The All-Points-Bulletin was broadcast across the stellar system later that day. Blonde had either been discovered, or he’d escaped, and now the entire Pleiades Corporation was hunting them. They made it to the asteroid belt without seeing another living being.
A good omen.
Jack navigated the belt, changed course then powered down the engine. “And we’re sailing,” he said with a grin.
“Like the boats of ancient Earth, drifting across the darkest sea on the whim of the winds.”
Eve looked sideways at him, an eyebrow raised. “Are you enjoying yourself?”
“Just making conversation,” he said. But Eve knew he was trying to keep her distracted. This next part of the trip had the highest risk.
“So do I get to know what all this trouble was about?” he asked.
“You found out something the PLC didn’t want you to know. Are you going to share it with me?”
Eve reflexively reached for the PAD. She wasn’t sure what to say, or where to start. In truth it was so incredulous a small portion of her mind still struggled to believe it was true.
“All employees of the Pleiades Corporation sign a waiver,” she began.
“I’ve seen it,” Jack said. “I’ve helped some people tear theirs up once they were out of this stellar system.”
Eve nodded. “Yes, well that waiver pretty much gives up any rights they have, and allows the Corporation to do what they please, including experimentation.”
Jack scoffed. “Everyone knows that. Slight alterations to help workers at their chosen field: Miners stronger, ship builders better muscle retention in zero gee and resistance to radiation. The whole of Shallow Space wants to kick them out of the Imperium for breaking the Eugenics Accord, but they have their sway with the Emperor.”
Eve shook her head. “No, that’s not it at all. They aren’t slight alterations. That blonde scientist didn’t need to have the bulk he had did he? He was a Mod.
“But that’s not the story. The story isn’t that the Corporation is altering a gene here, improving work production there. That’s just practice on their stock animals.
“Their end game is the real story.”
Jack had been watching her while she spoke. He stared another moment then nodded. “Ok, I’ll bite. What is their end game?”
“To combine all these different alterations they have perfected into a single person to create Uber Soldat. A super soldier. Their weapon to destroy the Imperium and take over Shallow Space.”
“You’re shitting me,” Jack said, his pupils dilated, his mouth stretched in an almost smile, as if waiting for Eve’s confirmation it was a joke.
“I’m not shitting you Jack,” Eve said. “It’s all right here. As soon as the Pleiades Corporation lost the Race for the Blankicite they have been developing this weapon, hiding it in plain sight.
“Imagine going into battle against a man with better accuracy, stronger muscles, faster reflexes, greater stamina and an ability to handle hotter and colder temperatures than you.”
“I don’t generally care to get involved in battles,” Jack said, turning back to the controls, but Eve could see her talk had shaken him. “But I imagine such super soldiers would also be equipped with the best weapons available, which all happen to be made by the Pleiades Corporation.”
“Now you’re getting it. Through economics, PLC are putting themselves in the perfect place to take over the entire human race. That’s why this information needs to get out. The Imperium needs to know and needs to act before PLC can complete their work.”
Jack didn’t reply. Eve didn’t know what he could say. She’d been over it a dozen times and still didn’t know what to say about it. All she knew was that the people needed to know and that Jack was the only man that could make that happen.
“Your turn,” Eve said after a while. “You said you knew my father, that you repaid your debts. What happened?”
Jack didn’t respond immediately, then his mouth moved as if he were tasting out words. “No story really,” he said. “Nothing like your whopper. No super soldiers or anything.
Eve smiled. An attempt at a joke which served as delaying tactic. Jack was uncomfortable.
“We were both working the Oberon system during the early stages of their civil war. Smuggling weapons in, keeping an eye on the smugglers of the other side. Nathanial and I were competitors. We’d had a few run ins, a few choice words exchanged, but nothing too serious. Neither of us were in it for combat.
“Anyway, I had been caught out by the Navy. I was adrift but powerless. Your dad found me. He saved me. When I asked why he said because he was human, and then with a smile, all smugglers are friends against the Confederation Navy.”
Eve was smiling. That sounded just like her father.
The ship fell into silence as they sailed across the system. Days passed with little conversation. Eve spent most of it writing her report. She wanted it broadcast to the universe the second she stepped into The Guardian’s offices.
Eve was back in the co-pilot seat when the first of the Kuiper belt objects flashed past.
Jack leant forward and reengaged the engines. “Now we have to do a little needle searching in the haystack.”
Eve frowned. “You don’t have a, you know, a map?”
“Of course not. Maps can be copied, hacked or stolen. My brain is safe.” Jack saw Eve’s raised eyebrow. “Relatively speaking.”
He swung the Trojan Horse around. I plotted a pretty good course. We’re in the right place, I just have to find my markers.”
“That’s right. Not all Kuiper objects are the same. And some have had been shaped. . . artificially.”
Eve snapped her fingers. “So instead of a map, you have breadcrumbs?”
It took them less than an hour to find the first marker, then Jack had his bearings and he sped up.
They passed hundreds of asteroids and lumps of rock, some smaller then her hand, many larger than the ship itself. But then they thinned out and they were there.
“There she is,” Jack said, pointing, a hint of pride in his voice. “One highly illegal Map.”
Eve stared out the window at the ‘Map’.
In reality it was just a small, simple jump gate.
She remembered the first time her father had taken her to a Map. She’d wondered why it was called that. A map, she thought, showed someone how to get from Point A to Point B, much the same as the Imperiums ‘Jump Safe’ network guide traffic to areas of interest around planets. A jumpgate merely transported someone from Point A to Point B a lot faster than NTL (Near To Light) drives. Her father agreed, but by calling them maps the Navy would search, subconsciously at least, for waypoints, custom jump safe areas or other constructs that might form a real map. They’d never find what they were actually looking for.
