Serial Saturday #2.19: One of These Things Is Not Like The Other
There was a moment of tense silence in the med bay, as Mendrika stared at the image, expressionless before finally, he sighed. “I had hoped you would never find out about this, Sarah.”
“I did,” Mendrika held up his hand. “But it’s not him. It’s some Armscor trick, some Consolidation nonsense.”
“How long?” Sarah snapped. “How long have you known?”
“Does it matter?”
“It does matter!” Sarah shouted, startling everyone. “A man is running around out there in the Universe with my dead father’s face and you don’t think it matters? You don’t think I should have been told?”
“I-” The words caught in Mendrika’s throat.
Sarah kept going, the pent-up rage inside her finally bursting free.. “I’m an unwitting pawn in some kind of corporate espionage and they want me to control my city and put neural mind control in my head so I’m their damn puppet and then you show up like a damn ghost and the next thing I know I’m running all over Venus and you just failed to drop into the conversation that “oh hey, by the way, there’s some kind of corporate trooper with your dead father’s face running around the place?”
An alarm began to beep on the monitor next to her bed and Sarah became aware of the pain. Sister Adelaide stood up. “All right, everyone out.”
The pain grew and Sarah felt herself begin to sweat. She could dimly hear the other’s objecting and Sister Adelaide turned back to her. “Your pain meds are wearing off, dear, we’ll have to put you under for a while.” Sarah nodded, unable to speak, trying to keep from screaming as she felt a thousand needles drive into her arm where it had been burned by the atmospheric exposure.
Her vision, blurring, she leaned back into the pillow and tried to relax and the last thing she saw before she passed out into nothingness was Mendrika’s face at her side, twisted with distress and she heard him say, “Miala tsiny aho. I’m sorry-”
Sarah came back to consciousness, little by little. What was that noise? And… movement? Her brain pondered it for a moment and then Sarah realized what it was- her eyes snapped open and she tried to push herself upright, but a gentle and firm hand pushed her back down.
“Easy now,” Sister Adelaide soothed.
“Are we under attack?”
“We’re in a spot of trouble at the moment.”
“Can I-” Sarah pushed herself all the way up. “I want to go and see.”
A mutinous expression flashed across Sister Adelaide’s face for a moment before she chuckled. “I don’t suppose there’s going to be any stopping you, is there.”
“Well, then,” Sister Adelaide hooked an arm under Sarah and helped her down off the med-bed. “Let’s get you to the bridge.”
“How long was I out?” Sarah asked as they made their way across the surgical bay to the doors.
“About twelve hours.”
“Twelve hours? What’s been going on?” The doors hissed open and they made their way out into the hallway.
“Chaos,” Sister Adelaide replied. “From what we’ve been able to tell, there’s heavy fighting all across Venus. Most of the city-states as well as the Venusian Transit Authority were caught unawares and the VTA is especially unhappy. They’ve been using Aphrodite Station quite effectively when they can.”
“Shooting them down from orbit?”
Sister Adelaide grimaced. “When they can find targets. They seem to be appearing out of nowhere, along the terminator line. The general theory is that they’re hiding somewhere in the Ashen Light, but no one can find out where.”
“So, where are we going?"
“Right now-” Sister Adelaide reached out to steady herself as the ship lurched to the left. “We’re being chased. But if we can lose them, we’re headed for The Triangle.”
“It’s… hard to explain. Just a nice little out-of-the-way patch of sky that’s well off the shipping lanes. We’re going to rendezvous with the Enugu.” They reached the lift doors and they hissed open. They stepped inside and the doors hissed shut behind them. “Bridge,” Sister Adelaide called.
There was a faint beep and the lift began to move upwards. After a few seconds, it stopped, beeped again and the doors hissed open revealing the bridge. Abbess Hildegarde was seated in the central chair and around her, grim-faced nuns were working at the consoles. The ship pitched and kicked and lurched as they attempted to evade their pursuit.
Abbess Hildegarde glanced over. “Out of bed are we?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Sarah replied. “Thought I’d come to see for myself.”
