A Way Out

Fine, fine. We’re all doing fine, here. Nope. Nobody’s losing it. Not even a little. I swear. Okay, in all honesty, we’re actually going pretty well, here at Caer Dave. Things are shockingly normal, though I keep waiting for it all to get really weird, really quickly. I don’t know how long this is going to last, but I’m heartened by the signs of growing disgust with the political aristoi and their nonsensical handling of current events. Anyway, here: have some fiction.

A Way Out

There’s one very useful thing about being exiled to a prison planet: lots of time for physical training. This was as true of the staff as it was about us prisoners (all except the warden, but I assumed he had other, more expensive means of entertaining himself) as Doctor Corama demonstrated. She quickly stripped Ferrer’s gunbelt and slung it around her own waist and holstered the pistol. Then she expertly rolled Chief Ferrer up into the same carry he’d recently used on me.

She rose smoothly to her feet with only a slight hiss of exertion, despite Ferrer’s not-insignificant mass. Then she grimaced and cast me a dark look. It occurred that she’d likely be doing any near-term examinations of whatever it was Prometheus had done to me, and I felt a flutter of trepidation at her obvious antipathy.

“Now, what?” By rights, the vitriol in her tone should have raised blisters on my skin. I carefully didn’t grin.

I’d been thinking about her question, but hadn’t reached much of a solution.

“Well, we need a way off-planet.” The expression on the doctor’s face suggested she was unimpressed with my cognitive ability. I ignored her and plowed on. “I presume Jaem has some method of getting his fat backside to more civilized climes-“

I cut off as the doctor jerked her head in negation.

“You’d presume wrong, then,” she clarified. “He doesn’t leave Tartarus. Ever. It’s one of the reasons he spends most of his time holed up in those disgustingly lavish apartments of his. The other is, well, he doesn’t like this place much.”

“He’s not the only one,” I said. “I can’t say I’ve enjoyed my time here, much.”

“Nor I, but when the Assault Corps and the Imperial College of Physicians both say go,” she let it trail off. I nodded.

“Orders are orders.” Images of the last several years of my life flashed by. Assault Corps Basic Training, Individual Corpsman Advanced Training, universally called Squad School within the AC, the drops over Targa 3 and 4, and the one onto Candrus Prime. Officer Basic Course and Assault Corp Leadership School. Holding the line at Samara Secunda. Appointment to the Guard. Andi. My stomach turned over as the aftermath of the terrorist assault on the Imperial Creche momentarily blotted out the reality of Tartarus. I drew a shuddering breath and dragged myself back.

Dr. Corama’s green eyes narrowed.

“What does a small time embezzler and conman know about orders?”

“Oh,” I said, pasting a smile across my suddenly stiff face, “found out what I was in for?” I hoped she wouldn’t dig any further.

She didn’t answer, but her expression showed her mind was turning over what I’d said.

“Anyway, you said Jaem doesn’t have a ship,” I prompted.

“He never leaves, at least.” She glared at me for a long moment, and then turned and started toward the entrance to the medbay. I followed, when stopped and cursed. She stood still and swore for a few seconds, and then turned to me. Emotions flitted across her face. Frustration, regret, longing, deep, deep anger, and finally settled into furious resignation. When she spoke, her voice grated.

“Would you get a few things from my office for me?” The doctor’s face took on the stiffness of a wooden mask. “Please?” The word sounded about as comfortable as chewing rocks.

“Sure,” I kept my response free of emotion. The doc was a bit testy at the best of times. She was justifiably raw after the events of the day.

“Take my badge, grab the picture off my desk, the satchel in bottom drawer of my desk, and the certs off the wall.” Her voice was flat: pure business.

I gritted my teeth as I carefully slipped the badge off the breast of her coveralls, but there was no discharge of energy, nor did my suit react. I scanned the badge at the office door, which obediently opened, and quickly retrieved the specified items.

The satchel was AC issue, and I briefly wondered where mine was. The certificates on the doctor’s “I love me” wall were the usual assortment. Imperial College diploma and license. Curiously, she had a scorched AC Squad School cert, too. I slipped those into the satchel, and then reached for the frame I’d seen the back of as I’d entered the office. And froze.

