Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Thicker Than Blood: Chapter Ten

Just now...

The blond Caldari woman glared at the semi-holo. 'I know it was your people, you swine. We checked the wreckage of his pod; the neural scan transmitter had been tampered with, preventing his clone from being revived. The backup scan he had done that morning is mysteriously missing, and everyone who could possibly know anything has apparently developed selective amnesia. Was that really necessary?'

'Mlle Mbaari, I do not have to explain anything to you. If anything, it is you who needs to explain your deviation from the duties you were hired to perform.'


Isaar's heavy features settled into a piercing scowl. 'Your errors have been compensated for, and you have been paid precisely the amount that was agreed upon. I hereby expect no further contact from you until such time as you might be requested to do so.' The transmission cut abruptly, and Sati leaned forward, resting her elbows on the desktop and massaging her temples wearily.

After a minute, she tapped in a command. When the request was granted, she sighed and said, 'It's done. Wake him up anytime.'

Miska T'onik smiled broadly through the hologram. 'Thank you very much, Ms Mbaari. Your service to the Rocketeers has been commendable. Your use of the mercenaries your opposite number attempted to hire was an excellent touch, though it might have been better had you told us what to expect. Jackal's record has been cleared.'

'Comms records needed to reflect a surprise attack. I have nothing to apologise for.' She did feel a twinge of guilt for her manipulation of the Rocketeers, though the scout had been a willing participant once she explained the plan. 'Well, if you'll let me get my things, I can be on my way--'

'What we now need from you, my dear,' the Khanid interrupted, 'is to forget about your young man. Unless you want me to be informing him of whom you were really working for? The Gallentean Admiralty is only the tip of your very dark, political iceberg, young lady, and just think how hurt he would be to learn you were playing him against three sides.'

'You paid me to keep him safe! His family paid me to keep him safe! What more do you want?'

The scar-twisted smile widened. 'I think fifty million should be sufficient to buy my silence. Your obvious affection for him is the only reason I do not ask more.'

Sati's clenched fist slammed on the desktop; if it hurt, she was too incensed to react. 'You scum-sucking bottom-feeder! I ought to have known...'

'Fifty. Million. Yes? And we shall pass the message on that, for his safety, you must keep your distance. Because that is the way of it, is it not? Do not think we would allow you so close to the corporation, knowing who else pays you.'

Her teeth gritted loudly as she entered the transfer request. The older man was right. She had hoped it wouldn't come to this... it had been too much to hope for with the Rocketeer director's weird information network so close. 'You will regret this, T'onik.'

'Oh, I am certain. But as long as you do not threaten what the Rocketeers have going... as we all are too aware, the autonomy of capsuleers is under constant threat from the larger governments who would dearly love to own us, yes? That would be as much ill to yourself as to the rest of us. Blood may be thicker than water, but in our world, ISK is thicker than blood.'

'Save your preaching, fedo-breath.' Sati slapped her hand on the end button, and the Kahnid's smug grin faded from sight.

Breathing deeply, Sati got up and crossed to the small kitchenette to prepare a cup of tea, willing the red rage to cool so that she could think clearly. It was, she had to admit, partially her fault: she had mixed work and emotional needs.

The process of preparing her tea helped the flames of her ire to simmer down to an icy calmness. That the Amarrian had found out her own web of connections was frustrating, but two could play the I Know What You Did game. She called up the dossier she'd kept in a hidden, encrypted file. Miska T'onik, formerly Admiral Etrian Lyritha, might harbour few regrets about his nature, but there were sure to be those who would find a use for his whereabouts, and his Sani Sabik background.


Cold darkness surrounded me, and it took a moment, or maybe an eternity, to realise it wasn't actually cold or dark. It was a total absence of everything. The realisation frightened me, and I jerked in panic. Something -- was it my hand? my foot? -- struck an unyielding surface that resonated around me with a hollow thud. Light blinded me, and I thrashed through the heavy air...

Not air. Fluid. I was sunk in a bath of viscous turquoise liquid... Vat fluid?

Fumbling with limbs that felt weak and unused, I reached forward and touched the smooth surface in front of me, a slick featureless wall curved 260 degrees around me. The back of the tube was a wall of machinery and tubes connected to the various sockets in my spine. An upright vat... I remembered the tour Miska had given me of the carrier he'd just purchased, the corporate cloning bay designed specially to fit within the confines of a capital ship.

Something suddenly pressed against the outside of the tube, a dark shape taht resolved itself into someone's open palm. My eyes were having trouble focussing, or maybe it was the effect of the fluid and the curve of the glass. Following the hand and the arm attached to it, I finally made out the face of someone familiar... Flaschmann, his dark features creased in a grin.

Seeing my eyes focus on him, my CEO tilted his head to his right. I squinted, forced my body to work for me. There was someone standing beside him, small and red-haired, and as lovely as I remembered. I reached out and pressed my hand to the glass, and she touched the surface on her side, a smile spreading across her face. My sister nodded to me, then jerked her head towards a rectangle of dim amber light behind her -- a door? -- and said something that made Flasch nod. She blew me a kiss and headed out as someone in a medical uniform appeared and tapped the glass to get my attention.

The clone-bay tech pointed downwards, indicating the bars that had extruded from the perforated surface below me. I reached down, gripped the handles and tried to force my legs to extend as the fluid began to drain out. One final breath and then I was choking and hacking fluid from my lungs as air filled the space around me, hanging limply from the grip-bars as my body discovered that it was meant to breathe oxygen. Hands on my shoulders, under my arms, something warm and soft wrapped around me as people helped me to stand up. I raised one shaking hand to wipe the goo from my eyes, still coughing amniotic fluid.

'Easy, mate, we got you.' Flasch was the one with his arm around my shoulders, guiding me towards a bench beside the wall.

'How--' My question was interrupted by a horrid coughing fit that doubled me over. Flasch's large hand thumped heavily between my shoulder-blades.

'It's been a week. We got confirmation an hour ago that the people who wanted you removed believe the job's been done. Your lady-friend was behind the mercenaries that attacked us, and she paid Jackal to mislead us. He went back after the attack and picked up your neural scan block. Brave boy.'

I leaned forward with my elbows on my knees, letting my head hang as a wave of dizziness hit me. Sati had...

He rubbed my back through the towel, helping the blood flow. 'You're lucky to have a girl like that, Jack... Val... what do we call you now, anyway?'

Another cough wracked me, but it seemed the last of the amniotic fluid was out of my lungs. 'Tor,' I choked, randomly picking one of the false IDs we'd built earlier. 'Is she...?'

Flasch sighed heavily and mimicked my pose, his expression unhappy. 'She's not here. She told Miska she's being watched, and that it would be best for you if she not be seen around the Rocketeers at all til the incident has been swept under the rug entirely.'

My eyes closed tightly. Not at all what I wanted to hear, but it made a regrettable amount of sense. I breathed deeply, feeling the bite of clone-bay chemicals in my nose, and raised my head. 'When did Shae get here?'

'Yesterday morning, and she's already got half the boys falling over their own feet to impress her.'

I chuckled, smiling despite myself. 'She's good at that, mostly because she doesn't realise she's doing it.'

Flasch patted my shoulder again. 'She's waiting until you're showered and dressed.' He pointed to a door off to one side. 'In there.'

Rising and pulling the towel around myself along with what dignity I could salvage, I managed to make it to the dressing-room without staggering. It was good to be back.