Everyone knew Jonathon Hansen. His face was familiar from vid screens, his voice from speeches, his name because he was Elite. Being a Hansen meant that he was one of the top five ruling families of the Empire, but that wasn't the only reason he was famous. Barely twenty years old, Jonathon Hansen was touted to be the next president. He had graduated training at only twelve, and he had then moved on to study politics at Lunar University, the only tertiary education possible in the Empire. And he had shone. With the rare ability to speak to everyone at the same time, to reconcile those who had been thought irreconcilable, to negotiate, and most of all never, ever to say anything that he didn't mean, Jonathon was the ideal candidate.
Politics in the Empire were, well, both complicated and simple. Aurelia had a basic understanding of the workings of government, but she was sure that things weren't quite as easy as she had been taught. In theory, each block of a city named a candidate, and one candidate from every ten blocks was chosen as a representative to the City's Assembly. Each set of ten representatives was further narrowed down to just one who would then go on to the City Council to represent the nine others in his group. The Council itself was ruled by three members, all of whom were Elite, chosen from a group of Elite candidates by the Worker Council members. This was supposed to be a compromise between a dictatorship and a democracy. The three ruling Council members were allowed to sit on the High Lunar Assembly to represent their city's interests in the capital. Finally, the High Lunar Assembly elected the President, who could choose ten cabinet members for his government, but all cabinet members also had to be Elite.
The concept of political parties as such didn't really exist, though Aurelia was more than aware that they had existed in the past. These days it was a question of personal promises and constantly changing alliances and enmities, which was why Aurelia was sure that the political situation in Lunar was far from simple. A president reigned for a decade, at which point he would be replaced. It was technically legal for a president to be his own replacement, effectively extending his tenure for another ten years, but that had never happened.
With the current president just months away from the end of his term, the only candidate that the Ruling Classes could so far agree on was Jonathon Hansen. And now, here he was. Aurelia switched to work mode, hurrying to Nicholas's side and taking Hansen's legs as Nicholas swung round to take his arms.
“Over here,” said Aurelia, directing him as the rest of the Med staff parted to let them through.
They placed Hansen on the floor, next to Michael, and Aurelia immediately bent to examine him. Moments later, the senior Med Worker joined her.
They worked in consort, neither speaking.
“Found: leg wound, concussion, responsive but unconscious, lesser injuries on right arm and right leg,” said the senior Med Worker at last.
“Concur,” said Aurelia, indicating that she had found exactly the same.
“Nothing life threatening,” said the senior Worker, sighing with relief and sitting back. “We're going to need some Security Workers in here; I'll get them. In the meantime, keep an eye on his pulse and start cleaning that leg wound out; we'll see if we can stick it.”
Aurelia got to work. She was so engrossed in her task that she didn't notice Nicholas sit beside her until he spoke.
“So you are really a Med Worker, then?” he said with a tired smile. “You were so confused about Clones that I was starting to doubt that uniform.”
Aurelia snorted but kept cleaning the leg wound.
“He's going to be okay, right?” Nicholas asked.
“Yeah, he should be fine.” Aurelia looked up and saw that Nicholas was bleeding from his cheek. “And what about you?”
“I'll be alright. Better than most from my deck, anyway,” he said.
“Deck 31 was almost destroyed. It's pretty much healing film holding the entire ship together around there,” he said.
“How did you make it out?” asked Aurelia, wondering how he could have suffered so little damage, and letting the number 31 roll around in her head for a moment. She'd heard that number before, relatively recently, but she couldn't remember where.
Nicholas blushed. “I was in the toilet,” he said.
There was no time for further conversation, as the senior Med Worker arrived with security.
“Thank Gods,” said the large, gruff Sec Worker, looking down at Hansen. “We thought he was dead when we didn't find him on his deck. Who found this man?”
“I did, sir,” said Nicholas, standing up.
“Sleeves,” said the Sec Worker.
