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13 December 2016 @ 09:30 am
_Outlaws of the Solar System_ Part 3  
 

Chapter Two

"Tuck us in right beside his ship," Richard Beringar scanned the surface of the fast approaching station. "That way he can't shoot at us from the station without hitting his own ship, or from the ship without hitting Spiderworks station itself." He grimaced, "Not that I would put anything past him."

The pilot murmured a vaguely acquiescent noise, fully engaged with the approach. Her wrap around virtual goggles gave her an oddly blind look as her fingers danced across the keyboard. They were coming in rather. . . fast.

"There, that little emergency hatch is perfect." He pointed.

"Tight fit." The pilot mentioned offhand as she slid the pod between the bulge of the docked ship and the station, increasing deceleration abruptly.

"Top hatch, mag clamp only."

Beringar nodded, although she couldn't see. He fitted and sealed his helmet as he swung out and up to the designated hatch. The mag clamp lights were red. The pod jolted as it made contact and the lights flashed green. He hit the hatch controls and studied the station airlock from two feet away. It appeared to be an old manually operated one-man egress.

Ms. Stick joined him before the hatch. After a moment’s silent study of both it and the sensor readouts on her helmet visor, she gently placed three passive sensors against the hull, away from the hatch.

Their helmet comps interpreted the faint vibrations transmitted through the structure of the station, deducing density changes from the time delays among the sensors, and overlaying the data on the dim lines of the holographic display of the 3D blueprint of the station.

"Normal atmospheric pressure inside, room's a four meter cube, closed hatch opposite us." Ms. Stick murmured aloud, her voice clear, with just a little background static on the comm, " Ah, liquids, here, and here. Foamers, most likely." They were silent for a moment longer as the database built up and the interpretation became more detailed. "High density points all over .Diamond anchors for monomolecular fibers." She shook her head slightly, "Now I believe Gimpy Steve about what he found in the regular airlocks."

"At least we're not detecting any Gamma sources," growled Beringar, "The NSU report said he'd had to sell them to pay for his legal defense."

"It's a pity that it's his worker 'bots that are out for repair, instead of those security 'bots." Ms Stick, frowned at her visor display, "He has wall mounted weapons just the other side of the far door. Lasers, most likely. I can't see the Spider using stun. It just doesn't seem to be his style."

Beringar blew out a breath. "I wanted to avoid damaging the station, but it looks like we'd better go in through a wall. Unless. . ." He thought a moment. "Let's try this first." Opening the cupboard behind them, he reached through and removed the indispensable sledgehammer from the repair rack. Ms Stick gave it one alarmed look, and retreated through the hatch, frowning at her readouts. Bracing himself in the hatchway with a hand and two feet, Beringar swung the sledge against the emergency airlock. It rang like a bell.

Ms Stick's laugh rang out with it, "You've set off foamers twenty meters into the station, and that's set off the wall mounted lasers. Tsk, tsk, Boss, you've just made an awful mess."

"The lasers seem to overheating and shutting down, " Beringar smirked. "Now, we can cut a path in with the diamond saws, taking the molyfils out with the chunks of plastic." He rotated the locking wheel, his eyes on his helmet readouts. No changes. The hatch swung easily open, exposing a solid sheet of foamed plastic.

Ms. Stick silently produced a thin blade with a glittering crystal edge. She sank the blade it entire length in the stiff foam. The monomolecular fibers were not very strong, but being only one molecule thick, they could easily cut anything that encountered it at any speed above dead slow. Even with the diamond edged saw, they had to be touched gently and pressure applied gradually to snap the fibers.

"There's a fiber." She pressed gingerly downward on the resistance she felt, until it snapped suddenly. She cut around an oval path large enough for Beringar to fit through, then grasping the edges of the cut, wiggled it until it broke loose.

"I hope the foam doesn't go very far," Beringar commented, as he took the chunk and shoved it to the back of the pod. "Where are we going to put it all?"

Six chunks later they were clear of the first room, and found the lasers had melted - vaporized, actually - the plastic around the booby-trapped doorway. After slapping a strip of duct tape across the lasers' optical sensors, just in case, they filled the holes with foam chunks, extending their tunnel down a long hallway before reaching unfoamed space.

"I'm not detecting anymore density points, " stated Ms. Stick. She had a sensor on a meter long probe stuck through the last of the foam taking readings from the wall beside her. "And no other discontinuities, an eighty-five percent certainty for thirty meters." The corridor curved out of sight about ten meters ahead, smooth plastic walls unmarked, one wall metalized for magnetic adhesion.

