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19 December 2016 @ 09:16 am
_Outlaws of the Solar System_ Part 9  

Chapter Thirteen

Oleg Ori surfed through the activity on the main computer, then shifted restlessly to the exterior computer, invading without a thought the files of his employees.

Adele had a large message among those waiting for her, he saw. He hesitated, then opened a spyhole. A downloaded ebook, the next installment of a series she’d been reading for as long as he’d known her. She also had email from her bank, the usual expenditures, apartment expenses, a few credit purchases like this book, transfers to an investment account, hmm, she was doing quite well there. A letter from a friend announcing her impending motherhood. Hmph. Adele’s mail was always so predictable. Next month the friend would be writing back to thank Adele for the present, and he could check her bank account and find out what the gift was if he wanted to. Oleg wondered why he kept checking on her.

Just because she’s the best project coordinator I’ve ever employed, doesn’t mean she’s untrustworthy. Quite the opposite. Look how smoothly the Chamberlain Project has gone. The only potentially bad problem we had with the fuel cell company she straightened out in no time. Of course, that asshole supervisor over there checking out really helped. He shut down his spyhole with a rare twinge of guilt.

He was just restless because this project was nearly wrapped up. It was always like this, as something big ended and he had to refocus on other things. Hopefully not another Government project. The United Earth Government regulations regarding ‘correct’ staffing drove him up the wall. Just thinly disguised bribes.

The insistence that Oleg employ the enhanced chimps as part of the contract to build the Chamberlain was still a sore spot with Oleg. He believed that humans should be given first option on all jobs before the monkeys, but the President had a buddy who trained them.

From what Oleg could tell, the ichimps were more than able to raise and train themselves without the kind of restrictions the various ‘Chimp Farmers’ imposed on them. They were fast learners and only had to be shown how to do something several times before they could do it on their own. Oleg was of the firm belief that if they were as good and as smart as the ‘Farmers’ claimed, they should not be owned or sold. And the ‘free’ ichimps were good, some so good he’d hired them permanently. Even if he didn’t particularly like them.

It was being forced to employ ichimps from specific sources that claimed to supply the ‘best’ trained workers that was infuriating. Oleg was tired of dealing with the farmers. The ichimps they had supplied to him had all been trained as Earth-side longshoremen, which meant his own people had had to take the time to retrain them for work in space. Most of the ichimps had adapted fairly quickly to space, and they were hard workers. Once they were trained to do the simple tasks, his more experienced construction crews were free to get on with the more skilled jobs.

It was a miracle that he had been able to bring the contract in under the deadline. But as he employed only the best people he could find he shouldn’t be surprised.

The first tour of the ship had gone well. The President wouldn’t even get that much, just a quick speech and he’d be off, never mind the time and inconvenience he’d caused everyone. At least the first group of nuisances hadn’t involved massive security changes, and had had their amusing moments. That Reverend Vorp had turned out even weirder than his reputation, though. He frowned at his monitor screen.

Vorp is the one I wish I could spy on. I wonder what Adele thought of him? I wonder if she’s investigating him herself. One thing he’d learned about Adele, she was at least as curious as him, and often turned up odd information about people. The door chimed almost subliminally, and he looked up to see Adele cycling through.

"Do you know anything about the Reverend Vorp?" she asked.

Ori suppressed a smirk, he had been correct, she was checking as well. "No, I had Security give me a report on him and assumed, from the pattern of his cult's picketing and rioting that he was a government agent. But he didn't quite meet my expectations."

"Likewise. I let it go, though, and now I wish I hadn't." She tossed him a data card. "After his odd reaction to the food vats and that diatribe at lunch about only eating pure food, I got curious, and scavenged a crumb from those cubes he was eating." She nodded at the chip, "Check out what the lab says."

Ori's eyebrows rose and he inserted the card into an independent scanner. Even coming from her hand, he automatically ran a security scan before accepting the data. Declared clean, he popped it into his terminal, then sat up as the analysis hit him.

"Minced, dehydrated human," Ori leaned into the screen as his voice rose in shocked disbelief, "muscle, bone, blood, liver, panc…" He sat back in stunned horror.

Stuben leaned forward and tapped a paragraph low on the screen. "DNA from three individuals. I'm running a check for matches in the medical, prison and military data bases." She eyed Ori sideways, "I feel like I've walked into a cheap horror film. The lab says it’s like he just pureed and freeze dried whole bodies."

"Jeffery Dahmer, part thirteen." Ori rubbed his aching temples. "Or maybe one of those ridiculous alien monster flicks."

