Joined: 27 Oct 2004
Location: Western North America
|Posted: Sat Jan 30, 2010 11:32 pm Post subject: Chapter 5
|Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 6
WARNING: STRONG LANGUAGE
The floor gently rumbled with the force of a slight tremor. Down here in the mess of military and police factions that was the attack on D.O., that could only mean another bomb had gone off. Jerry hadn’t been much closer to the first explosion, but Sarah’s grimy rubble-caked appearance suggested she was. Her reaction to the minor concussion all but confirmed it.
The man who called himself Keaton glanced over his shoulder in the direction of the blast and seemed to reach a conclusion. “Look, when I heard Gorscht was coming after you I scrambled to infiltrate so I could extract you more safely, but I have no support down here and I need to worry about myself. I’m leaving. Come or not, but I’m leaving.”
“He’s right Jerry, we need to go. Whether we can trust him or not, at least he’s only one man. Better odds than an army, right?”
Better odds. Odds were Sarah’s job aboard ship. Statistical Analysis Coordination Technician was her official job description, which was just a fancy way of saying that if it had anything to do with real world math and the chances of a given outcome, it was her responsibility to figure the odds out. Usually she needed data for that, but over the years she had developed good instincts that served her well on a first look. Jerry wasn’t going to bother asking her about the numbers. She wouldn’t have any. Maybe one man being better odds than an army was a little obvious, but he trusted her instincts, and now wasn’t the time to argue.
Keaton unshouldered a bag he was carrying and started rummaging through its contents. He took out a small black holo-disc and a device that Jerry had never seen before which resembled a telescope, only smaller and pencil-thin.
"Okay Keaton, whatever your plan is, we're with you. Just get us out of here--but when this is done, there's some questions I want answered."
"If we make it out of here alive, you can ask me anything you want, friend. For now, let's just focus. Getting out of here isn't going to be easy."
Jerry had a feeling that was somewhat of an understatement, but let it pass for the moment. He scratched absently at the once red tip of his now mostly gray beard and looked at Sarah. Despite a distinctly shell-shocked sensibity, her eyes were clear when she nodded encouragement. "Okay Keaton, lead the way."
Keaton held up the holo-disc and a three dimensional map grid of the D.O. level lit to life in the air above his hand. The amber light it set off underlit their faces, sending harsh shadows above their features. Keaton's dark brow furrowed in concentration as he studied the map to (Jerry could only assume), get a fix on their current location. Clay colored eyes traced the lines of the grid as his thumb and forefinger stroked a short pointed mustache.
"We're three corridors from the exit I've arranged. It shouldn't take long for us to get there."
"Which side," Jerry asked.
"Dockside, quarterside, halfside closingside--three corridors to which side?"
Keaton put the disc away and turned his attention to the telescoping device. "Oh, right. I forget that most of you can't decipher the compass points through the interference in the sky. West, Mr. Sykes... so for this colony, that would be dockside." He extended the device and walked over to the far end of the room.
"That's no good," Jerry said.
Sarah whipped her head around in his direction in the I-am-losing-my-patience way that she did so well. "Why?"
"Because there are guard stations that way. Even if they aren't manned right now, there won't be any crossing without getting tangled up in the fray--hold on. Did you say west? West as in quarter 'till magnetic north?"
"We aren't going to be crossing the stations. And yes, I said West." Keaton had finished lining up the device to run horizontally along the top of the wall. Now he somehow activated it, flooding the room with blue light. Jerry stared in disbelief at the empty storage room on the other side of the wall, now clearly visible through a blue tinted field that stretched from the device to the floor.
"I'm sorry. You said west?"
"Slighty more important things going on right now, Jer."
Jerry's mind raced to catch up. That was a concrete wall he was seeing through. Two of them actually, with a titanium plate sandwhiched in between them. He had no idea how half of the last ten minutes of his life was possible, but it seemed like he was just going to have to turn off his curiosity if they were going to make it out of here anytime soon.
