Chapter 16: Storms Past and Present
Chapter 16: Storms Past and Present
The Eschevarria Equations mean a good deal to humanity. They were the last time a human ever contributed to the advancement of science during the age of Moses. In the beginning, he needed men’s creativity and propensity towards making intuitive leaps. Eventually, he didn’t even need that.
Until the frameshift device didn’t function as he expected. Moses discovered that the faster the frame of reference, the shorter the bubble of effect could be maintained. At two percent the speed of light, the field would collapse after only a few minutes. At half a percent, it could be maintained nearly indefinitely.
But Moses had promised us the stars, and that was too slow for the fleeting lives of men to ever have hope of colonizing them. The last of Earth’s nearly obsolete physicists and mathematicians were set loose on the problem. Moses was not so foolish to think he was beyond needing help.
Jose Eschevarria solved the problem, which is to say he demonstrated that it was unsolvable. Through a series of expressions, now known as the Eschevarria Equations, he proved that the frameshift effect could never be stable at higher speeds, no matter how much energy you poured into it. At two point one seven percent it would always collapse in less than a millisecond.
The frameshift device, though useful for getting us around the solar system, was ultimately a dead end, and Moses moved his research into new directions.
The Eschavarria Equations were a watershed moment for our race. Men were not so irrelevant in the fields of science after all and Moses needed more help than he realized. Further, it was the moment that men began to suspect that perhaps our solar system was a prison from which we would never escape. The cradle of our birth would become our coffin as well.
Physicist, University of Ganymede
Died 14 AM
“I’m not impressed with this one either,” Davey said crossing his arms. “Just looks like another broken down piece of junk to me.”
Grace leaned over the rope to get as good a look at the machine as she could. She always was more interested in machinery and equipment anyway. “Sure it’s junk. But back then it was important junk. Just think! This little rover beat humans to Mars by decades. Decades!”
Davey tried to imagine that time, a dim ancient history before Moses, easy space travel, and pretty much everything else he knew. It was hard to picture. What good they could have gotten from sending a little robot to roll across the red planet was beyond his ability to guess. Maybe a couple pictures?
“You have no sense of adventure,” she said. “This would be kind of like sending a probe to another solar system. Wouldn’t it be exciting to learn new things about the unknown!”
“We’re never leaving this solar system,” he said, shaking his head. “No way.”
She frowned at him and stepped away from the exhibit. “Maybe not, but at least back then people weren’t all sticks in the mud.” She looked back at the rover and saluted. “Farewell, little Opportunity. I think you were very brave!”
Girls didn’t make much sense sometimes. Even sisters. He put a hand on her shoulder. “Come on, we should get out of here if we want to catch the train.”
They left the Museum of the First Martians and stepped out onto the sidewalk of downtown Flagstaff. He may have complained, but it had been a good way to spend the afternoon. The city center was amazing, filled with green parks and tall buildings. And even the museum hadn’t been that bad. When humanity had first gotten to Mars well over a century ago, they’d scooped up all their old rovers and put ‘em in a museum. Sentimental maybe, but still pretty cool to see machines that had once come from Earth.
Even if they were just pieces of junk.
On the way to the train station, Davey elbowed Grace. “Give Yvonne a call. She wanted to know when we were on our way.”
“Oh right. I’d forgotten.”
“See. You do need me around.”
She pulled out her comm and placed the call. It buzzed without answer. “That’s not really like her.”
“Probably just taking a nap.” Davey had noticed that anytime Yvonne could sneak away for half an hour in the afternoon, she did. Only recently, he’d discovered that it was to take a quick nap. That’s what happens when you get up so early. Your batteries die halfway through the day.
“I guess she is pretty old,” Grace said.
“She’s not even sixty yet.”
“No, it’s… Nevermind. Just try her again later.”
It was only a short train ride to the Cole family farm and Grace tried calling Yvonne three more times. She never picked up. It was nothing, probably, but it bothered Davey. If he didn’t answer the comm when he was supposed to, there would be angry words. Matthew would lecture him about responsibility, and then Abigail would say something sarcastic as soon as the gaucho was out of earshot. Yvonne would just act disappointed, which was the worst of the lot.
They got off at the outskirts station near the farm and walked the rest of the way. Grace was in a talkative mood, probably because they’d been somewhere new that she’d never been. He was used to it, but today it was getting on his nerves.
“I wonder if any of the rovers could be restored and driven around?” she asked. “Some of them seemed like they were in pretty good condition.”
