Torgan smiled in relief as she saw the familiar figure of Hanrahan waiting on the docking platform. The air around them was thick and pungent, an upwelling of some kind, seeping through the porous outer skin that protected the platform. Torgan wanted nothing more than to jump back aboard her ship and never come out again, but she waited impatiently as her rescuers walked down the ramp and out onto the docking platform before stopping just yards from where Hanrahan was standing.
“Sister Hildegarde,” he bowed his head momentarily.
“It’s actually Abbess Hildegarde now,” her rescuer replied.
“Congratulations on your promotion,” Hanrahan said.
“You have what we agreed on?”
He nodded. “We’re transferring the cargo to your ship now.”
Abbess Hildegarde smiled. “Thank you, my son. I don’t suppose we’ll be seeing you at vespers any time soon?”
“Alas,” Hanrahan said. “That’s a price too high to be paid.” He grinned unrepentantly at her. And, with a roll of her eyes, the Abbess turned and walked past Torgan and up the ramp into her ship again. With a hum that grew into a dull rumble, the engines sprung to life as the ramp folded back up into the hatch, which closed and then, with a roar, the ship sprang up and banked left, dropping away into the clouds.
“Welcome back, rook,” Hanrahan said. He checked his watch. “Just in time for the end of your shift as well.”
“What was that business with calling her Abbess?” Torgan asked.
“It’s her title, she’s the head of her order now, I guess.” Hanrahan frowned in thought. “They’re a sub-group of the Militant Dominicans, I think.”
Hanrahan nodded. “Not bad for your first day, huh, rook?”
Torgan stopped at the entrance to their ship, trying to take it all in “So you’re telling me I was kidnapped by pirates, who tossed me overboard when their ship was attacked by terrorists and then I was rescued by a renegade order of nuns?”
Hanrahan just smiled. “That’s Venus, baby.”
Twenty four hours earlier, Torgan had been amongst the crowd filling the viewing chamber to capacity, nose pressed against the glass, eager to catch a glimpse of her destination. It had taken her awhile to work her way to the front, but finally, she caught sight of it- angry and yellow, a bile-colored cloudy marble of a planet. Venus. She felt a thrill run through her. Only the crazy people went to Venus. That’s what her parents had kept telling her, anyway. Why not go to Mars and join your brother’s mining company? Or Luna- where you could actually afford a decent place to live? Her mother’s eyes had filled with tears- even Jupiter or the Outer Belt would be better than Venus!
Torgan shook her head, to erase the memories of that last goodbye from her mind. Her parents would get over it- eventually. Besides, her twin brother Torlan was an Earther through and through and his new wife was already pregnant. Her parents would be drowning in grandchildren soon enough, which would ease the pain of her and the rest of her siblings’ departure from Earth to seek their fortunes elsewhere in the solar system.
She smiled down at the planet below. You’re all mine, beautiful, she thought. Her siblings were either making too much money (her eldest brother Torvan, running a mining company on Mars) or enjoyed the creature comforts too much (her sister Torpan, working for the Luna Corporation) to come and visit her. No, after six months of simulator training and qualification testing, Venus was hers- far from her family, free of her parents and swirling with possibilities below her.
The next two hours blurred together as they disembarked from the ship and cleared customs through Aphrodite Station before boarding the drop ship to take them to the planet below. Torgan made sure to get a window seat, the excitement in her rising to almost unbearable heights until she saw the station begin to fall behind them and felt the drop ship accelerate as it plunged downward into the waiting clouds.
The main arrival point for Venus was a sprawling complex known as Havoc Station, which contained the last remnants of the very first Venusian colony that had long since been swallowed up by additions, renovations, remodels and expansions over the decades. It was neutral territory- controlled by the Venusian Transit Authority, who had the firepower and the muscle to make sure their facilities were not disturbed by the sporadic bickering and occasional wars of the various city states and micronations that crowded the skies of Venus.
The drop ship began to shake as it plunged into the upper atmosphere, heading down toward the sweet-spot of 50 kilometers where human habitation began. It was ideal, but not exactly perfect- the atmospheric pressure and gravity were almost earthlike, but the temperature…. a steamy 70 degrees celsius was less than ideal and there were still the occasional upwellings of clouds of sulfuric acid to worry about. Yet more and more people arrived every passing year- to see if the stories were true, of floating cities, and wings you could strap on so you could fly like a bird and dance in the clouds, but if you fell or if your wings failed, you were cooked.
Torgan smiled again. “Only the crazy people go to Venus,” she whispered as they plunged downward to their destination. Soon the rumbling ceased and the heat shield on the dropship rose to reveal… gasps echoed around the cabin, Torgan’s amongst them, as the passengers caught sight of the first of the cloud cities, just floating, hanging in the air like something out of a dream. She activated her wrist pad, an artificial intelligence by the name of Rome. “Rome, what am I looking at?” She asked.
