(Part II of III)
The place near the stream where Mimëntët Alànkw had happened to stop walking was ripe with huckleberries and corn. Every once in a while, Wolf or Deer or Bear or Sheep would bring a branch or some shrub with roots attached and she would add it to her fields. Soon there would be squash and beans. But she knew fierce winter months were ahead and a kind of steady panic had settled inside her spirit. No matter how much food she could grow, it seemed like it would never be enough to get her through the snows.
One afternoon while walking downstream to see if Trout were around and wanted to talk, she heard the voices she feared most. Men’s voices. Not of her own. The men from the farm? Did they know she had made it out? Were they looking for her? She sat still behind a tall redwood, readying her spear and listening.
The sounds were not close, but they were close enough. She tucked her things away under some brush, except for her spear, and crawled, closer to the smoke that began to rise through the trees, but not too close. “Stupid men. Do they think we cannot see the smoke?” she thought. But then she reminded herself not to take their stupidity for granted and crawled inside some thick shrubs from which she could see their camp without being seen by them.
There were three of them and they were hunting Deer and Beaver. Two of them were looking over cleaned hides, which they had hung on rope between two redwoods. They were laughing and talking about something she could not understand. Something about hydraulics and sludge. Another man was cooking Deer meat and drinking amber-colored liquid from a bottle. A pile of pelts, carefully tied, were near the horses, laced to the trees at the edge of their camp.
As the cooler wind of the dusk came, Mimëntët Alànkw could smell the dead carcasses of numerous Beaver. They had buried them in a shallow grave, in a pit a bit further away from their camp. “They don’t even have the decency to eat the Beaver,” Wolf whispered in her ear, having snuck up behind her. Mimëntët Alànkw was startled but turned slowly, moving out from under the brush, her spear readied. “Shhh. They will hear you,” she warned Wolf.
“They will not be long in this world with that kind of behavior,” Wolf replied.
“I so wish that were true.”
The pack of Wolf arrived and Mimëntët Alànkw, not wanting to be there for the confrontation, excused herself and slipped back to the stream to make her way home. “Home,” she thought, catching herself in a grief that laid just beneath her rage.
On the Scire-6, a small group of scientists sat in a half‑lighted circle of desks just beyond ear shot of the director’s office. The lab was nearly opposite the collision point, so—for the most part—operational. But the scientists were exasperated—with no access to the network, there was no way to conduct any meaningful research.
“How many fucking times do we have to hear that song before he’ll think we can sing it?” Khar said, stroking his beard to emphasize his disgust. “We get it already.”
Iliescu concurred, “Shepherd definitely has a corn cob up his ass.”
“And Venables stuck it up there,” Kurosawa replied, swinging around in his chair.
“Gross. But, you know,” George said, always feigning to be in the inner-circle she was just so sure existed all around her, “I heard Shepherd’s been bucking for a promotion and Venables pulled the rug out from under him.”
“But he is Second,” Kurosawa retorted, stopping his chair suddenly to face her.
“On top of which–” George continued, undeterred.
Just then Lipovskaya and Jadz walked out of Lipovskaya’s office and lingered in the door, lowering their voices to a whisper before making eye contact with the others. Lipovskaya stood tall, with her long and generally unmanaged curly blonde hair forming a perfect line down to the red stilettos she never took off to match her grey fatigue pants and tank top and white lab coat. She was part scientist, part soldier, with a thick Russian accent and full, rounded curves. “Common, people, get back to work.” She waited for indications of consent before closing the door behind her.
Jadz walked into the darkened circle of desks.
“Work is a bit of an exaggeration,” Khar mumbled as he stood from his chair.
Jadz threw one of her infamous disapproving looks at him. “We’ve all had to step up to get ready for the Kamal.”
“I’m a scientist, not a deck hand,” Iliescu exhaled.
“I’m sick of this conversation,” Jadz replied. “You all say the same goddamn thing every single fucking day. And nothing’s changed. Nothing’s going to change. With so few of us…”
Just then, Meital entered.
“Slumming, Commander?” Jadz asked, as everyone stood and moved towards the exit. “I’ll be right behind you,” Jadz said as the others left for the docking bay.
“Be right behind you,” George mimicked, under her breath to Khar, who tried to ignore her.
“Jerk off,” Jadz muttered George’s way as the door closed behind them.
“Guess I don’t need to ask how it’s going down here,” Meital said, walking towards Lipovskaya’s office to Jadz’s surprise.
“We had another visit from Shepherd. I don’t envy you at control. Between he and Venables, I can only imagine the fun and excitement y’all are having up there. At least down here the worst of it is the whining.”
“Trade ya?” Meital half-joked. They both knew that having to work closely with Venables was miserable on its own.
“No thanks. Any word?”
“Not one. Venables is guarding the K-5’s orders like it were a matter of glactic security.”
