Episode 3 - Carla Get Your Gun
In the darkness of space, there's no sound. Flashes of light can be lost against the backdrop of a billion stars. It's a wonderful place to hide.
Unfortunately, that aspect of the eternal void was not lost on the pilot of the Corsair SRT-9068. Stealing spacecraft was a dangerous game played by professionals only, risky, and a hell of a rush. Getting on board the freighter was the easy part. All that was required was several billion credits in bribes, and, in some cases, a few well-placed explosives.
The pilot carefully watched the chrono tick down. The monitor showed the pursuing three ships slowly gaining. The Corsair could easily lose them, if the course had already been plotted out. However, the pilot didn't have that kind of time, and jumping without a course was a great way to end your days as a six mile-deep pit in the surface of a planet. Fortunately, he found the answer to his prayers: A small, pre-galactic planet in a small, out-of-the-way system. It was sending out enough signal noise that the GC ships would have to take a moment to adjust their scanners. That was all the time he needed.
Swooping in low to the planet, almost within its gravity well, the pilot himself was almost overwhelmed by the amount of noise coming off the planet. He soon remembered his mission however, and tapped a sequence of keys.
"Caution," the computer warned. "Ejecting core will result in loss of FTL Transit. Are you certain?"
The pilot tapped a portion of the screen.
A dull thud echoed through the ship as the explosive bolts shot the core toward the planet. GC would undoubtedly catch up to him soon, but by the time they did he would be a good distance away. Hopefully, by the time they figured out where he'd dumped the core, his partner, the Slax, would already have retrieved it. To ensure that, the pilot prepared a small device, which he slipped into the ship's airlock and let drift into space. The device, a small, metal cylinder, was a message in a bottle of sorts. It broadcast a homing signal on the same frequency as solar radiation. It was difficult to detect, but since just about every ship out there filtered out that kind of random noise, it was almost completely secure. Once the message was retrieved, the core would be recovered, and trading on the black market could commence. Now, all that was left to do was lead the GC on a chase to distract them.
"Hey! Hey! Easy!" the gypsy said as Roger pushed him against the wall. "I'm a US citizen. I got rights."
"US citizen, huh?" Roger asked, brushing aside the gypsy's coat to expose a half-dozen eye stalks.
"What can I say? I grew up in Jersey," the gypsy replied.
"Shut up and spread `em," Roger said. Reaching into one of the coat pockets, Roger felt the handle of a weapon. He grabbed and pulled, a two meter-long laser rifle slid out of a portable hole.
"I've got a permit for that," the gypsy said.
"You're under arrest for violation of of Galactic Customs code ST- 401, section 11 persuant to Galactic Treaty T-655," Roger told him. "Distributing... er... sexual products to a developing... wait, you do realize that these devices are totally incompatible with the sexual organs of the indigenous people of this planet, don't you?"
"Great," the gypsy said. "Now someone tells me."
"Although", Roger said with a bit of reflection, "They'd make lovely kazoos."
The gypsy turned a rather disturbing shade of puce.
"ASAP" Chuck War said.
"Understood," Jack replied. "I'll have the team together and ready to go by 0600."
"Where are we off to this time?" Phil asked, walking soundlessly across the warehouse floor.
"South America," Jack said, turning off the communicator screen. "Get everyone together and we'll talk about it downstairs. Oh, and Phil..." Phil turned around. "Tell Roger to air this prisoner out in the wind tunnel for a while before putting him in a cell. I don't want the whole place smelling like that."
"This," Jack said, pointing to the three-dimensional display floating above the table, "is a Minkowski Class 4 warp core." There was a small amount of oohing and ahing from the group. "It's a prototype, the only one of its kind so far. The Minkowski Corporate was sending it, in a mockup craft, to their testing area in the Northern Corridor when it was stolen right out from under their noses by a pair of Slax."
Both Rhino and Phil made happy noises. The Slax were one of only a handful of races they could cause greivous bodily harm to and not get reprimanded.
"A GC patrol cruiser picked up an unregistered warp core signature and pursued. When they caught up to it, they discovered that the pilot had ejected the core and was in the process of wiping the computer's memory banks. Unfortunately for him, we were able to rebuild enough of the memory banks to determine that the Earth was the dump site."
"You have a time on that dump?" Rhino asked.
"And a location?" Phil added.
"43:27:15:31 Galactic Standard," Jack said. "Four hours ago. As for location, that's anyone's guest."
"I'll check the logs and see if anything was picked up," Shimo said.
