Chapter Forty Four
"Five of us." Beringar grumbled, cautiously stretching his back and ribs, "and she just walked through us. Had to be Mata Hari."
Ms. Stick held up one of the wigs critically, "You don’t have to keep saying that. It’s painfully obvious. This one goes with the Fidelity Wilson ID."
"She was so fast! She just kicked me, and all I could do was lay there and try to breath." He touched his bruised cheek carefully. "I barely noticed hitting the wall."
Stick nodded, "At least she hit you above the kidney. You’re just winded."
"Just. I got kicked by a horse once, this is worse." Bitterly he turned back to the boxes on the table. "I didn’t think you could make an EMP emitter this small. The purse is a marconi box for her own electronics." He poked through the tiny objects dumped on the table. "Three faked ID’s. Three more. I can’t believe she used yours."
"Why not? I have wide security clearance and Prissy’s about my height." She tossed the wig back with the other and picked up the purse again. "That one shot must have hit her. Otherwise she’d never have left this behind."
"She’s missed four days on the bridge." Beringar grinned, "Maybe she’s dead. God I hope she’s dead." His lips thinned. "And Prissy. I’m going to have to do something about Prissy."
"Forget it." Stick snapped. "Deal with her after we’ve gotten rid of the abominations." She held up the EMP generator. "This will make placing the bombs so much easier. They’ll never know we’re out there."
He could feel his grin returning. "Yeah. As soon as those monkeys are done crawling around the exterior, we’ll set the charges."
Chapter Forty Five
"So when I saw you’d changed so much it occurred to me that maybe you could help." The ichimp looked at her rather defensively. "If you’re feeling alright."
"I’m fine, it wasn’t that bad. OK, now ichimp makeup," May Huang kept her face straight with an effort, "I shouldn’t think it would be too hard to work up some practical ichimp cosmetics."
"I want to be attractive to a human." The ladychimp repeated.
"Right," and what did SpiderJohnny do to deserve you? She wondered. "It’s really easy if you just split the problem into useful pieces. Disguise, or in your case, makeup is as much an optical illusion as anything else."
She pulled out the chair in front of her mirrored dresser. "Look, don’t criticize, don’t imagine, just see what is really there." Poor Kirby slumped, "In your case it comes down to complexion, hair and nose." Kirby slumped further. "Stop that," she snapped. "Look. You have the typical mottled complexion of an ichimp. Very pale around the eyes nose and lips, then speckling back into the edges of your face and into the hair."
"I have a damned beard!" Kirby tugged her chin whiskers with both hands.
"We’ll get to the hair shortly," May told her. "Now, what people mostly recognize is your face," Kirby grimaced, "so I’d recommend a translucent intradermal tint just a bit darker than the light part of your complexion. It will fade out the dark parts, reduce the contrast but not hide them altogether. People will still be able to recognize you."
Kirby frowned at her reflection, "Would that work?"
"Try it and see." May tried to keep the exasperation out of her voice. "Now, the hair. I recommend a gradual progression for it. Your scalp," she continued ruthlessly as Kirby opened her mouth to protest, "May respond to a combination of quick grow and longlife. Your hair will grow faster and be shed less frequently, therefore it will get longer."
"It’s just stubby animal hair," she protested.
"I’ve never used any of this stuff on an ichimp, we’ll just have to see what happens. Now, on your face, and anywhere else you don’t want hair, we take the opposite tactic. Reduce hair growth," she started programming her cosmetic machine. "and shorten its life span." She filled the first tube and labeled it ‘hair reducer’. "The hair that grows will be both slower growing and finer, it will be shed quickly, just like regular human body hair." She labeled the second tube ‘Godiva’. "Now, the real trick will be to figure out where you want your hairline to be, and stick consistently to that. You’ll need to apply this stuff every day for a week, then monthly." Kirby stared hopefully at the mirror, while she filled a larger bottle. "This is the intradermal tint. Go take a long hot soak in a hot tub of water with this entire bottle in it, splash your face frequently, it won’t hurt your eyes or anything, but you’re going to have your work cut out for you cleaning the tub afterwards."