“Idiot… See you later?” Jadz departed—somewhat confused—as Meital nodded and, in one motion, knocked and entered Lipovskaya’s office.
No one would ever know by the exchanges between them that Jadz and Meital were lovers. They had known each other since they were kids and had gone through the academy together but they had only hooked up after Meital was transferred to Scire-6 where Jadz was already stationed.
At the time, Jadz and Lipovskaya were sharing quarters but were committed to polyamory. For a quick moment, Lipovskaya took up with Meital. Lipovskaya’s irreverence for all things rules and status ended up mixing like water and vinegar with Meital’s dedication to the company. It just didn’t work between them. So for the most part they kept their distance. Jadz moved back into her own quarters but maintained her relationship with Lipovskaya as she became involved with Meital.
“Doctor,” Meital said as she entered.
“Commander. Jadz just left for the docking bay.”
“Actually, I was here to talk to you.”
“May I sit?”
“What’s on your mind?”
Meital sat deliberately and took a deep breath.
“Off the record—”
“Brass make me nervous when they begin sentences that way.”
“You born a hard-ass or something you grew into?”
“You have my attention.” Lipovskaya pulled a pipe and a small bag of tobacco from her desk, motioning for Meital to get on with it.
“I was wondering what your take was… on the Kamal.”
“My take?” Lipovskaya tilted her head to emphasize take.
“As I’m sure you’ve noticed, ever since UCorp’s last satellite probe delivered word of the Kamal’s arrival, the Captain has been more and more agitated.”
“Zadrota,” she took another long smoke while rolling her eyes, “Agitated. That’s a nice word for it.”
“I was just wondering if you knew what was going on.”
“You are not asking me about the Kamal?”
“You tell me.”
“Isn’t the Kamal what we’ve been waiting for—why is he so fucking agitated?”
Lipovskaya took a long drag on her pipe, “Have you seen the mission directive?”
“You know no one has seen anything but a short manifest. The rest of it has a Level Six security clearance.”
“Exactly. That’s more than Venables.”
“That’s an awful lot of security for a repair mission.”
“So you don’t think Kamal’s mission is to repair the station?”
“Yes, of course, but I think there is something else, don’t you?”
Meital leaned back and sighed. She hated guessing games and Lipovskaya enjoyed them too much.
“I’m probably thinking what you are, Meital.”
“Damn, you’re cagey.”
“No, just not as trusting as some.”
“Jadz isn’t all that trusting, we’ve just known each other a long time.”
“Yes, I know.”
“You trust her, don’t you?”
“It’s not transferable, Commander.”
“Shit.” Meital stood to leave, her chair screeching on the floor.
“Fuck if you aren’t the most uptight bitch I have ever fucked.”
“Sit down. Take a drink,” Lipovskaya poured Meital a drink from the bottle in her drawer. “You know something more—or else—is up with this freighter than repairs.”
Meital didn’t say anything, just studied Lipovskaya’s face as she threw back her Vodka and poured herself a second from the bottle Lipovskaya had placed between them.
“The volume of silence is telling, no?”
“What are you trying to say?”
“We reported on Huyens-55. We reported finding what looks like communications from Saturn, yes?” Lipovskaya enjoyed a sip of her drink as Meital nodded an affirmation. “Yet, we seem to be the only ones who care anything about it. The promised new energy source they’ve been looking for. The Holy Grail for planet earth. And no one gives a shit?”
“What are you saying? UCorp is all about profits, why wouldn’t they give a shit? It’s—it could be—the discovery of the century.”
“Hmmm. Indeed.” Lipovskaya took a long drag on her pipe, noticed the time, and had another sip of her drink, all while studying Meital’s face. “It might be time for us to have a talk. Jadz seems to think it is time. But we’ll have do it after the Kamal docks. Just the three of us, yes?” She put everything back into her desk drawer and closed down her computer. “Right now, I’m supposed to be in my quarters.”
Massaging so many questions, Meital thought, was like masturbating without finishing. And Lipovskaya was the worst of all teases. What in the hell did Jadz see in her, she would never understand.
So she returned, unsatisfied yet again, to controls and checked in with Shepherd. No one noticed her exasperation because it merely reflected their own. And, as usual, Venables was no where to be found.
One day, Mimëntët Alànkw walked a long, long ways, gathering grass to make baskets and plants for medicine when she came across a camp. She tucked herself behind some rock at the edge where the stream met the river and counted four men directing many others to unload wagons filled with construction materials and equipment. A large water-cannon had already been positioned to face the mountain, with a sluice being constructed from it and down the mountain to the river. The slurry from the mining would contaminate the river and streams and all life in the area, for longer years than she had stories to tell. The heart of Mimëntët Alànkw sank. She pulled herself away from the camp and took a different route home, back tracking several times to be sure she wasn’t being followed.
