Pay Me, Bug!

Pay Me, Bug! Chapter 22

Never bet against your captain

WHEREIN Our Hero Struggles with Probing Questions

Grif, Amys and Bennet crowded around the terminal display, studying a schematic of the hospital.

“Looks like we’re here,” Amys said, pointing to an area on the map, then at a door at the end of the room. “And it also looks like that door will take us out into the hangar. Grif, if I got you into one of the hospital’s grav sleds could you fly it with one arm?”

“Yes.” Grif didn’t hesitate.

Bennet looked at Grif doubtfully. “We’d still need to get past the Station Authority guards. If I were giving the orders I’d have every exit under heavy guard.”

“Yeah,” Grif agreed. “It’d be nice to be able to convince them to go somewhere else…”

They thought in silence.

“I have an idea,” Bennet said. “Assuming they’re monitoring all hospital communications.” He entered a few commands into the terminal, and the map disappeared from the screen.

“Care to elaborate?” Amys asked.

“Well…” Bennet entered a few more commands into the terminal, and a list of data scrolled down the terminal screen. “If we can convince them we’re in another part of the hospital, we can probably convince most of the guards to go there instead of hanging around here. I just need to find a convincing place… there.”

“There what?” Grif looked at the screen and shook his head. “Looks like gibberish to me.”

Bennet pointed to a line of characters on the screen. “I think this is the address to an isolation chamber in another wing. It has its own self-regulated atmosphere, which makes it a plausible location to hide from the gas. We just need to figure out how to convince Station Authority that we’re there instead of here.”

“Just turn it on,” Amys said. Bennet and Grif looked at her curiously.

“You can’t unseal an isolation chamber from the inside,” Amys said. “Cutter has a funny story about that. When an isolation chamber on a ship is active, it sends a message to the bridge so life support knows not to unseal it or mix environments unless its given the all-clear. I assume it’s the same with a hospital. If they’re monitoring hospital systems, they’ll notice when an isolation chamber turns itself on.”

“OK,” Bennet said. “There. Done.”

Almost immediately they heard faint shouting.

“Promising,” Bennet said.

“Yeah…” Grif crept over to the door. “Right then. Here’s the plan…”

“Steal something fast and run for it?” Amys asked.

“I see you’re familiar with my plans,” Grif said. “Are we ready?”

Bennet and Amys nodded.

“OK.” Grif took a deep breath, then flipped the electronic release on the door. The bolts released on the door and Grif winced as it slid open in a loud, grinding fashion.

“Not my favorite door…” he muttered. He poked his head out the door as Amys and Bennet moved past him, weapons ready.

The hangar was empty.

“Huh,” Amys said.

It was a large, cavernous space. The entrance to the second city was a massive iris on the hangar ceiling. Usually it would be open, allowing traffic to easily drop in or exit as needed, but at the moment it was sealed shut. There were no people, only rows of vehicles sitting silently and unused.

Grif walked deeper into the hangar, past a few support columns, and looked around nervously. The place was empty. Deserted.

“Odd,” Bennet said. “I thought there would be at least a few guards left.”

“Yeah,” Grif agreed. “It doesn’t make sense for this place to be deserted. The hangar has too many vehicles, you’d think there would be someone…”

Something in the back of Grif’s mind shouted it’s a trap. Then he went blind.

Amys shouted in alarm, then Bennet, their pulse rifles firing in tandem. He groped for something to use as a guide. His hand touched a support column. He felt his way around it, blinking rapidly, trying to clear his vision.

The gunfire continued without pause, Amys and Bennet shouting information to each other as they fired.

“Main entrance, right column!”

“What?” Grif shouted.

“He’s moving left! Second column!”

Who?” Grif shouted again.

“Look out, he’s…”

Bennet cried out in pain. One of the guns stopped firing.

Grif heard someone running. He shook his head, trying to clear his vision. Why couldn’t he see?

“Amys, are you… ?”

A pulse rifle started firing again. Not focused like before, but wildly: a shot here, two shots there. At one point Grif heard and felt a shower of sparks as a pulse of energy exploded next to him.

Suddenly the gun stopped firing. Grif heard Amys grunt in pain, and a rifle clatter onto the ground. Then there was a smack, and a thud, then silence.