"It appears to be clear," Keaton said before turning back to face them. He clucked his tongue and made a sour face. "Really Mr. Sykes, you should put that away before we go through. Who knows how it will affect the gate?"
Jerry followed Keaton's gaze and ended up looking down at his own hand. To his great shock, the sample of the rock specimen he had worked so hard to retrieve and all but forgotten about still sat there. He looked about the room for something to carry it in, but nothing useful was immediately apparent.
"Wait, 'go through'? What do you mean, 'go through'?"
Sarah this time. Good Jerry thought, at least I'm not the only one who doesn't know what's going on.
Keaton touched the device, an action so unthought and practiced that Jerry missed exactly how, and all the blue light of the field was pushed to the edges of the window it created. The rest of the gate looked clear enough to step through, and Keaton did just that. "I mean go through. Come on, there's no time to waste."
Jerry tried really hard to ignore how impossible that was as he concentrated on finding a container. Lacking anything better for the task, Jerry grabbed a coat that was hanging from the back of a chair and placed the specimen deep in one of its thick pockets. Sarah set her jaw and strode through the gate as if with a purpose. The coat settled over his shoulders as he hurried to catch up. “Okay Keaton, lead the way.”
“Let me make sure I got this right. You make me a ridiculously large offer for some weird rock, you threaten and cajole me, you offer to bribe the D.O., and now that you are suddenly not interested and offer me nothing... you expect me to keep quiet about it?”
The fat man got a mildly distasteful look on his face and turned away from him. Rafi, unruffled, smoothed the front of his buttoned red coat. “Now that is highly inappropriate Mr. Kent. We went through great lengths to convenience you with the terms of our offer, and you have been very ungrateful about it.”
“Ungrateful? Listen you son of bitch, I am not about to….” The rest of the sentence Kent meant to say fled his mind as quickly as it had fled his mouth. He was now staring at the business end of a very large weapon. He didn’t know what kind of gun it was—guns weren’t his thing. But it was big, and he had no doubt it could kill him easily. On the other end of it, Rafi was without a smile for once.
“No Mr. Kent, you will listen to me, and you will keep your mouth shut until I am done speaking. Despite our efforts, you remained stubborn in our deal. And despite your ingratitude, we remained open to a deal and accommodated your demands. But you waited too long to say yes, and now that deal is no longer to our advantage. Neither I nor my employer has any good reason to talk to you at all anymore, but still I am going to be generous Mr. Kent, and I am going to give you some advice. Action has been taken, and violence is occurring. There will likely be damages and deaths. Don’t be among them, Mr. Kent. Don’t make threats to the very people who tried to help you because you shot yourself in the foot. And now even I am done talking with you. Remove yourself from this office—quietly—or I will have it done for you.”
Kent was not the most careful man; he didn’t have any illusions about that. He took great risks with his life and the lives of others, but he didn’t mistake this for bravery. He could be a great reckless fool when there was money to be made and the danger was a vague and avoidable possibility. He trusted his luck that much. But he was not a stupid man either, and when someone points a gun in your face and tells you to shut up and do what you’re told, luck doesn’t enter into it. You shut up and do what you’re told.
So he bit his tongue and turned his back on what had been the biggest chance of his life. It seemed like such a shame to walk away with nothing to show for it, but what else could he do? Just mouth of and get himself shot that was what… he suppressed a laugh at the thought that at least that would cost them something. Then he stopped in his tracks. He’d made it halfway to the door, but some part of him would not let him leave without trying to get something for his trouble.
“Hey Gorscht,” he shouted as he turned back to face the both of them, “can I just ask one last question? Then you’re done with me, I swear.”
Rafi looked for the entire world like he wanted nothing more than to shoot Kent right then, but he wasn’t. He was talking to his boss, not to him. Kent suppressed another laugh at the idea that business etiquette may have just saved his life. And hey, that was another thing; why was he finding everything so fucking funny lately? Something cold and chill gripped him deep in the pit of his stomach and it had nothing to do with the gun pointed at him.
Gorscht looked intrigued in spite of himself. “What is your question, Kent? Indulge us.”
