Read The Orion Deception Online
Authors: Tom Bielawski
Tags: #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #Adventure, #Heck Thomas
"You're precious car has probably been impounded and ripped to shreds by now anyway." Heck said with a gasp, hoping to get under her skin. He was beginning to dislike her incessant complaining. She was spoiled and high maintenance, and he did not like high maintenance women. Well, not usually. "Besides, ground transportation will attract the kind of attention we don't want. Ain't too many ground cars driving around anymore these days, even in these parts."
Lainne stalked down the aisle of the bus-like shuttle and sat down. Heck sat down beside her and the two remained silent until the hubbub on the air-bus resumed and everyone else had forgotten the unusual looking pair.
Heck relaxed and passed the time trying to get a look at everyone on the shuttle. After a few minutes an announcement was made and a number of the passengers were called off the aircraft by name. It was a strange occurrence. The announcement claimed that these patrons were going to have to take a follow-on flight, something Heck had never seen happen before. That left four on the aircraft beside Heck and Lainne. There was a grim looking man in a suit behind them, a man and a woman seated together toward the front on the left side of the aircraft, and another man in front on the right.
"Where are we going now?"
"You're not sure?"
"No. Now, please be quiet so I can think about it."
Heck laid his head back and closed his eyes, ignoring all of the woman's attempts at reviving the conversation. After a moment the vibration from the shuttle's engines told Heck that they were about to ascend. In moments, he felt himself sink slightly into his seat as the shuttle climbed vertically into the air. He looked out the window as the shuttle reached its cruising altitude and began the hour-long journey to Tampa, far to the southeast of little Mason City. It was nighttime now, and soon the lights of Harris County were replaced by those of Disney World, Universal Studios, and other Orlando area attractions.
With a disconsolate huff the formerly beautiful woman sat back and looked around the shuttle. She had given up on getting anything useful from the ex-lawman and cursed him for being as talkative as a stone. But Heck just grunted in acknowledgment and refused to rise to the woman's bait. Being fond of antiquated ground transportation, Lainne likened the shuttle to about the same size as a ground coach bus with two rows of seats flanking each side of a center aisle. The shuttle did not have wings like an old-style airplane, instead it combined anti-gravity technology for lift and thrusters for directional movement.
Some mild turbulence made her regret leaving her BMW behind, but she knew the ex-lawman was right; their pursuers would have had her antique car impounded by now. Still, flying always seemed to make her ill. Lainne made a trip to the restroom and looked in the mirror, noticing that the microbot cloaking technology seemed to be wearing off, albeit slowly.
As she returned to her seat she glanced at the holovision in the front of the shuttle to read the destination ticker:
Port of Tampa.
The holovision display flickered on and off but the three dimensional letters were legible enough to make out the flickering display. A list of tourist attractions in the Tampa area blinked on between the blinding flashes of light and spans of total darkness.
Broken, just like the government that put it there.
She glanced around at the other travelers as she maneuvered down the aisle, just four of them. They seemed ordinary for the most part and she could not hear much of any one particular conversation over the noise of the climate control system. She thought it was ironic that a 22
Century shuttle-craft still had a noisier air conditioner than her 21
Century BMW. But one person caught her attention as she passed him, he was seated near an emergency exit about midway along the cabin. It was the grim looking man in the suit.
The man glanced up at her disinterestedly as she walked by, then returned to thumbing his way through a thin magazine tablet. There was something familiar to her about those eyes. She thought about that as she returned to her seat. She gave Heck a poke in the shoulder but he just snorted and continued to sleep.
She glanced back at the man behind them but he did not seem to notice or care.
Lainne attributed it all to nerves and put the well-dressed man out of her mind and glanced at the clear, paper-thin, glass tablets stuffed into the seat pocket in front of her. The first was covered in smudges from greasy fingers and she had to wipe the viewing area with a tablet cloth from the seat pocket. The label at the top of the tablet read:
She tapped the button on the outside corner and the clear piece of glass flared to life, displaying a selection of hundreds of magazines to choose from. Nothing interested her very much and after returning the magazine tablet she saw something odd on the main display above the pilot's head. For a moment she thought it had displayed,
But when she looked again it displayed
Port of Tampa.
Was it her imagination? She watched for a few moments and anxiously picked up another tablet, the display still showed
Port of Tampa.
When she found nothing of interest in the
category, she returned it to the pocket and took out her holophone; but it didn't seem to work now.
"Hey!" she said loudly, poking him in shoulder. An angry eye opened up and glared at her. "How come the phones don't work?"
Heck slowly opened his other eye and very quietly said, "Because they are being jammed."
"Shh," he interrupted. "This isn't an ordinary shuttle."
"Then what is it?" she demanded in a harsh whisper. "Looks like any other commuter hopper I've ever been on."
"The other passengers are probably government agents," he replied in a low voice. She knew now he had been feigning sleep all along. "They usually jam communication devices during flight."
"Oh my God! What are we going to do?"
"Nothing. They aren't on to us yet, but mind yourself. They look like US government agents, not Commonwealth types, and are probably riding the shuttle for another reason. The Commonwealth might ask US police to help them apprehend a suspect, but they won't call in any local or federal help in a man-hunt."
"Oh no!" she exclaimed in a whisper, her eyes fearfully glancing back to the man she thought looked familiar. Just then the shuttle seemed to begin to descend.
"What?" he asked in harsh whisper, losing patience with the woman's dramatics.
"That man in the aisle seat behind us looks familiar."
