A Rake by Starlight

A Rake by Starlight: Chapter 20

A Rake by Starlight, by C. B. Wright

WHEREIN a Business Agreement is Altered Further

Griff peered over a glass of Stellis Blue at Cutter and frowned slightly. “I don’t really understand what you just said. Try to use smaller words.”

Cutter grinned—a lopsided, wolfish grin that didn’t reach the left side of his face due to the scar tissue that ran from temple to chin. “Don’t feel bad, Skip.”

“I don’t. I don’t have to know everything, I just need to know who to ask. That’s why I’m asking you. Just… smaller words.”

“Right.” Cutter settled back in his chair, staring out the large Wardroom viewport. It was fully transparent at the moment, and while the view wasn’t exactly spectacular—the Fool’s Errand was pointed in the right direction to give them a view of Obin—it gave them a good view of the ship in the next docking area over, currently undergoing a refit. “Well, truth is nobody completely understands the biology of the brain. We know what all the pieces are, and what they’re made of. We have a lot of hypotheses about how it all works, and a few accepted theories about how parts of it work, but we don’t have a complete picture of how a brain becomes a person.”

“Does a brain become a person?” Grif asked.

Cutter chuckled. “Depends on who you ask. Philosophers and theologians keep talking about souls but as far as biology goes, without the brain the body is nothing but a meat farm. With a brain, it can actually do things.”

“But we don’t know why,” Grif said.

“Well, we know the big picture, but the details are a bitch to work out. For example, we know how the brain stores memory, for the most part, and it’s even possible to invent and implant memories… sorta.”

Grif raised an eyebrow. “Sorta?”

Cutter shrugged. “They’re really simple memories, practically no detail, obviously not your own, and they take up way too much space. Not so much memory as just burning outside information into someone’s brain.”

Grif winced. “That doesn’t sound pleasant.”

“It isn’t,” Cutter agreed. “At least, it wasn’t when I was studying it. That was a while back. Point is, we don’t know enough about the brain to make one from scratch.”

“Right.” Grif took a drink. “So how does cloning even work? What’s the point of making a map of a brain if we don’t know what it does?”

“Well that’s the thing,” Cutter said. “We don’t know how it works, but we know how to copy it. We know how to grow a brain to make sure it has all the right chemicals in all the right places at all the right levels, and we know how to put all the fiddly bits where they need to be.”

Grif blinked. “Fiddly bits?”

Cutter grinned again. “You did say to use smaller words.”

“I did,” Grif said. “And I guess it’s fair enough. I don’t really know how an ATID works either, but I know it’ll move us from point A to point B really fast. Here’s to the inscrutable nature of science.”

He lifted his glass and downed the last of the Stellis. Cutter raised his in return.

“So why use a clone?” Grif asked. “I mean, why not just grow a random body and give that brain all the fiddly bits?”

“You can do it,” Cutter says. “But it doesn’t usually end well. Call it tissue rejection, if you want—both the brain and the body say ‘hell, no’ and start fighting each other. But if you put the brain in a body it recognizes…”

“…the clone body,” Grif says.

“Right. Clone the body that matches the brain and you have a happy organism.”

“So…” Grif’s gaze drifted over the to not-quite-empty bottle of Stellis, sighed, and decided against another glass. “So you have a map of the brain, and the map contains all the memories of the person you copied, even though you don’t know exactly how it works. And you grow a new brain to match the… um…”

“Think of it as a brain specification,” Cutter said.

“OK. You grow it to spec, and grow a clone body, and pop the brain in the body and boom, you got a new clone.”

“Almost,” Cutter said. “You modify the brain of the clone body as its growing. But otherwise, that’s about it.”

“And nobody knows how it works,” Grif said.

“They know how it works,” Cutter said. “They just don’t know why.”

Grif considered trying to get that point cleared up—again—but ultimately decided it wasn’t important.

