Freedom as an absolute does not exist since there are always constraints: genetic predetermination, surrounding environment, the society in which you live and, in the end, everything. Freedom is always a matter of degree: you cannot wish for the freedom to flap your arms and fly so long as gravity exists, nor can you wish for the freedom to breathe water. You are of course free to try both, but the results of such endeavours are not within your power. This is the big problem with freedom when it is taken up by some political ideology, for those who rely on the term are often trying to adjust the parameters of reality, and they simply cannot. And, when the revolutionary cries that he is fighting for “freedom,” be sure to go running away from him just as fast as you can, for you can be damned certain he’s fighting for the freedom to tell you what to do.
Var gazed at the telescopic ladder now extended to the ceiling of the reactor room, its base clamped to one of the pillars supporting the reactor itself. Perched at the top of it, Lopomac was using a piton gun to drive the spikes into the bonded regolith of the ceiling, immediately around the big, recessed, double-door hatch situated up there. Because of its position, dividing internal air off from the atmosphere of Mars itself, this particular hatch’s sensors did not extend to locking it down if they detected changes in the air mix, though it was locked down by the pressure differential. Its purpose had been to provide an opening through which to lower reactor components by crane. Var calculated that Ricard would know nothing about that.
“That’s a comfort,” muttered Carol flatly.
She had just spooled out the control box, on its cable, from a multiple hoist: a device that could accommodate both forklift and crane attachments. Pressing one button made the device extend its wheels down, thus lifting its body from the floor, and by further manipulation of the controls, Carol sent it over towards the closed bulkhead door. She then brought the forklift tines right up against metal, forcing the door back on its seal, then lowered the machine back down to the floor, scraping glittering scratches on the door. Next to be sent over was a mobile tool chest, followed by chunks of reactor shielding to jam between the hoist and the door itself.
Var knew that Ricard’s men would eventually get through. They would first use the least force possible to breach the door’s seal, in the hope that, once pressures were equalized, they could just open it manually. Probably ceramic bullets would be fired at an angle through the bubblemetal, to reduce the chances of them hitting the reactor. They wouldn’t want to risk major damage here but, on finding the door firmly jammed, they would have to use something more substantial—probably a grenade. This would hopefully take them the extra vital minutes that Var needed.
“They’re coming,” she warned, now watching on her laptop screen as a crawler headed over from Hex One and entered the pool of light cast by the exterior lights of Hex Three.
Carol looked round, her face white.
“You done there yet?” Var called up to Lopomac as a haze of releasing fluid drifted down from where he had positioned himself, hanging directly underneath the hatch on a rope strung between two pitons.
“It should open,” he declared, now dropping a coil of rope attached to one of the array of pitons he had driven into the bonded regolith surrounding the hatch. “The motors are receiving power and the hydraulics don’t seem jammed.”
“Okay Carol,” said Var, waving her towards the rope.
Carol headed over, pulling on her suit helmet, already wearing her harness and electric climbing motor. Var pulled on her own harness then donned her helmet, Bluetoothing the laptop to her visor display before closing it and putting it into her hip pouch. Carol ascended to the hatch along with Lopomac, who had moved to another section of rope, and positioned herself just below the seam of the double-door hatch. Var walked across, undid the clamps holding the ladder in place, released its telescopic lock and collapsed it. She carried it over to jam it against the bulkhead door too, so that an enforcer spotting a telescopic ladder in here would assume its purpose was to add to the obstacles preventing him and his fellows getting in. Returning to the rope, she attached her own climbing motor, engaged the friction wheels and set the motor running. In a moment she was up beside Lopomac, on the opposite side of the hatch from Carol, and also just below the seam.
“Remember,” Var urged, “stay low. The dust baffles up there around the edge, as well as the external lights, should keep us concealed from any snipers Ricard leaves outside.”
“If he does leave any snipers outside,” said Lopomac.