"Good man," Jack said. "Just remember, the computer clock is still screwed up, so it's twelve years fast. Ok everyone, these are Slax we're dealing with. And where there's one Slax, there's more. There's probably a signal buoy circling Earth at this very moment. Which means we need to move now. Let's go people. I want everyone ready in twenty."
The table emptied with amazing speed.
"...Class 4 Minkowski warp core has parabolic sub-range graviton filters," Jack said.
He was punctuating his remarks with hand gestures and Phil and Roger were nodding appreciatively. Carla was trying not to listen, but their conversations were getting weirder and weirder. Yesterday, she overheard Roger and the one they called "Rhino" talking about picking up Shimo after an "explosive decompression." Carla was pretty sure they were referring to some kind of computer game, but they were scaring her with the length to which they took it.
"Fluxational transcapacitor with no transwarp signature," Phil said.
"And without hyperspacial distortion waves," Roger said. "Nifty."
Carla adjusted her glasses and tried to focus on the Excel spreadsheet in front of her. This was by far the strangest place she'd ever worked. This was also the first job she'd had since she'd moved to Bellinger, Ontario from San Diego, and it left her wondering if all Canadians were this strange.
"Well, " Jack said. "The Andes is as good a place as any for it to crash."
"Yes," Roger said. "but the tribe thinks that Tupan has dropped his thunder machine from the sky, and they're protecting it until he comes and gets it."
Carla hadn't seen whatever movie they were talking about yet, so she tried not to pay attention to them so the ending wouldn't be spoiled. Suddenly, her screen went blue. The computer locked up on her, and she realized that she hadn't saved the spreadsheet. As she sat looking at the monitor, she bit down on her lower lip, hard, trying to quell the fiery spanish temper she'd inherited from her mother.
"We can't just go charging in," Jack said. "And none of us speaks Spanish. And with the outfits they wear there'd be no place to hide a translator. Where are we going to find someone who speaks spanish and who can go undercover?"
"Tu madre tiene un pene!" Carla shouted, punching the side of the monitor. That her outburst surprised the other three people in the room went unnoticed by Carla. She continued yelling at the screen a blue streak and displaying her anger with smacks to the side of the monitor and thumps on the keyboard. "Pedazo de pelotudo! Cago en usted!"
"Um, Carla?" Jack said, walking over to her desk.
"Que carajo quieres?" Carla yelled at him. Then she realized who she was talking to and put her hand to her mouth and stood up. "Oh! I'm sorry Mr. Fournier, I didn't mean it. My... my computer just crashed."
"No, no, Carla," Jack said, scanning the area to make sure there were no sharp objects in her reach. "Listen, Carla, I'm wondering if I might be able to convince you to put in some overtime?"
"Overtime?" Carla asked.
"Yeah," Jack said. "Like three days worth?
Carla tugged at the thin wrapping of cloth that made up her entire outfit. Phil, Rhino, Jack, Roger, and Shimo were waiting in a small copse of trees just down the hill, next to the company jet (although it looked like no jet she'd ever seen. What kind of venture capital were these people running on?). As she approached the camp, she could hear some sort of festivities, with singing and music.
Apparently, some sort of "orbiting web server satellite" had fallen, and they needed to get it back from the locals. Unfortunately, Carla was the only one in the office who spoke Spanish. Jack told her what the fallen satellite would look like, and assured her that, once she had asked the locals where to find it, they would rush in and make sure nothing happened to her.
As she crested the hill, she saw what seemed like the entire tribe engaging in some sort of ritualistic dance around a bonfire. A lean, muscular man, in a costume made with red feathers and a mask, was praying before a large rock. It took her a second, but Carla realized that the "god" on top of the rock was the satellite she'd been sent to find. While she was staring, a very short native with a very tall spear walked over to her.
"Hola," Carla offered chearfully. The native showed no response. "Soy de una tribu vecina," she added. Still no response. "Puedo pedir prestada una taza de azúcar?"
The little fellow laughed at her, and turned around to yell something at the tribe. Carla couldn't catch what he was saying, something about "Puquina." Before she got a chance to saw anything more, however, there was a thundering roar, like a waterfall. A helicopter cruised in over the camp and set down on the ground next to it. At least, Carla thought to herself, it looked like a helicopter, although it had no propellers. This job was getting stranger and stranger.
The natives, not sure what to make of the sudden arrival, scattered in all directions. Seizing the moment, Carla ran forward and picked up the satellite. It was much lighter than she thought it would be. She turned around to run back to the others, but ran into a wall, and fell backwards onto her tush.
