Darkship Revenge – Snippet 06

Into the Known

Going to Earth involved going to Circum Terra, in Earth orbit.  If it were held by friendlies, I could get military-level help in finding Kit.

Circum Terra is an old space station.  Rumor has it that it started, long ago, in the mists of the twentieth century, as the international space station, but no one knows if that is true.

Between us and that time on Earth lay several world wars, several new ways of living and storing information, new ways of governance, the rise of the seacities, the fall of the continents, the imperium of the Bio Lords whom everyone else called Mules, the Turmoils, the rise of the Good Men and three hundred years of so called peace and stability.

Even the records of Eden, which were more reliable than those on Earth, couldn’t say for sure how Circum had started. Some said it was what remained of the building of the only interstellar vehicle Earth had ever constructed, the Je Reviens, which about half the bio-lords had taken when they’d escaped Earth, after the Turmoils.  It had certainly been used for that.

If it had been the international space station, no more than a little core of it remained, built around and around with new stuff.  Whenever Circum had been built, it had been built on a grand scale.  That would fit with its near-Earth orbit, its neat doughnut-like structure, and its haphazard utilization.  It had as many closed and forgotten docking bays as open and operational ones, for instance.  And it was huge for something used only for research, scientific experimentation and some communication relay.

We got to Circum on the third day after Kit disappeared.  In a way it was reassuring to see its lighted doughnut shape in the sky, next to the haphazard, rambling and also glowing thicket of the powertrees.

The powertrees had been seeded back in the twenty first century and they were biological constructs designed to collect solar energy and relay it to Earth – mostly in a beam – and were still used, both by Earth and by Eden, though the Eden usage was somewhat less than authorized.

I hadn’t sped up the cathouse to catch up with the ship that had taken Kit.  For one, because I couldn’t.  The Cathouse didn’t have a button or pedal for “make it go faster.”  But even if it had had such a thing, just based on how the triangular ship had disappeared, I doubted it could be caught by something like the Cathouse.

Instead, we’d used the three days to sleep a lot, feed Eris a lot, and– Heaven help me, did babies run up a lot of waste products.  It seemed like my days were entirely bounded by Eris’s physical needs.   And I missed Kit.  Not only because he was an extra hand to change diapers, either.

I had to find Kit.  Which was going to be interesting, with a baby.  Sure, in my younger days I’d terrorized reform schools, psychiatric hospitals and the occasional broomer lair.  But not with a tiny creature attached to me who couldn’t even hold up her head.

The first thing to do, I realized, was scout the lay of the land.  I told Eris this.  Two hours or so out from Circum, I picked her up from a nap, dressed her in one of Kit’s undertunics, and explained the plan, “You see, with Earth in a civil war, we really can’t assume that Circum is on our side or their side.  So we need to do some listening in on communications and see if we can determine it.”

She crossed her eyes, pushed out her tongue.  “Yeah, I understand,” I said.  “We shouldn’t have a side, really.  But we do, because most of my friends are on the Usaian side, the side of the revolution against the Good Men.  And if they’re in control of Circum, then we might be able to get in touch with someone, and make our going to Earth much easier.”

She frowned.

“Of course I left my friends in charge of Circum, but you know what men are.  Okay, I guess you don’t, but you will.  If you don’t check on them every minute they lose stuff. So, it’s possible that in the months we’ve been gone, the Good Men have taken over the station, in which case we’ll have to kidnap someone, steal a ship and make it to Earth.  Inconvenient.  And more protracted.”

From her intent, glaring frown, Eris would seem to agree.

Unfortunately, the scanning of communications frequencies was less than enlightening.  I guess a research/scientific experimentation/powerpod harvesting station has the same kind of communications everyday regardless of who is holding it.  Unless it is during an active take over.

Most of what I got consisted of this:

“… must send someone to harvest quadrant five of the powertrees.  Several powerpods will blow and seed or reseed there if not taken soon.”

“…. Hold full of powerpods.  Permission to dock in fifth dock, port?”

“…. Found a fascinating genetic mutation in mice raised under null gravity conditions…”

“…. Solar flares… intermittent.”

Any and all of those could be taking place under control of the Good Men, the now diminished, but even a year ago all-powerful oligarchy that had held tight over most of the Earth.  Or it could be happening under the control of the Usaians, a semi-religious sect based on the governing principles of the old North American territories, whose revolutionary forces had wrestled control of some portion of the Earth from the Good Men.

I’d been away five months, and left Circum in control of the Usaians, several of whom were my friends or old broomer-lair mates.  They might by now have won their war and be in control of the Earth as well as the station.  Or they might have been exterminated.  The effect on what I’d overheard emanating from Circum would be next to nothing. Stupid scientists and harvesters! They’d go on the same way, about their routine, no matter what the changes in government.

“Okay,” I told Eris.  “We do this the hard way.”

Which involved going below the power tree rings, and under most of Circum, to the unused side of the station.

The used side faced the powertrees.  They were called the powertree ring, and I understand once upon a time they’d been planted as such so that they could be accessed and harvested from outside or inside.   But as biological, living plants which harvested solar energy and concentrated in their fruits, the powerpods, they were of necessity unstable.  At some point, between the rule of the Bio Lords who’d built them and the Turmoils, during which the old beanstalk was still used to send organic material to feed them but the harvesting was irregular and infrequent, they’d exploded and reseeded and exploded again.  Now they looked like a spinney ball, a tangled patch of dark diamond-hard trunks, with glowing, unstable powerpods sprouting at random.

Harvesting them was dangerous work even for the official Earth collectors, with lights and locators.  It was worse for the Darkships of Eden, which collected blind.  But we managed.

I considered briefly navigating through the forest of trunks and powerpods to get to the other side, perhaps harvesting on the way.

But it was not something you should do alone, even if my husband had done so for over a year, between becoming widowed and meeting me.  It could also be argued that at that time he’d been suicidal.

I wasn’t suicidal and I had no intention of risking Eris.  So I dove under the powertrees, under most of Circum, in the shadow of it, which helped conceal the Cathouse.  This was helped by the fact that the cathouse was, being a darkship, painted in black, unreflective paint, which melded with the shadows.