“He’s doing that right now,” replied Var, a flick at her wrist control flinging up an exterior cam image in the lower half of her visor. One enforcer had already exited the crawler and positioned himself behind a boulder, his scoped rifle resting on a small tripod on the boulder itself. On the other side of the hex, the crawler had now stopped to discharge another sniper. This man set off at a steady lope, then abruptly dropped into a hollow in the ground, before setting up his rifle too. After a moment he rose from a crouch and gestured to the crawler, which set off again, this time turning in towards the hex. The imperious gesture was enough to make Var realize something.
“In fact,” she added, “Ricard is one of those two snipers.”
“Makes sense,” said Lopomac. “He wouldn’t want to put himself at risk in here. I’ll bet the other sniper is Silberman.”
The crawler drew over beside Hex Three at the point where Var had blown the windows, there discharging another three enforcers behind the water tanks. Whilst one covered the two nearest windows, the third ran over to the intervening wall, where Var now lost sight of him from the roof cams. Switching to an internal view, she saw a hand briefly appear in one window, then some object bounce inside. The view whited out and from where she hung above the reactor Var heard two hollow booms.
“Grenades,” she said, “just as predicted.”
“Damn,” Carol exclaimed. Var glanced at her questioningly, and she explained, “The glue, it’s photo- and thermoactive too.”
“Score one for Ricard,” said Var. “But it’s not like your glue is something he’s deliberately and cleverly neutralizing.” She did not mention her thoughts about lucky generals, instead focusing on the crawler as it rounded the hex and turned in towards the garage. Again it went out of sight of the roof cams, but Var now switched to the cam positioned in the airlock.
“The crawler’s entering the garage airlock,” she said.
Lines of vapour cut across her view into the airlock itself as the outer doors ponderously drew open, and the crawler rolled inside. The doors behind it closed and sealed, and she could tell that the gate valve had now opened to pressurize the lock as, over a long five minutes, the same vapour dispersed. How long would it take them to realize that the inner doors weren’t opening?
The small airlock of the crawler itself opened and an enforcer clambered out. As he paused to stare up at the cam, the resolution was good enough for Var to recognize his face. His name, she remembered, was Liam… something. He walked over to the door and peered at the electronic panel beside it, then moved directly in front of the door, unclipping a grenade from his belt and thumbing off the safety cap. He reached over for the manual lever, and arc light blossomed between hand and lever even before they connected. The cam view fizzed for a second, then cleared. The man’s body was bent over, and smoking. There came a bright flash, whereupon the cam view blinked out. Var heard the whoomph of the grenade going off, followed by a massive rumbling blast. Multiple explosions, she realized, as she braced one hand against the rim of the hatch and switched to a view inside the garage. The whole hex was shuddering, and flakes of stone were falling from the ceiling.
“Score two, and three to us,” she announced.
The garage was depressurizing. The inner and outer doors were gone, the crawler airlock empty. Switching to an exterior view, she saw the same vehicle’s wreck lying some distance away from the hex. It struck her as highly unlikely that its remaining occupant was still alive or, even if he was, would be capable of causing harm.
“What do you mean?” Lopomac asked.
“Your supercapacitor output detonated all the grenades the enforcer was carrying—took out him, the crawler, and presumably the driver.”
As she now coldly calculated the odds, Var guessed that some people found it much harder than others to turn killer. Another hollow boom reverberated, dropping another shower of regolith flakes from the ceiling, but this time it was followed by the sound of rushing wind. This meant the other three enforcers had blown out a window and were moving closer.
Clad in a VC suit obtained from a store by the exit from the Political Office behind them, Hannah looked up and noticed that many of the station robots had been assigned new tasks. One resembling a truck, with legs instead of wheels, braced itself between beams while construction robots loaded it with all the corpses that had not gone flying outside the station. Robotic iron starfish, moving like gibbons, were busy collecting stray weapons, and had already fully loaded a smaller version of the truck robot, and it was moving off. Glancing left, she observed yet more robot activity where the lattice walls connected to the asteroid, but then more of the dead would be impacted there.
