In Ganymede City, there is no sunshine to awaken you in the morning, welcome or not. The city is located in the moon’s ice-mantle deep below the surface to protect the residents from Jupiter’s constant radiation. You can’t see the sun, or the stars for that matter. Instead, the dim evening corridor-lights begin to brighten as the scheduled day dawns, and the spaceships berthed in the city’s Rim District follow suit. In deference to Loris’ dislike of mornings, Atalanta did this slowly, and only when her captain began to stir did the ship speak to her.
“Good morning, Loris,” Atty said in her dulcet female voice, trying not to sound all chipper and pleasant. Loris turned over and saw her co-pilot Karil in bed beside her, the covers thrown off his sleek brown body, and their current Ship’s Pet, known only as Honey, wrapped in his powerful arms.
Loris crawled out of bed and padded into the head for a morning pee, and then peered at her reflection in the mirror. She was satisfied with her well-trained dark body, the rippling muscles of her long arms and legs, the taut belly and the high, hard breasts, and the long, white-streaked black hair. But her eyes were red from too much partying the night before.
“You need to exercise, Loris,” the ship crooned.
“I know, Atty, I know.”
She picked up the weights and did her morning exercises. Living in the one-sixth gravity field of Ganymede tended to reduce her bodily strength and there was no telling when she might be sent on a mission in full Earth gee. That was the main advantage of Karil and Loris as far as Galilean Security was concerned—they were both born to full-gee, on Earth itself in Loris’ case, and in Karil’s case on a colony in orbit above designed to spin in full artificial gravity. They could be sent on missions to Earth without having to spend extra weeks inuring themselves to that planet’s conditions. With Atalanta’s enhanced fusion-drive, she could get them there in tip-top physical shape in jig time.
“Karil and Honey are awake,” Atalanta told her.
“I know,” Loris said, brushing her hair. “I can hear them going at it.”
“Well, Karil wakes up that way, and Honey…”
“I know. First thing in the morning. It’s disgusting.”
“Honey doesn’t think so.”
“I can hear that too.” Loris made her way into the mess to find that Atty had already made coffee. After a couple of cups Loris would probably feel quite human.
Her companions showed up in a few minutes and Honey threw herself into Loris’ arms. She kissed her and Loris kissed her back. The girl smelled of Karil’s sweat and it almost began to turn her on. She remembered the girl’s mouth on her the night before while Karil busied himself with her other end.
Karil poured coffee for both of them. As usual with Free Traders in their warm ships, they were pretty much naked. She glanced at Karil, brown and gorgeous, aglow with the results of their constant training. There were probably as many males as females in Ganymede City who would want a piece of his tight little butt, but he liked only women. Of course, he had been raised in a harem in High Africa, the son of the Sultan’s favorite concubine, and had been initiated into female mysteries quite early. But thank God he had escaped from that corrupt family to find his future in space. Loris could admire his charms but was largely immune to them, but she did find his way with Honey (and Johanna, Terry, Baby Snakes, and others) quite stimulating at times.
Loris left to take a cold shower, just to wake up fully, of course. Honey gave her a kiss as she headed for the shower—on the back of her neck, the little minx—and when Loris emerged and dried off under the warm air, Karil glancing at her now and then with his cool and affectionate appraisal, Honey had left she ship.
“Did you give her something?” Loris asked.
“Earlier. Something from Auntie Em’s list. A little secret her handlers would like.”
They knew, of course, that Honey was spying on them for Earth and their boss always provided some little harmless secret tidbit to keep the opposition happy. If she did not return regularly with some such thing, they would probably kill her off as useless. Sometimes, Loris thought the whole damn thing was some kind of game, though people died from it now and then. Sometimes it was Loris and Karil who killed them. Loris was an old hand at this, as she had begun her training in Sri Lanka and India as little more than a child, taken in by the Assassin’s Temple off the streets, homeless and starving. Later she came to be called Kali the Destroyer in certain circles.
She was brooding on this, which she had often found herself doing lately, when Atty announced that Auntie Em was in contact. Loris and Karil were mostly dressed by now and put Em’s gray hair and care-lined face on the screen, her features alert but something in her eyes revealing that she had seen too much in her life. Loris wondered in passing if she herself would look like that someday.
“You will have a visitor soon,” Auntie Em said. “From Callisto.”
Callisto was the only inhabited place in the Jovian system that was not bathed in deadly radiation, which allowed people to live on the moon’s surface. Jupiter looked down over them and they could see the sun rise every day, pale and distant as it was. The Jovian system’s most powerful families, enriched from ice-mining, fusion fuel, and the interplanetary trade in asteroidal metals, dwelt there in castles made of ice, like fantasy royalty. It rankled Galilean Security that most of them were guarded by Jovian Security, Galilean’s biggest competitor. “What do the good people of Callisto want with a couple of Free Trader spooks in Ganymede?” Loris asked.
“She’ll tell you, Loris,” Auntie Em said. She looked down at a screen. “She’s already in Ganymede City and is just now pulling up in a rented corridor-car outside your berth. Try and show her a bit of respect if you can.”
Loris supposed that Auntie Em would be thrilled if a rich Callisto family were to switch from Jovian Security to Galilean Security, but Loris could not care less. She had never liked Jovian because she thought they acted too much like a police department, but she feared that Galilean Security, without competition, might end up much the same. Free Traders in general would not care for a Terran-style police department in the Galilean System.
“In any event,” Auntie Em went on. “She has hired us and was told you were the most likely team to help her. In fact, she asked for you.” She cut off the transmission.
Karil and Loris finished dressing. They did not make the bed. Loris personally wished that Honey was still in it. She would have learned a lot from the visitor’s reaction.
“Our guest is here,” Atalanta said.
“Open up then.” The hatch irised open and a woman stood there, reaching out to ring the bell. Loris could imagine what was going through Karil’s mind, after working with him for so long. This woman to him was the kind that only the Fantasy Class could afford and those in the Reality Class could only dream of. Her clothing was tasteful, rather daring, and so perfectly constructed that it made the best of her perfect figure and long legs. Her long black hair glowed as if lit by starlight. Her nose and cheekbones were perfect and her eyes were hard but abundantly lashed. When she spoke, her teeth were like jewelry. Loris wanted to punch that mouth. Or kiss it.
She glanced at Karil but he seemed unimpressed. Of course, he had been born an aristocrat and raised amid fabulous wealth, which he had abandoned as a teenager when he ran away to space. Loris had seen many women with him, and no matter what world they came from they ran to one type—warm and willing—but this one was cold and calculating. She could probably use a bit of Karil’s warm and loving touch but would never get it. The thought made Loris smile and the stranger, thinking it was a sign of admiration, smiled too. It was the coldest smile Loris had ever seen, and more than once people with smiles on their faces had tried to kill her.
