Short on Thought, Quick on the
By Dave Creek
CARRIE MOLINA GRABBED Bennie Delgado’s arm and all but dragged him down the smoke-filled corridor of the science facility on the planet Anaktuvuk. “The bio-alert is fake,” she told him as he stumbled along beside her. “So’s the smoke.”
Bennie started to ask, “Who set it—”
“I did,” Carrie said, as she kept a close eye on doorways and intersecting corridors. “The Sobrenians’ protocols send most of them to their command center.”
“Great job! Gimme a disruptor.”
“Sorry, only a stunner. Reach into my backpack.”
Carrie felt his hands rummaging through the pack. “Hold still,” he said.
“Grab while we run. We’ve got to get to the water.” We’re already taking too long, Carrie thought. My lungs have shrunk again, my heart rate’s slowing down. Although the sight of even one Sobrenian might bring it right back up again. The Sobrenians were a warlike species that considered weapons technology its greatest art form.
“Got it!” Bennie said. They started down a side corridor that was free of smoke. Once again the air had the slightly sweet smell of Sobrenian atmosphere. Bennie continued: “You know, I can’t help but notice how great you look in that skinsuit—”
“Don’t bother noticing. Just because we used to have sex doesn’t give you any privileges.”
“Hey, I just—”
“I’m getting your ass out of here and that’s all.”
“Look out!” Bennie said as he fired across Carrie’s shoulder at a Sobrenian who was rushing away from them. The Sobrenian’s body fell with a deep thud. It had a torso three times the thickness of a Human’s, a blunt snout, and rough skin.
Carrie fought to keep her anger down. “That was one of the scientists,” she told him. “You didn’t have to shoot him.”
“He’ll wake up soon enough.”
Same old Bennie, she thought. Short on thought, quick on the trigger.
The Earth Unity had sent Carrie to Anaktuvuk to rescue Bennie from this abandoned Human facility. Before his capture, Bennie had sent word that the Sobrenians were committing scientific research that involved killing hundreds of members of a sentient aquatic species, the Enahle, native to Anaktuvuk’s oceans.
Carrie’s job was to extract Bennie from that facility before the Sobrenians could use him to spark a diplomatic incident.
Because Humans had built the Anaktuvuk facility, Carrie was able to figure out how to trigger the fake bio-alert and fill many of the facility’s corridors with smoke. That, in turn, let her stun the only guard standing outside the makeshift cell where the Sobrenians were holding Bennie, and free him.
Figuring out Bennie himself was something Carrie had given up on long ago.
Another intersection of corridors, and Carrie pointed to the right. “This way.”
Bennie said, “The other way takes us outside quicker.”
Carrie pushed him to the right. “You forget who you’re dealing with. The ocean’s this way.”
Three Sobrenians came around a corner on the left. They quickly pulled weapons and began firing at Carrie and Bennie.
Bennie went to one knee and returned fire, Carrie standing over him doing the same. Two of the Sobrenians fell immediately. The third ran back around the corner.
The corridor ended at a doorway leading onto a balcony. As Carrie and Bennie stepped outside, Anaktuvuk’s only moon, Kokogiaq, shone bright in the night sky. The balcony stood at the top of a sheer cliff overlooking the wave-rippled sea thirty meters below.
Bennie hugged himself and stamped his feet. The entire planet was too cold for comfort for Humans, as it was entering a period of runaway glaciation. “You could’a brought a coat for me, you know,” he told Carrie.
“Never mind that,” she said as she slipped her backpack off her shoulders just long enough to pull out a breathing mask. “Put this on.”
He did, then stuck his stunner into his belt. “Oh, I got it. Your shuttle’s down there.”
“Sort of. Actually, it’s over the horizon.”
“Wait a minute—what?”
Several heavily-armed Sobrenians were running down the corridor toward them.
Carrie told Bennie, “Now turn around.”
Bennie said, “What the hell are you—” Carrie, her patience exhausted, grabbed Bennie by the shoulders and turned him away from her. She stepped in close, hugged his chest from behind.
“Hey,” Bennie said, “this would be more fun if we faced each other.”
