Docking a five kilometer long space ship with a five kilometer wide funnel was more nerve wracking than difficult. The approach speed was excruciatingly slow, and the alignment perfected at a distance. Beringar tried to act cool and confident, standing and watching, theoretically in charge, but certainly not in command at this moment.
The President frowned, "What’s the worry? We’ve been docking things for over a hundred years."
May Huang answered, "Neither being highly maneuverable, and both being very large, we have to be careful. But everything is going perfectly."
The Chief, and at the moment the entirety, of the President’s Security detail glared at her. Beringar suppressed a smirk. She was getting all the blame, both here and on Earth Media channels. The Evil Mata Hari.
His attention drifted inexorably back to the screen, and he repeated his mantra that of course everything would line up perfectly, and fit just right. Of course. He closed his eyes as the distance closed. Then reopened them. Oh God, there’s still four feet to go. He closed them again. No! I’m going to watch. He forced himself to focus on the farthest vid pickup. At a distance, it was done, the main longitudinal beams of the Chamberlain inside the guide cones of the scoop. His eyes flickered to the close-ups of the guide cones. All three were right on the money. As the framework of the two huge structures slid together, the tugs shoved one last time on the Chamberlain, minimizing the jolt as the Chamberlain’s beams bottomed out in the prepared sockets of the scoop. The scoop had been engineered to handle one tenth G acceleration, with a very generous margin of error. With a mass nearly an eighth the Chamberlain’s, it easily absorbed the bump.
"OK, Spider," Beringar turned to the man beside him, "It’s all yours."
SpiderJohnny looked like he wanted to pinch himself. "Are you out of your SHIT ASSED MIND!" he said. "I’ve survived the trip from HELL," he cast a nervous look around, intercepting a glare from Prissy Vanderville, "and now YOU want ME to aid and abet the most spectacular and public FUCKING case of space piracy in the history of mankind?"
"Okay, what the hell." He unclenched his toes and pushed off the nearest object—Beringar—and floated out the door.
"Tranquilizers?" speculated Ms. Stick from his other side.
"Shock, more like," stated May. "What did he say when he found out he was wanted as an accessory?"
"He laughed his ass off! I think he liked the idea of stealing Oleg Ori’s pride and joy. He said he was glad he’d brought Norman along."
"You are keeping track of that F-rat, aren’t you?" asked May. "I’ve never seen such a through job of random disassembly in my entire career. I think I’m going to need some of those things. But you don’t want them loose on a ship!"
"Miss Vanderville is happily employed in the biolab, taking care of the experimental animals. She’s got Farengi cleaning the cages for her." He smiled across the room at Prissy, she beamed back.
"You’re not going to take her along, are you Boss?" whispered Ms. Stick eyeing Beringar in alarm. Prissy had been . . . excessive in her gratitude for her ‘rescue’.
Beringar actually blushed, "She’s useful, quite bright once she stops babbling with shyness. Not that we need a gene engineer, but her talents could be put to other uses. I thought I’d broach the subject." He glanced at Huang, "I can’t send her back with the Spider."
"SpiderJohnny is going to find it hard to return, at all." Huang said, "he’s too distinctive, physically, to just get new paperwork and a face job. Not to mention the repair station he’s had to abandon. He may just prefer to face the authorities, and try to prove he had nothing to do with this." She shrugged indifferently. "You didn’t really need him."
Ace Eonia was shocked. "I can’t believe the number of innocents you’ve managed to drag into this." She glanced between Huang and Beringar.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the helmsman, Fred Flintstone exchanged grins with his navigator counterpart. No one would ever accuse them of being innocent, they were May Huang’s willing accomplices.
"Now, I know you’re pissed about being dragged here, but I couldn’t leave you on Earth to stir up the authorities." Beringar dismissed her outrage.
"You’ve made it nearly impossible for Simon to continue life as Dr. von Monkenstein. Good grief, what harm could he possibly have done?" Beringar snorted, as she continued, "I recommend you put me, Prissy Vanderville and Simon on the shuttle with the President," Bussard nodded eagerly, the guard even more eagerly, "when you drop him off next week." Ace eyed him thoughtfully, "in fact, your colonists all know the score," she leaned closer to him, "don’t they?"
"Certainly," he held up a silencing finger, "I spoke to them all three days ago, laying out the whole situation. If they don’t want to come, they will just stay at the construction facilities around Venus."
