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Darkship Revenge: Chapter Three
Last updated: Friday, February 24, 2017 21:03 EST
Into the Known
Going to Earth involved going to Circum Terra, in Earth orbit. If it were held by friendlies, I could get military-level help in finding Kit.
Circum Terra is an old space station. Rumor has it that it started, long ago, in the mists of the twentieth century, as the international space station, but no one knows if that is true.
Between us and that time on Earth lay several world wars, several new ways of living and storing information, new ways of governance, the rise of the seacities, the fall of the continents, the imperium of the Bio Lords whom everyone else called Mules, the Turmoils, the rise of the Good Men and three hundred years of so called peace and stability.
Even the records of Eden, which were more reliable than those on Earth, couldn’t say for sure how Circum had started. Some said it was what remained of the building of the only interstellar vehicle Earth had ever constructed, the Je Reviens, which about half the bio-lords had taken when they’d escaped Earth, after the Turmoils. It had certainly been used for that.
If it had been the international space station, no more than a little core of it remained, built around and around with new stuff. Whenever Circum had been built, it had been built on a grand scale. That would fit with its near-Earth orbit, its neat doughnut-like structure, and its haphazard utilization. It had as many closed and forgotten docking bays as open and operational ones, for instance. And it was huge for something used only for research, scientific experimentation and some communication relay.
We got to Circum on the third day after Kit disappeared. In a way it was reassuring to see its lighted doughnut shape in the sky, next to the haphazard, rambling and also glowing thicket of the powertrees.
The powertrees had been seeded back in the twenty first century and they were biological constructs designed to collect solar energy and relay it to Earth mostly in a beam and were still used, both by Earth and by Eden, though the Eden usage was somewhat less than authorized.
I hadn’t sped up the cathouse to catch up with the ship that had taken Kit. For one, because I couldn’t. The Cathouse didn’t have a button or pedal for “make it go faster.” But even if it had had such a thing, just based on how the triangular ship had disappeared, I doubted it could be caught by something like the Cathouse.
Instead, we’d used the three days to sleep a lot, feed Eris a lot, and– Heaven help me, did babies run up a lot of waste products. It seemed like my days were entirely bounded by Eris’s physical needs. And I missed Kit. Not only because he was an extra hand to change diapers, either.
I had to find Kit. Which was going to be interesting, with a baby. Sure, in my younger days I’d terrorized reform schools, psychiatric hospitals and the occasional broomer lair. But not with a tiny creature attached to me who couldn’t even hold up her head.
The first thing to do, I realized, was scout the lay of the land. I told Eris this. Two hours or so out from Circum, I picked her up from a nap, dressed her in one of Kit’s undertunics, and explained the plan, “You see, with Earth in a civil war, we really can’t assume that Circum is on our side or their side. So we need to do some listening in on communications and see if we can determine it.”
She crossed her eyes, pushed out her tongue. “Yeah, I understand,” I said. “We shouldn’t have a side, really. But we do, because most of my friends are on the Usaian side, the side of the revolution against the Good Men. And if they’re in control of Circum, then we might be able to get in touch with someone, and make our going to Earth much easier.”
“Of course I left my friends in charge of Circum, but you know what men are. Okay, I guess you don’t, but you will. If you don’t check on them every minute they lose stuff. So, it’s possible that in the months we’ve been gone, the Good Men have taken over the station, in which case we’ll have to kidnap someone, steal a ship and make it to Earth. Inconvenient. And more protracted.”
From her intent, glaring frown, Eris would seem to agree.
Unfortunately, the scanning of communications frequencies was less than enlightening. I guess a research/scientific experimentation/powerpod harvesting station has the same kind of communications everyday regardless of who is holding it. Unless it is during an active take over.
Most of what I got consisted of this:
“ must send someone to harvest quadrant five of the powertrees. Several powerpods will blow and seed or reseed there if not taken soon.”
“ . Hold full of powerpods. Permission to dock in fifth dock, port?”
