April 11th 2014
The large guard dropped Yadav and rushed Martinez. More shots went off as they wrestled with the gun. It took three of the five guards, but in moments they had Martinez on the ground.
Yadav slid to her knees in front of Jones. Working quickly, she pulled out the sanitary wipes and thrust them against the wound.
“Bad?” Jones groaned. Her face blanched, and she shivered as though caught in a blast of arctic wind.
Yadav didn’t answer her question.
Sato and another guard joined them and tried to take Jones away. “We need to get her to the Hill,” Sato said. “The med bay.”
“No, stop,” Yadav implored them, grabbing Sato’s sleeve. “I’ve seen your facilities. She’s got no chance there.” She dropped her voice. “Look, there’s a ship coming for me. It’s a rescue transport; they’ll have the right emergency equipment aboard. If we can fly her up to meet them, she might make it.”
They both scanned the hangar. Nothing but Drake pirate ships — except for Jones’ ride.
Together, Yadav and the guards carried the bleeding governor to her Constellation. Jones tried to protest. “Skins are malfunctioning,” she said, her voice airy and distant.
“It’ll have to do, Madam Governor,” said Yadav.
The inside of the ship was sleek, but dated. Definitely not designed for medical transport. They had to buckle Jones in upright, with the restraints pressing on her injury.
Sato jumped into the pilot’s seat, and Yadav opened up the comm channels to the incoming transport. “This is Ulla Yadav of New United,” she said. “I am approaching in a government ship. Validation codes are being sent to you now.” She muted the broadcast. “We do have valid identification codes, don’t we?”
“Wouldn’t be very good pirates if we didn’t,” Sato said.
“Ulla, Ulla,” Jones said, waving her arm limply in Yadav’s direction.
Jones tossed her head slowly from side to side. “Here. We took this off your partner,” she said, trying to pull something out of her jacket pocket. The other guard retrieved it and passed it to Yadav.
It was a paper image. A moment passed while she puzzled out what it was and where it had come from. Two young girls, a woman, and Haddix stood together, smiling, in the offices of New United’s headquarters. Several desks made up the background, and Yadav sat at one, MobiGlas in hand, mouth open mid-word.
The picture’s edges were frayed and soft, and various folds and bends ran through the middle.
This was what she’d seen Haddix kiss in the field, what she’d called his ‘security blanket.’ An image of his family visiting him at work.
Yadav clasped the photo her chest.
The ship rattled as they accelerated through the hangar tunnel. Jones let out a groan or yelp with every new bump.
“Is this thing going to get us out of the atmosphere, or are we going to fly apart first?” Yadav asked.
“Sorry we’re not as up-to-date as your company,” Sato snarked.
“Ulla.” Jones struggled to speak as they rose into the sky. “I want to finish our interview.”
“I don’t think now is the best time,” Yadav said.
“I might not get to, later.”
“We’ll get you on my company’s ship and you’ll be fine.”
“No, you have to know. Not that we’re pirates, but why we’re pirates.”
Why. Yadav had spent her whole life trying to stamp out that word. Why equaled excuses.
“You don’t need to —”
“Wei was right, we are involved in a war. An economic war. Other nations have their people spend mandatory time in the military. We have our own service requirements. Everyone at some point is a pirate.” They broke through the bright atmosphere and into star-speckled space. Jones kept talking. “We want to be self-sustaining. But in order to get there we need resources. We have nothing to trade. We can only take.”
“Incoming craft, we have you on visual,” came the reply, finally, from the New United craft. “You are not a government ship. We believe your ID codes are forged. Stand down. Do not approach, or we will be forced to defend ourselves.”
“The skins,” Jones coughed. “I told you.”
“I am Ulla Yadav of New United,” she repeated. “Sending my press and personal ID codes to you now.”
“How do I know those aren’t stolen, too?”
“You followed a signal here from an ingested beacon, did you not? Where’s the signal coming from?” Jackass.
“Section 32B of the Advocacy’s hijacking prevention guidelines states that if a ship’s validation codes are thought to be forgeries, then we should refuse boarding to —”
Why did she have to get the greenhorn team? Sounded like this kid had never been in the field before. “I don’t care what the damn guidelines say. We have an injured woman on board who is likely to bleed to death unless you let her board your ship. Can you authenticate my IDs and the beacon’s signal, or not?”
“You may be a hostage. Do not approach,” he repeated.
Sato shot her a questioning look. She gestured for him to press on.
The rescue transport revved its cannons. They shone aqua-blue against the starry backdrop. “Do not approach.”
“Damn it, are you here to rescue me or not? This is code blue. I am not under duress. Open your damn docking doors so we can come aboard. Did you not hear me say I’ve got a dying woman here?”
“It doesn’t matter, Ma’am. Even without suspicion of kidnapping and piracy, we only have clearance to transport the persons we came for. One James Haddix and one Ulla Yadav. No other persons are authorized to board this vessel.”
“When you’re in the field, life gets messy,” Yadav said. “You’ve got to break the rules. Either you can damn your clearance and the handbook, take the governor of this planet aboard and save her life — or you can let a woman die just because her name isn’t on your list. No matter which you choose, understand this: I am Ulla Yadav, so you know I’m going to write about it, no matter what you decide. Would you prefer to be the coward who was so afraid for his own skin that he let a defenseless woman bleed out? Or would you rather be the hero who rescued the stranded reporter and saved an important politician?”
She turned to Jones. “Does your ship have an internal feed?”
The governor gestured toward a switch that Sato flipped. “Take a good look,” she said. “Think this woman can survive much more of this back and forth bureaucratic bullshit?”
A long silence followed. Then, “Stand by for docking.”
As the guards prepared to move Jones, the governor reached out for Yadav’s hand. It had been less than two days since they’d met. Now they were in similar circumstances, but on opposite sides of the equation.
“Will you help us? Still write about us? The drill you saw — it’s for reaching the deep water table. If we can get enough fresh water for irrigation, we can farm more efficiently. Better crops means more animals. We can develop trade, for real. Then we can —”
“Stop trying to convince me,” Yadav ordered. “I’ll go back and cover your colony. Write about the people. Get to, uh, get to know them, if that’s what you want.”
“As long as no one will try to kill me.”
“I’ll make sure of that,” said Sato.
The rescue team met them with medical equipment at the ready. One guard boarded with Jones.
Yadav took out the crumpled photograph and kissed it, just as she’d seen Haddix do. Perhaps this was the best way to pay tribute to him. She hadn’t gotten to know him, but she could get to know these people. She could uncover more than the facts. They had reasons for doing what they were doing. Bad reasons? Good reasons? That wasn’t her call. But their whys definitely weren’t excuses.
No one had helped them when criminals had ruined their lives, but people wanted to take them down now that they’d turned criminal themselves. But this wasn’t a news story about greed or power. No one in the universe would take a shot to the gut for either of those things. Sesen’s story was purely about survival. Jones was willing to sacrifice her life so that her colony might find allies through Yadav’s work.
Now she envisioned a new headline: Stranded and Abused, but Not Broken. One Colony Strives to Succeed against All Odds, Battling Political Subterfuge, Starvation and Self-Doubt.
After all these years, Humanity still found ways to surprise even the most cynical reporter.
Marina J. Lostetter’s short fiction has appeared in venues such as InterGalactic Medicine Show, Galaxy’s Edge, and Writers of the Future. Originally from Oregon, Marina now lives in Arkansas with her husband, Alex. She tweets as @MarinaLostetter. Please visit her homepage at http://www.lostetter.net/.