Mars, together — finally. Weng should have thought. But things are not what they seem, and nothing stays the same. Apologies, dear readers, for the endless delays in posting their story.
Recently, in Bringer of Light…
And what of Sergey?
Martin held his breath and looked around the room. It seemed even smaller and more confining with all the faction heads physically present.
And of course all the noisier, as well. The din was deafening, with each faction head clamoring to have questions answered.
Well, he thought with chagrin. More like shouting what they thought rather than asking questions.
He glanced at Captain Kragen. So this was the famous “Riss,” he thought. Medium height, dark hair that he could swear flickered Martian red. Powerful jaw and impassive face, like a block of marble…he shook his head. Martin could easily see what attracted his erstwhile water plant team chief to her.
Kragen stood in front of the room’s main console desk. seemingly impervious to her surroundings. Arms crossed, blank stare. The Artemis crew stood at either side of her, their demeanor, markedly different from that of their captain. Martin surveyed the crew, taking mental notes.
An extremely tall, thin man with sunglasses. Probably space-born. Judging by his facial expression, he didn’t seem to be enjoying the Martian gravity. Without the exoskeleton he wore, Martin doubted the man could even stand without a fair amount of effort.
A shorter South Asian woman with long hair, confidence in her pose. Occasionally glancing at the Captain. Martin wasn’t sure what that was all about. Admiration, or respect. Perhaps something else.
A broad-shouldered African man with shaven head and unshaven face. He looked nervous. Edgy, even. Like he was eager to escape. He clasped a tablet to his chest as if it were a precious object. Perhaps it was. A scientist, then.
Martin wondered what their roles were on the Artemis. The nervous one was probably their astrogeologist, tasked with determining which asteroid brought the most profit. And thus likely the one most responsible for not identifying the contaminant. He couldn’t imagine any Hunter captain allowing someone that anxious to control her ship. Of the other two, which one was the navigator and which was the pilot, he couldn’t tell.
At any rate the crew certainly didn’t look like the asteroid hunters he’d seen in the Net vids. Martin suppressed a sigh. Another failure of the big screen to capture reality.
Through the din, he spotted Weng. Standing off to one side, hands crossed behind his back, slightly swaying to and fro. As if he, too, was unsure of the purpose of the gathering. He seemed distantly uncomfortable to Martin’s perception. Unlike his former cockiness.
Martin wondered. Rumors of Weng’s attachment to the Artemis captain were true, then. And some event had happened, something that altered that relationship.
He shook his head. Idle speculation. First things first. Information.
Martin pushed his way through the crowded room. No point in trying to shout. He reached the Captain and stretched out a hand as he leaned forward.
“Martin Velasquez,” he said, as loudly as possible without yelling.
She looked at the hand, but did not take it.
He smiled and repeated his name.
The Asian woman whispered in the captain’s ear. Kragen nodded, then shook Martin’s hand without saying anything. She dropped his hand. Then held up her own hand.
Silence descended on the room.
The faction heads were still talking. He could see their mouths moving. But nothing came out.
“Sorry,” the captain said. “Who are you again? I couldn’t hear.”
Martin stammered his name again.
“Did—did you do that?” he asked. He gestured at the faction heads, who had turned to each other and continued to gesticulate wildly. They had obviously figured out that no sound could be heard from them.
The captain shrugged.
“Once I realized that sound waves were easy to see, it was simple to redirect them elsewhere.”
“Captain, you, uh, pardon me?”
“Riss,” she said. “My name is Riss.”
“Ah. I, uh. About my security chief—”
She ignored him and spoke to the faction heads.
“You will all be quiet. Now.”
The mouths stopped moving. The faces looked fairly terrified.
For once, Martin thought. His smile returned. Actually, this wasn’t too bad. An improvement, really.
“Overseer, Sergeant Major Hamels and the other security officers will be fine. They were outside when the rock landed, and then we met briefly.”
“When the, uh, what?”
She turned to the faction heads again.
“My name is Captain Clarissa Kragen, of the asteroid hunter ship Artemis. And this is my crew,” she gestured to them. “You all know what has happened on Terra. You may not know what has happened on Ceres and Luna.”
The mouths started to move again. She silenced them with a wave of her hand again.
“The Artemis is here with food and water supplies. But we can’t help you if you insist on behaving like children.”
