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Thread: Something New

  1. - Top - End - #1
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    Marlowe's Avatar

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    Default Something New

    Felt the urge to write something that isn't a mess of other people's characters, ideas and artwork so I just started this. Appreciate comments, feedback, criticism. You know.

    Spoiler: 1
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    Local time counter up in the corner was reading 2349 when the clearance abruptly cut. One moment had the beautiful arabesqued layers of green on darker green on black of the Hamilia CenCom page displaying me a mess of delicious numbers. Next I had an ugly pink bar of light crossing my terminal screen. Against the pink were phrases in Romancha Hangul, Neo-Runic, the usual useless Mandarin that nobody can ****ing read anymore and phonetic English telling me "ERROR: UNAUTHORIZED" in letters black as warnings.

    I did that stupid thing where you work the scrollbar hoping that it's just a glitch that'll be relieved by a little wristwork and then I stepped away. Right. They're onto me then.

    Right then, it's been three weeks on this rock. They'll be coming. Himalia wouldn't cut me off like this unless they were truely concerned about me. No, that's not Himalia now, that's not Gudrun Hasso's way of dealing. If they were cutting me off at this odd hour it meant they had something on me.

    Stand up. Back away from the terminal screen. Good thing I'm short. I don't hit my head against the low ceiling of the Coffintel. And ****! Why did I rent a Coffintel when everything else about me suggests I could do better? It looked like a low-risk move at the time but that time was twenty-times twenty-four ago. In the meantime I'd demonstrated an extensive expense account, screwed a couple of the local beaus, bought some nice bits of cloth, and generally looked like someone who could afford much better. But yet I stayed in an under-performers Coffintel with a ceiling an inch above my head and a cooker that had probably been through the Ceres war. Right, and that combination wouldn't look suspicious. Crap. And then I go messing around with Himalia CenCom pages. Double crap.

    I'm an idiot.

    I could have rented something a lot nicer. If I'd had the credit. And I'd shown I'd had the credit. If I was just the type to live rough and party hard I wouldn't have gone poking around in CenCom's backpages. That sort of thing is for glamorous journals. And such a person would have rented a better place. I'd just fallen between the stools. ****. I'm not a professional spy. A professional spy wouldn't have ****ed up like this. I'm just a piece of disposable that IoMine has dirt on. It's not even good dirt!

    Not dirt good enough to be worth getting Gudrun Hasso's goons gutting me over anyway. Well, hindsight is everything. I should have just told IoMine to go on-line and be damned. Hindsight, right?

    Okay. I'm in pleather shorts and top. That'll have to do. They don't have complete control yet. Grab my second best jacket, throw a change of underwear and some cleaning stuff in my purse. And my back-up drives. And I even hesitate a bit over my credit chit. Granted, they can track me through it, but my account is guaranteed from Callisto, with reciprocal guarantees in increasingly complicated deals through seven other banks based between Jupiter and the Belt, and in general is probably the most secure thing about me. Gudrun's operation isn't doing to catch me yet. Not that way. I've got a few solid gold coins, based on IoMine, and they're legal tender anywhere but it sure is hell finding a place to change them.

    I want to look like I'm going out looking like I'm just doing a domestic run. I do this all the time in this part of Himalia. I go out looking for dumplings, condoms, strong drink, water, and protein. Hopefully, I've established a reputation for doing just that. Certainly done it enough before. So me appearing out the door purse over shoulder isn't going to be an issue to casual eyes and ears and noses. I have enough vanity and self-possession to check myself out at the window next to the shoewell before I head out. I'm short, well-rounded, brown, and cute. I'm not a threat to anyone. I'm not running away. I'm just a buxom little brown girl off on housekeeping. I thumb the door open.

    I get some compliments on my arse from some voices back down the shaft as I start ascending the climbing frame up to Central. I ignore them. If there's one thing Gudrun Hasso's done right, it's keeping people safe from the gangs.

    Let's backtrack here, for those of you who care.

    Himalia's an asteroid rather longer than it is broad. And so, to make it a colony, someone hollowed out its interior with a large central shaft. Like boring an apple, someone told me. I've no ****ing idea what an "apple" is, but apparently that means something. Place has been set to spin, not to Earth-Grav, because that would be ridiculous, but with enough centrifugal to give it a decent pull toward the sides. It's got more pull than Callisto, take my word for it.

    Most of the pleasant places in Himalia, the ones they show to people, are built onto-side of that central shaft. The deeper city, the places my scummy coffintel is built into, are burrowed into rock far away from that central shaft. Off-side shafts. Linked by elevators and walkways and by winding lovecraftian passages, I did wonder, should I try to get away through the dark areas and brave the gangs? Or should I avoid the climbing racks up the secondary shafts and take the elevators?

    Elevators mean being stuck with people. And if you've attracted Gudrun Hasso's attention, that isn't a good idea. The dark passages aren't safe. For a small women on her own. I've no desire to let a pack of asteroid punks waylay me in a disused mining corridor. Not when I could at least do better.

    Get to the docks. Girl. Get a ship. Get off this rock.

    That's what I told myself. Reaching up. For the next piece of frame.

    Spoiler: 2
    Show
    This rung. Next rung. The other rung. Upper body strength. Be nice to have some. Always though the climbing racks were for pain-junkies. Well, they say Gudrun Hasso uses them all the time. Sure it's just to make the rest of us look bad. Golden light of the central core above. Light breeze of ventilators on my face. Darkness picked out by neon below.

    Below. Himalia has deep lateral shafts. Vicious spin. One of the few rocks where you can experience the fear of heights. Fear of falls, more like. Too much grav. Too much empty below me with metal at the bottom. Wasn't used to this. Callisto's all nice even floors and levels and broad escalators. Nothing's ever very far below you. Himalia just felt physically wrong. Wandering into an excessively stylist old film wrong.

    Space. I don't mind space. One of my earliest memories was me, about six. Plump little brown butterball in a pressure suit. Clinging to a run on the outside of Connemara Raveline. For about twelve hours while the Sec guys and girl dealt with some crazy flashtail with a gun and a body bomb. Stupid. Wasn't even anything political, for all I heard. Twelve hours of staring at the distant glow of Jupiter and the bright ice of Europa and the hard starlight darkness all around. That hadn't scared me. Space was space. You take care of your suit and it takes care of you. Space doesn't pull you down screaming through air and flickering garish neon to splatter-

    I'm an idiot. No, I was worse than an idiot. Irrational. The climbing racks snake up the side of the shaft in gentle curves coiling back and forth, a broad safety shelf running beneath. In better parts of the rock the shelf was planted with colourful vegetation and flowers and tiny, stunted trees and all that other crap people like to care for and maintain to try to make themselves forget that they're living in a glorified cave in a rock in space. This wasn't one of the better parts. There were pumpkins.

    Okay, so maybe I'm not so irrational. I might have to push really hard to miss the shelf and fall to my death, but I'd rather not land in someone's garden either. People take their vegetables seriously.

    Reach the next level. And I want to stop calling them levels. Himalia's not laid out in anything so neat and organised as levels. Himalia has spaces bored out where people needed spaces bored out for some reason and then bored out other spaces to make those first spaces more accessible. And then the mining goes on and people go be boring somewhere else and what was a generator room or such is no longer needed and turns into a place where people try to live instead. Anyway. Reached the next place. Little arcade where I'd down most of my shopping in those golden old times of earlier today when I wasn't being hunted. Step off the frame into a glaring flickering neon.

    And what's the deal with Himalia and neon anyway? And why is always flickering? It's not like they can't do decent wiring. Do they just like it this way? Lights a flutter? I work my arms back and forth to get the blood flowing again and try not to jump when I see the two leaning against an ale vendor. Sleeveless pleather jackets. Charcoal-grey leggings. High, broad-toed ****kicker boots. Gang tattoos on the arms but the uniform's a nastier tell. Inner Guard, they're calling themselves. Gudrun Hasso's people.

    The girl gives me a look. Round blue eyes beneath garish dyed-pink curls showing blonde roots. I tense up to run but she just turns back to her stringy-haired male partner, who's talking about collective responsibility of those can to stand up for those that can't and those other things people say so they don't have to think of themselves as the boot-boys of a facs-of a commun-of an anarcho-syndica-of a murderous dictator. No real reaction to me. These two are just doing their rounds. They're not part of those specifically after me. Yet.

    Only since I'd just given them a nice demonstration of how poorly-built I am for climbing it would look strange if I kept doing so. Got to keep looking normal. Look like I'm just out on errands. Go to a Vendor and, not really thinking of what I'm buying, get a razor, some soap, and a can of a particularly vile local cola. As the last item clashes into the tray. I hear the Inner Guard girl purr something about "getting the authentic 'Malian experience" and I feel those blue eyes on me again. Shouldn't make a difference. I'm almost certainly on SecCam anyway. But I know a lot about Gudrun Hasso's operation and I know there's not enough people in it to look at more than one camera in ten every few minutes or so and these two are looking at me now. And blue-eyes has spotted I'm not from round here. Haven't said a word and she's already spotted I'm a stranger.

    Inner Guard, I'd heard and seen, aren't such bad boys and girls. Certainly less obnoxious than the corporagoons who ran security here back before things went haywire. They're essentially the cream of the various gangs that Hasso used to get into power. But if they had reason to pay attention to me things were going to get septic fast. Walk away, looking calm and unflustered. Open the can with a pop and slurp a mouthful of liquid sugar and caffeine. Nothing to see here, Miss Stormtrooper. Just a tourist out on an errand. At 2356 hours. Through one of the less savoury parts of the rock.

    Keep walking. There's an actual corridor leading away from this Arcade. Leads by divers turns and twists up to the Central Core and it's one of the bits of the place I actually know. Once I get to the Core, get transit, it'll be a lot harder to catch up with me.

    Pass a side-corridor. Ignore it. Keep walking. Hear a quick step behind me. Someone's behind me. Quick-stepping. Light. A woman. Move to the left, against the wall. Let her passed. Please don't be Blue-Eyes.

    She moves past me. Inner Guard pleather and boots but it isn't Blue-Eyes. A little too short and a lot too lean. Decent arse and not much tits and as she turns her profile clicks and I realise it's Gundrun Hasso.

    And then her leg snaps back and her heel catches me in the gut. And her hand comes over and slams into the side of my head. And my head hits the wall. I don't recommend having any of these things happening. And I'm down.

