by Michæl W. Bard
Text ©2007 Michæl W. Bard; illustration ©2007 Cubist
-= 14 =-
Darrvid was dead.
I floated there, at the end of a long, yellow safety line. My buddy was politely stayin far away because I had to do this. Id insisted on it. In front of me was Darrvid, cold, dead. I hadnt believed he was gone til Id seen him. When the light caught him, when I seen it was him, it was like an electric shock explodin along my nerves. His eye sockets were empty, puckered explosions. His flesh looked undamaged, but I could see pustules along his lips, on the bare skin of his fingers. One hand was clenched around his cyanide capsule, which was open and empty. His clothin was torn, and his mouth was wide open in an eternally silent scream.
Darrvid was dead. Floatin in the vacuum, taken by the Breath Sucker.
It was almost a year after Id talked to Eddie on High York. Durin that time Id made a number of trips, got some more of Docs friends to come up. Sent up the genetic material from Nicholine and it was safe. New Ceres was gettin noticeably crowded, Kirri and her compatriots was busy. We even had our first mayorPhil Guthurna rabbit fur. Won by a landslide; hell, Id voted for him myself. Cæsar got hisself Brainified, but I hadnt talked to him since he went under the knife. In addition to bringin people up, Id been smugglin light weapons. Not many, just a few. Inspection was easy to get past. Id learned shootin when I was youngnever was much good at it, but it came back to me. Eddie, he was still on High York. Id gotten confirmation from him of the Brain ships, information that they were buildin them rapidly. Hed even applied and been accepted into the program. And the Companys goddamn directives got more and more extreme. Oxygen tax went up, pay rates went way the hell down, and petty little rules sprouted like weeds. No talkin after nine pm, censorship of language from Earth broadcasts. It was like the Company was goin out of its way to piss people off.
And then Darrvid died. Or suicided.
I floated there, my breath loud in my helmet. My stomach turned over and I had to will myself not to be sicknot somethin you want to happen when youre in a space suit. Not for the first time, I, like so many others, wished there was a way to get your hand to touch your face, in my case right now to wipe away tears.
We picked up Darrvid on radar a few hours ago; sent some cameras to figure out what he was, and they confirmed his identity. Forget the vidsvacuum dont make you explode or anythin, it just makes your soft tissues burst, and then all the water slowly boils out through your husk once youve suffocated, leavin a perfectly preserved, perfectly dry mummy. Custom for a body was to send a friend to get it, and Id taken the orbital shuttle Aphrodite out to recover him. My buddy was another friend of Darrvids, one I didnt know well, a feline, and a really touchy one. We had us a huge argument on who got to get the body, but Darrvids will listed me as his nearest kin on New Ceres. It was my job. Didnt really trust the feline as my buddy, but at that point I didnt really care.
Feelin bile in my throat, I felt around and found one o Docs bug-jammersthe one Id given himin his coverall pocket. I put the gizmo in one of mine. Theyd autopsy the body, and the rebellion couldnt afford the Company findin that little toy.
Felitch yeah, I got him.
About time! Ill be there in a few minutes.
You just stay where you are! I thought wed settled this! Ill bring him back. Its whatits what he would have wished. The feline started to yowl somethin, but I switched off the radio. I didnt care.
Its odd. We get buried at space, dumped into a decayin orbit thatll take us into the sun. But if somethin happensan accident, murderthe bodys always brought back to a station before bein sent back out. Id never had to do it before, thank God, but now
Now I thought I could understand why that tradition existed.
Through blurred vision I gently grabbed Darrvids ankle, the dried flesh under the cloth crackin a bit under my gentle pressure. My stomach couldnt take anymore and I dry-heavedId been afraid of this and hadnt ate or drank anythin. A bit o foul bile splattered my helmet, its acid stench filled my nostrils. My stomach stopped, either havin nothin left, or knowin it was futile. Cockin my head I looked at Darrvid and saw that Id clenched tight, crushin flesh and muscle, I could feel my fist now holdin the bone. I didnt let go cause I didnt know if I could grab him again. With fumblin motions, I switched my radio back on.
damn it Eeysmarn! Answer me!
Felitch, everythinsI got him. Just
Why the hell didnt you answer?
Just shut up and drag me in. Just please.
Thank God he shut up and pulled me in, the buddyline tuggin me closer and closer towards him as the stench slowly cleared from my helmet, filtered out by the air system.
-= 15 =-
Felitch and I got the body back to New Ceres. He did most of the work, I
I was just there. Maybe he understood, maybe he didnt. I didnt care. They took the body for the autopsy and I just signed forms like a robot. I slept, woke up, ate, showered. Leastways, thats what Im told. The investigation didnt take long: Darrvid died of asphyxiation when he ran out of oxygen. Either he hadnt taken the cyanide, or he took too little, or somebody was lyin. There was no record as to how he got out there, cameras were blank in the period in question. That made no sense.
Darrvid was dead.
Didnt matter though, cause I knew. Company goons had tried to take him, and hed suicided to keep from betrayin me. The cyanide told me that that was the reason. The fact that he was holdin it was a signal. Most likely, the Company penetrated one of the cells below Darrvid, and traced the links up to him. Hed stopped the damage. How many cells below was compromised, I didnt know. There were safeguards, the Docd find out and modify the system to re-establish conventional links.
But Darrvid was dead. And I was mad. No, not mad, livid. Before Before, this was somethin that had to be done. But now? Now, I didnt even care anymore. I just wanted one thing.
I couldnt hate the Brains, not when Cæsar was one. But I figured that, like humans and furs, there was good Brains, and bad Brains. The Doc and I got together to talk about Darrvids death, without Kirri. The three of us never did meet all together, to keep from makin anybody suspicious.
Darrvid was dead. And whoever was responsible, I was goin to make the son of a bitch pay.
Doc, who the hell would have done this!?
The Doc lit up another pipeful o whatever crap it was he smoked. That, my boy, is an excellent question, he said. I think we may take it as read that one or another of the Companys functionaries is responsible; as I told you, Shean, rebellion is a dirty business. On the other hand, it is at least logically conceivable that it could have been an accident. I mention this solely for the sake of completeness, inasmuch as the loss of all the video records for the time in question
Shut up, Doc! Just shut up! Who would know? Who would God damned fuckin know!?
I found myself standin in front of the doc, pushed up on the tips of my hooves so that my muzzle was almost up to his neck. My hand was around his shirt and I had yanked the Docs head down to a level with my own. Who? Would? Know? His pipe dropped from his lips and clunked to the floor, the scent of burnt tobacco rich in my nostrils.
The Docs breath rasped loudly in my ears as they leaned forward, and I felt his fear. Shamefaced, I let go, turned away, clomped over to the wall and leaned against it, tears once again brimmin from my eyes. ImIm sorry
Shean. You cant handle it like this. Theres too much of a risk. Ill Ill try to find out. But quietly. Softly. Maybe when were done
If were done. If! No way in hell Im waitin that long!
Shean, you have to! Its only been a year
Doc, the drive is almost attached. New Ceres is scheduled to move out in four months. How long we gonna wait? How long we goin to let thesethese bastards get away with this?
He sighed, and picked up his pipe from the floor. Mike would know.
I turned and stared at him. Mike?
The Brain here on New Ceres. Even if the tapes were erased, Mike would assuredly be aware of their content. Either hed know because he was watching the rebellion to help it along, and he was watching Darrvid, or hed know because he helped set it up.
Fine! Ill ask him myself
Somehow the Doc got between me and the door. And what reason will you give Mike for this inquiry?
Your options are few. Imprimus, you may tell the truth, in which case youve damned us all. He knows youre not in the original rebellion, and it is, quite simply, imperative that Mike not become aware of ours! And if you claim to be in any revolution, Mike will, assuredly, figure it out. Ergo, truth is most inadvisable. Secundus, you can lie to himor at least you can make the attempt. Shean, you know that youre not good at deceit. I can offer instruction, but there are all kinds of things that can give you away. Variations in body temperature, subtle voice tones, word choiceand you know that Mike will be looking for them all.
I stared at the Doc, my blood hot, nostrils flared for fight instead of flight. I dont care.
Shean! Will you do me the courtesy of shutting up and listening for a minute! Youcannotask! Period! Ill Ill get Kirri to ask. Shes in the old rebellion, after all; it would be eminently plausible for her to be suspicious. In fact, shes always suspicious. Ill let you know. Just Just dont do anything. Okay?
I I remembered the weight of the people on New Ceres; there was somethin like fifteen thousand now. Okay, Doc. Fine. Ill wait. But you get her to ask, and you get her to ask now. You got me? And you tell me what Mike tells her!
I will. Just be patient.
Noddin, I turned and stomped out, my rubber boots squeakin on the stone steps out of the library.
Yeah, the Doc did get Kirri to ask. And Mike said hed caught what happened, an it had been an accidenta mistake.
Kirri told the Doc, the Doc told me, and I told the Doc that I was leadin the assault on Mike when we took New Ceres.
You know, you probably think I was crazy. And, youre probably right. Youve read about this, you know what happened, when it happened. To you its just facts, historynames on papera voice youre listenin to. You didnt know Darrvid. But I did! He was my friend. Possibly my best friend. He was closer to me than family. His death still hurts me.
To you, this is just a dusty ol story. Its history, one furs perspective. But to me it was murder. It was the murder of my best friend.
It was real.
-= 16 =-
We had the wake about a week laterits what Darrvid wanted. With some of the money he left me, I rented The Bronze Unicorn, one of the higher class dives. Invitations went out to everybody on his contact list. Some I knew well, some I didnt, and some Id never met. The wolves who rescued him from the cage he grew up in got invited; I made a special trip to Earth to pick em up. And there were others. Felitch was there, too. The party was loud, lots was drunk, lots was nibbled, toasts were made, memories were told.
The only oddball, the one who made no sense, was a small, mousy woman who kept to herself in the back. Now, if she was just a furry-type mousy woman, that would have been almost understandable. But she was a mousy lookin human. I made my way over to her when the party was warm, but before I got too drunk, cause somethin didnt add up. Grabbin a bowl of extra spicy wingsthe hamburgers was all goneI pushed through the crowd to her.
When I got close, I recognized her. Through her red eyes, her lonely eyes. She was the woman I seen in Darrvids control room, the one I suggested he bring into his cell. There was a space around her, like a moat, and I could almost feel a collective intake of breath when I crossed it.
May I sit down, Miss..?
She looked up, her eyes slowly focussin in on me. Shruggin, she watched as I sat down on the far side of the booth, the table between her and myself.
Puttin down the wings, I motioned to them. Help yourself.
She just turned away.
Lowerin my voice, I said, Its odd, you bein here. I wouldntve expected it.
She nibbled on her lips. I I needed to. To see to see that he was really gone.
Pullin out the Docs gizmo, I put it beside the wings and switched it on. The lights blinked from green to red. At that point I didnt care if Darrvid had recruited her or not; I was goin to. This was a revolt against the Brains, not humans.
She squeaked and her eyes got wide when she saw the device. Yeah, she recognized it.
Whats your name? I missed it.
Umm Megan. Megan Chornton.
I nodded. Ive seen you in the control room. With Darrvid.
She slowly nodded.
I grabbed mself a wing an started tearin off the spicy meat. Chewin and swallowin the mouth full, I asked, Did you know Darrvid well?
I She paused, looked away, crossed her hands on her lap. Not really.
Whyre you here then? I motioned at the others on the far side of the moat. Nobody else seems to care for you. Darrvid wasnt much for humans.
Somebody had to break the ice. You was in his cell, werent you?
She looked at me like a mouse caught in a flashlight, her eyes wide and flickin back and forth, lookin for an escape.
I ate another wing to give her some time to relax. Youve already answered me, you know. I motioned to the jammer. Im the one who gave him his.
Oh, God She leaned forward, sobbin on the table. What am I going to do?
Megan, you aint supposed to cry here. Youre supposed to remember the good times. The fun times. Remember the joy he brought into your life.
She looked at me, a kind of hatred bubblin behind her eyes at my joy.
Megan, you got no idea. I been his friend for nigh-on ten years. Met him in the academy. Consider him my best friend. So many memories I turned away, blinkin rapidly. Ive cried, Ive sobbed. For hours, all night, sleepin in a bed drenched with them. It only helps so much, y know.