"What makes you say that?" he asked, a dangerous tone in his voice. Heck suddenly looked like a coiled spring, ready to leap into action.
"I think he was the one who had been snooping around right before my brother disappeared."
"Ok, anything else?"
"Yes," she gulped. "A few moments ago, right before I noticed my phone wasn't working, the display above the pilot's head read
for just a moment, then it displayed
Heck lay his head back on the seat rest in resignation and looked out the window at the world passing below.
"What is it?"
"They're on to us."
"They are?" she asked in a slight panic, though she knew he spoke the truth. "My disguise is wearing off."
"Mine too. I was hoping we'd be in Tampa by now. If what you say is true, they've figured us out. Damn." Heck appeared genuinely frustrated and let out a long sigh. "Ok. That means this shuttle is headed for the Commonwealth Aerospace Port in Jacksonville."
"Why haven't they just arrested us? Why the charade?"
"Because they respect my abilities too much." Lainne knew that Heck wasn't being arrogant; he was just speaking the truth. His reputation was in fact very well known.
"So all of the passengers on this shuttle are Commonwealth agents?"
"I don't know, maybe."
"How did they know about us?"
"Your phone," he said suddenly. "I should have had you trash that sooner. Too late now."
"I can shut it down," she offered, fumbling for her phone.
"Do it, but it won't help us right now."
"What else can we do?"
"Sit there, do nothing, and look ugly." Heck smirked as Lainne's ugly face grimaced at the insult. "I'll handle this."
Lainne watched as Heck casually strolled back toward the lavatory at the rear of the shuttle. As he neared the well-dressed man seated aft of them, he very quickly drew a small pistol from inside his waistband and shot the man in the foot. Using that moment of stunned surprise, he stepped behind the seat, put his arm around the man's throat, and used him as a shield. The seat-backs on this shuttle were low, below the shoulders of the passenger, and Heck was able to use his weight to keep the man's neck over the top of the seat like a lever. The suddenness of the attack shocked everyone into a moment of inaction; even the pilot was distracted and the shuttle veered dangerously. Two passengers sitting to the left of the aisle, and behind the pilot, stood and reached for their weapons. Disbelief was on their faces.
Lainne had expected Heck to offer a warning or a shouted command to the two who were clearly moving to confront him, but he didn't. As the man managed to get out from the narrow seats and into the aisle, Heck shot him. He dropped his gun and fell down, clutching his wounded shoulder, whimpering. The woman stopped where she was with her hands out at her sides, a look of caution in her eyes.
"Look," began the woman. "This doesn't need to happen. You have to-" but she didn't get to finish her sentence.
The man on the floor had made a sudden move for the gun that he had dropped a moment earlier. Heck fired a shot into the deck near the man's head, just as he reached for the weapon; the man wisely decided to remain still. The woman glanced down at the man that Heck assumed was her partner, and said nothing. Seeing the woman's choice of attire, a dress with high heel shoes, Heck thought that these two must be very inexperienced agents. They had a very poor grasp of tactics and had allowed their quarry to overcome them very quickly. Not to mention the lack of maneuverability that the woman's attire forced upon her.
They should never have allowed us to sit behind them
, he thought with a smile.
To further demonstrate the incompetence of the two, the woman suddenly reached into her purse and pulled out a pistol. But Heck was already trained on the woman and squeezed off a shot before she could do the same. He was fairly sure that his first shot hit the mark, but the woman ducked down behind the seat row and he couldn't be sure. She could have been wearing ballistic protection. He fired again, this time at the back of the seat where he guessed she now was hiding and was rewarded with a shriek of pain.
The last person on the shuttle was huddled in his seat, and Lainne could tell by the odor that the man had wet himself from fright. She didn't think he was Commonwealth a
Heck kept his arm around the throat of the man in his grasp and pinned him to his seat. The man was remarkably calm. He made no complaints and did not seem to mind that his neck was within inches of snapping. He simply waited for the situation to play out. Lainne wondered what Heck was waiting for, why he hadn't released the man's neck. She was beginning to feel sorry for him.
"Heck," she began quietly. "Shouldn't you-" but she didn't get to finish her sentence. A loud crack told her that another shot had been fired, this time by the woman who had managed to wiggle down and under the seats. She fired again, wildly, the rounds going nowhere near Heck. The ex-lawman had his body behind his human shield, but calmly held his pistol pointed toward the area where the woman was hiding. Finally, his patience was rewarded when the woman made a leap into the aisle and tried to get to the pilot.
But Heck Thomas had been ready for such a move, knowing that the woman had little choice but to try using a human shield of her own. If the pilot died, it was very likely that they would all die. But her gamble failed miserably. Heck shot her in mid-stride, a bullet tunneling through the back of her knee and shattering her kneecap. She fell to the floor of the shuttle in a heap, writhing in pain.
"Now that I have everyone's attention," he said loudly. "Since y'all seem to know who I am, we can move right along to 'this is a stick-up.' Pilot: do not descend or prepare to land, we are turning this craft around. Do NOT call for help or I will put a bullet in the back of your skull. I can fly this aircraft as well as you can, I don't need you. Raise your left hand to acknowledge, please."
The pilot, whose left hand had been near the communications panel, raised his left hand in the air.
"Lainne, please be so kind as to divest these fine law officers of their weapons and handcuffs and bind them to the nearest seat."
Lainne looked at Heck like he was crazy. He actually wanted her to touch these people? She was about to voice her displeasure, but his grim face and the dangerous glint in his eye made her fear him more than her dislike of getting dirty or bloody. She certainly did not want him to shoot her!