Dyson's Angel

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Chapter 2

At a command from Moira, the shackles around Bosami’s wrists loosened. She grinned at him over the sights of her rifle and said, “Get that suit off and lie down on the floor.”

“If you want me so bad you could have just asked,” Bosami sneered.

Moira laughed and fired a nonlethal round from her rifle. The loosely woven mesh of volatile fibers slammed into his chest, knocking him to the floor before dissipating in a cloud of dust. “Don’t flatter yourself. Now, unless you fancy another of those…”

Bosami coughed and wheezed, trying to catch his breath. After a moment he complied, dropping the restraints and beginning to shrug out of the camouflage suit. He kicked it off into a pile at his feet, where the corrupt stealth algorithms promptly began weaving a painfully complex self-referential design across the visible surface.

“Now strap yourself to that tie down point,” Moira said, gesturing with the barrel of her rifle.

You’re making a mistake bringing me in. I dunno how much the bounty is, but I can give you a fine haul for returning me now.”

Moira crossed her arms and laughed. Shaking her head, she said, “Right. I just smashed up your base and slagged a tank and now you’re offering me a reward?”

“Security review.”

“Come again?”

“You just showed me holes in my security. I ought to be thanking you. Besides, you’re clearly a good fighter and you got this pizda hian exo void ship on your side. That makes you a good asset to have in my pocket.”

Moira shook her head and moved to perch atop a locked cargo case. “I’m not in anyone’s pocket. I work for myself. Now finish locking yourself up.”

“I can pay good.”

“No doing. We’re flying back to Covington, I’m going to collect my bounty, then I’ll never have to see you again. Now show me how tight that restraint is.”

Bosami scowled and held up his arm, rattling the restraining strap against the tie down point. “Kuring Covington security donkers. They’ll put me out on bail and I’ll be back with my homies within a month. Donkers don’t actually want me in prison, they just need to prove to the corps that they have control of this whole fraking zone.”

“So you have nothing to complain about.”

“That’s not the point. I’m talking about kuro Covington making out like it owns everything.”

“They are the largest city in the zone and have the biggest guns.”

Bosami scoffed and shook his head. “You think Covington is the center of the shell? Babe, that town shouldn’t even be the center of the zone. We’ve got five hundred million kilometers of land. You could give every stuffed bastard in Covington their own little town and there’d still be empty space. And that’s just this zone. We got over a million zones and nobody living in most of them.”

“So jump your followers to a new zone. I’ve never heard of the Conservators stopping anyone from starting a new colony.”

Bosami knelt on the floor and bent his left shoulder forward, reaching across his bare chest with his free hand to point at a tattoo on the back of his left shoulder. Moira narrowed her eyes, inspecting the image. It was a simple tattoo, seemingly done in black ink using a primitive needle gun, depicting a winged skull flying above a line which split the lower third of a circle. “I want freedom for my people. You think I don’t know that there is plenty of room out there? I’d kill to get my people out of this zone and start our own colony, but the Covington types won’t have it. Donkers keep us down, prevent us from getting access to any ship that could make the transit, threaten to shoot down any ship what tries to leave the zone without authorization.”

Moira nodded, recognizing the problem that Bosami described. When she and Zau/Heraxo had first jumped into the zone their defense systems had lit up like a Graz parade. It had not been hard to talk down the Covington types though. When you were riding in an exo scout ship that had just demonstrated jump capability, the commanders of regional defense grids were more likely to be respectful than if you drifted into their zone aboard a cobbled together direct thrust pod. Their reception in Covington proper had not been especially warm, but Zau/Heraxo’s status as a curiosity had been sufficient for Moira to secure the local permits for temporary residence and work.

Bosami looked up at Moira, leaned forward against his chain and said, “Your employers don’t like anyone who doesn’t want to work for a corp. That’s all we want, see. A little individual freedom. Opportunity to decide what we do and when, without a contract lawyer looking over our shoulder.”

“I don’t work for a corp.”

“Bah,” Bosami turned his head and spat on the deck. “You work for corps. You think you are free, but you still do their bidding like a trained dog. My people, we can’t even get a ship to take us out of here. Fraking Security doesn’t let anyone come or go without their leave.”