  2. - Top - End - #2
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    Thanqol's Avatar

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    Default Re: Something New

    Quote Originally Posted by Marlowe View Post
    Felt the urge to write something that isn't a mess of other people's characters, ideas and artwork so I just started this. Appreciate comments, feedback, criticism. You know.
    I feel like doin' some editing so let's go.

    Overall: Generally a fan of your short, punchy sentences.

    Local time counter up in the corner was reading 2349 when the clearance abruptly cut.
    I think you should really punch up the opening sentence a lot. You only get one of these and it's the most important sentence in the whole thing. The gold standard, IMO, is 1984's: "It was a bright cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen". Setting and dissonance in one breath, the entire story woven into a single sentence. Meditate on it.

    One moment had the beautiful arabesqued layers of green on darker green on black of the Hamilia CenCom page displaying me a mess of delicious numbers. Next I had an ugly pink bar of light crossing my terminal screen. Against the pink were phrases in Romancha Hangul, Neo-Runic, the usual useless Mandarin that nobody can ****ing read anymore and phonetic English telling me "ERROR: UNAUTHORIZED" in letters black as warnings.
    "Letters black as warnings" - unh? Why miss this opportunity to worldbuild about this presumably cyberpunk setting. Say 'Letters black as an Exec's heart.' or something.

    I did that stupid thing where you work the scrollbar hoping that it's just a glitch that'll be relieved by a little wristwork and then I stepped away. Right. They're onto me then.
    Replace stupid with 'novice' or 'civilian' something, IMO. Weave some slang into the character's voice and you'll ground the setting and personality instantly.

    Right then, it's been three weeks on this rock. They'll be coming. Himalia wouldn't cut me off like this unless they were truely concerned about me. No, that's not Himalia now, that's not Gudrun Hasso's way of dealing. If they were cutting me off at this odd hour it meant they had something on me.
    Remove right then, 'truely' is spelt 'truly'. I think that this paragraph is a bit disjointed. Follow the logic in turn - Himalia's betraying me. Now? Why? They're better than this - this must be really bad.

    Stand up. Back away from the terminal screen. Good thing I'm short. I don't hit my head against the low ceiling of the Coffintel. And ****! Why did I rent a Coffintel when everything else about me suggests I could do better? It looked like a low-risk move at the time but that time was twenty-times twenty-four ago.
    Twenty times twenty-four is a fantastic phrase for grounding in a cyberpunk post-diurnal society.

    I'm an idiot.
    I think something more slangy than 'idiot' would really work here. "Civilian" is what I'd pick. I think cyberpunk really works from blending corporate jargon into everyday speech, and one constant about corps is their fetishization of the military.

    I've no ****ing idea what an "apple" is, but apparently that means something.
    That's clumsy. Refer instead to seeing apples in the commercials of upmarket lux districts. You're in a weird ass setting, take every possible opportunity to build context - the cyberpunk mantra is 'make everything chrome, then cover it with dirt'.

    Most of the pleasant places in Himalia, the ones they show to people, are built onto-side of that central shaft. The deeper city, the places my scummy coffintel is built into, are burrowed into rock far away from that central shaft. Off-side shafts. Linked by elevators and walkways and by winding lovecraftian passages, I did wonder, should I try to get away through the dark areas and brave the gangs? Or should I avoid the climbing racks up the secondary shafts and take the elevators?
    What's the business case for Himalia? Is it a mining colony, a lux resort, what? Corp everything first, brand everything first, and then give it to the street. How does this person know what Lovecraft is and not apples?

    Space. I don't mind space. One of my earliest memories was me, about six. Plump little brown butterball in a pressure suit. Clinging to a run on the outside of Connemara Raveline. For about twelve hours while the Sec guys and girl dealt with some crazy flashtail with a gun and a body bomb. Stupid. Wasn't even anything political, for all I heard. Twelve hours of staring at the distant glow of Jupiter and the bright ice of Europa and the hard starlight darkness all around. That hadn't scared me. Space was space. You take care of your suit and it takes care of you. Space doesn't pull you down screaming through air and flickering garish neon to splatter-
    Thumbs up, solid work.

    And what's the deal with Himalia and neon anyway? And why is always flickering? It's not like they can't do decent wiring. Do they just like it this way? Lights a flutter? I work my arms back and forth to get the blood flowing again and try not to jump when I see the two leaning against an ale vendor. Sleeveless pleather jackets. Charcoal-grey leggings. High, broad-toed ****kicker boots. Gang tattoos on the arms but the uniform's a nastier tell. Inner Guard, they're calling themselves. Gudrun Hasso's people.
    If they call themselves Inner Guard, what does the street call them?

    Inner Guard, I'd heard and seen, aren't such bad boys and girls. Certainly less obnoxious than the corporagoons who ran security here back before things went haywire. They're essentially the cream of the various gangs that Hasso used to get into power.
    Don't use abstracts like 'get into power' - use specifics like 'they're the bastard survivors of the Section 49 Massacre'. Ground things wherever you can.



    Overall this is really good and you should feel good about it. Writing style is on point, crisp, sharp, clipped. My big suggestion is to take more opportunities to ground the story with language, jargon and casual references. Your basic scenario is clear and familiar enough that you can do a tonne of world building by thinking a little bit about the language people use and think in. Chrome everything up, then dirty everything down.
    Last edited by Thanqol; 2017-09-07 at 08:08 PM.
    You can pack your bags, buy your ticket, take your train
    You don't have to wait a day.

  3. - Top - End - #3
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    Default Re: Something New

    Criticism appreciated. Yes, the "knows Lovecraft and Expressionistic cinema but not apples" thing is silly. Something to be fixed. One of a number of things to be fixed.

    Until I get around to that; here's the next bit.

    Spoiler: 3
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    So I'm against the wall, legs splayed out. Sobbing for breath. Pain in the head's a nice distraction from the pain in the middle and I realize I'm wet from the waist down and for some reason that's really the thing that makes me want puke.

    "You haven't wet yourself. Not yet". Deep, soft, husky voice. You know the one. Bit of a growl running through its tones. "You fell on your drink. Now I suppose we can get you for littering as well."

    Open eyes. Gudrun Hasso's crouched a bare metre away. Oddly dainty pose. Heels together and feet at precise right angles to each other, balanced on her toes. That's right. She used to be some sort of dancer, didn't she? Her arms are scarred. At one point she had a mark for every gang in Himalia. And at some other point she'd had them lasered off. Some sort of gesture to show she wasn't just speaking for the gangs anymore. Should have paid more attention to the woman herself rather than the operation built around her. Maybe then I'd have known she can apparently appear out of nowhere and hit like hammer. Sort of thing would've been good to know.

    She's got my purse open before her, and she's plugged one of my drives into a pocket terminal. Holoscreen's casting a green glow. She's scrolling through my notes. The data I was taking back. She looks bored.

    "Good work", she says. "You're no hacker, or you'd be dead by now. Like the last one. Not one of those dazzlingly seductive social manipulator types like the one before HIM either. Both those approaches draw attention too quickly. You. You just kept a low profile. Didn't seem to be doing much of anything. Didn't intrude or make waves. But all the time you were seeing what anyone could see, if they but had your mind behind their eyes. Seeing who had money who didn't before. What things were in supply that hadn't been before. What was suddenly not available. People hired. People fired. The odd person airlocked and you put all this together and you drew conclusions. Some of them are even right. No, I'm not telling you which ones."

    She unplugged my drive, set it on the floor carefully beside her. Plugged in another.

    "Now, Shweta. You've got problems. I'm just one."

    I must have reacted to that. It's a bad sign when somebody that isn't a very close friend or a lover calls you by your first name alone. Also, this seemed to be understating her importance a little. "No, really, Young Lady".

    She turned her head to look at me. Good villain face. Aggressively defined cheekbones. Olive skin. Narrow hazel eyes. Very bright hazel eyes. Like flames.

    "You make a smashing start back on Callisto as a new, cute, up-and-coming intrepid journal. You look good on the Vidscreens and you find some good dirt. Almost too good. You annoy some people. People with resources. And then these people go looking at you and they find out about the naughty stuff you did to keep yourself fed while you were working to your credentials. Well. I say good for you". She unplugged the drive and the terminal disappeared into her jacket. She stood and faced me, juggling my drives in her left hand.

    "We all do some silly things when we're young and have the moxie. But yours isn't the kind of image that can survive that sort of thing coming out, is it? You're supposed to be cute and wholesome. Someone brings up that old work of yours-well. Wouldn't it just hit you hard. And Callisto media's not the sort of field that gives second chances. It might knock you out of the business entirely. Put you back to doing the live VidNet porn. Or worse. There's always worse. And so these people let you know they've got something over you, and they send you to go be a problem for me. Well, you are a troubled young lady."

    She's looking me up and down. She looks hungry, but she always does. "Well, Shweta? Are you going to say anything? I really do not like feeling like I'm talking to myself."

    I slowly start to push myself up. Very slowly. I don't want to give her cause to hit me again.

    I said I was small, right? Gudrun Hasso isn't a blonde bruiser like Blue-Eyes back at the Arcade but she's taller than me by a good quarter-metre and she had the arms to carry off going sleeveless.

    Terrible feeling. The knowing that something's about to come out of your mouth and whatever it is is going to sound very stupid.

    "How did you know I'd come this way?"

    Her lips twist a little. I really wish she'd blink a bit more. Those eyes are just disturbing. "Didn't. Guessed", she said briefly. And then; "We had a little while to look into you. Look at the places you went. The places you avoided. Your taste in men--oh, don't make that face."

    Whatever face I was making, I stopped.

    "And in case you're wondering: no, neither of those two were my people. They weren't trying to probe deeply into your...activities. No. They were just men who wanted to **** you because you're cute. And you wanted them too. So, score. Don't beat yourself up over that. Anyway, we had some guesses as to what you'd do once you were alerted. We placed bets. And now somebody owes me a beer."

    She caught my drives in her hand, and made a brief gesture back down the corridor. At the corner from which she'd come. "That little place I was waiting? Very nice little Sashimi bar. I just passed the time there until I got the word you'd got moving and do you know?" Eyebrows raised. "There was a dashing young ship's officer type. Red hair. Green eyes. Very sweet. Didn't know who I was. Started hitting on me. Missed that feeling. Might see if I can catch him after I've dealt with you."

    I'm expecting her to step forward and grab me at this point. Or maybe just shoot me. She'll have a gun somewhere under there. Smart money's on a sudden neck snap. She seems like the type.

    But what she does is pick up my purse. She doesn't bend her spine at all. Just a graceful swoop and a scissoring of knees .

    Her hand tosses my drives in the air. One. Two. Three. Glass and metal glittering under the lights. And then she puts them back in my purse, and hands it out to me.

