Today's Reading

"You can still get out of this," Thiago gasped. "Just let us go. You can take me as a hostage—"

Oh, right, that'll help. I said, "No hostages."

"What is that thing?" Target Leader demanded. "What are you? You're a bot?"

Thiago said, "It's a security unit. A bot/human construct."

Target Leader didn't seem to believe him. "Why does it look like a person?"

I said, "I ask myself that sometimes."

Over the comm loudspeaker, Dr. Ratthi said, "It is a person!" In the background, I heard Overse whisper, "Ratthi, get off the comm!"

While that was going on, I did a quick search of my archived video and pulled an episode of Valorous Defenders. It's not a bad show but this is a terrible episode where the characters are attacked by evil SecUnits. (That's like the opposite of an oxymoron, since in the media, there's no such thing as a non-evil SecUnit.) (Is there a word for the opposite of an oxymoron?) I grabbed the three-minute sequence where the SecUnits swarm the base and slaughter the helpless refugees. I uploaded it to stupid boat's porn feed and set it to play on an endless loop.

I'm fast, so I'd finished by the time Target Leader shook Thiago and said, "Order it to back off."

Thiago made a noise suspiciously like a derisive snort. "I wish I could! It doesn't listen to me."

I listen to you plenty, Thiago.

"Who does it—" Target Leader wisely gave up on that tack. "Listen, whoever controls this thing, I'm taking this one on my ship—"

"I've destroyed your engine," I said. I really should have done that. Well, too late now.

Glaring with fury, Target Leader jerked Thiago and Thiago stumbled and leaned away from him. And I saw the hole blossom in Target Leader's upper arm, in the scant few centimeters of clothing and skin exposed between the joints of the badly fitting armor.

I lunged forward and grabbed Thiago, slung him aside, then ripped the projectile weapon away from Target Leader. I knocked him lightly in the stomach and chest with the stock and he dropped to the deck.

Arada stepped out of the hatch, the projectile weapon sensibly pointed down even though my scan showed she had already engaged the safety. She said, "Are you all right? Thiago? SecUnit?"

I said earlier that I was trying to set up a shot; I didn't say whose.

Arada had taken a course in weapons use after the whole thing with GrayCris. I guess having a bunch of murderers chasing you around a planet so they can suppress your research by murdering you would tend to make you more cautious, even if you are a terminal optimist.

On the feed, I said, Dr. Thiago, Dr. Arada, get inside. I grabbed Target Leader and tossed him onto the deck of his boat, where the other targets were crawling around trying to get to their hatch. My scan picked up a power surge in the boat's weapon system. That's what happens when you don't have time to clear your hostile vehicle. I said over the comm, "Overse, now would be good."

The thing Overse and the others had been doing while all this was going on was preparing our facility for launch. Under my boots, the deck rumbled and vibrated and our outer supports heaved out of the water, sending waves crashing into the boat as we lifted up.

I don't think the raiders had realized the facility was mobile. The force of displaced water as our drive kicked in shoved the boat sideways, and the raiders lost their targeting lock.

Our outer supports folded in and we lifted further above the surface. The comm loudspeaker broadcast a siren and a translated warning about minimum safe distance and I guess the raiders believed it because their engines revved frantically. I recalled my drones and they shot down toward us to stream in through the hatch. I walked in after them and let the hatch close behind me as the launch protocols started.


I told myself it wasn't as much of a shit ending to my first time as Survey Security Consultant While Not Pretending to be a Human and/or Faking the Existence of a Human Supervisor as it could have been. Everybody was alive, they had all their sampling and scans done. Our original schedule actually had us leaving in six planetary days, but since we had finished early Arada had moved that up to three planetary days, that's why most of the facility had already been prepped for launch.

But we'd been lucky, and I hate luck.

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