High Orbit; Smell Of Scorched Insulation And Ozone
Molly’s betrayal hurt, and that’s the truth of it. It was still too close to think about.
But everything else — that Confederate, and then Intel getting involved. The riots, and the raids, and all the explosions… and my own job: moving money secretly offworld, without government knowledge. It all added up, and in a way I didn’t like.
By now, the worst of the shaking had stopped, and I figured we’d cleared the atmosphere. I unfastened myself and moved forward. Sonny was hunched over the controls, sweating and swearing; Eddie’s fingers were playing over the power relays, transferring from one system to the next as the auto-repair brought circuits back online. “Just luck we made it up,” said Eddie, “Luck and good piloting, that is. That first blast tore a lot of things loose.”
I settled in the navigator’s seat and took a look at the displays. Even from up here, the fire in the District was clearly visible, and there were other blooms of flame scattered about across the surface. As I watched another big plume of fire and steam came up, this from one of the offshore weather plants. This was the sort of damage you’d expect from an orbital bombardment — and yet, the skies were empty, all but a couple of freighters and passenger shuttles.
I’d only ever heard about this, and never thought to see it with my own eyes. “Sabotage,” I said aloud. “That’s the only thing that could cause so much damage, and so widespread. This is the way Confederates fight. I didn’t think we were at war with them.”
Eddie eyed me sideways and snorted. “Don’t exactly look peaceful to me, Taylor.” He stopped and sighed.
“Cheer up, Eddie; you’re better off up here than down there.”
“Spoken like a man who doesn’t own a bar.”
I had to admit, Eddie had a point. I hadn’t given a thought to my own office; wouldn’t really care if it went up in the fires. Oh, I’d miss the receptionist, but the world’s full of pretty girls to look at. Eddie, on the other hand, was a man of property — and that means a man with something to lose. His business was his life, and it was in danger. There was nothing I could do to help, nothing I could say. I hate that.
It was time to start getting dressed, so I did. Sonny had managed the first part of his job just fine; my package was standing in the back bay, looking ominous: a complete suit of Fleet Marine drop armor. If you’re going on a spacewalk to an unknown reception, there’s no finer way to dress; it’s the white-tie-and-tails of pressure suits. Wearing this, they could drop me fifty miles from my target and skate on by looking innocent, and nobody would ever notice me — not the ship I was going to, not orbital customs spy-eyes, nobody.
Plus, there was the added benefit that, if Sonny panicked, spooked and ran for it (something Sonny had done before, more than once) I had at least a chance of surviving re-entry. It would take a while from high orbit, but it had been done before and would be again. The only trouble was, there wasn’t an awful lot of space for luggage, and if worse came to worst I didn’t fancy walking away from my landing stark naked, which is the way you wear assault armor. That sort of thing attracts attention.
I found a spot for a rolled-up tee shirt and some shorts in an inside pocket designed for survival rations, but that was it. My new boots would have to stay with the ship, along with… I checked Molly’s bag, just to be sure. Yeah, she’d done it; my old boots were in there all right — completely unstitched and unglued, maybe a hundred different disks of hardened leather. That girl just isn’t right. I mean, what kind of a mind is it that takes the time and effort to do something like that — to a pair of boots!?
I called Eddie back and handed him my satchel to take care of — and, after a moment, the little bag. You never know, after all; I might be able to find someone to put them back together again. Hey, they were good boots — the best. That’s worth taking some trouble over.
“You about ready?” Eddie asked. “Your window’s coming up, in about–“
“FIVE MINUTES!” Sanchez’s voice blared over the intercom. Eddie grimaced.
Ready or not, it was time to go. I nodded.
This is it, people — the moment of truth. Will Our Hero make it? Tune in next time to find out!
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