Steve’s shorts: Chiba…

[Note from Steve: Let’s have some fun with space opera….]

Chiba

Copyright 2017, Steven M. Moore

Erid Ariklai lost patience with the robocab’s obsession with safety. He took control by leaving the unit’s AI smoldering behind the front dash.

Your heavy boot can do a lot of damage!

He was focused on controlling the cab now, but he took time to smile at Mira’s thought. She often thought he was too impulsive.

He had three patrol cars in pursuit by the time he crashed through the guard barrier and landed in its canal’s dry bed. He managed to maintain speed and control while dodging the garbage citizens from the Iskandian capital had thrown into it.

He would never have thought of the canal as a super-highway for his escape. Mira had suggested it before he committed robocide, her voice a soft purr in his mind. You’re the best, baby!

It occurred to him that Iskandian cops were going to a lot of trouble when all he’d done was steal a painting from a local gallery, thinking it would be a nice gift for Mira. He’d kept that thought from her, of course, to make it a surprise. His real reason for his downtown visit was to break into the Hephreid Empire’s embassy and steal some computer files. Because Iskandia wasn’t part of the Empire, the cops’ pursuit didn’t even make sense for that.

Rotary for the spaceport turnoff coming up. You’ll need to leave the canal.

He wondered if the robocab’s electric motor had the necessary power. Time to find out! He spun the wheel—the cab allowed Human control in case the AI died, which it had—so he was able to steer toward the canal’s and climb the slope. He soon entered the rotary and took the branch off it leading to the spaceport.

Local laws required drivers to stop and ID themselves. He crashed through the security checkpoint instead and headed directly for their ship.

We’re lifting in thirty ticks.

Erid slammed on the brakes and bolted from the car with the painting. He ran up the gangway and dove inside the main airlock. A few ticks later he was inside the hold and both outside and inside doors were closing. The ladder to the command-and-control center was at the far end of the hold. He headed for it. “Daddy’s home, Mama G and Mira,” he said as he began his climb.

“We’re already in space.” That was Mama G’s voice from C&C. “Get your ass up here. We’re going to need some fancy flying. Three police cruisers are chasing us.”

He came to the ladder’s end and entered C&C, leaving the package containing the painting on the table that was projecting a holographic model of the Iskandian solar system.

“Thanks for bringing me in,” Erid said to Mira. “Babbage, give me a visual of our pursuers.” The AI transferred the video image from Mama G’s display to his as he took the pilot’s seat. “Those are too big for police cruisers. They’re Imperial warships. They must have been in orbit around the planet.”

“Looked like police cruisers to me,” said Mama G. “Can you outrun them?”

“Babbage, what do you think?” said Erid.

“I’m always doing a lot of thinking, too much to enumerate,” said the AI. “If I’ve correctly distilled your query, though, I concur with Mama G’s original comment. You’re going to need to do some fancy flying. If I could disable my safety coding, I could help, but I have to leave the reckless piloting to you, I’m afraid. Prepare to die, Mama G and Mira.”

“Just keep feeding me data. I’ve had more challenging situations. No one’s going to die.” Erid knew their ship. He also knew Imperial warships—he had served on one once. They were clumsy and slow. “Babbage, I need you to man the guns.”

“They won’t do any good against a warship.”

“I know that! But we’re going through this system’s asteroid belt. Blast any small crap that gets in our way. I’ll dodge around the big stuff but close enough that the warships won’t dare to follow.”

After about a quarter standard, Erid was able to lose their pursuers.

***

Erid accepted the drink Mira was offering and smiled at her. “You never had any doubts, did you?”

I knew you’d done it before. That—she jerked a thumb toward the painting now on the galley’s wall—is a nice gift but hardly worth putting us in danger.

“Don’t think it was that. They must have discovered my code download somehow. Any thoughts, Mama G?”

Erid’s mother-in-law shrugged. “I made a secure link to your transmitter. Babbage confirmed. No one should have been the wiser.”

“I’ll confirm that again,” said the AI.

“Maybe they’re cleverer than we think they are,” said Erid.

“Or they just wanted to fry your butt for breaking into the embassy,” said Mama G. “You know, just on general principles. I feel like doing it myself sometimes.”

“Maybe.” He raised his glass. “To riches. We’ll sell that stolen code to the rebels for a good price and rest on our laurels afterward.” A crash was heard in the ship’s hold beneath them. “Babbage, scan below.”

