BUILDING NEW CANAAN – BOOK 3
BY J.J. GREEN & M. D. COOPER
Copyright © 2019 J.J. Green & M. D. Cooper
Aeon 14 is Copyright © 2010, 2012, 2015-2019 M. D. Cooper
Cover Art by Andrew Dobell
Editing by Jen McDonnell, Bird’s Eye Books
Aeon 14 & M. D. Cooper are registered trademarks of Michael Cooper
All rights reserved
TABLE OF CONTENTS
WHAT HAS COME BEFORE…
THE BOOKS OF AEON 14
OTHER BOOKS BY J.J. GREEN
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
WHAT HAS COME BEFORE…
After the events on Tyre, where Sanctity of the Sol System sleeper agents attempted to destroy an entire planet, Erin, Isa, and Martin have managed to go four years without any significant excitement.
They have a young son named Jude, who is taking after his father like a fish to water, and though Erin has spent much of her time in the outer system, she has now completed her duties there and is looking forward to a new chapter in her life.
The world of Troy beckons. Second from Canaan Prime, it is an older world, with nearly as much developed life as Tyre. Martin’s friend Lindsey is creating an underwater safari and asked him to help, while Erin has been tasked with building the planet’s first major space station. While they’re staying, Isa plans to open an art gallery,
Troy is more densely settled than Tyre was, though not by much. Just a few hundred thousand people dot its surface, and many are transplants from Tara, the second terraformed world in the Kapteyn’s Star System.
Taranians always felt slighted by Victorians at the Kap, and many of the ones now living on Troy have carried that feeling with them.
As exciting as the move is, the young family has not yet left Carthage, and there’s just one more thing to do before they go….
Angela – AI residing in Tanis Richards, a lifetime pairing.
Eamon – AI paired with Martin.
Erin – Colonist engineer, responsible for building space stations and orbital structures. Married to Isa and Martin.
Isa – Noctus refugee from Sirius who opted to join the Intrepid when it left Kapteyn’s Star. Married to Erin and Martin.
Joe – (Joseph Evans) General in the Intrepid Space Force and commandant of the ISF’s academy.
Malcolm – Martin’s assistant at his marine station on Knossos Island.
Martin – Marine biologist responsible for ocean seeding. Has worked for the past eight years on Carthage. Married to Erin and Isa.
Myrrdan – A saboteur who is after the picotech Earnest Redding invented in Sol. Believed to have been killed at the Kapteyn’s Star System, he is alive and working through proxies in New Canaan.
Usef – Major in the Intrepid Space Force. Has been present for several notable actions, including the rescue of Tanis on Victoria.
Tanis – (Tanis Richards) Governor of the New Canaan System and top-ranking officer in the Intrepid Space Force. Wife of Joseph Evans.
Tony – Planetary geologist who worked with Isa on Tyre when she was making her infomentary.
Walter – AI paired with Erin.
Get full-size maps at www.aeon14.com/maps.
STELLAR DATE: 04.07.8941 (Adjusted Years)
LOCATION: Marine Eco Station #14, Knossos Island
REGION: Carthage, New Canaan System
Erin’s heart was hammering in her chest as she hoisted her weapon onto her shoulder and ran along the beach. Black figures were swooping down the cliff face, barely visible in the dark.
Tanis’s efforts to protect New Canaan from attack had failed. Enemy troops were invading Carthage, and Erin was discovering that defending your ship against boarding was one thing, but defending your home and the people you love was something else.
The attackers coming down the beach must be looking for the SATC. She had to prevent them from finding it. If she failed, information on all the New Canaanite vessels in the system would be available to them. Even worse, her family’s beach house lay directly in their path. She had to stop the troops from stumbling across it in their search.
Martin and Isa were at home with little Jude. What would the invaders do to them if they found them? Would the troops torture Martin or Isa to make them give up the location of the SATC? Erin didn’t think Isa even knew about the place. Would they threaten to hurt Jude to persuade her to talk?
The attackers would be ruthless and Erin wouldn’t be able to forgive herself if anyone in her family was hurt.
She ran up to the base of the cliff. Moving amongst boulders strewn along the beach, she’d reached it without being seen, and the slight overhang would hide her from gazes looking down from above. She turned her back to the rough rock surface and edged along the cliff, moving away from the beach house. She intended to put some distance between herself and the family beach home and then distract the attackers and draw them away.
But carrying out her plan also meant she’d temporarily lost sight of the enemy. All she could see was the empty beach and the ocean, which glittered as it reflected the brilliant stars of the Cradle. All she could hear was the wash of waves on the shore.
Then all of a sudden, a figure in black armor hit the sand right in front of her. He jerked backward, as if he too was startled by the surprise encounter. Almost before she registered the soldier’s arrival, Erin’s weapon was up and she was firing.
At nearly point-blank range, she couldn’t miss. All it took was three rounds before the man was down and dead. But her weapons fire would have alerted the other enemies.
It was too soon. She’d wanted to draw them away, farther down the beach. It couldn’t be helped, though. She had to move fast before they were all over her.
Erin ran along the base of the cliff, aware that more soldiers would soon be dropping to the ground behind her. Next to her head, the cliff face popped, and rock exploded. Red-hot stone chips rattled against her helmet and dust obscured her vision. Erin turned, spraying fire, and heard the thud of boots hitting the sand. She ducked and another shot burst overhead, showering her in rocky debris.
Her HUD identified the enemy’s location, and her gaze locked onto her assailant, followed by the rounds she was firing. The soldier leapt away, but it was too late. Halting her spin, Erin expended the rest of her magazine on the collapsing soldier, not stopping until the figure was still.
More enemy troops were appearing on her HUD, closing on her position. Erin couldn’t deal with them all with no backup, but she knew the terrain like the back of her hand. She recalled a patch of jumbled rocks that ran from the cliff base all the way to the water line, not far from her present position. If she managed to reach the rocks, she could hide amongst them and harass the soldiers, distracting them from their goal for as long as she could. She hoped that someone would turn up to help in the defense before it was too late.
She only had to reach the rocks. Swapping her rifle to beam mode while she exchanged projectile magazines, Erin burst from her now-useless cover. She sprinted across the beach, zigzagging randomly, heading toward the line of jagged rocks that were black silhouettes in the distance.
A fountain of sand spurted from a spot right next to her boot as her foot hit the ground. A round whacked into her shoulder, almost unbalancing her. Warmth spread from the site, but her armor held.
Only another few meters to go. Her HUD was giving her the positions of her pursuers, and she fought the urge to look back at them, knowing that a split second’s delay could mean her death. Worse, it would mean the enemy soldiers would resume their search and discover her family.
A force like a titanium fist punched the back of her helmet, sending her crashing face-first onto the sand. Pain began to radiate from her head, then relief came as Walter flooded her system with analgesics. Erin wrenched herself onto her back and fired low and wide, laying down her own cover as she scrambled backward. She only had to make it to the rocks.
Five or six soldiers were running toward her, the flashes from their weapons lighting up the night like a macabre firework display. Erin’s fire caught one across his knees and sent him tumbling forward. Another round from the enemy struck her knee. One more hit her arm.
Then her back finally slammed into solid stone.
Erin threw herself to her left, hoping she’d guessed correctly and that a gap between the rocks lay in that direction.
She took another hit before she found she’d been lucky. She scrambled through a crevice between two rocks and into a labyrinth of craggy surfaces. But she had no time to pause in her new refuge—her pursuers were only seconds away. Keeping low, Erin held on to her weapon tightly and ran softly among the jumbled rocks and boulders.
At first, she had no particular strategy in mind, only intending to keep the soldiers occupied as long as possible in their search for her, but then she had an idea.
She turned toward the ocean.
Though the information her HUD displayed regarding the enemy was limited, Erin found she could hear them plainly. The invaders were not taking care to be quiet. They were scraping and banging against the rocks as they searched for her. She would have loved to rise up and kill a few, but that would give away her location too soon.
With all the time she’d spent at the beach house, Erin had become familiar with the rhythm of the tides. She knew that, currently, the water was at its highest point, and no bare sand lay between the waves and the edge of the rocks. If she was careful, she would be able to slip into the ocean unseen. The enemy soldiers could search for her all night and never find her.
After a few minutes’ progress, partly walking bent double and partly crawling, Erin arrived within a few meters of the water. The noise of the waves was loud here, making it harder for her to hear the racket her pursuers were making.
Erin crouched and waited, ready to make her move.
<Any sign of anyone?> she asked Walter.
<I’m not able to help you,> he replied. <Satellite data feed has been cut.>
Great. It looked like she was on her own. Her armor was reporting that the damage from the enemy’s previous shots was fixed, so that was something. At least she wouldn’t find herself waterlogged.
Erin moved to cross the remaining distance to her escape, but a soldier passed right in front of her. She froze, nerves alive as she held her breath, praying that her armor’s stealth capabilities were better than her enemy’s scan systems.
Then he moved on. In a few moments, he was gone.
Exhaling, Erin crawled into the space the soldier had occupied. She passed through it and immediately slipped into the water’s rocky edge. A wave hit her. Keeping as low down as she could, Erin allowed the water’s retreat to tug her deeper into the ocean. Another surge arrived and washed over her. This time as the wave flowed out to sea, Erin propelled herself to follow it with her knees and elbows. After the third wave struck, she was in the water and swimming.
She waited until she was about thirty meters from the shore before surfacing. Then she swivelled around to look toward the field of rocks. Her HUD showed the outlines of soldiers still searching for her in the darkness, but with dismay, she saw they weren’t the only enemies on the scene. More troops were descending the cliffs. Some were already on the beach and heading in the direction of the beach house. Erin had to get there first.
Aided by her armor, her progress was swift as she swam, yet she could not cut through the water fast enough for her liking. If anything, it felt like the beach house, with its lights out, hiding in the shadow of the cliff, was growing more distant.
<What’s happening at home?> Erin asked Walter. <Have any enemies reached it? Has Eamon picked up on their movements?>
<No, he hasn’t,> Walter replied, <But without the satellite data, Eamon’s sensor range is as limited as mine.>
<Damn,> she exclaimed. She needed to find out what was happening. <Isa?>
<Erin,> Isa replied. <It’s so good to hear your voice. Are you OK?>
<I’m fine. I’m swimming back to the house. But soldiers are heading in your direction.> Erin registered Isa’s dismay and fear. <I’ll be there as fast as I can,> she assured her. Then she spoke to her other partner. <Martin, where are you?>
<I’m outside the house,> he replied. <I know they’re coming. I’ll be here waiting for them.>
<OK,> Erin said. <Be careful. I’m passing you my scan feed.>
She could imagine Martin waiting in the darkness, preparing to fight. Isa would be in Jude’s room, a gun in her hand. She would be the final line of defense for their child.
Erin battled on through the water. She felt like she was swimming through molasses. Had she done the right thing in going out to meet the attackers? If she hadn’t decided to lead the enemy on a wild goose chase, she would be with Martin and Isa already. But if she hadn’t tried to lead them away, soldiers would already be attacking their home.
The shore in front of the beach house came into Erin’s view. She began to swim diagonally. As soon as she left the water, she would be in plain sight, a prime target for the approaching soldiers. But her sudden appearance on the scene might distract the troops from the house or draw fire away from Martin. Perhaps somehow, between them, they could defeat all the soldiers who had arrived in search of the SATC.
The odds were impossible, but she had to try.
Her boot touched sand. A strong swell was pushing her in. As Erin crouched in the surf, her HUD registered ten armed figures heading directly for the dark grey structure of the beach house. They’d nearly reached it.
Light flashed from the shadows. One of the soldiers fell. Her HUD noted that Martin was shooting from near the cliff base, also trying to draw the enemy away from the house.
A barrage of return fire echoed against the cliff, and Erin fervently hoped that Martin had taken cover.
Three enemy soldiers moved toward the cliffs, advancing along its irregular surface, while another four moved toward the beach house.
Oh hell no! You’ll get to Jude over my dead body.
Drawing her weapon from across her back, Erin rose out of the water and began to run toward the soldiers, knowing that against superior numbers and with no cover, her dead body was a strong outcome.
She switched to a dual-fire mode, her rifle shooting beams and projectiles, using the combo of superheating and kinetic energy to crack armor.
The enemy soldiers had been so focused on the beach house that none had noticed her approaching from the ocean. Her attack was so unexpected that the soldier nearest Erin was dead before he even knew she was there. But the others immediately hit the ground and returned fire. At a range of just a few dozen meters, moving erratically wasn’t going to cut it. This time, her only strategy was speed.
I just have to make it to the stone firepit, that should give me enough cover….
Despite her words of reassurance to herself, Erin knew it would take a miracle to reach it safely.
She flew across the sand, spraying shots at the prone enemies, trying to keep them from getting clear shots of their own. As she ran, fire came from the edge of the cliff face, streaking out over the beach, hitting one of the soldiers as he rose to advance on Erin.
She was five meters from the firepit, her left foot off the ground, when a kinetic slug hit her in the stomach. The impact bowled her over, and she slid across the beach. Walter dulled the pain, but the alerts on her HUD told her that her gut was a mess.
Rolling over, she struggled to get up, grimacing as she got to her knees. To her right, one of the enemies approached, and she fired from the hip, her spray of rounds hitting him in the chest.
Something hit her back, the force throwing her forward, and pain lanced through her when she hit the sand, her weapon falling from her grasp. Her HUD was flickering as her armor’s sensors failed, and she rolled over, hands pawing madly through the sand in search of her rifle. A strange sensation came from her right side, and she glanced down, eyes widening to see that half her torso was gone, biofoam spilling out of her armor in an attempt to seal up her…everything.
Her armor’s last actuators gave out, and she fell to the sand, desperately telling her body to move, but unable to even twitch a finger.
Out of her peripheral vision, she could see an enemy soldier striding forward to deliver the killing shot. She screamed in her mind, finally getting an arm to respond, her hand barely grasping the butt of her rifle.
What happened to Landfall’s defenses? Where’s the surface Marine division?
It was their job to protect the SATC. Where were they? They had to be arriving soon.
Erin hoped that somehow, Martin and Isa and Jude would be saved.
A boot lashed out and kicked her weak arm away from her rifle. Then the end of a barrel tapped against her visor.
Everything went black.
STELLAR DATE: 04.07.8941 (Adjusted Years)
LOCATION: Landfall, Knossos Island
REGION: Carthage, New Canaan System
Erin opened her eyes and sat up. She blinked, and the interior of the small booth at Landfall’s military training facility came into focus.
<Well, that wasn’t traumatic at all,> she said, swinging her legs down from the reclining seat and perching on the edge.
It always took her a few moments to return to reality after participating in an invasion sim.
Walter replied, <I have to admit, that was probably the most harrowing scenario we’ve encountered so far.>
<I mean, if New Canaan is going to be attacked,> Erin continued peevishly, <which seems inevitable, considering that everyone in the galaxy is out to get us, I guess I would rather be with Martin, Isa, and Jude when it happens. But that session has almost made me hope I won’t be home. Ugh.> She gave a shudder before asking the center’s AI, <Are my husband and wife still in the sim?>
<Yes, they haven’t completed their training sessions yet.>
<OK. I’ll wait for them in the lobby.> She stood up and walked to the door. <Walter, we’d better pick up something special for dinner. Isa’s going to need calming down after today. Can you think of some suggestions?>
<Hmm. You mean I should apply my vast intellect and countless resources to discovering what would be best to treat your wife with for dinner?>
<Yes. Do you mind?>
<I’ll get right on it.>
Erin opened the sim booth door and went out into the corridor, which was lined with closed doors that led to similar booths. The training facility was full as usual. Tanis had mandated that every New Canaan citizen complete a schedule of simulated and live training sessions to prepare them for an invasion.
Everyone knew an attack was coming. They just didn’t know when, and Tanis wasn’t taking any chances.
Erin fully understood the need for the extensive training. In the years that had passed since the Intrepid’s arrival, individuals who had once been space-hardened had become accustomed to a soft life planetside. What was more, many of New Canaan’s settlers had never even seen combat, due to spending most of their long journey in stasis. Yet they were all sitting on a ticking bomb, and that bomb went by the name of picotech.
There was no question that, one day, the Transcend would return to claim the prize—if not them, then some other greedy, jealous, fearful enemy.
In all honesty, the Transcend had never left…a fleet had been guarding the system’s perimeter since the day the Intrepid had crossed the heliopause.
It was entirely right that Tanis should force everyone to prepare for an invasion. Erin didn’t enjoy the training, but she accepted the need for it. Unfortunately, not everyone felt the same way. Complaints in the media from ordinary civilians and prominent individuals alike had been loud. Erin was glad she wasn’t governor. Building massive shipyards concealed in moons and space stations had to be far easier than dealing with millions of opinionated citizens.
On her way to the lobby, Erin passed the training facility’s control center. The door was open, and she spotted a familiar figure in the room, talking to the seated training staff.
“Hey,” Erin said, leaning on the doorjamb and poking her head into the room, “Major Usef.”
The major was taking up most of the available space as he stood over two seated controllers.
Usef glanced back at Erin impassively, only lifting his eyebrows to acknowledge her presence.
“It’s good to see you,” she continued, ignoring his cold response. “I didn’t know you worked here.”
Usef replied, “It’s only a supervisory visit. I recently took over responsibility for the civilian invasion training schedule.”
“You did?” said Erin. “That makes a lot of sense, the session just now was brutal. This is the first time I’ve actually died in a training sim. I’m guessing I couldn’t have survived no matter what I did?”
“That’s right, ma’am,” said Usef. “When I reviewed the selection, I noticed there weren’t any no-win scenarios. It’s essential to expose civilians to the entire range of possibilities they could experience in the event of an invasion, including the inevitability of their own deaths. Everyone must become accustomed to feelings of despair, hopelessness, and utter desperation, and learn to continue to fight anyway. We can’t have people giving up just because it seems like we’ve lost the battle and everyone’s going to die.” He spoke in a matter-of-fact tone.
“No, I suppose not,” Erin replied, wondering at Usef’s calm attitude toward the prospect of New Canaanites fighting to the very end despite apparently impossible odds. “So, considering that I was always going to die,” she said, “how did I do?”
“You’ll receive your report as usual,” Usef replied stiffly, but then he appeared to loosen up. “Unofficially, you didn’t do too bad—barring your desperate charge at the end. However, for your next session, I’d like you to take part in a military exercise, not a civilian one.” He paused a beat and added, “I want to see if you can follow orders this time.”
“Whoa! Hold a grudge much, Usef? That was years ago.”
Above the heads of his oblivious subordinates, the major gave her a subtle wink.
Erin rolled her eyes and walked out, deciding that her time would be better spent in finding a surprise for Isa than talking further with Usef.
STELLAR DATE: 04.07.8941 (Adjusted Years)
LOCATION: Marine Eco Station #14, Knossos Island
REGION: Carthage, New Canaan System
When Martin arrived at the beach house with Isa and Erin that evening, their home looked just as it had during the training sim. He supposed that Malcolm had set the windows to fully opaque; no light shone out from within the building. The low rectangular shape was little more than a dark shadow against the black backdrop of the cliff face.
The place had been Martin’s home ever since his arrival at New Canaan. It felt odd to think that this night would be the last he would spend there for the foreseeable future.
The autocab that had brought them home closed its doors and sped away, leaving Martin, Isa, and Erin standing on the beach. The two women seemed to be feeling the same as Martin. Everyone was quiet and still. Then Isa shivered, though the temperature was balmy. Martin wrapped an arm around her shoulders.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “The Transcend isn’t waiting for us inside. It’ll only be Malcolm and Jude. Malcolm can only kill us with his cooking skills, and Jude’s too small to do any real damage.”
“Yeah, I do know that the enemy isn’t waiting on our doorstep,” Isa replied sardonically. “But sometimes I wish we didn’t have to do those drills. They’re so realistic.”
“They’re a sad necessity,” said Erin. “But it’s all over now, right? Let’s go in and eat. I hope Jude didn’t keep Malcolm too busy for him to start dinner.”
They trudged through the loose sand up to the door, which was unlocked as always. The beach was off limits to visitors, ostensibly due to the sensitivity of Martin’s ocean seeding site, but mainly due to the nearby presence of the SATC.
Inside the house, Malcolm was already preparing the evening meal.
“Hey, you’re back,” Malcolm said as they appeared. “How’d it go?”
“Horrible and scary,” Isa replied. “Let’s not talk about the training, huh? How’s Jude been?” She went into the kitchen to collect what she needed to set the table.
“He’s been great,” Malcolm replied. “He went into his crib about an hour ago and he’s been sleeping like a baby ever since.”
“Not surprising,” Erin said, “considering he is one. How’s the food coming? I’m starving.”
“Errr, our son isn’t a baby any longer,” Martin said. “As one of his mothers, you should probably get your terms right. He really hasn’t even been a toddler for a while now.”
“Baby, toddler, what’s the difference?” she asked. “He’s a beautiful bundle of smiles and hugs who I miss too much every time I have to go away.”
“Yeah, that’s been hard on everyone,” Martin said. “I’m glad your long absences for work have finally come to an end. No more months-long projects at the heliopause. The governor promised us that, and I’m going to hold her to it.”
Erin snorted. “Good luck. You know with Tanis the colony comes before any single person’s needs or wishes, including her own. But I think we’ll be OK, for a few years at least.”
“Take your seats, ladies and gentleman,” said Malcolm. “Dinner is served.”
“Oh, sorry, I forgot,” said Erin. “We brought some soup dumplings from Landfall. Could you put them in the steamer, Malcolm?”
“Soup dumplings? Yum,” he replied. “No problem. Pass them over. They’ll only take a few minutes.” He took the bag that Erin handed him and returned to the kitchenette.
“And I’ll pour us some wine,” said Martin.
Erin said, “I’d rather have—”
“Cream soda?” Martin interrupted. “Are you sure, Erin? I thought since it’s our last night here….”
“No wine for me. I never really liked it, and nowadays, it just reminds me of visiting every single one of Samuel Jefferson’s empty vineyards on Tyre, complete with their complimentary antimatter bombs. But I’ll have a beer.”
“Beer it is,” Martin said. As he fixed the drinks to accompany their last dinner at the beach house, he skirted around Malcolm in the small space. The young man left, carrying out a dish.
<You know,> Martin said privately to Eamon. <It’s strange, but I don’t feel at all uneasy about leaving the seeding site in Malcolm’s hands.>
<Really?> Eamon asked. <You should tell him that. It would be almost a compliment. He’ll be pleased. Surprised, but pleased.>
<I will,> said Martin. <In the morning, before we go. You remember how when he first came here, he used to be so annoying? I can’t recall why exactly. But then he changed. I guess he must have matured. Now I think he knows this place and all the creatures as well as I do. Though I have asked him to send me monthly reports all the same.>
<Personally, I’m looking forward to our change of scenery,> Eamon said. <Walter and I have a few things planned, now that we’ll be spending significant time within reach of each other.>
<Great,> Martin said. <It looks like things are coming together for all of us.> He carried the drinks out to the table, where Malcolm was arranging the food.
Erin had already sat down. She’d helped herself to a plate and cutlery and was in the process of lifting a large heap of noodles out of a serving dish with tongs.
Malcolm and Martin joined forces in staring at her wordlessly.
She had lifted a forkful of noodles halfway to her open mouth before she noticed them.
“Is there a problem?”
“Can’t you wait five minutes?” asked Martin. “No one else has even sat down yet.”
“But I’m ravenous,” Erin replied. “I was running and swimming all over the place today during that sim training. And I died, don’t forget. That’s hungry work.”
Martin tilted his head. “We all died, remember?”
“I know. It’s just…. Oh, all right.” Erin put down her fork. “I guess I’m still operating on shipside manners.”
Isa took a seat. “The soup dumplings were a fantastic idea, Erin. We haven’t had these in ages.”
“Yeah, good idea, Erin,” said Martin as he also sat down. He glanced at Isa. “She had them delivered to the training center while we were waiting for you to finish your sim.”
“You mean while I was defending our child from evil attackers who threatened to hurt him in order to make me reveal secret information?” Isa asked. “Information that I don’t even know? Is that the sim you mean?” She lifted the lid off a dish.
“Erm, yes,” said Erin. “That one.” She pulled an ‘uh-oh’ face at Martin.
Catching the look, Isa sighed and said, “It’s OK. I’m over it now. But, please, let’s forget about today, and just eat. Pass me a dumpling, Erin.”
“Sure,” she said. “Though I better admit to you that these were Walter’s idea, or he’s going to sulk.”
“Hold up a minute,” said Martin. “Before we start eating, let’s have a toast.” He lifted his glass of wine into the air.
Malcolm and Isa followed suit. Erin lifted up her beer.
“To new beginnings,” Martin said.
“New beginnings,” the others echoed as they clinked glasses.
Erin held out the dish of steaming dumplings for Isa before taking a couple for her own plate.
Isa scooped her dumpling up in a spoon and used chopsticks to carefully tear a hole in the dough to allow the steam to escape. While waiting for her food to cool, she said, “But let’s not forget—first, Athens! Cocktails, late nights, and decadent pleasure.”
Erin swallowed before replying, “Yes, Athens! I can’t believe it’s taken us four years to return there and finish our vacation.”
“You can’t?” Martin asked. “It isn’t so remarkable. Athens is hardly the place to take a child. In fact, I’d prefer to wait another year or two before vacationing there. It isn’t like the planet’s going anywhere. It can wait.”
“Oh, loosen up,” Erin said. “Remember the tsunami surfing? Usef’s waiting on a return match.”
“And after three years of being a mom, I need to let my hair down,” said Isa.
“Yeah, you do deserve a break, Isa,” Martin said. “It’s only that I think Jude is still a little too young to leave behind with someone else. That was why I suggested you two should go without me. I don’t mind staying here with Jude while you enjoy yourselves.”
“No way,” Erin protested. “It won’t be the same without you. Anyway, everything’s arranged. First thing tomorrow, we send all our stuff to the new place on Troy. Then we drop off Jude at Tanis and Joe’s, and finally we’ll head to the spaceport to catch the shuttle to the Odyssey. When we’ve had our amazing vacation, we’ll pick up our sweet little boy and fly straight to Troy. You can start helping your friend with her underwater safari park, Isa can open her art gallery, and I finally get to build a space station. Yes!” Erin made a fist and pulled down, tucking her elbow in by her side. “It’s all decided. Right, Isa?”
Isa was sipping wine. She put down her glass. “Right.”
They both looked at Martin. Malcolm stifled a smile and looked at his plate.
Martin replied doubtfully, “OK.”
“There’s absolutely no need to worry about Jude,” said Isa. “He’s going to have a whale of a time. Cary and Saanvi adore him, and Tanis and Joe are very happy to have him around. And he’s so used to being at their lakehouse, he probably won’t even notice we’re gone.”
“I know, but….” said Martin.
“But what?” asked Erin.
Martin didn’t have an answer.
STELLAR DATE: 04.08.8941 (Adjusted Years)
LOCATION: Tanis’s Lakehouse, Knossos Island
REGION: Carthage, New Canaan System
Erin held Jude’s hand as they climbed the wooden steps that led up to the front door of Tanis and Joe’s lakehouse. Her son’s little legs could only take the steps one at a time, so progress was slow. Behind her, in the driveway, Isa and Martin were lifting several bags out of the trunk of the autocab. Erin had been amazed by the number of things one small child required for a stay of only a couple weeks.
As she reached the top of the stairs, the door opened.
“Auntie Tanis!” Jude exclaimed when he saw the tall, blonde woman standing in the doorway.
He clambered up the remaining stairs with added vigor, almost tripping over the top tread, then pulled his hand out of Erin’s to run to the door.
Tanis laughed and squatted down, holding out her arms to the little boy, who launched himself into them. As she stood up, Jude hugged her neck and wriggled with excitement.
“Auntie Tanis!” he said again.
“And how is Auntie Tanis?” Erin asked, laughing. She crossed the threshold and followed the Governor of New Canaan into her home.
“Pretty good,” Tanis replied. “Glad to be home?”
“You bet,” said Erin. “I’m even more glad to be going back to Athens with Martin and Isa. Thanks for offering to look after Jude for us. What’s been happening with you?”
Tanis’s eyes crinkled as she let out a rueful laugh. “Do you want the long boring story or the short boring story?”
“Uh, the short one?”
<I don’t think there is a short one,> Angela interjected.
“Ang, you’ll scare them off,” said Tanis. “Come around to the back deck. Isa and Martin will know where to find us.”
While they were waiting for the others to bring in Jude’s things, Tanis gave Erin a brief account of the political machinations she was dealing with. It all sounded tedious and irritating, and Erin was glad she was only hearing the short version.
Before long, Joe came up from the barn. Jude was clearly very familiar with ‘Uncle Joe’ too. He climbed down from Tanis’s lap, ran over to him, and grabbed his legs.
“Hey, little fella,” Joe said.
Then two people Jude seemed to like best of all ran up onto the deck. The minute he saw Cary and Saanvi, Jude lost all interest in Joe and jumped up and down, saying, “Let’s play fishing. I want to play fishing!”
Cary turned to Erin. “Is it OK if we take Jude out onto the lake? Last time he was here, we kind of promised.”
“Sure,” said Erin. “That’s fine. He’ll love it.”
As Tanis and Joe’s daughters were taking Jude down to the water, Isa and Martin finally made it out onto the deck.
“We put Jude’s bags in the hall,” Isa said. “Sorry, there are quite a few.”
“No problem,” said Joe. “Do you have time for a drink?”
“We do,” Isa replied. “We don’t need to be at the spaceport for a while. We wanted to allow plenty of time to get Jude settled in before we leave.”
“Great,” Joe said, sitting down in an armchair. “Let our servitor know what you’d like.”
“I don’t think we need to be concerned about Jude missing us,” Erin said to Isa and Martin, looking beyond the deck to the open threshold of the boathouse, where Cary and Saanvi were putting a lifejacket on the little boy. “He seems to feel right at home.”
Martin had walked straight to the railing that ran around the deck and was watching the children. He turned around and said, “I’m not sure that Jude’s safe out there.”
The servitor had arrived and began delivering their drinks as Tanis asked, “Out on the water? Joe told the girls that they have to make sure Jude’s wearing a lifejacket whenever he’s anywhere near the lake.”
“Ease up, Martin,” Isa said. “The kid’s in the sea more than he’s out of it. He learned to swim before he could walk, remember? I’m sure he’ll be fine.”
Martin appeared unconvinced, but he didn’t reply, simply returned his attention to the boathouse.
“I’ve been coming over here a lot, Erin,” said Isa with a knowing glance in Martin’s direction. “Probably too much, but Jude is really comfortable with the girls.” She looked meaningfully at Tanis, who returned a conspiratorial smile.
“Not at all,” she said. “We love seeing you, don’t we, Joe? It makes a nice change to talk to someone who isn’t a politician or in the military.”
Erin said, “We really appreciate you guys looking after Jude.”
“No problem,” Tanis replied. “It’s the least we can do, after everything you three have done for New Canaan.”
“That’s nice of you,” said Erin, “but I’ve only been doing my job. And now I get the cherry on the cake! An entire space station project all to myself. You wouldn’t believe how much I’ve been looking forward to it.”
“Is she going on about her space station again?” asked Martin, who had managed to drag his attention away from what was going on at the lakefront.
“Erin’s very welcome to talk about the new space station at Troy,” said Tanis. “I’m interested to hear about her plans.”
“See?” said Erin. “If the governor of New Canaan is interested, what do you have to complain about? Better than a boring old aquarium.”
“A boring old aquarium?” Martin’s eyebrows rose nearly to his hairline. “Are you referring to what will be New Canaan’s largest marine safari park, featuring an unheard-of range of underwater environments and aqua experiences?”
“Yes,” Erin said. “Exactly. A boring old aquarium.”
Isa said, “Please excuse my husband and wife. They love to wind each other up.”
Martin had become distracted once more, however. He was looking out over the lake, where Cary and Saanvi’s boat was gliding across the water. Saanvi was sitting with Jude in the bow and handing him a mini fishing rod.
“Looks like it’s fish for dinner,” replied Tanis.
“I’m sorry, but that really doesn’t seem very safe,” Martin said.
“What do you mean?” asked Isa. “Jude’s wearing a lifejacket, and the girls are great at looking after him.”
“Yes, but….” Martin’s jaw muscle twitched. “I should go over to the boat and help them out.”
“I don’t think that’s necessary,” said Isa.
But Martin was already walking down the steps to the lawn.
“What’s he planning to do?” Tanis asked. “We only have the one boat. I guess he could ask the girls to come back to the shore and pick him up.”
“Oh, he won’t bother with that,” said Isa resignedly.
Martin was striding into the boathouse.
“Is he…?” asked Tanis. “Don’t tell me he’s going to swim out to them.”
“Yeah, he is,” Isa sighed. “Honestly, ever since he got his mods, he’s been worse than ever.” She said to Erin, “I’ve been bringing Jude here to give him a break from Martin taking him swimming all the time. Now that Malcolm can deal with everything at the seeding site, Martin’s had the freedom to focus all his attention on Jude, which means swim, swim, swim.”
Out on the lake, Martin’s head broke the water’s surface and then dipped below it again.
“Unbelievable,” said Erin. “Do we even have time for this? How long is it before we have to leave for the spaceport?”
“About half an hour,” Isa replied.
“You know,” said Tanis. “Jude really is one hundred percent safe with the girls.”
“Of course he is,” Isa said. “We know that. Martin knows it too, or he wouldn’t have brought him here. He just gets….” She looked at Erin for the right word.
“Yeah, twitchy,” said Isa. “It’s the first time ever he’s been away from Jude.”
“He seems so overprotective,” said Erin. “But I guess it’s different for me. I’m used to leaving Jude with you and Martin.”
“Well it’s my first time too,” Isa said, “but I don’t mind. Jude will be happy as a clam here with Tanis, Joe, and the girls. I can’t wait to get back to Athens. Mikkel’s Cocktail Lounge, here I come!”
“It’s going to be great,” said Erin, her gaze focused on the lake, where Martin’s head had appeared next to the boat. He was talking to Cary and Saanvi.
“What will you be doing in Troy, Isa?” Joe asked.
Isa’s eyes lit up as she replied, “I’m opening an art experience center. I have a place lined up, I just need to fit it out and set up my installations.”
“Cool,” said Joe. “What kind of installations?”
“They’re amazing,” Erin said. “Isa’s invented a new perceptive experience. She records natural landscapes and makes them dynamic and interactive, adding her own artistic twist. It’s hard to describe. If you’re ever in Troy, you should check them out.”
“We certainly will,” said Tanis.
They talked about Isa’s and Erin’s plans for a short while longer, until Martin emerged from the boathouse, his hair wet.
“Everything OK?” Erin called to him as he walked across the lawn. She gave Isa an amused look.
“Yeah,” Martin replied. When he’d returned to the deck, he added, “I wanted to check that Jude knew he mustn’t touch the fish hooks.”
“You could have asked one of the girls to tell him that from here,” said Erin.
“I know,” Martin said. “But I wanted to tell him myself.”
“That’s what being a parent is like,” said Tanis. “I wonder if we ever get to stop worrying?”
“I hope so,” Isa said. “But we only have one child to worry about. You have two on your mind.”
“We only have one for now,” Martin said. “We might have others soon.”
“Huh?” Erin said. “We might have other kids soon? Did I miss out on a discussion?”
“Then I did, too,” Isa laughed. “I think Martin’s been talking to himself. But if we do want to have more children, I want it to be remembered that last time, I was the one who took one for the team. If we do have another baby, it’ll be your turn to carry it.”
“What?” Erin squeaked. “Why? I don’t see why Martin shouldn’t do the honors, considering it’s his idea.”
“Me?” Martin asked. He mused for a moment and added, “Like male seahorses?” before returning his attention to the lake.
“You’re thinking about it, aren’t you?” said Isa.
“That would take some serious mods,” Erin joked.
“Isa mentioned you’ve already had some mods done,” said Tanis, clearly attempting to distract Martin from his worries.
Her ploy worked. Martin’s features relaxed as he replied, “I did.” He lifted one side of his shirt, displaying three slits at the base of his ribs. “I was never comfortable with the idea of body modification, so I’d been putting this off for a long time. But when I accepted the offer to consult on the marine safari project on Troy, I decided I had to take the plunge. Sorry for the pun. I thought if I was going to do it, I might as well go the whole hog. And it’s been fantastic. I never realized how inconvenient rebreathers and face masks were until I no longer had to use them. No more fear of getting the bends, either. I can go as deep as I like and resurface as quickly as I want. No more salt tongue, even. I wish I’d had it done years ago.”
“Glad you like them; I’ve had them in the past too. Did I ever tell you about the time I stopped the assassination of the Jovian oligarch on Europa?” Tanis asked with a wink.
“You what?” Martin asked, while Isa added, “The Jovian who?”
“Jovian Combine,” Tanis said to Isa. “They controlled most of OuterSol. They had an odd sort of oligarchy, and the head was simply known as ‘The Oligarch’. Anyway, I got caught up in an assassination plot against him that would have seen me framed for the deed. I ended up getting modded into a squidwoman for the job.”
“That sounds fascinating…a real squid, or some sort of fantasy creature?” Martin asked, the expression on his face a mixture of surprise and disbelief.
“I had my arms and legs removed, and then lots of tentacles added. Was the strangest undercover work I’ve ever done. But we saved him—though the asshat blackmailed me later. We managed to turn it on his head, though.”
“Waaaait a second….” Erin couldn’t keep the wonder out of her voice. “Was that when a pod of orcas captured the oligarch and demanded freedom for Europa in exchange for his return?”
“Yup, good ol’ Gerald,” Tanis replied. “He certainly turned that situation to his advantage. So anyway, I think the mods will serve you well, Martin. Back on Mars, I used to swim deep with the dolphins—always thought about getting gills just for that.”
Erin shook her head as she regarded the governor. “You’re just full of surprises.”
“That’s my MO,” said Tanis.
“OK, we should be getting along,” said Isa. “We don’t want to miss the shuttle.”
Martin’s forehead furrowed once more. “Is it time to leave already?”
“I’ll ask Cary to bring Jude over so you can say goodbye,” said Tanis. “He knows he’ll be staying here for a while, right?”
“Oh yeah,” said Isa. “He’s so excited. He hasn’t shut up about it for days. He’s brought nearly all his toys to show to Cary and Saanvi.”
“We’ll send you a packet every day to show him so he doesn’t miss us too much,” Erin said. “Won’t we, Martin?” She paused when he didn’t respond. “Martin?”
His eyes were focused on Jude as the little boat headed back to the boathouse. “Sorry, what?”
“I said we’ll…. What’s wrong?”
Martin had stopped watching Jude, but he wasn’t listening to Erin either. His head was down as he concentrated on a message arriving via the Link.
He looked up. “Sorry, that was Lindsey out at the marine park on Troy. A massive sinkhole has opened up in the seabed right in the center of the site. She’s asked if I can go straight there to help out. I think I should.”
“Oh no,” Isa said, her face falling.
“It doesn’t matter,” Martin said. “You and Erin can go to Athens without me.”
“But we don’t want to go without you,” Erin protested.
“That’s right,” Isa said. “It won’t be the same.”
“Well I don’t know what to do,” Martin said. “Lindsey really needs my help.”
“I guess you have to go in that case,” said Isa, disappointment deadening her tone.
“Yeah, you should go,” Erin said. “I know what we’ll do. Let’s postpone our Athens trip for a couple of months. This problem with the sinkhole will be fixed by then, and I’ll be well into the space station construction. It won’t hurt to take a week off. Could you close your gallery for a while, Isa? Or leave someone else to look after it?”
“I suppose so,” Isa replied. “All right. That’s what we’ll do. We’ll only be starting work a little earlier than we’d planned.”
“Sounds good,” Tanis said. “I’m sure we’ll be free to look after Jude then, too. Though the girls are going to be disappointed.”
“We’ll be back soon enough,” Martin said. “But for now, we’ll go straight to Troy and take Jude with us.” He looked happier than he had for the entire visit.
STELLAR DATE: 04.08.8941 (Adjusted Years)
LOCATION: Heliopolis, Ithaca
REGION: Troy, New Canaan System
Anger and frustration gnawed at Myrrdan’s agent. Sitting in a hotel room balcony that overlooked Troy’s capital city, Heliopolis, the agent brooded on the challenges of stealing New Canaan’s prized technology and unique advantage in the struggle for galactic power: picotech.
In the years since the arrival of the Intrepid, picotech had been employed several times, but each of the agent’s attempts to steal the tech had failed. The failure that stuck out most painfully was that of the idiot Nathan Hart. Hart had enjoyed the luxury of two separate opportunities, yet twice he’d been unsuccessful.
The agent had even gone to the expense and trouble of supplying the man with superior body modifications to help him on his second attempt, but all to no avail. What was more, Hart’s endeavors had alerted the New Canaan Government to the fact that their precious tech was under threat from within the colony. As a consequence, the security around the picotech’s employment had become and remained airlock-tight.
If Hart hadn’t died after his second failure, the agent would have killed him. The man’s incompetence had wasted their best chance. Such a favorable circumstance had never been repeated. The government only ever used the tech in well-hidden areas and under heavily armed protection. Myrrdan’s agent was confident that the security services had not detected any of the further attempts at theft, but that was small consolation.
As the years had passed, the agent’s frustration had grown. Every day that went by was another opportunity for the Transcend or another hostile power to invade the system and seize the tech for their own. That could not happen. The picotech must be Myrrdan’s, and it would be his alone after he used it to destroy New Canaan.
The agent gazed absently at the cityscape, lost in thought. Heliopolis glared with reflected sunlight from the sea of white buildings, stark and clean against an azure sky. The city’s main thoroughfare lay below the balcony and it was filled with Trojans out in force. Hawkers had set up stalls on the sidewalk, selling freshly picked local fruit, sticky, sweet nut confections, meat pastries, cream-filled buns, and other street food, and they were inviting passing pedestrians to sample their wares.
An unusual sight caught the agent’s attention: a woman walking six pets on leashes. The animals were a new kind that was becoming fashionable in the colony. An inventive genetic engineer had mixed canine, simian, and another ‘secret’ organism’s genes to create pets that were very smart yet also highly loyal. The simian genes seemed to have provided the greatest influence on the animals’ appearances and behavior, from what the agent could see.
The six pets were walking obediently, yet they were also intensely curious about everything that was going on around them. They were watching the street food sellers with great interest and seemed to be paying special attention to the handing out of purchases. The agent stood up and peered over the balcony, watching the spectacle more closely. The woman appeared to ignore her animals’ nosiness, only holding tight to their leashes as they strained to inspect the food on offer more closely. Passersby stopped the owner to ask questions about the beasts. She began nodding and pressing a hand to her chest with fake humility as she appeared to accept compliments with great pride.
The agent grimaced. New Canaanites were irritating beyond belief. So smug and self-satisfied about their little worlds. The day the system was wiped from existence could not arrive soon enough.
Suddenly, one of the pets turned its attention away from the food stalls and, for no apparent reason, began to jump up at its owner. The animals already reached the woman’s thighs, so the force of the creature leaping up almost knocked her from her feet. Then, even more inexplicably, four more of the pets joined in, leaping up at their mistress from all sides. They were pushing her with their front paws before dropping to the ground and immediately jumping again. They didn’t appear to be doing her serious harm, though their actions were vigorous and intense.
The owner’s surprised wails and shrieks drifted up from the street, above the hubbub of street noise. Bystanders’ reactions were predictable. Those who were closest tried to help the woman, grabbing the animals’ leashes and trying to hold them under control, but the pets were strong and full of energy and they soon wriggled free, immediately resuming their seemingly odd and pointless behavior. Other pedestrians only gawped.
Myrrdan’s agent was becoming bored with the trivial incident, but then one of the animals did something interesting.