Some of the delegate faces looked angry at that. Martin was delighted.
But a bit upset that he hadn’t said it, himself.
“If you will all calm down and take turns asking questions, I will release the sound waves again.”
“Very well. Mr. Velasquez, as the Martian Overseer, would you please chair the meeting?”
Martin beamed. This was turning out much better than he had anticipated. Perhaps this “Riss” was a person he could do business with. He motioned for Weng to stand next to him.
“Thank you, Captain. Now, first, I want all the faction heads to know that I am grateful and gratified to see all of them gathered here on such short notice. In an emergency situation such as this—”
“Overseer,” Weng said, walking quickly through the stunned crowd. “If you could come to the point?”
“Ah, yes,” Martin said.
He held out a hand to Weng, who took up a position between Martin and the captain. “Sam—Weng-shi—would you mind telling the esteemed delegates what exactly has transpired these past few weeks?”
Weng cleared his throat.
“Well, yes. As you all know, I was tasked with procuring foodstuffs and especially water for the Martian colonies. The recent increase in refugees and migrants from Terra have severely cut into our ability to support the colonies using hydroponics alone. In addition, the UA had a lock on the ice factories up north and we had been unable to gain access to them.”
Had? Martin thought.
“But—” a voice raised.
“Yes, yes, please raise your hand to speak,” Martin said. “Yes, go ahead, sir.”
“Dr. Weng, some of us are UA citizens. Don’t we have access to our own ice factories?”
Weng shook his head.
“I’m afraid your government has misled you. The ice was never meant for the colonies. It was earmarked from the beginning to be used in hydrogen fuel production for the military.”
“And how do you know this?”
Martin waved his hand, as if to cut the speaker off.
“A valid question, Sam. How do you know?”
Weng gestured at the Artemis crew.
“As Captain Kragen can verify, the UA has invaded Luna.”
Shocked expressions and murmurs in the delegate crowd.
“Also, there has been a…change in management on Ceres.”
Another hand raised. Martin called on its owner.
“Why are so many people here sick? Hallucinating, feeling dizzy, unexplained headaches, bad dreams…”
Martin turned to Weng, who sighed and hung his head in admission.
“The water brought here from Ceres was contaminated.”
The sense of outrage was palpable. Martin held up his hands as several delegated shouted at once.
“Gentlemen, ladies! The Artemis captain has a solution.”
He looked at her. “Isn’t that right, Captain?”
“Yes,” she said. “Well, it’s less of a solution and more of a plan, really.”
Weng looked troubled, Martin noted. “A, uh, a plan, you say?”
“Yes, Overseer. What has happened to your fellow colonists happened to the crew of the Artemis first.”
“I see. And how did you overcome your, ah, sickness?”
The captain turned to the delegates.
“It is not a sickness. It is something completely different. Something…”
She trailed off, as if searching for words to explain.
“Something wonderful,” the Asian woman suddenly said.
“Exhilarating,” the slender spacer said.
“Awesome,” the African geist said.
The other crew members looked at him.
“I mean, awe-some, you know? As in full of awe.”
“Thanks for the clarification, Coop,” said the spacer with a snort. Martin noticed the man’s eyes move slightly—implants, he realized. A Lunie?
“Enoch, enough,” said Kragen. She returned her attention to the faction heads once again. “As we have all said, there is nothing to fear. We will show you how to cope with the physical and emotional changes that you and your people are experiencing. Sanvi here will teach you the meditative techniques necessary.”
“Meditation?” one delegate shouted. “Are you foisting some kind of cult belief on us?”
“No,” Kragen said curtly.
The room fell into silence.
“You have two choices,” she said. “Accept our help, and survive. Or go back to your people with no idea how to save them, and then all starve to death when the supplies we’ve brought run out.”
Martin paled and wrung his hands as he faced the delegates. They seemed likewise at a loss for words. Besides themselves with fury, indignation. And fear. He scanned the faces for any sign of resistance. Only crestfallen, beaten visages. He could read a person like a book. Relaxing his shoulders, he sighed deeply, once.
Now everything would change.
Next: Bringer of Light, Chapter 35: United Mars Colonies (pt 3) — The Artemis makes the colonists an offer they can’t refuse. And Martin is beside himself with fury.