Part 3: Talon - Chapter 5

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Monk opened the door of the kitchen and looked inside. It was a mess. Sissy was there, rifling through the pantries, opening packets, sampling the contents of Sape food, spilling the contents on the floor and generally having fun. For some perverse reason she'd dressed in Shana's clothes, which were way too big for her. She looked over her shoulder at Monk and blushed, a chocolate bar stuck in her mouth.

'This food is...' she said, then removed the chocolate. 'I've never tasted anything like it before. So sweet.'

Monk said nothing. He didn't have to: Sissy could see his anger. The bar fell from her hand onto the floor where it joined the pile of other items dragged from the pantries. In the aural background, the kitchen AI muttered complaints about spoilage and the mess that it would have to clean up.

'I didn't want it really.'

Crunching over the litter, Monk stood beside her. His fists clenched as if he was about to strike. Instead, he reached out and touched her shoulder. Sissy's chin came up so he could look into her eyes. He calmed down after a moment.

'It's hard for us all. I know the food is different. Better. I've tasted some myself. But we must not make the place unworthy of our goals.'

Sissy's hand went to her heart and she began to draw a circle over it, but checked herself. It was too easy to be a slave, especially to old habits. Instead she placed her hand against Monk's chest, felt the warmth of his body.

'I'm sorry,' she said. 'It will take me some time, I guess. I killed...'

'Yes, I know. It must have been hard for you.'

He placed his hand on hers, then drew her close in an embrace. A few days before, both of them would have been punished for such intimacy. But there were no Sapes left now. Shana's body had been flung out into space; Van was down on the asteroid that still followed them; the third Sape, George, had put up a fight for a minute until Frank had felled him with a heavy metal bar. They had pushed his body out into space while still alive. Monk hadn't wanted to do that, but Frank was stronger and it would not do to show division between the slave species so early on. Frank could be dealt with in due course if that was necessary.

'We have work to do,' he said. 'I came to find you. The others are on the bridge.'

Holding hands, they left the kitchen and walked through the Shepherd Moon into the cramped bridge. Not all of the ten slaves were there, because there wasn't enough room. Those that couldn't fit inside had gathered in the lounge area just outside the door, not wanting to miss the occasion. Monk led Sissy in and some of the others nodded when they saw the intimacy of their touch: there were three other women among them and no doubt the freedom they now had would lead to other pairings. Only the oldest of them all, the ancient Creeper, who had seen too many years to be much good for other than clerical duties, had no interest in any newfound sexual chances.

On the bridge were two chairs, facing the control console, surmounted by a thick window that looked out onto black space. Monk sat in one chair and the other was occupied by Bashful, who was already making changes to the configuration of the ship.

Monk checked that Bashful knew what he was doing and then addressed the others. Those outside came closer to hear his cracked voice. Free conversation among the Helots was rare: some still found it strange to talk so openly.

'This is the moment,' he said. 'We have committed ourselves to the path of freedom. I know we must continue to work with the Sapes, but these are Sapes who only wish us good. Stefan Rix was raised by Helots, and long ago he renounced his identification with the cursed species. Well done all of you. Now it's time to release the final anchor that binds us.'

He hoped this worked, that Zeus would send the co-ordinates they needed. If Rix had been wrong, if the galaxy's main AI wasn't on their side, this would be a short trip. Monk had never trusted placing so much responsibility for things on the AI. It was a machine built by Sapes for Sapes, after all. Why would it want to help Helots?

As if having the same thoughts, Bashful paused to look at him for a moment.

'It's all right,' Monk said, to himself as much as Bashful.

Bashful was doing things manually, having disconnected the ship's pilot AI. Finding the code for doing that had been a night's work on Creeper's part, but now they were free to pilot the ship wherever they liked.

'Let's get rid of our burden first,' he said.

Monk touched a contact and the command sequence started. The asteroid that trailed in their wake shook free as the signals were sent to the main engine and to Towers One, Two and Three. The towers fired, taking the asteroid off its normal course and sending it onto a new orbit that would lead far, far out into the utter depths of space, a new orbit around the Sun it would follow until the end of time.

'Our course?' said Bashful.

Monk nodded and Bashful entered a series of co-ordinates. There was a shift in artificial gravity as velocity altered, then it settled back again. A touch of thrust to the engines to accelerate them slightly. Then they waited.

'How long...' began Sissy, then went silent. No one else spoke. Seconds ticked by as their destinies awaited confirmation, a signal from the one thing that could help them, that could provide the numbers required to set the ship on its new destiny.

After a minute, a readout lit up on a panel by Monk's right hand. Confirmation. Zeus had responded.

They were bound for Shiva.

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