This is the seventeenth section of the fourteenth chapter of Sonnets from a Proton. The novel starts here.
The next section is here.
“Right they’re on their way back now. One last command” James rapidly hit a series of keys on the console in front of him.
“What have you just done” asked Laurence
“Ordered the fighters to launch missiles to attack this base.” He proceeded to strap himself carefully into the seat he was sat in. “I want his base totally destroyed, or at least I want them to think it was a last minute panic and we had no base self destruct. Perhaps maybe you entered the command to stop me in my deranged plan, who will know, but all evidence will be gone.”
“Cover your tracks?”
“Exactly all the places they know we reside will be destroyed as well as a few they don’t.” He pulled the last strap tight “I don’t know about you, but I hate all that floating around. You can grow up in it all you like, but it’s never really comfortable.”
“So we start getting out of here then.”
“No, the escape craft will be launching in a few minutes, but we won’t be on them.”
“Simple if we escape they’ll eventually find us. If they think we escaped and we didn’t then we’re fugitives forever, they’ll be forever paranoid.”
“You’re planning to die here yet give the impression you’ve escaped so that they’ll be looking for you forever.”
“Indeed, every mishap will be blamed on me. Every attack will have my name stamped on it yet they’ll never find the mastermind behind the grand plot because I’ll have died decades previously. I’ll be the ultimate immortal forever unkillable and in their search for me humanity will take control of the solar system for itself and then later the stars.”
“You don’t have to die for this, I certainly don’t”
“Much as I’d like to let you free and carry on this work I just don’t think you get it. If you truly hated me I could let you go in the knowledge that I could use that. If you were with me, you could help the cause. The problem is you’re just powerful enough at the moment and just don’t quite get it so that this is the only way.”
“People say there is no other way when they have already made up their mind and are closed to reason.”
“Perhaps. Sometimes we blind ourselves because we know that we cannot trust ourselves.”
Laurence realised he wasn’t getting anywhere, “All this equipment around the room, this is all the targeting and intel control hardware Fillwick supplied isn’t it?”
“Yes?” replied James
“Thought so.” Laurence paused and then proceeded to speak as fast as he could “Recognise Stephen Fillwick,” James’ eyes lit up as he realised what was happening and struggled to release himself from the seat he had fastened himself into; Laurence carried on “Code Tango Three Zero Oscar Seven Two Delta Echo, Zeus protocol.”
The straps holding Laurence into his seat released themselves and those of the chair that James had just released himself from immediately snaked out and reached for the now fleeing James barely missing him. Laurence knew that he wasn’t skilled in freefall whereas James had shown himself to be a veteran in these circumstances. Still Laurence had the computer on his side so all he had to do was get James towards one of the seats and the computer would do the rest with the restraint webbing. Unfortunately although most of the equipment here was taken straight from the command deck of the latest class of battleships, the internal weapons had not been installed. Either that Laurence reasoned or they had been disabled because they clearly weren’t firing at James as Zeus protocol dictated they should have been.
James barreled towards him, Laurence had little chance to dodge, but the computer was with him. A computer whose only actuators in this room were attached to the two chairs they had until recently been in. Laurence swung his legs around to throw himself into a spin forcing James to miss his lunge for his grab.
James rebounded against the wall at the far end and flung himself back towards the now out of control Laurence. He was barely two body lengths away when Laurence realised he had a chance.
Laurence closed his eyes “Whiteout” he shouted and all the monitors behind him went to full intensity briefly blinding James
“Blackout” he shouted again just in time to open his eyes and grab the now disorientated James as he flew past. Laurence grabbed his legs and flung him towards the waiting chair. as he skimmed the chair the restraint webbing reached out and pulled James in and secured him.
“Sorry James” he apologised and swam out of the the control room and headed for the hanger bay. He thought as fast as he could while alternately rebounding off the walls. Arriving in the hanger bay he reasoned there should be some sort of ship there, anything to get him to the nearest habitable ‘roid. For the first time since leaving Earth he was thankful for the freefall conditions, doing this trip with the broken legs would have been impossible in the time he had, but pulling himself along the wall with his arms was almost as quick as running, and only the corners slowed him down.
The landing bay offered few choices of craft, most that could be salvaged had been with the knowledge that this base was doomed. What was left were a few construction craft and none of them had a pressurised dome. That would mean wearing a spacesuit and he didn’t have the time to get into one and even if he had the state of his leg made that a sickening prospect. No a spacesuit would not be able to sustain him long enough to make it to the nearest habitable ‘roid a day maybe two yes, but weeks? Not a chance.
Thinking as fast as he could he saw a mining mole. Those things were designed for tunnelling through the ‘roid prospecting for new seams of minerals and were perfect for what he needed in terms of life support. But they were designed for tunnelling through rock not space. Just in case you hit a void in a roid they had small thrusters to get you back to the rockface where they could attach, but small thrusters were no use for what he needed. Still it was better than nothing, he flew over to the nearest mole.
Inside the thing had been gutted, but someone had clearly adhered to the letter of the manual when they had neglected to strip out the life support system. You never knew in space when you’d need a refuge so it was a rare native of the vacuum who would intentionally disable a liveable shelter. Inside the computer systems were completely missing so it was back to the landing bay again to find something, anything to control this mole with.
Laurence checked the time. He had maybe ten minutes before this place was blown up, that gave him maybe five to be in that mole and out of here. He swam over to one of the construction bots and ripped out the control panel. They were strange craft these, designed for manoeuvrability not speed. An X shaped craft with a thruster at each corner. Slow but durable and designed for long usage in space. He had the idea, and swam back to the mole.
Patching the control panel into the mole was surprisingly easy. He’d heard that the new systems were designed for ease of maintenance but this was a shock to him. No matter, the control panel was still in contact with the original maintenance bot. Whoever had designed this thing to have a backup radio link to the host system in case of severe damage was about to get a equally severe promotion when Laurence got back home.
He instructed the mole to fly out of the bay and the construction bot to rendezvous with them. As soon as they were outside the bot was put into maximum burn and they coasted away from the ‘roid at what seemed like a snail’s pace but which Laurence reckoned was now probably approaching a few hundred klicks.
The effects of the adrenaline finally being felt Laurence suddenly realise how much two broken legs could hurt and screamed in pain. Wait he thought was that another mole leaving the ‘roid, no it was too fast. He tried to find some binoculars in the craft, tried to get the screen to show him more detail but the craft just wasn’t meant for this. It was meant for examining rock a meter or so away from the ship, not a craft leaving maybe a thousand klicks away. Suddenly the screen was filled with a bright light as the ‘roid was hit with the missile.
So was that an escape vessel and James had escaped, or had he imagined that star? There was no way to know now.