Bonds of Steel (Law and Crucible Saga Book 3) (3 page)

BOOK: Bonds of Steel (Law and Crucible Saga Book 3)
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4

 

Del pressed his body to the ceiling, hidden in
a curve of the corridor. It had been Vee’s idea. She had also dimmed the lights
not to have his presence revealed by the glittering of his metal parts, which showed
how much she controlled the ship. Del congratulated himself for not crossing
her from the start. With the whole crew in stasis, she could have cut his
access to power and then who knew what would have happened. In any case,
nothing good for him.

The wait ended when the airlock door opened
and two men in thin suits floated inside. Their few imbalanced moves trying to
find their pace confirmed they weren’t accustomed to zero g and had come
unprepared. The tone of their voices sounded like swearing, but Del was too far
away to make out the meaning of words. He clearly saw the weapons, though. Zero
g gave Thea an advantage, as she had found a hiding place among the things in
the hold, but not big enough to put her out of danger. Therefore, they had agreed
she wouldn’t interfere unless one of the intruders remained isolated.

Vee’s plan presented many holes Del didn’t
know how to solve, but they hadn’t had time to devise a more detailed one.
After people passed him and moved away down the corridor, Del marched on all
fours, hanging upside down, and trying to make as little noise as possible. The
hold stretched dark and menacing ahead of them, and when one of the men tried
to access the console on Merrick’s workbench, he received an error message. Vee
had begun her diversion.

The men signaled with broad gestures and one
headed towards the engine room while the other moved to the staircase leading
to the inhabited cabins. Del hesitated for one second. There were no people in
the engine room who could be taken prisoners and forced to sabotage the ship.
Vee would not allow any change of the settings, and physical destruction in
zero g required force and planning the intruders didn’t have. On the upper
level, however, resided all the crew members in stasis and Vee’s module,
although Del didn’t know exactly where this one was inserted. When Vee deigned
to manifest her presence, she seemed to be everywhere on the ship.

Thea would forgive him for abandoning her, but
the good of others was more important since it affected the fate of all.
Stopping and starting the magnetic fields in his wrists and ankles, Del slipped
quickly on the heels of the man going up the stairs without touching the steps.
If he kept a reasonable distance between them, he could no longer care for the
noise level because the sound had difficulties passing through the suit.

For now, the man opened all the doors to the
crew quarters. Not only did it allow him to estimate accurately the number of
crew members, but also to see there were no characteristic traces left by the
disease. By now, he had to wonder where everyone was. He entered the mess hall,
but Del didn’t follow. There he would certainly be seen and he was trying to
avoid that. A parallel process running in his brain argued he was never going to
be prepared to cope with it in the near future, and Del limited its access to
resources, not to decisively affect his behavior.

Frustration entered the man’s voice when he
found the cockpit door locked. Had he possessed more human characteristics, Del
would have grinned full of satisfaction, but the way it was, he was content to
lie in wait. A module with invasive tactics would have been helpful to know
what he was doing. Unfortunately, he wasn’t a war machine. He pulled back still
on all fours when frustration was replaced by annoyance and then concern.
According to the plan, Vee must have infiltrated the suits’ closed circuit and
blocked any communication attempts. Once isolated, it was the perfect
opportunity to incapacitate them. Del’s brain insisted the man beneath him
enjoyed perfect health and didn’t need his help. His only hope was Thea handled
it better than he did.

The man hesitated at the medbay door. It was
the last place anyone would want to enter, but there were few places left to
check. His gloved hand barely touched the door when this one opened, and he
slipped inside.

Vee’s voice murmured softly, “Del, close the
door.”

It didn’t matter the order had come from an AI
and not from a human, it was all Del needed to act. He climbed down the wall like
a spider, upside down, and quickly pulled on the door. It closed with a click
and the light changed, signaling it was locked.

Instantly, normal gravity returned, pulling
him towards the floor.

“Quick, run to the hold! Thea needs help! I’ll
try to retain him as much as possible.”

Del was already running as quickly as could as
the mere mention of Thea’s name put him in motion. Behind him, thuds echoed
through the door, but he didn’t stop to see what was happening. He flew down
the stairs, moving faster than ever, aware several fuses were close to burning
up, but the fate of his patient was more important than his own.

