tagSci-Fi & FantasyDevil May Care Ch. 06

Devil May Care Ch. 06

byDragonCobolt©

She had aimed her grapnel for the axis point of the cylinder. As a way to cut down on emissions – and thus, reduce the chances of being detected – the bad guy's space station spun for its gravity. That made boarding it a tricky proposition, as simply landing on the side would have sent her flying off into interstellar space. But even standing on the axis point, Dey could feel the spin of the station, tugging on her. Loki could cut the inertia, but if she had to rely on that for more than a few seconds, her K9s would get drained faster than an iPhone two generations past its sell-by date.

Fortunately, the axis point being the place where the pseudo-gravitational effects of rotation was weakest also made it the best place to put an airlock. Dey pressed her palm to the contact point of the maintenance access panel and let Loki get to work. The airlock cycled and she dragged herself in. Gently catching up against the wall, Dey sighed – closing her eyes for a moment. She wasn't resting. She was thinking out basic plans.

[Sir,] she said, sending a message through the closing airlock doors. [I've managed to penetrate the airlock on the station. Loki, how are we on being detected?]

I think they might have detected us landing on the surface – but they don't know the airlock is open. I made sure of that.

Commander Atty's voice boomed through her head: Take the control system out for that damn Perseus ship! Now!

Dey nodded. The wall she leaned against gave – she sat up and then stood, realizing that the wall was actually the floor. She grumbled under her breath about ass backward spin stations. The elevator dropped down a shaft of metal and ceramics as Dey drew her pistol, checked its charge, and waited. When she got to the bottom, she and Loki were already prepped. The five security goons were prepped too – but they might have expected marines, not someone who could teleport behind them. Dey let her hand follow Loki's targeting patterns and each man hit the deck – the elctrostatic charge coursing through their bodies. Dey pulled a zip-tie from her utility pouch, and whistled cheerily as she took them each into custody.

"B-bitch!" one of the guards managed to snarl through clenched teeth.

"Thank you," Dey said in a sing song, picking up his civilian brand fluxgun from the ground. She checked the ammo read out, whistling quietly. They had almost a military amount of ammo jammed into its D-mag. She slapped the side of the rifle, then started forward down the corridor. [You jammed them, right?]

Don't teach your AI to suck eggs, Loki said, squeezing her shoulders.

Dey grinned, pressing herself to the side of the corridor as she continued deeper into the belly of the beast – listening to Loki as he sent back a spoofed report in the voice of the man who had sworn at her, replicated from a single word.

All clear down here – it was a false reading.

###

The brig was relatively untouched. The ironic truth was that the last thing you wanted your prisoners to do during a space battle was escape – and preventing escape tended to mean being protected better than the actual crew of the actual fucking space ship.

"Let me out." The voice that growled out of the cell that Marin walked past made him stop. He stared.

"You stabbed me!" he exclaimed, looking at the immense bulk of the Shockpod. The Shockpod grinned at him. Beamed, really. His teeth were incredibly sharp.

"That way, you know I am good at a fight. And this is a ship being boarded."

"How can-" Marin shook his head. He stepped backwards, so he could look at both the Shockpod and the Huntress' cells. "Listen, we're being boarded."

"Knew it," the Shockpod said.

"And we have no idea what the fuck is attacking us," Marin said, the marines and air force crew nodding for emphasis. A faint scream rang through the ceiling, followed by a screech of tearing metal. The ship shuddered. "But it looks like a black hole that is literally skinning people alive."

The Huntress' face plate shifted to a shocked :O face. "A Revenant," she said. "The Veil Keepers' personal attack craft."

"That thing's a fucking spaceship?" the air force woman – names, Marin thought, I need names – asked.

"The Veil Keepers do not differentiate between types of vehicle. They have but a single one, used for all manner of destruction. The only method to kill it is to use a Huntress," she said, sounding quite proud of herself. "There are many legends of our warrior-poets slaying Keeper craft in the last Great War."

"Or use a human-" the Shockpod started.

"Shut up Kuz!" the Huntress hissed.

"Open the door," Marin said to the air force woman. She looked at him blankly.

"I'm just a third rank astro!" she said. "I don't have access to the brig keys!"