There was a beep. “Our flight path is taking us between Samundra City and Chasca, two of the largest Venusian city-states. Samundra City was founded one hundred and sixty two years ago by the government of India and achieved autonomy and full independence sixty two years later. It is-”
“Thank you, Rome,” Torgan said and with another beep, her wrist pad shut off. She leaned back into her seat and just stared out of the window as Samundra City floated by. Sunset- a rarity on Venus, as it only happened every one hundred and sixteen Terran days or so was fast approaching this part of the planet and the lights of the city were beginning to sparkle in the fading light as the sun sank in the eastern sky ahead of them. Domes and spires and skyscrapers- it was as if a conclave of architects from a hundred different schools and cultures had jammed everything they could into one city. She saw pagodas, pyramids, ziggurats… it was dreamlike chaos sprung to life on a planet that few, if any had ever thought would be inhabited in any serious way. And yet, here humanity was, living in the sky.
Her wrist pad beeped again. “Yes, Rome?”
“We should be touching down at Havoc Station in approximately five minutes.”
“Thank you, Rome.”
She felt the dropship begin to slow even more and a couple of minutes later, they all heard the familiar sound of the VTOL engines engaging as the powerful thrusters that steered them into the atmosphere powered down and the VTOL engines took over for the more precise work of landing them on their docking pad. Torgan thought they were going to land facing away from Havoc Station for a moment, but the dropship swung around in the right direction and she caught sight of it.
The contrast between the glittering spires of Samundra City and Havoc Station could not be more stark. You could tell, Torgan thought, that this was one of the first colonies on Venus. It was squat, low-slung and… functional was the best word she could come up with. Which made sense, she thought with a smile. It was essentially a spaceport now and like their earthbound counterparts, neither airports nor spaceports went in much for fancy architecture. Sitting up she put her face as close as she could to the window, stretching her neck forward and looking down to see how close they were to their destination. The dropship swayed from side-to-side as the landing pad below them got closer and closer and closer until- the impact of the landing gear touching the pad rumbled throughout the ship and a burst of applause ran through the cabin and the gentle ping of the drop ship’s overhead speakers resonated above it all for a moment. “Ladies and gentlemen, this is your Captain speaking. Welcome to Venus.”
They had arrived.
Venus didn’t really have passport control- since there wasn’t really one, functional government to issue passports. Instead, the Venusian Transit Authority just checked identification and work permits and directed people to their transit points out, which people were only too happy to head to. Torgan began to see why as they emerged into the main terminal of Havoc Station.
The terminal was a long, low slung room that seemed to stretch on forever, with row after row of seating in front of them and a clearly marked pathway around the perimeter that lead people to their connecting transports. Other than that, there wasn’t much else. Torgan saw some view screens with newsfeeds playing on them and what looked like a nutrimat station if people were hungry, but other than that, it was just rows and rows of seats.
The line was moving quickly as well Torgan was almost to the front. Three people, two people, one person and then-
“Identification, please.” The bureaucrat behind the glass was wearing a grey jumpsuit that was having some trouble containing the girth of his expansive belly. He had thick rimmed glasses and a comb over and looked exhausted and bored with his existence. Torgan held up her wrist to the booth and he pressed a button. There was a faint beep.
With a sigh, he pointed into the terminal. “Go through into the terminal, hang a left and follow the lighted path to docking bay sixty five a. Your new employer will meet you there.”
“Thank you,” Torgan said.
“Welcome to Venus,” he replied and pressed a button, the entrance to the terminal sliding back. Torgan flashed him a smile, which was not returned and then she stepped through into the terminal. There was a stream of humanity heading in either direction around the rows and rows of seats that ran as far as the eye could see. After standing still a moment to take it all in, happiness bubbling up inside her and she realized that she had really done it and she was really here, alive, standing in the skies above Venus before she started walking, eager to find her docking bay.
She set her shoulders as she noted that their docking bay had been in the single digits, she had quite a walk ahead of her apparently and she set to it with a will, pack slung over her shoulder, glancing around- taking in the destinations and company names flashing above each bay as she did so. ‘Samundra City Express,’ ‘Chasca Non-Stop’, ‘Royal Aphrodite Cruises’, ‘Ahsabkab Syndicalist Commune’, ‘Lo Shen City’, ‘Venus Adventure Tours’ and on and on they went- each destination sounding more exotic than before until, finally, she reached her destination.