She just looked at me.
Do you know why he invited you into his cell?
She shook her head.
I asked him to.
Darrvid he didnt have a good childhood. He wasnt born free; his mother, well, she was a prisoner of some underground blood sports managers. Theyd twitched her genes for speed and violence. Dont know how she got pregnant, doubt Darrvid knew. If he did, he never told me. He watched her when they tried to take her away from him, make her fight. The bastards whipped her to death in front of him. They was humans, you know.
She just looked away.
Megan, theres good humans and bad, just like theres good furs and bad. I tried to teach Darrvid that, he tried to understand. God, how he tried I blinked back new tears and grabbed another wing and wolfed it down.
She spoke in a quiet voice, so quiet I could barely hear her. You furs hate us, dont you?
No. Not all of us. Some of us, maybe most. I dont. I was lucky, lovin family, lovin humans. But a lot o your kind hates usand some of us just return that. Its a vicious circle.
How did he get free?
Some UN police busted in just as they turned the whip on him. A pair o wolves that had been trackin the ring. They didnt have enough to take it to trial, but they heard him screamin and burst in. Theyre both here somewhere. One, Wandrerrct, didnt even ask for surrender; he just ripped out the throat of the man who was whippin Darrvid. Officially he was suspended without pay, but hes told me about the party the force held for him. Damn near any of em wouldve done what the samehe was just the one who got to.
Darrvid never mentioned any of that He didnt even talk to me much. Took me aside a couple of times, asked me questions. I thought I was being investigated or something. Then he sprung this whole revolution on me.
I told him to recruit you, to try an get to know you. I dont want this thing to be furs against humans. We need to work together, live together. But I asked him into this thing. In a sense I well, I guess I killed him.
I couldve left him out, just avoided him. Never been any good at keepin secrets. But he had skills, and he was needed, so I talked him into it. Sure, I knew what could happen, but I never expected it wouldnever felt itd happen to me or anybody I knew.
Its not your fault!
Maybe not, but it's my responsibility. If it wasnt me, somebody else would have gotten him. He was just too important. Better it came from a friend.
Youre Shean Eeysmarn, arent you?
I nodded and started workin on another wing.
He told me about you. Nothing specific, just things. When that Stapledon was rescuing you, hed turned off the microphone, but we could all see him crying, hoping.
Megan, its a dirty thing we have to do. And no, I didnt come here just to link you back up with the rebellion. No thats secondary. You was alone, and we all need somebody at times. Specially now.
She nodded. Her hand zipped out, grabbed a wing, and zipped back.
You can get out, if you want. I wont tell. Just drop outIll cover for you.
She lowered her voice. Shean, I I cant. Its just wrong. Itd be a betrayal of Darrvid.
I yeah it would. Betrayin him, betrayin our hopes. I dont know how many humans we got out here, not many I fear. Im afraid of whats goin to happen. We need you.
Yep. Need you, the human. To force down their throats that humans arent bad, at least not all. I looked at her, then nodded. Congratulations. You run the cell now. Ill leave it to you to get a replacement third.
Pickin up the jammer, I switched it off and handed it to her. Enough talk. I I looked at her, really looked at her. She hadnt known him long, but shed cried at his death just as I had. Lemme tell you about Darrvid.
-= 17 =-
The official news came down last night: Company Directive 27-113: All pilots and related support personnel are terminated, effective immediately.
It was four months after Darrvid was murdered. The official investigation said it was suicide. Megan recruited a new cellmate, and the revolution went on. The drive installation was finished two weeks ago and had passed final testin. An that was when the goddamn Brains made their move! Apparently they had enough Brain-ships, so now they was dumpin all of us thatd done their dirty work for the past two centuries. Throwin us out likelike trash! Oh, there was more to the directive. Company-supplied apartments was revoked, current inhabitants had two weeks to vacate. Yes, that included me. Terminated personnel were immediately responsible for payin their oxygen tax. It just went on and on.
My rubber-booted hooves thumped on the stone path that led to the Docs. Theyd landscaped the park, grass was growin, a few small trees was planted, but the fountain was still dry. Still wasnt enough water for luxuries like that. I didnt even care. Knockinor was that bangin on the door? whicheverit didnt take long for the Doc to let me in.
We need to talk, I said.
He looked at me, eyes blinkin as he rubbed sleep out of them. It had better be important, Shean. I trust you recall that your tutoring doesnt start for another five hours? You know I hate mornings.
I just glared. Tutorins overIm fired. I got two weeks to find a place to live, or start payin for what I have now.
Ah He blinked some more. Well, then. In that case, I suppose you had better come in. Let me see if I can brew up some coffee. Ill I will of course offer whatever assistance I may. I have space
He motioned me in, and I followed, slammin the door shut behind me. Soon we was in the basement, the security was active, and I was pourin myself a shot of vodka while the Doc made himself some coffee, black. I gulped the vodka, and gulped a second, and was about to start on a third when the Doc stopped me. One hand was on my shoulder, the other held his coffee mug whose scent was thick in the air. He pushed my arm down until the glass tinked on the counter beside the open bottle.
Shean. You knew that this was going to happenhow could you not? You prognosticated it your-
But its so fuckin sudden! Nothin, and then poof! Im on the scrap heap.
Well, yes. May I ask how you are situated? Will you be all right in the short term?
I sighed. For a few months, sure. I got enough socked away to afford the rent an oxygen tax. Dont know what theyll charge me, but Im fine. Too fuckin many others arent, though!
Indeed, provided that one restricts ones attentions to that segment of the Rocks populace which is directly affected by this new directive The Doc spent a bit o time starin at nothin in particular, then spoke up again. Shean, may I ask how large that segment actually is? Your best guess will do; any more accuracy than one significant digit would be superfluous.
I scratched my chin, the scents of alcohol an coffee minglin as I parsed his request. Maybe a thousand
He nodded. I concur. And you should be aware that there are close to twenty thousand on New Ceres, or at least there were last time I checked.
Yes, Shean. That many. Surely you have been aware of the number of trips youve made in the past year, and the number of passengers youve transported on each trip? And, of course, that does not take into account the thousands of persons who resided here before that.
Jesus, he was right Then were screwed if we wait. We gotta do it now, or at least real soon.
I think not
Well, then, you think wrong, Doc. Lookwe need technical types t run the Rock, okay? We need the people whore gettin drove away by this latest goddamn directive. So if we dont light the fuse now, I figure the thousand we got will be down to five hundred by the end of the week, an maybe two hundred by the end of the month. An then where will we be?
I trampled his words. In a month, there wont be enough trained specialists on this rock to run it!
He sighed. Shean, I dont dispute anything you have told me here and now. I merely observe that as a matter of practical fact, we cannot hope to succeed at this juncture. You said it yourself: There are perhaps a thousand people who are personally inconvenienced by the directive. Therefore, should we put our plans into operation now, we shall have, at a generous estimate, no more than fifteen hundred who want to revolt. As for the Rocks remaining populationwhich, I may point out, will number over eighteen thousandit is not their ox that is being gored, so they shall be opposed. Do you think a revolution can hope to succeed when more than ninety percent of the body politic is, at best, indifferent to its goals? I dont. I say again: If we implement the revolution under present conditions, we shall fail. Period.
Then what the fuck do we do!?
The Doc finished off his coffee. Shean Youre right. Brute necessity dictates that something be done now, but current sociopolitical exigencies dictate failure regardless of what we do He carefully put his glass down. Alright. Shean, Ill thank you to remain in safety for the moment. Do, however, be ready to move at I think two PM tomorrow.
Whatcha got in mind, Doc?
Nothing it would be prudent to inform you of. I expect that youll know what to do when it happens. Accordingly, I would advise you to place your cell in a state of readiness; we can only hope for opportunity to strike once, so we had best be ready to seize it when it does.
I licked my lips. Okay, Ill set it upget control over the asteroid defenses and local space traffic control. But once thats done, Im goin after Mike.
Please, Shean, you know thats Kirris
I dont care! I told you I was gonna be there. You say we start at two; fine. Ill be at the entrance to Mikes vault at three. If Kirris there, great. Otherwise Im goin in myself.
Shean! Will you listen to yourself? You havent any appropriate skillsyoure not needed there
Doc, you shut up! This world sucks. Somethin stinks, an we both know it. Mike knows what happened to Darrvid, Im goin to find out, and then Ill deal with it. Yeah, you were right. Revolution stinks. Its an ugly, messy thing. But I still got some honor, and Im goin to do some things right! You tell Kirri!
With that I stomped out, my hooves ringin on the stone. The Doc mighta said somethin, but I was too pissed to listen. I was out of a job, my life was in shreds, and I was mired neck deep in lies and betrayals. If nothin else, I would do right by Darrvid.
-= 18 =-
I spent the rest of the day gettin royally soused in The Zero-G Rat. Id never been that drunk before. The sensation was odd, warm, sure, but it was the first time I knew what Aunt Neeola meant when she talked about bein drunker than a pile o Catholics. I could see my life in ruins. But
what the hell could I do? I could go home, go on the dole until I went out of my mind. Most of the reality shows were out, they depended on physical confrontations. Some were more intellectual though, maybe one of those? Naah, odds sucked. I could always become a Brain, join Cæsar
And betray everybody who trusted me.
God damn it all!
Most of the pilots were with me there, all of us drinkin and bitchin. Support crew and mechanics had their own place. Bars did a lot of business that day. Im not sure how I got home, whether I made it under my own power, or somebody had taken me. I woke up in bed at local eight am, New Ceres was on Greenwich Mean Time. Head felt like to explode, mouth was dry as a stallions teat. An hour later, after a shower and a whole lot of water, I felt almost alive again.
Got showered and dressed, made sure to put on my cork hoofboots, put the little pistol Id brought up in my pack, and made my way out before noon. Called Megan fore I left and told her to meet me in the Bronze Unicorn. Told her it was important. Wed met a few times after Darrvids wake; nothin personal, just business for the revolution, but I got to know her. Good girl, but shy.
The atmosphere on New Ceres that mornin was quiet. Yesterday was rage, anger, an frustration, but now it sank in. People were thinkin about their futures, figurin what to do next. Wouldnt be surprised if there hadnt been some fightin already about places on shuttles back to Earth. Even though the terraformin was still goin on, the jackhammers echoin in the distance, everybody knew things were changin. I think everybody was startin to worry about their own livelihood.
I got to the Unicorn just before noon. It was mostly empty, just a couple of skunks eatin breakfast near the window. Sittin down in the corner where Megan and I usually met, I watched Rawlin come over, his cloven cervine hooves clickin loudly on the stone. He owned the place, and ran it by himself durin the day before the maids came in at night.
Morning, Shean. The usual?
Yeahbut double it. Didnt eat well yesterday.
He snorted, his ears flickin around nervously. I heard. Id better warn you; no more credit.
Had to after last night. Dont know how many people have nothing saved. Its not you, Sheanyoure good, you always have beenbut I cant make exceptions. Just wanted to let you know. Ill have your lunch in fifteen or so.
Oh. Thanks. If you see Megan come in, you point her over here, will you?
Sure. Is there something betw
Nothin like that! Im just concerned. Shes young, out o work too, and theres too much hatred around here for humans. Called her and were talkin for a while. So keep your dirty mind out of the gutter til your ruttin season comes!
He chuckled. Whatever you say, Shean.
Pullin out my tablet, I downloaded todays paper and started readin. The mass layoff was front page stuff. Thered been a riot last night at the Company office, not too big. Company goons put fifteen in hospital. Editorial said this was just the beginnin; Brains were goin to kick us all out. The Doc probably had a hand in that one. Then lunch came and I started eatin. Big burger drenched in cheese and mushrooms, fries, and a salad to keep Aunt Neeola happy. Food was excellent as usual, and I sucked it down while readin some of the letters to the editor. Lots of ugly rhetoric, no plans.
I finished the salad, looked up, and saw Megan sittin there. How long you been watchin?
Not long. Rawling will be along with mine in a few minutes. Didnt want to bother you.
Oh, that dont really matter. You all right? After last night
I just stayed on duty. Somebody had to. I think the rest understood, but theres a lot of ugliness going round about this.
