Chapter Twenty Five
"I wouldn’t have thought Oleg could be so persistent." May Huang dodged down the corridor. "His agoraphobia must have him climbing the walls."
"As soon as everyone’s aboard, we’ve got to secure for maneuvering." Beringar led the way, floating down the corridor at reckless speed. "We need to unload those shuttles ASAP."
"I’ll head for engineering, and warm up the lasers," engineer Cocoa put in. "As soon as you’ve got the maneuvers input, we can get underway." She touched down on the floor strip in front of the tram station.
"Mike’ll have ‘em for you, quick." Beringar sent back over his shoulder.
"At least he’s far enough away he can’t intercept any of the shuttles." put in Ms. Stick.
"What’s wrong?" May’s voice sharpened as she saw the men with drawn stunners peering into the storeroom.
One of them looked over at them, irritation in his voice, "It’s that rat thing, it’s loose in here."
"Oh, hell!" She stopped herself, looking toward Beringar. "I’ll handle this, you hustle your colonists." May slipped between them and floated into the room, "get in here and close the door." Her eyes scanned the room as the door slid shut. When the stunner hummed, she spun, hands flashing out . . .
" . . . Don’t know why you care, she’s screwed you roya . . ."
" . . . My mother . . . "
" . . . owner, she bought and paid for you."
" . . . saved me, they sold me because a baby was too much trouble. I was never anything but free in her eyes. And she saw to it that my legal owner was a Free Chimp corporation. Even when they caught her, they couldn’t touch me. Believe me, they tried. I got stuck in the ichimp school, where they could watch me like a hawk. Once they arrested the cleaning lady who was nice to me. They thought she must be Mother. It was pretty funny." She could hear Simon clearly, now. But her eyes didn’t seem to want to open, and her limbs were unresponsive. Pain lanced through her head. Damn stunners. Two at point blank range, she was lucky she hadn’t gone into respiratory arrest.
"She abandoned you." It was that snippy reporter, what was her name?
"She had no choice." Simon again, "They caught her when she tried to get me. After she escaped, she couldn’t try again. She couldn’t. I understood that."
"She doesn’t look dangerous." Was that the President?
"Nasty Bitch. I ought’a kill her." Poor Commander Marlin, still holding a grudge.
"She’s not normal. She’s got no conscience worth mentioning." The woman again.
"She cares about me." She could tell by the tone of his voice that he didn’t believe it.
I’m sorry. I tried! I just didn’t do a very good job.
"Yeah, keep telling yourself that. Do you know what’s going to happen to you, when you get back to Earth? You’re not a human, and you don’t have ANY rights. You’ve broken the law and they’re going to put you down like a rabid dog."
"It’s time and past for ichimps to be treated fairly." Yes, it was the President, making a speech, no less.
"It’s not that bleak, for heavens sake. I can defend myself."
"Yeah, right Mata Hari’s mad chimp son. SHE’S not a normal human herself, is she?"
"No, she got a dose of that virus the Communist Chinese used to enhance their guards."
"She’s a commie?" asked the President. "Wait a minute—are you talking about those Red Enclave Guards—the supersoldiers?"
"That’s right, sir." The feminine voice continued, "I had thought that Mata Hari, umm, May Huang being one was just a modern legend, I mean, I heard they only infected pregnant women they knew were carrying boys."
"Yes, and most of the women miscarried almost immediately, including her mother," said Simon. "The other women were given contraceptives afterwards, but her mom was a leader in the underground insurrection. Apparently they had to flee, right after she was infected, and by the time they got to Taiwan, she had miscarried and was pregnant again. Or it could have been her father the police were after. He was a thief."
"Ah, a rebel and a thief for parents, that explains a lot." Ace, was that was her name? Acorn? It was something like that.
Don’t talk to her, Simon, she’s just writing a story. But the words didn’t come out. She thought that maybe if she tried a little harder, she might be able to force her eyes open.
"Instead of an obsessive follower, she’s an obsessive criminal. Does she have the speed and strength the Red Guards are supposed to have?"
"She’s got really fast reflexes, and she’s stronger than most humans. She’s nearly as strong as I am," said Simon. "With rejuve treatments becoming common, it’s hard to tell whether or not she’s got the improved teleomere repair mechanism." She could see him nod, in her mind. "Although I think she does. She’s always looked this young." She didn’t feel young, at the moment.
"What about the special stuff?" Marlin’s suspicious voice, "Can she do the fast stuff?"
Her hands twitched, and she managed to open her eyes. They refused to focus or co-ordinate. Oww! She closed them again.
"Mother? Mother, can you hear me?" She was barely touching a surface, someone was holding her still in zero G. Simon, of course.