On the way, she met up with Beaver, who told her that too many of her own relatives had been hunted. She and others had moved upriver but they were not sure they could ever escape the attentions of the miners. Mimëntët Alànkw offered to help but Beaver told her that she had other work to do. “Xu làpi knewël,” Beaver said and they departed.
That evening, Mimëntët Alànkw fell asleep worrying about how much longer she would be able to stay where she was—there, where she had stopped running—and in it remembered her Grandmother. As tears welled in her eyes, Coyote came through the trees with a basket of strawberries. He placed them near her, just by the huckleberries and corn.
“What have you brought me?” Mimëntët Alànkw asked.
“Why are you suspicious of me, when I have only brought you a gift of berries?” Coyote replied, in as gentle a voice as he could muster.
“You know why,” Mimëntët Alànkw answered.
“I dare you to try one—no, two—and not be happier than you have been in so many more days.” His teasing made her feel a little better, and she picked up a berry and held it to her mouth, the tip just inside her lips.
“Isn’t it the most delicious thing you have ever smelled? No, no. Do not use your teeth, do not bite down, just hold it there in your lips and taste its smells. Now, use your tongue and lick ever so gently. That’s it. Nice and slow. Now in and out of your lips—do not forget to use your tongue. That’s it. Savor the smells. The tastes. The texture.”
Mimëntët Alànkw almost forgot her sadness and decided the reprieve was worth the game.
“Mmmm,” she moaned.
“Yes, yes, like that, Mimëntët Alànkw. Just like that.”
Coyote sat up tall and stretched towards the moons.
“Now, a little faster. A little faster. There. There.”
He let out a howl at the moons as Mimëntët Alànkw could stand it no longer and ate the berry as quickly as she picked up another one.
Unbeknownst to anyone else on the Scire-6, the collision had not taken out the communications array. UCorp’s network was fully operational in the sector, Venables had just cut everyone else off from accessing it.
Though the secured link scrambled the visual on his monitor, the threat was clear enough. The disembodied voice of UCorp’s C.E.O.—Mr. Chiang—pierced Venables’ already agitated state of mind. “We will not tolerate any disruptions during this mission, Captain. Our man will assume command once they’ve docked. He’ll be overseeing operations.”
“I’m telling you, Lipovskaya is not that easy to control. She’s a man for the people. Oh, she’ll keep her team on track but she’s not going to hold back with the commissioners onboard.”
“Jacobs will brief you when he arrives. He’ll show you how to deal with a Pamela Lipovskaya.”
“He’s not there for you.”
“Fuck,” Venables tried to whisper. “Jacobs. I suppose his goon, Torq, is with him. And the rest of Section 31. Why aren’t they listed on the manifest?”
“He’s not there for you. But it’s not going to take much for him to figure it all out.”
“You act like I wasn’t under your direct orders to stop that freighter. At any cost. Remember? Priority One. All other priorities rescinded.”
“Yes, yes, of course. You were most helpful.”
“Helpful? Helpful!? People were killed!”
“Yes, yes, it was all very unfortunate.”
A squiggled United Corporation : Secure Link : Please Wait flashed over the screen before him, effecting silence for a 30 second security scramble that felt like an eternity.
“Look, I can tell you this much, more would jeopardize your situation.”
“I have a situation?”
“Do you want to hear this or not?”
“Our intelligence is incomplete.”
“Incomplete? You’re fucking UCorp. And Jacobs is … fucking everything else.”
“Well, the Ktën have become most… bothersome. A real monkey on our backs. Just work with Jacobs in getting the job done.”
“Bothersome? They practically shut us down on Mars. And now they’ve infiltrated operations at Jupiter? And you think they’re on-board the K-5?”
“Yes, yes. All that is true. But—”
“But they still believe it was an accident? That she is to blame?”
“Then it’s okay. It’s all okay,” Venables exhaled.
“Focus, Venables. You’re not the point. That case is closed. We’ve made her irrelevant, on your account. The more important issue is that Jacobs and his team will take over the lab when they get there, deal with the Ktën, and get the station back on track in generating profits.”
United Corporation : End Transmission flashed on the screen before him and he reclined into his own disquiet. He thought they were only after the resistance and whoever—whatever—was sending those transmissions from Saturn. The ones they had decided were a warning. A threat to the profits they anticipated from the preliminary mining they had done on Titan before the accident. He didn’t realize they considered the scientists a problem—for knowing too much? For knowing what? And what did that say for him?
It had been a long time since Mimëntët Alànkw ventured upstream and risked running into the miners, not since Coyote had visited and she had planted the roots of the strawberries he had given her, which were now ready to eat off the vine. She missed her friend, Beaver, too, and prayed that she was safe upriver, away from the camp. She worried, too, for Beaver and Bear and Deer, whom she hadn’t seen in many moons, wondering if the miners were hunting them for food and hide, forcing lone survivors further into the mountains to escape. She wondered if she should follow.