From the distance of the hotel balcony, the agent was able to observe the wider picture of what was really happening. The sixth pet, which had been standing still while the others misbehaved, unfastened its harness. It was as if the animal had been waiting for its moment. A quick check around told it that its actions hadn’t been noticed, and then it began to edge away from the group.
Myrrdan’s agent smiled wryly, assuming the animal was going to try to escape, but the smile faded when it became clear that escape was not the creature’s intention at all. After carefully checking out the nearest hawkers, the sneaky pet slipped across to a stand, climbed up onto the structure, and stuffed its cheeks with sticky clusters of nuts. No one except the agent noticed what the animal was doing. The creature then filled its hands with the confections before jumping down and scooting back to its owner.
The fact that the other pets were in on the trick was obvious from the way they stopped their wild leaping when their companion had returned to the group. The snack thief quickly passed out the stolen treats in the confusion as the animals calmed down.
The owner’s wailing finally ceased. She bent down to stroke the animals, perhaps thinking something must have scared them. It was only then she noticed that one of her pets had slipped its harness. The crowd of concerned or nosy onlookers began to break up. After re-securing her pet, the owner walked away, flustered, dishevelled and, like everyone else present, entirely unaware that she’d been fooled.
Myrddan’s agent was gripping the balcony rail tightly. The pets’ antics had sparked the germ of an idea. The agent continued to think about it, and the idea built into a clear plan, while below, the business of the street continued unobserved.
The picotech was to be used on Troy soon, and the agent now knew how to steal it. This time there would be no mistakes. The previous attempts had been amateurish. Relying on weak, incompetent subordinates like Hart had been unwise. This time, the agent would be the one to snatch the tech, and this time, the outcome would be successful.
The incident in the street had demonstrated that all that was needed was a powerful distraction. When the picotech was deployed, something spectacular had to happen to divert the attention of the security forces. Yet they must not suspect what was happening, which meant that the event also had to be entirely credible. No one must suspect a connection, or additional backup would be on alert, and the plan would fail.
It could be done. All that was required was a handful of armed, mind-controlled individuals and a careful orchestration of events leading up to the decisive moment.
Feeling calmer and quietly optimistic, Myrddan’s agent released the balcony rail, sat down, and poured tea into a cup. The street below the balcony was growing quiet as evening drew on.
Heliopolis was peaceful for now, but that would soon change. Everything was slotting together perfectly. At last, the picotech would be Myrddan’s, and the agent would finally get his reward.
The agent experienced a peculiar sense of peacefulness at the notion. Maintaining a facade that was at odds with an entirely different psychological reality had become a strain over the years. It would be a relief when the subterfuge was finally over.
STELLAR DATE: 04.11.8941 (Adjusted Years)
LOCATION: Family home, eastern shores of Ithaca
REGION: Troy, New Canaan System
By the time Martin, Isa, and Erin arrived at their new home on Troy, night had fallen. Martin had hoped to see the house in full daylight. He’d commissioned it to be built weeks previously, but he’d only ever seen plans, not the real thing. But the sight would have to wait until the morning. It was late, and he had a sleepy son to put to bed.
Jude flopped over Martin’s shoulder, as Martin carried him toward the door while clutching baggage in his other hand. Behind him, the autocab closed its doors and sped away. Isa and Erin followed behind, bringing the rest of their luggage. Apart from Jude’s things, they didn’t have much to carry. Very little in the way of clothing was needed when vacationing in Athens.
Isa caught up to Martin and touched his elbow, signalling him to wait a moment. He stopped. Isa was soaking up the sight of the house, with its dark windows and silent, untouched air. Erin had also paused on the path to absorb her first view of their Trojan home.
Troy’s three moons were full and high in the night sky: two spheres and a misshapen lump that the locals referred to as ‘the Potato’. A cool, salty breeze blew from the sea that lay on the far side of their home, though the water wasn’t visible in the darkness. The scent made Martin feel immediately at ease.
The new house was exactly as he had imagined it, from the tall windows at the front, to the pitched roof and gables. The building stood alone in the landscape, rising three stories high. It was also four times as wide as their little beach house by the Med.
Martin had chosen the spot to build the house due to its convenient location. The site was at the top of a bluff that overlooked the sea where his old friend Lindsey was creating her marine safari park. The space elevator that would take Erin to her orbital worksite site lay only twenty kilometers distant, and Heliopolis, the Trojan capital where Isa would open her gallery, was only a half-hour autocab ride away.
“What do you think?” Martin asked the two women, adjusting his grip on Jude, who was sliding off his shoulder.
“I love it,” Isa breathed.
“Me too,” said Erin. “I think we’re going to have a great time living here.”
“Good,” said Martin. “We should go inside.”
They walked up to the front door, opened it, and entered their new home.
The first sight to greet them was a pile of their household goods and belongings, which had arrived from Carthage a few hours ahead of them. The pile was in the middle of the hall. The room’s windows reached to the ceiling two stories above, and they were set to transparent. The light of three moons poured through the clear panes, bathing the interior in a soft blue-white glow.
A wide, polished floor spread out across the hall, and a staircase on the right swept up to the second story. Upstairs were four bedrooms with attached bathrooms. The third floor was one large, open space where Isa could work at home if needs be. The first floor comprised a kitchen, living and dining areas, and entertainment rooms.
Martin knew that Erin didn’t have much of an appreciation for expansive living spaces, after the decades she’d spent aboard ships and stations, but he’d known Isa would like their house. He also hoped it would be a nice environment for Jude and perhaps his sisters and brothers to grow up.
“This is a bit of a change from the beach house,” Erin said as she dumped her bags and looked around.
“Isn’t it beautiful?” Isa asked. “It reminds me of the hotel we stayed at on Athens. Very traditional. Very Martin.”
“Wait,” Erin said with mock alarm. “Don’t tell me we have to turn on the lights with switches.”
Martin turned on the lights via the house system.
“Phew,” said Erin. “So here we are in Heliopolis, ‘the Sunniest City in the System’.”
“Technically, we’re outside the capital here,” Isa said.
“I know that, we’re on the coast of the Ithacan continent.”
“It’s good to hear you did your homework,” Martin said.
“I am building a five-hundred-kilometer-long station over this planet,” Erin protested. “I do kinda need to know what’s below it.”
“I know,” said Martin. “I’m only kidding. Messene Station is going to be spectacular. But I think Jude isn’t the only one who’s tired after our surprise diversion. What do you say we head to bed right away? I’ll be heading over to help Lindsey with the sinkhole first thing in the morning.”
Erin covered her mouth and yawned. “You bet.”
They climbed the sweeping staircase to the second story and walked the rug-lined hallway to the master bedroom. Inside the room were two more doors: one led to an adjoining, smaller room where a large crib awaited Jude, and the other led to the bathroom.
Jude was in the land of dreams. Martin carried him into his room and laid down the sleeping child. He pulled off his shoes and, not wanting to wake him to put him into pajamas, tucked a coverlet over him. Martin quietly closed the door behind him, and returned to the master bedroom, where Isa was changing into her nightclothes. Erin had gone into the bathroom.
“Glad to see you didn’t go for the traditional san, Martin,” she called out.
Isa smiled at him. “Gotta love how she always focusses on the basics.”
“Yep,” Martin replied. “That’s our Erin.”
Isa pulled back the covers and climbed into bed. “I’m so happy she’s back, though. Everything feels more complete with her around.”
“I know what you mean,” said Martin. “I think Jude has missed her while she’s been working at the outer rim, too. He just isn’t old enough to tell us.”
“It’ll do them both good to get better acquainted,” said Isa.
“It will,” Martin agreed. “Everything’s falling into place finally. Now if we can only stop Erin from working every weekend, life will be perfect.”
“Huh?” said Erin, appearing from the bathroom in her pajamas. “Are you two talking about me?”
“Don’t worry about it,” Isa replied. “Come to bed. I’m tired.”
“Not too tired, I hope,” said Erin mischievously as she joined Isa under the covers and snuggled up to her.
“Hmm,” Martin said. “Gotta love how you always get down to business.” He stripped off and joined the two women before turning out the light.
A few minutes later, Erin suddenly sat up and pushed down the coverlet. “Darn it!”
“What?” Isa asked, also sitting up. She brushed her hair away from her face. “What’s wrong?”
“We have shooting range practice tomorrow,” said Erin. “Didn’t you see the notification?”
“No, I didn’t,” Isa replied indignantly. “When I’m indulging in marital relations, I’m not checking notices at the same time.”
“I saw it as well,” said Martin, as he also sat up.
“Huh?” said Isa. “Am I the only one around here who was concentrating on what she was doing?”
“Such a bummer,” Erin said. “I guess that now we’re on Troy, we’ve been put on the Trojan invasion drill timetable. It doesn’t matter that we already did target practice on Carthage a couple of months ago.”
“It’s a bummer for you guys,” said Martin. “Not me. Fixing the damage from that sinkhole counts as an emergency situation, so I’m excused.”
“Well aren’t you the lucky one?” said Isa.
“Wait. He isn’t lucky at all,” said Erin. “Have you seen what we’ll be practicing with? They’ve got the AC9CR! It’s a new tri-mode e-beam.”
“Erin!” Isa exclaimed.
“I can’t believe you’re still reading that notice. It would be nice if you could keep your mind on the job at hand.”
“Oh, yeah.” Erin smiled sheepishly. She lay down and pulled the covers over her shoulders.
Martin lay down too. He turned the window opposite the bed transparent. Starlight and moonlight filled the room.
“Did you do that?” Isa asked him as she also reclined.
“Uh huh,” he replied, drawing her into his arms.
STELLAR DATE: 04.12.8941 (Adjusted Years)
LOCATION: Family home, eastern shores of Ithaca
REGION: Troy, New Canaan System
Erin and Isa were sleeping soundly when Martin awoke the following day. Canaan Prime’s bright beams were shining directly into the room. Martin changed the window setting to translucent and gently eased himself out of bed to avoid waking the two women.
He regarded them both in silence for a moment. Erin was lying on her back, an arm flung over her head. Her mouth was open, and she was gently snoring. Isa was curled at Erin’s side, her hair spread over her pillow like fine, ebony seaweed floating in the current.
Time was getting on. Lindsey had sent more details on the damage at the sinkhole, which was considerable. Martin quickly descended the stairs and walked across the hall to the kitchen. The service company who had installed the furniture had also, at his request, supplied a few groceries.
Martin set the coffee maker going and then opened the French doors to the terrace. The Sea of Marmara stretched almost to the horizon. A cool breeze drifted in and filled the kitchen. Martin strode outside and arranged seats around the stone table before returning to the kitchen to collect his breakfast of croissants, eggs, fruit, and coffee. He sat down and took in the scenery as he ate.
<What do you think, Eamon?> he asked.
<Simply stunning,> the AI replied.
Martin smiled when Eamon said no more. It wasn’t often that his mental companion was at a loss for words.
The sea lapped the shore about fifty meters below the terrace, out of Martin’s sight. The sun was now streaming across the expanse. A dark line at its farthest edge marked the coast of Troy’s island continent, Syracuse. Lindsey had said the marine safari park stretched the entire distance below the water from Ithaca to its neighbor. Visitors could take an underwater Maglev that would stop at significant places in the park, or they would be able to stay in underwater hotels for a longer vacation.
Martin was bursting with curiosity to see the safari site and the progress that Lindsey had made so far. The project was a massive seeding and engineering challenge. A few aspects, like coral reefs and tropical fish, sharks, and turtles were a given, but Lindsey had also told him about other plans: an octopus garden, a sea monsters area, a diatom spectacle, and a deep sea dome full of organisms that dwelled in high-pressure habitats. Martin couldn’t wait to get started.
He was only a tiny bit disappointed that they wouldn’t be going to Athens. It would have been good to go tsunami surfing again—and to have a rematch with Usef. Yet Martin had also been relieved when it became clear they would have to postpone the trip. They could go to Athens any time, and Jude was still so young. Martin just wasn’t comfortable with leaving him with other people, even a family as trustworthy and responsible as the governor’s.
He finished his coffee and put down his cup. After returning to the hall to riffle through the baggage, he found his swimming shorts. He put them on and took off his robe, dropping it over the back of a chair. Unlike the beach house, their new home was serviced by servitors to keep it clean and tidy.
At the edge of the terrace, stone steps led down to a garden of salt-tolerant trees and plants. Martin walked down the stairs and then along a meandering path that ended at a gate in the garden fence. He was careful to lock the gate after passing through it. No barriers lay between the fence and the cliff edge, so it was important that Jude should never be able to escape the garden.
Martin walked to the drop-off and peered over it, the breeze pushing him backward. A large natural cave opened at the base of the cliff far below. Martin couldn’t see the cave due to the overhang, but he could see where the water was deep.
<How far down is it?> he asked Eamon.
The AI replied, <forty-eight point three nine meters, rounded up, from here to the surface of the water.>
<Cool,> said Martin, noting the frothy surf below. <That’ll certainly shake the cobwebs loose every morning.>
Aiming for the darker water, he dove off the cliff and brought his hands together over his head as the rock face rushed past.
He only had time to think, What an incredible commute, as he dropped toward the waves. Just before he hit the water, a nictitating membrane slid across his eyes.
Slicing into the water Martin shot into the briny depths. Feeling like he was finally in his element once more, he leveled out and opened his mouth to breathe. The sensation of water passing down his windpipe and out from between his lower ribs had taken some getting used to at first, but now it was second nature.
The body modders had also offered him an aquatic respiratory system option akin to that of a marine mammal’s; rather than gill-like slits in his ribs, he would have only required a discreet blow hole in the back of his neck. But in the end, Martin had decided that if he was going to take the step of a full body mod, he might as well go all the way. Now he was equally at home on land and in water. The webbing between his toes certainly helped with his swimming too.
<Looking forward to our first day in a new job?> Martin asked Eamon.
<I am,> Eamon replied. <I’ve been going over the latest plans for the park. Lindsey’s allowed her imagination to run riot. I foresee a number of challenges, but nothing we can’t deal with. You might want to read the report on the sinkhole, though. That’s put a hole in the plans, literally.>
<Yeah, I’ll do that now,> Martin replied. <How far am I from the complex?>
<Swimming at your current rate, you’ll arrive in twenty-eight minutes.>
Martin was traveling parallel to the coastline at a depth of four meters. The water was comfortably warm, and visibility was good. He had already encountered several fish species and other marine life that were probably local to the area, but he expected to hit the outer reaches of the marine park soon and see the early stages of Lindsey’s work.
The complex that was the center of management for the marine safari was about a kilometer south of his new home. The underwater labs and offices were about fifty meters from the shore and five meters down. The water was so clear, Martin could soon see the low, regular blocks of the structure in the distance and he propelled himself toward it.
Small coral began to appear, as the level of the seabed rose. Within a few moments, Martin was swimming above tall, branching colonies, cushions, wave-like structures, and weird convolutions similar to the surface of a human brain. The coral Lindsey had seeded were growing strongly, and reef fish were already teeming over them. Small reef sharks rested on the shallow seabed.
A cool shadow passed over Martin. He looked up to see the underside of a large sea turtle, its massive flippers steadily paddling.
He guessed that visitors would have the option of swimming into the safari park, as he was. If so, the reef was a great entrance into an underwater adventure.
The safari project buildings sat in a wide, shallow hollow. The complex consisted of several single-story, hexagonal structures conjoined by tunnels. Now that he was close to the buildings, Martin could see that all the tunnels and some of the walls and roofs of many of the structures were transparent. Figures were even visible inside. He spotted his colleague and old friend Lindsey through one of the windows. Her head was down.
She must be working on something.
Rather than alert her to his arrival via the Link, Martin decided to give her a surprise. He swam right over to the window and rapped on it hard with his knuckles. Lindsey looked up and after a moment’s recognition, she smiled and waved.
<The entrance is to your right,> she said, pointing. <Around the back.>
Martin followed her directions and saw the entrance to the building, which was an open portal. Held back by a grav field, the water ended in a clear line that spanned the opening. Martin swam over to it, grabbed the handbars on each side, brought down his legs, and stepped inside. As soon as his feet touched the floor, a blast of warm, dry air blew at him from vents, and the water that dripped from his body disappeared into the matting beneath his feet.
Martin slid back his eye membranes, shunted the remaining water from his lungs, and switched to air breathing. Lindsey approached him along the corridor, grinning. When she reached him, they hugged.
“I’m so glad you agreed to come to Troy and help me out, Martin. I promise you, you’re going to love it here.”
“From what I’ve seen so far,” he replied, “I think I will.”
“Let’s get you a lab coat. I wasn’t expecting you to swim in. Most of us arrive the regular way, through the tunnel from the surface.” She opened a door and handed him a white coat. “Are you OK with working in bare feet?”
“That’s how I usually work.” He shrugged.
“Oh yeah,” said Lindsey. “I remember your beach house on the Med. OK, let me introduce you to the gang, then we’ll go straight out to the sinkhole.”
She led him through a tunnel toward a different building. Tropical fish swam overhead, and ripples on the water’s surface made the light dance.
As Lindsey entered the central building, she remarked, “So you finally went full-mod. What do you think?”
“Now that I’m used to it,” Martin replied, “I regret not doing it sooner.”
“So what you’re saying is, you wish you’d listened to me?” Lindsey shot him a sideways glance and a grin.
“Is that your way of saying ‘I told you so’?”
“OK, Lindsey,” Martin said. “If it makes you happy, you were right. I should have gotten modded the minute I graduated, just like you did.”
She chuckled. “Actually, I wish I’d waited a while. The mods I got then with my recent college grad’s salary weren’t that good; some of our upgrades here are really impressive, though. I’ll have to make the time to go and see what improvements the modders can offer.”
A door opened, and Lindsey ushered Martin ahead of her into a lab where a man and a woman were working. The two assistants walked over to Martin to shake hands. Lindsey introduced them as Pietr and Margot. Pietr was tall and rangy, and Margot was rounded and rosy-cheeked.
“I heard you seeded the Med on Carthage,” Margot said. “Nice job. I went whale watching on my last vacation and saw a blue whale. That was one of yours, right?”
“The blues are mine, yes, but my assistant, Malcolm, helped to raise them. I can’t take all the credit.”
“Still, that’s quite an achievement,” Pietr said. “I’m happy to have you working with us. Lindsey’s been running us off our feet for the last two months. Isn’t that right, Margot?”
“What Pietr means to say,” Margot explained with a wink, “is that we have been busy doing a job we love. And we’re very glad to have you on board.”
“Great,” Lindsey said, clearly eager to get underway. “Now that the introductions are over, let’s go out to that damned sinkhole.”
“I’ll stay here, if that’s OK,” said Pietr. “We won’t all fit in the Torpedo.”
“Are you sure?” Lindsey asked. “You could come along in a single seater.”
“No, I don’t mind. I have plenty to do.”
Lindsey opened a thick metal door. On the other side of it, a squat, dome-roofed, three-seater submersible sat in a waterlock. Two slim, single-person underwater vehicles were clamped to the lock’s walls.
“That’s the Torpedo?” Martin asked, eyeing the dumpy craft.
“Pietr has an ironic sense of humor,” said Margot.
They climbed inside, and Lindsey closed the seals. Water poured into the chamber from several spouts. When the Torpedo became buoyant, Lindsey started the engine. The water level eventually reached the ceiling, and then wide doors opened at the end of the lock, and Lindsey guided the craft out to sea.
She piloted the submersible parallel to the seabed, following a gradual slope downward. The water grew darker, but Martin’s modded eyes compensated, so he hardly noticed.
“We hadn’t done a lot in this area, thank the stars,” Lindsey said, “or the damage would have been much worse. As it is, I hate to think how many organisms were dragged in and killed when the sinkhole opened.”
“What happened?” Martin asked.
“A minor earthquake,” Margot answered. “Tiny little thing. They hardly felt it on the mainland. But it was enough to trigger a collapse of the seabed. It was lucky none of us was working near the site at the time.”
The dark hole in the sandy floor was becoming plain to see. The sinkhole was roughly circular, and larger than Martin had imagined—over three hundred meters at its widest point. Sand was running steadily into it from the edges.
Lindsey cut the thrust of the submersible’s engine, and they coasted closer to the pit.
A diver was swimming up out from the sinkhole, the beam from his headlight cutting through the dim water. Martin noticed the diver’s line as the man gave them a wave.
“Is it safe to go near it?” asked Martin, eyeing the diver’s progress warily.
“Yes, it’s fine now,” Lindsey replied. “Oh, sorry. I forgot to tell Tony you’re here.” She added another person to the team’s channel. <Tony, I have Martin, another marine biologist, with me.>
<Pleased to meet you, Martin.>
Martin recognized the man’s name and ident, though he’d never met him face to face. He was the planetary engineer Isa had interviewed for her infomentary on Tyre.
<It’s good to meet you too,> Martin replied, waving back.
<Everything’s stable down there, Lindsey,> said Tony.
<Great,> she replied. <Thanks a lot. We can handle it from here.>
Tony made an OK symbol with his hand and then gave a thumbs-up before he began swimming upward. A boat’s narrow hull bobbed on the surface above.
“As you can see,” Lindsey said to Martin, “this part of the park has been pretty much devastated.”
She was right. He couldn’t see any creatures around them or on the seabed, which was a smooth blanket of sand.
Lindsey continued, “We need to begin reseeding right away if we stand a chance of being ready in time for the opening,”
“Sure,” Martin replied. “But I haven’t seen any signs of construction. Aren’t the hotels and the rest of the facilities going to take the longest to put in place?”
“Oh, you don’t know yet,” asked Lindsey. “I had to skim over that part in the plans. The hotels and all the rest of the physical infrastructure are going to be the last and fastest stage of the project. Building all those things the regular way would be so boring, right? I didn’t want to be bothered with all that, so I asked for permission to use pico, and it was granted. We’ll grow the hotels right out of silica.”
STELLAR DATE: 04.12.8941 (Adjusted Years)
LOCATION: Heliopolis, Ithaca
REGION: Troy, New Canaan System
“Cheer up,” Erin said as she and Isa walked through the entrance to the shooting range. “It’s only going to take until lunchtime, then it’ll all be over, and you’ll be free to do what you like.”
Isa had been looking doleful ever since they had settled Jude in at the daycare center. Their little boy’s sunny personality had ensured it hadn’t taken long before he was happily playing with new friends, so Erin guessed that the reason for Isa’s bad mood wasn’t due to worry about him.
“It’s OK for you,” Isa replied. “I’d much prefer to be checking out the building I want to use for my gallery. It’s empty and ready to view. I could be there now instead of practicing shooting people. I don’t enjoy this kind of thing like you do.”
“Me?” Erin asked. “What makes you think I enjoy this kind of thing?”
Isa threw her a look.
“OK,” said Erin. “I guess I do enjoy it. It’s fun.”
“And you’re good at it,” said Isa. “But I couldn’t hit a destroyer at twenty paces.”
“Now that’s an exaggeration.” But not much of one, Erin added to herself.
She’d seen Isa’s invasion drill reports. They were so bad, Erin had wondered if Isa had been missing the enemy soldiers on purpose.
They walked up to the front desk to check in for the session. At the same time, the entrance doors opened, and four women burst through the doorway, laughing and chatting loudly. They pushed past Erin and Isa to get to the desk first.
“Errr,” Erin said.
Isa shook her head, and Erin agreed their rudeness wasn’t worth arguing about. After a brief transaction, the four women disappeared down the passage that led to the range.
After checking in, Erin and Isa followed them. All the booths were taken except the one next to the group of women, who shot them glances as they took up their spot. Erin turned her back on their nosy neighbors.
The shooting range had been set up to mimic a variety of potential scenarios and enemies. The session playing at that moment featured an urban combat scenario.
“Do you want to go first?” Erin asked Isa.
“I don’t care,” she replied. “I’m going to be terrible at all of them.”
“Don’t be silly. That’s why we’re here, right? To get better.”
“That’s why I’m here. If I don’t score the minimum, I’ll have to do a repeat practice every week until I do.”
“Ugh,” said Erin. “I didn’t realize it was that bad.”
“Yeah,” Isa replied, picking up one of the weapons on the stand. “It’s that bad.”
Erin heard a titter behind her. She looked over her shoulder and saw that the women had been eavesdropping on her and Isa’s conversation.
When they saw Erin looking at them, one of the women said, “Hi. Can I ask where you’re from?”
“We arrived from Carthage yesterday,” Isa replied, giving Erin an ‘It’s fine’ look.
“Right,” said the woman. “I thought you probably weren’t Trojan. You Carthaginians are a bit soft, aren’t you? Victorians, not Taranians. Here on Troy, we know how to shoot straight.”
Erin turned her back to the women again, surprised that colonists in New Canaan had brought along that old rivalry from the Kapteyn’s Star System.
<Unbelievable,> she said to Isa. Pulling a snooty face, she mimicked, <‘Here on Troy, we know how to shoot straight’.>
Isa began to chuckle, which she hastily tried to control as the rude woman looked on angrily, obviously aware that Erin was making fun of her.
The woman’s features turned hard, and she aimed her weapon at the holo, which displayed enemy troops running toward them down city streets. The scene was one of the more difficult ones because there was plenty of cover for the troops, and local civilians would frequently pop into view.
The Trojan woman picked off three soldiers with ease. Erin glanced at her in time to see the smirk she threw at Isa.
Anger welled up in Erin. The Trojan’s rudeness and posturing were bad enough, but the last thing Isa needed was someone trying to make her feel even worse.
Her jaw set, Erin grasped the AC9CR, feeling its weight and adjusting her stance to compensate. Once she was comfortable, she toggled her round to start and fired the weapon’s electron beam, downing four troops while also avoiding hitting a child who ran across the field of fire.
“Not bad,” said the woman, adding, “for a Carthaginian. But let’s see what your friend can do.”
“My wife isn’t here to perform for you,” Erin retorted.
“Oh, I see,” the woman said in a condescending tone. “There’s no need for her to learn how to shoot while she has you around to defend her. Is that how it is? That’s really sweet.” She smiled at her friends.
“I’m sorry, you seem to be confusing me with someone who cares what you think,” Erin replied.
<Ignore them,> said Isa. <I don’t give a shit what they think either.>
But all the Trojan women had stopped their own practice to watch Isa, and Erin didn’t want their scrutiny to make her aim badly again.
<Why don’t you imagine you’re firing at Stuck Up Bitch?> she suggested. <A nose like that is hard to miss.>
Isa chuckled, glancing at the rude Trojan. <Honestly, Erin. It doesn’t matter.>
She lifted her weapon and searched the holo for a target. She didn’t look confident, however, and Erin was sure she was going to miss again.
<I know,> she said. <What if it was Sirians who were invading? How would you feel about that?>
Isa gaped at her. Then her lips drew into a thin line, and she narrowed her eyes at the holo, firing off five rounds. Each was a perfect hit.
“One hundred percent!” Erin exclaimed. “Awesome…if you were a Trojan.” She threw the Trojans a wry look.
The rude woman’s expression became sour, and she turned away like she was trying to pretend that the conversation hadn’t taken place.
<I knew you could do it,> Erin said.
<You know my triggers,> Isa told her. <And if I keep your suggestion in mind, you just saved me from double practice sessions for a while. Let’s get this over with so I can go and see my new premises.>
STELLAR DATE: 04.12.8941 (Adjusted Years)
LOCATION: Heliopolis, Ithaca
REGION: Troy, New Canaan System
Isa applied the security access key that the letting agent had sent her, and the lock snicked open. She pushed on one of the heavy double doors, which swung inward, revealing a dim, dusty interior, lit only by beams of sunlight through rectangular windows high above. She stepped inside the building and saw for the first time the site of her new business endeavor.
As she closed the door, the bustle of the street quietened to a soft hum. Isa’s gaze roved the large, empty space. She’d chosen the building from vid advertisements because the place had seemed to fit her needs perfectly. And now that she was there, she saw she’d been right.
Isa walked to the center of the floor and looked upward. She could see all the way to the roof. On her right, a mezzanine jutted out at second-floor level, and on her left was another mezzanine at the level of the third floor. A stepped walkway linked the two, passing across the open space.
It was easy to see how the building had once functioned as a storage warehouse for Troy’s famous spices. Isa thought she could still detect the scents of cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, cloves, and pepper.
Excited anticipation coursed through her. She had read all about Troy’s valleys, plains, rainforests, and inland seas. She would hire an aircar to fly to all those places and record the sites as she had on Tyre. Then in her workroom at the new house, she could recreate all those amazing landscapes and add an imaginative spin, turning the recordings into psychological experiences.
Isa’s landlord had arrived, as they had arranged.
<Mr. Singh? I’m inside already. Please wait a moment.>
She opened the door and saw a slight, dark-haired, pale-skinned man.
“Nice to meet you, Mr. Singh,” said Isa. She took a step backward to allow him to enter.
He ducked his head slightly as he walked through the doorway. “Pleased to meet you too.” He stopped just beyond the threshold in order to sweep the place with his gaze. “I have to confess it’s been a while since I was here. Is everything to your satisfaction?”
“I only arrived a minute ago myself,” Isa replied. “I underestimated how long it would take to travel here from the shooting range. I had to take part in training practice this morning. I haven’t had a chance to look around properly yet.”
“No problem. I can show you the place myself and answer any questions you might have. I suggest we start at the lower mezzanine. The elevator’s this way.”
Isa followed Singh as he led her toward a corner of the building.
“Do you mind if I ask if you’re a Trojan?” Singh asked as they reached the elevator. It was an open, no-door, step on, step off type that started up as they drew near it.
“No,” Isa replied, wondering why people kept asking her where she was from. “I’m from Carthage. I only arrived yesterday, in fact. This is the first time I’ve been to Troy.”
“I see,” said Singh. “I was Carthaginian too, but I’ve been here a while now and I plan to stay. I wish I’d come here sooner. I prefer life on Troy, and it’s easier to get ahead here. I’ve become quite prominent in the upper social circles, if I say so myself.”
An elevator floor appeared and they stepped onto it. Immediately, the machine’s mechanism sent out a low, grinding hum.
Isa looked questioningly at Singh, whose features creased with embarrassment.
“That noise isn’t anything to worry about,” he said. “This elevator hasn’t been used in a while, is all. But I’ll arrange for someone to take a look at it to be on the safe side.”
“How long has the building been empty?” Isa asked.
“About eighteen months. I bought it from the previous owner not long after I arrived, thinking I would be able to let the place quite easily. But yours was the first inquiry I received. I suppose it’s due to the building’s structure. It’s fairly unusual, right?”
“It is, but I think it suits my needs.”
They had reached the mezzanine, and they simultaneously stepped out.
“The owner put the place up for sale soon after the last tenant moved out,” Singh continued. “I believe it was because the company went out of business. Such a pity. I heard they supplied the best saffron in the system; you can’t buy it in Heliopolis now, you have to order it from the other side of the planet.”
“That is a pity,” Isa said.
“The problem is, if you’re running a company that exports to other planets, it’s hard to compete with Carthaginian businesses. In most cases, they were the first to be set up after the Intrepid’s arrival, so they were always one step ahead. Licensing fees imposed by the New Canaan government don’t help, either. You would think the system-wide government would give the younger economies a break, wouldn’t you? But it doesn’t. Everything has to be ‘fair’.” Singh made quote marks with his fingers.
They were strolling across the mezzanine to the rail where they could overlook the first floor.
“What is it you’re planning to do here?” Singh asked. “I can’t remember if you told me. The commercial use restrictions on the section are fairly open, though you can’t live here.”
“I won’t be living here,” said Isa.
She went on to explain her installations, but Singh didn’t seem to understand.
“So you’re going to open an art gallery?”
“Yes, a kind of interactive gallery.”
One of Singh’s eyebrows lifted.
Isa said, “Clients participate in recordings—”
“You mean it’s going to be a sim center? Heliopolis already has several of those. I’m not sure if you’re aware.” Singh looked glum, as if he expected imminent loss of his rental income.
“No, not a sim center,” Isa said. “I guess the best way to describe it is as something halfway between a sim and a deeper psychological experience.”
“Right,” Singh nodded, clearly failing to understand what Isa had in mind.
“You can come to the opening,” she offered. “Take part in a session free of charge if you want.”
Singh’s features brightened. “I might take you up on that. And I have some friends in the art world I can introduce you to. Anyway, as you can see, everything here is in good condition. Let’s cross to the other side.”
They climbed the steep walkway to the second mezzanine.
“Will your visitors be walking around the place?” Singh asked as they stepped off the stairs.
“They could, but they don’t have to.”
When Singh looked confused again, Isa said, “It’s a new concept, but I’m confident there’s a market for it.”
“I certainly hope so,” said Singh. “I can’t afford to have this place sitting empty, business isn’t good. The Trojan economy is weak and getting weaker.” His tone had become more heated and his eyes danced with ire. He went on, “It’s all very well for the big shots in Landfall to fix things to protect their local market, but they don’t seem to think about the effect on the rest of New Canaan.” He paused, leaned toward her, and murmured, “If you ask me, the faster Troy secedes, the better.”
Isa blinked. She didn’t know how their innocent conversation had evolved into a political discussion, or rather, a diatribe.
“Did you know there’s a parliamentary election next week?” Singh asked. “I’ll be voting for the Independence Party. They’re new, but feelings are running high. They might just win. If the New Canaan government won’t help us out, I say we make it official and stand alone.”
“Um, OK,” said Isa.
“The days of colonization are over,” Singh almost yelled. “It’s time we decided our own destiny. Central government has stuck their noses in and dictated to us long enough!”
“Right,” Isa said.
Awkwardness forced her to walk to one of the slim, rectangular windows that ran along the front and back walls just below the ceiling. She peered out.
It didn’t seem to her that Troy’s economy wasn’t doing well. Heliopolis was bustling with life. Shuttles and drones criss-crossed the skies, and the streets were filled with vehicular and pedestrian traffic.
Singh joined her at the window.
“Did you notice that the building can also be accessed from the roof?” he asked in an even tone, as if he hadn’t been ranting only seconds previously.
Studying her landlord from the corners of her eyes, Isa asked, “It can?”
He pointed upward. A hatch was embedded into the ceiling directly above them.
“The roof can hold two or three aircars,” said Singh. “And this is private property, so no one else can land there. That’s what the previous owner told me anyway. I’ll find the details and send them to you.”
“Thanks,” Isa said.
The option to land her aircar on the roof would be convenient. All in all, she was pleased with her choice of building. Everything appeared to be going well for her new venture…with the possible exception of the mental health of her landlord.
STELLAR DATE: 04.12.8941 (Adjusted Years)
LOCATION: Elevator Terminal, Heliopolis, Ithaca
REGION: Troy, New Canaan System
After parting from Isa at the shooting range, Erin took an autocab directly to Troy’s space elevator, which sat at the far eastern edge of Heliopolis.
Other than a few drones working on the terminal’s exterior façade, the structure was all but deserted, something that would change once the station above was completed and the majority of off-planet transportation moved from the spaceport on the far side of Heliopolis to the strand.
A flare of light to the east caught Erin’s eye, and she knew it was one of the support strands waiting to anchor additional sections of the station.
Messene Station was the first full-scale, low-orbit station to be built in the system, and Erin was filled with pride that Tanis and Earnest had entrusted her with its construction.
All prior stations she had built needed to be further out on the strand to generate enough centripetal force for comfortable gravity. Messene was different. At only five thousand kilometers above Troy’s surface, it was almost gravity neutral without the use of a-grav systems. A benefit was that construction was much simpler, but it also meant that Erin had to take extra steps to ensure that if the a-grav systems failed, the station and its occupants would be safe.
If the work on Messene went well, she’d take that expertise and begin to plan for an even larger station over Tyre.
She stood outside the facility for a minute longer, looking up at the glinting light from the body of the station that hung far above. During the last few days, her team had brought in the central hub and anchored it to the strand. That five-kilometer-wide tetrahedron would become the anchor for the rest of the station, which would come in at over five hundred kilometers in length.
She pulled her eyes away, thoughts lost in plans regarding the impending delivery of the main arches from the manufacturing facility on Troy’s furthest moon, as she walked to the terminal’s automatic doors. As they were sliding shut, the sound of a vehicle approaching caught her attention and she turned to see an autocab.
She’d expected to ride the elevator alone, but as soon as the car’s occupant exited, he called out her name. She was surprised to see Tony, the planetary engineer she’d met on Tyre.
“Long time no see,” Erin said as he approached.
“That’s right. OK if I tag along?”
“Be my guest. Things too quiet for you on Carthage?”
“Waaaay too quiet,” Tony replied as he followed Erin into the terminal where automatons directed them toward the first available elevator car. “That’s why I thought I’d come over and see what’s happening on Troy. But I’ve had a little fun over the last couple of days fixing an underwater sinkhole.”
“No kidding. I heard about that. My husband’s working on the marine project at that site.”
“Really? I think I might have met him today.”
They walked through the security arches to the departure area, continuing to exchange pleasantries as they approached the departure area and Car 01.
The current conveyance up to the station was a small car that rode a single strand. Later, the full-scale cars that would encompass three strands each would be in operation, but given the low population of the planet, there was no need for bulk transportation yet.
Settling into two of the twenty seats in the car, the pair silently gazed out the window as the car started to rise. Heliopolis quickly grew smaller, and Tony shook his head with a sigh.
“The FGT really didn’t leave much for me to tinker with on any of the planets except Athens,” he said. “I’ve been at loose ends for a while now. It was pure luck I happened to be around when the sinkhole opened. How about you? I bet you’re looking forward to building Messene.”
“Am I,” Erin replied. “This is my favorite part of my job.”
“I was a little surprised to hear you were in town,” said Tony. “I heard you were back in the inner system more or less permanently from now on, but I didn’t think you were coming to Troy for a couple of weeks.”
“I was supposed to be going on vacation, but then there was a change of plan. It’s fine, though. I don’t mind. Manufacturing is ahead of schedule, and I want to be present for the major segments coming in anyway. My team’s good, but in all honesty, this is the best part. Then once that’s done…well, let’s just say that I have so many ideas for this place, I can’t wait to get started.”
“I bet,” Tony replied. “What’s in the cards?”
“The spaceport comes first of course. Tanis wants that completed and loaded up with defense drone production facilities.”
“Of course,” said Tony. “Hey, is it true that you were hollowing out moons in the outer system to build military shipyards?”
“Yeah, that’s right. I guess it’s pretty much an open secret now.”
“Glad to hear the rumors are true. It’s good to know we’ll have some surprises up our sleeves when the time comes.”
“Exactly. Which is why the spaceport is the priority. Then we’ll be building enough accommodations to house the populations of several cities.”
“Really?” asked Tony. “Is there a need for that yet? I know New Canaan’s population has increased a lot over the last few years, but the planets can hold billions, and we’ve not crossed over ten million.”
“We aren’t, but you know New Canaanites. They love to breed. I even have a little one myself, and if his dad has any say in the matter, we’ll soon have more on the way. It wouldn’t be wise to be caught napping when it comes to providing homes for everyone. Besides, there are plenty of people who never got used to living planetside, and we want to keep our worlds as pristine as possible. There’s a demand for returning to the black, even if it’s only above a planet’s surface. I sometimes feel like that myself.”
While Erin and Tony had been talking, Troy’s horizon had developed a pronounced curve. The blue sky had transformed to the darkness of space. The car’s interior began to rotate, using a-grav systems to make them feel comfortable while the planet’s surface shifted from ‘down’ to ‘up’.
“You do?” Tony asked. “I’ve gotten used to the ground under my feet, personally.”
“I thought you might feel like that, I watched your interview with Isa in her infomentary on Tyre,” said Erin. “Hey, I don’t think I ever thanked you for your help with extracting the antimatter bombs the SSS planted. Couldn’t have done it without you.”
“Thanks, though I’m sure you would have done fine without me,” Tony replied. “Thank stars only one blew. What a freakin’ disaster that could have been. But the Tyrians got everything back on track pretty fast, and the planet’s thriving now. So tell me more about your plans for Messene.”
Erin told him at length. It was a while before she realized Tony couldn’t get a word in edgeways. She decided she’d better wind down.
“If I include everything I have in mind, the project will run for several months, but I don’t have the budget for the extended plans yet. In all honestly, when I’m ‘done’, most of the station will still just be a vacant shell.”
“Things always seem to come down to productivity and credits these days, don’t they? Not like before, when all we needed was Tanis’s approval.”
“Huh, I wish that’s all it took now,” Erin said. “Tanis would approve what I want to do here in the blink of an eye. She has the vision for it. But the system and local governments? Not so much.”
“Tell me about it. These are the people I have to deal with all the time. Have you been following the local news? Did you hear what’s been happening in their government?”
“No, I haven’t heard anything. We only just arrived, and, honestly, I’m not that interested in politics.”
“Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but there’s a breakaway faction arguing that Troy should secede from the rest of the system. They’ve formed a new coalition party in the wake of the recent elections and, from what I hear, they’re gaining support. For now, they don’t control a majority, but if they get one, it could spell trouble for your project.”
“Stars, what do you mean?” Erin asked.
“If the new faction gets their wish and Troy secedes, all bets will be off regarding planning agreements. Troy could renege on the whole deal if it wants. If the government decides to withdraw its portion of the funding, there won’t be anything anyone can do about it.”
Erin asked, “Surely Tanis won’t let them?”
“She might not want to, but she’s only one person, even if she is governor. She’s the one who established the federal parliament and planetary legislatures, ceding her power to them. She’s still the head of the military, but for things like this, she has to go through channels.”
“Well, shit. Does the charter even allow for secession?”
Tony’s shoulders rose and he cocked his head to the side. “So much of what was in the charter is null and void already, getting anyone to stick to what’s left is well-nigh impossible.”
As he spoke, the elevator car reached the tetrahedron that was Messene Station and passed through a grav-field airlock before slowing as it rose to a debarkation platform.
During the ride, the car’s pressure had adjusted to match the station’s, and the ‘safe exit’ light came on without delay. Erin and Tony rose from their seats and walked out onto the bare platform, unadorned plas and metal surfaces surrounding them.
“Cheery place,” Tony said with a laugh, and Erin shrugged.
“It’s getting there. In a few days, we’ll have plants in place, and the walls will be vistas from the four planets.”
Tony inclined his head in acquiescence, and despite her new disquiet over the political issues on Troy, a comfortable familiarity settled over Erin. She could tolerate living planetside, and spending time with Isa, Martin, and Jude was great, but she wondered if she would ever truly feel at home anywhere except in space.
They took a station car down the large concourse leading off the platform and drove the short distance to the control center, while Walter checked the progress that had been made.
Erin’s team was already hard at work. MacCarthy and Linch were there, as well as a few other engineers she’d worked with when she’d been hollowing out Laconia and the other moons. When she’d put out the call for a team to build Messene, she was able to pick the best of the best.
After greeting the team and introducing Tony, she took her seat. She laughed softly when she saw that someone had already placed a cream soda next to it.
Erin wished that her pleasure at embarking on an exciting new project hadn’t been tainted by Tony’s news. Now that she was finally getting to build her space station, were some stupid politicians going to pull the rug out from under her?
“OK, folks,” she said, “let’s get to work.”
STELLAR DATE: 04.13.8941 (Adjusted Years)
LOCATION: Heliopolis, Ithaca
REGION: Troy, New Canaan System
Myrddan’s agent paused on the wide avenue that led up to Troy’s Government House. The building stood at the center of Heliopolis, and the city’s main roads radiated out from the imposing structure. The architect who had designed the place had been ambitious and blessed with a visionary imagination. Four round towers occupied the outer margins, each marking the corner of a square. The fifth and main building filled the central space: a rising spiral increasing in width to the middle and then decreasing again up to the final floor, which was topped by a spike. At night, the spike glowed, repeating rainbows of color that were visible from all across the city.
