'The Arianne Stories' - - - - - - -

Artwork by Marilynn Flynn
Artwork by Marilynn Flynn

 

Rapture

 

 

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.

  The serrated 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 darkness.

  She could get back and win this.  Claim her prize and go for full transfer.  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 first light.  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 wheels.

  Those were the realistic choices.  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 self-sort later.

  Arianne was confident.  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’, she thought.  ‘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 naturally.

  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 and desire.

  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 new life.

  Surprised, and flattered, that a tree would talk to her this early.  And take the trouble to direct her on her way.  Way where?  Waypoints to an old man; who was her grandfather turned inside  out.  Or was it just his coat on backwards?  She laughed with the dream, looking into the palms of both hands.  Reading a map without any circuitry.]

 

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, musing.  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 below.  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 about it.  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 unnoticed.  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.  He cursed.

  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 back.  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.

 

 

 

 

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