Sparks flew in the eventide, while the cold sky grew darker. The technical teams were hastily finishing strapping the remains of the MAV to the back of a large ore transport truck. They knew very well that although the oppressors have been caught by surprise with the actions of that day, they could soon be returning the area.
Claire swallowed tickly as her eyes scanned the captured machine once more. She didn’t expect to survive that battle, but not only did that happened, she also managed to claim a victory. It had had a cost, though.
Looking the other way, she saw the dark silhouette of Brasswolf standing against the massive half-hemisphere of Jupiter in the backdrop. The MMV had suffered quite a pounding, and his left automotive system was partially buried in the ground. There was no way the miners could unclog it with the available equipment, so they decided to take all the parts that were salvageable and leave the rest.
A sense of loss surged through Claire, but there was nothing to be done. Brasswolf had served her well for years, but this final challenge had been too much for the mining vehicle.
“You done here?” Xoán asked her.
“I guess so,” she replied. “I was just… saying goodbye.” Her gaze drifted back to the ruined mining vehicle, before setting on Xoán.
“It was a rough day.”
When the miners reached the now silent battlefield, they found Claire sitting on top of her ruined machine, staring at the collapsed MAV. The enemy pilot was still in his seat when the technicians popped open the hatch. Brasswolf’s last volley had managed to pierce the cockpit. Gravely injured, the pilot still made one last effort to strike at Claire, but he quickly bled to death.
Although she could not know how he intended to pacify the miners, Claire had to admit that he was brave. Were all of the aggressors like him?
As she eyed Xoán, Claire also recalled how he had embraced her upon finding her alive. They cried together for a few minutes. The loss of Terra was still too recent, and the future too uncertain. Nothing would ever be the same from now on.
“Let’s check on Mister Zhou and the others, and see what they want to do,” Claire told Xoán.
The few individuals who could be considered the leaders of the Belus colonists were assembled in front of a large truck. Mister Yin Zhou, the manager of the Zhou Mining Group was in the middle, his arms crossed.
To his left was the current governor of Belus, Aydin Izzet, a tall man with dark skin and darker eyes. Finally, the Head of Logistics, Mai Nguyen, was on the opposite side, leaning against the truck’s wheel.
A fourth figure, Eva Gotha, the Head of Finance, was currently in the mountains to the north, leading the evacuation of the rest of their people. Although her insights were usually appreciated, it was good to know that the leadership had heeded Claire and Xoán’s advice and actually moved the colonists to a safer place. Furthermore, it was good to have at least one of the core leaders away, in case something unexpected happened.
“Here you are,” Zhou greeted Claire and Xoán.
“Sorry for the delay, Mister Zhou,” Claire replied.
“What did Soule told you? Can we salvage the MAV?”
“Yes. We may need to replace some parts, but we’re cannibalizing the MeeVee in order to do that.”
“Good. We may need some actual firepower in the future.”
“We’ll need to negotiate, Zhou,” Mayor Izzet muttered. “Miss Campbell was very lucky today. But we cannot expect to rely on luck alone. Next time the UEC will crush us.”
“We are not going to negotiate.” Zhou leaned over the other man. “They want to take everything from us, all of what we’ve built over the years. Do you remember how many died to make this colony a reality? Do you?”
“I am aware of that,” Izzet spat back at the other man. “But how much of a chance do you think we may have with just one MAV and no trained military pilots?”
“We will manage,” Mai chimed in. “Actually, we should contact the rebels and plan a way to strike back at the government.”
“Strike back? We barely survived being attacked ourselves.”
“No one is going to talk to the rebels,” Zhou declared. “We don’t even know if we can trust them.”
Fiercely independent the colonists were. The intrepid spirit that had led them to the edge of the Solar System was both their greatest strength, and their most debilitating weakness. As the three leaders kept bickering, Claire and Xoán exchanged a tired glance. Then Claire stepped forward.
“You need to stop,” she said, somewhat meekly. No one seemed to notice. She had to raise her voice. “Just stop already!”
That got their attention. Before anyone could muster a response, Claire started talking again.
“All right, we need to organize. If we start squabbling now, then we’ll have artillery falling on us before we pack and leave.” She turned to Mister Zhou. “We do need to find a defensible position in the mountains and establish ourselves there. I think you would be the best person to do so, Mister Zhou, correct?”
The entrepreneur nodded slowly. “Sure.”
“Good, then you could organize that, right?”
After he agreed to do so, Claire turned to the Head of Logistics. “Mai, we won’t make it alone. Can you make a list of known rebel groups so we can contact them as soon as we reach the mountains?”
Finally it was Izzet’s turn. “And you’re right, we need to let the government know of your conditions and demands. Make a speech, and prepare to send it to Earth and to the media.”
It took some wrangling to convince them, but they agreed to act now and debate later. In the end, Claire and Xoán were left alone near the truck.
“You did make them agree on something. I’m surprised.”
Claire let out a long sigh. “Someone needed to do something. If we don’t work together, the UEC will destroy us, Xoán.”
“I know.” He squeezed her shoulder gently.
Maybe it was the exhaustion, or the sheer emotional weight of that day. But as she felt his touch, tears started rolling down Claire’s cheeks. She covered her face, trying not to sob. Moved, Xoán embraced her.
Together, they cried all the tears left in them. In the next day there would be no more time left to mourn.