Selene Martinez knows a thing or two about rising to big-scale challenges. She faced evacuating thousands of people from Earth in dozens of simultaneous launches.
Now she crash lands on one of the oldest surfaces in the solar system between a brewing conflict that will determine the fate of a whole new branch of humanity.
On Jupiter’s moon Callisto, Selene faces her newest and greatest challenge with the eyes of everyone in the solar system watching her.
Selene Martinez liked the idea of building a new future for humanity on the oldest surface in the solar system.
That’s if she could get the two camps on Callisto to work with each other instead of going for each other’s throats. What a better way to do that, then have them have to rescue their new boss?
At least, she hoped they’d come to her rescue. The transport capsule had lost communications with the base as it made the final orbit around before the burn. Callisto still didn’t have a up a global satellite system. She wouldn’t be able to communicate again until she came around for the final descent.
Callisto essentially lacked an atmosphere, so no braking that way. She’d burn up all of her fuel to land at a survivable impact speed.
Too bad Callisto didn’t have its beanstalk in place, like Ceres. That’d have made it so much easier!
Still, it’d only taken three months to get to Callisto from Earth! Incredible, and possible thanks to the Diaspora’s beam-powered solar sails coming out of Mercury. More and more of them all the time, and new beam satellites coming online.
Trips that had taken Diaspora years in the beginning, were getting shorter and shorter all the time. Eventually they’d all have easy access to the worlds throughout the solar system. Well, everyone except for the folks down in the well on Earth. They could sit and stew while the future went on without them, for all she cared. After everything she had done for them!
Selene took a deep breath, which sounded loud in her helmet, and checked the holographic displays in front of her. Orbital trajectory looked good. All systems in the transport capsule were green. After three months trapped in this can, she couldn’t wait to get out and actually see real people again.
Assuming that she landed in one piece. There wasn’t much that she could do at this point. It was all gravity, orbital mechanics, and the landing program in action now. In the last few minutes she could take over and attempt a manual landing — if she was any kind of pilot. Which she wasn’t.
Her suit was on and functioning. Even if the capsule did rupture on impact, the suit gave her an increased margin of safety. She had to suit up before the final approach. No way to do it in an emergency. The suit was an extreme environments suit, armored and tight. She’d actually had to crawl in through a rear opening. First her legs, so like she was sitting half in and out of the suit, then she had to bend forward and ‘dive’ into the suit, rising up, forcing her limbs and head through the suit. It clung wetly to her, squeezing her to maintain pressure in her body.
It was a little like a reverse birth.
At just over five-feet and thin, she had it easier than anyone bigger and less flexible. Years of yoga practice made it easier. She’d also cut her blond hair very short, so it didn’t get in her way.
Everything that could be done to ensure her survival had been done.
Sometimes you just settled in for the ride.
Down below the moon’s landscape was very close. Craters on top of craters, and more craters. No place was free of craters of all sizes. An incredibly battered surface that hadn’t been reshaped and smoothed over by tectonic forces. Like Europa, Callisto might have a subsurface ocean, but frozen far, far below the surface.
Not at all like the ice ball world of Europa, with a surface visibly reshaped and comparatively smooth.
Ahead a massive body rose above the crater surface. Gigantic Jupiter, in all of its glory. Even after weeks of getting closer, she still hadn’t tired of seeing the planet. She’d cross around Callisto’s tidally-locked hemisphere, to come around and land on the far side of the moon.
Too bad, really, that the base was on the opposite side of the moon. She would have liked to have a view of Jupiter from her office. Assuming she had an office. She didn’t have much detail about her arrangements.
As stunning as the view was she understood the caution. Callisto was outside of the radiation belts that made visiting the inner Galilean satellites so dangerous but it was still considered safer to put the moon between them and the giant planet, if only for psychological reasons, not to have the giant planet a permanent fixture in the sky. Imagine if Callisto had been able to support terrestrial life? What would primitive cultures have done with something as dynamic as Jupiter constantly hanging over their heads?
It didn’t take long before the transport traveled far enough to leave the view behind. She’d dropped even lower. Thrusters kicked on, shaking the transport as her speed fell. She was falling from the sky.
Selene unbuckled the straps holding her into the transport’s seat. Landing had been a bit rough, but both she and the transport capsule were intact.
Those last few minutes had passed in an instant. A bit like the launch from Earth. She’d held on while the barren surface rose up beneath her. Lower, and lower, until she was flying just above the ground like an airplane coming in for a landing.
There was nothing down there except rough, cratered terrain. If she had hit it even at the speed she was traveling, well, she could imagine bits of the transport scattered among the cratered landscape.
At the last moment a path appeared, cut through the icy, rocky surface. The engines cut out and the transport crashed down, sliding and spinning out of control. Then it stopped.
A bit rough might be an understatement.
But she was down, shaken, but relatively unharmed and all systems still functional. Surprising, really.
She stood, holding on for stability. Callisto’s gravity was lower than the Moon. That’d take some getting used to. After months of weightlessness, though, having a sense of up and down was welcome.
The radio came to life. A man’s voice came on, deep, and friendly. “Callisto to transport, do you read?”
With an eye-blink, Selene answered the call. “Yes, I read you. I’m down and all systems are green. Anyone out there to give me a ride in?”
“Roger, transport. Yes, we’ve got a flatbed coming out to pick you up. Hang tight. They’ll be there soon.”
“What’s your name?” She said.
“Sean McBain, ma’am.”
McBain. She knew the name from the personnel roster that she’d studied. Handsome man, from his picture. An evolutionary biologist by training, he was also the assistant director, her second in command. If it worked out, her right hand.
“Don’t call me ma’am,” Selene said. “Selene is just fine. I’m looking forward to seeing everyone!”
“Right. They’ll be there soon. Callisto out.”
Okay. That was about as warm a welcome as Terra Blackstone had warned her about. Blackstone, the force behind the Diaspora Group’s colonization of the solar system, knew something about love and hate. She was the most recognizable person in the solar system and probably hated by several billion people back on Earth. All of those people that thought they had the right to tell the people of the Diaspora what they could, and couldn’t do, out in the solar system.
Selene moved carefully down the length of the transport to gather up her things. She didn’t have much. When the United States and the United Nations acted illegally to seize Diaspora facilities on Earth, there hadn’t been much time to get out. Blackstone might get the blame, but she hadn’t personally handled the details of the exodus.
That’d been Selene. Her preparations had made it possible. She’d convinced the Diaspora’s board to support the evacuation plan, with Blackstone’s backing and support. Materials, but more importantly, people. Anyone that was working for Diaspora that wanted off, as well as their families.
Watching all those simultaneous launches going off had been amazing! Even if it did nearly trigger a panic response from the nations.
Selene picked up a tablet and stuffed it into her bag. Everything else was packed. Two duffels, the sum total of her belongings now. Brought up on one of the last launches. She’d spent time with the rest of the evacuees in orbit around the Earth, in her case at L-Town 5, and then transferred here to take over the Jupiter operations.
The biggest, deadliest planet in the solar system. Essentially a whole solar system on its own, with sixty-seven moons, including some of the most likely habitats for life outside of Earth.
Which meant there were whole worlds at stake in this job. Selene grinned. Talk about fun! She bounced slightly. When would the truck get here?
The flatbed turned out to be something like a snow cat, with a thick tread that crawled across the uneven terrain. There was a plow at the front which could be used to clear obstacles, fill small craters and cut a path. The crane on the back had lifted up the transport and deposited it neatly onto the back of the flatbed. It stuck out pretty far, but the flatbed managed okay.
Selene was in the cab of the flatbed with the crew of four that had come out to pick her up. She recognized them all from studying the staff roster.
Jessi, Kathy, Melissa and Cole, all working out of the environment and facilities department, the people that kept the equipment and colony life support functioning.
The flatbed had space for six people in the cab with the suits on. The cab was unpressurized, so they all stayed in their suits.
Selene asked about that.
“Not worth it,” Cole said. Through his visor, she could see he was in his mid to late forties, with a short gray and black beard and buzzed hair. “It takes too long to get in and out of the suits as it is. We could pressurize her if we needed to, like if a suit was failing, but usually we have to get out and work then get back in, then back out.”
“We’re not changing suits that often,” Kathy offered. She was probably in her thirties, lean, with dark brown eyes and an amazing golden complexion that made her look like she’d been out in the sun.
Except from here the sun wasn’t all that impressive. It had to be her natural skin color.
“Well, thanks for coming to get me,” Selene said. Outside the road, such that it was, pushed on through the field of craters toward a distant cluster of lights.
“This was an easy one,” Jessi said. She laughed, her voice high and clear. “Go get the boss? Check!”
Jessi wasn’t the youngest of the group, that was probably Melissa. She was young, barely twenties, with short brown hair. Obviously shy, she’d offered a quick hello and apparently found her own gloves fascinating.
“Once we get the beanstalk up and running, we’ll be seeing a lot more people out here,” Selene said. “It won’t be such a rough landing.”
“You’re assuming we get the beanstalk up,” Cole said. “The squidders don’t want to spend time on that.”
