Eris circles the sun three times further out than Pluto. More massive than Pluto, it triggered a redefinition of planets and is named after the goddess of strife and discord.
Elisa Burges discovers that Eris lives up to its name when a saboteur nearly costs Elisa her life. She survives and coordinates a daring mission to capture a comet to give the colonists the one thing they desperately need — water!
If anything goes wrong it could jeopardize all their lives out on the very edge of the solar system.
No one expected much from Eris. It was to be one more colony among all the others scattered throughout the solar system by the Diaspora Group. A seed, yes, but every seed had the potential to grow into something much more.
And what a seed! Elisa stood on the observation deck of the Sun tower, clenching the rails with sweat-slicked palms, and gazed out at what they had built. Xena radiated out around the Sun tower, with sweeping avenues and parks and buildings of pale stone, streaked with red. Primordial stone formed over billions of years of slow pressure after Eris came together in the distant cloud out beyond Neptune. Stone mined by robotic miners to construct the tall, sweeping and classical structures that made up the colony. It looked like the work of hundreds of years, and yet was completed in less than two. Those buildings down below would stand forever, even if the dome trapping the air she breathed didn’t last.
She licked her lips, tasting salt from her sweat. At the observation deck the artificial sun blazed above her, providing light to supplement the dim and distant sun. The Sun tower extended down, from the dome, to the artificial sun’s core and then on down another hundred meters to the observation deck.
Patrick moved to the rail beside her. He was younger than her thirty years, five years younger. Thin and athletic, and a brilliant designer. He had not only led the project to building the Sun tower, but he was the one that insisted that they include the observation deck. His face was all sharp angles and planes, almost as geometric as the geodesic dome that covered Xena. Sweat glistened on his forehead.
“It’s too hot to stay up here long, we’re wasting water. Are we still doing this?”
“You’re sure it’s safe?”
“I’ve done it dozens of times.” He smacked her pack.
She tightened her grip. Her heart almost failed to beat. “Don’t do that!”
He stepped back, raising his hands. “No one’s going to shove you off. You’re fine.”
She took a deep breath and closed her eyes but then she did feel like falling and she quickly opened her eyes again.
Sky-diving above Xena was a popular sport. She’d never done it. Patrick started it all, that was his motivation for building the observation deck at all. He wanted a platform high enough to jump off. As high as they were, it didn’t really look high enough. Except that Eris massed a lot less than Earth, gravity was less, so they had plenty of space no matter how it looked.
Assuming the equipment worked. If the chute failed then she’d end up just as dead here as she would have on Earth.
She sucked in the hot, dry air. She licked the salt from her lips again. Patrick was right. They were wasting water, a rare enough commodity on Eris.
“Okay. I’m going to do it.”
“Just like we practiced,” Patrick said. “I’ll be following you all the way down and our glasses will keep us in touch. I’ll know what’s going on.”
Elisa nodded. A cool calmness filled her up. Just like she’d felt stepping onto the transport that had left Earth’s orbit to bring them out to Eris, one of the first launched by the Diaspora Group. They’d blown all expectations by launching their first colonial missions to the farthest depths of the solar system. To Eris and Pluto, Huamea and Makemake. All choreographed so that the inner system colonies launched later were coming online within months of the outer system and the gas giants.
She’d experienced the same sense of calm then, a surrender to the forces that had brought her to that point.
Elisa stepped off the tower.
The wind grappled with her, threatening to spin her and toss her about. She spread her arms and legs for stability but turned in place as if the world below her was rotating around her belly button. A chime sounded in her ear and she realized she had heard it before. A blinking dot caught her attention in the corner of her vision.
She focused on it, and the dot expanded into Patrick’s avatar.
“Open your chute!” He was yelling, the cartoon version of him showing a wide, black mouth full of stars, with planets for his teeth.
The cartoon Patrick’s mouth continued to expand until it was all she saw, just a massive cartoon mouth full of stars and planets. The planets swept past her and the darkness enveloped her.
All sense of falling vanished. Elisa hung suspended in the midst of the star-filled expanse. The Milky Way stretched across the heavens was a brilliant river of stars, blinding in its intensity, like nothing on Earth. It was beautiful and endless.
Elisa woke, her heart pounding. Her fingers dug into the blankets of the bed. She clenched her teeth to hold back the screams, and twisted the thin fabric in her fists until her fingers ached.
This was her room. In her apartment. In the heart of Xena, the Eyrie. She recited the facts silently. Her room. Her apartment. The Eyrie. She wasn’t falling. The nightmare was a familiar one, the uninvited specter that had haunted her sleep since the accident six months ago. It varied slightly, but it always started the same. Up on the observation deck with Patrick before the jump. He hadn’t yelled for her to open her chute. She had called him in a panic when her chute failed to open. Sabotage, but they hadn’t caught the person responsible. Patrick had tried to save her, and he mostly succeeded, at the cost of his own life.
Elisa closed her eyes tight against the tears. She’d cried buckets on this parched planet, every drop was precious. She wasn’t going to dishonor Patrick’s memory by shedding more tears. The comet was coming and she needed to be on her best game for the capture. She tossed aside the blanket. There was no point trying to sleep after the nightmare. She might as well get busy.
After a three-minute shower — which really wasn’t long enough to consider it a shower — Elisa dressed in a clean white Diaspora-issue workall and walked, thanks to the exoskeleton that gave her mobility, to her living room. It used to be that she enjoyed the feel of the cool stone beneath her bare feet. Now her feet were enclosed by the exoskeleton’s flexible, sandal-like feet and she couldn’t feel them anyway. The light framework wrapped around her leg, clamping down on key points. Thanks to the low gravity, the exoskeleton didn’t need a lot of weight, just strength and some flexibility. The contact on her spine, above the break, picked up the signals that would have gone to her leg and relayed back feedback to her spine so that she felt what the exoskeleton felt and was able to simply walk without having to think about it. It was based on the same technology as the androids Diaspora was building throughout the system. It was both the same, and very, very different than what she had before the accident. Enough that she sometimes went whole hours without thinking about the exoskeleton.
Elisa pushed aside thinking about the exoskeleton and activated her holographic display in the center of the room. An animation showing Eris’ icy red-hued surface appeared floating in the center of the room. Eris’ moon, Dysnomia, floated at a distance from the planet. A red line traced an orbit around Eris before shooting off into the far wall of her apartment.
That line was the comet’s planned orbit. A solar sail manufactured at Mercury, boosted out by the beamed power stations Mercury had put in orbit around the sun, was currently towing the comet into position to be captured by Eris as a second moon. Unlike rocky and dry Dysnomia, the comet AS48792-2c, Oasis, was pretty much water ice, with impurities. A dirty snowball that would supply them with much needed water and primordial organics.
