Bonds of Steel (Law and Crucible Saga Book 3)

BOOK: Bonds of Steel (Law and Crucible Saga Book 3)
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Bonds
of Steel

Law and Crucible
Saga 3

 

 

IOANA VISAN

 

This
is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the
product of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to
actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

 

Bonds
of Steel

Law
and Crucible Saga #3

 

Copyright
© 2015 Ioana Visan

All
rights reserved.

 

Cover
Art by Gil Geolingo

https://www.fiverr.com/glass84

 

Typography
by TheBookLady

https://www.fiverr.com/thebooklady

 

No
part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any
form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the
prior written permission of the copyright holder.

 

 

First
eBook Edition: December 2015

On a routine trip across the asteroid field, the robot, Del,
and unregistered AI, Vee, meet trouble. With Captain Law and his crew having
been put into stasis, their only chance of survival will mean placing
themselves at the mercy of what few resources they have. Without a human to
assist them, Del and Vee will be vulnerable and so too will the ship and all
the lives on board.

Despite their best efforts to avoid unwanted visitors,
another ship is en route. Their arrival does not guarantee the safety of those
on board, and may ultimately lead to their demise.

With his position on the ship on the line, can Del stave off
an attack or are their deaths inevitable?

1

 

With one hand pressed against his right side,
Law paused at the entrance next to the medbay and let Thea and her wheelchair
pass first. Del followed them, moving slowly, faced with a big dilemma. Inside,
Merrick was finishing checking the last stasis capsule. Two of them were
occupied by Mia and Eradiez from the beginning of their journey, but the rest
were empty.

“It

s the best solution,”
Vee repeated.

“It’s your insistence that puts me off,” Law said.

“Oh! If I didn’t know you, Captain, I’d feel
offended.” Vee’s voice boomed between the bare walls then lowered to a
reasonable level. ”We’re heading straight to the asteroid field, and my
sensors detected high levels of radiation in the area. Given the state of our
ship, the stasis capsules provide extra protection that shouldn’t be ignored.”

“I’m not reassured,” Law said but advanced
towards the tables where the capsules waited.

“It reassures
me
,” Vee said. “My
programming doesn’t allow me to put my crew in danger. The course through of
the asteroid field was calculated, and you have approved it. I’ll get you out
of stasis as soon as we leave the field. The stasis will delay your recovery,
but otherwise it won’t affect you. Tell him, Del!”

Because her reasoning was not incorrect, Del
settled for a nod. The details the others obviously didn’t know challenged his
programming, but he didn’t want to clash with the artificial intelligence running
the ship. People were not in danger despite Vee’s unusual request, and he had
to take care of his own chances of survival. Not everyone accepted the services
of a runaway robot.

“Everything’s fine,” Merrick told Law. “The
engines work at 70% capacity, we have no failures requiring immediate
attention, and the capsules passed all the tests.”

“Well, it seems there’s no escape.” Law sighed
and gestured at Del to see to his work.

Del activated his heating system to bring the
covers on his chest and arms to a temperature close to that of the human body
and lifted Thea from her chair. Flying in zero g would have been much easier
for her, but not as beneficial to Law’s health, who hadn’t fully recovered
after the ore retrieval, three solar systems away. Or had that been a theft?

Determined not to question the captain’s
orders and even more determined to keep his place on the ship, Del carefully
placed Thea in the capsule. The stasis wasn’t going to help with her problem,
as it put on hold her muscle regeneration, but it also temporarily stopped her
nervous system degeneration. His personal assistant qualification guaranteed no
harm would come to his patient.

Thea glanced through the transparent wall,
uncertain, while Del closed the capsule and started the process. The gas
clouded her frightened expression. Of course, Thea had experience with
radiations and an unpleasant one. There was nothing to do about that. Instead,
he made sure everything was in order and moved the chair out of the way then he
turned to see if someone else could use his services.

Merrick had already climbed into the capsule
and was reaching to the control panel. “I’m almost done with the chair, but I
didn’t have time to test the anti-gravity field. Will you do it while Thea
doesn’t need it? The risk of accidents is lower for you.”

“If Vee does not mind not switching to zero g,
I can do it,” Del said.

“No problem for me,” Vee said in a joyful,
suspect tone.

“Okay, test it in the hold ... and try not to
destroy anything. Vee doesn’t like clutter.”

The absence of a comment from Vee’s part was
even more suspicious. She’d turned out to be extremely chatty when not ordered
to shut up—rather unusual for an AI. Everyone took it as a result of lack of
socialization, but Del wondered if there were other causes. It was hard to know
with AIs, especially unregistered ones who had different rules.

With practiced movements, Merrick quickly
pressed a series of buttons and lay inside the capsule before it closed.

Del waited near Thea’s capsule. Law moved
slowly, careful not to overexert himself, and Del dared not interfere. The
captain wasn’t too shy to ask for help when he needed it. It didn’t seem to be
the case. With difficulty, he managed to climb into the capsule.

“Don’t let Vee go too crazy.” Law winked before
resting his head on the support and closing his eyes.

“Captain!” Vee protested, but the capsule had
closed and Law probably hadn’t heard her.

Del checked each occupied capsule and,
satisfied, nodded to himself—a habit learned from humans. From that point
forward, they were in his care. How had they survived so long without someone
watching over them while in stasis? Del, who was made of several circuits and
mechanical parts, knew better than anybody how easy they could break. And Vee
had a limited action range, being unable to take them out of the capsules and
resuscitate them if needed. Del flexed his fingers thoughtfully. He needed to
make himself useful even when his programming didn’t force him to react.

“Do you have anything for me to do before I
get to work?” He gestured toward the chair.

