As Riss prepares to surrender herself to Gennaji and Ildico, Sam helplessly watches the scene unfold…
From the command seat of his tiny shuttle, Weng silently watched the face off between the Artemis and the ships of the new Ceres Mining Council. He wished he knew what they were saying.
He also wished Gen were still in the shuttle with him.
Weng grimaced. He still didn’t trust the clone, but he would feel much safer if someone obviously as highly ranked as Gen were in the shuttle. It would reduce the chance of his becoming yet another target.
Apparently, however, this was all going to plan. He mentally recalled the conversation he had with Gen just prior to arriving at Ceres.
“Gen, why are there five hunter ships here? Are we getting ready for a fight?”
“Not to worry, Sam,” Gen had told him. “There will be no fight.”
“How can you be sure?”
“Because we control the Seven Sisters, and without them, there is no fight.”
Bardish sat down heavily and rubbed his ankles. After pacing the room for what seemed the tenth time, he began to wish there were a coffee machine. At least drinking soya junk would give him something to do.
The door opened. He immediately stood.
Three uniformed police officers entered, followed by Sanchez, then a plain-clothes woman he thought he recognized. Someone from the company where his good-for-nothing future son-in-law worked? Used to work, he silently corrected.
“Lieutenant Sanchez,” Bardish said, nodding.
Sanchez returned the nod. “Captain. My apologies for the delay. Please, have a seat.”
Bardish grunted. “I have been sitting for some time. I prefer to stand.”
“Have it your way.”
The lieutenant motioned for the woman to sit at the table across from Bardish. Two of other officers stayed on either side of the lieutenant. The third left, presumably to guard the door from the outside.
“Captain Bardish, we need to ask you a few questions.”
“It appears as if you have received an outside communication from an external belligerent hostile to Luna Base operations.”
“I—I received what?” Bardish sputtered. He could feel his face turning red, clenched his fists.
“Here is the evidence,” Sanchez said. He produced a pad and handed it to the retired captain. “There was a secret message. Buried in another message. It contained a Chinese quantum jùli jiāmi. Addressed to you, in the subroutine of a ping from Ceres to ask for supplies.”
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.
Sirens blared around the Central Dome, as they would be blaring similarly in the other domed structures across the planetoid. Schools had sent all their students home with orders to lock their doors. Workers told to avoid all unnecessary contact to save electrical generation. Luna Police were out in force, robot sentinels at every section gate.
But the orderly lock down had already begun turning to chaos.
All but trapped in his conapt, Sergey pounded the unresponsive automated door.
“Open! Open, dammit!”
He paused to cough messily into a fist, then resumed pounding. Damned power outage. What in hell was going on?
He could hear hurried feet in the outside corridor, orders shouted.
He shuddered, then composed himself. It was an unwelcome sound. No noise in space, but plenty inside the dome. He had forgotten what violence actually sounded like.
He rubbed the bruised knuckles of his right hand. Damn door.
Glanced at the comm panel on the wall next to it. Useless. Lock down meant no unnecessary comm channels open. As a retired captain — regardless of the respect shown him by the Lunar Base Council — he wasn’t considered necessary.
He trembled in frustration. Useless old man. Damn it all.
What the hell was going on?
Someone was now pounding on the other side of the door. A muffled voice.
“Get me out!” he roared in response. No idea what the other voice had said.
A whining pitch seemed to emanate from inside the door. He took a few steps back.
The noise increased. He took several steps back, stumbled over the dining table, knocked over the chair. A brilliant light erupted from the door as the cutter broke through, drawing a white hot vertical line.
Sergey cursed, grabbing the table with one hand. He stood shakily, keeping one eye on the door. The other hand self-consciously searched for a sidearm that he no longer carried. He clenched both fists and waited. They wouldn’t take him without a—
The line complete, a gloved hand shoved the middle portion of the door out. It fell to the floor with a dull thud. “Captain Bardish. Captain, are you unhurt?”
“Yes. Yes, I am fine. What is this ruckus?”
“Captain, please stand back as we open the door.”
Two more gloved hands appeared, thrust inside the door itself up to the elbow. A snap as the circuit was broken, a hiss of released air pressure. The door slid open and two men stepped through it, tazer rifles pointed at him. Luna Base police?
“Sir, you will come with us,” a voice said from behind them. Sergey squinted at its owner. A young man, thin and tall. Goggles covered what probably were artificial eyes. Luna-born.
“What is this?”
“Captain, my orders are to bring you, unharmed, to the Luna Council Chamber. You will please come with us. Now.”
Something wasn’t right. Sergey shrugged and raised his hands.
And then quickly brought them down on the weapon of the nearest officer. Sergey lowered his shoulder into the surprised officer’s chest and grabbed the rifle.
No sooner had he done so, four hands grabbed him from behind. He struggled but only for a moment.
“I was told you might be unwilling to come,” the young officer said. “But we have no wish to hurt you. You will come with us.”
Sergey paused, trying to identify the man. He did not know him. He sighed and hung his head. He did not know many things, it appeared.
“What is going on?” he asked.
“A coup,” the officer responded. He nodded to the other men. “Let’s go. Eyes open.”
