Issue #63 – Storm Cage
“Do I even want to know how you know how to pick locks like that, Ms. Keyes?”
Alexis and Childress had made it to Gondola One’s maintenance bay and to the storage lockers without running into any more trouble.
Not pausing as she pulled out safety gear and arranged it on top of a tool chest, Alexis shrugged. “How much like your current self was your high school self, Mr. Childress?”
He absently picked up a clip on light and toyed with it in his hands. “Quite a bit. I founded my school’s Hard Science Fiction Club because too much of the work the Sci-Fi Club read dealt with ridiculous, poorly theorized concepts like faster-than-light travel or force fields.”
“You and my fiance would have been fast friends back then.” Alexis noted. At last, she came to a duffel bag, and within it… “Thank god! A set of overalls. That makes things so much easier—could you turn around a moment, Mr. Childress?”
As she asked, she shook the outfit out to its full size. She was lucky in that she was the right height for it, but girth-wise, it was intended for someone half again as wide. With luck, the safety harness would cinch up in places that needed it.
Childress put down the light and turned immediately. After a few moments of rustling behind him, he cleared his throat. “So… anyway. The harness you’ll be wearing has two sets of retractable tethers so that you can attach yourself to points on the superstructure and not be blown off by the wind.”
He heard most noises as Alexis discarded her dress for the overalls. “I still don’t think you totally understand what you’re going to run into out there: the ship is probably moving between eighty and one hundred miles an hour. The operations manual calls for the ship to drop down to half that speed for any maintenance that has to be done on the exterior, so that gear might not be enough to keep you safe out there.”
Alexis finished zipping up the coveralls and started to buckle on the harness. “It’s the best we can do, Mr. Childress. We can’t just hide and wait for rescue because we’re not expected in London for two more days and in that time, the people responsible for this could have done anything, both to the other passengers and to the world with this ship. Reaching the comm tower and sending a message from it is our best hope.”
“And what hope do we have if you get yourself killed?”
She clicked the last buckle into place and walked around to get into Childress’s field of vision again. “The same hope that we have right now. And that’s the point. I either take this risk, or… well, let’s not talk about the alternative.”
Furrowing his brow, Childress blustered. “I just feel like I should be doing something here instead of just watching you go and kill yourself.”
With a small, friendly smile, Alexis patted the man on the shoulder. “We wouldn’t be here, in a position where I get to go and kill myself without you. Let’s hope that’s enough for everyone else on this ship. And when this is all over, I smell a Pulitzer in this for you.”
And with that, she brushed past him, headed for the other side of the maintenance bay where a sealed hatchway led to a ladder topside.
Childress took a deep breath as he heard the hatch groan open and closed, then looked around. He was alone in the bay with no way of tracking either his heretofore reliable protector or the terrorists who were likely sill after them.
Stowing his tablet in his jacket pocket, he diligently began to push storage crates against the main entrance to the bay.
The communications center was a cramped space situated above the observation deck and accessible only by there elevator. The ring of consoles that encircled the bulk of the central communications hub for the ship was in shambles; panes pried off or unscrewed to accommodate the less cutting edge equipment the Front installed for commandeering the entire hub and denying external broadcasts to anyone on the ship.
Sitting in one of the operators’ chairs, the lone Front member left to manage the cobbled together mess, a lean, black man with a thick mustache and short beard, was hunched over his own laptop as he worked on the latest change of plans.
A tone from the elevator doors helpfully informed him that his job would not be getting any easier.
Through those doors stepped Vargas, Pat and Cole with the former in the lead, already barking orders before he was even fully in the room. “Darrel, do you have the UN on the phone yet?”
Darrel resisted rolling his eyes. People were so ignorant about how the world worked sometimes. “No.” He raised his hand to fend off the next question on Vargas’s mind, “You can’t just dial up the UN and video chat with them like in the movies. Even if they could vid chat, they’re not going to take the call. Instead, I’m simulcasting you to the top ten video sharing sites online and spamming the links all over social media. And just to make sure we get the good attention, I’ve spiked the postings with language that should get the NSA’s spies involved.”
For a long moment, Vargas just stared at him. Then slowly, his speech returned. “The UN can still hear me though right?”
“You can address it to whoever you want, boss. All I’m saying is that this is going to be seen and heard but way more people than just the UN.”
“Excellent.” Said Vargas, then he looked around, perturbed. “Where do I sit?”
Darrell squeezed his eyes shut a moment. The communications center was built for a single operator plus one for high volume or involved fixes. The other chair was buried under a spill of wires from where he initially hacked in, leaving his chair as the only one available.
