Authors: John Hegenberger
Tags: #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #Adventure, #Galactic Empire, #Space Opera, #Metaphysical & Visionary
MUTINY ON OUTSTATION ZORI
Mutiny on Outstation Zori by John Hegenberger
Copyright © 2015 by John Hegenberger
Cover Design by Livia Reasoner
Rough Edges Press
All rights reserved.
This is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogues are products of the author's imagination and are not to be construed as real.
No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
From four-leaf clovers to Paris and beyond
Jamie Clamber spied his attacker coming out of the mist. He was Jamie's height and weight, which made sense. The attacker
Jamie or a reasonable analog. The opponent walked slowly through the knee-deep swamp, alert for any sign of Jamie's presence.
Just what I would do, Jamie thought. Only I wouldn't be so damn obvious about it. Or would I?
The attacker seeming to sense these thoughts through the dense humid haze, shifted the weight of the autoblaster in his arms, and began moving on a more direct line toward the tree behind which Jamie hid.
Somewhere far in the distance, Jamie could hear the roar of a giant Swampwalker. The sound distracted him for an instant, and then the sudden eruption from his attacker's autoblaster tore away the side of the tree.
Jamie clinched his teeth and returned the fire. He backed away from where he thought his opponent stood, and nearly lost his balance in the tangled roots beneath the muddy water.
A second blast ripped over his head. "To hell with this," Jamie muttered, unstrapping the blaster. He let the weapon sink into the swamp, glad to be rid of its weight.
In the next instant, he dove under the surface, pulling himself down and along the clusters of tree roots. He kept moving to his right, blinded by the murky liquid, until he felt his lungs beginning to pulse in protest for oxygen.
Jamie forced himself to come up slowly...quietly. He let the air ease out his laboring lungs and drank a breath between his teeth. Water dribbled down his short black hair and across his lean features. Losing the autoblaster had been a good move. It had weakened his firepower, but enhanced his maneuverability, and in this steaming environment that was a decided advantage.
He took another breath and scanned his surroundings. The mist hung in the air like a wet tapestry. The moss-covered tree limbs bent down to the water's surface, swaying slowly with a faint current. The swamp seemed placid, tepid, and as quiet as deep space.
Jamie started in surprise as he saw himself shoot up from the surface only a meter away and lunge forward. A forceknife arced on a path toward his face.
Fear squeezed Jamie's heart. He dove for the surface, remembering that he'd beaten himself only once in the last four dreams. He wondered, fleetingly, if losing was addictive.
His attacker pressed the advantage, just as Jamie would have done, if he'd have been in his place.
Maybe that's the problem, he thought. I can win a fight against myself, but only if I don't think about it.
Jamie's own forceknife had been knocked away into the mire. He felt as if he'd had just about enough forceful confrontation from this attacker.
Doubling up his fist, he pounded it into the familiar face that was only inches away from his own. He watched himself howl in torment. His opponent dropped the knife and it sank into the slime.
Jamie struggled to get behind his attacker so that he could contain him in a wrestler's hold. Pulling and kicking, his other self tried to throw off the hold, as Jamie yanked the belt from his own trousers and looped it up and around his attacker's neck, pulling it tight like a cinch. The opponent struggled to get free, but Jamie held on until the form beneath his hands grew quiet.
It worried him a little to realize he was killing himself, so he let loose of the belt, and his opponent kicked out, slamming Jamie hard against a tree trunk. Spots danced before his eyes. He watched in stunned silence while his attacker grinned and squeezed the life from Jamie's throat.
The survey board gave his score as only twenty-two. It was always the same; he was aggressive enough and he took chances that looked promising, but, ultimately, Jamie Clamber almost always lost. Since the HAVENset was set up for him to play against himself, he couldn't understand why he should lose so often. The results ought to be fifty-fifty, but they weren't. Something was crooked here.
He climbed up from the game's chair and removed the electronic fingercaps, rubbing his temples where the 'trodes had stuck to his flesh. Regrettably, he knew the answer to his own question. He lost because he quit before the match was over. It was only a game, so he couldn't take it seriously enough to slaughter his opponent. Or at least that's what he told himself.
