Stealing a Starship
Barton Paul Levenson
It was the one thing Itsumi coveted most. "Look at her lines, Danny!" he breathed.
Danny sighed. Once again, his friend was obsessed with a pretty starship.
Danny worked as a starship assembler for Raketenflugplatz Corporation, on the corporate-run colony planet Slack II. Six months ago, he had signed in to work and looked up to see the supervisor.
The supervisor, more than three meters tall, loomed high over Danny. Bronze in color, weighing more than a ton, it looked at him with red, glowing eyes. "Mister Hardesty. Your co-worker, Mister Peltier, reached the mandatory retirement age over the weekend. He has been transferred to a Senior Community."
Danny hadn't known Armand Peltier was ninety. He looked younger. They had worked together since Danny joined the company three years earlier. "Do you... have his address?"
"Raketenflugplatz Corporation does not volunteer personal information about its employees or former employees. Your new co-worker will be Mister Kakinohchi." The supervisor abruptly wheeled away down the corridor.
It would be stupid, Danny knew, to resent his new co-worker. He sighed, took the stairs to the factory floor, and walked to his workstation.
"Mister" Kakinohchi turned out to be Danny's age, perhaps a little older. He stood in front of his console looking sheepish. "Um. Hi," he said. "Um... How do I... Get in this thing, exactly?"
Danny's resentment vanished. The kid looked okay.
"Watch me," Danny told him. He took hold of his interface cable and drew it out of his own console. "You grip it like this... and plug into your BIP."
"Biomedical Interface Port. That thing they put in your neck. Didn't they teach you anything?" Danny plugged the cable into the back of his neck and sat down in his chair. He got into a comfortable position and held his hand over the big, red, mushroom-shaped button. "This plugs you in," he said. He brought his hand down sharply.
Now he was only vaguely aware of his body. He had over a hundred bodies, metal bodies with multiple arms, arranged along assembly lines 17 and 18. The lines started up and Danny got to work. The workroom faded out entirely.
He didn't regain normal consciousness until noon, when the workers got fifteen minutes for lunch. He came to and looked to his left. His new coworker was opening an ornate little cardboard box. "Did you see those things? Those Valkyrie C-54s? Aren't they beautiful? Those things are crazy maneuverable. They can turn on a dime at 85 g." He took out chopsticks. "Itadakimas'." He began picking up one small item after another and popping it into his mouth. "What do you have for lunch?"
Danny had run out of money earlier that week. "I'm skipping it today."
"Huh? You can't do that, you'll faint. Blood sugar. Then you'll lose your job."
"I'll be okay."
"What's the matter? Broke?"
Danny looked away.
"Look, have some of mine."
"That's all right," Danny said, faintly embarrassed. He looked at the box and the chopsticks. "Besides, I don't know how to use those things."
"Well, I do." Itsumi drew out a little dried, peppered plum and extended it toward Danny. "Open the docking bay! Here comes the starship!"
"Um... I'm a little old for-"
"It's delicious! See?" Itsumi pretended to nibble the plum. "Nummy num num! Now open wide!"
Danny cracked up despite himself. "Come on, cut it out."
"Then eat something."
Danny let Itsumi feed him.
"Where you stayin'?" Itsumi asked when the shift was over that night.
"Oh, man. That sucks."
"Tell me about it." Danny hated the dorms.
"How long've you been here?"
"How much do you make?"
"You're not supposed to compare salaries."
"That's the rule?"
"That's the rule."
"And you care? I'm new here, I make point four five an hour, which is 6.30 a day and 37.80 a week. They said I'd get regular raises."
"You will," Danny said tiredly. "I'm making point five one an hour now. Forty-two eighty-four a week."
"Oh, crap. That's not much."
"Together, it's 80.64 a week, which is 322.56 a month," Itsumi said.
"What are you, a lightning calculator?"
"Yeah, actually. Fat lot of good it ever did me. Look, with three twenty a month, we could get a room at Grundorf Flats. I'm pretty sure they advertised a starter at one fifty."
