THE BATTLE FOR CALLISTO by Gregory KH Bryant
Illara woke before Carter. They lay on the mat she had unrolled on the floor a few hours before, and which she used as her bed. Jupiter gleamed through her window, its light shining bright upon them.
Idly, she studied the many scars upon Ward’s body. She had seen them before, but in this moment, in this light, they appeared to have been gouged into his flesh like tiny rilles throwing up mountain chains casting purple shadows.
A deep gash in his chest, one long healed, but still vivid. It cut a jagged, nearly vertical line from his throat along his sternum, halfway to his belly. Another deep pit in his left shoulder. On the inner thigh of his left leg, the deepest cut of all, one that had very nearly severed his femoral artery. And, beyond these, numerous smaller scars, on his arms, his hands, his back.
Illara knew them all. Had seen them all. But she had never asked Ward about any of them. No, as she had learned from Frederick Sherman years before—never ask a man about his scars. If he wants to tell you, he will. Otherwise, leave them alone.
Illara wondered, briefly, why it was Ward had never had Dimara clean up those scars for him. She had repaired Carter’s broken nose after Mokem Bet had kicked it into his face with a heavy boot. She had also cleaned up the horrible gash in Ward’s throat, the one that Mokem Bet had put there at the beginning of the battle of IPS-3.
But those were new scars. They had happened just then, when Carter had Dimara already programmed into his ship, the O8-111A.
These other scars, the gash in his chest, in his thigh, the gaping pit in his shoulder—they were older. Ward had no doubt earned those scars before Dimara came into the picture, maybe when he was with the Martian Rangers. And cleaning those up? Well, that wouldn’t be like Ward, would it? That would be an act of vanity, one for which a man of Ward’s temperament would have no patience.
No, those old scars... Ward would never have thought to have Dimara clean them up. Once they were cut into his body, Ward was just the kind of man to leave them there, without giving them another thought.
Of course, Illara’s attention to the slumbering Ward awoke a deep guardedness inside him. Even when he was asleep, the man was alert. His slumbering mind registered the attention of another mind. He was being watched.
His eyes opened, and he saw Illara’s face over his, looking down on him. She was half-smiling, half dreaming herself.
“Yeah?” Ward asked.
His voice was flat, without emotion.
“Nothing,” Illara said, rising from the mat.
She stood and made her way to the bathroom, a tiny room with but a toilet, a sink and a crowded shower.
Ward sat up and watched her.
Illara paused at the door of her bathroom and looked back at Ward.
“My own bathroom,” she said. “First time ever, I’ve had my own private shower.”
“Sounds good,” Ward replied.
“I’ve got six hundred square feet here, all to myself,” Illara said. “Two and a half rooms, or three, if you want to get technical about it. I’ve never had so much space to call my own before.”
She smiled at Ward, but left it at that. She knew better than to thank him for bringing her to Callisto. For reasons she never understood, any expression of gratitude only annoyed Ward.
“Now c’mon. The girl has work to do. Let’s get this shower took.”
“Hey, you wanna go on patrol with me?” she asked, as she and Ward towelled themselves off after their shower.
“Patrol?” Ward looked about, searching Illara’s tiny apartment for his jumpsuit. There it was, on the floor, in the corner, bundled up against the wall.
“Yeah. I go on patrol, sometimes. Whenever I feel like it. Honestly, I don’t know why Colonel Bridgemont hired me on. He doesn’t really need me. He’s got plenty of pilots and security staff,” Illara said, opening a thin cabinet that pulled down from the wall. She removed a purple and black jumpsuit that was her uniform with Jovian Security and then stepped into it.
“Tell you the truth, I think he just gave me the job as a favour, for helping bring Story to Callisto. I think he wouldn’t care, even if I didn’t do anything. Of course, he can’t come right out and say so, but, well... that’s the way it seems to me.”
Ward pulled on his worn, silver-coloured jumpsuit.
“Sure,” he said. “Why not? It’s not like bringing Talbot and his family here was any kinda cakewalk. So get whatcha can.”
“I do,” Illara replied. “I’ve got this extravagant six hundred square foot apartment with a great view to Jupiter, and I can take ‘Izzy’ out any time I want. All I have to do is tell the boys at the landing pods that I’m going on patrol, and hey! I’m outta here!
“So... anyway, you wanna go on patrol with me?”
