As Riss and the Artemis face off against the Ceres Mining Council, Sergey has been locked in a room in the Lunar Base during a coup, awaiting his fate…
Bardish sat down heavily and rubbed his ankles. After pacing the room for what seemed the tenth time, he began to wish there were a coffee machine. At least drinking soya junk would give him something to do.
The door opened. He immediately stood.
Three uniformed police officers entered, followed by Sanchez, then a plain-clothes woman he thought he recognized. Someone from the company where his good-for-nothing future son-in-law worked? Used to work, he silently corrected.
“Lieutenant Sanchez,” Bardish said, nodding.
Sanchez returned the nod. “Captain. My apologies for the delay. Please, have a seat.”
Bardish grunted. “I have been sitting for some time. I prefer to stand.”
“Have it your way.”
The lieutenant motioned for the woman to sit at the table across from Bardish. Two of other officers stayed on either side of the lieutenant. The third left, presumably to guard the door from the outside.
“Captain Bardish, we need to ask you a few questions.”
“It appears as if you have received an outside communication from an external belligerent hostile to Luna Base operations.”
“I—I received what?” Bardish sputtered. He could feel his face turning red, clenched his fists.
“Here is the evidence,” Sanchez said. He produced a pad and handed it to the retired captain. “There was a secret message. Buried in another message. It contained a Chinese quantum jùli jiāmi. Addressed to you, in the subroutine of a ping from Ceres to ask for supplies.”
“A Chinese quantum…what?”
Bardish looked over the message. “There is nothing written here,” he said. “I only see a string of numbers and my name.”
“We know you received this message,” Sanchez snapped, taking the pad back. “Tell us what it said.”
“I did not receive any such communication,” Bardish said stubbornly. “I do not understand Chinese encryptions.”
“I warn you, Captain,” Sanchez said, “I am empowered to keep you here indefinitely.”
Bardish crossed his arms. He looked over at the woman seated across the table. She hadn’t moved, looked straight down at her hands in her lap.
“Who is she?”
“This is the person who brought the message to our attention.”
“Elodie Gagnon, sir,” she said in a small voice, not looking up. She fidgeted in her chair. Bardish caught himself staring at her. She didn’t seem the fidgeting type. Was she hiding something?
“Captain,” Sanchez said. “We must assume that you are connected somehow to the uprising. This communication cannot be a coincidence.”
“I assure you, Lieutenant,” Bardish said, “I have nothing, nothing whatsoever to do with any of this.”
He sat down then and folded his hands in front of him and continued.
“You may examine my personal communication record. I am retired. I do not receive off-Luna messages these days.”
“We did already. That is no proof that you are not involved somehow.”
“So, you have no evidence, yet lack of evidence is somehow proof? What foolishness is this?”
“Captain, we are not unaware of your reputation. And of your past contribution to this facility. However…”
Bardish sighed and unfolded his hands.
“Lieutenant, I am an old man. I have no interest in politics or revolution. All is the same to me.”
Sanchez fell silent. A long moment passed. Finally, he cleared his throat. “I’m afraid I must ask that you not leave this room.”
“Am I under arrest?”
“No.” He gestured to the officers behind him to leave the room. “There is still much fighting. Stay here for your own protection. A guard will be posted.”
Elodie suddenly spoke up. “Sir,” she said, addressing the lieutenant. “May I stay here as well? If this is one of the safest places to stay.”
Sanchez looked at her. “You can leave if you wish. We have no more questions for you, ma’am.”
“Ms,” she said, then quickly dropped her eyes. “Yes, sir. But with all this noise, and the lock down going on…”
“Very well. I’ll come back in a short while.”
“Thank you, sir.”
The lieutenant nodded to Bardish, then left the room. The moment the door closed, Elodie rose from her chair.
“Captain Bardish,” she said. “It is imperative that we leave the Moon immediately. Your life is in danger.”
Bardish threw up his hands. “That, already I knew.”