“There’s an air filter that should be changed
in the medbay,” Vee said. “It collected a lot of Law’s blood from when we
temporarily switched to zero g right after leaving Etheros. Merrick said he’d
change it, but he never got around to doing it and I didn’t insist since we had
no patients stationed there.”

“I can change it after I study a guide,” said
Del. “Technical maintenance is not included in my knowledge base.”

“The nearest console is in the mess hall. A
wi-fi port would be good. It would facilitate your access to my data bases.”

Del pushed the chair toward the exit. “My
model does not have such a port. It was not considered necessary in my field of
activity. On the contrary, there were voices in the Etheros government which
claimed it would provide too much freedom for robots intended for social
interactions. They even established a law to ban them without special
permission.”

“We’re not on Etheros,” Vee said. “You can
install one. Or if you can’t, Merrick certainly can. He can fix anything. We’ll
be able to exchange information directly without wasting time to express it
orally.”

“I fear my processing speed is nothing
compared to yours. It would still be frustrating for you.”

And it would have allowed her to control him
like any mindless machine. After the recent escape from dismantling, Del didn’t
care for being under someone’s command again. He listened to Captain Law
because it was his ship, but that was all.

“I am capable of receiving information
visually, orally, and via a data cable,” Del said while pushing the door to the
mess hall, to make room for the chair. “A cable would not be practical on these
corridors, and there are not enough ports to connect on the ship. I am fine the
way it is.”

The blinking console disagreed with him a few
seconds later. It opened at his request, but when he called the air filters
maintenance guide, it denied his access.

“Vee, do you think you could give me crew
privileges?” Del asked. “At least until we cross the asteroid field ... If I
have other duties to fulfill as well, we will lose time with getting
permissions. Since you watch everything I do, it is not as if I can sabotage
the ship.”

“Of course you can’t,” Vee said in a
condescending tone. “Your programming doesn’t allow you to endanger people.
Okay, I’ll switch you to temporary employee status. Sorry, but I don’t want Law
to throw a fit if he hears he should give you a part of the profit. Ha!”

“I do not think that would be a problem,” Del
said, navigating through the menu on the console. “Our creators have made sure
robots do not have the same rights as humans.” He paused, intrigued by the
idea. “Why, do you get anything?”

“The ship receives equal shares with every
member of the crew after all costs have been paid for the trip ... and I’m in
charge of the ship.”

A slight exaggeration, but Del didn’t comment.
Vee needed an excuse to soothe her vanity. They hadn’t given her that nickname
for nothing, as Vee was short for Vanity. After dealing with people for several
decades, he found her only a little more difficult than them.

His optical sensors finished scanning the
instructions, and he stored them in his memory. Later, he’d have to do some
cleaning; too much data had accumulated and he hadn’t had the heart to delete
it after going rogue. Perhaps Vee would allow him to save an archive in her
memory if he asked her.

“I need tools to remove the air filter,” Del said,
maneuvering the chair again towards the exit. “I will get them from Merrick’s
workshop in the hold.”

“Uh-huh,” Vee said.

Taking advantage of her silence, Vee was most
certainly busy with other things, Del stopped by the stairs. Even after the
changes made by Merrick, the chair remained light enough for him to lift it, so
he folded it and carried it down the stairs. It would have been much easier to
handle it if he sat in it, especially with the anti-gravity field working, but
Del had been conditioned not to use his patients’ belongings, especially
medical technology, and it was difficult for him to break the habit. When
catching a moment of rest, he really needed to reassess his priorities. For
now, he had a vague feeling Vee intended to keep him busy for quite a while,
and he still hadn’t asked her the most important thing.

He found all the tools he needed in the hold,
including the console used by Merrick. After a brief hesitation, he checked the
ship’s trajectory. As far as he could tell, The Squirrel kept the original
course. So Vee wasn’t trying to steal the ship. Then what?

He kept his thoughts to himself until he
reached the medbay and identified the faulty filter. He was standing on a table
with both hands shoved into the ventilation hole when he asked, “Why did you
insist on putting everyone in stasis? The danger is not so great...”

One second, two, three passed until Vee said,
“Ah, you know...”

Del removed the old filter and connected the
new one. The LEDs blinked on the edge, signaling it functioned within normal
parameters.

“I put them in stasis because I too need time
to settle down,” Vee confessed. “You can’t imagine how nervous I was during the
contract with Etheros. I’m terribly afraid for them ... all the time! It’s
awful. We’ve already lost two crew members, and if I let them walk around on
their own, who knows what trouble they’ll get into. If it were up to me, I’d
keep them only in stasis ... so there is less chance something will happen to
them. Also, the asteroid field was the perfect excuse. Why? What did you
think?”

“I did not know. But I thought you must have a
good reason.”

More serious than this, but he felt relieved
it wasn’t serious, just one of Vee’s whims.

“Thank you for not saying anything,” Vee said.
“If they caught me, I wouldn’t get away with it a second time.”

“No problem.”

Now he had something on her. He was starting
to think like humans. Should he worry? Was it a sign his circuits were
deteriorating?

“Anyway, you can use a break, too,” Vee said.
“I see the way Thea bosses you around. Bring me this, give me that...”

He’d also noticed the increased number of
requests for help. Normally, he would have warned the patient it wasn’t good
for her to depend so much on someone and refused to do the simpler tasks, but
his precarious situation didn’t allow him to be picky. It was better for him to
become indispensable so they wouldn’t abandon him on some planet. Another
reasoning unworthy of him.

“I do not mind.”

At least, he wasn’t lying.

BOOK: Bonds of Steel (Law and Crucible Saga Book 3)
11.46Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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