Docking Bay Sixty Five A was completely deserted save for a short, stocky man in his mid-50s, with bright red stubble for hair and a bushy, auburn colored beard that didn’t come close to matching his hair. He stood up as he saw her approach. “Torgan Theobold?”
“I’m Hanrahan Hanrahan,” he said, extending a hand. He smiled as he saw her look of confusion. “I know,” he said. “It’s weird with the two last names, isn’t it? Most people just call me Hanrahan or Han for short if you’re in a hurry.”
Torgan smiled and shook his hand. “Pleased to meet you.”
“Well, if you’re ready to go, I’m ready to get onboard and get the hell out of here,” he grinned. “We’ve got clouds to mine and a whole world I’m sure you’re dying to explore.”
“I’m ready when you are,” Torgan said.
“In that case,” Hanrahan replied. “Follow me and welcome to the Tsiranana.”
While the interior of Havoc Station had been grey, featureless as possible, and strictly utilitarian, whoever had designed the docking bays had known what they were doing. Hanrahan lead her through one set of doors, down a long hallway with grey walls and obnoxiously white lighting that made Torgan squint and then he stopped at a heavy, metal door with a keypad beside in. He punched a code into the keypad and then a voice emerged from a small speaker just above it.
“You got the rook, Han?”
“Yeah, she’s with me Cap. How’s the umbilical looking?”
“Shows as green. You’re good to go.”
“Copy that. We’ll be along in a minute,” Hanrahan replied. He turned to Torgan with a smile. “Are you ready?”
“Ready for what?” Torgan said, nervously.
Hanrahan just chuckled and grasped the door handle. “You’ll see,” he said. And then, he pushed it down and pulled the door open and Torgan gasped. Ahead of them had to be the umbilical that Han had been referring to just a moment ago. It was a long, transparent tube that looked exactly like the old airport boarding gates on Terra. Hanrahan smiled at her reaction. “Follow me,” he said and strode out into the umbilical. After a moment’s hesitation Torgan followed him out.
Her first mistake, Torgan thought, was looking down. Clouds were under her feet and they seemed to stretch forever, which was silly she knew- there was a surface down there somewhere it was just… unseen. Fighting a wave of vertigo that threatened to overwhelm her, she forced her gaze upward to the rapidly disappearing back of Hanrahan and caught sight of her destination.
The Tsiranana was long- longer than she had expected. The spine of the ship seemed to stretch forever, she couldn’t see the stern- it was lost in the clouds. The bow end was where they seemed to be headed- where the action was, Torgan thought. The stern would be where the mining happened-probably through deployment of a variety of filters that would take in the atmosphere, separate the gases into their component parts and discard anything that wasn’t profitable enough to be worth mining. She quickened her pace and caught up with Hanrahan just as the airlock opened and, with a bow, he gestured for her to precede him. “After you, my lady.” With a grin, Torgan stepped through into the outer chamber of the airlock.
Hanrahan stepped in behind her, pulling the door shut as he did so. Once shut, he turned the wheel on the door several times until they both heard and audible metallic sound indicating that the door was fully closed. A panel on the wall lit up and began to flash green. He reached over and pressed a button.
“Are we green?”
“Status is green,” Hanrahan replied. “We’re good to disengage.”
“Copy that,” came the reply. “How did the rook do?”
“Well,” Hanrahan looked over his shoulder and grinned at Torgan. “She’s still here. Doesn’t seem to be afraid of heights.”
“Good,” came the reply. “Get your ass up here so she can meet everyone and we can get her set up in Dispatch.”
“Aye, Captain,” Hanrahan replied. He released the button and then stood up and walked over to the inner door and began to spin the wheel on the door and then, pulling it open, gestured for Torgan to precede him once again. “Let’s introduce you to everyone.”
Once inside, Hanrahan took the lead again, which was good, Torgan thought, because there was no way she would have known which way to go. The inside of the ship seemed to metal- they were walking on metal catwalks and the walls were metal and the bulkheads were metal. Everything clanged and echoed as they walked and she could hear the distant echo of voices coming closer. Eventually, they emerged into a tight atrium, which overlooked all three floors that made up the core of the ship. To their right, a wide, open area was lined with computers, seats and a window.
“Welcome to the bridge,” Hanrahan said. “Captain!” One of the chairs rotated revealing an older man with a bright silver beard, skin the color of mocha, a crumpled hat and an eyepatch over one eye. He was wearing a Motorhead T-Shirt and tight brown leather pants. Torgan forced herself not to act surprised as he stood up, revealing a wooden peg leg and limped over to where she and Hanrahan were standing. “Miarahaba, hena vaovao,” he growled in a language she didn’t understand, sounding for all the world like a caricature of an old Terran pirate sprung to life. Torgan bit the inside of her cheek and tried not to laugh and for a moment no one spoke until finally, someone else spoke.