"They’re mostly young, unmarried, adventuresome and have been associated with the Pure Humanity movement." Added Ms. Stick. "All our employees are given a survey, periodically. The Venus crew is made up of those that are psychologically the most likely to accept the offer."
Ace looked over at May Huang. "That’s the sort of amorality I’d always expected of psychopathic criminals," she looked back at Beringar. "not businessmen."
May Huang looked mildly amused. Beringar glared, but said nothing.
"Well, at least you’re giving them ten days to decide whether or not to become wanted criminals." Ace put in dryly.
"Eight, actually," corrected Ms. Stick. "Those who are coming will have to pack and load the shuttles, and they’re coming out to meet us, a day before we pass Venus."
"Do you really think the minor bit of genetic tinkering that has gone on has doomed the human race?" asked the President. "I mean, really?"
"That depends on just what you mean by tinkering," Beringar switched happily to lecture mode. "We know very little about the inner workings of genetics. We really don’t know what some parents wanting a blonde child have done to their children and grandchildren. We know from the ichimp experiment that altered genes tend to break during reproduction. Could be the next ten generations will be plagued by birth defects like the ichimps; could be nothing!" He nodded to the President, "Well, could be isn’t good enough for me. I’m going to be sure that a permanent, no, a flourishing human colony with normal genes exists."
Huang shook her head in disbelief. "Well, that’s your department, my job’s done."
"And that’s it," sneered Ace, "Your job is done. You’ve committed murder, grand theft, kidnapping. You have ruined," she waved at Simon, "your own child’s career, and you don’t feel anything!"
Simon glanced at Huang with a resigned expression that changed to surprise as she actually winced. Beringar turned and watched the docking again, pretending not to hear the conversation behind him. Ace stalked over to watch, pointedly keeping a chilly space between them.
"I didn’t think how you must feel about all this," He could barely pickup her lowered voice. "How much have I totally screwed up your career? I know you’ve been doing research out of Northern Caltech."
"And teaching," Simon answered. "I don’t know. I guess I’ll find out when I get back."
Beringar pretended he was studying the view of the scoop; he could feel May Huang’s gaze on his back. "Stick with the President, and he may shield you from blame for this. If all else fails, Ivan’s got plans."
"He came and talked to me. I’ll keep him in mind, but only as a last resort." Simon replied.
She shook her head, "I think he’s right. And they’ll need people like you."
Who was Ivan? An ichimp, presumably, could the Chimpanzee Liberation Front have something planned? Beringar wondered if Fred, or any of the many ichimps May Huang had used for the hijacking knew. Well, it had nothing to do with him, anymore. The ichimps would be leaving the ship at Venus in six days, thankfully. He’d send the snippy reporter off with the President, and Monkenstein as well. He hadn’t needed the leverage. Thank goodness. Pity he couldn’t keep SpiderJohnny. Maybe he should talk to him in private. And Prissy was definitely a keeper.
Chapter Twenty Four
Kirby eyed the guard at the foot of the stairs. He was unfortunately alert, as all the guards had been for the last three weeks. Like the rest of the workers who had not been in on the plot, she’d been knocked out by the anesthetic gas the hijackers had used to incapacitate the crew and the President’s security. Her throat tightened at the thought. President Bussard had been a prisoner for three WEEKS, and she hadn’t been able to do a THING. Since she’d been led down here with the other groggy workers, she’d accomplished nothing. There were over seven hundred ichimps in this Living Sphere, and she’d gathered that at least one more sphere was in use as well. They’d been told that the Chimpanzee Liberation Front was stealing the Chamberlain, that President Bussard would be released as they transited Venus and picked up the last ichimps. She kneaded her temples. Could they really have evacuated every single ichimp? Surely someone on Earth would notice! She ran her fingers around the neck of her T-shirt. It was so hot in here! Well, it wasn’t really, but it was a bit more humid that most space environments were kept. Not enough to explain her hot flashes. I’m tired of being undercover! Maybe she was coming down with something. Her thoughts ground to a halt, for a second. Yes, she was definitely coming down with something. She set off to find the lady in charge.
"Jane, you’re not pinking are you?" Miss Manners frowned at her, "Surely you’ve got a contraceptive implant?"
