“They want me to kill Rell.”
“Really? Are you going to?” Maurice asked in his smooth tones. He wasn’t projecting, but speaking quietly over the public intercom in the commode that she had found not far from where Mary was supposed to intercept Rell on his way back to his quarters.
“Of course not! But I have to make it look like I tried at least, don’t I? Pass word along. I know it’s short notice, but it has to be done. It’s going to hurt like anything for him, but at least he doesn’t need his body.” Mary whispered.
Maurice cleared his throat. “Well, you’ll need to make sure that you don’t hit his actual center. Aim low, the lower the better.”
“I know. You know, when you join the Society they do make sure you’re familiar with basic Awakener physiology. I’m just grateful that he’s using a Vessel and not occupying a sentient host.” The water in the sink started to taper off. She reached up and waved her hand in front of the sensor again.
“Did you lose the dummy?”
She rolled her eyes. “You don’t need to be jealous, Rice. It’s a copy of you, a heavily edited copy at that.”
“I’m not jealous. I’m unnerved that anyone would try to take an artificial intelligence hostage. Did you have anything else to report?”
“Yeah, their recruiter is nasty. Like really nasty.”
“Well, it should make you feel good that you’re going to get him arrested. Anything else?”
She shook her head. “Nope. About to start stalking Rell. Please tell him I’m sorry.”
“Tallyho. I’m out.” The intercom grew silent.
Mary stretched and stood up, looked at herself in a mirror and closed her eyes, using a technique that she had learned shortly after joining the Society for Civilized Psychics to fold her memories of the conversation up and neatly store them away for later recovery. By the time she opened her eyes, she knew that she had just spoken with someone, but would be hard-pressed to say who or what about.
She washed her hands and did a quick job of brushing her hair into her ponytail. She stowed the brush in her bag and reached into the sleeves of her jumpsuit, pulling out the soft gloves that had been folded inside them and making sure that they were fastened tight around her wrists. She did the same with the suit’s hood, pulling it up and over. It didn’t conceal her face from the front but did a good job with the sides.
Mary opened the door and started walking casually along the public corridors, occasionally passing other personnel. She kept an eye out for any kind of suspicious activity as she did so, but didn’t spot anything too out of the ordinary: a couple of Engineer Corps repairing what looked like an air duct, a small group of youngish Zig stumbling drunkenly and chattering at one another, a lone Mauraug Security officer cursing under its breath and fiddling with an implant in its arm. No one that she recognized, no one was out of place, and no one who knew her. Perfect enough that it made her nervous.
She turned a corner and saw Rell in front of her, turning a corner himself not twenty meters away, and walking in the same direction that she was. Trying to remain casual she glanced around, keeping an eye out for sensors, and she quietly undid the drawstring on her back. She closed her hand around the weapon that had been provided to her, a small plasma pistol, as small as they could be made, as she fell into step with the Awakener ahead of her.
His Vessel was tall, and had its silvery hair combed meticulously into a topknot. The rhizomes that emerged from his ears swayed gently as he walked. He was wearing grey trousers and a red shirt, both trimmed in black, the signature uniform of the Society.
I know this won’t kill you, but it’s gonna hurt like hell. I’m sorry, Rell. She thought as she adjusted her bag. Keeping her head down, she tugged her hood forwards. She was twenty steps to her turn, then ten. At five she pulled the weapon out, aimed low, and fired.
A hissing crackle ruptured the air as a tiny bolt of plasma fired out the end of the gun. Blue-violet energy resolved into a streak and struck Rell squarely in the back of the knee, charring his suit and leaving little trails of light coruscating across it. He made a noise that sounded like none she’d ever heard before and collapsed on his side, grasping at the limb, still facing away from her.
She pursed her lips. Not good; it wouldn’t even look like she tried to take a vital shot. She fired again, aware of the gun getting hot in her hands. The second bolt tore through the lower part of the Awakener’s ribcage and his body began to convulse. She took a couple of steps closer, trying to see – yes. A white mass, thick and slimy and covered with black dots, was rising to his lips. It flung rhizomes forward and pulled itself quickly away from his body.
