For Weng, the patient waiting is over…perhaps…
The sudden appearance of Riss on his monitor shouldn’t have come as a shock to Weng.
But it did.
He swallowed a nervous greeting, waved a hand over his face. There she was.
“Sam,” she said, with a little smile. “I always knew you would come to the rescue.”
“Rescue?” he repeated dubiously. It was his turn to smile. “I hardly think you needed rescuing, my princess.”
She laughed. “And you’re no shining knight. But it’s still good to see you. And we do need your help.”
Weng nodded. He had received the message from Gen moments earlier. He still had no idea how the clone had managed it, but he was sure Riss was involved somehow. Gen had also managed to contact Mars in the meantime. How, he wasn’t sure. A cypher? Things looked bad.
“I’ll do what I can,” he said. “Of course.”
“As you know, ditrium can be volatile,” she said.
“Yes. I gather you have quite a lot of it?”
“Enough to speed up the terraforming process. By speed up, I mean, drastically speed up.”
“I…see.” Weng pursed his lips. There was something she was holding back from him. She had found something during her transneptunian trip. But it hadn’t been the ditrium rocks currently in the Artemis’s cargo hold.
What had she sent to Ceres besides water?
“Riss, you’ve heard reports about the situation on Mars,” Weng said.
Weng nearly bit his lip in frustration.
“So, what do we do?”
Riss sighed. “Only thing we can do. Head to Mars.”
“We’ll never get there in time,” she said. “Sergey will have to deal with things on his own. He isn’t the only person on base, you know.”
Now Weng sighed. She had never really struck him as the logical type, but she was correct. As much as Weng felt a certain loyalty to the old captain, Sergey’s fate was now out of his hands.
But how could he help Mars? He had to know.
“Riss,” he said slowly. “I wonder if something happened to you, out there. Something you’re not telling me.”
She was silent. From behind her, he thought he could see one of her crew members move. The pilot, or the navigator. He couldn’t tell.
“Sam, I, I’m not sure exactly what happened,” Riss said. She turned to her right briefly and spoke to one of the crew. Weng couldn’t hear; she must have muted, he guessed. A sudden anger rose. Something she could tell her crew but not him? Her fiancé?
“Riss,” he said. “Riss!”
The sound came back on. “Sam. There’s…something that happened. Something you ought to know.”
He waited. She looked down at her hands, then around her. At her crew, he guessed. Waiting to see what she’d say.
“We, uh, we caught that rock I’d told you about. In the vidmess.”
“Yes,” he said, nodding. “The last one you sent. What happened between then and now?”
“It’s, um.” She shook her head. “Sam, I’m just not sure what’s happened to us. It’s sometimes…incredible, exhilarating, even. But sometimes. A little disturbing.”
She swallowed and looked directly at him.
“Cooper, our astrogeologist, he thinks it’s a microorganism of some kind. Trapped inside the ice.”
Weng felt himself turning pale. He clasped his hands together awkwardly. Dug fingernails into a palm.
“Astrogeologist,” he said. “Your geologist is an expert on biochemistry.”
“No, no,” she said, shaking her head. “Our instruments aren’t picking up much. Mostly guessing, from the chemical compounds and our reactions.”
He caught himself. “What reactions?”
“Feeling, feeling like things are floating. Sometimes like we’re outside our bodies.”
“Just like those infected in the Mars Colonies,” he said. “Hallucinations. Paranoia. Riss, we’ve got to get you to a doctor, to a medical facility. Somewhere where you and your crew can be properly tested and treated.”
“No,” she tried. “No, that’s not it at all.”
“Don’t, don’t say anything else,” he continued rapidly. “I’ll send a message to, ah, to.”
He stopped. To whom? Mars had enough infected settlers already. What would Martin say? Surely the administrator had his hands full as it was, dealing with several hundred sick settlers along with a critical food shortage situation.
And Gen had promised that they would all arrive practically the next day. An impossible scenario.
“Sam,” she said. “I know this may seem a bit strange to you. I mean, it still seems strange to us. But.”
He waited again, calmer. Riss didn’t appear ill to his eyes. She looked the same as always. Maybe even a little bit stronger. More confident. Reserved.
She still said nothing. Her eyes were closed, almost imperceptibly, as if she were meditating.
“Riss,” Weng finally said, breaking the silence. “Tell me what you need me to do. And I’ll do it.”
She smiled and opened her eyes again. “I know I can always trust you, Sam.”
A light on his console. Gen had just sent another message. Weng’s hands danced across the console, confirming. He selected another menu, dragged down, overlaid the pattern and cross-checked the gravitational fields.
“I’m sending the plotted course to the Mars colonies to you,” he said. “Along with a copy of the contact cypher that Gen just sent to me. The Martian Overseer will need to know it’s us before we arrive.”
“Sam,” she said. “I need you to concentrate.”
“Yes. Close your eyes and concentrate on the trajectory you’ve plotted.”
“But how will—”
“Sam. Trust me. Trust us.”
He closed his eyes.
“I can’t wait to see you in person,” he said, not even blinking. “On Mars.”
Their future home.
Her voice came to him as if across a great distance, as if underwater.
“Concentrate. Imagine. Mars.”
The shuttle began to shake.
He calmly rested his arms on the chair, leaning back as his seat harness tightened. Even with his eyes closed, he could sense. Something. Just outside his perceptions. He focused, thinking with all his might. An image appeared in his mind’s eye.
Mars, he thought with satisfaction.
Their future awaited.
Next: Bringer of Light, Chapter 34: Luna Departure. Sergey returns to space on February 19th