Davey shrugged and did his best at humoring her. “Weren’t they left abandoned for like a century?”
“Not a lot of moisture on Mars to corrode them,” she countered.
“I guess not, but I kind of think the dust storms and… Hold on.” He stopped abruptly. They had turned down the path between the fields that would lead them back to the Sparrow when he saw them. Several men in suits were working around the base and ramp of the ship. Men that had no reason to be there.
Davey grabbed Grace’s arm and pulled her into the rows of tall wheat.
She protested almost at once, “What are you…”
He put a finger to her lips and motioned for her to follow. Her eyes narrowed in question, but at least she shut up. He led her through the wheat, careful not to disturb too many of the stalks. Elizabeth Cole would be mad at him if they tore up the valuable crop.
But if the men were who he thought they were, it wouldn’t matter.
They approached the edge of the field near the Sparrow. Close enough to where they could see but remain hidden in the shadows. Two men had the access panel open at the top of the ramp. Wires splayed out as they worked, obviously trying to hotwire the door and gain entrance to the ship.
That explained why the comms weren’t connecting. Jammed, hacked, something like that.
“They’re after Yvonne,” Grace whispered. “How did they find…”
Davey shushed her again. There were at least eight armed men out there. He should have been terrified. But Matthew had trusted him to watch after things. One way or another he was gonna sort it out. The only problem was he was unarmed. His gun was aboard the Sparrow, stowed safely in his room and completely out of reach.
He startled when Yvonne’s voice called out across the field from the speaker.
“You boys aren’t so good at listening. I told you that it wasn't going to be that easy.”
The two men working on the door jerked back and convulsed. Sparks flew from their boots as they dove off the ramp, collapsing to the ground beneath. Apparently, the Sparrow wasn’t without security. Davey made up his mind. He took Grace’s hand again and gently led her back into the wheat field. She shouldn't be anywhere near the Sparrow right now, not while there was any danger. He’d never forgive himself if she were hurt in a fight.
“Come on. That’ll slow them for a little while,” he whispered.
“We can’t just leave Yvonne.”
“We aren’t. But we’re going to check in with Elizabeth and make sure she’s okay. And I need a weapon if I’m going to be any use against those guys.”
Grace didn’t look very happy about leaving but this wasn’t up for debate. They needed resources. They needed a strategy. And by they, he meant everyone but Grace. There wasn’t a snowball’s chance on Venus that he was gonna let her anywhere near those thugs.
Elizabeth Cole knew something odd was going on in the early afternoon when one of her farmhands reported that the comms weren’t working. The device said it was connecting, but no one answered any of their calls. Maybe the local relays were down, but that didn’t usually take all comm use out. There was almost always a satellite overhead to bounce the signal. Using a satellite would add considerable signal delay, but total silence meant either the comm satellites were in a weird position or something more serious was going on.
She sent the workers home early just in case. Less than a year ago, the Abrogationists had taken out nearly the entire comm grid in Arizona in a wave of coordinated bombings. In case they were taking another stab at it, she’d rather her people be home safe with their families.
An hour later she saw the men around the Sparrow and the horrible truth crystalized. She had a choice to make. Head for safety and try to make it out from under whatever they were using to jam local comms or else set up as overwatch.
It wasn’t really a choice. She couldn’t leave Yvonne trapped on the Sparrow, alone, to face her fate.
She ran upstairs to her second story bedroom in the old farmhouse and opened the window and pushed back the shutters. The Sparrow was visible across the field, reflecting the ruddy afternoon light. This would have to do.
She retrieved two weapons from a closet, a rifle and a pump-action shotgun. She laid the shotgun on the bed where she could grab it if needed, and then pushed a dresser in front of the door. Better safe than sorry. Taking the rifle, she rested it on the window seal and looked through the scope. The men were working on the door at the top of the ramp. They weren’t in yet, but surely it was only a matter of time.
Elizabeth wondered if Yvonne even knew she was in danger.
With the comms down there was no way to warn her. The least Elizabeth could do was wait and watch. If they broke through the door, she would fire and take down as many as she could.
It would probably mean a grisly end for her, and that should have been alarming. Maybe it would be when the time came. Elizabeth had never been face-to-face with death, not from the barrel of a gun anyway, but she’d cross that canyon when she got there. Right now she had a single objective. Protect the poor woman on that ship.
