by Gunnar De Winter
It was as if some cosmic god had punched a hole in the moon.
The shuttle descended into the skylight. Almost a kilometer wide and several hundred meters deep, the near-perfect circle in the lunar landscape provided a natural landing pad.
Bronski’s teeth clattered as her sleek private shuttle entered the realm of shadows. The darkness in the moon hugged the vessel and she tried to ignore the cold chill that crept up her spine.
Fortunately, there was the androgynous voice of the autopilot to distract her. “Please ensure that your suit is sealed. The doors will open in thirty seconds.”
After checking her suit one last time, Bronski’s boots hit the moon. She was a little unsteady on her feet as the brief VR training only did so much. This was her first visit to the moon.
And it was work-related. Sigh.
A humanoid bot awaited her: all white, all rectangles. Three for each arm and leg, a big one as torso, and a somewhat curved one as a head. A transparent film covered its head. On it, an Asian face appeared. Grey hair, wrinkles, and a thin-lipped smile? It must be Chairman Lao himself.
“I hope you’ve had a pleasant flight, detective.” The bot waved an arm. “Please follow me.”
The chairman-faced robot led her to the entrance of the lava tube. Unlike its follower, the bot did not seem hindered by the reduced gravity.
Bronski’s pace faltered briefly. She knew the Vault was large but seeing it in real life was something else.
Knowing isn’t seeing.
A metallic ring lined the beginning of the tremendous tunnel. The gigantic hoop tightly clutched the billowing golden nanosail that kept the city’s atmosphere bottled up.
As Bronski neared the bottom of the ring, a series of airlock doors became clear. The robotic avatar steered her towards the leftmost one. It looked like an old secret door to an even more secret vault. Not clean and white like she would have imagined, but a dark coppery color with ornate carvings all over.
Never one for flourishes, she scraped her throat disapprovingly.
“Symbolism matters, detective,” the robot said as it waved one of its terminal arm boxes in front of a barely noticeable screen. The barcode that had appeared on the robot’s hand box activated the screen.
PLEASE ENTER, SALAH BRONSKI.
“I will meet you on the other side,” the bot said.
The robot retreated to one of the niches on the outskirt of the landing pad, each one filled with one of its colleagues. The welcoming committee.
Made sense. Pointless to get in and out of a suit for a minute to welcome every new arrival.
Bronski entered the nondescript grey room. There was no more metal here, only plasticarb. There was nothing in the room but a screen next to another door.
PLEASE TAKE OFF YOUR SUIT.
She did as instructed, first removing the backpack that housed oxygen caskets, filters, and communication material. Then followed the lighting headband. Finally, she peeled of the grey-blue skin-hugging coverall and opened the vacuum seal of the bubble helmet. She tossed it all to the floor where the coverall began to dissolve into the fibers that made it. The tiny snakes retreated into the central chevron that was their lair when they weren’t used.
PLEASE TOUCH THE SCREEN TO PROCEED.
When her hand landed on the screen the door slid away, revealing another room, just as boring as the last one. She walked through, already more confident on her feet despite the reduced gravity. Behind her, the door closed. She heard a sudden whoosh. Every possible source of contamination was sucked into the skylight where everything would be collected by a small army of insectile maintenance bots.
Who needs a vacuum cleaner when you have an actual vacuum?
Another screen, another door.
“Please close your eyes.” A tinny voice this time.
The bright blue light that accompanied the sterilizing UV blast flash lit up the dark world on the inside of her eyelids.
“Open your eyes, please. Place your hand on the screen for verification.”
A thin needle pricked her with the speed of a snake’s tongue.
“DNA extracted. Identify confirmed. You may now proceed to the interior. Thank you,” the tinny voice concluded.
She pulled on the hem of her sleeveless shirt.
Chairman Lao was dressed in an impeccable dark blue kimono suit. He clasped his hands behind his back and straightened up. “Detective Bronski. Welcome to the Vault.”
“Thank you.” Bronski frowned. “Gravity?”
“Yes, about 1g standard. The lattice is laced with antimatter pulse generators that stimulate the local Higgs field.”
Bronski’s thin eyebrows curled into slanted question marks. Whatever you say.
The chairman’s smile widened slightly. He waved an arm slowly, powerfully, like a tai-chi master. “The tube is supported by a reinforced graphene lattice. Tiny gravity generators are embedded in it, as well as probes to monitor and feed the lichen.”
Lichen? Then it dawned on her. It was light here. It should be pitch-black. Instead, the entire upper half of the squashed tunnel oozed soft yellowish light.
