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Authors: Rod Walker

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Mutiny in Space (9 page)

BOOK: Mutiny in Space
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“I’m not telling you anything,” I said.

It was pure bluster, and we both knew it. I had heard about the kind of things Social operatives did to their prisoners, the drugs and the neural jammers and the more conventional methods of torture. If Ducarti wanted, he could force me to tell him anything and leave me a physical and mental cripple in the process.

I had a feeling he would enjoy that.

“Let’s find out, shall we?” said Ducarti. “Where is the key to the harvest? Tell me where it is, and you may well save the lives of all of your crewmates.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said in all honesty. “How can a harvest have a key?”

Williams snarled and punched me in the face. It wasn’t much of a punch. I guess he never had the benefit of a big brother teaching him how to fight. Nevertheless, I wasn’t ready for it, so it was enough to knock me backwards to the deck.

“Belay that, Captain,” said Ducarti, strolling forward. “There is no need for violence. Mr. Rovio is going to tell us everything he knows about the Rusalka’s mission. Then we shall determine whether or not that information is useful, or if Mr. Rovio himself is useful to us.” He put a hand on Williams’s shoulder, and the captain stepped to the side.

“Ducarti!” said Hawkins. “If you’re going to interrogate anyone, interrogate me. An apprentice crewer won’t know anything about the cargo!”

“Do be quiet, Mr. Hawkins,” said Ducarti. “Now. Nikolai. Tell me all about the ship’s cargo.”

I glared up at him. “You know about it already.”

“In your own words, please,” said Ducarti. “Indulge me.”

I wasn’t obliged to tell him anything but my name, my rank, and the designation of the ship upon which I served. But I knew that the Social Party did not bother with legal niceties, and Ducarti had absolutely no compunctions about killing me or anyone else. At least if I kept talking, I could keep him from killing me out of hand.

“It’s grain,” I said. “A whole lot of grain from the colony on New Sibersk.”

“So far, so good,” said Ducarti. “Now. What is special about New Sibersk? Backwater worlds, after all, are by definition quite common.”

“It was founded by people from Novorossiya III,” I said. “Refugees. Who fled Novorossiya III after you guys wrecked the place.”

Ducarti lifted his eyebrows. “We did not ‘wreck the place’, as you so vulgarly put it. We brought the Revolution to Novorossiya III and prepared to transition it to a true classless and equal society.”

“Yeah,” I said. “You’re classless, all right.”

Ducarti only sniffed dismissively at the feeble insult. “We were making excellent progress. Those who fled to New Sibersk were reactionaries and wreckers, saboteurs meddling with the advance of the Revolution.”

“Then the Social government on Novorossiya III got overthrown,” I said.

“Alas,” said Ducarti, “it appears that the people of Novorossiya III were simply not enlightened enough to appreciate that the hour of the true classless society had come. They shall learn, in time.” He made an impatient little flipping gesture with his right hand. “Now, why do you think the Social Party is so interested in their grain?”

“Because you want to screw with the colony on New Sibersk,” I said. “They sank a lot of money into producing this harvest, and it’s all on this ship. If you steal the grain, you can hurt your enemies and make a big production about the Revolution striking back and all that nonsense. And my guess is your own people are probably starving because they can’t even feed themselves.”

Williams bristled again. He really seemed enthusiastic about the Social Party. Maybe he thought it would annoy his brother. Ducarti gestured, and once again the captain subsided.

“It is true that I seek to harm the enemies of the Revolution,” said Ducarti, “but you are overlooking the obvious. If we simply wanted to destroy New Sibersk’s harvest, it would be easier to simply shoot down the
Rusalka
. Or now that we have control of the ship, to steer her into the nearby red giant. But we have done neither of those things. Why?”

“You tell me,” I said.

Ducarti smiled. “Let us see if you can figure it out on your own, Nikolai Rovio.”

“Games?” I said. “Really? You want to play games?”

Ducarti shrugged. “Or I could just shoot you.”

Okay. Maybe a game wasn’t so bad.

I realized the sick bastard was enjoying this and another realization followed that. Toying with me instead of finishing his mission, whatever it was, was a mistake. But he needed to feed that oversized ego, and the more I played along, the more time I bought for the others on the ship to do something.