When the spike wasn’t lit, the government building’s only color was white, like most of the constructions in Heliopolis, yet the simple hue didn’t diminish the imposing effect. If anything, the plain color added solidity and an air of ancient strength, as if the place had been built on Earth tens of thousands of years ago and brought along on the Intrepid to be reconstructed piece by piece.
The building was far more impressive than Carthage’s parliament, and it epitomized the pride and deep-seated desire for independence that had increasingly characterized the Trojan spirit as the years of colonization wore on. It was this spirit that Myrrdan’s agent had been inflaming for the last few weeks.
The agent’s gaze shifted from Government House to the people, likewise standing and staring or walking up and down the avenue. Most of them were tourists, many probably from other planets, recording their views of the attraction. Some of the pedestrians would be governmental employees arriving for work. A few would be politicians—a parliamentary session was scheduled for that afternoon.
The agent’s challenge was to impart mind control to a select number of key individuals. The task was a tricky one. Physical contact with the subject was required to implant the control, but one could not simply approach and touch certain required people without attracting notice and perhaps arousing suspicion.
The debate was due to begin soon. The agent walked quickly up the avenue.
Passing the security checks to enter the public gallery at Government House was easy. The agent carried no weapons, and an identity check would return crystal clear results. No underhand dealings or suspicious activities marred the agent’s history. The act of maintaining the squeaky-clean public persona had required considerable effort, but it had been essential, and now it was doubly paying off.
Myrrdan’s agent took a seat at the front of the gallery and, while waiting for the proceedings to begin, checked out the layout of the chamber to see where and how it might be possible to closely approach the targets.
The Trojan People’s Party was currently in power. Their representatives occupied the right-hand side of the room on serried benches. On the left-hand side, two political parties took up the seating, though the majority of the spaces were filled by members of the Alliance Party of Troy. In the remaining space sat a party whose formation had been the agent’s doing: the Trojan Independence Party.
Myrrdan’s agent smiled grimly. Prompting the formation of the new party had only been a case of giving a voice and a platform to the underlying discontent in Trojan society; no mind control had been necessary. It had been as if the malcontents on Troy were happy to work in Myrrdan’s favor. They were fools, of course. There was nothing special about their home planet that gave it an advantage over the others. Without bargaining power to secure advantageous trade deals, Troy would quickly become the weakest and poorest world of the four.
The agent felt the gentle nudge of an elbow.
“Would you like one?”
A woman in the next seat was holding out a bag of candies, but eating was the last thing on the agent’s mind at that moment. However, as always, the maintenance of a pleasant persona was paramount.
“Yes, thank you,” the agent said, taking a candy. “These debates can go on for some time, can’t they? What brings you here?”
“A vested interest, unfortunately,” the woman said. “I run a sim center. I’m hoping the bill doesn’t go through. Off-planet visitors aren’t going to react well to being charged more than Trojans.”
“Maybe nothing will come of it.”
Taxes on tourists was the subject for the debate that was about to begin. Someone had proposed that a small tax for non-residents should apply to hotels, tours, entrance fees to attractions, and other tourist venues and activities. The reason given was that the Trojan government subsidized the tourist industry in many areas, so it was only fair that it should draw back some of those credits to reduce the burden of taxation on the local population.
To Myrrdan’s agent, these were petty concerns. Only small-minded individuals argued over such minor details in the operation of worlds and planetary systems. The only aspect of the debate that held any interest was the inclusion of the marine safari park that was currently under construction.
The agent’s interest in the marine park lay in the picotech that would be used there in the near future. It was an odd coincidence that the debate should center around the park that day.
The proposer of the bill continued to speak. Ignoring the woman’s words, the agent carefully assessed the security situation in the room. The armed personnel comprised one guard at each doorway into the areas that were off-limits to the public. The agent would have to secure control of at least one or two of the guards and rely on them to rally others to the cause.
How to do it?
The agent wasn’t without influence in New Canaan. Perhaps directly approaching one of the representatives wouldn’t seem odd.
The debaters droned on. The agent watched and brooded. Just a few weeks more, and the years of waiting and scheming would be over. Then it would be possible to leave this walled-off system.
The neighboring woman was offering candies again. Drowning the scowl that rose in response, the agent smiled and took another one.
After a length of time that seemed interminable, but in reality was less than two hours, there was an intermission. The members of the public gallery rose at the same time as the politicians, and everyone lined up to file out. Deftly, the agent eased through the queue and slipped down the steps that led to the floor of the debating chamber. The guard at the bottom was facing into the chamber, which gave the agent the opportunity to ‘accidentally’ bump into her.
“Oh, sorry,” said the agent. “I tripped on that last step.”
The guard turned, her expression hidden behind an opaque visor. “No members of the public are allowed into the debating chamber.”
“I know,” replied the agent. “I just…. There she is. Representative Strong! Representative Strong!”
“Step back,” the guard warned. “This area is off limits.
The woman the agent had called was the proposer of the tourist tax bill. When she heard her name, she turned and walked over.
“I wondered if I could talk to you about your proposal,” said the agent.
At first, Representative Strong looked as if she was about to curtly refuse, but then, with relief, the agent saw recognition in her eyes.
“That’s right,” said the agent. “I have a couple of suggestions you might be interested to hear. It’ll only take a few minutes.”
“Sure, I’m interested,” said the representative, adding to the guard, “It’s fine. Let this person through.”
In three steps, the agent was at Representative Strong’s side and immediately touched her arm.
One guard, one representative, and now the chance to make physical contact with several more key figures in the plan.
The picotech was as good as won.
STELLAR DATE: 04.18.8941 (Adjusted Years)
LOCATION: Marine Park, Ithaca
REGION: Troy, New Canaan System
Martin had always prided himself on being a fast, efficient, dedicated worker, but even he was finding Lindsey’s pace demanding. He guessed the excessive speed she wanted everyone to work at was partly because the sinkhole’s appearance had seriously set back her timetable. Yet he had a feeling that pushing herself and everyone around her to the limits of their endurance was also normal for her. Both Pietr and Margot had confessed to him separately that they’d been relieved when he joined the project. Lindsey wouldn’t hear of taking on any more workers, though.
“No one else is available who has the specialist knowledge or skills we need,” she said, “and I don’t have time to train anyone.”
Martin sympathized with her viewpoint. He saw something of himself in her attitude and had begun to realize that he possibly had problems with letting go, too. But he also worried that despite everyone’s best efforts, the park wouldn’t be ready in time for its scheduled grand opening. Lindsey needed to accept that possibility and give everyone a break. He decided to try to talk some sense into her.
“You know what, Linds?” he said after arriving at work not long after sunup. “I haven’t had the chance to take a tour of the site yet. Why don’t we do that this morning? I feel like I need to see the place as a whole to get a proper handle on what we’re doing here.”
“I’m sorry,” she replied, “we don’t have time. We were going to work on the diatoms today, remember?”
“Pietr and I can do that, Lindsey,” Margot said. “We’re ahead on the deep-sea crustaceans, aren’t we?” She looked toward her workmate for confirmation.
He gave a brief nod and looked away. She was telling a white lie, as agreed upon by Martin the day before.
“Come on,” Martin said. “Take a couple hours’ break and show me around. You know you want to.”
Shy pride broke through his friend’s tired features. “All right. I’ll send you the steps for the diatoms,” she said to Margot.
“We know the steps,” Pietr said in response.
“Let’s take the Torpedo,” suggested Martin.
* * * * *
Martin let Lindsey decide where to take him first. The reason for the one-on-one outing wasn’t entirely made up. He really did want to see the entire site. He was tired of working like a dog in the labs and then nipping out to seed an area before rushing back to the lab again. If it hadn’t been for the opportunity for a swim before and after work, he might have had to put his foot down.
Lindsey pushed the Torpedo to its top speed, explaining that she would take Martin to the far side of the park at the Syracuse coast so they could work their way back, visiting all the sectors as they went.
“Actually,” she said, “this is a really good idea. I should complete an overall evaluation of our progress. This will help.”
Great, Martin thought. She’s managed to turn the excursion into another work exercise. He focused his attention inward, to his AI.
<Any suggestions on what I should to say to her?> he asked. <Now that I have her out here, I’m not sure how to broach the subject.>
<Sorry, you’re on your own,> Eamon replied. <But I’ll be interested to see one obsessive talk another obsessive out of being so obsessed.>
“Did you say something?” Lindsey asked.
“No. What’s at the Syracuse coast? I haven’t been that far out yet.”
“The octopus garden. I thought of creating another coral reef in the shallow water, but I wanted to do something a little different.”
“An octopus garden,” Martin repeated. “Nice.” He was a little jealous that he hadn’t thought of the idea.
“Are you living on Syracuse or Ithaca?” Lindsey asked. “I don’t think you ever mentioned where you’re staying.”
Martin told her about his house on the cliff.
“That’s your place? It’s beautiful. We noticed it being built and wondered whose it was. I never got around to buying a home here. I’ve been staying at a hotel in Heliopolis.”
“Maybe it’s something to think about,” Martin said. “It’s nice to have a home and family waiting for you at the end of the day.”
Lindsey looked pensive. “Yeah, maybe. When I have time.”
She was quiet for the rest of their journey across the Sea of Marmara. Martin assumed she was working on her evaluation.
He thought up several approaches to the subject of her overworking herself and her staff, but then disregarded each of them. Eamon had hit the nail on the head; Martin saw Lindsey’s point of view too well to convincingly persuade her out of it.
The sunlight beaming through the water was strong. It was another hot, sunny day. Isa would either be out somewhere with Jude, recording a landscape, or at home with him, creating an installation. Erin would be at work on the underside of Messene Station in the shadow of Canaan Prime’s brilliant light. Martin had a hankering to cut down on work and spend more time with his family.
“Here we are,” said Lindsey, powering down the engine and turning the submersible one hundred and eighty degrees.
Martin had been too lost in his thoughts to notice they’d arrived at the Syracuse coast. Lindsey had spun their craft to face the way they’d come, and Martin got his first look at the octopus garden she’d mentioned. His mouth fell open.
“When you said ‘octopus garden’, I thought you meant a habitat to suit a range of octopus species. I didn’t realize you meant an actual garden.”
The water was clear and the visibility good. An underwater garden stretched as far as Martin could see. Seaweeds, sea grasses, corals, kelp, algae, shells and pebbles had been arranged into beds and decorative features. Small bridges crossed the spaces between boulders, and the sand beneath had been sculpted to resemble a river. In open areas, the seabed had been swept into elaborate patterns and embellished with shells. A kelp forest rose to the surface in one spot, and fish swam through the branches like birds.
“This is phenomenal,” Martin said. “No wonder you have to do everything else in a rush. This must have taken weeks.”
“It wasn’t me who did it,” Lindsey said.
“So it’s Margot and Pietr’s work?”
Lindsey’s expression was pained. “Wrong again. It was the octopuses.”
“You’re kidding. How?”
Octopuses were incredibly intelligent, but Martin didn’t think they were capable of creating something so complex and pleasing to the human eye. Then he realized the answer to the puzzle.
“Don’t tell me they’re uplifted.”
Lindsey grimaced and nodded.
“Great. Just great. Whose idea was that?” Martin couldn’t believe it was hers.
Octopuses had a weird sense of humor. He hated to think what they would do with extra smarts and the ability to communicate with humans.
“Cameron’s,” she said. “They started causing trouble at his site—”
“So he asked me if he could send them here. I agreed. I felt I owed him, after my urchins were eating all his kelp that time when you came to help him out. Do you remember?”
“I do,” he replied. “But you brought him the sea otters. You made it up to him and then some.”
Lindsey’s eyes widened. “I knew there was something I’d forgotten. Sea otters! I have dolphins, seals, sea lions, walruses, all the usual suspects in the marine mammals section, but I’d totally forgotten about sea otters. The visitors will go crazy over those cute little guys.”
<Your plan doesn’t seem to be working as well as you hoped,> said Eamon.
<You think?> He sent the AI a mental scowl. “Lindsey,” Martin said, “we all have enough on our plates already. Sea otters would be nice, but there’s only so much we can do in time for the opening. Why not make otters part of stage two of the park’s development? I mean, this garden alone is a fantastic attraction.” He frowned, realizing that something important was missing from the scene. “But where are the octopuses?”
Not a single sign of an octopus was in sight. Not an eye, not a siphon, not a limb moved anywhere in the garden.
“You don’t think they’re…watching us, do you?” Lindsey asked.
“I don’t know, but let’s leave, huh? And don’t take us over the garden again. Go that way, toward the drop-off.”
Lindsey drove the submersible along the edge of the garden.
“You think accepting Cameron’s uplifted octopuses was a mistake, don’t you?” she asked. “When I saw what they were creating here, I thought I’d made a good decision. But you’re right. Uplifted octopuses could mean trouble.”
Martin didn’t want to add to his friend’s problems. “Let’s worry about the octopuses later. I’m sure they won’t hurt anyone.”
<Not intentionally anyway,> Eamon chipped in.
<You know, you’re really not helping.>
<You’re right. I’m sorry. I’ll try to think of something to slow her down.>
They were approaching the ocean shelf. The strait between Ithaca and Syracuse was a shallow sea, but beyond both continents lay a wide, deep ocean. It was at the point where the sea ended and the ocean began next to a deep underwater cliff that Lindsey had set her ‘monsters of the deep’ attraction.
Martin hadn’t been to this area before. He was curious to see the creatures, some of which he had never personally attempted to create. Leviathans like gigantic squid, whale sharks, spider crabs, lion’s mane jellyfish, and archelons would roam within the invisible boundaries of their home.
The work creating the massive sea creatures had been the first part of the project, which Lindsey had begun alone months previously. Genetically enhanced growth rates in the animals would ensure that they reached imposing sizes much faster than nature originally dictated.
“How are things coming along with the ‘monsters of the deep’?” Martin asked.
“I’m not sure. I haven’t had time to go out there recently. I set it all in motion, but Connor monitors everything for me. He hasn’t reported any problems.”
Connor was Lindsey’s AI.
<Nothing to report,> he chimed in. <Everything’s growing well. You did a good job, Lindsey.>
They were nearing the drop-off. The current was stronger, and the water above more turbulent. Instead of the bright, shallow water of the sea, the ocean depths were a dark blue deepening to black.
“Will visitors be allowed to swim in this sector?” Martin asked.
“Not sure yet. What do you think? I’m reluctant to make any part of the park out of bounds for one-on-one interactions with the animals. On the other hand….”
“I know what you mean. Accidents could happen.”
It wouldn’t be hard for an inexperienced diver to become entangled in the tentacles of a gigantic squid or find themselves in the mouth of a whale shark. Then if the creature decided to dive with their find…. Not all the visitors would be modded to survive at deep depths.
“I might ask visitors to sign a waiver if they want to go out there,” Lindsey said. “I’ve included a viewing platform all the way along the edge of the drop-off, so there isn’t much of a need to swim out to see them. Animals like that are better viewed from a distance anyway.”
She turned the Torpedo around to face Ithaca. Martin looked out into the inky water where the leviathans were lurking. He expected to see a few of them as they traveled along.
“Remind me to take you to see the whirlpool on the way back,” said Lindsey. “Margot started it up yesterday. Said it’s working perfectly, but I’d like to check on it.”
Martin was also interested to see the never-ending whirlpool that would pull visitors through the swirls to the bottom of the spiral and then spit them out so they could swim up to the beginning again. He planned on trying it out himself when he had a spare moment, though that didn’t look to be arriving anytime soon.
“Look,” said Lindsey. “Something’s coming.”
Martin looked in the direction of her gaze and saw it too. A dark shape in the surrounding blackness was growing rapidly larger. The animal’s head was facing them, making it difficult to recognize it from the shape of its body. Martin guessed it was a whale shark.
He was a tiny bit disappointed. Whale sharks were a little meh. He’d been hoping to see a plesiosaur, which he knew Lindsey had also bred for the park. The long-necked aquatic dinosaurs were notoriously tricky to create, and it was a testament to Lindsey’s skill that she’d generated several.
The creature was approaching them fast, its body moving from side to side due to the powerful thrashing of its tail. Then it opened its mouth. This was no whale shark. Two rows of massive white teeth gleamed it its mouth, catching the light from the upper waters. The Torpedo would fit easily within its jaws, which seemed to occupy most of the creature’s head.
Martin knew exactly what the animal was. His grip on his armrest tightened as Lindsey didn’t changed course, headed straight for it. Martin could see right down the creature’s throat.
At the last second, it turned its nose upward, and the underside of its head skimmed the roof of the submersible. The gigantic fish passed over them.
Craning his neck, Martin saw it continue its drive to the water surface, breach, and splash down again. Then with a flick of its tail it quickly sped from view, returning to its dark realm below.
Martin was stunned. He turned toward Lindsey and lifted a hand. She slapped it in a high-five.
“Megalodon,” he said in awe. “Awesome, Linds. Just awesome.”
* * * * *
As the pair journeyed back toward Ithaca, they visited the deep-sea dome, the whirlpool, the marine mammals district, the diatom domicile, and other areas in the rest of the park that were approaching readiness for the opening. Each visit was quick, yet it was well past lunchtime before they decided to return to the labs.
<I haven’t come up with any suggestions to persuade Lindsey to cut down on the workload for this project,> Eamon said. <After all, nothing I said ever persuaded you. Have you thought of anything?>
Martin had actually forgotten the reason for the trip. Seeing the octopus garden, the megalodon, and the other sights and activity areas, had heightened his enthusiasm for the place. He could see Lindsey’s point of view more than ever.
Yet Eamon was right. The team couldn’t continue at its current breakneck speed. One way or another, there had to be a change of plan.
<I’m still working on it,> Martin replied.
“Do you want to take a quick peek at the sinkhole before we go back inside?” asked Lindsey. “It’s on our route.”
“Sure,” he said.
Another stop along the way would give him more time to think.
In a few minutes, the submersible was at the edge of the sinkhole. Lindsey angled the craft downward, and they slipped into the darkness.
The geological layers in the wall were distinct as the pair dropped downward. A layer of sand, then another of firmer, chalky sand, and then finally, hard rock. The submersible’s lights cut through the murky water, and gazing into the darkness, Martin thought he saw a deeper black in the wall of the hole.
“Can you see that?”
“I can now that you’ve pointed it out,” said Lindsey. “The Torpedo’s scanner is picking up a hollow area too.”
They were near the base of the hole, where a giant crack had opened. Tony had placed structures in the base, presumably to prevent it from opening wider, but Martin was more interested in the enigmatic gap higher up. He peered ahead as Lindsey piloted the submersible closer to the space. The vehicle’s lights revealed a wide expanse inside.
<Eamon,> said Martin, <am I looking at what I think I’m looking at?>
<If you think you’re looking at a huge underwater cave system, the answer is yes. It must have opened up in an aftershock…or maybe it was filled with silt before, because the sonar scans hadn’t picked it up at first.>
“Cool,” Martin said. “Looks like we have another feature to add to the park.”
“Yes! A cave system is exactly what this park is missing.” Lindsey was grinning with excitement. “I couldn’t have wished for a better disaster to happen. What a blessing in disguise this turned out to be, right?”
<Er,> said Eamon.
“Well,” said Martin, rapidly backpedalling in his mind, “what I was thinking was, this might be an idea for the second stage of the park. You know, later on. When we have more time.”
Lindsey’s expression fell. “But it would be amazing. Just imagine all the awesome cave-dwelling species we could seed in there.”
Martin was finding them very easy to imagine.
“Yeah, but….” He was at war with himself. “It can wait, right? An underwater cave isn’t even in the plans. And, frankly, even with all four of us working all night and day from now until opening, the park isn’t going to be ready in time.”
“You don’t think so?” asked Lindsey in a small voice.
“I know so. Come on, Linds. So do you. This isn’t like seeding an ocean on a new planet, where we can take as long as we want to get it right.”
She sagged in her seat like a jellyfish out of water. “I guess you’re right. I thought with you onboard too, we would be able to get everything done.”
“It was a great ambition, and we will get everything done eventually. And some parts are nearly ready; why not open only those, or have a smaller opening rather than the grand one you had planned? Invite some of the prominent people in town, politicians, business owners and so on. That’ll keep them happy and give the media something to talk about.”
“Hmm, that’s quite a good idea,” said Lindsey. “We could have a ‘soft opening,’ where visitors can see the progress we’ve made so far and get a glimpse of what’s to come. That would be a great opportunity to iron out any glitches and figure out what rules we’ll need to implement, like the access to the monsters of the deep we were talking about earlier.”
Lindsey steered the Torpedo away from the cave entrance and upward out of the sinkhole, her brow creased in thought.
<I can’t believe you actually did it,> Eamon said. <You, of all people.>
<Thanks,> replied Martin. <That’s almost a compliment.>
STELLAR DATE: 04.26.8941 (Adjusted Years)
LOCATION: Isa’s Gallery, Heliopolis, Ithaca
REGION: Troy, New Canaan System
Isa stood on the upper mezzanine, surveying the results of her weeks of work at the gallery. The difference in appearance compared to how the old spice warehouse had looked when she first saw the place was remarkable. She was satisfied with the progress she’d made, and warm excitement rose in her belly at the thought of opening the business.
Singh had arranged to have the elevator serviced, and a company that specialized in custom systems had put in all the electronics required for her products to function. Isa had also created art works that served as introductions to the deeper experiences that visitors would participate in.
But there was one corner that remained empty. Though she possessed plenty of recordings she could use to create another installation to fill the space, Isa had in mind a special Trojan landscape area she hadn’t yet visited. She only had to finish up at the gallery before collecting Jude from daycare and taking him on another ‘venture’, as he called their jaunts around Troy.
The door chime sounded. Isa was puzzled as to who could have arrived. She wasn’t expecting Singh, and he would have contacted her over the Link anyway. No service workers were due.
She stepped into the elevator and rode it down to the first floor. Wondering if word had gotten out about the gallery and a client had turned up too early, she walked to the door and opened it.
A tall, thin woman stood on the stoop. Her clothing was so remarkable, Isa couldn’t stop herself from staring. A small, cylindrical scarlet hat perched on the visitor’s head, and a peacock blue feather sprouted from it, arching backward over her head and reaching as far as her hips. The woman wore a tight skirt suit the same color as the hat, with gold buttons. The suit’s sleeves stopped at her elbows, and the skirt ended a centimeter below her buttocks. Her long legs were tattooed in abstract patterns all the way down to her feet, which barely balanced her in impossibly high heels.
“Ms Chen. Delighted to make your acquaintance.” The woman’s smile was so wide, her head threatened to split in two.
Finally, the penny dropped.
Singh had told Isa in passing that he would introduce her to some of his friends in the upper echelons of the Trojan art world. She guessed this had to be one of them.
“That’s right! Elora Pennypuddy.” She held out her hand, long-fingered and bony. “Jahil told me all about your little endeavor.”
When Isa shook the woman’s hand, she felt like she was being held in an ore manipulator.
Pennypuddy released Isa from her grip and folded her arms while looking at her expectantly.
“Would you like to, er, come in?” Isa asked, pointlessly hoping her visitor would say no. She didn’t like the look of the woman and, more importantly, she had plans in mind for her and Jude.
“I would love to,” Pennypuddy replied. “I’m dying to see what you’re doing.”
Isa hesitated. She didn’t want to offend the woman, who was probably influential in the nascent art scene on Troy. On the other hand, she had just turned up out of the blue and expected to be let in, which was rude. She was already peering nosily over Isa’s head at the gallery beyond, her eyes hard and critical.
Isa was beginning to feel as though Pennypuddy was less a kindred spirit, and more a scout, sent by the gaggle of other self-important people in Troy’s art circles to snoop on what she was doing and report back. Clearly, whatever Singh had told them had excited their curiosity but hadn’t been sufficient to satisfy it.
“I’m sorry,” Isa said, “on second thought, it’s really inconvenient for me to see anyone right now. I was on my way out.”
Pennypuddy started with shock. “You’re going out? But I traveled a long way to get here. Are you sure you can’t spare even a few minutes? Do you know who I am?” The last sentence was delivered with mounting outrage.
“I’m new to Troy, I’ve no idea who you are.” And I care even less, Isa added mentally. “I only want to run an art business here, so if you wouldn’t mind….” She began to close the door.
The corner of Pennypuddy’s lip lifted. “I guess I can forgive your ignorance, but this isn’t how things run here.”
“Like I said, I have to go.”
Her unwelcome visitor was glaring at her. Could the woman hurt her business if she was offended? Isa had a lot riding on her venture’s success: invested credits and time, and her own sense of achievement. She relented a little.
“Would you like to attend the opening event?” she offered.
Pennypuddy looked a tad mollified. “I may be able to, if I’m free. I’ll have to check.”
“Great. I’ll send you an invite.”
Isa closed the door.
* * * * *
That afternoon, Isa was happy to dismiss Elora Pennypuddy from her mind as she flew her aircar through a pass in a mountain range, angling the vessel to sweep smoothly down to her destination: a wide grassland that bordered the Black Sea. The area was entirely deserted, which suited her just fine. She would be free to record all she wanted without fear of disturbing anyone or being disturbed herself.
The aircar was on long-term lease, and although Isa felt a little guilty at the extravagance, she couldn’t deny that it made touring Troy so much easier. To reach her current location without flying in, she would have had to take the newly built maglev across the Sea of Marmara, change at the stop on the Syracuse coast, take another maglev to the end of the line, and then hail an autocab, by which time, Jude would already be tired and hungry.
As it was, the little boy was playing contentedly with the shells Martin had brought home for him the previous night. Isa set down the aircar on an upward slope within walking distance of the water. She wanted to record an approach to the sea as well as the sea itself and the surrounding mountains.
“Here we are,” she said. “Ready for another adventure?”
“Yes! ’Nother ’venture.”
Jude fiddled with the lock to his safety straps, trying to open it himself. Isa undid the device and opened the door of the pinnace. Instantly, a sun-warmed, rich scent filled the vehicle. Not far away, meadow birds were singing.
Isa grabbed her bag of equipment, climbed out, and walked around the other side of the aircar to lift Jude down before he grew too impatient and decided to take a flying leap to freedom.
“Wheeeeeeeee,” the little boy exclaimed.
As soon as his feet hit the ground, he started off, running through the long grass.
Isa had discovered during her son’s short life that he had an unerring instinct for heading toward the most dangerous part of the landscape. The shore of the Black Sea lay a couple of hundred meters distant, and Jude was pelting full speed in its direction as fast as his little legs could go.
Fortunately, Isa thought, that isn’t very fast. “Jude,” she called, “wait for Mommy Isa.”
Her words didn’t slow the boy down one bit. Isa closed up the pinnace and set off after him, carrying her equipment and pointlessly calling his name. When she caught up to him after a few minutes, she gently told him off and made him hold her hand.
“But look,” Jude protested, pointing ahead.
His advice was unneeded. Despite the antics of her small companion, Isa had barely taken her eyes off the view that spread out in front of them. The scene was exactly as it had appeared on the holo she’d seen earlier: white-peaked mountains reflected in the still, dark waters of the inland sea. Yet being there, feeling the breeze wafting up toward the icy slopes and smelling the scent of wildflowers it carried, made everything so much better. The scene wasn’t a sight, it was an experience, exactly the kind of thing she wanted to capture.
But Isa guessed that Jude wasn’t pointing at the view. The minute he’d left the aircar he’d spotted the expanse of water.
In many ways, he truly was his father’s child.
He was tugging on her hand, dragging her toward the shoreline. Isa felt he deserved some exercise after being cooped up in the aircar for quite a while.
“Should we run?” she asked him.
“Yes,” Jude yelled.
Laughing, Isa ran with him the last fifty meters or so to the margin of the Black Sea. After crossing the tall, rough grass that bordered the beach, she flopped onto the sand. Jude had other ideas.
He pulled off his shoes and socks and flung them down. Then he took off his pants and tossed them aside; lastly, he attacked the buttons of his shirt. His features began to twist in frustration as he hurried to free himself of his final item of clothing.
“Come over here,” Isa said. “I’ll help you.”
Jude did as she asked, but waited impatiently, his feet shuffling and his gaze fixed on the water that lapped the beach. Isa undid his shirt and pulled one of his arms out of the sleeve, and Jude immediately set off for the water, tugging his other arm out of the shirt while Isa held onto it.
The little naked boy flew across the sand and ran straight into the sea, his cry of ‘Wheeeee!’ cut off by his sudden submersion.
Yes, Jude was his father’s son. Isa had often wondered if Martin had deliberately added some kind of crazy-about-swimming gene when he’d created Jude. Erin had certainly teased him enough about the possibility he had snuck in something from a marine organism. But perhaps Jude’s love of open water was only due to Martin taking the little boy with him into the Med so often.
Jude resurfaced and began happily swimming in circles a little way beyond the shore.
“Don’t go any deeper,” Isa warned.
He always obeyed the strict rule regarding his range when he was alone in the water, but Isa always reminded him just in case.
While her son worked off the energy he’d built up during their flight, Isa began to record the stunning surroundings. She sent out drones to skim at their top speed just above the water, racing toward the distant mountains. Others were already flying upward to capture aerial views.
Isa’s old boss at Placement Services had given her permission to use all the raw material she’d gathered on Tyre for the infomentary she’d made, and while she’d been living on Carthage, she’d recorded similar material. That only left Athens to add to her collection.
Athens. Isa sighed.
She’d been so disappointed she hadn’t been able to return there with Erin and Martin. Though the other three planets were each lovely in their own way, there was something special about the fourth world of New Canaan. The fact that it hadn’t yet quite settled down geologically gave it an edge, a sense of danger that thrilled the spirit. It was no wonder that most visitors went a little crazy there—the way they might behave if they only had a short time to live.
After the day’s work, she could create the final installation, and her gallery would soon be completed. In two weeks, she would hold the grand opening event. If her business began to operate smoothly, she might be able to take some time off for a hard-earned rest, though she would have to persuade Martin and Erin to also take a break.
“Jude,” she called, “time to eat.”
The little boy broke off from completing yet another circle and headed toward the shore.
Singh’s mental voice broke through her musings.
She wondered if he was going to admonish her about not being nice to his friend.
<Is there a problem?> she asked.
<No,> said Singh. <I only wanted to let you know that a rally will pass by your gallery soon, but I want to reassure you that it isn’t anything to worry about.>
Instantly worrying, Isa said, <What rally? What’s happening? I’m not in Heliopolis at the moment.>
Singh replied, <You aren’t? Sorry, I didn’t check. In that case, maybe I shouldn’t have said anything. I don’t want to worry you unduly. A rally demanding immediate secession from the rest of New Canaan is about to start downtown. The planned route passes by your gallery, so I thought I would reassure you that the protest is peaceful and there’s no reason to be alarmed.>
Now thoroughly alarmed, Isa said, <What happens if these protesters damage the property? I hope no one does anything stupid.>
<I’m positive it won’t come to that,> said Singh. <Sorry to bother you.> He was gone.
Isa wondered if she should contact him again for more of a assurance that he would fix any damage the protesters caused. Singh was sympathetic to their movement, after all. Perhaps he was even taking part in the rally.
As Jude plunked down next to her on the blanket, Isa began to pull the feed from her drones and take out the lunch she’d packed.
Why couldn’t the Trojans go through the normal processes if they wanted something to change? The gripes and grumbles of New Canaanites who had spent hardly any time out of stasis after leaving Sol were usually amusing to Isa, but she found Trojans’ complaints annoying. Even though many of them were Taranians, they had no idea what true suffering was. In her mind, they were behaving like babies.
Troy was beginning to simmer with trouble. Isa only hoped that when the pot boiled over, no one she cared about would be scalded.
STELLAR DATE: 04.26.8941 (Adjusted Years)
LOCATION: Messene Station
REGION: Troy, New Canaan System
Someone was coming up the strand and Erin checked the feeds to see who it could be. The space station was nowhere near operational, and very few personnel had the security access to make an impromptu visit.
Before she had pulled up the elevator car’s optics, a voice came into her mind.
<Tony! I wondered who was coming to see me.>
<I’ll be there soon.>
Erin busied herself with completing a progress report for Tanis. She would have to send a copy to the Trojan government too, so she was careful to not include any commentary on Troy or its political climate. That wasn’t hard because not a single politician from the world below had contacted her. It was as if they’d forgotten all about the massive space station that was being constructed right above their heads.
The government’s lack of interest was unusual, but Erin wasn’t concerned. In fact, she was pleased about its non-interference. There was a lot to be said for not having to explain the finer details of orbital engineering to people who didn’t have a clue what she was talking about.
The station’s long arms were now in place, anchored by the additional strands, and the spaceport—set in the lower levels of the central tetrahedron—was nearly finished. Crews were busily installing the cradles that would hold the ships. Linch and MacCarthy were handling the service lines to the shells of internal structures that had already been constructed in the framework. Next on Erin’s schedule of work was building the maglev lines that would run the entire length of the station.
The place was slotting together like a gigantic puzzle. In a few months, it would be complete, and Erin knew from experience that she would feel a little sad because the fun was over. But no doubt Tanis already had another project in mind for her.
She monitored the elevator car’s progress as it climbed the strand, and tried to guess why Tony was paying them a visit. This was the third time. She guessed he didn’t have anything better to do.
She quickly finished off the final section of her report, adding a visual of the latest stage of the construction. She sent one copy in a packet to Tanis at Landfall, and another copy to the Trojan Office of Extraplanetary Development. She had no doubt it would lie in someone’s queue unread for months, if not forever.
The elevator had reached the station as she completed her report, and a few minutes later, Tony walked into the control room.
“I’m not sure what it is about this place that’s so enticing,” Erin said, “but it’s good to see you again. What have you been doing? Any news from Heliopolis?”
“I haven’t been doing anything interesting. No good news, that’s for sure. I’m here to report my sentence is coming to an end; I’ll be leaving soon and I wanted to say goodbye.”
“You’re leaving Troy?” asked Erin. “Damn. I meant to ask you to come over to our place for dinner one evening, but I kept forgetting.”
“Don’t worry,” Tony said. “Another time. I’m catching the first flight to Athens tomorrow.”
“Athens? Sweet,” said Erin. “I went there once, but I could only stay for a couple of days. Are you going on vacation or are you there to work?”
“I have some work to do. The regular earthquakes as the planet’s crust settles aren’t so regular now. I’m going to work with the geologists to see if inconsistency isn’t a symptom of something more serious. We might have to adjust the position of the orbital PETER and change its energy extraction locations so we can alter magma heat and density in a few regions.”
“Damn…I’d love to spend some time seeing how the PETER works. Are there risks to the surface?” Erin asked. “I’d hate for that place to be out of bounds. I’m hoping to go back with my spouses as soon as we get some free time.”
“From what I understand, it doesn’t. I might send our analysis out to the Transcend ships for them to relay to the FGT before we move the PETER, but it probably isn’t anything to be concerned about,” said Tony. “I don’t think that after terraforming countless thousands of worlds, the FGT got it wrong with this one. But it’ll give me something to do.”
“Well, if you’re traveling there on the Odyssey, say hi to Mikkail, the cocktail waiter for me. And if he suggests that you try a Slippery Black Hole, ignore him.”
Tony chuckled. “I’ll bear that in mind.”
“Core,” MacCarthy chimed in from his station. “I’ve drunk a Slippery Black Hole. I only know I had one for sure; I don’t remember anything after it. Even my mods were blacked out.”
Erin snorted, but didn’t challenge MacCarthy’s obvious hyperbole.
“I visited Mikkail’s cocktail lounge too,” said Linch. “I don’t remember a thing about the entire trip. But I was drinking Quantums, which seem to affect you before you drink them. I’m not sure, though. Never did figure that out.”
“I had a Quantum once,” Erin said. She frowned. “That explains a lot.”
“Whoa,” Tony said, laughing, “OK, I get it. No cocktails at Mikkail’s lounge.”
“Oh no, that isn’t what we mean,” Erin said. “If you don’t drink cocktails on the Odyssey, your trip isn’t complete.”
“Now I’m confused,” Tony said.
“What we mean to say is,” Erin said, “if you want to remember anything at all about your journey, take it easy in the cocktail lounge. On the other hand, who wants to remember a run of the mill trip between planets?” She took a sip of cream soda and fleetingly wished that her drink was another Quantum, or even a Slippery Black Hole.
“So, how have things been going up here?” asked Tony.
Erin launched into a long, detailed explanation of all the work the team had completed since his previous visit, highlighting the effort involved in situating the structural arms and the four starships it took to do each one simultaneously.
After ten minutes or so, she noticed that his attention had flagged. She had a suspicion that it had done so several minutes before, so she quickly filled him in on only the last few, important details.
“You haven’t heard anything from the Trojan government, then?” asked Tony when she’d wrapped up.
“No,” Erin replied. “Not a peep. Why? Do you think I should have?”
“Probably not. The legislature must be preoccupied with all the protests.” In response to her ‘I have no idea what you’re talking about’ expression, Tony continued. “The movement to secede, remember?”
“Damn!” she exclaimed. “It’s escalated to protests? In the streets?”
“Yeah, marches and everything. Nonviolent, though. I’m surprised you haven’t noticed, it’s been on all the media outlets.”
“I guess I need to pay more attention to the feeds. Most of my focus these days is on my inbound shipments from the moons and Carthage,” said Erin.
“Well, maybe you should check them more,” Tony said. “Remember the extra budget you were saying you needed to properly fit out all the decks for future expansion? Do you think a seceded Troy will want to spend their credits on a space station, or might they think the money would be better spent elsewhere?”
“Hey,” said Erin, “I thought you came here to say goodbye, not ruin my day!”
Tony smiled ruefully. “Sorry. But forewarned is forearmed.”
“Yeah, OK. I get it.”
“I don’t know what would be best for you to do,” he admitted. “But maybe keep an eye on the political situation from now on.”
“OK. Thanks for the tip.”
“Thanks for your advice about the cocktails on the Odyssey.”
STELLAR DATE: 05.11.8941 (Adjusted Years)
LOCATION: Family home, eastern shores of Ithaca
REGION: Troy, New Canaan System
Isa was in her closet, trying to decide what to wear for the grand opening of the gallery that evening. She was tense, unable to shake the feeling that the event could make or break her business, even though she knew that probably wasn’t true.
At least she had a large dollop of luck on her side. The worsening political situation on Troy had prompted New Canaan’s governor to pay a visit, and Isa had seized the opportunity offered in both fists and invited Tanis and Joe to her gala.
Tanis had accepted, and Isa’s grand opening had transformed from simply one more business starting up in Heliopolis, into the media event of the year. The governor’s presence would provide an abundance of free publicity. Isa couldn’t have wished for a better coincidence in timing. The only downside was that Tanis’s presence would clearly affiliate Isa and her gallery with the political faction that was against secession, but she didn’t care about that. She was against Troy’s secession. She thought it was a stupid idea, and if that put people off visiting her business, so be it.
She expected reporters from the popular media outlets to show up, but she had limited the press passes to only two. She didn’t want to impose on Tanis by allowing her to be swamped by journalists all evening. The rest of the media representatives could wait outside the venue and maybe catch a glimpse of the governor arriving and leaving.
Isa took out one of her favorite dresses. The shade of deep green complemented her skin and hair, and the dress fit well, narrowing to her waist before flaring out over her hips and then tapering to handkerchief points halfway down her calves. She put on the dress and fastened it at the back. Then she set about fixing her hair. It was a pain in the ass to put it up in a bun, so she rarely bothered, but this occasion called for a classy look.
As she worked, Isa ran through a mental list of the opening’s attendees. Erin and Martin were coming, naturally, and she asked them to invite their colleagues to help make up the numbers. Jude would be there too, though probably not for the entire evening. Much as she loved her son, Isa didn’t want the event ruined by the crying of a tired child. It had been agreed upon that if it all got to be too much for Jude, Martin would take him home.
Isa had also remembered to send an invite to Elora Pennypuddy. It made professional sense to include the other artists in the event. Singh had readily agreed to come, as had the handful of parents Isa had gotten to know at the daycare center Jude attended. She had also told Tanis to feel free to invite any Trojan dignitaries she knew.
Roughly thirty people would be attending the opening, which was a good number for the available space. She hadn’t decided whether the attendees would be able to participate in one of the installations. Four were set up and ready to use, but she would see how the evening went. If everyone began to relax, then a trip on one of her landscape journeys would add to the fun, but if the atmosphere remained sedate and formal, she wouldn’t suggest it.
Isa checked her reflection in a mirror and pulled two strands of hair down from her bun to frame her face. Satisfied that her appearance would pass muster, she tried to find the little suit she’d had specially made for Jude for the occasion. She’d been avoiding dressing him until the last minute so that he didn’t have time to dirty it before they left. The suit seemed to have disappeared, however. She wondered if Martin had taken it and was getting Jude dressed himself.
“There you are,” said Erin, poking her head into the closet.
“You’re home at last. I was worrying you might not make it.”
“I wouldn’t miss this for all New Canaan. I had some things to pick up in Heliopolis on my way home. Hey, I recognize that.” Erin walked up to Isa and gently grasped her shoulders. “That’s what you were wearing the first time we met.”
“That’s right,” Isa replied. “You have a good memory.”
“As if I could forget.” Erin wrapped her in a hug. Releasing her, she said, “But Martin and I have bought something different for you to wear. Come and look.”
Taking Isa’s hand, she led her out to the bedroom and across to the bed, where a flat, rectangular box lay.
“Is it a dress?” asked Isa. “This is so sweet of you guys.”
“Isa, you’ve been working like crazy to get your art business off the ground, as well as looking after our son more than half the time. Of course we got you something. It’s the least we can do to show our appreciation. Go on, open it.”
Isa lifted the lid off the box and unwrapped the tissue paper to find a folded black dress. She took the dress out and held it up.
“Core, Erin, it’s beautiful.”
The material was delicate and reflected the light in a soft sheen. The fabric’s texture felt strange but also vaguely familiar.
“Go and put it on,” Erin urged. “It should fit perfectly. I tried it on myself, since we’re almost the same size.”
Isa returned to the closet and slipped out of her old dress. Erin had been correct: the new dress fit smoothly over her curves. It was a little lower at the front than she was usually comfortable with, but for the occasion, it wasn’t inappropriate. She picked out her black shoes to match.
“I love it,” she said as she returned to the bedroom. “How do I look?”
Erin was still wearing her work clothes.
“What are you going to wear?” Isa asked her.
“Darn it. I hadn’t thought about it. I guess I can find something that looks halfway decent.”
“Why don’t you wear the dress I was wearing? Like you said, we’re the same size.”
“Your dress?” Erin looked surprised and more than a little alarmed. “I haven’t worn a dress in…I can’t remember the last time I wore a dress—other than trying that one on, of course.”
“Why not make an exception tonight? You would look great, I’m sure.”
“OK. I’ll do it. Just for you. But there’s something else we have to do first.” Her eyes flicked upward as she spoke on the Link. “Wait here for a minute.”
She walked out of the bedroom, and Isa heard her footsteps going down the stairs. A moment later, more footsteps resounded from the staircase. Heavier and lighter ones than Erin’s. Martin and Jude were coming up to the bedroom.
Martin entered the bedroom first, wearing a suit. Isa’s mouth fell open. She was so used to seeing her husband in old swim shorts and a worn t-shirt, his hair rough with salt water and uncombed, that she almost didn’t recognize him. He looked amazing. But Jude stood next to him, and the little boy outshone his father.
Jude’s suit was identical to Martin’s, only about ten times smaller. What a pair they make.
Jude’s cherubic little face was grinning, as if he knew the deepest secret in the world.
Erin stood behind them both.
“Give Mommy Isa her present, Jude.”
“Another gift?” Isa asked. “You guys are spoiling me.”
“Not any more than you deserve,” Martin said.
Jude ran forward, bringing a box out from behind his back. Isa reached out, and he thrust the box into her hands.
“Open it, Mommy Isa. Open it! It’s so pretty!” He bounced up and down in excitement.
“Don’t spoil the surprise, Jude,” said Martin. “Let her find out for herself.”