They led Sergey through off-white corridors from one section of a residential building to another. It seemed to Sergey that they were avoiding leaving the conapt complex for some reason. Outside the buildings sporadic tazerfire could be heard from time to time, and Sergey thought he felt the ground shake at least once or twice. Explosions?
At the end of one corridor, the group ascended four flights of stairs. Sergey felt his heart pound faster and he began to wheeze. They stopped at a large metal door bearing the words “Upper Dome Access – Restricted.” No window, wheel in the middle. Wall panel chest-high, probably the code pad.
Strange, he thought. Such doors were now archaic. After the terraforming, there was no need. Where were they?
He placed both palms on the top of bent knees, inhaling and exhaling slowly.
“Captain Bardish, are you having trouble breathing?”
“Hmf. Whatever gave you such an idea?”
He shook his head and waved a hand. “I am fine. Just a moment to recover.”
As he eyed the door, he felt a hand on his back.
“I strongly urge you not to run. The situation outside is dangerous.”
Sergey looked over his shoulder and cocked an eyebrow.
“I am in no condition to run, young man,” he said in what he hoped was a convincing voice. “I may have new kidneys and a reconstructed liver but I have only original leg muscles.”
The young officer nodded, but at the time drew out his tazer pistol with one hand. With the other he input the access code on the wall panel. He gestured. Another officer stepped in front of Sergey, turned the wheel to the left, then stepped back.
“Captain. After you.”
Sergey hesitated, then pushed the door. He took a step through the open doorway into near pitch-black. Sunlight rarely reached the bottom of habitation craters, but still, things were much darker than they should be. Above, he could not see where the dome ought to have been. They must be outside, then, on the surface.
A thin stream of light from above the doorway spread across the desert-like Lunascape. He heard the lapping of water, the saline odor of the sea. Several meters away was the outline of a ship of some sort.
A hunter ship.
He suddenly thought, Me, first? In a dangerous situation? Something was not—
Gunfire erupted behind him. Someone shoved him forward, violently, and he heard “Get down!”
He staggered forward a few paces, then, without looking back, charged for the ship. More gunfire, then the sounds of hand to hand fighting behind him. He reached the ship and flung himself under the bow. Definitely a hunter ship, he noticed at a glance. Altered for surface landing.
There were one or two more shots back at the door. He covered his head with his hands and waited. One minute became five. Or ten. He couldn’t tell.
He raised his head but stayed prone.
“Captain Bardish! Are you unhurt?”
He didn’t recognize the voice, but he had begun to shiver and knew he didn’t stand much chance outside against a party of unknown assailants. The worse they could do was shoot him.
“H, here,” he called, then spat out some lunar sand. He shook his head and slowly extracted himself from underneath the ship. “Over here!”
He raised his hands. Three lights approached. One shone directly at his face, forcing him to squint his eyes.
“Captain Bardish, are you unhurt?”
“I’m fine,” he snapped. “Who the hell are you and what do you want?”
“Luna Base Police, sir.”
He lowered his hands. The light also lowered and he could finally see the three in front of him. They wore Luna Base Police uniforms, just like the people who had brought him out of his conapt.
“We had a tip that someone might try to illegally break you out of the lock down. Our apologies for not arriving sooner.”
He looked suspiciously at the three. Like the other men he had assumed were also police, the three had tazer rifles. In addition, the leader wore a sash over his left shoulder and had two stars on his helmet.
“May I ask for identification?” Sergey asked, looking from officer to officer.
The leader replaced his weapon into its holster and withdrew a badge from a sleeve pocket. “Lieutenant Sanchez. Section 2B, unit 11. Would you follow us to a safe location, Captain?”
“The residential areas are obviously too dangerous.”
“So you are, you are arresting me?”
“No, sir,” Sanchez said, replacing the badge and withdrawing the tazer again. “We are escorting you.”
He motioned for his companions to lead Sergey back inside and touched a strip on his inside left forearm. As Sergey followed the (he presumed) actual police escort back to the door, he glanced back. Sanchez was evidently talking to someone over his helmet mic while gesturing to the ship. Probably asking for orders what to do with it.
They reentered the building and he heard the blaring sirens. Down the stairs again, this time a little more gingerly.
What in god’s name was going on? Sergey wondered, shaking his head.
He didn’t know who to trust, but he did know that there was very little he could do about it.
At least whoever was involved in this “coup,” if it was one, seemed more interested in keeping him safe and alive. Even if it meant keeping him prisoner.
He frowned. Who would want to capture him? He had little influence on Luna. Not even on the Council.
Despite what Weng thought.
Sergey nearly smiled at the memory. Just a short while, it seemed, Weng had asked to meet him. In a reading room in his office building. Always while drinking that disgusting soya coffee. Asking Sergey to put it a good word for him with the Council, get him on to a water reclamation, water processing team, something like that. But on Mars.
Why Mars? Wasn’t Luna what he had wanted? After all, this is where he met Clarissa. Where Sergey, his future father-in-law, had already managed to get him into a prestigious design firm?
“This place has no soul, Sergey,” Weng told him. “It looks alive, but the Moon is a dead place. We have terraformed it, thanks to you, but it is still lifeless.”
Despite the green grass and trees, Sergey realized, at last. That wasn’t what Weng meant.
He came out of his reverie. Sanchez had disappeared. The three remaining members of the group had crossed into another building, one he had rarely visited after retirement.
The administrative sector.