    "Certain people think they own you. You have been busily engaged in proving them right. But now, they've put you in my hands, and I own you just as well."

    She steps closer. Thrusting the purse into my hands.

    "You are going to continue doing just as you were doing. You are going to flee back to Callisto. You are going to give them all you've gathered on me. Just as they wanted. And when I have a use for you, I'll let you know."

    I'm backing away from her now. Scraping up against the wall. Up the corridor.

    "Why should I do what YOU want?"

    She doesn't even answer that one. Just smiles. Right. If my teenage inflagrantes weren't enough blackmail material the fact I'd been caught spying for one corp while under contract to another certainly was. "Shweta. Don't run". The growl in her voice is a bit more pronounced now. Stopping. She takes out the pocket terminal and absently thumbs in a code.

    "Guardsmen, Supervisor here. I've just discovered a nice young lady that's fallen and hit her head." Her voice takes on that projecting quality of one speaking to the ether. "Visitor to our fair colony. Please send someone to escort her to the docks. Be nice". Then she rattles off a string of location codes, puts away the terminal, and gives me a bland look. "I do look forward to seeing you again, Shweta".

    I summon bit of backbone. "You smug bitch."

    She gives a short, dark laugh and skins her teeth, turning back toward the intersection.

    I can already hear running footsteps as Blue-Eyes and Stringy-Hair come to get me.

    (In case anyone's wondering; "Shweta" is the name of a very nice young lady who works at a local store. I thought it was a good name. She is also short, cute, and brown. There are no other resemblances. That I know of. Thank you.)


    I should probably apologize for the harsh language.

    EDIT: DEFINITELY ditching that "airlocked". Cliched and wasteful.

    "composted", or "recycled" would be better.

    The Inner Guard are called by a lot of names; including "Innies", "Iggies", and "Beatles" but the one that's most common is "Mother's Boys". As our protagonist should have pointed out, this is a stupid name because a lot of them are women and because Gudrun hates to be called "Mother". This didn't get in because I was trying to leave out gender-indicator when I mentioned her.

  4. - Top - End - #4
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    Default Re: Something New

    [Going to try redo those first bits sometime tomorrow.]

    Spoiler: 4
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    A klank and a judder and a jar. My spine driven down into tailbone. Down into the fiber of the seat. Line-cab swings sickeningly off onto the next cable. A little rough there, cable network. Not running clean and bristol. Knew why. Didn't help. Head was still tweaking me. Gut felt like I'd swallowed a reactor core. Wondered if any of these cables had snapped ever. Hadn't heard.

    Four hundred metres down to Central Core streetbase below. Knew the neighbourhood. Spinward Treslong. Street marker. Stalls and tents and machine shops. Couple of tranty little clubs. Constant flicker of colour. Press of people.

    Munt some people good if'n we came down in the middle of that. Even if--turn my head and look down--yes, even if we were likely to hit a couple of lower cables and a crosswalk on the way down. Cab wouldn't reach the streetbase intact. Neither would we. Sweet thoughts. Maybe what's left would plunge down a lateral. Keep falling down into Himalia's neon-flecked adventitaries. Good times.

    Blue Eyes is standing over me, her hand jammed up against the handhold above my head. Tendons showing on her arm. Her boots planted firmly on the floor of the cab. She barely moved as we jarred and scraped onto our new course. Eyes flickered down at me. Lips set a little harder. Daring me to say something. Central filament was a hundred metres above our heads. Gold gradually fading into amber. It was about that time. She looked bronzelit. And massive. Forearms as wide as my head. She had a softness to her. A smoothness. Bit of butter over her muscles but she was bigger than I. Bigger than Gudrun. Her lip twitched at a corner as I met her eyes. Looked away. Tried to shrink into the back of the seat.

    Stringy-Hair was sprawled over the front seat. Back against the side of the cab. Playing with his pocket terminal. Pose looked like something a chive in a bad Neodark Vid-Dram might pull. He had eyes that didn't seem to focus on anything long. Guessing he was checking the terminal for the sake of looking swish. Green of the holoscreen kept flickering and changing as he shunted from one page to the next. No lingering. No focus. Already figured him to be the talk. And Blue-Eyes was the action. 'xcept Talk wasn't talking and Action looked like she was looking for an excuse to happen. Not a comfy seat I was in.

    Beyond him, beyond the cab window, Spinward Treslong gave way to Kendam. Blazing, smooth-sided towers of slab-rock and glass and light and a crazy-changing screens weaving into each other in a mass of cables and walkways and terraces green with shrubby roof-farms. Kendam's roofs reached almost to the filament. Almost shouting distance from the roof-green of Kaulune. Opposite side of the core. Dead ahead, beyond Kendam, Helmuthsgart was a concave slab of greenery. Beyond that was the face of The Docks. The plug at the end of Central core. Sheer cliff-face of industrial tanks and tubage a klick across. Lines of action twisting out from the center. Working with the spin. Clockface. Spiderweb. Vortex. Maelstrom.

    Me heading right for it. Down the shute.

    Pulled up a leg onto the seat next to me. Turned to the side. Sick of shrinking away from Blue Eyes. Blaze of white light flickering across us as we passed a megascreen. Presenter's face was a good five meters across. Pretty girl. Round, pale face. Juicy lips. Epicanthic eyes. Black against the fuchsia of her 'shadow.

    Straight as. I knew her. Aya Wu. She was only a few weeks seniority than I at CalMeda. And here she was on the big screen and here I was. Headed for the shute. What did she have I hadn't? Oh right. Clean background and no naughty little secrets. Or if'n she did, they were really good little secrets. My fist clenched a little and my eyes teared up and it took a moment to register what she was saying.

    "-IoMine representives have continued to deny requests to discuss the Himalian situation with either our own officers, or those of other services, citing need for preservation of freedom of action and integrity of operational security-"

    Straight as, they haven't. Wish you a better line than this, Aya.

    "-but have continued to reassure investors and clients that the interruption of shipments is a temporary condition, one easily dealt with through revised productivity assignments-"

    She knows that's shill. I can tell. Anyone can tell. I can really tell on her. Had her be pleasant to me once. Saw the face then. Same as now. IoMine's lost Lysithia, Himalia, Leda. Themisto's not good for much. And send people back to Io? Place is slow death. Side order of quick death. Io was always a desperate grab for the big bucks. A descent into a dungeon. No one wants to go down there again.

    Maybe they've got some plan to blast Amalthea out of its orbit and start stripping that. Heh. Almost giggle. Assuming they plan to wait a few million years for the rads to settle.

    Can hope to keep up with shipments from existing stockpiles until-

    "-and reiterate that they are fully confident that the Himalia situation will be resolved in short order-"

    Yeah, no, babe. That's what Gudrun Hasso's sending me back to tell them. This isn't going to be buying out the Original Seven. Isn't going to be paying off Salmann Jeffers over on Themisto. Isn't going to be sending a few CorporaHicks in to put the boot in. Going to be war. Our Ceres war.

    Minus Ceres and a fleet of screaming Loonies, of course. But war's all the same.

    Wonder if they've got enough to BUY a fleet of screaming Loonies?

    Okay, giggle at that.

    "Shift yr' limb"; Blue-Eyes says, abrupt. "Sitting down here. Yr' looking a little munted."

    She brushes my leg to the floor and swings herself down next to me. She's heavy and quick.

    I bounce, and my head starts tweaking again.

  5. - Top - End - #5
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    "Ye know 'er?". Blue-Eyes is leaning back. Face front. Arms behind head. Still contriving to loom.

    Aya Wu's face is a foreshorted trapezoid of light and sound falling behind us into the vista. "Ye tensed up soon's ye saw 'er. Bad cess there, little ma'am? She an enemy? A rotten friend?"

    "Colleague", I muttered.

    Blue eyes turn to me. Gleam of a tooth as her lip peeled back. "Colleague, ay? You're CalMeda. CalMeda. An' Mother dain't wan' ye around. Dain't kill you. Jus' dain't wan' ye aroun'. Dain't tell us t' get ye t' a clinic after...ye hur' yerself. Well, n' load of mine." Eyes flash forward again.

    I don't like big, smart people. And Himalia is full of them. "I lied", I say impulsively. "She's my ex-lover. She introduced me to the wonders of sapphic bliss and made me squeal like bitch more times than you've eaten sitting down. And then she threw me over for a void-tressed whore-eyed crew-screwer from Ganymede who wears short skirts and black hold-ups, and so I came out here to get away from the memory of her face that still meddles me up in the night."

    Blue-Eyes looks at me. "Ye should ha' started wi' THAT shill".

    I look at her back. "Would you have believed it?"

    "Nah, bu' it's a bett' story"

    "Might we hear more about the young lady from Ganymede?" Stringy Hair is actually looking at me now.

    Blue-Eyes roll. "There is n' young lady fr'm Ganymede, Brill."

    "And there is also no God, Void Sisters, Father Winter or Hank Flaschmann of the Space Patrol", says Stringy Hair. Brill. "But people like to hear about them anyway."

    "Hank Flaschmann's not real?" I say in my best stupid-little-round-eyed-girl voice. Blue-Eyes blows some air out past her teeth. Guess that was a laugh.

    Brill leans back into the side of the car. Holoscreen glowed green again. "Wonder if they've beamed us the next season. Last one ended on a frightful cliff-hanger."

    "Void Sisters?" I ask.

    Brill's lost in his terminal again, but blue eyes shunt my way. "'Sright. Ye're a gally, are ye no'? Galilean? Inner Mooner? Used t' spacing by short hops an' skips? Callisto; right?"

    "Latterly; I'm from Netherasgard. I was born in Connemara Chaosium." Like she would know where that was.

    "Europa. Right" Of course she knew where that was. "Well, poin' being ye may no' be used t' the long hauls. The trips betw'n the outer moons. Belter spaces. Dee' long blacknesses. The Void Sisters are deep spacers shill. They say--an' I'm no' a deep rider myself so I'm only repping second-hand--they say when ye been out in the black fo' long enough, you can loo' out yer screens, an' ye see girls out there. Righ' outside yer ship. Sometimes naked, sometimes suited, sometimes in pretty little pinnies, lookin' in a' you. Beckoning. Smiling." She snorted. "Reckon just some shill go' started a' a joke on us Rockers. Go' spread around. Reinforced. Made legend. Some munta on a turbohauler ou' o' Romana Zwei actually DID go flash and go chasing them in his P-suit last year. Or so I heard."

