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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
A whole lotta folks get ready to do a whole lotta stuff.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 2625 RATING: 10 SERIES: FIREFLY
Chapter Twenty Nine
Rachel slunk through the dimly lit corridors of the Suri Madron like a shadow, her special stealth “ninja suit” helping her avoid detection. She didn’t really even need to bother with it – this level was restricted access, only Alliance personnel, and damn few of them around at that. In the half-hour she had been sneaking around, she had seen one bored guard and one flustered technician – and three or four monkeys.
The monkeys had observed her, no doubt catching her scent, but they didn’t seem terribly excited about her presence. She had been a bit unnerved by them, but she knew this was a lab ship. They were probably specimens or pets. Either way, since they didn’t deter her or obstruct her, she ignored them and focused on her mission. They watched her pass with casual interest and went about their own business.
After skulking around in the shadows she finally closed in on the control junction box on this level. It was unguarded, of course – who guards a non-descript access panel? -- and unlocked, so popping the cover off was child’s play. She hooked up the screen she carried and started in.
If this had been an Alliance-built ship it would have been difficult. Military spec ships had three levels of encrypted security that kept them from being easily tampered with. Not that she was unable to contend with them all, but she was just as glad that she didn’t have to. The Suri Madron had originally been a terraforming barge, and the control systems and electronics were all factory-standard civilian designs. Access was technically restricted by passcode, but it took her electronic slicer less than ten seconds to figure that out. Then she was in, and ready to do mischief.
First things first: download contemporary schematics and the last few years of public orders off of the system. While that was happening, she ran an application that jiggered the security protocols of all of the exterior airlocks, which would have made boarding the ship a little more difficult. Now the ‘locks would welcome the invasion fleet like they were supposed to be there. It was a subtle little program, one that didn’t ruffle any feathers where the purplebellies could see them. Encrypting all outgoing com traffic was a little trickier, due to the stronger security around communications, but they had prepared her for that, too. From now on, the only people the Suri Madron could talk to were the ones who had the same encryption key – Browncoats, in other words. That didn’t stop the automatic security protocols from kicking in, of course, but hopefully that hot-shot pirate Victor Stiles and his crew would keep the gunboat occupied long enough for it to take notice.
When the first and second parts of her mission were completed, Rachel took the time to handle the additional details that would make the coming attack simpler. She was just about to slap her screen shut and move on to the next phase of her mission when she remembered Mal’s request for the location of the vault. She didn’t begrudge the man a chance at a score – he had helped initiate her into the magic of war-time crime, after all – and his role in the mission was over, for all practical purposes. She located not one but three vaults in and around the Purser’s Office, five sections back and one down, and squealed it back to Serenity on a tight-burst signal on Comm channel four, as they had agreed upon. Grinning and silently wishing him good luck, she turned back to the last bit of unfinished business she had: scanning the prisoner rolls until she found the name she was looking for.
It was, after all, the entire reason she was here.
River didn’t bother telling anyone she was leaving, she just left. It honestly didn’t occur to her that it might be a problem.
It had been ridiculously easy to slip past the bored guards outside the corridor – they weren’t even standing near to the door, and a little distraction kept them out of the way long enough for her to turn a corner and slip down a side passage. River noted with muted amusement after briefly glancing at their minds that their weapons – Alliance standard submachine guns, no fancy lasers for the Suri Madron – were unloaded, the ammunition for them in a locked closet twenty-five meters away. They still carried low-level sonic stunners as a side arm, but they were essentially harmless.
There were all sorts of dusty nooks and dirty crannies down here – this was the docking module, and there hadn’t been much activity down here for a long time. River wasn’t even trying to be sneaky, though her combat boots barely made noise on the steel decks. She was on a mission. She had to find the Monkey King.
That was vital, she knew, though she didn’t know why. She just knew with certainty that she did. Lots of things that she couldn’t actually name depended upon her finding him, somewhere in the miles of corridors of this decrepit old wreck.