I know. At least amongst us. Too damned many people on this Rockgonna be real trouble.
With a clink of plates and cutlery, Rawlin put Megans salad and fries down in front of her. You done, Shean? I nodded. Anything else?
Nothin well, better drop off a mug of water. Ill be here a while.
Take your time, Shean, Ill keep the troublemakers away. Ill turn the vid on at two so you can hear the mayors speech.
I blinked. What speech?
It was announced early this morning. Hell probably encourage everybody to be calm, but who knows? Phils a good furmaybe hell have some ideas to keep the peace.
Maybe You said two?
Thats what the announcement said. Enjoy your lunch now, miss. Rawlin turned away, somehow balancin my plates on one hand, their clatterin and clankin a counter-point to the clickin of his hooves.
More from reflex than anythin else, I pulled out Docs little gizmo and set it up. Megan looked at it and I could see the fear in her eyes.
Doc told me to be ready at two. Ive got other business, but you gotta take the control centre. Youve got your plans worked out?
Megan, you gonna be all right? You got a place to stay? Ive got room, and Ive got enough socked away to cover us both for a while.
She stopped eatin and looked at me, and then leaned forward and whispered, I thought you said we were going to move!
Doesnt mean you dont need a place to stay.
Megan, just sit and eat. If you need me, Im here. Somebodys gotta watch out for you.
Ive never done anything like this!
You think I have!? Just you eat.
Whats going to happen at two?
Fuck if I knowDoc wouldnt say. Just said to be ready and that Id know.
She turned away and dug into her meal like someone starvin. I returned to the editorials. There was a lot of ugliness goin round, a lot of hatred of the Company. I hadnt payin attention, but I started pullin up old data about incidents, and ran a graph. Definitely increasin. Lookin at the graph, it seemed so obvious. Who the hell would want to start somethin like that? Brains werent stupid; if I could figure this out, then so could they.
Whats that, Shean?
I turned the tablet around so she could see. Incidents involvin Company goons over the last year.
One thing Megan wasnt was stupid. Its like this is being orchestrated. Shean, what the hell have you been doing?
What? Me? This is all news to me, too! I just run supplies up and down. Havent even been aboard for long enough periods to see this buildin up!
I dont believe
The vid clicked on and the two-metre hologram brightened to show City Hall. A lectern had been set up and a wolf was standin to either side, wearin the badge of the Company.
ayors expected to be out in a few minutes. Theres a large crowd here, and theyre not happy. The Company has stationed extra security around the mayor, and I can see riot police on the roofs of some of the nearby buildings.
Good God I whispered, starin.
I felt Megans hand clutch mine.
The cameras panned around and I could see the crowd in the square. Some I recognized as pilots or support crew. Most I didnt. Some were carryin signs that said things about strike, or more simply GIVE US OUR JOBS BACK. There werent that many support crew, and my back itched as I realized that the Doc had been awful busy settin things up last night. There werent a single human in the crowd, as far as I could see.
The announcer continued: The crowd has been forming since early this morning, chanting and demanding their jobs back. That was when I realized I could make out a dim roar in the background of the broadcast. Couldnt make out words though. Its been orderly so far, but after some of the excesses last night, the Company isnt taking any chances.
Rawlin had pulled up a stool and was sittin with us, watchin.
Here comes Mayor Guthurn now!
The camera zoomed in on the white-furred rabbit dressed in vest and shorts. He hopped rapidly to the lectern, lookin more like an animal than a sophont as his ears bounced up and down. A few jerks threw fruit at him, but he dodged without lookin like it took any effort. Once he reached the lectern, he was all business-like an civilized.
The crowd seems to be quieting to listen to the Mayor speak. And I think hes about to start.
The sound clicked to an audio feed from the mics in front of the mayor. itizens, you need to be calm and orderly. Rioting and violence wont achieve anything.
The crowd roared, shoutin out jobs and food and fuck the Company.
Its absolutely despicable what the Company did to you all last night. But by the contract you all signed when you came up here, they do have the legal right to fire you without warning
Screams of rage drowned him out and he waited for the crowd to calm down a bit.
They have the legal rightbut they do not have the moral right! Im going to talk to the UN Council and I will get justice for you. For all of you!
The cameras focused in on him just in time for his head to to explode like a ripe melon. I remember watchin that bullet dig right in. Fuckin thing went clean through, sprayin blood everywhere. Killed him dead right there. Right as he was promisin justice. An instant later the loud crack of a shot could be heard echoin through the Rock, both from the holo, and from outside the bar. Before the mayors body began fallin over, I heard a voice, loud and clear, roar out from the background: The fucking Company wont let him speak! They killed him so that they could get rid of us. Get rid of all of us!
The cameras moved around wildly, tryin to find who said it, but then switched back to the lectern. Couldnt see the mayors body; not because it fell down, but because hundreds, thousands of furs was swarmin the stairs, takin out the Company goons with tooth and claw. I heard whistles, screams, more gunshots, the crack and kafompth o gas canisters.
And then the holo went dead.
Jesus Christ Rawlin whispered.
-= 19 =-
Ugly suspicions reared up in my mind. This was too convenient. Too God damned fuckin convenient. Hell! The Doc had even set the time! I sat there, stunned at the enormity of it, at the inhumanity of it.
Shean! Megan shouted at me. Weve got to move now! Her voice pattered down on me as though from an immense distance, like water down a high cliff.
I looked at her, at her face, the world a blur. Sounds were distant, unreal.
Theyve declared war on us! The revolts going now whether we want it or not!
What the hell are you talking about? Rawlin asked.
My mouth just hung open. I knew the Doc had set this up. Knew that the Doc had plotted murder. And yet wasnt it in a good cause..?
Megan turned to Rawlin. Its time for us to take the Company down.
I had a choice. Tell Megan, tell Rawlin what I suspected was the truth. Tell them and end the rebellion. Let Mayor Guthurn have been murdered for nothin. Let Darrvids death mean nothin.
Reality snapped back into focus. Megan, you go. Take over the control room. Get your cell in position now.
What about you? she asked.
Im takin care of Mike.
Shean, what the fuck are you talking about? Rawlin burst out.
Rawlin, Im sorry. For a long time now, I, and others, have worried on somethin like this happenin. The Company, the Brains have gone too far. Rawlin, were goin to put a stop to it. You close down, lock your door, bar your window. Dont let anybody in you dont know.
Rawlin looked at me. I watched the light in his eyes crystallize. Shean, you get those bastards that killed the Mayor. You get them and you string them up like the fucking animals they are!
Oh God Closin my eyes I tried to force the knowledge of the lie out of my muzzle. Id made myself an accomplice to evil, and I didnt know if I could ever face Rawlin again. I looked at him, forced myself to look at him. And then I knew what Id have to do: When this was over, when what had to be done was done, Id make sure the Doc paid. Rawlin, Ill get em. Nobody who can do that, I motioned to the dead holo, to anybody deserves to live.
I saw that Megan was still there. Meganget the fuck goin!
She jumped like a deer in a bus headlights and ran out through the door.
Ive gotta move, too. Do what I said, dont let anybody you dont trust in that door until this is over.
Good luck, Shean. Get those bastards!
Reachin into my bag, I drew the small pistol and checked its load. I will, Rawlin, I will. However long it takes.
Standin up, pistol in my hand, I clomped to the door, slow and purposeful. Rage and hatred poured through my veinsbut it was controlled and focused. First Mike, then the Doc. One thing at a time. I opened the door; Rawlin was still standin at the table. The two skunks in the corner was watchin. Rawlin, lock this fuckin door! Then I left, slammin it behind me.
There was a roar outside, the angry roar of an mindless animal. Id suggested some kind of badge, some identifier, but the Doc and Kirri disagreed. Anythin we made could be captured, an then mass-produced an used by the enemy. I didnt know how many people wed recruited into our rebellion, but I knew it wasnt large. The Doc said we wanted a small group of core people to take control of life support, local space control, the asteroid defenses, communications, engineerin, Mike. If we had those, the rest could be sorted out. I knew the Doc and Kirri had gotten some strong arms to get rid of any Company goons but I hadnt wanted to know those details.
Now I wished Id asked more.
I dont know if it was on purpose or an accident, but the light tubes at the core flickered and faded to a dull red glow. Street lights wasnt installed yet, or at least not completely, but bright red emergency lights clicked on. They was for in case of a major puncture. The world was blood red, everythin in it hard angles. In the distance I saw fires burnin, though I wasnt sure what there was to burn. The air was thick with the stench o smoke and dirt, burnin composites, an anger and hate. I kept to the alleys, off the main streets. A mob was gurglin down onebest way to describe it. There was no method to their madness, they was just pushed forward by the ones behind. I had to step over dead bodies, looted, crushed by the mobs.
Turnin a corner I came upon a fur, a raccoon, leanin over the body of a human. He was lootin him, and I could see a knife in his hand, blood glintin off it in the red light. The human was moanin in pain, tryin to keep his guts from spillin out as they poured over his hands. Without thinkin, I emptied a clip into the raccoon; he fell to the street, blood oozin out his wounds. There was nothin I could do for the human but put him out of his misery. With a new clip in I put a single bullet through his head, endin his pain. Nothin else I could do. Not a damn fuckin thing. All I could do was kill. Dont know how long I stood there, disbelievin what Id done. Trainin took over, thered been no thought in it. And now I'd killed. Killed. All I had left was my anger and my hatred.
Next thing I consciously heard was voices shoutin and screamin in the street nearby, gettin louder. They mustve heard the gunshots I fled down the alley, my hooves thuddin on the stone, the sound echoin all around me. I wanted to drop the damn gun, throw it far, far away, but the cold analytical part o me knew Id need it.
I went down more alleys. Hid in a doorway, helpless, as a small group of humans fled down Foote Avenue. A minute later a huge mob of furs, wavin flashlights and broken metal scraps ran after them, hooves and claws clompin and clickin on the stone. I dont know how many there were, I couldnt shoot. Not enough bullets. All theyd have done was turn on me. All I could do was hide in the doorway and let them go.
It took me an hour to reach the vault entrance near City Hall that led down to Mike. Only one thing kept me goin through the horror: My need to know what happened to Darrvid. My need to avenge him. Mike was easy to get to, everybody knew where he was, and the entrance wasnt guarded or even harmed. Everybody trusted the Brains after all. Normally the doors was open, leadin into a room with booths where people could chat with Mike one on one, ask for advice, play games, do whatever. Inside that room was where I found Kirri and her compatriots; a wolf an a husky, and a mouse. All four had body armour an machine pistols, ugly things of cold metal I hadnt brought up. Kirri was standin beside a locked door in the back, watchin the mouse work at an open panel with some electronics.
One of the canines shone a light in my face and I heard the other cock and raise his machine pistol.
Kirri! I shouted, suddenly aware of how inadequate my pistol was.
Hes one of us! Kirri hissed out. Shut up and and let him work, she pointed to the mouse. Her voice was hesitant, and if I didnt know better Id have said she was cryin.
Got it! There was a click and the door opened a bit.
Kirri grabbed it and yanked it the rest of the way. Shean, you stay here!
No way in hell, Kirri! You gonna shoot me?
I could see the canines lookin at Kirri until she finally shook her head. I said hes with us! If I get hit, you listen to him, understood?
The wolf growled out a response, Yeah, I hear you. He turned to look at me. Be damn glad she vouches for you.
Kirri padded through the door with the mouse, the canines followed, and I thumped after, my hooves muffled by the cork. The corridor was cool and brightly lit. We stopped as the mouse opened another door, and then stopped again at another sealed door a short distance further. That was when my tablet chose to beep with an incomin message. Stickin my pistol in my belt, I pulled my tablet out of my pack. As Kirri glared at me, I pressed the receive. There was a cheap mic and speaker on the tablet, quality sucked, but I didnt have time for niceness.
Shean? You there? Megans voice lit up on the screen.
Yeah I hissed into the mic as the husky growled at me.
We Ive got control. Ive locked out all external comm. Theres incoming, asking whats going on. The news broadcast we saw got out. What should I do?
Tell them that forces onboard are gettin things under control, but you know that some of the defensive systems have been compromised. Warn them to stay off until they can be secured.
What if they come anyway?
Then shoot them with the asteroid defenses.