    "Had to take the cost of the juice they used up rescuing him out of his pay", adds Brill.

    "I'd 've le' him drift. Ye wanna sleep with the Sisters; sleep with the Sisters. I dain't wanna run wit' some egg what chases ghosts."

    I sit still. "Is this why it's bad luck not to have women on board?"

    Blue-Eyes laughed. "Nah, tha's just common sense. Ever smelt the innards of a ship manned by sticks--" Her eyes narrow. "An' ye should know THAT."

    I decide to go for brassy. "In my profession, it is sometimes helpful to pretend to be a lot more clueless than you are. Encourages people to fill you in on what you seem to be missing. Makes them feel important. Makes them feel superior. Let's you hear the different ways people tell things. How they want to see things. Where they agree and where they don't".

    "'Sright". Blue-Eyes turn to the front. "I ca' see we poor, simple Rockganger types are going t' ha' be very careful wit' such a clever little ma'am a' ye." And then the eyes snap back at me. "Surprised Mother dain't offer ye a JOB. Coul' use some more media talen', local. Rashida Von Stiotta; she's goo' an' pretty an' sharp an' keen. So they say. An' she's top-knob Original Seven 'Malian family. Bu' she's also young and kittenish an' could use a bi' a browning. Aleksandr McIllwraith? Loo's like a cleaned-up, spruced-up ganger face. Which is wha' he IS. Tamar Sieglinde? Lovely lady, bu' she's too much in love with Mother and it shows-" She turns her head slowly one way, then the other.

    "An'way, surprised Gudrun Hasso didn't just hire you."

    I look down. Helmuthsgart is a mass of green and blue below us. Pools and lines of trees and blooms arrayed in swirling circles and loops. Roses are in bloom. Four hundred meters straight down.

    I wonder what it feels like. Landing in rosethorns. From four hundred metres up.

    I decide to find out some other time. Maybe. I face front.

    "I'm very much afraid she did."

  6. - Top - End - #6
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    Tools. Weapons. They're the same.

    Civilization is tiny motes of air and water. Scattered through darkness. Protected by machines. And the same machines that keep us breathing can be used to make us stop.

    The jets on my P-suit can melt an unprotected guys' face off if you're not careful. You get used to being very careful with your tools. Or else others will take action to see you don't last long. Claw Frames, the little one-man machines jetting around the space of the Docks. They're for loading and unloading ships. Tending them. Space Construction. Mining. Rich-boys combat games and a whole lot else. They can also make quite dangerous machines of war. And most of them, now, were bearing Gudrun Hasso's white flared cross. Mining lasers. Swap out the pump source and the firing mirror and you have yourself a cannon. The Turbohaulers sitting in their cradles, out past the translumium window. Slender as brooms with no cargo loaded. Only a few components away from being warships. And I look out into that cavern, I see that's just what's been done.

    That's what Gudrun Hasso is sending me to tell IoMine. That she's not just preparing for a war. She's ready for one. She has the components of a war machine. She has put it together. She has been working on this for a long time before the Six Days and the red on the walls. She's not going to be got rid of.

    I'm sure that'll be just the news they want to hear from me. I'm going to be so popular. And all they have to do is let CalMeda know they've compromised me, and I'm done.

    There's always the Vid Porn. No. I don't want to think about that.

    "I need my P-Suit", I say.

    Blue-Eyes flares her nostrils. "Isn' it wit' yer kit a' tha' screw-nookery ye were staying? Mother's sending it o'er. We're no' thieves."

    "You stole a whole colony", I say. Blue-Eyes simmers but Brill chortles. "We're not petty thieves, anyway" he says. I decide to take that as a sign of concession.

    "The suit at the 'Tel-that's a cheap utility modular I bought at Ainworth's. I needed something inconspicuous. My good suit--my COMPANY suit--that's in storage here. At the Docks." Brill's hand is moving over his terminal. "I can't leave it here. I'm in enough trouble as it is".

    "She's right", says Brill. His holoscreen is facing me. Showing a desaturated image of my cute little face and a snarl of backwards Neo-Runic. "Registered and stowed: Party one Shweta Muendel-Connemara Robson; one YenMacht 707 Slimline Custom. CalMeda decs. Royal pink. Nice suit."

    "I'm not half way through paying for it", I say. Feeling pathetic.

    "Royal Pink?" Blue-Eyes glares down at me. Lips twisted into a scowl. My contemptible girly girliness confirmed to be most girly.

    "It's that really light shade that's almost white-"

    "I know wha' it is! Royal Pink?", she says. Tone doing the work of wit.

    I'm still frightened of Blue-Eyes but she's not Gudrun Hasso. "You have pink hair!" I snark back.

    "Aly's hair is hot pink" says Brill, amiably. "Much more daring. Much more staunch."

    Blue-Eyes--Aly--gives Brill one of those looks that usually precedes a punch. Then turns back to me.

    "'Srigh' 'Srigh. Ye get t' grab yer suit. Ye no' dangerous criminal; jus' a little snooper who's go' her nose stuck i' the door. Well, we beatles don' ha' clearance t' override the locks. An' I'm no' going t' go bother a yardee officer who's go' enough work t' do righ' now. Another o' these little inconveniences tha' comes from living in interesting times, as they say on Mars. Righ'. Brill; take 'er to ge' her suit. I'll book her a berth fo' Callisto. Go' an Asgardian in port-"

    "Skoegul", I say. I'm a poor spy. But I pay attention to shipping.

    "Skoegul. Righ' Well, off ye go, the two o' you. An' behave yourselves. Meet me back here i' thirty". She heads off down a walkway. We go another.

    The Docks are one place where Himalia almost feels normal. Clean. Noisy. Bustling. Sterile. All such places feel so similar no matter you are. I don't feel as nervy as I did navigating the Rocks heights and depths. I could almost be back on Callisto.

    Except for the view out that window of translunium. Space, like I said, is one thing. But Himalia's cavernous port is frightening. It's too large a void to possibly be inside something else. And yet beside us it yawned. A passenger ship, fat and sleek compared to the gaunt Turbohaulers, is being jollied into a berth by a couple of Claw Frames. The ship looks about the size of my thumb. I could only tell the Claw Frames by the flare of their jets. I feel like I was about to fall into the view. I turn away.

    "Pity you can't stay", says Brill suddenly. He's been walking behind my shoulder. "We really could use some bright new media types. I mean, things have been pretty rough these last dozen or so passes. Since the IoMine takeover. And everyone had other things to think about but now we've got rid of the yellowjackets--"

    "I would have thought" I said carefully, "that "Mother" would-"

    "Little Ma'am. You don't get to call her Mother" he cuts in. His harshest tone yet. I look at him in surprise.

    "You're not from around here, you see. She's OURS", and now he's sounding apologetic. "We really shouldn't call her Mother either. She doesn't like it. It started as sort of joke back when we were--well it's just something call her when she isn't around. When we think she isn't around. She can be--" he looked lost for a word.

    "Yes." said simply. "She can be. Just when you don't expect her".

    My legs are getting that "we must be nearly there by now" feeling. Luckily, they're right. I thumb open the cabinet and start wrestling with my suit. My precious pink not-quite-fully-mine yet baby.

    "Anyway, I was going to say; I'm surprised Gudrun Hasso doesn't do more media stuff herself. She speaks well, from what I've seen."

    "Oh yes. She does. She does", Brill said vaguely. "Yet she's---well, not camera-shy but she doesn't seem to like having them pointed at her. Prefers to be a physical presence. Doesn't seem to like the way she looks on vid and---well, the fact of the matter is she's always moving around and doing this, that and the other. During the Six Days it was like she was everywhere at once. That Monkeybastard Exec Kennedy even tried to claim she had to be some Loonie renegade. One of their little supersoldier projects gone wrong. Well, she was annoyed at that. Annoyed. Actually published her gene scan."

    "And?" I've got my legs into te suit now.

    "And?" Brill blinks. "Well, and then everyone said "What's a Kazakh?" and she said "I've no idea, but apparently I'm half of one." No Loonie frankenhick anyway."

    "Brill?" I ask, "is that your name?"

    He gives an awkward smile. "Well, no actually. They just call me that because I use to do my hair in a stupid way".

    I very carefully don't say anything.

    "And because my real name...well, it's kind of silly".

    I'm in my suit now. Sleek and formfitted. Smells like money. Feels like safety. I'm reading full oxygen reserves. Full thruster propellant. I reach for the charger. I'm turning to him and I'm smiling. "Could you tell me anyway?"

    He smiles back. "I'm Ars Tormassen." And then, "Hey, your suit's at full power already".

    "Ars Tormassen. I'm sorry", I say. And I jam the charger into his gut. Full current.

    He flails and nearly knocks me over, and then he's down.

    Everything is a weapon.

    [yay, my protag actually DID something!]

  7. - Top - End - #7
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    Airlock hiss. Gulf of the port open before me. I'm dizzy for a moment. Feel a little light in the knees. Lump in the throat. Swallow, girl. No time for height-flutter. I trigger my jets and go sailing onto into the gulfs of the port.

    I'm sorry, Ars Tormassen. I really am. You'll be bristol; I'm sure. A little shock doesn't kill people. Usually. Unless it pops your heart or something.

    I'm sure that didn't happen. Yes, I'm almost sure. Almost. You'll be up and mad in a few minutes, probably. And even if you're not someone will find you soon.

    I hadn't even tried to stuff the inert beatle into the suit-locker. Among the ways I don't what to get caught, being found wrestling with an unconscious man twice my weight would have been one of the more undignified. I'd just dragged him between two rows of lockers and hoped he'd be undisturbed for a little. There's cameras, off course. Based on the absence of a alarms going off and shouts and shots and heavy footfalls coming in my direction, I'm guessing no-one was looking at them.

    He'd had a gun. Stubby little large-bore low-vel chemical pistol. I'd seen the make on VidDramas now and again. Usually in the hands of the bad guys of the seven-two-four who's role in things is to fire a bit, miss a lot, then fall over. Sort of thing you use when you're not expecting to have to aim much. When you don't want something that'll throw too far and penetrate too deep and wind up putting a hole in something that you really, really don't want to have holes in. I'd stared at it for a couple of seconds. Precious seconds. Left it. I didn't have a holster on my suit and jetting around with a weapon in your hand looks awfully sus.

    I'm sorry, Ars Tormassen, but I'm not going back to Callisto. Gudrun Hasso wants me on Callisto. Gudrun Hasso knows about me. Therefore Gudrun Hasso has plans for me there. Or plans to have plans. And that means going to Callisto is the last thing I should be doing.

