Eden 6: Alliances

Emma's face looked shocked as it appeared on the heads-up display of his spacesuit helmet. He'd decided that for this first attempt at reestablishing contact, he'd risk a visual signal. “Maker, Axen, I was afraid you were dead.”

The Cargo Truck hit a pothole so deep that Axen was tossed against his straps. The pain reminded him that he was still very much alive. “They took Kraft from me, Emma, and things have happened here. I don't know if you know this, but Eden is on the move. I didn't know if you were alive either.”

She flashed a little smile, and it sent a flutter through him. Had he missed it that much? “I can't say it hasn't been a near thing a couple of times, Axen. We've had our problems too, and I'm at least peripherally aware of yours from satellite imagery. But though I've tried to contact you every chance I've gotten, there's never been an answer.”

“I wish I'd had that kind of access, Emma. Even now I still have to talk to Kraft through backdoor channels. That's why I'm in a pressure suit and busting my spleen bouncing around in this garbage truck.”

She smiled again. “It's good to hear from you, Axen.”

“It's good to talk to you too, Emma, but my time is short and I don't know when I'll be able to talk with you again. I have to warn you about Nguyen's bug, the thing we call the Blight. I'm passing you a data file while we're talking.”

“We know quite a bit about it already. Frost has been incredibly resourceful on the matter.”

He took a deep breath before continuing. “Did Frost tell you the planet is doomed?”

Her face went dead serious. “You're sure?”

“There's maybe one chance in a thousand, but we have to assume that the only real hope for survival is to build another starship and escape the planet.”

She nodded sadly. “We suspected as much and have been acting accordingly.”

“It's going to be a close thing, a real balancing act of resources, research, and technology. We can't just recreate the original starship that brought us here, it was a brute-force project constructed with the resources of a fully developed planet behind it. We have to build smarter, faster, lighter, higher technology across the board.”

He paused for another deep breath. This wasn't going to be easy. “Emma, I don't think there are enough resources for two starships, or two starship programs. Based on what Kraft has learned, Eden has a clear technological lead.”

“What are you saying, Axen?”

“I want you to help hold back the Plymouth program in any way you can, and give Eden the clearest shot possible.” He saw the anger in her face, though he couldn't predict how that would color her response.

“Is that all?”

“Plymouth has one thing that Eden needs for its program to be successful.” Again he paused, just the thought of it making his teeth grind. “Our human Gene Bank has been destroyed by terrorists. I want you help me to get the copy from Plymouth. With a minimum of bloodshed, of course.”

“Oh, of course.” She stared back at him. “Axen, were you always this oblivious to sarcasm? Frag if I'm going to sell out my own people. You may be ahead on the hardware, but without the human Gene Bank, how do you think any colony ship has a prayer of success? And if you have terrorists running around who would do such a thing, how can you even imagine you should be trusted with the only other Gene Bank in existence?”

“The people in Eden are your people too, Emma. They're all our people, or have you forgotten that? I'm just trying to do what's best for the survival of the species.”

She smirked. “Are you sure? Why don't you sabotage Eden's space program so Plymouth and its intact Gene Bank have a chance?” She waited for a moment, studying him. “I didn't think so.”

This was getting nowhere. “Emma, there's an impact site about fifty kilometers east of you where some of the wreckage from the original starship touched down. We have an expedition there now gathering the remains of key components so we can examine and reverse engineer them.”

Her eyes widened. “Plymouth is sending out a convoy to do the same thing.”

He groaned. “That's why I'm telling you, Emma. The Eden expedition is armed. Find a way to warn your people off.”

“It's too late, Axen, they've already left.” She licked her lips. “They're armed too. I guess this is about to heat up into a shooting war, no matter what either of us does.”

He glanced out the window of the truck and saw the towering side of the Ore Smelter looming over him. “Emma, I have to go. Think about what I said.”

“Think about what I said, Axen. May the best colony win. Pray that somebody does.”

He shut down the connection just as the truck rolled onto the smelter's loading dock. He slumped back in the seat and gazed at the smelter's mottled wall as a thump indicated that the loading grapples had latched onto the trailer behind him.

That went well. And Emma didn't think he understood sarcasm.

# # #

Brook dropped his ClipCom carelessly on a flat outcrop of rock and sat down beside it. He drew his knees up in front of him, leaned back against a larger boulder behind him, and settled back to watch the ConVec put the finishing touches on the new Consumer Goods Factory. It was supposed to be a boost for colony morale, but it was going to make it that much more difficult to maintain his old wheeling and dealing, not that he'd had a lot of time or enthusiasm for it lately.

He was busier than ever these days, and that was good. The work kept him from thinking too much, dwelling on things he didn't understand, and possibly never would. How could Axen have killed Della? And did he?

On the face of it, the evidence was pretty damning. Axen had been in the CC just before the incident occurred, and thus might have performed the sabotage. He objected to Brook's association with Della, and judging from her comments, she might have just made a point of coming between Axen and his beloved computer. He'd been surprised, and perhaps a little upset, when he'd run into Brook outside the CC just before the explosion.

Of course, he'd been with Brook, and thus couldn't have been the one to set off the explosion if it happened as Echo had suggested, but there were other ways, and Axen might have had an accomplice.

On the other hand, though Axen had impressed Brook as many things, a cold-blooded casual killer wasn't one of them. But what did that mean? Would you know a killer if you met one? What does a killer look like? He didn't know.

But until he could find a way to resolve the matter one way or another, his close association with Axen was over. He still provided Axen with access to vehicles, and in turn, to Kraft, but he wasn't sure if that was out of doubt, courtesy, or fear. Perhaps it was simply out of the lingering belief that Axen really was trying to work for the greater good of the colony, that for the moment, letting him continue to operate was less a crime than stopping him.