Kirby gulped and fingered the bottle and the tubes. "Just smear this stuff on? Every day for a week? Then once a month?"
"If that doesn’t seem to be working, come back in two weeks and we can tweak the formula, personalize it for you, or perhaps I should say, for ichimps. You may be setting a fashion trend."
"OK," Kirby nodded shyly, "Thanks May, I just couldn’t think of what to do except attack myself with a razor, and I wasn’t really sure if that was a good idea."
"I’d advise against it," May said, "Now, standard makeup, hmm. Start with just a touch of lipstick, and we’ll add to the repertoire as your hair changes." She looked thoughtfully at the ichimp. "With your reddish hair, I’d recommend metallic colors, not pinks of any sort." She programmed that in, and handed that tube over as well. "and Kirby, let Spider see you several times a week, otherwise he may not recognize you."
She shut the door behind the ladychimp and gave into snickers, "Oh, Spider, you better deserve this!" She stretched and wiggled her shoulders carefully, but she had healed with her usual rapidity once Cherry had stopped the bleeding in her lungs. She sat down at her comp to make notes of the formulas she’d used. Quite common commercial ones, but she frowned at her cosmetics machine. How many of these things were on board? If she had the only one she was going to be a very rich lady by the time they got to Alpha.
Chapter Forty Six
Nobody noticed a thing the first day. Kirby bounced from irritation to thankfulness. Like May had said, the tint just minimized the contrast, it still left the spotty transition from her eyes and mouth to her hairline, may be she should have insisted on an opaque intradermal? Except, it was supposed develop gradually over several days, so maybe she shouldn’t be so quick to judge. She’d plucked some hair, to hurry things along, but she’d chickened out altogether on the lipstick. Maybe she’d save that for the next date.
Like everyone else, Kirby had been scrambling and doing anything necessary as well as she could. But now that things had settled down a bit, she was at a bit of a loss, jobwise. Militarily she was assigned to Captain Wolfe’s HQ section as the liaison with the ichimps. Which left her with a great deal of free time. The ichimps didn’t want to liaise. She needed to be around the ichimps more. Studying an alien civilization, as far as her knowledge of it went. All she’d ever known were the ichimps in space construction. Children? She’d never met a single one. She’d barely met any human children. She frowned at the Help Wanted list on her comp, then headed for Wolfe’s office.
She recognized Colonel Woods’ deep voice as she approached, and hovered a moment in the doorway, in case they didn’t want to be disturbed. But the Colonel, even with his back to her, knew she was there, and was turning as she rounded the door jam. Good hearing.
"Come in, Sergeant. Are you alright?" Woods asked suddenly, "You look a bit washed out."
"I’m fine, sir, I’m trying out a bit of tint in my intradermal." She split a look between them, "I’m trying to increase my contacts with the ichimp community, and wondered if I should apply for any of the jobs they have posted."
"I can find more paperwork for you if you’re bored." Wolfe grinned at her, "Although it wouldn’t help with the ichimps."
"Do you have anything in mind, Kirby?" Woods asked.
"They want a part time math teacher at the High School. I was always good at math, so I thought that might work out."
"Oh, that’d be, like, real useful." Wolfe nodded, "Most of the top ichimps teach part time. They’re, you know, real short on teachers over there."
"Give it up, Sergio." Woods was shaking his head. "It’s sounding more forced and fake all the time." He nodded to Kirby, "He’s right though, you’ll not only be around and working with the leaders, you’ll become a familiar face to the parents and the kids that will be graduating and starting work in the next few years."
"We can fit your hours here around the teaching," Wolfe said, "Like, you know," he glared at Woods, "It’s going to pretty much be a part of liaising, you know?"
"OK, I’ll apply." She saluted and left. Kids, gulp, I guess I’d better find out what they’re like.
Chapter Forty Seven
To her gratification, Spider did a classic double take. "Hey, what’d you freakin’ do . . . " he waved his hands generically around his face.