    Of course, staying on Himalia wasn't an option either.

    Want to check my terminal. Just for reassurance. Don't need to. Like I said; I pay attention. Four ships in port. Departure today. Skoegul out of Netherasgard's the one they want me on. Therefore it's the one I'm not going anywhere near. Trekroner's bound for Ganymede. That'd be nice. Unfortunately she's Sleipner and that shipping company has featured a little too prominently in Gudrun Hasso's dealings for my comfort. Sipa is good and safe and above-board Ng Starfreight but she's headed for Leda. I don't want to be stuck on Leda. Not now. There's barely anything there and what is there sounds like it's going from bad to worse.

    That leave the one I'm bound for. Lola Montez. Independent operator. Themisto listed as next dest. Old junker. One of those ships rarely seen these days; a hauler. Not a Turbohauler or a Uber- or a Mega-, just a hauler. Patchy-sided. Squared-off. Bulky. Actual internal cargo bay; not a long, slender midsection for the containers to clamp on. Archaic. Ridiculous. But going the right way at the right time. The ship that's going your way at the right time is the the best ship in the system.

    Her captain is a burly man. Skin unpleasantly bright pink. Greying beard. One eye covered with cybernetics seven models lame. And I've just got through thinking of the ship as ridiculous.

    "CalMeda" he says. "And you need to get to Themisto fast."

    "Company business", I say all bright-faced and innocent. Standing before him straight and open. Helmet in hand. The fading dark woman that had brought me into the ship's wardroom looms behind. Can feel her bright eyes looking me up and down. The compartment smells of burned toast and bad coffee and cabbage.

    "Company business" repeats Pinky McBeard. He pronounces "company" like it hurts his teeth. "We supposed to put you on account? I don't like letting people owe me things. I like companies owing me things still less."

    Woman at my shoulder makes a sound in her throat. Pinky's eyes briefly shift to him.

    I produce one of the IoMine golds, and give it a clink on the dull metal of the table. This sort of thing is what they were for.

    "Better", he says. "We're...thinking of spacing out pretty soon. Pretty damn soon. I was just finishing inspection when you came knocking." He looks at me as though I'm supposed to say something, turning his head slightly. Letting real and false eye focus on me in turn. Then goes on; "I hope we won't be waiting for any luggage."

    "I have all my things with me", I say as chirpy as I can.

    "No luggage" he says. "CalMeda and no luggage"

    "You in some sort of trouble?" says the woman behind me.

    I put a second IoMine gold on the table next to the first. "Not yet." I say.

    Pinky nods. "Salts will show you to a berth." he says slowly. The woman nods. "Keep out of sight, and watch out for the cat".

  9. - Top - End - #9
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    The berth is a cubical half the X of my Coffintel dig. Higher Y. I'm short. Don't really need the latter. A simple bunk with rumpled coverlets. Storage beneath. Airshower/bathroom nook, and enough floor to fit between them. Separate bathroom. One luxury. Newer ships tended to have communal facilities. Expediates recycling arrangements. The bulkheads had once been a crisp white in the fashion of the time Lola Montez had been built under another name. Now browned with age and covered with stickies. VidDrama posters and macroserial pages, blonde-haired girls of all pigments and zero coverings, band posters ripped and faded.

    I get a pang as I see a poster for Splintered Light. Neo-Duskwave group out of Gomul Catena. That wall Gudrun Hasso had bashed me against had had the same.

    The faded women--Salts?--is bending over the bunk. Straightening its covers with dark, long, wrinkled hands. Old women's hands. Her hands and her greying, frizzy hair are the oldest things about her. She turns and sees me looking at the posters.

    "Our last passenger, she liked her pretty girls", she says. Soft, musical accent. "Stayed for with us for a hundred time twenty-four. Made the place her own". She reaches out for one of the most daringly spread girls and absently flicks the bottom edge with the tips with her nails. Debating stripping it off in another sense altogether.

    "It's fine", I said.

    "We did not mind her at all". Salts turns and faces me. Slim hands on slim hips. Ship's still clamped to its cradle. Still under Himalia's spin. "She kept the money coming. She was useful around the ship. She kept Maxim...happy." She sets her jaw a little at that last word. And single-name basis? Oo-Er. "And then, when she heard our next stop was Himalia, she came in here. She picked up her things. She left the Lola. She disappeared into the crowd at Bifrost. She sent a message a little later. That she was gone, and that she would not be coming back."

    Her eyes are bright in a dark face and they're on mine. "I do not mind it that one has secrets", she says.

    That was a hint. I ignore it. "I like the bathroom", is what I say. It sounded dense. I'm good at dense. Dense keeps people talking.

    Salts tenses her mouth. She's got a good mouth for tensing. Wide and black-lipped and spread across most of her lower face. "Young lady-" she starts.

    "Shweta Robson", I cut in. Gudrun Hasso seemed to favour "young lady." Therefore "young lady" wasn't a phrase I wanted flying anywhere near me.

    She didn't need to hear the "Muendel-Connemara". It isn't her business that my parents died young. Or that I was a ward of Europa. Damned nanny-state.

    "Shweta Robson?" She smiles then, and blinks. Good teeth. "Gregora Salzmann". She gave smooth tap to the collarbone beneath her blouse. Interesting garment. Corp or mil cut. Faded. Insignia long removed.

    I give her a "nice-to-meet-you" nod.

    "Now, Shweta Robson. Maxim said he did not want to wait on anything. This is almost true. But it is Maxim's way. He thinks that being in a hurry all the time makes him look more important. Such a boy. You see the-" She raises a couple of fingers to her left eye.

    "The Ceres-war-vintage cybereye?"

    "Quite. Like something out of Hank Flaschmann, do you think? I think. He thinks it makes him look dashing. Those times when we have money I have told him many times to get it replaced with something more appropriate. Always he finds something he says is more important. As though there was anything more important for a man than the integrity of his own skull. As I say, such a boy. But what I mean, Shweta Robson-" She steps closer.

    "I mean yes, we are going soon. No, we do not wish to be waiting for anything else. But we cannot go without Mao Kamo. He is our supercargo. He will not be back for another three-quarters. He has business, urgent business we could not resolve earlier. And then he called us a couple ago to tell us-" she turned to look at the pretty girls on the wall. "-that he'd found another kind of...last minute business. Anyway, we are waiting. You have no kit. If you wish to go back to the docks and get some things from a vendor-"

    "No, I'm fine", I say a little too quickly.

    Gregora Salzmann lowers her head and looks at me. Penetrating Kubrick. "If you want to borrow a less conspicuous P-Suit, we can supply. If you wish me to go instead of you, that I can do."

    "I would not think of putting you out, or inconveniencing you in any way". I manage a little bit of hauture this time.

    She pulls her head back. "Hmm." And then she curves past me to the door. "A week to Themisto. Current pedigree. No kit. You will be a little uncomfortable, Shweta Robson. Were you a belter I would not think twice; but one such as you-" She tosses her head. "If anyone comes to the ship while we wait. Looking for you. We will hand you over, understand? We can not affo-we do not want trouble with--" She breaks off. Then gives me another sort of look. "I do not mind it that one has secrets. I can not mind it that one has secrets".

    "I would offer to lend you some of my own clothes; but--" she spreads her hands, emphasizing herself. She was taller than I, had obviously never been plump, and had just got thinner with age.

    "I will be fine; Gregora Salzmann", I say. And then, because it's not good for me to keep things tense. "Why should I worry about the cat? Is it dangerous?"

    "DuQuesne? Dangerous? No." She smiles. "Just black and heavy and lazy and stupid and inclined to sleep in silly places. Easy to trip over-"

    There's a dull thud and hiss of an airlock, and voices. Maxim's and a new one.

    "That will be Mao Kamo. Early. He is never early". She's looking to the side, up the stairewell to the next level. "I think, I think Shweta Robson. You should come up to command, and get yourself strapped in."


    [Edit: Changed a name to "Bifrost" because that's plainly a better name for a space station in Geosynchronous orbit with a terrain featured called "Asgard" than the one I had. Don't look at me, Callisto terrain features have Norse names. Europan ones have Celtic ones. I forget what it is on Ganymede. I didn't make these themes up.]

  10. - Top - End - #10
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    Climbing the stairway. Bare metal and right angles. Old ship. More modern ones the stairsways are warped triple-or-quad helixes of curves and arcs. Foamed and padded and covered in rubber for grip. Modern ships avoid right angles and bare metal. And for a good reason. I'm right between decks when the free-fall alarm hits.

    Short, almost subliminal jerk and we're floating. Cast off from the cradle. My lower body rises off the rungs and I pull himself in close to the metal before my arse hits the underside of the deck.

    Gregora's snapping herself into a P-Suit. I see her left hand snap up to grab a ceiling stanchion. She keeps working with her right, pulling the segments on. Clasps snap.

    Pull to the right. Thrusters firing. Jam my feet back onto the rungs so they don't go swinging. Right. Right. Left. Right. Little more left. Big echoing, hollow, clang and I'm got weight pushing my face toward the rungs. That'll be a Clawframe playing tug. Then a steady pressure down. Back down the length of the ship. On our way. Felt like neat enough work.

    Keep climbing through this. I'm used to this. It's just ships. Sudden changes of the weight and pull and everything close. Not like Himalia with its constant spin pulling you down into those abyssal laterals of darkness and flicker and the pressure of its breezes cut by fans. Yeah, I gave a little smile in spite of it all. Glab I wasn't still there. IoMine and Gudrun Hasso be damned.

    I get to the Themisto office, I tight-beam IoMine what they want. And then I'm going to come clean to the brass before I hit Callisto again. I warn them IoMine's got hooks. That Gundrun Hasso has reach.

    I've been a good girl. Good enough. I've got stuff they'd like to see. The same IoMine sent me to get will make decent news.

    I come clean of my own accord, don't cost them anything, maybe they'll keep me on. Maybe I get bumped me down to RealityVid. Hety, it worked for Lila Dhunhd. Even if she did have to--no, I can do better than her

    Even if I get the black I can walk away without anything going public. Maybe back to Europa then. Europa's not bad. Safe. Boring but safe.

    Maybe Ganymede. IoMine has little pull on Ganymede. Always things a bright young thing to do on Ganymede. Not boring, safe things. But there's money. If you've got the moxie.

    What would my parents think? Hopefully, something like: at least you're still ALIVE! Score!

    Wait a minute; "If you've got the moxie?" Isn't that what she said? I want to slap myself.

    Taut clang as Gregora hits the rungs behind me. Below me. Whatever. Keep climbing. Through living area, through a store half-level, up to command.