“Genmodded lichen,” the chairman said as he followed her gaze. “made to mimic Earth’s diurnal cycle with appropriate light intensity.”
“Impressive.” This really should have been in my briefing. She looked at the chairman. But then it would be harder to dazzle newcomers, I suppose.
Lao preceded her to a golf-cart with the typical bulging wheels of a lunar buggy. They got in and the autopilot took over. “Vehicles are only allowed on the main boulevard,” Lao explained, “and even then manual driving is discouraged. There’s no need for it.”
Bronski looked left and right. Most buildings were ivory cubes, three stories tops. Along the main boulevard several tenements sported banners. The swirling colors on the listlessly hanging fabrics looked eager to fight the plainness of the buildings they were attached to. “Grown from construct polyps?”
“Indeed, detective. The Vault grows in stages. At first we sectioned off about a kilometer with two vacuum rings like the one you came through. Then we develop the city in between them. When that’s done, we move another kilometer, install another ring, and develop the next section. After that, we dismantle the middle ring—you’ll probably notice this when you cross section borders—and repurpose it for the development of the next section. And so on.”
She nodded. “You’re building the fifth section now, if I’m not mistaken.”
The Chairman smiled “Correct. We’re putting the final touches on the fifth and last section of the Vault. Then it will be the first complete self-sufficient moon city.” Lao’s eyes sparkled.
“Yes. Beyond it the tube narrows and branches into several smaller tubes. Not large enough for our purposes.” Lao was watching the road as the cart drove. There were no other carts or pedestrians at the moment, the moon’s first permanent residents clearly had better things to do than hang around.
The detective peered ahead, impressed by the cleanliness of the road. “I see. How far does the whole tunnel go?”
The chairman’s smile wavered for the first time. Admitting ignorance is a bitch. “We don’t really know.” He looked at her, briefly.
Bronski’s eyebrows spoke again.
“Finishing the city is our priority. After that, we might send out some expeditions,” he temporized.
“Right.” She kept her eyes on the chairman. “I appreciate the background, Chairman, but why, exactly, am I here?”
“Ah, you’re as direct as I was told.” Then he hesitated briefly. Chairman Lao stopped the cart and lowered his voice. “I was also told you were… discreet.”
The dead man lay in peace on the slab. Greying Afro deflated. Tan skin turned ashen.
“This is, I’m sorry—was Makani. Mike,” said the chairman. “One of our founders. . . and a friend.”
Bronski bent over the body. Nothing special at first glance. Old age maybe? Even the best anti-aging therapies on Earth don’t work forever. She looked up. “My condolences. But again, why am I here? There do not seem to be any signs of. . .”
“Murder? Let us hope not. The circumstances of his death are a bit unusual. He was found in his suit, beyond the fifth section.”
“I thought that area hadn’t been explored yet?”
“Officially, no. But some people like to go out there on private expeditions. Pioneer personality and all that. Mike was one of those people who came here to study, to investigate. He wanted to go to the stars. The Vault was merely the first stop for him.”
Bronski looked at the body again. “His suit?”
“Bagged and untouched. No punctures, though.”
Not bad. Experience with accidents? “Don’t you have any local law enforcement?”
“It’s limited, but yes. The board, however, has formulated the opinion that an outsider should look into this. Until we know what happened we can’t risk this getting out, not even among our own. The board gave me some suggestions, I made some inquiries, and found you.” Lao started counting on his fingers. “You’ve solved some difficult cases.”
“Freelance from time to time.”
“And know how to handle sensitive information.”
Three. Ding, ding, ding – we have a winner. Bronski pursed her lips and ran a hand over the dark stubble on her scalp.
“Of course,” Lao added, “I should mention that the salary proposal we’ve sent you did not yet include a hazard premium.”
Ding, ding, ding indeed. “Who found the body?”
Interrogation transcript – Dr. Lisa Johns
“I’m recording this conversation if that’s alright with you, Dr. Johns?”
“Sure. Lisa, by the way.”
“Okay, Lisa. What do you do here exactly?”
“I’m one of the lichen group leaders. We develop the lichen and monitor how they’re doing.”
“I thought they were being monitored by probes in the lattice?”
“Of course, but when one of those probes reports something, someone has to go and check it out.”
“Does that happen often?”
“Two or three times a month, give or take.”
“How much do you know about lichen, detective?”
“Let’s assume nothing.”