The Map ahead of her looked cobbled together from left overs and appropriated parts. There was carbon scoring and dings from impacts but it otherwise looked OK. Whether it would actually work or not was another question. It didn’t even look big enough to fit the Trojan Horse, but clearly Jack had done this before.
“They say that after the Battle of Pleiades the Emperor ordered His Special Envoy to construct secret Maps to all member systems of Shallow Space to provide covert access as needed.
Eve laughed. “You’re getting bed time stories mixed up. The Special Envoy doesn’t exist.”
Jack just shrugged. “Anyway, all I have to do is send a boot up signal and–”
The Map exploded.
There was no noise, no shudder, just a flash of light and then the Map was gone, a wall of debris in its place.
Jack stared for a moment, eyes wide, face blanched. He looked frozen. Eve shook his shoulder. “Ambush! Scramble!” Eve didn’t know if Jack had had formal naval training or not, but an ex-TCN pilot, now smuggler would respond to that command.
Jack jerked back to reality and thrust the Trojan Horse down out of the ecliptic.
The radar filled with blips moments before space exploded around them. A stream of rail pellets swarmed past, Jack nudging them away at the last moment.
“How the hell did they find us,” he yelled. “They can’t be tracking us. This ship is clean-”
He threw the controls in the opposite direction. A Scheat Heavy Corvette flashed past, nearly wiping them out. On the other side a Veep swerved away. Eve caught a glimpse of two more and at least a dozen other smaller ships. This was a full on ambush.
“They couldn’t have traced my trajectory,” Jack continued. Eve wasn’t sure if he was yelling at her or at the universe. All she could do was focus on not throwing up as the g-forces rocked her every which way.
A pair of smaller ships – regular police perhaps, screamed past, a torrent firing from their machine guns. The Trojan Horse rocked and bucked from the assault, the impacts a hurricane of lead.
“I did everything right. Everything like last time. The only difference was. . .” His head snapped around, his gaze locking on Eve. No, on her datapad.
“You idiot!” he yelled, making to grab the datapad, then yanking on the controls as a missile swooped past and crashed into a Fighter Corvette.
“They’ve bugged your data!” he yelled. “They’ve known exactly where you were since you got it! A bloody Trojan horse. On board the Trojan Horse. Those ironic bastards!”
Eve raised the pad to her gaze, her mouth gaping, horror filling the pit in her stomach. A bunch of 1’s and 0’s on a crystal wafer and somehow it led the PLC straight to them. And now they were going to die.
Jack threw the Trojan Horse through another curve. “If I can get enough Corvettes between me and them, we may have a chance.”
Eve’s mind was elsewhere. “Do you have your own PAD?”
Eve unbuckled, crashed to the floor as Jack pulled another turn, and pulled herself forward. She found the PAD, belted into the nearest seat and began furiously typing.
To whoever finds this: Please ensure it gets to the offices of The Guardian anywhere in the Imperium where the truth is valued. Make sure the people find out what the PLC are up to. Make sure they prepare. Make sure they know the truth.
Eve Walters, Reporter.
The ship slammed downward, as if punched by a dietic fist. Klaxons screamed. The light dimmed. The roar of the air conditioners putted out. Impacts sung a song against the hull, the tempo increasing.
“We’re in trouble,” Jack yelled.
Eve kept typing. She couldn’t copy over the data. The legitimate documents, the proof. None of it. All she could do was summarise.
Hopefully it would be enough.
She unbuckled, ran for the escape pod. There was no escaping this. She knew how the PLC worked. The only thing that might escape today was the truth. She dumped her bugged PAD into the escape pod and launched it.
It whooshed away silently, engines pulsing, then dying, drifting, turning-
Then it exploded, pulses of plasma ripping through it.
Eve shied away, then struggled back to the cockpit. “Bug’s gone,” she said. Might be easier to get away from them now.
Jack was sweating. His hands looked slick on the controls. He was white. “Get away where?” There’s only one other jump gate in this system now and they control it.” He was shaking.
Eve placed her hand on his. He hadn’t signed up for death. Eve hadn’t either, but she was attempting to take solace in the fact that her death might mean something. Jack didn’t have that. “I need you to get away from them enough for me dump the unbugged PAD. Then one day someone will find it and the truth will get out. That’s what we’re fighting for now Jack. Can you do it?”
Jack straightened. A goal was a goal, she knew. Jack swung them around and the pattering on the hull lessened. “Get ready,” Jack said. We should be in the clear in about-” he stopped as he just pulled up and over a KBO – “twenty seconds.”
Eve rushed to the back. There was a secondary airlock or dumping small items. Waste canisters, rubbish, etc. It was the perfect size for the PAD. She placed in it, sealed it, waited.
“Now,” Jack yelled. Eve slammed the button down and the PAD shot away, disappearing into the black. She watched, waiting or an explosion, but there was simply nothing.
Victorious, she returned to the cockpit.
Just as a VEEP appeared before them.
Green flashes sighted near the menacing turret hardpoints, hynotic balls of plasma energy, headed straight for them.
They watched it for a moment, dumbstruck.
“I think your dad is going to owe me after this,” Jack said numbly.
“I think so too,” Eve said, taking his hand. What else could she say?
The plasma fire addressed the cockpit squarely breaching the hull and killing them both instantly, the Trojan Horse was destroyed.
As the pair braced themselves for a worthy death, little did they know the far reaching ramifications of their sacrifice that day. Stay tuned for some articles from the various faction press outlets exploring Eves demise…