Kirby stared at her in shock, one hand straying to the scar across her head. "They took it out," she said, "when I was injured, so it wouldn’t interfere with the special nerve growth factors they gave me." She whispered, appalled. "The effects weren’t supposed to wear off so quickly." Oh, God! She’d heard about ichimp orgies, and avoided them religiously. Was this damned body going to make her do THAT. With the contraceptive implants blocking her hormones she had, so far, managed to avoid as many disgusting ichimp functions as possible. But she didn’t feel anything, when she looked around at the male ichimps. If anything they looked less appealing than ever.
"Supposed to or not, it apparently has." Miss Manners frowned at her, "We really can’t let you conceive now. Not in Zero G, it can really mess up fetal development. You’ll just have to spend two weeks in isolation." She released her foot grip, "Come along."
Agent Kirby followed meekly in her wake, past the guard and up the stairs.
"Alright you MOTHER FUCKING Nut Case. It’s together. It’s gonna stay together. It’s DONE. An I’da enjoyed it IF it had occurred to your SHIT ASSED Majesty to ask me first. So’s I coulda arranged to go home afterwards." Spider leaned down from his anchor point on what would be the ceiling when the ship was under acceleration. Oh, yes, that put Beringar’s precious back up! He blew a thick puff of Titan Gold into the face of his former employer. "So I’m gonna finish fixing the mess," he waved the roach in his right organic hand at the idiot hiding behind Beringar, "Goody-Two-Shoe’s sweet darling baby made of my ship, and when the velocity’s right, I’m outta here." He shoved the joint back in his mouth and spoke around it. "Don’t call me, I’ll call you. When HELL’S BEEN FROZEN FOR NINETY EIGHT YEARS!" He smiled politely around at the room full of people. "Ciao." He told them. He shoved off and out the door.
Kirby had the pathetic lock tweaked open before Miss Manners was out of sight. She edged the door open a scant centimeter, listening. Damn but she was tired of not having gravity. You couldn’t listen for footsteps! She slid the door wider, sticking her head out. The corridor was empty, the door to the food lab was closed. She closed the door behind her and floated toward the tram stop.
She’d always used martial arts and free fall fighting skills as a fun part of staying fit. But she’d had very little actual fighting experience, and none at all against another ichimp. If there was a guard posted, perhaps she should try to talk her way around him?
There was no guard.
The tram was at engineering and came quickly. She punched the top button. Was the President still in the forward section? Only one way to find out. She settled to the floor as the tram accelerated. Without thinking about it, she flexed her toes, turning on her mag shoes. It wouldn’t do to hit the roof when the tram stopped. Where would they keep the President? The ship didn’t have a brig. And no living quarters in the forward section. He’d need a bathroom. She hadn’t been forward often enough to know where everything was. Could they be keeping him in a docked shuttle? That would work. She’d check there first. It should be a little less conspicuous than wandering around looking for a door with a guard in front of it.
Trying to look like she was on an errand, and knew just where to go, she stepped out of the tram and turned right. There were three people, two human and one ichimp, standing and talking in the ring corridor. She stepped around them and walked past, hopefully concealing her surprise. What were humans doing here? Hadn’t Miss Manners said that only ichimps were going? She barely controlled an impulse to turn and look back. The men had been very good looking. Perhaps they were NSU’s agents, and would depart at Venus. Another man walked across in front of her. She felt another hot flash. Maybe she should ask him where the President was? Kirby! What are you thinking of? And then the realization struck her. Oh, no! I was raised by humans, and so I’m imprinted to be attracted to human males! She turned toward the shuttle dock, concentrating on NOT looking at the group of three men that passed her. Three! OH, YEAH! NO! ABSOLUTELY NOT! There was a lot of activity in the open bay. She stepped behind a plastic container labeled Micro Mineral Fertilizer, and edged to the left to get a good look. Some crates were being loaded into a shuttle at the far right. In the center, YES! That was definitely a guard on that dock!
At the far left a tall thin man with the attenuated build of those who had grown up in Zero G was fussing with his hatch controls. He had a cluster of cyber implants in his mid body that contained four extra arms of obviously differing function. It struck her as an eminently sensible arrangement for a freefall dweller. Curious, she shifted nearer. Without quite knowing how she had got there, she was at the hatchway.
"You are so cute." She murmured, as she wrapped her arms around him, incidentally pushing them deeper into his ship. He open his mouth to speak, but wasn’t able to get a word out as she kissed him. The hatch slid closed.