Through the open hatch, they could see a man in a driver’s uniform leaning against a rental corridor-car. He showed them his Jovian Security badge. Loris nodded and Atty closed the hatch.
“I’m Madame Saint-Saens,” the woman said, and they realized she was Carlin Saint-Saens’ latest trophy wife. “I believe someone is trying to kill me.” Short and to the point. The woman did not waste words.
They offered her coffee and she accepted. In fact, she expressed her admiration for the brew, not realizing that Free Traders were able to smuggle real Terran coffee out of High South America and everyone in Ganymede knew they drank the best.
“Why come to Galilean?” Loris asked. “Your husband’s a major investor in Jovian Security. Surely, your home and vehicles are all well guarded.”
“I’m not coming to Galilean Security,” she said. “I’m coming to you. I’ve heard about you. Jovian Security reluctantly gave me their file on you and I was impressed. They also gave me this.” She pulled a tab out of her incredibly expensive purse and Loris stuck it in the table-top reader. She marvelled that this woman could have forced a security company to hand over a confidential file to its competitor. This was not a simple trophy wife. Loris and Karil studied the words and pictures that scrolled over the screen. It really seemed that a couple of shots had been taken at her on a shopping-trip—lucky near-misses—and that someone had actually succeeded in breaking into their home and were only prevented by a zealous security man from entering her bedroom. Both the attacker and the security man were killed in a shoot-out, and the attacker was unidentifiable—probably a hired assassin from Earth.
“What do you want me to do?” Loris asked. She didn’t waste words either.
“I want you to be my bodyguard. Stay in my room at night. Karil outside the door, perhaps. Both of you to accompany me when I go out. If I have to take a space-journey, it will be in your ship.”
“For the rest of your life?”
“No, until Jovian Security figures out who wants me dead. Or you do.”
“I’m sure Jovian won’t be happy about you going to their competitor.”
“It doesn’t matter, Loris. They’ll do as my husband tells them. And I get what I want.”
“I’m sure you do. Okay, we’ll tell your driver to return the car and book his own passage back to Callisto. Then, we’ll take off and bring you home ourselves. We need to study your house. Open the hatch, Atty.”
“No,” Atalanta said. “There’s something wrong.” On the screen they could see the rental car in the corridor outside the ramp. The guard was no longer there. The corridor was clear, but if Atty said there was something wrong, there was something wrong. The driver was gone and the car was just sitting there.
“What is it, Atty?”
“Loris, the car is ticking.”
“Atty, prepare for launch! Madame Saint-Saens, come with us. Karil!”
Loris and Karil climbed onto the bridge as the drivers ignited and began to roar. Loris strapped into the pilot’s couch and directed Madame Saint-Saens to strap herself into one of the passenger couches as Karil slid down into the astrogator’s well and strapped in at his keyboards.
“Atty,” Loris said. “Open the inner hatch, open the outer hatch, and take off.”
She did just that, over-riding the safety protocols. There was a great roar and a blast of fire and smoke erupted through the lock. Atty was blown out into space and the explosion followed her out onto the moon’s surface, the flames dying quickly in the vacuum. Failsafe doors slammed shut all along the Rim District corridors. Atalanta roared over the icy surface of Ganymede and up toward Jupiter’s face. Mines tumbled from the ship’s stern onto the ice behind them as two other ships appeared in pursuit. One was caught up in the blast of the mines and careened into the ice, and the second moved up.
Loris flipped a switch and cut off Atalanta’s higher functions. Taking over full control, she fired a stern-laser directly into the second ship’s bridge. It exploded and flaming wreckage tumbled out of the riven fuselage. The flames died quickly in the vacuum as burned human bodies fell upon the ice. Then, Loris re-connected Atty, who knew quite well that human beings had died, but kept silent as she accelerated into the black sky. Saint-Saens squealed as she was crushed into her couch. Loris tapped a comm-switch.
“Em. There was an explosion in the corridor outside our berth and the lock is breached. Two unidentified shuttles attacked us as we left the lock. There are several bodies, badly burned, on the ice, and there may be another body, of a Jovian Security agent, in Corridor Nine. We are on route to Callisto with Mrs. Saint-Saens, who is unharmed.”
“Understood, Loris. I assume you have accepted her employment offer.”
“Fuck, yeah. Loris out.”
Ganymede fell behind them, its icy surface scintillating in the pale sun and its black shadow creeping across the swirling face of Jupiter. As always, Loris and Karil kept an eye on the radiation counter. As the ship fell outward toward Callisto, the complex circles within circles of her orbit recorder spun slowly on the screen before Karil, and Loris looked down over his head to see them.
“Nothing serious, Loris,” the ship said. “They got in a few shots but the nanobots are repairing the minor damage.”
“We were lucky this time, Lor,” Karil mumbled.
“Madam Saint-Saens,” Loris spoke up, “are you all right?”
“I’m a little shook up, but I don’t scare easily.”
“I can see that.” Loris could not hide the admiration in her voice.
“Loris, I believe you can call me Adeline, considering what we’ve just been through.”
Loris hesitated for a moment. Did she want to be on a first name basis with this woman? She could not help thinking that she had offered Loris this relative intimacy for a self-serving reason.
“All right, Adeline, but in the presence of others I will still call you Madame Saint-Saens, to emphasize that you are a client.”
“That would be appropriate, Loris. And thank you for taking my case.”
“Well, I’ve been asked by my boss to do so, Adeline. But whoever is after you has tried to destroy my ship and I won’t rest now until I make them sincerely wish they had not.”
Adeline saw Loris’s expression on the bridge-screens and it made her shiver. Karil’s cold little chuckle didn’t help.
“We have been contacted by Jovian Security HQ on Callisto,” Atalanta said.
“Put it up.”
The interior of an office appeared on the big screen. Behind the two men sitting there was a window with real sunlight coming through, pale as it was, and a landscape of rock and ice filled with craters, on top of each other or in concentric rings, stretching to the horizon. Callisto’s surface looked like the battlefield of the gods.
“Ahoy, Atalanta,” one of the men said. “This is Inspector Yi and Agent Gomez of Valhalla Customs Office, Jovian Security. What brings a Galilean Security Free Trader to Callisto?” The slight emphasis on Free Trader was supposed to be an insult. Yi was grinning in a particularly offensive manner.
Before Loris could answer, Adeline spoke up.
“This is Madame Saint-Saens. I am being escorted home from Ganymede by my new bodyguards, after they saved my life from an assassin. I seem to remember you two doubting that I was in serious danger.”
Their faces fell and Yi and Gomez were silent for a moment, then gathered their wits about them.
“Could it not be, Madame, that you were put in danger by Loris and Karil in the first place? They do in fact have a lot of enemies.”
