A Sea of Stars - Ch. 23 - Trust

    trust
              is a 
             double 
    edged sword; razor sharp and
      capable of harming both
        he who trusts and he
          who is   trusted     
         one and   the same

                    likewise
              it
             is he
    who is trusted who will
      cause the most harm
        when      every
       thing        goes

    wrong

The flight back was uneventful. Lillian and Jacobs took some time to talk about Watkins. It had almost certainly been Adrian, but why Watkins? He had to have been close enough to take a shot at either Lillian or Jacobs, why hadn’t he taken it? And where was he? There was still no sign of him anywhere–not a blip on either the shuttle’s sensors or on Borealis’. Well before they reached the shuttle bay, their conversation started looping back on itself and gradually faded into silence. But it was the kind of silence between good friends–the kind of silence that they’d used to share back before Lillian had gone off on the Daedalus. It was nice to finally find it again.

While the shuttle bay was pressurizing, Jacobs asked the one question that Lillian had been trying to convince herself that she wouldn’t need to ask. “What if Eve had to pay the ultimate for killing that virus?”

Lillian shook her head. “Can’t be. She’s an artificial intelligence, she couldn’t just die.”

“Exactly. She’s an artificial intelligence. A computer program. What if she was just deleted?”

“I’m not sure that’d be possible. Surely she has safeguards against that sort of thing.”

“Who knows. It’s not like there’s been much opportunity to test that sort of thing.”

Lillian shook her head again, not quite disagreeing with him, but rather with the very idea. “No. She’s fine. She has to be.”

Jacobs nodded and went back to watching the gauges that measured the shuttle bay pressure. It was rising steadily, almost finished. “I’m just trying to make sure that you’re prepared for the worst.”

There was a faint sound in the shuttle as the pressure equalized. Jacobs triggered the door to begin to slid open and walked to the back of the shuttle. Lillian could see Madeline at the door of the room, just opening it. She was carrying Eve’s shell. Surprisingly, Quinn was following her. His face was ashen and he had a hand to his side, but he was walking. And conscious for that matter. That was more than Lillian had been expecting.

Lillian jumped up and ran to the back of the shuttle. She didn’t know if she wanted to check on Eve first or to apologize to Quinn for getting him shot, but it was the same direction in either case.

She made it out the back of the shuttle just behind Jacobs and swung by him, dashing for the door. When she was no more than halfway across the room, she was interrupted by a high whistling sound. A whistling sound she’d never heard before, but knew instinctively.

She threw herself to the ground, just underneath the ball of plasma that arced overhead. It smashed into the wall of the shuttle bay, tearing a gash into the wall. She heard someone scream–Oh. Right. That’s me.–and clamped her mouth shut. Lifting her head, she saw Madeline and Quinn darting to either side of the door. Her with a look of surprise on her face, him with a look of pain. So far as Lillian could tell, neither had a weapon of any sort.

She looked towards where the plasma had come from just in time to see Adrian raising his weapon again. I thought these things only had 5-6 shots per charge! As quickly as she could she half crawled and half slid along the floor, trying to get behind something… anything. But she was in the middle of an open floor.

She heard that high pitched whine again, expecting any moment to feel the burn of plasma. But it never came. Curious she looked up. There hadn’t been a cry of pain from any of her friends, so he hadn’t shot them. There were no new burn marks on the floor around her or on the wall behind her, so he hadn’t shot at her. Where? A chance glance caught the damage–the controls to the main door were lying in a metallic pool. They were trapped in here with Adrian.

She heard Jacobs yell out from back towards the shuttle. “Are you mental?”

Adrian’s response was another bolt of plasma that tore a hole in the outer hull of the shuttle, narrowly missing Jacobs as he ducked back inside.

But it gave Lillian the time to slid across the floor and get behind one of low tracked vehicles they used for loading particularly heavy cargo.