There it was, the conflict that she’d been handed along with this post. She’d expected it to come up, maybe not this fast. “Squidders?”
“Looking for squid,” Kathy said.
“They think there’re multicellular critters beneath the ice,” Cole added. “Since Ceres, they all want to discover the next biosphere. They want us to drill, not reach up into space.”
“Isn’t true that any ocean might be up to 200 kilometers below the surface?”
“Yes,” Kathy said. “They tend to ignore that little detail.”
Cole said, “They also want us to focus our resources on Europa. You’ll have fun telling them that we’re not here only to do science. We’re trying to build something.”
All of which was true, but it wasn’t the whole picture.
“You’re right.” Selene pointed at the base coming up, a collection of domes that blended in with the surroundings. Printed from local materials, it was the lights and lines that made it stand out. “We are trying to build a home too. Still, it’d be nice to know more about any potential neighbors we might have.”
Kathy shook her head. “If we set foot on Europa we’d die from radiation exposure. That’s another little detail that they want to forget.”
“It’s an important one.” Selene looked around at the group.
Obviously, they wanted her assurances that she’d back their position. She wasn’t backing anyone’s position right now. Chances were, with a little discussion, she’d discover valid points on both sides.
“What do you want to see happen?”
“We focus our attention on our colony here on Callisto,” Cole said. “Look at our resources? We’ve got everything we need here to grow a viable colony, a real colony, not the base we have now. Let’s get that up and running. We can deal with Europa, Ganymede and the rest in the future. Right now we can protect them, rather than rushing into something.”
Behind their visors, the others were nodding. Even Jessi.
“Thanks,” Selene said. “I like knowing the facts on the ground. It’ll take me a little bit to get up and running, and then we’ll see.”
Not, perhaps, the ringing endorsement they wanted, but it’d have to do. At least until she settled in, if they gave her that long.
As living quarters went, Selene had seen worse. Much worse, during her college days. The space they’d given her was a couple levels down into the base, well-lit, with dark textured walls.
The rooms were sterile and cool, with dark textured walls and minimal printed furniture that matched the walls, floor and ceiling. It was all very monochromatic.
There was a mausoleum quality, if mausoleums came with a living area, bedroom and a shower. Free of the suit and wearing a standard black Diaspora workall, she felt almost like a ghost. The low gravity helped, giving each step the feeling as if she would float off the floor.
She carried her duffels into the bedroom and dropped them on the bed. What served as a bed. A thin mat and a thin blanket over the top.
This was how they were living? With no color? Plants would help, and probably would help the environmental systems. She’d seen photos of the outposts on Mars, almost overgrowing with vegetation throughout the base.
That was something to work on. People did better around other living things. There’d been a woman on her exodus transport that had brought a case with four Guinea pigs. Pets or a food source, Selene hadn’t asked.
She unzipped the first duffel. A chime sounded from the other room.
Selene left the duffel and went around to the front door. It slid open at her touch on a panel beside the door.
The man standing outside was much taller than her, she was used to that, with short brown hair and a dimpled chin. He was scruffy and dark, with loose wavy hair falling down to his shoulders. Put him in something other than a Diaspora workall and he could fit the bill for any number of fantasies. He could have a been a model on romance novel covers. Sean McBain. His picture in the file didn’t do him justice at all.
Selene pushed away the thought. It wasn’t a good idea to show up and start lusting after her people. Even if she had spent a long time alone in the transport on the way here.
“Hello!” Selene smiled brightly. “I’m Selene Martinez.”
The man stuck out his hand. “Sean McBain. I see you’ve got here okay and all. No problems with the transport?”
She took his hand. It was firm, not too tight and strong. “We spoke, on the radio. I’ve seen your file.”
He nodded and let go of her hand.
“No problems,” she said. She stepped to the side and gestured at the room. “Would you like to come in? I don’t think I have anything to offer, right now. I haven’t sorted all that out yet.”
Sean smiled and to-die-for dimples formed in his cheeks. “Actually, that’s what I stopped by for. Figured you might want some chow after your trip. I can show you, if you like, ma’am?”
She was hungry. “That sounds great, if you’ll stop calling me ma’am.”
“I don’t know, seems like there must be some regulation or another on proper address.”
Selene stepped out and tapped the panel to close the door. It slid smoothly shut. She smiled at Sean. “If there is, I’ll rewrite it. Make it required to call me by my name.”
He inclined his head with a chuckle. “In that case, let me show you to the dining hall. Selene.”
Even for a small base, the hallways seemed empty. A bit of a ghost town. With her joining the base there were only sixty-three people on Callisto. A tiny pocket of humanity tucked into a crater, something that could be easily overlooked unless you were looking for it.
“Where is everyone?” Selene asked.
“Working. Folks here don’t lack for anything to do. We don’t get bored.” He laughed, a good laugh. Warm, inviting. “Even if we only had Callisto to study we’d be busy, but there’s a whole system out there around Jupiter.”
“It’s exciting,” she said.
“Exactly! Someday, I’ll bet you, Jupiter will be the center of humanity in the solar system. Especially once we open up the way to the other Galilean satellites.”
“The radiation is a little problem.” Selene held her fingers a little bit apart.
“We’ll lick that,” Sean said confidently. “Isn’t that what Blackstone always says?”
“I don’t think she phrases it that way.”
He shrugged. “Maybe not, but it’s all the same. Diaspora hasn’t turned away from anything just because it is hard. We’re here after all.”
“And we’re here,” Selene said, indicating the cafeteria doorway, clearly marked with a sign.
The door slid open and they walked in. The place was mostly empty, but a few weary-looking people sat at isolated tables.
“Do people eat here, or back in their work areas?”
“A lot of staff just grab their food and head back to their offices, labs or whatever.”
He leaned closer, with a glance at the people in the room. “You mostly see the engineering and facilities people in here. Sometimes they take pretty long breaks. It’s a bit of a problem, actually.”
Selene pushed a tray along the counter, studying the options. Mostly green leaf choices, vegetables and golden, buttery-looking rolls. After the dried and concentrates she’d been living on, it was heaven. She piled her plate high, thinking about what Sean was saying.
The engineering and facilities staff were responsible for creating everything and keeping it running. Or retrieving new bosses from the ice. They’d made their pitch for the colony structure. Sean, an evolutionary biologist, apparently fell into the squidders group.
She turned with her laden tray and turned around. There was a man sitting alone near the center of the room. Big, broad shoulders filled the brown workall he wore. A thick black beard, trimmed short, wrapped around his face. His hands were wrapped around a steaming mug, head hanging over the steam. She didn’t recognize him right off from the files, but the pictures there might not have been current.
As Sean turned she nodded at the man. “Who is that?”
“Ah, Asher Thornton. Hydro-engineer.”
“Let’s join him.”
“I think he wants to be left alone.”
Selene ignored Sean’s comments and threaded her way among the tables to Asher’s table. She stopped beside an empty chair. He didn’t look at her.
“Mind if we join you?”
Asher lifted his mug, still not looking at her. “Lots of room.”
She chose to take that as an answer and put her tray down to pull out the chair. When she did it moved in a perfectly straight line, as if held to the floor. She moved it back, pulled it and lifted. It resisted, and then came free. The answer was obvious.
“Magnetic tracks! That’s so clever.”
Sean sat down next to her, across from Asher. “Low gravity, it’s too easy for people to tip them over otherwise.”
“Not if they’ve got any sense,” Asher said.
Selene let it go. Asher might be right, but it was also cool to have the chairs ride magnetic rails. And if it prevented accidents, what was the harm?
“I’m Selene Martinez,” she said.
“I know.” Asher sipped his drink, an herbal mix from the smell of it.
“Is everything okay, Mr. Thornton?”
Now he did look at her, and he had amazing deep blue eyes. Eyes that were as cold as the ice outside right now.
“Okay? We’re at capacity already and I don’t have the staff or resources to expand. Doesn’t matter, we’re still getting another twenty bodies from the exodus. Isn’t that right?”
“That hasn’t been confirmed,” Sean said quickly. He looked at Selene. “I’ve asked for clarification from Diaspora.”
That was alarming news. Callisto should have already been ready for the influx of new people from the exodus. She was only the first, sent on the fast track out here. The others were coming already.
“We are getting more people,” she said. “They’re already on the way. We need people. We’re one of the smallest outposts, with the largest territory.”
Selene speared her salad with her fork and took a bite. The flavor of the dressing was fantastic. The lettuce and other greens crunched lightly. She swallowed and looked at the two men.
“That’s great. I haven’t had fresh food in months. I’m going to review everything, gentlemen. If you want to highlight anything, send me an email with the key points. Right now, however, I want to take a few minutes to enjoy my food. If you want to talk, let’s keep it casual.”
Asher stood up, chair gliding back as he stood. “I’ve got work.”
He left. Sean picked at his own salad, then stood and picked up the tray.
“Sorry, I should get busy too. Are you okay?”
Selene waved her fork. “Go on, if you want.”
He left in a hurry.
