2947-07-23 – Tales from the Service: A Stowaway Saboteur

Nojus and I will be leaving Håkøya for Maribel before the next post appears in this space. Once there, we will complete final certification (even Nojus has to go through a few of the cert-courses this time) and find out where the Navy will assign us.  

I must admit I’ll be sorry to see this system disappear behind a drive-wake. It’s quaint in so many ways, but its charming combination of modern, extensive orbital infrastructure and bucolic nature-preserve planetary surface with few natural hazards has grown on me. I’ll admit, I was certain when I shipped out of Planet at Centauri that no other place would ever feel like home – at Håkøya I found out rather quickly that I was wrong. 

One final note about the place before we get to this week’s entry. Though Hakoya contains the third-largest orbital service docks on the Coreward Frontier and so far since declaration of hostilities has been vastly over-garrisoned by the Fifth Fleet, the population has been uneasy since the foiled Ladeonist incursion several weeks ago. A segment of the population has concluded that once the fleet sorties out to hunt the perhaps dozen Tyrant ships raiding the Frontier, the system will be left exposed, easy prey for an attack. 

The reason for these fears is simple – most of the system’s orbital infrastructure is civilian, with almost no permanent naval defenses. The Navy cannot afford to make a fortress of every colony system in range of Sagittarian raiding expeditions, especially with only a few weeks since hostilities formally began. Still, I sympathize with Håkøyan concerns along these lines, which I’m sure are echoed in many other colonial outposts throughout the region. I see no way to make everyone happy. 

Today’s entry was submitted by someone we’ll call Price, the chief of security aboard a small mercenary carrier currently in the Strand on contract with one of the system authorities. Because of the nature of the events described and their relation to ongoing intelligence matters, I cannot give Price’s real name, the name of his ship, or the system in which this story took place. Suffice to say that the incident described resulted in sabotage to the mercenary carrier sufficient to lay it up in the service dock for two weeks.

The stowaway glared through the gravitic shear-barrier of her brig cell, and Price stared back, waiting for her to talk. He was perfectly happy to sit all shift waiting; it would give him an excuse to leave the Captain’s precious new reporting regimen unfulfilled for one more T-day. A few more, and she would be forced to abandon the cumbersome scheme and return to the previous records arrangement, which operated mainly on fabrication and strained trust. 

The stowaway, as usual for the sort of off-books personnel the mercenary crew smuggled aboard, was wearing an outfit that left little to the imagination, and an attitude which dared Price to imagine what little was concealed. She was probably no older than twenty-five T-years, slightly built and with a top-heavy curviness Price had never seen except as a product of cheap bodysculpt procedures. Perhaps one of the crew or rig-jocks had paid her for her services, or perhaps she had been won over by the novelty of skulking about on a ship-of-war while it patrolled the system, but more likely, she had come aboard half-conscious, high as a satellite on whatever drug cocktail fueled the system’s party scene. 

If it weren’t for the implants, Price would have left the interrogation to one of the new security men as a test of their professionalism, to see whether they were distracted or easily flustered by sexual persuasion. Jutting from the girl’s right forehead just above the eyebrow and arcing back to vanish into her gaudily-dyed hair, an odd implant covered in blinking lights erupted grotesquely from her pale skin. Tweaker degeneracy was something Price had thought he’d seen the last of when the ship had left the Silver Strand – and he knew better than to speculate what function a bargain-priced whore would want in brain implants. 

Minutes ticked by, and still the girl glared, almost unmoving. Most of the girls the ship’s raucous compliment sneaked aboard panicked and ratted out their benefactors the moment they hit the brig; this one had the grit or prior experience to keep calm. Price had to admire her nerve, but he had no intention of rewarding it. 

They had sat unmoving for nearly an hour when Casper walked in, as always cradling a cup of coffee. The pilot’s flight suit was more grease-stained than usual, suggesting he had come from the launch maintenance bays. “Hey, Price. Heard you caught another chew-toy, a real freak.” 

Price arched one eyebrow, but didn’t answer or get up. He was busy. 

Casper walked along the small cell-block until he stood behind the security chief, then was silent for several seconds as he surveyed the scantily-clad prisoner. “Brain-tweaker. Shame, she could’ve been a sweet piece of-” 

“Casper, either fess up to bringing her aboard or get out of my brig.” Casper was the most common cause of unauthorized female personnel being discovered aboard the ship, and they both knew he was the prime suspect for this one. His low standards in women, even by mercenary rig-jock standards, had been the butt of half the crew’s repertoire of jokes ever since Price had come aboard. 

“Aww, Chief, this one’s not me.” Casper’s whinging protest brought a reflexive scowl to Price’s face. “I mean, yeah I’d have given her a go planetside, but-” 

“Not yours? Then out.” Price pointed, keeping his eyes on the calmly patient prisoner. 