Looking up, however, she realized that it wasn't a wall she'd run into, it was a man. Or, at least, it resembled a man. He was very tall, and although the fact that he was standing between Carla and the fire made it hard to make out any details, she thought she saw an extra arm sticking out of his stomach.
"Give me the core," he said to her. Carla thought she detected a slight British accent. Before she could react, however, Rhino and Phil charged into the camp; both were carrying rather large and rather frightening weapons. Carla immediately leapt to her feet and ran toward them, but both the man behind her and Phil fired. There was a bright flash, and Carla felt dizzy, certain she'd been hit. She half-imagined that the satellite turned into a ball of white light that disappeared into her chest, then she blacked out. The guy with the pistol ran over and picked her up, holding his gun to her head.
"Don't move!" he shouted. "Put down your guns or she gets it!"
Rhino complied immediately, but Phil seemed to take a moment to judge her shot. Rhino, sensing this, hit her in the arm with his elbow. Phil threw him a nasty look, then set her weapon onto the ground. Laughing, the man carried Carla into his helicopter and took off.
It wasn't so much the fact that the "helicopter" seemed to fly through space, Carla was fully prepared to brush it off as a trick of light. It also wasn't the largish spaceship they landed on, the thin light of night can make buildings look much different than they do in the daytime. The real red flag that all was not what it seemed was the fact that her captor did, indeed, have a third arm; as well as a tail and a rather reptilian head.
Without saying a word, he dragged her down a long, white hallway, and threw her into a small room (small meaning slightly larger than her apartment). He pushed a button next to the doorway, then walked off. Carla tried to run out after him, but hit some sort of glass, apparently some sort of door that she hadn't noticed on her way in. She spent the next few minutes trying to figure out how to open the door, then flopped onto the one bench in the room, dejected.
"Excuse me," a voice said. Carla looked around, but couldn't see anyone.
"Yes?" she asked.
"Hi, I'm your new neighbor," the voice continued.
"Er... where are you?" Carla asked.
"In one of the other holding cells," the voice said. "I'm a telepath."
"A telepath. Oh dear, I keep forgetting that that sort of thing isn't common on Earth."
"No," Carla said, not sure if she should add anything else.
"No need to talk out loud, I can hear you just fine if you think," the telepath said. "So what happened to the core?"
"Sorry?" Carla asked out loud, then remembered what the telepath had said about hearing her toughts. She repeated the question in her head and heard, or imagined she'd heard, the telepath chuckle.
"The warp core. That was a Minkowski core, right? Although it wasn't any design I'm familiar with."
"I'm not sure," Carla thought. "You mean the satellite? It was blown up."
"I don't think so," the telepath replied. "Those things don't blow up without a really big boom. I'm having trouble reading your thoughts. Can you try to relax? Yes, that's better. Interesting. It seems like the core went into phase. Can I ask you something? How do you feel?"
"Feel?" Carla asked in her head. "I feel fine, I guess. A little tingly maybe."
"Even more interesting." She could almost feel the telepath rubbing his chin. "Let's do a little experiment. I want you to imagine the sparks you saw before you passed out."
Carla thought back to the satellite exploding and remembered the white-hot arks of energy. The more she thought about it, the clearer the image became. Suddenly, she realized, the sparks were dancing along her hand!
"Hold it!" the telepath said, a wave of calm following his words into her head. "Relax, you're all right. It seems the core went into phase, and then into you. Lucky girl. Can you put your hand through the wall?"
Carla wasn't sure what he meant, but out of curiousity, she placed her hand against the wall and pushed. Her hand, much to her surprise, disappeared into the wall. It felt like she was sticking it into a bowl of Jell-o.
"Excellent!" the telepath said. "You just might be my ticket out of here."
"Where exactly are we?" Carla asked.
"In a Slax holding cell."
"And what's a Slax?"
"A Slax, my dear, is a fabulously hideous creature that is destined from the moment of its conception to be a crook. They're the galaxy's cheats and swindlers, although they operate mostly on brute force. A Slax would sell it's own grandmother for a bag of potato chips, if it was hungry enough. A most horribly dishonest race."
"And you're their prisoner?" Carla asked.
"This one's prisoner anyways," the telepath replied. "The Slax sometimes run bounties for the crime syndicates, bringing in people who've run up debts or crossed the bosses somehow. We'll just say that my luck with the ponies wasn't too good and I fell a few Gobliaks behind."
