Previously, in Bringer of Light…
The crew of the Artemis have admitted that the water brought from Ceres was contaminated. And yet they deny it was dangerous. Only different. And requiring training…that may stretch the rationality and scientific understanding of the current “United” Mars colonists…
“Delegates,” Martin began.
“Delegates, we must accept the help of the Artemis crew. We have little alternative. We must face the facts. The UN, our home countries, our home planet has abandoned us.”
“How can we survive?” another delegate asked, voice quivering. “Captain, how can we feed ourselves? Maintain heat, power?”
“These are legitimate questions,” she replied. “Coop, a small demonstration?”
He nodded and looked back and forth. Spotting a cup on a small table to the side of the console desk, he raised it above his head.
“Empty now. See?”
He stooped and scooped up a handful of regolith from the chamber floor. Dropped it to the cup. In an instant, water appeared.
“Sorcery,” a delegate whispered.
“No,” the geologist said. “I thought so, too. At first. But God works in mysterious ways. Is this not another manifestation of his will?”
“Heretic!” someone shouted. A number of voices rose in support.
The captain silenced them again, this time with a hard stare. Martin wrung his hands again and glanced at her. He needed this woman on his side. But he could hardly make enemies of the faction heads. How many would support the Artemis crew? Could such a small number really control two and a half thousand colonists?
“Riss. Captain. I think we will need to take a vote.”
The spacer laughed. “Of course, take a vote on whether we all die or not.”
“Enoch,” Kragen said quietly.
She turned to the Overseer. “We brought enough foodstuffs from Ceres to last us several weeks. Long enough to ensure that the hydroponics are fully functioning for most of the colony.”
“Unless you permit us to use our abilities to make food and water, using the regolith beneath our feet, there won’t be enough to sustain the colonies without external help. And there are probably more refugees on their way.”
Martin nodded. “Indeed. Four ships are due in a just a few days.”
Kragen turned to the delegates again.
“Hold your vote. We are here to help and to teach, not to harm or to prevent you from deciding your own fate. But you should know that the process of terraforming Mars will not be affected by your decision, either way.”
“What do you mean by that?” Martin asked. “Have you found a way to increase the terraforming rate, as you told me before landing?”
Riss nodded. “You all heard and felt the blast. Just before we touched down, the Artemis dropped an asteroid filled with ditrium over the North Pole.”
Martin gaped. Was the woman insane? The polar ice cap, if it were to melt…
“Yes,” Sanvi said, as if she could read his mind. “There will be flooding planet-wide. But the settlements here are safe.”
“How can you know that?”
Riss gestured at Martin’s wrist. “Perhaps you should get in touch with your security chief and ask.”
He hesitated, then touched the wrist panel. He had a feeling he wasn’t going to like the answer.
“Hamels? Hamels, are you there?”
Silence. Then a crackling noise. “Here, sir.”
“Hamels, by god, are you all right? That explosion—”
“I’m fine, sir. We’re fine. The ice factories have been secured and are fully under our control.”
The delegates murmured. Martin paled, again. Things were rapidly spiraling out of his control. Who was this woman? What made her think she could just land here, drop an asteroid on his planet—
“Hamels. Are the settlements safe?”
“Yes. We have seen to it.”
Martin shook his head. Something was not right here. She had clearly gone behind his back. What on earth was going on outside the settlement perimeter?
“I am afraid, sir, that we will need to find another location for the next Landers Marsball game. The field has been inundated.”
Martin spun to Riss. Planetary flooding. Ditrium. Had it begun?
“Yes,” the captain replied. “There is another task at hand. It will require as many colonists as can be spared. And trained.”
He held up a hand and spoke into his wrist patch again. “Hamels, bring your forces here to the Receiving Station and prepare to arrest the crew of the Artemis.”
“Sir. I’m sorry, sir. I can’t do that.”
“I’m afraid I haven’t been entirely forthright, Overseer. I, too, have been afflicted.”
“Call it ‘affected,’ then. I request that Captain Kragen and the Artemis crew be given free rein to train the security forces and as many colonists as possible. Our future is at stake, sir.”
He closed the channel, fuming. A coup!
“Overseer,” Riss said. “We have no intention of overthrowing the duly elected government of a free Mars Colony.”
“You act as if everything has been already decided!” Martin shouted. “What about all the faction heads? Will they be able to speak? Or have you decided to keep them shut up here while you just waltz in and take over?”
“Just a little while ago you looked extraordinarily pleased to see them shut up,” Enoch said.
Martin glared at the spacer. Damn his artificial eyes, the man was right. The United Mars Colonies were anything but. How could they possibly run a planet with no agreement of any kind?
