tagSci-Fi & FantasyDevil May Care Ch. 03

Devil May Care Ch. 03


"Plebiscite! Plebiscite! Plebiscite!"

2nd Lt. DeShane Gallagher let her finger drop from the window blinds that looked out onto the protestor clogged main thoroughfare of Liberty, shutting out the pale red light of Proxima Centauri and turned to her superior, Captain Moon Two.

"I think they might want a some kind of plebiscite or something," Dey said.

Moon Two, as befitted the name bestowed on him by parents who had clearly not thought very far ahead in their child's life, had absolutely no sense of humor. Dey was fairly sure he had had it surgically removed in elementary school as a survival mechanism. He sent a look at Dey and the soundproofing that the apartment came with hummed on, then faded away. The noise canceling worked almost perfectly, the only sounds that Dey could hear at the moment was the faint, subliminal thump of hundreds of feet walking by outside.

Liberty had been founded in the 40s by a bunch of anarcho-libertarians and radical progressives. No government, no gendered pronouns, no war, no...well, no a great deal of things. They had lasted four years before internal division and pressure from corporate interests on Earth caused fissures in their civilization that had dropped the colony of almost ten thousand people into an undeclared shooting war. A year later, President Gardner -- riding high on the acquisition of Ceres and several other extrasolar colonies -- had dropped troops and Liberty has been a territory and commonwealth ever since. The old radprog constitution remained.

That was what the protest was about.

"We're not here about them," Moon said.

Really? Loki muttered in Dey's head. I don't know, did you read the briefing? I was sleeping.

A knock and ping came at the front door. Dey's hand went to her holstered pistol, but she dropped it once the ping filtered through her perception -- it was the ping they had expected, sent out by an RIFD chip that only their contact was supposed to have. Moon moved into a covering position -- just to be safe -- and Dey stepped over to the door. She tapped the unlock button and found herself face to face with an unsmiling Chinese woman. She stepped into the room and Dey shut the door again.

Dey let Loki handle the introductions -- her AI had a fully integrated connection to the hundreds of implants that laced Dey's body. That gave him enough control to move her lips and work her diaphragm. And, well, he knew how to make the tiny noises that the Chinese languages (whichever it was, Dey couldn't keep it straight) needed to speak. "Good day, Agent Pan."

The Chinese secret service agent nodded curtly. "Lt. Gallagher," she said, her English impeccable. "Strange bedfellows, huh?"

To say that the geopolitical situation that had dragged Dey out of the solar system and to the nearest and oldest settled human colony world was fraught and overcomplicated would be a tad like calling the sun a mite bright. Imperial Russia wanted the resource rich and strategically viable colonies on Trappist-1A. The Chinese would really prefer that they keep their colonies and the access to stable transuranic elements created by the unique nature of the planet's geological history. Unable or unwilling to come to a peaceful resolution to this problem, the two empires had started shooting at each other. And like most wars, it was taking longer than anticipated.

But wait. It got better.

The Russians had a deficiency in their comp-sci. After the glory days of their hacking in the 'oughts and the 'roaring' 20s, the rest of the world had caught up and surpassed them. The terrors of the Reformation and the restoration of the monarchy under Tzar "Vladdy" had given the other superpowers even more of a headway. So, how do Russians fix their comp-sci problems?

Theft. Theft tended to be a good idea, if you could pull it off.

Hence why a spy had broken into the top secret military base where Dey and her AI companion (and a few dozen other AI/human partners) were being trained and started stealing gestating intelligences from storage.

Just one tiny problem.

The spy, after his body had been examined and poked and prodded and studied, wasn't Russian. In fact, it hadn't even been human. That wasn't as big of a shock as it would have been a century -- or even a few decades -- ago. Humanity had run into half dozens of alien races while trying desperately to out-expand one another, and the most curious and enigmatic of those races were the Perseus Mumblers. Dwelling beyond the veil of a black hole, the Mumblers offered amazingly advanced technology...for anyone willing to trade.

Someone had punted the asshole through the Mumbler's event horizon and he had come out radically augmented. Untraceable. But as many people had learned since the dawn of the internet, nothing...nothing...is beyond doxing.