“Well, Inspector, I have recently learned a lot about Loris and Karil. My husband has a great deal of information at hand, and it’s clear to me that if they have enemies, it’s because they are supremely capable at what they do. I was almost blown to bits a little while ago and I still feel safer on this bridge than I did in my own house with your men guarding it. But perhaps you are right. Perhaps you would rather be right than employed.”
“Ganymede,” Gomez snapped, “especially the Rim District, is a very dangerous…”
Yi glared at him and he shut up. Loris glanced down at Karil’s grin. She suddenly felt more inclined to address Madame Saint-Saens by her first name.
“Freetrader Atalanta,” Yi said. “Welcome to Callisto. May I ask for your destination?”
“We are headed to my estate in Asgard,” Madame Saint-Saens said, “where they will wish to study my husband’s home security. I will suggest that he follow their instructions assiduously. Are we finished here?”
“We are, Madame. Welcome home. We’re glad to find you safe and well.”
“I feel safe now. Loris?” The image from Jovian Security faded.
Atalanta sped over the city of Valhalla, a vast collection of domes spreading out over concentric impact craters, hinting at the even greater structures, underground city, and complex grid of transport tubes beneath. They turned toward Asgard and overtook the high-speed mag-lev train called the Midgard Serpent which travelled many times a day between the largest cities on Callisto.
Atalanta, of course, knew the way to the Saint-Saens compound on the outskirts of Asgard, a veritable castle of rock and ice surrounding a dome lit up like a lantern on the cold surface beneath the baleful glare of Jupiter.
The mature gentleman who appeared on the screen, his face lined with troubles and his hair gray with age despite, probably, years of rejuvenation treatments, was known to all as Carlin Saint-Saens, one of the half-dozen richest men in Jupiter orbit.
“Adeline!” he said. “Are you all right?”
“Yes, Carlin. I’m fine, thanks to quick thinking and fast work from Loris and Karil here. I’ve hired them as my personal security. I hope that’s all right with you.”
“Of course it is. Loris, I’m grateful to you and Karil and your fine ship. My home is yours for whatever you need. I hope you can keep my Sweet Adeline safe and can find out who is threatening her and why. I have a few enemies, as you can imagine, but I can’t believe they would dare do such a thing. I’ll answer any questions you want to put to me. I’ve given instructions for your landing.”
“Thank you, Sir,” Loris said. It had occurred to her, of course, that Carlin Saint-Saens was the most likely culprit. It was not inconceivable that Adeline had negotiated an ironclad divorce agreement and he might be desirous of a fifth marriage. But they did seem to care for each other. Adeline’s face had lost its hard edge the moment her husband appeared and her whole body now seemed relaxed.
A hatch opened and Atalanta descended through a huge lock into an even grander spaceship hangar filled with a variety of runabouts, shuttles, and space-yachts. Saint-Saens was there, surrounded by workers in coveralls and armed guards. Atty’s forward hatch opened and her passengers walked down the ramp. Adeline threw herself into her husband’s arms and then he shook Loris’s and Karil’s hands.
“Thank you,” he said. “Frankly, my wife went to Ganymede without telling me or my security team. She took only her driver and I understand he’s missing. Terrible thing. I would have protested if I’d known, because frankly I think Ganymede is a dangerous place.”
“It is,” Loris said. “Especially the Rim District. I know that more than anybody.”
“She would have done what she wanted to, of course, but I would have sent a security detail with her, which I suppose would have made you uncomfortable.”
“It would have attracted entirely too much attention, frankly. Though an explosion in the corridor will be a big topic of discussion for some time to come.”
“Your boss—Madame Em—has informed me that no human remains have been found at the blast-site. I suppose you have to figure out what that means.”
“Either the driver was captured or he was involved,” Loris said, “but both seem hard to believe. Atty may have some recordings that will clear that up. Despite our mutual antagonism, I know that Jovian Security investigates its staff very thoroughly. If you would let me see your records concerning the man, it would help.”
“I will do that. Right now, if you wish, but may I offer you dinner first?”
“I certainly won’t say no to that, and I’m sure Karil would enjoy that very much.”
“Then I would enjoy that very much myself. Do you want to rest first, Dear?”
“I could use a shower and a change for dinner,” Adeline said. “I’m a bit frazzled.”
“We’ll have dinner when you’re ready.” He gestured to one of his guards who went online, probably to the kitchen. Then he turned to another. “See that Atalanta is refueled and check for any damage from the explosion that we can repair. With Loris’s permission, of course.”
“Atty would appreciate that,” Loris said.
“Thank you, Baron Saint-Saens,” Atalanta crooned in her sweetest voice, which they heard from the room’s speakers. “I’m so glad we were able to help Adeline and that she is not harmed.”
Loris and Karil were treated to the smile that was so often the response to hearing Atty’s voice for the first time. Then Saint-Saens laughed aloud. “I must have you speak to my public relations department,” he said, “to see if I can get a voice like yours.”
“It’s a particular sort of voice,” Loris told him, “But I warn you that it comes with side-effects. It does not lie and in most cases will not allow a human being to come to any harm. Businesses often find this inconvenient.”
“I could see why that might create a problem,” Saint-Saens laughed. “May I show you to my office?”
Adeline went off to her rooms and Loris and Karil followed Saint-Saens through a maze of corridors to his luxurious office, filled with antiques, comfortable chairs, and a vast array of books that Karil found it hard to keep his eyes away from, not to mention the display of antique weapons on the wall. But given a wing-back chair to sit in and a snifter of excellent brandy for his hand did the trick.
“Galilean Security sent a message for you,” Saint-Saens told Loris. “Do you want to hear it now or in private later.”
“If it was supposed to be secure, it would have been sent to Atty.”
Auntie Em, as everyone on her staff called her, appeared before them. The automatic security doors had worked perfectly and the blast was contained to the berth in which Atty had been moored. The damage was repaired and no sign of human DNA could be found anywhere. The driver either left on his own before the explosion was triggered or he was seized and taken away. Analysis of the bomb-fragments, as expected, had so far revealed nothing.
“I won’t have anything to say about that,” Loris said to Saint-Saens, “until I see the man’s records and have Atty examine your security files, if you will allow it. Jovian Security may not be pleased about that.
“Too bad,” Saint-Saens said. “They work for me. As do you. No, let me be precise. You work for my wife. I suppose I’m the prime suspect.”
“It has to be that way, frankly, but the more I see you together, the more I doubt it.”
“Well, the sooner you can eliminate me as a suspect, the sooner you can move on. I have to think carefully about what I reveal because I have secrets that are not mine to share, but I’ll do what I can.”
“I assure you,” Loris said, “Galilean Security has a huge file on you.”
He laughed. “I can well imagine.”