Danny had been about to enter the stairwell - workers weren't allowed to use the levitators. He froze. "Are you serious?"
"Sure. You want to get out of the dorms, don't you?"
"Anybody ever offer to partner with you before?"
"You want to, or not?"
Itsumi put his arms around Danny and gave him a long French kiss. Apparently he liked guys.
Fine. Danny was ready to do whatever he had to get out of the dorms.
And the kiss felt good. When Danny fantasized, it was usually about girls - but not always. He kissed Itsumi back.
To Danny, assembling starship parts was just a job; something to do to avoid starving to death on the corporate planet. But Itsumi loved starships. He babbled about them incessantly. For a while his enthusiasm annoyed Danny, but now he saw it as Itsumi's coping mechanism, and didn't begrudge him the obsession.
The starship that presently occupied his attention was tiny, as starships went. It was no more than ten meters long and three wide, though the wings folded up near the tail promised a fair wingspan for atmospheric flight. Its color was the bright red of nail polish, except for the bluish observation blister at the front. The name on the side, in lavender, cursive letters, was Violet Dawn.
It rested in a small parking bay in the Raketenflugplatz Space Facility. In addition to manufacturing starships, the huge industrial complex provided a small landing field and space port, plus a hotel and parking bays for wealthy tourists. The enclosing dome of the parking bays arched high over their heads. A faint ozone smell of electricity was just noticeable. The PA system played classical music. Danny didn't know any of the composers, but liked the music anyway.
"Yeah, Itsumi-kun," Danny said. "It's pretty. It prob'ly costs about two, three million. You'll never be inside one, so let's get home, okay? I could use some supper."
"See those little things like bells on the end?" Itsumi said dreamily. "Those are Kasumi 5-10 nozzles. Fusion nozzles, not chemical crap. This thing doesn't just jump through hyperspace and get on and off planets. It's got rockets - real rockets, spaceship engines. I'll bet it can accelerate like a demon. And the bulges near the back, two on each side? Saarinen A12 impellers. This thing can go through hyperspace without making the people on board sick. Blip in, blip out. And those little panels? Those are-"
"Those are Ilyakov-Scheinberg 6003 series model 6 environmental feed-in units," Danny said dryly. "Each one can suck in a kilogram per second of ambient air at one bar and transmute it to whatever the people inside need to breathe."
"Uh, yeah... Sorry, I got carried away again."
"Before I go... Let me just touch it." Itsumi moved toward the stairway down into the shallow pit that held the red starship.
"Huh? What? Itsumi-kun, are you out of your mind? You'll set off an alarm!"
"Oh." Itsumi stopped. "Yeah, I guess I would, wouldn't I. Well... I know. I'll ask the owner first."
"You can't do that! He's an owner! We're workers! Don't be a jackass!"
"Oh, it'll be all right, Danny. You worry too much." Itsumi went down to the airlock and put a hand on the scan plate. "Hi! Kakinohchi Itsumi here. Can I ask you something?"
In seconds, the outer door slid open. A tall, overweight man of fifty or sixty stood there, gray hair at his temples and on his chest, a hastily-thrown-on bathrobe wrapped around him. "What the hell are you doing?"
Itsumi looked flabbergasted. "I... I'm sorry, sir, I really didn't mean any harm. I just-"
"Get your prole hands off my ship!"
Itsumi jerked his hand away from the scan plate as if it were red hot. "I... I just wanted to ask-"
"I don't care what you just wanted to ask. This ship is private property, this bay is private property, and if you don't stay the hell away from both I'll call security and have you thrown in jail, if not tanked! Move it! Off my stairway!"
"Yes, sir." Itsumi turned and walked back onto the platform. He turned one last time. "I'm... I'm sorry." He bowed.
"You'll be sorrier if I catch you near here again. Prole!" The man stepped back. The airlock door slid noiselessly shut.
Itsumi wordlessly joined Danny again. Danny saw tears in his eyes.
