DREAMS OF AN UNHOLY NIGHT – ACT III
“Success often depends upon knowing how long it will take to succeed.”
-- Emperor Chiang I
General Lord Il-Jan, Lord High Regulator, circled the prostrate form of Major Dame Cynthia Beatrix. “So, Major, you have met our problem in the south.”
“Yes, sai, you were correct. There was a mage, but he was not, as we had surmised a weakling using his powers to control a group of cut-throats.”
“That is obvious… since he bested you, or were you just incompetent?”
“No, sai, he was incredibly powerful, but untrained. I believe his powers are new to him, if he were trained at all I would not be here reporting to you.”
“Powerful, maybe, but you still should have bested him. You were given the best the Emperor has to offer… and perhaps we were wrong investing in someone of such questionable stock. Get out of my sight. I suggest you re-examine the past few days and discover why you failed and if we can make any further use of you.”
The major, hammered by the displeasure of her master flew from the room in shame. As she moved to her quarters she began the ordered self examination, yet for some reason all that she could focus on were the parting words of adversary Weathers.
As the door closed behind the Major, Il-Jan turned to a non-descript panel on the side wall. As his gaze was felt upon it, the wall opened up revealing three other individuals, shadowed by the dim light of the room. “What is your opinion of her worthiness?”
“Sire, you may have been a bit harsh, we do not see anyway she could have defeated that pirate. The rage he was hurling at her was greater than anything we have seen.”
“That is my opinion as well,” the general nodded, “but what interested me is he actually hoped to turn her. That is why I was harsh. I implanted in her a desire to begin exploring his words. I think we just might be able to use her to get to him. He obviously believes her genetic heritage will somehow allow him to use her.”
“Excellent plan, sire. We will continue to monitor her… discretely, of course.”
The panel closed and the three figures made their way out of the hidden chamber down a series of halls that gave them covert access to almost any chamber in the complex. The one that had spoken made his way to Regulator Beatrix’s quarters. She sat at her desk reading a document. The spy used a data pad to the left of the observation port to access her terminal. Interesting list of reading, the Emperor’s suggestion has really put this one to work.
Inside the room, Beatrix could not shake the feeling she was being watched. She closed the digital copy of Thomas Paine’s Common Sense and retired to her bed. As she willed herself to relax she was confounded by the fact that she was unable to get Weather’s parting words from her mind. “In the end, you are little more than a slave.”
At that moment, on the other side of the compound was a dark figure recording his impressions of the meeting between Il-Jan and Beatrix. When he was finished he placed the data into a scrambler and sent a secure transmission to the other side of known space. His mission complete, he went back to his duties, monitoring the inner workings of the base.
Weathers looked across the Officers’ Mess and wondered how it was he was going to break the news to his fellows. There is only one way to go about this, David knew, and that is to just lay it all out there.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” he addressed his officers, eagerly awaiting his message, “I am sure y’all are curious as to why I have called you here today. I need to explain why I left that frigate alive. I feel we have worn out our welcome in this region and that ship was sent specifically to hunt us. That was no standard patrol; we were its target. I left it alive because I wanted them to think this war had become personal to me, to us. Only people who were taking ownership over a chunk of space would send back a tangible live warning. I want them to come back to that region and hammer away looking for us. I want them to crack down on the people of those systems and become even more oppressive than they already are. The only way we will ever take the Emperor down is for the people, all of them, to rise up against him. So, that being said, it is my hope to begin moving around, hitting and fading all over the Empire, causing reprisals to increase tension. There have to be more groups like us out there. If and when it gets hot enough, if strong leadership is found, they will rise up, and if there are enough of them, they will win. Our overall operations will not leave this sight, in fact I have some very interesting ideas for this base. The largest of which we can think Ensign Mountain for, but I will get to that later. As of now, the Dickerson will be leaving this section of space. It is a bit too hot for us now to risk leading anyone back here. The Marm will have to ask as our resupply vessel, any questions?
“Captain Weathers,” Captain Lyle of the Marm asked, “while I agree with you that things are a tad hot right now, why not back off and let them cool down?”
“I wish we could lie low, but I’m afraid they will find us if we sit still. I cannot explain it to you, but I have this feeling we have struck a nerve, and they have started to take our attacks personally. We have to keep moving.”
Lyle then posed a second question, “If we are going to move to new hunting grounds, where do you suggest we go?”
Weathers activated the holoproj on the desk and a galactic map hovered above them. “I suggest we go here.” David touched his finger so that the southwestern frontier glowed. “Oleander King and the people of the Western Reserve hold no love for the slants. Perhaps if the heat gets turned up a bit, in time, they will become useful to the cause.”
A young ensign at the back stood up, “Sir, if our actions result in increased hardships for these people, how will they be willing to follow us against the emperor? Won’t they hate us?”
“You are correct, Ensign,” answered Weathers, “but I do not ever plan on leading anyone against the Emperor. We do not have the power to take him on. I see our role as that of agitator, creating a situation that will result in a greater revolution. If this works, I doubt we will be remembered in the history books, but we will have some stories to tell our grandchildren!”
“But sir,” Lieutenant Commander Palmer raised her hand, “we’ve been doing that for the last twenty years.”
“No,” David shot back, “what we have been doing, commander, is assisting anyone opposing the Emperor. Small pockets can be crushed easily; but a greater discontent strikes at the heart of the slants! Right now, they’re all so comfortable, ‘cause all the rebelling is happening at the rim. We need to spread it around, give strength to those groups that must be out there, and then kick the Emperor in the ass!”
There was a whoop that arose from the table that echoed off the walls. Weathers couldn’t help but smile. Once he had bathed in the newfound optimism, the captain order, “Helm, once the Marm’s officers are away, set course for the Diocletian System, best speed.”
Sharif couldn’t help watching the broadcast as he walked the streets of Minos. He couldn’t help watching it because it was being shown on the sidewalk, the billboards, and some of the shop windows. I suppose I could simply walk blind, he thought, but then he would still hear it.
