August 15th 2014
I once knew a man who’d worked at OSP-4 since the day they set her in space and gave her a spin. He told me that the only thing that set apart Forensic Psychiatry from the Political Activities Wing was that the crazies in the PAW had a cause.
We had never meant to go there, but when our elevator stopped and all the lights turned red, Wes Morgan pried open the doors and we found that the attack by the Nova Dogs had blown open the shaft. We’d been saved from the vacuum of space by a piece of steel that had peeled off one wall and lodged underneath the car.
We were lodged in the shaft, but we could all detect the gentle hiss of escaping air and we stepped off carefully. No man wanted to be the last to disembark and risk a short trip into the black. I let them go, and eventually only Cayla Wyrick and I remained. It was fitting in a way. She was my therapist, the woman into whose custody I had been given after being stripped of my rank. She looked at me and I looked at her, and neither of us wanted to go before the other. In the end, she had more steel in her than I did, and she followed me out of the shaft.
Right into the barrel of a gun.
Our assailants, like most of our group, wore prison orange, except that they wore red suns painted on bands of white cloth on their arms. They’d been waiting by the door of the escalator, capturing and disarming us one-by-one as we came through.
They took us through the prison block and up a flight of stairs. There, striding around a control center consisting of hacked notepads and vidscreens that had once been mounted in guard posts, was a Tevarin. He was tall and well-muscled, with grayish skin, and he owed his freedom to us.
“We meet again, Yusaf Asari,” said Morgan cockily. By this time we’d all been shackled with plastic handcuffs, and his wrists were bound before him. Several more Tevarin prisoners from the PAW stood nearby, holding onto our guns for us.
“We do indeed,” responded Asari. “What are you doing here, Morgan?”
“Sightseeing. You know, snap a few pictures, have a drink with the locals. That kind of thing.”
“We’re here by accident,” Wyrick quickly interjected. The small blonde woman in nylons and a suit looked out of place in the sea of orange and blue uniforms that made up our group, but she’d become as much a part of it as any of us. “Our elevator —”
“— I don’t care what brought you here. I want to know where you’re going.” Asari’s face was stone and his accent made him stress his syllables in all the wrong places. “We are here and the pirates are out there and no one travels between us. Except you. Why? What are you seeking?”
The Nova Dogs, a group of pirates captained by one Martin Kilkenny, were cannibals who sought one particular prisoner named Martin Browning who no one had ever heard of and who were willing to blow up the station to find him. They’d struck without warning, targeting command centers and barracks with pinpoint precision. It was because of them that Cayla Wyrick, who held the civilian rank of Lieutenant, had been promoted by OSP-4’s computer to Warden. She was the most valuable thing on the station right now, and I had no idea if Asari knew it or not.
“We’re getting off the station,” said Morgan simply. My chest tightened. What the hell was Morgan doing? The last thing we needed to do was to tell these guys the truth.
The Tevarin who surrounded us grunted in laughter. All except Asari. “I know you too well to believe that’s a joke. How are you going to accomplish that?”
Morgan nodded at Herschel Konicek, who still wore the hospital gown he’d had on when we’d rescued him from Forensic Psychiatry. “Herby’s my mechanic. He’s going to fix a couple of mothballed fighters Nylund knows about, and we’re going to use them to run the blockade.”
I had to bite my tongue to keep from asking Morgan just what in the hell he was trying to prove.
Asari absorbed this information impassively. “What makes you think we won’t use those fighters ourselves?”
Morgan shrugged, an awkward motion considering his hands were bound in front of him. “Herby won’t work for you. That right, Herby?”
Konicek, still coming down from an involuntary high from the drugs the other inmates had fed him, shrugged and wiped at an ear with his bound hands.
“We have our own mechanics.”
“Not like Herby.”
Asari looked at Konicek, who now crouched on his haunches, rocking back and forth. “Evidently.”
One of the prisoners in the back started to say something, but he was violently cut off by a Tevarin who shoved the butt of his rifle into his guts. I was glad I hadn’t spoken up.
“We saved your life,” said Morgan quietly. “Apparently, the Tevarin have a short memory.”
“The Tevarin have a long memory.” Asari’s brow creased. “My people remember the Battle of Idris IV and we remember the day when Corath’Thai —”
“Enough with the performance, Yusaf. Two years of exchanging chess moves on bits of paper tied to strings and all of a sudden I’m suppressing your people?” Morgan took two steps towards Asari and every rifle in the room raised at once. He stopped and sighed. “No one’s got more sympathy for your cause than I do. When we get off this hunk of junk, the first thing I’ll do is send your people a note with the station’s coordinates. You know that.”