Adeline appeared at the door, looking cool and perfect, as if no-one had tried to blow her to atoms a few hours before. “The chef said that dinner is ready,” she said, “and she has outdone herself.”
Karil leaped to his feet and Loris realized she was starving. Nearly dying always did this to her. They moved to the resplendent dining room and there was little serious discussion after that, as nearly every dish was exquisite and paired with something wonderful from the cellar. In deference to Adeline, the conversation turned to trivial matters, but there was no lack of conversation. Karil and Loris were often fed by Martian miners at their big communal tables. Most of what they had to talk about was secret, so they fell back on regaling the miners—who were shut-ins of the first water—with their adventures on other planets, in the wild forests and vast seas of Earth, the huge colony of Nova Terra in orbit about Titan, and the strange hidden world beneath the thick and opaque atmosphere of that moon, where spacesuits came with wings and one could fly. Under the influence of the wine, Karil’s narrative drifted into the poetic and sometimes to the outrageously funny.
After dinner and dessert and more wine, they all went to bed. Adeline and Saint-Saens retired to his rooms and Loris and Karil to the rooms they had been given. Karil found his quarters almost uncomfortably luxurious, but when a charming girl in a maid’s uniform came to draw him a bath, he was delighted. And so, as far as he could tell, was she.
Loris was led to Adeline’s room, which was overwhelmingly beautiful, with a canopy bed and exquisite frescoes on the walls. There was a smaller bed, usually used by a maidservant, which had been turned down for her. She guessed that Adeline had spoken the truth when she said that Loris was hired to guard her day and night. At first, the bed was uncomfortably soft for Loris, who was used to a sleeping bag hanging on a bulkhead, but then she relaxed. Memories of sleeping on the streets as a child, sleeping in a cell as a prisoner, and sitting up all night on watch in battle drifted through her head.
In the middle of the night, Adeline entered the room and Loris was immediately awake.
“Carlin does not sleep well,” Adeline said. “He worries about so many things. Thousands of people who depend on him for a living, decisions he has made that ruined people, and now, he’s worried about my safety.” Loris listened in silence. The only dreams that ever disturbed her sleep concerned the faces of those she had killed, and only some of them. Finally, Adeline kissed Loris’s forehead and slipped into her huge bed. It was hard to imagine her the same cold and arrogant woman who had appeared on Ganymede only that morning. Loris thought of her partner Karil and her devoted ship Atalanta, and found herself feeling sorry for this immensely rich, beautiful, and it seemed rather lonely woman.
Always alert, even in sleep, Loris awoke to hear Adeline whimpering quietly.
“Oh, shit,” she said. She slipped out of bed, padded across the room, and slipped in behind Adeline. She wrapped her powerful arms about the woman, who broke into heartrending sobs. “I can’t let him see I’m afraid,” she choked out.
Loris tightened her grip. Feel safe, she thought, feel very safe. Just before they drifted off to sleep, she felt with her cheek a patch of synthetic skin on Adeline’s shoulder, just where Ganymede prostitutes tattooed their guild numbers.
Adeline and Saint-Saens found Loris and Karil in the hangar, on Atalanta’s bridge, poring over recordings on the big screen. They were happy with the excellent coffee that the couple brought.
“We’ve found a few things,” Loris said.
“Are there cameras in the corridors on Ganymede?”
“Not in the Free Trader part of the Rim District. Half the people there are smugglers and the rest are involved with shady deals much of the time. They don’t want to be on camera. Galilean Security found this out when they tried to install cameras once, many years ago. They were always discovered and constantly being broken and eventually Security gave up. But the ships don’t want to open their hatches to anybody unless they know who’s asking to board. There is a camera that lets Atty see the part of the corridor just outside her lock.”
She tapped a key and they saw Adeline’s driver leaning against the rental car. The hatch opened and there was a brief conversation. He flashed his ID to Loris and he was given his orders. When the hatch was closed, he reached into the car, then turned and hurried away. After he had turned the curve of the corridor and vanished, there was a great explosion and the screen went black. Atty had already detached from the lock and taken off.
“We’re pretty sure he started the countdown and left. So, Agent Arnott seems to have set off the bomb.” Loris put a closeup of his ID on the screen. “Now, Atty has been studying virtually all of Galilean Security’s recordings and has come up with something interesting.”
They saw the interior of a tavern—a seedy bar in the Rim District, with a stripper on the stage and various raucous drinkers. The image zoomed in on one man, back in a corner.
“That looks like him,” Adeline said. “I’ve mostly seen only the back of his head and the top half of his face in the mirror, but it sure looks like Arnott.”
“He’s spending money like a spacer in port,” Loris said.
“So,” Karil added, “he’s alive and somewhere in Ganymede City, but he may not be alive long. He certainly wouldn’t come back to Callisto, where he could easily be recognized, and there’s no record of him boarding a registered ship. He should still be in Ganymede. But whoever is in charge of this could spirit him off the moon in their own ship, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they spaced him.”
“This bar,” Loris said, “has been robbed several times. That’s why they have a hidden camera. They think Galilean doesn’t know about it.”
“I’m going there to see if I can find him,” Karil said.
Adeline was about to speak, but Loris said, “I’m staying here with you. At least one of your employees has been compromised. There may be others.”
“Is Atalanta going with you?” Saint-Saens asked Karil.
“No, Loris said. “Atty is staying with me. I need her.”
“Then Karil will need transportation.” Saint-Saens had a big grin on his face. “I think I’ve got something you’ll like.”
He led Karil down the ramp and across the hangar. At the far end, behind several work shuttles, was a small ship covered in a tarpaulin.
“Get that end,” he said.
Karil helped him remove the tarp. The small ship was ridiculously streamlined for a space vehicle but it was so beautiful with its Art nouveau curves that it practically brought tears to his eyes. He laughed out loud when he saw the name emblazoned on the bow—Danse macabre. He turned to Saint-Saens. “You designed this, didn’t you?”
“Many years ago. It’s made for the Jovian system and pretty much useless for deep space. It’s a shuttle, actually, but I was tired of the boxy design of most shuttles and wanted something impressive. I was young then and I haven’t used it for years. I can’t help thinking I’d look ridiculous piloting this at my age.
“I can’t fly this.”
“Of course you can. It’s time she was put through her paces again, and I’ve done my research on you and Loris. She’s famous for her interplanetary piloting skills, and you’re just as famous for the tight, precise kind of piloting needed in shuttles and runabouts and lifeships. The Martian Rebellion had you flying emergency vehicles in dust-storms.”
Loris’s rare booming laugh echoed in the hangar as she and Adeline approached. “It’s you, Karil,” she said.