A lot of people said that life was only a game, too. And, lately, Jamie felt as if it didn't matter who won or lost that one either.
With a grimace, he shut down the HAVENset chair and passed through the security stairs that led up to the main casino of Club Lux. He needed something from the bar.
Something that'll take my mind off my troubles while waiting for the damage report on the
Jamie pushed past the gamblers crowded around a Random Number Generator and found an empty seat at the crystalline bar. He ordered a Knockout and turned to rest his elbows on the bar's edge, to survey the RNG and the rest of his surroundings.
Club Lux was a circuit-jockey's dream come true. Hell, it was just about anybody's dream. Gorgeous babes in every stage of undress and willingness weaved among the gambling tables offering drinks, sex and eternal happiness—for a price. Handsome investors, male and female, literally threw their money away in a sometimes casual, often desperate frenzy to forget their troubles and get a UGT, Ultimate Good Time. Jamie could sympathize with them.
He'd been "stuck" here on Idyllis, living in this pleasure palace for five days now, while waiting for repairs to his 6000-ton freighter. He didn't mind the constant environment of celebration at Club Lux (in fact he rather enjoyed the illegal HAVENset down in the basement). What bothered him was the prospect that this was all growing tedious and quickly wearing thin.
"Either I'm nuts, or I'm dead," he mumbled to himself while swallowing the Knockout. Even the drink didn't taste right.
"You Jamie Clamber?" a high-pitched voice asked.
Jamie looked up at the hairy face of a broad-shouldered apeboy wearing a tailored suit. Benick Horescin, the owner and operator of Club Lux, liked to employ the local talent as dealers, doormen, and delivery boys. "Do I know you?"
"Boss wants to see ya," said the young sentient simian. "Follow me." He turned and without looking back lumbered off toward the elevators.
"Ah, well," Jamie sighed. "Monkey see, monkey do."
* * *
Jamie had been killing time and several bottles of mild stimulant at the Lux pleasure resort long enough to know who called the shots and raked in the winnings. And it wasn't the players; it was Horescin and the house. Every year thousands of thrill and pleasure seekers flocked—if that was the right word—to the Lux Resort from all over the Core. Each of them harbored the dream of winning a bundle, while enjoying the resort's fine food and excellent entertainment.
Of course, it never happened, but the customers didn't know that. Horescin had orchestrated an elaborate ruse of paying off winners who were secretly employed by the Club, so that the money flowed right back into the Resort's accounts after all the publicity about high rollers from off-planet who hit it big at Idyllis' Club Lux.
Jamie knew the inside story, because Horescin had once used him and Cast on a transport mission to bring in the HAVENset equipment. Since then, there had been other, smaller jobs that Horescin had needed from someone a little brighter and quicker-witted than his apeboys.
At first, Jamie felt self-conscious about working for what was obviously a shady operation. But Cast had shown him how it was only slightly illegal and totally acceptable in an open territory like Frontier Zone Five. Cast knew how to play the odds and angles in his favor.
Jamie and the apeboy rode the vator to the top floor and stepped out, into Horescin's favorite fantasy. The enormous room was strewn with richly-colored carpets, tasseled pillows, and a spicy blend of sandalwood and musk. The walls were covered with desert holos and arabesque designs that curved out and along their own geometric paths until the eye became lost in the tangle. Overhead, wide-paddled fans circulated the air that was intentionally kept in the high eighties.
It was well-known throughout the Zone that Benick Horescin fancied himself a shrewd businessman and a skilled trader. He sat on the floor at a low wooden table with three scrolling comp screens and a bright blue parrot perched on a brass ring behind him. The large man drew cigarette smoke through an ivory holder and drank something very hot and very black from a small cup without a handle. His heavy frame was hidden in a loose ornate robe and his double-chinned face looked out from beneath a round red cap that Jamie remembered being called a fizz, or fuzz. On Benny, it looked good.