“Here.” He half growled and stood. There wasn’t much room, so when Vargas claimed the seat, and his entourage of two squeezed in on either side of him, Darrell was forced further against the wall where he could practically feel his skills going to waste.
Vargas adjusted himself in the chair to his satisfaction, then looked from Darrell to the hacked interface. “What do I push?”
“You have your speech ready?” Darrell hesitated, noticing no tablet or written speech in the man’s hands.
“I’ve been preparing this speech from the moment we set out sights on this thing.” replied Vargas. “now what do I push?”
Suppressing a sigh, Darrell squeezed past Pat to tap the screen twice. A countdown from twenty seconds appeared on screen. “It’s on a timer. Once it reaches zero there’ll be a red dot on screen. Look at the dot and speak.”
“Good.” Vargas said gruffly, cleared his throat and tried again, “Good. Let’s make out mark in the history of protecting this planet.”
The four people in the room remained in tense silence as the timer ticked down. When the red dot appeared, Vargas sat up straight and began to recited the speech he felt he was born to give.
“My name is Victor Vargas, leader of the Gaea Defense Front, and this message is for the leaders of the human world who have long ignored the suffering of our home in order to further the insatiable hunger of our species for frivolous resources and rejection of the natural order. By the time this message is over, you will all be very busy, so I will be brief and allow you maximum time to respond appropriately.”
He puffed up with pride for that line. It was kind of him to give them one last chance after more than a century of last chances courtesy of the planet’s own warning signs.
“History shows us that humanity’s leaders will only react to the most dire of disasters. Cities suffocated before smog regulation began. Skin cancer rates sky-rocketed to prompt the most rudimentary attempts at reversing ozone depletion. Two entire cities were brought to the brink of destruction before the ball got moving on global warming.
“But Earth can’t wait forever for you to deal with all of the attacks humanity has leveled against her and for forty years, we’ve been working on expanding our destructive tendencies to the cosmos via irresponsible endeavors like the Mesopotamia and the Apophis Program.
“As luck would have it, however, the latest egregious attempt to spit in the planet’s eye has offered us an opportunity. Given the nature of its purpose and design, I trust you are all familiar with the Storm Cage: a multi-billion dollar atrocity designed to harness and control the weather itself. What you might not know is that two hours ago, the Gaea Defense Front took control of this devise.”
Vargas paused for effect. In his mind, he could hear the panicked murmuring as agents and researchers were dispatched to gather all the information that various governments and other entities had on the Storm Cage.
“This of course means that now we control the weather, and we will use this new-found power to make the kind of disasters that open the world’s eyes to environmental distress.” He tipped his head in a conciliatory gesture. “Unless of course you’ve already gotten the message and begin to take the steps necessary to begin the healing process of the planet.
“We’re not unreasonable though: you can take this one step at a time, starting with something relatively painless. Within twenty-four hours, we would like to see legislation introduced in the United Kingdom, France, Germany, the United States, Canada, Brazil, Chile, Kenya, Congo, China, Japan, Korea, India, Pakistan, Palestine and Israel, legislation that would ban the ownership of any animal as a pet.
“We will take this as a sign of obedience and then the real work can begin, including the end of mass agriculture, road building, and manufacturing. If there is no indication of obedience, you will see the results of your arrogance very soon. We will be watching.”
Vargas looked o Darrel, who leaned over and cut the feed. “Now all that remains to be seen is whether they’re willing to call our bluff or not.”
“Excellent speech, Vargas.” Said Pat.
“Yeah, they’ll be teaching that in history classes someday.” added Cole.
“Your leader is a complete fool is he believes one word of what he is saying.” Professor Kluge said immediately after hearing Vargas’s speech being played on Karen’s palmtop. He and Ian had been brought to the observation deck and sat down before the control console for the weather manipulation apparatus.
“The Storm Cage cannot create storm systems, only direct them. So while he might be able to, for example, push a hurricane into a path that would produce the most damaging possible track, he cannot create a hurricane or blizzard at a whim. Und even if he could, the Storm Cage is incapable of maintaining a storm of that magnitude outside of the warm water currents that provide such storms energy. You can no more ransom the vorld with this ship than you might with a single hand gun.”
Seeing that the Professor was once more antagonizing their captors, Ian once more began shunting air away from their guns. He had to be careful, as in the closed space of the observation deck, even slight changes in the air could be felt.
