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Authors: Diane Duane; Peter Morwood

Kill Station (22 page)

BOOK: Kill Station
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"All set," he said to Joss.

"Good. Here we go—"

"I think I've got your echo now," said George, sounding slightly surprised. "Not a reflection at all, I don't think."

"Aah, hell," Joss said, practically snarling now. "Keep an eye on it for me. Come on, you wretched tin can, spill it!!"

Evan hung there and listened to the swearing, while keypads were tapped and thumped and, to judge by the noise, kicked around the command cabin. "Nothing?" he said.

The answer that came back was florid and original, but didn't provide much information.

"Stronger," said George. "Whoever it is, they're coming in at a good rate. Should I identify us?"

"I'd rather you didn't," Joss said, and paused in his swearing a moment. Then he said, "Holy shit! Evan, get in here!"

Evan did not pause to question advice given in that tone of voice. He kicked his jets in and started cursing them himself, for they never seemed to move fast enough when he wanted them to. It was only a few seconds, but seemed like a lot longer before he had his hands on the nearest hull grip and was pulling himself hurriedly, hand over hand, along the hull toward the airlock. Joss had started turning the ship under him, and Evan waved like a flag in the wind.

"What the hell is the matter with you?" he said, groping for the last handhold before the airlock, and grabbing it at last.


He got his answer. A line of hot blue-white fire went right by them. It had to be three meters wide if it was an inch, and
bwn Diw,
there were separate lines of pale hot energy in it, curved around one another in a braid of long flat sine curves like the interwoven strands of pressurized flame that made up the shock-diamonds in the venturi of a conventional rocket's nozzle flare.

Evan slapped the airlock open, dove in, and slapped it shut behind him. It took a moment for the lock to reoxy-genate itself; then the inner door sprung aside for him, and he stumbled in. The gravity was going in all directions at once again as Joss spun the ship.

"There's our little surprise for today," Joss said. "Damn! Damn it all to Hell! I almost had it!"

Another line of blue fire lanced across their bow, and it was wider this time. The braiding was horribly visible. "Why didn't they hit us?" Evan wondered.

"Can't tell. Don't wish it on us! George, run like hell!" Joss shouted down the link. "Don't wait around!

Don't answer! Go!"

There was no telling from the screens what George was doing. Joss had them enlarged to show only one thing, the incoming vessel. Its blip was close enough to show some shape when enhanced. A box. A globe. Some struts.

"Look familiar?" Joss said.

"It's a scow," Evan said, not quite sure he was believing what he was seeing. "What miner has weapons like

"No miner," Joss said, desperately kicking the ship over on its side with the attitudinal jets. Things fell over in the galley. ' 'I do wish you'd put your teapot away when you're done with it," he added.

"Not a miner," Evan said. "But someone trying to look like one."

"Look at the weapons signature there," Joss said. "Then look at the engines. They can't put an engine on that ship that's worth anything. It would give them away instantly. All they can do is stick the best guns in the Solar


System in it, and sneak up on people, and potshot them. Like Hek. Oh, God, George, run like hell!"

"Is he away?" Evan asked, suddenly nervous. It had just occurred to him that he might have some questions to answer Mell if George should fail to come home safely. And he would understand her reasoning.

"Can't tell. Oh, jeez, come on, you dumb bucket of bolts! Come on,

The ship veered abruptly in the other direction. Blue fire shot past her nose, missing it by about twenty meters. Joss kicked in the iondrivers, hard; the ship leapt forward. Evan hauled himself to his seat and pulled himself down into it, fumbling around for straps. The seat was not intended for him to be sitting in it when he was wearing the suit. All the straps had been adjusted for his shape when he was in nothing more bulky than a uniform.

"Never mind that," Joss said, "just hang on!" He began doing things to the command console. "Unidentified vessel,"

he said to th6 comm link, "this is the Solar Patrol. Cease fire and prepare to be boarded, or prepare to receive fire."

