Dominion, p.20John Connolly
“Humans?” Reutan was interested now.
“I have identified them as Michaela Rizzo and Steven Kerr. I ran them through the standard records, and it appears termination notices have been served on both of them. I considered carrying out the order myself, but Krasis was in reach, and I thought it might be more useful to hand them over to the Security Directorate. Although,” she added, “should you decide to execute them, I would like to be involved. Their actions caused the deaths of my comrades.”
“Stay where you are, First Officer.”
Reutan’s image vanished for a time. When it reappeared, it was clear that the naming of Rizzo and Steven had set bells ringing in the Securitats’ own system. Alis wasn’t concerned about a message being transmitted back to Illyr, not yet. The Securitats would wait until they had confirmed the identity of the prisoners, and it appears then a drone would have to be sent through the wormhole. If all went well, the facility would be in friendlier hands long before that came to pass.
“Can you show me the prisoners?” Reutan asked.
Alis flicked a switch, and an image of Steven and Rizzo sitting dejectedly in the ship’s small brig was added to a corner of the screen. Alis knew that their facial features would automatically be scanned and compared with those on record. She was just grateful that, in their excitement, Reutan and his fellow Securitats hadn’t bothered to do the same with her.
“Identities confirmed,” said Reutan. “We’ve activated a pad for you, Yallee. You’re clear to land.”
The Revenge breached Krasis’s atmosphere, and the prison facility was revealed to her. Only three of its seven blocks appeared to be operational, for four were entirely dark. The lights of a landing pad blinked before her. A cruiser and a transporter, the latter much older and larger than the Revenge, waited on nearby pads, one of which had clearly been constructed recently, and was little more than an area cleared of rocks. Beside it stood a couple of shuttles, but as Alis brought the Revenge around she saw a newer ship sitting on a raised platform beside the central core. There appeared to be some activity around it, and she noticed storage chests being loaded into it. Interesting, she thought.
The pad activated for the Revenge was one of those closest to the core. As she brought the ship in to land, a phalanx of armed Securitats, their faces obscured by breathing masks, appeared from a doorway but kept their distance until the Revenge had touched down and the dust had cleared. Alis killed the engines and took a moment to think. She had done all that she could. The blueprints for Krasis were downloaded to her mainframe, and now she needed to gain access to the prison systems. Her finger hovered under the unlock button. Once Rizzo and Steven were in the hands of the Securitats, she would not be able to protect them. As wanted criminals, they could expect some rough treatment, but it was in the nature of Securitats to seek information from valuable prisoners before killing them. Rizzo and, more particularly, Steven, were both prizes in themselves and potential sources of information about the whereabouts of Syl Hellais. Back at the Derith wormhole, Fenuless had revealed that Syrene and the Nairene Sisterhood were anxious to have their lost Novice returned to them alive, if at all possible. So Steven and Rizzo were in no immediate danger of death, but at very real risk of painful interrogation, and a beating along the way. Alis would have to work fast.
She said a prayer to her god, to any god, and unlocked the doors.
• • •
Alis was right: the Securitats chose not to be gentle with their prisoners. Four of them entered the brig and dragged Steven and Rizzo from it. Immediately the rest of the Securitats surrounded them where they lay on the floor. Batons rose and fell, and Alis saw booted feet kicking at the prisoners. It was all that she could do not to show concern. When she called on the Securitats to stop, it was with an air of boredom more than anything else.
One of the Securitats lifted his breathing mask, and she recognized Reutan.
“You have no authority here, Yallee,” he said, and in his words she heard an uncomfortable echo of her own earlier comments to Steven. She tried not to stare at Steven now. She could see him through Reutan’s legs. His scalp was bleeding profusely, and his hands were raised above his head in an effort to ward off any further kicks. Rizzo’s eyes were closed. Alis suppressed her regret instinct. Her plan had been the most logical, and the one with the highest chance of success. Both Steven and Rizzo had accepted the personal risks involved.
“That may be true, but piloting the Gradus alone gave me no time to interrogate them. It was only with the greatest reluctance that they gave me their names, and they would share little more. But the termination order links them to the fugitive Nairene, Syl Hellais. If you injure them excessively, and thus prevent them from providing information about her whereabouts, we may all have to answer to the Archmage.”
Even the Securitats didn’t care to cross the Sisterhood. Reluctantly, Reutan ordered the prisoners to be taken to one of the core’s primary holding cells. Steven managed to stay on his feet with the support of his captors, but Rizzo had to be carried.
“You kicked her too hard, Lerras,” said one guard to another as they grabbed an arm each. “I told you not to aim for her head.”
The one named Lerras shrugged.
“She deserved it,” he said, grinning. Quietly, Alis registered his name and appearance. When the time came, she would take care of him personally, she decided.
