Come The Revolution – Snippet 34
Twenty minutes later, after most of the excitement was over and I crouched beside a stalled ground car catching my breath, I heard Moshe call out to me.
“Hey, Boss. What are you doing this far forward?”
I turned and saw him emerge from the shadow of a building corner in a low crouch and stop. Four more reinforcements sprinted forward past him and then me to thicken the firing line, although the Varoki seemed to have lost all their fight for now.
“Come on,” I said. “It’s pretty clear.”
“Fuck that. You come here.”
A single round zipped overhead and knocked foamstone chips from a wall. It wasn’t anywhere near either of us, but it did remind me that I was pretty far forward for an unarmed logistics chief with one broken wing. I used my good left arm to help duck-walk back to Moshe. We got around the corner and out of the line of fire. Moshe moved the worst of the trash out of the way with his foot and then we both sat with our backs to the metal wall of the shipping container building. Moshe lit a cigarette.
“Looks like the guys held,” he said. “How’d it go?”
“Like an Albanian town council meeting,” I answered. “Two of them, actually. Fortunately, the one on the other side was even more confused than the one on ours. Much more. But this so-called ammo distribution system we have just isn’t going to work. Jesus! Half the guys ended up back off the line rummaging through the bags, trying to find something they could shoot.”
I stopped and took a long, shuddering breath. I’d been really scared through the firefight. That wasn’t unusual; I’m always scared when there’s shooting, especially if I’m unarmed. I keep doing what I need to do, never freeze up, but that doesn’t make the experience any more fun. Moshe handed me a glass bottle, about a half-liter. The cap was off and I took a drink with trembling hand. Slivovitz–plum brandy–probably home-made, and pretty stiff.
“Moshe, you are a man of unexpected resourcefulness,” I said.
“Is that you, Naradnyo?” I recognized the voice as Zdravkova’s and saw her first as movement in the shadows, keeping to the side of the street near our wall. When she got closer I saw she was packing an old Mark 14 RAG, which stands for Rifle, Assault, Gauss.
“Hey, it’s the Dragon Lady! Thanks for getting the alert squad up here so quick. Your kids did real good up on the barricade, once they settled down. They had it mostly under control but the bad guys really packed it in when your reserves showed up.
“What are you doing up here?”
I held up the bottle. “You know, having a nightcap, enjoying the evening. Think it’s going to rain some more?”
Without a word she stalked past us and dropped into a crouch as she went around the corner.
“If you were a little older and wiser,” Moshe said, “you’d appreciate mature women more.”
“I appreciate ’em fine,” I said and passed him the bottle, “especially when they’re packing military-grade firepower.” I thought about that for a moment. It was an odd thing to say, given my current elective non-violent state, but old habits die hard.
“I’m married, though — and never had much of a wandering eye. Wish I was home right now.”
“Who doesn’t wish they were someplace other than here?” Moshe said. “I got an ex-wife on Bronstein’s World. Right now even I wish I was there. Your wife, she’s rich or something, ain’t she? Good looking, too?”
“Yup, and a lot smarter than me. Not a bad combination. But we never laugh any more. We never go dancing, either. We’ve never danced, do you believe it? You know I can do a pretty mean samba.”
“That I’m having a hard time imaging,” he said and passed me back the bottle.
“It’s true. But all we do is plan and scheme and try to stay ahead of the bad guys, whoever they are today. Saving the galaxy, that’s us. Not always sure what we’re saving it from, or who for, but by God we’re savin’ the hell out of it.”
I took another drink.
“We’re so focused, so single-minded, day in, day out. Everyone needs a laugh once in a while. We used to laugh, until everything got so goddamned serious all the time. Some day some guy’s gonna come along and make her laugh again. Then what?”
I took another pull of brandy and handed it to Moshe. The evening had become so quiet I could hear Zdravkova talking to the perimeter guards, maybe a block away, but I couldn’t quite make out her words.
“Well, I remembered another physics joke,” Moshe said after a while. “This one’s great! Einstein, Newton, and Pascal are playing hide-and-seek. Einstein’s ‘it,’ so he closes his eyes and starts counting. Pascal runs off to hide but Newton just stands there and takes out a piece of chalk. He draws a line a meter long on the street, then another one at right angles to it, then another and another until he’s made a box. He stands in it and waits. Einstein gets done counting, opens his eyes, and says, ‘Newton, I found you!’ ‘No,’ Newton says, ‘I am a Newton over a meter squared. You found Pascal!'”