Mimëntët Alànkw put Corn and berries together and left them for Turtle, on whose shell she continued to sleep. She then fed herself.
But the growling in her stomach was not hunger. She knew the babies would come in just a few more moons, and because of that she felt it was not the right time to leave. Not when food and safety were threatened. Not with the miners trolling about the forest like unwinged vultures. She would have to wait, and make sure in the meantime that she kept herself out of sight. This would not be easy to do if the miners were having to travel further and further to find food, having killed off what was nearest. She expected to see them sooner than later, or at least see their smoke and smell their dead. She looked over at the store of weapons she had made and wondered if it would be enough.
The Scire-6 left the edge of the sun’s light and moved fully into Saturn’s shadow, but the darkness contrasted the crew’s anticipation. Docking in t-minus 15 minutes.
On the K-5 bridge, everyone was at their post, and the commissioners, save Greeves who was still at medical, was standing mesmerized at the main viewer, studying the station’s damage. Puffin kept remarking how much difference it made to “see it up close,” the reports “hardly do it justice.” If she says it one more time, Jacobs thought to himself, I’ll rip her tongue out. Rodriguez, who noticed the disdain, was about to pose a question to distract him when Anderson confirmed loudly to Penn, “Docking sequence Alpha 2 initiated.”
“Docking sequence Alpha 2 initiated,” O’Bannon repeated at a control pad at a pressure door to Scire-6’s only operational docking bay. Venables and Shepherd paced behind him. A bit further back stood all of the scientists but Lipovskaya.
The Kamal docked without incident, the latches closed around the seals, linking station and freighter together. The commissioners, Jacobs, the freighter’s officers, save Anderson and Vasquez, followed Penn off the bridge.
“You have the controls,” Penn ordered Anderson.
The bay finished pressurizing and the hatches on either end opened. Venables ordered the scientists back to the lab. He, Shepherd, and O’Bannon stood ready to receive the K-5 officers but instead an SF squad marched in and through on their way to the station’s R&D. They were followed by Rodriguez and Puffin and several other scientists with R&D, who nodded quickly to Venables but otherwise proceeded without ceremony to the labs.
Jacobs, Penn, Wolfe, Ketchum, and Khaled came next. Before Venables could offer a formal welcome, Jacobs inserted, “Captains, shall we proceed to controls?”
“Of course, Sir,” Venables replied, caught off guard, and turned to follow Jacobs who was already leading the way to the station’s control room.
It was a particularly long walk through the Scire-6. Jacobs, Penn, Venables, and Shepherd spoke quietly to one another as they walked ahead of the others.
Wolfe extended O’Bannon a cigarette, then lighted his own.
“How’ve you been, Mickey?”
“Glad to see you, Dwayne. We all are,” O’Bannon took a long inhale of the cigarette and exhaled perfect rings. “Been a long time.”
“Lieutenant Effie Ketchum, Lieutenant Lu-ay Khaled,” Wolfe motioned, “Lieutenant Michael O’Bannon.”
They walked on in dark silence, the lights along the floors and ceilings flickering in various hues of yellow, casting oddly shaped shadows onto the walls and ceiling.
Ketchum wished she could read lips as she discovered that her eye allowed her to see the conversation taking place ahead of her in shaded reflections. The angles were sometimes difficult but she could tune the images, focus them like she were adjusting a camera lens. It was a trip. Sure enough, as Nivens predicted, her body was coming to accept its new appendage, especially as her fatigue and anxieties calmed. She found she was able to manipulate her vision more and more. Somehow that was comforting.
She was looking forward to the briefing. To getting on with it. All this waiting around was starting to get annoying.
Everyone sat down at the rounded conference table, with Jacobs officiating at its head, pacing in front of a wall-sized monitor with the manifests of both freighter and station on a continuous scroll behind him. To one side of the table sat Venables, Shepherd, O’Bannon, Meital, and Jadz; to the other Penn, Wolfe, and Ketchum. Khaled stood at the door as Ensign Ward put a box just inside and retreated.
Ketchum tried not to get noticed studying the manifests, which was near impossible when the list of SF appeared. These were the people of Section 31, infamous for its assassinations and torture of anyone UCorp even considered threatening, including but not only the Ktën. Rumors were that it was the formation of Section 31 that preceded the establishment of UCorp, having orchestrated the collapse of the United Nations and UCorp’s global ascent. Whatever the truth, they were now clearly the ones in charge, running UCorp to suit their purposes.
Jacobs explained that just then the SF was taking control of the labs and would be debriefing the station’s scientists. He studied everyone’s reactions as he said “debriefing” but everyone had long since learned to guard their reactions, even Jadz who wanted to scream. So Jacobs continued, announcing that Rodriguez and Puffin would be leading a replacement team of researchers and that, from then on, the labs were to be considered off limits to anyone but them and the SF.
