My name is Kelly Kenji Sakura and I'm nine years old, though I was eight when this started. Harvey Conners was a bully and I'd gotten tired of being one of those he always picked on. He always seemed to pick on the good looking boys. We all knew he'd been to the Federation and had a Biosculpt, which was something I found out later wasn't recommended for children as young as he was. I was small for my age and slender and fragile looking, though I was quite sturdy in actuality. I looked a lot like my many times great-grandfather had when he was a boy. He was of Japanese extraction and I had his black hair and black slanted eyes and skin color.
It was very unusual that after almost five hundred years I'd be such a complete throwback to an ancient ancestor. After all I only had a very small trace of Japanese blood, but it had happened.
Harvey had grabbed my T shirt and had his face stuck into mine. I had finally gotten tired of his bullying and I was angry. I brought my arms up between his and knocked them away and I gave him a hard shove, which was my undoing. He wasn't expecting resistance and he went backwards. He tripped and fell hitting his head and died.
When the Emergency Medical Team arrived, they were able to resuscitate him and even though he had a fractured skull, there was no permanent damage. Normally that should have been it. It had been a complete accident and at most should have been considered involuntary manslaughter. I would have been given a couple of years of probation and that's what I had initially been charged with. But Harvey was the great-grandson of a Councilor and he was the man's favorite. I was at the police station and a sympathetic cop was taking my statement.
He received a call on his com and after answering it he changed. He stood me up and cuffed my hands behind my back, then plopped me back on the chair. I had to bite my lip at the pain in my bottom and I was filled with foreboding.
He was no longer sympathetic and his eyes were cold now and he said to me, “The charge has been changed from involuntary manslaughter to first degree murder. You're in a great deal of trouble Kelly. Your aunt has filed a Notice of Disownment, effective immediately.” He wiped my statement from the recorder and then said, “You will answer the questions that I ask you with a yes or no, the recorder will ignore anything else you say.”
I'll digress for a moment and explain why the charges were so severe. Anything causing death, even if the person was subsequently revived, was treated as if the person had died permanently. That can't happen in the Federation, as a child I would have been treated as a juvenile and would have had automatic protection. I certainly couldn't have been charged with murder unless the death was actually permanent.
Sanger, the system in which I was born, has two habitable planets. Windom, which was the planet I had been born on and Curlew, which you've probably heard about. It's a vacation world, but it's primarily a gambler's haven.
The system is an Independent system and it's right in the middle of the Federation. Our laws are very different from Federation law. We are a semi-democracy, with a parliamentary system and the upper house is called the Council. It's a hereditary position. Councilors however have much more power than any similar position including the nobility in countries where they were almost all powerful. In our system Councilors aren't almost all powerful, they are all powerful. In his rage Harvey's great-grandfather stripped away all my rights and any protection I had because of my age.
Now to get back to the interrogation which is what it had turned into though I don't know if two questions can really be called an interrogation. The cop asked, “Do you hate Harvey Conners?”
Oh one more thing. The cop had switched on the chair in which I was sitting. That's automatic when the charge is murder and I knew what would happen if I lied and the instruments on the table would know. A jolt of electricity would have been channeled through my body. I'd seen enough interrogations on Vid in cop shows and real life police shows to know what would happen.
I was sweating now and my voice showed my fear, when I answered, “Yes.”
“Did you cause his death?” the second and final question. Fine justice isn't it, because I could only answer yes or no and not tell what had really happened and he only asked two questions I automatically convicted myself.
“Yes.” I said, my voice a whisper now. By stripping away my protection, Harvey's great-grandfather had insured I was now being treated as an adult which meant that if convicted and I knew it was now a foregone conclusion, I could be executed or sent to the penal colony on the moon Herbin, which orbited around our seventh planet, Reggis.
I was put into solitary confinement and the trial occurred a month later. It was my ninth birthday. I knew that it wasn't a question of if I was convicted but when I was convicted, I might not live out the day since there would be no appeal. Not against a Councilor's ruling. Only a relative could ask for an appeal and with my aunt disowning me I no longer had any relatives.
Usually the AI of a Trial Droid was very fair and questioned witnesses in great detail. But a Councilor could override the Trial Droid and input specific questions that the Droid had to ask and could limit it to those questions. In this case the witnesses were only asked one question. “Did you see Kelly Sakura cause Harvey Conners death?” and they could only answer yes and no like with me at the police station. Obviously the answer had to be yes.
Under the circumstances the Trial Droid of course found me guilty and I had been in this room waiting for the sentence to be pronounced, after the very short trial. The Vid screen was black.
It came to life and the Droid's head swiveled in the direction of the Vid cam. “The Court imposes the following sentence. You shall be transported to the Penal Colony on the asteroid Herbin, where you shall spend the rest of your life, serving the world of Windom. Certain conditions shall also be imposed which you will become aware of in time. Court dismissed.”
I was hardly stunned by the sentence but I was grateful that I would live a little while longer. While we didn't know what they did on Herbin, we knew that the average lifespan of a prisoner sent there, was about two or three years. Of course those were adults. How long a nine year old would live I didn't know, but I assumed it would be a much shorter period of time.
The door to the room slid open and I got into the Prisoner Transporter that had brought me here. Sitting down, a band went around my neck, waist, wrists and ankles so I couldn't move, then the Transporter door closed. There was no light available as we started on the journey; because of the darkness I had no idea of how long it took, but it seemed much longer than the first trip had taken. I let the tears flow. I had been holding them in because I hadn't wanted to cry in front of the Vid cams, but with the darkness came privacy, though I didn't know if there was a Vid camera in the chamber with me. If there had been, the darkness wouldn't have hindered it, but it felt private.
The Transporter door opened and I was released. I didn't linger in the Transport chamber, I had done so when we had reached the room where I was to view the trial and a mild shot of electricity had gone through my bottom with a warning that the next shot would be ten times stronger. The door slid closed and I looked around and realized that I was in a hospital room. Seeing that there was a bathroom, I used it and then washed my face and hands.
Going back into the hospital room, I sat on the bed. I didn't know why I was here and my fear rose every time I speculated on it. I tried to think of more pleasant times and wryly I realized that there weren't very many of them. My parents had died when I was very young, in a vehicle accident and my aunt had taken me in, though reluctantly, as she always delighted in telling me.
After about ten minutes the door slid open and a doctor came in. I stood up politely as I had been taught. He drew up a chair and sat down and I did so as well. He said, “My name is Winslow, Kelly, Dr. Winslow.” He took an item out of his pocket and placed it on the table beside the bed and touched a button and the top went red and then after about ten seconds it went green.
Dr. Winslow said wryly, “At least doctor patient confidentiality is still sacred. We're one of the few organizations that the Councilors actually respect a little bit. They simply couldn't do without our services. I can't do anything about your situation Kelly, but tell me what actually happened.”
So I told him what had really happened. He sighed when I was finished, saying, “It's rare for a child to incur the wrath of a Councilor. If your aunt hadn't disowned you and had appealed, it's very likely that another Councilor would have been assigned to look into your case. It probably would have ended up at most as involuntary manslaughter and possibly even self-defense.”
I shrugged, telling him, “My aunt has never been mean to me, but she's never been kind to me either. I wasn't surprised. She's just the type to run away from possible trouble. Even if she had liked me, she hasn't got the courage to stick up for me, when it could have caused her a lot of problems.”
He nodded, saying, “Well, I'm here to process you for Herbin, which includes telling you what you're getting into. The Penal Colony on Herbin manufactures Eternal Youth for the Federation, though it's not the only factory, it's the cheapest one to run. You've probably heard that most of the prisoners only live two or three years.”
I nodded, but said ruefully, “I don't expect a nine year old will live more than a few months.”
He nodded his head and said somberly, “Probably not, though you’re the first child ever sentenced to Herbin. I really don't feel very sorry for most of the prisoners there, they're genuine murderers and hardened criminals. They only escaped the death penalty by accepting a sentence to Herbin, even though they knew they'd only have a few years to live. Of course I imagine that some have, like you, run afoul of a Councilor. Eternal Youth of course is the drug which halts aging. If given at twenty, you would be a twenty year old for two or three hundred years, however if given at one hundred then you'd spend the same time at that age, since it doesn't reverse the aging process.”
He told me, “Ironically the ingredients of Eternal Youth considered separately are all fatal, though they take time to kill. The factory makes so much money because they provide no protection to the convicts and they get free labor. Eternal Youth is seldom given to a child, since it halts the aging process for them as well.
I could just see from the pain in his eyes that bad news was coming. I said softly, “You're going to give me a dose, aren't you. Why?”