The Danse macabre plunged toward Jupiter as if falling into a swirling red maelstrom. The planet’s moons danced slowly across its face, casting shadows on the cloud-tops that were as black as space. As always, the sight was arresting to Karil and he still thought it the most beautiful view in the solar system, but it was deadly. He kept his eyes on the radiation counter and when he approached Jupiter for its gravity to slow him down for Ganymede capture, he released a bit of vernier gas to tilt the tiny ship to present its hardened lower fuselage toward the most energetic particles until he slipped into Ganymede’s orbit and sidled up to the major moon.
He tapped out a message and descended into Ganymede City’s underground hangar in a cloud of freezing gas. A hatch irised open on the icy surface and the Danse macabre slipped inside. The hatch closed and the ship settled onto the landing pad.
He was not docking anywhere near the Rim district, where he would probably be recognized on sight, and the first question would be: Where is Loris? Besides, Arnott would be crazy to try to hide out in the Rim District after nearly killing a freetrader ship and crew, and there was no point in looking for him there. Danse macabre and the hangar spoke to each other in swift, unintelligible conversation, thanks to Saint-Saens’ docking code, logging in the name and number of the ship and virtually ignoring the human being on board.
Karil shut down, punched in the locking code which would prevent anyone from opening the ship, and took a slidewalk into Ganymede City. He began the bar-hop. He would not be haunting his usual bars in the Rim District like Gail’s Place, Embarcadero, or Sharkey’s, where he would surely be recognized, but the rest of the city was a great hive in which any pleasure was available and tolerated—the most crowded place for millions of kilometers in which to disappear.
The Central District was a tourist trap in which one paid entirely too much for food, drink, drugs and sex. He was not sampling any of these high-priced pleasures but would sit down with a glass—any bartender would be happy to mix a drink for someone with a face like Karil’s with no alcohol whatsoever—and just keep his eyes open. It was not really the wild goose chase it seemed.
Arnott had no doubt come into a good deal of Galilean credits lately and would be anxious to spend some of it. Boarding an interplanetary ship in which he would find himself in an enclosed space filled with people who had been noted and registered by Galilean Security would be a stupid move, but barhopping in Ganymede City could be an adventure in anonymity. Still, Karil knew that there was no-one more observant than a bartender. Karil came armed with a picture of Arnott and a lot of credits provided by Saint-Saens. There was a good chance that he would find a barkeep who had seen Arnott. Not being a regular customer, the fugitive would not enjoy any particular loyalty and Karil’s money would talk.
It was actually an advantage that he was working without Loris. Karil was a personable young man and the informant barkeep could tell himself that Arnott was in no danger from him, making it that much easier to scoop up the credits for a bit of information. But no-one in his right mind would want Loris looking for him. Karil’s hand-laser was hidden under his jacket and he would look innocuous.
“I’m looking for this guy,” Karil would say and show the official-looking picture. The barkeep would contemplate the odds. Either Karil was from Security and should be cooperated with, or he was a friend or long-lost relative innocently looking for the man in this crowded place. Conceivably, of course, he could, despite appearances, be a paid assassin looking to kill Arnott, but bar-owners knew an assassin would be careful not to try to do so on the premises.
Over the next several days, Karil wound his way down into Galilean darkness. First, there were the food emporiums and Karil enjoyed a series of meals of a dozen different kinds of ethnic food, as Ganymede was home to examples of every kind of human on or off the Earth. He enjoyed that very much. Then he visited places that provided food only as an accompaniment to alcohol. Karil was not a believer but he avoided the stuff in general when working. It could erode his edge and if he had to make a sudden move, it could kill him. Then he visited the sex emporiums, like the famous Lotus Eaters. The difficulty was that he had to check his weapon and his clothes. But the drugs in the mist meant that most people, male or female, were in a friendly mood. Karil received a great number of offers, some of which he was sorry he had to refuse.
In some places, he had to take on a policeman’s demeanour when he spoke to the owners or medical staff. The staff knew that everything on offer was legal in Ganymede and they bore no responsibility, but it was best not to irritate Security because there were many clauses in their business contracts that could make life difficult indeed when used by disgruntled authorities. Either Karil was looking for Arnott for Security reasons or for personal reasons—the management did not care which—and it was best to co-operate. Karil emerged somewhat light-headed for the mist and in a state of tumescence at what he had seen, but had found out nothing.
Then he began to haunt the drug-palaces, in the deeper circles of Hell, literally and figuratively. Most were in the deeper layers of the moon’s icy mantle, in dark and gloomy corridors. The walls sweated and dripped and the floors were always wet. The managers were suspicious and uncooperative and Karil had to lean on them to get his questions answered, aping Loris at her most intimidating. Of course, no-one knew anything. Karil would usually have to make his way through the corridors, opening curtains and peering into smoky or steaming rooms at people who barely seemed human sometimes and looked back at him uncomprehendingly, lost in a labyrinth in their own minds.
Sometimes Karil had to shake them and slap their faces before he could get a glimpse of some recognition in their eyes. He knew that as a Galilean Security agent, he really had no right to hurt or help them. He began to wonder why he was down there instead of Loris. She would not let such things get to her. These people were lost, but the way back might take years of work, just to find out what horrors or loss in their life had sent them there. Once in a long while, someone looked into his eyes and Karil was shaken to his core.
Finally, he made his way back up to the higher levels of the tunnel complex and found himself in a crowded corridor. He leaned back against a wall and banged his head against it, tears running down his face, while the crowds passed by, mostly ignoring him but sometimes looking at him and rushing away, afraid to become involved.
Someone put a hand on his arm. It felt like the touch of an angel and he looked down. It was Honey.
“Karil? What are you doing here?”
He put his arms around her and buried his face in her fragrant hair.
“Come with me, Karil. Where’s Loris? Oh God, has something happened to her?”
“No, Honey. She’s okay, and so is Atty. It was just something I saw. I can’t talk about it.”
“I know. Security stuff. Come with me.”
She led him like a child into a nearby tavern and she seemed to know the barman. She got a drink for Karil and he sat down in a corner, his back to the wall as always, and sipped. It was the most delicious thing he had ever tasted and he drained the glass. Honey called for another one. He looked at her, put his hand on hers and gazed into her eyes. She looked down, almost blushing, as Karil was overcome with her remembered touch, her caressing of Loris as he watched, Atalanta speaking softly to her and eliciting childlike smiles.
His heart sank as he recalled how both sides in the interplanetary Cold War were using her and what could happen to her in this benighted place just for knowing them. He shook himself and took out of picture of Arnott.
“I’m looking for this man,” he said.
Her face fell as he became all business. He knew what had frightened her. She was supposed to engage with him, but how much should she be helping him? How would this be seen by her handlers from Earth?
“I’ve seen him,” she said at last.
Karil was stunned. “Really?”
“Yes. Are you going to kill him?”
