This job is amazing. All I have to do, mostly, is stand around and look imposing while rich corporate assholes load on and off a shuttle. Apparently it's more elite to use augmented humans rather than just rented SecUnits for security for high scale functions and guarding private shuttles. Something about the cost of free will…. Well, the joke's on them. Note: we do have (other) SecUnits onboard, and in fact in the incredibly unlikely event that anything violent should happen, our first direction is to activate them.
But that foolishness aside, it's great. I'm not supposed to talk to them, just stay 'alert to any danger'. So really, I can tap into the security feeds and have the computer notify me if anything is happening, and then, while I'm standing there looming as the clients board and their luggage is loaded, I can watch my serials. And then for the entire flight, all I have to do is sit and 'be ready to react'. Serials.
It isn't a zero risk job – sometimes these corporate types get pretty vicious with one another, but it's rare that they let things get that personal this publicly. I've never had to deal with it, making this the perfect boring job.
I'm provided files on all the passengers for each run, but I never read them. I'd probably want to shoot half of them myself if I did, and I figure it probably wouldn't matter if anything happened. The protocols are the same no matter the motivations. The (other) SecBots will have read the material and they can handle any nuances. They won’t have had a choice. I mean, unless they've also hacked their governor modules, but what are the chances?
Anyway, the bit about how I don't read the passenger manifest, let alone the dossiers, comes immediately relevant, as I recognise several faces in the loud group that's boarding now.
I'm lucky I'm a professional who is getting better at showing a calm professional face and not hiding behind a facemask. Otherwise, I'd be picking my jaw up off the ground as the visuals from Sanctuary Moon and the passengers in front of me blur together. I double check what I'm seeing, because it takes me a minute to realize that these are actors. Actors for Sanctuary Moon. Great.
Your first run carrying celebs?
That's Kina. She's an actual augmented human, so we can communicate over the private feed without having to break character. Kina's my partner in this gig. Assigned. That's the only drawback to the job – the company insists we work in pairs. Kina's okay. She seems like she knows what she's doing, she mostly leaves me alone, and I've learned a lot about what is expected from watching her. But she's also worked in security for a long time, and with a lot of SecUnits. I've done a bit to change my appearance, but I know she thinks something is up. Fortunately, the truth is so unlikely that I don't think she's going to figure it out.
They're awful. They expect you to fawn over them no matter how obscure their media. But if you do they'll report you to the company for breach of professionalism… Either they're petty or one of them is jealous. Just do your best to ignore them.
That was my plan.
Now, you might think that, as much as I love Sanctuary Moon, I would be thrilled to meet the actors. But you have to remember that I mostly hate people, with very few exceptions. I don't want to have to think about the people behind my favourite serial, because they are probably terrible, and I don't want to have to think about that when I'm watching my feeds. This is a nightmare situation already, and now I'm hearing that they might not just be passively terrible like most of the clients, but actively obnoxious. I really hope Kina is wrong.
One of them, the one who plays Seon-Hun, the handsome but villainous heir of a terraforming empire, smiles at both of us appraisingly. He's not doing himself any favours, because I already hate his character. The woman who plays his sister rolls her eyes and pulls him along onboard with the rest as they board, and I hope that's the end of it.
There is one last person in their party, though, and she is dragging her heels. She gives me a sympathetic, almost pained, look and I have to try not to wince. Times like this I miss my armor even more than usual. I don't want sympathy, I just want them to stop looking at me, board the stupid shuttle, become someone else's problem. But I am a little intrigued despite myself, because I don't know who this woman is. Not intrigued enough to actually look it up, though.
Once they're all loaded in, Kina and I board as well, each taking our places flanking the aisles. The stewards take over at this point – we're not here to keep the passengers in line, unless they get violent. Unfortunately, the Sanctuary Moon party are seated as close to me as possible. They seem to be keeping each other entertained, at least, not trying to engage me or Kina. The one woman seems to be flipping through some data files and making notes, and only occasionally adding to their conversation. She's seated closest to me, but since she is doubly distracted, and I'm not immediately associating her with any of the characters on the show, that's fine. I'd wonder if she's new, except she seems to know the others quite well even if she isn't exactly comfortable with them. Maybe she's an agent, or a handler of some kind. It doesn't really matter, but I'm going to watch something else for the duration of the trip.
