Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Honest Work 2






2



The two System Marines escorted Diana out of the room and away from her Attorney who protested.  "This is against all the rules of law aboard this station!  Outrageous!"  The men paid no attention, but Diana looked back over her shoulder.  "Be safe, Diana!" Dagget said.  "I’ll get you out of there as soon as I can!"

When the military escort turned the corner away from the court, one of the men turned to her and said, "You’re in no danger, ma’am.  We’re taking you to the Common.”

Diana nodded.

The escort made for the Moorcock Corridor where they stepped onto a slidewalk that would take them around the Core and to the far side of the station into the Sagan Corridor.  Bradbury Common lay at the far end of the main thoroughfare.  It was as big a park as space could be spared for in the floor plan.  It was the most necessary part of the station: filled with flora that scrubbed the air and provided an essential recreational area for the mental and physical health of the tenants. 

They came to a barrier guarded by two more Marines, with radium weapons.  "Acme," one of Diana's escorts said.  "Roadrunner," came the answer.  The two guards opened the barrier and let the escort through.

In the center of the green space, there was a small gathering of people and most of them were looking toward the observation window where what Diana took to be a new sculpture stood.  At ten feet tall it was half as high as the ceiling and was topped with a glass sphere that was playing a myriad of colors across its face.  Diana looked around, found no one else in the Common and shivered.

"Diana!"

A goateed man broke from the group and came out to meet her.  They embraced.  "I'm glad you came," he said in her ear, then kissed her on the cheek.  Diana blushed a little.

"Hello, Jimmy,” she said, composing herself again. “What's going on?"

"That thing."  Jimmy Cavanaugh pulled away and pointed at the sculpture.  "I've seen one before."

Diana began walking toward it, on a course to be intercepted by the rest of Jimmy's group.  "It's beautiful," she said watching the various colors play across the globe.

Jimmy reached out and held her arm.  "Hold on," he said.  "There's some danger."

"Danger?"  She looked at Jimmy, turned to the sculpture, then back to Jimmy.  She saw the gray at his temples and a couple of wisps in his goatee.  He was worried.

"I can’t say exactly. The first one just sort of fizzled out," Jimmy said.  "I came for my evening walk and there it was.  Colonel Singleton's in charge, he let me stay.  I convinced him to call you in."

"Why me?"  Diana looked back at the sculpture.  "I can't Witness anything until Judge Bean rules on my case."

"About that," Jimmy said.  "Your case is over."

Diana was stunned.  "How?"

"Colonel Singleton," Jimmy said.  "Martial law on the station until further notice.  Especially with the attack at Harrison-Fiddler."

"You're kidding."

"I'm afraid not, dear," he said. Jimmy put a hand on her shoulder and guided her toward the group of station dignitaries waiting to meet her.

Introductions went quickly.  "Kathleen Selwyn, president of the Norrin Radd, Colonel Singleton of the System Marines, and Verdun Grewsa, the quadrant representative."  Grewsa was the only non-human in the group but took Diana's hand with her flipper and approximated a handshake.  Diana responded by greeting her in Pramotaurus, the amphibian's native language.  Grewsa bowed slightly and the lights on her pressure suit blinked with a pleasing rhythm.  "Glad to meet you," she said through her translator.  "English will be fine."

Jimmy bristled a little.

Pleasantries out of the way, the Marine colonel looked to Jimmy.  "You have the past experience with this sort of thing, Cavanaugh."

"Call me Jimmy.  I think this thing is a kind of communicator with the other end of the line at a place where a good many of the fine citizens of the System no longer believe in.

“Colonel, Madam President,” Jimmy said, “the one I encountered on Earth caused a lot of fear and shut down an entire city before we solved its riddles.  My opinion?  This is nothing to fool around with.”

Kathleen Selwyn frowned.  "I should be in Harrison-Fiddler, dealing with the attack there and not worried about this ---" she waved her hand, "thing."

The lights above the Common went out.  The globe flashed a bright white light across the common, delineating harsh shadows with sharp edges.  Everything for a moment was black and white and then completely dark.  A galaxy’s worth of star shine through the observation window provided the only light across the Common.  The sound of Marines unshouldering their weapons and orders being barked quickly drowned out the distant cries and shouts filtering down the halls of the station.

