Chapter 1: The Beach

edited May 3 in Breakup

by CW

That aroma, that particular spicy waft—she caught it again now, on the afternoon breeze—like black pepper, but somehow a hint of soft warmth, a tropical-fruit essence ... alien. It was just ... alien. Even on a world as Earthlike, as human-colony perfect, as Appogia, there would always be that otherness, like a shadow under the landscape, a whisper below her limit of hearing. She was an intruder on this planet. She was the alien.

On the coastal plain to the south below, only a few hundred meters inland from the foredunes and the surf beyond, stood Pod 2, a full kilometer in length, a box-framed self-enclosed city of seven thousand people. By some miracle, the flight crew had set her down intact, despite the onboard computers having gone completely haywire. Even now the computers defied reboot: communications were offline. What had become of the other pods from Amari Star? No one yet knew.

SSC Lieutenant Commander Enoki Kinen, age 36, erstwhile Chief Medical Officer of the Amari Star and now de facto Commander of Pod 2, stood on a high hill above the coastal plain on this northern landmass of unknown extent. A week had passed since the mother ship's disastrous malfunction, the mad scrambles to get to a pod, any pod, to launch away from the chaos and horror that was destroying the mothership and everyone in it, then the desperate descent, without computer controls, the flight crew bring her into atmosphere on manual attitude pulsors, the sight of a vast expanse of ocean, then a hint of land, and the miracle of bringing Pod 2 laterally across the sea, almost skimming the waves, and at last touching dry ground, unbroken. Yes, that had been a miracle, that escape and landing. But even that miracle could not erase the disaster itself.

Up the hill now, through that growth of weird alien bushes with pink leaves, came Dr. Joanam Sprike, a wiry old figure in the same dark-blue SSC jumpsuit that Kinen and all the sgip's personnel (half the castaway population) wore. Sprike's white hair blew wildly in the breeze up from the plain. He made his way to the crest, grinning as he always did, whether the news was good or bad.

He said, "Sloan passed away this morning. Then a couple hours ago, I moved the last three out of triage, to Jang's physical therapy unit."

"Your initial estimate was perfect, then," said Kinen. "The hundred and thirty-two you said would live, lived. The fifty-six you said would die, died."

Sprike's grin, as usual was unnerving in the circumstances. "You say that as if I pushed the results to meet my prognoses, Doctor."

Kinen's face remained neutral. "I would not accuse you of that, Doctor."

Sprike nodded. "You can't help but notice it, though. Nor can I. I'd have given my left hand to save any one of them. You know how it is."

"Actually I don't," she said. "I've never lost a patient."

"You're young."

"People keep telling me that."

Sprike was silent, grinning .. or was he squinting in the falling sun? The breeze fell, then kicked up stronger. The surf below hissed on the beach.

Kinen added, "I've been blessed never to take a patient near death. I pity you the triage duty."

"It was mine to do. I did it. It's that simple."

She wrinkled her mouth, then said, "Thank you, Doctor."

"Yes ma'am." He turned to regard the pod, the little crowds around it, the piles of equipment and supplies still being sorted.

Kinen said, "I pray that somewhere on this planet, the other pods are doing exactly what we're doing: taking stock, regrouping, getting ready for ... well, to contact each other."

"Pray," said Sprike. "Blessed." He turned his squinty grin back on her. "Are you religious, Doctor?"

An embarrassed smile escaped her control. "No. Habit of speech."

He said, "I'm an Anabaptist, myself. I was raised into it, of course. But because I've never known anything else ..." He shrugged. "It just seems to make sense."

"I'm not familiar with the creed," Kinen admitted.

He shrugged again, and looked down to the beach again. "Any luck with Vondro?"

Her mouth tightened. "Not yet. He's being ... resisty."

"We need those flyers."

"I know." By Pod 2's port bow stood the two surviving long-distance flyers: a sleek recon craft, and a big-waisted transport. The pod's six other standard long-distance flyers had been lost or irreparably damaged in the mothership disaster.

"Now I'm free of triage," said Sprike, "I volunteer for a foot recon. A few dozen others are clamoring to go with, and the supplies are at hand."

"I've arranged two jeep recon missions already. They leave tonight after council. The supplies are for them."

"I'm not counting the supplies for them. And if my group is on foot, I can go where the jeeps can't go." He looked northeast. "That mountain, for example. Nice place for a comm relay, a telescope ..."

She took a breath. "Can you write it up? Present it to council tonight?"

He nodded.

For a moment the two regarded the scene below. At this distance, the castaways looked like ants.