I'm pretty deep into Revolutions – a play about a family that has been working as caretakers on an orbital satellite for generations, as more and more of their jobs are taken over by bots and computer systems – when things go to hell. I'm not ready, so I'm flung into the bulkhead pretty hard when the shuttle is slammed to the side. The artificial gravity tries to compensate, but I'm so much heavier than a human that it just makes it worse. Not being human has its advantages, though, and I'm mostly fine and getting an update from Shuttle Systems as I'm peeling myself off the wall.
There was an external detonation. Single explosion, not weapons fire. Possibly something attached to the hull. There is a big hole in the side of the shuttle. That's not an update, I can see it from where I am. There are barrier shields up almost instantly, but it's a little eerie to be looking directly out into space. The shields section off the shuttle, one on either side of the hole where the door used to be – Kina's on the side with the passengers, and I'm on the side with most of the crew. The cockpit is emergency sealed, and both the pilot and co-pilot have checked in. The stewards were still serving passengers, so really it is mostly me.
Kina is swearing over the feed – not at me, but it is still unpleasant. A quick headcount confirms her concern though. We're down a passenger, and I know which one.
"Leeta's in the washroom!" Guy-who-plays-Seon Hun yells, looking from Kina to me. Because the bathrooms are on this side. Of course they are.
Fucking find her, Kina sends, and get the damned SecUnits operational. They're not responding to my pings. I'll get crowd control.
The blast may have knocked their systems offline, I send back, but I'm already turning towards the bathrooms. Or it might have taken them out. It was targeted at the hold, we're just getting blowback up here.
Fucking fuck, she sends back helpfully while outwardly she's looking calm and telling everyone to remain in their seats, and that someone is already on the way to check on us. Some of the businessmen in the back look about ready to murder each other, so she can have fun with that. I have my own problems.
One of the bathrooms is open and empty. The other door is shut, and from the gibberish that Systems is sending me, I'm guessing it's shorted out. So that’s great. I'm going to have to pry it open, but probably I should give some warning.
"Shuttle Security," I call, omitting any name because reasons. "I'm going to get you out of there. Step back from the door."
I hear some kind of response, so at least she's conscious. That's probably better for her, but worse for me. Oh well, time to impress her with the capabilities of modern augmentation technologies, because I'm totally not a cyborg.
It takes a little bit to pull it open, because the maglock is turned all the way up, and I can't get it to disengage. The easiest thing to do would be to shoot it open, but that would probably not be helpful to the woman on the other side of the door. I could just leave her safely locked in the impenetrable chamber and go check on the SecUnits, but logic and job priorities don't always intersect, so instead I have to get the lock out of the wall, and then the door can open.
On the otherwise, the woman, Leeta, looks terrified. She brandishes her datapad at me, like she was planning to hit me over the head, before she apparently recognizes me, or at least the uniform.
"I thought we were under attack," she says.
"There was an explosion," I say, because saying 'well we're not not under attack' doesn't seem sufficiently reassuring. I'm pretty sure that whatever detonated had to have been placed before we took off. But it was definitely placed, and not a malfunction in the systems. So far there doesn't seem to be anyone coming down to finish us off while we float here, but maybe they're just not in any rush. "I need you to come with me."
Ideally, I could stash her with the pilots, but they confirm on the feed that they're not willing to break the company protocols and let her into the secure cockpit. I mean, I guess it could get them fired even if nothing else happened, so fair enough for them. My employability is probably more directly linked to how quickly I can activate the (other) SecUnits.
"Come…back to the cabin?"
Okay, so I have seen this before. She looks calm but is actually panicking on the inside. I can relate, but it isn't helpful and I'm not good at this sort of thing. "It's okay," I say, "I'm a professional."
"I'm just a writer…" she says. And then it clicks.
"You… you’re Leeta Lokora!" I see her name scroll by every episode, but no wonder I didn't recognize her. She's the head writer for Sanctuary Moon. "Oh wow." That's what comes out of my mouth, which would be embarrassing enough if we weren't in the middle of a potentially hostile situation. That's the only reason I don't turn and bolt. I really miss my faceplate right now, because this is going to be a lot harder if I can't even make eye contact. This is so much worse than actors.
"Oh, ah, yes. That's me…" She looks as awkward as I feel, but I guess at least it's distracting. "You… You watch the show?"
"It's my favourite," I say, looking at a spot just to the right of her head. "But I really need you to come with me."