“Where’s this patrol gonna take us?”
“Just the hot spots,” Illara answered. “We’ll fly past Europa and Io. That’ll take us four hours. Maybe stop off at Ganymede on the way back. There’s a nice little cafeteria there I found. Good food, quiet place. Then back here again. Get it all done in six or eight hours, maybe. Whaddya say?”
Ward studied Illara without speaking. His face was a mask.
“Yeah, I guess I can do that,” he said at last.
“Well, if it’s going to be...”
“Nah. Let’s go. I never dropped by any of those places, just to look around. Always been business. So, sure, yeah. Let’s go.”
The streets of Callisto Base 1 were still crowded. Though night had passed and the distant sun cast a pallid light upon the icy purple deserts, still many people were thronging the streets.
All the streets under the domes were laid out in rigid grid, a pattern of streets running both parallel and perpendicular to Callisto’s equator. Trees, bushes and flowering plants grew in wild profusion all along the streets. Heavy vines clung to the walls of every structure. In the centre of every intersection of the streets was a tiny park overgrown with towering ferns and deciduous trees.
“They make oxygen,” Illara explained, needlessly, as she and Ward threaded their way through the crowd. Ward understood the need for such lush and extensive plant life.
“And the leaves, when they fall, get turned into mulch for the greenhouses.” She waved toward the rows of greenhouses that could be plainly seen through the transparent steel of the geodesic dome that housed this section of Callisto Base 1. The greenhouses were long and arranged in a series of rows that stretched off to the horizon.
“Uh-huh,” was all Ward said.
“You ever have a chance to really be here?” Illara asked. “On Callisto? And Callisto Base 1?”
“Nah... just always stayed long enough to offload my cargo, pick up my pay, and scootle off to the next job.”
“That’s really too bad,” Illara said. “It is beautiful here. All the time. Just beautiful. There’s the municipal theatre,” she put in, as they walked by. “And we have pools for the swimmers, and paths for bicyclers, and, well, almost everything you can think of...”
“Yeah...” Ward said. “Never really had time.”
“And you know, we have our own ecology here. A real environment. They set the misters up to spray water mist on all the plants. It’s random. Sometimes they put the misters on for an eight-hour cycle. Sometimes twelve or twenty. It’s like a heavy fog. Then sometimes they make it rain in here, too. Can you believe that? Everything from a light spring shower to heavy torrential thunderstorms. It’s all good for the plants. They suck it up. And it’s really... well, it’s really something to see it, to walk along the streets of Callisto, at night, when nobody else is around, and the misters start filling the world with mist and fog. So mysterious... so beautiful...
“Y’know what?” Illara asked, interrupting her monologue. She had just been jostled again, as she was speaking, by yet another happy stranger in the celebrating crowd. “Why don’t we take the skycab? It’ll get us there quicker.”
“Sure, yeah,” Ward agreed.
They made their way to the side of the street, to a station with an escalator that led up to a platform standing over the heads of the people in the street below. Cables stretched from this platform to others along the route. Depending from those cables were a series of basket-shaped pods with open doors, allowing as many as four passengers to ride in them at a time. Other cables traced the paths of other pods, crisscrossing the air of Callisto Base 1 a dozen feet above the tallest pedestrians.
The pods followed a predetermined path along the cables, but with experience, one could learn these paths and use the skycabs to travel all around the base by leaping off at an intersecting station, and waiting for the pod that moved further in the direction one wished to go.
Illara and Ward stood on the tiny platform for two minutes, awaiting the approach of the next pod-shaped skycab. It came, painted yellow and white, the two colours indicating the neighbourhoods, Yellow and White, through which it travelled.
It did not slow on its approach to the platform. Illara stepped onto it easily, through the gap in its outer wall. Ward quickly followed behind her. They sat upon one of the two seats allowed within the skycab, and looked over the sides to watch the base pass beneath their eyes.
Large transparent tubes and walkways communicated between the many domes of Callisto Base 1, and the skycab plunged directly into one of these transparent tunnels. Illara stepped off at another platform, motioning to Ward that he should do the same.
Ward followed, and half a minute later he found himself with Illara on another skycab, this one painted green and yellow.
The skycab carried them over the crowded streets of Callisto Base 1, and, when it came to the wall of the geodesic dome, into a wide transparent tube with walkways that led across the purple ice fields between the domes, to the next one ahead.