“I can offer you the hospitality of the guardhouse, Yallee,” said Reutan as the Revenge emptied of Securitats. “It’s not much, but this is a prison, not a hotel.”
“I would be grateful if you could first take me to a secure communications hub,” said Alis.
Reutan looked puzzled. “For what reason?”
“I have confidential mission information to impart to my superiors. Can you prepare a drone?”
“We’ll be sending one through the wormhole imminently to inform CentCom of the apprehension of these prisoners,” said Reutan. “But any information you have can be shared with us. We are on the same side.”
“I’m afraid this information is for the ears of Vice President Dyer only,” said Alis. “It would be unwise of me to disseminate it more widely.”
“In that case . . .” said Reutan, but Alis caught the look in his eye. For the Securitats, nothing was confidential. Reutan was happy to let her use their communications system to compose a message, if she was foolish enough to believe that they wouldn’t be listening to every word.
It was then that she nearly made her first error. Reutan offered her a breathing mask and she opened her mouth to refuse—she was a Mech, and had no need of a respirator—until she remembered that she was supposed to be an Illyri officer.
“Thank you,” she said, pulling on the mask.
“I trust you’re not armed,” said Reutan. “No outside weapons are permitted in the facility.”
Alis spread her arms wide and turned around once to show that she was unarmed.
“I could always search you, just to be sure,” said Reutan. He thought that the young officer’s uniform fitted her very well, even if it wasn’t strictly regulation.
“You could always try,” said Alis, in a tone that suggested it might be the last thing Reutan ever did, at least with a full set of unbroken fingers.
Reutan decided not to search her. For now.
“After you,” he said, and he followed her across the moon’s desolate surface to the looming central core.
Krasis didn’t have Chip or retina scanners or, if it did, they were not being used. It was a little bit of good luck, but Alis knew that on such small blessings did even the best of plans depend. On consideration, the absence of scanners made sense: Krasis was a prison facility for humans, and they did not carry Chips in their skulls. Also, as with Krasis’s lack of significant outer defenses, there was no reason why any Illyri would want to mount an attack on the prison in order to help humans escape. With war raging, even the Military had better things
All of this had made the Securitats stationed on Krasis casual in the extreme, but the prison guards were hardly the cream of the Security Directorate to begin with. Prison duty was inflicted on those who had failed in some way, while the ones who volunteered for it tended to be both lazy and brutal. For the latter, Krasis must briefly have seemed like a jolly posting, since it gave them the freedom to inflict misery and suffering on the ranks of the Punishment Battalions without any real fear of reprimand.
The prison was old. Its precast component parts had been dropped on the moon more than half a century before, since the stone of Krasis was porous and hard to mine. Inside, it was all steel doors and steel bars. It smelled dry and musty, like an old tomb. The core was three stories high, and dominated by a tower at its heart, which held all of the monitoring and security systems for the prison, and was staffed at all hours. Screens around the tower displayed real-time images from the prison blocks.
Prisoners entered through a mesh tunnel that fed into a processing room, where they were shaved, stripped, put through showers, assigned to one of the blocks, and given a standard uniform of a yellow jumpsuit, work gloves, boots, and a coat. Since they had been condemned to the Punishment Battalions, this was the clothing they would wear until they died.
But Steven and Rizzo were not going to be processed. Instead they were placed in adjoining holding cells within sight of the main tower. Reutan took Alis’s respirator and placed it in a sterilization case with the rest. So the guards did not carry respirators as a matter of routine, she noted. That was good.
Reutan offered Alis the opportunity to shower and rest, but she declined his offer. She didn’t care for the way Reutan was looking at her. He was just a step short of licking his lips and then trying to lick hers. She had no intention of stripping naked so that he and his friends could perve over her via a remote camera.
That was the other thing she had immediately noticed upon entering the core: the Securitats here were all male, just like the prisoners. Women and girls were rarely banished to the Battalions, and so their numbers in the punishment ranks were few, although Alis suspected that any women sentenced to punishment duty, however strong they might have been, would not have lasted long. But there had been numerous female conscripts in the Brigades, which meant that the survivors among them must have been sent to another facility.
Alis asked to be shown to a secure terminal at which she could compose her message. Reutan took her to a screen in the base of the tower, one of five at a single hub. The rest were not being used. He had given her the one facing the door, but she deliberately walked to the other side, behind which there was only a blank wall.
“It really is confidential,” she explained.
Reutan gave a friendly shrug.
“I won’t take offense,” he said. “Perhaps you might like to join me for a drink once you’re done?”
“A poor imitation of cremos that we manufacture. We save the best for guests.”
They were making their own alcohol here? It just got better and better, Alis thought. Their procedures were so lax as to be nonexistent. Still, all of the guards carried pulsers, and while they may have been sloppy in their routines, they were still dangerous.
“I couldn’t help but notice as we came in that most of the prison blocks appear to be dark,” she said, ignoring Reutan’s invitation.