Elisa pulled up the telemetry from the sail and double-checked the data. The smallest variation in the numbers could mean that the comet would shoot past Eris and slingshot out into the depths of space. Or go hurtling into the inner system to who knew what outcome. Or, even more of worst-case scenario, the comet could impact Eris and endanger the lives of everyone living in Xena.
It was her job to make sure that didn’t happen.
Today she was going to give the order to disconnect the solar sail. Once the comet went Newtonian, they’d have to trust the math and the dance of gravity.
Right now the numbers looked right. She activated the simulation. The hologram came to life, zooming up the red line until the comet appeared at the center of the room. It was a small potato-shaped world of craters, ice and rock, only 3 kilometers long on the longest side. A lightly-packed snowball from the earliest days of the solar system. Scientifically, it was a fascinating body to study but there were millions of comets out there in a cloud around the sun. It was a vast well of resources that spread out so far that some comets had probably been traded back and forth between other solar systems.
The comet flew down the red line. Eris came into view and the animation adjusted the scale until the comet was only fist-sized, flying above Eris’ wrinkled surface. It looped around Eris and settled right into a stable orbit around the dwarf planet. A new moon, one that would solve their water problems.
Elisa dismissed the hologram with a wave of her hand. Simulations were fine, but the real test was coming when the comet arrived.
That, and the arrival of the dignitaries. Another test, one that she didn’t need right now.
The meeting was scheduled for nine, local time, and Elisa was late. She walked quickly across the square to the Admin building, a four-story long stone building with Grecian columns. All of the architecture in the colony buildings borrowed inspiration from classical Grecian orders.
As she passed the columns Kim Lee caught up to her. Kim was petite, with straight dark hair and delicate features. Unlike many, she didn’t wear the plain Diaspora workalls. Instead she wore a textured gray skirt that ended just above her knees, a black blazer and a shimmery red blouse. Her hair was held back by a bamboo clip. On her feet she wore a pair of stylish black heels. Apparently she had used most of her personal weight allotment on the trip out for her wardrobe.
“The initiators are online, Ms. Burges,” Kim said quickly. “The android bodies have checked out and are ready to receive our guests. The latest data on the capture of AS48792-2c shows that it is right on track.”
“Thank you,” Elisa said. “Good morning.”
“I prepared several talking points, if you want to review them?”
Kim was thorough, and did a fantastic job of looking after her. Elisa shook her head. “No thank you. I don’t plan to talk much. I’ll let our guests do that.”
“This is an important day for Xena, and Diaspora. People will watch the recordings.”
“That’s fine,” Elisa said. “Let’s not put them to sleep with speeches.”
The doors, fairly convincing wood replicas, swung open as they approached. They walked side-by-side through into the big central lobby. Holographic images around the sides of the room showed moments from their short history. The launch from Earth. An image of the brave colonists in their transport on the way to Eris, two years into the journey. A man named Benton Carter, with a bushy red beard and dark, haunted eyes looked at the viewer. He was actually looking at the photographer, Jim Greenway. Other images showed the temporary colony in inflatable habitats, the discovery of the first water ice vein that had saved them, and the construction of the Xena dome and first buildings. The holograms changed over time, each showing a sequence of images around the central theme. It was a compelling display.
Jim Greenway was going to be here today, Elisa realized. Of course he’d want to capture images of today’s events.
For an instant she envied Kim her style and wardrobe, but she shook it off. Her people knew her for who she really was, she didn’t need anything more. She was proud to wear the white Diaspora workall. That was enough.
The meeting hall was full. Elisa and Kim had taken the outside stairs down to the floor, and then opened the door to walk out onto the stage. It was time. There wasn’t any chance to stop and prepare.
Tiers of seats rose up above her. Excited voices filled the chamber, but people quieted as she walked out onto the stage. It was a sea of faces rising above her. Most of the population had turned out for this event, one of the more exciting things that had happened recently in Xena. The lights from the ceiling were bright in Elisa’s eyes. Her tongue was dry in her mouth. She swallowed and tried moistening her mouth but her throat stayed dry.
Kim handed her a water bottle.
Elisa flashed her a quick smile. Kim always thought of everything. Elisa took a quick sip from the bottle, just enough to moisten her throat as she walked to the center of the stage.
Arrayed behind her, along the back of the stage, were four blue-gray android bodies like statues. They stood lifeless and inanimate, but that was going to change soon. Kim moved off across the stage and took up a position just off stage where she could control the displays. Everything was in place.
Elisa spread her arms, palms facing her gathered people. Her throat tightened just seeing them all come out. She knew each and everyone one of them, recognized their faces. Even Benton Carter, sitting up near the back in the top row, his lean, clean-shaven face so unlike the image in the lobby. Greenway was at the far left side of the hall, standing in the aisle. His spy-eyes buzzed above the crowd. He caught her looking at him and smiled a bright flash of straight teeth and winked.
“Good morning,” she said, letting her gaze travel back across the crowd. She smiled. “What a good morning! Today we change our world again. How many people get to say that?”
The crowd cheered and clapped. She raised her hands slightly and the quieted back down.
“It is a good morning. I’m looking forward to the chance to take a real, long, hot shower. Or soak in a tub. Wouldn’t that be fantastic?”
More cheering and clapping. She waited for it to quiet down.
“It would. Today we’re going to catch us a comet full of life-giving resources. It’ll be far more important than being able to take a bath or a shower. Water is life. We came out to Eris knowing that methane ices covered the surface. We knew we’d find mineral resources, carbon, and nitrogen. All of the things that we needed to build ourselves a new future on this world. Except water. That, we weren’t sure about. We gambled that we’d find water when we got here. Water is so common in the system, how could there not be water? And we were right, there was, but boy is it hard to get. We have to squeeze it out of the rock. Where people on Earth mined gold, we mine rock hard water ice in order to stay alive.”
They knew all of that already. Elisa took a breath and smiled.
“It’s a good morning because we change that today. This comet will become a new moon, supplying us with the water we so desperately need.”
She moved across the stage and turned slightly so that she could see the android bodies. She gestured at them.
“And it’s also a good morning because we have invited guests to join us for this historic moment. Thanks to our new initiators, we can now establish instantaneous connections with any other world in the solar system.”