He looked embarrassed, as he said, “One of the scientists who has been working on the formula came up with a new strain called Eternal Youth B+. It has shown some promising results for about fifty percent of those it's been given too. It's killed the other fifty percent.”
He explained to me, “It's legal to do such trials in the Federation if all of the subjects are volunteers. No child or mental incompetent would be allowed to volunteer. The scientist in question is here visiting Councilor Conners and Conners mentioned your trial and the fact that the Trial Computer would have sentenced you to immediate execution. The scientist got quite excited and asked if he could use you as a guinea pig. Eternal Youth is keyed to human DNA and experiments on animals can't be done, it's an outright poison for any being or animal other than a human being.”
While I had never heard the expression I could guess what it meant. “Do I still have a fifty/fifty chance?” I asked.
“As I said children are never allowed to volunteer in the Federation and the scientist has a theory. He thinks that if he gives a massive dose of the new strain of Eternal Youth it will actually reverse the aging process.” he said, “and even if he's wrong it should double the expected life span and he'd like to try out the drug on a child.”
I said wryly, “So I'm the lucky guinea pig. How large a dose are we talking about.”
He said soberly, “Ten times the adult dosage that they administered in the first limited trials in the Federation. The Councilor can allow it and won't get any protests from any of the other Councilors since your sentence to Herbin is in actuality a death sentence, since one hundred percent of the prisoners die. In talking to me about it, the scientist would actually prefer your death, because he would like to do an autopsy to determine what affect that type of dosage will have on human cells. With that type of dosage, I would say your possible chance of survival is perhaps one in one thousand or less.”
I was terrified, but I was determined not to cry, but I was no longer able to look him in the eyes and I looked down at my hands, which were on my bare knees. I almost laughed, here I was trying not to cry and my hands were clenched so tight it was obvious how much fear I felt. He told me solemnly, “At least Kelly, you won't feel it.” and I felt an injector touching my neck and a brief puff of air as a sleeping drug was injected into my system. The drug was very quick and I had only a few brief moments to realize that I was being sedated.
Obviously I lived, how else could I be telling the story. But it took a long time before I was allowed to wake up. From what I learned later, those injected with Eternal Youth normally only needed to sleep five to seven days. It took over three months before I woke up and Dr. Winslow told me that I had 'died' several times. At least my heart stopped. If I'd had another doctor, he might not have tried to revive me, after all that would have made the scientist happy and probably the Councilor as well.
For some reason I couldn't move and when I opened my eyes it was somewhat dim, but after a few minutes it was as bright as it was normally. Wondering why I couldn't move, I looked up at my arms and I found they were fastened to the head of the bed with what I thought were leather straps. I was annoyed and I pulled on the right strap and it resisted for a moment and then snapped. In about thirty seconds all four of my limbs were free.
Just about then the door opened and the light was turned on and I shut my eyes briefly as they were dazzled. With amazement I realized that I had been seeing in complete darkness. When I opened my eyes they had adjusted to the light and I could see two security officers with stunners out and behind them came a nurse.
Seeing that I was awake, she said, “All right, guys you can wait outside.” and though I could see that they were reluctant they did as they were told closing the door behind them. She drew a chair up to the bed and sat down.
She told me, “Dr. Winslow will be informed that you're awake, Kelly. How do you feel?”
I thought about it for a minute and I realized that I felt fine, which is what I told her and then I asked, “Why was I tied up?”
She explained, “That was for our protection, Kelly. About six weeks ago you began flailing around and when the nurse on duty tried to restrain you, you hit her in the chest breaking several of her ribs and throwing her against the wall. Security had to use a stunner to paralyze your nervous system. That's when the straps were added to restrain you. We used leather straps to start with and you broke those like they were pieces of thread. The ones that you just broke are high tensile steel. How hard was it for you to break those?”
“Not very.” I answered, “I only had to pull a little bit.”
She nodded and said thoughtfully, “Put your hands in front of you.” When I did as I was bid, she took out a remote control and pressed a button and suddenly my wrists clapped together.
She told me, “Try to see if you can break those, Kelly. I really hope you can't. If they have no way to restrain you, then they'll probably execute you rather than send you to Herbin.”
I did as she said and there was no way I had the strength to break those and she looked relieved. I wasn't dumb enough to tell her that I could actually feel the energy fastening them together and if I had wanted, I knew I could have drained it and pulled my wrists apart.
She said to me, “They're made of battle steel, Kelly and you have sets on your wrists and ankles to restrain you. The controller is in the band around your neck. Normally they're made of high tensile steel. Obviously they would have been useless on you.”
I reached up to feel the band around my neck. In my concern with being secured by my wrists and ankles I hadn't noticed it. It wasn't tight and it was flexible so that it wasn't uncomfortable, but it was as unremovable as the bands on my wrists and ankles.
The door slid open then and Dr. Winslow came in. The nurse stood up and the doctor nodded at her. He put the bug blocker on the table and turned it on and it went from red to green. He said, “Thank you, Sue, I'll take over from here.” and saying she'd see him later she left and he took the chair she had been sitting in. He took a key out of his pocket and said, “Let me get those straps off.”
I absorbed the energy holding the bands together and offered him my right wrist, looking at him soberly. He smiled, saying with amusement, “I gather those bands are just as useless as the straps we had on you?”
I said solemnly, “I could feel the energy holding them together and I simply absorbed it. If it was an actual chain of battle steel I couldn't break it. I trust you, I wouldn't reveal it to anyone else.”
He unlocked the strap on my wrist and then I offered him my left and he undid that and flipping back the covers I drew my feet up to my bottom so he could reach the ones on my ankles.
After he was through, I straightened my legs again. He took out a remote control and touched a button and I felt a light tingle in my neck, “Did you feel that?” he asked.
I nodded. “All right.” he said, “I'll do it again and see if you can absorb the energy like you did from the wrist bands.” He pushed the button and I didn't feel anything this time. It was automatically short-circuited into my body. “That's simply a test button. The other settings are all punishment settings and the maximum can kill if the subject has a weak heart. I'm going to try it at it's minimum and keep increasing it until you either feel it, or I reach the maximum.”
He pushed a button and I still felt nothing. After pushing buttons in succession he said, “Well that's all the way up to maximum and you don't feel anything?”
I said anxiously, “I feel antsy, as if I had an itch all over.” and I was finding it hard to keep still. Instinctively I brought my hand up, being very careful to aim it away from the doctor and touching my thumb to my index finger I saw a beam of light flash out from my finger. It hit the bar at the end of the bed and I could smell burning for a fraction of a second then it stopped. The itching feeling was gone and I felt normal again.
Winslow stood up and I got onto my knees and we looked at the bar and there was a hole about one-eighth inch in diameter. It didn't quite go all the way through, though we could tell from the mark on the other side of the bar, that it had almost done so.
Dr. Winslow said dryly, “When we have to restrain someone who's insane, we use head and foot boards that are made of solid steel. With the energy that you absorbed you created a beam of light that went almost all the way through two inches of steel. That's quite a hidden weapon that you now have.” and I nodded my head in agreement.
I asked, “You don't intend to tell anyone about it?”
He shook his head, saying, “They know about your strength, but I see no need to tell them about this, or the fact that the restraints or the controller in your collar don't work. Well actually they do work, but you can circumvent them if you want too. You're not a homicidal maniac, in fact from your school psychological profile, you're an extremely stable individual, so I don't think you'll go around randomly killing anyone.”
I said heatedly, “I don't know about that, if I had Councilor Conners here right now I don't think he'd live very long.”
He gave a smile and said, “From what I've heard about Councilor Conners, it would be a small loss. However it's unlikely you'll ever see him and since I know you're innocent of the charges even as they are interpreted on our world, I wouldn't reveal anything that might help you to escape, remote as the possibility might be.”
I nodded my thanks.
There was twenty-one of us all together and they were somewhat astonished that I was there. There were no guards, however the bands that we were all wearing were set so that we couldn't get within three feet of each other. I was amused that they probably thought the bands were protecting me. I could actually be more dangerous to them than they could to me.
We were in a container, which could hold up to thirty prisoners. It would be loaded on a ship and transported out to Herbin. We would stop at Curlew first to pick up additional passengers and cargo, then to Herbin where our container would be removed. It would then head for the Monitor station which was at the extreme periphery of the solar system. It would offload passengers and cargo heading out of the system into the Federation and picking up Federation citizens heading in, mainly to Curlew.
That's about all we knew, except that we knew Curlew was on the other side of the sun from us at the moment. It would take two days to get there and another day to Herbin.