Police streamed around them in the corridors, doors here and there rapidly opening and officers entering and leaving in haste. Sergey recognized the security station center, spaceport ops, customs, even the communications and computer maintenance divisions.
Ach, he thought. They had changed the color back to bland Luna beige.
“This way, Captain,” an officer gestured, opening a door marked “Conference Room.”
“Where did Lieutenant Sanchez go?” Sergey asked.
“I’m sorry, sir, I don’t know. Please enter the room and wait.”
Sergey hesitated, then shrugged and walked in. The door closed behind him. He turned back, ready to try the lock, then shrugged again. It made no difference. May as well wait and see what they wanted with him.
He looked around the room. Non-descript, typical military standard. Gray office chairs, black ovular table with 3D imager in the center. Digital white board on two walls. No decorations or windows.
No exit door.
A younger man might have tried to squeeze through the ventilation grid embedded in the wall, near the ceiling.
A younger man…
He sighed and pulled out a chair. It looked as if it might be a while.
Next:Bringer of Light, Chapter 24: The Artemis—Transjovial, in which Riss experiences the fields, and something else…
Just before leaving Luna, Weng stumbled upon evidence of a conspiracy. But just who is behind it and for what purpose, he doesn’t know. Yet.
“Sam, I’m not entirely sure what you are talking about.”
Weng tapped a finger against his chair. In the other hand, he held a microchip.
“If my suspicions are correct,” he said, “this holds an encoded message from somebody on the Ceres Mining Council to a certain Captain on Luna Base.”
After a moment, Gen took the chip. He examined it.
“What makes you say so?” he asked, expressionless. “More importantly, what does this have to do with us?”
Weng gestured at the shuttle’s command console. “Just read it. I’m sure with your expertise you’ll have no problems breaking the code.”
Gen nodded. He gently inserted the chip into the side of his pad, then soundlessly tapped at the screen. His eyes scanned the text. “Sergey,” he said finally.
“Sergey,” Weng agreed. “What does the message read?”
“As you suspected, it is a request for support.”
“What kind of support?”
Gen scanned the message. “Odd. There are few details.”
“None,” Gen admitted.
He passed the pad to Weng, who swiped down a page.
“Few?” he repeated, cocking his head. “This seems pretty obvious to me. ‘The Council will reward you for your service once the new administration is in securely place.’”
“As I said, there are few details. We do not know when, who, or how this will occur.”
Weng tapped the pad. “That hardly matters. This is damning evidence of an attempted coup.”
“Perhaps. Yet there is no way to prove who sent it”
“I can make a couple of guesses.”
He felt silent. He would hate for one of his guesses to prove accurate. But a nagging thought remained. How much did Riss know, if anything?
“Sam,” Gen said. “We must not delay. This message is at least three days old. Luna must be warned.”
“It’s not Luna I’m that worried about,” Weng replied with a smile. “It’s Ceres.”
“Look at the relay information. There, just below the coded text. You’ll find that it was bounced off Ceres, and before that Zedra.”
“How would you know that?”
“Logic,” Weng said. He scratched the harness keeping him secure in the shuttle seat. At times like this, he would have preferred the ability to pace. No room in such a small ship. Also, no gravity.
He grimaced briefly, then smiled again.
“Weng, there is no need to—”
“Mind-reading still has its limits, I see,” Weng said without a trace of irritation. “And yet it is still irritating.”
Weng ticked off his fingers. “First, who has the means to start a coup against a well-fortified base such as Luna? The UA, which occasionally includes China and occasionally does not, and the Slavic Confederacy are too invested in their Earthside territorial conflict to waste resources on an assault.”
“You seem sure of that.”
“As long as the UN controls the Mars Colonies, the Lunar Base is needed to keep the Colonies supplied,” Weng reasoned. “Depriving the Colonies of food and materials would endanger settlers from all Earthside city-states, not just an opponents. Too risky.”
“Well,” Gen said. “The Greater Indian Empire, then.”
“No. They have never shown any interest in conquest. They might, of course, try to render Luna inoperable as a supply relay center, so as to force a return to the use of the ISS for such purposes. But if so, why would they refuse to allow settlers to resupply at ISS? That makes no sense.”
“Hmm. So, that leaves only one option.”
“Yes,” Weng agreed, with a heavy voice.
“The Ceres Mining Council.”
“Maybe. To what degree the Council is implicated remains to be seen. The message could have originated with a Hunter. Or a Miner. Or even from someone on Mars.”
Gen fell silent.
“Which do you think it was, Gen?” Weng asked. His companion’s sudden quiet manner disturbed him. He vainly struggled to keep his thoughts buried, his emotions flat. Gen turned as if to speak, and suddenly Weng realized from this angle that Gen resembled Martin Velasquez very, very closely.
His father? Or…?
Gen frowned as a message scrolled down the console screen. He gestured. “Sam.”
Weng leaned over. He read the text, then sat back.
“It appears that at least one of your suppositions has already been proven incorrect,” Gen said. “The UA is on the way to Luna. In force.”
“Well,” Weng said. “What’s that famous phrase?”
“‘The die has been cast’, I believe.”
Three days to Mars, Weng thought. He hoped there was still a colony left standing when they arrived.
“Gen,” he said. “How far to Ceres?”