“Bennie, just shut up,” Carrie said as her skinsuit extruded itself over Bennie’s body as well as her own.
“Wait a minute, you can’t be—”
“I can be, and I am,” Carrie said as she lifted one leg over the edge of the balcony, Bennie’s body going along with her.
“Don’t tell me we’re going to—”
“Don’t tell me what I can’t do,” Carrie said as she swung her other leg over the balcony’s edge.
“But I can’t swim!”
Taking as deep a breath as she could and holding Bennie tight, she propelled the both of them off the balcony.
Bennie screamed all the way down.
Their combined skinsuit protected Carrie and Bennie from most of the impact with the water. They pierced a large grouping of Enahle, and a dozen or more of the animals scattered in all directions. The Enahle were sleek creatures longer and slimmer than a dolphin, with bright alert eyes. I swear I can sense the intelligence behind those eyes, Carrie thought. The idea that anyone would kill them, for any reason, is beyond my way of thinking.
Carrie felt Bennie tense up as she held him tight. Where are those smart-ass remarks now? she thought.
Even the skinsuit would slow her down; with a quick squeeze of her left hand into a fist, it flowed away from her body while maintaining a breathing unit over her face and continuing to protect Bennie.
With Carrie’s body exposed directly to the water, her heart pumped blood more rapidly to keep her warm. Micro-dermal ridges along her skin allowed her to glide through the water with less resistance. Her lungs expanded to half again their usual size, though the breather made that less important than usual. I fully expect Bennie to make a comment about my breasts growing bigger though, she thought.
Carrie pumped her legs furiously, sending her and Bennie deeper and deeper into Anaktuvuk’s waters. Curiously, many of the Enahle followed.
From above came flashes of Sobrenian gunfire—energy bolts, mostly ineffective once they struck water. Guess they didn’t expect a bio-engineered Human to make this rescue, she thought.
Even her own abilities wouldn’t be enough to save them. Another squeeze, this time with her right fist, and the propulsion unit in her backpack activated, sending her and Bennie swiftly through the sea. They soon left the group of Enahle behind.
Bennie spoke through the breather’s comlink: “Couldn’t they have sent a bunch of Unity Marines to get me out?”
“You know how that goes, Bennie. Diplomacy.”
“I guess I should just be glad they sent you, huh, Carriden? I guess we understand each other.”
If you understood me that well, Carrie thought, you’d remember how much I hate being called by my full name. She and Bennie had grown up in the same neighborhood in Madrid. At eight-years-old, he was the one who dared her to climb higher and higher on a tree in her own backyard, despite her nearly overwhelming fear. At eleven, he was the one who snuck her two full glasses of wine during a party at his parents’ house. The resulting headache the next morning sent her back to the occasional parent-approved sips.
At sixteen, Bennie admitted he’d been looking at Carrie with different eyes for some time and wanted to see if touching her matched his new perceptions.
She declined the offer.
For one day.
After a few months, college beckoned Carrie, then the stars. Bennie moved to the Earth-orbital Shosha Habitat.
Now, seventeen years later, they arrived at Carrie’s submersible shuttle. Carrie let Bennie go. As they waited for the submersible’s lock to cycle, several of the Enahle caught up with them. They swam all around the two of them, but one drew close to Bennie, took up stationkeeping right next to him, and stared intently at him. Carrie could tell this encounter frightened Bennie; he windmilled his arms and legs to try to ease away from the Enahle, but the Enahle, with a couple casual flips of its fins, stayed right with him.
“I think it likes you,” Carrie said.
“Well, I don’t like it! We gotta get inside!”
The submersible’s outer lock opened. Carrie reached for Bennie to guide him inside. With another flip of its fins, the Enahle lunged forward and its snout punched Bennie in the gut.
Bennie’s arms and legs flailed around even more. “Get me the hell inside!” he shouted.
Carrie came up behind Bennie and shoved him into the lock. She took a last glance back at the Enahle that had assaulted Bennie. A dozen or more others lined themselves up behind it. They know something, Carrie thought. And I have a pretty good idea what it is.
