What has gone on before: The Artemis asteroid mining ship crew and Weng, architect turned water reclamation plant engineer and part-time politician, have arrived to train the afflicted United Mars Colonies residents how to cope with their condition. Meanwhile, retired Captain Sergey Bardish suffered a stroke as he and Elodie Gagnon fled the fighting on Luna Base. But someone has now caught up to them…
They couldn’t possibly outrun the hunter ship. Sergey couldn’t identify the vessel, not from his prone position, certainly not in his physical condition. But he knew from experience that any hunter ship could run faster than them, even if the lunar skiff had more maneuverability. And he had a strong suspicion who it was, anyway. Someone he probably should have dealt with in the past.
Music was playing now. He caught just a few refrains. Piano. Ah. Moonlight Sonata. A bit melodramatic, he thought, but appropriate.
He returned his thoughts to this Elodie person who had chosen his adopted daughter’s favorite composer. He still had no idea why she had rescued him from Lunar Base. Or even why he needed rescuing in the first place.
Somebody wanted him. Badly. But why?
In the end, it mattered not to him. All that he wanted was what he had always wanted.
To remain free and independent. Owned by and beholden to no one.
Not even his rescuer, no matter her taste in music.
“El-Elo-die,” he croaked. “W-what now?”
There was no sound from the front of the little ship. He tried again, a bit louder. Still nothing. The music swelled.
He closed his eyes, making a fist with his good hand. No, he wouldn’t die like this. Lying down and useless.
With every ounce of willpower he could muster, Sergey struggled to his feet. Foot, he corrected himself, grabbing onto anything he could to get upright. It took considerably longer than he thought. After a few excruciatingly long moments he found an arm looped round him, assisting him the length of the ship. He was helped into the navigator’s chair, next to the pilot’s chair.
No captain needed on a two-person ship. He would’ve smiled with chagrin, if he could still smile.
“I guess you just aren’t the kind of person who is willing to stay still,” Elodie said. She had sat next to him, almost as if by magic, without his noticing.
He flickered his eyes at the console.
“Where is the approaching ship?” she guessed. He tried to nod his head, but it hurt too much. But at least he could still grunt.
She called up the flight and intercept trajectories and overlaid them so that he could clearly see them.
“No ship registered ID. Most likely hunters. Perhaps pirate.”
He examined the readout, then tried to shake his head, slowly. It came out looking more like a twitch to the right.
“No? Do you know who it is?”
“Captain, before you tell me what you’re thinking, I want to tell you something.”
He continued to gaze at the trajectories in front of them. The dot representing the hunter ship slowly closing in.
“I received a transmission from Ceres. The mining council was briefly taken over by a hunter captain named Ildico. I think you know her.”
He blinked his eyes to show that he did. And waited.
“Ultimately she was unsuccessful. The Artemis showed up. Helped depose her. Now it’s on its way to Mars. The Sundering has begun. We will no longer bow to the whims of the old order, no longer be their mining slaves. No longer be powerless, controlled by—”
He sighed, waved his hand. Enough with the speeches and politics, he thought. It had nothing to do with him. At least he knew that Riss was safely away from whatever coup, whatever powerplay had occurred. She had chosen independence, as did he. He was satisfied.
Only one thing left to do now.
“Captain,” Elodie said forcefully. “You must come with me to Ceres. The remaining hunter ships will listen to you. They respect you.”
He tilted his head to the side, waving his hand again. Then gestured at the screen in front of them.
“Yes, I am not sure how to evade this ship, if it proves hostile. The message I received did not talk about any kind of rescue ship coming. I think the mining council still believes I am on Luna, safe and soundly hidden. But somehow, somehow—”
He gestured with his right hand. “Pen. Pen.”
She complied, setting down a pad and stylus for him. Sergey tried in vain to write a few letters, managing only to scrawl indecipherable scribbles. He seemed on the verge of tossing the pen when Elodie said, “Captain. Don’t write. Draw.”
He stopped, then began to draw images. Two ships. One small, one large. Lines between them. An even smaller, tubelike ship. An asterisk, covering the tubelike ship.
He pointed to the asterisk, then to himself. Then from the small ship to Elodie. Then drew a circle and added stick figures around it. He made one hold what looked like a pad or some similar device. He then drew a line from the small ship to the circle again pointed to Elodie.
“You want me to go to the circle? Is this Ceres?”
“You want to stay in the small ship. This one we are in?”
He tilted his head to the side.
“No? Then, you want to go to the big ship?”
He tilted his head again and closed his eyes.
She suddenly grasped his design.
“Captain, I can’t let you do that. My duty is to prevent your capture and escort you safely to—”
He grabbed her arm with his good hand and held it firmly. Looked her in the eyes. Then said as clearly as possible, “Elo. Dee. Give. Mess. Age. All. Hear.”
He kicked his right foot on the floor and pointed at it. She looked down at it, then up again at him. He gestured again and grunted. Carefully, she removed his boot.
Bardish couldn’t see her remove the chip from an inner pocket in the back of the boot, but he was sure she would find it with little trouble. An old hunter tradition. A final, farewell message. He had always carried it with him, occasionally re-recording it before he thought he might meet his fate. He couldn’t remember when he had last done so. Probably well before the attempted coup. Possibly before Riss had left to track down her rock.
It was just as well. His mind hadn’t changed about many things. Especially since the trial.
The trial that had never should have happened.
Elodie showed him the transponder capsule, with the chip inside.
“Captain, do you want me to broadcast this?”
He blinked, grunted, and pointed at the image of the tubelike ship.
“I understand,” she replied. She held his good hand with both of hers. “You are a legend, Sergey. To all of us. I will make sure that everyone will hear.”
He smiled. Only half his mouth moved, making it appear more like a grimace.
“Well, at least those who care to hear, at any rate.”
He grunted, then looked at the console. Their pursuer had gained considerable ground on them. Most likely would demand to board them. For what purpose, he did not know. But at least this way he would stay free.
If only he knew where Riss was. And that good-for-nothing fiancé of hers.
As the clone pilot assisted his entry into the pod, he prayed for their success. For Riss and Weng. Not for himself. He cared not whether the stratagem worked. This clone, Elodie, she was capable enough of defending herself.
He lay in the tiny pod, hands clasped together in prayer. He only wanted to sleep. Sleep, and to face the darkness on his own terms.
He nodded in response.
The door above his head closed. The music stopped. The pod launched.
Sergey closed his eyes.
Green grass, flowing light blue banners and red rising spires floated before them.
The dirge began.
Beside his old horse a soldier is lying
Beside the soldier his mother is crying…
Above them in circles the bird is flying…
My body pale white, like seeds of poppy–
wounded sore in desperate flight.
O mother mine, do not sorrow so
To see your son in such plight…
Search for a doctor, a carpenter, as well.
The doctor cannot help but
The carpenter a small house will make…
When all is lost and all is finished,
My builder and my war, farewell and good-bye.
O mother mine, cease all your weeping,
Because your poor son is going…
Next: Bringer of Light, Chapter 37: Transit, Ceres to Luna. Gennaji and Karel finally come to an agreement, and things do not go well.