Lights and Shadows Update #3

It’s Update Time again and so I wanted to share the latest excerpt from Lights and Shadows as I work my way through the morass of mystery that pervades Planet Tarson’s Outpost 19. Enjoy.

Moreau jerked a thumb at the corpse. “I really don’t think he’s going to raise up and tell me how offended he is. Come to think of it, we should probably cover him up before he really starts adding to the ambiance.” A floral scent danced its way into his nostrils. The smell was familiar, too familiar to be simply the smell of Death that pervaded the control room. It nagged at his memory. Something from his Academy Days stirred and swam upward in his mind but stopped just short of breaching the surface. “Do you smell that?”

Finch looked around, sniffing the air like a bloodhound. Her nose kept leading her back to the console, but all the readouts read normal. “It’s a very pretty scent. I wonder where it’s coming from.”

“Strange and Pretty.” Moreau said. “I’ve heard of stations using olfactory stimuli to modify staff behavior, but I didn’t see anything in the records to indicate they had installed the equipment here.” He put his reading aside and checked the bullets in his pistol. “Strange odors coming from electronics make me twitch internally. Whatever you are doing, be careful.”

“You’re being paranoid.” Finch waved him away as a system status message popped up. “Good News. I’m in. Just give me a few more seconds to get into the authorization subsystem and…” A blinking icon caught her eye, a stylized M superimposed over a multicolored cube and reminded her of old company logos she had studied in Academy history classes. “Hmm, that’s new.” She observed, resisting the urge to touch the screen. “It’s not The Fuller Foundation’s asterisk orbiting an atom logo. I wonder what it means.”

Moreau stood and walked around to her console. His brow furrowed as he studied the lazily rotating icon with its oddly hypnotic colors that pulsed as it moved. “Are you sure you haven’t been digging in the historical archive files by mistake? That’s the logo for MacroSquare Software, a company that’s been defunct for almost forty years.” He humphed as he watched it. “I’m surprised there are any records of its existence left around after the damage they did during the AI Rebellion.” He stopped and stared at her, his eyes fixed and accusing. “I thought you fixed this damn thing.”

“Thirty-Three years and six months and if you think you can do a better job, then by all means have at it.” She smiled, reaching out with a slender finger to press the icon.

“August on Tarson.” He blocked her hand and forced her away from the console. As he held her by her arms, he looked into her blue eyes. “Marla, did you take your injection today?”

Finch’s beatific smile disappeared, replaced by a frown as she struggled against his firm yet not uncomfortable grip. “What? Why are you holding me like this? I have work to do.”

He pinned her against a nearby support beam with his left arm while his right pulled his pistol from its holster. Her eyes widened as she felt the cold steel of the muzzle press against the soft tissue under her jaw. “I asked you a question.”

“You aren’t planning on using that on me, are you?” She asked, her voice keeping her fear secret. “Think of the paperwork.”

He pulled the hammer back on the pistol. It clicked into place with the too-loud sound of approaching mortality. His voice chilled the air as he spoke. “Union Regulation 666 Stroke 5 clearly states that anyone subject to regular vaccinations is to provide immediate verification that they have complied. I just watched you become influenced by Black’s viral attractor scent. I don’t know how that got into this computer system but if I hadn’t stopped you, I have no doubt that you would have become AI Compromised. I’m going to ask you one more time. Did you take your injection this morning? Evade the question one more time and I will put two rounds into your skull that are guaranteed to turn your brain into scrambled eggs and leave me with a pound of paperwork that I will fill out with due diligence.”

“For Fuck’s Sake, Zack, I have implants in my arm that dispense my immunizations and the calibration card is in my right breast pocket.”

Moreau held the gun steady while he removed a small plastic card from her shirt pocket. His eyes scanned the printed hologram and the dates inscribed in a bold type face on its surface. He slipped the card back into her pocket and uncocked his weapon before slipping it back into the holster. “Fair enough. Let’s get back to work.”

She rubbed her throat. “Would you really have killed me?”

Moreau turned his back and allowed himself a small sigh of relief. “Without a moment’s hesitation. Be careful what you’re doing. There are a lot of things in this place that want to kill us and they don’t all use holographic projectors or pretty floral scents.”

“I’ll take that under advisement.”

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