Single Bullet Theory part three

     The corvette showed up at exactly the wrong time; Jinx was halfway out of the gravity well when she saw it on her sensors. She had done enough time in the military to know it wasn't alone. I just hope they're not escorting a carrier -

     Her sound display registered the neutron cannon opening fire on her ship a few hundred milliseconds before the the lights flickered and her ship started to shake. She turned about and began a powered descent back into the atmosphere of the mining colony.

     The descent lasted a fraction of a second - her ship's computers set the vessel on a low altitude hypersonic flight path around to the night side. Move it, move it, come on...

     The sound system alerted her to five fighters on her tail. Incoming fire made the lights flicker again. No... shit! I - She saw an ocean coming in fast, swallowed hard, and set the drives to maximum deceleration.

     The fighters streaked past at five clicks altitude as she submerged at high velocity. A fraction of a second later, a shockwave rattled the ship for several minutes as the lights and the computers on the tiny bridge briefly flickered.

     A nuke. They just tried to nuke me.

     Then a loud bang reverberated through the ship and it began to spin end over end underwater. A warning display reported the the hull had been breached. Railgun - damn it - I'm going to die. Jinx struggled to regain control of her ship, and succeeded, setting a vector into a volcanic trench. A second nuke slammed into the surface, further away. No. No. I'm going to live. They lost me.

     Jinx decelerated as she approached an underwater cavern. Now that she had time to think, she checked the damage report. The hold - aw fuck they got my cargo - The automatic systems had repaired the hole punched clean through the rear superstructure of her ship, but salt water had still had time to mostly fill the hold.

     Another nuke hit - far too near. Jinx turned to the navigation computer, saw that it was a smoking wreck, and then saw that sensors reported that the entrance to the cavern had collapsed.

     Fuck it.

     Jinx warmed up the jump drives as her mind sought the carrier bombarding her from above. She suddenly became calm. Now.

     The jump itself was nothing special - a well known emergency procedure to avoid collisions at extremely high velocity though a short hop through hyperspace. Of course, this is usually done inside a solar system, and not from deep within a planet's gravity well - this adds too many unpredictable variables for people who do not have an extensive, personal knowledge of the geometry of hyperspace and the often counter-inututive effects of strong gravitational gradients.

     It was more than luck that Jinx rematerialized almost level with the carrier in low orbit. It was more than luck that Jinx - by reflex - brought her ship's missile launcher to bear on the kilometer-long carrier, flying much too low, gleaming red and shaped like a spineless blowfish. Luck had absolutely nothing to do with the trajectory the 20-megaton shell took, straight into the fighter bay of the carrier.

     Unwisely, Jinx wasted two or three seconds enjoying the spectacle as the enormous ship lost control and began to break apart in the atmosphere. The corvettes were almost in range by the time Jinx was over the adrenaline rush. Jinx gunned the drives on a fast vector into the gravity well as she puched the comms. Come and get me, motherfuckers!

     One of them took her up on it as another peeled away. To intercept - fucking plastic people trying to be smart -

     Her vessel, some thirty meters long, was much faster than the 75 meter corvette, and handled better in the atmosphere. Unfortunately, a few hundred tons of salt water mixed with LSD were sloshing around in her hold, slowing her vessel down. Jinx vented her hold in the skies over the mining colony.

     The cannon on the corvette was chewing up what was left of her ship's hull; Jinx returned fire, hit several times, and achieved little. Well-meant warning displays filled the readouts that were still working, and Jinx finally noticed that there were several fires on board. Furthermore, the corvette was gaining on her. She manually goosed the hyperthrust on her jump drive, becoming slightly insubstantial.

     The helmsman on the corvette took the bait, but he had a far clumsier hand on the hyperthruster. The gravitational gradient catapulted the vessel into a jump that would carry it at least half a light year away.

     Come to mamma - Her mind reached out.

     Jinx stopped messing with the hyperthrust and vectored in on the second corvette. The corvette pulled away, out of the gravity well as Jinx's vessel streaked past, vomiting clouds of smoke into low orbit. The tailgunner on the corvette took a bead and struck the pirate vessel in the main reactor, destroying it instantly.

