Rogue Protocol (The Murderbot Diaries #3) - Martha Wells

Chapter One

I HAVE THE WORST luck with bot-driven transports.

The first one had let me stow away in exchange for my collection of media files, with no ulterior motives, and had been so focused on its function that there had been hardly more communication between us than you’d have with a hauler bot. For the duration of the trip I had been alone with my media storage, just the way I like it. It had spoiled me into thinking all bot transports would be like that.

Then there was Asshole Research Transport. ART’s official designation was deep space research vessel. At various points in our relationship, ART had threatened to kill me, watched my favorite shows with me, given me a body configuration change, provided excellent tactical support, talked me into pretending to be an augmented human security consultant, saved my clients’ lives, and had cleaned up after me when I had to murder some humans. (They were bad humans.) I really missed ART.

Then there was this transport.

It was also bot-driven, no crew, but it carried passengers, mostly minimum to moderately skilled tech workers, human and augmented human, traveling to and from transit stations on temporary work contracts. This was not an ideal situation for me, but it was the only transport going in the right direction.

Like bot-transports that were not ART, it communicated in images and had allowed me onboard in exchange for a copy of my stored media. Because the manifest was in the transport’s feed and so available to the other passengers, I asked it to list me for the duration of the voyage in case anybody checked. There was a field in the passenger form for occupation and in a moment of weakness, I told it I was a security consultant.

Transport decided that meant it could use me as onboard security and started alerting me to problems among the passengers. I was an idiot and started responding. No, I don’t know why, either. Maybe because it was what I was constructed to do and it must be written into the DNA that controls my organic parts. (There needs to be an error code that means “I received your request but decided to ignore you.”)

Initially, it had been pretty easy. (“If you bother her again I will break every individual bone in your hand and arm. It will take about an hour.”) Then it had gotten more complicated as even the passengers who liked each other started to get into fights. I spent a lot of time (valuable time I could have been viewing/reading my saved entertainment media) arbitrating arguments I didn’t give a shit about.

Now it was the last cycle of the trip, all of us somehow having managed to survive, and I was heading into the mess compartment to break up yet another fight between idiot humans.

Transport didn’t have drones, but it did have a limited range of security cameras, so I knew the positions of everybody in the galley/mess area before the door slid open. I strode across the room, through the maze of shouting humans and overturned tables and chairs, and stepped between the two combatants. One had picked up a food utensil as a weapon and in one careful non-finger-ripping-off twist I had it, instead.

You would think the person they knew as a security consultant slamming in and disarming one of them would cause everyone to stop and reassess their priorities in this situation, but oh, you would be wrong. They staggered back, still screaming profanity at each other. The others in the room switched from shouting profanity at the combatants to shouting at me, all trying to tell me different versions of what had happened. I yelled, “Shut up!”

(The good thing about pretending to be an augmented human security consultant instead of a construct SecUnit is that you can tell the humans to shut up.)

Everybody shut up.

Then, still breathing hard, Ayres said, “Consultant Rin, I thought you said you didn’t want to come back up here—”

The other one, Elbik, was pointing dramatically. “Consultant Rin, he said he was going to—”

I’d had Transport list my name as Rin on the manifest though I’d used Eden at RaviHyral. I was fairly certain RaviHyral transit station security had no reason to associate that identity with any sudden deaths taking place on a private shuttle, and even if they had, wouldn’t pursue anyone out of their jurisdiction unless contracted to. But it had seemed best to change it.

The others, starting to come out from behind tables and hastily