In The Saturn Moon…
Max, the gutsy asteroid hunter from The Right Asteroid, has retired from space and is living a placid life as a big-shot xenoscientist on Mars… but not for long. Soon she’s called back into service to intervene with Koth, a telepathic, vengeful, catlike species who are heading straight toward Mars with weapons more powerful than human beings have ever seen.
What’s the connection between doomed space entrepreneur Henry and the power-mad planetary dictator Zoetrope? Did Jesus Christ himself really live among the Kurool? And has Max finally bitten off more than she can chew – or live through?
Moon Station Delta, April, 2112
Sky threw the thing to Mikhail, who almost missed catching it.
“George sent it.”
“And?” Sky could see Mikhail feel the thing a little bit, then put it in a cubby in Nilesh’s workstation.
“And he says there are a lot more where that came from. Prime mysterious alien artifacts.”
Mikhail sighed. “Sky, we’ve talked about this how many times?”
“I know, you’re tired of this trade.”
“It gets on my nerves.”
“Mik, it’s saved our asses at times, and our asses need saving right now. We haven’t done this kind of trade in almost a year, man. We need it now. We’ll be dead in the water with no fuel or food in about… what, three months if we’re lucky? I don’t really want to go back to working for Strelix, thank you very much.”
Sky was trying hard not to think of their empty contract pipeline, or the fact that they had no leads to new cargo or service work whatsoever. The economic slowdown that had happened system-wide after Mars independence still hadn’t let up, and all of the economic pundits telling them that things were going to get better didn’t make their situation any less dire.
“Alright, so how many of these can he make?”
“He claims these are real.”
“Yeah, right. And pigs can fly.”
“He was very adamant, although frankly, he wasn’t willing to say over the comm why he thought so.”
“That’s our George, alright.”
“I won’t block it, if Lesh and Cait agree.”
“I floated it by them when you were stationside.”
“Of course. They seem to like fraud.”
Sky laughed. “Mik, for someone who robbed a bank, you have an odd sense of morality.”
“Eh, whatever. Look I have some things to take care of…”
“What the heck is going on, Mikhail? You’ve spent more time stationside this time than ever.”
“No worries – nothing to do with you guys or the Callista. Old family shit.”
“My Yemeni uncle is on station, and he’s demanding that I go back with him to Yemen and get married. Unfortunately, my mother agrees with him.”
“Well, you could just stop talking to them.” Sky calculated that she had not talked with her own family in over a decade.
“I know that was your answer, Sky, but it’s not mine. I’m working to convince him I’d be a terrible husband. The problem is that in Yemen, a man’s faithfulness doesn’t really matter much.”
“Ah, so explaining how many lovers you’ve had isn’t helping?”
“Not in the least. So I have to take another tack.”
“You could claim to be in love with Lesh.”
Sky heard a bit of bitterness in Mikhail’s laugh. She wondered what that was about.
“I don’t think they’d believe me, since I’ve already told them I’ve slept with hundreds of women.”
“Good point, there. Well, good luck.”
Mikhail turned, grabbed a handhold at the entrance to the workroom, and propelled himself out of the room. Sky turned toward Lesh’s workstation. She wasn’t really in the mood to examine the thing. She knew it wasn’t real, and in general, George was pretty good at making top-notch fake artifacts. She’d look at it later.
With Mik agreeing, it was time to signal to George that they’d meet him. She left the workroom and moved hand-over-hand around the central hallway to a hub tube, then climbed through the hub tube to the hub, then up to the main control room. Nilesh and Caitlyn were doing a standard maintenance routine.
Nilesh looked up from his board with a grin on his face.
“Alright. Let’s make contact with George. I’m looking forward to seeing him.”
“You have a crush on him.”
“I can’t quite get my mind around that.”
“You two, can we do this business thing now, and you can discuss your love lives later?”
Caitlyn screwed up her face and said caustically, “Yessir!”
Sky sighed and floated over to the comm system. She brought up George’s system net address, and left him an encrypted voice message.
“George, we’re all in, but we’d have to go consignment. We don’t have much in the way of spare cash. Send us the coordinates, and we’ll be there as soon as we can. We’re at Moon Station Delta, and can leave within 24 hours.”
Nilesh said, “Good thing George likes consignment.”
Sky looked up from the console. “George likes us. We can always get rid of his fake artifacts.”
They went together through some pre-launch items and then Sky heard the ping of an incoming text message. It was George, who only gave his coordinates. Sky brought up the system map and swore.
“What in blazes is he doing in the fucking asteroid belt?”
Caitlyn looked up. “The asteroid belt?”
“That’s what the coordinates say.”
“Is it in one of the war zones? We can’t risk that.”
“No, it’s very safe within Strelix space.”
“It will take us weeks to get out there!”
Sky asked the ship AI for an accurate estimate. The toneless voice responded, “It will take an estimated thirty-five days, seven hours, at normal thrust.”
Nilesh said, “What are we going to do?”
Sky answered, “What else can we do? We can sell some of this stuff at Strelix station, to begin with—so that’s a good thing. We can probably at least pay for the fuel it took to get out there.”
Caitlyn screwed up her face. “I don’t like this, Sky. Something is weird here.”
“I know, but George is reliable. We’re his main customers, and he wouldn’t steer us wrong. We’ll be fine. Maybe he decided to settle out there. I’ll signal to Mik to get on board. We’re leaving in 24 hours.”