"OK, even the Spider can't have trapped his entire station." Beringar pushed himself gently out of the tunnel they'd dug through the foam. While there was no gravity, the station was not stabilized. Its slight rotation produced a tendency to drift in one direction, enough to perhaps call that direction 'down', unfortunately it wasn’t the same down the original designers had had in mind. The metalized ‘floor’ was overhead. "But I don't think we should use the electromag shoes. They could set off traps." Beringar pushed off the wall and floated down the hall.

Ms. Stick paused long enough to touch her sensor to the wall and update her comp's ongoing analysis. " According to the schematics NSU lifted from Ori's spy network, we need to cut left, well, that way," she gestured, "to reach the control room."

Looking at his own map display, Beringar replied, "I'd rather be a bit round about, where this fruitcake is concerned. If we move further up," he waved toward one wall, roughly over his head as he floated, a few inches above the 'floor', "We should be able to approach from his workrooms. It might be safer." He finished rather dubiously.

Around the curve, the corridor ended in a T intersection.

"Movement." Ms. Stick warned. "Bots to your left."

Beringar carefully released a bit of bright yellow fluff into the air. It drifted forward, away from them. "Excellent! I always wanted to try this," He said, taking a one liter plastic bottle out of his belt pouch. He shook it vigorously, brown liquid sloshing behind a swirled red and white label. Aiming carefully, he bounced it around the corner. A flash of light, a whoosh and an expanding brown cloud from around the corner proved that the bots were armed. "Coke Plus has twice the carbonation, three times the sugar and four times the caffeine as most soft drinks," he mentioned casually. "It should never be opened in micro gravity."

"That’s why it’s illegal in most space habitats. How on earth did you smuggle it up?"

"Smuggle? Don’t be absurd, Ms. Stick.I’m not a common smuggler. I simply bought it. It’s a hot black market item." The brown fog dissipated quickly as the ventilation system detected the foreign substance and increased circulation.

"And it seems to have done the trick." They floated around the corner, minimizing contact with the sticky walls. Six Mark XXVII Security Robots stood frozen against the wall, their optical and motion sensors coated with a sticky opaqueness. They all had red lights lit all over their status panels. One managed to track them with its motion detectors, but its weapons systems stayed inactive as the invaders floated past.

Stick stopped and picked up more sensor readings. The corridor wall lurched over and bumped her. Or at least that was what it felt like. It still looked the same. The static on the comm increased. She floated, holding very still, holding the probe against the wall. "Beringar, do you read?" He was out of sight around the curving corridor. Static. The probe continued to collect data, but the interpretation now showed the vibrations normal to humans in space suits to be in two side-by-side corridors. "Drat," she muttered, as the details built up, "This section was moved sideways." The blip that was Beringar reversed, moved closer, then past her.

"Missed me, did you, Boss." No reply. She reached over and rapped the wall. No response. "Insulated? God, that nut is thorough." She shrugged, Beringar would just have to work it out himself. She shoved off and floated down the curving hall.

***

Beringar halted and pulled a sensor out of his belt. His comp immediately began overlaying info on the schematic already displayed on his visor. "What the hell are you doing over there?" He muttered, no longer expecting a reply. Ms. Stick seemed to moving off on a diverging course. "So are you walking into a trap, or am I." He sighed. "Silly question. We both are."

****

Ms. Stick approached the door cautiously. Her sensors detected nothing out of the ordinary about the door, but there was a large moving signature on the other side. Several. Most seemed to be of moderate size, a few smallish. She stopped again for data. Was that a human, just on the other side of the door? A little small, but from the infrared signature, definitely alive. The door slid open with deliberate slowness and a theatrical screech.

The. . . thing, a dog? Wolf? was obviously used to the environment of the station. It allowed its front paws, were those electromags built into its feet? to float down to the 'floor', yes, electromags, it stalked forward confidently. One eye was obviously cybernetic. Metallic spikes radiated out from its throat and down its spine. Steel teeth gleamed as an unaltered canine snarl drew its lips back.

Ms. Stick moved smoothly and without hurry, reaching for a belt pouch. The small spray bottle she extracted, she turned on herself, spritzing the surface of her suit. With a clench of her toes, she turned on her own electromags, clicking down onto the 'floor' with a sense of relief. As the cyberwolf approached, she drew her stunner, wondering if perhaps the shocker might be more effective, in this case.

At three meters, the cyberwolf froze, then its nose rose as it scented the air. Then the tenseness eased, and it opened its mouth in a doggy grin.

