Arthurs Fish

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(Written by Ace Dreamer; posted 08 July 2012)



Consolidated Failure

March 2012, Asteroid Belt.

All alone in the dark. Arthur waited. The faint hiss of the air system. The smell of summer days, that the bus always had. And, the acrid smell of burnt-out electronics.

They'd used some sort of EMP weapon. Easy enough if you had access to enough power. Short-range though, and there'd been nothing on the radar. A disguised space rock? The bus depended on a lot of hard tech, and that had fried. They'd even killed the co-pilot, the Alice Phone - didn't look as though that was as hardened as they hoped.

  • Knock* *Knock* *Knock* Better go and let them in. They'd just do more damage, otherwise.

The leader was a woman, done up in a mixture of pirate and high tech. The three followers were more mixed, but, thought Arthur, shouldn't be underestimated. The leader's eye-patch was probably authentic, given the nasty scaring around it. No! It wasn't an eye patch, it was an 'eye drive'.

"I am the Dread Pirate Roberta!" Seemed a bit over-done, thought Arthur. "So, you are going to kill me?" "Tell me why I should make an exception!"

"I'm an industrialist by the name of 'Arthur'. If you're smart you can get a good ransom for me. Dead, I'm not worth anything like as much."

She grinned. Arthur noted that she'd carefully blacked-out some of her teeth. Obviously a cos-player. The thugs were standing around, still fully-suited up, likely ready for nasty surprises. There was a faint glimmer about one of them, that Arthur guessed as a force field. Looking again at the woman, she was wearing a 'Wright Suit' - 'Interesting', thought Arthur, 'Rich pirate'.

"Take off that suit. I know it's a spacesuit in disguise." Remarkably well-informed pirates, thought Arthur, as he undressed. The woman watching with interest, as you might watch a performing animal. Then smiled again, as Arthur stool there in vest and underpants.

"Nice." And she gestured. The man with the glow did something to an armlet, and energy fizzed and crackled around Arthur.

"Much better", said the woman, looking at Janet in her underclothes, with a broken, smoking, belt, falling to the deck. "You made two mistakes. One, I know what to look for to spot a holo disguise. Two, we've already got an 'Arthur'." 'Bingo!', thought Janet.

"You can take your helmets off, now, boys." The woman gestured widely. "Take a look around, and see how big a fish we've caught." Janet counted, as they obeyed, and one man kept watching her, with more than casual interest. The man with the glow had dead eyes, but while he looked at infinity, he seemed to move around OK, and the third went up the stairs to the upper deck.

"Becca?", called the one from above, "I think you need to come look at this." "It's 'Roberta'! How many times do I have to tell you!" And, finally, none of them was looking directly at Janet.

Leaping to one side Janet slammed down a hidden switch. The gravity shut-down, and all the air rushed out of the lower deck of the bus, through the suddenly open emergency door. 'Now they're fighting against the environment, not just me', she thought.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the man who'd been watching her fumble his helmet, then start to panic. 'One down.' Everything was in slow motion, as she reached out, knocked the top off a container, and let vacuum spray the contents all over the leader's helmet. Which went opaque. The bus's emergency force-field should keep the air on the upper deck, and hold the man who went up there.

The way the man with opaque eyes was moving implied he was thinking as fast as her. Yes, he was surprised, but he'd almost instantly recovered. However, he was obviously only used to moving around in gravity. And, Janet had trained for this.

'Gravity Punch!', though she'd thought it, rather than shouting it, and, anyway, vacuum. Bouncing twice she ploughed into the man, backed by all the power of her speed drive. Used like this it would burn-out in minutes. He slammed backwards into the stairway, which he'd stepped towards. Then, she kicked him in the neck, where his re-donned helmet joined the suit.

As she kicked she felt a tingle, and that foot went numb. EMP? She'd check later. Another flip and she was stripping weapons and tools off the leader, who at least seemed to have some idea about moving in zero G. One of her tasers in the right spot in the 'Wright Suit' fixed her.