“Amys.” Grif’s voice sounded hoarse to his own ears, barely a whisper. He coughed and tried to clear his throat. “Amys? Amys, can you hear me?”

Someone laughed. Grif suddenly realized why he was blind.

“Yes,” someone said. “You understand now.”

Grif felt a crushing blow to the side of his head. He sprawled on the ground, falling on his left arm, and shrieked in pain.

“Poor child…” the voice muttered.

Grif gasped for breath and struggled to his knees. “I don’t believe we’ve met,” he said, trying to sound nonchalant.

There was no answer.

“Let me guess,” he continued. “You must be the Sword they call ‘The Viceroy…'”

He heard footsteps approach him, circle around him, but no one replied.

“A bit much, don’t you think?” Grif was on his knees now. He wondered where his gun was; he dropped it when he fell. “I mean, it is grandiose, I’ll give you that, but there’s pretension and then there’s—”

Someone kicked him in the stomach, hard. Grif collapsed again as the air rushed out of his body.

“Impudent,” the voice said. “Impudent, arrogant, ignorant. You know me, or claim to, and yet you try to mock me. No matter…”

Strong hands dragged Grif to his feet and forced him to walk… where, Grif couldn’t tell.

“You are a problem, Captain Vindh. You are, in fact, the problem… the problem at the beginning of all this. The serpent invading Eden. But I didn’t truly comprehend its scope.”

“Eden?” Grif did his best to sound unimpressed. “Didn’t know you were from that hellho—”

Another swift kick, and Grif flew back, landing hard. This time he couldn’t rally himself to struggle to his feet. He lay on his back, heaving, trying to breathe, cursing his blindness.

“Frustration.” The man—the Viceroy—kneeled by Grif’s side. Grif could feel his breath. “Yes… I am doing this to you. I’ve robbed you of your sight. I have also, in a way, robbed everyone else in the world of theirs…”

The Viceroy lifted Grif, seemingly without effort, and placed him on something cold and flat. “It is simple enough. You simply tell people that they can’t see you, and they won’t. God has many gifts, and one is to shroud His angels from the eyes of men.”

Grif laughed weakly. “Angels…”

The Viceroy’s voice became considerably colder. “Do not mock me, Captain. You will not survive if you do.”

Grif coughed, and continued laughing. “I won’t survive either way, you bastard.”

A hand struck him on the cheek, and his head spun.

“Such defiance. Stupidity in the face of peril. I ought to kill you regardless… you made this far more difficult than it needed to be.”

Grif tried to collect his wits as his assailant dragged him across the ground.

“I didn’t expect you to run, you know. I didn’t expect you to know where you were being taken. Gossip is the devil’s instrument, and he used it to help you… but he failed.”

Grif felt himself being pushed down onto his knees.

“Let the scales fall from your eyes,” the Viceroy said.

Light returned. Grif squinted. What had previously seemed like dim light from glow panels on the hangar ceiling now appeared to be bright light from rows of rectangular suns. The Viceroy knelt in front of him. He was a tall, thin man with almost no hair at all on his head, save for dark, thin eyebrows. He was smiling, revealing rows of perfectly white teeth.

“You can see,” the Viceroy said. “And now I will see…”

The Viceroy reached across and placed a hand on the top of Grif’s head. “Open your thoughts to me, sinner,” he said, voice gentle. “Open your soul, that I may judge thee…”

Searing pain cut through Grif’s head, and his vision faded again. He felt something force its way into his mind, as if it were tearing away tiny pieces of his brain and reattaching them when finished.

Memories came unbidden into his conscious mind. A child on Kinnar, a young man on his first pirate vessel, buying the Fool’s Errand, meeting Amys…

“No,” the Sword muttered. “Not those. Too far back.”

The pressure increased tenfold. Grif whimpered softly as the Sword forced his memory forward in time.

Meeting Mavis. Avoiding his trap. Traveling to Varkav…

Grif stood, helpless, as the entire story was revealed.

The Sword laughed. “This is the secret? That you stumbled across your bounty by accident? That is what you would have me believe? Stop fighting me, boy, or I will destroy your mind completely.”

“It’s… it’s true,” Grif gasped. “It was all… luck… I just… made it up…”

“Perhaps,” the Sword said. “But I think there is more, Captain. I think there is more you aren’t telling me. Something you don’t want me to see…”

The image of the alien object came unbidden to his mind.

