These aren’t the drones that deliver your online order. Loaded with cameras, sensors, and explosives, their mission is to drive themselves to a target with an algorithm in the driver’s seat. They destroy themselves along with the target, leaving behind just a pile of electronic detritus.
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…