That was Kim’s cue. The first android in the line shimmered. The outline changed, becoming slimmer, feminine and a hologram swirled around the body, transforming it into a young woman. Young, only twenty-eight, she wore tight brown paints, a loose green tank top that showed off her tanned, muscular arms, and her signature hand-made red snood hat over her dark curly hair. She was one of the most recognizable women in the solar system. Carys Rex, the adventurer that had ridden the first sky bike around Venus, circumnavigating the planet.
Carys walked forward onto the stage, waving at the crowd. They erupted in cheers and rose to their feet clapping and cheering. She laughed and pressed her hands to her mouth.
Elisa raised her hands and the crowd settled back down. Carys looked at her, eyes wide and still laughing.
“Wow,” Carys said. “I didn’t expect that welcome!”
“Good morning,” Elisa said, extending her hand. “Welcome to Xena. I’m Elisa Burges.”
Carys took her hand and they shook. Carys’ hand felt real and warm. The android body filled out to match the holographic overlay. It was a completely convincing illusion.
Elisa released Carys’ hand. Carys raised her hands and arms.
“I haven’t ever done a jaunt before, it’s hard to believe that I’m not actually here.”
“I haven’t tried it either,” Elisa said. “I’ve heard that, though.”
Carys laughed. “It’s weird. I know my body is back on Aphrodite in a sensory chamber, but I couldn’t tell that from this. It really feels like I’m here.”
“In every important sense, you are,” Elisa said. “And we’re thrilled to have you join us. We’ve got some more guests joining us.”
The next android shimmered and changed before their eyes, becoming tall and lean. Short blond hair and a strong face. Larunda Stark, chief geologist from Mercury smiled at the gathered crowd as she came forward and lifted her arm. Polite applause from the crowd greeted her.
Elisa shook her hand, looking up at the woman that had helped open up the solar system. It was Mercury’s solar sails and beamed power plants that had transformed the system.
“Good morning,” Elisa said. “Welcome to Xena.”
“It’s good to be here.” Larunda looked over at Carys. “Carys Rex, I recognize you from your shows.”
The two women shook.
“You’re one of my heroes,” Carys said. “The work you did is making today possible.”
“It took a lot more people than me to make it happen,” Larunda said.
The remaining androids were changing before them, taking on human shapes as the holographic overlays formed. Clara Ransom, who had discovered the first evidence of alien visitations on Titan, was average height with mouse-brown hair and big brown eyes. She looked around intelligently, smiling a wide toothy smile as she saw the crowd gathered. She also wore a Diaspora workall, green in her case.
“Welcome to Xena,” Elisa said. There wasn’t time for more as the final holographic overlay took over the last android.
Terra Blackstone, glamorous, beautiful as always, had appeared on the stage and the crowd went wild. They surged to their feet cheering and clapping. It was thunderous. Clara laughed and moved closer to the other three guests, their heads coming together as they exchanged greetings.
All of the audience’s attention was on Terra. Her long legs were covered in a shimmery blue-green fabric that clung to her hips. She wore a short white jacket over the dress. Around her neck were her signature asteroid diamonds, the famous necklace made from diamonds mined from the first asteroid that the Diaspora Group had captured. More diamonds glittered from her earrings. Her dark hair was pinned up. She managed to look both elegant and relaxed at the same time, helped by the fact that her feet were bare, painted toenails peeking from beneath the dress.
Elisa took a breath and forced herself to move. Terra Blackstone was a force, no doubt. Without her will and determination none of them would be where they were today. Elisa walked forward on the stage.
Terra turned, and smiled warmly while extending her hand. Elisa took the offered hand and shook. Terra’s grip was warm, firm and familiar. It was hard to believe that she was shaking an android’s hand, even one driven by Terra.
“Welcome,” Elisa said.
“It’s good to see you again! You’re doing okay?”
The accident. Elisa was suddenly very aware of the exoskeleton, even though she couldn’t feel it pressing against her legs she knew it was there.
Terra waved to the audience and slowly they started sitting again.
Elisa leaned closer and noticed that she didn’t smell Terra. It wasn’t the absence of perfume, Terra didn’t usually wear perfume, but just the normal human scent of another person was missing. Because she was only here via the jaunt in an android body. It was disconcerting. Elisa pushed the thought aside.
“They’re excited to see you,” she said.
“I’m excited to be here.”
Terra took a step forward on the stage, motioning with her hands.
“Thank you,” she said, her voice amplified through the hall’s audio systems. “Thank you. I appreciate it, I do, but I’m going to turn things over to your own administrator, Elisa Burges.”
The audience quieted down. Elisa glanced over at Kim, who gave her a quick thumbs up. They were ready. Confident, Elisa faced her people.
“Thank you, Terra. Thank you, all of you. Today we have the fortunate of having four guests who have taken time out of their busy schedules to jaunt here to witness this historic moment in our history.”
Elisa gestured to Terra. “You know the chief architect of the colonization of the solar system, the head of the Diaspora Group, Terra Blackstone.”
More cheers and clapping. Elisa moved on.
“Also with us today, we have Clara Ransom, all the way from Titan where she’s investigating the map left behind by extraterrestrial visitors to our system.”
When the cheers ebbed, Elisa pointed to Larunda Stark. “Larunda Stark, chief geologist at the heart of the solar system on Mercury. As close to the sun as we get, jaunting out here to the farthest reaches of the Diaspora Group!”
“For now,” Terra interjected.
More laughter and cheers. Elisa laughed too and when people finished cheering she touched Carys’ shoulder. “And Carys Rex, one of the most adventurous, dynamic women in the solar system! We’ve all seen her amazing adventures circumnavigating Venus on her sky-bike.”
Carys waved and the crowd went wild again. The four guests stood side-by-side waving to the crowd. The crowd cheered and Jim’s spy-eyes flew above them all, zipping around the room to film from many different angles. Carys pointed at the spy-eyes and laughed.
“I didn’t bring mine with me!”
Kim made a small gesture with her finger. Elisa caught it, even if no one else did. She moved to the front of the stage and lifted her hands, motioning for the crowd to settle down. The mission was on a clock and she had to get them back on track. Gradually the noise ebbed and people sat back down.
“We’re grateful to have such distinguished guests join us here on Eris for such a historic occasion,” Elisa said. “And in the reception after this, you’ll have a chance to meet them personally. We are on a timetable, however, and it’s important that we don’t mess this up.”
That pulled some nervous laughter from the crowd. They all knew what was at stake.
A holographic Eris appeared above and behind them. That part of the stage darkened, as if a window had opened up to the space above, letting them look back down on themselves. That was essentially the case. Satellites in orbit around Eris provided real-time data to the system.
The dwarf planet shrank rapidly as if they were zooming away through space until it was replaced with a bright green dot. A golden dot hung in space and a dotted red line traced the projected path of the comet.