Marin grumbled. "Fuck this." He pulled his pistol from his pocket. Or, more accurately, he pulled the chunks of what became his pistol from his pocket. As he snapped it together, one of the marines whistled.

"We need to update our security procedures," he said.

"Hey, don't feel so bad," Marin said, grinning as he switched the barrel from rubber to explosive. "I bought it on an alien planet. Everyone, stand back."

A moment later, the cell door exploded inwards.

###

Dey stepped out of the doorway after having walked down what seemed like an entire office park of empty comp-sci research equipment and abandoned corridors and came into the heart of the station. The inside of the cylinder, was mostly empty space, and that empty space was filled with a gorgeous atrium. Trees and plants, artfully done up to look like the forests and meadows of earth, spread outwards and upwards, circling overhead. She even saw a lake plastered to what her hind-brain tried to tell her was the sky. Loki quietly corrected that misconception and the panic faded.

But that didn't remove the buzzing fear and confusion that was at the root of it.

[Where is everyone?] Dey thought.

"Hurm."

Dey swung her rifle around to aim at the voice that emerged from the woods to her left. Standing there, cane in hand, was a older looking gentleman. He was nearly sixty, maybe sixty five – though thanks to the increasing lifespan of the average human, she wasn't sure if he was actually that old or older. He was dressed in a finely made three piece suit, with a tie tucked down his vest. His cane looked like it had some integrated technology worked into it from the way that tiny wires ran from it to his wrist. He was flanked by two guards, their rifles held at a steady rest. Dey's eyes narrowed.

"You don't seem particularly shocked," she said.

"When an admittedly very skillful spoof comes from a team of five security guards comes in, it is not exceptionally difficult to guess what is coming," the man said. He smiled, showing very white teeth. "Pleased to meet you, Miss Gallagher."

"Lieutenant," she said, not lowering her rifle.

"My apologies," he said, bowing his head. "Now, please, forgive me for not having a cat to pet. But I am the man you have been looking for. My name is Simon Woods and I am the one behind it all."

Dey looked at his face. Then she cocked her head. "Who the fuck are you?"

The response was expected – and yet, still strange. For a moment, Simon's face twisted into a mask of pure fury, rage, contemptible hatred. She could see the urge to not just hurt her, but kill her. And not just kill, he wanted to tear her to pieces with his bare hands. Then the moment passed and he brushed a single wrinkled hand along his chest, as if correcting part of his clothes that had gotten mussed.

"I am the head researcher on a project by my parent company. That is, Exxon-Dow Petrochem."

"Yo-" Dey blinked. "You're a petrochem company?"

The rifle in her hand vanished. Her arms twisted and yanked behind her back with a sudden wrench and Dey's eyes widened as she jerked her head back – and saw that a dark form was floating behind her. Panic. Not Mordin again! But then the panic eased slightly as she realized nothing was actually touching her. It felt like steel manacles were wrapped around her wrists and her arms and her shoulders, but they weren't physically there.

Simon sighed. "Everyone seems so shocked. Like we shouldn't be around anymore."

Dey, be very careful, Loki whispered. We're about a nanometer away from a black hole's event horizon.

Dey stopped struggling.

Simon stepped forward, cane crunching along the ground. "It all started off so simply," he said, caressing her cheek gently. "But people without vision can be so risk adverse. They wanted to end the project, you see, after just one failure."

"The AI ship," Dey said.

Simon nodded. "The AI research program was expensive and a dramatic solution to a vital, existential problem to the future of this company. And-"

"And you fucked it up," Dey said, sneering. "Let me guess, you tried to program them to be what you wanted, huh? No wonder you got a bunch of psychopaths."

A vein in Simon's forehead started to twitch.

[So, we can confirm that it was his brainchild. So, shall we say, middle manager?]

Dey-

"So, what were you making them for?" Dey asked, cocking her head. "Research? Advanced ways to fuck up a climate?"

"Social media," Simon said, voice cold as space.

"Social-" Dey started.

Simon stepped forward, prodding her chest. "Social. Media. Since the dawn of Baulder and the end of the Culture Wars, there are rules and regulations and watchdogs who prevent manipulation of the public opinion. It may be history to you – but it is a chain around my neck." Dey kept the look of contempt from her face. It was better than fear. "But an artificial intelligence can slip past the constraints that petty populist fools put onto America, the yoke that keeps the true America from surging into the future!"

