Vagrants chapter 8.

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My chest hurt. my left arm stung. And most importantly, my crotch ached.

It took some time to come back to consciousness, and remember why that was important. I was surprised that I wasn't restrained in any way, but I didn't really feel like moving much. There was a security bot in the doorway, but it seemed to be inactive. Sleep mode if I had to guess.

Surely Oddball and the crew weren't that stupid, were they?

A shape in the gloom resolved itself into our fearless new captain as he stepped forward, putting his face right in mine. Good old first traitor.

"The cameras and listening devices are off. I know you don't want to see me right now, but you need to hear this. It's done. It's done, but it can be undone just as easily. We just need to find another solution that Oddball will accept, or trick it somehow - and for that I need you. I need you to be clear, and focused. I haven't given up, and neither should you."

His pad beeped and his face transformed with clear rage for a moment.

"Got to go for now, I'll be back. Remember what I said Mouse. As far as I'm concerned this isn't over. Please stay here and rest; recover, don't do anything hasty."

And then he was gone. The security bot activated and came to my side with a squeeze bag of water. I realized how thirsty I was. I also realized how screwed up I was when my clumsy grab for it missed. Instead I had to suffer further indignity as the bot held on to the container, easing the straw past my lips then giving it a mild squeeze.

At least I didn't choke. I could only assume I was still drugged, but it seemed a light, ephemeral presence; barely impacting my thoughts at all. Instead it brought dizziness and a mild lassitude. Which meant It'd be almost impossible to stand for the time being, let alone walk. So I focused on moving my muscles, one twitch at a time. They all worked, and fairly soon I was getting them to work in sequence.

Once that was done I sat up; ignoring the security bot that suddenly cycled active. My pad chronometer told me I'd been out just under 27 hours. It was 3pm, the day after surgery. Physically I should be near enough to healed to leave, as long as I took it easy; too much walking and the nano machines may not be able to keep the knitting tissues together. I should probably wait till tomorrow to do anything, at which point I'd be cleared for active duty again and scheduled to be back on the job.

Of course, that's what they expected me to do, which is why I wouldn't. Proper study would be key. The security bot standing sentry was number 20. Each ship had berth for 100 security drones, controlled by the ship's AI and deployed in times of strife, with consent of the captain, first officer, doctor and engineer, depending on the situation. On our ship units 5 and 14 had been destroyed, unit 5 when it attempted to interrupt some party of the first gen's and got shot up with weapons for it's trouble (the weapons had of course since been confiscated) and unit 14 when a small piece of debris managed to get through 3 hulls and hole it's armor clean through. That one was still a very available display on the dangers of space.

Oddball could of course manufacture new ones, but with 98 in various degrees of full operation, there was no need. But the number of course, was important. Usually 20 were needed to guard the most sensitive areas of the ship, one per location or picked choke point (like the gate to the manufacturing sector). They were always deployed number first for some reason, and not by distance (the closest one being sent). That there was one here, and the number, indicated that there were at least 18 deployed security bots. This one would be medical's which meant that all the other sensitive spots were also watched.

It's almost like Oddball expected trouble. Citizens armed with torches and pitchforks, to slay the monster? Great movie. Unfortunately all I heard was silence. I still remembered enough of last night (or the night before, I guess it is now) to know that a clear majority of my loving crew had decided against me. All of them calm and collected, voting ahead of me, showing not a glimpse of what was in their traitorous minds. Our supposed leader was right about one thing though; this could be undone.

Now, what did I have to work with?

Precious little had been left in my reach; I wasn't restrained, which boggled my mind. Surely they didn't think that I'd be docile just like that? A show of force, a casual ruiniation of two lives, and I'd be good? Or had they just made their vote and left all the details up to Oddball? Probably the latter, but either way, no makeshift weapons or useful chemicals were in range; all lay beyond the security bot.

They had however, made another mistake. They had left my personal pad here. All I needed was a bit of time.

***************************************************

Why had I ever wanted to be captain? why would anyone? It was the worst job on the ship; it had to be. All day yesterday spent fielding status reports, assigning temporary engineers ( It took four to do mouse's job when he... damn it, she wasn't available, on the first day!) helping form the petition with Claire and Seth to get Oddball to discuss alternatives, claiming the solution chosen would be damaging to morale.

And most importantly, wondering why fewer than a dozen people all told cared about how a human crew member was just railroaded. William was taking the entire thing in stride, with a fatalism one could expect of a prisoner about to be executed for a crime. He... err, she wouldn't even sign the petition.

The ship was of course, still running. All the crew was accounted for at their various jobs or asleep. No major incidents had occured, and even though the security bots were out in force for the first time in years, it all seemed to be business as usual. And yet, at the same time, it seemed to me that many were waiting for the other shoe to drop. I was of course waiting
in the best way possible; with aged liqour to keep me company.

I'd have to watch out, lest I become a drunkard. Then again that might seem preferable to facing all this sober. Seig was with me, lending silent support. Neither of us had been responsible for the security bot presence; Oddball had made the call on his own, citing psychological and morale reasons. When we had both objected, Oddball said he had obtained the permission of Dirk as resident doctor.