“Well, they’re really hardy. Grow almost anywhere and don’t need a lot to survive. They can take exposure to the space vacuum for extended periods. Basically they’re the perfect pioneers of. . . less than comfortable spots. So the warnings we’re getting almost always turn out to be probe malfunctions.”
“Sometimes we don’t find anything.”
“I see. Let’s get to business. You know why I asked to talk to you?”
“I assume it’s about Mike?”
“Yes. I understand you found him?”
“Yes. Sometimes I go out there to clear my head. You know, there’s something about being cradled in your suit while you’re walking on the inside of the moon. Just you and the unknown. It’s like meditation for me.”
“Do you think you can show me where you found him?”
The cart drove Bronski and Johns to the furthest vacuum ring. The lattice in the last section was in place and the gravity normal, but the polyps were not yet full-grown. Dollhouses getting ready for a growth spurt.
Bronski glanced at the lichen specialist. She was quiet, sunken in thought.
Shock? Something else?
“You found him, like what, two days ago?”
“Hmm?” Johns looked at her. “Yeah, that’s about right.”
“Noticed anything special?”
“No, not really. I mean, I was a bit shocked, so I didn’t look around too closely.”
“Of course. What did you do?”
“I dragged the body—Mike—to the Vault, and pinged the chairman as soon as I could connect with the lattice.”
“The lattice supports comms too?”
“Yeah, we’ve got decent wireless here, but only within reach of the lattice.”
The cart stopped with a slight jolt, as if eager to shake off its passengers and be on its way. The two women got out, the short skinny Bronski and broad-shouldered Johns, who was half a head taller than the detective. At least. Each woman took one of the suit chevrons embedded into the vacuum ring’s wall. They held it against their chests and pressed it. Fibers blossomed out and wound themselves around their carriers like constrictors around their prey.
Bronski had never liked this. She suppressed a shiver.
What’s wrong with good old-fashioned suits you actually have to put on?
When their bodies were covered, Johns passed Bronski a transparent bubble helmet. The final step was the vacuum seal around the neck. Johns handed her a backpack and headband before picking a set for herself. They checked each other’s vacuum seal and entered an airlock.
Door. Screen. Door. Screen. Door.
And they were out of the Vault.
Bronski’s shadow leaped forward, eager to escape the surrounding lighting of the city. The dark silhouette that sprung from her feet extended into the gape of the tube. The shadow grumblingly dissipated when Bronski activated the forward light on the headband.
Johns stood beside her. “All good?”
“Yes. You’re coming through loud and clear.”
“Good. Let’s go.”
With her first step, Bronski almost fell. Her stomach, on the other hand, jumped.
Johns was leaping ahead. Bronski forced herself into the awkward floating gait that worked best here and followed.
Soon, they were swallowed by a sea of darkness, populated only by the tiny luminescent fish that emerged from the headlamps of the explorers.
Relax, Salah. The dark can’t get to you here. You have light, you have company. You are safe.
Johns slowed down.
“Did he—Mike—come out here often?” Bronski asked.
“Don’t know. Although I guess so. He was one of the more adventurous people here.”
“You all have to be quite adventurous to do all this.”
Was that a shrug?
Johns’ headlamp settled on a jutting section in the middle of the tube. A branching. She resolutely chose the smaller left tunnel. “This way.”
Bronski looked back. They were already farther out than she would have thought. Awkward but fast, those low-g hops. The vacuum ring was a burning eye floating in nothingness. It was staring at her, staring into her, winking her a goodbye as she rounded the bend.
Deep darkness dwarfed the feeble sabers of light they carried on their heads, now their only lifelines in the ocean of blackness.
“Almost there,” Johns said unfazed. She stopped and looked around for landmarks that didn’t seem to exist for Bronski. “We’re here.” Johns pointed her headlamp towards a stretch of soil. There were some indistinct smudges on the ground.
Damn. No regolith. No dust… No footprints. Bronski squatted, vainly hoping to discern something—anything—that could help her.
“We’re pretty far out, right?”
“Do you often wander this far?”
“From time to time.” Dancing rays of light signaled a headshake.
“How about Mike?”
“Don’t know. Although I suppose he could have done so to blow off some steam.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, the last time I saw him before he ventured out, he was having a heated argument.”
“With . . . ?”
Interrogation transcript—Chairman Wu Lao
“Chairman, this is recorded.”
“I understand. No stone left unturned.”
“Exactly. Let me cut to the chase. You knew Mike well, correct?”
