Yew and Me
Lilith Yew: Mistress of Hive Philae, Head of the Mars Colonisation Movement and de facto Ruler of the entire planet, hesitated for all of a split second. Using the communications equipment here at the newly liberated Meridian Facility, calls were put through to all of the main bases and to Rebecca at her own Hive.
Although Rebecca had wanted to accompany her Mistress during the Meridian Raid: Lilly was now glad that she had refused permission as Rebecca’s organisational skills and steady head were precisely what were needed. It was she that would have to oversee the needed actions. Especially now that Lily had decided to personally lead the initial relief mission to Tsiokolski.
She made a series of decisions and issued directives that she believed would bring order to the chaos that the volcanic eruption had brought in it’s wake: there were a lot of confused people out there and confusion could lead to panic. Zhuan Jin, whose settlements were the best equipped, would take charge of the overall relief efforts to which the others would contribute. This, however, would take time and that was something they probably did not have. Satellite pictures showed a plume of smoke and ash rising from the cone of the northern most of the three giant Tharsis mountains—or rather from a new crater that had exploded out of its southern flank from which lava spewed forth. Somewhere under the dust, ash and debris was the former British Olympus Research Station. Unfortunately the staff would have to take their chances as the main efforts would, by necessity, need to be concentrated upon Tsiokolski and the surrounding bases and settlements: only when they were known to be safe would attention be spared for the half dozen souls located at the tiny Olympus Base.
It was against Lilith’s nature to let anyone down but leadership was as much about priorities as it was compassion. Within half an hour she had done everything that she could and was about to board the aeroplane that would carry the former master, her victims and all but half a dozen of Lily’s own girls to Philae. Suddenly she stopped and turned around, her eyes falling upon the two black shuttles still sitting upon the pad where they were in the process of being refuelled. They weren’t Martian property and seemed to have been been chartered by the Facility’s former occupant but never-the-less an idea began to form.
God, I hate to be sitting on my ass while there’s work to be done! She thought in response to an annoying mental itch. She turned back to the window and stared at the shuttles that squatted their tantalisingly: they may have been black and vaguely menacing but they served as a framework for an idea: maybe she could shave a day or so off the timetable! She smiled thoughtfully as she sent some of her drones to find the crews.
The dust wasn’t too bad but as they moved slowly along the corridor Eve knew that she would be coughing pink for days. Red-orange emergency lighting had flickered on within a minute or two of the blackout beginning and except for a couple of temporary brown-outs, seemed to be holding. They came across disoriented drones a couple of times: the women weren’t stunned and showed no signs of panicking, instead they seemed to be ignoring the damage and were trying to carry on with their previously allotted tasks.
Eve had made her decision—the mission would continue. Any rescue or repair tasks needed were not down to them. While Lily’s agents, like the rest of her slaves, were much more autonomous than the local units, they were still goal-oriented—far more so than they had been previously and Mistress’s orders always took priority. Karpova still had to be dealt with and the chaos resulting from the latest quake might even work in their favour. Suddenly a thought struck her. There’s a potential problem!
The units are attempting to carry on with their last allotted tasks... If the security personnel who were heading towards us were tasked with our capture, then they probably will still attempt to do just that. What to do? What to do? Suddenly an idea came to her and she moved across and had a quiet word with Yseult who nodded.
Down below, the Hydroponics level was a complete shambles. Everything was wrecked inside the little base occupied by Lina Zuyeva and her fellow resisters and outside their door, a little stream was flowing along the corridor. The geologist glanced across at Katerina, who was trying to bring some order to the scattered debris that had previously been her jury-rigged computer terminal. As none of it had been bolted to anything else, the quake had tumbled it and dumped much of the delicate equipment onto the floor when a make-shift table had collapsed.
Sadly the programmer shook her head. “It’s going to be hours before I can get any of this working: if at all. Best guess is that I’m going to have to nick a whole lot more and start from scratch!”
Lina had sighed. “Nechevo!” (—“It doesn’t matter”—) She had said, dismissing the problems with typical Russian stoicism. “Do what you can.”
