The Measure of Humanity – Chapter SEVENTEEN

Poor James.

He never knew; nobody ever told him. By the way – spoilers ahead for upcoming books, so just skip to the chapter if you haven’t gotten the other books.

But he and Cassie were only ever bait.

Autumn had her plans for escape all worked out, probably as soon as she was tossed into the PRC. She needed others to escape at the same time so there’d be more confusion and less certainty about her.

Okay, I’ve said enough. Probably too much, honestly.

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CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

Artemis City, Political Rehabilitation Center

“What’s with her?” asked the new guy.

The older resident of the Center, sitting on one of the two chairs, glanced up from her padd. “Huh?”

“That woman, yelling. Can’t you hear her?”

She cocked her head and listened. “Oh, her. She’s been doing that for three lunars. I don’t even hear her anymore.”

“Three lunars?”

“That’s nothing. I’ve been here ten, and I heard about one guy who’s been here almost fifteen years.”

The new resident sat gingerly on the bench that was built into the wall and looked around. The cell – and that’s what it was, a cell, for all that they were called ‘guest accommodations’ during their ‘reeducation period’ – was about sixty meters square and sparsely furnished. There was the bench, a desk, a pair of beds separated by a semi-permanent divider, and, thank goodness, a separate refresher.

“Why are you here?” asked the original occupant.

“I’m not sure,” he admitted.

“Nobody ever is. Well, almost nobody. I know why I’m here.”

“Why?”

“Because I annoyed my cousin. Fortunately for me, killing me would have caused problems with the family, so she just had me tossed in here.” Surprisingly, she grinned. “Autumn Newling.”

“James Moore.” They clasped wrists as Moore looked her over. She was tall, even for a native, but strongly built and young, probably not more than thirty. Her green eyes twinkled with barely-repressed humor, despite her situation, her auburn hair was sensibly short, and her hands, though still, seemed to be in constant motion.

“Nice to meet someone new,” said Newling, returning his gaze. Moore was older, in his forties, and had a serious mien, eyes lined and his face bearing the tell-tale signs of someone who spent many hours suited and in vacuum. He looked to have been an athlete at some point in his past, though she guessed that he’d been more chair-bound in recent years from the softness that was creeping into his physique.

“I suppose it must be. Ten lunars?”

“Almost eleven. I’m not too worried though. Like I said, it would be more trouble than it’s worth to kill me, and sooner or later they’re going to need an Assistant Minister somewhere again. I’ll make all the right noises and promise to behave, and they’ll reinstate me.”

“Huh. I don’t think anyone’ll do that for me.”

“Why not?”

“MinTech has lots of engineers, even a few competent ones.”

“And you have no idea why you’re here?”

He shook his head. “No. I turned in my report at the end of the workday, explained the problem we were about to run into, and the next morning I was told my services were no longer needed and would I please go with the two goons from MinSec.”

“What were you working on? If you’re worried about secrets and all that, I can assure you that ‘classified’ doesn’t mean squat in here.” The mischief in her eyes flared and she grinned. “Besides, I’ll bet my clearance was higher than yours.”

“No bet. If you’ve been in here ten lunars –”

“Almost eleven.”

“—I don’t know if this will mean anything to you, but I was working on the power conduits for the warp drive refit on the Averroes.”

“I heard of that, actually. Like I said, secrets and classified don’t mean anything. The guards here are actually pretty chatty; after all, who are we going to tell?”

“I guess.”

“So you reported a problem and ended up here?”

“That’s what happened, yes, but I don’t know that one caused the other.”

“What was the problem?”

“Nothing major, just a miscalculation.”

“In…?”

“I’m going to have to get technical.”

“Oh, no. Not that. Oh horrors!” She pretended to swoon, eliciting a faint smile. “Better. I can handle it; I was in the Ministry of Production.”

“Ah. The conduits we usually use are rated at a maximum load of fifteen hundred kiloamps with a resistance of five ohms, but the antimatter plants that the warp drive needs push nearly three thousand kiloamps at eight ohms. We were going to need to either step down the current or add more conduits to carry the load.”

“Got it.”

“And that’s it. A pain in the ass, though. The drive needs that much power so we can’t step it down; that means we’d have to lay more conduits, and that means pulling out some panels and figuring out how to cram them in.”

“And who’s in charge of this?”

“Officially? Minister Crozier, of the Ministry of War.”

“Unofficially?”

“A woman from Earth. Alexis Carnahan.”

“Ahhh.”

“What ‘ahhh’? You know something?”

“Well, maybe. That woman you were complaining about?”

“Yeah?”

“That’s Carnahan’s daughter.”

Moore looked shocked. “But Carnahan’s an Earther! How did her daughter end up here?”

“From what she told me, she made a hairy nuisance of herself when they arrived, and when Minister Dent, the head of MinInt, not Foreign Affairs, offered to remove the problem, Doctor Carnahan agreed without a second thought.”