A couple of spiderguns not included in all this activity were now approaching. As one of them dropped into the unfinished tubeway lying ahead of her and Saul, while the other took up position behind them, Hannah seized the chance to study one of these machines more closely.
Though possessing the eight limbs of its namesake, the closest living thing she could equate it to was a vaguely remembered image of a sea spider—a creature seemingly without body or head, because its eight limbs simply conjoined where normally a body should have been. All the components normally found in a robot—like power supply, processors and sensors—were distributed along its limbs. This gave them a misshapen look and, to add to its oddity, the machine’s joints were universal, so the limbs could hinge in any direction. It propelled itself along with just a light flick at its surroundings, the weapons terminating its limbs constantly zeroing in on any objects of suspicion. But this was lethal cutting-edge technology, and its oddity stirred no feeling of humour.
The machine she was studying seemed to be leading the way towards the lower end of Arcoplex One, where a great mass of partially finished buildings constructed against the face of the asteroid housed a massive mercury bearing and the drive mechanisms at this end of the cylinder world. They entered via a monorail tubeway, exiting it again at a small station located beside the arcoplex bearing itself, then heading upwards to reach the central spindle, aiming for the airlocks in the cylinder’s endcap.
“Do we have to go this way?” Hannah asked.
“It’s the quickest route,” he replied, then paused and turned to stare back the way they had come.
“What is it?” she asked.
He glanced at her. “Readerguns. Warning shots. Four of Langstrom’s soldiers were reluctant to abandon their weapons…Well, they’ve abandoned them now.”
“What about Messina’s men?”
“His remaining soldiers have withdrawn to the outer ring but have refused to obey Messina’s orders to seize Dock Two.”
“Yes, their commander sent three soldiers to take a look. Seeing three spiderguns were guarding the dock, they reported the mission ‘militarily unfeasible.’”
“Brave of them to defy Messina?”
“Being killed by a spidergun is more certain than any threats of Messina’s at present.”
“Those things are that effective?”
“They can deploy all eight of their guns at once, each with a rate of fire of a thousand rounds a minute, at four thousand metres per second. The rounds themselves are depleted uranium beads.” Saul held up one hand, finger and thumb just a few millimetres apart. “They deliver the same kinetic energy as an eight-millimetre readergun round, but over a smaller area, and each robot carries about two thousand rounds in each of its leg magazines. So, yes, even discounting the other missiles they can deploy, they’re that effective.”
“Messina won’t give up easily.”
“Yes, I hope so.”
Feeling suddenly uncomfortable with the direction of this conversation, Hannah now glanced up at the arcoplex soaring above them. “How do people get in and out when it’s rotating?” she asked, deliberately changing the subject.
Saul pointed in over the structure housing the drive mechanism towards the dark throats of several access tubes leading towards the cylinder’s spindle. “There’s a tube elevator that goes in through the spindle itself, then curves down to the cylinder floor.” He pointed downwards. “You enter it upside-down, in relation to the asteroid, then experience an apparent increase in gravity until you step out in the arcoplex. You’ll soon see.”
They went through the airlock and, waiting for the two spiderguns to follow them, all Hannah could see was a nightmare scene of corpses lying entangled all about her.
Even though many of the victims were guilty of killing citizens back on Earth, others were merely wives, husbands and children. Saul was right: human life, it seemed, had been cheapened by its sheer quantity.
“Come on.” Once the spiderguns had joined them, Saul propelled himself up the inner face of the endcap, and Hannah quickly followed, gliding over the corpses until she could snag a handhold projecting from the spindle, sitting beside a sunlight transmission panel that even then was growing dull. The spindle itself was over ten metres in diameter, with frequent handholds marking a course along it.
“There.” Saul pointed to a tubeway exiting the spindle some twenty metres ahead, which curved down towards a building situated on the inner surface of the cylinder. “Engineering for environments like those found inside this station presents some interesting challenges.”
Did he not even notice all the dead?
