Star Vigilante (Vigilante Series) (9 page)

BOOK: Star Vigilante (Vigilante Series)
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“Oh really?” If the Sigma Puppis Greeks were as patriarchally-inclined toward their women as recent Earth Greeks had been, that could explain her reticence around males, and her preference for the matriarchal Derindl. Suit’s Intelligence readout on the Greeks confirmed as much. Lost in thought, Matt ignored the first warning from Suit’s inertial-tracker. “And what’s the function of a Sponsor?”

Swallowing hard and forcing her eyes back onto him, Eliana tried. Tried hard, like she’d promised. She offered him a polite smile. “A Sponsor arranges for the necessary genetic donations to the Mother Tree so your presence won’t cause an antigen response. A Sponsor offers the necessary dowry of unique knowledge datacubes to the Derindl Nest clan that has voted to accept you. A Sponsor negotiates with other Nest clan leaders on a suitable mate for—”

“Why are we stopping?” he asked stupidly as Suit’s inertial sensor blared klaxon red.

Eliana looked startled. “What? The trip usually takes—”

“Whooosh!” The taxi’s hatch cycled open.

Emergency Override
,” said Suit.

Once more, the dam broke. Once more,
flooded over him. Once more, his perceptions changed. Time stretched from swift picoseconds to long nanoseconds.

Seven hundred eighty nanoseconds
passed, Suit told him.

Light educated him first.

Instead of the well-lit, heavily guarded private dock of the station’s Trade Despot that he had been expecting, Matt saw a purple-lighted loading dock, deserted, with no one around. Shadows filled the dock, thick pillars held up the ceiling, and an air of decrepitude menaced him with its very banality.

Forty milliseconds

Within Suit, preloaded, autonomous Defense algorithms searched scores of electromagnetic spectrums for offensive weapons, airborne or groundborne. At the speed of light, they searched.

Faceplate’s Eyes-Up display flashed on, all three quadrants filled with fast-scrolling datafeeds that immediately forced him into gestalt perception. Thoughts move faster than eyelids. He thought. Hard. Fast. Angrily.

Two hundred milliseconds

Suit tightened as flexarmor inserts slipped into place on his arms and legs. Matt’s chest-mounted pulse Doppler radar kicked on, painting the dock enclosure with millimeter-wavelength radar. Both shoulder pulse-cannons tripped on. Bicep rocket launchers thumped with full magazine loads. He leaned forward.

Six hundred milliseconds

Suit’s onboard intelligence CPU hurriedly took a tachyonic download from
Mata Hari.
It contained a recent map of Zeus Station, showing their place inside it based on the inertial-tracking sensor that had been computing up, down, forward and sideways vectors ever since he’d left the security and safety of
Mata Hari ’s
own lock. They were in the wrong place, which he should have noticed long seconds earlier.

Seven hundred milliseconds

He stood up.

Eight hundred milliseconds

Matt waved Eliana to sit still. Moving in Colossus Mode, with pressor beams preceding him in case KKP rockets were already on the way in, he stepped carefully out of the hovering taxi. His footsteps shook the loading dock as tractor beams in his boots grabbed the dock. Its dirty concrete fissure-cracked.

One second

Sensors screamed to uplinked and adrenaline overload. Before he stepped away, Matt inserted a bayonet probe into the taxi’s Go-Fetch control console and dumped in a software virus. It would overcome any subversive programming as it reset the taxi’s guidance controls to home in on the Despot’s personal dock. Something he should have done earlier. He cursed mentally.

One and a quarter seconds

A shadow moved in the distance.