"What?" she croaked.
"Beringar isn’t sure he can trust you, so he decided to play it safe and get you out of the way while his shuttles from Venus unload and while they evade Ori and the Marines."
"Engineering?" she forced out.
"What about engineering?" Simon was puzzled, and suddenly suspicious. "Is there something else going on?"
"Yes." She tried to move, not getting much beyond twitches from her hands. At least she seemed to be thinking reasonably well. The head ache was receding, too. Hurrah for fast healing. "Those won’t be the shuttles from Venus coming in, it will be a couple of long range cargo ships from Earth, loaded with ichimps. Viva la Revolution, or something like that."
"Ivan’s attacking?" Simon asked in disbelief. "All the ichimps in the world can’t take this ship, we’re bred to be passive and obedient."
She forced open her eyes. "Most of them will be doing the passive resistance thing. All the workers, and all the ichimps we could get away from Earth early are already onboard, down in three of the living spheres. They should be taking over engineering right about now, and Fred and Mike will seal the control room and George will sit out the siege in environmental." She shut her eyes as they still refused to focus. "I was supposed to be dealing with Beringar about now. I hope Ivan’s ready for a forced boarding." She dragged an arm up to her face but couldn’t read the time.
"0238," Simon said.
"Oh. I hope Ivan was prepared to force board."
"And all the ichimps on the hijack crew were in on it." Simon stated.
She opened her eyes again. They appeared to be in one of the airtight storerooms. "Yes. And the humans mostly worked for me." She studied him, he didn’t appear to have been stunned, nor the reporter or the President. "When did they shove you in here?"
"Before the shuttles were due; you were already here." Simon answered, "So I’m afraid I don’t know anything you don’t."
May sat up, floating off the floor as Simon released her. She turned on her mags and set her feet down. She touched her tender head and frowned in thought, "Have they fired up the engines?" She examined the door. It wouldn’t slide.
"Why should they?" asked Ace. "The ichimps must want to go to Alpha Centauri as much as Beringar does."
"Oleg Ori’s closing in on us with, no doubt, a full load of troops, not to mention the Marines. They won’t be armed with stunners." She shifted her attention to the panel beside the door. "Ivan’s going to get a nasty surprise of his own, if he’s not careful."
"I suppose Ori might as well come along and shove me around and lock me up like everyone else." Bussard muttered. "Oh, well, it’s more fun than campaigning." He perked up, "Have any of you seen any polls, lately? How’re my popularity ratings doing?"
Chapter Twenty Six
Suzi Q slid the big lumpy ship up to the docking assembly like it was on rails, the faintest bump as the locking ring clamped down. Ivan had all the kids away from the airlock, and kept quiet under the fierce frown of his Little Sergeant.
"Still no word from May?" he asked the image on the screen.
"Nothing." Fred sounded worried, "You know what a stickler she is for timing and I can see on the camms that she’s not in the docking area at all."
"OK, call down for reinforcements, anybody that thinks they might be able to fight, or at least look fierce, get someone to take over for you and lead them into Beringar’s group from the rear."
"Right." Fred sounded horrified, but his pic blipped out and presumably he was calling for help.
Ivan hesitated, but left his laser over his shoulder and drew his stunner. I hate these things! I’d rather kill someone than risk turning them into an idiot. If they’re too far away I can’t shoot them and any that are within arms reach are at risk.
Fortunately Beringar was still expecting his colonists. Fred had substituted false data for the lidar readings, and ‘relayed’ messages to Beringar that he had made up whole cloth. The workers at the Venus construction site worked on in blissful ignorance, Beringar’s recruiting speech having suffered from an ‘intermittently faulty’ antennae. There were only seventeen people in the docking bay. He could take them, bloodlessly if they’d just all get within stunner range of the airlock.
He waited, his metabolism half way revved and ready to spring into action, watching on the monitors as Beringar reached the airlock and started cycling it. As it opened, some of his guards finally caught up to him, he could see their mouths moving, but the feed Fred was sending was picture only. If the guards were worth their pay they ought to be saying something along the lines of ‘Let us go first, just in case.’
The trailing end of the group that had followed Beringar came within Ivan’s mentally marked perimeter, so he triggered his side of the airlock.
"Sorry, we’re a bit confused here, such a rush!" he falsettoed from the darkened interior, stunner aimed low for torso shots at the first rank. The guards relaxed automatically, then snapped back as their subconsciouses kicked them. By then it was too late. His stunner hummed twice, then he was out of the airlock and among the enemy.
