Pay Me, Bug!

Pay Me, Bug! Chapter 35

Never bet against your captain

WHEREIN Plans Previously Put in Motion Suddenly Bear Fruit

Grif opened his eyes. He wasn’t in his cabin any more.

“I’m in the medibay, aren’t I?” Grif turned his head and saw that he was, in fact, in medibay–and hooked up to a diagnostic monitor. Amys peered down at him, frowning.

“Hi Amys.” Grif’s face was numb and his stomach was on fire.

“How do you feel?” Amys asked.

Grif noticed that Cyrus, Hari, Cutter and Vod were also in the room.

“Like you tried to gut me with a vibroknife,” Grif said, trying to grin.

Amys looked away.

“No, hey wait, I was only–wait a minute. You did try to gut me with a vibroknife…”

Amys nodded.

“Dammit, Ebur…”

“You know,” Cyrus said, peering over the top of the diagnostic monitor to stare down at Grif, “we really should stop coming up with complicated plans that require the use of a psychotic telepath.”

“I’m starting to agree,” Grif said. “When can I get out of this thing?”

“Another hour or so,” Cutter said. “Amys really did a number on you. Bruised your face up something fierce, put a big gash in your belly, broke your left shoulder–“

“Again with the left arm!” Grif shouted, exasperated. “What the hell is it with that arm?”

Cyrus, Hari, Vod and Cutter laughed, but Amys wouldn’t look at him.

“Oi!” he said. “Hey, cut it out, you big softy. I’m OK, right? And you have no one to blame but yourself. If you’d waited another ten, fifteen seconds before dragging my ass down here you’d have field-promoted yourself to captain of this ship, and no one would be able to say anything about it. Teach you not to think ahead…”

Amys laughed in spite of herself. “You’re a bastard,” she said.

“Yep. Somebody get me a drink.”

“He’s back to normal,” Hari announced. “I’m going to get something to eat.”

“That’d be good, too,” Grif said.

“You know you can’t do anything while you’re still hooked up to that thing,” Cutter said, smirking. “See ya later, Skip.”

“Wait! Hold on a second…”

“Glad you’re OK, Grif,” Vod said, and left with Cutter.

“This isn’t right.”

“Well, I gotta go, too,” Cyrus said, laughing. “Morgan and I have to go out and buy some new cargo… and pick up the kids.”

“What, now? How long have I–“

“Later Grif,” Cyrus called, and walked out of the medibay, still chuckling.

Amys didn’t leave. She looked at Grif and smiled a little.

“Those bastards!” Grif laughed in spite of himself. “Leaving me in my infirmity. What time is it, anyway? How long have I been out?”

“It’s almost 1100,” Amys said. “And for the record, I’m sorry…”

“Cut it out,” Grif said. “If the only time I have to worry about you killing me is when you’re being controlled by a bloodthirsty telepath, I figure I’m ahead of the game.”

Amys chuckled and shook her head. “Well, I was worried for a second.”

“So was I,” Grif said. “The second I realized I was about two meters from that damn comm badge. After that, I was too busy to worry much…”

They fell silent, Amys looking relieved and Grif grinning like mad.

“That grin is a lot less charming on that face,” Amys said.

“I’m hoping to get the old one back. Of course, with the agents as pissed off at us as they are, I might find out they’ve decided to make me look like Velis…”

“Which would be a marked improvement,” Velis said as she entered the medibay. “I see you’re not dead. Amys must be slipping.”

“Hello, Sis,” Grif said. “What can I do for you? Pardon me if I don’t get up…”

“I just wanted to let you know that we haven’t heard anything from Ur Ados,” Velis said, “and that’s a good sign.”

“Oh. Good. So all we have to do is survive one more night.”

“Actually,” Amys said, “Ebur is being doped up as we speak.”

“What?” Grif frowned. “That’s not right. We had to wait…” Grif’s frowned deepened as he tried to count out the days in his head. Then, a moment later, he laughed out loud. “That little shit.”

Amys raised an eyebrow. Velis looked puzzled.

“What the hell are you talking about?” Velis asked.

Grif laughed again. “Ebur was completely weaned off the drug the day before yesterday. Ktk was just waiting until you attacked me before it started Ebur on the other set of meds.”

Amys’ eyes widened, then her jaw set. “So it could win the pool.”

“That’s right. That goddamn bug rigged the game.”

Amys glowered. “I’m going to hurt that bug. A lot.”

“I’m not,” Grif said. “I bet the same thing. That means we split the pool.”