“Oasis, or it’s less romantic name, AS48792-2c, is on target.” The view zoomed in on the golden dot.
Soon the dot resolved into two shapes. One was a massive golden solar sail, only microns thick, extending out into space behind the comet. It was tethered to the comet by a fine net, and powered by a powerful microwave beam projected from the power stations in the inner solar system. There was a whole network of stations in orbit around the sun, powering the rapid transit of the solar sail network Diaspora had created.
“Given our instantaneous communications network, we can pull off the sort of coordination that wouldn’t have been possible before. We are tracking the comet’s progress, and at the precise moment we will instruct the beamed power station to shut down the microwaves. When the last of the microwaves reaches the sail, and it registers the contact has ended, the sail will blow its connection to the comet.”
Elisa paused and looked up at the comet floating above them. Her guests were also looking at the comet.
“Oasis will bring new life to Eris, water to our desert. The timing is critical. If the beam doesn’t end at precisely the right moment then the comet could slow too much and potentially impact the surface, endangering Xena. Alternatively, if the beam disconnected too early, the comet would continue moving too fast and slingshot right past Eris. We have to hit it just right to put Oasis into a stable orbit around Eris. A new moon, providing us easy access to its resources.”
Terra Blackstone stepped forward beside Elisa. “Although we’ve captured smaller asteroids before, we haven’t ever attempted to change the orbit of a body this large. It is this sort of brave, bold venture that I imagined when the Diaspora Group first came together. From the beginning our critics have told us what we could do, what we could accomplish and we’ve consistently proven them wrong!”
The crowd cheered and clapped again. Elisa laughed and motioned for quiet again. They settled down as Kim walked out with the tablet.
“Would you like the honor?” Elisa asked Terra.
Terra shook her head and touched Elisa’s arm. “I wouldn’t dream of it. This is your show. I wouldn’t dream of stealing it from you.”
Her show. Elisa accepted the tablet from Kim, thanking her. The numbers were counting down. Above her, the comet and the solar sail continued to hang, apparently still but that was an illusion because the camera systems were keeping pace with the comet.
On the screen the numbers were counting down. Above that, a red light indicating the microwaves were still being transmitted. Only twenty seconds to go. The tablet was symbolic, anyway. They weren’t trusting the timing of a human pressing a button for this, the computers would automatically send the signal to the beamed power station, cutting off the beam. Confirmation from the power station would come back on the instantaneous network, but it would take the last microwaves over nine hours to reach the sail before it disconnected.
The time was almost up. A duplicate of the tablet screen, enlarged for the audience, floated in the holographic display next to Oasis. Elisa’s finger hovered over the button. The crowd was quiet, as if everyone was holding their breath.
The numbers hit zero and flashed. Elisa’s finger stabbed down and hit the button.
The red light on the tablet and the holographic display didn’t go out. She looked up, alarmed, at Kim.
Kim was busy, talking quickly to someone.
Terra frowned and the other guests moved closer. Murmurs spread through the crowd.
Elisa pushed the button again. Nothing. Her heart raced. It was just like the jump, when her chute wouldn’t open. The glasses’ activation command had failed. She had pulled the cord and nothing, it wouldn’t open. The emergency cord also failed.
She pushed the button again. The light flashed green. She looked at Oasis, but nothing had changed yet there, of course. The sail wouldn’t disconnect for over nine hours still. What was the impact of those few seconds? How long had it been?
Elisa lowered the tablet, holding it in her hands while she looked up at the crowd. “We have confirmation that the power station has discontinued the beam. It’ll be over nine hours before we have confirmation that the sail has disengaged with Oasis. Thank you for coming, we’ll be analyzing the data on that delay and will let you know what we learn. If you’ll all go on to the gallery, we’ll start the reception.”
People started rising to their feet. Kim crossed the stage to Elisa elbow.
“We need to go to Central,” she said.
From Elisa’s other side, Terra said, “We’ll take care of the reception. Do what you need to do.”
“Do you know where — ”
Terra grinned. “I know. Go.”
Terra walked across the stage, followed by Carys and Clara. Larunda stayed behind, and come over to Elisa. At the edge of the stage Terra’s amplified voice boomed out over the milling audience.
“Come on, people, let’s go to the reception!”
That got people moving, streaming up to the exits. Elisa saw Greenway hesitate and then followed their jaunt guests and the crowd out of the hall.
Larunda turned away from Terra. “I should come with you. It was Mercury’s systems that were involved too.”
Elisa nodded. “Let’s go.”
Central was the large domed building at the heart of Xena, on a rise above the orchard. It housed all of the administrative and technical offices of the colony. It was the brains of the whole operation. They went right in to the center of the building, to the hub right beneath the dome.
The center of the dome provided space for large-scale holographic displays. Individual workstations were on tiers rising up around the dome. It was already busy. People moved around the chamber talking. Holographic images of Eris and Oasis hung in the center of the dome. A flashing red orbit line showed the trajectory of the comet spiraling in around Eris and impacting —
Elisa’s breath caught in her throat. It couldn’t be right. That wasn’t possible.
Larunda said. “Does that show it impacting here?”
Xena. The line terminated at Xena. A precise, bullseye impact on the colony.
They had entered on the main floor but Elisa’s head spun as if she was falling. She closed her eyes for a moment and took a deep breath.
She opened her eyes. Greg Hathaway, her assistant director, strode across the floor. He was lean, with graying hair and deep-set eyes. His soft voice still managed to carry.
She had to get a grip. “What’s the situation?”
That sounded calmer than she felt. Her nerves settled. Take it one step at a time.
“The delay slowed Oasis precisely enough for it to hit the window, putting it into a decaying orbit that will bring it down within 50 kilometers of Xena.”
“A week,” he said. “The microwave beam will cut out in just over nine hours, but it’ll take three days before the comet enters the window. After that there isn’t much that we can do.”
Elisa absorbed the news. Three days wasn’t long, but it was a possibility. All they needed was a way to nudge its trajectory. “What about the mining craft? Are they ready to go?”
The mining ships were designed to go to orbit, meet up with the comet and allow mining of the resources.
“Yes,” Greg said. “We could launch, but they don’t have the power to match the comet’s current speed. And once it’s in that decaying orbit they don’t have the power to pull it to a stable orbit. We’ve already run those numbers.”
Kim said, “Do we know what caused the delay?”
Greg’s lips tightened. “A subroutine in the instantaneous communications network ran the command through a loop precisely long enough to cause the delay.”
Elisa absorbed what he was saying. “Sabotage? You’re saying that someone created this subroutine to cause this?”