“At our current rate, we will barely arrive at Mars in time.”
“Mars can manage for another day or two. If we swing past Ceres, we may be able to stop a war.”
Gen paused, then stabbed at the console for a few moments. “There. I have input a new path for Ceres. But it will be futile in the end, Sam.”
“Why? Isn’t it worth it if we can prevent lives from being lost?”
“No,” Gen said, sadly shaking his head. “It wasn’t supposed to be this way. This wasn’t our agreement.”
“Our?” said Weng. He suddenly caught his breath. Gen.
“Yes,” Gen said. “We caused this. But we only wanted a place for our own. Luna was not meant to be affected. One of the hunters must bear a grudge.”
“So,” said Weng softly. “I was correct about you, from the beginning.”
“Yes,” Gen nodded. “I am, indeed, a clone. Martin Velasquez is, indeed, my father.”
“Then you are also Martin.”
“In a sense. But enhanced with additional DNA from other sources.”
“And who is ‘we’? With whom did you make an agreement?”
“That,” Gen said, returning his attention to the console, “is something you will find out soon enough.”
Weng sat back, thoroughly demoralized. Ah, Riss, he thought wistfully. I should have pinged you when I had the chance.
“Don’t worry, Sam,” Gen said, hands dancing over the console. “Riss will no doubt be here soon.”
Weng opened his mouth, then closed it. There was little point in asking how Gen knew that. He obviously was being used by all the players in this game. He, himself, lacked the knowledge to be a full-fledged player.
All he wanted now was to be with Riss. As he had planned. On Mars.
“Ironic, in a way,” Gen commented. “My name in Japanese means ‘original’ although I am but a copy. And yet thanks to my father’s careful engineering — and expense — I likely feel much greater sympathy than he ever will.”
He turned to Weng with a serious expression on his face. “Sam. Here’s what I want you to do.”
Next: Bringer of Light, Chapter 22: The Artemis – Riss and her crew conduct an experiment, with explosive results…
Unbelievably, I have forgotten to post more sections of the Children of Pellas! This was meant to be posted on May 8th, and Chapter 20 (United Mars Colonies) was to be posted on May 22nd.
To try to do a little catch-up—and to try to make it up to my readers!—I’ll post them both this weekend.
The game is afoot!
(When last we saw Gennaji, Ory, Karel, and Andy, they had been boarded at gunpoint by former Sagittarius member and now Captain Ildico…who has an offer Gennaji can’t refuse…)
The galley was clearly not designed for eleven people at the same time.
Ildico had embraced Orynko as she entered the galley, a bear hug that left the pilot gasping for air. Now the two sat side by side at the common meal table which occupied most of the room. An arm around the Sagittarius’s only female crew member, Ildico carried on as if they’d known each other all along.
Across the small table sat Gennaji and the military issue clone. Gennaji tried his best not to spend too much attention on her. Clone or not, she was a mighty attractive wo—
Female soldier, he silently corrected himself. Well-built and no-nonsense attitude. Qualities he admired. Feared, also. Better to keep his hands and eyes to himself. For her part, the clone said little, simply staring at Ildico and Orynko. At some point she had crossed her arms, although whether in annoyance or out of habit, Gennaji couldn’t tell. Simply noted for future reference.
The remaining two Sisters stood in the corridor, right outside the door. As if guarding.
From what? Gennaji wondered. Or were they more like prison guards, preventing them from leaving without Ildico’s permission? The idea was unsettling.
He sipped from a water pack. Ildico had forgotten all about getting a drink once she saw Ory.
“Why don’t you dump these guys and come join the Sisters?” Ildico was saying.
Gennaji opened his mouth but Ory cut him off. “I’m flattered, Captain Ildico,” she demurred. “Perhaps when my contract is over, I will take you up on the generous offer.”
Gennaji covered his smirk with another sip of water. He wished they had something stronger.
Karel stood in one corner, sipping a non-alcoholic beer pack through a straw. Three of the taller clones surrounded him, staring blankly at his beard. Gennaji would normally jest about it, but the mood wasn’t right. He caught Karel’s desperate glance, and narrowed his eyes in response, holding up a finger in warning. An almost pained look crossed the big man’s face, and all Gennaji could do was grimace in sympathy.
He had no desire to start a war of words with the Sisters. Or a war of anything else.
“Gen,” Ildico said suddenly, slapping his shoulder from across the table.
He nearly spurted out the water. “Mmm?”
“Where’s the drinks? I thought this was a top-class ship.”
He gestured to Andrzej, who had taken up a position directly in front of the provisions cabinet. To protect it from the Sisters. Andrzej withdrew a water pack and tossed it over.
Ildico took it with a look of disgust. “That’s it?”
Gennaji shrugged. “Sorry, Captain. Unless you want a fake beer.”
Karel raised his pack.
“Hate that crap and you know it, Gen,” she snorted. She poked open the water and noisily sucked half the pack out. “Ah. I half-expected poison.”
Gennaji smirked. “Too expensive. I can barely afford water.”
Ildico smiled and drained the rest of the pack. Dropping it on the table, she withdrew her arm from Orynko and leaned back with an air of confidence.
“That,” she said silkily, “is where the Sisters can help you.”
Gennaji immediately perked up his ears. Perhaps something good may come of this unpleasant situation after all.