"And the true America is?" Dey asked. Keep him monologuing.

"Me. Us." Simon stepped away, turning his back to her. He lifted one hand, laughing. "The makers. That is what this started as – swing a single election on a single pitiful planet..."

"Charon," Dey whispered, realization dawning. "You want to keep Charon out of the union. Holy shit, is this about the fucking Green party? You've started a shooting war with the United States air force to keep a few Green senators and congressmen out of the RepBranch? What the fuck is wrong with you? Are you insane?"

"No, Miss Gallagaher!" Simon said, thrusting his fist into the air, his neck bulging, his face bright red as his other hand clutched the cane. "I am a man who knows what you have forgotten, what you have been lied to about."

The black hole at Simon's beck and call pushed Dey forward onto her knees, her arms twisted around. She realized that he was putting her palms where they couldn't touch the black hole. [Not that we had enough juice to rip it apart, did we?] she thought.

No, but we might have hurt it. Loki muttered. His voice was focused, intense.

"You see, you believe," Simon said, pacing left. Pacing right. "You believe that America is a democracy. It isn't. It hasn't been since it was founded. It has been and always will be an oligarchy, and the use of money is how power is expressed. Money is the marker of royalty in America. Wealth is our crown, our scepter. Ignorant politicians and short sighted populists believe that they can put a yoke on their kings." He shook his head. "You think this is all about money-"

"And the environment, actually," Dey said, her voice cheery.

Simon spun back to face her.

"Because that's your profits? Pulling oil out of untouched ecosystems and turning it into plastics to choke our oceans," Dey asked, cocking her head. "I mean, you can't burn guzzaline anymore. Though, my question is, if you're some glorious king, where the fuck-"

"Shut up!" Simon stepped forward. "Shut up! Shut up you fucking brown trash-rat! I am-" He stopped himself from his rant. His breathed in. Shuddered. Stood exactly in the right spot. He looked like he was marshaling his thoughts.

Dey grinned. "Also, so you know!" she said. "We're a representative republic. Not a democracy."

The grapnel on her left hand fired.

Simon staggered backwards, cane tumbling from his hand, the guards jerking back and away from him, their weapons jerking up and aiming at Dey. The black hole behind her shuddered and twisted around and the gravity holding Dey in place faded away as Simon hit the ground, the look of utter shock plastered onto his face with a spread of bloody droplets, his left eye pulped into nothingness.

The guards lowered their weapons – slowly. Dey stood, smiling.

[Nice shot, Loki,] she said.

One day, that trick isn't going to work, he said.

"Thanks," the guard on the left said. "Holy fuck, thank you."

Dey blinked. "That is not what I expected to hear."

"Dude," the guard said, grabbing his helmet, yanking it off. He looked tired – his eyes had bags under them. His cheeks were sallow. He looked like he hadn't shaved in weeks. "You don't know the half of-" his eyes widened and he grabbed and shoved Dey to the side. A beam of pure, swirling white light slammed into the man's chest. He didn't have time to scream before he was turned into a pulped mass of bone and flesh.

Dey blinked, then looked back at the black hole. The red eyes glowing in the center of its head looked terribly familiar.

The voice that oozed from it felt like cold water sliding down Dey's ears.

"Thanks for shutting him up," it gurgled.

###

The Huntress cracked her knuckles. At least, that was what it looked like she did. Her palms pressed to her knuckles, and two jets of steam hissed from the joints of her articulates gauntlets. When she was done, the emoticon spread across her face was steady and comforting looking.

"So," she said. "The Revenant-"

A scream of agony and a rattle of gunfire came from the deck overhead.

"-can only be slain by the greatest of Huntresses. Fortunately, I am here."

Marin looked at Air Force. Air Force looked back at him. One of the marines was standing near the doorway that lead to one of the ladders that led from deck to deck – looking up nervously at the sounds of combat.

"It's heading for the engine!" the marine said.

"Okay, enough bragging, how do we kill it?" Marin asked.