"The information contained in this drive cannot be traced to any of our agents. Don't even try," Agent Pan said, holding up a wafer of clear plastic containing a bead roughly the size of a grain of sand. "It dissolves without the right command code. I get what you offered, I give the command code."

Moon's AI, Bastet, sent the assent codes to Dey. Dey stepped forward and set down her own little drive.

"Names of every Russian spy we know operating in Beijing," Dey said. "Not all of them, but enough of them."

Pan took the drive. She eyed it, then looked at Moon. "We all trade codes on three, yes?"

"Seems rational enough," Moon said, his eyes not wavering.

Dey shifted from foot to foot. This was where the tension got just a bit tighter. The faint drumming, thumping sound of footsteps outside the window continued to thrum through the building. When everyone in a room had the ability to rip people apart with augmented super-powers, the temptation was always there. Gun or no gun, the question came: Was it better to just kill them and run, or better to let the offer stand. But then Moon nodded. Pan relaxed slightly.

The Chinese agent turned and left, without so much as a goodbye.

Dey breathed slowly out -- a sigh she hadn't known she had been holding.

Moon looked down at the drive on his hand.

The plastic popped open with a sigh so similar to Dey's that she eyed it suspiciously. She picked up the bead with her fingertip and walked it to the external terminal. It was totally possible for the two agents to access the data chip with their AI. But, like making love without a condom in the days before BSSTIT, it wasn't really the best idea. Doubly so with someone who very well might have been carrying the computerized equivalent of AIDS. AIs weren't as easily hacked as they were on the vids, but that didn't make risking it anything less than terminally stupid when you were walking around with enough implants that could rip you and the building you were in to pieces if they went haywire.

The external terminal pinged and displayed a halo of data files in a shimmering holographic interface.

"Showy Google POS," Moon said, slapping the side of the terminal until he got it to display in the touchscreen that made up the main body. He started to spool through the information, his lips pursed. Dey leaned over his shoulder and -- once more -- felt a bit like a big squishy machine that carried the person who did all the real work.

She couldn't read the text nearly as fast as Loki. He highlighted text and flashed it in her vision, letting her get a read on it as Moon kept spooling forward. Dey tried to not scowl.

It was a load of fuzz.

That was something she hadn't expected when she had been transferred out of the USAF training program on Ceres to the Devil Program. At the end of the day, Devil Troops weren't just soldiers. They were intelinet troubleshooters, special forces, and spies all merged into a single cohesive whole. Great in terms of operational flexibility. Irritating when the only thing you had wanted to do with your life was fly cool spaceships.

Fuzz was an intelligence term. Basically, nothing was certain in the world of intelligence. Physics might have the surety of gravity and the absolute confidence of thermodynamics. But intelligence had a load of probables, and maybes and well I guesses. The Chinese had been keeping tabs on people who dealt with the Mumblers on Charon. Logical, considering what the Mumblers could do and the fact that the Chinese had two colonies in the V616 Monocerotis system. Research colonies, of course.

"So, we can cut at least half that intelligence out of the process," Moon said, quietly. "The grad students and the small corporations don't have the resources or need to steal a bunch of AI cores."

Dey nodded. "That still leaves at least two dozen names."

"Skim out the non-Russians-" Moon stopped himself and shook his head. "No. We can't rule out that this wasn't something else."

Dey rubbed her palms along her face. [Loki,] she thought. [Can you run down how many of these people are still on Charon?]

The list pinged and names were highlighted in red, gold and black. Black for those who were still on Charon. Gold for those in the Alpha Centauri/Proxima system. While Proxima Centauri and Alpha Centauri were both far enough apart that the primary stars of the system were little more than white dots at night, they were still relatively close. Close enough that a ship could get to the various balls of gas and rock that orbited around Alpha Centauri without needing to activate their main drives.

"You take orbital space, Lieutenant," Moon said.

Dey looked at him.

"Orbital space is easier for someone on their first assignment," he said, his voice calm. Rational. Still didn't stop Dey from having to beat down her natural urge to growl at him. "Less places for someone to run."