“There’s no other explanation,” Greg said. “It was designed to slow down that specific command, nothing else.”
Larunda shook her head. “Just enough to make sure that Oasis hit the colony.”
“Earth?” Kim said.
Sabotage. Greg had called it sabotage and a chill settled in Elisa’s core. For a second her legs hurt. Phantom pain, but a real reminder.
“My accident was also sabotage,” she said.
All three of them were looking at her.
“First, an attempt was made to kill me. If it hadn’t been for Patrick, I would have died. Now someone has sabotaged the Oasis project to destroy the colony. It must be the same person.”
Larunda looked at Kim. “You think Earth is behind it?”
Kim shrugged. “They launched the Lincoln to try and take over Luna and Ceres.”
“It wasn’t everyone,” Greg said. “The United States took that action, and that administration left office in disgrace. Look at Jessica Reynolds, and the work she’s done with Mandy Adams. Or everything that Patricia Colby has done as the first jaunt ambassador, with the research going on into the alien beanstalks at Haumea. I don’t think Earth would jeopardize all of that by trying to destroy us.”
“I agree,” Larunda said. “The Diaspora Group is close to opening up more jaunt stations on Earth, so that we can have jaunt workers helping us in the colonies.”
Elisa looked up at the display above. “We can speculate all day. We need to catch the person behind this, Kim, I want you to lead the investigation into who might have sabotaged the network. Look for any other hidden subroutines while you’re at it. They may have planted other traps.”
Elisa turned to Greg. “We need to begin evacuation procedures. Everyone that we can get off the surface and back up to the Farthest Shore.”
The Farthest Shore had carried them all to Eris, kept them safe for those long years in transit. When they arrived she kept the ship in orbit to serve as a station and orbital platform. There was a crew of four up there now.
“It’ll be difficult to get everyone off the planet in time,” Greg said. “Plus we’ll need supplies.”
“We’ll use the mining craft to ferry people up to the Farthest Shore,” she said. “We’ll pack them in. Use the ice crawlers to carry supplies and equipment away from the impact zone. We can create caches outside the impact zone. After Oasis hits, then we can return to the surface and start over.”
“Start over?” Greg’s voice was dismayed.
Elisa reached out and squeezed his arm. “Sometimes that’s our only choice. We have good people, and a week to pull this off. We can do it.”
Greg swallowed and nodded. “Okay. I’ll get on that.”
He turned and quickly walked away, calling out for people from the workstations. Soon he had a small group gathering around him. Elisa turned to Larunda.
The tall woman met her eyes. “You’re not alone Elisa. The whole solar system will be behind you. We’ll do everything we can.”
Elisa shook her head. “It’s a nice thought, but the distances make it impossible. Even with our fastest transports, no one is getting out here in less than two years. Not counting jaunting, of course, and we’ve only got the four working android hosts right now. We’re on our own.”
Larunda shook her head. “That’s not exactly true. We have transports throughout the system now. I can redirect one of the out-bound supply transports.”
Elisa shook her head. The supply transports carried essential supplies, and components that the colonies couldn’t manufacture yet. “That would only deprive another colony. We’re scheduled to receive a supply transport in a year anyway. I’m sure that when it arrives we’ll be happy to have it.”
There wasn’t any easy answer. She had time to evacuate her people. It’d be hard, they’d have to coordinate moving supplies out of the potential impact zone while also launching multiple launches of evacuees to the Farthest Shore. They couldn’t save the buildings. Only equipment, a fraction of the plants and animals, hopefully enough to start over, and the people. Unfortunately the impact would vaporize Oasis and most of the water it carried would be lost to space. Would they have time to rendezvous with the comet and mine any water before it spiraled in to destroy the colony? If they had the opportunity, they’d have to take it. Most of their hard-won water supplies were going to be lost along with the colony.
“Why would someone do this?” Larunda said. “What does it gain them?”
“I don’t care,” Elisa said. “I’m sure whoever it is had some sob story. Kim will figure it out and we’ll deal with it later. Right now I just want to make sure whoever it is doesn’t jeopardize our evacuation plans.”
“What can I do to help?”
Elisa activated a holographic display and accessed details on Oasis. Details on the comet’s mass, composition, everything that they had about it. “You’re a geologist. Help me figure out precisely what will happen when this hits Eris.”
They were still running simulations thirty minutes later when Terra, Carys and Clara joined them in the main chamber, followed by Jim Greenway and his spy-eyes. Elisa looked up from their latest iteration of the impact event, haunted by the repeated images of Xena’s destruction, and saw them coming. Jim hung back, watching and recording everything. Elisa considered asking him to leave but rejected the idea. This was a significant moment. Someone should document what was happening here.
Terra said, “The reception ended with the evacuation news. We’re here to do what we can to help. What do you need, Elisa?”
“I want a better answer,” Elisa said. “We’ve been calculating the impact event, trying to determine an impact zone and a safe distance beyond it. We need better data, and we just don’t have it. The impact will create a temporary atmosphere and the impacts of that are chaotic. It depends on how much methane is released, and how much more is released from the secondary effects.”
“An instant atmosphere?” Carys shook her head. “That’s not going to be pretty.”
“Depending on how much methane is released, it could reshape the entire surface,” Larunda said. “And as it cools and freezes out, it’ll cover the surface in new ice. Potentially, it looks like there’s nowhere on the surface we can cache supplies without them being affected by the impact event.”
Elisa turned to the simulations. Every minute that passed mattered, and yet she wasn’t seeing the way out. The impact might reshape the surface, or not. She gestured and pulled up the surface map around the colony. The impact zone was highlighted in an angry orange.
“The best we can do is get the supplies out here.” She touched a region outside of the impact zone. The surface was wrinkled like the skin of a cantaloupe.
“We cache the supplies here and hope for the best. There’s more rock in this region. It’s old terrain, and outside the main impact zone. Maybe it won’t be a worst-case scenario. Even if it is, we’ll tag the sleds with beacons. We might have to dig them out, but hopefully we’ll be able to find them.”
“What if you can’t get back right away?” Clara said.
Elisa said, “We have to come back. We won’t have enough supplies to stay in orbit long.”
“We’ve overcome long odds before,” Terra said. “We have colonies on thirteen worlds. I’m not giving up on Eris.”
“It’s too bad we can’t just stop the comet from hitting,” Carys said. “It’s frustrating knowing about it and not being able to do anything.”
“Without instant communications we wouldn’t even know yet,” Larunda said. “Back in the old days, if there’d been a problem at the beaming station we wouldn’t have known for over nine hours.”
“True,” Carys said.