The captain had targeted her engines and she was dead in space. We weren't concerned with the passengers or crew. When they found we were heading for the cargo hold only, they'd breathe a sigh of relief. Unless there was someone stupid on board, we shouldn't run into any opposition.
We wanted the Eternal Youth shipment that the ship was carrying. It was made on Herbin and sent to Windom for the final stage in processing which wasn't dangerous. It needed to be done on a planet, because it required a lot of water.
I watched as the men looked through the hold looking for the container containing the drug, when one of them called me, “Hey chief. I haven't found the drug but I've found something interesting.” It was Hendricks and he wasn't the type to be over enthusiastic about anything, so I headed in his direction and found him looking at a container.
Hendricks said, “According to the manifest list I got from it's I/O port it's carrying twenty-one convicts headed for Herbin. They're the scum of the universe, or they wouldn't be here.”
I smiled and hit my inter ship com, “Captain, we've got a load of convicts heading for Herbin. Just the type of people we need to replace those we lost.”
He didn't say anything for a while. Then he ordered, “Take their container with us. We'll see if they make suitable crewmembers.”
Our container was independent of the ship we were in except for the artificial gravity, which had gone off though we didn't know why. Most of the convicts hadn't reacted very well and for a while it had been a mess as they puked their guts out. But the two of us who hadn't been affected by it, had cleaned up the mess and dumped it into the recycling bin.
I loved it and while most of the other convicts had taken to their bunks I had been in the little kitchenette, playing. I was about to push off from a wall when I felt the whole container lurch and I stopped. I considered. We had no artificial gravity. Now, it could have been an accident, or it could have been deliberate. There was no reason to move us even if they were ejecting cargo for some reason. Since we were living cargo, they would wait until the end to get rid of us. Maybe. Since we were in effect condemned prisoners, they might not care.
But until it was proven otherwise, I decided that the artificial gravity going off had been deliberate and we were being moved into another ship for some reason. We'd been attacked by pirates. Why? What did we have that would make it worth stopping us?
Then I remembered what Dr. Winslow had told me about Eternal Youth and that the processing was completed on Windom. At that stage it was no longer dangerous, but there was one final step in the process. Soaking it in sea water for a week and it took an enormous amount, the water had to be constantly recycled because the drug leached an ingredient out of the salt in the water. One gallon of the drug required five hundred gallons of sea water.
On the black market a shipment of Eternal Youth was worth billions in the Federation. The pirates wouldn't make that much of course, they would be the suppliers, but still they would probably make from about fifty to a hundred million credits.
Why were they taking us? Well that was easy. Most of us were just the type of person to make an ideal pirate, ruthless and ready to kill at the drop of a hat and we'd be really, really grateful that we weren't going to die. I made my way to my bunk and, lying down, I strapped myself in. I had to decide what I would do. Could I become a pirate? Well I really had no choice, unless they decided I was too much trouble and just put me out the airlock. How far was I prepared to go? Well we were all wearing controllers and it wouldn't take much effort to fabricate the remote controls to dominate us.
The control bands on the other convicts were regular steel and it would be no problem to remove them with a bolt cutter as long as they were turned off. My control bands were of battle steel and it would take a special high intensity laser beam to cut them off. I doubted that the pirates had anything that would work, Dr. Winslow said he didn't think there was anywhere except at a Federation shipyard or a battle steel fabrication plant that could do the job. However, they couldn't control me, even though they would think they could. I would have to go along with them until I had a chance to get away or until I was forced by circumstances to act.
Once we had the containers, we let the convicts sit for a couple of days, just wondering what was going on, while we headed out of the solar system, rounding the sun to keep it between the Monitor Station and us. As an Independent System, Federation Survey, which had control of Monitor stations, couldn't place satellites to keep track of ships exiting and entering the system.
We were well out of the system when we freed the convicts. Chase got into his battle armor and used the cutting laser to cut his way in. Once open twenty men and women came out followed by a small boy. All of our jaws dropped when he appeared.
The Captain asked in a deadly voice. “What the hell is a child doing on board one of those convict containers?”
The boy looked in the direction of the Vid cam and shrugged his small shoulders and said, “My name is Kelly Sakura and I was tried and convicted of murder.”
“Did you actually murder someone?” asked the Captain in a fascinated voice.
The boy shook his head, “Actually,” he said, “no. I was being bullied and I pushed this kid and he fell and hit his head and died of a fractured skull. He was resuscitated but under our law it's the equivalent of killing someone permanently. The kid had a Biosculpt done in the Federation when he was younger and my doctor told me that Biosculpt's aren't recommended for children because it tends to weaken the skull. They are prone to getting fractured skulls even from just falling and hitting their heads on the floor. However he was the great-grandson of a Councilor, who stripped away all my rights and manipulated things so that I was pronounced guilty.”
The Captain snarled, “Well we certainly don't need a kid aboard. Chase put him out the airlock.” I watched him head for the kid who didn't look particularly surprised, but just as Chase almost reached him he suddenly began moving. He moved so fast there was only a blur, but when he stopped and stepped back, Chase was lying on the deck in his battle armor moaning and we all looked at him in horrified fascination. Somehow, from the way Chase's limbs were bent, the kid had broken both of the man's legs and his right arm, despite the armor. That should have been impossible, despite the fact that Chase didn't have his shields up, no human being should have had the strength to do that, though a Vergol might.
Despite the fact that I knew I was still in as much danger as I had been a few seconds ago, I was somewhat amused at the fact that every pirate on the deck had a gun pointing at me. I guess I had shaken them up a bit.
The voice from the Vid cam said, “Interesting. I am making the assumption that if you were shot with a laser, that it would kill you.”
I inclined my head in agreement, though I wasn't really sure. I could absorb energy. Could I absorb enough to survive a laser or lasers? I didn't know.
The man ordered, “Take him to the brig, Cyril, it might be interesting to see if he can take Carvel.” The one who motioned with his laser toward the lift and I could tell that he was more important than the other pirates, since his sleeves had rank markings. The Scourge, which was the pirate vessel, used Federation Naval ranks.
I felt quite cheerful as we got into the lift, I had taken out my aggression on someone who deserved it and I felt better than I had in weeks. I said kindly to my captor, “I have no reason to hurt you. You haven't done anything do me, all you're going to do is put me in the brig.”
He relaxed somewhat and the hand holding the laser stopped shaking but he didn't put it away. I just shrugged and began humming under my breath.
It was actually quite comfortable in the brig. I admit it wasn't very big, but I wasn't subject to claustrophobia. The bunk which would have been somewhat uncomfortable for an adult, was plenty long enough for me. It even had a Vid screen. There wasn't much of a selection, it seemed that pirates liked to watch violent shows and I was too young to be interested in the porn.
Luckily the book section was more varied. Like most of the other things on the Scourge it was an acquisition. In other words they stole it from one of the ships they boarded. There must have been children on board, because there was a lot of children's stuff. I thought about that. From what the Vid showed about pirates, it was very likely that they were dead, especially if it was a small ship. Pirates usually didn't kill on a large scale.
They were almost tolerated in many sections of the Federation as long as they only preyed on small ships. Not that the Federation was lenient on pirates when they caught them. That was one of the few capital offences that the Federation still had on their law books, that, mass murder, high treason and slavery. However the Federation was huge and they simply didn't have enough ships to adequately police their territory. To be fair, they wouldn't have had enough ships if they'd had five times the number that they actually have.
The first book that I read ironically was Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. It seemed I couldn't get away from pirates even in my reading, because the second book I read was the Swiss Family Robinson by Johann Wyss and it had pirates in it as well.
I heard a bell ring and looking up I saw a light blinking on a portion of the wall. When I got up and approached it, a small hatch slid open showing a meal tray. Once I'd removed the tray the hatch slid shut again though the light kept blinking. It wasn't the best food I had ever tasted, but it wasn't too bad and as a prisoner I really couldn't afford to be picky. It wasn't as if I could go out to get something else to eat.
When I was finished, I approached the hatch again and it slid open. I placed the meal tray inside. It closed and then it opened again and there was a pair of shorts and a T shirt. Once I removed them, the hatch stayed open and I was puzzled for a minute and then I realized that it wanted my old clothes. Removing them, I put them in the opening and it slid shut and the light flicked off.
I decided to get dressed, I was uncomfortable being naked. I didn't know when or if I would be summoned, but I didn't want to be caught without any clothes on. Normally I wasn't particularly modest, but it wasn't a normal situation. Halfway through getting dressed the light flicked off and so did the Vid, though after a few seconds I could see again despite the darkness. Someone had decided it was my bedtime. I laid down and despite the fact that it was a little chilly since the bunk had no coverings, simply a bare mattress, I went to sleep without any trouble.
