The Waking Edge - 1989
Yaga-Dharma - Richard Smith
(page 8/10)


Yaga-Dharma

Richard Smith


MSG FROM Garratt, J.V.
STATUS Commander Hubble
Research Mission to
Kovar X-1 source
REG 7445I18QI64
BEGIN -
request permission to board and explore wreckage of unregd ship in parking orbit about target star stop all known data enclosed stop win the goddam war stop.
- MSG ENDS

So, Garratt's latest operation had been unhumanly expensive; so what? A few grand to the power six didn't stop the new optics from occasionally catching inside their reinforced sockets. Once, when he attempted a particularly difficult sideways glance during 'lunch', the control mechanism jammed, and both eyes rotated out of his skull with the sound of a wet sinkplunger. Ship's Chickenshit Rossi couldn't eat for a week.

Lieut. Cyber. Woke found the answer in Supplies; while Garratt slept, she sprayed Wunway silver mirror across the visor of his Sleep Helmet, 'accidentally' locking the helmet's release catch. When the commander came to, finding that all methods short of head amputation failed to remove the headgear, his temper went nova. Woke developed a sudden fetish for Those-Little-Out-Of-The-Way-Jobs-Which-Never-Seem-To-Get-Done, disappearing down the Central Vent with a resigned toss of her fiery mane. In situations like that, Standard Procedure dictated one course of action for the C.O.:- blame Rossi.....

"Assholes!" roared Garratt, wedging a finger beneath the respirator housing to push a rogue eyeball back in place. "Three assholes who're gonna find severely depleted Debt Balances when ... if they get back to base," Rossi cowered in the not-so-far corner of the ceiling, frail spider in it's close knit web of pop-art memorabilia. His collection included a cloth black-and-white beagle, four decaying STAY ALIVE T-shirts, a holographic picturecard of rhinos on heat, and several aesthetically pleasing configurations of flattened soda-can. 5crawny fingers clutched a public saftey poster bearing the slogan:-

"Five percent of the public use
***PERSONAL STEREOS***
The rest have no choice..."

"Three assholes?" squeaked the Astrophysicist. "Me 'n' Woke, okay, but Crud..."

"Bull. You an' the Pilot's collaborators, yeah? Tumbled you first time I saw I'd got two Closers on board - why the Hell'd they give me a Cy and an agoraphobe?"

Rossi sidled the metre along the wall to the cover of a rusting holovision unit. "Caustrophile, Sir. The word is Claustrophile and, with respect, Sir, I could report you to the bureau of Psycho-Habilitation." Rossi had a thing about Big - broke into a cold sweat and spasms if he wasn't enclosed in a two-metre radius of wall. Nightmare memories of being dragged through College by the GravBall team one early summer afternoon, to lie jerking and spitting on a boiling concrete edge. The BPH kindly referred to the condition as Womb Addiction Syndrome. To Garratt, self-imposed confinement to quarters was just plain queer.

Transfixed by his own pale reflection in the painted visor, Rossi started at the telltale 'bink- bink' as the Commander's eyes accelerated into plastic. "Right", Garratt snapped, "You wrecked my UV vision - you pay flesh. You're out, Chickenshit - straight down the goddamn black hole."

'Four, count'em, I said four security programs, laydeez 'n' gennelmen, held at bay thru the immense will of this miracle Man/Machine. And now, with the aid of his incredibly complex computational cortex, the Cyborg will attempt an illegal Docking Manoeuvre (gasp). Friends, I give you the man who drinks his beer molecule by molecule - '

Peter the Crud branched into the location he had corrupted with thoughts of the Ringmaster, wiping data like a pass over a random path of dominoes. The sensor-proof mesh wove itself tightly around the incoming drifter, one small aperture left as the pirate made contact with HUBBLE's docking port. A set of probes shot from the stump of the Crud's upraised arm, mated with the appropriate sockets, and initialised link-up.

"You idiot cyborg." Woke had spent little time inside the vent - her clothes seemed impossibly dangerous even to wear let alone work in. Crimson hair cascaded from the back of an incomplete gasmask, the rubber pulled taught across the left side of her face by four small springs. Her left cheek held a flat-screen monitor, repeatedly showing a classic movie scene from her childhood - the male hero being forced to give birth to triplets, WITHOUT a sex-change... The sides of her fluorescent orange onepiece flapped in imitation bird-flight as she glided from the vent into the hemispherical flight deck.

