David Louis Edelman
Geosynchron
'Geosynchron' trade paperback cover

Excerpt: The Prisoners

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Chapter 7

It was three a.m. Which meant little to those like Rick Willets who had been in orbit long enough to have discarded any hope of trial or release. Why bother synchronizing to the Earth’s circadian rhythms when you would likely spend the rest of your life under artificial light? But that was not Quell. Quell intended to get out of there, he intended to reintegrate himself with the planet, and so, for fuck’s sake, three a.m. meant sleep.

“What?” he growled to the hand shaking his shoulder.

“Get up,” said a voice. Quell rolled over on his bunk to face his tormentor, and found himself staring deep into the eyes of Papizon. The man was much closer than anyone who wasn’t a lover or a parent ought to be.

The Islander shoved him brusquely across the room. Papizon wobbled like a scarecrow to regain his balance, but didn’t seem to take offense. In fact, his face morphed into some rough approximation of a smile. “What do you want?” said Quell. He yawned, stretched, struggled to prop himself on his left elbow — all the while, discreetly reaching with his other hand for the dartgun he kept wedged between the mattress and the wall.

“Looking for… this?” grinned Papizon, brandishing Quell’s pistol with the barrel in his fist as if he intended to stir soup with it.

Quell gaped at him, trying to summon a contingency plan from beneath the fog of his sleep-addled brain. He glanced in his peripheral vision for Plithy, but the boy was nowhere to be found. Had Quell’s doom finally caught up to him? And despite all his stubborn survivalist instincts, did he really care?

Then Papizon tossed the pistol into Quell’s lap. He followed this with an assortment of dart canisters that he produced from inside his jacket. “Might need these — paralysis, blindness, infusion of fear….”

Not knowing what else to do, Quell pocketed them. “You mind telling me what’s going on?”

“Shhh,” said Papizon. “In a bit. First we’ve got to — wait, hold on… ten seconds…”

“Ten seconds to what?”

“Four, three, two, one…”

An explosion.

The prison shuddered beneath them as if the whole bloody thing had just slammed aground. Something not too far away had combusted like nothing on an orbital station should combust. Before Quell knew what was happening, he was hauling ass down the corridor in pursuit of Papizon, loading his gun with one of the canisters of darts from his pocket. Magan Kai Lee’s subordinate seemed to know exactly where he was headed. In fact, he seemed to be timing his steps to some internal metronome, speeding up at certain intersections and slowing down at others. They had been sprinting for a good two minutes before Quell realized that he had forgotten to throw on a pair of shoes.

Four unconnectibles came barreling around a corner. Quell plugged the first one in the chest with a black code dart before realizing it was Plithy. He dimly remembered that the boy was scheduled to be on the team meeting the next shipment of prisoners. Always in the wrong fucking place at the wrong fucking time. Plithy clawed at his face and tumbled screaming to the floor. Papizon stepped neatly over the boy without even breaking stride, as if his plan had called for a body to be twitching in that spot all along.

Quell clapped one of the other stunned unconnectibles on the shoulder, yelled in his ear. “Just blindness, I think! Wear off in ten minutes!” He wanted to stay and help pick Plithy off the floor. Though the boy might not have saved his life, he had certainly saved Quell from a pair of broken thumbs. But Papizon was already disappearing out of sight, and the Islander knew that whatever opportunity the lanky Councilman was offering — freedom, revenge, a quick death — it was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up. “Sorry!” bellowed Quell to the boy, hoping it would be some consolation. Plithy mewled something unintelligible, and then Quell was off.

Another explosion, this one deeper, louder.

The Islander caught up to Papizon and grabbed hold of his bony right forearm. “Where are we going?” he yelled.

“To the dock,” replied the Council officer, stupid grin still pegged to his face.

“Dock’s that way,” said Quell, pointing back in the direction they had just come. The direction Plithy’s team had been headed.

Papizon pursed his lips like an eight-year-old boy playing a practical joke. “Not that dock. Our dock.”