An hour later Grif was declared fit. His belly was still tender and his arm was a bit sore, but mostly he felt better.

A few hours later, Cyrus and Morgan rolled up into the cargo bay with the rented ground transport, carrying a few dozen crates of good Varkavian whiskey and six very tired OIM agents. Once the cargo bay doors were closed, Bennet, Nond, Bera, Dox, Sev, and a very agitated Meaghan Sythe climbed out of the back of the transport. They all looked ready to collapse… Sythe looked ready to fall to pieces.

Grif walked up to her and grinned. “Hi, I’m–“

“Mavis!” she snarled, and lunged for him.

Grif stumbled back, just barely evading her grasp.

“What?” He said. “No, I–“

“Sythe!” Bennet grabbed her and pulled her back. “It’s all right, he’s not–“

“YOU BASTARDS, YOU SOLD ME OUT!” She shouted, thrashing wildly. “YOU SOLD ME OUT! BASTARDS!”

Nond and Bera had to help Bennet hold her down as Dox gave her a sedative.

“She’s been through a lot,” Bennet explained.

“I really need to get my old face back,” Grif replied. “So… did it work?”

Bennet nodded wearily. “We did it. Put in the receptors, I mean. We weren’t able to test them or anything, but…”

“You’re exhausted,” Grif said. “Which makes me an idiot. Go get some sleep. We’ll have to wait a few days before we can test it out anyway.”

Bennet shook his head. “De-briefing first,” he said. “With the Major.”

The other agents grumbled, but nodded, and they stumbled off to deck two.

The next few days were uneventful. Meaghan Sythe calmed down enough to be debriefed properly–which included explaining that Grif’s uncanny resemblance to Mavis was a byproduct of surgery–and spent a fair amount of time to herself in a cabin they’d set aside for her.

“She’s been under a lot of stress,” Bennet said. “We didn’t design her cover to last as long as it did, and she had to work pretty hard to make it stretch as long as it did. It was really wearing her down.”

“She’s not going to flip out and, uh, attack me again, is she?” Grif asked.

Bennet shook his head. “I doubt it. She’s too tired, physically and emotionally, to do much of anything right now.”

They set up the slave circuit equipment in the general mess hall–Grif would have preferred to use the Wardroom, but that would require opaquing the panoramic viewport and he thought that might attract attention. The rig consisted of an electronic device that allowed the remote operator to manually guide the object and a terminal screen that would allow the operator to view his surroundings from the remote object’s perspective.

The rig also had a port where a proper computer could be hooked into it, allowing someone to interface with the remote machine. Bennet hooked up a portable unit of his that “did all kinds of interesting things.”

Next, they had Ktk attach a device to Ebur’s skull that would act as a receiver for the commands they sent to him.

“This thing works two ways,” Grif explained. “We either send commands to him and he commands the object–that’s usually what we do when we want to move it around–or we tell him to establish a link with the robot’s programming. It’s like having the highest level of access you need to interact with every system it has. After that, you need to spend a little time studying the thing, to see how it works, but then you can program it to do things when the receptor is gone.”

“Interesting,” Bennet said. “But will it work?”

Grif grinned. “One more day and you’ll see for yourself.”

Ktk was finally allowed out of the cargo hold, much to its relief. It was beginning to wonder if everyone had forgotten about it.

“Oh no,” Grif said. “I haven’t forgotten about you at all, bug! Nearly getting me killed just to win a bet…”

Ktk replied that Grif had in fact not been killed, so it had all turned out for the best.

“Using the Captain’s own logic against him should be a crime,” Grif said cheerfully.

Just then Meaghan wandered into the cargo hold, saw Ktk for the first time, and nearly fainted.

Ktk asked who she was.

“Ah… another agent,” Grif said. “They found her on the planet. She’s a little… twitchy right now, and probably didn’t expect to see a two and a half meter bug standing in our cargo bay.”

Ktk didn’t understand why some humans seemed to react so violently to the presence of a two and a half meter bug.

“Don’t feel so bad. She took one look at me tried to kill me.”

Ktk noted that Grif often had that effect on women, but usually they had to have known him first.

“Quiet you,” Grif said. “Just remember to check up on your patient, keep him medicated, and make sure he’s not getting his tubes crossed. That would be… unpleasant. And if we get searched again get ready to scuttle back in there to hide.”

The following day Grif announced it was time to see if the receptors worked. Ktk took its place with Ebur, ready to disconnect the link if it looked like anything was amiss, while Grif sat at the rig.

