by C.W.Smoke

Visit Castle Smoke

I couldn't help but like her even though she was my target. A sweet kid, working hard to get ahead. Almost like the daughter I would never have.

I have no idea why TAQ picked me for this job. Heck, I like people. But I'll bet you're confused. I probably should fill you in from the start. . . .

About an Earth month ago, my boss TAQ (stands for Terminate All Questions) --- she's the top Model V (that's V for Victory) Super Intelligent Computer on this motorized rock -- sent me here to investigate. They probably could have called her V-SIC, but I don't make up their names; I just work here. I call 'it' a 'she' because it's not easy to work for a machine. Anyway, four weeks ago, she has me snoopin' this commercial operation. The receptionist is cute, so I don't mind the overtime. But let me tell you how I came to be here -- to terminate this sweet kid. . . .

Of course, TAQ monitors all the energy in and out of everything on this asteroid. Don't know how these yokels ever think they can pull a fast one, but one thing I have learned is that they never learn. Well, never until it's too late.

A travel agency on an asteroid? Well, you'd want to be anywhere else if you were stuck on one. And we were. Eight hundred people -- underground and under plastic -- stuck bringing this very valuable rock back to Sig-Five so we could collect our credits.

Gone are the good old days when SpaceTech sent their asteroids back unmanned -- probably because of that problem with Delta-Three. It started with a minor miscalculation. The asteroid's return course had been vectored with force pounds instead of kilos. And when the asteroid hit, all Delta-Three's terraforming was suddenly in orbit inside a bright blue pyroclastic cloud. The lawsuits nearly buried SpaceTech.

Now it's head 'em up, move 'em out, schlock on a rock with administration, security, scientists, you-name-it. Trouble is, riding asteroids is a five-year tour with only the basics, so Galaxy Travel does a bang-up business.

But anyway, TAQ tied the energy shortfall to Galaxy, so she sent me to investigate. She could've just terminated the entire operation and everyone in it, but the boss likes to keep us loyals happy. And one way she does that is by making us feel....useful. Some of us smarter ones know it's all a game, but we play along anyway -- probably because it's safer that way.

So I get there and go right in the front door just like your average paying customer, and the first sight that greets me is Esmerelda's cute little fanny -- she's bendin' over pickin' up a paper clip or somethin' -- she musta heard me gasp because she looks up smilin' all sweet like runny molasses and says, "Sugar, you're much too cute to be sneakin' up from behind. You could give a girl heart failure."

Yeah, you guessed it! Right away we hit it outta the park! And right away I had a problem. A big problem. I couldn't kill her -- not Esmerelda.

(to be continued)

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