“I don’t understand, Sir, why does Lipovskaya and the others need to be debriefed? Are they being charged—” Jadz tried to sound innocuous, matter of fact.
“That’s none of your concern, Lieutenant,” Venables interrupted.
Jacobs threw a look at Venables that told him to keep his place, and to Jadz, “It’s merely procedure, Lieutenant. As soon as we’re done with them, we’ll be debriefing the rest of the station’s crew, including yourself. Meanwhile, the Kamal’s crews will begin unloading materials for repairs at 07:00 hours, under Greeves’ direction. As officers, you will be managing those efforts, reporting directly to Greeves. The engineers will begin constructing the edifice around the station’s damaged sectors. It’s all on your comm-pads.” Jacobs motioned for Khaled to distribute the comm-pads to everyone. “Please review the schedules and your individual assignments carefully. If there are no further questions, you are dismissed.”
Everyone understood that they were not invited to ask questions. Jadz excused herself first. Meital followed. Everyone else exited except Penn and Venables, who stayed behind closed doors with Jacobs.
So, there it was, Ketchum thought as she and Wolfe returned to the Kamal-5. They didn’t want anyone talking about the transmissions, the mining efforts, nothing beyond the repair schedule. Well enough. But clearly the SF weren’t there to help with repairs.
It was dawn when Mimëntët Alànkw gave birth to twin boys. She lay them inside the place where she slept, on the shell of Turtle, and they rested. She buried her placenta under the redwood and gave thanks for her life and theirs.
She tried not to worry about their futures. Tried not to worry about what would become of them. But the miners were starting to venture further and further into the forest to find food and explore for resources and she was sure it was just a matter of time before they found her. And now her boys. How would she protect them? What was to become of them?
Just then Skunk and Coyote arrived. Coyote had a devilish look on his face and it made Mimëntët Alànkw smile.
“Certainly, we can no longer call her Mimëntët Alànkw, since she is now an Ànati,” Skunk said to Coyote.
“True. But then what shall we call her? I know! Snapping Turtle?”
“Very funny,” Mimëntët Alànkw said.
“Perhaps we should call her Xawshisës?” Skunk suggested, seeing that Mimëntët Alànkw had already developed an old woman’s brow with all her worry.
“Perhaps we should call her Chemaxawësh? She did, after all, seduce the great Coyote.”
“Indeed!” said Skunk. “Then Chemaxawësh it is.”
“Do not worry, Chemaxawësh. The men who blast at the mountain are still too far upstream to see you and the boys. Besides, Skunk and I have been busy directing their attentions in other directions.”
“I thought I smelled something odd,” Chemaxawësh said, wrapping some berries in a bundle and handing them to Skunk, who ate them up.
“Do the boys have their names?” Skunk asked with his mouth full.
“I have been calling them Ila, until I know their true names.”
“You already know their true names, you are just not telling us. So we do not know who they are.”
“I did not realize the Skunk was so wise,” Chemaxawësh said, teasing a little.
“I must know,” Coyote said sternly.
“No one must know,” Chemaxawësh replied.
After the intensity of the past 8 hours, none of the officers from the K-5 quite knew what to do with themselves. They had almost 12 hours before having to begin overseeing cargo transfers, but until then had been given time to themselves.
Ketchum paced her quarters. She wasn’t sure she wanted to be in the fish bowl of the officers’ mess hall but she was less interested in being alone. What she really wanted to do was find out what was going on with Jacobs, with the scientists. But the Ktën had gone dark with her ever since the accident. There was just too much attention on her. The SF didn’t even pretend not to be watching her.
After seeing Jacobs and Section 31 onboard, she figured she wouldn’t ever hear from the K-5 group. And it was hard not to have a plan; not to be a part of the plan. She was getting antsy with all the waiting around. She wasn’t any good at it. But certainly, she thought, the presence of Jacobs and Section 31 had upped the ante. They would need her. They might need her. So she paced. Paced her fears, paced her anxiety, paced for pacing sake. When she couldn’t stand it any longer, she changed her clothes and headed to the mess hall, where she was expected to be.
It seemed everyone was there and pretty much recovered from deep-sleep, ready for a good meal and to see who else was onboard. Ketchum liked being able to blend in with everyone. The crew gathered as the servers dolled out grub onto aluminum trays, they gathered to collect their utensils and drinks, and they gathered to eat and talk. She moved through the line and sat by herself at an empty table in the middle of the hall. Shortly, Wolfe joined her. The two sat for a bit in silence as they organized their food and drinks.
Quietly, Wolfe said, “War is peace,” as he cut into his meat. Ketchum looked up and around. “War is peace,” Wolfe repeated.