“All right, you two have had your fun. She’s not falling for it.”
Torgan turned to see a tall woman with long red hair standing behind them looking amused. She looked far more authoritative than the pirate did and Torgan realized with relief that this was, in fact, the Captain. She was dressed in a long brown leather coat, boots and jeans and a t-shirt of some kind- nothing too fancy. Hanrahan was smiling and the pirate snapped his fingers in irritation.
“Pay up,” Hanrahan said.
The pirate took his hat and his eyepatch off and flung them onto the chair behind him. He stomped the peg leg hard onto the floor of the deck and it shimmered for a moment like a heat mirage before turning back into a very real leg and a very real foot. Then, grumbling, he dug into his pocket, pulling out a wallet and began to hand Hanrahan credit chips. The woman with the red hair laughed and stepped forward to extended a hand. “Welcome aboard,” she said. “I’m the Captain, in case you haven’t already guessed. Jane Sendero is the name.”
Torgan shook her hand. “Nice to meet you, Captain Sendero.”
“The pirate there is Zafy Ratsiraka, our navigator,” Sendero said. “The two Jennys are downstairs in the engine room- you’ll meet them later, I’m sure.”
“Where am I going to be?” Torgan asked.
“Way downstairs, in the Fish Bowl I’m afraid,” Sendero replied. “It’s good you’re not afraid of heights,” she continued, “but we can work around it if you are.”
“The Fish Bowl?”
“You’ll see soon enough,” Sendero said. “You’ve got a voicelink direct to the bridge up here and it’s nice and close to your quarters- but we try and keep the component parts of the ship separate.”
Torgan raised an eyebrow in surprise.
“I know,” Sendero said. “It doesn’t make much sense at first- but in the event of a pirate attack or something else, the ship is designed to break apart in separate sections-”
“That way it can’t be hijacked.”
“Not effectively, no.”
“Smart,” Torgan said.
“We thought so,” Sendero replied. “Are you two all done yet?” She asked Zafy and Hanrahan.
“Yes boss,” Zafy replied.
“Good,” Sendero said. “Better luck next time, Zafy. Hanrahan, show the newest member of the crew down to the Fish Bowl. We’re cleared for departure.”
“Aye, Captain,” Hanrahan replied. “Right this way,” he said to Torgan and lead her across the bridge to a small alcove which to Torgan’s surprise was an elevator. Hanrahan waited until she was all the way inside and then pressed a button. “Sorry about the close quarters,” he said, for the two of them were almost nose to nose in the elevator car. “This wasn’t really designed for more than one person.”
“It’s all right,” Torgan said. “Did she mean what she said about the ship separating in the event of pirate attacks?”
Hanrahan nodded. “Occupational hazard for atmosphere miners, I’m afraid. Usually they just want money or a cut of the cargo.”
“Wait, so there are real live pirates on Venus?” Torgan said, incredulous.
“You betcha,” Hanrahan said as the elevator reached it’s destination. “Genuine, bonafide space pirates,” he said stepping out. “Welcome to your little corner of paradise,” he added. Torgan stepped out onto a circular catwalk that overlooked a large, round bowl. Hanrahan pointed to a door to their left. “Your quarters are over there,” he said. “We’ve got a dumbwaiter over there-” he pointed across the bowl where a small opening was visible in the wall, “if you get hungry and want us to send you down some food. Otherwise, meals are 0900, 1300 and 1900 and we take turns with the cooking.”
“And down there?” Torgan asked, looking down into the bowl.
“Down there is home sweet home,” Hanrahan replied. He lead her over to a small opening in the railing that Torgan saw was a ladder that lead down into the bowl. Hanrahan turned and began to climb down, Torgan waiting for him to get to the bottom before following. Once she reached the bottom, she turned around to take it all in. The chair was where she had expected it would be- the screens were darkened because the atmospheric shields remained closed. The consoles were casting patterns of light and flashing in the darkness of the bowl. Torgan felt a thrill of excitement run through her. This had been what she had studied for. This has been what she had logged all the simulator hours for. She had finally arrived.
Not wanting to breathe, Torgan walked over to the chair and sat down in it. Reaching her hands forward, she began to activate the consoles and began working her way through the pre-departure checklist before activating the main communications system. “All hands,” she said. “This is Dispatch. I’m online down here and ready for departure.”
“Roger that, Dispatch,” came the voice of Captain Sendero. “Bridge is five by five and ready for departure in three minutes.”
