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.”
Facing five Hunter ships surrounding the entrance to the Ceres mining station, Riss makes her decision.
“Well,” Enoch said, a note of urgency in his voice, “what do we do now?”
Riss stared calmly at the viewscreen. Five ships faced them. Four were those she knew well. The Sagittarius, the oldest, could not match the Artemis’s speed or shields. Gennaji could not use any nuclear weapons this close to allies, unless he wanted all of them to lose power as well as bathe all of Ceres in a wave of radiation.
The Corvus looked like it’d seen better days. Recent damage was still visible on its left side and rear. Idly, Riss wondered if it were captive, and not ally. Athene and Haephestis, she knew could not best the Artemis on their own.
But it was five against one. She didn’t like those odds. As strong as Artemis was, the battle wouldn’t last long. Especially with the Pleiades at point.
Surrender herself, or be destroyed. A simple ultimatum.
“If you do give yourself up, you know he’ll just destroy us anyway,” Sanvi pointed out.
Riss nodded. “Probably they’ll try, at least.”
She sat back. Five more minutes to make a decision.
“Coop, are you sure one of those ships has ditrium on it?”
“Yes. And that’s the fourth time you’ve asked me, Riss.”
She sighed. Ditrium. She’d gone all the way to Transneptunian to find ditrium, in the hopes she could do for Mars what Sergey had done for Luna.
And make a tidy profit, naturally. But somehow now money didn’t seem as important.
Not important at all, she realized. Not to her. Not to her crew. But to Gennaji—
“Coop,” she said. “Do you know the chemical composition of gold?”
“What kind of question is that?” the geist responded, offended. “How could I ever call myself a geologist if I didn’t—”
He gasped, then grinned.
“Do you think you could give a demonstration for our friends out there?”
She could swear a slightly wicked gleam entered his eyes.
“As the Russians say, ‘When money speaks, the truth stays silent’,” he said with a grin.
Riss laughed. “And as the Sufis say, ‘Three things ruin a person: greed, envy, and pride.’ Let’s see if we can go for all three.”
“You’ve been reading my mind,” the geist said shaking his head. “I’ll never get used to that.”
She shrugged. That was, probably, what both of them had actually done inadvertently. Which apparently they could all do, if they concentrated hard enough. She needed to rely on that new ability now, more than ever.
“Enoch,” she ordered, “inform Sagittarius that I’ll meet them on Ceres to surrender myself. In the meantime,” she pivoted to Sanvi and Coop, “we need to find that ditrium. Coop, you need to put your heads together. Let Sanvi and Enoch know as much as you know about the composition of various heavy metals; copper, silver, gold, even iron and lead.”
She unstrapped herself from the command chair and swam to the corridor exit. “You may need to merge again.”
“Merge?” asked the geist. He looked back and forth from Sanvi to Enoch.
The navigator shrugged. “Good a term as any, I guess.”
“When you’re done, join me on Ceres,” Riss said from the exit. “I’ll return the Hopper to you once I get close enough.”
“But then how will you—” Sanvi queried. “Ah.”
Riss laughed. It’d been a while since she felt free, despite the risk. Despite the danger.
It felt good.
She stuck her head back into the command center and pointed at her ear. “Use the helmet comm to keep in touch. I feel like going for a walk.”
Next: Bringer of Light, Chapter 29: Ceres – Weng. Sam wonders (not for the last time) how he got involved and what his role is.
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.”
Over the years, the SAA has been responsible for several spacecraft failures and even dictates when astronauts can and can’t perform spacewalks. As the space around Earth becomes filled with an increasing number of craft, what does the SAA mean for the future of spaceflight?
This post is from back in February 2021, but I just stumbled across it this morning and thought it was an interesting read.
Learn something new every day!
This part caught my eye…
Radiation is a colorless, tasteless, and odorless enemy…
…and I couldn’t help thinking…
It’s okay. I’m immune 😂
Anyway, the article linked above is food for thought. Whenever electronic objects pass through the SAA, which is where the loops of the Van Allen Belt dip perilously close to the Earth, the electronics get a massive amount of radiation and go haywire.
