Never fuck with an Engineer

This week’s #RichardWrites is a scene starring Hope Baedeker, ship’s Engineer of the Tyche. It’s from Tyche’s Deceit. The crew are on Earth because reasons, and Hope is alone in a very bad part of town. Add in some thugs, and you’ve got an easy mark. Right?

Hope felt her arms grabbed by the two men behind her. Raccoon was laughing, enjoying her joke over a gullible child, and the man at her side was laughing along like this was the greatest show on Earth. The vibroblade came at Hope like a diving falcon, straight at her heart. A blow like that would have gone in, cutting through the shiny new rig. Reduced its value a lot, and coupled with the blood that would be everywhere — Hope’s blood — it would make it worth just a handful of coins. But a handful was worth more than nothing, and you took what you could get on the street.

So, Hope took what she could get. The programs she’d loaded kicked in.

First, the vibroblade: the knife’s tiny power supply expended it’s entire charge — a charge designed to last weeks, if not months — in the time it would take a fly to beat its wings just once. The vibroblade had a maximum rate of movement, which it went right by — a reactor in the red — in that same breadth of time. The blade quickly heated past tolerance, pieces crumbling to the ceramicrete sidewalk. But the real deal was what happened next, after the blade was no longer moving. With nowhere left to go, the charge in the handle looped in on itself, a crackle and spark of blue-white curling from hilt to pommel. It was like a ball of lightning, and it electrocuted Raccoon like the world’s angriest taser. The woman’s body was rigid like steel, eyes pinned wide, teeth clenching so hard they’d surely crack. As pieces of the blade fell to the ground, Raccoon’s momentum carried her forward into Hope. The movement jarred Hope, and the two men holding her arms. Hope’s shoulder wrenched, and if she’d had time — which she didn’t — she might have cried out. It was fortunate her programs had been queued up, ready to go.

Which led to the second thing, her rig: the articulating arms unleashed from the back, all four coming out and around. The rig knew Hope’s shape, the heft of her body, where she stood in space and time. It knew where her arms were, as well as her chest and her legs, and like a sort of bonus, her head. It needed to know things like this because ship engineering was dangerous work. An Engineer could get caught in the rigging, snared between the spars. Metal or ceramicrete could pin you to the deck like the weight of your life’s guilt. In space, you could be held fast against the hull by broken parts, and without a ship’s skin to save you, radiation or fusion fire could end you in a heartbeat. With this in mind, rigs knew their keepers, held them close, and were ready to save them from entrapment. The arms of the rig whipped out, and noted the hands holding her as artificial constraints, and thus dangerous. Hope’s program told them to free her. On Hope’s left, two waldos grabbed the man’s arms, twisting them away in a crrrrunch of bone. Human elbows and shoulders were not designed to go through those planes of movement. On her right, the man holding her was slightly more — or, depending on your point of view, slightly less — canny; he shifted his grip on Hope’s in response to the manipulator arms coming for him, tightening his grip. The rig processed this in microseconds, and brought an arc cutter to bear. In a shower of steam, the man was shorn free from Hope in less time than it took to blink.

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