"Fifty-six dead," she said.

He looked up at her. "Yes ... but that's the last. From here on out, we'll be fine."

She said, "You don't know that."

Comments

  • by AFTAC:

    Something very, very odd had happened on the Amari Star.

    Kassal Vov would know- his arms was covered in lubricant and gunk from touring the lower levels, a task which he had been engaged in since he finally left triage this morning. During the crash, a large piece of shrapnel had lodged itself in his gut- a nasty wound, and it took the whole week for it to heal even with the miracles of modern medicine. 

    It still ached- he rubbed his side, shaking his head.

    He was walking through the cramped hallways between the main propulsion engine and the life support- despite his hours of work, there were many more to come.

    Especially because of the... oddity of some of the issues on the pod.

    A door appeared to his right- his next stop. 

    He stormed into the room- it was one of the hydrogen control chambers, with a computer for monitoring the purity and the flow rate of the fuel used for the fusion reactors.

    "Vondro! Are you having similar issues with hydrogen overflow as the other sectors are?"

    Iun jumps a little at the sudden appearance of his boss, before composing himself again.

    "Mr. Vov- I hadn't realized you finally left the infirmary!" 

    "Well, I have, and I want to know the situation of the hydrogen flow, in addition to any additional problems."

    "I couldn't tell you. The computer's internals have been completely fried- some sort of acid got in."

    Indeed, behind the man the computer's maintenance panel had been removed and the components had been burned, the minute electronics scarred away.

    "Odd. Do you know how it got there?"

    "No sir- there are no possible sources for it."

    "Another case then..." mutters Kassal as he pulls out a clipboard and pencil and marks something down

    "What, sir?"

    "Nothing. I've heard you're having a little... argument with Kinen. What is that about?"

    "I'm not repairing those flyers- I have more important things to do than fix whatever that b*tch wants me to."

    "Vondro, she's our leading commander- you will listen to her. What's more, we need those flyers for recon.

    "But-"

     "You will  fix those flyers. In fact, you will do so right now. I will send someone to fix this."

    Vondro just sits still for a moment, and angry expression on his face.

    "Very well, sir," he says through clenched teeth. He stands and walks out of the room.

    Sigh. This whole thing was a huge mess- tensions were high in the engineer corp during his absence, and he could see why. The pod was in a poor shape.

    He raises his clipboard again, inspecting it. On it, there was a diagram of Pod 2, covered in dots.

    Each dot represented something that shouldn't be there- a stretch of wall turned to gold, a motherboard disappearing without a trace, a computer part turned to acid. It had happened all over the ship- random pieces had seemed to turn into a random substances or had warped in strange ways. This had caused havoc, wrecking carefully balanced systems and confusing everyone.

    The locations of these events, however, were not random. He could tell a sort of wave had irradiated out from... something back during the crash of the Amari Star and had caused these strange transmogrifications, causing curved strips of the pod to be heavily effected by these while the areas in between were not.

    He would have to present this to Kinen at some point- but it was far from complete, so he exited the room and moved on to the next issue.

    by CW:

    The sun was setting — "So Earthlike," thought Kinen.

    Dr. Strike had returned downhill to the Pod. Kinen sat on the hilltop, as dusk filled the sky, and stars began to appear. There: the black hole, around which Appogia's sun orbits: just further from Appogia than Pluto from Earth: invisible, itself, of course, but revealed by the lensing of starlight beyond, and the huge luminous halo-rings of gas & dust being shredded as it fell into the hole's one-way gravity well.



        Sunset and the black hole.

    Kinen sat and stared at the "anomaly" while the sky darkened and the ocean breeze cooled.

    Then of habit she pulled her tabb [tablet, iPad, etc.] from her jumpsuit's thigh pocket ... and then for the fiftieth time this week put it back because the tabbs were not working without the Pod's mainframe network, and instead took out the ridiculous paper clipboard and pencil that everyone had been relying on since the crash — or, since the "emergency landing."

    KASSAL VOV, she wrote, FLYER REPAIR URGENT, WHILE COMM SYSTEMS OFFLINE, UNABLE TO PLAN CONTACT WITH OTHER PODS UNTIL FLYERS BACK IN SERVICE FOR RECON. ENGINEERING PRIORITIZE FLYER REPAIR. Then she added, HAPPY TO HEAR YOU ARE RELEASED FROM MEDBAY.

    She almost added a thumbs-up drawing, then caught herself: how frivolous that would be! Inappropriate for a military order! In fact the medbay comment itself was inappropriate. She thought about erasing it, but her pencil had no eraser. She thought about simply re-writing the order without the personal comment ... then cursed herself for such ridiculous indecision.