“The tricky part,” Grif said, “is the whole needing a clone body thing. I mean, if that’s true, then what we’re selling the Baron isn’t a complete package. We left the cloning facility back in the Ooobachi system, which now has four Tylaris warships, four Alliance warships, and a damned portable comm tunnel hanging about in-system. There’s no way we’d get away with looking for it, let alone finding it. Hope that doesn’t complicate the sale…”

Cutter frowned, stretched, and got to his feet. “I’ll be honest, Skip, I’d just as soon we’d left the map back on that moon. I mean, if we get away with this… well, that’s great, and I’m happy to get paid. But this is politics. The deeper you get into politics, the less likely it is guys like us come out alive.”

Grif sighed. “Yeah, it’s a gamble. But the payoff, Cutter—if we pull this off, we’ll be rolling in—”

The Wardroom intercom beeped. Grif grumbled as he got to his feet, walked over to the intercom, and turned it on. “This is your Captain speaking.”

“Captain Vindh.” It was Faldyth, and she sounded very unhappy. “A full complement of Station Authority guards is at our nadir airlock, demanding entry.”

Grif raised an eyebrow. “Well they can’t. Tell them to go away.”

“The officer claims to have a court order.”

Cutter swore under his breath.

“Sorry,” Grif said, trying to shake off the effects of the Stellis. “Did you say they had a court order?”

“Yes,” Faldyth confirmed. “They are standing outside with a court order.”

“I see.”

“They are also armed.”

“Yes,” Grif said, “that’s kind of their thing. Who do we have on the ship?”

“You, Cutter, Vod, Ktk, and myself,” Faldyth said, obviously unhappy. “Everyone else in the city.”

“Uh-huh. And how many Station Authority guards do we have outside?”



Grif switched off the intercom and glanced over at Cutter, flashing him a tight smile. “For what it’s worth, I won’t blame you for being right about politics.”

“Think maybe I need to head over to the armory,” Cutter said.

“Against twenty?” Grif shook his head. “Not likely. We verify their warrant. If it’s legit, we let ‘em in. They won’t find anything. Not without tearing the ship apart, and it’ll take more than twenty to do that.”

“OK,” Cutter said. “Want I should come with you?”

“You sort of have to,” Grif said. “With Amys and Cyrus off-ship, you’re the acting XO.”

“Huh.” Cutter rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “Doesn’t sound nearly as glamorous when the police are involved.

Grif snorted and turned on the intercom again. “Tell them I’m coming. Ktk and Vod, stay put and… uh… await further orders.”

Grif and Cutter made their way through the ship, neither speaking, the sound of their footsteps echoing in empty ship corridors sounding louder in the grim silence. As they neared Bay One Grif exhaled sharply and forced himself to relax.

“We’re going to have to put on a show,” Grif said. “So start looking like you don’t care.”

“I do care,” Cutter said.

“That’s fine,” Grif said. “Just don’t look like it.”

“Sure wish I was armed.”

“No point,” Grif said. “If we let them in, there’s no way we win a fight. Not against twenty. Especially not against twenty who can call in backup.”

If we let them in?” Cutter shook his head. “I thought we didn’t have a choice.”

“Well, we don’t,” Grif agreed. “But I plan to antagonize them first.”

Cutter hesitated a moment, then laughed uneasily. “Had a feeling I was signing on to a ship run by a lunatic, all those years ago.”

“But you did it anyway,” Grif said. “What does that say about you?”

Cutter snorted, then slapped Grif on the back. Grif grinned.

Bay One was empty. The loading crane was secured against one side of the wall, and the large cargo bay doors were shut.

“They stowed the squib, too,” Grif said. “Good.”

“Vod insisted,” Cutter said. “She said they figured the remnants of what was obviously an escape pod sliced open and stacked in pieces of the middle of the bay would probably raise questions we didn’t want to answer.”

“Too right,” Grif said. He walked over to the lift that provided individual access in and out of the nadir lock, and turned on a communications screen set into the wall next to it. “This is Captain Vindh.”

The screen sharpened to show the lock entrance, surrounded by a docking tube extending into the Port 74 connection hub. Standing in the docking tube were helmeted guards, visors down, all armed with rifles.

The guards weren’t dressed for vacuum—they must have been extremely confident that Grif wouldn’t order the Fool’s Errand to break the docking tube seal and try to run. They were, however, wearing full tactical gear and body armor—the half-helmets had dark visors that completely obscured the eyes and nose, leaving the mouths—all of them an ocean of tight, humorless lines—visible.

