December 7, 2019

Free Fiction Friday: Solar Winds-The Cloaked Promise Part 5

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Can’t wait ’til next Tuesday for New Horizons’ historic encounter with Pluto? You can explore the future solar system now, with Martian native Andrea Makati and the Zodiac Cartel gang in this week’s installment straight out of the Solar Winds universe. action is heating up, as Andrea heads to Titan and Cronos City. Be sure to start back with chapter 1, or better yet, the first chapter of the first story Scorpius Cell, or better yet read em both and other original tales of scifi in their entirety.

 

Solar Winds-the Cloaked Promise

by

David A. Dickinson

Chapter 5

The ship proved to be one hell of a mover. Andrea estimated they had covered several million kilometers in just the span of an hour.  She could see Saturn’s phase and orientation change in real time as she watched.  This ship has to have a new anti-matter drive, she thought. Nothing else could power something this compact. I wonder how they contain it? The Professor would love to tear into this rig…

Titan now loomed dead ahead.  The drive had cut out and gravity’s pull was taking them in. The pinkish haze predominated, but with her infra-ocular, Andrea could make out contrasting surface patches. Wisps of atmosphere fluoresced against the heat-resistant canopy. This built to a crescendo until a great fireball enveloped the ship and obscured the view. After a minute of violent deceleration, the cocoon of fire broke and Andrea got her first view of the surface.  Cronos City lay below, basking in the dull haze of morning. What light did filter down was punctuated by floodlights marking the city perimeter.  Andrea knew that a vast amount of the city lay underground, much like her native Mars. Civilization… she didn’t realize how much she had missed it during these last few months. She hadn’t even walked on any world bigger than a kilometer in diameter since leaving Ganymede. How she yearned for a gravity-fed shower and dinner that wasn’t in a tube or a pill.

She quickly checked her orientation and lowered the tricycle gear.  She marveled at the seas of liquid methane and the blocks of churning ice that slid below.

Landing at D.R. Holderson’s private space port was smooth and uneventful. An android escort awaited her and wordlessly whisked her off via transport tube to her private suite. Upon arrival, she discovered directions for a meeting in twelve hours. Efficient, I like that in a man, she laughed to herself. Andrea laid back and turned on the holo-screen. She tried to catalog what she knew about Mr. Holderson to arm herself with knowledge before their rendezvous.  He had initially made his fortune in asteroid and comet mining. Holderson Incorporated & Holderson Technologies had operations stretching from the inner Solar System to the Kuiper Belt. They routinely diverted metal-laden rocks into tight orbits for harvesting. He also was key to several emerging nano-technologies involving bio-augmentation, such as the infra-ocular she now wore.  It was rare to meet someone who wasn’t at least slightly augmented in some fashion. Karl’s size and strength. The Professor’s computer interface.  They could all be traced to Holderson Innovations.  And to a large extent, the mining of carbonaceous asteroids, coupled with water harvesting from comets had made life in the outer solar system viable.

So what does this have to do with the Cartel? Andrea pondered. It could be a trap. The Terran Legion must have a bounty out on all of them by now. She doubted Holderson had suddenly developed a soft spot for shoestring revolutionaries. Still, after meeting Holderson briefly, Andrea seemed to sense a streak of flamboyance in him.

Unable to sleep, Andrea slipped her boots back on and headed out into Cronos City.

 

Andrea walked the underground boulevards into a large lattice-covered common. Throngs of pedestrians rushed through it, forming the pulse of the city.  Large suspended screens flashed advertisements and news snippets. Andrea was pleased to see their recent “hijackings” had not gone unnoticed.  Clearly, the Terran government had been shaken a bit.  She almost laughed aloud at some of the obvious re-enactments of the luxury-liner attack depicted by the media. She looked worn and haggard in the clips. We’ve got to get a good publicist, she thought. Apparently, they had been “driven off” by “brave Legion commandos”. Still, she considered this all to be valuable intelligence.  She could see just how much the media really knew about them.

As she wandered the common, two things immediately struck her. First, there was the almost continuous presence of Legion shock troops.  Not just security guards, but heavily armed soldiers in full riot gear.  What do they fear? Second, there was a feigned sort of indifference to their presence.

Andrea spotted a bar named Pandora’s Panic. It looked like a suitable place to successfully kill a few brain cells.

And she was not disappointed. She had the Auto-Bartender line up three Martian Ales and polished off the first two almost immediately. A warm looseness floated through her skull.  The music was abrasive and thought crushing, the way she liked it. Finding a comfortable corner of the bar where she wouldn’t get perpetually hit on, Andrea settled into one of her favorite pastimes: people watching.  Even this early in the Titanian day, there was no shortage of students, miners, and all-around adventurers at the bar.  Some were obviously augmented, some less so. A sprinkling of soldiers and deep space pilots was also visible.  So self absorbed, Andrea mused, so wrapped up in their rat-on-a-wheel lives.

Andrea had to watch her cynicism. She felt it would be the death of her.  Marc had always served as her anchor, a balance which leveled off her view of things.  With him gone, she felt adrift.  It was harder to feel compassion for anyone or anything. She didn’t intend on killing the commander of the Daedalus, even though a more primal urge was glad that they did.  Karl had once told her that in this Solar System there were two kinds of people: Wolves and Sheep. If you’re not the predator, then you’re the prey, and that axiom held true from the drone miners on Mercury to the Terran Empress.

“But there’s more,” Andrea whispered to the miners next to her that gave her a strange look in return. She finished off the third ale and continued. “You can be the Shepherd”

An hour of scanning the crowd revealed the person she was looking for.  Every bar had one. It was The Person Who Could Get It for You.  A minute’s worth of haggling produced Andrea’s curious request: a miniature neural paralyzer. Small enough to avoid detection, it would serve as a weapon in the event of a double-cross by Mr. Holderson. It also could aid her suicide in the event of capture, Andrea thought grimly.  She tossed the provider her remaining credits and strode back out to the street.

To be continued…

Read The Cloaked Promise and other original tales of scifi in their entirety.

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