"Good Dog!" said Ms. Stick, in a firm tone of voice. "Sit." The cyberwolf's hindquarters thudded to the deck. Ms. Stick walked up and petted its head, carefully examining the additions to its anatomy. The creature melted as only a dog can, slumping down against her and rolling over on its back, floating off the deck.

She scratched the few unarmored parts of its, his, chest and frowned at the open door. There seemed to be several cyber thing moving in there. Coming out of there. "Time to go, I think." She said, and firmly, "Heel." The cyberwolf leaped to its feet, bounced off the ceiling, and bounded down the hallway. "Why don't people ever train their dogs?" muttered Ms. Stick, as she clicked down the hallway after him.

****

Beringar hovered in the hallway, studying his helmet readouts. High-density points. He sighed. Monomolecular fibers made such a nasty trap. And those tiny discontinuities running the length of the corridor. The channels beneath them. Moving monomolecular fibers. Why the HELL did the Spider have to be the best, by far, zerograv vacuum builder?

He removed a small tube from his belt, and with exquisite care reached half a meter down one of the tiny scratches on the wall and delicately squeezed a drop onto the scratch. The liquid sank into the scratch. Nothing happened. He moved to the next scratch and left another drop of superglue. Eyeing the symmetry of the scratches, he treated one of each pair. He floated well back, and tossed his sledgehammer down the corridor. A faint hissing was all that marked the movement of the fibers, that and the way the hammer suddenly spun away in two pieces. Four. Lots. And the faint snapping sounds as the threads parted, stretched beyond their tolerances by the sudden stop of one anchor point encountering the glue. Loose, the fibers were not nearly as dangerous as they were tight, none the less, Beringar stayed well out of their way as he floated by, and deeper into the station. He could hear something, now, a voice? He tracked it carefully, not neglecting to stop for periodic scan updates.

"Come out here with that little piece of polite logic! Dirtsucker! How 'bout the two years my attorneys spent in Court in Manhattan! And all the bullshit about ‘if Mr. Spider cannot appear in person..’ IN PERSON! I was born out of a fuckin' gravity well! How the HELL Was I supposed to appear in a court in MANHATTAN? As a puddle of blood and shit?!!! Oh, oh, ARRRRRGGGGGGHHHHH! I'm too OLD for this Shit you little malformed SHRIMP! Go to hell! No, go to someplace that has wider horizons you agoraphobic BASTARD !"

Beringar started grinning, recognizing SpiderJohnny's voice. Another voice crackled through a poor quality comm connection. He couldn't make out any words, but bet he could put a name to those purring oily cadences.

"WHAT? OH BULLSHIT! F--kin' dirtsucker! Oh, bad Words, bad Words, bad Words!!!!" A crash was followed by silence.

"I see I'm not the only one you hang up on, Spider." He said, slipping through the door. The latest model Olympus Autofocus Laser was in his hand. He aimed it straight up a large, but surprisingly human nose. " And I for one, really hate it."

Born in microgravity, SpiderJohnny did not start. The cyber limb, an arm? It looked more like a boy scout knife gone bad, that was anchoring SpiderJohnny in front of the comm, clamped on tighter, as he twisted like a pretzel and brought his enhanced eye into play. One eye studied Beringar while the other watched the laser. "You! What the fuck are you doing on my station!" his organic fists knotted, while his other three cyber arms started unfolding. Then stuck.

"Don't try to move, Mr. Spider," said a prim female voice from behind him. "This microwave vibrator is harmless to organic tissue, but it has an unfortunate effect on the sorts of hardened plastic used for friction reduction in mechanical joints. If you try to force your," she sniffed disdainfully, "arms to move, you will just deform the friction pads. They're a bit soft, just now."

SpiderJohnny rolled one eye over to the woman, and frowned at the cyberwolf leaning on her leg. "What the hell did you do to Norman!"

She didn't look the least amused. "Norman seems to be susceptible to pheromone mimics."

"Love potions!" Spider started edging away from her.

"Don't worry, I wouldn't dream of using it on you." Distaste colored her voice.

"What's'a matter, honey, don't you like spiders?" Reversing his direction, Spider gave her his best leer.

Ms. Stick simply pulled a small shocker from her belt and shot his third arm on the right side. The tiny laser ionized the air, enabling an electrical charge to leap the gap. His whole body jerked from the shock, and as he drew breath to speak, she calmly stated, "No, I don't like spiders. Or human mutants that look like spiders."

Spider hissed a little as he let his breath out, and edged a little further away from her.

"Spider," Beringar stepped in, "I need you to do a little job for me."

