laser-tips affixed to the ends of his ice-axes, as well as to the
crampons on his space boots, made it possible for the tools to sink
their teeth into the super-frozen ice cliffs of Ganymede.
Literally he inched his way up the face of the wall, but he knew
now that he was working against time. Jupiter would rise in
less than six minutes, and he was still twenty meters (at least)
from the top; he needed to push himself if he was going to make
it. Instead, he stopped to rest. In the latter stages
of a degenerative neural disease (for which there was no cure),
Colonel Brannon West was finding for the first time in his life
that there were times that he just could not push himself.
he asked himself, a year? Eighteen months?
could never be specific when you wanted them to be.
the thoughts from his mind and attacked the ice as though it was
his enemy, and of course he made it to the top just in time.
at the precipice of the one thousand meter-plus cliff, his eyes
wandered about the icy plains below. Over six hundred ships,
including one the largest ever built by humans, the Grissom,
lay scattered in and around the foundation of what would be the
first of six main geodesic pressure domes, over a thousand meters
in diameter. All of the workers below went back to work as Jupiter
reached it’s zenith; watching the dedication with which they applied
themselves to their task filled West with a certain sense of pride,
for he was certain that he had done the right thing five years ago,
and again a little over a year ago. His mind reeled with the
tumultuous series of events that had brought him, all of them, here
The first half
of the twenty-first century witnessed the violent dissolution of
the nation-states; after the bugs and the bombs stopped flying,
the only institutions still standing strong enough to step in and
maintain order were the multi-national corporations (the same corporations
who built the bombs and manufactured the bugs).
And step in they
Uniting all of
what was left of the armies of the world into The United Global
Forces, and with complete control of the food supply and three-fourths
of the world’s land, the Corporate Supreme maintained order on a
scale heretofore unmatched in human history.
But after almost
three centuries of industrialization, the Earth’s resources were
nearly depleted, and Corporate Supreme looked to the moon to solve
a plethora of problems (the Martian colony had been founded before
the war, and the American and Asian factions on the planet were
not being cooperative with Earth’s new government in relinquishing
the fruits of their labors, and interplanetary distances made enforcement
rather difficult). Although the lunar colony was a magnificent
achievement, the solutions that the Board had been hoping for never
manifested, and the lunar colonial project quickly became an economic
drain. Such a drain, in fact, that many Corporate officers
(behind the scenes, of course) began pushing for more destructive,
and final options regarding the colony.
But such a course
of action had always been considered unethical, until 2029.
The lunar colonists
were among some of the finest minds (and healthiest bodies) on Earth,
and such a class of people eventually came to resent being custodians
of nuclear waste and ore miners. When they filed for independence
in front of the World Council, their ambassador was arrested and
executed. And West, formerly a captain in the United States
Marine Corp and now a colonel in the UGF, was dispatched with seven
ships, all carrying nuclear weapons, to destroy the colony.
It wasn’t the
first time in his life that West questioned his orders, but it was
the first time he ever disobeyed them.
His troops, most
of them former US Marines as well, were more loyal to him than the
UGF, and none of them were exactly comfortable executing fifty thousand
men, women and children, either. They left most of their ships
in a stationary orbit overt the colony, with the nukes programmed
to detonate in the event of any incoming, hostile ships. Then
they landed and surrendered to the governor (and former vice president
of the US) of the lunar colony.
bitterly disgruntled but ever so practical, turned their eyes outward
and away from the moon, which had not turned out to be the El Dorado
of the twenty-first century. Instead, their gaze was now fixated
on the moons of Jupiter, specifically, Ganymede, for it was that
Galilean moon that was made up of what was quickly becoming the
most precious and sought after commodity on the face of the Earth:
not even Corporate Supreme would be able to maintain order.
Ganymede had what
was necessary to ensure that Corporate could maintain power, except
for colonists. Not even Corporate could pick out fifty thousand
healthy, intelligent human beings from the billions of war-ravaged
souls that were left. So the Council made a proposition to
the colonists: in order to guarantee a cessation of hostilities,
the lunar colonists, supplied by Corporate, could simply accept
exile on Ganymede, where Corporate probes had found the most prime
conditions for colonization.
accepted (Governor al-Adsani knew that West’s barricade would not
last forever) and of course the troops under West’s command and
the colonel accepted the Governor’s invitation to join them in their
Neither the colonists
nor the troops had anywhere else to go.
