WHEREIN Our Hero, Upon Reaching an Impasse, Finds it Necessary to Assert His Authority
The Fool’s Errand used a parallel-plate system to generate artificial gravity: beneath the flooring on each deck were gravity plates, and just beyond the ceiling were nullifier plates. This allowed each deck to have customized gravity settings, if necessary, and the nullifier plates ensured that the gravity well never extended beyond the deck itself, or outside the ship. Each plate was also independently customizable, so it was possible, for example, to set one plate at half a standard gravity and it’s neighboring plate at two standard gravities, creating a startling and potentially dangerous gravity shelf where the two plates met up.
For the most part the granularity inherent in this technology remained unused; it was enough to turn off gravity while they were in tach, and turn it back on when they dropped back into normal space. However, when the ship was being boarded, the ability to wildly vary the gravity of each individual plate was extremely useful.
This was one of those times.
At the moment, all gravity in the ship was off. The auxiliary lights flickered on, off, on, off, as little-used circuits sluggishly came to life. In the strobe-light effect, Grif saw Carsons and Laris flailing, trying and failing to compensate for the lack of gravity.
Grif sailed past Laris, feet first, and snaked out an arm as he grabbed Laris’ waist. The weight of the agent caused Grif’s trajectory to change, pulling Laris along behind him. A quick twist and half-flip pushed Laris to the front, and Laris’s face smashed against the bulkhead.
Grif let go, rolled up against the wall, and pushed off just as Carsons managed to steady himself, pull a weapon out from under his jacket, and fire at the spot where Grif had been moments before. But Grif was now on the other wall and pushed himself up to the ceiling, gaining momentum.
Carsons fired and missed a second time. This time, the shot unbalanced him, and he had to focus on keeping his balance. He tried to grab hold of a microgravity handle set into the wall to steady himself, but he drifted just out of reach, thrashing wildly instead.
Grif pushed off the ceiling, flipped in mid-air and kicked Carsons’ face. He’d developed so much momentum that when his feet connected with Carsons’ jaw he heard the jaw break. Carsons passed out immediately.
Grif flexed his legs, trying to dissipate as much momentum as he could against Carsons himself, and took the gauss pistol still clenched in Carsons’ hand. Then he pushed away from Carsons in mid-air, causing the agent’s unconscious form to crash against the bulkhead as he drifted in the other direction.
The lift opened, and two agents propelled themselves out of it. Grif fired. Gauss flechettes tore through an agent’s arm, sending spherical drops of blood flying lazily through the air. The mild recoil from the pistol caused Grif to twist slightly in the other direction, but he managed to fire another shot, hitting the second agent in the chest.
The first agent released his weapon when his arm was wounded, but grabbed it with his other arm and fired, awkwardly. He missed.
Grif pushed himself out of the lift foyer and down the corridor.
“We have the bridge,” Amys’ voice said out of the intercom. “Intercom is linked directly here. No cross talk is permitted.”
Grif turned and saw the agent push himself out of the lift and into the rec area.
“Amys, set the foyer on cargo deck to two gravities, now!”
Grif heard a grating sound as the grav plates underneath the foyer came to life. The agents yelped in surprise as they rammed into the floor at high speed. They did not move afterward. Carsons and Laris fell to the ground as well.
“Return to zero g, Amys. Four down.”
“Instituting Boarding Pattern A in ten seconds,” Amys said over the intercom. “Seven reported down so far.”
Seven out of thirty, Grif thought. Not bad so far. He made note of what part of the ship he was in and pushed himself to the floor, bracing his legs.
“Three, two, one,” Amys said, and the gravity plates shuddered as gravity returned to deck three. Grif’s legs buckled but held, and he silently began counting down from fifteen.
Grif was close to Bay Three, which housed Ktk’s hidden room, and from beyond that door he heard a loud crash and some cursing. He ran to the door and keyed it to open, stepping to one side.
Gauss flechettes burst through the door, impacting the wall on the other side, embedding themselves solidly in the metal.
Grif glanced in the room and saw two more agents, each with rifles, standing atop a wall of cargo. He pulled back again, and more flechettes impacted against the far wall.
Grif took a few steps back and dove through the door, dropping into a roll…
…gauss flechettes burst around where his head had been as he came out of the roll and pushed off the ground…
Deck three was weightless. Grif sailed up into the air, firing with his pistol. One of the guards clutched his shoulder and fell back. The other tried to swing the barrel of his rifle up too quickly and lost his balance, firing wildly into the air.
Grif reached for a handle along the wall and grabbed it lightly as he passed, just enough to turn him in midair so he was facing the ground. He saw Dr. Evard Lyle hiding behind a crate, unarmed, a discarded laser torch burning into the wall.
They’re cutting into my ship, Grif thought. I just might kill every last one. He searched the room trying to find the rest of them.
Grif reached the cargo bay ceiling and pushed himself over onto a catwalk. He lay down on the catwalk carefully, keeping a firm grip on the handle of his gun.
Flechettes tore through the base of the catwalk just in front of him.
There was a squawk as someone fell. Grif leaned over and saw an agent exposed between a stack of crates. He fired quickly and missed, causing the agent to crawl back deeper into his cover.
“Ten casualties reported,” Amys said over the intercom.
“Amys! Pattern C! Ten seconds!”
“Switching to Boarding Pattern C in ten seconds,” Amys said.
Grif started to crawl forward, keeping his body close to the catwalk bottom, trying not to expose himself.