There was no answer. Joss shrugged. "Oh well," he said, "they had their chance."

Evan nodded, and concentrated on hanging on and praying. It was surprising, the prayers that he remembered when he were being shaken in twelve directions at once, and someone was shooting at him, and he couldn't do anything about it at all. Joss was sweating bullets, and his face was fixed in an expression of concentration and rage that Evan had never seen before. Joss was paying no attention to the view out the plex, but was staring at his radar screen as if his life depended on it. It did.

He laughed shortly as another bolt went by and missed them again. "We're doing circles around each other," Joss said. "The damn thing's fixed."


"Fixed! It's stuck on the front of that ship in a fixed frame. Or installed fixed inside. Dumb thing can't move,

otherwise we'd be all over this part of space at the moment," Joss said, and chuckled a bit. It was not Joss's usual chuckle. It made Evan look hard at his partner, and shudder a little. "They can only fire straight forward."

"Whereas we, of course—"

"You watch," Joss said, hands dancing over his console.

"The best part is, he can't run."

"Can't he?"

"Not as fast as we can. Come on,
honey," Joss said, "come on. . . ."

The ship began to vibrate. "Good thing Mell found what she did," Joss said conversationally. "Just about now, we'd be pretty dead. Either here, or further back, before we got here. We must be getting close to what's going on, Evan, my lad, because somebody's getting pretty eager to kill us."

"There must be another way to find out you're right," Evan said, still fumbling for the straps as Joss tossed them in another strange and unexpected direction.

"Probably," Joss said, grinning, "but would it be this much fun?" He started to hum something Evan couldn't identify.

"Na na na na na na na na naaaaa ..."

The man's lost it,
Evan thought. "Should I recognize that?" he asked, trying to sound conversational.

"Probably not," Joss said, very cheerfully. "It's what you sing when you're driving your go-cart down Dead Man's Hill, and the wheels are threatening to come off. Na na na na na na na na naaaaaa ..."

Joss went off into a rather truncated version of the
William Tell Overture.
Evan breathed out.
If it works for him as
well as praying does for me,
he thought, /
shouldn 't complain. . . .

The ship shuddered again as the iondrivers rattled more emphatically in their mounts. "All right," Joss said softly, "all right, you poor son of a bitch. Now, then." The ship shook again, but in a different way this time, as if something had kicked it in the side, hard.


"Missile away," Joss said. "Five seconds."

He flung the ship in yet another direction. More blue fire went by the front plex, again so close that the braiding of the tuned lasers was clearly visible.
It's actually very pretty,
Evan thought—and abruptly, the beam cut

Joss crowed with delight. "That's his power plant," he cried. "Perfect surgical strike. Now let's see what happens."

The whine of
engines' began to back down a bit. "Unidentified vessel," Joss said again to the comm, as he turned the ship, "prepare to be boarded. Any further fire will result in punitive action."

Evan looked at Joss, a little concerned. "You wouldn't blow them up, would you?"

"Would you prefer spanking?" Joss asked, and then laughed. "Of course not, you asshole. I like a good fight, but these people are evidence, whoever they are—"

A blinding flash lit up the plex. It was autopolarizing, but even so, both of them had to turn their heads away. Only a moment later they found themselves looking at a blooming, burning cloud.

"Shit on a shingle," Joss said, glancing at his console. "Dirty. They were carrying atomics, too. But at least I didn't do it. They would have gone up right away."

shielding?" Evan asked.

"Oh, we can take it. But goddam it," Joss said as he looked at the comms board again, and his face fell, "that last shot of his got the relay. Damn, damn, damn!"

"Did you get anything from it at all?"

"Not a syllable. Oh, damn it to eff all!"

Evan sat there shaking his head for a moment. "Well," he said finally, "one thing we can be sure of, now. We have definitely been heading in the right direction."

"Yes," Joss said. "But dammit all, do you know how much that cable cost me?"

To this, Evan could think of no reply.

