The Rat Rebellion

Stranded on Casa Verde station, Charleen Dreeson’s only way to survive is to join La Causa, the gang that controls crime in the system, and claw her way up to the top. And do all this while the Casa system is being dragged into an interstellar political crisis. Charleen may wind having to raise the bloody flag of revolution as well…

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Charleen Dreesen is stranded on Casa Verde station without the proper ticket to ship out on an interstellar spaceship. With no berths in the offing, she’s looking for any way she can find to make a credit. Then she meets Joey, his sister Darleen, his father Mike and his pet rat Mister Rodent—who are all worse off than she is. Mike’s behind in his kickbacks to the local crime boss, and neither he nor the kids have interfaces or much in the way of education.

So Charleen’s now in bad company as well as stranded and broke. Before you know it, people are trying to kill her. She’s left with no choice but to start climbing the ladder of La Causa, the organization that controls crime in the Casa system.

And if she’s not careful she’ll wind up in politics. The Cordoba and Drake Combines are being challenged by the rising Alliance created by Jenny Starchild and the crew of her starship Arachne. Their control over the Pamplona sector is starting to crack and the Casa system is caught in the middle. Charleen may have to raise the bloody flag of revolution…

Location: Drake Space, Casa Verde Station, Level 2, near Corridor 23
Standard Date: 12 02 629

The rat was hungry. It sniffed the air and smelled mostly other rats. It recognized most of them, and they were bigger than it was. Now it was afraid as well as hungry, so it moved away from the smell.

It looked like a rat, furry, long pointed nose, beady red eyes, and four paws. But if you looked really closely, you would note that the beady red eyes were a little glassy and the front paws had what appeared to be thumbs.

A hundred years earlier, the geneticists on Cybrant had modified a strain of rats to be more vacuum survivable. It was done to test the utility of certain changes they were considering for humans. There were a number of changes they introduced. The eyes had a harder surface and the liquid secreted by the rats’ tear ducts was not water, but an oil that didn’t evaporate in low pressures. The nose and mouth could be closed to a good seal. The skin had muscles that held it tight in place, in case of a pressure drop. And a student attempting an advanced placement also modified the rat strains, changing the paws so that they might double as hands to help the rat avoid being sucked out into total vacuum.

One other odd feature was even less apparent. The rats’ feces was liquid, viscous, and dried into an airtight plug. That last was a bit of scientific curiosity to see if the rats would learn to use it to make their own habitats.

They did.

The rats, as rats tend to do, spread. And by now they were fairly common on stations in Drake Space, if less so in Cordoba Space and on the free stations.

The rat knew nothing of its ancestry and cared even less. What it cared about was finding food and avoiding getting eaten by its fellows, hungry rats not being known for fellowship. It wasn’t small by Old Earth standards, being 23 centimeters long, not counting the tail, and weighing in at 326 grams. Its fur was scraggly and it was thin compared to its fellows. It couldn’t see at the moment, but that wasn’t because of its sight. It was just pitch-black back this far in the rock.

It jumped across a gap in the rock and ran down a passage until it saw light, then it followed the light to a crack in a very old plastic patch. It nibbled the plastic, then slipped through.

Joey was eight years old and asleep. He was a skinny kid with reddish-brown, not quite straight hair. He didn’t have a nightlight, but there was a gap near the top of the wall panel, and this let in some of the corridor light.

Joey’s home wasn’t a great deal better than the rat’s. It was asteroid stone on one side, and corridor panel on the other. His dad slept two meters up the corridor from him and his sister two meters down. Had to do it that way, since the “rooms” were barely more than a meter wide. The floor was the wall of a packing crate laid over the corridor support bars.

It made getting up to go to the toilet a challenge, and he knew better than to disturb either his dad or his sister’s sleep. So when the rat walked over his foot, he didn’t jerk or scream. He opened his eyes and saw it, a black blob sitting on the space blanket that covered his feet and lower body. The blob sat up, sniffed the air, and headed right for Joey’s stash. He had soy chips and a giant grape that he scrounged from hydro yesterday.