“Well let’s say for the sake of argument that you had to kill me to keep me quiet. How much would disposing of my body and covering up my murder cost you?”
“I’m sorry?” The look on the fat man’s face could suggest a number of things, among them that he ate some bad cheese. In this context, Kent was more convinced that his brain could not process the bluntness of his question. He found repetition to be best in those circumstances.
“I said how much would it cost you to kill me? I can’t picture either of you lugging dead bodies around or digging up gardens with shovels. Men like you usually have a guy for that, am I right? You must pay him something, so… what’s the damage per body?”
Kent couldn’t believe he was actually having this conversation. But at least it gave him some sense of control again. At least he was doing something other than tucking his tail and leaving without even scraps.
“Mr. Kent… I certainly would not be foolish enough to say I do any such thing, let alone give you a fixed cost that would show up in my bank records. But my curiosity is piqued; why would you even ask such a thing?”
“Because whatever it is, I’ll take less.”
The look on Gorscht’s face changed then, it became something darker, something more frightening. Bad sign Kent thought, certain that it would be among his last thoughts. He’d thought it was a good deal, but apparently Gorscht did not. At least he didn’t seem to think so.
Then his fat sweaty face was split in half by a broad smile and laughter exploded from somewhere deep in his plentiful chest. Kent was at once relieved and minded of Santa Clause, and might have laughed himself at that notion before being disturbed by his own unaccountable good humor; he really needed to sort his head out if he survived this, it hadn’t been right since he first touched the rock sample. He couldn’t hide from it anymore.
Rafi observed his jovial employer with the concern of a man encountered by something strange and unfamiliar, but said nothing. He flinched when Gorscht slapped his back.
“Put that away Rafi, you look like a hitman. ‘I’ll take less.’ Ha!”
Rafi did as he was told and the strangeness of the look on his face deepened.
“So… we have a deal then,” Kent ventured to ask.
“You are very unexpected Mr. Kent. Very unexpected.” Gorscht reached over and removed the cigar from Kent’s pocket. He bit off the tip and lit it, then puffed lazily at it as he regarded Kent. “Yes, I think that will do. Rafi; pay the man.”
Relief flooded through Kent’s body, the exact opposite feeling of an adrenaline rush. Rafi smirked at the whole affair, clearly unhappy about Kent walking away with anything but a death threat. He moved to get Kent’s money though, and he had no idea how much it would be, or what kind of trouble he might have just made for himself, but Kent didn’t care.
So he pissed away a fortune. Big deal, there were other opportunities out there. He would just have to use whatever money he got here to help fund another dive that was all. Despite all that, and despite all the stress and tension he had just been through, the thought that Rafi was unhappy was enough to cheer him.
Kent couldn’t help himself. He smiled.
Jerry liked his new coat. It was light, it hung low, and it was probably the nicest piece of clothing he would ever own. He briefly argued the moral ground of what amounted to theft, but considering that there were far greater crimes going on and that survival was a priority in these circumstances, he just couldn’t feel too bad about it. In fact, he didn’t feel bad about it at all.
“Running a systems check now.” That was Sarah. She was at her console, back in Kent’s submersible the Barrow. Keaton paced the floor of the bridge, glancing nervously at all the consoles as Sarah did her thing. For Jerry’s part, he had always wondered what it was like to sit in the Captain’s chair, so that is exactly what he was doing. It was nice.
Their escape had been unexpectedly easy and without event. Keaton simply held up his portal thing to every wall between them and the docking bay, found the Barrow, then did the same thing to get inside her. Now it was just a matter of piloting her out, supposing Keaton made good on his assurance that he could get the doors open.
“Everything looks okay… no noticeable change from when we docked—well, other than our missing cargo. Life support checks out, we definitely have enough power and air to make it to another colony. Do we do this?”
She was having second thoughts about their daring escape. Boring. “No Sarah, we go back the way we came and surrender ourselves to the guys who want us dead. Hell, let’s give ‘em the sample too, and toss them Keaton while we’re at it. Doesn’t that sound like a lot of fun?”