Anger flooded into Grif’s brain like a white-hot poker. The Sword’s voice was icy calm. “What is this picture, Captain Vindh? What is this secret?”

More memories. Documents Grif had read but didn’t remember came back into his mind, all the details right there in front of him. Things that had scrolled by on terminals for the barest of moments during the meeting on the Fool’s Errand, things he’d told himself he’d study in detail later—all there in complete clarity, as if he’d studied them for years. He was reading through it all because the Sword was reading through it all.

An aerial view of Ur Voys. Estimated troop numbers and known employees. Transport routes, and suspected cargo. Service centers that supplied the facility…

And suddenly, Grif saw the weak link.

“What?” The calm malice of the Viceroy evaporated, replaced by startled uncertainty. “What is this?”

Grif tried to back away from the thought in his mind and focus something else.

“No,” the Viceroy snarled, voice shaking with rage. “You do not decide. I decide. Show me what you saw!”

Grif whimpered softly as he tried desperately to fight against the weight of the Viceroy’s mind.

“Break,” the Sword muttered. “Break!”

Grif screamed as the pressure on his mind increased beyond the point that he could bear. Something wet and salty ran down his lips; his nose was bleeding. He felt himself start to black out. He clawed at his sanity, but it was too much: he felt himself slipping away, as though he were about to fall into a dark well that he would never be able to climb out of.

Using the very last of his strength, he shoved his knee into the Viceroy’s groin.

The Viceory grunted in surprise and pain. The crushing weight in Grif’s head disappeared, replaced by the weight of the Viceroy as he fell on top of Grif.

The Viceroy rolled up to his feet quickly—almost instantly—and stood before Grif could do anything. A single foot lashed out as Grif tried to roll to his side, and caught him in the side.

The Viceroy kicked again, face twisted into a mask of feral rage. Grif tried to turn to the side, but the Viceroy was too fast: Grif’s eyes glazed over with pain as his head snapped back, and he collapsed back on the floor.

“Enough games, Captain Vindh.” The Viceroy stood over him and pulled out a long, slender knife. “Now it is time to —”

Energy arced through the air, and three short bursts slammed into the Viceroy’s side. He spun, surprise etched on his face, and shuddered as three more bursts hit him square in the chest. He crumpled to the ground, motionless.

Grif looked at the Viceroy sprawled on the ground. He was lying on his back, glassy lifeless eyes staring up at the ceiling. Slowly, painfully, Grif looked in the direction of the pulse fire. Amys stood, leaning against a column, pulse rifle dangling from one arm. Bruises covered one side of her face, and she bled from one ear.

“Hi,” Grif said. “I was hoping you’d show.”

“Hey.” Amys forced herself to stand upright and dragged herself over to Grif. “You all right?”

“No,” Grif said.

Amys laughed.

Grif grinned. “Is Bennet…”

“Still breathing,” Amys said. “Out cold though.”


Amys slumped down beside Grif and let out a soft groan.

“You don’t look so good,” Grif observed.

“You look worse,” Amys said.

“I’ll bet,” Grif replied. “Thanks for the save. Maybe someday I’ll get a chance to return the favor. Be nice if I could save you for a change.”

Amys laughed again. “Dream on, Grif.”

An alarm sounded as the hangar iris began to open. Grif heard men shouting in the distance.

“I guess Station Authority will be here any minute now,” Amys said, sighing regretfully.

“Yeah,” Grif said. “It’s a shame. I figured out how to do it.”

“Do what?”

“Ur Voys… I figured out how to get in.”

Amys looked at him, raised an eyebrow, and said “when?”

“When what?”

“When did you figure out how to get in?”

“Oh,” Grif said. “When that guy was tearing my mind apart to figure out how I broke in last time.”

Amys shook her head, confused.

“Ironic, isn’t it? I don’t think I could have done it without him.” Grif grinned, then winced.

“So what is it?”

Grif thought. “Complicated,” he said.

Amys snorted.

“I can’t talk about it right now. There’s something else I need to do first, and I want to make sure I do it before Station Authority arrives.”

“What?” Amys asked. “Planning on passing out?”

“Thank you,” Grif said. “I think I will.”

And with that, Grif passed out. Again.

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