Trust Me, Uncle
GUARDS LED him off the bridge. Captain (Uncle) Bartlett walked ahead, but not before ordering the men to cuff him.
The cuffs—not electronic, but the ancient steel variety—bit into Random’s wrists. He gazed over his shoulder at the one cuffing him. "You're good at this. But I bet your girlfriend's side squeeze is better—gentler."
The soldier next to that one brought the butt of his rifle up into Random’s chin.
He fell to his knees. Blood filled his mouth.
"That one gets what's comin' to him," murmured Hewey.
They picked him up by the hair and shoulders and pushed him behind Bartlett, who didn’t bother turning around to watch. "I think that's enough to convince you to behave, isn't it?"
"Not ever," gurgled Random, fighting to stay conscious. He spat, aiming for the wall to his right.
The soldiers did not respond. He expected them to.
Down a short corridor, then into a small room with a table and two chairs.
"I'll be just a few minutes," said Captain Bartlett.
The men saluted and the door whispered closed.
"Sit down," ordered the captain, who sat.
Random remained standing.
"Would you like me to call the guards in here and force you to sit? I'll do it, and when they're done you'll be lucky if you can sit at all!"
"Asshole," grumbled Hewey.
It was obvious that Uncle Bartlett was used to cowing men simply by staring at them. Random stared back, uncowed.
The captain grunted contemptuously and motioned at him. "Look at you. Back in the days when your father had some sense, he'd've whipped you for dressing like this."
Random said nothing.
"You got contraband in that RV?"
"They're tearing this place apart looking for some," said Hewey. "They've got a tracer running through the interface, too."
"I'm talking to you, boy!" yelled the captain, slamming his fist on the table.
Once, long ago, his dad had demanded respect this way, too. Once …
Generals gathered in their masses,
just like witches at black masses.
Evil minds that plot destruction,
sorcerer of death's construction.
He shook his head.
"No? No contraband?"
He swallowed bloody spit. "Do you know what he said to me before he was arrested?"
"I'm not interested in what he said," growled Bartlett.
"Yes you are."
Uncle Bartlett's hand lashed out and slapped his face. "You are being investigated for aiding and abetting the enemy! I could have you charged! You'll be incinerated inside of a day, do you hear me?"
"You've got nothing to say worth hearing," said Random. He spat blood on the table.
Uncle Bartlett ignored the bloody saliva and stood. He walked to the wall and barked, "Bay 5."
The wall disappeared. In its place was The Pompatus of Love floating within the bay's confines. The bay was so large that it could probably hold ten more of her and still have room to spare. Men walked in an out of her landing ramp, which extended from her belly to a walkway.
"I'll do it, you know," he said. "I'll push that stupid turtle into space and blow it to bits. And I'll make you watch."
"No you won't."
"Yeah? Why won't I?"
"Because you pig Garkies need to present a peaceful front, and blowing up a civilian vessel would really throw a monkey wrench into the works. The posse storming out of Mars right now wants a piece of me, too. Their cameras are rolling, bet on it. You’re in civilian space. They know you’re in it, even with all your shielding. The military isn’t welcome—"
Bartlett was on him in an instant, his face red as a plum. He pulled Random up by the collar with two fists and shook him, his teeth bared. He went to say something, but stopped. He threw him back into the chair.
"You think you're so damn clever."
Random spat blood on the table. Hewey said, "They made a mess, Rand, but they're leaving. I hacked the report. They're going to say you're clean. They didn't find the library, thank your dear ol' dad. Several wanted to frame you, set you up with some microsoft ... but the lead pig told them you weren't worth it. I think it was his stash and he didn't want to part with any. They should be there pretty quick."
Random glanced up at his uncle. "No more so than Dad."
"I knew that asshole wasn't right in the head when he named you, his only son, Random. What a stupid, nonsensical thing to do."
"Well, Uncle, he told me before he was executed that he always thought you were a ball-less, pathetic excuse of a man." Random grinned, his teeth stained red. "Conscience? Principles? A moral center? He got those before he died. You, on the other hand, Bartles ..." He shrugged indifferently.
"That's rich. You, a trust-fund baby, lecturing me on morality, on having a conscience."
The door buzzed.
"Come!" the captain roared.
The door opened and a Garky regular entered. He handed Bartlett a thin tablet which the captain looked over.
A moment passed in silence.
"Says you're clean," he said. The disappointment in his voice was evident.
Random smirked. "Not like that skank bot you sank your soggy toothpick in back on Europa, eh? You really got into her, huh?"
Hewey laughed. "Hoo boy, Random! He's gonna knock your teeth out!"
But Uncle Bartlett did not strike him. He gave the tablet back to the sailor (soldier?). "Five minutes," he said to the man.
The regular saluted and left.
Captain Bartlett stared.
"How do you know about Europa?"
Random didn’t answer. He spat more blood on the table. He waited for fists to come raining down on him, but his uncle did not move.
"I was born in the wrong time," said Captain Bartlett with murderous calm. "Back in the nineteenth century there wasn't all this technology. It was a clean time: no radio waves, no video feeds, no constant connection over the SolarWeb, no interfacing technology, no Cortex, none of it. Captains sailing the oceans of Earth were given great discretion as to what to do with pirates and other scum they encountered. Usually they just shot them in the head and dumped them overboard."
He withdrew the pistol in his belt and leveled it between Random’s eyes.
"Whoa," said Hewey.
Random jerked in surprise, but did not move from his seat. His face remained impassive.
"I'll just tell the Reds that you got feisty and tried to escape. I had to shoot you."
Random looked up from the barrel into his uncle's wide, angry eyes and shook his head.
"If Jameson could look at you now ..."
"Jameson—is—dead!" bellowed Bartlett. "And I'm glad of it! He was a traitor and a sellout! I'm just sorry I didn't get to push the incinerator button myself!"
He thumbed the pistol's safety off.
"Nail 'im, Random," said Hewey. "If you're gonna die, amigo, then get 'im before he pulls that trigger."
"You're one sad son of a bitch," said Random, forcing his fear into a dark smirk. "And you're going to regret everything you said here. I promise you that. If you pull that trigger, you'll regret everything twice as fast and twice as hard. Trust me, Uncle, you don't want that."
"That should do it," said Hewey.
Uncle Bartlett clicked the pistol's safety back on, then brought the handle of the gun into Random's temple. Random fought for consciousness, but a second strike brought blackness.