Episode 210: Infinite Justice

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The Commodore’s ship was called Infinite Justice, which seemed to Simon an awfully inflated piece of nomenclature for a twenty-thousand ton privateer. The little sloop was so packed with weapons that there was hardly room inside her to breathe, and the crew walked hunched over in corridors that were just one and a half meters high, cut short by the stacks of boxes and crates that lined the deck. These held food stores and other necessities, the ship’s cargo bays being given over to missile storage and space for the assault shuttles that carried her boarding teams across to her victims. The crew shared bunks on a three-shift rotation, with one man or woman always in the rack while the other two were on duty.

Simon had seen military ships with less discipline than Infinite Justice, and the same held for her crew. Everything and everyone—he and Yakazuma excluded—was ship-shape and of the highest quality. The ship wasn’t new, but she was well-cared-for, and the signs of wear were only noticeable to a tech-mech like Simon, areas where metal had been carefully patched, or worn-out parts had been lovingly replaced. He pegged her at fifty years old, and was surprised when the Commodore revealed Infinite Justice was closer to twice that. Continuing updates had kept her at the forefront of the game, and Simon agreed with the Commodore’s proud assertion that she’d beat anything in her class in a fair fight.

How she’d stack up against Hornet he didn’t know, because he had no clue what weapons load she carried.

They let him visit Yakazuma twice a day. Her wounds were healing quickly—though they were making no effort to regrow her destroyed eye—yet she remained in stony silence, not acknowledging Simon or anyone else, just staring blankly at the deck head just a meter above her nose. Simon sat with her for ten minutes each time, and every time so far—after ten days!—he’d not even gotten a blink from her. Just that dead stare, as though something inside her had simply broken, something that couldn’t be repaired.

The Commodore was not concerned with Yakazuma’s health. The woman would die or she’d live. Oh, she’d get the best care a little vessel like Infinite Justice could give her, according to the terms of the bargain Simon had struck. But beyond that, hinted the Commodore, matters were in the hands of a higher power. Too bad that Simon didn’t believe in gods, only in what he could hold in his hands and reason out with his mind.

Now they sat together in a small compartment not far from the tiny brig where Simon spent most of his time. Another tedious interrogation, much less horrific than those Matsukata had performed, yet worse in their own way. Simon had felt freed from the necessity to resist Matsukata, freed by the terror of Yakazuma’s torture, the horror of her screams echoing through the communications system. Now, he couldn’t decide if he should string the Commodore along, or tell her what she wanted to know. Did it matter? So far, she’d asked little that would endanger Maccabee and Hornet, should Infinite Justice ever meet them.

“Tell me again what happened at Makassar,” ordered the Commodore—she’d still not given her name to Simon, nor was he foolish enough to ask it. The question was the same one she’d been asking him for the past two days, and he’d given her a detailed accounting each time, as best as he could remember. There were plenty of parts he didn’t know, since he’d been in engineering during the battle, struggling to keep Hornet’s ravaged bow intact, then to counter the deadly strikes of bomb-pumped lasers from Lion Star. That was the Commodore’s primary interest, of course, how one of her ships had been taken out, how Maccabee had reacted to the situation. Other details that seemed to Simon uninteresting she also dragged out of him.

“It was just better ship-handling,” he said, continuing the tale. “We didn’t know it, but she had the throw weight to pummel us into dust, if she’d used it right. Instead, they frittered each part away, the first missile launch at the outer edge of the engagement range, the second launch not coordinated with her hidden graser banks. Of course, Hornet had a battle-trained A.I., which is a hard thing to come by.” Simon shrugged. He was hardly giving away any secrets. “Even when we were spinning like a top to avoid Lion Star’s guns, ours kept on target. Eventually, enough of them got through to make the difference.”

“You said Maccabee reacted strongly to Abslom’s communications before the battle.” It was a statement; he’d gone over this twice already. The Commodore continued anyway. “You don’t know why?”

“I wasn’t on the bridge. Sel was reluctant to talk about it.” Simon shrugged again. “He implied that Maccabee knew something about Abslom that the rest of us didn’t. Something that made him very angry.”

