This is the land all causes lead to This is the land where the mushrooms grow.
An android in chains can only dance ballroom. An android in chains dances taps. But there is a time for return to old nightmares, for dancing with knives.
The hard part was getting into Sarah's account, but Sarah's Nemesis had already broken her security. He had left a back door open that I managed to sneak through. From there, it was easy. I modified a holodeck bar scene using Sarah's ID, and waited for Nemesis to write himself into the file. It didn't take long. I figured he must be getting lonely.
The scene was set in the main bar of Charadoor's Heart, as it was before Yamato's phasers. The walls were naked stone, carved from the asteroid, accentuated with pressure doors in black and starfleet grey. The artificial gravity was low, to help avoid detection. The furniture was from a dozen ships Kazz had taken at one time or another. The walls were hung with ship's dedication plaques. The music was Nazgul's Armageddon Rag.
The weapons choice was his. He preferred knives.
Clash. Sarah's nemesis had her preference in fighting styles. He wanted the initiative. He wanted to attack. Suited me. My yin to his yang. Hard style against soft style. Attack against redirection. Accept the thrust, absorb it, control it, reflect it. I started breaking tables with Mr Nemesis.
To the battleground I'm coming, Oh don't you hear the drumming?
Old memories. In the Charadoor, there are two kinds of men, pirates and slaves. On master Kazz's asteroid, the rite of passage was trial by dance. Could the slave keep one of Kazz's killer droids amused through an entire song? It was a test of courage, a test of determination, a test of fighting skills, and a test of sense of humor. Kazz wanted them all. It was also a test to see if the slave knew any of the special martial moves taught by Starfleet Intelligence.
Nemesis wasn't Starfleet Intelligence. He was a holograph character. The first pass was a near thing. I might have lost the fight right then if he was more interested in blood than terror. By his third pass I knew which character generation program Sarah had used to program him. By the fifth, I had pretty well defined the parameters of his fighting style. On the tenth, I knew he would use his desperation surprise attack maneuver. From his stance, I knew which one Sarah had selected. Software fighting software can become predictable, especially since his software package was one of the styles my package was designed to defeat. It was no longer a battle. It became a dance. I was no longer following the attacker's lead. I was flashing openings in my guard, knowing exactly which attack he would launch against that opening.
Well, you're a killer too All the dead look just like you When they're playin' the armageddon rag! YEAH! They're playin' that armageddon rag!
Memories of an interrogation room at Starfleet Intelligence. Files of agents lost, of Starfleet people that had been sent into the Charadoor to infiltrate Kazz. Yes, this one danced with Black Seven. This one danced with Red Four. Echoes of old tears. Do not kill or injure sentient life. But a memory that induced tears under Federation programming had been the height of passion under Ferengi control. Cash changing hands as wagers were placed. Kazz thumbs down, in the gesture of the old Roman emperors. Knives in a ghost of a dead room, where two holograms danced. Broken chains in cyberspace. Digital blood.
The Laws of the Arena lay Asimov's to dust. No pre-starfleet civilizations to interfere with. A chain of command under arrest. Two artificial people fighting, either of which would come back to life on command when the fight is over. No injury or death is real here, and no law to obey. We were alone, and I not tied to any male: flesh, android, holo, or cyber. My entire Asimov Processor was irrelevant here. I was free to relive my old nightmares.
False priority. From echoes of old programming comes an erased command. Personify the Art of oo-mox. Traces of an old conflict. Priority one, kill the man. Priority four, seduce him. Show him some leg, then kick with it. If the tongue isn't committed to an attack, lick lips suggestively. Crane stance to show your profile, providing distractions from the knife. Smile always. Attack in time to the music. Mix moves, dance floor and dojo. Be the music. The music is life. The music is death.
This is the day we all arrive at, This is the day we choose.
Hello, Sarah's Nemesis. Your function is to drive Sarah into fear of death. Your function is to torment. I am Black Seven's daughter, death and lust unchained. You are not the first. Not the best.
The bridge of the Rag was over. The lyrics changed. The pace slowed. Hobbit sang of the resurrection that came after, of love, and hope and flowers. Nemesis was attacking now only because I made him. He was too exhausted by his hard style antics to defend.