In bed that night, Itsumi asked, "What does 'prole' mean?"
Both were naked, but that was normal for workers. Each owned only one garment - the light-blue jumpsuit granted them by Raketenflugplatz Corporation. Since they only got one new one a year, they used them as little as possible.
Danny got up on one elbow to look at Itsumi. If starships were Itsumi's great love, history was Danny's. "Means a worker."
"Well, why didn't he just say that?"
Danny said nothing.
"It's a pejorative, isn't it?"
"Why? What does it mean?" He turned to face Danny. "Tell me!"
Danny shrugged. "Short for 'proletariat,' the Marxist term for the working class. It's from a famous fuel-age novel. A dystopia. The proles were the working class, the Party was the ruling class, and the Party looked down on the proles. It was irony. Marxists are supposed to be pro-worker."
Itsumi huffed angrily and turned away. "He didn't have to be like that. I didn't hurt his stupid ship. All I did was touch the plate. How else do you tell someone you're there?"
"Yeah, well, some people are very class-conscious."
Itsumi lay back again, and now he was smiling. Danny felt uneasy. He had seen that smile just once before.
A gang of street thugs had cornered them in an alley, intent on robbery, rape, or just beating them up. There were five assailants, and when their leader said, "Hi, kids! Let's see what you're made of!" Itsumi had given him that smile.
Seconds later, all five toughs lay on the ground groaning, with smashed noses, dislocated kneecaps, or other injuries. Danny had wondered where Itsumi had learned martial arts, but you didn't ask about someone's past. It wasn't done. Lovers or spouses could get away with it, but at the time he hadn't known Itsumi long.
"Itsumi-kun, you've got that look."
Itsumi nodded. "Yeah. I know."
"Don't do anything stupid."
"How much do you like Slack II?"
"Huh?" The question seemed out of nowhere. "Uh, it's where I live."
"That wasn't what I asked."
Danny shrugged. "What choice have I got? It's not like I could afford a ticket to Polyphemus or the Freedom Federation. And besides, life is probably just as hard there as it is here, whatever their propaganda says."
"That line is propaganda, Danikins. Slack II propaganda."
"Don't call me Danikins, okay?"
Itsumi touched his face. "Aw, don't be mad, little Danikins, little cutie Danny baby-"
"Goddamn it, Itsumi!"
The two wrestled. Itsumi captured Danny and began kissing his face. "Sweetheart... Love... Baby..."
Danny felt himself respond. Itsumi was already there. But Danny kept his mind on the subject. "Itsumi, what are you gonna do? Don't do anything stupid-"
"Do I strike you as stupid?"
"I'm gonna steal that starship."
"WHAT?" Danny lost his erection entirely. "Itsumi, are you out of your fucking mind? You're a WORKER! It's a STARSHIP! That guy is an OWNER! You've got no resources, there's security precautions everywhere - you know what they'll do to you when they catch you? They won't even try you, Itsumi-kun, they'll just tank you." To be tanked meant to be put in a drug coma and either disassembled for transplants or put to work as a biochemical factory. No one survived being tanked.
"Watch me," Itsumi said. "Two days, three days, and that starship will be mine. And then we're getting out of here."
Danny growled, and the growl turned into a roar. He wrenched free of Itsumi's arms, sat up, and slapped his face.
Itsumi's expression became cold. "What was that for?"
"You're the best thing that ever happened to me," Danny said. "'I never dreamed of such happiness when I was an ugly duckling.' And you want to throw it away? You want to leave me alone? Without your income I'll have to move back into the dorms. And be alone for the rest of my life. God damn it, I love you!" Danny's vision blurred with tears. "Don't you dare leave me! Don't you dare! "
Itsumi sighed. He sat up and put his arms around Danny again. "Have I ever let you down?"
Danny shook his head, not trusting himself to talk.
"I said it would be you and me forever. I wasn't lying, Danny."