“Oh?” he said, as nonchalantly as possible.
“It just so happens,” said Ildico, idly running a finger down Orynko’s arm, “that I have my own rock.”
She looked expectedly at him. “Two, in fact.”
He arched an eyebrow. “Ditrium?”
She nodded. “Took a while, but it turned out that a patch of the Jupiter Trojans had some rare metals.”
“And the Council didn’t know?”
She grinned. “The Council forgot that one of their hunters used to be a geist.”
It figured, he thought with chagrin. Here he had wasted a trip to transneptune, chasing an old grudge, and Ildico had snared a fortune without anyone suspecting a thing.
“But surely they’ll find out at some point,” he said carefully. “And demand their fair share, of course.”
Ildico shrugged. “No doubt. But it’ll be too late by then.”
“Too late? For what?”
She glanced at Karel, then Andrzej. “Your men. Trustworthy?”
Gennaji stared at Karel, who was still surrounded by Ildico’s clones. Karel was a pain, but he had suffered Gennaji’s insults and orders so far without complaint.
Karel stared back, and briefly nodded. That was all Gennaji needed.
“Yes,” he said. He looked to Andrzej, who remained stone-faced. “I trust them with my life, because they trust me with theirs.”
Ildico suddenly became serious. “I was not questioning your qualifications as a hunter captain, Gennaji. I know you too well to dare ask such a thing.”
He drew a deep breath and exhaled slowly. Would she bring up their encounter at Vesta? Those many years ago? He hoped she had forgotten.
“What is it you need from me, Ildi? You know I have to ask.”
She stood and gestured across the table. “Taygete. Give Captain Gennaji our proposal.”
The clone uncrossed her arms and lay her hands palm down on the table as she spoke.
“The Sagittarius will accompany the Seven Sisters to Ceres. Once there, the Sagittarius and her crew will support the Sisters bid to gain control of the Ceres Mining Council.”
Gennaji began to laugh. He stopped at the look on Taygete’s stern face.
“You’re serious,” he said.
She returned the look with an even gaze. “In return,” Taygete continued, “Captain Ildico offers financial compensation.”
“Financial?” Karel blurted. “You are talking about taking over the Council! We will be executed for treason!”
Taygete stood, arms now crossed. Andrzej slowly reached for his pistol.
“Andy!” Gennaji said sharply.
Andrzej froze, but kept his hand on his weapon.
Karel pushed his way through the clones; they stood with arms crossed, in imitation of their Captain who now stood together with Taygete. The two women stared down at Gennaji with expressionless faces.
“We are not going to make any quick decisions, Ildi,” Gennaji said quietly. He glanced back and forth between his crew members. “Karel has a point. You are asking us to put both our livelihoods and our lives on the line for you.”
“Yes,” she said matter of factly. “I am.”
She smiled. Gennaji wasn’t sure he liked this smile any more than the previous ones. Now his old colleague looked like more than just a freewheeling pirate. She had the look of a conniving politician. He preferred the pirate.
Gennaji folded his hands in front of him on the table, thinking. Was there a chance that the Sisters could take over the Council? Even with his help, they would need at least two or three other ships on their side.
“Ory, what’s the status of the Corvus?”
She sat up straight, startled by the sudden question. “Last time I checked, right after the detonation, they were dead in space. Comps all fried. Probably drifting toward Enceladus.”
“Andy, think we could stabilize them with a few tractors?”
Gennaji looked up. Karel was still standing behind the two women, the other three shorter clones behind him. His dark expression betrayed his thoughts.
“Karel,” Gennaji repeated. “What do you think about the tractors?”
“I don’t like it, sir,” Karel growled. “But if you believe this is a good move for us, then I will ready the tractors.”
Gennaji paused, then nodded.
“Well, then,” Ildico said lightly, turning to leave. “Then it’s settled. We’ll prepare to rescue the Corvus.”
“Wait a moment, Ildi,” Gennaji said, grabbing her arm. She yanked the arm away as Taygete took up a defensive posture between them. Gennaji spread his hands. “Hey, take it easy.”
“Do not touch the Captain,” the clone said. “Nobody touches her.”
He raised an eyebrow. Interesting. Similar to the earlier reaction to Ildico and Ory. Never heard of clones with strong emotional responses, he thought. He made a mental note; he might use this to his advantage at a later date. Somehow.
“Taygete, Ildi and I go way back,” he said. “Before you were even in a petri dish.”
The clone stared back expressionless and did not respond.
“It’s all right,” Ildico said, stepping in front of Taygete. “What’s the problem, Gen?”
“If,” he began, darting a glance at Karel, “if we get the Corvus up and running again, that’s only three ships. Assuming that the Corvus will find themselves indebted enough to support you, I mean.”
“So three ships is not enough to sway the Council. You’ll need at least two or three more to force their hand. What’s the catch?”
“Catch?” she smiled sweetly. “I have my secrets, Gen.”
“Secrets,” he scoffed. “Secret plans are not enough to convince me and my crew to sacrifice ourselves for you.”
“Let’s just say I have an insider on both Ceres and Luna.”
Gennaji narrowed his eyes. On Luna? No, it couldn’t be…
“And,” Ildico continued, “I’ll throw in a freebie. I can get you what you really want.”
Gennaji’s heart almost skipped a beat.
