The samples were extremely hydrophobic, and repelled water as if it were the most disgusting thing ever invented. Researchers labored to get the lunar soil to gradually soak up water. They also added a nutrient solution.
“Perhaps most intriguing among the documents are the several dozen Defense Intelligence Reference Documents (DIRDs), which discuss the viability of various “advanced technolog[ies].” This collection includes reports on “traversable wormholes, stargates, and negative energy,” “high-frequency gravitational wave communications,” “warp drive, dark energy, and the manipulation of extra dimensions,” and many other topics that will sound familiar to fans of science fiction.”
Red lights flashed around him. The floor shook once, twice.
Pounding of footsteps.
A face appeared.
Who? A woman.
Her mouth opened, then closed.
Again. And again. She must be talking to him.
His eyes fluttered, closed.
He was being shaken.
The floor? No, the woman.
His ears filled with the sound of rushing water. The Baltic Sea. He was home, he could smell the salt water, feel the mist. He could hear the lament, chanted on the steppe winds…
O what have you heard in Ukraine?
Nothing have I heard
Nothing have I seen
But horsemen on all four sides…
Then tazerfire. Pulses. An acrid smell.
Burning. Something was burning.
He was shaken again, then a woman’s voice. “Captain! Captain! Stay with me!”
Opened his eyes again, nodded his head, down, down. His chest hurt. Why? Did she shoot him?
No. He had fallen down. Or something.
He tried to stand. One foot kicking against the other. The left knee refused to bend. His hands. They were. Where were they?
Here. He found them. The right hand clenched, unclenched. He grunted, felt the wall behind his back. It shook again. The wall, not the woman.
Ah. Elo-something. Elodie. He tried to shake his head, open his mouth. “Ahhh” came out. He blinked his eyes.
There seemed to be something else pounding beneath him. No, inside of him. His heart? He tried to move his left arm. It flopped uselessly on the floor. Hand. Right hand. Under his body. It moved. Someone grabbed it, then under the elbow.
“El,” he managed to say. Scattered red-tinted shadows seemed to rotate throughout the corridor.
“Yes,” he heard next to him. “We must go. Now.”
He felt himself partially stand, right leg pushing against the floor. Something made an ugly scraping sound, like metal on tile. His left foot. Eyes rolled. Jaw. His jaw wouldn’t listen. Clamped shut.
He felt himself falling again. Stopped partway, caught. Picked up and carried. Both legs dangling in the thin air. Like a doll.
Riss’s doll, he thought.
Ah, little one. The doll is you. You are the doll. Your parents, I could not find. I did my best, little one. But you were always like a doll to me, so pretty, seeming so soft and yet tough, persistent. Precious, delicate, but determined. Nothing could harm you. Nothing will change you, unless you change yourself.
His daughter? No, he didn’t. Couldn’t think that. She was so young. No.
Should have got you a set of wooden dolls, little one. One inside the other. Ever so smaller. Until the solid core is found. But those are Russian, not Ukranian. And I could never make you choose.
He was flying. A sound like a door opening, closing. More footsteps. Smell of burning again. An engine turning on. Another door.
He tried to open his eyes. One opened halfway. The other slightly more. His throat was raw, head pounding. His hand. Left one, useless. Right one. Lifted it, banged it against some kind of wall. Metal. Smell of pressurized oxygen—ship. He was on a ship.
That woman. Elodie? Where was she?
Sergey tried to move his left foot. Nothing. Right foot. Knee flexed. He could see it. Hazy, like surrounded by dense fog coming off the Danube on a late summer morning. It hurt.
Good. He focused on the pain.
The right foot fell off whatever he was lying on. Didn’t quite reach a floor. He reached with his good hand, found a vertical metal support pole. Holding up whatever kind of bed type surface he lay on. More effort. He grimaced. The foot touched down.
He pulled hard on the pole. Seven hells. His left side must be entirely paralyzed. It wouldn’t budge a millimeter. He briefly wondered if it would be worth it to fall on the floor, or to try to pull himself to at least a seated position.
“Elo. DEE. EloDEE.”
Motion from outside his vision. That must have got somebody’s attention finally.
A firm hand held his right leg, pushed it back up to its prone position.
“Captain, you need to stay here for now. Rest.”
What happened, dammit?
Elodie sighed. “You had a stroke. Fortunately not too severe. But your body needs time. Then we’ll see how bad it was. All I had was a small med kit with some pain killers and muscle relaxant tranqs.”
He swallowed and nodded.
“I borrowed a Lunar Base skiff. Agile, but not terribly fast. Our pursuers are bound to catch us sooner or later.”
Sergey closed his eyes. Pursuers. What did that mean again? Somebody chasing them?
He opened his eyes as best he could again and asked, “Who?”
Elodie leaned closer. “Who is chasing us?”
He could see more of her features now through the haze. She looked a little less clean than he last remembered. A little blacker and redder, as well. But otherwise completely unharmed.
She nodded. “Yes. Sent from Ceres to Lunar Base several months ago.”
He tried to get up again. She held him down easily.
“Captain, I am not your enemy. I had orders to watch you. And protect you.”
