Part 3: Talon -Chapter 4

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Nancy Jong woke out of a nightmare. She'd been strapped down onto a surgical table surrounded by machines and AI's. They had done things to her, invaded her mind, injected her with drugs, with unseen people observing the process. Every so often a wave of pain made her writhe on the table. Nancy wondered if other people felt pain in their dreams.

Her real childhood had been full of pain.

In the dream, a woman's voice kept talking calmly. There was no face to the woman, just a voice. Her mother, or just one of the technicians who tortured her? Mothers weren't supposed to do that sort of thing.

Nancy had no memory of her mother; that's why the woman had no face.

With sweat dripping off her, she sat up in bed and ordered the bedroom holovision to come on. It didn't matter what channel, just anything to break the silence. Some idiotic animated children's show flickered into life on the platform. It wasn't even a new one, just some old crap. They hadn't allowed her to watch holo as a child. There were lots of things the Syndicate had forbidden.

Beside her in the bed, Rix groaned and rolled over.

'Turn that shit down,' he mumbled into his pillow.

'Shut up.'

She pretended to watch the show, but after a few moments closed her eyes and listened to the inane childish conversations of the characters and cheesy music. Rix's constant thrashing and slapping of the bed covers distracted her.

Climbing out of bed, Nancy padded naked into the living room. The AI kept the lighting here muted but constantly on, which was Rix's wish. The AI turned the living room holo on and the one in the bedroom off.

It was high time she went back to Earth.

Things should have calmed down enough for her to be able to travel safely now. The hornet's nest stirred up by the assassination of Nuncio had settled back to a level where someone like her could grab some false ID and make it through the security. She could find somewhere quiet for a while, find some new employment.

The thing was how Rix might feel about it.

She closed her eyes and lay back, again trying to sleep. Sleep came so seldom these days, and when it did it was a tossing, restless thing easily disturbed. There was no memory of a good night's sleep at all, not in her whole life. The time of her youth, when she'd been raised in the laboratory, the daily routine of genetic manipulation, the pale faces of the scientists who were the only other people she'd seen, passed again across her vision. It was no good. Conscious memory of the lab meant sleep was far away. Perhaps getting drunk would help.

The bedroom door slid open and Rix emerged, wearing a dressing gown but naked underneath. He was communicating on his hedfone. Some people found the need to verbalise into their hedfones; Rix didn't. He'd installed a neural link so the device would pick up his thoughts automatically. But Nancy could tell when he was talking to someone: there was a distracted look in his eyes, an inability to acknowledge anyone who was physically present.

She waited until he'd finished. The children's show ended, to be replaced by a series of inane commercials aimed at the same age group.

'That was Zeus,' Rix said eventually. Nancy opened her eyes and looked at him. He was back with her.

'And?'

'All good.'

Nancy pushed herself deeper into the sofa. Another reason to go home soon.

Nothing could be good if Zeus was involved. Rix had, of course, explained to her how he wasn't dealing so much with the Syndicate's primary AI itself, situated on the secret planet called Lizard somewhere at the edge of known space, but one of its subsidiary mainframes on another planet. It was still Zeus as far as she was concerned. It was creepy, however much confidence Rix felt.

'The Shepherd Moon is ours,' he continued. 'The Sape crew is dead.'

'The what crew?'

He scratched his backside as he wandered into the kitchen and ordered a glass of fruit juice. 'The Homo sapiens crew!' The words came back into the lounge without losing any of their sarcasm. He reappeared, glass in hand. 'This is no time to get sentimental.'

Rix had been raised by Helots after his parents had been killed in a freak accident. It was easy to understand his loyalties being skewed, but there was no need to condemn the whole sapiens species out of hand.

'So what happens now?'

He drained his glass of juice and opened his dressing gown. 'Want some?' he asked. Nancy wasn't sure whether he meant the fruit juice or his erection, which leered at her alarmingly.

'No. Go away.'

'But we need to celebrate!' He put the juice glass down and stepped over to tower above her supine body on the sofa. 'We haven't done it on the sofa before.'

'And we're not about to. Go back to sleep. Congratulations on the mutiny, but I'm tired.'

He seemed to deflate a little at that; things weren't so upright all of a sudden. He sat down on the end of the sofa near her feet.

'I'm going back to Earth for a while,' she said after a moment.

He didn't move, just sat there staring at nothing. 'I was thinking you would come with me. I mean, don't you think—'

'You don't need me.' It was only after she said the words that Nancy realised they could be taken in a couple of different ways. 'Don't worry, I'll be in the right place at the right time.'

It was none of his business anyway.

She rolled over to lie on her left side, face towards the back of the sofa. 'Go back to sleep,' she muttered into the cushion.

His hand stroked her leg for a minute, but she kicked it away. 'I said no.'

'Bitch.' He stood up and wandered off. 'All right, go to Earth. See if I care.'

Nancy closed her eyes and waited for the nightmare to return. It always did. Every time.


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