The screech of metal on metal doubled his main
CPU cycles in a desperate attempt to process a larger amount of data gathered
by his sensors. Buzzing came from the forklift used to handle cargo in the
hold. The fixed bottom traveled on wheels, and Thea, anchored behind it, used
the mobile arms to fend off the suit’s attack. The man had lost his gun
somewhere and kept trying to reach for her. The jerky movements of the forklift
imbalanced them both, but Thea had managed to catch him between its crossed
arms and slowly pushed him towards the wall.

Del hesitated less than two meters away,
estimating the wounds suffered by combatants. The suit had perforations and
traces of blood on the left side, from the hip down, and a crack crossed its
helmet. Unlike him, Thea only panted from the effort and sported no visible
injuries. Del was tempted to jump to the aid of the attacker. Under normal
circumstances, he would have done it already. On the outcome of the
confrontation, however, depended not only what would happen with the entire
crew, but also with him. After decades spent servicing humans, Del refused to
be disassembled. That was why he’d run away and ended up on The Squirrel in the
first place, and he had no intention to start all over again. Plus, he’d
discovered he worked better around people, as if his system needed their
approval. He had no choice but to help.

He stepped forward. Something creaked, and the
levers in his leg locked. His programming didn’t like the direction his
thoughts had taken. He forced himself to take another step. The servomotors in
his joints whined, over solicited by the conflicting orders. A wisp of smoke
came out through the joints in his plating.

The forklift charged and slammed the suit
against the wall. The man groaned, remaining motionless for a second, supported
by the thick arms. With a determined look on her face, Thea pushed the forklift
forward. The metal grinded when the inner wall of the hold gave way and the
forklift’s arms passed through. The man struggled, caught between them, but he
was pinned to the wall.

“Enough,” Del said. “You’re crushing him.”

A muscle twitched along Thea’s jaw, but her
hand relaxed on the controls. The man cursed and shook his arms, unable to free
himself or reach her. Unfortunately, that meant she couldn’t reach him from
behind the forklift either.

“What are you waiting for?” Thea asked. “Give
him something to calm down!”

That he could do. The man was suffering and
painkillers could only help. In two steps, Del got to him and injected him with
a dose of tranquilizer through the suit. The man went limp and, most
importantly, shut up.

“Well, that was it,” Thea said, but her voice
was shaking. “Did you catch the other one?”

“Um, not really,” Vee said. “He found some
power boosters in the medbay and broke down the door. He’s coming to you.”

At least he hadn’t broken into the cabin with
the stasis capsules. But now he was angry, armed, and who knew what else he had
found in the medbay.

“Bring me the chair.” Thea freed herself from
the straps.

“No time.” Del sprinted to the entrance to the
hold.

He pressed his back to the wall and listened
to the footsteps in the corridor. Too light. Their owner must have ditched the
suit. He’d probably noticed the lack of alerts in the medbay. So a fast,
stronger than normal opponent due to the power boosters, and who didn’t fear he
might become infected. Thea’s chances of survival didn’t look good. From there,
despite the dim light, she made a perfect target while struggling to get off
the forklift without hurting herself. Why wasn’t Vee switching back to zero g?

First came the arm with the gun. Del
calculated the force required for impact as not to fracture the bone, and hit
him. The man screamed and dropped his gun. That was the moment chosen by Vee to
alter gravity. They all found themselves floating. Thea regained her balance first.
Eradiez’s hard training had paid off. Del still struggled with the urge to shun
the man and give him first aid.

The man darted toward Thea, and Del followed
him a little slower on the floor, undecided how to proceed further.

“What happened here?” the man barked. “Where
is everyone?”

The light fell on his face, and Del recognized
Rodoff’s companion.

Thea didn’t bother to answer. She did a
graceful ballet, ready to parry an attack. As mass, the man was smaller than
Eradiez and that fooled her. The first blow brushed her face with an unexpected
force, but Thea refocused quickly. She used his arm as a lever to push herself
away. Her punches wouldn’t have had the force required to incapacitate him. She
was faster, as proof she escaped the hand grabbing for her, but she came
nowhere close to matching his strength. Or stamina. With all the power boosters
taken, Thea would tire more quickly.