She was alone. Actually, really alone. While they’d talked, the few other people in the cafeteria had left too.
“Welcome to Callisto,” she said.
She picked up the roll and bit into the golden side. Crust crunched beneath her teeth, flaking and melting on her tongue.
It was what Blackstone had promised. A new challenge.
There had been twenty-four of them living in an inflatable space station orbiting the L-5 Lagrange point. Two of those children, five and fourteen.
During the exodus, there had been less than forty-eight hours to safely launch the remaining Diaspora personnel and their families into Earth’s orbit. For months they’d been increasing their launches, moving material and people to orbit, but the crack down by the United States and United Nations had called for swift action.
It was a bit eerie living in an inflatable habitat. A bright orange habitat made of the latest, toughest materials, but still thin. And orange. Like super-ripe orange, orange.
The residents dubbed their new home L-Town 5 and elected Selene as their Mayor, since she was behind the effort to get them all off planet.
They each had sections of the inside surfaces where they strapped down their few belongings. The attached launch capsule that had carried them to orbit, provided work, sanitation and kitchen areas.
That had been the result of her team’s design work. A vehicle that would reach orbit, then open and inflate a habitat for the people inside. It was supposed to be a temporary measure until they could transfer off to other assignments across the solar system.
And they were one of dozens of such launches orbiting the L-4 and L-5 points and the Moon. Everyone lived in fear of a bad solar flare, or the collapse of the environmental systems. It had been a very precarious situation, but people had pulled together. They’d all given up their lives back on Earth. Everyone was in the same situation.
Blackstone’s visit was a high point. Everyone in L-Town 5 rushed around cleaning up the place in anticipation. Sanitation and washing facilities were extremely limited but people did what they could. It still smelled like a small enclosed space with twenty-four people living in it, nothing to be done about that, but people were as presentable as they could get when Blackstone’s capsule docked with the launch capsule.
The crowd was anchored around on all the faces, except the one with the hatch to the capsule. Selene had anchored herself near the hatch with one of the rubbery guidelines stretched across the inside surface.
When the hatch opened there was an intake of breath around the habitat, and then as Blackstone pulled herself up to the opening, widespread clapping.
Blackstone was wearing a workall, like all of them, except her black workall looked tailored to fit her curves. Her dark hair floated in a braid behind her. She looked elegant, casual, and perfectly put together. Next to her, they were a pretty grubby lot.
Selene found herself wishing that she’d had more than a damp cloth to wash with, but if anyone understood the situation, it was Terra Blackstone.
The clapping died and Robby, the five-year-old, said loudly into the silence, “Who is that pretty lady?”
Blackstone laughed with the rest of them. When that stopped, she spoke.
“It’s a great question. What’s your name?”
“Robby Daniels,” he said proudly.
“Well, Robby. I’m a lot like you.”
Over the chuckles, smiling, Terra continued. “But I am. I was a little girl once and I wanted to go into space. Now, I got older, but part of me is that same little girl, still excited about going into space.”
“I’m not a girl,” Robby said.
More laughs. “No, you’re not, but that’s okay. You’re here, and you’re brave. That’s what counts. You’re all so brave, so courageous. And so patient! We’re building more transports each day. Mercury has increased production of solar sails, and is bringing another beamed power station online. We’ll have you all underway in the next few weeks. I know for some of you that’s going to mean a long journey, but at the end is a chance to make a new home for humanity on a dozen new worlds!”
Cheers all around, and Robby even clapped. It took a long time to settle down. When it did Blackstone touched Selene’s arm.
“I’m afraid I’m going to have to steal your mayor right off. I’ve got a job for her that can’t wait. And soon, I promise, we’ll come back for the rest of you. In the meantime, my capsule is loaded with fresh supplies for all of you, if we can arrange to get those off-loaded? Then I’ll be taking back any recyclables that have built up too.”
That made everyone even happier. It was a good move. Fresh food, supplies, and everything that used to be considered waste, was now recyclable. Diaspora didn’t waste any resources, they couldn’t afford to, being cut off from Earth.
While the other residents moved to unload the capsule, Blackstone and Selene moved aside to an empty space near the hatch.
“What’s the job?” Selene asked.
“Jupiter. Yours if you want it.”
Jupiter. Largest planet in the solar system, home to some of the most likely places in the solar system with life. It was a prize. The crown jewel. Or at least it should be, but even stuck in L-Town she’d heard suggestions that everything wasn’t as it should be.
“Of course I’ll do it,” she said. “What do I need to know?”
“A full briefing packet will be in your transport. We’ve got a solar sail lined up.” Terra’s red lips curved in a smile. “I almost wish I could take this one myself. It’ll be a challenge unlike any other in the solar system.”
Sitting in the empty cafeteria, Selene heard the echoes of Blackstone’s words. The challenge might be unlike any other in the solar system, but the people were the same. That hadn’t changed, and that was the real challenge.
People, as a group, did what they thought best most of the time. Defining what was best, that was the challenge. The toughest were convinced that what they wanted was the best for everyone. She clearly had her share of those here, and the whole spectrum around that. Those who inflated what they were doing, to show others their importance. The explorers that believed the reason for being here was pure science. The colonists that didn’t care about existing life-forms.
That was unfair. All of those generalizations were as much false as they were true.
The Jupiter operations needed clear, concrete plans, and a vision of where they were going.
She had to build that, quickly, before it all fell away.
Diaspora existed because of Blackstone’s dream, a dream to see humanity on every planet in the solar system. It was a dream that was already realized. The Diaspora group had launched over a dozen expeditions to the major planets and four dwarf planets, starting with the outermost destinations first and working inward. The launches had been timed so that they all arrived within the same year.
Unprecedented. Reckless, according to Blackstone’s critics. Pundits predicted the death of everyone in the colonies, morbidly anticipating the massive tragedy caused by one woman’s hubris.
Except it didn’t happen. The new colonies survived. Thrived in many cases, like the cloud city of Aphrodite speeding around the atmosphere of Venus.
Selene walked through the quiet halls of Callisto and didn’t see thriving. This place had all the charm of a lab. A boring lab in a place that shouldn’t be boring. The more she walked the stronger the sense of wrongness grew.
This place should feel lived in. Industrious. A growing community and there was nothing.
Quiet. Everyone off in their own areas, isolated and apart from one another.
This wasn’t a community. That’s what Blackstone was afraid of, the reason that she asked Selene to come here and take over.
Build a community. Build a future, on all of these worlds.
It was time to talk to the people, the colonists of Callisto.
Selene scheduled the meeting for the next morning, and used the base system to send out the message to everyone’s inbox. Mandatory attendance. It’d create some grumbling, but better to get them there than not.
The cafeteria was the only place in the base large enough for sixty-three people. Selene waited until the crew was assembled before she left her quarters.
She was dressed for the meeting in the one professional dress that she’d brought with her for official functions. It was charcoal and had cost a month’s salary back on Earth. Not that it mattered here, but putting it on was like putting on her armor.
Sometimes it was necessary to dress for the occasion. This was one of those times.
She carried a small pocket tablet and a holo-projector. She’d been up all evening yesterday, reviewing reports and deciding on a course of action. Her mouth was dry, tacky. She’d have to remember to get a glass of water when she reached the cafeteria.
It didn’t take long to get to the cafeteria. The base wasn’t all that big. Before she reached the doors she heard the colonists inside. It was the hum of a crowded room, of human voices in a group, like a hive of bees stirred into activity.
Bringing them together was probably stirring up conflicts that had shimmered while people remained in their own isolated areas, but it was necessary. They needed to clean the air and talk about the issues involved.
The door slid open and Selene walked inside. The room was packed. Every table was full and there were people standing around in between the tables. Everyone was talking in small groups. The colors of the workalls divided the room into black, green and browns. Few in the group were mingled. Voices started to die down as she walked to the front of the room.
The room was filled with the scent of people and food. It was a very human, comforting scent. Almost homey. Selene nodded to people as she went to the front of the room. She placed the holo-projector on the floor. People started taking seats.
She went over to the beverage station and picked up a clean glass and filled it with water. She took a sip. It was cold. Icy cold. Water from one of the most ancient sources in the solar system, purified and possibly for the first time passing through a human being.
Taking her water she turned back to the room, which was almost quiet. Everyone was watching her. She smiled and took another sip, then put the glass down on the front counter.
She folded her hands together around the tablet and looked at the colonists. Men and women, divided by their workalls, with those in black on the left, the greens in the middle toward the back, and the browns on the right. Scientists, environmental and engineering. She recognized faces from the briefing files.
Sean McBain sat surrounded by others she recognized. Asher Thornton, likewise sat surrounded by others in brown workalls, including the team that had pulled her capsule from the ice.
“Good morning,” she said, projecting her voice. “Can you hear me in the back?”
Affirmative shouts from those in green at the back.
She smiled. “Great. Thank you all for taking time out of your busy schedules. I’m Selene Martinez. I know Diaspora sent ahead my information and history, so I’m not going to spend time going into my background in detail. In brief, for the past several years, I’ve directed all Earth-based operations, including the exodus that successfully evacuated our personnel and materials before they could be seized in the illegal actions of the United States and the United Nations.”