"Itsumi," Danny managed to choke out. "You're smart. You're nice. You know martial arts. But you do not have the skills or resources to steal a starship. Please don't do this."
"Do you trust me?"
"Do you trust me?"
Danny didn't know what to say for a long time. Finally, he nodded.
"All righty, then." He added, "Don't hit me again, okay? It's domestic abuse."
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry I hurt you. I was mad."
An hour into work the next day, the lines had their first autoshutdown. The assembly process was complex enough that things could go wrong, and when that happened, the lines stopped until the problem was found. Usually it was something in the software.
While the trace and reprogramming happened, the workers sat idle. Some of the more adventurous ones surfed the TwoWeb, seeing as how they were already in cyberspace. The smart ones did it in short bursts, so they could get right back to work when the line started up again. The dumb ones got caught and docked pay. Someone who got caught three times was fired.
Danny was too cautious to surf. He waited patiently.
Itsumi appeared in front of him, floating above assembly line 18 - a TwoWeb proxy, since a human being couldn't survive on the factory floor. "Yo. Danny-chan."
"Hey, Itsumi-kun, don't get caught surfing."
"I'm not surfing. I'm hacking." Itsumi changed into a human-sized document page. "Violet Dawn is two years old. It was a specialty build for Rep Sean Liam Toomey, Vice President for Political Engagement."
"He's a Rep? And you hacked his docs? Itsumi, you're gonna die!" Reps were the representatives each large corporation sent to the State Corporate Board in the Public Interest, the closest thing Slack II had to a government.
"No, I won't. Whoops, looks like things are starting up again."
"What are we waiting for?" Danny asked. They loitered on one of the ring balconies overlooking the starship parking bays. Almost all the starships were bigger than Violet Dawn, their noses (if standing on their tails) or top levels (if lying flat) well above their heads.
Itsumi didn't answer. Danny waited patiently. It was something he was good at.
"Time check?" Itsumi said after a while.
"Almost ten." The day shift started work at 6:30 in the morning and got off at 9:00 PM. The workers got fifteen minute breaks for lunch and supper.
"That." Itsumi pointed. "That's what we're waiting for." A ground car pulled up next to Violet Dawn - a limo, with tinted windows and the usual corporate logo on the doors and roof. Danny recognized the Raketenflugplatz symbol. He (and everyone else working there) had memorized the corporate slogan on the logo. Raketenflugplatz Korporation - Arbeiten fur eine beBer Morgen heute!
A uniformed man got out of the limo. He stood beside the door as it folded upward. Violet Dawn's airlock opened. Rep Toomey came out, in a formal business suit. A much younger woman in a striking, bright-red dress hung on his arm.
"Guy really likes red," Itsumi muttered.
The couple got in the limo. The guard waited while the door closed, then got in himself. The limo pulled away.
"Now," Itsumi said.
"What're you gonna do?" Danny asked.
They found the stairs and made their way down to the floor. Itsumi made a beeline for Violet Dawn, Danny nervously trailing him.
"What're you gonna do? You can't stand outside his airlock and hack the door plate. There's no way into the operating system from outside a ship."
"Unless I already did it," Itsumi said. He put his hand up to the plate. The airlock shifted open. No alarm went off.
He turned, smiling at Danny. "Come on, Danikins."
"Don't call me Danikins," Danny said automatically. He went into the ship.
Violet Dawn had a one-room interior - but what a room! Pilot station, engineering station, bed, bathroom, galley, all arranged around the walls, with a long, low algae tank dominating the center. But the chairs were thickly upholstered, the bed a waterbed with a mirror ceiling above it, the decor indigo with gold chasing.
"This is fit for a president," Danny breathed.
"Stop sightseeing and strap in."
Danny sat in the copilot's seat. It suddenly occurred to him: "Itsumi, you can't fly this thing?"
His lover grinned at him again. "Wanna bet?"
Danny shook his head. "You know martial arts - you have to be a black belt, if not black-and-red, or something even higher. You can hack the docs at Raketenflugplatz Corporation. You can fly a starship. And you're eighteen years old?"