Nine hours. Elisa looked back at the map. The power station had ceased beaming microwaves at the solar sail to slow down the comet. Those microwaves were still on track for the sail. The delay, as small as it was, meant that Oasis would be just enough slower on approach to hit that window resulting in the impact. It was a very precise result.
What if they could disengage the sail early? If they timed it right, they could erase the delay and disengage the sail when it should have disengaged.
“Larunda,” Elisa said. “Is there any way to disengage the sail early, and prevent all of this?”
Larunda shook her head. “We don’t have a way to communicate with it. It’s isn’t tied into the instant network.”
“We might want to consider that an upgrade,” Terra said. “Instantaneous communications with our sails and transports should be a priority.”
“That won’t help us now,” Elisa said.
“Could we send someone up there to manually cut the connections?” Carys asked. “I could go. With this android body, there wouldn’t be any risk.”
“You couldn’t function away from the initiator here,” Clara said.
“And there’s nothing here that we could launch and match the comet’s approach,” Larunda said. “It’s moving too fast.”
Launches. Elisa pressed her hands together, staring at the floating display. Greg had people prepping the new mining craft, and the old landing pods that they used to travel between the Farthest and the surface. Larunda was right, none of it could intercept the comet. But maybe they didn’t have to.
Elisa shrank the holographic display and opened up the layers deck. She flipped through until she found what she wanted and threw it out onto the display. A faint orange line appeared across space, passing the dot indicating Eris, all the way out to the golden dot indicating Oasis and the solar sail. She rose and walked closer, pointing at the display.
“What if we disrupted the microwave beam?”
The others gathered around.
Larunda said, “That beam is kilometers wide. How would you disrupt it?”
“I don’t know yet, but let’s say that we can interrupt the beam. If we do it at the right moment, wouldn’t that be the same as if it had been shut off at the right time?”
Terra nodded. “Yes. If we had another solar sail, we could use it to interrupt the beam.”
“We don’t have one,” Larunda said. “And there’s less than nine hours now to get there. There isn’t anything close.”
“Can we make a sail?” Clara asked.
“No,” Elisa said. “We don’t have the materials for that, and even if we did the printers wouldn’t work fast enough.”
Carys clapped her hands and laughed. “Oh, that’s beautiful!”
Jim’s spy-eyes drifted closer.
Everyone turned and looked was looking at Carys. She grinned.
“Look, you don’t need a sail. You just need something to interrupt the beam. What about water vapor? You fly out there and vent a big old cloud of water vapor in the way of the microwave beam. It’ll spread out and disrupt the microwave beam.”
“That might work,” Larunda said. “If the cloud was dense enough.”
“Our water reserves are limited,” Elisa said. “How much would we need?”
Carys shook her head. “As much as possible, right? If it isn’t thick enough it won’t disrupt the microwaves. But if it works, then the sail will disengage and the comet won’t slow enough to hit the window. You’ll have your oasis and plenty of water then.”
And if it failed they would have lost their water supplies. Elisa looked at the faces of her guests. All of them, even Terra, were looking to her. It was her call. Carys was right. Water would be the easiest way to disrupt the microwave beam. It wouldn’t last long, the cloud would continue spreading out and diffusing into space, but it didn’t need to last long.
“Okay. Let’s get started. I can use all of you to help get the details nailed down. We need to talk to Greg Hathaway, we’re going to need to launch quickly if we’re going to make it out there in time.”
Jim Greenway crossed his arms. His two spy-eyes hovered over his shoulders. One was painted white and the other red. Elisa got the reference, and another time it might have been funny but right now he was standing in her way.
“I’m sorry, Jim. There’s isn’t time for this right now.”
“You’re going out there to save the world, Elisa. I should be there to document it. Now that our guests have jaunted back to their own worlds, I’m all yours.”
“It might not work.”
He smiled. “You’ve come back from an accident that would have defeated most people. You led us to build this beautiful city. I’m confident that you’re going to save us.”
His faith was touching, and hopefully it was going to be rewarded. Greg had about had a fit when she had told him what she wanted to do. They were done loading the colony’s water reserves on the mining craft and landing pods. They were going to launch everything they had, including the Farthest Shore, out to intercept the beam. Each craft would vent the water supplies it carried into space. They’d modeled much better coverage that way, with the ships in an array, than trying to vent the water from a single point. It was also faster and would reach the required density to disrupt the microwaves quicker, before the cloud could dissipate.
“I’m also a trained pilot,” Jim said. “I’ve flown everything from a Cessna to the landing pods and, if you’ll remember, even the Farthest Shore. I’m a natural choice for this mission.”
“Fine.” She stepped around him and walked quickly. “Keep up.”
They took an electric cart out through the access tunnel to the launch complex two kilometers outside Xena’s dome. Greg met them at the other end, and looked surprised when he saw Jim getting out of the cart.
“He’s my pilot,” Elisa said. “He volunteered.”
“Fine.” Greg was already moving and they followed him at a quick pace. “We’ve got you in pod six. Everything is ready to go.”
They stopped outside the locker room.
“Get suited up, and into your pod. I’ll be in Control, somehow coordinating all of these launches.”
“We’ve got this, Greg,” she said.
He scowled up at Jim’s spy-eyes. “Okay. Good luck.”
She palmed the access panel to the locker room and hurried inside.
It smelled of cold, dry air and metal. Chatter from the others echoed around the room. Suit lockers lined the walls, with polished stone block benches in front of each. The other pilots and crews waved and called out greetings.
Elisa nodded in response to greetings and went to the suit lockers. The transparent fronts showed the suits hanging empty inside. Each was bright white, with colored shoulders and a stripe around the middle. They looked something like deep sea diving suits, except slimmer and segmented. Hard suits, adjustable to the wearer. FHUs, Freakin Heavy Units, according to some, although the lower gravity on Eris made them much easier to deal with.
Elisa’s suit was a bit different, since it incorporated the same functions as her exoskeleton into the suit. The blue shoulders were marked with the open white accessibility circle. She lifted her suit out of the locker and sat it down on the floor in front of the bench. It bent at the waist, with the helmet nearly touching its knees like someone doing stretches.
Jim took the spot next to her and unzipped his black workall. His body was lean, muscled, with thick wavy gray hair across his chest. He peeled the workall completely off, wearing only a pair of black boxers. He slid open the door of his suit locker and lifted the FHU out like it was an awkward dancing partner he was trying to spin around.
Elisa looked away and unzipped her own workall. She pulled it off her shoulders and sat down on the stone bench. The next part was always awkward, more so with others around but she didn’t have time to worry about that.