But West and al-Adsani
suspected all along that the Council had other reasons for this
offer of sanctuary in the shadow of Jupiter, and recent telemetry
seemed to confirm that their worst fears were proving right.
There was a fleet
of military ships on the way from Earth.
Not many troops,
but enough firepower to do more than intimidate.
In an hour he
and the Governor would lead a town meeting in the cargo hold of
the Grissom, where they would tell the rest of the colonists
what they were facing.
And more importantly,
what they planned to do about it.
But their plan
could not succeed without the colonist’s help and at least tacit
approval, and convincing some of them to join their crusade could
prove difficult. If West an al-Adsani failed this afternoon
to persuade the colonists of the righteousness of their cause, all
would be lost. He took one last look out over the colony,
and then, backing up a ways so he could take a running leap, jumped
from the edge of the cliff.
He was falling;
slowly in the light gravity, but still falling.
He fought the
urge to fire his jetpack right away.
Brannon West grew up on an Indian reservation in South Dakota, but
because of his dark skin (his father, an African-American from Oklahoma
and KIA in Viet Nam, 1972, the year he was born) he never really
felt like he fit in with what he thought of as his mother’s people,
and until the he was an adult he never really knew many of his father’s
people. It was when he was eighteen and left the reservation
that he found his own people, the Marines. Since the day he
joined up he never thought of himself as anything but a Marine,
and he relished the responsibility that came with it. He didn’t
like war, quite the opposite. But he was good at it.
A fierce warrior, a good leader, and after thirty years in the service,
West had more combat decorations than there are asteroids.
And now, facing certain death, he was preparing for the last battle
of his life, and the stakes had never been higher.
outside of his own small tempo-dome waiting for the governor; al-Adsani
insisted that they arrive at the meeting together. As the
governor’s ATV appeared in the distance, West reflected on how little
he really knew the man. He was familiar with the resume of
course: Josem Al-Adsani, American-born (his parents were immigrants
from Lebanon), educated at Yale, congressman and later senator from
Indiana and then, when anti-Arab sentiment was at an all time high
in the US, he landed himself in the vice presidents office.
Of course, after the war, Corporate offered him the posting on the
lunar colony (many of the colonists were from the United States).
But it frustrated
West that he could never put his finger on what it was that made
al-Adsani so likable, or such a well respected leader. Al-Adsani
was resented by all of the colonists when he first arrived on the
moon, but he had used his personal skills to endure himself to every
last one of them. When they called him governor, they said
it with respect and affection.
still thought of him as a quiet man, too quiet for American politics
in the twenty-first century.
into the ATV, and speaking over his helmcomm he said, “Afternoon,
Governor al-Adsani. How’re…”
straight ahead the Governor interrupted, “I saw you climbing today,
it was an accusation, “Yes… well…”
“I saw you
jump from the cliff. What if your jet pack failed to fire?”
to clear my mind, to focus… you should try it sometime. You
could come with me…”
“I am depending
on you,” was all al-Adsani said. Then, after a moment he added,
“I am not a… climbing man, colonel. How have you been feeling
long enough for this… I promise. Besides, the plan doesn’t
depend on me…”
haven’t told me your plan, colonel.”
the asteroid belt, right where I charted their ships would come
was astonished, “When? How? We haven’t launched any
ships… we don’t have anything to build mines with…”
interrupted, “On the journey out here, I had a couple of ships fall
off from the fleet when we passed through the belt… as for the mines
well… the ships I used in the barricade over the moon base were
bluffing?” al-Adsani started laughing, and it occurred to West that
in all the time he had known the Governor, he had never even seen
him smile, let alone laugh.
the Grissom, and the sight of it never failed to leave West
in awe. Over a thousand meters end to end, and between passengers
and crew she could carry twelve thousand people (most of them in
the vehicle al-Adsani asked, “How could you be sure that such measures
would be necessary?”
moment West asked, “Do you really have to ask that question?”