So how did you find a Monkey King? Page him over the intercom? Pheromones? Climb up a tree and make a noise like a banana? Would just calling his name and making soothing clucking noises work? While she couldn’t say with certainty that the ‘words’ the simian mind had produced were native, or whether he had learned them by rote, in his head, like a parrot, either way, it had been a remarkable enough experience to warrant further exploration. Her theory was that the mind she had encountered was, indeed, fully sapient.
Not just sentient, like cows, cats, dogs, horses and goats. She had examined the minds of each of them, and while she had found some intriguing thoughts contained within, they hadn’t had the awareness she had sensed in Sun Wu k’ung. As far as she was aware, that had been a first in the annals of science. She was aware of the crypto-science tied to producing sapient thought in a non-human brain, and she was likewise aware of the record of failures. Various scientists had tried it with computers, dogs, chimps and dolphins. There had been some close failures– the space-ship flying dolphins of last century, for example, or the brainy super-dogs that had been genetically augmented before the War. Those genetic and surgical curiosities had been long abandoned, however. While there had been occasional flashes of self-awareness and cognitive function, true sapience had proved elusive.
River was sure that she had encountered nothing less than the full realization of sapience in Sun Wu k’ung. The monkey’s mind had seemed cohesive and in possession of the cognitive integrity she had come to expect in sapient humans . . . and Jayne Cobb. But her excitement didn’t stop there. The Monkey King had understood that her mind was there – which was intriguing on entirely different levels – but he had also had the presence of mind not to mentally panic at the contact. She couldn’t think of many humans who might have displayed that level of control when exposed to raw, two-way telepathy.
The idea that a monkey could have achieved such heights was amazing. And incredibly unexpected. She had a million questions – actually, only seven hundred and fifty or so – that she wanted to know, from how he saw colors to his ideas of ethics and behavior to whether there was a God to what were the pros and cons of having a tail.
The pressing nature of the inquiry was such as to remove all other obstacles from her path in its pursuit. She had left Serenity on her own, with only the vaguest idea about hot to navigate around the confusing ship, in order to find the Monkey King. Therefore, she would find the Monkey King. She had a mission.
And if she had to kill or incapacitate a few people who got in the way of that, well, she’d feel bad about it. But it wasn’t anything that she hadn’t done before. Presupposing the existence of a omniscient, omni benevolent psychopomp who would sit in judgment during her afterlife, as the late Shepherd Book’s archaic and superstitious belief system held to be fact, River knew that she could either justify such unpleasantness through pleading extenuating circumstances, or she would be summarily damned regardless of the number of corpses that could be attributed to her hand. Of course, she found the entire idea of such a cosmological system unlikely to the point of incredulity. It was easier to believe in Sun Wu k-ung than Jehovah, in his many incarnations.
River wondered what the Monkey King would think about that.
“They still out there?” Viktor asked, peering into the Black through the cockpit window over his sister’s shoulder.
“Ain’t takin’ a potty break, if that’s what you mean,” she answered gruffly. “They’re doing radar soundings and the like, trying to get a fix on us.”
“Good,” Viktor murmured as he checked the board. The exterior sensors showed very little emanation from the Nightmare as it ran cold behind its cloak. The Alliance gunboat was running a standard spiral search pattern, dropping mines and locator probes and occasionally blasting a likely region of space with their EM cannon. Locating the gunboat by sight was easy, as it was leaving a gloriously long cometary trail of radioactive plasma and coolant in its wake, thanks to the lucky – or unlucky – shot to its reactor support system.
Back in the heady days of the War he would have seen the stroke as lucky – a ship couldn’t make top speed with a damaged reactor, and would have been easy prey. But during the war the merchant ships he had taken had been lightly armed, at best – not festooned with weaponry like this one. This one had nukes, plus enough smaller armament to eat the Nightmare for lunch, one-on-one. Still, the shot had kept the gunship out of the game, kept it drifting out of easy target range of the Suri Madron, and that was his mission.