Lady Yew’s raiding party was strictly on its own from now on, for without radios or access to the surveillance equipment, there was absolutely nothing that the four locals could do... There really wasn’t... God! She needed to think, but first things first.
She turned to Yuri who was bandaging a wound on the American student’s head that had been inflicted by a lump of falling rock. It could have been much, much worse and would probably been fatal if it had happened on Earth. “How is she?” She asked.
Yuri shrugged. “She’s shaken and has one Hell of a headache but that’s all.” Then he grinned. “She’ll be okay, which is more than I can say for this place.”
Lina moved over to the door and listened. It was quiet outside, no footfalls, nothing. She gently eased it open and took stock of the corridor. The floor was wet, but the fact that water was no longer actually running indicated that repairs were already underway, or maybe the fractured pipe had drained whatever tank that it was connected too. She shrugged and muttered “Nechevo!” once more.
She dodged down the corridor and headed for the nearest hydroponics bay. Her long bounding strides covered the forty yards in seconds, the dusty air made her cough, but ‘nechevo’ could be applied to that also. The room, when she managed to force the door open, was chaotic, although half a dozen Work-units, clad in their brown coveralls, had already begun straightening things up and were lifting the scattered trays and plants back onto the still-solid benchwork. Oddly enough she felt a wave of pride sweep through her. Although foreigners often belittled Russian engineering as being crude, this was more than a little unfair as, maybe, ‘basic’ was a better word. But whichever one was applied did not detract from the fact that it was solid, built to last and easy to repair. The drones had a long and fiddly task ahead of them but the room itself would be back in production sooner rather than later.
Yes, Lina felt proud as she watched the Work-units beavering away in the strange red-orange glow of the emergency lighting, a glow that made the green leaves look black. Quite predictably, the drones ignored her even when she righted one of the little wheeled trucks and began loading it with whatever she could salvage.
Eve’s little group were striding purposefully along the corridor, already the dust was either beginning to settle or was being filtered out by some active purification system or other. The facility was clearly built to a higher standard than the rough-rock walls and tunnel roof seemed to suggest.
As they approached one of the many lettered doors that were spaced at irregular intervals in the walls it swung open and a pair of Work-units stepped out into the corridor. Yseult halted their little procession and spoke to the newcomers.
“Report?” She ordered the nearest one... The woman’s hair and features had a distinctly unearthly appearance under the emergency lighting. Quite fitting since we are not on Earth! Yseult thought in passing.
The two drones halted. “Work-units 3k-17 and 4b-91 proceeding to level three to clean and check light units. This task will last until completed, or for ten hours which ever is shortest.”
Yseult answered without hesitation. “Your task is cancelled as of now. You will both join this group to perform a high priority task for our Mistress.”
Now seven strong, the little group headed towards the staircase twenty yards ahead. Eve smiled to herself, if any Security-units were searching for a group of five intruders, they would almost certainly ignore seven. I hope! She added to herself.
However as they arrived at the staircase, Eve saw that there was a problem—it was blocked. Silently the seven women turned around and went in search of another route to the surface.
Several floors below Eve’s little group Lina Zuyeva suddenly stopped collecting the ripe Aubergines that were scattered around the tumbled plants. She gazed at the particularly fine one that was cupped in both of her hands. Many plants actually grew larger on Mars than they did back on Earth and this was a particularly large and almost perfectly egg-shaped fruit.
She looked at it and froze. “What the fuck am I doing?” She muttered to herself. “What are we hiding from?”
She hesitated and then dropped the egg-shaped fruit into her truck... She hesitated again just as a much weaker ‘quake rippled through the base. “Aftershock.” She muttered to herself. “The worst’s over.”
Suddenly something clicked and the ‘geologist’ emerged from within her and arrived at a conclusion, the pattern of marsquakes could only mean one thing. It’s a volcano! She thought. Then: “Something in the Thapsis Mountains must have erupted.” Lina muttered out loud.
If the enslaved women, with whom she shared the room, heard her, they neither commented nor reacted. A volcano would only affect them if its lava flowed into the base and then their only concern would be no doubt be to clear it away and repair the damage.
