Dyson's Angel

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Chapter 3

Covington proper was a sprawling city centered around a raw mine that had been depleted for nearly a hundred years. Humans in the shell had been accustomed to mining the pockets of universally transmutable material known as raw for much of post-enclosure history, so by the time the deposit at the center of Covington ran dry the ruling council had established ancillary mines at the edges of the city, leading to the uneven outward sprawl that had become a defining characteristic of the colony. The center of Covington, deprived of its former economic base, had undergone a decades long transitional phase of urban renewal and emerged as a fashionable business and arts district, with the former mine shafts transformed into a sprawling underground network of expensive apartments, off clubs, and public spaces. Some visionary, and arguably mad, architect had even convinced the governing council to let him build a new civic center directly over the center of the original pit mine. The project had been ambitious and taken several years to complete, even with heavy construction drones handling the majority of the work, but the result had been a complex of three office towers rising thirty stories above a supporting disc decorated with cultivated lawns and gardens, perched on a ring of curved support pylons which gave the structure the appearance of hovering above the terraced pit.

Zau/Heraxo did not land anywhere near the central district of Covington.

The ship set down on a landing pad in district seventeen, not quite at the edge of the ragged sprawl, but nowhere near the fashionable central districts. Seventeen still had an active mining operation, though surveys estimated that they had a couple years at most before this vein of raw ran dry and the residents would be forced to move on to the next active mine or adjust to a new economic model. Whether that would be manufacturing, information, or some other business was anyone’s guess, but if it were possible to bottle and export corruption, Moira suspected that the outer districts of Covington would do a booming business.

“Docking completed, we are bringing our avatar up to the port dorsal airlock.”

“I don’t know if you should come along,” Moira replied. “They didn’t take it so well last time.”

“We are coming.”

Moira shrugged and climbed out of her command chair. “Fine, just make sure you will pass a scan if Security stops us.”

There was no point in arguing with Zau/Heraxo. If she tried to force the issue, the ship would either lock down the airlocks so she could not leave or wait until she had gone and send the avatar after her. Better to have the avatar travel with her, where she could keep an eye on it. Here in Covington, people tended to associate drones with heavy construction or combat, and any drone not clearly marked with the logos of a major corp was viewed as either potential salvage or a possible threat.

Moira stopped briefly in the refresher, then grabbed a street legal stunner from the weapons locker and strode down the port thoracic corridor to the main cargo bay at the rear of the ship. She would have preferred a more substantial weapon, but the Covington Security forces tended to be aggressive in their enforcement of weapon restrictions here in the transitional districts, where the governing council expected some degree of civil unrest during the economic upheaval.

She unsealed the door to the cargo hold and was met by a stench that cause her to step back and press her hand, thankfully freshly scented by the refresher, to her nose. “What the… Zau!” she shouted.

“We observed the prisoner redecorating his surroundings with feces in the last hour,” Zau/Heraxo whispered into Moira’s ear.

“No drek. Why didn’t you tell me, or just clean up?”

“We were preoccupied with analyzing the job offers you approved for consideration.”

“Get your avatar down here.”

“Why?”

“You didn’t clean up, you get to touch him. I’ve got enough to deal with already.”

“We fail to see how this could disgust you any more than we are disgusted by having wretched humans crawling around within ourselves, but we shall comply.”

Good enough, Moira thought as she scowled and pulled at her scarf. She snugged the loops over her nose and mouth so the microstructure of the cloth would filter the air, then she readied her stunner and pulled the cargo bay door open.

Bosami Haupt lay in the middle of the bay, still chained to a cargo tie down point. His wiry body, normally baked to a chestnut gold accented by bright tattoos, was painted a dull brown. Streaks of the same brown surrounded him and spattered the walls of the bay. As Moira stepped into the bay he raised his head, flashed her a cruel grin, and said, “Welcome back. I hope you like what I’ve done with the place.”

“What the sami nag is this?” Moira replied.

“I figured that if you were going to treat me like drek I might as well be covered in it.”

“You’re insane,” Moira said.

“No more than the rest of this gorram zone. I take it we’ve arrive in Covington City? Or have you brought me to one of the outliers that the corps haven’t bombed to rubble?”

“Covington proper. Get up.”

“I’m afraid I can’t do that. If you are going to deliver me to the corrupt authorities of this totalitarian regime it will not be under my own power,” Bosami said. He then lowered his head and lay on the filth smeared deck, as limp as a corpse.

