Back in Sol Again: Part 10

10.

All Hail The King

Simon and Lina were kept apart from Niala. They’d been moved to the bunk-area, while she was sequestered to her beam in the storage room. The reason was simple, she couldn’t break through steel, but if she got close enough, could easily break the plastic and rope bonds tying Lina and Simon together. Freeing them could only serve to free herself in time. The last thing the Anti-Humanists wanted was a pissed-off Lioness rampaging aboard the outpost.

Rearden was brought into the bunk room, tossed unceremoniously into a corner to clang against the ground like a tin-can full of nuts and bolts. Simon could only wince. The scorch mark on its side said enough; it was hit some sort of electrical weapon that overloaded and shut it down. No doubt, it blew half its capacitors in the process. It might take weeks to repair it. Simon could only hope it had gotten its altered message out. What they were supposed to do after, he wasn’t sure.

He understood Niala’s reasons, but turning away their only chance at rescue seemed the opposite of a good idea. He knew Homer was the target, or at least one target, but he questioned how much threat they might actually pose to its thousand-plus crew. At the same time, he wasn’t sure he wanted to know the hunch Niala had played off otherwise.

He could do nothing more but sigh, hoping a solution presented itself.

Snow stood in the center of his ship’s Bridge. The various screens readout a plethora of metrics, informatics, charts, and scans that flickered in constant updates. Each one meant something specific to one of the dozen creatures around him, and while Snow knew them all, he cared only that they functioned. He’d hand-picked his crew from the best mercs and swashbucklers in Sol, they ensured he didn’t need to pay attention to more than was crucial for his own interests. Each of his people were organs in a body; each with a job both crucial and singular.

Each crew member knew it, knew they were expected to act as such. Any deviation meant punishment. Snow knew few things better than effective forms of punishment. He’d practiced many, been subject to others, and knew infinitely more.

What he knew, most of all though, was honor.

Whether to his word, or his allegiances, he put honor above all things. In his world, defying or defiling honor, earned a death reserved for only the most depraved of dregs. A death made sure to see to, personally.

To Snow, a fight was an exercise in primal fury no matter how stacked to one side or the other. But there were rules. Rules stemming from millennia of evolution. Rules, unspoken, that demanded your prey never be humiliated, dehumanized– for lack of better terms. Humans angered Snow for that reason; they knew of no rules, no honor, to battle or warfare.

In many ways, he hated Humans; hated that they’d made themselves Lords of Sol. That they’d gated off their most important positions and places on Earth and elsewhere for themselves. That they, even after decades of evolved animal life, forced themselves upon or into their burgeoning cultures, into their individual lives wherever possible. That they forced the animals into certain rungs of society, on planets, and in the minds of the system, whether directly or indirectly and consciously or not.

He hated too, the way they’d humiliated his cousins, the Canids. His descendants, evolutionarily speaking. They’d taken once-proud, intelligent, fearsome Vulpines, and turned them into mockeries. They’d bred them to appear like himself, with none of their personality, their spirit.

Then, they decided they’d liked that idea so much, they inbred those mockeries until they were genetic freaks; mutants whose own DNA rebelled against their very existence. The result was everything from spinal problems to the inability to breathe. Contact had only made it worse, too.

When Snow thought about Humans long enough, he thought about the Pugs; creatures with their genetics so corrupted their faces perpetually looked like something cast beside railroad tracks after being hit by a traveling freight train.

He thought about the Bulldogs, inbred ‘til their honorable lineage of cutthroat fighting and strong-backing was replaced by the inability to breathe so that each had to carry inhalers, oxy-tubes, or the scars and financial burdens from multiple, astronomical surgeries that unduly complicated their lives.

He thought about the Pitbulls, the Shepards, the Boxers, and Rotts; all once trained to be protectors and guardians, fighters as capable of man-killing as child-loving, and how their family trees were in shambles, tatters, rife with the senseless murders of their shining, ancestral apex-predators–murders spawned by human fear at their own magnificent or freakish creations.

Snow held no love for Humans, hated that some evolved life defended them to literal death. He’d both willingly and not, fought side-by-side with them, against them. Nothing had changed his feelings. He knew of very little that could.

And yet, when the message arrived, he did not hesitate. He immediately set a course toward Gliese-Beta. The simple reason; with as much as he hated Humans, he hated Anti-Humanists more.

Anti-humanists were fools. Bigots. Too easily controlled through their hatred. They were used by media to enable governmental and corporate overreach; used by equally bigoted Humans for overreaching into evolved society; used police as scapegoats; by gangs as symbols. Most notably, by the Zelphod to attempt disrupting the balance of Solsian powers.

No matter what anyone else wished to focus on from the ISC breach, Snow remembered the truth of its conclusion. A Zelphod General was involved. Despite claims from Zelphod leadership that the General’s actions were not sanctioned, neither were they condemned internally.

To Snow, that was as much as admitting to a false-flag op as anything. He’d been part of a couple himself, thwarted a few too, and he’d gotten a sense of them. They’d been used through-out all of Solsian history to turn the blame for an act onto another party via the acted upon party.

One such incident indirectly gave rise to the second, global war on Earth. When an act of a political party against itself was framed as an attack by another, it allowed a tyrannical monster to assume power and enact a so-called “final solution–” for a problem that had never existed in the first place.

Humans were like that, Snow knew. They were stupid, dishonorable enough to have created False-flag ops. They weren’t however, the only ones dirty enough to perpetrate them. Among other things it made them yet another tool of warfare, leveled the field for players like Snow to take full advantage of.

