Planetfall: 8

She no longer knows how much time has passed outside. Venus looks to be slightly bigger outside of her window when it passes. Whether from proximity, or symbolic importance, she can't tell.

The air is thick with smoke. The spicy mixture of rosewood, cloves and marijuana is at once enervating to the body and quickening to the mind. She breathes deeply, various strains of thought eddying and twisting in and out of her consciousness.

She closes her eyes, contemplating the hidden space to which they were headed. Certain details, she feels, are beginning to clarify, merely from the lack of information, and the facts around the 2474-shaped hole. Every insight she can manage is another stone on the scales in their favor, deciding whether she and her friends live or die.

She opens her eyes. Before her is a shimmering, luminescent blue woman, holding a pad of paper.

Yes, Manu, her words slowly coming as she exhales.

The holographic image, projected on the smoke, consults its illusory notes. I thought you'd like to know, Doctor Qasim. Sergeant Pang is interrogating a Cogwork Orthodoxy agent right now.

The news is shocking, but she is the correct frame of mind to process it. Strange that they should make themselves known now, she replies.

The agent isn't saying much, Manu adds. She then chews on a pencil made of blue light, before smiling. I have one more thing, she says.

And what is that?

I saw a skeleton.

Your humor is improving, Manu.

No, really. A shiny, metal skeleton, crawling into the heavy equipment bay. Though I did think that was quite funny.

Arc lightning jumps between the clouds of thought. The reaction clears her mind of the self-imposed haze. She shrugs out of her prayer robe and begins to look for her body armor.

Are you going to help Sergeant Pang, Doctor Qasim?

She puts on her gloves first of all. She begins to hurry. Manu, I'm going ahead now. We are moving ahead of schedule. Tell the team to leave whoever they have and to follow behind me. We are going to Irnini Mons. Now.

For the first time she can remember, Manu appears worried. Doctor Qasim, the maneuvering from orbit will be much more difficult than from the New Shambhala docking station.

Yes. It will. But we may be too late already. Something is rushing ahead of us.

Plans have dissipated, blown away like wisps of smoke, dissolving into nothing. What will happen next is known only to Allah. She fastens the tactical vest and laces her boots tight. She is ready.

Manu disappears from the room, relaying Qasim's directive to the others. Qasim runs.

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