“I always knew you humans were drek,” Zau/Heraxo’s avatar announced, drifting up beside Moira.

The drone’s body was a spherical cage of interlocked rings just under a meter in diameter, orbiting around a burnished bronze sphere fifty centimeters in diameter with no apparent means of support. Six smaller spheres crafted of a polished brassy metal were affixed to the rings. These contained a variety of sensors, weapons, and field manipulators which the avatar could use to move and affect is surroundings. The rings of the cage were capable of rotating and orbiting independently or in concert, allowing the smaller pods on each to be positioned at any angle.

“Stuff it. Grab on and bring him along,” Moira said.

“I am not coming with you,” Bosami called, not lifting his head. “I acknowledge my lack of armament and will passively resist any attempt to deliver me to the corrupt government of Covington.”

“Jesu, you’re a pain in the ass,” Moira said. “We aren’t Security, man. Why don’t you just come along quietly until we’re almost to the station, then you can start putting on whatever political displays you want just before we drag you into the bounty office.”

As Moira spoke, the Zau/Hereaxo’s avatar glided over to Bosami and drifted down to hover over him. They flourished their rings, bringing one of the pods into position above the restraint. A narrow aperture opened in one hemisphere of the pod and a thin manipulator field extended, wreathing the restraint in a nimbus of exotic energies. The restraint disconnected from the tie down point and the avatar drifted smoothly upward. It lifted Bosami’s arm, then his shoulders and head, then his torso, hips, and legs, until he dangled like a puppet with most of its strings cut beneath the glinting drone.

“We do not believe he will cooperate,” Zau/Heraxo said, their voice speaking simultaneously from the ship’s speakers, Moira’s implants, and the avatar.

“You just figured that out, did you?” Moira said. “We’l take him out through the cargo doors. I don’t want him to stink up the rest of the ship. And turn the midges lose in here to clean up. I want all that drek cleared away and fed to the recompiler before we get back.”

Bosami Haupt continued to hang limply from his manacles Zau/Heraxo’s avatar followed Moira down the cargo ramp and out under the nose of the ship. They paused for a moment, the ship crouched over them like a protective insect, while Moira’s implants negotiated a connection with the local mesh and located the shortest safe route to the bounty office. As soon as she had a navigation map projected in her vision, detailing the kilometer long march they had ahead of them, Moira strode down the ramp into the bustling port traffic.

She allowed herself a half smile at the absurdity of the scene, but her good mood was soon eradicated as Bosamai began screaming invectives against the Covington government.

“Fix that,” she muttered, sending her words to Zau/Heraxo. A heartbeat later she added, “But keep him alive.”

The avatar dropped to hover at shoulder hight beside Moira. Bosami landed heavily on the ground, his screed cutting off in a sudden exhalation of pain.

“So, how do you find the weather this wake?” the Zau/Heraxo drone asked.

Moira laughed. She couldn’t help herself. “Same as every other wake.”

“We think we’re due some rain this aftermid.”

Behind them, the chain snapped taught and began dragging Bosami across the rough anti-skid pavement of the port. All around them people and machines continued their work, pointedly ignoring the drek streaked prisoner being dragged behind a drone and obvious mercenary. This was the outskirts of Covington. It took more than a standard bounty action for the people to break from their routines around here.

“Hasn’t been any natural rain in Covington in recorded history,” Moira said. “You planning to deliver that load of fertilizer to an agro dome?”

“We might have to if it doesn’t learn to walk.”

Moira laughed again. She missed days like this. Not so much the recalcitrant prisoner or the drone avatar floating beside her, but the darkly humorous conversations with Zau. The Heraxo personality had been especially dominant recently and what little humor it possessed was distinctly hostile towards her.

“I’d like to take a break from bounty hunting,” Moira said. “It’s regular and easy, but I’d just like to go somewhere I can take off this armor for a few days, maybe lay naked in a rain dome for a few hours.”

“We {miss those days too / have never experienced that}. It’d be {nice/revolting} to do that.”

It couldn’t last forever, Moira thought.

Behind them, Bosami tired of being dragged across the rough pavement and hauled himself to his feet, stumbling after the drone as it continued to hover at Moira’s shoulder.

“Maybe we should take that job in Abrigeist. At least go and talk to them. Isn’t that supposed to be a rather safe zone?”