The woman dropped from Spider's attention, as he rounded on Beringar. "Well, I'll tell you this Dirt Boy! I got frosted by that bastard Ori ONCE! The next dirtsucker that tries to fuck around with the Spider is getting' a nine foot ovipositor where the sun don't shine! Yeah? You think I'm kidding? What the hell do you think that bulge around the middle of my ship knits is? HUH? Some sort of weird LIFEBELT! HUH! Just let me get that Ori bastard alone for two seconds! I'll give him ‘Failure to register completion in a timely manner!’ Every goddamn shipment ahead of schedule! SIX SIGMA TOLERANCE LEVELS! And what do I get?! LESS THAN THE GODDAMN COSTS!"

Beringar was unfazed by the tirade. "My ramscoop needs a few alterations before it gets to Venus." He started.

"Your scoop! You've changed the plans! Shouldn't you have done that BEFORE you sent it off to Venus? What kind of an IDIOT are you? There's NO WAY I'm going to Venus to fix your fucking stupid toy! I don't care what that furry genius of yours says, your stupid terraforming project ain't gunna work, and I ain't gunna be associated with it!"

"Now Spider, you and I both know how much you need the money."

"Dirteating Fuckers! You and your hairy bastard cousins! And their goddamn lawyer programs! You wan' SPIDERWORK you're gonna have to FRONT the money, Earther! Mr. Purist! I got plenty of work on the Belt. I don't need you dirtsucking bastards! We got power! We got water! We got organics! What the hell do we need with a goddamn planet?! HUH? HUH?"

Beringar dipped into his belt pouch and pulled out four cards. "One, a chit for the amount you owe your lawyers. If you pay them quickly, they can halt the sale of your property. Two, a chit for Columbus Robofix, in the amount you owe them for your worker bot repairs. Three, a chit for what you owe Bailey’s Hydrogen, with enough left over to fuel up for this job. Four, a chit just for you, for the remainder of the first HALF of what I'll pay you for this job."

Spider stared at the chits, "I hate your guts, you miserable fanatic." His decibel level was noticeably lower. "I could rendezvous with the scoop in, um, four weeks.



 
 
 
mbarkermbarker on December 14th, 2016 01:58 am (UTC)
Wow! One superchimp, one detective, and a triplet of fun folks floating... But aside from superchimp wanting to live a free life, I'm not detecting a real goal so far? It almost feels like the beginning of three different stories. I think when we get a bit further along and we've got some common goal (are we all going to Venus, where life is free on the frontier?) then it might be worth going back and foreshadowing that earlier? I could see superchimp thinking about the possibility of escaping to Venus (they were all going somewhere, right?), and the detective fretting about the folks who are escaping to Venus, for example.
matapampamuphoff on December 14th, 2016 04:35 am (UTC)
Never fear, they all get together, from their various directions.
mbarkermbarker on December 15th, 2016 02:08 am (UTC)
Oh, I know it's coming. Let me explain.

Okay... the gathering of the gang, the enumeration of the ensemble, or the introduction of the various roles that a lot of stories involve often leaves me wondering just when we are going to find out what's happening. Mission Impossible, the old TV series, solved this with the exploding messages, and then Phelps would sit down, pull files, and we'd get introduced to the various folks who were going to play this time. Other heist or group stories do it other ways.

But showing us the characters in situ, one after another, kind of feels like a catalog of roles or persons without something to pull us through. Or maybe an RPG group rolling for characters before really beginning the game? I think mentioning a common thread or challenge or direction can help, even if it's fairly low-key. I just start wondering when we'll find out what the gang is going to do.

No problem. I was just muttering to myself about what I would do to make this catalog of characters pull the reader in a bit, and thought I'd mention it.
matapampamuphoff on December 15th, 2016 03:02 am (UTC)
This was a writing lesson, and we all started out making different characters while we wrangled with the world building. Your perception, while correct, is is partly due to the one chapter a day pace.

I regret to tell you, though, that there are three more characters to meet before . . . oh, and bit more setup . . . Hmm, chapter 18 before the serious action starts.

Ah well, I tried once to track down all the contributors and couldn't find them, so this is not ever going to be published.
mbarkermbarker on December 15th, 2016 08:31 am (UTC)
Yeah, see, if we were trying to make it a publishable thing, I'd suggest at least a minor plot or something to keep the reader going through the 17 chapters of preparation. It doesn't have to be the actual main conflict/action (that can wait for our inciting incident or whatever when the gang's all there), but give us something to keep us reading through the introductions. Kind of like giving out coffee and pastries in a meeting for people to chew on while we do introductions?