“She had her daughter put here?”

“To be fair, I don’t know that Carnahan knew what Dent was offering, but yes. That’s pretty much what she’s done.”

“Wow.”

“In a word.” Newling stood up, walked to the hatch, and opened it. “Come on, let’s introduce you around.”

“The door’s not locked?” Moore was beginning to realized that stunned was going to be his default setting in here.

“No. ‘Guest accommodations,’ remember? The doors lock from the inside, not out and we have limited access to the planetary network though input only.” She led the way down the corridor.

“What’s keeping us from just going back to the city?”

“I don’t know if you noticed, but you don’t have a suit.”

“I hadn’t noticed, actually.” He looked profoundly nervous at this. A surface suit was the one possession that every Artemesian had, even down to the bottom rung of the undercity. Even though there hadn’t been a major rupture of a dome this century, it was a possibility that every resident was aware of.

“I’m not happy about that,” he finally said.

“It’s not as bad as all that. Almost, but not quite.” She pointed to the far end and the requisite airlock hatch. “One primary entrance.”

She pointed behind them. “Down the corridor there’s a secondary exit.”

She pointed now at a room hatch. “The ‘fresher is pressure-sealed, and there are two ‘rescue bubbles’ stored in there as well as two more stored in each room.”

He made a face. “Rescue bubbles?”

She nodded.

‘Rescue bubbles’ were, essentially, collapsed plastic spheres that a person could climb into, seal behind them, and inflate with the enclosed tank of atmo. Each was equipped with a radio, tuned to the emergency frequency, a transponder which would start broadcasting location as soon as the bubble was sealed, and enough supplies to last a full two days. Of course, the bubbles did nothing to prevent heat loss, so odds were pretty good that anyone needing one would be frozen through when the rescuers finally found them.

“Ugh.”

“So, while we aren’t exactly prisoners, we don’t have anywhere we can get to on our own.” She stopped at an unmarked hatch.

“Cassandra?” she said.

The hatch dilated and James involuntarily recoiled. The woman who appeared was, well, the best word his mind could produce was ‘haggard’. Her hair was wildly unkempt, her skin blotchy and red in places from lack of care, and it was evident from the smell that she’d not bathed in days, at least.. Clothes hung off her haphazardly, as if she’d only put them on from habit. But what got him were her eyes: brown, yes, but hugely bloodshot, with a web of fine wrinkles belonging to a person sixty years older spreading from them, and surrounded by puffy, bruised flesh.

“Bringing the new guy around to see the freak?” Cassandra’s voice was harsh and bitter, but she stood aside in silent invitation.

“Yes,” Autumn replied without hesitation, not moving forward, and shaking her head subtly at Moore when he started to move. “James knows your mother.”

“The bitch who threw me in here? How’d you piss her off?” There seemed to be a hint of genuine interest in her voice.

“What do you mean?”

“Are you stupid as well? No wonder she had you tossed.”

“Hey!”

“Calm down, James. Cassandra, he doesn’t know who’s responsible for him being here.”

“If Doctor Alexis Carnahan is involved at all, then she’s the one responsible. No matter who wrote the order.” Cassandra stepped back to the open hatchway. “Let me tell you about the good doctor…”

Twenty minutes later, Moore had no doubt in his mind that Carnahan was the responsible party, though he still didn’t know exactly how he’d drawn her ire, and Cassandra was finally winding down.

“Autumn,” she said at last, a new note entering her voice. “Did you hear anything?”

Newling shook her head. “No. I know the message went out, but that’s all I know. I don’t exactly have control over that end of the string.”

“I just hoped,” Cassandra said, and Moore realized that was what he was hearing: hope, faint though it was.

“As soon as I hear anything, I’ll let you know. I promise.” And Newling hugged her, if briefly.

“If there’s a way to get you out, we’ll find it.” Newling tugged at Moore’s arm and they made their way back down the corridor.

“Get her out?” he asked when they’d returned to the room. “How can you get her out? And if her, why not yourself? Or me?”

“Let’s work backwards. Not you, because until today I didn’t know you existed. Not me, because, as I said, I’m safe in here until my cousin decides I’ve done my penance. I can’t get her out myself, obviously, but I have some connections. More than that I’m not saying, unless you’d like to wake up in vacuum?” Her eyes gleamed coldly. “I’m not an accidental Newling, you see.”

Moore put up his hands. “Just curious.”

Newling nodded. “Good.” Then her tone softened. “If things happen the way they might happen, there might be an opportunity for you and some others. No promises, no guarantees.”

“Fair dinkum, Mistress Newling.”

“Oh, don’t start being all formal on me just because of a teesy-weensy little threat! Now, let’s talk about something else. Do you follow nullball?”

The Measure of Humanity – Book 2 – Chapter 17

Published by gaffen620

Author of The Cassidy Chronicles. Lives in Colorado with many dogs, cats, and one very patient wife.

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