The platform behind him was torn open by flechette fire. Grif reluctantly got to his feet and ran across the catwalk to the other side.
Flechette fire erupted behind him. The catwalk buckled dangerously. Grif almost lost his footing.
He felt the air move behind him. Below he saw two agents step out from behind the crates to get a better shot.
Grif leapt off the catwalk into the open air, toward the nearest wall as gravity disappeared.
Grif had more momentum than he liked from his leap of faith and was descending too rapidly. He fired at the agents on the ground, who were again caught off guard by the change in gravity. He hit one in the leg. Better than nothing.
Grif neared the wall and grabbed at a handle as it rushed past him. His arm jerked from the force of it. He let go of it before it broke his wrist, but he still felt a jolt of pain, and his left arm was numb. Always the left arm…
He could now control his descent. He landed on the floor behind the crates, taking him out of the agents’ line of sight. He pushed off from the wall and glided across the floor, closer to the row where the agents were hiding.
“Seventeen casualties,” Amys reported.
Grif smiled grimly. His crew was doing well.
Grif was gliding centimeters off the ground, propelling himself with his hands. He saw a pair of feet next to a crate not far from him. Looking up, he saw another agent scanning the ceiling.
Wrong direction, Grif thought. He smirked.
The agent didn’t notice him until Grif was less than a meter away. He shouted in surprise and lowered his rifle—again, as was all too common for them, too quickly, and he had to grab onto a crate to keep steady.
Grif grabbed the man by the ankles and pulled. The agent yelled in surprise, flailing his arms and losing his grip on his rifle. It flew across the room as the agent sailed straight up into the air, starting to tumble as he moved closer and closer to the ceiling.
“Happy landings!” Grif shouted.
A shadow fell over him.
Grif moved just in time as a foot crashed into the spot where the small of his back would’ve been. He grabbed the foot and pulled, pushing himself over the surprised form of Bennet Jax as he pulled him under and smashed him into one of the cargo crates. Grif didn’t let go, but used the man’s weight to pull him back to the ground.
Bennet, unlike the other agents, knew what he was doing. He grabbed the side of the crate and kicked out with his feet, hitting Grif in the chest. Grif grunted as he flew back into the wall of cargo behind him. Air rushed out of his body from the force of the impact, but he kept his wits about him, steadying himself.
Bennet launched himself at Grif, hands-first. This was a risky maneuver. Hands-first also meant face-first, which left you exposed. Grif heard the hum of a vibroknife as it flicked into Bennet’s left hand.
Grif pushed up, twisting as he reached the top of the crates, flipping over onto the top row. Bennet changed direction with practiced ease, but moving over the edge of the crate took a bit more effort, giving Grif the time he needed to lash out with his foot, striking Bennet’s hand. The vibroknife tumbled uselessly across Bay Three.
Bennet shook his head, wiping away blood away from his nose and face. The blood spattered across the room like droplets of rain. “When the hell did you learn to fight?”
Grif didn’t answer. He grabbed the edge of the crate and lashed out with his legs, hitting Bennet’s shin. Bennet grunted in surprise and almost fell, but caught Grif’s leg at the last second and held on.
Bennet pulled himself toward Grif, and shifting his weight, tore Grif away from his handhold. For a moment, the only thing Grif was connected to was Bennet’s arm.
Gravity returned, and Grif landed hard. Through the ringing in his ears he could hear the panicked shouts of the agent he’d thrown upward, who had managed to grab onto the catwalk and was holding on for dear life.
Bennet sprang to his feet, and Grif realized he was in trouble. Bennet was much better at fighting in standard gravity.
Bennet wasted no time and kicked Grif hard in the stomach. Air rushed out of his body and he tried to crawl aside.
“No you don’t,” Bennet said, and grabbed his arm, twisting it around his back with great strength.
“Twenty casualties,” Amys reported.
Bennet placed a knee on each shoulder, and reached around to grab Grif’s chin, placing another hand on the back of Grif’s head.
“I’ve got your Captain,” Bennet shouted. “Stand down or I’ll break his—”
Gravity evaporated. Grif pushed against the crates with his free arm. Bennet’s weight had nothing to work against, and he let go of Grif’s head as he tried to grab onto something to keep from flying away.
Grif grabbed onto Bennet and rammed his knee into Bennet’s stomach. Bennet grunted in pain, and Grif followed up with a quick jab to the side. Bennet was dazed. Grif smashed his elbow into the side of Bennet’s face, then twisted and drove it into the agent’s gut…
The intercom crackled to life. “This is Velis Enge,” a sullen voice said. “By my order, cease all hostilities against the crew of this ship immediately. Enge out.”
Grif let go of Bennet, who grabbed the edge of the crate, breathing heavily. The agent who had been hanging from the ceiling dropped slowly to the floor.
“Gravity will return in one minute,” Amys said over the intercom. “Please secure all loose-flying objects, including bodies, by that time.”
Grif and Bennet stared at each other, each fighting for breath.
“Gather up your dead and wounded,” Grif said coldly. “You may leave three men in the medibay to treat them, but you won’t be one of them. The rest of your men—the ones who can still move—will report to the brig immediately.”
Bennet nodded, still gasping for breath. “This… wasn’t… personal.”
“It was to me, you son of a bitch,” Grif said. “I don’t know what my sister might have told you about me, but I don’t tolerate mutiny aboard my ship.”