“ . Found a fascinating genetic mutation in mice raised under null gravity conditions ”
“ . Solar flares intermittent.”
Any and all of those could be taking place under control of the Good Men, the now diminished, but even a year ago all-powerful oligarchy that had held tight over most of the Earth. Or it could be happening under the control of the Usaians, a semi-religious sect based on the governing principles of the old North American territories, whose revolutionary forces had wrestled control of some portion of the Earth from the Good Men.
I’d been away five months, and left Circum in control of the Usaians, several of whom were my friends or old broomer-lair mates. They might by now have won their war and be in control of the Earth as well as the station. Or they might have been exterminated. The effect on what I’d overheard emanating from Circum would be next to nothing. Stupid scientists and harvesters! They’d go on the same way, about their routine, no matter what the changes in government.
“Okay,” I told Eris. “We do this the hard way.”
Which involved going below the power tree rings, and under most of Circum, to the unused side of the station.
The used side faced the powertrees. They were called the powertree ring, and I understand once upon a time they’d been planted as such so that they could be accessed and harvested from outside or inside. But as biological, living plants which harvested solar energy and concentrated in their fruits, the powerpods, they were of necessity unstable. At some point, between the rule of the Bio Lords who’d built them and the Turmoils, during which the old beanstalk was still used to send organic material to feed them but the harvesting was irregular and infrequent, they’d exploded and reseeded and exploded again. Now they looked like a spinney ball, a tangled patch of dark diamond-hard trunks, with glowing, unstable powerpods sprouting at random.
Harvesting them was dangerous work even for the official Earth collectors, with lights and locators. It was worse for the Darkships of Eden, which collected blind. But we managed.
I considered briefly navigating through the forest of trunks and powerpods to get to the other side, perhaps harvesting on the way.
But it was not something you should do alone, even if my husband had done so for over a year, between becoming widowed and meeting me. It could also be argued that at that time he’d been suicidal.
I wasn’t suicidal and I had no intention of risking Eris. So I dove under the powertrees, under most of Circum, in the shadow of it, which helped conceal the Cathouse. This was helped by the fact that the cathouse was, being a darkship, painted in black, unreflective paint, which melded with the shadows.
I came up on the other side of Circum, totally unused the last time I’d been here.
It still looked unused. I couldn’t see movement of ships around the periphery, and there were no lights save for beacon lights and those weak.
So far so good. Finding an unused bay was relatively easy, too. Well, finding a bay. It was almost impossible to tell if it was unused or not, until you were entering it. There were membranes at the entrance to all the bays. Two sets of membranes, forming an airlock. And maybe the membranes had been transparent at one time, but they were all opaque now.
Given the size and lack of maneuverability of the Cathouse, that meant things could get dicey. It was kind of like going into a mountain tunnel in your flyer without knowing whether there was a flyer already in there, coming the other way. There were no traffic lights to help guide you on the way.
Eris didn’t like it. She was strapped on, under my suit, to my chest, her head just beneath my chin. I wouldn’t subject her or myself to the helmet until I had to, and I would only use the helmet because some portions of Circum didn’t even get oxygen and I couldn’t be sure where I’d end up.
She hated the pressure of the belts across her front, and the fact that I was concentrating on piloting and not on her. Being my daughter, and not liking something, meant she kept up a continuous, low-grade complaint. Only, of course, because she couldn’t kick my ass.
I realized stealth might not be possible with her. Ah, well. All I could do was try. Most people, would probably frown at taping the baby’s mouth shut. Kit would if — when I found him. I held my breath, and plunged through the first membrane that covered an opening large enough for the Cathouse.
Inside the tunnel war dark as the distant reaches of space. I took another deep breath. Backing out of here was going to be a right bitch, if I needed to do it.
There shouldn’t be anyone inside, not in this part of the station. Why couldn’t I just turn the lights on? Because, idiot, there might be someone, I told myself. And that would be disastrous, if Circum is in enemy hands.
