Out soon… (Image credit: NASA)
Here it tis… a continued sneak peek at the upcoming Solar Winds tale, due for publication in the next week. Don’t forget, start back on last week’s chapter 1, and read the first two Solar Winds stories and other original tales of sci-fi by yours truly.
Solar Winds: The Syzygy Gambit
Andrea topped a small rise, puffing a bit under the Martian gravity. She stopped to survey the twilight landscape around her and make some sense of her bearings. “I’ve been cooped up on a space tub too long,” she said to herself, as she panted and rubbed her burning calves. What would Terran gravity feel like now? Her suit and supplies would allow her to survive about a week unsupported in the Martian desert. “Thank Jove for super-compressed O2,” she said, laughing. She knew she would have to make good time tonight, and then pitch camp by dawn. Hopefully, she would only have to overnight in the Martian desert. Unless the Terran Legion has found our friends first, and created a new Martian crater, she grimaced. She knew that the closest Martian settlement was over 500 klicks away in the wrong direction.
Blinking, she thought she caught the glimmer of metal in the twilight. Wreckage? The snaking sands were uncovering things all of the time. Anyway, it was on her path, and it seemed like as good a fixed point to walk towards as any. Cinching up her pack hard against her shoulders, Andrea trotted off down the slope.
The Commandant pulled the thought-node from his skull and glared out the view plaz towards the lunar disk that always hung stationary from this Lagrange point station between Terra and Luna. He had decided early on in this posting at Terran Legion Headquarters that he hated the eternal waxing and waning of the lunar cycles. He preferred the dark depths of space. Next cycle’s lunar eclipse would provide a welcome respite, with a brief, cold slide into the shadows.
The door to his office slid open and a young Lieutenant drifted through. An augee, he thought. Most Terrans had been either mechanically or genetically altered, or both. Few were whole anymore, except maybe some religious fanatics on the lunar far side. And we’ll take care of them soon enough, the Commandant thought.
“Dispatch from Martian Central, sir; it’s on a priority alpha grid,”she reported smartly. This girl’s augmentation, like his own, didn’t show. Still, he sensed her Legion ID on the neural grid, and he noted that those amber cat eyes weren’t the product of blind natural selection.
“Connect me to the down link,” he barked, plugging the thought-node back in. I’ll ferret her out on sex grid later, he thought. Instantly, images from Martian orbit flooded his cyber-nodes. He saw the sleek, one-person spacecraft dive for the Martian surface. The Cartel! He ran a neural cross-check. It was identical to the one that had escaped from Titan and another pair that had wreaked so much havoc on Ganymede. He currently had half of the Legion battle fleet scouring the outer solar system searching for these scum. They wouldn’t dare step foot into the inner system! The craft bared a striking resemblance to the set Holderson claimed were stolen some months back. Holderson was still out of communication on Amalthea. What, by Jove, does he do there?
A consciousness bore through the grid towards him. It was the Lieutenant. “We still have our agent on the inside,” she said. “Shall I contact her?”
“Standby,” the commandant called out. He didn’t feel like discussing their sleeper agent’s status once again, especially with a subordinate. “I want the whole band of bastards this time.”
He looked out at the slimming disk of the Moon. This was going to be fun.
Phobos had risen in the east, not that the tiny moon provided Andrea with much illumination in the Martian night. Andrea thought she could just make out its distorted potato of a phase as it drifted across the sky. She mostly relied on her infra-ocular to navigate through the darkness. The wreckage was in front of her. One exposed panel revealed a yellow hammer and sickle against a red background. An old lander, no doubt, sent by one of the old nation states. She dimly remembered The History of Early Earth Space Exploration from school. China? Russia? It looked as if the lander had come in too shallow and busted up on a large boulder. She wistfully remembered hiking out as a girl and discovering the crash site of the old Beagle 2 lander. The solar system seemed strewn with human wreckage. Hopefully, she thought, Cartel craft won’t be added to the pile. Still, Martian archaeologists would be fascinated by her find. Too bad I can’t tell them, she thought as she unpacked her shelter. But the damaged craft would make an excellent wind break for the night.
Andrea awoke with a start. The sandstorm had picked up to a slow hum against her visor plate. She scanned out beyond the strewn wreckage of the lander. Her visibility, even with the infra-ocular, was down to mere yards. It was easy to get disoriented out here in the drab Martian desert. Her heart beat faster as she remembered being lost as a young girl in a sandstorm on the great Isidis Planitia plains. Zack had kept her from going mad that night. Now she was totally alone, her soft life lay bare before the onslaught of Mars.
Mustn’t panic… she knew she was done for if she lost it out here now. A flick of her visor, a push of her decompression safety latch, and it could all be over. She shuddered to think of an early lost Terran colony where many were found later to have done just that. Bodies were unearthed decades afterward, perfectly desiccated by the near vacuum that passed as the tenuous Martian atmosphere.
But a certain breed of stubbornness refused to let her go out that way. This environment might have been alien to the first Earth-born settlers, but she had practically grown up living in spacesuits and airlocks. She knew that if she had to, she could dig in deep and huddle beside this wreckage until her air gave out days later.
Still…she thought she sensed motion in the storm. Andrea slowly worked her way out beyond her makeshift camp. There seemed to be a definite purposefulness in the grayish-brown swirl. Legion? It wasn’t entirely impossible that they tracked her here from Amalthea, although she was pretty certain that they had nailed that probe in orbit. It was much more likely that the Martian Underground had double-crossed them. Andrea unclipped her maser pistol. Had Karl and the others been captured? It was certainly possible. V.I.C.A.R. was the only Cartel member she had had contact with, and he may have been reprogrammed. Don’t panic…
An alarm went off in her helmet headset. Andrea instinctively hit the dirt. Someone’s scanning me! Andrea peered over the rock outcropping and saw the lumbering form of a long-range sand creeper moving past the wreckage. Andrea hoped the metallic body of the lander would mask her signature. She didn’t doubt that she would find a Legion emblem on the crawler’s hull.
To be continued…