Today's Reading

Standing in the access corridor I settled my drones, tasking four to stay with me and sending the others to take up various positions around the facility and go dormant. Then I checked the feed for alerts. The team members who weren't busy piloting the facility up through the atmosphere were yelling at each other on the comm. Arada came down the corridor. She didn't have her weapon anymore and my safety protocol check showed she'd unloaded and secured it back in the locker. "SecUnit, you need to get to Medical!"

I checked the feed again; still no alerts. "What happened in Medical?"

"You happened, you got shot."

Oh, right, that. Arada was gesturing at me so I followed her down the corridor to the main ramp. I poked through the hole in my jacket and shirt and upped my pain sensors a little. The projectiles were still in there. (Sometimes they pop out on their own.)

Medical was at the top of the ramp, a small compartment on the same level as the crew lounge area and galley. The quarters, labs, and storage were on the two levels below and the control deck was above. Ratthi was there waiting for us, standing beside the MedSystem. "Are you all right?" he demanded. "You better lie down!"

I didn't want to bother with it. "No, I'm fine. Just give me the extractor."

"No, no, you were in the water, you need decontam and an antibiotic screen. When the system is prepped, you lie down." He pointed emphatically at the narrow platform and pulled one of the emergency kits down from the rack. "Thiago has some scrapes on his neck," he told us, "but otherwise he's fine."

Ratthi went out with the kit. The yelling on the comm had calmed down but I could hear tense voices from the rec room. Preservation-controlled facilities like this don't have SecSystems recording everything and cameras everywhere because privacy blah blah blah but I could eavesdrop through the comm and my drones. If I wanted to, which I didn't, not right now.

Arada said, "Ratthi's right, SecUnit, you should let the system make sure the wounds aren't contaminated." She hesitated. "Did I..." She took a sharp breath. I just stood there because I didn't understand the question yet. She added, "Was there any other way..."

She didn't finish again but this time I knew what she was asking. "No. If you'd waited any longer, I would have had to try to use a drone. He'll probably survive, if the others give him medical attention."

She really hadn't wanted to shoot anybody, and had told me she had to force herself to learn how to use the weapon. I hadn't particularly wanted her to learn, either. (Humans have a bad tendency to use weapons unnecessarily and indiscriminately. Of the many times I had been shot, a depressingly large percentage of hits had come from clients who were trying to "help" me.) (Another significant percentage came from clients who had just wanted to shoot something when I happened to be standing there.)

Arada rubbed her eyes and her mouth pulled in at one side. "Are you trying to make me feel better?"

"No." I actually wasn't. I lie to humans a lot, but not to Arada, not about this. "I wouldn't try to make you feel better. You know what I'm like."

She made a snorting noise, an involuntary expression of amusement. "I do know what you're like."

Her expression had turned all melty and sentimental. "No hugging," I warned her. It was in our contract. "Do you need emotional support? Do you want me to call someone?"

"I'm fine." She smiled. On the feed, the MedSystem signaled it was ready. "Now you make sure you're fine, too."

She stepped out of the compartment and set the privacy filter on the doorway. I stripped off my clothes and dropped them in the decontam bin and got onto the platform. It would run a check for contaminants and pop the projectiles out of my shoulder and chest.

The process only took three minutes, just long enough to finish the scene of Lineages of the Sun I'd had to pause when Thiago had decided to get me shot. The MedSystem tried to cycle into the therapy and post-treatment options and I stopped it and climbed off the platform. The feed told me we had made orbit and were in the process of rendezvous with our baseship.

My clothes now smelled like decontam fluid but they were dry and clean. I got dressed and opened the privacy shield.

Thiago stood in the corridor. Oh, joy.

He looked angry and upset, which I could tell, even though I was looking just to the right of his head. He said, "Did you kill those people?"

I'd been angry enough to tear them all into tiny little pieces. The company who had owned me had protocols for these situations that would have required kill-shots, at least for the armed hostiles out on the deck. Plus I'd already been shot once, and the hostiles had been clear about their intent to kill and/or abduct my clients. But the company didn't own me anymore and the only human here I was answerable to was Arada, and only in limited ways determined by a contract that Pin-Lee had negotiated for me.

But the whole point of hacking my governor module was that no one got to tell me to kill a bunch of humans if I didn't feel like it. (Or even if I did feel like it.)

I said, "I've reported to my contracted supervisor."

(I know, I know, I could have said no, I didn't kill anybody. I could have said that even SecUnits under company protocol use minimum force necessary because the company hates paying survivor damage bonds, and also because SecUnits are not rabid murderers unless humans specifically order them to be. I could have said that I had risked his life not using kill-shots on the armed targets because I knew Arada didn't want me to.)

He pressed his lips together. "I could ask her." I said,

"You should definitely do that."


This excerpt ends on page 14 of the hardcover edition.

Monday we begin the book Starborn and Godsons by Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, Steven Barnes.
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