"Itsumi, they don't even teach workers that stuff. And there's only so much you can learn off the TwoWeb, which, in case you haven't noticed, is censored out the ass. I taught myself history because they don't tamper much with history, except Slack II history. But the professional courses..."
Itsumi waggled his eyebrows.
"Who the hell are you, Itsumi-kun?"
"Oh, now you're asking about my past? Bad form, old buddy."
"Fuck bad form. I have the right to know. And you're gonna tell me, or so help me cause I'm gonna punch your lights out." This was an entirely idle threat; in any fair fight Itsumi could render Danny helpless in seconds.
"I'll tell you after we get out of here," Itsumi said, suddenly looking serious. "If we do." He turned to the controls. "Vi. Voice reprogram. All commands from the voice you hear now."
"Yes, Master Sean," the ship said.
Danny and Itsumi looked at one another for a moment. Itsumi held a wry grin. Danny rolled his eyes.
Itsumi said, "Emergency launch at once. Full manual control. My authority."
"Understood, Master Sean. Parking bay process control engaged."
The dome high overhead began rotating. The ship was soundproofed, but Danny imagined all hell breaking loose in the complex. He put on the headphones. "Hey, Itsumi-kun, can you give me outside pickup?"
Itsumi leaned over and tapped keys rapidly. Danny heard a whooping siren. A public announcement system voice said, "-GRESS. REPEAT, DO NOT APPROACH THE WALLS OF THE DOME. AN EMERGENCY LAUNCH IS IN PROGRESS." He heard yelling and running feet.
Another voice spoke: "Rep Toomey, this is RCLF Traffic. Why are you launching?"
Itsumi said, "Vi, when Traffic hears me, let them hear my old voice."
"Yes, Master Sean."
Itsumi said, "I'm doing this on my own authority, Traffic, and believe me, it's necessary! The firm is in danger, the board is in danger, and if I'm very lucky I may be able to do something about it before the situation gets out of hand! Now don't fuck with me!"
"No, Rep Toomey, of course not, sir. Of course not. Anything we can do-"
"Clear any conflicting flight plans. Inform Security that I'm not a threat and this is supposed to be happening."
"And tell security to arrest the guy who just walked out of Violet Dawn a few minutes ago and got into my limo with my girl. He's a fake. Don't believe anything he says, don't believe any ID he produces. Scan everything thoroughly. And I mean everything. And assume he's armed - armed and extremely dangerous."
"Yes, sir! Right away, sir!"
"I'm going to hang up now. Don't bother me until I call you back."
Itsumi pressed a key.
Danny cracked up. "I don't believe you. That was great!"
Itsumi smiled slightly and nodded. "Yeah, well, we haven't won yet."
When the dome stopped rotating, a square portion straight ahead slid out of sight. Danny saw night sky beyond.
Itsumi extended the wings a bit, enough to clear paths for the fans. He started them up. Violet Dawn lifted and flew toward the exit.
"This great!" Danny said.
"Strap in, you dumb fuck!"
"Oh. Right. Sorry." Danny put on the launch restraints. They were thicker and safer than straps, but the process was still called 'strapping in.' Itsumi had already done it, though being the pilot, his head and arms were somewhat free.
They whooshed out of the dome. Itsumi turned the nose up. "Prepare for g-force," he told Danny.
"Doesn't this thing have compensators?"
"Sure it does. About a hundred to one, and I'm taking it up at 312 g."
"Three g. Right." Danny got ready.
Violet Dawn took off into the sky. After a while, Itsumi said, "Elapsed time ninety seconds. We're out of the troposphere, into the stratosphere."
"Cool!" Danny choked out. He felt like a bunch of people were lying on top of him. He was short of breath, heavier than he had ever been, and weak as a kitten. But he wanted to be supportive.
A voice out of nowhere: "Violet Dawn, land at once. We will give you coordinates."