“I wish you could be more help, my child,” Abbess Hildegarde replied. “But try and stay out of the way.
“I will.” Sister Adelaide steered Sarah toward an empty chair next to the left and sat her down, before moving away to find another console.
“What’s the status of the transport?” Abbess HIldegarde asked.
“They’re almost out of range,” Sister Monica turned from the navigation console. “Their captain advises she needs another minute to get their final engine back online.”
“Then a minute we shall give her,” Abbess Hildegarde said.
“Lead ship is firing again,” a burly-looking nun barked.
“Sister Monica put us between the transport and that ship.”
“I am aware,” Abbess Hildegarde replied serenely. She glanced at the burly-looking nun... “Sister Joan, if you would prepare a full spread of missiles for our friends.”
“Yes, Abbess,” Sister Joan replied with a grin."
“Now, now, Sister Joan,” Abbess Hildegarde replied. “Try not to look so eager about it. Even if they are trying to kill us they are children of God and they know not what they do.”
“Amen,” Sister Joan replied.
“Time to impact?” Abbess Hildegarde asked.
“Ten seconds,” Sister Monica replied tersely.
“Full power to shields, please.” Abbess HIldegarde tapped her console. “All hands, brace for impact.”
The impact, when it came, shook the ship violently. A console off to the left of the bridge blew out, showering the room with sparks. The lights flickered for a moment and then it was over.
“Damage report,” Abbess Hildegarde asked.
“Shields holding,” Sister Monica replied.
“Excellent, now bring us about,” Abbess Hildegarde glanced over at Sister Adelaide. “Sister, if you would be so kind.”
Sister Adelaide straightened and made the sign of the cross before beginning to pray out loud: “Saint Michael The Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our protection against wickedness and snares of the devil; May God rebuke him, we humbly pray; and do thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan and all evil spirits who wander through the world for the ruin of souls.”
All of them in unison finished: “Amen.”
“Sister Joan.” Abbess Hildegarde said. “And view screens if you please, Sister Monica.” The viewscreen turned on and Sarah watched as a missile after a missile erupted from the ship and sped across the sky toward the three ships that were chasing them. Trails of smoke and fire crisscrossed the sky as the three ships, awake to the sudden danger, tried to evade their dooms, to no avail. One. Two. Three. The explosions filled the screen.
Then it was over.
Sighs of relief were heard across the bridge. Abbess HIldegarde turned to Sister Joan. “Excellent shooting as always, Sister Joan.”
“Thank you, Abbess,” Sister Joan looked pleased.
“Sister Monica, is the transport clear?”
“Then set a course for the Triangle. All possible speed.”
The Triangle was exactly as Sister Adelaide described it: a quiet patch of sky. The Enugu was waiting for them, as expected and in short order, both ships were docked and everyone was crowding into the spacious conference room the Nuns had aboard their ship. Sarah and Ema shared a brief hug of greeting. Kamara, Osoko, Injinia all said hello and even the Canadians were still on board- though the three of them agreed to watch the Enugu while the crews met.
Mendrika was studiously avoiding her. For now, Sarah was fine with that. She was still too angry with him, but very quietly, inside her head, she had admitted to herself that at some point, they were going to need to talk about things. Just… not now, she thought to herself. Later. Harcourt rapped his knuckles on the table to get everyone’s attention.
“All right everyone, let’s take stock,” Harcourt raised his voice to call everyone to order. “What’s our situation?”
Kamara stood. “Shit’s bad.” He flushed as he realized that he had just sworn in front of a nun, but Abbess Hildegarde smiled. “An accurate, if colorful assessment, my son. Continue.”
“Well,” Kamara looked nervous. “Resistance is fierce, planet-wide. People are pissed. But everyone’s sort of on the back foot right now, but we’re getting together I think.” Sister Monica handed him a remote and he clicked a monitor on. “Samundra City was a bad target for them, I think, the Peshwa’s forces are working with the Venusian Khalsa and defending the Indian diaspora pretty effectively right now. The fundamentalist city-states are all refusing to yield to our enemies and even the VTA is getting into the game.” He clicked again and this time a map of Venus with the major cities marked appeared on the monitor. Another click. “As you can see, fighting is widespread- but there’s growing concern it may not be enough. The general feeling across all the city-states is that we have to hold the line. If they gain a foothold here-” he left it hanging.