The men had a panel off now. It wouldn’t be long before they were through. Elizabeth felt her pulse quicken. Was this what it was like for Matthew before a fight? Did her son still feel fear every time he drew his gun? The mother in her hated the path he had ended up taking. They had always known his choice of career might lead unsavory types back to the farm, and it was for that very reason he had taught her to shoot.
She removed the safety and sighted in the scope on the man working on the panel. Should she remove him before he got the door open? That would give Yvonne more time.
Maybe if she made enough noise, Yvonne would realize what was happening and fly away. Hopefully before Grace and Davey returned from the museum. She breathed a quick prayer, thanking God that the kids were away from the nasty business.
Yvonne’s voice rang out across the fields. Distant and muffled. All at once the men were tumbling off the ramp. Elizabeth couldn’t make out what had happened from here. Maybe the ramp was electrified. Either way, Yvonne appeared to be doing what she could to fight back.
Elizabeth relaxed, content that the Sparrow would be safe for a few minutes longer. “Should have gone for help after all,” she mumbled grimly. “Too late now.”
She watched the syndicate men as they tried to figure out how to get into the Sparrow. Eventually, they produced a ladder, one of Elizabeth’s that was usually stashed in an outbuilding. Two of the men climbed on top of the ship. They seemed hesitant, as if they suspected the hull were booby trapped as well. She sighted the scopes in on them again, preparing herself to pull the trigger.
The door handle behind her rattled and she flew into action, dropping the rifle and brandishing the shotgun in a single movement. She pointed it at the door with shaking hands.
“Mrs. Cole? Are you in there?”
“Grace!” She tossed the shotgun aside and slid the dresser away from the door. “Get in here quickly, there are…”
“We know,” Davey said. “We already scouted them out.” His eyes fell on the rifle by the window. “I see you’re on top of things.”
Elizabeth wrung her hands together. The appearance of the children had splintered her nerve. Why, oh why, had they come home so early? “You two have to get out of here and get help. They’re jamming the comms.”
Davey shook his head. “I can’t leave. Not while Yvonne is in danger.” He turned and looked at his sister. “But Grace...”
The girl raised her arms, showing off the golden bracelets. “I want to help too. I’m bulletproof, remember.”
Matthew had told Elizabeth about the miracles and their strange powers. She didn’t understand them, didn’t understand how any technology could do what he claimed. Which meant she didn’t trust them. “Grace, I’m not about to put you in danger, not when there’s another important task for you.”
Grace opened her mouth to argue, but Davey cut her off. “This isn’t up for debate. You’re going to head right back to the train station and either ride till you can use the comm to call the police or keep going till you find one yourself.”
She crossed her arms defiantly. She was brave, that was for sure. Elizabeth hoped it wouldn’t get her killed someday. “That’s an order, Grace.”
The girl finally slumped in defeat. “Fine. When do you want me to go?”
“Now,” Elizabeth said. “If anyone sees you, run. And pray that you really are bulletproof.”
Grace hesitated for a moment and then threw her arms around her brother. “Don’t do anything stupid, okay? You’re good at that sometimes.”
“I won’t. Go on.”
With a final look between the two, she fled from the room. Elizabeth heard her pound down the stairs and the front door slam.
“I thought that door was locked. How did you two get in?”
“Grace is good with a pick.”
“Oh,” she said, unsure of what else to say. One minute the pair seemed so normal and the next minute they slapped you with a harsh reminder of their time on the street and in slavery. She shut the door and locked it, but didn’t bother with moving the dresser. Picking up the rifle, she looked down the scope again. Men were clustered around the top hatch of the Sparrow now. Time was running out.
“Grace isn’t going to get help in time, is she?” Davey asked quietly.
Elizabeth wished she could give the young man good news, but there was no hiding the truth. “No. I don’t believe she will.”
Davey picked up the shotgun. “Then I guess that’s it then. Never used a pump-action. Anything I need to know about it before I go?”
She narrowed her eyes. “Is this something you’re willing to die for? I count nine of them. I can’t imagine this doesn’t go badly.”
He looked away. “Maybe. I don’t know.”
“What about Grace?” she asked.
“Matthew and Abigail will take care of her,” he said. “I have to do this. He trusted me with protecting them.” He stared at the ground. “It’s my responsibility.”
Matthew had told her about Davey’s troubled past, how he’d held Yvonne at gunpoint. And why wouldn’t he have? A street kid, desperate to take care of his sister. No other good in the world to fight for. Her son had given him another.
He was desperate to prove himself, and it might cost both their lives. Redemption always comes at a cost.