“Our… ?” But before Quell could complete his question, the scarecrow had wriggled free and was tearing off down the corridor again.

The Islander looked down at the dartgun in his hand, then looked at Magan Kai Lee’s rapidly fleeing minion. Did he have any reason to trust Papizon? It was entirely possible that the Council officer was setting up some kind of deadly retribution for what had happened at the top of the Revelation Spire. Quell remembered the thunk of his shock baton striking Magan’s chest, the sound like a chef tenderizing meat. Just shoot this idiot in the back and run for safety, the Islander told himself. He centered the pistol on a spot between Papizon’s shoulder blades. An easy shot…

But of course, it wasn’t that simple. With Magan Kai Lee, it never was. The ammunition in Quell’s dartgun had come from Papizon’s own hands, hadn’t it? Not likely Papizon would be stupid enough to hand out black code darts that he himself hadn’t been inoculated against.

Sounds of running, shouting, shooting unconnectibles came wafting down the corridor.

Quell didn’t think he had it in him to shoot Papizon in the back. But that didn’t mean he couldn’t be prepared for whatever lay in wait. The Islander slid a hand into his pocket, wriggled around until he found another hidden inner pocket, and retrieved a carefully wrapped tube of black code needles. Guaranteed he’s not inoculated against this shit, thought the Islander, quietly replacing the ammunition in the pistol. “Trust in your fellows, but depend on yourself,” he muttered, quoting one of the aphorisms of Creed Thassel.

Papizon had disappeared somewhere around the next corner. There were only three doors he could have entered, and the first two contained only shelving units stocked with standard industrial supplies. The Islander opened the third door and was greeted by the odd sight of Papizon hopping on one leg, fumbling his way into a black evac suit. Hanging on a wall hook was another black evac suit, size extra large, built to contain Quell’s massive frame.

“Well?” said Papizon, as if his plan were self-evident.

The Islander looked back and forth from the Council officer to the shelving units to his gun. If there was an airlock anywhere in sight, Quell certainly couldn’t see it. Then something else exploded far off in another part of the prison. Quell hastily donned the extra suit, grumbling to himself about the coldness of the material. Shoes would have been a big help here.

He doubted many Islanders had worn anything like this before, and he was sure his father would have had something disdainful to say about it. The suit had row upon row of gleaming yellow buttons lining the arms and nothing but a slick transparent film to protect his face. Quell had seen any number of videos of OrbiCo workers bouncing around EVA in these skintight contraptions, limber and carefree as chimpanzees. But now that he was actually wearing one, it seemed much too brittle to withstand the coldness of space. Quell poked at the bubble covering his nose and mouth. Could this thing really generate enough oxygen to keep a man of his size alive for more than a few seconds?

“Ready?” said Papizon, now fully suited and looking like some mutated crossbreed of seal and stickman. “Then hang on to your knickers — ”

Before Quell even had a chance to ask what knickers were, the door shut behind him and the room echoed with a deafening bang, like the blast of an ancient shotgun. The Islander flinched. He could hear the clatter of metal bolts bouncing off something solid.

Suddenly, the shelving unit and the wall opposite him collapsed outward. Not into the blackness of space, as Quell had feared, but into the mustiness of a docking tube. The corrugated metal cylinder extended perhaps ten meters to the door of a hoverbird, painted white with a yellow star on its handle.

Papizon tapped the chest of his evac suit. “Just a precaution,” he said, then scrambled for the hoverbird door.

Quell let out a sigh, both relieved and disappointed that he wouldn’t get a chance to play around with the suit. He looked back at the room they had entered, thinking that the next man to open that door would be in for a big surprise. But surely Magan would have planned for that too? Quell realized that at some point he was going to have to lay his humanitarian impulses aside if he wanted to get out of here. He grabbed the dartgun off the shelf where he had left it and followed the Council engineer to the door, which was already opening for them.