Then, face hardening into an expression of dogged determination, Lina spun on her heel and almost marched back towards the door abandoning the little truck amidst the chaos of the tumbled plants.
As the Ward sisters escorted their phoney work party through the chaos, Eve was able to take a good look at their surroundings and draw some conclusions. Tsiokolski was certainly well-constructed and there was little structural damage. However, the fittings and infrastructure did not seem to be constructed to the same standard as the various shafts and tunnels that made up the base itself. True, the streams of water that had initially trickled along the various passageways seemed to have stopped flowing... Was that a sign that repairs were proceeding or did it just mean that the various ruptured tanks had run dry? Either way, it wouldn’t matter in the long-run, for although Mars appeared to be a desert planet, Eve well knew that there was plenty of water out there.
The electrics seemed to be a different matter, although the emergency lighting was functioning and bathing everything in its menacing red-orange glow, there seemed to be no sign of the main supply coming back online anytime soon. Because of this, Eve began to wonder if anyone was actually directing the repairs or were the drones still running on ‘auto-pilot’? Either that, or the damage to the power systems was greater than she had initially imagined.
They had found another staircase and within a few minutes they had climbed and found themselves at one end of the large reception hall. There was chaos here too, illustrated by the tumbled and smashed packing cases and overturned furniture. However there were also signs that order was beginning to re-emerge as Security Units were clearly gathering stray units into work parties and seemed to be marching them off to tackle various tasks. Eve grinned to herself: the black vinyl-clad security units seemed to double as supervisors, which was fine as long as there wasn’t a pressing need for both at the same time.
Suddenly a squeal of feedback put Eve’s teeth on edge as another system came back online as the tannoy suddenly crackled out an order. “All Reactor Technicians report to the fusion reactor immediately and repair damage. This instruction cancels all previous ones and cannot be rescinded.”
Wordlessly the two hijacked women who were accompanying Eve’s party turned on their heels and marched towards the rack of exosuits next to the nearest airlock...
Eve frowned. This is not good! Which ever way you look at it it just isn’t good at all!
Several floors below Lina Zuyeva inserted a loaded magazine into an assault-rifle and cocked the weapon. She glanced at the rest of her little band who were all armed with pistols. She grinned: an expression that, given her spare build, pale skin and thin face, reminded Yuri of a skull.
He shuddered as he followed her out into the tunnel.
The black shuttle touched down with a roar raising a dust cloud as it did so, partially obscuring the red-brown bulk of Tsiokolski base that sat about a quarter of a mile away.
It had been quite a pantomime to get it there in the first place with both shuttle commanders demanding the payments that The Master owed to their craft’s owners.
Lily had pointed out that the shuttles were owned by a consortium of Earth-side slavers including The Master herself and this meant there was technically no payment due.
The two men had looked at each other and then shrugged. Turning back to Lily the senior of the two had then said that if this was the case they were obliged to take their ships back to Earth just as soon as the re-fuelling was completed.
Lily had responded by ordering her drones to begin pumping the fuel and oxygen out of the shuttles before turning back to the crews. “Welcome to Mars. I hope you enjoy living here!”
“You can’t do that!” One of the other crewmembers had blurted out in alarm.
The senior of the two commanders had sighed, then with a resigned voice, he answered his subordinate. “This is Lilith Yew, she runs of this shit-hole of a planet... She can do whatever the fuck she likes!”
After that it had just been a matter of selecting a shuttle, deciding upon a destination and pumping in enough propellant and oxidant for a couple of sub-orbital hops. For although Lilith needed the shuttle, she wasn’t going to risk being shanghaied back to Earth.
The sub-orbital hop had been a quick one, twenty minutes or so, given the small size of Mars and the low gravity. It had also afforded a perfect view of Mount Ascraeus with its ash-plume that extended way above the massive flattened bulk of the mountain, for although some of the Martian mountains are far higher than anything on Earth, they had much gentler slopes and did not form the classic steep cones of terrestrial volcanoes. Also, thanks to the high speed of the prevailing Martian wind, the ash cloud now extended a significant distance from the mountain itself.