“Freedom is slavery,” Ketchum answered softly.
Wolfe could see Jadz approaching, so raised his voice, “Drink, anyone?” He pulled a flask from his jacket and put it on the table. Ketchum pushed her cup forward.
Jadz sat down while putting her cut near Wolfe, whispering, “IgKornce is knowledge.” He poured them all drinks. They fell easily into banal conversation with one other. Jadz mused over how relieved they all were to have the Kamal there. Wolfe complained about his muscle spasms and Nivens’ treatments. Ketchum talked about her prosthetic and the continual guck of protein build up at the corner of her eye.
“Don’t suppose that eye is of any other use?” Wolfe asked.
“Wouldn’t that be the perfect plot twist,” Ketchum answered. “But no. Just for seeing. Though it sees very well.”
“Well, that’s something,” Jadz said, and added a shot to her coffee.
No one mentioned the transmissions or H-55. No one talked about the accident. No one brought up the briefing or worried out loud about the scientists. But that evening, Ketchum slept better than she had in a long, long time. Ktën had broken silence.
Chemaxawësh had indeed become an old woman, she thought to herself. Skunk and Coyote had named her and she had become that way. But at least her boys had grown tall and strong, true Ila in their spirits. She had done everything she could to prepare them. Taught them everything she knew. In between she had had to say goodbye to Skunk and Coyote and the others, who had to leave to go further upriver to get away from the miners who hunted no longer for food but sometimes just for sport. Had said goodbye to Trout, who had to look for clean waters to live in. All the while she showed her boys where the men came from, how the mining camp had destroyed the mountains and the life all around them. She taught them how to fight. And now that their voices had changed, it was time for them to act. That spring, Chemaxawësh sent the Ila out in search of other people. But try as they might, and as far as they walked, they could find no one else. Not even the animals or fish were around. The forest was all but silent except for the winged ones and the crawling ones, who kept a safe distance.
It was almost harvest when the Ila decided to make their way home to Chemaxawësh. On their way back from the other side of the mountain, they decided to check in on the mining camp. It had built up so much that it was practically a town, with too many men to count. At the outskirts was a building where two dressed-up women seemed to be in charge. They decided to wait for dark and take a closer look.
Ila snuck down like snakes along the side of the building until they came to a window. Inside they could see young people, including seven girls and two boys. The children cowered in a corner, sobbing quietly or looking without expression at the floor. Their eyes were sad and indifferent, their bodies beaten and dirty.
One of the dressed-up women came in the room and took one of the girls out, grabbing her by the arm and dragging her through the door. A little later, another of the dressed-up women came in and took one of the boys. He was almost in too much pain to walk but she dragged him out anyway. The others cried, pulling themselves closer to one another.
The Ila moved to a second window. One man was raping the girl and another man was raping the boy. The men were laughing and drinking, pouring liquor over the young bodies and slapping them in the face while yelling at them to shut up. Ila could stand it no longer and broke inside. The men were too drunk to stop them; they were dead before they knew it.
One of the dressed-up women came inside with a pistol and pointed it at Ila, but she froze in her fear when she looked down at the floor and saw the men bleeding out. The other dressed-up woman walked up behind her. Ila grabbed the gun and threw it away, then told the girls and boys to follow them. “You’ll never get away,” the dressed-up woman screamed. “They’ll find you and kill you!” The Ila laughed at her.
Ila took the girls and boys into the forest. They moved along the foothills, hiding between redwoods and streams, trying as best they could to cover their tracks as they made their way to Chemaxawësh.
The Ktën began as a group of Lenape warriors—men and women—who had decided to reassert their treaty rights to Manna-hata and the neighboring region of Lenapehoking. To take back their lands. The lands on which UCorp had built its headquarters, over the rubble of the former UN, over the city that was destroyed during the great wars, over the village sites of their ancestors. Over all of it.
For those who understood that they were not there to help, but that their freedom was bound up together, they joined the Ktën to work and fight together. And they were not going to allow UCorp to continue its genocide and destruction of the lands into the stars, so they followed them into space. To slow down, to thwart, to sabotage.
Ketchum’s uncles several generations back were among the founders of the Ktën. She had infiltrated UCorp to carry on their fight, in their honor. That evening, she slept well in their memory with dreams of the forest they talked about growing up in and the rivers and streams they said they had played in, surrounded by family and friends in stories and love. The stories that had been passed on in her family.
Until the following morning, when she woke again into the smells of dirt and blood and tears she could not explain. Grief worked like that, she thought. Like an evil being from an alternate world where her pain was mocked. Living in the stars was a different kind of hard that way. The serpents up here were more immediate. If you reached out you could touch them.
Jacobs brought more Section 31 interrogators with him than there were Scire-6 scientists to interrogate. Clearly, he had other work for them to do. But first things first.
