2 — Temple of Jupiter* * *
I was in the residence of the “Princess of Jupiter,” Mara Orion McArthur. Heiress of the most influential Corp-crime syndicate pairing ever, her family had dominated the mining of asteroid belt and Jupiter after wresting control from Terra thirty years ago. Her family stole one of the solar systems crown jewels. Her family was power incarnate, and she had been next in line for the throne.
My view overlooked the princess’s gardens inside her space habitat, Kalcifer. Hollow, five kilometers long, pressurized and accelerated to a constant spin simulating artificial gravity, the facility would be recognizable to astroarchitects from Terra to the Kuiper Belt as an O’Neil cylinder. It was constructed through the genius use of a counterweight by employing an asteroid of matching density attached via numerous carbon nanotube cables.
However, Kalcifer disregarded the standard construction of a such a habitat, by having half the surface area of its interior be viewport, rather than small window strips. The station had one other unique trait not owing to its design, it was tidally locked at Jupiter’s southern pole, hanging suspended above it aligned with the planet’s axis, giving one the impression that the sky was made up of the roiling orange and yellow clouds of Jupiter.
Her massive palace formed a ring of ornate structures around the endcap. It was the only thing inside the habitat that spanned the full circumference of the cylinder. All other construction was stopped by the viewport making up half of the interior surface area. The gravity defying structure was a kaleidoscopic architectural nightmare. Access lifts crisscrossed the ring in overlapping lattices, connecting spires and suspended rails, expediting transit throughout the mad palace. All the buildings were made of natural materials: marble, Martian sandstone, sheets of sapphire glass and even wood.
A palace truly fit for Olympus.
I couldn’t see any of this as I was in the palace looking down the tree covered valley toward the city that filled one side of the cylinder. Kalicfer was a unique habitat.
It was arrogant.
Spitting in the face of physics just for the aesthetic.
A few well placed explosive devices on the cables, and centrifugal force would tear Kalcifer asunder. To build a structure that was meant to rotate fast enough to create artificial gravity and then cut out half of the balancing material and bandage it back together with a counterweight, was… Was a fucking stupid decision. An engineering nightmare that certainly lined the pocket books of some enterprising electron pusher.
However, the entire area around Jupiter was locked down tighter than a ship during decompression drills. Any ship which even got close enough to consider taking a run at them was searched, and even seized if they carried as much as a bad attitude. The family ran their empire of ‘business’ rather judicially, writing the rules as they saw fit.
“Abandon all hope ye who enter here.” A childhood video game dungeon flashed through my mind. I almost laughed out loud at the hopelessness of the situation, but I wasn’t going to let Mara know how fucked I felt.
I would never see Beatrice again. My darling. She would have noticed pretty quick if I didn’t show up after a day or so. Hell, just to get here on a high burn ship with no budget constraints would have taken a few days. She would know I was missing by now.
“Amareth, It’s good to see you again after such a long time. I do hope you find the room to be, satisfactory. I’m sure it’s superior to the wretched hovel my girls dredged you out of on Luna.”
I whirled, readying myself to strike. The room was still empty; I surmised it must be a hidden speaker.
“Shouldn’t I be dead, Mara? Because, I’m pretty fucking sure thats what you said last time I saw you.”
A soft sigh whispered through the room. “I suppose I’ve grown fond of you, Amareth.”
“You have always been an exhilarating thorn, a most notable little problem. I can’t resist a lady who had the gumption to assassinate my brother. You did save me the trouble, after all, even if it was rather untimely.”
“Well then, why don’t you thank me for the favor and see me on my way?” I retorted angrily.
She laughed, if one could call it a laugh. Mara sounded like the Great Sphinx of Giza searching for a mate.
“Come now, dear, you know I have to thank you for the favor. It’s about time I collected on you in full. I know you wanted to slip into a storybook ending with your darling Beatrice, but after you cut down Richard in such an untimely manner I wasn’t going to allow a meddling merc miring my plans to go unchecked.”