I cant do that!
Megan, you have to. I have no idea whats goin on, how many Company goons are still holed up and ready to make a counter move. If more forces get aboard, were screwed. You have to!
You just want all the dirt on my hands, dont you!
MeganI I swallowed and tried to calm my heart just a little. Megan, I already killed people today: A raccoon who was robbin someone, and a human who had his guts all over the street. Dont you worry none about dirt on your hands, Im so fuckin deep in it youre a saint! Now, do what you have to. Warn em off, say you aint got control, but if they come, its their lookout. Im gonna find out who killed Darrvid.
Get a hold of Doc Tierrahell know whats going on. Co-ordinate with him, do what he says. You got me?
Yes, I Doc Tierra?
Yeah, hes in this too. Im sendin you his number. Add code 666 after you dial, thatll make sure you get through. Tell him I sent you, and Im down with Mike. And tell him thatthat Nicholine aint comin up, so he might as well stop tryin. And that two vodkas are
Through! I heard the mouse hiss as the door started to slide open.
I gotta get movin. Ill call you when I can. Then I broke the connection and hurried after the wolves and thudded my way into Mikes lair.
Lookin around, I remembered Eddies description: The vault was all shinin metal, and the air was cold. Our breaths misted with each breath and I shivered. In the centre of the chamber was a massive metal cylinder, gleamin and dry. Pipes and tubes led to it, comin out of the floor, bolted to the ceilin and then curlin down a central post and into the thing.
A motor whined and I whipped my pistol out and towards a camera that was movin around to focus on Kirri. The wolf was faster, and with a staccato roar, bullets tore into it and destroyed it, leavin behind a sparkin hissin shell.
Kirri? In Gods name, is that you? Even comin out of a tiny little speaker, the voice was calm, melodious, and easy to recognize: It was Mike. Id talked to him lots of times before I got dragged into the revolution. Everybody on New Ceres had talked to him.
Its me, Mike.
Kirri, I think there are some things you havent been telling me. Things that youve kept between God and yourself. And who else is here? I think Shean Eeysmarn, I recognize for sure. Elthen Arness, I see youve put your skills to an unexpected use. And God didnt let me see enough of the wolf and the husky to ID them.
Dont say anything! Kirri hissed, lookin at the pair.
Kirri, in Gods name, why didnt you trust me?
I looked around, at the canines, at the mouse watchin, at Kirri lookin at the post, tears in her eyes. What the hell was wrong with her?
II couldnt take the risk.
And then I looked at the container. Inside that was Mikes brain, and all the metal and electronics that made him into a Brain.
You know I can keep any secrets that God wants me to keep.
Inside was the bastard who knew how Darrvid had died.
I looked at him and spoke, my voice as cold as the room. Mike, who killed Darrvid?
Shean, is it? You must have read the report God helped me write. It was an accident.
Even here, even right to my face, he was lyin! Cut the crap, Mike! It wasnt, and you fuckin know it wasnt! Stop hidin behind your so-called God, and tell me the fuckin truth! With each word I took a step forwards until my muzzle was almost touchin his case.
Shean, what are you doing? Kirri screeched, before waving the canines to lower their guns.
I could see Darrvids dried corpse floatin in front of my eyes. Did you do it, Mike? Did you?
Ive only done what God needs me to do, Shean.
Shut up about your fuckin God! Who killed Darrvid Ruprecht?
Shean, would you believe me if I told you?
Screamin, I crouched down and jumped up and grabbed one of the thicker pipes. It was so cold it burned. Holdin it I climbed up the side of Mikes braincase til my hooves was bracedand then I ripped the godforsaken pipe off. Metal wrenched and screeched, cold gas hissed out, and tubes inside tore drippin out blood and coloured liquid.
Shean, stop! Kirri screamed, and I heard the cockin of guns.
Kirri, Mike said, you know this has to be done. Im safe in Gods hand, where you put me. Lower your guns.
Mikes voice was calm, and full of command, and the canines obeyed.
I collapsed to the floor on my ass, my hands cold and bleedin where flesh froze and tore off, the broken pipe clankin to the floor beside me. I couldnt see through tears as the pain of Darrvids death beat through my body all over again. Who killed him?
Shean as God is my witness, I guess I did.
I knew that something was going on. God helped me work through the clues. Probablity threads led to Darrvid, and I led him into the airlock by making a sound of somebody inside calling for help. Then I sealed the door and asked him what, in Gods name, was wrong, what was going on. I knew he was in the revolution that I believed I was leading, and his recent actions werent making sense.
Why couldnt you have left him alone? Clamberin to my hooves, I grabbed the pipe and started bangin on Mikes shell. Why!?
Shean, as God is my witness, I didnt directly kill him. My report was the truth in that much.
God damn you! I kept bangin away, not even dentin his casin. Some part of mesome ancient animal part that hated and lustedremembered the pistol, dropped the pipe and drew it.
Shean, as God is my witness, I swear I didnt kill him. Darrvid is the one who opened the outer door. He choose to die.
You bastard! You could have left him alone! Why didnt you come after me? Why him? Why!? Grippin the pistol in both hands I aimed it at the cylinder and started shootin. Bullets boomed and ricocheted, the canines dove for cover and one yelped in pain. A bullet passed into the cylinder, liquids oozed out, blood red and oily. A second bullet pierced the bastards shell. I stopped, shakin.
As God is my witness, it was his choice Shean. Kirri, do not fear for me. My fate is in Gods hands.
The pistol fell from my lifeless arms and thunked to the floor. God I could feel my entire body shakin. God damn you!
The flow of the blood and gore slowed to a dribble that glurped down the sides of the cylinder and splashed into a pool around my hooves; the hatred that kept me goin fell to ashes amongst it.
-= 20 =-
What!? Spinnin around I saw Kirri touchin my arm.
Its over Shean. Mike is dead.
I could smell fear and anger, hatred, and blood and oil.
Oh, God. Oh God
At that moment my tablet beeped. Who the hell? I could see everyone lookin at me, so I picked it up and set it to audio only. This, this I swallowed. It was done. This aint a good time
Shean! Its Tierra.
I paid attention, focusin on anythin other than Mike. You all right?
I am doing quite well, thank you. However, I fear we have a problem that needs you to deal with it. The other cells have reported in, and at this point, we have control of internal and external security, of life support, and of the driveeverything. Have you dealt with Mike?
I turned away from the mess Id made. Yeah
A short pause. Shean, how are you doing, if I may inquire?
II dont know
The Doc sighed. Shean, it does not please me to ask this of you at such a stressful time, but you need to talkto everybody.
I fear so. What just happened was not unlike the detonation of a powder keg; the current atmosphere really is exceptionally ugly. There are uncounted, perhaps uncountable, incidents of arson, theft, and Lord only knows what other antisocial acts. On the bright side, if you will forgive the presumption implicit in my use of that word, not a single Company goon yet lives.
Fine. You talk.
I cannot, for the simple reason that I am human.
Shean, furs have been exhibiting most uncivilized behavior, looting and killing not least among their offenses. Unfortunately, I regret to say that of the victims of such offenses, an absurdly disproportionate percentage are human. Any fool could see that there was a certain amount of friction and discontent, but I had no idea of the true extent of this phenomenon!
So get a fur to do your talkin. Just not me.
Shean, nothing would please me more than to allow you some time to yourself at this disagreeable moment. Unfortunately, reality cares not a whit for my pleasure, and the reality of the situation we find ourselves within demands a particular set of qualifications that you, alone, possess. You are a fur; you are a leader in this affair; and the Rocks unwashed masses know you and, more importantly, respect you.
Can this truly surprise you, Shean? The average person hereabouts is aware of you from news reports on either or both of two eventsthe Enterprise/High York collision, and the recent New Ceres near-disasterin which you placed yourself in harms way for the benefit of other sophonts. Quite helpful for our cause, I assure you.
I didnt do those things for the revolution! I did em cause they was right!
No doubt. But regardless of the motives for your acts, it remains true that those acts, and their consequences, are indeed of great benefit to the revolution. Intentionally or otherwise, Shean, you have made yourself our best choice for a public spokesman, and you will fulfill that role.
Why the hell didnt you tell me!?
I would have preferred tobut you wouldnt abandon your obsession with Mike. Really, Shean, whyever do you suppose I wanted you with Megan? Id planned to tutor you a bit, but alas, the crisis came upon us far too quickly.
I could see Kirri lookin at me.
What about Kirri?
Shean, Im sorry to say this, but people wont trust a vixen
Im just as good as any other fur! Kirri screamed.
Of course you are, Kirri. Nevertheless, vixens do have a reputation, and that reputation renders you unsuited to the task at hand. It doesnt matter how competent or important you are; people simply will not look beyond your external appearance. Shean, you are our single greatest hope!
Are you at a place you can talk? With video? Megan is prepared to pipe the feed from your tablet throughout all of New Ceres.
FuckI dont want this!
Shean, what you want isnotrelevant! The fact of the matter is, people are dying and it isnt going to stop!
I I looked around and saw them all lookin at me. Hell I tried to think of somebody else, but came up empty. Darrvid would have been better, but he was dead. God damn Mike! I licked my lips. Okay, Doc. Yeah, I can Just give me a minute or two.
For what? I dont want you cleaned up, I want you looking ruffled and dirty and involved! Be good enough to switch on your video so I can see how you look, please?
Almost numbly I pulled out the microphone and headset and put em on. The tablet had those, too, but their quality sucked. Then I turned the camera on. There
Hmmm The Doc examined me like he was judgin a slab o beef. Yes I think we can work with that Shean, can you disheval yourself a trifle more? Ruffle your mane, get some dirt on your face, maybe even a blood-spatter or two.
I cringed at the scent of blood and death all around me. What the hell you talkin about?
What I speak of is enhancing your efficacy in persuading the slaughter to cease. Shean, you need to look like youve been fighting. Itll make you seem like one of them. The stronger your presence, the faster the killing will stop.
I looked down at the blood pooled on the floor. Yeah blood I got.
Kirri! You know what I want, weve discussed this. Fix him up. Ive got an outline ready, Ill pipe it to his tablet in five minutes. Ill complete the necessary arrangements and preparations here on my end.
Shean, get over here!
Turnin, I focused on Kirri.
I need to get you readyoh, the hell with it. With that she stepped into the muck and, without warnin, slashed her claws cross my muzzle, drawin blood.
I stumbled back, the oily gore suckin at my hooves. What the fuck was that for!?
Its appearance, make you look like youve been in a fight.
You think I wasnt!?
Doesnt matter. Grimacin, she reached down to scoop up some blood an oil from Mikes brain and splash it on my face.
Sputterin and blinkin, I damn near fell down.
Kirri followed and ran her bloody paw through my mane, rubbin it backward and forward, gettin the hairs to stick out every which way.
There. Thatll do. Wish we had more time. Shean, you want me to hold the tablet for you?
No, forget that, hold it yourselfitll shake a bit, make it look better. Willarrrd, you watch the door. Make sure were not disturbed. Shean, move over by that wall, the bare one. Let me just splash some blood on it.
She grabbed me with her bloody paw and dragged me over. All set, Doc! Hes ready to go, best I can make him.
You two been plannin this!
Of course we have! If you were here more often, wed have had a chance to prep you properly.
Shean, the Docs voice came over the headset. Everything is in readiness. Megan is prepared to feed your speech to the news and display you on every system video. Shell run your audio over every speaker and alert siren throughout the Rock. Can you see the script?
I looked; it was showin up on my tablet.
Yeah, I can.
Excellent, Shean. We are now switching you over to Megan, who shall tell you when to begin. Megan?
There was clicks in the background, and then Megan spoke up: Ive got your feed running through the master board, and Im using all the control emergency overrides. Are you okay, Shean? You look like crap!
Im I can talk.
Sorry for my outburst earlier. This is all so sudden. Switching you live, in five seconds three
Theres lots of things they teach you in flight school, includin how to command. Its an old tradition; the captain is the one who runs the ship. Even pilotin a shuttle, you got that behind you. You need to learn t carry authority sos the passengers listen when you tell em what to do. No time for explainin durin a crisis. They taught me things like speakin from my diaphragm, not my throat; how to project my voice; how t best use my tone. The debatin Id done, well, it helped too, but this would go out to so many people! I was scared as all hell, but the trainin took over as I read the words.