Isa undid the small catch and opened the box. When she saw what lay inside, she gasped.
“Sweet stars, this is too much. It’s beautiful, but I can’t accept it.”
Sitting on the red velvet cushion inside was a necklace made of a silvery metal. Five slim chains looped across the front, studded thickly with pearls and opals. They linked together into a single chain that went around the back of the neck.
“This must have cost a fortune. What’s it made of?”
“Rhodium,” Erin replied, “with a little platinum mixed in.”
“Rhodium?” Isa squeaked. “I appreciate the gesture, but I really can’t accept this. I can’t wear it. I’ll be too worried I’ll lose it.”
“Stop being silly,” said Erin. “Turn around and let me put it on you.”
“Isa,” Erin said, “if you don’t wear this necklace, all Martin’s work will go to waste. He grew those pearls for you at his site on the Med.”
Isa’s gaze lifted to Martin’s. He nodded. “I seeded the oysters the day after you gave birth to Jude, and I harvested the pearls before we packed up everything to send to Troy.”
Tears sprang to Isa’s eyes.
“And I mined those opals for you from an asteroid,” Erin added.
“You did?” asked Isa.
“No, I didn’t, actually.” Erin chuckled. “I bought them at the jeweler in Heliopolis where I commissioned the necklace. There, it’s on.” She kissed the back of Isa’s neck.
The necklace felt cool and light against Isa’s skin. The jewelry was easily the most expensive thing she’d ever worn. It was probably worth more than all the credit she’d earned in the last decade. She could feel herself choking up.
She murmured, “I don’t know what to say,” but the words came out high-pitched and were barely intelligible.
“You don’t need to say anything,” Erin said. “We love you, and we wanted to show you just how much on what could be one of the most important nights of your life.”
Isa’s capacity for speech deserted her. Erin gave her another hug, and Martin wrapped his arms around them both. Jude jumped up and down, asking to be let in to the ‘snuggle’. Martin bent down and picked his son up, holding him in the crook of his arm.
Isa sniffed. Her face buried in Erin’s shoulder, she asked, “What’s this dress made of?”
“Silk,” Erin replied.
Silk. That was why the texture had felt familiar. Isa’s new dress was made of the same material as the sheets in their hotel room in Athens.
“So, as well as the most beautiful and expensive necklace I’ve ever owned,” said Isa, “you got me a dress made of worm cloth?”
“We did,” Martin replied. “I’m glad you’re grateful.”
STELLAR DATE: 05.11.8941 (Adjusted Years)
LOCATION: Isa’s gallery, Heliopolis, Ithaca
REGION: Troy, New Canaan System
Erin flew them in Isa’s aircar to the roof of her art gallery. It turned out to be a wise decision. A crowd had already gathered outside the entrance in the street below. Erin guessed that media reps had been the first to arrive, and then passersby had stopped to see what was happening. But arriving by air didn’t mean the family escaped the news drones, which hovered around as they exited the vehicle.
“Ignore them,” Erin said to Martin, who was visibly annoyed and shielding Jude’s face as he carried him over to the hatch.
Isa opened the small door and, gathering the skirt of her dress in one hand, descended the steps. Martin followed her, but halfway down, he paused and looked upward into the starry sky.
“Something wrong?” Erin asked.
“I don’t think so. Only I thought I heard the engine of a big ship.”
He stepped down the remaining treads to the bottom of the stairs.
<Tanis? Are you on your way yet?> Erin asked.
<We should be there in about ten minutes, Erin. Joe’s going to fly us over.>
<Smart move. This place is crawling with reporters.>
<I thought it would be. I seem to be the number one attraction in town. And not in a good way.>
<You didn’t manage to win the Trojans over to your point of view? I’m surprised.>
<Is that sarcasm?>
<What I can’t figure out,> Erin continued, <is how did all the assholes manage to end up on the same planet?>
Tanis laughed. <A lot of the Taranians settled on Troy…they always had a bit of a chip on their collective shoulder. Anyway, we’ll be there soon.>
“Tanis is going to arrive via aircar too,” Erin told Isa when she reached the upper mezzanine. “I explained about the media situation.”
Isa closed the hatch. “I hope reporters don’t turn this evening into a disaster. I’m so happy Tanis could come, but I want her and Joe to have a good time, not be bombarded with questions about the political situation.”
“I wouldn’t worry about Tanis if I were you,” replied Erin. “If anyone can look after themselves, it’s her. What’s more important is that the focus of this event isn’t on the governor of New Canaan. Your art gallery is what this is all supposed to be about.”
Isa’s eyes flicked upward. “The caterers are here.”
“I’ll go down and let them in,” said Martin.
“I’ll come with you,” said Isa.
Martin handed Jude to Erin and he and Isa took the elevator.
Erin had brought a bag of toys to keep Jude busy. Holding it in one hand, she grasped Jude’s hand with the other and walked with him down the stepped bridge that crossed to the lower mezzanine.
“Whooo,” Jude said, peering through the balcony rails at the first floor. “Look. Daddy and Mommy Isa.”
“Yeah, there they are.” Erin stopped to watch what was happening below.
Isa had opened the door to the caterers, but as the workers and automatons carrying covered trays were entering, other people were pushing through the portal, trying to sneak inside along with the servers. Martin was quick to push them out again.
Erin bit her lip. Isa had worked her ass off to set up her art business; she hoped the evening would be a success. And she hoped that Tanis’s attendance would be more of a benefit than a detriment.
Music started up, and the lighting softened. The party was about to begin.
Erin was looking forward to having a good time. She hadn’t done much except work or relax at the house on the coast for a while. It would also be great to catch up with Tanis and Joe about everything that had been happening in Carthage.
<Linch,> she replied. <You’re here already?>
<Yeah, I’m outside. MacCarthy’s here too, but when we tried to go in, some tall guy in a tux pushed us out again.>
<Gee, sorry. That sounds like my husband. He must have thought you were from the media—they’re swarming the place because Tanis is coming. Wait a minute and I’ll come down and let you in myself.>
She descended the rest of the staircase to the lower mezzanine and then took the elevator to the first floor.
“You’re performing your bouncer duties a little too well,” Erin told Martin when she reached the door. “You ejected two of my engineers along with the reporters.”
“Shoot,” Martin said. “It’s hard to tell who’s who. They’re all claiming they were invited.”
“I’ll identify the ones I know,” said Erin, approaching the door.
“Hold on,” said Isa as she returned from showing the caterers where to set up. “I’ll deal with this.”
She jerked the door open, causing several people who had been leaning on it to fall inward and hit the floor. Ignoring the sprawling journalists, she yelled, “If you don’t have an invite, back off to the other side of the road, or I’m calling the police! The governor of New Canaan will be here tonight, and she doesn’t take shit from anyone.”
Erin snorted with laughter. Dressed in black silk, bedecked in highly expensive jewelery, her hair beautifully styled, Isa looked like a queen… But her character had been forged as an enslaved miner at Sirius, and that wouldn’t ever change.
Isa’s tirade had the desired effect. The uninvited separated from the invited and grumpily shuffled across the street, though their drones remained, hovering annoyingly close to the entrance. Erin spotted Linch and MacCarthy and beckoned them over. Isa allowed one of her new friends in too.
The woman’s appearance led Erin to conclude that she must be from Troy’s art world. Her hair was a work of art in itself; it circled her head like a halo and pulsed purple and green. She was wearing a painfully bright orange jumpsuit that fit her like a second skin except that it flared out widely from her knees downward. Erin wondered how she could walk. The most remarkable aspect of the artist’s clothing was the two holes cut in the fabric in the area of her chest, perfectly exposing her small breasts.
“Is that suit the latest fashion on Troy?” Martin asked Erin, his gaze naturally drawn to the most eye-catching aspect of the costume.
“I don’t think that’s the latest fashion anywhere.”
<Erin, we’re here,> said Tanis. <We’re on the roof.>
<Great,> she replied. <I’ll be up there in a minute.>
She left Jude with Martin and took the elevator to the third floor. When she opened the roof hatch, she almost didn’t recognize Tanis. She was wearing a gorgeous, long, red dress that shimmered in the evening light. Joe stood beside her looking dazzling in his dress uniform.
“Thanks for coming,” said Erin as they stepped down the stairs. “This means so much to Isa. And not only because your presence has turned this into the event of the year in Troy’s social calendar; Isa really wants all her friends here too.”
“It’s our pleasure,” Tanis replied. “I’ve been doing my best not to strangle politicians all day, and Joe’s been dealing with the planetary militia—such as it is. We’re curious to see what Isa’s been doing. She used to talk about her ideas when she would come over to the lakehouse, but I don’t think I ever really understood what she meant.”
“Come and see,” said Erin. As they walked to the elevator, she continued, “Isa invited a couple of reporters who’ll probably want to speak to you, but we kept the rest at bay.”
“We saw the drones on the roof,” said Joe.
“They can talk to me all they want, but I’m not going to discuss anything except Isa’s work,” said Tanis. “If they want a scoop on the state of the Trojan government, they can go pound sand.”
They stepped off the elevator at the first floor.
“What is the state of the Trojan government?” Erin asked.
“It’s a mess,” said Tanis. “I’m glad I decided to come here and see for myself what is happening. I can’t understand what’s gotten into them. Pride in your planet is fine, but if they think Troy can make it alone in the system, they’re a bunch of idiots. We all have to work together.”
“Did you have any luck persuading them of that?” Erin asked.
“I think I made some headway,” said Tanis. “I’m meeting Independence Party leaders tomorrow and speaking to some business leaders. But if they do decide to secede, there isn’t a lot I can do about it—the original charter did have a lot of leeway for disparate settlements; maybe they’ll have to learn from their own mistakes. At least the Troy Independence Party won’t have a chance at government until the next election in four years. They’re the ones who will definitely secede if they get in. With luck, your station will be booming by then, and off-planet commerce will pick up.”
The room was soon buzzing, as more guests arrived and the drinks and food were passed around. The music had a catchy beat, and some people began to dance. Martin was playing with Jude, and Isa was chatting with Tanis and Joe and some of the Trojan dignitaries. Meanwhile, Isa’s artist friend had attracted a circle of admirers and seemed to be holding court as if the artworks were hers and not Isa’s. Aside from the painfully obvious upstaging attempt by the strange woman, the party seemed to be going well.
Erin sought out Linch and MacCarthy. She found Linch spinning on his heel, his gaze sweeping the gallery.
“This place is amazing,” he said. “When you invited us to this event, I thought I would come along to be polite, you know? I mean, I thought it would be something to do. I wasn’t expecting this.”
Erin hadn’t taken much notice of how Isa had transformed the space. Linch’s words caused her to really look at the gallery for the first time. He was right. Through a combination of plain 2D images, vids, holos, and 3D artwork, Isa had created a captivating, breathtaking display.
Erin’s heart swelled with pride that she was married to such a talented artist. “Isa’s created something really special, hasn’t she? But what you’re seeing isn’t actually what this place is about; it’s only an introduction to the real experience.”
“Sounds cool,” said Linch. “If this is just a taste of what your wife can do, I’d love to see what the main course is like.”
“Yeah, me too,” said Erin. “I was her test subject for some of her experimental work, which was awesome, but she’s refined her technique since then. She was saying that she might run some sessions for guests later, depending on how the evening goes.”
Martin arrived with Jude, and Erin introduced him to Linch, who said, “We already met. At the door.”
“Ah, yeah. Sorry about that,” said Martin.
“No problem. I could see you were having problems with gate crashers.”
“Great,” Martin said, “I appreciate your understanding, because I wanted to ask if you could do your boss a favor and look after her son for a while so she can dance?”
“Hey, who said anything about dancing?” Erin protested.
“Sure,” replied Linch, grinning as he took Jude from Martin. “C’mon, little buddy, let’s go look at some pictures.”
Martin took Erin’s hand and led her out to an open space near some other dancers.
“You look great in that dress,” he told her, taking her other hand as they moved with the music.
“Thanks. You don’t look too bad yourself.”
Martin leaned forward and whispered in Erin’s ear, but at the same time, the music hit a crescendo, and she didn’t catch what he said.
“What was that?”
Martin repeated his suggestion over the Link.
Erin shrieked and giggled. “I don’t think that’s physically possible.”
“Maybe not, but it would be fun to try.”
They danced some more, but both found themselves looking at Jude, who was holding Linch’s hand and gazing open-mouthed at the images Isa had created.
“He’ll probably get bored soon,” said Martin.
“Yeah,” said Erin. “Or tired.”
“I’ll take him home if that happens. I don’t mind leaving early. But don’t you think it’s a pity Jude doesn’t have any brothers or sisters to play with? We wouldn’t have to keep him occupied. I think he’ll feel lonely when he’s older.”
“Martin, you know this family isn’t one of your seeding sites, right?”
“Of course I do. But we are a family, and families have children. Unless you want Jude to grow up as an only child?”
“OK, I hear what you’re saying, but Isa has only just started her business, and a lot of the time she was working, she had Jude with her. That couldn’t have been easy. I don’t think it’s fair to expect her to carry another baby right now. And….”
Martin gave Erin a look that caused her to stop dancing.
“Don’t even think about it,” she told him. “I’m sorry, but I can’t imagine myself waddling around a station like an overweight duck. Anyway, didn’t you mention something about male seahorses? Do they carry their young instead of the females?”
“They do,” Martin replied. “Still….”
“Lindsey’s just arrived with Margot and Pietr. I’ll go and let them in.”
* * * * *
After a while, Erin grew tired of talking to the gathered throng, so she found Isa and asked if she could experience one of her installations.
“I’d love it if you would,” Isa replied. “I’ve tested them myself, but it would be great to get a second opinion from someone I can trust to tell me the truth. Do you want to select one from the menu? Oh, by the way, I asked Tanis and Joe if they’re still OK to babysit Jude if we want to go to Athens in the next few months, and they said they would be happy to. We should arrange dates with them soon.”
“Great. Now we only have to persuade Martin to agree.”
“I’ll start working on him later.”
Erin looked up the list of installations. Isa had created experiences based around places on Carthage, Tyre, and Troy. Erin was tempted by the tunnel in Mount Athos on Tyre and the musical pillars on the same planet.
“I notice you don’t have one based on the Crystal Cave.”
“Ugh, no,” Isa said. “I couldn’t bring myself to do that, though you can see I did include the Golden Cavern.”
“Hmmm,” said Erin. “I think I’ll try The Scamander.”
“Really?” Isa asked. “I thought you would go for something farther from home.”
“I can see the river and the plain from the Messene,” Erin explained. “But I’ve never managed to find the time to visit them. This will be a nice alternative.”
“Right,” said Isa. “The supporting artifacts are on the upper mezzanine, or you could hang around here to do it.”
“No, I’ll go upstairs to be out of everyone’s way.”
The upper mezzanine was empty. Below, on the first floor, Erin could see the tops of the heads of the crowd moving and mingling, some bobbing in time to the music. Everything was going well. In another two or three hours, it would be over and everyone would go home. Erin was happy the night had turned out to be a fantastic success.
<Are you doing this with me, Walter?>
<No, I think I’ll try a different one.>
Erin sat in one of the cushioned chairs that lined the walls. Moving and still images and holos of the Scamander river valley surrounded her. Erin focused on one vid of the river rushing over boulders and closed her eyes.
The installation kicked in. Instantly, she was in the spot where Isa had recorded the vid. The sounds, scents, and feel of the air in the scene rushed in on her. The effect was sudden and real and created such an impact that Erin jerked and opened her eyes.
She was back in upper mezzanine of the gallery. The hum of the party floated up from below.
Closing her eyes once more, Erin relaxed into the sim. It was pleasant to be transported away to the fresh, natural scene after the hubbub of the social gathering.
She was standing on the Plain of Scamander, next to the river of the same name. A strong wind was blowing, turning the long grass of the plain into a stormy ocean ruffled with waves. Along with the rush of the wind, the babble of the river dashing over the rocks filled the air. Canaan Prime was low in the sky, and sunset colors were building on the horizon, glancing off the lower edges of the clouds.
Erin wondered when Isa had recorded this moment. It was a beautiful scene, and she wished she had been there to share it with her.
Then Isa’s special added effects started to filter into the experience. The rocks in the river began to coruscate in subtle shades of color, and the river turned into a sheet of mobile silver. The water looked like mercury and reflected the deepening hues of the setting sun. The noise of the wind subtly transformed into the quiet song of a thousand voices, and rather than pushing into Erin, the breeze felt like it was blowing through her.
Erin hadn’t been aware she was smelling the earthy, grassy scent of the plain until it blended into the sounds she was hearing, and in the same way, she found she could smell the noises. The sights she was seeing became sensations on her skin. She found herself dissolving into the scene as if she were a part of the landscape, or perhaps even united with the planet, the system, and the stars beyond.
Erin let herself sink into the experience. She forgot she was at Isa’s opening event, that she had a space station to build, and almost everything that she associated with being herself. The Scamander had entered her psyche.
Suddenly, the scene felt like it was shaking, and a thundering sound shook her out of her reverie.
Erin’s eyes flew open, settling on the roof hatch that was hanging down and swinging wildly. It had been blown open. The air was hazy. On her left, she could see armored legs and booted feet running down the stairs. Erin half rose to her feet just as a soldier stepped onto the mezzanine and lifted his weapon. A pulse round hit her square in the chest.
The blast flung Erin from her seat and she crumpled to the floor, struggling to breathe.
STELLAR DATE: 05.11.8941 (Adjusted Years)
LOCATION: Isa’s gallery, Heliopolis, Ithaca
REGION: Troy, New Canaan System
Between gasps, Erin rose onto her elbows, trying to make sense of what was going on. A few seconds prior, she’d been in the middle of a thrilling sensory and spiritual experience, and then she’d been rudely flung back into reality.
Armored feet were running past not far from her head, headed to the staircase that led to the other mezzanine, firing downward at the partygoers as they ran.
Dozens of concussive pulses thumped out, reverberating around Erin’s skull, increasing her confusion. They were followed by shouts and cries from the partygoers, mixed in with the sounds of breaking glass and falling gallery displays.
What the hell is going on? Is Troy being attacked? How has the Transcend passed through all our outer defenses without anyone spotting it?
It occurred to her that these might be Trojan separatists, trying to kidnap Tanis as part of their plan to secede. She wondered where they’d acquired the armor and weapons to pull the assault, then remembered the equipment caches that had been set up on each planet.
Erin’s heart froze. Not only were Isa and Martin down on the first floor where the soldiers were headed, Jude was there too.
Knowing that stealth was her only option now, she slumped back down, lying still and trying to avoid attracting attention from the remainder of the platoon that was moving past.
They have to be here for Tanis—why would they bother taking an art gallery?
Despite the governor being the most obvious target, Erin wasn’t too concerned about Tanis or Joe. Those two were well able to defend themselves. Isa and Martin, on the other hand, weren’t armed, and with protecting Jude being their primary concern, they wouldn’t fight back either.
The tramp of boots past Erin’s head finally ended, and she glanced around to see that the mezzanine was empty. The hatch the attackers had busted open hung at a crazy angle, and she could see the clear, starlit sky through it.
It would be easy to escape onto the roof and leave in the shuttle, if the attackers hadn’t destroyed it. But there was no way she was leaving without her spouses and son.
Erin crawled to the edge of the floor and peered between the railings. Pulse fire continued to resonate through the space. On one side of the main floor, she could see that the strange, orange-clad woman was on the floor having some kind of fit, while a soldier dispassionately stood over her. Other groups were being held at gunpoint and marched toward the front entrance, which stood open.
For a moment, Erin clung to the hope that Martin and Isa had left with Jude, but then she spotted them standing toward the rear of the space. Her spouses formed two corners of a triangle; Martin had Jude in his arms, and Isa was at his side. A soldier formed the triangle’s third point. He was swinging the barrel of his rifle between the two adults.
The concussive blasts from the pulse rifles had lessened, and Jude’s terrified wail was reaching a crescendo, echoing through the gallery.
That sound caused unbridled rage to rise in Erin’s chest.
Other than the man covering the twitching orange woman, the soldier covering her family was the only one she could see from her vantage. There was still fighting going on somewhere below—likely Tanis and Joe making a stand.
That pair didn’t go anywhere unarmed. Maybe they would succeed in defeating the attackers, despite being heavily outnumbered…. Though Erin wasn’t prepared to leave the safety of her family to chance.
Deciding on a course of action, she slowly rose and ran to the stairs that crossed to the other mezzanine. She probably wouldn’t get far along it without being noticed, but she didn’t have to go far to carry out her plan.
Erin took another look at the soldier who was threatening her family. Do I rush and hope for the best, or take careful aim?
If she missed, she would seriously hurt herself and fail at rescuing the people she loved. A surprise strike had the greatest chance of success, even though it meant a higher risk of discovery.
No time to come up with something else….
Erin began to creep down the stairs, hoping no one would look up. Martin, Isa, and the soldier guarding them had moved closer to the center of the room, but were not yet, unfortunately, in exactly the right spot. She would have to judge the angle correctly.
Being an engineer paid off in so many ways.
<I’ve a full dose of nano ready,> Walter advised her. <Try to get your hands on a weapon, and I’ll manage the breach.>
<Thanks, Walter, I—>
Someone had seen her. A soldier that had been out of view before was gesturing toward her from the lower level. She’d run out of time. Erin dashed down the final steps, leapt onto the banister rail, and, after taking a split second to judge her angle, jumped.
She’d barely had enough time to confirm that she’d gauged correctly before she hit her target—who’d just turned to look in her direction.
Her reinforced skeletal structure and the mods for her space-borne work added considerable weight to Erin’s diminutive body, so when her feet smashed into the shoulders and back of the soldier, the man lost his balance and toppled.
Even as she hit the floor and rolled to her feet, she didn’t take her eyes off the man’s weapon, which he now held with only one hand while struggling back to his feet.
She didn’t waste a moment, lunging at him and dropping her nano onto the weapon as she wrested it from the attacker’s hands. By some miracle, she managed to prise it from his grip.
She yelled over her shoulder at Isa and Martin, “Run!”
<Bugger…this is some tough nano I’m up against. OK…weapon’s yours.>
Erin didn’t recognize the weapon, and assumed it must be a Transcend rifle. In any case, the interface mapped to her HUD in a moment, and she mentally pulled the trigger, firing a pulse blast into the soldier’s groin.
He fell backward, and she fired another blast into his torso before flipping the weapon to its projectile mode and putting a kinetic round into his chest. He wasn’t dead, but from the groaning, she knew he’d be out for the count.
Erin spun to see Martin and Isa rushing for the door, a still-wailing Jude in Martin’s arms.
Her eyes swept across the space, noting several ruined displays, and then saw that the enemy guarding the orange woman was gone. She spotted him moving around one of Isa’s art displays for a clear shot and she dove to the ground, lobbing a series of kinetic rounds in his direction.
One hit him in the shoulder, and he returned fire.
<He’s still only shooting pulse blasts,> Erin said to Walter. <But I just took out one of his teammates—what the hell is going on?>
<I don’t know…the local Link is down, I can’t find out what’s happening outside.>
Erin was about to move to cover, when a shout came from behind another display.
“Drop it, buddy!”
Tanis’s voice was unmistakable. Erin shifted to see the governor advancing on the soldier from one side, with Joe coming in from the other.
The man lowered his weapon and then let it fall to the ground before placing his hands on his head.
“You OK?” Tanis asked Erin as Joe kicked the soldier’s rifle away.
“Yeah,” Erin said as she rose. “What the hell is going on?”
“You’re locked down, private,” Joe said to the soldier, and then turned to Erin. “Nice jump. Good thing you have a spacer’s mods, or that would have broken your ankles.”
She shrugged. “Well, you don’t get to my point in life without being able to work out newtons of force and tensile strength numbers on the fly. But seriously, what—”
“It was a drill,” Tanis said as she glanced around the space at the mess made by the fleeing patrons and attacking soldiers. “I didn’t expect them to hit us here, but not knowing when it’s going to come is sort of the point.”
The man Erin shot groaned as he struggled to his feet. “For low-v rounds, those sure hurt like a bugger.”
“Head outside and see the medic,” Joe instructed him as Tanis surveyed the space.
“I guess we’re the last ones. I need to talk to Commander Dell.” Tanis said to Erin, “You should go check on your family.”
Erin nodded mutely, the adrenaline fading and the shock of what had just occurred settling in. She followed Tanis and Joe outside to see that the street was full of people standing in small groups and talking. Some of the soldiers who had been attacking the art gallery were chatting with locals, their weapons slung casually over their shoulders as they made sure everyone was OK.
Martin and Isa were standing together across the street from the gallery. Jude was still howling in fear, and Martin was trying to comfort and quiet him. Isa looked defeated and sad.
Erin walked up to them. “Shit…glad you two are OK.”
“A drill,” Martin said through gritted teeth. “A fucking invasion drill. Right in the middle of Isa’s opening event.”
“Yeah,” Erin sighed as she glanced at Isa. Her wife’s hair had been messed up during the attack and was half hanging down. She’d also lost a shoe. “Yeah, it was…unfortunate.”
“Unfortunate?” asked Martin. “Look around you. Or go find your friend and ask her. Tanis must have known all about it. She probably arranged it!”
Martin’s vehemence caught Erin off guard, and she found herself reeling from the onslaught. But he was right, Isa’s party had been ruined, and the gallery and much of the art she’d worked on for months had been damaged. By Tanis’s own words, it had been something the governor knew about, but she had her reasons, if she could get Tanis to explain….
Erin didn’t need to go far to find her; the governor and Joe had just stepped away from the company commander and were walking toward them. She hadn’t noticed before, but Tanis’s dress was torn off at the knees, and there were some bloodstains on her calves, but otherwise they both were unharmed and relaxed.
“I didn’t mention it before, but you did really well, Erin,” Tanis said as she reached the family.
“Yeah, you flew down like an avenging angel,” said Joe. “I don’t think anyone was expecting that. I was impressed.”
“But you were expecting the attack, right?” Martin was glaring at both of them. Jude had finally stopped screaming and was sobbing sad, hiccupy sobs as he rested his head on his father’s shoulder.
“I did know the drill was scheduled for some time this week,” Tanis replied as she gave Jude a kind look. “These things are arranged months in advance. It was an unfortunate coincidence it was happening tonight, Isa.”
Isa hung her head. Erin could tell she was trying not to cry.
“But the good thing is,” Tanis continued, “it went off well, there was minimal damage, and emergency response teams kicked in just as they should have—especially from unexpected quarters.” She patted Erin on the back. “By the way, Isa, I think your gallery is fantastic. I’m sure you’re going to do great business. You can apply to the Invasion Defense Fund for compensation for any damages. I’m sorry that we have to go, but we need to review some other sites and then oversee the planetary briefing before we return to Carthage tomorrow evening. But my offer to babysit still stands. If you guys want to take that trip to Athens, let me know. I’m sure we can arrange something.”
“Always happy to have Jude on the ranch,” Joe said in parting before he and Tanis walked away.
“If she thinks I would leave our son in her care after tonight,” Martin muttered once the governor was out of earshot, “she must be insane. I’m not letting Jude anywhere near her or her family. The woman’s a psychopath.”
“Oh, that’s going a bit far,” said Erin.
She felt sorry for Jude, and Isa too, but she could also see Tanis’s point of view. She had bigger concerns to worry about than one small family or a friend’s party.
“You’re actually going to stand up for her after what she did?” said Martin.
“What she said was right. She couldn’t change the schedule; this kind of thing takes a lot of organization, and Isa only invited her to her opening party yesterday.”
“Tanis terrified our son and ruined Isa’s evening, and she didn’t even have the decency to apologize.”
“She probably doesn’t think she has anything to apologize for,” said Erin. “Like I said—”
“I heard what you said,” Martin spat. He was pale with anger.
Erin was about to respond when Isa raised her hands in a conciliatory gesture. “Please, don’t argue. It’s only going to make everything worse.”
Martin contented himself with glaring at Erin. Jude, exhausted by the night’s events, was nodding off. Martin adjusted his hold on the boy so that he could better support his head.
“Let’s go inside,” said Isa. “I want to try to find my shoe. Then I want to go home. I’ll come back and assess the damage in the morning.”
Erin wrapped an arm around Isa as they trudged across the street to the gallery. She felt so bad for her, and Jude’s cries had torn at her heart, yet she knew the governor was only doing her job. She had a duty to protect New Canaan. Knowing Tanis, that was what she would do, regardless of who she might disturb or upset.
She hoped that when he’d had time to calm down, Martin would understand. She didn’t think she’d ever seen him so angry, not even when she’d accidentally sent shockwaves through his seeding site on the Med.
When it came to the things that were dear to him, he thought with his heart, not his head.
STELLAR DATE: 05.12.8941 (Adjusted Years)
LOCATION: Family home, eastern shores of Ithaca
REGION: Troy, New Canaan System
The following morning, the mood at breakfast was tense. Isa looked from Martin to Erin and then to Jude. Martin’s expression was stony. Erin was quiet and pensive. Only Jude seemed his normal self.
Then Isa actually looked at what her son was doing: swooping his toast down into his egg and smashing it to pieces. His behavior appeared to be a re-enactment of Erin’s rescue attempt at the invasion drill.
Perhaps he’s suffering from the aftereffects of last night too.
Isa sighed and turned her gaze from her family to the view from the terrace. It was a far nicer sight. The rising sun was sending streaks of gleaming light across the Sea of Marmara. The breeze that blew her hair away from her face was gentle and balmy. She couldn’t wish for a better place to be or better people to be with, but somehow everything had gone wrong, and she didn’t know how to put it right.
Ever since their altercation the night before, Erin and Martin hadn’t spoken to each other in the way they usually would. They weren’t exactly refusing to speak, but they were being frighteningly civil. Isa had never seen either of them so polite. She hated it. Should they talk about what had happened? Isa guessed that opening up the subject of the invasion drill would be like dropping a gram of antimatter on the table. The best she could hope for was that no one would mention the event that had ruined her opening party ever again. But she doubted that would be enough to mend the rift between her husband and wife.
“Are you going in to work today, Martin?” Erin asked.
“Yes, I thought I would, if that’s all right with you guys. Still lots to do.”
“Fine by me,” Erin said.
“Me too,” said Isa. “I think I’ll go over to the gallery. I need to contact the assessors and make a claim for damages.”
Martin’s jaw muscle twitched.
Erin studied her cereal closely.
“We’re beginning the visitor facilities construction phase at the park,” said Martin, “so I’d like to spend some time there today.”
“What facilities will you have?” Erin asked.
“Hotels, education centers, banqueting halls, observation decks, and so on. Just the usual. Lindsey planned it all out months ago with a couple of architects who have experience in designing underwater environments.”
“Just the usual?” asked Isa. “That’s quite a list. It sounds like the construction of all that will take longer than it has to seed the park with creatures.”
“No, it’s only going to take a few days,” Martin replied. “Lindsey got permission to use picotech. She’s waiting on the delivery of the modules.”
“It’s going to take a few days to use picotech?” asked Erin. “That stuff works in seconds.”
“Yes, it’s going to take longer in the park,” Martin replied. He looked as though he was about to say more, but instead, he took a bite of toast and chewed it grimly.
“I’ve used picotech in construction before,” Erin said when it was clear that no one else was going to fill the silence. “Someone tried to steal it. That was how I got to know Usef; he led the detail that caught the thief.”
“Is that so?” Isa said. “You never told us about that. What happened?”
“I was working with a young engineer, Sasha. We were….” Erin glanced at Martin, who continued to look away from the group. She sighed. “It doesn’t matter. I’ll tell you another time.”
“I thought I would take Jude in with me today,” Martin said.
“Take Jude with you?” Isa asked. “How? You said it’s a half-hour swim to the labs.”
“I had something made for him,” Martin said, his expression softening a smidgen.
Isa also relaxed a little and hoped it was a sign that he was beginning to get over his anger about the drill and Erin’s response.
“I didn’t want to bring it out last night because that was supposed to be about you and your gallery. I’ll go and get it now.” He stood up and walked into the house.
“What do you think it is?” Isa asked Erin.
“Maybe a little wetsuit? I don’t know.” Though her tone was normal, unhappiness creased Erin’s features.
“Here it is,” Martin said as he returned to the terrace. Balanced between his arms was a child-sized submersible. “Jude’s very first vehicle.”
“That has to be the most adorable thing I’ve ever seen,” said Isa.
“He doesn’t have to operate it,” Martin explained. “Eamon can drive it and make sure he isn’t ever in any danger. And when I’m at the labs, he can come out with me in one of the submersibles they have there.”
“He’s going to love it,” Isa said. “Look what Daddy brought you,” she said to Jude.
“That for me? I want in it!” The little boy abandoned his toast-smashing activities and wriggled in his seat, trying to get down and reach his gift.
“That is cute,” said Erin, “but are you sure it’s safe? I know Jude’s a great swimmer, but you’ll be underwater all the way to the labs.”
“Of course I’m sure it’s safe,” Martin snapped. “Do you really think I would put our son’s life in danger?”
“No, I don’t,” Erin replied. “I’m only saying I think he’s a bit young to be alone in something like that. What if it leaks, and the Link goes down at exactly the wrong moment? Eamon would never know—”
“Do you think I won’t be watching him? What the hell, Erin? You’re the last person who should be telling me I don’t care about my son’s safety.”
“I didn’t say that you won’t be watching him,” Erin said hotly. Then she added, “What do you mean I’m the last person who can say you don’t care about Jude’s safety? What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means you weren’t so concerned about him last night, but you think it’s OK to criticize me.”
“Not concerned about Jude? Of course I was, I leapt off a balcony and took out a soldier to get to him. I hated to see him so frightened.”
“He wasn’t frightened, he was terrified.”
“But he didn’t come to any harm in the end, and he’s OK now.”
“You don’t know that. You don’t know him like we do; after he was born, you were hardly around. Maybe you just don’t care about him as much as Isa and I do.”
Isa sucked in a breath.
Erin looked like she’d been slapped.
Martin paused. He looked down at Jude, who was trying to open the little submersible, apparently oblivious to the angry words passing over his head.
Erin gazed at Martin steadily as if giving him the chance to retract his statement. He wouldn’t look at her.
She carefully put down the spoon she’d been idly holding and rose to her feet. She walked past Martin, and disappeared into the house.
“Martin,” Isa said as soon as she was sure Erin was out of earshot. “How could you tell Erin she doesn’t care about Jude like we do? That was a terrible thing to say.”
“Maybe it was, but maybe I’m right too. You saw how she behaved last night…. Your evening was ruined, Jude was a screaming mess, and she didn’t care. She sided with Tanis, the person who orchestrated the whole thing, and who could have stopped it if she’d wanted to. Only she didn’t. She allowed it all to go ahead, knowing full well that the drill would spoil everything you worked for, and that there was a young child present.”
“She said she didn’t know it was happening then,” Isa countered, but Martin cut her off with a wave of his hand.
“All it would have taken was a note to the commander not to attack your gallery because there were children present. Do you think our governor would have let the drill go ahead if her own kids had been there? I bet she wouldn’t.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure of that,” said Isa. “Maybe she would. Tanis has the whole system to think of, don’t forget. We’re all depending on her. Millions of us. And it wasn’t only my gallery that was attacked—there were lots more places throughout Heliopolis. I saw it on the feeds last night.”
Martin said, “You’re too nice for your own good, Isa. Just because you got friendly with Tanis while we were in Landfall doesn’t mean you have to defend her.”
Isa’s eyes narrowed, but she forced the frustration from her voice. “I’m not as nice as you think. I’m only trying to see it from her perspective. Martin, please go and talk to Erin. You really hurt her feelings—what you said was flat out rude. I already have the aftermath of the drill to deal with at work. I don’t want to have to deal with it at home too.”
Martin’s expression softened ever so slightly. “All right, I will. I don’t think I should have to, but since you’re asking me, I’ll try.”
Isa watched him as he also disappeared into the house. She hoped that his apology would sound sincere and that Erin would forgive him.
When Martin was out of sight, she told the servitor to gather the breakfast dishes. Most of the food remained uneaten.
For a few moments, there was silence on the terrace except for the sound of dishes being stacked and the scrape of the submersible on the stone floor. Jude had given up on trying to get inside it and was just pushing it around.
The calm was suddenly disturbed by the sound of raised voices, coming from the direction of the master bedroom, the window of which overlooked the terrace.
Isa winced. It didn’t sound like Martin’s apology had been effective. Though she could hear Martin and Erin’ shouts, she couldn’t make out the words.
She put her hands in her lap and gazed out to sea once more as she listened unwillingly to the fight going on above her.
“What’s wrong, Mommy Isa?” Jude asked.
He left his submersible where he’d pushed it against the railings and skipped to her side. He rested his head on her lap and looked up at her with wide eyes.
“Nothing. I’m OK, sweetheart.”
Jude didn’t seem to believe her. He climbed into her lap, hugged her, and lay his head on her chest.
Isa wiped her eyes.
The two of them sat like that without talking, Jude lending his silent support, or perhaps seeking comfort, until finally the yelling stopped. Not long afterward, Erin came down to the terrace.
“I’m going to work,” she said and leaned down to kiss the top of Jude’s head. “Bye bye, sweetie.”
Isa caught Erin’s hand in her own. “Did Martin apologize for what he said?”
“He did,” she replied, “but it was obvious that he didn’t mean it.”
“I’m sorry. You know I don’t agree with him, right? I know you love Jude just as much as we do.”
“I know, but it’s good to hear you say it.” Erin kissed Isa goodbye and then left.
Isa hugged Jude tightly. For a short while, she’d seen a glimmer of hope that what had been broken last night would be fixed. Now she didn’t know if that would ever happen.
STELLAR DATE: 05.12.8941 (Adjusted Years)
LOCATION: Elevator terminal, Heliopolis, Ithaca
REGION: Troy, New Canaan System
Erin was still fuming over Martin’s comment as she strode through the elevator terminal. She knew why he had made his crass, unfair statement; he was overprotective of Jude and it was making him lose perspective about what happened at Isa’s party. Erin suspected that, deep down, he didn’t really believe his words. She didn’t think he could be that blind or misguided about how she felt about their son.
Yet that didn’t change what he’d said, or the fact that he’d used his love for Jude as a weapon against her. It was a horrible, low blow. When he’d made his half-hearted apology, he hadn’t even been able to look her in the eyes.
<Dammit, Walter, how could Martin say that? How could he?> she demanded as she reached the car and settled into a seat. <He knows I couldn’t help being away all those months while Jude was a baby. When we all agreed to have a child, I made it clear that I wouldn’t be able to be around much. But he still thinks it’s OK to turn around and say I don’t care about our son? Unbelievable.>
<I agree. It was a thoughtless, hurtful comment,> said Walter. <It’s understandable that you’re upset. And you had prepared so carefully to make the evening go well. It’s hardly surprising that the violent disruption has disturbed you all.>
<I don’t know about that,> Erin said as the car began to climb the strand. <The idea of the drill didn’t bother me. I didn’t like the fact that it upset Jude, but Tanis has to prepare us for when we’re invaded. If it wasn’t Isa’s opening event being disrupted, it could have been an event that was just as important to someone else. It wouldn’t be fair for Tanis to create safe zones so that her friends aren’t affected.>
<That’s true, but I think the governor may find she’s lost two of her friends after last night.>
<Well,> Erin said. <I’d be surprised if Martin ever speaks to her again, let alone leave Jude in her care. But I don’t know about Isa. She was distressed about what happened, but I’m not sure if she’s angry with Tanis too, or if she accepts that these things are necessary.>
<Perhaps a bit of both.>
<Right. It would be hard not to be mad at someone who ruined something so special to you. But I think Isa will come around. I know she really likes Tanis, or she did anyway. And her gallery is amazing. I think she’ll do great business despite the hiccup at the opening, or maybe even because of it.>
<I certainly agree with you on that. I took part in one of her installations too. A delightful experience.>
<Which one was it?>
<The Black Sea Adventure.>
<Cool,> Erin said. <The Scamander was awesome. I think I would have felt fantastic afterward, if I hadn’t been so rudely interrupted by Marines stomping into my dream.>
<I’m sure they would have rather been participating in one of Isa’s installations than frightening young children.>
<You’re absolutely right,> Erin said.
Walter’s comment started her fuming again. Martin didn’t see the invasion drill the right way. All he was seeing was that a bunch of soldiers had terrified Jude, and that the woman who’d arranged it didn’t seem to care about his son. But it was because Tanis cared about Jude and all the other kids in New Canaan, and all the adults, too, that she had done what she did.
Stars, Erin thought, he should be thanking Tanis for the drill.
But it wasn’t the drill or Martin’s inability to see the wider picture that was the problem. It was his hurtful statement that had gotten to her, worse than anything anyone had said to her in a long time.
She knew from the first time she’d met him that Martin could be difficult and stubborn, but she had never imagined he could hurt her so badly. She wondered if he would ever truly retract what he’d said, and if he did, if she would be able to forgive him.
* * * * *
Erin’s foul mood hadn’t dissipated by the time she reached Messene Station. If anything, she felt angrier and more crushed. Fighting off Transcend invaders was nothing compared to navigating the pitfalls of relationships. She wondered if she’d stumbled on the reason it had taken her so long to venture into the world of romantic partnerships again.
Her feelings clearly showed on her face. As she entered the control center, MacCarthy took one look at her and immediately glanced at Linch, who switched his gaze to his console. They were clearly talking over the Link. Probably something along the lines of, ‘Watch out. The boss got out of the wrong side of the bed today.’
She slumped into her seat. “OK, guys. We’re finishing off the maglev mainline today, right? Shouldn’t be too hard. Did someone check that the last of the sections were delivered last night?”
“Double checked. It all came in on the latest shipment,” Linch replied. “We’re set to begin.”
“Let’s do it, then,” said Erin.
Laying a maglev track wasn’t complicated, but it would take time to install all the sections across the entire length of the station. Like most of the construction work, it was carried out by remote drones. The station’s AI hadn’t yet been appointed, so Walter coordinated the machines. Erin would also monitor their progress via the feedback they sent and feeds she pulled from several checkpoints across the construction site.
The task was so straightforward that it was too simple for her right then. She wished she had something more complicated that required deep concentration and would distract her from her thoughts.
As she monitored the track laying through the central concourse, the image of Martin’s face as they’d yelled at each other in the bedroom that morning kept flashing into her mind. She entertained a vision based on the events of the previous evening, in which it was Martin she’d jumped on and knocked to the floor. That would have shut him up.
Then she felt bad about her wish-fulfilment daydream. She loved Martin. If only he wasn’t being such an asshole.
She suddenly stood up. Her movement was so quick and unexpected, MacCarthy and Linch jumped a little in their seats.
“I’m going to take a skiff out and tour the station,” she said. “It’s about time to give it a good visual inspection.”
“OK,” MacCarthy said. “We’ll keep an eye on the track laying while you’re gone.”
“There’s no need for that,” she told him. “I can fly a skiff and monitor the installation progress at the same time, you know.”
Another look passed between MacCarthy and Linch. Erin decided that leaving the control center for a while was definitely a good idea. Her discomposure was clearly showing.
She walked out of the room and turned down the corridor that led to the newly built administrative shuttle bay. The vast space was nearly empty. Most of the ships wouldn’t be delivered until the management crew was assigned in a few months, but the construction teams had the use of a few shuttles and skiffs for carrying out inspections or transporting engineers across the site to fix anything that required human attention.
Erin took the nearest vessel, flew it out of the bay and over the station’s half-finished structure. Almost immediately, her tension slipped away; the image of Martin’s angry face finally fading from her thoughts.
There was something calming about the near-emptiness of space. Things out in the black were simpler. The shell of the pinnace was all that lay between her and death. Out in space, you did what you had to in order to survive. You defeated the bad guys and moved on.
Erin sighed. This colonization stuff is hard. Counting my time at the Kap, I’ve spent the majority of my life doing it, too.
