Today's Reading

The rest of the story was about how the company and DeltFall, plus Preservation and three other non-corporate political entities who had had citizens in DeltFall's habitat, were ganging up on GrayCris. There was also a multi-cornered solicitor-fight going on in which some of the entities who were allies in the investigation were fighting each other over financial responsibility, jurisdiction, and bond guarantees. I didn't know how humans could keep it all straight. There weren't many details about what had actually happened after PreservationAux had managed to signal the company rescue transport, but it was enough to hope that anybody looking for the SecUnit in question would assume I was with Mensah and the others. Mensah and the others, of course, knew different.

Then I checked the timestamp and saw the newsburst was old, published the cycle after I had left the station. It must have come through a wormhole with one of the faster passenger transports. That meant the official news channels might have more recent info by now.

Right. I told myself there was no way anybody on this transit ring would be looking for a rogue SecUnit. From the info available in the public feed, there were no deployment centers here for any bond or security companies. My contracts had always been on isolated installations or uninhabited survey planets, and I thought that was pretty much the norm. Even the shows and serials on the entertainment feeds never showed SecUnits contracted to guard offices or cargo warehouses or shipwrights, or any of the other businesses common to transit rings. And all the SecUnits in the media were always in armor, faceless and terrifying to humans.

I merged with the crowd and started down the mall again. I had to be careful going anywhere I might be scanned for weapons, which was all the facilities for purchasing transport, including the little trams that circled the ring. I can hack a weapons scanner, but security protocols suggested that at the passenger facilities there would be a lot of them to deal with the crowds and I could only do so many at once. Plus, I would have to hack the payment system, and that sounded like way more trouble than it was worth at the moment. It was a long walk to the part of the ring for the outgoing bot-driven transports, but it gave me time to tap the entertainment feed and download new media.

On the way to this transit ring, alone on my empty cargo transport, I had had a chance to do a lot of thinking about why I had left Mensah, and what I wanted. I know, it was a surprise to me, too. But even I knew I couldn't spend the rest of my lifespan alone riding cargo transports and consuming media, as attractive as it sounded.

I had a plan now. Or I would have a plan, once I got the answer to an important question.

To get that answer I needed to go somewhere, and there were two bot-driven transports leaving here in the next cycle that would take me there. The first was a cargo transport not unlike the one I had used to get here. It was leaving later, and was a better option, as I would have more time to get to it and talk it into letting me board. I could hack a transport if I tried, but I really preferred not to. Spending that much time with something that didn't want you there, or that you had hacked to make it think it wanted you there, just seemed creepy.

Maps and schedules were available in the feed, tied to all the main navigation points along the ring, so I was able to find my way down to the cargo loading area, wait for the shift change, and cut through to the embarkation zone. I had to hack an ID-screening system and some weapon-scanning drones on the level above the zone, and then got pinged by a bot guarding the entrance to the commercial area. I didn't hurt it, just broke through its wall in the feed and deleted out of its memory any record of the encounter with me.

(I was designed to interface with company SecSystems, to be basically an interactive component of one. The safeguards on this station weren't the company's proprietary tech, but it was close enough. Also, nobody is as paranoid as the company about protecting the data it collects and/or steals, so I was used to security systems that were a lot more robust than this.)

Once down on the access floor, I had to be extremely careful, as there was no reason for someone not working to be here, and while most of the work was being done by hauler bots, there were uniformed humans and augmented humans here, too. More than I had counted on.

A lot of humans congregated near the lock for my prospective transport. I checked the feed for alerts and found there had been an accident involving a hauler. Various parties were sorting out the damage and who was to blame. I could have waited until they cleared out, but I wanted to get off this ring and get moving. And honestly, my image in the newsburst had rattled me and I wanted to just sink into my media downloads for a while and pretend I didn't exist. To do that I had to be secure on a locked automated transport ready to leave the ring.

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