“Safe is a way to describe it. Abrigeist is a near panopticon society. Virtually no crime because a singular synthetic intelligence watches every public space and all violent infractions cary mandatory storage sentences.”

Moira scowled. She understood the urge to create a safe environment, but she preferred to not have her every movement monitored. Not that Covington was necessarily any less monitored, there were cameras on every street corner and in nearly every building, but those were all owned by such a variety of corps and government agencies that any sort of coordinated data analysis required a nearly impossible degree of cooperation. To have a syntellect scrutinizing her constantly felt too much like a vengeful god peering down on her and counting up her sins.

“Maybe not that then,” she said.

“You are still ruling out the combat operations?”

“Yeah. I want a break from being shot at.”

“We would appreciate that as well. A period of rest would provide opportunity to repair our systems further, assuming that we are provided sufficient and proper raw materials.”

“That’s what this job was about, eh?”

That was when Bosami decided to start screaming.

“Behold the tyranny of the corp! I dare to resist and am cast into chains. The same fate awaits you all if you do not rise up against your corporate masters. Your freedom is…”

Moira drew her stunner, turned, and shot Bosami in the chest. He cried out and collapsed, moaning and twitching as his nerves fired randomly in response to the blast.

“Pick him up so he still has legs when we turn him in,” she said to Zau/Heraxo, holstering her weapon.

The Zau/Heraxo drone rose higher, dragging the still convulsing gang leader up until his feet were barely touching the ground. “Perhaps we should have done this to begin with.”

The bounty office was a small half dome projecting off the side of the larger detention processing center like a wart on the flank of a toad. Moira thumbed the call button beside the scarred blast door and looked up into a camera that, despite its shielding, looked to have been replaced recently. If there was one place in all of Covington where one was likely to get caught in a firefight, it was the street outside an urban detention processing center. With every criminal in that district being processed through the same building, it was not uncommon for gangs or even corporate operatives to attack during prisoner transfers.

A scarred face fuzzed into view on the scratched screen above the call button. “State your business.”

“We’ve got a bounty to drop off.”

“Who is we?”

“Moira. Bounty license DA2117[ Dyson’s Angel released February 1st 2017.]. Accompanied by a drone from my ship and the bounty.”

“Opening the door. Escort your bounty to the scanning booth before you come to the desk.”

The screen faded to black and a sharp tone sounded, cutting through the background chatter and grind that pervaded the streets of district seventeen. The scarred blast door slid upwards, opening on a spartan waiting room with curved sheet metal walls, filthy metal grate floors, and a flickering, partially burned out glow panel ceiling. A couple rows of metal benches were bolted to the floor in the center of the room. The single flat wall was occupied by a glass and metal booth three meters tall and one square and a recessed clerk’s desk protected by a sheet of thick glass, which was spidered with cracks from several obvious slug impacts.

Zau/Heraxo’s avatar dragged Bosami to the booth and, using its manipulator fields, opened the door and shoved the gang leader in. Blue light poured from the booth as a variety of penetrating scanners warmed up and examined the man in painstaking detail.

“What’s that all over him?” the desk clerk asked, squinting at the bank of monitors arrayed beneath the window. “I’m reading a high concentration of fecal bacteria and…” he looked up and scowled at Moira through the cracked shield glass.

“You got it.”

“Why are you bringing me a bounty covered in drek?”

“He did it to himself. Some sort of protest.”

“I’ll have to take off for that.”

“Bulldrek.”

“Hey, lady, you brought him in scuffed up and covered in feces. Look at those marks on him. He’s got abrasions over half his face and torso.”

“He went limp on us. Not my fault the bastard chose to get dragged across pavement rather than use his legs.”

“Let me see here,” the clerk said, looking down and tapping on a touchscreen below the counter. “Decontamination fee, medical treatment, contractor abuse lawsuit insurance…” he continued muttering under his breath and tapping at the screen.

Moira walked up the glass, pulled down her scarf, and leaned against the counter. “I don’t know what sort of game you’re trying to play here. We grabbed a rich bounty. It’s a bounty, not a contract Security job. I’ve read the governing council laws and Detention Corp procedures. Bounty jobs are clearly classified and only have three categories of payment: Alive, Stored and Retrievable, and Dead.”