Andrzej had spoken it aloud. Gennaji turned to him. How did he know?
“Yes,” Ildico said. “I have not forgotten, either, Gen.”
“Andy,” Gennaji started. He found himself at a loss for words.
“Captain,” Andrzej said, keeping his eyes on Ildico. “I am not sure that revenge is necessarily in the best interests of the Sagittarius.”
He paused, then added for emphasis, “Or in the best interests of the Seven Sisters.”
“Let me ask you,” Ildico asked, approaching Andrzej. She stopped a breath’s space away from him. “Who do you think the Seventh Sister actually is?”
Andrzej said nothing. The staredown continued several seconds. “I had always assumed the Seventh Sister was you, Ildico,” Gennaji said, breaking the taut silence.
“No,” Taygete said. “She is not.”
The three Sisters standing at the back of the galley formed a semi-circle around Andrzej. Gennaji stood. He did not like the way this conversation was headed.
“The Seventh Sister is always hidden,” one of the Sisters said.
Gennaji looked from Sister to Sister. All three seemed identical.
“They are very near to identical,” Ildico said, as if reading his mind. “Yet they have names. Alkyone. Sterope. Merope.”
“And I don’t suppose,” Karel interrupted, “that each of them has her own opinion about how the ship is run.”
Ildico closed her eyes. “Gen.”
“Karel,” Gennaji warned. “Hold your tongue.”
The big helmsman glared at Gennaji, but simply crossed his arms and said no more. Gennaji returned the glare and narrowed his eyes, darting them to Ildico and back again to Karel. He hoped the man would catch his meaning. No point in challenging the Sisters. Not here. Not now.
“I don’t suppose the hidden Sister is Captain Kragen,” Andrzej suddenly said.
Gennaji’s face darkened. “Do not speak that name in my presence!”
“Ha! That spoiled brat?” Ildico laughed. “Not a chance.”
“Captain,” Orynko said. “What happened to make you hate her so much?”
“She…” Gennaji choked out. He sat down heavily, unable to continue. The image from his daydream earlier that day appeared in his head. The smoke. Circuits ablaze. The unseeing eyes looking up at him.
“She caused the death of our crewmate,” Ildico said softly. “I was there, too, Gen. I do remember.”
“So,” Andrzej ventured, “it was accidental?”
“Lena died!” Gennaji shouted. “Because of incompetence! Stupidity! I…” He closed his mouth and squeezed his eyes shut.
I lost Lena. No tears. Only anger.
“But the Council must have exonerated her?” Orynko asked.
“Yes,” said Andrzej. “She is still a captain.”
“The Council was soft,” Ildico said acidly. “Bardish testified on her behalf, as well. His word carries weight.”
“Leave Sergey out of it,” Gennaji said. “How could he testify otherwise? A man must protect his charges.”
“And so justice was not served that day, Gen,” Ildico replied. “And we have never forgotten, not forgiven.”
“Captain,” Karel interrupted. “Is it really justice that you are after? Seems to me there’s little profit in revenge.”
Gennaji shot him a look that would have made others wince. But Karel seemed to be getting bolder. He would have to teach the big man a lesson. Soon.
“Ildi,” he said, ignoring Karel. “Get me a chance for revenge, and I will see that you are the next Council Chair.”
She nodded in satisfaction. “Things will be different. And you and your crew will not regret this decision.”
Gennaji turned back to Andrzej and Karel. “Let’s get the Corvus under control. We may need to send someone with tools to fix their nav system. And to bring some iodine pills for radiation.”
“Aye, Captain,” Andrzej said. He left immediately. Karel stood silently, then nodded and followed.
“Well,” Ildico said with a sigh. “Finally. Things are getting underway.”
“Yes,” Gennaji said. “Ory, let’s escort the Captain to the cargo area and get her safely back aboard the Pleiades.”
“No need, Ory darling,” Ildico said with a wink. “You’re needed here. For now.”
“Fine. Right, so I’ll get one of my men over to the Corvus. We’ll need one or two of the Sisters as backup for tech detail.”
“I’m sure Taygete won’t mind. Will you, dear?”
The clone grunted, then spun on heel and left the room. Gennaji was sure it glowered as well. Again, interesting, he thought. He’d better keep an eye on this clone. It could prove useful.
“Now that that’s all settled,” he said. “How about—”
“Later,” Ildico said, cutting him off. “I know my way off the ship. Contact me when the Corvus repairs are nearly finished. We’ll rendezvous at Ceres. Six days.”
Before he had a chance to finish the thought, Ildico left. The three Sisters stolidly standing guard inside the galley followed. From the footsteps, it sounded as if the other two guards in the corridor likewise had gone.
Gennaji pondered, drumming his fingers on the table in the now empty galley. He had been about to ask about further details regarding her plan. Something didn’t quite fit, and he hated being left in the dark.
But to finally break out of the red! He’d been desperate for ship upgrades for at least two years. And to revenge himself on Clarissa—
He stopped mid thought.
Ildico had avoided revealing the identity of the Seventh Sister.
His fingers ceased drumming.
Perhaps, he mused. The Seventh Sister was not so secretive after all.