The third thug had stood at the bottom of the stairway, watching the action. He'd been smart enough to put his helmet back on, even though he was in atmosphere. His head moved, obviously assessing the situation, as she flew slowly towards him, dressed only in her underwear, one fist raised, and glowing. Carefully he unlatched his helmet, and put his hands in the air.

After two minutes of vacuum Janet re-pressurised, to a fifth-atmosphere with enough oxygen to keep them alive. She'd let the man on the stairway inject himself; after reading the instructions he was a lot happier, and now he was 'on ice'. The voyeur, she thought he'd be OK, also 'on ice'. Their leader, her taser had done something nasty to her cybernetics, and she hadn't regained consciousness, so Janet had to inject her.

As for Mr Dead Eyes, he seemed to have a broken neck. Janet injected him with a metabolic slow-down drug rather than the full suspended animation dose the others got, but he got the full waved duck-tape coat, over a neck brace, only leaving his face exposed. EVA, wearing her Wright Suit as well - her 'Arthur' holo cloak was toast - led her to a van-sized space rock, which turned out to be camouflage.

Inside was a micro-base, run by an AI that claimed to have a bomb strapped to its brain. It said it hadn't reported what happened, and had caught the full transmission from the eye drive; if she removed the bomb it'd be eternally grateful. Janet had learned a lot about self-destruct mechanisms, so rolled mental dice, and gave it a go (Arthur would have done). She'd rigged a powerful wide-band transmitter to scream her location if she didn't return to the bus and re-set it, so if the AI was working on a mutual-destruction ploy that'd be bad but not totally fatal.

Someone had rigged a thermite bomb to the AI, and a clever one at that. Janet sweated, but spotted the secondary trap at the last moment. The AI then admitted it'd been 'driving' Mr Dead Eyes, but it hadn't got any choice - the leader always carried a dead-man's switch. And, seeing as the bomb hadn't gone off it presumed she was still alive. Which is why it trusted Janet. Janet doubted the logic, but wasn't going to argue.


That gave her a total of twenty pirates. All but one on ice. And, this last crew had done major but repairable damage (those FTL communicators were just too fragile) to the bus. Or, 'Q ship' she guessed she should call it. Finally she'd gotten some pirates she was pretty sure knew about Arthur. And, it'd be best to get Mr Dead Eyes, and the AI she'd unplugged, to some competent medical attention.

Time to head home.

Secure Allies

Late March 2012, Kandor City.

Trust. Society depends on it. Finance requires it. We trust people all around us, every day of our lives. But, how much can you trust someone who tried to kill you? Who is a 'rogue AI'?

His name was, had been, Erwin Merkin. A Super, one of those fascinated by Nicola Tesla. In his case, the phenomena of the Electro Magnetic Pulse. Now he called himself 'EMPath'. And, if you wanted an expert on EMP, he was it.

As a process of getting the biomod he wanted, giant Tesla Coils and handwavium with a wide range of (computer-free) electrical goods dissolved in it might make sense. He got what he wanted - he also permanently burned-out his higher brain functions. And, acquired an EMP aura that effected any medical or other hardware, particularly that which got really close-up and personal.

Dr Asmodeus Grey had apparently been involved in his case, before he fell from grace. Erwin was one of the things he took with him when he fled. Later, surgery implanted an AI link, which drove Erwin and created 'EMPath'.

Janet spent a week in Kandor, sorting out her 'pirate collection' situation - the police weren't happy, but accepted jurisdiction, and most of the pirates ended up in The Vault, for safe keeping. EMPath spent some time in hospital, and fortunately his biomod seemed to give him enough regeneration that his broken neck, with suitable (manual) treatment, quickly recovered.

One of EMPath's problems was that he couldn't afford to get too close to his AI core without risking burning-out his own brain. The Boskone had used this issue to make it quite clear he'd no chance of changing employ. Janet commissioned a heavily-shielded R2 astro-navigation unit, and installed the AI core, so that mobility would be far less of a problem.