Seriously expensive to shield stuff up there — and as more and more satellites (and people) go up, so does the risk.
She was floating, feeling free at last. Unbound by any restraints, in control of herself. She finally knew who she was…but something tugged at her, something she had been searching for. Something calling her.
“No, no, I don’t want to go!”
Strong arms, gentle arms holding her. A needle pricks her upper arm.
“It’s okay, you’ll be safe. I promise.”
Shadows, sad shadows are all she can see. So sleepy.
“We’ll see you soon, varobushek.”
Riss suddenly sat up in her bunk.
Or, rather, tried to sit up. The sleep restrainer harness yanked her back down with a jolt. Feeling foolish, she pulled at the velcro and the straps floated harmlessly next to her. Rubbing her arms where the strap had dug in, she sat up again, slowly, and pulled her magboots on.
After her experience the previous night, she had decided to take no chances. The Artemis was beginning to slow down as they approached the Happy Hunting Grounds, returning the microgravity closer to its normal low. She should have used the harness every single night, but to tell the truth, she hated it.
Hated being restrained by anything.
What she couldn’t give for a gravity generator. Not feasible on a ship this size, given the energy consumption. In the meantime, time for her calcium supplements.
She touched a panel and removed a sealed pack of tablets from the drawer that popped out. She grabbed another pack of water, hesitated momentarily, then popped it open and inserted the straw.
Oh, well, she thought, downing the tablets and taking a big sip. Far too late to worry about what was in the water.
She leaned back in her bunk and took another long sip. The patterns suddenly came into view, dancing across the surfaces of the room. Then they faded, but she could see them.
Almost imperceptible. Everywhere.
The walls, the floor, the ceiling. The desk. The pad and its charge port in the wall. Her magboots.
She paused and rested her gaze on the motanka. It hadn’t changed back to its original color, still green with checkered red, white and yellow patterns on the skirt. The yellow hair had turned brown. No, red-brown.
The color of her own hair, she suddenly realized.
She drained the water pack and let it float to the ceiling. Maybe it was time to do some more experimenting.
She stretched out her hand and concentrated.
Nothing at first. Then she relaxed her hand, thinking of the motanka. As if in response, the doll lifted itself from the desk and floated across the room to her hand.
She nearly dropped it in surprise.
Just like the dragon fruit.
What else could she move?
She glanced at the pad, in its charger. It came tumbling across the room, straight at her forehead. She ducked, and it bounced off the wall behind her, falling onto the bunk.
It should have fallen up or floated. She thought again, and the pad floated upward, then into the middle of the room. She could see the patterns around it, the lines guiding it and molding it into shape. Gently she coaxed it back to its charger.
Could she open the door?
With a metallic clang the answer became readily apparent. The lights shut off, then on. The fridge moved toward her, opened up and flung a water pack, then rolled obediently back to its port. The door closed, softly this time.
She sighed. Didn’t even feel tired this time, unlike after the pitaya explosion incident in the mess earlier. Maybe with time they wouldn’t get tired at all. Or maybe it was just little things.
Or if they worked independently or together.
She looked at the doll in her hands.
The no-face still looked back. The colors—she could change them back to the way they had been. Yes, they did. Blue with yellow flowers and golden, flaxen hair.
No. She didn’t like the hair. Changed it back to brown, but a darker brown than before. Shorter, slightly wavy.
A memory spoke again to her.
“Why are you crying, moya kroshka?”
“At school, Elke called me a bad name. Right in front of the others.”
“A bad name? What kind of name?”
“Pig! They called me Russian pig!”
“You’re not a pig, kroshka. But you are Russian. And German, too.”
“I don’t wanna be Russian! I want to be just like Elke!”
Just like Elke. Just like the other kids. Not special. She clutched the motanka.
Dreams of a six-year-old. She couldn’t even remember where the school was, or what Elke looked like. Only the pain, the hurt was real. Even now, two decades later, it still hurt.
Who was she?