     The negotiations with EntDiv went poorly for Peter Cat. Instead of arranging another frustrating guest appearence on Honor Guard, the flacks wanted him to go straight to a video signing on Palace Promenade, a domed shopping center on Big Rock, the larger of the two asteroids lashed together to form Sedgwick Station.

     Whatever, thought Peter, it doesn't matter at all. He stepped out of his private subway car. A few fans were waiting, keeping a respectful distance. Peter smiled, and they smiled back. Peter turned and walked to the mall as his car's computer drove away to enter a holding loop.

     The fans didn't come any closer.

     Peter proceeded to the signing. After the first five minutes - where he signed twenty copies of the collected episodes of Honor Guard, ten of which belonged to one obviously overwhelmed fanboy - no one else came.

     Peter drummed his fingers on the table.

     Fifteen minutes later, he saw a copy of his last movie, The Death Machines, drop on the table. He looked up and saw a trim woman with a bleached-blond mane. Hello, he said.

     Hello, she answered. This one is my favorite. How much of it really happened that way?

     No one at EntDiv wanted to touch it, so most of it is fairly accurate.

     That's probably why I like it. So, Jinx isn't really such a bad person, then?

     Jinx has a lot of problems - serious problems - but she isn't a sociopath.

     The woman smiled. My name is Anna. I -

     What? Peter smiled back.

     Were there really death camps for POWs after the war? I mean, when I think about what we are, what we fought for -

     I do not have such a romantic view of the military operations in which I participated. It is - strange - for me to think about it that way. But yes, that all really happened.

     So it wasn't for your ideals?

     I stopped Marshall Kendall because what he was doing was wrong. I think that was the only reason I needed.

     The woman brushed a tear from the corner of her eye. I need a drink. Would you -?

     Of course. Peter accepted a small glass of amber fluid.

     Peter looked the woman in the eye. Thank you for coming. I'm glad you asked -

     They drank, and Peter turned away to sign the vid. As he took the pen in his hand, it felt strangely unfamiliar. Within seconds, he realized he no longer remembered how to sign his name. Alarmed he looked up, and saw the woman collapse to the floor, as a numbness spread up his spine. Ahh..

     Everything went black.

     Three males in grey unforms approached from the shadows. I don't get it - people have tried this before -

     He knows this stuff. Unlike you and me, a clone starts with an adult brain, filled with junk, basically. In order to be receptive to education and conditioning, the clones are given a drug - lobotomine - to reinitialize their brains. It is a great relief for them, and feels completely natural.

     And the positive association -

     Puts him off guard. Like alcohol.

     What should we do with the woman?

     Have her cremated. She knew nothing about this op, so disappear her good, you understand? I'm getting a call...


     The leader presses a point by the base of his skull. Exec Evan Stain - yes - yes - ok on your side?

     The other two grey-uniformed officers started packing the bodies into red bags.

     Good. Yep. In five years, no one will even know he existed - not even he will know. Yeah. Catch you later.

     OK people, move it out.

     The corvette circled the mining colony. On board the bridge, the captain, the helmsman and two gunners were busy scanning the surface.

     We've got her signature - she has got to be planetside.

     Captain, I destroyed her ship -

     This is Arcana we're talking about. Didn't you ever watch the old episodes of "Honor Guard"?

     How much longer -

     Alarms sounded on the bridge. What the f-

     The canopy covering the corvette's bridge suddenly opened, blowing the four men into vacuum.

     Down in the engine room, blood covered the rear wall. A few chunks of gore floated in free fall. The chief of engineering lay in free fall, a hole punched through his chest.

     Jinx Bubastis stared blankly at the console display before starting a new sequence of commands.

     Bridge canopy has returned to service position. Repressurization commencing...

     Jinx looked at the screen, and remembered Peter telling her about the protocols used by nanocontrollers. She had hated it at the time. I miss him.

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David White, 1998, all right reserved