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A short story by

Matt Burns

Hours pass. Pandora has walked through the med-bays, crew quarters, and vid rooms of the rec area three times. She has memorized the entrances and exits, all the while avoiding large groups of tech workers that would make it more difficult for her to keep up the appearance of Rebecca Schafer through the psiweave.

Just a few hours more, she tells herself. A few hours more, and she will be out of this neosteel prison with the micro-spies and on her way back to Umoja, knowing that she has succeeded where so many others would have failed.

Pandora chooses an empty table in a corner of the rec area’s mess hall to pass the time. The scattered facility workers inside lumber about, some disposing of empty food trays and others just sitting down to begin their meals.

On a wall-mounted vidscreen a Universal News Network headline scrolls by: Fresh Uprising Quelled on Anselm. Pandora cringes. She can’t get away from it, no matter how hard she tries. The Anselm debacle seems so senseless to her now. Back then, if she had been who she is today…

Suddenly, a security alarm blares. Pandora’s eyes dart around the room. The other people in the mess hall groan and continue eating, but they don’t move. Their indifference makes the situation all the more unsettling.

A dry voice chimes in over a loudspeaker. “All non-vital personnel, report to the mess hall for your security check.”

Tech workers and a handful of guards file into the room. Ten. Twenty. Thirty. More than Pandora had ever seen when she was roaming the rec area. Too many eyes. Too many chances that her telepathic manipulation will falter and someone will see right through the psiweave.

She raises her collar tight around her face and pushes through the mass of bodies, out into one of the rec area hallways. You can still leave. Detour to the hangar. Get in the groundcar, the voice says. Pandora shuts it out. She continues down the corridor, slips into a bathroom, and locks herself into a stall.

It only takes a few minutes for a guard to come.

“Security check. Everybody out,” a gruff female voice says. The guard checks each stall until she comes to Pandora’s and sees the glowing red “occupied” sign on the door.

The guard raps hard on the door. “That means you! I’m givin’ you thirty seconds before I disengage the lock and drag your ass out with your pants down.”

Fear boils inside Pandora. She closes her eyes and breathes deep, remembering every technique that she learned in training to control her fear. The guard is just an obstacle, she repeats in her head.

Pandora pulls a cartridge of poison-laced micro-spikes from a false pocket in her uniform. The tip of her right thumb flips open, and she loads the projectiles into the neosteel chamber inside.

“Time’s up!” The guard disengages the lock and slides open the door. She’s dressed in a lightly armored security uniform with a small comm unit strapped to her ear and a C-7 pistol holstered at her side.

Pandora stares back, right hand leveled square at the other woman’s face. Before the guard can react, 300 micro-spikes fire out of Pandora’s thumb and penetrate the guard’s skin, releasing a lethal melange of toxins.

The guard stumbles back and gasps, the last sound that escapes her mouth before the poison disables her vocal muscles and then spreads to her vital organs.

Purged of fear, Pandora steps over the woman’s convulsing body and removes her comm unit and pistol.

Just an obstacle.

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