The Seventh Sister finally shows her hand, and no one is particularly pleased…
Gennaji strolled forward, keeping one eye on the traitor, Andrej. But the miner was no longer paying attention to him. Riss and her crew were the star attraction now. And they seemed to have infuriated Ildico.
He was curious, yet the fate of Sergey gnawed at him. Better to glean whatever information he could here and run to Luna. The old man was stubborn and still had allies. Surely he’d hold out, regroup and bide his time until help could arrive.
“Gennaji!” Riss called. “We’ve been waiting for you. This,” she gestured, “is what we are prepared to offer you.”
Andrej gave a mild yelp and threw his weapon to the floor. “It’s burning!”
“No,” Riss said calmly. “It’s changing.”
Before their eyes, the pistol seemed to melt, then condensate. The grey metal dissipated into the air and the shimmering form emitted a vapor and slight hiss as the color changed.
It was a dull yellow and black.
Gennaji pushed through Ildico and Taygete, knelt at the former weapon. He touched it with a tentative finger, then picking it up. Heavy. Much too heavy.
“How?” he raised his head.
“Another demonstration,” Riss answered. She turned to the shorter man standing just behind her. “Coop.”
He seemed to hesitate, then slowly withdrew a pad from a front suit pocket and held it with both hands. A thin rivulet of sweat filled a forehead crease, then two.
The Artemis’s geist, Gennaji thought. He grimaced. The schwarze. He would never have allowed such a person on his ship. Weak.
A voice behind him spoke softly. “It is not logical to deny opportunities to talent simply because they do not look the same as yourself.”
He turned around. Gen. “What would you know about not looking the same?” he demanded. “Clone. I would think you, of all—people—would appreciate sameness.”
The clone gave a brief smile.
“There is strength in unity,” Gennaji continued. “Difference leads to arguments. Dissent. Weakness.”
Gen shook his head. “You are mistaken, Captain. Some clones are, as you say, virtually identical. But others…”
He trailed off, then smiled again.
“The more advanced clones do appreciate various contributions to their enhanced genetic makeup.”
“By contributions, you mean—” Gennaji began. He was cut off by a sudden gasp from Ildico.
“Finished,” the geist—Coop? he had heard Riss say—the geist holding the pad announced. Triumphant, Coop stepped forward and handed the pad to Ildico.
She took it, darting a look at him, and nearly dropped it.
“So heavy,” she gasped again. Then caught herself. “No,” she said, “It must be fake. Many metals weigh this much.”
“It makes little sense to speak of weight in a microgravity environment,” Gen said. “Check its molecular density and composition.”
Gennaji held out his hand. After a moment’s hesitation, Ildico gave it to him.
“Gold,” he said bluntly. No doubt about it. The object was solid gold.
He looked to Riss, then to the geist.
“How much, how much of this can you produce?”
Riss shrugged. “As much as is needed. Not from nothing, of course. But anything made of metal can be transmuted.”
“A fool’s alchemy,” Ildico snapped. “This is some sort of trick, Gennaji!”
“No,” he interrupted, hefting the object. “I know gold when I feel it.”
He ground his teeth and stared at Riss. Somehow, she had deflected his bullet. Somehow, she had protected herself from an atmosphere-less port with an open gate.
Somehow, the geist had made a pad into a solid block of gold.
He gripped the formerly-pad-now-gold-brick and pondered. No use in challenging them here. He still had two crew members and the ship he had always wanted. With more gold bricks such as the one he was holding, he could easily upgrade the Sagittarius, finally. Which was in the end all he really wanted.
Revenge. Perhaps there still was a way.
“How about it, Gennaji?” Riss asked. “The Artemis is worth much less than two or three more blocks like that.”
He nodded, slowly. “Yes,” he said dully. “Yes, give me two more, to fix my ship. And then take the Artemis and go.”
“No!” Ildico bellowed, reaching for Riss. She stopped suddenly.
A rifle had intervened. Taygete.
“Captain,” the military clone said with a tone of urgency. “I fail to see how this situation involves us.”
Ildico snarled. “I am Captain. Our business on Luna is not done, and I will not see this — person — interfere with justice.”
“Justice,” Taygete repeated. “Revenge. These are human concerns. We only want what is ours.”
She pointed her rifle at Ildico. “Get back into the access room. The Sisters are waiting there.”
Ildico looked around bewildered. As if she were finally realizing for the first time, Gennaji thought with satisfaction, what she had done to herself. What position she was in.
“I am the Head of the Mining Council now!” Ildico shouted. “You must obey!”
Her voice echoed across the port, replaced by a quiet chuckle. She turned to see Sue Talbot standing, arms crossed, with two of the Sisters flanking her.
“No, Captain,” Talbot said. “She has no need to obey, nor will she. Taygete is a Sister, not a robot.”
“The Mining Council,” Ildico began.
“The Mining Council,” Talbot said, “will do just fine without you. The other captains have already agreed. Consider yourself deposed.”