At intervals along the spindle they were obliged to circumvent buildings that actually attached to it, extending outwards like spokes. Peering through their windows, she spotted further corpses drifting like slow marionettes. Two thousand people wiped out here just because some of them weren’t voting for Messina.
The journey soon over, they exited at the other end of Arcoplex One, headed past the main train station, and entered a tubeway leading into one of the docking pillars. A train blocked most of the tube straight ahead, but pullways were provided on either side to allow access for station personnel. They passed along one of these to enter the centre of Dock Two, where Saul proceeded down the rear wall towards one of the five docking faces. Glancing back, Hannah noticed a spidergun crouching on the millipede body of the train, while another waited on the floor they were descending to, and a third was poised three floors further round, on the other side of the docking pillar.
“What are you going to do about Messina…and the rest?” she asked.
“Messina deserves to die,” he replied. “As do most of those aboard these space planes.”
“But it’s noticeable how you’re not saying whether you’re planning to kill them.”
As they reached the floor he turned towards her, while issuing some unheard instruction that dispatched the two attendant spiderguns to other docking faces. After a moment he replied, “No, I’m not. I’m going to wait for your decision on that, so long as it does not include them returning to Earth.”
He then turned and headed towards the nearest airlock column, to one side of which already squatted a spidergun. There Saul came to a halt and folded his arms.
“Chairman Messina,” he announced, “you, and everyone aboard with you, will now exit your plane, and I want you to order those onboard all the other planes here to do likewise.” He tilted his head, as if listening, then continued, “I’ve already told you the alternative.”
Hannah felt her stomach churn. It was now her decision? Why was he making it hers? Then she understood the reason. It had been so easy for her to offer criticism whenever she suspected him of being tempted by the ease of quick and bloody solutions, and now she was paying the penalty. She could refuse to make any decision at all, of course, but that would dump the whole matter back in his lap, and whatever he did then would essentially be the result of her indecision. In either case, there would be no way of escaping guilt.
After some minutes, the sliding door of the docking pillar revolved sideways, and four figures clad in light spacesuits stepped out. None of these was Messina, though Hannah recognized one woman from broadcast sessions of the Committee. After a moment the name came to her: Delegate Margot Le Blanc of the French region. With her was an older man who might be her husband, and a younger one likely to be her son. The heavily built one with ophidian eyes, and subdermal armouring evident in his face, had to be Le Blanc’s Inspectorate bodyguard.
“Move over there.” Saul gestured to a space at the edge of the dock floor, where the spidergun unfolded with fast and eerie silence in the vacuum, three of its weapon-bearing limbs pointed at these four.
Delegate Le Blanc was clearly saying something, but it wasn’t audible over com. Either Saul had not seen fit to include Hannah in the communication, or he himself just wasn’t bothering to listen. She suspected the latter. The spidergun took a few paces forward and, after staring at the machine for a moment, Le Blanc bowed her head and with the three others trailing her walked over to the spot indicated. More people began to emerge, including other familiar faces, along with children looking pathetic and vulnerable in the smallest size of spacesuit available, concertinaed at the joints yet still hanging loose and baggy. The sight of them at once coloured Hannah’s decision as to their fate: she could not allow Saul to kill them all—not now.
“Messina will come out last,” she predicted.
“He’s wriggling like a hooked fish,” remarked Saul. “He’s communicating with people back on Earth, with the rest of his soldiers here and with those still on the other planes, trying to find some way of getting a handle on this situation. It seems he just can’t admit to himself that he no longer possesses any power.”
Hannah detected movement at the periphery of her vision and glanced across at the next docking face, which tilted up at an angle from this one. People were now departing from planes there and, as she looked straight above, she could see others were emerging on all the other docking faces too. Doubtless Saul was still issuing instructions even while he spoke to her for, escorted by spiderguns, they started heading round to the docking face she stood on.
“There’s nothing he can do?” Hannah asked.
