Mao uncoupled from the huge nickel-iron monster that she had been using as a crude, but effective, ablative shield.

Even the lasers onboard the Juggernaut-class she was trying to avoid would have taken hours to burn all the way through, but someone onboard the warship had realized that if they focused on a calculated spot, they could generate jets of iron plasma on the surface of the rock and spin it around to bring Mao's tiny Verdance-class into line of sight.

Mao keyed up another torpedo and sent it off on a course designed to stay in the sensor shadow of the asteroid long enough to get out of range, and then loop back within fifteen seconds. It wouldn't be anything but a distraction, but distractions were all she could hope for, being hopelessly outgunned and rapidly running out of places to hide.

They'd be expecting torpedoes, of couse, they were standard on Verdance-class and above. What they wouldn't be expecting, though, were the dancers. Mao'd had them added by a third cousin, strictly off the books, with salvaged parts and no records in the ship's logs. She'd had to pay mega, even with the family discount, but it was the only chance standing between her and a few exawatts of monochromatic light.

She punched the keys for manual control and to launch a dancer at the same time, jerking the yoke back hard. She could hear the low hum of the dancer cylinders rotating into position, and the chunk as the 40 kilo can jumped out at 150 meters per second. She caught a brief glimpse of the thousands of meters of reflective ribbon spooling out madly behind the can, and jerked the yoke to push the ship on a reciprocal heading.

The idea was to juke out the targeting systems on the Juggernaut bad enough for just a moment so as to require human intervention, buying precious fractions of a second. The Jug wouldn't be expecting dancers from a Verd, so at some point, a human would have to be in the loop if even to confirm the Jug's suspicions. By moving away from the Jug, while being obscured by the dancer's ribbons, she was hoping to get into the asteroid field proper, where she could cat and mouse her way with ease. The field was so dense, the Jug wouldn't even be able to fit.

She cut the jets just as the HUD showed her out of the sensor shadow of the asteroid, trajectory perfect, and allowed herself a brief glimmer of hope before the dancer exploded in a puff of plasma and the laser began raking back down the line of foil. The brightness on the HUD compensated automatically, but part of her knew that the foil was burning brighter than a star, and wondered at it, while the rest screamed obscenities and punched codes.

The jig was up, so she punched max acceleration, and another dancer on a path designed to have the can intersect the beam's path directly, without unspooling the foil first. It would maybe buy her another second, maybe diffract the laser enough to matter. There was another chunk as the dancer leaped away, a blinding light that even the HUD had a hard time compensating for, and a whoop from Mao as the torpedo forced the lasers to retarget.

The torpedo never even got close, the Jug having twigged to it long before - but then, it was never meant to. It had done its job and bought the half second necessary to swing behind the next metal mama.

She anchored to the far side, and weighed her options. The HUD told her the Jug was maneuvering to get a better view, and to orient its second battery to cover for another "sneak" torpedo. Likely they realized what she was up to, blowing her last advantage. They almost immediately started spinning her new rock around, and she still had one more jump to the relative safety of the crowded belt.

She punched two of the remaining three torpedoes on opposite courses and set the dancer to intersect the Jug.

There was a dazzle as the first of the torpedoes was immediately blown away, the chunk of the last dancer launching, and then-

I am shoved into a chair. My handcuffs and shackles are removed and replaced with something binding me to the chair. Rubber restraints? A restraint pulled around my waist is too tight and pinches just above my hips. The hood covering my face is snatched off. The light is bright and painful, and I shut my eyes tight against it. Red and yellow shapes dance on the insides of my eyelids. Four hands clutch my head firmly and push it back against the seat. One pair of hands is coarse and rough; broad palms press against my cheeks. A thumb pushes into the soft flesh on the bottom of my jaw. A smaller pair of hands is soft. I smell perfumed lotion. Jasmine. Fingers flutter across my eyelids. Another strap is pulled across my forehead. My neck is secured with a collar. The hands release my head. I open my eyes, blink twice and try to focus. The walls are cinderblock, painted a drab olive. I can’t see if there are any windows. A woman stands over me. She’s wearing a white lab coat, khakis, and a button-down shirt. The restraints prevent me from craning my neck and staring into her face. She moves out of my field of vision.

“David? I want you to know that I am sorry for your loss.” Her voice is a calm alto. The accent is American. “I believe your testimony that you did not knowingly aid the terrorist.”

Terrorist. Michael has been distilled to a single word. All of his defining traits; his strong thighs, his throaty laugh, the birthmark shaped like a ‘w’ on his shoulderblade, have been whittled away to leave a monster to frighten old ladies and children with. He is no longer a person. He is—. Tears sting the corners of my eyes. I try to blink them back.

