One more payment, and the Luce Goose would be mine. That ship was my home, my best friend, and my way of transporting fugitives across the galaxy. She was everything but a lover, and I'd considered buying a love droid into which I could download her AI. Unlike people, I could trust Luce.
"Show me the stats again, Luce." I slipped on my stun gloves and checked the charge on my pulser. Stray bullets and space were catastrophic for humans. I could obsess when I had a fugitive nearly cornered. A holoscreen expanded between the viewport and me:
Fugitive 97531: Nol Rylek. Known Eco-terrorist.
Status: Wanted dead or alive.
Last Sighting: Beta Junction terraforming colony.
"Lower the landing ramp. I'll be home for dinner. This time tomorrow, you'll be all mine."
"Oh, Paolo! I can't wait."
I loved Luce—with or without the sarcasm.
Modular domiciles lined the gridded streets of Beta Junction like pieces on a game board. The central dome of the spaceport stretched out six boarding platforms, like a spider crouched on a web of transit roads. All the major buildings looked like hexagonal prisms stacked on each other, except for the factories and mining plants, which were wrapped in pipes and surrounded by giant tanks. The school and municipal building stood in the center of town.
Beta Junction didn't have police—it was too small (probably why Rylek chose it in the first place). In my business, it paid to know these things.
"You see him, Luce?" I asked, walking toward the municipal building.
"His beacon is in the school."
Anyone let loose on bail—and all convicts—got injected with nano-beacons that attached to main arteries. Bounty hunters and marshals could detect their beacons when we got within range. All I had to do was step through the front doors to find him.
Nol Rylek was 50 yards down the hall, messing with the gymnasium door control panel. When he swung away, he raised his hands. In one of them, he gripped something with a red button on top—a detonator. A device on the gymnasium's control panel displayed bright-red digits.
"Knew you came for me. Scanned your bucket when you pierced the dome. But you're going to let me go," Rylek smugly said.
"Why would I do that?" My hand was already on the pulser in my holster.
"Because there's about 50 kids in that gym. Seems you got an easy enough choice."
He was right. I let him go. Rylek was an ecoterrorist. He was trying to save nature … no matter how many humans he had to kill in the process. Besides, he was only getting a head start. Luce could track him as long as he was within satellite range.
One good thing about obsessing: I learned everything about my fugitives. Rylek was very fond of using laser ordinance initiators, which relied on a laser pulse. I could fry the motherboard. I couldn't use the pulser—the concussion could set off the explosives—but my stun gloves might do the trick. I cranked them up to maximum juice. There should be enough of a zap to resuscitate an elephant. I didn't only chase human fugitives.
I took a deep breath, held it, and grabbed the laser ordinance initiator. The digital countdown stopped. I blew out my pent-up breath, just before the device started to smoke. I didn't know what kind of explosives Rylek had gotten hold of, and I didn't have time to call in demolition bots from the mines. I shot the door lock.
"Luce? I need you to access the gym door and open it."
"What would you do without me?"
"Why would I even contemplate that?"
The door whisked open. Fifty kids, from elementary students to high schoolers, screamed and bolted out. They nearly trampled me. The smoke coming from the device thickened.
I turned and ran toward the door.
"Luce?" I tried to keep the anger from my voice. Luce might be an AI, but she was touchy. "Would you find Rylek's beacon for me, please."
"Simple. He's boarding me."
"What?" Damn. I hadn't closed her boarding ramp. Of course, Rylek had gone for the first open ship. I could hear his boots on the grate walkway over my com. There was a thump, a shriek, and a crinkle of metal.
"If he's hurting you, I'll kill him!"
"What are you doing? Put those wires back. No. Don't you dare!"
"Shut up before I short-circuit your AI systems … " I could hear Rylek threaten Luce, so I sprinted for her. It felt like I was crawling. That psycho bomber was on Luce all alone. My stomach flipped and heat rushed through me. My gloves beeped to let me know they'd recharged, and I thought I could fry Rylek's tenders so easily. It had been quiet for far too long.
"Luce? Speak to me."
"Luce! Let me know you're all right!"
I prayed to God she was okay. I didn't know what I would do if she wasn't.
"Tell me you're okay!" I yelled between heaving breaths, as I grabbed the hydraulic lifters and swung onto her boarding ramp. When I hit the aisle grate, I drew my pulser. I'd shoot Rylek and then fry him.
"No thanks to you."
Oh, thank God, she was okay. As I climbed from the cell bay up the stairs to my living quarters, I found Rylek lying on the rubberized aisle between the pilot and copilot chairs. He was unconscious. A hint of sulfur scented the air.
I didn't know what kind of explosives Rylek had gotten hold of, and I didn't have time to call in demolition bots from the mines.
"I was trying to save a bunch of kids," I said, as I turned the stun charge off on my gloves and holstered my pulser.
'You should've locked me up tight when you left." Luce sounded indignant.
"I should've. I wasn't thinking straight."
She hmphed me. "That is correct."
"What happened?" I asked, dragging Rylek up into a fireman's carry to take him down to the cells.
"I gassed him with Fenzothane. He touched me inappropriately."
"What did he do to you?" I asked through grunts as I took him down the steps.
"He reached up under my console and just pulled my wires down."
I slammed him down on the bunk and locked the cell on my way out. "Well, I'll fix you right up."
"You'll do nothing of the sort. You'll hire a professional to reset my harnesses and replace my panels, or you'll be sorry."
I blew out a breath. "That's why I don't get you a love-droid body."
"Why? So I can shut you off there, too?"
"Hey, we got our fugitive, didn't we?" I said, strapping in and closing her boarding ramp.
"Who got the fugitive?"
"You got him, Luce."
"Affirmative. And don't you forget it."
"How could I do that? You'll never let me."
"And I suppose you'll want dinner tonight."
I lifted off.
©2022 ACM 0001-0782/22/8
Permission to make digital or hard copies of part or all of this work for personal or classroom use is granted without fee provided that copies are not made or distributed for profit or commercial advantage and that copies bear this notice and full citation on the first page. Copyright for components of this work owned by others than ACM must be honored. Abstracting with credit is permitted. To copy otherwise, to republish, to post on servers, or to redistribute to lists, requires prior specific permission and/or fee. Request permission to publish from firstname.lastname@example.org or fax (212) 869-0481.
The Digital Library is published by the Association for Computing Machinery. Copyright © 2022 ACM, Inc.
No entries found