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Bringer of Light, Chapter 38 (Part 1): United Mars Colonies — Cut the Tether

January 7, 2023
MThomas

This installment is a bit longer than anticipated, so I will cut it into two parts. Metaphorically. Just like the Artemis crew will need to, following their agreement with the Mars colonies faction heads to train the afflicted settlers in controlling their odd new powers and sensations while assisting in distribution of temporary water and food supplies. Only Martin, the former Mars UN Overseer, who thinks he can manipulate the situation, is about to find out things are proceeding far faster than he planned. And Luna Base has a nasty surprise in store for Mars…

The storeroom chambers were nearly full by now. It had taken several days, but at last the food and water brought from Ceres had been stacked neatly, carefully portioned and labelled for each settler division. Orders were sent to each settler node requesting two or three representatives to bring their respective robotic platform dollies to the main supply chamber.

Cooper strolled casually along one earthen wall, rubbing a hand against the soil. He could feel the regolith composite materials, sense the minerals and hydrocarbon content. It would be so easy to extract and solidify what they needed, strengthen the structure. Or dig even deeper below the planet’s surface.

“Here,” Martin said, handing a pad to Cooper. “I’ve authorized the complete list of supplies brought by the Artemis. There’s my thumb verification, at the bottom.”

Cooper accepted the pad. He scrolled up to verify, nodding. “That should do it.”

“Now,” Martin said, addressing both Artemis crew members with him. “I’d like to find out what happened to my security chief, Hamels. She was outside the airlock when you dropped the ditrium on the ice cap.”

“First things first,” Enoch said. “We’d better make sure that the quantum teleportation nodes from Luna are severed.”

“Severed?”

“Yes. Completely.”

Martin turned pale. “That would seem a bit, er, final, wouldn’t it?”

Enoch grinned. “You bet. And necessary. Who knows what might come through the next time the UA turns the system on again?”

“Meaning?”

The geist spread his hands wide and made a booming sound, then laughed. The tall spacer slapped his crewmate on the shoulder, then both laughed hysterically for a moment. Martin stared at them. Cooper couldn’t help doubling over again, holding his stomach.

It was just an in-joke, Cooper thought, wiping back tears. The former Martian leader must think them completely out of their minds.

Former leader, he thought again, straightening up. For they all knew know who the new leader of the Colonies was. And she had their full support.

She’d need it. Cooper did not trust this man, this sycophantic, perpetually handwringing career politician. It was people like this that had driven his mother and him from their home country in the first place. The thought sobered him immediately.

“Hamels,” he said to Martin. “She is none of your concern.”

“What, what do you mean by that?” the smaller man huffed. “She may be injured, badly! Or worse!”

“I seriously doubt that, Overseer,” said a voice from the far entrance. Martin gaped as his security chief walked slowly into the room, flanked by two Mars Colonies Security Forces members. They stopped just inside the entrance. Hamels nodded to one. “Tell the next settler delegation they can come in. Check them for weapons before they enter.”

“Aye, sir.”

Hamels shouldered her rifle and approached the center of the storeroom. She appeared a little disheveled and dirty, but otherwise unharmed. Martin narrowed his eyes. Was it possible—?

“Yes,” she said, as if in response. “I’m afraid I have not been entirely forthright with you, Overseer.”

Martin sighed.

“Ah,” Cooper said. “Another clone?”

“Yes,” the security chief said. “Surely, Overseer, you knew that Ceres would never have agreed to let you bring back Gen here without some sort of supervision. And yet, I, too, have been afflicted. We are, after all, not infallible creatures.”

The man made no response. Just stood there, fuming, clenching and unclenching his fists. Impotent rage, Cooper thought. He felt a brief stab of sympathy, but shoved the feeling aside.

“Have you disabled the teleportation system yet?” Hamels asked the Artemis crew members. She seemed to deliberately ignore Martin.

“No, not yet,” Cooper said. “Martin, where is it?”

In response, the former Overseer sat down on a pallet of solid food stuffs and crossed his arms, staring into the distance.

“Never mind him,” Hamels said. “He’ll get over it. Follow me.”

They left the main chamber and walked through winding connected hallways from chamber to chamber. The storeroom area seemed much bigger than they had been led to believe. More UA secrets, Cooper guessed. He’d always known that the UN never really intended to protect every nation’s needs.

Then again, given how little the other countries had helped even their own citizens, he couldn’t say he blamed the UA. Which was why none of them deserved to own the Colonies any more.

“Sergeant Major,” he asked, “Are you sure it’s OK to leave Martin like that?”

