Darkship Revenge – Snippet 10
Earth even under the Good Men Regime, where theoretically about fifty men split all the power of the Earth and its resources between them, had always been fairly chaotic.
A Good Man would control certain continental territories, islands, seacities, or a combination thereof. And because whatever they controlled was too large for them, under them would be a confusing, mostly hereditary bureaucracy of directorates, satrapies, principalities, secretariats, and whatever someone thought to call a group of people obeying a single person or family.
At this level territorial feuding and poaching were common. Not that they weren’t at the Good Man level too. They were. But they were usually at least dressed up as something more sedate.
Which meant everyone on Earth was more or less paranoid about territory and invasions of territory, from the lowest shopkeeper to the Good Man with the largest domains. Or not paranoid, but whatever you call someone who is afraid of something that is actually trying to harm him. Alert, maybe?
The alarms didn’t even startle me. I’d heard them before. I’d barely gotten to Earth atmosphere level, when they started, blaring through the com on my air-to-space, telling me I was violating this territory, disturbing the peace of that other, and I should definitely provide credentials to that other.
Because air to space vehicles break atmosphere at a slant, to avoid going too fast and catching fire – I assume, I never studied aerospace engineering – I was flying at the highest level possible over a number of territories. It was a jurisdiction a second tour and it sounded something like this:
“…. Garble, garble, identify self or….”
“… breaking the airspace of….”
“We shall send missiles to….”
“Restricted territory of….”
On and on, and on. All of this with one person speaking over the other, and all mixed in with those people speaking languages I did not understand and which added a level of din to the already noisy warnings. There were also blaring music, screams, whistles and sirens to add to the charm of the moment.
Eris, in her rigged strap-in in the copilot chair, slept through of all this. I had to put my hand on her twice, to make sure she was still breathing.
She slept happily through all the screams and warnings, as I held on, trying to pilot us to what I hoped would be a safe landing place, in this case the waters off Liberte Seacity, the hold of my friend and sometime lover Simon St. Cyr.
For a moment there, as I glided over my former home, what used to be my father’s domain of Syracuse seacity. I only knew we were over it because of my superhuman sense of location, not because I could see it. But I knew were almost over it when I caught…
Not a mind-call from Kit. Nothing as defined as that. Just a sense of nearness and his being alive. Which could mean he would be anywhere within a day’s flyer journey from that location.
This was both bad and good. Bad because it was an enormous area, more or less encompassing all of my teenage stomping grounds, i.e. the places I could reach easily enough on my broom, and where my friends, my associates and my broomer’s lair ranged.
Good because in this area I did have friends, at least if they hadn’t all been killed, and some of these friends would have the means of listening to and looking out at the sky, which means one or more might have traced a triangular ship making it through the atmosphere. In fact, it was almost sure to have been tracked or at least filmed.
Unless the triangular ships had somehow become standard design for air-to-space vehicles since I’d been away, and I didn’t believe that, as it had been only six months or so, I should be able to trace our suspected attackers and, presumably, Kit’s kidnappers.
I looked at the displays on the dashboard that told me how far I was dropping and how fast.
I had, of course, not being completely stupid, removed the trackers from my stolen vehicle, right after I’d changed Eris and strapped her down in her own seat. The units were two small, card-sized transmitters that gave anyone with the right receptor the location, type and id number of this vehicle. In a normal Earth situation, I’d have sent them flying out the window, but in space I’d had to be contented to grinding them under my heel.
The problem was that I couldn’t, not while flying in and needing to be strapped in for most of it, do a thorough dismount of the engine and make sure there were no other hidden trackers. Oh, sure for flyers this was usually easy. There were two places they put trackers, and you could remove them and that was it.
But air-to-space were considerably more expensive, which meant they were considerably better protected. And by better protected I mean that while I might have got rid of everything that would blare a specific ID to the world – and even this was not a certainty – I couldn’t get rid of everything that would blare a location. Not without a full engine inspection and clean up, which by definition couldn’t be done while the air-to-space was in the air. Or in space.
If I hadn’t got rid of the ID, then there would be an alert out for me. After all, the scientists might be the worst fighters in the world, but they wouldn’t cover up the theft of an expensive vehicle from Circum.
If I had got rid of the ID, then I was still in danger, as this was an unknown vehicle, coming in at speed, not blasting an ID and violating all sorts of national and international boundaries.
Which meant by the time this baby splashed into the ocean, somewhere near Liberte Seacity, I wouldn’t be on board. In fact, I should leave the vehicle as soon as we descended and slowed enough that I could without actually catching fire or freezing to death. Some of those territorial defense forces had always had itchy trigger fingers, and when you added that most of the Earth seemed to be engaged in war right now, that made the itchy trigger fingers all the more dangerous.
Every flyer, and every air to space designed to function within Earth’s gravity – even freighters – have one elementary safety precaution: brooms.
Named after the supposed mount of witches, in ancient times, these anti-gravity wands could be as small as two feet long, with no saddle, no obvious mount, and just a series of buttons to control speed and altitude.
Or they could be up to five feet long, and have any of the following: minimal, sculpted saddle, cushy saddle with stirrups and seat belts, oxygen masks and minimal tanks/oxygen extractors and concentrators, speed, altitude and steering controls.