“All right,” I said. “I’m in. So it’s not about the grain. Or it’s not just about the grain. Blowing up New Sibersk’s grain harvest is just a bonus.”

“Go on,” said Ducarti.

“Like, there are a hundred thousand people on New Sibersk,” I said. “The colony might fail on its own. There are billions of people on Social Party planets and even a big harvest like this won’t feed them all. You can’t care that much about New Sibersk. I mean, you’ll kill them or impoverish them if you get the chance, but you have bigger things on your mind.”

“Interesting,” said Ducarti. “Do continue, Mr. Rovio. You may be even more clever than your late parents.”

A bolt of sheer rage flashed through me, and I wanted to get up and strangle him until I squeezed that smug look off his face. Only the certain knowledge that his commandos would shoot me dead before I even touched him kept me from doing it.

“If wrecking the harvest is only a side project,” I said, “that means you have some other reason for taking the ship. You could have just blown up the ship, but you didn’t. You boarded it. So either you want the ship itself, or there’s something on the ship you want.”

I frowned as I realized it must be the latter. There was nothing special about
Rusalka
except her size.

“There is something you want,” I said, “but something you can’t get. Because the captain kept asking for a key.”

“Precisely,” said Ducarti. “Now, Mr. Rovio. Where is this key?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know what’s locked up. Williams can unlock anything in the computer. If there’s something physically locked up, you’ve probably got plasma torches. So it’s something trickier than that.”

“Correct,” said Ducarti. “We are not discussing a physical or a digital lock.” He seemed to consider something for a moment. “Tell me. Are you familiar with noncoding DNA?”

“What?” I said. I had no idea what he was talking about.

“More colloquially known as junk DNA,” said Ducarti. “Surely you must have sat through a biology course at some point.”

“We’re talking about biology now?” I said, baffled. “Okay, if I remember right, every cell has DNA, which is the instructions for making more cells. Except not all of the DNA gets used because it’s full of mutations and stuff. That’s the junk DNA. It’s like a bunch of old temporary files on a hard drive that never get erased and just sort of sit there taking up space.”

“A crude, but sufficient summary,” said Ducarti. “As you said, junk DNA is mostly useless, but among the scientists of the Thousand Worlds there are scientists clever enough to alter the junk DNA.”

“So what?” I said. “Genetic engineering has been a science since… I don’t even know. Since before people left Earth’s solar system for the first time.”

“Indeed,” said Ducarti. “And the grain from New Sibersk has not been genetically altered in any significant way, save for the alterations made millennia ago to weed out certain diseases and promote good health and so forth. Yet the scientists on New Sibersk have employed a specific genetic engineering technique to hide altered code within the junk DNA of their grain.”

“That’s where the information you want is,” I said. “In the grain.”

“Precisely,” said Ducarti. “The grain contains a list of names required by the revolution.”

“Decryption. You need the decryption key, because you can’t read it otherwise.”

“In a word, yes,” said Ducarti.

“Whose names?” I said. “More people you plan to kill?”

“I’m afraid the situation is far more serious than that,” said Ducarti. “No, as it happens, this is a list of our friends.”

“You jerks have friends?” I said.

“Many,” said Ducarti. “The Revolution has freed only a small number of worlds. Yet the governments and corporations of many other worlds are home to those who are friendly to the cause of the Revolution. Captain Williams, for one.” Williams beamed as if that was a compliment. “Naturally, should their true affiliations become known, our friends will be at grave risk.”

“Which is to say they’ll be arrested for treason.”

“So we undertake great efforts to conceal their identities,” said Ducarti. “Unfortunately. New Sibersk has become a haven for reactionaries and others opposed to the glorious goals of the Revolution. Among them is a former intelligence officer who happened to possess a list of our friends, which he then encoded into the grain.”

“That’s stupid,” I said. “Why put the list in junk DNA? Why not just encode it into a virus and propagate it?”

“That is the first smart thing you’ve said, boy,” said Williams. “All who oppose the Revolution are stupid.”

“Alas,” said Ducarti, “would that they were. The reactionaries exhibit a sort of base cunning. We know New Sibersk is a nest of reactionaries and class traitors. We know that several of our former intelligence officers have taken shelter there, and hidden traitors and wreckers within the Social Party have been sending them information. So naturally we have been monitoring all communications in and out, and watching all vessels arriving and departing from the colony.”