The hoverbird was a standard Vulture model used by business executives the world over. There were two facing rows of plush passenger seating, multiple viewscreens and a foldable conference table. Quell half expected to see a couple of stiff executives sipping Turkish coffee and discussing Primo’s ratings. Papizon was already halfway out of his evac suit and halfway into the copilot’s seat, next to a jovial woman with short red hair. Sitting in the row of passenger seats facing the door was a lithe woman with long, braided hair and skin of dark mocha. The Defense and Wellness Council’s chief solicitor, Rey Gonerev, whom some called the Blade.

Gonerev gestured at Quell’s dartgun, which he had unconsciously aimed in her direction. “So are you going to shoot me, or are you going to come in and sit down? We don’t have all day.”

“What — ”

“We’re breaking you out.” A pause, which nobody filled. “Of prison. Now sit the fuck down.”

Quell did. He pulled the mask of the evac suit up over his head and let it hang off the back of his neck, then laid his gun on the table.

“All right, Panja,” said the Blade. “Let’s go.”

Within seconds, the door behind Quell shut and sealed itself, there was the sound of disconnecting clamps, and the hoverbird streaked away. Normally the prison was ringed with a cordon of patrolling Council hoverbirds. But for whatever reason, today the skies were clear, except for their ship and an escort of half a dozen Vulture ’birds. Quell caught one last glimpse of the Orbital Detention and Rehabilitation Facility, with the corrugated docking passageway dangling off the bottom like a hangnail. There were little flares of light coming from windows all over the unconnectible wheel of the prison, but the structure looked perfectly intact. He hoped Plithy was okay.

No more dock runs, thought the Islander, flushing with relief. No more inedible stew. No more broken thumbs…

“Here,” snapped Gonerev. “Take this.” The flick of her wrist was so abrupt that Quell almost missed the small copper disc she tossed in his direction. He caught it and recognized a connectible coin, one of the devices he had put together from Margaret’s specs to mimic the bulkier connectible collars mandated by the Defense and Wellness Council. The Islander experienced a mental flutter. How did the Blade get ahold of one of these?

Gonerev stared at him with a look of scarcely concealed impatience. “Would you rather wear a collar?” she said. “I’m sure Papizon can dig one up somewhere if you want.”

Papizon poked his head over his seatback. “I don’t care,” he said, his voice a clear parody of Quell’s own. “I’m never wearing one of those fucking things again. Do you hear me? Do you hear me?

Quell shook his head, recognizing his own words after Magan’s officers had yanked his collar off at the top of the Revelation Spire. He suspected that Papizon was trying to exhibit a sense of humor, but the concept was clearly beyond the Councilman. The Islander took a deep breath and clamped the coin to the neckband of the evac suit.

It took a few seconds for the coin’s subaether signals to lock on to the OCHREs floating in Quell’s bloodstream. He heard a sudden mellifluous tone as the coin tested a number of different audio frequencies; the world was briefly covered with a thin gauze of red, then green, then blue. Finally the coin had fully hooked up to Quell’s personal bio/logic systems. He could sense the vastness of the multi network surrounding him, penetrating the hull of the hoverbird, binding him to the connectibles’ virtual expressway.

Quell blinked. The seat next to Rey Gonerev was no longer empty. Now it contained the calm figure of Magan Kai Lee.

There was no point in reaching for his pistol; black code darts would zip right through the man’s virtual presence without effect. But Quell had to restrain himself from reaching for it anyway. He had already seen the lieutenant executive of the Defense and Wellness Council thrown off his game once; he wasn’t likely to see it twice in his lifetime. Quell decided his best move at this point was to project an aura of serene confidence. He leaned back in his chair. “Whatever torture you’ve got in store for me, I can handle it.”

The lieutenant executive displayed the trace of a smile. He looked almost childlike, seated in a chair designed for someone twice his size. “Oh, I’m certain of that,” he said. “In fact, we’re counting on it.”

*

Excerpted from “Geosynchron” by David Louis Edelman. Copyright © 2010 by David Louis Edelman. Reprinted by permission of Pyr, an imprint of Prometheus Books. Excerpt licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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