The water level lowered all too slowly in the submersible’s lock. A combination of hot blasts of air and a burst of sonics dried them within moments. Bennie’s fear vanished from his features as he leered at Carrie’s nude body. A squeeze of her left hand, and her skinsuit established itself again. Bennie shook his head. “So disappointing,” he said.
“You had your chance years ago,” Carrie said. “You went in a different direction.” She’d kept track of Bennie after he went to live on Shosha Habitat. Its inhabitants lived under a market economy, instead of a post-scarcity replicator economy like most Human societies. By all accounts, he’d thrived there. But she’d heard too many times of shady deals, stiffed clients, and sudden disappearances when bills came due.
As Carrie and Bennie stepped through the inner lock and into the submersible’s main cabin, Bennie asked, “What shuttle is this?”
“George Allenby. Out of the mothership Sagdeyev, hiding behind Anaktuvuk’s moon.”
“An exploratory ship? Why not a military ship?”
“The last thing the Unity wants is to get into a shooting match over you.”
Bennie’s shoulders slumped and he let his arms fall to his sides. He looked toward the floor. “I guess I should be glad anyone came to get me at all.” He looked up at Carrie. “Thanks for that. I don’t know what the Sobrenians would’ve done to me.”
“Their military wanted to kill you. Didn’t you know that?”
“I was worried about that, but—”
“But—their scientists wanted to bury the whole thing. They were afraid your accusations would cause a scandal, which would lead to budget cuts. They wanted you gone and forgotten.”
Bennie shrugged. “Guess I should be glad the scientists won out.”
Carrie couldn’t make herself look at Bennie for a moment. Finally she took a deep breath and said, “I know what you did. What the Sobrenians found you doing.”
Bennie’s gaze narrowed, and his voice lost its friendly lilt. “What does that mean, Carrie?”
“Where’s your shuttle, Bennie?”
“Had to scuttle it. The Sobrenians were bearing down on me.”
“What about those Enahle? They didn’t seem to like you very much.”
Bennie spread his hands wide. “How should I know? They’re just animals.”
“They’re considered sentient, about like dolphins on Earth, or Jupiter whales.”
“I don’t like what you seem to be saying—”
“I know what you did, Bennie. People on Shosha Habitat think the ground-up bones of the Enahle are an aphrodisiac. You were killing them and stripping them of their flesh, leaving just the bones.”
“You can’t know that!”
“I notice you didn’t deny it. I went to your shuttle first, Bennie. You didn’t scuttle it. It’s sitting on that island where you created the rendering facility. That’s why the Enahle chased us. That’s why the one attacked you. That’s where the Sobrenians found you.”
“As if the Sobrenians care about the Enahle,” Bennie said.
“They’ve certainly committed their share of atrocities. But even they don’t want to be accused of one they didn’t do.”
“The Unity wanted you gone, too. They wanted the Sobrenians to owe Humanity a favor.”
Bennie’s body tensed up. “And since the Sobrenians were inhabiting a former Human facility—”
“I knew how to get in there and get you out. The Sobrenians aren’t going to admit their own incompetence. They’ll never speak of you again.”
“Carrie, I can’t believe this. We meant something to each other once.”
Memories lanced through Carrie’s consciousness: Bennie daring her to climb higher and higher. That first hangover. That first night in bed. Damn, he was good.
“I’m sorry,” was all she could manage to say.
Bennie, slowly pulled out his stunner. “I guess I’m sorry, too.” He squeezed the trigger.
The stunner didn’t fire.
“I’m disappointed, Bennie,” Carrie said. “Not that you tried to shoot me. That you thought I was stupid enough not to set that stunner to deactivate the moment we came onto the shuttle.”
Bennie tried to rush Carrie, but she’d anticipated that and when she squeezed her own stunner’s trigger, it fired. Bennie slumped to the floor.
Carrie sighed. Should’a made him sit down first. Now I gotta drag him into the jump seat and strap him in. Typical. Now I’m the one short on thought, quick on the trigger. Bennie always was a bad influence.
Dave Creek is the author of a novel, “Some Distant Shore,” and the short story collections “A Glimpse of Splendor” and “The Human Equations.” His latest novel, “Chanda’s Awakening,” is forthcoming from Hydra Publications.