    "Vov's not Vandro," she thought. "And Vandro's not even my problem, now Vov's back." Damn that Vandro anyway, she should have ordered him arrested for insubordination. But she had not wanted to quash the most-senior engineer on active duty, while Vov was in medbay. And now she looked weak in the eyes of Vandro and his clique.

    She rubbed her eyes. What a curse to be the senior surviving officer! She was supposed to be a doctor, not a military commander. ... It all went back to her years with Leo — but no, she could afford no time for self-recrimination and regret, especially over the past, which she could not change. She put Leo out of her mind.

    Instead she wrote a few more orders on new sheets of paper, then picked her way through the pink-leaved bushes, down the hill to the Pod. Several hundred people sat at campfires, milled about sorting equipment, or lay dozing between shifts. Castaways ... colonists, off to an unexpected, handicapped start. In the crowd, she found a deck runner, and gave him the orders to carry to Engineering, Computer, Commissary, several more.

    In an hour, Council would start. Kassal Vov should be there ... and Vandro again? She didn't want to see Vandro ... which was childish of her ... there was work to be done, and no time for little-girl-ness. She clenched her jaw and headed into the gigantic Pod, to stop in at her quarters to wash up before Council.

  • by CW

    The work was done: a hole, six feet deep, dug into alien soil in the ground above the foredunes, amongst the pink-leaved bushes ... and Jessa Sloan into the hole ... and the hole filled up again.

    Zeffrey Fodol, colonist Chief Administrator, set aside the shovel, and stared at the grave. "No," he thought, "not a grave — a hole. It's not a grave because she lives in my mind yet, and in my heart and spirit. It's a hole because she left a hole in me, straight through me."

    He kept the thought to himself.

    Around him stood a dozen or more of the colonists' top officers, including the Chief Finance Officer, Puol Haminaaren, a tall, pale Finn, who put his hand on Fodol's shoulder. "You know, what I used to tell people, when someone passes away: I used to say, 'It's a new world.' And I meant it, literally: we lose someone close, someone special, it changes the whole world: life is different ever after. It seems odd to say that, now, on this ... new world."

    Fodol clenched his jaw and stared at the fresh dirt.

    Haminaaren finished, "But the meaning is still the same, Zeff. It's a new world. You can't live in the old one. She wouldn't want you to."

    Fodol took a deep breath.

    Haminaaren's hand fell from Fodol's shoulder. "Council in half an hour. Her Majesty Kinen won't like us being late." And he added, "Life goes on."

    One by one the colonists turned away, some with mumbled condolences to Fodol, some in silence, all heading slowly back to the humongous Pod looming dark in the darkening sky of oncoming night.

    Haminaaren stood by, as if to say, "I won't leave you here alone to brood." But he said nothing, just waited.

    Finally Fodor picked up the shovel and marched heavily back to the Pod.


    by CW

    Kinen made her way into the Pod and up to the Habitat Floor, where polarized trans-steel windows arched overhead, and a pleasant residential park stretched the length of the Pod: apartment buildings, trees and little gardens, shops, a theater ... the landing had damaged a lot of it; in the past week they'd repaired a lot of the damage.

    As Kinen arrived at her quarters, she noticed a piece of paper stuck to her front door. On it was a pencil drawing:


    She stared at it, at first wondering what it meant if maybe it was a mistake — and then she realized: "Queen Bee: queen bitch of the universe."

    She snatched the paper off the door. Part of her wanted to crumple it, another part to shred it to bits. Instead she was frozen in the moment of indecision ... and in that moment, someone approached:

    SSC Lieutenant Honno Azuku might as well have been Kinen's twin brother: same build, same features, same straight dark hair, only the last in contrast to Kinen because Azuku cut his short. And he was one rank behind her.

    She flashed the paper at him. "Look at this! Queen Bitch of the Universe!"

    He smirked. "You get a raise with that promotion, ma'am?"

    She made to crumple the paper, then stopped again. "If they want a Queen Bitch, I can give them —"

    "Ma'am," said Azuku, who always held to protocol, "I don't think you could, or would ... or want to."

    She blew out a breath. "You're right. Dammit." She looked again at the paper. "I suppose it could even be a compliment, in some way ... some weird, stupid way."

    "If you say so, ma'am."

    "I don't have time for this. Council in minutes." She looked him in the eye for the first time since he had approached. "You need something?"

    "Just to let you know: Fodol buried Jessa Sloan just now."