"Also more ways for me to experience the joys of decompression," Dey said, frowning.

And to her utter shock, Moon slapped her shoulder. "Think of it like this, Lieutenant," he said, then actually smiled. "At least you don't have to deal with the boreworms."

Dey frowned.

Loki, helpfully, brought up a picture-in-picture window in the upper left hand corner of her vision. It was a few choice clips from the destruction of St. Daniel -- captured on a half a dozen webcameras and cellphones and streamed live on Twitch. Thankfully, he kept out the sound, but the looks on the desperate citizens as they fled the teeming masses of the boreworms was more than enough for her.

"When do I hit the shuttle?" she asked.


"What do we want!"

"One vote, one vote, one vote!" The crowd shouted back. The speaker was standing ontop of a parked hover-truck, her megaphone in her hands. She was dressed in the fashion that was all the rage across the vids: Long coat, with pink fringes along the bottoms. Her hair was done in a more classic punk style, and she had a privacy protection make-up. The idea had been that the random rectangles and black circles painted onto her cheeks, and the half-cheek cover that was mounted on the shoulder, would all work together to fool facial recognition software.

In all, it was roughly on par with going into battle against modern fluxguns wearing full plate.

You'd die looking stylish as fuck.

Dey, by comparison, looked downright staid in her plainclothes outfit. She kept her hands in her pockets and let Loki guide her around the worst knots of the crowd. She stepped past a small burning drum where people were throwing in scraps of paper.

[The hell are they burning?] Dey asked.

It looks like their birth certificates, Loki said. That's what the plebiscite is about, you know. Pronouns.

[You know, they said that in the briefing, I still don't buy it,] Dey said as she finally got to the edge of the main street and started down an alleyway. Liberty was a proper city by now -- it had gotten almost sixty years of development and growth to earn the winding back alleyways, the confusing street placements, the multiple redundant systems laid atop old failing systems that hadn't been allowed to be cycled out of existence because they were still technically needed as the new systems were built. It also, from the three goons that followed Dey into the alleyway, had some of the criminal element that a city on Earth would get.

They are armed, Loki said. Detecting some bats, clubs, I think one might have a stubgun.

[Oh heaven forefend,] Dey said, mock fear filling her thoughts as she kept walking forward. [Think they're just taking advantage of the distracted police, or is this something more nefarious?]

I've done a facial check and looked them up on Facebook. Lets just say they vote lunatic fringe on the Democratic ticket.

[Oh. Goodie.]

"Oi, transie!"

Dey stopped and turned around. The head thug pointed his finger at her, grinning slightly. "I saw the way you was walking. Only chipheads walk like that." He slapped the woman to his left -- laughing slightly. They all looked eager, their eyes glinting.

"No, I'm thinking you're confusing augmentations with not being so inbred you call your sister Mom." Dey smiled brightly.

Hey, Dey, aren't we supposed to be keeping a low profile?

[...right...] Dey thought.

But it was a bit too late for that. The head thug scowled and started forward. He lifted up his hand, a crude club in his hand. Now here was where Dey had a choice to make -- her mind whirring as time seemed to slow down. For the vast majority of people with augmentations, those augmentations were either a personal choice (and paid for out of their own pocket) or they were therapeutic and needed for them to live. The lunatic fringe of the conservative element of United States politics, being carefully courted by the Democratic Party in an old political strategy that never backfired once in the long history of the United States, hated both. Equally.

Almost no one had enough money to get the augmentations she had.

She could have kicked their asses in a few seconds just by letting Loki go nuts with her implanted DV emitters.

But, as he said.

Low profile.

So, Dey used the other thing the military had taught her. She grabbed the man's wrist and twisted while bringing her knee upwards. His arm bent in a direction it really shouldn't have. The man shirked and Dey stepped backwards, her fists up as she glared at the other two. "Now," she said. "That bone might have cut some seriously important veins. If you get him to a hospital, he'll be using that arm next week. If you don't, you might need to roll him into the fungal field by the end of the hour. So, you can either try and kick my ass, or you and I can call this quits."

The two toughs looked at her. They looked at their friend, who was clutching at his arm. The upper end of it flopped -- a stomach churning sight.