“I detect nothing that could produce that sound,” said the AI.

“I’ll go check,” said Mama G.

Erid watched her leave the galley. “Your mother’s a great crewmember,” he said aloud to Mira.

My mother was born on a rebel base and was in space before she was ten. She has more experience than we do.

“Agreed. Maybe that’s why she had problems accepting me.”

You’re an AWOL from an Imperial crew. That’s a negative in her opinion. Always will be.

“She sympathizes with rebels. It should be a positive.”

You never will understand. She believes in loyalty and the chain of command.

“She didn’t have to serve on an Imperial warship. I did. That’s more than a chain of command.”

I understand that. She doesn’t. Mother?

Mama G stuck her head in the door. “I hate to break up your discussion about me, but I found our noisemaker.” She shoved a small girl into the galley. “Meet Chiba, our first stowaway.”

Erid stood and caught the kid who didn’t seem used to low g-force. “How’d you get in here?”

Chiba looked around. “I’m hungry. Feed me something and I’ll answer your question.”

Mira popped a tray into the microwave and set it for two minutes. Soon Chiba was devouring what played the role of roast, potatoes, and vegetables. Kid’s famished.

Chiba looked at Mira and smiled. You’re a telepath?

Among other things. Finish your food.

Chiba did just that. She soon pushed back her stool and sighed. “I can answer your question. I followed you in. I move fast. I had to get-away. Your ship was getting away. Said and done.”

“Why? Why did you need to get away? Is there some pervert chasing you?” Mama G looked concerned.

“Too many questions. Let me ask one. Where are we going?”

“I can’t answer that,” said Erid.

“Then I can’t answer any more of your questions. We’re at an impasse.”

Mira smiled at Erid. She’s got you there.

***

They let Chiba have the run of the ship, figuring she was neither an Imperial nor rebel spy. Babbage always had sensors on her, of course, but where was she going to go? Erid got used to having her around.

The trek to the nearest rebel planet took many jumps. At the end of the last one, Chiba was sitting on Erid’s lap as he guided their ship into the solar system.

“Can’t the Empire find this planet?” she said.

“There are spies everywhere, child,” said Mama G, “even on Freedom-4, but you’ll soon see why we’ll be safe on this rebel world.”

“Beginning Kuiper belt transition,” said Babbage.

“That marks the outer boundaries of most star systems,” said Erid.

“I know that.” He thinks I’m stupid.

No, he’s only explaining what Babbage said. The AI can be a bit terse sometimes.

“You two should shield me from your thoughts when they’re private,” Erid told Chiba and Mira. “And Chiba, I don’t think you’re stupid. In fact, I think you know more than you’re telling us. Before we arrive, I’d like to try a theory out on you.”

Chiba fidgeted a little. “Might as well go for it now. I’m listening.”

“It’s easy to express. I think the Imperial warships were coming after you. They had no idea that I downloaded code or stole a painting.”

She jumped to the floor and faced him, hands on hips.

“What makes you think that?”

“Simple deduction. Our code transmission was secure. And Imperial ships wouldn’t give a damn about a stolen painting. I’m guessing they even put the local cops up to pursuing me. Were you in the robocab?”

She smiled. “Not in. On. Standing on the back bumper, in fact. I almost flew off when you went into the canal.”

Erid nodded. “OK. Thank you for being honest and confirming my theory. Now, why are you running away from the Empire? What do they want you for?”

She shrugged. “I was bored. At the embassy all I heard was talk about rebels. I wanted to meet some. If my uncle doesn’t like them, I might. That’s all.”

“Your uncle?” said Mama G.

“The ambassador. My parents died in an accident. He’s my guardian now.”

“Oh, crap!” said Erid. “Just what we need. A run-away with noble blood.”

“Noble blood isn’t good for anything,” said Chiba. “I’ve been a prisoner all my life. My parents were higher ranking than my uncle because my mother is second cousin to the Emperor. She didn’t have much use for the pomp and circumstance, though. And my father was a scientist.  I used to collect plants with him on some new colony planets.”

Was your uncle abusing you?

No. He’s only interested in using me to improve his stature in the Imperial court. And he’s only my mother’s half-brother.

“We should return her,” said Erid. “Freedom-4 is no place for her. She might be persecuted.”