Sara wasn’t too happy with the results, but he expected that. She peered out of the cockpit window at the growing spiral cloud of debris and bit her lip nervously, her fingers flexing on the wheel like a cat scratching its claws. This wasn’t really her strong suit, Viktor knew. She was a pilot who preferred action.
No matter how long ago the war had been, she was still a fighter pilot first and foremost, and running silent and cold was against her basic nature. She didn’t have the nerves and the cultivated patience for it, and let her unhappiness be known through a near-constant string of curses and complaints. He and Tinker had gotten used to it, of course, and he wouldn’t have traded Sara as a pilot for anything. She might not be the best crewmate in the world, and a mediocre pirate at best, but when the hammer fell she was adept at flying his ship like it was guided by angels.
Right now his sister was the least of his worries. That big gunboat was like a wounded predator, gunning for them hard. That was fine, because it kept their attention away from the Suri Madron, but even if Viktor had been willing to give up his life and his ship for a government that no longer existed, he couldn’t afford to do it just yet. The rescue was still hours away, and he had to keep his prey busy for that entire time. Busy and safely away.
“Activate number five,” he finally said, after much mental debate. “Let’s give them a reason to fare a little further out.”
“Aye, Captain, activating number five beacon,” Sara said, aping the military efficiency that she had been used to, once upon a time. Viktor had taken the time on the journey in to seed a number of custom-built probes at various distances out of the way. Number five was several thousand miles away, a tiny beacon that might look like the tell-tale signal of a cloaked ship. Then again, it might not, but Viktor figured the captain on the gunboat was scouring the spectrum for any trace of the Nightmare, now.
Five minutes later, he got his answer as the gunboat changed course towards the relay, trailing a cloud behind her. He almost breathed a sigh of relief, but knew it was too soon for that. Ordinarily a cloaked pirate would use a chance like this to peel away out of range, but today he had to keep up this cat-and-mouse game indefinitely, or the whole operation would be compromised. It was very un-pirate-like, but he had to keep the ship engaged.
“Bring up the power,” Viktor ordered Tink through the comm system. “Just a trickle, mind, but enough to power up the big laser.”
“Aye, Cap’n!” Tinker’s voice answered.
“You think that’s wise?” Sara asked.
“No, not in any normal sense of the word,” agreed Viktor, grimly, “but for our purposes, we might want to goad them a mite more, before we move again.”
“Ain’t they gonna see which way the laser is coming from, genius?”
“Nope,” Viktor said, shaking their head. “They won’t. Activate number nine.”
“What? Number nine?”
“Yeah. Toggle function two, on number nine, and let me know when it signals ‘ready’. I’m going back to the gun pod.”
“You do that,” she said, dismissively, but she sent the instruction. Somewhere off in the Black a tiny satellite no bigger than a five liter water can (which was, in point of fact, what Tinker had used for the casing) suddenly opened up and sprouted wings.
Viktor settled himself back into the pod and brought up the targeting computer, then found the tiny speck of metal just where it was supposed to be. It was at the extreme limit of the range of the standard ship’s optics, but the gunnery pod had a much more sophisticated system, and in moments Viktor had the probe in the screen well enough to read the label on the can.
“Number nine is ready,” Sara dutifully reported.
“Laser’s at eighty percent charge and rising,” Tinker added.
“Great. Look, Sissy, when the gunboat fires up its engines for burn, I want you to scoot us over to our next hiding spot. Their own EM will scramble their sensors for about fifty five seconds, so try a burn-and-coast and then brake us with thrusters. Can you do that?”
“From my bunk,” his sister replied sarcastically. “And quit calling me ‘Sissy’.”
Viktor didn’t comment. He waited until the green light that indicated the laser was at full power was lit, and then he started running some computer simulations. He had to adjust his angle a bit, and had the probe adjust as well, but it didn’t take long for the computer to spit back a firing solution.