    Kinen was quiet for a moment. Then she said, "Is that all?"

    "Yes ma'am."

    "Thank you, Lieutenant. Carry on."

    He smirked again, but without amusement. "Yes ma'am." He touched his his forehead and moved away.

    Kinen closed her eyes and stood stock-still for several seconds. Then she shook her head and mumbled "Nonsense" and went in to clean up. Moments later she emerged in a fresh jumpsuit, face washed, clipboard in hand. She marched to the Council House a hundred yards up the Habitat Floor.

    * * *

    The Council House was a fine white building of Late-Ornate architecture. Nominally it would have been the new colony's pro tempore government center, until new structures could be built on firm ground. But now Kinen had appropriated its use — with the permission of Administrator Zeffery Fodol — for post-"hard landing" military planning.

    The first Council, a week ago, had been a mad affair of speculation, despair, anger, and panic. By some miracle, Kinen had over-shouted everyone else, asserted her position as senior SSC Uniforce commander, and barked orders until everyone had submitted, or at least appeared to submit. "If only they had known!" she thought, "how ridiculous I felt, how completely 'playing-a-role' it all was." In her heart she knew that some of it came from her years in emergency medical roles: when people are bleeding out, when mere seconds separate a life from a death, when decisions had to be made on the instant, and orders imposed on those who had to carry them out — Kinen had seen a year of it on duty in Shang-Den, nine months in Hyderabad, and three years, three long years, on the steppe outside Novosipirska. Taking the command-commission was supposed to have got her out of war zones!

    "And yet here we are," she said out loud, on the steps of the Council building. "Death and fire and panic and madness. Here we are again." But it wasn't really war. War was worse. This was all just one big complicated "emergency." And she could deal with emergencies.

    She made her way into the main council chamber and took a seat at a random spot at the round table. Everyone seem present. "Call to order," she said firmly into murmur of a half-dozen side conversations. "Order please, everyone. Thank you. Let's begin. Several of you have reports. Who would like to go first, please?"

  • by CW

    Doctor Sprike stood up. "The triage unit has released our last patients from the ... hard landing. The estimates I made at our previous Council held true in terms of recoveries. There were no unexpected losses. About half of the releases are now under the care of Physical Therapy for anywhere from a week to a month. They should all make full recoveries."

    Murmurs and some lackluster clapping and nodding of heads followed his statement.

    "Now," said Sprike, "I hereby submit a foot-reconnaissance plan for consideration. This list contains the names of volunteers, arguments for their release from duty for the duration of the mission, a list of supplies —"

    "We need those supplies!" interrupted a dark-bearded gorilla of a man. "We've got recons going out tonight in jeeps! In fact we're already loaded. I'm not unloading those supplies."

    Sprike took a breath, "Thank you, Lieutenant Darrick, we do remember your jeep recons. The supplies I am requesting are not part of your previous requisitions." He flashed his clipboard. "Our supplies are modest: mostly food, a few porta-domes, backpacks, extra boots, some small arms—"

    "Who you gonna shoot, Doc!?" came a voice from the back of the room. Laughter erupted around the table.

    Sprike grinned. "As few as I must! With luck no one. Defensive weapons are a precaution against unknown wildlife, really. There are other supplies, and a timetable. I uh, I wrote ten identical copies of this, as the computers are still down. So, hereby submitted. I know the Council will want time to review it. I would hope that we could submit comments to Commander Kinen within a day or two. All the foot-reconners are eager to go."

    He handed his papers to the man on his left, who took one and passed the rest to his own left.

    Kinen said, "Two days sounds reasonable for comments from the relevant department heads. Earlier is better if you can do it. Thank you, Doctor Sprike."

    Sprike sat.

    by AFTAC

    Kassal really, really didn't want to be at this Council.

    He had far, far more work to do, things to fix, engineers to tell what to fix and how to fix it, and he certainly didn't have time to give some silly report. He could tell everyone that he had fixed the ship when he fixed it.

    Standing up slowly, he begins in a bored tone.

    "Our pod is in poor condition. Power has been cut to the entire pod, and most systems wouldn't function even with power. These include life support, propulsion, hydroponics-"

    A mumble rolls through the watching council. How where they supposed to feed 7000 people without those hydroponics?

    "-research," he continues, "And navigation. As you might expect, we will be prioritizing hydroponics, though I doubt we will be able to get them to full capacity any time soon due to the... odd nature of much of the damage taken by the ship, which I'll probably release a report sometime in the next six months."