“He still thinks so—a notion of which I am about to disabuse him.” Saul paused for a moment, then continued, “If everyone could listen very carefully. Since Chairman Messina has seen fit to issue orders for security personnel to take a shot at me whenever they get the chance, be aware that, before entering this dock, I programmed the spiderguns to react to any weapons fire in one way only. They will kill all of you. Since their sensors range into the infrared, the spill from your suits will be sufficient for them to target every one of you—there will be no place you can hide.”
“You’re taking a big risk by just being here,” said Hannah.
“Not really,” Saul replied. “Messina’s troops destroyed the cams in Dock One, but not here. If someone even raises a weapon, they’ll get no chance to use it.”
Hannah again surveyed the crowds now moving round towards them, then focused on those arriving through the nearest airlock. If Saul was confident he could detect an attempt to kill him from so many different sources, it meant he was functioning at a level way beyond that of most computers. She had always known such ability was possible for him, but hadn’t quite registered the fact until now.
“You’re really confident of that?”
“Confidence is not the issue, but speed of image processing, assignment of risk levels and reaction times are. The only chance of someone actually firing a weapon in my direction is if twenty-eight people were to attempt it simultaneously within the same four-second time frame.” He glanced at her. “You yourself installed the hardware in my head, you know what I can do.”
Hannah shrugged. “On an intellectual level, yes.” She nodded towards the airlock. “Here’s Messina.”
Still watching her, Saul grinned. “Did you think I needed telling?”
He turned to the airlock from which Messina had just emerged, with four large and heavily augmented bodyguards gathered round him. The Chairman wore a vacuum combat suit, doubtless state-of-the-art, but perhaps still wanted to put some flesh between himself and potential bullets. However, rather than go and lose himself in the growing crowd gathered at the dock edge, he walked directly towards Saul, and came to a halt only five metres away, his bodyguards lining up behind him.
“Your decision,” said Saul quietly.
Hannah assumed he had addressed the Chairman, but when Messina showed no reaction she realized the words had been for her ears only. She was tired and now wanted to just be somewhere safe, so she could sleep, but the implication of those two words had her chest tightening and her heartbeat thundering in her ears. Panic attack—she’d been here before. Perhaps this meant that somewhere inside she was feeling safe, sufficiently out of danger for her false friend to return. She tried to breathe calmly, to get it all under control: in through her nose and out through her mouth. Saul turned to look at her and waited. Messina was speaking, she could see. Saul probably listened to his words and discounted them. Messina’s control of his own destiny had ceased some while ago.
“My decision,” she managed, the thundering in her ears retreating but the tightness in her chest increasing. “I am going to defer my decision.”
“Yes, I can.” She shrugged, trying to get angry enough to drive away the feeling of losing control. “It is my decision that, until I come to some final decision, all of these people will be confined to Arcoplex One.”
Saul nodded, with a hint of a smile. “Yes, appropriate.” He then turned back to Messina, snapping, “Shut up.” Hannah heard Messina’s last words tailing off, as Saul now included her and probably everyone else in the communication. “Here’s what is going to happen.” He glanced from those already huddled at the edge of this dock to those still filing across from other docking faces. “You will all head towards the back of this pillar, and proceed through to the endcap of Arcoplex One, where you’ll enter through the airlock there. I see there are one hundred and ninety-three of you, so I leave it to yourselves to organize who enters first and who enters last, on the basis of air supply, since each cycling of the lock will take a minimum of two minutes and it will only hold four of you at a time.”
“You can’t put us in there,” protested Messina.
“Why not?” Saul glanced at the man absently. “Because of the two thousand corpses inside?” When Messina had no answer to that, Saul continued, “You will of course need to work fast to feed them all into the five digesters inside the arcoplex. You’ll need to strip them of their clothing and remove any metal augmentations that might jam the digesters. Since each digester can only process one corpse per hour, that means, with all of them operating, the whole process should take about seventeen days. By then it’s going to get rather unpleasant in there, I suspect.”