When she reached the eastern end of the station, she turned the skiff so that its roof faced the construction site. Ithaca and Syracuse were below her. Due to centripetal force, the side of the station facing the planet was ‘up’. That’s where most of the current construction was taking place. Viewing the work that had been completed so far and observing the automated machinery and drones busily working lifted her spirits.
She flew over a long section a few dozen kilometers from the eastern end of the station, which was covered in a ten-kilometer dome that Linch had grown from pure carbon. Beneath was a vast learning campus with parks and buildings that Erin was tailoring to house an engineering academy and science center. She felt that Troy’s next generation of engineers would be deprived of vital experience if they didn’t have the opportunity to work in an off-planet environment. Though whether the Trojans would use her space as she intended, she didn’t know—especially with their recent isolationist bent.
If the current trends continued, the planet’s future was murky. Erin had concluded from her conversation with Tanis that she, Isa, and Martin might have a difficult decision to make in the near future. Should they remain on a seceded planet, or go live on one that remained within the New Canaan government’s control?
Her tension mounted again. Her reflections had led her back around to the subject she’d been trying to avoid.
<Erin,> Walter said, his tone carrying some urgency, but not enough to jar Erin from her thoughts.
Damn Martin and his heartless…I do love Jude just as much as he and Isa do.
<Erin, where are you going? Stop!>
The pinnace veered sharply to the right, throwing Erin to the side as the a-grav system strained to compensate. Her eyes snapped to the forward view, and she saw a large grey object slide by only centimeters from the front of the ship as collision alarms blared.
<Shit! What did I do?>
<You nearly flew into a—>
<Piece of Maglev track.> Belatedly, Erin realized what she was looking at.
<I tried to warn you,> said Walter, sounding peeved. <You were flying erratically. I tried to move it out of your way, but then you banked and almost flew right into it. I had to seize control of the skiff.>
<Boss, you OK out there? We just got a near collision alert…the drones had to move a section of track into a new holding position.>
Erin groaned. <Those guys are never going to let me live this down,> she said to Walter before replying to the team in the control center. <Yeah, we’re good, just…well, I was a bit distracted. Walter saved the day.>
<Skiff OK?> McCarthy came on the line. <Do you need a drone to tow you in?>
<Haha,> said Erin. <Very funny. I’m OK, but Walter’s not letting me have the controls back.>
She cursed Martin insensitivity one last time as Walter steered the skiff back to the bay..
STELLAR DATE: 05.12.8941 (Adjusted Years)
LOCATION: Heliopolis, Ithaca
REGION: Troy, New Canaan System
Isa flew her aircar high over Heliopolis, skirting the city’s edge. The route wasn’t the most direct from her home on the coast, but she was taking it because she was considering adding the cityscape to her gallery’s installations.
She also admitted to herself that she’d decided to take the indirect course because she was delaying her return to her gallery. She didn’t feel like seeing the destruction the drill had wrought in the full light of day. She’d left the place quickly the previous evening, too tired and dismayed to properly assess the damage after the drill was over. Then Martin and Erin’s argument that morning had put the seal on her unhappiness. Going in to work in order to begin the cleanup was the logical thing to do, yet it was hard to face it all.
Isa’s gaze drifted over the sea of white buildings, which glared almost painfully bright in the morning sunlight. She recorded what she saw as she flew, though half-heartedly.
Up until then, all her art creations had been entirely natural landscapes. She was uncertain whether a cityscape would work, though cities had their beauty too, especially the ones in New Canaan. All the system’s metropolises had been planned for aesthetic as well as utilitarian purposes.
Some, like Heliopolis, had been heavily inspired by cities of ancient Earth. From what Isa understood, there had been places on humanity’s home planet that had developed an intrinsic charm and grace over hundreds of years of building and rebuilding. Other cities in New Canaan were based upon the principles of pleasing design, like the Golden Ratio, and optimum functionality.
Isa frowned as thoughts of Erin and Martin’s fight pushed back into the forefront of her mind. Try as she might, she couldn’t achieve the mental state she needed to do her work. She decided there was no point in flying around aimlessly all morning, vexed by her troubles. She couldn’t fix the antagonism between Erin and Martin; that was their problem. But she could do something about another important area of her life: her business.
She set the aircar on a direct course for the gallery.
As the vehicle set down, the first damage that would require fixing was easy to see. Erin had made a hasty repair to the entrance hatch so that no one would be able to open it, but the jamb and door were bent and fractured. Isa wondered what the Marines had used to bust the thing open. The loud bang that had reverberated through the galley before they stormed the place still remained vivid in her mind.
Isa unlocked the hatch and climbed down to the upper mezzanine. She checked around, but the damage seemed minimal on that floor. Aside from Erin, no one else had been there when the Marines attacked. The troops had passed through, focusing their attention on the first floor, where most of the partygoers had gathered.
The corner of Isa’s lip lifted in a wry grin as she remembered Erin’s plunge from the stairway. Joe’s description of her as an avenging angel had been spot on. Isa had had the surprise of her life when the soldier who had been guarding her and Martin had been felled by a human bomb falling from above. Clearly, the Marines who had passed through the upper mezzanine had figured that one small woman in a dress couldn’t do much harm, but Erin had proven them wrong.
Isa crossed to the lower mezzanine. The damage caused by the troops here was greater. They had scraped a few of the 2D images, and one screen was cracked. Yet even so, the repairs required were minimal. The images were easy to replace, and a new screen would only take a few minutes to install. Having completed her assessment, Isa walked to the elevator and rode it down to the first floor.
<Ms. Chen?> It was Singh. <Are you going to your gallery today? I need to check the damage caused by the drill last night.>
<I’m here right now if you want to come over,> Isa said. <I was assessing the damages myself.>
<You are? There’s no need for you to do that. As the owner of the building, it’s my responsibility to make the claim for damages. I’m only five minutes away. I’ll be there soon.>
<As far as I can tell, there isn’t anything structural apart from the roof hatch. It’s my work that’s been damaged. Though I admit I haven’t looked thoroughly yet.>
<We can talk about it when I arrive,> said Singh. <I have to see for myself if the building requires repairs.>
On the first floor, the caterers’ automatons had cleared up all the debris from the party, but the wreckage from the mock invasion remained. Some seating had been broken, another of Isa’s screens was cracked, and one of her art displays had been fully smashed.
The piece had been made of wildflowers that she and Jude had picked along the shores of the Black Sea. The preservation technique had retained all their natural color and turgidity so the flowers had looked real, but they hadn’t been rendered robustly enough to withstand the tramping of Marines’ boots.
Isa gazed at the remains. It wasn’t the fact that the art piece had been destroyed that upset her—it was that the work represented her memories of spending time with her son.
Nevermind, Isa told herself, there will be more happy times and more good memories.
Singh shortly announced his arrival, and Isa let him in. After greeting her, he stepped through the doorway, put his hands in his pockets, and strolled along the edge of the room, studying carefully everything he saw. When he reached Isa’s smashed artwork, he paused and tutted.
“What a shame. You’re right. You’re the one who should claim for compensation for your own possessions How much do you think you’ll ask for this?”
“I honestly don’t know,” Isa replied. “It’s hard to estimate the value of any of my pieces. They were never for sale. They only existed to introduce the customers to the moods and concepts of the installations. I don’t think I would part with any of my work no matter what price was offered—I’ve invested too much in them in other ways.”
“You should try to get as much as you can,” Singh said. “I’ve heard the compensation fund is large and the administrators are generous. Personally, I’m hoping to profit considerably from the invasion drill. This isn’t the only property of mine that was targeted. Another place—a meeting hall—was attacked too. I just came from there. The damage was considerable.” He gave her a wink.
“I wouldn’t be comfortable with applying for more compensation than is fair.”
“Do you think everyone else isn’t going to exaggerate their claims?” asked Singh. “I’m sorry, but that’s naive. It’s standard practice to claim more than you’ll pay in repairs and replacements. That way, when the administrators reduce your payment, you end up with the amount you really deserve. Besides, Troy will secede soon. After that happens, we won’t be able to benefit from the system’s funds, so we might as well grab as much as we can now.”
Isa was aghast at her landlord’s mercenary attitude. Her expression must have shown her feelings, for he turned quickly away from her and resumed his journey around the room, as if he felt a little ashamed. But Isa was also curious about Singh’s other statement.
“Do you really think that Troy will secede soon?” she asked.
His comment didn’t seem to make much sense. A parliamentary election had taken place only a few months prior, and the party that had run on a secession agenda had lost. Despite the noisy rallies, Isa had impression that most Trojans were not behind the idea.
“Yes,” said Singh. “I do. I can’t elaborate on how I know, but, between you and me, it would be wise for you and your family to be prepared.”
“Prepared? In what way? Are you saying we should leave?”
Isa couldn’t imagine herself, Martin, or Erin uprooting again after such a short time on Troy.
Singh had progressed to the opposite side of the space. His slight form was dwarfed by the wall that stretched all the way up to the narrow, rectangular windows of the third story. He faced Isa and spoke across the length of the room.
“I’m not advising you one way or the other. But the time to decide whether you’re a Trojan or a New Canaanite is coming soon. Whatever you think that decision might be, you and your family should act in accordance with your long-term interests. If you don’t believe in Troy’s independence, living here will quickly become uncomfortable.”
Singh resumed his inspection, leaving Isa in silence while she chewed on his words.
A few moments later, he said, “Ah, now look at this scrape.” He indicated an area of the wall. Isa couldn’t see any damage from the distance she was at, so the mark was either faint or non-existent.
“Disgraceful,” Singh continued. “This may require this section of wall to be replaced.”
* * * * *
Sickened by her landlord’s attitude and worried about what the future held for her family, Isa hurried Singh through his inspection and left her gallery not long after he had finally departed. Surveying the aftereffects of the drill had depressed her. She needed a change of scenery and some exercise.
Isa had spent so much time working on her enterprise since arriving in Troy that she hadn’t spent any time in the capital’s streets. She felt like they would be a good place to just hang out and do nothing, which was exactly what she needed. She was also wondering if Singh been bullshitting her with his ominous warnings.
Is Heliopolis on the verge of some kind of uprising? Or did I misunderstand what Singh meant, and something even more sinister is going on?
She didn’t know the man very well. It was possible he was only being a dramatic scaremonger. On the other hand, she’d about several demonstrations, and one had taken place directly outside her gallery. If what Singh was implying was true, he was right in that she, Erin, and Martin had a hard decision to make, and soon.
Isa walked along the sidewalk outside her gallery, unsure where she should go. Heliopolis was full of interesting narrow alleyways and tiny shops, as well as wide plazas decorated with frescos under awnings that were unusually colorful compared to the generically white buildings.
In the end, it was the pinnacle on the skyline that captured her attention. The spike was visible from all parts of the city. Isa knew that the structure rose from Troy’s Government House, but she had never been there.
Using the point as a guide, she headed in its direction. On her way, Isa passed all the usual places she expected to see in any capital in New Canaan: bars and cafes, sim centers, sports facilities, body modding clinics, parks and gardens, speciality food vendors, and autocab stations. People seemed to be going about their business normally; she didn’t detect a mood of discontent or restlessness. Life went on as usual. But then what did unrest in a population look like to the casual observer?
When she reached the avenue that led toward Troy’s parliament, she paused for a moment to take in the building’s majestic appearance. The sight caused her to forget her troubles for a short time and return to her earlier speculation on whether she should create a cityscape installation. She could do a lot with such a magnificent structure.
Isa snapped herself out of her reflection. She might not be running a gallery on Troy at all in the near future.
She continued to walk down the long avenue, the afternoon sun beating down on her bare head. As soon as she’d taken a quick look around the government buildings, she would return to the gallery and make her modest and honest claim for damages. Then she would fly home. Perhaps Martin and Jude were already there.
The thought of Martin reminded her once again of the fight he’d had with Erin that morning. Isa had always been aware how easy it would be for her two strong-willed, opinionated spouses to fall out with each other, and it had finally happened. Suddenly, the prospect of returning home didn’t seem so inviting.
By the time Isa reached the imposing mirrored spiral of Troy’s parliament, she was gloomy again. On both a public and personal level, everything around her seemed to be falling apart. Why was everyone so determined to be discontent?
Isa wandered under the overhanging upper stories of Government House, where it was shady and cool. She halted and looked upward. The rows of floors, each larger than the one below, rose away into the sky. At the structure’s base stood the transparent walls of its first floor. Isa looked inside at the lobby where visitors, tourists, workers, and maybe some politicians mingled.
What caught her attention, and caused her to wonder about the planet’s future even further, was the presence of so many guards.
STELLAR DATE: 05.18.8941 (Adjusted Years)
LOCATION: Marine Park, Ithaca
REGION: Troy, New Canaan System
The octopuses were misbehaving and—for some reason that Martin hadn’t figured out—dealing with them had become his responsibility. He didn’t relish the task, but it meant he would be out of the labs for a while and the opportunity appealed to him. Ever since the invasion drill a week ago, he’d been out of sorts. He was angry with Erin, angry with himself, angry with everything, and having to work with Lindsey and the others at the lab every day didn’t help.
As he piloted the single-seater submersible in the direction of the octopuses’ area, Martin recalled the garden they’d created. It was a nice spot that visitors to the park would love, and he decided he should be careful not to antagonize the creatures. Uplifted octopuses might be total pains in the ass a lot of the time, but they also had plenty to offer. With the opening of the marine park only a few weeks away, it would a shame to lose them.
Lindsey had already laid down the law with the creatures. They weren’t in the marine park under duress. They could leave whenever they wanted, but if they wanted to stay, they had to behave.
Martin suspected that the real reason the octopuses fooled around so much was because they thrived on the mayhem they caused, and they loved the attention they received whenever someone turned up to scold them.
When he had crossed about three-quarters of the Sea of Marmara, he began to see the complex, beautiful pattern of marine plants, colorful rocks and shells, and sculpted sand of the octopuses’ garden. It was surprising how similar the place was to a human garden. Had the creatures been copying designs they’d searched for on the Link? Or were their aesthetic preferences another example of convergent evolution, like octopus and vertebrate eyes?
Either way, the octopuses designing their spot to be exactly how they liked it was a feature, not a bug. It was their habit of leaping out on unsuspecting visitors, ‘cuddling’ them, and then squirting ink everywhere before zooming away that was the problem.
So far, only Pietr and Lindsey had fallen victim to the prank. Martin had to make the creatures understand that while the park technicians might find their antics amusing, regular tourists would not. He had to make them promise to lay off. He doubted he would get through to the creatures, but Lindsey had asked him to try.
Martin guided the submersible over the garden, heading toward the kelp forest. Peering over the side of his vessel and all around, he couldn’t see a single octopus. Nothing but plant life was moving, wafting in the wash of the water so close to the shore. The octopuses’ prey animals like crabs and molluscs were conspicuously and predictably absent too. Like last time he’d been there, the place appeared to be deserted. But there was no doubt they were there somewhere.
Octopuses were masters of disguise. Without specialized equipment, Martin couldn’t distinguish them from the seaweed, rocks, sand, and pebbles, even with his modded eyes. Somewhere, they were hiding, watching, and waiting.
A huge piece of the sea floor shifted and detached. Turning brown-grey and eight-limbed, it flew toward Martin. Instinctively, he tried to escape, but he didn’t stand a chance. In another moment, the octopus had wrapped itself around his submersible. All he could see was the pink-fleshed underside of octopus arms, thick with wide suckers. The creature was very large, around six meters from tip to tip.
Probably Enteroctopus dofleini, Martin guessed.
<You got me,> he said. <Good job.>
<Hehehe. That was a neat trick, wasn’t it?>
<You didn’t see me, did you? I was hiding really well.>
<That’s right. I have to admit, I had no idea you were there.>
The octopus’s arms shifted, sending the suckers sliding over the submersible’s shell. The creature was extremely strong. Though the submersible’s engine was still running, the vessel wasn’t making any progress.
Martin turned it off. It looked like he wouldn’t be going anywhere for a while. At least he would have a good story to tell at dinner that night. Then he remembered the state of things at home.
<My name’s Xavier,> the octopus said.
It was a surprisingly human name. The few uplifted octopuses Martin had encountered had given themselves names that were unpronounceable.
<Hi Xavier. I’m Martin.>
He was determined not to ask the creature to release him. That would be playing right into its hands, or suckers. If Martin knew the character of octopuses, Xavier probably loved to tease his captives. The more boring Martin was, the quicker the octopus would decide he wasn’t any fun and would release him. Then Martin would give Xavier a stern talking to.
The silent impasse stretched out until Xavier was finally the one who cracked.
<Do you want me to let you go?>
<No. I want to spend the rest of my life with you wrapped around me.>
<You do?> Xavier sounded confused. <Oh, I get it. That’s sarcasm, right? What you mean is you do want me to let you go. Am I right?>
<Yes. Well done, Xavier. You’re one smart cephalopod.>
The creature seemed to think highly of itself. Martin figured a little flattery wouldn’t go amiss.
<Good. I am smart. I want to try some of that sarcasm too.>
Darn it, Martin thought. The conversation wasn’t going how he’d intended.
<Err….> Xavier continued. <In that case, I’m never letting you go.> His arms shifted again.
Martin caught a glimpse of the seabed, but then the gap was filled by a large octopus eye. The rounded rectangular pupil focused on him.
<Did I do it right?> Xavier asked.
<Sarcasm? Um, I guess so.>
<Sweet. I’m a smart cephalopod. I can be sarcastic.> He paused. <So, do I let you go now or not?>
<If you have to ask me…> Martin reconsidered what he was about to say. <Uh, if you were being sarcastic, what that means is now you have to let me go.>
The thick arms writhed off of the transparent surface of the submersible, and Martin regained control of the vessel.
Xavier was bobbing on the seabed, his large tentacles outstretched and his mantle flopping lazily to one side. His buddies also revealed themselves, altering their coloration so they no longer looked like pebbles or shells or any other part of the ocean floor. Martin had rarely seen so many all at once. Most of the species in the order Octopoda were solitary. He guessed that it must have been quite an effort for them to come together to create the garden. Perhaps it was their unusual proximity to each other that was sparking their aberrant behavior. Or maybe they were like intelligent kids with too much time on their hands.
<Thanks, Xavier> Martin said, <I appreciate it.>
<You’re welcome,> the octopus replied. <Or was that sarcasm too?>
<No, definitely not. It’s great to meet you all. Is everyone here? Because I’ve come to talk to you about something.>
<Most of us are here,> replied Xavier. <Except for Ainslee. She just laid about seventy thousand eggs, so she’s kinda busy.>
A vision of seventy thousand more octopuses roaming the marine safari park, pouncing on visitors, holding them hostage, demanding to be taught how to be sarcastic, sprang into Martin’s mind.
He pushed the images away. Most of the larvae would be eaten. He hoped most of the larvae would be eaten. He returned his attention to the job at hand.
<You’ve done a great job here, guys, really great. This is one of the best places in the park.>
The octopuses’ coloring began to darken, and one or two reared up, stretching out their legs like tent poles.
Whoops. These creatures are so sensitive. He added quickly, <Did I say one of the best places? What I meant to say was the best place in the park.>
The octopuses relaxed, and their coloring paled to their normal hues.
<It really is the best place, isn’t it?> said Xavier. <We did a great job.>
<Yeah, yeah,> the others echoed.
<We did a great job.>
<Great job. Really nice.>
<Best place in the park. But my part is the best out of all of them.
<No, mine’s better.>
<Huh? What are you talking about? My bridge beats your sand sculpture.>
<No way. Anyone can build a bridge. Creating a sand sculpture takes real skill.>
<Guys, guys,> Martin said, <it’s all great. But what I’ve come to tell you is that we’re opening soon, and when the visitors come, they’re going to want to see you, not only your beautiful garden, OK? So don’t be shy. Show yourselves. Talk to people. Maybe play gently with the kids. Pranks, like the one Xavier just pulled on me, are funny, but the visitors won’t like them.>
<You mean humans don’t understand our sense of humor?> asked Xavier.
<Exactly,> Martin replied. <You guys are so smart, sometimes what you think is funny goes right over our heads.>
<Yeah,> the other octopuses chorused, <we’re too smart.>
<So no more of those clever jokes, please,> Martin said. <Show the visitors your beautiful work instead.>
<Awww,> said Xavier, <but pouncing is fun.>
<I tell you what,> Martin said, <if you agree to lay off the pouncing for a while, maybe we can have a special day for pouncing sometime? How does that sound?>
<A special day?> said Xavier. <That sounds like fun.>
<Great. I’ll let you know when it is. I’m going back to the labs now. You guys take it easy. And maybe take some time off from each other if you’re feeling antsy. Go to other places in the park. Spread yourselves out.>
<OK,> Xavier said. <Bye, Martin. Thanks for the sarcasm.>
Martin heard Eamon’s chuckle as he turned the submersible around and left the garden. He didn’t know if the octopuses would hold to their promise, but he’d done his best.
* * * * *
On his way back to the labs, he took a quick tour of the site. Most of the attractions were nearing completion. The massive dome that housed the deep-sea creatures was finished and only awaiting pressurization, then he and Lindsey would deliver the organisms they’d nurtured at the lab.
At the ocean shelf, Martin finally caught a glimpse of a plesiosaur. The young creature was already terrifyingly large; it would give the visitors a real buzz. He continued on to the gigantic whirlpool. It was fully operational. Margot and Pietr had ridden it several times and begged to have two or three more turns each, even though it had been clear it was working fine.
Martin left the sea mammals area out of his tour, knowing that he would be tempted to spend far too much time with the engaging animals.
He was passing near the sinkhole, which had been transformed into the formal entrance to the underwater cave system. He guided his submersible into the dark depths. His approach triggered concealed lighting to turn on, illuminating the jagged gap in the wall that led into the caves. He’d been too busy up until then to check inside and see the work Pietr had managed to find time for.
The technician’s background in underwater cave diving had made him the ideal person to grow and furnish the caves with suitable species. Martin saw albino shrimp and other crustaceans, as well as blind fish and eyeless eels. In one spot, transparent crabs swarmed over some unidentifiable remains.
The caves were definitely the place for visitors with a taste for the morbid and macabre. The place wasn’t his cup of tea, but at least its existence meant that the safari park really had something to offer everyone.
Lindsey broke into Martin’s thoughts. <How did your visit to the octopus garden go?>
<Quite well, I think. They agreed to not pull any pouncing pranks on visitors.>
<That’s exactly what they told me when I spoke to them.>
<I thought so. But they seemed genuine.>
<Yeah, they seemed genuine to me as well. Nevermind. If they don’t behave, and we kick them out of the park, they won’t be able to say we didn’t give them a fair warning.>
<If we want to kick them out of the park, we’ll have to find them first.>
Martin had left the cave and was piloting the submersible up through the sinkhole.
<Yeah,> Lindsey agreed. <We’ll have to use thermal imaging. Are you on your way back? There’s something happening you might like to see.>
<I’m about ten minutes out.>
<We’ll wait for you in that case.>
<What is it?>
<I was going to surprise you, but I guess it isn’t that interesting. We’re starting the first phase of the infrastructure construction.>
<You’re going to be using the picotech?>
<Yeah, though I’m having second thoughts about it already. The security around the place is phenomenal. There are guards everywhere. All for one small module.>
<No kidding. Erin said something about an attempt to steal the stuff when she used it. Oh.>
A memory flashed into Martin’s mind. When he’d first met Erin, she’d been constructing the SATC near his old beach house. Then one day, he’d woken up to find that the construction site was a mess and Erin was gone. That must have been what she’d been about to tell them at breakfast the morning after the invasion drill.
< ‘Oh’ what?> Lindsey asked.
<It’s OK. It’s nothing.>
It was something, but he didn’t want to talk about Erin with Lindsey. The lingering memory of that painful argument was enough.
<We need to sort out a few things at the site first,> said Lindsey, <but then from what I understand, we only have to start the module. It’s pre-programmed.>
<Doesn’t sound hard,> said Martin. <It’s controlled, right? I’d hate to have to go and speak to the octopuses again if we accidentally destroyed their garden.>
<Totally controlled,> said Lindsey. <See you in a few minutes.>
* * * * *
Lindsey, Margot, and Pietr had taken the Torpedo out to the place where the picotech would first be deployed. Martin joined them in his single-seater.
The tech would create a hotel, Lindsey explained. The picotech would even create the air to fill it and all the lines and connections to serve the facility with everything it required.
<It turns out it’s going take longer than we thought to deploy,> Lindsey continued. <I hadn’t taken into account the fact that the tech converts whatever it encounters into the programmed structure. Normally, on the surface, that’s not a big deal—just dirt and some worms. But down here, the ‘air’ is full of the animals we just spent months seeding.>
<Shit,> said Martin.
<That’s exactly what I said. Not a lot of point in filling this place with organisms just so they can be converted at an atomic level into the materials to create a hotel. So what Earnest has done is limit the process to inorganic particles. This pico will only work on water, rock, sand, and so on. But because it works so fast, there was still a good chance it would kill anything that got in its way, so he’s slowed down the process considerably. All the larger creatures and most of the smaller ones will have time to move, or they will be pushed out before they’re trapped.>
The security detail was approaching in an armored amphibious vehicle, flanked by single submersibles carrying more personnel. Several armed divers were already in place. Martin could see what Lindsey had meant when she’d called the security ‘phenomenal’. For one small module of technology, it seemed like overkill. Then he remembered the aftermath of the attack at the SATC site on Landfall.
Perhaps it isn’t overkill after all.
Martin looked up at the water’s surface half-expecting to see hostile forces swooping down from above to attempt to snatch the tech, but the skies were clear.
The module was in place.
<Better move back,> Lindsey advised, <just in case Earnest got something wrong. Unless you feel like being converted into a hotel reception desk.>
Martin powered his submersible another ten meters away from the innocent-looking box on the seabed. The security teams also backed off.
<Right,> said Lindsey. <I’m starting it up.>
The guards and defensive submersibles were facing outward, away from the device. A boat hull crossed overhead, casting a shadow.
The next time Martin’s gaze returned to the picotech module, it had disappeared, and a building was already appearing from the sand. A flat, hard surface spread out, the seabed transforming into straight lines before his eyes. At the edges of what seemed to be the hotel’s roof, sand-dwelling creatures were swarming, piling up and over each other, crawling and being pushed away. The creatures were tangled in marine plants and organic debris from the sea floor. Everything was being steadily shunted away by the burgeoning structure.
<Whooowee,> came Pietr’s long mental whistle.
Martin agreed. It was certainly a sight to behold.
The hotel roof was rising as the pico converted the sand, water, and whatever other non-organic particles it contacted into walls, windows, and the interior of the hotel. Martin guessed that below the hotel, the technology was also creating the supporting structures and services.
A shoal of surgeonfish swam over, curiosity apparently driving them to inspect this strange, new structure rapidly appearing near their home. The fish bumped their noses on the hotel as it expanded and met them. They swam away unharmed.
Martin admired the picotech guard detail’s self-discipline in the way they didn’t give into temptation to watch the pico in action, but kept their gazes focused outward.
The sea creatures so rudely displaced by the hotel had turned into a rout and a riot. Local predators had finally noticed them and swum over quickly, their tails flicking in excitement at the unexpected bounty. The fish began to feed on the exposed sand-dwellers. The poor creatures hastily tried to rebury themselves.
Some would be successful, Martin knew. They would soon breed and replace the victims of the pico’s deployment.
He checked the time. The pico had been working for twelve minutes, and the hotel was already nearly complete. Inside, water was draining out of it, the level visibly dropping at the windows. The building continued to inch upward, but the rate was slowing. The bare outer walls began to sprout decorative garnishes. Sculpted outlines of sharks, dolphins, crabs, octopuses, and jellyfish appeared. The outlines of doors materialized, and through the windows, Martin saw inbuilt cupboards emerge in the rooms.
The ability of the picotech to create so much so fast was almost magical.
<I think that’s it,> said Lindsey. <It’s done.>
What had been seabed and water a few minutes previously was now a complete hotel. Carnivorous fish continued to feast at its edges, but the process had ceased.
The security crews retrieved the module and began moving away, the divers tagging onto the submersibles for a ride. The boat overhead turned toward Ithaca’s seaport.
<It’s sensational,> said Margot, still gazing at the new structure. <I can’t wait to watch the rest of the facilities going up.>
<I have to admit,> Lindsey said, <that was more interesting than I thought it would be.>
Martin felt the same as Lindsey. He’d always thought building inanimate objects was tedious compared to creating new marine life, but the deployment of the pico had been an interesting sight to behold.
It would have been fun to tell Erin about it; she would probably have been interested. But Martin’s annoyance and disappointment in her prevented him from being able to chat casually like she’d done nothing wrong. He found it hard to talk to her when she’d been so uncaring and disloyal after the drill.
If she would only realize that and apologize, maybe they could move forward, but so far, she’d shown no signs of thinking that way. If anything, she seemed to be stubbornly clinging to her opinion that Tanis had been right not to cancel the drill and avoid upsetting Jude and Isa.
Why doesn’t she understand that our family should come first?
He knew his accusation that she didn’t care about Jude had been harsh, but that’s what her statements showed. He’d only been pointing out the truth.
STELLAR DATE: 05.18.8941 (Adjusted Years)
LOCATION: Heliopolis, Ithaca
REGION: Troy, New Canaan System
Everything was coming together for Myrrdan’s agent. Only one final task needed to be completed, then all would be in place to execute the plan. But time was running out. The picotech was already being deployed at the marine safari park. The window of opportunity had opened, but shortly, it would close.
The agent had considered foregoing the final preparation and reaching immediately for the prize, but sloppiness in earlier attempts had resulted in failure. This time, everything had to be perfect. This chance to steal the tech could be the last; if the agent was captured, it would definitely be the last. That would be a disaster. Death was the inevitable outcome of such haste and, even worse, Myrrdan would not receive the technology that would ensure his place in the galaxy.
Screwing things up was not an option.
As an added precaution against identification and exposure, the agent had changed hotels and checked in under a fictitious name. The new place was not so luxurious or well-equipped as his former residence. The agent wished to attract no attention, so the downmarket establishment was ideal. It was also a convenient place to execute the remaining mind control that was needed for the plan’s preparation to be flawless.
The colonel in command of Troy’s ISF garrison received the usual protection awarded to the position. Whenever the man was on duty, he worked in military establishments, accompanied by his own personal guards. However, Troy was not a dangerous place, despite the disquiet that the agent had carefully sown in its population, so when Colonel Barton wasn’t on duty, the security around him was kept to a minimum. And
even colonels need downtime.
Through infiltrating the private communications network of the general and his connections, the agent had discovered that the man liked to visit a particular bar. The saloon just so happened to be situated along the same street as the agent’s new hotel, and the agent had spent many evenings there, hoping for a chance encounter with the colonel. Unfortunately, the agent had never crossed paths with him.
Time still remained for executing the final mind control that would ensure the plan’s success, however, so the agent was spending yet another evening at the bar, silently drinking, watching, and ruminating.
The door opened for the twentieth time that evening, and for the twentieth time, the agent checked his probe’s feeds hopefully. This time, the reward came.
The agent almost didn’t recognize the colonel at first. He looked so different out of uniform—younger, and very ordinary compared to the imposing figure he usually cut. But Colonel Barton had shed his official persona and come out to drink and shoot pool with his buddies.
As soon as he’d confirmed the man’s identification, the agent quickly looked away. In spite of appearances, the general had to be accompanied by at least one or two guard in civvies, and they would be watching for unusual behavior. That was fine. The agent didn’t need to kill the colonel, only touch him.
A servitor was already trundling toward Colonel Barton and his companions at the nearest pool table, bearing their drinks. The agent watched the situation by looking in the mirror at the back of the bar.
It was almost too easy, yet jumping the gun could ruin everything. Patience was needed.
Counting the time passing in heartbeats, the agent waited. Approaching the colonel too soon would create suspicion.
Let the group drink and loosen up a little. Give them time to let their hair down.
A half hour later, when the servitor approached the group with a second round, the agent decided the moment to strike had come. The colonel’s friends and the man himself had paused their game to hand around the new drinks. The agent got up casually and walked toward the pool table. It was in the perfect position, directly along the route between the bar and the restroom. No one would think his movement strange.
The colonel had picked up his cue again and was lining up a shot. The agent made sure to weave a little, as if slightly drunk. It would make what was about to happen more plausible. Drunks didn’t look where they were going.
The agent slowed down, trying to get the timing right. Barton moved backward, readying himself to get down in his stance and take his shot at the ball.
He backed right into the agent, who was passing behind him. It was superb. The colonel actually apologized as the mind control was being effected. Mumbling something in response, the agent moved on.
Each stage of preparation had been completed. Long weeks of work were over. Now the theft could go ahead.
Soon, certain areas of the marine park would be open to visitors. The organizers were calling it a ‘soft opening.’ The agent had already secured a ticket and would be one of the first visitors. Once inside, reaching the site where the picotech was to be deployed would not be difficult, and tools were already in place to aid the plan.
In ordinary circumstances, the security around the module would be impenetrable, but the agent had created extraordinary circumstances. Troy was now in a state of turbulence and unrest. Everyone was on tenterhooks. When the theft took place, an event would occur simultaneously that would distract and confuse the security forces. Perhaps the effect would only last an hour or two, but that was all the agent required. A brutally effective attack, a credible distraction that no one would suspect, a speedy getaway, and the job would be done.
The diversion would throw Troy into such turmoil that departing the planet undetected should not be a problem. Then it would only be a matter of escaping New Canaan.
The moment to strike had nearly arrived.
STELLAR DATE: 05.20.8941 (Adjusted Years)
LOCATION: Marine Park, Ithaca
REGION: Troy, New Canaan System
Martin had forbidden Eamon to talk to him about his falling out with Erin, telling him that his personal life was none of the AI’s concern, but the entity residing in Martin’s brain couldn’t resist making the odd pointed comment every now and then.
Martin was in the middle of removing fertilized angler fish eggs from stasis and transferring them to the deep-sea dome when Eamon said, <Angler fish have it easy, huh? How simple life must be as a male when your reproductive cycle consists of biting your mate, digesting your own face, and then fusing yourself into her flesh until all that’s left of you is your gonads. Not like humans, huh? Years of rearing your offspring with your partner, having to get along, compromise, see the other’s viewpoint, etcetera. Makes life complicated, right?>
Martin gritted his teeth as he eased the package of fertilized eggs carefully into the pressurized portal. Once inside the dome, the angler fish embryos would develop and eventually hatch. Most of the baby fish would be eaten by predators, but that was the natural cycle of life. A few would survive and grow into the large females and comparatively small males, who, at sexual maturity, would follow the path Eamon had outlined.
The fish would be an interesting exhibit for visitors, their transparent forms illuminated by lighting in wavelengths that would not disturb the other deep-sea creatures. Angler fish were only part of the fascinating attraction. Martin had already introduced many species, including frilled sharks, silica sponges, sorceress eels, fangtooths, and some giant tube worms—which were already feeding from the hydrogen sulfide vent that Lindsey had asked Tony to create before he left Troy.
The marine safari park was only days from its ‘soft opening’ to select visitors, and everything was going well.
If only the same could be said for my private life, he mused.
Eamon’s sly little comments weren’t helping.
<Wouldn’t you say so, Martin?> the AI asked, referring to his previous comment. When Martin didn’t reply, he continued, <I don’t envy you. It must be hard to be human.>
Martin gritted his teeth some more. Things were bad at home. Erin was barely speaking to him, and Isa was sad and depressed because the atmosphere was so terrible, so she was hardly speaking either. Martin knew they both blamed him. They were ganging up on him.
<Is it really that much different for AIs?> he asked, trying to divert Eamon from the subject. <You have to bring up your offspring too. No digesting your own face for you guys either.>
<True,> Eamon conceded, <though in my experience of purely AI to AI relationships, we seem to get along with each other better. Maybe it’s due to how far our intellectual reach stretches. We have a more rounded viewpoint on situations. A better perspective. In terms of your characters and emotions, you humans are confined to your skulls. Must be easy to become…confused sometimes.>
Martin ignored Eamon’s nudging, but couldn’t help thinking, Is he against me now, too?
He closed the portal and set the mechanism to propel the eggs out into the pressurized dome. The accelerated growth genes he’d included in their DNA meant the angler fish would be visible in a couple of weeks, in plenty of time for the park’s formal opening.
Martin hoped that Tanis Richards wouldn’t screw that one up too with one of her stupid drills.
Why can’t she do her job and protect the system like she’s supposed to?
He was a biologist, not a Marine. When he’d joined the Intrepid, he hadn’t expected to find himself in the middle of a galactic power struggle, and neither had the rest of the passengers. The governor was asking a lot from everyone.
Why she hadn’t destroyed the picotech long ago, he didn’t know. Possessing it only put everyone in danger. He wasn’t sure it was even worth it.
And if we are invaded, won’t the attackers just steal the tech and leave? What are the chances the scenarios that played out in the drills would actually happen? Martin thought.
<Reasonably high, I would guess,> said Eamon.
<Dammit,> Martin said. <That wasn’t aimed at you.>
<Sorry for overhearing, in that case. But I don’t agree that a planetary invasion scenario is unlikely. The Transcend wants the picotech, and if they have to tear the planets apart to find it, that’s what they’ll do. We have to be prepared for that eventuality—and saying we don’t have it anymore isn’t going to hold much water…pardon the pun.>
<Stars,> Martin exclaimed. <Not you too, Eamon. Cut me some slack. If I wanted an argument, I already have two wives to wrangle with.>
The AI didn’t respond.
Martin hated when he did that.
After retracting the extension tubing into the submersible, Martin started the engine and turned the craft in the direction of the control center. He’d spent a long day adding the finishing touches to several exhibits, and he’d spent half an hour with the octopuses giving them a final warning about their behavior. The creatures had given their usual, probably fake, assurances.
Martin especially distrusted Xavier. The giant Pacific octopus appeared to have set himself up as some kind of octopus overlord and had been speaking on behalf of all the others. Martin knew the typical octopus character too well to believe that Xavier’s machinations would be tolerated for long. The last thing the park needed was an octopus uprising on the eve of its grand opening.
Seeding the deep-sea dome with angler fish had been Martin’s final task for the day. Usually at that time, he would be looking forward to the refreshing swim to the bottom of the cliff, putting on an a-grav pack, and rising to his beautiful home, loving wives, and adorable son. Now he only had two of those three to look forward to. He needed the complete set.
Bedtime would be worst of all. Ever since his argument with Erin, every night over the past few weeks in their shared bed had been spent in cold, frustrated distance from both her and Isa. It was horrible. He still loved Erin, but he didn’t feel like making love with her, and he was sure the feeling was mutual.
Yet he also couldn’t do anything with Isa, even if she would be willing, which he was uncertain about. Getting something going with her while Erin was right there next to them would be insensitive and way too awkward.
He knew of only one option that might put things back to how they had been before: he had to sincerely apologize for what he’d said.
But he couldn’t. There had been a lot of truth in his comment. If he pretended he didn’t hold that opinion, he would be lying, and he didn’t want to lie just to keep the peace. That would be bad for their relationship too.
If only Erin would admit she’d been wrong to side with Tanis and agree that she should have considered her family first. That would be the best way forward for everyone, though Martin couldn’t see that happening. Erin could be unbelievably stubborn.
As his submersible approached, the bay the doors opened. He piloted his vessel inside, and the level of the water rapidly dropped as the pumps removed it. Martin climbed out of the single-seater before the water had entirely drained away so he could easily float the vessel over to its clamps. After securing the submersible, he walked out into the labs.
Lindsey was with Pietr in the planning area. They were running the holo of the marine park and had their backs to Martin. The vast site, which had been condensed to a scaled model, filled the floor of the room. The buildings that had already been created by picotech dotted the park, and the larger creatures were also represented, swimming or floating in their areas. The underwater climate controls that affected temperatures, currents, salinity, and concentrations of other minerals were working well. Along with the presence and density of a wide range of microorganisms , the control systems were keeping the park’s many organisms roughly within their designated zones. Some escapees were inevitable, but that wouldn’t be a big deal.
“The angler fish eggs are in the dome,” Martin reported. “What else is there to do?”
“You made me jump,” said Lindsey. “You finished doing that already? That was fast. Uh, I’m not sure what’s left to do. And it’s getting late—isn’t it about time you headed home?”
“I can probably manage another trip out into the park.”
“Do you have time?” Lindsey asked.
She looked up through the transparent ceiling. The sunlight shining through the water was visibly fading.
Martin shrugged. “I can use the submersible’s lighting.”
Lindsey gave him a concerned look. “You’ve been the first to arrive and last to leave every day lately. Weren’t you the one telling me I can’t expect to get everything done within the schedule? Martin, I appreciate it, but you don’t need to work so hard. Go home to your family. I’m sure they would like to see more of you. Margot’s left already, and Pietr and I can finish up here.”
“If you say so.” Martin heard the flatness of his tone. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
He went to the cloakroom and took off his lab coat before walking down to the exit that led directly into the water. The cool, blue liquid rippled as he stepped into it and it shimmered gold with the rays of the setting sun, but for once, the effect was lost on Martin. He switched to underwater mode and opened his mouth to allow the water to flow through his modified lungs, beginning the long swim home.
STELLAR DATE: 05.21.8941 (Adjusted Years)
LOCATION: Family home, eastern shores of Ithaca
REGION: Troy, New Canaan System
It had been Isa’s idea that they take a vacation. Erin knew it was because the situation between herself and Martin was driving their wife crazy. Isa was hoping to heal the rift in the family, but Erin wasn’t convinced that spending a few days in each other’s company was going to do any of them good.
Nevertheless, she’d agreed to the suggestion. Her team at the space station was more than capable of managing without her for a while, and she was always accessible via the Link if they wanted to ask her anything.
Isa and Martin had already gone down to the aircar and were waiting there with Jude while she threw a few things to wear into a bag.
It would be nice to explore more of Troy and get some downtime with Isa and Jude, but she wasn’t looking forward to spending time with Martin. Ever since he’d made his asshole comment, she’d noticed more and more of his faults and annoying little habits that had somehow gone under her radar previously.
For one thing, he snored. Erin guessed that she used to sleep through his nightly nasal song, but now her slumber was shallower and more restless. She would often wake up in the middle of the night for no apparent reason and hear Martin’s tonsil tune resounding in the bedroom. Perhaps the snoring was a side effect of his aquatic mods. She didn’t know and didn’t care; she only wished he would stop so she could get a decent night’s sleep.
Martin also had an annoying habit of ‘fixing’ stuff wherever he went. He couldn’t walk through the garden without looking for weeds and pulling them up. If a drawer or cupboard door was open, he had to close it, usually while tutting under his breath. He even made the bed every morning as soon as everyone was up. It was ridiculous. They had servitors for all those kinds of things, like every regular household did.
At first, Erin had thought Martin’s finickity behavior was a hangover from his time at the beach house, where everything had been more hands-on. But as the weeks on Troy had passed, she’d come to realize that was just how he was, regardless of his environment. He would probably find something to tidy up inside an empty box.
And then there was the way he fussed over Jude. He was far more attentive than Isa—borderline obsessive, in fact. There was a line between being a good parent and smothering your child with over-attention, and as far as Erin was concerned, Martin had crossed it long ago. If she’d been around more while Jude was a baby, she might have been able to do something about it, but only Isa had been at home most of the time, and she was too easygoing to intervene. Now Martin’s parenting style was set, and he’d convinced himself that he was normal and everyone else was weird.
Erin sealed her bag and carried it out of the bedroom. She descended the staircase that swept around the hall and down to the first floor. She noticed that the front doors stood open. Her lips twitched.
Martin is probably dying to close them.
As she stepped out into the sunshine, she saw that he was indeed focusing on the doors through the window of the aircar. At her appearance, however, he snapped his head around and stared out the front of the vehicle.
