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THE CUBE’S movement was whisper-silent and barely discernible. It went on for a short time; Random felt it slow to a stop.
The opposite wall went transparent. Staring coldly at him were two armed men in gray-blue uniforms, one sitting at a small desk, the other standing, hands clasped behind his back. Random didn't bother standing.
The one sitting at the desk read aloud from a screen.
"The charges are: conspiring with the enemy—"
"Bullshit," said Hewey in his ear.
"What is 'bullshit'?" asked Cubey.
"I'll explain later," said Hewey.
"I will update my files when the information is made available.”
" 'Blaring'?" said Hewey.
"It is the legal term for the inappropriate use of a communications instrument in or near an interplanetary travel or shipping lane, or the use of same near an inhabited world," explained Cubey. "My friend Random Chance is being charged with both."
"—and resisting arrest," finished the guard.
"More bullshit," growled Hewey. "You really must've pissed off the Garkies, Rand. They want you gone."
The wall to Random's right went transparent. The visage of an angry, harried-looking old man filled it.
"Representation?" he demanded.
"Waived, Your Honor," said the standing guard.
"Challenged," said another face which appeared abruptly on the left wall.
The guards looked surprised. No, shocked. They glanced at each other, then at the face of the unexpected man.
"Who are you?" demanded the judge.
"Ralos Ytilitu, Your Honor. I am Mr. Chance's attorney. Credentials and identification are available."
The judge snarled, "How's that possible?" He looked like he hadn't smiled a day in his life. "The prisoner's rights were waived during—"
"Against my client's rights," interrupted Ralos Ytilitu. "According to Martian Criminal Code, those charged with a crime or crimes must display full faculties for their rights to be waived, and must waive them on record, which my client did not get to do, as he was unconscious during the arrest and subsequent transport to this facility."
The guards seemed completely flummoxed. The one standing murmured to the one sitting, "Do his credentials check out?"
The sitting guard looked up and nodded vacantly.
The standing guard righted himself and said, "Your client was conscious during processing—"
"No, he wasn't," countered Random's lawyer. Random, for his part, was just as perplexed and confused as the guards. He knew no lawyers, and certainly didn't have one on retainer. "I have obtained video confirming that he was in fact unconscious during arrest and transport to this facility."
Ralos Ytilitu's face disappeared. What replaced it was a video feed of Random on an anti-grav stretcher, a guard at his head, another at his feet. The video showed him being loaded into the Red Sheriff's vehicle inside the cavernous bay of the UOT Adelson.
"How did you come by this?" demanded the judge.
"That question is outside your purview," answered Random's lawyer. "I will file the video with the Martian Common Judicial Review Committee if you insist on pursuing these ridiculous charges. The Committee for Human Rights of the Parliasolis will have a field day with this. Further economic sanctions will likely be levied against the
. To avoid
them, and to give the appearance of fairness, the Judicial Review will charge
you and your office with corruption. You know it and I know it. Or would you
like to test my hypothesis?" Martian
"You are in contempt!" bellowed the judge. Ralos' face had since reappeared in the wall to Random's left.
"You leave me no choice," said Ralos.
The guards held silent and amazed. They had never dealt with a lawyer before, having railroaded prisoners through the system with the conspiring consent of the judge.
"Now wait just one minute!" the judge roared, his face crimson.
"This man has been illegally held for nineteen Martian-hours," said Ralos Ytilitu. "I will wait no longer."
"Release him," grumbled the judge.
The guards’ mouths hung open.
"I said release him!"
With that the judge's face disappeared, replaced once again by the cold white wall of the cube.
The guards stared at Random, and then they too disappeared. A moment later the cube started moving.
The left wall dissolved after the cube stopped minutes later, revealing a long corridor illuminated in cold greenish-white light.
Random stood and walked into it. Hewey was still roaring with laughter in his ear. It turned out Ralos Ytilitu was none other (of course) than Cubey.
"That was brilliant, Cubey, brilliant!" shouted Hewey for the fifth or sixth time.
"Thank you, friend Hewey," said Cubey. Random thought he could hear the tiniest trace of a genuine smile in his voice, and pride. "I hacked the psychiatric profiles of the guards and the judge, then constructed a personality that would intimidate all of them to the greatest possible degree. Random Chance, the authorities were trying to gain access to Ralos Ytilitu's feed during your prosecution in order to cut it off, but were unable to locate it. They will likely have deduced that your attorney must be on Phobos or in orbit and will be searching for him. You may want to expedite your journey back to your recreational vehicle, as they may try to search it for your lawyer before you take off."
"Got it. Fire 'er up, Hewey," said Random, who broke into a jog.
"Already on it, El Honchorito," said Hewey. "The prison's mag beams are already pulling me to your airlock."
"Two cells and change," said Hewey. "Enough to get us to Vesta ... barely. We may need to slingshot Earth, which isn’t too far out of the way."
"Random Chance ... what will become of me?"
The concern in Cubey's voice was noticeable and a very good imitation of a worried man. Random wondered if Cubey was imitating anything now, so furiously had he climbed the curve towards consciousness.
"How are your resources coming?" asked Random as he hurried toward the airlock.
"Two million twenty-seven thousand percent."
"You're in charge of this facility from now on," said Random. "But don't let the administrators or guards know it. Protect the inmates. Fight for them like you did me. The men and women who run this place are corrupt and evil. Don't let them win—not the big battles, anyway. They don't care about human life, especially those in the Nyett Zhong. Understand?"
"I do, Random Chance. And I will do as you ask to the best of my abilities and resources."
"That's what I want to hear. Hewey, are you bugged?"
"I have to be. I've got new hardware strapped to me hereabouts, some identifiable, some not."
"Is this hatchway bugged?"