    Maxim is suited. Strapped to an acceleration couch rotated against the thrust. Helmet off. Can see the angular outline of his cybernetics jutting from his head. Silhouetted against the main viewscreen. The vast, fanged iris of a shiplock is sliding open before us. Another man in another couch off to the side. Don't have an angle on him. Dash to the nearest couch, rotate it to face up to the prow, begin strapping in.

    "Lola Montez to Dock control. Currently approaching Lock Three. Lock Three allocation confirm Lola Montez". Maxim is chatting into a mike.

    Voice crackles back. "Lola Montez, you are confirmed at Lock Three, just watch out for number seven"

    The clawed and crabbed shape of a Clawframe drifts across the top-right corner of the screen, jet-pods swivelling and blinking as it came to a new heading. The gentle weight pushing me into the back of the couch cuts out. We're on target. Straight for the bullseye.

    "Dock control, Number Seven looks clear. Lola Montez free-falling to number three."

    "Acknowledged, Lola. Have a clear run and see you next time."

    "Thank you, Himalia, see you soon."

    Bit more informal than under IoMine. Dock control was probably an ex-yellowjacket, but couldn't blame a guy for staying home and signing on with new management.

    Gregora passes me on her way to a couch, hand over hand on the stanchions. Her P-Suit is light grey with faded crimson helm and shoulders. My eyes bulge a little at that. Luna colours? I almost miss what Maxim is saying.

    "-not like you to run out on a lady early, Mao."

    "Yeah, well. It seemed like a good thing at first, but-" The unseen man shifts in his couch. "Something spooked me. Got out."

    "Spooked you?" Maxim sounds politely incredulous.

    "Okay; so she was a vicious-looking piece. Hard. Y'Know? Not just in the face like a vet flashtail. All over. That din't spook me. And she's wearing that sleeveless ganger-made-good rig. Scars and muscle all up the arms. That didn't spook me-"

    "Excuse me, Mao Kamo?" Gregora is strapping herself in at the sensor consol. "It should have".

    Mao Kamo leans out of his chair, looks back at us. Red hair. Green eyes. Good-looking boy. Don't tell me.

    "I thought you told those Beatles were mostly kids and street crims-" He sees me. "And who's the little cherry-"

    "Passenger. No questions. Do not change the subject." says Gregora. All sharp. Mao Kamo jerks back. "I said they were mainly kids and street crims. Toughs and whores. Yes. And now they are the law. We cannot-" she breaks off. "How did she spook you?"

    We're passing through the Ship-Lock. I'm sweating. So close.

    "Well, Y'Know", says Mao Kamo. "I'm not stupid. She was playing with her terminal the entire time. All coquettish-like. Like not-really interested but not walking. And going two shots for my one. And a lot of fish. Like, fish. On a rock. Called me "Young Man'. Kept asking questions. Like innocent little "****-me" questions. Like how exciting it must be. Y'know? being me. And tell me about your work. And then she skipped out for a bit to "attend" to something. And I'd like, had moment to track some of those questions. And how I'd answered those questions. And how she'd got just a little more on-point the longer we talked. Like she was looking me up. Checking details. Looking for something. And then she comes back and she's got this up-for-it smile and blood on her knuckles-"

    I raise a hand to my cheek.

    "And suggests taking a little walk, down to a little place, and have a little time together before I go. And then I click I never told her WHEN I was going. And I mumble something clever and go to the head and there's a corridor exit and I just haul arse-"

    The inner lock is behind us now. The outer is sliding open. I can see a circlet of space. Black and glittering.

    Then the lock stops opening. We're bullseyed. Could keep going. Maybe not with enough for safety. But we could.

    Bit of a jerk as Maxim starts to bring us to a stop. Other hand's reach for the comm gear.

    And then Gregora bellows. "MAXIM! GO!". And there's thunder and weight crushing me back against the couch and the black comes rushing up at us and I wait for the crash as we hit the gates and it doesn't come and we're through we're through the lock.

  11. - Top - End - #11
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    Stars. White and hard. Dark between. Spinning before my eyes.

    I don't feel I'm moving, but everything is spinning.

    A tiny grey rock. Size of a pill. Flashes across my vision in a shallow arc. That rock has a name. I remember. It's Himalia.

    I remember. I'm in a suit. I flex my fingers and trigger my jets. Stars buck and jump and spin in a different way. Settle. I've stopped my spin.

    I see Jupiter, a pearl of autumn. Brown and barely a shape and incredibly far. The toxic, heavy, center of our universe.

    Himalia is a tiny grey mote. Tiny flecks of light flicker on its surface like reflection off crystal. Off to one side is a tiny pin-head of blueish-white. They call that something. The Snowball. Imaginative lot.

    Between me and these things are hot, pulsing points of light that aren't stars.

    A chunk of metal swims in front of me scarily close. Lazily turning end on end. I get a brief start, turn my head in the direction it came. See a slab-slided, ungainly mass of metal falling away from me, cloaked in water vapour and in shreds and tatters of debris tumbling with me and away. Along the side is an ugly gouge. Edges red-hot. Interior of the thing looks dark and ruined.

    One of the bits of debris is a suit. Its got arms and legs but no head.

    Flash of panic. I'm floating in space. That mass of metal is called Lola Montez. That headless piece of spindrift was someone I just met. Now it was spindrift. I was spindrift.

    How'd this happen?

    Oh right.

    We were blasting away from Himalia, my back flattened into the couch. I could see the screens; Himalia was falling away behind us. The darker grey eye of the Shiplock rapidly shrinking amid its setting of heaped-up slagrock. The eye was opening again as I watched. As I watched I could see the inner lock opening too. A golden eye within a black one. They were opeing up the whole port. That wasn't good.

    The radio was blaring.

    "Lola Montez, WHAT are you doing? I say again; what are you doing? Come in; Lola"

    Maxim was still facing straight forward. Mao Kamo was hunched in his chair. "Tell them something, cap. You gots to-"

    "Guys". Gregora's voice is tense. "Fair amount of metal out here. I'm getting four-no five Turbos in range. Looks like guard-" There was a grunt of effort through the channel and she lifted her arms. Her arms wrapped in that question-begging Luna suit. Pulled her screens closer. "Something is lifting off of Himalia's surface as well. Too small to be a a ship. Could be a clawframe with space booster-" her head inclined into the glow of her scanners. "-Make that four things."

    Radio is crackling still. "Lola Montez, COME IN! You nearly munted one of our 'locks. You're looking dodge. You don't want to look dodge! Come IN, Lola!" Maxim moved an arm and I jerked into the restraints as our thrust cut out.

    Mao Kamo almost shrilled "What you are-"

    "We are operating on a slender safety margin", said Maxim. Tight and controlled. "We did not refill on reaction mass. They told us there was a temporary shortage owing to the present tensions, and such things were being allocated on the basis of priority and urgency".

    "Lola Montez, that's better! Better, but not good! Please stand to-"

    "And you told them that our business was urgent. And they asked us to explain exactly how. And then we changed the subject because--well anyway; we're bearing right off the ecliptic now. If we want to make Themisto, we cannot just keep blasting full gees in this--"

    "Lola Montez; last warning. Come in NOW!"

    Maxim pushes a button savagely. "Apologies, Himalia Control. We have experienced an unknown-"

    "Never mind that. Stand to and be prepared to receive boarders."

    I could see Maxim twitch even with his back to me, in his suit. "Himalia control, say again?"

    "Stand by and receive boarders, Sisters take it! I'm sorry about this, we just got a urgent inspection order; subject you-"

    There was a series of short jerks as maneuvering thrusters fired. The rock of Himalia swam away out of the screens I could see. A white, round mass rotated into view. The Snowball. A comet they'd chased down and grabbed and put into a slave-orbit around the rock a few months back. It wasn't like Himalia needed the water, but no sense in letting it go-

    "Lola Montez, STAND TO!"

    Gregora rasped. "Got another Turbo coming over the horizon of the rock--and another two coming out of the shiplocks. Looks like they went hot while still in Port". She pauses. "Is that a rock?"

    Mao Kamo hooked his head around. "Is what a rock?"

    "Something big incoming. Fast for a rock. Almost dead ahead now. On course to miss Himalia but still-"

    "Then forget about it! What about all the metal?"

    Even through the channel I could hear Gregora scowl. "Three Turbos look like matching course with us; two more looking good to head us off if'n we wait around." Pause. "Those clawframes, if that's what they are; they're accelerating at a good clip-"

    "Your last cargo had a lot of "industrial equipment"". I said, suddenly, not knowing why. "Boosters. Milgrade laser source pumps. They're coming for us with the things you delivered them".

    Everyone looked at me then.

    Radio; "Lola Montez, stand to or you WILL be fired upon!"

    Maxim was about to reply, but I decided to show some spine. I unsnapped my restraints. "They can do it." I said. And then louder, so the guy at Himalia can hear me over the chatter. "Don't shoot! I'll give up. This isn't worth killing three other people!"

    "And a cat", said Gregora.

    "And a cat", I said, feeling quite the little martyr.

    The radio responded with a low burst of static. Then a hum, and then. "Weeeee~ell, Young Lady, you're aboard too?"

    Gudrun Hasso's voice. I felt my mouth twist to shape the word; "too?"

    "I'm afraid this isn't about you, Young Lady", said the voice. "This is about the pan-Jovian Controlled Substances Agreement-"

    Maxim slammed the controls and we're at full thrust again. I go flying back, miss the couch, and slam into the bulkhead.

    It got hazy after that.

    I was seeing through a red haze as I tried to fight my way back into the couch.

    I gave up.

    The radio was crackling, but I couldn't hear words.

    Mao Kamo and Gregora were saying something about that rock ahead. We weren't going to miss it by much.

    Then Gregora was suddenly shouting "Not a rock! Ships! Close formation! Free falling! No transponders! At least six turbos and two-"

    And then everyone was shouting at once. There was sickening jolt reaching me through the metal and I'm falling forward.

    Gregora was sounding strangely calm. "Military laser. M-80 or a Blitzspear. Coming from starboard bow low, hit us just forward of-"

    And then there was a flash and a rush and everything is loud. And everything fell apart around me. There's colours in my head no-one should see. And next thing, I'm in space. Spinning.

    Stars. White and hard. Dark between. Spinning before my eyes..

  12. - Top - End - #12
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    Center on Himalia. Thumb my thrusters. Boost.

    Something flashes in the dark between me and the rock.

    Drifting off-center. Recenter. Thumb my thrusters. Boost.