The room was quiet now. She had their attention.
“I glad to be here. Jupiter is an exciting, dynamic system, with unlimited potential. I was talking to Asher Thornton yesterday and he brought up the concerns about more exodus personnel joining our ranks. I’ve also heard from some of you about the limits of this facility, and about the potential scientific benefits of exploring Europa. It sounds like we’re at a crossroads.”
She activated her tablet and connected to the holo-projector. With a couple taps she pulled up the simulation that she had developed.
Europa appeared floating on her left. The Galilean satellite was icy and oddly smooth compared to other bodies in the solar system. Darker, reddish lines spread across the surface like lichen. An ice-world, wrapped in ice with obvious signs that the surface had cracked, moved, and refroze over and over. A young surface.
Another tap and Callisto appeared on her right.
In contrast to Europa, Callisto was saturated with craters. It was an ancient surface, unshaped by weather or tectonics. A world hammered for billions of years by debris from the solar system.
“This is the situation we find ourselves in now.” She reached out to the Europa hologram. The world expanded slightly, rotating as she turned her hand. “Europa undoubtedly has an ocean beneath the ice. We’ve dreamed about seeing what’s there. If it wasn’t for Jupiter’s radiation field, it would have been very tempting to set up our colony on Europa. As it is, the field is deadly, and damaging to equipment. It presents a significant challenge to spending time on the moon. Even without that issue, Europa is mostly ice on the surface, perhaps lacking everything that we need to build a successful colony.”
Voices rose out from those in the black workalls. Selene held up a hand. “Please. We’re only beginning.”
Those scientists settled back. Sean was watching her intently, his lips pressed together.
Selene turned to the Callisto hologram. “Instead we’re here. Callisto. A mix of rock and ice, like a dirty slushy. Actually, a good mix of resources for the colony. Mineral resources, volatiles, and water ice. A geologically stable surface, and radiation exposure at tolerable levels. It also has the potential of housing an ocean deep beneath the crust, although the energy potential and the ability to deliver oxygenated material to the ocean is extremely limited. As a potential habitat for life, Callisto doesn’t hold much promise.”
The grumbling from the science-types grew louder.
Selene tapped on the screen. The two moons shrank and moved, speeding away from her as Jupiter moved into view next to her, as tall as her, floating a foot above the floor. The clouds of the gas giant rolled as storms moved across its surface.
“Jupiter. The giant of the solar system.” The clouds moved across the surface. She motioned and the planet shrank down until it was a quarter the size, rotating next to her. More shapes appeared around it.
Rings. Moons multiplied around her. Bright neon blue lines circled each moon and stretched out in orbits around the planet. The lines extended out into the audience, everything moving and spinning like some god’s idea of a clockwork toy.
It was a beautiful, impressive show.
“This is our new home,” Selene said. “Down here, in these quiet halls, it’s easy to sink into work and almost forget that we aren’t sitting on the sharp-edged knife of discovery. There are wonders to discover and to create in equal parts! We need to learn what we can of these worlds, and we need to build a new home for humanity.”
Another gesture and the whizzing system shrank away, tracking one small marble which grew as it moved closer and slowed. Everything else faded away to leave Callisto back hovering in front of her.
“Callisto gives us that chance.” She moved the globe to the side where it floated beside her. “Now it’s up to you. I want cross disciplinary teams to create proposals. Each proposal must address both our long-term existence here, and increase our knowledge of this system. Teams must include members from science, environment and engineering.”
Now many people started talking, shouting out questions. Selene raised a finger and talked right over them.
“This will be a competitive process, with proposals ranked off against one another on an elimination ladder. You will all evaluate the proposals and decide which will advance to the next stage of the ladder. Between each stage there will be a brief opportunity to revise your proposal. This will continue until there is only proposal. There will also be a judging panel of myself, Sean McBain and Asher Thornton to evaluate and oversee the process.”
Selene smiled at the room. “Now, I’ll take your questions.”
After the initial question phase, Selene left the colonists to talk about the challenge. She went with Asher and Sean up to her office for a private conversation about her plan. It was the first time she’d set foot inside the office since arriving in the colony.
It was up above the surface, with a view out onto the cratered surface of Callisto. The floor to ceiling windows were dramatic, and a bit terrifying thinking about what would happen if they were broken.
“A corner office with a window, I guess I can’t complain about that,” she said.
She turned away from the window to the two men standing in front of the desk.
“Sit down, gentlemen.”
Both went to the chairs in front of the desk and sat. Sean perched on the edge of his seat while Asher reclined back in the chair.
Selene picked up a clear pitcher filled with freshly filtered Callisto water. “Water?”
Both men shook their heads. She poured herself a glass and then sat down in her chair. She sipped the pure water. It had a fresh mountain spring flavor, probably from primordial minerals. If they could sell it back on Earth they’d probably make a fortune.
“We could have used some warning,” Sean said. “Your proposal tosses out any of the schedules our people were working with.”
Selene put the glass down on the desk, looking at Sean. “Proposal? It isn’t a proposal, it’s what we’re doing.”
Asher’s lips twitched, not quite a smile, but close.
The muscles in Sean’s jaw bunched. “Is that how you run things? By dictating?”
Selene interlaced her hands and leaned forward. “When it’s necessary. And in this case it is. As soon as I landed I heard ideas about what Callisto needed, including from you. This outpost isn’t working together in a unified direction. We have to be in this together, and everyone needs to know what we’re doing.”
“And if none of the plans are realistic, what then?” Asher asked.
“That’s why the three of us are going to evaluate the proposals. We’re not bringing anything onto the ladder that the three of us don’t agree has a chance of working. We’re the oversight.”
Sean glanced at Asher, and back to her. “We’re the oversight?”
“That surprises you?”
Sean shrugged. “Well, yes. I thought with Blackstone herself sending you out here, that she had an agenda.”
“An agenda? Of course she did.” Selene laughed. “Why would you think that there isn’t an agenda?”
“I don’t understand.”
Selene rose and walked around the desk. Both men slid their chairs further back. She leaned on the desk and crossed her ankles. The low gravity made her feel light on her feet, like she could perch that way forever. And behind her? The rugged face of Callisto seen through those windows.
“Blackstone created the Diaspora Group with an agenda. Put people everywhere in the solar system. But she’ll be the first to tell you that she isn’t interested in being some sort of dictator of the solar system.”
Asher coughed. “You sure about that?”
“I am.” Selene smiled. “Diaspora got us started. They got us here, feet on ground. What we do with it now is up to us. We define what the future looks like here. All of us, together. All ideas on the table, live or die on their merits. It’s our future to make, gentlemen. Ours. Of course we also want to keep in mind that there are other worlds out here, opportunities for trade and cooperation. But this is still our home. Now let’s work out some of the details of how we’re going to work together.”
When they were gone, with an assignment to draft the key points they wanted to see in proposals, Selene went to the window.
Callisto lay before her. This was home now. L-Town 5 had been special, but temporary. Earth, Earth was her birth place, but the people there had moved against them. Moved against the visionaries that set out to create a new world, more than that, twelve new worlds!
And now Earth was shut out of space. The war for the higher ground was lost as soon as the United States sent the Lincoln against Diaspora Base on the Moon.
With the solar sails, beamed power and resources at its disposal, Diaspora currently had the upper hand. People, that was their most limited resource. All of these worlds needed to expand their population and that’d take time. But it was crucial to their future. Somehow that problem had to get addressed along with everything else.
Selene walked back to her desk and picked up the glass. She took another drink. The water really was fantastic. Too bad that selling it wasn’t an option.
It did raise the question. Everyone in the Diaspora worked without pay right now. Would that continue? If there was an civilization to be built, it made sense that they’d build a new economy. Right now it was enough to get food, air, and healthcare. That’d probably always be fundamental out here. With people being a limited resource, they couldn’t afford to let anyone fall through the cracks. That was true back on Earth too, whether or not they ever realized it.
She crossed her arms, still holding the glass, cold against her arm. She turned it, watching the light refract through the glass.
This was made here, from local materials. The water came from here. It was a perfect example of what they were building. Everything, from the glasses to the very air that they breathed.
Eventually there would be children.
That meant spaces for them, an education plan, and that didn’t even touch on the impacts of low gravity on child development. That was something that was going to be looked at across the solar system. It was only in the cloud habitats on Venus that people lived in an environment truly comparable to Earth. Most of the Diaspora outposts were low gee environments.
Would people thrive in this sort of environment? That was a big question to answer, one that was raised back on Earth by Diaspora’s critics. One answer might be crèche’s to raise children on Venus, rotate pregnant Diaspora colonists to Venus to raise the children there before they moved out to lower gravity environments.
Or, for that matter, the outer gas giants could also house floating environments. Jupiter’s deep gravity well and radiation proposed a problem here, but the other gas giants were less of an issue.
Selene returned to the desk, put down the glass and pulled up her system. There was a lot of work to be done, but a population plan had to figure into any efforts.