It was a news broadcast; there was a man standing there before a crowd in some part of the planet Adams wasn’t, proclaiming a message that sounded familiar. It sounded familiar – because it was his. This prophet, this latter-day spiritual leader, had one slight twist… a crusade against the Middle Kingdom.
There were so many fundamentalist Christians on this planet, left over from the 3rd Civil War and the New Jewish expulsion of the radical fundies. They were burning for another Bad Andy to lead them and one appeared. One who could do miracles and not be a mage. One who could do perform powerful deeds. However, most importantly, one who somehow kept ImpSec and the Civil Police from raiding his gatherings. His support was growing and it seemed to come out of nowhere.
Perhaps the Father of Lies got to him after I kicked him in the royal jewels, Sharif smiled; then wept for the thousands, perhaps millions who would die in the holocaust that this deluded man had signed them up for. You can save yourself by saving humanity… and throwing off of the wicked government. Instead of faith, this antichrist had given them works.
This wasn’t the Way – Adams finally realized what he had to do. Show these masses the truth.
Chan Lee couldn’t believe it; there he was, before the Emperor, his hated enemy… and he couldn’t do a damn thing about it. The collar was securely fastened, the chains were solid arcanized corbidium, and he didn’t have his claws.
His Eminence, the Royal Emperor of Heaven and Earth at the Center of All Things, Chiang Jae-Young Nguyen, sat before him. His fat flesh wheezed on his anti-grav throne, which he levitated forward with the controls in order to get a better look at him. Through his lazy brown eyes, the pure rage on Lee’s face was amusing to the dying man’s face. “I told you…” he started, before breaking into a coughing fit. “I told you we’d meet again.”
“And I told you I’d kill you.”
Chiang managed a chuckle. “I’m afraid Old Man Time might beat your futile attempt at revenge.” Driving the throne back to its pedestal, the emperor sighed. “Now that you’re in my grasp, I’m at a loss at what to do with you. You should have stayed under whatever rock you came out from. Grandson, did he tell you where he was?”
Hoon bowed, “No, grandfather.”
“It is no matter,” Chiang said in yan-giz, before shifting back to Mandorin, “Lord Chamberlain, what do you recommend?”
A man dressed in a shining blue robe, with a beard so long you could trip on it, stepped forward. “I fear that spilling more royal blood, albeit so diluted in this creature, would only serve to spill more, your majesty.”
“Kill it now,” Crown Prince Rao, flanking the emperor on the other side, “like you would do with any other pest.”
“I have a suggestion, your majesty.” came a voice from Chiang’s left.
The emperor coughed and turned towards him with insolence, “Yes, my Left Minister? What would you recommend?”
The man stepped forward, his hair incredibly slicked back, with his eyes just a little too far apart, dressed in a simple black robe. “A solution that would appease both opinions; send him to G2 to rot.”
“Unwise, Vin Dane,” an Italian man dressed in a well-fashioned purple robe said to the emperor’s right. “After all, he escaped Imperial custody once, we wouldn’t want him to do it again. And people have been known to escape from G2.”
“Then what would you suggest, Minister Treschi,” Dane shot back, “for as Count Aniketh pointed out, to kill him would lead to more regicide, something I’m sure you wouldn’t want.”
Andrea simply smiled. “But we don’t want to place him somewhere he could easily be picked up again, by a party or parties unknown.”
Chan was lost in the seemingly polite conversation, knowing there were hints being said that told differently, but he had never been one for courtier sniping.
“It is easy to criticize, minister, but I see no suggestions from your quarter.”
Treschi smiled. “Then I will simply build on your magnificent plan. Indeed, let us send him to G2, but let us not send him alone. Send him with a companion, someone to watch him closely, and kill him if he should try to escape.”
“Ni shi bai chi!” Crown Prince Rao shot back. “You could never send a guard to G2 and expect him to kill him should he escape. After all, escape for Chan would be escape for the guard.”
“I was not suggesting a man, your highness.”
stared at Treschi. “Then what do you recommend?’
“There is a pernicious plant that grows only on G2 that’s called Endari. It is an annoying little weed, but it does have one natural advantage; it is a cure for Netter’s Syndrome.”
“But Endari is poisonous.” Aniketh replied.
“Indeed – but since when did poison kill a werewolf? Simply inject the prisoner with the disease and he will have to spend his days and nights on that rock, writhing in agony from the poison he must eat to live, and never able to leave except to die. That, your majesty, is fitting punishment for an enemy of the blood imperial.”
Chiang chuckled. “Excellent, Right Minister, you have chosen correctly. See to it personally, Andrea, and you will be well rewarded.”
“Thank you, your majesty.” Treschi bowed and stepped forward towards Chan.
“Chiang!” Lee somehow managed to stand, “If I do ever escape, I’ll make sure all your children are dead before I die.”
“Then we’ll make sure you never escape.” The emperor said with a smile. “Take him away!”
Treschi led the guards and the prisoner away, leaving the Imperial Court a much happier place. As they approached the shuttle to take him away, Andrea pulled a hypospray out of his robes. With a sigh, he said, “I was hoping to use this on a much more impressive prisoner, but… waste not, want not.”
“Don’t you stick that go-sa in me!”
Andrea shrugged. “It’s not personal,” as he injected the disease into Chan’s blood stream, “it’s just business.”
Lee raged as he felt the burning sensation go through his body. The minister just stared at him, then said to the guards, “Take him on the next freighter bound for G2.”
“I’ll kill you!” Chan yelled at Treschi.
“You’d be surprised how many men have said that to me,” Andrea smiled, “yet, I’m still here. Perhaps one of these days you’ll remember that I saved your life, although what kind of life you’ll have …” he shrugged, “well, why spoil the surprise?”
“TRESCHI!” Lee roared as he was bundled into the shuttle, his voice muffled once they shut the doors.
Cho was shaking so hard the chair rattled. She strained against the ropes, but they held tight. One thought dominated her mind: Must get opium!