A second voice: "Bogey, this is Raketenflugplatz Traffic. Do not interfere with Violet Dawn or we will shoot you out of the sky, do you copy?"
"Traffic, this is Security Team Leader, Morgenhammer Corporation. Your pilot's a fake. We're trying to save your multi-million dollar ship for you. But hey, if you want us to back off, say the word. It's your ship, and Morgenhammer certainly respects private property."
Oh, crap. Now Danny felt fear along with discomfort. They were going to die.
After a pause, Traffic said, "Morgenhammer, what would you get out of rescuing our ship?"
"Recovery, towing, storage, and transportation fees, of course. Maintaining the law neither of us wants to see some damn worker casually break. Plus if we do you guys a favor, you owe us one."
"Please stand by, Morgenhammer."
"Itsumi... Itsumi-kun... What'll we do?" Danny said.
"Wait," Itsumi said. "We may still get out of this alive."
"You're 'some damn worker...' Itsumi. Just... 'some damn worker.' They'll... shoot us... as soon as they... pull us out of here."
"They have to catch us first."
"Morgenhammer, my instructions are to let you proceed, but only on condition that you not reverse engineer or in any other way compromise proprietary information relative to Violet Dawn. If you don't immediately send the ship back after you ground it, we'll take it as a hostile act. Do you agree?"
"Oh, shit," Danny said. "Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit..."
"Traffic, no problem. We're trying to improve relations between Morgenhammer and Raketenflugplatz, not make them worse."
"You are go to proceed, Morgenhammer."
"Oh, shit, Itsumi... What'll we do? What'll we...?"
"Shut up," Itsumi said. "I have to maneuver. Get ready for a lot worse g-force."
"Oh, crap." He added, "Itsumi, if we don't... make it through this..." It'll be YOUR FAULT, you fucking psycho! I told you not to do this!
No. No. Itsumi was very competent; he couldn't have foreseen another company, let alone a rival like Morgenhammer, being in place to intercept them. And he loved Danny. Danny was sure of it. Itsumi had to be feeling just as bad about this as he was.
"I love you," Danny said.
"I love you too, Danny-kun," Itsumi said softly.
The ship lurched, spun, and sped off at what must have been a thousand g. With the weight of nine men piled on his chest, Danny blacked out.
He came to in his seat, groggy, in pain. The restraints had automatically withdrawn. The chair was just a plushly upholstered chair again. "Where... are... we?"
Itsumi answered, "Are you okay, buddy? Tell me you're okay!"
"I'm, I'm okay. I think I'm okay. I'm not bleeding or anything. Hell of a headache, though."
"We'll get you taken care of."
"Where are we?"
"Proprietary space facility L-10A."
"Danny, it'll be all right."
Danny closed his eyes, despairing. "You can't talk your way out of this one, Itsumi-kun. No way. When that airlock opens, Morgenhammer cops are coming in here and we are gonna die. Are you religious or anything? Better pray now."
The airlock door slid open. Danny opened his eyes, unwilling to die without seeing it happen. He and Itsumi turned their chairs counterclockwise to face the airlock.
A dark-haired young woman in security uniform came into the cabin. She extended a hand to Itsumi. "Lieutenant, congratulations on a superb job. There's no way you're coming out of this without a commendation."
"WHAT? You WORK for Morgenhammer?" Danny said.
"Well, of course," Itsumi said.
"You... You lying bastard!"
"I never lied to you, Danny. I just didn't volunteer information."
"I thought we were gonna die!"
"I told you to trust me."
Danny thought about it. "We may still die. You heard what Traffic said. Morgenhammer has to turn the ship over right away. They'll want some proof we were executed, or they'll want to tank us themselves."
"He doesn't know, I take it," the security cop said.
Itsumi shook his head.
The woman gestured, turning and leaving. Itsumi followed, Danny on his heels.
They stood on a desert plain under a clear blue sky. The cop pointed up. Danny looked.
A single gray-white cloud floated high overhead, a puff of smoke like an explosion. Arms of smoke jutted off from it in several directions.