Following the path of the skycabs, from one dome to the next, and then out across the frozen Callistoan deserts, where the view of the greenhouses and Jupiter itself were the clearest, Illara and Carter Ward came at last to the landing bay that serviced Callisto Base 1.
“Here’s ‘Izzy’,” Illara said, with a gesture.
She and Ward had made their tedious way through a series of security checkpoints. Even her purple and black uniform was insufficient to speed up the necessarily slow pace of the security checks. She was still new here, on Callisto Base 1, and it would be some time before the long repetition of daily routine would habituate the security offices on deck to Illara’s face.
But Illara and Ward stood, at last, upon the tarmac, at Landing Bay 1, Hangar 2, Pod 4, looking upon ‘Izzy’.
‘Izzy’ was the patrol ship that Illara had cajoled Ward into helping her ‘appropriate’ from the gang of investors that had overtaken Pink Security Systems—her former employer. These predatory investors had driven Pink Security into bankruptcy, which forced the company to sell itself off to the Hawthorne Group, a private security service as well noted for its brutality as it was its close ties to Secretary Benson, COO and CEO of the Alliance of Western States on Earth.
Izzy, or the PS-111AE (Patrol Ship, Purchase 1114, Lot A, Eros), to give it its formal nomenclature, lay low in the hangar. At present, it was a grey-black, shapeless origami-like contraption, built to fly through either the thin atmosphere of Mars, or the vacuum of space. On the tarmac, it rose in its highest parts no higher than five feet. Its wings and tail were retractable, its fuselage, mutable. In the vacuum of space, aerodynamics are without meaning.
So the shape of the pursuit ship was based entirely on its needs at any moment. Coated with a semi-intelligent paint, the ship took on the colours of its environment. It appeared almost transparent, as a transparent grey.
In its current configuration, it lay like a half-twisted arch upon the tarmac, its outline made clear by the greater opacity of the deck upon which it lay. In this configuration, it was but eighteen feet from nose to tail, its wings and vertical stabilizer retracted.
At top was the canopy and the cockpit, which seated two. Ward had ridden ‘Izzy’ with Illara several times before, once in a joy ride around the asteroid Eros, so he knew the routine and climbed directly into the cockpit with no wasted words.
A single narrow seat that held two. It was black and cushioned. Ward settled into the rearward part of the seat, and pushed his feet through the stirrups on either bulkhead.
Illara peeked inside.
“Here’s your helmet, cowboy,” she said.
“Thanks,” he replied.
“And your adapter.”
Ward thrust his head through the large ring of the adapter, then screwed it to the threads at the throat of his jumpsuit. Then he brought the helmet, a transparent bowl-shaped dome, onto the adapter, and snapped it down.
Illara, her helmet already in place, climbed up and into the cockpit. She settled herself between Ward’s outspread thighs, gave her buttocks a most gratuitous wriggle, and then brought the canopy down. She locked it into place.
“Can you hear me?” she asked Ward through their helmets.
“Yeah. I can hear ya,” he answered.
Inside their helmets, Illara and Ward saw a holographic display, a map of Jupiter, its rings and all its satellites. Beyond that map, Ward could see the back of Illara’s head through her helmet, and, in front of her, ‘Izzy’s’ control panel.
In addition to that, by taking up the seat reserved for the ship’s gunner, Ward had himself a view of everything exterior to the patrol ship—all enhanced by his helmet which displayed everything in a complete sphere surrounding the ship.
“Good,” Illara said. “Lemme show you around!”
Illara had standing orders for both departure and arrival. No need to ask permission or for flight patterns now. Already done.
She simply urged ‘Izzy’ forward, out of the hangar, and into the airlock that would take the ship out into the airless frozen desert that was Callisto.
With the ‘Bellerophon’ still offloading—indeed, the ship would still be yet another six hundred hours at it—traffic in the sky over Callisto was heavy.
Transport ships were constantly ferrying goods, materiel and personnel back and forth between the ship and the space colony. Their lights danced in wild pirouettes, like fireflies circling the bright and steady lights of the ‘Bellerophon.’ And all the while other ships from Ganymede and Europa came circling through the crowded beacons dancing in the velvet sky of Callisto.
So, even with her flight plan in hand, Illara and Ward had to wait several minutes before there came a gap in landings and launchings sufficient to permit them to take off.
