Pulse #4, Mar 2 2944 - Page 11

HAIR: PART THREE by Womby Sharon was not happy. “How are we going to find Mongrel? And assuming that’s even possible, how are we going to get close to him?” “Good questions,” replied Rock. “Here’s my plan. First we’ll head to Spider. Once there, I’ll find out the location of Mongrel’s church. Best that you stay on the ship -- he knows you’ve been spying for the Advocacy and may have told others. Once we know where it is, I’ll join the Church of the Holy Viscera. There’s one slight complication, though. It requires offering the church an escape pod containing a live occupant.” “Are you serious?” Sharon’s unhappiness was turning into hostility. “Hear me out. I happen to know someone who fully deserves to be offered to Viscera. His name is Womby, and he used to be an insurance adjuster. Back when my father was a struggling cargo hauler, he borrowed heavily to buy a Banu Merchantman. One day he was attacked by pirates, and his ship was destroyed. When he lodged his insurance claim, Womby fabricated evidence to indicate collusion between my father and the pirates, and rejected the claim. The debt was too much for my father, who committed suicide shortly thereafter. So yes, to answer your question, I am serious.” Sharon thought for a moment, then asked “Is he married?” “Three times married, three times divorced,” replied Rock. “He now lives with a small collection of sex bots, some of which are illegal.” “OK,” said Sharon, “I’m in. Now, let’s go check out this ship you scrounged.” *** The Toxic Slug oozed oil and malevolence in roughly equal measure. A rough coat of black paint failed to conceal the deep scorch marks and crudely patched holes in the battered Cutlass. Rock cast an approving eye over the Suckerpunch distortion cannons, the Mk VI laser cannon and the twin Executioners. A Tarsus Leaper Jump Engine and a full complement of missiles rounded things out nicely. To get its owner to lend it, Rock had spun a tale about a “once in a lifetime” job, and promised a 40% share of the take. Keeping that promise was something he could worry about later. Sharon was skeptical. That nasty looking pirate ship was going to attract attention, and sooner or later they were going to be scanned. “So, what’s this ‘little something extra’ you mentioned?” “I’m glad you asked,” replied Rock, gesturing at a curiously shaped object attached to one of the hard points. “What we have here is a quantum modulator, a device which recently went missing from one of the research labs on Keene. It will project a procedurally generated 3D model’s image onto the surface of our force field. In other words, we can make our ship look like an asteroid. It will also return modified scan and radar signatures to match the projection. This will allow us to capture Womby without acquiring a bounty.” “Sounds impressive,” said Sharon. “What’s the catch?” “Nothing too serious,” Rock answered. “It’s a bit unstable. There’s a 7% chance each time it is switched on that it will trigger an astable quantum reversal, irradiating the ship and killing everyone on board.” *** Womby enjoyed Sundays. He had started the day checking the illicit porn channels for new algorithms for his sex bots. Having found nothing new, he decided to head out in his Aurora MR for a little target practice. He was currently approaching his private shooting range a small collection of asteroids that he rented, part of a much larger group that lay within convenient traveling distance. Although he had gone to considerable pains to avoid military service, Womby liked to imagine himself as a badass fighter ace, picturing his defenceless asteroids as ferocious Vanduul invaders held back only by his heroic deeds. Taking up position, Womby noted with interest the arrival of a new asteroid that had wandered into his area. Concentric craters formed a natural bull’seye that was impossible to resist. He hastily switched off his shields to divert maximum power to his two Behring M3A Lasers. Taking careful aim, he lined up the central crater and fired off a short burst. To his utter astonishment the asteroid immediately returned fire with a barrage of missiles and energy weapons. *** “Wow, we’re still alive,” remarked Sharon. “And we don’t have a bounty, because he fired first. You might actually be smarter than I gave you credit for.” Rock smiled. There’s plenty you don’t know about me, he thought. *** Womby watched the asteroids drift past as he stared out the small window of his escape pod. “It’s a good thing I had AutoPod fitted,” he said aloud. Talking to himself was not unusual for Womby - a habit possibly brought on by not having any friends. Suddenly the pod’s heads up display indicated the presence of a tractor beam. “That was quick. I must remember to tip my rescuers generously.” he added. 9