“So it amuses you to exact such a petty vengeance.” Messina’s every word was laden with contempt.
“No,” said Saul, “it would suit me better to feed you, and every delegate here, feet first into a digester while still alive. And that might yet become an option. For now, I am going to leave two of my spiderguns here to ensure you follow my instructions. Please don’t try anything foolish, since that would only result in a horrible mess any survivors would have to clear up.” He finally turned to Hannah. “Let’s go.”
As she followed him, two spiderguns overtook them and headed off at high speed. Glancing back, she found just one of their fellows keeping pace behind—the two Saul had left still amidst the crowd back there.
“Where are they going?” she asked.
When Saul delivered his terse instruction to the commander of Messina’s troops, whilst the two spiderguns he had sent ahead strode amidst them, he felt almost disappointed by their immediate submission. But, then, fifteen of the fifty or so survivors were stretcher cases, whilst another twenty were walking wounded. They quickly abandoned their weapons and began heading for a tubeway into the station, from where they would go to join Langstrom’s men in the barracks, and its hospital.
Saul felt a void within him as, with one of the spiderguns still dogging his and Hannah’s footsteps, he approached the airlock into Arcoplex One. He had not been sucked into Malden’s revolution, he had finally got himself up to Argus Station and here defeated Smith, and as a bonus he had decapitated Earth’s government. He had won, yet still that emptiness remained.
Depression? No, he checked the balance of his neurochemicals and they were fine. He checked his own blood: his blood sugar was low because he needed to eat, and various toxins were present, but this could not be the cause of his present malaise, for it was purely intellectual. He dismissed it, suppressed it, then focused his attention on the odd fact that he could now so easily check the state of his own body.
“There is something you didn’t tell me, isn’t there, Hannah?” he said, glancing at her.
“What do you mean?” she asked, looking slightly panic-stricken.
“Something about the organic interface?”
“Let me put it this way: just a moment ago I wondered, because of the way I feel, if I was chemically depressed. Then I checked, which rather tells me that I am now hooking in to my autonomous nervous system.”
“The interface,” said Hannah, as they waited for the spidergun to proceed through the airlock ahead of them, “it’s not a static organism.”
As the airlock cycled, Saul glanced back at the other two spiderguns herding the captives towards the same endcap. Then, with negligent ease, he cracked the coding of transmissions passing between the captives. Messina was busy firing off orders and demands for assessments to all about him, though the replies came mainly from a couple of delegates who had risen high in the Inspectorate hierarchy before joining the Committee. The Chairman was demanding an escape—with a few inevitable losses, surely they could reach a different docking pillar and board another space plane? He was currently being informed that, even with only one spidergun watching them, such an attempt would be suicidal.
“Smith was stronger than me, to begin with, then weaker,” Saul said, mentally instructing the airlock to open ahead of them now that the spidergun was through. “My integration process with Janus is still far from complete, but even so, that should not result in me being able to connect this way to my autonomous nervous system.”
“The interface is growing.”
He nodded as he entered the airlock ahead of her, and whilst they stood inside, waiting for it to pressurize, he mulled over the implications. Only when they were back inside the arcoplex did he speak again.
“Malden’s was static,” he said.
“Mine, however, is growing a neural matrix throughout my brain.” He paused. “What is the organism based upon?”
“Your own DNA,” she replied.
He turned and stared at her. “So no rejection problems.”
She nodded. “It uses your own neural stem cells and grows its matrix from them. After just one day, the connectivity between your organic brain and the hardware in your skull was about the same as Malden’s. Now it should be about twice that.”
“When does it stop growing?”
“Only when it matches up to the demand you place on the hardware. If you make further demands of it, the matrix will grow further to accommodate that.”
It struck him as more than likely that such bioware was not on general release. If it had been, then Smith would have acquired it.
“It’s a prototype, then,” he stated.