“We’ve moved all inmates to the first three blocks,” said Reutan.
“The prisoner population is too small to justify spreading it across all seven blocks, even with the addition of the Brigade intake.”
“You have Brigade troops on Krasis?”
Alis already knew this, but felt obliged to express surprise.
“It was felt that they represented a threat to Illyri stability. Their bases were closed. There was some resistance. The survivors were eventually brought here. Containing all these prisoners in three blocks is more efficient, and will make them easier to handle later.”
Reutan waved a hand at their surroundings.
“The facility is being deactivated. We’ve already begun the process of transferring whatever we need to the evacuation vessels. Soon this will just be an empty shell.”
“What about the prisoners?” asked Alis. “Where are they being moved to?”
“They’re not going anywhere,” said Reutan. “They’re staying here.”
“You’re just going to leave them?”
“Our instructions are to disable all support systems before departure.”
“But the prisoners will die. They’ll suffocate.”
“You sound very concerned for a bunch of murderers and rebels, Yallee.”
“They’re prisoners, and they include troops conscripted to fight for the Illyri.”
“To fight for the Military,” Reutan corrected. “And in case it passed you by, we are at war with the Military.”
Reutan put away whatever small amount of charm he’d been attempting to use on Alis, figuring that it wasn’t worth wasting his time on a bleeding-heart Illyri like this one.
“I’ll leave you to get on with your communications,” he said.
Alis couldn’t resist baiting him.
“What about my drink?” she asked.
“We just ran out.”
“That’s a shame. Would you mind closing the door behind you?”
Reutan didn’t just close it. He slammed it.
• • •
Alis rapidly inputted a series of letters and numbers into the coms recorder, and set it to randomly repeat. To the Securitats who were undoubtedly watching the text appear on another screen, it would look like code, and that would make them even more anxious to decipher the message it concealed.
Then she inched up her right sleeve, revealing one of the ports in her skin. She dug for the connector, and patched herself into Krasis’s central computer using the coms system as a gateway. The initial rush of information was so immense that she jerked in her chair, and the back of her right hand slapped hard against the console, until she started to get a handle on the flow. She looked for life support, and isolated the cells in the first three blocks. That would keep their oxygen flowing.
Now for the tricky part. She found the oxygen monitors for the core, isolated them, and reprogrammed them so that all minus values became a plus below a set line. Somewhere in the prison, she guessed, was a screen showing oxygen levels, and the whole support system was linked to an alarm. She had already taken care of the alarm, but she didn’t want the screen to show what she was up to. Now, if the levels fell below the new line she had set, the system would add bars to the display instead of removing them. As far as anyone monitoring the oxygen would be aware, it would appear to be more or less stable.
Finally, Alis took control of all the doors in the prison, sealing off the living quarters of the off-duty guards, and patched into the security cameras in the three active blocks. She locked the door to the communications room, and settled back in her chair.
Only then did she start disabling the core’s oxygen supply.
• • •
Reutan was anxious to begin interrogating the prisoners as soon as possible. He wasn’t sure exactly what he wanted to ask them, but he liked interrogations. Ever since the order had come through to close the facility, life on Krasis had become even duller than usual. The workshops had ceased production, and the humans were being kept in permanent lockdown. Like every other Securitat on Krasis, Reutan wouldn’t miss the place one little bit. He’d been sent there as punishment for assaulting a Junior Consul during an argument over a particularly comely aide who, it turned out, was actually the mistress of a Senior Consul, and therefore wouldn’t have had anything to do with either of them anyway. But the Junior Consul had influence, and Reutan had b
Now he sat before a screen and watched as streams of letters and symbols appeared before him. Lerras was to his left. He had just returned from checking on the newcomers.
“How is the girl?” asked Reutan.
“Conscious,” said Lerras. “She’ll just have a headache for a while.”
“I thought she was a bit of all right,” said Reutan.
“If you like that kind of thing.”
Reutan wasn’t fussy. He had been deprived of the company of the opposite sex for too long, and wasn’t above spending time with a human in the absence of anything better. Especially since Yallee had turned out to be a cold one, which was a shame.
Lerras pointed to the screen.
“What does it all mean?”
“It’s code of some sort. I’m running a cryptographic analysis, but so far it’s come up empty.”
“It looks like random nonsense.”
Reutan gritted his teeth. The sooner he was off Krasis, the sooner he’d be able to distance himself from oafs like Lerras. He had to keep his temper, though. Lerras was one of the few Securitats on the base with whom Reutan remained on reasonably good terms. Reutan was not likable. But then, neither was Lerras.
“That’s because you’re not skilled in cryptography,” Reutan replied. “It’s supposed to look like nonsense so that the unskilled will ignore it.”
“If you say so. I don’t trust her, though.”
Dominion by John Connolly / Science Fiction / Young Adult / Fantasy have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes