Leya’s heartbeat changed underfoot. Captain Amundsen had begun the decelerating swing inside Mars’s orbit. For three days, since leaving Luna, Gunnar had felt the unbroken tremor of the old transport’s engines as he walked her decks, as he lay in his bed, unsleeping, readying himself. The ship chattered now in his ear bud. He left them to their busy preparations.
Outside, Gunnar in his combat suit strode forward over Leya’s pitted hull. Maintenance crews nodded greetings in their helmets as he passed. The stars glinted. They all had names. Black space yawned around, like it might swallow him.
He turned his head, glanced aft. Just those degrees from the smaller dazzling sun. A pair of lights gleamed. They might seem twin planets, Earth and Luna, to an incoming visitor, he mused. He proceeded forward.
His grav-boots made a simple climb of mounting the communications array. It was a favourite place of his from a long time ago. Mars lay ahead, rusty, dusty, and entirely upside down from how Mars was usually depicted in A Boy’s Book of Space.
In a dim-lit sub-lunar chamber, Maldoran the Rebel paced beside the Earth Defense operative, unresponsive on her gurney. He twisted his head from side to side. He stuck a finger in the neck of his shirt, behind the tightly knotted tie. He rustled, pacing in his silver suit which he always wore for televised confrontations with Earth. “WHEN, Doctor?”
“She should have been conscious for your interrogation three days ago, Eminence. As I have been replying you, three days now.” The round faced doctor in white and spectacles passed the handheld scanner over the figure lying under the sheet. The scanner saw through sheet and inside the body: the subject registered in warm oranges, human, female. Her vitals glowed over the doctor’s specs. “She should by now have been conscious. In turns unconscious, and conscious again. Your interrogation method being far from gentle. As I have remarked on countless occasions, Your Bigness.”
Maldoran waved his hands at the doctor, at the unresponsive operative under the sheet, at the dim-lit chamber. “Increase whatever it is you’ve been putting in her. We’ve got drugs enough to keep work gangs digging days straight. Put whatever it takes to wake her. I WANT ANSWERS.”
“Her splendid body is already at toxic levels for every stimulant, Maldoran. We shall have to de-toxify the girl first, return her to baseline fine’ness, before we can again re-toxify her. Stray from this course of malpractice and your impatience will kill her. Leader.”
Maldoran blinked at the doctor. He resumed pacing.
The subject’s vital signs shimmered over the doctor’s small smile, like sunset upon an Earth sea. “Perhaps she heard your threats yesterday, Your Moon'ness. And the day before that. Et cetera. Perhaps this is her way of remaining uncooperative. Marvelous mechanism, the human body. Formidable, with a female mind riding inside.”
The bud in Maldoran’s ear cheeped. He stopped pacing, stared at the doctor. Maldoran might have been staring at a wall. He turned. He left.
The doctor hovered the scanner over Ali Shansee’s face. “Pretty one, what are you dreaming of?"