“Head’s up!” he told his siblings. “Fire in the hole!”
He gently squeezed the trigger of the big laser, and a lance of light leapt out across the void – and hit the probe. The probe, for its part, had deployed a three-meter wide spiderweb of steel that unfolded a reflective mylar-chromium mirror. The laser reflected off of the mirror and sped off towards the gunboat – where it scored a hit on the portside and ventral radiators, and sliced through the hull near one of the weapons pods. There was no juicy explosion to witness, but it had been a good, solid hit. The laser had been reduced in power, due to the longer distance and the optical resistance of the probe (Number nine had been quickly destroyed by the beam, and showed up as a hat full of shiny debris on his scope), but it had done damage from an obscure angle that the purplebellies were sure to notice. And react to.
“Hit!” Tinker called out excitedly.
“Sara, get ready to scoot,” Viktor warned, pleased with his cosmic bank shot. “Burn and coast as soon as it’s good!”
“She’s firing engines and changing course,” Sara reported back. “Going for thrust in three . . . two . . . one . . . now!” Suddenly, there was a vibration in the deck and the stars changed course outside of the gun pod viewport.
“. . . and . . . engines off, going for coast to a soft brake,” she continued after less than a minute of hard thrust. “She’s headed towards the probe, Cap – looks like we won this round.”
“Yeah, good job, crew,” Viktor agreed with a sigh. “We did win this one. Only thirty or so more to go.”
“We got it, Cap’n!” Kaylee said, wiggling excitedly as the glowing lines of code appeared on the cockpit screen. “Rache came through!”
“I knew she would,” Mal dismissed, though he scribbled down the coordinates eagerly enough. He referred to the schematics of the Suri Madron and located the position within them. “Well, snap my suspenders! Lookee here, Kaylee! Not one vault, three vaults!”
“Looks pretty big, each of ‘em,” the engineer agreed as the Suri Madron’s schematics formed on the flexi she held. “Wonder what they got inside?”
“Pirate gold? Commemorative plates? Hell, they got platinum and scrip, that’s all we need.”
“Just like to know what we’re robbin’,” Kaylee pointed out a little defensively.
“Not ‘we’, Kayleebear,” Mal said, soothingly. “This is gonna be a quick one, just me an’ Jayne. We’ll leave at the first sign of trouble. Want you and River and ‘Nara to keep Serenity warm and ready to go – hate to have to leave in a hurry and not have a ride.”
“You’re . . . going to just leave us here?” she asked, pouting.
“Aw, ain’t like you’ll be defenseless . . . you got two strappin’ purplebellies outside that doorway there, and they’ll be tickled to defend your honor to the death. Or take you into custody, assuming that we’re nicked and taken ourselves. That happens, you button up the ship and sit tight. They won’t be able to get in, and I’m bettin’ that they’ll be too busy fending off murderous Browncoats to pursue an ‘aiding and abetting’ warrant. Now the only question is just how we can distract them two long enough to get past ‘em.”
“Why would you wanna do that?” Kaylee asked. “Seems t’me that the brainy thing to do would be to avoid ‘em altogether. Less o’course you got a fetish for unnecessarily complications.”
“I admit there could be an argument made for that,” sighed Mal. “But if you got an alternative plan . . .”
“Why not just go through the cargo lift door in th’ ceiling?” Kaylee asked, innocently. “It’s not hardly locked.”
“It’s also fifty gorram feet in the air, sweetheart,” Mal said, shaking his head.
“Well so is Serenity,” Kaylee pointed out. “And gee, ain’t we got a convenient dorsal hatch that comes out not three meters from that big hatch?”
“Jing tzai! Indeed we do,” Mal observed, nodding in appreciation of his engineer. “Won’t they hear it open, though?”
“Not if I’m doing ring tests on the drive,” Kaylee said patiently, as if the solution was obvious. “Which I would be doin’, if we really did have reactor issues.”