Ildici’s eyes narrowed. “Backstabber!”
Talbot shrugged. “Yep.” She motioned to Taygete. “Take care you don’t damage her. She’ll make fine genetic stock.”
An inarticulate cry from Ildico was swiftly silenced. Taygete had knocked her unconscious with a snap of the rifle butt. Talbot eyed her; the clone shrugged. “She’ll be fine. Tough head.”
The two Sisters next to Talbot picked up Ildico as if she weighed virtually nothing, carried her toward the access room door.
Taygete gestured at Gennaji with her rifle. “And him?”
Talbot shook her head, approaching. “Let him return to his ship. He can’t change what has happened, and we already have enough male stock. Plus we still need good Hunters.”
“Ildi was a good Hunter,” Gennaji grunted. “Once.”
He paused, looking between Riss and Talbot. “What about her?”
Talbot considered. “I doubt there is anything we could do now to prevent her from leaving. Particularly since the three of them could conceivably turn the entire port into a different metal with the consistency of a wet noodle, which would not exactly help our export rate.”
“Speaking of noodles, you still need foodstuffs,” Riss said. She had silently observed the conflict, remaining carefully neutral. She handed two additional pads to Gennaji. “As requested.”
Gennaji accepted them, checked them. “Your geist does good work.” He looked over at Coop, who looked thoroughly exhausted.
“No need for concern,” Gen said behind him. “He will recover quite quickly.”
“Concern?” Gennaji spat, “I—”
He stopped. Damned mindreader.
He turned back to Riss. “Go. Get out of here. Don’t make me change my mind.”
Riss returned his gaze evenly. Sadly? No, he didn’t see that. Couldn’t. She turned abruptly and entered the Hopper with the geist.
Gennaji, Talbot, and Gen returned to the access door. Gennaji tried his best to keep his thoughts to himself, but he was positive the damned little clone would read them anyway.
Luna. He must find out what had happened.
“The three of them?” he said aloud.
“I was wondering when you would figure that out,” Talbot said with a chuckle. “You didn’t seem to realize that their navigator was also in the Hopper. With a steady aim on your forehead. And Ildico could easily have been stopped, as well.”
Outwitted again, he thought savagely. Sergey was right. He had no sense of strategy.
“Sergey,” Gen said sadly. “I never thought to include him at all. It did not involve us, your revenge.”
Gennaji opened his mouth, then shut it. No, not his revenge.
He paused again.
“Already have good stock?”
This time Talbot laughed loudly. “Twice! A little slow on the uptake, as usual.”
She laughed again. “No need to get so upset, dear Gen. We have more than enough genetic material for generations to come. Both male and female. And anything in-between.”
“A planet of the clones,” he said, as they walked him back to the suiting area. A beep on his wrist informed him that Orynko and Karel were ready. “Sounds like something about of an old science fiction movie.”
He began to pull the outer suit on for the return walk.
“Oh, no,” Gen said matter of factly. “This is not fiction, Captain.”
Gennaji tapped his wrist pad, then yanked the helmet on. Pressurizing complete. He glared at the clone, then Talbot. She looked the same as ever.
What had he done?
“You’re right,” he said gruffly. “There will be no happy ending.”
And headed back to the port, and then to the Sagittarius.
Gen stood quietly, watched the Captain disappear into the corridor. Talbot tsked next to him. “Poor Gen.”
“I’m fine, Mother.”
“Oh, not you, Gen,” she laughed. “Gennaji. This is all well above his head.”
“Yes,” he replied. “Captain Ildico was also surprised.”
Talbot shrugged. “She proved sneaky, in her own way. I had forgotten entirely about her wrath towards Bardish. Never did I assume that he was her real target. I would not have had our own operative infiltrate Luna Base had that been the case. Perhaps a brief message can reach her in time to escape.”
“Gennaji may try to rescue Captain Bardish. Surely that will complicate matters.”
Talbot shook her head. “Maybe. Maybe not. First things first. You need to ensure the ditrium flies with your wingman to the Mars colonies. We will need them to survive. Particularly if Luna is compromised.”
“How long can we last?”
She did a quick mental calculation.
“Several months, at least. But it’s in our best interest to make sure Mars is self-sufficient as soon as possible. Our operative there has told us of the dire circumstances.”
Gen nodded. “From what I now know of Captain Clarissa and her crew, I believe they can be of assistance. Weng, as well.”
“Please see to it, then. I will try to contact Luna and assess the situation.” She pulled a pad out of a pocket and made as if to return to her work. “Also, please refrain from calling me ‘Mother.’ It makes me feel uncomfortable.”
Gen turned to go, then turned back. “Gennaji, will he be in time?”
Talbot paused, scrolled down her pad, then shook her head.
“Not for everything.”
Next: Bringer of Light, Chapter 32: United Mars Colonies. Where things have quickly gone from bad to very, very bad for Martin.