The morning after the challenge started, Selene woke up to more than a hundred emails in her inbox. She ignored them all, stuffed a clean workall into her duffel along with some other necessities and went in search of the gym. After brushing her teeth to get rid of the tackiness of the night.
It wasn’t hard to find. Sub-level 3, one level below her suite. Again, she was struck by the empty corridors. It was like walking through a ghost town.
According to her files, the gym held a host of exercise equipment and showers. It been her habit to run back on Earth. The time in L-Town 5 and in transit had left her muscles feeling weak. She felt bloated and heavy, and the workalls didn’t fit as well as they had. Zero-gee exercise equipment didn’t quite cut it.
The door hissed open and she went on in, expecting to see someone inside. The place was quiet. Selene stopped.
Three treadmills, a couple exercise bikes and two rowing machines. Some free weights. All of it made from the same dark materials as the rest of the base. Locally-built, then, produced on the same printers as the rest of the base structure.
And no one was using it? It didn’t smell like a gym. It was more like an empty store room, like someone had put the equipment here and then forgotten about it.
Maybe that was another issue she needed to address.
The door slid open behind her. Selene turned around, as Asher Thornton walked through door. He was wearing brown shorts and a plain green t-shirt. His head was down but he looked up and stopped in his tracks when he saw her.
“Good morning,” she said brightly. She gestured at the equipment. “I was just trying to decide what to use? What do you use?”
Asher shook his head. “None of it.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Then what are you doing?”
He nodded, his eyes flicking across the room. “Going for a run.”
She looked where he indicated. A door, across the gym, between the exercise bikes and the treadmills. Unmarked, whereas the door to the showers had a white-lettered sign. Come to think of it, she didn’t remember the door on the map that she had pulled up.
“Perimeter corridor,” Asher said. “Spirals around the base. I like to run it.”
“That sounds better than a treadmill. Mind some company?”
He shook his head, gestured. “After you.”
Selene grinned. “Okay. Let’s go!”
The door opened onto a narrow corridor with pipes along the ceiling and walls. A light came on, dim, filling the space with a white glow. It was dark ahead and behind.
She moved aside as Asher stepped inside. “Which way?”
The corridor was very narrow. Asher moved up, facing her from inches way. He was taller, by a few inches. His shirt looked like it was poured on over his well-defined chest. His arms were massive, with thick biceps. His feet, bare.
He pointed at the darkness ahead. “That way. I’ll go first. Try to keep up, watch your head and be ready to move. There are obstacles.”
“Ready when you are,” Selene said.
Asher started running and she followed. He moved well, like he was gliding across the floor. As he slipped into the dark, another light came on ahead.
Running was like flying. She found herself leaning forward, feet hardly even touching the ground. Asher’s bare feet hardly made any sound at all. He was moving fast, easily, and Selene stayed behind him.
The first few minutes flew by in a flash. The corridor continued up, bearing slightly to the right as they spiraled around the base. Now and then she stepped wrong, pushing off too much, and bounded into the air. One of the times her hair brushed the ceiling.
That was alarming. If she hit her head, it would still hurt at these speeds. She concentrated on keeping her steps light, barely kissing the ground and chased after Asher.
Running through the tunnels was fun. Fun in a way that she hadn’t experienced in months. During the time leading up to the Exodus, running was a scheduled chore. It was something that she did so that she could keep doing everything else, and yet she begrudged the time it took.
Her breath flowed in and out. Moving seemed easy. The lower gravity, certainly. What an amazing feeling? Here was another possibility for the chronically Earth-bound: Take a vacation on a lower gravity world and move the way you haven’t since you were a child.
Asher jumped, diving forward over a pipe that made an abrupt ninety-degree turn across the corridor.
Her mind didn’t have time to make a decision. She reacted, rolling forward, beneath the pipe. Then she was up and chasing after Asher again.
Her laughter echoed down the corridor.
She pushed harder as her comfort with the stride increased. Her up and down vertical motion dropped in favor of a smooth stride that carried her forward. Bulkheads and emergency hatches created minor obstacles, a small hop and tuck through before continuing.
More obstacles appeared in the corridor. Pipes crossed the space. Cables hung in low arcs from the ceiling. Asher flowed over most lower obstacles, striding over them with the grace of an experienced hurdler. He was a like a deer at home in the forest.
Selene couldn’t match that, not yet. She vaulted several, though, using her hands to help move her forward. Momentum helped make it feel more like moving in zero-gee again. Except on the other side gravity pulled her back down.
The corridor spiraled all the way up until it ended at another hatch and bulkhead. Asher stopped and turned. He stretched one leg up behind, clasping the ankle as she closed the distance.
She grinned as she came to a stop and caught her breath. “Amazing. Thank you.”
“We’re not done yet.” Asher gestured back down the corridor. “Now we have to run back. You lead this time.”
“Oh,” Selene laughed. “I’d hold you up.”
“You kept up this far,” he said. “I think you can manage.”
“Okay. You’re on.”
Selene turned and did a quick stretch to each side.
As she took off running, Asher said, “Now I get the view.”
In response she put on more speed. Each foot fall took forever as she glided forward down the corridor. The walls passed in a blur of conduits and piping. These corridors were part of the circulatory system of the entire base. A view of what went on behind the scenes.
Her lungs burned with the effort. All those weeks of inactivity were catching up to her. Her legs burned too, but she pushed on. Her thoughts drifted. All of the challenges that they faced, at the moment she couldn’t do anything about them. Nothing except keeping her legs moving.
Even Asher ceased to matter. His breathing kept her company, but as a distant point of interest. He didn’t talk. He didn’t disturb her, and she appreciated that. She existed in the moment, avoiding obstacles that rose out of the darkness between the lights that tracked their progress. She vaulted some, dove under others, and kept moving.
“Stop,” Asher said behind her.
It took a moment for his word to catch up to her brain, and she slowed to a stop, in the darkness between the lights. She turned.
He stood in the corridor, hands on his hips.
“What’s wrong?” She asked. “Can’t keep up?”
Asher shook his head, breathing hard, and pointed at the door she had passed. “The gym? Showers.”
She turned, looking into the dark corridor ahead. “What’s down there?”
“It doesn’t go far,” Asher said. “We’re at level three, there’s only two more down. It ends at the bottom.”
“Do you ever go down there?”
“Sometimes,” he said. “I’ll run down there at the start, then up to the top and back to here.”
She waved. “Okay, then. I’ll go down, turn around and come back up. Are you coming?”
“I think I’ll catch the shower.”
“Okay. See you later.”
She didn’t wait for him to say anything else. She turned and ran ahead. The lights came on for her and she tucked through the next bulkhead and went on down.
An hour later, Selene was back in her office reviewing the original plans for the base. It wasn’t only the skyhook that hadn’t been built. There were larger facilities planned. Residential, agricultural and industrial expansions planned with the increased resources coming in from the mining operations.
Operations that were only at a quarter of the estimated level.
Her door chimed.
“Come in,” she said.
The door slid open and three people entered, two men and one woman. One of them was Sean McBain. The other two she recognized from their files.
The woman, Dr. Rachel Jong. Geneticist, with a specialization in Xeno-genetics. Young, beautiful, her features a blend of her mother’s Korean heritage and her father’s Anglo-Saxon background. She was thin and short, much like Selene herself. Her black workall was neat and unwrinkled, and modified to fit better and flare out at the legs. Her feet were bare, toenails a fetching green that matched her fingernails.
Coming in last, was the oldest member of the group. Dr. Paul Nash. Distinguished, chiseled features, graying hair, he walked with an almost military stiffness and work his black workall as if it was a uniform. Like Jong, Nash was a scientist, with a background in evolutionary biology, chemistry and geology.
Selene rose and nodded. “Welcome. Dr. Jong. Dr. Nash. Dr. McBain, it’s good to see all of you. Please, have a seat.”
“Thank you,” Jong said. She took the closest chair.
Nash took the other and Sean pulled over a third chair near the desk. Selene sat back down and folded her hands together.
“What can I do for you?”
“Our science departments asked us to talk to you about the challenge,” Sean said. “I explained your position, but they’d like an opportunity to address this directly.”
“Of course,” Selene said. “I’m happy to hear what you have to say.”
Nash spoke up. “This challenge, it’s disrupting our work, and leads us in an unproductive direction. How long will this take? How much time will be lost?”
“When Diaspora let us know you were coming, we hoped it would free up support for our Europa plans,” Jong said. “We have put a lot of work into the exploration plans, but engineering and facilities consistently stalls and delays any progress on their side of the work. We had thought you might break the stalemate.”
Selene nodded. “And you don’t think that this challenge does that?”
“It does,” Sean said. “But we’re concerned that it raises the hopes of the other departments that our focus might shift in a different direction.”
“It might,” Selene said.
Jong glanced at the others. “Excuse me, but we’ve been working on this —”
“I’m aware of the work you’ve done,” Selene said. “I’ve read the reports. It’s fantastic work, it is. When we’re ready for the exploration of Europa, it’ll be extremely beneficial.”
