Part 4: Shiva - Chapter 9

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'The engines are ready.' Monk's voice over the ship's intercom interrupted Rix's long vacant gaze at the control panel. The words brought him back to reality. He unlocked the door to the bridge and gestured for the Helot to enter. 'The others are returning from Shiva now.'

'Good,' he said as Monk settled into the co-pilot's chair. 'Any food on this thing? I haven't eaten since...well, I can't even remember.' Somehow that seemed amusing.

Monk contacted Lola and asked for food to be brought to the bridge. He sat scanning the control panel for a while. 'You know, I wondered all the time studying at university for my degree what I'd be actually doing with the knowledge. I didn't know I'd...well, here I am on the bridge on a space ship. I mean, not just on the bridge, but...'

Rix didn't comment as he pondered the next move. He found it interesting how willing the Helots were to work once they found themselves no longer slaves. Having disposed of their Sape overlords they worked perhaps harder than they would have if still bound in servitude. Rix recalled his own youth on the Moon: his Helot family had shirked work whenever possible, living in squalor because after a day of labour they hadn't the strength to make any effort on their own behalf. And here these Helots and Serfs were just as busy as if they still had masters. He smiled. Perhaps they'd found that once a project was worthwhile, the work no longer felt like work.

The food arrived and Monk let Lola into the bridge. Rix studied the woman as she handed them packets of sandwiches and coffee. Small, plain, dark hair. A typical Helot.

'What's your name?' he asked suddenly. 'You real name, not...Lola.'

'Samma, sir.' Her fingers touched his hand as she gave him a cup of coffee.

'Don't call me "sir". Where are you from, Samma?'

In the next chair, Monk watched and said nothing.

'Nairobi, s... Nairobi.'

The largest Helot breeding station on the planet. He took the lid off the coffee mug and sipped the brew. AI-made coffee was never as good as the real thing. There was no actual difference, but it was the principle.

'Did you see much of Earth before you were sold?'

The poor girl was obviously terrified at the questions, gulping and rolling her eyes towards Monk every few seconds.

'It's all right, Samma,' said Monk.

'No, sir. Just the opposite wall of my pen. When I was sold I went to Australia. Then I was assigned to this ship. '

'I see. Thank you, Samma.'

He let the woman scuttle off the bridge before he closed the door again and locked it. His sandwich was better than the coffee.

'Nairobi,' he said.

'A hell-hole I believe,' put in Monk, who was chewing at his food with more relish than Rix. 'They put the—'

'I don't want to know about it.'

He balanced the coffee mug on the edge of the control panel instead of putting it in the holder that would prevent it spilling onto any vital systems.

'The work is done? The asteroid can be moved?'

'Yes. All set. We just need those co-ordinates from Zeus.'

'I have them here.' Rix indicated his fone, but didn't reveal the numbers to Monk just yet. A quietness had settled on him, a calm that was in stark contrast to the previous fevered energy of the workers. This was a sacred moment.

'We'd better fetch Drummer off the asteroid, then,' Monk continued.

'No hurry. I'm worried about that ship. How they got here. I'd like him to stay on board while we go through Void. Just in case any other crew members come back.'

A space suit could sustain a human being for up to a week as long as its wearer wasn't too active. It was just possible others of Reed's crew were hiding somewhere on the asteroid.

'Besides, I'd like someone down there just in case there are any problems with the engine or towers. We'll bring him back once we reach Earth orbit. From what you told me it's standard procedure to have someone on the towed body anyway. I'll let Drummer know.'

'What about the prisoners? We'd better decide what to do with them.'

Yes, the prisoners. They worried Rix. How much of the plan was known? But it was impossible for anyone to know details. Only Zeus, the part of Zeus that Rix worked with, knew the full plan. Not even Nancy...

Where was she, anyway? Gone to the Earth, maybe back on the Moon by now. Had Nancy said something? Had that bitch opened her big stupid mouth? But even if she had there was little danger now. It was too late. He was over her now.

He smiled. If she was on Earth, then serve her right.

'Let's go talk to our guests,' he said, 'see if we can find out why they're here. That's bugging the shit out of me.'

'Well, could I have those co-ordinates first? Time's getting on.'

Rix touched a contact on his fone and sent the co-ordinates to the ship's guidance AI. It was only after he'd done so that he was struck by the inevitability of it all now. There was no going back. This had better work.

***

Maddy was squeezed in the centre of a sofa on the lounge deck, Marshall on one side, Reed on the other. Facing them were two Helots armed with Marshall's confiscated weapons. A third Helot, one of the Serfs, had her stun gun that had been confiscated from Reed. It was the only the actual gun pointed at them: the other weapons were likely to breach the hull if fired. Instead the Helots had some kind of harpoons that would prove deadly enough. One of the harpoons was pointed straight at Maddy's heart.

The tall man entered the room. Maddy figured he was a cautious one, used to danger and wary even of prisoners. Not one to make mistakes, then.

'Why are you here?' he asked.

'I can sense the ship moving,' said Reed. 'We are under way.'

Rix spoke to one of the Helots guarding them using their own language. Reed was hauled off the sofa and placed on the floor on the deck. A guard stood behind him and placed his harpoon against the back of Reed's head.

'I will ask you one more time. Why are you here?'

Maddy felt Marshall stir beside her. They weren't bound—if the man was going to do anything utterly stupid Maddy didn't want to be right beside him. She had no idea how skilled the Helots were with their weapons.

'We found out about your plans,' said Reed. His voice remained calm. 'I'm supposing you're the one called "Ursula". Stefan Rix.'

'How did you find out?'

Reed's head shifted slightly towards Maddy, but apparently the man didn't notice, or didn't understand, the gesture.

'We used a ghost.'

He glanced at Maddy's face for a moment, then turned back to Reed.

'But how is that possible? Who gave it to you?'

Reed didn't reply.

'What are you doing here?'

'We want you to stop what you're doing. I am Reed Hasur. We are the Talon, from Mars.'

'Mars? If you know our plans then you have no interest in them.'

Reed's laugh was cold. 'No interest? Even for terrorists, your plans are outrageous. Destroying the Moon or the Earth isn't going to solve anything. And thousands of Helots will—'

Rix sniggered, and Maddy thought it was like the chuckle of a mischievous schoolboy.

He glanced at his wrist as his fone beeped and began walking back to the bridge.

'Frank, Sniper: throw them out of the airlock.' The door shut behind him.


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