“One more thing,” Hanrahan said. He reached forward and hit a button on one of the consoles and Torgan watched as the atmospheric shield obscuring her view began to slide back and she gasped at the sight of it. Her little fishbowl at the very bottom of the ship, had a clear, if slightly terrifying view of absolutely everything. Behind her, she could see the spine of the Tsiranana stretching into the distance. Ahead of her, she could see the other docking bays, some occupied, some not, curving around the long arc of Havoc Station and below her were the clouds, obscuring everything. “Wow,” she said.
“I see your qualification scores weren’t lying,” Hanrahan said. “You’re ready to hit the
“Top of my class,” Torgan replied.
“Any issues with the view?” Hanrahan asked. “I know it can be a bit disconcerting at first,” he added.
Torgan shook her head. “It’s amazing.”
“That’s Venus, baby,” Hanrahan said with a smile and with that, he began to climb the ladder out of the Fish Bowl.
Once alone, Torgan began to laugh out loud, excitement, relief and pleasure coursing through her as she gazed out of the window at the vista all around. Above her, the bulk of Havoc Station swam in and out of few as the clouds wrapped their tendrils around it and swept over it. She finally stopped and sat in silence for a moment taking in the view until, she stood up for a moment, tossing her bag with one hand up to the edge of the Fish Bowl. She wasn’t about to climb back up the ladder and toss it into her quarters- not with departure coming so quickly and not wanting to miss a second of this view.
She sat down again and strapped in, adjusting some settings on her board and running one final diagnostic on the communications array. The PA system clicked on again. “Dispatch, are we ready for departure?” Captain Sendero asked.
Torgan smiled as the diagnostic on the communications array came back green. “Comms are green and ready to go.”
“Very well,” Sendero replied. “All hands brace for departure. In five, four, three, two, one-” there was a large metallic lurch that ran through the length of the ship and Torgan jumped, her stomach lurching somewhat as the ship dropped away from Havoc Station, swinging to port and turning away from the station. “All right, gang,” Sendero’s voice echoed across the ship. “We’re heading for a point a few degrees north of the equator, which right now is about seven klicks southwest of Lo Shen City. We’ve got word of a sulfuric acid upwelling and we’re going in for a deep dive in the stuff to fill our tanks.”
“In other words,” Zafy’s raspy voice clicked into the conversation. “Get ready for a bacon fry.”
Torgan’s eyebrows crinkled in confusion. A bacon fry? She shook her head, assuming that whatever Zafy was talking about, she would find out soon enough. The Tsiranana accelerated away from the station and for a minute or so, Torgan felt herself pushed back into her chair before the main engines throttled back down and they were riding the winds toward their destination..
Atmospheric mining seemed like a fool’s errand on Venus, as 96% of the atmosphere was made up of carbon dioxide, so there wasn’t exactly an abundance of gases to choose from. Nitrogen provided 3.5% of the atmosphere and the rest were trace amounts. But there was talk- big talk amongst the solar mega-corporations especially of terraforming Venus and the first step in that process was getting the carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. The mega-corporations wanted to go big or go home, like they were trying to do on Mars, but the Venusians had, for once, agreed on something and resisted any attempts to begin large scale terraforming efforts.
But what they had allowed was atmospheric mining. Carbon dioxide could be easily converted into fuel, power, or even good old fashioned dry ice and if you were on a ship lucky enough to tap into a nitrogen band or a sulfuric acid upwelling, then you could really make serious bank. At the current rate of mining, it would be centuries before any meaningful impact on the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would be felt- which gave them to figure out the really big problems, like what, if anything to do about Venus’ slow rotation, how to cool the planet down and where they were going to get some oxygen from.
In the meantime, Torgan thought, there was plenty of carbon dioxide to be mined and lucrative prizes like argon, helium or sulfuric acid to go after. Maybe she wouldn’t do it forever, maybe her mother was right and she would want to settle down someday, but in the meantime, for today, it was just about perfect.
She wasn’t sure when she first noticed it. It was just a blip on the tracking system at first- a flash so quick she assumed it was a screen distortion of some kind. But as the hours ticked by, Torgan kept seeing it too many times for it to be a coincidence. Finally, she clicked her voicelink on. “Zafy, you got a minute?”
“Rook, we’re about ten minutes away from a deep dive into a cloud of sulfuric acid, but yeah, sure, I got a minute. What’s up?”
“I’ve been tracking something for an hour or two now. Thought it was a screen distortion at first, but it keeps coming back. Doesn’t seem to be that big.”
There was a sigh on the other end of the line. “All right, rook. Let me get the system up.” There was a pause. “Where was this blip of yours?”
“It was aft. Seemed to be in our wake a bit… there. Did you see it?”
“Yeah, I got it.” Zafy’s voice sounded concerned. “Captain- you got a minute?” There was a pause and then Sendero came on the line. “Rook’s found a shadow.”