She accessed the exoskeleton controls in her glasses overlay and blinked them off. All the sensation from the exoskeleton ceased and the clamps automatically popped open. She used one hand to brace herself on the bench, and the other to pull the exoskeleton off.
“Do you need a hand getting suited up?” Jim said.
“No thanks,” she said. “I’m fine. I’ve done this before.”
Twice, since the accident. It was critical to her that she be able to suit up herself in case of an emergency.
She tugged her workalls down off her limp legs and put it aside.
Jim was already half in his suit, standing beside the bench with the lower part of the suit hanging down in front of him. It almost looked obscene. He caught her looking and grinned.
“Don’t you love these rear-entry suits?”
“They do make things interesting.”
“I’ll see you on the other side,” he said, and bent forward, shoving his arms into the slit in the back of the suit.
It looked disturbingly like the suit had decided to eat him up, until only his cute ass was sticking out of the suit. Then he straightened and the suit slid over his rear. The opening automatically snapped closed, sealing him inside. Indicators on his suit lit up and he waved his arms to adjust the fit.
Enough watching. She had to get into her own suit. It wouldn’t be quite as easy. She held onto the bench and reached out, pulling the suit right up against the stone. She lifted each leg in turn, shoving it into the opening of the suit and down into the suit legs. Using her glasses, she connected to the suit’s accessibility systems and pulled up the status readouts.
A yellow silhouette of the suit appeared near her left hand. Green lines on the legs showed how far she was into the suit. She tugged and pulled until it showed her feet were in place and then activated the systems.
The suit clamped down and began sending signals to her spinal column past the injured area. It was like getting her legs back. She moved each leg in turn, adjusting the fit and then stood up. The suit responded as smoothly as her exoskeleton. She copied Jim, diving forward, hands first into the opening of her suit. As she stood the suit closed around her and molded itself to fit her body. For a moment it was uncomfortably tight and then everything clicked in place and she could move easily. It was still far better than the old inflated suits that had made it so hard to move.
A connection query appeared on her display, Jim requesting pairing.
Elisa approved the request and a sub-display appeared with the run-down on Jim’s suit. They’d be paired throughout the mission, monitoring each other’s vitals and suit systems in case of any problems.
“Looks like you’re green across the board,” Jim’s voice said over her speakers.
“You too,” she said. “Let’s go.”
The other teams were filing out too. The airlock lift held a half dozen at a time. She and Jim were in the first group up.
The airlock depressurized as it rose to the surface. The outside sounds faded away until she mostly heard her own breathing in the suit. She focused her attention on the wide communications channel, which activated so she could address everyone.
“You all know your jobs. We’re going out there to save the world, people. I want to thank you in advance. I’m confident that this will work, and we’ll have Oasis in orbit where it belongs. When that happens we’ll have a big celebration and we can all lift a glass of fresh, clean Oasis water!”
Cheers and whistles greeted her statement. The lift slowed to a stop at the surface level. The noise subsided. “Okay, let’s go do this.”
She switched back to the private channel as she led the way out of the lift. Jim took long strides next to her.
It was bright outside. Spot lights around the landing zone lit up the vehicles. The original pods were a collection of small gray eggs with spidery legs and their pointed ends facing down.
Further out, the mining craft were big cylindrical craft on long legs, towering above the smaller pods. The bulk of the mining craft body was a massive cargo hold. They were designed as tankers that could visit Oasis, load up tanks with fresh water, and then return to the surface. Both were filled with the bulk of the colony’s water reserves. The pods each carried smaller tanks taken straight from the colony and outfitted into the systems to pipe the water straight through the exhaust system. There were concerns about ice build-up in the exhaust system, but the pods didn’t have any other way to expel the water.
Elisa bounded across the surface toward the mining craft. This had to work. If they failed they still had time to evacuate, but they wouldn’t have enough supplies to keep everyone alive. That was a problem she didn’t want to face.
Almost time now. Elisa sat strapped into the co-pilot seat of the mining craft. Her mouth was dry and the suit already smelled of her sweat. And she had to pee, which she didn’t want to do in the seat, and there wasn’t time to get out of the suit and use the facilities in the ship. She just had to put that out of her mind.
A holographic display floated in front of her seat. On it, the two mining craft were large shapes with a cluster of pods in between. It had taken time just to get everyone into position relative to each other, but now the whole ‘fleet’ was in an orbit out away from Eris. They would intercept the microwave beam in moments.
“Tell me again that this is going to work,” Jim said.
His spy-eyes hovered in the cockpit.
“It’ll work,” she said.
He grinned at her. “You’re not just saying that?”
“No. I’m not.” Elisa looked out the windows. There wasn’t anything to see. The microwaves weren’t visible. “You’ve seen the math. Isn’t that what this all comes down to? The sabotage delayed the signal, so the power station didn’t shut down the beam soon enough. If we interrupt it at the right moment, then the sail disengages and everything goes back to the way it was originally planned.”
“Except that we still don’t know who was behind the sabotage,” Jim said.
That was bothering her too. “No, we don’t.”
“No word from Kim yet?”
She glanced up at the spy-eyes. “I’m sure if she had found anything, I would have been notified.”
Jim gestured and the spy-eyes drifted downward and landed on his shoulders. Tiny magnetic feet clamped onto his suit.
“Off the record,” he said. “Aren’t you concerned?”
“I’m a bit busy right now.” She pointed at the display. “We’re about to cross over into the beam. Are we ready to expel the water?”
“We’re ready. Nothing to do but wait.” Jim reached gestured and pulled up a holographic screen. He slid it over. “I shot this on the day of your accident.”
She didn’t look at the window. “I’ve seen the footage.”
“What is it?” She looked him in the eye. “You had something that you didn’t turn over to the investigation?”
“It’s not like that,” he said. “Take a look.”
Elisa took a breath and focused on the window. It started playing the video.
At first there wasn’t anything unusual. It was a wide shot of Central with the dome bright under the light from the Sun tower. A small crowd was gathered in the square, their faces turned up, hands shielding their eyes as they watched her foolish stunt. There had been a lot of interest around her doing the jump.
The view zoomed in on Central, all the way to the balcony along the east wall. That was where her offices were located. The view went event closer, flying above the young trees and rising up toward the balcony.
It was a spy-eye shot, she realized. Jim had sent the spy-eye across the square, probably to get a view from that side.
Through the windows along the balcony she saw Kim Lee inside, pacing. The spy-eye hovered, watching Kim as she paced three times across the room and back. Elisa swiped the side of the screen and opened the video’s metadata. The timestamp, that was right when she was making the jump.
