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chapter eleven
" KEEN "
Part Five

Joules glanced at Bruce. She trusted him; she trusted him with her life and could even imagine trusting him with her future. But it wasn’t her secret she needed to protect right now, it was Gilmore’s and she knew you could never trust someone third person so when the other end picked up Joules played it like a captive in an enemy camp.

“Hi. It’ Joules.” Gilmore would know it was her without her saying so. She was one of four people he spent time with, but the formality of her tone, the use of her name would hopefully communicate to him that she wasn’t free to speak.

“Where are you?” Came the excited reply. Maybe he hadn’t picked up on it after all. Joules nodded, Gilmore would’ve expected her back within the day. He must have been worried sick.

“I’m okay. I’m with a friend in Buffalo Commons.”

Gilmore stopped. That didn’t make sense. According to the news the only people in the Commons were savages, unless…

“That Alex guy?” He hadn’t intended it but the question came out like an accusation.

Joules blushed and flushed with anger. She could hear the hurt in Gilmore’s voice and could see the question forming on Bruce’s face. ‘Who was she talking to?’

Joules decided to get right to business and fill in both at the same time, “They took my Starbus. Left me in the middle of nowhere. My fare, that Poddington bastard, shot me with a low yield ballistic and left me to die.”

It wasn’t the truth and she knew it, if Poddington/Podarkin had wanted her dead she’d be dead but he’d shown her a mercy that wouldn’t be returned.

“I’m with a good friend of mine from Calgary.”

Gilmore stopped and pulled off his make-shift headgear in one motion and instantly regretted not easing it past his ears. After shaking off the stinging that motion caused he returned to the call, “Where’s your Starbus?”

The speakers in his hovel weren’t the highest fidelity but the frenzy in Joules voice came through loud and clear, “That’s what I need you to tell me. Did they leave the Commons and if so where did they go?”

Gilmore moved to his panel interface and keyed in the query, well, more accurately he refreshed the query. He’d been trying to track the Starbus ever since he got worried.

“Negative. They haven’t left the area yet.”

Joules looked at Bruce with surprise, “Yet? How long have you been tracking?”

“Since ten, yesterday. They’re off the grid. Unless they disabled the Ident they haven’t left the Commons.”

Joules frowned, it wouldn’t have taken much to kill the Ident, particularly if they didn’t care what happened to the craft. She exhaled and then suggested, “What else is there?”

Gilmore looked at the headgear, “Are the rocks still on board?”

Joules stopped a moment perplexed, the rocks?

Gilmore continued, “They’re a composite material that I can trace. If they’re still on board I can find them.”

Joules grimaced. “No. They dumped them with me. Can you access Live Eye, there can’t be that much traffic in and out of the commons?”

What she was talking about was his pirated video feed from the passive scanning Network run Live Eye system. He might have the full time window and his record might have a high enough resolution to identify the Starbus at that distance, but he only had a low grade processor which wasn’t that fast, it would take a while. He triggered it anyway in case the other options failed to pan out.

With a perk up in her tone Joules suggested, “What about the beta transponder?”

The beta transponder was something they’d added six months after Joules had first let him at her ship. It was a sub-system he’d installed before Joules had paid off the craft.

He hadn’t known at the time Joules had wanted it in case the Credit Agency financing her purchase decided to repossess her craft. With a single code it would both signal the craft’s position and unlock all the hatches so she could get back inside, it also reset all the codes to her default.

“That’s risky,” he said to her, “It’ll reset the codes and interface. If they’re at a critical moment in flight that could be dangerous.”

It could pop a hatch and depressurize them and wouldn’t that be too bad. “If we continue the signal long enough doesn’t it reset the helm as well?”

Gilmore thought back to the install. The longer you ran the signal the more systems it would reset to the default but he didn’t know what that would do for the helm. “What would that do?”

Joules smiled an evil grin, “Override the controls and land the craft for a full power down. Without the reset code they’d be done.”

Gilmore nodded. It was quite an elegant anti-theft system. “Is that what you want?”

