(And it would be VERY helpful if WordPress didn’t “refresh” while I was adding tags and categories to posts, and then hiding those tags and categories afterward so that I couldn’t update them…Sigh…what was wrong with the older version that worked just fine?)
The crew of the Artemis have admitted that the water brought from Ceres was contaminated. And yet they deny it was dangerous. Only different. And requiring training…that may stretch the rationality and scientific understanding of the current “United” Mars colonists…
“Delegates,” Martin began.
“Delegates, we must accept the help of the Artemis crew. We have little alternative. We must face the facts. The UN, our home countries, our home planet has abandoned us.”
“How can we survive?” another delegate asked, voice quivering. “Captain, how can we feed ourselves? Maintain heat, power?”
“These are legitimate questions,” she replied. “Coop, a small demonstration?”
He nodded and looked back and forth. Spotting a cup on a small table to the side of the console desk, he raised it above his head.
“Empty now. See?”
He stooped and scooped up a handful of regolith from the chamber floor. Dropped it to the cup. In an instant, water appeared.
I started writing stories when I was in 5th grade. Our teacher gave us a list of vocabulary each week — about 10 to 12 words, I think — and said we had two choices: 1) write down all their definitions along with a sample sentence, or 2) work them into a short story to show that we understood the meaning of the words.
I chose the 2nd option. In fact, I was the only one who did out of a class of about 25.
The thing is, the teacher wanted us to read them at the front of the room.
Man, that was not something I was looking forward to. But somehow I managed.
I wrote nothing but detective stories, all in the first person. At some point, I borrowed my mother’s old manual typewriter (originally my grandfather’s, from the 1950s) and typed them all out. I still have most of them.
But my peak as an elementary school age creative writer came part-way 6th grade, when I attempted to write my first horror story.
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.
Where’s the Artemis?? What’s up with Mars? And Ceres seriously…?
Sorry I haven’t kept up the story posts, everyone.
I know it’s been almost a month since the last Bringer of Light episode. Work just got dumped on me, and I can barely find time to give my writing students feedback. We switched back to face to face classes…with live streaming on Zoom for students who couldn’t or wouldn’t go back to campus…which is definitely NOT a teaching style I would recommend to anybody, anywhere, ever.
It’s been like laying down tracks in front of an oncoming train. Every day.
There is lots more good stuff for Riss and her crew, I swear. I’ve got drafts up to Chapter 42, and plots to the end after that. Let me see if I can get the next one up for you all in a day or two…
In Part 1, “Sam” Weng traveled to Mars, posing as a water plant engineer, hoping to promote his architectural designs. But the Martian Overseer had other designs…
Um,” he said, touching the computer workstation nearest him. “These figures seem…acceptable. So…”
Velasquez put his thumbs into his jacket front pockets and smiled.
Weng glanced at the cart, then at the shovel. He had it.
“Workers,” he said. “There aren’t enough workers to get the quantities of dirt necessary to operate the water reclamation system properly.”
“Yes,” Velaquez said, beaming. He waggled a finger at Weng. “I knew you were a man of intellect. You’re exactly correct. In order to support a larger colony population, we need several crews to excavate literally tons of Martian regolith. Our earth-moving equipment is useless without workers.”
“But what about the ice cap?” Weng asked. “I thought there was enough water locked up there for centuries of colonists.”
“Locked up, yes,” Velasquez agreed. “Locked up by the United Americas Armed Forces stationed at the only operating ice factory on Mars. The UA insists that all reclaimed ice water be used for fuel creation.
He put his hands back in his pockets. “But we can’t drink that water, anyway. The ice cap water has too much irradiation for our purposes.”
He took a step closer to Weng and continued, “Of course, I shouldn’t have to tell you that. As a hydroengineer, you should know already.”
Weng caught the meaning immediately. He stood still, furiously thinking of what to say.
“You’re not an engineer,” Velasquez said softly. He kept his smile. “Even the Lunar Base uses a water reclamation and filtration system such as this. It’s been well-known for decades now.
“Of course,” he said, gesturing to the water tanks, “most of our reclaimed water wouldn’t be in these tanks for long. The system is designed to use the natural bedrock to filter our impurities. These tanks are to disinfect and treat recycled sewage water, mixed in with water reclaimed from the regolith. We dare not use open-face tanks until the terraforming is well under way and the atmosphere forms properly to prevent sublimation.”
Weng felt his hands forming into fists. When would the other shoe drop?