She peeked out just in time to see Adrian pulling a thick black cylinder–the power supply!–off his gun and toss it aside. She started to yell out some glib response, but it died in her throat as he reached in a storage crate and pulled out another one. A few quick movements and he had it attached. He looked up around the room–a completely calm, almost dead expression on his face. It would have been better if he’d shown anger. Or really any expression at all.

“Okay, here’s the deal…” His deep melodic voice was the same as Lillian remembered it. He sounded as if he were discussing something completely mundane–the weather or something of that ilk. “Give me Eve.”

“No!” Lillian cried out, almost on top of Madeline. “Never!” Lillian caught her eyes across the open space between them, a fierce grin matching her friend’s.

“I know you have her. It had to have been either Borealis or Atlas, but there’s no way you could have overcome my virus without her help.”

A pause. When no one replied, he went on.

“This doesn’t have to be hard, you know. Just give her to me and I’ll leave you all alone.”

Lillian had to respond to this. “What? We’re in deep space. There’s nowhere to go.”

He turned, eyes narrowing on her location. But his gun remained pointed down towards the ground. “Sure there is. Through the gate.”

“We’ll radio ahead. Let them know you’re coming.”

He shook his head. “And it won’t do them the least bit of good.” He raised his gun arm–Lillian ducked back out of sight, but the expected plasma never came. She slowly raised her head again, but Adrian had vanished. A half second later, there was a slight shimmering in the air and he came back into view. “The perfect cloak. Based on alien technology. Human kind has been trying for centuries to perfect a cloak of invisibility, but we’ve never even come close.”

Well that confirms that, she thought. So why isn’t he using it to kill us all? Surely he could take the time to line up a perfect shot if we couldn’t see him.

“You’re probably wondering why I’m not just killing you all,” he went on. “Unfortunately, it seems I can’t actually shoot at you while cloaked. And I don’t want to take the chance of any of you getting any ideas of grandeur. Not when I’m so very close.”

“And if we don’t give her to you?” Lillian called out.

“Then I start shooting.” He gestured at the crate. “I have enough spare power here to tear the entire ship apart if I wanted to.” His voice turned thoughtful. “Of course, that really would put a damper on the whole getting home effort.”

“You’re insane,” Quinn called from his hiding spot somewhere to Lillian’s left. His voice started strong, but just before the end it cracked. Lillian could imagine him wincing in pain.

“Possibly. But I’m also the one with the gun. And that makes me right.”

“No, that just makes you a bully.”

Adrian turned calmly towards the sound of his voice and pulled his trigger one, two, three times. Three blasts of plasma spun out from the gun, tearing into the supplies he was hiding behind. There was a faint cry of pain, then Quinn’s voice called out. “Missed. If you shoot that badly, then I don’t know why we’re even worried about you.”

Adrian started at him for a few moment longer then turned back to where Lillian was hiding. “Just give her to me. I know you have her.”

“Nope.”

“You’ve already been caught. Who else could have such traps on their personal computer system that could even keep me out? A system that I helped to develop? I know it wasn’t Jacobs. He may be good…

“Why thank you.”

”… but not that good. It was Eve.”

“Even if I knew where she was, I wouldn’t tell you.” Which was mostly true. She wasn’t actually one hundred percent sure where Madeline was, she’d been curiously silent since that one outburst.

“Then I’ll just have to shoot you all. Starting with…” He swung suddenly to the one side and opened fire. “… you!” Lillian couldn’t see who he was shooting at, but the only person that could likely have made it over to that part of the shuttle bay was Madeline.

Taking advantage of Adrian’s distraction, she crouch walked over to a closer vantage point. She wasn’t exactly sure what she’d actually be able to do if she got close enough to Adrian, but she knew that none of them were going to get out of this alive if they didn’t do something. She had no more than three shots before another of the power cells lost its charge and Adrian dropped it and attached another. That’s it. I’ve got to get to him while he’s changing power cells.