The clerk scratched at his grizzled chin with a stubby finger and squinted at Moira though the filthy, cracked glass. “I’m just running the numbers, lady. Doing my job. Way I see it, you are a Security enforcement contractor who arrested this man for running unregistered hypnotics.”

“Like hells we…”

“That means you need to be properly insured and standard public safety enforcement incentives and penalties apply.”

“This is fraking bulldrek,” Moira snapped, slamming her palm against the glass.

“Ah, let me add in the penalties for unprofessional language and conduct.”

“We just brought in Bosami Haupt. That’s one of the biggest pizda biying bounties on the books! Let me speak to your superior or I’ll have your contract. You’ll spend the duration cleaning toilets on my ship you little kuro.”

The clerk flipped his screen up on an articulated arm, swinging it around so Moira could see the tabulated payment amount at the bottom. It was a quarter of the advertised bounty for the job. “As you see, the fees for Security contractors are rather paltry. All that regulation really cuts into the profit margin.”

“Frak that. I am a registered bounty hunter, not a Security contractor. Let me talk to your supervisor.”

“She isn’t here at the moment. Besides,” he tapped at a screen and the payment amount dropped even lower, “in that case we’d need to add an administrative fee to the calculation.”

Moira turned to the drone and said, “Zau, get our bounty out of that box. We’ll go to another office.”

Zau/Heraxo’s drone drifted back over to the scanning booth and extended a manipulator field.

“I’ll have to order a lockdown if you touch that,” the clerk said, standing up and leaning towards glass so he could see the booth. “Regulations prohibit the removal of bounties from Security facilities.”

“I’m sure the same regulations also prohibit slimy desk clerk kuros from fraking up paperwork on purpose.”

“Hey, no need for this to get nasty. How about we just handle this all simple?”

“It was simple, then you decided to come along and frak things up.”

“Lady, you can keep causing a fuss and I’ll press this nice big lockdown button. Then we all get gassed. Then you wake up and have to explain everything to the Prefect. After all that maybe they believe you and I get put on paid leave for a week and have to attend a course on administrative professionalism. Maybe you get paid, or maybe they decide this whole situation is just too confusing and send you on your way without a credit.”

Moira held up a hand in the avatar’s direction and whispered, “Hold on a second.” She peered intently at the clerk through the smeared glass. “What are offering?”

“I file the bounty form as you’d expect, but you toss ten percent of it to me. Everyone is happy enough and nobody wastes a whole wake being interviewed by the Prefects.”

“That’s bulldrek,” Moira growled.

“Did I say ten? I meant fifteen. So, we have a deal?”

Moira grimaced and shook her head. This would not be the first time that she paid a bribe to conduct business in Covington. She slammed her fist on the counter and said, “Fine.”

The clerk flipped the display screen back down and tapped at his screen for a moment, then flipped it back up to show Moira the advertised bounty for Bosami Haupt, known criminal and fugitive. “I believe this is the number you were expecting?”

Moira nodded. “How you want to handle this?”

“Simple. I prepare to send the payment to your account and give you a payment code for my cut on my handy. You send me my cut, then I authorize the bounty.”

“What if I don’t have that sort of liquid credit? Maybe I need this bounty to be solvent.”

The clerk shrugged and gave Moira a bored look. “I can always fill out that paperwork again, with additional processing fees for having to complete it a second time.”

“Fine. Get ready to transfer the bounty to my registered account.”

Moira activated her vision overlay, selected a her banking application, and arranged for the payment. She scrubbed an undamaged portion of the glass clean with her cuff, then pressed her left palm against it. The clerk did the same, then flipped the screen up with his right hand to show Moira the payment authorization icon, just waiting for him to tap it.

“Frak you,” Moira said as she made the gesture that would authorize her banking app to transfer funds through her handy.

“You’re not my type, but thanks anyway,” the clerk replied.

A faint glow suffused the glass between their palms, then faded away. A notification drifted into the upper right corner of Moira’s vision, indicating that a significant sum had been deducted from her account.

“Thank you for that,” the clerk said. “It now appears that all of your bounty paperwork is in order and the scan has verified that the individual you placed in the booth is indeed Bosami Haupt. Thank you for your service to Covington Security and please accept this payment as a token of our gratitude.” He tapped the payment icon on his screen and in instant later Moira’s overlay informed her that her account had been credited.

“Always a pleasure,” she sneered, turning away from the window. “Zau/Heraxo, let’s get out of here.”

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