“Jesus H, Christ,” the Shuttle Commander had muttered, “you weren’t kidding about a disaster, Lady Yew! I’m sorry I argued.”
Lilith had nodded but couldn’t tear her eyes away from the spectacle provided by the mountain... “Martian volcanoes are supposed to have gone extinct twenty-five million years ago.” She mused.
“Yeh?” The man had chuckled. “Pity nobody told that one!”
The touch-down had been as faultless as they usually were and Lily had got her small squad out as rapidly as she could leaving one drone behind to supervise the unloading of relief supplies and also maintain a radio link with the rest of the planet. The repentant commander now cooperating fully.
Lily led her group of five across the wide open spaces between the area that the Russians pretentiously claimed to be the Vladimir Putin Cosmodrome... Or at least, that was what the billboard-sized sign announced.
The closer that she got to the main block, the more obvious the chaos became, and it was very obvious in the vicinity of the sleek-looking bulk of a large piece of technology that was sited some ten yards from the main block and connected to it by a web of power and control cables. Lily did a double take when she recognised it as one of the miniature British-built fusion reactors. Okay, she only knew of them from pictures that she had seen in on-line publicity material and had not actually known that there was one on Mars. She hated ignorance almost as a reflex simply because ignorance on Mars was one of the many things that could kill. As her squad approached the airlocks in the main block it was obvious that the rector had suffered damage. Some of the power cables were down and at least one seemed to be arcing violently.
Technicians clad in environmental suits swarmed around it, or at least most of them did for two of them were lying contorted on the ground and were being ignored by the rest. Suddenly an amber light that was positioned half way up the reactor’s flank began to flash angrily and a siren suddenly began to ‘whoop’, which triggered a renewed burst of frenetic activity amongst the half dozen or so technicians.
This did not look good to Lilith Yew’s escort either and as a consequence several of her women began to look around uncertainly. She could almost read their minds: Should we carry on or should we hustle Mistress back to the shuttle and fly her to safety?
“We carry on!” Lily instructed them via their suit radios. Her voice packed with all of the grim confidence and certainty that she did not feel. “The techs will know what they are doing, they’ll make it safe.”
With her drones reassured (But for how long?) and with Mistress Lily in the lead, the squad approached one of the airlocks. It was so-far-so-good, but not for long as the wide door was guarded. A black clad figure stepped forward, raised some sort of baton and barked something in Russian.
This was too much for Lily’s escort and three of them descended upon the sentry in a human wave while the other two seized Lily bodily and hustled her out of harm’s-way. The confrontation lasted for only a few seconds and as her drones released her she could see that the sentry was down and very still. Lilith knew that she should be concerned about the woman’s safety and felt a strange twinge of guilt when she realised that she wasn’t. Suddenly the figure twitched and rolled itself into a ball: hopefully she would recover from the pummelling that she had received.
One of the escort handed their Mistress the fallen sentry’s baton which proved to be a high-power riot-control taser and was akin to a super-charged cattle prod. Christ, what else have the Russians brought to Mars? She wondered.
Suddenly the airlock doors slid open and half a dozen reinforcements piled out and Lily hefted her new weapon while her girls tried to protect her. She braced herself but nothing happened and the newcomers ignored them as they hurried past and headed towards the damaged reactor. Lilith Yew, ‘Empress of Mars’, breathed a sigh of relief as she directed her squad into the newly vacated airlock while beneath their feet her beloved planet trembled as another aftershock rippled through its settling crust.
The airlock hissed shut. Either emergency power is enough to run this critical system or it has its own dedicated supply. Lilith, being glad that she could gain access, gave the matter no further thought. Then after the airlock had cycled, she removed her helmet while waiting for the door lights to change from red to green.
After what seemed like an age the inner door hissed open to reveal a line of black clad figures all facing Lily’s little group. Suddenly, away to one side, a shout went up. Just one word, but a devastating one none-the-less. The word was “Intruders!”
Lily braced herself for for whatever was about to befall them.