She was just considering how to do exactly that when a sudden whistling pulled her out back to reality. She didn’t even have time to duck before a plasma bolt tore apart the top of the crate she’d managed to hide behind. Partially melted splinters of the plastic that the crate was made out of rained down on her and started to re-harden immediately on contact. She hissed between her teeth at the pain of it, but managed to make no more sound than that. He couldn’t know for sure he was behind this crate, could he?

Everything had gone completely silent, all that Lillian could here was the sound of her own breathing. To her ears, it sounded impossibly loud. There was no way that Adrian couldn’t hear her, he was no more than three or four meters away. But there wasn’t a hint of him moving towards her. And he can’t, she thought. Not as long as he wants to keep switching out those power cells. He has to stay put.

Suddenly, a flash of insight. She could use the same trick she’d used to communicate with Eve on more than one occasion to talk to her friends. Certainly between the four of them they could out maneuver one man.

{Quinn,} she keyed in each in turn, opening a shared message buffer. {Madeline. Jacobs.}

The response from Jacobs was immediate and–at least as far as Lillian could tell–completely silent. {Hey Lillian, what’s up?}

{What’s up? We’re getting shot at, that’s what’s up!}

{I hadn’t noticed.} Somehow he made even the text of his message sound dry. {I meant what’s the plan?}

{Ooh, plans, I like plans.} Madeline’s response was slower, but she’d never been quite as quick at the hands free input as the rest of them had been. Quinn had yet to respond.

{Can either of you see Quinn?} Lillian asked. She hoped he was doing alright. He’d survived a rather intense experience, she wasn’t sure he was even supposed to be out of bed, let alone in another fire fight. Particularly not one so one sided as this–no one was supposed to have to deal with that.

{Not from here,} Jacobs replied. {I can see you and Adrian, but that’s about it.}

After a moment, Madeline’s message arrived. {I’ve got him. He’s circling around behind the shuttle, over by Jacobs.}

{Why isn’t he responding?} Lillian didn’t actually expect a response and wasn’t surprised when neither Madeline nor Jacobs had one. {Never mind that, we need to figure out some way to disarm Adrian.}

{No, really?} Jacobs sent back, almost on top of her last words. {I thought we could all just sit down to a nice cup of tea.}

{Tea? Really?} Lillian shot back.

“You know.” Adrian suddenly spoke up. His voice sounded terrifyingly close. “As amusing as your conversation is, I hate to break this to you. I can hear you.”

{He’s bluffing.} Lillian sent after a moment. {There’s no way he can be intercepting our messages.}

“Wrong. I wrote the system, remember?”

“But why tell us?” she asked him aloud. She was startled by the sound of her own voice. Switching between sending silent messages and talking aloud was a bit disconcerting.

“I told you. I don’t want this situation to end badly. Just give me Eve and I’ll go.”

“And what’ll you do with her?”

“That’s really none of your business.”

“Sure it is. She came to me.”

There was a slight pause. He must not have known that. “Oh really now… Surely that’s not right. Why would she come to you?”

Lillian didn’t have a response. Honestly, it confused her as much as anyone. She was spared having to respond by a sudden booming voice over of the speakers throughout the shuttle bay. “BECAUSE I NEEDED SOMEONE TO TRUST.” Eve. It had to be Eve. Her voice was even more distorted than it had been last time Lillian had heard her and only partially because of the extreme volume.

“But why her?” Adrian called out, just as Lillian asked (more quietly), “Why me?”

“BECAUSE OF HER FATHER.”

What? Lillian thought. My father? What had he done?

It must not have made any more sense to Adrian, because he called back to Eve, “Her father? What does he have to do with any of this.”

“BECAUSE HE’S THE ONE WHO FOUND ME. HE’S THE ONE WHO GAVE ME A HOME.”

Details suddenly crashed together in Lillian’s mind.