He nodded towards Moira, then swept his free hand to encompass the cargo bay. “You though, you could help us. You got a pizda exo void ship and you’ve managed to keep anyone from taking it away from you. The weapons on this thing must be incredible. Come on and join up with us. I’ll make it worth your while.”

Moira smiled back at him and hopped down off the crate. She strode forward until she stood mere centimeters from the extent of his reach and inspected Bosami’s naked, tattooed body from head to toe, then shrugged. “Eh, you’re not my type.”

He lashed out at her with his free hand, growling in frustration and flexing his muscles as he strained to reach her, but the restraint held tight.

“I don’t think you’re being honest,” she said with a smirk.

“What you talking about?”

“About wanting to be free. I don’t think you’re telling me the truth.”

Bosami stopped straining against his chain and rocked back on his heels, fixing Moira with a quizzical expression. “Of course we want to be free. Why else would we live out in the wastes?”

“Because you are stupid.”

“Frak you.”

Moira turned away from Bosami and strode across the deck towards the doorway leading to the starboard access corridor. She paused at the door and turned back towards Bosami, saying, “I think that you’re more interested in rebelling against the Covington authorities than actually taking any effective action. I think you lack the organization or will to actually build anything. You’ve got enough followers that you could have gone out to a corner of the zone and established a decent settlement of your own, defended it against CDS forces with the borders at your back. But no, you stay within a few thousand clicks of the city and play at being rebels. It’s a game for you.”

“You think this is a game?” Bosami snarled. “I got friends been killed for this.”

“It is a game, for you. Because if you were serious about getting away you would have asked me to jump your whole sorry crew out of this zone instead of trying to recruit me into your army.”

“You can’t do that.”

“I’d have done it too, for a price,” Moira said, turning away again.

“How much you want? Hey, don’t—”

Moira slammed the hatch shut and sealed it.

Moira settled down in her padded chair on the bridge and surveyed the panels arrayed before her. The bridge of Zau/Heraxo, like much of the ship, was an awkward commingling of human and alien technology. Flat panel monitors and holographic projectors were glued and bolted to whatever surfaces could support them, optical filters had been stretched over most of the original screens, and Moira had installed a heavy layer of padding and a somewhat uncomfortable, but functional, restraint web in the command chair. She had left all of the other chairs untouched, assuming that there was little chance that she would ever travel with another human aboard.

She allowed herself a long, relaxing breath and closed her eyes. The prisoner was secure. She would deliver him to the authorities, no matter how revolting she found them. In a few hours she would have enough credits to be set on raw and micronutrients for months and possibly make some repairs to the ship’s energy banks. Not that Moira looked forward to returning to the power bank chamber, where the walls and floor were still stained with soot and blood she was still unwilling to clean. She could have allowed the repairs to be undertaken by the ship’s remoras, or even a midge swarm, but that would have entailed trusting Zau/Heraxo with control over the power system self-repair protocols. Moira didn’t think that the ship hated her enough to intentionally kill itself just to spite her, but she was reticent to allow a corrupted syntellect anywhere near the grid tap.

“You seem relaxed,” Zau/Heraxo said, speaking through the ship speakers.

“I was trying to,” Moira replied, opening her eyes. “Is something wrong?”

“Nothing we cannot process.”

That was not something Moira wanted to hear. “Tell me.”

“Nothing important,” Zau/Heraxo announced even as it whispered into her implant, “We have received several job offers.”

“What sort of jobs?” Mora asked aloud.

“The usual postings to mercenary boards which match our filter parameters,” Zau/Heraxo replied.

One of the advantages of teaming up with an intelligent exo ship was the vast computational resources it afforded Moira. Zau/Heraxo continually ingested and evaluated job offers from across the shell. Some were addressed directly to Moira or Zau/Heraxo, sent as encrypted messages through the shell-wide mesh, while others were obtained by combing through the various job databases established by mercenary organizations. Moira might not trust Zau/Heraxo to safely effect repairs on the power banks, but she was more than willing to surrender the tedium of sorting through prospective jobs to the ship’s processors, rather than reading each message herself.

“The usual. Both sides of the conflict in New Libertalia want us.”

“Frak that. And you can tell them as much.”