The look she gave him was ice and fire all at once. Jerry almost worried about it… they had always had a somewhat antagonistic relationship, but she was not as used to being the one who was antagonized. Deep down in some part of his brain Jerry always knew if he gave as good as got he might cross a line with her that would be difficult to come back from. He didn’t think he’d done that just yet, but he could see it happening within the day, and couldn’t really find it in himself to care. He thought that should bother him, but it didn’t, which didn’t really bother him either. It was really quite liberating not to worry about so many things. He decided that spinning in good ol’ Capt. Kent’s chair was the finest idea right then, so he did that.
“Jesus Jerry, what the hell is the matter with you? You’re acting like a damn fool, a child even!”
“I agree,” Keaton said, “this has gone on quite long enough. I’ll be right back, just sit tight.” He grabbed his bag and headed for the supply room.
“Hey, if you’re gonna steal from us, at least log what you take so I know what to replace!”
A punch in his shoulder from Sarah. “Stop it! He just saved our lives you know, you’re being a complete asshole." Jerry contemplated punching her back, but he decided there wasn’t anything fun about it, so he just smiled at her instead. “That wasn’t nice Sarah.” This was getting boring. He turned to Kent’s console and wondered what would happen if he started pushing random buttons.
He was distracted from this when Keaton came back from the supply room with a small metal box that contained various nuts, bolts, washers and the like. These he dumped unceremoniously on the bridge floor.
“Hey! I need those for repairs.”
“Shut up. Give me the rock.”
“Never mind why, just give it to me.”
“What are you gonna do with it?”
“I’m going to put it in this box.”
“For our safety. Now give it up.”
“Hold on Mr. mercenary, I went through a lot of trouble getting this, I’m not so sure I’m comfortable just handing it over to you. I haven’t even made up my mind that I trust you yet—and you’re supposed to be answering our questions now that we’re out of harm’s way.”
“We are far from out of harm’s way, and the rock is having a severely negative effect on your mind. You need to put it in the box. You can keep the box, it is your box. But the rock has to go in it before you lose your mind. Do you understand me Jerry?”
How can a rock have an effect on someone’s mind? Lots of different ways, you know that. He’s telling you the truth, cretin. You know the science. Uranium sound familiar? Mercury ring any bells? Sure, neither of them work quite like that, but then how does a rock make a sound? And we know it does that. And just what is up with you anyway? Maybe he’s got a point. Though talking to your self is definitely getting boring. So what now, cowboy?
“Okay… yeah, I don’t feel so good. Here. Do what you want with it.” Jerry took the rock from his pocket, felt a slight elation as it came into contact with his skin, less like he was in need of cured boredom. He knew Keaton was right then, that the rock was screwing with his head somehow, and he quickly threw it in the box before it somehow changed his mind.
A quick review of the last twenty minutes left him wincing at his own behavior, but he still didn’t feel right. Manic… giggly… maybe a nap would help. He would like to take a nap. “I would like to take a nap.”
“Not a good idea,” Keaton said as he closed the box. True to his word, he returned it to Jerry. “You need to stay awake and try as hard as you can to come to your senses. My experience with this substance is that it’s after effects on the sleeping mind are quite damaging. Here, take this.” Keaton produced a medicine injector from his person.
The thought of some drug running through his system scared some more sense back into Jerry. He was already feeling better; calmer, more like himself. But he was still disoriented and unsure of his senses. He tried to swallow, but his throat was too dry. “What… what is that. What does it do?”
“It’s nothing special, just a highly concentrated dose of vitamin C mixed with ginger root. There’s also some antioxidants mixed in with it. I don’t know the whole cocktail, I don’t make it myself. It has no direct affect on the influence of the rock on you, we know of nothing that does. But it does stimulate your mind and promote general wellness enough to help most people recover more quickly.”
“Jerry? Sarah? Either of you reading me?”
