by Ed Erdelac -
Inspector Considine called the team in at 0300.
Considine had traced the illegal sale of some mining explosives to an ex-grit-breather named Croix, but somebody had tipped him off and he was barricaded in his cabin with the stuff, threatening to blow the entire southeast habitation ring into the Boatic Trench if he wasn’t given safe passage to Avenir.
There was a negotiator cooing at him like a babe through his door com, but Croix sure as hell wasn’t going to Avenir.
At 0305 as he laid out his demands, the Enforcers had suited up on the north end of Zirconia. Haj began passing out standard-issue GTL’s and pneumatic pistols, but Wilfort pointed out Croix’s cabin pod on the outer edge of the habitation ring and laid out the standard extraction plan. No need for hardware, but Haj was trigger happy and brought his pneumatic along anyway.
At 0310 Croix and the negotiator were arguing over the details of the shuttle that would take him up to Avenir. He wanted to pick the pilot himself from the duty roster. At the same time, the team was already wet, gripping the handlebars of a six-man sea-sled and puttering the long way around the city. Haj spotted an angel, a bioluminescent ghost stroking its way across the blue-black. He tried to take a shot at it, but Galveston, the pilot, warned him not to, and backed the warning with a meaningful tap on the diving knife on his belt. He was the only believer on the team—Jelly, they called him—short for Jelly Roller, the name some called the ones who attributed divinity to the angels.
At 3:17 Croix had the duty roster and was combing it for a name he knew. The team had ditched the sea-sled and cut their external suit lights, freefalling to the habitation ring, being careful not to bang their equipment against the hull. They hand over fisted their way to Croix’s outer shell connection joints and broke out their ratchets.
At 3:19 Croix selected Arden Pacoy as his getaway pilot. Considine made a mental note to nab Pacoy for questioning and checked his watch while the negotiator assured Croix his shuttle had been scrambled on floating launchpad B and was just about fueled and ready.
3:20 Croix was pacing his cabin, getting impatient. The team could see him through the portholes, a wiry, unshaven man with the terminally dirty, red-eyed look of a grit-breather. He hadn’t lived in Zirconia long enough to shake the look yet, long enough to know about the emergency surfacing apparatus installed in every habitation pod. The automatic release controls were on the wall beside Croix’s bunk, hid by a gaudy antique hula girl lamp. In the event of some catastrophe, the controls blew the explosive bolts that held the inner titanium pod in place, and the air-filled sphere would shoot to the surface like an inflatable toy. Of course, the ride wasn’t a smooth one by any means. It was fast and dangerous and survival wasn’t even guaranteed. Even if you lived through the ascent, you still had to get to a hyperbaric chamber or your blood would bubble up in your veins. The team was doing it the old fashioned way, from the outside. They’d bypassed the safety casings and were halfway through loosening the shell bolts. Brendermeyer was moonlighting as a comic in the Starboard Bar. He started to tell a joke about how many grit-breathers it took to empty a CO2 scrubber, but the punchline was lost at 3:22.
3:22. Croix asked the negotiator if Pacoy was ready to go yet, but received no answer. Considine and the negotiator had retreated beyond the emergency airlock in the outer hall and sealed it. The team popped the last of the bolts and Croix’s buoyant cabin was released from the outer hull container. The lights in Croix’s cabin turned red and the air inside lifted it away from the rest of the ring.
“Thar she blows,” said Brendermeyer over the team’s inter-suit com as the silvery sphere of the inner cabin rocketed away from the rusty outer hull and went tumbling end over end surface-ward.
Croix was tossed and shaken like a shoe in a clothes dryer. He’d be too battered and bloody to remember his own name, much less trigger the twelve pounds of HE detonite the Peacekeepers found in the shambles of his cabin when it bobbed to the surface approximately five seconds after the team had launched it.
Considine flicked the purple stub of a cigarette off the bobbing submersible and watched the cyanotine ash mingle with its distant relatives already drifting in the hot air. The medics carried Croix below. In about two hours he’d have words with the skinny grit-breather, when he’d been released from the decompression chamber.
For now there was Arden Pacoy to talk to.