    He then sits back down, and pays only a little attention to the rest of the council.

    by CW

     "Mr. Vov," said Kinen, "your focus on hydroponics is understandable. However, let's remember that hydroponics was primarily meant to sustain the colony ship during interstellar transit, and during the transition from pod-based to ground-based living, not the final ground-based colony itself for the long term. The period of transition obviously has suffered disruption, has been cut short. Hydroponics as a temporary support is now even more temporary. Therefore whatever resources and personnel you are now devoting to hydropnics, please shift half it to deployment of the colonial agricultural systems, so that we can accelerate native-soil crop production. Please coordinate with Colonial Administrator Mr. Fodol in this regard."

    Fodol said, "We've begun collecting native plant life, including various fruits and grains, but so far they are, shall we say, not of nutritious profile. However, my agricultural staff is reporting positive results from initial soil testing, at least what we've been able to gather in the areas above the dunes. If nothing else, native plant life decomposes into good compost for our Earth-brought crops. But we will need Mr. Vov's engineers to help deploy the planting equipment, and build the harvesting and processing infrastructure."

    "Mr. Vov," said Kinen, "we can see that your Engineering Department workloads are extraordinary. We are grateful for your efforts so far, and I'll keep trying to reassign more personnel to assist you. I hope their lack of training is not proving too much of a strain on your staff. Even in Medical we can always use more people to change bandages and hold hands. I hope that untrained labor gives the same support in your department. Now to the matter of heavy-equiment offloading ..."

    Reports went on for another half hour. Little new was said; little had changed in the past few days. Finally Kinen broke up the meeting.

    ***

    As everyone was preparing to leave, Kassal Vov was approached by two men in SSC combat jumpsuits.

     The first was SSC Ground Operations Lieutenant Darrick, a huge, dark, hairy man, big-faced, big-bearded, big-bellied, big everywhere, huge thick arms like a gorilla, thighs like beer kegs, feet the size of watermelons. He leaned close to Kassal Vov and said in a low voice ...

    "I don't know how you haven't just shot her in the face. Look, we understand how she's riding you, demanding this and that, stretching your people across to many jobs and then giving you cooks and nurses 'to help' when it takes more time to train unskilled labor than just to do the job yourself. She's making it worse!"

    He leaned it closer and said, "You know that old Dr. Sprike, you saw how Kinen was conspiring with him up on the hill today? He killed Fodol's woman! that Jessa Sloan woman, pretty little thing, she and Fodol were an item, engaged to marry. And then Sloan's hurt in the crash, and Sprike has her in medbay, and now she's dead! And you know why? Kinen wants in on the Colonial Administration, is why! Who is she, anyway? Just a Sub-commander, she was just supposed to be running Medbay, what does she know about administration? and now somehow she's the senior officer in charge of the whole Pod? and 'just by coincidence' the Colony Admin's woman dies in her care ... who believes that!? She's got that Fodol guy wrapped around her finger. You've seen the way she flirts at him? Might as well just strip down and dance naked in front of him ... I guarantee you, she'll have him in bed within the week. I guarantee it, you watch. And when she has Fodol, then she'll have the whole Colony in her back pocket. Queen Bee becomes our permanent Administrator. We all know that's what's going on here."

    The second man was a wiry bald guy with spectacles: Rann Doven, a weapons master despite his appearance. "Fodol's a good man," he said, "but soft-hearted. Jessa Sloan would have propped him up, but she's gone now ... Kinen will just use him like a puppet."

    "Look," said Darrick, "my team's leaving tonight for jeep recon. We need a basecamp—we can't operate out of the Pod under Kinen. The only thing she's good at is grabbing power. She doesn't know how to use it except to keep it, and everybody else will suffer. So we need a new powerbase, and that's the real reason we're reconning. And when we get back, we'll need the resources of the Pod. You'll have things fixed, we know you will—"

    "You're a good man," said Doven. "We all know that."

    "—and if we want to survive," said Darrick, "we need to run things properly. And that's not under Kinen."

    "We all know that," said wiry old Doven.

    "You see she has her own recon trip going out now! under that old fox, Sprike! She sees how the wind is blowing. But we're smarter and better. We won't let her sink us."

    Then Darrick tapped a giant finger Kassal Vov's chest. "You just watch how things happen in the next few days," said Darrick. "We know you'll see the truth. And when we get back, we can talk. This won't be easy ..."

    Doven added, "There's a lot of good men. We can do it. We'll survive."

    "Just keep your head on straight," said Darrick. "Keep your eyes open. You'll see which is the right side of things."

    by CW

    JEEPS

    13x jeeps per Pod.