Joules looked at Bruce. Without knowing where the Starbus was they’d just be tooling around in a holding pattern over a territory that was under Network control and therefore restricted. But she wanted her ship and she wanted it fast.

“Do it.”

* * *

As the Starbus approached its final destination Alexei Podarkin grabbed the ceiling grips firmly and tried to hold himself steady as he made for the stairwell to the flight deck. After rebounding off the sidewalls all the way up he came upon a scene that would’ve been humourous were it not life threatening.

Their pilot, Tepu Solinoff, had three panels off the console and was rummaging underneath it while a continual and instantly annoying beep chirped throughout the cabin.

Such actions were worrying enough in a stable flight pattern, but with the craft only a thousand metres above ground and pitching wildly the green horizon undulating in the viewport made it look as though they were in freefall.

Thankfully before they crashed, even before Alexei spoke, the chirping suddenly ceased and Tepu came up from under the console with a freshly torn piece of equipment in his hands.

“Got it!” He exclaimed triumphantly holding the mysterious part like a trophy fish.

It? Alexei hoped Tepu knew enough about the craft not to pull a non-critical item but it looked like their pilot had decided to ripped out the collision alarm rather than avoid colliding with the ground.

Tepu retook his seat and brought the craft under control, or at least a semblance of control. Alexei sat in the co-pilot seat beside him.

"That wasn’t anything critical, was it?" Alexei didn’t want to further antagonize the harried pilot, but his curiosity and nerves demanded an answer.

“Nyet. Just some override that tried to take over the thing.” He looked at the board which even Alexei could tell had reset its configuration entirely. This wasn’t good but Tepu seemed delighted. “I wish I’d known about this before.”

“Excuse me?”

Tepu looked up at him with a wide smile while motioning to the console, “This is a standard Flight configuration. I can fly this!”

Alexei looked at the display, it was recognizable, but in its familiarity was a disturbing realization. “Why are we landing here? We’re still ten kilometers from the landing zone.”

Tepu’s smile evaporated as he tried to take control of the ship. After a moment he slammed his meaty fist on the console in disgust.

“No matter what I do this beast thwarts me!”

Alexei looked at him and the board, the situation was pretty clear, “We’re landing?”

“Yeah.” Tepu replied futilely.

“And there’s nothing you can do to change that?”


Ten kilometers wasn’t that far. It would take an extra couple of hours but the distance was much shorter than they were initially thinking they’d have to travel, that is compared to what they were going to be doing before Yuri decided to steal the Starbus.

Alexei smiled as he tapped at the frozen console, “At least now when we ditch this beast it’ll stay ditched.”

Tepu laughed at that but he shook his head forlornly as they continued their steady and smooth descent. “Still… I was hoping to figure this thing out before we abandoned it.”

“My Grandfather couldn’t have figured it out,” replied Alexei. His high station in the New Soviet was thanks in part to the technical advances in bio-reclamation that his Grandfather had been able to develop.

Fodorov Podarkin had been twice decorated as Hero of the New Soviet and school children throughout the land credited the Ukrainian genius with giving the Rodina: the motherland, self-sufficiency during the worst years of the Eco-Crisis.

Alexei’s memory of Poppy was limited to dream-like recollections of a frail kindly old gentleman who shied away from the praise he often received with the dismissal of a hand wave, instead crediting it to “lucky inspiration”. Ironically this very mission qualified for a similar bill.

“Baszd meg!” Tepu said as he spat at the console and the Rigel Starbus brought itself to a soft landing in the open grasslands of southern Montana.

With a sense of relief Tepu slid back from the controls. They could walk back to Minsk as far as he was concerned, he was finished fighting this monster.

Yuri met them at the bottom of the stairwell, “Could you knock us around a bit more, I think Ivan hasn’t vomited yet.”

“Poydi k chertu” : Go to Hell, Tepu said as he pushed past Yuri.

Yuri looked at Alexei playfully, “What?”

Alexei also pushed past him without responding. Podarkin wasn’t pleased by the direction things had taken, and even more so at what he’d had to do to save face with these people.

* * *