He tried to grunt, but it came out as a soft cough. He waved his hand.
“Alright,” she conceded. “To prevent the UA from getting you. I didn’t think that the Lunar police would also try something. I should have guessed as much.”
Sergey said nothing. That Lieutenant Sanchez, he thought. Everyone has an agenda. Turn him over to the UA? For what purpose? He had never been a soldier. Not broken any laws.
He looked at Elodie.
“Sorry, I can’t read your mind, if that’s what you’re wondering,” she said. “That’s someone else’s specialty. I’ll just say that it was my job to get you back to Ceres as soon as possible in an emergency.”
He tried raising his eyebrows in question. Only the right one moved.
She almost laughed.
“Yes, I was able to fight through a few of them. Not all fled like I thought they would. And at least one ship is on the way from Ceres.”
She paused and stood.
“Friend or foe, however, I do not know. It will be close to us soon. If it’s a hunter ship…”
She trailed off. Sergey tried to imagine which hunter ship captain would want to attack him. Was anyone still holding a grudge?
Yes. Someone obviously was. His memory of that day was still clear.
She left his field of vision, moving back to what he assumed was the control section of the ship. He couldn’t even tell how high the ceiling was, nor how far the opposite wall was. It couldn’t be a big ship, though. No cargo area. No gun turret ports. Even from his prone position, he could tell they were not going to win any races or shooting battles.
Ceres. The Mining Council. Something must have happened, he decided. Something drastic. Something related to the UA attacking Lunar Base.
He wondered who had won. And which side Riss was on.
Next: Bringer of Light, Chapter 35: United Mars Colonies (Part 1) – Martin is taken by surprise…
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.
Unaware of events on Ceres or Lunar Base, Martin Velasquez is finding out that the “united” Mars colonies aren’t so united at the moment…
Things on Mars had gone from bad to worse. Riots had broken out all over the Colonies. The water supply was dangerously low. The hydroponic farms were about to give out at any moment. The UA forces were still on their way from Earth, and Martin still hadn’t figured out how to hack into the UA ice factory’s electronic lock systems.
And now the settler factions wanted a conference.
With the sounds of fighting in the background of nearly every speaker, Martin found it nearly impossible to hear what the leaders were saying.
“—can’t control your own people, let alone—”
“—five dead already, our children starving and running around half-mad. What are—”
“—anything at all. The situation is insane!”
“YES!” Martin shouted at them. “It is insane! I completely agree!”
“Then do something, Overseer!” the speaker from the Central African Alliance bellowed.
He looked at her. “I’m sorry, who are you? Where is Mr. Mbutu?”
“He is…otherwise occupied. As are most of my staff!”
“Mine, too!” the speaker from the Greater Indian Empire interrupted.
“Yes, here, as well.” The European Consortium.
They began to squabble again. The noise rose to a deafening pitch.
A button glowed under Martin’s left hand. He muted the conference and answered.
“Overseer, an incoming message has been attempted. It has been blocked as ordered.”
“Incoming? From where?”
“Three ships on a trajectory to intercept Mars Colonies orbit. ETA three months.”
“Thre—Where are they from?”
“The message claims they come from the United Americas.”
He calculated. No, it couldn’t be troops. The UA forces would reach them much sooner, which is why he had taken the precaution of guarding the ice factories in the first place.
“I’ll take it in just a minute. Remove the communications block temporarily and tell them to hold until I finish the conference call.”
He hesitated, covered an ear, and depressed the mute button. The deafening noise burst back into the speakers.
“Gentlemen,” he tried. They continued unabated. Some gesticulated at his direction, but he couldn’t make out what they were saying.
“Gentlemen,” he tried again. No change. Louder, if that were possible.
“WILL YOU ALL SHUT UP!” he screamed at the top of his lungs.
That seemed to have got their attention. For a moment.
“Overseer! How dare—”
“The UA is coming.” Martin said slowly, loudly, enunciating as clearly as possible.
He let the words hang there for a minute, letting the implication set in.
“I do not know what they want, but there are three ships,” he said in a more normal tone of voice, trying desperately not to let a note of panic in.
“What,” the Brazilian leader began. “What does the UA want with us?”
The Islamic Nations representative laughed nervously. “Perhaps they come with water we can actually drink without losing our minds.”
Martin glowered. “I don’t know why they are here. I don’t know how to stop the riots. I suggest you increase your own security, obey the water restrictions and food rationing. We are at a critical juncture. The UN appears to have failed. I will contact you again after I have found out what the UA ships want.”
He closed the session to somber, blank faces.
Martin rubbed knuckles into strained eyes. No water for washing. No water for tea. He dare not drink the contaminated water supply. Even using it for electricity seemed to have nearly drained what was left.
What chance had they got? Weng and Gen had not contacted him yet, so he had no idea when they might arrive with the supplies from Luna.
He sighed. Nothing else to lose, at any rate.
He clicked on the comm. “Patch through the UA ships. Visual if possible.”
A haggard white, bearded face topped with unruly dirty blond hair appeared on the aging console. The man appeared to be wearing the uniform of the UA from about two decades prior. An old Earthside airline pilot, Martin guessed.