“What the hell kind of joke it that?” I said. “It doesn’t even make sense.”
“It does if you know physics.”
But I obviously didn’t. Overhead I saw stars and one of Hazz’Akatu’s smaller moons. No clouds so maybe we were going to get some sunshine the next morning after all. We needed it.
What was keeping Zdravkova? I needed to talk to her before I turned in.
“Okay, you know physics,” I said. “This is the three hundredth anniversary of the invention of the jump drive. Did you know that? I went to a reception for it a few days ago in Katammu-Arc. I guess you could say we crashed the party.”
He offered the bottle but I shook my head. I was already about half-plowed.
“So what’s the deal with that?” I asked.
“With the slivovitz? A friend made it over . . . oh, you mean the jump drive. The deal is it’s the only way from star to star and the Varoki own it, nu?”
“Yeah, but how does it work? I mean, in general. No equations or my head will explode.”
Moshe laughed. “No danger of a head explosion tonight, Boss. I don’t have any idea how it works. Nobody outside the research departments of the big Varoki trading houses knows. It’s called a proprietary trade secret. It’s not even part of the patent description, is what I hear.”
“How do you maintain it on a star ship if you don’t know how it works?”
“The components are black boxes: one jump cortex and from one to ten jump actuator units, depending on how big a ship. You fly with one duplicate of each component. If the component’s performance goes sub-nominal, you install the back-up and replace the defective one at your next stop.”
“You never look inside?”
“Never, and I mean never. They’re factory sealed, and they better still be factory sealed when you turn them in. You know, you don’t own those components, you just lease them. Mess around with the seals, you violate the lease, get blackballed, and you’re done flying. Besides which, its anti-tamper device is listed as a level five biohazard, which is as bad as it gets.
“Yeah, you never heard the story of the Rawalpindi? This was about thirty years ago, before I was flying. A Newton tug coming in to dock at Boreandris Highstation had a malfunction. One of the lateral ACTs — that’s attitude control thruster — froze in the full thrust position, started yawing the tug. Before they could get it unfrozen, or the pilot thought to just fire the opposing thruster, they hit a maintenance gig and then plowed it right into the side of a Human star freighter, the Rawalpindi. Drove that gig through the hull of the freighter like a spike, right into the engineering spaces, and cracked open the jump cortex.
“Two of Rawalpindi’s engineering crew survived the initial impact, foamed the hull around the breach and got the pressure stabilized enough for the rest of the crew to crack the access hatch and get them out of there. Should have left them sealed in. Whatever was inside that cortex, some sort of neurotoxin they say, once it got out into the air it killed everyone else on the ship, something like twenty passengers and crew, including some rich Varoki who must have been out slumming. Couple of crew suited up but the bug ate through the seals, got ’em anyway.
“No rescue or recovery attempt once the bug was out — not allowed to board it or even take a remote sample afterwards. The Cottohazz ordered Rawalpindi hauled into a parking orbit nearby and waited ’til everyone died, then had a Newton tug give it a good hard shove toward the local sun. R-I-P.”
“Damn,” I said.
He nodded and took another sip.
“There was another accident like that, a freak meteor strike, I forget when. Bottom line: nobody outside their labs has looked inside a jump cortex and lived to tell about it.”
He screwed the cap on the bottle and stood up.
“I gotta get back to the clinic, look at the wiring on two of the auto-docs. You coming?”
“Nah, I need to get this ammo thing worked out and, much as I hate to say it, the Dragon Lady and I need to put our heads together on it.”
“Why you call her that?” he said, hands on his hips. I got the idea he felt a little protective about her.
“I don’t know. It’s a nickname for a capable and dangerous woman.”
“Well, try her real one: Dezi Oobiyets. See you later.”
Now that was an interesting nickname. Dezi was obviously short for Desislava, her first name. Oobivtsya meant killer in Ukrainian. I was willing to bet oobiyets meant the same thing in Bulgarian.