The Commodore nodded again, as though Simon had just given her an astounding revelation.

“Where are we going?” he asked her, suddenly.

“You’ll see when we get there,” she answered. “I have some unfinished business with your captain.”

“You’re going to follow him? You don’t know where he’s going.” She asked him just that two days ago. He’d told her the truth: all he knew was that they were headed for the Core Systems. Yakazuma’d been at that meeting—she probably knew a lot more, but he wasn’t going to have her involved in this again, not if he could help it. Matsukata and the bitch were aboard, transferred from the other ship. Simon hadn’t seen them more than twice, which was remarkable on a ship this size, but he was still confined to quarters, with limited exceptions, and wasn’t free to wander the corridors of Infinite Justice. God, what a ridiculous name.

“I have a hunch,” the Commodore said. “We’ll hit the Gatehouse in another five days.” She smiled, just slightly. “You’ll get some rest, Mister Tamil. No more questions, for now. I’ll call you when I need you.”

“Yakazuma?” he asked.

Her smile faded. “I’ll keep up my end of the bargain, Mister, though I don’t know what good it’ll do you or her. She’s broken inside. I’m sorry.”

She stood and left the narrow, cramped compartment. He knew that a guard would be along shortly to escort him back to his cabin. “I’m sorry too,” he said to the still air in the compartment. Lacing his fingers behind his head, he leaned back against he bulkhead.

Those five days passed in boredom for Simon, but it was a feeling he took a certain joy in. If he was bored, nothing horrible was happening to him, as far as he could tell. The Commodore had activated the entertainment database on the computer in Simon’s tiny compartment, and he’d spent his time reading books and watching videos, some of them new enough that he was surprised to find favorite actors looking older than he remembered them. Traveling the outer systems of the PARC in Hornet seldom afforded the chance to catch the latest entertainments from the Core Systems, where lavish video productions took up whole planets and blew up entire spaceships. That was the rage, now, after hundreds of years of ever more realistic virtual fantasies: now, everyone wanted it to be real, absolutely and truly, even if you couldn’t possibly tell the difference on a holo screen.

The only breaks in this routine were Simon’s twice-daily visits to Yakazuma. She still was catatonic, or whatever it was. The ship’s doctor said that there was nothing actually wrong with her physically, and assured Simon that she could hear everything he said, that she even slept, during the night, finally closing her eyes. In the morning, they snapped open again, staring, empty.

So, Simon talked to her, talked to her a lot, and since the doctor left the medical bay when he was there, he told her things he might not have said had she been reacting like a normal person. He was sure they were recording him, so he didn’t spill any secrets, nothing that the Commodore would be interested in. Just thing he was thinking about, stories from his youth, from the previous ships he’d been on, before Hornet. Whatever came into his mind. It slowly dawned on him, as he sat there, leaning on Yakazuma’s bed, his face just a few centimeters from hers, that there was nothing he wanted more than to hear her say something to him. For her to be alive again and pissing him off.

“So,” he said to her, finishing a particularly funny story—even if that was just his own opinion, and he’d been told several times that it wasn’t funny at all—on the fifth day since his last interview with the Commodore, “Justin aims the laser cutter and pulls the trigger: BAM! The tank exploded right there! Idiot had third-degree burns on half his body for weeks!” Simon chuckled, remembering. All right, it had been pretty awful at the time, Justin screaming and pawing at the ground, his jumpsuit melted to his skin. But even he thought it was worth a laugh later on. After the counseling.

Simon let a moment pass in silence, then reached down and took Yakazuma’s hand in his. It should have felt cold, he thought, but it didn’t. He could feel her pulse, strong and steady, in her wrist, and her fingers were warm and smooth, the regeneration treatments having healed bone and lacerations. Even the calluses she’d had from always holding those pistols were smoothed away. That would likely piss her off.