The Kandor police seemed unsure what to do about EMPath. He'd obviously been involved in crimes, but effectively with a gun held to his head. For the moment they decided not to press charges, but kept the option open in future - a clean record for a few years and they'd likely close his case. They did pride themselves on their fairness.

Janet knew she had deadlines. Even if Boskone didn't directly know what happened to the latest group of pirates that she'd captured, it was very likely that information would seep from Kandor City. Even if the police themselves didn't have any leaks. She had intel, and needed to make use of it, fast.

EMPath had proved a little reluctant, to start with. Then, when it became clearer he wouldn't be imprisoned, and the R2 unit was delivered, he started to talk less about how much danger he was in, and more about Boskone. They appeared to be bigger than many had feared, but were more like a loose federation, which combined cooperation with turf wars, than a solid enemy.

Dr. Asmodeus Grey had a presence which hung over a lot of Boskone. He had clear objectives, to do with producing catgirls, but smart people suspected as a step towards total control of The Wave. He also wanted power and influence, which Boskone gave him. Fortunately, he was only one man, and didn't appear to have a lot in the way of trusted lieutenants. Yet, anyway.

Opinions in the Kandor police were mixed. Some thought she was a hero, a superhero, even. Others a trouble-maker, someone wasting Kandor City resources, filling-up the prison system with those not a direct threat to the city. Neither view was dominant, and there was only a small on-line flame war about what she'd done. Some BNFs seemed to have smoothed things over.

She just hoped she'd got the right sort of attention, quickly enough.

Covert Loses

Early April 2012, Asteroid Belt.

Prisoner relocation. From 'Asteroid X' to 'Asteroid Y'. Of course, they'd got better names than that. But, Boskone were rattled. Taking silly security precautions.

Something had been picking-off raiders. Captain Roberta had detected something, on the limits of her passive scanners. Four groups had reported losses, no sign what happened to them. Some high-value prisoners were being relocated.

The Captain was considered pretty reliable. She was careful, used stealth tactics, and those who worked for her got rich. That's what the scuttlebutt said, anyway. Now she was obviously jumpy, even more abrupt than usual. It was a bad sign.

The prisoner was one 'Arthur'. He'd turned up several months ago, in a fancy waved-up aeroplane. With a big robot bodyguard. Wanted to get in on the action. Bit stupid, really. No contacts in Fenspace; just a 'Dane.

They'd smashed his robot, straight-off. Nearly killed him, too. But, it looked like he was good with the 'wave, so the bosses kept him around. Checking his work, of course. He seemed pretty good with robots, and they'd taken precautions to make sure they stayed loyal.

The relocation team were lucky no one'd found a good use for Arthur's fancy plane. One of the bosses had taken a good look at it, said it was nice, but a bit too flimsy, and didn't carry enough cargo. And, he didn't like filk music. The fact that you needed a pilot's license to make it fly may've had something to do with it. Who knew that jerk EMPath had one?

They'd been gone half an hour now. Everything thing went pretty smoothly, and Captain Roberta didn't even threaten to kill someone, like she usually did. Wait a minute. How did EMPath get to fly that plane? He had to stay in range of his brain, in the Captain's ship, and they weren't taking that. And, wouldn't his EMP trash the plane?

Heads were going to roll. It was just a question whose.

Raven Lunacy

Early April 2012, Kandor City/Asteroid Belt.

Janet was pretty depressed. No one looked helpful. All the BNF were busy with their own projects. Piracy and kidnap was "small scale", "someone else's problem", and, "being looked into".

Detective Raven differed. She'd a small group of fellow officers who agreed "justice needed to be done", not just talked about. She wanted to know how Janet needed help.

Two days later they were 'go'. EMPath had been questioned within an inch of his life, including via direct connection to his AI. He'd decided that full cooperation was the best way to clear his name, and they now had plans and personnel lists for "Research Station RC".