“We should have nuked the place from orbit,” said Williams.

“The traitors on New Sibersk could not broadcast their information as you suggested, for we would then find them and have them liquidated. We could not take hostile action against New Sibersk without triggering a war. So some clever person among our enemies had the idea of slipping the list into the junk DNA of the grain harvest. That way, the list could be smuggled out with ease. The identities of our friends in high places would be exposed, and many would be ruined, imprisoned, or executed. This would be a grievous blow to the progress of the Revolution.”

I looked at Williams. “You told him, didn’t you?”

Williams smirked. “I am proud to do my part for the Revolution.”

“And to piss off your brother, right?” I said. That made the smirk vanish from his face. I looked back at Ducarti, hoping Williams wouldn’t hit me again. “So what do you need a key for? There are hundreds of thousands of tons of grain in the hold. Go get some grain and decode it.”

“Alas,” said Ducarti, “decryption is no longer a simple matter of brute computing force. We have already begun the process, but it could take years.” He smiled. “But you, Mr. Rovio, are going to provide me with that key and save me that time.”

“Just how am I going to do that?”

“Because your uncle almost certainly has a hand in all of this,” said Ducarti. “Corbin Rovio is a reactionary traitor. Your father, at least, held true to the ideals of the Revolution, even if he got himself killed in their execution. Corbin Rovio, though… it seems Corbin was always a traitor.”

I shook my head. “You’re wasting your time. My uncle didn’t tell me anything.” That annoyed me a little. On the other hand, I supposed he had been protecting me, or at least trying to.

Fat lot of good that did me now. Assuming, of course, he had really known about this, and Ducarti wasn’t lying.

“I didn’t know about any of this. I couldn’t even remember what junk DNA was until I thought about it. I’m just an apprentice technician.”

“True, but even if Corbin did not confide in you, he will not wish to watch you suffer. Once we have him, he will talk.”

“I know my uncle. And he knows you. He’ll die before he lets you take him. And he’ll let me die before he’ll give in to you!”

“You may be right,” admitted Ducarti. “He hasn’t responded to any of our broadcasts in which I clearly spelled out what the consequences would be.” He lifted his hand to his right ear, tapping the earpiece that he wore. He spoke a few words in a soft voice, and then turned to the waiting commandos. “Sergeant, we’re going to have to search the ship from bow to stern. We need to root out any crew members who are still in hiding. Also, I want Corbin Rovio alive.”

The blast door to the corridor hissed open, and a pair of commandos strode inside, K7 rifles at the ready.

“So, it is time to make good our threats,” said Ducarti. He pointed at me and then at Murdock. “Take them both and throw them out the rear airlock.”

“What?” said Murdock.

“That is a violation of interstellar law…” started Hawkins.

“Reactionary nonsense,” said Ducarti. “Besides, you’ll be pleased to know that we do not intend to shoot anyone, Mr. Hawkins. Why make a mess we will only have to clean up? The vacuum of space will provide a much cleaner death. And a more painful one as well.”

“You sick–” started Hawkins, but one of the commandos silenced him with an armored backhand.

The other commando grabbed my arms and hauled me to my feet, handcuffing my wrists behind my back. His partner did the same for Murdock, who let out a steady stream of profanity.

“You traitorous rat,” said Murdock to Williams. “You’re going to just stand there with that stupid expression on your face and let him execute your crew one by one?”

Williams smirked. “You’re enemies of the Revolution. You made your choice.”

The commandos looked at Ducarti.

“Proceed, gentlemen,” he said. Then he turned around, without so much as a parting sneer at me or Murdock. He really was a cold-hearted bastard.

The two commandos hustled me and Murdock to our feet, herded us out the blast door to the main dorsal corridor, and pushed us along.

Later, this was the part that gave me nightmares.

Not shooting that one commando in the maintenance walkways. Not all the other stuff that happened. Walking down that corridor, just walking with my hands behind my back, was the part that gave me bad dreams. Knowing that I was slowly, inexorably, getting marched to my death and that there was nothing I could do to stop it, nothing at all… that leaves a mark on your mind.

BOOK: Mutiny in Space
10.03Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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