“Where?” Torgan heard Sendero ask. “There,” Zafy said as it flashed again. She heard Sendero said. “Torgan, nice job.”
“What is it?” Torgan asked.
“We call them shadows,” Sendero replied. “They’re usually nothing and could be anyone. One of the militias, a corporate spying rig, the VTA- but on the other hand…”
“Could be a pirate,” Zafy finished. “There’s no way to know for sure until they stop lurking and decide to do something.”
“So what do we do?” Torgan asked.
“What we came here to do,” Sendero replied. “But, I think we’re going to get set for hijacking procedures before we dive. Torgan, we’re going to send you some rations down the dumbwaiter. Once we dive, you won’t be able to get back up here until we’re clear. You good with that?”
“I like your style, Rook,” Sendero replied. “Let’s get ready to dive.”
The next few minutes passed in a blur as they kept arrowing toward their destination. The dumbwaiter rattled with the promised rations but Torgan kept her seat even as she heard the deep metallic clunks of the locks sealing her in. Their ghost was still following them, she saw and she realized for the first time that she was nervous. The reassurances of Zafy and Captain Sendero had helped, but what if it was actually pirates?
A sudden burst of deceleration shook the Fish Bowl as Torgan felt the engines roar back to life to slow them down. The voicelink clicked on. “All hands prepare for dive in one minute,” Sendero said.
“Ready for your first bacon fry, rook?” Hanrahan’s voice added.
“What’s a bacon fry?” Torgan replied. There was laughter on the other end of the link. “You’ll see in a minute,” Hanrahan replied.
“Engine room,” Sendero said. “You ready?”
“Jenny here, Captain,” a lilting voice that Torgan had never heard before joined the link. “Engine room is ready.”
“Copy that,” Sendero said. “Deploy the shields.” Torgan watched as the shields began to slide upward on the Fish Bowl, obscuring her view once more. “Have our filters been deployed?”
“Filters are green, Captain,” Hanrahan replied.
“Then let’s do this. Dive, All hands, dive.” The dive alarm began to blare and the ship plunged downward, Torgan reached out to grab the console to steady herself. She began counting to herself as they plunged downward and reached thirty when the ship levelled out and came to a stop. She grinned as she realized what the others had meant by the term ‘bacon fry’ because outside, she could hear the hull begin to sizzle, crack and pop as the sulfuric acid went to work on their shields. It really did sound like a frying pan full of bacon.
“10 percent,” Hanrahan’s voice echoed out of the speakers.
“Torgan is our shadow still out there?” Sendero asked.
“Haven’t seen him- wait-” Torgan said. “Yes, Captain. Still there.”
“Any change in position?” Sendero said.
“Negative,” Torgan replied.
“20 percent,” Hanrahan said.
“Shield integrity?” Sendero said.
“Down to 83%, Captain,” Zafy replied.
“Hold it steady,” Sendero said.
“40 percent,” Hanrahan said.
And so it went, the sizzling and crackling of the acid eating away at their ship echoing through the Fish Bowl and the terse, succinct voices of the Sendero, Zafy and Hanrahan tracking their progress until finally, at about 80 percent, their shadow began to move. Torgan hit her voicelink immediately. “Captain, our shadow is moving.”
“Into the cloud?”
“Yes,” Torgan replied.
“All hands, prepare for emergency rise, Zafy get us out of this upwelling.”
“Aye Captain,” Zafy replied.
“Engine room, I’ll need everything you have,” Sendero snapped. “As soon as we’re clear, initiate emergency split.”
Torgan grabbed the arms of her chair as the Tsiranana suddenly turned upward and the engines began to roar. The sizzle of the acid cloud turned into white noise as they began to hurtle upward and out of the cloud.
“Torgan,” Hanrahan said.
“Still here,” she replied.
“If these are pirates,” he said, “And I’m guessing they are, then don’t sweat it. They’re not going to hurt any of us- it’ll bring reprisals from the local militias and ultimately cut into their bottom line.”
“You’ll be treated excellently,” Sendero put in. “I know this is your first day and it seems crazy, but this is an occupational hazard.”
“How many times has this happened?”
“About once or twice a year,” Sendero said. “I was treated to a very nice steak dinner the last time.”
“So there’s a good chance I’m about to be taken hostage by space pirates, but don’t worry about it?” Torgan asked.
“Yes, that’s an order,” Sendero said. “If they go for you, we’ll see you in a couple of hours. If not, then don’t worry- the ship will piece itself back together in about an hour or so.”
“All right,” Torgan said.
“Hang on tight,” Zafy’s voice cut in. “We’re about out. Five seconds.”