Her father’s extensive trips in the years after her mother’s death– One particularly long trip in the months before her last night on Earth– The man on the Artifact– The man with Julia– The man that had found Eve, shortly after her birth– The man who had taken her from the Artifact and put her in a metal case– The man who might still have had that case when he arrive back on Earth–

Her father.

It was just too much to handle.

“My father?” Lillian’s voice was weak, but it carried through the completely stillness of the shuttle bay. “You knew my father?”

“I ONLY KNEW HIM FOR A SHORT TIME.” There was sadness in her voice, clear even through the jumping pitches and distorted tempo. “BUT HE WAS MY FRIEND.” The last words grew higher and higher, fading as they climbed.

“Lies!” cried Adrian. “All lies. Shaw was never…”

But whatever he was about to say was cut short by a scream of raw emotion coming from the far side of the shuttle bay. Lillian forgot safety and stood. Quinn. It was Quinn, no more than a few meters behind Adrian, screaming and running for him across the open floor. He was never going to make it.

Lillian knew what she had to do and was on her feet even before her mind had registered what she was about to do. She took off running at Adrian, directly across from Quinn, screaming just as loud as he was.

Adrian swung around from one to the other, clearly unsure about which was the bigger threat. If he’d just shot the moment that he’d first heard Quinn, they would in all likelihood have both been dead. But as it was, he was struck by a critical moment of indecisiveness and that was all it took. Before he could get off a single shot, they were both on him.

Neither of them was anywhere near Adrian’s weight class–Quinn was tall, but he was too slender to really match him pound for pound and Lillian was even lighter. But together, they latched on to him on either side. Quinn did his best to hold his arms while Lillian went for the plasma gun. Her entire intent was to pull it from his hands, to pull out the power supply. If only she could get it away from him, then they would stand a chance.

A quick swing of an elbow right into Lillian’s nose swung her head back and she was seeing stars. She didn’t even know if it had been Adrian who had hit her or Quinn by accident. She hung on grimly, even as she was lifted partially off the floor as the trio swung around.

She caught sight of Madeline, standing back about a meter, trying to find some way to help. But they were spinning too quickly. She still had Eve in one hand, but she wasn’t yelling over the speakers any more. She wasn’t saying anything. The blue light was dimmer than Lillian remembered.

Another swing and she was facing towards the shuttle Jacobs had brought her in on. Jacobs himself wasn’t anywhere to be seen, but the loading vehicle Lillian had taken refuge behind seemed to be moving towards her.

Suddenly she was on the ground. She hit hard, knocking the air out of her. As she gasped for breath, Adrian landed directly on top of her already broken ribs. She heard a chorus of cracking sounds and knew she was in for another stint with the medics. Curiously, it didn’t seem to hurt at all.

She saw Quinn still standing, slightly to one side. There was a mad light in his eyes as he crouched low, both hands held out parallel in front of him. He looked like he was just looking for a way to jump back into the fray.

And, she suddenly realized, she’d taken hold of the plasma gun. She was holding it in both hands, pointing upwards at the ceiling. Adrian didn’t seem to have a grip on it anymore, although she was rolling on her ribs–That should hurt, shouldn’t it?–reaching desperately for her.

How many shots has he fired on this charge? she thought desperately to herself. But there wasn’t time to think. No time at all.

She pulled the trigger.

A blast of plasma appeared at the tip of the gun and jumped forward.

There was a high whine, for no more than a fraction of a section.

It struck Adrian in the center of his chest and went silent.

He arched backwards, flying up and off of Lillian. The discharge of the plasma smelled strongly of ozone and burning meat. He flew a meter, two, and slid to a stop on the floor, curled in on himself.

He didn’t move.

Everyone froze.

Lillian started to rise, but as she did every broken rib in her chest screamed out at once. She fell back to the ground and pulled in on herself. The now familiar blackness closed in. The last thing she saw was Quinn walking slowly over to Adrian and tapping him with one booted foot. Once. Twice. Harder. There was no response. And then she was gone.

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