“Will!” Sarah’s face lit up. She opened the channel so everyone could participate in the discussion. It was only when he saw that look on her face that Jerry pieced together Sarah’s hesitance to escape. She didn’t want to leave Kent behind. He hadn’t had a problem with that? Was he really that much of a louse?
“Okay Keaton, shoot me up.” A small prick. The sound of the injector pressurizing the medicine through his skin.
“Will, where are you?”
“I’m about ten minutes away from D.O., but there’s Colony Military blocking the way. What the hell’s going on?”
Sarah briefly explained the situation to Kent.
“Hey, let me ask you something Keaton. The things people say and do when this rock gets to them. Is any of it, I don’t know, true? You know what I mean? Like… is that really me?”
“Way to go, Jer! You got it—you’re crazy, but you got it! I couldn’t be prouder!” Sarah must have gotten to the part about him getting the rock sample.
“Thanks Boss,” he shouted so he could be heard from the Captain’s console.
Keaton put a hand on his shoulder, the sort of gesture common to leaders and wise men when they wish to say an important thing to someone who needs their guidance. “The effects of this substance are still largely unqualified. There’s a lot we don’t know. Having said that, the specific effects it has on the mind are different for everyone, but they are never good. You have nothing to be ashamed of.”
The medicine was working and Jerry’s mind began to clear in earnest now. He did feel some shame, but Sarah was almost done explaining their situation, and now wasn’t the time to dwell on it.
“…So out the dock with the Barrow is really the only way we have out of here. But now that you’re locked out of D.O., I’m not sure what to do. We can’t just leave you here.”
“You might have to Sarah, I don’t really see any other option. Just go ahead to the next colony. I’ll catch a passenger sub and meet up with you later, then we can figure out what to do from there.”
“Actually, there’s another option. There’s an older dock on this colony that we sometimes use.”
“Who’s that? The Keaton guy?”
“Yes Captain Kent. Permission to remain aboard your vessel?”
“Granted, and my thanks. So who is ‘we’?”
“With respect Captain, for now my answer will have to be the group I work with.”
“You really do have a lot of explaining to do Keaton,” Sarah said.
“Anyway… the old dock is in various states of disrepair, it’s absolute tosh for commercial use, but we keep it operational enough to handle a ship at a time. Secretly, of course. Should you wish, we can try to rendezvous with Captain Kent there.”
“Sounds like a good idea to me. Let’s go for it!”
“There’s a small problem though, Captain. This carries a couple risks with it. If we’re followed, or our radio is being monitored, we lead our enemies to a sensitive area as well as remaining exposed to their attack. The risk of attack is probably more or less the same for this vessel either way, but the risk of exposure for our dock is not one I am willing to take for free. You will owe us for this.”
The radio was quiet for a few moments. And then: “Owe you what exactly?”
The radio cut out all together and Jerry could very clearly imagine Kent wherever he was stomping, fuming, cursing and generally being pissed off. That did make Jerry smile and laugh, and to his relief, there was nothing strange about that.
The telltale click of the radio coming back on. “All right guys, here’s the plan…”
Whew! Just made that one under the radar. The DP is quite simple and will speak for all three of our main characters. Discussion between them will appropriately reflect that if necessary. Your choices are:
A; Split up and attempt to meet at the next colony.
B; Try to meet up at Keaton's secret dock, and possibly risk exposure of its location and attack on the Barrow, as well as owing Keaton and his group a favor.
C-whatever; Other. I am open to alternative suggestions of any kind. I am also opening the floor for questions that will help you reach these decisions, which I will answer as best I can.
Okay guys, again I must apologize for this taking as long as it did. I don't really have a good reason, nor have I done anything with the chapter to make it worth said wait. I can say only that these characters are very stubborn, and yet another chapter kicked my butt every step of the way. But I will promise you this: In Chapter 6, the nature of the lever will finally be revealed!
My thanks as always for your continued support.
EDIT: Just so no one thinks I'm cheating, no that is not your imagination. The Sub used to be called Brewer. But I made a last minute change for creative reasons, and it is now Barrow.