“Time is our friend,” heads turned toward Mendrika. He held up a comm device. “I received word on the way here. Abernathy- or one of his constructs- is raising holy hell about this back on Terra. He’s filing a suit against BHP Rio Tinto in the World Court. And someone- he thinks it’s the Mad Robot that began shorting their shares about a week ago. The Terran stock markets are in free fall.”
We play for time, then?” Ema didn’t look happy. “They’ve got a lot of firepowers and that doesn’t seem like a winning strategy.”
“It might be the best-”
A sudden beep from Harcourt’s belt made them all pause. He sighed and picked up his comm device. “Yes?”
“Oh hi, Captain,” Scottie’s voice sounded uncertain. “We think we’ve done something bad.”
“Well, Alan got a message from his Mam back home in Halifax and he opened it, because, well, he's missed his Mam and we think we-”
A loud screech from the comm device made Harcourt bite off a curse and drop it and then, a familiar voice came from the speaker.
“H-h-h-hey there, c-c-cats and kittens, it’s your fr-r-r-r-r-iendly neighborhood Mad Robot!”
“How did you get here?” Harcourt asked. “Did those idiots download you?”
“Not on p-p-p-purpose, so don’t be too upset with them,” the Mad Robot replied. “Alan r-r-eally did have a message from his Mam.”
Harcourt gazed at the ceiling, giving the impression that he was trying to gather as much patience as he could. “What do you want?”
“I know something you don’t know,” the Mad Robot sang in reply. “Well, two somethings.”
“What do you know?”
“The VTA found s-s-s-something, but they’re either not sharing with anyone or they don’t know what it is.”
Suddenly an image appeared on the monitor. It was an orbital shot from Aphrodite Station and it began to zoom in right along the terminator line into the ashen light when the image suddenly stopped.
“What’s that, kids?” The Mad Robot bellowed.
They all looked at the image for a long moment before Abbess Hildegarde finally spoke. “It looks like a station.”
The sound of a bell echoed out of the comm device. “You are correct, ma’am. It is a station. But whose station? That’s the m-m-m-million dollar question!”
“Okay, that’s one thing,” Harcourt growled. “What’s the other?”
“I am s-s-s-so glad you asked!” The Mad Robot responded in an overly cheerful voice. The image on the monitor changed again, this time to the map of Venus. “There’s fighting everywhere! But where is there no fighting?” The question hung in the air for a moment before The Mad Robot began to sing. “One of these things is not like the other, one of these things just isn’t the same…”
Sarah blinked. “Wait a minute, what about New Toliara?”
A triumphal fanfare echoed out of the comm device in response. “Congr-r-ratulations, you’re a win-n-n-ner!”
Ema scoffed. “There can’t be fighting on every corner of the planet, so what if one city is quiet?”
“But there is fighting on every corner of the planet,” Sarah said. “That’s what the map shows at least. But there’s not on New Toliara-”
“And they’ve gone quiet,” Osoko added from further down the table.
“How quiet?” Harcourt asked.
“No communications in or out of the city since this began.”
“One of these things is not like the other, one of these things just isn’t the same,” the Mad Robot sang.
Harcourt and Abbess Hildegarde exchanged a glance. “We split up?”
“I think so, yes,” Abbess Hildegarde replied. “We will attempt to trace this station in the Ashen Light that our friend has apparently found.”
“And we’ll check out New Toliara,” Harcourt finished.
“T-t-time to g-g-go on an adventure!” The Mad Robot chirped.
Harcourt put his head in his hands. “We’re stuck with him, aren’t we?”
“Until he decides to email himself someplace else, yes,” Osoko grinned.
“How fast can we get to New Toliara?” Sarah asked.
“Not fast enough,” Harcourt replied.