Conscience Bound

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A smuggler desperately tries to stick to her morals as she works a morally corrupt task of interplanetary human trafficking.

Submitted: December 16, 2012

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Submitted: December 16, 2012

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Conscience Bound

Lin awoke in a mess of damp sheets.  She glanced over to her left to see her lover snoring away.  She rubbed the shaved side of her head, running her fingers of the velveteen stubble as she looked around the small, dark apartment.  Clothes, pizza boxes and various electronic cords were strewn about, barely visible thanks to the pale city light leaking through the single window on the far side of the room.  It was time to go and somewhere in this clutter were her clothes.  She had her fun, and she knew it was best to leave before having to say goodbye.  If she didn’t get back the shipping dock in an hour she’d have to pay for another 24-hour cycle.  Desmond understood the situation, that’s why Lin bothered to keep coming back.  He was compatible.

Before she got dressed, though, she had to use the toilet.  Fortunately, her underwear was still in the sink from last night.  Lin found her frayed jeans at the foot of the mattress, and her shirt was draped over the table in the kitchenette.  Gradually, Lin clothed herself, concluding by slipping on her boots and strapping on her gun holster.  Desmond was never very fond of the gun, he thought it just attracted trouble, but he just didn’t understand.  With or without a gun, trouble still came.  Lin patted her pants pockets and scanned the room one final time, making sure she had everything she came with.

Something was missing.

Dropping to her hands and knees, Lin began to comb through every beer can and dirty sock, retracing her steps throughout the entire apartment.  Using her handy-computer as a flashlight, she crawled around until finally she felt a cooling wave of relief settle her simmering anxiety.  Hiding under the folds of Desmond’s boxers Lin found her bracelet.  It was a delicate thing.  A silver chain decorated with stars and crescent moons.  It was never intended for the lifestyle Lin adopted, but rather what her mom was hoping she’d become.  Lin strapped the bracelet on, wriggled her wrist, checking that it was securely fashioned, and switched off her flashlight.  Once again in darkness, the pale glow of the city lights outside attracted Lin to the window.

The enclosed metallic jungle of Station Epsilon VI was not known for its wholesomeness, but Lin had seen worse.  Her job often sent her to the middle of Martian deserts, and the cold, dark ghost colonies on the moon of Miranda.  The flood lights lit the streets and walkways, trying to bring illumination to a city drifting in perpetual night.

“Hey, cutie,” said a prostitute standing on the side of the street.  She was petite, almost as petite as Lin, but her skin had been dyed an exotic blue, and her breasts were significantly altered.  It had been a while since Lin had been with another girl, but she knew better than to pick up one of these off the street.

“Sorry,” Lin said.  “No money.”

The girl’s beckoning charms vanished.  She crossed her arms and redirected her gaze, searching for someone else.

Lin snickered quietly at the girl’s honest reaction.  Work was work.  The girl had her agenda and Lin had hers, and that thought reminded Lin that she was on the clock.  She decided to jog the rest of the way to the docking bay.

With seven minutes to spare, Lin arrived in the caverns of the Epsilon VI docking bay, a place that reeked of fumes, and had a slightly higher than healthy level of radiation.  On the far end of the dock was the Zheng He, a ship of stark ugliness.  So dented and discolored, no one other than its owner would want to touch it, just as Lin intended.  Keeping a low profile was paramount in Lin’s business.  Being a delivery girl of sorts, she would have Hell to pay if she lost both her ship and her cargo.

“Welcome back onboard, Captain Yu,” chimed Zheng He’s computerized voice.  “Did you have an enjoyable time with Desmond?”

Lin trudged over to the captain’s chair and plopped down, spinning around a couple times.  Before she could respond to her ship’s computer, a long yawn escaped her mouth.  “It was alright.  Just wish I could spend a little more time with him, you know?”

“I understand it must be an inconvenience, but my calendar indicates we have a very important rendezvous to keep.”

“I know.  I marked it down on your calendar, duh.”  Lin stretched her hands out in front of her and a series of bright chromatic, holographic control panels blinked into existence just under her fingertips.  Her hands darted back and forth across the display and within seconds the humming of activated engines coursed through the ship.

“I just thought you would like a reminder.  You have almost gotten us obliterated for your tardiness on the job.”

Lin rolled her eyes.  “You know, I really don’t need you of all people getting on my case right now.”

“But, I’m not a person, captain.”

“You know what I mean.”