A comb parts the hair above my left ear. I feel cool, thin fingers on my scalp. There is a pinprick near my left temple. Then another, and another, and another along the line made by the part. She jabs something like tiny needles into the thin skin of my scalp. The woman begins to talk again. “I’m sorry if you find the process unpleasant. We will try to get through this as quickly and painlessly as possible. “

Another three pricks in quick succession. I moan a little. She parts the hair over my right temple, and begins the process again.

“Are you ready?” She asks as if I had a choice.

There’s a low, humming sound, and something metallic clicks. Something whirs like an old-style overhead fan. The woman moves close enough that the jasmine lotion is heavy and cloying. She takes a deep breath. There’s a slow pulsating light that casts weird shadows across the wall from behind me. The woman exhales. Then there is pain, blinding bright hot pain arcing across my forehead through the sharp little pins stuck in my scalp. I try to scream, but can only whimper like a puppy. I shut my eyes to slow the tears that cascade down my cheeks. The sensation dulls down to a slow burn. My scalp itches.

The woman starts speaking as if she's reciting something, “you’ll be happy to know that the MindVue has been thoroughly tested by focus groups and reviewed by several Media Consortia independent of AmeriTek before being approved by the Board for use in questioning detainees.”

MindVue ®. That’s what this thing is. A brain-scanner. But why?

“I can see you have questions, and confusion. All of this will be answered, pending your signing a form agreeing to indemnify us from any permanent side effects that may result as part of the scanning process. Of course.” The woman moves away from me. There’s another clicking sound. The light shifts to a blue. Soothing. The woman’s voice is soft and low. “But first I need you to answer a few questions, for us David. We know you’re a good global citizen. And your father was a respected member of an important Zaibatsu. We need to know some things about the terrorist.”

Michael was no Terrorist. Unbidden he looms in my mind’s eye. I think of how he would get angry when I kissed the scar that ran along his cheekbone. How his lips parted when we--

“His name was Michael.” She says softly, almost crowing. Anger flares up in me. Fuck this woman and her blue lights and needles and jasmine lotion. I won’t give them anything else.

“ Very good.” I can almost hear the smile in her voice. “ Did he have a last name?”

I think of an elephant. Octopus. This is the song that never ends. Yes it goes on and on my—

“It doesn’t matter. We assume he was working under an alias. The mental image you’ve provided will be more than enough.“


The woman purrs, “This process doesn’t have to be painful, David. Don’t fight us. We only want information about the terrorist. We don’t care about the most terrible thing you’ve ever done.” An image flashes. I am six. There is a kitten in a box, mewling. My brother urging me to just do it. A rock in my hands. NO!

I shake violently in my seats. The restraints creak but hold solid. The woman’s voice is still infuriatingly calm, “David, you’re not a very big guy. Those are built to restraint persons of size up to 350lbs.” Before I can complete the conversion in my head she says, “That’s about 160 kilos.”

The woman is close again. Her hand is on my shoulder. I think at her to get it off. I know she can tell, but she leaves it there, stinking of jasmine. Her voice is as cloying as her lotion. “Tell me, did ‘Michael’ ever share any propaganda with you? He wouldn’t use digital media, of course. But maybe an old fashioned paper book?” The book pops into my head. August. Hamburger. 9 times 9 is 81. The cover was red leather. The pages yellowed. Popcorn. That time that I rode my bike all the way to— The book smelled dusty. Gold leaf letters. Oh dear oh what can the matter be? Johnnysolongatthefair.

“Quotations from the Chairman?” She’s laughing. She’s laughing at me. At Michael. “An honest to God communist? And R&D assured us that they all went the way of the Compact Disc and the two dimensional motion Picture. Oh, this is rich.”

Tears stream down my face. All I can think of is how much I failed. How much I loved Michael. Even if he—

“You’ve been very helpful, David. Ameritek will be pleased to note your successful scanning in our corporate literature. You may singlehandledly help us bring an end to that destructive dinosaur way of thinking your friend espoused.”

The lights turn down. The whirring stops. One by one the little needles are plucked from my head. The hood is shoved back over my head. I can smell the lotion again, she’s close. “In a few minutes, you’ll be escorted to a room where you can have coffees and pastries and go over the indemnity forms with our lawyers, who will be happy to answer any lingering questions you may have. Thank you for helping Ameritek, and the world.”

I hear smart shoes clicking away from me. One of the other people slowly unbuckles my wrist strap. I’ll go into their room. Drink their coffee. Sign their forms. But they don’t know everything. I copied that little Red Book. And I’m going to read it. Then I’m going to spread it, like wildfire, or a disease. And we’ll see if they can stamp it out with lab coats and lawyers.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.