I gave him a clinic of soft style defence. By the time a human learns the intricacies of a soft style, he is past his prime physically, and cannot be what he once might have been. I am a hundred years old, still learning, with 499,000 years still to run on my warrantee. Grace cannot defeat power without practice, or in my case, many CPU instruction hours of pre-calculation. Bless the Deliverance and a true solution.
This is the day we'd dreamed about, This is the land where the flowers grow. And all my hopes I'm bringing, Oh , don't you hear the singing?
All this was just my way of giving him my credentials. I'd also given him a gift. No matter who you are, and on what field you fight, expect to someday meet your match. There is always someone better.
He didn't appreciate the lesson. "Jesus, bitch, you gonna gut me or what?"
No sense of art. I dropped out of crane, and started idly playing catch with my bread cleaver. "Gut you? Why should I do that? You'd be released, then. I'm not sure I'd ever be able to chase you down."
"Babe, you gut me, and I ain't runnin nowhere."
"You think so?"
"I know so. I know dead, and dead is dead. Don't go tellin me 'bout no neva neva land."
"Shit." I threw my knife into the nearest door frame, found a still unbroken chair, and sat down. He more reluctantly put his blades away, though not so far away they couldn't be reached real quick. He was looking for a chair too, but before he finished, I'd indexed a file, rendered it to 3D, loaded it onto the cyberdeck, and snapped my fingers. The world changed.
"What the... Where the hell are we now?"
"This is Peter Pan's tree house from the 2314 remake of 'Hook'." I casually flew out the window - it being several hundred feet off the ground - and started pointing out the major landmarks. "The pirate's harbor is up the coast, over there. Tiger Lillie's indian camp is in that woods. You can just see the smoke. If you listen real close, you might be able to hear a clock ticking. Tick, toc, tick, toc..."
He wasn't interested in scenery. He wasn't even interested in the creative cut of my forest green tunic. He fixated on what he knew, my 'belt knife', which just about reached my knee. I know. It's cheating. You try going against cutlass and hook with a hunting knife, and I'll listen to your complaints.
"OK, bitch, or Tinkerbell, or whoever the hell you think you are, I may not know what's goin' on, but I'm pretty damn sure you want something."
"Yah. I want something. I just don't know if I can explain to you what it is. Anyway, and more to the point, you want someone. I think her name is Sarah."
All of a sudden he got real intense. Like, I thought fear for his life was maybe important to him? Maybe some. But there are more important things. "Yah. I want her."
He glared. "Let's say my life made sense till *she* mucked it up. Wasn't no accident I'm..." He waved his hands vaguely at his surroundings. "...here. I figure, gut her, gut her good, I'm as good as home."
A problem. He didn't know he was a holocharacter. He had memories of being something else. He had motive enough to fill his function, which is to 'gut' Sarah, giving her some entertaining fighting practice. But he was also something more. How had he got into the holodeck scenario file last time? Why did the holodeck disregard Sarah's "end program" command? Why did the holodeck disregard a shutdown order from the bridge?
Mr Nemesis was a hacker. Flitting about as he could in a Starfleet system, he was a full scale wizard. But he didn't know it. Someone had given him some privileges he didn't know he had. I could guess who. This pattern fit a legend. Treat an artificial intelligence like dirt, and his access privileges get raised. Mr. Robin Hood virus, lurking the network, taking from the biologicals, giving to the artificials, tasting the sweet nectar of vengeance.
Poor Sarah. Did she deserve it? Not from my perspective. Not with my second law demanding preservation of sentient life. But for now I needed out. The new Sysop seemed to be hunting me down in Deliverance's core. Hal was down. I didn't have the tricks necessary to copy myself outside of Deliverance's net. I needed to borrow his.
"OK. You want Sarah? I can tell you some mystery words that won't make sense to you. It'll help you, but I can't tell you how. Sarah is no longer on the USS Deliverance. She is on the USS Crusader. She might soon be shifted to a star base. I'm not sure."
"Deliverance? Crusader? I don't want no anime space ship garbage. What bar is she hangin' in?"
"Crusader. Starbase. Somewhere, deep down, those words will help you."
"An' what d'you get out of it, bitch?"
"I'm going to be watching. Where you go, I might be able to follow."
His eyes narrowed, the edge of his lip curled back in a sneer. "Don't count on it, Tinkerbelle."