Nicholas pulled up his sleeves and turned his wrists to show his number.
“Very good. Where did you find him?”
Nicholas cleared his throat and wet his lips before speaking again. “In the stairwell, sir.”
“And why were you in the stairwell?”
Again, Nicholas coughed a little. “My deck was destroyed. There were no other survivors. I was looking for someone, anyone, and I found him. I think he'd tried to climb the stairs and passed out, sir.”
“Hmmm.” The Sec Worker nodded. “Possible, I suppose. The Med Worker assures me that Mr. Hansen is going to be fine, so we'll talk to him when he wakes up and confirm your story.”
Aurelia wondered if she was the only one who saw Nicholas's cheek twitch at this.
“For now, stay here on the medical deck. Get that cut seen to as well.”
The Sec Worker left, and Aurelia and Nicholas were alone again.
“Here,” said Aurelia. “Let me look at that cheek.”
She grabbed a wound stick and a disinfection pad and got closer. She knew something wasn't right here. There was something that Nicholas either wasn't saying or was lying about, and she didn't know why. It obviously had something to do with Hansen, but what, she couldn't say.
Nicholas drew in his breath and gritted his teeth as she cleaned his wound.
“I thought Clones were supposed to be brave,” she chided him.
“I thought Med Workers were supposed to be gentle,” he said, grimacing.
“Baby. It'll only take a Second.”
She went back to treating his wound. She was just sealing the cut shut with the wound stick when the senior Med Worker came back.
“All okay here?”
“And what about him? Do I need to inject or not?” He pointed at Michael.
“He's stable, respiration normal and pulse evened out,” said Aurelia, looking the Worker in the eye.
“Fine.” And he was gone.
“What happened to him?” asked Nicholas.
Sometimes, thought Aurelia, the best way to gain a confidence was to give one. She finished up Nicholas's treatment and put the wound stick down. The she sat back on the floor and quietly told the Clone the whole story about Michael. He listened, saying nothing, but lifting an eyebrow in surprise every now and again.
“You were supposed to inject him,” he said when she was done. “Those are the rules.”
“I know,” she agreed. “And I'm not sure why I didn't.”
“Because,” Nicholas observed, “killing isn't as easy as you might think.” He looked around the deck where various Med staff were treating patients. It was quiet enough to whisper, but not so quiet that they might be accidentally overheard.
“Tell me, Aurelia. Does the word Resistance mean anything to you?”
She shook her head.
Nicholas looked as though he was about to say more, but the senior Med Worker came through the door of the central column at that moment and clapped his hands.
“Okay,” he announced, “everyone here is as stable as possible, and there are more wounded than we had thought. A further three decks are being cleared below for more patients. We'll be stretched for Med staff as it is, so if you have someone who can be discharged upstairs, please send them now.”
Aurelia looked at Nicholas. “You'll have to go up,” she said. “I'll clear it with the senior Med Worker. He'll tell Security where you are.”
He nodded. “We shall continue this conversation, Aurelia,” he said as he got up. “You're a very interesting girl.” He gave her an intense, piercing look and then left.
Now what was all that about? Aurelia was even more confused now, and she had spilled her Secret as well. She had a feeling that Nicholas wasn't going to tell anyone, but still, she hadn't got the hoped-for Secret from him in return. And this Resistance business? She wasn't an idiot; she was well aware of the historical meaning of the word resistance but had no idea how this might be important to her life right now.
A murmuring sound shook her from her thoughts. Hansen was coming around.
“Shhh, you're in good hands,” she said as he began to struggle slightly.
His eyes opened, and she was shocked for a moment at how completely blue they were. And then he smiled.
Her stomach squirming, Aurelia remembered having a slight crush on Jonathon Hansen when she was younger. That smile reminded her why.
“You've been injured,” Aurelia told him, trying to remain professional. “But you're going to be fine.”
Hansen grimaced as he moved his leg. “It hurts a bit,” he said, but he was still smiling.