I don't know what date it was. I'd been aboard for about a month, I think. I simply don't know. I haven't been out of the brig and all I can do is count the light and dark periods and they add up to thirty of each. But I have no way of knowing if the light and dark periods are the same length or even whether they add up to twenty-four hours.
But whatever date it is, I now hated the pirates even more than Councilor Conners. They showed it all on the Vid screen. I had been watching a program when it suddenly switched and showed the same thing that was showing on the viewscreen on the bridge. There was no sound as the screen showed a ship coming into view. I saw the laser beam hitting the ship and destroying their propulsion engine, so it couldn’t accelerate into hyper space and use it’s hyper space engine to get away.
For the three men and three women on board the ship it no longer mattered. I broke down and cried when the pirates just shot them. I was wracked with sobs as I pushed my face into the mattress. When I was cried out, I made a vow, I'd destroy the pirates somehow. I knew it was childish even when I made it. One little kid against a whole shipload of pirates, not even the changes that Eternal Youth had made in my body could compensate for the number of pirates there were.
I looked in the book database and I found an Encyclopedia. It had an extensive section on Federation ships with statistics and various Vid strips. Judging from that and comparing the size of the cargo hold I had seen and the stats, I figured we were on a light cruiser size ship. That meant two to three hundred pirates, if it was manned anything like a similar sized military vessel.
I felt calm now, but like an active volcano I was ready to erupt in rage at any time. I decided I had been in the brig long enough. I looked at the hatch carefully for the first time. I put my hand on the door and I felt the energy flowing through it on one side, keeping it locked. I absorbed a little of the energy to see if I could and I smiled nastily when I was able to do so.
However I didn't intend to reveal that ability now. I intended to use the strength I had been given. While I had never taken martial arts, I remembered instructions from Vids I had seen. I needed to be calm and centered. I didn't know if it would work, but I stood in front of the hatch with my eyes closed, breathing deeply, trying to become completely calm and it worked. Or at least something happened, when I opened my eyes I could see striations in the hatch and I could tell where the weakest point was. Taking one more deep breath I struck the hatch where it was weakest and it simply shattered.
I looked at the metal lying on the deck and I giggled. It was a heady and joyous feeling, even my hatred of the pirates was sidetracked by my giddy feeling. At least for the moment, though I knew it wouldn't last long. I went back to my bunk and lying down, with my arms folded behind my head humming, waiting for the pirates who would be coming, since I imagine alarms went off somewhere. Considering what I had done, I realized that I hadn't used my full strength. I had simply hit the hatch where it was weakest and like a pane of glass you saw in ancient Vids, it had shattered.
It was probably dumb since it could have frightened the pirates enough to get me killed, but at the time I just didn't care. I could still see striations on the metals of the ceiling and the deck. I wondered what battle steel would look like. I brought my hands in front of my face and looked at the bands on my wrists and I knew why battle steel was so strong. They had striations yes, but they were evenly spaced and there was simply no weak points evident.
The pirates showed up then. Four of them, three were in battle armor and I couldn't tell who they were, but the captain was simply in his regular clothes. He was armed of course, but still I admired his courage. At the same time I hated him for what his men had done, which must have been under his orders.
He looked at the shattered metal on the deck and then stepped through the hatch. He said calmly, “Obviously we're going to need a thicker door or,” and he showed me a remote control and he pressed a button, my wrists and ankles clapping together. “or we simply use the controller that you already have in your neck band.” and he pressed a second button.
I had to take the pain this time and I screamed at the intensity. I don't know how long he held the button down but I lost consciousness before he let up. When I regained consciousness again, three workmen were replacing the hatch and it was double the thickness of the older one. I felt like a used rag and my ankles and wrists were still clasped together. However, despite the pain I had been subjected to and the way I still felt, I was smiling inside and my feelings were ugly.
Now they KNEW I could be controlled, someday maybe I could use what they KNEW against them.
Well I finally know what date it is. January 14,3014. We arrived at a space station in an uninhabited system, obviously it's illegal, because it's a gathering place for pirates. Here they can get rid of their cargo and rearm their ships and pick up supplies. It even had a small shipyard where pirate ships could be repaired. They transferred me from the brig on the ship to a cell on the station. My jailer had no objection about talking and I got the information from him. He also said the morning should be interesting, but he wouldn't say any more than that.
I also had a cellmate by the name of Carvel eDiom, who was a Vergol and he was lying on the other bunk asleep. Except for the fact that Vergols, unlike humans and the Great Apes of Terra, only have hair or fur on their heads, they look almost identical bodywise to the gorilla though their faces are much more humanlike.
When I woke up, I found that I had a companion, which was unusual. Normally they only put opponents that I was going to meet in the Arena in with me. I had been around humans since I was a cub, so I could read them as well as I could my own people and there was no fear in his lively black eyes. I felt some amusement, I was used to all humans being afraid of me, until they got to know me.
He pulled up his legs and sat crosslegged on the other bunk. He said, “My name is Kelly Sakura and I'm nine. While I didn't have a lot of access to information, I was allowed to use a book database that the pirates had stolen somewhere and it had a Galactic Encyclopedia in it and though it was old, it had a little bit about the Vergol in it. I know that your people don't shake hands.”
I said, in my deep, deep voice. “Among us, shaking hands is a challenge either for a test of strength or for an actual fight, though the second is rare in our civilization nowadays. A nod of the head is the normal greeting.”
Gracefully he gave a little bow, which was a little more than just a nod and I nodded back. Kelly said, “I'm more interested in Terra than most kids, because of the way I look. The Japanese are a racial sub-group in the Oriental people on Terra and despite the fact that I only have a trace of Japanese blood, I'm a throwback to an ancestor, who actually was of pure Japanese blood. The greeting among a lot of Oriental peoples was a bow.”
“Tell me about this station. What do they call it?” he asked.
“Purgatory.” I said and he grinned.
He said with amusement, “Highly appropriate, if pirates are running it.” he said. “What about the social structure?”
“There's a ruling Council and while they don't interfere in the day to day life of the station, you don't want to get on the bad side of one of them, or you could wind up dead.” I told him and I saw his eyes go bleak.
His voice hadn't changed much, but there was suppressed rage in it and his hands were clenched and I recognized it as a sign of anger, as he said, “Yes, I'm familiar with that type of government. I'm from Windom and we have a parliamentary system which deals with the day to day running of the planet. However, we also have a ruling Council and they are all powerful. That's why I'm here.” and he explained what had happened to him.
It was a heartrending tale, though he told it matter of factly. I had heard tales as bad from other residents of this station. Perhaps it was simply that he was a child that made his tale so poignant. I admit that if I could have gotten my hands around his Councilor Conners right at that moment, I really would have enjoyed squeezing him a little and I wouldn't be too worried if he didn't survive.
By the time he had finished the light had dimmed to indicate night on the station. We sat in silence. Finally he said, “The jailer said that the morning would be interesting. What exactly did he mean by that?”
I said with the disgust that I felt, “The pirates gladiators will be fighting in the Arena!! Normally my opponent would have been put in my cell! They like the gladiators to get to know each other before they fight!”
Kelly said softly, “I'm afraid that your opponent is going to be me.”
I looked at him in disbelief and I could just make out his small face in the dim light. He said, “It won't be as unequal as you're thinking. When I was released from the container with the other convicts, the captain decided I was useless and ordered a pirate to throw me out the airlock. He was in battle armor and he didn't have his shields up and I managed to break both of his legs and his arm.”
I felt a chill go up my spine at that statement. I had fought men in battle armor in the past, in demonstrations. I had hurt them a bit, I'd even bent them a little, but I didn't have the strength to break the limb of a man protected by armor. I hadn't even dreamed it was possible. No wonder he didn't have any fear of me.
“I gather by your silence, that I was wrong, it will be unequal but I'll have the advantage.” he said.
I finally managed to say, “Yes and as the Champion all the battles I fight are to the death.”
“Don't worry,” Kelly said softly but matter of factly, “I have no intention of killing you. I will defend myself but that's all.”
I said equally softly, “If you don't, then the guards will just shoot you down. That's what has happened in the past when a winner failed to kill. Luckily I've never had to stand over a beaten opponent and decide whether I would kill him or not. Anyone they send up against me is too good to fool around with and I've always had to kill during the fight.”
“Exactly how are we being watched?” I asked him.
“Since it's nighttime on the station, we're being watched by a security computer.” Carvel said, in his deep voice which was far deeper than any human's would be.
“What happens if it burns out?” I asked.
He told me, “It has an automatic back up and it'll switch over instantly.”
“Just the one backup?” I asked him.