“C’mon, guys! Just a little dust?” Cho whined. “Some pot? A golram cigarette? C’mon, just give me a smoke, for Buddha’s sake! Ya got twenty to a pack!”
The yakuza Cho had dubbed Spikes looked up from his hand of hanafuda. “Shut up, bitch!” He turned to the one Cho called Suit. “Buddha, does she ever shut up?”
“She’s a junkie,” Suit said. “She golram obsessed!”
“I could be bouncing at the Mizu Shobai,” Spikes grumbled, “but I’m babysitting this golram dusthead instead. Buddha, that pisses me off! I’m ready to cap that dumb bitch!”
“It just one night,” Suit said. “Besides, it means the oyabun trusts you to keep her helpless. Speaking of which…” he said with a sigh, fishing an expensive gold watch from the vest pocket of his sharkskin suit and checking the dial, “it’s that time again…”
“It’s your turn,” Spikes growled.
“Fine,” Suit said irritably, throwing down his cards. “But next time it’s your turn!” Suit prepared the hypodermic and approached Cho cautiously.
“You got any Nirvana’s, man?” Cho asked hopefully. “C’mon, just one smoke!”
Suit didn’t reply. He held still for a second, then thrust the hypodermic at Cho’s neck.
Cho dodged. “Ji bai!” she screamed, and tried to snap at his hand with her teeth.
Suit was too fast, pulling his arm back in a flash. “Take your medicine, Cho!” he barked. “Don’t make me give it to you in the arm—you know it’ll hurt more!”
“Motherfuckin’ asswipe!” Cho yelled, not bothering to switch languages. “You bring those fuckin’ Quellers near me an’ I’ll bite your hand off, shitdick!”
“Look, Cho, you’re going to take it whether you—“
“Motherfucking pieceashit homofag!!” Cho cursed. “You lardass retard cocksuck— “
“Fine, have it your way!” spat Suit, his face turning red. He seized Cho’s arm.
“NOOO!!” Cho screeched, thrashing violently enough to rock the chair back and forth.
“Shi fa ren ji nu!” Suit swore, ramming a foot in her crotch to hold the chair steady. He seized her arm.
Cho was beyond words now, screaming wordlessly in pure rage as Suit shoved the needle—none too carefully—into her arm. She thrust her neck forward and snapped at his hand, but it was far out of reach. She felt the now-familiar burn of the hated chemical spreading though her forearm. Suit yanked the needle out and backed away.
“I’m gonna kill you!” Cho screamed at his back. “I’m gonna rip yer balls off an’—”
“Sure. And I’m the Emperor,” Suit said, shaking his head dismissively.
“I’m gonna turn you into a fuckin’ toad!” Cho yelled, struggling fiercely and making the chair rock dangerously. “I’m gonna fry your brains! I’m gonna eat your—whoa—WHOAAA!” Suit turned around just in time to see Cho’s chair topple over sideways with a crash. “OW!... Ah, gosa, man, I fell over!” Cho moaned. “Pick me up, will ya?” Suit and Spikes looked at each other and burst into scornful laughter. “Aw, c’mon, guys!” Cho whined. “Yer not gonna just leave me here like this… are ya?”
Suit turned back to look at her contemptuously. “Shi fa ren, ji bai!” he said.
“Pick me up, golrammit!” Cho yelled.
“You knocked yourself over, pick yourself up!” Suit said, sitting down across from Spikes and picking up his cards. “Now, where were we? Oh yes… my turn.”
Perfect, Cho thought. Now all I have to do is wait.
“Fourteen,” Spikes said, laying his last card out.
“Eighteen!” Suit said, flipping his last card over. “Sucks to be you!” he said, collecting the pile of crowns that rested on the table. “And, I believe, it’s that time again.”
Spike glared at him. Reluctantly, he picked up the hypodermic. “Lucky ji bai.”
“At least she stopped screaming,” Suit pointed out, counting his crowns.
“Yeah, musta fallen asleep,” Spike said darkly, filling the syringe with Quellers. “But I bet ya twenty crowns she’ll start screaming the minute she sees this…”
Spikes approached the chair silently. Cho’s prone form lay before him, lashed to the chair, flimsy hospital smock pooled around her. He knelt down cautiously and grabbed her wrist.
Suddenly her head jerked up. Her eyes were gone. Blood-red orbs stared at him instead.
“Untie me,” the wu jen said in a barely-audible whisper.
Obediently, Spikes silently reached out and began to work on the knots.
Seconds ticked by in silence as Spikes freed one arm; then the other, then her ankles.
“What’s goin’ on over there?” Suit called suspiciously across the room.
“Just ch-checking the ropes,” Cho whispered.
“Just ch-checking the ropes,” Spikes said over his shoulder.
Cho winced, but Suit was silent. A second later, Cho was free. She pressed a shaky palm to Spike’s forehead. “Sleep,” she commanded. Spikes crumpled to the floor.
“GOSA!” Suit yelled, jumping to his feet; scrambling for the gun at his side.
Fuck! Cho thought, fumbling to her knees. I knew it couldn’t be this easy! She thrust her right arm toward Suit, palm outward, as he leveled his gun at her. Time seemed to slow down.
”HAI!” Cho screamed. The gun launched out of Suit’s hand and flew across the room into her own outstretched palm.
Suit crouched into a martial arts stance, arms ready. With only one good arm, Cho fumbled for the trigger, eyes glued to her enemy. With a shout, Suit launched himself at her in a flying kick. As if in slow motion, Cho dropped the gun and flung herself sideways, swinging her right arm toward him, fingers curled in the mystic sign of Wind. A wave of kinetic energy slammed against Suit; his heel missed Cho’s head by centimeters. He landed hard, off balance, and tumbled to the floor.