Chapter Twenty Seven
"There! The Docking bay’s empty! Slot 5 is mine!" Oleg was quivering in eagerness, "Woods, the slot next to the President’s shuttle is empty! You grab it."
"Slow down, Ori! We need to get on board simultaneously. AND FREEING THE PRESIDENT IS OUR ABSOLUTE PRIORITY!" Woods sounded pissed. He might have at least been grateful that Oleg had given him the frequency and encryption of the spy cams.
"Your Priority, not mine," Oleg snarled. He cued the pilot anyway, "wait till Woods is in position. Then dock." He scanned the wall monitor, again. The top third of the screen was in four sections, showing the docking bay, the control room, the corridor outside the control room and a section of corridor showing the closed doors of storerooms. Ichimps had been towing stunned humans down to the store rooms and locking them in. The other eight displays rotated through the other cams in the forward section and engineering. The bitch and her co-conspirators had been locked up for five hours, now. Why hadn’t the ichimps let her out? Friends, enemies or just ignorant? He grinned nastily. He’d bet that with several teams of ichimps towing in stunned victims and locking them up, they’d all assumed that particular locked room was filled by someone else. Pity he hadn’t put cams in the storerooms. He’d love to see her trapped and trying to escape. He jerked forward in his seat suddenly.
"What the hell’s that?" The upper left spy cam showed a brown streak, flying down the corridor, bouncing from wall to wall, apparently able to gain purchase on the edges of doors, light fixtures and control pads. "Is that a cat?" The creature stopped at one doorway and started scratching at the numeric locking pad. Now that it was still, he could see it was more like a ferret than a cat. The door pad it was attacking was one of the locked storerooms being used for a jail. Wasn’t that the room Beringar had been stuffed into? If it could get the door open . . .
He slapped the comm button, "Dock now, prepare to board, NOW!"
"Don’t worry, Honey," soothed Beringar, tightening his arm around Prissy Vanderville. He ignored Ms. Stick’s rolling eyes. "They can’t have gotten everyone, and even if they did, there’s no way they’ll be able to keep May Huang locked up."
Several other inhabitants of the room perked up at that thought. "That’s true," said Cocoa, relief at the thought coloring her voice.
Mike Perris shook his head. The navigator looked a little thoughtfully at Beringar, and turned back to the door frame they were trying to disassemble. "Hey, I hear something!" He flattened to one side of the door, John Sharp took the other.
Beringar put Prissy firmly behind him, and launched himself at the door as it hissed open. He shot across the empty corridor and bounced off the far wall, spinning to locate someone to hit. The only someone was a small brown rodent clinging to the control panel. "Hot Damn! I love furry critters!" He turned and threw himself at the next door, "Quick, let everyone out! We need to get to the control room, before they notice we’re loose."
"GOD DAMMIT, you can’t just leave!" SpiderJohnny yelled, "You’re safe in here! I have everything back together and working. We can go away, just you and me!"
"I told you," Kirby gritted her teeth, dear god but those hormones dropped you fast! "I am a government agent. I HAVE to find the President!" She finished pulling on her skinsuit and swung out the door.
Spider followed her. "But you’re an ichimp, those mother fuckers’ll just enslave you again." He grabbed her arm and braced himself against the door frame, trying to stop her. "Wait, wait! I know. I’ll BUY you. Then no one will every be…"
"Buy? BUY!" Kirby dropped her voice to a hiss, "You better hope I never hear you say that again, or I’ll find out how well attached those extra arms of yours are!"
"What did I say? OH SHIT, that was stupid! I’m sorry, I’m sorry," Spider babbled, "I’ll help you! I’ll do anything!"
Kirby popped the outer hatch and scanned the docking bay. It was empty. No one was guarding anything. Where was the President? Had they released him? But no, the shuttle was still there. She floated down to the center dock and popped the hatch, yes, this was definitely Space Force One. Closing the hatch, she gave a hard shove, up to the ceiling, for a quick swing around a cable located there for that express purpose, then launched herself into the main corridor. Unfortunately, Spider followed, gracefully swooping after her, still babbling.
"I love you, DAMMIT! Come with me, I can protect you in the asteroid belt! I have a million fucking friends there!" He really was the most foul mouthed, as well as irritating, person she’d ever met.
"How many times do I have to TELL YOU," now he had HER yelling! "I am a free ichimp, enlisted in the armed forces on a covert op assignment?"
"AH, FER SHITS SAKE! You don’t have to pretend with me, I love you the way you are! Christ! If I’d realized what a chimp could do with those feet I’d have bought one long ago!"
Kirby activated her mags and clicked down to the floor. As Spider floated up she landed an open handed slap that echoed in the empty corridor and sent him careening back into the docking bay. She turned and headed deeper into the ship. From the volume of his cursing, SpiderJohnny was still following.