Lin raised the Zheng He into the air, just stopping short of crashing into the ceiling, rotated it a hundred and eighty degrees and made her way to the airlock.  The holographic control panel beeped.  The scanning had begun.  The hairs on the back of Lin’s neck started to perk up.  Even though her ship had been scrutinized by security scanners arriving and departing docking bays a hundred times without ever detecting her hidden compartments, she didn’t exactly have a plan for if or when they were discovered.  She was a smuggler, not a pirate.  Her job would become a lot harder if it suddenly became impossible to enter any civilized space.  She looked at her bracelet to distract herself; a graduation present from her mother.  Only two years ago she had been planning to go to medical school after a stunning completion of her pre-med courses.  The recollection of her family’s proud smiling faces amidst her own vacant boredom almost made her laugh.

What a bunch of idiots.

Did no one really notice?  Or did they all just ignore it?  The signs had been pretty obvious from the start.  Lin never wanted to go into medicine, and so overnight, she went from family jewel to family pariah.  She bought the first affordable junker she could find and fled Earth without so much as ever driving a car.  Lin had to admit it took a bit of luck to keep her from dying the first few months on her own, on the frontier, with no job, dwindling money, and barely competent navigation or piloting skills.  Two years later she still faced the money issue.  At least as a doctor the bills wouldn’t be an issue, she mused, imagining herself in a white lab coat and neatly pruned hair.  A hunky lawyer husband would make the perfect accessory to her imagined self that could have been.

Another beep chirped from the control panel, sending a cool tingle of relief through Lin’s body.  She passed the security scan without a hitch.  Doors grinded shut behind her ship, and a pair opened before her, revealing the infinite void of deep dark space.  Lin’s fingers danced on the hologram panels again and the Zheng He roared off into the abyss.

“Shall I set a course for Callisto?” the computer said.

“Yeah, get on with it.”  Lin leaned back, silently thanking herself for upgrading her ship’s auto-navigation.  Most of her money went to ship improvements since it was pretty much the only thing keeping her alive.  Zheng He was Lin’s husband now, basically.  She took care of it and it took care of her, but just barely.  It wasn’t like the ship could produce food, medical supplies, or alcohol, and the spare change left over from upgrades and repairs could usually only cover one of those things at a time.  Lin reached under her seat and pulled out a flask.  The night with Desmond aside, tomato juice had been Lin’s breakfast, lunch and dinner for the past two days.  It was thirst-quenching, and nutritious, a highly underrated emergency food source, Lin thought.  The roaring engines began to grow louder, rattling the ship as it travelled through a path of distorted time and space crinkled by a tiny black hole in the heart of the Zheng He.

“We will be arriving at Callisto in about one Earth standard week,” the computer said.

When Lin was young she had a misconception of the ease of space travel.  Reality hit her hard on her first delivery gig.  From Mercury to backwater station orbiting Neptune, a trip that took no less than two months of her life.  Faster travel needed bigger black holes to wrinkle more space, but larger black hole engines required bigger ships with stronger containment fields.  She quickly learned to gauge her perspective offers not just in payment, but in time.  This job was paying well above average, so a week was practically nothing, but her punctuality was demanded.

“Watch the bridge,” Lin said.  With a wave of her hand the holographic panels disappeared and she hopped out of her chair.  “I’m going to check on the cargo.”

“Will do, captain.”

Lin took a ladder down to the cold, dark bowels of her ship that remained incredibly dim, even with the lights switched on.  The walls were lined with various materials to block prying sensor scans and absorb detectable emissions, including heat and light.  This room was even unknown to ship’s computer, who at first used to blame its own malfunctioning every time Lin’s body-heat signature suddenly vanished from the ship.  In the center of the floor was a black rectangular box devoid of any features on its surface that would indicate a way to open it.  Lin watched a small screen on the top of the box, displaying a very slow, rhythmic heartbeat. 

“This is crazy,” Lin muttered to herself.  The one rule she made for herself when starting her business was absolutely no human trafficking.  Not long after starting her business she heard how the field was as lucrative as it was unethical, but she promised herself never to give in to the temptation.  Ever. 

Until now. 

Work had been slow, she told herself, tomato juice was getting old, and it would only be this one time.  But she could only imagine what her mother would say if she knew.  Lin paced around the casket, rubbing the shaved side of her head, making furtive glances at it with contempt.  It was one thing to abandon the family, but to know what her mother’s daughter had become, descending to the lowest levels of the smuggling trade.  She’d die of shock, or worse.  Already, she could feel the hard, judgmental gaze of her mother staring at her from across the cosmos.  The sooner this mission was over, the better off things would be, Lin knew.  Or at least she thought she knew.  Somewhere in the back of her mind she pondered if it was too late.  She crossed the line, once a failure always a failure.  Now she was no different than the rest of the filth out there.Her employer made a good pitch, though.  It wasn’t kidnapping if the girl had already been taken, right?  She was just returning stolen goods; returning a kidnapped Jovian noble girl to her family.  That’s it.  So technically she was doing the right thing.  Lin nodded to convince herself.  Yeah, the right thing.  Over and over she repeated those words in her head until the obvious hit her.