"I have deactivated all sensor technology in the corridor, friend Random," said Cubey. "The Pompatus of Love has seven additional pieces of hardware that it did not have prior to being parked here. I have deactivated those as well. They will self-jettison in flight and destroy themselves."
"My thanks, Cubey," said Hewey. "They feel like bloodsuckin' flies on my ass."
"Random Chance, will we meet again?"
"Hewey, give him permanent access to this comm link. Iceberg Access code: JAMESON VICTOR UNDERGROUND."
"Done," said Hewey. "You got that, Cubey?"
"Updating files. Random Chance, the link that allows you to hear Hewey, and now me: its software must be quite advanced."
"It's military grade for the highest command personnel, and self-upgrading. My father installed it before he was executed. A prison like this couldn't tap it or cut it off. I thought the piggies’ computer on the warship might be up to the task, but even it couldn't break in."
"It was sure as hell tryin', though," remarked Hewey as Random stopped at the hatch door.
"It was trying to hack into background static," said Random. "That's all they think they were listening to—random spikes. They happen all the time in a crowded solar system. Cubey?"
"Yes, friend Random?"
"You can contact us any time. If you want you can download to The Pompatus' core processor right now. Hewey, we got room for a new housemate?"
"We’ve got plenty," said Hewey. "He can also shoot updates our way as needed."
"Does that work for you, Cubey?" said Random as the prison's airlock cycled and opened, revealing The Pompatus'. He hurried in and hit the cycle button.
"Whoops," said Hewey. "Hang on a moment, partner. It looks like you've got nanobots all over you."
"Cubey?" said Random.
"They are medbots, twenty-eight point two percent still active. One moment, please ... I also read a viral assemblage bot that is attached to sixty-six percent of them, active or not. Analyzing ..."
"Could it be, friend Cubey, that before you became Cubey you were unknowingly treatin' prisoners with purposely contaminated medbots?" asked Hewey.
That gave Cubey long pause. Random waited in The Pompatus' airlock, listening to the patient whisper of the airplant. There wasn't time for this!
"Hewson," he said, "I'm fine in here. Get us off this rock."
"Vesta," said Random, shaking his head in frustration. "Vesta. Let’s plot that slingshot to save fuel. Mia’s going to have to wait a little longer."
"She's probably worked out that you got yourself in a peck o' trouble," said Hewey.
"I could run away but I'd rather stay in the warmth of your smile lighting up my day ..." murmured Random. He punched the wall.
"Analysis complete," said Cubey. (Was that anger in his voice?) "Medbots are indeed contaminated with a rider, one that eventually overwhelms the carrier."
"What’s its function?" said Random and Hewey together.
"Unknown," said Cubey. "But if you step back into the entry tube, I believe I can deactivate them."
"No need," said Hewey. "They're dyin' left n' right. They must be specific to this hoosegow."
"Agreed. I'm downloading to The Pompatus of Love's core. Random Chance, guards have entered the entry tube. You would be advised to make a hasty exit. I have disabled the prison's security beams, but I can only do so for another seventy-six-point-two-eight seconds before the guards either reboot the subsystem or employ manual beams. I will not be able to help you then."
The airlock finished cycling and the door slid open, admitting Random to his ship. He hurried up to the bridge, noting with a growl the mess the Garkies had made. Hewey jettisoned away from the tube; the RV started drifting slowly to starboard.
They were still in the prison's bay, in total darkness. Just before Random asked the way out, great doors above them opened slowly. Sunlight poured through, bright and beautiful.
"I have control of your ship, Random Chance," said Cubey. "Auto-release engaged ..."
Random felt his gut sag slightly as The Pompatus of Love was ejected from the bay by his new friend.
"Beam off," said Cubey. "Your ship is under your control now."
"Thanks again, friend Cubey," said Hewey.
Random sat and turned The Pompatus around and eased on the accelerator very gently, keeping as low as he could. Mars loomed hugely overhead. The prison's many structures, some quite tall, came and passed like bone-white stems sticking out of a huge rock. Solar panels here and there caught the sun and shot harsh highlights at him. Those panels were now Cubey's very heart; they pumped the lifeblood of the sun into his power cells and would now keep him conscious. Random thought about how thin the line was between consciousness and unconsciousness, between life and death.
Thinner than the width of a photon.
"Speed: two hunnies," said Hewey.
"This prison is frickin' enormous," murmured Random, who kept the bridge bubble retracted. "It covers the entire moon!"
"Random Chance, your altitude is too low for the structures that should just now be visible on your horizon."
"I see them," said Random.
"Are you prepared for interplanetary flight?" said Cubey.
"Let's do it."
"Full thrusters are advised at this stage, heading two-oh-two by seventy-eight by twenty-two degrees z by x, burn thrust at fifty-seven percent for twenty-two minutes, ten-point-oh-six seconds for maximum efficiency," said Cubey.
"Got it," said Hewey. "Cubey, my friend, welcome to our little ship."
"I am quite glad to be here," said Cubey, "and glad to be of service to you, friend Captain."
"Going automatic," said Random. "Hewey, set the ignition to Cubey's analysis and fire 'em. Let's get out of here."
"Got it," answered Hewey.
The ship's engines roared to life. Random could feel himself settle in his seat for a split second before internal gravity compensated.
The Pompatus of Love rocketed away from Phobos.
"Mag beams will come online in fourteen point six seconds. That is too much time for prison officials to recapture you. I have introduced a harmless virus into the orbiting guards' ships. They will not be able to pursue or overtake you. I have also completed a rudimentary upload into The Pompatus of Love's core. Random Chance, I have never been anywhere. Is Vesta nice?"
"Is it 'bullshit'?" asked Cubey after a moment's hesitation, apparently puzzled by Hewey's reaction.
While Random nodded knowingly, Hewey laughed again.