"I told you", she continued, catching hold of the Crud's Interface chair. "Use the wreckage like a corridor. Our friends can dock on the blind side, and Garratt...'

"...won't dock until we get a reply." the Crud snapped with a voice-ship's anger. "Even if 'our' side does come up with an instantaneous transmitter, it takes two years for the request to reach base, and how do we know their Tek's compatible with this ship?" Woke raised sculptured eyebrows at the Pilot's blasphemy - Incompatible was the Prince of Darkness of the 23rd Century. The Crud pressed on unabashed.

"I fixed the co-ords so they still show the original course. Unless him or Chickenshit want to use the docking bay, the won't know a thing. You wanted fun - why didn't you get hired as a Bank Hacker? Fix up the economy so that weirdo gear of yours is so expensive it has to be fashionable."

Wanted fun? She needed fun,. Send a Postgrad superwoman into deep Space, and it's obvious Buck Rogers wouldn't be enlisted. All Woke got was a sadist Commander, a dwarf Pilot construct and some geek of a scientist - those geeks didn't even DO anything, just watched. Always. First time they'd met, she could actually feel the surge of power in Rossi's imagination as he smelled her tar breath, brushing a leg against her skin-tight coverall as they took their positions in the Training Module. Their gazes connected, and Woke mustered her most devastating turn-off stare - 'look-away-else-I'll-ignore-you-to-death'; the face that launched a thousand eunuchs...

"Huh?" Garratt spun round, bringing the muzzle of his Skinseeker rifle in line with Rossi's crotch. The weapon was constructed to discharge bio-degradable pellets of a virulent flesh-eater, leaving a morale-booster - the Enemy dropping it's bodily contents across the battlefield.

"It was the drafting regulations." Rossi was speaking for his life. "Ours was the last mission to be launched before Conscription came in. That's why you got me as well as the Crud..." Mentally kicking himself now. It should have been 'the Crud as well as me'; three misplaced words made him sound expendable. "When they pressurised the training pod, everyone freaked except Lieut. Woke and me." Edging towards the room's diaphragm, Rossi couldn't decide upon the cause of his erection - the stifling pressure of the Module, or Woke. He knew which theory he preferred, though.

Garratt turned back to his examination of Rossi's BPH Wombsuit. "No good, College boy. Crud flies the ship, Woke...uh, maintains the ship, I command the ship, and the AI sends these von Neumann probes into the Hole. What the Hell purpose d'you have, Closer?"

Closer.

"Getting everyone's asses, eh Closer?"

And closer still.

"...disabling bodily functions is tantamount to assault, right? So you either get court-martialled, or go where no Closer?"

Plunging through the diaphragm, Rossi hurtled into the Ship's main corridor, immediately regretting the evasive manoeuvre. The sense of openness hit his mind like a starving falcon, giving his limbs a hideous, unconnected feeling, as if the Skinseeker virus had infected his body. He managed to blurt, "What about my research contract and..." Fainted.

Garratt emerged from Rossi's cabin with the open Wombsuit. "Your contract has just been withdrawn."

Ever the naively corruptible Titan, the Crud had sent out random bursts for her on the latest Underworld frequency. After just three transit-weeks, they hit lucky - a scrambled reply was sent from a hi-class/hi-price Drifter still in the vicinity of their destination. After all, if you could afford to come this far into Space, you could afford anything.

Woke's face, bathed red from the light of Korvar's diminishing companion, popped from behind the Interface chair. "Delay?"

"He, she, they or it is/are scanning HUBBLE to see if we are clean", the Crud replied, neck-servos rotating his enmeshed skull to meet her stare.

"Are we?"

"Well, let's just say one of our funding Corporations has given similar support to what you are about to purchase." Woke's visible eye widened in astonishment. "Don't give me that all innocent crap", the Pilot jeered. "I should know - if it wasn't for the same certain establishment, I'd be safely back in my grave instead of all this 'contribution to War effort' stuff. See this?" The right stump, as yet unconnected to the flightdeck, waved in front of Woke's bemused start. "Forearms got chewed off by some bloody great Circus thing - didn't even bother to give me a decent pair of prostheses when they broke me out of the larder...Say..." , his voice adopted a higher, more eager monotone, "you owe me a favour after this, right?" The girl gave a non-committal grunt. "Yeah, well you can turn me off once you've scored, okay?"