"Come on," Selwyn said through gritted teeth.  "Kick in."  Her fists shook at her sides.

Diana watched the faces of her companions in the gloom and noted their reactions for later.  Jimmy was the first to notice Grewsa’s agitation.  "What is it?"

The amphibian collapsed.  Jimmy and the colonel rushed to her side.  "Her hydration system's offline." 

The room lightened and Diana turned to see it was coming from the sculpture. There were beams of light coming out of it, playing in random patterns across the walls of the Common, the trees, the plants.  Grewsa was struggling to breathe.  "which one?  Where is it?”  Jimmy was punching buttons as the amphibian started rolling around, back and forth.

"Her back," the colonel said.  "There!"

"I see it," Jimmy said.  He rolled Grewsa onto her left side and pushed wide a small sliding door that had been jarred open by her thrashing.  "Hold her," he said to the colonel who reached out and put hands on Grewsa's shoulder and hip.  He nodded.

Jimmy hooked a finger inside the small compartment and found a button, pushed.  There was a small click and a slight hum of electricity that faltered before it came back strong.  Grewsa relaxed and the two men let her roll onto her back.  They could see relief on her face, her saucer-sized eyes were clearing and her mouth closed as her suit's hydration system went back to work.  Colonel Singleton pointed with his eyes toward Diana. 

Jimmy set his jaw.  "You got her?"

"Yes," the colonel said.

"What do you see, Diana?"  Jimmy stood up and saw the whirling, flashing lights.  "Looks like a disco ball to me."

"What's that?" Diana was distracted, watching the lights dancing across the globe's surface.

"Never mind," Jimmy said.  "We don't have 'em any more.  Now it's lasers."

"What?"  Diana turned to him.  "What did you say?"

Jimmy tried not show annoyance.  "What do you see?" Grewsa was getting to her feet with Colonel Singleton's help.

"There's a pattern," Diana said.  "It might be a code of some kind."

"That'd fit with the one I experienced," Jimmy said.  "Any idea what kind of code?"

"Maybe Morse," the colonel said.  He stepped up next to Diana and watched the lights.  "But it's not Terran, nor even System Morse.  I don't know ---" The colonel snapped his fingers.  "Perkins.  Where's Perkins?"  He turned back toward the entrance that Diana and her escorts had come through, he shouted for Perkins.

"YO!"  From behind the colonel and across the Common came a Marine at a quick trot, a radium gun slapping his side.  "Pfc Perkins reporting, sir!"  A snappy salute to the colonel who returned in kind. 

Singleton pointed at the sculpture.  "We think there's a code in the pattern of lights, soldier.  You have experience in codes, right?"

"First in my class, sir."  Perkins, who was younger than Diana by six or seven years squinted at the lights.

"Is it Morse or something else?"  Singleton's voice was calm and cool, commanding.

The private stepped forward as he watched.  "Morse?  No.  It's ---"

Diana watched Perkins: he cocked his head to one side and his lips moved as he tried to work it out. 

"It's, maybe," he said.  He made a face.  "I think it's a form of Morse, called Baudot Code, sir.  No."  He stepped forward again, craned his neck then took a step back.  "Hold on."  He scrabbled at his chest pocket and pulled out a handheld device, tipped the stylus out and then scrawled on the little screen.  "Not Baudot, strictly.  I think it's a variation called Murray code."

"What's it saying, Perkins?"

Jimmy and Grewsa were behind Perkins and Singleton, standing next to Diana, who noted that Grewsa looked like herself again.  Jimmy was worried.

Perkins scribbled, watched the pulsing lights, scribbled some more then frowned.

"Well?"

"I don't know if it's right, sir," Perkins sounded unsure.  "It doesn't --- well, it's a threat if I've interpreted it right."

Singleton raised his voice only a little.  "What does it say, Marine?"

"I will kill you all."



Thanks for reading Honest Work. Come back next Wednesday Click here for Part Three, won't you?  And tell your friends!


©2010 By Jason Arnett.
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