May Huang had the door frame loose and was poking into the wall space when the door slid open. Caught with her hand jammed, she was slower to respond than Ace.
Ace pounced through the door, her war cry of, "You!" was followed by a meaty thunk and indignant yell.
Simon, on her heels, grabbed her. "Quit that!" He had to use both feet and hands to pry her off Beringar, who floated off rubbing his abdomen. Simon hissed in her ear, "we need him to fight the chimps, so we can get Bussard out of here!" Marlin, ready to join the fight, gritted his teeth and settled back as well.
May scrapped her hand yanking it out of the wall. "Well Beringar, what a pleasure." Her voice was dry. Perris and Cocoa exchanged alarmed glances. She glanced over her shoulder at the President. "Come on out. It’s more or less safe. Mr. President, I suggest you come with us, sir; as soon as we have control again we’ll get you out of here, and on your way home." The corridor was filling rapidly as Beringar’s crew was released. "Am I right to assume that you’ve been incarcerated by the ichimps and we now also have OOO Security and the Space Marines on board?"
"I don’t think they’re quite on board yet, no thanks to you." Beringar snapped, "I’m going to retake control, and spread out from there." He led off to the left. May Huang hesitated, then trailed the group.
The President lagged a bit, with Ace, Marlin and Simon. They exchanged glances. Simon was the first to vocalize their mutual thoughts. "Why don’t we go the other way, instead?"
As they floated off they heard the alarm sounding.
Woods felt like tearing his hair out as he saw the OOO shuttle maneuvering into the docking assembly. "Blithering idiot will set off every alarm on the ship!" he bitched, barely restraining himself from urging more speed from his own pilots. Mic Freydon and Joe Bastone had their hands full. The Martian Express was an old fashioned cargo hauler, not a speedster. It was larger than a shuttle and neither Joe nor Mic had ever docked it before. He checked again that the Marines were ready, just a nervous reflex, really, they were reassuringly professional.
The Advanced Combat Vehicle, without a pilot, was still attached to the top hatch. The cannon was manned by the two marines Sgt Freeman had considered the least experienced at zero g hand-to-hand fighting. If anyone tried to take the President off the Chamberlain, well, they couldn’t fire on them—but anyone else was fair game.
Corporal Wolfe was fiddling with his laser rifle, again, while flipping through the monitors. The status lights were off. Sgt Tsau had removed the power cartridge. Theoretically he would give it back before they debarked.
"Sir, sir!" yelped Wolfe, "We’ve got the President on vid! They’re escaping!"
Woods hastily pushed himself over in front of the monitor, then groaned, "Not for long!" Two dozen ichimps, poured hastily out of a tram in front of them. The ichimps looked as surprised as the President’s party. The ichimp that seemed to be with the President shoved Bussard behind him, the woman grabbed Bussard and pulled him down the corridor, the man retreating after them, his eyes on the ichimps.
As the ichimp troops moved in on them, yet another ichimp rounded the corner behind them. She was moving fast, and collided with two of the troop before she could stop herself. Then she saw the President – and planted a kick on the head of the nearest ichimp! "Kirby! That’s Kirby! Get’em gal! Dammit, where’s Ori and his toughs?"
"They are off the shuttle and moving on the control room," reported one of the marines, watching a different view on a small screen. "They’ve encountered another group of ichimps and are exchanging fire. The ichimps seem to be armed with pellet guns and stunners. Ori’s thugs have lasers. And few compunctions about using them." He winced a little at something he saw. "They’re not very careful about their background. Ori’s yelling at them, they’re switching to stunners now."
"Docking," Mic sounded relieved. The light over the airlock turned red as the ship jolted into the docking assembly and was locked in place.
The light slid through amber to green and Chuck sent the shock troops through just ahead of himself.
They were in the middle of a battle from the start. The ichimps had had just enough warning to get a minimum of troops to the dock. Fortunately, ‘troops’ was a misnomer. The ichimps, untrained in tactics or group maneuvers, mobbed the airlock rather than standing off and shooting anyone that came out. In moments, the marines’ stunners had sidelined half the ichimps. The remainder of the ichimps they pushed back toward the corridor, the hand-to-hand melee screening the marines from the stunner fire of newly arriving ichimps.
Ganging up on the chimps, and using stunned ichimps for shields, they reached the main corridor and forged on. The ichimps yielded suddenly, backing past the ring corridor and shutting an airtight door between them.
"Gas?" Speculated Woods, his voice muffled by the combat helmet, "They can’t think that would work?"