In front of me, more guessed and “felt” than seen, was another membrane, this one, probably from being sheltered from the vacuum still semi-transparent. I held my breath as I plunged through the membrane, afraid I’d find it occupied at the last moment, and have to pull back, a maneuver easier described than done in a completely spherical, almost-too-large ship, piloted by someone who was no pilot and who had a squirming baby strapped to her midriff.
I pushed all the way in, and when no other ship materialized, turned on my lights.
Eris continued squirming and complaining, in a thin, creak-like cry as I brought the Cathouse to rest on the floor of a cavernous and abandoned warehouse.
I made all secure, removed any materials mostly data gems that would give away where the Cathouse had come from, or that it had come from somewhere else, armed myself with all the burners onboard, strategically distributed about my person and Eris’, put the diapering material in a bag slung over my shoulder, put the helmet of the suit on, and locked down the Cathouse.
I didn’t like leaving the Cathouse behind. It wasn’t just that Kit and I had a substantial portion of our net worth, or rather our net debt, invested in the ship. It was also that, no matter how carefully scrubbed, if it fell in the wrong hands, it would give people who might want to destroy us or Eden substantial information that would make it easier. Eden might not be the refuge I’d once hoped it would be, but it was still Kit’s beloved homeland. I couldn’t risk seeing it destroyed. Or his family, who had welcomed me with open arms.
On the other hand, I couldn’t “park” the Cathouse in Space. Sure, I could set it in orbit somewhere, but without a lifeboat, there was no way to leave it. And it was more likely to be detected in orbit than in a Circum bay.
Which didn’t make it any easier to walk away from it and towards the inhabited side of Circum. I needed to get to those areas, if I wanted to steal a ship that could take me to Earth.
It took a long time. I walked towards the busier parts of Circum along a corridor that went from derelict and dust-covered to looking like warehouses filled with cases and warehouses filled with scientific equipment.
I knew I was approaching the inhabited parts of the station when I started hearing human steps, and muffled voices, as a long distance away.
If I could have come across a bay with one of the Earth-bound ships that took packages to Earth and brought supplies back, or even one of the bigger harvesters which could withstand atmospheric reentry, I’d have stolen it and have left Circum with no more trouble. Contrary to what Kit, and friends of mine have said at various times, I don’t actually try to leave a trail of destruction in my wake. Not on purpose. It just tends to happen.
And this time, it just happened that, as I rounded a corner of a pile of crates, I ran headlong into a young man. We both stepped back, and he hesitated a moment. Long enough.
Part of the way I’ve been bio-improved is to be faster than anyone else. Than anyone else who wasn’t bio improved, at least. So when he hesitated, I pounced, jumped behind him, grabbed him around the chest pinning his arms. I was completely out of shape, but still had naturally improved strength. He struggled, but not long, because I’d pulled a burner and had it to his head.
I had to speak louder than I intended, because Eris had started crying louder, but I was speaking almost in his ear, so he couldn’t avoid hearing it. “Stop struggling right now. If you do what I tell you nothing will go wrong. I just need a ship.”
He stopped struggling. He was a little taller than I, not much, and thin to the point of stringy. His sparse blond hair looked like had been self-cut, in the dark, without the benefit of a mirror. One of the scientists in Circum, I imagined. Though there were exceptions, they tended not to be magnificent physical specimens.
He was trying to look at the burner, with his head somewhat turned, and his eyes trying to escape sideways off his face. “Is that really a burner?” he asked, his voice very low.
“No, it’s a toy. What do you think?” I asked.
He swallowed. “I think it’s a burner.”
“Would you really shoot me?”
“Only if I have to,” I said. “I don’t want any trouble. I just want a ship back to Earth.”
A long shudder went over him, as though he tried to recoil from my touch at the same time that he was trying not to upset me. “Are you can I ask a question?”
“Sure. But then we have to go find me a ship.”
“Okay. Okay, but ” His voice was very low and hard to hear over Eris’ crying. “Look, do you really have two heads?”