Next: Bringer of Light, Chapter 20: United Mars Colonies. Mars settlers have begun to behave oddly, setting the stage for the coming storm…
Sorry, folks! My chapter numbering has gone a bit wonky. As I said, these are draft chapters — still a work in progress! At any rate, I hope you are enjoying the process…
Btw, WordPress is *definitely not user friendly* when it comes to anything other than a TikTok or Twitter-size micro-blogpost. I don’t do 5-minute chunks of attention-span theater, so I hope that my readers can concentrate past the 21st century style of “in your face for ten seconds!” style of online slam-bang presentation.
Is there still a place for traditional science fiction storytelling?
“You know, Gen,” Weng sighed. “When I convinced your father to let me work for the water reclamation team, I hadn’t anticipated becoming his glorified messenger boy.”
He took a sip from his cooling soy coffee and leaned against the hull of the shuttle. The decor of the inside corridors of Lunar Base were boring; the decor of the commercial loading dock was downright atrocious. He felt as if his eyes would be permanently damaged the longer he was forced to look at the drab colors and bland angles of the building.
“Sam, I don’t think…”
Weng held up a finger in warning as an automated loader passed by, carrying several stacks of dry goods. Headed not for their shuttle, but for a similar vessel.
“Where’s that one from?” he asked.
Gen shuffled through his info pad screen information.
“According to the markings, Ceres.”
“Hang on. They get priority on foodstuffs over the Mars Colonies?”
“The United Mars Colonies.”
“Yes. The Uni…Gen, are you pulling my leg?”
“No, Sam. Just reminding you of our purpose.”
Weng sipped the coffee again. The purpose. What he had got himself into? All he wanted was to be able to apply himself, as an architect, in a place that appreciated his vision.
Well, yes, he wouldn’t mind a position of authority. He needed something to show Sergey that he was worthy. The old man’s trust in him. He didn’t quite have that, he was sure.
Why hadn’t Riss contacted him in the past week? He wondered, but kept his thoughts to himself. Focus on the task.
“Gen, we were lucky to convince the Lunar Base Council we needed emergency supplies, weren’t we?”
Gen looked up from his infopad and snapped the cover shut.
“Yes, Sam, to some degree.”
Weng tilted his head and smiled. “What does that mean? ‘To some degree.’ I thought I was rather persuasive.”
Gen raised his eyebrows. “I hadn’t thought you to be so confident,” he said. “The opposite, in fact. Quite self-effacing.”
Weng maintained his smile. The little shit, he thought. The smaller man’s face held no expression, betrayed no emotion. Was this really the Martian Overseer’s legitimate son? Something about his mannerism…
“You are broadcasting your thoughts too loudly, Sam,” Gen said in a softer voice. “I would advise you to close your mind. You never know who might be listening.”
A momentary look of shock passed over Weng’s face but he quickly composed himself.
No thoughts. No Riss.
“I see,” he said neutrally. “I did not know you were a telepath.”
“Empath. Only partial telepathy.”
Gen returned to his inventory listing. He casually scanned down the screen, occasionally poking at it. “I can’t make out specific words. Only basic ideas.”
He looked up again at Sam.
“Plus a certain understanding of human nature. And personal background.”
Weng swallowed. “I have no intention of betraying my fiancé for your sake, Gen,” he croaked. “Nor for the Mars…United Mars Colonies.”
“But I am devoted to the purpose,” Weng continued. He drained the cup and crushed in one hand. “I intend to make myself as useful as possible for the future of the United Mars Colonies. For myself, for my fiancé, and for your father.”
“That is all we ask,” Gen replied. “We are not looking for blind obedience, Sam. Only assistance.”
Weng made no reply. He returned his gaze to the robot porters and their cargo. A hatch on the Ceres-bound shuttle opened, and the porter slowly and mechanically unloaded its stacks.
“Not to worry, Sam,” Gen said, seeing his gaze. “Once the porters are done over there, we are next on their itinerary.” He tapped his info pad.
“No, Gen,” Weng said. He turned to look briefly at the man he once thought was his assistant. “That’s not what I was thinking. You do have limits, then.”
Get nodded. “I read best when strong emotions come concomitantly.”
Weng started to say something, then changed his mind.
“You know,” he said. “If you have this talent of reading thoughts…”
“Emotional thoughts,” Weng amended. “Well, then why didn’t you use it when we first approached Talbot back at Ceres?”
Gen shrugged. “There was no need. You did well enough on your own.”
Weng kept his expression as emotionless as possible. “Also, you did not trust me,” he added.
Gen nodded. “As you say. We all have secrets.”
The robots were nearing completion of their task at the other shuttle. Weng gestured to them. “Doesn’t anything about this strike you as odd?”
Gen crossed his arms and stared at the robots.
“They do not seem nearly as efficient as the robots at the Ceres Mining Station.”
“No, no,” Weng interrupted. “Not that. Hasn’t Ceres blocked all transmissions, as we suggested?”
The two men exchanged glances. Gen flipped open his infopad again, fingers hurriedly inputting commands.
“Confirmed. Incoming blocked at Ceres.”
“Gen, do you mind staying here to supervise the loading of our precious cargo for Mars?”
Across the loading dock area, a section of wall slid open. Two robotic porters detached themselves from docking sockets next to the opening and entered the new area.
“The foodstuffs will be readied momentarily,” Gen said. “You have only a few minutes. I will attempt to delay the procedure.”