One of the grim figures stepped up to the screen. “Captain Vindh, this is Station Authority.”

“So I see,” Grif said. “Your Station Authority uniforms sort of tipped me off.”

The guard’s mouth thinned further. “Captain Vindh, I am Lieutenant Adyt. I have a warrant to search your ship.”

“Do tell,” Grif said.

“Release the interior clamp on the nadir lock,” the Lieutenant said, “and we’ll conclude this search quickly and efficiently.”

Grif thought it over. “Prove it.”

Adyt hesitated. The thin line of a mouth dipped into a puzzled frown. “Prove that we’re efficient?”

“No,” Grif said. “Prove that you have a warrant.”

The Lieutenant’s frown deepened. “We wouldn’t be here without a warrant.”

“Right… look, Lieutenant, no offense to your or your men but last year a number of Station Authority guards tried to illegally sell me to the Radiant Throne. To add insult to injury, it wasn’t just the Radiant Throne, but one of their telepathic religious fanatic warrior-priests to boot. This was in direct violation of Tyrelos Stations’ professed stance of neutrality, in case you were wondering. It was also very rude.”

“They were traitors.” Anger tinted the edges of Lieutenant Adyt’s voice.

“So I’ve heard. It was hard to tell at the time, because they were dressed… well, gosh, Lieutenant, they looked a heckuva lot like you do right now. In official battle uniforms and everything. And anyone can say they have a warrant. ‘I have a warrant.’ See? I just said it right now—but I’ll let you in on a little secret. I don’t actually have a warrant.”

“Captain Vindh.” The Lieutenant’s anger was significantly more than a tint at this point. “If you don’t stop stalling—”

“You know what carries a lot more weight than just saying you have a warrant?” Grif cut in without so much as acknowledging the Lieutenant was speaking. “Proving you have one. Take your little data whatsit, put in the port located to the immediate right of the monitor you’re looking at right now, and upload a digital copy of the goddamn warrant so I can see for myself if I should let you on my ship, instead of just taking your word for it.”

Lieutenant Adyt opened his mouth as if to reply, then clamped it shut.

A second later the intercom beeped. It was Faldyth.

“He just sent us the warrant,” she said. “As far as I can tell it looks legitimate. It carries a current Tyrelos Station seal, and the Judge’s dsig is valid.”

“Thanks Faldyth,” Grif said. Returning his gaze to the monitor, he smiled brightly. “Congratulations, Lieutenant! I’m letting you and your men into my ship.”

He turned off the monitor.

“Don’t like this, Skip,” Cutter said.

“Yeah,” Grif said. “Me either.” He keyed in the sequence to disable nadir lock security. Immediately he heard the nadir lock platform grind to life—he winced slightly as he remembered that get the nadir lift serviced was one of the things he had intended to do—and a minute later six armed Station Authority guards, including Lieutenant Adyt, emerged into Bay One. Five guards leveled their pulse rifles at Grif and Cutter. They raised their arms over their heads as Lieutenant Adyt stepped toward them.

“Captain Vindh, I need you to open your cargo bay doors.”

Grif snorted. “I’ll bet you do.”

“I’m serious,” Adyt insisted.

“You can’t be serious,” Grif said, “because none of us are wearing vacuum suits. I’m not really interested in being sucked into hard vacuum. I’d rather you shoot me and be done with it.”

Cutter managed to suppress most of his surprised yelp, forcing it down into a strangled cough.

“No swimming today,” Adyt said. “We’ve extended a Maxwell over the bay doors. Do it now.”

Grif stared hard at Adyt. “I’m going to verify that with my bridge crew first.”

Adyt shrugged. “Do it quick.”

Grif punched the intercom button. “Faldyth. Go to Morgan’s station and verify that an environmental Maxwell has been placed over the Bay One cargo doors.”

Moments passed, then Faldyth said, “There is a Maxwell extended over the cargo doors. What’s going on?”

“Excellent question!” Grif said. He heard the lift to the nadir lock descend once again. “Stand by.”