The brooms were the only real way for someone who wasn’t a professional parachutist to survive a bailout from a flying vehicle when something went wrong. And they allowed you to survive crashes at altitudes where parachutes failed.
That was why they were in every vehicle, in a closet with a door that read “Break only in case of emergency.”
They were also highly illegal everywhere on Earth as autonomous transport. Brooms, at least brooms that had had their “brains beaten out” or were manufactured for the underground market could not be tracked, and allowed people to go where they wanted and do what they wanted with no reference to their lords and masters, something that no government could tolerate and that the would-be total government of the Good Men despised and loathed.
Which meant there were illegal broomer gangs all over the Earth, most of them engaged in low level petty criminality, like drug running or illegal gambling, or petty theft or smuggling. I’d been a member of a broomer lair, the Brooms of Doom, before I left the Earth.
This was very good as it meant that I was prepared for what I had to do. I knew how to ride a broom, I knew how to avoid arrest, and I could and would do both.
I broke the door seal before it was an emergency and grinned at the brooms in the closet, because – I guess I should have expected it – this being a top of the line air-to-space the brooms were high quality with a saddle and oxygen mask and all. There were two of them. One to ride and one to sell, if I should need the currency; that is if I didn’t make contact with friends or at least non hostile acquaintances soon enough.
Of course these brooms being about four feet long, with a saddle, the only way I could – at five feet and some change – carry the spare, or my own, would be on my back, which with Eris on my front was about to get crowded and make me less mobile.
More importantly, though, both brooms had oxygen tanks and masks and also, hanging beside them in the closet were two brooming suits, of the kind used by people who’d never broomed and who were afraid of catching their death in the air: that is a lot more beefed up and protective of one’s tender extremities than what regular broomers wore.
Instead of just leather with decent padding, gloves and a helmet of sorts, there were layers and layers of insulating fabric under leather that covered everything from toes to top of head.
I wondered briefly whether these people were stupid enough to think that if they insulated the suits enough they could ditch while cutting through the atmosphere. If so, I didn’t think they understood physics. But then again air-to-space were either owned by the very rich or by governmental organizations, both of which could afford to be stupid and still survive.
My utility to my broomer lair had come mostly from my mechanical ability, which allowed me not only to keep our brooms in running order as to make them better or change them in specific ways we needed.
I had the experience I needed to steal an extra oxygen mask from the spare broom, and split the oxygen line of my broom to cover both. Making something that would cover Eris without either putting her inside my suit or smothering her was a little more difficult as the air-to-space lacked a vibro unit that could do alterations in clothing. Honestly, I don’t know why the very rich or governmental organizations wouldn’t want to alter clothes on the run, but there it is. I certainly had had one aboard daddy dearest’s air to space.
There was, fortunately, a small repair kit, of the sort every provident housewife can use to fix some wardrobe malfunction on the way to a party.
I wasn’t your average housewife, and if my clothes had malfunctioned while I was being raised on Earth, there would have been a seamstress, wardrobe mistress or housekeeper not only to deal with it, but also to answer to why the malfunction had happened in the first place. And what I needed was considerably more than a mere repair.
But everyone knows how to use fix-it glue and tape, right? And I certainly knew how to cut.
The result would never have passed muster at one of those places for baby gear that I used to pass by and wonder why women spent so much time in there. But it would keep Eris warm and unfrostbitten. And attached to me. I’d changed the suit and its hood into a little sack with a hood, with face protections still in place, and with straps to attach the sack to me, so she would be warm and cushioned by my body.
I beat the brains out of both brooms, and in this case was quite sure that I had stopped all possible mechanisms for tracking the vehicles. Not hard, as there really isn’t much space inside a broom, besides the antigrav unit, the fuel unit, and, in this case, the oxygen tank.
Then I put Eris in her sack, put my suit on, strapped the broom to my back. I put the oxygen mask on Eris and topped it off with my helmet from the Eden space suit, to make sure it didn’t fall off, and to make sure her head didn’t get frozen, since she only had little dark curls over it. For me, a hood pulled up around my head and the oxygen mask on my face were enough.
With things strapped front and back, my mobility was somewhat diminished, but it wasn’t an unusual situation. When the broomer lair had to transport extra brooms, usually acquired in a raid, I was often the one to carry them. My enhancements made me fight better than most of them, and I was the mechanic.
I reset the angle of flight and speed to the little air to space, felt its instant and accommodating response, and tamped down a pang that I couldn’t save it from destruction. But there was nothing for it. If the air to space was being tracked, the only way I could survive this without my arrival making me the object of a man – or woman – hunt was to get rid of it in a way that spelled out accident.
The route I’d calculated would drop this little vehicle in the middle of an ocean, with sufficient force to break it. I didn’t want to crash it into populated land.
Having checked route and programming twice, I counted under my breath to estimate the time when the air to space would be lowest and slowest, before I punched the button to open the bottom emergency hatch. I was already straddling the broom.
“It’s time to broom it up,” I shouted, and jumped.
Eris’ little face looked up at me through her visor, as blank and devoid of expression as an egg.