Story by Geoff Tuffli
++++ DATE 6.5.2471
++++ TIME 11:02 Solar Standard Time
++++ LOCATION Suihua Community Center, Novy Ushakovskoye, Mercury
Red paper streamers swayed gently from the airflow generated by the old life support systems as they dragged oxygen out of the vast water reservoir tanks with electrolysis.
Vasily stepped through the community center's entrance with the overtly cautious manner of someone unused to even the relatively moderate gravity of Mercury. Adjusting his shoulderbag, he frowned slightly at the strain of music faintly audible from where he stood. A light step near the doorway, and his frown faded away as soon as it had appeared.
"Katya! Bozhe moi, but you are almost as tall as your mother," Vasily exclaimed with delight as he swept up the younger woman into a rough hug.
"Careful. You don't know your own strength," Katya demured. "Also, I should point out that I am taller than my mother," Katya noted after Vasily had at last released her.
"Ah, Katya. It is good to see you. I am not late?"
Katya shook her head. "The wedding is still over an hour away. There is plenty of time. Cassie is so besotted with Temuder that the rest of the wedding party has simply acceded that this is, really, her day, so no one will notice when one of the other bridegrooms and brides are missing for half an hour or so."
Vasily's face fell. "Der'mo. You know, then. You were not to have been told."
Katya shrugged. "I am neither blind nor stupid. I have known for over a year now, and guessed for far longer. But enough crying, we don't really have all that much time, and the others are very eager to hear your report." She held out her arm. "Shall we?"
Vasily gave her a sour look, but took her arm as Katya led him through the minor labyrinth that was the community center. They moved past the large central hall where crowds of people were gathering through a small service door, down a maintenance corridor, exposed power conduits seeming quite out of place, Vasily thought, at his cousin's wedding. At the ceramic door at the very end Katya rapped lightly. After a moment, the door opened with the bare minimum of protest, and the two were ushered inside.
The room beyond was tiny, barely three meters on a side. Four folding chairs had already been laid out, a respectable pile of bulbs whiffing of vodka crowded one corner.
The man who had led them in closed the door, swinging the bar lock on it as soon as they were clear. He took a deep breath, then dropped back down into one of the chairs, grabbing another bulb of vodka which he upended, squeezing down his throat.
Katya took one of the chairs, while Vasily made his greetings to the other two. "You are sure no one will miss you two?"
Fedir snorted. Sonya shook her head. "No one will question where one of the brides and grooms are. Everyone will simply assume we are cloistered doing who-knows-what."
"It isn't like we haven't done this before," Fedir remarked dryly. He glanced at Sonya. "What is this, our fourth marriage?"
"Fifth," Sonya said. "You are forgetting, well." Her lips pressed into a tight line.
Fedir grunted. "Right. Sorry." He glanced up at Vasily. "One of the benefits of a line marriage is you get to be old hat at these kinds of things."
"Or in your case, just old," Katya remarked.
"Enough," Sonya interrupted. "Can we begin? Is there news from Uncle?"
Vasily accepted gratefully one of the bulbs of vodka from Fedir. "I hear there has been some labor unrest here?"
Sonya glanced at Fedir, then back at Vasily. She nodded. "Of course. This is a hard enough life as it is without some fool from Beijing who knows only Earth geology coming here and trying to tell us how we must change our mining procedures. This makes people angry, yes? Angry people make talk. So far, it has just been talk. Mostly."
Vasily shook his head. "Uncle was very specific. You must put a clamp on the unrest before it gets out of hand. This isn't the right time."
"Well, when will it be the right time?" Fedir snapped. "While you're sunning yourself in Vladivostok, we are slowly dying up here."
"That is probably the first time anyone has used the word 'sunning' and 'Vladivostok' in the same sentence," Vasily said, lips twitching into the semblence of a smile.
"Whatever," Fedir said. "The point is, it's been delay after delay. When will you be ready? We can't keep a lid on here forever. Eventually it will blow, and if we aren't careful, we won't be in any kind of position to affect the result."
Vasily took a deep breath. "I understand your frustration. Truly. But if a labor rising is to be successful, there must be certain other conditions in place. My nephew is a sociodynamicist and ran several simulations. We need time." He changed tacts. "The current administrator is rumored to be looking to retire at the end of the solar year. We are working on seeing if we can get someone inclined to overreact to replace her," he said evasively.
Katya was nodding. "So when the gasket blows up here, the reaction from the Authority is distinctly non-proportional, which will bring more of the miners and geologists to our side."
Vasily took a long, appraising look at Katya, finally nodding. "Da. Yes. Exactly."
Sonya shook her head. "He's right, Fedir. Right now we have enough support to do some sabotage, maybe, but anything we could do would be fixed in days, if even that. We need popular support, not just grumblers who will fade into the background the moment Eastern Federation Mercury Authority security starts leaning in on people." She grimaced, obviously irritated.
"There is, also, another thing," Vasily said. He reached into his shoulder bag, pulling out a matryoshka nesting doll. He smiled, bowing slightly as he handed it to Sonya. "A wedding gift."
Sonya took it, narrowing her eyes.
Vasily nodded. "At the very bottom, you will find what looks like a blood stain on the inside of the second-smallest doll. Decrypt the DNA in the usual manner using the key 'October', and you will find something I believe you will find very useful."
"Go on," Sonya said, an edge creeping into her voice.
"Schematics for biochemical weapons," Vasily replied. "With a printer that has been accidently left unconnected from the network and a few basic raw materials, you should be able to begin constructing munitions. It will, however, take time." He held up a finger warningly. "Be very, very careful. We may not get another chance."
Sonya smiled tightly, glancing at Fedir. "Very well, we will do our best to keep a lid on things here. But do not take too long, Cousin."
From outside, the music changed in tempo, and Fedir's eyes looks distant for a moment as someone was obviously sending him a message through his implant. His eyes focused again and he turned to the others. "Time to get married. Again." He stood, holding out his arm to Sonya. "If this bride would be willing to let this bridegroom escort her to the hall?"
Sonya rose to her feet, kissed Vasily on the cheek. "It is good to see you, Vasily. Truly." She turned back to Fedir, took his arm. "We shouldn't keep the others waiting, or they might get married without us."
"That could be awkward," Fedir admitted. "Well, let's get this circus done with. Katya, wait here with Vasily for a few minutes to give us time so we aren't all seen together. We're probably just being paranoid, but can't hurt to be cautious, no?"
"Definitely not," Vasily agreed.
Fedir and Sonya left the small room, leaving Vasily and Katya alone for the moment.
"Can we really do this? What about the Eastern Federation's navy? We have nothing here. Is this hopeless?"
Vasily pocketed two more of the vodka bulbs. "Ah, Katya. Who can know? Perhaps we will all of us die. Very likely. But we will die without being Eastern Federation suki, yes? We will show them that they can all but crush our language from us and try to make us into little bitter shadows of them, but still we will rise and bite them like a whipped dog its master." He shook his head. "We will probably die, yes. But not today. Tomorrow, perhaps."
Katya shook her head. "When, Vasily? When?" Vasily sighed, touching her cheek with one finger.
"Not yet, Katya. Not yet."