“That’s all I need,” Weng said, withdrawing his long-unused wrist com from his left sleeve pocket. He felt the right sleeve pocket; damn, no earpiece. He’d have to keep his voice down. No choice.
Shoving the remains of his coffee cup into the pocket, he touched the watch to his wrist. The organoplastic wrapped itself around, just like it used to. He walked as casually as he could away from the shuttle loading area, back toward the crew entrance elevator. Glancing back, he saw Gen raise his hand to stop a porter. To double-check the inventory, he hoped.
He tapped the watch and shielded the plastic face with a hand.
No answer. He checked the connection.
Damn. The office manager was in a meeting. He’d have to try someone else.
“Elodie. Elodie, are you there? It’s Sam.”
A tiny image projected from the organoplastic surface. He adjusted the size and volume, but the voice still seemed too loud for comfort. He looked around. Automatons hadn’t made any motion toward him.
“Sam? Hi, long time no see, big shot. Didn’t know you were slumming.”
“Elodie, hi. Look, I know it’s sudden, but I need a favor.”
“Favor? You weasel your way out of a Luna architectural project into a Martian water reclamation team and now you want a favor?”
“Yeah, yeah, I know. Very uncool of me.”
“But characteristic. What do you want?”
“Thanks. I need to know if someone from Ceres managed to contact Luna within the past three days.”
“Ceres? We contact them all the time.”
“Not now we don’t. They’re blocked all incoming.”
A moment of silence. He tapped at the watch. “Elodie? Are you there?”
“Well, I’ll be. You’re right, Sam.”
He felt himself growing impatient. “Yes, I know. Listen, can you…”
“Sam, what’s going on? There are rumors of trouble here.”
He stopped. “Trouble? What kind?”
“We all heard something happened in the last UN meeting. Something between Brazil, China, India…I forget who else. We were told not to allow ships from ISS to land for the time being.”
He looked over at the loading area. Gen was still trying to delay, but it appeared as if the porters were already setting their pallets in place.
“Elodie, can you check…” His mind raced. “Can you check for any incoming from deep space? From transjovial or transneptune?”
“Miss your girlfriend, eh, Mr. Martian.”
“Elodie, come on.”
A string of words appeared across the plastic surface.
“What’s this? Code?”
“Looks like. I found it hidden in a subdirectory, addressed to Sergey.”
“Sergey? From who?”
“Can’t tell. It was definitely from a ship, though.”
The porters had finished their task. A warning alarm sounded.
“Gotta go before they open the loading dock doors. Thanks a bunch, Elodie.”
“Sam! What is going on?”
“I don’t know. Be safe.”
He cut the connection, yanked the watch off and threw it on the floor. Carefully aiming, he crunched it under a boot. From the slivers remaining, he withdrew a tiny fragment. The micro-memory chip was all he needed. The rest could stay.
He had no intention of returning. Not if what he suspected was happening came to pass.
He ran back to the shuttle. Gen had already entered and was beginning the start-up sequence. Weng climbed up the ladder and slid in from the top portal.
“OK, Gen, let’s get out of here,” he said, taking the navigator’s seat. “You can drive if you like.”
“I have no difficulties piloting the shuttle, Sam,” Gen replied. His hands flew over the console as the shuttle slowly lifted and turned. The automated porters in the loading area returned to their niches in the wall. The lights dimmed. The shuttle rose toward the semi-domed roof, arching above them.
“50 meters,” Gen said. “25.”
For a second Weng nearly panicked. Had Lunar Security caught his transmission? Would they block them?
Seams in the roof appeared. The semi-dome split into two sections that slid open like the doors of a greenhouse. The shuttle edged its way through the opening and into the thin Lunar atmosphere.
Fifty years prior, Weng realized, the decompression from the loading area would have propelled them out into space, reducing the need for thrusters. Now, with the faster than anticipated terraforming project successfully completed, the old loading area construction seemed horribly antiquated.
Gen toggled the aft thrusters, and the shuttle sluggishly lifted away from the loading station. As they turned onto their off-Lunar trajectory path toward Mars, Weng could see the station below, embedded into the lunarscape.
No wonder, he thought. All the original buildings had to be buried in the surface. Or beneath. Even with the atmosphere, the engineers never did figure out how to stop all harmful solar radiation.
Outside the Lunar Base perimeter, the gravity generators no longer held them down. They shot off toward Mars. Gen checked the console as he set the autocontrols.
“We may return in time,” he said. “Barely.”
Weng didn’t respond. Hands in pockets, he was still fiddling with the microchip with one hand, debating what to do. Fingers on the opposite hand touched the crumbled remains of the coffee cup in the other pocket. He retrieved one piece and turned in over his hand.
Strange, he mused. He almost felt a certain attachment to it. An odd feeling of…he didn’t know.
“Surely not nostalgia?” Gen asked, turning around.
Weng didn’t look up from the paper shred.
“Maybe not,” he said, giving no indication of annoyance at the unwanted mind read. “Maybe I should have told Sergey.”
“Told him what exactly?”
Weng returned the shred to his pocket and withdrew his hands. He folded them in front of him.
“Gen. We must talk,” he said calmly. “Of revolution.”
Next: Bringer of Light, Chapter 21: The Artemis, in which the Rock seems to have cosmic import… (dropping April 10, 2021)
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