Mal leaned down and gave the woman a quick, powerful hug and added a kiss to the very top of her head. “Darlin’, you just made this thing ‘bout fifty-percent easier. ‘Cause gettin’ out wasn’t my primary worry: gettin’ back in with the loot was. But if we can come in over top of our girl, we can just drop the swag into the kitchen port like so many sacks of groceries.”
“That’s what I do,” Kaylee said, smugly basking in the praise.
“Then the first sign o’ trouble, me an’ Jayne will take a brief walk, find the purser’s office, blow open three little vaults, and come back here rich as lords. A finer plan I have never thunk.”
Kaylee looked up at him silently, her eyes wide with skepticism.
“What could possibly go wrong?” Mal asked defensively, as he tried to counter her accusatory gaze. “I’m gonna go get dressed and get Jayne ready, you keep scannin’ the local channels for signs o’ mischief. And keep the ship on trickle, ready to bolt at a whisper. In the unlikely event that we’re being pursued, I’d feel happier about having an exit at hand. Makes sure you fill in River and Inara – ‘Nara’s in her shuttle, I think. I don’t know where River is.” He gave her one last kiss on the head before he nearly skipped back down the corridor.
Kaylee shook her head – Mal was always so much calmer when he was planning a larceny. Crime seemed to bring purpose and direction to his thoughts, allowing him to keep the rest of his chaotic life in orbit. ‘Therapy by felony’, Inara had called it in one of their girltalk sessions. As mad as it sounded, Kaylee was relieved that Mal had stopped brooding about Zoe . . . at least on the surface . . . because of this stupid, stupid plan. As heavily as the prospect of arrest, death and disaster weighed on her, she really couldn’t stand it when Mal was all broody and sullen. And if it was hard for her to bear, she could only imagine what it must be like to . . .
“Just where is River, anyway?” Kaylee asked the empty cockpit.
Doctor Romano scrawled a quick note on a pad and tore it off before he handed it to his servant.
“Take it to Dr. Pao in the lab,” he instructed Caesar, who took the message in one of his small hands and chittered his understanding of the order. The baboon should know the route by heart, Romano mused, since he went on such errands every couple of days. The practice of using the baboons as messengers had been extremely useful for the project investigators – especially since computer records were stored and filed. Sometimes one needed to instruct one’s subordinates without leaving a paper trail. The monkeys were reliable, secure, and smart enough to take simple direction . . . like dogs with hands.
Caesar took the note over to the desk and folded it neatly and put it in a self-sealing envelope while Romano pulled up his desk display. Then the baboon saluted officiously – an affectation picked up from the soldiers years ago – and scampered off, leaving him to ponder the frightening news the Inspector had brought.
Eight hours. Less, now. He didn’t know exactly how the end would come, but he was certain, now, that it was at hand. The Parliament didn’t send someone as formidable, as coolly efficient as the Inspector unless it was planning on taking action. That could be as mundane as re-assignment and possible detention, or as spectacular as a thermonuclear device. But the action was coming, there was no doubt. The Suri Madron, his home and career for nearly two decades, was about to be put out of commission.
But he had been offered one last slim ray of hope. The Inspector wanted to know how to re-grow amygdaler tissue, and for a special patient. A young female, according to the record – a scan done on Ariel not six months before, he saw from the date stamp.
All of Romano’s accumulated fear and anxiety fell away as he became enrapt with the detail of the scan – he so loved a challenge, and this one was right up his alley. The damage was significant, true – someone had stripped the entire site and implanted artificial nanostructures in place. Delicate work, to be sure, and as advanced as he had seen outside of his own lab. But he noted with professional criticism areas where the surgeons had been clumsy, or merely ignorant of the sophisticated structure of the neural net of that region. Either way, the damage, while extensive, wasn’t totally irreparable.