She wasn’t Russian. She wasn’t German. Barely remembered her mother, hardly any memories of her father at all. Just the last few moments as they made her go to sleep in the life pod.
True to his word, Sergey had helped her to find out who her birth parents were. At first. He had retrieved their passports from the life pod and was able to search for their names in the UN database. Her father was a chemical engineer, her mother an exobiologist — maybe she had even known of Coop’s father, who knows. Her parents apparently met in Italy at some sort of international conglomerate-financed exhibition on terraforming. In fact, that’s where Riss was born. But she had no memories of Italy, and few of her childhood.
Before the accident.
They had been in the midst of a family move to the Moon, to join the terraforming team, when their shuttle experienced a sudden power failure. Riss was the only survivor. A dozen others were never found again, presumed dead following the spaceship’s violent decompressive rupture.
But that hadn’t told her who they were.
German father, Russian mother. But those were just names of countries, just nationalities. Who were they? What were they like?
What did that make her?
“You can see any face you like on motanka,” Sergey told her, in the months after he gave her the doll. “That way she will grow with you, as you also grow.”
She looked at the doll. The crossed-out visage began to shift, softening features. Textures like slightly darkened skin, high cheekbones. Proud smile. Eyes…
She stifled a yelp and the doll leapt back to the desk.
The cross returned. Staring back at her from across the room.
She relaxed and exhaled, just then realizing she had been holding her breath.
The doll. It was just like her. Featureless. Easily changed. Controlled.
Was that why these new abilities scared her?
Or was it something that she was afraid to face?
She closed her eyes and stretched out a hand. The fields seemed to interact with her fingers, slipping between them. Around them. Through them. It was as if all she had to do was touch the fields, tease apart the threads of atoms and sub particles. Expand into the space between quarks and bosons.
The space holding the stuff of the universe together in delicate harmony.
Is this what they all were? What she really was? Empty space?
No. Not just space. A tension. A balance between matter and energy.
Light and dark. Being and not-being.
She (who was she?) stretched her fingers (what were they?) through threads (were they really threads? streams? filaments of subatomic connections?), touched another searcher, seeking answers like herself (self? unself?).
A familiar feeling, part dark part light, laughter and sadness.
Sanvi? Who was that? Riss? The same? Different?
Aspects of the same universe, elements and combinations of energy condensed, vibrating, expanding, contracting, interacting.
Aware of itself / herself / themselves.
Separate but together. Connected. Sharing space.
Joy. Pure bliss. Beyond the physical. Beyond…
A shock of recognition.
The room came back into focus. Her outstretched hand briefly glowed, luminescent, fingers trembling as if by a sudden jolt.
Lungs remembered to breathe.
Inhale, exhale. Eyelids blinked.
Riss. She was Riss. Sanvi was another person.
Riss sat back on the bunk, brushing back tears with the back of a hand.
Why was she crying? The experience hadn’t been painful. She tried to recall the sensations, but came up blank.
Only the separation remained. And a dim perception of the separateness of others in their own compartments.
She could no longer tell whether her crew were asleep or awake. The Artemis whispered to her. The autopilot stayed steady on its inbound course. Two more days, at least. Space was vast.
Physical space, between solar objects. Perhaps not so vast between people.
A wave of exhaustion came over her. Sleepily she beckoned for the pad again. It came to her. Programmed a wake-up alarm. Returned it. Fell back on the bed.
No restraints this time. A brief smile lingered on her face.
She had no more need for restraints.
Next: Bringer of Light, Chapter 25: Transit—Transjovial to Hunting Grounds. The Artemis comes home…to a surprise.
China’s plan calls for setting up a permanently occupied base and a fleet of interplanetary craft. Probably it’s a good idea to first see whether it can meet its goal of landing people on Mars in 2033.
Of course, China is “willing to join hands with our counterparts and partners all over the world,” but it’s unlikely NASA, JAXA, ESA, and the UAE and other countries not named Russia will “cooperate.”
The next space race is here. Just wait until multinats actually decide asteroid mining is worth the risk and expense.
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