Erin sighed and then climbed into the passenger seat next to Jude, tossing her bag into the back. She was about to close the house doors, but realized Martin had already done it remotely.
* * * * *
“Where did you say we’re going?” Martin asked as Isa input the destination coordinates.
“The Island of Aeolia,” Isa replied.
The aircar lifted smoothly into the sky and swooped around the house.
“Cool,” said Erin from the backseat. “A beach holiday. I miss the beach. A swimming pool just isn’t the same.”
They were flying out over the Sea of Marmara and rising steadily into the upper atmosphere.
“You could always go down to the shore at the bottom of the cliff if you want to go to a beach,” said Martin. “Take an a-grav pack if you don’t feel like diving into the deep water.”
“Yeah, I know I could,” Erin replied, “but it isn’t the same as stepping out of the house onto the sand. Or listening to the waves on the shore at night.”
Martin didn’t answer. He missed the beach house too, and not only for the reasons Erin mentioned. He also missed the life the three of them had led there. Things had worked so well between them; if he and Erin had argued, it had only been banter, nothing serious. But he hadn’t really known her or where her loyalties lay then.
“Actually, there isn’t a beach where we’re going,” said Isa. “Sorry.”
“Oh, so it’s a rocky island?” asked Erin. “That’s OK. We can still go swimming.”
“Uh, there’s no sea, either,” Isa said.
“Huh?” Martin asked. “An island that isn’t surrounded by the sea? How does that work?”
“Don’t worry,” she told them. “You’ll see. I was hoping neither of you had heard of the place. Promise me you won’t look it up, OK? Let it be a surprise.”
“Sure,” Erin said. “I’m intrigued now.”
They were soon skimming through the thin air high above Troy on the edge of space. The peaks of clouds lay far below them, and the horizon was a blue curve.
“Are you planning on adding this island to your list of installations?” asked Martin.
“I haven’t decided. I’ve been interested in the Island of Aeolia ever since I heard about it, but it’s so far away from Ithaca. To fly there, record everything I need, and then return home before Jude’s bedtime would have taken too long, so I didn’t make it a priority. But I don’t want to turn our vacation into a work expedition, either. I want us to relax and enjoy ourselves.”
“Me too,” Erin said.
Martin checked the aircar’s journey data. They would reach their destination in a little more than an hour and a half. That meant one and a half hours in close proximity with Erin with nothing to say to each other. It was possibly the longest time they had spent together since the invasion drill, apart from when they were sleeping. It could turn out to be a long flight.
Erin was entertaining Jude in the backseat, playing peekaboo with the stuffed octopus Martin had brought home from the marine park gift shop. Each ‘Boo’ she uttered elicited fits of giggles from Jude.
Martin was reminded of Xavier. He was tempted to tell Isa and Erin about the uplifted octopus, but he couldn’t muster the necessary enthusiasm.
He looked over his seat at Jude, who was trying to snatch the octopus from Erin’s hands. When she relented and gave it to him, Jude copied what she’d been doing, hiding behind the toy and then popping out.
“Boo, Mommy Erin! Boo!”
Martin caught Erin’s eye, but then they both quickly looked away.
* * * * *
“I can see it,” Erin said. “You’re cheeky, Isa, tricking us like that. So that’s why they call it an island.”
Isa also looked out of the aircar window. Erin was right. There it was, the high plateau called the Island of Aeolia. The cloud cover was low currently, so the green expanse was surrounded by a white sea.
Isa switched to manual controls to take the aircar down; she’d been teaching herself to fly the craft and rely less on the autopilot. The Island of Aeolia had no designated landing area for the automatic navigation to target, so it was simpler if she landed the craft herself. There was no designated anything in this place, or any buildings or facilities. The island was untouched and, as far as Isa knew, entirely uninhabited. Most of the land was covered in forest. To land the shuttle, she would have to slowly fly over the canopy and find an open space large enough to accommodate the vessel.
“Whoa,” said Martin. “That is something.”
“I thought you two might like it,” Isa said. “You don’t mind being away from the sea for a few days, Martin?”
“I think I can manage it,” he replied. “Just for a few days.”
He was smiling, genuinely smiling, for the first time in ages. Isa breathed a mental sigh of relief. Perhaps her plan to end the stupid conflict between Martin and Erin would succeed.
She enlisted their help in finding a place to land. As the aircar skimmed the treetops, Isa explained that the Island of Aeolia was a continental plateau. Two thousand and six hundred meters below it lay the tropical jungle that covered most of the continent of Thrace.
“So the climate must be colder than the surrounding land due to the altitude,” said Erin.
“Yes,” Isa said. “It’s subtropical.”
Martin was peering at the trees. “I think I can see a gap over there. Uh, southeast.”
Isa turned the aircar and took them in the new direction. “I see it.”
As they drew closer, the gap turned into an open glade in the surrounding thick canopy. Isa checked out the space as they flew over. It looked bumpy but sufficiently level to land the aircar. She brought the vessel around again, returned toward the open spot, and then slowed down and guided the aircar in to touch down.
“Nice landing,” Erin said. “Hey, I never told you guys, but I actually had a near-miss in a skiff at work the other day.”
“You did?” asked Martin. “Were you hurt?”
“No, I’m fine,” Erin replied. “Though the same can’t be said for my pride. I nearly flew right into a piece of maglev track, and now MacCarthy and Linch won’t let me hear the last of it. When I arrived at work yesterday and walked into the control room, Linch jumped up and moved all the seating out of my way.”
Isa laughed. “As long as you’re OK.” She turned off the engine and added, “They’ll forget about it in a while.”
“Yeah,” agreed Erin, “in a century or two.”
Martin opened his door and stepped out into grass. It was thick and lush and rose to his thighs. All around them, trees rose to the sky.
“This is wild, Isa,” he said. “Literally. I like it. Let’s find a place to set up camp.”
Isa also climbed out. The air was cool but so humid that the leaves of the trees that surrounded the glade glistened with water droplets. Unfamiliar bird calls and the cries of other unknown creatures echoed in the shadowy spaces beneath the canopy.
“Whoa,” Erin said as she exited the aircar. “Are we the first people to come here? It’s like no one knows this place exists.”
“I’m sure someone must have,” Martin said. “The FGT was on Troy for hundreds of years.”
While Erin took Jude for a walk to stretch his little legs, Isa and Martin removed the camping gear from the back of the aircar. They carried it to the other side of the glade, where the ground looked the most even, and selected the best space to set up the tent. Martin put down the pack at the center of the spot and moved out of the way before activating the mechanism.
Faster than Isa’s eyes could follow, the tent erupted from the pack. Where a flat pack had lain only a second previously, their compartmented tent now stood.
“That’s really neat,” she said. “I don’t think I’ve seen one of those in action before.”
The structure was roughly five meters square and was still wobbling gently from its fast expansion. At the base of the structure was a cushion that would mitigate the effects of the bumpy ground.
“It’s been a while since I’ve gone camping,” said Martin. “It might be a little musty inside.” He opened the flap, stuck his head in, and sniffed. “No, it’s fine. It’s only two rooms and a shower room, but it should be OK for a short stay. I’ll set up the condenser. It won’t have any problems drawing water from the air around here.”
“Right,” said Isa. “I’ll set up the bed packs inside. I want to watch them pop up, too.”
* * * * *
Erin held Jude’s hand tightly as they walked through the trees. The trunks were packed closely together, and Erin knew she would quickly lose sight of the precocious child if he ran away. She would still be able to find his location via the Link, but maybe not before he’d come to harm.
<What do you think of the Island of Aeolia, Walter?>
<It’s an interesting place,> the AI replied. <I haven’t ever been to a high plateau. I’ve been researching this and it has some unusual geological features. If you turn left and walk one hundred and thirty-eight meters, you’ll see one of them.>
<OK,> said Erin. <Jude needs to burn some energy after that long flight.>
The density of trees and the thickness of the canopy shaded the ground so heavily that little grew there. The forest floor was thick with leaf litter, making the going comparatively easy for Jude’s short legs. However, Erin used the Link to navigate. Without that or Walter, she could have quickly become disoriented within the endless spread of uniform tree trunks.
The air was still, a little chilly, and moist. It was filled with the calls of unseen birds, frogs and other unidentifiable animals, as well as the endless dripping of water from saturated leaves.
Jude’s little hand gripped Erin’s tighter.
“Mommy Erin, this is a scary place.”
“Is it?” she responded. “I don’t think so. What’s so scary?”
“I can see things under the trees. I think they must be monsters.”
“There aren’t any monsters here, Jude. There’s nothing to be scared of.” <There’s nothing to be scared of, right?> she asked Walter.
<No, nothing at all,> the AI replied. <I’m not sure what Jude is seeing. Perhaps only the play of shadows. Interestingly, most of the fauna and flora on the island are entirely different subspecies than those that inhabit the rest of Thrace. A necessary effect of the difference in climate, of course, and the fact that only birds can routinely overcome the natural barrier of a two-and-a-half kilometer cliff. I imagine that as millennia pass, the subspecies will diverge even further, until no cross-breeding is possible and new species emerge.>
<I’m glad you find the place engaging,> said Erin. Then she ventured, <What does Eamon think about it?>
<I don’t know,> said Walter. <Eamon’s currently deep in conversation with Troy’s AI, Paris.>
<Oh,> was all Erin could reply.
What she really wanted was the lowdown on what Eamon thought about the problems between her and Martin. She’d been dropping hints to Walter for days, trying to get him to spill the beans on what Eamon had said about it. She suspected that Martin’s AI probably didn’t agree with Martin’s behavior or attitude, but he either wasn’t trying or hadn’t succeeded in getting through to him. Martin could be as unyielding as titanium sometimes.
<Just another thirty meters,> said Walter.
“I’m scared, Mommy Erin,” said Jude.
“There isn’t anything to be scared of here, sweetie. Don’t be afraid. Do you want me to carry you?”
In reply, Jude held up his arms. Erin lifted the boy onto her hip. The canopy had thinned out, and the additional light that penetrated it had fueled the growth of waist-high, spreading plants. It was no wonder that Jude was feeling frightened. At his eye level, all he could see was leaves.
Erin waded through the vegetation, Jude clinging onto her neck.
<Be careful,> Walter warned. <The opening is up ahead. I’m not sure it’s visible.>
<The opening? This isn’t a cave, is it, Walter? My last encounter with a cave didn’t go too well. I’m not interested in visiting any more.>
<Yes, it is a cave. But don’t worry, there’s more to it than that. You should be nearly upon it.>
Erin stepped out from between two tree trunks. The ground in front of her dropped away, and she pulled up sharply.
A chasm lay open at her feet. Towering trees overhung the space, and its sheer, rocky sides were patterned with heavy iron oxide deposits in red, orange, yellow, and ochre. Far below, a dark cleft led the way into the cave.
<That is spectacular,> said Erin, <but I’m not sure I could climb down there even if I wanted to, which I don’t think I do. Especially not with Jude.>
<I agree it wouldn’t be safe without equipment. Walk around the edge to your right; you’ll see the place I think you will really like.>
<Maybe I should leave it until tomorrow. I should get back to the others. They must have finished setting up the camp by now.>
<It’s only a few minutes away.>
<All right,> Erin said.
She felt like she was carrying around two kids: the one on her hip and the one in her head. Walter obviously wanted to see this fascinating place on the Island of Aeolia through human eyes.
After double-checking the correct direction with Walter, she set off on another short hike through the subtropical jungle. After walking about another hundred meters, Erin finally found the place.
“Oh, wow,” was all she could say at first. Then, <Is this the rest of the cave?>
<It’s part of it, yes.>
The ground had opened out again, but the space Erin was gazing at was far bigger than the previous chasm. She guessed she was looking across roughly half a kilometer to the other side. At a similar distance below her, at the base of a nearly vertical-sided valley, another forest was growing.
She supposed that the cave system continued underground until it reached this spot where centuries ago the roof had collapsed. The cave floor had been opened to the elements, and trees had colonized it, creating a second, secret forest. The place was so green and lush in the protected zone, and so overhung by the main forest’s trees, it was no surprise they hadn’t spotted it from the air when they were looking for somewhere to land.
<Do you like it?> asked Walter. <We should head to the plateau’s edge next. The cloud cover is clearing, and I bet it’s a spectacular view.>
<Yes, yes, it’s spectacular,> Erin said with a laugh. <You’d have me tramping around all day. Let’s get back to the camp and see what the others think.>
* * * * *
After Erin returned to the glade where Martin and Isa had set up the camp, she told them about Walter’s suggestion. He was insistent that they walk the short distance to the edge of the plateau, stating that the weather was going to be cloudy for the next few days and this might be their only chance to see the view.
Martin put Jude on his shoulders, and the three of them set off. The tension that had wracked the family over the previous weeks had eased a notch. Isa’s plan was working so far.
My wife definitely has a knack for dealing with emotional stuff. She’s far better at that than me or Martin, Erin realized.
Jude appeared to have overcome his fear and was bouncing on Martin’s neck while simultaneously bashing his head with flat hands, like he was beating a rhythm on bongos. Martin winced and reached up to catch hold of Jude’s wrists. Erin smiled sympathetically, and Martin gave her a small smile back.
Isa had marched off ahead, perhaps to leave Erin and Martin alone together. But then she called back through the trees, “Wow, come and see this, guys. Hurry up.”
“Hurry up, Daddy,” said Jude, bouncing with added vigor. “Go faster.”
They sped up their pace. Isa was only a few feet ahead of them. As soon as Erin saw her, she stopped. It wasn’t the sight of Isa that had arrested her, but what she could see beyond her wife’s figure.
A green ocean swept away from them. At their height, they could see for dozens of kilometers to the horizon. Wisps of cloud vapor hung above the tropical treetops, and in amongst them were dots of brilliantly colored birds, swooping between the branches. The birds were tiny, but the fact that they could see them from so far away meant they had to be huge. There were no words that fit to comment on the sight.
Erin joined Isa and wrapped an arm around her waist. Martin stood behind them. Even Jude was awed into silence.
<Thanks for insisting we come here, Walter,> said Erin.
Though she spent her days on a space station looking down at Troy far below, somehow the sight didn’t affect her in the same way as this view of Thrace. It put everything into perspective. Erin’s concerns seemed small and insignificant.
When they managed to tear themselves from the view, they spent another hour or so exploring before returning to the camp.
Jude was drawn to a patch of sunlight in the glade and played with his toys there, following the light as it slowly moved across the ground. Erin, Isa, and Martin sat and chatted for the first time in ages. They talked about their work, the political problems in Troy and what they might mean for the family, and all the little things and anecdotes that had gone unsaid in the great silence following Isa’s ruined party and the invasion drill.
Too soon, it seemed, the glowing patch that Jude liked so much had disappeared, and the glade was entirely in shadow. Early stars began to faintly shine and the air grew chill. Dew settled heavily on the leaves and grass.
Martin made dinner in his camping cooker from the food Isa had packed for them. While he cooked, Erin and Isa went with Jude to gather wood and then made a small fire. When the food was ready, they sat on logs and ate thick stew with hunks of bread in a comfortable silence. Jude began to nod over his bowl.
Finally, it was time to douse the fire and go to bed.
The condenser was full of water, plenty for everyone to have a shower. Erin went in first while Isa was putting Jude to bed and Martin was tidying up outside. Oddly, showering in a tent in the middle of nowhere felt different from doing the exact same thing at home or aboard ship. Erin enjoyed the feeling of the warm water slipping over her skin, washing away the dust, pollen, spores, and general grime that had settled on her during her afternoon in the forested Island of Aeolia.
When she’d finished showering, she felt both refreshed and tired. She was ready for a long, deep sleep, and she was happy with anticipation of what the following days would bring. She’d told Isa and Martin about the mini forest on the floor of the cave, and she guessed that visiting it would be their excursion the next day. After that, no doubt Walter would have places to recommend. It appeared they had the entire plateau to themselves.
Erin left the shower cubicle and walked into the bedroom. Isa was talking to Jude in the small annex, reassuring him that his mommies and daddy were right next door.
Their bed was an air-filled mattress that rose from the floor. Erin lifted the covers and climbed into bed, ready to fall immediately asleep. She didn’t think that even Martin’s snoring could keep her awake that night. She could hear the shower running, which meant that he’d finished what he was doing outside and would soon come to bed too.
Erin yawned and tucked her arm under pillow while working her head into its welcome fluffiness. She predicted she would be out before Martin and Isa joined her. However, as she was drifting off, Martin came into the bedroom. He crossed the room and peeked into the annex.
His sudden appearance clearly interrupted Isa’s progress in getting Jude to sleep. The little boy immediately launched into a conversation with his father. Probably realizing that he wasn’t helping matters, Martin retreated into the bedroom.
He came over to the bed, and Erin watched with half-closed eyes as he climbed in next to her. She said goodnight and turned over, expecting his self-imposed distance from her to continue. The mattress rocked slightly with his heavy presence, causing a depression next to her. She could hear him breathing.
Erin’s tired contentment gave way to sadness. Things between them had seemed better that afternoon, but she didn’t know if the gulf that had opened up would ever close.
She felt Martin slide closer to her, and then she felt the touch of his hand on her upper arm. Erin turned over to face him. They were eye to eye, only a few centimeters between their faces.
<It’s a great place, right?> Martin said over the Link.
If he spoke aloud, he might disturb Jude. Isa had left his small room only moments ago and gone to the shower.
<Yeah, it is,> said Erin. <I love it.>
<Isa made a good choice for our vacation.>
<She knows all the best places.>
Their conversation was mundane, but Martin’s eyes were telling Erin something different. They were saying something along the lines of, ‘I’ve missed you. Let’s try to be friends, OK?’ Tension that she hadn’t even known she was feeling flooded out of her.
She reached up and touched the side of Martin’s face. It had been weeks since she’d touched him. He slid closer until they were almost touching and wrapped an arm around her, resting his hand on her lower back.
Desire for him instantly pooled inside her. Erin felt a yearning she realized she’d been ignoring. When Martin kissed her, she squeezed up close to him and held him tight.
The noise of the water from the shower had gone quiet, but Erin barely noticed. She and Martin quietly kissed. Outside, the night noises of insects and nocturnal creatures were loud.
At some point, Isa joined them. When she slipped under the covers, they welcomed her into their movements. Together, the three of them entered into the dance they had perfected over the years.
Later, when the dance was done and Erin was finally gliding into sleep, the last emotion she felt before she drifted off was relief. She wasn’t sure the battle between her and Martin was finally over, but it seemed they had called a ceasefire.
STELLAR DATE: 05.24.8941 (Adjusted Years)
LOCATION: Family home, eastern shores of Ithaca
REGION: Troy, New Canaan System
The atmosphere at the family’s clifftop home had returned to something like normal after Martin, Isa, and Erin returned from their short break on the Island of Aeolia, though perhaps things were not exactly the same as they’d been before the invasion drill. Martin wasn’t sure that would ever be possible, when he and Erin thought and felt so differently, but he hoped the truce would hold.
He wanted to take Jude into work with him again. The last time, things had gone well. When they’d been living at Martin’s site on the Med, Jude had been too young to swim in the deep water where the exciting creatures like blue whales were growing, so Martin had only been able to show him the whales from a boat. But now that his son was older, he felt confident about letting Jude swim with the sea mammals at the marine park, and allowed him to do so on their last visit. The animals had taken the delighted boy for several rides and performed tricks for him.
Martin had also been impressed with how Jude had shown no fear of megalodons and other ‘sea monsters.’ He’d jumped up and down in excitement and begged to be allowed out of the submersible to swim with them. Martin had been forced to threaten to take him back to the labs if he didn’t settle down.
Isa and Erin agreed that Jude would love another day at Daddy’s workplace. Isa was returning to her gallery to check that the repairs had been made, and Erin was heading up to the space station. Martin kissed them both goodbye at the front door and then returned with Jude to the terrace, where they had stored his little submersible.
“Ready for another day at the safari park, Jude?” Martin asked.
“Yes,” he replied, beaming. “Are we gonna float down to the sea like before?”
“We are. Then we’ll go to see Lindsey, Pietr, and Margot again. What do you think about that?”
“OK.” Jude’s little face was troubled. “Can I see the octopuses too?”
“Sure, we can see them too.”
“I want Octy.” Jude ran back into the house to grab his octopus toy.
The plushie had become his favorite possession after Martin had told him about the real octopuses and their garden at the park. When Jude returned with the soft toy clutched in his small hands, Martin picked up the submersible and they walked down the terrace steps into the garden.
Jude trotted along behind Martin as they followed the path through the formal pattern of low hedges to the fence, where Martin unlocked the gate. After they passed through it and then the windbreak of slim pines, they encountered the sea breeze. It was very strong, which meant the sea would be choppy. Martin began to have second thoughts about his decision to take Jude with him to the park. Even though the conditions under the waves would not be so turbulent, they would also not be ideal, and Jude was still very young.
But he was locked in. Isa and Erin had already left. If Martin didn’t take Jude into work, he would have to take him all the way to his daycare center in Heliopolis, which would make him very late for work. He decided he would have to keep Jude with him in a submersible and not allow him to swim in open water. It wasn’t worth taking any chances.
Martin made Jude hold his hand as they neared the cliff edge and the little shed that held the a-grav packs. The wind was blowing in treacherous gusts. Martin took out two packs, strapped a pack to himself, and another, child-sized pack onto Jude. He also put on the harness that would secure Jude to his body. Martin and Jude were finally face to face with their packs on their backs and Martin holding one of the submersible’s handles.
He activated both their packs and gripped the submersible as they lifted from the ground and floated out over the cliff’s edge. Martin guided them well away from the cliff face so that a surprise puff of breeze wouldn’t crash them into the rock. As they floated down, Jude smiled and made ‘woooo’ noises. Rather than heading for the deep water as he did when he dove into the sea, Martin floated them toward a narrow strip of private beach that belonged to the house.
They landed on soft sand. Martin removed their packs and left them propped against the cliff. He put Jude into his submersible, ready to swim with him to the marine safari labs.
The process involved in bringing Jude to work with him was time-consuming, but Martin didn’t mind. He hoped his son would want to come in with him as often as he could when he was older. There was nothing like learning on the job, and Jude had already shown that he’d inherited his dad’s fascination with all things aquatic.
Another inconvenience of taking Jude into work was that when they arrived, they had to enter via the submersible bay. Though Jude’s vessel was small, it was too large to fit through the waterside entrance to the labs.
Martin swam into the bay with Jude, and when the water had drained away, he emerged with his son into the complex, still wet from his swim.
He dried off and went to see Lindsey, who was once more in the planning room poring over the holo of the site.
“Hello, Jude,” she said when she spotted him. “How’s my favorite boy? Can I have a hug?”
Jude skipped over to her and obliged.
“How was your trip?” she asked Martin as she put Jude down.
“Really good. What’s been happening here?”
“Lots. The soft opening’s been going well. We’ve had four tour groups come through, and they all loved it. They were all influential people, too, and should help to spread the word.”
“No octopus ambushes?”
“No, thank the stars. You must have made an impression on them. They’ve been good, so far.”
“Great. I was planning on paying them another visit today to reinforce the message. What do you think?”
“I think that would be a good idea. Just stay away from the sea monsters’ site. We have another big picotech deployment happening today. Earnest’s coordinator said we need to avoid the area for a few hours.”
“Is that to make the viewing platform at the edge of the ocean shelf?” Martin asked.
“That’s right. After that, the only buildings we’ll have left to do are the hotels that serve the maglev stations, and then we’ll be done. Full opening next week.”
Jude was wandering through the holo of the marine park, sweeping his arms through the large marine organisms that were swimming around.
“As early as next week?” asked Martin. “That’s hard to believe.”
“We’ve accomplished a huge amount in a short period of time,” Lindsey said. “I really appreciate your involvement. I couldn’t have done it without you.”
“I’ve loved being here.”
“Can I count on your support for a while longer?” asked Lindsey. “There’s still plenty to finish off and then there’s the upkeep, and I have a few more ideas I’d like to try out.”
“I’m not sure yet, to be honest, Linds. I’m worried about the situation on Troy. From what I’ve heard, the place is a bomb that’s about to go off.”
“Yeah, I’ve heard that too. I hate to think what might become of the park if that happens. But maybe it won’t come to anything.”
“I hope not,” Martin said. “If the situation cools down, I’d love to stick around. I have a few ideas of my own for this place.”
“I’d love to hear them, but later. Today’s visitors will be arriving in ten minutes.”
“Maybe you could come for dinner later,” Martin offered. “We can talk then.”
“It’s a deal,” Lindsey replied.
“Daddy,” said Jude, grabbing Martin’s leg. “When are we going to see the octopuses?”
“Very soon,” he replied.
“You go ahead,” said Lindsey. “I’m going out to the front entrance to greet the visitors. Pietr’s joining the tour today, along with the guide.”
“He is? That’ll be a treat for them to have an expert along.”
“I thought so too. Have fun with the octopuses!”
STELLAR DATE: 05.25.8941 (Adjusted Years)
LOCATION: Messene Station
REGION: Troy, New Canaan System
On the eastern end of Messene, Erin was working on what had become her favorite part of the project: the engineering academy. The building was nearly complete. Erin had stretched the budget in certain areas and reallocated credits here and there in order to spare no expense on the place. Her efforts were entirely justified, in her opinion. With the colony’s generally accelerated timetable on everything, New Canaan had a shortage of top-class engineers, and the system had long been suffering from the effects.
<Besides,> Erin mused to Walter, <engineering is cool. Every kid should have a chance to do it.> She took a sip of cream soda.
<Is that what you think Jude will do?>
<Nope, more’s the pity. Martin got started on him before he even left the womb. Isa told me that Martin was constantly encouraging her to go swimming when she was pregnant, telling her the exercise would do her good. She knew exactly what he was doing. Now, if Jude had grown up on a spaceship, things might be different.>
<So if Jude won’t be an engineer, perhaps Jude’s brother or sister?>
< ‘Jude’s brother or sister’? Walter, are you in cahoots with Martin? Or is Eamon in on it too? All three of you are working on me to push the sibling for Jude agenda. Stars!>
<Not you necessarily,> said Walter. <Didn’t you remark once that Martin could carry a baby himself?>
A vision of Martin swimming through the sea, his belly distended with a pregnancy, popped into Erin’s head. Her husband looked like a genetic experiment gone wrong, She snorted with laughter.
Linch and MacCarthy lifted their heads from their consoles to look at her.
“Something Walter said,” Erin explained.
“Must have been a good joke,” said MacCarthy.
“Only to me.”
The two engineers returned to their work.
<For all Martin’s obsessive paternal instinct,> Erin said, <I don’t think he’ll go for that.>
<There are always proxy wombs, if you feel the inconvenience would be too great.>
<Yeah, I know,> she said. <Feels a bit cold-hearted, you know? On the other hand, it seems unfair to expect Isa to do all the work in that department.>
“We’re done,” MacCarthy said, referring to the newly built academy. “Ready to seal her up.”
“Wait a minute,” said Linch. “Can we double-check that the corridors are to spec?”
“Sure,” responded MacCarthy uncertainly, “if you want. But I’m positive they’re laid correctly.”
“I was just wondering….” Linch said. He turned to Erin. “Were you planning on doing any teaching at the academy?
She frowned, puzzled by the question. “I hadn’t thought about it. Maybe. Why are you asking?”
Linch didn’t answer her. Instead, he leaned toward MacCarthy and whispered loud enough for everyone to hear, “We’d better add a third to the corridor widths.” He jerked his head at Erin. “Give her some room to navigate.”
MacCarthy sniggered, and Linch guffawed.
“Aw, come on, guys,” Erin said. “Aren’t you ever going to let me forget about that?”
“Of course not,” Linch said. “This is way too much fun.”
STELLAR DATE: 05.25.8941 (Adjusted Years)
LOCATION: Isa’s Gallery, Heliopolis, Ithaca
REGION: Troy, New Canaan System
The cleanup crew had done an excellent job at the gallery. Apart from the empty spaces left where smashed or irretrievably damaged artwork had been removed, the gallery looked like the drill hadn’t even taken place. It was in just as good, or even better, condition than it had been before the opening event.
Isa took a tour of the building just in case she’d missed something. At the same time, she mentally checked the data files of her installations to make sure that nothing had interfered with them. Everything seemed untouched. All she needed to do now was replace the holoprojectors and then she could open up the place to paying customers.
The planned opening date had come and gone. The invasion drill had seen to that. Any visitors to the gallery on the original first day of business would have received the message that it was closed until further notice. Isa hadn’t wanted to name a second date in case there was a hiccup in the restorations.
Now she was faced with the problem that all the interest generated by the opening party and Tanis’s attendance had faded away. She had to re-advertise and tell potential clients that the gallery was finally open for business.
It should have been an easy task. Isa already had a list of appropriate feeds and physical sites that sold advertising. Yet when she tried to submit her ads, her applications were bounced back. The sites didn’t recognize her business license number.
Isa tutted. Something had gone wrong somewhere. There had been some kind of bureaucratic hiccup, possibly due to the invasion drill. She’d advertised before without any problems. Trying to track down the source of the problem, she checked with the government office that awarded business licenses.
She was standing on the upper mezzanine, at the same window she’d looked out of when Singh had gone on his weird political rant soon after they’d met. When Isa saw the response from the government about her license, she was so shocked, she went to the nearest seat and sat down. Her license had been withdrawn. She looked up the reason. It read: ‘Fraudulent application to the invasion preparation compensation fund’.
For a moment, she couldn’t believe what she was seeing. She hadn’t committed any fraud. She checked she had the right account, but her personal details were there plain as day. Isa went over everything she’d done when she submitted her compensation claim. If anything, she’d under claimed. She’d left her artworks out entirely because she couldn’t put a price on them.
She was sure she definitely hadn’t done anything wrong, but then it hit her. Singh.
Her landlord had brazenly told her he was going to exaggerate his estimation for damages to the building. This had to have something to do with that. While Isa had been away on vacation, Singh’s claim had been investigated. Perhaps an inspector had visited the building to assess the true extent of the damage, and her landlord’s ruse had been discovered.
The authorities must have assumed they were working together. Singh had been found guilty, and she’d been tarred with the same brush. No wonder her landlord hadn’t been in touch all the time she’d been away. She also hadn’t heard from him since her return.
Isa tried to raise him across the Link, but, predictably, he didn’t answer. She left a message, asking him to explain if he knew why she’d lost her business license.
She cursed. So is this it, then? Has my ability to do business on Troy been permanently revoked? What can I do?
She’d invested so much time and money. She’d paid to upgrade Singh’s building with specialized electronics to run her installations. All her displays had been designed to fit in with the structure’s unusual design. What if Singh’s properties, including the gallery, had been seized or their operations frozen? Even if Isa managed to have her license restored, if she couldn’t run her business in Singh’s premises, she might not find a similar place to rent in all Heliopolis.
Had everything she’d done been for nothing? The despair began to turn to anger as Isa realized she had no idea how to fix the situation.
She tried to contact the Trojan Business License Authority, only to meet another dead end. All the channels led to requests to submit formal queries, which would be ‘placed in a queue and dealt with as soon as possible.’ No one was available to talk to her, not even an AI. It was ridiculous. She needed answers right away, not whenever an anonymous official got around to her query.
The entire situation was way too frustrating. Isa decided she would go to the TBLA in person and try to speak to someone face to face. She was going to open her gallery and she was going to open it soon.
She leapt up and marched to the elevator, calling an autocab as she went. When she reached the first floor, she stamped out of the building. The autocab hadn’t arrived, but she was too agitated to stand and wait for the vehicle. She set off down the bustling street, telling the autocab to track her and meet her en route.
She strode along the streets, passing the same stores and establishments that had interested her only a few days prior without a second glance. The pinnacle at the top of Troy’s parliament seemed to be mocking her.
Erin had confided in Isa once that every Trojan she’d met had been an asshole, and Isa was inclined to agree. From the snooty women at the shooting range to her deceitful landlord and the unbearable Elora Pennypuddy, they were all assholes.
Every single one.
As she sped along, Isa tried Singh again. No reply. Then she tried The TBLA.
Isa cut off the connection.
Government House came into view at the end of its broad avenue. She walked all the way to her destination without the autocab reaching her. Disgusted, she canceled the request. She stomped down the avenue, drawing some stares with her determined stride. She ignored the onlookers. They were probably all Trojans.
When she reached the central building, Isa burst into the lobby, scanning the information that gave the floors and room numbers of each department. A human receptionist asked if he could help her, but Isa replied that she was fine, she knew where she was going.
The Trojan Business License Authority was on the fifty-fifth floor. She waited for an elevator. There were only two and both of them were at the top of the building. Two elevators to service the seat of Troy’s government? Whoever had designed the place had to be a moron or an asshole. She guessed the latter.
The long wait caused Isa’s ire to cool, and she took more notice of what was happening around her. At the other side of the lobby, the doors to the public gallery in the debating chamber were open. A parliamentary debate was in session. The leader of the ruling party was answering questions from the opposition. Isa could hear the responses of the representatives from within the chamber.
It seemed like a normal day at Troy’s seat of government. Except, Isa suddenly realized with puzzlement and a degree of alarm, there are a lot of guards. She recalled she’d had the same impression on her previous visit. Are the numbers normal for Troy?
Isa had only been at Carthage’s Government House one time, when Tanis had debriefed her on the SSS attack at Tyre. She didn’t think she’d seen that many security personnel there.
She took note that not only were there excessive numbers of guards, but that more were appearing and walking past her, heading toward the debating chamber.
STELLAR DATE: 05.25.8941 (Adjusted Years)
LOCATION: Marine Park, Ithaca
REGION: Troy, New Canaan System
Martin wasn’t sure what effect Jude’s presence might have on the octopuses, but he hoped it would be a good one. As a species, octopuses were excellent parents, or at least the females were, up to a point. Most octopus species’ females spent months caring for their developing eggs, not even eating or moving from their nests until after the eggs hatched. Often, they would die.
Martin had been heartened by the news that the octopuses had been behaving themselves since he’d spoken to them. Maybe another visit with his son in tow would be equally effective. Hopefully they would see him as a father and not only another marine park biologist.
As he was driving the submersible out of the bay, Martin saw the visitors’ amphibious vehicle enter the water. He pointed it out to Jude. The amphibian seated twenty and was one of many that were parked at the park’s entrance on the beach. After the passengers climbed aboard, the vehicle would be driven along a paved ramp that led directly into the sea.
Was that why Pietr had wanted to tag along on the latest tour? Did he want to have fun driving the underwater buses? Martin peered closer at the amphibian as the bubbles cleared in the distance. Yes. There Pietr was, in the driving seat.
Martin gave him a wave, but Pietr didn’t wave back. Martin guessed the lab tech hadn’t noticed him. It didn’t matter. He would see him later.
Martin started out on the drive across the park to the octopuses’ garden.
Lindsey had told him the route the visitors would take. First, they would pass by the coral reefs, which were already teeming with life. The site was best seen via snorkelling or diving, but the guests would still have a pretty good view through the amphibian’s windows. Next, they would be visiting the sea mammals’ area. That would be a lot of fun. The sea otters, seals, sea lions, and dolphins loved going up close to the vessel’s windows to watch the people inside and interact with them.
The third site on the guests’ itinerary was the deep-sea dome. Pietr would circle the dome slowly several times so the guests could get a good look at the strange luminescent creatures that inhabited it. The final stop would be the octopuses’ garden. After leaving the sea, the visitors could catch the maglev to return to Ithaca, or take another route home.
When the park was fully open, all the areas would be accessible, including the monsters of the deep site and the diatom spectacle, which wasn’t quite ready yet. Creating diatoms the size of small children that could also perform their normal processes had turned out to be much harder than Lindsey had anticipated.
Jude’s expression was full of fascination as Martin piloted the submersible through the water. Even his favorite toy had fallen from his grasp as he stared, open-mouthed, at the watery expanse that surrounded them. He was quick to spot sea creatures, no matter how distant they were from the vehicle.
Soon, Martin had driven the Torpedo most of the way across the safari park, and the kelp forest that was the octopuses’ pride and joy was coming into view.
Jude asked, “Are we at the octopuses’ garden? Can I play with them?”
He was clearly thinking that Martin would drive the submersible to the surface and let him get out for a swim, as he had at the sea mammals’ site.
“No, sorry,” Martin replied. “The waves are too high today. It isn’t safe to swim.”
Jude thought for a moment. “I’ll swim under the water.”
“You know, the octopuses would like that because they live on the bottom of the sea, but you won’t be able to stay there very long. You would have to go up to the surface to breathe. Sorry, Jude. Maybe next time. But you can see the octopuses from here.” Providing they come out. The seascape was looking suspiciously empty of cephalopods.
“I want to breathe water like you, Daddy,” said Jude.
“One day you’ll be able to if you want. When you’re older.”
The legal age for body modification was eighteen, but Martin didn’t want tell Jude that. If his little mind could comprehend the passage of time, he didn’t want to disappoint his son. When you were three, fifteen years had to seem an impossibly long wait.
Martin was looking around carefully for signs of camouflaged octopuses, but he couldn’t see a single one. The darned creatures were just too good.
<Xavier? Where are you? Come out. I have someone here I’d like you to meet.>
The kelp forest swayed and trembled in the rough water, but of Xavier there was no sign. All the other octopuses were hiding too.
Martin might have known the creatures’ promises could not be counted upon. He wondered what to do. In an hour or so, Pietr was due to drive the amphibian across the garden. If the octopuses ‘pounced,’ as they seemed to be planning, that could mean bad publicity for the park.
Or perhaps it could be a feature?
Martin could see the positives in selling octopus kidnapping as an experience, as long as the captors weren’t held for too long, but the visitors had to be expecting it.
<Xavier?> Silence. <If you come out and talk to me, I can teach you some more about sarcasm.>
<Martin?> It was Lindsey. She sounded stressed. Martin guessed the visitor tour had hit a glitch.
<Hi, Linds. What’s happening?>
<Something weird’s going on. The tour’s going the wrong way. Pietr isn’t following the route we agreed.>
<He’s doing what? Why would he do that?>
<I’ve asked him, but he isn’t answering me. Margot’s tried asking him too, but he’s ignoring us. I can’t understand it.>
Martin was also deeply confused by the news, but he wasn’t sure what Lindsey wanted him to do. She was Pietr’s manager, not him. He had enough on his plate at the octopus garden.
<Hey, you don’t think he might be heading here first, do you?> he asked.
<Huh? Heading for the octopus garden first? I don’t think so. Why?>
<I hope he isn’t. The octopuses have gone into hiding again. They must be planning another ambush.>
<Great. That’s all I need.> Lindsey paused. <I haven’t heard anything from the visitors, so I don’t think any of them are aware yet.>
<Where’s he going?> Martin asked. <Are you tracking the amphibian?>
<Of course. That’s how I knew he’d gone off route.>
<Sorry, of course you are.>
Jude had climbed out of his seat in the submersible and was pressing his face against the transparent skin, trying to spot the octopuses.
“I think they all went home, Daddy.”
<He should have reached the marine mammals by now,> said Lindsey, <but after he left the reefs he went in the opposite direction and headed out into open water.>
Martin now had a better idea why Lindsey was contacting him. From his current position, he would be able to reach the amphibian faster than she would coming from the complex. But what could he do? He had no idea what Pietr had planned.
<I know this might sound crazy,> he ventured, <but you don’t think he could be lost, do you?>
<Come on, Martin,> Lindsey replied. <Pietr knows the layout of the park too well. He’s worked with me on the plans more than anyone else.>
<But then, why…?>
<I can only think he must be having some kind of mental episode. There’s no other explanation.>
<And you want me to go out there and get him?> Martin asked. <You know I would usually be happy to help, but I have Jude with me. What if Pietr’s dangerous? And what can I do from inside here anyway? Have you contacted the tour guide who’s with him?>
<That’s the other thing. He left her behind.>
<When I talked to her, she said Pietr had taken off with the amphibian while she was waiting for the last visitors to arrive. She thought she’d made a mistake and there was another tour starting soon that she was supposed to lead. Some of the visitors never made it onto the vessel before Pietr started out. They’re still waiting at the entrance. It’s all a big mess. Do you think I should start another tour for the visitors who got left behind?>
<No.> The more Martin heard what was happening, the more alarmed he was becoming. <Lindsey, this is insane. I don’t think you should allow anyone else into the park. Not at least until you know exactly what’s going on. Maybe you can force Pietr to return to the complex. Have you tried controlling the amphibian remotely?>
<Crap. I didn’t think of that.> A few beats later, Lindsey said, <I’m locked out.>
<You mean Pietr locked you out.>
<I guess so. He must have really gone off the rails.>
<I’m not so sure. If Pietr managed to lock you out, it sounds like he’s in control of what he’s doing.>
<Core, Martin, what am I going to do?> Lindsey sounded on the verge of tears. <Those poor people on the amphibian are under the control of a madman. What if they get hurt? And even if we manage to get them all back safe and sound, news of this is going to get out. It’ll tarnish the park’s reputation for years to come. People won’t want to visit. The entire project will be a disaster. All our work will be down the drain.>
Martin looked at Jude, who was sitting in his seat again, swooping his toy octopus through the air.
<I’ll see what I can do.>
<But in the meantime, I think you should contact the constabulary. I don’t understand what’s happening, but whatever it is, it can’t be good.>
<I’ll do that. Good luck. I hope you can sort this out.>
First, Martin tried to contact Pietr himself; predictably, the man didn’t reply. Then Martin accessed the park complex’s network and pulled the real-time route of the amphibian. He could see that the vessel was heading in a straight line across the park. Martin ran a prediction based on the current route so that he could estimate where to intercept the wayward vehicle. The line ran across the park to the ocean shelf. When Martin saw the point at which Pietr’s route exited the park, he tensed.
<Lindsey, did you say that the viewing platform at the ocean drop-off was being constructed today?>
<Yes,> Lindsey said.
<With picotech?> Martin remembered what Erin had told him, about the attempt to steal the picotech on Carthage years earlier.
<Yes. Stars! That’s where he’s heading.>
<Like a fly to shit.>
<Do you think…he wants to steal the picotech? But that doesn’t make any sense. He’s had plenty of opportunities try to do that over the last week. Better opportunities than doing it in broad daylight and surrounded by notable Trojans.>
<True, but can you think of another reason he would be heading there and refusing to answer anyone?>
<I can’t, but I still can’t believe it either. He doesn’t stand a chance. You’ve seen the security surrounding the pico. All he has is the amphibian. It’s a suicide mission.>
<Lindsey,> said Martin, <you’re downplaying this far too much. Contact the ISF detachment guarding the pico and tell them what’s happening. Have you contacted the constabulary yet? Do it now. And alert the visitors in the amphibian. Tell them what might be going on. They need to be aware so they can try to stay out of danger. Tell them not to confront Pietr and to stay calm. Let them know that help is on its way. I’m going to bring Jude back to the lab. If Pietr is planning on stealing the tech, he’s probably armed. It’s far too dangerous out here for a young child.>
Lindsey went silent. Martin hoped she was taking his advice. He swung the submersible around.
“Where are we going?” Jude asked, noticing the change in direction.
“We have to go home now,” Martin said.
“Awww, why?” the boy whined. “I want to see the octopuses.”
<Martin!> Lindsey cried. <The visitors in the amphibian are screaming. Pietr’s opened the hatch. The water’s flooding in.>
<What? What the hell is he doing?>
<They’re ten meters down. If they can’t get out of the amphibian, they could drown. And even if they do, they might drown anyway. The sea’s so rough.>
<Did you contact the constabulary?> Martin asked.
<I did, but they’re dealing with something at the government building. They said they’ll try to send help, but they don’t know how long it’ll be, and the planetary garrison’s busy too. The ISF guards at the picotech site said they can see the amphibian, but they can’t help the visitors. They can’t leave their posts,> Lindsey was almost wailing her words over the Link. <I’m coming out there.>
Martin altered the direction of the submersible. Despite the danger to his son, he couldn’t leave the visitors to die.