“Well, Amathea,” he said, giving her hand a squeeze, “wherever we’re headed, today’s when we get there. A Gatehouse, the Commodore said.” He shook his head. “Don’t know much about ‘em, but I’m surprised she’s pulling in to town with this thing.” He looked around at the medical bay, at the ship that enclosed it. “If you wake up, or whatever, maybe we could watch a video, go to the holoplex. You know, if you wouldn’t mind going with me. Maybe dinner. These Gatehouses must be pretty swank. Of course, I’d have to convince the Commodore to give some of our credit back to us.”

He stopped himself. What the hell are you doing? asked a voice in his head. Asking out a woman in a coma? Of course, he knew quite well—was certain of it, in fact—that Yakazuma was not in a coma. Not just the doc’s assurances, but his own gut instinct told him that.

“If you want,” he said, finally. Then she squeezed his hand. Just slightly, but there was no doubt it was intentional. Simon’s eyes widened slightly, but he kept a lid on things and evened out his breathing. She was still squeezing, and he realized that she was beating out some sort of code. Morse! There were some who said learning an ancient communications system like Morse code was a waste of time, what with the myriad of modern communications systems available, but Yakazuma was doing something that all the gear in her head and Simon’s couldn’t replicate: she was communicating in total silence, without a chance of interception by the Commodore’s no-doubt-vigorous scanning systems.

S-T-A-Y, Simon got, before he realized that sitting there in utter silence was a mistake. “Well, I imagine our last jump is coming up,” he said, trying to concentrate at the same time on the code: C-A-L. “Do you still feel the jumps, when you’re like . . . like you are?” Completely inane thing to say, but he’d been doing that a lot lately. M-E-S-C-A, she continued. “I hate the damn things. You’d think, after all these years, that I’d be used to it, but I don’t think I’ll ever be.” P-E-A-T-G-A “Used to it, that is.” T-E, and she stopped.

Simon waited for a few more moments, but it was clear that she’d said all she wanted to for the moment. Time for him to go. “Well, I’ll be leaving. See you this evening. Hopefully.” Then he did something he’d not done before, smiling inside at the knowledge that she was fully awake and aware, and couldn’t show it. He stood, leaned over her, and kissed her on the forehead. Just a light peck. She didn’t react at all. How the hell does she do that?

He left the medical bay, meeting his guard outside, then started for his cabin repeating Yakazuma’s words in his head: “Stay calm; escape at gate.” She meant the Gatehouse, no doubt. He’d mentioned it almost casually, but now he was grateful he had. Obviously, she’d been waiting for a likely opportunity, allowing the doc to keep her alive with automatic units, pumping nutrients into her and stimulating her muscles to keep them from atrophying. It was damned sneaky, not to mention incredible. He couldn’t imagine the patience it required, staying in a catatonic state for more than two weeks, while doctors worked on wounds that had to be incredibly painful.

But more than anything, Simon felt pure, unadulterated joy. Amathea was not just alive, but she was still there, inside. She wasn’t broken. Not just that, she was planning their escape! He only hoped that she’d forgive him for striking a bargain with their enemy.

Simon was so happy with himself, he only noticed belatedly that he wasn’t being brought to his cabin, but was instead heading towards the little ship’s officers’ country. “Where are we going?”

“You’re wanted on the bridge,” said the sailor escorting him.

Simon’s heart started beating a little faster. It seemed unlikely the Commodore suspected anything, but. . . . It wasn’t a long walk—no place in Infinite Justice was a long walk from any other place—‘til they reached the steep ladder-like stair that led upwards to the bridge. The crewman indicated that Simon should precede him, and he didn’t hesitate, just started up. At the top, there was a short length of corridor, maybe two meters, with one hatch to either side, and then a heavier blast door at the end. A sentry stood outside the bridge, but he waved for Simon to move forward and keyed in the sequence to open the blast door.

