Interlude in Green
Martin M. Clark
Life is filled with little surprises.
There was no up, no down, no sideways. I was on the ground, in the air, under water. A kaleidoscope of sight and sound. Audio-visual bedlam, big screen, guaranteed front-row seat.
The hit from a neural disruptor is like deleting the master index to your memory. Everything is out of context; theres no timeline, no sense of immediacy, no perspective. It lasted a few seconds, a year, or somewhere in-between.
I was sitting on the ground, my back against a landing strut. It was a lush, green landscape with long shadows. Late afternoon. A woman stood a short distance away, looking out at the crops beyond the line of an irrigation canal. Apart from that, there was no sign of civilisation.
She was a heavy-ass brunette in her mid-twenties, handsome rather than pretty. An entirely sexist and superficial appreciation I admit, but my forebrain was still getting its act together and, well, she ticked all the boxes.
I found my voice. Where are we?
She didnt look in my direction. Permian Major, apparently.
I tried to place it and failed. Ah, which system?
The Canids Cluster.
Still nothing. Why? What are we doing here?
A male voice. That would be my idea, bud.
I turned my head. A man was walking down the access ramp from the ship. He carried a pistol, but casually; more as a Rim mercenary fashion accessory than naked threat. His name was Bloon. He was a pilot, this was his ship. Id hired him.
I move people from place to place. People who dont want to go through formal channels. People like Diana Ostov. The Primacy was a closed society, one of those who knew they were right and the rest of the universe was wrong. All those who worked at the isolated starport were morally suspect, if only by association.
Diana wanted out and had sufficient funds to make my involvement worthwhile. It helps that Im an empath, officially a strong Level Two. In reality Im an unregistered Three, capable of twisting perspective in others without the need for a broadcast unit. So Id walked her to the ship while starport security ignored us; easy in, easy out.
A simple plan, executed cleanly, with no complications until now.
Bloon gestured with his gun. Before you even think about trying any mind-games, Klein, have a feel at the back of your head. Slowly, now.
I did as he suggested, slowly. There was a hemispherical metal disk stuck to my skull.
The pilot squatted down beside me. That there is a shaped charge with an anti-handling trigger. Its also linked to my EEG monitor and biometric feed. Meaning that if I flatline or my vitals tank then that tricksy brain of yours gets blown out your eye sockets. We understand each other?
I nodded. Slowly. Absolutely.
He grinned. Outstanding. Now, me and the girl will be leaving in due course. Dont do anything stupid and you get to wave us good-bye.
What, you really think the Primacy will pay for her return? Wise-up, man, theyll burn you alive as a heretic and dismember her as irredeemably contaminated.
Bloon laughed. Take her back? Hell, no. Diana has corporate value.
I frowned. You jazzed or something? She was born there and this is her first time off-world. How can she be worth anything to anyone? No offence, Diana.
The pilot stood up. I ran her DNA as soon as she came aboard. Turns out shes the daughter of one Joseph Ostov, a corporate defector. He was an indentured geneticist with HanaMed back in the day, one of their brightest stars, until he vanished without trace.
My father? Youre looking for my father? Diana stepped closer, But he died, almost five years ago.
There goes your leverage, Bloon. I got to my feet and dusted myself down, Busted flush.
Bloon shook his head. You werent listening. As an indentured employee that means everything he produced is the property of HanaMed Industries. Including the little lady here.
Diana sounded more confused than angry. Im not an object that my father produced. Im not just something that can be owned.
Bloon winked at her. Sure you are. Almost a third of the population out on the Rim are obligated to some power or another. Oh, we dont call it slavery these days but it amounts to the same thing. I have a broker sounding out HanaMed right now to see if youre worth nixing my agreement with Klein.
I really didnt like the implications of that. And if they dont bite, then what?
Then we go back to Plan A. I drop you both off at Nebula Gateway and you pay me the half-later part of our contract.
Just like that? No hard feelings?
