
Jane raised an eyebrow up at her. “I suppose we should ask the boy what he wants to do,” Jane said. She knew Bhutto could never argue with that.
“Fine,” Bhutto said. “Alex, where would you like to go? Would you want to come live with me, or get your memories erased with Aunty Red?”
Red did not object to her biased question. She waited for what the child would say.
“I want my memories erased,” he said. “I don’t want to remember home. I want to see the fountains and the fields, and everything else you said was on Freyja.”
“Well then I guess it is decided.”
“He doesn’t know what he is doing,” Bhutto muttered.
“That may be so,” Jane replied. “But are you going to make the choice for him?”
Bhutto frowned, and shook her head. “If he’s anything like I was at his age, he’d be gone within a week.” She turned to Jane. “Just do me a favor, Red. Think about what you’re doing. Take care of the kid.”
Jane nodded. “All of Freya will take care of him,” she said. “You have my word on that.”
Bhutto twisted her face into a look of distaste, but she nodded. “I guess that’s as much as I can expect.”
When Jane finally returned to Freya, she had expected to finally be at ease. Despite the familiar sights and sounds and smells, and the comforting sense of security of being back home, she could not seem to quell her anxiety. It did not make sense for D’Arcangelo to destroy himself like that, even out of spite. Jane chewed over the question even as the authority drones escorted her and Alexander to the mind rehabilitation facility.
She held the little boy’s hand walking down the featureless white corridors, No flashing signs or gaudy ads. No distractions. Jane sighed. A simple peaceful existence.
Besides the mind wipe chamber, the white room was bare save for a few power cords. They were more efficient than air transference currents. It indicated an unusually large energy drain. There were no need for monitors, as the Collective officials information transmitted directly into their minds. In that way, the only ones who gained the information were those intended to have it.
The cylindrical mind wipe chamber itself reminded Jane of a giant test tube sitting its head. There were no visible seams, but after a soft whirring, a gap in the glass appeared, indicating the entrance. Jane squeezed Alexander’s hand. He looked up at her, his eyes wide and glistening.
“Will I remember you?” he asked.
Jane smiled. “Of course, you will,” she replied. “Only the bad memories go away.”
He nodded solemnly and stepped into the chamber. A transparent permaglass door shut between them. The warning light came on as the device warmed up.
Alexander fixed his gaze on Jane. She placed her palm against the permaglass door.
“Make sure to get rid of all the times the glowing eye man poked me,” Alexander said helpfully. “I don’t like shots.”
Jane started. “Do you mean D’Arcangelo?” The flash caught him mid nod, and the memory wipe was done.
Alexander hopped down from the table and approached the permaglass door. He studied Jane, until a slight but familiar smirk grew on his face. Jane’s hair stood on end. Her blood grew hot under her skin, but she did not twitch a muscle. Any sign of outrage or plea of help would be behavioral misconduct.
The permaglass door opened, and what used to be a little boy stepped out of the transparent permaglass chamber. To any other observer, he was still that same boy, minus a few behavioral disorders and traumatic memories.
Jane knew differently. Where there was once a little boy, now resided a psychotic megalomaniac, who would have nearly free reign of the massive Collective city floating above the swirling yellowish gas giant below. The little boy gazed at her with the face of a man far older, relishing in his victory.
But he had not won yet. She still had a few moments of this consciousness remaining. With those few precious moments, she could access the neural net and contact anyone with a connection.
One of the regulators nudged Jane closer to the mind wipe chamber. It was only a nudge, but it had the force of the entire Freyan Collective behind it, and Jane felt that weight pushing on her.
It was possible her memories would survive, but she could not count on it.
Alexander is D’Arcangelo. Remember it. Alexander is D’Arcangelo. Don’t let that slip from your mind. Another step forward, and Jane crossed the threshold into the chamber, ignoring the smug grin from the little boy watching her go through.
Alexander is D’Arcangelo.
She might still have access to the net outside of the Authority.
The woman wasn’t reliable. She shared no common values. She would never risk what it would take to stop him.
Jane heard the low hum of the chamber powering up climb to a crescendo.
Alexander is D’Arcangelo.
Jane sent the message, hoping against hope that it would not be intercepted. Then came the flash.
END OF BOOK I
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