Aubrey was sitting on the steps, a thin silvery blanket from Priss’s pack around her shoulders, when Lang poked his head through the door up top and said, “Come on, people. I’ve got our route mapped out and it’s time to go.”
Priss immediately started packing things up, winding up cables and securing her AI. Sean did his best to help with only one hand to work with while Aubrey folded up the blanket, still absently brushing at tears. Lang watched the process for a moment before asking, “What happened?”
“It’s a long story,” Priss said. “I’ll give the long version in my report, but the short version is that we learned some very disturbing things about how UNIGOV has been running things for the past few centuries.”
“Ah.” Lang nodded once and said, “I’ll read the report, then. Let’s get moving.”
“What are you carrying?” Aubrey asked, looking meaningfully at the large bundle, wrapped in a blanket much like the one she’d just folded up, that he had slung over one shoulder.
“Something I picked up for Admiral Harrington when we get back to the fleet. Got a present for you, Priss.” He picked up her exoskeleton from the stack of gear he’d set by the door and dropped it on the landing at the top of the stairs, keying it to unfold so she could step in when she got up the stairs.
“I don’t suppose you’ve got a couple of spares, do you?” Sean asked. “These stairs just keep going.”
“Sorry, we’ve got Dex’s but I don’t know the first thing about recalibrating one of these for a new user. There’s lots of crap to work out. Has something to do with the balance gyros or something.” Once Priss was in her exo he handed her the bundle with the spare exo and the weapons in it then shifted his own bundle from one shoulder to the other. “Let’s move.”
The bowels of the Vault seemed quite empty and most of the stairs and halls they took were pretty dusty. In the ten minute trek from where they met up to the ship hanger they didn’t see anyone else. That didn’t change once they were actually in the hanger. In fact, it took them a solid ten minute just to find the power for the hanger and get it switched on, at which point they could actually take a look at what they had to work with.
“Wow.” Like most of the rooms they’d visited in the Vault this one was huge and had ledges and a catwalk running around the perimeter. Leaning against the railing, Lang could see the room was easily two acres in size and contained at least ten Departure era ground to orbit craft lined up on either side of the wide rail that would shoot it towards orbit via maglev propulsion. “This place should be in a museum.”
“This place could be a museum,” Priss corrected.
“Don’t insult the ships that are going to get us off this god forsaken planet. This era of technology should be something the AI can parse. Help me tap in and get these things ready to launch.”
It took several hours of running back and forth, helping the spacers load this and find replacements for that, before they even got to the stage of firing up one of the hanger’s tugs and moving one of the launch craft over to the launching station. By that point Aubrey could feel her body starting to drag. It had been nearly eight hours since any of them had eaten and a solid twenty since she’d slept. Lang and Priss were a little more alert – drug induced sleep was still sleep after all. But Lang was hellbent on getting them back into orbit without wasting any more time and he was pretty sure he could launch with just another hour’s worth of work.
So he dragged Priss into the cockpit to run diagnostics while leaving Sean and Aubrey to load the gear. As they went their separate ways Sean asked, “You got anything left to eat, Lang?”
“Should be some protein bars in the rucksack,” Priss answered. “Help yourself. I plan on getting a real steak once we’re on the Tranquility.”
So they munched on compressed protein as they dragged the spacer’s rolling crates up into the ship’s modest cargo hold and strapped them down, then tossed the bags into a bin in the back of the passenger compartment. The exoskeletons were a little harder to secure so they finally settled for collapsing all three of them and strapping them to a single chair. There were six in the cockpit so it wasn’t like they were hurting for space. The problems came when they went to retrieve the odd bundle Lang had brought with him earlier. When they picked it up it started moving.
One minute and fourteen seconds later Aubrey burst into the cockpit. “Lang! Why the fuck do you have Mond tied up in a bag?”
“He’s answerable for the death of a prisoner under his care.” He didn’t even bother looking up from his diagnostics. Neither did Priss, which suggested she’d been in on it. “We’ll make him stand before a tribunal. It’s pretty standard stuff, really.”
“You shot his arms and legs off.”
“We’ll clone him new ones.” Lang stopped, one hand hovering over a button – an actual button not a holodisplay or touch control – and seemed to think for a minute. “I think. He may just get prosthetics until after the tribunal. If he’s executed cloning would be a waste of time and resources.”