He shrugged. Its only business. Now, play nice and this will soon be over. Bloon holstered his gun and ambled away, towards the canal.
Diana and I looked at each other. I wiped my mouth. Did your father continue his work after he joined the Primacy? Did he experiment on you at all?
She shivered. No, no, nothing like that. He was a pharmacist, dealing with locally produced remedies. There was maybe one odd thing, now I come to think of it.
He called me his greatest creation, for as long as I can remember. I always assumed it was just a figure of speech, a term of endearment, but now Her voice trailed away and I could see concern in her grey eyes.
I took a deep breath and released it slowly. OK, so Papa Orlov is on the run and needs a place to hide. But the Primacy are based on religious eugenics, they wouldnt accept an outsider unless his genetic makeup was perfect, I mean flawless. It cant just be a happy coincidence
Well, I was tested at birth, everyone is. My mother was just a Beta but Im rated an Alpha. She couldnt hide the pride in her voice.
Forget tinkering with gene therapy. I think your father not only found a way to wipe the slate clean, he passed that ability on as an inherited trait. A sudden thought made me frown, Shit, how did he die?
She stiffened. What? Ah, he was helping a neighbour cut down a tree and it fell the wrong way, crushing them both. Why is that important?
Sorry, but an accidental death is just fine. Something like cancer or liver disease would blow my theory out of the water. I ran fingers across my stubble, But if Bloon has forwarded your DNA to HanaMed for confirmation, then were screwed. Youll become a glorified lab-rat while I end up as landfill.
Dead? But he said if you didnt cause trouble then youd be left here, unharmed.
Yeah, right. Someone like Bloon cant screw a client and leave them looking for payback. No, if this goes bad then it goes bad big-time.
Diane stared at me for a long moment, chewing her bottom lip in an incredibly fetching fashion. I never mix business with pleasure but in a different time and place who knows?
She frowned. Youre an empath. Are you sure you cant tweak him, just a little? If HanaMed do offer to pay, then I'm guessing they won't offer much, in case Bloon thinks I might be worth even more and tries to sell me on the open market. Cant you make him suspicious of HanaMed's intentions, even paranoid, so that he goes for your agreed pay-off instead?
I shrugged my shoulders. Normally, yes, I could make him my best friend forever, or at least until everything was done and dusted. However, as things stand I gestured towards the back of my head, he could be bluffing, but Im not exactly keen to find out.
For a moment her whole demeanour changed, like shed been keeping No-More-Mr-Nice-Guy bottled up until hed really had enough. The look in her eyes was enough to shrivel any amorous thoughts I might have been harbouring. Not just figuratively.
She tossed her hair back. I have a way out of this. Do you trust me?
Depends. Does it involve me going mano a mano with Bloon while you cheer from the side-lines?
You wont even have to lift a finger.
I managed a semi-rakish grin. Then count me in. Whats the plan?
Just go over and talk to him. Appeal to his better nature.
Humour me, I think youll be surprised at the outcome.
I put on as much swagger as I could muster, given the circumstances, and headed over to where the pilot was standing, gazing down at the irrigation canal. Diana kept pace close behind me. Bloon was a big man and I really didnt fancy my chances if this ended in a fight, despite her assurances.
He turned to face me. I havent heard anything as yet, so try and chill out.
Diana touched the back of my neck.
My balls felt like a cold hand had just cupped them, making me gasp.
The world snapped shut and opened again.
I dropped maybe 15 centimetres and stumbled.
There was a small explosion behind me; a flat bang with no echo.
I fell, sprawling on long, coarse grass.
I was naked.
The rational part of my brain took a time-out so the instinctive me bounced back up and stared around, trying to make sense of things.
Bloon toppled backwards into the canal, his upper torso a bloody mass. I was on the opposite bank from where Id been standing only moments ago over 10 metres away.
Diana raised her voice. You make it OK?
I covered my groin with both hands. Yeah, well I took a deep breath. What the hell just happened? The simple version!
My father dubbed it displacement. However it only affects organic matter, not your clothes or Bloons shaped charge.