“I think we should focus on the matter at hand,” the geologist said. “Clearly we cannot agree on everything, but we do agree that survival comes before all else.”
But at what cost? Martin wondered. He folded his hands behind his back and paced. The room was silent. He dared not even think. Somehow they could sense his feelings. Had they learned that from Gen? Only enhanced clones could do what the Artemis crew could do.
No. Not even clones could create water from regolith without reclamation equipment. But if they trained the infected colonists, where would that leave him?
He supposed they were right. First came survival. Politics could wait. For now.
“Captain,” he said, coming to a stop at the far side of the room. “The Artemis crew is free to move about the United Mars Colonies. We rely on your good will for our future.”
She nodded. “We will help all those factions who ask for our help. We will not impose on those who refuse us.”
Martin shrugged. “The factions that refuse help won’t make it past the next three weeks. I see little choice in the matter at the present.”
He turned to the delegates. “As you know, all colonists have been sealed in their respective factions for their own safety. We need to secure our water and food supplies before we can permit free movement between the settler pods. Captain, will you allow us to help distribute what you have generously brought from Ceres?”
She nodded. “We will need the help of the delegates to portion out the supplies fairly. I will leave the arrangements in your capable hands. Enoch and Cooper will show you to the supplies.”
Enoch and Cooper looked at each other, then at their Captain. “What will you and Sanvi be doing?” Cooper asked.
“Training,” Sanvi said. She cocked at eyebrow at Riss. “I assume?”
“Yes,” Riss said. “The sooner we help the affected colonists, the sooner we can put everyone’s minds at ease.”
Martin sighed. Here the five of them were discussing the future of the Mars colonies, and he had no idea how they were going to help colonists who by all appearances had entirely lost their minds.
Weng suddenly spoke up. “Overseer, I believe it makes sense to see if as many colonists as possible could be treated. That way, they could help with the regolith reclamatory, or with the ice factories or hydroponics production.”
“‘Many hands make light work,’?” Martin said.
“More like, ‘Hesperus is the same as Phosphorus,’” Enoch replied.
“I—I don’t understand,” Weng said.
The spacer nodded. “No, you do not. But that’s OK. The meaning will become clear with time.”
Now it was Weng’s turn to look uncertain. Martin got the distinct impression that his former water plant supervisor was not entirely happy with the way things were going. He had heard rumors that the Captain was his fiancée—and the adopted daughter of the famous Sergey Bardish, no less—but he had blithely assumed that Weng would be pleased at the chance to be reunited with his lover.
Body language told him otherwise. Things were amiss.
What was the cause?
“Overseer,” Weng said, “I request permission to go with Riss and Sanvi, to see what help they can offer the affected colonists.”
Martin agreed. “See if you can convince some of them to come to areas where they can put us back on firmer ground. Those supplies from Ceres won’t last forever.”
He turned to the delegates, still silently assembled in the room. “I’m sorry, ladies and gentlemen, that it has come to this. I implore you to assist us, for the sake of all.”
There was no answer. They shuffled back to their pods, one at a time or in pairs, whispering amongst themselves. It was as if all the fight had gone out of them. Deflated. Emotionally controlled? He found himself thinking again of Gen. What had he and that woman done, creating a clone like that?
“Overseer,” Enoch called. “This way, if you please.”
Martin nodded and fell in behind the spacer and geologist. An unlikely pair if ever there was one, he thought. And yet how like Mars to unite completely opposite personalities!
He toggled his wrist console as they walked. “Hamels, this is Martin.”
“Yes, sir. I assume you would like to talk this time rather than cutting me off?”
“Sergeant Major, I do apologize. We, we have come to an understanding.”
He looked up at the two men walking in front of him, seemingly unaware of his existence. The spacer looked over his shoulder briefly and flashed a grin.
“Yes, sir. What next?”
“Meet me and two crew members of the Artemis at, uh…”
“Emergency Airlock 5,” the geologist said.
“You heard that?”
“Yes, sir. Airlock 5.”
“How many officers do you have with you at the ice factory?”
“Can you spare four or five?”
“Four, sir. Will that be enough?”
Martin looked askance at the spacer, who nodded.
“Yes,” he replied. “We need their assistance bringing supplies from the Artemis to the faction settler pods.”
“Aye, sir. Out.”
Satisfied, Martin toggled the console off. He would find out what happened with Hamels later. In the meantime, he had brains to pick. Survival may be paramount, but he was still a politician, after all. Somehow, some way, he would turn this to his advantage.
Next: Bringer of Light, Chapter 36: Transit – Luna to Ceres. Sergey Bardish meets his destiny