Augmentation and Unfolding

A science fiction story in Red Scythe by Gary Bloom

Characters: Hardbarger, Tudor Lom, Vindic

"Come on, come on," Kanis urged, "you'll want to see this. I'm allowing them a break for only an hour, and then the next shift comes on."

Hardbarger was less than pleased. He'd been soundly napping. Considering the opportunities that his new expert had laid out, the big man spent quite a many night up strategizing, scheming and figuring. Most recently, he'd inserted Sadie onto a pleasure yacht, sailing above the Martian landscape. Working her magic of persuasion on a member of the crew, she'd managed to enable his men Storm, Sled and Fellows to make a daring mid-air entrance. The resulting haul had been considerable.

What the valuables had enabled was purchase of other goods, which could be delivered out among the stars. Ruddell Sled had turned around and delivered a piece of sought after artwork from Mars out to the Lunar city Gunson. The resulting payment from that smuggling operation had been enough to pay for the first wave of expansion of Bray Station.

"This doesn't seem necessary," he growled. "I'm fairly certain that I brought you aboard to handle things like this for me."

"You brought me aboard to streamline your operation," she said. "You brought me aboard to make you more money, to save you money that you were losing, and to expand your operation in all facets. I'm doing that. In a typical work environment, the boss likes to inspect his people's work."

"This strikes you as a typical work environment, huh?"

She ignored the barb, continuing onward. Banking a left, she strode down a recently added hallway. Hardbarger knew it'd been added, he just hadn't the time to look yet. As it didn't go anywhere, and simply expanded into space that the previous owner had foolishly left unused, it was less than impressive. Now, however, he saw that it continued much further than before. A hole had been punched through the end of the hall in which he saw lights.

"What the hell?"

Kanis smiled as Hardbarger sped up to stride past her. He paused only long enough to observe the unusual joint at the original edge of his domain. Stalking forward, his eyes narrowed, brow furrowed.

"What's this way?" He pointed off to another left, just a few more feet down the corridor. "And why is it so cold in here?"

"Good questions, all. The barrier behind us employs a similar technology to the hangar airlock. If pressure drops too quickly in either section, the field maintains atmosphere. It also prevents any heat from escaping; they haven't put all of the heaters in place yet in here."

"And over there?"

"Why don't you take a look?"

Hardbarger snorted but began walking anyway. As he stepped forward, he found a familiar looking door on his left. Opening up, he found himself standing in the mess, or at least what was once the mess.

"What the hell did they do? It's gotta be twice the size? I didn't authorize this skata!"

"You wanted to increase your operation," she answered, sternly. "We need to be able to accommodate a larger staff. The mess hall is, in fact, 1.25 times larger than before construction. It will be able to handle a much larger group."

"How did I not know about this?"

"When's the last time you took a meal outside your office?"

He glared at her, but ignored the barb. Stepping around the room, he found new tables and chairs. Rather, they were new to the station, showing minor bits of wear. The same held for additional refrigeration units. Knowing Ms. Cantano's penchant for re-purposing, he expected that this was either heavily bargained for surplus, or illegally acquired. He hoped for the latter.

"What's back here?"

"Oh, we created a legitimate chef's station," she smiled."

"Where were you planning on finding a legitimate chef?"

"I know people who are, shall we say, in a similar situation to myself. Many of our construction crew are on the same wavelength. Here to work, without the mistake of talking too much once they've left." She shrugged. "It can't hurt to have someone to properly feed your crew, especially if all he's asking is room, board and protection."

"I'm not running a refugee camp, you know," he snarled.

"Nor am I asking you to. Simply to open your mind to the opportunities that come when appropriating those who have made foolish mistakes." She shrugged again. "Like myself."

Hardbarger snorted. Leaving through the original doorway, he headed back to his office. Being sure to lock the door after closing it, he sat down at his desk. It was time to call up the plans she'd sent him. Maybe he needed to pay more attention. What he saw both startled and amazed him.

Phase one was apparently nearing completion. The expanded mess hall had been completed, and the extended corridors were neatly in place. Facing the eatery would be a large military training room. Everything from mats for sparring to simulated ranges for shooting. Around the corner, new quarters had been constructed.

Phase two included an updated, expanded, more secluded suite for Hardbarger himself. His current apartments would be converted into extra rooming for more men. He wondered about the need for so many people, until he focused on phase three. There would be an improved simulator facility, and a second, hidden hangar bay. Room for more ships and more cargo storage, which equated to more profit. Which reminded him.

"Tudor," he said, stabbing at a new application on his computer, "where are you?"

"Mid flight, sir," Tudor Lom answered, sounding somewhat tinny, "on my way back with a cargo haul for Ceres."

"What's the status on finding us a new ship?"

"I've tracked down someone on Earth willing to help us smuggle one out in pieces."

"Pieces? What the hell? How many pieces?"

"It would probably take about seven different runs, if I calculated it correctly." He paused for a moment, as if considering his next words carefully. "We'd need to space it over about a month, but I spoke with Beck, and he can get it back together pretty well if he helps supervise the deconstruction."

"Come to my office as soon as you return," he growled. "We need to discuss this, and where we're going to find another tech to cover for Forbeck while he's on Earth. I want him supervising the whole damned thing."

"You got it boss."

The line went silent, and Hardbarger went back to the plans. Things were definitely falling into place. His little empire would grow. More importantly, so would his bank account.