Part 4: Shiva - Chapter 7

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For the tenth time, Geranium opened the comlink channel and waited for a return beacon. Nothing. Despite knowing it was utterly useless, she spoke into it anyway. 'Maddy? Are you there? Maddy? It's Geranium.'

Not even static came back.

The cabin lights were turned down, and through the window was nothing but the blasted surface of Shiva, hardly less black than space itself, visible only because of faint sunlight gleaming off the iron ground. It was utterly bleak and the most depressing thing Geranium had ever seen.

Not that she'd seen much. Of course, she hadn't realised it before now. Dealing with her parents had taken up so much time she could have been doing other things, but it had been her parents who gave her the ability to go to Mars. She missed them and her brother, and her little sister. She wanted to have Fantasy there right now, telling her one of her dumb jokes.

'And I decided to go to Mars,' she said aloud. That was where things had started to go wrong. It was all her fault really.

The cabin was not large enough to pace back and forth, but she couldn't sit still. Every minute or so she'd rise from her chair, bound around the cabin, sit at the table, climb into her bunk, emerge again and start all over. At one stage she even picked up her helmet and went to put it on, was about to walk out of the airlock and follow the others across the asteroid, but slammed the helmet down onto the table, swearing loudly.

How dare they leave her herePerhaps the woman was still just a terrorist, gone to join the others in smashing the Moon or whatever it was they were planning. She'd saved Geranium's life, but why? To bring her here, to have Sarti killed? It all made no sense. She picked up the helmet and was about to slam it down again just for the sake of it, when she paused and looked out of the window.

Someone was walking towards the ship.

Instinct made Geranium duck down behind the control desk to avoid being seen. She peeked above the desk. The person's suit was red, not grey, clearly visible against the dark iron terrain outside. Judging by the height, it was a Helot. One of the terrorists they'd come here to see?

She kept low on the floor of the ship, just her eyes above the desk, ducking down whenever she felt the person was looking her way.

What to do? She had no weapons, nothing at all. Nor could she ask the AI for an opinion, since it had been locked by Reed. It was just her, and there was nowhere to hide.

The helmet was still on the table. She grabbed it and pulled it down onto her head, felt the suffocating closeness of it for a moment before the suit's AI came online and started the air circulation. It was hard to stop herself taking huge gulps of it. Being inside the suit was like being in the middle of a huge crowd of people, with pressure from all sides and nowhere to move.

The person outside approached cautiously, probably checking for signs of life in the ship. Crawling across the floor, Geranium reached the airlock and stared at the controls beside it: inner and outer door controls, air pump switches and an emergency override contact that would close the inner door instantly in the event of an air breach. She reached up to the contact and opened the inner door.

Inside, she could stand up since she wasn't visible to the approaching Helot. It took a minute for the air to be removed from the chamber. When the green light illuminated Geranium slowly opened the outer door. The access ladder was in place down the side of the ship, but she chose the faster method of a simple jump down to the surface; in this gravity her feet barely stirred the iron dust at the foot of the ladder. She pressed the contact to close the outer door of the airlock then looked around for somewhere to hide. It was the first time she'd ever set foot on a totally airless world, but there was no time to waste in adjusting to new experiences.

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