She fired a last time at the prone figure, this time at the head, and had to clamp her jaws shut as she felt vomit rising in her mouth. The head collapsed inwards, hissing and bubbling. She worried that the plasma bolt had hit close enough to the escaping fungal body to singe it.
The gun had grown dangerously hot in her hands. She knew this would happen; the bartender had told her that it had been tampered with. It had an extremely faulty power cell, and would start to slag after just a few shots. She bent down and scaled it away from her, towards Rell’s Vessel’s form, watching as it began to glow and melt before it slid into the body. She pulled her hood down, turned the corner, and ran.
Two corridors down, and one over. She stopped running, tried to resume her previously casual pace, the adrenaline causing her to tremble with every movement. She pulled the hood back and tucked it in as she walked, and did the same for her gloves.
Poor Rell. That had to be horrible. She couldn’t even imagine having to put up with something like that, and for the first time in several years began to wonder about her fitness for her role. The Society wasn’t something that you retired from, of course, but you could technically become an inactive member.
She made another left and came out onto a main thoroughfare; though at this time of day it was relatively quiet. A Tesetsi followed by a retinue of small quadrupedal creatures carrying totes skittered past her, nearly knocking her over in their haste. At least I’m not the only one in a rush. She headed to a nearby lift, found it empty, and got in, setting it to take her up a couple of levels.
The lift was too quick for her to do any mental shuffling, so she took a moment to sit in a public area. It had green plants in pods and adjustable chairs set around small tables. She took a chair, closed her eyes, and carefully went over the last half-hour in her mind, editing carefully. She left in her fear and concern but removed any reference to the Society or to actually having known Rell. Then she opened her eyes, stood up and began to walk purposefully to a destination that she had chosen earlier, pulling her hair out of the ponytail and setting her shoulders.
She walked to another corridor, found the door she was looking for, and rang the bell. The cute Sec officer from the club answered, looking a little disheveled and perturbed.
“Um…” He frowned. “Mary?”
“Yeah. I remembered that you said you liked playing cards, and I wasn’t doing anything, so I thought I’d stop by.”
“Oh.” He turned around, scanning his room briefly. Mary could see a tiny projected figure sitting on a table, legs crossed, doing what looked to be reading an even tinier book. The figure looked at her, looked up at him, and raised her eyebrow sternly.
He grinned sheepishly, making the dimples that had first caught her eyes appear again. “Yeah, just a minute. I have to have a word with… well, just a minute.”
The door slid shut again. Really? You need to talk to your AI before you let me in. Almost creepy. She waited for a couple of minutes, and had almost decided to leave, when the door slid back open. Dimples (or Casey, as she had learned his name was) had neatened himself up a bit, and his brin unit was nowhere to be seen.
“C’mon in. I just - I was having a chat with my AI, and…”
“I understand, it’s cool.” Mary followed him in. His stateroom was immaculate compared to the swampy mess of the bartender’s. A couple of green plants hung from the walls. There wasn’t much in the way of decoration, and his bed was folded back, leaving room for a table and a few chairs.
Mary sat down at the table and Casey pulled out a projector and started to set it down. Mary shook her head and smiled. Reaching into her bag, she pulled out a small white packet, a little smaller than her hand and flipped one side open. From that she pulled out a deck of cards.
Casey looked impressed. “Real cards? I’ve never played with those.” He grinned again, his dimples deepening. “Where’d you get them?”
“Oh, I got them from a dealer on the last station that I was on,” Mary said airily. “but they’re real.” She knocked the deck against the table and split it. “Made from wood. From trees. From Earth.”
“Whoa!” Casey’s eyes lit up and he reached out towards them. “Can I touch them?”
Mary chuckled. “Of course you can – once I’ve shuffled them. It’s bad luck otherwise.”
Casey watched raptly as she riffled the cards several times and finished with a showy cascade. She started to deal.
“Wait, we didn’t choose a game. What do you want? War? Go Fish?”