He owed her the truth. “We’re going to talk to him. He might have tried to kill our client. He might have tried to kill Loris and Atty and me, too. We want to know if it’s true and if so, who put him up to it. Galilean Security will take over after that.”
“He tried to kill you?” Sudden anger filled her face like a dark cloud and her eyes became hard. Then they dropped in shame when she realized that Arnott might have threatened her loved ones’ lives in the name of the organization for which she worked. Karil said nothing, but he felt her hand tightening on his.
She rose and he followed her out of the tavern door and down the corridor. They descended a ramp into a rundown residential area. The air was filled with moisture and the smell of brine from the great shrimp tanks which provided the famous delicacies to the restaurants catering to the tourist trade and the interplanetary space-liners that visited the city.
Honey climbed a rickety stairway and pushed open a door. The man inside was indeed Arnott, but it took a moment for Karil to recognize him, as his face was so drawn and bloodless. A wire ran from a blinking device attached to his skull into a power socket in the wall.
He was a wirehead.
Karil did not know whether Arnott had willingly done this to himself out of remorse or fear, or whether those who had bribed or hired him had done this to put him away forever. It would not be long before he remembered nothing, knew nothing but the current flowing into the pleasure centres of his brain. He felt Arnott’s wrist and was dismayed at the feebleness of his pulse. If they were going to get any information from this man, they were going to have to get him out of this place immediately.
Karil wrapped his arms around Honey. “Get out of here,” he said. “Try to stay safe.” He paused. He was not supposed to tell her he knew she was working for Earth. “I don’t know why you know about this but tell no-one about it.” He held her tightly. “I can’t take you where I’m going.”
“I can’t leave,” she said. “I can’t tell you why either. I’ll just be glad when you and Loris come back.”
He kissed her. “Now go. Get the hell out. I’m okay.”
She left, running down the stairs. Karil pulled the plug from Arnott’s head and he collapsed into deeper unconsciousness from the shock. He tossed the man over his shoulder—Arnott seemed to weigh nothing because he had lost so much body fat—took out his laser-pistol and headed down the stairs into the corridor.
Karil knew Ganymede City like the back of his hand and would do his best not to be seen as he made his way to the Danse macabre. But he was seen several times—a powerful man carrying an obviously ailing companion over his shoulder and holding a pistol in his hand. No-one stopped or questioned him. They looked the other way and hurried by.
“I hate this fucking city,” he said.
If there was anyone aware of him, it was Galilean Security glimpsing him on hidden cameras, and they would do nothing to stop him. In fact, for all he knew, they were closing doors and clearing corridors for his passage.
At the hangar, no-one stopped or even saw him. He punched in the code to open the Danse macabre’s hatch, holstered his laser, strapped Arnott to an acceleration couch, and climbed into the pilot’s couch. The demonic-looking ship rose on a cushion of plasma, cycled through the lock above, and blasted out of Ganymede City like the bat out of Hell it resembled.
The Danse macabre descended into the Saint-Saens Manor landing pad. The hatch irised shut above it and the lock was pressurized as the drivers dopplered down into silence. Karil unstrapped, climbed out of the pilot’s couch and opened the hatch. Loris came running, followed by Carlin and Adeline and a half-dozen servants.
“I need help with Arnott,” Karil said.
“Is he injured?”
“He’s comatose from wirehead shock. Carlin, do you have a nurse or a clinical setup of some sort?”
“We have both. I’d be crazy not to at my age. Nurse?”
A servant in white stepped forward.
“Take two men and a stretcher and put this man in the Recovery Room.”
The team went to work and in a moment Arnott was carried off, strapped to a gurney.
“That looks like Arnott, all right,” Loris said, “despite the weight-loss. How did you find him?”
“A mutual friend of ours recognized his picture and knew where he was.”
“Oh really! That’s interesting.”
“He looks in bad shape,” Carlin said. “Do you think he’ll recover well enough to tell us anything useful? I’ve heard that wirehead addiction does terrible damage to the brain.”
“Another few days might have been too late.” Loris said. “The pleasure centres in the brain are overworked and the rest of the brain atrophies. They stop eating and drinking too, and that doesn’t help.”
“I’ve disconnected him and right now his brain is looking for pleasure stimulus,” Karil added. “He needs intravenous feeding and help breathing because he’s nearly forgotten how to do that.”
“He’s not in pain, more’s the pity,” Loris said. “But he must be in total despair at having his pleasure centers cut off. We have to keep his body running until he remembers how to live. When he comes to, he’ll be confused and disoriented, probably hallucinating. It may be a while before we can get anything but gibberish out of him, but if we’re lucky he’ll be able to answer questions eventually and he won’t have the smarts to lie very well. If we plug him into Atty, we’ll have a good chance at getting at the truth.”
“It’s like recovering from sensory deprivation,” Karil said. “Both Loris and I have come out of that with Atty’s help. She can also tell when he’s lying.”
“Any idea who did this?” Adeline asked.
“I’m sure it was the people who hired him to kill you,” Karil said. “But I don’t know why they didn’t just kill him.”
“It could be,” Loris mused, “that they were softening him up to brainwash him—to put a particular story in his head for Galilean Security’s consumption. Maybe they decided after a while to just let him die and picked that way instead of spacing him, which might have attracted attention.”
“So he looks like a lone wolf with guilt feelings instead of the member of a conspiracy, you mean?” Saint-Saens said.
“It’s the only thing I can think of,” Loris shrugged. “I’m guessing they found Adeline too difficult to get to on Callisto and when she turned up on Ganymede they made up a plan a little too quickly.”
“But why kill me in the first place,” Adeline protested. “What could I have done to them?”
“Probably,” Loris said, “to make it look like Carlin did it. They’re his enemies, not yours. You were to be collateral damage like Karil and me. And Atty.”
“I see,” Adeline mused. “Well, I’m looking forward to hearing what he’s got to say for himself.”
The room was dark except for the readouts on the hospital bed. Arnott lay breathing deeply in sleep. Occasionally his eyes darted back and forth and he whimpered a little. The door opened and Carlin Saint-Saens crept into the room, holding an antique revolver from the gun collection in his study. He crept close to the bed and the lights blazed. He whirled about and found Loris sitting across the room, a laser-pistol in her hand.
“Maybe you shouldn’t point that thing in my direction,” she said calmly. “This is a Free Trader Laser. We practically pick our teeth with one. If I hit that antique in your hand, it’ll probably explode in your face. Besides, Karil’s behind you.”
Karil reached around his side and snatched away Carlin’s gun. Carlin sank into a chair with a sigh.
“You’re not the Vengeance of God type,” Lois went on. “Trust me. I know. So you must be here to shut him up and make people think you gave into rage about what he tried to do to Adeline. You might even beat that rap on Callisto. What does he know that you don’t want him to talk about?”