"Ok, so I can just walk through this glass door and get out of here?"
"That's not glass sweety," the telepath corrected. "That's a forcefield. If you walked through that, phase or not, you'd fry yourself. Besides, if all you could get to light up was your hand, the core doesn't have enough power to phase all of you through the wall."
"Oh," Carla thought, dejectedly.
"But there is a way." Carla brightened up immediately. "If you look just above you, there's an access panel."
Carla saw the panel and stood up to take it off the wall. Inside, she found a blue, lighted hose.
"The reason it's not secured is that it's a ship's power conduit," the telepath said. "It carries power throughout the ship. Stick your hand in it."
"You want me to electrocute myself?" Carla thought, backing away from the panel.
"No no," the telepath said. "You misunderstand me. It's all but impossible for you to be electrocuted now. The core inside you will absorb all the energy. Trust me."
Carla wasn't sure she trusted him. Then again, she wasn't sure that this whole afternoon hadn't been the result of some undercooked mu gu gai pan. She walked back over to the panel and took a deep breath. Before she could reconsider, she thrust her hand against the blue tube. The room went white for a moment, and Carla's body shook with the energy coursing through it. Then, as quickly as it had begun, it was over.
The telepath was right, the power conduit didn't electrocute her. It hadn't even messed up her hair. She looked down to find that her whole body was covered with sparks. It was a good trick, and Carla made a mental note to remember this if ever she was held in an alien prison cell again.
With her powers fully charged, she didn't waste a second starting to walk out of the cell. However, before disaster struck, she remembered what the telepath had said about the force field and stepping through the wall to the right of the force field.
"Ok," she thought, "what now?"
"Go into the guard station," the telepath replied. "On the wall, there's a big, orange stun gun."
"I see it," Carla thought.
"Good. Pick it up."
"Cripes, it's heavy."
"Ok, now some where around there you'll see a large battery pack."
"Yeah," Carla thought, grunting. "It weighs more than the gun."
"Snap it into the butt of the gun."
"Done. What now?"
"Now hit the guard in the head with it."
The guard had his back to Carla as she came around the corner. His tail was twitching as he set down a card. Carla noticed that, in his third hand, under the table, he was holding an ace; so it was true, the Slax even cheat at solitaire. Trying to be as quiet as possible, she tiptoed over to him and raised the gun. With all her might, she brought the butt end of the gun down into the guard's head. The guard flew forward, smashed his face on the table, then flopped backwards in his seat. After a moment, he raised his hand to his nose.
"Ow! Bloody hell!" he shouted, turning in his seat to face Carla. "That hurt! You made me bonk me honker on the desk!"
"I'm sorry!" Carla said, holding one hand to her mouth. "I'm kinda new at this."
"New at what?" The guard shouted. "Bustin' a bloke's head open?"
"No no," Carla replied, apologetically. "I was trying to knock you out."
"I see. Well you don't hit someone on top of the head when you're knocking them out, you hit the base of their skull where the nerves is."
Mumbling under his breath the guard turned around and held his hands up in frustration.
"Now look at me cards. The game's a mess now, I'll have to start o..."
He didn't get to finish; Carla interrupted him by smashing the gun against his head again.
"Ow!" the guard howled again. "Look you, if you wallop me noggin again I'll do you good!"
"Sorry!" Carla said. "I was trying to take your advice."
"You said to hit the base of the skull," Carla replied. "So I tried it."
"You've never escaped from a prison cell before, `ave you?" the guard asked.
"Is it that obvious?"
"Right, you'd have more luck shootin' me with that gun instead of..."
The blast from the gun almost threw Carla completely across the room. When she finally skidded to halt, she saw the guard twitching in the chair, arcs of energy dancing around his frame. When he was finally still, Carla ran over and pulled the key-cards off of his belt.
"Ok," she thought. "What now?"
"Now you let me out," the telepath replied.
It took a few moments of playing "hot and cold" for Carla to narrow down the cell that contained the telepath. Most of the cells had clear force fields, and more than once Carla found herself staring at a horrifying creature she prayed wasn't the telepath. However, when she finally found him, she couldn't keep herself from standing and staring with surprise, her lower lip quivering slightly until the telepath spoke up.
"Well?" he said. His voice sounded much different than his thoughts did. "What are you waiting for? Let me out."
"But you're..." Carla stammered.