“Yes. We’ve been board members together for—oh, about twenty years. During that period we became friends.”
“And yet I’ve heard you two were arguing quite strongly not too long before . . .”
“Where did you hear this?”
“Come now, chairman.”
“Of course. Well, yes, we were having an argument. Among friends. Friends can disagree. And Mike was a . . . passionate man.”
“What did you disagree on?”
“Mike wanted to start exploring the rest of the tunnel already. I tried to convince him of the need to use our resources first and foremost to finish the Vault. We are so close.”
“Would a small expedition be so bad? A few people can surely go out? In the city it’s mostly robots doing the work and polyps that simply need time to grow, isn’t it?”
“It is. But Mike didn’t want to hear about small expeditions. He wanted a full scale team. With robots and their operators. He even suggested seeding the rest of the tube with polyps to establish outposts.”
“And that would have been a problem because . . . ?”
“Detective, you underestimate the interests involved here. We have investors, schedules, and so on. There are a lot of people I unfortunately have to answer to. Without agreement from the entire board, there is no way I could have officially countenanced anything like what Mike was proposing.”
“A compromise wasn’t an option? Not even an unofficial one?”
“Neither Mike nor the board were willing to meet halfway.”
“Any specific board members that come to mind?”
“Well, almost all of them were against Mike’s proposal. Time is money, after all. But they seemed to be led by Dame Lavalle.”
Bronski’s world flickered as the VR goggles conjured up the formal police desk she had chosen for this meeting. The Dame’s avatar—just a floating head—popped into existence. Tightly combed hair. Thin pursed lips. Carefully crafted wrinkles that drew an image of permanent disdain, even on a virtual face.
“Dame Lavalle, I am recording this transmission for investigative purposes.”
Bronski scraped her throat. The generic avatar she had chosen knew to ignore this. “Let me get to the point: Did you know Makani Lua?”
Quite the talker.
“Care to elaborate?”
Lavalle’s avatar rolled its eyes. “Let me be clear, detective. Yes, I knew Mike. Yes, I know why you’re calling. And yes, I know you’ve called in favors to arrange this private tête-à-tête. So let’s keep this brief, shall we?”
Lavalle did not wait for a response.
Obviously used to obedience.
The Dame went on. “Yes, I opposed Mike’s hare-brained exploration scheme. It was counter-productive and not cost-effective. No, I had nothing to do with what happened. I have no reason to get involved in anything like that. Mike’s plans were not approved. If he wanted to go out by himself in his spare moments, so be it, but not with the time, equipment, or personnel that is needed for the Vault’s completion.”
“I see. Could you . . .”
“We are done here, detective.” The avatar blinked away, like a pet that had grown bored of its squeaking toy.
Breathe in. Breathe out. The darkness can’t harm you. Not here. Not anymore.
As soon as her breathing had steadied, Bronski stepped forward into the gaping mouth of oblivion. The light of the Vault that had bathed her back disappeared. Cold blackness embraced her. She bounded beneath the moon’s surface and turned her headlamps to full power. A feeble candle with the aspiration of being a supernova.
She put a mini-buoy on the floor. The bioluminescent bacteria were stirred into activity by a gentle shake. They would happily burp photons into the gloom that surrounded them. They didn’t care or worry about the darkness that increasingly tightened its clawed grip on Bronski’s heart.
Her jaw clenched and unclenched in an effort to control her heartbeat. You just had to come alone, didn’t you?
She did her best to ignore the chiding inner voice. It still drowned her rational inner critic that kept reminding her that past trauma didn’t have to equate to present fear. Easier said than done.
Good thing she had marked the spot where Mike had been found.
Against her better judgment, Bronski squatted. The vain hope of finding a clue briefly resurfaced only to vaporize like water on the sunny side of the moon. Spears of light assaulted the dark as she looked around. What if he saw something . . .
Her head turned towards the unexplored end of the tunnel. Over there?
She got up. Her breathing raced ahead of her. In. Out. In. Out. There are no demons here. No groping hands, no forced submission. Just me . . . Just me.
Bronski walked on, deeper into the demon’s lair. Another branching. Left or right?
A weak greenish glow challenged the shadow’s dominion. Impossible. Left.
There was something there, something that shouldn’t be. Something that shone a ghostly light. Faint, so faint. But there nonetheless.
Her breath galloped, followed by her heart. She stumbled. No, don’t fall. I can’t . . . Not here . . .
Images from her past arrogantly paraded in front of her mind’s eye. The hands, his hands. His whispers. The helplessness, the visits in the dark. The unbelief of her mother. No no no.
Bronski sat on all fours. Tears pushed themselves onto her cheeks. No. I am in control.
She looked ahead. Tiny fairies danced in the stage lights emitted by her headband. Dust. Just dust.
Then it hit her.
There is no dust here.
Fortunately, she had taken some sampling vials on her solo expedition. The fairies—invisible now—had been caught.
The lattice told Bronski that Dr. Johns was working in the primary section lab where Makani’s body was held.
Bronski got out of the cart-buggy when she entered the first section of the Vault, not riding all the way to the lab. A little walk would do her good. Unsuited. In the light. The lichen light. She looked up. The diffuse soft glow emanating from the upper half of the city’s tube left no clue about its genmodded source. The light felt . . . soft, peaceful. If she closed her eyes, she was almost fooled into believing that sunlight kissed her cheeks. Maybe it was simply the pigment in her skin yearning for photonic nourishment.
Whatever it was, it released the demon’s claws from her heart and drove them away from the inside of her skull. Time to assess the situation.
Okay, what do we have? One of the founders, well-liked, respected, found dead in the darkness beyond the Vault.
There were no punctures in the suit and the oxygen tanks were still over half-full when he was found, and the health records she’d been given on Makani were as spotless as the suit.
Despite the board-mediated setback, Makani still seemed to have a strong sense of purpose, even if it meant going on solo expeditions. Besides, after checking the files and interviews she didn’t get the impression he was the kind of guy that sunk into despair easily.
That leaves murder.
But why? Did he annoy one of the board members too much? Or was there more to the argument with Lao? Maybe Johns was with him on his final expedition and something went wrong?
Bronski neared the lab. She wrapped up her mental briefing and her trained mind automatically assembled a to-do list.
One: ask Johns to perform a toxicological analysis on Makani.
Two: check the records of Makani’s final exit. Was Johns with him already?
I should have checked that earlier. Don’t slip, Salah. A city on—in—the moon is fancy and all, but don’t let it distract you.
The mat glass door to the lab slid aside for her. Complete access had been one of her demands. The door closed behind her. She stood in a barren decontamination room. She was familiar with the blue flash that followed.
But the harsh blinking red light and blaring alarm were new.
With the abruptness of a decapitation, the noise and light stopped. Johns’ face appeared on the screen, eyes wide with a protean mixture of fear, worry, and surprise.
“What did you do?”
Bronski held up her palms, genuinely surprised. “Nothing.”
“Did you bring anything?”
Bronski shook her head. “No. Or wait. Yes. I found something in the tunnels beyond the Vault and wanted to hear your thoughts.”
“What is it?”
“Just some dust. I think.”
“There’s no dust out there.”
“That’s why I wanted you to have a look.”
Johns frowned. “Take it out, put it on the floor, and step back.”
Bronski did as instructed and gently placed the vial on the floor.
Johns’ frown changed shape as her eyebrows traveled north. Along the way, surprise morphed into realization. “I’m going to scan it. Stay still.” Her eyebrows kept moving.
Now that is fear.
A slight tremble crept into Johns’ voice. She swallowed. “Whatever you do, don’t move. Don’t open that vial.”
“Why? What’s wrong? Talk to me, Lisa.”
“Give me a second. I’ll be right there. Don’t. Move.”
Bronkski focused on her breathing.
In. Out. In. Out.
The door to the lab opened. Johns appeared. All suited up. She carried a transparent cube with thick white edges. Bronski wanted to say something, but Johns pre-empted it with a raised index finger. The doctor turned away the cube’s top surface, carefully picked up the vial, put it in the cube, and sealed the transparent cage. A mean hiss emerged from the cube as it was sealed. Johns sighed with relief. “Okay, everything seems alright.”
“What’s going on here, Lisa? What the hell is all this about?”
“I don’t . . . I can’t . . . ”
“Now now, Dr. Johns. The detective deserves an answer, doesn’t she?” The door behind Bronski had slid away soundlessly. The chairman—also in a suit—pointed a kinetic gun at Bronski. “If you would do me the pleasure of moving into the lab, please.”
Mike wasn’t looking good. True, he had been dead for a few days, but still. The body inside the see-through quarantine coffin shouldn’t look like this. Very gaunt, as expected. The colour was off, though. Dark grey skin. Cracked. And in the cracks… Was that a green glow?
Bronkski leaned in, almost pressing her face against the plastiglass. More fairies?