Janet wanted to take the lead, impersonating Captain Roberta. But, Raven pointed out she'd no real experience of undercover work, even given her recent success. And, revealed that she was a specialist, a Super who used holo disguises on a daily basis. Also, she'd studied the good Captain, and could already do her voice, gestures, and walk.

Janet insisted on getting EMPath's opinion, and he said Raven was pretty good, but didn't have the random lunacy quite right. He also pointed out the lack of an 'eye drive', with its constant off-site video streaming. Raven promised to correct that.

Seeing as they were checking detail, it was agreed Janet would go in as EMPath; she also had an AI core non-resident in her body. (Janet had checked, and was pretty sure Arthur'd at least had something to do with EMPath's AI.) Two of Raven's friends, "Bobby" and "Jacks", would be the other two thugs, and had been cramming to impersonate them.

Janet got to sit with EMPath, in a police cruiser. Well, her little doll body, 'J', did. Her AI core was in the cruiser boot, 'trunk' she guessed she should call it, as this was a US model; the R2 unit was there, too. EMPath got to watch the feed from Raven's eye drive, and a (filtered) link to Janet's senses, so he got two views of the inserted team.

Several times, it was only some quick advice from EMPath that prevented disaster. Prior history with Boskone the team met, including one of the thug's girlfriend. Raven refused the hint that she make death threats - said she'd be far too tempted to carry them out. All his passwords and code phrases worked, and Raven did the brief delays before answering, that Captain Roberta apparently always did, perfectly.

Arthur nearly caused trouble. Apparently he was wearing waved-up 'pain manacles' that stopped you escaping, once you'd agreed you wouldn't try. EMPath knew nothing about these, so they'd made it quite clear they were just transferring him, though Janet desperately wanted to tell.

Still, Janet wondered if he suspected, because he insisted on taking all his 'research materials', and his current captors reluctantly agreed. Apparently all their big bosses were off at some sort of security conference.

Arthur's luggage apparently included a robot cat girl, a waved-up "Wright Frame", called "Agate", and something he called "CGC", a massive racked computer blade server, which needed constant power. They only just got it into the Lear jet. Arthur, slightly reluctantly, left all his robotic medical gear in the base surgery, saying it was his, so he could do what he liked with it. The base medic quietly thanked him, and said she hoped his leg made a full recovery.

Janet was now totally focused on Arthur's limp. But, she couldn't let that show - it'd be out of character. Reluctantly, she now mentally agreed with Raven about being unsuitable to lead this mission. She wasn't going to tell anyone but Arthur, though, and then only when he was safe.

Their exit went pretty smoothly. The Leer jet was loaded up, even fuelled - their original plans involved whatever Boskone shuttle they could requisition. Arthur stuffed some luggage, in expensive-looking suitcases, in, though he dumped one of those full of clothes. He {italic on}had{italic} to know what was going on, thought Janet.

Once they were far enough away they were joined by the police cruiser with J and EMPath, then finally their backup - a police van containing the last two of Raven's police friends, these from the SWAT team. Janet was really pleased they'd not been called it - it would've meant things had gone totally wrong.

The police van was where they all met up. Arthur was in considerable pain from the manacles, even though it was made quite clear to him he was being rescued, he'd not escaped. EMPath made quick work of them, shorting-out their circuitry, then removing them, in case they weren't permanently wrecked.

"Thank you, Erwin", was Arthur's comment.

Caught Out

Early April 2012, Dublin.

"It seemed like a good idea..." Arthur paused. "At the time!" came back a ragged chorus. "This is not a pantomime", he mock-complained.

Arthur was a bit bemused. He seemed to have even more sister than when he left. There was the original, of course, mostly resident in the Dublin, with her occasional trips to L5. Then the six of her in Kandor City, on the Moon, running their Lunar office. Then there was another of her (or, did 'J' mean it was two?), that had apparently been pirate hunting. In the Asteroid Belt. In the company double-decker bus.

[to be continued]