They did launch at last, and Illara took a course low above the icy deserts of Callisto to avoid the congestion surrounding the ‘Bellerophon.’ There, directly ahead of them was Jupiter.
“We’re going to Europa first,” Illara said.
“The cracked cue ball?” Ward asked.
“Yeah. Ice. And rusted scratches. It’ll take us two hours to get there, so settle in cowboy.”
“Sure, yeah,” Ward answered.
He had planned to sleep, to simply drop off to sleep for the trip to Europa, but Illara was in a chatty mood, and after an hour of her striving to get more out of Ward than an occasional grunt, he finally relented. He asked himself, ‘Oh, why the hell not?’
“Nah,” he said, finally allowing himself to be seduced into conversation.
“I been to Europa once or twice, to drop off a shipment, but I never really looked at her. Always been too busy.”
“That’s too bad,” Illara said. “It is really beautiful to be there. It’s smooth as a baby’s bottom,” No craters, no mountains, no valleys, no rilles. Just ice and the ocean below.”
“Oh, don’t you go ‘Yeah?’ at me. Everybody knows about the ocean in Europa.”
“Sure, I heard about it,” Ward said. “They ever gonna get down there and take a look?”
“Not in our lifetimes, I don’t think. There’s life down there.”
“Yeah, I heard that.”
“Microscopic, but it’s there.”
“So the science guys don’ wanna kill it, eh?”
“That’s right. And so they study it from the surface.”
“You ever touch down there?”
“Yeah. I stopped by there a couple times, while you were still away. Cold as fuck, but really, really beautiful. The colonies there are built to last.”
“Ocean tides, from under the ice. It’s somewhere around sixty miles deep, that ocean, and the nice, icy crust is somewhere around ten miles deep in places. So when those tides get rolling, those ice deserts can swell up and down, up and down... they get their ice quakes pretty regular there on Europa. And then there are the cryogeysers...”
“Ice geysers,” Ward said.
“Yeah. Geysers of ice. Ice geysers. Sometimes they spew out, eighty miles high.”
“I heard of them. Seen the hologram videos. Never saw it happen with my own eyes, except on a comet once.”
“If we ever get the time, we’ll have to check it out,” Illara said.
“Sure, yeah,” Ward said, while thinking to himself, “Yeah. Sure. Like any goddamn tourist got time to piss away.”
And so they chatted for the trip that took them to Europa. The moon grew large on ‘Izzy’s’ visiscreens, and in Illara and Ward’s helmets.
Yes, a cracked cue ball, with very rusty cracks, was a good description of it. Eight clusters of light circled the northern pole, like points of a crown upon a king’s round head.
“Those are the bases on Europa,” Illara pointed out. “Less radiation from Jupiter hitting the northern pole region, that’s why they built them there.”
“Uh-huh,” Ward said.
Jupiter itself had grown large as they approached Europa. From this distance, it appeared almost the size of a basketball. It cast countless polychrome lights upon the icy white canvas that was the surface of Europa.
“Looks like you could almost touch it, huh?” Illara said.
“Yeah,” Ward agreed.
Always, when he was shipping, making an approach to a landing base, or taking off from it, Ward was too busy with the many endless details, all of which had to be dealt with simultaneously, to take the time to appreciate the view.
Here, as she had done before, Illara was giving Ward the chance to do just that, to kick back and enjoy the show. So he did.
Jupiter was indeed stunning. Its luminescent clouds churned and sent long hallucinatory reflections of colours that danced across the icy desert that was Europa. As the gas giant rotated on its axis, the Great Red Spot appeared, roiling and boiling and moving with astonishing speed.
“Isn’t that amazing, Carter?” Illara asked him.
“Yeah, it is,” Ward had to admit.
“Well, everything looks nominal on Europa,” Illara said. “No explosions or anything. Let’s go take a look at Io.
Illara modified ‘Izzy’s’ course, and sent the ship off toward Io. Of the four moons discovered by Galileo with his telescope, Io was closest to Jupiter. An hour later, they came into close approach.
It gleamed, saffron and golden in the sable sky. About the size of Earth’s own moon, and with over four hundred active volcanoes, it gleamed like a yellow diamond, flumes of transparent gases from the ceaseless eruptions surrounding it like broken haloes.