Carlin sighed again. “Let’s go in my office, so I can show you the files.”
“Fine. And we can send them to Atty too, for analysis.”
They moved into the office. Loris and Karil sat in front of the desk and Saint-Saens sat in his chair. He tapped a few keys and a diagram flickered into the air before them. Loris and Karil studied it for a moment and Karil exclaimed, “You’ve been drilling into what they call the subsurface sea!”
“That’s 250 kilometers down,” Loris said.
“It is indeed. We call it the Waterhole. Water, as always, is a precious commodity, but this water has been there since the origin of the Solar System and we’re quite certain it’s filled with valuable asteroidal and cometary material. We won’t have to hunt for it in space; we’ll just pump it up and filter it out and then use the water. Earth thinks the Asteroid Belt belongs to them and hunting asteroids there often brings us into conflict with them. But this is the absolute property of Callisto and they would have no claim.”
“But there are those who believe it’s dangerous. That the drilling might cause instability.”
“Exactly. You put your finger on it. Some of those are sincerely worried, but Callisto is by far the most stable moon in the Jovian system. Some of these groups are financed by Earth companies, who simply don’t want us to succeed. I can give you my file of warnings, complaints, and outright threats. Many of these are against my wife.”
“Why her?” Karil asked. “If they have a complaint against you?”
“He’s such an innocent,” Loris said.
“The most virulent threats,” Saint-Saens told him, “are always reserved for women. They break my heart. But the most frightening thing is that the project is supposed to be secret, so there are people out there who are not only insanely cruel, who tried to kill you as collateral damage, but powerful enough to track down highly secret data.”
“Atty,” Loris said, “are you following this?”
“Yes, Loris. The data seems compelling. In my opinion, there is little danger in the drilling, and with adequate monitoring it should be safe. Calllisto is not Earth, riding on a liquid core and constantly changing. It doesn’t turn itself inside out on a regular basis like Io does, nor is it subject to tidal shifts and surface cracking like Europa. It has been rock-hard and stable since the Jovian system formed—much more stable than Ganymede, in fact, with all its tidal stresses from Jupiter. But I can see why Earth would wish to stop the project. It would have to be extremely lucrative for the Galilean System.”
“This territory is my property and I’m allowed to mine it as I choose,” Saint-Saens said. “But our drills have not reached the required depth yet and the project is vulnerable. Not just to sabotage, but to politics. That’s why we’ve been keeping it a secret.”
“Well, somebody knows that secret,” Loris said. “And I think they were trying to taint your company with scandal.”
“And,” Karil added, “they’re willing to kill innocent people in the process.”
“Is it all right with you,” Loris asked Saint-Saens, “if Atty sends this conversation and data to Galilean Security headquarters?”
“I don’t see how I can complain about it now,” Saint-Saens told her.
“Do so, Atty. Attention of Auntie Em. Saint-Saens is our client. The murder of Galilean Security personnel has already been attempted.” She paused. “Send support.”
“Really?” Karil asked.
“By now, they’ll have noticed that Arnott is gone. Until a few minutes ago, I thought it was possible that Carlin or even Adeline was involved and it was just a nasty family matter, but now I’m sure we’re up against the High Companies and Earth Security, and I’m not taking any chances. Their secret is out now and my guess is they’ll turn to more direct means to stop the project. We have to go defensive and I’m sure Auntie Em will back me up.”
“You really are a suspicious character,” Karil laughed.
“I’m alive because of it,” Loris said. “And so are you.” She turned to Carlin. “Do you have weapons? I mean, without gold trim and Barbary Coast woodcarving?”
“I have a Luger and a Colt. And I have a Remington 600 Carbine.”
“Hand them out to any of your staff who can shoot. Hide everybody else in the basement. And Atty has a nice armory. We can hand weapons out to anybody who wants to help.”
It turned out, of course, that quite a few of the Saint-Saens staff were former Security agents and soon there were guards posted in every corridor of the house, armed with an impressive selection of weapons from Atalanta’s arsenal. The first line of defense was, of course, Karil and Loris. It did not take long to attach attack-lasers to the Danse macabre because the mountings were already there. The weapons made it look even more Gothic. Both ships cycled through their locks and took place on the icy surface outside, Atalanta on one side and Danse macabre on the other. There was a moment of consternation when an armed shuttle appeared overhead, but the faces of Yi and Gomez appeared on the screens and Karil and Loris relaxed.
“Jovian Security reporting as ordered,” Yi said. “We’re under your command, Loris. Saint-Saens himself called and demanded just that. Do you really think there’s a threat from Earth here?”
“I do. I’ve asked for help from Auntie Em and I expect a full-bore response from Ganymede any minute now.
“Well, far be it from me,” Yi laughed, “to second guess Old Lady Em.”
“I’ll tell her you said so.”
Assault-guns popped out on all sides of the Jovian Security police cruiser.
“We have a response from Ganymede.” Atalanta reported. “Two Galilean cruisers are almost in human sight. And there are hints of movement from various directions, approaching at high speed, converging on this location.”
“Loris, we are here,” said a voice, and the two Galilean Security cruisers appeared on the screen. In a moment a face familiar to Loris and Karil appeared. Her name was unknown to them as she was an undercover agent.
“Sorry there’s only two of us,” she said. “But if there’s a Terran incursion, Ganymede could be under threat and the entire fleet is scrambled to protect it.”
“Thanks for your prompt response, Agent,” Loris said. “We don’t need to get in each other’s way here anyway. You two, the Jovian ship, and Karil in this Gothic Batplane he’s flying can surround the compound on all sides, and Atty, since she’s fully fueled, can hover over the centre of the compound, directly over the dome, as long as we need.”
“Good,” said the agent. She winked and smiled, but whether she was winking at Loris, or Karil, or both, they did not know. “The best-defended ship in the most vulnerable spot. We’re detecting a small fleet of space vehicles. Atty?”
“Yes,” Atalanta crooned. “I see barges and tugs and cargo shuttles and passenger ships. They must have been under cover here for a long time. My guess is they’re all secretly armed. The fact that Earth is committing so many covert assets to this attack shows how seriously they’re taking this.”
“Well, Atty,” Loris said, checking her switches with a distracted air, “I’ve known we were dealing with somebody serious the minute they tried to blow you to space-dust. If you hadn’t bypassed the safety protocols and opened up the lock at both ends to escape, it would have taken out a good piece of the Rim District too. Might have caused a rift between Ganymede and Callisto."
The small defense fleet had taken its place and the humans inside watched the Terran attack fleet coming, spreading out to surround them from all sides, and the weapons deploying everywhere, often incongruously from cargo barges and passenger touring ships. Earth was nothing if not devious and thorough. The defenders responded, hurling bullets and rockets and laser-fire to keep the attackers too busy defending themselves to launch destruction upon the surface structures below. Atalanta revolved slowly, firing off in all directions with devastating effect. Atty would be fretting at the loss of human life, but she was locked out of the target system.