He put his second, Thomas “Torq” Torquemada, in charge of rounding up the scientists. Upon docking, Torq directed the SF squad to bring Lipovskaya, Iliescu, Yuzuki, George, and Khar to one of the six interrogation rooms that they had constructed on the Kamal. Each room was fitted with advanced environmental controls and built to maximize a unique set of interrogation techniques: Lipovskaya was thrown into a room built for waterboarding and hypothermia with Efim; Iliescu into stress positions with Holmes; Yuzuki into abdomen strikes, insult slaps, and shaking with Báthory; George and Khar were thrown into mutilation with Ripper and Rais. The plan was to keep them there until they were dead. No one, in other words, was expected—or wanted—to survive, a point not lost on Lipovskaya, Iliescu, Yuzuki, or Khar but which George would deny until the bitter end. After all Jacobs had his own scientists set up in the lab. So the point was not information gathering but a message to the Ktën that despite their alleged victories in stalling operations on Mars and Jupiter, in the end, resistance would be futile.
Lipovskaya was already blindfolded and bound, though still clothed, when Efim entered the room. “Before we begin,” Efim said with a droll, his mouth close to Lipovskaya’s ear, “do you have anything you would like to tell me? Anything on your mind? Anything at all?”
“You know I hate bodily violence,” Lipovskaya answered, “especially when I’m the body.”
“Oh. A funny one. And well read. I just adore the funny, well-read ones. They die so much slower.” Efim lowered Lipovskaya into, and then strapped inside, a tub of water whose temperature rested at 86 degrees. “By the way, my dear,” he said as he turned off the lights, “I just love the shoes.” And with that he exited, turning music on to a deafening pitch as the door closed behind him.
Efim was going to leave Lipovskaya in that tub for hours but he got bored and returned. He raised her out of the tub, laying her on a tilted table, her head at the bottom and feet raised above. He cut off her clothes and slowly wrapped her head in a cloth, securing it around her neck.
“Thank you so much, I was just starting to get cold,” Lipovskaya said.
“I’m supposed to ask you some questions. Something about your little rebellion. Who is a part of it. What missions you are planning. How you communicate. You know the routine. I’m sure we can both agree that you won’t be telling me anything.”
“Oh, I don’t know. I might surprise you.”
“I’m sure you have some delightful secrets to tell but I really don’t have the patience for it, my dear. Have to keep to our schedule, ya know.”
He had moved a nozzle over her head and released a gush into her mouth, leaving it on for several seconds. Then again and again. While the water was warm, the sensation of drowning was violent and during the third go, Lipovskaya passed out. “Damn. I thought you’d last a little longer.” Efim left her strapped onto the table, turned the music back on to fever pitch, and returned to the control room to watch the other interrogations with Torq and Jacobs.
Chemaxawësh was so happy to see Ila and the girls and boys that she cried in a gentle laugh, embracing her sons and holding the children in her arms as tight as she could. For many moons, she fed and cared for them, watched over them while they slept, bandaged their wounds. One by one she took them down to the stream to bathe them and then built a larger hut than her own where they could sweat. She sewed them clothes and taught them how to gather and plant food. And how to fight.
Ila stood guard, protecting them, hunting and fishing when they could. But mostly, watching and waiting for the men to come. When the voices of the boys began to change, they joined Ila. When the girls began to bleed, they sang honor songs to the Ila while tending to their chores.
But just as the first snow of winter began that season, the men went after the Ila, girls, and boys. “To weed them out of the forest.” “To put an end to them.” With spears and hatchets and arrows, Chemaxawësh and all the Ila fought back. But the men kept coming, and when three of them got around the Ila, they came after Chemaxawësh and the younger ones.
Chemaxawësh baited them, mocking them and their stupidity, to lead them away from the girls. The three men were fast and followed her—first on horseback and then on foot. As night fell, Chemaxawësh burrowed a hole under a redwood to hide herself but the men found where she was. Failing to entice her to come out, and failing to force her out with threats of fire, they cut the redwood down. And still she would not come out. So they dug it up by the roots. But when they did so, they created a large hole in the ground. Chemaxawësh knew she was in trouble when she could not see any shell in the hole, any ground to stand on. All she could see was night. And when the men grabbed ahold of her arm to pull at her, to pull her out, they caused her to fall through. She tried to grab hold of the redwood’s roots but she could not. She could only feel herself falling. Falling through the earth, through the darkness, and into the core of a black iron rock.
Torq and Jacobs had left so Efim sat alone in front of a wall of videos with cameras from every imaginable angle on each of the interrogation rooms. The controls allowed him to zoom and adjust audio. There was no point to the torture; they did it simply because they could.
