Chapter 33: All That Was Old

Ghost Dancer and second talon shunted into New Botany Bay in pursuit of a Department of Justice transport encountered at G 216-11.  They were unable to stop the prison ship from making its jump, but got a solid read on her before she vanished into hyperspace.  The transport, with only a class-two drive, would be here a full three days behind those hunting her.  The delay would be minimal and they needed the down-time in any case.

As a bonus, they could dispatch the penal colony for a lark.  The existence of this facility was highly classified, virtually unknown outside the DOJ, but appeared on Billy’s rudder thanks to years of obsessive and painstaking work.  Defenses were minimal and it would be a morale booster, the crews still anxious over breaking wing at Wolf 923.

            Yousef divided his ships into four spears, converging on the prison planet from more than a league out, leaving no path of escape open.  A handful of older-model corvettes launched from the hazy surface, determined to slip by the corsairs, but struck their colors on finding themselves surrounded.  This pleased Captain Mohammed.  The extra ships were a godsend, even if past their prime, though he could hardly imagine what mercy they expected for their acquiescence.  It mattered nothing to him, they would learn the price of cowardice soon enough.  Likely the prisoners entombed below would enjoy a nice game of role-reversal.

            According to his captives, the four-hundred of them constituted the entire staff though he felt disinclined to take them at their word.  After consulting with his captains, Yousef decided to take two-hundred armored raiders to the facility using three of the captured vessels, conditioned to resist the planet’s corrosive firmament.  The warden, one David Standish, would accompany them.  Though Captain Mohammad expected no enthusiasm from the prison keeper turned prisoner, something about the tone of his apprehension gave the corsair pause.  It gnawed at him the entire trip down.

            New Botany Bay was as unpleasant a destination as you were likely to find, undergoing a runaway greenhouse effect that pushed temperatures well past the boiling point of water and atmospheric pressure to nearly thirty ESL.  The surface consisted of blackened stone, constantly hammered by a deluge of hydrochloric acid and washed over by thick lava flows welling up from the superheated interior.

            “What a shithole,” his pilot remarked.

            “I think that’s the point,” Yousef said.  “Though I have to say this is excessive.”  He regarded the prison keeper, noting he kept his eyes to the deck.

            “Welcome home, please transmit your authorization code.”  The automated message played over the lead corvette’s bridge speakers.

            “Give it,” the captain told the prisoner-warden.  “Anything surprising happens and I’ll become agitated.”

Standish nodded compliantly and obliged, never looking up from his feet.  The circular hanger door dropped a meter and split down the middle.  Each in turn, the corvettes lowered into the chamber below.  As the doors shut above them, they were hosed down by an automated washing system and moved into the main hanger by conveyer.  The elaborate procedure only deepened Yousef’s trepidation.  There were plenty of worlds available that couldn’t support human life if escape were the issue.  This place had been meant to never be found.

            A humanoid service bot approached as Yousef and his people exited their ships in the main hanger, addressing itself to Standish.  “Greetings, Warden, who are your guests?”

            Warden Standish felt a LAM pistol press into his spine so he chose his words carefully.  “These are representatives of the oversight committee, here for an inspection.”

            “Understood,” the bot said.  “Would they like a tour of the facility?”

            “No, that’s not–”

            “Yes, we would very much enjoy a tour,” Yousef said, smiling at the warden.  The color seemed to drain from the man’s face but he nodded, telling the bot to conduct them.

            “This way, gentlemen.”

 

Captain Mohammad breathed deeply, rose up from his knees and furled his prayer rug, replacing it in his locker and taking a seat by his desk.  His heart filled with gratitude that his parents had not raised him a traditionalist, doubting he could face another moment without a good stiff drink in him.

New Botany Bay was no prison but a slaughterhouse; a vast factory for the killing of political dissidents and harvesting their bodies for anything of use.  Organs were collected for sale to hospitals; body fat rendered down and shipped to cosmetics companies to be used in soap.  There were areas devoted to experimental interrogation techniques and holding pens for exceptional physical specimens, slated for gladiator schools, private hunts or harems.  No live prisoners were to be found, only letters from Standish to his superiors at the DOJ, complaining that his supplies fell well short of demand.

            “Captain.”

            “I am here.”

            “Sir, the transport’s just entered the system and is making for the second planet.  No sign they’ve detected us.”

            “On my way,” he said.  These people, at least, he could save.  If the attack on Lockhard City went to plan, even offer them a new life.  The transport’s crew he would space.  An unpleasant death to be sure, but a kinder one then offered the base personnel, exposed to the toxic hell of the planet’s surface.

He gave himself a long stare in the mirror before heading to the bridge, wondering if he had already crossed a line with no way back.  He had killed men before, part and parcel of his chosen vocation, though until today he had never taken pleasure in it, let alone tortured a man.  Most damning of all perhaps, he had to confess to himself and his god that he felt no guilt.  In the deepest corners of his soul he regretted only having no stomach for making that pig of a man suffer more.

“Merciful God, forgive me,” he said, “but I would not spare these beasts if the prophet himself commanded it.”

 

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