“Yeah, well, you could have left him some arms. At least the elbows up.” Sean was settling Mond in to one of the passenger seats. Aubrey felt a twinge of shame at not helping him carry Mond into the ship. They’d opened the bundle he was in and found him half conscious and delirious, probably because his medical systems had drained him badly in the process of countering Lang’s quadruple amputation via plasma assault. She’d been so upset she just charged off to give Lang a piece of her mind, rather than helping a man clearly in distress.
“He’s a feisty one,” Lang said, sounding legitimately impressed. “I didn’t want him clobbering me with one of his stumps so when I moved up from his legs I took a little more.”
“Well it’s going to make strapping him in to a chair a pain in the ass.” Sean set about trying to do just that while Aubrey fished around for some water and food to try and revive Mond. The medical system was a brilliant piece of technology but it needed a well fed body to do its work.
“Sit him in your lap if you have to,” Lang said. “We only need another twenty minutes or so to get into orbit.”
Mond coughed on a mouth full of water before taking a few greedy bites of the offered protein stick and swallowing hard. “I told you,” he said around the last mouthful of food, “these launch facilities have hanger doors. They aren’t open. If you try and launch us without authorization from me or a similarly ranked UNIGOV party member you’ll just kill us all.”
“I figured as much. Your office had a door, after all, you obviously haven’t forgotten what those are for and from what Sean and Aubrey told us about their jobs, you get bureaucracy too. So I thought ahead.” Lang held up his AI. “With the right tools and an adequate sample,” he held up his mission log in his other hand, “you can fake a voice pretty easily, at least well enough to fool the human ear. And I’m betting you don’t bother with voice print IDs, right?”
He fiddled for a moment and the AI announced, “I am Stephen Mond and I am authorizing the launch doors be opened.”
Mond’s eyes grew large and bulged outwards. “You gave that whole speech about tribunals for a voice sample?”
“Nope. Hence your sitting in that seat with no arms and legs.” Lang tossed the AI down on the console and gave Mond a spine shivering glare. “You’re very much going to face justice so I wouldn’t get too attached to breathing, Director Mond. Now shut up and let me do my job.”
Instead Mond turned his attention from Lang to Sean, then Aubrey. “I cannot believe that two upstanding sapiens, dedicated to civil living and mutual support, such as yourselves, would choose to assist these deranged and destructive individuals over your own government. What could possibly come over you?”
Aubrey exchanged a glance with Sean. There were so many ways to answer that. They’d gotten to know three of Mond’s so called martians. They were hardly what he made of them. Then there was Sarah and the terrifying glimpse Aubrey’d had of what UNIGOV had done to her. And there was Dex.
Before she could try and put any of that to words, Mond went on. “You will never be at ease among them, you know. You’re not built to be suspicious. They will constantly look at you and judge you before knowing you. They will assume your state of mind based on whatever they’ve gone through and choke out everything you are based on their own views of the world. You cannot possibly live in that environment.”
“He does have a point.” Lang turned in his chair after handing his AI off to Priss, who held a headset mike up to it and got to work, presumably contacting whoever would open the launch doors for them. “Copernican society is radically different from what you know. You might fit in with the Rodenberrys, if you work at it, but I can’t guarantee this is something you’ll ever get used to. It might be riskier for you to stay but if you want to… this is your last chance to get off. I won’t get in your way.”
For all her life Aubrey had thought assuming people’s state of mind was a crime against them. A way of trying to make them conform to you, rather than finding who they were and meeting them halfway. The almost telepathic way the spacers had communicated without speaking had been one of the things about them that unnerved her the most. But in that instant, as she glanced at Sean and looked into his eyes, she saw that this, too, was something she’d been wrong about. In an instant she could tell that the last few days had fundamentally changed him in much the same way they’d transformed her and in that knowledge was a feeling of safety and acceptance that she’d never found in her schools, UNIGOV training or mental health counseling. They both smiled and slipped in to chairs, strapping in.
“You know what I think, Lang?” She asked.
“What?” A smile tugged at the corners of his lips.
“I think there’s only one book where you can’t know what it says until you look. And that’s the future.” She sat back in her seat and smiled. “Take us up.”
Priss glanced up from her headset. “Doors are opening.”
A ferocious, gleeful grin split Lang’s face then he spun to his board and said, “Securing all hatches. Let’s go to space.”
A few button presses later the invisible hand of acceleration slammed them back into their chairs as the shot down out of the hanger, into the dark tunnels beyond and towards the distant light of the sun.