Cho leapt on him and scrambled for the gun. The trigger forgotten, she raised the gun like a club, and cracked it into his skull, then again, and again…
She stopped at the fourth blow. He had stopped moving. She paused, dripping weapon raised high, panting in her blood-spattered gown, searching his face for any sign of movement… but all she saw was dark blood slowly pooling on the floor. Good enough.
Instantly, Cho dropped the gun and searched frantically through his pockets for dust. Nothing. She leapt on Spikes and searched him. No dust, but she found a pack of Nirvana Marijuana cigarettes. With a frenzied, shaking hand she lit one and sucked it down in seconds. It wasn’t opium… but it helped. She lit a second, calmer, then glanced over at Suit…
There was a lot of blood on the floor.
Cho blinked. Shit. I didn’t kill him… did I? If I did, I’m in even more trouble—if that’s possible… Yakuza do not kill members of their clan hana fuda the second law of zingi, the Yakuza code of honor. Cho checked Suit’s pulse with shaking fingers. It was weak… but there.
“You s-stupid ji bai!” Cho swore at the unconscious man. “I haven’t got t-time for this! If you weren’t k-kobun I’d let your d-dumb ass die!” Her left arm was still numb, but buzzing with pins and needles as the blood flow returned. After the last Queller injection, she had fallen over on her left arm, cutting off the circulation and trapping the Quellers in her limb. But now that she was moving again… she didn’t know how long they would take to kick in, but if she were going to work any magick, she’d better do it fast. She bit the tip of her finger until it bled. Trembling, she smeared her blood across Suit’s temples and throat, stuttering softly in Cantonese, until his breathing became deep and regular. Then she ripped off his shoelace and made a tourniquet.
Cho lit a third Nirvana, then ransacked the room looking for dust. She found nothing. She searched desperately for some kind of powder she could transform, but all she should find was an ashtray. Her fingers, clumsy with withdrawal shakes, crushed the ash into a fine powder. She sloppily traced the symbol for “poppy” in it, infused it with her own chi, and blew marijuana smoke over it as she willed it to change… but except for changing from gray to white, nothing happened. Cho sent the ash flying with an angry flick of her wrist. Even at her best, that spell was tough. Strung out from withdraw and half-full of Quellers, it was impossible.
I HAVE to get some dust, golrammit! Cho thought desperately. But where? Cho wracked her hazy brain, pacing as she smoked. Well, wherever it is, it’s not in this room. I need to get out of here… without being seen… fast. I need some clothes—a disguise. She glanced over at the two unconscious shatei. Spikes’ leather biker jacket, boots and hakimas were more her style… but no one would recognize her in Suit’s professional outfit. Hell, she couldn’t even remember the last time she had worn a tie…
“Yakuza-Tanzhi runs the d-dust on this p-planet,” Cho stammered aloud to herself as she pulled off Suit’s shoes, “but if I go to them, they’ll k-kill me. Any other yakuza f-families on New Tokyo are allied with the T-Tanzhi, or they wouldn’t be here. So who d-does that leave?” She peeled off Suit’s sport coat. Thank Buddha it’s black or the blood would show… “Yakuza-G-Gaijin isn’t allied with the Tanzhi… but they’re t-trying to kill me too…” she stammered, talking the problem through. “So… one of the f-freelancers, I guess… now, who d-do I know?” She stumbled dizzily into the trousers. “S-Someone small time. Someone d-dumb. Someone with too much p-pride to deal with han.” She could only think of one person; it was a long shot, but it was all she had. She could only hope news of her escape didn’t travel too quickly.
Her trembling fingers struggled with the tie; then she relieved the two shatei of their money, weapons, and ID cards. With Spikes’ butterfly knife, she sawed off the single thin braid of her mullet. She picked up the oversized sunglasses she wore in here and donned them, hoping to hide her face. I wonder whose they are… they’re not mine… She put on Suit’s flashy fedora and shoved her hands deep in her pockets. Heavily tattooed with kanji and other mystical symbols, they were a dead giveaway. Trembling, she cracked the door open and peeked outside—no guards. Good. She took a deep breath to stop the shakes, then walked out the door. Head down, taking deserted back hallways, Cho walked out of the headquarters of Yakuza-Tanzhi.
“You want what, amiga?” the latino said.
“I n-need some dust, man,” Cho repeated, flanked by two of his strongmen.
”That’s all?” He rubbed his sleepy face. “Just some golram dust? You woke me up for that?” Cho nodded. At five in the morning, the pusher wasn’t at his most gracious. “Gosa, amiga!” he swore annoyed. “You think ‘cause I’m tired, I’m fuckin’ stupid? You’re fuckin’ yakuza, man! You gotta be! Come to spy on me! You know I don’t deal with han…”
“You want I should…” one of his cronies said, motioning toward his gun.
“No, No…” the latino said, waving him off. “Let the bitch speak.”
“L-look at me, man!” Cho said, shaking with withdrawal. “I’m not a f-fuckin’ spy, I’m a fuckin’ j-junkie! It’s obvious…isn’t it?”
“What the sch, man?” he swore irritably. “You got yakuza… tongs… triad…“
“I… I c-can’t go to yakuza…” Cho stammered weakly. “I… I p-pissed them off.”
“So you got yakuza-gaijin!” the pusher said. “The honkeys, the niggers, the dots…”
“I pissed them all off,” Cho said, desperation in her voice.
“What… you didn’t pay?“ the pusher said suspiciously, looking up suddenly.
“No, no, I can p-pay,” Cho stuttered, pulling out the fancy monogrammed wallet of the man she had mugged…he wouldn’t need it anymore…
A moment passed in silence as the brown gaijin sized her up, eyeing the crowns greedily. “How much ya want?” he asked finally.
“I dunno…” She shuffled groggily through the bills. “A gram… and a pipe?”
“Mmm..” the latino mused, shaking his head. “That’s gonna cost a lot, amiga…”
“A lot…?” Cho asked, worried. “I got eighty crowns here…”
“If you really need dust as bad as you say you do…” he said, leaning back in the shadowy nightclub booth, “then you’ll pay extra…” His hands slid down his stomach.