    Head's pulsing like I just spent two hours covering one of those excessively avant bands. Focus on it. Bad idea. Get lost in the pulse. Eyes mist up. Blink.

    Not right again. Recenter. Thumb-

    No. No. Hands splay out straight. You munta. You're not thinking clearly. You're falling away from Himalia with all the velocity that Lola had when she was hit, plus a bit of side-twist from when you got flushed out. You're not going to get back to Himalia with your little suit-jets. Ever. You're only going to burn your propellant out trying to fall away from it slightly more slowly.

    Should get back to the wreck of the Lola. Even if she's totally shanked there should be oxytanks. Water. Maybe the transmitters are still good. Maybe flares. Things I can use to keep me breathing. Things I can use to get noticed. But I turn my head and Lola's already almost a speck, surrounded by other specks. And mist. She's tumbling. I can see her just well enough to tell that. She's tumbling away from me fast and I can already tell it's too late.

    Funny how I can spot that so obviously and not the vastness of the gulf between myself and Himalia.

    Another flash. This time leaving a foreshortened, angry welt behind it. Something just hit something. Something is happening.

    It's those ships that hit Lola, and the ships out from Himalia. The ones that were after us. They're fighting.

    Which means it's a BATTLE, Munta! C'mon. You're spindrift. You're drifting in a suit. So you're going to die. Well, a short life and an eventful one. How about you die doing what you always wanted to do?

    I reach for my terminal, holstered above my hip. Screen lights up. Looks undamaged. I point it at the flickershow building up before me. Or is that behind me, since I'm drifting away from it? Sematics. I start recording.

    "This is Shweta Robson, speaking for Callisto Media", I say out loud, and I see the audio receive bar oscillate to my voice and I know something's working out for me. "If anyone finds this--If anyone can hear this. I was just on a ship--" breath. "--leaving Himalia. We were attacked and destroyed by a formation of identified ships. Falling slow, in tight formation, transponders off so they were trying to make like a rock on a near-passage orbit past Himalia." I push the magnification up as far as the terminal will go. Then back a bit. I find the tight cluster of speckles where no speckles should be. Six small, two less small.

    "Incoming ships were given-" I remember Gregora's face and try not to think about what it looks like now, "as six turbohaulers and two larger. Look like megahaulers. Whatever they are they hit us. The ship I was on is destroyed. I'm falling free-" A flare and a flash fills the screen and I frantically back up the magnification. Tiny surge of pride as my right hand darts over the tiny terminal controls so quickly. So precisely.

    "Unknown ships appear to be being engaged by Himalian vessels on patrol. On alert because of-" Don't say that. "I think one of the incoming turbos is already in trouble. I think I see debris plume. Split-screening to infra-red-" I feel my eyes bulge a little, like I turned on a light in an empty room and discover it was full of silent people staring at me the whole time.

    "Okay, you can see quite a bit of laser fire now." Fine threads of fire slowly fading. New ones suddenly flaring hot. A mess of--what do they call those thing spiders make when left to their own devices and don't get their work knabbed to make clothes? Webs? "Bit of a spiderweb of laser tracks--" dialed back the mags again as another two of the newcomers flares with damage. "Newcoming ships--look, if whoever's listening, I never saw a battle before but I watched some old--the newcomers seem to have proper military lasers; there's like almost a half-second sustain on their shots. The Himalias are firing supercharged mining beams. Just a brief flash. Less powerful, less accurate. But they seem to have more of them. And the newcomers are taking fire from multiple sides--"

    One of the already flaring newcomers becomes three separate points of light, seething and brighter than before. "-I think that's one of the newcomer turbos already gone. It's harder to spot the defenders because they're scattered all around, firing in. It's bad to be taking fire from multiple sides because the bow of a ship's about the only thing that can stop a hit--" Because running into a fist-sized rock at interplanetary speeds is quite as bad as getting shot, so everyone armours and reinforces the glacis and leaves the rest to luck. "--and they're in such a tight formation that the Himalians can barely--"

    The screen flares with light. "The newcomers. They were coming in arse-first? And they're braking? Why would you?" Dial back and catch the blossum of trails expanding out from the Snowball. "Big missile launch. Looks like the Himalians had rocket batteries on the Snowball--no, they're coming from behind, that was from behind the snowball--and-" The infrared side of my screen almost whites out.

    "That--that was a big, wide-beam laser from Himalia itself--I wondered why they'd ordered--newcomers look heated up but it didn't--that was just to heat their hulls and make them easier targets, wasn't it--" Another shaft of gold on the IF, a flare of light, and a newcomer's jets die. "--I think that's another turbo dead. And--newcomers are firing missiles too. More mining lasers in return---where are those coming from, that's a new--" I back up. Some small, slow contacts close to Himalia itself. Too slow to be missiles. And missiles don't usually have guns. Usually. Never be sure these days. "That's coming from an armed clawframe squadron. Looks like they only just got in range--most of the firing now is on the missiles--" Something flashes brighter than anything before.

    "That was a nuke. That was a nuke directed at Himalia and it just got burned well short. Don't think there was anything near it--wait, why should a nuke go off if you shoot it? That's not how--unless the hit somehow sets off the trigger and doesn't--never mind I'll let the bright boys tell you I absolutely don't know what I'm- another newcomer turbo just gone dead--they're all flaring their jets now. 'cept the dead ones--Ooh, that's a big bang off to the side, looks like the Himalians finally lost someone--looks like most of the newcomer missiles are burned--and that big defending salvo is right on top--" The mass of incoming missiles merges with the remnant of the newcomer formation. "--and that was less spectacular than I was hoping for. Like not much in the way of warheads there--" Another big flash. "Spoke too soon. One of those big ships just went up. Looked messy. Like a sympathetic detonation rather than a warhead. And--and I think that settled all the newcomer turbos all the same. They look-they're not firing or thrusting any more and I think I see debris clouds." I zoom it. Hard to tell the difference between an intact turbohauler and a munted one at this range. But intact ones aren't usually oscillating in brightness like they're tumbling end over end and throwing off specks and vapor.

    I keep the terminal on point. I breathe. "Fire's slacking off." I say after a while. "I think it's over", I say after a longer while. "That last remaining big ship--looks like she's standing to. Matching orbits with the rock--I see defending ships moving toward her. I think it's over--"

    And I'm left with the black that I'm stuck in.

    Does Himalia look smaller than when I started? I am falling away from it.

    I say again. "I'm--going to stay quiet for a while and conserve oxygen. I'll keep recording visual as long as I have memory. If anyone's hearing me--" doubtful. "If anyone finds this. Thank's everyone, you've been okay. Some of you. Shweta Robson, signing off"

    I keep staring back at the rock of Himalia for a long, long, time.

  13. - Top - End - #13
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    Stars are drifting.

    No, I'm drifting.

    It's been a while.

    Himalia's a distant speck now. The orbiting snowball is brighter. Higher albedo, natch. Now and then I catch a flash of thrusterburn. Mostly looked like clear over the other side of Himalia. Ships going about their new business. Cleaning up the mess from whatever fustercluck what happened. Finding survivors. Useful bits of salvage. Especially that. Be at that for a while.

    One of my first jobs, interviewing some grizzled old veteran of Ceres. Made some comment about how a space battle is usually over in minutes and then you're cleaning up the mess for weeks afterwards. And she added something bawdy about certain one-night-stands she'd had being the same and I couldn't even pretend to be shocked. My ratings with the younger demographic actually went up after that. People are weird.

    They'll be cleaning this up for a while. And it looks like they're mostly going in the wrong direction to find me. And me? I'm falling away. Into the dark.

    Not the worst of ends. A very Jovian end, really. Born out in space, end up becoming one with it. Still, I'm regretting I hadn't picked up that handgun now. Blowing my brains out before I reach the end of my oxygen might be cleaner.

    Would anyone find me? I'm falling straight out of the ecliptic. Away from ninety-five percent of travel. Maybe, years from now? A lonely little ghost in a pretty pink suit? Or maybe millions of years from now someTHING from who knows where will find me swinging around Tau Ceti and wonder what stupid kind of ancient race THIS one is what this recording of stars and weaponblink and things going flash is all in aid of.

    I snigger a little. I don't think I'm heading in the right direction for Tau Ceti. I'll probably get one of those poor, sad stars no-one even pretends to care about. Wolf 359, maybe.

    I've got the terminal strapped to my chest. I'm still recording. Not much happening but I've got memory and nothing much else to do.

    Mouth's dry. Been conserving water out of habit. Give me head a shake. Stupid. At this rate I'll run out of oxygen long before I'll run out of water. I help myself to a long, cool, draft.

    Lips feel fat and sore against the tube. Gudrun Hasso gave me quite a decent knock, back there. I run my teeth over lower lip and catch a tang of blood.

    Roll my eyes and look at Jupiter. That dark, unblinking eye. She at least hasn't changed.

    "You gave me hyacinths first a year ago;
    They called me the hyacinth girl."
    Yet when we came back, late, from the Hyacinth garden,
    Your arms full, and your hair wet, I could not
    Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither
    Living nor dead, and I knew nothing,
    Looking into the heart of light, the silence"

    And then I realise I'm speaking out loud and I shake my head to get of the feeling of being a silly little twit and as I do so I catch something close and bright flare off behind my left shoulder.

    I'm frozen for a moment, thinking I imagined it, and then something flares again.

    And clumsy and desperate, I get my jets working and wheel to face it.

    It's coming up slow, but nothing has changed around me for hours and so it seems quick. Like my own time as slowed down and what happens around me is at triple-rate.

    It's long and narrow, and coming at me side-on. A ghostly, gaunt thing. A colour between grey and fuchsia and bone. It's a cheap colour, so I'm told. It's a turbohauler.

    A dozen different classes of turbo and a hundred or more different operational configs and they're still all basically the same. First, there's the glacis, the armoured and reinforced prow that's there in the event of running into something. Sometime the glacis is a smooth apex, somethings a flat wedge, sometimes rounded off. This was one of the wedge-shaped ones. They call that Vesta-style, though I can't remember why. The glacis wraps around and largely enfolds the accommodation and command section, and then there's a long, narrow middle that the cargo containers are usually attached to. Behind that is the bulk of engineering. And indeed, main engines. Children can draw a stick-figure turbohauler the same way they can a stick-person.

    This one was armed. From the slender middle section, out the Y and the Z, projected four pylons. Skeletal things of metal framework. New and raw. Open exposed tubing snakes along them. At the end of each a laser array on a remote swivel mount.

    I rose my terminal.