“Sir, please. Events are progressing more rapidly than we had anticipated. I must get you to safety, on Ceres.”
“Or Mars, whichever is closer at this point.”
He paused. Something in the woman’s voice seemed familiar, somehow. He tried to think, to remember. Someone from an office. A background voice during vid calls.
“You worked with Weng,” he said.
“Yes,” Elodie responded. “I did. But he wanted very much to prove himself to you.”
“He, he spoke of this with you?”
She held up a finger. “Wait.”
A mild reverberation shook the room. Bardish was sure he heard the sound of an explosion, probably somewhere just outside the administrative building. Shouts. Tazer fire, followed by a pulsing sound and screams for help.
“Bùqiāng,” Sergey breathed. “Particle beam rifles. What military has—“
Elodie held up her entire hand. “Please. I need to concentrate.”
They were silent. The reverberations continued. Steps could be heard just outside the closed door. A brief computer click from the door itself. Then more shouting and firing in the distance.
“Right. Let’s go.”
Elodie opened the door a crack, peering out cautiously. Then she entered the corridor and motioned for Bardish to follow her. The guard was nowhere to be seen. In fact, the place seemed virtually deserted.
As if reading his mind, she said, “They’ve all gone to join the fighting. That’s what they wanted, after all.”
Bardish glanced around the building as they continued to walk. There seemed little need for secrecy now. But how?
“You,” he grunted, “Somehow, you did something. Bribery.”
Elodie shrugged. “Maybe.”
“What if Sanchez returns?”
“That’s what worries me. He seemed resistant to—ah—persuasion.”
“And I suppose I am to believe that you could have, how you put it, persuaded him to let me go?”
“It makes no difference what you believe, but, yes, it’s true. I also helped Weng decide to go to Mars.”
“Oh? And I suppose you also helped the Committee decide to approve his request?”
She didn’t respond. The sounds of explosion and particle beams diminished as they turned a corner. Ahead lay another unguarded door. There was a security panel on the wall next to it. Probably another restricted access building lay beyond.
“Who are you?” Bardish asked.
Elodie shook her head. “Only a messenger. Not an important person like you.”
“I am not important,” he said angrily with a dismissive wave of a hand. “I am just a pawn. To be used when needed, then hidden away and forgotten.”
“We are all pawns, Captain,” Elodie said. “But some of us are more useful than others, and some can use others as well.”
“And you can use people, that is what you are saying?”
“I don’t use them. I merely suggest what they already want to do.”
“So you pay them off.”
“That’s not what I said.”
Elodie placed her hand on the security pad. The door slid inward, and she nodded in satisfaction.
“As I thought,” she said. “Some really did want to escape, after all.”
“What do you mean, escape?”
“Not everyone on the Lunar Base police force is willing to be involved in a military coup.”
“Is that what this is?” Bardish asked.
He rubbed his chest. The door slid shut behind them as they continued into the next building. He was really getting too old for this. But it was better than being trapped in his conapt, or being held prisoner by the admins.
“Of course, Captain,” Elodie replied. “And of course you are involved. Even if it is not in the way that Lieutenant Sanchez suspected.”
“In a way, you are the key to the whole business,” she said.
She held up a hand. They stopped and waited for a few minutes. Reverberations again, but they didn’t seem to be approaching their position. The corridor fell back into silence.
“This way,” Elodie said, pointing ahead. “We may have to borrow a ship if my plan has failed.”
“My contingency plan. In the event something like this happened.”
Bardish rubbed his chest again and coughed. “I don’t—who in seven hells are you, anyway?”
“Captain,” she said flatly, “I am your best chance of leaving Lunar alive. The Lunar Base police may be able to fend off hunters, but they’re no match for the UA forces.”
“UA? Hunters?” Bardish felt his chest suddenly tighten and gasped in pain. “I, I ca—”
The white ceiling seemed to rush down on him.
Next: Bringer of Light, Chapter 28: Ceres – The Artemis. Riss and her crew hatch a plan.