"Careful Spider," Monkenstein shook a finger at him, "You’ll ruin men’s reputations for obliviousness, going around noticing things like," the ichimp peered at her, "hair styles and makeup."
"I didn’t think ladychimps did sh… things like that," Spider folded his cyber arms tightly and slid over to hug her with one of the real ones. "Looks f… umm, fantastic."
There was a faint chortle from Simon, "I’ve a class in half an hour, I’d better run."
"Yeah, go away." Spider sniffed, "Is the liquid nitrogen shut off?"
"Nope, I’ll get it." The ichimp ducked back into the bowels of Spider’s ship.
"Are you two still working on FTL?" Kirby asked, putting off, again, just straight out telling him.
"Yeah, we’re going to have several models ready to test when we get to the Iceberg. We’re going to take them outside and well away from the ship, just on general principles."
"That’s probably wise, what happens if it materializes inside something? But," Kirby rushed on, hearing her voice go high and tight, "That not what I came up here to talk about. I really need to . . . umm."
He was straightening and stiffening as her voice gave out. "Came to say goodbye in fuckin’ person, did you?" he snapped.
"God, Spider," Simon climbed back into the main cabin as she stood there with her mouth open, "You’re worse than me for sticking your foot in it." The solid muscular ichimp grinned sardonically up at the tall stringy belter, "Congratulations, Spider, you’re going to be a father."
Spider stared at him, then her and slowly slid down and sat on the deck. Simon’s grin got even wider, "There you go Kirby, the worst hump is over." He patted her on the shoulder as he squeezed by and out the hatch. She could hear his chuckle fading.
"We’re going to . . . I mean you and me?" Spider sounded shocky, "A baby?"
"Yes." She sat down beside him. "In about four months now." She glanced at him then away, "I kept chickening out on telling you." She hesitated. "Are you mad?"
Spider buried his face in his hands for a moment. "No." He looked at her in silence for a long moment, then scooted over beside her. He wrapped an arm around her and leaned his head against hers. "Are you mad, Kirby?"
"No, but then, I always knew any children I had would be ichimps. I figured it would be a bit of a shock to you."
"That’s why you keep talking about the ichimp genes stuff the Blonde from Hell is doing? Trying to break the news gradually?"
"Yeah. I thought I was working around to it slowly, but lately it felt more like avoidance. So many people know about Prissy’s findings . . . " She ducked her head. "I guess I was being cowardly. If you were going to throw a fit about your kid being an ichimp, I didn’t want to hear it."
He turned and got both his arms around her in a lumpy mechanically challenged embrace. "I love you. Anybody tries to give our kid shit will have to answer to me." After a long moment he continued. "What about all these birth defects? Did you say they’re caused by the artificial genes? I didn’t much listen to what you said." His pale skin flushed, and he ducked his head against hers, "Sorry."
"The sonogram I got looked good, the," she giggled, "Blonde from Hell says I’ve got more than the usual number of human genes and none of the really messed up joins."
"Umm, boy or girl?" Spider sounded nervous all over again.
"I told them not to tell me." She giggled again at his glare. "Start thinking up names. And not one of those silly ichimp names." She put in firmly.
He drew back in surprise, "What? Not The Terminator? How about Han Solo?"
"Behave." She mock glared, "And anyway those are already taken."
"Don’t worry," his tone was confident, "I can think of much worse ones."
Chapter Forty Eight
The chunk of ice was huge. A rough pyramid that reflected the Chamberlain’s search lights with glittering brilliance. The first shuttle out to it had stabilized the berg, which would make for easy transfer of hydrogen. They crept carefully up behind it, the maneuvering engines eating fuel prodigiously as they slowed the Chamberlain. Saving fuel no longer mattered. This ice mountain that dwarfed them could easily refill their hydrogen storage spheres.