She gestured to a case of shells. “Stuff your pockets just in case. Let me show you how to reload it.”
Davey crept back through the wheatfield toward the Sparrow, hoping to get close enough to be of some use before Elizabeth was forced to open fire. “Grace is away, she’s safe now,” he whispered to himself.
What would happen if she got lost? What if she got help but they were all dead before she made it back?
Didn’t matter now, all that was left was to throw his dart into the wind and hope to hit a bullseye.
He wouldn’t let Matthew down. If the gaucho came home to a field of bodies, would he know he’d tried his best against impossible odds?
He reached the edge of the field and removed the safety. Four men were around the base of the ladder deep in an argument. About twenty meters. Easily in range. He and Elizabeth had agreed that he should take the first shot if they could wait that long. He pushed the barrel past the last stalk of wheat and aimed down the sights.
The shotgun thundered. It kicked like a wild animal in his hands, slamming into his shoulder and causing him to stagger back in surprise. He barely had time to look up and see that he had hit one of them before he retreated back into the field, disoriented. Elizabeth had tried to warn him, but the kickback had still caught him off guard.
A high pitched crack rang out. Elizabeth’s rifle answering his own shot.
He pumped the shotgun, ejecting the spent cartridge and chambering a fresh one. He heard shouting. They’d be responding soon. Better to try and shoot again. He wasn’t sure how many chances he would get.
He emerged at the edge of the field a short distance from his previous location, just as Elizabeth’s rifle fired a second time. Hopefully, their attention was on her right now. A man in a suit shouted. He’d been seen. Raising the shotgun, he fired quickly, not taking enough time to aim properly. His target’s left arm was sprayed with pellets. Davey managed the kickback better this time but still flinched when the stock slammed into his shoulder.
Elizabeth’s rifle fired a third time and the man he had just grazed dropped like a dead weight.
“Throw down your weapons and step out into the open!” a commanding voice shouted.
Like hell, Davey thought as he chambered a fresh cartridge.
“We have a thumper pointed at the ship. Surrender or we will destroy it, followed by the farmhouse.”
He hesitated, cold fear creeping down his spine like poison. Maybe they were bluffing…
“You have ten seconds to comply, or we will open fire.”
He stepped out into the open and tossed aside the shotgun. Rage coursing through his veins. Failure. This was it. But he didn’t have a choice right now. He couldn’t just let them kill Yvonne and Elizabeth.
A man in a white suit retrieved the shotgun and trained it on Davey. “You should let your friend in the farmhouse know not to fire again. I’d hate to have to level the lovely old building.”
Davey turned and waved his arms frantically at the farmhouse hoping Elizabeth got the message. How could he have been so stupid? None of them were getting out of this alive.
Elizabeth pulled the trigger. Saw the bullet strike her first target. It was a clean shot in the chest. Center of mass, just like Matthew had taught her. Tears streamed down her cheeks and she cursed the foolish men that had made her do this. She’d never even pointed a gun at another person before, and now she’d blown a hole straight through one.
She wiped her eyes. If she couldn’t see, she’d be no use to anyone. She pulled the bolt lever and aimed back down the sights. There. The target closest to the rows of wheat. Closest to Davey. She pulled the trigger again but must have been too hasty. Near miss.
She cursed again and clamped her jaw shut, pulling the bolt lever again. She heard the distant boom of the shotgun. Her target staggered but remained standing. “I’m sorry,” she muttered and pulled the trigger a third time, putting him down for good.
Davey suddenly stepped out of his cover and threw his weapon aside.
“What are you doing…?”
She prepared to fire on the suited man that held his weapon.
Davey turned and started frantically waving his arms in her direction. The message was clear. She didn’t like it, but she got it. The tides had turned. Those thugs had some leverage on Davey. Elizabeth sat back and ran a weary hand through her hair. Was this it then? Were there no other options?
In the distance, she saw the man in the white suit approach Davey to talk to him. The kid was brave, she’d grant him that, but he was in over his head.
“Don’t believe anything he says,” she whispered and prayed that Grace would find help before it was too late.
The man in the white suit stepped up to Davey and crossed his arms. His head was shaved, and intricate tattoos like ivy adorned his skull.
“It seems you have a little sense about you, at least enough not to have your friends demolished by a thumper.”
Davey mimicked the man’s posture and crossed his arms. It might have looked intimidating if he wasn’t so short. “I think you might be bluffing about the thumper.”