Asari considered this as he looked at his men, meeting each of their gazes. “Chess is chess. But I don’t trust you Morgan. Leave the girl here.”
“Sure, done. Now let’s get these cuffs off,” said Morgan.
I was offended by just how fast he’d agreed to Asari’s terms. He’d sold out Wyrick without a second thought. I couldn’t contain myself. “We’re not leaving Cayla with you —”
A rifle butt to the solar plexus silenced me a lot quicker than I’d like to admit. I spasmed and found myself on the floor having to struggle not to vomit repeatedly.
Morgan’s voice sounded fuzzy over the pounding of blood in my ears. “Nice going, kid. The idea was to convince them she wasn’t valuable as a hostage.”
“That,” said Asari as I struggled to my feet, “is exactly why I don’t trust you. The girl stays. And you uphold your end of the deal.”
“No, I —”
Another blow from the same rifle sent me back to my knees. I didn’t know why I got back up again. Sure I’d come to respect Wyrick during our escape attempt, but it wasn’t like me to risk my own neck for someone else. It wasn’t that I was selfish. It’s just that the last time I took a risk, someone very close to me died. Being a bastard is generally safer for everyone involved. So why was I putting myself out there for her? Was it because I respected how she’d bested twenty armed men with only the sound of her voice at the armory? Or was it because she’d trusted me enough to sign me into the system at the server room, knowing that I was going to use that access for my own purposes?
“I’m — oh for chrissakes let me speak,” I barked as I saw the rifle butt rise again. Asari looked at me and then nodded at the guard. The rifle lowered. “She was the one who saved your life. Without her access codes we’d all be dead. And, despite everything, she has never left a man behind. No one. Not multiple-murderers, not convicted rapists, not even a former quartermaster with sticky fingers. So there isn’t a man among us —” I looked around at the other prisoners and found a surprising number of them nodding back, “— who’ll leave her behind now. If you ever want your people to know which sorry ass scrap of metal you got yourself imprisoned in, you’ll let us go.”
As far as impassioned speeches go, it was one of my best. Asari, whose job it was as leader of the Tevarin minority in OSP-4 to give impassioned speeches, was not impressed. “Or we could just kill you all and we’re no worse off than we were before.”
“I’ll stay,” said Wyrick. “I can’t fly a fighter or a transport and I’ve never been much of a mechanic. And I won’t shoot anyone.” She’d gotten to her feet and, though she was the shortest person in the room by at least a half a head, somehow, she seemed to loom larger. “You don’t need me to get off this station.”
I was about to protest, not that we needed her access codes to get off the station or anything. Something more personal. Luckily she cut me off before I embarrassed myself. “You have everything you need to get these boys where they need to go, Lieutenant Avery Nylund. Just remember to send a search party for me when this is all over, okay?”
And just like that we left her there. I kept waiting for Morgan, our ultra-competent mercenary, to propose a plan to rescue her. As soon as we got out of earshot he’d suggest we storm the air ducts, or take out the guards with knock-out gas. But the plan never materialized. Asari’s men marched us to the nearest working elevator and gave us machine guns instead of the guns we’d appropriated from the armory and sent us on our way.
I was still numb when we arrived at Cargo Deck 1C, which housed the mothballed fighters and reserve transport that would get us off the station and past Kilkenny’s blockade. Of course, it was locked, and of course I pointed this out to Morgan. “This is why we need Wyrick. She’s got all the security codes.”
Morgan stepped away from the door console and gave the door a thump of disapproval. “No. Wyrick’s too smart for that. She would have known we wouldn’t get far without the codes.” He scratched his head and then looked at me. “She called you lieutenant, didn’t she?”
She had indeed. She’d called me ‘Lieutenant Avery Nylund’ for the first time ever. Even before I’d been convicted and we’d met each other in passing, she’d merely called me by my rank. And then it hit me. I’d wiped away the records of my conviction in the server room, and the computer must have then automatically restored my rank.
It was with some satisfaction that I approached the door console. “Voice Print: Lieutenant Avery Nylund. Passcode: How now brown cow.”
One of the hardened criminals in the back of our group burst out laughing and I felt my cheeks go red. “What? I like the way it rhymes.”