“Pull up a chair, Bennet,” Grif said. “I’ll need you on that computer when we start looking through the robot’s programming.”

Nearly everyone on the ship had gathered into the general mess to see if it would work. Velis was pacing at the far end of the room.

Grif turned on the pilot rig. The machine hummed to life, and various instruments lit up. The terminal screen, however, did not.

“It’s blank,” Cutter said, disappointed.

“We haven’t told Ebur to link up with a receptor yet,” Grif said. “Calm down. First we need to tell him which one, then we need to point him in the right direction… then he needs to find it, which could take a while. Establishing the initial link is sort of an imprecise science.”

Grif keyed in something on the terminal keyboard. “This is the code Ebur gave me for the first receptor. He said he’d understand what it meant. I also need to give him basic directions… uh… anyone have the coordinates of Ur Voys? And our coordinates, now that I think of it. We need to figure this out in terms of ‘this far north, this far northwest.'”

Velis stopped pacing across the room and shook her head. “Why?”

Grif shrugged. “That’s the way he learned it. Which makes it a challenge when you’re in orbit, by the way.”

They managed to work out a rough location. Grif added that to the receptor identifier, and sent the entire thing through.

Ktk reported that Ebur twitched slightly. Other than that, nothing happened.

“Remember,” Grif said. “Imperfect science.”

The terminal screen remained dark. Everyone remained motionless, looking at the screen expectantly, but nothing happened.

“This might take a little time,” Grif said. “I’m going to get a drink.”

He got up and went into the galley. The crowd dispersed a bit, some still watching the monitor as others decided that a drink was probably a very good idea.

Grif reached for the whiskey, thought better of it, and poured himself a cup of coffee. Cyrus and Amys had followed him in, and he looked up to see Velis coming in after them.

“What do we do if this doesn’t work?” Velis asked.

Grif shrugged. “It’ll work. Ebur has never failed with this kind of stuff before.”

“But what if it doesn’t?” Velis persisted. “What if, for example, all those robots are in storage somewhere and haven’t been deployed yet? Or what if all the receptors are malfunctioning?”

“Ah… I don’t know,” Grif said. “I guess we either come up with another brilliant plan, or we give it up and go home.”

“I don’t believe we have another brilliant plan, do we?” Velis asked.


“No,” Amys said. “We really don’t.”

“I could try and think of another brilliant plan,” Grif offered.

“Don’t let him,” Cyrus said. “Never, ever let him come up with Plan B.”


“Grif, I love ya like you were my own brother–the one I like–and you’re a fine captain, but you have the worst backup plans I’ve ever been unfortunate enough to barely live through.”

“It’s true,” Amys agreed. “Plan A is definitely your strength.”

“Now, hold on there,” Grif protested. “My Plan B’s have always worked… mostly…”

“Last year–“

“OK, except for that one. That was, in retrospect, pretty bad…”

“Just that one?” Cyrus asked, eyebrows raised. “What about when we were trying to take off from Ventarii, and you–“

“Yes all right,” Grif growled. “Not my finest hour.”

Velis was looking at all of them with a bemused expression on her face.

“I don’t really understand what’s got into them,” Grif said. “Usually they have absolute confidence in their Captain–“

“Usually,” Amys said, “we don’t have to resort to Plan B.”

Cyrus nodded sagely. “Don’t do Plan B,” he said. “Ever…”

“Hey,” Bennet yelled from the other room. “I think we have a picture.”

Grif grinned. “Saved by Plan A!” He rushed back to the rig, spilling coffee the entire way.

Sure enough, the terminal was showing something that looked like a large white blob in the upper right-hand corner.

“What is that?” Bennet asked.

“I don’t know.” Grif sat in the chair and grabbed the controls. “Ebur doesn’t know what it is either, so he can’t focus on it. Let’s swing the view around a bit and maybe we can let him focus on something that makes sense to him.”

Grif moved the toggle around that controlled the view. The blob jerked off screen, and suddenly a number of lines appeared, crisscrossing each other to form a bizarre pattern on the screen.

“That’s not much better,” Bennet said.

“Hold on a moment,” Grif said. “It’s getting a little clearer.”

The lines deepened into grooves, and other details began to fill in around them. They were tiles–floor tiles in a hallway. And then they could see the entire thing: a hallway lined with doors, and people in uniform moving hurriedly down it.

“Damn, Ebur, you are good,” Grif said. “It’s the security robot. We’re in!”

A ragged cheer filled the room.

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