This, too, Ward had to admit, was quite an astonishingly beautiful sight. Seen from Io, Jupiter was huge, larger than the largest beach balls. Had they set down at any of the few scientific bases on Io, Ward and Illara would have been able to make out the details of the massive cloud tops—cloud banks many times huger than any of the continents of Earth, and which have been churning the skies of Jupiter for hundreds and probably even thousands of years.
But they did not stop at Io. Between the deadly radiation constantly emitted from Jupiter, and the ceaseless eruptions of Io’s four hundred volcanoes, Io was not an easy tourist spot. Every stop at Io by the volcanologists who studied there was carefully planned months in advance. Illara contented herself with a single orbit around Io, as she gave a quick visual check to the lights of the scientific bases built there.
“Everything’s nominal,” she said. “Looking good.”
“Uh-huh,” Ward grunted.
“Let’s get outta here,” Illara said. “How about a late lunch at Ganymede? Then I’ll bring you back to Callisto.”
“Sure,” Ward said.
“Okay. We should be getting to Ganymede in about three hours. Settle in, cowboy. Take a nap, if you need to.”
“Yeah, thanks,” Ward replied.
Back upon the “Bellerophon,” Colonel Westland was reviewing the holographic record of his interview with Ward.
A tap at the door. Westland, annoyed at the interruption, pressed the buzzer on his desk.
“Yeah? What is it?”
“Lieutenant Hardy, sir.”
“Okay, come on in.”
Once Hardy had stepped through the portal into Westland’s office, Westland asked brusquely, “Whatcha got?”
“I wanted to tell you, sir, that I finally corralled all the recruits...”
“Those space rats...”
“Yes, sir. The one who calls himself Mud, and Denny, and the others. They’re all on Callisto now, ready to ship on with us. Forty of ‘em all together. They all have their own ships. They’re just waiting to hear the word.”
“Good... good,” Westland said. His eyes turned back to the holographic recording, showing him, Hardy and Ward on the occasion of Ward agreeing to sign on with the “Bellerophon” to hunt the Scroungers who attacked IPS-3.
“Sir?” Hardy asked, seeing what it was that so preoccupied Westland’s attention.
“That Ward fellow,” Westland answered, with a shake of his head. “Slippery as a yolk. It’s been bothering the hell out of me. I thought for sure I was going to catch him in a lie, over Talbot. But no. I’ve studied every word that came outta that man’s mouth, here in my office, and dammit, if every word he spoke wasn’t the god’s honest truth.
Westland played back the portion of the recording, where Carter Ward spoke of Frederick Sherman.
“‘Nah, I don’t know anybody, goes by the name of Sherman’,” the holographic Ward was recorded saying.
“See that?” Westland said. “He never told us he didn’t know Sherman. Just said he didn’t know anybody who goes by that name.”
Westland leaned back in his chair and chuckled.
“Serves me right,” he said. “I should have known better... Never trust a man who answers the question you didn’t ask.”
“Yes, sir,” Hardy replied. He made no effort to hide his smile.
“Keep a tight eye on that boy, Hardy. I expect we can get good use outta him.”
“Yes, sir,” Hardy answered.
Turhan Mot turned an impatient eye upon the gross and often pustulent Mokem Bet. Mokem Bet had just approached the bridge of the “Grand Marquis,” where Turhan Mot was closeted with his pilot, Tu Hit, as they combed through the uncountable details of the campaign against Callisto.
“What is it?” Turhan Mot demanded, with the soft and sickening insinuation of threat that was a permanent feature of his voice.
“I bring information to my commander, oh Turhan Mot,” Mokem Bet answered. “From my agents on Callisto.”
Turhan Mot turned away from Tu Hit to face Mokem Bet directly.
“And what of this information?” Turhan Mot asked.
“It is of the man, named Carter Ward.”
“My agents have finally confirmed that he is, indeed, on Callisto.”
“Were your agents good enough to determine where, on Callisto, this Carter Ward may be?”
“May it please my commander,” Mokem Bet answered, “Yes. Yes, they have. Carter Ward will be found at Callisto Base 1. His ship, the O8-111A, is docked there, now. Nor shall it leave Callisto, but that we shall know of it, hours before his flight plan is executed.”
Turhan Mot’s face softened.
He smiled. Purple tinged lips parted, displaying two rows of sharpened teeth.
“Carter Ward shall die. And we will drink his blood.”
CONTINUES NEXT WEEK