"Okay," she says, but she is still clutching her pad, and she doesn’t actually come. I have a little more leeway in these sorts of situations now than I did when I was just a SecUnit. I mean, technically I have to worry about getting fired, but I know I could find myself another job like this if I wanted. What I can't afford is for things to escalate outside of intra-company discipline levels. There's nothing good that could come out of that scenario, so I'm not giving it another thought; nor am I contemplating just bodily dragging her with me, writer of my favourite serial or not. Kina is asking me for updates over the feed, and filling me in on the cabin chaos. I guess one of the passengers is accusing the other of sabotage, but I don't recognize the names and I don't have time to process the data now. I really should have learned by now that even if you don't need to know who's who 99 times out of 100, the one time you do it will be really important. Fortunately, I'm not there, and that's Kina's problem. And maybe I have a solution for mine.
"It's like the time Amano had to rescue Nashira from Seon-Hun. Okay?"
"Oh," she says again. "Okay." This time she steps forward when she says it, and smiles. "I like that story… I hope our ending turns out as well."
I freeze and stare at her, because I am really *not* interested in what Nashira and Amano got up to in the last few episodes of that season. I skipped a lot of those scenes.
She seems to realize what she just said, though, and turns bright red. "Not like that! I just mean – I hope we get out of this okay."
I nod, then turn, and hope she has the sense to follow me. This is why I hate people, and I hate pretending to be human. I'm not, and I don't want to be. Since the options are limited, this is what I'm stuck with for now.
She does follow, at least.
The path down to the hold is clear, so that's easy enough to navigate. Leeta stays behind me, getting a little bolder as we go, so that I have to wave her back when we get to the hatch. I'm less sure what's down here, as the explosion knocked out a lot of sensors, and there's holes in the data I'm getting from Systems. It could just be a giant hole into space with nothing between it and us but some lowest-bid energy shields, but there's something that's more than programming telling me that whoever set this up didn't want the SecUnits coming online. So it's probably something worse. I motion for Leeta to stay put.
This door slides open easily when I use the override. The hole is just where I thought it would be, but I can see the cubicles just to the right. They're dark, and Systems isn't responding to my requests to reroute the power. We Murderbots can be activated manually, but most people don't read the documentation that thoroughly, so they assume that if the cubicle is offline, we’re out of service. I slip around and open the door to the nearest one. It feels weird. I haven't seen the inside of a cubicle since I left Dr. Mensah.
The SecUnit is still in its armour, but the external activation isn't working. The cubicle itself comes back online quickly, but not the Unit itself. I try a couple different sequences in case they're using something nonstandard, but it's no good. I'm removing the upper part of the armour when I hear footsteps behind me and whirl around, but it's only Leeta. I give her a stern look.
"Sorry," she whispers. "I was scared. What are you doing?"
"Trying to get the SecUnits activated." It isn't working, even using the direct activation port. I wonder if they were ever operational to begin with. They're supposed to be on the pre-flight checklist, if they're not active, so either someone wasn't being very diligent, or there's been some other form of sabotage. I message Kina and let her know the bad news. Neither she nor the pilots have any reports of ships in the area yet, but I'm sure that's coming. Or something is…
"That one's working," Leeta says, pointing.
I push her behind me, into the cubicle, just as it raises its arm to fire.
I push the other SecUnit out in front of me. Self-preservation is the name of the game at the moment, and besides, it can get regenerated later. Probably. That's if it doesn't get shoved out into the vacuum of space, which is exactly what I would do if I was that other unit. At least it looked like a standard model, and not a combat one. I send Kina a warning over the feed, and step back into the cubicle with Leeta. It’s a tight fit at the moment, but the cubicles are pretty tough.
"Is that ours?" Leeta shakes her head, answering her own question. "It can't be. Is that what attacked the ship?"
"No, but that might have been a signal for it to activate. And it probably isn't alone."
"What were they going to do, pretend to be the SecUnits from the ship?"
I nod. There were a lot of random coincidences throwing wrenches in that plan though. If I'd been human, I might not have been thrown so far in the explosion, and I'd have been trapped with Kina and the other passengers. Leeta would have stayed trapped in the bathroom… Or at least she wouldn't have come down here for a look around. They wouldn't have had any trouble when they came up on their own. And Kina and her hypothetical augmented human partner would have handed control of the situation over to them. No one would have needed to send a follow up ship, because the SecUnits would have taken full control of this one and could take it wherever they wanted. Great.
"Okay," I say. "I need you to help me put this armor on." I could do it myself, but there's not space enough to move around.
"The SecUnit armor? Can you do that?"
I really am lucky that the truth is such an unlikely prospect. "I can do it." I leave it at that, and start picking up the breastplate. The cubicle shakes from a blast of fire from the unit outside. I'm not going to have time to put the whole apparatus on, but I stay still while Leeta clicks the back plate into place, then grab the helmet (hello old friend) and gauntlets.