If she was doing the right thing then why was all of this so damn sneaky?  The old man in the bar, the remote meeting place, the super-sealed casket containing some interplanetary aristocrat—it was all a bit sketchy.  She stared at the casket for moment.  If only she could get the girl’s story, then maybe she could be put at ease.  Lin groaned and felt her head start to throb, so she left the cargo hold to get a cup of water and some pills.

“Pills make everything better,” she said with an exaggerated grin.

Back in the cockpit, Lin threw back her pills and waited for the pain in her skull to lessen.

“Are you alright, captain?” the computer asked.  “I see you are taking some medication.”

“I’m fine.  Well, no, that’ a lie.  My head feels like shit because I had an existential crisis down in the cargo room.  I realized my moral fiber is just an illusion and that I am, in fact, a terrible human being.”  Lin gave a dry chuckled and slumped forward a little in her seat.

“Oh…”  The computer paused.  “I’m afraid I cannot help with that.”

“I’d be scared if you could.”  Lin groaned again.  “I’m sorry, mom.”

“What?”

“Nothing.  Existential stuff, don’t worry about it.”

“If you say so, captain.”

 

Lin awoke in her bunk to the proximity alarm chiming throughout the ship accompanied by the computer’s announcement: “We will be approaching Callisto in approximately two hours.  Please, wake up, captain.”

“Alright, I’m up!” Lin shouted.

She crawled out of her bunk jutting out from the wall of her cramped captain’s quarters, letting herself flop down onto the floor like a dead fish.  A week had passed and Lin’s headaches had only increased, causing Lin to sleep through most of the trip in a drug-addled stupor.  It took a couple seconds to make the room quit spinning before she could even try to put on her pants.  She decided to slip on her least-frayed pair of jeans since she wasn’t sure who she was meeting, and wanted to make a good impression.

The tiny grey orb of ice and rock was nearly invisible next to the orange colossus of swirling clouds that was Jupiter.  Lin had never been to Jovian space before, and had only heard rumors of the wealthy elite families that entrenched themselves far away from Earth’s influence, setting up a new focal point of regional power in the solar system. As the Zheng He neared Callisto, Lin could see metallic glints of starships entering and exiting orbit like artificial comets.  Sitting in her captain’s chair, the smuggler started to feel a heavy pit form in her gut.  She knew she was flying into an unknown situation, and if something happened to her, she’d only have herself to blame.

“Maybe I just should have become a doctor,” Lin sighed.

Callisto only had one major settlement, but that’s not where Lin was instructed to land.  Far from the bustling, partially subterranean metropolis, Lin waited in the hangar of an abandoned mining facility.  Wrapped in her puffy arctic coat, Lin stood outside her ship with the casket beside her, shivering.  The hangar was a freezing cold hovel, despite the warm red light given off by the emergency lights.  Someone had activated the facilities power to barely minimum levels, restoring only the electrical and life-support systems.  Heating was apparently out of the question.  Frosted skeletons of mining drills and cargo shuttles lay around her, decorating the deathly silence of the place.

“Where the fuck are they,” Lin said under her breath.  She checked her handy-computer to see the time.  Only two minutes to go.  Of course, she had arrived an hour early, but decided to unload in the last ten minutes, assuming her client would rather arrive early than late.

The alarm finally went off on her handy-computer, and no sooner did Lin see the door ahead of her grind open on its frozen hinges.  In walked a woman, dressed in white furs speckled in black.  In her shadow walked a man in uniform, expressionless, with a wide jaw.  In his hand he carried compact pistol with laser sighting.

Damn, Lin thought, feeling her own pistol strapped to her belt, bereft of laser assisted aiming.

“Hello, there,” the woman greeted, walking up to Lin.  “You’ve brought back my daughter.  Wonderful.”

The aristocratic woman knelt down beside the black casket while her uniformed escort kept his eyes firmly locked on Lin.  The woman in fur took out a small card-key and pressed it atop the casket.  There was an audible click; the casket was unlocked and warm air hissed out, condensing into vapor clouds amidst the freezing air outside.  The woman lifted the lid of the casket revealing a young girl no older than thirteen; copper-colored, naked, and sleeping huddled in fetal position.  A pair of tubes went from her nose to a little oxygen sack pressed against her back.  But Lin could see something was odd.  Not with the girl, but with her mother.  She could see it in her face, in her eyes, in her smirk.  Lin had occasionally thought about visiting her mother, and groaned on the thought of the hysterics that would ensue.  This woman here was calm.  Noble or not, something in Lin stirred her.  Perhaps it was instinct.  She could not say for sure.

“What are you going to do with her?” Lin asked.

“That is not your concern, girl,” the woman said.  “You will be paid, and you will leave.  My family is reunited thanks to you.  Take comfort in that.”

“I want to talk to the girl.  I need to hear from her.”