He started toward the Bay One controls, then stopped as soon as three of the five guards stepped forward, weapons raised. He immediately raised his hands again and turned to Adyt, looking annoyed. “It’s not voice activated.”

Adyt waved at the guards dismissively. “Just keep an eye on him.”

The three guards half-lowered their weapons, and Grif, keeping his hands over his head, made his way to the Bay One door controls. With over-deliberate care, he lowered his hands to the controls and entered the open sequence. The lights began to flash red, and immediately the three guards began to shout simultaneously, raising their weapons.

Grif’s hands shot up over his head as he stepped back from the controls and sank to his knees.

“What’s going on?” Adyt demanded.

“The cargo bay doors think we’re about to open the ship into vacuum,” Grif said, trying to sound patient. It’s programmed not to do that, so it’s trying to make sure we really want that to happen.”

“We have a Maxwell over the door,” Adyt insisted.

Grif liked Maxwells. He thought they were neat tech: fields designed to screen elements at a molecular level, mostly used in hospitals and laboratories to keep out germs and other contaminants without having to provide an entirely separate, closed environment. They were also used on very large starships with hangar bays, to keep atmosphere and pressure inside even when hangar doors were open. They were, again, neat: but they were also the kind of thing that had to be fully incorporated into a ship’s design.

“The atmo sensors aren’t on the bay doors,” Grif said. “They’re up the side a little. Probably sitting outside your field and detecting no atmosphere whatsoever. Can I finish opening up the damn doors now?”

Adyt thought it over, then nodded sharply.

Grif returned to the console, shot a dirty look at the three guards, and got to work. A series of echoing clicks heralded the releases of the locks on the Bay One seals. At that point a klaxon alarm sounded, which Grif quickly killed, then a hissing filled the room as the doors started to open. The hissing ended quickly, however—the Maxwell kept the atmosphere inside Bay One from escaping.

The lift returned carrying another six soldiers.

“Stand back,” Adyt warned. “We’re about to have more visitors.”

As the doors opened fully, Grif could see out across the landscape of Tyrelos Station. Unlike the Wardroom, which faced the dock where the refit was taking place, Bay One overlooked an empty dock, and in the distance he could see the dome of the Second City, sparkling slightly as it refracted the light from the sun reflected off Obin. And then, silhouetted against the dome, Grif saw a black dot grow larger as a fully enclosed hovercar sped toward them.

Grif glanced at Adyt. “I’m pretty sure none of this was on your warrant.”

“Shut up,” Adyt said. “And don’t do anything funny.”

The lift descended back down.

By the time the hovercar reached the Fool’s Errand, all twenty Station Authority guards were on the ship. The hovercar eased up the loading ramp, pierced through the Maxwell, and came to rest inside Bay One.

“Close the cargo bay doors,” Adyt ordered.

Grif glowered at the man, but did as he was told.

When the doors were fully closed, the driver’s side of the hovercar opened and none other than Baron Minerva Tyrelos stepped out.

“Baron?” Grif stared in astonishment. “What are you doing here? What the hell is going on?”

Baron Tyrelos stepped away from the hovercar and turned to face him. “I’ll tell you what the hell is going on.”

There was anger in her voice. A cold, vindictive anger that set off many alarms in the back of Grif’s head.

“I wasn’t sure whether I believed you,” the baron said. “But I didn’t think you’d try to con me. Honestly, Captain, I didn’t think you were that stupid. I now have reason to doubt my judgment.”

Grif looked at the Station Authority guards uneasily, and slowly began to raise his hands over his head again. “I haven’t tried to con you. I told you the truth.”

“You’re going to get a chance to prove that,” the baron said, “but you’re going to have a tough time doing it. I checked out your story, Captain. I did my homework. And you’ve got a problem.”

“I’ve got a lot of problems,” Grif said. “Which one are you referring to?”

“I’ll introduce you,” the baron replied. A that, the passenger door of the hovercar swung open, and a vaguely familiar man climbed out.

“Captain Vindh,” the baron said, “I’d like to introduce you to Doctor Stebil Tanz. I believe you told me he was dead. He and I would very much like to know more about that.”

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