Carvel nodded, saying, “Just the one, this is an old station and since the security system as it is has never failed them, they're reluctant to put money into a more modern system. I don't even know if a human would be called if the security system for this area failed completely.”
That was as far as I could go while we were being listened to. I stood up and began feeling the wall above my bunk. At about eye level for me, there was a strong feeling of electricity behind the wall. I began to pull some of it into me. I didn't know if I could use the energy that I was absorbing to burn out the computer and it's backup, or not, but I intended to try. I had no intention of dying in a gladiator battle, or killing someone in one. If I was going to die I would do it trying to escape.
The computer seemed to ignore the power I was siphoning off, just adding more power and I adjusted my intake until I was gathering all that I could take. In twenty minutes I was far past antsy, it was actually getting painful. I stuck it out as long as I could then instead of absorbing energy I directed it back into the system in one huge pulse, followed ten seconds later by a second one. I still had some power in reserve, but the electricity was no longer flowing through the circuit. It was dead.
I counted to three hundred slowly and it stayed dead. Satisfied, I hopped down off the bunk. I said cheerfully, “Would you like to escape? We'll probably get killed in the attempt, but I have no intention of killing or being killed for someone's pleasure.”
Carvel told me, “I've tried several times and so have the other gladiators, but we're helpless to do anything because of the controllers. They just use them to knock us out.”
I nodded and said, “Let's see if I can't do something about that.” I took it in my hands and I automatically absorbed the energy it pushed into me as a defense mechanism and Carvel didn't feel anything. I brought up the abilities to see striations and weaknesses turning the band until I came to the weakest point. Taking hold of it on either side of that point, I began pulling, not giving it a jerk but slowly increasing my strength until it snapped under the strain.
I looked with satisfaction at the broken band in my hand and then looked up at Carvel and he was looking at me as if I was some kind of god. Among humans at thirty-five he would be a little old for hero worship, but Vergol's are built differently from humans. They're always looking for that one person that they can serve for the rest of their lives. Most of them never find that person, but Carvel had just picked me, though I wasn't aware of it at the time.
I was feeling pure awe and hero worship, at what he was able to do. Except for those made to be leaders, we're always looking for one who is worthy to be served. Kelly became mine and even today more than one hundred years later, I haven't regretted a moment of my time with him.
Kelly put his hand on the cell door and said that he was absorbing the energy from it's lock. In seconds it slid sideways and we slipped out of the cell. It was a bit lighter in the corridor and I could read the names above the cells. The one next to ours said Sheen and Delou. They weren't top ranked, therefore I would never have had to face them, so we had become friends. Even though they weren't top ranked, that didn't mean they weren't very good, they just didn't have that something extra that made me so deadly.
I motioned at the cell, telling Kelly, “Two of my friends are in there. They’re not the best fighters, so I would never have faced them, so we were able to make friends.”
He put his hand on the latch which could actually be seen from this side though it required a remote control to open the door. In about thirty seconds the door opened.
I said in an attempt at a low voice, that started Kelly giggling, “Sheen, Delou. It's Carvel. Come on out. We've finally got a chance to fight back.” Both of them were human, but they were from high gravity worlds and that gave them the ability to fight at this level.
They came out cautiously and seeing that there were no guards around, they relaxed a little. Kelly said, “Sit down on the deck and I'll get those controllers off of you.” They looked at me in the dim light and I nodded and they did so and within a minute they were both free.
Ten minutes later everyone was free, all thirty of us, counting Kelly. There would have been fifteen matches tomorrow. The one between Kelly and I would have been to the death and one of the other pairs was chosen randomly. That one would also be a death match. They had already been told about it.
an eclectic mix of races, but all of them were either naturally strong
and fast, or were from high gravity colony worlds, where they had developed
strength and speed simply to stay alive.
We stood in front of the exit door which led into a guardroom and the rest of the station. Kelly asked, “Has anyone ever been through here during the night?”
It turned out none of us had. Kelly said, “Okay, you'll be familiar with the day shift. There was four stationed in there when I went through. Say there's double that number just to be safe. I'll go through first and then the rest of you as fast as you can. They'll probably try the remote controls for the controllers first. That means they should be a fraction slow reaching for weapons, but don't count on it.”
Sheen said belligerently, “Who said you could give the orders?”
Kelly looked at him and his voice was mild, “I was in the cell with Carvel, scheduled to fight him tomorrow. Any other questions?” and despite his mildness there was an audible threat.
Somewhat subdued, Sheen caught the implied threat. Not intending to take Kelly up on it, he merely said, “No.”
Kelly explained, “I'll go first because I can absorb energy. That's how I got us out. I don't know if I can absorb a laser bolt or not.” he said wryly, “and we don't have any way of finding out except in actual combat.”
Kelly put his hand on the door and after about ten seconds it split down the middle, the two halves sliding into the walls. He just flicked out of sight, he was moving so fast. Whoever was inside knew we were there and a laser bolt flashed through the doorway. We found out later there were microphones around the doorway and they heard us. But they made a mistake. There were two of them and they were within a couple of feet of each other.
They each got one shot off, as I said one came through the doorway and the other went into the ceiling, as Kelly dove over the counter and knocked one of them into the other. We went through the door as soon as the laser bolt came through it and could see Kelly and the two men on the floor. Kelly got to his knees and backhanded one on the head denting his skull a little bit and knocking him out. Grabbing the wrist of the other he broke it and the man fainted from the sudden pain. We found a personal com on the floor after Kelly hit them, so they must have been attempting to contact someone. The speed with which Kelly had acted simply hadn't given them the time they needed.
I might have been fast enough to get them, most likely, but whether I could have done so without taking a laser bolt I don't know. Of course we were lucky that they were so close together. None of us would have made that type of mistake, but unless they had been part of a pirate crew, they'd probably never fired a shot at another intelligent being in their lives.
Kelly scooped up the laser from the deck and the other one out of the man's hand and stood up and came over and put them on the counter. He said, “You've fought each other, I assume you know who's best with these. I've never even fired one.”
I took one and the one lone female, a Vord by the name of Star in the Sky, took the other one. She's even skinnier than most of you humans, but she's probably almost as strong as I am, though she isn't as fast. She tops the seven foot mark and she's green skinned. I've been on Terra and seen some of your tree leaves and that's the color green she was, with her hair being so dark a green that it was almost black.
She has no facial hair, no eyelashes or eyebrows. Her eyes are triangular in shape and she can't blink since they're protected by a transparent membrane. Like the rest of her they're green, a grass green with darker green pupils. She has only slits for a nose and her lips are thin and her teeth are the pointed teeth of a pure carnivore, no vegetables for this one, she was a pure meat eater.
I hopped up on the counter and, sitting crosslegged on the top, looked around. I asked, “Do any of you see any sign of an armory, or do they carry their weapons with them all the time?”
“There is a small cabinet, there.” said Star, pointing at a part of the wall, “I went through one time when it was open.”
I hopped off of the counter and went over to where she had pointed. I felt around and there was no power going through the wall, so it didn't use power to keep it closed. A mechanical lock of some kind. The key could look like almost anything of the right size, for instance a stylus and of course it could even look like a key, though that was unlikely. There was no point having a hidden cache of weapons and then a highly visible key that opened it.
I adjusted my eyes as I had learned how to do, so I could see the striations, which told me where the weakest point was. I looked over at the others and said, “Carvel would you give your back? I need something solid to stand on.”
He grinned and putting his hand on the counter, he hopped over it easily and came over to where I was standing. I stuck out my finger at a point which was about three feet above my head. I told him, “I need to hit the wall there.” He looked somewhat puzzled, but he stood next to the wall as I told him with his face facing away from the wall and I got up on his broad back.
Taking a half dozen calming breaths, I brought my hand back and struck the wall and like the brig door, it just shattered. I jumped down and Carvel stared at the wall, stunned. “That's impossible.”
I shook my head and told him, “Well, maybe, but I can do it anyway. I can see the weak point in metal and when I hit that point right on, it simply shatters. Now I don't know if I'm hitting the metal with my hand or if I'm actually hitting it with my mind, with my hand only representing the force that I'm using. Since I use my mind to absorb energy I'm pretty sure that I'm actually doing it with my mind. We can argue the meaning of the word impossible at some other time.”
He looked at me and his large black eyes were thoughtful. He said seriously, “You said you were nine Kelly. You don't really seem to be acting much like a nine year old at the moment.”