The spy-eye picked up a scream off camera. The spy-eye didn’t move, it remained watching the windows. Kim Lee stopped pacing and stood still for a moment, looking straight ahead. Then her head dipped for a moment, before she turned and walked out onto the balcony. There were more screams and raised voices. Kim gazed out at the square, not up at the spy-eye above her. She gazed calmly at the square and folded her hands on the railing.
Elisa fast-forwarded the video. A minute or so later Kim turned and walked quickly into the building, and vanished from view. The spy-eye hung unmoving, showing the empty balcony and then the video stopped.
“At the time I didn’t think it meant anything,” Jim said.
“I don’t know. It looks like she was waiting for something. The screams, those came from people seeing what happened. She didn’t look surprised. Troubled, maybe, but not surprised.”
He was right. Kim wasn’t the most emotionally expressive woman, but there wasn’t anything like surprise, shock or distress in the video. More like he said, troubled, and waiting. Waiting for her to fall?
The holographic display flashed. They were entering the microwave beam.
“We’ve got a job to do,” she said. “Let’s do it.”
“We’re right on target. Other ships reporting optimal position and green lights across the board.”
Elisa opened the connection to the other ships. “Activate deployment program.”
Green acknowledgment signals showed up across the board. She pressed the release on the console.
The ship lurched.
“Compensating,” Jim said. “Maintaining position.”
“What was that?”
“Reaction to expelling the water. Didn’t you ever launch water rockets as a kid?”
“Can’t say that I did.”
She watched the display. The animation displayed the cloud as it spread out into the path of the microwave beam. A graph beneath showed the microwave count. It fell.
“Microwave count dropping!”
The count neared the threshold, where the microwave count would be low enough to cause the solar sail to disengage from Oasis.
“We’re almost through the beam,” Jim said.
Elisa watched the graph. It dipped down closer, closer and then fell beneath the threshold.
“We’ve done it!” She reached up and high-fived Jim.
“Leaving the microwave region,” he said.
Telemetry from the other ships showed the same thing. They all showed the microwave count drop below the threshold. Elisa toggled the connection to the ships back open.
“Congratulations, we’ve done it. Our satellites will confirm Oasis’ orbit. Landing pods, coordinate with control for a return orbit. Thank you all.”
She closed the connection and sat back.
“What about us?” Jim said.
She smiled at him. “You know the nice thing about zero gravity? I can move around without a suit, or an exoskeleton. I think I’ll strip this off, hit the head, and find some way to celebrate.”
Jim smiled broadly. “You want a hand with that?”
“Oh, I’ll want more than a hand.” She pointed at the spy-eyes perched on his shoulders. “Those stay off.”
“Of course. How long do we have for this celebration?”
“Quite a while. We’re going to have to stick around until Oasis reaches orbit, and then there’s the ice to mine. I think we’ll have time to celebrate as many times as we like.”
“I like the sound of that.”
Elisa hit the release on the straps. The retracted and she pushed up out of the seat, turning to drift back into the compact living and work area behind the control deck. It was time to celebrate.
The two weeks Elisa spent with Jim on the Ice Breaker, a name they picked out after the first day that had a double meaning for them, was like a vacation. Or honeymoon, except that they weren’t married. Not yet, anyway.
Oasis reached a stable orbit around Eris and became its second moon. Did it count as a moon if it was artificially captured? The discovery of Eris had helped kick off the redefinition of a planet, maybe now they would trigger a new discussion of the definition of a moon. The mining was accomplished with robots and went without any problems. Floating beneath the cratered surface of Oasis, she watched the robots tracing lines across the surface as they dug out the ice and brought it back to the Ice Breaker where it was melted, filtered and stored. They also stored the organics and other minerals they found in the ice, all of it was valuable resources for the colony.
Making love with Jim was fantastic, as were the times they spent talking, in that rush of discovery of new lovers. Despite the years spent getting to Eris, all the times she had admired his work, there was so much she didn’t know about the man. It was easy to imagine a lifetime with him.
Eventually, however, they had to return to Xena and the rest of their lives. When Ice Breaker touched back down on the surface, she dreaded what she had to do next.
She excused herself from the greetings and celebratory atmosphere, promising to return to the reception later, and made her way to the jail.
Kim was in a plain cell, wearing a standard orange workall instead of her usual outfits. Elisa entered the cell and stood just inside, very self-aware at the moment of her exoskeleton. She interlaced her fingers and looked at Kim standing by the opposite wall. Kim gazed back at her and tears glistened in her eyes.
“Will you tell me why?” Elisa asked. She’d radioed the surface after thinking carefully about Jim’s video, to order Kim placed under arrest. They’d found evidence in her quarters and files that showed she had developed the subroutine that had delayed the signal.
“You lied to me.”
Kim said, “You lied. You made me believe that we were going to a better world. All of you. Blackstone and all the rest. There’s nothing here. We don’t belong out here. It’s nothing but an airless world, and we’re barely scraping by.”
“That’s your reason? Because things are hard? Look at what we’ve accomplished! You were a part of that, why try to destroy it? Why try to kill me?”
Kim wiped at her eyes with a finger. In a defeated voice she said, “With you gone, I thought I might convince everyone else to evacuate. Pack up, return to the Farthest Shore and go back to Earth. When you survived, it was clear that wasn’t going to happen. Diverting the comet was supposed to trigger an evacuation and we would have had to have returned to Earth.”
It was sad. Sad that she couldn’t see what they were accomplishing, see the potential for the new world.
“We’re never leaving Eris,” Elisa said.
“You’re going to die here.”
“I hope so,” Elisa said. “Hopefully after a long life with marriage, with kids. That’s the way it’s always been. Humanity will build and expand and grow on this world, and all the rest of the worlds in the solar system. We’re going to flourish, wherever we take root, and build a brighter future.”
After that, what else was there to say? Kim was silent. They’d try to help her, jaunt in specialists if necessary. Whatever it took to help her reach a healthier place.
Elisa left the cell eager to get back to Jim, and to the company of those that would celebrate the future and dare the impossible.
This story is the 14th weekly short story release, and the 14th and final Planetary Bodies story. I’m excited to get this final story out. These stories gave me a chance to explore the solar system and set up an exciting new fiction universe that I would like to revisit.
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. Stories will remain until I get up the e-book versions and at that point I’ll take the story down.
If you’re interested in longer works, feel free to check out my novels through the links at the top of the page or on the Books page. Check back next week for another story. Next up is a mystery story, The Murders in the Reed Moore Library. I’ve previously released this story as an e-book, under my pen name Ryan M. Welch, but until I get a new edition up under my name I’ll have it here on the website.