I dont know how many of you know me, but my name is Shean Eeysmarn. Though I didnt choose it, events made sure I got caught up in what was happenin to me, to you, to all of us.
It started when a pilot I never heard of, name of Stapledon, managed to rescue me from collision with New Ceres with unbelievable pilotin skill. Not so unbelievable as it turns out, cause he was a Brain. Thats right, a Brain. Seems they figured out how to shrink their life support requirements down to somethin comparable to ours. And they didnt bother tellin anybody.
Why am I tellin you all this? Well, think about events. Most of us came up here because we believed in space, believed in doin fair work for fair pay. Unlike those left behind on Earth, who have the choice of either becomin a Brain, or lyin in their beds watchin vid till they died, or killin themselves in the reality shows, we figured wed come here where we could make a difference, where our lives mattered, where we could live the way we wanted to live.
Then the Brains come along and replaced us. They can do it better, so why should we do anythin? So the company, which is run by Brains, cans all of us who made space work. No warnin, no thank you; just good-bye, get lost, so long.
Sure, a lot of you here dont have anythin to do with the Company, with workin in space. You came here because you wanted to be free, to control your destiny, to participate in sophont-kinds greatest adventure. You was lured here by promises, by huge discounts, by words.
Did you even think of why the Companywhy the Brainsdid that? Moren a year ago, they knew theyd solved the life support problem. An that meant every single person up here was an inefficient waste of space and resources. Yeah, us: A waste of space and resources.
And yet, they kept bringin more an more people up here!
Maybe, just maybe, it was to get us all out of their neat little world. Out and up to a nice safe little place where all they need is one little nuke, an were all dead. They kill us, our children, our genes, our hopes. Only ones they keep alive is the ones whore happy with their little program of Bread and Circuses run by Brains for our own little safety.
Well, they forgot that some of us can still add. Some of us put two and two together, and the four we came up with really sucked. We didnt know what was goin to happen. We sure as hell
I paused for a second and looked at the next lines, not believin the Doc coulda wrote em. I near-as-damn-all refused to say them and then I thought about what Id seen, what was goin to happen unless someone brought some form of order back. The Doc had a plan; I sure didnt. It was a choice between a huge whopper of a lie, or lettin hundreds or thousands more bodies pile up. For a second I hated the choice, hated the fate that had brought me to this point. Hated myself. Sure, lookin back on it now, I can see how each small step Id made up to that point was the correct moral choice. It made sense. But now, now there was nothin but damnation whichever way I turned. Sure, I was screwed, my soul black and ruined, but I could help others. It was the only thing left I could do. Or so I told myself.
Sure as hell we didnt know the Brains would kill our Mayor!
I We had some ideas, made some plans, so if the Brains did try to kill us wed at least have a chance to fight back. Well, they did try and kill us. They shot the best of us, killed him in cold blood, and then watched us yell and scream and bite and claw and kill each other. Right now they probably got their little police ships ready to come in and restore order, after havin ruthlessly manipulated usthats right manipulated usto prune out the imaginative, the moral, the dreamers, amongst us. The best of us!
We all got a choice. I saw what happened, I saw that the Brainsincludin Mike, the Brain hereplanned and murdered our Mayor in cold blood. Cold, calculatin murder! Mike murdered my best friend Darrvid Ruprecht, and then hid the fact with destroyed records and deceitful words. And he murdered Mayor Phil Guthurn, the one that we selected, just when Phil promised to bring us justice!
Theres lines that cannot be crossed. As I read more and more of the Docs words, I was crossin these same lines, one by one and yet, I knew that order had to be restored. And when those lines are crossed, somebodys got to take a stand. Well, the Brains crossed that line, and I took a stand. We took a stand!
I ask you now, all of you, to go back to your quarters. There wont be no evictions, nobodys oxygen gets shut off. Please get off the streets and go home. If somebodys wounded, help em as best you can. If someones bein wronged, help em. I had a bit of light left in my soul as I added, And that goes for all of ushumans and furs. Sure, some of us are the children of our creators, made in labs and test tubes, and others were forged in the relentless fires of evolution. But were all sentient, and all deservin of respect! We must live together, we must prove to the Brainsand to ourselvesthat were worthy of livin in civilization as brothers and sisters of intelligence. That were all dreamers, and we all share the same hopes and loves.
And back to the Docs script. I dont know whatll happen next. I, and them Ive prepared with against this day, will keep everythin workin. All of you are important. Those of us who prepared for this were few, on account of we didnt believe it would ever happen, and we figured theres no point stirrin up trouble. Well, they stirred up trouble, and, by God, were not lettin them get away with it!
Medical personnel, please stay on station. Ill make sure you get the supplies you need. Treat the sick and injured, dont worry about medical coverage. For this time, this glorious moment in history, we must all work together, as brother and sister, as fur and human, bringin the lightness of our good to the fore, and buryin our sins in the darkness where they belong.
Other technical people, please stay at your posts. If you fled, please return. Engineering is being run by Phillip Alexandros. Report to him and do what he says. Space control is being run by Megan Chornton; again, report to her and do what she says. Yeah, Phillip and Megan are humans, and Im a horse. But does it matter? We all share the dream, and we all have duties towards civilization and towards the safety and happiness of our own.
The rest of you return home. Power and light are being restored. Some of you may wish to return to Earth; I think its a mistake, but I respect your choice, and your right to make it. As soon as orders restored, well arrange flights to High York for those who wish to leave. Theres lots of room there to hold you.
What we need right now, more than anythin, is time. Time to get things organized. I wish your patience, and your understandin, so that we can get that time. Give us a chance, thats all I ask.
And God bless you all.
I almost said the word end before cuttin myself off and lettin Megan switch me from the open broadcast.
-= 21 =-
Shean? You did great!
I listened to Megans voice and just sighed. I wasnt cut out for this. Megan, I Fine. Ill take your word for it. Im goin home now.
What!? both Megan and Kirri shouted.
I, I need a long shower. I need to clean up. In more ways than one. I Im sorry.
Kirri nodded. Williarrrd, you stick with him. Keep him damn safe! Comet, you help.
I turned and looked at the husky. Comet?
He kicked at the ground sheepishly with a paw, and I could smell his embarrassment. I was raised as athey namedId rather not talk about it.
Why dont you change it?
It justIts my name. Justjust shut up about it.
Williarrrd spoke up: I dont know where you live, so you lead. Ill stay right behind. You hear anything, just dive for the ground and let me take care of it. You got that? And here, you need this more than I do. I just stared as he took off his Kevlar vest and handed it to me.
Shean, Kirri snapped, You can and you will. Youre now the spokesperson for all of us. Your face and voice are known. Youre the most important person on New Ceres right now. Youll wear that vest and like it, and the rest of us are going with you too! You got that!?
I looked around at all their stern, earnest muzzles, and then I remembered one of my brothers, Harwood. Hed been born with a very rare colouration: Pure ivory in his mane, tail, even his hooves. His fur and hair was the sleekest and smoothest any of us had ever seen. From birth he was pampered, brushed, protected, waited on hand and foot, treated more like an objecta thing in a collectionthan a sophont being. Id envied him at first, but then when I was able to run through the fields, to get dirty, to get scratched and exhausted, I grew to pity him.
And now, here I was: A protected trophy, just like him.
Lookin around I sighed, loud an pointedly, and then said, Fine. I understand the need, but I dont like it. I just stay out of my way as best you can, okay? I aint in the best of moods right now. Turnin, I stepped out of the pool of blood and oil, scraped my cork-shod hooves against a clean area of the floor and got as much off as I could. After puttin on the vest, I started walkin, countin on them to hurry after me.
I looked at the tablet. Megan, Im goin home. The locations on file; if you cant find it, the Doc knows. Ill keep the tablet handy. Just just leave me alone except in an emergency. I really need it.
You sure youre all right, Shean?
No, Im not. But Ill manage. I have to. We all have to.
By the time I and my entourage got out of Mikes vault and into the streets, the bulbs along the axis had brightened to a dull orange, though the emergencies were still on. The streets were a lot quieter, but there was smoke blowin along the ground, and the stench of fire and blood and fear was still thick in the air. We passed a smoulderin bonfire of Company pamphlets, and I wrinkled my nostrils at the scent of seared meat from inside. Behind me I heard claws clickin on stone as the wolf and the husky moved around me, dashin from cover to cover.
I didnt care. I just walked straight down the centre, holdin my tablet against my chest like a talisman. If somebody shot me now, itd be no more than I deserved.
There he is! The voice came from the distance, and I recognized the nasal twang of a horse of some kind. Or maybe a deer, I dunno.
Get down, you idiot! Kirri screamed, and then Williarrrd tackled me, throwin me to the hard pavement, shatterin my tablet. The liquid in the display dribbled out, soakin into my vest as shots rang out from a rooftop. Whoever it was mustve been using some high-caliber weapon, as each shot was loud, the boom almost deafening, and there was a significant pause between them. I felt Williarrrd on my back, plasterin himself over me as he fired wildly in the general direction, his gun clatterin, shells clankin to the pavement beside me. One rolled against my earI tried flickin it away as the hot casin burned into my flesh.
Williarrrd jerked and fell heavily against me, and somethin slammed into my back, just beside my spine. His pistol clattered to the ground with a dull clunk and Comet screamed an let off a hail of bullets. He musta got lucky or somethin, or maybe he just had time to move into position, as there was a scream in the distance, a wail, and then a loud thump of somethin hitting the pavement.
Then silence, but my gaspin for breath.
Wigglin and kickin, I got out from underneath him, and his body scalumped to the ground beside me. Thats when I realized that I was covered, soaked, in hot blood, its stench rich in my nostrils. Lookin at Williarrrd, it was obvious he was dead. His skull was untouched, but huge chunks of his chest were torn away. I could feel the bruise on my back, and I realized the bullet had gone through him, which is the only thing kept it from goin on through the Kevlar and into me.
I saw Williarrrds eye open as blood dribbled out between his fangs. Yeah?
You you safe?
Good. His breath rattled and he closed his eyes for the last time as I gently stroked his neck. Taketake care of Comet A final wheeze and gurgle, and he was dead.
Lookin up, I saw Comet standin over me, watchin the buildins around us. You fucking bastard! Could you have made our job easier, stayed in cover!? No, of course not! Well, now hes dead, because you were too stupid to take this seriously!
I just looked away, unable to face him. I could see the corpse of a horse, one derived from the draft horses, crumpled on the ground, bones shattered, surrounded in a pool of his own blood. A few feet away a massive sniper rifle lay on the ground.
The only reason youre even alive, you cock-sucking bastard, is because that idiot over there, he pointed at the horse, was stupid enough to announce his position before opening fire!
Comet, let him be, Kirri said.
I realized then that Elthen was gone. Found out later hed run to ground. The humans may have modified us, bred us, but our instincts were still with us. I had mine to deal with, and Elthen used his to hide. Probably the best thing he could have done.
He killed Williarrrd!
It was Williarrrds choice, Kirri said.
In the distance I heard shouts gettin closer. Fuck
I thought the streets were too quiet, Comet muttered.
Shean, how far away do you live? Is there any place closer?
ITwo blockswe can cut through
We stay on the streets, horse! Point the way and you stay behind me, and you crouch down. Got it!?
I snortedas though that would be tough. We cant leave Williarrrd!
Yes,we can, because we dont have a choice. Im going because its your only chance to live, and thats what Williarrrd would have wanted, God knows why. You can come or stay for all I care!
How do we know theyre goin to kill us?
We cant take the fucking chance!
Shean, Kirri pleaded, weve got to get going. We have to! New Ceres needs you.
I looked down at Williarrrds corpse. Id known him for what, half an hour? and he took the bullet meant for me. God! Why couldnt I have gone down the other passage that night, like Kirri wanted? Because Im too smart to fall for that, and Im too stupidly honorable not to take the job that has to be done. Fuck! I scooped up Williarrrds machine pistol and ran after Kirri and Comet, my hooves thuddin on the stone. Thank you, Williarrrd. I wish Id known you I could hear the crowd behind us. I think they was human, but it was hard to tell. Left here!