“Can’t I get asylum there? I want to be a scientist like my father. And I don’t want to be with my uncle!”

“Maybe we should let the rebel leader decide what to do with her,” said Mama G.

“They might use her too,” said Erid. He smiled at Chiba. “Maybe you’d just like to become a member of our crew.”

Chiba smiled. “That’s OK for a while. But I do want to become a scientist.”

There are many ways to achieve that, Chiba. Welcome to the crew.

***

“Who’s the girl?” said Colonel Whelon. “Isn’t she a little too young to be a mercenary?”

“We’re opportunists, not mercenaries,” said Erid. “If you must know, she was a stowaway. But she’s smart and a valuable crewmember now.”

The colonel shrugged. “My people have evaluated your summary of the intel you obtained. I’m ready to negotiate for all of it.”

“It’s valuable intel,” said Erid. “What are you offering?”

“Very little. You realize that you have no other customers, right? It’s a buyer’s market.”

“There’s nothing that says we have to sell.”

Whelon snapped his fingers. An entire squad of rebels entered the colonel’s suite. He smiled.

“And there’s nothing that says we can’t take what we want. Put him in the brig. Then get some others and capture that little imp. We can hold her for ransom. The Empire should pay us well for her.”

You’re a terrible negotiator, thought Mari.

You have to hide me, thought Chiba.

One rebel pushed Erid into the cell and slammed the door. “Tell Mama G to take command. Lift off now!”

And what about you? thought Mari and Chiba.

“They won’t get any ransom for me.”

But they could kill you, thought Mari.

I can’t let that happen, thought Chiba.

Mari’s thoughts then echoed Mama G’s words: “We’re already in space. We’ll have to hide and then come back.”

“Who the hell are you talking to?” said a rebel through the small meshed window in the cell door.

“I’m calling for our mercenary fleet,” said Erid. “They’ll turn Freedom-4 into nuclear slag. Tell that to your Colonel Whelon.”

The rebel looked worried and left.

***

“We see no sign of a mercenary fleet,” said Whelon.

Erid was back in the colonel’s little office. “We actually don’t have one. My crew is taking the stowaway back to the Imperial court. There they’ll divulge all they know about this rebel planet and others. The fleet will be an Imperial one. You’ve forfeited any right to survive, and I’ve lost any sympathies I had for your cause.” He smiled at the colonel’s frown. “How did you find out who Chiba really is?”

“We have spies in the Imperial court. They’re good at weeding through gossip and gleaning valuable intel.”

“The Empire will be happy to know about that too.”

“You just heard it. How will you tell your people?”

“The same way I talked to my colleagues. I refer you to the studies of the great Dr. Halas. In particular, the definitive paper in the Imperial Journal of Psychology seventeen years ago.  I forget the volume and number, but you can do a search and find it.  Assuming rebels try to keep up on the latest scientific developments, that is.”

Whelon nodded to an aide who dashed out of the room. “We’ll check that. But I think you’re just wasting my time. Perhaps I should hear a convincing argument from you why you shouldn’t be executed with a lethal injection. That’s what we do with traitors.”

“Treason is in the eyes of the beholder.” Erid took a chair. “And why should I waste my time with such an argument when I can waste yours instead. That will give the Imperial fleet even more time to plan and execute the complete destruction of Freedom-4.” Erid saw the crimson begin in the black hair at Whelon’s throat and rise. Maybe I’ve gone too far?

Maybe, thought Mira, but keep him stewing. He’s so angry he’s not thinking straight right now.

***

Erid and Whelon sat and stared at each other for a bit until the aide returned and handed the colonel a note. He read it and scowled.

“You have found out that the great Dr. Halas has proven that general ESP powers don’t exist. But it was also proven that telepathy does in certain mutants. The mutation often occurs in small populations where genetic diversity isn’t large. The Imperial court is one such population. Our little colleague is a telepath. My wife’s planet has another small population, and she’s also a mutant.”

Whelon waved the paper. “So this note says. And I say, so what?”

Erid shrugged. “The doctor continued the research, although recent results haven’t been published. My wife participated in several experiments. Telepathy is bit like a starship’s drive: it can jump through the metaverses even better than a ship controlled by an AI.  The telepathic communication is almost instantaneous.”

“That violates all known physics.”