“This is Dirk Prosser,” the man said in an exhausted, strained tone. He seemed on the verge of a breakdown. “Former Captain in the United Americas Airforce, now representing four hundred refugee families, requesting permission to dock at United Nations Mars Colonies orbiting station.”
“Refugees?” Martin asked quizzically. Not military?
“Yes, sir. Fleeing war zones in northeast UA, New York, Boston, Montreal, Halifax. Everything’s on fire.”
On the one hand, Martin felt he could relax. But on the other, this was the last thing they needed. More people. At least they weren’t invading marines.
But he had no choice.
“Go back,” Martin said curtly. “Or go to Luna. Our water and food supplies are critically depleted, and there is a medical quarantine in place throughout most of the settlements here.”
“Sir,” Prosser said, his voice quivering. “We have taken several months already. Several families are experiencing space sickness and we have virtually no medical supplies to treat them. Lunar Base is in chaos. We have nowhere else to go.”
“Go back,” Martin repeated in a calmer voice. He tried to remain emotionless, but an ugly thought entered his memories. Something from his family’s past. Something passed down to him.
“You don’t know what it’s like back there!” the representative pleaded. Martin could see the terror written on the man’s face. “Are you so heartless? We have children, infants, even. Starving! Being beaten, murdered!”
“Go back,” Martin repeated, his voice raising. “They will starve here, too. Didn’t you hear? Even if by some miracle we get new supplies, we do not have the electricity to operate enough gravity generators. The low gravity of Mars will deform the children. What kind of parents would make their children suffer so?”
“Don’t you think we thought about that?” The man seemed on the verge of hysteria. “Do you think we had any alternative?”
Something in Martin snapped.
“You should have thought of that when you denied entry to my country’s people,” Martin suddenly spat out.
“I, I don’t—”
“When the UA denied entry to refugees fleeing war and hunger. Arresting parents and returning them, separating them from their children and selling them off to the highest bidder. Leaving infants to die of thirst and hunger on the desert border. How dare you come to Mars now and ask for the same!”
“Sir! I was only a child myself at the time. How can you—?”
“How can I!” Martin shouted, slamming his hands on the console. “How can I?!”
Another beep on the console. He abruptly cut the connection to the UA ship and swore. “Dammit! What now?”
“Overseer, a message from the shuttle.”
“Gen and Mr. Weng, sir. They say they will arrive in two days.”
“What?” Martin cycled through the incoming records and known trajectories. “I don’t see any sign of incoming ships aside from the UA refugee ships.”
“They say they will arrive in two days, sir,” the Martin Colony Council receptionist robot repeated tonelessly. “They say to let all in. Everything is under control.”
Martin sat down, stunned.
He couldn’t handle this any more. With a barely suppressed giggle, he toggled the comm. The inside of the refugee ship appeared. Children crying in the background. The captain’s hand first appeared, then his bedraggled face as the man dragged himself back into view. “Yes? Yes?!”
“Mr. Prosser,” Martin said, shaking his head. “Continue on your course to Mars. I’ll see the docking station is open to you.”
“Thank you! Oh, thank you, sir!”
“Don’t thank me, Mr. Prosser,” Martin replied. He cracked his knuckles and shoved his chair away from the console and spun himself around slowly. “Enjoy your final few days in space. We may all very well die together!”
Next: Bringer of Light, Chapter 33: Ceres – Weng. Star-crossed lovers begin their final journey on February 5th…
New analysis of one of Saturn’s moons suggests that it may harbor a liquid ocean. No, not the usual suspects – the new culprit is Mimas, the little moon with a big crater, which gives it more than a passing resemblance to the ‘Death Star’ from Star Wars.
Riss opened her eyes. The Ceres mining station lay beyond the horizon, just outside the physical limits of the view screen. But not outside her awareness. Nor her crew’s awareness, she knew with conviction.
She suppressed a yawn, and rubbed her forehead with the back of a hand. Tiring, but not as much as the previous two times. Perhaps working together mitigated the effects.
They had changed. But to what degree?
Her crew gazed at the surface of Ceres above them. Cooper coughed, wiped an arm against a sweat-covered forehead. Despite all that had happened, he still felt uncomfortable approaching planetoids and ships while “upside down.”
“We’re,” he croaked, “we’re not dead.”
“Yeah, we noticed,” Enoch said. He languidly splayed his arms over the console as if hugging the ship in reassurance.
“Sanvi,” Riss asked. “What happened? I thought we were just going to try to make Artemis go a little faster as a test.”
Sanvi shrugged. “It looks like we passed the test.”
“Passed it all the way to the catcher,” Enoch said. He grinned. “Man, what a trip!”
“Riss, shall I take us into orbit?” Sanvi asked.
Riss nodded. As Sanvi slipped the Artemis into geosynchronous orbit around Ceres, Riss cast her eyes up and down the pilot. Something had passed between them, hadn’t it? Before they had combined to move the Artemis. Sanvi briefly glanced back at Riss. A look of longing, desire, hope.
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