Today's Reading

I hit Target One at the weapon station with an energy pulse from my left arm, throat punch to Target Two as the others came to their feet, pivot and smash kneecap of Target Three, slap Target Four's weapon aside and break collarbone. I'd already had FacilitySys prepare a translation for me, the only sentence I figured I'd need. I said, "Make a noise, and everybody dies."

Target One slumped unconscious over the weapon control station, wound steaming in the damp air. The other three stayed on the deck, whimpering and gurgling.

One of the hostiles outside had glanced around, but didn't change position. Thiago, who was unexpectedly good at stalling, had avoided the question of whether the other researchers were going to come out on the observation deck so Potential Target Leader could decide if he wanted to abduct them or not. Thiago was now listing all our supplies and pretending to stumble over FacilitySys's translation advice. (I knew he was pretending; he was a language expert among other things.) My drone view showed me that Potential Target Leader enjoyed watching Thiago sweat, and that maybe Thiago had noticed and was playing it up a little. He was pretty smart.

Okay, okay, I admit that it was a little upsetting that Thiago didn't trust me.

(He and Mensah had had a conversation about me, back on Preservation Station when Arada was planning this survey. Transcript:

Thiago: "I know I'm in the minority here, but I have serious reservations."

Mensah: "Arada is in charge of this survey, and she wants SecUnit. And frankly, if it isn't the one providing security, I'll withdraw my permission for Amena to go."

(Amena is one of Mensah's children and yes, she is on our facility right now. No pressure!)

Thiago: "You trust it that much?"

Mensah: "With my life, literally. I know what it will do to protect her, and you, and the rest of the team. Of course, it has its faults. In fact, it's probably listening to us right now. Are you listening, SecUnit?"

Me, on the feed: What? No.

I'd missed the rest. I'd thought it was better to shut down my tap on the room's comm access and get out of there.)

Target Two whispered something, which FacilitySys rendered as "What are you?"

I said, "I'm a Shut Up or Get Your Head Smashed." 

So that was two sentences I'd needed.

I had to get out there because Target Leader had started to walk toward Thiago and avoiding a hostage situation was important to my risk assessment module's Projected Schedule of Events Leading to a Successful Resolution. (In company terms that's a PSELSR, which is a terrible anagram.) (I don't mean anagram, I mean the other thing.)

Thiago backed away, saying, "You don't want to do this. You really don't want to do this."

Yeah, well, it was a little too late for them to run away.

I stepped to the outside hatch and told my drones to get into position. Two of the hostiles had helmets and body armor, and one had a helmet but the face shield had been removed. I hit the hatch release and gave the order.

(At the last second, I changed the drones' instructions from head or face kill-hits to disabling wound-hits in exposed patches on arms and hands, even though it was the hostiles' own stupid, stupid fault for attacking us. Thinking of Arada's sad face made me too uncomfortable.)

The stupid hatch (I hate this boat) was slow and all six targets had turned toward me by the time it opened. My drones struck just as I dove out onto the deck. I hit one target with an energy burst from my right arm, kneecapped the second, two dropped from drone strikes and the last one went down flailing, hand closing convulsively on his weapon's trigger and shooting me right in the chest. For fuck's sake.

By that time, Target Leader had Thiago's arm, weapon pointed at Thiago's head.

I sacrificed six more drones to turn the weapons scattered around me into useless heaps of metal, then shoved to my feet. I walked up the boarding ramp onto our observation deck. I said, "Let him go." I didn't really feel like negotiating. I have a module on it, somewhere in my archive. It was never much help.

Target Leader's eyes had a lot of white showing, and he was exhibiting multiple signs of stress. So was Thiago. A drone view showed me what I looked like, water dripping from my clothes, my jacket with the Preservation survey logo and shirt showing projectile weapon holes, stained with fluid and a little blood.

I circled them as if heading for the hatch. Target Leader dragged Thiago around to stay facing me, then yelled, "Stop! Or I'll kill him!"

He was right, I'd been trying to make him move, setting up a shot. He had stopped with the observatory bubble behind him, not a good angle for me.

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