One and a third seconds

Four images danced on his faceplate. Mr. Shadow glowed in ultraviolet, infrared, far-infrared and yellow light wavelengths. Suit Tactical Locked-On with both shoulder lasers as his waistband nerve-gas dispensers cycled to auto-eject. Matt pulled a Magnum laser gun from his thigh holster for secondary targets. With his left hand, he reached straight out and stiffened his gauntleted fingers. Every fingertip now pulsed with powerful neodymium lasers, each keyed to a specific visible or invisible light wavelength. Some set for aluminum penetration, some for steel penetration, others for gold coating, with one for chitin-punch. And each powered up to 30 megawatts. But they were close-in weapons. On his back, Suit’s rocket launcher
as it auto-cycled, searching among the kiloton nukes, plasma, antipersonnel, and napalm warheads for a suitable match to the Fire-and-Forget rockets stored in his backpack. With an alpha wave pulse, he selected the napalm warhead—nuclear weapons in a confined space like this would only fry Eliana and overload his radiation shielding.

One and a half seconds

Mr. Shadow spoke.

“Impressive. You are Matt Dragoneaux?” Mr. Shadow said in comdisk-translated Belizel.

partially withdrew. Matt existed half as a slow, very slow organic, and half as a lightspeed fighting system—with Interface problems.

He breathed more calmly. “Advance. Downlink weapons systems. Avoid hostile actions. Avoid death.”

“As you wish.”

Three seconds

Mr. Shadow grew a form as it padded out from behind a nearby concrete pillar—moving on four clawed paw-feet.

It was a Mican.

Something one part bird and one part tiger stalked out into the loading dock, its four muscular legs moving like whips. Only half his size, the Mican resembled Earth’s mythical griffin, with brown-feathered wings rising from a muscle-rippling back. At the griffin’s front end rose a narrow head filled with sharp teeth. The head perched on a long, horse-like neck. But the true threat lay in its eyes. Three eyes, deep purple and deadly somber, fixed on him. Not on Suit, but on the being inside Suit. As if the Mican could see past his opaque faceplate. The eyes moved independently of each other, on small fleshy cones—like those of a chameleon lizard. Two now watched him while one looked around the dock.

Matt gulped, looking away from the eyes, to the rest of the alien’s body. Below the horse-neck were two small flexhands, their digits claw-tipped. Short arms supported the flexhands. The arms led to the wings and between the wings ran a blood-red feather ruff, ending in a long, needle-whiskered tail. The tail swished from side to side, malevolent in itself. He blinked, calling in datafeeds from the intelligence CPU. The Micans were one of the primary species sponsoring the Halicene Conglomerate. He had never seen a Mican, nor had he ever wished to. Their reputation for cold-blooded ferocity and mercantile rapaciousness made their acquaintance something fervently avoided by all sensible beings.

“What is impressive?” Matt asked, wishing Eliana would stop peering around the taxi’s open hatch.

The Mican glanced briefly at Eliana, then focused on him. “Your combat suit. It’s a bit crude, what with all those external fixtures, but effective. Still, we make more efficient systems.”

“So I’ve heard. Why are

The Mican’s tail swished faster. In his mind, Suit blared
—the tail could eject scores of poison-tipped needles—like the porcupine of Earth was reputed to do, but couldn’t. His right shoulder laser pulse-cannon Locked-On to the tail.

“Don’t bother,” the Mican said, its purple eyes watching Suit’s external systems do their thing. “I am nearly unarmed—except for my own on-board nanoware systems. They are quite sufficient for Defense.”

“Whatever you say.” With a thought, Matt told the taxi’s Go-Fetch console to close its hatch, which it did, locking Eliana inside. Switching focus, he active-scanned the spaces behind the Mican, suspicious that the alien might only be a decoy. New graphics filled his Eyes-Up display. Nothing.

The Mican laughed. Like a horse drowning. “My, my, you are suspicious. Good.” Purple eyes double-blinked. “I expected nothing less from a Vigilante. To be succinct, your Purpose is known to us. I offer a Trade—untold riches for your immediate departure from this star system.”

Matt cleared the center of his faceplate. “What riches?”

“Your life.”

He scowled. “That I already possess. What Directorate level are you in Halicene Conglomerate?”

The Mican’s neck feathers ruffled. “Prime Dominant Three.”