It wouldn’t be easy, either. The inner workings of the human brain was one of the last great medical frontiers, and the fact was that individual genetics and natural neural architecture played as much role in the recovery process as the medical arts did didn’t help. This patient was obviously resilient enough to stand the surgeries, and Romano could see that her neural growth patterns were suggestive of being clearly-defined . . . but as he worked Romano found himself wondering why someone would want to go to all this trouble . . .
Reconstruction of damaged tissue was one thing. Implantation of neural tissue to correct or mitigate a birth defect was likewise understandable. But to go to all of the trouble of erecting a nanoscale structure that by-passed such critical elements in an apparently healthy brain . . . and then to want to reverse the procedure, that made no sense.
It was a mess. Someone had made great effort to augment the connection to the reticular nucleus, there was significant remodeling in the ventral tegmental area, the locus ceruleus, and the laterodorsal tegmental nucleus. If he wasn’t mistaken, the scan revealed an inspired expansion of control of her production of dopamine, norepinephrine and epinephrine – that might come in handy, he realized, in a crisis situation. The nanotubal superstructure likely had increased her memory capacity, and capacity to recall fine detail. The basolateral nuclei had a brilliant tangle of microprocessors attached to it that he could only guess was intended to improve her recall to blinding speed and accuracy. The connections between the lateral amygdalae and the basolateral complexes and to the centromedial nuclei had been stunningly re-engineered that had to be Dr. Houk’s work, he’d been proposing something like that in theory for years as a precursor to telepathy. Romano had even experimented with it a few times with the baboons, but the animal models hadn’t been promising. But to see it done in a human . . .
The deeper he got into the scan, the more impressed he became with the design. It showed foresight, ingenuity, even brilliance in places. But he could have done it better, he reasoned.
Still, why it was done, and why it needed to now be reversed weren’t the pressing issues at the moment. Repairing the problem, that was his task. He began sketching out a rough plan of treatment, examining each individual implantation structure and figuring out how he and his team would go about fixing it.
Romano scanned through the files on his desk and selected every file even remotely connected to the procedure – which included five successful animal tests and two human tests – and dumped them to a portable file. That included complete pre-operative procedure, specimen preparation, video and surgical telemetry, genetic samples and examples of custom-grown organelles. He added whole volumes of reference materials, just to be thorough, and finished by recording a twenty-minute capture of his reasoning and thinking behind the treatment plan. It was worthy work – inspired, even – and dovetailed nicely with the intelligence augmentation he had devoted his life to.
When he was done, he glanced at his watch. He had completed it with four hours to spare. His heart lifted when he realized that the Inspector would probably just be finishing up his interview with Dr. Rendell.
He stretched and realized that his shoulders had been tight. As a reward for his hurried dedication to medicine, he poured a glass of wine and toasted the nobel prize plaques where they hung behind his desk. Just as he touched his lips to the glass, the lights went out for a moment, and the hollow sound of a distant boom reverberated in the bowels of the ship.
“I’ve got four more hours!” he screamed as he dropped the wine glass and grabbed the data storage module from his desk. “He said I had eight hours!”
“Just came in, Colonel,” Lienz said, handing the paper over to McNab with reluctance. “Our mysterious benefactor. And it’s serious. I had cleaned the cages only fifteen minutes before, and this note was not there.”
McNab took the piece of paper and held it up to the uneven light in his make-shift headquarters. The usual neat lettering had been replaced by a broad and emphatic use of capital letters.
TOP PRIORITY MESSAGE – NEW INFORMATION HAS BEEN REVEALED THAT INDICATES THE STRONG POSSIBILITY OF TERMINATION OF PROJECT WITHIN THE NEXT 8 HOURS. INDICATION CAME DIRECTLY FROM INSPECTOR. IN ADDITION, THERE HAVE BEEN REPORTS OF MYSTERIOUS MOVEMENTS IN AFT SECTIONS, POSSIBLY INDICATING THE PRESENCE OF CLANDESTINE HOSTILES. ADVISE THAT YOU PURSUE ALTERNATIVE OPTIONS WITH ALL HASTE. WILL PLAN ACCORDINGLY. GOOD LUCK.
