Serial Saturday #2.20: Return to New Toliara
The Enugu was quiet. Perched in a particularly thick cloud, just outside the scanning range of New Toliara, they were rigged for silent running and everyone was speaking in hushed tones.
“So, there’s been nothing?” Harcourt looked unhappy.
“No,” Kamara replied. “The city itself is there. There’s just… no communication. No nothing. Not even local channels or frequencies appear to be operating.”
“Has their dome been compromised?” Sarah asked. “If everyone was forced into shelters and they’re running on emergency power that could-” but Kamara was already shaking his head. “The Dome is still up over the city.”
“I don’t like this,” Ema frowned. “It feels-”
“Like a trap,” Harcourt finished. Ema nodded in agreement.
“I still say we should just do a frontal approach. Make like we’re docking,” Mendrika put in.
“And if the city is controlled by the enemy?” Ema asked. “What then? We’d be sitting ducks, especially with the way the docks are laid out here.” She leaned forward and poked Harcourt on the shoulder.
“Ow,” he said, rubbing at it.
“How did you pull off the smuggling job?”
Harcourt shot Sarah a sidelong glance. “Do I have to say?”
Sarah rolled her eyes. “Fine, if we make it through this, I promise the Malagasy Venusian Authority will grant you an amnesty for any past… dealings you may have had in New Toliara.”
“There’s a weak spot on the dome over Tsaratanana,” he said. “The local smugglers have essentially made it into a hatch. A nice little drop-off point for incoming and outgoing cargo.” He smiled as he saw the stunned expression on Sarah’s face. “I see you know what I’m talking about.”
“We’ve been trying to get that damn thing repaired for months now!” Sarah said.
“Actually years,” Harcourt chuckled. “You’d be surprised what a well-placed delivery to the right maintenance people can do.”
Sarah glowered. “If I ever get my old job back…” She left it hanging.
“I’m not naming names,” Harcourt held up a hand in protest. “I have a reputation to maintain.”
“Not much of a reputation,” Ema laughed.
“But a reputation nonetheless,” Harcourt looked wounded.
Sarah had to laugh. “All right, all right, I promise not to ask too many questions- if we get through this in one piece. But I have to know: what were you smuggling?”
Ema grinned. “Tell her.”
“Do I have to?” Harcourt met her gaze for a moment before sighing heavily. “Oh fine. It was… lemurs.”
“Lemurs?” Sarah scoffed. “Come on now…”
“No really!” Harcourt protested. “A dozen red lemurs procured directly from your arboretum.”
“But the real question,” Kamara interrupted, “is how well known this hatch is.”
“And how quietly we could get in there,” Mendrika added.
They all considered that before finally Osoko spoke. “We’d be visible to any tracking devices and scanners if we come in over the top. It’d have to be fast, whatever we do. And there are risks.”
“What kind of risks?” Harcourt asked.
“It’s all about timing if we do a speedrun over the top,” Osoko said. “If we hit the target and y’all jump at the right time, everything should be just fine. If you’re off by so much as a second…” he left it hanging.
“So, the docks are a bit too aggressive. The dome is too risky. What does that leave us with?” Harcourt asked.
“What about…” Sarah shook her head. “No, it’s impossible.”
“Impossible is where we’re at,” Kamara pointed out.
“All right,” Sarah said. “What about-”
It took nearly two hours for them to agree to try it. An hour of that was the argument. Everyone thought it was a crazy idea, but gradually, Ema came around to Sarah’s plan, and then soon Osoko was wavering, and finally, even Mendrika and Kamara agreed to try it. Harcourt was the last hold out but faced with a crew that had been persuaded of the plan, he eventually agreed.
Then they had to run it by Injinia. A course had to be plotted out. Then they had to decide who would stay and who would go. That almost was another fight before Harcourt put his foot down: Mendrika, Sarah, Kamara, Alan, and Ema would go. He would stay with the ship.
“Is everyone ready?”
They were in the airlock, watching as they crept closer and closer to the jumping-off point. The Enugu was operating on thrusters only as keeping pace with the city’s speed would be critical to making this work.
Ema reached up a gloved hand and hit the comm button. “We’re as ready as we’ll ever be.”
“Good. You’re clear to proceed,” Harcourt replied. “Good luck.”
Ema turned to Sarah. “Are you sure about this?”
Sarah swallowed hard, fighting back the terror that was building inside her. “Yes. This is the best option we have.” I only wish I could believe that she added to herself. This is absolutely crazy.
“Okay then,” Ema mounted the ladder and climbed up to the upper hatch. “Breathers on and here we go.” She grabbed the handle of the hatch, twisted it, pushed upward, and climbed out onto the top of the ship.
One by one the others followed her until they were all standing on the top of the ship, their boots safely magnetized to the hull. They all stared upwards at their destination.
The glow of the city’s engines was almost blinding, but far above them, Sarah knew, was the maintenance walkway she had seen Renato fall from what seemed like forever ago.
“Okay,” she muttered. “Maybe this is crazy.”
“Oh no,” Alan laughed, “It’s definitely crazy.”
But this was the plan she had come up with. The speedrun over the dome was too risky- it might have worked, but like Osoko had pointed out, the timing would have to be precise. Mendrika’s idea of just approaching the docks would leave them too exposed- if enemy forces had New Toliara, it was a risk they couldn’t take. And that’s when she had suggested they come in from below.
“This is going to work, right?” Ema said.
“One way to find out,” Mendrika replied. He reached down and demagnetized his boots. Then he squatted down, took a deep breath, and then jumped. They watched as his suit thrusters kicked in, steering him straight for the target they were aiming for. He grew smaller and they all shielded their eyes from the glow of the engines of the city to try and keep track of him.
“He’s cut thrusters,” Ema noted in satisfaction. “The gravity fields have him.” They watched as he was tossed around briefly and then his thrusters kicked back on and carried him the rest of the way. Ema turned to Kamara. “Can you see him?”
“Affirmative. He made it!”
“Guess your plan wasn’t so crazy after all,” Ema said. “Who’s next?”
Alan went next, then Kamara, and finally, Ema turned to her. “Your turn.” She must have seen the look on Sarah’s face because she reached over and tapped Sarah on the arm. “It’ll be okay,” Ema said. “Just do it quickly before you have time to think about it and you know, jump straight.”
Sarah nodded. She closed her eyes and took a long, deep breath in through her nose, out through her mouth. Another. Okay, one more. Okay, okay, okay- now.
She squatted down, demagnetized her boots, and then she jumped upwards.
The suits' thrusters kicked in immediately and carried her upwards, faster than she expected. This is crazy. Oh my God, this is crazy, this is crazy, this is- the thrusters cut. Then she was into the gravity fields- it was like a strong hand seized her by the scruff of the neck and flung her about like a rag doll and it seemed like she was going to be ripped apart and then-
It was over.
The thrusters kicked back and she arched upward again, faster and faster and- “We got you, we got you,” Mendrika and Kamara grabbed her and helped her over the railing and back onto the walkway. Sarah slumped onto the walkway, panting in relief.
She was back in New Toliara.