    Extensible multi-use carriage (cargo bed, personnel carrier, equipment platform, etc.).

    Power = 0.9 megawatt fusion core.

    Optional armament: gamma-ray laser mount, up to 90% of power core.


    https://www.modland.net/mudrunner-mods/t...=1&slide=3

  • by AFTAC

    Kassal listens to Enoki's objections with a blank face. Hmm, she's right. He needed to switch his mindset from one of the ship to survival and living on this planet. 

    ===================================

    Once the council is over and Lieutenant Derrick approaches, Kassal listens intently, eyebrows furrowing further and further as his speech continues on.

    Once it is finished, however, he suddenly smiles, the tension leaving his face. 

    "Lieutenant. I commend you on coming to me- indeed, I am impressed. For that is the biggest pile of bullshit I have ever heard. It's quite impressive- I've lived for a long time, and met some truly ridiculous people, but that was the winner by far."

    "First of all, I am happy to have those extra men. A person here or there to pass a wrench or clean a filter will greatly streamline the process. Secondly, do you honestly believe that not only a doctor such as Sprike, a swearer of the Hippocratic and Osteopathic Oath would intentionally let a patient die, but let them die just so a superior could take command via romancing the most powerful man? That is a ridiculous plan, and indeed that leads me to my next point."

    "Fodol is one of the best people I know on this pod, Lieutenant. I refuse to believe that a man such as him would lay with another woman less than a week after his fiancé died. Yes, he can be soft, but that in no way translates to being so incredibly weak willed."

    "Enoki might not be entirely prepared, and she might be a little uppity, but she is in no way incompetent. I will not have this mission and this pod descend into civil war and tribalism because of some petty grudges."

    "Indeed, this all seems rather close to treason, lieutenant. I will give you this one pass, but if you attempt to go through with this stupid plan or move against Enoki in any way, I will have you and any accomplices imprisoned. I may just be an engineer, Lieutenant, but I was the top engineer in the entire Amari Star, let alone this single pod, and that gives be power. Do you understand?"

    by CW

    Darrick gave Vov a long, cool, stare. Then his hairy face broke out in a grin, and a low chuckle ensued: "Heh heh heh heh heh!" He turned and left without a word.

    The inscrutable Rann Doven squinted behind his spectacles and said, "We'll see you in a week, Mr. Vov." And he turned to follow Darrick, saying over his shoulder, "Just keep your eyes open."


    As the crowd broke up, Kinen approached Kassal Vov.

    "I sent a deck runner with a message for you, but I suspect maybe you did not receive it in time to discuss in Council. It concerns the flyers. I suspect everyone underestimates their importance among our many other troubles. Mr. Vandro certainly thinks the flyers a low priority. But I assess it differently. Without our communications-computers, the only chance of talking to the other Pods — even learning which Pods have landed safely after the mothership breakup — is to get at least one of those two flyers into the high atmosphere, for a long-range signal. Many of the things we need, we might get, if we can establish contact with the other Pods: replacement parts, supplies, trained personnel ..." She trailed off, and her mouth tensed. "Even the higher-level echelons of the command structure. These are things we need, Mr. Vov. And I can't figure any way to get them, without at least one of those flyers back in operation."

    At the side of the council room, she noticed Zeffrey Fodol leaving. He glanced back over his shoulder once, and met her gaze, but then with a frown, wordlessly, he was gone.

    Kinen said under her breath, "Fine."

    Then she turned back to Kassal Vov, and ran a hand through her hair. "Hydroponics, and heavy equipment, and the computers, and the power core, and all the infrastructure repairs ... and you and I, both, are juggling personnel back & forth, like crazy ..."

    She gave him a tired smile. "I know this is all impossible. But tell me you can get a flyer in the air. It's the one thing we really need right now, Mr. Vov. Just tell me you can do that."

    "I have already sent some people to work on it, Ms. Kinen. I assure you, It'll been done within the next two months." He shuffles, silent for a moment. "Ms. Kinen, I need to inform you of something. To be blunt, you are not very popular. At all. In fact, Lieutenant Darrick and Rann Doven, along with their recon team appear to be trying to defect because of their dislike of you."

    "I am loyal to you, and when they approached me, I told them off. However, I would strongly  advise doing something to make you more popular. Give some more freedom to the departments, let everyone do their own thing. Just be hands off."

    "However... I will tell you the same thing I told the deserters. I will not have this colony break into civil war, at all costs. At the moment, that means I back you up. But if you ever become obstructive to that goal... well." He stares right into her eyes.

