Defying Mars (Saving Mars Series-2)

BOOK: Defying Mars (Saving Mars Series-2)
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Book Two in the Saving Mars Series

Cidney Swanson

For Isabel

Copyright © 2012 by Cidney Swanson

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever.

This is a work of fiction. Names, character, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

ISBN 978–1–939543–00–4

1

HAUNTED

An image haunted Jessamyn Jaarda as she journeyed home to Mars. She saw her hand, pressed flat against the viewing portal while Earth rocketed from view: first a blur of cloud and ash, then a convex globe of land and water, and finally a child’s bauble, inky-blue swirled through with white.

Mars called her homeward, but in her bones she felt the pull of Earth. It was not gravity which tugged at her as she fled. Rather, she woke nightly from nightmares where those she’d left behind called out to her:
First Officer, turn the ship about; come back, daughter; sister, where are you?
From these dark dreams she woke shouting aloud, her heart pounding in the darkness of her small quarters, no Harpreet to ask from the bunk below if she were well.

No Harpreet. No Ethan. No captain. No survivors at all from their sister ship, the
Red Dawn
.

Of the ten Mars Raiders who’d departed Mars less than a Terran month earlier, only two raced homeward in the
Red Galleon
with the ration bars that would keep the human settlement on Mars Colonial from starving.
Only two
. Jessamyn heard the words as if they were repeated by unseen whisperers while she sat alone on her bunk.

She unclenched a frozen jaw, relaxed taut fists, and rose, making her way to the bridge. There would be no more sleep after the dream. There never was.

Seating herself at the ship’s helm, she gazed upon the ice-cold beauty of a million stars. They murmured to her of infinities. They brought to mind her own small size and the vastness of the universe. That she could travel millions of kilometers while the stars remained much the same was mocking proof of how close the two worlds lay and how desperately small Jess and her craft were. Jessamyn felt sometimes as if her ship hovered in space—caught between the pull of Earth and the pull of Mars, neither advancing nor receding.

A comfortless parallel to the tug-of-war that raged within her.

She shivered and pulled up a navigational reading, which told her the watery Terran world lay nine million kilometers behind her already. Seventy-four million to go. Somewhere, upon that alien planet, Pavel Brezhnaya-Bouchard wandered with her brother. She had to believe her Terran friend Pavel had found Ethan, as he’d vowed to do. She considered writing to Pavel, a practice she’d begun their second day out from Earth, but she had nothing to say that she hadn’t already written half a dozen times over.
Are you well? Are you safe? Take care of my brother. Tell him I will return.
The letters were foolish—she had no way of delivering them. No, her only task now was to get the ration bars home.

Jess forced herself to focus on the ship’s navigational controls. Her heading was true, her speed excellent. In another few days, she might need to make a small burn to correct their course, but the ship needed nothing from her today. The screen appeared exactly as it had since their departure: Earth behind the
Galleon
, Mars before her.

Mars.
Jessamyn took in a shaky breath, her heart throbbing with dull pain as she thought of home. She yearned for it. Longed for her mother’s arms around her, her father’s soft voice telling her everything would be alright. But how could things ever be right again? How could home be home without her brother there? Her breath hitched.

Think about the
Galleon, she told herself.
Calculate something.

She pulled up the time remaining for her journey. No surprise there: sixteen and a half days until her craft intersected the path of the Red Planet. Sixteen and a half days until she could begin the process of petitioning for a mission aimed at the rescue of her brother, Harpreet, and the captain.

“I just want things to be the way they were,” she murmured to the ship. “That’s all.” Involuntarily, her head turned to Ethan’s station beside hers. Where was he now? How was he adjusting to his re-body? Was he afraid? Anxious? Humming in the monotone that indicated a retreat into the dark corners of his mind?

A shuffling noise in the hall behind her told Jessamyn that Crusty was approaching, and she pulled her gaze from her brother’s empty chair.

“You’re up early, kid,” said the mechanic.

Jess shrugged. She hadn’t admitted to Crusty that sleep came with difficulty if it came at all. “It’s a big day,” she said.

That much was true. Today she and Crusty would transmit to Mars Colonial Command the message that Mars would not starve. That while the ship’s captain, negotiator, and communications expert had been lost, the ration bars were on their way, safe in the
Galleon
’s hold.

Ethan would have been able to transmit the message visually or at least via audio. But Crusty and Jess knew only how to key in written messages. Personally, Jess was relieved that she wouldn’t have to smile or look solemn or whatever would have been appropriate. Crusty had insisted she compose the communication, as she was now the ship’s commanding officer. So she’d written and rewritten the message, never completely satisfied with the lifeless words; so cold upon the screen, so incapable of communicating the enormity of joy and despair she felt as she returned home.

Crusty seated himself at the communications station. He seemed to be feeling something as well. Jess watched as his large hands hovered over the panel, closing and opening several times as if he were contemplating performing a difficult surgery instead of merely transmitting a message.

When at last he sent the communication, Jess felt a hollowing in her stomach as though a part of her had accompanied the message of hope and loss. How would her parents respond? She’d promised to take care of her brother, but she’d left him behind. Her throat tightened. She needed to think about something else.