Del moved closer, concerned about the outcome
of the fight. Since serious blows hadn’t been exchanged yet, his programming
wasn’t on alert, forcing him to interfere. He told himself it was like in
training, but the man’s face contorted with rage disagreed with him.

Two attacks and as many avoidances followed.
Why wasn’t Thea using the tranquilizer doses, Del didn’t understand. During the
third attack, the man managed to catch her arm. Thea replied with a blow to the
base of his throat. A blow that in normal gravity had good chances to crush his
larynx only momentarily stopped his breathing. Thea fled again, but she already
moved more slowly.

An arm circled her waist. She didn’t struggle,
but her free hand slipped back and something metallic shone between her
fingers. Ah, a diversion. It would have worked if the man hadn’t guessed there
was something suspect in her surrender and kicked her hand. Thea dropped the
dose. How many did she have on her? Del had seen her when she stuffed them in
her pocket, but hadn’t gotten the chance to count them. The same trick wasn’t
going to work a second time.

Vee must have reached the same conclusion
because she played with the gravity again, and even intensified it. Del remained
alone standing while the two combatants hit the floor with a thud. Thea groaned
and pulled herself up on her elbows. The man cursed but was soon back to his
feet and stared at her, confused, because she wasn’t doing the same. Uh-oh.

Del advanced a step. If the man reached for
her, maybe he could interfere.

Vee didn’t seem willing to wait. Zero g lifted
them off the ground then slammed them down again. This time, Thea screamed and
spat a trickle of blood on the floor. Rather than rise, the man rolled toward
her. He grabbed her waist and they rose together. Thea turned and wrapped her
legs around his.

“Now!” Thea cried.

Vee obeyed the order and sent them to the
floor. The difference was Eradiez had taught Thea how to fall. The bruises were
inevitable, but the man screamed when his leg was caught under him.

Pain. Del didn’t need any encouragement. He
gave him the tranquillizer shot into his back, and when his body weakened, he
dragged him off Thea.

“Now it’s over,” Del said.

“Not yet,” Vee said. “We still have to throw
the garbage out.”

5

 

The condition of being a robot came with some
advantages. For example, he had total control over his facial expressions,
however limited they may be. Otherwise, Del wouldn’t have dared to face Law
when he awoke from stasis.

“Are we done?” Law asked as soon as he opened
his eyes.

With a faster metabolism, Merrick was already climbing
out of the nearby capsule. Del avoided his gaze. He hadn’t had time to test the
anti-gravity module added to Thea’s chair.

“I promised to wake you as soon as we left the
asteroid field,” Vee said. “We just did. Did you sleep well?”

Merrick muttered something.

“Not really.” Law ran a hand over his face and
sat up. “I had a nightmare.”

In stasis, dreams, beautiful or ugly, tended
to go on forever, or so Del had Del heard.

“Is everything okay?” Law asked Thea, who was
sitting in her chair with her chin propped in one hand while the other rested
lazily on the armrest of the chair.

No
, Del would have
said. The slight discoloration on Thea’s face agreed with him, but since the
rest of the bruises weren’t visible she could find an explanation for it. Vee
had insisted they shouldn’t go into details about their adventures, if they
were not asked directly, and Thea had agreed to play the game for the same
reasons as Del. Although Vee wasn’t officially part of the crew, she was part
of the ship and they couldn’t get rid of her. Better be friends than enemies.

So, after they had taken the still unconscious
prisoners to the shuttle and left it drifting, they had continued their course
and repaired the infirmary door and the holes in the hold’s wall. Thea had
skipped the stasis, to allow her body to recover. It had been a few awfully
long days. Fortunately, no one followed them.

“It is now,” Thea replied with a thin smile.

Law nodded, glanced at her stiff wrist resting
on the armrest and headed to the medbay. “Del, later I want to watch your
recordings from the period while we slept.”

BOOK: Bonds of Steel (Law and Crucible Saga Book 3)
7.31Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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