The weight of the pistol on her hip became comfortable again as she heard Nils and Sung argue.
“We don’t have time for any of your Titanian autonomist baegchi. These morphs could go to soldiers, good soldiers, not your stupid infugees.”
The Titanian nearly sneered at the ruster, leaning back and crossing his arms. When he spoke, it was with the weight of a prophet or a lunatic, as always, “Those infugees are your soldiers. Reseleeving your people into them might win a battle, but having more people on our side will win the war.”
“Your side, you mean.” Humayra braced for the shouting match that would follow. The truck they had hijacked held a cargo too valuable to sit on for long.
“We’re all fighting the same fight, min bror.”
She interrupted with nearly a shout, not fully realizing where her nerves were at, “And if we don’t get this truck off the road, we’ll be fighting a lot of security.” The men’s eyes burned holes in her, the intensity of their fight bleeding off with a final glare.
“Nils, do your thing with the jammer, and let’s get on the road.”
Sung sat in silence for the ride. He’d been around since the Black Mars days, and he didn’t take well to authority. Nils was too busy keeping them off the radar to really think about what had happened.
“You know, we can’t just give these morphs away. It’s not going to work.”
She pulled herself up in her seat, pulling her torso toward the steering wheel like it would make the driving go faster. This time her tongue slowed down for her brain.
“We could, actually. Nils does have a point.” The Titanian responded with a nod and the abandoned start of a grin, too lost in concentration to actually say anything. Sung looked surprised more than angry at her contradiction, but she continued, crooning in a soothing tone, “Of course, that doesn’t mean he’s right. One thing is for certain, though. I want as many egos in here as possible, before anyone shows up to take these back.”
There was a silence. Sung sat up in his seat, vindicated. If Nils had been aware of the situation, he didn’t show any response. They pulled off on an access road, leaving the highway behind. The bumpiness smoothed out the tension arcing down Humayra’s spine, each dip taking them further away from prying eyes and chance encounters with security.
“You know, we killed people back there.”
Sung sneered. “Two ban-yeogja in pods. Didn’t hit their stacks. They’ll be back up and running before the end of the day. Don’t you fret, little lady, there’s no rest for the wicked.”
“Does that make it right, though?”
“Right? We’re fighting against the powers that be, and you’re worried about stepping on a few toes!” Sung got animated when he was emotional, and with his arms flailing around the cabin Humayra was forced to flinch away from a wayward gesture. “It’s us or them. Don’t forget that. When the rocks drop and when the zone goes technical, you can’t expect them to lift a finger to save you. It’s no different from spitting in the ocean, but every bloody nose we give them is a reminder that we’re here and we don’t exist just for their amusement.”
The truck came to a halt outside the crater. They’d set up a tin-can shelter inside, just a disposable prefab that nobody missed enough to come looking after. The arduous task of unloading the morphs was at hand.
Sung was breaking a sweat. Even though his pod had been designed for heavy lifting, the seams of the morph seemed to be opening up more than usual. Nils, in his much more expensive morph, could lift the morphs almost single-handedly in the Martian gravity. Humayra was glad that her own synth didn’t get fatigued, just the occasional warning beep if the weight threatened to mess up a joint.
“You know, I could take one of these,” she half-joked. It wasn’t serious. As much as she would love an upgrade, it would be impossible to justify when there were egos out there who needed a new home.
“There’s a line, sweetheart.” Nils’ condescension was obvious. Nice to know that he hadn’t lost his touch, she thought, lifting the last morph from the truck and bringing it inside.
“Nils, take the truck. Drop it off somewhere that won’t lead back here, and hoof it back.” Sung looked a little too happy to be bossing their comrade around, but since he complied without a fight it didn’t make a difference.
She guessed that meant that their buddies would get resleeved today. The infugees would have to wait.
The ego bridge was slower than it should have been. The costs of using hand-me-down technology that the corporate types didn’t want any more. Getting the first morph over to the bridge and set up took less time than figuring out the controls. Neither of them were technicians, but the directions were clear enough. She pushed a back-up of herself to the system, just in case they had a spare morph.
The flower unfolded around the morph’s head, writing neural pathways and kicking chemistry into motion. Its eyes flickered open as the mind began to download, putting a new inhabitant into a body that had been grown without a soul. Said sat up, swinging his legs to the floor. Her arm reached out to catch him as he started to fall, and he flinched away from the cold metal. It took Humayra a moment to reconcile the new body with her old friend.
“Welcome back.” Sung’s face was gleeful. A friend’s embrace was cut short by an alarm signal, warning them that an unauthorized person had stumbled upon their habitat.
The violence began with a flash. She couldn’t be certain what exactly happened first. Something had come through the wall, then the room went white for a few moments as the systems tried to correct, plunging her into darkness. She reached for the gun on her hip only to feel a burning pain in her arm, her chest. Even with the firmware trying its best to keep her upright, she tumbled to the ground.
Four men in security armor entered the room. One had a high-caliber pistol, probably for firing seekers. The others had rifles. Sung’s body was cooling on the floor, a hole through its head confirming that he would need a new one. Said had been unharmed, but he hadn’t had the time to adjust to the new environment or his new body, and he sat in a daze. One of the men forced him back down onto the ego bridge.
He kicked and screamed until they stuck him with a needle, probably some sedative to make sure that he didn’t break the connection—or the bridge—with his struggles.
One of the armored figures walked back over to Sung. The red pigment of the rebel’s ruster skin stood out as a few shades brighter than the crimson blood on the ground as the man rolled the body nto its back.
A shot through the base of the neck resounded with a cracking noise of a stack shattering under the assault of a tungsten slug.
“What do we do with this one?”
Humayra had enough wherewithal to hear herself beg for mercy as the agent raised his rifle. Worth a shot, but not exactly dignified. He paused for a moment, his finger hovering off the trigger. She contemplated a feeble maneuver for her pistol, but then realized that it had fallen during the fight.
Only Nils’ ill-fated return spared her from a round to the cyberbrain, as his entry distracted the men. Said was gone already, so they were all free to focus on him.
The handgun in Nils’ grasp kicked as it fired, trying to complete an arc between the intruders. Humayra ran for the rear airlock. She didn’t stop to see what happened. The dust had begun to kick up, but she forced herself to walk. Looking over her shoulder, she could swear she saw a figure, but if it saw her it didn’t respond.
She forced herself forward, and forward, and forward. Each step took her further away from the danger. The storm picked up, battering her morph with debris. She lowered herself over the edge of a small cavern, ignoring the pain simulators as they warned that she had fallen far enough to risk damage. There was nothing she could do but wait. She entered hibernation, looking for a peek of sun through the rust-colored clouds above.