“I see your
point. Colonel, I want to ask that you forgo your introductory
speech this afternoon, let me deliver this news…”
sir.” Suddenly West felt as though there was something the
Governor wasn’t telling him.
the Grissom’s vast cargo bay they took the dais and West
gazed out at a sea of concerned faces.
four thousand, he thought. He knew the rest would be watching
marched to the podium and said quietly, “I never thought I would
begin a speech with the words “my fellow refugees”… but here we
crowd broke into laughter and then instantly quieted.
spoke, “Ladies and gentlemen… I will not mince words… we are in
dire straits. We have completed construction of two power
plants and several aero and hydroponic gardens, our own food stores
will last another three years… five if we follow Colonel West’s
plan of rotating several thousand of us in and out of deep sleep.
Within five years we shall surely be self-sufficient, to the point
we could be capable of growing as a colony, and more importantly,
as a people. However, we face a serious threat from Earth…”
in the audience stood and West recognized her as Dr. Cindy Bowman,
the one who originally diagnosed his condition back on the moon
a little over a year ago, “Governor, are the rumors true?
Are they really going to ship their nuclear waste all the way out
here? Everyone knows there are ships…”
“… on the
way.” Al-Adsani finished for her.
he began, “those ships do not contain nuclear waste. They
are carrying a military force. Nuclear waste is the least
of Earth’s problems.”
continued, “Approximately ten years ago, Earth, ecologically speaking,
reached a point of no return. Again, I will not mince words.
Planet Earth is dead. We are standing on the only water source
in the in the solar system, and Corporate feels that with water
they can maintain control until who knows when…”
started to stir again, and Bowman asked, “Can’t we work with them,
supply them with water? Heaven knows there’s enough of it
other factors, doctor.”
of you may be aware, many world powers, including the United States,
experimented with biological weapons,” al-Adsani began, “ and during
the Pan-Asian siege of America’s west coast, a commander in Seattle
released a small amount of an experimental virus, a supposed neuro-toxin…”
was completely silent.
“… I am
sure you were all familiar with the so-called smart bombs of the
last part of the twentieth century? Governments everywhere
were trying to develop ‘smart bugs’, and the US succeeded.
The virus, known as THX 311, has mutated, and worse- it was designed
to attack human DNA from the inside out. Within five years,
the population of Earth will be reduced by at least eighty percent,
and those left alive… would not be recognized as human by anyone
here. They’re mutating… Corporate thinks they can deny the
truth… forestall the inevitable, but the virus is airborne, and
it is constantly adapting. The virus is the reason Earth-lunar
visits were halted two years before we departed for Jovian space…”
interrupted, “But what about Mars? Surely they are in a position
to supply food… they should be producing…”
Bowman, it’s not just a matter of food. Or water. The
reality is quite plain: Earth is dead. There is nothing we
can do for them, we must save ourselves, and that includes stopping
the fleet of ships on it’s way here…”
Martians help us?” someone hollered from the back.
paused before answering and West thought, Here it comes… here
comes what he hasn’t told me…
the factions on Mars, we don’t know if it’s the North American or
Pan-Asian, has established a cloning facility…”
faded as the words and their meaning sank into the stunned population.
Cloning had been illegal since it was perfected; all the nations
signed a treaty banning any research on the subject. Everyone
assumed Corporate continued the ban.
continued, “Our intel reports that Corporate has contracted with
the Martians to produce an army… for what purposes we can only imagine.
Again, I will not mince words: our lives and the future of the human
race depends on our stopping those ships…”
of the next wave of ships, Governor?” Bowman asked.
and said, “They’re sending everything they’ve got… it’s now or never.
We win this, and it’s over. We’re home free… but we need volunteers…”
interjected, “Merely to man ships for a blockade, we have a plan
and we think we can avoid any major military confrontation.
Those interested report to my ship on the eastern plain, we’ll be
assembling our fleet there.”
knew without any official announcement that the meeting was over
and West and the Governor soon found themselves speeding over the
you didn’t tell me about the clones, Governor?”
known about them since this morning…”
was slow to answer, “I have a… source on Mars. Our communications
are most confidential…”
On Mars?” West was astonished.