I shrugged, explaining, “There's no time to act like a child and there's been little chance since I was arrested. I took the Federation Test of Maturity which is available at the Federation Consulate on my world. When I got it back, I found if I ever came to the Federation I could legally apply for anything that an adult can. My maturity level was pegged at 21+, my emotional level was put at 21+/8, which means in times like this I react emotionally like a twenty-one year old plus and once the situation is over, I revert back to having the normal kid type reactions of an eight year old as I was when I took the test.”
I told him, “But we don't really have time for this right now. The more time we take, the more time that they can either fix the security computer or find out it's no longer in service and go on high alert.” and he nodded.
Carvel reached into the cabinet and began taking out weapons. First the laser rifles, which pack a greater wallop than the pistols. He flicked the diagnostics to check the charge and seeing a green light he handed it to me and I brought it to the counter. Then coming back for another, since it took about ten seconds to make the check. But we had to take the time, they'd be no use to us if they suddenly stopped working because of no power.
When we had removed all of the weapons, including the two laser pistols we already had, we had ten of those and ten rifles and ten stunners, so there were enough weapons for everybody. Also there was a case of twenty-four stun grenades.
After tying up the guards so that they couldn’t give any warnings, we headed out. The Arena was on the Council level, so my companions knew how to get there. They normally had to walk all the way using corridors. No guards had ever been willing to get into an enclosed lift with them, despite the controllers around their necks. The guards could knock them out if they needed to, but in such close quarters, even if a guard had a finger on the button, the gladiators had such fast reflexes that even that advantage might not have been enough.
I suppose in hindsight it was really dumb for those weapons to be inside the guard house. However, the Councilors were worried about anyone carrying lasers anywhere except when they were actually shepherding the gladiators or prisoners. I gathered from what the gladiators were saying, that most of the guards were only armed with stunners.
Most of the Councilors had guild bonded (which meant conditioned, very stringently conditioned) bodyguards who couldn't have turned a weapon on the ones they were hired to protect, if their life depended on it.
We probably wouldn't have had much trouble taking one of the pirate ships. The station had enough armament to hold off a Federation Battleship for a while at least, so that might have ended up being as fatal as what we planned to do.
We came almost to the end of the access corridor leading to the Council section. I looked at the innocent seeming corridor and the hatch, which was the largest one I'd seen so far.
I asked uneasily, “All right, exactly what are we up against?”
Carvel told, “The last twenty yards of the corridor has laser coverage, if anyone tries to get to the door, that sets the lasers off. The hatch on the other hand is six inches thick and while it isn't battle steel, it'll easily stand up to anything less than a semi-portable laser and there's nothing that can double as a Federation Marine semi-portable on Purgatory. Nothing movable anyway. The shipyard has lasers that can cut battle steel, but they're too big to move. With the rifles we have we can melt the barrels of the lasers. Do you want us to do that first.”
I shook my head, saying, “No, I don't know if I can reach through six inches of steel to absorb the energy holding it shut and if I were them I'd have a means of mechanically moving bars into the wall to prevent just that sort of thing. Not from my ability, since they don't know that it exists, but from a laser. Used by your Federation Marines for instance if the Federation ever found this place. They might think they have a way to escape, or perhaps they might want a little time to take poison to make sure they don't get hung as pirates.”
I said to them, with anxiety in my mind, “Well, it's time to see whether I can absorb laser fire and whether my ability to shatter metal is an ability of my mind or not. I assume if I can't get you through you'll try to make as much trouble as you can.”
“Oh yeah.” said Carvel in his deep rumbling voice. “We can do a lot of damage. We can cost them millions of credits by destroying the shops on the promenade alone. Pirates like to dress fancy and expensively. Most of them don't have any taste, the more exotic and awful the colors the better they like it. Then there's the factories and the shipyard, if we want to go that far, we can cost them billions. Though we'll probably leave them alone. Most of the people on the station work there and they have almost as little choice as we have.”
Gathering up my determination, I stripped off my clothes. While they weren't flammable, they would char and might cause me more damage than the lasers. Clenching my hands I began walking towards the hatch and I was sweating fiercely. When I entered the laser field and they flicked on I screamed with the agony. I was able to absorb the energy all right, but it felt like I was actually being hit physically and looking down I could see the ugly bruises forming. I put one hand in front of my genitals and the other in front of my eyes and began to run toward the door.
When I staggered to the door I've never felt worse in my life. It was like I'd been beaten with baseball bats, that had red hot pokers at the end of them. I was filled to overflowing with energy. The others said later that they could actually see my body giving off sparks and the pain from it was even worse than the way the outer part of my body felt.
Fortunately there was a space about a foot wide right in front of the door and I was no longer being bombarded with laser fire. Putting my hands on the weak part of the door, I channeled every bit of energy I had available into my hands and I screamed as the hatch shattered inward, my mind pushing the metal away from me. I welcomed the dark that rose remorselessly to claim me.
We watched with awe as Kelly shattered the door and just blew it away from him. Nothing living could survive that blast. As we found out the twelve guards that were behind it in battle armor had as little chance as if they had been naked. They'd had both their secondary and primary shields up, but they were simply too close to the blast. Not even their shields could save them from the almost inconceivable impact.
After we melted the laser barrels we poured over them ignoring them and Star, who was a Med-Tech, stayed behind with Kelly. We didn't get any of the Councilors alive, though we had not intended to kill them out of hand. But they knew that a trial would have found them guilty of aiding and abetting pirates. That meant they would have been considered in the same manner as pirates and would have been hung. Most of them took poison and a few shot themselves with lasers.
Once their masters were dead, the bonded guild bodyguards didn't give us any trouble. Like almost everyone else on the station, aside from the Councilors, they'd had no choice. Their guild had assigned them to Purgatory and once here, they were trapped.
At that point we didn't know what to do. We were in charge of the station, but we were fighters, not thinkers or leaders. Despite the fact that he was only nine years old Kelly had been our leader. Fortunately Field Forester stepped forward at that point. He was a former head of the Board of Directors who had been demoted for insubordination. They did the day to day running of Purgatory and he knew almost everybody and everything that was worth knowing.
He'd managed to put together a little electronic spy network, which only he and a few others knew about and he'd seen us escape and take over control of the Council area. When he saw what was happening, he showed up and took charge and we were glad to give the authority to him. He sent a med team to look after Kelly and he got some of his men into the twelve remaining suits of battle armor. He took us to the control room where an ecstatic group of people were celebrating.
Forester blew a whistle and got their attention and saying in an accent I had never heard before, “It's nice that we're finally free people, but we've still got a little work to do. We want to make sure that the pirates don't take control back. They're armed, though the Council only lets them bring stunners and knives on board the station. I've got people in battle armor, but knowing the penalty for piracy they may decide not to surrender and if they get back to their ships, they have other weapons. Ya never know what they might have. They might even have some semi-portable lasers available.”
That got their attention and they got back to their controls. Apparently all of the pirates were required to wear a wrist band with a locator in it while on the station and except for one or two all of the pirates from eighteen of the nineteen ships were on the station. After all, why should they mount a guard? Purgatory was theirs.
The Scourge, which had just arrived a few hours ago, was the only ship fully manned, as the captain had demanded that fuel and supplies be safely stored away before liberty was allowed. Forester used the security arrangements that the Councilors had devised to render the ships helpless. They closed the enormous hatches in the corridors leading to the pirate ships and while they weren't made of battle steel, even a semi-portable laser would have problems getting through them. They also used tractor beams to lock the pirate ships in place. If the Council had put some of the forethought into internal security we would never have managed to escape. However I wasn't complaining.
All, but the fully manned Scourge, were clamped down before they managed to fire up their engines. Field grinned at us and it was a nasty grin. He said in a chilly voice, “The pirates don't know what kind of armament that we have. We'll give them a warning and I imagine they'll ignore it and we'll blow them into eternity.” looking at the moving ship on the viewscreen.
He leaned over one console and flipping half a dozen switches, he said, “Station shields up.” and then he told one of the men, “Gene, contact the Scourge and give them a standard warning.”
The man hit a couple of switches and said, “Scourge this is Purgatory Station. You get one warning. Turn off your engines or you will be blown out of space.” After waiting a few seconds, he turned to the Director and advised him, “They're receiving us but no response, Mr. Forester, they're ignoring us. They have their shields up.”
Forester said softly, “Fire one through six. Stagger them at quarter second intervals.” Forester said to us, “The missiles we have are thirty years old, but nothing mobile can carry missiles as heavy as we have.”
“Aye aye, sir. Activating one through six. Quarter second stagger. Firing missiles.” Gene said and he pressed a button. After a couple of seconds he announced, “Their point to point lasers took out numbers one and two. Three through six about to hit.”
We saw the Scourge actually lurch in space, as the missile hit, “Three took out their shield, sir.” and four, five and six hit an unshielded ship and simply blew it apart. “Scourge destroyed, sir.” He said simply.