But there were doubts about that too. Though Brook had been unconscious at the time, some witnesses put Axen on the scene when the Gene Bank was hijacked and destroyed. Echo had even suggested that Axen might have masterminded the heist, though Brook couldn't imagine why. It was so hard to understand why anyone would have done it.

He was always aware of his responsibility in that event, and lived in dread of the ultimate consequences. There was talk of a raid on Plymouth to “liberate” their Gene Bank, and think as he might, the alternatives were few. How could the starship leave without it, and the Plymouthers were unlikely to just hand it over.

He sighed. It was close enough to quitting time, and he wasn't going to get much else done in his present mood anyway. He slid down off the rock and picked up the clipboard. His dirt scooter was parked only a few meters away. He dropped his ClipCom in the small cargo box, straddled the seat, and whirred off in the direction of the Structure Factory, where he was supposed to meet Echo.

# # #

Axen returned to his quarters and slumped wearily into the bunk. He looked around the room, sparse and undecorated. The place felt as empty as his soul. All this work, all this fighting, and what have I got to show for it?

He knew the answer even as he posed the question. His work was his life, for better or worse. He had to see this thing through, and then… what?

Never mind that. He couldn't see the end of the current situation, though there had to be one, in death or in triumph. It was just that right now, he felt very, very tired.

He thought about zoning out watching the EnterCom, but decided to check his mail first. The first item caught his immediate attention. It was from the Council, a quarters reassignment. He read the text carefully, then read it again.

Then he stood up so quickly he nearly bashed his head on the cupboard over the bunk. “They can't do this!” All thought of rest was gone; he had work to do. They'd taken Kraft, kept him out of the loop, but nothing they'd done so far compared to this. He was being exiled, and he wasn't going to stand still for it.

# # #

Though both of them had their own quarters, the Structure Factory was still a favorite place to meet and talk. All factory storage bays were full in anticipation of the next colony relocation, and it would be shut-down and quiet there, a nice trade-off for the loss of their usual mechanical floor-show.

He parked the scooter next to a service airlock, cycled through, stowed his spacesuit in a locker, and climbed the ladder into the tran-station just outside the factory.

As he approached the big utilitarian doors, he noticed the symbol painted there, the circle divided by a line. It was a small one, only about a meter across, but still it annoyed him. Who were these people?

The interior of the factory was dark and eerily quiet. His footsteps echoed off the metal walls as he climbed the long flights of stairs up to the observation balcony where they were to meet. When he reached the last landing, Echo was nowhere to be seen, but there was another symbol painted on the front of a supply locker. How did they get in here?

“Brook?”

He turned to see Echo climbing another set of stairs on the far side of the balcony. He was surprised to see that she wasn't alone. She had two tall men and a stocky woman with her.

“Brook, these are some friends I've been wanting you to meet for a long time. I hope you don't mind that I've brought them along.” She gestured toward the taller of the two men, thin of face and nose, with an equally thin mustache. “This is Jacque.” She indicated the other man, slightly shorter and at least twice as wide, with a round face, ruddy skin, thick lips and a wide, flat nose. “This is Gi.” And finally the woman. “This is Sharon.” Echo smiled at him. “They're my friends, and I hope they'll be your friends too.”

Brook nodded without much enthusiasm. He'd been planning to spend some time alone with Echo, and wasn't in the mood for a party.

“Folks, this is Brook Panati. I hope he's our latest recruit.”

Recruit? “Echo, what's this all about? I thought we had a date.”

“You have a date, Brook, with destiny. This is an important day, the day you're invited to join the Masters.”

“The what?” Actually, he'd heard the name in association with the graffiti, though he'd wondered if it was any more than wild talk.

Echo smiled patiently. “The Masters, Brook. We're a group that believes that the reins of power in Eden are in the wrong hands, and that we've been manipulated by the legacy of the Elders for too long. We want to take Eden back, Brook, to take our destiny back, to take our future back.”

It all began to sink in. “You destroyed the Gene Bank, and you used me to get to it.”

“It was an accident, Brook. We intended only to hold the Gene Bank and use it for a political exchange. We never intended for anyone to get hurt. That's why we used gas.”

“That's why you carried guns,” he responded quickly, expressing more anger than he'd intended.

“We're dealing with dangerous people, Brook, and we have to be prepared to return a deadly response if necessary, but we've never set out to kill anyone, even our enemies.”

Gi pointed at the symbol on the locker. “We stand for strength, and unity of purpose. We wish to create a world of equals.”

“Equals,” she repeated. “We have high ideals, and work for a higher purpose. I don't blame you for being angry. We did use you to get at the Gene Bank; we did mislead you about the incident. Not 'we' - I did those things. But it was for a good cause, and we meant you no harm. It's just that you're a useful person, a resourceful person, and we wanted you on our side. We still do.”

He frowned at her. “How can I join you, after what you've done?”

“The Gene Bank was a mistake, Brook, but not a tragedy. We mean to use the starship to take our ideas to a new and better world, and we don't need the Gene Bank for that. We're clones, Brook, clones or the children of clones, though we don't think of ourselves that way. We're hand-chosen, the very best of all the races on Earth. Why should we dilute that perfection with weaker bloodlines, mongrelize it with random cross-breeding, when we can simply clone ourselves and maintain the perfection for all time?”

She smiled and spread her hands. “Don't you see, Brook, we're the Masters, all of us, if we only have the will. And as for joining us, you already have in a way.” Her smile turned coy. “The Masters have a leader, Brook. Me.”

Brook just stood there, his mouth hanging open, not sure what to say. Great Maker, what have you gotten yourself into?

Written by J. Steven York.


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  • Last modified: 2017/07/30 01:49
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