Unlike Hornet’s command deck, nestled deep inside her belly and protected from harm by layer upon layer of decks, armor and shielding, this bridge deck was at the top of the hull, and far forward on the dart-shaped ship. No doubt it was heavily defended, but it still seemed like an exposed target to Simon’s thinking. It was well equipped, he noticed immediately, with a more traditional holo-forward layout rather than Hornet’s full-circle configuration. Tactical and communications ran down the port bulkhead, engineering and navigation to the starboard. The helmsman was lower down, in a sort of small depression just before the medium-sized holo tank that dominated the front quarter of the bridge space. Behind him was the captain’s chair, and at the back of the bridge was a large seat obviously reserved for the Commodore. Simon knew that even before it turned around to reveal her pretty face.

“Mister Tamil,” she greeted him, motioning with one hand. “Please stand by my station.” Her eyes flickered to the crewman who’d escorted Simon from the medical bay, and that man saluted crisply and left the bridge. The sentry, however, sealed the blast door and stayed on the inside of it, his hand resting comfortably on the butt of his blaster pistol. Simon moved to stand next to the Commodore’s chair, and she turned it back to face forward. The holo was showing a navigational plot, and Simon tried to get an idea of just where they were. The star designations were unfamiliar to him, however.

“We’re ready for our last jump, Mister Tamil,” said the Commodore under her breath as the Captain—Sanchez was his name, Simon remembered—gave orders to his crew. “You’re probably wondering why were risking arriving at a Gatehouse at all, but, as our friend Maccabee has proven, there is only one way to navigate in the Core Systems. Without a key code, we’d hardly be able to look for him.”

“What about the inspection?” asked Simon, keeping his voice low as well. He’d never passed a Gatehouse, nor entered the Core Systems, but he’d heard stories of how these things worked. “How do you pass that with the weapons you’ve got on board?”

“Let’s just say that I’ve worked hard to enjoy a certain measure of leeway in the PARC, Mister Tamil,” the Commodore replied with an amused smile.

“You’ve bought off the right people?” he pressed. Better to know what he was getting in to.

“That’s a bit crude.” The smile faded. “Unlike you, Mister Tamil, there are people here—everywhere in the galaxy—who believe in things, powerful ideas that have the ability to motivate, and to change behavior.”


“Don’t be cute, Mister,” she said, and Simon made a mental note to back off a bit. “You don’t need to know more; let’s just say that I have connections in the right places. How I made those connections is not something you need concern yourself with.”

“Clear enough,” he said, nodding to indicate he took her meaning, both expressed and implied. “Will we be stopping long?”

“We’d certainly arouse suspicion if we cruised out in twenty-four hours,” she said as though he’d asked something quite stupid. “We’ll dock; I have a few things I’ll need to check on while we’re there.” The smile returned. “So do you.”

“What?” said Simon, truly surprised. “You’re letting me off the ship?”

“Not without some, ah, incentive to return.”

“Yakazuma?” he asked her. She nodded. “Fair enough. But what do you need me to do?”

“This is the same Gatehouse where Maccabee brought Hornet into the Core Systems,” said the Commodore. Simon felt his heart skip a beat, and some of that must have shown on his face, no matter how hard he tried to hide it. “No, Mister Tamil, he’s certain to be gone by now. We’re a good ten days behind him, maybe more. No, we won’t catch him here. But he’s been here, and this means that someone here will know where he went. You can’t just sail around the Core Systems as you please, Mister Tamil.” She raised a finger and waggled it in front of him. “No indeed! You need to file a route plan, a detailed schedule of jumps, ports of call, that sort of thing. That’s what I’m looking for. You’ll be looking for something less tangible.”

“And that is?” He thought he knew the answer already.

“It’s your job to find out where Maccabee went, who he talked to, what he did when he was here. I want to know everything, Mister, and I expect you to be thorough.” The Commodore’s smile faded once more, and her stare hardened. “You know him, you served with him and his crew. You’ll know where to look.”

“I’ll get everything I can,” he said, and for the moment he was sincere. He knew of no way to relay this information to Yakazuma. She wouldn’t even know he was leaving the ship! She was smart enough to attack at the most opportune time, but her idea of a plan probably went something like this: Kill the doctor; find a gun; kill everyone else on board; blow up the ship. The fact that she might be able to succeed didn’t make the plan any more sane.