First he studied Iliescu’s face. Then panned out. Iliescu had been stripped naked and blindfolded. Holmes had him hung by shackles from the ceiling in such a way that he was forced to stand on the very tips of his feet, his arms stretched out. Every once in a while, Holmes pressed controls that splashed freezing or boiling water on his Iliescu’s head and shoulders. Iliescu would scream, but his voice was getting horse, so the screams were muted. In the background, Holmes had the most horrible of circus-like music playing. He seemed to be timing the water bursts to its tempo. Efim found the entire scene grotesque, and arousing.
He moved on to Yuzuki, who was naked but not blindfolded. He was bound in such a way that he was forced to stand with both arms and legs stretched out. Báthory, a woman of unusual height and physical girth, was striking him in the abdomen and face while screaming at him. “Stupid fucking little Jap. You’re all alike! Come in and take our jobs! Think you’re better than the rest of us!” Báthory was so mesmerizing that Efim almost forgot to notice that her strikes were coordinated with the sounds of ancient Hungarian music that she played in the background. “Traitors, all of you!” He found it odd that Holmes and Báthory shared this little technique and wondered about its origins. Or maybe it wasn’t intentional at all and just a reflection of how deeply captivated they were with themselves.
He turned his attentions to Ripper, pulled him and George up on all of the screens and raised the sounds
“Ahh,” Efim muttered to himself, not noticing that Jacobs was then standing behind him.
“How is the Russian?” Jacobs asked.
“Ahh. Disappointing. She passed out before it got interesting.” Efim turned the sound down slightly.
Ripper threw his scalpel to the floor and screamed as if in agony. Apparently George had died of a heart attack. Ripper pulled a sheet over her naked and mutilated body. As the sheet turned red with blood, Jacobs shook his head in disappointment. “We’re not going to get anything out of them at this pace.”
“Wasn’t that the point?” Efim asked.
“Of course. But you never know.”
Meanwhile, Rais hung Khar upside down and was making a small slice at the base of his throat. Khar would bleed out. Rais kneeled at his side and repeated, “Who else is a part of the Ktën? We know you’re here. Just tell me!” Khar replied, almost too faintly to hear, “I do not know what you are talking about. What is Ktën?” Rais ran the blade flat against Khar’s chest and down to his groin. “Where do you meet? How do you talk to one another?” It was almost as if Rais wasn’t paying attention to Khar at all, as if Khar’s body was detached and it was only the body he played with.
Lipovskaya was aware of waking up but kept as still as she could, trying not to change even her breathing. She couldn’t hear Efim in the room but she couldn’t really hear anything at all. Not with that blasted music shrieking all around her—metal on metal made nothing worth listening to, she thought. So she hummed to herself, “Well, money has its own way, and money has to grow; It grows on human blood and bone as any child would know; It’s iron stuff and paper stuff with no life of its own; And so it takes its growing sap from human blood and bone.”
Efim returned. He turned off the music and pulled a stool over to sit on next to her. “My dear, it would be such a waste to let this body go without closer attention.”
Ketchum used the excuse of a check-in at medical to move about those decks of the freighter closest to the cargo bays that she suspected were being used by the SF. If she were caught, she would play dumb. They seemed willing enough to believe she was dumb.
What she hadn’t anticipated when she got near the bay was that adjacent to it were smaller areas that the SF had converted into a command post, interrogation rooms, and cells. They were serious, she thought, about stopping the Ktën.
Safely tucked away, out of view, Ketchum focused her prosthetic to see an Ensign roll a stretcher out of a room, Ripper following behind still screaming at George.
“Yes, yes. Off to the incinerator you go. Off with you!”
Rais exited another room, whipping blood off a knife onto his jacket. “You too?” He said to Ripper.
“It would appear we finished early.” Ripper replied and then turned toward the Ensign moving by, “When you’re done, he’s ready to go as well.”
“Love is stronger than death,” Ripper whispered to George’s body.
“Apparently you didn’t love her enough,” Rais teased, “but I do believe it’s past the drinking hour.”
“Ah, yes. Some blood red wine would be perfect about now.” Ripper stretched. “After you,” Ripper gestured and he and Rais walked down into the darkness of the hall.
Ketchum backed up and out of sight. She found a dark access way, alone, and took her break. She realized that she had understood most of what Ripper and Rais were saying to one another. Her prosthetic had focused on their lips, she had read what they had said. She couldn’t understand the why—why kill off the science team so quickly? What did they know?
She reported in at Cargo Bay 3 with Greeves. Greeves’ neck was bandaged, her manner heavy with fatigue, but she was all official. Most of the smaller cargo would be moved first, put on loaders to be transferred to the station. But as routine as the day was, Ketchum had a difficult time concentrating. She couldn’t stop thinking about what was going on below them.
 “Xu làpi knewël”: I’ll see you again
 Ànati: Mother
 Xawshisës: Old Woman
 Chemaxawësh: a flirty Old Woman
 Ila: warrior