I could envision the bitch’s shit eating grin. She was as smug as a fat cat with a mouse.
I was done letting her toy with me. Dammit, she might have me boxed like a brand new doll, but I didn’t have to play her twisted games. I still had a shred of dignity she couldn’t claw away.
“What, getting rid of Dick didn’t leave daddy satisfied?”
“Well, I hope our next meeting finds you a bit more conducive to pleasant conversation, but as I’m sure you know, I am an inordinately busy woman. I must attend to my business. Can’t be letting a toy rule my schedule.”
“I am not—”
Before I could retort, she cut me off. “I’ll leave you in the care of my pet AI, Sylphi.”
With a faint click she was gone.
Damn the bitch! Damn her self inflated ego. She appalled me. It was then that I noticed something small flitting into my view. A slight, ghostly figure about nine inches tall looking for all the world a cute impish girl with a cherubic smile.
Adorned with, of all things, iridescent fairy wings. She wore a pink and white jumper skirt paired with a frilled blouse. Dainty little pink flats were secured with ankle straps to her stockinged feet.
Oh no, I’d heard of augment AI.
Some people had simple ones planted for management and scheduling. Just think about what you needed and they would make it happen.
I avoided them. I just couldn’t stand the idea of time sharing my brain with a digital secretary. Having your thoughts read by a frelling AI? No thanks!
She spoke whilst pouting. “Now, now, Miss, that’s not a very nice thing to think about me. I haven’t even gotten the chance to introduce myself.” Her voice was obsequious, the perfect servant.
“I’m Slyphi, and I am here to introduce you into the mistress’ household.”
This was a bad day. A horrid day.
In a lilting tone, she replied to my thoughts. “Come now, Amareth. Just give me a chance, I’ll help you see—this won’t be tough for you or me!” She flitted up to my eye level.
“You’re the opposite of helpful. You’re intrusive.”
To hell with this! I issuedtried every command to my augs in short succession. Not even my final oral option worked when I bit down hard.
“Silly, you know mistress wouldn’t leave any chance of harm coming to her newest acquisition,” said Slyphi.
I knew she wouldn’t. I wish they had missed my final friend. I had hoped that such a low tech poison tooth might have been missed. I would rather be dead than Mara’s property.
Sylphi tutted. “I think you’ll come to appreciate your new status over death, Amareth.”
“What is my status? Prisoner? Hostage? Slave?” I asked.
The little avatar spun up into the air, seeming about to burst with joy. Sylphi continued her aerial antics, laughing. “Silly girl, you’re to become a maid for my mistress.” She somehow managed to sound increasingly cloying every time she spoke.
I puffed up as best I could, speaking with resolve. “I won’t serve her. You’re going to have to kill me or turn me into a puppet!”
Sylphi didn’t seem even remotely surprised, instead pulling out a small wand and tapping the air in front of where she hovered. A screen burst forth from the spark of light, hovering into my view.
Incensed by the scene displayed in front of me. I screamed, “Fuck you, if that feed is real, I’ll delete your source code and kill your fucking mistress for this, if you so much as lay a hand on her!” For the first time, I felt truly helpless as my last hope died.
Sylphi suppressed a titter, then said, “Silly Amerath, You know you’re not in charge and you can do nothing, so if you want her to continue, life still intact and unbothered you will comply with mistress’ orders”
Dirty, filthy, nasty, immoral, and abjectly criminal. In my day, I had done them all to survive. I had even taken life without remorse. Yet that was different. I had never taken a hostage!
Her voice cut into my guilty recollection. She said, “Yes, you have done some rather regretful things, haven’t you. Nasty work, wasn’t it, Amerath? You should be grateful, as Mistress has never been kind to former adversaries. You are the first one to have a choice in their survival...”
It was most uncharacteristic for an AI to waste time with unneeded banter.
“Enough. You must dress and ready yourself for Mistress. I will guide you through as you finish your augmentation.”
My heart stopped.