“We’re ready now!” Nash said. “We should already have the first wave of landers on the surface. I didn’t come all this way to sit on my hands.”
“Good, because we’re going to need everyone working on this challenge.”
Nash’s neck flushed. Jong looked like she had just sucked on a lemon. Sean shook his head he opened his mouth and Selene held up a finger.
“No,” Sean said. “I won’t be quiet right now. Too much is at stake here. We’ve had these questions for too long, and we’re too close right now to stop now. Europa has to be on the table with any plan that moves forward. It has to be our primary focus.”
Selene smiled. “Or?”
“There’s no or,” Sean said. “I’m letting you know how our departments will vote. No plan without Europa as the primary focus will get the votes to move forward.”
This couldn’t degenerate into an ultimatum debate or it’d go nowhere. And what could she do without them?
Just about anything, actually. The other departments included manufacturing, life support, and every other vital system. They still didn’t get the big picture.
“I see. How many lives are you willing to sacrifice for that goal?”
Jong’s eyes flew wide. Nash sputtered. Sean settled back and crossed his arms. “We’re not sacrificing anyone’s lives.”
She rose and looked down at them. “Aren’t you? You know that there are people on their way here right now. Have you figured what it costs to support them?”
“No, that’s not my department,” Sean said.
“That’s right. It’s not. So when I have to prioritize, you’re telling me that your Europa plans are your primary goal. We’re not going to get there without everyone working on it, so what happens to those new colonists when they get here? Where do they live? Will we have enough air? Food? Water? What if we’re not up to speed in time?”
“That’s not our responsibility!” Nash said.
“No? If you take resources to build your Europa plan and it means we run short, that’s not your responsibility? Cold equations, folks, if we don’t have the capacity we need, what am I supposed to do? Shove the excess people out the airlock?”
Nash shot to his feet. “That’s offensive! I don’t —”
He was taller, but Selene faced him anyway. “Right. You don’t. You don’t come in here and dictate to me. You don’t set policy, Dr. Nash. None of you do. You will each serve on teams, as directed. Feel free to present your arguments, and put forth your proposals. If they meet all of our requirements then they’ll move forward. That includes supporting our population both now and in the long-term.”
Dr. Jong rose. “We only wanted to stress the importance of getting to Europa. The questions have been unanswered for so long.”
Selene glanced at her. “Is something about to happen to Europa?”
“Then it’ll keep, Dr. Jong. I’m as curious as any of you. Like you, I’m dying to know what secrets Europa holds. I share your frustration. We’ll find out what’s under the ice, I have no doubt of that. But we do it together, and we do it right.”
Jong nodded. “Thank you.”
Nash started to open his mouth, closed it and followed Jong to the door. Sean started to follow.
He stopped. The others hesitated and he waved them on, the came back. He shrugged. “I felt obligated to present their concerns.”
“I can’t have you delivering ultimatums, Sean. Give the process a chance. We need everyone working together to find a balanced plan.”
“A balanced plan? What does that mean?”
“One that keeps us alive and growing and learning at the same time,” Selene said. “Do you disagree with any of that?”
He was quiet for a moment, then shook his head. “No. If it’s balanced, that’s one thing. If exploration gets shelved, then that’s another. There’s no point to be out here otherwise.”
She could disagree with him on that, but bit her tongue. Exploration would happen whether they wanted to do it or not. As they grew they’d have to learn about these worlds. These people still didn’t realize that they didn’t have a whole planetary civilization backing them up.
“Sean, did you ever play the deserted island game?”
He shook his head. “I don’t understand.”
She walked toward the windows. Outside the crater landscape was unchanged. It’d stay that way for billions of years longer if humans didn’t change it.
“If you could have three things on a deserted island, what would it be?” She didn’t wait for an answer. “Most people pick a favorite book, or other items. I always want to answer food, water and shelter. Without those, I wouldn’t survive.”
“You’re saying we’re on a deserted island.”
She gestured at the window. “We are! We’re not on Earth, surrounded by billions of other people. There are sixty-three of us in a tiny habitat on this moon. No one can get here fast enough to save us if anything goes seriously wrong. We’re on our own in every significant way. I need your help, not your ultimatums.”
“I have to do what I think is right,” Sean said.
That wasn’t the answer she wanted. “Fine. Bring me your requirements when they’re ready, and keep your people on the program. Can you do that much?”
“At this point, yes. I can.”
“Thank you.” Selene reached out and touched the glass. It didn’t feel cold. It should feel cold.
She heard the door close behind her.
He was gone. She shouldn’t expect to come into the new position and not face challenges. People never made it that easy.
She went back to her desk and ran a quick search to pull up the data they had on Europa. Whatever they came up with, she needed at least enough understanding to know what was involved.
Over the next few days Selene proposals started to roll in across the network. The first were too brief, too sketchy and not balanced. She’d set up the system to require approval by all three of the judges, so those were easy to bounce back right away.
The proposals didn’t need to be complete, it was too early to get into the tiny details, but the broad strokes needed to be there. She also rejected proposals that didn’t have the names of people from all departments. Word got out quickly.
When she wasn’t busy evaluating the proposals, there was plenty of other work to get to seeing that the base was running well, and to get ready for the influx of new colonists. That was something they couldn’t delay. Lives were at stake there.
And she took time to run. The first few times she anticipated seeing Asher in the access passage, but he wasn’t there. Either he wasn’t running it anymore, or he was picking times when he knew he wouldn’t run into her.
By the second week, genuine proposals started coming in from the mixed teams. Soon enough, there was a half-dozen proposals in the queue with preliminary approval. It was time for the judges to meet. Selene set up the meeting in her office again.
Her door chimed. Selene looked at the time. Ten minutes before the appointment. She stood up. “Come in?”
The door slid open. Asher Thornton was there. He came in. He’d shaved, and his bare jaw was nearly unrecognizable. It looked good. His workall was clean, ironed even. On the whole he looked very neat, and presentable.
She was glad that she’d chosen to wear her dress again for the meeting.
Selene closed the distance between them and held out her hand. “Asher, it’s good to see you again. I’ve been down in the tunnel a few times running, I thought we might have another run again.”
She hadn’t planned on saying that, it just came out.
He took her hand. His was warm, strong and callused. His thumb slid lightly across the back of her hand before he let go.
“That’d be nice, sometime,” he said. “I hope you don’t mind my showing up early? I wanted a word before we started.”
“Of course. Do you want to take a seat? Anything I can get you to drink?”
Asher shook his head. “I’m fine. Look, I wanted to say I was wrong about your plan.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Oh?”
“Yes. I thought it might work, make people realize what was important, but I was wrong. They’re treating it like some sort of magic wish!”
That wasn’t the response she’d expected. Until now it had sounded like Asher was her one ally in all of this. “You passed the proposals on for our preliminary discussion.”
“Because we need to scrap the whole thing,” Asher said. “These people don’t have any idea what they’re doing!”
“They must have some idea. Diaspora recruited smart people.”
“Even smart people can be stupid,” Asher said.
It felt very pointed. Selene took a breath and let it out. She made herself smile, even if it didn’t reach her eyes. “When Sean gets here we’ll go through the proposals, and you’re free to raise any of the flaws that you see. We’re not passing anything on without our approval.”
“And while we’re doing that, I’ve got jobs piling up! This isn’t an easy, safe environment. I need people doing their jobs, not spending all their time working on the proposals.”
Selene said, “You’re right, critical maintenance needs to be done. In a hazardous environment we can’t be too careful. Do you need more personnel?”
“Where are we going to get them?”
“Anywhere we can. We’ve got over sixty people here, and I assume they all want to keep breathing. I don’t think anyone wants to die of thirst.” Selene reached out and touched Asher’s arm. “Work with me. Right now we need to keep things running, and we need to identify the best path forward. I’m not going to pretend that I know enough about all of the angles to determine that myself. I need everyone’s help.”
“The science departments aren’t going to like it.”
“Tough,” Selene said. “Those are the priorities. When Sean gets here we’ll talk to him and then we’ll let everyone know. I’m going to need a prioritized list of assignments from you. We’ll work on assigning personnel.”
The door chimed.
“Perfect timing,” Selene said. “Come in!”
The door slid open and Sean walked in. He stopped when he saw them both.
“Did you start without me?”
Selene smiled and walked to him, offering him her hand. They shook. His touch was firm and held her hand tight for a fraction of a second longer than necessary. Interesting.
“We were talking about the base maintenance. The work people are putting in on the proposals is impacting our ability to maintain the infrastructure. We need to reassign personnel.”
Sean stepped around her, staring down at Asher. He had at least three inches on Asher, but Asher looked right back at him. No backing down. It was turning in an instant into some sort of testosterone-fueled display.
Selene stepped between them, planting her hands firmly on their chests. Both strong, hard chests, although Asher had more definition. Distracting, and irrelevant right now.
“Stop it,” she said. “Sean, you want to keep breathing don’t you?”
“It’s his department to see that we do.”