Velasquez shook his head. “It’s of no matter,” he said. “We do not need more hydroengineers.”
“I know that you are an architect, Mr. Weng. A very good one, but one with a certain, shall we say, ambition. Grandiose ideas. Is that not true?”
Weng nodded curtly. “I regret the subterfuge, Overseer. I meant no disrespect.”
Velasquez smiled more broadly. “On the contrary,” he said, “I am pleased that you went to such trouble simply to find a position here in the Mars Colonies. Why give up an important job on Luna for this?”
He shook his head again.
“No, Mr. Weng. Sam. We have need of skilled individuals such as yourself. I will agree to give you a place on our water reclamation plant team so that you may remain on Mars.”
Weng relaxed and finally breathed out.
“Under one condition,” Velasquez added.
Weng started. “Condition?”
“Yes,” the politician answered. He darted glances about the room before motioning Weng closer.
“We have two or three groups of incoming settlers in a few days,” he said in a softer voice, as if not wanting the technicians to overhear. “Some are from the UA. Some are Indian. Some European.”
“That sounds potentially volatile,” Weng responded. “Even as a non-politician, I can understand that much.”
“Yes,” Velasquez said. “But we need these people. Mars needs water, and Mars also needs workers. Thanks to the UA lockout on the ice factories here, we’ve been obliged to get all our water from the plants on Ceres. It’s costing the UN an arm and a leg. If we could process our own potable water, right here…”
“I think I get the picture, Overseer,” said Weng dully. This didn’t sound like architectural work to him. Nor engineering work.
“Martin,” the Overseer said, clapping him on the shoulder. “I can’t talk to the settlers. I need a neutral, third party. Somebody who speaks for one of the Allied Forces.”
“Me?” Weng said, smiling. “I’m no Allied Forces representative. You’re the United Nations appointed Overseer of the Joint Martian Colonies. Why can’t you speak with new settlers?”
“Sam. When you look at me, what do you see?”
Weng looked. He held his tongue.
Velasquez persisted. “What do you see? What kind of person?”
“My ancestry is Japanese,” Velasquez said. He clipped the word, as if reluctant to say it. “My family moved to Peru when I was young.”
“I see,” Weng said slowly. Why was this person telling him this? Private information was not meant to be shared so openly among strangers.
“You are Chinese,” Velasquez continued. “But like the rest of my relatives, you and your people stayed in the alliance.”
He stopped and seemed on the verge of losing his composure. Weng thought he saw the briefest glimpse of anger cross the Overseer’s face.
“I cannot speak to settlers from the United Americas, China, or Japan,” Velasquez said bitterly. “I cannot risk anyone recognizing my name.”
Weng tilted his head and frowned.
“Velasquez does not sound too terribly—”
“My wife’s name,” the politician said. He fell silent.
Weng pondered. A name that was too dangerous to mention aloud, too recognizable to say even to settlers, who likely would not be anywhere near a position of power or authority. He wondered if the Overseer suffered from sort of of paranoia.
Well, he thought, perhaps he could use this to his advantage. Chai mao qui cui, one should never blow the hair and search for ticks.
“All right,” he conceded, trying not to sound too enthusiastic. “I will talk with them.”
The Overseer immediately brightened. He clasped Weng’s right hand with both his hands and shook it vigorously.
“Excellent, excellent. I believe this is the start of a beautiful friendship!”
Weng inwardly groaned, but outwardly smiled.
“Thank you, Overseer,” he said, as sincerely as possible. “I look forward to working together with you, and with the water plant team.”
“I’ll have the papers drawn up by the end of the day,” Velasquez said. He motioned back to the entrance. “Now, let’s see if we can find you some accommodations. Not as grand as Luna conapts, I’m afraid, but I think you’ll find it pleasant enough.”
“Papers?” Weng repeated, as they returned to the corridor. He began to think that he’d never get used to the labyrinthian underground maze of walkways.
Velasquez gestured with both hands and shrugged. “Not to worry, just a formality. A contract is necessary, you understand. That’s the way we do things here on Mars.”
A contract. Ah, well, politics and business were never too far apart. Perhaps he could somehow squeeze in a reference to future architectural work on his part.
The Overseer continued to lecture him on the history of the Mars Colonies, the various factions already living in separate but equal domed sections, the disputes he might expect from newcomers. But all Weng could think about was how he would explain this to Riss.
His new position entailed supporting a process that sought to eliminate the need for water from asteroids.
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