The picture held the image of a smiling little girl. She looked about eight standard years old.

“Gods,” I swore quietly. That explained a few things. I quickly scooped up the picture and slid it into the satchel on top of the certs. I tossed the doctor’s badge in, as well.

Doc had leaned a hip against a medcouch, and straightened as I exited her office.

“I’ll just hold onto this, shall I?” I shook the satchel.

Her nod was a sharp chop of her head. I slipped the straps over my shoulders and cinched the compact pack into place.

“As it happens,” Dr. Corama said, leading the way out of the medbay, “the supply ship landed yesterday with more prisoners.” She shook her head, scowling at something unapparent to me before continuing. “I checked them before anything was loaded aboard the ship, but then the earthquakes started, and the warden locked everything down.”

“Oh?” Hope bloomed in my chest at her words.

“Oh.” She flashed me a tight smile of confirmation. “It’s still on the pad.”

She led the way through the prison in silence. The complex felt eerily deserted. I was certain the prisoners were stuck in their cells. I had no idea what the staff were up to, though I presumed the AC detachment had been armed for the duration. Weight of arms could be useful if Jaem decided he needed to move the population somewhere safer during the emergency, and every AC corpsman was also a trained soldier, at least nominally under the warden’s command.

The red emergency lights lent the drap duraplast of the prison corridors a distinctly infernal cast, and I was glad to finally get outside. I was even more glad to see the night sky over Tartarus. Memories of my arrival and the stasis shock exacerbated by the brutal sunshine had plagued me as we’d walked, and I hadn’t been looking forward to daylight. The fresh air of the cool night, however, was a balm to my soul.

Across the prison’s landing pad squatted the dark bulk of the supply ship. She looked like an old Marsken Stellar Industries light freighter, though the darkness prevented me from seeing what shape she was in. Even if it hadn’t, I expected she was a little off stock, at least on the inside. Excitement raced through me at finally seeing a way out of this hell.

Excitement which transmuted instantly to shock as the pad burst into glaring, actinic light.

“HALT!” The amplified voice thundered across the hardened diamacrete pad. “STAND AND BE RECOGNIZED.”

Instead of obeying, Doc broke into a lumbering run, surprising me even more.

Two AC corpsmen in full rattle stood bracing the freighter’s extended ramp. Their battle rifles were up and trained aimed in our direction.

I immediately leapt after the fleeing physician. The crack of rifle rounds split the night and I threw myself into a roll to avoid the rounds. I hadn’t enjoyed catching Crind’s fire, and even if my own suit shed the rounds from the AC rifles, I had a suspicion the simple kinetic energy would do a number on my body.

“Physician Commander Neia Corama, AC,” Doc gasped as she ran, “I have Chief Ferrer! Open the ship! He’s right behind me!”

I growled as I rolled up to one knee.

“GET ON YOUR FACE!” The amplified voice roared. I ignored it.

I gritted my teeth and whipped my hand through the gestures to throw an energy blast.

I deliberately aimed short, and the bolt blew a hole in the pad bare meters short of the AC. The concussion knocked Doctor Corama through the ship’s open hatch, and blew both soldiers off their feet. I threw myself to my feet and sprinted toward them. One, of the two, the farther from the impact of my energy bolt, staggered to his feet as I approached. The other was on hands and knees, shaking his helmeted head.

The first attempted to raise his rifle to cover me. I seized the muzzle and forced it up, sending his shot high into the night. The heel of my other hand struck the center of his chest plate with enough force to rattle the man. He staggered a step, and I called up my digging claws and sliced through the sling holding his rifle to his armor.

I twisted the rifle out of his stunned hands and tossed it through the hatch, and then grabbed hold of the corpsman with both hands and spun. I threw him with the same augmented strength I’d used on Crind. Fortunately, the corpsman was armored, and I was certain he’d survive the trip better than the sadistic prison guard had.

The second corpsman was just rising to his feet, and I gave him the same treatment as his buddy, minus the use of the claws, as I saw the ship’s hatch starting to cycle closed. I pelted up the ramp and dove through the narrowing gap into the ship’s interior.

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