***

The Right Honorable Reverend Michael V. Wentworth of the Church of Earth is Eden, better known as the Reverend Vorp, was sick and tired of Earth.

Not that Earth wasn't pretty, he thought, gazing out the open window of the rustic log cabin as he paced restlessly. Especially this part of it. I always wanted my own private hunting grounds. The fresh breeze blowing through the window sounded as lonely as he was.

"Why hasn't someone come!" He asked the picture of the deer above the fireplace. The deer had heard it all before, and as usual, didn't answer. "It’s been thirty eight years, someone should have come to check out this system. It’s not like I had exclusive rights to it." He still couldn't believe he'd been shot down. While in full stealth mode! This site had seemed like a perfect place to land for a quick survey and to adjust that right rear grav unit that was making so much noise. A remote, mountainous area with a small village tucked away like it was hiding, but with enough electronics on the scan to ensure he got a look at the prevailing technology. Who would have thought they would have so many weapons! Or been so willing to use them on an odd flying visual distortion, making a bit of a whistle? Well, he knew what a Right Wing Militia was NOW.

Fat lot of good that did him, with his ship in pieces in the basement of this so innocent looking cabin.

He kicked the wall, accidentally springing the latch of the concealed door to the power room and freezer. He slammed the door shut, irritably. The freezer! After he'd taken care of the miserable primitives that had shot him down, he had a little snack out of that freezer. And learned the horrible truth.

Chemistry is chemistry, anywhere in the universe. And on a Cinnab type planet there were only so many ways genetic information could be efficiently encoded. Five ways that they knew of, so far. He'd been so pleased to find the animal life here had evolved the most common one, his own. Until he had eaten that deer. He glared at the racks of antlers around the room. He had expected his usual predators’ camouflage response. But it had been so strong! Nearly as bad as the pubescent metamorphosis. Not just a little scent, or skin patina. No, it had been hair everywhere! His ears had grown! Even his facial cartilage had remolded. It was the camouflage response gone wild, almost an allergic reaction or something. It sure as vacuum wasn't normal!

Vorp kicked the wall again in frustration. He had intended the worst insult to those savages that had destroyed his ship. He had intended to leave them to rot where they fell. No honorable battle feast for them! But if one meal had done this to him, he couldn't continue to eat venison. He had frozen them all. Warriors, peons, young and all. And eaten them. At least they were only hairy in places. And some were less so than others. He ran a short fingered hand through his wavy brown hair. At least the hair was useful for disguising his cinnabic skull shape. Thank God his bones had resisted metamorphosis.

It had taken the better part of a local year to learn the language. Those children's programs were so helpful. Nowadays, he always sent money to PBS, and urged his followers to do likewise. What a shame that nice Mr. Rogers had died before life extension therapies became common. He would have liked to meet him. So calm. Listening to him was better than a tranquilizer. He could use a dose, just now.

As his grasp of the language had grown, so had his knowledge of the society he was trapped with grown. So violent! City or country, it was dangerous in a way he’d never thought possible.

Judging from the factual news broadcasts, killing was a way of life on this planet, but to an extent unknown to Cinnab. Even entire regions took to arms and fought each other as groups. The fictional works showed occasional duels for honor or position, but to judge from the news, these were unfortunately rare in actuality. The upper echelons of this society seemed to prefer popularity contests, rather than competence to determine social and governmental rankings. It was very strange.

A tentative tap on the cabin door pulled him back to here and now. It was Sister Eve, of course. It usually was. Her little refugee group had come along at such an opportune time. For thirty-six years she had been running the organization for him. Her extension treatments (paid for by the Church, of course) had been quite effective. She looked a good deal younger than the forty year old he had first met. Her manner was much more confident. She had found a man who understood God, who God favored, and who favored her. Well, at least she had one out of three right.

He favored and used her, extensively. Good thing he hadn't eaten her, along with the pathetic, freezing peons that had followed her vision up into the mountains just before a blizzard. They had been a useful cover at the time, and then a magnet for society's castoffs. He had been appalled at first, the way people had flocked in. But then he realized that they also left with as little notice. So a few of them regularly departed into his private larder. It was so easy.

He signed the papers she put in front of him without question, without really looking at them, in fact. They would be the usual mixture, permission to shift funds to where they would make more money (try and understand that! A medium of exchange, working!), disbursement of funds for extension treatments for believers (and people wonder how we get so many recruits!), disbursement of funds for political activity , for hiring picketers or rioters (they wonder about that, too), disbursement of funds for who knows what. He didn't care. The metals and crystals the Right Wing Militia had hoarded had provided the start for the Church of Earth is Eden. And under Sister Eve's management, it had grown to the point where there really didn't seem to be any thing they couldn't buy.