Like clockwork, the pair turned and jogged down Niven, crouched low and to the shadows. It wasnt hard keepin up with them. Hell, I wasnt even out of breath.
They stopped and I skidded to a stop at the door, punched in the security code, and they followed me in. The heavy airtight door kathunked shut behind.
It was quiet, quiet and brightly lit. Everythin looked so normal. All buildings had their own emergency power cells, in case of catastrophic hull breach. The lobby was quiet, the elevators were down thanks to runnin on internal power, so I led my bodyguards up the stairs. My apartment was on the third floor, an easy trip, but I had to slow down to let them catch up, pantin and gaspin. Once I unlocked an opened the door we all bounded in, and Kirri shut it behind us.
I think the run cleared my head. Leastways, I was calmer. I stood there for a bit, soakin in the normality, til I heard somethin drip on the floor in front of me. Feelin my wet vest, I remembered the tablet. Ah, hell! I was committed now, and I had to stay in contact. Trottin over to the vidphone, I punched in the access code, and told it to hunt up Megan. It searched the net, found the info, and rang her up.
Didnt take long for Megans face to appear. Where the hell have you been!? Ive been trying
Had some trouble, lost my tablet. Just got to a phone. Whats goin on?
The ships are keeping their distance, but the Brains are trying to reach you. Doc wants you to talk to them. Tell them what our plans are.
Me? Now? Fuck
Comet called out: You got anything drinkable, horse?
Should be some beer in the fridgehelp yourself. If either of you need it, washrooms down the hall on the left. Megan, whynever mind, Docs usually right. What do the Brains want?
They want to know whats going on.
Hell! Cant they wait?
Theyve been waiting for ten minutes.
I remembered Williarrrds body fallin on top of me. Somehow, his sacrifice gave me strength and I stood up a little straighter. Megan Megan, you tell them theyre goin to have to wait ten more minutes. Their turn will come. Im takin a shower. Tell the Doc to work out a synopsis; dont have text display here, never saw a need for it. He can give me the gist of the plans, and Ill talk to the damn Brains. But not for ten minutes, clear?
Yes, but Doc
Megan. You tell the Doc that if Im the captain of this thing, folks gotta start playin to my tune. Let them call the shots, give them control, and you lose your authority. One of the things they taught me at the academy. I dont like bein in charge here, but I am, and by God Im goin do the best job I can. Ten minutes! I hung up.
Shean, are you sure about that? Kirri asked.
Damn right I am. I just needed some time to get my mind workin again. Comet, Im Im sorry. Inadequate, I know. Some day you and Ill sit down and you can tell me about Williarrrd. I wantneed to know. I need to know so I can do right by what he gave me.
The husky snorted. Go and shower, horse. You stink.
Turnin, I made my way into the shower cubicle. Pullin my cork boots off I stripped and tossed it all into the hamper chuteitd all be cleaned and back by tomorrowand stepped into the shower. It started at the perfect temperature; for a while I just leaned into the water that pounded down my back, lettin its warmth wash away the pain and blood and soreness and guilt. After that came soap, and scrubbin, and lettin everythin rinse off. I had a mother of a bruise just above where my tail shouldve been, and every time the pulsin water hit it, pain stabbed through me. The scratches Kirri tore in my muzzle stung from the soap, but at least they didnt start bleedin again. Too soon the cycle was complete. The water switched off, and I grabbed the dryer and started dryin my fur and mane, and then brushin the worst of the tangles away.
Megan says your ten minutes are up! Kirri called from the outside the washroom. Is there any meat here? Im starved!
There should be some hamburgers in the freezer!
I stepped out, my hooves squeakin a little on the guaranteed non-slip bottom, and I wrapped a towel round my waist and came out. Steam billowed out around me as I made my way back to the vidphone. The call button was lit.
No surprise; it was Doc. Well, Shean, thank you for squeezing me into your busy schedule. Listen to me: You must tell the Brains that weve chosen not to be in their little utopia, that we have our own dreams of space and we arent going to let them take it away from us. This is of course the kind of thing we discussed, so I hardly expect you to require notes or a script. You must tell the Brains that we wish to give all the people who want to stay on Earth time to leave, and then well be leaving Earth space. Everything we discussed. You must make sure they realize we arent allowing anything from them aboard; it would be far too great a risk. You must tell them were going to the asteroids or Saturn, were not sure. Do you understand all of that?
I got it. Lookin at him, I saw the cruel, hard human the Doc had become.
Doc, I just hope what we did today what you did is worth it.
The bastard didnt even flinch. He just gave me a puzzled look, as if he didnt have the tiniest clue in the world what I meant. Excuse me, Shean..?
As the words came out of my muzzle, I knew they was right: I know what you did, and one day I will see that justice is done. Got that? One day but not now. Itll have to wait.
He didnt crack, not even a little bit, Ill give him that. My dear fellow, whatever can you be talking about?
You know damn well what Im talkin aboutbut now aint the time. Put the damn Brain on and lets get goin. I could see Comet watchin me, tail whippin back and forth, and that did nothin for my mood. At least I already knew what I was goin to say.
I believe youre overwrought, but as you say, now is not the time. Good luck to you, Shean. If you merely do half as good a job as you did in the speech, we shall all be in excellent shape.
I will. You know who Im talkin to?
My apologies; I fear I do not.
Patch em in.
Switching now, Megan said. Good luck, Shean!
What image does a Brain put up on vid? In this case, it was a rabbit sittin behind a large wooden desk. There was a window behind him, and sunlight pourin through it. I could tell from the crispness, the perfection, that none of it was real. Part of me remembered the synthesized image of Adam Selene from The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, and that part of me shuddered.
Is this Shean Yoseph Eeysmarn Im addressing?
Yep. And how do I address you? I waited through the time delay for his response.
You can call me Thomas James Foote. I watched one of the ears artfully half-fold. Now, what in Gods name is going on aboard New Ceres, and when can I expect to get my property back?
Get your I could feel my ears point forward, stiff and proud. Remember, I told myself, hes a Brain. You cant out-think him. Just tell the truth and let him deal with it. Never, Tommy. Im afraid you gave up New Ceres when you fired the ones whose dreams built her.
Shean, do you have any idea how much capital Ive got invested there? By God, the shareholders arent going to be happy
Capital? Shareholders? Fuck the shareholders! You bastards are the ones who drove us to this! Well, you can reap, I watched his expression change to slight anger as my interruption reached him, what youve sown.
His expression changed to a stern father, sad that he was being forced to chastise a favourite son. Shean, under God it doesnt have to be this way. If you surrender, if all of you surrender, I can promise leniency.
For an instance I wished the damn Brains had killed the Mayor. I so wanted to be able to throw that fact into his smug face. But they didnt, so I couldnt. I could feel my fists clenching, and used the pain as my nails dug into my palms to focus. Mr. Foote, you can just take your fatherly ways and stuff em. Now you just shut up and listen to some facts of the universe.
Okay, son. You might as well have your say.
We control New Ceres. Thats fact. You send ships up, we can an will use the asteroid defenses to shoot em down. Sure, you send enough ships an some will get through, but thats a pretty high number of casualties. You designed the defenses; you run the sims. Your only real option is t saturate our defenses with fission and fusion missiles. Fire enough, some get through, and youll blow us up. Not much of a return on your investment.
Now, you listen here! By God
You listen! Its your Brain, Mike, what killed Darrvid Ruprecht. And its that same Mike who played here at creating revolution. Well, Im sorry, but it didnt work out for him. His damn neurons is dribbling out on the floor.
What? You murdering Godless bastard!
Like you aint a murderer? And dont give me that crap about you getting angry and losin control. I know you Brains got too much processin power for that to ever happen, lessn you think youll get an advantage out of it. Ive had a tough day, so Ill tell you whats gonna happen, and what your choices are. So just shut the fuck up and listen! You got me!?
I waited through the delay until his face assumed a neutral expression, both ears erect. Okay. Im listening.
You cant take New Ceres back, you can only destroy her. Im bettin theres enough human left in you to not do that. If you do try the saturation attack, well, we got transmitters up here and well make sure what your bastard Mike did gets beamed to every sophont back on Earth. Now, were not pirates or barbarians, no matter how you plan to paint us. All we want is to control our own lives, and live the way we wantand its obvious that you Brains aint gonna let us do that on Earth. So, were leavin. Goin away, where you cant reach us. You got your world, we got ours, and thats that. You got me!?
I waited until he clenched his lips, twitched his nose, and nodded.
Now, were not forcin nobody to go who dont want to. Were goin to restore order, and those who want to stay, well ferry down to High York. Our pilots only, shuttles empty on return. If theres any kind of coercion, bombs, stowaways, or anythin else, then all deals are off; well go, and those who want to join you will just be shit out of luck. And, we might just pop off a few of your assets for our security. How much is High York worth?
You wouldnt dare!
If you screw with us, what choice I got? I may end up bein painted the worst bastard since Hitler, but at least Ill die free.
By God, you listen here. Were just doing whats best for you. Nobody has ever been coerced
Oh, not openly. Just through subtle pressures and psychology. Just give it a fuckin break!
He relaxed from his aggressive posture and sat back down in his chair. I had t keep remindin myself that it was all an act, an illusion.
Were leavin. Give us two days to restore order and clean up the mess you created. Another two days to ferry those who want to stay on Earth. And then were leavin and takin ourselves out of your hair.
Where will you go? His voice had an eerie calm about it.
I blinked, surprised by his sudden change. I reckon that aint none of your business. Out to the asteroids, maybe Saturn.
Afraid to go the whole way?
I shrugged. The systems big enough for both of us. We stay away from Earth, and you can do whatever the hell you want!
What if there are people on Earth who want to join you?
Fuck I scratched behind one of my ears for a second. Not much I can do for them. Your problem, youll have to deal with them.
So much for the warm-hearted dreamer.
You think I like this? Theres already twenty thousand people here! I cant risk lettin you send agents or bombs up here just to save more. Too damn much at stake.
God tells me that youve been preparing this hijacking for a long time. Your sperm and eggs arrived up there over a year ago, I believe.
How the hell..? Well, Id never tried to hide that, wasnt hard to work out the truth now. You heard my speech earlier? I didnt want this! Hell, Idve been happy to keep workin, visitin my family, and livin a nice quiet life. But no, you had to put efficiency above safety and sophont dignity, and you had to kill to get things your way. Well, I could maybe see this comin, and I put things in place so that if the shit did hit the fan I wouldnt be splattered by it. I dont like ithell, I fuckin hate itbut its the best I can do.
Sounds like I have no choice but to accede to your demands.
Dont you dare put this all on my shoulders! Youve been pushin towards this for years! Well, now you got it. Anybody approaches, I shoot em down. You get High York ready, cause Im goin to ship you people as soon as I can. So you just deal with it!
He scratched his head and twitched his whiskers. Fine. With Gods blessing, well do it your way. Youll let me know when youre ready to start sending people back?
I forced my fists to unclench. Yeah, Ill let you know. This frequency?
Thatll be fine. Good luck, and may God bless your journey. With that he disconnected.
That went well, Kirri said from behind me.
Like Hell it did. But now, its all in the damn open. Everybody knows where everybody else stands. You talk to Doc and Megan, and you get order restored. Total curfew til we leave orbit. Whoever wants to leave, tell em to report to the docks. Check them for arms, and ship them down. Ill brief the pilots tomorrow. Right now, I simply cant.
Comet broke in. Leave the horse alone. Everybody has their breaking point, and hes damn close to his. Im just glad that I dont have the weight of the world on my shoulders. Then, to me, he said, Shean, when this is over, name a time and we can talk about Williarrrd.
I turned to Comet and looked at him. His tail was down, his ears were lowered and he was barin his neck to me. Fuck! Comet
Shean, Williarrrd was right. Youre one in a million. Ill stand behind you because youre the right fur for this job, and not because Ive been ordered to.
I I was just a simple rocket jockey! Okay, fine, whatever you say. Im Im sorry, Im just overwrought. I turned back to Kirri. You get on with Doc and get things goin! Eventually the Brainsll think of a way past our defenses, and then were toast. Tell Megan to accept only voice and video transmissions, and keep em isolated from anything else. Ive never heard of a virus that can come up that way, but the Brains probably have.