“Well, there was a big, gaping wound there until recently, so I'm not surprised.”
Hansen laughed. “Med Workers with a sense of humour? That's a new one.”
“Politicians who can laugh - that's a new one,” responded Aurelia before she could stop herself.
But Hansen just laughed harder at this. Then he winced as he tried to move his leg again.
“Shall I get you some pain Meds, Mr. Hansen?” asked Aurelia.
He shook his head. “I'll deal with it. And maybe you should call me Jonathon?”
“And why's that?”
“Because all my friends do. And I'm pretty sure that once you've had your hands inside someone's gaping wound, as you so delicately put it, then you're bound to become friends.”
Aurelia smiled and introduced herself. She then explained to Jonathon as best she could what had happened. He simply nodded at the news, as though there was no mystery in why a space shuttle should be attacked randomly for the first time in Aurelia's memory.
“When will we make it back to Lunar?” was all he asked.
“Er, they said about ten hours or so, last I heard,” Aurelia said.
Jonathon nodded again. “And what shall we do to pass that time, then?” His teasing smile was back.
“You've got some minor wounds that could use cleaning,” said Aurelia.
“You're so romantic. Alright, let's do it. It'll be almost a date.”
Aurelia laughed again. “Flirt,” she said and grabbed the first aid box.
Her hands were gentler this time, and several times her fingers brushed the warmth of his skin. She tried hard not to hurt him, and she tried hard not to notice how warm his skin was. For the sake of the Gods, this was Jonathon Hansen, possible future president, she reminded herself. Having dirty thoughts about a Clone was bad enough, but having them about the future world leader was worse. Although, actually, she wasn't sure if he would be.
For the next few minutes, she forced herself to concentrate solely on doing her job. When she was done, she knelt next to him.
“All good,” she said.
“Tell me, Aurelia,” he began, and for a Second she was reminded of Nicholas’s saying those exact words a few minutes ago. “What are your plans?”
He sounded truly interested, so she told him about her posting, adding that she wanted to be a great Med Worker to help people. “And what are yours?” she asked, not really expecting an answer.
“To be a great leader, so that I can help people,” he said, catching her eye and smiling.
His eyes were starting to blur. “You need rest,” Aurelia said. “Shall I give you something to help you sleep?”
“No,” he responded. “I think I can sleep unaided right now. Will you be here when I wake up?”
He sounded so much like a small child that Aurelia stroked his forehead before she realised what she was doing.
“I will,” she promised.
As more patients were sent to the lower hospital decks, Aurelia found her patient load doubled and then tripled as Med staff were moved out to deal with others. There was no chance to rest, though she was reaching the point of exhaustion. She had no idea what time it was, but it must be long after midnight, Earth time. She yawned and stretched as she got up to move to her next patient.
As she walked around the deck, she heard two men talking quietly. Looking over, she could see the green of Security uniforms. The word “attack” caught her attention, and she bent over, pretending to examine the patient closest to her as she eavesdropped on the conversation.
“I'm telling you, I heard it from Collins, so it must be true,” said the first man.
“Bullshit,” said the Second.
“No,” the first protested. “He was first to respond to the flight deck, he heard the transmission come straight from Lunar, and it specifically said that the ship was under attack because Hansen was on board. You saw the guy come in; he's here. It's got to be true.”
Aurelia frowned and straightened a bandage, lifting the patient's wrist with her other hand to take a pulse.
The ship was attacked because Hansen was on it. But why? That didn't make any sense. Who wanted Jonathon dead? He wasn't even president yet. The two men were still speaking, so she moved a patient closer to hear better.
“Then there was a Security breach; you heard the alarm,” said the first man.
“So, someone was moving around the ship who wasn't supposed to be.”
“Coincidence,” the Second man said.
“Maybe. Or maybe not. Maybe someone here knew about the attack before it happened - that's all I'm saying.”