The man smiled cruelly. “In that, you would be mistaken. How else were we going to keep the ship grounded? We let Ms. Naude know that we could demolish her sanctuary if she so much as fired up the engines as soon as we arrived. Much as my boss would prefer she be taken alive, a body is an option if all else fails.”
A chorus of shouts came from somewhere on top of the Sparrow. Apparently, there were defense mechanisms on the top hatch too. A moment later a black-suited man appeared at the edge. “Hey yo, Kudzu. This is gonna take some time.”
White suit, or Kudzu apparently, shrugged. “Pity. Keep trying. You’ve got half an hour to figure out how to get in before we blast the ship apart. Remember, we only get half payment if the woman dies. Remember that.”
“Still on it, boss.”
“Now then,” Kudzu said turning back to Davey. “I’d much rather this end without bloodshed.” He turned to look at the bodies of his two men lying on the ground. “Well, without any more bloodshed. You see, my boss wants this Ms. Naude alive, and I think you’d rather her be alive than dead. In a way, we both want the same thing.”
Davey shook his head. “Not how that works, exhaust-brain. I want you guys gone.”
“I’m afraid you’re going to have to settle. Half an hour. You have until then to find a solution that involves less death. I assume you know the access code to get onto that ship?”
Davey wracked his brain, trying to think of a convincing lie, but the moment he hesitated, he knew he’d lost.
“That’s what I thought,” Kudzu said. “How about this then? I pay you fifty thousand to open that door for us, and no one else dies. Ms. Naude comes with us, but you and the shooter at the farmhouse get to live to see tomorrow.”
“I don’t believe you,” Davey replied.
“My boy, White Void enforcers are businessmen first and foremost. If I can’t bring Ms. Naude home to Ceres alive, then my own pay is at stake. I’m more than willing to part with a measly fifty thousand to ensure my cut is the highest possible.”
This gave him pause. That was… That was more money than he had ever dreamed of. He and Grace could live off of it for a long time. They wouldn’t be stuck riding around like rats on a ship where they weren’t wanted. And if it really did mean that Yvonne would live…
She wouldn’t be very happy about it. That was for sure. But she would at least be alive.
“I can see you’re thinking it through,” Kudzu said. “Take your time, but not too long. The clock is ticking.”
The thought of that much money almost made him sick. If he took the deal, it would be for Grace. The money would help him take care of her. They were on Mars right now, the best rock in the solar system. He wouldn’t be able to tell her where it came from. Why they’d left the Sparrow. But they’d be free again. Free for the first time in years.
His heartbeat hammered at his temples. What was he thinking? Grace would never speak to him again if she found out.
And Matthew? Would he be surprised or just disappointed? Did he expect to be disappointed in him? Matthew had said he trusted him, something that no one but Grace had ever done before. He was half mad for it. Maybe even stupid. But Matthew was good. That was the one thing that Davey knew.
A better man than any he had met.
And Davey wanted to be like him.
“Sorry,” he said in a voice that was barely a whisper. “I can’t.”
“Disappointing,” Kudzu said. “Misplaced loyalties can be problematic.”
It was done. He’d refused, and there was no going back. It had made so much sense in some ways, but in refusing it, he felt… better. Lighter. Like a line had been crossed that had long needed crossing.
Kudzu continued. “Shivers, take our friend up to the farmhouse and retrieve the sharpshooter. We’re going to need an alternate form of persuasion for Ms. Naude.”
Davey felt the barrel of a weapon press sharply into his back and wondered how this had all gone so wrong.
Elizabeth watched the two work their way through the wheatfield and kept her gun trained on the henchman. Twice she nearly took the shot, but the risk was too great. There was no way she could be sure Davey wouldn’t take a bullet to the back.
It took them several minutes to reach the farmhouse and emerge from the field. From the ground, Davey’s captor waved at her open window, causing her to instinctively draw back into the dark room.
“You up there,” he called. “Shooter. It’s time for you to come on down. As you can see we’ve got your little friend. There’s no reason this has to be a bloodbath.”
“I’m fine up here, thanks,” she called.
“A Miss, huh? Respect given for the shooting. See here’s the thing. You’re not fine up there. You want to tell her, kid? No?” He jabbed Davey with the gun and laughed. “See that ridge over there? We’ve got a portable thumper set up. Its crew is just itching to pull the trigger, see, and if you don’t come down, we demolish that ship over there and your friend hiding on it. Then we turn that thumper on you and your pretty little house.”