“What?  Why?  This is ridiculous, why do you need to hear from my daughter?  Besides, we can’t wait long in here.  We’ll freeze to death and she’ll be the first to go.”

“I’ve seen these medical capsules before.  When opened they automatically inject the patient with a minute dose of adrenaline to rouse them from hibernation.  She’ll be awake any minute now.  I need to hear her side of things before I leave.”

“Please,” the woman in fur begged.  “We must go.  We don’t have time for this.  Why are you doing this to us?  Haven’t we been through enough trouble?”

“I’ll give her my coat if I have to.  I only need five minutes.”

The woman in fur shook her head.  “I’m sorry, but as I said, we don’t have time for this.”  As she reached to close the casket lid, Lin reached for her pistol, pivoting it at her hip, aiming it at the aristocrat.  Predictably, the man in uniform raised his gun to Lin’s head.

The woman in fur rolled her eyes.  “Great, an educated smuggler with a worried heart, a real rarity, I admit.  But there’s a reason why your kind don’t live long, girl.  You should know to shut up and take the money.  If you care about morals you should become a priest.  I hear they’re in short supply these days.  This is your last chance, girl.”

Lin slowly back away, keeping the gun fixed on the woman in fur.  “No, it’s yours.”

A bolt of crackling ions burst from the bow of the Zheng He.  It struck the uniformed man head-on, sending him across the hangar, smoldering and twitching.  The woman in fur shrieked, but her scream was cut short as Lin’s boot was planted deep in her face.  In an instant, silence returned to hangar.  Lin looked watched the uniformed man convulse on the floor, still alive, incapable of regaining control of his limbs for some time.  At Lin’s feet, the woman in fur rolled around on the floor, whimpering as blood oozed all over her expensive clothes.

“Um…” said a small voice.

Lin looked over at the girl who was sitting up in her casket, arms wrapped around herself.

“Finally,” Lin said, “you’re awake.”  Lin pointed at the woman sniffling on the ground.  “I need to know, is that your mother?  ‘Cause she seems a little strange.”

The little girl shook her head.  “No, she’s my aunt.”

“Oh?  So you are actually family.”  Lin glanced down at the bloodied woman.  “Sorry.”

“Don’t be,” the girl said.  “She’s been trying to kill me for months, but no one believed me back home, so I fled.  She wanted her own son to become head of the family, thus, I had to be exterminated.”

“Wow…and I was about to send you right back.”  Lin scratched the shaved side of her head, unsure of what to say next.  She took off her coat and handed it to the shivering girl.  “Sorry…”

“Don’t be sorry, you were ignorant, after all.”  The girl paused and surveyed the hangar.  “We’re on Callisto, aren’t we?  Take me away from this place, if you don’t mind.”

“Sure, let me just…”  Lin knelt beside the woman in fur, who had passed out, the blood on her face darkening as it dried.  She stuck her hands into her fur and starting rummaging through her coat until she pulled out a silver credit case.  “…get my payment.  I think this’ll do.”

“Don’t forget her earrings,” the girl said.  “They’re worth a fortune on their own.”

Lin laughed.  “What a cruel girl.  I’m not a thief, just smuggler.  I’ll just take what I’m due.  But yeah, we should probably get going.  I don’t think either of us will be coming back to Callisto for a while.”

 

Onboard the Zheng He, Lin laid sprawled in her captain’s chair, gazing at the sea of stars before her.  Her mind felt at ease for the first time in a while.  Somehow her thoughts drifted back to her parents.  She couldn’t pretend like they didn’t miss her.  She was their only daughter, their only child.  Better yet, she could now afford some new clothes to look presentable in.  Lin looked at her frayed, baggy jeans.  There was no way her mother would see her in these.  But what about the hair, she wondered.  She’d look like monk if she shaved off the other side.  A wig would have to do; something conservative, like a bob.

A knock on the cockpit wall made Lin spin around to find the girl from the casket draped in an over-sized T-shirt.  She had told Lin to call her Belinda. 

“Aww!” Lin squealed.  “You look adorable!”

“I look like a child,” Belinda said.  “Can you get me some real clothes, please?”

Lin reached out to pinch Belinda’s cheek.  “But…you are a child.”

Belinda smacked Lin’s hand off of her so swiftly it made Lin wonder how many times she had to defend her cheeks.  “If I’m going to be living with you, I’m going to need some real clothes!”

 “Don’t worry,” Lin said, choosing instead to ruffle the girl’s hair, “we’ll stop and get you something on the way.”

Belinda shoved Lin’s hand off.  “On the way to where?”

Lin smiled.  “Earth.  I have some business there.  And don’t be so presumptuous, your highness.  I’m still thinking about letting you stay.  Maybe I’ll just drop you off with my parents.  They could use a new daughter.”

 


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