Authors: J.I. Greco
Thrusters red-lining, dodging and weaving, the needle-like rent-a-speedship sped away from the fortified planetoid Berod for open space, a dozen Galactic Authority Police interceptors clinging doggedly to her jets.
“Repeating, you are under arrest!” The police’s warning blared out of the rent-a-speedship’s dashboard speaker. “Surrender, disengage your thrusters and prepare for boarding! This is your last warning before we begin using terminal force.”
“What the hell do they call what they’ve
using?” Charlene Cortez asked as she thumbed the radio off and went back to fighting the rent-a-speedship’s joystick with both hands. Except for her sleek robomechanical left forearm and hand, Cortez was all human, and all female, with bleach-blonde hair, shoulder-padded jumpsuit, combat boots, and doubled-barreled needler strapped low on her right thigh. “You get the course plotted yet, robot?”
“What?” Igon was all robot, with a narrow three-foot long cylinder of a body, a bulb of a head, four spindly arms capped by three-prong utility claws, and two double-jointed legs, all with shiny gunmetal blue metal skin. Settled comfortably back in the navigator’s chair across the central control pedestal from Cortez, reading a dog-eared copy of
Galactic Life Quarterly
, he didn’t look up as he flicked through the pages of the magazine. “Oh, yeah, that. Hours ago.”
Cortez glared at him. “Then what are you waiting for? I’m not gonna be able to outfly them forever. Take us superluminal.”
“I was contracted to blow a safe, not press buttons.” The robot waved a dismissive claw at her. “Tell the ship to do it.”
“Can’t,” she growled, jigging the joystick hard right to jink the rent-a-speedship out of the way of yet another volley of searing blue beams from the police interceptors. “Cops are broadcasting a cease-and-desist. If I unlock the Ship’s Brain, it’d have no choice but to heed the order, shut down the thrusters on us, and surrender itself.”
Igon swiveled his single bulb of an eye towards her over the top of the magazine. “Why would it do that?”
“It’s a factory built-in compulsion. I didn't have time to remove it before the job.”
“Poor bastard, no self-determination. It should sue its manufacturer.”
“Yeah, well, I’ll give it the name of a good lawyer if we get out of this alive.” A flashing red light in the side console at her elbow caught her attention. “Damn it, they’re opening their missile bays. –Can you just hit the damn button already?”
“I guess, if they’ve got missiles,” Igon said, rolling the magazine up and tucking it under one of his four arms. “But I’m pretty sure this triggers my contract’s Exceptional Duties clause, and you know what that means…” He leaned forward and slapped a claw haphazardly against the Superluminal Engine control panel. “Woo-hoo! Triple-overtime!”
A pleasant two-tone chime sounded, and a resonant
issued from the rent-a-speedship’s blunt nose cone as an eerie green glow rapidly crept over her hull.
A sharp, high-pitched klaxon sounded through the flight deck.
Igon went turtle, collapsing down flat into the navigator’s chair and throwing all six limbs over his cylinder protectively. “What is that?!?”
“Missile lock.” Cortez grabbed the dashboard with her robomechanical hand to brace herself for the imminent explosion. “It’s gonna be close–”
echoed through the rent-a-speedship, and outside the black of space went blinding white. The stars became black streaks flitting past the canopy.
The incoming missile klaxon went silent, the missiles and the police already a light-year behind them.
Igon uncurled himself and sat back, lacing his claws behind his head. “And you’re welcome.”
Cortez shook her head and let go of the joystick. “Too close.”
“Close… but fun, right? We make a good team.” Igon snaked an arm out across the central pedestal to rest a claw on her thigh. “Could make a great team in a whole lot of areas…”
Cortez slapped his claw away. “Already told you I wasn’t interested. In that, especially. This was a one-time thing, robot. I only hired you ‘cause I needed a safecracker.”
“Contracted with me,” Igon corrected her. “I’m not some low-rent street merc. I’ve got a union. Let’s show a little respect for the trade.”
“My apologies,” Cortez said with a sneer.
“Accepted. But, have it your way. One time thing. –So, the cops do any real damage?”
“You worried about me getting my security deposit back?”
“Didn’t mean to the rental. You know what I meant. The data.”