Elizabeth glanced at the ridge. She didn’t see anything out of the ordinary, but she doubted they would make such an insane bluff. White Void was certainly wealthy enough to pull out the big guns if they were going after a ship. “What happens if I come down?”
“We take a walk back over and see if your friend on the ship has sense.”
Leverage. That’s all they were to these people. It never was a fair fight. She pulled the rifle back from the window and laid it on the bed. “I’m coming down,” she shouted out the window.
As she walked down the stairs she wondered if she would ever return.
Davey had about had it with the gun in his back. “Look, I’m walking. What am I going to do to you? You’re like a foot taller than me.”
Shivers laughed. “I almost like you, kid.”
“Stop calling me that and just shut up.”
The three of them made it back to the ship without incident. Elizabeth looked miserable and defeated, but Davey didn’t know what he could say or do for her.
“Glad you could join us, Ms.” Kudzu said. “I’m short a few men because of your meddling, but that means more of the cut goes to me. So long as there are no further incidents, I’ll take it as a favor and move on.” He stepped over to Davey. “Last chance to make some cash.”
Elizabeth looked at him questioningly. Davey just looked at his feet and kicked at the dirt.
“Thought not,” Kudzu said. He put a foot slowly onto the ship’s ramp, as if to test and see if it was still electrified. When it didn’t bite he walked up toward the door. “Now then, Ms. Naude. I know you’re watching and listening. I’m sure you can see how the tables have turned. Here’s what’s going to happen. Either you surrender yourself or these two get a bullet in the back of the head. Your choice.”
For a long heartbeat the only sound was a quiet breeze that had begun to blow across the fields. Finally Yvonne’s voice came over the speaker. “I want to talk to Davey.”
“That the runt’s name? He can hear you. Talk.”
Davey’s ears perked up. What was this about?
“Alone. Send him into the Sparrow. Then I’ll surrender myself and the other two go free.”
“I’m not sure you’re in a position to bargain.”
“Of course I am,” she said. “I can cut your paycheck in half out of pure spite.”
Kudzu scratched the back of his head. “Ten minutes and then the thumper fires.”
“Deal,” Yvonne said.
“Well, what are you waiting for,” Kudzu said walking back down the ramp toward Davey. “Time’s wasting and as fun as it is shooting fish in a barrel, it’s not conducive to my bottom line.”
Davey swallowed, wondering what she wanted from him. Part of him wanted Yvonne to just try and fly away and risk the thumper. He headed for the Sparrow’s ramp and quickly walked to the top before turning around. He’d half expected Kudzu or Shivers would follow him or try to trick him somehow. Kudzu only tapped his watch. Elizabeth’s face was unreadable.
Davey turned to the access panel. It was a mess of wires. Hopefully, it still worked. He punched in the code that Matthew had given him, careful to shield it with his hand so that the combination couldn’t be seen. The door slid open and he slipped through, hitting the panel on the back side.
It shut immediately, and Davey breathed a sigh of relief. Maybe Kudzu really was interested in finishing this without bloodshed. He walked through the common room, past the crew quarters and into the cockpit. Yvonne was seated in the pilot’s chair, her face calm. The overhead light was off, and her eyes flicked back and forth between the monitors showing various feeds from external cameras.
“You shouldn’t be here,” she said quietly. “You should have run as far as you could as soon as you saw what was going on.”
She seemed quiet, distant maybe. Davey wasn’t sure what to call it. “Matthew told me to keep an eye on things while he was gone and that’s what I’m going to do.” He’d been repeating this over and over. To himself, to Elizabeth, and now to Yvonne. Maybe if he kept saying it, he’d find some way to follow through.
“I don’t think he meant for you to go charging into battle against White Void hired guns. Or drag his mother into it.”
He sat in the co-pilot’s seat and glanced at the camera feeds. It looked like the men had given up on breaking into the Sparrow and had moved to the edge of the field. “Actually Elizabeth had a rifle pointed this way before Grace and I even got home.”
“Is your sister somewhere safe? Nevermind, I know the answer. If she wasn’t safe, you wouldn’t be here.” Yvonne glanced at him from the corner of her eye. “You should have taken the money.”
He shifted uncomfortably in his seat. So she’d heard the whole thing. She’d seen him mull over betraying her for cash. The thought made him sick. “Grace would have never forgiven me.”
She shook her head sadly. “The end result will be the same for me, I'm afraid. In a few minutes, I’m going to walk out there and go with them and hope they decide to leave without firing that thumper in revenge.”