No doubt the Zelphod had learned of False-Flag ops since the war, had hoped to institute one themselves. Snow sensed as much, wasn’t about to forget it. So, setting his crosshairs on the Anti-Humanists was as much about retaliation against foolish bigotry as it was an attempt to secure Sol’s future, its place in the galaxy– perhaps even the universe.

For, as much as he hated Humans and their apologists, there was no denying Niala’s eternal argument: Sol could not progress with Animals and Humans at one another’s throats. He simply disagreed with where Humans belonged in their collective hierarchy.

Even so, he’d have rather seen the end of evolved life– and the rise of Humanity to masters of the universe– before letting Anti-Humanists make first contact with a new species on behalf of Sol. Let alone an intelligent one.

Alpha-Wolf sailed through the cosmos at its highest sub-light speed between bouts of recharging its jump drive. The more primitive big-sister to the F-Drive required more parameters be met, and more time for cool-down and recharging between shorter jumps. Nonetheless, he’d remained within a day’s range of Homer before his one-time companions were deposited on their temporary outpost.

He’d sailed for that outpost as fast as his ship’s hyper-physics would allow, all the time manning the Bridge. When, at last, he stood in a shuttle alone, he was prepared. Like his ship, the shuttle was the elder prototype for the shuttles now used aboard Homer and the other Clarke-class vessels, but unlike Alpha-Wolf, it was more or less identical.

He fitted his Vulpine helmet over his specially-armored space-suit, engaged its systems, tested his mag-boots, and stepped into the shuttle’s cargo-area. He gave Alpha-Wolf’s Pilot a command over the comm and the ship disappeared through the cock-pit view-port behind him. With a few keys of a rear panel, the shuttle’s lights dimmed and his mag-boots engaged. Gravity disappeared only a breath before the atmosphere vented. External sound went with it.

With a steady, slow-motion silence, the rear door of the shuttle sank. The station’s airlock revealed itself in the shuttle’s younger sibling, opposite it, where its true-crew had left it. Between the two, along what appeared to Snow as the station’s left-side, and at its lowest airlock was an identical ship– the fools’ who’d taken over the station. Soon, they’d regret that decision.

Niala’s vision was a fog. Her mind was scientific, rigid in its logic, but there were bits of irrationality leaking in. Drugs always had a way of taking the mentally astute and making them dream big. It was the only reason Solsians had made it to space in the first place. Some Human had looked up at the stars, stoned out of his gourd, and dreamed. And then, another. And another. Until one did it that concocted a story about how magnificent it must be up there.

And then some not-quite-so-stoned person decided they agreed. And then, a lot more, sober ones did too. They all got together, did some math, and then showed up on the doorstep of the stoned dreamer’s house, and said “watch this!” Then a mile a way, a trail of fire and light cut through the sky, and the stoned person could only stand beside the sober ones, each of them mustering the only thing they could; a complete and totally bewildered, “cool.”

The rest, as they say, was history. Niala had never been surprised, on reflection, that Chinese Opium lovers were also the first rocketeers. Drugs made one think in that stoned, dazed way of boundless imagination. Dreams first and logic second. Niala would’ve loved it given any other circumstances.

But currently, someone was trying to use it against her. Why, she could only guess. They’d yet to question her. More than likely, it was something to do with Rearden’s interference. If the bot was half as smart as she knew, it put a lock-out code on the console. No doubt, Shafer’s people believed she knew it.

Mostly, she guessed that hadn’t considered Rearden’s intelligence or capacity before zapping it. Also mostly, because they didn’t have enough of either to tie their shoes without being told how to, or when. So when the Hog came in, stinking like road-kill and mud, it refused to believe her even despite the would-be truth drugs.

“I don’t know it,” she said in earnest.

The universe spun around her. The room’s lights left streaks like shooting stars. The whole effect was that of watching a meteor shower, during daylight, from a spinning merry-go-round.

He demanded an answer. She gave one; “Did you try, “dip-shits?”

A hoof cold-cocked her across the jaw. It served only to add a cross-wise tumble to the spinning universe. The pain was far too dull and distant to matter much, even if the hog hadn’t hit like a tired butterfly.

Niala laughed, “Try again. Nothin’ there, but something’s bound to come up.”

The Hog reeled back again. Niala was focused behind it; a figure grew six sizes, loomed above it. From her drugged state, the Hog was actual size. The figure was a skyscraper. Darkness bathed its one-side, the other only vaguely reminiscent of something she once knew. Before the Hog could know what was happening, the skyscraper flattened it against the storage-room floor.

Snow swatted downward with his oxygen tank. It connected, followed through, took the Hog with it. Niala couldn’t help but find this instantly and uproariously amusing. Whatever the effect to her, it left the Hog limp on the floor, blood trickling from its cracked, unconscious head. Snow set the tank aside to rouse Niala. She babbled something amid laughter and Snow instantly knew she was drugged.

He dug through a pouch on his suit, produced a horse-pill, and broke it apart beneath her nose. She sniffed hard, uncontrollably. The world stopped with a jarring vertigo amid its spin, settling into place before her. Her eyes homed in on Snow’s, then narrowed intensely.

“Snow!?” She said in a hush.

He put up a paw for silence, then whispered, “There are more nearby. Are you fit?”

She tested her legs, let her arms level out with the beam she was chained to, then nodded. Snow dug for the keys in the hogs vest, freed her from the locked steel. He gave a signal to stay low and quiet, then made for the storage room door. Niala’s head still teetered to and fro, but she fought it with a tightening jaw; they had a job to do.

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