"Ah, come in, boy," his deep voice rumbled. "Good to see you. Good to see you."
At first, Jamie thought that this comment was meant for him. Then he watched the apeboy walk around the table to stand next to the Club's manager, who put his arm around the boy's hairy leg and smiled contentedly.
Jamie cleared his throat. "You wanted to see me?"
"Indeed, sir," Horescin responded with gusto. "Please sit down. What I have to say to you is rather grave."
Jamie looked around, found a comfortable pillow and settled onto it. "Rudolph, get Clamber some Turkish coffee. He looks as if he could use a stimulant."
The apeboy disengaged his leg and poured Jamie a cup of the bitter-smelling brew. Then he returned to his position next to Horescin, who gazed out from heavy-lidded eyes.
"I understand that you've been playing a lot of HAVENsets...and losing."
Jamie nodded and gazed into his cup. The liquid's ebony surface cast back his reflection. He needed a shave.
"Don't you know, sir, that it's addictive, and can ruin your mind?"
"This stuff?" Jamie asked, indicating his cup.
Jamie shrugged. "Everybody carries within them the seeds of their own destruction." He raised the cup in a mock salute and downed its contents in a single gulp. It tasted like reactor distillate.
The manager chuckled deep in his throat. "Gad, sir. You are a keen philosopher."
Jamie swallowed audibly.
"But I'm afraid that fancy words will do little to improve your cash flow."
"What do you mean?" Jamie asked suspiciously. "Something wrong with my credit?"
Horescin reached beneath the table with his free hand and presented Jamie with a plastext. "This is the estimate on the repairs to your ship. My cousin figures it'll cost you more to replace the reactor and drive than the freighter itself is worth."
Jamie scanned the sheet of figures, grimacing. He'd been afraid of this. The damages to his ship were an accumulation of normal wear and abnormal luck. Ever since Cast had disappeared, Jamie had struggled and failed to get decent freight contracts. It didn't take long for a 6000-ton ship like the
to blow a drive during an overloaded, backnet jump and then have to limp back on sublight for a complete overhaul.
Horescin blew a cloud of smoke. "I'm afraid that the repairs will cost you more than you can afford to pay."
Jamie looked up from the estimate. "But you have an option."
Benick chucked again. "I always have an option." He laced his fat fingers together on the table top and smiled. "I'm prepared to take the
or what's left of it, off your hands as salvage. That'll cover your current debts at the Club and leave you just enough deits to get to Hyperion."
"That's obscene," Jamie charged. "The
's worth three—Wait. Hyperion? Why I want to go there?"
The Club manager raised a palm the size of a toilet seat. "Rudolph, give Mr. Clamber that other plastext setting next to the stock comp."
Rudolph, the brown-nosed apeboy
, Jamie thought, accepting the printout.
^**Urgently seeking info on Paethor circuit-jockey Cast Janssen last known to work in your zone. Details of his death during raider attack twenty months ago may have been falsified. Will pay triple premiums for source of info delivered to my corp office on Hyperion XI soonest. Advise response immediate. —Turner Werch**^
Jamie studied the note and felt his pulse rising. Could it be true? Had Cast survived? His ship had been gutted and the bodies of all aboard, except Cast's, were recovered. Jamie had always thought that his friend and mentor, the short, yellow man who had taught him all he knew about the transport business, had died in black vac and that his body still drifted somewhere out there in the Great Unknown. Who was this Werch person and why did he, or she, think that Cast could be still alive?
"Of course, you know, sir," Benny offered, "I didn't have to show you that. I could have just booted you out and taken the ship. Consider it a gift from a worthy friend."
"How do I know this is on the level?"
Horescin bubbled laughter. "You don't. But I know that you would do almost anything to get back the money Janssen borrowed from you before his tragic 'accident', and I could always use the triple premiums—"
"So you expect me to do your bidding?" Jamie said through clenched teeth. He could feel the anger growing in him like a voltage spark tightening his muscles. "I do the work, and you reap the rewards." He reached across the table and grasped the collar of the fat man's robe. "You go too far, Benny."