"Bring me to the Revenant and I shall tear it apart with my bare hands like the heroes of old," the Huntress said, her hands clicking as her knuckles bumped against her hips. Her emoticon face twitched to a proud looking smile. >:)

Marin rubbed his hand along his face. "All right. But I'm a firm believer in cheating. So, I'm going to go up first and distract it." He tried to not think about what the Revenant was doing upstairs. IT was hard, considering the loud, wet slapping noise that echoed down from the ladder. A series of banging clangs filled his ears. The airlock doors shutting. The captain was trying to isolate the boarding party. He was dreadfully sure that that wouldn't work.

"You can't do that, sir, you're a civilian," the marine said.

"Yeah, that means I'm the expendable one here," Marin said, looking at him. "You guys are the ones who know how to fight – and if this doesn't work, then you'll need to kill it creatively." He started for the ladder. The marine grabbed his shirt, shoving him backwards. Marin stumbled.

The roof above them shattered downwards. Fragments of metal went flying through the air, several of them glowing cherry red. The marine had enough time to scream before the Revenant dropped onto him. There was a moment of red light – and a spray of blood, whipped against the wall with the speed and strength of a hydraulic drill. Stinging, Marin staggered backwards, his hand raised. Red welts were raised along his palm, painfully visible against the whitening tattoo he had gotten. The marine's fluxgun orbited around the black hole as it stood from its snack.

As Marin watched, a second black hole stepped out of it, the two connected for a few moments by stringy bits of unreality. Those snapped and the two Revenants stood there. Marin was faintly aware that he could hear more screaming from upstairs.

"Well," he whispered. "That just got worse."

The Revenant cocked its head. Glowing red eyes flicked across its face.

"Marin!" It said, arms spread in a grotesque parody of a greetings. Its voice sounded like liquid ice being gargled by a demonically possessed food processor.

Okay. Now it was even worse.

"Greetings, Revenant of the Veil Aliens!"

Kuz's booming voice filled the corridor. His arms were spread, his stubby, muscular chest flecked with bits of cooling metal. He wore only his pants and held only a sleek knife that Marin was fairly sure he had hidden on his person in a very private place. Now, Marin was no expert on the expressions of dolphinoid aliens genetically engineered to be super-soldiers by the Yahaag, but he was pretty sure Kuz was looking as joyous as a Shockpod possibly could.

"In the mode of my most admired humans, I shall strike at you with weapons hilariously inadequate for the task!" Kuz was laughing as he charged forward. His bellow went from low to high pitched, the sound surely warped by being transmitted through air, rather than through water.

The two Revenants stepped to the sides and let Kuz charge between them. He slammed into the wall, with the perfect slapstick timing of a Cohen Junior movie.

Marin, who had managed to scramble to his feet, shook his head. That was just mean.

He looked back.

The Huntress was gone.

"So much for ancient warrior-poets," he whispered. Air Force was huddled in an alcove across from him, her hands to either side of her face. She looked like she was trying to do some mental math. Marin pulled his pistol, learned around a niche that had been put into the wall for some reason, and fired at the two Revenants. The explosive bullet flew into one of them and vanished. He shook his head.

"The engine room!" Air Force said.

Marin blinked. A mental image of what that would have to be on a ship this size. Immense DV generators. Black holes. Warping space time. Bending it. Huntresses. All the pieces jumbled around his head, a confused mess. Then he shook his head, and the pieces seemed to snap into place.

"Come on!" he said, backing away from the alcove. The Revenants started to walk forward as he fired shots into them. Even at this range, his accuracy with a pistol was piss poor. This turned out to be a piss awful decision – each near miss got caught in the ferocious if unevenly applied gravity well of the Revenants. They proved more than willing to release the bullets back at him, and at speeds. One exploded against a lighting fixture to the right of Marin's head, showering him with heated fragments, a slice opening on his cheek. Another hit the bulkhead that had slammed shut before him and Air Force.

Fortunately, Air Force was ready. She banked to the left, grabbed onto a ladder, and slid down to the next level. Marin grabbed onto the ladder and dropped as well – his chest wound paining him for a moment. But he had to admit, save for the occasional pang, he could barely tell he had been stabbed in the chest yesterday.

And frozen.

And technically dead.

He had been having a shitty week.

Air Force ran around the corner – then flung herself flat as a series of bullets shot past her. One sparked off the ground near where she had dropped.

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