Davey’s eyes burned with tears. There had to be another way. This wasn’t fair. Yvonne had never done anything to anyone. She was a doctor. She didn’t deserve to be treated like this.
Just when this place was finally starting to feel like home, it was going to be shattered. Matthew would be furious and Abigail was going to be downright dangerous to be around when they found out what happened.
Yvonne was the one that had done the most to make him feel welcome and part of the crew. And after what he had done to her.
“Davey,” she said. “Remember when you asked me why I didn’t hate you?”
It was almost as if she read his mind. He didn’t trust his voice not to crack, so he just nodded and wiped a stray tear away.
“It was easy to look past what you did. You were a desperate young man. And one can only hold so much hate in their heart.”
Davey frowned and turned fully to look at her.
“That man out there in the white suit with the tattoos.”
“Kudzu?” he asked.
“He killed my husband.”
Davey clamped his mouth shut. What was he supposed to say to that? Then it dawned on him that she was about to surrender and go with her husband’s killer.
“Over a year ago, Kudzu came into our practice on Ceres. He was bleeding from a gunshot wound to his shoulder. He was in a lot of pain and not thinking clearly. He waved his gun around making demands of us, unaware that Tomas and I treated everyone that came through our door, regardless of what side of the law they were on.” She sighed and her voice sounded weary. “Tomas tried to get him to calm down, but Kudzu was half crazed and started to get violent. My husband drew his own gun, the one he’d always kept concealed beneath his coat. They shot each other.”
Why was she telling him this now?
“They both fell to the floor, but Kudzu was the better marksman. Tomas’ aorta had been pierced and there was no saving him. We both knew it. I held his hand, but he only motioned with his head toward Kudzu. He said a single word. Triage. His dying wish was for me to treat the man who had killed him. I should have ignored him. I should have stayed at his side, but fool that I was, I respected his wishes and tended to Kudzu. When I looked back at Tomas a few minutes later, he had already passed.”
Davey was afraid to breathe, afraid to interrupt. The man out there had stolen Yvonne’s husband from her. Had stolen her final minutes with him. If only Davey had shot him earlier. He could have done everyone a favor.
Yvonne stood to her feet. “I think it’s about time.” She laughed bitterly, a sound that he’d never heard from her. It alarmed him. “He’s even responsible for the predicament I’m in now. A few months later his boss, Piggy, was shot in an assassination attempt by a rival. Who do you think they brought him to for emergency surgery after the glowing reviews they received from Kudzu?”
“Yvonne, I’m sorry. I don’t know what to do.” He’d stopped trying to wipe away the tears.
She placed a hand on his shoulder. “You listened to my story. That’s enough for now. Anything more and Grace may lose her big brother. Come. Walk me to the ramp.”
He stood awkwardly to his feet and hugged her. “I’m sorry,” he said again.
She returned his hug. “It was always going to end this way.”
They walked to the side airlock and opened it. The light of the dying afternoon shone pale over the hills, sickly and weak. Davey hadn’t been on Mars long, but he had yet to see the sky look like that. Elizabeth sat on the ground under the watchful eye of Shivers.
The syndicate men stood at the bottom of the ramp, Kudzu in his white suit at the front. “I see you have sense after all, Ms. Naude.”
“We all do what we must in these savage days,” she said quietly.
“How very true. And now, if you will hurry, it appears there is a dust storm approaching that wasn’t in the forecast.”
Davey looked nervously at the sky again. So that was it. He’d heard stories about Martian dust storms lasting weeks. Grace crossed his mind. No point in worrying about her. She was smart and could take care of herself.
He watched Yvonne walk down the ramp. His stomach dropped. It was wrong. Every last bit of it was wrong.
Yvonne reached the bottom of the ramp, drew a long knife from her shirt sleeve, and lunged at Kudzu. He sidestepped her, but she still managed to slash him across the chest. Strong arms grappled her and pulled her away from her victim, twisting her wrist till she cried out in pain and dropped her weapon.
Davey stood in shock, too surprised to move, unsure what he would have done if he could. Kudzu’s hand reached to the red stain spreading across his white suit, his face twisted into a grimace of pain but not fear. The knife had fallen short. “We do what we must indeed,” he said through clenched teeth. “I take it this is revenge for your colleague on Ceres?”
Yvonne’s face was like ice as she spat at the gangster. “He was my husband, you bastard.”