They grabbed their friend, helping him to his feet and away.

Dey turned and hurried off.

And, unnoticed by her, a figure on the rooftop of the apartment building that boardered the alleyway stood.

"Very interesting," she said.


The municipal spaceport of Liberty looked and was organized like a brick. It was perched, by necessity, at the edge of the city and by the demands of the local Green mayor and Green city council and Green voters, on the only piece of real estate near the city that wasn't covered with one of the omnipresent Charon fungal pits or their attendant ecosystems. That meant that Dey had to catch a maglev train from the middle of Liberty and ride it up a small mountain to reach the spaceport proper.

It did give her a fantastic view of the planet.

"Shame it's the second most fuck ugly planet I've ever seen," Dey said, frowning.

Ceres doesn't count, Loki said. This is the most ugly planet we've seen.

[If Pluto is a planet, Ceres is a planet.]

Pluto's not a planet.

[Tell that to the fifty six thousand people living on it,] Dey said, grinning.

The broad sweep of the plains that surrounded Liberty were bisected by the barrier mountains that had made Liberty a choice landing spot in the first place for the original colonists. Protected by the prevailing winds and sitting in a lush valley that got enough rainfall to support as much crops as someone could want, the only thing that made the local area anything less than perfect were the fungal pits. Three to four kilometers wide, who knows how many kilometers deep, they were like huge puckered pimples on the surface of the planet. Colored a plum purple, shaded a deeper color of disgusting red by the omnipresent red sunlight, the fungal pits only got more grotesque when you realized that they moved slightly. The five meter wide, wormlike growths that made up the main spongy mass of the pits constantly writhed. In actuality, they had less in common with fungus, despite the spores that they released every five years.

According to the briefing Dey had been forced to read, they had more in common with deep sea thermophiles. Scientists theorized, but hadn't proved, that the pits went down into the core of Charon, and the plants fed off the heat there, rather than trying to wring any energy from the red light from overhead.

The maglev train whisked the view away from Dey, thankfully, by plunging into the side of the municipal spaceport, brakes whirring as it decelerated and came to a smooth stop in the internal passenger unloading bay. The lights here were the same red as the lights outside, but walking from the bay to the insides of the spaceport took Dey through a series of rooms where the lights changed hues subtly from red to yellow, until she was in the spaceport proper.

Once there, Dey took off her sunglasses, tucked them into her pocket, and headed for the booking terminal.

So, where do we hit first? Loki asked.

[I'm going off my gut,] Dey said. [And my gut says that the first four names can be ignored. It's not that I don't think that a Russian petrochem magnet doesn't want Russia to get their hands on some AIs. But I just don't see them getting involved. Petrochem's a shaky enough foundation to build your fortune on.]

And the criminals?

[Criminals do things that make them money. Fucking with the US government on this level just gets you in Gitmo,] Dey said. The terminal had a short line. She smiled at the man she got behind -- he looked at her, then looked her up and down. A slow whistle came from him. Dey stopped smiling.

"Sorry, just-" he started.

Dey grinned. "Man, that was too easy." She shook her head. "I was flattered, stick to your guns."

The man looked completely befuddled. The line shuffled forward and Dey gestured with one hand to the terminals. He beat a hasty retreat.

You're like a cat sometimes, Loki said, sounding bemused.

[What can I say? I like fucking with people,] Dey said, smiling to herself.

When she got to the terminal, she tapped it on and found a shuttle that was heading for the biggest orbital habitat in the area and the place where she was going to find her first candidate. Persephone II, built in the 2090s by a multinational corporate lobby, was neutral ground. Anyone from any of the superpowers could show up. The rules were simple and to the point: No weapons, no fighting, nothing that infringed on the MCL's profits.

[Whose the MCL on this one?] Dey asked.

General Starships, Xenos Paradigm Biosystems and Apple Computers, Loki said -- searching up the information in the time it took Dey to blink. Looks like it's a general purpose corporate research park. XPB is a genomic corporation doing research on the fungals. I think they're trying to adapt it into a biological borehole that can produce cheap geothermal energy. Oh, that's neat.

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