“And you can't prove any of that, so you'd better zip it,” the Second guy told him. “Loose lips sink ships and all that. If I were you, I'd keep your suspicions to yourself.”
Security breach. That was it. Aurelia remembered being up on the flight deck. The first thing that had happened was a Security breach on deck 31; the co-pilot had specifically mentioned it. And that was why the number had rung a bell when Nicholas had said it. He had been on deck 31. Aurelia pondered this as she took yet another pulse. So many pieces, and so hard to fit together. It was like doing a jigsaw puzzle with no edge pieces and half the middle missing. But she had one more clue. Now she needed to figure out whether Nicholas was the source of the Security breach, or whether he'd seen who was.
Gods, she was tired. Aurelia reached up a hand and brushed the hair out of her eyes. Her face felt gritty. She made her way over to the two Security Workers, both of whom had open wounds, though their bleeding had been staunched.
“Not tired?” she asked them, smiling.
“Can't sleep, more like it,” grunted one of them.
Aurelia handed them both a tranquiliser and got them some water. Better to have them out of it than talking, she thought. Especially if neither one of them could keep his mouth shut.
Standing, she stretched, pulling cramps out of the aching muscles in her back, and then yawned. The dark-haired Med Worker she'd seen on deck 11 came over to her.
“Exhausting, isn't it?” she asked.
“Working trauma always is; I think it's because you're on constant high alert,” said the woman. “New at this?”
“Yes,” Aurelia said. “On my way to my first posting.”
“Well, you're performing admirably.” The woman smiled at her. “How about some rest?”
Aurelia's body was yearning to lie down, just for a few minutes. But she knew she had patients. “I don't think we can,” she said.
The woman smiled again. “Sure we can,” she said, soothingly. “Look, it's just you and me on this deck right now, and everyone is stable. Take thirty minutes, grab a cat nap and I'll watch over everyone. When you're done, come get me and we'll switch over, okay?”
It sounded like a plan to Aurelia, so she agreed, thanking the woman profusely. Then she went to find a spare piece of floor space to huddle down on, ending up exactly where she had known she would: in the spare bay next to Jonathon.
He was still sleeping, so she lay down and closed her eyes. But as tired as she was, she couldn't rest. Her mind was running in circles, desperately trying to assimilate all the information that she'd heard and everything that had happened to her that night. Her stomach still ached when she thought of the attack, and she was glad for the work she had to do, because it had taken her mind off things. Now, finally, she had time to think.
Trying to analyse the situation, Aurelia could come up with nothing. She had a scientific mind, part of what made her such a natural Med Worker. Now, she went over what she knew. Nicholas was a Clone, and attractive and funny. Jonathon was a politician and, well, attractive and funny. Her shuttle had been attacked, allegedly because it was carrying Jonathon. Nicholas had been on the deck with the Security breach, but he had not been killed with everyone else on his floor. He'd been the one to find Jonathon, who had obviously not been on his correct deck, as Security had been unable to find him. Nicholas was certainly hiding something, and Jonathon had taken the news of the shuttle attack suspiciously well, as though he had known it might happen.
Her head was aching. What was going on here? The only conclusion that she could come to from what she knew was that Nicholas almost certainly hadn't been on his deck. She sighed and turned over. She could see the female Med worker attending to a patient on the other side of the deck. Quietly and carefully, Aurelia got up and headed towards the central column. If the Med Worker noticed, hopefully she'd just think that Aurelia was in the bathroom. She was careful to close the toilet door on her way past so it look occupied.
The Sec Worker standing by the elevator looked half asleep.
“Just going down to get more tranquilisers from the next deck,” whispered Aurelia, and the guard nodded.
Once in the elevator, she keyed in her number, smiling to herself when she realised that for the first time she'd used her new number correctly and without thinking about it. Then she pressed the button for deck 31. Might as well check out Nicholas's story, she mused.