"Oh, well," Joss said after a few moments, "let's get

home. I want to file a report. And then I want to think. And then I want to ask some questions."

"Such as?"

"Such as who knew we were coming out here," Joss said. "I didn't tell Cecile."

"Well, obviously George knew."

"Yes, and he bugged out right and proper, didn't he?" Joss said, sitting back in his chair.

Evan was outraged. "You told him to!"

"He didn't fire a shot to help us, Evan. When we get back, I'd better find that that boy didn't even have a peashooter on board, or I'm going to start carrying on cranky. And who else knew?"

Evan looked at Joss uneasily. "Well, Mell, of course—"

"Of course."

"Joss, are you out of your mind? What are you suggesting?"

"That somebody at the station," Joss said, "is feeding somebody out this-a-way information about where we're going to be. Evan, we weren't here five
before that ex-bozo showed up. Doesn't that evidence suggest something to you?"

Evan sat still and held onto his temper for a moment. "It does," he said finally, and very quietly, "but the evidence is circumstantial at best. And you know it."

Joss knew that tone of voice by now, and held his own peace for a moment. "All right," he said. "But Evan, it needs to be looked at nonetheless. You had better ask your lady friend a question or three."

Evan held still again, and then said, "I think that might be inappropriate, under the circumstances. Don't you? If you want to ask her something, do it yourself, Officer."

Joss was quiet for a couple of breaths. "I will," he said. "But it can wait a little while. First of all, let's get back to Willans and make sure that this little shakedown hasn't done more than shake us up."



station, and neither man seemed especially willing to say anything to the other. The tension on board ship was unusual, and because of that, uncomfortable. It was Joss who finally broke the silence.

"You're coming with me," he said quietly, not giving orders, not even making a request. Just assuming that his buddy would do it without needing any more elaborate explanation. He was wrong.

"To where?" said Evan. There was something about the way he spoke, and the way he stared at Joss when he said the words so carefully, that had a challenge and a defiance in it. He knew where, and why, and to whom they were going, and he seemed to be waiting for Joss to come right out and say it.

"Mell's place." Joss tapped a few keys on the nearest console as if it were more something for him to do than anything relating to piloting the ship. He looked Evan straight in the eyes. "Because I want to be absolutely sure about your lady friend, and just right now, I'm not."

Evan felt himself expanding inwardly, the rush of blood or adrenaline or inhaled air that usually meant trouble for someone. The suit hid it, and he controlled the expression on his face, so that the only thing Joss might have noticed out of place was a slight hesitation in his partner's flow of speech. Then Evan, voice completely steady, said, "What's the point in that?"

"Come on, Officer Glyndower," and Joss said it right,
glinn-doo 'wer,
instead of his usual mangled mispronunciations,

"we've just been shot at by a ship whose crew can't answer questions, a ship that had no business being where we were, a ship that had double no business carrying that sort of weaponry. I think that since we've few enough suspects who might know the who and the where and the why, we should start with the one who's been closest to us both."


"I resent that, O'Bannion," said Evan. He did, too, really and truly, rather than the slight, easily controlled outrage that would have been more usual hi any of the several other circumstances. Maybe because, in those other circumstances, he could have been sure of his position as defendant. This time Evan wasn't sure at all. Maybe that was why he resented it so much, taking refuge in formal names and stiff-necked annoyance rather than letting Joss have his say.

And maybe both of them saw it in time.

Either way, Joss and Evan saw where the dialogue was headed, and both of them stopped talking in the same moment.

The sudden quiet sounded even sillier than the slow, polite rising of voices, so that both men looked at one another, uncertain of how the next word or breath was likely to be received.

"Okay," said Evan. "The point to you, then. Did we take any damage that you can see, by the way?"

Joss shook his head. "No, but the diagnostics aren't equipped to assess the kind of damage I'm worried about. Do you have any idea how hot that damn braided beam is?"

"Hot enough to blister
ass, at least," he said.

BOOK: Kill Station
7.18Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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