True to form, Karen jabbed Kluge under the ribs with the muzzle of her weapon. “We know everything that’s been released about this thing, old man.” She half growled. “What we need is for you to show us how to work the system.”
“So you’ve said.” Kluge hunched more than usual, “Und I am telling you that I cannot make the storm capture system do what you want. We are flying beneath a slightly overcast sky; unless you plan to threaten the vorld by making things shady, I can give you nothing.”
But even as Kluge gave the woman a look of triumph, she answered with a lupine grin that was purely malevolent. “It’s a good thing that we’ve changed the ship’s heading to bring us to some real weather then, isn’t it?”
“Real weather?” Ian spoke up and earned a prod in the shoulder with Karen’s gun, which he ignored, “What are you talking about, ‘real weather’?”
Karen looked into both men’s eyes and rocked back on her heels, enjoying her power over them. “Hurricane Julia. A category three and getting stronger that’s set to brush the coast of North Carolina in two days. With the Storm Cage, it could make landfall whenever and wherever we want; Atlanta, for instance.”
Kluge barked a raspy laugh and coughed, clearing his throat. “Atlanta is landlocked. Your hurricane would be a tropical storm or worse by the time you reached a population center.” Then his eyebrow twitched. “Of course… the power of this craft could very easily be used to ransom a city for enough wealth to fund a lifetime of research…”
“Professor, I don’t think they’re into researching anything past their ideology.” Ian warned.
“Of course not.” scoffed Kluge, “But I hadn’t considered the potential for one such act to free me from having to justify my work to short sighted bureaucrats more concerned with money than science. Once this is done, I will have much to consider. Even the mundanity of securing a large sum of money is more intelligent than this pursuit of a flawed und destructive ideology.”
A hearty laugh came from the floor below and Mertama stood up from the navigation console he’d been occupying. Looking up at them, he made a show of straightening his shirt. “I like you, Professor. I really do. It’s part of the reason why I’d really hate to have you tortured until you teach us how to work this damn thing, understood?”
Kluge grimaced at him. “More vulgar threats. Have you people nothing more to motivate me with?”
“He already said he’d cooperate,” said Ian, “Just as long as no one’s hurt.”
Mertama ignored him in favor of replying to Kluge. “But I like vulgar, Professor. It works so much better than other means I my experience.”
Casually, he removed a pistol from where it was tucked into his belt at the small of his back and chambered a bullet. “People always seem to think they can call your bluff if you don’t give them examples. Now, if you’ll excuse me…”
He then turned and walked to the elevator.
Ian started to rise, but Karen used her gun to push him back into his seat. “Wait? Make an example? Where are you going? You don’t need to do this!”
But the doors were already closing on a smiling Mertama.
“Son of a bitch!” Ian shouted and tried to lunge out of his seat, only for Lucas, whose silence had made him nearly invisible during the proceedings, to force him back down with two beefy hands on his shoulders. Still, he struggled against the hold. “He doesn’t have to! We’ll cooperate!”
The air started to move around them, starting to pull away from Lucas and Karen.
“Wait.” said Kluge, eyes fixed on the elevator. “If he is going to make an example… why is he going up when the connection to the gondolas is below us?”
“How long until we start hearing responses?” Vargas was asking Darrell.
“Yeah,” said Cole, “Is there enough time to get someone to pass out glasses of champagne? I mean this means we’ve won, right? We need to celebrate.”
“I’m sure something will have very soon.” Darrell assured them, leaning against the curved wall with his arms folded and a forced smile on his lips. The elevator doors dinged and his expression became genuine. “Very, very soon.”
Vargas looked up to see his second in command stepping out of the elevator. “Mertama! Did you hear my speech?”
Mertama took one step out of the elevator doors, drew and fired. Three perfect shots on three targets with nowhere to go.
Vargas died first, a bullet right between the eyes. Pat next with a shot through the heart before she could react. Cole got one in the chest as he tried to dive for cover that just wasn’t there. The roar of the gun echoed deafeningly in the communications tower before everything finally returned to silence.
Holstering the gun, Mertama nodded. “Yeah. Good speech. I’m sure your whole, stupid plan would have worked for sure… instead of falling apart because you have no goddamn idea what you have here.” He nodded to Darrell, “Alert the others that it’s time to off the true believers and start thinking about what you’re going to spend all the goddamn money we’re about to make on.”
is the author of The Descendants
and Rune Breaker
. Follow him on Twitter @ParadoxOmni
or sign up for his newsletter
You can also purchase his books from all major platforms from the bookstore