I think it was the surprise of this and also the racket that Eris was making that made it possible for me to be ambushed the way I was.
Just after I said “What?” I felt something heavy hit my skull, and then everything went dark.
In the darkness there were voices. Male voices, almost whispering, not so much as though they were trying to avoid waking me but as though they were trying to be respectful in the presence of the dead, which I was almost sure I wasn’t.
“ materials are of unknown manufacture,” one said.
“She looks familiar,” the other said. “I’ve seen her somewhere before.”
There were other voices, too low to be understood, and I didn’t have time to waste on them. I was taking stock, instead.
It is something I tend to do early every morning, anyway, which amuses Kit because he says I’m the only person he knows paranoid enough to think through everything around her every morning, and make sure her body is still all there, and that no one has captured her during the night. Which just shows two things: first that I sometimes talk as I’m coming awake; and second that the foolish man doesn’t go through that verification routine when he wakes up. Entirely his problem the day he wakes up body swapped with a tentacle horror and captured by spider aliens. And I didn’t know why he’d laughed when I’d told him so.
But in this, case, having been out, taking stock of myself and my surroundings was even more important. First, because they might have done something to me while I was out. Once, when I’d been unconscious for an extended period of time, someone had stripped me naked and strapped me to a hospital bed, under armed guard. You just never knew. And second, because I had to know how many of them there were, how well armed, and if they were prepared to fight. Which was essential if I was going to escape.
And I was going to escape. As I had from that hospital bed, under guard.
I was lying down on something soft. Nothing was broken. They must have removed my helmet because I could smell the air in Circum with its tinge of staleness and — Eris wasn’t on my chest.
My taking stock of myself and the situation stopped. My heart sped up, and panic invaded my mind.
Eris wasn’t on me. She wasn’t attached to me. “Eris!” I said, sitting up. And as I sat up five males took simultaneous steps back. There was the blond guy I’d held hostage, and four other men, all of them looking like scientists. I had the vague impression they all looked alike. It probably wasn’t true, but there were all tall, skinny and had that look have having spent the last thirty years awake and studying.
Three had their hands up, in a fending off gesture. The fourth, darker haired than the one I’d first captured, stood with his arms akimbo and looked openmouthed at me, as his lips worked silently, as if he were doing difficult calculations. He cleared his throat loudly, snapped his mouth shut and croaked “Discordia?”
By this time I was standing up. His word barely registered, and I found I was yelling “Where is my daughter? Eris? What have you done with my daughter?”
They crowded together, as a group, as if by standing back to back they could avoid my killing them. Ah. My father, were he still alive, could have told them better. It just gave me an easier time targeting.
The guy I’d first taken hostage was making obvious efforts to speak, but seemed to have lost his voice. He pointed behind me, and I looked at the bed, and there, sprawled next to where I’d been, was Eris. She looked unconscious, but as I picked her up, she opened her eyes and made a gurgling sound.
“We we changed her and fed her,” one of the other guys offered, as if he were trying to appease me. “She wouldn’t stop screaming till we did.”
I sniffed. She did smell clean and had that look she got after eating. I might have to let these idiots live. “What did you feed her?” I had nightmare visions of them expressing my milk while I’d been unconscious.
“We had some baby formula,” one of them said, and to what must have been my stunned look, because save for occasional and rare visits, everyone on Circum Terra was male and fully grown, he swallowed, “Well, old formula powder, which I think was meant to be loaded in the Je Reviens.”
Well, great. My daughter had just been fed some more than 300 year old formula. And the greedy gut had eaten it too. On the other hand, I knew some of that food had been preserved for the long haul in deep-frozen stasis. Though what the all-male mules wanted with baby formula was beyond me.
I looked at Eris. She looked fine. Which was good. If she so much as spit up, though, someone was going to die a painful death.
One of the scientists cleared his throat. “You seem to be lost and disoriented. We imagine you ditched from a ship in distress?”