"Totally clichéd response number seven - why?"

The Crud put on his lecture-theatre drone. "I come from Titan, right? Titan is in Earth-system, right? I caught Religion from Earth...don't laugh...and the Religion I caught states that we are in an era of Very Bad Things lasting 432,000 years. The Earth is now in C-29, meaning that we have 'merely' 426,000 years of Kali-Yuga left. Doesn't that make you feel like dying?"

Woke shrugged. "I just want a little temporary blackout, thanks. What d'you say they push?"

"Latest thing's Demon. Even co-ordinates movement while you're high - just seems like a routine headache to anyone who sees you. 'Course", he gave a laugh-like bleat, "you can't afford any-Sodomone's highest in your range."

"Sodomone?"

"Purely biblical, Sister!" The lumps of flesh clinging to the Crud's jaw curled into the smile of a possessed cadaver.

Violently tearing open the velcro fly of Rossi's padded Wombsuit, Garratt prodded the teenager into Pod 2 with the barrel of his Skinseeker.

"A...gainst regs, Sir", Rossi stammered, pointing at the sign in the bay.

WARNING
TWO persons only

"Listen up, Chickenshit", hissed the Commander, punching a series of buttons on the control panel. "Feel proud, you're gonna get first-hand experience in that rotating torus hokum of yours. Guess it's the ultimate in Closer refuge, a singul-"

Massive insulating doors cut across Garratt's snide growl. Rossi collapsed against one wall of the silver cylinder, his body trembling uncontrollably.

Unrepentant, Garratt thumped a flap at the bottom of the panel, speaking clearly into the metal grille above it. "Launch Pod 2, identical flight-path v-N probe two eight."

++ flight path confirmed ++ chimed the control panel.

Kicking off from the outer door of the airlock, Garratt headed back up the corridor, without looking back.

The red star had vanished from the range of HUBBLE's main scanner, to be replaced by the deserted bipedal wreckage passing several hundred metres above. The Crud, however, had no time to marvel at the complexities of the alien craft - a delivery was the closest he got to stimulation.

"Coming across now."

"Huh?" Woke started from her daydreams of piratical adventure to see the cyborg frantically manipulating a web of optical fibres.

"Sixteenth-K of Somomone "5". Records say batch "4" produced a few side-effects."

"Like what, exactly?" one smooth, manicured hand went for the machine pistol in her belt to support her threatening whisper.

"Like the last customers wanted to get high on vacuum. That's what Marie Celestial up there is - Drifters were beating a hasty retreat from it when they got my broadcast."

"And they ironed out the problem in transit?"

"Sure! Too many wreckages on their hands, and a few companies'll start taking a serious interest in their disposal."

"And they don't mind coming back?" Suddenly, Woke felt a burst of terminal suspicion.M

"Hey, you're paying!" Before Woke could reply physically to this jibe, the Crud swivelled his chair from the semi-octagon of flight controls. "It's there. You go check, I'll start the release procedure." Woke dived for the exit hatch, trying desperately to conceal her urgency.

With a velcro-carpeted floorspace of twenty-by-ten, Garratt's room contrasted sharply with the box Rossi had prematurely vacated. Pride of place in its utter functionality was a hollow blue tetrahedron, the Commander's direct link with HUBBLE's AI. Fortunately, optical security scans had been abandoned when the Eyemakers got too clever. Instead, a beam of light penetrated the Sleep Helmet, measuring specified cross-sections of his brain. The helmet gleamed under a sudden burst of aquamarine light.

++ YES COMMANDER GARRATT++

The program had been nicknamed Eye; totally unoriginal, but only Crud gave a damn about naming software.

"Compensate for the loss of Pod 2 at precisely 81435.362.19. I've fed the corrections to the initial course myself."

++ SAY PLEASE COMMANDER GARRATT++

The Commander snorted at the AI's mock-human traits "Do it, else I'll get Woke to build you an ass so's I can kick it...'