"Oh, and Father?" Eve had long ago learned he didn't like to converse, and usually maintained a reverent silence around him, "That rude Ms. Stick has called five times, now. I told her you were meditating after the rigors of that awful space trip, and she got really rude." She gazed adoringly at him, really, she wasn't normal even for a human. Few of his followers were.

He recited the usual reply, "I will take care of it." Satisfied, she left. Stick. That meant Beringar, of course. Vorp wondered grumpily what space endeavor Beringar wanted picketed now. He was heartily sick of this nonsense, he wanted to go home and if he hadn’t somehow wound up blocking research instead of helping it, he could probably be there by now. That nice ship he’d just visited, even without Grav tech could almost get him home, eventually. He keyed in the sequence of numbers and Ms. Stick’s picture appeared over his comm.

"Good," she nodded, rather like a human addressing a dog. "Richard needs some people with special skills, but he needs them in space. You’re going to have to convince them that they’re on a spying mission or something. Here’s the list. We need them on Richard’s shuttle and prepared for an indefinite stay offworld on August thirtieth. That’s in four days," she added, as if she didn’t think he understood the calendar. Sometimes he wondered if she suspected something about him, or if she treated everyone like idiots.

However, Beringar had shielded his organization more than once, he could certainly send a few people to him. "Yes, I will send them. What people do you want?"

"Here’s the list." A light flashed on his desk to show that it had received print data. "Call back if you have more questions."

He cut the connection and opened the list, then cross checked what the people did . . . Sister Mary Elizabeth was a medical specialist, Sister Cathy was a cook, apparently an excellent one, Sister Jessie hacked every computer system she came in contact with, Brother Wisdom was an old Space Pilot, he had committed some crime and been discharged. His rejuve was almost finished. Sister Michele, also discharged from the military because she’d been too enthusiastic about killing. Brother Snider, another ex military, in fact the last eight were military. What was Beringar doing that needed soldiers, pilots, hackers, medics and…cooks? He thought about Beringar's often predicted destruction of the human race through the addition of animal and artificial genes.

I know what I would do. He looked at the list, yes, all of these and one more, Beringar. I’m coming too.

Chapter Fourteen

Adele Stuben frowned at her list, checking off another item. She could feel the increased weight as the Chamberlain increased its spin about its anchoring rock. Occasionally the ship lurched slightly, as the tugs either increased or decreased their pushing to match as closely as possible the gradually increasing spin of that anchor. It wouldn't be a good idea to wrap the anchoring cables around the rock. The bridge crew of the Chamberlain manned their posts, doing nothing. Captain MacNeal clearly hated just sitting and watching as the tugs shifted his ship around. He was definitely going to need that vacation tomorrow. The main diversion for his nerves, Lieutenant Rock needed a vacation too, but he was going to be in command of the skeleton crew that remained on board for the President's visit.

"God, I'll be glad when this is over!" the Captain stretched, trying to relax. The smile he turned in her direction was patently false. His eyes met hers briefly, then tracked back to the holo displays.

"Is there anything I can do, besides get out from under your feet?" She smiled back, sympathizing with his nerves. She was keyed up herself. But not yet peaked. That was two days from now. "I was just double checking on the skeleton crew for The Visit."

MacNeal growled. "After which those clumsy idiots will despin us and then, finally, we'll get out of here." MacNeal was an experienced and recently retired Space Navy officer, and had previously expressed himself freely on the subject of the Chamberlain's civilian crew. After considerable turnover, the current crew was mostly ex SN, and thoroughly professional. Even the limited crew that would man the ship during the President's speech was well up to his standards. Lieutenant Rock had served under him in the SN and Mycroft Perris was one of the oldest and most experienced navigators alive. He was responding well to rejuve treatments and would soon be ready to top his historic early flights to Mars and Venus with travel to the outer planets.

MacNeal scanned her list with one eye on the holos. "Yep. That's them." He traded a glare between Rock and Perris, "and they're going to take good care of my ship while the Circus Politico is in town." He blew out a breath. "I don't know why I'm going on vacation. I'm not going to relax."

"The circus will only last twelve hours, from the first security agents coming on board to the last one being kicked off. And the crowd will only be here for four hours." She sighed, "Thank God." She slanted a sympathetic smile at him. "I'll call you the second they're off and gone. And for now, I'll get out from under your feet."