I raised my eyebrow at him. They looked back at me with a mixture of fear and worry. I swear I can’t generally hear thoughts other than Kit’s, but I had the impression I could hear the guy I’d first taken hostage thinking yeah, she distressed the ship, then left.
“I mean, I mean,” the man said. “We have contacted Olympus Seacity and as soon as possible, they will send someone up to take you back and and restore you to ” My expression must be too easily read. His speech had slowed down as he talked, and he was looking at me as if realizing he’d said something wrong, or at least that his explanation wasn’t going over the way he’d expected.
For my part, I was thinking, very quickly. First, they’d contacted Olympus Seacity. Last I’d heard, that island was the center of the Usaian rebellion, and that meant that, at least if the rebels hadn’t be utterly eliminated — I stopped, because that was possible, in which case it was quite possible that Olympus Seacity just meant another center of the power of the Mules, who had once been the Biolords and who, after the Turmoils, had taken over again under the guise of “Good Men” and pretending not to be bio-improved. And if that was the case, then I was in de-facto enemy territory.
I cast about for something to tie Eris to myself. Look, she was my daughter and I would look after her, but a baby in a fight is a liability, anyway. A baby you have to hold with one hand while fighting is a worse liability. I didn’t want her getting dropped, tossed or, worse, captured. There’d been a little piece of cloth by her side, which probably had been over her to begin with. I grabbed it and tied it around me and over my shoulder as a sling, into which I settled Eris. She was looking at me with big, expectant eyes, and I smiled reassuringly at her. Then I looked up at the men, who were staring at me with a confused expression.
“You see, Madam, one of them said, apologetically. “As soon as we can there will be help –”
I nodded. “I presume you talked to Good Man Keeva?” I asked.
Good Man Keeva, aka Lucius Keeva was the most prominent of the Usaians, and incidentally a friend of a friend. Okay, technically the lover of a friend, though it was none of my business.
If he was still in power, I’d be safe. Not that I actually expected my captors to have talked to him. It was far more likely theyR#8217;d talked to an underling ten levels down.
But what I got were raised eyebrows, a confused expression and “Who? No — He is not in charge –”
It was all I needed. They’d taken the burner I’d carried, of course, but thank heavens for small favors, scientists are not usually trained in searching women for weapons. Or, be fair, searching women. If that were part of scientific training, research would attract an entirely different kind of man. While I asked the question I’d reached the most accessible of my hidden weapons, and no, I’m not going to tell you where I’d hidden it. I might need it again in the future. I pointed it at them.
They looked surprised. One of them opened his mouth.
“Shhh,” I said. “Not a sound. Do not under any circumstances call for help. Who else knows I’m here? Who called Earth?”
“I — We — d- d- d-”
It was the blond man I’d first held hostage. “Easy now. Who else in Circum knows? Where are we? How do we get out of here? How can I get an atmosphere capable vehicle?”
“We didn’t think you really meant to kill anyone!” one of the other scientists managed to get out.
“I don’t,” I said seriously. “Unless I have to. Who else knows I’m here. What kind of guard would I have to defeat on the way to finding a vehicle?”
Two of them looked at each other. “We didn’t tell anyone else, one said. You looked harmless, just a little confused. I mean, you have a baby. We just thought if we got you help and if you calmed down, everything would be okay.”
“Ah,” I said. I’m many things but I’m NOT guileless and trusting, and they were speaking a little too fast, a little too glibly. I smiled maniacally at them. “You see those wires there?” In the corner of the compartment, with the bed and the covers, there were a bunch of circuits and wiring. I’d bet money this was one of their rooms and that they used it as a place to tinker with computer equipment. I pointed the burner at the scientist I’d first captured. “Easy now, I want you to tie all your friends’ wrists and ankles with those, and no funny business because my burner is going to be pointed at you. And I’m going to be verifying the tying job.”