"The away crew reports the hydrogen cracking facility needs a couple of pipe junctions resealed. Otherwise it’s in great shape. We’ll start refueling within days." Beringar let his pleasure show. He’d sent his shuttle out a few days ahead of the Chamberlain, more to emphasize his ownership of the Iceberg than because it was needed. He turned away from the full wall display at the rear of the bridge and faced Colonel Woods. Ha! He understood quite well the Colonel’s message in not having a single one of his people at the controls. He should have done something months ago about that jumped up Sergeant Freeman acting as captain. Now she had an ichimp piloting, and Marines manning the navigation and communications boards. He eyed the overall clad woman that was running the backups. Was that May Huang? With a nice deep tan and medium brown hair it was hard to say. Ridiculous that after seeing her in stark black and white for so long he couldn’t recognize her. If it was her. He hadn’t said a word about the attack to the Colonel. No report, nothing. Let him stew and try to figure out what was happening. If he even knew. It may well have been the ichimps, with the marines left completely in the dark. He’d have to give that some thought. Perhaps he could create some tensions between the groups.
Shrugging the idea off, he turned to the Colonel. "I’ve been wondering whether to add a surcharge to my hydrogen, since I don’t seem to have any competition out here."
The oversized abomination just grinned. "I may have been ordered to crease hostilities and not arrest you, but you’d better believe that every speck of property you have has been confiscated by the government. So . . . maybe I’ll pay for fuel and maybe I won’t. Don’t push me, Beringar, the peace is fragile."
"Oh, really? And who’d going to run the plant? Who’s going to pay my people?"
"That’s why I said maybe I’d pay for fuel. Keep your people in line and you’ll get paid. Push me too far and you’ll find yourself breathing vacuum."
The door to the bridge slid open and Ivan D. Terrible walked in. Great, the Head Abomination himself. One abomination nodded to the other, who nodded politely back. The Great Stone Faces. He didn’t continue arguing in front of The Terror. He wasn’t suicidal, after all. It probably was The Terror that had sent May Huang to kidnap Prissy. The poor girl was probably locked up by the monkeys and being forced to create even more abominations. He clinched his toes to stay stuck to the floor as the Chamberlain’s acceleration dropped, then ceased altogether. After consultation between the bridge crew and engineering, the fusion engines were shut down altogether.
He nodded shortly to the Colonel, "I’ll go see to my people." He clicked out, then shoved off and floated down the corridor. Yes indeed, he had quite a bit to do, out there.
The area outside dock one had been converted to a suiting area, and was sealed off so it could be used as one extra large airlock if needed. The marines’ light duty suits were neatly arrayed in one area. They even had a dozen or so suits of their power armor racked here. Two of his own people were looking it over from much too close if the frown on the attending marine’s face was any gauge. He glanced at it himself, but turned away and picked up the first of the Chamberlain hard suits. Uncapping a molecular needle he glanced at the marine and barely touched the needle to the pressure hose of the marine suit next to him. Recapping the needle, he sat and started climbing into the hardsuit.
"Stop teasing the animals," he called, "It’s time to get going."
"Beef!" demanded Ax, "I want beef!"
Vorp sighed, looking up at the newt where it floated comfortably in zero g. It was completely covered with fur. Big irregular black spots marked the white background, and the cartilage of its face was warped out into a muzzle. "No. You need to start looking like a human."
"Yeah!" Erk said. "Hooman!" It was still in the one word stage, and looked like a rat-human hybrid. Long blonde hair was brushed back from a pointy rat like muzzle. But its body was mostly hairless now.
He was trapping and destroying the rats and birds as fast as he could, but they had gone feral and it was impossible to keep the newts from catching and eating them no matter how much meat he supplied them with. And he had to stop feeding them beef. He had enough human cultures now for all three of them. Soon he would be reestablishing links with the rest of the ship. The newts needed to be able to pass for human.
"Look," he said, "these are shirts, just for you!"
The big one took one cautiously, sniffing at it. The small one snatched the other and stuffed it in its mouth. It spit it out and looked at him reproachfully, "Bad!"
"Don’t eat it!" he exclaimed, "wear it." He peeled off his own shirt, then put it back on to demonstrate. The big newt promptly got tangled in its. The little one, seeing its brother at a disadvantage, barred its teeth and attacked.
By the time Vorp got them separated, they were all three bleeding and the two shirts were ruined. "What did I do to deserve this?"