“We all have a responsibility to keep this base functional,” Selene said. “Everyone may have their focus, but there are general things that we can all do to keep this place running and make it habitable.”
Sean took a step back and the tension eased. “You’re talking about scientists here, they don’t necessarily have the skills to do engineering work.”
“I’m glad to hear someone admit it,” Asher said.
“They’re intelligent. Asher’s going to help us come up with ways everyone can pitch in. We have to work together. It isn’t going to get easier. We’ve got more colonists coming, so we have to get ready for them, but they’ll also increase our workforce. Which means we might have the people to carry out our other plans.”
“Which are?” Sean asked.
“That’s what the ladder will help us identify. Now, come on. Let’s sit down and review what we have, and come up with a plan for maintenance. Okay?”
“Fine by me,” Asher said. He went over to one of the chairs beside her desk.
Sean didn’t say anything, but followed.
After three hours of reviewing proposals, work schedules, and maintenance needs, Selene had to get up and move. She put aside her tablet and stood, stretching, and looked at the two men.
“I could use a break,” she said. “How about we reconvene in an hour?”
Sean stood up quickly. “Sounds good. Join me in the cafeteria?”
Tempting, but right now she didn’t feel like eating. She wanted to stretch her muscles, to move. All this sitting was getting to her.
“I’ll grab a snack later. Right now I just want to stretch my legs. Rain check?”
“Sure,” Sean said.
He took a half-step, hesitated, then left without saying anything.
Asher stood. “Are you still interested in that run?”
A run sounded fantastic, but if accepting implied something more, that wasn’t a good idea. Not right now. Not with the whole process in the balance still. If she started a relationship with anyone, it could be misconstrued in the process.
“A rain check,” she said. She smiled, but damn, it would have been nice to run! “I think I’ll take a walk around and just say hello to folks.”
“They’ll try to sell you on their proposals.”
She shrugged. “That’s fine. I don’t want to be isolated from everyone. This is a small community. I plan to meet everyone.”
“Okay. I’ll get busy on these assignments we agreed to, start getting our maintenance back on track.”
“Thank you,” she said.
Asher walked out. He moved like someone comfortable with himself and his environment. It was the same as it’d been in the access tunnel, during their run. He moved easily with the low gravity.
After he left, Selene went out herself. She didn’t have a destination in mind, she just wanted to see other people. She wandered the empty corridors for a few minutes, working her way down. A door opened ahead and a young woman in a black workall came out.
She was a brunette, taller than Selene, and looked quickly away rather than meet Selene’s eyes. In her arm, she carried a tablet. In that glimpse of her face, Selene saw reddened lids and the wet shine of tears on her cheek. Before the woman could pass, Selene reached out and touched her arm.
“Excuse me, are you okay?” Seeing the woman’s round face, Selene searched her memory of the personnel files. “Kathryn, isn’t it?”
A sniffle and a nod. “You know who I am?”
“Dr. Kathryn Fields, you’re a medical doctor, right?”
“Yes, part of the medical staff.”
“Do you want to tell me what’s wrong?”
“I’ve just been told that I have to stop my bone density studies, to take on work on the atmospheric processing system.”
Oh. Selene nodded. “I understand that it’s difficult —”
“What’s the point? I’ve put months into this study, and all of that is going to be lost. We need to know what impact this environment is having on our bodies. If I break off the study now we’re going to lose all of that data!”
That didn’t sound good. Asher had moved fast to issue the new assignments.
“I know. It sucks,” Selene said.
A surprised laugh popped from Kathryn’s mouth.
Selene shrugged. “Well? It does. I hate to have to do this. We’ve got new colonists on the way. They’re packed into small transports and are going to need care when they get here. We have to scale up to handle the new population. That means air, water, heat, food, all of it has to be in place or we face even worse conditions.”
Kathryn bit her lip, and gave a small nod.
“We’ll get you back to your research as soon as we can,” Selene said. “When the new colonists get here, that’s going to help us in return by expanding our workforce.”
“I get it,” Kathryn said. She sighed. “But it does suck.”
“Hang in there. We’ll get through this together.”
“Thank you,” Kathryn said. “I’d better go report for duty.”
Kathryn moved past and Selene continued her walk. She needed to do this, needed to meet with everyone individually. It’d take time, but she had to take it.
The first round of proposals didn’t work for anyone. Twelve proposals, of which five were focused on Europa to the exclusion of everything else. Well, nearly so. There was basic attention given to the base, but with unrealistic expectations on what could be done with the resources allocated.
Others swung heavily the other way, with little to no exploration. The teams weren’t as cross-departmental as she had wanted. A few went in other directions, including one that suggested that a Callisto-stationary habitat, similar to what was at Ceres, was the way to go.
None struck Selene as the solution, but it was early yet. She’d expected the initial proposals all to have issues.
Selene called Sean and Asher back into her office and laid out the problems.
“What do you want us to do?” Sean asked. “Is this just a fishing explanation to come up with whatever you already have on your mind? Maybe you’d better just tell us what you want?”
“Only two of these plans even deal with the new arrivals in any meaningful way,” Asher said.
“And they also call for no exploration of Europa!” Sean rose from his chair and ran his hands through his hair. “Look, you can’t expect us to wait generations to explore Europa!”
Selene placed her hands on the desk. “This is simple. We start the ladder. That’s the point of it, to get everyone having this same discussion. We start the ladder, and develop from there.”
With a flick of her finger a holographic screen sprang up between them, with graphics of each team surrounding their proposal.
“This is my suggestions for the match-ups. It groups similar proposals with similar proposals, a gradient across the submissions.”
Sean pointed at the display. “I can see what’s going to happen. The pro-Europa side will end up against the opposite side in the end.”
“True,” Asher said. “After they have been refined. Right? Aren’t we giving them a chance to revise the proposals between each tier?”
Bless him. “Yes. That’s right. Each winning team has the opportunity to respond to feedback on their proposal, and incorporate revisions.”
Asher settled back. “So what you’re saying is that we’re going to do it all in the end.”
“How do you figure?” Sean asked.
Asher gestured. “Think about it. After the first tier, we’re going to have plans from both sides competing against one another. To move forward both sides will have to incorporate features of the others.”
Asher tilted his head, smiling at Selene. “Like running an obstacle course, they’ll have to adapt. It’s a great strategy.”
She inclined her head. “Thank you. Let’s hope that it works. Gentlemen, I want to see us succeed. We should be the crown jewel of the solar system, the hub of everything that’s exciting. We can’t do that without a thriving population, and a thriving plan of exploration.”
“I hope you’re right,” Sean said. He grinned and rubbed his jaw. “Let’s hope that everyone comes around.”
“They will,” Selene said. “Everyone will see that.”
Selene lifted her head and looked out at Callisto’s battered terrain outside. She’d moved her desk around to let her see the view. It was better than sitting with her back to it.
She was reviewing the results of the ladder competition before the final results came in to electrify the rest of the solar system. It was the one detail that she hadn’t brought up with the rest of the judging panel. She filed regular reports with Diaspora, including the details on the ladder competition.
The competition had fired the imaginations of people across the solar system. A growing amount of email from the rest of Diaspora was commentary and suggestions for the teams. Betting on the outcome was quickly a popular past-time. Blackstone even reported that the competition had gotten a lot of press down on Earth.
She flicked through the first screen, reviewing the sequence.
In the first round, the number of proposals was cut down to six. Four of the Europa-heavy proposals remained and the two strongest Callisto-heavy proposals. The unique idea of doing a new habitat modeled after Ceres’ was discarded. Rightly, Selene judged, since they didn’t have the time or resources to start over from scratch.
In the second round there was, predictably, the two top Europa-focused proposals and the strongest Callisto focus. But by that point the lines were already blurring. The Callisto project called for the building of the sky hook, and the expansion of the base, but also included a deep ice exploration of Callisto in preparation for exploring Europa. It made the strong argument to learn as much about the technology here, close at hand before trying something remotely. Particularly with the higher probability of life on Europa.
And who wouldn’t want to know if there was a biosphere beneath their feet?
Both of the Europa-focused proposals remaining included provisions to deal with the expanding population of the base, but neither one called for the skyhook to be built. Everything was focused on launch vehicles instead. The crucial difference was that one of the proposals actually called for a manned exploration of Europa. It was Sean’s pick, creating a radiation-shielded lander that would protect the crew long enough to burrow into the ice deep enough to avoid the radiation. There was still a risk of dangerous exposure, but the plan was to create a second outpost on Europa, deep in the ice with access to the ocean below. Long-term it conjured images of submersibles diving into that dark ocean, discovering a rich biota.
The other Europa proposal was a more modest program of escalating landers and orbiters to explore the icy moon while taking extra care to avoid contaminating the moon with possible Terran-organisms.
She grinned. All of the proposals were exciting and interesting.
Since they were down to three proposals at that point there was an elimination tier to discard one of the proposals. Betting had been fierce, with many vocal proponents.
In the end, the manned exploration of Europa emerged triumphant. Sean had a point. It was daring, exciting, and worth pursuing.