Forester had a look of satisfaction on his face and I imagine mine echoed it. I still remembered what Kelly had told me about the ship they had stopped and the six people they had massacred. Of course there was no way of knowing how many others they had killed.
Forester went on the intercom and announced, “To all residents of Purgatory. We have taken the station from the Council. Most of the pirates are on the station. I have twelve people in battle armor hunting them. Stay in your quarters until I signal the all clear.”
It took a while, but after Forester had them run off a hundred stunner shields at one of the fabrication plants, it went much faster. With the locator's on the pirates wrists they were easy to find. We only took about twenty percent of them alive. They were just as aware as we were that being captured would end up with them on the gallows and they preferred to die fighting. The people hunting them were happy to oblige. The Councilors hadn't cared what the pirate's did to the residents as long as they were safe and the pirates had killed a lot of people over the years, while the common people had stood by helpless to do anything. Those who tried ended up as dead as their friends and family members.
I looked down with sorrow at the boy who had managed to get us out and remove the Council. In a deep coma he was very still. I looked at the chief Med-Tech and he admitted, “I don't know Carvel. It doesn't seem to be just the pounding he took from the lasers. There seems to be something else affecting him at the genetic level. He seems stable at the moment, but I simply don't know which way things will turn out. Most of the people who ended up here simply disappeared. It's harder to make advanced Med-Tech's just disappear. They got around that by making the best Council members and all ten of them preferred to die like the other Councilors.”
He told me, “The rest of us are good, but most of us are general practitioners and we don't have any geneticists or top surgeons left. We can only hope that the ship that Forester sent to contact the Federation can get a top geneticist here as we requested.”
[Note: In the Federation doctors and nurses and medics are called Med-Techs. Classes 1 through 4 are doctors of various types, 5 and 6 are nurses and 7 and 8 medics.]
Dr. Winslow said to Susan Winslow, “Call Carvel. Kelly's starting to wake up.”
He sat beside the bed and watched Kelly's eyes slowly open. They shut again and then opened to stay at least for a few minutes. Winslow put his hand behind the boy's back and lifted him up and said, “Here drink this.” and held a glass to the boy's mouth and Kelly managed to take a couple of swallows. Even that slight effort tired him out and he was glad when the man let him back down onto the pillow.
Kelly asked, “Was it all a dream?” he asked in a hoarse whisper.
Winslow shook his head, saying, “No, it all happened. You're on Purgatory. But it's a very different Purgatory and Windom is a very different planet from the one you remember.” The door opened and Susan showed Carvel in.
Kelly's dark eyes lit up with delight, his small face happy and when the Vergol approached the bed, he lifted his head with an effort and nodded to Carvel. Then exhausted by the effort his eyes closed and he slept again.
Winslow said, relief in his voice, “He should recover quickly now. We weren't sure if he'd ever open his eyes again. The Eternal Youth strain that he was given, almost killed him, but before it began doing that, it made some remarkable genetic changes.”
Carvel put his enormous hand lightly on the doctor's shoulder and squeezed gently, “Thanks for calling me.”
Three days later Kelly was fully awake and for the first time he was in a sitting position. He asked, with curiousity, “What are you doing here?”
The doctor and nurse looked a little guilty, then Winslow said, “I never gave you my first name. It's Ted and Sue is my wife. We used you I'm afraid, Kelly. Not that we could have done anything about what you went through. That bug blocker was also a Vid cam and we recorded everything that happened and then we reconstructed what must have happened from the original statements that the witnesses made to the police. We've been waiting for something like this for a long time, over thirty years in fact, since we first gathered together in school and vowed to change our planet. Much about our planet is good, but as you discovered, a part of it was completely rotten and it spoiled the rest.”
He explained, “To rebel we created an organization and we put people where we thought they would be useful. That police officer who interrogated you for instance. When he got the instructions over his com he wiped your previous statement from the recorder, but he was also recording it on a clandestine recorder. He sends his apologies for the way he treated you after he got his new instructions. Like any interrogation yours was being monitored through a one way glass. To have treated you any differently would have been considered suspicious.”
Kelly nodded, saying, “I didn't blame him even at the time. I was aware of just how powerful Councilors were.”
Ted grinned a little, as he said, “Yes, we did a little backtracking on your educational level after I met you. You were taking things too much like an adult. We found the Federation Test of Maturity that you took, also found that for most of your schoolwork you had managed to hide your real educational level under a false name. You seemed to be able to walk in and out of computers with ease, so we were aware that unlike ninety percent of our population, you knew exactly what could happen to you.”
Kelly just nodded his black eyes showing that combination of maturity and little boy. He said bleakly, “I knew a lot of things, but I didn't know that Harvey's great-grandfather was a Councilor or that Harvey was so fragile. I wasn't aware of what a Biosculpt could do to a child until you told me.”
Dr. Winslow coughed to hide his emotions, then after he had recovered he said, “Well as I said, we recorded and reconstructed everything they did to you, until you went into the convict container to be transported to Herbin. By the time you were actually on the ship, we'd put together a Vid about what they did to you. Sue, who apart from being a nurse is a computer expert, has been delving into the entertainment industry for the last twenty years. She found places where she could hide a Vid and automatically broadcast it on any Vid channel, no matter what was actually being shown.”
He grinned, saying, “The Council actually helped us in this case. It was inadvertent, but they were so worried about the Vid that they began blacking it out when it appeared. That was stupid of them, because it probably would have blown over if they'd done nothing. We just wanted to start chipping away at them and the Vid about you was only the first in a long series of similar things. By blacking it out they gave it legitimacy and people who were saying, 'Ho, hum.' so to speak, began to take notice, realizing that it wouldn't be blocked if there wasn't some truth in it.”
Ted explained, “They realized that people had started questioning it and after blocking it for about three days they stopped, but we realized that we had a good thing going and we began blocking our own broadcasts. Of course the public still thought the Council was doing it and tension began to build.”
He told Kelly seriously, “Then we introduced it to the Net. People could now download the entire Vid and all the corroborating evidence. Sue and her team were really ingenious this time. They developed a method of putting a link on almost every web page in existence, including the most prominent government web pages. By then it was simply being called THE VID in capital letters.”
Kelly was giggling almost continually now, he was a pretty good computer hacker himself and he could just see it in his mind, with the people it implicated going around metaphorically tearing their hair out by the roots. Some of them might actually have been doing it in reality.
Dr. Winslow grinned and asked, “I gather you're not too bothered that we used you.”
Kelly tried to say something soberly but only got a short statement out before he went back to giggling, “No, anything to help.”
Dr. Winslow reached out and took Sue's hand. He said, “Well after about a month the Councilors couldn't take the heat and they took off, literally. They used their own private space yachts to get away from the planet. I imagine they took an enormous amount of credits with them. But Windom has four billion people and our per capita income was almost at the same level of the Federation, so we weren't too bothered by that. It astonished us really that we had got rid of them so easily.”
His face went serious then, as he said, “But when the parliament began investigating, we found out you were only the tip of the iceberg, Kelly. Many adults were found to have been imprisoned for offences as trifling as yours and they were actually enslaving people and selling them. Men, women and children. Probably as many as one hundred thousand people a year and going back we lost track fifty years in the past, so we don't know how long it's been going on and we have no idea where any of them went.”
Kelly sobered at that and asked, “Is there any way for the Council to come back?”
Ted shook his head, saying with obvious relief, “No. When the parliament realized how many things were going on that most of them knew nothing about, they held a quick plebiscite asking the people whether we should join the Federation. They got an almost 80% yes vote. We're now a provisional member of the Federation and we've asked them to send impartial investigators in to sort out our problems. It might take years to find out exactly what the Councilors were up to and we'll probably never find those who were sold as slaves.” he ended bleakly.
Kelly nodded his fingers moving restlessly on the sheet covering him. He asked, “What about the convicts on Herbin? I know most of them deserved their sentence but still…”
Winslow nodded, “The factory was closed, upgraded to Federation standards and then reopened. Some of the convicts are so severely affected that there is nothing we can do for them. But others will recover and all sentences will be reviewed to see if they deserved to be sent to the Penal Colony in the first place.”
Kelly nodded and then he yawned and abruptly he found it impossible to keep his eyes open. They closed and he was suddenly asleep.
It was only a little after eight AM and Kelly had been told that Dr. Winslow would be in to see him later. The door opened and Carvel entered. He was all dressed up in a tuxedo which fitted him perfectly and Kelly giggled, “What are you doing in that monkey suit?” a little wickedly, talking about both the clothing and Carvel's looks.