"Itsumi-kun tried to escape at the last minute," the cop said. "The flight team warned him, and one caught up to force him down. The crazy bastard blew the engines. Violet Dawn was destroyed, along with a Morgenhammer fighter and its pilot."
Danny was silent.
"Any thoughts?" Itsumi asked.
"You guys must've planned this a long time."
"Well, three years. Since we heard Toomey was having a special ship built."
"How old are you, Itsumi-kun?"
"Eighteen, like I told you. Although my birthday's coming up in a few months."
"How did you learn all that shit so fast? Hacking, martial arts, piloting?"
"I'm a bion," Itsumi said. An organic robot, bioengineered from human tissue and exquisitely designed artificial genes. "I've been flying spaceships since I was eight."
They entered the office marked VICE PRESIDENT FOR SPECIAL OPERATIONS. The immense desk ahead of them had a small, plain sign on it: MR. BAIRD. Itsumi walked up to the desk and saluted. Danny clumsily copied him.
"Itsumi, that was one classy operation," the middle-aged man behind the desk said. "Morgenhammer is damn proud of you today, and so am I."
"Thank you, sir."
"You've got a promotion coming, plus a few other things."
Itsumi grinned. "Thanks. I appreciate it. Can I ask one more favor?"
"Today you can."
"This is my friend, Danny. I'd like him to move into my room with me."
Mr. Baird sighed. "Don't push your luck, Itsumi-bozu. We'll tell you who you can have for friends. If it's sex you want, dial one of the company whores; I'll authorize it. You don't need some damn guttersnipe from the factories for your roommate."
Itsumi hesitated. "Sir, I love him."
"Yeah, I'm sure. Bion love. Go to your room, Itsumi. There'll be a ceremony later tonight."
"Sir, what about-"
"We won't mistreat him, Itsumi. We'll put him to work for us. Experienced assembler, right?"
"Yes, sir, but-"
"Enough. I'm done talking. Get out."
Itsumi hesitated one second. Then: "Yes, sir." He turned and headed for the door.
A manager's word was law. Danny glumly walked after Itsumi. In the hall outside, he burst into tears. "You said forever," he said, in a voice he thought too quiet for Itsumi to hear.
But Itsumi heard it. Of course. He's a bion. Extended senses. He came and put his arms around Danny.
"Do you really love me, Itsumi-kun? Can you love me?"
"You stupid bastard," Itsumi said. "What do you think?"
"How did I ever fit into this plan? Why did you even involve me?"
"You didn't. I was supposed to do everything on my own, alone. I involved you because... Because you were nice to me even though you had good cause to resent me. You were modest. Reluctant to exploit others. And," and he pressed Danny hard to himself, "You were so incredibly cute I wanted to fuck you right on the spot. Had to have you. I fell in love with you later, but not much later. I love you and I will not let you down."
In the hangar, in formal dress, Itsumi and a group of Morgenhammer Corporation dignitaries beheld Violet Dawn. "Beautiful ship," someone said.
As they watched, the airlock door opened. Danny stood in the hatchway. He waved.
Someone cleared his throat. "Itsumi-kun, isn't that your buddy from Raketenflugplatz? What the hell is he doing in there?"
"I'd better find out," Itsumi said. "Call security." He sprinted across the hangar floor. Danny fled into the ship. Itsumi came after him. The airlock closed.
"Strap in, baby," Itsumi said.
In space, half an AU from Slack II, Danny luxuriated in half-g artificial gravity.
"From here, there are only three countries we can get into," Itsumi said. "By countries, I mean interstellar governments."
"First, the Anti-Redemptionist League."
"I'm not insane, Itsumi-kun."
"I know, I just included it for completeness. The other two are Polyphemus and the Freedom Federation. The first is a kind of benign fascist welfare state. The second is corporatist, kind of like Slack II, but a hell of a lot nicer to live in, and in theory everybody's equal there. Which appeals to you?"
"Let's flip a coin."