She wandered through the ship, not quite at random, checking the storerooms, the AI room, sickbay. She took the tram down to Engineering, where the Chief Engineer was pacing the floor, scowling over the shoulders of his two subordinates. He too had served with the captain. One of his two assistants was ex-SN; after she had retired from the service she had run the massive freighters that carried metals in from the asteroid belt using the same type engines. Even her mellow disposition was showing strain under her Chief's nerves.

Adele shook her head at him. "You're worse than Captain MacNeal."

"No one's worse than MacNeal." He looked briefly amused. "No one."

She watched the strain gauges, but the fuel and living spheres showed no inclination to shift. This spin induced acceleration was ten times what the fuel spheres would experience when underway. "Tight as a tick," The Chief noted with satisfaction, from over her shoulder. "There hasn't been a twitch out of a single one. I'd happily take this baby out tomorrow."

"Next month, Chief, next month." She smiled back at him. "Sop up lots of the great outdoors while you're downside. It'll be a year before you're back again."

"Bah! Great outdoors! And there's no need to hold us to such a short run on her maiden voyage."

"It's been what? Four years since you got to fire up the engines? It's not really that bad of an idea to stay within rescueable range, the first time."

The Chief gave a dismissing snort. "Look at that," he waved at the readouts from allover the vast ship, "She's solid."

"She'll take a long trip soon, Chief. Not to worry."

As the acceleration built up to, down at this end, a bit more than 1g, the tugs backed off. The minor oscillations died out and the Chamberlain swung wide and fast around its anchor.

"Thank goodness the Captain's not going to be here to watch the shuttles docking." The Chief muttered.

Adele grinned. "I think I heard him threaten Rock with grievous bodily harm if he didn't dock them by remote. I shudder to think what Rock will do to Fred if the ship gets a single scratch on it."

The assistant engineer snickered. "Fred could do it with his feet, and both the Captain and Rock know it."

The Chief actually grinned at that, or perhaps it was because of the tugs disengaging from his ship. "You should'a seen the expression on the Captain’s face the one time he tried it." Fred Flintstone was one of the few civilian crewers that met the Captain's standards. He had even been overheard saying that the SN should recruit ichimps for piloting duties. At least, he’d said that before the episode of the feet only shuttle docking.

"Anything you want me to go scope out, Chief?" Adele turned away from the displays.

"Not really, take a different tram back, so we can see how it's running under acceleration." He shrugged, starting to relax as his ship performed perfectly.

"Right." She wandered around the circular corridor ringing the hydrogen inlet pipes and summoned a tram, which appeared promptly.

Back in the forward command section she found the Captain's nerves much quieter. Most of the crew was bidding farewell to the unfortunate members chosen to remain behind for the President's visit. UE Security would have preferred to send them all away, but had been unable to over-rule safety precautions that mandated a minimum working crew on all ships with people aboard. As the checks were completed, the ship having escaped the clutches of the tugs unscathed, Captain MacNeal turned the ship over to Lieutenant Rock and marshaled the larger part of the crew for departure.

Fred Flintstone, lounged back at the helm, "Ah! A day of peace and quiet, before the storm of newsies and politicians."

"Ha! I'm looking forward to it." His navigation counterpart Mycroft Perris said. "We'll be quiet enough once we're out of dock." He grinned at Adele, "Soon we won't even have you hanging around, making us do things your way."

Rock looked at her with interest, "Is it true you're just a contract worker?"

"Oh, yes, but I'm good enough to pick and choose where I want to go and what I want to do." She shrugged, "I'll wind up my contract tomorrow, then take a long vacation. Ori doesn't have any new projects coming up that I'm interested in, so I'll probably look elsewhere for my next job."

A brief silence met this declaration. "Geeze," said Rock, at last, "I'm glad I won't be around to deal with Ori without you smoothing the way."

"Oh, Ori's a pussycat. You just have to stroke him the right way and avoid the claws." She grinned at them, "Anyway, I'll wind up back here sooner or later. I work for OOO more than anyone else."

She checked her notepad, and wandered over to a now empty comm station, "I'll tell Ori everything's clear for the President’s visit." She typed up a succinct report mentioning everything she'd checked herself and sent it to Ori via the OOO station's exterior computer system. Ori didn't allow direct access to the main computer from anywhere but a few secured stations. And then she readdressed it and sent it again. To other people, with interests in the Chamberlain that Ori would not have approved of.