That was it. McNab continued starring at the paper long after he had read it, feeling his anxiety and emotion well up as the implications became clear. Someone had seen or overheard something. Something pretty bad. He wished the agent had been more clear on the specifics, but it was hard to criticize. He hadn’t cultivated this source, it had appeared on its own.
Was this a trap? Had this mysterious source been a plant by Chen or Romano – or even, God forbid, the Captain? Or was he what he had claimed to be, someone who favored the plight of the prisoners? The answer to that question would determine his course of action. If this was an attempt to goad him into action, then he and his people were probably doomed, walking into the waiting guns of their guards. If this was truly legitimate, then it was just the kind of up-to-date intel any commander dreamed of.
Eight hours? That wasn’t long. But the truth was, his people had been ready to go for days. They knew their jobs, they knew their mission, they knew the roles that they had to play to have any hope of survival. He could rouse them from their patient waiting and unleash the carefully-prepared hell they had contrived, but if they failed they would likely be eliminated out of hand.
It was a gamble, nothing less, a gamble with the lives of everyone on board. The three thousand who counted on him for leadership and guidance, even the thousand purplebellies that oppressed them. Everyone would be affected by his decision. Best take the time and do it right.
He folded the paper in his hand as he paced the length of the long narrow corridor that served as his secret command center, the prisoner’s ‘war room’. There were maps of the ship posted all over, and lists of weapons caches, personnel readiness reports, everything, here. He walked passed them all, deep in thought.
The other Browncoats in the poorly illuminated section watched him anxiously, wondering what was on the paper. Wondering if he was going to call the whole thing off. That’s what they expected, he knew. For over ten years now there had been an active escape plan, and everyone had been preparing for ‘the right time to move’.
Every year they measured was another metric of how poorly they had fared thus far. The right time had never presented itself. Situations that seemed suited for it were passed up, as the leader of the prisoners tried to find some effective way of not just starting a riot – that was easy enough – but completing certain objectives. Every time the young turks had thought that they were ready to move, McNab had waved them off. You had to pick your time for something like this. On the up side, his people were as well-prepared as he could hope to ask. On the down-side, once they were committed, there was no turning back. At this point, they had him pegged as an eternally cautious fence-sitter. Would he back out once again? That was the question that plagued them.
He kept them wondering, for a moment, as he wondered himself. He had one single, solitary shot. If they missed it, there would be no second chances in this life. The guards were heavily armed, and held the high ground. Colonel Chin had control of the ship. There was no real way off of the damned ship – except the escape pods in the forward sections and the Romano’s shuttle. And those metal barrels would be easy pickings for their gunboat shadow.
No, they had to take the ship, take it thoroughly, take it quickly. Nothing less would work. The size of this insurrection would be such that no mere punishment, no starvation rations or threats of Below would result in their failure. No, they would be executed, possibly en masse through depressurization. Or at least sent into torpor with Pax and executed one at a time. Either way was a likely result.
McNab stopped in front of the weapons rack. He had had the caches around the ship prepared, and had a selection of the homemade and stolen weapons brought here. None of the blades and zip guns looked particularly intimidating, especially considering the devastating array of arms the guards had access to. But they could cut and shoot, and they would be manned by desperate men. McNab looked at them with a healthy skepticism. The tools of war, such as they were. He should have spent the last decade teaching his own son how to use them, and they had robbed him of that.
Suddenly the veracity and trustworthiness of the mysterious note-leaving benefactor was unimportant. Wasting a quarter of his life on this hell-hole suddenly was. And with a deep and heartfelt sigh, he drew the samurai sword from the rack, eyed the blade, and gave it a few practice swipes.
“Change in plans, lads,” he said to his eagerly awaiting staff as he eyed its rusty, sharp edge. “Tell the advance teams to proceed. Prepare the secondary teams for action. Everyone get ready to fight for your life. We move now!”
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