“As I said,
our communications must remain confidential…”
North American faction, isn’t it?” West asked.
producing the clones. It’s the North American faction, right?”
silent until they reached West’s tempo-dome.
exited the craft the Governor said, “Get some rest colonel.
Maybe you should forgo you’re climbing…”
these days I’ll get you to climb with me, then you’ll see how easy
it is to forgo it. I’m fine, Governor. Really.
I’ll live long enough to pull this off… I’ll see you tomorrow, we’ve
a lot of work ahead of us the next three days.”
away the Governor felt a small vibration against his chest from
a pocket deep inside his suit, not once but three times.
only mean one thing.
he thought, great… more… information from Mars…
replayed the message three times, thinking that his ears had deceived
mixed in with the random EM interplanetary noise that already existed
were hidden messages between the Governor and what he referred to
as his ‘source on Mars’. To your average mid-twenty first
century listener the noises were just random bleeps, indistinguishable
from the rest of the static. But the trained ear could recognize
Morse code. And with so very few people left who knew Morse
code, al-Adsani felt confident that their communications were private.
someone would lose their life, and he would lose all credibility.
of the last communiqué left him dumbfounded. No, more
than that. He was shaken to his very core, or if he really
believed he had one, to his soul.
it did nothing to change the current situation: an armada of ships
was on its way from Earth and the Martians could produce fifty thousand
genetically enhanced clones every ten months.
for the colonies survival were grim indeed.
the spacecraft his family’s tempo dome all was quiet, and he felt
a deep gratitude for that. At least for now, his two teenage
children, Sara and Rashid, were safe, and that had to mean something.
Still, he wondered what the future held for them.
Jennifer were here… he thought.
He and the
president, for security reasons, were never even allowed in the
same room together, but the rule did not apply to spouses.
While he and the children were visiting space station Sagan,
his wife accompanied the presidents husband on a fund raising tour
where they were victims of one of the very terrorist attacks that
precipitated the downfall of Earth’s governments (and cleared
the path for a global takeover by the corporations).
dust settled Corporate offered (ordered) him the post of lunar governor.
Corporate felt that with al-Adsani sharing a national heritage (American)
with the vast majority of the colonists, his leadership, or rather
his following their orders, would be more easily accepted by the
colonists. But al-Adsani found that he had to work harder
than ever before in his life to earn the trust and respect of everyone
in the colony, and eventually he did.
He was a
politician, he had always been able to adapt.
But no place
could ever be home again without Jennifer.
out of the portal, surveying the colony. As always, there
were thousands of men and women engaged in construction and occasionally
he could see a small craft lifting off, then flying overhead and
landing on the eastern plain. He noticed the cliff walls were
dotted with lights, as several caves had been utilized to set up
gardens; a foam-like substance would be sprayed along the cave interior,
which would, after a few minutes, harden and become airtight.
at the irony. Even as humans were reaching out to the outer
planets, they were going back into the caves.
As an amateur
archaeologist on Earth he had poked around more than a few archaeological
sites (from Alaska to Peru) and he had poked around more than a
And he had
seen more petroglyphs than he could remember.
he, and perhaps a handful of others, knew that deep in the caverns
of Mars were walls that held their own petroglyphs, their own painted
records of the beginnings of a race’s history and emotions, a history
of existence separate from his own, the human race.
system had been home to another race of people before the human
out across the frozen tundra were signs of people struggling to
make this ice encrusted planetoid a home.
that they would get that chance.
West found himself sitting beside the Governor speeding over the
snowy surface in the ATV, but this time there was another passenger.
he introduced himself, “Colonel West… it’s a pleasure to finally
meet you in person. I’m Gregor Lopez.”
hands West said, “Yes thank you…”
said, “Mr. Lopez was our first volunteer. I’ve made him our
liaison with the rest of the volunteers.”
beaming with pride, “My wife is pregnant… we’re going to have the
first child born on Ganymede… I figure I have as much at stake in
this as anyone else.”
West answered. His mind flooded with emotion as he thought
of his own father heading off to war while his mother was pregnant
on your mind colonel?” al-Adsani asked.