“We presumed. The Cloister of Intellect has invited us to be their honored guests.”

“Boring.”

“Perhaps we would like the opportunity to be worshiped. You would be treated as a priestess.”

“You would be as bored as I would. Next.”

The listing continued for several minutes. Zau/Heraxo was capable of accepting jobs of their own volition, and had on several occasions, but they had learned over the years that tasks were best accomplished with Moira as a willing participant, rather than a recalcitrant passenger. This was especially true in a zone like Covington, where much of the population was heavily modified, but fully independent syntellects were looked on with suspicion. Moira had Zau/Heraxo tag several of the jobs within the zone as possibilities, but did not immediately approve any of them. She was growing weary of bounty hunting within Covington, but the zone and its densely populated capital city had proved a reliable source of work, so she was hesitant to abandon it.

Finally, Zau/Heraxo said, “The last item is a personal request from the Satori family of Abrigeist. The message is phrased so as to be fully deniable as anything more than an offer of security work, but our filters detect a subliminal code indicating that the desire assistance with a kidnapping case.”

“Subliminal coding? Really Zau/Heraxo?” Moira said, rolling her eyes.

“We are merely passing along what we detected.”

“Did you detect any bulldrek to go along with it?”

“We are attempting to learn more of the functions of {human/beast}-spawned artificial intellects. The theoretical basis of subliminal data transfer were among our findings. We have also been studying the implications of third generation post-human mind design.”

“Whatever. Put that job on the maybe list. I wouldn’t mind an opportunity to jump out of here if they are offering enough.”

“Done.” The ship paused for a moment, leaving a faint hiss of white noise bleeding over the speakers so Moira knew that it was intentionally hesitating, rather than ending the conversation.

“What?” she asked.

“If you are so eager to leave Covington, why not offer to help Bosami Haupt escape the zone? Surely we could cram them into the cargo bay and make the transit with minimal risk.”

“Nice to know you still have a heart, Zau,” Moira said. She drew a deep breath, wishing that she could know for certain that it was Zau’s mind guiding the question, but then she breathed out and expelled the wistful notion from her mind. Zau was gone. “I don’t want to be responsible for another Partha or Eve’s Heart. Those poor kuros are nowhere near prepared to run their own society.”

“Fair enough. Though we wonder about the opportunity for us to become leaders, perhaps even the gods. Us, not you. You will likely die in a firefight.”

“Thanks for your kind words,” Moira said.

“We are always in a good mood after {killing your pitiful race / a successful mission} be a prick. Now, if you will excuse us…” Zau/Heraxo’s voice faded as it slipped into some sort of reverie which Moira knew she could never comprehend.

Moira reached up and pulled down a retractable tube connected to a nutrient pack hanging in the ceiling. The nutrient liquid was bitter, but she did not think that it was beginning to go sour. Whatever, soured nutridrip was unpleasant and less beneficial, but she had never heard of anyone being killed by the stuff. Starved, perhaps, if the micronutrients had broken down too much, but not sickened. She blinked into a virtual view, blocking out the drab interior of the ship, and spent several minutes tabbing through status readouts as she sucked at the nipple.

The midges were still restricted from consuming living tissue, though she would always worry whether Zau/Heraxo could override that command at whim. Energy reserves were still lower than they ought to be and bleeding out through dozens of damaged and corrupted subsystems, including that temno starboard shield generator which kept cycling up then purging even when she ordered it to shut down. A liability, but better to have a bleed on the power system than a weak spot in ship’s shielding. The grid tap was functional, but only at a fraction of its optimal output. Hull plating was fully repaired and the carefully monitored midge swarm responsible for that task had been put to rest. Raw stockpile was running dangerously low, but she hoped to rectify that when they returned to Covington.

In short, her flying death fortress was still holding together, even if it was continually attempting to tear itself apart. Thanks to the steady, if weak, revenue stream provided by various corps and Covington Security, she had finally managed to staunch the ship’s degradation and even begin making small improvements.

Moira blinked away the internal displays and tugged at the nutrient tube, causing it to retract up towards the unit bolted to the ceiling. She closed her eyes and leaned back in the padding, allowing herself a few moments of rest before they arrived in Covington.

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