“H-how much?” Cho asked, a chill spreading up her spine.
“All you got, plus extra,” he said. Cho could hear the clinking of his belt. “You look like a biker chick. You know how ta do a lube job, right?”
Anger surged in her. She should fry him. Her hand curled; she summoned fire… but it didn’t come. Damn quellers…
“I don’t deal with han," the brown devil said. “But I make exceptions. If you’re as hard up as you say you are… if I really am your only source… then you’ll suck it. You don’t want me to think you’re a spy, now… do you?” He nodded to his compandres. Cho heard the ruffle of jackets and the whir of plasma revolvers...
Everything in her screamed at her not to do it….
“Allende, amiga, allende.”
Against all better judgment, Cho sank to her knees under the nightclub table.
“Ah yes, amiga… yeah...”
Her ancestors would have wept with shame. I swore I’d never do this again…
“Blown by a han, man!” one of his compadres cheered. “Amigo, you rock!”
She wanted to bite it off and spit it in his face. No one treated wu jen Cho like this. No one. Yes, she would bite—
But I want dust… he’s my only source…
She didn’t bite; her head bobbed; her fist squeezed.
“All that superior bullshit,” he sneered, “and who’s sucking who now, eh, bitch?”
Someday I’ll kill him, Cho swore. I’ll roast his balls in ginger and make him eat them…
“Yeah, bitch, yeah… make papa feel good…”
She left with a gram of dust and a pipe. She spat, trying to rid her mouth of the foul salty taste. What I wouldn’t give for a beer…
She hated herself. She had sworn to her sensei that she would never deal with gaijin. It was the price of the ancient magick he had passed down to her. And she had broken that vow.
She staggered down the alley. Despite the humiliation she had just endured, she couldn’t resist the exhilaration the thought of fresh dust in a pipe brought her.
Gotta hide… yakuza’ll find me if I don’t…
The dumpster reeked... but it hid her from view.
Surrounded by rotting fish and cat shit, she packed her pipe by streetlight with the precise mechanical motion years of addiction had taught her. She paused as she brought the glass pipe to her lips, staring at it… and for the first time in her life, she hated it.
Golram dust… you made me… made me suck… She couldn’t finish the sentence. She couldn’t even finish the thought. She lowered the pipe. She spat. The pride of her ancestors swelled within her.
Fuck you, she thought, staring at the glass and powder. I don’t need you.
But her body craved it. The pipe shook in her hand. Addiction struggled with pride… and the addiction won. NO! she thought. Not.. not if this is the price… Yet she brought it to her lips. Her face crumpled; she would have cried if she knew how, but she had long since forgotten. She snapped her fingers and a tongue of flame burst from her thumb.
Fuck it, she thought as she lit the pipe, I’ll smoke it all. Death by ecstasy. I don’t care.
As the waves of ecstasy overtook her, she felt an arm circle around her shoulders. She didn’t even look up. Yakuza, Regulators, police, who cares? It would be over soon.
You are stronger than this. You are Cho Yamazaki bini Yakuza-Tanzhi.
“Fuck that,” she muttered miserably. “I’m… I’m a f-fuckin’ crack whore!”
Only if you choose to be.
“But I’m a fuckin’ j-junkie!” she yelled at the voices. “A crack whore! An… an addict!"
You are wu jen; and you are Yakuza-Tanzhi.
“Tell Toku that!” she sneered, and inhaled again. “I… I don’t want to l-live like this…”
Then don’t live like this. Break free of the dust. Be stronger. Be Tanzhi.
“I’m… I’m n-not worthy…” Cho mumbled, staring at the pipe… she hated that pipe…
You can be. You are Yakuza-Tanzhi, no matter what Toku says. You can be.
“Maybe…” Cho said, doubtful. She brought the pip to her lips and stared at it. “Just a l-little longer…” she said to the pipe as she inhaled. “When I have more t-time… when I’m s-safe… then… m-maybe…”
You will. You are Tanzhi. You are one of us. You are family.
Cho smoked and smoked that night. She smoked to disappear. She smoked to not be the pathetic junkie who had just shamed her family. She smoked to not be the crack whore who had just blown a hung mao for a mere gram of opium. She smoked to bury the pain of twenty-eight years of running from the law, of protecting a clueless sister from the horrors of life at the bottom, of doing whatever she had to for one more meal—she smoked and she despaired and she longed to end it all for good… just one more overdosed addict in a dumpster.
The voices talked her into putting the pipe down before she smoked too much… but it wasn’t enough. Even drug-induced bliss couldn’t dull the pain of utter, complete, total shame.
Yet through it all, invisible arms held her tight and whispered soothing words to her.
You are Yakuza-Tanzhi; you are stronger than this. You are one of us. You are family.
If not for her adopted ancestors, she would never have made it through that night.
Thirty seconds later, the fugitives were entering the Imp assault pinnace which had been sent to capture them, but as captors, not captives. After his men had checked it and made sure no Imps were left alive inside, James went back to the truck to get his new clients. He opened the door to the cab, and was greeted by the sight of Pablo Losada feverishly pounding on the chest of a bleeding Dr. Hicks. “A gauss round came through the door and hit him in the side! Help me get him into the pinnace and into the autodoc!”
“Shit.” James shouldered the gauss rifle and helped Losada lift Hicks out of the truck. They carried him to the ramp at the back of pinnace. The autodoc was strategically positioned against the starboard wall just at the top of the ramp. They set Doctor Hicks down, and locked the nanotech operating arm over him; Losada started punching buttons on the control computer.
“You going to be ok with him, kid?”
“Well, I’m a few credit hours short of my doctorate, and my focus of study was on research, but yeah, I can run an autodoc.”
