We went for a little walk on the scrap metal ball, aka the not-fancy mining satellite. The scans showed, there were nominal pressure and a thin atmosphere in several chambers, but not in the center. The heart of the structure was occupied by a heat source with strong magnetic fluctuations. Whatever was causing it, it could most likely produce a devastating explosion.
If Bayard was caught in it, the fuel on board would start a chain reaction with all the methane and hydrogen clouds around that particular area. Even a fart could ignite it… So no farting on the job! It occurred to me, it could also be a high-energy weapon the size of a glider, or just scrap metal holding an unstable reactor together. Still no farts. Anyway, we shouldn’t stick around for longer than necessary. Holding in farts wasn’t healthy, so there was that.
Armed to the teeth, I was fairly confident in the plan. “Gift ribbon on the trojan horse.” Dramatic entry with a hostage, negotiating, bungling it, losing Mother for his supposed ransom, getting paid just barely enough for the sample, leaving with our tails between our legs. So far, so good, then waiting for Mother to steal the sample and some juicy pieces of information, and finally stealing Mother back. Easy exit.
We prepared his high-end suit with extra remotely activated locators, an external jammer for his comms, tampered guiding jets, parts of a blaster hidden, and an extra kit for emergencies. Shepherd was the scarecrow this time and would be giving out orders. She dragged Mother along, who was bound into a neat bundle with a heavy shield armor on his back. My job was run-along. I looked bad-tempered and dense, a role perfectly tailored to my special abilities. Huzza!
Besides that, I was the beast of burden for all the lovely things going kaboom. Gravity was a subtle suggestion on the satellite. We floated to the access hatch that doubled as an airlock. Pomona remained or Bayard, fulfilling her role as plan D, D for destruction. If anything went sideways, she was to hulk out, avenge us and turn the scrap metal ball into, uh, a scrappier metal ball.
Inside, it was cavernous, enough room to fit a whole sightseeing tourist group of hundred Fellareans. Those massive kitty cats were the cutest. Cables as thick as an arm or leg hung from walls, some of them sizzled and emitted sparks. Still not fancy, whatever this place was, it had seen its golden days, well probably it has seen its iron days too. “Very avant-garde,” I nodded and activated my boots. With a series of clanks, we attached ourselves to the metal plate on the ground. Beside me, Cricket bounced on her toes like a teenage girl getting her dreams to come true at her sweet sixteen party.
Shepherd inserted the kinky Christmas card into a slot at a panel in the wall near the entrance and to my surprise, the wall slid away. A sanitary cubicle presented itself. Ugh. Did anyone expect us to take a shower? That looked like an inconvenience. Maybe it was an improvised particle transporter, or a suicide cubicle, or just a nasty sanitary cubicle because it was smeared and spotty, and I couldn’t imagine what made those stains.
“Alright, who didn’t go to the loo? You know the rules! Driver picks the music, everybody goes BEFORE the start of the mission, and for God’s sake – tip the waitress!” I threw my arms up, seemingly done with the start of our little expedition.
Shepherd rolled her eyes at me so hard, I heard metal scraping metal. She lifted Mother, so he could see. He shook his head. Shepherd’s face touched his visor to hear his commands, with his comms jammed. “My first mission,” Cricket beamed at me. Shepherd untethered Mother and threw him towards me. I caught him mid-float. “Your Imperial Highness,” I saluted him, and Mother grinned. “Orbit around me for the time being. As soon as your family pays the ransom, you are free to orbit anyone else of your choosing.” Mother struggled and kicked me for the show, and I slapped him for the show too. I waited for Shepherd’s demolition move, which didn’t come. “Babe? You said you got this.” She scanned the cubicle intently and hissed at me. “Ooo-kay. You got this, babe. I believe in you.” I gave her a thumbs-up and backed away, taking Mother with me.
Shepherd’s armor whined and powered up. Uh-oh. She was pissed. “Tampo! You sick fuck, open up! I’ll pulverize your guts and keep your teeth for a shitty necklace!” Her voice boomed, artificially enhanced. Machinery came to life and laughter seeped from within the walls. “Simone, is that you?” The voice came over speakers, vibrated off of every surface. Simone, huh? Who else hid their real names? Shepherd had some stories to tell, even if I needed a truth serum, I will get them! The voice sounded like a bad impression of a robotic voice.
Cricket tugged at my arm. What? “The activation code is closing in on us. We are being pinged.” What did that mean? “I thought you’re the brain wizard, speak English.” Mother Goose stared at me, a dumb question in his eyes. I winked at him before he could ask. “Very interesting. The code in the walls, that’s a person.” Cricket stared at the ceiling, and I followed her gaze. I could almost make out what she meant. The static charge surged, almost visible, almost palpable. The cables hummed angrily. It looked like one of those topographical navigation grids from stratosphere gliders. “A person in the walls?” Why were we pinged? Was there no visual on us?
Shepherd turned to me. “What did you just say?” I pointed at the ceiling. “Person in the walls.” She stared at me. “Did I stutter, babe?” Mother looked worried. Were we beat to the fix? Did somebody else arrive sooner? Obviously, this was an unexpected turn of events, but the plan was still good. We could still create some hilarious diversions.
“Look at what the cat dragged in!” The voice reverberated from every surface. Its source moved from the ceiling to the sanitary cubicle, which sprung to life, humming, whirring, and clanking until it birthed a black metallic ball covered in mucus. Ew! Ew. No. Ugh, that was nasty. The ball looked a lot like a newborn mine, playing an activation tune. I backed away from Wall-E, but Shepherd played statue. The ball rolled to her feet and flashed a smiley emoji at her, followed by a pulsing heart. Was that a pleasure mine? A pleasure robot, a drone? It purred delightedly. Was that even possible? I knew there was a wide array of sex toys and robots, but drones?
“Tampo? What did you do? Don’t tell me you- What the hell did you do?!” Shepherd stuttered. The ball grew two pairs of legs and rubbed itself against her calf. “Evolution, my love. Your evolution sparked mine. I saw what you can do, and followed the path!” The ball grew another pair of limbs and made a ta-dah gesture. It backed away and did it again. And again. “Anyone? Are you dense, or what?”
My first impulse was to clap. I shrugged after the first halfhearted attempt. “Hey no, wait!” Rude. I shook my head. “No! Not dense!” The ball wiggled over to me. “Simone, my love. What do you want with a defective one? There’s nothing a meat-bag can give you.” It flashed a skeptical face at me. Cricket pointed, and I had the inside of a beehive in my head. A swarm. It had a swarm mind. I thought of the implications of a pleasure drone with a hive mind. If they attacked a person- wow! Why didn’t the military think of those? Pleasure your enemy to death or until they give up. If they didn’t exist, it’d be such a shame.
Shepherd came over and plucked the ball up. “Where’s your body?” Her voice boomed.
“Where’s yours?” The ball shot right back, displaying a variety of eggplants.”I want to swarm you and do unspeakable things to you.” It squeaked with joy.
“AHEM! That’s enough!” Mother grunted and undid the ropes holding him captive. Not sticking to the plan? He was right. Shepherd deviated from the script.
Listen, kids, if your scarecrow messed up, no trojan horse in the universe could put it right. So we played with no cards at all?
“Let’s leave the nostalgia to the past. We’re here for business.” The ball sprung from Shepherd’s hand and approached him curiously. “Ah, the businessman,” it bowed a tiny bow, “I heard you bit off more than you can chew. And that you angered many people on both sides of the so-called law.” It walked around Mother, displaying dollar signs. “Do you know how much your heads are worth?” Wait, what?
“Now that escalated quickly,” I snorted.