He stood in silence as the ship prepared for her final jump into the Gatehouse system. Captain Sanchez was being thorough himself, making sure everyone understood what they’d be doing once the ship left its last wormhole. When everything was prepared, he turned to the Commodore. “Ready at your command, Ma’am,” he said, clearly working hard not to snap off a sharp salute.

“Proceed,” she ordered with a regal nod. Simon had to fight to keep from rolling his eyes at the mock pageantry and protocol. Just get the fuck on with it! He could tell he was going to miss Maccabee and Hornet a lot in the next few weeks, assuming that Yakazuma’s escape plan had to be scrapped. He desperately wanted to go back to her, but mentioning anything of the kind would the worst possible thing to do. There was nothing for it but to stew in silence and hope, hope that he’d be allowed back to the medical bay before disembarking on his little errand, hope that the Commodore suspected nothing.

“And, Mister Tamil,” began the Commodore, turning her head to look up at him. Then the jump siren sounded, Simon reached out reflexively to grab a bar on the low deckhead above him, and the ship’s last wormhole enveloped her. Transition took them, and Simon felt his organs attempt to turn themselves inside out. Then the sensation disappeared, they returned to normal space, and the Commodore continued as though nothing had happened: “I don’t see any more need for you to see Miss Yakazuma. It hardly seems likely that she’ll recover at this point. I’ll be stopping your visits, effective immediately.”

Simon said nothing, still reeling slightly from the aftereffects of the jump, and now more from this sudden shift by the Commodore. If she suspected anything like the truth she’d have given Yakazuma to Matsukata already. No matter how tough she was, he and his bitch would coax a scream out of her. That wasn’t it, so it had to be baseless suspicion, not proof. Still dangerous. And how to get a message to Yakazuma, a warning? He’d have to do something.

The navigational display started to resolve objects in a widening sphere, first outlying ships, recent arrivals like themselves, then a slew of other vessels closer in, and finally the Gatehouse itself. None of the ship icons lit up in the green of friendly units, nor in enemy red; all of them appeared yellow instead. Those least likely to be armed sported blue tags as well, and as more data sluiced into the sensor systems, more tags appeared, showing size, registry and various other variables. This was basically background clutter unless someone pulled up a specific ship, in which case the icon blew up to ten times normal size, letting all its various icons be read easily.

For the moment, Simon was forgotten as Infinite Justice was challenged by the Gatehouse picket ships. Sanchez replied, looking into a video feed that would pick up only his face and show nothing else on the bridge. Smart enough, and exactly the way Maccabee would have done it. No matter what his other feelings towards them, Simon had to admit that these people were professionals. He just couldn’t understand why they were fighting for the Commodore.

Infinite Justice cruised into a holding pattern, still several million kilometers out from the Gatehouse. They’d hold here until the next inspection ship could reach them. Neither Sanchez nor the Commodore gave any sign of a special signal or code that would be meaningful to their contacts here. Perhaps the simple presence of this ship was all the signal that was necessary. The right people would be informed, and they would take the appropriate steps. It would have been interesting to see that process unfold, but as the first flurry of activity died down, the Commodore turned back towards Simon.

“You’ll wait below until we’re docked, Mister Tamil,” she instructed, motioning to the sentry. “Take this man to his cabin, crewman,” she ordered.

“Aye, aye Ma’am!” he barked off, snapping her a jaunty salute. Then he turned a steely glare at Simon. “Come on, you first.”

The walk back to his cabin prison was no more than two minutes long, not long enough for Simon to get any ideas. There seemed to be no way to contact Yakazuma. Ideas about Morse Code flickered through his mind, but his cabin was on the other side of the ship from hers, separated by the bulk of two reactor bays.

The crewman sealed Simon in his cabin, and silence fell around him. He tried telling himself that Yakazuma would wait, that she would make sure that she had a chance of succeeding before she tried anything. Then he thought back to that moment when she had squeezed his hand and he’d leaned over her to kiss her and, just for a moment, he’d seen life in her eyes. It had been more . . . intuition than anything else, but he’d seen it all the same.

Amathea Yakazuma had played dead for two weeks. And that was long enough