"Using their own ploy against them," she's muttering to herself. I mean no, it's not the same thing. I'm just hoping the shock will give me even the slightest edge, because they know exactly where to fire to crack this thing open, and we haven't got much time. "I like it."
"I'm going to open the door. It's firing at the cubicle seams, so you won't be in the line of fire, but you need to close it immediately after I'm out. Got it?"
Her eyes go wide, but she glances in the direction of the firing, then back to me, and nods. "Got it."
And then I bust out, raising my arms and popping my guns. I don't really have the concentration to spare for Leeta after that. The enemy SecUnits are, thankfully, caught off guard, so I can shoot them up pretty thoroughly before they have a chance to turn their combined power on me. There's also enough crates and luggage around that I can dive for cover, so that's not as bad as it could have been. They're going to split up and come after me, but I'm starting to come up with a plan. Well, a better plan.
I make my way over to the emergency panel. I'm trying to be stealthy, but I've taken some damage which makes that somewhat tricky. One of them figures out where I am, and I scramble for better cover as someone's fancy dress clothes are spilled across the cargo bay floor. This actually works to my advantage as one of them moves to engage me directly. This makes the other stop firing, and bring them in close enough to enact my plan. I'm glad the cameras aren't working, because Kina is already shouting over the feed. I cut it off, focusing on Systems' other inputs for a moment.
I know how we’re programmed to fight, which make it pretty easy to know what's coming. And I'm more independent. SecUnits need to be able to think, but that thinking needs to be controlled, and that's where the governor module comes in. When you are following a direct order, it is harder to think about anything else. I've done some looking, and there are unpublished studies that demonstrate that the focus enforced by the module often filters out critical information that can impact success and performance. So, they know it is a hindrance, but they use it anyway, because they think that reduction in efficiency is more beneficial – and cheaper, let's be honest – than letting us think independently. And it's probably true from their perspective, but I will take all the advantages I can get.
Everything happens very quickly. It launches itself at me. I smash the panel. The barrier in this room goes down. I roll out of the way, and the other Unit goes sailing past me, out into the void. The emergency override kicks in, and the barrier is back up. One down – go me! The second SecUnit starts blasting at me again, this time from a better vantage point, focusing on unarmoured parts. I start shooting back.
I keep shooting.
I have regrets.
Even if I am objectively better at this, it has more armor and cover. Even if I make it through this, I don't think my legs are going to work, and that will be hard to explain. That's a problem for later. I scramble back to get some cover of my own, knocking over another pile of shot-up luggage in the process. Good – it's going to have to get through that to get at me, and I can take half a second to get set up.
Half a second is all I get, but once it blows through the obstacle, I'm in place to haul down the crates full of supplies for the meal service on both of us. I know it's coming, so I get mostly out of the way. It gets caught under the avalanche. It won't be trapped for long, but long enough for me to make sure it's nonoperational.
I don't know what happens now. I'm at 47% for performance reliability, which is not great but could be worse. It's mostly my legs, which are a complete mess when I make myself look at them, so I don't. I'm glad Systems' cameras and feeds are still out here, but I patch in to make sure they stay that way. I'm not sure what the other units did, if it was them, but it was thorough. One less thing to worry about. I'm keeping the feed shut also. Kina can keep shouting into the void and I can keep not caring. Except eventually the pilots will take us into a safe hub, and someone will come down here and find me. And Leeta.
I'd put her out of mind during the action, and I'd hoped that she'd just stay shut up in the cubicle. No such luck. It takes her a few minutes after the shooting stops, probably to screw up her courage, but I hear the cubicle door slide open.
"Stay inside!" I yell. Or try to yell, only it comes out unintelligibly garbled. Great. My mumbling is not as effective a deterrent as I'd hoped, and instead she hones in on the sound, picking her way through the debris of the fight. She comes across the other SecUnit first, and I can see the look of shock in her eyes. I mean honestly, if you hooked it up to a cubicle for a few hours it would probably be okay, so she shouldn't feel too bad. But probably it will just get taken apart by the shuttle company or the monitors for analysis and then used for spare parts.
Finally, she sees me. Her eyes go even wider, probably, but I am not looking. Maybe I can pretend I can't understand what she is saying either.
"I'm going to get you back to the cubicle…. Somehow."
