Yep, I’m revisiting the same flash fiction thread for a third time. If you want to catch up, it began with First Cohort, and then Fifth Cohort (you may notice a theme) and then today’s entry, which I have to admit gave me a giggle. The image might be from a cartoon, but it made me think of a character I was planning and let me move the story ahead a bit.
Adamson took measure of those seated around the table. Patel looked as calm and unreadable as ever, Dr. Adebayo was paying too much attention to her tablet, Flood was tapping her stylus against the table, though not hard enough to make an annoying noise, Constantinou held a mug of coffee with both hands like it held all the warmth in the system, and Maxwell had a far-away look in her eyes.
Adamson could imagine just how far.
“Okay,” he said, bringing their attention together. “Let’s talk.”
Dr. Adebayo’s smile surprised him. “On or off the record?”
“Let’s start with off. We can figure out what to put on the record later. Agreed?”
They all nodded.
Constantinou raised his finger. Adamson nodded.
“What do we do if they don’t show?”
And there it was. Said aloud.
“That’s what we’re here to discuss,” Adamson said. “We’ve been operating under the assumption that there was a critical failure of the fifth cohort, and that Enceladus has no way of knowing they didn’t arrive. If that’s the case, the sixth cohort will be here…” He waved a hand. The Helios schedule wasn’t perfect, but they were looking at any time within the next couple of local days.
“If they show up, we’re solid,” Maxwell said. “We’re not one hundred percent to where we’d planned on being for the arrival of the sixth. We couldn’t, not without what they were bringing, but we spread what we had and from a point of view of housing, feeding, and powering everything they’re bringing? We’re solid. Backtracking to fill in the gaps isn’t going to be completely doable with their redundancies either, but we’ll hit the main points. If the rest of the cohorts drop in on time, we’ll catch up at the seventh.”
Adamson was impressed, and he let it show. “You’ve all done amazing work.”
“We had some luck,” Constantinou said. “Shamboo grows like a weed. A lot of interior work in the newer buildings are pretty much entirely shamboo.”
“Did you really have to call it that?” Flood said.
Constantinou chuckled. “Why not?”
“It’s…not very serious.” Flood said.
“Well, it is pretty close to an Earth bamboo analog,” Adamson said.
“Ugh,” Flood said. “You’re totally encouraging him.”
“While the boys were busy with naming plants,” Maxwell said, sharing a look of mock annoyance with Flood, “we’ve come up with a potential mining plan.”
There was a moment of silence. And here it was. Mining wasn’t on the original plan, barring unforeseen issues. Cutting into bedrock for foundations, yes. Geothermal systems, yes. Aquifiers and waste pipes and even a tertiary tanked water power system, yes.
But mining? That would have come after the tenth.
“Okay,” Adamson said. Not for the first time, it struck him he wasn’t supposed to be in charge any more. The torch should have been passed at the arrival of the fifth cohort.
Maxwell tapped her tablet, and the plan appeared on the table in front of them.
“It’s a very modest plan,” she said. “And environmental impact is our biggest concern. And honestly? We’re only going to go looking for things we’ll truly need in the next few years. Obviously, our range is limited at the moment, and—”
Constantinou’s watch chimed. A moment later, so did Adamson’s. The alert display was a yellow symbol. A sun.
“Helios effect,” Constantinou said. The relief deepened his voice.
In the Coop—Constantinou had coined the term for the Colony Operations Office—they all gathered around the displays. No one had left, even Dr. Adebayo, who didn’t really have any reason to be there. They all wanted to see.
“Satellite is up,” Flood said, tapping.
The image that showed up on the screen brought stillness to the room. Adamson wasn’t sure what to say. Was there anything to say?
“Oh shit,” Constantinou said.
Okay, that would do.
Adamson cleared his throat. “How far out are they?”
“It’s a favorable position,” Flood said, and with a few more taps, a countdown timer appeared beneath the image of the ships.
It wasn’t supposed to be ships.
But there, on the screen, it was clear: the tenth cohort, the station that had been in orbit of Enceladus itself, was on its way. And around it? An quartet of smaller ships, none of which appeared to be anything remotely like the sixth cohort they were expecting. They were lean, not large like science or colony support vessels.
And clearly armed.
“Can we ID the…support craft?” Adamson said.
Dr. Adebayo made a noise that could have been a snort of derision, but she covered it with a cough.
“Definitely military,” Patel said. “But they’re not Eds or Reds.” He’d know. He’d served with the Earth Defense Force prior to joining the Helios project. Adamson had read his file—had read all their files—they’d all had reasons for being willing to leave Earth.
“Satellite AI has them marked as a security company,” Flood said. “Vanguard.”
Adamson eyed Patel, but Patel shook his head. He hadn’t heard of them, then. Damn.
“How’s our lag?” Adamson said.
“Just shy of half an hour,” Flood said.
Adamson eyed the timer. “Okay. Send them a signal. Let’s see who’s coming to dinner.”
The landing pad had only been used three times. The first cohort had had to rely on a flat field and landing struts. The second, third, and fourth had the luxury of the pad the first cohort built. Seeing the first of the sleek, black, and undoubtedly military grade ships coming in for a landing made Adamson shudder. It reminded him of that last, long walk across to the shuttle that had taken him away from Earth.
Only with danger getting closer, not further away.
They’d only had time for a few exchanges with Enceladus Station. The first sight of Cassandra’s tired, worried face had filled Adamson with a twist of fear. She had never intended to leave Saturn. That meant the people on the station hadn’t had time to prepare. Who knew who was aboard?
Then she’d explained the barest details of what had happened, and things had only gotten worse.
The ship landed. Vanguard-Five, from the marking, though there were only four Vanguard ships escorting Enceladus Station. The port slid out and to the side.
Adamson forced himself to walk up and smile.
The soldier wasn’t wearing armor nor a full uniform. Just a black shirt with the company logo, black cargo pants. That made Adamson feel slightly better, even if the man was armed. The man’s right arm glinted silver in the afternoon light. Cybernetic.
“Hi,” the man said, and he held out the silver hand. “Commander Chase Bradley. We brought your people though some sort of gate-thing before the Eds blew it out of Saturn’s orbit. I guess we’ll be staying with you for a while.”
For a while? Adamson held his smile in place with an effort of will, shaking the soldier’s hand. It was, of course, cool to the touch. Cassandra hadn’t told them. Then it hit him. Of course she hadn’t told them. Inside the Helios effect, ships couldn’t communicate with each other, not with any standard systems.
“Welcome to Chiaroscuro,” Adamson said. “I’m Jay Adamson. Are you the ranking officer of your company?”
“I am.” Bradley nodded. He had a few scars, Adamson noticed. His left arm, and one across the bridge of his nose. Frankly, they suited him, which wasn’t a thought he should really be having in the moment.
“Well, why don’t you come with me,” Adamson said. He itched to reach into the man’s mind and skim the surface, just in case, but he resisted. “There’s a lot we need to talk about.”
Bradley’s jaw clenched, and he nodded. “Agreed. A lot happened back home.”
Adamson led the way. In the back of his mind, he heard Constantinou again.