“Right, well I’m going to get us out of here.” James ran forward, and Pablo turned back to the Autodoc. The restraint collar had already clamped itself around Hicks’ neck, and a few thousand nanobots were injected directly into his spinal column. There, they fired a few tiny test signals down various nerve fibers, and Icarus’ body twitched slightly in response, a slight shudder all over. Satisfied, the autodoc’s AI program mapped out the idiosyncratic arrangement of major nerve fibers in the patient’s spinal cord, and began ordering nanobots to inject microscopic doses of anesthetic into specific nerves to shut them down temporarily. Other nanobots attached microscopic electric wires to certain nerves below the cut-off point, and the AI took over ordering Icarus’ heart to beat and lungs to breathe.
With Icarus’ lower body immobilized and deadened to all sensation and pain, the autodoc could get to work on his main injury. The robotic arms neatly sliced off his shirt, and lasers scanned and mapped the contours of his skin and the edges of the entry and exit wounds. X-ray and ultrasound probes mapped the internal organs and the path the gauss round took as it blew through the surgeon’s chest. The autodoc sensors found no fragments of the gauss round, because it had been a solid armor-piercing round, which had held together and exited in one piece, then blown out of the vehicle’s cabin through the opposite door. A lighter, explosive antipersonnel round may not have penetrated the thickened door panels, but if it had, it would have exploded inside Icarus’ chest and he would have been killed instantly. As it was, the gauss round had gone through one of his lungs, broken three of his ribs, and barely missed his heart. Bone fragments from the shattered ribs and hydrostatic shockwaves from the bullet’s passage had damaged several other organs, including the other lung.
Insect-sized nanobots were dropped into both the exit and entry wounds, and began cleaning out fragments of bone, skin epidermis, and bone from the wounds. A cloudy liquid containing a soup of nanobots, antibiotic fluid, and nutrient solution was sprayed onto the wound surface and injected into his chest cavity. More nanobot-rich fluid was formed into a mist and sent into his lungs to repair the air passages from the inside out. Antennae built into the chair beamed radio-wave energy through his body to power the nanobots and carry their control signals.
Tiny nanobots grabbed pieces of cellular debris and gathered them up for collection by large nanobots with powerful swimming apparatus to tow the bundles of dead cells and contaminants up to the surface for easier removal by the insect-sized bots. Other nanobots dropped off cargoes of crystallized wound sealant to close tiny gaps left in membranes by burst cells. Still further nanobots acted as eyes for the autodoc’s AI and Losada, assessing the damage and building up a microscopically complete map of the damage and the progress made in repairing it. Additional nanobots injected individual cells with compounds that would stimulate them to divide, speeding healing by replacing lost cells. The tiniest nanobots of all repaired damaged cell membranes, molecule by molecule.
Within ten minutes, the debris had been mostly cleared away and the bleeding had stopped. Within ten more minutes, the wounds were sealed up with sutures and organic sealant, and the larger nanobots were withdrawn to the skin surface. After ten further minutes, the smaller nanobots withdrew through one last hole left in the lung wall and into the air sac, where they began the long climb up through Icarus’ trachea to his nose. The last nanobots left behind sealed the last tear in his lung, and they too began climbing out. A flexible vacuum tube snaked up one nostril and down into the trachea, where the nanobots, cleaning up blood and debris as they went, were sucked out and removed.
Satisfied that the patient was stable, the autodoc AI injected a precisely measured dose of a stimulant into Icarus’ bloodstream, and he awoke groggily from his unwilling slumber.
“Unnnhhh...wha....” Without full conscious control of his still-anaesthetized lungs, he was unable to properly speak. Losada immediately began calming him down.
“Quiet, doc, shhh....shhh....” Pablo grabbed one of his employer’s hands in his own left hand, his right still flashing over the control panel for the autodoc, directing its’ AI in the continuing removal of the nanobots. “Don’t talk. You’re in an autodoc in a shuttle.”
Losada looked around him. He hadn’t fully understood what was going on for most of the afternoon, and this wasn’t looking much better. “It looks like a police shuttle. I hope these guys you hired are what you think they are, because if they aren’t, we’re both screwed.”
Meanwhile, James strode up to the cockpit, and then stopped. The Imp who’d been flying this thing before had lowered the partition between the cockpit and the troop compartment. In anger, he kicked the wall, turned, and jogged back down the ramp. As he ran to the side hatch, he caught Major Shrak.
“Get your men inside, Major; I’d rather not wait around for more of these bastards.”
Shrak nodded, and waved for the soldiers still outside to get moving. James threw the cockpit door open and leaped inside, to find Freak whistling as he installed a patch over the gauss-bolt-hole in forward viewscreen.
James hopped into the pilot’s seat, threw the switch to raise the partition behind him, and started warming up the jets that would take the pinnace into the lower atmosphere before escaping to orbit.
“You know how to fly a shuttle, Freak?” James addressed the private who was finishing up his patchwork.
“Heh heh, a lot of people died the last time I did.”
A shiver ran up Welthammer’s spine. He’d been ready to say: Well, strap yourself in if you want to learn, but he swallowed it, and returned to his pre-flight sequence.
Looking behind him, James saw the med-student still hunched over the autodoc, and the rest of the soldiers on-board, raising the ramp. As soon as it had closed, he kicked in the anti-grav plating, and fired the jets to maximum power.
The ship’s computer calculated the most efficient ground-to-orbit course. James scrapped that one and found the one that would take them into space the fastest. The pinnace was a bulky ship, it had wings, but other than that it was about as aerodynamic as a house, so the antigravity and tiny jets could only take it so far before James had to punch in the much more powerful rockets, which would carry them the rest of the way.
He spared a glance over his shoulder, “Hey, Shrak, where’d you leave my ship?”
“Wonderful,” James muttered, “could you see the orbital station?”
“Yeah, I think so; it didn’t look that far away.”
You couldn’t trust sight alone to tell you how far away objects in space were, the eye had few good references to judge distance by. But at least it gave James a hemisphere to aim for, after a minor course adjustment.”
Once De Ulloa orbital was in range, he had the navigation computer access the public database showing the locations of nearby vessels and satellites. Three “unknown freighter-class vessels” matched the Resolve’s specs. For a wonder, James guessed right with the comm on the first try.