That was to be his breakfast, and the blob wasn’t getting it. He sat up, careful not to wake Dad or his sister.

The rat froze, then looked at Joey, who carefully reached over and retrieved the fist-sized grape. He set the grape in his lap and reached for the chips, all while the rat watched. Then Joey looked at the rat. It was looking back at him.

No.

It was looking at the soy chips.

Joey considered, then tossed a chip at the rat. It reached up with its little hands and caught the chip. Then, quick as a flash, it was gone.

Holding his grape to his chest, Joey went back to sleep.

Over the next weeks, Joey came to know the rat, and the rat came to almost trust Joey.

Location: Casa Verde Station, Cargo Section

Standard Date: 12 18 629

“I got it,” Danny Gold sent over the shipnet. Charleen Dreesen watched as he snagged the farm-bot with the mag grapple, swung it over and adjusted the angle, then sent it on to Charleen. All in vacuum, wearing nothing but his helmet, gloves, and a ship suit. Charleen was wearing a hardsuit, something closer to a mini-spaceship than the flexsuit a wealthier spacer would have. She’d seen this before when they worked outship on the trip, but it always creeped her out when the skipper went into vacuum naked.

The farm-bots weighed three tons in their crates. They weren’t tractors, but hydroponics robots that ran on rails, picked lettuce, trimmed sage, or did thousands of other gardening chores, depending on how they were programmed. These had expert systems, programmable but not trainable like artificial brains.

Charleen shook her head as Danny snagged the next crate, bent his knees to take the force, then sprang back and sent it on to her. They were working in zero-g but mass still applied, and Danny’s ability to take that sort of mass was another indication of his genetic mods.

Charleen, in the hardsuit and riding a station tug, grabbed the farm-bot with the tug’s arms, shifted it onto the pallet, and clamped it into place. Hardsuits were considerably less expensive than flexsuits, but they were more restrictive, harder to get into and out of, and much less comfortable. They were also adjustable, so that you could rent one at a reasonable cost. The ship paid the rent on this one.

“That was the last of them,” the Pandora reported via radio.

Charleen acknowledged and turned the tug back to the hanger station.

“I’m not so sure,” Pan said to Danny, as Charleen exited the airlock still in the hard suit. “As you pointed out, the fix is in.”

“What’s going on?” Charleen asked as she opened the faceplate on the hard suit using her internals.

Pan told her. There was a lien placed on the fee the Pandora received for delivering the farm-bots.

“That’s my pay you’re talking about!” Charleen said.

“Like I said, we can get the ruling reversed.”

Pan?” Charleen asked the ship. Danny was a good guy, charming and fun in the sack, but he was convinced that he could fix anything.

“I’ve been checking the records and Herr Furger is less adept at records security than he should be. Yes, if there was time, we could get the lien reversed, but it will take too much time because they have a series of delaying tactics ready.”

Charleen shook her head. “Sorry, Cap,” she said. “You’re pretty as hell and a good lay, but I don’t work for free.” She would get another berth easily enough. She was an able spacer with a clean ticket.

Danny looked at her. “You sure, Charleen? You might find it hard to get a new berth. And once we get out of here, I’ll find more jobs and be able to pay you.”

“I’m an able spacer, Skipper. I’ll find something. And you ain’t getting out of here if the fix is in.”

✽✽✽

Danny started to argue more, but Charleen held up a hand and he dropped it. She’d been overworked on the trip in. He’d be lucky if she didn’t put a lien on the Pan herself. Charleen Dreesen was a tall, rawboned woman who’d been in her fair share of bar fights. She kept her dark brown hair short so that it wouldn’t interfere with the connections between her internals and the hard suit helmet. Most spacers did, even though it wasn’t really necessary. She worked hard and played hard. Both her body and mind were more flexible than the hard-bitten spacer persona she sported would suggest. And Danny knew that he owed her for this last trip. “Pan,” Danny sent to the ship. “Give her what you can,” certain that the Pandora was already doing so.