Content warning: This story contains strong language.
When the first of the Arctic dawnlight filtered through the curtains, it found Padma smoking a cheroot in bed, the smoke curling ice blue through the golden light. As she stared out at the deep white of the passing icebergs, Xing Yi woke up, turned to the window, and groaned.
“Nooooorth,” she grumbled before rolling over, grabbing Padma’s half of the duvet and using it to cover her head.
“Hah,” said Padma, smiling and tucking the duvet in under Xing Yi’s silver hair. “Yes. We’ve made the turn north.”
“Please stop talking,” groaned Xing Yi. “Oh my head.”
Padma reached over and grabbed the bottle off the table. “Och. Farewell, old 2057,” she smiled at the empty glass, a bare sliver of gold in the bottom. “You lasted a good long while.”
“Will you please stop talking.” Another groan. “Scotch hates me.”
“This Scot doesn’t,” Padma grinned as she gently leaned down to kiss Xing Yi’s knuckles, the only visible part of her, taking another drag of the cheroot before tossing the end into the ashtray. “I’m off. I’ll save you some of whatever Lilah made.”
“Love you too.”
“Morning Captain,” said Zuraidah as Padma walked out onto the deck, the Endurance gently rolling with the morning current.
“Beautiful one it is, too,” Padma sighed, folding her arms over the railing as the rising sun shot the blue waters through with rose gold. “Tallulah at breakfast?”
“Oh,” Zuraidah blinked, her head scarf flapping in the dawn wind. “She’s taken the sub down. I thought you knew.”
“No, right at first light.” Zuraidah’s brows crinkled together. “Any problem?”
Padma breathed in, leaning back and sighing out into the wind, watching a tern slowly glide across the striated cirrus clouds, white wings against gold sky.
“No,” she said at last, smiling at Zuraidah. “No problem. Glad she’s feeling well enough to get back in the water.”
“God, she was complaining for days,” Zuraidah rolled her eyes before launching into an imitation of Tallulah’s BosWash accent. “‘Zu, I’m so bored, Zu, I miss the water, Zu, I can’t believe I got sick this close to the job…”
Zuraidah sighed. “Anyway. You better get some breakfast or Lilah will keep it.”
The mess was filled with the smell of fresh porridge, two bowls of it steaming on the table, one rice and one oat. Edie rolled over in her basket by the door, yawning hugely. Padma scratched her between the ears, making the dog snuffle happily before rolling right back to sleep.
“Oh, you used the last of the jasmine,” Padma said as she pecked Lilah on the cheek before sitting down across from her. “Was thinking of using that for fried rice to finish off the duck eggs.”
“There’s still arborio,” said Lilah, scooping a large spoon of oatmeal into her mouth.
“Fried rice with arborio?” Padma wrinkled her nose. “No. Wrong. Incorrect.”
“I’ll make quiche with the duck eggs then,” said Lilah who leaned in and kissed Padma’s nose.
“What was that for?” Padma said, wrinkling her nose again.
“You’re adorable when you’re miffed.”
“I’m not miffed. I’m outraged.”
“Outrage all you like,” grinned Lilah, dancing away from Padma’s attack spoon and pushing the rice porridge toward her. “Finish that, then. Everyone’s eaten but you. I assume Xing Yi is indisposed?”
“The Macallan disagreed with her,” Padma smiled, sprinkling a healthy handful of shaved ginger over her porridge and topping it with fine white pepper.
“Our Xing Yi is fairly disagreeable, true,” Lilah said, her gray eyes dancing under Padma’s admonishing glance. “I’m kidding. Is that all the ginger you’re using?”
Padma looked down at the nearly empty container of ginger, then dumped the rest of it in.
“Felt some power drain on the engines earlier.” Lilah said, scraping oatmeal off the little dinosaurs on the inside of her bowl. “Was that—”
“—the mesh, yeah,” Padma said, the ginger crunching under her teeth.
“Some good news about that,” Lilah said. “Zu says we have a direct tap. Tallulah’s got the submersible out looking for an exposed line.”
Padma arched an eyebrow. “You found a cable?”
Lilah grinned. “Even better. Weyland line.”
Padma laughed, her head thrown to the ceiling. “We spent all this time worrying about SYNC trace route masking and Ob Superheavy lays a fucking cable right in front of us. Haha! Oh, the hubris of those green bastards!”
“Hey babe,” Lilah said as Zuraidah entered.
“Tallulah’s back,” Zuraidah said.
“Yeah, it’s Weyland alright, big damn W on the side and everything,” grunted Tallulah as the Cherokee woman pulled off her respirator. “No drones that I could see. I got to about twenty-five hundred, confirmed the cable, then got out.”
Padma felt the whole crew turn to her.
“Alright,” she said. “We’re on.”
The Endurance’s fusion engines purred as Xing Yi brought the ship closer to the cable. The crew watched the sonar monitor as one, the probe barrelling down through the murky freeze.
“There,” Zuraidah said, pointing at a small curve on the screen. “By the shelf. Should give you enough cover to go in.”
“I sighted that, it looks good,” Tallulah said.
“There’s definitely drones.” Lilah muttered. “Maybe not on a SYNC line but Weyland never doesn’t have security.”
“Dazzlers ready Zu?” Tallulah turned to her girlfriend.
Zuraidah sighed. “I have eight, maybe nine good ones…”
“That’s more than enough,” Padma said, looking at the screen. Direct tap into a Weyland line. Just a few inches of steel and she would be right inside their fiber. Dazzlers, on the amazing new algorithm Lilah had written, would buy a few minutes each from the drones. Let’s pretend each only gave her 45 seconds.
405 seconds was a lot of time to have direct access to Ob’s mainframe. Oceans of time.
“I’ll jack out after four minutes,” Padma said. “Xing Yi, take the Endurance around this iceberg here. I’ll go under and meet you for pickup on the other side. God, do we have enough data cans? I wasn’t expecting to have a direct tap.”
“I’ll get the mark ones out of storage,” Lilah said, turning around and stepping off the bridge.
“Time, Xing Yi?”
“Twenty-two minutes,” she said, looking at the autopilot.
Seventeen minutes later, Padma was suited up, back to the water, Xing Yi hovering anxiously while Tallulah checked her tanks.
“Don’t fuss,” Padma smiled at her wife. “You know I hate it when you fuss.”
“Wǒ méi shuō shénme… ” grumbled Xing Yi as Zuraidah and Lilah hooked up the last data canister onto the massive cable attached to Sub 2.
“Green,” shouted Lilah from across the deck. Padma gave a thumbs up in response.
“Be careful,” Xing Yi said, Tallulah patting Padma on the shoulder. Gear check go.
“Meow?” Daeg said, the cat’s holoprojection flickering as he murred at Padma.
“See you soon, boy,” Padma grinned, securing her helmet in place. “Alright ladies. All together now!”
“FUCK WEYLAND!” the crew shouted as one, moments before Padma fell backwards into the Arctic Ocean. Sub 2 greeted her like an old friend, spinning up and disconnecting from the Endurance, her cable full of soon-to-be-filled data canisters spooling out behind her like the tail of a lonely, ancient kraken.
For more on Shaper’s new charge mechanic, check out Lead Designer June Cuervo’s companion article to this piece.
Midnight Sun will be released on July 22, 2022, as physical cards via NISEI’s print partners and pay-what-you want files for downloading and printing at home!