“Tiller, this is Welthammer, we’re coming back with a couple of passengers in stow. Had to borrow an Imp assault pinnace to get here though, so be ready for us.”
“Roger.” The comm closed.
“Hang on back there, we’re nearly home.”
Major Shrak walked forward, “Captain, what about the rest of the crew?”
Fuck! In the excitement, James had somehow managed to forget about the crew of his ship. If Howard had played his cards right, they would probably be sitting around on the station waiting for their Captain to return. If he hadn’t then, hell, they could be back on the planet in a prison like the one James had just gotten out of. Either way, it was a serious problem for a fugitive with two ships, one stolen and the other busted out of impound.
“Um, that’s a good question, Major, I’m sure I’ll think of something.” I hope.
James fished his commlink out of his pocket, and dialed with one hand.
A few seconds later, a voice answered on the other end, “Yeah?”
“Joe, where are you?” James kept one hand on the controls to the pinnace.
“James? Ugh, I’m in a hotel, trying to get over the worst hangover of my life.”
“No, I mean where did the Imps leave you? Are you down on the planet?”
“Uh…no, they interrogated the hell out of us, then let us go on the station.”
“OK, well I want you to gather up the crew. I’m taking the rest of the boys back to the ship right now, and we’ll figure out a way to pick you up.”
James could hear a rustling sound from the other end, presumably Joe sitting up in bed, “Why don’t you just fly the shuttle over?”
“Well, we had to leave the shuttle behind, you see; but Imperial Security was kind of enough to lend us one of their assault pinnaces, bless their little black hearts. Anyway, I’d rather hold onto this thing for a while longer, if you get me.”
“Right. Okay, I’ll gather everyone up, just call when you’ve got a plan.”
“Will do; go stick your head in a bucket of water.”
Howard groaned, “I think I just might…”
James closed the phone, and put it into a pocket on his vest.
They were now ten kilometers away from Welthammer’s ship, James shut off the pinnace’s primary thrusters; they would coast the rest of the way. The assault transport was significantly larger than the Resolve’s shuttle, and while it would fit in the freighter’s docking compartment, it would be difficult for James to maneuver. At one kilometer, they were coming in high and to the starboard of the larger ship, James cut in the maneuvering thrusters, yawing starboard and rolling away. A couple more bursts of compressed hydrogen, and the pinnace was directly under the rectangular projection from the Resolve’s ventral side which ordinarily housed the ship’s shuttle and repair pod. James rolled the pinnace one last time, so the top of the pinnace faced away from the Resolve’s belly, and then it was out of his hands. The metal plate covering the bay would slide away, and then grav-plates would draw the pinnace into it, James just hoped Tiller let the computer handle the fine maneuvering.
James unstrapped himself from the pilot’s seat, and made a frantic effort to turn on gravity as the motion sent him flying around the compartment, cursing Imperial engineers when he found there was none. Struggling to grab handlebars and steady himself, James made his way to the back of the pinnace to check on the passengers. And hopefully find out where the ti’en sheh deh we’re going, he thought to himself with a grimace.
Welthammer clattered to the floor—but recovered quickly—as the pinnace came to a rest, and the ship’s gravity plating boosted power. He walked to the rear compartment. The soldiers were examining weapons from the pinnace’s gun racks, James tried not to think about what would happen if Freak dropped the cylindrical object he was tossing from hand to hand. At the very back, Pablo Losada was lazily tapping buttons on the autodoc’s monitors; Dr. Hicks appeared to be sleeping.
“How’s he doing?”
The younger man looked up, as if startled, “He’ll be ok; the autodoc’s controlling his breathing while his system continues to recover from the trauma.”
The rear ramp fell, and a tall man with dark, sunken eyes, stepped into the ship.
James waved, “Hey, Tiller, the old man here’s been shot, anything you can do that the autodoc’s not thought of?”
The field medic put a hand on the machine, and looked at the sleeping patient. After a few moments of silence, he shook his head.
“All, right, then you’d better sit down, we’re in a bit of a fix and I think some planning is in order.”
Tiller and the other soldiers moved to sit down on the seats lining the sides of the transport’s hold. James did likewise and the compartment became very quiet, Freak even stopped juggling the grenade.
“Right…well, here’s the situation as I see it. About an hour ago, the Doc and I fought our way out of an Imperial raid on a bar, killing four ImpSec agents. With your help, we then escaped off-planet in a stolen Imperial shuttle, which we killed another dozen Imps to get. Sometime before that, you guys managed to bust this ship out of an Impound Station, quite a feat…”
“Heh heh, station made a big boom,” Freak laughed.
Shrak looked embarrassed, “I’m sorry Captain, I’m afraid I might have been a bit overzealous with your ketracite.”
“Not a problem, Major, to tell the truth, I wasn’t too fond of hauling that stuff around to being with. But it still comes down to one point. Boys, we are in deep shit. It won’t be too long before the Imperial Fleet is swarming all over us. Anyway, my crew is still sitting around back at De Ulloa Orbital, and I can’t leave without ‘em. Now, Joe’s gathering them up, but we need away to actually pick them up and bring them back here, and considering the status of the ships we’ve got, that may not be too easy. So, any ideas?”
The bay was silent for a moment, Sam Moore was the first to speak, “Why can’t we just say we’re ImpSec? We have the shuttle…”
“No, the minute they interrogated the pinnace and saw the ID, we’d either be arrested or blown away.”
Peterson spoke next, “Well we’ll have to hit the station won’t we? Slice the doors and pull them out?”
“Much as I dislike the Middle Kingdom, I’d rather not make them think I’ve declared war on them. They’re probably pissed off enough as it is; after blowing the impound, attacking a full orbital station might be just a bit too much.
“Excuse me. Ah, excuse me, M. Welthammer.” Everyone looked to the rear of the pinnace where Pablo Losada was waving nervously, “I’m sorry to interrupt, but Doctor Hicks says he has an idea.”