Hamels shrugged. “I suppose he could try to gather support from a few dissatisfied settlers, but from what I’ve seen of their attitude toward him, he’s likely to be seen as nothing more than a mild nuisance.”

“I’m more concerned about Weng,” Enoch said. He fiddled with his new wrist comm. “The man’s a tech whiz, but if he and Martin decide to break our arrangement…”

“He wouldn’t. He and Riss are too close.”

“Are they?” Enoch pondered. “They don’t seem to have spent more than five minutes together the past three days.”

Cooper fell silent. Truth be told, he had noticed. He had also noticed Riss and Sanvi were spending nearly the entire time together, even after their training sessions with the affected settlers.

Where did that leave him again?

“We’re getting closer,” Hamels said. “Watch your step.”

The corridors had grown steadily more and more cramped, with a lower ceiling and the barest of lighting. After about half a kilometer of walking they reached a tiny doorless chamber. To Cooper it reminded him of the walk-in closet in his teenage bedroom in Colorado. Boxes stacked from ceiling to floor. Barely room to enter. The three stood outside the low doorway and peered in.

“Is this near the original landing site of the UA colony?” he asked.

“Beats me,” Enoch said. “Sergeant Major?”

The clone nodded. “Yes. The heart of the colonies. More or less.”

“So this is where we should find the teleportation node?”

She pointed. “That’s it right there.”

Cooper followed her gesture. It just looked like another stack of boxes to him. Then he saw that they seemed to form a shape, as if surrounding a scaffolding of some sort. He and Enoch looked at each other, nodded, then as if telepathically communicating, began to pick up boxes on either side of the stack and set them aside.

Hamels raised her rifle. “Be careful. Let’s hope there’s no surprises on the way from Luna.”

The corner of a console appeared. More boxes moved. Discarded electronic equipment, endless entangled wires and circuit boards. “Ancient crap, man,” Enoch said. “Wonder if there are any classic VR games here somewhere?”

“Wonder if we can reuse any of the metals and minerals in here,” Cooper replied. He sensed copper, gold, mercury. Lithium. Even cobalt.

All the right ingredients for a dangerous radioactive gift.

The last of the boxes set aside, the three stepped back. The console stood waist-high on a spindly aluminum frame. Behind it what seemed to be a hexagonal platform spread slightly crooked on the floor. A single crack snaked from the center to the right, not quite reaching the edge.

 “Here,” Hamels said, tossing the rifle to Cooper. She examined the console screen. Touched two spots on either side. A thin panel slid up from the back of the console and flickered to life.

Enoch whistled. “Old school. Maika‘i loa.”

The geist briefly held the weapon, then handed it to Enoch. “Here. You have better aim than I do.” 

“And you’re not allowed to be violent, anyway,” Enoch said.

Cooper nodded. The navigator accepted the weapon, turning it over in his hands. No point asking why the loonie knew that. Or why he hated being called a loonie. They were all connected now, to some degree.

Cooper stepped closer to Hamels. Over her shoulder he could see her searching through menu after submenu. “Looking for the “off” button?”

“No. The ‘reject contact’ button. Only it’s buried somewhere deep in the backup directory. Hey, you!”

Enoch stopped fiddling with the rifle. “Me?”

“Keep that trained on the pad, in case something gets sent through.”

He shrugged. “Quantum teleportation doesn’t work with living things, so I don’t see why we should b— “

A shimmering curtain slid down around the platform. It touched the edge of the pad and a buzzing noise seemed to pulse from the ceiling.

“Shit,” Hamels said, hands flying over the console. “Force shield.”

“Maybe, ah, maybe something will come through after all,” Enoch said. He backed away and trained the rifle at the force shield.

“Tell me you did that, Sergeant Major,” Cooper said.

He felt strangely calm for once. He stared at the force shield. It glimmered, half-translucent with curved diagonal stripes of quantum energy streaming up and down on all sides of the hexagonal tube. Like an endlessly recursive water fall. Continually falling in upon itself. No energy lost or gained.

Beautiful.

A small cylindrical object appeared on the pad inside the force shield. It looked like a used thermos bottle turned on its side. Quite obviously it was not.

Enoch glanced at Cooper, then Hamels. “Now?”

She shook her head. “Negative. I’ve strengthened the shield the best I can. If that’s a bomb…”

It could level the entire main colony, Cooper thought…


Next: Bringer of Light, Chapter 38 (Part 2): Cut the Tether — in which shells are configured and Compton is suppressed…

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