"Rip Taylor, I know," the telepath said. "But you have to admit, it's a brilliant disguise. Only Charo knew what I really was. Now come on, I'll show you where the shuttlecraft are and how to get one to fly you back to your friends."
The shuttle craft thudded to the ground next to the GC transport. Phil and Rhino stood at the ready, weapons pointed at the ship. A thin band of light appeared, slowly spreading to form a rectangle on the side of the hull. The rectangle slid forward, then down, revealing a staircase on its inner wall. Standing in the doorway was Carla.
"Geez," Rhino said, putting his weapon down. Phil kept hers ready.
"Carla," Jack called, a certain amount of surprise in his voice. "You're alive."
Carla nodded stiffly as she walked down the stairs toward them. Phil moved past her at a jog, and thrust her weapon into the doorway. After a moment of scanning the interior, she moved inside the ship to investigate it fully.
"Jack," Carla said, looking him in the eye. "I'm guessing you guys aren't really a web startup."
"Err, no," Jack admitted. "But I think discussing your advancement with the company is probably best left for when we get back to the office."
"I can wait," Carla said.
"So," Jack asked, following her into the shop. "Can I ask how you managed to escape?"
"Rip Taylor helped me escape."
"Oh yeah," Rhino said behind her. "She's going to fit in just fine."
"So tell me," Jack said, walking into the room where Carla was sipping on a cup of cocoa. "How does an olive skinned beauty like yourself end up with naturally red hair?"
"Asking a girl about her natural color is as tactless as asking her weight," Carla smiled.
Jack had an inclination that Carla had been uncomfortable her first few days on the job. Tonight, however, he was positive. Her debriefing had been short, and she nodded in comprehension as they explained just what the GC really was, and Roger had thoughtfully provided her with the GC Regulations Handbook, all 87 volumes of it. But Jack could tell she was still a little on edge.
It wasn't just the fact that he always watched out for those who worked for him, Jack also had a feeling about Carla.
"And how do you know I don't dye?" Carla asked, pulling him out of his ruminance.
"We scanned you when you came in," Jack said, nonchalantly.
"For weapons and stuff," Jake replied. "As you can probably imagine, knowing what you now know about us, we have lots of toys upstairs that we would rather didn't grow legs."
"Ah," Carla said. "Sorry if I'm suspicious, I've just had too many creepy bosses with hidden cameras and junk."
"Well, I don't think you'll have to worry about sexual harassment here," Jack laughed. "You're a wee bit too young for me, and I don't know if Rhino's ever been interested in anything that didn't have a calibre rating."
"What about Roger?" Carla asked, half jokingly.
"Roger," Jack repeated with a smile. "Roger may say some stupid things once in a while, but I can promise you that you'll never be hit on by him."
Carla smiled and nodded. Jack nodded. Then an uncomfortable silence fell over the room. Carla took another sip of hot chocolate while Jack examined the plant in the pot next to the door. Carla looked up and smiled and Jack smiled back. Then, before she went nuts, Carla broke the silence.
"My father was Scottish," she said.
"Sorry?" Jack asked.
"You asked about my hair," Carla said. "My mother was Mexican. When she moved to San Diego she met my father, who was a Scottish immigrant working for a local telecomm."
"Now that's an interesting heritage," Jack said. "I take it his hair is the same color?"
"I think so," Carla said. "His work visa ran out when I was four. I haven't seen him since."
"Really," Jack said, shaking his head. "Some guys."
"Yeah, well, Mom did good by me. But for some reason she gave me his last name."
"That was my next question. So what brought you to Canada?"
"Well," Carla smiled. "A couple weeks ago, when I was younger and not so wise in the ways of the world, I fell in love with a guy from Toronto."
"Ah, I understand," Jack said. "The worldly Canadian swept you off your feet but things didn't work out."
"You act like you've heard that tale before."
"Honey," Jack smiled. "I've lived that tale before. Remind me some time to tell you the story behind this ring I'm wearing. Now come on, I'll show you your quarters."
"My what?" Carla asked. "Quarters," Jack replied, as if it were perfectly logical. "You will, of course, be stationed here now that you're on the team. That won't be a problem, will it?"
"How big are my ... uh ... 'quarters?'"
"Bigger than your apartment," Jack smiled.
"Let me think about it. Um... Ok."
"Good," Jack said. "I'll have Rhino and Phil get the Lift-o-matic to help you move the regs book up to your room so you can do a little light reading."
"Do I really have to memorize them all?"
"Not really," Jack said. "That's why we keep Roger around.