The Duke of New Madrid…hot damn, the Duke, James thought, as their new ImpSec ID codes were accepted. I wish I had memory like that.
It had taken about ten minutes to crack into the pinnace computer’s configurations, and change the interrogation-response numbers to Hicks’s specifications. With that, and the Imperial Security uniforms they’d gotten from a pinnace locker, the disguise was near-perfect. As long as they only dealt with civilian officials, no one should suspect.
They were docked, and James exited the pinnace, along with the two least conspicuous-looking of his soldiers, Hawking and Peterson. They had waited around in bay 19-M for half an hour before the Resolve’s crew showed up. James had been about to call Joe Howard to make sure he didn’t have the wrong bay, when a dozen people crowded through the hatch.
The crowd stopped when they saw James and the two soldiers, and a short, grumpy-looking, beefy man stepped forward. He looked James up and down, and then spoke, “I knew there was somethin’ funny about ‘im from the moment I met ‘im. But even I didn’t think ‘e would turn on us like this. Just ‘ow long ‘ave you been ImpSec, eh?”
The two stared coldly at each other for a few seconds, then burst into laughter.
“Glad to have you back on board, Cookie,” James said as he slapped the Mess Officer on the back.”
“Aye, it’s good to be back.”
The rest of the crew was shuffling forward now, looking over the newly acquired pinnace. Stephen Faraday, the chief engineer remarked, “I love what you’ve done with the shuttle, Captain,” as he ran his hand over one of the wings, “but I think you could have picked better engines. This fleet-issue stuff never holds up very long. Are you trying to give me more work?”
“I’m sure you’ll manage.”
James turned to re-enter the pinnace’s cockpit hatch, and nearly collided with Tanya Kaul, one of his pilots.
“Uh…excuse me Tanya…”
The young Indian woman glowered at him, “You expect me to believe you flew this thing off New Madrid, to the ship, and then back here?”
“And I bet you were expecting to fly it back out of here, weren’t you?”
“Hell no! You think I want to be killed because I let some moron like you pretend he’s a pilot and tear the engines off my ship?” They were following the rest of the crowd into the pinnace.
“You know, I am a qualified pilot.”
“And I’m the Emperor,” she jerked her thumb, “get in back.”
James sighed, and headed for the transport compartment while Tanya strapped herself into the pilot’s chair. As he sat down on the row of fold-down seats, his crew exchanged glances, suppressing laughs. One of the techies, Tom Parker, offered, “It’s OK, Cap’n, I’m sure Chief Faraday’ll still let you fly the repair pod, long as you promise to stay where we can see you.”
James found himself wondering why he’d come back for these guys.
Icarus Hicks was sitting at a large table, bolted to the floor of the freighter. His chest was still sore, but the autodoc had said he was ok to move around some, but he had to wear a vest that would regulate his breathing until he was fully healed.
“All right, Freak, I’m out,” the large werewolf sitting on Hicks’s left, who had introduced himself as Major Shrak, threw down his cards.
“Heh heh, pair of—“
“PAIR?! Why you…”
Hicks wasn’t a big poker player, though his photographic memory meant he was doing better than most of the other soldiers at the table, except for the brooding Lieutenant Tiller across from him, whom Hicks suspected was a mind-mage. Still, the game could be fun on occasion.
There was a muffled clang below, and the ship shuddered slightly.
“That’ll be them,” one of the other soldiers said.
Sure enough, a few minutes later, footsteps could be heard all over the ship, and several people could be seen ascending the lift aft of the lounge or entering the crew quarters.
Someone Icarus hadn’t seen before walked into the lounge and began mixing an instant coffee; he nodded to Major Shrak, “Evening, John.”
The werewolf nodded back, “Nikola.”
Then Captain Welthammer came up the lift, and
seeing Icarus at the table, made a beeline for him. "So where did you hire
me to take you?" he asked pointedly. "We never got that far in
Icarus smiled weakly, and waited for his rhythmic, controlled breathing to go into exhale mode so he could speak. "I want to contact Arthur Clarke. I need to go where he is." Shrak and Tiller exchanged a surprised glance.
Welthammer snorted. "If anyone knew where he was, they'd collect the 50 million crown bounty on his head and retire on Disney Planet."
“Well, that is the problem, I was thinking of starting out looking in Elysia, asking some discreet questions.” Hicks said, in between breaths.
Before Welthammer responded, Major Shrak broke in, “Why are you looking for Clarke?” He was staring daggers at Hicks, while Welthammer’s jaw was gaping staring at him.
“I, well…I have information for Clarke and the Resistance on an ImpSec plot using my research, that could have some widespread and rather unpleasant ramifications.”
Shrak’s hard gaze continued for a while; then
he looked a question to Tiller, the medic nodded, slowly. The werewolf turned
back to Hicks, “All right, son, I can tell you. Though I’m not sure if you
grasp how valuable this information is, and how dangerous to your health it
could be. Old Man Clarke’s set up in the basement of a warehouse just a couple
blocks from the Imperial Palace, and the main body of the resistance is
headquartered on an orbital station in Wilke’s Star. Um… which station,
“Yangtze Kiang.” Tiller spat out.
“That’s right; old supply depot. It’s an obsolete station, so the slants mostly use it for storage. We can dock there without worry.”
Dr. Hicks just smiled. “He’s right under Chiang’s nose.”
Welthammer, looked incredulous, he threw his hands up in the air, “I can not believe this!”
“I can, captain.” There was an electric whine, and everyone turned to see Joseph Howard leveling a plasma rifle at the men in the lounge. “Now if you will please place your hands on your head, I have a communication to Imperial Security I need to be making.”
END OF ACT III
Text Copyright (C) 2004 by Marcus Johnston. All Rights Reserved. Do not try ANY of this at home, except reading "Common Sense" by Tom Paine. By all means, DO read that. Especially Part Three.