We have to take out that cloning facility, a preemptive strike…”
military expert,” al-Adsani began, “But I think it will be difficult
to launch a preemptive strike as you say…”
at a time, Brannon,” the Governor said, “providence will provide
know you were a man of faith, Governor,” West retorted.
sighed, “I am not, but alas, we are running out of options… perhaps
divine intervention is all we can hope for.”
“I was thinking more along the lines of nuclear intervention…”
cut him off, “I will not authorize the use of nuclear weapons on
the Martian surface.”
shocked by that last statement, as well as the tone in which it
was delivered, and decided to let it go (for now) and Lopez pretended
as though his helmcomm was off.
reached what would be the lead ship in the defense fleet, and West
was gleaming with pride as he saw his troops busily refitting the
ship with plasma cannons and a torpedo launcher. Inside the
craft Dr. Bowman and a Dr. Garcia waited to discuss plans to set
up a MASH unit on one of Jupiter’s outermost moons, Thebe, with
West and al-Adsani.
the lead ship the Giap after a general in father’s long forgotten
war; like General Giap, West was hoping he could wait patiently
while technologically and numerically superior forces brazenly walked
into his primitive trap.
made the cursory introductions all around and the five of them sat
down to discuss their plans.
began, “Of course I hope our services aren’t needed, but we will
have our medical crews landing on Thebe by the time the Earth fleet
reaches the belt… we’ll await any casualties…”
said, “Good, good. As you all know we’ve had no shortage of
volunteers, we’ll have full crew complements on every ship.
I think the colonel’s plan will minimize…”
is that plan?” Bowman asked.
few moments of silence West spoke, “This is of course confidential…
however on the journey here I had two ships fall off from the fleet
while we were passing through the belt… I mined the belt right where
the fleets coming through with enough megatons to precipitate a
meteor shower that few ships will be able to survive…”
the asteroid belt? On whose authority?” Bowman demanded.
authority, doctor, I was simply… thinking ahead. Which brings
us back to cloning facility…”
shifted uncomfortably in his seat, staring at West.
the Governor began, “we can find a way to guarantee a surgical strike
on the facility itself, I will not sanction any military action
on the Martian surface.”
it you’re not telling us this time, Governor?” West asked.
moment, he swore the four of them to secrecy, telling them that
in his judgment the news should “… be withheld until, well, at least
almost in a whisper, he said, “I have information that deep inside
several caverns near the northern polar region of Mars several…
petroglyphs have been found… earliest estimates date the drawings
around twenty thousand years ago…we cannot simply bomb at random,
there’s no telling what we could destroy. We have an obligation
to the pursuit of knowledge to find another way.”
Garcia said, “Extraterrestrial life.” There was awe in his
voice. “That certainly tops my bit of celestial news…” he
news?” West asked.
oh, I’ve discovered a comet heading our way, it’ll pass within a
half million kilometers of us…” Garcia said.
forward and asked, “How close will it come to Mars?”
Bowman asked. “Why…”
West was interested, “A matter of providence doctor. How close,
“Forty thousand kilometers…”
West, and Lopez all smiled at each other, and West, cocking an eyebrow
asked, “How’s that for divine intervention Governor?”
the question the Governor simply said, “We launch our fleet in seventy
two hours. Both fleets should arrive on their respective sides
of the belt fourteen days after that. Colonel, I believe you
and I have an inspection to perform?”
West started shaking and fell to the floor.
at his side instantly, sending Garcia for her med kit.
lay there having a seizure (which would only become more frequent)
al-Adsani felt truly frightened.
West, he felt that the people would lose faith in the plan, even
lose the will to defend themselves.
understand how important he is, al-Adsani thought.
few minutes Bowman had him stabilized, but she didn’t want to move
him yet. Not for a while.
up from the floor West said, “Don’t worry Governor, we’ll launch
on time. Everything’ll work out…”
colonel, I know. Gregor and I will complete the inspection
for you. You just rest until we launch.”
him full of tranquilizers at that point and he slid easily from
sure if he’s fit for…” Bowman began.
to be,” the Governor cut her off. “Mr. Lopez, let’s complete
our inspection, then we’ll go over crew assignments.”
the pair exited the Giap, leaving Bowman and Garcia to care
for Colonel West and to ponder the more intellectual aspects of
Jovian fleet had held their position just thirty thousand kilometers
from the outer periphery of the asteroid belt for almost three days
when the armada from Earth entered the belt (drastically cutting
speed). West was heartbroken when the two largest ships, the
Chevrone and the Kohl split company for the crossing.