The elevator slid down the shaft silently, and when the doors opened on deck 31, Aurelia was not surprised to see nobody there. These decks had all been cleared and were damaged; there was no reason for anyone to be down here. Unless they had a suspicious mind, as she did.
Glancing around, Aurelia could see that the damage here was huge. There was already the smell of death in the air, despite the cool, pressurised air of the cabin. Inside the column everything looked relatively normal, but stepping outside onto the deck itself, all she could see was space. Stars floated past her, and everywhere that there should have been hull, there was the thin healing film that held the shuttle together. Only occasionally was there a piece of twisted metal girder holding the ceiling to the floor.
The lights were dimmed, but she could make out the shapes of the dead, lying where they had fallen. There were few recognisable seats, and wiring stuck out at odd angles, fizzing with power. There was no way anyone could have survived here.
Turning around, Aurelia saw that there was no way anyone could have survived in the toilet, either. The outside of the central column had been caved in, hit by something hard by the looks of it. Going into the column, Aurelia tried to open the toilet door but found that she couldn't; it was blocked by the large dent made on the outside wall. There was zero chance that Nicholas could have been in here and survived, because even if he had, he wouldn't have been able to get out. Shit.
The storage cabin inside the column was undamaged, so Aurelia stopped there and picked up the first aid box for the deck. Then she got back inside the elevator and plugged in her number. Without thinking about it too much, because she didn't want to know whether she was doing the right thing or not, she hit the button for deck 93. She hoped that Nicholas had stayed there and not moved up, because she didn't have the time to look any further for him.
With her Med Worker uniform and a first aid box in hand, no one stopped her as she got off the elevator. She walked around the deck. The seats had been removed wherever possible, and passengers were either lying or sitting on the floor. It wasn't until Aurelia had nearly completed the circle that she saw Nicholas, his back against the central column but his eyes open.
“Hey!” she said in a loud whisper.
He turned to look at her.
“Ma'am, what are you doing here?”
A green-uniformed Sec Worker spoke to her from behind.
Crap. Deep breath.
She turned to face the Worker. “This man was a patient of mine downstairs; I fixed that cut on his face. I just remembered that I forgot to give him the pain meds he needs before I discharged him.” She held out her hand to show the worker the two capsules that she'd taken out of the first aid box in the elevator.
The Sec Worker nodded. “Okay,” he said, but he didn't move away. He obviously intended to escort her back to the elevator when she was done.
Aurelia bent next to Nicholas.
“Take one first, then the Second after half an hour if the first doesn't control the pain,” she said loudly.
Nicholas looked confused, but he nodded.
“I'll just take his pulse,” said Aurelia to the Sec Worker, who looked impatient but said nothing.
As she bent lower over Nicholas, his wrist in her hand, she whispered, “You were in the column but not in the toilet, understand?”
Nicholas's forehead furrowed.
“Not in the toilet,” repeated Aurelia.
Finally, Nicholas nodded his head just once, and Aurelia stood.
“You should be fine now, but I'm down on deck 92 if there are any problems.”
She turned away and, without waiting for her Security escort, went directly to the elevator and was already standing inside it when the green uniform caught up with her. Ostentatiously she pressed the button for the next floor down, and she smiled at him as the door closed.
As soon as she exited the column on her deck, she went straight to the female Med Worker and offered to switch places. The Med Worker was grateful and went to lie down. Aurelia checked all the patients, giving some water to those who wanted it, but she left Jonathon for last.
He was stirring when she got to him, and he opened his eyes when she touched his arm.
“Feeling okay?” she asked.
“Mmm, as good as can be expected, I suppose.” But he was smiling.
“Anything I can get you?” Aurelia said, wanting to ask him something else but delaying the moment.
“Nope, I'm all good.”
She took a deep breath. There was no harm in asking, after all, and he might even tell her what she wanted to know. “What happened?” she said.
Jonathon looked at her, studied her, but said nothing.
“Do you know what happened?” she asked.
