Chapter no 52

To Sleep in a Sea of Stars

“Jesus-fucking-Christ-on-a-stick,” said Sparrow. Next to her, Hwa-jung’s brow pinched, and she made a disapproving sound, though she never took her gaze off the holo. None of them did.

Falconi was scrolling through images from throughout the system. Sol was a war zone. The ruins of antimatter farms floated inside the orbit of Mercury. Ship debris cluttered the skies over Venus and Mars. On asteroids, hab-domes had been cracked open like eggs. Damaged space stations, rings, and O’Neill cylinders drifted abandoned throughout the system. Hydrotek refueling facilities were venting plumes of burning hydrogen from punctured storage tanks. On Earth—Earth of all places!—impact craters marred the northern and southern hemispheres, and a black blight covered part of Australia.

Large numbers of ships and orbital platforms clustered around the settled planets. The UMC’s Seventh Fleet was massed by Deimos, close enough to the Markov Limit that they could jump out at short notice, but not so far away that they couldn’t help the inner planets in an emergency.

In several places, fighting was ongoing. The Jellies had established a small operating base all the way out on Pluto, and they’d invaded a number of underground settlements along the arctic regions of Mars. The tunnels prevented the UMC from clearing out the aliens with aerial attacks, but ground operations were in progress to eliminate the Jellies while also trying to save the civilians in the area. More serious still was the blotch on Australia: a nightmare ship had crashed there, and within hours, their infection had taken root, spreading their corrupted tissue through the soil. Fortunately for Earth, the crash had occurred in the barest of deserts, and the immediate use of an orbital solar array to scorch and melt the area had contained the infection, although efforts were ongoing to ensure that no scrap of tissue had escaped destruction.

“My God,” said Vishal, and crossed himself.

Even Falconi seemed stunned by the extent of the damage.

Nielsen uttered a distressed sound as she pulled up a window listing the news from Venus. Kira glimpsed part of a headline saying: Falling City Is— “I have to make a call,” said the first officer. Her face was deathly pale.

“I have to check if … if…”

“Go,” said Falconi. He touched her on the shoulder. “We’ve got this.” Nielsen gave him a grateful look and then hurried out of Control.

Kira exchanged worried glances with the rest of the crew. If Sol was this bad, what was the rest of the League like? Weyland! She fought a sudden surge of despair.

Just as she started to search for news from home, Gregorovich said, “Ahem, if I might make a suggestion, it would be best to answer the UMC before they do something foolish. They’re threatening us with all sorts of violence if we don’t provide immediate flight information, as well as clarification of intent.”

Falconi sighed. “Might as well get this over with. Do they know who we are?”

The ship mind chuckled without much humor. “Judging by the frantic nature of their calls, I would say that is a most definite yes.

“Alright. Put them on the line.”

Kira sat near the back of Control and listened while Falconi talked with whomever Gregorovich had connected him with. “Yes,” he said. “… No.… That’s right. The UMCS Darmstadt.… Gregorovich, you’ll—… Uh-huh. She’s right here.… Okay. Roger that. Over and out.”

“Well?” Kira asked.

Falconi rubbed his face and looked between her, Sparrow, and Hwa-jung. If anything, the circles under his eyes had gotten darker. “They’re taking us seriously, so that’s a start. UMC wants us to dock at Orsted Station, right quick-like.”

“How far away is that?” said Kira.

Before she could pull up her overlays, Falconi said, “Seven hours.” “Orsted is a hab-ring out by Ganymede, one of Jupiter’s moons,” said

Sparrow. “The UMC use it as a major staging point.”

That made sense. The Markov Limit for Sol was right near Jupiter’s orbit. Kira didn’t know a whole lot about Sol, but that much she remembered from her stellar geography class.

“You didn’t tell them we have a Jelly on board?” Kira said.

Falconi took a long drink from a water bottle. “Nope. Don’t want to alarm ’em too much. Figured we can work up to it.”

“They’re going to be pissed when they find out,” said Kira. “That they are.”

Then Hawes’s voice, rough from cryo, came over the intercom: “Captain, we’re out of the cryo tubes, but we need the Jelly to come get these damn cocoons off the rest of my men. We’d cut them off, but I’m not sure what it would do to them.”

“Roger that, Lieutenant,” Falconi said. “Send someone over to the airlock, and I’ll have Kira meet them there.”

“Appreciate it, Captain.”

Falconi glanced at the ceiling. “Gregorovich, is the Jelly awake yet?” “Just barely,” said the ship mind.

“Wonder how it knew?” Falconi muttered.

Kira was already moving toward the door as he looked at her. “I’m on it,” she said.

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