Zwilniks Off the Starboard Bow!

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I was peering through a microscope at a sample of extremophilic bacteria that I hoped to use in my latest chimera for Mars, when Clotho's bright voice came through the lab speakers. "Hey, Kev? We've got company outside. Guy in an RV, says he needs to talk to the Jason."

That got an arched eyebrow. While I did biomod work for those that wanted it, normally I picked up commissions at Convention, or through email. Having someone actually willing to travel out to my neck of the Asteroid Belt to look me up was unusual. "OK. Have Fate tell them I'll be right there." I turned off the scope and headed out through my living room, then down the small metal corridor that lead to the right-hand door of my cockpit. Flopping down in the copilot seat, I offered a greeting to Fate. "Record this, please."

Fate's 'Greek chorus' voice filled the cockpit, a blend of the Sisters' voices. "Yes, Kevin."

I flipped the mike on. "This is the Fateful Lightning. You've got the Jason here. What can I do for you?"

"We heard you did mod work....that you could make any kind of plants people wanted. That right?" The voice was a bit nasal, no horribly-noticeable accents or anything. "If so, me and some friends want something made."

I hmmmed softly, then shrugged and answered, "I'll need more information in order to tell whether or not it's possible. What exactly are you wanting?"

There was a moment before I got a reply, then, "'s found some promising new chemicals in some of the life on Venus. But the production's far too low, and we want something that'll grow in less harsh conditions. Think you could do it?"

This got a frown. The guy was being remarkably close-mouthed and that was setting off all sorts of alarm bells in my head. Most of my clients were only too happy to talk to me about what they detail. I typed into the keyboard mounted onto the dash in front of me: 'Fate, cross-reference anything we've got on Venus and the lifeforms there. Any possible hints as to what this joker wants?' As I did so, I answered said joker, "Of course I can DO it....but I'll need to know more about the substances you want expressed. Do they need any special requirements, and what exactly do they do? If I don't have that info, I could well lose them when I make the mod." I waited for a reply to well as to the question I'd given Fate.

The potential client hemmed and hawed on the other end of the link. Frankly, I doubted he'd be a client of mine; I really didn't like the feel of this. But I was willing to withhold judgment until he told me more. "Well? I'll need to know in order to do the job."

Words scrolled by on the screen in front of me: 'No hints at present, Kevin. But given the man's reactions and a study of his voice inflections and choices, the greatest probability is that it's illegal or close to it, and probably big trouble.' Well, crap....not what I wanted to hear from Fate. She filled the role of Oracle all too well, at times - to the point that even I wasn't sure if she could see the future or not.

The voice on the radio spat out a curse. "You wanna know? Fine. We found some prime pharmaceuticals that'll set us up big. And if you tell anybody, it'll be the LAST thing you ever do." Well....if I DID take the job, the price just doubled.

"And....?" I kept my own voice quiet, waiting to see where this would go. "A drug, then. Something actually useful, or just recreational?"

That got a evil-sounding snigger from the radio. Apparently, not giving a reaction of immediate revulsion made the guy think I was in. Stupid bastard. "Recreational. And if a buyer tries it once, he's hooked good and proper. We'll make a killing. We can get you all the specs you need."

THAT did it. I really had no problems with drugs as such. I'm pretty much a libertarian. A person can do what he wants to with his body; as long as he doesn't hurt others, that's fine. But this sounded far too much like a permanent fate. And one which could be forced on someone at that. In fact....I growled softly, "Thionite. You want me to create a version of fucking BROADLEAF for you! Not only no, but HELL no!" That woke up the guy in the RV, and he started to offer some pretty nasty-sounding threats. Not just against me, but my friends and clients as well. He shouldn't have done that. I switched the mike off. "Fate, switch control to Atropos. Atropos...."

Her voice came over the speakers, quite tart, with her Sisters' voices a faint chorus in the background. "Don't teach Grandma how to suck eggs, sonny. Scout-class drone Spare has been redesignated Sword-class, and is ready to launch on your word."

I nodded grimly. "Right. The word is 'Republic.' Does Spare have any favorite music?"

The rough old woman's voice filled the cockpit again. "Yes - Beach Boys."

That got an arched eyebrow. "All right. Pipe him Little Old Lady from Pasadena. Seems appropriate." That got a snort from Atropos, and I flipped the mike back on. The would-be zwilnik was still making threats about what would happen unless I started working for them. "All right, that's enough. Tell me...did you lot give ANY thought to my ship's name before you decided to try and bring me into this scheme of yours?" That got some more cursing on the other end, and I cut him off. "Apparently not, or you'd not have tried to get me to make something that would enslave people. Get this, zwilnik. My ship's name comes from a rather famous song from the 1860s. Maybe you've heard of it. It's called The Battle Hymn of the Republic."

As I finished speaking, a hatch opened in the side of the workshop trailer, and what appeared to be a small go-cart popped out. As it hit open space, every light on the cart flashed on - normal lights, brights, halogen spotlights...even the two ranks of grow lights that I'd installed to help get some mining plants established a while back. It was extremely visible for a split-second, and I heard the man on the other end of the radio link mutter the start of an exclamation as he caught sight of it. Then it flashed into a streak of light that pierced the front of the RV, which promptly exploded in molten metal and glass. Even reinforced by handwavium, things tend to break when hit by a hundred fifty pounds of material moving something on the order of a hundred miles a second. The rest of the RV began to come apart, a trail of debris and air shooting out the rear as the remains of the drone continued on their way.

I swallowed hard, turning a little green. "Terrible swift Sword, indeed...." I sighed. "Atropos? You and the others, send out all the cam-drones we have on hand, and check the wreckage? If there's anything left over there that'll identify these bastards, I want it. You might send out Spool, Spotter, and Succor as well. We can take the largest pieces of that back with us, maybe visit SSX Base and see if anything can be found out from the debris." I got an affirmative from Atropos, and my hand scrubbed down my face. "I'm going to go throw up, I think, then hide in the Garden for a bit. If anything comes up, let me know, and be prepared to take defensive measures as necessary." I considered the image of Spare flashing into a beam of light. " the ship's log, mark that Scout-class Spare was designated Sword-class today, renamed Saber. Destroyed in defense of the ship." I sighed, and started for the walkway to my living quarters. "Keep your eyes peeled, ladies. This has a bad feel, and I'm not sure it's over yet."

Fate had to chime in. "It will be over when it's over."

I sighed again, and headed back. Throwing up, rinsing out my mouth, and a large glass of Johnnie Walker Black in the Garden sounded good right now. I also pondered what I should do about my newfound popularity. Would it help matters if I started some rumors that I had weapons-grade handwavium like the Professor was supposed to, or would that just make me more of a target? Of course, we ALL had weapons-grade handwavium; most people just didn't seem to realize least, not unless they were VERY desperate. I'd have to run the idea past Fate, see what she thought. With that, I entered my living quarters and headed for the kitchen. Right. Alcohol.