Carvel looked at him in disgust, knowing what he meant, “I should just have let them send the delegation to see you, you little smartass. But no, I said I'd break it to you gently.”
He drew up a chair and putting his hand gently on Kelly's arm. He said, “I'm glad you're getting well Kelly. I was worried about you especially for the first couple of months and a lot of people were worrying right along with me. I don't know how you did it, but though you've only met a few people on the station, ninety percent of them love you. The Vid that your Doctor brought certainly helped.”
Kelly was red with embarrassment. He said, “I just did what I had to.” Then he said reflectively, “Despite the fact that most of it was bad, I wouldn't want to do it any other way. That Vid helped free my planet and here I was physically able to help free the people on the station.”
His dark eyes went bleak, as he sadi forlornly, “The only thing I wish had happened differently is the attack on that spaceship with the three men and three women that the Scourge murdered.”
Carvel stated, “Well we can't do anything about them now, but at least they were avenged. The Scourge was the only ship that was still manned and alert. They managed to back out of their docking port and get their engines and shields up and running. We blew them to pieces with missiles.”
Kelly's face went still and unexpectedly to Carvel, there was no joy on his face, simply satisfaction. Kelly changed the subject, “What are you all dressed up for?” he asked.
Carvel said, “We captured eighteen pirate ships, destroyed one and before the Federation got here, we decoyed a further four into docking stations and captured them. We've virtually wiped out the pirates in this sector of space. Though we know they'll be replaced, probably with not much of a delay, the Federation is properly appreciative. They've given us the rights to the system and two of the planets are habitable by Federation member beings right now and the Federation is always looking for new planets to colonize. They think that someone had to be protecting the pirates in high Federation levels, though it'll take them awhile, they're pretty sure they'll find them.”
Carvel explained, “I'm a representative of the Board of Directors. New elections were held once the Federation Navy showed up. Fielding Forester, who comes directly from a Terran political unit called Australia, was elected as the Chairman and me and a couple other gladiators were elected to the board as well.”
He said seriously, “Almost three-quarters of the people on the station are from planets that are fairly close and the planets all have constitutional monarchies. The people were feeling uncomfortable with just the Board to represent them and they suggested to the Board that we become a constitutional monarchy as well. We thought about it and agreed and we feel there's only one person here worthy of this type of honor.”
“We ask you to think about this. We ask you to become the first Prince of Fairview which is the solar system in which we are located. We didn't want to use the station name, which has unpleasant connotations for some of you humans.” Carvel said.
Kelly's black eyes were wide with astonishment. He started to say something and coughed with embarrassment. Finally he managed to get out, “Why me? I'm only a little kid. I don't know anything about being a Prince.”
Carvel put his hand gently on Kelly's, saying, “Nor does anyone else on the station. You've handled everything that has happened to you with grace and presence of mind. You know what going through the meat grinder is like and you came out of it a far different person. A person that's worthy of respect anywhere in the galaxy and especially here, where almost everyone has been through the same type of experience to a certain extent. In twenty years, once the Federation completes a survey of the two planets, there will be about ten million inhabitants on each of the planets.”
“By then a Board of Directors will no longer be appropriate, but we want to have something to build on and a constitutional monarchy has served many planets in the Federation well. Just think about it. According to your Dr. Winslow, it's going to take another month before you'll be fully recovered.”
Kelly was blinking back tears. While he didn't know if he wanted to be a Prince, he was honored just to be asked. He nodded his head and said huskily, “I'll think about it. I'll think about it really seriously.”
Carvel nodded. The door of the room slid open just then and Dr. Winslow came in. He nodded at Carvel, somewhat surprised at how he was dressed. Not the tuxedo, that had become standard formal dress throughout the Federation in the last eight hundred years, though the plain black that Carvel was wearing was the exception rather than the rule. Like the pirates, most people preferred it in a much more colorful manner. Since not all beings saw in the same color range, you could get some pretty strange colors.
Carvel said, “I'll leave you to your thoughts Kelly.” and he started to get up.
Ted Winslow said solemnly, “Why don't you stay? I went through what happened on our planet yesterday. Today I simply want to explain what happened to him and why.”
Carvel settled back down in the chair, to stand when someone entered the room was a human custom and had never become a general custom like the tuxedo had.
Winslow drew up a second chair. He looked at Kelly and said, “First, you're not quite as strong as you appear to be. Though you're still much stronger than any human has a right to be, Carvel for instance would be stronger. What happens is that when you need to use more strength than you actually have, your mind cuts in automatically and provides you with the extra power. Since your mind is adding the additional power you should even be able to break the battle steel bands on your wrists and around your neck. However that should wait until you're completely well.”
He steepled his fingers, saying, “Now why you collapsed after destroying the corridor door. Your body absorbed even more power from the lasers than you expelled when you destroyed the door. That was because of the strain of Eternal Youth that you were given. Volunteers who were given doses of the strain began dying over the last few months. It took a while, but a Med-Tech figured it out. Like you the Eternal Youth in those volunteers changed their DNA permanently, which is of course normal, that's how halting the aging process is done. However what the Eternal Youth strain that you were given did to the volunteers, is turn the body into a type of storage battery and they absorb energy.”
He told Kelly, “Since the dose you got was so extreme, in effect since you weighed only about a third of most of the volunteers, you got almost thirty times the dose that you should have. It changed your DNA to a much greater extent and gave you some unusual abilities, one of which was to actually use the absorbed energy to shatter hatches. You were able to use that energy that your body was absorbing, while the volunteers didn't have that ability and the energy eventually killed them. The extraordinary amount that you used in destroying the last hatch, caused you to collapse.”
“The Med-Tech found that providing a means of discharging that energy saved their lives. It was a complete success and worked with all who had been given the experimental strain. Unfortunately it's something that they'll have to live with for the rest of their lives, as will you." Winslow pointed at Kelly's bracelet, saying, "If you'll look at your right wrist band you'll see that it's lined with a material which absorbs energy and transmits it to the power grid of the station.”
Kelly did so and he felt it. “With you.” said Dr. Winslow, “You have the ability to discharge the energy voluntarily, so you'll only need the device when you're ill. The second thing that happened both to the volunteers and you, is that the Eternal Youth has begun to decay, the energy that you and the others absorb is affecting it and causing instability. For those given the normal dose it looks like it will be fully decayed in about six months or so. With you it'll take between fifteen and twenty years and then you'll resume aging.”
Ted pursed his lips, then said, “There's a difference of opinion among the geneticists about whether you'll resume normal aging or if it will be slowed somewhat. The general feeling is that you'll age at about one third the normal rate. When you're an adult, you'll be able to take a normal dose of Eternal Youth, based on the dozen or so volunteers in whose body the dangerous strain has fully decayed, they've taken a normal dose and seem to be reacting normally.”
“As I mentioned, when you collapsed and the Eternal Youth began to decay, you still had an enormous amount of energy in your body. When the Federation Med-techs arrived and found out that you had been subjected to an extreme amount of the faulty strain of Eternal Youth, they began to drain the energy from your body, but it wasn't cooperating for awhile. The Eternal Youth at first was killing you faster than they could drain the energy. Fortunately about six weeks ago they managed to drain enough that they began winning and you began to recover.”
Ted and Susan Winslow looked down at the small boy. Winslow said, “I envy you in a way, Kelly, to get a first hand view of the colonization of a system. Colonists don't have a chance to stand back and look at what they're doing, they're too busy actually doing it. I think you were wise to accept their offer, Kelly. You need time to get over what Windom put you through.”
Kelly smiled shyly, still not accustomed to being a Prince. He said softly, “I don't think I could ever feel comfortable on Windom again. Maybe someday I'll go for a brief visit to put flowers on my parents graves. and to examine what happened to me, but I think that will have to wait until I'm an adult, with adult emotions, not like I am now with part adult but mostly a child's emotions.”
“I hope you'll come here occasionally to see us. I'll miss you.” He said with sorrow and tears trickled down his cheeks. Kelly wasn't ashamed of them and just let them flow.
He stepped back a couple of feet, until he was with Carvel and gave a little wave, just before the airlock door closed. He wiped his eyes and turned to Carvel, “Well, let's go to my office, I've got a lot to learn.”
Carvel groaned, “You're worse than Forester. You know you're only a figurehead, don't you?”
Kelly said, with humor, “Certainly, but the best figureheads know what they're doing and I want to be a good Prince. I want to know what I'm signing, besides the Constitution doesn't prevent the Prince from running for elected office. That would be funny. Someday I might be head of the official opposition and Prince at the same time. Just think of the split personality I'd have to have in a case like that.”