He wanted both of the big prizes- take those away and Corporate
had no fleet with which to threaten the colony.
Chevrone and at least three dozen of the more heavily armed
ships were on trajectories that bring them with two kilometers of
a rock known as ADF-3701, which, if they didn’t alter course, would
solve over half of their problems.
West thought, things are looking good.
In the Giap
with him were Lopez (working the communications station) and the
Governor at pilot. West monitored the entire scene from the
converted navigation station.
West said, “once the Chevrone advances another hundred thousand
kilometers, I estimate another twelve minutes, send out a red alert
order to fall back, let’ em think we’re turning tail and running.
Remember to initiate a systems shutdown at the one-minute mark…
Lopez, you paying attention?”
sorry colonel, I was thinking…”
to be paying attention, not thinking,” West said. Then, “I’m
sorry Gregor. I know you have plenty on your mind, but you
need to focus. For their sake.”
up straight, “Yes colonel… systems shut down at the one-minute mark…
I’ve already got the orders to fall back waiting.”
said, “Colonel, I don’t suppose you have some aces up your sleeve,
so to speak??”
“Yeah, as a matter of fact I do. We managed to sneak three
Cobra fighters out of their hangars at the moon base… they’re hiding
out in rocks about a hundred thousand kilometers up the belt- they’ll
have a head start on rebooting their systems after the EM pulses,
as will we if everyone follows orders, hopefully they’ll be able
to mop up… after the rocks stop flying and they can come out.
Right now my main concern are our ships… we have to put a lot of
distance between ourselves in a short time or the shock waves could
push us into each other…”
of course not… I just didn’t realize the waves would catch us this
“I’m scared. How ‘bout you Governor, you scared?”
I am,” al-Adsani answered, “I’m afraid of dying, I’m afraid of failing…
but most of all I’m afraid I’ll never see my children again.
Only a fool does not know fear.”
a good thing Gregor, it keeps you on our toes,” West said.
to interrupt gentlemen, but I think the Chevrone is almost
in position,” said al-Adsani.
at his screen, fighting the urge to detonate the mines; if he could
just wait a few more minutes, the Chevrone could take most
of the Earth fleet with it.
vessel continued through the belt, almost kissing asteroid ADF-3701,
with the rest of fleet falling into position just as West hoped.
a few buttons and said, “Shut us down, Governor. Give the
order to fall back Mr. Lopez.”
ships begun falling back, and then each blasted engines full while
shutting down all electronic systems aboard their crafts.
By the time
the captain of the Chevrone grew concerned over the curious
actions of the Jovian ships, it was too late. ADF-3701 exploded
into a million pieces, spraying destruction in every direction.
Three giant boulders, at least two tons each, hit the Chevrone
full force- there was nothing left of it and the resulting explosion
took the three-dozen ships accompanying it down as well.
all the ships, Earth and Jovian, were dead in space, lifeless as
a result of the EM pulses from the mines. Aboard the Giap
confusion reigned as the ship hurled along, riding a shockwave.
The G-forces had al-Adsani and Lopez pinned down, but somehow West
managed to claw his way to a portal.
He was desperate
for information on the battle, and with all systems dead his eyes
were the only way he was going to get any. When he looked
out into space, he saw that the Kohl had already regained
power and was turning tail and running. He started to panic;
with the Kohl, Earth could launch another attack. Among
the rest of the Earth fleet, however, tactical instability was setting
in. He witnessed two ships simply turn into each other in
an attempt to escape the meteor shower his mines precipitated.