“Maybe you should let me talk to her. I have a-” 

“Out.” Price held his pointing finger until the coffee-toting mercenary made a harrumphing noise and flounced out of the brig. 

“He’d have given me a pass and been turned down.” The girl in the cell tossed her head in the direction Casper had vanished. “But he probably gets that a lot.” 

Price frowned in confusion. The gravitic shear sealing the cell was supposed to be sound-isolating. Microphone arrays in the cell piped any sound inside out to the corridor, but the prisoner should not have been able to hear Casper. 

Breaking into a sly smile, she reached up to brush her lips with two fingers. “Lip reading. Pretty easy to pick up if you’ve got a little patience.” 

“I see.” Price didn’t bother to engage the microphone outside the cell; if she was telling the truth, she didn’t need it. 

“As fun as this is, you’ve got to have better things to do, Chief.” The girl lay back on the cell’s narrow bunk, arching her back and peeking out of the corner of her eye to see if he noticed. “I’ve got nothing for you anyway. My name’s Paz and I don’t remember even coming aboard, much less with who.” 

“Drugged?” This time, Price keyed the button which would carry his voice into the cell. 

“Oh, I don’t doubt I decided to let someone help me aboard.” Paz closed her eyes and shivered with remembered pleasure. “Last thing I remember is buying a three-day supply of Annuska. You’ve got to try that stuff some time, Chief.” 

“I really don’t.” Price stood up. “That’ll be all, Ms. Paz.” 

“Will it?” The girl sat back up. “You’re just going to leave me here until this tub limps back to the spaceport?” 

“Only because it’s less paperwork than putting you out the airlock.” Price turned away, wondering whether the drug charges or the criminal punishment for unlicensed implant usage would keep her in prison longer. 

“If you say so. See you later, Chief.” 

Price returned to the security office and spent the last half of his shift consciously avoiding the captain’s new paperwork with a number of low-priority tasks. When the second-shift security officer came to relieve him, he wasted no time clocking out and retiring to his cabin, where the last third of a gripping datasphere novel had waited for him all day. 

When the cabin door slid open, Price knew something was amiss immediately, but it took him several crucial seconds to realize why. By the time he realized the probable source of the odd scent in the air, he had already taken three steps inside, and it was too late to avoid the figure which erupted from the shadows and knocked him over. Before he could reach for his sidearm, the tip of a blade pricked his neck just beside the jugular artery. 

“Easy, Chief.” The throaty, jaunty voice was that of the stowaway tweaker Paz, and the lithe, soft figure which draped itself over his body to take his pistol could only be hers. “I’m not here to hurt anyone. I just need your comms code to call a lift.” 

Price tried to arch his neck away from the knife, but Paz kept its tip resting on his skin. “No.” He eventually replied. He had no idea how she’d escaped the brig without raising the alarm. 

The girl made a clicking noise with her tongue, and the lights on her implant all began to glow green. “Just no? No bargaining? What sort of mercenary are you?” 

Price scowled, but refused to answer the question. He was technically an employee of the mercenary company; his pay was steady and he got no contract bonuses because ship security had nothing to do with combat contracts. Paz, of course, wouldn’t care about any of that. 

“Would’ve been a lot more fun for both of us.” Paz held up Price’s gun, and to his horror it melted into metallic sludge in her hand. “Arms over your chest, big guy.” 

Price grudgingly complied, trying not to panic. He’d seen nano-disassembly routines before, but a swarm dense enough to dissolve a handgun in two seconds couldn’t be safe for human contact. Too much could go wrong. How could Paz direct such a sophisticated nanotechnological system so easily? 

As the young woman pressed the putty-like nanotech slurry to Price’s arms, he made the connection with her implant. A direct neural link to a nanotech control system – that was wildly illegal in any jurisdiction, even on the Frontier. Despite appearances, Paz was no mere bargain-price whore. “Who are you?” 

The remnants of the gun spun out into a spiderweb of filaments that bound Price’s arms securely in place, which anchored themselves to the deck. As this ad-hoc restraint system tightened, Paz withdrew her knife and leaned in close until her full lips hovered just above his. “Just a bad dream, Chief. Could have been a good one, though.” 

Price shook his head. “You wish.” 

“What can I say? I like leaving a good impression.” Paz got off Price and hunted through his pockets until she found his comm scrambler, and he struggled uselessly against the restraint-web she had made out of his gun. He stopped short of suggesting that the device was useless without his biometric signature; perhaps she wouldn’t realize that until he’d freed himself to raise the alarm. 

“All I need.” Paz pocketed the scrambler and stood up. “Room comms are disabled for two more hours, so get comfortable. It’s been fun, Chief.” 

With that, she hopped over Price, keyed open the door, and vanished into the corridor. Though he expected an alarm to sound any moment when someone else detected her escape or she tried to use his scrambler, none ever did.