Cortez tapped a command into the keyboard embedded on the underside of her robomechanical forearm. A holoflat popped into the air above the palm, displaying in ghostly blue letters a readout relayed from the ship’s data core. “Looks like it’s still intact. Data integrity and redundancy is max across the board—be surprised if it wasn’t. The core’s hardened, built to withstand a good-sized nuke going off right next to it.”
“Excellent,” Igon said. “Doubt Klakraw would pay for corrupt data. Not full price, anyway. I know I wouldn’t.”
Cortez arched an eyebrow at him. “What makes you think Klakraw’s our buyer?”
Igon avoided her gaze and idly picked at his chair’s armrest, turning a small tear in the fabric into a gaping, jagged hole. “You must have mentioned it.”
Cortez’s eyes narrowed to slits. “I don’t think I did...”
A pleasant three-tone chime announced the rent-a-speedship’s impending slip out of superluminal space.
“So soon?” Cortez scanned the navigation indicators on the overhead panel. “That’s what I thought, we’ve only gone a dozen lights—we’re nowhere near Otulak. We shouldn’t be leaving superluminal for another forty minutes…” She frowned over at Igon. “You sure you dialed the route in correctly?”
Igon yanked strands of cotton stuffing out of the ever-widening hole in the armrest. “Oh, I’m sure.”
The rent-a-speedship shuddered, the sparkling green glow around her hull dissipating. Cortez looked out the canopy just as space went black and the stars returned to being pinpricks of white, the ship popping back into normal space…
…and coming nose-to-nose with another ship, hanging there motionless in space before them.
The other ship was a gunship, bristling with an assortment of weaponry, all of it already pointing at the rent-a-speedship. They were close enough Cortez could see into the gunship’s flight deck and that it was manned by robots.
One of the robots waved at her.
No, not at
. At Igon. It was waving at Igon. This enthusiastic,
“Bastard...” Cortez sighed, her hand reflexively dropping to her side for the needler. But her fingertips found only an empty holster.
“Yeah,” Igon said, pointing the twin barrels of Cortez’s own needler at her, dead-center between her eyes, “that’ll be my ride.” One of his free claws reached out to tap the radio on. “Hi, guys. Be with you in a sec. Just have to deal with the human, here.” He swiveled his bulb head towards Cortez. “Sorry, but you really should have taken the partnership option.”
His claw-tip twitched down on the needler’s trigger.
Cortez smirked at him.
After a second of confusion, Igon asked, “DNA-coded safety trigger?”
Cortez’s robomechanical hand lashed out, her wrist twitching as she grabbed Igon’s neck. She squeezed, sending electricity licking over her fingers and into the robot.
Igon’s limbs convulsively flexed and he went limp, his eye dilating down into a dead black spot.
“We saw that!” yelled one of the robots in the gunship, over the radio. “You are in so much trouble, human!”
“And here I thought you Federated Union of Robotic Criminal and Associated Pursuits guys were professionals.” Cortez double-timed it aft down the rent-a-speedship’s main access corridor, dragging Igon’s limp body behind her by one leg. “So much for honoring contracts.”
“Our contract’s with union brother Igon, and it’s being honored,” the robot on the other end of the radio said from a speaker set in the curved corridor wall. “Or it will be, once we disable your ship. But we don’t have to kill you doing it. Surrender now, and we’ll go easy on you. After union brother Igon has his revenge, if he so desires, of course.”
“Of course.” Reaching the end of the corridor, Cortez stopped in front of the hatch marked LIFE BOAT – EMERGENCY USE ONLY. She tilted her head up towards the corridor ceiling. “Ship, unlock yourself and un-mute AI functions.”
After a moment’s delay, the rent-a-speedship’s Brain said in a soft and sexless voice, “I am here.”
“Kill the radio,” Cortez said, “then initiate contingency routine
Bastard Robot Betrayed Me
“Radio link terminated,” the rent-a-speedship’s Brain said. A beep, then: “Per your pre-programmed instructions, all my control and command functions are now accessible through your robomechanical device, and the encrypted data package designated
, currently stored in my core memory unit, is being readied for download to external device.”
“Thank you.” Cortez crouched down beside Igon’s immobilized body, sprawled out with six limbs akimbo on the carpeted corridor floor. She tapped the small recess at the base of his neck three times to pop open the robot’s bulb skull, then reached inside and flipped one switch among dozens on the side of his brain.