He was frustrated
that he couldn’t see his own ships, and he wondered how the Earth
ships were able to power up so quickly.
the Giap’s power returned and al-Adsani was able to stabilize
contact with the fleet, now!” West barked.
tried to get the comm system up and running when the Governor said,
“Brannon, come take a look at this.”
the portal they could see the Kohl now clearing the belt,
still intact. However, there was a Cobra (single pilot craft)
right on her tail. If fact, it looked as if the Cobra were
intent on ramming the larger ship.
said, “One Cobra… it won’t do much damage…”
all chock full of C-4… it’s supposed to be a last resort…” West
it is they’re going to overload their engines,” Lopez cried, “I’ve
got some systems up colonel… monitors show that craft is overloading
it’s fuel cells…”
to fly right up the Kohl’s ass… I’ll be damned…” West stopped
talking mid-sentence and began floating aimlessly in the zero-g.
the Governor called, “Brannon, Are you okay?”
no answer, and a few minutes alter when a voice came over the comm
system asking for casualty reports, Lopez uttered, “Just one.”
was rocked again when the Kohl exploded- the chain reaction
caused by the Cobra lodging in her exhaust port (and the subsequent
detonation of the C-4) rendered her complete destruction.
The rest of the Earth fleet (maybe a dozen ships) had turned around
and were headed back to Earth. Al-Adsani thought about chasing
them dozen, but saw little point. None of the surviving ships
could make it this far again without a larger supply ship such as
the Kohl or the Chevrone. Most of the crews
on those ships would starve before they reached home.
had successfully de-fanged Corporate Supreme once more under Colonel
ordered the Jovian fleet back home, full speed.
affixed to the ends of his ice-axes, as well as the crampons on
his space boots, made it possible for the tools to sink their teeth
into the super-frozen ice cliffs of Ganymede. Literally he
inched his way up the face of the wall, and he knew now that he
was working against time.
would rise in less than six minutes, and he was still twenty meters
(at least) from the top; he needed to push himself if he was going
to make it. Instead, he stopped to rest. But thinking
of West and his desire that this be done specifically at Jupiter
rise, Governor al-Adsani found it within himself to push and started
attacking the ice as though it were his enemy, and he made it to
the top just in time.
As the gas
giant ripped apart he dark canvass of sky and assumed its place
as King of the Sky, he lifted the pouch that he carried all the
way up the face of the cliff and released the ashes of Colonel Brannon
he wondered how long it would take for the ashes to reach the ground-
and then realized that it didn’t matter. The ashes had all
the time in the universe.
not to look down; for the life of him he could not figure out what
drove him to climb up here instead of just taking a shuttle.
the first time he met West- when the man landed the battery of ships
that had been sent to destroy the lunar colony on the lunar plains
That day West
set in motion the founding of the Ganymede colony, and perhaps the
salvation of humanity, al-Adsani told himself.
He turned his
gaze sunward, away from the dizzying height of the cliff.
He thought he spied Earth, a tiny dot tracing its way across the
solar disc. His heart ached at the statistical reality: ten
billion people, all on death row. There was nothing that could
be done for them.
Over a hundred thousand human beings (separated into two factions
that soon would surely degenerate into civil war) and a cloning
facility that could produce an army of fifty thousand every six
But even as stood
there stargazing, two volunteers in a heavily armed ship were rendezvousing
with a comet halfway to Saturn. The governor was confident
that the facility would be rendered inoperable before the first
clones fully gestated. However, this would certainly injure
relations between the Jovians and their Martian neighbors, and the
mysteries surrounding the cave paintings might never be solved.
Still, it had
to be done.
And who knows
how many ships now leaving Earth will make to their stated goal
of the asteroid belt to set up a mining colony- hopefully to supply
the Martians and the Jovians? Would they present a threat
to the colony? With all of the diseases they carried from
Earth, they could never be absorbed into the Jovian colony.
Still, they would have to find a way to co-exist.
He looked back
out over the colony; everywhere there were signs of activity, of
purpose. And somewhere, in one of those ships on the plain,
was the first child born on Ganymede: Brannon West Lopez.
Life goes on,
al-Adsani thought, and then he realized that that was an awesome
charge that the colonists were assuming, to insure that life, humanity
and five thousand years of culture, would go on. Though the
odds were against them, here in Jupiter’s shadow, humanity would
make one last stand.
He took one last
look out over the colony, and then, backing up a ways so he could
take a running leap, jumped from the edge of the cliff.
He was falling;
slowly in the light gravity, but still falling.
He fought the
urge to fire his jetpack right away.