    "One last thing. Keep your distance from Fodol. Let him mourn."

    He stands there for a moment, before smiling.

    "I apologize for the sudden escalation of this conversation, Ms. Kinen. It's just this whole situation has me worried. No contact with the other pods, these tensions... and whatever happened up there. It just worries me."

  • by CW

    Kinen listened patiently to Kassal Vov's tirade, until suddenly the man had the audacity to tell her to 'keep your distance from Fodol'—after that she was too stunned to say anything until he finally fell quiet.

    With gritted teeth she started angrily, "If Mr. Fodol—"

    Then again she heard herself say, "If Mr. Fodol—"

    Her face flushed. She sounded like a foolish little girl! unable even to get out a single sentence!

    She took a deep breath and started again.

    "Well ... Mr. Vov. That's all quite a manifesto. I can see that we agree on many things. One point we differ on, is the need for a flyer. Decisions must be made soon about how to deploy colony assets."

    She ticked off points on her fingers ...

    "Firstly, If we can find the other Pods, the decisions will go one way; if God forbid we cannot find anyone else, if we're on our own, the decisions must go another way. It will be expensive to make the wrong decision, and try to reverse it after — and some decisions cannot be reversed anyway.

    "Secondly, if the other pods need our help and are unable to raise any of their flyers, then our need is doubly important, and might be a matter of life and death for them.

    "And thirdly furthermore, not knowing where the rest of our fellow colonists are, just adds more stress for everyone. We need to know. So we need a flyer. So I will ask you please Mr. Vov to reassess your resources for getting one of those flyers into the air, sooner than later. Two months is not a beneficial timeframe."

    She tried to soften her expression, but wasn't sure if she succeeded, so she just added, "As you say, there are 'tensions and worries.' I feel it myself, Mr. Vov. In fact I almost felt just now that you were threatening me. You see, it's that kind of misunderstanding that we must all watch out for. We must make allowances for each other under these difficult conditions. Times are extraordinary. We cannot afford not to perform extraordinarily."

    Then she thought of his story about Lt. Darrick but decided not to comment. So instead she said, "Thank you, Mr. Vov. I hope to hear from you in a day or two about the timeline for flyers. Carry on."

    Kinen turned and marched back to her quarters, refusing to think about Fodol, thinking about anything but Fodol, anything at all.

    * * *

    After the council, Zeff Fodol glumly started walking back to his office in the Colonial Admin complex, but then turned and climbed to one of the observation decks, and stared out at the alien ocean.

    The sun had long set. The stars, and the Anomaly (the blazing radiation around the neighboring black hole), lit the waves spreading away to the south.

    Where were the other Pods? he wondered. Could Pod 2 survive on their own, after so much damage? Amari Star was meant as a single colony ship, one single eight-pod colony. Pod 2 nominally comprised 12.5% of the total colony resource base; but now, after the emergency landing, all alone, they had maybe 5% of Amari Star's original resources. Maybe.

    Appogia! It wasn't supposed to be like this. They were supposed to land in comfort, assemble their colony cities, deploy satellites, prepare the way for new waves of migration from Earth. And now ...in an unknown, dangerous land, and deprived of their machines, left only with their hands and their wits, only the fit would survive. Adapt or die!

    Puol Haminaaren was right: it was a new world.

    Kinen — "Her Majesty" — by default in command of ... well, everyone. She was the highest-ranking surviving officer, after the death, due to injuries, of Pod 2's Commander Sabo. Fodol had heard the rumors: that Kinen arranged for Sabo "not to survive his injuries" — she had put her crony, that grinning old Dr. Sprike, in charge of the triage, and from there it was a simple step for Sprike, with Kinen behind him, to withhold treatment and just let Sabo die ... or if Sabo showed any sign of recovering, simply to slip him a magic pill and finish the job. Fodol had dismissed those rumors ... but, now he admitted, he just couldn't be sure.

    And Jessa Sloan had been under Sprike's care, as well. And Fodol had heard those same rumors, for Jessa, as well.

    In a certain light, it played well for Kinen that Cmdr Sabo and Jessa Sloan had died. Kinen kept her military supremacy, and now the way was open for her to take the civilian colonial supremacy as well ...

    ... because Fodol knew one further thing, which couldn't be ignored. Kinen might be — how could he say it? — "personally sympathetic" to Fodol. Naturally they had made acquaintance during the flight; they had both been born on Amari Star*, they had known each other all their lives, tho not closely, at some professional distance, she in Medical (and eventually commissioned into SSC Marines command rank, for purposes he barely understood), and he in the civilian Colony Admin, eventually rising to the top of it. And in those years, despite professional distance, there had been social overlaps in their lives, and, well, Kinen was a woman, and tho women will remain eternal mysteries to men, still, he had seen certain signs, or at least thought he had ... but by then, he had already met Jessa. And he was not the sort to play one woman against another. And Kinen knew it.