It felt like his blue eyes were digging deep into her, looking for something. Then he blinked, and Aurelia wasn't sure whether he'd found what he was looking for or not.
“Sometimes,” he said, “I feel it's best to say nothing. If you can't tell the truth, then wherever possible you should not tell a lie.”
The consummate politician. Aurelia could see why he was so good at his job. Well, she had tried. She was about to offer him a tranquiliser so that he could sleep again, but before she could, the announcement system started up again.
“This is a general announcement. Please be aware that mech staff have been working on the ship's systems and that we should be arriving in Lunar City within the next two hours.”
There was subdued cheering from the upper decks. Jonathon struggled to sit upright.
“Don't...” Aurelia began, but she saw that he was determined. She bent to help him so at least he didn't hurt himself.
“I need a favour,” he said, as soon as he was seated against the wall.
“I need you to find the chief of the Sec Workers and bring him here to me.”
Hmmm. Why would he want Security? Aurelia wondered if he was about to come clean about what had happened, and whether Nicholas could be in any danger. As if he could read her mind, Jonathon put a hand on her arm.
“It's nothing to worry about; I just need a couple of things taken care of before I can get off the shuttle,” he said. “Politics, you know?”
She didn't know, but he had reassured her. Approaching the Sec Worker by the elevator, she informed him that Mr. Hansen had requested the chief come down. Then she returned to Jonathon.
“Nope,” he said as he saw her. “It's probably best for you to disappear for a little while. You don't want to hear anything that might get you into trouble.”
She didn't like this, not at all. But again he smiled at her.
“It's for your own good - trust me,” he said.
And to her surprise, she did. She went to the other side of the deck and busied herself making sure the passengers there would be in good enough shape to disembark from the ship. Then the Sec officer came down.
She moved as close as she dared, but she couldn't hear their conversation. She caught only the odd word, not enough to build up a picture of what was going on. Screw it, she thought. This wasn't her mystery to solve. Fine, it had entertained her while she was stuck on the shuttle, but now they were about to dock in Lunar. And then she would have a job to do, and these guys could all sort it out themselves. None of her business.
And yet, if it were none of her business, why had she gone to Nicholas and helped him with his lie? Because it was obviously a lie. He'd said he'd been in the toilet when the attack had happened, but he couldn't have been. So where exactly had he been while the ship was bombarded?
She surveyed the patients, and all looked well, so she got herself a glass of water and took a break. Nicholas had told her that it wasn't possible to change seats on the shuttle, or at least not this time. She'd presumed that was because the Clones were seated apart, but the bodies she'd seen on deck 31 weren't Clones; they were Workers. He'd been uncomfortable too. The steward on her deck had moved her seat easily; it was little fuss, and the shuttle was far from full. She realised that the top decks had all been empty, which was why she'd heard little during the attack itself.
What if Nicholas didn't want them to sit together because he was up to something? That made sense. Had he known that Jonathon was on the ship? If he had, that would explain a lot. Though it didn't explain why the Security breach, which she was now almost certain Nicholas had caused, had happened before the attack rather than during it.
Dammit. She drained the rest of her water and stood up. This wasn't her problem, and she cursed herself for thinking about it again. Hopefully once they got to Lunar, she'd have no time to ponder all this. She'd have her work. Her heart leaped a little at the thought of arrival, and looking at her time reader, she thought she'd better wake the other Med Worker.
She and the female Med Worker were making a final check on the patients when the announcement came.
“We will be docking shortly. Due to the circumstances and lack of safety belts, we ask that all passengers and crew get into safety positions for landing.”
The patients were as safe as they could be. The ones who were able got into position; the others were mostly tranquilised anyway, so their lack of muscle resistance should protect them from more harm. Aurelia curled up on the ground next to Jonathon, who was already in position.
“Ready for landing?” he asked her with a smile.
Her return smile must have looked as nervous as she felt, because as the shuttle prepared itself to dock in Lunar City, Jonathon reached out and held Aurelia's hand.