I once escaped twenty people, surrounding me, holding burners. Not something I’d want to do while holding a baby. But I had advantages over the scientists. The first was the ability to speed up to a speed that most normal people couldn’t even see clearly, much less respond too. It wasn’t as fast as the speed of movement engineered into Eden’s Cats, but it was fast enough, for long enough. The other was that I’d gotten into so much trouble growing up that it had become a training of sorts. I knew exactly how far I could push a situation, how I could deceive my opponents into giving me the advantage, and how to escape a bind.
Because this scientist might have the same sort of propensities, I watched carefully, while staying out of range of a sudden turn-and punch, or even a sudden stretch-and-reach.
Weirdly, neither the guy I had the burner pointed at or his friends tried to fight it. This was good, because if they had, I would have had to shoot them. Once upon a time it wouldn’t have bothered me at all. To be honest, it still didn’t much. A little, I suppose. I’d come to realize other people, even those who opposed my objectives, were people. Someone’s son or daughter, husband or wife, father or mother. Sure. I sort of got that. In the sense that I knew it, and I’d figured out that shooting people I didn’t have to kill was bad. But I still did not get it at the level other humans did. It came from not having been raised like a real person, from never having had to think of other people as being like me. From my earliest remembered thoughts, I’d been different, separate, set apart. As the daughter of the Good Man, and then, in Eden, as Earth-born.
My upbringing had been isolated, apart, and frankly unpleasant enough that I’d never bonded with anyone outside my broomer’s lair. For them, or now Kit or Eris, I would die or kill. Anyone else didn’t much matter.
But Kit cared. He’d be very upset if he found out I’d killed random people who weren’t even, properly speaking, friends or foes. And having Kit think well of me had become one of my primary objectives in life.
So I was very glad the scientists didn’t fight back, and even let my hostage gag them. Of course I tied him and gagged him in the end. Just before I did I asked him again where to find the ships that could take me down through the atmosphere.
His nervous stammer came back, “That — ththathatha –” He pointed to the right.
From which I assumed that meant I should go to the left.
Which is what I did, after looking out of the door and making sure no one was watching the hallway.
It was the same hallway I’d been walking down, when I’d been hit on the head. I started trotting to the left, around a bend — And almost into the arms of an armed guard, who shouted “Hey.”
Either the scientist was very, very cunning, or, more likely, so simple that he had outwitted me by telling me the truth.
The man didn’t draw his weapon immediately. I think this was because I had a baby. In most circumstances, most men aren’t ready to fire on a woman. I’d taken advantage of that any number of times. But a woman with a baby seemed to be a force multiplier. I needed to remember this.
He didn’t even threaten to fire on me. As I turned and started legging it the other way as fast as I could go, he shouted to my back, “Hey, hey,” and then started running after me, but the expected “stop or I’ll shoot,” never came. Of course, perhaps he was a mechanic and figured his pay didn’t include grappling with crazy women.
I ran as fast as I could, until I caught sight, out of the corner of my eye, of a bay with a shiny ship parked on it. It wasn’t as big as my father’s space cruiser had been, and it looked much like the air-to-space my friend Good Man Simon St. Cyr of Liberte Seacity had once used to bring me to Circum.
A ship like that was much like a flyer, meaning it was probably only one room and there was slim to no chance anyone could hide in it. A larger ship would be hard for one person to control, but this —
I continued running till I clambered aboard. There were two young men in what appeared to be sky blue uniforms there. Sky blue was Olympus, but they’d told me Luce was no longer the Good Man of the City, so there would be no point in trying to appeal to his authority. Instead, I motioned to them with my burner and said, “out, now.”
They looked at me, looked at the baby and backed past me, without reaching for the weapons at their belts. I really must remember this baby as a magical shield thing. It almost compensated for the disadvantages of having a helpless and noisy human strapped to my front.
I closed the door of the air-to-space, just as I heard my pursuer arrive running. There were shouts from outside the ship as I dropped into the pilot seat and checked the fuel gages. Miracle, it was fine.
Eris started crying as we took off. I’d have to feed her as soon as we were out of range of Circum weapons.
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