Artwork by Marilynn
Arianne watched the weird,
pink light of dawn from a wind hollow in the lee of a boulder.
She’d selected a landing on the
night side deliberately, so she could wake at sunrise.
And let the gravity sink in
while she slept.
She’d done it – not named after an
antique rocket launcher for nothing!
The others were
probably days or weeks behind.
Her final pull around Earth had
been right on the limit, but it had given her the edge that she needed to
win. She smiled happily;
allowed herself a feeling of pride.
She knew her sail designs were
good, but now they’d passed the test as well.
As she flicked out her tongue
to drink, Arianne did a quick checklist of her options; deliberately
savouring available choices.
She could afford to relax and
enjoy the dawn.
The planet was hers for a
while; she saw no need to rush.
After the intense concentration of
finding an orbit, and choosing a land site on radar, she was content to just
sit and stare.
horizon, the edge of a boulder field, cut and scattered the new light.
Arianne’s eyes adjusted slowly;
her skin balancing the input to a safe level after months of glittering
She could get back
and win this.
Claim her prize and go for full
Being Skinform was fine, but
now she’d proved she could adapt to the full.
Become full Diamond.
She was hungry, but let the skin wet feed her;
she’d celebrate with real food when she knew she could leave in the lead.
Arianne’s panels were
clinging to the sunside of her boulder, balancing upright to catch all of
Radar and night heat had used
almost all their reserve.
She whistled a timeset and
watched them shiver in reply.
A request flag shimmered and
died; they’d worked it out for themselves as usual.
She smiled fondly.
Checking the sail bag showed processing
was well under way; just over eight hours and she could start on wings or
Those were the
She knew she was well inside
the allowed zone, but not yet how far she was from the Viking.
It’s whole area was archive, so
there were no beacons to home on.
Wheels would assemble faster,
but wings would give faster transit and homing.
The panels flagged. They’d chosen just
under the redline; knowing that time was short, and that they could
She’d kept her help points very
low; and nav had always been one of her naturals.
Skin tickled her, making her
wriggle in surprised pleasure.
She’d forgotten that time-set.
Decided to fine herself with
denial - There wasn’t time for good sex anyway.
‘Fine and Tune’,
‘I’ve done well – So I’m
allowed a dream’.
She settled back
into the wind blown bowl, stretching and curling luxuriously in her skin,
under the fluted overhang of the boulder.
Timed herself to wake
She tried for the lightest level of
rapture, semi-conscious, but found surreal instead:
The dream flickered between her half closed lids;
skin lenses unable to filter the drug-like hallucination.
[She was floating in a zero
pond, being born; her mother’s face masked by a gill fish.
The tendrils in her mother’s
lungs were swimming out along the umbilical, singing little songs of trust
She spat the cord
away from her belly, and was walking, growing as she went, up the spin shell
of Lagrangia 9 and into a fresh gravity.
Feeling pregnant in turn with
flattered, that a tree would talk to her this early.
And take the trouble to direct
her on her way.
Waypoints to an old man; who
was her grandfather turned inside
Or was it just his coat on
She laughed with the dream,
looking into the palms of both hands.
Reading a map without any
Then – awake.
Shivering in renewed clarity as
the sun lifted from the horizon.
Whistling the panels in, and
mating them to the sail bag, took less than five minutes.
They’d had enough sun to lift
themselves up now; spine legs bracing into the dusty orange sand.
So she still had over seven
hours to refine a design.
Far too long.
She considered sleeping again,
but decided it would only spin the dream and leave her confused.
Arianne had conceived another option.
She would gain a
few points for not strictly recycling but using a bit of local, for reaction
mass, would be worth it.
Simple and fast. Her nav after
acquire would have to be ac so.
And she’d have to grow eyes
better than any she’d done before.
She sat back again,
Thinking about her brother,
Joe, and how he’d never wanted to play with labs.
Three years in a row she’d
inherited the latest model, as soon as Christmas was decently past.
Admittedly you weren’t allowed
to make much then, but designing was most of the fun to her.
More fun than the dusty old
CD’s that Joe was always playing.
He seemed to have grown too
serious too soon.
And now he was a last spark in
a dying fire.
A brilliant politician in a
world that had begun to grow up.
Arianne suddenly felt terribly tired;
pinned helplessly to the planet’s surface, and almost unable to move. The Skin overrode on emergency, and
injected her into sleep.
Joe was clamped tight into
Deimos; his hiding place a fused funnel in the cindery rock.
His sensors were all out
roaming, most of them out of IR sight, trying to get a lock on the planet
Surely the little
buggers would find her soon.
His FormFitter was
letting him itch again and he’d not persuaded it’s manager to do anything
He would fry in his own anger
if he let it get out of hand; but there was little else to look at.
His cloak was thin enough now,
and he couldn’t afford to leak any signatures.
It had cost him a
fortune in signtime to get his cover as a science flight and get out here
He’d be on payback for the rest
of the century and beyond.
His face felt slimy
again, behind the mask, and he braced against the glassy rock tube; fighting
down a wave of paranoid horror.
He’d lied about his phobia
ratings and somehow it hadn’t been peeled.
One advantage of being a
politician he assumed, but not much use to him now.
Up to his neck in
terror, and the only other option had been fear; it was a fucking nightmare.
He laughed hoarsely then, the
mask allowed him that much, and relaxed into waiting for the sensors to come
They’d promised, on estimate,
to be back in less than an hour.
He could hang on that long.
Then he’d have something to
work with, and get his anxieties distracted, while they waited for his
little sister to make her move.
Glossary of terms - - -