Several of the Terran ships exploded silently in the vacuum, but the second Ganymede defender erupted in quickly dying flame. The nameless Ganymede agent moved her ship to defend two angles, but an armed private shuttle rose from below and took up the empty spot. It seems Saint-Saens’s personal guard was armed for bear.
Looking down, Karil noticed movement on the moon’s surface below and realized that an ice-crawler was nosing into one of the manor’s locks. “Loris,” he said, “there’s an armoured troop-carrier sneaking into the dome.”
“Stop them, Karil, You’re the most maneuverable. Get inside and stop them. I’ll cover you.”
The Danse macabre fell out of the sky like an avenging eagle. Karil strafed the troop-carrier and it exploded, the flames dying quickly in vacuum. Several Terran troops who had not been able to cycle through the lock died, screaming soundlessly. Karil dropped into another lock, cycled through, and the ship rested on the floor of the hangar, surrounded by silent, looming ships and vehicles. He unstrapped, grabbed some weapons, and climbed out of the ship.
His laser-pistol and his precious antique revolver were already strapped to his hips. In his arms, he held his favorite long gun—basically an assault-gun with a grenade-launcher attached. The Terran troops who had entered the hangar had already left through the doors at the far end, headed straight for the Saint-Saens residence. Perhaps the simplest way to stop the Waterhole construction would be to kill the genius behind it and destroy all his records. The more devious way, getting him charged with the murder of his wife, had failed and now they were falling back on the time-honoured Terran way of solving problems—killing everybody involved. Karil sprinted across the hangar, his eyes on the girders above, and tried to open the door. They had scrambled the locking-code. Karil tried the Terran way. He blew the door open with a grenade and trotted through.
Up above, Atalanta dared to distract Loris with bad news. “There is another ship approaching, Loris. A big one. It looks like a Terran interplanetary gunship.”
“Fuck! Where the fuck were they keeping that?”
Atty made Loris smile by replying. “Well, there are lots of fucking rocks to hide behind around here.”
Karil crept along the hallway in the Saint-Saens’ quarters. He glimpsed a rifle-barrel appearing out from behind a corner and loosed a barrage of bullets in that direction. Karil bent down over the massively bleeding soldier, grabbed his handgun, and stuck it in his belt. Then, he moved on.
There was a loud explosion and the door to Saint-Saens’ office collapsed off its hinges. A soldier in black body armor and carrying an assault-gun stepped through and found Saint-Saens standing behind his desk and his wife Adeline cowering behind him. Saint-Saens had a pistol but his hands were shaking. On the screen above could be seen the space-battle, which the defenders seemed to be losing. The soldier gestured downward with the muzzle of his weapon and Saint-Saens placed his gun on the desk.
The soldier prepared to kill them both, but Saint-Saens dropped to the desk and behind him Adeline raised a weapon of her own. It was a bizarre thing, with a wide muzzle, which the soldier recognized as an ancient weapon called a blunderbuss. With that, she couldn’t miss. Adeline pulled the trigger and a muzzle-load of her jewelry—rings and earrings and bracelets—struck the soldier, ripping his face to shreds. He screamed and collapsed on the floor, bleeding from a dozen wounds. Saint-Saens snatched up his handgun, a pearl-handled revolver, strode forward and shot the would-be assassin between the eyes.
Karil made his way down the corridor, dealing death with his grenades and the occasional volley of dozens of steel-tipped bullets. The soldiers had stopped searching for Saint-Saens and turned back to deal with the one-man army on their tail. Finally, there was only one Terran left, and Karil’s weapon clicked empty. The soldier raised his weapon and Karil realized there was nowhere he could go fast enough. A screaming fury in white appeared and crashed into the soldier from behind, tearing at him with bare hands.
“Die, Demon,” Arnott shrieked. “Go back to Hell.” His eyes were wild and his strength seemed super-human. Desperately, the soldier threw him off, raised his weapon, and ripped the madman to pieces with a volley of bullets. Then, he looked up to see Karil with a pistol in his hand, just in time to receive a single bullet in the forehead.
Far above, the handful of defender ships huddled together as the great, nameless Terran warship grew in their screens, bristling with cannon. It could wipe them from the skies and smash the Saint-Saens compound to rubble in seconds.
“Loris…” Atalanta began.
“I’m a little busy now, Atty.”
Suddenly the sky seemed filled with ships, their flying-wing shapes wide and black against the bright swirling clouds of Jupiter with weapons deploying from all sides. The warship lumbered about to face the new danger, but explosions ripped along its length as dozens of vulture-like, highly maneuverable freetrader ships descended upon it from all directions. The grinning bearded face of a Free Trader known to Loris appeared on her screen.
“Hey, Loris, are these the guys who tried to blow up the Rim District?”
“Yes, they are, Bear.”
“Well, you saved a lot of us, I think, and now we’re paying you back. Buy me a drink later?”
“I’ll see that somebody buys you all a drink, Bear. Just kill those motherfuckers.”
“Will do. Bear out.” His ship yawed about and entered the fray. The Terran cruiser tried to extricate itself from the attack, but it was swarmed from all sides. The Free Traders refused to back off until the great, unnamed ship was blown to space-rubble and torn Terran bodies drifted in the vacuum.
Atalanta’s hatch irised open and Honey was standing in the corridor. Karil and Loris dragged her in and hugged her off her feet.
“You look exhausted,” she said.
“Can’t tell you much about it,” Loris said. “Dealing with Jovian Security and Galilean Security, and a number of private companies as well. We’ve had bureaucracy up to here. And then there was an epic Free Trader party that we may not recover from for some time.”
“So I guess you don’t want to go out for dinner.”
Karil laughed. “ I don’t want to see a restaurant or a bar for the rest of my life.”
“Don’t listen to him, Honey,” Atalanta said. “He’s still a hedonist and not yet ready for the monastic life. But they’re both as happy to see you as I am.”
Honey did what people often did. She reached out and touched the bulkhead beside her, feeling the click of relays and gurgling of fluids in Atalanta’s systems. It was like hugging her and feeling her heartbeat. Honey stood on tiptoe and kissed Loris passionately, her hand straying to her tight buttocks, then slipped into Karil’s arms and fondled him as well, receiving a hearty response. They dragged her, giggling, into their cabin.
Karil had feared that Honey was compromised, but now that so much of Earth’s covert presence in the Jovian system was lost, perhaps the bureaucrats in orbit over that green and flooded world would continue to rely on her reports. But her life, and theirs, was still a dangerous game in a dark city.