The Vega Treason
We will have justice when all of my foes lie dead at my feet.
--Third Oath of the Litany of Contempt
My first impression of Head Scholar Sun Lee was one of grave disappointment. Aurora had insisted on telling me on my way here that the good Scholar was a strong-willed leader who took his job very seriously. I found that very hard to believe.
The man lived in extravagance in the overly extravagant Citadel's extravagantly tall tower. The place was filled with clashing purples and reds and gold, and half of the floors and walls seemed to be made of cushions. As for Sun Lee himself, I was amazed he didn't generate his own gravity well.
"You honor us by your presence, my Lady," he said. A flatterer as well as a cunning man, apparently. I hate flatterers.
"I am not a noble, Scholar," I told to him in as neutral a voice as I could muster. "'Librarian' will do." I grudgingly shook his outstretched, squishy hand, and was surprised by the strong grip he gave me. When I had taken my hand back I pushed back my hood. "You have information for me?"
Lee nodded. "The Traitors have left this planet."
I nodded; flatterer he may be, and fat as hell, too, but he was straight to the point. Maybe there was something to Aurora's assessment, after all. But I doubted it. "Where are they?" I asked.
He shrugged. "I'm not sure," he said. "We do know they took transport to the Vega star system, a month-long voyage from here, but we do not know what happened from there. They may still be there, but they may also have left for another world, or possibly found a gate to another reality." I nodded again and thought for a moment.
I looked right into Lee's eyes to further assess him. Like his handshake, they surprised me, too: there was a glint of a powerful intellect behind those eyes, and I . "I require transport there, then."
The Scholar nodded, a movement that was more of a shifting of fat that any actual change of the orientation of his head. "I thought you might." He reached into a drawer and pulled out something the same size and shape of a credit card. "This is a ticket for a flight to the Vega system. You'll leave from the Fenix Corporation's flight terminal in London tomorrow morning."
You know that saying about first impressions? Utter nonsense.
"Crowded" would be a bit of an understatement when describing the flight terminal. "Sardine can" may be more like it. Smelled like it, too. Oh sure, the building itself was very tidy and clean, but when you have that many warm bodies crammed together, there is going to be a very specific kind of odor.
More irritating than the smell, however, were the looks. Aurora had mentioned that these people had never seen a Librarian before-the Explorer team that had found the place had shown up over a century ago in local year 2633-and apparently my Librarian coat was out of place to them. Maybe it's the hood.
Thankfully, other than being assailed by smell and feeling like the eyes of half of Earth was on me, I was able to board the transport Ezekie without incident (ignoring the interested look by the fool taking my ticket). Predictably, considering Scholar Lee's apparent taste of luxury, the thing was a sleek cruise liner, built to pretty and fast. It also meant it was unarmed and unarmored, or damn near, anyway. That made me uncomfortable; one thing I'd learned during my apprenticeship was that it was better to be armed than comfortable.
As it turned out, "comfortable" didn't begin to describe it. Lee had managed to book me passage in the Ezekie's stateroom, the place they generally reserve for government officials and CEOs. I shook my head in mild disbelief as the door automatically shut behind me. Sharp the man may be, but damn if he didn't have expensive tastes. I really had to wonder why he'd go to such lengths for this kind of comfort; at the speed this civilization could make its ships move, we'd be arriving in the Vega star system in seven hour (which, by the way, was the fastest I've ever seen anyone make a starship move before without using some kind of cheat like folding space, and that's saying something).
I carefully sat down on one of the seats, and let out a surprised yelp as I sank down much farther than I expected. I was used to wooden stools and steel straight-backed chairs, and this cushion pool caught me by surprise (though in retrospect, I guess I should've seen it coming considering what the place looked like). With more than a little effort I managed to haul myself out of the seat, then shook my head with a wry chuckle.
Might as well try to enjoy it, I thought to myself as I took my coat off. A nap would do me good.
Shows you what I know.
I've always been a light sleeper, occasionally to my great irritation. That night, however, I was more than a little grateful for it.
I was awoken in the middle of the night by the sound of my door opening. Alarm bells started going off in my head; in my experience people who don't knock generally mean you seem kind of harm. Noting the hurried footsteps of two . . . no, three people, I didn't see much point in subtlety, so I reached for the nearest thing (which turned out to be a coffee table rather securely fastened to the floor) and pulled myself out of the way. An instant later, my attackers started firing, tearing up the spot I'd been occupying with bullets (unsurprisingly, the weapons were suppressed, so the only noise they made was a light cough instead of a big bang).
Once my boots hit the ground (yes, I sleep with my boots on . . . and my shirt and pants), I spun around and saw my enemies (or rather their silhouettes). They were all men, and all very big, armed with appropriately large guns. I, however, didn't have a light source like an open door behind me, and they hadn't noticed I'd moved, judging from the amount of fire they were pouring on the bed. I reached for the man on the far left, and the next thing they knew, one of them had been cut in half.
The man's screams cut off their fire, and they started turning confusedly. They started yelling and cursing in the way of scared and woefully inexperienced assassins everywhere. It apparently never even occurred to them to try and escape, because instead of running away like sensible murderers, they edged farther into the room, occasionally firing at shadows they thought were moving. I smirked as I reached for another one; as I grabbed him and lifted him off the floor, he let out a girlish scream that would've been hilarious under other circumstances. His buddy grabbed at him, but lost his grip on his shoelace when I threw him headfirst into the wall. He didn't move afterwards, other than a groan as his consciousness slipped into oblivion.
The last assassin finally grew a brain and turned to run out. It didn't help, as I yanked him back and threw him against a wall hard enough to knock him out.
The two would-be killers down and/or dead, I went to the door and checked outside. No one was outside and there were no signs of panic, thank God for small mercies, so I shut and locked the door and turned on the lights. I called for my AI companion.