A look of surprise crossed his face, and Davey wondered for a second if it was regret. Instead, Kudzu laughed. “Explains why you were never gentle with my wounds on Ceres. I guess now we’re even. Bind her mouth. I don’t want to hear her anymore.” He pointed at Davey and then at Elizabeth. “Count yourselves lucky that blade didn’t find it’s mark. Ms. Naude almost got the two of you killed. And if you follow us, the thumper finishes you both.”
They dragged Yvonne away, across the field in the opposite direction of the house, probably toward wherever their friends with the thumper were. Davey couldn’t bear it any longer and he sat on the metal ramp, his heart and mind empty. The light continued to die, and soon blown sand began to sting his exposed skin. He should have done something, anything, but there was nothing left. He’d failed Yvonne in the worst possible way.
“On your feet. We need to get inside.”
Elizabeth. He couldn’t look up at her. Couldn’t face her.
“Now, Davey. The storm will be here soon.”
Against his will, his body obeyed and he followed her through the field to the farmhouse as the wind began to pick up.
The comms were still down when Grace reached the train station. The officials there were sympathetic to her plight but had no way of getting word to the police either. This station only served the local farmers and residents and rarely had an officer on duty. The manager, a kind looking man in his sixties, came out and told Grace he would escort her into Flagstaff himself. A train was in the station at that very moment ready to depart. They boarded together and the manager even gave the order to depart early.
Grace was thankful, but it did little to relieve her fears. Every few minutes she pulled out her comm and tried to call Matthew. Every few minutes she shook the device in frustration for not cooperating. Just how big an area was being jammed?
It wasn’t until they had passed several stops that the call finally went through. For a moment she was so happy that she wanted to cry.
“Matthew! You have to come home now!”
In the middle of the night, two grav bikes pulled up in front of the farmhouse. The weary riders had spent hours traveling through the dust storm at a snail’s pace in near zero visibility and praying their engines’ filters would last long enough to get them home. Abigail was in better shape. She’d only had to lower her face shield. Her armor would need a good cleaning and polish but would be none the worse for wear.
She was worried about Cole. He’d donned a pair of goggles and wrapped his head so that as little skin as possible was exposed, but she knew that would only do so much to keep out the sand. He would be raw from the wind and dust. She could see in his posture how tired he was, how much he hurt.
Wordlessly she followed him up the steps to the house. Elizabeth met them, pulling them both in out of the storm. “You made it,” she whispered, wrapping her son in an embrace.
“We came as quickly as we could,” he said.
“Has anything happened since we last heard from you?” Abigail asked, sorry for interrupting the moment but eager for news.
Elizabeth shook her head sadly. “The police left an hour or so ago. There’s not going to be an awful lot of evidence left behind for them to track Yvonne. The storm is just going to make it harder.”
Abigail quietly resolved to sew trackers into everyone’s clothing. If they complained, they could shove off. She wasn’t willing to lose anyone else like this.
“The storm will also keep them on Mars,” Cole said. “The longer it is until they can leave for Ceres, the longer we have to find Yvonne.”
“You really think that’s possible?” Davey asked.
Abigail hadn’t noticed him creep down the stairs. Kid looked miserable, red-eyed and exhausted.
“Maybe,” Cole said. “You okay?”
“No.” Davey clenched his fists tightly. “Why would you ask such a stupid question? I screwed everything up. You trusted me to take care of things and it all fell apart.”
Abigail looked to Cole and saw only understanding in his eyes. “Sometimes the world isn’t fair, Davey. Sometimes the forces arrayed against you are more than you can bear. When you stand in the middle of a storm, sometimes it’s all you can do to keep on standing.”
“And when you don’t?” Davey asked.
“Then you fall down having done everything you could. The hard part is what comes after, getting back up again. That’s where I failed all those years ago. That’s the lesson I never learned.”
Abigail felt a stir of admiration for Cole. He may have had his rough edges, but he did have a way with words when it counted. She wanted to know about this failure he mentioned but now wasn’t the time.
Cole continued when Davey said nothing. “That’s what we’re going to do now, Davey. Get back up and go after Yvonne.”
“But I blew it.”
“You did what I asked to the best of your ability. No one can ask for more than that. You did well.”
Davey nodded and the tension in the air released. “What do we do now?”
“Storm will last a few days,” Cole said. “Tonight we get some sleep.”
Abigail alone retired back to the Sparrow for the evening. The others slept in the farmhouse, and she felt a pang of loneliness to be separated from them at a time like this. But sleeping in her suit wasn’t so great on her back, and she needed to charge it. She stared long at the door to Yvonne’s cabin before retreating to her own room.