“All hands, prepare for emergency split- now,” Sendero’s voice cracked and suddenly the Fish Bowl gave a violent lurch to the left and Torgan knew that the ship must have split. Checking her consoles and seeing that they were safely clear of the upwelling, she lowered the shields just in time to see the other parts of the Tsiranana vanishing rapidly in every direction. She took a deep breath and steadied herself. Only the crazy people came to Venus, she reminded herself. And this was pretty damn crazy, she added, trying her best not to panic. But hey, on the bright side, at least I’m not in a cloud of sulfuric acid anymore.
She checked her consoles again. She was heading east following a track that would take her just past Lo Shen City and into the sunset zone. Hopefully the ship would do whatever it was it did to reconstitute itself before she crossed the terminator into the night side of Venus. But- her heart sank as she saw that their ghost- pirates, militia or whatever it was, was closing in on her position. Apparently she was the closest minnow and- the Fish Bowl rocked as she felt multiple impacts on the side of her hull and then her voice link clicked on.
“You may as well cut your engines,” the voice was male and sounded pleasant enough. “We have you fully tethered.”
Torgan sighed and reached out to her console, pressing a few buttons to deactivate the automatic pilot.
“Thank you,” the voice continued. “We’ll have you aboard in a jiffy.” Then the voicelink clicked off.
“Great,” Torgan said aloud to the empty Fish Bowl. “I’ve been here less than a day and I’m already being kidnapped by pirates.”
Torgan was waiting at the airlock for several minutes until finally, the inner door flashed green, indicating a good seal and she opened it reluctantly, only to be confronted by two men dressed head to toe in black pointing weapons of some kind at her. Torgan realized that she had never bothered to read up on what exactly the weapon of choice was on Venus- but she wasn’t about to ask questions either. One of them gestured for her to step into the airlock and follow him, while the other remained motionless, his weapon trained on her. With a sigh, Torgan placed her hands on her head and stepped through the inner door, then the outer door and then back through the outer door and then the inner door of the pirate ship.
Her eyes took a moment to adjust to the darkness and to her amusement she saw a long wooden cabin, the front of which was a forest of hammocks and the back of which had a series of benches that looked for all the world to be designed for oars, which didn’t make any sense to her. Still following the first of her captors, she found herself climbing one ladder and then another until she was at one end of a small hallway. The first captor pointed to the door at the other end with his weapon. “Go,” he said. “Knock.”
Not really knowing what else to do, Torgan walked down the hallway and raising her hand, knocked on the door. “Come in,” a pleasant voice called from within. Torgan opened the door.
The room beyond was an large and decorated in what Torgan thought was an overly opulent manner. The ceilings were low, the far wall windows from floor to ceiling and at one end of the room was a four poster bed bedecked in what looked to be lurid red sheets. At the other end of the room was an elegant, polished desk, behind which was a large computer monitor displaying what Torgan assumed was their current position on the planet and in front of her was an elegant wooden table, behind which sat the man who she assumed Captain of the Pirate Ship. He stood, dressed head to toe like old earth pirate and, sweeping off his hat, bowed deeply.
“Welcome, my lady.”
“Hello,” Torgan replied, stepping into the room.
“I am Captain Thompson of the good ship Lafitte,” he said. “Welcome to my humble abode.”
“Thank you,” Torgan replied. “My name’s Torgan, by the way. I’ve never been on a pirate ship before.”
“Really?” Thompson replied. He sat down and gestured for her to sit opposite him. “You must be fairly new to our fair planet,” he said.
“It’s my first day.”
Thompson laughed. “Well, hopefully we haven’t changed your mind about staying here.”
“It’s… been an unusual day,” Torgan admitted. “But I think I’m starting to get used to it.”
Thompson laughed. “Well, I’m hoping your were briefed properly by your crewmates. This is a pretty run of the mill snatch and grab job for us. Are you hungry?”
Torgan relaxed somewhat. “I’m actually not that hungry,” she said.
“Thirsty perhaps?” Thompson said. “I have a very nice red imported directly from Terra.”
Torgan arched an eyebrow in surprise. “Well,” she said. “I suppose one glass of wine can’t hurt.”
Thompson laughed. “No indeed!” And with a clap of his hands, he stood up and strode over to a cabinet next to the door and, opening it, returned with two glasses and a bottle of wine. Settling the glasses down on the table, he unscrewed the bottle and poured a measure for Torgan. She raised the glass to her lips and sipped and, setting the glass back down, she looked up at Thompson and nodded and he poured her a more generous measure before pouring himself a glass and sitting down, the bottle between them.
“So what happens now?” Torgan asked.
Thompson raised his glass. “Well first, a toast to your good health- and your first day on Venus.”
