Battle Luna – Snippet 13
Their best bet was obviously their single remaining cement bomb. But getting it past two groups of shieldbearers would be nearly impossible, especially now that the Ueys knew how dangerous the weapons were. In retrospect, he now realized he should probably have taken a bomb over the ridge and attacked with that instead of his oxy-tank rockslide.
On the other hand, given the problems he’d had scaling the brittle rock, there was a good chance he’d never have made it up the ridge with the bomb intact, and might possibly have ended up cemented to the lunar surface himself.
Unfortunately, even if he wanted to take that risk now, there was no way that trick would work a second time. Chakarvarti might have pulled back his flanking team, but they were certainly still on the other side of the ridge near the Dunsland where they could guard against another sneak attack.
“The Mimic is an alien device,” Chakarvarti said. “One of your mining groups dug it up approximately seven months ago, and your leaders have been attempting to keep it all to themselves.”
“Well, finders keepers, as the saying goes,” Pappy said. If he could somehow figure out how to rig more monofil traps…but while there were already two more of those in place, hidden in more of the ground cracks along the Freeway, the Ueys now knew what to look for and it was doubtful they’d be taken in again so easily. Even if they didn’t spot the traps before they were triggered, that kind of snare depended on Dunsland tank rolling over the loops fast enough to entangle the monofil solidly around the exposed parts of the wheel and axle. If the Ueys simply kept everything to a crawl, then stopped the second the monofil appeared, they could extricate themselves with little trouble.
“Hardly,” Chakarvarti said. “This isn’t just some interesting oddity. The Mimic is a replicator: a device that can copy and manufacture virtually any non-living object.”
Pappy winced. So the rumors he’d heard were true. Damn. “Seriously?” he asked, putting some scoffing disbelief into his voice. “Big deal — I’ve got a printer in my office that can do that.”
“I doubt it,” Chakarvarti said. “The Mimic isn’t some upscale 3-D printer with three or four materials it can draw on. It does a complete scan of what you want duplicated — a complete scan, mind you, down to the atomic level. It then takes whatever scrap or garbage you’ve loaded into its hopper, sifts through it all for the specific atoms it needs, and builds a duplicate of its sample, again from the molecules on up. Are you really going to pretend you hadn’t heard about any of this?”
“No, but it sounds very cool,” Pappy said. “And United Earth thinks it deserves this thing why?”
“Don’t be a fool,” Chakarvarti said, an edge of bitterness in his voice. “You have fifty thousand people. Earth has seven billion. Seven million of them die every year from hunger alone, and that doesn’t even count the millions who are malnourished. The Mimic would be a godsend for these people.”
“In what way?”
Chakarvarti spat something. “Are you stupid or just lacking in imagination? Put in a loaf of bread, add a neighborhood’s worth of garbage into the hopper, and that neighborhood’s children will no longer be hungry. Feed in the pieces of a truck, add in the rusted metal from a scrapyard, and that bread can be taken across the city. Put a hundred gallons of petrol in the Mimic with anything that contains carbon and hydrogen, and that bread and that truck can travel to the most inaccessible of villages.”
“Sounds like a lot of work for one humble little Mimic to handle,” Pappy said.
“It wouldn’t be alone for long,” Chakarvarti said, warming to his topic. “Reverse-engineering will give us ten of them. Then the Mimics themselves will create a hundred, then a thousand, then a million. Hunger wiped out. Poverty wiped out. Sickness wiped out — put in a vaccine, and every child in every country will be protected.”
“Good thing food will be free,” Pappy said. “Because everyone except the people who shovel garbage into the hoppers will be out of work.”
“You think anyone will care about back-breaking labor when they finally have food to eat and clothes to wear?”
“No, actually, I don’t,” Pappy said, his stomach tightening. “Because it’ll never happen. Not the rosy picture you’re painting, anyway. If United Earth gets the Mimic, the leaders will keep the benefits for themselves.”
“They wouldn’t dare.”
“Since when?” Pappy retorted. “Leaders dare whatever they damn well please. And since they’re the ones with the guns and the armies, they usually get away with it.”
“Not in this case.”
“Yes, in this case, too,” Pappy said. “Because for everyone who wants to lift the poor out of poverty, there will be two more who don’t want their constituents thrown out of work.”
“Those unemployed people won’t care.”
“Those in power will,” Pappy said. “Because their sole job is to hold onto their power.” It was hard to see from his vantage point, but it looked like the Ueys’ rock-clearing bucket brigade was starting to slow down. rock. If he didn’t come up with something fast, it was going to be too late. “You think the politicians will risk losing the next election because all the voters have been thrown out of work? You think the manufacturers are going to give up the profits they make from selling widgets to people? You think the military types will put bananas in the Mimic when you can shove in a single tactical nuclear weapon and have a hundred of them by dinner time?”
“Not all leaders are like that,” Chakarvarti insisted.
“Not all, no,” Pappy agreed. “But the humanitarians will be the first to be mowed down by the more vicious types. You sound like one of the good guys Colonel. If you win, you’d better watch your back.”
“Ridiculous,” Chakarvarti said. But to Pappy’s ears he didn’t sound entirely convinced.
He hoped so. Right now, turning Chakarvarti was about the only plan he had.
There was pressure on his sleeve. He looked down to see KC clutching his arm with one hand and making a slashing motion across his throat with the other. Frowning, Pappy muted the transmitter. “What is it?” he asked.
“I’ll take it,” KC said, a slight quaver in his voice.
“The bomb,” KC said. “You need to get it to the tank. I’ll take it.”
Pappy sighed. Drugs or blood loss — either way, the man was starting to slip from reality. “Thanks, but you’re not up to a walk,” he said. “Anyway, they’d kind of notice you carrying something that big.”
“I’m not going to carry it,” KC said. “You put it in my oxy carrier. As long as I’m facing them, they won’t see what it is.”
Pappy stared down at him. So much for drugged delusions.
And it could work. It could actually work. The bomb would fit into the oxy tank carrier on KC’s back, and it would be hidden as long as no one got a good look from the side. Once that discovery happened, he would be close enough to make a run for the Dunsland. If he was fast enough, and the Ueys were slow enough, he should be able to unload the bomb, get it under the tank, and detonate it where it could completely scramble the works.
There was only one, small, minor problem. “And you’d breathe what in the meantime?”
“You made it back on fumes,” KC said. “If you can, I can.”
Pappy grimaced. He hadn’t realized KC had even been aware of his little sortie, let alone had noticed that he’d been without his own tank when he came back. “Okay, we’ll try it,” he said. “Only I’ll take it, not you.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” KC said, some strength and determination returning to his voice. “You weren’t invited. I was. I’m taking it.”
“You’ll never make it,” Pappy insisted. “Even if you did, you’d never make it back. You want to be their prisoner?”
“No, but it beats bleeding to death.”
“We’ll get the MASH truck here.”
“Not until we hammer the Dunsland.” KC grunted with exertion as he got another grip on Pappy’s arm and started to pull himself upright. “You want to give me a hand? Or are you going to make me do it myself?”
“Stay put,” Pappy ordered KC as he turned his transmitter back on. “Yeah, I’m here, Colonel.”