“Before the superstring drive was discovered, the idea of FTL travel was thought to violate all known physics. Isn’t it wonderful that intelligent beings can push beyond the current frontiers of science, present company being an exception.”

Whelon ignored the barb and looked at his aide. “We need some telepaths.”

“Yes sir,” said the aide. He looked at Erid and then back to Whelon. “Where do we get them?”

“This Dr. Halas’s databases must be full of subjects.” Whelon focused on Erid. “Now you have some information that might save your life. Where is this Dr. Halas?”

“Darned if I know. I doubt the Empire knows either. Dr. Halas disappeared, along with the databases and other experimental data.”

“You told the scientist to do that?”

“I had to protect my wife. And now Chiba. They’re both valuable crewmembers.” Erid’s smile was now wide.

“Does the Imperial court have telepaths?”

“That’s privileged information,” said Erid. “And something to worry about, isn’t it? Perhaps the Empire only lets rebels exist because they really have no use for the world’s you control. Your setup here is primitive, to say the least.”

The anger had been building and seemed at a higher level this time. Whelon snapped his fingers. “Take him back to the brig.”

***

Do you call that a lie? thought Chiba.

Erid wasn’t lying, my child, thought Mira. We’re the proof that telepaths exist.

“Get out of my head,” said Mama G. “How are we going to save Erid?”

We’ll work on that, thought Mira. But we should be up front with Chiba.

Tell me later. Mama G is right. We have to come up with a plan to save Erid.

“I’d like to make a suggestion,” said Babbage.

“Go ahead,” said Mama G.

“My sensor sweeps show that Erid is being held in a one-level structure where the roof is the same height as a snow field for camouflage purposes. We should land the ship on top of his cell.”

Can the AI locate the precise position of his cell?

Mama G echoed Mira’s question to Babbage.

“Of course. Right down to centimeters. The structure has poor heating, so Erid’s IR signal is clear.”

“Even from orbit?”

“The planet is cold. All the local lifeforms give off a strong IR signals.”

“Let’s do it then.”

Mama G let Babbage fly the ship most of the way and then took over the controls for the final descent. Mira warned Erid. A blast from lift rockets burned through the sheet of ice and collapsed the roof to Erid’s cell. Mira lowered a chain-link ladder from the main airlock. Erid was soon in the hold, puffing a bit from exertion.

Safe and sound.

“But I wanted to see what Whelon was going to do. I put him in a bind.”

We’ll have them chasing us.

“Along with Imperial warships. You contacted their admiral, right?”

They will have to choose between Chiba and us and going after the rebels.

“Want to bet they’ll go for us?” Mira shook her head. “Agreed. Whelon will be very busy. And I don’t care who wins because we’ll be long gone.”

Neither side impresses me.

“Isn’t that the way it always is?”

***

Chiba watched the breakers crash onto the beach. I like this planet.

Mira squeezed the girl’s hand. We come here for R&R. We like it too. It’s primitive, though, so we’ll be roughing it. No intelligent lifeforms to bother us, though.

Mama G hinted I’d find Dr. Halas on this planet. Where is he?

Dr. Halas isn’t male. She’s female.

And not Human?

Depends on your definition of Human, I suppose. Sometimes Erid calls me a freak of nature. I’ve come to understand those as words of endearment.

Chiba’s eyes opened wide. You’re Dr. Halas?

Halas is the surname I was born with. I followed an old Earth custom and took Erid’s last name. Mira smiled at Chiba. It has created some confusion, I suppose, but it’s also useful.

***

Rembrandt’s Angel (a mystery/thriller from Penmore Press). To what lengths would you go to recover a stolen masterpiece? Scotland Yard’s Arts and Antiques Inspector Esther Brookstone goes the extra mile. She and paramour/sidekick Bastiann van Coevorden, an Interpol agent, set out to outwit the dealers of stolen art and recover “An Angel with Titus’ Features,” a Rembrandt painting stolen by the Nazis in World War Two. Their efforts lead to much more, as they uncover an international conspiracy that threatens Europe. During their dangerous adventures, their relationship solidifies and becomes a full-blown romance. This book is available in ebook format at Amazon and at Smashwords and its affiliate retailers. It’s available as a print version at Amazon, B&N, or your favorite bookstore (if not there, ask for it). Happy reading!

In libris libertas!  

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