I'm not going to argue with that, though there isn't much I can do to help her. My arms seem to be under control, but I don't think they're up to dragging me through the mess of the hold. She takes a minute to look around, staring out into space. The SecUnit I evicted has floated out of sight, at least. After a moment of that, she shakes her head and gets moving, clearing a path back to the cubicle. I hope she's not planning to try and drag me. As I noted earlier, Murderbots are heavier than they look, even when their lower halves are riddled with holes showing their inorganic parts through the synthetic skin and tatters of shuttle company issued uniform.
She tries, then swears, then looks around again. I gesture over toward where there's a hovershelf meant for accessing all those crates I knocked over, and off she goes. Well, at least she's quiet. She gets it over here after a little more clearing and maneuvering, since she doesn't have the codes to get it to lift more than half a foot off the ground, and I haul myself onboard.
"Do you need any help?" she asks, once she's lifted me over to the cubicle. I shake my head to spare us both the further embarrassment of my trying to say anything. Once I'm inside, I close the door, initiate the repair function, and let myself go into a semi-offline state while I heal, mostly so I don't have to think about what a disaster this is and how screwed I am.
When I come back online, I hear Kina's voice. It takes me a minute to realize it's not a problem with me, it's just garbled because it is coming in over the intercom outside the cubicle. I missed what she said, but I hear Leeta well enough.
"No, they're fine. Well, no, not fine. They're unconscious, but resting. I think they'll be okay? They were awake earlier."
"We're going to be arriving at the hub in one standard hour. They'll send a team in to retrieve you both, and assess the damage. You just hang on until then, Miss Lokora."
"Oh… Okay. An hour." And then I hear the distinct sound of her shutting off the com, and coming over here. The next thing I hear is banging on the cubicle wall. "Are you in there? Can you hear me? You need to wake up!"
"I'm awake." I could open the door, but I don't want to. I'm still in half my armour and shredded uniform.
"I found some clothes that should fit you, if you'll come out. We have an hour to come up with a good story."
I let her pass me the clothes, and I put them on. It's not a perfect fit, but they're loose enough to look okay. Once that's done, I come out. And as much as I want to pretend all this never happened and everything is fine, I need to know some things. She knows what I am, but she's still helping me, and I need to know how far that's going to stretch. "How did you figure it out?"
"When you put the helmet on, that's when. It pushed your wig? I'm guessing it's a wig. It pushed your wig back out of the way, and then you looked just like the others. And then even with just half the armour on, I could see it in how you moved, once I was looking. And … um… what are you going to do?"
I have no idea, so I turn it back on her. "What are you going to do?"
"You saved my life," she says, looking down. "I don't really know what's going on… I know you can't belong to the shuttle company, but I didn't think you could be independent. That sounds more like something I would write than something real. But I want to help you."
"Okay." I'm not going to tell her anything she hasn't already figured out, but I'm willing to trust her for now. "So… we need a story."
She nods. "I've already been thinking about it. I mean – you had to stay out of the line of fire. But maybe you got one of them to… shoot the other one? I thought there were two before…"
"I spaced it. I lured it close, shot out the panel, and pushed it off the shuttle. There will be time logs on Systems that show it happened first, and everyone will have heard the shooting that happened afterwards."
"Then… That still works. It's believable enough, for a trained professional who is supposed to be an augmented human. After that…. Maybe you lured the other one into place using the body of one of the ship's original SecUnits? Is the armor fixed?"
It's not fixed, which is why I'm not wearing it. The other unit isn't damaged enough to convince anyone it was really a target for more than a cursory examination, but I just need enough time to get away. "That could work. You didn't see anything, so you'll be okay when they figure out it's a lie."
"Will you be okay?" Her forehead creases. "And…can you convince them?"
"I'll be fine once we reach the Hub and are offboard. And I'm a terrible liar… but I'm better if I pretend I'm Amano Louise." I couldn’t help myself.
And Leeta smiles. "I do that too, when I'm nervous. And… now. I just did what I thought Amano would do, like you said earlier. It's just easier. It must sound weird, since I made her up… But it works, doesn’t it?"
"It does." It's something of a relief to hear, honestly. I look out over the cargo bay, scanning through the hole in the hull, but it feels a little less overwhelming. We have a lot of work to do in the next hours, and I'm going to have to deal with Kina once she figures out I'm back on the feed. She's going to figure out what's happening. Maybe not immediately, but too quickly. I'm going to have to start up a whole new fake life and find something else to do. And I'm going to have to make sure Leeta doesn't decide to use this as inspiration for her work because I don't want to have to stop watching Sanctuary Moon. Other than those minor details though, I think this just might work too.