“I’ll drink to that,” Torgan said with a smile. They touched glasses briefly before each taking a sip. “But, seriously- I’m new at this, what happens now?” Torgan asked.
“Well, we’re drifting toward Lo Shen City now. There’s a point not far from there where we usually handle business like this but-” the ship suddenly rocked violently and Thompson was on his feet heading for the door.
“What the hell was that?”
“Terrorists! Captain you need to get up here now!”
“Come with me,” Thompson shouted to Torgan and, somewhat unsteadily as the ship rocked violently again, she followed, grabbing onto the door to steady herself as she did so. Thompson was already at the door at the other end of the hallway and heading upward. Torgan followed as best she could.
“Return fire!” Thompson shouted, already topside.
Torgan stopped as she emerged topside, her mouth open with astonishment. Apparently, the Venusians took piracy very seriously, because, well, she was on a pirate ship that looked to be straight out of history book- a tight pressure dome over the deck, of course- but masts sprouted from the deck and lead up to a crow’s nest and- she blinked, were those actual sails? And a wheel? Thompson was behind it already, turning it frantically to face their attacker, a menacing looking back ship sitting just off of their port bow.
“Close in on them!” Thompson was shouting. “All hands fire at will! God damn terrorist sons of bitches! Send them to hell!” The Lafitte was taking heavy damage but her crew was beginning to respond to her Captain’s exhortations. Thompson saw her standing at the entrance to the deck and pointed at her. “Someone get her off the ship! Stat!”
Then hands were grabbing her, hooking under arms and lifting her from where she stood and carrying her across the deck to the stern of the ship. At the very back of the ship, there was a break in the railing that lined the deck and suddenly, one of them was there, his face leaning down to hers. He was an older man with olive colored skin, a silver beard and an eyepatch. “Listen, this is going to suck for you if it’s your first day here, menina,” he said. “You see that silver circle, right at the edge?”
“Yeah,” Torgan said.
“You’re going to stand in there, and the lifeboat will wrap around you.”
“And then what?”
“Then you go for a ride, menina and hope someone is there to catch you.” And before Torgan could do anything, they had grabbed her again, placing her on the silver circle and kicking the back of her boots which sealed her to the deck as a bubble of some kind seem to shoot up around her and then inflate into a large, round ball. Torgan turned to see old man grinning at her as she felt the ball begin to roll on the deck and then she saw him raise his foot and felt the kick and then she was over the side and falling.
She saw the Lafitte fall away rapidly, a fire had broken out below decks and it was listing to one side but it was closing range with the other ship and had scored some hits of its own. It fell away quickly before fading and disappearing in the clouds and then she was alone, wondering what the hell was going to happen and how long she was going to fall.
Most of the human habitation of Venus was about thirty miles up, but Torgan wasn’t sure how deep the Tsiranana had gone into the sulfuric acid upwelling and so she wasn’t sure how high the Lafitte had been cruising either. Thirty miles, however, was a long way to fall. That’s assuming she survived the tale end of it.
She wasn’t the religious type but as she began doing the math in her head, Torgan began to pray that someone out there was going to show up and catch her and as soon as she did so began shaking her head. The odds were astronomical- there would have to be a ship that would have picked up the Lafitte’s signal and known that it was in battle and seen a lifeboat deploy. Not even one full day on Venus and she was going to die. There was no way, no way that anyone would have seen here or was going to rescue her which meant she was going to melt, probably- though hopefully before she hit the ground and- suddenly there was a blinding, white flash of light and incredibly, she felt the lifeboat begin to slow, as some invisible force gripped it and slowed it down until she saw that she was being pulled into a ship of some kind. Torgan collapsed with relief, almost crying with happiness as the lifeboat was gently lowered onto the deck of the ship. She flung herself onto the ground as best she could hugging the ground and by turns laughing and crying in relief. After a few moments of this, she saw the crew of the ship approaching. They were all women, of various ages and races, clad in white robes with black coifs atop their heads. One of them, knelt down beside the lifeboat.
“Hello,” she said. “You must be Torgan.”
“Yes, I am,” Torgan replied.
“My name is Hidegarde,” she said. “Welcome aboard the Santa Sabina.”
“Thank you,” she replied. Hidegarde laughed. “There’s no need to thank us,” she said. “We’ve been tracking you for awhile- ever since Hanrahan called in a favor.”
“You know Hanrahan?”
“Of course I do,” Hidegarde replied. “And we’re about ten minutes away from a docking platform in Lo Shen City where your ship is being repaired. We’ll have you back with your crewmates in a jiffy.”
“Wow,” Torgan breathed. “Really? I seriously thought I was dead there for a minute.”
Hidegarde shrugged. “As the young people these days always seem to say, ‘that’s Venus, baby.’”