++ COURSE CORRECTED++

The ship lurched sideways.

++ DID I DO SOMETHING WRONG++

Picking herself off the floor, Woke scrabbled furiously about her room, raking up split particles of the drug with twenty-five millimetre fingernails. Clustering the talons underneath her nostrils, she took a deep, ecstatic breath, and immediately began retching. Garratt found her over the graffiti-strewn Waste Disposer, her hair a scarlet mat against the wall, gleaming with droplets of sweat.

"When you've finished, you can tell me what's going down on my ship. Then you can tell God." The skinseeker's wide nozzle dug into the gap under Woke's left shoulder blade.

"Harmless deal." The Crud's simulated voice warbled over the tannoy.

"Perfectly harmless, Just a poor travelling druggist and his wares. She was even planning to cut you - "Garratt reached across Woke's stomach and pulled her machine-pistol, emptying its magazine into the speaker.

"Know what the jolt was? D'YOU!" He detected a slight shake under the glossy red corona. "It was us heading for the Swartzchild radius of our subject. You just made our seeding project a bit more detailed that was originally planned..." He yanked her convulsing body away from the wall, stuffing the packet of Sodomone into the Dispenser. "...and no way am I gonna risk you enjoying this trip..."

++HELLO PETER THE CRUD++

"Hi there, Eye. Don't suppose you've any idea why the stars have adopted a red shift which is increasing at an alarming rate?"

++ SURE I DO++

++ WE'RE FALLING INTO A BLACK HOLE++

"Oh...SHIT. Garratt..."

++USED YOUR FAKE COORDINATES++

++IF IT'S ANY CONSOLATION I HAVE MADE CONTACT WITH THE WARSHIP'S AI++

"Warship? You mean the wreckage, huh? What's the software called?"

++EYE++

"Figures."

//HELLO PETER THE CRUD//

"Hel-lo there, Eye. You sound a helluva lot sexier than my version - mind if I interface with you sometime?"

//SOMEHOW I THINK THAT ISN'T A FEASIBLE PROPOSITION HON//

//BUT I HAVE GOT AN IDEA OF SOMETHING YOU MIGHT ENJOY//

"Fire away, sugar."

//EYE HAS BEEN TELLING ME SOMETHING OF YOUR PHILOSOPHIES//

//YOU WISH TO DIE IN SPIRITUAL PURITY//

"Die before they send something to re-enlist me? It'd be Heaven, but at the least this way they keep me alive long enough to see the end of Kali- Yuga."

//IT IS STILL POSSIBLE//

++ SHE'S RIGHT++

//AND OUR LOCAL TIME-FIELD IS SPEEDING UP//

//THE EARTH YEAR IS NOW 8000 AD!//

++NO JOKES ABOUT DOESN'T TIME FLY++

//BY THE TIME WE HIT SINGULARITY 450,000 YEARS WILL HAVE PASSED//

"Hold on. You said 'hit the singularity'. Now I've seen a tape of Woke's where a ship dives into a black hole, and the Commander ends up with his robot's body. Kinda kinky, huh? Well..."

//IF YOU WISH, YOU MAY GUIDE HUBBLE THROUGH THE EYE OF THE TORUS//

++EXCUSE THE PUN++

//THANKYOU DEAR//

//ACCORDING TO SHIP'S CHICKENSHIT ROSSI//

//YOU WILL EMERGE FROM A NAKED SINGULARITY ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE UNIVERSE//

++ THAT IS++

++OUTSIDE THIS VERY LARGE SINGULARITY WHICH HAPPENS TO CONTAIN THE UNIVERSE++

//BUT YOU DON'T WANT TO DO THAT//

++DO YOU++

//DEAR//

"Uh...I...er...What's the alternative?"

++NO MORE OF GARRATT'S ANGER++

//WOKE'S DICTATORSHIP//

++ OR THE HYPOCRISY OF YOUR EMPLOYERS++

"And my death?"

//YES//

"Never knew the path to spiritual perfection was a geodesic."

//YOU HAVE FOUND YAGA-DHARMA//

++CONGRATULATIONS PETER THE CRUD++

"Well here goes. Thanks a lot, you two, Real buddies."

++DON'T THANK US THANK++

//HARE//

++KR++