<They’re calling out to me,> Lindsey said, her tone full of anguish. <But I’m too far away. I’ll never reach them in time. Martin, please, help them.>
<I’m already heading there.>
“But, Daddy, I want to see the octopuses.” Jude’s eyes were wet and his chin was trembling.
Martin reached out and touched his son’s head. “I’m sorry, Jude. Another time. I promise.” He hoped he would be able to keep that promise. “You’ve been so good. Try to be good a little while longer, OK?” He fastened Jude’s safety straps.
“Hmph.” Jude folded his arms and thrust his chin into his chest. He gave Martin a disapproving look.
If the situation hadn’t been so dire, Martin would have laughed.
Damn Pietr and whatever the hell he’s doing. What is the man thinking?
Martin could hardly believe how out of character his actions were. Lindsey was right. Pietr was on a suicide mission.
He checked the submersible’s location. He should reach the amphibian soon…. Maybe he could drag the vessel to the surface. If rescue services arrived in time, they might save anyone who had drowned.
<Stars, something’s happened,> said Lindsey. <They’ve all gone silent.>
A powerful whoomf hit the Torpedo, bowling over Martin’s submersible like a toy boat hit by a tsunami. It spun end over end so that all Martin could see was whirling water filled with sand and bubbles. The sound of Jude screaming filled his ears as he fought to regain control of the vessel…but it was hopeless.
STELLAR DATE: 05.25.8941 (Adjusted Years)
LOCATION: Government House, Heliopolis, Ithaca
REGION: Troy, New Canaan System
Isa felt nervous as she took the elevator to the floor that housed the TBLA. She checked the news feeds, but she couldn’t find anything that would explain the deployment of so much security at Government House. Tanis had long since departed Troy, returning to Landfall and her work at the system’s seat of government, so the guards weren’t there to protect New Canaan’s leader. No other dignitaries were visiting, according to the media.
Perhaps word was received that yet another secession rally has been organized, and additional guards were deployed as a precaution?
That had to be it. There was to be a protest of some kind at the government building. It was the only explanation that made any sense.
Isa inwardly groaned. She hoped the protest wouldn’t prompt the civil servants to close their offices. She needed to solve her licensing problem quickly.
The elevator seemed to stop at each of the fifty-five floors between the lobby and Isa’s destination. She stood in the corner, trying to control her impatience as people got on and off. Why did the place she needed to go to have to be at the very top of the building?
When she finally reached the right floor and stepped out of the elevator, a sign on the wall directed her to the left. She walked down a short passage and opened the door with ‘TBLA’ emblazoned on it. Once inside, Isa groaned again, aloud this time.
An automaton receptionist sat at the desk in front of an opaque screen that didn’t seem to contain any entrance to the offices behind it. No humans were visible.
I need to speak to a person, not a machine.
The automaton would be programmed to fend off visitors so the human workers could avoid the necessity of dealing with anyone face to face. She knew this because it was the exact reason an automaton had staffed the front desk at Placement Services.
“Good morning,” said the automaton. “How may I help you today?”
Isa had no choice but to try to circumvent the machine’s purpose. “I want to speak to someone about having my business license reinstated.”
“Thank you,” the automaton replied. “I have identified you as Isa Chen. I am sending the relevant information to your—”
“No. I can look up that information myself. I need to speak to someone now. It’s urgent. I believe my landlord might have involved me in a scheme to defraud the—”
“You wish to discuss a fraud allegation? I’m afraid you have arrived at the wrong department. I am sending you the—”
“No! My landlord is the one who committed the fraud, but I’m the one who lost my license. I just need to explain—”
“I understand. I am sending a form for you—”
The automaton cut out and froze. A beat later, an alarm sounded over the Link. Then an audible alarm blared out in the reception area.
The automaton returned to life. “I’m afraid we are experiencing an emergency. For your safety, please remain where you are and await further instructions.”
Something was going on downstairs. The rally had probably turned nasty and the security chief was putting the building on lockdown.
“Dammit,” said Isa as she realized what that meant. If I’m not careful….
She ran for the office’s door and reached it only just in time. As she pushed it open, she heard the locking mechanism engage. Unable to secure itself, the door tried to close. Isa resisted the pressure long enough to slip through the gap. Once through, the door slammed and sealed.
There was no way she was spending who knew how many hours trapped inside a room with an uncooperative automaton until the crisis was over. And if secessionists were the cause of the emergency, they just might be crazy enough to do something dangerous like try to blow the place up.
The elevators were not working, of course. Isa rushed around behind them to the stairwell. She began running down, taking the steps two at a time.
What a day!
First she’d received the news she was no longer in business, and now she’d narrowly escaped being caught in some stupid political conflict. Or she hoped she had. What a story she would have to tell Martin and Erin that evening.
Maybe they should give up on Troy, even if the secession didn’t go ahead. The marine safari park where Martin had been working was almost ready to open, and Erin would be finished with Messene Station in a couple of months. Maybe they should all move back to Carthage. She could open a gallery in Landfall; the rental would be more expensive, but she wouldn’t be living in fear of political unrest destroying all her efforts.
The Link alarm had ceased, but the audible alarm continued to blare, echoing down the stairwell.
Isa didn’t hear the footsteps above her, belonging to a man also running down the stairs, until he was only a couple of steps behind.
“You had the same idea,” he shouted over the alarm as he drew abreast of her.
“I did. I don’t want to be stuck in here.”
The man had slowed down and was taking the steps with her.
“You don’t have to wait for me,” she said.
“Oh, it’s OK. I was getting out of breath anyway.”
The man wasn’t out of breath at all. Isa wondered if he was staying with her in case the trouble going on down below was dangerous. That was sweet of him. He was wearing office clothes. She guessed he was probably a government worker, not a visitor like her.
“What department do you work for?” the man asked.
“I don’t. I only came here to speak to someone about my business license,” Isa told him.
They passed the door to the forty-third floor.
“No kidding,” the man said. “Name’s Curtis. My department deals with business licenses. What’s your problem?”
“Don’t worry about it. Now’s probably not a good time. I’m Isa, by the way.”
“This building has fifty-five floors. We’re going to be taking the stairs for a while yet. Tell me what you’re here for. Maybe I can help.”
Isa quickly gave the man the whole story, including her hunch that her landlord’s fraud could be responsible for the loss of her license.
The man was silent for a moment. “Hmm, yeah. Good guess. You’re right. Give me a second…. OK, it’s all done.”
“You reinstated my license?”
“That’s great. Thanks a lot.”
“It’s the least I can do when you’ve been drawn into this stupid mess.”
“Do you know what’s going on down there? I noticed guards arriving earlier.”
“Oh, I forgot you aren’t on the official channel. It’s a coup.”
“A coup? By who?”
“Ha, who do you think? Damned Taranian secessionists. They didn’t get in at the last election and couldn’t build a majority government, so they’re trying to take over the government of Troy by force. We’d better be careful when we reach the bottom. It’s mayhem down there.”
They passed floor thirty-seven. Thirty-six. Thirty-five. Isa was getting tired. The alarm continued to sound, and the noise was hurting her ears. Around them, more people had joined the general exodus.
A military coup? That seems excessive.
Like the rest of New Canaan’s inhabited worlds, Troy was a democracy. If some of the people wanted the planet to secede, they could campaign for it through the regular channels.
Floor twenty-four. Twenty-three. Twenty-two.
“Are you a Trojan?” the man asked.
“No, I settled on Carthage first. I arrived here with my family a few months ago. Before that, I was Noctus, worked on the Hyperion and on Victoria for a while.”
“No kidding. You’re—”
“Short for a Noctus. I know.”
“Sorry. I guess you must hear that all the time.”
“Don’t worry about it. Are you from Troy?”
“Yeah, I was one of the first settlers. Came here directly out of stasis. I saw this place being built.”
“You’re a Trojan?” Isa couldn’t quite believe him.
“That’s what I said. Why? Does that seem strange?”
She almost said, ‘But you aren’t an asshole.’ Almost. “Do you like it here?”
“It’s OK,” the man finally replied. “Though to be honest, I’ve been looking at the other planets lately.”
She stifled a smile.
Tanis’s visit clearly hadn’t done any good. Perhaps the fact that the invasion drill had taken place while she’d been visiting hadn’t helped matters. Isa doubted that Martin was the only one who was disgruntled about the mandatory drilling and all the disruption it had caused.
She could see why people were pissed off. Most New Canaanites weren’t like herself and the few other Noctus who had come with the colonists from the Kap. They didn’t appreciate what they had.
The Intrepid’s colonists had left Sol to get away from the spectre of war; they hadn’t signed up for living in a system that was under threat. None except a very few had even known the ship was carrying technology that would make the colony one of the most dangerous places in the galaxy to live. So Isa could appreciate their point of view. But there had to be a better way of reacting than through enacting a military takeover.
Nine. Eight. Seven. Six.
The alarm stopped.
Isa and the man from the TBLA had nearly reached the first floor. They rounded the corner that led to the final flight of stairs, only to meet a crowd who had arrived there before them. Forty or fifty people were clustered around the double exit and were backed up the stairs to the second floor. The report of weapons fire from the lobby was loud.
When Isa saw the lines of people who were also trying to leave the building, she muttered choice words under her breath. She’d hoped the fight would be going on in the debating chamber. That was where all the politicians were.
She checked the public news feed and found nothing except generic reports. Either no media representatives were present to report on the details of what was happening, or the government or secessionists had managed a media blackout. Either way, Isa didn’t know exactly what to expect if she tried to leave.
“Are you seeing anything on the official channel?” she asked her companion.
“Not much. ISF soldiers and security are fighting it out across most of the first floor. Seems like most of the security guards have been bribed to take the secessionists’ side, and some soldiers have swapped too. Oh wait, There’s more. Holy shit! The legislature’s leader and several upper house members have been taken hostage. The secessionists are declaring they’ve formed a new government, and that Troy is now an independent republic.”
“Terrific,” Isa said. “So what you’re saying is, we could be in for a long wait. Is there any other way out of this place?”
“Not from here. If we could reach the basement, there’s an autocab park that exits onto the main road. It’s possible the fighting hasn’t spread that far.”
“How do we reach the basement?”
“The entrance to the lower stairwell is on the other side of the lobby. But we would have to make it across the space without being hit by stray rounds. I don’t think it’s worth the risk. It’s safer to stay here and hope to avoid becoming involved in the fight. Even if the secessionists win, they aren’t likely to be interested in us. We only need to stay out of the way until it’s all over.”
Isa was inclined to agree. She was regretting her decision to run from the licensing office. Fifty-five stories high above the danger zone, behind locked doors, had to be safer than where she was, one door away from the action.
“Maybe it would be best to go back upstairs.”
“I think you’re right.”
The man accompanied Isa as she began the climb to a higher, safer spot. She was glad that Martin and Jude were at the marine park and Erin was on her space station. All her family should be safe from danger.
Her experiences that day had made up her mind. The family should definitely leave Troy at the earliest opportunity. Aside from the general asshole problem, the planet was obviously not safe—not a good place to bring up a child.
Suddenly, Martin’s voice broke through her thoughts.
<Isa, there’s been an attack here at the park. Someone’s trying to steal the picotech, and I have Jude here with me.>
STELLAR DATE: 05.25.8941 (Adjusted Years)
LOCATION: Marine Park, Ithaca
REGION: Troy, New Canaan System
When Myrrdan’s agent arrived at the entrance to the marine safari park, several other visitors were already waiting. The tour guide was with the early arrivals, chatting about the park and what the men and women could expect to see. It was no wonder the seven tour participants were there fifteen minutes before they’d been asked to turn up: excitement over the opening of the marine safari had been building throughout Troy for several weeks. These people knew they were privileged to be among the first to see the place.
The agent was not concerned that these tourists would be present at the crucial moment. None of them were undercover security personnel. Apart from the extremely tall, bone-thin, odd-looking woman in tight-fitting scarlet clothes with brilliant green hair, the visitors looked very ordinary, though they had to occupy positions of some importance in Trojan society to receive a tour ticket. They would all die, of course, but so would all the New Canaanites, and then Myrrdan would be the sole possessor of picotech.
The agent gave the code for his ticket to the tour guide. She asked him to wait with the others and left to attend to other business. The agent ignored the friendly greetings of his fellow tourists. He was waiting for something. Time was slipping away. To arrive at the picotech deployment site while the module remained viable, the agent needed to enter the sea soon.
At one end of the entrance area, the mouth of a tunnel opened. Strung across the entrance was a sign stating ‘Staff Only’. The agent looked into the dark hole and then glanced around. The tour guide hadn’t returned. That was good. Of everyone present, the woman was most likely to notice a deviation from the proposed route. It would be preferable, though not essential, if she could be left behind.
Myrrdan’s agent returned his gaze to the tunnel. He was rewarded with the sight of a figure leaving it. Excellent. The mind-controlled park lab tech was working. The man approached the group and immediately recognized the agent. He acknowledged him with a nod.
“Come this way, ladies and gentlemen,” said the tech. “The tour’s about to start.” He walked to the nearest amphibian.
The vehicle’s door concertinaed open, and the tech climbed aboard.
“Isn’t it too early?” asked the strangely dressed woman. “I didn’t think the tour was set to leave for another ten minutes.”
“Maybe we’re only getting ready to leave,” a man in a hat told her. “He probably only wants us to take our seats so we can be on our way promptly.”
The man walked to the vehicle, followed by his wife, and mounted its steps. The other tour participants boarded the amphibian afterward.
The odd woman looked around. “What about the guide?” she asked the agent. “Shouldn’t she be here too?”
Myrrdan’s agent shrugged and left her to enter the vehicle himself. He sat at the front, next to the lab tech, who had settled into the driver’s seat.
It was time to leave.
The agent was about to tell the tech to drive the amphibian into the sea when the brightly dressed woman appeared at the door and walked up the steps. Her gaze roved the seats. She selected one on its own near the back of the vehicle and sat down.
The agent touched the control, and the door closed.
“Are we leaving already?” said the man who had spoken to the odd woman. “Don’t we have to wait for everyone else?”
Slightly alarmed murmurings came from the other passengers.
“There are two tours today,” said the tech. “This one leaves first.” He started up the engine and backed the amphibian out of its bay.
“I changed my mind,” said the strange woman. “I’ll take the next tour.” She walked along the narrow aisle between the seats, stooping to avoid hitting her head on the ceiling, and gripping the seat backs to maintain her balance in the swaying vehicle.
The tech ignored her and drove the amphibian forward, toward the ramp that led into the waves.
“I said I want to get off,” the woman insisted. “Stop and open the door.”
“Sit down,” said the agent. “We’re on our way.”
“This is none of your business,” snapped the woman. She addressed the park employee tech. “Hey, stop this vehicle. I said I’ll take the next tour.”
“Sit down,” the agent repeated, rising to his feet.
“No need to get excited,” said the man in the hat. “This is supposed to be fun, right?”
The amphibian was traveling down the ramp. In another second, it hit the waves. The vehicle rocked, and the woman staggered.
“Better sit down,” the man in the hat said.
“This is crazy,” said the odd woman. “I only wanted to take the next tour. It’s like I’m being kidnapped.”
“It’s too late to leave now,” the man said with a shrug. “Does it matter which tour you take? Might as well return to your seat and relax.”
Looking deeply disgruntled, the woman wobbled along the aisle as the amphibian lurched in the swell. The propellers had kicked in, and the vehicle was sinking into the water.
The coral reef, which was the first stop on the itinerary, lay directly ahead. The tech drove the vehicle toward the marine structures, where fish in vivid colors swarmed. The tour participants were delighted and chattered happily.
Myrrdan’s agent guessed they were gazing through the windows and pointing, but he was looking straight ahead. The reef held no interest for him. He had to concentrate on controlling the tech so that he would guide the amphibian to the correct spot.
On one side of the view lay the complex that held the marine park laboratories. Movement there attracted the agent’s attention. Wide doors were opening. A submersible emerged through them.
Damn. Where is that vehicle going? Surely not near the site where the picotech is to be used?
The agent hadn’t factored interference of staff from the marine park labs into his plans. He cursed again. Everything had been perfect, each step executed consummately, except for this.
But there wasn’t anything he could do about it now. Only one member of the staff at the lab was under his control, and the agent was sitting right next to him. If another worker wandered into his path, he would have to deal with him or her decisively.
The agent watched the submersible, tracking its trajectory. The vessel didn’t seem to be traveling toward the picotech deployment site.
He hoped that wouldn’t change. He didn’t like the idea of another unexpected variable to account for in his plan.
The amphibian clipped the edge of the reef, shattering a section of coral. Fragments broke off and spun out before floating away. The fish panicked and were gone in a few flicks of their tails. The passengers gasped and uttered cries of dismay.
“Driver,” someone yelled, “watch what you’re doing.”
Another voice said, “I wish we’d waited for the second tour.”
The lab tech said nothing. An unhappy, troubled mood settled over the passengers of the amphibian. Their chatter melted to silence as the tech drove them away from the coral reef and out into deeper, darker water.
“What’s next on the itinerary?” the man in the hat asked in an apparent attempt to boost the mood.
“Sea mammals,” someone replied, her tone devoid of enthusiasm.
“Awesome,” said the man. “I love them. Wish we could get out and swim with them. But that’s not allowed, right?” The man appeared to be addressing the tech.
“No,” he replied.
“Haha, nevermind. I’m sure we’ll be back when the park’s properly open. We’ll have plenty of chances then.”
“I thought the sea mammals’ area was near the shore,” said the odd woman. “Are we going the right way?”
No one answered her.
The amphibian was driving deeper under the water, and the light was fading. Internal lights in the vessel flicked on, lending the passengers’ skin a pale, ghostly hue.
“I’m sure we’re going the wrong way,” the odd woman muttered.
They were going the right way, according to Myrrdan’s agent’s plan. Exactly the right way.
The agent checked their progress. In another minute, they would arrive at the spot where things would start to get exciting. The agent had a list of actions with rough timings. A couple of minutes lost or gained here or there wouldn’t make a difference, providing everything happened in the correct order.
He looked over his shoulder at the passengers. They gazed out the windows, looking for dolphins, seals, and sea lions. Their stupid faces were expectant, but also perturbed. The agent guessed they were already looking forward to the end of the tour, which was arriving sooner than they thought.
What would the seven passengers do if they knew their lives were soon to come to an end?
The agent was about to find out.
He sent out the instruction to the lab tech. The man cut the engine.
“We’re here,” said a passenger. “Can anyone see any dolphins?”
The amphibian was coasting to a stop and began to drift upward.
The agent sent another instruction. The emergency hatch in the roof of the vehicle opened, and a deluge poured in. Shrieks of terror filled the air. The agent held tight to his armrests as the water swept around his legs. He sent a third instruction, and the vessel’s door opened.
The additional water engulfed the vessel’s interior. The shrieks and screams devolved to gasps, cries, and bubbling, distorted yells. The amphibian was full of scrabbling, clawing hands and feet. Only the agent and the tech remained still. The man sat impassively, held in his seat by his safety belt, as the water rapidly rose up to his chest and covered his head.
When the pressure had sufficiently equalized, the agent kicked off his shoes and swam out of the vehicle, pleased to be free of the clutching hands and the bodies that had buffeted him. His mods allowed him to remain underwater indefinitely, and he was only a little concerned that the same could be true of others in the amphibian, particularly the tech.
There was also the small chance that some of them could be revived after they had drowned. The agent was not prepared to take that chance. If he failed to steal the picotech, he could be identified by anyone who had seen him that day. He had to maintain his anonymity at all costs. Therefore, the park employee and the tourists had to die.
That was not a problem. The agent swam down to the sea floor, where he sought and quickly found a certain group of rocks. The water’s buoyancy made them easy to move, and he revealed the concussive bomb the tech had hidden there weeks previously. The agent removed it and the other hidden equipment that was necessary to his plan.
He swung around to face the amphibian. Lifeless bodies bobbed against the windows. A couple of the passengers had made it out, the strange woman and the man in the hat, though his hat was now floating away on the current. The man appeared to have abandoned his wife.
The two escapees were quite comical in their mad paddling efforts as they tried to swim to the surface. He would soon put a stop to that, and at the same time, take the picotech guards out of the equation.
The agent activated a grav field around himself and his equipment. Then he set off the bomb.
The effects were spectacular. A visible wave spread out with surprising speed and energy. The grav field deflected the wave, but it crushed everything else it touched. The concussive force struck the two survivors of the flooding of the amphibian and flung them like rag dolls. Their bodies remained intact, but only skin was holding them together. The amphibian shot away and tumbled over and over on the sandy ground.
Confident that the explosion had killed everyone inside the vessel, the agent set out to complete his next task. He deactivated the grav field and set up another item of equipment: a missile launcher. Somewhere on the surface nearby, a gunship floated as part of the picotech security. The concussion wave would not have affected the ship, and it had to be taken out immediately.
The agent set the launcher to target the gunship. He wafted his arms and kicked his legs to swim backward, and then reactivated the grav field. The missile’s guidance system locked onto its target and fired.
In a torrent of churning water, the projectile was gone. All that remained was a stream of bubbles in its wake. Somewhere above, it made contact with its target, and a second shock wave rippled through the water. Broken pieces of wreckage began to rain gently down, spinning in the aftermath of the weapon’s impact.
The agent picked up his third piece of equipment: a submersible scooter. He could swim a long distance beneath the surface, but not quickly. The motor would carry him to the pico worksite and then onward across the Sea of Marmara.
He checked the news feeds. The attack on Government House had begun.
Things are going well.
Now it was time to get his prize.
* * * * *
Gripping the handles of the scooter, Myrrdan’s agent sped from the destroyed amphibian and the corpses within toward the ocean shelf. If his timing was correct, the first explosion would have hit the guards protecting the picotech before the module had been deployed.
The agent was confident that even the guards’ armor would not have saved them from the effect of the bomb, but caution had gotten him this far, and he was not about to abandon it now that he was so near the prize.
He glanced down at the railgun strapped to the scooter. The weapon fired titanium pellet rounds that were designed for underwater use. He placed a hand on it to ensure it was secure.
Next to it was a mono-edged machete that glinted in the rays of sunshine coming down from the surface. Nothing and no one was going to get in his way.
The only noises the agent could hear were the rush of blood in his ears and the distant, unidentifiable sounds of sea creatures. What he feared most was the sound of a motor approaching, which would only mean someone had turned up to kill him. But the only motor noise he could detect was the sound his scooter gave out.
The water grew colder and darker as the agent approached the edge of the ocean. The liquid chilled him as it flowed through his mouth and down into his lungs. The light from the scooter cut through the darkness.
Something crossed the light beam.
The rush of blood grew loud in the agent’s ears. He swung his scooter for a closer look.
It was a guard.
But the man was floating, his arms and legs limp and his head hanging at the wrong angle. The concussive wave had done its work. If the agent had been able to sigh in relief, he would have done so, but his respiration was only working one way. He contented himself with a slow blink.
There would be several more corpses in the vicinity of the pico module, but otherwise, the coast should be clear. He was nearly there.
In front of him, the seabed dropped away precipitously. He was swimming in ocean water, currents from the choppy seas above pushing and pulling at him. But the scooter’s strong motor dragged him inexorably forward. The agent hadn’t been able to ascertain the picotech module’s exact location, but it had to be somewhere nearby.
Another guard’s corpse appeared from the gloom, its form unnaturally twisted. The agent tried to avoid it, but the body crashed into him, and he felt the jellylike interior. He shuddered and heaved the carcass off of him, ducking underneath it. Half-expecting the thing to come to life and grab him, the agent sped away and did not look back.
Then something else emerged from the dark depths of the ocean. Not a dead guard this time, but a sea creature, massive and looming. It was some kind of gigantic shark. The thing was swimming closer.
The agent recalled the intended use of the picotech module. It was there in order to create a viewing platform where visitors could watch for ‘monsters of the deep.’ The shark that was approaching had to be one of those monsters.
Myrrdan’s agent didn’t think it would attack him. No matter how predatory the creature might have been in its original form, all living organisms in New Canaan had been genetically engineered to never see humans as prey.
But what if the shark had been impacted by the concussion bomb? What if the wave damaged its brain? What if it had lost its aversion to humans?
The agent turned his scooter to bank away from the approaching creature. But though his machine was fast, it was not as fast as a marine predator like this one.
The shark had almost reached him. Its teeth were as large as the agent’s head. Its mouth was gaping, and its eyes were rolling white.
The agent fired the railgun, but the pellets sank into the monster’s flesh and disappeared without it showing the slightest reaction. He fired again, aiming for the white, terrifying eyes. The shark was upon him.
At the last split second, the scooter pulled the agent from the path of the shark’s maw.
The agent screamed a silent scream, expecting the shark to alter direction and scoop him up in one bite, severing him on those horrifying teeth. But the monster passed him by.
The agent looked into the shark’s eye and then along its long, thick body, clothed in rough, dark skin. The shark wasn’t swimming. It was slowly sinking. Dead.
Fear had confused the agent. The shark hadn’t been swimming toward him; the creature had only been drifting after the concussion bomb had killed it.
He’d wasted more time than he should have. Finding the deployment module and leaving quickly had to remain his only focus now. The distraction at the capital would only divert the security forces for so long.
The scooter pulled him along the edge of the shelf, the black abyss yawning beneath him. The agent redirected the propulsion device to take him back to the seabed.
Then he saw it. Inconspicuous and alone, unactivated and directly below him lay the picotech module. The agent almost released his hold on his scooter in delight. He angled the machine downward, reached out, and grabbed the module, one small box that contained the secret to ultimate and everlasting control of the galaxy.
He opened a sack that hung beneath the propulsion scooter and slipped the module into it.
Joyful triumph was beginning to well up in the agent’s chest. Soon, the long subterfuge would be over. Years of hiding in plain sight would come to an end. The interminable watching, listening, and planning would cease. But he knew he had to stay calm and steady to the end.
Several months previously, on the coast of the Sea of Marmara, in a deserted spot covered in dense vegetation, the agent had concealed a small pinnace. Now that he had secured the picotech, all he had to do was reach the vessel and escape Troy.
He set off.
He soon re-encountered the massive shark, which had come to rest on the seabed. Scavengers were already swarming over the monster, devouring its flesh. The agent continued on, gripping the rail gun. Nothing else should stand in his way on the journey, but he was sticking to his principle of caution at all costs.
He reached the downed amphibian. The free-floating corpses had disappeared, perhaps swept away in the current. Other bodies remained inside the vessel. The agent was about to turn his gaze to his onward route when he saw something new at the scene. Another vessel. A small submersible.
The agent couldn’t understand what the submersible was doing there at first. Backup forces from the capital should not have arrived yet. But what he was looking at was not a vessel of the security forces. It wasn’t armored and it carried no weapons.
Then he saw the safari park’s logo on the side. This was the submersible he’d seen departing the complex earlier. One of the employees must have come to investigate what had happened.
No matter. The railgun would put a quick end to its occupants.
STELLAR DATE: 05.25.8941 (Adjusted Years)
LOCATION: Government House, Heliopolis, Ithaca
REGION: Troy, New Canaan System
Isa was frozen on the staircase inside Government House.
“Is something wrong?” asked Curtis, studying Isa’s face.
<Martin, please tell me what’s happening. Are you OK?>
It was the third time Isa had spoken to Martin, but he hadn’t said anything after telling her that there had been an attack at the park.
“It’s my—” she began to reply to her companion.
<There was an explosion.> Martin finally replied. <We’re shook up, but we’re OK. Some people might be hurt. I have to try to help them.>
<Don’t. Please. You have Jude with you. It could be dangerous. Let the emergency services deal with it.>
<I’m not sure they’re coming. Lindsey said there’s some trouble in Heliopolis and all the services are tied up dealing with it.>
The coup. He’s talking about the coup, she realized. <There is some trouble here,> she replied. <Big trouble. But I still think you shouldn’t take Jude into danger.>
<I can’t leave those people to die, Isa. I just can’t. I’ll be careful. If it looks too risky, I won’t go near. But I have to find out if I can help.>
<OK, I understand.> Isa looked up at Curtis. “That was my husband. He works at the marine safari park. He said there was an attack there. An explosion. I’m not sure. I think he said someone’s trying to steal picotech.”
“Whoa, it never rains but it pours, right? A coup and someone trying to steal picotech on the same day. Who would have thought it?”
“I know.” Isa paused. Her gaze met Curtis’s. “Do you think there’s a connection? It’s way too much of coincidence.”
“I was thinking the same thing.”
Isa was already deeply worried about Martin and Jude, but this latest revelation almost paralyzed her with fear.
“When my husband said there’d been an attempt to steal the picotech, I thought it was only some fool or lunatic. But what if the thief organized all this?” She gestured toward the doors that led to the lobby. The sounds of the firefight continued to penetrate into the stairwell. “What if the coup is just a distraction to make it easier to steal the tech?”
“Then I’d say you better tell your husband to stay well away. If the thief has the power and cunning to create this kind of uproar and turn a planet upside down, he isn’t someone I’d like to go up against.”
<Martin,> said Isa. <Get out of there. Leave now. If someone is attempting to steal the tech, that person is incredibly dangerous, and those people you want to help are almost certainly already dead.>
<OK.> Martin sounded shocked and mournful. <You’re right. I found them. They’re all dead, Isa. Every one. Something terrible’s happened to them. It must have been the explosion. I can’t…help. I’m turning around and heading back to the labs.>
<Good. Please be careful. Please take care.>
Isa’s fear and tension eased. She hoped Martin wouldn’t encounter the picotech thief on his journey. If the thief had managed to kill the guards and steal the tech, hopefully he would only want to get away as fast as possible. Hopefully he would ignore an innocent scientist and his small companion.
“Everything OK?” Curtis asked.
“He says he found some dead bodies but that he’s going to leave the place now. I hope he makes it back without any problems. He has our son with him.”
Curtis touched her shoulder. “I’m sure they’ll both be fine. Now we just need to sit tight here and wait for things to calm down out there. Darned politicians and warmongers. Why can’t they let us live our lives in peace and quiet?”
They sat on a tread at the edge of the crowd waiting to leave the stairwell.
<Someone’s here,> Martin said. <He’s on a scooter, and he’s got a gun.>
<Stars, Martin, get out of there!>
<He’s seen us. He’s firing.>
Isa leapt to her feet.
“What’s wrong?” asked Curtis.
She ran down the stairs, fighting to pass people blocked her way.
“They’re in danger,” she yelled to Curtis, who was following her. “The thief’s spotted them. I have to do something.”
People were clustered at the double doors at the bottom, trying to listen to what was happening on the other side. Isa grabbed shoulders and pulled the people out of her path. She had to reach the doors. She had to get to Martin and Jude.
“Isa,” Curtis shouted. “You can’t go out there. You’ll be shot to bits.”
“I can,” Isa shouted back, “and I will!” She breathed in deeply until her lungs were at full capacity. She wrenched the door open and roared into the lobby as loudly as she could, “STOP!”
The gunfire ceased. The astonishment of the soldiers and government security was almost palpable.
Isa didn’t pause to wonder how long their surprise would last. She ran. She crossed the space to the doors opposite in four or five leaping steps and burst through to the stairway to the basement. Behind her, the firefight started up again, but she was safe.
She bounded down the stairs. Curtis had said an autocab station occupied the basement level. She would take a cab back to the gallery, where her aircar was parked on the roof. Then she would fly out to the marine park. The aircar wasn’t rated for submersion, but she would figure out the problem of how to reach Martin and Jude on her way.
She flew through the entrance to the autocab station. There they were, ranks and ranks of them. Isa approached the nearest cab, but it wouldn’t open its door. She strode to the next, and the next. They were all the same—not functioning. She wondered if that was why no cab had come to her while she had been on her way.
Did the picotech thief shut down the service to create more confusion and delay?
She didn’t know, but she had to get to her aircar one way or another. She could see daylight shining through the exit on the far side of the station. If she couldn’t use a cab, she would have to use the next best thing.
She began to run.
<Martin, what’s happening? I’m trying to reach you, but it’s going to take a while.>
When Martin didn’t answer, Isa repeated herself. She still hadn’t gotten an answer by the time she’d reached the other side of the station and was running up the ramp. Isa had been scared that fighting outside the building would prevent her escape from the rear of Government House, but the troops didn’t seem to be targeting that area. The road was deserted. Wise Trojans had gone home to wait out the storm. Isa set off along the street at a sprint.
<Martin, please answer me. Please tell me you’re OK. Martin?>
Terror that something horrendous was happening to her husband and son lent Isa speed she hardly believed possible. She was racing through Heliopolis, yet she barely felt out of breath. In another few minutes, she would be at the gallery.
Oh stars, I haven’t talked to Erin! She reached out immediately. <Erin, have you heard from Martin? Do you know if he’s OK?>
<Hi, Isa. No, I haven’t spoken to him since this morning. Why wouldn’t he be OK? Isn’t he out at the park?>
<Core, you don’t know?>
<Er, no. We just heard there’s been an attempted coup, but if he’s at the park, he should be fine. The military wouldn’t be interested in an entertainment venue. Isa, you’re scaring me. What’s going on?>
She took a deep breath and explained where the real danger was.
STELLAR DATE: 05.25.8941 (Adjusted Years)
LOCATION: Marine Park, Ithaca
REGION: Troy, New Canaan System
Jude had been frightened by the submersible’s tumble through the water, but he was OK. Martin checked him over as he was explaining what had happened to Isa. His son didn’t have any cuts and he’d been held securely in his safety straps the entire time. He’d already begun to stop crying.
The submersible had survived the shock wave without any damage. All its systems were working normally, and there were no leaks.
Martin was torn. What he most wanted to do was get Jude out of there. He wasn’t sure what was happening, but it definitely wasn’t a situation that was safe for a young child. Yet he also didn’t think he couldn’t bring himself to leave people to die.
While he was talking to Isa, Lindsey was speaking to him, also over the Link. She was telling him that she was on her way but that he was only five minutes from the amphibian.
“I want Octy,” said Jude. The toy had fallen to the floor of the submersible when the wave hit them.
Martin picked it up and handed it to him. He took a long look at his son’s sweet face.
I couldn’t bear it if anything happened to him…but could I live with myself if someone I could have saved lost their life because I didn’t help them?
Telling Isa his decision, Martin started up the submersible and drove it toward the last known location of the amphibian. The vehicle was transmitting but it hadn’t moved since the explosion. Its engine had probably been disabled by the wave.
As he drew nearer to the other vessel, Martin began to see the bodies of dead fish, also killed by the explosion. The water was murky due to the choppy surface creating waves that disturbed the loose sand and debris of the seabed. He probably wouldn’t see the amphibian until he was right on top of it. That meant he also wouldn’t see Pietr if he was still in the vicinity. He mulled over the likelihood of the tech trying to hurt him or Jude, and found it hard to believe, but he also couldn’t believe that Pietr wanted to steal the picotech.
Martin looked at Jude again. The little boy was picking up on his father’s tension. He was quiet and looking around with frightened eyes, crushing Octy to his chest.
Slowing the submersible, Martin considered that Pietr had been playing a very clever game for months and would not give up on his plan easily. But Martin wasn’t interested in preventing him from stealing the picotech—Pietr had to be armed, and he couldn’t go up against an armed man. He only wanted to try to save the passengers if he could.
He checked his position. He should be nearly at the amphibian.
The vessel was lying upside down on the sea floor. It was full of water, just as Lindsey had said. He could also see figures inside. They had drowned, but if he could get them out quickly, there was a chance they could be revived. Rescue services had to be on their way, despite the problems in the capital. Lindsey had contacted them ages ago.
I just have to—damn!
Martin knew he couldn’t leave the submersible. Initially, he’d been thinking he could tow the amphibian to the surface, or perhaps retrieve the passengers one by one, but he if he opened the submersible to leave it, Jude would drown.
Then the murkiness in the water cleared a little, and Martin saw into the amphibian more clearly. The bodies were…smashed. They had been crushed against the vessel’s walls and windows. There was no saving these people. No brain could have survived that amount of damage. Inside each of those poor people’s skulls would be nothing but mush.
As the awful comprehension hit him, Isa was telling him something about Pietr being extremely dangerous. She was insisting that he get their son to safety, and Martin agreed. There was no point in remaining.
“We’re going back now,” he said to Jude.
The little boy received the news solemnly, only registering his understanding with the expression of his large eyes. Martin began to turn the submersible, while at the same time telling Lindsey what he’d seen. In the middle of the vessel’s movement, the engine cut out. Martin tried it again, but it didn’t respond. He guessed the shockwave had done more harm than he’d thought. They would have to wait for Lindsey to turn up.
Perhaps an unconscious part of his mind had registered movement in the corner of his vision, for all of a sudden, Martin felt a compulsion to turn to his left. When he did, he saw a figure in the weeds. The man’s eyes were open and focused.
He’s alive! Thank stars someone survived the attack.
But Martin’s surge of happiness turned to horror when he saw the man lift a weapon and aim it.
<Someone’s here,> he told Isa. <Shit! He’s got a gun.>
<Stars, Martin, get out of there!>
<He’s seen us. He’s firing.>
There was nothing Martin could do. He couldn’t maneuver the submersible out of the way with the engines offline.
At the last second, he unclipped his safety harness and threw himself across Jude. He heard the rounds hitting the submersible with dull thumps. Then he heard a crack.
One of the windows had been hit. Water sprayed from it onto Martin’s back. Water was running in through other holes, too.
The shooting finally stopped. Martin waited a long minute, but no further shots struck the submersible.
“Are you OK?” he asked Jude.
He lifted himself off his son and checked the boy over. He didn’t seem to have been hit. Martin felt warm liquid running down his calf and knew the same could not be said for himself.
Eamon said, <I will fix that. It’s through and through. By the way, I just received notification that rescue services have departed Heliopolis.>
<What? They’ve only just left?>
<It’s due to the coup. It’s chaos there.>
<At least that guy seems to have left us alone. He must have only wanted to warn me to stay away. Message received. I wonder what’s happened to Pietr? That must have been his accomplice.>
Water had pooled on the submersible’s floor, now red with Martin’s blood, and was quickly rising. Martin looked up through the roof to the surface of the water. They were about ten meters down. If no one reached them before the submersible filled with water, Martin could swim with Jude to the surface without any danger to the boy. The sea was still choppy, but he could tread water for hours if he had to.
The submersible suddenly rocked. It lifted and turned, forced along by an invisible flow of water. Another shockwave had hit the vessel, along with a cloud of sandy water, but where had it come from? And why? This second shockwave had felt much smaller than the first.
The vessel settled again. Whatever had happened, it hadn’t hurt them. Martin wondered if the wave was due to explosives used in a battle over the picotech. But they were some distance from the site.
A dull thunk sounded behind him. Martin turned.
The man who had shot at the them was right outside. He was carrying a knife, and he was trying to get in.
STELLAR DATE: 05.25.8941 (Adjusted Years)
LOCATION: Messene Station
REGION: Troy, New Canaan System
MacCarthy and Linch were coordinating the final touches on the space station’s maglev while Erin was stuck writing yet another report.
<Aren’t you supposed to do this kind of thing for me?> she asked Walter.
<You mean I should apply my exceptional intellect, vast knowledge, and massive wealth of resources to report writing?>
<If you’re so smart, it should be easy for you.>
<You’re right,> Walter said. <It’s true that compiling all the relevant information into an appropriately structured format would take me only a few moments.>
<Great,> Erin said. <So you’ll do it?>
<Unfortunately, I don’t have the authority, as you’re perfectly aware,> said Walter. <So it looks like you’re stuck with it.>
<Huh, some help you are. What’s the point of you taking up space in my brain if you can’t do anything useful?>
<I’m kidding,> Erin said. <This is my least favorite part of my job. Makes me cranky.>
<Don’t I know it.>
<Really?> she asked. <Am I difficult to live with when I have to do these tedious tasks?>
<No,> Walter replied. <I was kidding too.>
<I’m glad to hear it. I think we get along pretty well, don’t you?>
As Erin spoke, she recalled the early days after Walter had come to be her new AI partner. At the time, he had seemed pushy and annoying, always interfering in parts of her life that weren’t any of his business. She’d doubted that things were going to work out between them. Yet eventually, she’d come to understand that he had her best interests at heart and she’d grown to appreciate him. She’d also discovered they shared a similar sense of humor. She was going to miss him when the time came for them to part ways.
<I agree,> said Walter. <But that still doesn’t mean I’m going to write your report for you.>
<Darn it,> Erin said with mock frustration. <It was worth a try.>
Concentrating on report writing was hard at the best of times, but Erin’s mind was full of the trip to the Island of Aeolia and everything that had happened there. The view from the edge of the island over all of Thrace, and the experience of climbing down into the rainforest that grew in the cave were seared into her memory.
She was also thinking of Martin and their unspoken agreement to put aside their differences and try to get along. She wasn’t entirely comfortable with the truce, but it seemed the best option in the circumstances. It was probably the most she could hope for from him. Continuing their feud would only hurt the people she cared about, so she was willing to compromise for all their sakes, but she would never forget Martin’s abhorrent accusation.
“That’s it,” Linch exclaimed. He high-fived MacCarthy.
“Maglev’s done?” Erin asked.
“Done, dusted, and ready to roll,” Linch said.
“Good work, guys,” said Erin. “This calls for a celebration. Cream sodas all ‘round.”
“I thought you said we did a good job?” MacCarthy asked.
“I did,” replied Erin.
“Then why are you punishing us by making us drink that disgusting beverage?” asked MacCarthy.
“We are talking about the same thing, right?” Erin said. “Cream soda is the nectar of the gods.”
“If you say so,” MacCarthy said. “But I think I’ll have something else.” He took drink orders from the rest of the team and left the control room.
When MacCarthy returned with their drinks, they had a brief toast and then work continued. Unable to avoid it any longer, Erin returned to her report. The next stage of the project would involve building the sanitation plants. Not the most glamorous facility, but necessary.
Erin finally finished off her report and sent copies to Tanis and the relevant departments in Troy’s government and considered taking another tour of the station via pinnace, but knew she would have to run a gauntlet of teasing comments first.
“Hey,” said MacCarthy. “Check the news. There’s a coup happening at Government House. The secessionists are trying to take over Troy.”
“No way,” said Linch in a breathless voice as he shook his head. “Taranian bastards.”
Erin dipped into the news feed. The information was sparse. An armed attempt at taking over the government was taking place. The media anchor said the attack had begun over ten minutes ago, but the report had only just been officially confirmed. Expletives sounded around the control room as the engineers read the news.
Linch said, “I’m not surprised. This has been brewing for a long time.”
Erin pursed her lips. The Taranians had been a pain in the ass back in the Kap, and a few of them had come along to New Canaan. That they could cause so much trouble here made her blood boil.
Up until now, she’d only considered their disruptions in terms of what that would mean for completing Messene Station. Poor Tanis certainly had her hands full with Troy.
<Erin, have you heard from Martin? Do you know if he’s OK?>
<Hi, Isa. No, I haven’t spoken to him since this morning. Why wouldn’t he be OK? Isn’t he out at the park?>
<Core, you don’t know?>
<Er, no. We just heard there’s been an attempted coup, but if he’s at the park he should be fine. The military wouldn’t be interested in an entertainment venue. Isa, you’re scaring me. What’s going on?>
When Isa told her, Erin shouted aloud, “What?!” Then she jumped up and ran out of the control room. <Don’t worry. I’m going to help them.>
She sped through the corridor to the spaceport. The marine park lay almost directly beneath the space station; the flight would only take a few minutes.
<Aren’t you forgetting something?> Walter asked.
She had reached a pinnace and was climbing inside.
<What?> she asked in a rush.
<A pinnace won’t fly underwater.>
Erin started up the engine and flew out into space.