That came down to the final round between the Callisto and Europa viewpoints. And now it was time. It was like coming in to land that first day out on the ice. Today would decide the direction they were going and the entire solar system was watching.
She stood up, swiping her data onto her tablet. She turned and walked to the door. Today she wore a snow white workall, new undyed fabric from the manufacturing division. She’d ordered all new workalls for everyone. No more black and brown and green. Each workall had a swirling red logo on one shoulder, signifying Jupiter, with the planetary symbol overlaid on that background. On the other shoulder was the Diaspora logo.
Outside her office the new planters along the walls were filled with fresh young plants, reaching up eagerly to the new bright daylight fixtures above. It made the whole place brighter and more alive, banishing the mausoleum feeling the place used to have. She wasn’t leaving everything up to the proposals.
A flash of white ahead showed someone else walking her way. Selene picked up the pace and recognized the broad shoulders and dark hair filling the new workall.
He turned. His bright blue eyes caught hers. He gestured to his workall. “You do know how this is going to get dirty quickly, right?”
She caught his arm, and tucked her through his. “They’ll wash. And we need this. A fresh start, no color-coding people.”
“You’ll be able to tell,” Asher said as they started walking. “It’ll be obvious who gets their hands dirty and who doesn’t.”
“Maybe. But it is still a reminder. The new auditorium looks fantastic, thank you.”
“It was a lot of people working on it.”
She laughed. “You won’t take a complement, will you?”
The auditorium was amazing. They needed a place better than the cafeteria to hold large group meetings. This new theater-style auditorium could hold up to two hundred people. They’d be there before long, but it was a start at least. The second auditorium was already planned, for a later date.
She entered with Asher on the lower level, passing through the corridor to come out at the left side of the stage. As a backdrop, they had a massive geodesic dome looking out on Callisto’s cratered terrain. It was an amazing space, with tiers of seating, large areas of grass and trees planted around the stage to combine a park-like feeling to the meeting space. It, and the planters throughout the base, had been borrowed from designs created on Mars. But here, with the airless environment outside, the gray-white rocks and ice, the green stood out against it all.
Selene took the center stage, where Sean already waited. Asher joined her. The three of them faced their people, who were quickly taking seats in front of them. The divisions were gone. It wasn’t just the sea of white workalls, but the way the people were talking to one another. As they settled in, Selene moved forward.
She spread her hands as the last of them took their seats. Silence fell.
Selene lowered the tablet and her fingers danced across the screen. The ladder display sprang up, filling the space above her and the other judges with two sets of images from the proposals. A music score played quietly in the background with soft violins. Europa hung at the center of one display, and Callisto at the other, but in both the other moon was present.
In launching the display, she had also started the live broadcast to the rest of the solar system. The time lag didn’t give them instant communication from Diaspora or the other planets, this was one way only but intimidating to know that right now she was addressing not only the colonists here but the entire solar system.
“Good afternoon to those of you here with me on Callisto. I’m Selene Martinez, with me are Asher Thornton and Sean McBain.”
Selene put her hands behind her back, holding the tablet. “We’ve had an exciting time here on Callisto, and I want to thank all of you for the work you’ve done. And I’d like to thank all of the other Diaspora colonists throughout the solar system for your interest and feedback in our process here. Particularly, I want to thank Terra Blackstone, for her ongoing inspiration and support.”
The audience clapped loudly and she waited for them to quiet again.
“We’re at the final moment now. We have two solid plans of action outlined. We’ll continue to find new details as we pursue these plans, but one of these will set the direction for the future of the Jupiter system. Either way, I think we’ve learned a great deal through this process and I appreciate the hard work that went not only into these proposals, but into the ongoing growth of the Callisto base. This beautiful auditorium is an example of what is accomplished when hard-working people work together to achieve our dreams.”
More clapping and she laughed, smiling, and raised one hand.
“I won’t keep you in suspense any longer. Everyone here has already voted. Let’s reveal the results.”
Selene brought forward her tablet again and entered the passcode to unlock the results.
Numbers appeared beneath each proposal and started counting quickly. The numbers raced forward, initially higher on the Europa mission and then the Callisto focused proposal caught up and passed the other. Then it was done.
Thirty-eight for the Callisto-focused proposal and twenty-five for the Europa proposal. Above her head, the Europa proposal material moved, with the Callisto images coming forward and the Europa images moving around behind.
Selene walked forward and pointed up at the display. “We have our direction. Expansion of Callisto, the construction of the skyhook, and the exploration of Callisto’s own hidden oceans along with unmanned research into the other Galilean satellites and the rest of the Jupiter system.”
She shook her head. “That’s a lot, but notice that the Europa plan isn’t gone. It isn’t in the forefront right now, but we won’t forget it. The work we do here, and the work done by the unmanned probes throughout this system will set a solid stage for our visits to Europa and the rest of the Jupiter system. The bulk of the solar systems resources exist right here, around Jupiter. We will grow from sixty-three, to hundreds, to thousands, millions and eventually billions of people.”
She faced the audience. “Thank you all. The seed you’ve planted today will take root and grow into a massive new tree of humanity, one of the many seeds sown by Diaspora throughout the solar system. And one day, even beyond. Thank you. Let’s get to work!”
Cheers and clapping. Everyone in the audience rose to their feet. If there was anyone disappointed, it didn’t show, thankfully. She had been confident that the mood in the colony had changed, but there’d still been that thread of doubt.
Sean and Asher came forward. Sean held out his hand. She shook and he leaned close.
“One of these days I’m going to visit Europa’s oceans,” he said.
She smiled at him. “I think you will.”
He nodded and moved off.
Asher took his place, and her hand between his. “You were great. We would have probably ended up being the greatest tragedy of the solar system if you hadn’t come along.”
Selene shook her head. “I doubt it.”
“I don’t know.” He moved closer and touched her arm. “People can work really hard and still not get anywhere. They need good leaders, like you.”
“Thank you.” She winked. “Are we still on for dinner?”
“Yes, it’s my pleasure.”
“Good. I’ll see you at eight.”
Everyone was coming down the steps now and Asher nodded, moving off with the same easy grace he showed running in the tunnels.
She looked forward to getting to know him better.
Then she turned to greet everyone else.
Back in her quarters after the reception and the questions, to get ready for her dinner with Asher, her system rang with a message.
Selene activated it when she saw that it was from Blackstone herself.
The system projected out a hologram of Terra Blackstone, looking just as she had when she’d visited L-Town 5. Blackstone smiled and looked right at Selene, chillingly like she was right there in the room.
“You did a fabulous job, Selene. You’ve got the whole system talking about the plans now for Jupiter. I’m going to send two more transports, another hundred Exodus personnel to you.”
“We can’t take that many,” Selene blurted out. How could they house that many more?
“I’m confident you can,” Blackstone said. “You’re growth plans are limited primarily by the available personnel, these will help you reach your goals sooner.”
“It’s too bad you can’t hear me,” Selene grumped.
Blackstone laughed. Chilling, that she could predict Selene’s responses so well.
“I’m not guessing at your responses, Selene.” Blackstone winked. “It’s our new communications net. What do you think? Real-time, instantaneous communication. Opens up a lot of possibilities, don’t you think?”
“Wait, you’re serious? You can really hear me?”
The Blackstone hologram walked around the room, looking around at it. “I love that you borrowed the environmental designs from Mars. We need plants around us to be healthy. And yes, I can really hear you.”
“How is that possible? How does it work?”
Blackstone laced her hands together. “I’ll download all the specs to your system. You’ll want to build an initiator right away. Without it, you can only receive communication, you can’t place a call yourself. And we want our networks interlinked. That’s another job for you.”
Amazing. Mind-blowing. It’d change everything. “We’ll get right on it.”
“I know.” Blackstone’s smile faded. “And there’s one other thing. While you’re building your new future I want you to keep an eye out for something they found out at Saturn. We’re not saying anything about it right now, check the secure files I’ve coded to your system.”
“Now that we’ve got a solid communication plan, we’ll be talking much more often. For now,” Blackstone winked. “I’ll let you finish getting ready for your date.”
The hologram blinked out.
Selene took a breath. Wow. Blackstone never let up. Now that she’d gotten the colony on track, she had naively thought that they might be settling into a path. It didn’t look like that was going to happen.
She picked up a tablet and flipped through her system. The new files Blackstone had sent pulsed for her attention. Her finger hovered over them, and then she put the tablet aside instead.
Blackstone was right. She did have a date to get ready for, and she was going to enjoy tonight before she tackled the next challenge.
This story marks the 6th weekly short story release, and the 6th Planetary Bodies story. Jupiter and its moons represent one of the most exciting and fascinating destinations in the solar system. I can’t wait to see what our next mission to the Jovian system reveals.
I’m releasing each of these stories, one per week, here on my website. Eventually I’ll do standard e-book releases when I am satisfied that I can create the cover art that I want for the books. In the meantime I’m enjoying these weekly releases.
If you’re interested in longer works, feel free to check out my novels through the series links at the top of the page. Check back next week for another Planetary Bodies story. Next up is Saturn Reaching.