As they propelled themselves up towards the arcoplex spindle, then back along it towards the asteroid-side endcap, Saul quickly tracked down a number of key individuals inside the station. Robert Le Roque, the Technical Controller of the station, remained in a cell and seemed unhurt, and by checking records Saul discovered that he had not been subjected to inducement. Commander Langstrom was currently in the crowded barracks hospital, his knee undergoing a scan. This hospital itself was presently overrun by casualties.
“Langstrom,” Saul addressed him through the hospital intercom, “I want you to collect Le Roque from the cell block and both of you to be in Tech Central within ten minutes.”
A similar summons soon had other necessary staff heading up from their cabins to the control room. Chang and the twins he could locate nowhere, until he replayed recorded data that tracked their progress from the cell block back to Tech Central. They had ensconced themselves in an unassigned cabin, after looping the cam feed to perpetually indicate the same cabin as empty. To their joint surprise, he summoned them too.
Even as he and Hannah arrived at the far endcap, Saul registered a cycling of the airlock they had just departed, and glanced back to see the first of the captives already entering the arcoplex. As the pair exited through the second airlock, he considered an old story that might have informed Hannah’s decision about Messina and the rest: how German civilians had been forced to bury the concentration-camp dead. He felt that her first decision was just, and he would go with what she decided next just so long as it did not endanger the Argus Station or themselves. Once the airlock had closed, he instituted another protocol.
“The airlocks at this end of the cylinder are sealed now,” he explained, as they descended to the surface of the asteroid. “But perhaps I’ll place guards here too.”
Stirring up eddies of dust, their gecko boots did not function as well on asteroidal rock strewn with flakes of stone, so they proceeded slowly and with care. Lifting his gaze from his feet, Saul glanced over to his left, where a construction robot was busy scooping up the last of the corpses here. Next he viewed their destination: a steel chamber in the outer rim where the corpses were all neatly stacked, the same way round, so that one wall seemed to consist entirely of boot soles. He could have ordered the robots to hurl them out into space but, now that he had cut all supply lines from Earth, even corpses had become a potential resource.
Reaching an airlock in the base of Tech Central, which lay above the lattice walls, offered a clear view out into space. Saul caught Hannah’s shoulder and turned her so that she could look straight across the station wheel, as far as the outer ring where the docks were positioned. These were now effectively the nose of the enormous spacecraft this place had become. He then gestured off to the right of the docks, where the Moon loomed large in the blackness.
“Three more turns around the Earth and we’ll be ready for a low-fuel course change around the Moon,” Saul explained. “I’ll then fire up the Traveller engine once more to boost us on the correct course.”
They finally entered Tech Central, shedding their helmets whilst waiting for the spidergun to follow them through the lock.
“I was about to remark that we’re free of the Committee now,” he said. “But, of course, you’re not free of it, because you still have that decision to make.” Hannah’s expression was pained as he continued. “That decision aside, what will you do now there’s no political officers to instruct you?”
A look of panic flitted across her face—perhaps signifying another of her attacks, or the reaction of someone who, having lived a life without choices, was now being confronted with them.
“Arcoplex Two contains state-of-the-art research and surgical facilities, in fact even more than you had down on Earth,” he noted. “Whilst you decide precisely what you want to do, perhaps you can occupy yourself there?”
“More than I had down on Earth?” Hannah echoed numbly.
He nodded, glad that the option was now firmly implanted in her mind.
“And if I want to return to Earth?” she managed.
“That option stays open. A space plane would need half a full fuel load just to counter our present velocity, and one could be fuelled and made ready before we reach the Moon.” He paused contemplatively. “But I wonder if you’d really want to return to Earth aboard a plane that would need to be crewed by Inspectorate military?”
“No,” she replied firmly. “So this station definitely isn’t going back.”
“It isn’t.” He shook his head. “Mars, I feel, is just going to be a stopping point on a very long journey. You need to decide how you’ll fit in here, now. That means more decisions and choices for you—they come with the territory known as freedom.”
“Will anyone really be free aboard this station?”
“Freedom is not an absolute.”