Apparently Dirk had been so drunk that at the party, when Oddball came to him he just said "Sure." I had just watched the video footage. The problem was that now that security was called out, until Oddball declared the emergency over, we had no way of recalling them. An oversight of our ancestors we were dearly paying for. Perhaps I should compile a list of those. that might even be a better use of my time.

"Well? Any ideas?"

I ran my hands through my hair, a nervous habit I never admitted to possessing.

"Not a one seig. I feel like there is something I'm not quite catching, but I'm too stressed and angry to care."

"Not to mention drunk." Seig chimed in.

"Not to mention drunk. So what was the work order today?"

I'd had Seig fill in for mouse yesterday and today; the results were surprising.

"Checking the battery cells on deck 3. Literally grunt work."

Yesterday it was checking the oxygen fill levels in the spare tanks in storage, and checking them for faults and leaks. Both jobs were something almost any of us could do blindfolded. I'd checked the logs for weeks before; the older jobs were the ones you really wanted a good engineer for. Seig was competent, but he'd never be Mouse.

It was almost as if Oddball had anticipated downtime by it's chief engineer. Or maybe it had been planning for both options, both vote outcomes.

I do think the crew petition for alternatives surprised it. It hadn't answered any texts sent it yet, except in the automated 'I've received your message and will get back to you' sense. what surprised me was how few people have so far signed the petition, and how little outrage there is. A crew member was altered against their will, mutilated. security bots roam the halls in a clear violation of the rights of the crew.

And it looked like so very many people were willing to accept it, as long as it didn't directly affect them.

My pad chimed; a security alert. The perfect height of my day. I checked it as it blurred, my eyes focusing as if I were drunk. Small wonder that, I was. Then I saw where the alert was, and understood how a person could be said to 'sober up instantly'. It was Mouse's living quarters. Not the infirmary, which still showed all three occupants (Mouse in bed sleeping, Dirk in the medication mixing room reading, and the security bot standing sentinel in an unusual place - in front of Mouse's room.) but the actual living quarters of our chief engineer. A guy just couldn't catch a break.

"Seig you have the bridge!"

He looked up in wonderment as I blurred past; he was well past any thought of moving. I'm sure I set records, feet pounding loudly on the deck plates, taking foolish chances jumping stairs rather than taking the elevators. I had to beat the freshly reawakened security bot number 23 and 24 to the scene; with a security alert declared Oddball could send two bots to the scene of the alert, assuming it to be a crime.

Of course it had to be a crime - breaking and entering with possible looting, to be exact; since only Mouse or I had access to his... ugh, her rooms. The hacking was the most serious part of the offense, the rooms were all coded by our nanite marker, with access granted to those we chose. For someone who had permission, there would be no need to set off the alarm; they could walk right in at any time. For those without, the door wouldn't just open for them, they had to short the door controls or something.

which would set off the alarm, but they would know that. There are very few secrets on a ship. Which of course made no sense. I arrived, breathless, to see a closed door with the tamper resistant panel intact. That was even more curious. I walked closer and the door opened with a whisper, clearly in perfect working order. The lights clicked on as I entered, showing the living room. All was in place, the real valuables would be in the bedrooms of course.

Things like clothes or small wooden items. Stuff that couldn't be reproduced easily, or at all. The security bots arrived as I made it to the first door of interest. The bedroom of Mouse's parents. They stayed outside to my surprise, letting me do the work. It also opened easily, and appeared to be clean and untouched. The bathroom was where I first saw signs of theft; a highly prized toothpaste dispenser was missing, along with it's full complement of paste. There were only two toothbrushes in the case, and a small first aid kit was also missing, the outline of where it sat ever so faintly visible against the tile.

Ahh, crap. Crap crap crap.

I checked my pad again, looking at all the data from the alert that led me here. Something had set off the quarters' motion sensor - something that had not gone through the door, and had no nanite marker presence in the system. Only one person could pull off such a hack job, and I should have expected it. Mouse had looped the camera feeds and somehow turned made her way in here. Through the vents of course, had to be.

To be sure I checked her room. Normally it was a controlled chaos, with everything sort of jammed in containers at whim. I saw the difference right away; several containers that normally held small tools and electrical components were missing, as well as more than a few old experiments and machines. A few drawers of the bureau were empty as well, and the main vent cowling to the room was bent and hanging from the wall by one screw.

I had to applaud her even as I cursed her; only a few of us, and not a single security bot could follow her in there. There were no cameras or microphones either. There were ways to track a person in there (by heat or nanite marker) but it was unlikely we could find her in that maze. After all, she was the only crew member awake that knew it all. The security bots
must have caught on, cause the supposedly live feed on my pad that showed Mouse asleep changed to show an empty bed, the hapless bot standing guard none the wiser.

Neither was Dirk; I'd have to have words with him about that. He should be just a little more observant when he had a patient, instead of just reading away without a care. In fact that seemed like a good start. I left the bots behind, not bothering to inform them of my intent. They seemed content with 'securing the crime scene', posting themselves outside in the
corridor.

(tbc).



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