“Well, that oughta shake things up some,” said Crusty, gesturing to the comm panel.

Jess nodded. Tried to count backwards from ninety-eight by sevens to calm herself.
I just want things to be like they used to
.


Bells of Hades
,” muttered the mechanic.

Jess’s glance flickered to her brother’s station, where Crusty’s wrinkled face had folded itself into deeper lines of concentration.

“What is it?” she asked.

“If I didn’t know better, I’d say your brother sent us some kind of message. Looks like it’s been sittin’ here waiting for us to notice.”

Jess’s heart began beating rapidly. “A message? From Ethan?”

“Durned if I can make it out. Must be code.”

Her heart hammered within her chest. A message. From her brother. In code. He would have chosen an encryption within her ability to translate, wouldn’t he?

Clipping an audio-comm to one ear, Crusty swore and mumbled to himself while typing a series of what, to Jess, resembled end-marks and dashes.

“Morse code,” she murmured after recognizing the ancient form of communication.

“Yup. But it ain’t in no language I recognize,” replied Crusty. He diligently recorded the dots and dashes but shook his head in frustration as he tried to make sense of the odd words. “Something math-based, maybe?”

“No,” murmured Jess. Ethan would know Jess didn’t stand a chance with something like that.

Think
, she told herself. Ethan was on a hostile planet. He’d only send a message if it mattered. But he wouldn’t have risked making it impossible to decode.

She remembered something—how her brother had admired the Navajo soldiers of twentieth-century Earth. Aloud, she said, “Ethan used to tell me about code-talkers. They communicated using a rarely-spoken language so that the enemy couldn’t understand their transmissions. I’ll bet you anything he’s using Marsperanto.”

“Nobody speaks that,” said Crusty.

Marsians, independent-minded, had tried using a language of their own invention during the years of war with Earth, but abandoned the tongue after a series of communication disasters.
Better to be understood and alive than independent and dead,
was the widely held sentiment.

“It’s just repeating now,” said Crusty. “Okay, I reckon I got it all down here. You speak Marsperanto?”

Jess shook her head. “Wait here,” she said. Running down the ship’s central hall, Jess punched open her quarters and retrieved her brother’s wafer-computer from its place of honor upon Harpreet’s bunk. She flew back to the helm and handed the device to Crusty.

“This is Ethan’s computer.” She paused as a wash of sorrow rolled past, pulling her under like breakers upon a Terran ocean shore. “
Was
Ethan’s computer,” she murmured.

“Your brother’s alive,” Crusty said with quiet assurance. “This
is
his wafer.”

She gave a brief nod and held back her tears.

“Well, alright-y, then,” said Crusty, grinning broadly as he found what he was looking for. “Guess who has a translation program for Marsperanto on his computer?”

Working together, they pieced together the encoded message.

When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, Nor will the flame burn you. So says Ethan.

Jessamyn looked at Crusty, her brows drawn closely together. The words conjured for Jessamyn images of consuming flames. Her hand flew to cover her mouth. “They’re making him walk through fire?”

Glancing at Jess and seeing how all color had drained from her face, the mechanic placed a hand upon her shoulder. “Hey. You come back, now. There ain’t no use imagining stuff that never happened. This message don’t say nothin’ about anybody hurting anybody. It’s all about
not
gettin’ hurt.”

She chewed her lower lip, willing herself to believe Crusty was right.

“Maybe it’s his way of tellin’ us he’s fine,” continued Crusty. “Only it just comes out sounding funny in a translation.”

“Maybe,” she whispered. She couldn’t speak her darker fear: that trapped inside someone else’s body, on the run, her brother was losing his mind. Because
this
didn’t sound like the sort of message Ethan would send.

“I’m of the opinion it’s some kind of poetry,” mused Crusty. “It’s got that sort of feel to it.”

“Ethan doesn’t write poetry,” said Jess.

Crusty scratched his two-days’ beard thoughtfully. “He’s a smart one, your brother. He’s not going to shoot off a message any fool can understand. The way I figure, this is him sayin’ as everything’s just fine for him. Nothin’ to fret over.”

Jessamyn nodded, pushing back the images of fiery torture. She found herself thinking of Pavel—his brave farewell, his promise to guard her brother.

“Okay,” she said aloud. “I’m off to bed. Have a good shift.”

But in the privacy of her quarters, Jess wasn’t ready for sleep. She sat down to write the boy from Earth.

Dear Pavel,

Today we received Ethan’s message. Crusty says the message is intended to convey to us that you are both well. I want to believe he’s right, but why the stuff about fire? Crusty thinks the message is poetry of some kind. In that case, why not choose a happier poem to tell us you’re well?

I suppose that’s my answer right there. My brother isn’t the kind of person to store up bits of happy poetry. Or perhaps the words were your idea. All I can say is: next time make it a little less cryptic, okay?

She paused, looking up from her letter. She knew what she really wanted to say.

As each day passes aboard the
Galleon
, I feel myself reaching a conclusion that no one but me will like. I think we should return to Earth right away—drop the food and run back before it’s too late.

BOOK: Defying Mars (Saving Mars Series-2)
11.71Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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