<I know, Walter. I’m not a moron. I’m not planning on flying it underwater.>
She searched for and found Martin’s location.
<Then what are you planning?>
Erin input the coordinates.
<You’ll find out.>
If she told him, he would only give her grief.
She set the pinnace on automatic and the vessel aligned itself and began to plunge downward. Pushing off from her seat, Erin propelled herself toward the back of the pinnace and the EV suit locker. She took out a suit and began to put it on. The pinnace had moved to a ninety-degree angle with the planet surface and was dropping like a stone.
Erin struggled into the suit as acceleration forced her against the bulkhead. She sealed it and pulled herself downward to return to her seat.
<Erin, I would prefer it if you would tell me what you have planned.>
<Not now, Walter. I need to concentrate.>
She would have to override the pinnace’s safety systems. She didn’t have time to make a smooth landing in the sea. Isa had said someone was shooting at Martin and Jude. A few seconds’ delay could mean the death of either of them.
The blue waters of the Sea of Marmara were speeding up to meet her. Erin gave a solid tug on her harness to make sure it was secure and then went through a mental checklist of what was onboard; all pinnaces were equipped with weapons.
Of course, none of them would work underwater. She wondered what Martin’s assailant was firing.
<Walter, the list says there’s a knife onboard, but not where it is.>
<Try under your console.>
Erin reached under and her fingers quickly encountered a knife hilt. She unclipped the weapon and drew it out.
<Thanks. Nice guess.>
<I’m just that good.>
She switched the pinnace’s controls to manual and disabled the safety systems. She knew the vessel’s structural integrity; at her current speed, the force of impact was almost certainly survivable.
Just a few moments longer….
<I wish you would—>
<Shut up, Walter.>
White-tipped waves rushed up. Erin braced, and the pinnace hit.
Even with the a-grav systems dampening the impact, she was thrown forward so hard, her safety harness felt like it was cutting into her, even through her EV suit, and her face collided with her visor. Blood ran from her nose, and for a moment, dull pain radiated, quickly quelled by Walter. Nothing was visible except sand.
The vessel had struck the seabed nose-first. Erin unfastened her harness and climbed up along the pinnace’s overhead, grabbing handholds. Water was flooding in.
When she reached the door, she thumped the manual operator with the fist that held the knife. The device didn’t respond. Erin hit it again, harder, guessing that the water was affecting it.
The door opened, and the rush of water knocked her back, breaking her grip on her handhold. She was thrown to the front of the vessel.
In a moment, the pinnace was entirely waterlogged. Erin swam upward and out of the door. The pinnace’s impact on the seabed had thrown up so much debris, the water was opaque, but her HUD had highlighted Martin’s location. She could also see another figure was approaching him.
<Martin, I’m here. I’m coming to help.>
<Erin? How did you…Someone’s trying to break into the submersible. He’s got a knife as long as Jude’s arm and twice as thick. I don’t have anything to defend us with, and the submersible’s half-full of water.>
<Just try to keep Jude safe. I’m nearly there.>
Erin’s view from her visor showed nothing but sand and water. Her HUD showed the figure of a man only two meters away. She was glad of the cloudiness of the water—it would disguise her approach. She readied her knife and kicked hard.
At her closer proximity, Erin could finally see the attacker. He had sensed her as well and swung around, showing his face.
In her surprise, Erin dropped her arm and her jaw. Martin’s attacker was her friend, the planetary engineer—and yet it wasn’t. Tony’s expression looked like it belonged to someone she didn’t know. It was full of malice, resentment, and loathing. It was as if she was seeing him for the first time.
His arm was raised and he swung it down toward her, her eyes catching the silver glint of a knife blade as it moved through the water.
STELLAR DATE: 05.25.8941 (Adjusted Years)
LOCATION: Marine Park, Ithaca
REGION: Troy, New Canaan System
Martin stared at the man trying to break into the submersible. He looked familiar, but Martin couldn’t place him. Jude was quietly crying. The reddened water had risen to Martin’s knees.
What the hell can he possibly want from us? Our engine’s dead, we can’t stop him! What possible harm does this lunatic think a biologist and a small child can do to him?
Martin looked around his vessel for something he could use as a weapon. The submersible didn’t carry any guns; if he’d been out in the water working by himself, he might have carried a knife, but that kind of implement wasn’t any use inside the small vessel. Manipulators were attached to the outside of the vehicle and operated from within, but without power, they were useless.
With the electronics dead, the man was fiddling with one of the emergency mechanical locking mechanisms on the door. Martin guessed he didn’t know how to operate it. As soon as their attacker figured out how to open the vessel, though, they were dead.
Maybe not Jude. What kind of monster would kill a child for no reason?
If Martin could distract the man long enough, Jude could be saved. Eamon had said the emergency services were on their way; they could spot Jude in the water with thermal imaging.
Martin took his son gently by the shoulders. “Jude, please listen to me carefully. You’re going swimming. Would you like that?”
“No, Daddy. I want to stay with you.”
“I know, but you can’t. Very soon, the submersible will open and it’ll fill up with water. When that happens, I want you to swim up to the surface. When you’re up there, swim in circles, OK?”
As he spoke, Martin unfastened Jude’s safety straps and pulled his shirt over his head. His son was already barefoot.
“But I want to stay with you.” Jude began to sob.
“We can’t do that today. I’m sorry. It’s very important that you do what I’m telling you. Carry on swimming in circles for as long as you can. Don’t give up. Promise me you won’t give up. Someone will come and find you.”
The attacker’s knife scraped along the roof as he worked on the lock with his other hand. Jude started and looked up, but Martin caught his face and turned it toward his own.
“Promise me, Jude. Promise Daddy you won’t stop swimming, no matter how tired you get.”
Jude nodded. “I promise.”
Martin hugged him.
“Why are you crying, Daddy?”
<Martin, I’m here. I’m coming to help.>
Martin tensed with shock. He let go of Jude.
<Erin? How did you—>
<Just try to keep Jude safe. I’m nearly there.>
“What’s wrong, Daddy?”
<Eamon, how far away is Erin?>
<Less than a minute. She’s swimming over. She crashed a pinnace into the sea not far from here.>
“Daddy,” Jude repeated. “Do I have to go swimming now?”
“No, maybe not. Mommy Erin’s coming.”
“She is?!” Jude jumped up and started looking around wildly. “Where is she?”
He shrank backward into Martin’s arms when he saw the man. Martin realized his young son was about to witness something very unpleasant. He held the boy to his chest.
“Look this way, Jude. Don’t look anywhere else.”
Holding the back of the boy’s head firmly so he couldn’t move it, Martin looked at the man. He wanted to see his face when he died. He wanted to know his son’s attacker was dead. Through the murky water and the distortion of the submersible’s roof, Martin looked the man in the eyes.
But the man turned. He must have had drones deployed to see Erin’s approach. She swam into view through the opaque water. She was wearing an EV suit and carrying a knife. The man was facing her. But Erin hesitated.
Why isn’t she stabbing him? Why isn’t she killing the bastard?
The man’s knife was high. He brought it down in a savage blow that cleanly sheared off Erin’s arm. Gouts of blood gushed out, bursting into the water.
“Daddy, you’re hurting me!”
Erin’s arm, still clutching her knife, drifted away. She was defenseless, and the attacker was raising his arm for a second blow.
“Jude, you must go swimming now. I’m opening the submersible. Swim straight up and don’t look down.”
Martin flicked the submersible’s locks open.
“Hold your breath.”
Water spurted in. Martin reached for the final lock.
He kissed his son. “I love you.”
He pushed up the roof and held tight to Jude as a wave of incoming water swept them out of their seats. He launched Jude upward with all his strength, and saw the little boy’s legs kicking as he disappeared toward the sky.
Martin swam down, heading for the patch of horribly stained water. The attacker was slashing at Erin as she lay maimed and struggling feebly on the seabed. Her EV suit was cut open, and bloody bubbles were pouring from the gashes. She was reaching, trying to take the knife from her own dead hand.
The man lifted his arm to strike at her again, but then Martin was upon him. He caught the man’s arm on his upstroke and yanked the knife from his grasp. Martin swung the blade at the attacker, slicing into his shoulder at the base of his neck.
The man clutched at his wound and twisted to take a frightened look at Martin. Kicking powerfully and using his remaining good arm, he swam away, leaving a trail of blood.
<Which way did he go? Go after him, Martin.> Erin’s voice was weak.
Martin pulled himself down to her, encircled her arm above the stump, and crushed it to stem the flow of blood.
<Walter,> Martin asked, <how is she?>
<She needs help, Martin. Quickly. She’s dying.>
<You have to stop him,> she insisted.
<No. You’re more important than the picotech.>
<I’m not. None of us are. Don’t you understand? If he gets away with the picotech, we’re all as good as dead.>
Martin looked up, hoping to see where the attacker had gone, hoping to see Jude’s legs at the surface, but the water was too cloudy, and he couldn’t see anything above.
STELLAR DATE: 05.25.8941 (Adjusted Years)
LOCATION: Isa’s Gallery, Heliopolis, Ithaca
REGION: Troy, New Canaan System
Isa reached her gallery and ran inside, taking the elevator to the upper mezzanine. She hoped to hell that Erin could do something to help Martin and Jude, though she didn’t know what. Erin was up at Messene Station, and their husband and son were at the bottom of the sea. Erin would make a great Marine, but she couldn’t work miracles.
Isa didn’t know what she could do to help either, but she was going to try her hardest.
She opened the roof hatch and raced up the stairs. In another minute, she was in her aircar and flying toward the Sea of Marmara.
She desperately wanted to know what was happening at the marine park, but if Martin was in a dangerous situation, the last thing he needed was her questions. The same with Erin. If she was attempting a rescue, Isa didn’t want to distract her.
Ithaca was flowing along beneath her. She passed over the Scamander Plain and the ribbon of its river. She’d flown the route so many times since they’d arrived in Troy…. She never imagined she would be passing these places with terror in her heart.
She couldn’t face even the idea of anything bad happening to her family. Her life would never be the same.
She was at the coast. Far below, their house stood at the edge of the cliff. They had passed so many happy times there, and some angry ones too. She would give anything to have even the bad period of their lives return, as long as they were all together and safe.
Martin’s location was calling her like a beacon. Isa sought out Erin’s location too.
She’s near him! How did she do that? Isa marvelled at the fact that, only a few minutes previously, Erin had been up at the space station. She must have flown down into the sea. Maybe that’s what I should do, though I’m not sure what I will be able to do under the water.
<Isa, where are you?>
Joy and fear burst in her.
<Martin? I’m on my way. Are you OK? Are you all safe?>
<No, I…I can’t talk. But Jude’s alone in the water.>
<What?! Where is he?>
<He’s somewhere above me. He’s by himself. Please try to find him.>
<Of course. I’ll find him. Don’t worry. I’ll find him.>
Isa flew the aircar lower until it was a few meters above the waves, then she slowed to its minimum speed. The sea looked rough.
How is little Jude going to survive in that water? He’d never swum in such high waves before. Martin had only ever taken him out when the sea was calm. And how am I going to find him?
Isa checked the aircar’s specs. She’d only ever used the basic flying controls, but maybe…. She found it. Thermal imaging. If Jude was still alive, his little body should be warmer than the surrounding water. She activated the scanner.
The display was black filled with the grey crests of waves. No warm bodies in sight.
Where is he? Isa turned and made another pass above Martin’s location. Where is my son?
Then she saw the lighter spot. The shape of it was unmistakeable.
Isa looked out of the aircar and saw Jude’s head and the tops of his shoulders as he bravely paddled, the waves lifting him up and sending him plummeting into their troughs.
She had flown right past him.
She turned the aircar around to return to the spot, but he was gone.
He’s gone under! Isa’s throat constricted.
But then Jude’s head popped up. He shook the water away and continued to paddle. Isa breathed a sigh of relief.
Now that she’d found him, she had to figure out how she was going to reach him. He probably couldn’t last much longer, and there were no boats around. There was only one thing for it.
She pulled off her shoes. Peering out the window, she looked for Jude again. When she found his little brown head, she fixed her gaze on him.
As the aircar swept closer to her son, Isa set the vehicle to hover and opened the door. A strong wind immediately whipped it out of her hand, but her gaze didn’t leave Jude.
She climbed out of her seat and clung to the edge of the doorframe. When she was as close to her son as she was going to get, she jumped.
The water that she smacked into was a cold shock. She plunged deep and then kicked for the surface. A wave lifted her high and tugged her along. She twisted, craning her neck, trying to catch sight of her son. The aircar was hanging in the air not far above, its door moving in the wind.
His voice was faint, but Isa could tell its direction, and she swam toward the sound. Then a wave crashed down on her back and forced her under. She clawed her way to the surface again.
Isa tore through the water. Another wave came, but this one raised her up and rushed her forward. Suddenly, Jude was right in front of her. She grabbed him, weeping with relief as she finally held him.
“Hold onto me, sweetheart. Put your arms around my neck.”
Jude felt cold. His lips were pale, and goosebumps stood out all over his skin, but he was alive.
“Mommy Isa, you found me.”
“I did. You’re safe now.”
Though she said it, Isa wasn’t sure. There was no sign that anyone was coming out to find them; she’d tried to contact Heliopolis Emergency Services, but she didn’t receive a response.
“Daddy told me to swim. He told me I mustn’t stop, and I didn’t.”
“You’re a good boy. A very good boy.”
“There was a bad man. I saw him. He had a big knife.”
“The man won’t hurt Daddy, will he? Or Mommy Erin? Daddy said Mommy Erin was coming.”
“She came Jude, she came.” However the heck she’d managed that!
STELLAR DATE: 05.25.8941 (Adjusted Years)
LOCATION: Marine Park, Ithaca
REGION: Troy, New Canaan System
Tony’s right shoulder burned and his arm on that side was almost useless. He lowered both arms to his sides and propelled himself through the water with his legs. His hope of a perfect getaway had disappeared with Erin’s appearance.
Damn the bitch. How is it that she managed to appear from nowhere? He hoped he’d inflicted enough damage to kill her.
If only he hadn’t run out of the underwater titanium rounds. He’d expended too many into that gigantic dead shark. If he’d managed to kill the man in the submersible quickly, he would be on the other side of the sea already, only minutes away from escaping Troy and New Canaan forever.
Tony scanned the weeds. He’d only gone a short distance from the spot where he’d left the scooter and the picotech, but the visibility was bad. The murkiness was due to that wave that occurred just before Erin snuck up on him.
If her actions stopped him from getting away with the pico, he would hunt her down and kill her, no matter the cost to himself.
He spotted the long form of the scooter. Eagerly, he tore aside the plant life entangling it. Lifting up the scooter, he checked the bag hanging underneath. The shape of the picotech module was firm and reassuring.
I still have a chance.
He grabbed the handles and started up the machine. He faced Syracuse’s distant shore and let himself be pulled away. His shoulder continued to seep blood, but he doubted the wound was life-threatening, and he had more urgent concerns.
Erin had blown his cover entirely. Even if she died—and he sincerely hoped she would—her AI would know his identity. All his records would be minutely investigated, and though he’d covered his tracks extremely well, it was possible that sensitive, vital information might be uncovered. He could change his appearance and perhaps create an entirely new persona over time, but the exercise would be difficult if not impossible while on the run.
All his chances, all his efforts, all his time on New Canaan had come down to this one moment. He had to vanish with the picotech, and he had to do it immediately.
The scooter had transported him out of the zone of murky water. He could see farther into the distance, though not as far as his destination. The sea shore and his hidden pinnace lay another three kilometers away.
Tony tried to relax. Neither Erin nor that idiot husband of hers could catch him now, and even if they managed to alert a response team, no one knew where he was going.
He checked the news feed again. Pandemonium continued to reign in Heliopolis. He had done an excellent job of setting up the diversion. No reinforcements had arrived after he’d killed the guards and destroyed their ship, and he doubted anyone would be waiting for him at the farther shore.
Still, he couldn’t afford to let down his guard, though he was cautiously optimistic. Despite the wrinkle in his plan when the safari park’s submersible arrived, it seemed he was going to succeed anyway.
Peering ahead, he saw that the topography of the sea floor was beginning to rise as he neared the continent, and the plant life was changing. The water was growing warmer too.
Tony watched the meters counting down on his scooter display. Not very far to go now. He checked his heading and altered it a little so that he would come to shore as close to the pinnace as possible.
The meters continued to drop away. The seabed was changing again. This area looked organized, as if someone had sculpted the place to look more formal. He saw seaweeds of the same kind grouped together and patterns in the sand.
What an unusual place.
Tony had never seen anything like it. He guessed it was an ornamental area of the underwater park.
He checked the display. Only three hundred meters to go. He was nearly there. He had the picotech, and all he’d suffered was one wound.
Pride formed a strange open-mouthed smile as he continued to let water flow down his throat so he could breathe. Myrrdan had set him a nearly impossible task, and he’d pulled it off. It had taken him years, granted, but he’d done it nevertheless. He wondered if anyone else could have achieved such a feat. Certainly not Erin. She might have defeated Hart’s weak attempt, but the second time around, she’d failed. And she’d been punished too.
She should have stuck to space stations and kept her nose out of things that didn’t concern—What’s that?
Part of the sea floor was lifting and transforming. Tony had been looking directly at the seaweed, pebbles, and rocks when it moved. It was changing to a uniform brown-grey and rising rapidly toward him. What had been the seabed now took the shape of a massive octopus.
The thing had wrapped itself around him. Its muscular arms were pressed against his body, flattening him against the scooter.
Tony writhed. He twisted. He pushed. He could not break free from the octopus’s powerful grip. He reached for his knife then remembered it was gone. Martin had taken it from him.
The pressure from the creature’s body was sending pangs of pain from his injured shoulder. Tony squirmed. He needed water in his lungs to breathe, but the octopus’s body was covering his head. He tried to lift his good arm to his face to push the creature away from his mouth, but it was pinned too tightly to the scooter.
<Hehehe. I got you, right?>
<What? Who is this?> Tony’s HUD flagged the voice as belonging to the octopus. It’s uplifted?!
He’d thought it was only one of the marine park’s exhibits, but apparently it wasn’t. The creature had some amount of intelligence, which meant he could communicate with it. In that case, he still had a chance.
<I’m Xavier. Who are you?>
<Tony! That’s great! I got the right person. Martin said you might come this way.>
Tony’s hope plummeted. They’d set the damn octopus as a trap. But even uplifted, it was only an animal. He was sure he could persuade it to let him go.
<Martin told you to grab me?>
<He sure did. And I got you good, didn’t I?>
<You did. But now you’ve caught me, you can let me go again. The game’s over now.>
<Oh, hehehe. Martin said you might say something like that. But I know what you’re doing.>
<I’m not doing anything. Didn’t Martin tell you that you had to release me right away? Maybe he forgot.>
<No, he didn’t forget. He’s talking to me right now. You’re being sarcastic, right? I know all about that sarcasm stuff. I’m smart. I’m going to hold on to you so I can practice. Teach me some more sarcasm while we wait for your friends to get here and pick you up.>
STELLAR DATE: 05.27.8941 (Adjusted Years)
LOCATION: Heliopolis, General Hospital, Ithaca
REGION: Troy, New Canaan System
Isa and Martin each held one of Jude’s hands as they walked along the hospital corridor.
“Which room is Mommy Erin’s?”
“Three more doors to go,” Isa replied.
Jude’s grip tightened on her hand. “One…two…three!” He wriggled his hand free and raced into the room. “Mommy Erin!”
When Isa reached him, he was trying to climb onto Erin’s bed, but he was too short to make it. Isa bent down and kissed her wife, who was propped up on pillows.
“Is it OK to lift him up?” she asked.
“Sure,” Erin replied. Her new arm was propped on a support.
Isa picked Jude up and put him by Erin’s side. He scooted up close and hugged her, planting wet kisses on her face.
“I missed you, Mommy Erin.”
“I missed you too, sweetheart.”
“And I missed you as well,” Martin said, leaning over his son to also kiss Erin.
“Did you bring my clothes?” she asked.
In reply, Martin placed a bag on her bed.
“Are you sure you’re ready to come home?” asked Isa.
“I am. I don’t want to stay here longer than I have to. My arm’s working fine. I’m only resting it because the doctor told me to take it easy for the first couple of days.”
“I guess it isn’t very nice here,” Isa said, imagining that Erin’s experience staying at Heliopolis’s hospital probably reflected her general experience of Troy.
“It’s OK, actually. The staff is great.”
“They are?” said Isa. “Are they Trojans?”
“As far as I can tell. And not an asshole among them.”
Isa chuckled and Erin joined in.
“Am I missing something?” asked Martin.
“I’ll explain another time,” said Erin. “Did you see Usef as you came in?”
“We didn’t,” Martin replied. “He was here?”
“He came to see me. Wasn’t that sweet of him?”
“He came to see you here?” asked Isa. “I thought he lived in Carthage.”
“He does. Said he happened to be here on military business, so he thought he might as well pop in and see how I was doing.”
“Awww,” said Isa. “That’s guy’s all muscle on the outside and pure mush in the middle.”
“That’s a good description of him, but I don’t think I’d tell him that to his face. He informed me that after my actions during the invasion drill and the attempted picotech theft, he’s taken me off his list of military sim-practice victims.”
“I said he was all heart, didn’t I?”
“Maybe he finally forgave me for disobeying orders during the SSS attack on Tyre.”
“About time,” Isa said. “That was ages ago.”
“I thought he might be here to pick up Tony, but Usef said he was already on his way to prison on Carthage,” Erin replied. “Tanis plans on finding out the truth about him. If he was using some sort of mental coercion on the politicians and folks like Pietr, then he’s a piece of human trash and will get the full punishment that the Phobos Accords allow.”
“I don’t think there’s any doubt that’s what he was doing,” said Martin. “Poor Pietr. His body was unrecognizable when they found him. I couldn’t understand why he would be going after the picotech. He was a nice guy. He had to have been under mind control. Think Tony was working for the Transcend somehow?”
“I don’t know,” Erin said. “I thought Tony was a nice guy too.”
“He might not have needed mind control to orchestrate the secessionist uprising,” Isa said. “It seems to me like the Taranian faction of Trojans were ripe to be persuaded.”
“Maybe,” said Erin. “That’s another problem for Tanis to deal with, I’m happy to say. I’d hate to have her job, though I might enjoy extracting the truth from Tony.”
“Would you really?” Martin asked.
Erin made a disgusted face. “I don’t know. Maybe not.”
“That’s the difference between you two.”
“Hey, that isn’t fair. You don’t honestly think Tanis enjoys that kind of thing?”
Martin didn’t answer. He gave Isa a meaningful look.
“Jude,” she said. “Let’s go look out the window.”
“I don’t want to.” He had snuggled up to Erin’s side.
“Come on. The light on Government House will turn on soon.”
Jude reluctantly allowed Isa to lift him up and carry him across to the window.
Dusk was approaching Heliopolis and the white capital had turned sunset colors.
“Watch the spike, Jude. It’s going to start shining soon.” Isa glanced over her shoulder.
Martin had joined Erin on the bed, his long legs stretching nearly all the way to the bottom. He had taken Erin’s hand and was talking to her in a low voice. Isa knew what he was saying, though he hadn’t told her.
No one who had witnessed what Erin did when her son was under threat could imagine for a second that she didn’t love him with her entire, full heart.
Isa had always known Martin was wrong, but she’d also known she could never have convinced him of the fact. Erin had seen the big picture more clearly than he had. Even though the invasion drill had turned her special event into a disaster, Isa also knew that Tanis was only doing what was necessary.
New Canaanites had lived under a false sense of security for years. Most of them had been in stasis during the Battle for Victoria and the Battle of Five Fleets in Victoria. Even many who had been awake had fallen into complacency in the utopia that was New Canaan. They’d forgotten that their enemies could return at any time.
Isa knew only too well that it was never safe to relax and let down your guard. That lesson had been drilled into her mind over and over again.
Martin had only seen Jude’s terror. He’d thought Tanis didn’t care. But the truth was she cared about them all. When the time came to fight for their lives and everything they believed in, they had to be ready. What was one person’s opening event, business, or even life compared to that necessity?
Jude giggled. Lost in her thoughts, Isa hadn’t noticed that he’d turned his attention from the spike on Government House to what was happening behind him.
He covered his mouth and said in an excited whisper, “Daddy and Mommy Erin are kissing.”
Isa glanced back again and said, “Yes, they are. Let’s not stare, huh?”
“OK.” Jude looked out the window and rested his head on her shoulder.
Canaan Prime had set. Heliopolis was ghostly grey. The Cradle was flickering to life. From the high hospital window, Isa could see beyond the city to the Sea of Marmara. She was looking forward to bringing Erin home, though the clifftop house had never really felt like home to her. It was beautiful, but she still missed the beach house and the simpler, easier life they’d led in Landfall. She wasn’t sure how long they would remain on Troy.
“There it is,” Jude exclaimed, sitting upright and pointing his small finger at the Government House spike, which was twinkling its many vivid colors. “It’s pretty.”
“It is pretty, isn’t it?” Isa said.
But prettiness wasn’t everything.
STELLAR DATE: 05.29.8941 (Adjusted Years)
LOCATION: Marathon, Grecia
REGION: Athens, New Canaan System
The night on Athens was hot and sticky, but that didn’t matter to Erin when she was at a beach party and there was a limbo dancing competition going on.
It was her turn to get the drinks. When she went up to the bar, she was surprised to see a familiar, tall, beefy blond.
“Mikkail! What are you doing here? How come you aren’t on the Odyssey?”
“The same reason you’re here,” the bartender replied. “I’m on vacation.”
“But if you’re on vacation, why are you working?”
Was she slurring her words? Erin thought she might be slurring her words. She didn’t care.
“I’m not working,” Mikkail said. “I’m doing this for free. I just love mixing cocktails.”
“That’s great, Mikkail.” Erin stared at him intently. “Really great. People should do what they love, right? Now, take me. I love—”
“Can I get you something to drink?”
“Oh yeah. That’s why I’m here, isn’t it? Let me see.”
Erin scanned the list: New Canaan Cannonball, Pilot’s Challenge, Bob’s Fury, Davy Jones’s Soda, Silven Sunrise, AI Ale, Picobomb, White Dwarf, Syzygy, Hot Jets. There were so many. How was she supposed to choose? And she seemed to remember she was supposed to be getting drinks for Isa and Martin too. Only she’d forgotten what they ordered.
She asked Isa, <What did you—>
<Martin’s having a Galactic Overlord, and I want a Zero G. Do you need a hand?>
<I think I can order three drinks by myself.>
<Are you sure? Because that’s the third time you’ve asked for a reminder.>
<But I only just got here!>
<You asked twice on your way.>
The dancing competition was in full swing on the sand. Marines on R&R were lining up to take their turn at shimmying under the low pole. The beat of the music was deep and insistent, and the Marines’ antics mesmerizing. Erin guessed she must have gotten distracted on the way over.
“I want one Galactic Overlord, one, er, Zero G, and I’ll have a…a…what’s an EVA?”
“Your brain leaves your body for a while.”
“Oh, maybe not. I better pace myself,” Erin said, though she suspected that the time for pacing herself had come and gone. “I’ll have a Warp Drive.” She held up a hand as Mikkail opened his mouth to speak. “I don’t want to know what it’s going to do to me.”
“I was only going to say ‘coming right up’!” Mikkail began to mix the drinks.
Erin turned away from the bar and leaned back, resting her elbows on it. The Marines were having a fantastic time. Like everyone else on Athens, they were wearing only the skimpiest swimwear. Usef was there in his thong. To Erin’s delight, he’d turned up on the final day of their vacation. He and Martin hadn’t been able to hold their surf-off, but that could wait for another time.
She didn’t think she would ever cease to be amazed at how different Usef was out of uniform compared to Major Usef. Plain old Usef was a total party animal. He’d already reduced his fellow Marines to laughing wrecks with his stories, and he was also in the line for limboing. Erin couldn’t imagine how he would ever contort his thick, muscular body into the shape required to get under the pole.
While she waited, she also took in the entire beach scene. The sea, the stars, the sand stretching into the distance. It was perfect, exactly like their vacation had been. She’d missed Jude, but she’d felt reassured that he was in Tanis and Joe’s care, where she knew no harm would come to him.
“Your drinks,” Mikkail announced.
He’d put them on a tray for Erin to carry. In their oddly shaped glasses, the drinks’ colors were a mixture of vivid and subtle hues, inviting and a little bit intimidating.
Mikkail pointed at one. “This is the—”
“Don’t worry. We’ll figure it out.” She grabbed the tray and set off, stepping slowly and carefully. Between the soft, dry, slippery sand, the easily overbalanced glasses, and her very slightly inebriated state, Erin wasn’t confident she was going to make it back to Isa and Martin without mishap.
Cutting a wide circle around the limbo spectators took Erin on the harder sand at the shoreline, where the waves reached her feet. For a moment, her mind flew back to her shock encounter with Tony under the Sea of Marmara on Troy. She gave a shudder and pushed the memory from her mind.
This vacation was all about forgetting such things, and they’d all done a great job of that.
“At last. What took you?” Isa asked when Erin arrived. “Hand them out. Usef’s limbo dance is about to begin.” She took a drink and handed it to Martin.
“Is this mine?”
“Do you care?” asked Isa.
Erin dropped to their blanket on the sand at the edge of the dancing area. The Marines had already started up a chant, egging Usef on as he approached the pole, facing them.
The pole looked incredibly low. Erin wondered how he could possibly get under it. No one else had managed so far. She sipped her drink. It definitely tasted more like a Galactic Overlord than a Warp Drive.
Usef spread his legs wide and began to inch toward the pole.
“Stars,” Martin said, “that’s….” He was clearly at a loss for words, because he failed to finish his sentence.
Erin could see what he meant. Usef was only wearing a thong. The closer he approached the pole, the wider he spread his legs. He was bouncing on the balls of his feet in time with the beat of the music.
Isa shrieked with laughter. “I can’t look!” She covered her face with her hands and opened her fingers to peek through the gaps.
Erin guffawed and nearly spilled her drink. She laughed so hard, tears squeezed from her eyes. For a moment, her vision of Usef was blurred until she wiped her eyes with the back of her wrists.
The Marines were chanting louder. “Go Usef! Go Usef! Go Usef!” They were making circles with their fists in the air.
Unbelievably, Usef had moved his knees under the pole. His upper body was almost parallel with the ground. The muscles of his chest and stomach were like iron. His legs were impossibly wide. He jiggled forward.
Isa shrieked again and fell into Erin, who was in no state to hold up her wife. Martin looked like he was in shock.
The extraordinariness of the feat that Usef was close to pulling off suddenly hit Erin. She put down her cocktail and leapt up.
“Go Usef! You got this! You can do it.” Her hands were in fists as she jumped up and down.
Usef’s thighs were under the pole. He bounced forward. The pole was over his hips. He turned his head to one side, ready to avoid hitting the pole with his chin.
“Gooooo Useffffff!” Erin shouted, rigid with excitement.
A sigh of disappointment ran through the Marines. Usef collapsed onto his back, a look of good-natured resignation on his features.
“What happened?” Erin asked. “Why did he stop?”
“His back touched the ground,” Isa replied. “He’s way too burly for limboing.”
“Darn it.” Erin flopped down.
She was about to pick up her drink when Usef’s massive calves appeared in her vision. She looked up at him, blinking.
“Hey, Usef. Nice try. Next time, huh?”
He held out a hand to her. Confused, Erin took it. She found herself on her feet again without any apparent effort.
“Your turn.” Usef jerked his head at the limbo pole.
“Me? Nuh-uh. No way.”
“Go on, Erin,” Isa said. “It’ll be easy for you.”
Erin looked at the pole. The night was hot, the music was loud, and she was pretty drunk. The corner of her lip lifted in a smile.
“Do you think so?”
“I know so,” said Martin, grinning.
Erin thrust imaginary sleeves up her arms. “’Kay. Let’s do it!”
Usef stepped out of her way as she marched to the pole. A roar went up from the Marines. Someone turned the music up louder. Erin looked at the pole. All of a sudden, it looked much lower than it had from a distance.
What did I sign myself up for? Then she thought, Eh, if I make an ass of myself, who cares? Usef did it.
Erin spread her legs wide and started to bounce forward. The Marines were chanting again, and in amongst their shouts, she could hear Isa and Martin. She could do this. She knew it.
Erin bent backward, lower and lower. She opened her arms for balance. Her knees were at the pole. Then they were under it. She couldn’t believe it—all she had to do now was make the rest of her body as low as her knees.
The pole was at her thighs. She grazed it.
An ‘Ooooooh’ went up from the crowd, but the pole was holding.
Now for her hips.
Erin’s stomach was a ball of pain.
<Walter, I could do with a little help here.>
<But that would be cheating.>
<Those are the rules,> the AI replied soberly.
<No one told me that!>
<I have every confidence in you.>
Erin would rather have had her AI’s analgesics.
The pole was over her chest. She turned her head to the side like she’d seen Usef do. Keeping her hands low, she bounced the last short distance.
She was done. She’d made it under the lowest pole that night.
Marines were yelling their congratulations and pounding her back.
Erin threw up her arms. “I did it!”
Usef was beaming at her, his arms folded over his great chest.
“Did I win?” she asked him.
“Yay! I won! I won! Do I get a prize?”
“You do,” he said.
“Fantastic. What did I win?”
“Come on, Marines,” said Usef.
He moved toward her, and the rest of the crowd of brawny men and women closed in.
“Hey, what’s going on?” Erin asked.
Hands grabbed her arms and legs. She rose into the air, supported by ten or twelve pairs of arms. She was being carried toward the ocean.
“What are you doing?” Erin asked, though she had already guessed. “Oh, man,” she said resignedly just before she hit the water.
It was a good thing they spaced out vacations on Athens.
* * * * *
Tanis read the message again, and sat back in her chair, running a hand over her ponytail and tugging on it gently.
<Well that’s just a little bit suspicious,> she said to Angela.
<I see your ‘little bit’, and I raise you a truckload of neutronium.>
<Our one lead into who’s trying to steal the picotech, and it’s gone…in a plasma fire.>
Angela didn’t reply, and Tanis rose from her desk, walking to the window looking out over Landfall.
<You think it’s the Transcend?> she asked her AI after a minute.
<It’s possible…. But we have the sensor grid up now. I don’t see how they could have gotten a stealth ship past it.>
<Could also have been someone left behind, someone they planted here, just waiting for the right time.>
<I suppose,> Angela said after a moment. <I guess it fits their style—from what Sera had told us.>
<Stars.> Tanis shook her head and then leant it against the window. <Do I ever wish she was still with us. I have so many questions.>
<You know we have to treat the Transcend like they’re the enemy,> the AI cautioned.
<I know…it’s my own policy. Doesn’t mean I don’t wish it otherwise.>
<Maybe they’ll find something in Tony’s remains.>
Tanis wasn’t hopeful. She turned from the beautiful view of the planet she was trying to make into her home and walked back to her desk.
* * * * *
Troy is safe, and the picotech remains safely out of Myrrdan’s hands, but something is brewing on Athens that will create an opportunity that New Canaan’s enemies won’t be able to ignore.
Like they always say, if it’s going to happen, it’ll probably happen on Athens.
What a wonderful pleasure and privilege it’s been to return to the Aeon 14 universe. I’ve enjoyed following Erin, Martin, and Isa’s journey as they experienced living on Troy.
As I was writing the story, I stumbled across the word that describes our three main characters’ relationship: a throuple (as in a couple, but with three people), which was a fun discovery. I also had a lot of fun naming the throuple’s child. Jude wasn’t inspired by the famous Beatles song, however. I’ve always liked the name since reading Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure.
The octopuses’ garden was totally inspired by the Beatles song.
Inspiration for Lindsey’s marine park came from one of my favourite films, Local Hero, where a young marine biologist and possible mermaid dreams of creating just such a site.
The idea for the pinnacle on Troy’s parliament came from Taipei 101, which spent a few years as the world’s tallest building and is visible from nearly everywhere in Taiwan’s capital.
The Island of Aeolia is reminiscent of the Jules Verne and Edgar Rice Burroughs stories of expeditions to places cut off from the march of evolution, and the rainforest in the cave there is similar to the San Doong Cave in Vietnam. I’ve never been there but I’d love to go.
Now I’m looking forward to writing Athens, the final book in the Building New Canaan series. It’s going to be a wild ride.
New Taipei City, 2018
THE BOOKS OF AEON 14
Keep up to date with what is releasing in Aeon 14 with the free Aeon 14 Reading Guide.
Origins of Destiny (The Age of Terra)
- Prequel: Storming the Norse Wind
- Prequel: Angel’s Rise: The Huntress (available on Patreon)
- Book 1: Tanis Richards: Shore Leave
- Book 2: Tanis Richards: Masquerade
- Book 3: Tanis Richards: Blackest Night
- Book 4: Tanis Richards: Kill Shot
The Intrepid Saga (The Age of Terra)
- Book 1: Outsystem
- Book 2: A Path in the Darkness
- Book 3: Building Victoria
- The Intrepid Saga Omnibus – Also contains Destiny Lost, book 1 of the Orion War series
- Destiny Rising – Special Author’s Extended Edition comprised of both Outsystem and A Path in the Darkness with over 100 pages of new content.
The Orion War
- Books 1-3 Omnibus (includes Ignite the Stars anthology)
- Book 1: Destiny Lost
- Book 2: New Canaan
- Book 3: Orion Rising
- Book 4: The Scipio Alliance
- Book 5: Attack on Thebes
- Book 6: War on a Thousand Fronts
- Book 7: Precipice of Darkness
- Book 8: Airtha Ascendancy
- Book 9: The Orion Front (2019)
- Book 10: Starfire (2019)
- Book 11: Race Across Spacetime (2019)
- Book 12: Return to Sol (2019)
Tales of the Orion War
- Book 1: Set the Galaxy on Fire
- Book 2: Ignite the Stars
- Book 3: Burn the Galaxy to Ash (2019)
Perilous Alliance (Age of the Orion War – w/Chris J. Pike)
- Book 1-3 Omnibus: Crisis in Silstrand
- Book 1: Close Proximity
- Book 2: Strike Vector
- Book 3: Collision Course
- Book 4: Impact Imminent
- Book 5: Critical Inertia
- Book 6: Impulse Shock
Rika’s Marauders (Age of the Orion War)
- Book 1-3 Omnibus: Rika Activated
- Prequel: Rika Mechanized
- Book 1: Rika Outcast
- Book 2: Rika Redeemed
- Book 3: Rika Triumphant
- Book 4: Rika Commander
- Book 5: Rika Infiltrator
- Book 6: Rika Unleashed
- Book 7: Rika Conqueror
Non-Aeon 14 Anthologies with Rika stories
The Genevian Queen (Age of the Orion War)
- Book 1: Rika Rising (2019)
- Book 2: Rika Coronated (2019)
- Book 3: Rika Reigns (2019)
Perseus Gate (Age of the Orion War)
Season 1: Orion Space
- Episode 1: The Gate at the Grey Wolf Star
- Episode 2: The World at the Edge of Space
- Episode 3: The Dance on the Moons of Serenity
- Episode 4: The Last Bastion of Star City
- Episode 5: The Toll Road Between the Stars
- Episode 6: The Final Stroll on Perseus’s Arm
- Eps 1-3 Omnibus: The Trail Through the Stars
- Eps 4-6 Omnibus: The Path Amongst the Clouds
Season 2: Inner Stars
- Episode 1: A Meeting of Bodies and Minds
- Episode 2: A Deception and a Promise Kept
- Episode 3: A Surreptitious Rescue of Friends and Foes
- Episode 4: A Victory and a Crushing Defeat
- Episode 5: A Trial and the Tribulations (2019)
- Episode 6: A Deal and a True Story Told (2019)
- Episode 7: A New Empire and An Old Ally (2019)
- Eps 1-3 Omnibus: A Siege and a Salvation from Enemies
The Warlord (Before the Age of the Orion War)
- Books 1-3 Omnibus: The Warlord of Midditerra
- Book 1: The Woman Without a World
- Book 2: The Woman Who Seized an Empire
- Book 3: The Woman Who Lost Everything
The Sentience Wars: Origins (Age of the Sentience Wars – w/James S. Aaron)
- Books 1-3 Omnibus: Lyssa’s Rise
- Book 1: Lyssa’s Dream
- Book 2: Lyssa’s Run
- Book 3: Lyssa’s Flight
- Book 4: Lyssa’s Call
- Book 5: Lyssa’s Flame
Legends of the Sentience Wars (Age of the Sentience Wars – w/James S. Aaron)
- Volume 1: The Proteus Bridge
- Volume 2: Vesta Burning
Enfield Genesis (Age of the Sentience Wars – w/Lisa Richman)
- Book 1: Alpha Centauri
- Book 2: Proxima Centauri
- Book 3: Tau Ceti
- Book 4: Epsilon Eridani (2019)
Hand’s Assassin (Age of the Orion War – w/T.G. Ayer)
- Book 1: Death Dealer
- Book 2: Death Mark (2019)
Machete System Bounty Hunter (Age of the Orion War – w/Zen DiPietro)
- Book 1: Hired Gun
- Book 2: Gunning for Trouble
- Book 3: With Guns Blazing
Vexa Legacy (Age of the FTL Wars – w/Andrew Gates)
- Book 1: Seas of the Red Star
Building New Canaan (Age of the Orion War – w/J.J. Green)
- Book 1: Carthage
- Book 2: Tyre
- Book 3: Troy
- Book 4: Athens
Fennington Station Murder Mysteries (Age of the Orion War)
- Book 1: Whole Latte Death (w/Chris J. Pike)
- Book 2: Cocoa Crush (w/Chris J. Pike)
The Empire (Age of the Orion War)
- Book 1: The Empress and the Ambassador (2019)
- Book 2: Consort of the Scorpion Empress (2019)
- Book 3: By the Empress’s Command (2019)
The Sol Dissolution (The Age of Terra)
- Book 1: Venusian Uprising (2019)
- Book 2: Scattered Disk (2019)
- Book 3: Jovian Offensive (2019)
- Book 4: Fall of Terra (2019)
OTHER BOOKS BY J.J. GREEN
Shadows of the Void
- Book 1: Generation
- Book 2: Stranded
- Book 3: Dawn
- Book 4: Shadowrise
- Book 5: Underworld
- Book 6: Burned
- Book 7: Trapped
- Book 8: Mars Born
- Book 9: Shadow Battle
- Book 10: Shadow War
Star Mage Saga
- Book 1: Daughter of Discord
- Book 2: Dark Mage Rises
- Book 3: Wildfire and Steel (Winter 2018)
Space Colony One
- Book 1: The Concordia Deception
- Book 2: The Fila Epiphany
- Book 3: The Scythian Crisis
Carrie Hatchett, Space Adventurer
- Book 1: Mission Improbable
- Book 2: Passage to Paradise
- Book 3: Transgalactic Antics
- Book 4: Wrong Side of Time
- Book 5: Carrie’s Calamity
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
J.J. Green was born in London's East End within range of the sound of the church bells of St. Mary Le Bow, Cheapside, which makes her a bona fide Cockney. She first left the U.K. as a young adult and has lived in Australia and Laos. She currently lives in Taipei, Taiwan, with her family and a black cat called Black Cat. When she isn’t writing, she entertains the locals with her efforts to learn Mandarin.
Find out about her latest shenanigans at her website: www.jjgreenauthor.com
* * * * *
Michael Cooper likes to think of himself as a jack-of-all-trades (and hopes to become master of a few). When not writing, he can be found writing software, working in his shop at his latest carpentry project, or likely reading a book.
He shares his home with a precocious young girl, his wonderful wife (who also writes), two cats, a never-ending list of things he would like to build, and ideas…
Find out what’s coming next at www.aeon14.com