Shean, who the hell put you in charge!? Kirri glared at me, tail whippin back and forth.
I leaned back, ears relaxed. You did, Kirri. You and the Doc. You set me up! But I aint the dumb ol puppet you really wanted, an thats too damn bad, so you just live with it. You dont like what Im doin, then tell me, but in private, you hear?
Kirri looked for a second like she was goin to leap at me, but then her posture relaxed. Sorry Shean, youre right. Just, keep doing it. And listen to us were in this, too.
I will. God knows I need all the help I can get! Now, you get to work, cause Im goin to have a couple of those burgers youre cookin up, and then Im goin into my bedroom and Im goin to read, and then Im goin to sleep. If youve got an emergency, you get me. And find another tablet for meIm goin to need one.
I Sure, Shean.
I could see Comet chuckling almost under his breath.
Phone code is nine-six-eight. Now, if youll excuse me, I can smell a burger callin.
-= 22 =-
Early on, the Doc and Kirri recruited somethin like eighty grunts/enforcers, and smuggled up the machine pistols for em in addition to the lighter weapons Id snuck onto the Rock. There was other guns on New Ceres, big assault rifles that Company goons used, and we got most of those. Ten were unaccounted for
at least thats what the official inventory said. God knows what else there was. What with my reputation, the fact that most folks wanted peace and quiet, an us havin most o the weapons, it didnt take long for order to be fully restored.
Comet and Kirri wouldnt let me out until late the next day. The streets were eerie; I could still smell smoke and the stench of burnt paper and flesh in the air. The bodies had been removed, but there was blood on the streets and I saw one group of workers sandblastin out some stains. Didnt have enough water to spare for stuff like that. The Brains would know, they was probably hopin the water shortage would drive us to give in. By the time I got to where Id been shot at, there was nothin left. The body of the horse was gone, and Williarrrds body was gone too. I was told later that itd been stripped, but at least it hadnt been partially or fully eaten like some of the human or herbivore fur bodies had been. Comet always stuck with me; quiet, unobtrusive, but there.
The day after, it was time to brief the pilots. I passed alongside the people lined up, our guards watchin them, lookin just like the Company goons used to look. Everybody clenched the guide ropesthis close to the bow axis, you was pretty much in freefall. Most were human, but there were furs, too. To me it was a mass of men, women, children, all without hope. There was babies who had no idea what was even goin on. I stopped before a family of horses, same breed as me, tiny beside the others. Comet stood behind me, gun sheathed, but his body language said he was ready to move if anybody tried anythin. For a moment I looked at the stallion, he looked at me and then he lowered his ears, acknowledgin my dominance.
I asked him, Why?
He turned away.
Why leave? Theres nothin for you on Earth.
On Earth, I can walk down the street at night and know I wont get shot.
But the humans
Words dont kill, Mr. Eeysmarn. They hurt, but those wounds heal.
I didnt want it to be this way
His wife burst out: You didnt want it, they didnt want it. Its all words, words! Then she took her foals head and turned it away from me, pressin the foals muzzle against her pants so that he couldnt see me at all. I could hear similar sentiments muttered from others in the line.
Lookin at them, I watched them lookin at me. Some had hatred in their eyes, but most had despair, hopelessness. Betrayal. I could see the horse lookin at me with eyes full of sadness.
Turnin, I dragged my way past them to where the pilots waited.
There were twelve pilots for the five shuttles we had aboard, most furs. Fact is, wed been gengineered with faster reflexes an better senses; most humans just couldnt compete. I knew all the pilots, drank with them, had partied with them. Now they looked at me, and we werent buddies no longer. The humans just watched and the furs showed submission in their posture. Amongst the pilots were two horses, same breed as me, and they were just as submissive. Didnt take long to brief the lot; told em to take nothin aboard cept fuel and air, and watch the loaders. Warned em to check their craft for bombs or other things stuck on. Each shuttle would have two crew; one for the way down, one for the way up. Theyd fly and sleep and eat. There were a lot of people to move, and not a hell of a lot of time to move them. I asked for volunteers to fly the mission and they all stepped forward, no hesitation, so I wrote up lots and drew. Two stayed behind in reserve; a human and a rabbit. Theyd rotate onto one shuttle after two flights, and that crew would get two flights leave and rotate onto another. Id already worked out the schedule and they didnt question it. They knew Id been through it. Diggin up suits for them was easy as they all, like me, had one on board. I could see they felt happier, especially given what they was flyin into.
Then I left, left my old life behind, and watched them move to their craft and begin loadin.
I sat in Darrvids old chair in the control centre. Place was closest thing to a bridge we had. Didnt feel right, but it had to be done. I talked to Eddie down on High York. Hed been briefed by the Brains about the evacuation, and he said I was a fuckin idiot. I could see the barely controlled rage and betrayal on his face. Still, he promised to make sure nothin was snuck aboard the refuelin and restockin shuttles. Thats all I really needed from him. Signin off, I mentally wished him and Liz the best.
I spent hours in the control room as a figurehead, just watchin the flights go out full and come back empty. Eventually I went back to my room, with Kirri and Comet who refused to leave. With my tablet I checked the stocks, calculated numbers. Water would be tight; New Ceres wasnt a perfectly closed system, nothin we Earthlings built is. Wed have lots to reach Saturn, but no way could we go beyond Pluto with what we had on board. Helium 3 for the reactor wasnt much better off. At least we had lots of fuel for the Orion drive.
Comet was takin a nap in my bedroom when Kirri walked around behind me and began massagin my shoulders, gentle an professional-like. I was a bit surprised, and nigh-on pulled away.
You work too hard, Shean. You know that?
Well, somebody has to.
You should take some time for yourself. If you lose it, were all screwed. Sayin that, she leaned over me and kissed me on my forehead.
She walked around from behind me and I noticed she was stark naked. When the hell had she taken off her clothes?
Shean, we never did get to finish in the Rat
I just stared, jaw hangin open as she dragged my chair around, the tip of her tail draped over one of her shoulders. A part of me could hear the legs scrapin on the floor, but I couldnt tear my eyes away from her. Wha-what do you mean?
Back before you followed me into the tunnels, and you, me and Doc formed the new rebellion, love.
She clambered or hopped up onto my lap, one leg to either side of my waist and she leaned down and kissed me. My muzzle was at the level of her breasts. K-K-Kirri
Thank God, Megan picked that time to call about my phone conference with Phillip Alexandros. The tablet on the table behind me buzzed loudly and the sound cleared my head. Kirri, what the hell are you doin?
Let it wait. You deserve a rest as much as anybody. Leanin down, she kissed my muzzle.
The tablet buzzed again.
My body may be small and thin, but its all muscle. Grabbin the arms of the chair I shoved myself up and shoved Kirri onto the floor. Behind me the chair banged as it fell backwards. This is not the place, and you know it! What the hell do you think youre doin?
II just wanted
Kirri. Get out. Get the fuck out. Now!
For a moment she just looked at me, and then I leaned forward.
My ears were erect, my muzzle was slightly open, and my teeth were bared. Get the God damned fuck out!
Comet picked that moment to come in from my bedroom. He just looked, his muzzle expressionless, as Kirri squeaked and backed away.
And dont forget to get dressed!
The tablet buzzed again and I grabbed the chair, slammed it back against the table, and shoved myself into it. I hammered the acknowledgement button: Yes!?
Megans face appeared. Sorry to bother you, Shean, but you asked me to, remember?
Yeah, sorry it wasnot your fault. You got Phil on the line?
Hes waiting for you. You sure youre all right? He can reschedule.
I sighed. Just put him through, I said. Sorry, works been gettin me down.
Comet just shook his head in the background.
I talked to Phillip Alexandros for over an hour, confirmin the drive readiness, and settin a time to work out flight plans and accelerations. He wanted to keep it slow; I wanted fastI didnt trust the Brains to keep their half of the deal. We didnt get it resolved before I had to clean and shower, just in time for my final duty for that day.
Sayin a few words over the dead before they was fired into the sun.
Cleanup crew worked day and night to neaten em up as best they could, and the shops worked just as hard to get the coffins ready. They used pressed silicon sheetswood was a rarity then, not many trees planted. Most of the iron got taken out durin the minin, wed just been left with the lighter materials.
The unloadin of passengers continued non-stop; wed broadcast the funeral to the pilots. New Ceres had been designed for permanent habitation, and they provided facilities to eject unwanted stuff, like bodies and waste, out of Earth orbit and onto a decayin trajectory thatd take em into the Sun. Didnt take any energy; the tubes was angled so New Ceres spin would give em the right course and speed. Itd be a long journey, but it would end. The engineerin reason was to keep more junk from clutterin up near-Earth space, but nobody really talked about that.
The two hundred and seventeen coffins was lined up in ten neat rows of twenty, one row of sixteen, and one sealed all by itself. All the deadall the deadwere here: Revolutionaries, Company goons, innocents caught in the middle. Mayor Guthurn was there, so was Williard, so was the horse that tried to kill me. Id insisted on that, over the Docs and Kirris objections. The reason was simple. We were rebellin against the Brains for the right to lead our lives the way we wanted. Not against the Company, not against the servants of the Company. All the dead were sophonts, sophonts whod died for the cause. They were all casualties, lives lost.
They all deserved some respect.
When I first got there I walked along the rows, pausin for a second to look through the clear silicone at the body inside. Comet and Kirri and Doc were behind me. At each pause I looked at the face, the blank face, quiet and calm in death. There were humans, far too many humans, with furs scattered amongst them. Some had flowers placed on top, but far too many were untouched. The room had been open all day for people to pay their respects. Most of the bodies I didnt know, some I knew only casually, but each one I looked at in silent apology. I looked down at the horse whod tried to kill me. Nobody knew why hed tried. He wasnt on record as one of the Company goons, but he could have been a sleeper. Now Id never know.
Aunt Neeola was right: We should have just asked. But I was right too, we couldnt. Too much at risk if theyd said no. Damned if we do, damned if we dont
I walked on, carryin two flowers as I slowly paced, my hooves echoin loudly in the huge chamber. I stopped at Felitchs coffin, and wished Id had a chance to talk to him about Darrvid. The fourth row contained both the raccoon Id shot dead, and the human hed slain and tried to rob. At the third row I came to Williarrrd, lyin there calm and reposed. I could see Comet stiffen behind me. Turnin, I offered him the one flower and gave him room as he placed it on the transparency over Williarrrds calm muzzle. God knew Comet had far more right to do that than I did.
Even Mikes brain was there, his coffin sealed, dark gray. I gave him the same respect I gave the others, remembering him from before I got dragged into the revolution.
Mayor Guthurns coffin was the last, and it was closed. No glass to show the mourners his shattered skull. His coffin was almost buried in flowers, and I stood there the longest, lookin down at the glitterin stone, rememberin him in life, rememberin what he tried to do before the Docthe revolution I was a part ofshot him dead. My sight blurred, an Comet held me up as I lost it for a minute. A part of me wanted to shove my emotions aside, but I couldnt. I just stood there, held by Comet, sobbin. Faces flashed past me, Darrvid, Aunt Neeola whom Id never see again, Cæsar, Williarrrd
Still leanin on Comet, I forced myself together. I slowly made my way to the podium that faced the dead, faced the holocams.
I stand before the departed before those who gave their lives that we might live free. In life, they were all sophonts: Livin, breathin life, worthy of respect. Humans, furs, Company, civilians, spacers. In death, theyre all equal.
Lets have a moment of silence, of remembrance. Not just for the ones we lost, but for those others lost. Everybody here has somebody they cared about, who cared about them. All our sorrows, our burdens are shared.
I looked, blinkin back tears. So much emotion, so few words Doubtless others could have said it better. I just did the best I could.
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Unto almighty God we commend the souls of the departed, and we commit their remains to the eternal deep.
I stood there and watched as, one by one, the coffins were loaded into the tube and ejected. And as each one vanished into the deep, I swore again and again to do my best for the survivors, to honor the memory of the dead.
-= 23 =-
People will die if we accelerate at 3G!
It was the day after the funeral. Flights was still goin to an from High York; they was due for completion in about eight hours, dependin on refuelin times. With Phillip Alexandros, I was in the one school, havin taken it over on account of its computers an holotank. We were discussin the flight plan to Saturn.