"Here, Ms. Kazeki," came Aurora's voice from the portable computer core in my coat's inner pocket. I went to the chair I'd left it draped over and pulled the core out. As I did so, I watched Aurora's image appear on the holographic projector attached to the top of the core. "What can I do for you today?" she asked.
"Check to see if this attack has been reported," I told her. It would be somewhat inconvenient if security guards were to bust in right now. "And lock the door."
"By your will, milady," she said. She closed her eyes and appeared to go slack, and I put her core on the secure coffee table on the other side of the bed as I pulled on my coat. She did so enjoy treating me like nobility, knowing it irritated me as much as it did our mutual former master (except in his case it was correct).
As I heard the lock shut on the door, I grabbed one of the survivors and dragged him to a sitting position against the wall, then did the same for the other. I had to take care of the pool of blood; cutting people in half tends to result in a rather big mess, and the blood wasn't just on the floor (by some miracle my coat had emerged unscathed). I didn't bother cleaning it up, though, not yet. I had some questions for these two, and the sight of their dead buddy could very well motivate them to speak.
Aurora's "eyes" snapped open. "No word on the security network, Ms. Kazeki," she said. "But I did find something interesting."
"Yes?" I demanded.
"All securities systems on this deck have been deactivated. I imagine that's why there are no alarms."
I frowned as I zipped up the front of my coat. "So either they're better hackers than they are assassins . . ."
Aurora nodded. "Or someone in the ship's security division is working with them." She shrugged. "I'll see what I can find out through the ship's network. It's possible someone may have been careless with their mail."
"Fine," I said. "You do that. I've got some questions to ask these . . . fine gentlemen."
As it was, Aurora didn't find anything in the electronic mail systems, but that didn't exclude hard copy mail. Unfortunately, checking all that would take much longer than simply hacking the system, so I left her to it.
It took about three hours for the first of them to wake up. I was sitting on the edge of the bed (which, thanks to its damned overly cushioned nature, made me look far less intimidating than I should have) not more than a few feet away with a mug of coffee in my hand. I wasn't worried: if he tried anything, he may find himself missing some limbs.
At first, the poor fellow seemed confused, first regarding his present location. The second thing he seemed to notice was that he didn't seem to understand why he wasn't tied up, considering the disastrous effect of their raid, the memory of which must be cropping up in his head again. Then his eyes went up and met mine, or at least tried to as they were completely shadowed by my hood, but he seemed to groggy to try anything.
I smiled at him. "Hi!" I said as cheerfully as I could under the circumstances.
That must have snapped something in the man's mind, because the next thing he did was roar and leap at me with his hands grasping for my neck. He even managed to get to a full standing position before I reached for him, but instead of slowly tearing him apart I just grabbed him by the arms and hoisted him up in the air. Rage became confusion, which quickly turned to fear. His desperate kicking and turning eventually caused his head to swivel in the direction of the now rather large pool of blood and the two halves of his buddy. That got his attention, and he froze, fear turning to sheer terror. He opened and closed mouth rapidly, unable to get a coherent word out.
I let my smile fade. "Who sent you?" I demanded. Like my master, I never did have much patience for a really intimidating interrogation. He didn't answer, so I repeated the question until I got something other than his best salmon impression.
At first it was nothing but a lot of incoherent muttering, so I eventually managed to get him to shut up by dropping him to the floor. "Who sent you?" I repeated.
He shuddered. "They told us . . ." He faltered. His sleeping friend stirred, but he didn't notice. He'd also seriously calmed down; maybe the memories had given him some extra strength. Or greater fear of something other than me. That calm didn't last, long. In fact, it lasted about as long as his life did.
Without any warning or preamble, he and his friend-who managed to remain comatose through the interrogation-and the top half of the dead guy started convulsing. I was struck with a sense of great foreboding, and I grabbed Aurora's core and dashed for the door. I reached for it and blasted it off its hinges as I ran. I made it just past the door and spun myself around to the shelter of the frame.
It wasn't enough.
The room exploded with the force of a small gas tanker going up, and despite my somewhat shielded position I found myself being thrown forward. I vaguely recall yelling in surprise at the force of the explosion, then slamming into a wall.
I don't know how long I spent lying there in a semi-conscious state, but eventually the combination of the fire alarms and Aurora's voice dragged my mind to the point of full awareness. I vaguely registered the fact that there was no vacuum, and I thanked God for small mercies that Ezekie's VIP suite wasn't situated against the hull. There was no way an unarmored skin like Ezekie's could stand up to an internal blast like that.
The next thing I noticed (other than the headache and the ringing in my ears) was the crowd of panicking tourists and ship crew trying to figure out what the hell had happened. I turned to look at the room I'd just run out of, and tried my best to continue to look completely stoic as I made sure my hood was over my eyes again.
The room was gone, as was just about everything else in the hallway. The blast radius ended about three feet in front of me, and I wondered just how many innocents had been killed in this attempt to cover up someone's tracks.
No, I thought as something clicked in my mind. The assassins weren't supposed to kill me, at least not directly. The bomb was the murder weapon. With that realization, all doubts as to who had been out to kill a Librarian evaporated (not that there'd been much to begin with).
"Ms. Kazeki!" Aurora's voice came from her exceedingly durable core lying on the floor next to my left boot.
"I'm here, Aurora," I reassured the AI as I picked her up. I then turned and started to walk away in the direction the crew was trying to funnel the fleeing passengers. "Did you find anything?"
"I'm still sifting through the mail, ma'am. I should be able to finish-"
"Don't bother," I cut her off. "Mark the crew down for later investigation, but stop doing any searches."
"May I ask why?"
I nodded, even though she, in all likelihood, wouldn't be able to tell. "They already know we're here."