    Her glacis was marked, I could make out. There was an ugly black scar that looked like a laser hit. And there was a cheerful looking painting--now slightly defaced--of an uncompromising-looking young lady in stocking and garters and a spear and not much else. And there was Gudrun Hasso's white, flared cross outlined in black.

    But I jet toward her anyway. She's close enough and moving slow enough that it looks like I can get to her. And then after about ten seconds I realise that distances and speeds are deceptive and that she's moving past me faster than I'm moving toward her and I'm going to miss her and I thumb down my thrusters for all they'll do and she's STILL not getting closer and I've got water in my eyes and something in my throat and then there's a brief flare of veniers and suddenly she's rushing up at me and I jerk my legs forward to slow myself.

    And she's right under me. There's a puff of vapour as an airlock opens. And someone in a P-suit is only a few meters away and then that someone's pulling me in.

    I'm being hustled through her levels. My legs are stiff. The person that dragged me in makes some kind of remark about "-Void Sister." And I raise my head enough to look up into their helm visor and I see bright, round blue eyes, and the edge of a pink curl.

    Well, drat.

    I'm shoved up into command. It's a little brighter than the Lola Montez's. A lot cleaner. What I mainly see is the woman braced against a staunchion with her back to me. Wearing a skin-tight, blood-red P-Suit of a sort I'd only ever seen in some of the more outre arts magazine. She's talking to someone in Comms.

    "-and I'll talk to Our Idiot From IoMine when I'm finished out here. Tell Rashida SHE can formerly accept his surrender, if she wants. And I'd really like to ask why she even OWNS a body-bomb with a dead-man switch--No, don't transmit that last piece. If she's just bluffing I don't want to jinx it."

    She turns to me. Of course it's Gudrun Hasso.

    "Well, Young Lady?" her helmet visor's open, and she's smiling in a way that lights her eyes in a rather nasty way. I try to look down and notice what that suit does for her figure and look up again. "You are a pleasant surprise, at least. What have you got to say for yourself?"

    I give up a little, open my own helm. "What ARE you wearing?", I say.

    Gudrun Hasso gives a short, sharp laugh. "Such an eye for detail, Young Lady. Well, we could be out here a while still, so get yourself strapped in. You're unexpected business, and you can wait." She turns away.

    The one that brought me in leans in close. "Brill's fine, by the way. Bit shaken bu' everything bristol." She growls. "An' you'd better ha' a really good apology i' the works".

  14. - Top - End - #14
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    Later.

    The apartment has a broad, clear, floor of smoothed bamboo fibre over the slagrock. Warm on my feet. The few furnishings are compact things of chrome and Vleather placed in unobstrusive fashion against the walls. Behind the partition behind us the air-shower was giving a warm hum. The large windows face in two directions letting in the glow and pulse and depth of Kaulune. The light was copper as a gong. The filament gradually in the process of changing from the amber of the sleeper hours to the gold of the working ones.

    Except to my left, where the window let in the harsher blue-white glare of one of those megascreens. The placement of that particular device had probably dropped the value on this place considerable. And the spidersilk curtains didn't block much. Aya Wu wasn't on offer at the moment. What we had was Tamar Sieglinde and her cool blue eyes and ash-blonde braids--BRAIDS--holding the line with disjointed gun-camera clips and scanner caps and talk about how an official statement was still under way in between obvious filler about crime in the lower adventuries and how it was down by such and such since the last such and such time they'd had figures on it and other things you say when you've nothing to say. Her teeth flashed between her lips. She was waiting on us.

    We were looking at the holoscreen projected on a section of wall that wasn't covered in diagrams of Himalia's interior and old event posters. It was showing a P-suited man with his helm open and an indulgent, slightly wolfish smile against the familiar geometries of a turbohauler interior.

    "So, I'm told this ship was called the "Io Spirit" back before the change of--the change", said a voice from the screen. A breathy, piping girl's voice. "What're we calling her now?"

    "Well, then, Miss" , says the man. "This is now the Himalia Outer Guard Gunship "Freya's Gate"."

    ""Freya's Gate?"", the piping voice has a suppressed silvery giggle. "Sounds Callistan. And like a dirty joke!"

    Fellow in the suit looks a little abashed. "Well, yes. That's what Moth-that's what the Supervisor said. And Captain suggested changing it to "Hel's Gate" and the Supervisor just looked at him and said "Freya's Gate" would do fine, and muttered something about drama-"

    "And what other ships do we have on station?" breaks in the piper.

    Suit-Boy looks officious, and a little further downward at the recording device than the angle of view would seem to warrant. "Well, we're in distant station with the "Tsathoggua". The "Final Girl" and the "It's Not Like I Hate You Or Anything" are on an equivalent opposing position on the opposite bearing from Port Access; about five hundred klicks away. And the "Notice This, Sempai" and the "Irascible" are on picket on the opposite side of the Rock-" An intercom voice cuts in with a snarl of snark about fooling around and being aware that there's an unidentified rock not very long away and getting an arse into gear. Suit-Boy rolls his eyes and closes on the point of view, purring. "Like Captain said, we've got to get strapped in soon. I can help you with that, but before then we have a bit of time-"

    The recording blurs into fast-forwards, and the piping voice sounds next to my ear. "We can do without this!", says its owner. "He spends the next ten minutes or so flirting with me and showing me bits of machinery and how they've wired the gun mountings into Morgen-380s on the control center and I make intelligent sounding noises like "Ooh!" and "Aah!" and then things start to get exciting.

    Rashida Von Stiotta is shorter than me, darker than me, a little more firmly-built around the chest and waist than me, a little tighter around the waist. She's in shorts and a suit-knit top and smells of sandalwood, sweat, and the inside of her P-Suit sprawled across the couch. Very cute. Her eyes and smile are bright. I want to hate her.

    The airshower hum cuts out, and the partition behind us slides open with a rasp. I feel a prickling in my spine and try not to turn around.

    Rashida's fingers are working her terminal and her eyes are reflecting the screen. Scene on the holo comes out of fast-forward, showing a dizzying succession of changes of view and a babble of voices. Acceleration alarms. Commands. Gudrun Hasso's voice was there "-please intercept outboard vessel. Repeat, please intercept outbound-". The crew of the Freya's Gate were scrambling to get ready. Over by the window, someone cleared his throat.

    "Should we leave in the whole business with the Lola Montez?" Aleksandr McIlwraith is six feet or so of carved, handsome face marred by a bored scowl, slicked-back hair, and scarred knuckles. His arms are crossed before his chest. Like a lot of people on Himalia, he's not one for sitting down. "Should have come down on that pack before they ever got ready to leave. Makes us look weak."

    Gudrun Hasso appears next to me, looming over Rashida's shoulder. She's in black undershorts and tight boob-top, and her hair is limp from the shower and falling past her face in black ringlets. "Leave it out, we have a plot hole that others would spot. And miss out on Young Shweta's role in things." She flashes me a thin smile. "The story we have--shipload of reprobates try to make a hot getaway, run straight into IoMine's little stab at a coup-de-main--blow the mask on THAT. That's a good story. Ironic comeuppance. Us as the somewhat bumbling good guys favoured by fortune. That's better than if we try to lie. And we'll get caught lying, won't we?" She looks me up and down. "I suppose we could feed the Young Lady into a composter and bury her footage, and that's so wasteful. We could do the same and use her footage--but oh dear, her data is loaded with Calmeda corporate code, isn't that right? And that'll make them angry at us. No, we keep to the story as is, and we make some sort of deal with the Young Lady."

    I haven't made a shower yet, and I'm tired, and I really don't care anymore. "For starters, you can stop smirking at me while explaining why you could easily kill me except you don't want to. Impolite."

    Aleksandr, over by the window, bristles a little. Rashida looks like she's suppressing a laugh. Gudrun Hasso just turns and moves over to a closet. "You might remember that we've currently got you on assaulting a Himalian officer of the peace, misuse of colony equipment, consorting with criminals, and probably a whole lot of other things we haven't had time to make up, Young Lady", she says. "You don't have to be so fiesty." Her eyes give me a flash.

    "Consorting?! I didn't know--whatever it is you think--" I shut up. "I didn't know" is one of those lines that never works. "And what her you doing strutting about, on the bridge of a gunship, wearing a bright-red stripper's Suit?"

    Gudrun Hasso pulls out a black and scarlet sleeveless silk number, and gives me a bland look over her shoulder. One hand comes up and she rakes her ringlets back behind her face, into her familiar black shag. "My old void-dancer's kit. That sort of thing was quite a fad, back when--back when you can't remember. It was stored at port and simply the first Suit I could find in all the excitement." She went back to shaking out the garment. "And what is it with you and what other women are wearing, Young Lady? Do you know; you stare at other girls very intensely."

    I bite my lip. Rashida is splitting screens and splicing various bits of footage together. Her combat shots from the bridge of the Freya's Gate. Scanner displays from Himalia control. My own. She's turning her round, dark little face away from me, but I can tell she's trying not to laugh.

    Aleksandr gives a snort. "I do rather wish this wasn't one of those moments when you make important decisions while walking about in your underwear, Supervisor."

    Gudrun spreads the sleeveless dress aside and is pulling out leggings. "I want to be clean. I want to be fresh when I speak to that idiot from IoMine. And I want him to wait for me and be hungry and panicked and sweaty and tired. And angry. People are always so much more pliable when they're angry. And he got a thousand people killed today. And a lot of equipment trashed. Ships destroyed. Such a waste. People had to make those things. And those people."

    She seems to be deciding between two identical sets of leggings and decides on the one that's more identical than the other. "I'm rather provoked about the Tsathoggua. Good people on that ship. Leonie Maxwell, she was quality. Damian Chang, he was with us from the beginning. Vlad Torssen was old family. Original Seven. I'll have to speak to his family. And that poor girl from Mars--she only joined last month. Such a story she had. Now it's over. I liked her."

    Aleksandr looks at the floor. "We did well only losing the one ship. High-yield warhead. Evaded the lasers. Tsathoggua was right on the end of the line. Not much fire coverage. Hit to the reactor core. It's--" He rose his head. "Anyway. Underwear."

    "Tut. There are young ladies working on the street below wearing less than this-"

    "And you own half of them, Supervisor!" pipes Rashida.

    Gudrun looks briefly offended. "I was talking about the sales staff at Ainsworths!"

    "So was I!" chuckles Rashida.

    "Oh"; says Gudrun. And starts pulling on the leggings. "That's all right then."

    I start rolling my eyes, spot Aleksandr doing the same, and stop.

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