    Those were the old facts.

    Here were the new facts:

    Jessa was gone. 95% of the colony was gone. Sabo was gone. The command structure was decimated, and the tech infrastructure — gone. Kinen was in command: military emergency command, superseding civilian colonial admin. And Fodol had a civilian colony to build from the ruins of Amari Star's Pod 2.

    And just possibly, Fodol could ... 'influence' Kinen.

    Fodol's face hardened. He could sink into the grave with Jessa, or he could live on, forged anew in the fires of danger and tribulation. That was the choice. ... It was no choice at all.

    His jaw tightened, and he swung on his heel and marched down into the pod's sprawling habitat floor, and straight to the quarters of Enoki Kinen.

    He lifted his fist to knock on the door — and stopped short. A half-crumpled piece of paper was taped there, with a pencil drawing:

    Fodol smirked and knocked. After a moment, the door swung back, and there stood Lt.Cmdr. Kinen, a complicated mix of emotions on her face, the sum unreadable.

    Fodol said, "I want to talk to you," and strode inside.

    -----

    * [Some canon items are in flux, re the timelines of the colony ship. Kinen's backstory had mentioned some history on Earth, before the ship, but that timeline won't work in the new canon details, so I'll retcon it when everything's settled. For now: the Earth-to-Appogia flight was 96 years. Except for some extra-long-lived (thanks to Vivaticum!) original crew & passengers, everyone on board was born on the ship, during the flight.]

    by CW

    A small dark-skinned man in a Marines jumpsuit approached Kassel Vov. He cast a sideways glance at Kinen as she walked away, and said to Vov, "Yeh I don't know about her. She's got issues."

    Then he faced Kassel Vov and held out his hand. "Hello, you are Engineer Vov? Chief engineer? My name is Tondau. I'm in the Biochemistry division, a lab rat really so you working men wouldn't know me. But I have an idea. I heard that one of your problems was to get the flyers back in the air, but you've suffered some strange element-transmutations? and I know part of the flyer's lev-wing system runs on hydrogen, doesn't it? ... heavy hydrogen, lots of tritium?"

    Tondau looked around as if someone might be listening to something he didn't want overheard.

    "Well if you're having trouble with the hydrogen systems, I can show you a lithium isotope that might substitute. It's synthetic, but it's easy to produce, and it has mass and diatomic properties to compare to tritium. And it sits naturally in the gas phase, like hydrogen."

    He looked around again, licked his lips, and continued.

    "I tried it in my lab in a hydrogen-environment spectral magnifier, and ... well, it worked. And then I thought ... well, the flyers might use it, too ... Anyway, I can give you twenty kilograms of it, right now, and if the flyer's engines turn over with it, well, I can make more, enough to get them to fly, I think."

    Suddenly a commotion sounded not far off, and a rowdy group of blue-jumpsuited Marines burst into view, laughing, hollering, play-punching each other—two men and two women. One of the women wore her jumpsuit unzipped almost to the navel, with nothing underneath.

    Tondau's eyes went wide, and he nearly cringed behind Kassal Vov. "Don't say anything to them! Get me out of here, somewhere, make an excuse! Please!"

    But the group was upon them before anyone could move. "Hey, Tondau!" barked one of the men, grinning. "There you are! Who's your new friend?"

    The woman with the open jumpsuit leaned against Kassal Vov and squeezed his arm. To her friends she said, "This guy's got muscles! You boys should be jealous!"

    The other man threw his arm around Tondau's shoulder. "Well Tondau, we were worried you were getting into some kind of trouble! You know we like you a lot, Tondau, We don't want to see you get in trouble." And the other man said, still grinning, "Yeh, Tondau, you weren't doing anything stupid, were you?" and he gave a sideways glance at Kassal Vov. "Was our pal Tondau doing anything stupid, sir?"

    Tondau managed to squeak, "I wasn't doing anything, I swear. Engineer Vov was asking me ... about, uh ... hydrogen ... for the flyers. That's all."

    The open-suited woman let go of Vov and entwined her arms around Tondau, and said smiling into his ear, "That's all, kitty kat? Just talking about hydrogen?"

    Tondau licked his lips and looked imploringly at Kassal Vov. "Yeh that's all, I swear."

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