Phil, Ive talked to the engineers. They say the structures can survive 3Gtheyll even guarantee em up to 4G, but I dont want to push it.
Its not the damn buildings, you fool horse! Its the people!
Most of the flight plan was already settled: Standard 0.1G acceleration, with turnover at midpoint; slingshot around Mars; then a dogleg at Jupiter just before we began deceleratin. I didnt want to dive in-system, what with the danger from flares, even though a tight slingshot around the sun wouldve saved us two days. Flight time was run just over a month, includin down time for tunin the engines. Fuel wasnt a problemthe Company had stockpiled a major shitload o bombs. Big ones, small ones, a positively absurd quantity. Word was, theyd moved it all up here now to ease the transfer to other asteroids in the future. Phil once give me a tour o the arsenal, and neither of us could figure out the whys and wherefores of it. Course, the Company never did encourage questions. Id told him to have a bunch of engineers check the bombs for boobytraps or detonatorsI wouldnt put it past the Brains to have prepared for a hijackin.
Anyways, me an him was discussin acceleration profiles: Come on, Phil, five Gs aint nothin! I've handled that for extended periods, no problems. This is only for two hours.
He paced back and forth. Captain, youre trained for this. You had the proper seat, the proper orientation. What are people going to do? Lay down on their walls?
Thats what mattresses and blankets is for.
Shean, theres not going to be a build up. Orion drive doesnt work that way. Well pick some of the big bombs, detonate them, and whoosh! From nothing to three Gs in fifteen seconds. Itd be in about one, except for the shock absorbers on the plate to moderate the momentum transfer to us.
No, you dont! You may understand the math, but you dont know! Nobody does! Now, if it was an emergency
Youre God damned right it is! Right now we got hostages. When theyre gone, what if the Brains launch an invasion? Two hours gets us out past twice Luna orbit, out of range of most craft. Itll give us time. If we loaf around, who knows what theyll do?
We looked at each, my muzzle against his human face as we leaned across the holotank, our breaths hot in each others face. Hed had bacon and eggs for breakfast.
Phil, its an order. Can the hardware handle it?
Yeah it can.
Then you get the drive ready, and let me worry about the people.
There are more than eighteen hundred casualties stacked in the hospital!
Probably safest place for them. We can strap em in, move the beds, and therell be trained personnel there.
Captainwhen we light the drive, its not going to be smooth like the shuttles. We can only control the explosion so much. Acceleration isnt going to be constantit could peak at close to five Gs, depending.
Aint that what the plates for?
It is, but we havent done enough of this to fine-tune the system!
You set up that program the robots used, bringin New Ceres into near Earth orbit, didnt you?
Then you done it all before.
No, I havent! There was nobody aboard then, no shock absorbers. We had the thrust varying by two Gs at times!
Leanin back, I licked my lips, and twisted my head from side to side tryin to un-kink my neck. Okay. How d you want to do it?
If I wanted to leave fast, but safe, Id run it at half a G for an hour, then slowly push it up to 1.5 Gs. No higher.
Sposen the Brains launch a salvo attack. How long it take you to adjust acceleration?
Leanin back, he scratched the thick gray hair on his head. Depends on when in the cycle I found out. Best case, we could swap payload and cycle it out in about thirty seconds; worst case maybe ninety seconds.
God Missiles could run ten-G acceleration with chemical rockets for too damn long, who knew what they could get up to with anti-matter propulsion? I wiped the sweat from my browitd been a long plannin session, and a tense one. Only thing left now was departure, the course was finally settled. Okay, hows this: We start at one G for an hour, push it up to two for half an hour, then three for ninety minutes. Should give us close to the same final velocity. We shut the drive down for a day, you check everythin, then we run at a tenth-gee for Saturn. I punched the numbers in; our planned course didnt change worth shit. The difference was so small, Saturn was so far away, that a little bouncin around at startup really didnt mean anythin.
Id be happier with that.
Lets run with that, then. Just be ready for sudden changes. If theres a mass missile strike against us, I may want the best you gotfive Gs, whatever the hell you can push out of her.
The plate wont take the stress!
And we cant take multiple fusion missiles.
Yeah, you do have a point He pulled up his pad and pressed various numbers into it. I can keep bigger bombs ready, just in case. Hope to God we dont need them! Best I can give you is four Gs, thoughwe dont have anything bigger onboard.
Okay. Thanks. And good luck.
Thanks, sir. Wish we didnt have to run this way, but I mean, Saturn! Whod have thought?
Whoda thought indeed!
We shook hands. I locked the flight plan in and passed it up to Megan in control.
The next seven hours were busy as hell. Beside the coffins, wed made a shitload of padded cushions for the whole crowd. We posted acceleration safety notices all over the Rock. Loose objects and equipment got stored and strapped down, though thered still be an awful lot of breakage amongst civilian possessions. The acceleration safety instructions included coverin up with a blanket to keep glass shards from breakin the skin. Us furs had it worse than humans; with our tails, we had to stand with our side to the wall, which added its own set of complications. Id gotten all my stuff packed and piled against the stern wall, and I was pretty sure other spacers had, too. Id made sure techs did it to the pilots ferryin people down to High York.
I was in the control room, sittin in Darrvids newly-reinforced chair, watchin the crew bring in the last of the shuttles. Megan was at her console, overseein everythin. I just sat there, lookin impressive. Well, as impressive as I could, what with bein half as tall as most folks The air was thick with tension; people was afraid, and I didnt blame em. Kirri was behind meshe looked worried and I didnt want to send her away until I had to. Somethin had went wrong between us, and I wanted to fix it. Besides, there wasnt anyplace she had to be, and at least she didnt try massaging me again. Comet was there too, Id made him head of security. Hell, he was always with me, and he knew what he was doin.
Finally, the last shuttle came aboard and docked.
Megan, how long til Athenas drained and strapped down?
Ummestimate is twenty-five minutes. Theyre going to try and do it faster.
I nodded and thought a moment. Lieutenant Pulther, tell Phil hes good to light the drive in thirty minutes. Flag him if the crew reports any delays in preppin Athena. Dont clear it with me. Pulther was the vixen whod been on duty when Id nearly crashed into New Ceres. Darrvid reamed her out, and then trained her himself, so she knew what she was doin. Still And just relax. I got confidence in you.
She gulped. Yes, sir.
Sound acceleration warnin, repeat every five minutes, count down from thirty seconds.
Locked in, sir, a pretty little filly replied. Hadnt had time to get to know her, couldnt even remember her name.
Megan, can y pick up any Earthside news broadcasts? Ifn y can, put it on the speakersmight give us some warnin if they plan anythin.
Got one. Switching over.
oote has refused comment on the continuing standoff regarding the hijackers of New Ceres. Reports from those put off on High York emphasize the bloodiness of the hijacking, and the appalling conditions aboard the asteroid. Earth defenses and anti-missile systems remain on high alert in case the hijackers attempt anything, though they claim to just want to leave near-Earth space. Many doubt this.
Interviews with friends and relations of this Shean Eeysmarn, who claims to be in charge, have universally painted a picture of an innocent whos gotten caught up in things beyond his skill to cope. Speculation is rampant as to whos really controlling him and why.
Elizabeth, the Brain aboard High York, urges calm. She states that panic is what the hijackers want, and that as long as those on Earth remain calm and stay in their homes, the aims of the hijackers for further destruction can and will be thwarted.
They dont like us much, do they? I asked out loud, but nobody commented.
At this point theres no information available as to what plans, if any, are being made to retake New Ceres now that the last of the so-called hostages have been released. There were, by official count, nineteen thousand, eight hundred and fifty one persons aboard her at the time of the hijacking, and it has been officially stated that five thousand eight hundred and three have been transferred to High York. That leaves a maximum of fourteen thousand and forty-eight, but its not known how many were killed in the fighting.
Here on High York there are huge masses of people, and the facility is struggling to cope with their needs. All non-essential space flight has been grounded for the duration of the crisis, so the people are stuck here for the present. Ive seen no sign of preparation for a counter-attack, but with the crowds here theres no way to be certain.
Captain, Comet leaned over and whispered, shouldnt Kirri be somewhere safe?
There was a chair waitin for Comet, hed insisted, but nothin for Kirri. Kirri, I turned so I could see her easily, you better get goin. Theres acceleration seats you can use in the lounge.
You best go nowno place for you here.
She looked around, tail wigglin nervously, and then she turned and stalked out.
Whats up with her? Comet asked.
I answered quietly. Damn if I know. Beforebefore all this, I motioned around, but I meant the revolution, not New Ceres, she werent nothin but a whore, far as I knew. And then she tries to take me to bed, almost drags me in. You were there. And ever since, shes been distant, cold.
Horse, I dont trust her. Theres something deeply wrong with herId watch her.
I looked at him curious-like. Aint she the one invited you into the revolution?
Yeah, but I didnt know she was high up, and Im glad as hell that shes not in charge. Somethings not right with her.
Ten minutes to drive ignition, Captain, the filly stated.
How they doin with Athena?
Umm just got the report now. Shes locked down and theyre moving to their acceleration stations.
I nodded. Get the video feed of the driveput it up for everybody to see, and keep the dirtside news audio only. Might as well see what they think o the show.
The large holotank in the centre that usually depicted New Ceres and surrounding space flickered; suddenly, we saw the massive drive plate secured to the ass-end o New Ceres. It werent no flat plate but a funnel, engineered real careful-like t get the most from each erg o push from the bombs. Right now the holo was mostly dark, one end lit by stark sunlight. Given the scale, thered be nothin visible til the first bomb went off.
and the lights went out, leaving the whole place in red light, the Earth news said. There was gunfire everywhere, voices shouting and screaming. God knows how I lived. I hid in an alley, in the dirt and garbage, afraid to breathe. Just lucky, I guess. When they finally restored full lighting, the streets were choked in smoke and the dead. I couldnt move until Ishman here found me and talked me out. If it hadnt
Five minutes, Captain. Sounding acceleration siren.
Thats an eyewitness account from Ms. Evelyn Calvert, one of the refugees from the hijacking of New Ceres. To recap It went on; Lord, did it ever! I just wished we could fast-forward through the waitin
Three minutes, Captain.
I nodded and watched the timer suspended below the engine, ignorin the drone of the announcer in the background. He was interviewin somebody else now.
Megan, check with Phil if the drives good to go.
Confirmed, Captain. Hes ready to light her off in one minute, eighteen seconds.
Noddin, I gripped my seat tighter, watchin the countdown. One minute, I could hear the wail of the final acceleration siren echoin through the interior of New Ceres. It was faint, distant, but I could feel it in my bones.
Thirty seconds. Like everybody else, I locked my seat along the axis of acceleration.
Ten seconds. Megan piped Phils voice into the bridge as he counted down. eight, seven, six, five
Was I doin the right thing? Should I have accepted any Earthlings who wanted to go?
two, one, zero!
The holotank dimmed as a Goddamn bright light flared, part-way inside the cup o the drive plate. A heavy hand squashed me back into my seat; the deck tilted til I was lookin up a sixty-degree shaft. All around me I heard metal groanin and vibratin. It was a deep, deep moan, felt moren heard, the ancient stone bitchin about bein forced to move out of where it wanted to be.
Acceleration falling, Phil called out. Peaked at 1.2G. Tossing next bomb out.
The holo was full o a dull red glow, with streamers of yellow and orange as fragments sputtered through the darkness. Then another flarebrilliant, eye-searin. Around me the world creaked and groaned, complainin. Those damn heavy hands pushed me back into my seat.
Through heavy static, I could still hear the news from High York: been confirmed that a brilliant explosion has been seen coming from New Ceres. Not sure what caused it, its definitely visible in Europe and North America and on Anderson Base. A new star, shining briefly in the sky. Theres a second one
I sat there, listenin to the awed voice, pressed back into my seat again and again by bomb after bomb, devices of destruction used to send us on our way. It didnt take long for em to dope out it was the Orion drive. There wasnt no launches from Earth or Luna, an New Ceres upped her acceleration to three Gs.
Like Phil said, it werent constant, but it also werent so bad as he feared. Our acceleration wobbled from a low o 2.3 Gs, up to a high o 3.8 Gs.
New Ceres was on her way.