Misery filled him. In the Halicene Conglomerate hierarchy, there were only two supervisory levels higher than Prime Dominant Three—and each sapient at those levels controlled whole star clusters. This sapient must be the prime Controller of the entire Sigma Puppis operation, at the very least. But what was it doing
, away from the Halicene MotherShip? It must have arrived in one of the already docked starships. He moved to offense.

“How did you know I was in-system? That my ship had arrived?”

“Our gravity wave detectors are good. Very good.”

Matt hoped they didn’t have Alcubierre Drive detectors. “Why are you in-system in the first place?”

The Mican’s tail swished more slowly. “Just inspecting our . . . investment. No special reason.”

“How did you know I would be aboard this particular taxi?”

The Mican settled belly-down onto the dirty concrete, thin lips pulling away from sharp predator teeth. “I know anything about this star system that I wish to know. Including your imminent meeting with Despot Ioannis. I felt you should be aware of a competing Trade offer.”

“Your bribe is puny.”

The Mican growled angrily. “Your life means nothing to you?”

“It does. Why shouldn’t I kill you here and now?”

The Mican yawned. “First, because my biospores would penetrate even your monomolecular armor, infect you, and cause you a most excruciating death by torture—through the inducement of myasthenia gravis. Would you enjoy having your brain’s neural myelin sheaths slowly eaten away, until you are a mere shell of awareness, looking out at a world that you cannot affect? Alive, but in total limbo? Sentient, but unable to communicate? Living, but not experiencing?”

Matt shivered. This Mican was a true child of the Anarchate. Quick death would never do for its opponents. “There are cyborg systems that would substitute for such organic destruction, or reverse it.”

“Second,” the Mican continued, “I know something about your crossbreed woman that you need to know.”

“I doubt that.”

“Third.” It blinked again, eyelids moving like a purple shroud. “My death would cause the Stripper downplanet to release ecotoxins that will destroy every Mother Tree of the Derindl.”

Damn. Double damn
. The death of nine hundred million was a good enough reason. Genocide at this scale was only too well known among the Anarchate’s conglomerates and higher diplomatic corps. Matt licked his lips. When one’s offense is blunted, try diplomacy.

“Why threaten?” he asked the Mican. “Why not cooperate? If you would abandon your mining rights on Halcyon, I’m sure the Derindl would gladly substitute this system’s airless third planet. Its crust is metal-rich.”

The Mican lumbered upright, flapping its dirty brown wings, but slowly enough to avoid activating Suit’s defenses. “I’m sure they would,” it said. “We will
the third planet—when we are finished with this one. Goodbye.”

Set, match and game.
. Matt watched the arrogant, supremely powerful Mican stalk into the darkness of the loading dock’s interior. He couldn’t resist a parting shot. “What is your name?”

“My name is Legion.”

The shadow disappeared.

Six minutes
since the taxi arrived.

He gulped. Behind him thudded the hammering of fists on the inside of the taxi’s hatch. Eliana! Imprisoned, or so she would think. But it had been for her own safety. She had no protection from airborne spores or penetrator viruses. Matt dropped Colossus Mode, downlinked to normal organic speed, and turned back. He touched open the taxi and entered. The hatch shut behind him. Onboard Suit systems now routed them directly, without another stop, to Ioannis’ private dock. He sat down in the rear benchseat and faced his Patron. With arms folded, she glowered at him—like a cat who just had a bucket of water dumped on her.

“Well!” she hissed.

“Well what?” Matt lay back against the interior padding of Suit, relaxing to the soft vibration of the taxi’s operation. Suffering from adrenaline washout, he wished he were alone in the universe.

Eliana leaned forward, intensely upset. “What did the Mican want? What did it say? Why did you lock me in?”

He looked back at her through the cleared faceplate. It was a sleepy look. One that would soon be offset by Suit’s accelerant chemicals and metabolic stabilizers. Suit cared for him. Suit loved him. Suit protected him. Always. He sighed. “Why? To protect you. And the Mican offered me a bribe.”

BOOK: Star Vigilante (Vigilante Series)
10.04Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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