She caught a glimpse of the chairman’s reflection. Oh right, the guy with the gun.
Bronski surveyed the situation. Hmm, he’s standing too far away for me to take him out before he can fire. Dammit, I should’ve brought my own gun.
She looked at Johns, who still hid in the safety of her suit. Friend or foe?
Bronski slowly straightened and turned around, hands half-raised. “So, where’s that answer I was promised, chairman?”
Lao smiled. “Perhaps it’s better for all of us to let this go. Chalk up Mike’s demise to a regular accident or heart attack and move on, detective. Of course, your fee and danger premium will be paid in full.”
Gears in Bronski’s head spun into life. She pointed at the cube with the vial. “That’s got something to do with it, hasn’t it?”
“It’s not dust, isn’t it?”
The glow she saw. “It’s the lichen, right?”
“Mike found something, didn’t he?”
Click. Click. Click. Swoosh.
“It infected . . . killed him.”
Chairman Lao’s face rearranged into resignation. “You’re good, detective. Too good.”
Bronski looked at Johns. “Lisa?”
Johns’ shoulders slumped. “When we were testing different lichen strains at the start of the construction, some spores must have escaped from one of the rejected batches. Somehow, the lichen found a way to survive. It can even survive inside of us.”
Bronski returned her attention to the chairman. “And you didn’t do anything about this? You’re putting everyone at risk. What good’s a city where everyone will die of a killer-lichen?”
“It is . . . contained. It grows too far out to infect anyone.” He looked at Mike’s body. “Almost anyone. We’ll deal with it when the time for exploration comes. Right now, finishing the city is paramount.”
Bronski shook her head. “This is . . . irresponsible, to put it mildly.”
“Praise yourself lucky, detective, that you do not have a board to answer to that contains some of the wealthiest individuals in human history. This is a trifle to them, to the financial interests that the Vault represents.”
Disgusting. “Why me?” Bronski asked. “In fact, why an investigation at all?”
“Come now, detective. Word of a death would get out sooner or later. Certainly if the victim is one of the more well-known minds behind the idea of the Vault. We needed to protect the Vault’s reputation and avoid a delay in the construction. Let’s say a respected, independent detective who concluded that it was an unfortunate accident or natural cause.”
“And the disappearance of that detective wouldn’t cause any problems?” Bronski eyed his gun.
“Yes, well, you forced my hand.” He thought for a while. “Shuttle accidents are not unheard of. But that would be . . . inelegant. Maybe we can come to some sort of agreement?”
“Are you kidding?”
Johns decided to mingle into the conversation. She took a step forward, suited palms facing out placatingly. “We could try a memory block?”
Bronkski shook her head vigorously. “No way. Nobody is going to mess with my head.” Had enough of that already. She looked at Johns. “How can you let this be, Lisa?”
Johns seemed to squirm in her suit. “I . . . It’s . . . We can’t let this derail the project. It’s a tragic accident, sure, but if the Vault fails, the other start-up cities will too. Investors will withdraw and humanity’s footprint on the moon will fade. We need to progress, we need to get away from Earth, you know that.”
“But this?” Bronski swept an arm to include Mike’s silent body in the conversation.
“We will deal with this, I promise. Right, chairman?”
The chairman nodded thoughtfully. “Of course we will. A dead city generates no profit.”
They seem so sincere. Bronski’s cheeks clenched as an internal struggle jammed her teeth together. The knots in her cheeks subsided after a few moments. “Just get me out of here.”
The stars were so peaceful.
They didn’t care one iota about humanity.
But Bronski, despite everything, still did. So she had signed. The non-disclosure bonus was nice too.
She leaned back in the seat of the private shuttle. The suit didn’t bother her. The helmet did, so she removed it and stuffed it underneath the padded seat.
Did I do the right thing? Was there a right thing to do?
Blowing up Mike’s death wasn’t going to help anyone. Johns would continue to study the lichen and look for a cure. The chairman would use the board as an excuse to establish strict quarantine procedures and carefully monitor and restrict unauthorized private expeditions.
Not a perfect deal. But the least bad option?
She unbuckled and let herself float toward one of the portholes. The brightness of the stars kept the demons lurking in the endless darkness at bay.
Something scratched her throat. She coughed.
Fairies danced in the starlight.
Gunnar De Winter is a biologist/philosopher hybrid who has had stories published in, among others, Abyss & Apex, Daily Science Fiction, Amazing Stories, and various anthologies. You can spot him in the wild on Twitter (@evolveon).