Inbuilt teleportation? Jesus - but how the hell did you get that past the ships scanners? Or generate enough energy?
Teleportation? No, nothing so crude. Every planet is awash in dark energy that most man-made systems cant detect. I simply displaced your molecular make up and background wash carried you across the canal in the time taken for the effect to wear off.
Her matter-of-fact tone was more disturbing than a crazed rant. Uh, dont take this the wrong way, Diana, but what the fuck are you on about? Some magical power whisked me to safety, leaving Bloon to get his face blown off? Whats next, we escape on the back of a bejewelled star dragon? Because without a pilot that ship is going nowhere.
She laughed. Then how about neural control of sticky neutrinos, Klein, does that make more sense? Bloon scanned for electronic implants, not bio-electrical signatures or organic abnormalities. My body is a living powerhouse capable of dark matter manipulation. I could probably run that entire ship of his without breaking sweat.
Jesus, girl, do you have any idea what that kind of technology is worth? Look, I know people - patent lawyers, private security, corporate brokers who can put together a primo deal. Cast iron, one that even the Devil himself couldnt dent.
For a percentage, of course? You sound just like my father, except the deal would be his and Id just be his proof of concept. All he was waiting for was my new organs to mature fully. The bitterness in her voice was obvious.
I experienced a sudden moment of clarity. You murdered him.
I placed my hand on the tree trunk and it fell as I wished. Although, good luck explaining that to a Magistrate.
Not a chance - your business is your business. I looked to left and right. The waterway stretched away in both directions with no visible crossing point. OK, so how do I get back across?
She smiled. You dont.
Sorry, Klein, but youre on your own from now on.
Look, Diana, without the ship I think wed stand a far better chance of getting off this world if we stick together.
I blinked. No?
I can fly the Delta, or at least let it fly itself. All I have to do is sit back and enjoy the ride.
I tried not to sound relieved. Ah, sorry to point out the obvious, but the ship is in lock-down. The controls are keyed to Bloons bio-signature, and his alone.
Diana shook her head. I screwed the hired help while you were unconscious. He even enjoyed having his back clawed while I harvested sufficient skin cells to coat my right palm. She smiled. So, no, I dont believe the geno-lock will pose a problem.
But you cant just leave me here like this! It was hard not to whine.
Why not? It was Bloon I wanted out of the way and your survival was just a by-product. Displacement timing is more art than science and you could just as easily have ended up in the canal.
You need me, Diana. You dont know Rim society, you dont know how to survive out here.
Oh, your contacts aboard Nebula Gateway would make life easier, I admit, but Ill get by. So long, Klein. Dont come looking for me. She turned on her heel and strode away, up the access ramp and into the ship. I tried to reach out but my brain was still on the fritz and her mind was a like a smooth ball-bearing; cold and impenetrable.
The access ramp swung shut and the engines began to power up. The Delta used VTOL technology rather than an anti-grav lifting field. It rose slowly into the air, down-blast blowing my abandoned clothes into the water where they sank without trace. The landing struts retracted as the ship moved forward, gaining speed. Part of me still hoped that Diana would circle around and set down on my side of the canal, a big Gotcha grin on her face as she welcomed me aboard.
The nose lifted and the Delta accelerated away into the clear blue sky, rapidly dwindling to a speck, a pinpoint, a figment of my imagination.
I heard a faint sonic boom.
A breeze rustled the grass, water gurgled in the canal, the sound of my own breathing. No birdsong, no insects, no distant hum of machinery. I shivered and wiped sweat from my brow, then started walking alongside the canal. I figured Id find a pump or sluice gates - something I could shut down so that a repair team would be sent to investigate. Hell, Id settle for a drone as long as I could attract its attention. As plans go it sucked but I was out of options.
Sometimes life pisses on you and tells you its raining.
I just wished Id brought an umbrella.© Martin M. Clark 2017 All Rights Reserved
Date and time of last update 19:11 Wed 22 Feb 2017
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