Star Blitzers, Episode 7–“She May Not Be Who You Think She Is”

“Only two? obstacles,” I said. “I hope a meteor shower counts as one of them.”

Firth was more intense than ever. “She’s more than a hundred kilometers beyond our authorized distance.”

I laughed. “Are you kidding? That’s not an obstacle, it’s a speed bump.”

He ignored a fist-sized rock that bounced off the windshield. “You can be sure that intel has a reason for it. The Gramlings or the Holloi may be up there already, and even if that 480 is scrubbed clean, they’d be delighted to snatch up a state-of-the-art field buggy and a couple of intel officers.”

“What about Serena?” I asked. “What’s she worth to them? What’s she worth to intel? What else does the database say about Serena Yuri?”

He eased up a little. ” I wish I knew. I can’t access it. That last hit took out the link to intel, took out all our comlinks, period, except for the seeker beam.”

“And the reply from the crash site.”

“Apparently it knocked down some topographical obstruction between us and the site.”

“And now we know where to find her.”

I gunned the accelerator.

“Don’t be a fool, Bowman. What’s the point of going up there if we don’t have the cell power to get back?”

The whine of the engine made me a little nervous. I tried not to think about how fast we were going. “One thing at a time,” I said. “We’ll figure something out, maybe.”

At the sound of Serena’s voice, we both turned toward the communication panel.

“I’d welcome some communication. It’s dark and cold up here. And the Sagitids are starting to hit closer.”

“I’d like to offer calming words,” I told her, “but I’m afraid I don’t know many poems.”

Serena sounded so close now. “Not even Go and catch a falling star?”

I glanced at Firth. “If she’s an echo, she’s a mighty sophisticated one.”

“Maybe she is.”

I grabbed him by his silver lapels.”What? Why are you suddenly on fire to abort the mission? Come on, what are you holding back?”

“Let go of me, Lieutenant.”

I hung on. “What version is intel up to with echoes? Three-point-nine? Four-point-oh? You got something like her?”

He peeled my hands away. “Look, there were actually seven passengers on that 480.  Three of them were crew. Two of the others were from earth intel, the sixth one was the Daulian diplomat Serena Yuri, and the seventh was a cutting edge duplicate of her.”

“Her echo? What for?”

“The point is, the ship’s clean. Whoever or whatever she is, we can’t get to her. She’s out of our range. We turn back.”

“Just like that? Leave her up there?”

“The echo on that ship has a power base range like nothing you’ve ever heard of. And, given the impact, that’s probably who we’ve been talking to. We leave it because it’s no good to the Gramlings or the Holloi because as soon as they move it out of its power range, it implodes.”

“And what if it isn’t an echo? What if she’s for real?”

He took on this strangely fraternal tone. “You see those things out there, Bowman? Those are the Fabrini Arches. They’re seven hundred and fifty kilometers from the perimeter of the meteor field. Go through them and you’re in violation of a direct order from intel central. Gamble like that and lose and you get a one-way ticket to a penal colony.”

“Their orders were based on incomplete information,” I told him. “We know where the 480 is now and who’s on it. We’ve come this far. We can make it the rest of the way.”

“And at best, run out of cell two hundred kilometers short of the landing zone, with no communications and no life support.”

“Unless we can rig something from salvage.”

“Turn this vehicle around now, Lieutenant. That’s an order.”

“We’ve come this far. We can–” Suddenly I found myself looking in to the coil of a signal gun. “What do you think you’re doing?”

“Putting down a mutiny. As your superior officer, I’m putting you under arrest.”

“With a signal gun?”

“Effective enough at this range.”

He was right about that, and I would not look good splattered all over the communication panel. . “Okay” I said, “then you can drive this thing! Just shoot me first so I don’t have to watch.”

Next Week: Episode 8–“I’m Calling Your Bluff”

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