February 14th 2014
“We need help,” she yelled. Her throat was dry, scratchy. She wasn’t sure her voice carried. She gasped heavily, but couldn’t get enough oxygen. The air on this planet was thin.
Three dark figures jogged toward her — men, decked head to toe in black armor. They had weapons in hand, but not poised for discharge. In the distance, an older Constellation touched down. Early morning sunlight glinted off red, pirate war-paint that smattered the ship’s hull. It made the craft look like it was made of burning liquid metal.
Yadav shuddered, realizing she and Haddix would soon be in the hands of marauders. She wondered what their chances of survival might be.
But then the spotlight above shifted, and when she looked again the insignia on the Connie wasn’t red. It must have been her eyes, a trick of the twilight. Or maybe her optic nerves had been damaged.
Royal blue and golden-yellow swirls and stripes adorned the ship’s hide. A government seal.
It wasn’t a pirate ship.
When the men reached her, they pulled her bodily from the wreckage. They wore thick masks over their mouths and noses. She cried out as they twisted her arms behind her back — wrenching her damaged elbow — and secured her hands with zip ties. They forced her to a kneeling position. One man held his Model II Arclight against her head and demanded to know how many others were with her.
“Just one. He’s injured bad — bleeding.”
“I need the med ship,” he said into his radio. “Suspects are being taken into custody. One conscious, appears able to walk. The other …” He watched his colleagues examine Haddix. “The other is non-responsive, but breathing.”
The doors of the ship Yadav had taken for a pirate’s skiff opened. Two men with MaxOx P4s stepped out, followed by a woman dressed in a dark pantsuit. Her black hair hung to her waist, straight and sleek, held back in a simple pony tail. She crossed her arms authoritatively, surveying the scene for a moment before striding toward Yadav’s position.
“Madame Governor, I suggest you stay back,” the man with the Arclight said.
“It looks like you’ve got the situation under control.” Leaning toward Yadav, she said, “How do you like our new cannon?”
Yadav didn’t say anything.
“From now on,” the governor continued, “Any unauthorized ship that breaches our atmosphere will be shot out of the sky. Pirates or otherwise.”
“We’re not pirates,” Yadav said, trying to keep her voice steady, despite the shooting pain in her arm. “We’re reporters. New United.” She twisted her arm as best she could to reveal the press tattoo on the inside of her wrist.
The governor leaned over to get take a look. “You both have press ID codes, then?”
A medical shuttle touched down, kicking up dust. Three men and a woman, all in white, rushed out carrying two gurneys.
“Good,” said the governor. “You can give them to Mr. Sato here. We’ll take you to my medical facilities, fix you up, and prep for interrogation.” She beckoned to the people in white.
An emergency staff member rushed to Yadav. A cup of water was thrust in her face, and she drank greedily. Mr. Sato yanked her to her feet and freed her wrists before she was not-so-gently maneuvered onto a gurney.
As they boarded the med ship, someone stuck an IV in Yadav’s arm. A doctor shined a penlight in each of her eyes, then threw a blanket over her. When she asked, they propped her gurney into a sitting position.
It felt like a decade passed before Haddix was loaded in beside her. He looked cleaner — not quite as shocking as he had amongst the wreckage. They’d wrapped his wounds relatively well, and no blood was visible through the temporary bandages. Someone put him on oxygen and covered him with a blanket like Yadav’s. When the ship took off, he didn’t move or make a sound. She reached out for his hand and squeezed, but he didn’t squeeze back.
The med transport had large windows, which gave her a broad view of the planet as they traveled. Eventually, the barren rocks and outcroppings were accompanied by a smattering of vegetation. The occasional sickly-looking farming plot passed by in a blur. When they entered the city, the sun was nearly up. She noted the abundance of plaster-less, square buildings, stacked right up against each other. Raw rebar thrust up from the flat roofs like the legs of dead insects, and crumbling concrete littered the road. Many windows were glassless, covered instead by filthy rags and moth-eaten scraps.
Breaks between the blocks of cement structures were punctuated by circled lean-tos. The shanty houses, composed of whatever had been lying around, had communal cooking pits at their centers and laundry lines linking them together.
Dust-covered, half-naked children ran next to the medical transport, waving.
Yadav waved back. “Populace is poor,” she whispered, hoping her recorder was still in good shape. “Pirates must pose great threat. Ask governor what other measures they take to keep safe.” A single cannon that could take down one spaceship wouldn’t be much help if the pirates decided to strike en masse. “Ask about when pirates appeared, and if she knows why they target such strange goods.”
The medical shuttle landed atop a steep hill overlooking the small city. Tall, sleek buildings sat in a clustered complex behind an iron gate. Yadav immediately noted how modern and high-end everything looked. Lots of polished metal and glass. It set a stark contrast to the cramped, dilapidated buildings below.
She’d seen economic disparities like this many times before. Often it was a symptom of an oppressive state.
The med team rushed Haddix from the shuttle. Her exit was more leisurely. The foyer of the building they entered was lavish, akin to many of the corporate headquarters Yadav had visited. A doctor and several assistants met them there, and took control of her gurney. The medical bay was on the seventh floor, accessed by a wide, stainless steel elevator.
Someone cut off her suit as she was transferred to a proper medical bed. The room was spacious, and carried the familiar antiseptic smell of all up-to-date hospitals. Men and women rushed around in masks and hair nets. The doctor calmly gave orders as she looked Yadav over. Scanners wound around the reporter’s body, operated by several hands.
“Your elbow is broken, and you have severe whiplash,” the doctor told her. “Your skin and muscle problems can be repaired easily with quick-grafts. Don’t worry,” her eyes smiled, above the medical mask. “You’ll be fine.”
“What about Haddix — James?” Yadav croaked.
“He’s with Dr. Yang.”
“What’s … can I …?”
“You’ll be updated as soon as you’re both on your way to recovery. Now, I need you to count back from one hundred.” They were going to put her under.
Yadav tried to sit up. “First tell me about Haddix.”
“You’ll find out in recovery.” The doctor brought out an aerosol anesthetic.
Even in its foggy state, Yadav’s mind fought back. She didn’t know anything about this planet, or these people.
Reptilian instincts told Yadav that she shouldn’t let them anesthetize her. That if she could, she should struggle — get away — reassess.
But then there were four sets of hands holding her down, and the mask was descending, and the doctor was counting for her, “One hundred, ninety-nine, ninety-eight, ninety-seven …”
The oblivion that washed over her was anything but sweet.